A Comprehensive Ixalan Sealed Deck Primer, by John O’Leary

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A Comprehensive Ixalan Sealed Deck Primer

Contents

  • Macro-level observations & comments
  • Mana Sinks
  • Evasion
  • Removal, Combat Tricks & Aura’s
  • Colour Specific analysis & card discussion:
    • Green
    • White
    • Red
    • Black
    • Blue
    • Multicoloured
    • Artifacts
    • Lands

 

Introduction

The purpose of this primer is to help you to improve your performance in the Ixalan Sealed format. I’ll be covering first the Ixalan Sealed format from a macro perspective and then drilling down into the colours and individual cards.

I am not a pro player and like everything in Magic these things are contextual. Read the points and use your own decision making capacity and creativity to help you win more games.

With all of that being said, let’s dive into Ixalan Sealed.

 

Macro-Level Observations & Comments

The Ixalan sealed format is slower than its draft counterpart. Much slower. Much, much slower. Many of the games descend into mid-range board stalls and slower games, unless you get run over early, obviously.

The reason for this drastic change of pace between the sealed and draft portion is largely due to the reduced likelihood of having tribal synergies in any given sealed pool compared to drafting. It is less likely you’ll be able to assemble the Jade Guardian Voltron deck or have enough Anointed Deacons and/or small vampires to make that deck work.

You may obviously find that you do have access to high quality tribal synergies and this should be a good starting point when building any sealed pool, however I would rarely count on this paying off for you.

Creature sizing is another contributor to the speed of the format, you have a higher density of high toughness/low power creatures in this format, which makes blocking better and attacking less profitable. The critical point here is 5, either in power or toughness. There are very few creatures that have 5 or more power or toughness and very few of them cost less than 6 mana.

The only colour that has access to high power attackers for less than 6 mana is red, where you have access to Thrash of Raptors & Charging Monstrosaur. The only two colours with 5 toughness at less than 6 are blue, where Headwater Sentries is better than it looks and Looming Altisaur can be great out of the board. Much more on this in the colour specific section of this primer.

The speed of the format also means that mana-sinks and evasive creatures are more important than in draft. It will often either be unblockable/evasive creatures or ways to spend mana that break open games. Once you’ve checked a pool for tribal synergies immediately look for your mana-sinks and prioritise these highly.

 

Mana-Sinks

The importance of these cannot really be overstated. These are important and unless you crush your opponent early you will need either these or evasion to win your games.

The mana-sinks in Ixalan are primarily creature based, however there are two very important pieces of equipment that are also very good;

Cobbled Wings –  This card provides both evasion and an additional way to spend your mana. I would almost always play one copy of this as it provides two very important ways of breaking open board-stalls.

Pirates Cutlass – This card is good, and I assume people are aware of this now. Even without any pirates I would play this if I lacked a better way to spend mana.

The important part here is that it helps many creatures get up to 5/6 power allowing them to make reasonably profitable attacks into basically any board. You can trade a cheap creature and some mana for a bigger creature on the opponents side of the board or get in for a good chunk of damage. Either is good.

These two are important parts of the Ixalan sealed format and as they are both at common you can reasonably expect to have at least one in any given sealed pool. Play them often, they won’t always be all-stars but they will perform generally well.

Now we come on to the other mana-sinks in the format. I won’t be doing a deep-dive on each of the cards but instead provide some surface level commentary;

Vance’s Blasting Cannons – This card is great and very clearly great. You get extra cards and if you cast enough spells in a turn you get a land that does 3 damage for 4 mana, every turn for the rest of the game. This will often win games on its own and if you see it game one, position your sideboarding accordingly.

Arguel’s Blood-Fast – This card is fairly reasonable and in a good defensive deck, or one with good ways to gain life I would play this. However strongly consider boarding it out against more proactive decks.

Legion’s Landing – This card is great, a 1/1 Lifelink won’t often do too much but if you can flip it with either profitable attacks or some amount of evasion it is great. I would consider trading off a low-impact creature or two to get this card flipped if it didn’t open me up to a massive counter-attack.

It’s not an outright bomb, but still a premium card.

Search for Azcanta – Almost certainly not worth it. The front side isn’t worth a card on its own and almost no good sealed deck will be able to use the flip side efficiently. Almost never play this.

Captivating Crew –  This card is crushingly powerful and a complete bomb. If you ever get to untap with this and you are anywhere near board parity you will win a huge percentage of the time.

Splash for this card, but be aware that doing so off primarily treasures is not advised as the value is in multiple activations over a longer period of time.

Waker of the Wilds – (see above)

Thundering Spineback – This card is a complete bomb and better than most of the rares and mythics in the set for sealed. If I have this card in a sealed pool I feel highly incentivised to play green.

If you can untap with this you are very, very likely to win the game. As a side-note, this and Growing Rites of Itlimoc is a combo, and I would play the card for how it works with Thundering Spineback with no other synergies.

Shapers of Nature – This card is great and while not as powerful as the Spineback it is still exceptional. I would almost always splash this card if I had the chance, with the advice being the same as for Captivating Crew, include more green sources if you are splashing into green for this.

The Keeper Cycle. The best of the bunch is Ixali’s Keeper as it is also a bear, the next best is Blight Keeper as it has flying. I would not consider playing any of the others in the main deck, however they can make good sideboarding options. The red one if you need to beat down earlier, the blue one if you really want to grind out a slow game.

Jungle Delver – This unassuming little 1/1 is pretty poor, however if I lacked for any other mana-sinks in my Sealed pool I would definitely play it. Left unchecked it can create inevitability, however it doesn’t do it as well as basically every other option. It works, but is definitely not your go-to option.

