Rivals of Ixalan Arena Draft Primer

Ethan Saks • January 5, 2019

Rivals of Ixalan draft is coming to Magic Arena and this is something you won't want to miss out on. Not only is this a chance to fill out your collection with some cards from these lesser drafted sets, but it's also an incredibly entertaining format with a lot to offer! And just in case you've never played this set, or it's been a while and you want to get your Arterial Flow pumping, here's a primer to make sure you don't go extinct before going 7-x in your next event.

This ain’t your Grandfather’s Ixalan

We don’t have the “big set small set” draft environments that we used to. In fact, this was the last of its kind where the draft environment changed from XLN-XLN-XLN to RIX-RIX-XLN. Save for Hour of Devastation, this was probably the biggest shift in terms of speed of the format with the addition of two packs of a smaller set. Triple Ixalan was a very aggressive format with clunky removal being just a turn too slow to deal with impressive creature enhancements like One with the Wind and Pirate’s Cutlass. RIX is a whole different ball game.

The enhancements got worse and the removal got cheaper. Contract Killing became Impale, Pious Interdiction became Luminous Bonds, unplayable Pounce became Hunt the Weak, Unfriendly Fire became Bombard and Blue even joined in the fun with Waterknot. With the bounty of cheaper removal in all colors, the incidental lifegain from cards like Moment of Craving and Squire’s Devotion, and two powerhouse uncommons in Golden Demise and Ravenous Chupacabra, aggro decks are very much at a disadvantage. Even in a Best-of-1 environment, I would recommend steering away from two decks in particular: RB and UR Pirate aggro. Cards like Goblin Trailblazer and Kitesail Corsair may look appealing, but I think those cards and others like them can get brickwalled too easily and underperform. In addition to avoiding the aggro trap, here are a few general points about the format:

  • There is a ton of fixing. Evolving Wilds and Traveler’s Amulet at common, Enemy ETB tapped dual lands at uncommon, and an incredible number of treasure producers makes splashing for removal or off color bombs (looking at you Tendershoot Dryad) very doable.
  • This is not a curve format. I want to have at least four plays that affect the board before turn 3, but I would not worry about filling up your two drop slot. Too many of the two drops get blanked too quickly. Your three drop slot is going to look super full a lot of the time and that’s ok.
  • Creatures with one toughness are not good in this format. Dusk Legion Zealot, Sailor of Means, Shake the Foundations, Forerunner of the Empire, and most importantly Golden Demise are all cards that embarrass x/1’s.
  • There are some really powerful bombs in this set. Tetzimoc, Primal Death is chief among them, but Profane Procession and Hadana’s Climb are not far behind. With the prevalence of enchantment based removal and some bomb rare artifacts and enchantments, cards like Crushing Canopy, Cleansing Ray, and Naturalize are going to be serious main deck material in BO1.

So blessed.

If I had my choice in this format, I would want to play an Esper-based Ascend deck. The amount of powerful removal coupled with many ways to generate two-for-ones give these decks the ability to survive aggressive starts and handily take over the late game. Dusk Legion Zealot, Squire’s Devotion, and my personal favorite Sailor of Means are all super strong role players in these decks. Your enchantment based removal Waterknot and Luminous Bonds provide permanents as well for you on your quest for the city’s blessing. And you don’t need to be a Vampire deck (more on this later) to get value out of a handful of Legion Conquistadors, which are present in all three packs. And once you’ve ascended, the payoffs are numerous. Dusk Charger, Spire Winder, Deadeye Brawler, and Secrets of the Golden City (to name a few) are all good cards that become great with the City’s Blessing. Card advantage, removal, and lifegain are all recipes for a consistent deck that has good match-ups across the board and this checks all the boxes.

The Tribe Has Spoken

There are four creature types that matter in RIX: Pirates, Vampires, Merfolk, and Dinosaurs. As I’ve already said, I would avoid any pirate based aggro decks. Vampires is my personal favorite of the tribal strategies as it reaps a lot of the benefits of the Ascend decks while also having an uncommon lord in Legion Lieutenant. Legion Conquistador is super important in this archetype as it provides card advantage in a color combination that often doesn’t get access to it.


Merfolk certainly took a hit from triple XLN but is still a very viable deck. Merfolk Mistbinder, the other uncommon lord, curving into Jungleborn Pioneer provides quite a punch. The quality of your deck will depend greatly on the number of River Herald’s Boons you get passed in the last booster of the draft. Make no mistake, it’s still the most important card for the deck


Dinosaurs, concentrated in the Naya colors, was never really in the top tier of decks in either XLN or RIX. RW is really an aggressive deck without any tribal synergies and GW is often a base for a multi color value deck. (I am glossing over the white dino decks, but should take the time to mention that Sun-Crested Pterodon is one of the best common creatures in the set.)

RG, however, can get the job done if you are able to grab hold of some powerful uncommons. Forerunner of the Empire is probably at the top of the list because it not only is able to tutor up your best dino, but it is a reliable and repeatable way to trigger enrage. Forerunner into Needletooth Raptor to remove one of their creatures or into Crested Herdcaller to build your own Pyroclasm are just a few of the fantastic things that card enables.


Fringe Strategies

Golgari really got picked last in terms of support in this format. You could sometimes get an explore deck in Ixalan, but when Rivals came around even that part of its identity was taken away. However, this was still a totally serviceable deck thanks to the presence of Colossal Dreadmaw at common. Need a finisher? Dreadmaw has you covered. The other key piece to this deck was Recover, which I would happily play two of in this deck. Being able to get back your best creature and draw a card gave this deck staying power in to the late game. And sometimes the stars would align and you’d get the explore package out of the last pack of the draft.

Rakdos may not be the aggro deck you’re looking for (god help me if I ever put a Dire Fleet Neckbreaker in a deck again), but sometimes it can make for a fantastic treasure based control deck. The amount of removal this color pair has access to is absurd, and it has its fair share of treasure producers: Brazen Freebooter, Pirate’s Pillage, Contract Killing, and Dire Fleet Hoarder. Recover provides you a bit of card advantage and insurance to get back your best threats, you can have a Forerunner of the Empire package in the deck, or use your treasures to help splash. This deck is definitely one to look out for and may be very viable, depending on how highly the bots on Arena take the removal.

I’m incredibly excited to dive into this format. This draft environment was full of very interesting draft decisions and complex game play. And because the format slowed down quite a bit from Ixalan, it really opened up some powerful late game cards that were usually irresponsible to play otherwise: Sunbird’s Invocation, Conqueror’s Galleon, Overflowing Insight, and Revel in Riches. Well, maybe that last one is still irresponsible. Nevertheless, there are a lot of sweet things to do in this set and if it’s your first time playing Rivals of Ixalan, I hope you give it a try (and that you never have to face a Tetzimoc, Primal Death.)

Practice Makes Perfect

And of course, no amount of advice can replace good old fashioned practice. Luckily, Cardsphere has us covered with RIX support on draft.cardsphere.com.


Happy Drafting!