MTG: The Lost Caverns of Ixalan is an eclectic bouquet of monsters

The Lost Caverns of Ixalan boasts a massive array of monstrous factions, each with their own unique mechanics.
mtg the lost caverns of ixalan impressions

Wizards of the Coast has gone absolutely ham with its latest Magic: The Gathering set, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan – and I mean that in the best possible way. In expanding Ixalan, a Mesoamerica-inspired plane filled with lost jungles and ancient temples, more of its unique cultures and creatures have been revealed, with fresh cards and commander decks illuminating a wildly diverse plane.

Wild in a way that can be slightly overwhelming. For this iteration of Ixalan, Wizards have gone beneath the surface of its plane to explore a range of factions that dominate darker underground worlds: Pirates, Dinosaurs, Vampires, and Merfolk. While typically represented in very separate genres, here these factions are mashed together – so that in hosting a Commander session, you can have Vampires vs. Dinosaurs, Pirates vs. Vampires, Merfolk vs. Dinosaurs, and so on.

In addition to all of that, Universes Beyond: Jurassic World operates as a booster insert in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, so while you’re fighting against dinosaurs, Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm can occasionally appear on the battlefield. Which is wonderful, of course.

Read: The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth is the perfect MTG intro

Booster packs can be an eclectic mix for that reason – you’ll pull a standard vampire card, and then run into a glittering foil card that depicts an ancient temple, or a towering mechanical dinosaur, or a vampire explorer.

To that end, I do have to say I pulled some absolutely lovely cards in my booster sets, with many rocking intricate Mesoamerican designs, and others featuring absolutely stunning neon artwork, and neat character designs, to go along with cool new mechanics.

magic the gathering mtg lost caverns of ixalan
A few of my favourite pulls. (Image: GamesHub)

MTG: The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, beyond its art style and neat factions, is notable for introducing a number of new mechanics to MTG gameplay. This includes the new Descended status, which allows you to trigger certain effects based on the creatures in your graveyard, a new Craft mechanic that allows you transform artifact cards, and a new Discover mechanic that allows you to cast free cards when played correctly.

During a launch event for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, hosted by Wizards of the Coast and Double Jump, I played the Blood Rites precon Commander Deck and didn’t run into any of these mechanics – but I can certainly see how they’d be handy in a pinch, particularly given Discover can give you an immediate free cast advantage.

But even without these mechanics, Blood Rites was a solid companion – as nearly every vampire in this deck has a unique ability that makes them absolutely painful to contend with (much to my joy). The commander, Clavileño, First of the Blessed is a particular pain. Once played on the battlefield, he has the ability to transform attacking creatures into Demons – and when these Demons inevitably die, they spawn a powerful 4/3 Vampire Demon with Flying.

magic the gathering mtg the lost caverns of ixalan
Image: Wizards of the Coast

I didn’t have too much time to feel smug about my growing vampire hordes, however, as the game of MTG I played quickly devolved into chaos when one of my opponents (I still love and appreciate you, Courtney) chose to initiate a wrath effect that completely wiped the board of all creatures.

That defined my MTG experience during The Lost Caverns of Ixalan launch night: sharp highs, desperate lows, and hope in the form of a clean board. It was high chaos, but at the same time, it was nice to play against more experienced MTG fans, and feel like I still had a chance.

There are elements of the game that require deeper knowledge – there is much assumed about language and mechanics in card descriptions, and strategy takes time and learning – but each set felt incredibly balanced, inviting even newbie players in with overall easy-to-learn gameplay. And once you’ve got the basics down, there’s a real rush of pride and surprising viciousness that comes out with a tantalising new card draw.

Halfway through my Commander match, I drew and played Twilight Prophet – a card with Flying and Ascend, and the ability to summon the City’s Blessing. With the City’s Blessing, the card allows you to reveal the top card of your library at the beginning of each turn, and opponents lose an amount of life, and you gain an amount of life, depending on the mana value of that card. It’s an extremely powerful card with game-winning potential – although it did get caught up in the board wipe, and I lost my winning advantage soon after.

But for a moment, I felt incredibly smug, all-powerful, and ready to make a crater on the playing field.

lost caverns of ixalan
Image: GamesHub

Even though my health plummeted following wily moves from my opponent’s Ahoy Mateys Pirate deck, I found that I didn’t mind too much. It wasn’t necessarily the victory that mattered at all, but watching out for those clever plays, and seeing just how much devastation a single, clever MTG player can cause. In our game, there were tiny rivalries and vendettas, plays that felt completely unfair in silly, fun, and over-the-top ways, and plenty of opportunities missed due to more conservative decision-making.

With every move, the stakes shifted – and realistically, my chances for winning dropped – but that was the inherent joy of playing.

While the Blood Rites Commander Deck feels very different from other sets within The Lost Caverns of Ixalan – it feels more gothic horror in the vein of Innistrad – it was still incredibly satisfying to play. The fact that this iteration of Ixalan also lets you pit gothic vampires against dinosaurs, merfolk, and pirates is also straight-up cool.

While the variety is eye-popping, it means decks forged from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan boosters will be some of the most diverse, mechanically interesting and completely wild of the lot. If you’re looking to add some spice and chaos into your MTG gameplay, then a scattering of dinosaurs, pirates, merfolk, and vampires will certainly do the trick.

MTG: The Lost Caverns of Ixalan is now available at your local games store. To find out more about the new set, head to the MTG website.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.