Hello, friend! It’s that time again. Time for exploring and delving deep into drafting the new Magic set. So, in this Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft Guide you’ll find information that will help you understand this draft format better. Hopefully, it’ll result in more wins.
If you’re our regular reader, you know what to expect. If not (Welcome!), here’s what to expect. First, there’s an overview of all mechanics. You’ll learn how they work and how they affect the format. Then, the best commons follow. These are the cards that you’ll see the most of during your drafts. In the archetype overview you’ll discover which kinds of decks you can draft.
The set has now been around for a couple of weeks, and received its second major update. So, while some things might still change, most of the stuff should be fairly accurate.
Anyway, there really is a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it!
The Lost Cavern of Ixalan Mechanics
In this section you’ll find all the major mechanics that you’ll encounter in the Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft. For each one, there’s an explanation of both how it works and what it does for the format.
Depending on how you count them, there are five mechanics:
- explore and map tokens
- descend & descended
Explore and Map Tokens
Some of the mechanics are closely tied together. That’s the case with the returning mechanic explore, and Map tokens, a new type of predefined tokens.
When your creature explores, you reveal the top card of your library. If it’s a land card, you put it into your card. If it’s a nonland card, you put a +1/+1 counter on the creature that explored. Then, you may either return the nonland card back on top of your library, or put it into graveyard. Cards with explore are mostly in blue and green.
So, when Cenote Scout comes into play, it explores. So, you reveal the top card of your library. Is it a land card? Cool, put it into your hand. Is it not? Put a +1/+1 counter on Scout. Then decide whether you’d like to keep the revealed card on top, or if you want to put it into your graveyard.
If we assume, you’re playing 17 lands in your 40-card deck, then there’s a 42.5% chance you’re drawing a land. (Of course, this percentage changes during the actual game, depending on your previous draws.) In other scenarios, the creature becomes bigger, and you receive some card selection. When evaluating a card with explore, its value is thus close to drawing around half of a card. It’s a very powerful effect.
An opponent might respond to the explore trigger. For example, if a creature has 3 toughness, they could use Abrade, so that creature won’t grow out of its range. However, you still look at the top card of your library, potentially drawing a land or deciding what to do with a nonland.
There are many ways to make creature explore, with cards like Over the Edge or with Map tokens.
Various cards in the set create Map tokens. These are artifact tokens that allow one of your creatures to explore. In order to do so, you need to pay one mana, tap and sacrifice a Map. You can only do that at sorcery speed. Most cards that make Maps are blue.
When Cartographer’s Companion enters the battlefield, you create a Map token. That token can be used on any of your creatures to make it explore. Similarly, to the explore ability, a Map token is worth around a half of a card.
Note that if an opponent responds to you using a Map token, by removing your creature, than the whole explore effect is effectively countered. If that were to happen when a creature would explore by its own, you’d still get to look at the top cards of your library, draw it, if it’s a land or decide what to do with a nonland card.
Explore and Map tokens also play nicely with some other mechanic, but more about that in a second.
Descend & Descended
Once again, here are two mechanic closely tied together, both in name and in how they work.
If You’ve Descended This Turn…
You’ve descended if a permanent card was put into your graveyard from anywhere. Some card will improve, if that’s the case. Most cards using this mechanic are in black and red.
At the end of your turn Child of the Volcano checks whether you’ve descended this turn. So if a permanent card went into your graveyard this turn, you’ll put a +1/+1 counter on the Child. (This sounds like baby Yoda is getting a counter.)
Here are some examples of what will count for “if you’ve descended” clause:
- One of your creatures died.
- You’ve sacrificed or discarded a permanent card.
- One of your creatures explored, and you put a permanent card into the graveyard.
- A permanent card was milled from your library.
As, you can see there are a lot of ways to fuel this mechanic. Note that this doesn’t work with Map and other tokens going to the graveyard. While the permanent token does go the the graveyard before it ceases to exists, a token is not consider a card, so it won’t work.
Sometime, the cards with this ability will trigger without you making any special deck building choices. However, if you want to trigger this ability consistently, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough cards that enable it in your deck.
This mechanic cares about the amount of permanent cards in your graveyard. There are three different variations of it:
- descend 4 (Card improves if there are 4 or more permanent cards in your graveyard.)
- descend 8 (Card improves if there are 8 or more permanent cards in your graveyard.)
- fathomless descent (Card becomes better and better, with more permanent cards in your graveyard.)
Cards with this ability are mostly blue, black, and green.
Getting enough permanents in your graveyard, actually requires some work. While descend 4 might happen in a game naturally, it will take a long time to do so. If you don’t work towards it, your Basking Capybara won’t be a 4/3 until very late in the game.
On the other hand, descend 8 is practically impossible to reach, if you don’t try do everything you can to to enable it. You’ll need to work hard to bring back Uchbenbak, the Great Mistake from your graveyard.
Fathomless descent is perhaps the easiest to enable, as it doesn’t require a specific threshold. Something like Song of Stupefaction will work just nicely. Naturally, it does improve if you put in the work.
