Pack 1, Pick 1: Three For The Road

What happens when Brad Nelson, Sam Black, and Ryan Saxe take on five Rivals of Ixalan Pack 1, Pick 1 dilemmas? A little bit of chaos and a whole lot of insight!

Round 1

1. Baffling End

2. Arterial Flow

3. Arch of Orazca

Baffling End is easily the best card in the pack, but I’m baffled as to what’s next in line. Maybe it’s due to never having to first-pick a green common before, but it just seems wrong to do it unless it’s Hunt the Weak. Arterial Flow isn’t that good either, yet is great in a dedicated Vampires deck. Luckily, though, we get to take a premium removal spell and ship all this garbage down the line!

1. Arch of Orazca

2. Baffling End

3. Sailor of Means

Arch of Orazca is a tricky card to evaluate. It will generally replace a land, yet it has an impact on the game that can be like a powerful spell, but only in certain games. In a lot of games, it won’t matter, and in a few games, it will lead to mana issues. In general, it’s better in a vast majority of decks than a basic land, but the question is how much better.

The thing that makes evaluating lands in Limited interesting is that you’re evaluating their value over replacement with a basic land and comparing it to the value over replacement of the spell you’d take over it compared to the next card you’d have to put in your deck if you didn’t take it. So in this case, the question is whether there’s a bigger difference between Arch of Orazca and a basic land than there is between Baffling End and whatever the last card we’d cut from our deck was if we had Baffling End.

Because this is the first pick of the draft, we also have to consider that we’re incredibly likely to be able to play Arch of Orazca no matter how the rest of our draft goes, while there’s some small chance we’ll end up abandoning a colored spell we might take instead. As it happens, I really like Arch of Orazca. I’m aware that I possibly overvalue it, but I think it’s hard to be very wrong if you take it over almost anything, and this pack definitely isn’t strong enough to get me away from it.

I said Baffling End is the card we’d be comparing it to, and I stand by that. The rest of this pack is basically just Baffling End and a bunch of common creatures. Some common creatures are better than others, but it’s very rare that you’re looking to start your draft with a common creature over a removal spell.

If I were to take a common creature, I’d take Sailor of Means because it’s a solid blocker that makes it easy to play any great cards I see throughout the draft. If I weren’t going to take that, I’d probably take Jungleborn Pioneer, but I like blue more than green and I think I’d rather have a 1/4 and a Treasure than a 2/2 and a 1/1 hexproof.

1. Baffling End

2. Arch of Orazca

3. Sailor of Means

Opening this pack is pretty upsetting. Baffling End is a fine card, but it doesn’t excite me. Even if the card didn’t have the Dinosaur token downside, I don’t think it would be better than Luminous Bonds. The fact of the matter is that the majority of creatures that matter in this format cost four or more, and with multiple maindeckable enchantment removal spells (Crushing Canopy, Thrashing Brontodon), the downside is relevant. However, it’s the best card in this pack and will make my deck.

After Baffling End, the next=best cards are Arch of Orazca, Sailor of Means, and Jungleborn Pioneer. I would prefer to take Arch over the three-drops because it can provide late-game card advantage for decks that don’t normally have access to that. Plus, it’ll always make my deck as long as my mana isn’t atrocious, and that’s pretty valuable out of a first-pick.

Between Sailor and Pioneer, I think Sailor is the better card in this format. While I’m not happy to first-pick either of these cards, I like blue more than green, and Sailor of Means opens up the door to do some pretty funky stuff.

Round 2

1. Raging Regisaur

2. Luminous Bonds

3. Waterknot

Oh, I’m a crazy person. Sure, all this removal is great, but nothing competes with a busted G/R Dinosaur deck. It’s easily my favorite archetype. Sure, taking a multicolored card first pick is idiotic when there are safe removal spells we can take, but sometimes you just need to feel something. Plus, it’s not like anyone came here to respect my decisions anyway. You’ll just trust Sam Black or Ryan Saxe over my stupid picks, so I’m going to have some fun with it!

Casting Raging Regisaur is for closers.

1. Luminous Bonds

2. Moment of Craving

3. Journey to Eternity

This is a hard pack, and I kind of hate myself for my answers. Journey to Eternity is a sweet build-around and its ceiling is incredibly high. It’s very easy for this card to take over any game and not hard to draft a deck that uses it well, but it does ask a lot. Your deck has to have green and black mana and reliable ways to make your own creatures die at relatively low cost to you. This is the kind of commitment that can trainwreck a draft, but it’s also how a lot of the sweetest decks begin.

