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Project Updates: Ixalan Edition


Hello folks, and welcome to the next Ixalan-infused fun time. Cards and spoiler season are great in theory, but what truly matters is how they play in actual, proper decks. Commander decks. Cubes. Limited. Standard. Rainbow Stairwell. Pauper. Frontier. Whatever your fancy, the cards have to back up their hype with actual good play.

Every set gives players choices for their various projects. I have multiple Cubes, and more than 10 Commander decks, plus a giant Highlander 3500+ deck for multiplayer. Every set that hits the street brings changes for all of these projects.

What hits? What changes am I making?

Let’s take a look and see!

Commander Cube

Like always, let’s begin with my Commander Cube project, my major baby over the last two years or so. It has a little more than 1000 cards, with a number of intentional archetypes that are drafted, some of which intersect and interlace and create real tensions. I have many archetypes for every color and tri-color and four-color combos, as well as five-color ones too.

So, given that, what in Ixalan inspires me?

Deadeye Quartermaster
Siren Stormtamer
Vraska's Contempt

Deadeye Quartermaster — This little Pirate can get an Equipment or Vehicle and plays well in those themes. I have a pro-artifact theme in many of my Blue archetypes, but I’m not sure the weaker sub-artifact theme here is good enough to make the cut.

Siren Stormtamer — Finding viable 1-drops for Blue in Commander is not easy. Getting one here is strong. It flies and has value as removal options are more limited, so people will be forced to conserve their more when this is out.

Vraska's Contempt — Do I want an instant exiling removal spell that can hit a Planeswalker instead? Even one at four mana? Perhaps. I have Hero's Downfall in the Commander Cube. Should I pull it for this because it exiles?

I have a different idea.

In Vraska's Contempt, Out Eyeblight's Ending.

That leaves in the Downfall, and gives you a much more powerful pinpoint removal option.

Makeshift Munitions
Carnage Tyrant
Shapers' Sanctuary

Makeshift Munitions — My Cube has a few different self-sacrifice themes, all of which involve Red. Getting another Goblin Bombardment option to draft is sick. And sexy. Sixy? Yeah, it’s sixy.

Could I pull Furnace Celebration? I’m unsure . . . 

Carnage Tyrant — ¬A nasty beater on curve. It’s rougher here because most can’t just grab a bunch of mass removal to answer it, or to use combat based trades. More pinpoint removal makes the cut; and, as a result, this is more powerful. There is only one Damnation or Wrath of God to draft, while we also miss some cards as there are usually some undrafted cards. So given that, this is a lot more powerful in a Commander Cube than normally. And it’s already potent in a nasty Dinosaur form outside of that context.

Anything that suggests a swap? Yes!

In Carnage Tyrant, out Symbiotic Wurm

The Symbiotic Wurm is more synergetic in sacrificing packages, but a 7/7 creature with no trample or anything else on the front end until death isn’t scaring anyone like Carnage Tyrant can!

Shapers' Sanctuary — 1-drop. I just told you how useful and common pinpoint removal is here. You can draw a ton of cards over the course of a game with this early. We also have an enchantment theme in Selesnya this plays into.

I don’t see any obvious swaps yet though.

Deadeye Plunderers
Regisaur Alpha

Deadeye Plunderers — The hardest place to make a cut is gold. My gold cards are so tight that you have to be stupidly awesome or massively synergetic to be in the conversation. My ub artifact matters card is Sphinx Summoner. This would normally be deeper in the running, but not now.

Regisaur Alpha — Who likes beats? Gruul does! Again, tough to make that connection though.

Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun

Growing Rites of Itlimoc — What is not to love here? Not much I can say other than that this card is amazing.

Should I pull a land like Khalni Garden for it and treat it like one of my Four-Lands in Each color quota? Or should I pull something like Font of Fertility instead?

In Growing Rites of Itlimoc, Out Khalni Garden

The Garden is clearly the weakest of the land class. Only a few Commanders are sad to see Khalni Garden really leave, like Thromak the Insatiable. But the replacement is clearly worth it!

Search for Azcanta
Azcanta, The Sunken Ruin

Search for Azcanta – Red and Blue have a strong instant/sorcery matters theme and Blue plays into control builds in multiple color combinations, where the grind-y value of this card is strong.

Again, we can swap out an underperforming land here . . . 

