Ixalan: Playing To your Weaknesses – Blue
NOTE: “Playing to your Weaknesses” is a series of articles I have been doing on my own blog since Avacyn Restored that cover all of the uncommons and commons in a new expansion and which ones I would choose to use as one of the 23 cards in a 40 card limited deck. For those of you uninitiated to limited, it simply means sealed and booster draft, where you open packs and then proceed to make a deck out of them. I’ve purposely left out the rare cards because it is much more likely that you’ll see multiples of uncommon and commons in your packs/pools.)
As for my rating system, after a lot of feedback I’ve decided to abandon my 3 tier scoring system of Low-Medium-High and I will instead be moving onto a 5 star ranking system. The system is as follows:
- 1 star = a card that is barely playable, even as filler for your deck
- 2 stars = this card could be a strong sideboard card, but is highly conditional and not always effective
- 3 stars = a 3 star card is a solid role-player. These cards could be less than amazing removal effects, or a creature that is a glass cannon (high power, low defense). They could be good except for a few flaws.
- 4 stars = Here’s where we get into the powerhouses. 4 Stars could be good finishers, or cards that can end a game if left unchecked. They also have multiple effects, and are all around good value for you. The only thing holding them back is restrictive costs or some small drawback.
- 5 stars = you won’t see a lot of these at common and uncommon. These will usually be your rares and mythics because they are incredibly bonkers. Planeswalkers, massive creatures, etc., these are the cards you could build a deck around.
In part two of Playing To Your Weaknesses, we explore the depths of blue and its ocean/river themed cards. Blue is always a good source of tempo cards and flying creatures, but just how good is the color in this set? Is it a build around color, or a support one? We start today by talking about our third tribe on Ixalan: Merfolk.
Merfolk definitely got a power up in this format. Gone are the days of 1 and 2 mana fodder that fold to the slightest of attacks by an opponent. Instead, we have a decent number of merfolk that can make a huge impact on the battlefield. My personal favorite is Tempest Caller, which taps all of an opponent’s creatures when you play it. This could be huge in an aggressive blue deck using vampires, pirates, or any of the other fast strategies. The double blue makes it hard to splash it in a 3 color deck, but you can’t deny how strong this effect is.
Watertrap Weaver has a similar, albeit weaker effect. It effectively puts a creature to sleep for a turn, letting your 2 and 3 mana creatures attack your opponent easily early in the game, or tapping their best creature later on. No matter when you draw it, Weaver will impress you. Now these are great effects on blue creatuers, but how can we take advantage of them? That’s where Storm Sculptor comes into play. He’s an upgrade on the old Phantom Warrior card, giving you an extra power each turn in unblockable damage, but more importantly he lets you bounce one of your creatures. If you play Tempest Caller turn 4, then play Storm Sculptor on turn 5 to bounce it, you’re looking at a huge swing in tempo on turn 6. I really like this card as an enabler and think it’s a high pick in this format, but even more so if you have some good ETB effects. I’d take the other two rather highly as well, just not first pick.
Tempest Caller – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Watertrap Weaver – RATING: 3 Stars
Storm Sculptor – RATING: 3 Stars
The next 3 cards lack the impact of their brethren I talked about before, but they are still good in their own right. Wind Strider is a definite upgrade from the smaller vampires in white, and with Flash you’ll be able to catch some people off guard, both on defense and on offense the following turn. Looking at the number of merfolk we have available to us already, it shouldn’t be hard to give Shaper Apprentice flying. You’ll probably have to invest your strategy into playing a concentration of about 5-6 Merfolk to ensure it gains flying early, but that ends up being fine if you have a card like Deeproot Waters. Possibly getting 5+ hexproof tokens (or more if you’re able to bounce merfolk with Sculptor or some other effect) is well worth saving a spot for this 3 mana enchantment. If your opponent’s deck isn’t too fast, it could end up being a game changer. It’s not something you want to take in your first pack, but if it looks like you’ll be in UG merfolk going into pack 2, I’d draft it high, if not first.
Shaper Apprentice – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Wind Strider – RATING: 3 Stars
Deeproot Waters – RATING: 3 Stars
Blue also gives us our first look at the tribe of pirates. Whereas vampires were aggressive and dinosaurs were huge and stompy, pirates are more resourceful. My hands down favorite is Siren Stormtamer. Sure it’s only a 1/1 flyer for one mana, but that activated ability is astounding, especially in limited when removal is so important. Having it in play to protect your finishers or bombs will put your opponent in the difficult position of having to use 2 pieces of removal to get rid of it: one for Stormtamer, and one for your bomb. Not to mention it’s evasion ensures a few points of damage if you play it early. High draft pick.
