Today I have the pleasure to bring you the Top Ten EDH cards from the newest Magic: The Gathering expansion, Rivals of Ixalan. Now… what makes a card fit into the Top Ten? I think a card makes the cut via a combination of power and the ability to see play in multiple decks. There are many cards in the set that I think are very powerful, but their narrowness makes them less impactful to the format overall. I think the best example of this is Champion of Dusk. Champion is going to be a great inclusion for any Edgar Markov deck as a great source of card draw. However, outside of Edgar and other vampire generals (I didn’t forget you, Olivia Voldaren), I don’t think the Champion will see much play. I think Rivals of Ixalan is a very deep set for Commander, and as such some of your favorites may not make the list, which I think speaks volumes for the set.
Before we discuss Etali, I want to talk about the way the elder dinosaur was spoiled. The Commanderin’ podcast spoiled Etali, Primal Storm via Twitter with a puzzle. After several hints, people were able to start figuring out what Etali did, and multiple people got some parts right. Why am I bothering to write about this? Well, no one got close to Etali’s full power. Some guessed that Etali’s ability mirrored Act on Impulse, another guessed that the ability was like Grenzo, Havoc Raiser on an attack trigger, and then others were betting on the trigger being related to combat damage. Well, they were wrong:
Etali defied all previous conceptions of what these effects could look like, and I’m very excited to see this design space explored more in the future.
Just like we discovered with Growing Rites of Itlimoc, jumping through a few hoops doesn’t make Tolarian Academy any less insane. Of note, it’s also a strictly better Tolarian Academy on the back as even when all our artifacts get destroyed we still have a rainbow land left. This card is crazy powerful, but I don’t think you’re going to see it run very often outside of dedicated artifact decks (although some people will try). While I gush over the back, the front still offers some value. If your deck is built to hit your opponents for damage, you can likely generate 2-3 Lotus Petals a turn.
The reception to this card when it was originally leaked/spoiled was moderately lukewarm so why is it in the Top Ten? Let’s breakdown all that it does.
First, it’s universal planeswalker hate. The going rate for most hate-pieces in Magic is between 2-3 mana. However, planeswalkers historically have never had hate pointed there way. Sure, we’ve had removal, but never a way to really hate them out (Ok, Vampire Hexmage, Hex Parasite, etc. but you know what I mean.) Deadlock Trap was the first of its kind, and it could only target one walker a turn for two turns total by itself. Now we have a universal and permanent effect. Since this is so new, there isn’t as much precedent for how much that effect on it’s own should cost, but I’m going to say it would be 3 mana.
Next up, we get to draw an extra card on our upkeep. The most prominent effect of it’s kind is Staff of Nin, appearing in almost 11,000 decks. If we want to take a look at what the “cost” of this effect is. We can use Scryfall’s filters. Searching for “upkeep” and “draw” gives Phyrexian Arena as the top result once we use the EDHREC filter. That puts this effect around 3 mana, ignoring the color requirement.
Third, spells you cast cost 1 generic mana less. If red and white decks didn’t already have enough reason to play this card for the card draw, this gives them all the reason most need. Our only comparable example is Stone Calendar from The Dark which costs 5 mana. I think this effect would cost slightly less nowadays, so I’ll say this would cost somewhere near 3.5 mana.
Lastly, we get an anthem tacked on at the end. Spear of Heliod is the most-played, purest form of an anthem that is played according to EDHREC at 6,800 decks. We’ll often see two-mana lords and three-mana enchantments with upside, so I’m going to say this effect is around 2.5 mana.
The “total value” of all of these effects is about 12 mana. However, you won’t get use out of all of these effects at all time so it’s disingenuous to describes The Immortal Sun that way, but I still think it’s a fair measure to see how much value is gained from one card. Expect to see this card in a lot of decks.
