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Hour of Leaks: What We Know About Ixalan


Ixalan

It seems like every year or so, we have a week that feels like the craziest one Magic's ever had, but I'm pretty sure this past week takes the cake. Right in the middle of the triple Grands Prix in Las Vegas, during an announcement week where we got a ton of new information about upcoming sets, including a return to Dominaria and another Un-set, and just as Hour of Devastation spoilers were about to begin, an entire rare sheet of Ixalan was leaked, first on 4chan and then on Reddit. While the pictures aren't that great (only some of the cards are legible), we have a ton of new information about Magic's next big fall set, and that's what we'll be breaking down today. 

WARNING! DANGER! DANGER! Spoilers Ahead

Ixalan Leaks

Before we talk about Ixalan, I should start with a disclaimer: the cards we'll be talking about today are leaks, which means they haven't been officially previewed by Wizards. They're also three months too early, so if you don't want to have the set spoiled unofficially, click away now. While it is essentially impossible to fake an entire foil sheet featuring all-new art, it's worth keeping in mind that none of these cards have been officially confirmed. It's also worth mentioning that we can't really delve into the nuts and bolts of Ixalan Standard because we don't really know what the format will look like, since we're three months ahead of schedule, so instead, we'll focus broadly on the set, the returning mechanics, and some of the major themes. Also, we won't be posting images of the cards, both because the quality is pretty poor and to give you a chance to avoid seeing them if you aren't interested. If you want to see the pictures that are out there, you can find them here, and here, and here. With that out of the way, let's break down what we do know about Ixalan

Pirates vs. Dinosaurs

Ixalan Key Art

Ixalan Key Art from Wizards of the Coast

We knew from announcement day on Wednesday that Ixalan would feature the return of Vraska, this time in pirate form, and that the pirates would be battling against dinosaurs. What we didn't know is that the set would be overflowing with both of these creature types. Out of all the leaked cards that are actually legible, 27 are creatures, and of these, 17 have a creature type of either Dinosaur or Pirate. This is exciting because it means there actually might be enough support to build decks around these creature types, even though they don't have much support throughout Magic's history. Will they be good enough for Standard? I have no idea because we don't know what Standard will look like, but the huge number of Pirates and Dinosaurs in the set means that we should at least be able to build a functional, fun deck for either of these tribes. 

Generally speaking, most of the Dinosaurs we've seen so far are massive (and correctly have feathers!), although there are exceptions, including a three-mana 2/2 flying Dinosaur that works like an Imposing Sovereign by making all of your opponent's creatures enter the battlefield tapped. Most seem to be green or white, with some reaching into red as well. As for the Pirates, they are mostly small and with tricky abilities like looting or tapping things when they enter the battlefield. Pirates seem to be primarily in blue, black, and red. 

Merfolk, Vampires, and Other Tribes

While Pirates and Dinosaurs at the primary focus of Ixalan, it appears that both Merfolk and Vampires are getting some tribal support as well, with several creatures of these types showing up in the leak. More interesting is the fact that Ixalan seems to have some strangely color-shifted creatures. For example, a mono-green two-drop Merfolk called Deeproot Champion gets a +1/+1 counter whenever you cast a non-creature spell, and a mono-white three-drop Vampire makes 1/1 white Vampire tokens whenever a non-token Vampire you control attacks. Unlike Pirates and Dinosaurs, we don't have that many of these weird color-shifted tribal cards at this point, but it seems that Ixalan is not just bringing back some of players' favorite tribes but doing so with a twist.

It's A Creature-Type-Matters Set

Turn 3 combo kill in Modern courtesy of u/Atanar

One of the most interesting revelations of the leak is that Ixalan is a tribal set, not just in the sense that it has a lot of members of certain tribes but that it actually contains a bunch of creature-type-matters cards. For example, Arcane Adaptation is basically an update on Conspiracy and Xenograft, allowing you to make all of your creatures into a creature type of your choice, which might not have many competitive implications but allows for some sweet Against the Odds shenanigans, like the ultra-janky combo shows above. Even beyond Arcane Adaptation, we got Vanquisher's Banner, which again lets you choose a creature type and then not only pumps all the creatures of the chosen type by +1/+1 but lets you draw a card whenever you cast a creature of the type. While we'll have to wait and see as the rest of the cards are revealed, it seems possible that Ixalan will be the set that cares about creature types the most since Morningtide and Lorwyn.

