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Breaking Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft

Lee Shi Tian
07/12/2023 · 7 min read

A New Method

Hello everyone,

Last week I went to Nagoya to attend the Regional Championship.  Meanwhile, the Arena Open was happening on the same weekend. With Lost Caverns of Ixalan just released for two weeks, I couldn’t hold my love for drafting new sets.  Therefore I decided to play both events at my best capacity.

It is quite taxing preparing two formats at low resources plus being overseas.  Therefore, I tried to shortcut learning the draft format and it worked out pretty well for me.  I drafted 14 times in MTGO and trophied half of them.  Today I would like to share the method I used.  If you do not have all the time learning a new limited format, it may be a good way for you to learn about it.

The New Era of Card Design

Starting from Streets of New Capenna, I found myself not able to finish the spoiler in one time.  At first I was thinking if that’s the loss of my love to magic or just me getting old.  But it didn’t take me long to figure out the fact that the number of words in a single magic set has been going higher and higher.

We used to have some vanilla 2/2 or 3/3s at common couple years ago but now we got a three cost 3/3 with minimum two upside abilities.  The power level of rare and mythics have increased significantly over time and now the inflection has reached common and uncommon.

With such a setup, we are expecting the power level of the draft deck to become higher and we want to draft a highly synergized deck.  To do so, it is especially important for us to figure out the hidden agenda for each card, color pair and mechanic so that we can utilize each card we drafted.  

Approaching a New Set

To figure out the set up of a new set, the easiest way is to look at the multi-color uncommons.  

We can use The Lost Caverns of Ixalan uncommon as an example:

Once we listed out these 10 cards, we can easily figure out some keywords shared among some color pairs.

Shared keywords:

  • Artifact: Izzet, Azorius, Boros
  • Descend: Golgari, Dimir, Rakdos

Stand alone keywords:

  • Explore: Simic
  • Dinosaur: Gruul
  • Modified: Selesnya
  • Sacrifice: Orzhov

We can see that there is a potentially strong artifact theme among the Jeskai color pair, while black is built around the descent theme. With such a setup, we expect more cards supporting artifacts and descent-themed cards in those corresponding colors.

As the goal for me is to create a repeatable strategy, I naturally go into the Jeskai artifact strategy expecting I can always draft a reasonably synergised deck with one of the colors not being opened.  Where the Descend strategy needed black to be opened to have a strong deck which is less likely to replicate.

With this in mind, now we can go back to the spoiler and sort out the cards related to the strategies.  For example, all equipments and “craft” artifacts are supporting the “tap two creatures/artifacts” abilities like Sunshot Militia and Adaptive Gemguard well.

We can also set up a situation to create a mismatch of power level for particular payoffs.  For example Goblin Tomb Raider and Brazen Blademaster is a 2/2 haste for one and 4/4 for 3 in a deck with high artifact count but merely a 1/2 for one and 2/3 for three in the wrong deck.

 Oaken Siren is another good example where the mana ability could only be abused in the right deck.

Pod Control

After figuring out the pre-set strategy, we are firmly at the seat of  sending signals.  What I try to do is to pick up the key card a little bit earlier than normal to push out other players with similar strategy in the pod. Some may call it forcing, while I prefer to call it Pod Controlling.

It would be easier to explain with examples.  I will show you some drafts where we control the pod and get to draft the deck we wanted.

Draft One

➡️View the draft picks on Magic Pro tools

This draft we started with double one cost red equipment in some relatively weak packs.  We kept picking up artifact related cards  and cut down the artifacts in the pool. This pack is basically a set up booster where we are firmly in red and having white as the secondary color.

In pack two we get rewarded big with P2P345 Goblin Tomb Raider and wheeling double Brazen Blademaster.  These cards are extremely good cards in artifact heavy cards but close to unplayable in non-artifact centered decks.  We simply controlled the pod here and got to build the deck we wanted.

Lastly we got Captain Storm, Cosmium Raider and then we moved into blue and ended up 3-0 with the following build:

Draft Two

➡️View the draft picks on Magic Pro tools

This draft we cut down some good red payoffs in terms of Goblin Tomb Raider and Brazen Blademaster at start.  And then we wheeled triple fine white one drops and a Adaptive Gemguard in Pack One.

In Pack Two, opening up Palani's Hatcher put me into the possibility of switching to green.  However, as we expected, Green does not have a good support to the artifact theme and we naturally stayed in white getting passed double Attentive Sunscribe to fill up the curve at Pack Three.  As you can see, although most cards we get are common, they are extremely theme oriented and performed really well for a swift 3-0.

Draft Three

If you think Goblin Tomb Raider or Attentive Sunscribe as the rewards of controlling the pod is a bit underwhelming, the following draft would be eye opening for you.

➡️View the draft picks on Magic Pro tools

This time we started with Goblin Tomb Raider and Enterprising Scallywag.  We basically cutoff all pirate related cards and pick up cheap artifacts.  In pack two, we got P2P2 Breeches, Eager Pillager, P2P3 Captain Storm, Cosmium Raider and P2P4 Zoetic Glyph.  Plus the P3P4 Poetic Ingenuity, it basically shows no one is drafting artifact themes in the whole pod.

We casually 3-0 with the following:

Bonus Draft

Last but not least, I will present you a good draft for the stand alone theme: UG Explore.  If you look at the gold uncommons, Nicanzil, Current Conductor is an outstanding payoff in the right deck besides Captain Storm, Cosmium Raider.  A turn two Nicanzil into turn three Over the Edge could easily run opponents over in terms of mana and creature sizing.  

➡️View the draft picks on Magic Pro tools

In this draft, we started with Deepfathom Echo and Nicanzil, Current Conductor.  We then picked every card with “Explore” highly in the draft.  At pack two and three, we got lots of good uncommon payoffs like Twists and Turns, Merfolk Cave-Diver and additional Nicanzil, Current Conductor.  At the end we picked up triple Nicanzil and got lots of easy games beating down our opp real quick.  

Obviously it is harder to replicate such draft picking up so many uncommon cards.  Yet we can learn from this draft how picking up enablers early could lead to some potential strong extra payoffs.  The power level of cards like Nicanzil and Merfolk Cave-Diver are extremely polarized depending on the rest of the deck.  

While I personally won’t recommend forcing into such fringe archetypes, we got to draft what we got when you open the right bomb.  It is often a good chance to taste how control the draft is by taking up some key cards early on.

This is what I got for you today.  Unfortunately, I was too exhausted at the Arena Open and misclicked a couple times to get knocked out of the event.  I do have fun drafting some Izzet artifact decks.  While I do not have the draft log, here is my draft deck one going 3-1:


Lots of us may be taught the importance of being open and picking up signals in a draft to get passed good cards and build a good deck.  Yet sometimes we could get around it and create our own path in drafting.

I hope you are having fun learning a new draft strategy.  Remember, draft started from having a good pre-set strategy.  Staying Open is overrated!

Lee Shi Tian


If you liked this article maybe you will also find interesting on of the following ones Winning the Brother's War Limited Challenge: Tips, tricks & analysis, Exploring the Wilds of Eldraine Limited: Best Tips & Top Commons by Color, Tales of Middle-earth Limited

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Lee Shi Tian
HongKonger, MTG Hall of Famer, Magic Pro League Survivor


Published: 2023-12-07 00:00:00

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