Drafting Rivals of Ixalan: First (mis)Impressions
Over the few years the Massdrop pros have been working together, we have established several playtesting processes and best practices that we implement for each set release and subsequent Pro Tour. One of these processes (probably my favorite) starts with the release of the full set visual spoiler. Once all cards have been revealed, each team member is tasked with reviewing all common and uncommon cards, and ranking them within colors and tiers. Based on everyone’s results, we are able to generate aggregate rankings to see which cards the team thinks are strongest/weakest. We also are able to identify cards that the team disagrees on most – we can focus on discussing and testing these controversial cards in live drafts.
I’m generally a lazy person and have a tough time reading through a spoiler list from A to Z, so for me this exercise keep me honest - it forces me study each card and actually use some critical thinking to evaluate them. After release week and hopefully several drafts, each member of the team repeats the exercise and re-ranks each common and uncommon. We use these final rankings as the major discussion point during out Pro Tour Limited meeting, and it’s very interesting to see the shift in card rankings over time.
This week I’d like to share with you my first impression rankings for each color that I did last week and how a few cards’ rankings have drastically changed since then. As of my writing this, I have played in two Prerelease Sealed Deck tournaments, done one Magic Online draft, and one IRL (in real life) draft, and had solid discussion of these results with other teammates playing the format for the last week. My understanding of the format is far from complete, but there are definitely cards and concepts that I was wrong on with the introduction of Rivals of Ixalan to the format.
Before I go into each color, I’d like to say that although the set did look aggressive to me I did not expect it to be as hyper aggressive as the games I’ve played. Granted this is mearly the beginning of the format so aggressive decks tend to be more successful as the midrange and control decks are less defined and explored, but just last night my BR Pirates opponent on the play curved Grasping Scoundrel, into Goblin Trailblazer, into Fathom Fleet Boarder, and topped them off with a Dire Fleet Neckbreaker followed by an Impale to easily turn 5 kill me.
Another thing I totally missed on where the Forerunner tribal tutors. Somehow it just did not occur to me when reading them that they allow you to search up your best, bombiest creature. And the enter the battlefield bonuses on all of them are solid with the exception of Forerunner of the Empire, who’s bonus of dealing one damage to each creature is totally absurd. I first just dismissed this ability as a cute way to enable enrage, but after only a few games of Limited one realizes that there are a lot of playable one toughness creatures and Forerunner of the Empire can turn the tide of a game very easily.

White • Baffling End • Luminous Bond • Sun-Crested Pterodon END OF TIER 1
• Martyr of Dusk • Exultant Skymarcher • Sun Sentinel • Majestic Heliopterus • Moment of Triumph • Skymarcher Aspirant END OF TIER 2
• Famished Paladin • Squire's Devotion • Sanguine Glorifier • Raptor Companion • Forerunner of the Legion • Everdawn Champion • Divine Verdict END OF TIER 3
• Legion Conquistador • Pride of Conquerors • Cleansing Ray • Imperial Ceratops • Blazing Hope • Snubhorn Sentry
I initially felt that white was going to remain an aggressive color and maintain excellent Vampire synergies, and for the most part I believe I was correct. After thinking Sun-Crested Pterodon was great, I’m beginning to wane on this card given the speed of the format. It is slow to cast, and although it clocks well, it doesn’t close out games very quickly. I completely slept on Squire’s Devotion and think it is an extremely important card in this aggressive format. Also with two less packs of Ixalan creature auras, Squire’s Devotion fills in nicely for Mark of the Vampire.

