The 5 Best Draft Archetypes in Ixalan

Week 1 of Ixalan Limited is in the books, and after a rough start, underestimating its speed and being regularly overrun by aggro decks, I feel like I have properly settled into my new Limited home for the next few months.

Today, I’m taking a closer look at—in my opinion—the five best Draft archetypes of the format, and my approach to drafting them:

5) B/W Vampires

Vampires is a sweet deck, and an obvious one. When Wizards prints a set with tribal synergies and puts one tribe into two colors, there should be a good deck around it. The main question here: How good is it really? I would say: Pretty good, if you actually know how to draft it. At first glance, I thought Vampires would be a go-wide token strategy since its multicolor uncommon, Call to the Feast, points you in that direction. But without real payoff cards in the set, like an Inspired Charge or a way to convert tokens into extra cards, these token generators are fine but not spectacular. There are in fact Bishop of the Bloodstained, Anointed Deacon, and Deathless Ancient, which benefit from tokens, but you can draft any other Vampire to make those cards good as well.

In the end, you shouldn’t draft Vampires as a control strategy—you should opt to go aggro or midrange. If you get cards like Adanto Vanguard, Duskborne Skymarcher, and Territorial Hammerskull, do your best to have a low curve and beat down. If you get Deathless Ancient, removal, or Inspiring Cleric, try to focus on the midgame grind instead. Mark of the Vampire, by the way, is a card I initially thought would be unplayable, especially in Vamps where many of your creatures already have lifelink, but if you get some Kitesail Freebooters to disrupt your opponent, it’s actually a pretty good and swingy card. Imagine this on Adanto Vanguard against a nonblue deck…

For my Top 10 cards, I’ll focus on the aggressive Vampire deck, since I’ll cover the slower version later.

Top 10 Commons/Uncommons for B/W Vampire Aggro:

  1. Imperial Aerosaur
  2. Territorial Hammerskull
  3. Adanto Vanguard
  4. Wanted Scoundrels
  5. Walk the Plank
  6. Ixalan’s Binding
  7. Bishop’s Soldier
  8. Duskborne Skymarcher
  9. Skymarch Bloodletter
  10. Anointed Deacon

As you see, I don’t value the removal spells that highly in aggro decks since most of the time, a cheap combat trick like Vampire’s Zeal or Skulduggery has the same effect and is much easier to get late in the Draft. Good low drops are most important for fast decks—they should be your priority. You don’t have to be all in on Vampires, since there aren’t many payoffs—the synergies are based instead on life gain and life loss. Depending on the picks you already have, Call to the Feast and the removal spells can be picked over Deacon.

4) B/W Midrange

I love white midrange in the format since it offers good removal and a ton of life gain. B/W midrange can be a Vampire deck, but I usually draft it as a pile of removal with some good threats, which sometimes has nice synergies. To prepare for the grind, I often go second with these decks if I have a critical number of low drops, optimally Bishop’s Soldier and Slash of Talons. Legion Conquistador is a fine card in these decks. It helps you grind and is accessible late in the Draft. My optimal number is 3 at the moment. In a deck without many other 3-drops, I would even play more. Call to the Feast and Deathless Ancient are a great engine that’s almost impossible to stop for certain decks in the late game.

Top 10 Commons/Uncommons for B/W Midrange:

  1. Walk the Plank
  2. Ixalan’s Binding
  3. Emissary of Sunrise
  4. Inspiring Cleric
  5. Deathless Ancient
  6. Call to the Feast
  7. Seekers’ Squire
  8. Bishop’s Soldier
  9. Pious Interdiction
  10. Bright Reprisal

After these, I would pick the rest of the black and white removal spells, followed by life gain creatures. This deck, like any slower deck, has a hard time dealing with Jade Guardian, but has good tools for battling other creature decks. Good finishers are important. Flying Dinosaurs are fine at doing that, but if you don’t have any by pack 3, I would pick Deathless Ancient over any other common or uncommon. And as I already mentioned, if you play against other midrange strategies, consider going second.

3) R/W Dinosaurs

This was my plan A going into the format, and after playing it in my second Draft, I knew that the strategy was viable and very potent. You have plenty of great aggressive uncommons, as well as the colors with the best removal suite and low drops. The deck is straightforward, and easy to draft and play.

Top 10 Commons/Uncommons for R/W Dinosaurs:

  1. Charging Monstrosaur
  2. Imperial Aerosaur
  3. Sky Terror
  4. Territorial Hammerskull
  5. Lightning Strike
  6. Bonded Horncrest
  7. Firecannon Blast
  8. Adanto Vanguard
  9. Tilonalli’s Knight
  10. Emissary of Sunrise

Looking at the top picks for the deck, you can already see why this deck is so strong. Its best creatures are incredible, and again, I would draft them over removal. Pterodon Knight is much better than it looks in this deck since evasion is so good in a format with big monsters on the ground. If you don’t get enough removal, fill your deck with some combat tricks. But be sure to run enough cheap creatures—despite its Dino synergies and Dinos normally being expensive, make sure the deck stays aggressive and avoid having too many big Dinos in your deck.

