I haven't been motivated to play a lot of LCI Limited this week. Initially, I was optimistic about the set, as it looked and felt solid. I may have felt it was deeper than it actually was due to a combination of day-one excitement and weaker Arena drafters.
Regardless, this is the least enthusiastic about a Limited format I've been in years. I spent some time thinking about why, after about a dozen drafts or so, I don't want to open Arena or MTGO and fire up the queue. I asked around, publicly and privately, to see how others felt and found they were in the same boat and didn't enjoy the format that much.
Quite simply, the set isn't a beloved Limited format. Fortunately, Booster Draft is like pizza, and even a bad format still has a shelf life, is worth playing, and will be enjoyable for some amount of time, but it'll be shorter for this set compared to past bangers.
Here are the four major reasons why I haven't enjoyed the format.
1. Too Underpowered
Magic has come a long way in 20 years. Look at the current iterations of Vintage Cube for example. It’s filled to the brim with cards printed in the past few years. Magic has become more powerful across the board, which makes the game more fun for Limited. Lost Caverns of Ixalan has its share of broken cards at rare and mythic, but the cards are underwhelming at uncommon and common. We don’t have Imodane’s Recruiter-type busted uncommons.
A frequent criticism is that you open or get passed a pack and there’s not much that stands out in any color, just a bunch of flat power-level cards. This makes the drafting experience less enjoyable because you’re not thinking of your positioning or colors too much. If cards are flatly powered, it's more difficult to switch colors and much less correct to do so. In my limited experience with the set, I’ve picked a lane early because I opened a strong rare or one of the few strong uncommons and went with it.
I’ve heard the criticism that the set is too bomb heavy. This would lead you to believe the set is more on the overpowered side, but the bombs stand out more because the set is so tame outside of those rares.
2. Weak Synergies and Payoffs
Lost Caverns of Ixalan focuses on kindred creatures and other synergies to create cohesion. The format misses here. Kindred (formerly known as tribal) sets have always struggled in Limited because it’s difficult to design the cards in a way that allows for a smooth drafting experience. It’s tough to take Merfolk cards for most of pack one and then decide you should be in Dinosaurs.
Lost Caverns of Ixalan tried to use explore as a cross-section between the two, but it’s too shallow of a mechanic to be the focus without heavy support, and there’s not enough support for an explore deck. You can also use explore to enable or feed descend, but it’s inconsistent and not all that exciting.
I’d like to see more cards like Disinformation Campaign from Guilds of Ravnica with surveil. It's powerful enough on its own with only a couple instances of the keyword but can be incredibly powerful when you’re committed. Instead, we see cards like Twists and Turns, which is quite bad as a standalone card, and you need to be focused for it to be good or playable.
Besides this mechanic, the payoffs are not that strong or reliable. Pirate’s Hat for drafting all Pirates? Various cards like Triumphant Chomp, Malamet Battle Glyph, and Belligerent Yearling for Dinosaurs? None of these cards move the needle when I’m making a pick as to whether I should focus on taking Dinosaurs or not.
Last but not least, Caves missed the mark from what we’re used to with various past Gate synergies. Caves is not an archetype you should focus on, and because of that, there’s a lot of extra air in packs.
I’m usually not excited to be focused on any archetype in the format, which makes logging on to draft feel more tedious.
3. Too Combat Focused
Don’t get me wrong, almost every Limited format leans heavily on combat as its way to stand out from Constructed formats, and combat decisions are a big reason why Limited Magic is so fun.
However, Limited formats where you can’t take a turn to cast a draw three have never been a favorite of mine, and this set is fast. There are a lot of playable, good one-drops in the format at both common and uncommon. This leads to faster games one way or another. As a person who drafted a lot of red initially, I would either run my opponent over with Goblin Tombraiders, or I’d be unable to attack through a curve out of my opponent's Dinosaurs, meaning I knew the game's result early on.
Limited should have more of a back and forth, but when the format has a focus on Creature types and Equipment, it’s hard to effectively block, so often it's a matter of who's spending their mana to affect the board the most and who ends up with the best creature. Adding to the issue, the set has a lot of equipment that makes blocking more difficult.
Missing on Caves' synergies is a big cost in this department, as that would be a cool thing to do that allowed you to not just win the game in combat but your synergies could carry you by drafting a powerful enough deck.
My favorite Limited formats are ones I can win without worrying about curving out with Creatures and tricks, but more so having a fluid gameplan that can win a battle of attrition, such as with decks like Surveil UB, Gates, Spells Matter, or any other graveyard synergies.
It's hard to stay enamored with a format when all that matters is your Creature's stats.
4. Not Enough Cheap Instant-Speed Interaction
We have a two-mana bounce spell, a three-mana fight spell, a three-mana black removal spell at Instant, and the premium Abrade, but we’re missing cards like Shock to slow the games down.
With as many solid one-drops as there are in the format, it would be nice to have a card that is both Instant-speed and one-mana to interact when they get equipped or enchanted with cards like Etali’s Favor. White gets Cosmium Blast, but that effect has never been strong enough and it’s no different here.
There is some instant-speed interaction but not enough for interesting decisions in games. One-mana interaction should always find its way into formats when we get lots of one-mana creatures, even if it's just cards like Rat Out. It makes games more interesting and allows for slower decks to compete with decks able to play solid creatures starting at turn one.
I don't feel that enthusiastic about drafting any specific archetype, and I haven't found in-game decisions that interesting. This leaves Lost Caverns of Ixalan Limited as falling in the "something to do, but I'd rather just play a different format" category.
I will slug it out and see if I can force my way into enjoying this set more, but it's okay to say, "I guess this one's just not for me," and wait for another banger set to fill that void.
If not, it's holiday season, which means there's always Vintage Cube.