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RIX Picks: 5 Cards to look out for in "Rivals of Ixalan"

Rivals of Ixalan spoiler week has come and gone, and it has left us with a lot of information to digest. As with any new set, there are a lot of commons and uncommons out there to sift through and evaluate. Some are easy to toss aside as not having much use, Some are corner-case roleplayers that could come in handy here or there but are otherwise not very compelling. However, there are always a few that are going to make us pause and consider the implications. Rather than go through the whole spoiler and give cards superfluous and arbitrary rankings or whatever, I took note of five specific cards that I think are going to be among the most influential that the set has to offer. So, in no particular order, here are the five cards from Rivals of Ixalan that I think are going to end up having the biggest impact on the format. Keep an eye out for these cards in the wild.

Merfolk Mistbinder

Let’s start with what is easily the best new commander option in the set. I think this card is, simply, pretty valuable to opening up the format. When it comes to tribal decks in pauper EDH, Elves have things like Timberwatch Elf and Shaman of the Pack. Goblins have tools like Goblin War Strike and Brightstone Ritual. Merfolk have, until now, been merely on the cusp of playability, with no especially intriguing draws into the tribe. There has never been much sync between commander options and the playable cards that had existed, and the result has mostly been lists where things don’t quite come together particularly clean. The disparity between the things that we would want to be doing and the cards that we have access to, mostly focusing on the relevant creature type rather than the merits of the rules text, is gaping. Not only does Merfolk Mistbinder change that paradigm, but it provides some guidance, at the very least a recognizable pathway, towards a cohesive game plan. It works to define the Merfolk tribe in the format as a solid tempo aggro archetype, and that finally gives us something to work around. It turns cards like Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, even, into something that we can use, where we couldn’t before. This, I think, is why this card is so important. All of the unplayable Merfolk creatures that we would have had to use in a suboptimal role can now be utilized as a new point on an aggressively leaning mana curve.

Also worth noting is the pull into green as a secondary color. White has had plenty of good Merfolk related cards see print, but green really gives us the ability to double down on the aggressive plan with a better ability to stay stocked up on action via Lead the Stampede, Commune with Nature, Seek the Wilds, et al in addition to the glut of cantrips and other draw spells that we would have otherwise had access to. Not to mention that spells like Spidersilk Armor and Blinding Fog play really well with a plan to go wide. The mono blue and blue-white decklists of old lack this level of velocity and power on the board, and as a result they lacked either the ability to efficiently clock opponents or even put forth a cohesive proactive game plan. Merfolk Mistbinder takes strides to shore up that deficiency.

Knight of the Stampede

Much in the same vein as Merfolk Mistbinder, this card does a lot of work to open up Dinosaurs as a playable pauper EDH tribe. In this set we are getting a couple more good Enrage creatures along with a powerful green-red Dinosaur commander in Raging Regisaur, and while they do a great job to provide some of the tools that we would need to put a functional Dinosaurs list together, Knight of the Stampede is the most important piece of the puzzle. Much like any other format in Magic, the point in the game where we are able to cast multiple spells in a single turn is a tremendously important break-point in the tempo of the game. Cards like this one, especially by reducing the cost of Dinosaur creatures by two generic mana rather than one, push us towards that break-point significantly faster. Dinosaurs, as a creature type, are generally pretty expensive, and while ramp spells are obviously going to help us, a card like this will push us over the edge.

This card makes me think of Stinkdrinker Daredevil, a card I’m sure not many of you have cast in pauper EDH. I’ve been doing a lot of testing and tinkering with tribal Giant decks recently, and the draws where I have access to Daredevil and the draws where I don’t are night and day. It is the card I most want to see every game, simply because it gives me the ability to pull ahead of my opponents on board in a big way; the card enables huge tempo swings. Knight of the Stampede does literally the exact same thing for a more robust tribe, and even has a more relevant body. This card is just a win-win-win for me, and I’m excited to brew around it.

Soul of the Rapids

I’ve written a fair bit over the last few months about Ascended Lawmage, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse too much here. We all know why the card is absurd, and we all know why the card is so powerful.

That being said, I think this card should see a lot of play. Good hexproof creatures are hard to come by in this format, but the ones we do have tend to overperform. This one, in particular, has evasion and is only one color, which is probably one of this card’s biggest strengths. The floor is already pretty high, but the sky's the limit when it comes to whatever second color you run alongside this creature. Stock in this card is going to fluctuate pretty heavily depending on what support system you run alongside it, but it will never be bad on it’s own, and with three power it is a really powerful clock. This card may seem pretty unassuming, but it really is closer to being Ascended Lawmage than any other card in the format, and who doesn’t want one of those things floating around in the 99?

