Ixalan will be the go to Limited format for the rest of the year, as Rivals won’t drop until the 19th of January. After an initial rough run with the format, I’ve gotten a better handle on Ixalan and have managed some pretty decent results so far. I 5-0’d a PPTQ online last week and am floating a 1900~ rating atm. I’ve played both Sealed and Draft so far, but today’s article will focus mostly on Sealed (look for a video/write-up on Draft next week).
I’ll spare you a long winded introduction and get right to the meat and dinosaur bones of Sealed.
Generally, the average Sealed format is slower, weaker, and more bomb dependent than its Draft counterpart. Ixalan Sealed has these qualities, but also has a strong tribal theme that has a very real influence on how I build pools. Though most decks ultimately do not cleanly fall into one tribe, fully grasping what your pool offers for each tribe is important to optimizing your 40. Expect to spend a few minutes agonizing over which filler 2 or 3 drop you maindeck before you press “Play”. Here’s a quick mechanical recap for Ixalan:
Enrage is an ability on certain white/red/green Dinosaurs that triggers when a creature takes damage. Enrage discourages your opponent’s from blocking or attacking into your Dinosaurs. Common/uncommon Enrage enablers include Rile, Pounce, Savage Stomp, and Raging Swordtooth.
Explore is a triggered ability on creatures that usually occurs on “Come into play”. Exploring involves looking at the top card of your deck, then taking a different action based on whether it is a nonland or not. If it is a land, you draw the card. If it’s a nonland, you choose to leave it on top or put it into your graveyard, and your creature gains a +1/1 counter either way. Think of Explore as “Scry 1, +1/+1 – or draw a card”. Explore is a very powerful mechanic, especially in less aggressive decks.
Raid is a returning mechanic from Khans of Tarkir that encourages aggression. It appears on Pirate creatures in Grixis colors. The presence of Raid and good combat tricks in the format makes discerning your opponent’s intentions extra important. Raid also makes weak, evasive creatures more valuable than normal (Blight Keeper is actually playable, for example). One very important Raid card to play around is Storm Fleet Pyromancer, which can finish off big blockers or punish you for being too passive during combat.
Treasure is a named take on Gold/Eterium Cells that is an added bonus generated by many cards. These artifacts can be sacrificed at any time for one mana of any color, enabling fast mana, greedy splashes, and surprise combat tricks. Treasure has been most useful so far in controlling decks, although plenty of decks will feature cards that incidentally make Treasure.
Fixing and Number of Lands
In terms of how many colors you should expect to play, there are a few approaches. Two colors with consistent mana works well if you have solid removal spells (hopefully at least 3) in-between your two colors and no easily splashed/excellent cards otherwise. Two for a 1-2 card splash (often off of a 8/7/2 mana base, +any Treasure or other fixers) is common when you have a busted rare (i.e. Captivating Crew, Hostage Taker, Huatli, Warrior Poet, Regisaur Alpha) in a color you aren’t playing. True 3c with bad mana (7/5/4 or something) is a fail case if you have weak pool that needs to lean on a 3c tribal build to compete. I’ve played 4c twice so far, but I was simply splashing two off color rares with only Treasures/Unknown Shores. Expect to mainly play 2 and a splash or just 2 colors.
Ixalan is a 16-17 land format. Decks I’ve had that would play 18+ lands generally play nonland mana sources (Blossom Dryad, New Horizons, Treasure makers) over more lands. If your curve tops at 2-3 5s and is largely 2s and 3s, you’ll want to run 16 lands. Other decks should play 17, as stumbling is brutal in this format. Common ways to orient mana include:
8 / 8 in 16
9-10 / 7-8 in 17
8 / 6 / 1 / Unknown Shores in 16 with a splash
8 / 7 / 2 in 17 with a splash, preferably with Treasure to compensate
Try not to go below 8 sources if you have many cards in a color. Frank Karsten penned the holy grail on mana nearly 4 years ago here, but it’s impossible to always to hit his 90~% figures in Limited.
