Magic: The Gathering followers are in for a busy autumn. We get an entirely new Standard format no longer held back by Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and along with it, we get what could be the freshest and most original spin on Magic‘s brand of fantasy of all time, the newly unveiled plane of Ixalan.
Those who follow the game closely have known half of the set since a leak earlier this year, but for those who are casual followers or are looking to getting into the game, now is the best time. Veteran players will be adjusting to the new rules and mechanics, so you might stand a chance with everything being so fresh. However, more importantly, this latest set, which releases on Sept. 29, will feature two of your wildest fantasies becoming a reality: dinosaurs vs pirates!
This is 100 percent true, and it is about as awesome as it gets.
To bring you up to speed, the last two sets took place on a plane called Amonkhet, which game developer Wizards of the Coast set up with a nice Ancient Egypt theme. Both sets were well received by fans, and its story came to a climactic end with the Gatewatch, Magic: The Gathering‘s home-brewed take on The Avengers, being trounced by the ancient Elder Dragon Nicol Bolas. Each of the group’s five members was forced to flee to another plane, or another universe if you are unsure of the lexicon, and Jace, the Blue Mana telepath, now finds himself stranded in this world where giant lizards do battle with scalawags of the sea.
Creatively, it’s a bold new direction to take, and from a marketing stance, it helps alleviate some of the problems longtime fans were having with the game. The Gatewatch, while loaded with popular characters, was seen as becoming too much of a crutch for consecutive stories to lean on. Much like how moviegoers suffer from “Marvel fatigue,” every Magic set focused entirely on these five characters showing up and saving the day, and fans got fed up with them after only two years.
Now, we get to focus less on them and more on the brilliant worlds and stories that Magic is known for creating.
Details are still scarce on the story, but from what we can tell, Ixalan is a land of high-faring adventures, expansive empires, underwater societies, and giant lizards, both tamed and wild.
The main show: Dinosaurs and Pirates!
Dinosaurs are the biggest addition to this new Magic: The Gathering set, and while this is not the first time they’ve been revived from extinction to be put into the game, this is the first time that they have taken center stage. The older sets that are now rotating out featured a race of massive octopus aliens called the Eldrazi, and fans seem more than willing to set Dinosaurs up on a pedestal to make them the new brutes of Magic.
So far, we’ve seen through spoilers that Dinosaurs will cover the Naya colors of Magic’s pentagon, meaning White, Red, and Green mana. As with most creatures that fit these colors, Dinosaurs will be BIG with large casting costs and large payoffs in power and toughness. Gishath, Sun’s Avatar, the Legendary Dinosaur in this set, will come down hard at eight-mana for a 7/6 creature with all three abilities associated with his colors. Vigilance for White, Haste for Red, and Trample for Green.
As a bonus, when he tears through enemy blockers, which he will assuredly do, he can summon up a host of more dinosaurs to wreck opponent’s life totals.
Dinosaurs are even scarier in groups, each of them synergizing with their fellow beasts and making one another stronger. Their native ability is also to Enrage, meaning that when they take any amount of damage from any source, they will benefit your or the creatures around them.
Ixalan’s empire, the central pillar of its power structure, has learned to tame these beasts, and they’ll be a huge player in how the next half-year of Magic turns out. This group’s hero goes by the name of Huatili, a planeswalker of Red and White mana.
If dinosaurs were not enough for poor Jace to contend with, he also has bloodthirsty pirates that make up the remainder of this world. From what we can tell, these warring pirate clans take up the Grixis colors, meaning Blue, Black, and Red mana.
Pirates, so far, are all about looting. Players will use their abilities to dig through their library, gain benefits from artifacts, and most importantly, ramp their mana to extreme levels. Their native ability creates Treasure artifacts, which can be sacrificed at any time to create a mana of any color.
Ixalan is a set about going big or going home, and pirates will help you splash for other colors or reach those casting costs that are normally just out of reach.
Two more tribes inhabit the land of Ixalan
Wizards of the Coast might be putting its Nicol Bolas plans on ice for a while, but that doesn’t mean his presence can’t be felt throughout the world. His associate Vraska is also on the plane controlling a host of White and Black-aligned Vampire Knights that wage war with the rival pirate clans.
Vraska also has a history with Jace, meaning that him being stranded here alone without the aid of his fellow Gatewatch companions, he’ll have to turn to swashbuckling to survive.
Seeing how we’re just saying goodbye to two long years of Vampires from Battle for Zendikar to Eldritch Moon, this seems like the least exciting of the groups. Nobody is really talking about Vampires right now, and we’ve yet to see any standouts or impressive Vampire cards.
What we have seen doesn’t break the mold very much, focusing mainly on Flying and life drain.
However, the final returning race is one that Magic: The Gathering fans are thrilled to see return to the game, Merfolk! It’s been years since the underwater dwellers found themselves at the center of a Magic conflict, and with Merfolk decks performing well in both Legacy and Modern formats, longtime players are eager to see if any of these latest cards will have an effect in those metagames as well.
Merfolk align themselves with both their traditional Blue mana as well as the addition of Green in Ixalan, giving them a serious dose of nature to their usual underwater antics. They primarily focus on spells with smaller casting costs that help players draw cards and create synergies with other Merfolks. Think similar to Dinosaurs, but a lot smaller.
And, finally, Ixalan is also bringing back two more popular mechanics. The Vehicles that were introduced in Kaladesh will be making a comeback, and hopefully, Wizards of the Coast will balance the powerful ones a bit better this time around. Transform cards will also be back seeing that they are popular in Innistrad, Magic‘s popular gothic-horror setting.
All told, Ixalan looks like a lot of fun. Amonkhet and Hour of Devasatation were both fabulous sets that easily tower over anything else I’ve played since getting back into Magic. Hopefully, Ixalan can keep the momentum going strong. In terms of its lost worlds, high seas, DINOSAUR flavor, I don’t see how it can be anything short of amazing!