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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Jan 15 2018 11:32am
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With each new set there are players that brew even though that is something that doesn't happen in my area (here people wait till PT or the first big event like GP or StarCity Games Open). I discovered that brewing with new cards is fun when I was in relationship with a Magic player who played Standard and nothing else. That was the period I was always looking for. Having someone with whom you can brew and someone to test your builds against is very important. Building decks in vacuum is very hard and while in the past I played games of Magic against myself, it wasn't enough to let me progress fast enough. I don't have friends that would be willing to test with me with paper cards but there is Magic Online to suit my needs. It allows me to play against different players with different deckbuilding skills which also makes the testing better since I can see more weaknesses of my brews and usually faster.

It's been quite a while since I did some brewing. That is why I decided to try my best and build some decks with cards from Rivals of Ixalan (honestly, I was hyped!). My intention wasn't to come up with a tier 1 deck, but rather to explore and have some fun when people would be still exploring the format and not playing net decks. I wanted to see what decks can do and what strategies can possibly work and also find out how strong certain cards or mechanics are. For example, after my first sealed deck I realized with horror that Ascend is actually a powerful mechanic that will be viable in constructed. There were many cards for me to reevaluate. I abandoned my sealed deck featuring 3 mythics (2 Ghalta, Primal Hunter, 1 Rekindling Phoenix and decided to try some constructed. As many others, I started with tribal decks because those are the most straightforward in terms of deckbuilding (note that my mana bases are just a rough draft, sideboard is also partly 'maybeboard' and partly the sideboard). Merfolk came out to be the strongest (at least from the decks I put together) so I will start with that.

Note: When building these decks I tried to avoid Energy because I suspect some bannings. Attune with Aether is a card that makes many decks way better than they should be which I saw happen many, many times while playing with the decks below.

Blue-Green Merfolk

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I was obviously not the only person to come up with that idea. I've seen and tried different kinds of Merfolk decks, some more +1/+1 counters focused (with Metallic Mimic, Deeproot Elite, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca and even Herald of Secret Streams), some more midrange ones with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca and Jadelight Ranger, some going wide with Deeproot Waters, and some being low to the ground. I never liked Merfolk as a deck but having two unblockable ones and a flying Merfolk made the deck playable even for me. My direction was the latter - low to the ground Merfolk.


Merfolk mirrors won't certainly be something enjoyable.

This deck can have big Merfolk creatures that will overrun any deck. I found out that trying to grow really big is not really necessary since many decks try to actually be fast and the slower ones usually run Fumigate/Hour of Devastation. It's better to win fast than rather in one big swing. This deck features evasive Merfolk (Mist-Cloaked Herald, River Sneak, Shaper Apprentice, so if the Merfolk can't attack into opponent's creatures there are still ways how to deal damage. It's not just 1 or 2 damage it can be way more, like 9 in the screenshot above.


Blue-Black Pirates

UB Pirates
by STsung
3 Grasping Scoundrel
4 Siren Stormtamer
4 Dire Fleet Poisoner
4 Fathom Fleet Captain
3 Kitesail Freebooter
4 Warkite Marauder
2 Ruin Raider
3 Dreamcaller Siren
3 Hostage Taker
30 cards

Other Spells
3 Fatal Push
3 Lookout's Dispersal
2 Vraska's Contempt
8 cards
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Fetid Pools
7 Island
7 Swamp
22 cards

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Before Rivals of Ixalan I tried putting together UR, UB and UW Pirates. Neither version was good enough for competitive play but UB showed the most promise due to Hostage Taker and The Scarab God. Mono blue seemed to be fine if it could get a good flyer or two. In RIX we have a new blue flyer - Warkite Marauder. It has a nice ability which helps the team to get damage through. That's not actually the only thing that it does. Sometimes it helps us get rid of a card we couldn't get rid of otherwise because it even turns gods into 0/1 creatures that can be dealt with. That though also means that the deck running this needs a way to deal with 0/1 creature which this deck does not. That is why I switched to UR for a while so I could play some burn spells. There is Daring Buccaneer which a really good one drop. There is also Dire Fleet Daredevil that I really like. The card is not good in a really aggressive build of Pirates though. When playing with this deck I realized that Dire Fleet Poisoner would actually be a really good card in this deck and deserves its spot in a Pirate deck. I switched to BR which I totally didn't like (was better than UR) and ended up in UB.