2) U/G Merfolk

At first, I thought that Merfolk was a pure tribal synergy deck and therefore only available if you’re the only player drafting it at the table. I changed my mind quite a bit. In fact, almost every card with the subtype Merfolk is tempo oriented and fits well in the deck, but the synergy payoff of most cards only need you to have a certain number of fish in your deck, so you can easily even draft a base-green deck with any other colors and still get the tribal synergies (Kumena’s Speaker, River Heralds’ Boon, Vineshaper Mystic).

Merfolk seems like the best Draft archetype so far. It’s blazingly fast, has plenty of evasion, and multiple ways to close out a game in the midgame. Merfolk has the best 1-drop in the format (Kumena’s Speaker), the best combat trick (River Heralds’ Boon) and the best two-card combo at common (Jade Guardian, One with the Wind). After sideboarding, you can easily punish slower decks by bringing in counters, and bring in more bounce against Auras—especially Mark of the Vampire, which I found to be one of the most underrated cards in the format.

Sadly, as people start giving credit to the deck, it gets weaker if you have to share it with one or two other players at your Draft table.

Top 10 Commons/Uncommons for U/G Merfolk:

  1. Vineshaper Mystic
  2. Kumena’s Speaker
  3. Tempest Caller
  4. Shapers of Nature
  5. Merfolk Branchwalker
  6. Air Elemental
  7. Savage Stomp
  8. River Heralds’ Boon
  9. River Sneak
  10. Watertrap Weaver

But wait, why is Kumena’s Speaker so high on this list? Fish is a tempo deck, and if you can start your curve with this little guy and follow up with a 2-drop creature, One with the Wind, or River Heralds’ Boon, many decks will just fall apart against it. Then it combines nicely with Vineshaper Mystic and Storm Sculptor, making it a premium card in this deck, which almost makes you feel like you’re playing Constructed.

Deeproot Waters is decent if you have 15+ Merfolk—Storm Sculptor makes it even better. Jade Guardian is a great addition if you have ways to put counters on it or give it wings. It’s rather expensive and replaceable with other 4-drops, but it dominates some of the slower matchups. Overall, I don’t think a card like this should be common, since playing against it is not very interactive and fun.

1) U/W Control

If I started my list with this one on top, people would have stopped reading there and scrolled down to the comments to sow some salt. That’s why number one on my list is at the bottom of my article. I spent several Drafts looking for a good way to exploit Treasures in a control deck, and white-blue seems to be the best shell for that. Blue offers different, good ways to get booty (Pirate’s Prize, Sailor of Means, Prosperous Pirates) and some nice card draw and disruption (I always want at least a Cancel in those decks since they work perfectly with Treasures), while white offers early defense in the form of life gain and removal.

Slash of Talons is excellent in this kind of deck because it slows down your opponent early and is great when cast off Treasures. I had many opponents attacking into Sailor of Means, giving their attacker a boost with some combat trick and painfully scooping to the 1-mana removal. It’s also a great way to buy back tempo you lost by playing a Pirate’s Prize.

You can splash any rare or mythic you open in packs 1 and 2, and I often got passed Star of Extinction, Overflowing Insight, or Wakening Sun’s Avatar, which are pure nonsense in this kind of deck.

Drafting U/W Control is also a nice plan B since you can mostly splash your powerful early picks anyway, so you don’t lose too many picks when staying open early. You also don’t need to pay attention to synergies, allowing you to simply pick the best cards out of your packs.

Top 10 for U/W Control:

  1. Any good rare or mythic will do.
  2. Ixalan’s Binding
  3. Pious Interdiction
  4. Inspiring Cleric
  5. Bishop’s Soldier
  6. Emissary of Sunrise
  7. Air Elemental
  8. Bright Reprisal
  9. Slash of Talons
  10. Sailor of Means

As you can see, your top picks are rather average. This is bad because they’re not as powerful as, say, the R/W Dino top 10, but it’s good because you will always get your critical mass of important cards for the deck. The archetype is usually wide open—most drafters avoid slow blue cards at the moment since they’re not good in Merfolk or Pirates.

To be fair, you rarely end up in the deck without opening or getting passed fancy rares or mythics. But chances are high to get some of these in pack 2 or 3, since around 80% of the decks at your table would be rather aggressive and don’t care about most rares or mythics. They’re too slow and the aggro uncommons are so powerful. Here’s a sample list of the deck that went 6-1 in games, each of them being on the draw.

As a bonus, here’s a rough sketch of other cards I like or dislike in the format. Feel free to ask for explanations if a card seems extremely off for you.

Top 5 Commons:

Top 5 Uncommons:

Top 5 Underrated Cards:

Top 5 Overrated Cards:

My favorite deck:


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