Ixalan ultimately came up short of expectations for a lot of Magic: The Gathering players. Games of Limited Magic, playing straight from the packs, didn’t go over well because of the set’s heavy reliance on tribal synergies, and not many cards were powerful enough to make a dent in constructed formats like Standard.
Many criticized the set for leaning a bit too much on the fundamentals of Magic. Interactions occurred mostly through basic combat, and a constant barrage of attacks from an army of 2/2 creatures could easily win you the game. Amonkhet had a similar problem a few sets back, but it at least had a fun variety of strategies to bash and attack relentlessly. Here, the strategies came packaged and planned out for you, leaving very little room for expansion and imagination.
Weak power level, predictable drafting environments, and too many vanilla creatures ultimately doomed Ixalan as a disappointment, which is a shame given how amazing the flavor and art behind the mechanics are.
Again, we’re dealing with Dinosaurs, Pirates, Merfolk, and Vampires. What could possibly go wrong?
Rivals of Ixalan launches next weekend, and many are hoping that it can fix Ixalan’s shortcomings, much like how Hour Devastation gave a nice boost to Amonkhet. However, from what I’ve seen so far, Rivals of Ixalan doesn’t look like it strays too far from the path, and it will only exemplify what people liked and disliked from its predecessor.
Based on the commons alone, you can expect a lot of aggressive attacking and tempo decks, not leaving much room for ramp or control. Regardless, these are our favorite cards at common, the cards you will use the most when building a Draft or Sealed deck for Limited games.
Exultant Skymarcher is just a solid common that can fit into any deck. 2/3 is excellent in Ixalan given that most Humans, Merfolk, Pirates, and Vampires round out at 2/2 and will lose to this in combat. Flying on a 2/3 is only better, meaning it can evade just as well as it can block.
Double-white mana makes it harder to cast, but never cut this common in a draft if you are playing Vampires or even a White/Green defensive dinosaur deck.
White, unconditional removal. Nothing more, nothing less, always good. It’s just a little more expensive than Pacifism, but given that Pacifism is broken, I’m fine with the balance.
Ugh, how annoying of a card can you make? 2/1 is a nice, aggressive card for just two mana, and because it’s a Vampire, it already gets a boost from other Vampire cards. However, if you kill this, you’ll have to kill it yet again! 1/1 Lifelink tokens in Vampire decks are actually more dangerous than a simple 2/1, and an army can easily get opponents back a lot of life back and mess up races.
Besides, killing creatures twice is just an annoyance.
Doomed Traveler is a similar card, and that always pops up in Masters reprints, for good reason mind you. It’s a great card, and so is Martyr of Dusk at common.
Normally I wouldn’t consider this to be good, but in Ixalan, Aura spells underwent a bit of a revolution and practically defined the set. One With the Wind and Mark of the Vampire won a lot more games than they might have in other expansions.
This is why I’m happy to give Squire’s Devotion a try. Lifelink is exceptional on any creature in Ixalan, and while its stats are weaker than Mark of the Vampire, it can come down earlier thanks to it being one mana cheaper.
On top of that, this card also creates a 1/1 Lifelink creature, meaning that even if your enchanted creature gets killed or bounced, you at least gain something from casting this.
Another card I wouldn’t choose in another set. 1-mana combat tricks killed a lot of creatures and ended a lot of games in Ixalan. It will do the same here in Rivals of Ixalan, and the added boost of 2 life helps you win races against aggressive decks and benefit from Vampire abilities that require lifegain.
I think Blue is my favorite color in Rivals of Ixalan, and it’s because of cards like Crashing Tide. This card is a perfect tempo play that will remove a blocker, allow you to attack cleanly, and most importantly, get you your card value back when you draw a card.
It also helps get creatures with important enter the battlefield effects like card draw and Explore back into your hand for more usage.
Having a Merfolk for Instant speed is nice, but it’s not necessary for this to be great.
And Crashing Tide’s companion card is (maybe) even better. Attacking to trigger Deadeye Rig-Hauler’s Raid ability is no problem is a Merfolk or a Blue/Red Pirates deck. When you play this, you’ll pretty much always bounce a creature. This gets rid of annoying Aura cards, throws opponents off tempo, and it lands you a 3/2 on the battlefield.
Sadly, it can’t clear blockers since it must be played after combat to be effective.
These two cards define Blue, which I love to see getting aggressive once again.
And speaking of which, this is about as aggressive of a Blue card as you’ll ever see! Nothing wrong with a 2/1 flyer for two mana. Always take this if you’re aiming for Merfolk or Blue/Red pirates. It’s one of the best turn-2 plays you can make since it can jam for a lot of damage before the game’s end.
This will prove to be a controversial card. Blocking already doesn’t matter too much in Ixalan, and this card just runs with that idea. It’s weak and won’t affect the game that much on turn-1 or turn-5. However, if you pump it or slap an Aura on it, it can become a problem very quickly. One With the Wind, Curious Obsession, Mark of the Vampire, Swashbuckling, and even Pirate’s Cutlass all pair with Blue, and all of them turn this into a threat that must be dealt with.
