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The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Pauper Set Review

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It feels just like yesterday when we were talking about Wilds of Eldraine, but now we're on to The Lost Caverns of Ixalan! The Prerelease is this coming weekend, meaning players will be getting their hands on all kinds of new cards. For some, that means a bunch of new commons entering the Pauper format. You'll be able to play with them in paper as soon as you get them, so if you're like me, you might get to play with them in events as early as Sunday or Monday! With the set so close, it's time to look over new cards and see what it has to offer to everyone's favorite commons-only format!

Let's start out by examining some of the mechanics of the set and the cards related to those mechanics before diving into a handful of additional individual cards!

Descend

Right off the bat, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan is doing quite a lot with descending. There's Descend 4, Descend 8, Fathomless Descent, and Descended. That seems a bit confusing, right? Well, it's a lot simpler than it sounds. The first three are all abilities that rely on you having a varying number of permanents in your graveyard. There's only a small handful of Descend 4 cards, one Fathomless Descent card that's fairly unplayable (Song of Stupefaction), and zero Descend 8 cards. We'll get to Descended shortly, but let's talk about the Descend 4 cards.

Basking Capybara
Echo of Dusk

For the most part, these cards are largely unplayable. Didact Echo, Frilled Cave-Wurm, and Join the Dead are either too expensive in general or just don't do enough for their rate. Malamet Veteran can be good if the game goes long, but 5 mana is a tall ask for something that only really has an impactful effect when it attacks. The ones I'm more interested in are Basking Capybara and Echo of Dusk, mainly because they become absolute houses if you can get stuff in the graveyard. In a deck that can meaningfully get stuff into the bin quick, these are real potent, but outside of those specific situations, they're utterly unplayable.

Which brings us to Descended. There's only three cards here that use the keyword and, frankly, none are very good. Just look at them.

Broodrage Mycoid
Child of the Volcano
Deep Goblin Skulltaker

In the case of the latter two, they're basically just a Hill Giant and Scathe Zombies with an added keyword that sometimes gets a little beefier. The other one sometimes makes a 1/1. All three get picked off really quickly and each one often does so before you even get one activation of their abilities. Real easy passes.

Discover

Discover is basically a reworked Cascade. Historically, that wasn't too heavily played until Commander Legends introduced Annoyed Altisaur and Boarding Party. So how do these ones stack up? Well, they're generally a mixed bag. Cards like Daring Discovery and Walk with the Ancestors are just too much mana to be relevant, and Buried Treasure doesn't do enough before you go for the discover play out of your graveyard. There are two aspects of Discover that might be worth a look, though.

(card pics: Hidden Courtyard, Hidden Cataract, Hidden Necropolis, Hidden Volcano, Hidden Nursery)

Hidden Courtyard
Hidden Cataract
Hidden Necropolis
Hidden Volcano
Hidden Nursery

First up we've got the set's cycle of caves. Having the potential to just cascade at will in the late game rules, but there is a real opportunity cost to playing these. Playing them in your deck means running mono-colored lands that come into play tapped without any bonus effect up front, which makes them a tough sell. Couple that with the fact that you essentially need 6 mana to make them work for Discover and the fact that your overall card quality might mean you don't want to spend that much mana on a boring one-mana spell and you have a cycle that feels mediocre. I'd bet that they'll see some low play here and there, but in the greater context of the format, it's not usually going to be worth it.

Etali's Favor

This one's interesting but it realistically only has a single home: Bogles. The reason is that you can play this and immediately cascade into a bonus aura or even just hit another creature to act as edict protection. That's awesome value and even just as a splash, Bogles runs enough mana fixing that you can reliably play a lone copy. The main issue is that the three-mana slot is already stuffed as is, so while this card rocks, is it good enough that you want to run it over a copy of Ancestral Mask or Armadillo Cloak? I'm not sure I want to go that far, but it's almost certainly worth trying out.

Craft

Craft cards are ones that do something on the front side and you can transform them by paying a mana cost and exiling something from play or your graveyard. For Pauper, we got a single cycle; one card for each color. Three of the five aren't anything to write home about but there's two that I think might have some amount of potential.