Ruthless Knave – This card doesn’t really count as a mana-sink however it does make your opponents’ removal worse. It is slightly better than a vanilla 3/2.

Daring Saboteur –  This card is better than it appears as it does two important things. It allows you to push damage through later in the game and allows you to get rid of the excess lands that you are likely to draw over the course of a long game.

I would always play this if I was in blue, but would not too often consider splashing for it as it is too low impact on its own.

Deadeye Plunderer’s – This card can fairly easily take over a game all on its own and has the added benefit of providing incidental mana-fixing for your splash cards. I would always play this if I was U/B but would not consider splashing for it as the activation is very colour intensive.

Thaumatic Compass –  Always play this card. It is colourless, finds your splash colours or lets you hit land drops. Oh and it turns into a strictly better Maze of Ith. Play it. Play it every damn time.

Treasure Map – This card is a slow scry 3, draw 3 but in a slow format like this that’s pretty good. Another thing to be aware of is that the treasures can also incidentally be used to cast your splash cards. I would almost always look to play this card.

And there we go, that’s basically all of the mana-sinks that I think are relevant in this format. There aren’t a huge amount and they are generally found at higher rarities than we have been used to in recent sets where we had Embalm, Eternalise etc.

These cards will often be huge draws to a colour in any given sealed pool and depending on the quality they can and should often be splashed. However always be wary of splashing double coloured cards, as you need exponentially more coloured sources to cast those.

 

Evasion

There are only 29 creatures with evasion in Ixalan (menace counts as evasion), 8 of those evasive creatures only have conditional evasion (Shaper’s Apprentice, Headstrong Brute, Pterodon Knight etc), 9 of those are Uncommon, 10 are Common, 10 are Rares or Mythics.

The incidence of evasion in this set is quite low and evasion is, as usual, at a premium. You should almost always look to include your evasive creatures, and their value increases even more with cards like Dowsing Dagger or Pirate’s Cutlass. Evasion is typically a major draw to a colour, roughly equivalent to mana-sinks.

One card whose value is higher than in draft is Storm Sculptor. This card is excellent at closing out games and can even generate incidental value with creatures that have ETB effects, such as treasure production or raid triggers.

As a side note, I would normally wait to use my removal on evasive creatures if I had any chance to actually block my opponents’ ground creatures. This isn’t rocket science but be aware that the usage of removal is a big factor in how to play out games in sealed.

Evasion is at a real premium in this set and you should highly prioritise ways to deal with evasive creatures or have a plan with your own.

 

Removal, Combat Tricks & Aura’s

The removal in this set is bad, even for a modern limited set where the bar is set fairly low. There are 9 common removal spells, the best of which isContract Killing, the rest of them are reasonable to poor. You will not always play your removal in this set, because reasonable creatures can often be better than it is.

You will always play cards such as Contract Killing, Pious Interdiction, Vanquish the Weak and Firecannon Blast however some of these cards are not simply auto-includes.

Pounce requires you have to have reasonably sized creatures otherwise it will often simply be rotting in your hand. The threshold for this is often going to be 5 power. If I don’t have any creatures with 5 power I am unlikely to be playing Pounce.

Legion’s Judgement is better in the sideboard than the main-deck card. Sure it kills all the dinosaurs you come across, which is great. However if you end up playing against a U/B deck you may end up looking down at a board with no legal targets.

If you have very, very removal light I would play this, but I would think carefully before putting it into my decks.

The uncommon removal is generically good, with Savage Stomp, Ixalan’s Binding and Lightning Strike being the most readily splashable. Walk the Plank is also very, very good but I would only look to splash this card if my mana was incredible.

The general issue here is that the quality of removal is poor and the blue bounce effects line up poorly with the format so I would typically look at attempting to go over the top and bigger than my opponents.

This brings me on to the combat tricks, which are actually very good in this format and hold similar levels of value to the removal, although obviously still less important than true removal.

The cheaper tricks are very good, with Vampires Zeal, Sheltering Light and Skullduggery being cards I would always play at least one copy of and things like Dive Down also being very playable.

The only real tricks I am more hesitant to play are the green ones, Crash the Ramparts is 3 mana and while the effect is good it often works better as a finisher than a trick. Emergent Growth is not great and I wouldn’t normally play it, although it can be your 23rd playable at a stretch.

The main takeaway from this is that combat tricks are better than usual and removal is  worse, so adjust your card evaluations to take this into account. The majority of the removal is also typically sorcery speed and the best way to interact at instant speed is through combat tricks.

The second part of this is that auras are actually better than usual, especially One with the Wind and Mark of the Vampire. I wouldn’t main-deck them too often unless I had Jade Guardians to attach them to, because the risk of exposing yourself to blue bounce effects is rough.

However, if I haven’t seen these in game 1, I will often board them in, as they can really help to break board-stalls, and you are almost guaranteed to get a single hit in due to the sorcery speed nature of most of the removal.

Swashbuckling is the one aura I am not especially enamoured with as it doesn’t provide evasion or a very significant life-total swing, so don’t look at this card as one to look to actively play in sealed, even out of the board.

 

Colour Analysis & Card Evaluation

In this section I’ll be talking about each of the colours in a little depth to explain what they are good at, what the weaknesses are why you might want to play one colour over another.

I’ll also be doing a breakdown of the cards, however I won’t be going deep on the obviously good cards. These don’t need much discussion, however it is in the sideboard and conditional cards where you can find some real edges.

