Hello and welcome back to Elder Dragon Recycling, your favourite stop for all things Elder Dragon Highlander! This coming weekend is the Ixalan pre-release and the following week the set will become formally legal in all formats. So today we’ll be discussing Ixalan and how the set impacts Commander.
I want to preface this article by stating that Ixalan does not seem to be geared towards Commander overall and I think it is largely disappointing for our format specifically. The tribes (with the exception of Vampires, which are long-established) are haphazardly simple and lacking in any real payoff and have very few cards that are acceptable for highlander. Dinosaurs overall are incredibly tame in quality and quantity, Pirates are lacking the numbers and efficiency and Merfolk have no mechanical identity beyond +1/+1 counters and they do this more poorly than most pre-existing +1/+1 counter theme decks like Atraxa, Marchesa 1.0 or Ghave. When picking new tribes to support there are obviously going to be some setbacks to expect but these tribes in particular are already problematic and have not really improved enough with Ixalan’s release to consider as viable.
As for the other mechanics, Explore is solid but is largely found on underwhelming vanilla creatures, and the ones that can’t do it repeatedly are absolutely never worth including. Treasure tokens have seem niche uses in the Pirates deck and are useful in decks that need help splashing or can take advantage of having access to artifact tokens, such as Breya, Etherium Shaper. Raid is back and is as always easy to trigger but there continue to be a lack of many solid triggers to reward you with. The DFC enchantments and artifacts that turn into lands are the most mechanically interesting subset in the set and most are worth including in the appropriate decks despite them being slightly clunkier than similar versions of their effects. Another important note about these is that once they flip they become lands, so they can act as a small bit of ramp as their worst utility. Onto the reviews!
Vona, Butcher of Magan – Vona is yet another Orzhov commander that interacts with life in some way and rewards you with a vindicate. Unlike Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim or Karlov of the Ghost Council you get her effect immediately, but it comes at three costs: being a tap ability, being activate-able only on your own turn and costing 7 life instead of mana. The 7 life versus mana is actually solid since its easy for her to gain back most of it by attacking, but the other two restrictions really narrow her use and make her feel like a slower version of the other commanders in her identity with the same theme. I’ll pass.
Admiral Beckett Brass – Becket is the new general, or should I say admiral, for your Pirate decks. The problem? She’s pretty useless. A simple buff isn’t enough to make most pirates playable and her other tribal reward is not super powerful in multiplayer. She would have been if she let you steal things from multiple opponents that you hit, not just one. Overall disappointing and definitely doesn’t help even if there were enough playable pirates to justify the tribe.
Gishath, Sun’s Avatar – Unlike Beckett, Gishath gives you a pretty sick reward for playing tribal. When Gishath hits you can See the Unwritten for your Dinosaurs, which is a great reward for committing to a tribe. Gishath itself also is a huge beatstick so worse comes to worse you can just Voltron it up. The problem is that like Pirates, most Dinosaurs are pretty trash. There are more good Dinosaurs than good Pirates but both lack a good critical mass of simply playable creatures. I have high hopes for the viability of this tribe when Rivals of Ixalan is released and with a few more creatures getting errata’d to dinosaur (Regal Behemoth I’m looking at you).
Tishana, Voice of Thunder – The most powerful of the new legendaries, Tishana is a combination of Maro and Regal Force. It’s implied that she is supposed to work well with Merfolk the way Vona works with Vampires, but the comparison simply isn’t there since there really aren’t enough Merfolk token generators and you’re stuck relying on mostly lords and a few playable non-lords.
All of the mono-coloured legendaries that fit specific tribes are not worth running as your Commander and fit better as support within their respective tribal decks behind a better general.
The Best of the Rest
Axis of Mortality – Possibly playable in Vona or other white decks that play around with paying large amounts of life. Overall I think this card is a cute gimmick but little more.
Jace, Cunning Castaway – Jace finally got an illusion card! Say what you will about him as a character but it’s rad that WotC finally delivered on the more interesting of his mechanical identity in card form. This card is great for Standard and pretty bad in eternal formats. Notably it does go infinite with Doubling Season but that honestly just says more about Doubling Season than it does about this card (what doesn’t go infinite with Doubling Season? Or at least just win you the game. Don’t get smart with me.)
Boneyard Parley – This is a pretty interesting card, a Fact or Fiction of reanimation so to speak. The problem I have with this card is two-fold. Realistically, you’ll be getting 2-3 creatures out of this. At that point, two questions emerge: 1) Why not just run a card like Animate Dead to get back the single creature you wanted anyway for much cheaper? and 2) If you really need multiple creatures, why not play Sepulchral Primordial to get one creature per opponent (avg. of 3, just like Parley) or even better just Rise of the Dark Realms and get everything for only 2 mana more than Parley? This card is kool and has great flavour but feels like a fail when compared to existing cards. In WotC’s defense it’s hard to best Rise of the Dark Realms.
Rowdy Crew – Honestly at this rate it’s not an amazing card but mono-Red will take whatever it can get in terms of card draw. Discarding at random can be devastating but you might be willing to take the risk, or you’re playing Daretti, Scrap Savant and don’t care what you discard anyway. The unlikely upside of crew getting bigger when you discard shouldn’t particularly reason into anything unless you’re an aggressive decks with lots and lots of creatures.
Carnage Tyrant – It’s a big dumb beatstick that is very hard to interact with and is also a Dinosaur. Good card for people who really like that sort of thing. Not superb in our format. It is notably one or two mana cheaper than you would typically expect from this kind of card so maybe it has some value in decks like Xenagos, God of Revels which is always looking for efficient targets for its commander’s ability.
