Ixalan was released on Magic Online a week ago, and since then I’ve been drafting a lot to learn the format. Today I want to talk about what I’ve found so far, focusing on the two-color color combinations.

Ixalan is an interesting format to draft. The set has a few synergistic elements due to the focus on the four tribes, but the focus is not so pronounced that you need to build your deck around a specific creature type to be successful. Still, understanding the tribal synergies and learning how to balance synergy versus power is crucial to mastering the Ixalan draft format. In order to properly evaluate cards and make good picks you need to understand the relative value of the cards in the context of what you’re deck is trying to do. This has always been true, but it’s especially important in Ixalan because of its tribal elements.

White Blue

As one of the color combinations that doesn’t fit into any tribe, this is much more of a “good stuff” type of deck. White-blue doesn’t have many tribal synergies. Instead the deck plays out very much like classic Fliers draft decks. The goal of this deck is to curve out and attack with evasive creatures. There is a small flying subtheme to this archetype due to the card Favorable Winds. Although that seems like a sweet deck that I wanna draft, in general when drafting these colors I think it’s better to focus on having a good mana curve.

White Black

White-black is the color of Vampires in Ixalan, and also the color combination that is the most reliant on tribal synergies. Unlike the other tribes where you only need a couple of creatures of a certain type, the Vampires deck requires a critical mass of vampires in order to shine. Many of the deck’s best cards are quite mediocre outside of the Vampire archetype, but if you’re the only vampire drafter at the table you can get a deck that is quite strong. Because many of your vampires have lifelink it will be difficult for opponents to race you. The problem is that your creatures tend to get outclassed fairly quickly, so you’ll often need a card like Anointed Deacon to be able to attack profitably. When drafting BW Vampires, make sure that it’s actually open, and don’t be afraid to switch to another archetype if it’s not.

White Red

White-red decks tend to be aggressive, and Ixalan is no exception. When drafting this archetype I try to prioritize dinosaurs, but having an aggressive curve is much more important than creature types. The thing to remember is that most of the cards that synergize with dinosaurs don’t care about how many of them you have as long as you control at least one. For this reason you want enough dinosaurs to be able to consistently turn on your Tilonalli’s Knight, Pterodon Knight, and Thrash of Raptors. After that however, there is little reason to have more dinosaurs, and you’ll happily play non-dinosaur creatures as long as they attack well.

White Green

White-green is the slowest of the dinosaur decks, and tends to win by going over the top of its opponents. You don’t actually need a lot of dinosaurs in this archetype, it just so happens that a lof the creatures you want anyway are dinosaurs. If you do pick up some of the tribal cards you can prioritize taking dinosaurs, but otherwise I’m happy to play solid creatures like Sunrise Seeker and Tishana’s Wayfinder.

Blue Black

When it comes to blue-black, I tend to think of it as less of a Pirate deck and more as a tempo deck that uses the raid mechanic. The biggest pirates payoff at common is Pirate’s Cutlass, which is a good card but not enough for me to want to go all in on the tribe. Instead I tend to focus on making the most of the various enters-the-battlefield triggers the color combination has to offer by prioritizing cheap evasive creatures that are good at turning on raid in addition to taking Storm Sculptor highly. Blue-black also has the best mana fixing in the format thanks to the treasure mechanic, so it’s usually easy to splash off color cards. If you pick up a card that you’re interested in splashing, you can take treasure producers a little higher.

Blue Red

Blue-red has the best raid cards in Ixalan, and thanks to blue’s evasive creatures it can turn on raid very consistently without having to chump attack into opposing blockers. At common, Pirate’s Cutlass goes great with Siren Lookout and Headstrong Brute, as well as any other hard-to-block creatures you might have. Siren’s Ruse can save your creatures from removal and get a second use out of your enters-the-battlefield abilities. But the really big payoff comes at uncommon in the form of Fiery Cannonade. Fiery Cannonade is an absolutely game breaking card against certain strategies, particularly vampires. Even as a two for one the card is very good, and sometimes you can get many more of their creatures with it.

