According to our charts, we’ll reach the shores of Ixalan on the 29th of this month. Before we reach our Voyage’s End, let us take stock of our crew, and of the bloodthirsty beasts we may encounter upon this Treacherous Terrain. It’s time we explore the black cards of Ixalan to deduce which of them will best help us conquer the EDH format!
We start with a bang! Boneyard Parley has already been dubbed the “Graveyard Fact or Fiction,” and as an avowed necromancer myself, I’m excited. True, this doesn’t have the same brilliance as Rise of the Dark Realms, but it’s cheaper to cast and will undoubtedly be cheaper to buy. For one more mana than Ever After, you get to choose creatures from any graveyard, not just your own. Plus, you get to watch your opponents agonize over how to sort piles of dead creatures. That alone makes Boneyard Parley a fun card, but there are added political implications as well, if you’ve made a buddy on on the other side of the table. In any case, this is a unique and wacky card, well-deserving of the Mythic status, and I’m rarin’ to give this “Grave Fact” a try.
Bust out the calculators! Dire Fleet Ravager is the card that reminds me how bad I am at math. Lots of commanders are examining this new card with a dangerous glint in their eyes. Inalla, Archmage Ritualist is happy to make a copy of this Wizard, culling life totals from 40 to 26, then from 26 to 17. Marchesa, the Black Rose probably wouldn’t mind recurring this bad boy over and over again either. I’d also hate to be on the receiving end of Dire Fleet Ravager when I’m facing a Rakdos, Lord of Riots or a Mogis, the Punisher deck. Alongside an Exquisite Blood, it’s just plain nasty. Don’t forget, this Orc Pirate Wizard also has menace and deathtouch, so it’s probably breaking through your opponents’ defenses, too. This is a spicy card, and I’m dreading the day I run into it.
The more I think about Bloodcrazed Paladin, the more and more I love it. At first it seems like a simple Spoils of Blood alternative, but if the Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice precon taught us anything, it’s that +1/+1 counters have remarkable utility. This isn’t a great fit for an Atraxa deck, of course, but Reyhan, Last of the Abzan is definitely intrigued by all the counters this paladin can accumulate. Speaking of precons, Edgar Markov probably wants to welcome this vampire to his lineage as well. The best commander for this card, however, has to be Marchesa, the Black Rose. Once Bloodcrazed Paladin hits the field, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of—whenever it dies, it comes right back with its own +1/+1 counter at the end of the turn!
Okay, so this isn’t Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun, the green enchantment that transforms into a Gaea’s Cradle, but it’s still pretty cool. Arguel’s Blood Fast is effectively a Greed that transforms into a Diamond Valley. There are some distinctions, of course; Greed is four mana, but only one to activate, while the Blood Fast is two mana and two to activate. Over the course of a long game, Greed does technically save you mana, but the two-drop cost of the Blood Fast is still appealing. Erebos, God of the Dead is probably still better than both, but it’s not hard to imagine a deck that would run this. Flipping it will be tough, though, and I sadly doubt we’ll see many Temple of Aclazotz gracing our battlefields.
And the award for Most-Likely-To-Get-Banned-Or-At-Least-Most-Likely-To-Be-Called-Ban-Worthy goes to… Revel in Riches! Alternate win conditions are usually pretty tough to pull off, but this one seems alarmingly easy. In a multiplayer format, ten creatures dying is a cinch. Heck, I’ve gotten twenty-eight counters on a Black Market off a single Damnation alone. In fairness, Revel in Riches only counts your opponents’ creatures, not your own. Even so, creatures die left and right in EDH, and that makes Revel in Riches scary powerful. As an enchantment, it’s also much harder to remove than other card types, since two of the five colors can’t deal with them very effectively. If you like killing things, this is worth playing. If you like making artifacts, this is worth playing. Frankly, if you’re in black, this is probably worth playing. We’ll have to keep a weather eye on Revel in Riches. If the banhammer does come down, at least make sure you’ve had as raucous a party with it as the bloke in the art.
Tied with Skulduggery and Swashbuckling for “Best Ixalan Card Name,” LoadingReadyRun’s preview card is a black version of the infamous Browbeat. The three-life deduction is much less impactful in our format than in Standard, so I’m dubious that this will make its way into many decks. Pirate-themed Admiral Beckett Brass decks will have lots of fun with this card’s flavor, though. Sygg, River Cutthroat might also enjoy it, since he’ll draw cards if an opponent pays life anyway. Overall, though, black has better ways to draw cards.
Deadeye Navigator is still the most powerful Deadeye, but Deadeye Tracker is a neat take on graveyard punishment. Scavenging Ooze gets bigger and gains life, Night Soil makes tokens, and Deadeye Tracker helps smooth out your draws. This is a thorn in the side of your necromantically-inclined opponents. That said, Relic of Progenitus, Crook of Condemnation, and the brand-new Sentinel Totem give us so many graveyard-exiling sledgehammers that it’s hard to justify running the Deadeye over those. For a Tracker, he’s just a bit too slow.
Edgar Markov, eat your heart out. Or, rather, eat someone else’s heart out. We’ve seen effects like this on cards like Campaign of Vengeance, Hellrider, and Brutal Hordechief. Sanctum Seeker is specific to vampires, so I doubt we’ll see it outside of big daddy Edgar’s vamp-swarms. In that deck, though, it’s a doozy—remember, it says each opponent, not just the defending player, which makes this thing a real pain in the neck.
