I was thrilled to see Rivals of Ixalan Draft go live for ranked play last weekend. Like most Arena fans, I’ve been awaiting the chance to draft these sets in the hopes of filling out large gaps of Ixalan block cards in my MTGA collection.

I assume the majority of gamers reading have a similar goal to my own:

“I want to win at the highest possible clip so that I can rebuy into more Rivals Drafts to get as many Ixalan block cards as possible without breaking my gem and gold bankroll in the process.”

Bombing out of Drafts is a frustrating way to quickly deplete your resources and today I’ll be sharing some straightforward advice that will help increase consistency and lead to more wins.

New to the Format? Me Too, But Not Anymore

I didn’t play a ton of paper RIX Limited. In fact, I only played RIX three times total before MTGA: the prerelease, GP Indianapolis, and an RPTQ. So like many players struggling with this difficult format, I also didn’t have a huge backlog of experience to draw upon.

Over the weekend I did a whopping 15 ranked Drafts and I learned a ton about the format in the process. I was also keeping track of what I played and how it performed.

My overall win percentage through 101 total games was 63%. Decent, but not exceptional. But (and this is the statistic I think is most important):

  • In my first seven Drafts I went 25-18 (58% win).
  • In my next eight Drafts I went 39-19 (68% win).

A huge improvement and over a larger sample size. It’s also worth noting that my win percentage improved as I climbed the ladder into platinum tier and played against stronger opponents. Basically, my strategy about how to play the format became better and more focused.

A significantly better win percentage over a larger sample size against better competition is a pretty good indicator of improvement. Here we go!

What I Drafted

Here are my records by Draft and by archetype:

  • U/G Merfolk 5-3
  • R/W Dinos 1-3
  • U/G Merfolk 3-3
  • U/G Merfolk 7-0
  • U/G Merfolk 2-3
  • R/W Dinos 3-3
  • U/W Ascend 4-3
  • B/G Splashing W (5-3)
  • B/W Vampires 5-3
  • B/W Vampires 4-3
  • B/W Vampires 4-3
  • R/G/w Dinosaurs 2-3
  • B/W Vampires 7-0
  • U/G Merfolk 7-1
  • U/B Pirates 5-3

Fifteen Drafts is a drop in the bucket of the metagame, but it is data I collected and learned a lot from. Here’s what worked and didn’t work for me.

Useful Information

Here are my strongest observations:

  1. Red is the weakest color.
  2. Black is the best color.
  3. Merfolk is the best deck.

Red is the Weakest Color

The next time I play a large set of Limited games I’m going to keep track of my win percentage against opposing archetypes. I considered farming another set of Drafts for data, but I figured with the Draft format only being available for a limited time that it’s better to get the info out to Arena players ASAP.

Not only did I put up poor results with my red decks, I also fared well against opponents who played red. I went 2-3 with a Gruul deck that had Forerunner of Empires and Carnage Tyrant.

Of the red decks I played against, the only one I had an overall negative record against was Izzet. I started off 0-3 against the archetype (which is why I started paying attention) and ended 2-4 overall. If you go red, I strongly suggest pairing with blue.

The why red is bad is simple: the red RIX 2-drops stink, and good luck beating down without 2-drops. My overall strategy for Drafting RIX has turned into anything but red.

Black is the Best Color

I’ve done consistently well when I draft black cards. I view black as the best support color in the format because it has great removal spells in all 3 colors.

I usually let the other color dictate what the deck does and play black for removal. For example:

Green Beatdown + Black Removal.

White Vampires + Black Removal.

Blue Aggressive Pirates + Black Removal.

Obviously, there are good black creatures to help fill in the curve that provide synergy here and there as well. I’m not playing black because it’s deep in creatures—I’m playing it because it’s deep in removal.

As a generalization, the format tends to be slow and grindy, which makes having access to solid removal important. Boards tend to get stalled out or ground down to nothing by repeated trading and in either case, removal spells are high in value. High-toughness Dinosaurs and flyers are another reason why targeted removal is important.

Here’s what a 7-0 B/W Draft deck looks like:

B/W has been a consistent performer. It appears that it can be force drafted a reasonable amount of the time against the bots and still yield a winning record.

Merfolk is the Best Deck (But Tricky to Get)

When I say the format tends to be slow, I’m talking about most contexts that don’t involve a Simic Merfolk deck. In a slow, grindy best-of-one metagame where people must prepare for long slogs, a focused beatdown deck has an advantage.

Green and blue have the best aggressive 2-drops and it has them in spades. It also helps that most of them are Merfolk that benefit from a whole slew of synergies, mostly +1/+1 counter based.

My highest win percentage in the format has been with Merfolk (71%). The key is to be as aggressive as possible and prioritize the combat tricks in Pack 3.

Pick these highly as they are the most powerful and important spells in the deck. My model for how I build Merfolk:

  • 15 Creatures
  • 2-3 Combat tricks
  • 2-3 Bounce spells

Curve is super important. It’s everything. The deck cannot function from behind, but is unbeatable from ahead with sustained pressure. You want 1-drops. They are your friends.

Also, Jade Bearer is not a card that should ever be played on turn 1. It helps you double spell and create more pressure later on. You want to prioritize having a low, lean curve, backed up by high impact combat tricks and bounce spells.

Here are a couple of examples of strong Merfolk decks:

  • 7-0 (Note: five 1-drops!)

Another takeaway from my results is that I don’t believe you can force Merfolk against the bots. I have some great results but also some awful ones (2-3!). Keep in mind that if you start on green Merfolk and it isn’t open, you can audible into B/G or G/W. Don’t be afraid to move out and gravitate toward whatever’s open. Something is open—you’ve just got to find it.

Simple Plans

I’m approaching every Draft hoping to be a Vampire or a Merfolk. I think these two decks have the highest and most consistent upsides. Obviously, if you try to force these every time, sometimes you’ll hit and sometimes you’ll miss, as was my experience forcing fish.

Let the cards dictate the path you walk and you’ll do just fine. One of my 7-win Merfolk decks started with an Impale. Don’t be afraid to abandon one of your Draft picks if something else appears to be more open (especially when you are drafting against bots). In my experience the bots stick to their colors. Figuring out what is open improves your chances of getting a good deck.

I think it’s also significant the way I’m getting to 7 wins. 7-0, 7-0, 7-1. When I’ve drafted Merfolk or Vampires and the archetype has been wide open, I’ve had ridiculous decks that murder everybody I play against. So give yourself room to move into these archetypes when open.

I’ll be running more Drafts on Twitch all week long as I work toward finishing my online collection if you’d like to watch some of these strategies play out in actual Drafts. I’m happy to answer specific questions about pick orders or “What’s the Pick?” scenarios in the comments below.

RIX is certainly a challenging Draft format (and we haven’t even touched on the game play, which can go incredibly deep!), but forming a strategy to ensure you get a competitive deck each and every time goes a long way to preserving your gems and gold.

P.S. G/W Merfolk

Tonight on my Twitch stream I took my own advice to heart and implemented exactly the strategy I discussed in this article and ended up with a 7-2 G/W deck.

My first three picks in a row were Baffling End, Luminous Bonds, and Moment of Triumph out of a weak pack with no strong signals. I was basically looking at that point to draft B/W Vampires. Fourth pick I recognized Swift Warden as a sign that green was open and moved right on in. I ended up in two colors that were relatively open and ended up with a very mean deck.

The deck was beatdown focused and had several cards to help ascend Snubhorn Sentry (which is an underrated workhorse in both aggressive and controlling builds).

A great strategy will help you get a great deck, but you’ve still got to make the plays! Good luck on Ixalan!