It turns out Ixalan sucked. There were still elements I enjoyed and to discover, but I’m pretty happy to say goodbye.

The beauty of Magic is that every three months we get a fresh set. So far, Rivals hasn’t felt like Ixalan at all to me. Slower strategies seem viable and most of the decks less focused. At this point I have done about 10 Drafts, so I’m still learning a lot, but I’m pretty familiar with the cards by now. Let’s get to some packs.

Pack #1

My Pick

Luminous Bonds.

I think there are four cards that are pretty close in power level in this pack. I like Kitesail Corsair, Seafloor Oracle, Storm Fleet Swashbuckler, and of course Luminous Bonds. The Bonds provides the ability to neutralize a giant Dinosaur or an enchanted creature (assuming that it doesn’t have hexproof—hexproof remains the worst ability ever and should be eradicated from Magic). I haven’t seen much that really punishes you for having an enchantment. They might bounce their own creature, but that’s not usually that bad for you. 3 mana to kill any creature is good, efficient removal, and it’s tough to do better than that.

Honorable Mention: Storm Fleet Swashbuckler.

Flying is nice but let me tell you about double strike. So far I have found cities to be pretty generous with their blessings. An unblocked double strike creature can lethal an opponent out of nowhere, and therefore can be very threatening. If you put an Aura on it, it’s a force to be reckoned with. Even with just the city’s blessing it becomes effectively a 4/3, since a 2/2 is only chump-blocking it and it can trade up with a 4/4. That’s pretty great upside for a 2-mana 2/2. I’m huge on 2-drops that don’t become blanked in the late game. Doing something meaningful on turn 2 really gives you an advantage in Limited, but most 2-mana creatures suffer from often becoming near worthless by turn 5. In most games this one will turn back into a useful card in the midgame at no cost to you. That makes for a very exciting 2-drop in my book.

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Pack #2

My Pick

Champion of Dusk.

Getting ahead on cards is great. But falling behind on board while you do it often results in losing before you can play the additional cards drawn.

Most card draw suffers from this problem. Champion of Dusk does not. When you have no other Vampires it’s 5-mana 4/4 draw 1 card, lose 1 life. That’s not broken by any means, but it’s still a pretty nice use of 5 mana. But paying 1 life per card drawn is excellent, and a 5-mana 4/4 should prevent you from falling too far behind on the board, so this card can be truly broken when it draws 3+ cards.

Honorable Mention: Impale.

Unconditional removal in Limited is always good. Most bombs can’t win the game from the graveyard. Just killing their biggest creature or one big flying or reach creature can easily turn a game. This format seems very bomb-heavy and not particularly aggressive. That generally means that removal will overperform and I expect to be taking unconditional removal like Luminous Bonds and Impale aggressively.

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Pack #3

My Pick

 Vona’s Hunger.

Edict effects don’t tend to be great in Draft. You want to kill your opponent’s best creature, not their worst creature. But killing half of your opponent’s creatures rounded up can be amazing. A lot of games seem to end up with cluttered boards in this format, and as I’ve already mentioned, the city’s blessing isn’t tough to get. I wouldn’t call this card a broken rare, but none of the cards in this pack are windmill slams. Cards with rare effects like this one can be the toughest to evaluate properly, so I won’t be shocked if I’m wrong, but it looks excellent to me.

Honorable Mention: Merfolk Mistbinder.

This is a tough pick between the more powerful Merfolk and the more flexible Curious Obsession. What really puts the Merfolk over the top for me is the lack of fail rate. It’s a Grizzly Bears on its own. If you end up with 5 Merfolk it’s okay—10 is very good, 15 and it’s amazing. So unlike a lot of situational cards, this one’s range is from okay to broken. This is another one of those rare 2-drops that will often be meaningful throughout the entire game. I think cards like this are consistently undervalued and should be taken very aggressively.

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Pack #4

My Pick

Reckless Rage.

This is hyper-efficient Limited removal. 4 damage will usually be enough to kill creatures that cost up to 4 mana and occasionally even more, and you almost always have one 3-toughness creature out in Limited to deal 2 damage to. I think this is the type of card that really wins games. When you trade up 3 mana and have a similar quality draw to your opponent, you are going to be a massive favorite in most games of Limited. It’s even an instant so that you can get the real blowout when they go for a trick. Can they really play around removal when you have 1 red mana untapped?

Honorable Mention: Impale.

Less efficient than Rage by a lot, but still good removal. There are a lot of bombs in this format and it seems to play slower than Ixalan. A removal spell like Impale that can take out anything is generally going to be good in that type of format. Since black has Pirates and Vampires, its creatures tend to be small, which means there is generally more value in having removal that is on the expensive side but kills big creatures. Generally, if your late game beats the opponent’s, there’s more value in cheaper removal that stops you from getting run over, and the more aggressive your deck the more you want powerful removal that can clear big blockers.

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Pack #5

My Pick

 Golden Demise.

If this card didn’t have the city’s blessing mode I wouldn’t even like it. As mentioned above, black decks often tend to be playing small creatures in this format, so without the city’s blessing, this is often not a card you would want to play. But the city’s blessing isn’t hard to get.

Once you get it, there are a lot of games where you can slam this card, kill a couple of creatures, then make an alpha strike while your opponents creatures are smaller.

Honorable Mention: Bombard.

This may be the actual best common in the set, but there is a lot of good common removal in this set that is fairly close in power level.

While Bombard is definitely in that group and not head-and-shoulders above the rest, it has a lot going for it. It’s single red to cast so you can play it off a Treasure or a light splash. It is an instant so you can see if your opponent plays a better creature on their turn before having to kill their current best creature in play. And as I talked about with Reckless Rage, 4 damage will almost always kill a 4-mana creature and occasionally even a 5-mana one, so this card will trade up very often.

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Rivals has a good common removal spell in every color. I love the job R&D did with Bombard, Luminous Bonds, Impale, Waterknot, and Hunt the Weak. There is no one factor that makes a Limited format good by itself, but access to good, efficient removal spells is definitely one of the largest contributing positive factors that leads to good games of Limited. It’s too early to say things about the format with much certainty, but I’m definitely excited to see how Rivals Limited turns out.