In Search for Azcanta, Out Halimar Depths

Dowsing Dagger
Lost Vale

Dowsing Dagger — Getting mana is a key part to winning in Commander and Cube is no different. Lost Vale . . .  er . . .  Lotus Vale is clearly a strong usage of the mana-matters concept. But is the Dagger half reliable enough to run in my Cube?

Not right now

Thaumatic Compass
Spires of Orazca

Thaumatic Compass — On the other hand, this I love. Flesh out your mana early, and then get another Maze of Ith into the Cube later after its value diminishes. Its’ strong in a lot of shells, and I do want another Maze of Ith variant for our builds.

In for free. That puts me at 1050 even cards.

Treasure Map
Treasure Cove

Treasure Map — Hmmm . . .  What do you think? Is this good enough? The cheap cost to drop it early and then Scry a bit early to help sculpt your draws is very good. But you only get three Scry effects before we flip this thing over, and make three Treasures as well. You can use them as mana helpers, or sacrifice them for cards, as you need, and you have the added mana making and scry. But is it enough?

Should I pull Crystal Ball for this? It’s a deeper Scry, but it never does anything else. This can make Treasure tokens, draw cards, and turns into a land. Nah. I think both are interesting.

In Treasure Map, Out Scour from Existence

I really like Scour from Existence as flexible, instant, colorless Desert Twister for any color or situation to exile something. But it’s probably okay to give it a rest for Treasure Map.

You can check out my Commander Cube’s visual spoiler here.

You can also draft it and give it a run. Use 6 packs and 8 bots.

Commander Decks

5-Color Friends

I have a Five-Color Planeswalker deck that runs a smattering of enchantment-friendly cards. The goal is to run good, flexible ‘walkers and then do fun things like sweep the board clear. There are no cards in Ixalan that suggest themselves, and none of the ‘walkers here are fighting for a spot in my deck.

Commander Shadow

So I have a Commander deck with Bontu the Glorified drivi ng the van of my army. The deck runs a lot of self-reanimation creatures like Nether Shadow, Bloodghast, and Ashen Ghoul with the intention of self-sacrificing effects to get value via Attrition or Carnage Altar and piling up long-game resources and answers. It can take a while to get going, but it can get some power going when it does. It’s a fun deck.

Are there are cards from Ixalan that entice me? Just one.

Arguel's Blood Fast
Temple of Aclazotz

How well would Arguel's Blood Fast work here? I want it more for Temple of Aclazotz, by the way. The weaker Greed effect on the Blood Fast is a useful way to draw some cards, but after the flip, the Temple is pretty useful.

But the Blood Fast is the weakest of this cycle. It’s the hardest to flip, and the card on the other side is the weakest to flip into. So, I feel like it’s best as a Greed variant that can swap life for cards and then has the flip or Temple if that makes sense later. And I don’t run Greed right now. I don’t see it yet.

Edric the Simic Tempo Beats

I run a deck around Edric, Spymaster of Trest. The deck focuses on 1-drop creatures that are hard to block, like Scryb Sprites or Gudul Lurker. And then I have a handful of tempo-cards that help you secure some wins, as well as a smattering of countermagic. The goal is to drop one Scryb Sprites on turn one, two more on turn two, and then on turn three, cast Edric, swing and draw three cards and then keep going very wide very quickly. So what would make sense in that deck?

Siren Stormtamer
Growing Rites of Itlimoc

Now, I already run Gaea's Cradle, so the Growing Rites makes sense here. It replaces itself, and it’s flip trigger is very easy to get in my deck, I could easily see it making the cut.

The Siren Stormtamer is amazing here. It runs two roles. I run a few tempo cards like Spiketail Hatchling in my deck, and this is sort of a 1-mana Hatchling. It beats quickly, drops fast, and protects a more vital creature, namely Edric, from targeted removal. I adore what it brings to the table.

Both are heading in.

Vhati il-Dal

I have a Green and Black deck built around Vhati that wants to drop someone’s toughness to 1, and then kill them with damage (Staff of Nin) or with -1/-1’ing it instead. It’s already an engine of pure death, and unfurls a lot of quick, synergetic death to folks all over the table. If you can target it, you can kill it, and stuff like indestructible will die too to my counters and Vhati il-Dal. Any cards from Ixalan that make the cut? Nope!

