So you say you’ve had a good time drafting Ixalan but are ready for something new? Maybe you’re more interested in constructed than limited. Either way, you’re in luck. Rivals of Ixalan arrives in the hands of prerelease players all across the land this weekend. Of course, whether you prefer constructed or limited, the first way that we encounter the new cards is by playing sealed deck in a local prerelease tournament.
I’m here to help you make the most of your opportunity this weekend. I want to help you win more boosters at your Rivals of Ixalan prerelease events. I believe it’s going to be a fun experience. I have very much enjoyed playing sealed deck and booster draft with Ixalan for the past months. Ixalan limited has been challenging enough to keep my interest week after week.
This weekend, the six booster packs you’ll receive include four Rivals of Ixalan and two Ixalan. This is the last time for a while that we will play with two different sets in a prerelease event, so savor the moment and try not to complain about only getting four packs of the new set. You also get an individually wrapped prerelease foil which could be any of the rares or mythic rares from Rivals of Ixalan. It counts as part of your card pool and you can play with it.
The basic concepts don’t change much from prerelease to prerelease. After everyone has their prerelease pack in front of them, a judge or store worker will tell you to begin. You’ll have thirty minutes or so to open all your packs and create a sealed deck containing at least forty cards. This number includes whatever basic land you choose to put into your deck. Generally speaking you want either twenty-three spells and seventeen land or twenty-four spells and sixteen land. The number ‘forty’ is your friend. It represents the smallest number of cards that your deck can contain and also represents the most cards that the best players will put into their sealed deck. It’s easy to be tempted into squeezing a few more, but it’s not the best way to go. Playing with exactly forty cards gives you the very best possible chance to draw the best cards in your deck sooner.
What’s New in Rivals of Ixalan?
Rivals of Ixalan extends the landscape of Ixalan so it largely consists of the same concepts as Ixalan. Dinosaurs come in red, green and white. Vampires are black and white. Pirates are black, blue and red. Merfolk are blue and green.
There is one important new concept in Rivals of Ixalan, an ability called ascend. When a spell in your hand or a permanent in play cares about ascend, it wants to know if you control ten or more permanents. When you do, you gain something called “the city’s blessing.” The city’s blessing isn’t a permanent, it’s simply a designation that you have for the rest of the game, whether or not you continue to have ten permanents or not. Certain spells in your hand or permanents in play will care about whether you have the city’s blessing. Remember, you can’t lose the city’s blessing once you have it in a game. Lands and tokens count as permanents but spells and emblems do not. Multiple players in the same game can each have the city’s blessing.
It’s slightly more complicated than that. You don’t get the city’s blessing the moment you have ten permanents in play, you have to have ten permanents in play at a time when either a spell with ascend resolves or when the static ability of a permanent checks for the city’s blessing. Gaining the city’s blessing doesn’t use the stack, but, for example, if you were playing a creature that would give you your tenth permanent, an opponent could respond by destroying one or more of your other permanents to keep you from getting the city’s blessing.
The most important thing to think about where the city’s blessing is concerned is whether having it is worthwhile or not. Cards that have the ascend ability are almost like two different spells in one. Each is moderately useful when you do not have the city’s blessing and more powerful when you do. Another way of saying it is that these spells are one thing in the early game, when you don’t yet have ten permanents in play, and another later in the game when you do have ten permanents. While I don’t believe Rivals of Ixalan sealed deck will be quite as fast-paced as Ixalan sealed deck turned out to be, you still want to be careful when considering spells with ascend. Don’t fall in the trap of imagining that you will always have the city’s blessing.