So, how do you do that? By playing self mill cards, aggressively putting cards into graveyard with explore, and so on. You also want to play very little instants and sorceries in your deck, as they won’t count in your graveyard.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. You can probably assume that you’ll be able to turn on descent 4 with some work, but descent 8 will still be insanely hard to achieve. Keep that in mind when evaluating cards.
Craft is the most complex mechanic this time around. This are all double-faced cards, and can be found in all five colors.
On the front side, craft cards have the text “craft with *card type*”, and a mana cost. In order to activate it, you need to exile your card with that card type from battlefield or graveyard, and pay the activation cost. If you do so, you transform the craft card.
Here’s an example to make it clearer.
You pay one mana, and put Oteclan Landmark into play, so you scry 2. You can then use its craft ability (on the turn you played it, or later). Since its ability states that you craft with artifact, you need to exile an artifact you control, or an artifact from your graveyard. You also need to pay three mana. When you do so, Landmark transforms into a 1/4 flyer.
Most cards craft with an artifact. There are also some that craft with creatures, and some with more specific card types.
You’ll typically want to use a card from your graveyard for crafting, unless the card is something like Market Gnome. You could also sacrifice something that’s not worth a whole card, for exanple a Map token. Once again, explore is also useful, as it can put cards into your graveyard.
In order for a craft card to be playable, you’ll want the front side to provide a relevant effect, with the back side being a strong payoff. Most of the craft cards do meet this criteria.
If you’re a more experienced player, this mechanic will remind you of cascade. However, there are some differences. A discover always comes with a assosiated number.
If a card instructs you to discover X, you exile card from the top of your library until you find a nonland card that costs X or less. Then you have a choice to make. You can either play it without paying its mana cost, which you’ll do most of the time. However, if you don’t want to play it right now, you can put it into your hand instead. If you want you can learn more about the discover rules here.
When you cast Daring Discovery, you can make up to three creatures unable to block. Then, you discover 4. You exile the top card of your library, if it’s a land or if it costs more than 4 mana, you exile another card. That’s until you exile a nonland card that costs 4 or less. You can play it for free. If it’s not useful right now, just put it into your hand. You shuffle the other exiled cards on the bottom of your library.
How Good is Discover?
This mechanic is inherently powerful. Not only are you drawing a nonland card, you can also save some mana, as you can cast it for free. How good it ends up in an actual game might vary. Sometimes you hit a one drop, with your discover 4, but sometimes you reveal a four drop, and you’re really happy.
While cards with discover appear in all colors, they’re most heavily represented in red. There’s also a cycle of mono-colored lands, that you can sacrifice in order to discover 4. All of them are strong, and they also have a Cave subtype. Speaking of which, let’s explore the last main mechanic.
There are 13 lands in this set with the Cave subtype. Furthermore, there are 5 cards like Grasping Shadows that can transform into a Cave.
What do Caves do? Well, they are lands will all sorts of effects. However, lots of their power comes from their subtype, and the fact that there are cards that care about them.
For example, Gargantuan Leech costs one mana less for each Cave you control or have in a graveyard. Cards that care about Caves can be found in all colors, but mostly in green, blue and black. These will want you to draft as many of Caves as you can. Therefore, their quality will vary from deck to deck. If you’re playing little to no Caves, you don’t want stuff like Bat Colony and vice versa.
So, that’s all about the mechanics you’ll encounter in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft. Now it’s time to find what are the…
Best Commons for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft
1. Oltec Cloud Guard
Four mana 3/2 flyer is quite close to a fine card, it just needs something extra to push it into that “good card territory”. An additional creature certainly fits the bill.
A 1/1 artifact might seem a minor upgrade, but it’s actually a big deal. It can help chump block, help another creature block a bigger thing, or just attack in a right scenario. On top of that you can also sacrifice it to some craft abilities.
So, a 3/2 flyer for four is quite close to a full cards worth of value, and the token is worth around half a card. Thus, you’re getting a 1.5 for 1. All you need to do is to pay four mana. This is a clear front-runner for the best white common, and you’ll want to play as many of these as you can draft in every white deck.
2. Miner’s Guidewing
One mana cards can be deceptively powerful. The opportunity cost with them is just so low. You’re always be able to play them, and they can can allow you to cast two spells in a single turn. That’s a clear way to get ahead in a game of Magic.
Nevertheless, they still need to do something good. You don’t want to play a shitty card, just because it costs one mana. Thankfully, this bird is quite useful. When you cast it early, it’ll easily attack for 2-4 points of damage before it chump blocks. If you can augment it any way, say with a +1/+1 counter, you actually made a real threat, that needs to be dealt with.
While the vigilance might be a bit weird on such a small creature, it comes in quite handy. You can attack with it and still use it for chump blocking. When it dies, one of your creature gets to explore. As we’ve discussed exploring is close to half a card’s worth of value, which makes this a very strong one drop.
In fact, it’s an excellent card to play in multiples. When one dies, just make another explore. You either draw a land, or your flyer grows. Since this article was first posted, this bird flew even higher in our rankings from the third spot. It’s possible that it might just be the best white common.
