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- Early Impressions of Lost Caverns of Ixalan Limited
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.
- Wrapping Up Lost Caverns of Ixalan
This week I want to take a look at more Lost Caverns of Ixalan. We now have the full set, so let's look at a few interesting cards. Bonehoard Dracosaur Bonehoard Dracosaur is a super interesting creature. It falls into the "dies to Doom Blade" category that we all joke about but generally holds powerful creatures like this back. However, Bonehoard Dracosaur is incredibly powerful. It's the kind of five-drop where it's hard to lose after you untap with it in play. It creates creatures and mana in the form of treasures, and it also draws two cards a turn. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when and if a card like this will see play because the format's texture matters. If there are a lot of low-removal linear decks that don't interact with creatures much, Dracosaur will be a must-play card. However, we already have creatures like Raffine and Sheoldred, so I think the format will be heavily creature-focused, which will knock Dracosaur down a peg or two. I expect to see Bonehoard make its way into decks immediately because of how much raw power it has, and it may be paired with a card like Skrelv or other ways to protect it because it's that powerful. Despite this, I am skeptical of all creatures that don't provide immediate value when they enter the battlefield. The TLDR is Bonehard Dracosaur is too powerful to not see play at least initially, but I don't expect it to be an omnipresent staple. Get Lost Get Lost is a nice new white removal tool that has potential to see play in multiple formats. It's two mana and versatile, but it has quite the downside. Two map tokens are a lot, especially in a world where we have mechanics that let us use random tokens to great effect, such as the newly added crafting. I'm low on Get Lost. I think it will feel and play out like Fateful Absence and will see about as much play. Generally, it's a huge downside for your opponent to have two opportunities to explore against heavy-creature decks, so you'll want this postboard against a deck that has creatures like Baneslayer Angel and no other creatures. Get Lost will cleanly answer that kind of sideboard card while providing almost no additional value to that style of deck, as it will be tough for them to utilize the map tokens to full effect. Get Lost is a much better card in an aggressive deck that can punish the opponent for spending time and mana on the map tokens in a short game. I don't think we'll see tons of copies of Get Lost in main decks, but it's a solid, versatile sideboard card that will find its way into players' 75s. Molten Collapse I'm not a big Dreadbore fanatic, but Molten Collapse is the real deal. While it's easier to descend in a format with fetch lands, it's not a huge challenge in any format. Molten Collapse is a strict upgrade to Dreadbore, a card that's played in small numbers in decks like Rakdos Midrange in Pioneer. Molten Collapse looks like an excellent option for a deck like Rakdos Sacrifice, allowing the deck to have a hard removal spell that can also kill problematic permanents like an opponent's Witch's Oven. Molten Collapse will always be solid and has a potentially back-breaking upside, which will make it playable in basically every format in some numbers. The older the format, the more likely you're going to find a card you want to kill that costs 1 mana or less in addition to a planeswalker or creature. While I'm not going to rush to buy four copies of Molten Collapse, it's the kind of card I want to own at least two of because of how high the upside is when triggering descend, and it's mana efficient enough to be seen across all formats. It's likely going to be played in some numbers for years to come. Vito, Fanatic of Aclazotz Borrowing a bit of design space from Omnath, Vito Fanatic of Aclazotz looks fun to try and get to work, but ultimately I doubt it will see much competitive play. The ideal deck for Vito would be a deck like Mardu Sacrifice, similar to what Autumn Burchett played at the last Pioneer PT since it would synergize well with Cat Oven and treasures. Tons of cards have been printed that are extremely good when you have Cat Oven going, for instance, Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin, and these cards are all to win more. If I wanted to add a four-drop to that deck, I'd want it to do something when I'm not all set up already. Vito has an issue that the first and second triggers aren't that meaningful, so you need to be able to go all the way to the third trigger or Vito is lackluster. With Omnath, not only do you draw a card upfront, the first and second triggers are the most important, and the third is extra value that you don't need to go out of your way to get. Inti, Seneschal of the Sun Inti, Seneschal of the Sun is a powerful two-drop in a low-curve aggressive deck. While it can give you immediate value when cast on two if it follows a one-drop, that value is not always appealing. Discarding a card to give a +1+1 counter isn't that exciting when you can't utilize the exiled card you'd also get from it. For this reason, this card lines up much better in a low-curve lean deck that has tons of one-drops. It's better suited as a card you play on turn three after you've developed your mana and creatures some, and you're immediately able to attack and exile a card, which could either be a land to play for the turn or potentially a one-drop to cast with your third