At Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan I managed to sneak into the Top 8 thanks largely to my stellar performance in Draft, going 6-0 by drafting the same archetype twice.
Draft master Christian Calcano identified the strength of Sun-Crested Pterodon, a card that seems replaceable and medium, but he started splashing it in every color combination, and started picking it very highly. When paired with green or with Snubhorn Sentry, the Pterodon does an incredible job of stalling the board and chipping away with damage.
This discovery was definitely the key to our team’s success in the Limited portion.
First thing to do: Give red and blue cards to your opponents.
Blue is terrible. Its creatures are weak and Waterknot is double-colored. Merfolk is the only good archetype, but it has to be wide open to be a good deck, and Rivals of Ixalan made it so that two Merfolk drafters at the table won’t survive.
Red is okay, but still not on Abzan’s level. Bombard is good, but red is a very aggressive color and Rivals of Ixalan has too many good defensive cards, which outclass Goblin Trailblazer and Fanatical Firebrand easily.
Black, white, and green on the other hand all have solid removal spells and good creatures to fill the curve, stall the ground, and eventually win with big flyers or big Dinosaurs.
The best strategy is to start the Draft with removal spells:
Luminous Bonds and Impale are the best two commons, but since white is better than black you take Bonds over Impale. The double mana cost makes it less splashable and splashing is very easy in Rivals of Ixalan because of Evolving Wilds, Traveler’s Amulet, and dual lands.
Hunt the Weak, despite being a reprint, is the best it has ever been. Enrage is a popular mechanic and creatures seem to have higher toughness than power, which makes them fight very well.
Then you want to start fill out your curve from the bottom (1-2 drops):
Dusk Legion Zealot is amazing—it’s a 2-for-1 that trades with many creatures in the format and happens to be a Vampire, which means that it’ll get all the bonuses of that tribe.
Snubhorn Sentry (Doggo) is my boy. He blocks early and attacks later, a 3/3 is big, and it isn’t hard to enable it to attack on turn 5. The synergy with Sun-Crested Pterodon is real and you don’t want to miss it.
Mid-sized creatures (3-4 drops):
I’m in love with Legion Conquistador. It fits the style of the deck perfectly—stall the board, get card advantage, and eventually win with flyers or big Dinosaurs. I’ll pick up Legion Conquistador as early as pick 1 pack 1, since the fewer of them that go around the table, the less likely your opponents are to pick them. The maximum number you want to play is 4 since you don’t want to draw 2. If your deck is very good, then you could cut down to 3.
Dusk Charger is another card that is vastly underrated, but incredible in black tribe-less decks. Voracious Vampire, on the other hand, is vastly overrated, and good only when it follows up a Vampire 2-drop. With such a small body that gets outclassed so easily, you can do way better with 3 mana in these colors.
Win conditions (5+ drops):
Sun-Crested Pterodon (a.k.a. Chicken) is the real deal—now I can hardly ever pass one up. You can even play up to 3, and you shouldn’t be afraid of splashing it in B/G. In fact, you should splash it, since B/G is a strong color pair that has trouble dealing with flyers.
Both Javier and Calc were successful drafting B/G splash white at the PT, whereas I was always in a good seat for pure B/W.
Remember to pick up Colossal Dreadmaw, even if you’ll see it in the last pack. It’s important to get the win condition. You don’t want to finish your Draft without a way to get through a board stall and eventually lose to some random flyers.
I always try to have my decks at around 7-8 spells, so after giving preference to removal spells, I want to round things out with some tricks and other tools.
Let’s now talk about my decks at the Pro Tour:
1st Draft Deck
I ended up going 3-0, and did not losing a single game with this deck, defeating even Jon Finkel and his Hadana’s Climb. The deck was smooth and I didn’t notice the lack of Legion Conquistador. I ended up fairly aggressive with my draws, and Paladin of the Bloodstained enabled some quick city’s blessings.
2nd Draft Deck
This was another super solid B/W deck where I had a couple of deck building decisions, and I chose to play only two 2-drops alongside two Snubhorn Sentry because of my Legion Conquistador and my many 3-drops. I ended up playing against two very aggressive decks, so I was often sideboarding in Desperate Castaways and Gleaming Barrier for Azor’s Gateway and Sanguine Glorifier.
I picked Pirate’s Cutlass over Anointed Deacon pack 3 pick 1 because I didn’t have that many Vampires, and I would do it again. It’s hard to go full-on tribal in Rivals, so versatile equipment like that are often better than tribal payoffs.
I also picked Slash of Talons pretty high. I knew that I was short on spells, and I always want to end up with a good number of instants and sorceries. Slash of Talons enabled a great 3-for-1 on turn 4 where I killed a Goblin Trailblazer with a See Red on it, and I blocked a Tilonalli’s Skinshifter that had hoped to be something more impressive.
To give you an example of a build with green, here’s Javier Dominguez’s 3-0 deck.
Javier wisely picked up a lot of fixing and ended up splashing three cards. He went down to 16 lands, since his mana base was good enough and the 3 Dusk Legion Zealot would help him keep two-landers. His curve was very low—he chose not to play any Colossal Dreadmaw since his late game was already good enough.
One of the very important rules of Abzan Vampirosaur is to always pick up Recover—it’s just the best thing you can do in the late game, and you should build your deck in order to reach that stage.
I hope you’ll embrace this strategy that I firmly believe is the best in Rivals of Ixalan!