It’s not great, and I struggled to put it on here. However, given the nature of Ixalan, it might overperform.
Nice, versatile Aura spell that will either help your Pirates survive combat or weaken your opponent’s creatures, negating a trade. While not as absurd as Skulduggery, since it can’t two-for-one as effectively, this is still a card you’ll have to play around pretty often.
Love that Blue removal.
It’s a black Elvish Visionary! 1 life is a small price to pay to draw a card, and because it’s a Vampire, it has the potential to run the distance later in the game with tribal synergies. If not, this wimp gets you a card and blocks something, giving you an extra turn to set yourself up.
3/3 for three? Sure thing! Losing two life is worth that, but it’s also not that hard to cast a Pirate on turn 1 or 2, especially if you’re locked in Red Pirates.
Love that Black removal. Sorcery speed weakens this one a bit, but casting this for only four mana is a very fair trade for a huge creature.
More Black removal, this one is actually better in that it kills a majority of the relevant 2/2 creatures at Instant speed. That 2 life is also a nice boost, winning races and triggering Vampire abilities. Excellent card.
2/2 creatures are a dime-a-dozen in Ixalan, but when you slap Menace onto one, meaning it has to be blocked by two creatures, it becomes a relevant threat that can cause your opponent to lose something they might not want to.
This guy has the added benefit of pumping a fellow Vampire when it comes into play and also giving it Menace until the end of turn. No effective blocking against this card, ever! Great value for three mana.
BOOM! This kills most relevant creatures for just three mana at Instant speed. Easy pick for best red common.
This will tip combat in your favor more often than not, but more importantly, this versatile card will occasionally close out a game when your opponent unexpectedly takes 6, 8, or even 10 damage from an unblocked Pirate. Pump with Sure Strike or Pirate’s Cutlass for even more damage!
You wanted an aggro payoff for a pirate? Here it is.
Not great, but I’ve always had a soft spot for one mana Red creatures with Haste. The added ability of dealing 1 damage is also valuable since many creatures and tokens in Ixalan have 1 toughness, making this a decent removal spell in those cases. It can Enrage Dinosaurs too, so don’t overlook that.
Versatile little bugger. Send him in early and have him ping something later.
Great aggressive card. Either your opponent has to block this, most likely lose a creature, and take two damage OR they have to straight up take three damage. Decisions, decisions.
Another aggressive all-star. This is one of the best Red commons since it is so hard to block. No added abilities necessary. Turn-2 Menace is just obnoxious and can get through most defenses. This is a nightmare for opponents early in the game.
Play this guy early, and play him often.
Mediocre Red removal is still a decent card. For this to work, your opponent needs to have two creatures in play, and the one you want to kill must be weaker or at least on par with the other. If all this falls into place, you get a solid kill for a single Red mana.
It’s as clumsy and conditional as it gets, but this will kill off some annoying blockers. Just know that the bigger threats, usually the creature you actually want to kill, will be immune.
Aside from being my favorite art in the set (he’s so weird), this is a card I’ve always wanted to see in Magic. It’s a Green pump spell that also draws you a card. Giving a creature +2/+2 or having a casting cost of just one mana would make it an absolute dream come true, but at these stats, Aggressive Urge does just enough to be solid.
Anything else would be overpowered.
Hunt the Weak is back with some sweet art, and it will be the Green removal spell of your dreams in a Dinosaur deck. Basically, it kills anything and makes your Dinosaur stronger. Yes, please!
In a Merfolk deck, it has the benefit of giving creatures the +1/+1 counters that all Merfolk want. The hard part is finding a target that your Merfolk can survive a rumble with. Vampires and Pirates should be no problem, but Dinosaurs… no way.
This is the Merfolk equivalent of a 3/3 for three. 2/2 on the creature is fine, and 1/1 Hexproof on another is also acceptable. Nice target for your Aura spells.
Merfolk decks, like Vampires, want to have as many creatures on the battlefield as possible. That way, when the +1/+1 counters start coming down or creatures start becoming unblockable, more targets means more blocking complications. This also gives you 2 “enter the battlefield” triggers, which Merfolk decks also benefit a lot from.
Even without the tribal benefits though, this does enough to be a playable common in any deck.
Now THIS is a genuine 2/4. It blocks well, but more importantly, as it swats away wimpy 2/2 and 3/2 attackers with ease all while making it that much easier to bring your big Dinosaur threats down! Turn-5, you might be able to play two big Dinosaurs and leave your opponent stunned.
This card can get out of control very quickly! At 4/4, it will survive most combat against Vamps, Pirates, Merfolk, and even weaker Dinosaurs, and every time it does, it creates a 1/1 creature. When combined with other Enrage triggers, an army will blossom and bloom into enough blockers and attackers to eventually overrun your opponent.
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