I Love Limited
I’ve been playing Magic since 1994 and limited formats have always been my favorite. I play limited every single day in one way or another. In the rest of this article I’m going to share the best cards from Rivals of Ixalan for sealed deck. I’m sharing my thoughts on the best common and uncommon cards in each color. Rares and mythics are the most powerful cards in Magic, but you only get six of those in your sealed pool (seven including your prerelease foil). I’m more interested in the basic building blocks, the cards that you are going to use to build the bulk of your deck. These are the commons and the uncommons. I’m also listing the colors in order from best to worst. Again, my perspective for this analysis is strictly with regards to sealed deck. These cards will have entirely different levels of usefulness for constructed play, and slightly different values for booster draft. This weekend, the thing that matters is sealed deck. After I’ve listed my favorites in the five colors, I’ll get to the gold cards and artifacts. I don’t believe it’s important to study the nonbasic land cards with regards to sealed deck.
The last thing I want to say before we look at individual cards is that some cards are quite good in a certain archetype and worse than normal in other decks. I tended to judge these cards somewhat harshly. For the purposes of prerelease weekend the best commons and uncommons are the ones that make the cut in any deck playing a particular color.
White was my least favorite color for commons and uncommons in Ixalan. It wasn’t a matter of white not having good cards, it was simply that I liked the commons from the other colors a little bit better. As the Ixalan sealed deck format matured, we learned that white was a very important color in Vampire decks but usually the third best Dinosaur color. That means that with Rivals of Ixalan the white cards with Vampire synergies are probably going to be better than the white cards with Dinosaur synergies.
Everdawn Champion is an uncommon Human Soldier for 1WW. All combat damage that would be dealt to Everdawn Champion is prevented. This is an uncommon that plays like a rare. It’s too bad that she isn’t a part of any of the tribes of Ixalan. I think she might be better in Dinosaur decks than Vampire decks, but she’ll be good in either.
Baffling End is an uncommon enchantment for 1W. When it enters the battlefield Baffling End exiles a target creature your opponent controls that has a converted mana cost of three or less. When Baffling End leaves the battlefield your opponent gets a 3/3 green Dinosaur creature token with trample. Let’s focus on the good news. For just two mana you can permanently get rid of any small threat your opponent can produce. Most players won’t have a spell that can remove Baffling End from the battlefield but if they do they will get a 3/3 trampling Dinosaur token. This card is worth the risk. It’s interesting that another new card, Cleansing Ray, may be played in your opponent’s main deck and can be used to destroy Baffling End. I still think Baffling End is worth it.
Luminous Bonds is a common enchantment aura for 2W. The creature this card enchants cannot attack or block. This is as boring as a card can be, but it’s also white’s best common creature removal spell. It makes the cut one hundred percent of the time.
Martyr of Dusk is a common 2/1 Vampire Soldier for 1W. When this creature dies it creates a 1/1 white Vampire creature token with lifelink. There’s no downside here. You’ll be more excited to have this card in a black/white Vampire deck but it’s so efficient that he’s good enough for any white deck.
Squire’s Devotion is a common enchantment aura for 2W. This gives the creature it enchants +1/+1 and lifelink. Even better, when this enchantment enters the battlefield it creates a Vampire token. This card creates card advantage by giving you a creature token and swings combat into your favor by both powering up the creature it enchants and by giving it lifelink. Lifelink has been a very powerful ability in Ixalan limited already. You can’t fill up a deck with copies of this card, but I’m sure you will want to play one or two whenever you can.
Sun-Crested Pterodon is a common 2/5 Dinosaur with flying for 4W. It has vigilance as long as you control another Dinosaur. With vigilance this is a great bargain for five mana giving you the ability to attack for two while remaining available for blocking with its large butt. When you don’t control another Dinosaur you’ll have to decide which of this creature’s two modes are more important at the time, the attacking or the defending.
I might be the slightest bit biased towards red cards. I may always have been drawn to red spells. The red cards in Ixalan were good right from the start and didn’t tend to be overvalued. On the other hand, red cards don’t tend to surprise you very much. Removal spells and creatures that can be hard to rate.
Bombard is a common instant for 2R that deals four damage to a target creature. Yup. Removal. It’s what’s for dinner. Many large creatures will be destroyed this weekend at instant speed by Bombard.
