Rivals of Ixalan Archetype Primer: W/G Chicken Control, U/B Pirates Ascend, U/R Pirates Control and Pirates Aggro, and U/G Merfolk

If you missed the first two parts of this Rivals of Ixalan Draft archetype primer, about the testing process, or the first few archetypes, make sure to catch up on those. Remember that when I identify which cards improve for a specific archetype, it’s to give you an idea of the type of card that gets better rather than a complete list. The same goes for the cards that get worse. For example, that Anointed Deacon isn’t good in U/B Pirates goes without saying.

Without further ado, let’s continue!

W/G Chicken Control

W/G is pretty similar to W/R in that it’s not really an aggressive deck and your primary plan is drafting around the chicken, a win condition with great stats for stabilizing. The major difference between the archetypes is that W/G tends to go bigger instead of topping the curve with the chicken, and it’s a great home for some powerful rares like Zetalpa, Primal Dawn. If you have any of these powerful mythics or rare Dinosaurs, then Knight of the Stampede goes from unplayable to pretty good. But I wouldn’t try to play it to ramp out Colossal Dreadmaw—you need something more hefty to get enough value. Belligerent Brontodon can even be enough, given that your chickens become insane with it!

One thing W/G has going for it is that there are not a ton of first-picks in the combination, meaning that it tends to attract fewer players and that it’s a lot easier to get Atzocan Seer. Another is that it’s a good home for Hunt the Weak since most of the premium creatures you want have enough toughness to get full value from it.

Cards that become better in W/G Chicken Control


Priest of the Wakening SunZetalpa, Primal DawnZacama, Primal Calamity


Thundering SpinebackAtzocan SeerRanging RaptorsDrover of the MightyBelligerent Brontodon


Ixalli's DivinerExultant SkymarcherSun-Crested PterodonKinjalli's CallerKnight of the Stampede

Cards that become worse in W/G Chicken Control

Orazca FrillbackLegion ConquistadorGiltgrove StalkerImperial LancerPride of ConquerorsSlaughter the StrongWayward SwordtoothMajestic Heliopterus

U/B Pirates Ascend

U/B Pirates are almost always a slower, more controlling Sailor of Means deck. Most of the cards are good at blocking and netting card advantage. How aggressive you become as U/B depends primarily on how many cards like Kitesail Corsair, Fathom Fleet Boarder, and Siren Reaver you have. If you have a lot of these proactive threats, you can start to draft a more aggressive deck and raid cards like Deadeye Rig-Hauler.

If you are not aggressive, U/B is about using the removal and the defensive card advantage 2-drops of black alongside the defensive evasion creatures in blue. Desperate Castaways, Dire Fleet HoarderDusk Legion Zealot, and removal spells like Moment of Craving are great with Secrets of the Golden City, which blue helps power up to ascend with Sailor of Means. If you’re lucky enough, you can get some Contract Killing in the third pack, which might be the best card to pair with the blue ascend cards. It does it all!

Cards that become better in U/B Pirates Ascend


Dreamcaller SirenTwilight ProphetOverflowing Insight


Golden DemiseSlippery ScoundrelDeadeye BrawlerHeartless PillageSeekers' Squire


Dusk ChargerDire Fleet HoarderSecrets of the Golden CitySailor of MeansSiren Lookout

Cards that become worse in U/B Pirates Ascend

Grasping ScoundrelCrashing TideRun AgroundSiren StormtamerRuin RaiderDire Fleet Ravager

U/R Pirates

U/R Pirates is split between two different versions. I prefer the aggressive version, which tries to utilize more synergy and evasion creatures to close out the game quickly. The slower version of U/R Pirates takes advantage of Sailor of Means and Secrets of the Golden City.

U/R Pirates Aggro

U/R Pirates Aggro is one of the more synergistic archetypes. The key card in this archetype is Buccaneer’s Bravado. You want to combine it with another pump spell like Sure Strike or an enchantment like Swashbuckling or Tilonalli’s Crown to kill your opponent out of nowhere. Buccaneer’s Bravado is so much more effective here because the archetype has more evasion. Kitesail Corsair is fantastic since it’s an aggressive 2-drop with evasion and a Pirate. If you’re all in, even Mist-Cloaked Herald is great, helping you turn on raid and as a good target for Swashbuckling, See Red, and Curious Obsession.