 

Green

I am going to start by saying that I think green is the best colour for this Sealed format. I don’t think this opinion is new or at all unusual, but I hope that during the colour breakdown I can help you explain why I think this is the case.

I think that U/G splashing for bombs is probably the best place you can be in any given Sealed pool.

All of this being said, every Sealed pool is different and there is no one correct answer on how to build a Sealed deck, so instead let’s go over what each colour offers and key cards to draw you into that colour when building your Ixalan Sealed deck.

Green offers three very important things; beef, mana-sinks & mana-fixing.

Unsurprisingly, green has the largest average creatures and some of the best defensive creatures at lower rarity levels. You get access to Colossal Dreadmaw, the highest power/toughness you can get at that mana-cost and rarity with a relevant keyword on it.

You also get to play with cards like Grazing Whiptail, Tishana’s Wayfinder, Ravenous Daggertooth and Ixiali’s Diviner.

None of these are massive draws to the colour but do really help to stabilise the board while generating incidental card advantage through use of Explore or Enrage.

This high incidence of good sized creatures that block well means that green is just a good colour, as Sealed is all about board control and the most important interaction you can have on any given board is blocking and attacking.

The other thing that green gives you access to is good ramp and mana-fixing through Drover of the Mighty, New Horizons and Blossom Dryad.

These cards all play well together, with the value of either New Horizons or Blossom Dryad going up remarkably if you have either of them in your pool. Another thing to note here is that green has very good access to the Explore mechanic, meaning that you are more likely to hit land drops consistently.

The most important factors with these Explore creatures is their cost, you have them at both the 2 and 3 drop slot, where they offer both reasonable bodies and a good impact with regards to hitting land drops or effectively scrying for you. This is in contrast to the other colours where Explore is typically on more expensive cards, Queen’s Agent for example.

Explore as a mechanic is always better on cheaper creatures because you are generally paying less of a cost for the Explore mechanic tacked on. So, generally look to play the cheaper creatures over the more expensive options.

The last and possibly most important thing about green is that it gets access to the best mana-sinks, which is great because green decks are consistently hitting their land drops and often ramping.

You get Thundering Spineback, Waker of the Wilds, Jungle Delver & Shapers of Nature. The last is U/G, but because of the usual quality of your fixing you can almost always splash this if you aren’t base U/G.

The notable thing here is that you get access to amazing mana-sinks below the rare level in both Shapers & Spineback. Each of these can very easily win games in short order if left unchecked. You also get access to one of the best mana-sinks in the format at rare in the shape of Waker of the Wilds.

Any of these cards are HUGE signals that you want to be playing green, and likely want to be base green as these are often quite colour intensive in their casting costs.

Green generally offers a very good base colour that you want to pair with a secondary colour that offers high power level cards, evasion or just outright bombs. I would expect 50% or so of Sealed decks to ideally be looking at being base green pairing with other colours.

Signal cards

There are the cards that you want to pull out early when looking at your pool and care the cards that pull you towards wanting to play any given colour. I have given these cards four different categories; Bomb, Premium, Above Average, Conditionally Great and Sideboard.

Bombs are self-explanatory, they win games and can help you to recover from a deficit or completely close out games while at parity.

Premium cards are very good cards that will be some of the best cards in your deck, but aren’t game-changing or unique enough to make it into the bomb category. High quality removal often ends up here.

Above Average cards are not cards that pull you into a colour but you are happy to have them. Tishana’s Wayfinder, New Horizons, Sailor of Means, Shining Aerosaur are all good examples of these cards.

Conditionally Great cards are things like River Herald’s Boon, Jade Guardian, Favorable Winds, Wakening Sun’s Avatar, Lurking Chupacabra.

These cards need a little work to get going but if you get there they will be some of the best cards in your deck. For each of these I’ll spend a little time talking about when and why you would consider putting them into your Sealed pool.

Sideboard cards are things that you will bring out to counter specific cards or strategies that you have seen out of your opponent, these cards are often very powerful or efficient but incredibly narrow. Demystify is a great example of this style of card.

In Green we have the following;

Bombs

Waker of the Wilds, Carnage Tyrant, Thundering Spineback, Ripjaw Raptor, Verdant Sun’s Avatar.

Premium

Drover of the Mighty, Deathgorger Scavenger, Snapping Sailback, Savage Stomp, Ranging Raptors, Grazing Whiptail, Atzocan Archer, Emperor’s Vanguard.

Above Average

Pounce, Merfolk Branchwalker, New Horizons, Blossom Dryad, Deeproot Warrior, Tashana’s Wayfinder, Vineshaper Mystic, Ravenous Daggertooth.

Conditionally Great

Jade Guardian – This card increases in value significantly if you have either a large amount of River Herald’s Boon or auras to stick on it.

Specifically One with the Wind is a complete beating with this card. Without those this is still fine as a 3/3 hexproof but not the unfair broken mess it is when paired with the cards mentoned.

Wildgrowth Walker – This card is not worth it just for the 1/3 body and without any Explore synergies I would be loathe to play this in Sealed. However, the value of this card increases once you reach about 4 different Explore creatures, with the value only going up if you have more.

I would increase my valuation of other Explore cards if I had this card in my deck, but I wouldn’t look to be deform my deck around this card. It is a nice incidental bonus, but it isn’t a game winning card all on its own.

River Herald’s Boon – This combat trick can be a complete beating and help you to create giant swings on board quickly. However the downside is that in order for this to be playable I would want an absolute minimum of 6 merfolk, with a good point being about 9 merfolk before I am looking to play as many as possible.

As mentioned earlier, the value of this does increase with Jade Guardians, and I would play River Herald’s Boon with about 5 Merfolk if at least two of them were Jade Guardian.