In reality, there’s a very high chance I’m taking the Journey to Eternity and telling myself I don’t care if it’s right, I just want to feel something, but when I’m writing strategic advice for others, I’m going to tell you to take the monocolored removal spell that can easily go in any deck of its color and will leave you with the flexibility to draft a good deck you’re comfortable with. Luminous Bonds gets the nod because it’s only a single extra mana to deal with a much wider range of creatures; even though I love gaining life and instant-speed removal and hate relying on enchantment based removal, in this case, there are simply too many creatures that matter that Moment of Craving won’t answer.

1. Moment of Craving

2. Luminous Bonds

3. Raging Regisaur

Raging Regisaur is above and beyond the most powerful card in this pack, but it is a gold card. I take none of the uncommon gold cards over the premium removal spells in this format. I think every deck needs a good chunk of interaction, and that combined with a higher probability of making my deck puts the gold Dinosaur in third place here.

So what’s better, Moment of Craving or Luminous Bonds? Personally, I have Moment of Craving as the best common. It kills a surprisingly large portion of the format, and the lifegain is relevant. While it can’t handle larger creatures like Colossal Dreadmaw, it’s just so cheap. Two-mana interaction spells are few and far between, and I prioritize the first copy highly.

Round 3

1. Forerunner of the Heralds

2. Dire Fleet Neckbreaker

3. Pride of Conquerors

This pack is entirely filled with payoffs. A ton of cards that have a low chance of making your deck, but if they do, they will come with significant upsides for taking them early. I put Forerunner of the Heralds above Dire Fleet Neckbreaker, since it’s just one color to cast, but we all know it’s practically as blue as it is green. It’s just such a powerful card if you find yourself with any payoff Merfolk.

Pride of Conquerors is one of my favorite cards, and this pack even has my homeboy Snubhorn “Snubs” Sentry ready for me on the wheel. I’d be tempted to even take the card first-pick, as it’s one of the easiest ways for an idiot like me to win Limited games of Magic.

1. Forerunner of the Heralds

2. Dusk Legion Zealot

3. Dire Fleet Neckbreaker

Full disclosure: I lose a lot in this format. When my team had our meeting to discuss the power level of various cards and strategies, looking over the commons, we concluded that Merfolk simply isn’t that well-supported and that starting with a good Merfolk card is often a trap because it’s hard for multiple people at a table to end up with good Merfolk decks. That said, I always lose to Merfolk. Always. I just never beat them. I never end up with a playable dedicated Merfolk deck myself, but somehow everyone else always seems to, and I’m certainly never going to get to be that guy if I’m not willing to take the Forerunner of the Heralds out of a weak pack when I see it.

Forerunner of the Heralds, incidentally, is a great card, especially if you can get multiples. They’ll often be the top of the curve in a Merfolk deck, and they offer a big creature in the late game that kind of offers the merfolk deck an entirely different angle of attack at very low cost.

Beyond that, I think the power level of this pack is pretty flat, and I’d totally respect taking Legion Conquistador or any other card someone felt strongly about over one of my picks. That said, I personally would go for Dusk Legion Zealot. It’s not a card I want to first-pick, but this pack isn’t good. There’s no removal spell, no real bomb, and nothing I can do about that. Dusk Legion Zealot helps get the city’s blessing and dig through your deck for your good cards, it makes it a little easier to put Recover in your deck, because you can just chump block to cycle through your cards if you need to, and it’s just a surprisingly good card.

After that, I’d take Dire Fleet Neckbreaker. This is likely the most powerful card in the pack, at least competitive with Forerunner of the Heralds, but it’s a gold card that specifically demands you draft a Pirate deck, and even then, it can be kind of bad on the draw or against very aggressive decks. I’d feel safer taking the small value add from Dusk Legion Zealot than the large commitment from Dire Fleet Neckbreaker, but if someone else were more comfortable than I am drafting R/B Pirates, I wouldn’t try to talk them out of it.

Honorable mention: Pride of Conquerors. This card looks like it should be really powerful, and it’s definitely won me some games. I see it go pretty late, so I feel like I should be careful about overestimating it, but if someone told me they thought it was great, I certainly wouldn’t have a lot of trouble believing them, and I would absolutely understand if someone wanted to take it out of this pack.

1. Dire Fleet Neckbreaker

2. Forerunner of the Heralds

3. Legion Conquistador

As I previously said, I’m not often looking to first-pick narrow uncommons, but the rest of this pack is pretty lackluster. Many players dislike the B/R archetype, but I actually think they’re approaching it the wrong way. While a B/R aggressive Pirate deck exists, I believe that B/R is best built as a midrange deck. Neckbreaker isn’t optimized there, but the deck still has a reasonable number of Pirates, and so the gold card is a solid addition.

While I’m not a huge fan of Merfolk, Forerunner of the Heralds has a pretty high upside. If Merfolk is open, having access to two copies of Merfolk Mistbinder can really raise the consistency of the deck. And if you have a couple of Jungleborn Pioneers, the Forerunner is playable in nonblue decks too.

