Rivals of Ixalan Sealed Head Start

by Simon Nielsen on 22 January 2018, Monday

Simon Nielsen


Rivals of Ixalan Sealed Head Start

While I can't spill too many beans about our draft preparation (other than the fact that I've yet to win a match), I have played some Sealed in preparation for GP London. And since these limited Grand Prix are coming in, I thoughts I'd write a little piece about the nuances of this Sealed format.

Mana Fixing

In comparison to Ixalan Sealed, Rivals has a ridiculous amount of mana fixing. Between Evolving Wilds, Traveler's Amulet, uncommon dual lands, green fixing, and Treasures, it can often be quite easy to splash one or even multiple colors.


Evolving Wilds Traveler's Amulet Treasure Token (10/10)


These can be used to splash a bomb, though there aren't actually too many bombs that are easy to splash (sometimes I can guess which card my opponent is splashing for), it can also be removal, mana sinks, card advantage, or whatever hole your deck has. As always, remember to never splash anything that is only good in the early or midgame. 

I see people splash for two-drops way too often. It's also not out of the question to build straight-up three-colored decks with some pools, so remember that option if your pool is particularly weak but has enough good fixing. 


The removal of Ixalan was, quite frankly, lacking. But that changes with Rivals.


Waterknot Luminous Bonds Divine Verdict

No longer will you have to build a mediocre aggressive deck and hope to get there, or just slap an aura on some stupid guy and pray for its survival, because your pool doesn't have the tools to deal with bombs. 

Now, the removal is quite good. Even blue gets Waterknot! This means that usually, you will have a color pair available to you with enough removal options so that you are not just dead to bombs, and you should usually lean towards this color pair. At worst, you can probably still splash for some Luminous Bonds and Divine Verdicts.

This also means that while Auras were already worse in Ixalan Sealed, now they're just close to unplayable. One with the Wind might still steal enough games, and Squire's Devotion can help with Ascend and still leaves some value behind, but please leave your Mark of the Vampire and Tillonalli's Crown on the bench.



City's Blessing Token (6/6)

It's not an easy mechanic to grasp, but after playing with it, I do believe Ascend to be pretty good in Sealed. While in Booster Draft, you might too often have to just trade away your board or have the games end too early for ascend to come online, this is much less likely to happen in Sealed. So far in most of my Sealed games, at least one player has achieved the city's blessing.


Sailor of Means Dusk Legion Zealot

You can help along your ascension in multiple ways. 

My favorite one is Sailor of Means, that not only provides two permanents by himself, but it's also a blocker that doesn't have to trade. But even cards that provide you with additional resources, like Dusk Legion Zealot or most explore creatures can help you get you there more consistently. Part of it is just inevitability too. If the games go long, you WILL hit 10 permanents at some point, but preferably you want it happen while you are still in the midgame. a

This also means that a lot of ascend cards are way better than they look. I think Duskhorn Charger is super stable, and even a lowly Snubhorn Sentry is very much playable. I even think Deadeye Brawler is splash worthy. 

Land Count

In Ixalan Sealed, you often had some amount of explore creatures and not many mana sinks. And since Sealed games typically go long, this meant that it was smart to only run 16 or even 15 lands, even in decks with a higher curve.

But Rivals introduces another conundrum: you really don't want to be missing land drops when you're trying to ascend. It's also more risky to splash with a lower land count. And given that there are much less explore, I'd advise against 15 lands in this format. 16 is also on the low side, but if your deck doesn't have enough mana sinks or late game card advantage you might just have to accept it. 

Mana Sinks


Pirate's Cutlass Jungle Delver Shapers of Nature

Ixalan was quite soft on mana sinks, and somehow Rivals is even softer despite having better interaction and thus leading to more grindy games. The equipment like Pirate's Cutlass and Cobbled Wings (not mana sinks per se, but they do continuously turn your mediocre dorks into real threats) are still fantastic in almost every deck. You also want to jam Jungle Delver into every green deck. Shapers of Nature are still the same splash-worthy bomb it always was. 


Jungle Creeper Sun-Collared Raptor Aquatic Incursion

In Rivals, you have to make do with some even scrappier options. While Jungle Creeper isn't quite Shapers of Nature, it still provides you with ton of lategame advantage, at least if you can find some equipment to pair it with. 

Sun-Collared Raptor doesn't look like much, but in Sealed where you don't care much for two-drops anyway, it doesn't matter as much that it starts out as a measly Squire. Pumping your mana into this thing in the lategame can either make you trade up on defence or deal a load of damage to the opponent's face. And if you can find ways to continuously make it attack, either with lots of removal, See Red or Cobbled Wings, it can steal a game by itself.

I even think Aquatic Incursion is worth looking at. While this card is too slow for most draft decks, in Sealed it can hold the ground against some X/1's and quickly threaten lethal as your biggest Merfolk will deal damage unhindered. It even provides 3 permanents for Ascend, which seems huge to me!

Card Advantage

The last way to get a leg up on this Sealed format is to be mindful of your deck's ability to grind and accumulate card advantage. If you just end up trading off all your removal, tricks and Frenzied Raptors, you'll likely flood out. 

The best common card advantage cards are Secrets of the Golden City and Recover, and I would look towards these while deciding on my colors. It wouldn't even be above to splash a Recover, especially if I can do "for free" off of some treasures, a Drover of the Mighty and a Foul Orchard.

While deciding on your land counts, remember that if your card advantage comes in shape of a lot of card draw, you might want to cut a land, because more draws will naturally lead to drawing excess lands.


Needletooth Raptor Rile Dual Shot

Using Needletooth Raptors and other powerful enrage cards with ways to deal small amounts of damage, like Rile and Dual Shot, can also be another avenue for card advantage. If you have enough Treasure production (or a Captivating Crew for the full combo), you might even want to look at Makeshift Munition!

General Advice

Even though there are some great aggressive two-drops in this format, you might not want to slant your deck towards them, because they can still be fairly easy to stop. That Goblin Trailblazer may look nice and all, but not when staring down a couple Sailor of Means

Another drawback to two-drops is that many of them have one-toughness and there are so many ways to punish one-toughness creatures available, especially in red. This means both that you want to take an extra look at that Dual Shot but also that you should avoid playing too many X-1's yourself.

And the last tip I want to leave you with is also the most important: Sideboard. After you've submitted your deck, take your pool and look for different builds, other possible color combinations that might be slightly weaker than what you ended up with, but can be more powerful given the right match-up.


Ancient Brontodon

Some simple examples could be to remove all X-1's from your deck when playing against red, bringing in Ancient Brontodon to go over the top in the Green-Red Dinosaurs mirror, or cutting out your splash against the aggressive deck.

Sometimes you want to board out the green in your Green-White deck, because your blue cards include many more flyers to block your opponents air force. Or maybe you are running an aggressive Red-White deck that struggles to race a Black-White Vampires deck. Well, cut out the white for green and maul them with big butts and Colossal Dreadmaws! 

No matter if you're battling at a Grand Prix, conquering a PPTQ or destroying Sealed leagues online, I hope you'll take some of my advice into consideration and not mindlessly place yourself in the side event drafts. 

I'll return after the Pro Tour with some Modern insight and maybe the long-awaited guide to Green-Red Valakut. 


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