Blue Green

Blue-green are the colors of Merfolk on Ixalan, which is one of the best archetypes. It has a strong tempo-oriented game plan thanks to cards like Shaper Apprentice, Watertrap Weaver, and Storm Sculptor. The two big payoff cards are River Heralds’ Boon and Vineshaper Mystic. The merfolk deck gets better the more merfolks you have, but getting enough of them usually isn’t that hard, and most of the cards are decent even if you don’t have too many merfolk. In a really dedicated merfolk deck Deeproot Waters becomes a powerhouse, but I wouldn’t play it unless my deck was almost exclusively merfolk.

In addition to the merfolk tribal synergies, there is also a small +1/+1 counters sub theme within blue green. Herald of Secret Streams is one of those rares that often goes late in the draft, but really shines in the right deck. As things stand it’s the only payoff, and I wouldn’t count on being able to get my hands on one of them; but if you happen to get passed a copy, know that it’s a solid strategy. Another sweet thing you can do in blue-green is to combine Jade Guardian with One With the Wind to create a flying 5/5 with hexproof. Both of them are common, so getting the combo is not even that difficult. All in all there’s a lot of cool stuff you can do in blue-green. While I think the tempo-oriented Merfolk deck is probably the best of them, it’s good to be familiar with the other strategies in case the Merfolk plan doesn’t pan out.

Black Red

Black-red is the most aggressive of the pirate decks, and it’s capable of some very strong starts. Headstrong Brute rewards you for playing pirates, and is a very strong play on turn three as well as later in the game, especially in such an aggressive deck. Dire Fleet Captain is an uncommon, but can potentially attack for a lot of damage, and will be at least a 3/3 most of the time. Because of how aggressive the red black version is, your opponents will often be forced to block as soon as they can. This in turn makes them vulnerable to Storm Fleet Pyromancer and Fathom Fleet Cutthroat, which can put your opponent even further behind on tempo and sometimes even net you card advantage.

Black Green

Black-green doesn’t fit with any of the set’s tribes, so it’s another “good stuff” deck. Black has a lot of good removal spells and green has a lot of solid creatures, so the combination works out nicely. Missing out on the tribal synergies is a real cost, as some cards that are otherwise quite good can become much worse, but if the colors are open you should be able to still find enough playables for your deck.

There is one synergistic deck in these colors that is centered around the explore mechanic, with the payoff cards being Wildgrowth Walker and Lurking Chupacabra. I’ve managed to successfully draft this deck only once, and when I did it was good but not spectacular. The problem with this archetype is that the best explore creatures fit into any deck, so it’s rare that you’ll be able to pick them up late in the pack. If you can get a decent amount of payoff cards however, then suddenly the medium explore cards go from just okay to quite good, in which case you’ll likely end up with a solid deck.

Red Green

Red-green is the third of the dinosaur archetypes, and an aggressive midrange deck. With this deck you want to play a creature on curve every turn until turn five or so, where your curve mostly stops. The red dinosaurs in particular tend to have a lot of power for their mana cost, so each unblocked attack will usually take a big chunk of your opponent’s life total. The size of your dinosaurs means they will usually dominate the board, and force your opponent into a defensive position. If you can keep playing dinosaurs every turn it will be difficult for them to keep up with you, and they often cannot afford to stumble for even a single turn. At uncommon you have cards like Charging Monstrosaur, Raging Swordtooth, and Savage Stomp that fit this plan exceptionally well.

At the end of the day, this deck’s game plan is a simple one: play solid creatures on curve and attack. Just keep in mind that your creatures are much better on the offensive, so you don’t want to end up having to play defense with them.

Sandro is a Magic player from Stockholm, Sweden. He’s been playing Goblins in Legacy for years. Follow him on Twitter @SandroRajalin

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