A Pick Order List for Ixalan

The compass must be pointing in the right direction, because I have an Ixalan Pick 1 Pack 1 list for you today! Its construction was a bit unusual, as I didn’t actually rank any card myself. I’ll explain why later, but first let’s travel back in time for some historical context.

The Origin of “The List”: Pro Tour Nagoya 2005

The year was 2005, and the tournament was Pro Tour Nagoya. In those days, the amount of information coming from Magic Online or strategy articles was considerably less than it is today. For Limited, many players ranked the commons within every color, but they usually didn’t include cross-color comparisons or higher-rarity cards. So this wasn’t actually much help much for the most difficult picks of the Draft.

Therefore, I decided to undertake a more ambitious project. As my flight to Japan took off, I opened my bag to grab the Champions of Kamigawa card list I had brought with me. I then started to rank every single card in the set, with the goal of creating a comprehensive guide to Champions of Kamigawa Limited. Essentially, I wanted to preemptively answer every possible pick 1 pack 1 problem that could arise.

Crafting this list took a while—at least one teammate told me I was crazy—but it was good preparation. It forced me to think about the relative power level of all cards and, more importantly, it served as an excellent tool in discussions with teammates. By committing to a ranking, discussions about overrated or underrated cards became more concrete, and everyone could share or learn something upon seeing my list.

After many fruitful discussions, my list was finalized, and I sat down for the Pro Tour Drafts. Although I obviously didn’t mindlessly follow the pick order for every single pick—things change a lot depending on your previously drafted cards—it was a great aid for the first couple picks of the Draft, and I felt I had gained a thorough understanding of the format. The project paid off with my first Pro Tour Top 8.

A New Era

In the years after, I regularly made similar pick orders for Pro Tours that I would compete in, and I got a reputation as a player who liked to prepare thoroughly. After skipping several Pro Tours during my graduate studies, I returned in 2013 and resumed the tradition of sharing every set’s pick orders, now on ChannelFireball. I hope you enjoyed them, but a number of things have changed since then:

  • New sets release on Magic Online way earlier than before. As a result, my process from 2013-2016 became obsolete. Back then, I would usually get together with 7+ other Pro Tour competitors to draft nonstop for a week. This happened immediately after the paper release and would end with a discussion of card rankings and a team consensus on the format. Directly after the Pro Tour, right around the time when the set released on Magic Online, I would then release our pick order. In 2017, the timing became completely different: Everyone can now do dozens of Drafts online immediately after prerelease weekend. This makes it impractical to assemble a pick order that is both timely and based on good testing.
  • My passion for competitive Magic has dwindled recently, and the incentives for Hall-of-Famers to attend Pro Tours have been reduced. I intend to skip most Pro Tours this season—I didn’t even join a team for the Team Series—and I intend to scale back the amount of time I spend on competitive Magic. This means fewer Drafts and thus a lack of experience to provide a good pick order.
  • Alternative rankings have sprung up. There are two that I’m aware of. First, Draftaholics Anonymous, a website where users are presented with two choices and have to choose a card in a pick 1 pack 1 context. This yields a score for every card that is used to automatically generate a pick order list. There is also the Limited Resources community review, a project where hundreds of users submit Limited grades for every card in the newest set, and the average grade is then used to rank all cards.

An Aggregate Pick Order List Method

To spotlight these alternatives, I decided to try something different. Instead of ranking cards myself, which would be troublesome given that I haven’t done many Drafts or a team discussion, I took the average of the normalized grade of the following three sources:

  • LSV’s set reviews. In this classic article series, LSV provides a Limited grade between 0 and 5 for every card in the set. I’m well aware that what he writes about the card is more relevant than the grade, but the number still conveys some information, so I took his ratings. If a rating range was specified for a certain card, then I took the middle point of his range.
  • The Draftaholics Anonymous rankings, collected on September 30. I scaled the ratings so that the card with the highest score became a 5.0 and the card with the lowest score became a 0.0, in line with LSV’s ranking scale.
  • The LR Community review rankings, also collected on September 30. I divided all grades by 11.19 so that the card with the highest grade became a 5.0.

After taking the average of the three grades, I subtracted 0.5 point for any multicolor card and I added 0.5 point for any artifact with the aim of more properly reflecting a first-pick-first-pack order. Starting a Draft with a multicolored cards leaves you with less flexibility, whereas artifacts go into every deck and keep your options more open. These effects did not appear to be accounted for in LSV’s set review or the LR Community review.

The end result of this data collection and aggregation process was a number for every card in Ixalan. All I had to do was to press sort, and the pick order list arose. Although I don’t agree with every card’s ranking—and I’ll mention cards that I feel are most underrated—the list looks surprisingly reasonable to me. This often happens when you take the aggregate of many people’s opinions, as I learned when I built an aggregate Faeries deck in 2008 by using the wisdom of nearly a hundred Faeries players before me. Why wouldn’t it work for pick orders as well?

You can find the result below. Remember that it’s essentially one big continuous list, to be read left-to-right, top-to-bottom. I added a few headings only to make it easier to read and so that I could intersperse some comments.

