Top Ten Insights to Rivals of Ixalan Sealed

by Zen Takahashi on 07 March 2018, Wednesday

Zen Takahashi


Top Ten Insights to Rivals of Ixalan Sealed

Hello everybody!

With RPTQs for Pro Tour Dominaria and the MOCS Monthly rolling around soon, I thought now would be an excellent opportunity to share my top ten insights to Rivals of Ixalan Sealed, as well as go over my deck from Grand Prix London. 


Preparation for Grand Prix London

My preparation for Grand Prix London mainly involved doing a lot of drafts, which I will be covering in detail over the coming weeks, as the format was applicable for both the Grand Prix and the Pro Tour the following week.


However, as my teammate Andrea Mengucci pointed out to us, it is also essential to practice Sealed, especially as in recent sets we have seen relatively aggressive draft formats, but slow Sealed formats, which means a given card can be very differently rated between the two Limited formats.

While I did not end up doing any Sealed practice before the Grand Prix, I was in constant communication with my good friend and limited guru William Poor, as well as sharing our thoughts with the rest of the Team MTG Mint Card/Connected Company/Child's Play conglomerate testing team. 

The following are the top ten key insights we found about Rivals of Ixalan Sealed!

1. The format is very bomb orientated.

A lot of the rares are complete powerhouses, and you have to deal with them or else you will lose to it.

This means that you should try to prioritize playing all the hard removal you have in your pool, even if that involves splashing. If you are light on removal, you should play up to two Dark Inquiry or clunky counterspells like Cancel, as you just need a decent amount of answers to bombs. 


Dark Inquiry Cancel

2. The format is relatively slow.

It is hard to be aggressive as there are many defensive creatures and a lot of removal spells - which makes auras bad.

The quality of creatures also dramatically improves at five/six mana, which means that unless you open an absurd aggro deck, you will struggle against these midrange/control decks as you will not be able to get through their defensive creatures and removal spells in the early to mid-game, before they then start to go over the top of you with their high-quality creatures.

However, evasive creatures of any form are still great, as many games in this format lead to a board stall. 

W/U Fliers is one of the key archetypes that can be relatively aggressive, but you have to open a high number of evasive creatures, alongside a couple of Waterknot and/or Luminous Bonds, for the deck to be good, so it is not very common.


Waterknot Luminous Bonds

3. Unless you open a great aggressive deck, you ideally do not want to be attacking in this format.

If possible, you want to focus on being defensive and grinding out your opponent. Whether you can do so largely depends on your deck, as well as your opponent's.

Be very conscious about who the aggressor/defender is, as mirror matches between these midrange/control decks can go very long, which means that you will both see a significant amount of the cards in your deck. 


This means that if your opponent has a higher quality deck or has more card advantage spells, then they will be significantly favored in the long game. In these situations, even if your deck is slow, you have to play aggressively, and try to sideboard into a more aggressive deck, as you will seldom win the long game.

If it turns out that your deck is better than your opponent's, then the opposite applies. Be conscious of the fact that your opponent will likely try to sideboard into something more aggressive, so you may want to lower your curve slightly as well since you are already favored in the long game anyway.

4. Due to the presence of Traveler's Amulet and Evolving Wilds, you can easily splash another color.


Traveler's Amulet Evolving Wilds

If you are in Green and have mana fixing such as New Horizons, and you have numerous ways to make Treasures, then you can even splash multiple colors or splash double-costed cards.

In this format, the key is to have your deck just be as full of powerful cards as possible, so it is worth splashing for higher power level cards if you can afford to do so.

5. Compared to other Limited formats, this format has less card advantage and has very few mana sinks. If you flood out, you will most likely lose the game.

At the same time, the games in this format tend to go long, which makes any card advantage great. I will almost always play Pirate's Prize, RecoverPirate's Pillage and Secrets of the Golden City, and will go as far as splashing for some of them if I am light on card advantage.


Pirate's Prize Recover Pirate's Pillage Secrets of the Golden City Costly Plunder

Even Costly Plunder is playable, because there is a decent amount of Aura-based removal spells in the format, and most people will splash for any Luminous Bonds they open even if white is not one of their primary colors.

