It’s finally time to explore the Lost Caverns of Ixalan. The set went live today on Arena, and while I was invited to the early-access streamer event, I had to sit out because I was feeling under the weather from a vaccine.
I found my preliminary games quite entertaining. I’m not basing these evaluations on just my matches, but I also spent a few hours spamming drafts on a simulator to see what good decks looked like.
Lost Caverns of Ixalan is fairly deep, which is nothing new for current Limited formats. You’ll rarely run out of playables, however the packs are filled with tons of lands in the form of caves, so you still want to make sure you’re not bouncing around too much. There’s also some situational cards, sideboard cards, and tons of synergies that won’t necessarily overlap.
There’s a mixture of themes from Kindred (our new word for what was once known as Tribal), artifacts, graveyard synergies, and a variety of other stuff that is a bit more niche, such as caves.
My first thoughts are that it’s hard to run out of gas in Limited sets recently. Crafting allows for normal-rate cards like a Diabolic Edict to turn into an additional threat. These cards are better than they look, but in some cases, you will have diminishing returns and can sort of count them as top end. I played tons of games where I was drawing six-drops but also had six-mana crafting available, which makes the more expensive cards a lot less desirable.
I like lean curves thus far, which may be exacerbated by all my games being played in best-of-one, but you don’t need to value top end as highly when your two- and three-mana artifacts with an early middling effect provide the ability to craft and transform into a big creature or effect.
Drafting caves seems like a trap and more of a side synergy that you can occasionally pick up. You can’t reliably get caves that you actively want, and it's punishing when we do have all this crafting and top end to have too many lands that come in tapped.
The most impressive decks so far have been RW Aggro, BW Midrange, and UB Descend Control. These archetypes are linear and well-supported.
Cheap removal is premium as usual, but I don't like the looks of expensive removal. Expensive removal plays a larger role in formats where flooding out the opponent is reasonable. This doesn’t seem to be that type of format because crafting is a prolific feature. You deal with one big threat and another is likely staring you down later. It’s an unreasonable expectation to keep spending mana being reactive unless you’re able to also progress your board on those turns. You can play a copy of a card like Ray of Ruin, but it’s not a card I’d ever take happily.
I was impressed with this UR Pirates deck. Unfortunately, I don’t think it's extremely replicable. People will realize soon that one-mana 2/2 haste is a great card even on turn two and beyond, and you won’t get them for free in a few days to come.
UR is an up-tempo deck that can loot away a lot of lands with various effects, especially Pirate’s Hat, and use various cards' treasures on turns you want to advance your board or react. My typical games were to spend all my mana for the first four or so turns, and beyond that I’d have a treasure or two that I could use to hold up reactive cards such as Abrade.
Equipment feels important for this archetype as a way to break through board stalls and continue to deal damage as their creatures begin to outclass yours. Pirate's Hat feels great, though may not be on the level of Pirate's Cutlass in the original Ixalan.
The first deck I drafted was a midrange dinosaur deck with a lot of uncommons. It was weak to the players who cheaply interacted with my creatures, and it was especially bad against decks that had Tithing Blade, as it’s a card you can get fairly late that almost always trades up on mana. Blanking that card is easier in white or black decks that can leave a token lying around.
Dinosaurs also felt weak against all the deathtouch creatures running around and made me have to interact with even the smallest creatures.
The last deck I drafted started as a black-white midrange deck with both sacrifice and craft synergies, but I picked up some late caves and a couple of cave payoffs, in addition to some late Master’s Guide-Murals.
This is where I learned that I need to scale back a smidge on the top end from what it looks like when you lay out your curve. Every game ended with me having about 12 more mana of cards left to use whether I won or lost. I should have cut something like the Gargantuan Leech, which I’d have been lucky to cast for five mana as is, and replaced it with another land because the deck was mana hungry. I managed to get to five wins, but it felt like it underperformed relative to its potential. Its mana was a bit rough, but other than that, it had everything you’d want from a deck, such as the ability to control the board early and a powerful late game. This is the kind of cave synergy I’d look to in the future, where all of it stumbles in your lap rather than take payoffs early to try and end up with a reasonable configuration of caves.
I mostly lost against aggro decks, which I’d expect out of a deck like this in Bo1.
So far the format feels solid and deep. I'm not sure it will be an all-time great format, but it feels above average in terms of depth and replayability. There’s so much to explore, and I can’t wait to explore it. If you want to catch some drafts, I usually stream once or twice a week at Twitch.tv/MSigrist83.