Oteclan Landmark // Oteclan Levitator

Blue-based Affinity lists have run copies of Witching Well quite a bit in the past. While it doesn't show up nearly as often today as it once did, there is still some amount of precedent to paying 1 mana for an artifact that just has scry 2. The advantage of Witching Well is it adds to your affinity count, sets up your draws, and then you can either pitch it to sacrificing effects or to its own ability to cantrip. Oteclan Landmark can't cantrip on its own, but what it can do is synergize with the other artifacts you're using - especially the ones that hit the graveyard - to flip over into Oteclan Levitator, which can give your Myr Enforcers extra evasion. 3 mana is a bit of a tall ask at times, but it does some interesting things here that I could certainly see it being played a bit.

Tithing Blade // Consuming Sepulcher

The other notable crafting card might just be one of the best cards in the set. Tithing Blade is great even if you just play it for the front side and do nothing else with it. Edict effects definitely have some solid play in Pauper. What makes this one so enticing, though, is two things. First, it's an artifact, so you get your typical artifact synergies out of it, be they Affinity counts or Deadly Dispute and friends. The other is that since it's a permanent, you can pick it up with Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk or even use it alongside Ghostly Flicker. Both situations make it quite a removal engine, and then if the game goes on late enough, you can even flip it over and turn it into a slow win condition. You can absolutely expect to see this one a fair amount, so make sure you're ready for it!

Explore and Map Tokens

Explore is one of the few returning mechanics this time around and previously we'd only really seen it in the original Ixalan block. Nothing from that block saw any real immediate play as the cards from that block were fairly weak on average. One explore card that saw some healthy Standard play during the era - Seekers' Squire - was downshifted in Double Masters 2023 however and sees a little bit of play here and there, though is hardly what I'd call a staple.

Some of the cards this time do fare a little bit better but still largely aren't anything to write home about. The ones I have my eye on this time are Miner's Guidewing and River Herald Scout.

Miner's Guidewing
River Herald Scout

Miner's Guidewing doesn't really do a lot on its own. Segovian Angel is a pretty quick comparison and that one has never really seen play. What makes this a little better, though, is the fact that it can pump other creatures or basically draw a card (even if that card is a land). On the whole, it's probably not going to be strong enough to make an impact, but it could be a possible toy for White Weenies strategies.

River Herald Scout on the other hand is one that can be big game with a little bit of setup. If you use something like Brainstorm, Ponder, or Preordain to set up the top of your deck, this comes down as a 2 mana 2/3. That might not seem like much, but that's actually a fairly decent body for the cost. The risk here, though, is that you get a Squire and draw an extra land, which usually isn't going to be that great. There's a possibility for some play here, but the reality is it is not doing much on its own compared to Blue's other suite of powerful cards coupled with the fact that it gets taken out quite easily by Lightning Bolt and friends. As such, I wouldn't bank on seeing this very much in the future.

There are also these little things called Map tokens now, which basically let you explore on command. Most of them are fairly irrelevant except for one little card you might've seen some discussion on...

Fanatical Offering

Oh boy, it's another Deadly Dispute variant! The question is, how well does it stack up to actual Deadly Dispute and Reckoner's Bargain? It's probably fairly obvious that Deadly Dispute is probably just better than this outright. As such, you're usually going to be choosing between this and Reckoner's Bargain. In Affinity, it's a bit of a toss up and will largely rely on the active meta. Are Burn and other Aggro strategies the top of the heap where you're playing? You likely want the extra life Reckoner's Bargain provides. In metas where you don't need to rely on that as much, the extra artifact helps reliably cast your cheap spells and it also can allow Myr Enforcers to trade with Tolarian Terrors as well as avoid Galvanic Blasts.

In other decks, consider your average mana value in your deck. Reckoner's Bargain works so nicely in Affinity because with Myr Enforcers and Frogmites being common sacrifices, you can easily get a lot of life out of the deal. That's to say nothing of the fact that you can block and then sacrifice, effectively retaining more life as well. In decks that more often rely on smaller cards, you're not going to get as much life, so even against aggressive strategies, it might just be better to utilize Fanatical Offering instead.

