The Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) for the RPTQ I had failed to qualify from last season took place last weekend at Fanboy Three in Manchester. I’m providing some coverage to give a bit of a farewell to Rivals of Ixalan Limited. This is the first competitive event I have played in since winning a PPTQ in February, and I believe that this will probably be the last competitive event of that type as Dominaria is about to be released later in the month. Incidentally, it will also be the last sealed event with multiple sets as I believe future events of that type will only contain a single set.
Adjusting previous mis-evaluations
Single-set Ixalan (IXL) Limited got a bit of stick for it over-emphasising the need for tribe-based synergy, especially in Draft. My current understanding was that Rivals of Ixalan (RIX) changed this somewhat. While it still adds some tribal synergy to the existing pool, Rivals contains a higher density of cards at all rarities that do not rely on the tribal synergy (they are reasonable cards by themselves). This also meant more insane bombs! Given the Sealed format contains twice as many RIX boosters as IXL ones, this is an important shift in gears to observe.
Limited isn’t really a strong point of mine, as much as I’d like to improve at it, At GP London, I tried to build a very aggressive pirates deck, which, was great if it curved out properly and the opponent had no ‘defensive speed’ (either early blockers, or early removal). However, when I had to mulligan, it didn’t curve effectively, or my opponent had defensive speed, it effectively folded. You can read about this HERE.
Back then the set had only just been released so there were some constraints on format knowledge or experience to call on. However, I think I mis-evaluated the fundamentals of the RIX Sealed, based on my experience of IXL Sealed, which I found to be quite fast and tribe-oriented. I focused on learning what the specific cards did instead of thinking more about the paradigms of the format – for example:
- Is the format fast or slow?
- How much removal does it have?
- is the removal unconditional, or damage-based?
- Are creatures with 1 toughness bad?
- Are creatures with 4 toughness good?
- How easy is it to obtain “The City’s Blessing”?
- How many lands do you typically want to play?
- Is Plummet or Naturalize something that you should maindeck?
- Do you want to be on the play or on the draw?
Here are some resources I tapped into to brush up a bit more on the format’s fundamentals or paradigms. It’s also useful to hear the perspectives of others, particularly on which cards are better or worse than they look (and compare any differing views):
- Zen Takahashi RIX Sealed Article (MTG Mint Card)
- Limited Resources RIX Sealed Podcast (Channelfireball)
I took away the following main points:
- The format has slowed down – expect games to go long (unless one player completely runs over the other). Fast aggro decks are possible, but the odds are stacked against them to end the game quickly;
- Having answers to bombs is extremely important – it is often worth splashing for removal spells, for example Divine Verdict;
- The mana fixing is good, even outside of green. The Dual Lands such as Stone Quarry, as well as Evolving Wilds, Traveller’s Amulet and ‘Treasure’ provide a lot of opportunities;
- Card advantage is at a premium. Secrets of the Golden City and Recover are better than they look. Recover is also very splashable.
- The City’s blessing is actually relatively easy to achieve – commonly arising around turn 6. As games will often go long, you will sometimes have the option of trying to get the City’s Blessing early, or to inevitably reach it later by grinding out your opponent. For example, with a card like Dusk Charger, you can try to achieve the City’s Blessing early and make it the 5/5 that puts too much pressure on the opponent in the mid-game, or you can prolong the game and to try and inevitably achieve the City’s Blessing where it serves as the 5/5 finisher you need to close out the game.
- Auras are less powerful than before owing to a slower format, with more high quality removal – Impale, Divine Verdict, Crashing Tide, Luminous Bonds, Waterknot all at common can get you a 2-for-1 on a creature with an aura.
- On balance, it’s a 16-and format. There are very few mana sinks, and, because games go long, you should have enough time to cast a six drop even if you miss a couple of land drops. Obviously, if your deck contains an abnormal amount of 5-7 drops or has ways to use extra mana, you should adjust, but I believe 16 is the consensus-wisdom starting point.
Now it was time to put what I had learned to the test.
I travelled to the event with Matthew Duggan, Alfie Bennett and Tommy Hayward. Tommy took matters seriously and wore a suit for the occasion. Ironically, we observed, at the time, that, as four ‘Leeds players’ who hadn’t yet qualified for RPTQ Dominaria, we are the only four Leeds players (that we knew of at the time) who are already qualified for RPTQ 25th Anniversary.