Frilled Deathspitter is a common 3/2 Dinosaur for 2R. This creature has enrage and deals two points of damage to a target opponent whenever it is dealt damage. This nasty little common trades in combat with slightly larger creatures and deals some free damage to your opponent when it does. Fair enough.
Charging Tuskodon is an uncommon 4/4 Dinosaur for 3RR with trample. If this creature would deal combat damage to a player, it deals double that damage instead. That means that this card always deals eight instead of four when unblocked. This creature’s trample makes its special damage ability even more relevant. If your opponent blocks Charging Tuskodon with a 3/3 not only will the defending creature die but your one point of trample damage will be doubled since it’s hitting your opponent.
Needletooth Raptor is an uncommon 2/2 Dinosaur for 3R. This creature has enrage and deals five damage to a target creature your opponent controls whenever it is dealt damage. Dinosaur decks are usually aggressive and you don’t really get the full value of this card on offense. On the other hand, this card can block a 7/7 and kill it, first with its two points of power in combat and then with its enrage ability. When you play this card on turn four it definitely slows down an aggressive opponent because Needletooth Raptor can be a two-for-one in your favor.
Mutiny is a common sorcery for one red mana. Target creature an opponent controls deals damage equal to its power to another target creature that player controls. This is a lot like a card that causes two creatures to fight. It’s great because it costs only one red mana and can cause a large creature to be destroyed. The bad news is that your opponent has to control two different creatures before you can even play this thing. It’s a little situational but I believe it will almost always make the cut for your deck.
Stampeding Horncrest is a common 4/4 Dinosaur for 4R that has haste as long as you control another Dinosaur. While only a filler creature in non-Dinosaur decks, this is a very good common when you are playing Dinosaurs. You will usually have a Dinosaur in play already when you play Stampeding Horncrest. Opponents will not at all like the idea of a 4/4 creature with haste attacking them on turn five.
Brazen Freebooter is a common 3/3 Human Pirate for 3R that gives you a Treasure token when it enters the battlefield. We don’t get excited about 3/3s for four mana, but this one helps fix and/or accelerate your mana for turn five. I’ll probably play one of these in most decks where red is the main color.
Fanatical Firebrand is a common 1/1 Goblin Pirate for one red mana with haste. You can tap and sacrifice this creature to deal one damage to a creature or player. Veteran players are quick to poop on this card because it isn’t quite as good as Mogg Fanatic. That older card could be sacrificed at any time to deal a point of damage. Fanatical Firebrand has to be tapped, which means you can’t attack and deal a point of damage and then sacrifice it to kill another 1/1. In the Rivals of Ixalan environment, I like the idea of a 1/1 Goblin that I can tap and sacrifice at any time to kill something with one toughness or to finish off a larger creature that only needs one more point of damage to kill.
Green is usually the safe color in sealed deck formats, the color you play when you can’t figure out a better plan and when you just want to make sure you have creatures in play. In Ixalan, green surprised me and was my very favorite single color. I don’t think that’s going to be the case with Rivals of Ixalan.
Strength of the Pack is an uncommon sorcery for 4GG that puts two +1/+1 counters on each creature you control. This card stopped me dead in my tracks the first time I read it. This card serves as this set’s Overrun. This card will be a game ender many times either in Dinosaur or Merfolk decks. It’s just too much power being added to the board all at once in many cases. As good as it is, I’m not completely sure two copies is a good idea, but one copy for sure, every time.
Crested Herdcaller is an uncommon 3/3 Dinosaur for 3GG with trample. When this enters the battlefield it creates a 3/3 green Dinosaur creature token with trample. You got me. Two 3/3 tramplers for five mana. And he’s kind of cute, too. Pretty good card for sealed.