Deeproot Champion – This card is very narrow, but if you do end up in a deck with 10 or more non-creature spells it can be very good. It is very easy to snowball a game out of control off the back of a turn 2 Deeproot Champion. You are unlikely to play this, but be aware that it can be powerful in the right deck.

Growing Rites of Itlimoc – If you have a good place to put the mana this card can produce then it is absolutely fantastic, and makes a damn good combo with Blossom Dryad. The best and most synergistic way to use this card is with Thundering Spineback.

If you ever get that to work you’re effectively guaranteed to win. Outside of a solid mana-sink then the front side just isn’t worth a card.

Sideboard

Shaper’s Sanctuary – This card should be brought in against someone with 5-7 targeted removal spells or abilities. The effect is fantastic and while I would often not want to spend a card on this effect against an unknown opponent the effect is very powerful and can be a massive factor in how games play out.

Crushing Canopy – This card is something I would actually main-deck most of the time. The only reason I am putting it in this section is that people will often look at this card and think that this is a strictly sideboard option.

However given the importance of fliers in this format and the prevalence of powerful enchantment cards in the form of either removal or the legendary enchantments, you are almost always going to have a good target for this spell.

Splice in Twain – This is something that is good out of the sideboard but I would want to see a good 3-4 targets before I wanted to actively bring this in. The effect is amazing but fairly narrow. Don’t be too keen boarding this in if you’ve only seen one or two targets as you want to minimise the amount of dead cards in your deck as much as possible.

Ancient Brontodon – Gregory. This card is huge, it’s a goddamn 9/9 for 8. However in many decks it will simply be a dead card rotting in your hand.

This attacks through basically everything and can be an option to break open board stalls in long games. Be aware that this isn’t a great plan as evasion will almost always be better, but if you are lacking that option Gregory can come to the rescue.

Emergent Growth – This card is similar to Gregory. It helps to break open board stalls. However it is very slow and expensive so it isn’t really deserving of a main-deck slot. If you do really need to break a board open though, sticking this on Gregory is a legitimate option.

 

White

White in Ixalan is a fairly well balanced colour, albeit lacking in any real definitive identity. It will often be a good support colour due to its powerful single-coloured cards (Ixalan’s Binding, Imperial Aerosaur), however, you will not be base white too often, as the average card quality is fairly poor despite it having some incredibly powerful spells.

White will often also be a splash colour in either blue or green decks, as it offers access to good removal and flying threats. White does nothing especially badly but doesn’t have a high density of premium quality cards. What I’m trying to say is that White is OK, but probably the worst colour to base yourself in for Sealed.

Oh yes, you also can get serious story equity by only opening Axis of Mortality or Sanguine Sacrament as your rares. Terrible win percentage, great story. #Feelsbadman

Signal cards

Bombs

Settle the Wreckage*, Imperial Aerosaur.

*If you have the chance to play around Settle the Wreckage, please do so. There is no faster way to get blown out and lose a game than by walking blindly into this card.

Premium Cards

Territorial Hammerskull, Ixalan’s Binding, Bishop of Rebirth, Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle, Kinjali’s Sunwing, Glorifier of Dusk, Bellowing Aegisaur, Adanto Vanguard, Emissary of Sunrise, Legion’s Landing.

Above Average

Pious Interdiction, Steadfast Armosaur, Slash of Talons, Vampire’s Zeal, Shining Aerosaur, Sheltering Light, Inspiring Cleric, Skyblade of the Legion, Bishop’s Soldier.

Conditionally Great

Wakening Sun’s Avatar – I wondered whether to put this into the sideboard category originally however I feel that this card is best suited here.

This card can be fantastic, however if you are going to be destroying the majority of creatures on your side of the board then it looks a lot less good. Many people with often read this as; “7/7 for 8 that wraths the board”.

This card is not that. I would ideally be looking to play this with somewhere in the region of 11 Dinos, especially if my non-dinosaurs are less important or impactful.

You should also look to be actively boarding out this card against opposing dino decks, an 8 mana 7/7 is pretty bad if it doesn’t affect your opponent’s board. You could just play Gregory instead.

Bright Reprisal – The value of this card is much higher against players who aren’t great, or don’t know the format as well. That is not a good place for a card to be. However you can get around this by having more instant speed interaction for when someone doesn’t attack into your not-at-all-really-obvious Bright Reprisal mana.

Good examples of this are Wind Strider, Snapping Sailback, Spell Swindle or Run Aground. Anything that lets you either have other reactive options or be proactive at instant speed makes this card better.

Kinjali’s Caller – An 0/3 is not worth a card if it isn’t giving you a fairly consistent mana-cost reduction to your big stompy idiots. You need at least 8 Dinos before you want to play this card, and generally you won’t be looking to play this.

If however you have some nuts Dinos or a real critical mass, then jam in as many as you can.

Pterodon Knight – If this is often a 3/3 flier for 4 then you are very happy. If this is a 3/3 for 4 lounging around on the ground then you are much less happy. If you have 6 or more dinosaurs you play this every time, if you have less than that then this card is worse but still begrudgingly playable.

Rallying Roar – If you get lucky and open a few Call to the Feast and some Queen’s Commission then this card can be good. However you are unlikely to ever get there. It’s worthwhile being aware of this card, but its value is very conditional on how wide you can go on board.

Sideboard

Demystify – This card is good if you have seen 3-4 good targets for it, or 1-2 very impactful targets for it. Nothing too complicated, a typically efficient but very narrow sideboard card.

