Over the week leading up to GP New Jersey, I saw a surprising trend of professional players discussing the ease with which they could attend, if the format were not so bad. I had never seen professional players skip a Limited event before, and it led me to wonder, will Rivals improve the experience of playing this limited format? Let’s look at a few aspects of Rivals that could lead to better drafts and gameplay!

Less Explore

One of the issues I had with Ixalan was the prevalence of explore. This mechanic introduced considerable variance into games, as the outcome of an explore trigger often had a significant effect on the game’s outcome. Drawing a land instead of scrying and getting a +1/+1 counter ended up being a real cost, and one that had consequences for the viability of creatures with explore. Reducing the number of creatures with explore limits the variance in each game, and additionally will lead to more meaningful decision opportunities for players.

Higher Base Power Level

While both Ixalan and Rivals have some incredibly powerful bomb rares, the base power level of cards in Ixalan was relatively low. This paucity of high-quality cards made it more crucial to engage in tribal synergies to draft viable decks, and consequently limited the number of viable draft archetypes. Rivals, on the other hand, seems to have a number of independently powerful cards in both the uncommon and common slots. I believe this will allow players to engage in draft strategies that don’t require strict adherence to tribal indicators and that utilize more diverse color combinations than were possible in Ixalan. This will, in turn, lead to stronger signals during draft, and will give opportunities for players to learn about and take advantage of alternate draft strategies.


Ascend is a fascinating mechanic, not so much because of the effects it allows creatures to produce, but because of how it influences the format’s gameplay. For players drafting cards with ascend, there are numerous ways to attain the city’s blessing; you can accumulate creatures, treasures, or just look to prolong the game until you’ve reached 10 permanents. Consequently, ascend is a mechanic that discourages aggressive strategies, and is only maximized in decks that retain permanents and survive to the late game. I like this mechanic in part because longer games increase the number of decision points, and consequently tend to lead to more interesting games. Another advantage, however, is that during the draft itself, cards with ascend will influence the strategies players attempt to develop. This means ascend cards can fit into decks featuring tribal synergies like Vampires, or they can be integrated into decks that rely less on tribal synergies and more on utilizing individually powerful cards to make it to the late game. This will improve the diversity of viable draft strategies, and likely allow for more unique game states!

Altogether, Rivals is shaping up to be a fun and interesting set! With new mechanics, powerful cards, and novel strategies to investigate, I believe it will support and improve on the strategies in Ixalan, leading to better gameplay and draft experiences! What do you think, will Rivals be a fun draft format?