Ixalan: Playing To your Weaknesses – Green
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.
I’m in uncharted territory now. I usually don’t have a chance to finish green until Saturday after my first pre-release, but being able to get this article done ahead of time will give me an advantage when I actually do play. Not saying I’ve done bad at any pre-release recently, but having more time to think about the cards, their combinations, and various synergies makes it easier to build decks. Even if I don’t open an amazing pool, I’m still confident I can build a good deck.
Green brings us the rest of the dinosaurs and merfolk, and while we know that dinos are going to be a very strong tribe, the river/ocean folk are still an unknown quantity. Blue gave us some versatile merfolk that had great ETB effects and evasion, but they weren’t that strong. While I felt that they seemed stronger than vampires, I still wasn’t convinced they were better than pirates or able to deal with large, stompy, reptiles. After today’s article, I should be able to make a statement though.
We all know how much ramp strategies are being pushed in this format by the sheer number of effects that put treasure tokens into play (which can then be used to activate a mana intensive ability or a large creature), so I think it’s a good place to start in green since the color usually has the best ramp cards.
Blossom Dryad has the unique ability to untap target land which means it will be better in a multicolor deck with lots of non-basic lands, and if you’re lucky enough to open a Growing Rites of Itlimoc (which transforms into Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun) then you’ll be sitting on an ungodly amount of mana. If your strategy is to play dinosaurs, especially the bigger ones, then I would recommend using the dryad.
Drover of the Mighty is your usual mana creature with a catch. Playing a dinosaur alongside the druid makes him every bit as ferocious as one. Besides being harder to take kill, it also makes him a better late game draw. In the past, if you drew your mana dork after turn 5 or 6, they were pretty worthless as an attacker or blocker and the mana wouldn’t be needed. No so with Drover of the Mighty. High draft pick for dino midrange decks, especially GR ones.
New Horizons is similar to Amonkhet’s Gift of Paradise, but instead of life you get to pump up one of your creatures. In a dedicated dino ramp deck, this would probably mean one of your mana creatures, but I could see this card being used in UG merfolk as well to help cast a finisher, splash a 3rd color, or to pump up your creatures. I’m not sure it will see a lot of play, but I think you should consider its ability depending your card pool.
Remember how I said that enrage was absolutely broken in this format? Ranging Raptors turns into a rampant growth each turn it’s damaged. If you can pump up its toughness with a card like Thundering Spineback or draft some of those enrage enablers like Makeshift Munitions, you’re looking at an incredibly useful reptile. I’d take it very high in draft. Even if you can’t take advantage of its ability each turn, you still get a land after combat and it should trade with quite a lot of creatures. Great card advantage.
Blossom Dryad – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Drover of the Might – RATING: 3 Stars
New Horizons – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Ranging Raptors – RATING: 3.5 Stars
We’ve talked about our ramp effects, now what do we ramp in to? I believe that these 3 are your prime choices. Ancient Brontodon will stomp over everything in this format and will be incredibly hard to stop. Sure it’s 8 mana, but if we have some treasure and ramp cards it’s not impossible to play it on say, turn 6. Best non-rare finisher in green, if not in all colors. I wouldn’t mind Riling it up to give it trample either! Great bomb for any green deck.
Colossal Dreadmaw isn’t as big, but a 6/6 trample bearing down on your opponent is still scary as hell. I’d be happy with either this or Brontodon getting passed to me in draft, and as commons you’ll see them a lot. The problem is, just how many big creatures can your deck support? Ramp will be very important, so if you can grab 3-5 effects it should be no problem playing four to five 5+ converted mana cost dinosaurs. Just don’t go overboard.
One of of the most amazing green non-rare creatures is Thundering Spineback. It can single handedly win you the game by creating a 4/4 dinosaur turn after turn and brutalizing your opponent. Not to mention it gives all of your other dinosaurs a boost as well. I think it’s safe to say that this is first pickable in draft, and that you should also be sure to grab at least 4 ramp effects if you’re going to play any deck with a large proportion of these terrifying lizards. Any one of these could win you a game.
Ancient Brontodon – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Colossal Dreadmaw – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Thundering Spineback – RATING: 4 Stars
These dinosaurs probably won’t be winning the game by themselves like the 3 before them, but they are still playable, especially if you’re looking to fill out your curve. Spike-Tailed Ceratops if both a good defender and attacker, while Ravenous Daggertooth gives you some life when it trades with a creature (or gains you life in a pinch if you can ping it for damage). Grazing Whiptail is good if you’re going up against a lot of vampires or UB pirates with a lot of flyers. But the best of the pack, by far, is Snapping Sailback. It’s a nasty 4/4 flash creature that comes out of nowhere to eat an opponent’s creature, then gets bigger if it survives the outcome. Great combat trick that will help swing the match tempo in your favor, putting your opponent a creature down while giving you a 5/5 to attack with the following turn. It’s like the T-rex eating the raptor just as it was about to attack everyone at the end of the first Jurassic Park movie: savage.
Spike-Tailed Ceratops – RATING: 3 Stars
Snapping Sailback – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Ravenous Daggertooth – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Grazing Whiptail – RATING: 3 Stars
The other cards that I would also throw in to those ramp decks with big finishers would be Pounce, Savage Stomp, Crash the Ramparts, and Emergent Growth. Each of these can be considered removal of sorts, but the last two are actually combat tricks. Pounce is an incredibly piece of removal for midrange builds with a lot of high power/toughness creatures, and being an instant speed fight effect makes it powerful in this format. Being able to enrage a dinosaur you have on your turn, while also killing one of your opponent’s creatures will lead to some awkward swings in tempo. If I’m in green, I definitely want to draft Pounce early.
