It seems like we have been waiting forever for Ixalan to arrive. Waiting for something different to happen in the game of Magic. We’ve been waiting for new cards to enter the Standard environment and, just as importantly, for cards to exit the Standard environment. I play a lot more sealed deck and booster draft than I do Standard, and I’m still very ready for new cards. I’m not necessarily worn out on Hour of Devastation at this point but when I open an Amonkhet booster I feel like I’m opening very old cards.
Prerelease weekend is upon us, my favorite Magic weekends of the year. I love checking out the spoiler, once it’s complete, but nothing can replace the thrill of touching the cards for the first time. This is the Magic cycle of life. Some things are new and different each time around, and some things never change. The prerelease weekend is a weekend meant for fun and the exploration of the new set. At the same time, your local game store is also giving away brand-new Ixalan booster packs to the players who build the best sealed decks. There’s nothing wrong with scoring some new booster packs a week before you can buy them. I want to help you win more boosters at your Ixalan prerelease events.
The construction time will vary somewhat from store to store, but since the clock’s running, it’s important that you open your sealed product and build your best possible deck as quickly as possible. This is extremely challenging when you are seeing the cards for the first time. As in past prereleases, you will open six booster packs to use for your deck. You will also have a special foil prerelease promo card in your prerelease kit. It could be any one of the rares or mythic rares from Ixalan. You can play this promotional card in your deck.
In order to be efficient, you should unwrap all six of your boosters at the same time and sort your cards by color before you get too involved reading the individual cards. I like to lay the cards so that all the white cards are in one column, creatures on top and spells on the bottom, so that I can see what I’ve got at a glance. I do this for each of the other colors. I give colorless cards their own column. I usually place gold cards either between the two colors that make up the gold card or in the column of the color that I think would be harder to play. A lot of times, your choice of main color has a lot to do with what color you receive the most cards in. With your cards laid out in color order, you have a better way to see what you’ve got.
You’re building a forty card deck and probably only playing two colors. From my first look at the set I believe you will want seventeen land and twenty-three creatures and spells. Your Ixalan prerelease pack actually includes a handy page of hints that include these sealed deck building basics.
Enrage is a mechanic that you will find on quite a few of the Dinosaur creatures in Ixalan. This ability causes some kind of effect to happen when damage is dealt to the creature with enrage. This ability will trigger in combat when your opponent blocks your creature or you block theirs. What you would really like to have is a repeatable way to deal just one damage to your own creature, but nothing in the set does that exactly. In red, however, you will find plenty of cards that will help you deal a little bit of damage to your own creatures in order to trigger their enrage abilities.
I believe this ability is very good. Enrage adds value to the creatures that have the ability without requiring a bump in casting cost. Enrage can be valuable both as an entirely passive ability that happens in combat or when your opponent uses a spell to deal lethal damage to your creature. Other times, the enrage ability may be so useful that you will want to include other spells specifically to deal damage to your own guys with enrage. Enrage is always a plus.
Explore is a new keyword that appears on just over a dozen creatures in the set. This ability triggers when a creature with explore enters the battlefield. You reveal the top card of your library and if the revealed card is a land you put that land into your hand. If the revealed card is not a land you may put that card into your graveyard, or back on top of your library, and you put a +1/+1 counter on your creature.
This ability seems to come with a one or two generic mana cost. In several cases you are paying four mana for a 2/2 that will either put a land card into your hand or get a +1/+1 counter. Now, if you knew you were getting a 3/3 for four mana, you might play a card like that but you wouldn’t necessarily be impressed by it. Excited about getting a “free” land? By the time you have four mana to play a creature with explore you probably have your mana problems mostly solved. I won’t be going out of my way to fit every creature with explore into my deck.
Raid is an ability we’ve seen before. Three years ago, Khans of Tarkir premiered this ability. This ability does something for you if you have attacked with a creature this turn before you play the spell with raid. When it’s a creature with raid, the ability is usually paying you off for doing what you should usually do anyway. Attack first, then play new creatures in your second main phase. Remember that just because a card has the raid ability, it won’t always be the best play to attack first. You have to weigh the value of what the card’s raid ability is giving you.
