This weekend, the Pro Tour descends on my neck of the woods. Albuquerque, New Mexico is as close as a Pro Tour can come to Denver without being in Denver—I can’t be the only person who wants to see that—since ABQ is about five hours south on the highway. I get to watch the Pro Tour in my own time zone! Alas, I should be playing it instead. This is the second Pro Tour this year where I lost a win-and-in to qualify, the other being Pro Tour Amonkhet. But I must watch as penance—we can build on this!—and cheer on my friends who are competing.

Pro Tour Ixalan is special in another way, too. It’s the first Pro Tour I can recall in recent years that isn’t taking place two weeks after a set release. Ixalan has been one sale for month already, and we have three more days before any pro tour draft packs are cracked. Instead of watching to Pro Tour eagerly to see what the best players have divined from a new draft format, now we will watch the, navigate a format that appears to have matured and may have been solved. Is Ixalan all about proactive decks and combat tricks? Can the defensive strategies truly shine? I guess we’ll find out!

The “creative” decks didn’t quite get there in any of the three Limited Grand Prix last weekend. Reid Duke played amazing Magic and battled valliantly with his green-white Wakening Sun’s Avatar deck, but he couldn’t withstand Sean Miller’s Bros Rallying Roar deck. Red-white also triumphed at Grand Prix Liverpool in the hands of Marc Purvis—no, not former Magic: the Gathering Brand Manager. Sato Rei won Grand Prix Hong Kong with a blue-green merfolk/explore deck starring Tishana, Voice of Thunder. That’s a more innovative archetype—Owen Turtenwald won his first Grand Prix Phoenix draft pod with a similar deck—but still basically merfolk aggro.

There are some draft formats where I’d be overjoyed to see a mature draft metagame at the Pro Tour. But I’m not holding out much hope for Ixalan. I really like the flavor and mechanics of the set, but ultimately it reminds me too much of Avacyn Restored. The power level is mostly low and flat, and the good cards (which are as often common or uncommon as they are rare) decide most games. There’s a lot of skill differential to exploit in that kind of environment—knowing the cards that matter and using them effectively—but not if everyone in the tournament is a professional player with a month to master the format.

I was excited to play Grand Prix Phoenix last weekend. I don’t love the draft format but it’s mostly fun to play. The Sealed format is actually pretty good, because most pools have enough strong commons and uncommons to win consistently over the many rounds on day one of a grand prix. My pool was decent but not great—blue-black pirates/fliers with a few decent splashes, but nothing special. I started 4-0 before stumbling to miss day two at 5-4. Most of my losses felt unwinnable based on the cards drawn, but I’m sure I could have played better too.

I was lucky to get one great match in round six against Sam Black. I came one point short of winning game three, but had some great battles. My favorite moment was in game two, which I won, when I discarded Pious Interdiction (that I could cast) from my four-card hand off an unexpected hit from Sam’s Fell Flagship. My other choices were Vanquish the Weak, Air Elemental, and Run Aground. Sam knew I had Vaniquish because I’d mistakenly tried to cast it on a creature he’d just boosted to four power with New Horizons, and he didn’t have any valid targets in play thanks to Pirate’s Cutlass. But I was pretty sure I made the right choice, and perhaps Sam was thrown off a bit. It was the kind of match I love to play at grand prix, win or lose.

If that match with Sam was the highlight of my Ixalan Limited experience, I’ll take it. Grand Prix New Jersey looms in December and I may end up going, but I really don’t have much desire now to play more of the format. I can focus on Modern for the upcoming RPTQ—read my new column on Fridays—and play some Iconic Masters next month followed perhaps with Holiday cube. That’s a nice plan, but I wish I wanted to go deeper into Ixalan draft.

Will the Pro Tour rekindle my fire? Will the pros show great innovations? Will some hidden gems emerge? I sure hope so, but I’m not holding my breath. Wizards R&D definitely needed to scale back the power level of cards in Limited after recent sets, but it hasn’t felt as great as I’d hoped.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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