One month has passed by since my first Ixalan draft, and to be honest with you, I was done with the format after three weeks. Not that I fully understood the format, but I just didn’t enjoy it as long as I expected to. I still went on drafting, but the format felt like listening to the same tune over and over again—I had seen the common interactions after my first 10 Drafts. Well, at least I still like the Pirate and Dino flavor. Here’s what I learned about the format:

Ixalan Is a Plan B Format

Ixalan feels like musical chairs. You dance around during the Draft and try to grab a free archetype, but because there are eight drafters and only four good archetypes (Merfolk, Vamps, Pirates, and R/W Dinos), you need to fight with your drafters over the archetypes or have a good plan B. If you’re able to find an open archetype, you’re in good shape. Some archetypes usually can be drafted by two players per table (Merfolk, Vamps), and while they both get a solid deck, it’s never as good as if you get any of these archetypes for yourself. Pirates can also be split since it’s usually 2 colors and Pirates come in 3, but since the best payoff card is an artifact (Pirate’s Cutlass), you don’t want to share this archetype either.

I usually surf for my first few picks, picking up strong archetype cards, even if they’re multicolored, and try to find an open strategy. If I can’t, I try to avoid a train-wreck Draft by settling for plan B. These are usually stronger than having to share an archetype with someone at your table, and you usually get enough playables since other people’s trash is your treasure.

Leading to my first plan B: U/W Treasures. I wrote about this deck in my last article, and I’m still convinced that it’s a strong strategy—in fact, it’s the only control deck I had success with. Ixalan is a hostile format for control decks because it’s fast and offers good sideboard cards (Duress, Cancel). Still, U/W Control has a fine mix of life gain, quality, and card advantage. U/W can splash all of your early picks if they’re powerful enough, and you will often get passed some late-game cards in pack 2 and 3 since most players have settled into some kind of aggro deck by then.

My second plan B is simple but efficient: Build your own Baneslayer Angel. It’s a simple recipe. You need a flyer plus Mark of the Vampire or a lifelinker (Bishop’s Soldier being the best) plus One with the Wind. Back it up with some protection (Duress, Cancel, Dive Down, Kitesail Freebooter, Siren Stormtamer, Sheltering Light) and you have a deck. This strategy might sound weird, but hey, Baneslayers are potent in an aggressive format.

Maybe there are other good plan Bs around—let me know if you find one. But don’t try to convince me about G/W Dinosaurs. I had one at my kitchen table Draft last week, and played against the deck with River’s Rebuke, 2 Tempest Callers, and Rampaging Ferocidon. It was not funny. Even if I won the match by splashing 2 Mark of the Vampires for games 2 and 3, I still don’t want to ever draft that deck again.

Ixalan Is a Die Roll Format

Ixalan is a fast format, and it’s crucial to go first. In an older article, I stated that I would collect a sample size by counting my wins and losses in games in which I chose to go second as an answer to an article by PV in which he advocated against going second. It turns out that PV was correct when it comes to Ixalan. I played around 300 games of Ixalan Limited, but I only chose to draw first in 10 games. I had a deck with 5 Slash of Talons where I put myself on the draw in the dark, winning all of them, as well as some post-board Vampire mirrors where I didn’t see Adanto Vanguard in game 1. Overall, I had a 70% win percentage in games where I chose to go second, winning 7 and losing 3. But since this sample size is so small, it doesn’t actually say much.

The reason why you should be on the play is that there’s almost no early interaction in the form of removal (Unquenchable Thirst, Magma Spray, Compulsory Rest, Festering Mummy, etc.), and so it’s really hard to catch up when you’re behind. In fact, there’s only Slash of Talons at common for cheap interaction. The rest of the commons can’t actually interact with the average 2-drops of the format. Slash isn’t great in a format with River Heralds’ Boon anyway, but it’s the best we have. The only really good catch-up card is Settle the Wreckage, and even this card can be outplayed pretty easily.

Ixalan Is an “Answer Me or Die” Format

Ixalan has lots of noninteractive cards at common. If you play them and your opponent has no answer, you win. Also, there are lots of times when you’re forced into situations where you lose if your opponent has a certain card.

Let me show you a few examples:

  • You’re on the play and have a random 2-drop on turn 2 and gear it up with a One with the Wind. Game over, GG—that was fun. If you can include uncommons for these examples, toss in a Kumena’s Speaker on turn 1. Now your opponent is in checkmate even if they were on the play, unless they had a Lightning Strike.
  • You’re on the play and have a 2-drop into Territorial Hammerskull. Good luck beating that without a cheap removal.
  • You play Mark of the Vampire on a flyer. Do you have it? No? GG then.
  • You block my menace guy with your two creatures? And if I have Sure Strike?
  • You block? What if I have River Heralds’ Boon?

You get my point. Let’s move on, before I start naming uncommons and rares…

Ixalan Is a Draft Format Without Real Draft Decisions

And here comes what I dislike the most about Ixalan—all of the good decks look the same and the pick order is fixed. Why is that? Because you’re not only bound by your colors, but you’re also bound by a tribe. You cannot just draft all good blue and green cards in Merfolk. Grazing Whiptail is just not good in this deck. You can tell how good your fish deck is by the number of Vineshaper Mystic, Kumena’s Speaker, and One with the Wind are in it. So long and thanks for all the fish!

When drafting older formats, you had more interesting picks because your deck needed different, specific things in order to make your deck work, and therefore, you didn’t have a fixed pick order. In Ixalan, drafting seems rather easy. You draft fish? You need fish. And River Heralds’ Boon. You draft Vampires? Take the card with this creature type then. You are unlucky and someone takes the cards away from you? Congratulations—just join your next Draft (unless you know the plan Bs).

Revisiting My First Draft

As I did in my last “28 days later” article, I want to revisit my very first Draft of the format. You can find it here. I think it’s pointless to walk through the Draft pick by pick since, as I said, pick orders for the good archetypes seem pretty obvious by now and yes, I could have had an insane Vampire deck featuring Adanto Vanguards instead of, well, fillers. I tried to draft something fancy with Treasures and showcase funny rares, but I think part of that plan didn’t work out because the Treasure deck really needs rares as payoff cards, and on Day 1, people tend to rare-draft more because rares have more value, and because they want to try them out.