land. Inti is the type of creature that demands an answer since it's generating board presence every turn similar to a Luminarch Aspirant. Inti, however, isn't going to put this lean, low-curve, aggro deck on the map. While it may be a playable support card, it won't be good in decks with a higher curve where you're discarding a card only to exile an uncastable spell, which will set you back some. I'm not buying Inti for now, but if Madness were to come back soon, Inti would be an interesting card to look to as an enabler. Bitter Triumph Bitter Triumph is a solid card that will see play in all formats. Despite having the same issue as Infernal Grasp in paying life repeatedly, Bitter Triumph negates this issue by allowing you to discard a card instead, and it's a solid outlet for certain decks that will happily discard a card. You could see it in all formats due to its mana efficiency. Bitter Triumph is solid all the way around and is a surefire addition to cubes everywhere. Geological Appraiser Bloodbraid Elf at home. Geological Appraiser is an interesting case study of how cards that were once dominant in Standard can still be effective in the more powerful environment we have today if downgraded a little. Geological Appraiser looked better when you could hit a Fable of the Mirror Breaker with Discover, but it's still a powerful card that provides you with an immediate board presence when it enters the battlefield. It will see play in heavy red decks looking for a threat that provides value. One issue with Discover is that it can be countered and you will not get the free spell as you would with Bloodbraid Elf, which was one of the big factors in Bloodbraid's success in a World of Jace the Mind Sculptors. As of today, I think Geological Appraiser could find a home in grindy, red, midrange Standard decks, but it's likely not powerful enough outside of Standard. One upside to the appraiser is that you can add a bunch of removal to your midrange deck, and if you cast it and don't have a target you can bank that removal in your hand for later. For this reason, Bloodbraid Elf was a much better cast when the opponent had permanents. Geological Appraiser isn't strictly worse than Bloodbraid, but it is meaningfully worse in a stronger environment. Geological Appraiser is worth testing, perhaps in a Rakdos Midrange style of deck, but I'm not sold that it's a staple like Bloodbraid Elf used to be. This will wrap up the cards I reviewed that looked interesting. Overall, this set looks fairly deep and interesting, and it will be a lot of fun to explore. Limited looks like it might be incredibly fun if the balance is there. All the set's mechanics are remastered versions of older mechanics that will make it more intuitive to play with than completely new mechanics. I'm most excited to play with Bonehoard Dracosaur, as it seems so powerful, and I'm eager to see if it has a place anywhere outside of Limited where it will absolutely ruin games.
- Exploring the Lost Caverns of Ixalan
More Lost Caverns of Ixalan cards have been previewed, and so far it's been a chore to keep up with this set. Each card has so many words that it's overwhelming to take it all in at once. Let's take a look at some of the cards that stand out as Constructed contenders. Dusk Rose Reliquary We'll start out simple with a reskinned Bone Shards type of card. Dusk Rose Reliquary is mana efficient and provides an effective way to get rid of large threats, whether it's artifacts or creatures, while sacrificing something yourself. With map tokens, clues, treasures, and various small creature tokens, Dusk Rose Reliquary is easy to reliably use, and most importantly, it's a solid bullet out of any Karn, the Great Creator sideboard. I expect Dusk Rose Reliquary to see a lot of play across almost all formats. This is not a staple that will be played in all-white decks but will be in mostly proactive decks that have lots of game pieces lying around where its secondary cost is trivial. Pugnacious Hammerskull This is a cool card. A 6/6 for three mana seems overwhelming, and it's going to be quite the card to draw in multiples. Pugnacious Hammerskull is similar to Rotting Regisaur in that it will pack a huge punch upfront and demand an answer or run away with the game entirely. While this card feels only okay at a glance, the more playable dinosaurs for Constructed there are, the more solid this card can be. I could see a world where we see this alongside Rotting Regisaur in some sort of Golgari deck with both or either The Great Henge and Fight Rigging. Rotting Regisaur has that huge drawback of losing you an extra card when killed on your upkeep, but Pugnacious Hammerskull will never lose you extra cards, which makes it an interesting three-mana threat. When we take a step back, Pugnacious Hammerskull looks power crept from the days of old MTG, but it's a reasonable card to print these days. It's too early to tell if this card will have much of an impact on Standard because its supporting cast makes a difference, but the power level is there, and it's also the kind of card that will dominate in a format short on reliable removal to kill it. I'm interested to see where this one goes. Resplendent Angel I'm not going to say much about this beloved reprint other than it seems like an obvious attempt at juicing up the EV of packs. The set currently appears light on angels, and Resplendent Angel grew in popularity when Pioneer Angels was heavily represented. Quintorious Kand Quintorious Kand is one of the coolest cards I've seen in a while. It has so much going on with it that I'm