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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Rivals of Ixalan: The Limited Experience

Andrew Ryan

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The lost, golden city of Orazca has been found, and the four factions have arrived, with swords and all the panoply of war, to stake their claim and fight one another for the treasures therein- and for the greatest treasure- the Immortal Sun that is gathered.

Rivals of Ixalan is the latest expansion which adds 196 cards to the existing metagame, and completes the Ixalan block as a whole, and contains no special collectible cards. The set introduces one new keyword- Ascend, which gives an irrevocable bonus to cards with the relevant keyword, if you control ten or more permanents; which is everything on your side of the board, from lands to creatures, artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers.

The Ascend mechanic is very fun in Limited, where games go on for long enough (but not long enough to drag out to the never-never) for it to become relevant, and more often than not might just be enough to break a deadlock. For Standard however, the keyword becomes quite tasty for decks that want to go wide and flood the board, though in these formats, the merits of gaining a bonus late in the game when games are won and lost on early decisions seems rather questionable to me.

The Ixalan block was something that had a lot of appeal to casual and social players- a set with pirates and dinosaurs was always going to sell no matter what, and it was an opportunity for fans to dig/loot/rummage/draw through their wardrobe for their finest dinosaur or pirate costume (no love was ever given to vampire conquistadors, and costumes depicting fish folk are not easy to find), some of whom turned up at pre-releases all over.

This set primarily fleshes out the tribes that were previously established, and completes them to a point that they could function as decks, albeit at a casual level. Decks focused on tribes have the unfortunate side effect of being very linear, in that you either get to do your thing undisrupted and coast to victory, or fail to fire and simply get stomped by efficiency. Decks focused on dinosaurs now have some additional tools to ramp their mana faster, in the form of Thunderhead Migration (which lets you find a land and put it tapped, whilst Vampires and Merfolk function as a streamlined aggressive decks that synergise with a critical mass of their respective tribe. Pirates have gotten additional aggression at the lower end of the curve, but little for the long game, giving them a lot of potential to catch players off guard with speed and trickery.

***

Overall the set is a little unexciting for competitive players, with no pieces that catch the eye. But for players of the casual breed, especially Commander players (a very fun, random format where you have 100 cards, with the stipulation that you can only have one of each), there’s a ton of fun cards that have no impact but extremely wacky and polarizing payoffs, or requiring an entire deck to be built around it.

So I did a few simulated pre-release packs and over the course of those simulations, the Limited format of this set looked actually rather entertaining. It was entertaining in the sense that you could build functional decks without having to rely on certain powerful cards. So I decided to do one for real.

To start off my day, I opened the worst possible pack, having to work with things that I would normally not even give a second thought to. All the rare cards that came in my set of six (4 of the new set, 2 of Ixalan) were dedicated to really useless situational stuff, such as a singular Raptor Companion and two Dusk Chargers that could never be played. I had to examine my pool nearly thrice over deciding that my only route to victory was through playing a ton of removal- I had seven in all, two in the form of Ravenous Chupacabra (who adds a body in addition to its extremely busted ability to destroy anything- pros of this game and other personalities rate it the best card in the entire set), and only rely on a single Shining Aerosaur as a genuine threat to close out the game.

 Sealed pool l'terrible (the same could be said for photo quality, as is my ability to present things in neat, orderly lines)

Sealed pool l'terrible (the same could be said for photo quality, as is my ability to present things in neat, orderly lines)

The most memorable game on that day was me staring down a lethal flying dinosaur on board and on a 35 life to 2 deficit. Needing to topdeck like mad, I drew the one exact thing I need- a Pious Interdiction, to stave off impending doom, played the removal in my hand to counter my opponent’s follow up play and then attack all the way to the end.

Turns out having that much removal was a lot more effective than I bargained for, as I managed to make it all the way to the winner’s corner and end the day undefeated, going 4-0.

(You're probably tired of my gaming adventures for now, and I want to take a break too, there won't be anymore for a while as Fringe / PIAF season rolls in.)