Here are three example decks, two 16s and one 17 (apologies for the two smaller screenshots):
I’m not going to cover every single card in the set here, but below are some important cards to keep in mind when choosing your colors/building your deck. Italics represents an uncommon. Rares/mythics are ignored for now, unless specifying an unplayable one.
Removal spells: Bright Reprisal, Ixalan’s Binding, Pious Interdiction, Legion’s Judgement
Premium creatures: Adanto Vanguard, Emissary of Sunrise, Glorifier of Dusk, Imperial Aerosaur, Steadfast Armasaur, Territorial Hammerskull
Good filler: Bishop’s Soldier, Inspiring Cleric, Legion Conquistador (if you open 2+), Paladin of the Bloodstained, Shining Aerosaur
Other notable cards: Rallying Roar, Sheltering Light, Vampire’s Zeal
Unplayables: Ashes of the Abhorrent (rare), Demystify (maindeck), Encampment Keeper, Sanguine Sacrament (rare)
Ixalan’s Binding is as premium as you’d expect an O-Ring style effect to be in Limited, and makes for a common splash off of Treasure or New Horizons. Bright Reprisal is a maindeckable card in a controlling/midrange build, but you may want to board it out after catching your opponent with it the first time (as it can be a liability if played around). Keep in mind that Bright Reprisal and Snapping Sailback (or even Settle the Wreckage) is an excellent combo. Your opponent may play into one expecting the other, or simply become paralyzed and not make attacks when you have lands in hand. Try not to F6 if you’re trying to bluff this (just manually go through all phases, but don’t linger too much). If you’re playing in person, normal poker face advice applies.
White has two common removal spells in this set. Pious Interdiction is a bit clunky and fails to answer certain bombs (Waker of the Wilds, Captivating Crew, Verdant Sun’s Avatar, etc) but is still the better of the two. I’ve splashed it before in RG and was fairly happy with it, and recommend playing any copies you open if you’re in white. Legion’s Judgment can answer a few rares that Pious Interdiction can not, but fails to find targets frequently against non-Dinosaur decks. I’d recommend starting the first copy and boarding into any additional copies (if you have them) when you see cards that die to it. Adding a splashed Legion’s Judgment to your deck (off Treasure/Unknown Shores) can be a nice countermeasure to broken rares (Vona, Butcher of Magan for example) in games 2/3.
Territorial Hammerskull is the best white common, and is about as efficient as you’d expect a premium uncommon to be despite its rarity. The last time I remember having this effect at common it was on a 4 mana 3/2 (Fiend Binder, from Eldritch Moon) which was playable but not nearly as good. The rest of the listed creatures are all great uncommons. If you haven’t played a turn 2 Adanto Vanguard yet, I recommend trying that. It’s shockingly close to a 3/1 unblockable for 2, and is immune to all kinds of removal spells/tricks.
Overall white has some solid weenie creatures, uncommons, and great removal for answering larger creatures. The Vampire cards in white support a go wide approach, while the Dinosaur cards hedge for more of a midrange/ramp style of deck.
Removal spells: …you tried blue. That’s what counts.
Premium creatures: Air Elemental, Prosperous Pirates, Siren Stormtamer, Tempest Caller, Watertrap Weaver
Good filler: Headwater Sentries, Opt (noncreature), Sailor of Means, Shipwreck Looter, Siren Lookout, Storm Fleet Aerialist, Storm Fleet Spy, Storm Scupltor, Wind Strider
Other: Chart a Course, Depths of Desire, Favorable Winds, One With the Wind, Perilous Voyage, Run Aground, Siren’s Ruse
Unplayables: Arcane Adaptation, Navigator’s Ruin, Shore Keeper (in aggro)
Blue plays out differently than most sets thanks to the Treasure mechanic, which casts blue as a potential color for making greedy splashes. Despite this, blue seems a bit less controlling than it generally is, with many of its cards pushing an aggressive tempo/fliers plan. Blue has no removal beyond bounce/Run Aground, so you’ll need to look to your other colors for answers to bombs. Run Aground is too expensive to be premium but can be brutal in certain match-ups.
