Ixalan Draft Archetypes Part 1: Pirates and Vampires

Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Aaron Muranaka takes a look at all of the new 2 color draft archetypes available in Ixalan!

I am very excited to begin drafting Ixalan and exploring what the limited environment has to offer.  I am particularly interested in seeing what draft archetypes Ixalan supports.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a draft archetype is a build of a limited deck where the cards have strong synergies and which support a particular pattern of play, e.g., more aggressive or more controlling.  The value of a particular card in a draft will go up or down depending on what archetype you are building.  For example, an aggressive two-color deck will generally not want a card like Beneath the Sands that ramps and color-fixes, while a slower five-color deck will prioritize such a card highly.

Most draft archetypes are two colors (though some sets support three or even five color builds).  Over the last few years, Wizards of the Coast has worked on giving each two color pair in draft an identity and has put gold signpost uncommons in the set that give players a hint at what each color pair cares about.  In Hour of Devastation, Obelisk Spider signaled that black-green was a grindier deck that cared about -1/-1 counters and Resolute Survivors signaled that red-white was an aggressive deck that cared about exert.

In Ixalan, only eight of the color pairs have a signpost uncommon and two colors – Black-Green and Blue-White – do not.  This does not mean that you cannot draft these color pairs (BG and UW), but keep in mind that they may not be as synergistic or powerful as the other color pairs.

Following is an initial analysis of the two-color draft archetypes of Ixalan.  This analysis includes a brief description of the archetype, some cards that are good in the archetype, and a sample draft deck from draftsim.com (a website that allows you to practice drafts against AI opponents).  Please note that the listed cards are not necessarily cards you should pick highly but instead are cards you should look for if you are in an archetype or that may signal to you that an archetype is open.  I also tried to avoid including cards that are good in any deck.  For example, Contract Killing is obviously good in a Blue-Black treasure matters archetype but it’s also one of the best black commons and would go in any deck with black.  Similarly, Charging Monstrosaur is obviously good in Red-White dinosaurs but it is also a top-tier uncommon and should be a high pick for every deck even if the deck doesn’t have dinosaur synergies.

Finally, these archetypes aren’t set in stone.  Although many color pairs generally lean towards one type of deck, such as R/W being an aggressive dinosaur deck, what you open may lead you to drafting a different type of deck.  Nonetheless, knowing what type of archetypes different color pairs support and what cards to look out for should improve your drafting.

Ixalan’s tribal nature influences the breakdown of the archetypes.   As noted above, Ixalan is a tribal set with four tribes – Merfolk, Vampires, Dinosaurs, and Pirates spread across the five colors as follows:

  • Pirates: Black/Blue/Red
  • Vampires: Black/White
  • Dinosaurs: Red/White/Green
  • MerfolkBlue/Green

This color spread leads to the following archetypes that are discussed below: Pirates (BR, UR, UB), Dinosaurs (RW, GR, WG), Merfolk (UG), Vampires (WB) and non-tribal (BG and UW).

The Pirate Archetypes


Black red is an aggressive archetype that will look to curve out with small creatures and put the opponent on the back foot quickly with early removal and combat tricks. The deck has a number of cards with raid and enablers like Blight Keeper that also work as a finisher for an aggressive deck.  Also, because the deck puts so much early pressure on your opponent,  cards that tax your opponent’s resources in hand, or on the board, such as Deadeye Tormentor, Heartless Pillage, and Storm Fleet Arsonist (who I don’t like generally) go up in value.  This deck might also have trouble if the opponent stabilizes in the midgame so cards like Lightning-Rig Crew and Makeshift Munitions that can provide damage if the board is at a stalemate will be especially valuable.  Cards that clear out high toughness blockers like Fathom Fleet Cutthroat and Hijack (which also combos with Makeshift Munitions) will be more valuable in this type of deck.


Blue-red is an aggressive archetype with a low curve, evasive creatures, and tempo generating spells.  This deck will frequently trigger raid due to its combination of bounce spells, evasion, and removal.    The bounce spells are particularly good in this archetype and you should keep an eye out for Depths of Desire, Perilous Voyage, and Run Aground.  Even though it is not a pirate, Watertrap Weaver fits in well with this deck’s plan and it, along with other creatures with come into play abilities, combo nicely with Siren’s Ruse and Storm Sculptor.  The deck also has the opportunity to generate card advantage with Storm Fleet Spy and Chart a Course.


Black-blue will often play similarly to the blue-red tempo deck discussed above but with black instead of red removal.  The blue-black tempo deck can also play a better card advantage game then blue-red due to Deadeye Tormentor and Heartless Pillage.  Black-blue also has a small treasure matters subtheme that allows it to be more controlling.  Desperate Castaway, Sailor of Means, and Prosperous Pirates are all high toughness blockers that generate or interact well with treasure.  Ruthless Knave and Deadeye Plunderers, (or if you’re lucky, Revel in Riches and Treasure Map) can reward you for having treasure in play.  Another advantage of having a treasure focused deck is that you can use the treasure to splash off color bombs.

The Vampire Archetype



Black-white will be a vampire based deck that can slant either aggressive or controlling.  The aggressive deck will look to curve out and go wide with creature tokens.  There are a number of vampires to fill slots on your curve including multiple one-drop and two-drop creatures.  Duskborne Skymarcher is a particularly good card to keep an eye out for as it can chip in for damage early, help you get your other vampires through later in the game, and that also won’t be highly valued by non-vampire decks. One advantage of the vampire deck is that they are very good at racing other aggressive decks because so many of their creatures, including their tokens, have life gain.  The more controlling version of the deck will use the vampires who gain you life and a high density of black and white removal to allow you to control the game until you win with a large vampire flyer such as Deathless Ancient.

If you are looking to go wide by making vampire tokens it should be noted that there aren’t any vampire lords who pump your entire team (unless you count the rare card Vanquisher’s Banner).  Accordingly, most of the payoffs for creating a large number of vampire tokens are going to involve pumping them with an Anointed Deacon or getting incidental value from them with Bishop of the Bloodstained or Deathless Ancient.  Bellowing Aegisaur is also a card to look out for if you’re heavily token based.

Most of the payoffs for the vampire deck are at uncommon or rare and I think the most likely way that you’ll end up in this deck is if you open a powerful card such as Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle, Sanctum Seeker, or Vona, Butcher of Magan that pushes you toward the archetype.

Vampire Aggressive:

Vampire Control:



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