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While we don't know what this means for future Standard, it does seem like having these broad "creature type matters" cards could benefit some of the tribes that currently have support in Amonkhet and Kaladesh blocks. Right now, Dwarves have a lord in Depala, Pilot Exemplar (which could get even better because—surprisingly—it seems that vehicles are returning in Ixalan), cats have a lord in Regal Caracal, Servos / Thopters have a lord in Master Trinketeer, and Aetherborn have a lord in Midnight Entourage, and this doesn't include Metallic Mimic, which can work with Pirates, Dinosaurs, or any other tribe. With the heavy tribal / creature-type focus of Ixalan, it will be worth keeping these tribes in mind moving forward because they stand to benefit a lot from the new cards. 

Mechanics: Raid, Tough, Explore, Vehicles, and Treasure Tokens

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Raid

Raid is back. If you're not familiar with raid, it was the Mardu mechanic from Khans of Tarkir block, and it gives some sort of benefit for attacking with a creature. In Khans block, it came on both creature and spells, and some of the most powerful cards with the mechanic were Wingmate Roc and Bloodsoaked Champion. It seems to fit well on Ixalan for flavor reasons because Pirates are known for their raiding.

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Top of the Deck Matters

Speaking of Pirates, they also explore, which seems to be a mechanic that allows you to reveal the top card of your library and put it into your hand if it's a land; otherwise, you can choose to leave it on top of your library or mill it into your graveyard. The one example of this we have at present is a one-drop Pirate called Deadeye Tracker, which gets a +1/+1 counter if you don't reveal a land, but it isn't 100% clear if that's how all cards with the mechanic will work (which would limit it to just creatures) or not. It's also worth mentioning that, even beyond explore itself, the "top of your library" seems to be a sub-theme of Ixalan, with several cards from the leak dealing with that zone in various ways. 

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Tough

Tough appears to be a new mechanic for creatures that does something whenever the creature is damaged (like draw a card, for example). Maybe the best part of tough is that is seems to be a callback to Magic's original Dinosaur Fungusaur, which essentially had "tough" that gave it a +1/+1 counter whenever it was damaged!

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Vehicles

As I mentioned a moment ago, Vehicles make a return in Ixalan, although the images are too blurry to tell what they do. Hopefully, they are some sort of representation of pirate ships, which feels like a huge flavor win; otherwise, it seems strange that they are back so soon after Wizards said it wouldn't be making the card type evergreen.

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Treasure Tokens

Back in Theros block, a small number of cards made Gold tokens—colorless artifact tokens that could be sacrificed to add one mana of any color. It seems that Gold tokens are returning to Ixalan but this time as Treasure tokens, which have the same effect as Gold tokens (sacrifice to make a mana of any color) but need to be tapped to sacrifice (which is a small but meaningful difference, especially with the Improvise mechanic still in the format). This means they play exactly like the Etherium Cell tokens that Tezzeret the Schemer makes with his +1. All in all, "treasure" certainly fits the flavor of Pirates, although it is a bit strange that we now have three tokens with different names that do essentially the same thing, and two different ones are still legal in Standard. 

Legendaries

Godzilla

Godzilla

Another exciting part of Ixalan, especially for the Commander crowd, is some interesting new legendary creatures. While we don't know all their abilities, the list includes a legendary Dinosaur mythic (!!), a legendary white Vampire, a legendary red Pirate, and Kopala of the Waves, a legendary Merfolk Wizard that makes all of your opponent's spells and abilities cost one more if they are targeting one of your Merfolk. It seems like Wizards has learned a lesson from its mistake of not including a legendary Werewolf in original Innistrad block and is now making sure that new tribes get at least one legendary creature, which is great news for Commander players everywhere!

