Draft: Rivals of Ixalan

Intro


If Hour of Devastation was a blast to draft, Dominaria was just amazing. I have drafted nearly 40 events over the weekend, trying out just about everything there was to try, and I have learned quite a few things that seem about drafting in MTGA

  • - AI tends to hard commit to an archetype and can not read any signals
  • - I often found myself hard locked out of 1-2 colors in pack two and was a lot more successful when drafting very flexible in pack 1
  • - AI loved white. I have only managed to play it twice and had to hard switch out of it after drafting it in pack 1
  • - Drafting 5th copies of rares/mythics you already own feels horrible


I will be very honest. Ixalan draft was one of the worst experiences I’ve had in limited since I started my journey in ‘99. The games were swingy, snowbally and incredibly uninteractive, and dissuaded me from ever even trying to play RIX. I have not been looking forward to preparing this primer or playing this weekend’s event at all. That being said, whilst doing my research on Rivals of Ixalan I’ve played roughly 30 8 man pods, and I was pleasantly surprised. The tribal archetypes are not forced, but can still be built successfully, the plethora of removal available to all 5 colors makes sure the games are interactive, and the whole Mesoamerican themed set just really clicked with me.

Welcome to the jungle:




Rivals of Ixalan is a relatively open limited format, allowing players to really build just about anything they like. Archetypes are soft-forced, meaning one can easily expand beyond the intended frames, and some of the archetypes can choose to follow tribal themes in addition to the general good-stuff intended for their colors. Before taking a closer look at the archetypes themselves, let’s review some of the key characteristics of RIX:

  • - Consists of 2 RIX and 1 IXL booster pack
  • - A plethora of removal in all colors
  • - Follows Ixalan’s tribal theme: Pirates, Merfolk, Dinosaur and Vampires
  • - The format is rather aggressive, but one needs a lot of solid uncommon/rare cards to support it
  • - Rare and uncommon cards are generally much stronger than commons
  • - It’s easy to get locked out of colors, so one should keep his options open
  • - Splashing a 3rd color for bombs is relatively easy
  • - 2/3/4/5 toughness presents a very significant difference relative to the removal available
  • - Grindy control decks rarely work, when they do it’s usually the Chicken!


Ixalan Specific Mechanics:
  • Ascend: A keyword causing a player to get the designation of the city’s blessing once they control ten permanents (e.g. Twilight Prophet).
  • Transform lands: a series of lands that transform into enchantments once their condition is met (e.g. Path of Mettle // Metzali, Tower of Triumph).
  • Enrage: A keyword triggering an ability when the creature is damaged (e.g. Needletooth Raptor).
  • Explore: When a creature explores, its controler reveals the top card of their library. If it’s a land, they put into their hand. If it’s a non-land card, they can choose to either leave it on the top of the library, or discard it into their graveyard. In the latter case, the exploring creature receives a +1/+1 counter. (e.g. Jadelight Ranger)
  • Raid: An ability that triggers upon the creature entering the battlefield if their controler has attacked that turn Siren Reaver).


Card Cycles


A word on Ixalan
As we know, the 3rd pack of each draft will be the good old Ixalan. There are two things to consider there. First of all, Ixalan is very light on removal, so it should be prioritized in the first two, and secondly, Ixalan will generally improve whatever archetype we’ve adopted in the first two packs, but we can not rely on making it.

Archetypes


Before jumping into a quick description of the archetypes as I personally see them I would like to say there are two archetypes that one should avoid. UW and BG both lack any of the tribal support and are extremely difficult to draft. They can work, and they can be built, but they require a pool of cards of excellent quality that is rarely available, especially with the Arena’s AI. Based on how the bots were set up in the previous two limited events, I expect them to pass a lot of cards for these two color combinations, so be cautious not to get pigeonholed into it unless you feel confident your card pool to carry you. UW generally focuses on Ascend mechanic while the BG recurs cards from the graveyard. I have prepared a short list of draft card examples of what I perceive the best color combinations in the format. I found myself often deprived of a clear game-plan or either solid early or late game picks. That’s not to say they are not viable.