Premium uncommons in blue include Air Elemental (boring but solid reprint of an always great Limited card), Siren Stormtamer, Tempest Caller, and Chart a Course. Siren Stormtamer looks innocuous but wears Pirate’s Cutlass like a champ, while conveniently protecting your better creatures from removal. Tempest Caller reads “2UU: win any stalled game” with a bad but not completely useless fail case of being a 4 mana 2/3. It’s a windmill slam finisher for all but the most controlling decks (I had a UB deck that played both Star of Extinction and Overwhelming Insight which wouldn’t have played it, for instance). Chart a Course is very easy to draw 2 cards with (and at worst is a better Tormenting Voice).
The best blue common is Watertrap Weaver, a Frost Lynx reprint with relevant tribal. It’s brutal in 2 – 3 – 4 curveouts and also an effective countermeasure to big dumb dinosaurs. The rest of Blues commons that I mentioned are either efficient fliers or ways to generate Treasure for splashes. Headwater Sentries is technically neither but I’ve been impressed with its 5 toughness, even if it looks like bad filler. Having a Sentries blank your opponent’s early plays allows you to save removal to deal with their rares later.
3+c blue control decks will want to play every copy of Prosperous Pirates/Sailor of Means they open. Depths of Desire is pretty inefficient, and actually seems more effective in control decks than aggro decks so far (mostly because it makes a Treasure). If you have enough Treasure makers otherwise I wouldn’t bother with it.
Favorable Winds ranges from unplayable to excellent depending the # of fliers in your deck. I’d hope for at least 7+ fliers before playing it. Siren’s Ruse is a solid one-of in a deck with a decent number of Pirates, especially if those Pirates come into play with explore or Treasure generation. It plays pretty well with Storm Fleet Pyromancer too. One With the Wind is a risky but powerful Aura that has really impressed me in this format so far. The removal is sparse and clunky and most of the fliers are small. One with the Wind also plays incredibly well with Jade Guardian; being able to make Sigarda, Host of Herons with two commons is no joke!
I expect Blue to be the least played color in Sealed. By all means play Blue if you have a strong tempo game plan, but try not to force Treasure control unless you have awesome high end. Both Merfolk and Pirates (Blue’s two tribes) are looking to play a tempo plan.
Removal spells: Contract Killing, Dark Nourishment, Skulduggery, Vanquish the Weak, Walk the Plank
Premium creatures: Deathless Ancient, Seeker’s Squire, Wanted Scoundrels
Good filler: Anointed Decon, Deadeye Tormentor, Dire Fleet Hoarder, Dire Fleet Interloper, Fathom Fleet Cutthroat, Kitesail Freebooter, Ruthless Knave, Skittering Heartstopper, Skymarch Bloodletter
Other: Costly Plunder, Grim Captain’s Call, Heartless Pillage, Lurking Chupacabra, March of the Drowned, Queen’s Agent, Raider’s Wake
Unplayables: Duress (maindeck), Spreading Rot, Sword-point Diplomacy (rare)
Black’s creature removal is the best of any color, although not by a particularly wide margin. Contract Killing is solid in Draft but the best black common in Sealed, where the slower pace and higher density of splashed rares makes its unconditional nature and Treasure generation excellent. Vanquish the Weak kills a good chunk of the format at a decent rate with Instant speed. Opening multiple copies of both is a great way to end up playing a base black deck. I’ve found Walk the Plank to be excellent, as I’ve played with it about 4 times so far and have yet to be daggered by the “non-Merfolk” text. Dark Nourishment is Lightning Helix for 5 mana. It doesn’t win any awards for efficiency, but you probably won’t cut it if you are playing black.
Skulduggery is more of a combat trick than a removal spell, of course, but still deserves a paragraph of its own. This card has overperformed fantastically. There are a fair number of x/1s in the format, and lots of combat that occurs with small, similarly sized creatures. A 1 mana, tempo positive trick with the potential to 2 for 1 is just busted at common. But don’t just take my word for it; Check out this 4 for 1 Skulduggery by LSV here. The first Skulduggery should always make the cut, the second is still good, and any additional copies can come in after board when you see x/1s. Do keep in mind though that you must control a creature to cast it; you cannot kill an empty board Raptor Companion with Skulduggery.