Wakening Sun’s Avatar – This card is pretty good since it’s a possible one-sided boardwipe, but the one-sided nature is reliant on the number of Dinosaurs you have. Notably doesn’t kill itself, but can only trigger when cast from your hand. Include in your Dinosaur decks or your white decks that are looking for more creature based boardwipes (I have no idea who you are but you probably exist).
Overflowing Insight – Technically this card is efficient in that it is a 7-for-1. However, it just feels worse than all the X-draw spells we have access to in blue. I could maybe see this in Mizzix of the Izmagnus as another way to refill your hand for cheap but I’m iffy on that even there.
Dire Fleet Ravager – The lifeloss aspect of Pox on a beefy, evasive body makes this a solid include in black aggro decks like Rakdos, Lord of Riots or in decks that can break the synergy or punish the opponent harder for the effect. It is a Wizard so you can put it in your brand new Inalla, Archmage Ritualist deck.
Star of Extinction – This is finally another good boardwipe for red decks that can also hit powerful lands like Cabal Coffers in the process. Obviously worse than Blasphemous Act but what red sweeper isn’t? Possibly a new staple in mono-red, Gruul and Izzet strategies.
Deathgorge Scavenger – An aggressive variation on Scavenging Ooze this is one of the few playable low-end Dinos in the set, and isn’t awful at graveyard hate. But it is incredibly slow, unlike the Ooze, and its buff is not permanent.
Legion’s Landing – This is one of if not the easiest of the DFCs to flip, and the backside makes you tokens, which fits the flip trigger. A bit slow but still good for token or aggro decks.
Arguel’s Blood Fast – The front half is just a worse Greed, it’s nearly impossible to flip without straight up dying and the backside isn’t immediately powerful enough to warrant wanting to flip it in the first place. Hard pass.
Vance’s Blasting Cannon – This is reminiscent of Outpost Siege but doesn’t hit lands making it worse, and it’s somewhat hard to trigger and flip it. The backside is also powerful but somewhat limited in nature, especially due to the total cost of activation.
Growing Rites of Itlimoc – This replaces itself, hopefully, is cheap and easy to flip. Check on the front side. The backside is a strictly better Gaea’s Cradle so wow. Obviously not having permanent immediate access to the backside makes this worse, but this card is still going to be an allstar and possibly a new staple.
Bishop of Rebirth – Bad Sun Titan is bad, but redundancy is king in highlander. Hitting only creatures makes this narrower but still hits a lot of relevant cards, and is probably useful in hatebears or low-cmc aggro lists.
Fleet Swallower – I laughed when I saw this card. It’s not amazing but it is super funny. Traumatizeing an opponent multiple times is one of the most rage-inducing things in a game for many people, and the most fun for others. Mill yourself for extra value.
Ripjaw Raptor – Lookout for this card in Marath, Will of the Wild lists as a pretty insane way to draw lots of cards each turn. Solid in any other deck that can repeatedly ping it, playable in aggressive decks.
Spellswindle – Expensive Mana Drain variants have traditionally been pretty bad, but this has a few more upsides than usual. The tokens are artifacts for work together, and you don’t need to spend all the mana immediately for fear of it being wasted. Still probably overcosted.
Shapers’ Sanctuary – Only triggering on creatures narrows the utility of this effect but it’s so efficient that it’s probably still worth it, especially if there is lots of spot removal in your meta.
Deadeye Tracker – The graveyard hate on this is slow, just like Deathgorger, but it gets a permanent buff and sometimes draws you cards.
Priest of the Wakening Sun – This card will be good when there are enough good Dinos to be worth tutoring for.
Ruin Raider – Aggressive black decks with low CMCs aren’t coming to mind but this could see play in them.
Sunbird’s Invocation – A potentially explosive way for red to generate some more card advantage. Again it only works with spells cast from hand, so no graveyard or top of deck shenanigans, and it won’t trigger off your commander.
Vraska, Relic Seeker – The new Vraska is a bomb. She defends herself a little better than her original version, her minus 2 can’t hit planeswalkers but is otherwise the same and can fire off twice in a row with no uptick necessary. Normally ults don’t matter but hers is easy to get to and is such a powerful effect that you should consider playing towards it as a goal if you get her out.
Huatli, Warrior Poet – No.
Regisaur Alpha – Will be better with more playable Dinos. Find ways to blink it for maximum value.
Hostage Taker – The truest new staple of EDH, this card is hot. It’s getting errata so that it can’t infinitely loop by exiling itself, but that was just a gimmick anyway. Very solid Banisher Priest with the incredible upsides of being able to hit artifacts and of being able to cast and steal the card you take. A+
Dowsing Dagger – This card is in a weird slot, since you need a cheap or evasive creature to get the flip trigger, and then also something to do with your new Lotus Vale. The decks that can accomplish both are narrow but will find great use for this card.
Conqueror’s Galleon – What a bizarre card. It’s a giant ass ship that becomes a fortress city. And it lets you do some powerful things that normally are found in specific colours, even though they come at a high cost. The mana cost isn’t what’s deterring about this but the crew cost necessary to get it to attack. Aggressive decks would rather attack with their real creatures, and control won’t have enough creatures to justify this. Midrange is the deck where this is home and it might struggle to survive against other powerful cards.
Primal Amulet – Spellslinger, control and some combo decks will love this because of the backside. By the time you flip it the Amulet pays for itself, and getting extra Demonic Tutors or the like will be worth it.
So that’s that, all the notable cards in Ixalan. I left a few cards out because I didn’t feel like there was anything interesting to say about them – either their applications were obvious or they fell into the tribal category that I discussed earlier. I am very disappointed in the set overall, but this may be attributable to how amazing the last few blocks have been for EDH. Hopefully you enjoy our foray into a land of explorers more than I.