Treasure artifact tokens are the last new “mechanic” in Ixalan. There are quite a few cards that give you some number of these colorless artifact tokens. Each Treasure can be activated and sacrificed to add one mana of any color to your mana pool. Gaining these Treasure tokens can help you with your more expensive spells later in the game. I doubt you will find the Treasure tokens plentiful enough in your deck to lower the number of lands you play.
Two-sided cards are back with Ixalan. These are all rare cards that turn into nonbasic land cards when they are transformed. Bring some very dark opaque sleeves with you or else plan on looking for and using checklist cards like you last did with Eldritch Moon.
Vehicles are also back with Ixalan. There are two uncommons and two rares. I guess it just wouldn’t be a Pirate set without some ships for them to travel in. I’m happy to see vehicles back though I suppose they will be much less prevalent than they were in Kaladesh block where there were so many vehicles at common and uncommon, and powerful ones at that.
There is a tremendous amount of synergy among the four main tribes of creatures found in Ixalan. Dinosaurs are found in white, green and red. Merfolk are found among the blue and green cards. Pirates are blue, black and red. Finally, Vampires are found among the black and white cards. If you decide to play a Pirate deck, you still are very likely to play some number of cards outside of the Pirate tribe that are in your colors in order to round out your deck. The idea is to get as much advantage out of these various tribes as you can based on what you see in your sealed deck card pool.
It’s finally time to talk about the actual cards in Ixalan. There are some impressively powerful rares and mythic rares in Ixalan. Will you open any of them? Search me. What I do know is that most of your deck will be composed of commons and uncommons. That’s why I believe that as expansion sets come and go, the cards you need to understand most for sealed deck play are the commons and uncommons. What follows is a selection of what I believe are the best commons and uncommons for sealed deck in each color. I have also listed the colors in best-to-worst order as I see it from my desk three days before prerelease weekend. I wouldn’t call it a hard and fast rule, but I also tend not to talk about cards that are literal reprints from previous sets, like Opt and Cancel in blue. A lot of us have encountered these particular cards enough times over the years to know what’s good and bad about them already.
Drover of the Mighty is an uncommon 1/1 Human Druid for 1G that you can tap to add one mana of any color to your mana pool. Also, this creature gets +2/+2 as long as you control a Dinosaur. As long as Drover lives a turn and you have a third land for turn number three, your chances of having a Dinosaur in play get increasingly better. Not only does this two-drop accelerate your mana, its protected from small amounts of damage once you have a Dinosaur in play. Being able to tap for any color of mana is pretty important if your Dino-deck uses all three “Jurassic” colors: green, white and red.
Savage Stomp is an uncommon sorcery for 2G that costs two generic mana less to play if it targets a Dinosaur you control. You put a +1/+1 counter on a target creature you control and then that creature fights with a target creature you don’t control. This is a must-play in every green deck because green doesn’t often get direct removal spells. In Dinosaur decks, this card is bah-roken! In a week people will happily spend their first pick for this card in drafts. You will always want as many copies of this as possible.
Snapping Sailback is an uncommon 4/4 Dinosaur with flash for 4G. This card has an enrage ability that puts a +1/+1 counter on Snapping Sailback whenever it is dealt damage. Here’s what’s going to happen. Your opponent is going to attack you with some random 2/2 or 3/3. You will play Snapping Sailback at instant speed and provide a surprise blocker they weren’t expecting. By the time it’s your turn, your Snapping Sailback now has a +1/+1 counter and is ready to attack as a 5/5. Sound good? I’ll take two!
Pounce is a common instant for one green mana that makes a target creature you control and a target creature you don’t control fight each other. This will be good in lots of decks, but none more than Dino-decks. It’s very powerful to have a spell like this for only two mana at instant-speed. There will be lots of times when you can use this card to take out a fairly large creature on the other side of the board at the end of your opponent’s turn.
New Horizons is a common aura enchantment for 2G. When this enchantment enters the battlefield you put a +1/+1 counter on a target creature you control. When you tap a land enchanted with New Horizons you get two of any one color of mana in your mana pool. I slightly like this spell better than Blossom Dryad because it gives you access to colors your lands do not already produce and it has the spinoff ability of permanently enlarging one of your other guys.
