We’re less than two weeks away from the latest set Magic: The Gathering set, Ixalan, and every card has been laid before us and spoiled by this point. The Dinosaur and Pirate tribes look great with Merfolk and Vampire Knights possibly slipping into the dominant force as sleeper hits.
Ixalan looks promising so far with a strong focus on Tribal synergies. However, the set also has to live up to the high standard that Hour of Devastation brought to the Limited format. Critics hold Hour of Devastation in pretty high regard when compared to other sets from the last two years.
Ixalan seems like it will properly follow Hour of Devastation, opening up lots of options for splashing with the Treasure mechanic. What this nice little tool does is create an artifact, usually when a creature enters the battlefield or as a bonus on top of other spell effects. When you sacrifice the treasure, you get mana of any color! That’s ramp and splashing in a single mechanics, and what’s even crazier is that this mechanic is tied to Pirates, meaning Blue, Black, and Red will all be splashing in Ixalan.
Green has its usual splashing tropes, but it’s not going to be the sole star of five-color nonsense anymore.
We’re focusing on Uncommons today because while Rare cards sure are nice, you won’t stumble upon them nearly as often as you will these cards. The bulk of your decks will be made from twisting and jamming these weaker cards together with the filler from Common level to make something work. Here are our ten favorite Uncommons from Ixalan, and I promise not to gush too much about Dinosaurs.
1. Charging Monstrosaur
What? Whatever! Dinosaurs rule! Top of our list here is nothing too flashy or exciting, but I would easily pick this over half of the rares in the set. Charging Monstrosaur is a 5/5 for five-mana, meaning it is on curve for power, and it goes above and beyond in two ways. Haste allows it to attack the turn it comes down, often times catching opponents off guard if their creatures are tapped.
If you’re playing against an aggro deck, this is not the brute your opponent wants to see when they are defenseless and their weenie creatures are all tapped. Even if your opponent has blockers ready, not many creatures are going to stand in this thing’s way on turn five and expect to survive. In this case, it means Charging Monstrosaur will usually eat a creature and carry damage over into the player thanks to Trample, or it will take two creatures with it to the graveyard.
Charging Monstrosaur also has potential to come down on turn four if you ramp with Treasures, so it fits in any Red Pirate deck, giving it an edge as a flexible card that doesn’t need synergies to shine. In other words, this will win a lot of games from out of nowhere, like a cheap Inferno Jet only it has two legs for repeated attacks.
2. Ranging Raptors
Tutoring for lands with a spell is always a sweet deal, but being able to do is repeatedly with Ranging Raptors is just pure value. Again, there are multiple ways to trigger Enrage, making it pretty easy to get those lands, but when this effect is attached to a creature, just the threat of Enrage might be enough to keep an opponent at bay for a turn or two.
If they attack into Ranging Raptors, they have to kill it. Otherwise, Ranging Raptors spirals out of control and puts you two, three, four mana ahead of the opponent rather than just the one a normal block would get you. If you attack, they have to let it through and take two damage or else, again, they’re behind a land. This card will make opponents sweat unless they have hard Black removal. Even a Red burn spell will trigger Enrage and, again, put them behind a land.
Ranging Raptors also helps you splash after it summons up your off-color basic lands. I’m all about this card.
3. Lightning Strike
As if Red needed any more help, Lightning Strike is back. Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast boosted it to Uncommon, meaning you won’t have to be wary of 3 damage for a cheap two mana as often as you had to in previous sets.
Open Fire was a bomb in Hour of Devastation, Magma Spray dominated Amonkhet, and Incendiary Flow was a killer in Eldritch Moon. Every set needs their classic burn spell, and Ixalan is getting the best one this side of Lightning Bolt. Instant speed and being able to target creatures and players make it the most flexible burn spell since the last time we saw Lightning Strike.
It only loses a few points because the new art is just awful.
4. Imperial Aerosaur
Imperial Aerosaur is a prime Uncommon card and one of the best cards all around in the set. 3/3 and flying is already great value for four mana, but when this comes into the battlefield, you get to pump your largest creature and then send it at an opponent in the air. That’s huge, especially when they don’t have a flyer up to block.
Now, it’s also a Dinosaur, meaning you’re likely to have other Dinosaurs fighting alongside it. At the very largest, you could be sending 10 damage in the air with Imperial Awesomesaur, his new name. Winning with this card in game 1 will also scare your opponents into leaving back flyers to block, potentially ruining their aggro gameplan. This is busted at Uncommon, and I hope to see it often.
5. Deadeye Plunderers
These guys are just as badass as they look. Five mana lands you a creature that can crank out Treasure artifacts with your spare mana. Hopefully, these will help ramp you into your strongest bomb. The problem with that logic is that five mana is already top of the line for Pirates that you want to play, and unless you’re looking to get to seven for Tishana, Voice of Thunder or Overflowing Insight, that mana will probably be used for control and countering.
Or, of course, that Treasure also helps power up Deadeye Plunderer. Every artifact that enters the battlefield makes it just a little bit stronger, and this also includes Treasure from other creatures as well as Vehicles and Equipment.. Needless to say, this is a build-around where you want as much access artifacts as possible. If you build it right, wow… there isn’t a lot of artifact hate here to slow Deadeye Plunderers down.