Thrashing Brontodon is an uncommon 3/4 Dinosaur for 1GG. This is a bonus-sized creature for the mana cost, even if it had no other ability. Except that it does! You can pay one generic mana and sacrifices Thrashing Brontodon to destroy a target artifact or enchantment. There are more ways in Rivals of Ixalan to destroy artifacts and enchantments. This is good news for green Ixalan decks that watched a lot of creatures fly over the top enchanted with One With the Wind. This creature is big enough and interesting enough that Merfolk decks should also play it.
Hunt the Weak is a common sorcery for 3G. You put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control and then it fights with a target creature that your opponent controls. I hate to feature a pure reprint, but this will be among the most important commons for green in prerelease sealed decks. Hunt the Weak was first printed in Magic 2014 back in the summer of 2013 (yeah, it confuses me too). This card most recently appeared in Kaladesh and Iconic Masters, if you include reprint sets.
Aggressive Urge is a common green instant for 1G that gives a target creature +1/+1 until end of turn and draws you a card. There are plenty of times in combat where a single point boost to power and/or toughness would help you win the battle. Now you get a pump spell that replaces itself for a very cheap casting cost. I don’t think you can fill up a deck with this card, but two copies might be fine.
Jungleborn Pioneer is a common 2/2 Merfolk Scout for 2G. When it enters the battlefield it creates a 1/1 blue Merfolk creature token with hexproof. That’s three power/toughness for three mana, good enough for any green deck.
I tended to like the black cards of Ixalan more and more in limited as time went along. Even with that experience, I’m not sure these black cards will impress me more and more in the near future.
Ravenous Chupacabra is an uncommon 2/2 Beast Horror for 2BB. When this creature enters the battlefield you destroy a target creature an opponent controls. This is hands down the best black common or uncommon and a must play as long as you have enough black mana sources in your deck.
Dusk Legion Zealot is a common 1/1 Vampire Soldier for 1B. When this enters the battlefield you draw a card and lose one life. While I wouldn’t call this card the smoothest way to gain card advantage, turn two is an excellent time to draw a card even if it costs you one life. Early in games, this card moves you closer to the land you need to get established.
Moment of Craving is a common instant for 1B that gives a target creature -2/-2 until end of turn and gains two life for you. This card straight up kills opposing creatures in the early game and gives you the upper hand in important combats between larger creatures later in the game.
Dinosaur Hunter is a common 2/2 Human Pirate for 1B. When this creature deals damage to a Dinosaur, destroy that creature. In general, this is just a simple 2/2 for two mana, it fits the curve of any black deck but obviously wants to be in a Pirate deck. This card’s ability could almost have been called “deathtouch versus Dinosaurs.” In sealed deck, where two and three-colored Dinosaur decks will be predictably popular, Dinosaur Hunter is a little better than the average bear.
Sadistic Skymarcher is an uncommon 2/2 Vampire Soldier for 2B with flying and lifelink. As an additional cost to play this card you either reveal a Vampire card from your hand or pay one mana of any color. While obviously best on turn three in a deck full of Vampires, you will never regret getting yourself a flyer with lifelink in any situation even if it costs you four mana.
Forerunner of the Coalition is an uncommon 2/2 Human Pirate for 2B. When this enters the battlefield you may search your library for a Pirate card and reveal it to your opponent and put it on top of your library. Whenever another Pirate enters the battlefield on your side of the board each opponent loses one life. You can go get your best Pirate on turn three and have it to play on turn four. It might not even be your best Pirate, it might be the Pirate you need to create a Treasure token or the Pirate you want to play with explore. This card gives Pirate decks a lot of options but does nothing obviously for non-Pirate decks.
Mausoleum Harpy is an uncommon 3/3 Harpy with flying for 4B. This card has ascend. When another creature you control dies, if you have the city’s blessing, put a +1/+1 counter on Mausoleum Harpy. This is a decent enough creature even without ten permanents in play. With the city’s blessing, however, this becomes a very dangerous card, encouraging you to attack with your ground crew in order to put more counters on your Harpy.
