The full Ixalan spoiler is finally available, and while most people are talking about Standard, I’m looking forward to a new Draft environment. I really loved Hour of Devastation, but I drafted a ton of it and now I’m ready for something new.
To get an initial read on the format, I’ll take a look at the keywords of Ixalan—and because rares and mythics are not that relevant for Draft strategy, I focused more on the commons and uncommons of the set.
Raid is an aggressive mechanic—you get rewarded for attacking rather than blocking. But will it be as relevant for the speed of the format as exert was in Amonkhet? Probably not. While checking the spoiler, I counted only 4 common raid cards, as well as 7 uncommons.
Most of them are pretty underwhelming—they are horrible without the raid trigger and fine if you can enable it. An example: Deadeye Tormentor. This card is fine if you can trigger it. But compare it to Liliana’s Specter. That was a good Limited card, and it was far from being unfair. As a result, I don’t think there will be a dedicated raid deck, and unless you’re Reid Duke, you should focus more on drafting optimal cards for your aggro decks instead of trying to build a theme deck.
Still, raid might change combat in one interesting way. You will be forced to make more bluff attacks to get raid, and therefore, you should almost always block when playing against Grixis, even if it looks like your opponent will surely have a combat trick. Combat tricks get better since it’s hard to tell if you actually have a trick or are just bluffing it to enable raid. Expect a lot of subtle mind games.
Enrage will not affect Limited play by a ton, and while quite balanced in its effect on the speed of the format, it’s a defensive mechanic. While blocking, you are in the driver’s seat planning its triggers. Most of the time, enrage triggers when creatures die, so it’s basically just a deathrattle effect, unless you start pinging your own stuff for value. You probably shouldn’t.
Maybe enrage will weaken damage-based removal, but since there are only two commons with enrage, it’s not really relevant for the format—it’s a nice bonus attached to some Dinosaurs. Still, I would have preferred them tacking the mechanic on creature type “angry gamers” instead.
Treasures are very good, will heavily affect Draft, and shake up the color pie quite a bit. Treasures are perfect ramp cards—they fix your mana, enable splashes (even double ones), and help you cast your expensive bombs. Getting Treasures is almost as effective as getting extra lands, since in most decks, you only ramp for the benefit of one or two payoff cards anyway, and then don’t make any use of your spare mana unless you have River-Hoopoe-type cards.
Treasures are also great because they always represent open mana even if you’re tapped out, making perfect play much more difficult. Imagine all-out attacking into a tapped out opponent with 4 Treasures. Feeling safe? Settle the Wreckage!
Most common Treasure cards are blue, with four of them at common. This will lead to slower blue deck splashing expensive cards, mostly off-color rares.
Explore seems very powerful and should play out like an improved scry—it will help you prevent mana screw and reduce the effect of flood. In terms of power level, explore will be slightly better than if the creature came into play with a +1/+1 counter instead, since most of the time, drawing a land is better than a counter and the scry attached to the +1/+1 is also a bonus. There is a small +1/+1 counter theme, so that will be another random upside here and there.
Vehicles are uncommon or rare in this format, so you won’t face them too often in Draft. Also, their power level has been greatly reduced, so they won’t impact the pace of the format much.
There are a few colorless fixers here and there, but the main fixers will be Treasures. This probably means that you would rather splash clunky spells instead of cheap spot removal. The only green ramp spell, New Horizons, seems fine, but has a bonus that ramp decks won’t be putting to good use, so it’s basically just a green Manalith.
In a tribal set, you might expect a ton of tribal synergies. I haven’t found many of them outside of the rare slot, and I do think that you should prefer focused cards that offer synergy, curve, and power. It seems like Ixalan offers many possibilities on how to build your deck, so you better decide quickly whether you’re a tempo-based blue deck or one that wants to ramp, and pick accordingly.
Ixalan seems like a pretty well balanced Limited format at first glance. It offers the possibility to go big with Dinosuars and Treasures, and it looks like there are some aggressive tempo decks available. There are 12 common 2-drops (Amonkhet had 14), of which about half don’t really care if they attack or block. I expect red, white, and blue to be the most aggressive colors, while black and blue have good Treasures and some decent late game cards. Green offers cards for any strategy, but I expect it to be the main color of every Dinosaur deck because it ramps best, and fight cards are at their best paired with enraged fatties.
On a scale from 1-10, 1 being Zendikar and 10 Rise of the Eldrazi, I would give Ixalan a 6. Amonkhet was a 2 for me, while Hour was more like an 8.
Touching on the rares and mythics in the set: I do like the fact that there are no unbeatable bombs à la Scarab God, Glorybringer or Smuggler’s Copter. Even the planeswalkers seem fair. Actually, most of the rares seem pretty weak. Which is a fact I do like a lot–games involving bombs where you either have a solution and play on or don’t have it and just die is closer to a coin flip than an interesting, strategic game.
The Best Common/Uncommon
Territorial Hammerskull is my pick for most powerful common in the set, if the set plays out like I’m expecting it to. If it’s much slower, it could even be something like Contract Killing, but I doubt it.
Raging Swordtooth seems like the best uncommon in the set, single-handedly killing Vampires and lots of fishes while hopefully triggering your angry beasts.
Best Draft Archetypes
Since most of the Treasure cards are in blue and black, I expect them to be the main colors or this archetype. You want as much removal as you can get, and you really don’t have to think too much about your finishers since worst-case scenario, you can just play an Ancient Brontodon.
W/R Dino Aggro
There are some nice aggressive Dinosaur payoff cards in white and red, and if you can get your hands on Territorial Hammerskull, you almost already have a deck.
Blue offers lots of evasion and some sweet tempo spells. I think you can pair it with whatever you like since every color has some nice tools. One with the Wind is the sweetest with white and its countless lifelinkers, green offers some undercosted beaters, as well as a little +1/+1 counter subtheme, black gives you some grindy Pirate synergies, and red probably offers the fastest clock.
Vampires seems like a sweet go-wide strategy with lots of tokens. Sadly, you’re lacking a good Inspired Charge to make good use of them, but cards like Fathom Fleet Cutthroat can do a very good job in a deck like this. There are also some nice life-gain-and-pay synergies around, even though mainly it’s just about the lifelink.
G/W/r Dinosaur Ramp
Green and white have some nice enablers, and if you’re the only tribal Dino drafter, you should get your fair share of Kinkalli’s Callers, a.k.a. Wall of Roots, to make the deck work. Green’s fight spells, as well as Grazing Whiptail, should keep you alive until the party starts.
My Personal Achievement Challenges for Ixalan Limited
PV wrote that you should basically always go first when in doubt. In Ixalan Drafts, I’m going to keep track of my overall win percentage, as well as my win percentage in games where I actively put myself on the draw. I bet it will be over 50%…
Back in the days when I played lots of Pro Tours and Grand Prix, I came up with a challenge I often did when I drafted on Day 2 but was out of contention for money or Pro Points. I drafted at least 10 rares, built a deck around them, and tried to win as many rounds as possible. Many great situations arose from this approach, including one where my challenge buddy Tobi played a red-black aggro deck. His opponent played Merfolk Observer, looked at the top card of Tobi’s library, and gave him a very weird look. Tobi drew for his turn and revealed: Near-Death Experience. We had a good laugh.
When I started doing content for a German website, I recorded some of these challenges I did on Magic Online–they were great fun to produce and to watch as well. We even won one of these challenges in an 8-4 queue, killing our opponent with Heroes’ Podium into Xenagos, God of Revels and Triad of Fates. I will try to find some time to invite a good co-drafter and record one for you as well!