Ixalan has been out for long enough that the community is finally converging on the proper approach to the format. It’s considered a fast format, although not as blisteringly fast as triple Amonkhet. My general heuristic is to default to good two-drops over both removal and more expensive creatures: Fathom Fleet Firebrand over Firecannon Blast, Bishop’s Soldier over Pious Interdiction, etc. In this format you can fall behind too easily if you don’t have a play on Turn 2. This doesn’t mean that slower decks aren’t viable. I’ve played plenty of slow decks in this format to great success, but they all had an abundance of early plays.
Pack 1, Pick 1
I love me a River Sneak, but I don’t really want to first-pick it. You see, this format rewards finding your lane like no other, so committing early to something can be extremely punishing. Sure, it can also be rewarding, and throwing away your first pick isn’t the end of the world, but I would rather take a card that has a higher probability of making my maindeck.
Otepec Huntmaster is severely overrated. It has an incredibly high ceiling, but the floor is also pretty low. A 1/2 body for two is just too below rate. Each individual ability isn’t worth the poor body, so the question is whether the combination of making Dinosaurs cost less and giving them haste makes Otepec Huntmaster good. In W/R, I don’t think it is. I would rather have my deck be lean with cheap cards and fewer fatties, and hence feel like I would rather have a card like Fathom Fleet Firebrand in my dinosaur aggro deck. It’s much better in R/G, but still not spectacular. This all adds up to a card I’ll play, but not first-pick.
Call to the Feast has impressed me. This format is all about racing, and three lifelink bodies really can go a long way, especially when combined with something like Anointed Deacon or Pirate’s Cutlass. But for a similar reason to the first two options in this pack, I don’t want to commit to a lane so early. I don’t mind it out of a weak pack, but we’re lucky enough to have a great, non-committal, option out of this pack.
Territorial Hammerskull is one of the best commons in this format. In fact, there are many players who believe this card is the best common. If you ever play this card and your opponent stumbles for a second, the game is pretty much over. The body is fine and it makes blocking impossible. I don’t have it as high as other players, although it’s probably around the fifth-best common for me, which is still quite good. I’m happy to take it here, as I’ll play it in any white deck and it doesn’t commit me to any specific strategy (other than being aggressive, I guess, but I already want to do that in this format).
Pack 1, Pick 3
The Picks So Far:
I wasn’t happy to second-pick a Marauding Looter after a Territorial Hammerskull, but sometimes packs in this format are just so weak (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) that you have to take a card based on power level, disregarding previous picks. Additionally, my favorite archetype in this format has been U/W Tempo that utilizes Treasures to splash a powerful card or two. While Marauding Looter is not the best of these (I’ve actually found Anointed Deacon to be absurd in this strategy), there is a world where I get to play both of these cards.
Pious Interdiction has gone down for me. While the card is still good and the lifegain matters a solid amount, it’s a bit clunky and there are a lot of maindeckable answers. Storm Sculptor and Siren’s Ruse can be quite annoying, and I even think that Crushing Canopy is a card that you should maindeck. So while it’s a splashable removal spell that is in the same color as our first pick, I like our other options better.
Inspiring Cleric has impressed me. As I’ve said, this format is all about racing, and that four life can be a complete beating. If the Territorial Hammerskull in this pack were a Bishop’s Soldier, this would be more of a consideration, but this format is pretty cluttered in the three-drop slot, and given that I aready have a great white three-drop, I don’t want to pick up another one this early.
Fathom Fleet Firebrand, in my opinion, is the best red common. It hits hard and can trade up. It’s a two-drop with a relevant creature type. There’s really not much more that you can ask for from a common. And it even can go well with either of my first two picks! I wouldn’t be unhappy grabbing this card here, but our last option is not really a card I pass.
One with the Wind is, in my opinion, in the top few commons. I know that may sound crazy to many of you, but I promise this card is the real deal. There are many ways to protect your creature in blue, removal is clunky, flying is even better than usual, and a lot of the creature bodies in this format are mediocre. Further, many of these mediocre bodies have enters-the-battlefield effects. Since they already provide value, the one-for-two that happens when your opponent kills your creature can be mitigated to some degree. All of this comes together into a card that I win with a lot, and also lose to a lot, and hence I’m happy to first-pick the card, much less third-pick it.