3. Tinkerer’s Tote
This might seem a bit high, but the card does put three artifacts in play. As we’ve just discussed, the 1/1s can be useful. The Tote itself can be sacrificed for a couple of life points, but also used for various synergies.
For example, some of the white decks’ themes are: artifacts matter, tapping your own creatures and artifacts, going wide. You’ll found more about these in the archetype section, but the main idea is that this unassuming artifact fits into multiple strategies.
Such cards are always heavily contested and should be drafted relatively high.
The premium white common removal spell in this set is Petrify. It makes creature unable to participate in combat, and it locks its activated abilities. While there are some ways to still get value from the enchanted creature, two mana is still amazing rate for this effect.
2/3 for two mana are solid stats. Ironpaw Aspirant is that, but with an upside. You can put 1/1 worth of stats on another creature. Say you put it on the 1/1 Bird, we discussed above, that’s some serious tempo.
1. Waterwind Scout
This creature is similar to the best white common. Paying three mana for a 2/2 flyer is just a little below rate, but everything changes with the addition of the Map token.
We’ve already explained how useful these tokens can be. If you’re playing blue, there aren’t many cards (regardless of their rarity), that you’ll want to pick over Waterwind Scout. It’s just such a solid card.
2. River Herald Scout
Here’s another Scout. While this one doesn’t use a Map, it simply explores. So, for two mana you’re either getting a 2/3 with some card selection, or a 1/2 that drew you land.
Both of options are good, and it allows you to actually play Magic, helping both against mana flood and mana screw. For two mana, it’s hard to get a better deal.
3. Brackish Blunder
Nevertheless, blue has another powerful two drop. Cheap instant speed bounce spells are always strong, if you time them correctly.
In this set, you’ll have plenty of juicy targets:
- Big Dinosaurs, that take a whole turn to be played.
- Creatures with +1/+1 counters on them from exploring.
- Backsides of some craft cards can be creatures, and opponent probably spent a lot of mana on them.
- A creature that’s been targeted with a Map token. (This effectively counters explore.)
As if that wasn’t enough, you’re also getting a Map token, if you bounce a tapped creature. At that point, card becomes a totally bonkers common.
Best blue commons continue with another bounce spell, Unlucky Drop. It costs more, but has some upsides. The card isn’t returned to the owner’s hand, so you’re on par with cards. It can also target an artifact, which means practically any flipped craft card. That’s going to be quite unlucky for them.
Cogwork Wrestler does a lot of work for just one mana. All you need to do is to time it correctly, and you’re getting 1.5 cards of value out of it. At such a low mana cost, that’s a great deal. Don’t just jam it on turn one, though.
Oaken Siren is a fascinating card. If it ever gets a +1/+1 counter it becomes a relevant threat. In either scenario, the mana ramping can be quite useful. There are 71 artifacts in this set (with 25 commons and 25 uncommons). That’s a massive increase compared to some of the previous sets. Wilds of Eldraine, for example, only had 17. This means you will have things to spend this mana on, and the card plays nicely with craft cards.
1. Join the Dead
The best black common for the Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft is an extremely efficient removal spell. What a surprise!
For three mana you can kill most of the things at instant speed. In the late game, where your opponent might play an enormous creature, it’s more likely that your graveyard contains 4 permanent cards. In that case, you’ll be bale to deal even with higher-toughness creatures.
Besides the whole descend shtick, the cards also has a one more hidden requirement. Due to the two black mana symbols in its cost, you want to play around at least around 10 Swamps. This way, you’ll be able to cast this removal spell more consistently starting on turn 3.
2. Dead Weight
Next up, an ever cheaper removal. While it is not an instant, it can still remove plenty of creatures. Besides, it only costs a single mana, and it works with the set mechanics.
You’ll often kill thing with it. Dead Weight goes to the graveyard, so your “if you’ve descended” cards turn on. On top of that, it’s yet another permanent card which gets you closer to descend 4.
Finally, if your opponent presented a big threat, you can shrink it down to a more manageable size.
3. Skullcap Snail
Black looks insanely deep with a ton of solid commons. It was hard to pick the third best black common, as there are arguments for many cards to take this spot. Slowly, this card crept here.
There were many similar creatures in recent sets, and they typically over-perform. Especially, in a set like this one where there’s plenty of things to spend your mana on. (Big creatures, high crafting costs, etc.) Thus, even discarding a land can be a relevant disadvantage.
The fact that the card is exiled is very relevant as it won’t count towards descend.
Putting a single counter on Deep Goblin Skulltaker shouldn’t be too hard. At that point, it’s a very strong creature. However, it can keep on growing, and your opponent can’t just ignore it. Sooner or later, they need to spend a removal spell on it, or it will just smash them.
Sacrifice effects typically aren’t that great. However, if you tack a creature onto them, the situation changes. That’s why Tithing Blade can be quite good.
Ray of Ruin is a bit clunky, but it does cleanly answer any creatures, even some mythic ones, that can be hard to remove.
