Listen to this article as a podcast:

The Transformation of Ixalan Limited

Triple-Ixalan Draft might be the most detested Limited format since Avacyn Restored. Its brutal, non-interactive games had even some of our greatest Limited minds in tears. Regardless of whether you had a great deck or not, you could be nut curved upon, miss a spot in your own curve, or lose to something non-interactive as a flying hexproof monster. Not only did it make the format a whole lot less fun, but also way harder to test for because more variance makes a harder format to decipher—not knowing whether your deck was good or not.

Lack of interaction was the exact same problem with Avacyn Restored Limited. The soulbound mechanic from Avacyn Restored was overpowering, with the likes of Trusted Forcemage at common and barely any kind of instant speed interaction to deal with it. This led to non-interactive games where you never felt like you had a chance. Triple-Ixalan Limited is similar in the way that there are Auras and synergies that are too hard to interact with using the removal at hand.

Why would they then cut down on interaction, especially in Limited? To portray the core of the set, whether it’s a mechanic like soulbound or a feel of “tribe matters” in Ixalan. If there was too much interaction, it would be too hard to assemble any kind of synergy, meaning that nobody would care about trying to. If there are too few ways to interact, it leads to lopsided and boring games. Finding the right balance is difficult, but paramount to the success of a great Limited format, which Rivals of Ixalan has become!

Printing two good common removal spells in almost every color has been key to turning the format around completely. Well, almost. Actually, having that much removal might seem excessive, but to create balance in the Limited format, the focus on tribes has actually increased, with, for example, the Lords, the Forerunners, and more common payoffs. These factors have created balance, and together with additional fixing alongside the Treasure mechanic, tons of different archetypes have emerged. A lot of different archetypes, even within the same color pair, is what makes a great Limited format. It varies the way games are navigated, and matchups, which create a format that’s less easy to solve and keeps being interesting. You know what else is great mainly because of these factors? Vintage Cube Draft!

Testing Limited for the Pro Tour, Step 1: MTGO Drafts

Testing Limited for the Pro Tour, our testing group—the collaboration between Genesis and Revelation—started by doing a heavy number of Drafts in our own cozy homes since the set’s release on Magic Online. While doing so, an important part of the testing process is sharing your ideas with the team, and we are in a Facebook group to confirm or understand the format faster.

If you think you’ve discovered something, you can easily confirm it (or quickly realize that you’re wrong).

Another reason could be that you’ve thought of an archetype or think you’ve learned how to draft a known archetype. Sharing that with the team, letting them get in on the action not only makes your team better at the format, but also helps you get more people to try the same thing, meaning more results will get you closer to what’s accurate.

Lastly and one of the most common posts that will help you and your team become better at Draft is the classic method: Post your deck and have a discussion about what to add or cut. Another great tool you can use is magic.flooey.org/draft/upload. It’s a website that lets you upload all of your picks from each pack in the Draft into a viewer friendly website. You merely have to check the box that makes Magic Online save all of your Drafts into text files, which you then easily can upload to the website. By doing this, you can also add a link to your Draft alongside the picture of the deck, where your team can discuss your deck  as a whole, seeing what may have gone right and wrong in the Draft that led to the final product.

And of course, some hot takes.

Step 2: House Drafts

After a bit more than a week of this, we met up at our house in London the Tuesday before the GP. While at the house, our primary focus was Limited, since the format was Modern and neither of us expected to find something new or break the format. Modern became sort of a solo thing for everybody with a few camps of people playing the same deck.

We draft as a normal 8-person pod, randomizing seats and pairings to get as little in-house metagames as possible. The issue with sitting next to the same person too many times is that personal preference and the knowledge of your neighbor’s may impact your picks and deter the Draft in unnatural ways, which would almost never happen at the Pro Tour, making for worse testing.

After 3 rounds of Swiss, we lay out the decks in the same seats as where we were sitting at the Draft table. Starting with the 3-0 deck and then going clockwise, we all explain our deck in what way we drafted, what worked and what didn’t work, etc. Going clockwise and having the decks at their respective positions helps us get an understanding of why the Draft panned out the way it did and what may or may not have gone wrong. This also builds dialogue about cards and how they performed in different archetypes, which becomes especially important in a multi-archetype format such as this one.

Step 3: Draft Meeting

After the Limited GP we take with us the experiences we’ve come upon from Day 2 of drafting with other players outside our testing group. What was different? What was the same? Which cards came late? Getting some real-life premier event experience is huge and a great way to avoid taking too much from an inbred metagame, even in Limited. With that experience, we weave everything into a meeting that we had Tuesday, the day before going to Bilbao.

The person holding the meeting first takes all of the white commons and places them in tiers, where the card farthest to the right is best and farthest to the left is worst. If cards have the same or almost the same value, you can place them in the same row, but if you feel like there’s a noticeable difference in power level, make a new tier. Then we do the same thing with the rest of the colors.

Since Drafts are contextual, especially in a synergy-heavy format such as a tribal one, don’t follow the power levels as if they were law, but use it as a tool for reading signals and choosing what to pick early in a Draft.

Here’s our testing group’s tier order for commons in each color. Excuse the picture quality!

White

Click to enlarge.

1. Luminous Bonds 2. Exultant Skymarcher 3. Sun-Crested Pterodon, Martyr of Dusk, Squire’s Devotion 4. Sanguine Glorifier 5. Moment of Triumph 6. Legion Conquistador 7. Snubhorn Sentry, Divine Verdict 8. Sun Sentinel, Raptor Companion 9. Cleansing Ray

One thing to note is that Legion Conquistador is especially contextual since its power level depends on how many you have once you’re finished drafting. The perfect number of Conquistador varies a lot depending on ways to synergize with them, removal, etc., but the perfect number usually is around 3-4 and sometimes even 5. Remember that once you’ve passed 1 or 2 Conquistadors, it’s going to be harder to jump on the train to get the number you need, since others will pick them up.