BR Midrange (Pirates)
BR Aggro with a pirate tribal theme was one of the spiciest decks in the triple Ixalan format. With the lack of quality 2-drops at Common, this deck has become significantly more difficult to build, and I have found myself a lot happier abandoning the tribal focus, and just drafting a solid, midrange Rakdos deck. One ought to focus on acquiring solid removal in both colors, trading his creatures up efficiently and stickining and protecting a powerful threat/bomb to seal the game. Should one find the pirate theme wide open, Dire-Fleet Neckbeard is the key to cracking it, with a much more aggressive curve.


GR Midrange (Dinosaurs)
Maybe it’s not the very strongest archetype in the format, but it most definitely is the most iconic. This aggressive midrange deck revolves around the Dinosaur tribe and is relatively hard to break out of, but then again, why would one? GR Dinosaurs facilitate some of the fattest, most ferocious creatures that are difficult to block, in part due to their thick behinds and in part due to the enrage mechanic quickly snowballing out of control. Assisted by powerful removal in both green and red. Be careful to watch out for early curve when drafting, or you might quickly find yourself top-heavy, which can be devastating in the fast paced meta of RIX.


WB Goodstuff (Vampires)
If WB vampires was the best archetype in Ixalan, I often find myself weary of committing to the tribal focus in RIX. While there are a ton of solid if not excellent vampire additions, including the incredible vampire lord, they just don’t fit together as well as they have in triple IXL. It’s hard to find enough aggressive vampires to commit to aggro, and when one slows the deck to a midrange speed, a lot of non-vampire alternatives quickly present themselves. While it’s inevitable vampire strategies come in handy, the plethora of powerful removal in both colors a excellent uncommon creatures championed by Ravenous Chupacabra make for a great payoff in breaking the theme.


UG (Merfolk)
I believe Merfolk to be somewhat of a trap archetype in MTG Arena specifically. Due to its popularity and power potential in MTGO and paper limited, I expect merfolk tribal to be a high priority pick for the AI. Nevertheless, with the inclusion of the tribal lords and multiple Merfolk tribal bombs, Merfolk is probably THE deck to beat in the RIX format. The deck itself relies on the synergistic and evasive nature of the blue and green merfolk, otherwise small creatures that quickly grow out of control through swarming, the use of +1/+1 counters and anthem effects. An alternative to a straight up Merfolk tribal, Sailor of Means and Prosperous Pirate offer an easy way to stall the match well into the late game whilst providing enough fixing for a splash of 3rd color, allowing players to build a pseudo ramp with otherwise hard to play bombs.


UR Goodstuff (Pirates)
The blue-red color combination is just as powerful and plays very similar to the one in Dominaria. Much like the latter took advantage of the wizard tribal theme, Rivals’ focuses on the pirates, using efficient Raid synergies, combat tricks and removal to gain early game momentum, and quickly end the game with its powerful evasive creatures.


WR/WG Chicken Control (Dinosaurs)
These are the slowest/grindiest decks that can work in RIX alongside the UG Sailor decks. The entire strategy revolves around the almighty Chicken as the wincon. While it might not seem like much, this adorable fluffed clucker is the bread and butter of both variants. They each revolve around the dinosaur tribal synergy; ramp with the green and its effective removal, red with the slightly more aggressive route through the use of evasive creatures and red combat tricks. The decks are not quite as consistent as the four listed above, but they do perform very well given the correct card pool.




Colorless consideration
RIX has quite a few artifact cards that can serve as a filler or even a powerful bomb. Some might be more obvious than others.



Conclusion


All in all, Rivals of Ixalan have a lot less to offer than Dominaria and Hour of Devastation did. Most of the standard playable cards come from Ixalan, and the majority of the Rivals standard staples are mythics (e.g. Carnage Tyrant and Rekindling Phoenix), but if you want to play limited because you enjoy limited itself, Rivals of Ixalan truly offer a fun and interactive format, and although much faster than Dominaria, still allow the players to explore the jungles of Ixalan any way they want to.


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