Oros Control

My very first Commander deck is still around. It’s a deck built around Oros, the Avenger, and it’s clearly a control deck. I have a lot of sweepers, control-makers, and iconic control cards in my colors, like Avatar of Woe, Wrath of God, and Akroma, Angel of Wrath. It’s a fun deck that looks to control the board with these great colors. Anything to recommend?


Boneyard Parley

Take a look at Boneyard Parley! Isn’t that a sweet card to run? As I mentioned before, I am running a lot of sweepers and stuff. Imagine casting Damnation or Rout and then next turn dropping this. You are going to Fact or Fiction the best five dead creatures, and you are guaranteed three of them or the two you prefer. That’s a powerful effect to push your table around.

The best card to pull out is Unburial Rites, which is a two-for-one over multiple turns, and only works for my graveyard. Is this better? What do you think?

Surrak’s Beasts and Where to Find Them

Surrak will smash! I have a Beast-centric deck with Beast matters cards, as well as big Beasts that trigger both Naya and Temur big creature effects, like Spearbreaker Behemoth and Indrik Stomphowler. What cards in Ixalan wants to get their smash on?

Growing Rites of Itlimoc

Really, just the obvious. My Surrak Smash deck is a very heavy creature deck, so I want to toss this in for a Forest.

Alphabet Deck

One fun variant of Commander is to run a deck with just cards that begin with the first letter of your name, so in my case, that is “A”. I created a Red and White Angel deck around Archangel Avacyn. I could use more tools though, as many that we have are weak.

So, given that, would Ashes of the Abhorrent work as a solid anti-graveyard tool?

Ashes of the Abhorrent

I think so. I don’t have a lot of things that care about my graveyard. Nothing with flashback or self-reanimation or Glory or something. But it is good enough? Now, if it locked down reanimation, then I feel it’d have more to recommend.

Wildfire Approaches!

I have a Gruul deck that runs cards like Wildfire. It was designed as an anti-ramp deck that runs ramp itself and then keeps a few cards after using effects like Wildfire. The creatures will survive mass-damage-removal up to five (Destructive Force) although I have few 5 damage effects and most are set at four (like Lavaball Trap). Given that, what makes sense here?

Ripjaw Raptor
Growing Rites of Itlimoc

Both of them. Ripjaw Raptor survives most of my mass ground removal and draws cards while I am doing it. And that’s in addition to the cards you would draw in combat and such as well.

And I don’t run Cradles because I ran out of them, but clearly, Growing Rites of Itlimoc would be an ideal land for my deck that always keeps a few spare after Burning of Xinye-ing the table.

Both cards work well! I can see each of them heading in and making the cut, right?

Vela’s Night Children

Vela the Night-Clad leads one of my flavorful decks. The key points here are creatures with shadow, Ninjas, and then creatures with Hit Triggers that fit my night theme. All of the support cards are on theme, like Devour in Shadow, Night's Whisper, or Night Dealings.

Anything here that suggests itself?

Just one . . . 

Dowsing Dagger
Lost Vale

So we have a number of hard-to-block creatures. Shadow. Intimidate. Fear. Lots of cards like that. And getting the easy hit in with the Dowsing Dagger that equips on a creature and flipping it to a Lost Vale is a pretty easy deal. Now, that basically means that Dowsing Dagger will always just be a 4 mana Lost Vale. Play it, equip it on something like Shadowmage Infiltrator or Looter il-Kor, smash face, deal two extra damage, and then flip.

Is that good enough to run? Will Lost Vale be valuable enough to add that card? And it is worth the mechanical card addition that doesn’t have on-theme flavor?

I mean, sure, we can Dowse in the Dark with the Dagger of Lost Vale Finding. And there’s strong value there. But . . .  That “but” lingers.

I run Quietus Spike. Is that a perfect nail on flavor? No. So I’ll toss in the Dagger, and we’ll sub out a land for it as it will easily flip into a powerful card. Shoot, I even think we can make some friends with it. Who wants to get two 0/2 Wall tokens? I know you do! And then I’ll get a Lost Vale and everyone wins!


Equinaut is arguably my most famous deck. It uses Blue, White, and Green to harness the power of self-bounce, cast triggers, and both leaves-play and enters-the-battlefield triggers to play and replay stuff in order rack up the juice. Examples of cards include Fleetfoot Panther, Whitemane Lion, Equilibrium, Aura Shards, Azorius Aethermage and Mystic Snake. It has moved from a Standard deck to a Commander one, and I have always owned at least one iteration of this deck since I made it back during Invasion Block. Its current leader is Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, which I use to play cheaply to rack up the triggers or to untap beaters like Whitemane Lion and Watchwolf to block after swinging. The deck is almost all creatures, and in my most recent changes, I famously pulled out most countermagic to give myself more, more, and more creatures . . . 

