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4 Lessons From the Ixalan Prerelease

Ixalan Limited Seems to be a Slower Format

While it’s certainly possible to get off to a quick start with cards such as Adanto Vanguard or Shaper Apprentice, Ixalan has already shown its colors as a slower format, especially when set against something like Amonkhet. The go-large approach of Dinosaur decks and the high toughness of many creatures across all colors—from Sailor of Means to Ixalli’s Diviner to Looming Altisaur—means that you have a little more time to exploit synergies and gain value through mechanics like explore.

Similarly, removal continues its trend away from the days of Doom Blade at common—all removal at common is either expensive, conditional, or at sorcery speed. All these factors contribute to a slower format overall. If the removal is slow, big creatures can easily stabilize the board. This may change somewhat in Draft, where decks tend to be more focused and streamlined, but given the sheer numbers involved with some of the massive beaters in white, green, and red, you’re going to need to be prepared to go long.

An interesting angle I’m looking to explore in the opening weeks of Ixalan Limited is blue-based tempo decks, chipping away with flyers while using cards such as Run Aground to make their 6-mana 6/6s look silly. Against huge Dinosaur decks, cards like Run Aground are at their absolute best. You plonk their freshly-cast beater back on top of their library, and they’re not attacking with it again until the turn after next. In the meantime you’ve got in for 6 more in the air and are well on your way.

There’s a lot more to learn about the format, and exploring a slower, value-oriented, synergy-based set is promising to be a heap of fun!

The Tribal Synergies in Ixalan will Define the Format

Even after the clear indications given to us during preview season, it was still surprising to find just how powerful the tribal synergies are in Ixalan. Especially fascinating is their division across the color pie, as a pair of 2- and 3-color factions have extremely engaging implications for deckbuilding. While things are pretty straightforward with Merfolk and Vampires—you’re always in 2 colors with these fellows—it starts to get really interesting with Dinosaurs and Pirates.

The fixing in Ixalan is really interesting, especially as much of it is based in Grixis through Treasure tokens rather than in the traditional green. This odd twist means we’re not dealing with the halcyon days of Khans of Tarkir common duals, and so it’s less obvious exactly how fixing is going to function. This potentially means that if you want to maximize on tribal synergy, working across 3 colors with a functional mana base will be a challenge. It may end up being common to see a base 2-color Pirate or Dinosaur deck that splashes the very best of the third color’s tribal cards, but the prerelease showed us that that’s not the only way to approach 3-color tribal decks.

This may not come together so much in Draft, but when playing Sealed deck, a straight 3-color deck will enjoy having access to cards more or less evenly split across colors. For example, if you’re playing Pirates, you can ostensibly play the best Pirate cards in red, blue, and black, rather than just being restricted to 2 colors. If you can make the mana work, Ixalan Sealed may indeed be the place to leverage powerful 3-color synergies from card pools that don’t require you to skimp on playables as you play across more colors. That’s a big if, however—as we established, Ixalan’s fixing situation still needs to be figured out.

This tension between powerful synergy and stable mana will be a hallmark of the format, with different textures in both Draft and Sealed. It will be particularly fascinating to see the best in the business configure their Team Sealed decks next week in Providence!

The Flip Lnds Offer Huge—and Achievable—Payoffs

After winning us over with their debut in Innistrad, double-faced cards have enjoyed success in both Magic Origins and Shadows over Innistrad. Now that they’re back in Ixalan, they seem to be poised to have a huge impact on games of Magic, and not just in Constructed! These exciting, splashy rares carried many across the line this weekend, and as we get a better idea of the raw power level of these cards, it’s a safe bet to assume they’ll play a strong role in Standard in the coming weeks.

Standouts across the weekend included Treasure Map, which single-handedly takes over a game if not answered promptly. Given the fact that Ixalan seems a little slower, an engine like Treasure Cove will dominate when left unanswered. Thaumatic Compass will also ultimately do a lot of work to stabilize board states, as Spires of Orazca gives you powerful and flexible protection from opposing bombs—even if they finally draw their flyer, it’s never getting through!

The jury is still out on Growing Rites of Itlimoc, with vocal proponents and detractors arguing like the two blokes on Opposition. Some say it’s the second coming of Gaea’s Cradle, while others say it’s weaker than a wet paper bag. More data is required! On the other hand, Vance’s Blasting Cannons is expected to see play in Standard and shone throughout the weekend—a 3 mana Lightning Bolt on a stick is pretty, pretty good. Who knew?

The Magic Community is the Best in the World

Players turned out in droves to one of the most hyped Magic events in recent times, many doing it in true style. The sheer excitement felt by everyone leading up to this event ended up being infectious during the prereleases themselves, and the atmosphere in local game stores around the world was wonderfully positive and brought the very best of our community to the fore.

It was terrific to play the card game we all love while surrounded by people who were so enthusiastic about our collective voyage to Ixalan. Slinging spells alongside Pirates and Dinosaurs —and one very brave Vampire who turned up at my LGS—made the Ixalan prerelease a time to remember.

As for my fortunes, well… after cracking open what I thought was an absolutely bust-o Dinosaur deck, I—well, look. You know what—it’s not all about winning, right? Aren’t we all winners, anyway? Just for taking part?

I didn’t win a single match. Oops.

I’ll be back next week as we take a closer look at the competitive implications of Ixalan at GP Providence with much-beloved Team Sealed!

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