Blossom Dryad is a common 2/2 Dryad for 2G that you can tap to untap a target land. You would rather play a mana dork on turn two but Blossom Dryad can still be a big help while also being a large enough creature to trade with quite a few of the other three-drops in the set. I might play two of these but probably not three.
Deeproot Warrior is a common 2/2 Merfolk Warrior for 1G. Whenever this creature becomes blocked it gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Not spectacular, but very solid. I think I might like this creature more in aggressive red/green Dinosaur decks than I do in green/blue Merfolk decks.
Charging Monstrosaur is an uncommon 5/5 Dinosaur with trample and haste for 4R. This one is solid gold. This is an uncommon that plays more like a rare. So often, an uncommon that gives you the power and flexibility of this card costs six or seven and therefore doesn’t necessarily fit every deck. This monster fits every deck playing red as either the primary or secondary color. If the rest of your deck is nothing but black and red Pirates, you’re going to play this fat Monstrosaur!
Fiery Cannonade is an uncommon instant for 2R that deals two damage to each non-Pirate creature. This is one of several removal cards in the set that can’t hurt a certain creature type. Because you don’t know what creature types your opponent will be playing before you start game one, these types of cards are hard to include in your main deck. The difference with this card is that the Pirate faction happens to include red as a tertiary color behind blue and black. That means that Fiery Cannonade can be a instant-speed partial board-sweeper that doesn’t injure your own creatures as long as they are Pirates. This one goes automatically into your deck if you are playing Pirates and red is one of your main two colors. It’s not good enough to necessarily splash for it alone, but it will make the cut often when you are splashing red. Finally, it will jump right into your deck from the sideboard in any match where your opponent isn’t playing Pirates. It’s amazing to have a Pyroclasm-like spell like this at instant speed.
Headstrong Brute is a common 3/3 Orc Pirate for 2R. The Brute cannot block and has menace as long as you control another Pirate. Magic has been getting us used to the 3/3 monster that costs three mana and can’t block. To an aggressive player like me, the text “can’t block” is more of a game play suggestion than a setback. This is the best red common creature in your deck if you have other Pirates. Otherwise, Headstrong Brute is strictly for aggro decks, possibly red/black Vampires or red/green or red/white Dinosaurs.
Makeshift Munitions is an uncommon enchantment for 1R. For one mana of any color and the sacrifice of a creature or artifact you get to deal one damage to a target creature or player. This card is a great way to deal the last three or four points of damage you need to win the game. I doubt I will be very concerned about my opponent playing an instant-speed life gain effect when I sacrifice my dudes to deal a couple of last points of damage with Makeshift Munitions. I only want to play one copy of this enchantment.
Firecannon Blast is a common sorcery for 1RR that deals three damage to a target creature unless you have attacked already in this turn in which case it deals six damage to the targeted creature. This one is a little bittersweet. You tend to use removal before you attack. Still, this card will solve some large problems, like when a very large creature your opponent controls blocks and kills one of your smaller ones. It’s not card advantage, but even when you use this card to deal the remaining damage to a very large creature, you’ll feel good when their monster goes to the graveyard. Other times, this will be a pure one-for-one when you can attack through the air or with some other form of evasion and then play the Blast to take out a very large creature for just three mana. I like it is what I’m saying.
Thrash of Raptors is a common 3/3 Dinosaur for 3R. As long as you control another Dinosaur this creature gets +2/+0 and trample. Your Dinosaur decks are a little less flexible than decks featuring the other three factions featured in this set. To make Thrash of Raptors really good, and it can be, you want a deck full of Dinosaurs. Like ten Dinosaurs at least. As soon as Thrash of Raptors always or nearly always has +2/+0 and trample, it’s a very good monster.
Trove of Temptation is an uncommon enchantment for 3R. Each opponent must attack you or a Planeswalker you control with at least one creature on each of their combats. At the beginning of your end step you get a Treasure artifact token. The best thing this card does is give you a Treasure token each turn. This ability could combine nicely with Makeshift Munitions late in the game. You’ll figure out plenty of good things to do with a free Treasure token each turn. The first ability is also useful. When your side of the board is full of big monsters, particularly a board full of Dinosaurs, your opponent may wish they didn’t have to attack every turn. This card won’t make the cut every time but it’s pretty good and it starts paying you dividends the turn you play it.