Fathom Fleet Captain is far too slow and costly to do much in our format, but Admiral Beckett Brass will have me thrown overboard if I don’t at least mention that it helps enable her ability. In a pirate deck, you’re probably hungry for any pirate you can get, and this certainly fits the bill.
Another Orc Pirate, this time doing a combat-based Dark Confidant impression. Sadly, I’m pretty sure Ruin Raider is another card that won’t be desired much outside of pirate-themed decks. It’s more killable than Dark Tutelage, and that card only sees play in 811 decks. If it had one less power, it might’ve been a cute card for Alesha, Who Smiles at Death.
I’m glad we get to end our black rares with this poppet. Any depiction of Vraska turning folks to stone is A+ in my book. I’m not sure if you’ve seen Makeshift Munitions yet, but this Pirate Gorgon turns people to stone and uses their heads as cannonballs! As for the spell, Vraska’s contempt joins Hero’s Downfall as another instant-speed removal spell for creatures and planeswalkers. Four mana is a little hefty for single-target removal, but exiling is pretty nice, what with all the graveyard strategies running around. I expect this to be largely relegated to mono-black decks; black-white has Anguished Unmaking and Utter End, black-green has Beast Within, black-red has Chaos Warp, and black-blue has, well, Cyclonic Rift. Maybe uncle Karlov of the Ghost Council would enjoy it too, removing a blocker and buffing himself up a little. Overall, it’s a nice option to have in the format.
I honestly wasn’t very intrigued by Ruthless Knave until I considered it with Marionette Master. It’s an expensive cost to pay to make those Treasure tokens, but they can help pay for this guy’s own ability. With enough creatures to sacrifice, you can accrue a lot of dead artifact triggers for Marionette Master, and that’s pretty neat. There’s been some talk about running this in Meren of Clan Nel Toth decks as well, but the cost is a little too expensive for my taste. I think I like it more for Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest, where it can be three sacrifices for the price of one. Ruthless Knave also pairs nicely with Revel in Riches, of course, but that card’s doing just fine on its own.
Nekusar, the Mindrazer players everywhere perked up their ears at this pesky enchantment. Raiders’ Wake is twice as much mana as Liliana’s Caress, but it’s still a beating when you’re forced to discard your hand all the time. Nath of the Gilt-Leaf will probably enjoy this, too, since his elf tokens are more likely to trigger the Raid ability. This might be another helpful inclusion for a wheel strategy with Vial Smasher the Fierce and Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix as well. With Liliana’s Caress and Megrim already out there, Raiders’ Wake has competition, but Nekusar decks only get more powerful with redundant punisher effects.
Vicious Conquistador is a strictly better Pulse Tracker, which is fun to see. The main application for this card is an ultra-low-to-the-ground Edgar Markov list. Dropping this, Viscera Seer, and Vampiric Aristocrat early on and following them up with a Shared Animosity for your six attacking vampires does sound pretty nasty. However, most Edgar lists will likely prefer utility creatures like Blood Artist and Captivating Vampire to fill up the low end of their curve. You’d have to commit pretty hard to the super-cheap-creatures strategy to get much mileage out of this one.
Is this as good as Malakir Bloodwitch? No. Is this is still decent? Yeah. Bishop of the Bloodstained is yet another Edgar Markov card. There are better vampires out there at this mana cost, but if you’re building vampires on a budget, this is a fine choice.
Now that Mathas, Fiend Seeker exists, I think we all have to prepare for more of these effects. Black Group Hug decks are a thing now, apparently. This card isn’t the greatest payoff for you, since a vanilla 4/3 isn’t crazy powerful in our format, but making allies by giving them Treasure is certainly a strategy. I quite enjoy Group Hug decks, but I feel like Wanted Scoundrels sums itself up with its own flavor text: the reward’s not worth it.
Cast this on a Stormtide Leviathan and watch the Vorthoses squirm uncomfortably in their seats. It’s weird that this card works on fish and Krakens, but you know what, it’s also weird that Emrakul, the Promised End can wear Lightning Greaves. When it comes down to it, Walk the Plank is a funny card, but there’s better removal out there. The aforementioned Vraska’s Contempt is twice the mana, but for instant speed, it’s worth it. I mostly bring this card up because the flavor is hilarious. It is now my life’s mission to force a Pirate Ship to Walk the Plank.
Costly Plunder is a stricly better Altar’s Reap, since it gives us the option to sacrifice a creature or an artifact. I was going to ignore this one until I noticed that Altar’s Reap is currently in over 500 Meren of Clan Nel Toth decks. Then I realized that’s actually less than one-fifth of the 2,758 different Meren decks. Then I realized that Altar’s Reap was in the Meren precon, which means its numbers are probably a result of the Precon Effect. Costly Plunder is an upgrade, but barely, since Meren would prefer to sacrifice creatures instead of artifacts in the first place. I suppose there’s an argument to run this instant over the sorcery-speed Morbid Curiosity in artifact-centric Breya, Etherium Shaper or Silas Renn, Seeker Adept decks, since they love to recur artifacts from the graveyard. Those commanders are in blue, though, so they can do better than this to draw cards. As cool as it is to see Vraska use some poor sod’s petrified arm to break open treasure chests, this is a pass.
Our cabin is well-stocked with blasphemous spells and fiendish crewmates, all eager to raid the shores of this mysterious continent. I hope this primer has prepared you for the wonders and horrors we’ll encounter in Ixalan. It’s sure to be an extraordinary adventure. Oh, and to all my vampire pirates out there: drink up, me hearties.