Looming Altisaur – This card is a very good reason to make note of your opponents’ average creature sizing, something you should generally be doing anyway. If you see a large amount of moderately high power ground based attackers that don’t punish you with mechanics like enrage then these cards are great.

You just plop it down and feel safe behind a giant wall of dino meat. Be wary when boarding this card in, you need to have a way to take advantage of the time that big butt has bought you, so have a good late-game plan.

Also as a side-note, this card not having reach is a complete flavor fail and I feel that Larry (my pet name for this card) has been let down by WoTC in the keyword department. Poor Larry.

Tocatli Honor Guard – If your opponent’s deck is full of raid, Explore or other nasty ETB effects then board this card in. I would want to see 4 or more mediocre ETB effects or a couple of great ones to want to bring in this card. A 1/3 is not worth a card on its own but the disruption can be relevant.

Priest of the Wakening Sun – If you are playing against an aggressive deck and you slam this on turn one with a dinosaur in hand then you’re going to have a good time.

The 2 life a turn is very relevant against assertive decks in Sealed and if you have some super bomby cards to fetch the value of this goes up even more. For example if I could go and fetch a Thundering Spineback or a Burning Sun’s Avatar with this and I also wanted the life gain I would play this.

You ideally want 8 or more dinosaurs to play this, because you will want to have one in hand while playing out the others.

Legion’s Judgment – I might play this in my main deck if I am super short on removal, but it’s probably the worst piece of removal in the set.

There are many decks where this is simply a dead card and will be for an entire game. It doesn’t kill the vast majority of fliers or evasive threats. It doesn’t kill a lot of the bombs in the format. This is just generally underwhelming.

However if you are facing a deck full of big, high power creatures then this card can perform wonderfully. I would usually have this in my board and only board it in when I see someone going ham with dinosaurs.

 

Red

Red is a very solid colour in this format, with some great bombs, good general creature sizing and some high quality removal. The only issues with red are that it doesn’t have any really good evasive creatures and its power is clustered heavily into its higher rarity cards, unlike with green where there is a good spread of power across the rarity spectrum.

Also, it has Charging Monstrosaur. Charging Monstrosaur is a card you should always play and is a good chunk better than many of the rares and mythics in this set. Rawr.

Red pairs well with the more defensive colours (Blue and Green) because it has a higher density of high power creatures which allow you to punch through the beefy blockers you may find yourself up against.

It also has real reach with Repeating Barrage, Lightning Strike, Unfriendly Fire and Storm Fleet Pyromancer all able to go to the face. Having your removal spells sometimes going to the face is good value and can swing a race out of nowhere.

The weakness of red is that it has no flying, unblockable or reach creatures. This means that unless you have a very assertive gameplan or access to these options from another colour you are very likely to lose the long game. It is primarily for these reasons that I think pairing with either Green or Blue is ideal.

Signal Cards

Bombs

Repeating Barrage, Captivating Crew, Burning Suns Avatar, Vance’s Blasting Cannons, Charging Monstrosaur, Sunbird’s Invocation*.

*This card is amazing in Sealed and once you untap with it you are so likely to win the game if you just cast spells.

Premium Cards

Lightning Strike, Rowdy Crew, Rampaging Ferocidon, Lightning-Rig Crew, Firecannon Blast, Angarath’s Marauder’s.

Above Average

Unfriendly Fire, Tilonali’s Knight, Fathom fleet Firebrand, Storm Fleet Arsonist, Storm Fleet Pyromancer, Raptor Hatchling, Captain Lannery Storm, Rummaging GoblinsBonded Horncrest.

Conditionally Great

Optec Huntmaster – If you have 5-6 dinosaurs that cost more than 4 mana then I would play this card, without that critical mass however, this is completely underwhelming.

Star of Extinction – This card is very powerful and very impactful on any given board, however you need to have a good controlling game plan to take advantage of this. If you just jam this in your usual midrange decks it will under-perform. You ideally want to have a control deck that can go to the late-game and win so that you can take advantage of the clear board that Star gives you.

This is also a reasonable planewalker answer if you don’t have any better ways of removing one, always look for better options first though. Also remember that it does destroy a land, so you if you really need to destroy a pesky land then this an option, though it does feel somewhat like overkill.

Dinosaur Stampede – Similar to Rallying Roar, if you have the capacity to go really wide then this card offers a very legitimate win condition and can deal a large amount of damage out of nowhere.

Thrash of Raptors – You don’t need a huge density of other dinosaurs to make this playable, somewhere in the region of 4 or 5 is good enough to look to be actively playing this.

If you get over 8 then you are very likely to have this as a 5/3 trample for 4, which can put real pressure on an opponent and be attacking through the majority of their blockers early.

Swashbuckling/Fire Shrine Keeper/Rigging Runner – I’ve lumped this lot together because are all good in the same situation, which is that you got there with an aggro deck in Ixalan Sealed. This is very, very rare but sometimes a Sealed pool comes along with an aggressive creature curve, good combat tricks and the means to beat down early.

In that deck these cards can all be considerations, going one drop, two drop, one drop & Swashbuckling is a very good way to get someone dead quickly. Be conscious of boarding out Swashbuckling if you see almost any bounce spells as that is absolutely terrible news for you.

I would also state once again that this is incredibly unlikely and unless you have an incredible curve just don’t do it.

Sideboard

Demolish – If you really really need to kill a legendary land this will help. Bring this in against any of the really problematic lands that you can’t kill any other way. That is basically the only time you’ll be playing demolish in this set.

Dual Shot – There are a bunch of annoying 1 toughness creatures out there, from Drover of the Mighty to Daring Saboteur, River Sneak etc.

