Monday, 8 January 2018
Rivals of Ixalan: Conclusions and Additions
Despite seeming like a very silly theme for a set when Ixalan first started to be spoiled in the summer I have to say I think the block has been a big flavour win. I like the feel of the sets, I love the things that flip into lands. The art on those new uncommon dual lands is divine, if only they were good! That sentiment sadly permeates throughout the set, particularly RIX - if only it was good... Rivals has to be the least powerful set relative to the cube I have seen in over a decade. It is not just that it is low average power but it is also an incredibly safe set. All the good things are not dangerous or powerful cards, they are just suitable cards. There are a mere six things I am willing to call outright good enough for the cube but most of them are borderline and none of them are bombs. I think the highest rating any card got in the set was a 7/10 and one of those was to a jumped up Savannah Lions! All six of the additions are creatures and they mostly have two power. None of them will really change much in the cube. Some things will have more options, depth and power but so marginally it isn't going to shift things at all.
All the interesting cards in this set are so narrow there is just no chance of them working out well in a drafting cube unless you ruin if by putting in as much support as you can find for these cards. Stuff like Induced Amnesia and Blood Sun can do awesome things but are not cards you can just put into a cube and have them do stuff. They likely both need other do nothing low powered cards to make things happen.
Ixalan block has brought a lot of things for tribal decks, mostly vampires and merfolk as pirates and dinosaurs were not a thing prior to the block. While there are a lot of good cards for the vampires and merfolk they are not doing all that much for the drafting cube either. Tribal themes are hard to include in any sort of draft format without making it narrow, dull or imbalanced and cube is no exception. Tribal decks are great fun and many are pretty powerful but they should sensibly remain the thing of the more constructed formats. Two mana lords for example are great, they are some of the best tribal cards on offer but they are not having any impact on the drafting cube. While I am very welcoming of all the new tribal offerings from this set it is a little bit of a shame that so many good white vampires and green merfolk saw print. In both cases it now feels like you really need to be Mardu and Simic respectively for those tribes now and in some senses that is a restriction. Green is certainly the least appealing colour for a tempo blue deck to pair with as both colours fail at killing creatures. White may be a happy third colour for vampires but three colours does put a lot of strain on a mana base for a tempo deck.
Of the six added cards I would not be at all shocked to see only a few remaining in the drafting cube in a couple of years. They are typically just not that much of an upgrade and are such common sorts of cards I can see many better things coming along and taking their slots. I have two and a half times as many cards to test out than the auto includes. I don't really hold out much hope for any of them bar Jadelight Ranger and Dusk Legion Zealot. All the cards are very much suffering the same troubles as the actual inclusions, they are mostly just dorks that don't change much. Some might be a little bit of fun to try out but as I mentioned several times in the reviews, many cards feel like they are 5 to 10 years overdue. So many things from this set would have done loads of work in older versions of the cube but power creep is to a point where few of these things really hit the bar. Basically as far as cube is concerned this set might as well not exist and things would be pretty much the same. As a cube player I don't expect much from any given set but it would be really nice to get some interesting and exciting cards rather than safe, tried and tested versions of the same thing. The fact that they have printed bad Rampant Growth for a while now is a pretty scary omen. I think they have balance and card design sufficiently well mapped out and understood now that they need to intentionally start pushing the boat out so as to make things generally more interesting. Some braver card design is needed.
I used to think as a cube player there wasn't much call for Wizards to cater for my needs, I wasn't contributing in the way a drafter or constructed player would economically. I have however given some thought to that attitude and can probably in fact make a pretty good case for why it would be well in Wizards interests to consider cube players as well as vintage, modern, EDH, standard, draft, and the rest. Sure, the job is already impossibly hard to perfect but you only need a couple of cards per set to keep us happy and take our money. Hell, you could put it all in the Commander sets and not have to worry about imbalance. I spend more on magic now just as a cube player than I did when I played the game full time both constructed and limited. A lot of that is down to my personal economic positions at those times but still, the point remains, there is money I want to spend on magic as a pure cube player and this set is only going to get at a fraction of that due to how dull and weak it is for cube. Take my money! Make more cube cards! Creep that power more adventurously! At least make more good removal, it is not like that can ever be too oppressive!
To add to the drafting cube
To test out
Paladin of Attonement
Dusk Legion Zealot
Azor's Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun
Martyr of Dusk
To get for constructed uses, sideboards, combo and tribal decks etc.
*indicates an actually good card with some homes already
The Immortal Sun
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Journey to Eternity // Atzal, Cave of Eternity
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Dead Man's Chest
Profane Procession // Tomb of the Dusk Rose
Forerunner of the Coalition
Forerunner of the Legion
Forerunner of the Empire
Forerunner of the Heralds
Flood of Recollection
Slaughter the Stong
Release to the Wind
Expel from Orazca
Shake the Foundations