Whenever we get a two mana instant that deals 3 damage to a creature, it’s insanely good. There’s no reason for that to change with Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft. Quite the contrary, Abrade might be better than ever.
While the damage effect will be still be used a lot, the second part is much more relevant. There are tons of playable artifacts in the set. This means you can also remove a huge artifact creature, such as Jadeheart Attendant. There are also craft cards, in which your opponent invested lots of resources, and you just destroy it for two mana.
It’s quite surprising that Abrade is printed in a set like this with so many good targets and at common rarity. It’s likely that it’s not just the best common in red, but in the whole set.
2. Rumbling Rockslide
Compared to Abrade, this card looks as clunky as it gets. However, it scales nicely with the game, and for four mana you can get rid of practically anything.
Try to remember the card’s art, as it doesn’t look like removal. The same was true when it was first printed back in the Ikoria. It was easy to miss it during the draft, if you’re drafting quickly. Card was typically going around quite lately than it should.
3. Plundering Pirate
Another card that’s slightly below rate, but brings something alongside it, so it becomes a good card. This time, you’re getting Treasure. Use it for artifact or sacrifice synergies. Of course, this also makes it easier to splash.
On top of that, just playing a five drop a turn earlier can often be very strong.
Idol of the Deep King is not the most efficient card out there. However, if you do some work and time it correctly, you can get a card’s worth of value from the 2 damage effect. Then, when you do craft it, you’re getting a 2 for 1. While the equipment is not too strong, when everything is included in one card, it’s quite better than it looks.
If you can reliably put artifacts in play, Goblin Tomb Rider will do some work. Once you can’t get in anymore, use it for Sunshot Militia‘s ability. That’s another great red common that gives you some reach.
Etali’s Favor is a fascinating card. You don’t want to play it into opponent’s open mana, so you don’t get blown out. However, if you can put it on a creature, the discover 3 can be quite powerful. It’ll be interesting to see how this card performs in actual games.
1. Poison Dart Frog
This might be a bit of a hot take, but this unassuming two drop might be exactly what green decks wants. A lot of green commons, as well as cards of higher rarities are strong, but somewhat expensive. With an early frog, you can leap ahead in mana, and start casting your cards a turn earlier.
On top of that, this is not a card that does nothing in a late game. You can pay two mana for deathtouch, so it can trade up. Sometimes you’ll leave two mana up, and your opponent won’t even attack, afraid that they’ll lost their creature.
If two mana seems like a lot, remember that you can use the mana that frog itself provides. Once we get to play more games of Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft, we’ll better know if this prediction is correct.
2. Pathfinding Axejaw
Axejaw is a bit unexciting, but a very solid common nonetheless. The explore effect is just that powerful. It’s also a nice follow up after a turn 2 frog.
3. Huatli’s Final Strike
Here’s the green common removal spell for this set. While it does cost three mana, it’s still quite good. Your creature doesn’t take damage, you get a small power boost, and it’s an instant.
If you’re green you probably play big enough creatures that you can kill most threats your opponent casts.
Three mana for a 3/3 is fine, but not exciting. However, if you also gain three life alongside it, that’s a real deal. Most green decks will play enough Dinos to trigger Armored Kincaller somewhat consistently.
Cavern Stomper is just amazing, and might deserve a higher spot. For 6 mana you’re receiving a major threat, that potentially can’t be chump blocked. On top of that, you’re setting up your next draw steps, which is great in the late game.
River Herald Guide, and Seeker of Sunlight use the explore mechanic, and are both good, each in their own way. You’ll be happy to play any of them, but you probably don’t need to pick them too highly.
And with this, we’re wrapping up the overview of best commons. It’s time to check the archetypes.
The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft Archetypes
Once again, there are ten different archetypes, one for each color pair. Most of the time, you don’t want to splash, unless you have a major reason for it. (You opened a bomb that only needs one off-color mana. Plus you can access mana fixing.)
So, in the vast majority of scenarios, you’re going to play one of these ten decks. Let’s see what they want you to do.
Blue-White: Artifact Control
This time around, blue-white is quite an unusual archetype, with its “official” theme being artifact control. What does this mean?
There are lots of artifact synergies going on here. Perhaps the most important one is craft with artifacts. Among uncommons, you’ll find Clay-Fired Bricks, Inverted Iceberg, and Master’s Guide-Mural. All of these are excellent craft cards.
In order to enable it, you’ll want to play lots of artifacts. Then you want either self-mill, or artifacts that you won’t mind playing and exiling. Market Gnome is perfect in this strategy as is Oaken Siren. The latter can provide mana for your artifacts, and when that’s not useful, you can use it for crafting if necessary.
Why is the deck considered a control deck? Because it’s interested in the game going long. Crafting costs can be somewhat expensive. You don’t want to invest seven mana into flipping Master’s Guide-Mural, and your opponent beating you on the following turn. Thus, you aren’t interested in attacking early, but would rather block.
There are some benefits to this strategy. You unlock the full potential of cards like Cosmium Blast, Quicksand Whirlpool and Spring-Loaded Sawblades. While these can always be useful, they aren’t amazing in an aggro deck, as they don’t remove a blocker before declare blockers step.