Growing Rites of Itlimoc

Given that, Growing Rites is an obvious inclusion.

Not really any others though. Which is odd, usually there are always a few cards here and there. I toss in Rites for a land. Now I might consider an exploring cheap creature. For example, imagine we had an uncommon in Ixalan, or it’s follow up, that was:

Exploring Wolf


Creature — Wolf

When Exploring Wolf enters the battlefield, explore.


That might make the cut, because at worst, it’s a Watchwolf and at best, it’s a 2/2 Fetcher of Lands. But we don’t have anything too on curve right now in the exploring mold.

Diaochan’s Beauty Parlor

I have an odd mono-Red build around Diaochan, Artful Beauty, which runs ways to keep from targeting her, like Lightning Greaves, to tap her and kill some stuff while people can’t kill Diaochan back and have to go elsewhere. It also has creatures that I don’t care about dying. Many are disposable that already did something when they arrived on the battlefield (Ghitu Slinger), and the result either won’t die (Stuffy Doll), or they are a casual friendly card no one wants to kill (Humble Defector) or they are a card that comes back after death (Pyrewild Shaman).

That final aspects gives the deck a grind-y longer game that can easily survive and play well later as resources, like Firewing Phoenix and Hammer of Bogardan are already in the deck . . . 

Repeating Barrage

Isn’t adding in Repeating Barrage a windmill slam dunk? I think so too! I pull a Mountain for it. I often have too many lands out.

Fumiko Fun Times

My mono-Red Fumiko the Lowblood deck is an odd deck that runs a lot of defensive cards that prepare for people to attack and then punish them for attacking you, like Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs and Stuffy Doll. And don’t forget Caltrops. There are two cards I like for this deck . . . 

Trove of Temptation
Thaumatic Compass

Trove of Temptation is clearly a disadvantage I don’t worry about given it’s the core theme of my deck anyway. And I get some free Treasure that I can use for various fun things. Because of how many artifacts my deck naturally runs, like Snow Fortress and Crown of Doom, the deck does run cards like Goblin Welder and Daretti, Scrap Savant. The free Treasure that I can churn into a dead Tenza, Godo's Maul or Armillary Sphere is pretty useful. But is it good enough to run? I don’t think so.

But the Compass is about to head right on in. Searching for a Snow-Covered Mountain is good, and flipping into a Maze of Ith variant is better. Both sides work well, and I’ll pull a land for it.

Happiness and Joy

I have a multiplayer casual deck with a Highlander theme that clocks in at more than 3500 cards, called Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, or H&J for short. Those are my inclusions from Ixalan!

Special Bonus Section

What about Commander 2017?

Path of Ancestry

Because of its status as essentially a comes-into-play tapped Command Tower, every two-, or more, color Commander deck, as well as my Commander Cube, is going to get Path of Ancestry.

What else?

Commander Cube

These are cards I am considering . . . 

Hammer of Nazahn is in the conversation due to various equipment themes I have.

Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, Kess, Dissident Mage, Territorial Hellkite, Disrupt Decorum, Traverse the Outlands, Bloodsworn Steward, Vindictive Lich, Balan, Wandering Knight, Kindred Discovery.

Boneyard Scourge — Obvious addition for my many Dragon builds. Should I pull Bladewing's Thrall for it?

Portal Mage, Teferi's Protection

Commander Decks

Bloodforged Battle-Axe
Traverse the Outlands
Territorial Hellkite

Bloodforged Battle-Axe is a strong option for Vela’s Night Children.

Traverse the Outlands is powerful for my Gruul Wildfire and Ramp deck as well as Surrak’s Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Doesn’t Territorial Hellkite feel like a good fit for that Gruul deck as well? Maybe even Fumiko’s Fun Times.

Disrupt Decorum
Kheru Mind-Eater
Patron of the Vein

Disrupt Decorum for Oros Control? Duplicative in Fumiko’s Fun Times.

Kheru Mind-Eater — Feels like it was tailor made for Vela’s Night Children.

Patron of the Vein — Would it work in Oros Control?

Teferi's Protection for Oros Control?

Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy gets


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