After plane-colliding super wars and crossovers into beloved IPs such as Doctor Who and Lord Of The Rings, Magic: The Gathering charted a course for adventure with The Lost Caverns of Ixalan that dropped on November 17. The return to the Mesoamerican-inspired plane of Ixalan with its jungles and treasure-laden ruins is known to play host to pirates dead and alive, mighty merfolk, vampire conquistadors and…dinosaurs. It’s not an obvious foursome by any means, but by gosh Wizards Of The Coast seem to have had fun leaning into this eclectic mix.
Each of these four creature factions features its own Commander deck for players that enjoy the 100-card social brawling format. My favourite among these is the ‘Veloci-ramp-tor’ deck. A red-green-white deck that does exactly what it says on the box. Play heaps of lands, creating an engine of jungles and mountains that looks like a veritable Jurrasic Park, and then roll out the unstoppable dinosaurs. A frightening marriage of theme and mechanics that I have had the pleasure of being annihilated by.
As we now venture into the caves below Ixalan, this set introduces new mechanics that are emblematic of the risks and ingenuity of a caving party. Key among these is ‘Descended’, which benefits from the number of cards in a player’s graveyard as though they were potentially fatal lessons learned on a perilous adventure. And on this hunt for treasure, of which this set has plenty in the form of tokens, one must expect to ‘Discover’ great things. Discover pushes your ambitions into overdrive, removing cards from your library in a mad flurry until a non-land card of a certain value finally appears. This is then immediately played or kept in hand.
Universes Beyond Jurrasic World and Hot Goldblum
While some Universes Beyond releases are a complete thematic overhaul of Magic: The Gathering in favour of a pop culture property, the popular Jurassic World series instead gets the opportunity to stomp in on the Lost Caverns of Ixalan. Guaranteed in every LCOI collector’s booster, and in some set boosters, players have a chance of drawing among 26 crossover cards featuring iconic characters from the movies.
If you’re a little more passionate about Jurrasic World and Magic than the average punter, then there’s some rather indiscreet pleasure to be found in the accompanying Secret Lair release. Primarily for collectors and playing among friends, Secret Lair differs from Universes Beyond by featuring a far smaller set of experimental or luxurious crossover cards done in unique treatments that typically won’t be seen in play due to their non-standard format and exclusive availability. Everybody’s favourite sexy scientist Dr. Ian Malcolm gets a whopping five cards, with one particular standout– Ian, Convalescent Charmer. He’s got no time for honorifics yet all the time to recover and he’s quite ready to swipe right. If you’re the thirsty suitor for this rare set, you can find out more here.
The Lost Caverns Of Ixalan Commander launch at Fortress Melbourne
November 15 marked the pre-release launch of LCOI at Fortress Melbourne. Surprisingly, this event was a departure from previous pre-release events I have attended that were hosted by Wizards Of The Coast. These events usually involved the intimidating affair of building a deck out of the random assortment of cards drawn from six booster packs, or Jump Start which fuses two booster packs in lieu of deckbuilding. By focusing on Commander, Ixalan’s returning explorers were invited to sit in groups of four and practically jump immediately into play. A small but considerable facilitator to this approachability is that the Commander boxes have a couple of lines on the front of the box that explicitly say how the deck should function. Previously, the unassuming novice would have to puzzle together colours, keywords, and perhaps some flavour text to make sense of how this product functions. My biggest takeaway from the frankly warm and welcoming pre-release at Fortress, complete with standout catering and vibes, is that putting a ten-words-or-less description on the cover of a Commander deck is a revelation for this card game.
Consider how delighted I was upon selecting the pirate-themed Commander deck called Ahoy Mateys which reads, “Put pirates in the graveyard. Bring them back bigger”.
Oh, and Gavin Verhey can host a terrifically brutal Ixalan trivia, which only cemented how little I get this game, but we’ll get to this charming chap next.
