Noob’s Impressions of Rivals of Ixalan

Introduction

Well, it’s that time again.  Chris texted a couple of weeks ago saying that his interest in Magic the Gathering was growing once again. I texted back, somewhat jokingly, “Just in time for the new set.”  The second set in the Ixalan block, Rivals, is very close to being released.  In fact, the prerelease might even be this weekend.  Or next weekend.  Or it was last weekend.  2 Generations Gaming, always on the cutting edge!

Regardless of when the prerelease happens (It was last weekend.  The set releases tomorrow.), it happens during a month when I’m not getting paid.  One of these years, I’m going to get smart and just squirrel away 30 bucks for the January set prerelease.  Ah, but I digress.  As Chris is showing more interest in the game, there are rumblings of the original 2 Guys getting together to game, and I actually played a disastrous game on xMage the other day, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look at these cards and see if I’m going to spend hard earned money on them.

Spoiler Alert: I will.
Note: Not actually my picture, but only because I’m too lazy to go upstairs and stage my own collection.

Those of you who read my latest Hearthstone article know that I set my preview of that set up slightly differently from my usual “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” format.  I highlighted certain things that I found interesting about the set.  Since that seems to work pretty well for a preview, I will continue with that format here.

The Mechanics (Or, What Does “Raid” Mean Again?)

One of the best things about a new Magic set is seeing what new mechanics they are adding to the game and what old ones they are recycling from previous sets.  One of the more recent examples has been scry.  Scry was a part of the game, but it recently fundamentally changed and became an evergreen for blue mostly.  Then, it changed the actual rules of the game by being included in the new mulligan rule.  For a player like me who is into the wonkier elements of the game, that was a really cool evolution to watch.

There are still dinosaurs, pirates, merfolk, and vampires from the first set in the block.  The recycled mechanics that I can see from glancing at the spoilers are enrage, explore, and raid.  Of those, I’m most interested in raid.  That one debuted in the Tarkir block and you might think it odd that I’d chose a more aggro mechanic over the other decidedly control oriented ones.  I can’t explain it. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Besides, look what they gave my beloved Blue.  Not sure how you’d make it work, but I live for this weird stuff.

The new mechanic for the set is Ascend.  According to my research and some 3rd grade reading comprehension, when you control 10 or more permanents, you get the city’s blessing for the rest of the game.  This ascension gives some cards that you might play a bonus effect.  I’ve mentioned in a couple of my recent articles that I’m glad that Wizards of the Coast is willing to treat Magic the Gathering as a game.  I get it that we humans like to make our games into serious competitions that we then discuss in very serious and important terms for hours on end.

However, and Chris and I (and perhaps some of you out there) struggle with this quite a bit, these are just games.  We all grew up playing them.  Very few of us made any kind of living from them.  Now, it seems like every kid with a webcam and a microphone thinks that they are a “pro gamer”.  There are leagues forming.  It sounds ridiculous and it might be ridiculous, but I imagine people said the same thing about professional baseball, football, basketball, and hockey back when those players were associating and leagues were forming.

The point that I’m finally getting to is that even companies like Wizards of the Coast have gotten into the act by promoting their tournaments on Twitch.  So, it’s nice that they haven’t sold out completely to their competitive players.  It looked for while, mainly around the Tarkir block, that they might do just that.  But, they caught the power creep, backed off, and even started to cater more to the casual crowd.  I’m not saying that Ascend won’t be competitive.  In fact, they might have designed it exclusively with competition in mind.  All I’m saying is that this filthy casual loves the design and I can’t wait to play around with it.

This card, in particular, looks to have definite competitive flair.

The Planeswalkers

After the mechanics, the next thing that I like to watch out for are the planeswalkers.  They aren’t often the best cards in a set, but they are fun cards and they are a different card design from pretty much anything I’ve ever seen in any game.  The loyalty mechanic adds new and interesting strategies and even, in some cases, fundamentally change the way the game is played.  Plus, it’s just cool to open one of these guys.  The planeswalkers in this actual set are new ones.  It appears as if they are listening to players who were sick of seeing the old guard of Jace and company.

The first comment on Mythic Spoiler for this card starts, “This card is bad.”  It very well might be.  In fact, I agree with every point that the comment makes.  However, anyone who does any sort of searching on the web page knows that doesn’t matter one bit to me.  Is it fun?  Again, probably not, but would I still try to build a deck around it if I happened to pull one from a pack?  For a third time, no.  Pretty picture, though.