Sun-Crowned Hunters is a common 5/4 Dinosaur for 4RR. When this creature is dealt damage it deals three damage to a target opponent. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t good options to allow you to repeatedly deal a single point of damage to this Dinosaur in order to Bolt your opponent over and over. But one thing you can count on is that when you attack with this big boy your opponent is likely to block, and when they do they will more than likely lose at least one blocker and you will deal three damage to your opponent’s face. You don’t want a bunch of six-drops in your deck and fortunately, Ixalan isn’t really tempting us to do so. One of these will fit nicely in your Dinosaur deck.
Deathless Ancient is an uncommon 4/4 Vampire Knight with flying for 4BB. You can tap three untapped Vampires you control to return Deathless Ancient from the graveyard to your hand. This card is a reusable and hard-to-get-rid-of win condition for the mere cost of an uncommon (and six mana). Of course, to return this old man from the grave, you will need quite a few Vampires in your deck. Try hard to use this card’s ability at the end of your opponent’s turn, or after you have declared your untapped Vampires as blockers.
Lurking Chupacabra is an uncommon 2/3 Beast Horror for 3B. Whenever a creature you control explores this card gives a target creature an opponent controls -2/-2 until end of turn. This card could change my whole mindset regarding the explore ability. I would be happy to include three or even four cards with the explore ability if I have Lurking Chupacabra.
Kitesail Freebooter is an uncommon 1/2 Human Pirate with flying for 1B. When this enters the battlefield your opponent reveals their hand and you can exile a noncreature, nonland card from their hand. This card remains exiled until Kitesail Freebooter leaves the battlefield. In sealed deck, your opponent is only going to have a certain number of powerful noncreature cards in his hand at any given time. Turn two might be an excellent time to remove one of those powerful spells from his hand. Even if your little flying Pirate dies and they get the card back, knowing is half the battle.
Anointed Deacon is a common 3/3 Vampire Cleric for 4B. At the beginning of your combat step, you may have a target Vampire get +2/+0. Sometimes you will simply use the Deacon to pump itself at the beginning of combat. That’s not so bad, it essentially becomes a 5/3 attacker that you paid five mana for. Better yet, play Anointed Deacon during your first main phase and then when it triggers use it to pump one of your other Vampires. That’s a great way to get value out of the Deacon right away.
Fathom Fleet Cutthroat is a common 3/3 Human Pirate for 3B. When this enters the battlefield destroy a target creature an opponent controls that was dealt damage this turn. You can send in your attackers and if one of them is “lucky” enough to be blocked and killed by your opponent’s biggest, nastiest creature, you can destroy your opponent’s best creature by playing Fathom Fleet Cutthroat. I’m thinking of other ways to capitalize with this creature, in a black/red Pirates deck using one of the cheap red direct damage spells to set up Fathom Fleet Cutthroat. There will be times when you have to play this guy for no value and just accept the very average return-on-investment of a 3/3 for four mana. Tough but fair.
Skymarch Bloodletter is a common 2/2 Vampire Soldier with flying for 2B. When this enters the battlefield a target opponent loses a life and you gain a life. This is the kind of simple and effective card on which winning Vampire decks will be built.
Contract Killing is a common sorcery for 3BB that destroys a target creature while also producing two Treasure artifact tokens. Five mana isn’t too much to pay to destroy a target unconditionally. The Treasure tokens are almost a free bonus with this card.
Chart a Course is an uncommon sorcery for 1U. You draw two cards and then discard a card unless you attacked with a creature this turn. This card doesn’t technically have the raid ability but it plays almost as though it does. If you are in a position to attack first, this card draws two cards for just two mana at sorcery speed. Very solid though not immediately impressive to the eye.
