Riley’s Modern Life: The Ixalan Watchlist

Riley Knight returns this week to talk about some of the newly spoiled Ixalan cards and their potential for Modern playability. Welcome to his Ixalan Modern Watchlist.

ripjaw raptor artwork

Even at this relatively early juncture in the Ixalan preview season, we’ve still got a lot of new technology to wade through – cards of all stripes are being whacked under the microscope to determine their implications for constructed formats. Naturally, much of the focus has been on Standard – but today we’re going to have a look at some of the potential Ixalan may offer the Modern format.

In a vacuum, it’s very difficult for a new card to break into Modern. Then again, it’s difficult for a card to do anything in a vacuum apart from get dirty and damaged – and just how did it get sucked up there in the first place? To make an impact in a card pool of thousands, a new addition needs to either be a clear upgrade of an existing staple, or provide a new effect that is powerful enough. Additionally, it has to be cheap – anything costing more than three mana really has to bring more to the table than your grandma at Christmas dinner.

It’s not unheard of for new cards to get there, though – recently printed cards that have managed to make it big in Modern include things like Fatal Push and Collective Brutality. Does Ixalan have anything similar? Let’s have a look!

Opt

opt mtg card

 

Let’s kick things off with an absolute red-hot pistol of a card – Opt! A one-mana cantrip with a touch of card selection, and all at instant speed – Opt is priced to move and will see play in Modern, make no mistake. While not being quite as powerful as Serum Visions, Opt will find itself alongside second-tier cantrip options like Sleight of Hand in blue-based combo decks, and may have an even wider role to play.

Its application in slower, more controlling decks remains to be seen. Serum Visions is awkward in not giving you a say over what you draw initially, while setting up further draw steps much better than Opt can. Conversely, Opt gets you closer to the card you need now, and once again – at instant speed. When paired with Snapcaster Mage, Opt is truly going to shine – flashing back a Serum Visions at sorcery speed always felt a bit silly, and I’m glad I’ll be able to hold up a counter or cantrip in the end step.

Verdict: An exciting and highly playable addition to the Modern card pool

 

Walk the Plank

walk the plank mtg card

With chefs everywhere cooking up lists with Fatal Push as the removaldu jour, a two-mana black removal spell has to offer some pretty spicy seasoning to be considered. Black decks without access to red will sometimes use cards like Go for the Throat and Victim of Night as functionally unconditional removal – effectively hoping for a pseudo-Terminate. Walk the Plank goes even further than both these cards, with one of the narrowest “non-x” riders we’ve ever seen – and as we’ll discuss shortly, Merfolk aren’t exactly at an all-time high.

Unfortunately, despite the effectiveness and general sweetness of this card, it’s not going to make it in Modern. There’s a single word on this card that lets it down – “Sorcery”. Were this an instant, it may supplant techy removal spells like Victim of Night, but in the cold hard light of day, a two-mana sorcery removal spell – be it virtually unconditional – is not good enough.

Verdict: Nigh-unconditional removal, unplayable due to sorcery speed

 

Kopala, Warden of Waves

Kopala is guaranteed to have a place in Modern – it has a purpose-built home just waiting for it. It’s been a long time since Merfolk have made a splash in Modern, but despite a recent lack of overwhelming success, the strategy persists and will occasionally put up a decent result. Lists are pretty set these days without a lot of flexibility – nonetheless, Kopala offers a slightly a different option for fish decks everywhere.

Kopala isn’t going to turn the archetype on its head, but I believe this card is a better option than Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Taxing your opponents’ removal in a creature-heavy deck in conjunction with enjoying the benefits of cards like Lord of Atlantis and Merrow Reejerey means that Kopala makes a strong case for inclusion in Merfolk lists moving forward.

Verdict: Highly playable, although only within an established archetype

 

Tocatli Honor Guard & Kinjalli’s Sunwing

Every now and again, white will get these odd “hate bear” style cards that provide strange, disruptive effects to different elements of gameplay. From Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to Eidolon of Rhetoric, these creatures are played in varying numbers. Kinjalli’s Sunwing offers a nice effect for an aggressive deck, and has respectable stats as a 2/3 flier. Unfortunately, costing three mana in Modern means you’ve really got to impress the judges on raw power level, and the Sunwing doesn’t quite get there.

On the other hand, Tocatli Honor Guard is a walking Torpor Orb and has intriguing implications for the format, particularly in Death and Taxes-style decks. The fact that it shuts off Flickerwisps and the like, however, may impact its chances of being an automatic inclusion. Nonetheless, Torpor Orb has seen sideboard play before, and if we’re ever interested in a Torpor Orb that attacks and blocks (and dies to Lightning Bolt) then this card may yet get its time to shine.