Blue

1. Waterknot 2. Kitesail Corsair 3. Spire Winder, Sailor of Means 4. Crashing Tide 5. Secrets of the Golden City, Deadeye Rig-Hauler 6. Mist-Cloaked Herald 7. River Darter, Soul of the Rapids 8. Sworn Guardian, Sea Legs 9. Negate

 

Black

1. Moment of Craving, Impale 2. Dinosaur Hunter, Dusk Legion Zealot 3. Dusk Charger 4. Fathom Fleet Boarder 5. Grasping Scoundrel, Vampire Revenant, Voracious Vampire 6. Canal Monitor, Recover 7. Dark Inquiry 8. Gruesome Fate

Red

1. Bombard 2. Goblin Trailblazer 3. Frilled Deathspitter 4. Buccaneer’s Bravado 5. Stampeding Horncrest, Swaggering Corsair 6. Brazen Freebooter 7. Fanatical Firebrand, Tilonalli’s Crown 8. Orazca Raptor, Sun-Collared Raptor 9. Shatter

Green

1. Hunt the Weak 2. Hardy Veteran, Giltgrove Stalker 3. Jungleborn Pioneer 4. Jadecraft Artisan 5. Colossal Dreadmaw 6. Overgrown Armasaur 7. Knight of the Stampede, Orazca Frillback 8. Jade Bearer, Aggressive Urge 9. Naturalize, Plummet

Once this is done, you’ll have a good understanding of what colors have stronger commons than others and can proceed to the final step. The next step of the meeting is to take a few cards from each color’s commons that you feel you could see yourself first picking. Then you make different defining tiers consisting of the best uncommon and the best common for when you will mash together all mythic rares, rares, uncommons, and first-pickable commons into a large-scale pick order defined by tiers. Sometimes, the best uncommon is so good that it’s hard to compare to other cards, such as Ravenous Chupacabra or Charging Monstrosaur that you select the best and the second best uncommons as tiers. The same person that managed the commons for their tiers now starts to sculpt the broader picture of all these cards and once that person is done, you let the rest discuss whether every card is in its correct position. People won’t agree on some cards—sometimes because they have different affinities for different archetypes or because the card has high variance—but that’s all fine and good since the exercise is meant to discuss the cards, not to have a perfect position for each card.

This is the final (rough) tier order from our testing group. Same thing as last time, where the card out most to the right is the strongest and to the left the weakest.
Best common: Bombard
Best Uncommon: Ravenous Chupacabra
Second best Uncommon: Curious Obsession

1. Tetzimoc, Primal Death, Rekindling Phoenix, Immortal Sun, Champion of Dusk, Hadana’s Climb, Profane Procession, Tendershoot Dryad, Captain’s Hook, Tyrant of Orazca

2. Ravenous Chupacabra

3. Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Etali, Primal Storm, Jadelight Ranger, Twilight Prophet, Warkite Marauder.

4. Curious Obsession

5. Zacama, Primal Calamity, Angrath, the Flame-Chained, Golden Guardian, Dire Fleet Poisoner.

6. Reckless Rage, Golden Demise

7. Bishop of Binding

8. Trapjaw Tyrant, Radiant Destiny

9. Forerunner of the Legion, Crested Herdcaller, Needletooth Raptor

10. Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, Thrashing Brontodon

11. Dire Fleet Daredevil

12. Merfolk Mistbinder, Legion Lieutenant, Raging Regisaur, Deeproot Elite, Bombard

13.Seafloor Oracle, Elenda, the Dusk Rose, Siren Reaver

14. Impale, Luminous Bonds, Moment of Craving

15. Waterknot, Reaver Ambush

16. Dire Fleet Neckbreaker, Baffling End, Forerunner of the Empire, Forerunner of the Heralds, Sadistic Skymarcher

17. Kitesail Corsair, Pride of Conquerors, Vona’s Hunger, Storm Fleet Swashbuckler, Swift Warden

18. Slaughter the Strong, Everdawn Champion, Hunt the Weak

19. Silvergill Adept, Journey to Eternity, Storm Fleet Sprinter

20. Protean Raider, Deadeye Brawler, Skymarcher Aspirant

21. Goblin Trailblazer 

22. Jungle Creeper, Tilonalli’s Summoner, Nezahal, Primal Tide, Path of Discovery

23. Daring Buccaneer, Polyraptor, Hardy Veteran, Giltgrove Stalker, Exultant Skymarcher

24. Arch of Orazca, Charging Tuskodon

25. Slippery Scoundrel, Relentless Raptor, Resplendent Griffin, Strength of the Pack

26. Paladin of Atonement

27. Atzocan Seer

28. Mutiny, Forerunner of the Coalition, Siegehorn Ceratops, Kumena’s Awakening

Step 4: MTGO Drafts

As you can see, steps 1 and 4 are the same, but the plan isn’t to hardcore draft as in step 1, but to try out whatever you may have learned in the house drafts as well as the meetings. You will also see that the online players have improved since last time and that it starts to slowly resemble a premier event Draft table. Get a feel for what has changed and especially which cards tend to come later or are taken earlier than in your own evaluation. There’s a good chance that you will be ahead and take advantage of this even at the Pro Tour.

Next time, I’ll go through the Limited archetypes. Stay tuned!