Welcome back to Going for the Gold!
Let’s be honest, Ixalan left a lot to be desired both as a limited format and as a set left. Not only were the cards in the format not really all star additions to Standard, but the limited games felt a lot like button mashing on your keyboard and crossing your fingers. Small costing efficient creatures combined with great enchantments and tricks in a format of bad removal tended to favour the faster decks.
For more seasoned players, this is the worst thing possible! We want games to go longer so that we can utilize our skill in decision making that can translate to more games won. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Ixalan.
When I first heard about some of the cards in Rivals of Ixalan, I was super happy! Why?
Well to understand how a format will work, you have to look at the commons of the format. Yes, the rares and uncommons are still important, but the commons will be the bread and butter of the format. The tribes are still the same so let’s get into the powerful commons of each set.
Bombard – One of the top two best commons in the set as it removes almost 85% of the creatures in the format, and is easily splashed due to the presence of treasure.
Goblin Trailblazer – A 2/1 menace for two that is in one of the most aggressive archetypes is a huge addition in Rivals. You will typically get in for four to six damage before having to trade it in most games.
Brazen Freebooter – Not as good as the previous creature because it costs four and you need to be prioritizing cheaper threats and removal earlier since there are so many ways to spend your mana on spells in this format. This creature is an upgraded Hill Giant that allows you to splash your better cards like Luminous Bonds
As you can see, red is not very deep in its powerful commons and as such should be a supporting colour for most decks.
Impale – Destroy any creature for 2BB mana? Sign me up. It’s funny how far we have come from the days of Terror or Dark Banishing. This is the third best common in the set because you are (typically) not able to splash this card.
Moment of Craving – A removal spell or combat trick that gains you two life for two mana. Doesn’t get much better than this.
Dusk Legion Zealot – This creature is doing its best Elvish Visionary impression. In a format with Ascend (where you care about the number of permanents on our board state) it really allows you to snowball. That’s not even considering the fact that it trades favourably with many two drops and is in the best archetype of the format.
Fathom Fleet Boarder – A three mana creature for three is great. They typically will have a downside unless you are in green. In this case, you lose a couple life but if you’re able to play a two-drop pirate this downside is easily mitigated.
Black has a few more commons that I won’t mention here, but it is easily a great main colour supporting both the UB Pirate and BW Vampire tribes.
Waterknot – See a theme here? Each colour has a great common removal spell which is able to handle the majority of creatures in the format. Waterknot is no exception as you are able to take your opponent’s best creature out of commission and still play aggressively or defensively. I really value cards that allow me to play both types of games.
Crashing Tide – Repulse was a fantastic card and it doesn’t take much to replicate that effect. At the start of many formats, you will see players playing larger creatures as they typically allow you to win games when you combine them with removal. Playing early creatures and this spell to keep them off balance is going to be what wins games for a long time coming. If you add the fact that you can save your own creatures from removal spells, it’s a wonder that it isn’t rated even higher.
Kitesail Coursair – A 2/1 flier on attacks that’s a Pirate. It triggers raid and gets in for early and late evasion damage. What’s not to like?
Deadeye Rig-Hauler – I’ve always loved the Man-o-War esque type of cards. It takes a little work, but being able to out-tempo your opponent by bouncing their big creatures, bouncing your “pacified” creatures or creatures that have come into play effects can come in very handy.
Like black, blue is very deep and makes a great support colour in this format.
Hunt the Weak – It’s probably getting old, but there we go. Another good removal spell being the best card in this colour.
Jungleborn Pioneer – Ascend is an important payoff mechanic in this set, and this card makes two permanents. Even without that, cards of this type have always been superb in limited since they give you more options.
Green is pretty lacklustre and I would suggest avoiding it at all costs in this format. It really only supports one good tribe (Merfolk) since Dinosaurs are heavily skewed toward red.
Luminous Bonds – Finally, the card that is tied on power level with Bombard. This deals with every non-Hexproof creature in the format. Since white is the better colour, I expect to see few copies of this card being passed.
Exultant Skymarcher – A fixed Vampire Nighthawk, as it has everything but the lifelink and deathtouch abilities. This is an amazing evasive threat that outclasses many of the fliers in this format. At such a low rate and since it is able to snowball in the vampire deck, it is one of the top five commons in the set.
Martyr of Dusk – This creature is one of the best two drops in the format trading with almost every two drop creature in the format and gives you a lifelink token to boot. Somehow this is a vampire card and with the previous card this has really pushed the archetype.
White is a very deep colour and can support many drafters.
B/W Vampires – this tribe has gotten a huge boost with Rivals of Italian. Not only are the best two colours in this set Black and White but all of the cards snowball very well together.
R/x Dinosaurs – The dinosaurs deck has gotten many promising additions. Moving away from the main white support colours allows you to have unbeatable draws. Forerunner of the Legion and Needletooth Raptor can make your opponent’s life a living hell.
U/x Pirates – Pirates has been pushed hard in the last set but it is vulnerable as it cannot play well from behind.
U/G Merfolk – This deck has lost the most with Rivals of Ixalan. While it did gain some splashy races and an uncommon lord, it lost having 3 packs of it’s best creatures and tricks. It went from being an easy 3-0 to a 1-2 to 2-1 deck.
If you take just one thing away from this article, it is that there’s so much more removal in this format and you can no longer just hope to win with a pure aggressive strategy.
That’s all for this week. Join me next week as I walk you through my Pro Tour Bilbao preparation
Have a great weekend, especially if you are going to #GPLondon or #GPHouston.