Verdict: Unlikely, but potentially a corner-case disruptive technology

 

Jace, Cunning Castaway

Every time Wizards prints a Planeswalker that costs three or fewer mana, you should sit up and take notice. These are the cards than offer strong potential to influence older formats, particularly Modern. Seth Manfield recently discussed the fact many Planeswalkers are underplayed in Modern – but the ones that do get played all cost only three mana. From the headlining format staple Liliana of the Veil to the relative newcomer Gideon of the Trials, cheap Planeswalkers always have potential to shake things up. This isn’t limited to Modern, either – the greatest thief in the multiverse, Dack Fayden, is a Vintage favourite!

Gone are the days of an angsty Jace locking himself in his room, listening to My Chemical Romance and writing poetry about how life is pain – he’s chucked out his eyeliner, hit the gym, got fully yoked, and is ready to throw some punches about. This is the most aggressive Jace ever printed – which, in fairness, isn’t saying much. All the same, we’ve seen fringe mono-blue aggro decks emerge every now and again, from the days of Ninja Bear Delver to more recent permutations – mono-blue aggro is a thing, even if it isn’t much of one. Could the Cunning Castaway change that? I wouldn’t bet on it, but I’ll definitely keep my eyes open!

Verdict: Always be ready for a three-mana Planeswalker to change things up

 

Sorcerous Spyglass

Pithing Needle is a sideboard favourite, rewarding in-depth knowledge of the format as well as heavily punishing players you can get the soul read on. Well, Sorcerous Spyglass is just Pithing Needle on easy mode, albeit at double the price. I don’t think many players will consider an extra mana worth the ability to have a squiz at your opponent’s hand to guarantee a hit – and generally, if you’re bringing in Pithing Needle, you should know what you’re looking to name already.

This card reminds me of when I’m shopping and want to buy an item, and then see I could buy two of those items for a slightly inflated price – I have to sternly remind myself I only came out to buy one, and what would I do with a second lava lamp anyway? The difference here is that you’re paying double, and you don’t even get a corresponding increase in value to match the price.  It’s a no from me, dawg.

Verdict: Don’t pay more for an effect you don’t need – just git gud with Pithing Needle

Entrancing Melody

Is this the best Control Magic effect ever printed? Well, no, it’s not – Control Magic is the best Control Magic effect ever printed. Entrancing Melody, however, is a card that could prove to populate the odd sideboard here or there in Modern. There was a time, not so long ago, where Threads of Disloyalty was a potent post-board option for blue decks, and Entrancing Melody trades efficiency for flexibility.

The fact that this card scales so well, doesn’t risk blowouts with enchantment removal, and is still cheap enough to impact games at an early stage means that it could indeed make an impact. A four-mana wololo on a Tarmogoyf isn’t too shabby, and nicking a Death’s Shadow for three mana when you’re under pressure… perhaps all that is a little far-fetched, but I’m not going to write Entrancing Melody off just yet.

Verdict: If Threads of Disloyalty becomes good again, this might be worth trying out

 

Quick Hits

 

Deadeye Tracker

Is this card good? Repeatable, targeted graveyard hate that either provides card advantage or grows into a beater… this card is very intriguing, although it’s slow and a two-mana activation is pretty prohibitive. We’ll see!

 

Old-Growth Dryad

 

I’ll simply defer to the view put forth by Mr. Magic himself, Reid Duke:

Ripjaw Raptor

Make this guy indestructible alongside Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, and you can draw as many cards as you’d like. Another broken combo for us to contend with, and all you need is ten mana – six of it double-coloured – and a draw step. Easy game, easy game.

 

Star of Extinction

 

An instant-kill if you control a Boros Reckoner – just keep it alive long enough to resolve a seven-mana sorcery and you’re golden. The only thing that will go extinct here is deck diversity in Modern, as everyone immediately jams this two-card game-winning combo.

As previews continue, the Modern Watchlist will grow – but even now it seems we’re going to get a smattering of new toys to play with in Modern. Opt was certainly a nice surprise, and maybe the best is yet to come. What do you think of the cards so far when it comes to Modern? What cards are you still hoping to see, aside from the obvious Actual Literal Counterspell™? As always, get at me on Twitter @rileyquarytower – and follow @mtgdotone while you’re there!

Riley Knight

Riley Knight is a member of the Magic coverage team, and has covered top-level events around the world since 2014. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, his favourite formats are Modern and Cube. Riley enjoys playing most of his Magic during his opponent’s end step.

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