Last time, I talked about what made Rivals of Ixalan a great companion piece to Ixalan, and my preparation for the Draft format. I also went through a tier list of the cards for Limited, and I mentioned that this format was more contextual than usual. This means that many factors matter beyond a card’s stats and abilities. More specifically, it means that there are a ton of different archetypes you can draft. With that, I don’t mean that you can just draft different color combinations, but also a range of different decks within those color combinations. You can draft U/G Merfolk or U/G Sailor of Means. What makes this even harder is that some of the archetypes are tribe based.
Assume that you first-pick Ravenous Chupacabra, second-pick Moment of Craving, and then you have the choice between Dinosaur Hunter and Dusk Legion Zealot. If you read my last article, you can see that the last two are in the same tier, so which one should you pick? Since they are so similar in power level, this will most likely come down to archetype preference and the number of archetypes in which the card is good. If you prefer Vampires, you probably take the Dusk Legion Zealot. If you like slower midrange decks and trying to work toward ascend when you draft Vampires, then that’s great—you will for sure take Dusk Legion Zealot. But if you’re more into the plan of being aggressive with the archetype, utilizing 1-mana tricks such as Skulduggery, Vampire’s Zeal, and Moment of Triumph, then maybe a 1/1 for 2 isn’t exactly what you are looking for, meaning that you value the card lower. As I said, it all comes down to context.
So how do I learn what’s good or what I prefer? Well, you need experience with those archetypes, but to boost you into a place where you can learn faster, I’ll go through most of the archetypes so that you know what to look for to determine what is open. In the end of each archetype description, I will present 3 rares/mythics, 5 uncommons, and 5 commons that get better in this particular archetype and some cards that get worse.
Blue-white really only has one archetype going for it and that’s because both colors are great at working toward ascend. You are trying to assemble 10 permanents—that much is clear. But what’s the best way to do that? First of all, you are not trying to trade permanents. Whenever you trade something, or rather whenever something goes to your graveyard that was in play, it gets further away from the city’s blessing. It’s harder to control what your opponent destroys with removal, so let’s focus on trading.
So how do you avoid trading cards while still interacting with your opponent? First, choose the right 2-drops. Grizzly Bears trade more easily than other cards, Raptor Companions even more so. Instead, look for creatures with higher toughness that can hold off an early creature without trading for it. Another option is in cards that your opponent doesn’t want to trade for, such as something that would leave something behind or replace itself when it dies. The last thing that makes it easier to avoid trading is to have creatures with evasion. This means that you can still have use of the creature because it does its “job” on the battlefield, even if it doesn’t interact with other creatures.
Both of the archetype’s premier removal spells are Auras—they stay on the battlefield as a permanent even though it effectively removes the creature.
The third and last thing you’re looking for is to have cards that create more than one permanent in one card. Sailor of Means, Prosperous Pirates, or Paladin of the Bloodstained are obvious options. But even Secrets of the Golden City helps get you there while also being a payoff, since it draws you into more cards, which can result in more than one permanent.
Cards that become better in U/W Ascend
Mythic/Rare: Bishop of Rebirth, Treasure Map, Azor, the Lawbringer
Uncommon: Baffling End, Everdawn Champion, Resplendent Griffin, Slippery Scoundrel, Emissary of Sunrise
Common: Snubhorn Sentry, Martyr of Dusk, Sailor of Means, Paladin of the Bloodstained, Spire Winder
Cards that become worse in U/W Ascend
W/B Vampires tries to utilize the synergy between Vampires. Seems easy enough? Well, there’s a ton of them and you can draft them a few different ways. You can either draft a slower ascend deck, or faster and more aggressive.
In the more proactive version of Vampires, you try to build around the hard-to-race 1-mana tricks in Skulduggery, Moment of Triumph, and Vampire’s Zeal. It’s also important to choose your creatures correctly. Some Vampires, such as Dusk Legion Zealot or Skyblade of the Legion, are not aggressive at all. This deck is also the best way to leverage your Vampire lord—Legion Lieutenant—since when you’re trying to be aggressive, your opponent has the least amount of time to deal with the additional bonus it provides.
