Wilds of Eldraine felt like it just got here, and yet we're already starting another season of previews for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. I usually ignore the initial previews until we get a more in-depth look, but this time there are some cards that jump right out.
Let’s start with the most in-your-face preview—a reprint creating a lot of buzz.
Cavern Of Souls
I’m so old that I remember the last time Cavern of Souls was in Standard. I vaguely remember it being printed as a way to combat the presence of Mana Leak in the format. The card has warped Magic forever in some ways, but it also used to get more hate than it deserved.
While Make Disappear has waxed and waned in popularity, Cavern's main function for Standard will be to fix mana, not necessarily to dodge counter-magic. I have no issues with this card in Standard, and it could lead to some potentially cool tribal decks if they’re more heavily supported down the line.
Cavern in Pioneer has more impact. There are people on both sides of the fence saying it won’t matter for control decks or it will kill control decks, but I’m in the middle.
As a player who played a lot of Creativity in Pioneer, I'd often use Make Disappear on the play to help against decks like Mono W Humans. With a couple of Caverns likely coming to that archetype, these blue midrange decks will struggle to keep up with decks that can present threat after threat if they can’t rely on a few counterspells to keep the battlefield clean.
I can see a deck like Lotus Field incorporating a copy somewhere in the 75 along with tough creatures for control match-ups. They use Dromoka currently, but making Lier uncounterable is a scary thing to stare down. In fact, with Cavern in the format, there are a lot of scary creatures that can be more heavily leaned on. It will be interesting to see if Cavern unlocks any archetypes on its own.
Cavern is a great reprint, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it shakes things up. I’m glad Raffine doesn’t share a creature type with Sheoldred or it might get a bit scary in Standard if Esper Legends mana becomes even better.
Kellan, Daring Traveler
This is an interesting one to theorycraft, as we don’t know what map tokens do yet. Journey On creates map tokens, and my best guess would be that it explores, but maybe with different wording because explore was attached to creatures and provided +1+1 counters. Perhaps it’s a surveil?
My intuition is the mechanic will let you look at the top of your deck and manipulate it in some way, especially given this creature has the ability to attack and reveal a creature with a cost of three mana or less and put it into your hand. This would make the two halves of the card play better together, so it seems to make sense.
Given that, this card isn’t super exciting, but it could play a role in low-curve creature decks. It’s a reasonable-value creature to fill the hole between Skrelv and Raffine on the curve, but unfortunately, Journey On is green, which makes it more difficult to get full value.
Without an actual Enter-the-Battlefield effect, Kellan doesn’t seem that exciting, but it will eat removal early allowing you to open the door for more powerful creatures later on the curve.
Kellan is a card I’ll need to know more about and play some games with to evaluate, but it feels a lot like Deeproot Wayfinder in that it looks better than it is, so until I see it, I’m not falling for it again.
Huatli, Poet of Unity
Huatli looks amazing. I don’t consider it a broken card, and while it's not quite the same as Nissa, Vastwood Seer, it’s probably even better.
It’s a value creature with a reasonable stat line and more importantly, it threatens to flip into quite the threat at five mana. This is the kind of card that makes Cavern of Souls a bit scary, in that it can provide so much value if unchecked. Huatli demands removal but also provides value upfront to ensure you’re up material in that exchange.
Tapping out against a Huatli in play could be devastating. I absolutely love this card, and I’m excited to see it in action. Hopefully, it lets me play with at least one copy of Etali in a competitive setting since I love that card too, and they appear to play well together.
Ghalta, Stampede Tyrant
Speaking of dinosaurs, even though I’m not looking to tutor this with Huatli, I want to cheat this into play. Ghalta appears to be more of an Eternal card for a format like Cube with cards like Sneak Attack, Animate Dead, Natural Order, or even Flash.
Ghalta screams win-more, and it’s not a card I’m overly excited about, but it is powerful, so I’m interested in if it sees play anywhere. I doubt we’ll see this in Standard, Pioneer, or anything competitive.
The Skullspore Nexus
I can see it now. Someone in play design asks, “What happens when you put Embercleave and The Great Henge on one card?” Well, you end up with The Skullspore Nexus.
It's certainly a card with a powerful effect, but as far as competitive formats are concerned, this card looks like it will fall flat. It asks you to have creatures in play, and once you do, it provides some value in the form of a pump effect and even some protection with its ability to create tokens when your creature that helped you get it in play dies. However, this doesn’t provide a lot of traction and will not dig you out of a hole in the same way a card like The Great Henge did.
I’m not seeing it with The Skullspore Nexus.
Ojer Axonil, Deepest Might
Ojer Axonil, Deepest Might shows us that gods are back with their same sticky ability. Ojer isn’t too exciting since it's intended to enhance your burn spells. While that's all well and good, it’s too expensive for formats outside of Standard, and there’s nothing to push it in Standard. Maybe Ojer pushes a core of cards similar to Scalding Viper that are playable enough on their own over the top into a cohesive plan.
I could imagine if we have a card like Goblin Bombardment available things could get interesting, but on its face this card has poor stats for a four-drop, especially in a format dominated by Sheoldred.
Standard is dominated by permanents these days. This card can eat removal and provide value by turning into a land that can turn back into Ojer, but I don’t think that's how Standard operates these days. This could provide some explosive finishes in a format like Pioneer where we have tools like Mayhem Devil, but again, these effects tend to be a bit win-more in those strategies.
I’m currently low on Ojer, but there's a lot of room for this one to improve with a couple of strong printings that amplify its ability into playability.
So far, the set looks interesting, and while some of the cards aren’t super strong, cards like Huatli and Cavern of Souls will certainly shake things up a bit in Standard and potentially Pioneer.
I’m excited to see how this set develops.