Ixalan Limited was a little bit more difficult for me to figure out than prior Limited formats. My initial win rate was lower than it normally is on a set’s release, until I figured a few things out. Low curve aggressive decks are where you want to be in this format, combined with cheap tricks and Auras to punch through damage in combat.

Let’s look through a recent successful 3-0 Draft:

Pack 1 pick 1

My pick: Daring Saboteur

Daring Saboteur is an aggressive 2-drop that scales well throughout the game. Later you can sink mana into this Pirate to continue to get through for damage. The other card that stands out to me here is Territorial Hammerskull. While the Hammerskull is a top tier common, I’m going to take my quality 2-drop rare and look to move into Pirates or Merfolk if I can.

Pack 1 pick 2

My Pick: Firecannon Blast

While I’m a bit more down on the common removal than I was when the set was first released, none of the other cards really go well with my first pick Daring Saboteur. Verdant Sun’s Avatar is a creature I like more in a G/W Dinosaur midrange deck with Kinjalli’s Caller to reduce its cost and play a longer game. Deathless Ancient is an excellent Vampire card, but it’s not a great card in a U/B Pirate deck, so I’m going to stick to the Firecannon Blast, which is in one of the most flexible colors, and will fit right into a U/R Pirate deck.

Pack 1 pick 3

My Pick: Watertrap Weaver

This is again a pretty weak pack. Watertrap Weaver is a solid tempo creature that works well in an aggressive deck. I’m also taking note of the Deeproot Champion here as one of the stronger cards in the pack. I could potentially pivot into Merfolk from here and abandon my Firecannon Blast from this point.

Pack 1 pick 4

My Pick: Rigging Runner

This is an interesting pick. I can take Deeproot Warrior, one of the best Merfolk 2-drops, and stake my claim in Merfolk early. I can also select Lookout’s Dispersal if I want a Mana Leak for a Pirate deck, and potentially pivot into a U/B Pirate deck in a later pick. Lookout’s Dispersal isn’t great if you plan on tapping out every turn, so I decide to take a more aggressive approach and select Rigging Runner. Rigging Runner isn’t anything special but blue and red have both One With the Wind and Swashbuckling as 2-mana Auras that can make a turn-1 Rigging Runner a huge threat early. Pirate’s Cutlass is also a good way to use the Rigging Runner. I decide to take Rigging Runner here and then start to draft a lower curve aggro deck.

Pack 1 pick 5

My Pick: Frenzied Raptor

Frenzied Raptor goes along with the plan to take One With the Wind highly and kill the opponent before they can react with the slower removal of the format. Having Frenzied Raptor can also lead me to play a card like Cobbled Wings to punch through for a ton of damage.

Pack 1 pick 6

My Pick: One With the Wind

This is an easy pick here and a great pickup for what I’m trying to put together. One With the Wind is the key to these low curve archetypes with hard-hitting ground creatures. I’m looking to take these highly in this style of deck, so picking one up sixth pick is ideal.

Pack 1 pick 7

My Pick: Perilous Voyage

Perilous Voyage is the best card in the pack and is a great tempo play for an aggressive blue deck. I’d pick up my first copy of Sure Strike here over Depths of Desire if the Perilous Voyage weren’t in the pack. It’s important to be able to attack every turn with impunity, and Sure Strike allows you to attack into larger creatures freely. There are a bunch of bounce spells in the format, and since Perilous Voyage is the best of them at 2 mana, I’ll take it because I can likely pick up a Sure Strike or a Run Aground or Depths of Desire late in the Draft.

Pack 1 pick 8

My Pick: Headstrong Brute

This is an interesting choice between Headstrong Brute and Lightning-Rig Crew. I definitely would have taken Lightning-Rig Crew when the format first came out, but I’m looking to suit up my creatures with Auras and attack every turn. The Lightning-Rig Crew is good because it can play offense and defense simultaneously, but I want to maximize the number of nut draws my deck has, and Lightning-Rig Crew isn’t a feature of any of those. I take Headstrong Brute so I can push damage early and keep the opponent on the back foot.

Pack 1 pick 9

My Pick: Sailor of Means

This isn’t a card I’m necessarily looking to play, but if I open a Hostage Taker this card will likely end up in my deck as a way to splash it. Sailor of Means can also swing a Pirate’s Cutlass pretty well, and flies through the air, dodging some of the format’s removal when enchanted with One With the Wind.

Pack 1 pick 10

My Pick: Pirate’s Prize

I’m pretty firmly committed to U/R Pirates at this point so I’m just going to take a fringe playable that can help enable a splash. Pirate’s Prize can be sideboarded in against the rare control deck as well.

Pack 1 pick 11

My Pick: Blight Keeper

I remember there were a couple of Mark of the Vampires earlier in the packs and I may be able to wheel one of those and pivot into a different U/B-based Aura deck. This lets me leave that door open if I open a black rare in pack 2.

Pack 1 pick 12

My Pick: Mark of the Vampire

A nice pick up in case I plan to pivot out of U/R and into U/B.