When playing with UB Pirates before RIX I really missed another one drop. We got one - Grasping Scoundrel - so I tried putting it there and I might actually cut it in the end. I wasn't really impressed with it unlike Vampires' new one drop - Skymarcher Aspirant. I added Warkite Marauder because it showed its worth already in my previous builds and incorporated Dire Fleet Poisoner which in this deck fills a totally different role than in BR Pirates where you actually play it when attacking. In this deck it is mainly a removal spell and sometimes a 2/2 attacker.

White Monument Vampires

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Vampires was actually the deck I put the most faith in and I actually bought all the cards first (and now I deeply regret it). In Magic the Gathering Arena (MTGA) I put together a BW Vampire deck that actually can win some games (it still gets wrecked by Dinosaurs, the Ixalan-only doom) and I was looking for something similar in Standard. Rivals of Ixalan brought many good, not so good and bad Vampire creatures. The ones I wanted to try to play somewhere were Twilight Prophet, Paladin of Atonement, Bishop of Binding, Dusk Legion Zealot and Legion Lieutenant.

At first I started with black based Vampires so I could play Sanctum Seeker and Bishop of the Bloodstained which are my win conditions in Arena (the global removal in Ixalan is Fiery Cannonade which many players do not play). Unfortunately keeping enough Vampires in play to make a difference proved to be quite difficult - everyone was ready for tribal go wide decks or was simply faster or bigger and truth to be told Ixalan constructed and Standard are two very different formats. In the early RIX Standard if a new deck can't deal with Merfolk, it's better to look at a different deck so I abandoned the idea of black Vampires and tried the other Vampire color - white. There was still Elenda, the Dusk Rose that I wanted to try out so my next deck kept a little bit of black in it. The resulting deck was far better than the black-based version.

I was unable to go through with my Vampires but thanks to Sanctum Seekers I was able to win.

Many players simply try to go big with Vampires rather than wide with more control elements. I don't think that is utterly bad but Merfolk and Zombies (BW Zombies seem great again) do it better. Better in a way that it feels like a real Standard deck unlike the Vampire decks I played with or played against. In MTGA I fell in love with Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle so I wanted to stay more token based. Elenda, the Dusk Rose works well with those but would also want a sacrifice outlet in the deck which I was sadly not likely to play. Oketra's Monument is a card that can actually create an insane amount of tokens even when those tokens are not Vampires. So I wanted to build the deck around these cards. There is actually plenty of possibilities. I tried Paladin of Atonement first to find out that it does not do much even against a deck that actually deals you damage each turn. With 4 Deserts in the deck this card simply didn't work. Dusk Legion Zealot was not really needed without Yahenni, Undying Partisan around and Legion Lieutenant was very bad every time I cast it. A Vampire deck needs a certain amount of cards to be expendable and this card in a way is not. The reason maybe because I always tried to play this card early and then was missing an attacker. Keeping a lord in hand didn't make sense to me though at that time. On the other hand the +1/+1 effect is relevant from time to time at a certain point in the game and the lord is good when you need to race a spell-based deck. In MTGA I play Bishop's Soldier and often the card performed better than other new Rivals of Ixalan cards. There is one card I totally missed though when going through Rivals of Ixalan cards and that is Martyr of Dusk. That actually seems to be the card I was looking for and it also makes Yahenni, Undying Partisan better! Bishop of Binding that I currently have only in one copy in the deck is good sometimes but Cast Out so far did way more for me than this creature. Often it is not a creature I need to get rid of and the fact that this card can be played at instant speed was actually very relevant in my games.

