Ixalan is finally here! While it hasn't released yet, the Prerelease is coming up this weekend, and what better use for those prize packs than drafting? Here have been my initial impressions from looking at the full set of cards:
1. There are definitely more than ten archetypes. Each two-color pair seems to have a couple of ways you could go about it. There may even be some tribe-tribal deck based around Grim Captain's Call. And even though there aren't tribes for W/U or B/G, the archetypes exist.
2. There don't seem to be that many (or any) completely unbeatable bombs. So that's a plus!
3. The set has a very high complexity level. There aren't many vanilla creatures, and the ones that are seem to combine with other cards to do interesting things.
4. Tribal matters a different degree to different tribes and archetypes. There aren't as many Vampires-matter cards as there are for Dinosaurs. And W/R looks like it needs more Dinos-matter cards than R/G.
5. Because of this vast set of archetypes and varying evaluation, staying open and drafting your seat may reward you even more than usual!
Okay, with all of that in mind, let's jump into the first draft of the format!
Pack 1, Pick 1
Shapers' Sanctuary is one of those cards that initially looks like a good idea but just isn't. Sure, if your opponent has a grip full of removal, then you end up getting a whole lot of return for initial investment. But you're effectively taking a mulligan to set up well under specific conditions. While this card may have its place, I definitely don't want to first-pick it.
Deathless Ancient is extremely powerful card and resilient. There are only a couple of removal spells that answer this permanently if you fulfill the Vampiric condition. A 4/4 flier will end the game quickly and is sized properly to stabilize a battlefield, as I think there are a fair number of 3/3s in this format. The key to exactly how good this card ends up is if it can catch you back from behind, and while it can block well, at six mana, that's a little difficult. Outside of W/B, I don't expect it to be great, but in that deck it may be one of your best win conditions. Overall, I don't like first-picking cards this expensive unless they are bombs, and Deathless Ancient seems to fall a bit short.
Tempest Caller's evaluation could be anywhere from A to D. A blue controlling deck has absolutely no interest in this card, but any other flavor of blue could use it to good effect. I'm going to start by assuming this card is busted and take it highly. If the tempo decks aren't as good as they look, then this is wrong, but you have to try things out at the beginning of a format, and Tempest Caller has the highest ceiling, so I'm taking it here.
Pack 1, Pick 5
The Picks So Far:
This is a pretty reasonable start to a draft. I don't feel committed to either red or blue, but should end up at least one of the colors. This does seem like a pretty good start to a U/R tempo deck. It's unclear at this point exactly how much each archetype depends on a tribe, but for now I'll bump up Pirates ever-so-slightly in my evaluations.
While I don't think the pick is Imperial Lancer, I wanted to mention it here. This card seems like a W/R gold card to me, and we do have two very good aggressive red cards. With enough Dinosaurs and pump effects, Imperial Lancer could be a complete house. I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up being the correct pick, but for now I think the blue cards are a great addition to the current pool.
Siren's Ruse strikes me as the type of card that I want exactly one of in each of my Pirate decks. That being said, it's a common that shouldn't be too hard to pick up. I don't want to take it this early, especially when I don't know if I'll have a density of Pirates.
Storm Fleet Spy is a pretty good card. It strikes me as a common, so being an uncommon means that Wizards of the Coast may have bumped it up because it was too good (or maybe there was too much Raid at common). I tend not to like three-mana 2/2s unless they really have high upside, and while drawing a card is good, the card still seems replaceable to me. Maybe Pirates wants a bunch of small creatures with a little value, so if that's the case, this would certainly be this pick, but I think there is one better, yet unintuitive, option.
I am going to take River Sneak here. I know I already have two red cards, but this seems like a hedge with very low risk. You see, it seems playable in U/R and completely busted in U/G. We can see from Marauding Looter that U/R is about Raid to some degree. Even though River Sneak won't be great there, it is a cheap way to enable Raid, and there are a bunch of good tempo-oriented Merfolk. We are already playing Tempest Caller, and hopefully we can pick up some copies of Watertrap Weaver.
But the key to this pick is the hedge for U/G Merfolk. With only a rare missing from the pack and zero red cards, you can almost be certain that somebody to your right is red, and there could even be two people. Now, this shouldn't just deter you from drafting red, but it's a data point that assisted my decision in taking a card that is great in a different archetype.