Magic The Gathering's Lost Caverns of Ixalan set is a dino-filled dungeon crawler
As a relatively recent convert to Magic The Gathering's planeswalking escapades, I've already come to love the buzz around new sets. From the fairytale theme of Wilds of Eldraine, to the Brother's War and March of the Machine, I'm starting to look forward to every reinvention of the decades-old card game.
Lost Caverns of Ixalan, while originally sold as "Magic The Gathering with Dinosaurs", has piqued my interest more than most, though. I love a big ol' reptile as much as the next MTG player, but by reaching into Mesoamerican culture and a love of roguish fantasy, Wizards of the Coast has crafted a set that's equal parts exciting and enticing.
Spelunk the funk
With the Phyrexian invasion arc in the rearview, it's time for a rebuilding effort for the Sun Empire, one of Ixalan's factions, while another, the Brazen Coalition, are hunting treasure. Another, the Legion of Dusk, are vampires desperate to reach a god that calls out to them, while the River Heralds, merfolk that retreated after the invasion, are seeking a new home.
What all of these and the Malamet and Oltec factions have in common is that they're all scrambling beneath the surface of Ixalan for something. Whether it's knowledge, power, or just good, old-fashioned treasure, the theme of plunder is strong - as is the danger within the titular caverns.
This has given Wizards of the Coast a chance to work in some Mesoamerican character and architecture designs that give Ixalan a life of its own, conjuring themes from the Age of Exploration - and having more than a little fun with the mechanics, too.
Lurking beneath Ixalan is a race of hive-minded fungus monsters called the Mycoids, led by the terrifying Mycotyrant (seen above).
Thankfully, you'll have some new mechanics to help tackle beasts like these, and the most prominent one will be Descend.
Descend triggers as players put more and more permanent non-land cards into their graveyard, and can allow for the summoning of powerful beasts, or adding new abilities to others - like the Didact Echo which gains Flying once you Descend 4.
It's a fun way to add to the peril of venturing deeper underground, and should allow for some fun risk-reward strategies for those of us Black deck users who love to mill cards to power up.
Adding to the exploration theme is the new Discover mechanic, too, which will let players exile cards until they find a card with a predetermined mana value and then choose to cast it for free or add it to their hand. It remains to be seen just how viable it'll be to construct a deck around, but between that and Descend, I can see cards being exiled and buried all over the place.
It makes sense for the Explore mechanic to return here, but with an added wrinkle. Cards with Explore will allow players to check the top card of their deck, and draw it if it's a land. If it's not, you can add a +1/+1 token to the creature Exploring. If you've ever had one of those matches where you're desperate to find fresh land to tap, it's likely to be a godsend - I played Commander recently and a couple of players definitely could've done with Explore.
Explore returns alongside a new artefact - Map Tokens. These can allow for other creatures to explore when sacrificed, and are colourless.
Finally, what's treasure hunting without, well treasure? The new Craft mechanic, shown in the Enigma Jewel card above, will let players exile crafting materials from the graveyard or their side of the field to upgrade cards. These are double-faced cards, so you won't need to collect two halves.
Life finds a way (to add another crossover)
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Adding to the fun are new Jurassic World cards, which will cover key characters and moments from the movie franchise.
I'm not entirely sure where I stand on these, and while they will get their own Secret Lair setup in the future, Magic The Gathering certainly feels like it's becoming a bit of a Fortnite kind of game where the appeal for more casual players will be the crossovers, not the universe Wizards has created.
It's no bad thing to give new players a familiar framework of touchstones to anchor their first foray into the game, but coming fresh off the Doctor Who collab and the reveal of a "multi-year, multi-set" Marvel deal, it's not hard to see why some are worried that Wizards is moving away from its more traditional sets.
I'd also be a huge hypocrite to say I'm wary about the Jurassic World cards and in the same breath mention I'm ridiculously excited for the Marvel ones, but I guess that's the point of the crossovers at this point - some will be for you, some won't, and there's nothing wrong with that so long as you're able to snag the ones you want.
- Find out why there's never been a better time to start playing Magic The Gathering
Since getting acquainted with Magic The Gathering, I'm not sure there's been a set that speaks to me more than the Lost Caverns of Ixalan. Between its plundering mechanics that look as chaotic as scrambling through caverns should be and a myriad of varied factions, this might be the first time I collect more than one Commander deck per set.
It's perhaps somewhat ironic that the set positioned as an underground excursion into terrifying caverns may just produce one of Magic The Gathering's brightest sets yet. Come for the dinosaurs, stay for the descent, I say.