Well, sometimes Cast Out targeted something you'd not normally try to get rid of for 4 mana

Red-Green Dinosaurs

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The deck above is practically my MTGA deck with few non-Ixalan cards thrown it which I was interested in trying in a Standard environment. I wasn't trying to build a dinosaur dedicated deck because Dinosaurs were pretty much one of the reasons why I hated Ixalan that much. Unfortunately (or fortunately) whenever I go play a sealed deck, draft or something I get to open good Dinosaur packs. In MTGA it was pretty much the same. I opened a Dinosaur constructed deck which meant I either just crushed everyone or terribly died with a non-dinosaur deck. In Rivals of Ixalan I just wanted to see if Ghalta, Primal Hunger is the real deal and if Thunderherd Migration is good in this kind of a deck. I often have power 6 on turn 3 and I can play a 5 drop on the following turn. Under those circumstances it can't be that difficult to cast Ghalta, right? Ghalta is a real beating and totally playable if you wish (especially if it gains haste) unlike the red Elder dinosaur for example. On the other hand I feel that the deck does not even need the card and Carnage Tyrant would be better in many cases as it avoids Vraska, Relic Seeker or Vraska's Contempt. Thunderherd Migration is a more assured way how to get to casting 6 drops but my deck doesn't really have them. I liked the card though, but I'd rather be casting Tetzimoc, Primal Death or Vraska, Relic Seeker with it. So after my very short but frustrating Dinosaur adventure I tried to build a ramp deck.

Before I move on to another deck I'd like to mention one thing that the Dinosaur deck taught me. Deathgorge Scavenger is a neat card and it seems to me that people underestimate it. At least when I talk about it many people ask me: 'Why do you play this card?'. Honestly, it saved me in many situations. It is very versatile card. It removes cards from the graveyard, gains large amounts of life and the pump effect is often relevant too. While the card doesn't really shine in Dinosaur dedicated decks, it is a very good midrange card and I'm very glad that I put it in my Jund and Junk decks when I couldn't figure out what card at 3 CMC could help me stop more aggressive decks. Eating The Scarab God, Rekindling Phoenix doesn't sound that bad either.

Jund Ramp

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The dinosaur cards I was hyped about were Wayward Swordtooth, Tetzimoc, Primal Death and Thrashing Brontodon (the set is full of very annoying and powerful enchantments, 3/4 body is good for a 3 mana card). I took these cards and found them home in a ramp deck. My deck started as a Desert Ramp deck with the Legendary Dinosaurs and Awakened Amalgam. I wasn't impressed with the deck though so I turned it more into a midrange deck - the ramp part was unnecessary. Since my original ramp ran Hour of Devastation (and Hour of Promise), Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Sweltering Suns I decided to stick with red color. On second thought though I wasn't sure if the third color shouldn't be white so I could in theory play Fumigate. This would also allow me to play Ajani Unyielding which in my opinion is not a bad card and is exactly one of the cards I'd want to run in a similar deck. Vraska, Relic Seeker + Twilight Prophet though are a good duo too and putting another six drop in the deck didn't feel right (will have to test it). White would allow me to also run Profane Procession. I really like the card but I also suspect that many players will play enchantment removal and land destruction so I abandoned Junk version and went back to Jund.

Drawing Sweltering Suns proved to be more difficult than expected which made me appreciate Hour of Devastation more than I would like. In this game I got lucky and actually draw the card on turn 8 and somehow it still mattered!

