Another day, another Magic: The Gathering set release. This time round we’re heading back to the plane of Ixalan and descending underground to find the Lost Caverns of Ixalan. The twist for this set draws from the Hollow Earth myth – the idea that the core of the world is a vast cavern, and civilisations can flourish there under the light of an inner sun.
All of the 4 rival groups inhabiting the plane simultaneously descend into the Ixalan underground, though for different reasons. The Dino-riding warriors of the Sun Empire are searching for their ancestral home. The Vampire Legions of Torrezan are looking for their progenitor, the Bat-God of Night, Aclazotz. The Pirates are digging for treasure, but manage to disturb a new threat, a single-minded fungal entity called the Mycotyrant. The Merfolk of the River Heralds…. well, as last time their goals are not as distinctly defined, they are just trying to survive.
If you’re interested to read more about the setting for Lost Caverns of Ixalan, Wizards of the Coast has published an extensive overview (>20,000 words!), the Planeswalker’s guide to The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, by author Miguel Lopez.
How about the Meta story?
Pulling the story along are Saheeli and Hualti, lovers and former planeswalkers who both lost their sparks in the events at the end of the Phyrexian Invasion. Hualti, the ‘Warrior Poet’ is originally from Ixalan and is a key figure in the hierarchy of the Sun Empire.
We also get some glimpses of continuity with Kellan, who was the main protagonist of the last set, Wilds of Eldraine. He doesn’t actually do much in the story, but he does pick up a new companion – the vampire Amalia Benavides Aguirre before moving onwards through the next Omenpath.
They are joined by Quintorius Kand, a newly sparked loxodon planewalker originally from Strixhaven Academy on the plane of Arcavios. Quintorius is doing some research of his own into the ‘Coin Empire’, an ancient civilisation who have left evidence of occupation on numerous different planes.
Some of the lore of Ixalan’s origin in the Planeswalkers guide linked earlier in this article gives us some more detail on who the Coin Empire is: they will probably be featured later in this story arc. Legends tell of the end of the Age of the Sun and the arrival of the colonizers, a race of imposing, imperialistic giants who called themselves the Fomori. The Fomori are apparently space travellers, using their advanced artificing skills to create spaceships capable of moving through the Blind Eternities. This definitely ties in with a teaser WotC has given us for a set due for release in 2025, codenamed Volleyball. “This premier set will be science fiction themed, possibly a space opera.”
Set in Motion
I was fortunate enough to attend the set release event hosted by Wizards of the Coast Australia and held at Fortress Melbourne. The event wasnt particularly hardcore – attendees were each given a Lost Caverns of Ixalan commander deck and the time and space for some casual play. I was keen to try out the “Explorers of the Deep” deck (U/G Merfolk). Unfortunately, it ended up being the deck selected by 2 of the other players in my pod as well, which is a bit of a shame – it would have been fun to compare all four of the decks in a single game. The last player was playing “Ahoy Mateys” (U/B/R Pirates).
The Pirates came out strong, and were putting the pain on rest of us in the early stages of the game. However, once the merfolk decks got going they started dominating, recovering quickly from the inevitable board wipes. The Pirates player was the first to fall, and I managed to hold the others off long enough to scrape out a win. Woot!
Overall, I quite enjoyed playing Explorers of the Deep. Simic (U/G) is usually a fairly potent colour combination in Commander, combining the card drawing powers of Blue magic with Green’s mana ramp, and this deck certainly uses both of those effects to their potential. While some people think U/G decks can be a bit one-dimensional, they’re definitely effective and popular for a reason.
From what I saw on the night and have seen online since, all 4 of the Lost Caverns of Ixalan Commander pre-cons seem to all be pretty consistently good and roughly equivalent in power. They also seem to be holding with recent trends of being decently powerful out of the box and containing some valuable reprints.
The real highlight of the Fortress Event was the presence of principal Magic designer, Gavin Verhey. He was in Australia for a short visit after doing some work in Japan on the Universes Beyond Magic: The Gathering x Final Fantasy crossover (to be release in 2025). Gavin is a really easy person to talk to – he’s definitely passionate about his job and is more than willing to relate tales about it.
We got the chance to talk with Gavin about a variety of things, including the recent Dr Who release that came out just last month that he played a major role in designing. And then we were treated to a Trivia quiz – 4 rounds of Magic related questions covering topics like Dinosaur names, correctly matching the names on both sides of dual faced cards, and a round titled ‘Sorry for Appropriating your culture” – Australian references on Magic cards.
It wouldn’t be a modern magic set without extensive amounts of bling, and this time we’ve got tons:
- A new showcase frame for Legendary Creatures, and a slightly different one for the Gods of the Plane. These are similar but different to the Ixalan showcase frame first shown in March of the Machines.
- Borderless cards featuring colurful modern MesoAmerican art, and more traditional borderless dinosaurs.
- Full Art lands featuring Ixalan’s core.
- ‘Treasure Trove’ box toppers – borderless artifacts from the past with new atwork.
- Special Guests – cards from ‘The List’, a curated list of cards from prior sets. These also feature new, unique borderless art.
- Two cards – Cavern of Souls from the main set, and Mana Crypt from the Special Guest list feature neon ink variants as well. There are 5 different inks matching up to the 5 colours of Magic, as well as a single card incorporating all the colours.
Last but not least, we also get bonus Universe Beyond inserts in some products. The Jurassic World franchise gets cards featuring characters, dinosaurs and events from the original Jurassic Park movie. For lovers of Jeff Goldblum, there is also a secret Lair tie-in…
TLDR? It’s a good set, with plenty of playable cards. Lost Caverns of Ixalan is available in stores now.