Going for the Gold: A Primer on Ixalan
As promised, today we'll be delving into the full Ixalan limited format. Unfortunately, when you compare this set to other sets there are much fewer playables this time around. Before we go into the intricacies of the Sealed and Draft format, let's talk about the main tribes of this tribe-centric set:
This is a tribe we have not seen before, and they all exist within the Grixis Shard (Blue, Black and Red). Their special ability is Raid, originally from Khans of Tarkir, which triggers if a creature you control attacked this turn. Some raid cards are amazing and should always be played such as these:
While others are just okay and I would not worry about fitting into my deck:
When deciding what Raid creatures to play in your deck, you should ask yourself if you'd still play this card if the raid trigger happened about 30% of the time. If the answer is no, then you should err on the side of not playing it.
Since Pirates focus on attacking early, the Grixis Shard tempo decks (U/R, R/B or U/B) end up being fantastic in Draft. You need the right mix of early creatures (Raid enablers) and Raid spells to make it work. On top of that, Fiery Cannonade, one of the best uncommon cards in the set interacts favourably with Pirates and unfavourably with everything else. This is definitely the direction I'll be going in the first few weeks of the format when everyone is trying to mess around with the bigger converted mana cost creatures.
Dinosaurs have never been a supported tribe before in Magic, although any overcosted big creature was referred to as a dinosaur. As expected, the biggest creatures in this set are almost all dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs exist in the Naya shard (Red, Green and White) and have their own special ability Enrage. Enrage is an ability that triggers when the creature receives even one damage. It is very flavorful!
What is surprising is that there are very cheap dinosaurs in the set. For the competitive players reading this column, they are what you are looking for:
Then there are some of the bigger dinosaurs that, while great additions, you might want to have fewer of:
There are many more dinosaurs, and just like Pirates they have good tribal synergy. Not only are the two fight spells (Pounce and Savage Stomp) great in the Dinosaurs decks since you have the biggest creatures around, you also have two cost reducers:
I am a huge fan of Otepec Huntmaster as the card not only reduces the cost of your Dinosaurs, but allows you to send them into battle directly. It can also trade with half of the two drops in this format. On the contrary, Kinjalli's Caller has mediocre stats and should only be played if you have somewhere around 17 Dinosaurs in your deck. This can be sideboarded in, if the three toughness is relevant in the matchup.
Vampires are a tribe that we're quite familiar with already, and which we have seen as recently as Shadows of Innistrad. The tribe that's so used to having small creatures willing to trade life for board control is back! Most of the vampire cards of Ixalan focus on draining life and Lifelink.
There's nothing splashy about this tribe, but it prefers to deal large amounts of damage in chunks. Be careful if you are playing against it. The Vampire tribe's ability for it to gain life when it attacks and recur threats allows it to be a very powerful archetype in the Limited format.
Finally, Merfolk make their big return to the main stage of Magic. A Merfolk deck was one of the first decks that I had tournament success with, and I am happy to see them back. However, they've branched out from their mono blue haven and have adopted the Simic Guild colours (blue and green). The Merfolk in this set have a strong +1/+1 counter theme and the Tribe has a great mix of evasion and power/toughness ratio versus mana cost. Here are some of the reasons you should be playing Merfolk:
It looks like Merfolk will be similar to how BW Zombies were in Amonkhet. Very powerful if you get the deck, but mediocre to average if you end up 50/50. I'm excited to draft this at some point!
Now that we've covered the big new tribes, let us focus on some things that you want to get right.
Similar printing to older cards with changes:
Legion's Judgment which is a similar card to Smite the Monstrous is Sorcery speed. I cannot tell you how many times I've had opponents try to cast that during combat. In a similar vein, Belligerent Brontodon is a new version of Doran, the Siege Tower, but it only affects your own creatures. I had opponents last weekend who tried to trade their high toughness creatures with mine.
Cards that can dome you directly:
All of these cards are in red and black, with the exception of one artifact.
It's always worth keeping in mind that some of these cards are not playable in the maindeck, while some (such as Lightning Strike and Unfriendly Fire) are. I would highly recommend that you open up the card list for Ixalan and familiarize yourself with all of the instants in this set.
Outside of the rares, the only flash creatures are five drops, and you should think about this when you attack your opponent who has done nothing all game who has passed with five mana up.
This format is very aggressive, and as such you should focus on prioritizing two and three drops in your draft decks. It may not have the aggressive mechanic of Exert like the previous format, but you are able to pile up a ton of damage really fast. In Draft, I would suggest focusing on the R/W, U/G, W/B and B/R aggressive decks in the first few weeks. Due to the low playable count, you really don't have the option to waffle on your colours in draft, so try to be solid in one colour before branching out into your second. This makes picking a gold card a really risky proposition, and something I would avoid unless it is an utter bomb such as Marauding Looter. A card like the one below is a top common since it races well in this format and puts on pressure at the same time.
Sealed, on the other hand, will be much slower because the number of playables in each pack is some of the lowest that we've seen in a long time. That means that players will not be able to put together fast decks consistently enough and you should focus on playing your best cards, ironically similar to the previous Sealed format. Don't be afraid to stretch your mana base if it means that you're not playing chaff. Cards such as the following are great since some pools just do not have the depth of removal and will be unable to beat a Baneslayer Angel, whereas in draft you can pick removal or bounce spells.
This weekend is GP Providence. If you're in attendance I welcome you to come by and say, "Hi!" Good luck to everyone in your Release events, and have a great weekend!