Planeswalkers

It appears that Ixalan will have three planeswalkers: an unknown Boros-colored planeswalker (looks like the lady from the key art); a Golgari-colored planeswalker that is likely the new pirate version of Vraska; and a new Jace (cosplaying as Shu Yun, apparently). While we can't really tell what abilities any of these planeswalkers have, we do have bits and pieces of Jace, which we'll discuss in a minute. The big news here is that it looks like all of the Ixalan planeswalkers come with the Legendary keyword in their types, which is odd, since planeswalkers are already (essentially) legendary thanks to the planeswalker uniqueness rule. Why in the world would a planeswalker be legendary? There are a couple of possibilities: 

First, the reason could be simple—the new Jace from Ixalan has an ultimate that makes two non-legendary copies of itself, and while it's likely a long shot, it's possible that Ixalan planeswalkers are legendary to make Jace work under the rules. That said, it would be very strange to make such a big change just to support one card, especially considering there's probably a way to make Jace's ultimate work under the planeswalker uniqueness rule. Second, and probably more likely, is that the rules are about to change in regard to planeswalkers, with the planeswalker uniqueness rule being a thing of the past and all planeswalkers simply being legendary. The biggest benefit of the change is that it makes things simpler. As far as I can tell, the legend rule and planeswalker uniqueness rule work exactly the same, so it's probably unnecessary to have to different rules to confuse new players (especially since many people refer to planeswalker as legendary, as shorthand for the planeswalker uniqueness rule). Another possibility is that making planeswalkers legendary could clear the way to all planeswalkers being legal as Commanders, which probably makes a lot of sense from Wizards' perspective, since Commander is super popular and planeswalkers are the face of the game, so putting them together seems like an easy way to make Standard sets more appealing to the Commander crowd.

The biggest question is whether this (potential) change would lead to errata on older planeswalkers, and while we don't know for sure, it seems that there would have to be errata if the rule itself is changing. This wouldn't do anything in 99.99% of games, although it would move Mirror Gallery Superfriends to the top of my Against the Odds list. 

Check Lands Are Back

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The rare land cycle is always one of the most interesting aspects of a new Magic set, and it looks like Ixalan will bring with it the return of the check lands / buddy lands / core set duals with new art. While these lands are great for Standard (and one of my personal favorite cycles because they are clean and powerful but not overpowered, being better in two-color decks than in three- or four-color decks), the bigger news here is the financial implications. Since these lands have already been printed a bunch of times, there's a lot of supply available, and some have been reprinted in supplemental products, which means they shouldn't spike too much in paper (although it's not a bad idea to pick up your playset soon while prices are at their bottom because there will be a ton of new demand from Standard). Meanwhile, on Magic Online, many members of the cycle have already spiked significantly, and while they are still only around a dollar a copy, some were as low as $0.02 and most were in the $0.10 to $0.20 range as recently as yesterday. [Disclaimer: I bought a bunch on Magic Online when the set was first leaked.]

My advice would be: if you are planning on playing Standard for the next year or two, you might as well pick up a playset now in the paper world. It's hard to imagine the check lands go down in price with the reprint; instead, they are likely to increase a little bit, similarly to the pain lands when they were reprinted in Standard. On Magic Online, the plan is probably similar. While the cycle seemed like can't-miss investments at $0.10, now that they are $1 a copy, I'd still be happy to pick up a playset but wouldn't be too worried about buying a ton of copies in the hopes of making some easy money. 

The Return of Hate...

For the past couple of years, I've been extremely loud about the fact that one of the main reasons Standard has suffered is because Wizards decided to remove answers and hate cards from the format. This led to a statement from Mark Rosewater saying that the pendulum had swung too far toward threats (and away from answers) and that Wizards was going to swing it back. We saw the start of this swinging in Amonkhet, with lots of good artifact hate and a bit of graveyard hate in Scarab Feast and Watchers of the Dead, but with Ixalan, it seems that answers and hate cards are officially back!

