Huatli and Saheeli Rai probably riding a dinosaur for the card 'Poetic Ingenuity' for Magic The Gathering.

Grab Your Magic Shovel Because We’re Spelunkin’ in ‘Magic: The Gathering’s ‘Lost Caverns of Ixalan’

One of the big draws of playing in Magic: The Gathering‘s Commander format is making large themed decks. The Lost Caverns of Ixalan set looks to enrich the game’s adventure-seeking and explorer themes—especially those with vampires, pirates, merfolk, and dinosaurs.

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Long-time players of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) will probably recognize the name “Ixalan,” pronounced, “icks-a-lawn.” First introduced by Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) in 2017 as simply Ixalan, the plane is inspired by pre-Columbian Mesoamerica cultures, the so-called “Age of Discovery,” and pirates. The adventuring vibe carries through into this new set that revisits the plane. WOTC pivoted the general exploration story to a race to find the resource cosmium. Adventurers find a cave network that reveals a hollow world, and former planeswalker Huatli is back home and brings her girlfriend, Saheeli Rai, with her.

Commander decks & special guests

The Lost Caverns of Ixalan key art showing Huatli fighting dinos in Magic The Gathering.
(Anna Podedworna/Wizards of the Coast)

The four commander decks are uniquely flavored and will also feature interesting cards worth considering for one of your pre-existing commanders. Ahoy Mateys (Blue/Black/Red) is a pirate-themed deck that cycles the seafarers in and out of the graveyard. These commanders include a human (Admiral Brass, Unsinkable) and a vampire (Don Andres, the Renegade) pirate. Innistrad Crimson Vow fans are going to love Blood Rites (White/Black). This vampire theme deck revolves around spawning minions and sacrificing demons. The two vampire commanders include Clavileño, First of the Blessed (a cleric), and Carmen, Cruel Skymarcher (a soldier).

Those who rely on heavy land pulls might enjoy the other two commander decks. Explorers of the Deep (Green/Blue) centers deep sea creatures like merfolk and stacking up those +1/+1 counters. The commanders include Hakbal of the Surging Soul (Merfolk Scout) and Xolatoyac, the Smiling Flood (Salamander Serpent). Finally, there’s the dino deck, Veloci-Ramp-Tor (Red/Green/White), that will be released at the same time as the Jurassic Park Extended Universes release. Built around playing more lands needed for the behemoths, this deck’s commanders include a dinosaur (Pantlaza, Sun-Favored) and a human (Wayta, Trainer Prodigy).

'Lost Caverns of Ixalan' Commanders of Magic The Gathering.
(Wizards of the Coast)

MTG also began printing highly sought-after cards, a.k.a. special guests. This allows players alternatives to just staring at cards worth $200+ on the secondhand market. Additionally, Wizards of the Coast can make money directly from these players’ desires. The Lost Caverns of Ixalan begins the first set with a released list of special guests.

  • Blues: Lord of Atlantis; Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator
  • Blacks: Bridge From Below; Mephidross Vampire; Pitiless Plunderer
  • Red: Breeches, Brazen Plunderer; Dargo, the Shipwrecker; Rampaging Ferocidon; Underworld Breach
  • Green: Carnage Tyrant; Polyraptor; Ghalta, Primal Hunger
  • Colorless: Mana Crypt; Star Compass

The multi-color cards include Kalamax, the Stormsire (Green/Blue/Red), Lord Windgrace (Black/Red/Green), Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist (Green/White), and Thrasios, Triton Hero (Blue/Green).

New mechanics & release date

This set features three new card mechanics that fit the theme of adventuring. These include “descend,” “craft,” and “discover.” Additionally, Lost Caverns of Ixalan brings back a fourth card mechanic, “explore,” which was first introduced in 2017. Here, when players initiate this ability, they select a creature in their control. After revealing the top card in their library, they put the card in their hand if it’s a land card. If it’s any other card, they put it back or in the graveyard. Either way, that creature who explored gets a +1/+1 counter.

Now, for the mechanics that are new to the game.

“Descend(ing)” happens when you put a permanent card—like a creature or enchantment—into your graveyard from anywhere. When and how often you descend will trigger card effects. For example, some fungus cards generate tokens at certain stages following card descents. Other cards unlock abilities based on how many cards descended since the start of the game. “Discover,” meanwhile, allows players to exile several cards until they find a non-land card they want to summon or add to their hand. This mechanic is not limited to blue decks because the exiles then go to the bottom of your deck. Lastly, the “craft” mechanic improves artifacts or other permanents by exiling. These are double-sided cards and, unless stated otherwise, the crafting process acts as sorcery.

You’ll be able to test these new mechanics out yourself on November 17 by picking up cards at your local card shop. Because this deck visually pulls from Indigenous imagery and histories and Ixalan has traditionally featured (now defunct) “tribal” cards, I’m hoping there’s more announcements to come.

(featured image: Kieran Yanner/Wizards of the Coast)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.