Rivals of Ixalan: Playing To Your Weaknesses – Red

NOTE: “Playing to your Weaknesses” is a series of articles I have been doing on my own blog since Avacyn Restored that cover all of the uncommons and commons in a new expansion and which ones I would choose to use as one of the 23 cards in a 40 card limited deck. For those of you uninitiated to limited, it simply means sealed and booster draft, where you open packs and then proceed to make a deck out of them. I’ve purposely left out the rare cards because it is much more likely that you’ll see multiples of uncommon and commons in your packs/pools.)

As for my rating system, after a lot of feedback I’ve decided to abandon my 3 tier scoring system of Low-Medium-High and I will instead be moving onto a 5 star ranking system. The system is as follows:

  • 1 star = a card that is barely playable, even as filler for your deck
  • 2 stars = this card could be a strong sideboard card, but is highly conditional and not always effective
  • 3 stars = a 3 star card is a solid role-player. These cards could be less than amazing removal effects, or a creature that is a glass cannon (high power, low defense). They could be good except for a few flaws.
  • 4 stars = Here’s where we get into the powerhouses. 4 Stars could be good finishers, or cards that can end a game if left unchecked. They also have multiple effects, and are all around good value for you. The only thing holding them back is restrictive costs or some small drawback.
  • 5 stars = you won’t see a lot of these at common and uncommon. These will usually be your rares and mythics because they are incredibly bonkers. Planeswalkers, massive creatures, etc., these are the cards you could build a deck around.


I have the worst time management when it comes to getting this articles out in time for the pre-release. Even with holidays and time off, I can’t seem to bring myself to put aside enough time to get them done. Oh well. Green will probably have to wait until after my pre-release at Tokyo MTG tomorrow, but I should have it out before Sunday’s event. In my previous red Ixalan limited article, I felt as though dinosaurs had an edge on the competition and hit the hardest out of all of the tribes, but I was also impressed at how many playable pirates there were in the color. Pirates really raised the bar on Raid effects as well, making the tribe both good at attacking and good getting value afterwards. Both tribes won’t have to do much in order stay at their current power level, but if Rivals doesn’t offer enough, they could fall in power.



I’m not overly impressed with dinosaurs in Rivals so far. Sure their Enrage effects are pretty good, but there isn’t anything as scary as Charging Monstrosaur in the set, and I feel like most of these cards will end up either being filler in a dino deck or dropped altogether if your pool doesn’t call for the tribe. Case in point, Frilled Deathspitter has an alright body but most like won’t stay around if it gets into battle. You will probably only get to trigger his enrage once and it won’t cripple an opponent.

Needletooth Raptor, on the other hand, is effectively a 7 power creature when blocked and defense. It can block a monster and then finish it off with its enrage, or push through damage every turn unless your opponent wants to lose one of their beaters. I’d definitely want to load up on Rile effects that ping your own creatures with this guy, especially if you’re running low on removal or didn’t open up anything good in your pool.

I like Sun-Collared Raptor if only because it’s a great card to draw late in the game. The raptor can easily become a finisher if your opponent can’t handle it, but due to it’s low toughness pretty much every tribes’ creatures can block it easily.

Two of the better dinosaurs in red are Stampeding Horncrest and Charging Tuskodon. Stampeding Horncrest might not be that great in sealed, but I think it could be pretty good in a dinosaur focused limited deck. A good beater with haste, most likely will be effective against smaller creature decks such as vampires and merfolk. Tuskodon seems like an absolute beating in limited. No matter how much damage reaches your opponent, it’s doubled. You definitely want to load up on combat tricks with this guy, especially first strike effects since he essentially has a built in Temur Battle Rage (FRF). Very high draft pick too I think.

Frilled Deathspitter – RATING: 2.5 Stars

Needletooth Raptor – RATING: 3 Stars

Sun-Collared Raptor – RATING: 2.5 Stars

Stampeding Horncrest – RATING: 2.5 Stars

Charging Tuskodon – RATING: 3.5 Stars


Of course dinosaurs would have support cards in this set as well. Forerunner of the Empire seems like a VERY scary card when it comes to enrage effects. After searching up a dinosaur card of your choice, he lets you enrage them at will whenever you play them. He can only do it two times a turn without killing himself, but if you have a card like Bellowing Aegisaur or Polyraptor this card gets silly very quickly. Imagine playing Polyraptor, pinging 1 time (2 raptors), then when the copy enters getting another trigger pinging both (4 copies). If you wanted to kill Forerunner, you could do it once more to make 8 total copies in one turn. HOLY shit. I would definitely take Forerunner as a first pick in draft then build around him with. Shake the Foundations is a much better Rile, even if it costs 3 mana. Triggering every dinosaur’s Enrage plus drawing a card is pretty big, but also killing any of those 1 toughness creatures or tokens is a nice plus. I wouldn’t play it in every deck, but in dinos, of course.

