An exercise in RIX Sealed

I took a brief break from Standard to get at least some Sealed practice in before Grand Prix London this weekend. My first pool wasn’t very interesting as BG with Vraska, Relic Seeker and Ravenous Chupacabra was quite the obvious choice. Today I will go over my second pool which was quite a bit trickier. Here is what I opened.

I always start with sorting by rarity to get see what my most powerful cards are. Curve and average card quality certainly matters but if you have a Tetzimoc, Primal Death in your pool and choose to play a RW deck, you are almost certainly making a mistake.

In this case the rarity sort reveals two rare equipments, 3 white cards and a black card. Vampires are my favorite tribe in Ixalan so we’re off to a good start. That is, until we sort by color and find that neither black nor white has that much to offer apart from the rares, which aren’t even that great. Nevertheless I started off looking at a BW deck and this is what I came up with.

This won’t do. I couldn’t find a 23rd card I would consider and there are already plenty of stinkers in the deck. The curve is low but the cards aren’t that aggressive so you’re both unlikely to run the opponent over and have too many low impact cards to expect to win a long game.

Instead let’s look at combinations that just contains either black or white since the Forsaken Sanctuary and Traveler’s Amulet will at least let us splash a rare or two. First up is GW.

We have cut all the bad black cards (and the few good ones) and the worst of the white cards. What we gain is a decent removal spell and some beefier creatures. With both Captain’s Hook and Jadecraft Artisan we should be able to attack into most board positions so we might be able to actually finish opponents off. I think this deck looks fine although I’m not quite sure of all the card choices. Maybe the third artisan should be in, and you could even consider playing New Horizons and maybe Blossom Dryad to include Vraska’s Contempt.

Next is what looks like a pretty classic UW Fliers deck. This archetype has been good at least as long as I have played Magic and this could work as well. The fliers are well equipped to wear hooks and there is both bounce spells and a counterspell, what’s not to like. Even if this isn’t the actual best possible build it looks like a blast to play, it is exactly what I enjoy in a limited deck (aside from bombs of course, bombs are the most fun you can have in limited).

This is just a worse UW deck to me. You get Vraska’s Contempt but your creatures get worse and I don’t see what this deck’s plan is. You have fewer fliers to win with and so it looks more like this deck is trying to grind at which point you’re just asking to get beaten by more powerful decks (which is pretty much all the decks you will be facing). At this point I’m ruling out black; there are just too few playables.

I don’t like the red in this pool but with the two Marauding Looter I figured I should at least give UR a chance. Ultimately I think this also ends up being a worse version of UW. The removal is worse and while Unfriendly Fire can go to the face there a fewer fliers so you don’t actually get more reach. Starting with a 2/2 on turn one can end up dealing a lot of damage but I think it happens to seldomly to make up for the lower card quality.

The UW build was the most appealing to me so I played a few matches with it and quickly learned that I had overvalued Elenda, the Dusk Rose. She joins a long list of powerful rares that lose out because they require too many things to go right. She takes a long time to get going, and if you’re behind, the opponent can just not offer up trades and then you need removal to trigger her. Even if you do get some creatures to die, you had better hope they aren’t playing blue, because then she might just get bounced and all your work will be undone. Add to that the fact that she is pretty easy to kill right away in which case she’s a 4 mana Martyr of Dusk.

I also played two matches with the GW deck and still felt unimpressed, so I decided to let go of white and tried the UR deck. Unfortunately I mulliganed both games and didn’t really get a good sense of how good the deck was.

That concluded my league and my overall impression is that the pool was quite bad. There weren’t any bombs and none of the colors were deep nor especially powerful. I have a feeling that the UR deck might be the best option but I am in no way certain. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this. Did I miss a good color combination? Which colors would you play, and would you build it differently than me (in particular in the case of a green deck)? Let me know and thanks for reading.

Religion in Magic

I am an atheist. Don’t close the tab yet, this isn’t an article about actual religion, I just wanted to put it out there. This article is about subjectivity in Magic and why you should be aware of it. You can view it as a response to point 4 of Brian Demar’s recent article for ChannelFireball but I actually first thought about it when I read an article by Sam Black a few years ago.