Mythic/Rare: Champion of Dusk, Mavren Fein, Bishop of Binding
Uncommon: Legion Lieutenant, Forerunner of the Legion, Skymarcher Aspirant, Adanto Vanguard, Duskborne Skymarcher
Common: Vampire’s Zeal, Vampire Revenant, Skymarch Bloodletter, Sanguine Glorifier, Voracious Vamprie
Cards that become worse in Vampire Aggro
Vampire ascend tries to leverage the ascend cards in black-white by exploiting the ability of Vampires to go wide. This means grinding your opponent out or trying to go for a big swingy turn. This means that you don’t try to be very aggressive, and you aim for a high power level. In this archetype, it’s also important to have the ability to stabilize. So if you, for example, play a Dusk Legion Zealot on turn 2, a card that’s great in the archetype, you don’t want to follow it up with Vampire Revenant because you will lose too much tempo. Basically, cards that trade easily or are aggressively slanted get worse.
Cards that become better in Vampire Ascend
Mythic/Rare: Twilight Prophet, Elenda, the Dusk Rose, Vona’s Hunger
Uncommon: Famished Paladin, Golden Demise, Call to the Feast, Deathless Ancient, Inspiring Cleric
Common: Skyblade of the Legion, Dusk Legion Zealot, Legion Conquistador, Squire’s Devotion, Paladin of the Bloodstained
Cards that become worse in Vampire Ascend
Wait, what? There are more W/B archetypes? I’m not a 100% sure that I would call this an archetype exactly, but I end up here a fair amount. It usually happens if I open something powerful like a Tetzimoc, Primal Death or Ravenous Chupacabra, and get passed a few good removal spells like Impale, Luminous Bonds, or Moment of Craving, and then there’s another drafter that opened some great Vampire payoff so they won’t stay out of it. This means that you become a slower W/B deck that tries to win on card advantage and slowing down the game. Sometimes, you even get enough cards like Baffling End, Golden Demise, Skittering Heartstopper, and Raptor Companion that you would rather be on the draw.
Cards that become better in W/B Midrange
Mythic/Rare: Ruin Raider, Trapjaw Tyrant, Boneyard Parley
Uncommon: Everdawn Champion, Inspiring Cleric, Golden Demise, Mausoleum Harpy, Seekers’ Squire
Common: Skittering Heartstopper, Moment of Craving, Dusk Legion Zealot, Recover, Dinosaur Hunter.
Cards that become worse in W/B Midrange
Anything too aggressive or synergy based.
W/R Chicken Control
Chicken control? Thomas Hendricks is a man of some pretty narrow humor (read: great) and especially excellent at creating nicknames, and Sun-Crested Pterodon quickly became “the chicken” as it rose in the ranks during testing. W/R was a tough nut to crack at first and there were a lot of failed attempts with it. With the recent addition of tons of removal and W/R’s early creatures trading too easily, something had to change. Being aggressive just didn’t work in W/R anymore, especially now that most of white’s creatures are more defensive. One more thing we noticed was that evasion was paramount, since most creatures are about the same size in W/R and if your only curve-topper was Stampeding Horncrest, it was too easy to stop it when it was the first “big-body” that mattered. You could just double-block it or destroy it. But when we stopped trying to be aggressive and our curve was topped by 3-4 Sun-Crested Pterodon, we started winning. When it comes to the chicken, they become better in larger numbers, but 4-5 is most likely the highest number.
The other way to draft W/R is by opening Path to Mettle on the table and getting it. Path of Mettle is extremely powerful and a lot of priorities change because you have to think about the keywords of your creatures, but remember that the chicken can still have vigilance!
Cards that become better in W/R Chicken Control
Mythic/Rares: Trapjaw Tyrant, Path of Mettle, Etali, Primal Storm
Uncommon: Relentless Raptor, Needletooth Raptor, Forerunner of the Legion
Common: Sun-Crested Pterodon(!!), Snubhorn Sentry, Kinjalli’s Caller, Frilled Deathspitter, Mutiny
Cards that become worse in W/R Chicken Control
Stay tuned for part 2!