I put the Dino Rampant Growth in the deck along with Wayward Swordtooth and Tetzimoc, Primal Death. I was also sure to play a certain number of Vraska, Relic Seeker. Twilight Prophet was a failure mostly in a Vampire deck but in this deck it could actually be good. I even put Ghalta in the deck originally because it is a Dinosaur for Thunderherd Migration, can be played early thanks to Wayward Swordtooth's power and can be even hard cast (I've done that few times! Even had mana to draw a card with Arch of Orazca). In order to have lands available to me so I could play them I put in the deck Jadelight Ranger, that either 'scries' or draws lands I can immediately play. I needed some removal to stay alive so I put in 4 Sweltering Suns in the deck (not enough, so I added even Golden Demise and Hour of Devastation in my SB). One of the reasons I wanted to play this deck is also Arch of Orazca. When I first looked at the card I was like - too slow. My first Rivals of Ixalan sealed deck though woke me up - City's Blessing is actually pretty easy to get and this card in a deck that can do it can possibly actually have 5 mana to spend to draw a card each turn. It's not Library of Alexandria but it's good and I would suggest running Field of Ruin if your deck is slower.

While playing this deck I played some epic games and also collected something that could be considered an 'achievement'. After totally punting game 1, I managed to reveal Ghalta, Primal Hunter with Twilight Prophet! In the following game that also looked pretty bleak for me I managed to get my third Vraska to its ultimate ability, use it and then draw Chandra, Torch of Defiance to save the day - or rather win the game! In the third game I miraculously won with unanswered Skysovereign.

I'd like to talk about enchantments and artifacts a bit too. To Ascend one needs to have ten permanents in play. The easiest way may seem to be to play token generating cards but those die very easily. Playing a deck like the Jund Ramp or Junk Ramp though can attain the City's Blessing with more certainty and usually at a similar time frame in the game while actually having permanents in play that don't die (when you have City's Blessing you can't lose it). Playing white would help this deck get to ten permanent count faster because one can play cards like Baffling End or Cast Out. Black doesn't have cards like those but it has access as any other color to artifacts. Vehicles is what comes into mind with conjunction with my new favorite dinosaur - Wayward Swordtooth. It has power 5 which can be pretty relevant. Crewing Vehicles that require high power can be crewed easily now!

Not so long time ago I crewed Smuggler's Copter with Primeval Titan, this time it was Ghalta, Primal Hunger that crewed Skysovereign.

Black-Green Explore

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One of the decks I also wanted to try was a deck built around Explore mechanic. In limited I always wanted to play Wildgrowth Walker. The card seems to be pretty insane and good enough for constructed. Since Explore puts counters on creatures I decided to go for black-green. This way I could play Winding Constrictor. Even with one successful nonland hit I'd get two counters on the creature that explored.

In my earlier BG Delirium/Snek decks I also ran Rishkar, Peema Renegade which seemed as a good addition to the deck. This card would make mana dorks out of my 2 drops and would help me cast something early on turn 4. What would that card be though? That is something I honestly didn't figure out so I put Tendershoot Dryad in the deck. The Dryad though dies very easily to Shock effect. When it stays in play though, it's very good. I was looking for other cards I could cast early and make it difficult for my opponent to win the game through those - it ended up to be all-star Vraska, Relic Seeker, Tetzimoc, Primal Death and Verdurous Gearhulk. Since Walking Ballista likes +1/+1 counters and a lot of mana I decided to include the card too.

My creatures can sometimes be also dino-sized!

I enjoyed playing with this deck a lot but it lacks something and that I could use as a win condition. While I have some cards that can win the game there should be more certainty in winning the game in late game. Explore based decks will get to late game easily and with a healthy life total, the question is what then. I was actually thinking about adding blue and Herald of Secret Streams but if that creature dies one will be left with creatures that still can't attack into opponent's creatures that are most likely going to kill you back. This idea is even more clunky than my Tendershoot Dryad that is good against non-red and non-white decks. Rhonas the Indomitable is another option.


My Explore decks are still rather unexplored but white and blue versions are totally possible. Blue can be rather aggressive or go more a control route. White can have a token sub-theme. I actually tried to make it more of a theme with Huatli, Radiant Champion. Unfortunately the card is doing way better in Oketra's Monument Vampires.