Blue • Waterknot • Soul of the Rapids END OF TIER 1
• Siren Reaver • Deadeye Rig-Hauler • Spire Winder • Kitesail Corsair • Silvergill Adept • Expel From Orazca END OF TIER 2
• Crashing Tide • River Darter • Sailor of Means • Slippery Scoundrel • Curious Obsession • Hornswoggle • Riverwise Augur END OF TIER 3
• Mist-Cloacked Herald • Sworn Gaurdian • Secrets of the Golden City • Aquatic Incursion • Sea Legs • Negate • Flood of Recollection
As a drafter who trends toward aggressive decks with efficient creatures, I’m usually not great at evaluating blue cards for Limited. Rivals of Ixalan adds some nice additions to blue in Waterknot and several flyers. After a weekend of Limited games, I believe I underrated Slippery Scoundrel and Mist-Cloaked Herald. For one, I did not think that the City’s Blessing would be easily attainable. I subsequently found that these seemingly innocuous creatures were often the ones closing out games for me. I believe I overrated Soul of the Rapids. Even though I assembled Mark of the Vampire on Soul a few times during the prerelease, this is not something you can expect to always have and a 3/2 flyer for 5 mana seems a bit overcosted.

Black • Ravenous Chupacabra • Impale • Reaver Ambush END OF TIER 1
• Moment of Craving • Sadistic Skymarcher • Fathom Fleet Boarder • Vampire Revenant • Dinosaur Hunter • Mausoleum Harpy • Oathsworn Vampire END OF TIER 2
• Dusk Charger • Grasping Scoundrel • Recover • Dusk Legion Zealot • Voracious Vampire • Forerunner of the Coalition • Canal Monitor • Golden Demise • Arterial Flow • Pitiless Plunderer END OF TIER 3
• Dark Inquiry • Gruesome fate
I cringe when I see where I have Golden Demise here. This card has proven to be great every time I’ve seen it. I had one sitting in my prerelease deck sideboard and I regretted it every game one. The creature sizing of the format and ease to get The City’s Blessing make this card very main deckable. At this point, I don’t think I’ve played enough to know what card(s) I’ve really overrated here. Vampire Revenant sticks out the most. Players are figuring out that ping effects are worth playing and casting a Revenant into Dual Shot is bad news.

Red • Bombard • Mutiny END OF TIER 1
•Reckless Rage •Swaggering Corsair • Charging Tuskodon • See Red • Buccaneer's Bravado • Goblin Trailblazer • Frilled Deathspitter • Needletooth Raptor • Storm Fleet Swashbuckler END OF TIER 2
• Tilonali's Crown • Fanatical Firebrand • Daring Buccaneer • Orazca Raptor • Brazen Freebooter • Sun-Collared Raptor • Forerunner of the Empire • Stampeding Horncrest END OF TIER 3
• Shake the Foundations • Pirate's Pillage • Shatter
As I said before, I severely underrated Forerunner of the Empire. I believe it is so powerful that I would be happy first-picking this card to start off a draft. Goblin Trailblazer is another card that I wasn’t high on but have come to love. Facing down a Trailblazer on turn two is not easy. Do I try to race the aggressive deck? Do I leave my 2 and 3 drops back to double block, only to have one die to removal? It’s such an efficient early threat that still needs to be dealt with in the late game. Swaggering Corsair has proven to be pretty disappointing to me. While black and green give us similar power/toughness 3-drop commons in Fathom Fleet Boarder and Jungleborn Pioneer, red makes it conditional with raid. This is probably something I would have realized had I compared across colors, but it didn’t occur to me until actually casting the spells that Corsair wasn’t always a 3/3 for 3.

Green • Strength of the Pack • Hunt the Weak • Crested Herdcaller END OF TIER 1
• Thrashing Brontodon • Giltgrove Stalker • Swift Warden • Aggressive Urge • Hardy Veteran • Jungleborn Pioneer • Jadecraft Artisan • Cherished Hatchling END OF TIER 2
• Knight of the Stampede • Orazca Frillback • Thunderherd Migration • Forerunner of the Heralds • Colossal Dreadmaw • Overgrown Armasaur • Jade Bearer • Cacophodon END OF TIER 3
•Naturalize •Enter the Unknown •Plummet
The jury on Strength of the Pack is still out for me, which means it might not be the slam dunk, tier 1, best green card in the format that I thought it was supposed to be last week. I handily lost to it in the prerelease, but also saw a 3-0 RIX beefy dinosaur draft deck that had two in the sideboard which I agreed were probably not good in the deck. Now that Merfolk have a few go-wide cards like Jungleborn Pioneer and Aquatic Incursion along with evasive creatures, I could see Strength being a good curve topper there, but it is beginning to look like more of a niche bomb than an all-out bomb to me. And now that I mentioned it, Jungleborn Pioneer has proven to be much better than where I initially ranked it. The rate is quite good and it contributes to ascend.