However, if you’re planning on blocking, these improve immensely. If you manage to take out an attacker in response to a offensive combat trick, you’ll find yourself in a great spot.
Different Direction: Flyers Tempo
It looks like this archetype could be taken into a completely different direction. The idea is to play lots of creatures with flying to attack and pair them with efficient removal. All the removal we just discussed is also useful here, as are bounce spells, such as Brackish Blunder.
As far as flyers go, there are plenty of them across all rarities. Even at common, there are plenty of good ones, with cards like Miner’s Guidewing, Oltec Cloud Guard, Oaken Siren, and Waterwind Scout. We talked about in the Best Commons section, and they play really nicely with explore and Map tokens. Each counter you put on a flyer, significantly improves your threat.
The blue-white flyers are also able to use artifact synergies, but won’t necessarily go as hard on them. Both strategies seem perfectly playable early on.
For a good sacrifice deck, you typically need three things: fodder, outlets and payoffs. Let’s see which of these things are present in black-white.
Sacrifice fodder are creatures (or in this set, also artifacts) that didn’t cost you a full card. Thus, you won’t mind sacrificing them for value.
In the Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft, there’s no shortage of them. First, there are plenty of tokens. You’d probably prefer to sacrifice a Treasure over a Map and a Fungus over a Gnome. However, sacrificing any of them isn’t a big deal.
Particularly, if you use something like Synapse Necromage, Tinker’s Tote or Greedy Freebooter. The first two actually give you three things to sacrifice, while Freebooter gives you two and costs just two mana. Of course, Mephitic Draught will also be at its best in this deck.
A sacrifice outlet is a card that allows you to sacrifice stuff for some kind of positive effect. There are repeatable as well as one time effects. Here are the non-rare effects you’ll be able to find in your boosters:
- Abyssal Gorestalker – Excellent when you’re sacrificing two tokens.
- Acolyte of Aclazotz – Nothing spectacular, still playable.
- Bartolomé del Presidio – An amazing outlet. Cheap cost, no mana needed for activating, can become a huge threat.
- Dusk Rose Reliquary – A great removal spell in this shell.
- Fanatical Offering – Very useful with proper sacrifice fodder.
- Glorifier of Suffering – 5/4 worth of stats for three mana is a splendid deal.
- Vanguard of the Rose – A hard to deal with two drop.
- Vito’s Inquisitor – A useful threat, albeit a bit clunky.
As you can see, a wide selection of sacrifice outlets is available to you in black-white.
All outlets, are already payoffs, but sometimes, there are cards that trigger whenever you sacrifice a permanent. These effects can further improve the sacrifice archetype.
While in Lost Caverns in Ixalan there are no such cards, sacrificing does somewhat synergize with if you descended effects. When you sacrifice a nontoken permanent, your descended cards will be enabled.
For example, Deep Goblin Skulltaker, Broodrage Mycoid, and Canonized in Blood will all work nicely. Of course, if you want to go for that route, you don’t want to use just tokens as your sacrifice fodder.
Getting a right mix of fodder, outlets and payoffs is an interesting deckbuilding challenge. It’s a bit sad that the deck rarely comes together as a strong option. For the most part, you’re better off just ignoring sacrifice synergies, and focusing on a midrange deck instead.
Black-Red: Descending Aggro
If you pair black with red instead of white, you’re still using if you descended cards, as well as some sacrifice stuff. However, this time around the deck is significantly more aggressive.
Three cards work kinda similar. Those are Canonized in Blood, Deep Goblin Skulltaker, and Child of the Volcano. If you’ve descended, you’re putting a +1/+1 counter somewhere. All of these can be useful and serve as a backbone of this strategy.
How to Enable Descend?
We’ve discussed how sacrificing nontokens can trigger descend. However, that’s just one way of doing so.
Another option you have is discarding. In an aggressive deck, such as this one equipping Bloodthorn Flail by using the discard cost will feel amazing. Similarly, Volatile Wanderglyph and Bitter Triumph can also be very useful.
Don’t forget that when you cycle Seismic Monstrosaur or Rampaging Spiketail, you’re also putting a permanent card into a graveyard. So, expect both of these to be popular inclusions in this archetype.
Dead Weight is good on its own, but even better when it helps you with your if you’ve descended cards.
Finally, simply trading creatures 1-for-1 will allow you to trigger these cards too. So, don’t get to caught up in these synergies, and still build a functional aggro deck. Have low curve, use combat spells, avoid cards that don’t affect the board.
Green-White: Go-Wide Aggro
Green-white uses a more straightforward plan. Put lots of creatures into play, pump them, and attack. You could borrow some synergies from other archetypes, depending on how the draft goes.
If you go wide, this means that you’re putting lots of creatures into play. Typically, the easiest way to do so is by playing cards that make multiple creatures. There are three of them at common rarity: Oltec Cloud Guard, Tinker’s Tote, and Nurturing Bristleback. All of them will be particularly useful in this archetype, albeit the green Dino is somewhat expensive, and you don’t want to play too many.