Fortress Melbourne, Gavin Verhey, principal MTG designer, hosting a hilariously deep-cut trivia about Magic and its occasional Aussie crossovers
Dinner and a chat with principal designer Gavin Verhey
Coming as quite a pleasant surprise, MTG’s principal designer Gavin Verhey swung by Melbourne to do the rounds on hyping up the return to his beloved child Ixalan. Before being swamped by admiring fans at Fortress’ LCOI prelease in a bold red suit, Wizards Of The Coast were kind enough to provide me with a sit-down dinner with Verhey where we had an interesting chat about MTG from two vastly different perspectives. Verhey, very much a fan since his introduction, having achieved his dream job and thriving in the muddled multiverse of the burgeoning Magic machine. I, a very casual fan who admires the game’s longstanding ability to bring diverse folks around the table but is really only paying attention to the dazzling art.
Somewhat embarrassingly, one of my first questions after an hour of jovial small talk was, “Why Ixalan?”
Despite my vague disinterest in the setting coming through, Verhey chuckled and nodded understandingly. He explained that in the conception of this release, there was a lot of exciting work happening around mechanics and the idea of caverns and cave exploration. An underworld of adventure and treasure. Yet there wasn’t quite enough of a hook to make this a sufficient setting in itself. With Verhey having led the creation of Ixalan, which had proven popular in its debut, it seemed that it was time to bring it back off the shelf and merge it with this cavernous skeleton the team had whipped together.
By this point, Verhey’s enthusiasm about this new arc is beginning to bubble over as he then discusses the renewed potential that so many older planes within Magic now have. Verhey commends Wizards’ approach to representation and hiring of cultural consultants, pointing to artists and writers who can appropriately do the Mesoamerican themes and visuals justice. He also reflects upon other planes that draw from recognisable regions such as the Japan-inspired Kamigawa. For Verhey, this shift to pushing representational creatives to the fore of these plane reimaginings opens up extraordinary new storytelling and world-building potential that will last well into Magic’s seemingly endless future.
The Summer Of Magic
The Lost Caverns Of Ixalan is also a special kind of release Down Under, with Wizards Of The Coast hosting a nationwide ‘Summer Of Magic’. Beach barbies and koalas in sunnies aside, this special event seeks to incentivise players to enjoy the great indoors at their friendly local game or card shop. Running on Friday evenings from December 1 through to the close of January, stores will be running ‘Chaos Sealed’ events. These events have players exploring packs that serve as a kind of greatest hits of the past year of Magic. Participants will also have a chance to get some hilariously novel merch such as sunglasses and beach towels, necessities we associate with this hobby.
Background art controversy
This last Ixalan story of the roundup is an unusual one involving a bizarrely lazy plagiarism of an art asset in a card background. Weirder still, the copied homework in question comes from another MTG artist. In a post on X by environmental artist Lorenzo Lanfranconi, they made a public call out to Wizards advising of the copied background art. Specifically, the left side of the card’s background is clearly identical to the piece linked by Lanfranconi in the post.
@wizards_magic just want to let you know one of you artists stole one of my paintings to paste it as it is in the background of their illustration.
I don't even want to know the reason behind this. It's so stupid that deserve a prize. LOL pic.twitter.com/hxfxaGKGTj
— Lorenzo Lanfranconi (@L_Lanfranconi) November 18, 2023
The LCOI card Wayfarer’s Bauble by artist David Sondered was swiftly met with a short and succinct statement from Wizards Of The Coast condemning the artist, the practice, and refusing to work with Sondered “until further notice.” As Lanfranconi points out, this copied art is quite stupid as both artists have been current contributors to this Magic sandpit, so copied homework would always be at high risk of exposure.
And that’s that. With Wizards Of The Coast declaring a Summer of Magic with the bumper end-of-year releases of Doctor Who, LCOI, and even more Lords Of The Rings cards dropping, 2023 marks the end of another ambitious year in MTG’s post-lockdown celebrations. As always, you can check out your local JB Hi-Fi or EB Games and try your luck at some Jurrasic World crossover cards. Will you be diving into or learning a social MTG format in an air-conditioned games store this summer? Let us know in the comments or on social media.