Landcyclers

Also, while it's not necessarily a mechanic, I did want to highlight the landcyclers of the set as well. It seems Wizards has found that they really like printing big cards that can also act as landcyclers in a pinch, likely to help smooth out Pauper. The last round of cards in The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth had quite a substantial impact on the format, so how do these ones stack up?

Soaring Sandwing
Marauding Brinefang
Rampaging Spiketail
Seismic Monstrosaur
Nurturing Bristleback

The honest answer is not very well. This is due to the landcycling costing 2 vs. Tales of Middle-earth's 1, which is a really big difference comparatively. Additionally, most of the cards just aren't that great on their own. It's quite easy to compare them to the ones from March of the Machine which themselves saw no play either. There are two here that I do like, though. Seismic Monstrosaur gives you some strong late game utility by letting you sacrifice unused lands for extra cards, which can be great. Nurturing Bristleback is also pretty neat in that if you can actually cast it, you can use flicker spells to get repeat 3/3 tokens onto the battlefield. Both really ask a lot in trying to actually cast the cards, though, but if you can overcome that hurdle, those two actually seem quite decent among the bunch.

Now let's talk about some other cards. As a reminder, I'm only covering some of the cards that I think are notable. It's possible that I miss some things, but with these single article reviews, there's only so much I can cover, especially for a set like this. With that, let's check out some other neat cards that don't fit into one of the above categories:

Deconstruction Hammer

Deconstruction Hammer

This card doesn't really give you much on its own by way of power bumps. That alone should be a pretty solid strike against this as a piece of equipment, but what makes it awesome is that it has the added versatility of being a Disenchant in a pinch. The use cases for this one in Pauper are going to be limited for sure, but every so often it'll show up and absolutely decimate someone.

Envoy of Okinec Ahau

Envoy of Okinec Ahau

Envoy of Okinec Ahau isn't really that great of a card, but I still wanted to highlight it because it does something a little different as far as commons go. Most common cards just let you get one little token alongside it as it enters the battlefield and that's it. Very few allow you to repeatedly generate tokens, however. The ones that mostly come to mind here are Sprout Swarm and Presence of Gond, which were both printed roughly 15 years ago. This may mark a shift in designs going forward, so hopefully we see some repeatable token generators at a more reasonable rate.

Cogwork Wrestler

Cogwork Wrestler

We've already seen a lot of these cards in the past. Think Faerie Duelist and Zulaport Duelist. Those cards have seen some amounts of play as fringe options in Blue tempo decks. Cogwork Wrestler seems like it could be great because it's an artifact creature, so - you know - Affinity. The thing is, though, Affinity isn't really a tempo deck, which is where these kinds of cards have largely excelled. So, will it be a role player in Affinity builds? Probably not, but I have to imagine it'll show up from time to time.

Oaken Siren

Oaken Siren

Okay, let's see, this is evasive, has vigilance, wears copies of All That Glitters really nicely, and utilizes Artifacts effectively? There's a lot going on here. 2 mana for low power on its own with no additional buffs is a little rough, but on the whole everything about this card feels like it should see some amount of play. It might just be too slow for what Affinity usually has going on. I like what's happening here, though, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple copies popping up here and there.

Orazca Puzzle-Door

Orazca Puzzle-Door

Remember when I mentioned Witching Well earlier? This is very reminiscent of that card. Unlike that one, however, this one doesn't scry up front. Instead, you get a cheaper cantrip cost and you get a bit of card selection out of the deal as well. It does lose a little bit of the utility of having an effect up front and then getting to sacrifice it to Deadly Dispute and friends, but it's a solid little card that feels like it'll be decently playable.