Black’s creatures tend to be a bit lower quality overall. Their best ones are Deathless Ancient, Seeker’s Squire, Wanted Scoundrels, and probably Skymarch Bloodletter at common. Deathless Ancient is an exceptional finisher for Vampires, but is playable with 0 Vampires as a 6 mana 4/4 flier. Seeker’s Squire is pure value and is essentially a good green 2 drop in black. Wanted Scoundrels has over-performed from my experiences, even in more controlling builds. A 4/3 can trade up with creatures easily and also get free wins if you curve out with it into removal/tappers from T2 onward. Its drawback shrinks substantially as the game goes on as well, though you may want to board it out against a multiples of Lightning Strike/Walk the Plank/Legion’s Judgment.
Black’s filler creatures tend to play best in an attrition strategy. Dire Fleet Hoarder and Skittering Heartstopper provide solid defense against ground based creatures, and can trade up mana wise. Most opponents will try to avoid trading with Dire Fleet Hoarder until around mid game. Black’s best aggressive commons are Deadeye Tormentor, Fathom Fleet Cutthroat, and Skymarch Bloodletter. Tormentor wants to be played alongside a good # of 2 drops. Cutthroat essentially has pseudo Raid and is a solid curve topper in aggro Pirates. Bloodletter is Wind Drake with slight upside and rarely gets cut from any black deck, even when Vampire tribal is irrelevant. Anointed Deacon requires 6+ Vampires to be great but can lead to trade ups and attacks as a 5/3 for 5 on its own at worst.
The “Other” Black cards I’ve listed each deserve a blurb. Costly Plunder can be useful with Hijack, Captivating Crew, or lots of tokens/treasure, but rarely makes the cut as it forces you to jump through hoops simply to get a “draw 2”. Grim Captain’s Call reads like a joke card but can regularly be a 3 for 1 in decks with 3+ of multiple creature types. It plays best in a BG deck, as the two colors together can provide creatures of all four tribes. There aren’t many 2 for 1s in Ixalan besides Explore, so I’ve found Heartless Pillage to be very good (Raid trigger or not). Lurking Chupacabra wants 4+ cards with Explore before you main deck it, but I’ve been happy boarding it in against x/2s even with only 3 explorers.
March of the Drowned is one of the few non-Explore 2 for 1s in Ixalan and is Raise Dead at worst. Queen’s Agent looks like a terrible card but actually makes a solid curve topper in a controlling deck. It’s also a potential sideboard card against someone trying to race you with fliers. Lastly, Raider’s Wake is a terrible card to start (utterly useless against aggro, weak on the draw, weak when behind), but makes for an effective sideboard card in the aggro vs control matchup. If your opponent stumbles and you stick a Turn 4 Wake, it can utterly dominate games.
Removal spells: Fiery Cannonade, Firecannon Blast, Lightning Strike, Unfriendly Fire
Premium creatures: Bonded Horncrest (in aggro), Charging Monstrosaur, Lightning-Rig Crew, Raptor Hatchling, Storm Fleet Arsonist
Good filler: Brazen Buccaneers, Fathom Fleet Firebrand, Headstrong Brute, Storm Fleet Pyromancer, Tilonalli’s Knight, Thrash of Raptors
Other: Dinosaur Stampede, Dual Shot, Rile, Rummaging Goblin, Sure Strike, Trove of Temptation
Unplayables: Demolish (maindeck), Tilonalli’s Skinshifter (rare)
Red is generally an aggressive color, as you’d expect. For removal, red has Firecannon Blast and Unfriendly Fire at common. Firecannon Blast is the best red common, as it can kill most 4 CMCs and under without Raid, and essentially every non Brontosaur creature when Raided. Unfriendly Fire is clunky but Instant and goes face; if you open multiples, play all of them and avoid mediocre 5 drop creatures. Lightning Strike is a much sleeker Unfriendly Fire. Both are splashable if your mana can support it and you need the removal/reach. Fiery Cannonade is the only non-rare sweeper in the format. It’s splash worthy in Pirate or x/3 heavy builds and can lead to some serious blowouts, but you will have to board it out against decks with many Pirates and/or few x/2s.