Dusk Charger is a common 3/3 Horse for 3B. This creature has +2/+2 as long as you have the city’s blessing. Most of the time, in real life, you actually have to literally have your city’s legal blessing in order to have a horse on your property. While this is mostly a 3/3 for four mana with no tribal synergy, the upside is that it fits into two types of decks most likely to gain the city’s blessing, black-based Pirate decks with Treasure tokens and black/white Vampire decks with creature tokens. A horse walks into a Magic expansion set. Magic R&D says, “We don’t get many horses in here.” Dusk Charger says, “Yeah, and at these mana prices you won’t get many more!”
As much as I adore counter-magic and flying creatures and spells that let me draw cards, blue is often not among my favorite colors for sealed deck. Blue was a good color in Ixalan sealed, both in Pirate and Merfolk decks.
Expel from Orazca is an uncommon instant for 1U. This card has the ascend ability. Return target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand. If you have the city’s blessing you can choose to return the targeted permanent to the top of its owner’s library instead. This card is a good bounce spell that can hit any nonland permanent. Once you have the city’s blessing later in the game, this spell gets even better. Putting a card on top of your opponent’s library for just two mana is extremely powerful.
Siren Reaver is an uncommon 3/2 Siren Pirate with flying for 3U. It has a raid ability. This spell costs one generic mana less to cast if you attacked with a creature this turn. If your deck has an appropriate curve with some two-drops you should have no problem attacking on turn three and then playing this 3/2 flyer for just 2U. This card fits Pirate decks best but is just the kind of flying nuisance that would also be useful in Merfolk decks.
Crashing Tide is a common sorcery for 2U. Return a target creature to its owner’s hand and then you draw a card. This card has flash as long as you control a Merfolk. Once you have cast Crashing Tide and put it on the stack your opponent can’t remove your Merfolk from play to cause Crashing Tide to no longer have flash. On the other hand, Crashing Tide only has one target so if your opponent removes this spell’s target before it resolves Crashing Tide will be countered and you won’t get to draw a card. This card is playable without Merfolk but becomes twice as good when you do.
Deadeye Rig-Hauler is a common 3/2 Human Pirate for 3U. It has a raid ability. When this creature enters the battlefield, if you attacked with a creature this turn, you may return a target creature to its owner’s hand. You attack with a flyer, for example, or any creature. Then play Deadeye Rig-Hauler after combat to either bounce a large creature on the other side of the board or else bounce one of your own that has some useful enters-the-battlefield ability, or maybe one of your creatures that has been enchanted with something that you’d like to get rid of.
Hornswaggle is an uncommon instant for 2U that counters a target creature spell and gives you a Treasure token. When Essence Scatter was in limited last summer, it was extremely useful. It’s harder to have three mana open for Hornswaggle. You know when you will have three mana and no creature to play? When you’re waiting for a second (or possibly third) color of mana to come around. You counter your opponent’s next creature play with Hornswaggle and get the access to another color of mana that you may sorely need. Also, on the play, you may very well counter a three-drop from your opponent, get a Treasure token, play a fourth land on your fourth turn and immediately play a five-drop using the Treasure token.
Kitesail Corsair is a common 2/1 Human Pirate for 1U. As long as it’s attacking, this creature has flying. This is an excellent curve-card, a simple two-powered creature you can play on turn two. As far as I’m concerned, this is a 2/1 flyer for two mana. The only thing that you can’t do is block a flyer with it. I happily accept that limitation for the ability to have a 2/1 flyer for two mana at common.
There are no multicolored commons in Rivals of Ixalan, but here are the five best uncommon gold cards for sealed deck.
Raging Regisaur is an uncommon 4/4 Dinosaur for 2RG. When this creature attacks it deals one damage to a target creature or player. If it were simply a 4/4 for four mana, it would be a pretty good creature. The ability to deal one damage when it attacks is very useful. You might choose to damage your own creature to trigger an enrage ability, you might use it to take out a one-toughness creature on the other side of the board before your opponent decides to chump block with it. If nothing else, you poke your opponent for a point as you attack.