Watertrap Weaver is a common 2/2 Merfolk Wizard for 2U. When this enters the battlefield you tap a target creature an opponent controls. That creature won’t untap during its controller’s next untap step. This is blue’s best common creature and it fits as well in Pirate decks as it does in Merfolk decks. If you have other three-drops to play on turn three, play those creatures first so that you can move a would-be blocker out of the way when you play Watertrap Weaver on a later turn. This is one of those play-before-combat creatures, the exception to the normal rule.
Tempest Caller is an uncommon 2/3 Merfolk Wizard for 2UU. Expensive for a 2/3? Yes. But I almost prefer to think of Tempest Caller as a sorcery that helps you win the game while leaving behind a 2/3 Merfolk just in case the game isn’t quite over yet. When this enters the battlefield you tap all creatures that a target opponent controls. This card can win games.
Storm Sculptor is a common 3/2 Merfolk Wizard for 3U. This creature cannot be blocked. When this enters the battlefield you must return a creature you control to its owner’s hand. Three points of unblockable damage a turn is worth the inconvenience of returning another of your creatures to your hand. Just make sure your deck has the casting curve to support it so that when you play this card as early as turn four that you have a creature to return to your hand.
Deadeye Quartermaster is an uncommon 2/2 Human Pirate for 3U. When this enters the battlefield you may search your library for an Equipment or a Vehicle card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Historically, blue has loved giving us the ability to fish cards out of our libraries for us. I would prefer to have more than one target for this card before I would be excited to play it. Obviously don’t play it just to add a 2/2 Pirate, in most cases.
Headwater Sentries is a common 2/5 Merfolk Warrior for 3U. With no abilities, this card is as generic and dull as they come. But four mana for five toughness in blue can be a useful thing. It’s also a Pirate and doesn’t have defender.
One With the Wind is a common aura enchantment for 1U that gives the creature it enchants +2/+2 and flying. No, you wouldn’t to get blown out playing this on a creature and having your opponent respond with a removal spell that destroys your creature while One With the Wind is on the stack. You have to be a little careful with creature enchantments. But in a fairly aggressive deck, One With the Wind is a cheap way to permanently make one of your little guys without evasion into a big guy with evasion. I think this card will cause plenty of trouble for opponents.
Imperial Aerosaur is an uncommon 3/3 Dinosaur with flying for 3W. When this enters the battlefield it gives another target creature you control flying and +1/+1 until end of turn. This creature is well costed for a 3/3 flyer and its enters-the-battlefield ability makes it relevant on the turn you play it. Evasion is always important in sealed deck and this card gives your team evasion two different ways.
Bellowing Aegisaur is an uncommon 3/5 Dinosaur for 5W. He has an enrage ability that puts a +1/+1 counter on each of your other creatures whenever this creature is dealt damage. This creature arrives a little late to the game because of his casting cost but will still be valuable in sealed deck games where he can turn the tide of a stalled board state into your favor.
Ixalan’s Binding is an uncommon enchantment for 3W. When this enters the battlefield you exile a target nonland permanent that your opponent controls until this enchantment leaves the battlefield. Furthermore, your opponents cannot cast spells with the same name as the card exiled by Ixalan’s Binding. This is removal that can get rid of any creature that you can target but which can also take out a Planeswalker, an artifact or even another enchantment. This enchantment’s second ability is not very important in sealed deck where players rarely have multiple copies of any particular permanent in their deck. It would be nice if this cost three instead of four but you can’t be too picky about solid removal. This is a must-play in every white deck and it might even be splashable in green/red Dinosaurs.
Bishop’s Soldier is a common 2/2 Vampire Soldier for 1W with lifelink. Simple and useful in any white deck, not just decks focusing on Vampires. A cheap lifelink creature like this is a good early drop and can help you survive longer in any game.
Pious Interdiction is a common aura enchantment for 3W. When this enters the battlefield you gain two life. The creature enchanted by Pious Interdiction cannot attack or block. Unexciting, this is white’s best common removal spell and you’ll play it in every white deck.
Territorial Hammerskull is a common 2/3 Dinosaur for 2W. When you attack with this creature you tap a target creature controlled by your opponent. This creature is best in an aggressive deck. Imagine the fun when you have two of these in play allowing you to attack with your whole team while keeping your opponent’s best two creatures from blocking.