Charging Monstrosaur may be the best uncommon in the entire set, as Reality Smasher stats on an uncommon is unreal. Bonded Horncrest must be played alongside a lot of 2s/3s to be good, but it’s worth doing so as it has the keyword “big” and tends to smash face. Lightning-Rig Crew is a 1 / 5 Vigilance unblockable even with 0 other Pirates in your deck, which is a card I’d be happy to play for 2R. Raptor Hatchling looks innocuous, but it’s powerful in a race (chump block + 2 mana 3/3) and strong with tricks that pump toughness. Storm Fleet Arsonist has a pretty broken best case scenario if Raided on Turn 5, so it’s worth running a 5 mana 4/4 just to spike some free wins from my experience.
Red has some solid creatures at common in Ixalan. As I said at the start of this article, your choice of curve filler will often be based on tribal incentives. Most of the “good filler” listed above can go in any deck though, with the exception of Headstrong Brute. The card is reserved for aggressive Pirate builds only (as not blocking ever is pretty rough) but is about as good as 3 gets for that kind of deck.
Other notable red cards I’ve noted include Dinosaur Stampede, Dual Shot, Rile, Rummaging Goblin, and Trove of Temptation. Dinosaur Stampede is Trumpet Blast with minor upside, and plays very well with Flying/Menace creatures. It’s probably at its best in an aggressive RW deck with cards such as Territorial Hammerskull, Sky Terror, and even Fire Shrine Keeper. Dual Shot and Rile are Enrage enablers, although Dual Shot is also an effective sideboard card against x/1s. There actually aren’t too many cards with Enrage though, so I’d recommend running these only when you have the really good ones like Ranging Raptors, Bellowing Aegisaur, and Ripjaw Raptor in your deck.
Rummaging Goblin looked terrible at first to me, as there are a few x/1 killing effects and the body itself is a mulligan. However, Ixalan is a brutal format without too many inbuilt ways to manage mana shorts/floods, so I’ve found playing 1-2 Rummaging Goblins to be acceptable in slower decks. At the very least, the first copy can theoretically leverage any lands you draw after land 6 or so. Trove of Temptation is a high variance card that at once provides mana, color fixing, disruption and potential card advantage (if your opponent is forced to make bad attacks). It’s pretty weak in short, aggressive games though. I start Trove in all but the most low curve red decks, especially if the Treasure is relevant for splashes.
Removal spells: Pounce, Savage Stomp
Premium creatures: Drover of the Mighty, Grazing Whiptail, Merfolk Branchwalker, Ranging Raptors, Snapping Sailback, Tiashana’s Wayfinder, Thundering Spineback (in certain builds), Vineshaper Mystic
Good filler: Atzocan Archer, Blossom Dryad, Commune with Dinosaurs, Deeproot Warrior, Ixalli’s Diviner, Ixalli’s Keeper, Jade Guardian
Other: Crash the Ramparts, New Horizons, River Herald’s Boon, Verdant Rebirth, Wildgrowth Walker
Unplayables: Blinding Fog, Old-Growth Dryads (rare), Shapers’ Sanctuary (rare, maindeck)
Both of green’s removal spells in Ixalan are fights. Pounce is Instant, triggers Enrage, and can be effective measure against combat tricks. It’s a premium green common, but do keep in mind you may need to trim Pounces in certain match-ups (as sizing is crucial to whether or not the card is useful). In the Merfolk vs Dinosaurs match-up, for example, you may want to play less Pounce and more bounce/One With the Wind/etc. Savage Stomp ranges from great to completely absurd, depending on whether or not a Dinosaur is doing the stomping. It’s a splash level removal spell that should certainly catch your eye when evaluating a new pool.