Both of them argue that a decision in Magic (mostly deck choice, but Sam takes it all the way to in-game decisions) can be right for one person and wrong for another person based on their play style. As I see it, there is only one way this can be true; if your play style will influence your other decisions in the game in a way that deviating from that style for one play has so little synergy with your other plays that it will actually reduce your chances of winning. But in that case, you should look at your entire play style and if there is a better one, adapt that. Essentially, their point of view is for players who don’t want to change their play style.

For completeness’ sake, note that two plays can actually have the exact same ‘value’ in which case you are free to pick whichever you like, or it can be impossible for us to discern the actual value of the plays because they depend on information you cannot possibly know (as was the case for Frank Karsten’s awesome analysis ). But this doesn’t mean you just get to say that your play was correct because we don’t know better.

Magic may, as Sam suggests, be art, but Magic strategy is a science. Sometimes science doesn’t know the answer to our question, but the answer is still out there somewhere. I am a Magic scientist in the sense that I am interested in finding the correct answer to as many questions as possible so I can be the best player possible. I (probably) won’t become the perfect player that always gives myself the highest possible chance of winning, but I refuse to limit my potential with shortcuts like the ones suggested in the first two links.

I don’t blame you for doing so; maybe you are just playing for fun (I don’t mean the word just in any demeaning way, it is a perfectly legitimate reason for playing), or maybe you want to win a Pro Tour or Grand Prix before you die of old age and don’t have time to try to figure out the optimal play in every scenario, so focusing on one archetype may yield better results.

While there is surely a (large) narcissistic part of me that wants nothing more than to be holding a trophy, I try to focus on the process of learning and improving. I don’t care where it ends or how many times I’m wrong along the way, as long as I keep striving to improve.

Wow that was quite the rant, let’s get a bit more specific. The easiest way to get punished for focusing on your strengths is forcing archetypes in draft. It’s pretty easy to imagine someone going into an Ixalan draft knowing all the ins and outs of the Merfolk deck only to have the person on her right drafting Merfolk. The result likely won’t be pretty.

Now, you could do as Ondrej Strasky (sorry buddy for not having the correct characters for your name on my keyboard) and learn several archetypes to increase the chances of one of your archetypes being open, and indeed it might be your best chance of doing well in a tournament. In the end, though, you are limiting yourself because while you managed to steer clear of Merfolk and found the open Dinosaur deck, there might have been a Vampire deck that would have been even better for your seat if you only knew to look for it.

I want to emphasize that this isn’t the same as favoring one archetype over others because you think it is simply better. Sometimes Merfolk is just so good that it is better than Vampires even if the latter is much more open than the former. This rarely happens and often the power level discrepancy between archetypes is useful only as a tiebreaker for close picks.

It’s also often in coverage that they talk about a decision made by a player and say something along the lines of: “He likes to be aggressive, so this is the type of line he likes to take”. If the player later loses, the commentators sometimes go as far as excusing that loss with their play style. This makes sense for the Cedric Phillips school of coverage where it’s all about building appealing storylines, but for those who watch coverage to get better at the game, it’s actually detrimental. I don’t have any examples of this and maybe my memory has gone biased but at least keep an eye out for it.

We like to have answers. It’s much more comforting to have answers to all the questions you care about than to have a bunch of them be mysteries. I don’t blame you for striving for this comfort, and I especially don’t blame you for taking shortcuts for short term gains (I’m sure I will be taking some leading up to the Pro Tour). But don’t mistake the easy way for the right way. That’s how you end up with Trump as president.

Did that last sentence need to be included? Probably not, but remember the immortal words of the great Nicholas Cage.


Maybe there are very few people who play Magic for the same reasons as I do, and maybe the rest of you got nothing out of this article, but at least now you know how I approach the game, and that should make it easier to relate to my future content. And you got reminded that Nicholas Cage movies exist…

Does Ixalan Limited suck?

Hi guys, welcome back. It’s been a while but I wanted a chance to play with the new cards so I could actually give an informed opinion. I have only been drafting so far and done about 15 and my initial impressions are good. At first glance the set looks like it could get boring super quickly because of the tribes; just pick a tribe and take all the cards you see in that tribe.

When you think about it, that isn’t much different from a normal set where you just pick your colors and take the best card in those colors. What makes a normal set interesting are the times where the correct pick isn’t just the best card in your colors but something that synergizes with what else you have going on.

