Oh boy. This is the set. The one with dinosaurs and pirates and all the sorts of zany tribal good stuff that makes Magic awesome. Clearly, we’re all excited for Ixalan to hit, but are we prepared? Before we strap on our eyepatches or clear our throats for that first primal roar, let’s take a look at the mechanics that are going to make all that nonsense possible. What do they have to offer? What do we anticipate them working well with? Let’s explore, shall we?

Explore

Oh. This mechanic is literally named explore. And it doesn’t have much to do with the card Explore, either. There seems to be a lot going on in the reminder text here, so let’s break it down. When a creature explores (it’s very rare that actions are assigned to creatures in this game, by the way, which makes this mechanic extra special), you get to reveal the top card of your library. If it’s a land, great, you get to draw it for free. If it isn’t a land, also great. Your creature gets a little bigger and you get to scry that card into your graveyard if you want.

This mechanic looks easy to misevaluate just because it has so much text. I think to evaluate cards that explore once, you should ask yourself if you would play that card if it didn’t have explore but always had +1/+1. I say that because with a 23/17 spell/land split you’re going to hit a spell around two-thirds of the time. Getting to scry on top of that and also draw a free land the rest of the time more than makes up for that last one-third, but not being able to choose which one you get kinda brings it back down. Obviously, cards that repeatedly explore are going to be more powerful, but I wouldn’t expect too many of those at lower rarities. We’ll find out more about how valuable explore is on a creature when we start playing with the set.

The other thing I want to say about explore is that it’s a mana-smoothing mechanic. While you won’t get extra lands all the time, if you really need to hit your N-th land drop, you can bin whatever’s on top, bringing you a draw step closer to your goal. That means that when you have a lot of cards that explore in your deck, you can justify adding in slightly bigger things than you normally would to join them.

Treasure

Here’s a shiny new mechanic. By this point in Magic’s history, this formula is somewhat familiar to invested players. Treasure is like Clues except it gives you a different resource, and it’s like an Eldrazi Spawn except it doesn’t have a body attached. But also treasure is something new, because while it is similar to each of those things, it is also different from all of them.

How much will treasure impact an average game? I don’t think the promise of treasure will make a bad card good the way clues did. A card is just so much more valuable than a single mana. However, I think there are a few exceptions to this rule:

  1. If you’re splashing a third color, cards that make treasure get better because they fix your mana. The ideal case is that you’re only splashing one off-color symbol, since the fixing provided only applies once.
  2. You might be able to put together a really degenerate deck that makes a bunch of treasure and then ramps into something huge.
  3. If there are enough good incentives to make treasure similar to Erdwal Illuminator and Graf Mole, there is the potential for a high-synergy archetype like the blue-green deck from Shadows over Innistrad. U/G Clues was one of my favorite draft archetypes of all time, so I’m looking forward to the possibility of drafting something similar again. So far, the only incentives that have been spoiled are at rare, but I’m holding out hope that they will trickle down to lower rarities.

Outside of those exceptions, the rest of the card has to carry enough weight to justify its inclusion in your deck.

I also would like to mention that like explore, treasure smooths your mana pretty well, so your deck can afford to play some slightly bigger things if you’ve got a lot of it. If you’ve got a lot of both, you get to play a lot of slightly bigger things. I wouldn’t play a lot of much bigger things, though, because then you’re going to draw your cards in the wrong order too often and die to the player with 10 two-drops, and probably cry afterward. A couple of much bigger things might be fine, though.

That’s half of the set mechanics, and that’s where we’re stopping for this week. I’d say the two mechanics we’ve spotlighted so far look pretty midrangey- neither really pushes you toward aggression, but also neither necessarily wants to play the long game. Next week we’ll look at the rest of the mechanics of Ixalan and conclude by making general predictions about the format!

If you’re looking to improve your limited game and become a better Magic player, read my article from a few weeks ago, where I went over 6 simple tips and tricks that will make you a better drafter.

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