Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of “removal is bad in Ixalan.” The truth is that removal in general is excellent in Ixalan. It breaks up tribal synergies, and punishes your opponent for suiting up their creatures with One With the Wind, Mark of the Vampire, or Pirate’s Cutlass. What people should really be saying is that, “the common removal spells in particular are bad in Ixalan.” They’re overpriced and trading down on mana can be punishing in a fast format. Walk the Plank is one of the few removal spells in Ixalan that tends to trade up in mana. It can take out a giant Dinosaur or a creature with an Aura.
Honorable Mention: Tilonalli’s Knight.
I’m continuously impressed by Tilonalli’s Knight. Early plays are crucial, and one that hits hard and is difficult to trade with can be a high pick. It’s a staple card of one of my favorite archetypes: W/R Dinosaurs.
When I saw Waker of the Wilds in the Ixalan spoiler, I was floored. It looked like one of the best Limited cards of all time! Since then, my enthusiasm has cooled a little bit, since many games don’t go long enough for Waker to operate at full value. That said, it’s still a bomb card that will win you the game when it—and you—both survive. Pass with all of your mana available, and dump it during combat or at the end of the turn into making giant creatures. You can even add counters to an already-awakened land, which makes it nearly impossible for your opponent to block profitably. All that, and it still has respectable stats and a good creature type! It does come up that Walk the Plank cannot kill Waker of the Wilds.
Honorable Mention: Territorial Hammerskull
Hammerskull is one of the best aggressive creatures in a format where you want to be aggressive. It’s at its best in W/R Dinosaur aggro, but is strong enough to be a good addition to any white deck. It takes away the opponent’s ability to block, forcing them into a race that you’re much better equipped to win.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but first-pick Territorial Hammerskull is a great way to start a Draft.
Honorable Mention: Vance’s Blasting Cannons.
Blasting Cannons is a decent card in its own right, but a huge appeal of taking it is that—assuming it’s a live Draft—the players near you will see you choosing a red double-faced card. At that point, it’s in your neighbors’ best interest not to fight with you over the color red, and it will increase your chances of being passed good cards. This effect is a pretty big deal, but probably not strong enough that you should take Blasting Cannons over a truly great card.
Settle the Wreckage is fantastic. If your opponent knew ahead of time that it was in your deck, it would still be a premium removal spell. In the real world, where it’s usually a surprise the first time you cast it, it can win the game all on its own. If you play against a strong player, it may be worth making some small sacrifices to disguise your trap. (In other words, if you attack with all of your creatures when you’re at 1 life, they might suspect that something’s fishy.)
Honorable Mention: Seeker’s Squire
Explore is valuable, as are 2-mana plays. Seeing a Squire in your opening hand increases your confidence that you’ll hit your land drops and come out smoothly. It’s strong enough to go in any black deck, regardless of tribal synergies.
Ixalan is a tribal set, but some creatures are just too good to pass up. In a format with a lower-than-normal power level, Air Elemental can totally take over games. It’s also nice to start with a card that can go in any color combination that includes blue.
Honorable Mention: Pounce.
Past Air Elemental, this pack is pretty weak. Pounce is a situational removal spell that will often, but not always, do the job you want it to do. Still, it’s mana efficient and the upside is high, especially if you can live the dream of killing your opponent’s creature while also triggering enrage. Pounce goes up in value if your opponent is using Pious Interdiction to answer your big creatures.