I haven’t been this excited about a set release in a long time. As spoilers wind down I’m left looking at some very exciting blue cards and an overall bump in the power level of non-permanent cards. It’s a return to clean old fashioned Magic, the way the God-Pharaoh intended.
Lightning Strike (old art shown until we can get a high resolution image of the new one) is such a simple card, and only powerful if you ignore the old school burn spells. Yet, it’s vitally important for a Standard tempo deck to be able to point three damage, without discretion, at instant speed. Incendiary Flow was fine and did see play, but I’m glad to have Lightning Strike back. I think it obviously slots into Ramunap Red perfectly. (Although we’re still waiting on a one-drop as of this writing.) When Lightning Strike (and Searing Spear!) was around last time it slotted into a variety of different decks – from flash-tempo-style decks to GR Dragons. Luckily, those types of things seem to be around this standard.
I really didn’t think Standard would see a counterspell this powerful again. This is typically best in tempo strategies (like Pirates), but don’t be surprised if control plays a couple copies of this powerful spell. This is a very versatile and powerful card that will fit in a number of different strategies.
Wizards of the Coast keeps on delivering. This is another type of card I didn’t know if we’d see again in Standard: the one mana cantrip with card selection. Anything stronger than Opt is banned in Modern, just to give you some context in regards to power level. Opt will be best in any “spells matter” or combo strategies. A deck like Storm is the ideal home for a card like Opt, but much like Spell Pierce, it will see play in a variety of strategies and archetypes.
I haven’t personally seen too much buzz about this card, but it’s my favorite card in the set so far. Chart a Course will potentially have implications in Modern, and if a tempo deck exists in Standard, this will be one of the key pieces. Drawing two cards for two mana for 1U is big game. Also, if you’re interested in the discard portion at all, this card is just better than Tormenting Voice.
Decks like God-Pharaoh’s Gift likely want this over Cathartic Reunion because you have a lot more control over shaping your hand. Although, I think Chart a Course is better used as a true card draw spell. Unfortunately for Standard, it’s a bit of a nonbo with Soul-Scar Mage AND Riddleform, both cards that would logically be in a deck that wants this effect.
Where I really like Chart a Course is in Modern. I’ve written about Esper Goryo’s Vengeance a bit now, and I think this card is great competition in the Strategic Planning / Pieces of the Puzzle / Gifts Ungiven slot. Discarding a Jace or Obzedat in the early game and actually just drawing two cards once you start attacking seems real good. The other deck I like this in for Modern is good old school UR Delver. Now I’m not ambitious enough to call Chart a Course the second coming of Treasure Cruise but I do think it goes in the same slot, albeit considerably weaker. Playing Delver of Secrets on turn one and casting this on turn two seems like gas.
If you haven’t yet guessed, I’m pretty excited about some tempo. Let’s start with Modern!
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Young Pyromancer
1 Disdainful Stroke
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Spell Pierce
1 Spell Snare
3 Vapor Snag
4 Chart A Course
2 Forked Bolt
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
2 Ramunap Ruins
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Spirebluff Canal
3 Steam Vents
2 Bedlam Reveler
2 Blood Moon
2 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Disdainful Stroke
1 Invasive Surgery
2 Harsh Mentor
I know that Death’s Shadow is the popular tempo deck right now, but I get the feeling that something from that deck might soon be on the banned list. Besides, maybe the meta is ripe enough and Chart a Course is just good enough for UR Delver to bring it back. It’s been a while since UR Delver was a real archetype and it’s gotten a few other tools to help it from recent sets. Opt, Ceremonious Rejection, Invasive Surgery, Harsh Mentor, and even Ramunap Ruins all make an appearance.
For Standard, I have a similar deck in mind but it’s waiting for a card that hopefully just hasn’t been spoiled yet. I would really like to see a blue or red, one or two drop that doesn’t have prowess but cares about spells. Something like a Young Pyromancer or Delver of Secrets. Here’s what I have so far for:
Standard UR Tempo by Nick Peternell
4 Bomat Courier
4 Firebrand Archer
4 Soul-Scar Mage
4 Lightning Strike
4 Spell Pierce
4 Chart A Course
4 Crash Through
3 Highland Lake
4 Ramunap Ruins
4 Spirebluff Canal
For now Bomat Courier is an okay one drop to supplement Soul-Scar Mage. Again, hopefully something else gets spoiled that attacks for a bit more damage, but we do have a lot of reach in this deck and good ways to find it. Crash Through and Opt give us eight cantrips for one mana that don’t need targets. This allows Soul-Scar Mage and Riddleform to attack easily and consistently while still “triggering” Chart a Course in our second main phase. With so many sources of card filtering, Firebrand Archer is a monster in this deck. I’m also still convinced that Riddleform is The Truth, but just hasn’t found the right home.