This card is a very good answer to all of these. Unlike Skullduggery, which you will always main deck, the home for Dual Shot is often in the sideboard, as it can often be a very dead card. If you are very light on early interaction, however, this becomes potentially main-deckable.

Fiery CannonadePirateclasm. This card won’t always live in your sideboard, because in any deck where this kills none of your creatures you’re likely to play it. However the position for this is often in the board, it works best against Vampires and is next-best against Merfolk.

Against Pirates it’s…well…don’t play it against pirates. Lastly this can be an actively bad card into a dino deck as they will often have enrage triggers that are beneficial to them, so be wary of when you play this.

Hijack – This card can come in out of the board if you really just need to beat down and beat down hard. Bring this in if you know you have no chance of beating your opponent in a longer game and just need a card that can create a big swing in a race. The value of this also goes up if you have any ways to sacrifice the creature you steal.Ruthless Knave and Costly Plunder are your best options for this.

Trove of Temptation – This card can be really good at forcing a stalled board into your favour. I would consider boarding in this card against an opponent that has almost all ground creatures and a board-stall related plan.

Forcing them to attack into you can be very useful as you’ll be able to make profitable blocks. The other time you may consider bringing this in is if you’re a very aggressive deck and just need to try and force your opponent into a racing situation.

 

Black

Black is in a very similar position to white in this format, it has some very good cards but lacks a critical mass of good playables to make it a colour you want to base your deck around. Black is another exceptional support colour, although it doesn’t lend itself easily to splashing because all of its most powerful cards have double black in their mana-costs.

Black has the best removal, good access to Explore creatures (only black and green have 3 apiece), reasonable creatures with evasion and a very good aura. It’s basically pretty good on a bunch of fronts but lacks the density of good creatures that make you want to play it as your primary colour. One of the issues with black is that some of its best commons are synergy focused, Anointed Deacon being the most obvious.

Because of this, and the inherent lack of synergy in the Ixalan Sealed format, the power of black is somewhat reduced. Black is where you initially want to look for synergies when opening up your Sealed pool because a good B/W Vampires deck will do very well only using commons and uncommons.

Black can also form the core of a pretty sweet Sealed archetype, which is U/B splash all my bombs. I’ll be covering that later, but as you have a good amount of treasure generation it is much easier to force all your most powerful cards into one deck. The most important card from black here is Contract Killing, which gives you access to two treasures and makes sure you’re not dead by the time you cast your off-colour bombs.

Signal Cards

Bombs

Vraska’s Contempt, Boneyard Parley, , Sanctum Seeker.

Premium Cards

Walk the Plank, Contract Killing, Ruin Raider, Heartless Pillage, Kitesail Freebooter, Vanquish the Weak, Dark NourishmentFathom Fleet Captain,Deathless Ancient*

*This card moves up into bomb territory if you have the means to recur it even on a semi-reliable basis.

Above Average

Seeker’s Squire, Skymarch Bloodletter, Mark of the Vampire, Skullduggery, Deadeye Tracker, Wanted Scoundrels*, Bloodcrazed Paladin.

*This can backfire, but this card gets much better if you have 1 or 2 Pirate’s Cutlass in your deck, as attacking with a 6/4 on turn 3 is pretty good.

Conditionally Great

Lurking Chupacabra – This card can do some work, but you’ll need to help it. You ideally want to look for 5 or so Explore creatures before you start looking at this card.

The reason you ideally want more Explore creatures to play this than with Wildgrowth Walker is that a 2/3 for 4 is very underwhelming. In order to get value out of this you really need to be triggering it. A 1/3 for 2 isn’t great but it is playable without any other triggers, a 2/3 for 4 is awful. You will also want to be actively boarding this out if it doesn’t actually kill much on your opponent’s side of the board.

Grim Captain’s Call – If you can reliably get three different types back you really want to play this card, even with two it’s OK. If you can ever get a deck where hitting four creatures with this is a reality, you want to play it, you are also happy to splash into it at that point. Fairly simple.

Revel in Riches – I mean, sometimes you get there. This card is almost certainly never going to be playable but once in a blue moon you will get the pool to support this.

If you do ever try and go for this remember to build a defensive deck prioritising removal and high toughness creatures. I’ve managed to win with this in draft but doing it in Ixalan Sealed deserves a picture and quite possibly a reddit thread.

Raider’s Wake – This straddles the line between sideboard and situational. You want to play this card into a defensive deck that can’t overly punish your attacks and isn’t deploying to the board fast enough to make the discard trigger actually relevant.

If you can ever get this to go off three times then it’s worth a card, less than that is just not worth it. If you ever get more then you’ve almost certainly just won.

Dire Fleet Ravager – In a deck that can take advantage of this, where you are assertive or possibly even have some reach through burn spells then this card is good and can steal games nothing else could.

I would envisage a potential R/B aggro deck wanting to play this. If you are at all defensive then this card loses a huge amount of value and you shouldn’t look to play it.

Anointed Deacon/Bishop of the Bloodstained – Both of these cards go way up in value If you have other vampires. You are looking at a minimum of 6 other vampires/token producers before you want to play these cards, ideally you are looking for 10 or more but that is very unlikely to hit in an Ixalan Sealed pool.

If you do get there with these though, they are likely to be the best cards in your deck and also offer an avenue for success if you open terrible rares and mythics because the core of any B/W vampires deck is almost all common with some uncommons.

March of the Damned – If you have 5 or so pirates alongside a couple of bomb creatures I would look to play this card, if I have 8 or more pirates this card is just great. It allows an aggressive trade of creatures and resources to whittle down any given board before you refuel for just a single mana.