Cards that become better in U/R Pirates Aggro


Warkite MarauderDreamcaller SirenRowdy Crew


Siren StormtamerDaring BuccaneerStorm Fleet SwashbucklerFiery CannonadeSiren Reaver


Kitesail CorsairBuccaneer's BravadoGoblin TrailblazerHeadstrong BruteDeadeye Rig-Hauler

Cards that become worse in U/R Pirates Aggro

Prosperous PiratesSailor of MeansSecrets of the Golden CityTimestream NavigatorHornswoggleNeedletooth RaptorWily GoblinRaptor Hatchling

U/R Pirates Control

U/R Pirates Control, on the other hand, is a Sailor of Means deck. But the big difference compared to other Sailor of Means decks is that it’s not really about going for ascend, except for cards like Secrets of the Golden City, but more of a way to get a good blocker and use the extra mana to control the combat step and stabilize. It’s hard for your opponent to blow you out in combat when you can continue playing creatures while having extra mana from Treasures to interact in the form of instant-speed removal or bounce spells. A card like Reckless Rage pairs fantastically with Sailor of Means, enabling you to cast it at any point from the Treasure. Another reason to play U/R is that it’s one of the few great homes for Mutiny, a card that otherwise isn’t great in aggressive decks. Here it’s actually fantastic and helps you keep up while trying to win with evasive creatures and card advantage.

The hard part about U/R Pirates Control is that it can be difficult to get good enough win conditions to turn the game around. Spire Winder is solid, but sometimes it won’t be enough and Sun-Crowned Hunters isn’t really fantastic at closing games when you’re reactive. This is also the reason that I typically only go into the archetype when I open a good finisher such as Etali, Primal Storm and blue is open.

Cards that become better in U/R Pirates Control


Star of ExtinctionEtali, Primal StormVance's Blasting Cannons // Spitfire Bastion


Reckless RageLightning-Rig CrewFiery CannonadeAir ElementalLookout's Dispersal


MutinySecrets of the Golden CitySpire WinderBombardSailor of Means

Cards that become worse in U/R Pirates Control

Mist-Cloaked HeraldHeadstrong BruteSiren StormtamerDeadeye Rig-HaulerRigging RunnerSun-Crowned HuntersBrazen BuccaneersSwaggering CorsairCrashing Tide

U/G Merfolk

U/G Merfolk is a linear strategy that utilizes tribal synergy to get aggressive. While you could find that in the common slot in triple-Ixalan, it falls mostly on the uncommons and rares of Rivals of Ixalan. With only Jade Bearer and Crashing Tide, Merfolk no longer has signpost commons. But, there are more uncommon and rare payoffs that are good only if you’re heavy Merfolk. For example, Vineshaper Mystic could be played in any green deck with a couple of Deeproot Warriors, but cards like Seafloor Oracle or Deeproot Elite only really work in a dedicated Merfolk deck. This means there’s a lower floor to U/G Merfolk when there are more players drafting it, but a higher ceiling. The best draft decks in this format are U/G Merfolk, but it has higher variance than most other archetypes.

Whenever you draft Merfolk it’s important to keep your final list in mind at all times. If you start your Draft with a couple of Hunt the Weak and start drafting Merfolk because of a late Silvergill Adept, there’s a higher chance you might want to play some non-Merfolk that are great with Hunt the Weak, like Hardy Veteran. That also means that there will be less actual Merfolk synergy in your deck and that there’s less of a chance to go all in, playing a few more lands and sturdier creatures. When this happens, it’s also important to find ways to punch through, so you’ll need good win conditions or cards like Strength of the Pack.

The other way a U/G Merfolk Draft can go is that you start with a payoff card such as Merfolk Mistbinder or Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, picking up every good Merfolk you see. These decks can get tons of payoff cards, making almost every Merfolk worth playing, including Mist-Cloaked Heralds and a low land count, sometimes even going down to 15 lands. Basically, what separates these two ways of drafting U/G Merfolk is how close to a “real card” Mist-Cloaked Herald becomes.

Remember that more U/G Merfolk drafters at the table can be devastating and similar to the Legion Conquistador dilemma. The more payoffs you pass early, the less likely it is that you’ll be in Merfolk and one of the few reasons you should especially care about what you’re passing. It’s going to be hard to get a person out of U/G Merfolk when they get a Merfolk Mistbinder 4th or 5th pick.

Cards that become better in U/G Merfolk



Silvergill AdeptMerfolk MistbinderForerunner of the HeraldsVineshaper MysticStrength of the Pack


Steelshaper ApprenticeRiver Heralds' BoonCrashing TideJade GuardianOne With the Wind

Cards that become worse in U/G Merfolk

Hunt the WeakSailor of MeansSecrets of the Golden CityPounceSlippery ScoundrelSiren LookoutNezahal, Primal Tide

I’ll cover the remaining archetypes in the final installment of my guide to Rivals of Ixalan Draft. As you might notice, there are quite a few of them. I will also close with some general last words about this fantastic format and the archetypes I prefer in order. See you then!


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