Last week, I did a switcheroo and discussed the enemy colors first, since they covered all 4 tribes. Of the 5 enemy pairs, G/B did not get to partake in the tribal fun and it’s yet to be seen whether or not it is competitive as a Draft archetype. Similarly, U/W is the one allied color pair without a tribal identity, but more on that in a bit. If you’re a fan of Dinos and Pirates more than Merfolk and Vampires, good news! Allied colors are for you. Let’s get to it.
U/B – Pirates
To start, we have our first of two Pirate color combinations for the day. Last week, I talked about U/R as an aggressive color pair, and I think that can be true of all the Pirate combinations. But they do have their differences, and subtlety between the color pairs can help keep them intriguing. U/B has more of a midrange plan than the other color pairs because it can combine blue’s bounce and evasive creatures with black’s removal to help a game reach the later stages. With the best assortment of answers, U/B can always have a fighting chance against the opponent, though the type of answers will matter a lot. Skulduggery is great versus small creatures, but does little versus giant Dinosaurs while Run Aground works in the exact opposite direction.
Since a game can last a bit longer, you gain the advantage of the spell creatures Blight Keeper and Shore Keeper. They can attack early and help trigger raid, but I’m particularly enamored of the Keeper. Getting in for early flying damage is nice, but U/B has the potential to curve out in the skies and a common 1-drop that enables that is huge. Sometimes that plan fails though, and this little Bat has the potential to close a game in which an opponent would have otherwise stabilized.
As for raid and Treasures, U/B is still Pirate-based so you’ll see a lot of these two mechanics popping up. I’m most excited for Storm Fleet Aerialists, but there are a few decent raid creatures besides that. Treasure allows for a key splash but also turns on your expensive mana sinks or slower win conditions. You can even double-splash when you have a couple multi-Treasure producers like Prosperous Pirates.
U/W – Good Stuff
These cards look entirely disconnected, but each card on its own is quite good. If you look at which cards fill in the gaps, though, you’ll be disappointed. U/W has no tribal component and no real theme. Like G/B, it lacks a gold card, but doesn’t have much of a direction when looking at the card overlaps. U/W is historically the color of flyers and ground blockers, but that theme isn’t even that prevalent here because that style of deck shows up in the Grixis Pirate colors.
To end up U/W, you need both colors to be open and to get all of the generically powerful cards you see. That strategy lends itself well to core sets, but Ixalan is very far removed from that style of Magic. It’s all about synergy to help supplement an otherwise low power-level environment, which means U/W pushes in the exact opposite direction. This is the real nail in the coffin for me and I am confident that U/W will be the least drafted color combination in Ixalan.
W/G – Big Dinos
W/R is a hyper aggressive deck that happens to feature Dinosaurs. G/W shares a Dino theme but beyond that, couldn’t be more different. I disliked Kinjalli’s Caller in R/W, but it’s right at home in G/W. You’re more interested in mana discounts here because there’s a stronger focus on Dinos in general, thus getting more overall discounts, but also because you will have more big Dinos worth working towards. Ancient Brontodon is the type of card that completely warps the game because absurdly giant creature are hard to deal with even when they have no other abilities.
Speaking of giant, that’s exactly what Belligerent Brontodon is when combined with these other supports. Suddenly your Kinjalli’s Caller is a Wild Nacatl and the Looming Altisaur that’s been holding down the fort gets to attack for a million (times .000007) damage. These late-game powerhouses can clearly win, so it’s important to actually reach that point. Stopping flyers is the most important aspect since the ground will usually be won with your superior power and toughness. That’s where Grazing Whiptail and Shining Aerosaur come in. They both further the Dino plan but also shore up G/W’s major weakness nicely. I am thankful that G/W’s plan isn’t to go wide with tokens and hope to win with pump spells. A big slow deck is a good change of pace.
G/R – Midrange Dinos
G/R brings us full circle with a more midrange version of Dinos. The name of the game is pure efficiency as you can see multiple 5/5s for 5 in Charging Monstrosaur and Raging Swordtooth. I like the joke of the Swordtooth, which promises a bunch of enrage triggers, but after looking at all the things it powers up I can’t say I’m super impressed. But that’s just one facet of the card and there are more than a few X/1s in the set that will die over and over again to this thing.
Red also provides more removal and the opportunity to race, which means you’ll sometimes be on the more aggressive side. This aggro nature means that R/G decks likely do well versus some of the truly aggressive decks like R/B or W/R because it goes slightly bigger. Your plan versus the various evasive decks is to simply race or burn their important flyers to a crisp. All in all this plan isn’t anything new for R/G—it’s reminiscent of a simpler time when R/G was just big monsters backed by burn spells.
R/B – Pirate Aggro
You have another Pirate deck to end the 2-color pairs, but this one is a bit different. R/B gets access to great removal but also gains early game threats that snowball well. This includes raid cards that chain together or the gold card, Dire Fleet Captain. What this combo lacks in evasion compared to the blue versions it gains in efficiency. There will be some R/B decks that never plan on casting a 5+ mana card. This puts the opponent on the back foot in the blink of an eye, which is very advantageous for this style of deck.
How advantageous is it to apply early pressure? Let’s count (some) of the ways. First, R/B Pirates are lousy blockers. They make fine Dino breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and it’s best for them to simply prevent the game from ever reaching that point. Second, your opponent has to make worse blocks. This opens them up to situations where a simple Skulduggery breaks the game wide open. I love Fathom Fleet Cutthroat in this style of deck for this very reason. A crafty opponent can just play around the card, but that isn’t true if they have to block. For what it’s worth it’s also pretty awesome with 1/1 lifelinking Vampires in W/B. They are very tasty raid bait.
Full 3Color Dinos and Pirates
I can’t finish an archetype guide without mentioning the full 3-color tribal decks. Not only are these decks supported, but thanks to the mana fixing in the set you can actually go even deeper with 4- and 5-color decks. Treasure and green mana fixers are the ways to do this, but why would you actually want to? The best answer is rares. The power level at common in the set is fairly low and flat, which means that bombs become much better than they would normally be because they will dominate your average game. Vraska, Tishana, and Gishath are a few examples of multicolor bombs that are worth going out of your way to splash. Sometimes it’s even possible to double splash, but you’d need good reason and capability to do so (e.g., lots of Treasures in U/B and a Huatli, Warrior Poet).
The good news for those without the bomb rares is that there are decent answers in the set at lower rarities, at least for non-planeswalkers. So while these bombs dominate a game in which they are unanswered, that game can continue when they simply get killed. That environment really appeals to me, and while it is early in the format I have to say I’ve been enjoying Ixalan because of these wacky 3-5 color monstrosities that actually work. I’ve heard some negativity around the set early on due to a prevalence of unplayables, but I think that’s merely a symptom of a low power level, synergy-driven set that can ultimately be a strength rather than a weakness.