This is further complimented by cheap an efficient creatures, such as Cenote Scout, Miner’s Guidewing, and Ironpaw Aspirant. With such cards you can easily play two creatures in a turn, which is a great way to get ahead.
Typically, you’ll want to top of your curve with a mass pump spell. Family Reunion is an okay option, but what you really want is Malamet War Scribe. This cat is never a bad play, but when you control 3+ creatures, it’ll be absurd, often winning you the game.
The gold uncommon is Kutzil, Malamet Exemplar, which plays nicely with buffed creatures, and is just a very solid card.
Finally, you can also use the white cards with tap untapped creatures/artifacts mechanic successfully. (Namely Guardian of the Great Door.) Let’s talk about it in the next section, as red-white is where most of those cards can be found.
Red-White: Attack & Tap
There’s no surprise that red-white is an an aggressive archetype. However, it comes with a small twist. Some cards allow you to tap two untapped artifacts and/or creatures you control. If you do so, you get all sorts of bonuses.
Here are the five non-rare cards with this effect:
- Adaptive Gemguard – Not the most efficient, but can grow into a real threat.
- Caparocti Sunborn – An absurdly strong card. A reason to be in this archetype.
- Goldfury Strider – An okay five drop, even if not the strongest one.
- Guardian of the Great Door – Can put a lot of pressure on your opponent, with a potentially really low cost. Works a bit different.
- Sunshot Militia – Gives you a great way to finish of the opponent.
Remember that you can use most of these to pay for their own effects. You can also tap creatures you just played, even if they don’t have haste.
In order to take the most advantage of this mechanic, you’ll want to borrow from the green-white’s go-wide theme. If you can put a lot of creatures into play, you’ll have lots of things to tap.
Of course, you don’t need to go all-in on this mechanic, as there aren’t that many payoffs. You could still just draft a good aggressive deck with low curve, efficient combat tricks, and some tap-two synergies sprinkled in.
Blue-Black: Descend Control
In the most traditional blue-black fashion, this archetypes tries to deal with opponent’s threats by using removal and counterspells. That’s combined with self-mill to fill the graveyard and unlock the full power of descend cards.
Do you see a problem here? Some of the most efficient tools in your arsenal are cards like Join the Dead, Bitter Triumph, and Out of Air. However, if you play too many instants and sorceries, you’ll have a harder time unlocking descend, even with mill cards. After all, only permanent cards count for descend.
Thus, it could be challenging to build this deck. For the most part, you’ll probably be able to unlock descend 4, which you should really be trying to do. However, counting on descend 8 will be insanely hard. You’re probably mistaken, if you assume you’ll be able to activate Uchbenbak, the Great Mistake in most games.
Nevertheless, there are still strong descend 4 payoffs, such as Council of Echoes, Stinging Cave Crawler, and Echo of Dusk. Naturally, Chupacabra Echo will be good in any deck, but will also shine here.
In order to get the most of these cards, you also need some self-mill, with cards like Waterlogged Hulk and Deathcap Marionette. Then you could also get away with playing some strong instants and sorceries.
One option you have is to just ignore the descend line altogether, and just draft a regular control deck. The deck might be better as a result.
Black-Green: Descend Midrange
If you really want to use descend mechanic, black-green seems like a better archetype to do so with. Contrary to blue-black, you don’t need to play many instants and sorceries, as for the most part, your best cards are permanents. Thus, most of your deck is working towards descending.
We’ve already discussed black payoffs above, but what does green bring to the table? The following four cards, for starters:
- Basking Capybara, a very useful two drop, which can become a relevant card later in the game.
- Coati Scavenger is a totally busted card, if you’re filling your graveyard. You’re not just “drawing” a card, you’re getting selection.
- Malamet Veteran can attack nicely, and must be dealt with.
- Akawalli, the Seething Tower is incredibly efficient, both early and late.
Here’s an interesting interaction that can happen with some of this cards. You can take your opponent by surprise, with an instant speed effect that fills your graveyard. Potentially, you could get to descend 4, thus buffing one of your creatures.
If you’re only plan to enable descend is to hope it happens naturally by creatures dying, that’s going to take a very long time. So, you want to compliment that by self-mill cards. Thankfully, most of them are quite playable. Deathcap Marionette is superb, Another Chance and Screaming Phantom are also useful, while Mineshaft Spider can do in a pinch.
With cards like this, you’ll get to descend 4 relatively quickly. Don’t forget that exploring can also help you fill your graveyard.
All in all, this is a fine deck for midrange enjoyers, albeit not the strongest one. The deck will typically want to play a bit of a longer game, so there’s time to fill your graveyard, and unlocking descend cards.
Blue-Red: Artifact Aggro
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s blue-red, which can be quite an explosive archetype. It focuses on artifacts, and comes with a soft Pirate theme.
Why soft? Well, because there aren’t many Pirate synergies in the Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft. In fact there are just three non-rare cards that mention them.