Legion Conquistador keeps impressing me. Every time I have four or five in a deck, I can mulligan aggressively and always seem to overwhelm my opponent. While I’m not ecstatic to pick the card, I now take it over Exultant Skymarcher, which should help explain why I took it over the other white cards in the pack. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I should be taking this card over both uncommons, but I’m not there yet.

Round 4

1. Champion of Dusk

2. N/A

3. N/A

There’s no other card in the pack worthy of my time when Champion of Dusk is here. This card is messed up. Like seriously, how did they print this? You can be playing Magic with your opponent and then all of a sudden draw four cards in a Limited game of Magic while also putting a giant body onto the battlefield. There’s a word for this: broken.

Sure, this isn’t the best card in the set you can open, but it’s the best card to open if you want to demoralize your opponent. So much so that every time they make eye contact with you in the future, you’ll know their thinking about the time you embarrassed them with your Vampire deity.

1. Champion of Dusk

2. Squire’s Devotion

3. Deadeye Brawler

The pick here is Champion of Dusk and it’s legitimately not the slightest bit close. I wouldn’t seriously consider taking anything else over it, and I think doing otherwise would be a mistake.

Beyond that, things get interesting. At that point, if I were watching someone draft, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took any of Deadeye Brawler, Giltgrove Stalker, Legion Conquistador, Resplendent Griffin, Sailor of Means, or Squire’s Devotion, and if they took any of those, I wouldn’t try to talk them out of it or anything; I’d just see where the draft went from there. I’m sure some of these are meaningfully better picks than others, but I have a very low degree of confidence ranking them. My inclination is that Squire’s Devotion is powerful, not very replaceable, and a fairly low commitment, and Deadeye Brawler is powerful enough to justify taking a gold card rather than a common creature. Resplendent Griffin is very comparable, but I had to choose one.

1. Champion of Dusk

2. Deadeye Brawler

3. Squire’s Devotion

Champion of Dusk isn’t a bomb outside of a deck with a lot of Vampires, but it is an extremely powerful card that will always make your deck, and occasionally it will be your best card. When you have it, you should be on the lookout for Forerunner of the Legion, as the ability to search it up will add an absurd level of consistency to your deck.

After the rare, I think Deadeye Bralwer and Squire’s Devotion are pretty close, although now that it appears most players are on the non-aggro train, Devotion loses some stock. And Deadeye Brawler certainly has the better upside of the two. A 2/4 is a very relevant statline in this format, and once you have the city’s blessing, the Brawler can spiral out of control.

Round 5

1. Luminous Bonds

2. Waterknot

3. Forerunner of the Empire

Fine, now we can take the removal spells. I can’t seriously expect Cedric will let me do another one of these if I keep taking Dino cards over removal spells. I’m not entirely shameless yet. But seriously, Dinosaurs are awesome, and this card finds them. It also combos with so many premium uncommons that whenever you have Forerunner of the Empire and one of them, you almost win the game on the spot. Sure, it might not come together every time, but medium removal spells don’t make a deck win games. They make medium decks do medium things, which is a trap I’ve fallen into a lot this format.

That’s exactly why Everdawn Champion isn’t in my Top 3. Sure, it’s a good card, but it’s not going to win you games of Magic very often. It’s going to hit the battlefield and do medium things until something not medium comes along. Most of the time that’s a Forerunner of the Empire digging up a Needletooth Raptor!

1. Forerunner of the Empire

2. Luminous Bonds

3. Waterknot

Forerunner of the Empire has an extremely high ceiling. If you get Needletooth Raptor, they can take over the game. If you get any of the good Elder Dinosaurs, this gives you a way to tutor for it. It can beat some people who play too many X/1 creatures mostly by itself, and it does good things with any enrage Dinosaur.

Beyond that, we have Silvergill Adept (which requires a little too much goes right in the draft), some creatures that I’m not that excited about, and solid common removal. I’m happy taking either removal spell here, but I start with the one that can be more easily splashed.

1. Forerunner of the Empire

2. Luminous Bonds

3. Waterknot

Forerunner of the Empire is one of the best uncommons in the set. There are not only a fair amount of one-toughness bodies that the card cleans up, it combines with some cards in a way that just ends the game. The obvious combo is with Needletooth Raptor, but Raptor Hatchling and Crested Herdcaller are examples of other Dinosaurs that hugely impact the game alongside Forerunner of the Empire.

Then there’s the decision of what’s better, Luminous Bonds or Waterknot. There are so many removal spells at common that deciding between two is a common occurrence. In this case, both cards are three-mana removal spells that are also enchantments. I don’t believe the marginal upside that Waterknot taps the creature (protecting against surprise Disenchant) is worth the fact that it’s harder to cast and not splashable. I could see an argument for Waterknot if you have a strong color preference towards blue, but my preferences are not enough to sway me there.