Dusk Legion Zealot

This is the single card that I am most excited for in this set. I think, by this point, we all understand that this is a new Phyrexian Rager analog. Now, that alone will get me to play it. In fact, if I could construct creature bases around variably costed Phyrexian Rager analogs, I’d be a happy man. However, I think this card has a lot of implications for black midrange decks.

Elvish Visionary is always playable in this format -- for me, it is the quintessential two-for-one. By that, I mean by spending one card from your hand, you are gaining a 1/1 creature plus a card to replace it in your hand: two resources for one card spent. For black midrange decks specifically, this combination of resources is just about ideal. A 1/1 body that generates its primary value when it enters the battlefield is exactly the sort of card that we want to be running, precisely for the same reason that this sort of card is so good at reducing the value of one-for-one removal from our opponents. By sacrificing this card to Viscera Seer and scrying, for example, we are really only spending half of a card, since the other half manifested as a card drawn when it entered the battlefield. Conversely, if our opponent casts a lightning bolt targeting Dusk Legion Zealot, they are spending their whole spell to functionally eliminate just half of our Zealots total resource value. The point is that cards like this tend to put us ahead of our opponents on resources in the long run, either by forcing our opponents to lose resources in removing our creatures our allowing us to gain additional value by giving us two separate resources to leverage.

This is the sort of paradigm that allows black midrange decks to, in a manner of speaking, keep up with the blue decks -- being able to generate value from your permanents versus generating value from your spells. To put it in different terms, take the spell Divination. A pretty baseline blue draw spell, it just draws two cards for three mana and that’s that. Now, let’s frame it a little differently in the context of Dusk Legion Zealot. You spend your two mana, put a 1/1 body on the battlefield, and draw a random card. Notice that we are drawing only a single card from the top of our library, as opposed to the two from Divination, but we need to reframe it as the 1/1 body being that second drawn card, and not only that, but it essentially enters the battlefield for free. Functionally, Dusk Legion Zealot is a two mana Divination where one of the two cards drawn is always a Memnite. Now, mileage may vary as to just how good that guaranteed Memnite actually is, but from a cost to resource ratio, it’s a sound comparison.

So, with that principle demonstrated, suffice it to say that the more cards like this we can have access to in the format, the more well-rounded non-blue midrange strategies are going to be, and the format will be all the healthier for it.

This card is great.

Secrets of the Golden City

Let’s start by briefly mentioning Ascend as a mechanic, since I haven’t touched on it thus far. Whereas in other formats Ascend may be something of an unknown quantity, in pauper EDH it is simply an inevitability. Having ten permanents is an eminently achievable goal and something that every player will attain in every game, really just due the nature of the format and the cards it pushes us to play.

Now, with that being said, this card specifically is very very good. At worst, it’s a Divination, which is always a perfectly serviceable card that I would never be upset to cast. Divination has never been bad in pauper EDH and it never will be bad. However, having Ascended, you are able to cast this spell and draw three cards rather than two.

The difference between drawing two cards and drawing three cards is truly significant and cannot be overstated. Whereas most draw spells in the format will only put you up a card (expending one card to draw two, netting you one card), you can now pay that same, established going rate of three mana to get an additional card over all of the other spells that occupy the same space. It seems innocuous enough, but this card is a total workhorse, and I expect it to become a fast staple. The floor on this card is already high, and the ceiling is up in the clear blue yonder. The best part about this card is that even if you are in a circumstance where you have to cash it in as a Divination, there are so many shenanigans out there to recur it later for three cards that it is almost certainly a clear upgrade to any blue deck. I think this card is a pretty obvious pick for the most powerful card in the set for pauper EDH.

There is a lot going on with Secrets of the Golden City. It’s powerful, elegant, surprisingly intricate, and I look forward to seeing the role it occupies in the format.

This isn’t to say that these are the only cards that I think are good enough for the format. There’s a lot that Rivals of Ixalan has to offer the format, and I don’t see any of it having any negative or toxic effects on the overall metagame. I think that Rivals shores up some weaknesses of the format, provides direction for some archetypes, and gives access to some great tools that a broad swath of decks will be able to take advantage of. Pauper EDH is in a really good place right now, and it’s only getting better with Rivals of Ixalan. But enough about me and my opinions! What cards are you most excited to see out the new set? What are you looking to brew with and play against? Come discuss them with me on the PDH Homebase Discord!





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