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Magic : The Gathering – Unpacking a Rivals of Ixalan booster pack

by Ron Duwell | February 3, 2018February 3, 2018 12:00 pm PST

Rivals of Ixalan is here, and if you haven’t heard, it’s an absolutely crazy set. Ixalan was berated as a set for being too casual and based on simple attack/don’t block mechanics, but Rivals of Ixalan has its own issues way off on the other side of the spectrum. Rare cards once again sit atop the food chain, replacing common and uncommon synergies that dominated Ixalan. In fact, these rare cards have become so overpowered that casual players and people to win games they simply shouldn’t.

If you play a bomb rare in Rivals of Ixalan, meaning an exceptionally powerful card, you can turn the tide of the game on its head and shock an opponent who thought they had the game all wrapped up.

It’s up to you to determine if this is a pro or a con of the set. Me? I’m all for stupidly powerful and casual cards so long as I can build something competitive around them, especially since Ixalan needs all he help and excitement it can get. I mention this because in my first pack, I opened one of these bomb rares which can steal you a game in the right situation.

Let’s have a look at what we have in our very first pack of the set.

Before I talk about the card itself, I just want to mention the artist’s name… Zoltan Boros. If that’s not the best name for a Magic: The Gathering artist of all time, I’m not sure what else could be. For those that don’t know, Boros is the name of Ravinca’s White and Red guild, and usually, they are strictly aggressive cards.

Sun-Collared Raptor is not strictly aggressive, fitting more into the Red and Green spectrum of Dinosaurs. This card can be played on turn-2 as a small investment, but it won’t be effective until turn-4 if you want to skip casting a creature to make him a 4/2 Trample… meh, that dies easily and only gets a point of damage or two through at that point. It only really shines on turn-6 if you’ve gotten all of your land drops. Then, it’s a 7/2, and those stats can overrun most creatures and still hit the opponent for quite a bit.

Of course, it probably dies in the process, but that’s its purpose. I’ve seen games that dragged on long enough to make one of these guys 10/2 Trample. That’s at least worth a mention.

In Draft, I’d pass it most of the time, and in Sealed, I would ignore it unless I needed a two-mana creature. Not dreadful, but not something you actively want.

Nice little combat trick, especially if you are playing a Vampire deck. One-mana combat tricks can easily help you survive most combat encounters in Ixalan, and this one will do just that, boosting your Vampire out of range of its enemies for a minimal price. Vampire’s Zeal filled a similar role in Ixalan, but Moment of Triumph can be played in any White deck with no regrets.

Why? Well, the 2 points of lifegain help aggressive decks win races. In a Vampire focused deck, it also triggers powerful abilities on certain creatures. It’s a solid card, but I would never take it early. This is the kind of card you pass around the table in a Draft and feel lucky if it wheels back to you.

In Sealed, it’s not enough alone to push you into Vampires or a White deck, but it will likely make the cut if you do go that direction.

Classic, very playable counterspell. You’ll want to keep this in your sideboard and use it against specific decks, meaning any deck that has a lot of removal spells. When it works, it feels so good, but if you have no targets, it sits in your hand and gets heavy after so many turns.

Solid card to take late in a Draft, and something you might require less in a Sealed since opponents have limited access to removal. Still, sideboard it as quickly as you can. It can be a blowout in your favor, again, against the right decks.

Solid curve filler. 3/3 will usually be the biggest creature on the board on turn-3, and casting it for three is a good deal. Don’t mind the life loss if you’re not playing Pirates. It’s a small price to pay to have a dominant creature on the board.

This would definitely make it into a Black sealed pool, and in a Draft, I would take it fifth, sixth, seventh pick if I was leaning towards Pirates or even Vamps.

This is a card I originally had lined up in the best Green commons section, but then I removed it in favor of Overgrown Armasaur and Knight of the Stampede. However, I would take both of those judgments back. Overgrown Armasaur is tough to take advantage of, and Knight of the Stampede is better, but only in very specific Dinosaur decks.

Hardy Veteran works in any deck, making it a more verstile card, and it can rumble! A turn-2, 2/4 attacker can brawl rumble with anything on the battlefield for three or four turns before it meets its match. It’s much less effective on defense, so you’ll want this in an aggressive deck. Still, I like this card a lot more now than I did a week ago. One of the better Green commons, and it should have made the cut.

Very good common Vampire. A 2/2 Menace is difficult to block and can slip by opposing defenses effectively, which is just what you want in Rivals of Ixalan. However, piling Menace and +1/+1 onto another Vampire when it comes into the battlefield is a nice bonus for just three mana.

Voracious Vampire is a good card, but I’d only seriously consider it in a Draft if I had enough Vampires to target. In Sealed, again, it’s okay, but you need Vampires to get the most out of it.

Soul of the Rapids is a bit underrated, but it’s still not great. 3/2 Flying and Hexproof is a nice creature, but not for five mana! It’s far too weak that late in the game, and unless you can power this up with counters or Aura spells, it can be killed by creatures that are far cheaper than it. 2 toughness is not that great of a stat for so late in the game.