Legion Conquistador is a common 2/2 Vampire Soldier for 2W. When this creature enters the battlefield it lets you search your library for any number of other copies of this creature. If you have three or more of this card in your pool, it may very well be worth putting them in your deck. It’s amazing card advantage for three mana if you are able to search two or more other copies of this creature from your deck. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else inherently useful about this card other than it being a Vampire. You probably need some kind of Vampire synergy to make this card truly valuable.
Raging Swordtooth is an uncommon 5/5 Dinosaur for 3RG with trample. When this enters the battlefield it deals one damage to each other creature. The point isn’t for this creature to kill your own creatures, the point is for the damage to trigger your Dinosaurs’ enrage abilities. It won’t be great, however, if Swordtooth causes your Dinosaur-playing opponent to get a bunch of bonuses.
Dire Fleet Captain is an uncommon 2/2 Orc Pirate for BR. When this guy attacks it gets +1/+1 for each other attacking Pirate. Angry Pirate! The artwork is great, too, this guy is sort of a cross between Deadpool and something from Warhammer. I have some interest in playing aggressive black/red Pirates, but I think it will be a lot better in booster draft than it will be in sealed deck.
Deadeye Plunderers is an uncommon 3/3 Human Pirate for 3UB. This creature gets +1/+1 for each artifact you control. For 2UB you can create a colorless Treasure artifact token. The ability to make Treasure tokens is definitely nice but if you really want to make this card powerful in your deck you will want other artifacts and other Treasure-producers in your deck.
Call to the Feast is an uncommon sorcery for 2WB that creatures three 1/1 white Vampire creature tokens with lifelink. I’m less excited about this card than some experts I’ve heard, but I still like it and would always play it if I were black/white Vampires. I’d be a huge fan if these little Vampires had flying instead of (or better yet along with) lifelink.
There are fourteen artifacts in Ixalan, ten of which are commons or uncommons. These all have some value, but I only really like three of them.
Pillar of Origins is an uncommon artifact for two mana. When this enters the battlefield you choose a creature type. You can tap this artifact for one of any color mana to be used only to cast a creature spell of the chosen type. This is essentially a mana rock that only works for casting creatures. The more creatures you play of a specific type, the harder this card can work for you.
Elaborate Firecannon is an uncommon artifact for two mana. Spend four mana of any color and tap this artifact to deal two damage to a creature or player. The bad news is Elaborate Firecannon doesn’t untap during your untap step. At the beginning of your upkeep you can choose to discard a card from your hand to untap the Firecannon. Colorless, repeatable direct damage is impossible to ignore, though the activation cost is high and so is the untap cost.
Prying Blade is a common artifact equipment card for one mana. When you equip this card to a creature you control for two generic mana, the equipped creature gains +1/+0. Whenever the equipped creature deals combat damage to a player you get a Treasure artifact token. You’ll know if your deck wants to make a bunch of Treasure tokens or not. If it does, and especially if you have some evasive creatures, it will be worth playing one copy of Prying Blade.
A Few Parting Thoughts
I can’t believe that white is my least favorite color in Ixalan! White is so often the most popular, most versatile color for sealed deck. I don’t see it that way at all this time. It’s not that I think the white cards aren’t any good. But as I examined each color after white, I found that I like each of the other colors a little bit better. Green stays in its lane, mostly, and supplies big Dinosaurs and ways to ramp your mana. But then there are multiple fight effects as well… Green is hands-down the deepest color of the set for commons and uncommons. I’m not sure green goes super-well with anything except red and that, of course, means Dinosaurs. When I heard this was going to be the “dinosaurs set” I rolled my eyes. Silly. But now that we’re talking about actual cards with prerelease booster packs on the line, I’m embracing the Dinosaurs big-time.
I am tempted to try out all of the Keeper creatures, the one-drop common in each color that you can sacrifice and spend eight mana for a big effect late in the game. It’s not that I think you will routinely have eight lands in play at the end of the game, but you might have six and a couple of Treasure tokens… If you have any sort of Treasure plan at all in your deck, I think including one or two of these little Keeper creatures could be a good idea.
Good luck at your prereleases and thanks for reading.
Trackback from your site.