Black-Red Midrange

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Rekindling Phoenix is a card that has an awesome illustration. I'm not entirely sure if an owl can be considered a phoenix but looking at the card's art makes me go 'wow'. After I stopped looking at the card art I looked at what it does and the ability seemed actually good to me. I started to think about a shell of a deck I could put this in. Certainly not an aggressive deck but rather one that tries to be a control but can also attack with midrange creatures. It reminded me of BR Dragons and that's what I tried to recreate.

What the deck lacks is some other form of card draw and I was really considering running Ruin Raider or Sword-Point Diplomacy. There is actually a better card and that is Live Fast which draws 2 cards and gains you 2 Energy which is sometimes relevant. In the end I just decided to run more removal and see what 'testing' would show as missing or not good or not necessary (for example that Unlicensed Disintegration is worse than I thought it would be. It randomly killed some Planeswalkers which was cool though).

The deck features a lot of removal, some early game threats (Glint-Sleeve Siphoner being very important here), more removal and 'Dragons'. Those are in this case Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer. I also wanted to play some Planeswalkers to generate value. In red we have Chandra, Torch of Defiance. In black there is either Liliana, Death's Majesty or Angrath, the Flame-Chained. Since Liliana, Death's Majesty's abilities didn't prove to be that good in this deck I decided to give the new planeswalker a chance. It can actually win the game on its own. I wasn't hyped about the second ability but wanted to steal some Ghalta, Primal Hunger, instead I was stealing GPG targets mostly because in other cases I could just use the +1 ability and win the game. This deck also has room for the new 'Nekrataal'. While this card doesn't have First Strike, it kills ANY creature an opponent controls. It is actually a nice card. 4 mana removal is starting to be actually an acceptable CMC and having a 2/2 body to leave behind is good. So far I can't say that Ravenous Chupacabra is bad, it was always good when I played it often dealing with a 6 drop. It felt very good to deal with Azor, the Lawbringer with it!

I really hoped for Rivals of Ixalan to fix both limited and constructed. I'm not sure if that is going to happen but there are many nice cards for both limited and constructed. While everyone is complaining about removal being bad in limited - my creatures died to Hunt the Weak, Divine Verdict and Baffling End. I mean even 3 mana burn spell dealing 4 damage doesn't sound bad! In constructed I've seen many nice things going on. Even though majority of it was stopped by RUG or BUG based energy decks those decks might emerge when Energy will be gone from Standard. I really like the feel of new grindy decks in Standard though and Jund/Junk Midrange is definitely something I'd pick up. I also learned that there is way more to tribal decks than I originally thought so. I came up with 5 different versions of Vampires (each trying to do something else). In each of those decks a certain card has very different power level and that means that there is still quite a lot of exploring for me to do. The new (non-Energy) format is not just about tribal though. There are even other tribal decks that you might have not thought immediately. Zombies got strong once again and URW Humans actually seems to be a thing to. One could even play a Naga tribal! Token theme has been reinforced and there is big potential in decks build around lands/explore/ramp. Lands will definitely matter.

All this I managed to explore in a very short time interval (few days). It opened up a world of future Standard that I like. If MTGA will become open for players the format may actually be interesting, not overrun by Dinosaurs and fun for those who like to brew. I hope that you enjoyed this journey because I certainly did.

Decks presented in this article are very crude decks but thanks to them I was able to explore a new format. While exploring and having fun I also got a big heads up in the upcoming format. I built decks that were doing what I wanted them to do which is very important for me. Some were dead ends, some worked to some extent, and some proved to be tier 1 material if tuned well. So, if you have the possibility to brew, do it. It will give you way more advantage over other players when the metagame settles or when it changes in the future. The knowledge is invaluable. Don't be afraid to fail because even the pros say that 95% of deck ideas will be discarded. Most importantly it's fun and we learn the most when we have fun!

Thanks for reading!
S'Tsung (stsung on Magic Online, stsungjp on Twitter)


Bonus deck by stsung at Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:43
stsung's picture

Here is a bonus Vampire deck for you to check out! (hint: It is a combo deck)