Drover of the Mighty is probably the best T2 play the format. Making it a 3/3 is trivial and even a “1G 1/1 Tap: Add one of any color” would be great. Grazing Whiptail is fairly efficient but more importantly fills an important role at common, keeping opposing fliers honest and stopping Raids. Merfolk Branchwalker and Tiashana’s Wayfinder are rarity/curve shifted versions of the same card, and both provide picture perfect curve filler. Snapping Sailback is one of the first “gotchas” of the format, but packs enough stats to be powerful even if your opponent is wary of it. Thundering Spineback is an excellent midrange/ramp card, but I wouldn’t recommend playing it without at least 17 lands/mana sources in your deck. Not every deck in this format will care to reach 7 mana. Lastly, Vineshaper Mystic is a 2/4 for 3 on its own (decent) and a 3/5 for 3 if you control another Merfolk (great).
Most of the good filler listed are simply efficient creatures at 2-4 mana. Commune with Dinosaurs, on the other hand, is a consistency piece that is a bit less narrow than it looks at first glance. Even with only 4+ (good) Dinosaurs, I’ve been pretty happy with it. At worst, it gets a land and gives you a good crack at color fixing. At best, you pull Regisaur Alpha 5th from the top as your opponent sighs and concedes next turn. New Horizons has also impressed, as putting +1/1 counter on a creature is much more impactful than the “gain 2-3 life” similar cards had in past formats. Expect to play it in most decks that play 6+ drops, even if you aren’t 3c. Blossoming Dryad goes in similar decks and also makes for an excellent combo with New Horizons. Keep in mind that the “Untap target land” ability can also be abused with any of the rares that flip into lands.
The other cards listed are tricks and Wildgrowth Walker. Crash the Ramparts is an OK 1-of but nothing special. The most important thing about it is to remember that it exists when making blocks, so as to not get trampled to death randomly. Verdant Rebirth is similar to Costly Plunder in that it is essentially asking you to work for a Divination, but it cycles (just target their creature) when it’s dead, is easier to setup, and draws a guaranteed creature when it works. Wildgrowth Walker is a simple case; play it with 4+ Explore cards and/or if you need a 2, but otherwise don’t start it as a blank 1/3 is pretty weak.
As with most recent sets, the multicolor uncommons of Ixalan clue you in to the identity of color pairs. Ixalan is notable for lacking these “flagpost uncommons” in UW and GB. Here’s a bit about each and how big of a draw they are:
Belligerent Brontodon – This is a big dumb idiot with a big dumb dream, wherein it comes down on Turn 7 and rallies your 0/3 Kinjali’s Callers and 1/7 Looming Altisaurs (4 mana 7/7 anyone?) to victory. But in practice, this is an underwhelming 7 mana 6/6 on its own, and there isn’t much in Ixalan in the way of support for this. Leave this one in your sideboard unless you really know what you’re doing.
Call to the Feast – 3 Lifelink bodies for 4 mana and 1 card is a pretty good rate. It’s interesting how much more powerful this feels than Queen’s Commission, given how similar they are. A controlling UB deck should consider splashing this off Treasure, and this by itself is a reasonable incentive to play BW Vampires.
Deadeye Plunderers – Arguably one of the best cards for the “Treasure control” archetype I’ve mentioned a few times, where booty and durdling go hand in hand. This starts as a 5 mana 4/4 or 5/5 and then has the ability to gain +1/+1 and generate Treasure at Instant speed. After a few turns of hoarding it punches out Ancient Brontodons and demands a chump blocker every single turn. I don’t recommend splashing it off Treasure (as you need UB from lands consistently to use the ability) but consider it a powerful draw to playing UB.
Dire Fleet Captain – A reward, rather than an incentive, for playing RB beatdown deck with a lot of Pirates. Don’t splash this in UB, and don’t fret if you’re RB and lacking 10+ Pirates. This is a 2/2 for 2 at worst.
Marauding Looter – This Pirate, on the other hand, makes for a solid splash in RB/UB decks. 4/3 for 4 is average at worst and the ability is excellent, given how little use most decks have for excess lands. Cards such as Marauding Looter are a decent incentive to play evasive creatures you may not have otherwise played.
