First Look into the Rivals of Ixalan Future Future League

Posted in Play Design on January 26, 2018

By Andrew Brown

Hello and welcome back to Play Design! With Melissa DeTora out this week, I, Andrew Brown, will be your Play Design author. You may remember me from such great Top 8s as Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch and Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. Today I'll be sharing some sweet decks and some of my process when a set first enters the Future Future League (FFL) focus period. The focus period is the first three months that a set has entered the future Standard environment, and where the majority of the competitive balance changes are made. The early parts of the focus period are my favorite times at work. The creativity is high and I get to repeatedly beat Michael Majors's brews. (This is false; I lose all the time.)

When a set enters the focus period, most FFL members have a good grasp of the cards, as everyone has drafted the set multiple times during main set design. We also do a preliminary rate pass where we identify cards that are too strong or too weak on rate. After we identify these cards, we adjust the rate or ask for redesigns from the set lead. That can range from adding or subtracting a point of toughness to asking for a whole new card.

The focus period can be broken down into two parts. The first half is when we stress-test each card, and we're mostly focused on learning quickly and finding cards that are clearly too strong, from every build-around uncommon to each wacky rare. This half can be summed up in one word: exploration. The second part of the focus period is when we start refining further and we begin to get a handle on the environment. We're still exploring, but we start putting a lot more effort into refining our strongest decks and designing cards that would be healthy additions to the format. The second half, in one word, is about iteration.

Exploring New Mechanics

Explore is a sweet mechanic. Any mechanic that gets players card filtering and gives them extra lands is awesome. My first instinct when I see cards like Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker is to figure out how I can use the effects to get card advantage. The first place I went was a classic midrange shell, filling my deck with rate cards and adding the explore cards to synergize with the graveyard cards. Here's one of the first lists I built and battled with.

Andrew Brown's Dusk // Dawn Explore

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Explore is working overtime in this list, and it's being used in multiple ways. Exploring into the aftermath and embalm cards is an angle to gain card advantage. It keeps your explore creatures strong with +1/+1 counters and adds the later utility of casting spells or embalming creatures. My favorite part of this deck is Dusk // Dawn and how it interacts with the explore creatures. It fills your graveyard with creatures to get back later, and if you don't want to cast the Dusk half, you can put it in the graveyard. I also played a high land count because the extra lands make explore a higher-value ability. By building a deck that contains all these elements and synergies, I could test a bunch of different aspects of the mechanic and try to learn which uses were strong and which were just cute.

The next step after getting a feel for the new mechanic is to push it to the limit. I later built an all-in version of the explore deck using Path of Discovery to learn about the extremes of the mechanic. This is a shift from inherently powerful cards to weaker but more synergistic cards.

Andrew Brown's Path Turbo Engine

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This is more of a cohesive strategy than the first explore deck. Every card in the deck except the Aerial Responder is feeding into the strategy of getting card advantage off explore. My favorite card in this deck is Wayward Swordtooth. Once Path of Discovery gets online, Wayward Swordtooth can let you get ahead on mana to embalm and eternalize. One other awesome little interaction is Rishkar, Peema Renegade with explore. Each +1/+1 counter can get you one more mana to keep flooding the board with your army of mummified kitty cats.

The final step after testing the new mechanics is to port them into known successful strategies. The angle I took with explore in the next deck was to ensure inevitability. After Pro Tour Aether Revolt, we found that many players were playing Vehicle decks with Heart of Kiran and 3-power creatures to crew it, especially Scrapheap Scrounger. This deck's goal is to help the exploring Merfolk feed the hungry Scrapheap Scrounger and its long-lost cousin, Dread Wanderer. A common danger of value mechanics like explore is that it's easy to overlook the quantity of value we're adding to an environment, so we're careful to test decks like this one where we splice the mechanic onto a deck we already know is strong.

Andrew Brown's Jund Explore Vehicles

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While this has a lot of the staple cards from most Mardu Vehicle decks, this version gains a better late game against controlling decks by filling its graveyard up faster and recurring Dread Wanderer and Scrapheap Scrounger. It also has my favorite beatdown combo in Heart of Kiran and Samut, the Tested. Crew Heart of Kiran with Samut, then +1 targeting the Heart of Kiran and attack for 8. POW!

One of the questions I like to ask in my head every time a new set comes into FFL is, "How many Fogs and how many Howling Mines exist in the format?" Turbo Fog is a surprisingly easy strategy to strengthen. If we're not careful and it's one of the strongest decks in the format, we run the risk of making tournaments less fun by adding a considerable amount of time to every round. On the outside, I always loved exploring Turbo Fog, so I was the first to try it in Rivals of Ixalan, testing out Kumena's Awakening. Here's the version of Turbo Fog I forced Melissa to play against.

Andrew Brown's Potpourri Win-Cons Fog

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When I test nontraditional decks that have an odd way of winning, I always try go for a mix of different win conditions. This allows me to see which ones are effective and evaluate which ones are fun. This deck has three reliable ways to win with Kefnet the Mindful, Dynavolt Tower, and Approach of the Second Sun. The true hero in this deck is Druid of the Cowl. Since most of my enchantments that draw me more cards cost four, ramping from two mana to four a turn early is exactly what this deck wants. Druid of the Cowl is also a serviceable blocker against aggro, which is normally one of the checks that prey on Turbo Fog. My favorite part about building Turbo Fog decks is figuring out which singleton cards I want to include for certain situations.

These are all the FFL decks I can share with you guys this week, but I'll be back once Dominaria comes out to share some of my favorite FFL decks from the Dominaria FFL focus period. In the meantime, I'll be at most Pro Tours and nearly all the West Coast Grand Prix, so come say hi!


Bonus awesome deck!

Gateway to the Ribbons

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This is a classic black-red control deck with the special angle of a combo kill with Cut // Ribbons using the mana from Sanctum of the Sun. The objective in this deck is to remove all your opponent's threats and protect yourself until you can have Cut // Ribbons do 20 Damage. Azor's Gateway puts an interesting restriction on deck building. Your curve matters more than ever to get enough cards to flip the Gateway. But thanks to the aftermath mechanic, we can circumvent some of the deck-building challenges. When you exile Cut // Ribbons or Never // Return with Azor's Gateway, it counts the combined mana cost of the cards—so Cut // Ribbons has a converted mana cost (CMC) of 4 and Never // Return has a CMC of 7. This deck was super fun to play and is certainly one I'll be taking to Grand Prix side events and Friday Night Magic.

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