Preview: Ixalan will chart waters familiar and new

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Set to release on September 29, 2017, Ixalan is the first set in the two-set Ixalan block, and introduces Magic: the Gathering players to the tribal feuding of the wild plane of the same name.

Ixalan appears to be a bottom-up set, designed around themes and mechanics rather than flavor. Chief among the mechanics of this set will be tribal, a common and powerful deckbuilding theme in the game. Some familiar tribes, such as Merfolk (green-blue) and Vampires (black-white) return, while Pirates (red-black-blue) and Dinosaurs (green-red) are the newcomers. And although many of Ixalan‘s cards, from commons to bomb rares, will reward tribal play, the set has many more tools to offer.

The brand-new Pirate tribe already has a legendary leader for tribal Commander decks. Courtesy photo.

An eclectic variety of mechanics will exist alongside tribal support to make Ixalan a distinctive set. From the two Innistrad-based blocks comes Transform, bringing back double-faced cards just as the Shadows Over Innistrad block rotates out of Standard. This time, Transform is based solely on exploration of wild lands, since every double-faced card becomes a land (complete with a map-like card frame) with powerful abilities. Treasure Map, for example, is an artifact that allows its controller to scry 1, and eventually create three Treasure artifact tokens and become a land that taps for colorless mana, as well as sacrifice Treasure tokens to draw cards. Even enchantments will transform in this set, as well as a Vehicle.

Vehicles have already returned, having last appeared in the recent Kaladesh block. Each one is a pirate ship, and Conquerer’s Galleon, in particular, will transform from a tough 2/10 creature to Conquerer’s Foothold, a land with many useful abilities. This also means that the Crew mechanic returns, allowing players to tap their creatures to allow Vehicles to attack and block as creatures themselves. This also allows Vehicles to avoid sorcery-speed, creature-based removal when necessary. Only four Vehicles appear in the Ixalan set, but even these four may have the potential to change the face of Limited games.

Ixalan reaches further back in Magic: the Gathering‘s history for the Raid mechanic, last seen in the Khans of Tarkir set. Now, the mechanic is tied to the Pirate tribe, and it rewards players for having attacked with a creature this turn, whether or not the attacking creatures dealt damage to a player. Some Raid abilities trigger when their host creature enters the battlefield, or may trigger every turn. Either way, this tribe is clearly geared for constant attacks for profit and mayhem, fitting their tribe’s flavor.

The infamous Gaea’s Cradle returns in new form, once players transform it from Growing Rites of Itlimoc. Courtesy photo.

Finally, Ixalan brings in two new mechanics with Explore and Enrage. The former, Explore, allows players to revel the top card of their library. A land card will go into your hand, and anything else can be put back, or into your graveyard, and you can place a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control. Whatever the outcome, Explore provides a bonus and never “whiffs”. Enrage is more straightforward: whenever a creature with Enrage is dealt damage by any source, an effect will take place, such as creating creature tokens or dealing damage to other targets. Enrage rewards not only a combat-heavy play style, but creative use of cards that deal repeated damage to sources.

The plot of Ixalan takes second place to the set’s four tribes and varied mechanics. Here, the Conquistador-like vampires and the pirates search for a long-lost treasure of the Aztec-like Sun Empire, while merfolk and native warriors (often riding dinosaurs) do battle with anyone who stands against them. In the middle of all this, the gorgon Planeswalker Vraska leads a pirate crew, and the famed Jace Beleren also hunts the treasure. However, Jace is a broken man, having suffered a serious defeat at the hands of Nicol Bolas on Amonkhet, and now, he has no memories of his life or past. Only his determination drives him onwards to whatever adventures await in the next set, Rivals of Ixalan.

Overall, Ixalan marks a departure from the Gatewatch storyline and towards fresh, new adventure with familiar mechanics and exciting new tribes.

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