Forerunner of the Empire – RATING: 3.5 Stars

Shake the Foundations – RATING: 3 Stars



Pirates don’t get too many more strong cards in Rivals, which is kind of disappointing. The only card worth talking about is Storm Fleet Swashbuckler which gets double strike. One of the best non-rare pirate 2 drops if you ask me. Getting Ascend is sounding like it’s pretty easy, so you end up getting a pretty aggressive creature for a very low cost.

Fanatical Firebrand isn’t a bad card either. Not only is it good for activating those Raid effects, but it also is a good card to have in dinosaur decks to activate enrage with. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in many limited red decks. It’s a ‘middle of the pack’ type card that is neither great nor bad. Good roleplayer.

Goblin Trailblazer is more of a filler card, and Brazen Freebooter isn’t anything special other than helping you ramp or add more permanents to your Ascend count. Both will probably make the cut of your limited deck, but they’ll probably be that 22nd or 23rd card to fill out your curve with.

Storm Fleet Swashbuckler – RATING: 2.5 Stars

Fanatical Firebrand – RATING: 2.5 Stars

Goblin Trailblazer – RATING: 2.5 Stars

Brazen Freebooter – RATING: 2.5 Stars


Red is starting to get crazy with their removal. No more 5 and 6 mana instants, but rather we get Lightning Bolt type effects with a draw back. Reckless Rage will kill a lot of creatures, but you have to target one of your own as well which could be a drawback if you don’t have big enough creatures. Personally I think it’s great with Enrage and dinosaurs, but it might be dangerous to play in pirate decks if you’re not careful. Mutiny is another aggressively costed spell, but requires your opponent to have two creatures. Pretty useful in draft and should be popular in limited. Lots of creatures have higher powers than toughness, so this will easily take out one of your opponent’s creatures.

You can’t go wrong with Bombard either. That extra point of damage will end up being useful against those higher toughness creatures and beaters in dino decks. Adequate burn spell for this format.

Reckless Rage – RATING: 3 Stars

Mutiny – RATING: 3 Stars

Bombard – RATING: 3 Stars


The other two cards I’d like to quickly mention are Pirate’s Pillage and Buccaneer’s Bravado. Pillage is basically a Tormenting Voice effect with ramp tacked onto it for 2 extra mana. The treasure will help you to activate City’s Blessing faster, and the effect gives you card advantage as well. Not for ever deck, but if I was running pirates or dinos I wouldn’t mind it being in my 23 card deck.

Not a lot of good combat tricks in this set, but Bravado is a good one. First strike for a card like Charging Tuskodon will be sweet, but giving a pirate card with menace double strike and +1/+1? That’s even better. Perfect card for aggressive decks.

Pirate’s Pillage – RATING: 2.5 Stars

Buccaneer’s Bravado – RATING: 2.5 Stars


Other Cards that Will See Play


  • Daring Buccaneer – great for draft, but a little bit worse in sealed if you don’t have lots of pirates.
  • Swaggering Corsair – kinda vanilla for me. There are much better 3 drop pirates I’d rather play. Probably filler for your curve but doesn’t have much of an impact in your deck.
  • Tilonalli’s Crown – Great way to activate Enrage, but also makes your dinosaur’s very deadly. Can kill a creature in a pinch as well. Rather versatile.

Coming Up Next


Dinosaur’s should be alright, as well as pirates, but they both seem to be dialed back a notch from Ixalan. A lot of the power has shifted to the rares from the last set, so most likely those are the cards that are going to be winning you the game. Synergy will still be important in the tribes, and rewarded, but don’t expect highly synergistic decks to always triumph over bomb rares, especially some of these dinosaurs.

Well, I’ll be heading off to the pre-release soon, so wish me luck! I’ll get to work on green as soon as I get back, so be sure to check it out before heading to your Saturday evening or Sunday morning pre-releases! If you have any comments or suggestions about red, dinosaurs, or pirates in Rivals of Ixalan, drop me a line below!