Captain Storm, Cosmium Raider is amazing, but doesn’t necessarily require other Pirates, as you can just put counters on it. Staunch Crewmate on the other hand, benefits from more Pirates, but also plays well with artifacts. Finally, there’s Pirate Hat, which is a solid equipment.
The deck’s bigger focus is on artifacts. However, most of the cards that care about them are Pirates anyway, so the small subtheme fits here perfectly. If you can deploy enough artifacts you unlock the following Pirates with inflated stats:
- Goblin Tomb Raider – 2/2 haste for one mana
- Shipwreck Sentry – 3/3 for two mana
- Brazen Blademaster – 4/4 for three mana
All of this want you to attack, so you want to have a low mana curve, and pair these creatures with efficient pump spells. Ancestors’ Aid will be right at home here. Other Treasure makers, such as Plundering Pirate are also desirable.
Of course, you can also use other artifact synergies, for example by using Dowsing Device. It’s a card that cares about artifacts, as well as attacking. As such, it’s a nice fit for this archetype.
Red-green is traditional the archetype built around the biggest creatures. That’s particularly true in Lost caverns of Ixalan draft, since the deck focuses on Dinosaurs. Are they any good? Let’s take a look.
This is the only heavily supported creature type, with 8 non-rare cards caring about Dinosaurs:
- Armored Kincaller gains you three life, and is a solid creature.
- Belligerent Yearling is a perfectly-stated two drop, that sometimes attack for surprisingly high amount.
- Burning Sun Cavalry is another powerful two drop when paired with Dinos.
- Earthshaker Dreadmaw is not a meme, but a large threat, that can even draw you some cards in the right scenario.
- Ixalli’s Lorekeeper can help you cast Dinosaurs ahead of schedule.
- Itzquinth, Firstborn of Gishath is absurdly good. You almost never want to play it for two mana, as you want to destroy a creature with it. Something small if you don’t have another Dinosaur, but with help it can take out anything.
- Saheeli’s Lattice rewards you for playing Dinos, by allowing you to craft with them.
- Triumphant Chomp can be a good removal without Dinosaurs, but with them, it can become a premium card,
As you can see, with the exception of Ixalli’s Lorekeeper all of these are perfectly playable cards even if you don’t control additional Dinosaurs. However, if you do, you’re in for a ride, as these cards become even better.
Thus, you can expect this deck to be very strong. Nevertheless, there’s one important thing you should keep in mind. Don’t play too many expensive cards. Some Dinosaurs can be pricey, and you can’t afford to play a ton of expensive cards. So, pay attention to your mana curve.
Blue-Green: Explore Midrange
Blue-green gives you access to most of the explore cards. There’s River Herald Scout, Cenote Scout, Seeker of Sunlight, and many others. As mentioned in the mechanics section, explore is a very powerful mechanic.
There’s a percentage of games that every Magic player losses because they didn’t draw their third land on time. That percentage decreases significantly when your deck contains plenty of cheap explore creatures. Even in the late game, this cards help you against flood, by peeling lands from the top of your library.
Thus, this archetype will probably has the lowest percentage of “non-games” among all ten archetypes. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an amazing one, as there’s a lack of efficient removal spells. That tends to be a problem with this color pair in most draft formats.
As if explore wasn’t a good payoff by itself, there are other cards that care about exploring, inlcuding:
- Merfolk Cave-Diver can be an evasive threat. Exploring with it can present a real problem for your opponent.
- Twists and Turns improves your explore effects even further. It flips into a land with built-in card advantage.
- Nicanzil, Current Conductor either grows or help you get your lands into play faster.
- Explorer’s Cache might not seem like it, but it’s probably at its best in this shell.
Finally, one not so obvious payoffs are the more expensive cards. While you don’t want to play too many of them, they are more playable in this archetype, than in any other. Thanks to explore, you’ll be hitting your land drops, so you’ll be able to cast cards costing 5 and more mana on time.
With that, we wrap the overview of the ten classic archetypes for the Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft. It’s time to discover how good they might be with the help of out power rankings.
The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft Guide: Power Rankings
As always, this ranking should mostly be used as a tiebreaker, when you’re deciding between two cards of a similar power level. If there’s an obviously stronger card in a weaker color, you should just pick it.
The rankings were already updated. In the first two weeks of the format I’ve played 17 drafts with a solid 65.9% win rate. Out of those drafts, seven went to the maximum amount of wins. That’s quite solid, considering most of games were played in Diamond and Top 250 Mythic. Thanks to my experience, I’m fairly confident about the color and archetype rankings.
Blue is simply amazing in Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft. It just does so many of the thing you want to be doing. It offers a wide selection of efficient explore creatures, backbreaking bounce spells, and strong craft cards. White and red follow very closely, both with excellent card across all rarities.
Then, there’s a slight gap after a power level with green, which still offers a lot of powerful cards, albeit slightly less so than those of the Jeskai colors (white, blue, red). Finally, there’s black, which while the weakest is far from unplayable.
