Welcome to the green preview for Rivals of Ixalan, brought to you by EDHREC and me, the guy who writes articles making fun of Cancel.
I hope you’re as excited about Rivals as I am, because I really am excited! Confession: Ixalan is my favorite set since Return to Ravnica, and it’s not close. I know Standard players have rather hated how little it brought to the metagame, but we’re Commander players. We measure sets by radically different metrics, and by those metrics Ixalan brought a ton to the EDH table. Beyond that though, the world itself has been a delight. Coming off block after block of self-serious, po-faced planes Ixalan was a breath of fresh air. Coral-colored merfolk, rainbow feathered dinosaurs, fanatical vampire conquistadors and pirates ripped from the cover of check-out aisle romance novels filled a world that felt vast and expansive and just plain fun in a way I craved.
So could Rivals of Ixalan rival (ahem) the parent set? Let’s find out!
First off I’m going to break this preview up into three distinct categories. With u/g merfolk and dinosaurs in general being new tribal archetypes you get more cards that are relevent in ways you generally don’t find from the average creature in a long-existing tribe like black zombies or red goblins. There are plenty of dinosaurs and merfolk that wouldn’t be of interest to anyone not running those decks, but because they’re still interesting to those builds I’m going to discuss them in those specific tribal sections starting with dinosaurs. Cards that may be dinos or merfolk but have appeal beyond that I’ll put into the last section.
Cherished Hatchling is clearly only going to go in a dinosaur deck, but the question is whether you even want it there. The answer is . . . maybe? Part of the problem with dinos is the mana curve isn’t so much a curve as it is a big flat plateau. Being able to drop a few cheap bodies into the mix is useful. Additionally your average Gishath, Sun’s Avatar or Zacama, Primal Calamity deck probably should be running Greater Good, Life’s Legacy and Momentous Fall. While this might not be an ideal target for those they should serve to provide a few ways to trigger the flash/fight clauses on demand. All in this little cutie is probably worth considering.
Knight of the Stampede is our dinosaur Dragonspeaker Shaman. They could have named him Dinospeaker Shaman but decided to be bad at naming things. Saving two mana on your fourteen drop Megasaurus isn’t anything to sneeze at though.
Polyraptor is here to save me from my worry that we were gonna get too many low cost dinos to smooth out the deck. It’s like if Giant Adephage cost more and did less. It’s still maybe something you’d want to run just due to the dearth of actual dinosaurs in the game and because it’s abuseable with Pyrohemia, Lightmine Field, Caltrops and Powerstone Minefield. Dat CMC though. Still, someone will cast this in their tribal deck and win a game with a swarm, and good on ya for it.
Thrashing Brontodon is another low cost dino that might help make your curve into an actual curve. It also works around Torpor Orb-type effects which can be a big deal in some metas as well. I’m not sure it replaces Caustic Caterpillar but it’s an option.
Thunderherd Migration will likely going to find a home in quite a few dino tribal builds. You’ll probably be running Nature’s Lore, Farseek, and Rampant Growth. Why not more two-drop ramp? Not everyone has snow lands to make Into the North worth the slot, and Three Visits is stupidly expensive.
Forerunner of the Heralds is part of the Forerunner cycle, which are basically updated versions of the Lorwyn block harbinger cycle. This will see play particularly in counter-heavy U/G lists what want to leave mana up.
Jadelight Ranger explores and explores again, just like any good explorer. Never stop exploring! Little known fact: Ernest Shackleton had that tattooed on his chest, and I think ‘Thug Life” on this stomach. The more you know, eh? All that exploration is good value, though I feel like her home is maybe more in a Roon of the Hidden Realm valuetown build than in a merfolk deck. Turning that explore and explore again into an explore, explore, explore and explore again in a deck like Roon that generally runs Panharmonicon is pretty sexy. Still, when you’re playing green merfolk you can’t be picky, and this probably makes the cut.
Swift Warden flashes in to give one of your merfolk hexproof until the end of the turn. Flash is useful all on its own, and being able to save your merfolk commander from targeted removal is useful. It’ll also make the cut in plenty of lists.
Enter the Unknown is somewhat interesting. Explore sees play in about 5,442 decks. This costs one less, and instead of a flat draw it, well, explores. I’m not a huge fan of Explore (the card) so I’m not sure a less reliable though easier to cast variant really piques my interest, but I can see if finding a home in some decks.
Ghalta, Primal Hunger on the other hand is going into a lot of decks. It’s going to pretty frequently be a cheap 12/12 in Gishnath builds or other green-featured stompy setups. Beyond that though, this card is probably a viable stompy commander in its own right. There’s always someone looking to build a mono-green home for Worldspine Wurm and Giant Adephage-type ginormous bodies, and Ghalta will work as well for that as anything. It’s also fetchable in Captain Sisay[,card] and draws a card in [card]Reki, the History of Kamigawa and speaking from experience (I slotted it into my Reki deck last week) I can say that casting a 12/12 for two and drawing off that spell feels fantastic.
Path of Discovery is pretty good, right? “Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control, it explores.” So every single body that comes into play, tokens included, either draws you a land or puts a +1/+1 counter on the creature and gives you the choice of putting the card back on top or sending it to the ‘yard. That is nasty. Even ignoring how many decks want torsos in the graveyard (Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, The Mimeoplasm, Ezuri, Claw of Progress, Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Karador, Ghost Chieftain, etc) or that want counters on all the things (Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice, Kresh the Bloodbraided, Vorel of the Hull Clade, Jenara, Asura of War), this spicy little enchantment is still generating you excellent value for doing what you were gonna do in a green deck anyway, namely casting dudes. I’m not sure if this is the best rare in the set, but I think that when all is said and done a few years down the road this might be in the most amount of decks.
Tendershoot Dryad creates a 1/1 saproling creature token at the beginning of each upkeep. EACH UPKEEP. That’s pretty disgusting in any token deck or stax build, and probably makes it runnable even before the Ascend trigger that gives Saprolings you control +2/+2. I have a friend with a Ghave token deck who is salivating for this, and there are plenty of other commanders that make Saproling tokens that also would give this a look, namely Nemata, Grove Guardian, Rith, the Awakener, Tana, the Bloodsower, Ulasht, the Hate Seed, and Verdeloth the Ancient.
Wayward Swordtooth is quite versatile. It’s probably an auto-include in most dinosaur builds, but landfall decks will be giving it a long look and the ability to play an extra land is always attractive just in a general goodstuff sense.
And that’s it for our preview of Rixagreen. Don’t call it that. Do crack a few packs and make changes to your decks, however, and hit us up in the comments below with your thoughts. All in all I think there are a lot of interesting cards for a small winter set, and hopefully you find enough interesting things to tweak your lists. Good luck and thanks for reading!