If you’re playing an aggressive deck, Storm Fleet Aerialist should have no problem entering the battlefield as a 2/3 flyer for 2 mana. I’d suggest UW since vampires give you lots of fast creatures and blue gives you flyers like the Siren. It won’t stop those massive flying dinosaurs in white, but if you’re playing UW then I hope you stock up on combat tricks to take advantage of blue and white’s speed. Deadeye Quartermaster might seem situational, but I think there are enough playable vehicles and equipment to make it worth it. Even if you’re only playing 2 of those types, grabbing something like Fell Flagship or Conqueror’s Galleon will mean trouble for your opponent next turn.
Prosperous Pirates is a good card if you’re focusing on ramping into something big. Putting 2 treasure tokens into play means you’ll go from 5 mana turn 5 to 8 mana on turn 6. It should come in handy if you’re playing a midrange deck with a few dinosaurs to beatdown your opponent’s with. Not a high draft pick, but a nice addition to your 23 cards in one of those last spots.
Siren Stormtamer – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Storm Fleet Aerialist – RATING 2.5 stars
Deadeye Quartermaster – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Prosperous Pirates – RATING: 2.5 Stars
While it’s neither a pirate nor a merfolk, I can say that it’s a welcome sight to see Air Elemental back in limited after a long absence. This card was a bomb back during the early years of Magic along with Serra Angel and the other elementals, and it should still be king of the skies in XLN limited as well. It’s one of the biggest things in the sky, and if your opponent can’t stop it, the game will end quickly. I’d take it rather early in draft, possibly even first pick if my rare wasn’t bomb-worthy. Even the flying dinos will have trouble with it.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
Blue always has these type of tempo spells in their repertoire, but in Ixalan they are slightly better thanks to their after effects. Perilous Voyage is basically a better Disperse. It bounces a permanent and also lets you scry 2 if it was less than 3 mana. You’ll probably be using it against fast decks like vampires most of the time, but don’t forget that you can bounce equipment, artifacts, and enchantments as well.
Depths of Desire is similar to Unsummon, but it effectively ramps you as an after effect. It might not be my first pick for tempo cards/effects in blue, but it’s serviceable if your removal choices are limited.
Run Aground is probably the best of the bunch, even if it costs 4 mana to play. Effectively ‘time walking’ an opponent to set them back a turn could be a power effect at the end of a turn, and seeing as it also hits artifacts you can send those pesky pirate ships back to the top of their library as well. On offense, you can also bounce one of your cards like Tempest Caller to the top of your library so you can cast it for an alpha strike the following turn. It’s a very versatile card, and a high pick if you’re in blue.
Perilous Voyage – RATING: 3 Stars
Depths of Desire – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Run Aground – RATING: 3.5 Stars
While there are countless draw spells in blue, none are as easy to cast as Opt. Adding scry to this cantrip makes it even better. If your deck’s average mana cost is low and you’re playing aggressively, Opt might be for you. Otherwise, more cards might be better, such as Chart a Course’s 2 mana for 2 cards. Both I think are playable in Ixalan limited, but probably later picks.
Opt – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Chart a Course: 2.5 Stars
Other Cards that Will See Play
- Cancel/Lookout’s Dispersal – Not sure how good counterspells will be in this format, but sometimes it’s better to counter the giant 7/7 dinosaur instead of bouncing it.
- Favorable Winds – Great card if you can get the critical mass needed to make it worthwhile in your limited deck. I’m thinking at least 5 flyers, maybe more for me to make a spot for it.
- Navigator’s Ruin – Seems like a fun alternate win condition. Would be great if you have lots of high defense creatures or lots of evasion.
- One with the Wind – Good to put on hexproof merfolk tokens, also on your giant beater to finish a game.
- Pirates Prize – it’s both a Divination and a ramp card, so I could see some people playing this in their decks. If you don’t need the ramp, Opt/Chart a Course are probably better.
- River Sneak – this could be an amazing card in a devoted merfolk deck, especially with Deeproot Waters. Play a merfolk, get a token, attack with a 3/3 unblockable creature.
- Sailor of Means – filler, but also ramps.
- Siren Lookout – good if you’re trying to build a Favorable Winds deck, but otherwise I think there are better choices for flyers. The explore effect is harder to rely on than raid.
Coming Up Next
I’m excited about the possibilities of blue, but I also think it’s going to be challenge to really take advantage of its synergies. You should be able to put together Merfolk decks rather easily, and I would probably rank the strategy higher than Vampires at this point. Favorable Winds is definitely possible in UW, and possibly in Esper colors as well. I don’t you’ll see it much outside of draft though. The pirates seem rather versatile, but I’m not sure I would play them over merfolk at this point. This could change after looking at black and red though.
So far, the Ixlan limited experience seems like it’s going to be very challenging, but also fun. I’m looking forward to trying it out for the first time next weekend at the pre-release. That will do it for today’s article, but if you have any comments or suggestions on blue in the new set, feel free to leave them down below! Look for black sometime on Tuesday night hopefully!