In a world of aggressively slanted decks and suboptimal common removal, Lightning Strike is about as good as it gets. It lets you come back, a lot of the time killing a 4-drop such as Imperial Aerosaur or even a 5-drop in Anointed Deacon. When you’re ahead, it lets you stay ahead by removing their blocker, or if you’re in position to finish the game, it can go upstairs to do just that.
What makes Lightning Strike especially good in this format is that cheap, instant removal is even better than usual. Cheap combat tricks are premium in Ixalan Limited, and Auras are strong, so a Lightning Strike in response can win games on its own. It doesn’t stop there—it can also break up tribal synergies in combat. What finally makes Lightning Strike so good is that there’s really nothing like it, camouflaging its presence and making it especially hard to play around.
Honorable Mention: Kitesail Freebooter
Kitesail Freebooter is fantastic and one of my favorite uncommons in Ixalan draft. It’s actually closer to Lightning Strike than you might think. Kitesail Freebooter kind of does it all. It’s in a relevant tribe, it’s a 2-drop, it has evasion to trigger raid, and it’s a good target for an Aura. Since there’s not a ton of good removal spells in the format, it’s uncommon for your opponent to have more than one in their hand, leaving them with no way to deal with Kitesail Freebooter. Since there are tons of tricks in the format, the information Kitesail Freebooter provides is also huge, and it usually also clears the way for you to play any of the powerful Auras in the format.
2-drops are great in Ixalan and Wanted Scoundrels is one of the best. Since really only Lightning Strike and Walk the Plank deal with it efficiently, the downside of the Scoundrels seldom comes into play. Pious Interdiction and Ixalan’s Binding deal with it, but then it doesn’t give away any Treasures while trading 2 for 4 mana, which is quite the tempo swing. Vanquish the Weak can’t target it either. The only real good interaction at common versus the Scoundrels is Firecannon Blast. But if you land the Scoundrels on the play on turn 2, there’s a plethora of ways to get ready for such an event, like One with the Wind, Dive Down, Swashbuckling, Skulduggery, etc. Speaking of Skulduggery, it also removes the few early creatures that can block Wanted Scoundrels profitably, like Raptor Companion, Raptor Hatchling, or Skittering Heartstopper.
Honorable Mention: River Heralds’ Boon.
After Wanted Scoundrels, the power level of the pack falls quickly. Most of the cards are medium at best, meaning that even if some of them leave me open, the downside of missing any of them isn’t an outcome I’m particularly worried about, meaning that I would want the highest upside pick in a good tribe. That designation falls upon River Heralds’ Boon, which of course is incredibly powerful if you end up in Merfolk.
First-picking a multicolored card is always a dangerous proposition in Limited. But in Ixalan, that kind of changes, since a lot of premium cards are only good in a certain archetype. In this pack, for example, the cards I would most want to play are River Sneak, Sky Terror, Anointed Deacon, and Thrash of Raptors. But they are basically multicolored cards, because without their tribe and color combination to go with it, they are way below power level. River Sneak wants me to go U/G, Anointed Deacon W/R, and Thrash of Raptors is the most open card since it could both put you in R/G Dinosaurs or W/R Dinosaurs. But I like R/W a lot more than R/G and at the same time, the power level of Sky Terror is much higher than Thrash of Raptors, which is also a 2-drop, meaning that Sky Terror becomes the pick.
Honorable Mention: River Sneak.
River Sneak is great in U/G Merfolk and can be frustrating to race. Much like Sky Terror, evasive 2-drops that attack for 2 (most of the time) or more are fantastic. What makes River Sneak extra great in Merfolk is the tribe’s tendency to grow its creatures with cards like Jade Guardian, Vineshaper Mystic, River Heralds’ Boon, or One with the Wind, which of course goes well with it being unblockable.
This pack is quite weak. But Fathom Fleet Captain ticks some important boxes. It’s in a relevant tribe and it’s a good aggressive 2-drop. Not only that, but it’s a premium card I’m happy to play in any of my red decks. The firebreathing ability isn’t too relevant on its own, since it still trades for any 2-power creature, but it can still trade up if the game stalls out. If you slam something like a One with the Wind on it, it becomes a whole lot for rewarding.
Honorable Mention: River Heralds’ Boon.
Once more, the rest of the pack isn’t great, and nothing I’m happy about picking up early. Similar to pack 2, River Heralds’ Boon has the upside I’m looking for in a card if it works out, enough that it’s worth the downside of missing Mark of the Vampire, Dive Down, or Dark Nourishment.
Otepec Huntmaster is one of the better payoffs for Dinosaurs. In the right deck, it can steamroll your opponent, giving creatures like Territorial Hammerskull haste, making it hard to race. It also makes your Dinosaurs cheaper, which makes it easier to play fewer lands, something you definitely want to do in an R/W aggressive Dinosaur deck while playing a good 5-drop such as Shining Aerosaur.
Honorable Mention: Deathless Ancient
Deathless Ancient is the other powerful build-around uncommon in the pack and they are fairly close on power level. This is one of the perfect ways to grind an opponent out later in the game as well as a finisher for Vampires. This pick even had me down to the wire on time. Otepec Huntmaster is a nice first pick because it lets you pick a good 2-drop early that’s slanted toward an aggressive deck. Deathless Ancient, while not a 2-drop, can be played in pretty much any black deck because of its solid stats.