Pack 1 pick 13

My Pick: Looming Altisaur

Pack 1 pick 14

My Pick: Makeshift Munitions

This is actually a decent last pick for me. U/R Pirates can make a fair amount of Treasure with cards like Wily Goblin and Prosperous Pirates. It’s not plan A when I’m drafting this deck, but if things fall apart it can find its way into my deck.

Last Pick: Swamp

Pack 2 pick 1

My Pick: Charging Monstrosaur

Charging Monstrosaur is the best uncommon in the set and pretty much cements me in red at this point. While I want to stay low curve, it’s good to have top-end finishers and this is the ideal top end-finisher in any red deck. I’d be looking to pick up Firecannon Blast here if the Monstrosaur weren’t here.

Pack 2 pick 2

My Pick: Pirate’s Cutlass

This is another pick I might have made differently a week or two ago. Vanquisher’s Banner is a powerful card, and I’m even in a great archetype for it. The problem is that right now I have a Watertrap Weaver, a Charging Monstrosaur, a Frenzied Raptor, and various Pirates. My creature types are all over the place, so I won’t get a full anthem effect when I cast the Banner. Pirate’s Cutlass only requires one Pirate in play when I cast it, and then it becomes a good old Trusty Machete. I’m aiming to close games out quickly, and in doing so I need to make my creatures threats as early as possible. This is a pack I’m hoping to table a playable out of as well. Sure Strike, Brazen Buccaneers, and Storm Sculptor are all cards I’d happily pick up on the wheel and add to my deck.

Pack 2 pick 3

My Pick: Siren Lookout

I take the flying Pirate as it’s important to have evasive threats to close out games in these decks, and while I’m short on 2-drops, it’s still early enough that I’m going to take the higher quality card over over the Shipwreck Looter. Otepec Huntmaster is an excellent red card but obviously not in my archetype. I’m really be hoping to hit spells with explore because the power and toughness is so relevant on my threats.

Pack 2 pick 4

My Pick: Rigging Runner

Not much to compete with the Rigging Runner here. Storm Fleet Pyromancer is the only other card I’d consider putting in my deck at the moment, but I’ll pick up the second copy of the Rigging Runner as another quality 1-drop to suit up with an Aura. The Rigging Runners do get a little better in multiples as you can trigger raid for the second with the first but playing it on turn 1 without a good way to make it bigger on turn 2 or 3 is usually a mistake.

Pack 2 pick 5

My Pick: Rigging Runner

This is a tougher pick than it looks. Rigging Runner is solid, and the third copy is excellent for consistency, but I am getting to the point that I need ways to suit them up. There is a Swashbuckling here, which is much worse than a One With the Wind, but I do want to pick up more copies of those cards. Swashbucklings have a tendency to wheel, and while I don’t think it will out of this pack, I think I’ll have more opportunities later.

Pack 2 pick 7

My Pick: Fathom Fleet Firebrand

Fathom Fleet Firebrand is the best common 2-drop for U/R Pirates, and I’m lucky to pick one up here. This fire breathing Pirate will have 3 toughness when equipped with Pirate’s Cutlass on turn 3 so it can attack through most 2-drops, and also is a great target for One With the Wind.

Pack 2 pick 8

My Pick: Run Aground

Another bounce spell to push through damage or deal with other enchanted creatures. This is the exact spot I want to use on cards like this and I’m pretty happy to pick up some interaction with my 8th pick here.

Pack 2 pick 9

My Pick: Depths of Desire

Another bounce spell on the wheel, I’m not likely to play this main deck but I will definitely sideboard it in against decks with Auras or decks using big high end creatures to stuff my attacks.

Pack 2 pick 10

My Pick: Brazen Buccaneers

I’m happy to pick up a playable creature on the wheel here that fits a hole in my mana curve. I would have preferred the Storm Sculptor now that I have 3 Rigging Runners, but this is a playable 4-drop in my deck.

Pack 2 pick 11

My Pick: Storm Fleet Arsonist

Another 5-drop if I want to play one, which I’m pretty likely to at this point. I won’t be unhappy if this ends up in my deck.

Pack 2 pick 12

My Pick: Siren’s Ruse

Pack 2 pick 13

My Pick: Skyblade of the Legion

Pack 2 pick 14

My Pick: Blinding Fog

Last Pick: Swamp

My deck is coming together nicely, but I’m really looking for more 2-drops, Swashbucklings, and One With the Winds.

Pack 3 pick 1

My Pick: Captivating Crew

A fourth Rigging Runner is in the pack, but I’m not going to pass on a quality rare in Captivating Crew. It can be underwhelming at times, but it excels in a deck like this where an opponent uses their removal on early creatures, especially one enchanted by One With the Wind. Captivating Crew can take over a game if left unchecked for a turn or two, and makes it difficult for the opponent to block.

Pack 3 pick 2

My Pick: Shipwreck Looter

This is an interesting choice between Shipwreck Looter and Storm Fleet Spy. I ended up taking Shipwreck Looter here because I think time is dwindling on getting some more 2-drops for my deck, and I may end up with too many 3-drops. I’m not trying to play a grindy game with this deck—I’m just trying to get onto the battlefield and do as much damage as possible so it’s important to focus on my mana curve here.