Raging Swordtooth – I haven’t found the Enrage dream to come up too often with this one, but a 5/5 Trampler is pretty great on its own. It also picks up x/1s and potentially finishes off creatures after blocks, especially if it’s being cast off of Treasure from a non RG deck. Raging Swordtooth is a splash worthy creature, although you’ll want to trim any x/1s in your deck for alternatives if you can.
Shapers of Nature – This is the best multicolor uncommon in the set, and one of my favorite splashes. A 3/3 for 3 with two powerful activated abilities is just so far above the curve of Ixalan that this honestly manhandles most rares. I prefer to be base green when splashing this, as the first ability (3G: Put a +1/1 counter on target creature) is more powerful than the second.
Sky Terror – As with Dire Fleet Captain, this is more of a reward for being RW than a splashable bomb. It’s a much better card though, as Menace + Flying is effectively unblockable. If you open Sky Terror(s) and poor rares/bombs, RW Aggro may be one of your best chances for victory.
There aren’t enough artifacts or non-basic lands in Ixalan for this to be a large section. Pirate’s Cutlass is the main artifact worth writing about, and I’m honestly surprised it was a common. Even with only 4+ Pirates or so, the card has over-performed, essentially bringing the best of Auras (instant +X/+X) and equipment (not 2 for 1’d if the creature dies, trade ups/card advantage in very long games).
Unknown Shores isn’t Evolving Wilds, unfortunately, but it’s an acceptable way to splash powerful cards like Shapers of Nature, Captivating Crew, etc. Before putting Unknown Shores in your deck, ask yourself “Would I be playing this splashed card if it was +1 mana?”. If the answer is “yes”, run Shores. Unclaimed Territory fails to cast any splashed removal spells but can be useful if your splash intersects with your other creature types.
Putting It All Together
The above covers each color/the best cards they have to offer. But this is Ixalan, and you will often play slightly worse cards to reap the rewards of powerful tribal incentives. Here’s what each tribe has to offer.
Anything that is a “Dinosaur” is an enabler. The best rewards are Otepec Huntmaster, Savage Stomp, Thrash of Raptors and Thundering Spineback. Without these cards, there aren’t too many incentives to play Dinosaurs for their tribe. Expect to mix and match most Dinosaur builds with good cards from other tribes.
Merfolk is an aggressive tempo deck that relies on curve and critical mass, looking to generate a large board of fish and augment them with +1/1 counters. This is the least common tribe you’ll see in Sealed. The good news is that cards such as River Herald’s Boon and Vineshaper Mystic only ask you to control one other Merfolk. You can reap the full benefits with only a few copies of Deeproot Warrior/Tiashana’s Wayfinder/Jade Guardian in an otherwise non-Merfolk deck.
As you might expect flavor wise, Pirates are mostly out for themselves, and get the least leverage out of their creature type. Pirate’s Cutlass is probably the best Pirate incentive in the set, but still plays fine with only a handful of Pirates in your deck. Other rewards are weaker or at rare (with Fathom Fleet Captain/Admiral Beckett Brass being the main Pirate friendly rares that come to mind).
Vampires is arguably the most parasitic tribe, and the most likely to run weak cards simply for their creature type. Anointed Deacon is a walking piece of equipment for Vampires, and can lead a horde of 1/1 Lifelinkers to victory. At uncommon, Bishop of the Bloodstained and Deathless Ancient provide powerful encouragement to play every Vampire you can. And lastly, at rare, Sanctum Seeker and Mavren Fein are some of the best tribal rewards in the entire set. Queen’s Agent is essentially the only Vampire that Vampire tribal will pass on, as it’s too expensive/weak for all but the slowest decks.
I hope you’ve found this helpful! As I said at the start of this article, I’ll be back with a Draft video next week. I also plan to write more about Sealed in the future, possibly with pool breakdowns as I’ve done in the past.
I have a stream now at twitch.tv/veveil too! I don’t have a schedule ironed out yet, but I’m looking forward to streaming regularly soon.
Anyways, this is Bryan ‘Veveil” Hohns signing off. If you have any comments on the article/format, or questions about the format, be sure to leave them here. I’ll be here every Wednesday with something new to say about Magic. Have fun playing Ixalan!