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Pirates and Dinosaurs you say?

Written by John Cuvelier on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Magic Culture

Ixalan is coming and it’s packing probably the most flavorful tribal set since Lorwyn. This set really hits home for me. I don’t typically play a casual format like EDH, but when I do I have built a Pirate deck for such situations. Deadeye Navigator and any of the Pirates from Mercadian Masques is quite the combo. In addition to my fondness of Pirates, Dinosaurs also have a unique place in my magic heart. You see, my first purchase of a booster pack was from Ice Age. Although Scaled Wurm or Woolly Mammoth aren’t technically Dinosaurs, they do have a similar feel and I’m excited for the official ones being rolled out in Ixalan. With so many sets finally rotating out of Standard, I expect Ixalan to fill the avoid with a lot playables for a new format. Today I wanted to talk about the spoiled cards as of when I’m writing this (8/31) and which ones to keep an eye out for. For reference I’m using the card list from mythicspoiler.com.

Jace, Cunning Castaway – We haven’t seen enough of the set to know exactly where the best home for this new Jace is. My guess is some sort of Pirate deck will best utilize Jace. I’ve heard a lot of talk about this Jace not being good, but I’m in the camp of this being very good. Jace being able to have a non-targeting +1 effect, to get that loot in is great. The -2 effect protects itself like all good planeswalkers do. The ultimate gives you more planeswalkers and what I do know is the more planeswalkers you have the harder it is to lose.

Dire Fleet Captain – A backwards Pirate lord that is better the more Pirates you’re attacking with. It seems like Pirates are hard Grixis colors and it will be interesting to see what the most effective build is. Dire Fleet Captain is also best being surrounded by hard to block Pirates like ones with Menace.

Treasure Map – What a unique card Treasure Map is. This can really help you ramp while fixing your draws with the scry 1. I think the playability of this card wholly depends on how popular Abrade becomes in the new format.

Ripjaw Raptor – The rate is good, comparable to Siege Rhino. What gets me excited is the possibility of this alongside a Walking Ballista. Maybe it’s too cute, but something to keep an eye on as more cards gets spoiled.

Burning Sun’s Avatar – Moar Dinosaurs! This feels a lot similar to good ol’ Inferno Titan. This of course is not Inferno Titan, but perhaps a more fixed version. You get the instant value upon resolution and a big body to boot. This is a good way to catch up when you’re behind and an easy way to close out a game when ahead.

Old-Growth Dryads – A 3/3 for one mana, huh. Giving your opponent a free Rampant Growth is a real cost. That cost isn’t that big if you’re able to get in six to nine points of damage with Old-Growth Dryads. I think an important card for a deck with this in it will be Blossoming Defense and cards that give you reach like Shock.

Walk the Plank – We simply don’t get near unconditional removal at such a cheap rate anymore. The biggest downside of this isn’t the Merfolk clause, but rather the Sorcery speed. If the format is full of creatures with Haste this won’t be that great. If the format is full of expensive Dinosaurs or powerful three and four drop creatures without Haste then Walk the Plank will be a mainstay.

Unclaimed Territory – Also known as Cavern of Souls 2.0, Unclaimed Territory is going to be a game changer. We’re losing a lot of fixing with rotation. Now granted, the dual land cycle Dragonskull Summit, Drowned Catacomb etc. will help a lot. But if we ever plan on being able to consistently play three color tribal decks like Pirates it’s going to need four Unclaimed Territory. I expect this card to be in a lot of decks going forward.

Kinjalli’s Sunwing – This one is interesting and will be dependent on how many Haste creatures are running around. If the format doesn’t have any then this will be pretty useless. If Red decks are all over the place with their fancy Haste creatures then this will be an important sideboard tool.

Settle the Wreckage – Now this is a fancy sweeper. This is something akin to a super Path to Exile. I really like that you have the option to hold up mana for counterspells or a sweeper now. I do think this will be best against Red and medium everywhere else. If your opponent attacks before casting a spell, it’s no different than a regular sweeper would be except they net some free lands. Settle the Wreckage definitely shines against decks with a lot of Haste creatures.

Carnage Tyrant – That’s a lot of stats and keywords. Carnage Tyrant is going to be a nightmare for control decks. There isn’t a good way to block it or kill it. You can’t even counter it. I suspect Dinosaur ramp might be the natural progression with Eldrazi leaving us.

Kopala, Warden of Waves – I’m not sure yet if Merfolk will end up being a thing or not. There simply aren’t enough spoiled cards to make that determination. If it ends up being a thing a big reason why will be Kopala, Warden of Waves. I fully expect this to also replace Kira, Great Glass-Spinner in the modern lists of Merfolk as well.

Sunbird’s Invocation – What a wild card. This is definitely a build around card that rewards you by giving your entire suite of spells cascade. The effect of this card is profoundly powerful and I suspect if there’s a way to build a control deck around this card it will be done.

Fathom Fleet Captain – One of the truly great payoffs for having a Pirate deck. A 2/1 Menace for 2 mana is a fantastic card already. Once you add on the ability to make another 2/2 with Menace when this attacks, sign me up.

Gishath, Sun’s Avatar – What’s not to like? This is front and center the reason to play a Dinosaur Ramp deck.

Admiral Beckett Brass – The Pirate lord himself. I think the power of the Admiral will come down to how many Menace creatures are actually good. Since the main reason to pay the steep cost of three colors is for the trigger you get to steal a non-land permanent.

Hostage Taker – This guy is borderline Modern playable. Hostage Taker is akin to Gonti with one big difference, you know you’re hitting something good. But not only are you hitting something good, you’re hitting something good from play. Holy smokes this card is busted. Make sure you get your playset while you can.

Vraska’s Contempt – This does a bad job of being Hero’s Downfall. For the extra mana we do gain 2 life and get the important exile clause, but I’m not sure if this will be worth it or not.

Rowdy Crew – Drawing three cards is a powerful effect. This looks like it has some real potential. I don’t think it’s great in a traditional beat down red deck, but maybe something like God-Pharaoh’s Gift?

Captain Lannery Storm – Giving Red the ability to ramp is a scary thought. At worst this is a 3/2 haste for 3. At best this lets you cast Glorybringer a turn early. I’m not looking forward to playing against this card.

Daring Saboteur – It’s hard to get Merfolk Looter nowadays. This is certainly a nice fit into a Pirate or God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck.

Deeproot Champion – Perhaps the second coming of Quirion Dryad? Unfortunately with Fatal Push being such a cheap and reliable answer, I’m not sure any amount of Blossoming Defense will keep this guy safe.

Revel in Riches – Okay I’ll bite. Depending on how easy it is to get treasures this might be a legit strategy going forward. Treasure Map is a good start in the right direction. Fill this deck up with cheap removal, card draw and Razaketh’s Rite to find Revel in Riches and maybe you’ve got something here.

Those are my takeaways so far from what’s been spoiled. What a world we live in. Pirates and Dinosaurs together at last, I’m getting pumped up for the release. We’ve got a lot of unanswered questions going in to the new format. Will energy still be the deck to beat? Is ramp dead or did the Dinosaurs take over? Will Pirates or Red be the go to aggressive strategy? Will Vampires ever be viable again? We just need to give it some time.

John Cuvelier
Gosu. on MTGO
@JCuvelier on Twitter

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