Sideboard

Duress – Ahh Duress. Not too likely to come in, but if you see some horrifically powerful noncreature cards out of your opponent it’s a good place to go. The most important card type to make note of is probably Planeswalker, because dealing with one of those on board can be a real pain.

I would also think about bringing this card in if I had one or two creatures that I really need to save from removal. Things like a Waker of Wilds or Vona, Butcher of Magaan etc are such creatures.

Spreading Rot – If you need to kill the legendary lands this is an option, it’s not great but sometimes you just need to kill a Spitfire Bastion (the flip-side of Vance’s Blasting Cannons).

Arguel’s Bloodfast – This card is good in a slower match-up because you can trade cards for life, where life isn’t a precious resource. It isn’t super efficient but it’s not bad either.

This is better with life gain but playable without. Remember you don’t have to flip this card if you want to live life on the edge. It is also terrible against aggro decks, don’t ever think of bringing it in then.

 

Costly Plunder – This card is very good if you see a lot of enchantment based removal from your opponent, I would want to see 3-4 pieces before I looked to actively bring this in but in that case it is great.

Skittering Heartstopper – This card is perfectly fine to play to in the main, but its value can increase massively out of the board. If you see a bunch of big dumb creatures without evasion then this card can act as a pseudo removal spell and buy you loads of time.

It can also sometimes act as 1 damage unblockable threat because your opponent won’t really want to trade a better creature into this. This card synergises well with both Pounce and Savage Stomp so keep that in mind when building your deck.

This card is also one of the few ways to answer Carnage Tyrant on a 1-for-1 basis, even though you will still take 5 damage.

An aside

Sword Point Diplomacy is bad and you shouldn’t play it the vast majority of the time. Allowing your opponent to choose which card you get is absolutely awful and there are going to be almost 0 decks in the format fast enough to make the life-loss truly relevant.

You are going to actively harm your win percentage if you choose to play this card over something even mediocre like a Skymarch Bloodletter. /rant over

 

Blue

Blue is the colour that I have placed below green as the second best colour in this set because it offers two things in abundance, evasion and fixing. Blue also has the best evasive options of any colour which makes it fantastic.

Alongside this you get access to a plethora of treasure producing cards with Sailor of Means, Prosperous Pirates, Pirates Prize and Depths of Desire all being common ways to make treasure tokens.

These two factors together make blue a fantastic colour to be playing in this Sealed format. You can splash all of your most powerful cards and close out games with evasion.

The issue that blue suffers from is a complete lack of removal and generally poor creature sizing; both of which are two completely new problems for the colour blue.

Because of this, blue pairs very well with any of the colours, all of which can shore up the weaknesses of the blue decks. My preferences are either green for access to all of the beef and the high quality Merfolk Synergies, or Black because you get access to amazing removal options and the capacity to make some really greedy splashes for your most powerful cards.

Signal Cards

Bombs

Rivers Rebuke, Overflowing Insight*, Air Elemental, Entrancing Meoldy, Dreamcaller Siren, Jace, Cunning Castaway.

*Yes, I think this is a bomb. If you cast this card you are so heavily favoured to win that game that I think this card constitutes a legitimate bomb. Especially because of all the incidental treasure production.

Premium Cards

Chart a course, Prosperous Pirates, Tempest Caller, Siren Lookout, Storm Fleet Aerialist, Daring Saboteur, Storm Sculptor, Watertrap Weaver, Fleet Swallower.

Above Average

River Sneak, Wind Strider, Sailor of Means (meme’s), Run Aground, Shaper’s Apprentice, Lookout’s Disperal, Dive Down.

Conditionally Great

Herald of Secret Streams – This card can win games if you get it going. If you have a few ways of giving creatures +1/+1 counters, either through Explore, river herald’s boon, Shapers of Nature or New Horizons then this card is amazing.

However you do really need those synergies to make this card playable. Without that it is just a understated creature.

Siren’s Ruse – This card doesn’t need much to be great, if you have 4 or so pirates with a few other good ETB effects then this card is amazing.

Tempest Caller and Watertrap Weaver are the two most significant non-pirate targets. The value of this card also goes up against decks wanting to play Pious Interdiction, so keep that in mind.

Siren Stormtamer – If you have a creature that you really need to protect, or a very proactive assertive gameplan then this card is good and worthwhile. However if you cannot take advantage of either the chip damage or protection for bomb cards then this should simply not be in your deck.

Deadeye Quartermaster – If you can fetch one great artifact and one mediocre artifact then I would definitely play this. An example would be the ability to fetch either a Pirate’s Cutlass or Conqueror’s Galleon.

The value of this card goes up both with the quantity and quality of the cards it can get, simply fetching a cutlass is almost certainly never going to be worth it.

Favorable Winds – You need at least 9 fliers to make this worthwhile, ideally cheaper fliers where the bump in power and toughness is more impactful. Going from 4/4 to 5/5 is good but not amazing, but going from 2/3 to 3/4 is huge.

You really do need a critical mass here, and while you are unlikely to get there it is always worth your time to just check. 10 or more fliers and this suddenly becomes the literal best card in your deck and what you want to draw more than anything else.

Deeproot Waters – You need 9 or more ways to trigger this to make it worthwhile. Ideally you are looking for a minimum of 3 triggers before this card has been worthwhile. The value of this goes up if you have a Pirate’s Cutlass or other ways of bolstering the tokens power and toughness (Mark of the Vampire e,tc) but you still really want a minimum of 9 activators for this.