The equivalent in Ixalan is then when the correct pick is not just the best card in your tribe, but that is often going to be because there is a super powerful card in your colors that doesn’t have any tribal synergies. I haven’t gone deep enough yet to know how often these things happen but at least you have to consider both tribe and colors when making a pick which is more than the base level for a normal set. I hope there will be rare times when you get to draft a treasure deck for example and I will be looking for it (probably at the expense of tickets), but today I want to talk about what has been the best tribe for me this far; vampires.

Anoited DeaconUnassuming, I know

The key to this deck for me is Anointed Deacon; most of the vampires are 2 or less power and this is the guy that can push them through. With Bishop’s Soldier, Queen’s Commission, Paladin of the Bloodstained, and Call to the Feast, boosting power is worth double sometimes and since the lifelink makes racing difficult, your opponent will often have to start trading real cards for each of your tokens. If you ever get two deacons down together, it becomes extremely hard to lose.

Aside from the lifelinkers my favorite creatures in the deck are Skymarch Bloodletter, Legion Conquistador, both undersized creatures that benefit from getting an extra two power (or 4). You even get two good one drops in Duskborne Skymarcher and Vicious Conquistador. While they’re both uncommons, it’s unlikely that anyone else will be interested in them. Glorifier of Dusk is also good in the deck, but it doesn’t need as much help as the other guys.

Other good uncommons for the deck are Adanto Vanguard (which is also just a great aggressive card), Deathless Ancient, and Bishop of the Bloodstained if you are really deep in the tribe. Once you find that the archetype is open, there are also some great rares that you can expect will come to you if someone opened them; Sanctum Seeker and Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle. These are straight bombs for you and pretty poor for anyone else.

That actually brings me to a side note on the format which is that the rares in this set are less ridiculous than they often are. Yes, you still have things like Regisaur Alpha and the planeswalkers which are insane, but I don’t think there is anything on the level of Glorybringer and because of the tribal theme, a lot of the good rares are only good in specific contexts, so your first pick will not be a windmill slam rare or mythic as often as you’re used to.

This to me is one of the most important signs of a good limited set; You might lose to Sanctum Seeker but at least it required your opponent to draft reasonably well and they would probably still have a deck that could win without drawing it. I actually didn’t even enjoy many of the draft decks where I had Glorybringer because I lost so many games where I didn’t draw it.

So back to vampires, how do you draft them? As I said, Anointed Deacon is the key but I don’t like first picking it. There a lot of generically good black and white cards that you can often first pick, like Contract Killing, Pious Interdiction, Vanquish the Weak, and Adanto Vanguard. Then if cards like that keep coming for the next few picks, maybe including a Deathless Ancient I will start to look for the deacon and the uncommons.

Legion ConquistadorIgnore this card at your own peril

One important thing to keep in mind is if you have passed any Legion Conquistadors. It is likely to wheel and you obviously need more than one for it to be playable. Let’s say it’s pick 6 and I have a couple of removal spells, a deacon, a Bishop’s Soldier and some good card in another color that hasn’t looked open so far. The pick is now between Queen’s Commission, Skymarch Bloodletter and Legion Conquistador.

If I have passed a Conquistador earlier I will probably take it here but if I haven’t, both of the other cards have higher priority (probably the flier first). Two Conquistador is just playable but as soon as you get more than that it becomes insane since it helps stall the ground and with a deacon to help them trade up, it will grind the opponent out quite effectively.

So you have a couple of removal spells, a deacon and a couple of vampires and now you have to choose between a Contract Killing and a Queen’s Bay Soldier (your first two drop). I am going to go out on a limb here and say you should lean towards the removal spell. The reason for that is that there is so much lifegain in this archetype that your curve matters less than it normally does in limited.

This particular example might be a stretch and it also depends if you have any lifegain so far, but keep in mind that the tools are available in this archetype to stabilize both the board and your life total. Of course, you would also like to have a board presence so your deacon has an effect the turn it comes down so if it’s a Bishop’s Soldier instead, I’d probably take it. I guess a more general way to express it is that you often don’t have to take subpar cards for curve considerations if you have a lot of good ways to gain life.

That’s about what I have learned so far. I will spend next week playing a lot of Standard so I’ll hopefully have something to report back soon. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck in the queues.