Rivals of Ixalan burst onto the competitive scene in style this weekend, as another team Grand Prix graced our screens around the world. As we’ve discussed before, Team Limited is a favorite format for many, and the Top 4 went a long way toward proving that the cream really does rise to the top.
There were plenty of familiar faces throughout the finals. The biggest names in Magic were out and about this weekend, and in the Top 4 we saw everything from teams made up solely of Hall-of-Famers to teams featuring back-to-back World Champions. The stars were out in Indianapolis this weekend—with no room in the Top 4 for any locals, they were instead forced to head home early (presumably wearing shorts and listening to Dave Matthews Band as they did so).
The tournament was taken out, however, by the dark horses of the Top 4 cut: Xinyu Fei, Chih-Cheng Yeh, and Zirui Zhou beat out the Hall of Fame trio of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Eric Froehlich, and Ben Stark on their way to victory. Channeling their inner Julius Caesar, they came, saw, and conquered, and they taught us all a thing or two about aggressive decks as they did so.
Well done to the champions of GP Indianapolis!
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) January 22, 2018
While it’s not quite Splinter Twin and Pestermite, Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian, or Volcano Hellion and Nearheath Pilgrim, there was a combo we all had our eyes on as we headed into Rivals of Ixalan. Polyraptor and Forerunner of the Empire interact in a truly insane way, as they both trigger one another until the Forerunner dies (Frank Karsten ran the numbers on what would happen with Pyrohemia, by the way. I mean, of course he did).
PV must have been listening to Limited Resources because he heard what LSV had to say on the matter and followed through like a true champion. As both LSV and Marshall mentioned in the set review, Polyraptor isn’t a particularly good card, generally speaking, but when things line up just right, well, what is there to say? We’ve all seen the clip by now, but here it is again for good measure:
Seven 5/5s and a Plague Wind later, PV somehow finds himself in a pretty commanding position. Poor old Austin Bursavich had to take his licks. There’s no shame in losing to someone like Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and there’s especially no shame in going down in this fashion.
Who Wore it Better?
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) January 21, 2018
Mastering Magic Cards with Marshall
It’s no secret that Ixalan didn’t manage to capture the hearts and minds of the competitive Magic community, and many are thankful that Rivals is here to change things up. Earlier on during Ixalan, we saw Christian Calcano spearhead a hyper-aggressive Draft strategy based around Swashbuckling and various 1-drops.
Now, with only one pack of Ixalan, the critical mass of underpowered 1-drops and unplayable Auras is probably out of reach—a tragedy, I’m sure you’ll agree. But! All-out aggression is still on the menu, as we were shown by Zirui Zhou and his deck that featured 6—6!— Grasping Scoundrels.
Zirui Zhou, 1st place at GP Indianapolis 2018
16 lands, a squillion 1-drops, and a curve topped by two 4-drops? It’s the Calcano Special 2.0. Some handy rares that even allowed this extremely aggressive deck to eke out some value pushed Zhou a long way ahead, and shamelessly maindecking a Hijacking shows you just what kind of life this man is about.
The Swashbuckling deck ended up being something of a flash in the pan, as people quickly adapted by prioritizing bounce spells and other defensive countermeasures. Rivals of Ixalan, however, seems to be a format that is all about attacking, so hitting the ground running with multiple early aggressive plays could be one way to get ahead quickly. Take notice!
We’re just starting to find our feet with Rivals of Ixalan as a Limited format, and some interesting characterizations have already emerged in the lead up to the Pro Tour. While most agree that aggression and attacking is king in Rivals Limited, the specific nuances of the format are still waiting to be explored.
In particular, the way stumbles and missteps can be mercilessly punished was a topic of discussion throughout the weekend. Some games are complete blowouts—entirely one-sided affairs where one player isn’t even in it. This can and will happen, and getting through it in one piece is key to your success as a Magic player.
Rivals of Ixalan is shaping up as an unforgiving format, incentivizing traditionally-built decks that favor consistency over greed or flashiness. Think twice before splashing—keep your focus on “nuts and bolts” principles of Limited Magic. Make every effort to hit land drops, get on the board, and be prepared to get after an opponent who isn’t doing the same.
Additionally, it’s worth noting how removal has improved significantly with the addition of Rivals. Premium options exist at common across all colors—from Luminous Bonds to Impale—although none of it is particularly cheap, leaving the door open for aggressive 2-drops to flourish. Moving forward, there will be an interesting tension between low-curve aggro decks and removal-rich slower decks.
I’m currently in the process of going from the an earthly paradise to… well, this. The upside to it, of course, is that I’ll be back in the booth for GP London this weekend before heading to Bilbao to see the best players in the world play the best format in the world! I’ll be reporting back here after both events, of course. See you then!