There were between 20 and 30 players for the event which meant five rounds and a cut to top 8
Tommy opened a Tetzimoc, Primal Death and lots of removal, Matt opened Regisaur Alpha and Ripjaw Raptor. I died a little inside as I opened a Sphinx’s Decree and a Silent Gravestone, but set my mind to building something from the following pool:
While this pool didn’t really have many outright ‘bombs’ that win the game, it had several good 4-5 drop creatures, decent removal and fixing. This is what I settled on:
1 Dire Fleet Hoarder
1 Kitesail Corsair
1 Wanted Scoundrels
1 Fathom Fleet Boarder
1 Ruin Raider
2 Sailor of Means
1 Deadeye Brawler
1 Dire Fleet Interloper
1 Dusk Charger
1 Siren Reaver
1 Spire Winder
1 Prosperous Pirates
1 Soul of the Rapids
Other Spells (10)
1 March of the Drowned
1 Azor's Gateway
1 Chart a Course
1 Moment of Craving
1 Crashing Tide
1 Golden Demise
1 Secrets of the Golden City
I have a sufficient density of pirates for March of the Drowned to do an impression of Recover. In addition I have a few tempo plays, evasion creatures and removal – just no huge fatties. I’ll have to use my Impale wisely. I decided that the treasure generation capability meant I didn’t need to run a Mountain for a single Bombard.
I normally talk through my matches, but I’ve found that it’s very hard to do convincingly for Limited (As opposed to Constructed) because I don’t have my opponent’s decklists so the readers don’t really have much of a grounding in terms of what my opponent was playing (that and I can’t actually remember all the card). I’m going to simply summarise the match results as follows and focus on the learning points:
- Round 1 LOSS vs Grixis Pirates: 1-2 (0-1)
- Round 2 WIN vs Temur Dinos/Pirates: 2-1 (1-1)
- Round 3 WIN vs UR Pirates/Burn: 2-0 (2-1)
- Round 4 WIN vs UBw Pirates: 2-0 (3-1)
- Round 5 WIN vs BW Vampires: 2-1 (4-1)
- Choosing to draw first: I actually chose to be on the draw more often than not. The only exception was in rounds 1 and 5 where my opponent’s decks were quite fast, so them going first was more of an advantage for them than being on the draw was for me.
- Deckbuilding errors
- Azor’s Gateway: I think in my deck, it’s just bad! Filtering is nice, but I can’t get the exiled creatures back with March of the Drowned, and I have no use for extra mana if it ever flips, so I think the only thing I should ever exile with it are lands, meaning half the card is irrelevant. I sideboarded it out every match I think
- Wanted Scoundrels: I messed up in that I wanted to be on the draw rather than on the play and I think the card is weak to a liability in most matchups on the draw, so it shouldn’t have been in the maindeck – perhaps Dinosaur Hunter should have been instead.
Top 8 Draft
I am top of the swiss standings which is great as I get to go first in each Top 8 match in which I play! Alf also sneaked into the Top 8 on breakers. Unfortunately, Matt and Tommy didn’t get there. The seating was randomized and opposite seat numbers would be paired. This meant I wasn’t 100% going to play against Alf in the quarterfinals (normally first seed plays eighth seed).
I’ll list my first three picks for each pack so you can see how I navigated the draft
Pack one picks
I tried to stay away from green in this pack. The person to my left opened, had to reveal and took a Hadana’s Climb so I put them on likely drafting green or blue (green has slightly more counters synergy). This became clear a few picks in. So I moved into a red and white dinosaur deck, picking up a Relentless Raptor on the wheel. I only had a single Reckless Rage (other than Forerunner triggers) for removal so I was going to prioritize that for pack two.
Pack two picks
Definitely quite committed to a Red white dino deck. I picked up two Legion Conquistadors as well as another Relentless Raptor. I’m mindful that I likely don’t have enough 2 drops, so I’ll be looking to pick up some more in pack three. I have enough removal, I think!
Pack three picks
- Territorial Hammerskull
- Tilonalli’s Knight
- Charging Monstrosaur
My third pick was an absolute gift and I managed to round out the creature curve with the last pack. I was quite happy with my draft deck!