I also generally like Mind Rot effects, such as Arterial Flow, especially on the draw or if I lack other card advantage spells. 

6. Green-based decks are the most common in this format.

This is due to Green having well-sized creatures, as well as mana fixing, which allows you to splash the best cards in your pool – as discussed earlier.


Crushing Canopy Plummet

A lot of the mirror matches between these Green decks do become a board stall, which makes any evasive creature good. It also means you need an answer to opposing evasive threats, so cards such as Crushing Canopy and Plummet are some of the essential sideboard cards for these decks.

If you have a Cobbled Wings in your pool, I will almost always play it, as it helps break these board stalls, while providing blockers for their flying creatures. 


7. In general, you want to be on the play in this format. 

As some players will still try to be aggressive, and even in the control mirrors, you sometimes want to apply early pressure to force them to use one of their removal spells.

However, if you have a black-based deck with proper catch-up mechanisms such as Moment of Craving, Ravenous Chupacabra and Arterial Flow, then you will likely want to be on the draw. 


Moment of Craving Ravenous Chupacabra Arterial Flow

8. Although the average converted mana cost in these Sealed decks tend to be somewhat high, you cannot afford to flood in this format due to the lack of card advantage and mana sinks.

The games also tend to go quite long, while most of the removal spells are three or four mana. This means that you can get away with sixteen lands, as while you do not want to miss your first three or four land drops, past that, you can afford to miss a couple of lands, as long as you can keep interacting.

However, if you have multiple 7+ drops, equipment, and good mana sinks like Shapers of Nature, then I would play seventeen lands, as that is the actual number I would want to play in this format. 


9. Due to this format being slow, you do not need too many early plays.

However, you still want some amount, as some people do like to play aggressively in this format, and applying some early pressure and have your cheap creature bite a removal spell is a profitable exchange.


Snubhorn Sentry Dusk Legion Zealot Skittering Heartstopper

Ideally, I will want at least two one/two drops, with five being the maximum. If possible, you want them to be playable even in the late game, such as Snubhorn Sentry, Dusk Legion Zealot, and Skittering Heartstopper

10. Pump spells are not very good.

There are many quality removal spells in the format. Since you should be splashing for the best quality spells, you ideally want all your non-creature spells to be card advantage and removal spells. This is why you should not have any room for pump spells.

That said, if you do happen to open a pool with very few removal spells, then I will play pump spells as you need some form of interaction to get through these defensive creatures – merely overloading on creatures does not work.


Crash the Ramparts


Overall, these insights helped me a lot, as I was able to apply them and finish 8-1 on Day 1 at Grand Prix London. In fact, I even managed to start 2-0 on Day 2 and found myself at 10-1, before losing to Seth Manfield in the finals of the first draft, followed by a disastrous second draft, and ended up finishing in 58th place with an 11-4 record. 

For reference, this was my Sealed deck from Day 1: 


Please click image for larger view.

While my pool was not too difficult to build due to Green and Red being significantly better than the other colors, I did end up building this deck quite differently to how I would have had I not applied these insights.

For one, I would have played more two drops in the main deck, as I had a couple more in my pool.

However, throughout the event, I only played against one aggressive deck, where I boarded them in against and was thankful that I did not have any more in my main deck as they would have led to poor topdecks in the many grindy games that I did play.


Pirate's Pillage

I thought Pirate's Pillage was pretty bad at first. Usually, I would not have played a card such as Pirate's Pillage, but it ended up overperforming for me. Many of my games went very long and I usually had plenty of lands stuck in my hand that I was happy to discard.

Finally, I would not have played as much top end – with six 5+ drop creatures in my deck – but having so many threats ended up being how I was able to survive through my opponent's barrage of removal spells and still go over the top of them.

These deck-building decisions ended up mattering a lot, and I do not think I would have been able to finish with such a record had it not been for these insights. 


I hope you enjoyed this article as I shared my top ten insights to Rivals of Ixalan Sealed, and went over my deck from Grand Prix London. With multiple high-level Rivals of Ixalan limited events happening over the next month, I plan to cover the draft format in depth over the next few weeks. 

Until next time!

Zen Takahashi
@mtgzen on Twitter 

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