excited to give it a try. I suspect Quintorious will be a bit niche, but we are introduced to the discover mechanic in a big way. Discover seems like a more careful method of reprinting cascade, where the discover numbers are higher, like the four we see here, making it more difficult to abuse to cast cards like Living End or Crashing Footfalls. Quintorious can either be cast and immediately plussed to make a 3/2 for battlefield presence and to protect itself, or it can replace itself immediately with a minus to discover something to also protect itself. Quintorious fits into that same category of card that many five-mana planeswalkers do, a five-mana resource engine that if unchecked will slowly run away with the game. Both its static ability and ultimate are underwhelming, as its ultimate doesn't play well with discover. You want to hit the highest casting cost possible with discover, and its ultimate wants you to focus on using cheap burn spells to utilize the free mana and the static. Discover is unlikely to break any formats since cascade is already a thing in Modern, and Pioneer and Standard would have a difficult time abusing the mechanic, especially because, unlike cascade, these spells have to resolve to get the effect. I'm not super bullish on Quintorious, but it will likely find a place here and there to fill in as a top-end value engine in small numbers out of sideboards. Palani's Hatcher Palani's Hatcher looks strong, but I've been made a fool before by Regisaur Alpha. Palani's Hatcher is a perfect dinosaur to put in a deck along with Pugnacious Hammerskull. It provides tokens that are dinosaurs whether hatched or not, and unless killed before combat you're getting three power of haste damage immediately. I am going to fall for it yet again and say that this is a solid and playable five-drop even by today's standards. It's five mana for eleven power when things go well, and when things don't go well, you're still left with egg tokens ready to hatch with the next copy cast. Glimpse the Core Two-mana ramp is back in Standard! I'm disappointed and would love to see the return of actual Rampant Growth so we could fix mana with it, but this is a step in the right direction. Glimpse the Core will provide meaningful ramp in one- or two-color decks, but the cost of taking turn two off in today's environment can be punishing if you're not doing something explosive at the top end. The extra use case of resetting a cave can turn Glimpse into a solid way to get a card back with the cycle of discover lands, specifically Hidden Nursery in green, but that's likely more of a Limited thing than anything we'll see in Constructed. With how Standard feels right now, Glimpse will likely be sparingly played since we don't have many reliable reset buttons. Perhaps a deck using Farewell would benefit the most from loading up on ramp-type effects and resetting the board. Getting specifically basic forest cards is limiting this card enough to a spot where it isn't good enough, but there's a chance we see it show up eventually. I'm happy to see them take the step and put more two-mana ramp into Standard, as I think faster mana makes Magic more fun, and with how powerful three-mana cards are these days, Rampant Growth won't hurt anyone. Tishana's Tidebender Tishana's Tidebender is an interesting card, mostly in Eternal formats where fetchlands exist. The Tidebender has a lot of utility outside of countering a fetch ability, as it can turn off the most annoying artifacts or make Sheoldred, the Apocalypse just another cold body on the battlefield. I'm looking forward to the first judge call when a Tishana's Tidebender is drawn in the draw step and there's conversation about clearing the stack with Sheoldred in play. I expect this card will see some play in actual merfolk decks and potentially in wizard decks such as what we see in Arena Historic. Again, this is a relatively solid card, but it's by no means a staple card and would likely only see play in decks that are mostly blue that don't have great ways to interact with permanents that resolved already. However, this creature does play nicely with counterspells, so I expect to see it played occasionally because of its overall utility against permanents in decks that are playing a large amount of countermagic. Aclaztotz, Deepest Betrayal I've never been a big fan of Baneslayer Angel-type creatures, but I absolutely love this one. Aclazotz, Deepest Betrayal, is a powerful flying lifelinker that can stabilize against aggressive decks while also emptying their hand or drawing you cards. Aclazotz plays nicely with Liliana of the Veil, which is Standard playable. It's a nice creature in the face of a Raffine, as the opponent will be forced to discard fewer lands because of the static ability that would create bat tokens. Most importantly, Aclazotz is a sticky threat in that if it dies, it comes back as a land to give you a mana jump, but it's easy to transform back as any player can have one or less cards for Temple of the Dead to turn back into Aclazotz. While I'm not sure every black deck wants copies of this, it will place nicely in low numbers in any deck that is playing Liliana of the Veil in big numbers since it's the kind of card that will perform better in low-resource games. I'm excited to try this one out. That's it this week. Next week we'll flesh out any remaining interesting cards that I have the appropriate level of reading comprehension to fully grasp. See you then!
- Board Games and TCG Events | 95 Game Center | Wilmington
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