Relic's Roar

Relic's Roar

Most of these kinds of cards have proven to not be that great in Pauper. This one, however, costs just 1 mana and also makes your creature into a Dinosaur and an artifact. You know where that seems pretty good? Infect! There's been some recent Simic Infect brews popping up following Embiggen coming to MTGO with Wilds of Eldraine and this really works great, turning your copies of Embiggen into +6/+6 (Artifact Creature - Phyrexian Dinosaur and Elf Warrior or Human Rogue). When you combine that with the 4 power here, that can be an easy one shot KO. It'll be interesting if this can be enough to push that strategy into being playable, but we're definitely seeing the right tools coming around to give Infect a solid shot in the arm.

Greedy Freebooter

Greedy Freebooter

So I saw this card getting some chatter when the full gallery dropped and I think it's solid to assume why. After all, Shambling Ghast is playable and this does something similar. You lose out on the option for it to act as removal, but having a creature and then it both sets up your next turn and gives you extra mana is still decent enough. Is it good enough to warrant essentially 8 copies though? That I'm much less sure on, but I'd expect to see a few copies enter some lists.

Mephitic Draught

Mephitic Draught

If you were looking for copies 5-8 of Ichor Wellspring, here you go. Just make sure you watch your life total, though, because unlike Ichor Wellspring, this one will hurt you quite a bit. In fact, it'll often feel more like Dusk Legion Zealot or Phyrexian Rager by comparison. I think it's safe to assume this will see some play, but it's definitely going to show up in very low quantities after you already get a full playset of Wellsprings into whatever deck you're building.

Skullcap Snail

Skullcap Snail

The two-mana 1/1 "each opponent discards a card" creatures have seen some play here and there, though it's generally uncommon within Pauper. Skullcap Snail might change that up a little, as exiling the card is a lot different (and a lot better) than simply discarding the card. This prevents opponents from getting extra value from whatever card they discard, so a Burn deck couldn't discard a Lava Dart only to flash it back, nor would a discarded spell count toward Tolarian Terror discounts. It's probably still largely going to remain a fringe play, but this is a lot better and where you want to be if you're playing those kinds of cards.

Goblin Tomb Raider

Goblin Tomb Raider

This one got a lot of people talking right away because of Burn's prevalence in the current meta. I'm gonna be honest with this one: I think it's a bit overhyped. In a world where Swiftspear is queen, this just isn't going to cut it. Even if Swiftspear does eat a ban, you're not going to hit Great Furnace into this often enough to warrant and many times, it'll end up coming down as just a 1/2 and look kind of pitiful. I definitely think it'll see play, but I'm not convinced it's going to be the dominant force many people think it can and/or will be.

Sunshot Militia

Sunshot Militia

Makeshift Munitions sees play as a way to use up excess artifacts to ping opponents to death. This can be utilized in a similar fashion, though the sorcery speed and death by Lightning Bolt really hinders its uses. Still, I'm a big fan of tapping down unused blank artifacts like Ichor Wellspring all day every day towards this and in some matchups especially, it'll be excellent for the longer and more control-oriented games.

Tectonic Hazard

Tectonic Hazard

This is basically End the Festivities 5-8 for the sake of Pauper, so if you were really hurting for that fifth copy, here you go.

Poison Dart Frog

Poison Dart Frog

Generally, two-mana value mana dorks don't do much in Pauper. Giving it reach, however, allows it to trade with faeries and you can also give it deathtouch to trade with even bigger creatures. Essentially, it's mana ramp that can double as creature removal. It's probably too fragile with too costly a deathtouch activation to be reliable, but it's a solidly versatile card.

Captivating Cave and Promising Vein

Captivating Cave
Promising Vein

These are worth mentioning in that they're basically just functional reprints of Cave of Temptation and Shire Terrace, which are both fairly reasonable cards. If you like those, here's some alternatives.


That wraps it up for yet another Pauper review! The Lost Caverns of Ixalan feels like it'll be a really interesting set, adding in a number of interesting role players without overtly breaking anything in the process. It'll be fun to see what comes up in the next couple weeks as the set hits the Pauper format. I'll be back again soon with Murders at Karlov Manor in either late January or early February, and potentially with a little review of Ravnica Remastered if we get some relevant downshifts there! I'll see you then!

Paige Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: TheMaverickGal

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