Okay, now this is more like it.  The card does what RB wants to do.  It discards, steals creatures, sometimes kills them, and deals direct damage.  I don’t usually play RB because, ew, Red, but if I did, this would be a card that I could get very excited about.  The card is good and fun for at least one player.  Now for the payoff.  Would I attempt to build a deck around the card if I pulled it from a pack?  Absolutely.  And the first attempt would be absolutely horrible.

Notable Cards

Now for the obligatory mention that this will not be a list of the best cards.  I’ve already made it abundantly clear in this article that I care nothing about competitive play.  I will just pick one card from each color that jumps out and speaks to me.

White

This one immediately jumped out at me as I was reading through the white cards, but I did go through the rest of them to see if anything else might be cooler to me.  I did take a close look at Sphinx’s Decree because I love playing the fun police, but that card also punishes my playstyle, so ultimately, it wouldn’t be fun for anyone.  This one, on the other hand, exiles cards and buffs another vamp.  It is very easy to remove, but that little bit of extra oomph from the plus stats has my brain dancing.

White Honorable Mention

Just because the keyword vomit makes me think of the card that I made for Chris.

Blue

This is a blue card with a heavy dose of red. Similar to the card I highlighted earlier with Raid, this one draws cards, which is what Blue does.  But, it also gives plus stats and basically requires you to attack every turn.  Those are both what red does.  Very cool card designs in this set overall.

Blue Honorable Mention

I told you I live for this weird stuff.  If this thing had flash, it would absolutely be my favorite card. It also might be broken as hell.

Black

Okay, I’m not immune to big, dumb, shiny creatures as this pick shows.  It’s a potential bomb mythic in draft and sealed, which I generally tend to avoid for these picks because I want to go a bit off the beaten path.  But, this guy is just insane.  Look at that ability!  Each turn, you just ping one of your opponents creatures and they are basically racing you to 6 mana at that point.  Just brutal.

Black Honorable Mention

Well, a big dumb idiot and a little dumb idiot.  It just so happens that in black in this set, Wizards has made their idiots interesting.  Flash?  Deathtouch?  Immediate board effect?  I love all of those words individually and together, they have me thinking UB.  See, I haven’t lost my way.

Red

What in the name of Robo Rosewater is this card?  I mean, it isn’t quite at Defcon 1 levels of the random magic card tweeting bot, but it defintely has that je ne sais quoi flavor that makes me wonder if someone took the day off at the office and just grabbed this one from the old Twitter feed.  Some kind of WR life gain deck?  Who knows, but I love it.

Red Honorable Mention

What has gotten into them over there in the WotC offices?  Blue cards that do Red things?  Red Cards that do Blue and Green things?  I mean, I guess this one is more in line with something like Cathartic Reunion or that other card that is escaping me at the moment that makes you discard to draw.  I’m sure there are a couple.  But, that mana ramp is cool and on more than just this one card.

Green

Another card that borders ever so closely to the old Robo Rosewater territory.  In a ramp deck, late game, there are just dinosaurs hitting the board, fighting other creatures, clearing the board, setting up for a possible lethal on the next turn.  Again, maybe a bulk uncommon, but I could have so much fun with this thing.

This is the first card from the set I think that I texted Chris about when I saw that it was being offered as some promo.  He had texted me about it earlier and that must have stuck with me and triggered something when I saw the card.  It would be fun in a ramp stompy deck and I would laugh uncontrollably if someone were able to bounce it out after their hatchling died.

Multicolor

Another big, dumb idiot.  Virtually worthless in any format other than maybe EDH, but it would just be one of those WTF cards that has you doing a bunch of crazy stuff on your turn every time you were able to cast it.  Off to xMage to build this terrible EDH deck!

Colorless

A silly restriction?  A ridiculous (and maybe ultimately stupid and pointless) payoff?  A mention of Jace in the flavor text?  Where do I sign up?

The Verdict

I have to say that I wasn’t anticipating getting back into main Magic any time soon.  I’ve been very satisfied with the off shoot Magic games and other games that I’ve been playing with the boys.  When Chris mentioned that he was feeling the itch again, it got me thinking.  I also had a free spot on my “daily” article routine that was right around the prerelease/release of the set, so I figured that it wouldn’t hurt anything to take a closer look at the set.

I’m glad that I did.  It feels like it has just the right amount of jank to get me interested and deck building again.  Once I pick up my box and bundle combo of the set, then I can have a huge pack opening party with the boys.  I know that they love to open cards as much as I do, so it will be fun to get their thoughts on the cards, too, as we go along.  Well, I guess I’m right back into the cardboard crack.

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