Bomb Rares and Mythics

These are the best cards in the set, and I would first-pick them over any common or uncommon.

The Part with the Best Uncommons

The best uncommons according to this list are Walk the Plank, Lightning Strike, and Charging Monstrosaur. I would personally rank Walk the Plank a little lower, but given that this is an aggregate of other people’s opinions, I won’t agree with everything. One way or another, all of these cards are great starts to a Draft.

Vona, Huatli, and Hostage Taker are ranked below the top uncommon in this list, which is caused by the negative adjustment I gave to multicolor cards. That adjustment may have been too harsh as all of these cards are ridiculous bombs. Given the plethora of Treasures in this format, it shouldn’t be hard to splash them. For that reason, I would support first-picking them over any uncommon.

The Part with the Best 5 Commons

The best commons according to this list are all removal spells: Firecannon Blast, Contract Killing, Pious Interdiction, Pounce, and Vanquish the Weak. I would personally put Vanquish the Weak higher because it is still capable of destroying most of the common 5-drops (e.g., Anointed Deacon, Shining Aerosaur, and Wind Strider). I would put Pounce lower because there is only one common enrage creatures that is a good fighter (Sun-Crowned Hunters) so it’s hard to get extra value out of it.

Conqueror’s Galleon and Dowsing Dagger may be a bit too high. It’s nice to start off your Draft with an artifact to keep your options open, but both cards seem clunky and situational to me.

The Part with the Next Best 12 Commons

Besides good commons, you also see several gold uncommons, such as Shapers of Nature and Raging Swordtooth, in this category. Interestingly, there is no black-green or blue-white signpost uncommon. There are only 8 instead of 10 in this set. Perhaps Wildgrowth Walker or Lurking Chupacabra should be considered as green-black gold cards since most explore creatures reside in these 2 colors. And maybe Favorable Winds is supposed to be the stealthy white-blue uncommon as the majority of the set’s flyers are contained in white and blue. But given that black-green and white-blue don’t have a clear tribe, I would avoid these color combinations unless both colors are extremely open.

In terms of overrated and underrated cards, I think that Adanto Vanguard should go higher in the list and that Legion’s Judgment should be lower. I like aggressive 2-drops, and Adanto Vanguard seems excellent as it can attack into most 3-drops and 4-drops with impunity. Legion’s Judgment feels more like a sideboard card against Wanted Scoundrels, bomb rares, or a red-green Dinosaur deck. If you put it in your main deck, there is a real risk of it being dead.

What’s more, given that this is a tribal set, I’d rather start my Draft by picking up premium creatures with relevant creature types than situational interactive cards. A similar observation holds for tricks lower down the list: Skulduggery and Depths of Desire, for instance, are fine spells, but I’d still prefer a good creature, at least early on in the Draft.

The Part with the Checklands

The Draftaholics Anonymous and LR Community didn’t give identical rankings to the five checklands, and the result is this somewhat weird category. As least it is fitting that Glacial Fortress, the land for a color combination that I criticized earlier, is ranked lowest.

Decent Playables

Since Ixalan is a tribal set, I think that several cards should be ranked more highly than they appear in this list. Tilonalli’s Knight and Shaper Apprentice are good 2-drops that fit the tribal theme, Anointed Deacon is a good payoff for creating lots of 1/1 Vampire tokens, and River Heralds’ Boon looks like a very strong card in a dedicated Merfolk deck. They could easily move up at least one full category.

Other cards can get much better depending on context. If you already have multiple Jade Guardians, for example, then One with the Wind suddenly becomes a premium card. This is a good example of how card rankings are fluid.

Mediocre Filler

Don’t get me wrong. There are playable cards in here—I don’t mind filling out my creature curve with Frenzied Raptor or Skyblade of the Legion—but none of them are exciting. Even worse, this category is filled with commons: Out of the 101 commons in Ixalan, this bottom category contains 39!

This means that on average, 4 out of the 10 commons in every pack will be poor, and thus packs can look “empty” quickly. More than any set in recent memory, it is of vital importance to ensure you are in a tribe or color combination that is open. If you misinterpret the signals, then you won’t see many premium cards, and you may have to win games with a bunch of mediocre filler. Fortunately, this category contains several Argentinosaurus-sized combos, such as Belligerent Brontodon plus Looming Altisaur. There is no such thing as too much toughness when you’re a Dinosaur.

And apparently there is also no such thing as too many weird names. As a writer, I have to study the spelling of Tilonalli, Ixalli, and Kinjalli, figure out what a Chupacabra is, learn to differentiate between an Aegisaur, an Armasaur, and an Aerosaur, and remember that there are multiple seekers in Seekers’ Squire and multiple heralds in River Heralds’ Boon. At least I can revel in the knowledge that there’s a new creature type: Trilobite. “What’s that?” you might ask. Why, a marine arachnomorph arthropod of course!

With that helpful clarification, this article has come to an end. As I explained, the most important goal of a pick order list is to spawn debate, so don’t hesitate to join the comment section below and share your thoughts on which cards are overrated or underrated!


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