Best Archetypes in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft
It’s possible to win with any of the ten archetypes, but in general, it’s easier to do well with the higher ranking ones. Here they are order from best to worst:
- Blue-White: Artifact Control
- Blue-Red: Artifact Aggro
- Red-White: Attack & Tap
- Red-Green: Dinosaurs
- Green-White: Go-Wide Aggro
- Blue-Black: Descend Control
- Blue-Green: Explore Midrange
- Black-White: Sacrifice
- Black-Green: Descend Midrange
- Black-Red: Descending Aggro
In the top three spots you see the deck containing the best three colors. The top half is completed with Red-Green, and Green-White. Both archetypes are very solid choices. The other five decks are somewhat weaker. They can still come together, but not as often as the ones above them. It’s possible that one of them will raise and join the others, as we discover more about this format.
Additional Tips for Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft
Before we wrap up, here are some additional tips and information that mind come in handy, when you’re trying to wind the Lost Caverns of Ixalan draft.
How Many Lands to Play in the Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft?
It’s safe to assume 17 lands as a starting point for your deck. However, if you’re playing an aggressive deck, with low mana curve, you might get away by cutting one, and going down to 16.
However, there are many places to put your mana into. Combine that with the presence of explore creatures, it’s looking like a fine idea to actually bump up your land count. The more bombs you have in your deck, the better idea it is to play 18 lands. This way, you’re decreasing the odds of being stuck with your bomb in your hand.
This can be especially smart if you can also draft some.
These are lands that offer other effects besides just adding mana. There’s a whole cycle of lands such as Hidden Volcano, one for each color.
While these do enter the battlefield tapped, they come with a massive upside. Later in the game, you can use them to discover 4. So, you aren’t just drawing a nonland card, you’re also getting the mana to cast it. That’s an excellent protection against flooding.
Currently, it’s pretty hard to say how the format will play out. It looks like the aggro decks will certainly be good and present. That means, that you need to be prepared for them. You should have lots of ways to affect the board quickly. That includes one and two cost creatures, as well as cheap removal.
However, this doesn’t mean that the format will be all-out aggro. Quite the opposite, as there are many archetypes that want the game to go long. So, while you need to have enough early plays, you also want cards that are going to be good in the late game. This way you’ll be able to compete against both aggressive, and slower decks.
Bonus Archetype: 5-color Caves
There’s one archetype that we didn’t talk about in the archetype section. That’s because it’s not the most traditional 2-color archetype. Cards that care about lands with the Cave subtype can be found in all five colors. Each color gets one, and green has multiples, albeit less strong ones. Thus, it’s likely that this deck will play all five colors, with the base one being green.
In total, you’ll find 18 different lands with Cave subtype. Out of them, 13 are actual lands, while 5 are the backsides of some cards, such as Grasping Shadows. Their power levels vary. Forgotten Monument can be used for easier splashing, but you do need lots of Caves to make it worthwile.
The payoffs for drafting a lot of Caves include:
- Bat Colony can make up to three Bats, then starts putting counters on your creatures.
- Sinuous Benthisaur might draw you a couple of cards. (Perhaps with selection.)
- Gargantuan Leech stabilizes you nicely. It might even be played in a deck that isn’t all-in on Caves. It’s just that good.
- Calamitous Cave-In is a wrath that only this deck can use.
- Kaslem’s Stonetree ramps you, then can be crafted with a Cave.
- Spelunking does a lot of small things, all of which make it a useful card.
It’s a shame that this archetype isn’t that great if you want to win. While that’s possible, the deck is really lacking some better payoffs. However, if you’re drafting just for fun, you should definitely go for it, as it does have its moments.
In this section, you’ll find more information about cards that might be a bit hard to properly evaluate.
- If you can consistently get a three drop back with Helping Hand, it can be a very potent tempo play. With so many cards that can fill your graveyard, it might be a better card than other similar effects we saw in the past.
- Another card with an effect that we’ve seen before is Eaten by Piranhas. However, it now has flash, which massively improves the card. You can use it during the combat as a combat trick. You can also block a big thing with a 1/1, then enchant it post combat to finish it off.
- Grasping Shadows is unusual, but it’s likely it plays out great. Just don’t put it in a deck with many other cards that don’t affect the board.
- We didn’t discuss Geological Appraiser with any archetype, because it’s an insanely powerful card, that you’ll want to play in multiples in any red deck.
- Dreadmaw’s Ire might look like a fine combat trick. However, once you realize there are a ton of playable artifacts in the set, it looks insanely good. For one mana, it’s so good, it’s dumb.
- Digsite Conservator might mess up some decks that rely on their graveyard. Thanks to its dies-ability, it’s a perfectly fine main deck inclusion.
For further help with evaluating cards, you can use our…
Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft Tier List
You can find a grade for each draftable card in the Lost Caverns of Ixalan Draft Tier List. Combine it with this Draft Guide, for a very good big picture information.
Explore More Caverns!
Are you planning on organizing your own draft? If so, you’ll need some Draft boosters, which you can purchase on Amazon.
If you want to learn more about this amazing set, you can check the following articles:
Until next time, enjoy playing Magic, and may you win many Lost Caverns of Ixalan drafts.