M:TG IXALAN (Wizards of the Coast)

Magic: The Gathering’s Ixalan set is like a rambling tale told by an overexcited six-year-old come to life. Maybe that’s why I love it. The inner kid in me totally gets the premise. Here. Read the next paragraph in the voice of an enthusiastic child telling you about their newest Pokemon.

Okay. So there’s this island full of dinosaurs and sun worshipers. And then vampires are searching the island for an ancient artifact. And pirates sail to the island to pillage and plunder and search for buried treasure. And mermaids want to fight off invaders so they can protect the island. Super cool, huh?

It’s sort of a mashup of all sorts of fantasy tropes, and it works incredibly well in the context of Magic’s long history. There’s a whole lot of fun to be had simply putting together decks based solely on similar creature types. As this set seems to be all about tribes, I’ll break it down in the same manner.

Dinosaurs: These decks focus on red, white and green cards. Just in time for Christmas! Dinosaur is a new creature subtype to Magic, and that kind of blows my mind. It took nearly 25 years to add almost every child’s temporary obsession to the game? Better late than never, I guess. A more accurate description of this tribe would expand into two creature types so we could include the humans that bolster their reptilian compatriots. The almost essential Kinjalli’s Caller, a single Plains drop 0/3 creature, reduces the casting cost of all dinosaurs by one mana of any color for example. As most dinosaurs have a fairly high casting cost, this human cleric comes in very handy. Some dinos also have the new Enrage ability. Enrage is triggered when a creature with the ability takes damage. Effects vary from creating tokens to dealing damage to gaining life to adding +1/+1 counters to creatures.

Merfolk: The creatures speeding through the murky waters of Ixalan unsurprisingly come in blue and green varieties. Merfolk were one of the first creature types in Magic, so it’s nice to see that the developers’ love for these sea-dwellers endures. There are a number of spells that add +1/+1 counters to merkfolk. It’s plausible to play cheaper, weaker creatures and buff them up over time. River Herald’s Boon is a particularly nice common that puts a +1/+1 counter on target creature and another on target merfolk at the mere cost of two mana. Merfolk-centered decks often require a good amount of control and a focus on stymying an opponent’s progress until big beat sticks can be dropped. Alternatively, Herald of Secret Streams can give all creatures a player controls protection against blocking. Sometimes a few unblockable merfolk can be just as dangerous as a rampaging dinosaur.

Pirates: Nicol Bolas anyone? This doesn’t necessarily apply to mechanics associated with the infamous dragon Planeswalker, but the colors are definitely the same. Pirates come in red, black and blue varieties. They also bring artifact vehicles back in the form of Jolly Roger-sporting pirate ships. Pirates are aggressive, reckless and dangerous. Their Raid mechanic encourages attacking often by giving bonuses for playing creatures after swinging at an opponent. They can easily flood the battlefield with angry mateys by sacrificing Treasures for colorless mana. The more bloodthirsty pirates will gladly sacrifice some of their own to get a leg up on the opposition. I find orc and goblin pirates particularly entertaining. Rigging Runner is a little single Mountain drop 1/1 goblin with first strike whose Raid ability gives him a +1/+1 counter. Ruthless Knave, on the other hand, can sacrifice a creature to create two Treasure tokens that can be sacked for mana. Alternatively, he can sacrifice three Treasures to draw a card. A full hand means more options, and that usually a great thing!

Vampires: I’m relatively new to Magic and began really getting into it with the first Innistrad set. Therefore, I am pretty well aware of both red and black vampires. This is my first exposure to white blood suckers, and they work oh so well with their counterparts of other colors. This breed of vamps decked out in conquistador armor are all about slowly draining life from opponents while gaining life for their controller. A number of vampire-related cards both gain a single life while causing an opponent to lose one. There’s also an emphasis on creating 1/1 vampire tokes with Lifelink. While not much of a threat on their own, a coven of these little guys can be very dangerous. Two great vampire themed instants are Ritual of Rejuvenation and Sanguine Sacrament. Ritual gains a player four life and allows them to draw a card for only three mana. That’s a helluva trade-off. Sanguine Sacrament costs two Plains and X colorless (X can be any number equal to or greater than one) and gains its controller twice X life before returning to the bottom of its owner’s library. These vampires are definitely in it for the long game.

Magic’s core rules don’t change here. Play land, cast spells, and reduce your opponent’s life to zero. Anyone can pick up the basics quickly, but it’s the meta game of building one’s own deck that offers players the most compelling Magic experience. Ixalan is unlikely to make new fans out of lifelong gamers who have never really jumped headlong into M:TG. It is, however, accessible enough and boasts a fun enough theme to bring in new and young players and scratch the itch of Magic enthusiasts at the same time. (Wizards of the Coast) by Kris Poland