Multicolor • Relentless Raptor • Legion Lieutenant • Merfolk Mistbinder • Atzocan Seer END OF TIER 1
• Raging Regisaur • Dire Fleet Neckbreaker • Resplendent Griffin END OF TIER 2
• Deadeye Brawler • Jungle Creeper • Storm Fleet Sprinter END OF TIER 3
While I have yet to play with or against Reckless Raptor, I’m beginning to think it is not the best multicolored uncommon in the set. Given the overall efficient creature sizing across all colors in Rivals, I believe a turn 2 Raptor can be easily dealt with assuming your opponent has a normal draw with a solid deck. That being said, I still believe it is tier 1, but most likely behind the Vampire and Merfolk lords. Atcozan Seer has slipped out of tier 1 as I don’t think it is a card that would immediately draw me into its color combinations like the others do. Dire Fleet Neckbreaker has shot up this list for me, easily to the number one spot. I’m not sure who at Wizards of the Coast felt that Pirates needed a cheaper Anointed Deacon that blessed not one, but all our attacking creatures, but it’s 2018 and here we are.
Again, these are just my initial thoughts and initial corrections of my pre-Prerelease card rankings. My opinions, rankings, and the format itself will undoubtedly change as people’s understanding and drafting improve. As our team has refined our processes over the last several Pro Tours, a few have questioned whether the initial rankings were useful. Personally I find them to be extremely useful in helping identify what we think will be good versus what is actually good, and the evaluation of these differences often help us identify tenants of the particular Limited format. For example, none of us had the pump auras (One with the Wind, Swashbuckling, Mark of the Vampire) ranked highly in our initial Ixalan rankings, but they jumped several spots once we started played. This helped us realize the crux of many Ixalan games would revolve around a suited up creature, and from there we could identify and prioritize strategies that best deal with or contribute towards that theme.
This process has also helped me become better at evaluating cards. Being able to have a record of what I thought was good versus what ends up being good is an excellent way to identify where I fail in card evaluation and hopefully helps me not repeat those failures in future sets. I’m eager to continue drafting Rivals of Ixalan and refining my ranks going forward!

PREVIOUS ARTICLES · Meet the Massdrop Teams: http://dro.ps/mtg-team-announce · *2nd* at Pro Tour Ixalan: http://dro.ps/ixalan · Unclaimed Creature Types: http://dro.ps/ari-creatures · Why I Never Drop From Tournaments: http://dro.ps/eric-nevergiveup · The Art of Sideboard Construction - Sultai Energy: http://dro.ps/jon-sideboard · A Commoner's View on Pauper: http://dro.ps/mark-pauper · Blue Moon Beach Control: http://dro.ps/scott-bluemoon · Top 5 Modern Decks: http://dro.ps/pascal-modern · Storm in Vintage Cube: http://dro.ps/ben-storm · An Early Look at Rivals for Standard: http://dro.ps/shaun-rivals · A Standard Approach to Evaiuating New Cards: http://dro.ps/rob-newcards
thumb_upPsyres, Moguri, and 4 others

Jan 23, 2018
This is an excellent card evaluation done a different way. I think this is so the best way seen this evaluation been done. Thanks for this!
Jan 23, 2018
Jan 22, 2018
WHO CARES! What a complete waste of space on an email.
Jan 22, 2018