While Pounce is good for just about every green deck, Savage Stomp benefits from being played in a dinosaur based deck. It’s about time Wizards decided to give us a better Hunt the Weak. In fact, they went one step further by making it only 1 mana to play if you’re fighting with a dinosaur. While Pounce is superior in both speed and cost, I’d be happy with either in my deck.
Crash the Ramparts is pretty good as far as combat tricks go. +3/+3 and trample might work better with a UG merfolk deck that’s looking to get in a lot of damage with their tempo tricks and unblockable creatures, but it’s also good to have if you’re playing an Ancient Brontodon and don’t want it to be chumped blocked by a 1/1 creature. The more bigger creatures you play without evasion, the better it becomes. Emergent Growth, on the other hand, is something you definitely want to play on a creature with trample, flying, or unblockable. Your opponent will have to block whatever it is you’re sending at them, or they are going to take a lot of damage. I’d prefer to have some good removal in this card’s slot if I had it, but if I didn’t I would just focus on hitting my opponent as hard as I could with as many combat tricks as possible.
Pounce – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Savage Stomp – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Crash the Ramparts – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Emergent Growth – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Dinosaurs don’t need the boost in power to become relevant, but the merfolk can use anything they can get their hands on. Their blue counterparts can lock down a big lizard for a turn or two, but they might struggle to finish them off. That’s where combat tricks and their green bretheren come into play. The synergy between merfolk is pretty good. Better than I would say BW vampires are, but not as good as pirates.
Jungle Delver could be good as a standalone card without other merfolk since you can continuously pump him up with any extra mana laying around. He works as a one drop early in the game, and can become relevant if you draw him late as well. The +1/+1 counter also comes into play when you have effects that put them to use. I think Jade Guardian is also pretty relevant by himself, since he could turn into a 3/3 hexproof creature that you can load up enchantments on or use combat tricks with, but to get the best value out of Vineshaper Mystic you need to have at least one other merfolk. It can target itself and come into play as a 2/4 merfolk for 3 mana, but boosting another one as well is it’s true power. With all of the unblockable and hexproof merfolk available in this set, I’m beginning to feel like a “boggles” strategy could be argued for. Draft combat tricks and enchantments with merfolk, and you can totally disregard the big dinosaur blockers or tricky pirates.
Jungle Delver – RATING: 3 Stars
Jade Guardian – RATING: 3 Stars
Vineshaper Mystic – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Explore is a really hard mechanic to evaluate. I don’t really know where the cards with the effect will fit in, but there has to be a deck out there to take advantage of it. Wildgrowth Walker seems like it could be good if you have a large amount of explore creatures, but I don’t think I’d grab it until the end of pack 2 or the start of pack 3 so I knew I could get some value from it. Deadeye Tracker combos extremely well with it, as do a number of other black cards so I think if you’re going to play it, do it in a GB or Abzan colors. There could possibly be a 5 color explore deck out there, but I’m not quite sure what the payoff would be. The synergy seems to come up a bit short. Your best bet is to stick with the black pirates and green merfolk for maximum crossover.
RATING: 2.5 Stars
Ixalli’s Keeper finishes out the cycle of commons with 8 mana activated abilities, and it passes the test of being both a decent creature on your curve early in the game, as well as a bomb later in the game. If you’re hesitant to play those instant speed combat tricks instead of removal, toss in a few of these shamans. It’s the best one out of all of the colors I think.
RATING: 2.5 Stars
While Atzocan Archer won’t be killing many creatures by himself with his ETB, he does seem like a good after battle card that can help you to save your removal like Storm Fleet Pyromancer can do in red. Attack with your 2/2, opponent blocks with a 2/3, then you play him and deal the deathblow. Good blocker as well. Slightly better than filler, and if you play it alongside Belligerent Brontodon in a dino deck it gets a lot better on offense!
RATING: 2.5 Stars
Other Cards that Will See Play
- Blinding Fog – if you’re playing with a lot of trample creatures, this can help you to push damage through while keeping your creatures safe. It will also make your opponent waste their removal.
- Crushing Canopy – good sideboard card.
- Deeproot Warrior – if you’re building a UG Merfolk deck, this will probably be in there. Aggressive and fits on curve well.
- Kumena’s Speaker – Another card that works well in merfolk decks.
- Merfolk Branchwalker – helps out BG explore decks, but also fits well in merfolk builds.
- Tishana’s Wayfinder – there are enough of these to probably build a Merfolk explore deck that splashes black for the extra explore triggers.
Coming Up Next
With the evaluation of green, we finally found out how to build our explore decks. GB give you the most triggers, so if you’re looking to build around it to take advantage of cards like Wildgrowth Walker, you know where to start. Naya dinosaurs is also definitely a thing, but I would probably start with GR and then splash white afterwards since those colors have the best dinos. UG Merfolk also seems like a decent strategy for XLN limited, but it’s neither overpowering like dinosaurs nor tricky like pirates. They rely more on their synergies like BW vampires does, but the pay off is slightly better I think due to multiple power up effects. Definitely a good archetype if you have a Vanquisher’s Banner.
There might be something I missed, so feel free to comment on the color and strategies down below if you feel like it. I’ll be going over multicolor, artifacts, and lands for XLN limited in my next article which should be out on Friday night before you go to a midnight pre-release so be sure to check back for it in another 24 hours or so. Thanks for reading!