In a color combination that is thematically about life and death, it’s amazing to see a card that combines those two in a very functional way. The front half of the card is a tweaked Gift of Immortality, but when you’re enchanted creature dies you get a land that reanimates instead. I think that’s a great upgrade, personally. For effectively six mana, you can reanimate any creature from your graveyard… at instant speed. This is going to be a value-engine for the decks that can support it, and I’m sure between this, Storm the Vault, and the other double-faced lands from the Ixalan block that we’re going to see an increased amount of targeted land destruction
This card is a favorite among the EDHREC writers. It was referred to as “Reverse Bob” in passing, and I think that is a fitting way to describe it. (For those that do not know, “Bob” is a nickname for Dark Confidant.) Not only does this vampire draw you cards like just a Phyrexian Arena, but it also drains each opponent and fills you with life as well. Lifegain is already a popular archetype with over 5,000 decks on EDHREC. Edgar Markov alone has 800 decks which adds to the number of lists this feasibly fits into. Basically, you’re probably going to see a lot of it.
Last year we got Splended Reclamation as a sorcery, and we’re starting off this year with a similar effect tacked onto a body. Its first ability enables the second ability as well; tossing the top three cards into our graveyard will more often than not get us a land. In a world with The Gitrog Monster, how could you not be excited about this? The Frog isn’t the only commander that gets mileage out of this merfolk as that list also includes Sisidi, Brood Tyrant and Borborygmos, Enraged, and many others.
Snapcaster Mage this is not, but if that’s the first comparison we are making I’m ok with that. While it does lack the “flash” that makes Snapcaster so versatile, Dire Fleet Daredevil still does a great impersonation. However, one of the advantages is that Spellnapper Mage (as I’ve been calling her) has more options. Detractors might argue that you are reliant on what your opponents play, and you would be right. However, I think that concern is trivial as the average EDH deck will have plenty of targets, whether it is spot removal, ramp, draw, or any other form of spell.
Let’s look at the “average” EDH deck. Sol Ring is in a massive 78% of all EDH decks (and it arguably could be in every deck, but I digress), and it gives a decent picture of the number of instants and sorceries that each deck should have available as targets. Most EDH decks run around twenty instants and sorceries so you will definitely have plenty of targets.
Pitiless Plunderer may be the only uncommon that makes this list, which is a great distinction. There are plenty of decks that sacrifice creatures on a turn by turn basis, and creating “hard” mana each time a death happens seems good to me. The top three “candidates” for this card strike me as Meren of Clan Nel Toth at nearly 3000 decks, Alesha who Smiles at Death at 1,900 decks, and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim at 1,100 decks. I think this pirate will see a lot of play, but I think it’ll take a little bit longer. I know I’ve seen at least one infinite combo with our plunderer pop up already, so I think he’ll find plenty of homes on battlefields and graveyards alike.
I debated a lot of whether or not this would make the Top Ten or just be edged out, but I decided that the potential upside of the backside was too much to ignore. The first side luckily isn’t completely blank; we get a cheap way to loot. Exiling is a bit harsh, but that’s the price of power. Now for the back side…
“T: Add X mana of any one color to your mana pool, where X is your life total.”
That is now official text in Magic: The Gathering. It is one of the most absurd lines of text I have seen in a while. If this flips in a Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice deck, you could be staring down a land that generates over one hundred mana…but you have to flip it and have some way to use all that mana. One of my biggest concerns is that you’ll never be able to flip this as it needs to survive five rounds before you can use it. However, I feel like there are decks and archetypes that can accomplish this quickly and without interruption.