The other build I wanted to explore is a deck called “Miracle Gro”. For the uninitiated, Miracle Grow is an old, old tempo deck that uses Quirion Dryad, cheap/free counterspells, and a ton of card draw. Here’s an example list from a long time ago, when the game was a bit different.
Miracle Grow by Alex Shvartsman
4 Force of Will
4 Gaea’s Skyfolk
4 Quirion Dryad
4 Land Grant
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Tropical Island
4 Winter Orb
So we’re never going to get back to a place where the spells are quite as powerful as in the above list. But we do have better creatures now and the same sort of deck has a lot of promise with the release of Ixalan.
4 Deeproot Champion
4 Kumena’s Speaker
4 Old-Growth Dryads
4 Attune with Aether
4 Chart A Course
4 Rhonas’s Last Stand
4 Blossoming Defense
4 Spell Pierce
4 Botanical Sanctum
2 Woodland Stream
1 Dissenter’s Deliverance
2 Essence Scatter
2 Jace’s Defeat
1 Natural State
1 Nimble Obstructionist
2 Sentinel Totem
1 Shaper’s Sanctuary
2 Sorcerous Spyglass
Looking at “Gro” decks is a little jarring. You’ll notice that the original list only has 10 lands! Mine has 16. The math behind this works out because for every cantrip effect (counting Attune with Aether here) we can shave half-ish of a land. This means that early on we can dig for lands, then later we dig for spells. This is the real advantage of having cantrips in this deck. Cantrips get even better when we have creatures that care about spells.
The plan with this deck, and really any tempo deck, is to protect a threat with cheap interaction. We have counterspells and effective counterspells that all trade card for card. We can win on any number of different fronts and the only department we seriously lack in is removal. This list is strange enough looking that we should probably break this down card for card.
Deeproot Champion is the new Quirion Dryad and the foundation of our deck. Once we start casting cantrips and counters, Deeproot Champion gets out of control. This is often a two mana 5/5, or bigger. We have tons of ways to protect it that also GRO it!
Kumena’s Speaker, on the other hand, is a bit on the smaller side but we’re looking for creatures that can attack on turn two, and trigger Chart the Course. Having a bevy of one mana plays is vital to this deck’s success. We have plenty of islands thanks to Attune with Aether and enough merfolk that this is pretty reliably a one mana 2/2.
Old-Growth Dryads has a steep drawback and is a complete nonbo with Spell Pierce, but the upside is so high that we can’t justify passing up a one mana 3/3. This is our Delver of Secrets/Wild Nacatl. There was an old deck called “Counter-Cat” in the Extended that just protected its one mana 3/3 to victory, and that’s the plan here.
Riddleform, as I’ve said before, is just waiting for the right home, this could be it. Importantly, it’s a spell as well as a threat. It also provides a mana sink in the late game. We’re low on flying for a tempo deck so this is a welcome addition.
Rhonas’s Last Stand is the second part of our “spells that are also threats” package. The drawback here is huge but luckily our interaction is so cheap that we can often minimize it. It’s also going to be the biggest thing on the battlefield and a curve of Old Growth Dryads into this is some good old stompy goodness.
Attune With Aether – This is our “Land Grant”. It lets us play more spells and effectively the same amount of lands. We don’t have an energy sink per se, and we really would have liked Traverse the Ulvenwald, but alas here we are. We also like having ways to get an Island for Kumena’s Speaker.
Chart a Course – I need to reiterate here that this card is nuts. We have tons of cheap creatures and interaction and this is just the perfect home for a card like this.
Blossoming Defese can be used defensively as a counterspell, or proactively as a pump spell. Many of our creatures are high investments that need protection, but if we can, riding them to victory is a pretty reasonable plan. This card is a cornerstone of that strategy. We can’t just have people Fatal Pushing our Old-Growth Dryads all willy nilly.
Opt is a monster of a cantrip in this strategy, as we are looking for the card selection before we scry to find either interaction or threats. Cards like Opt make Deeproot Champion the monster that it is.
Spell Pierce is mostly going to be used to protec (threats), but also sometimes to attac (others gameplans). But mostly, it’s there to interac.
The mana base is simple and low count. Remember that we’re counting Attune and Opt as psuedo-lands. The sideboard is worth noting, but is subject to a lot of changes. Once the full set is released and we’ve had more time to properly tune and test, I’ll have something more concrete.
Thanks for reading about some potential tempo strategies in Ixalan. Perhaps next time we’ll explore some aggro archetypes.
Nick has been playing Magic since the 2013 Core Set was released, and grinding since Return to Ravnica. He’s played on the Pro Tour and has multiple high finishes at both the Star City Tour and Grand Prix levels. He’s a brewer at heart and excels most in the beginning and middle stages of a format. Finding weaknesses in the metagame and exploiting underplayed cards is just another day in the office for him.