A 3/3 for five isn’t impressive, but a potential 6/6 or 7/7 that controls its own growth? Any day!
6. Bellowing Aegisaur
Bellowing Aegisaur is my kind of team player. It could comes down on turn six, a little slow as a 3/5, but when it does, it sets up a wall that gives value each time it blocks. Regardless of whether it gets gorged upon by a larger dinosaur or if it flattens a smaller lizard. your team benefits from it doing its job.
In fact, the only card that outright beats Bellowing Aegisaur for zero value is Vanquish the Weak, which is a common removal spell. Beware of players who favor Black when playing this card.
Sadly, it does not get bigger itself, and it will never successfully stand in the way of the bigger dinosaurs. Blocking one in the late game means you should have an army of tough companions who will carry on the fight. Cards like Rile and Dual Shot also allow players to target their own dinosaurs. Don’t forget, your opponent isn’t the only one who can damage him to get the counters.
7. Wanted Scoundrels
I’m an aggro player at heart, and even with the enormous risk that comes attached to this card, I’m still all in on it. A 4/3 for two mana will easily be the biggest card on the board if you play it on turn two. Jamming it into your opponent’s weaker creatures is either going to devastate their early plays or force them to take four damage on early as turn three.
Crunching in with such large stats that early in the game means that even if they kill this after a turn or two, they might be too far behind to catch up to the rest of your speedy aggro creatures even with the Treasure bonus. If you take this early, you better be all in and hope they don’t have a Lightning Strike.
8. Raging Swordtooth
Just another big Dinosaur that totally rocks. 5/5 trample is great, and while the Charging Monstrosaur is better thanks to haste and an easier casting cost, this one helps trigger Enrage on a lot of your smaller dinosaurs. Don’t forget it will wipe out any of your opponents’ 1/1 vampire tokens as well.
Pick this one up for synergies and use it aggressively. against weenie decks.
9. Ixalan’s Binding
Yikes. These kinds of effects have been popular for quite some time, and they usually turn up with their own added bonuses depending on the set. Desert’s Hold gained players life, Cast Out had Flash and could Cycle, and Statis Snare came out with Flash at a lower casting cost. The most basic of these effects can be found on its style’s namesake, Oblivion Ring.
Ixalan’s Binding doesn’t have Flash and is still just as expensive as the upper-end versions of the card, but it has a devastating added bonus of keeping cards in your opponent’s hand. Chances are your opponent will only have one of the most ideal targets, meaning Rare bombs, and if that’s the case, you just exiled their biggest threat for four mana. Not bad. Only creatures with haste can really get around this effect.
However, if you drop this on something like Charging Monstrosaur, Bellowing Aegisaur, or another sweet Common or Uncommon you know your opponent has multiples of, their deck simply loses two or three of its most powerful threats. Devastating!
10. Merfolk Branchwalker
This is a political choice. I would much rather take a giant Dinosaur like Thundering Spineback over this, but I realize that Merfolk will be popular with fans. And I also haven’t chosen one, which means upset people. I’ve mostly only chosen cards that will fit in any deck no matter how tribal you are, but that’s a tall order with Merfolk, which are built entirely around synergies.
Merfolk has a lot of great cards, but with Merfolk, you’re either going tribal or going home a loser. Their mechanics don’t work when paired with Pirates or Dinosaurs, and you could very easily draft yourself into a corner if you’re not careful.
That’s why this is the most solid Merfolk in the set. Merfolk Branchwalker will either help draw you a land, or it will scry an unwanted card into the graveyard and come down as an aggressive 3/2 for just two mana. Any way you utilize it, it works in all decks, not just Merfolk. If you happen to land in Merfolk by the end of pack 3, good on you.
Honorable Mention: Thundering Spineback
A Dinosaur lord that cranks out 4/4 tramplers every turn? Absolutely! Where is the downside? Seven mana? No biggie in Ixalan!
Shapers of Nature
Not only does this toss around stat boosting counters and draws cards for a lovely little price, it can rumble at 3/3 for three mana. Plus, its abilities aren’t limited to Merfolk, so this can go in any deck you’re trying to make!
This will be popular for the first few weeks of Ixalan. You play this during an opponent’s combat phase at instant speed, kill an attacking creature, most likely survive to get the +1/+1 counter, and then your opponent is wide open to take 5 damage from this guy the following turn.
Why will this only be popular for a short time though? Because it’s going traumatize players and make them think twice about attacking into open Green mana.
Players will learn to play around this.
I like this little guy. You don’t often find Red’s Menace and White’s Flying on a creature in Magic, but when you do, you get a nasty creature that is almost impossible to block.
Red and White dominated in Amonkhet with small creatures like this, but if we had access to Sky Terror back then… whoa. Game over!
Fly this turn two, and an opponent will either have to waste a burn spell on a two-drop creature to get rid of it or crank out two fliers to beat it. Neither is preferable.
Chart a Course
I’m all about drawing two cards for two mana. Unlike Tragic Lesson from Hour of Devastation, the requirement for not discarding is also not that steep. If you attack with a throwaway one-drop on turn two, you get an easy two-card advantage over an opponent early in the game. If you have to discard, that’s still fine too. Two cards is two cards, which is often worth pitching away something you don’t need.