Pack 3 pick 3

My Pick: Headstrong Brute

I like Headstrong Brute in a deck that’s looking to attack every turn. I’m happy to pick up my second copy here.

Pack 3 pick 4

My Pick: Siren Lookout

This was the greediest and worst pick of the Draft, I think. While Siren Lookout is an excellent evasive threat, my 3-drops are starting to get cramped and my deck really wants to pick up another Aura for my 3 Rigging Runners and potentially a fourth coming on the wheel out of my pack. I decide that this pack is strong enough that Swashbuckling has a chance at lapping when there’s no way Siren Lookout would.

Pack 3 pick 5

My Pick: Rigging Runner

My choices here are between Rigging Runner and Bonded Horncrest. In retrospect I think this pick is wrong, but I did want to see how a deck with 4 or 5 Rigging Runners would play out. Bonded Horncrest has not been great for me in decks like this because it’s a 4-drop that neither attacks or blocks the turn it comes into play, and is also easy to chump block. I still think my deck could have used another bigger creature, and if I had to make this pick again I’d likely take the Bonded Horncrest.

Pack 3 pick 6

My Pick: Atzocan Archer

It’s too late for me to pick up something I want to splash, so I don’t want the Sailor of Means. I’m already not looking to play the Frenzied Raptor I have, so I go ahead and make a defensive draft of Atzocan Archer here. It can pick off two of my 2-drops and successfully block most of the creatures in my deck. Despite this being a Magic Online League, I made this pick to demonstrate spots where you should draft defensively. When a card is good against your deck and you have nothing else to gain in the pack despite their being other cards of your colors, this is the time to go ahead and hate draft. My value in taking this card, even in a League, is higher than having a Frenzied Raptor rotting in my sideboard.

Pack 3 pick 7

My Pick: Brazen Buccaneers

Brazen Buccaneers is still a card I’m likely to play so I’ll take it here over hate drafting. This is only my third 4-drop so I’m pretty happy to put this in my deck over a weaker 3-drop.

Pack 3 pick 8

My Pick: Hijack

Hijack is a decent sideboard card against other decks trying to race, especially if their creatures are good at blocking the turn they come down.

Pack 3 pick 9

My Pick: Headstrong Brute

Nice pickup on the wheel here. Headstrong Brute is the best 3-drop in my deck as it’s difficult to block and my deck doesn’t want to block much itself anyway.

Pack 3 pick 10

My Pick: Cancel

I’m unlikely to sideboard it in, but happy to have access to one here. If I already had a Cancel I’d probably just defensively draft the Grazing Whiptail, since it blocks creatures in my deck effectively and I didn’t pick up a Sure Strike to bust through it.

Pack 3 pick 11

My Pick: Fire Shrine Keeper

Fire Shrine Keeper is a decent creature to attach Auras to, and also a fine 1-drop to trigger raid with my 4 Rigging Runners. I likely won’t start the Fire Shrine Keeper because I didn’t pick up any more Auras and I don’t have any Treasure makers to get me to 8 mana quicker to use its activated ability. If I play against a deck that has difficulty blocking a 2/2 first strike Rigging Runner, then I may just sideboard this in for more explosive draws.

Pack 3 pick 12

My Pick: Frenzied Raptor

This was the pack I was hoping to table the Swashbuckling out of. Like I said, I think taking Siren Lookout was a greedy mistake as I hoped to be able to get both cards from the pack, which I think happens some percentage of the time, but in this case wasn’t worth the gamble.

Pack 3 pick 13

My Pick: Commune with Dinosaurs

Pack 3 pick 14

My Pick: Frenzied Raptor

Last Pick: Plains

Here’s my final deck:

So the deck turned out solid, but it has some big holes. I only have two bounce spells and a single removal spell, which is normally fine, but I didn’t pick up enough copies of Pirate’s Cutlass or One With the Wind to push my creatures through in combat. Even a copy or two of Storm Sculptor would have helped me close out some games but there were none to be had in the later picks.

Captivating Crew and Daring Saboteur did some heavy lifting in finishing off my opponents with this one. Those two rare creatures were the reason I decided I could afford to play 17 lands as they both use mana well, and Daring Saboteur can discard excess land. With four red 1-drops, and essentially three blue 2-drops, I wanted to run a 9/8 mana base anyway and as it was pushing it with such a low mana curve, I was relatively happy with 17 lands.

Oddly enough, if I had a card like Unclaimed Territory, I’d like play it in this deck and run only 16 lands and one less Island because it would help me meet my mana requirements and cast Siren Lookout to find a needed Island.

To wrap it up, I noticed that my win rate increased when I started focusing on lower curve decks. As I said, I did manage to go 3-0 with this deck, but I think it was a pretty lucky 3-0 as I missed out on some important pieces to the puzzle and I didn’t play against any decks that wowed me either.

Hopefully this will help you a little bit if you’re preparing for Nationals this weekend, or if you’re just looking to hop in some Magic Online queues!