Most importantly, one of the leaked cards was a two-mana Pithing Needle called Sorcerous Spyglass that also lets you peak at your opponent's hand when it enters the battlefield. Over the past six months, Pithing Needle has been the single most requested card from the community because it provides a cheap, colorless answer to things like Smuggler's Copter, Aetherworks Marvel ,and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Having this effect back in Standard is huge, and even if it never sees play, just having it around as a safety valve for the next Aetherworks Marvel or Smuggler's Copter is a huge boon for the format. Along the same lines, we also have the best graveyard hate spell that's been printed in quite a while, with Ashes of the Abhorrent keeping players from casting cards or activating abilities of cards in their graveyard, while also gaining its controller a life whenever a creature dies. While we have no idea what Standard will look like six months or two years from now, both Ashes of the Abhorrent and Sorcerers Spyglass are great cards to have floating around in Standard, just in case the format get out of hand.

...and Removal

To go along with hate cards, Ixalan also seems to have some powerful removal spells. On the top of the list is a four-mana version of Hero's Downfall that exiles a creature or planeswalker and gains you two life, along with a four-mana instant-speed Wrath / mass Path to Exile that exiles all attacking creatures and then lets the creatures' controller search for basic lands for each creature exiled and put them into play tapped. While these cards aren't quite real four-mana wraths like Wrath of God or a true Hero's Downfall, they are more powerful than many of the answer cards we've been getting in recent years. More importantly, both effects exile, which will likely be important after rotation this fall when the indestructible Gods from Amonkhet could be among the most powerful cards in the format.

Hostage Taker

While—as we talked about in the intro—everything is yet unconfirmed, maybe the most talked about card from the leaks is Hostage Taker, a 2UB Pirate that appears to say, "when Hostage Taker enters the battlefield, exile target artifact or creature until Hostage Taker leaves the battlefield. You may cast that card as long as it remains exiled, and you may spend mana as though it were mana of any color to cast that spell." At first glance, Hostage Taker looks simple enough—it's sort of a hybrid of Fiend Hunter, Clone, and Gonti, Lord of Luxury. However, it's missing two really important words. The first is "other," while the second is "may." As far as we can tell, the way Hostage Taker is worded, it can exile itself, which means it's a one-card combo that gives infinite "enters the battlefield" and "leave the battlefield" triggers. The fact that it doesn't say "may" means that if you cast a Hostage Taker without any other creatures or artifacts on the battlefield, it would have to exile itself (and then return itself to the battlefield)—a loop that would repeat an infinite number of times—and the game would end in a draw. For an example of what I'm talking about, check out the infamous LSV video where he loops a bunch of Oblivion Rings until Magic Online crashes. The concept is the same, except Hostage Taker appears to do this all by itself on an empty board:

As far as I can tell, there are three possibilities regarding Hostage Taker, because there's no way that Wizards would intentionally print a card that goes infinite with itself, especially for just four mana. First, it's possible that we are missing something. While Hostage Taker is one of the leaked cards that's easier to read, like most of the pictures, it's still a bit blurry, and there's some chance that this blurriness is making everyone misunderstand the card. Second, Wizards is planning on changing the rules in regard to how infinite loops work, which means Hostage Taker isn't broken, although this seems unlikely. Third, Hostage Taker is the second coming of Felidar Guardian, and Wizards made a mistake by not including "other" and "may." If this is the case, it seems likely that Hostage Taker will either be errata'd before the set releases (see: Marath, Will of the Wild, which had a similar issue) or banned outright. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. While it feels weird to be talking about Ixalan before Hour of Devastation even releases, it's exciting to know that so much cool stuff is on the horizon for Standard. While the format has been in a rough spot for the last six months or year, it seems that Ixalan is the light at the end of the tunnel. Not only is the set oozing flavor, with sweet tribes, unique planeswalkers, Dinosaurs, and Pirates, but Ixalan also seems to have a lot of the boring nuts-and-bolts cards like Pithing Needles, Rest in Peaces, and Hero's Downfalls that are key for a fun and functional format. While we'll have to wait a while before we actually get to play with the cards, Ixalan is looking like one of the most exciting Magic sets in years, not just because of the flavor, cards, and mechanics but because it seems likely to bring with it the return of good Standard formats.

What do you think? What are you most excited for from Ixalan? Do you like the Pirates versus Dinosaurs theme? What do you make of legendary planeswalkers? What tribe are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments, and as always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com. 


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