Atzocan Seer is an uncommon 2/3 Human Druid for 1GW. You can tap Seer for one mana of any color. You can sacrifice Seer to return a Dinosaur card from your graveyard to your hand. A decent body at 2/3, Atzocan Seer is perfect for mana-hungry Dinosaur decks. It’s amazing that you can sacrifice his creature at any time to return a Dinosaur to your hand from the graveyard. This card is best on turn three but good at any point in the game for a Dinosaur deck.
Dire Fleet Neckbreaker is an uncommon 3/2 Orc Pirate for 2BR that gives all attacking Pirates you control +2/+0. With only a toughness of two, the strength of this card isn’t attacking by itself. The big move is to play this creature and then surprise your opponent by attacking with all the Pirates you already have in play, all suddenly pumped up significantly by Dire Fleet Neckbreaker. Best in the more aggressive Pirate decks.
Storm Fleet Sprinter is an uncommon 2/2 Human Pirate for 1UR with haste. This creature can’t be blocked. I’m very excited about this card. It adds evasion and speed to Pirate decks.
Jungle Creeper is an uncommon 3/3 Elemental for 1BG. You can pay 3BG to return this creature to your hand from the graveyard. This is a wonderful 3/3 for three mana that, in the long game, is very hard to get rid of. Now the bad news. There aren’t very many reasons to play green and black together in this format. If there were, this would be my favorite uncommon in the set. Maybe you’re in Pirates and use Treasure tokens to play Jungle Creeper. Five Color Green is a deck that you might make happen if you get enough color fixing among your green cards. See also Atzocan Seer. Tough to find a deck for, Jungle Creeper is an amazing creature for an uncommon.
Traveler’s Amulet is a common artifact for one generic mana. Pay one mana of any color and sacrifice the Amulet to search your library revealing and putting a basic land into your hand. This is a proven tool for fixing your mana color issues in any deck although it’s only truly essential in three-colored decks, something I hope we all avoid this weekend. This card was first printed in Innistrad seven years ago and also appeared in Theros and Hour of Devastation.
Strider Harness is a common artifact equipment for three generic mana. It costs only one generic mana to equip this to a creature. The equipped creature gains +1/+1 and haste. Originally printed eight years ago in Scars of Mirrodin, Strider Harness proved to very useful back then. It fits better in Dinosaur decks, if it fits anywhere. I can tell you from experience that while you hate it the turn you spend three mana to play it, you always appreciate it when you equip it to a creature you just played for only one mana to give it haste.
Gleaming Barrier is a common 0/4 Artifact Wall with defender for two generic mana. When this creature dies you get a Treasure token, but this creature’s real purpose is to show up early and keep the heat off of you while you build up your army. I’m no fan of walls, but this card could come in handy if you find you have a serious lack of early game plays.
Orazca Relic is a common artifact for three generic mana. This card has ascend. You can tap it for one colorless mana. If you have the city’s blessing you can tap and sacrifice this card to gain three life and draw a card. The three-casting-cost mana rock from Ixalan proved itself to be almost unplayable in sealed deck and draft. I don’t expect much better from Orazca Relic.
From the first Rivals of Ixalan cards that were spoiled, I had the feeling that Wizards of the Coast wanted the new set to play a little more slowly than Ixalan in sealed deck play. After reviewing the commons and uncommons, the cards that are actually going to represent the largest part of decks this weekend, I believe I see a sealed format at least as fast as Ixalan. That’s bad news for the more intricate cards in the set. I hope I’m wrong. I’d like to see the slower, more powerful cards have a chance to shine. I like aggressive decks, but I don’t like limited formats where the only viable decks are fast ones. Zendikar had this problem years ago. It’s hard to believe, but in Zendikar limited the sealed decks were as fast as the booster draft decks.
Ixalan proved to be interesting for sealed. Tribal synergies proved to be very important. I predict we will see the same with Rivals of Ixalan.
Good luck this weekend, I hope we all get a big kick out of the new cards.
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