Spell Swindle – This card is only really playable alongside high level of incidental treasure generation because a 5 mana counter spell is basically never playable.

However if you do hit a high level of treasure generation then playing this card becomes a lot more reasonable because it is much easier to hold up the relevant mana while also advancing your own gameplan.

Arcane Adaptation – This is a combo with Vanquisher’s Banner and while it may seem cute it is incredibly powerful if you can assemble it. There are other minor incidences of usefulness, such as with Admiral Beckett Brass but the interaction with Vanquisher’s Banner is definitely the most powerful thing you can do with this card.

Sideboard

Spell Pierce – This card is great if you are the assertive deck and looking to protect an early threat against a removal heavy deck. Outside of that it is probably worse than Cancel.

It’s not great, but it is incredibly efficient.

Cancel – I actually think that playing a single cancel in the main is entirely defensible and in a deck with few pirates it is definitely worth playing over Lookout’s Disperal. However the best sideboard use of this card is against difficult to interact with or incredibly powerful bombs, planeswalkers, enchantments, big scary creatures. All of these are very good reasons to bring in a Cancel.

Headwater Sentires – Similar to Looming Altisaur (Larry) this card can be a very good defensive option out of the board to slow down an opponent’s aggressive game plan. This card is a little better than Larry because of the two power, allowing it to actually profitably block some creatures instead of just being a wall.

 

Multicoloured

These are usually the most powerful cards in any given set and where you’ll see the highest incidence of absolute bombs.

Basically all of the multicoloured cards are worth playing if you are in that colour pair and some of these are definitely worth splashing for.

Bomb

Hostage Taker, Regisaur Alpha, Huatli, Warrior Poet, Vraska, Relic Seeker, Vona, Butcher of Magan, Shaper’s of Nature, Tishana, Voice of Thunder, Gishath, Sun’s Avatar*.

*Even without a huge amount of dinosaurs this is a powerful card, however I would only look to play it with 5 or so other dinos in my deck.

Premuim Cards

The only one not worth splashing is Dire Fleet Captain, Sky Terror actually reads more like 2/2 unblockable a lot of the time.

Marauding Looter, Deadeye Plunderer’s, Call to the Feast, Raging Swordtooth, Admiral Beckett Brass*, Sky Terror, Dire Fleet Captain.

*You realistically need 8 or more pirates to make this work and are looking to be base U/B in order to cast this card.

Average

Belligerent Brontodon * – sorry Brian, you’re the only one here.

*If you do have a pool with a bunch of Looming Altisaur, Skyblade of the Legion and Ixiali’s Diviner then this card does become playable.

 

Artifacts

Probably the most important one to mention here is Pirate’s Cutlass. This card is good and if you have evasive creatures or pirates then it is definitely worthwhile playing.

Alongside this very impactful common we have a few very powerful flip cards and a couple of very, very mediocre cards.

Bombs

Thaumatic Compass (PLAY IT), Conqueror’s Galleon.

Premium Cards

Treasure Map, Pirates Cutlass, Dusk Legion Dreadnought, Fell Flagship, Dowsing Dagger.

Above Average

Cobbled Wings, Sleek Schooner.

Aggressively Average

Gilded Sentinel

Conditionally Great

Pillar of Origins – If you are splashing a few cards of a specific creature type or have a critical mass (9+) of cards of a given creature type then this card is playable, otherwise avoid it completely.

Vanquisher’s banner – You want 10 or more cards of any one type to make this worthwhile, and if you have Arcane Adaptation then you have the c-c-c-combo.

Primal Amulet – You need 12 spells to make this card good. You need a good amount of both removal and card draw to make this card good. What I am trying to say is that if you ever get there with the card then well done, it’s snowing and you’re in magical Christmas land.

Sideboard

Sorcerous Spyglass – If an opponent plays a planeswalker against you, then you may consider bringing this in, you may also think about bringing this in if you have seen just one or two game changing mana-sinks on your opponent’s side and you have no other way to answer them.

 

Lands

These merit a little bit of discussion on their own. The dual land cycle are all worth playing if you’re in those colours and they do make splashing that little bit easier, however they are all fairly simple. The other three I have seen quite a few people fail on when it comes to their evaluations for them so I’ll discuss both here.

Unknown Shores – This card can provide fixing and enable you to splash for your bombs, however it does increase the cost of any spell you cast using its filtering by one.

This means that you only really want to ever play this card if you are splashing something where you are more than happy to pay an additional mana for it. This card will also generally reduce the consistency of your mana base so be wary. I would almost never play more than one, and if I had better options I would avoid playing it at all.

This card is something you will begrudgingly register if you’re 100% certain you want to be splashing that bomb planeswalker.

Unclaimed Territory – You will almost never use this card to cast any of your spells. You need an incredibly creature dense deck where they all share the same type and are spread across three colours for this to warrant a slot in your deck. Don’t play with this, it will make your mana-base much worse and you will lose games to it.

Field of Ruin – This is more of a sideboard card than anything else, and playing it in the main in game 1 is almost always wrong. You do however want this card in the same situations that you might want Spreading Rot or Demolish, to kill those pesky and powerful legendary lands.

 

And there we have it. A comprehensive primer for the Ixalan Sealed format.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this and that it helps you to take down some PPTQs or perform a little better at your next limited GP.

Thanks for reading,

John O’Leary

A Comprehensive Ixalan Sealed Deck Primer, by John O'Leary
A Comprehensive Ixalan Sealed Deck Primer, by John O'Leary
A full primer on the Ixalan sealed format, a great way to prepare for the upcoming GP Liverpool.

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