Ixalan has a lot of cool cards and flavor, but it’s not a popular Limited environment. Novemeber and December tend to be lulls in the Limited calendar, but that feels especially true this year. I haven’t played a game of the draft format in a month. Grand Prix New Jersey is coming up next weekend, and my strategy to prepare has been to maximize my time away from Ixalan long so I will enjoy it again leading up to the tournament.

Deep draft formats can stay fresh for months, but Ixalan dried up quickly. It turns out when Swashbuckling and Blight Keeper are a good strategy, that means there aren’t many good strategies to choose from. My constant feeling while drafting Ixalan is this: I hope I can make this deck work. Even when you get “hooked up” in an open seat for a strong archetype, you can’t help fearing that at least a couple other drafters in your pod will be tough to beat.

Building decks isn’t exciting—it doesn’t feel responsive to the focus you put in. Why bother? “Because I need to win this tournament” is an acceptable reason, but it’s not sustainable for long. There’s not much room to get an advantage through creative drafting, at least once it became clear that Swashbuckling-style decks were competitive. You can mix and match with a five-color treasure deck, but even that isn’t widely open or off-the-radar. A big part of the problem is there aren’t enough cards powerful enough to be worth splashing.

But we get a new set in January, Rivals of Ixalan. It’s the last small set, so it seems likely that Wizards will at least try to make it memorable. I suppose they could “sell” the end of small sets by making Rivals the worst set ever, but that’s not what businesses try to do. They’re much more likely to take moon shots when failure is already the expected result. What do they have to lose?

With that in mind, here are some Ixalan cards I hope get better when Rivals joins the environment. These are cards that I wish were exciting to draft in triple Ixalan but aren’t. I’m sticking to commons and uncommons, because it’s hard to rely on seeing a rare from a large set in one pack of a draft.

Ixalan is a set full of good one drops and reasonable auras to enhance them. Imperial Lancer is the perfect card to slap some auras on. Except that you need dinosaurs to get the double strike, and dinosaurs aren’t the cards you want in the one-drop-and-aura deck. Why would you want this card in an Ixalan dinosaurs deck? It’s good with Bellowing Aegisaur, but so is any cheap creature. You need two separate cards—a dino and a way to pump this thing—to turn it on.

What if Rivals of Ixalan has ways to make this sweet with one card? Like, what if there was a dinosaur that puts a +1/+1 counters on humans? Or if dinosaurs show up in all five colors and feel semi-ubiquitous? What if they bring back the changeling mechanic in Rivals? Mutavault is the Grand Prix promo card for 2018, just saying.

I don’t really need to explain this one, do I? It’s Treasure Cruise minus irrelevant details like the boat and the water.

The problems with Shore Keeper in Ixalan draft are myriad, however. There are cheaper ways to draw cards, and 0/3 blocker isn’t very good, and there aren’t that many cards left in your deck worth drawing when you can actually pop this off. Either you’re dead too fast because your deck is full of worthless cards like Shore Keeper, or you sacrifice this only to draw two more copies plus a land.

This card is a decent raid enabler, though. Ixalan doesn’t give raid payoffs worth playing a one drop with no power—Storm Fleet Aerialist is the only impressive card to raid on turn two. I doubt they want to make Rivals all about that, but there are some ways they could make long-game raid cards. For example, what if there are quest-style enchantments that pop after you trigger raid three times? What if they blue one requires eight raid triggers but then sacrifices to return two spells from your graveyard to your hand?

This card ended up sucking because it can’t return non-tribal creatures, but those are half the creatures in decks that don’t focus on a tribe. Nobody has a deck where the creature distribution is 30/30/20/20 with no other types. Maybe in Rivals there will be fewer creatures that can’t be returned with Grim Captain’s Call. Did I mention the changeling mechanic?

I’m not sure what it would take from Rivals of Ixalan to make Charging Monstrosaur playable, but I hope we find out.

Blossom Dryad and New Horizons never really felt worth the effort outside of Sealed. Maybe that will change. Did you see they spoiled a new version of Tolarian Academy? It’s rare and requires artifacts, but rares in small sets are easier to come by than in large sets. Maybe there will be a few more rewards for untapping lands as well? Surprise block with Mutavault?

Are they actually going to reprint Mutavault in Rivals of Ixalan? I doubt it. The card is great and could warp Standard like it did in Theros. It seems especially odd to make a Grand Prix promo out of a card that comes in current booster packs. And they already printed Hostile Desert in the previous block.

I’d expect some new riffs on changeling for real, though. Ixalan draft needs a mechanic to encourage creative mixing of tribes.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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