Magic the Gathering Retrospective: Kaladesh to Rivals of Ixalan

Note: This is part 4 of a 5 part series.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Introduction

After revisiting Zendikar and Innistrad in the first four sets of the new block structure, WotC felt inspired to bring us to three new planes in the next 6. First, we went home with our favorite firebrand. Then, a dragon became a god in the desert. Finally, they must have given a 7 year old kid a 2 liter bottle of mountain dew and a set of sharpies before releasing him into the R&D office. Because Ixalan is a magical tapestry of pirates and dinosaurs woven together with vampires and merfolk.

Pirates and dinosaurs?! What more do you need?!

As with all of the Magic the Gathering sets, there are things that I like and things that I dislike about these six. Because I want to stay positive, I tend to focus on the things that I like. Overall, that was easy to do with this block of sets. There is a lot to like about the current state of Magic and I’m optimistic about the future of the game. Join me as I tell you why.

Kaladesh/Aether Revolt

As I mentioned above, this is the first new plane introduced for a couple of cycles. In addition, as I eluded earlier, this is the home plane for Chandra Nalaar. As a result, we finally got a great planeswalker card for her. When it was spoiled, some referred to it as Chandra, the Mind Sculptor. While I hesitate to agree with that sentiment, it is a good card and it has seen play as recently as this past weekend PT.

Plus, I pulled a foil from my first pack and sold it for 70 bucks on eBay a couple of days later. So, I’m not going to complain about the hype.

Kaladesh is also home to the mystical force known as aether. It is used for magical purposes, but also incorporated into constructs to simulate technology. This latter use of aether introduced a new type of card to the game in the form of vehicles. While their introduction excited me as all new mechanics and card types do, they weren’t the feature of the plane.

Kaladesh is also home to everyone’s favorite token, the thopters, but shockingly, they don’t represent the epitome of this marriage of magic and technology either. Sure, many (perhaps all) of the denizens of Kaladesh utilize thopters in every day life. And, I come here not to bury the thopters. I come to praise them. But, they don’t come close to the cool factor of the giant loveable magic fueled robots, the Gearhulks.

What happens when you fuse the soul of a Snapcaster Mage with a hunk of metal and zap it with some Aether? Oh, this isn’t a riddle. You get this guy.

Two final points before leaving Kaladesh for the deserts of Amonkhet. First, do you love infinite combos in standard? Because, thanks to Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, we got an infinite combo in standard! It was fun while it lasted before WotC banished Guardian to eternal formats. Finally, I mentioned in my previous article that I wasn’t paying close enough attention to see the Eldrazi coming. Granted, I might not have been paying attention here, either, but I was able to fortell the coming of Nicol Bolas.

Amonkhet/Hour of Devastation

This pair of sets had a similar feel to Theros. I’m not as much of a fan of Egyptian mythology as Greek. Still, I find anything based on ancient civilizations fascinating. I once made the joke, after buying a Dremel multi tool, that ancient civilizations were able to build such remarkable structures without such modern amenities. Clearly, they were better men than me. But, I digress.

How is this just like Theros then? Well, you have the return of gods to the game. Just like Theros, each of the gods has a like god from the actual pantheon of Egyptian gods. The big difference is that our favorite (possibly) immortal dragon, Nicol Bolas has taken up residence on the plane as the big boss man, er, god.

Where there’s Bolas, Ugin can’t be far behind and vice versa. Perhaps there will be a reckoning on Ravnica?

Three mechanics introduced in the sets are absolute flavor wins. The first two are embalm and eternalize. Both involve the afterlife of a creature. As we all know, that’s a major theme in Egyptian mythology. Those were neat to see included in the sets. The third gave both Chris and I “WTF” moments initially. I thought the cards were either a joke or misprinted.

We’ve had cards that flip upside down. They have “fused” and “melded” cards together. There have been double sided cards. That format has been the most resourceful for them. They’ve used it on creatures, planeswalkers, and even lands now. So, the concept of a card becoming another card is not new to the game. It’s just that the latest iteration of the concept initially looked…let’s say, odd. I know you’ve seen them, but look at them again with an innocent’s eyes.

I seriously thought the cards were misprinted. It’s just such a jarring design.

Ixalan/Rivals of Ixalan

I already made the joke about the development of the set earlier. Don’t misunderstand me. I actually loved the concept of dinosaurs and pirates. Can’t forget vampires and merfolk, but they’re not nearly as cool as the others. Funny enough, I also already referenced one of the other major developments of the set in the previous section, double faced lands. Certainly not as exciting as pirates or dinosaurs. Not even really as exciting as the less exciting vampires and merfolk. Still worth a mention.

Let’s talk about the dinosaurs for a minute. There are your normal run of the mill dinos. You know the ones, The velociraptor who bags your groceries at the super market, as long as it isn’t chicken. Then there’s the old lady T-Rex who hangs out on the park bench and eats the pigeons. And we can’t forget about the dilophosaur children who attack the bus driver every morning and never actually make it to school.

Adorable.

Then, you have your Elder dinosaurs. You might wonder why the old lady from the previous paragraph doesn’t get consideration for elder dinosaur. Well, quite simply, it’s because she isn’t epic enough. Elder dinosaurs don’t sit on a park bench! They have word vomit for keyword text, or increase your hand size to inifinity, or kill everything on the board, or exile cards from your opponent and give them to you, or…have trample? Okay, so that last one doesn’t seem quite so epic. But, I assure you, it is!

Or, they are uncastable and have little to no impact on the game if you do happen to get to 9 mana.

Lastly on the plane of Ixalan, and most important to a filthy casual player like me, is the hybrid board and card game that Wizards of the Coast released. I’ve gotten to play it a couple of times with the boys and it is a fun way to introduce people to the game of Magic the Gathering. Even as a more seasoned player, I liked the addition of the strategy of the board game element. I’m glad that they will be doing more of this.

The Verdict

All three of the new planes brought innovation into the game. As Chris and I discussed on the podcast yesterday, the two set structure tends to make the second set weaker. It isn’t as much of a problem in the 3 set blocks because you expect one of the sets of the three to not be as strong. But, in a 2 set structure, that means that half of the block is weak. It’s just simple math.

Nevertheless, as I said in the beginning, I like to focus on the positive. There’s plenty from each of these sets that I enjoyed. It may not sound like it on the podcast, but I’m mostly optimistic about where Magic the Gathering is right now and where it is going in the near future.

I have only Dominaria and the Return to Ravnica block to cover before I’m done with this retrospective. I wasn’t sure exactly how, or even if, I would pull this off and it’s a bit of a relief to be at the end. It’s been a fun look back at my time in the game. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it, too, and will come back in a couple of days for the final article.

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