I hated trying to decide the tenth slot for this list. I typed up several entries only to delete them as I convinced myself that the next card is better than the last. So we’ll see if this card makes the final cut. Introducing Nezahal, Primal Tide! It’s sad that this dinosaur can’t be included with Gishath, Sun’s Avatar as it would’ve made an immediate impact. Nezahal ties The Immortal Sun for most abilities on a single card in this set, and all of them are impactful. Having this gargauntuan plesiosaur be uncounterable starts off the list strong, and it also plays into a later ability. Maximum hand size is nice to have around, but unless a deck is built around the mechanic I doubt that it’ll see a lot of use, but you will be happy when it does. The next two abilities are where Nezahal shines. Most of the time if Nezahal is going to die it’s going to be the intervention of a removal spell, and thanks to Nezahal’s third ability he will replace himself by letting us draw a card. Drawing a card off of each opposing noncreature spell is great, especially if it gives us the chance to draw into a counter spell. Lastly, we can discard three cards to exile and return Nezahal at the end of a turn. This ability is this fueled and supported by Nezahal’s third and second abilities respectively, so it shouldn’t be too much of a cost; for some decks it may not be a cost at all, but rather a back-up way to pitch valuable cards into the graveyard for abuse. Nezahal’s design is beautiful, and I’m sure that this brute will find plenty of homes.
These cards aren’t likely to make any Top Ten lists out there, but I thought I would shine a light on a few that I think are going to be fun and under-appreciated. I would take bets that each of these finds a consistent home in at least one deck in the near future.
If you don’t think this card is fun, I don’t know what to say. Gonti, Lord of Luxury is one of my all-time favorite cards, and this card does a very similar job. Does it require a bit of set up? Yep. Am I willing to jump through those hoops? Absolutely. Dead Man’s Chest is a card that is going to make a lot of memories for people. Notably, your poor opponent gets to see all of the treasure you took off the top of their deck. Brutal.
Seeing a card that gave “explore” to each of your creatures was something I really wanted to see in Rivals of Ixalan, and Path of Discovery delivered. While this is a potential all-star with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, don’t think that she’ll be the only commander where this beauty finds a home. This gives creature-centric graveyard decks, lands decks, and +1/+1 counter decks a boost to dig further into your library. Explore is a mechanic I personally enjoy, so I’m going to be looking for a home for this.
This is one of the weirder cards out of Rivals of Ixalan, but among the other honorable mentions it probably has the highest floor. My mind immediately jumped to Maelstrom Wanderer, and it’ll make you quickly realize why Wanderer costs eight mana. This is also great for any cast triggers for decks that are playing any of the Eldrazi Titans such as Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger. While these are some of the splashier plays that this card can make, it barely scratches the surface. Release can also be used to get a re-use of ETB effects. Who would say no to getting to re-cast Rune-Scarred Demon or Sun Titan for cheap? Even better is using this card to save those pieces from removal and then getting to reuse them. I think my favorite interaction that I’ve thought is with Spell Queller. In response to Spell Queller’s first trigger, you cast Release and exile the spirit. This permanently exiles the first spell that the spirit was countering as well as giving you a free counterspell at the ready. This card can even be used defensively as pseudo-removal to prevent lethal damage. Honestly, the more I write about this card, the more I think it deserves to actually be in the Top Ten.
While there are definitely cards that are noticeably left off, don’t take offense if one of your favorites was left off. While trying to pick the list, it really felt like there were too many cards to cut down to an actual Top Ten. Notably, I think Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, Elenda, the Dusk Rose, and Zacama, Primal Calamity are going to be fun commanders to pilot, and I think all of the double-faced cards will find homes as well. That’s not even including all of the dinosaurs that will find a home with Gishath, Sun’s Avatar, all of the vampires that will find a home with Edgar Markov, and all of the pirates that will fill out Admiral Beckett Brass’ crew. Another card with a lot of buzz around it is Blood Sun, but it’s not a knock on it that it didn’t get mentioned until now. After all of this, I still haven’t mentioned Azor, the Lawbringer either who is going to be a potent head of a deck. I think Rivals of Ixalan is an incredibly deep set for Commander, and I think a multitude of cards are going to find permanent homes in the format.
So that’s it for me! What are your Top Ten cards from Rivals of Ixalan? Did I miss anything obvious? Am I overvaluing certain cards? How do you feel about the set? What are your sleeper hits? Let us know below!