This will win a few games over the course of the format, but that will be the exception, not the rule. I wouldn’t consider this in Draft or Sealed unless I was desperate for a 5-drop or a flying “threat” late in the game.

Boom. If I open this in Sealed, I’m already considering making a Black deck, and unless my rares are good and my uncommons are exceptional, I’m likely to take this first in a Draft. Unconditional Black removal is a superstar in Limited Magic, and this rarely, if never, gets cut from a Black deck.

This card is a dud. The Ascend mechanic continues to be the most controversial in the set since it’s hard to turn on in such an aggressive format. However, if you do turn it on, you’ll want to gain an fairly substantial ability from it.

3/3 for one mana is a nice deal, but you’ll want that in the first two or three turns of the game, not the fifth, sixth, or even seventh. This card doesn’t get there as an Ascend bonus, and it’s unplayable without it.

Always happy to see this in a pack of Rivals of Ixalan. In Sealed, you’ll be jumping for joy with each one your open. This, combined with Evolving Wilds and the uncommon tap-lands, will allow you to splash effective, using cards that would otherwise have no business in your deck.

Don’t take it too early in a Draft. However, if there is nothing in your colors, it’s a nice pick-up that will help you grab an off-color bomb rare later in the draft. In Sealed, this can be a lifesaver since it essentially opens up your pool to a wider variety of cards.

This made the shortlist for our favorite uncommon cards in the set, but it didn’t make the cut. Six mana is a lot to pay for this ability. I would rather have the Ridgescale Tusker from Aether Revolt since you are more likely to get better stats out of it with that solid 5/5 body.

Funnily enough, this is more effective in a Merfolk deck than a Dinosaur deck. Your Dinosaurs will already be big enough to trounce over opposing tribes, and if you’re playing a mirror match, Strength of the Pack’s main use is to break a stalemate. Instead, play this in Merfolk, a tribe that benefits from pumping up wimpy creatures with +1/+1 counters.

I’d also like to see this in a Hardened Scales deck somewhere in the future, but it seems like a cute “win more” card than an effective addition to your gameplan.

My favorite card in the pack, and now that I have my hands on the actual card, I can see that she is, in fact, a lady. I assumed the flowing, black mass behind her head was a scarf, not a lock of hair.

This is just an effective card that has no reason to play defense. Put this in play, tap it, and deliver two damage every turn. Blue/Red Pirates also have lots of Raid abilities, meaning that a creature must attack for it to be triggered. Storm Fleet Sprinter allows that to happen safely.

In a draft, I would first-pick Impale over this, but I still like this card more. In a Sealed pool, I don’t have enough Blue or Red cards or even enough Pirates from this pack to consider using it. However, unlike the rest of the pack, I already put Storm Fleet Sprinter in a constructed Pirates deck. Only Negate can really share that honor.

Four mana and discarding a card is a lot to pay for this effect. Drawing two cards is nice, but you can do the same thing with Tormenting Voice for just two mana. Tagging on the Treasure isn’t worth the additional cost. You’d have to play this on turn four to be reasonable since casting a six-mana spell on turn-5 can be a game changer.

However, you’re leaving yourself open for a huge attack if you cast a four mana spell and don’t put out something that can help you win combat, a huge no-no in Ixalan, where attacking is everything. Again, it’s a risk unless you have something really powerful in your hand you want to play on turn-5, like Etali, Primal Storm.

…..

So, in a Draft, I’m begrudgingly taking Impale over Storm Fleet Sprinter as a first pick, and in Sealed, Impale, Hardy Veteran, Fathom Fleet Boarder, and Strength of the Pack are pushing me towards a Black and Green deck. Traveler’s Amulet is also there, but I don’t have a good splash target just yet.

Let’s see if our rare card changes my gameplan in any way. Remember, I said it was a bomb, and I’m not lying.

Nope. We’re DEFINITELY taking this over Impale in a Draft, and in Sealed, if our Green and Black plan doesn’t work out, this is an easy splash target for Traveler’s Amulet.

Flooding the board with tokens is one of the most effective ways to win a game of Limited Magic, and Tendershoot Dryad does it better than both the Merfolk and Vampires, the two token creating tribes. Remember, you’re getting a 1/1 token creature EVERY turn, ot just your turn, so that 2/2 worth of stats every time you untap. Not bad.

Tendershoot Dryad gets even better since reaching Ascend is a cakewalk when you’re cranking our permanent tokens at such a fast pace. Once you get Ascend, the Dryad ups the ante from 2/2 worth of stats every turn to 6/6 worth of stats every turn. Just makes sure this survives, and it’s difficult to lose the game at that point.

Never pass this card, and never cut it from any deck, even if you’re not Green. There’s enough mana fixing in Rivals of Ixalan to ensure this comes down and makes you an effective army all on its own.


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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