1 Stone Quarry
2 Relentless Raptor
1 Tilanolli's Knight
2 Frilled Deathspitter
3 Legion Conquistador
1 Swaggering Corsair
1 Territorial Hammerskull
1 Bonded Horncrest
2 Forerunner of the Empire
1 Thrash of Raptors
1 Charging Monstrosaur
2 Charging Tuskadon
Other Spells (7)
1 Dual Shot
2 Reckless Rage
1 Baffling End
1 Luminous Bonds
1 Divine Verdict
- Quarterfinal WIN vs UG Merfolk: 2-0
- Semifinal WINvs Esper Pirates/Vampires: 2-0
- Final WIN vs GW Vampires/midrange: 2-1
Woohoo! I had won the chance to play in the RPTQ the following day!
Relentless Raptor: I actually sideboarded these out on the draw in the final. My opponent had a robust midrange deck with a lot of defensive speed and could quite easily cause it to die, and I wanted to make sure I saved removal (where possible) for his Tendershot Dryad rather than having to choose between using it or letting my 3/3 die. I sideboarded in an Elaborate Firecannon and Orazca Raptor to replace them.
Patience: It’s very tempting when playing an aggressive deck, to be in the mindset that dealing as much damage as possible as quickly as possible is the only way to play it. There were a few situations where I needed to pause to remind myself that it would be better not to attack on a particular turn because I could set up a much better attack on subsequent turns.
Giving my opponent a chance to make an error: After the final, my friend Duncan Tang asked me why I tapped my opponent’s 1/1 when attacking with Terratorial Hammerskull while they were tapped out. I couldn’t really reply with anything other than ‘Force of habit, I guess’. His point was that I was removing the possibility of my opponent deciding to block the 2/3 with their 1/1. They are unlikely to do this, but it’s free to give your opponent that choice where there’s a possibility of random advantage. My opponent was on about 12 life, so there’s a chance they might have wanted to preserve their health total. Making plays that give your opponent the choice to make a mistake shouldn’t be confused with making plays that remove a choice for your opponent (which could be advantageous). These concepts are entire articles by themselves (Paulo Vitor Dama Da Rosa has written about the latter HERE) so I won’t go further than highlighting that it was certainly something I learned to be more aware of!
Bonus section – the RPTQ
It was great to redeem my previous season’s despair by making it to the RPTQ after all. It was particularly special because a lot of Leeds players had managed to qualify for this, including RPTQ veterans like Rob Catton, Callum Bousfield and Alex Roebuck who have been to a few, but also my friends Alex Gershaw and Lawrence Arnell also qualified for their first RPTQ appearances.
I opened the following Sealed Deck
I liked Red, green and blue the most. I tried to make Blue-red work, but in the end it didn’t provide enough mid-late game threats despite having a lot of card advantage potential. In the end I settled on the following:
- Round 1 LOSSvs UWr Boggles: 1-2 (0-1)
- Round 2 WIN vs RW Dinosaurs: 2-1 (1-1)
- Round 3 LOSS vs 4 (or 5) Colour goodstuff: 1-2 (1-2)
- Round 4 WIN vs 3 (or 4) Colour goodstuff: 2-0 (2-2)
- Round 5 LOSS vs BW Vampires: 0-2 (2-3)
Form of the Dinosaur wasn’t as good as I thought it was, and I probably overdid it on the ‘game-ending’ cards by trying to include it. It mostly prolonged the inevitable. Although this pool had more bombs than my LCQ pool, it didn’t really have a density of playables other than in red, so I found it a bit more challenging to build! Couple that with tougher opposition (four of my five opponents were people who have played on the Pro Tour), and a couple of mistakes by me, and I think 2-3 is a fair reflection. On a more positive note, Rob makes Top 8 and Lawrence puts in a fantastic run going 5-2 and getting a Top 16 playmat!
I hope you enjoyed this final foray into RIX Limited. Dominaria is just around the corner, so I know we’ll all be moving on soon to opening the new set and a new PPTQ season. Even though my RPTQ result wasn’t great, exploring RIX Limited was something I enjoyed in terms of learning how the format changed between IXL and RIX, which I hope to have conveyed! Stay tuned for more event coverage in the coming weeks as I will likely be attending a pre-release and grinding through the new PPTQ season from May.