The Three Best Colors in Ixalan Limited (Part 1)

by Zen Takahashi on 05 December 2017, Tuesday

Zen Takahashi

Drafting Mardu and Vampires in Ixalan

Hello everybody!

Although I will not be attending GP Singapore, many of my friends are going, so I decided to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on Ixalan limited. Both of these articles will be focused solely on draft, so if you want to learn more about Ixalan sealed, I recommend you read my previous article here.

Today, I will be discussing my general draft strategy in this format and will cover in depth the Black-White Vampires archetype, and next week I will be going over two more archetypes – Red-White Aggro and Black-Red Auras.


Drafting Strategy

A couple of months ago, Gold Pro Ondřej Stráský wrote a great articled titled "Drafting the Medium Way". In his article, he described how he would try to learn and thoroughly understand two to three archetypes, and then draft whichever one of them is the most open in his seat. They would be the best archetypes in the format and the archetypes he is the most comfortable with. 

Personally, this has always been my strategy in Booster Draft and has also mostly been the strategy for many of us in our testing team. For Pro Tour Amonkhet, we forced the Jeskai colors and avoided black and green, while for Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, I drafted whatever was open between Abzan Control, Black-White Zombies and Blue-Green Tempo. 



Our initial strategy in this format was similar to what we had for Pro Tour Amonkhet. We quickly identified that Ixalan is a very aggressive format and that the removal is clunky – which makes Auras great, for similar reasons as to why Cartouches were great in Amonkhet.

My teammate Christian Calcano displayed this at the World Championships as he 3-0'd the first draft with a Black-Red Auras deck featuring three Swashbucklings. After that, the rest of the world had also caught onto this, and by the time the Pro Tour rolled around, everyone was aware of it. 

Since the set had been out for five weeks before the Pro Tour, it meant we had a lot of time to gather data and understand the different archetypes. Our testing team's compiled Magic Online results were as follows:


As you can see, Black, White, and Red were the colors with the overall highest win percentages – and they were all about 10% higher than Green and Blue's win percentages. The winningest color pairs were White-Black, White-Red, and Black-Red (ignoring White-Blue and Black-Green due to the small sample size), which meant that the Mardu colors were apparently better than Blue and Green. 

This made sense, as the aggressive nature of Ixalan means that you cannot afford to play decks that are clunky and could stumble, as the aggro decks would punish you for it. While some people in our team had success with various midrange Green decks and the treasure-based Blue decks, the overall win percentage for these archetypes were quite low. 


River Heralds' Boon Shaper Apprentice Vineshaper Mystic

Although the common consensus seems to be that Merfolk is the best archetype, we were relatively down on it. We had a lot of success with it initially, but once everyone else figured out how good the archetype was, we found it to be overdrafted and not worth fighting over.

Since Merfolk is the opposite colors to Mardu, which we thought were the best colors, we planned to avoid Merfolk and put the person on our left into the archetype, and hope to get rewarded in the second pack, as they ship us good Mardu colored cards. 

Similarly, we were also not as hot on Pirates as other people seemed to be. When we initially discovered how good the Auras were, we liked the Pirates, as the Auras were in Grixis colors which were also the colors for the Pirates. However, after the World Championships, everyone now knew about the archetype which meant that the Auras were no longer wheeling and the Pirates were picked higher than before.



This was also why we later concluded that Black-Red is the best color pair for the Auras archetype. Even though One with the Wind is the best Aura, Blue has much weaker creatures compared to Black and Red. Also, players were now aware of how powerful One with the Wind was, so you could no longer pick them up late like before. 

Black-White Vampires was our most successful archetype, which makes sense as Black and White are the two best colors and all the incidental life gain that Vampires has meant that it is naturally well-positioned against the aggro decks. This was followed by Red-White Aggro, which often based around Dinosaurs, and Black-Red Auras. We believed these two to be the best aggressive strategies in the format. 

Therefore, my strategy in Ixalan limited is to force the Mardu colors, and eventually move into one of the three color pairs which are the most open. My preference is for Black-White Vampires as I believe it is the best archetype, but I am happy to also be in either Red-White Aggro or Black-Red Auras. 

Black-White Vampires


Not only is Black-White Vampires the best archetype, but almost all its key cards are also common. This means that unlike an archetype like Merfolk, where its important cards are uncommon, any given draft can support multiple Vampires players, and you can all come out with decent decks. In fact, at GP Beijing, there were three Black-White Vampires players sitting next to each other, and one 3-0'd while the other two 2-1'd. 


Anointed Deacon


The most important card in this archetype is Anointed Deacon. Personally, I take it quite highly, and if I see one come late, it is a clear signal to me that Vampires is open and I should move into it. I would play as many as four copies of them, though I would not play any more than that as you also have Contract Killing which makes your five-drop slot a bit too clunky.

I think a common misconception with this archetype is that you need a high concentration of Vampires. That is not the case at all – and I prefer just playing high-quality cards. Anointed Deacon is the only key Vampires-matters card, and you do not need that many Vampires for the card to be great.

Personally, I have found cards such as Queen's Companion to be very underwhelming – as it is only good if you have Anointed Deacon and bad otherwise. I much prefer a solid, non-Vampire three drop over it, such as Emissary of Sunrise or Deadeye Tormentor


Bishop's Soldier Mark of the Vampire

Due to the format being aggressive, lifelink is very powerful, as it allows you to win races. This is one of the strongest points of Black-White Vampires, as it has access to Bishop's Soldier and Mark of the Vampire, which are both common.

While Anointed Deacon is the obvious card to pair with these lifelink creatures, the two common equipment - Pirate's Cutlass and Cobbled Wings – also work very well with them. In fact, I believe that Pirate's Cutlass is better in Vampires than it is in Pirates, just because of how powerful the equipment is with any lifelink creature. Cobbled Wings also continues to be underrated – there are not many flying creatures in this set, so any evasion is powerful. 


Pirate's Cutlass Cobbled Wings

Another strong feature of this archetype is its ability to play different roles depending on the matchup. Against slower decks, you can play aggressively with a focused beatdown plan, while against aggro decks, you can play as a control deck where you stall the board with lifelink creatures. Also, you have more hard removal than most aggro decks so you can deal with any problematic threat, and eventually grind your opponent out with incremental card advantage. 

Although you want to pick the most generically powerful cards, there are some cards that change in value depending on what you have picked thus far. Legion Conquistador is good if you have three or more copies, though it is quite bad if you have two or less. Deadeye Tormentor, Fathom Fleet Cutthroat and Rallying Roar all get a lot better if you have multiple token producers, as they can generate a profit from a single token. 

The ideal curve would look as follows, with key commons and uncommons listed in the brackets:

Example Decklists

The following are Black-White Vampires decks I 3-0'd with on Magic Online.



I hope you enjoyed this article as I went over my general draft strategy in this format and covered in depth the Black-White Vampires archetype. Next week, I will be going over the two other Mardu archetypes – Red-White Aggro and Black-Red Auras, so make sure to come back for that if you want to learn more about how I draft in Ixalan! 

Until next time!

Zen Takahashi 
@mtgzen on Twitter 

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