Other than mighty dinosaurs and mythical treasures, the big theme in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan is exploration and discovery — the different factions of pirates, vampires, merfolk and native Oltcec all racing to reach the mysterious Core. This journey to the center of the Earth is represented in-game not just by the explore keyword action, but the signature, transforming flip lands of Ixalan. These cards start out as creatures, artifacts or enchantments — but then they transform when certain conditions are met, revealing the freshly-unearthed lands beneath Ixalan’s surface.
FATHOMING THE DEPTHS
These flip-lands play an important role in The Lost Caverns, with both uncommon and rare versions appearing across the color pie. So now is the perfect time to explore their impact across Limited, Constructed and Commander!
Ixalan’s old gods have been unleashed with a unique spin on the flip-land format! Each one is a powerful legend on the front side, which adds value to a certain kind of spell suited to their color (e.g., token creation in white, direct damage in red, discard in black).
The back side can tap for colored mana, but it’s really just a way for the creature to go dormant when killed before coming back once a second color-dependent condition has been met.
They should all be worth trying out in Standard while also being potent additions to Commander decks focused on the right type of spell.
Treasure Map and Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Not all of these flip-lands are actually new; Treasure Map and Growing Rites of Itlimoc are here as reprints from original Ixalan. I would guess Growing Rites was brought back for Commander players, as it’s the closest most of us will ever get to playing Gaea’s Cradle.
But Treasure Map was a Standard-defining card during its first go-around, setting the template for the success of Mazemind Tome and Reckoner Bankbuster in more recent seasons. This won’t be banned the way Bankbuster was, but it’s still an extremely efficient way for slower or more reactive decks to grind out a resource advantage over time.
Matzalantli, the Great Door
This one’s not quite a reprint, but there is still a clear comparison to the earlier Azor’s Gateway as a draw-smoothing tool that potentially unlocks a game-ending amount of mana.
Despite a slightly higher casting cost, Matzalantli actually requires the same total mana investment to flip as Gateway does, and I think it’s a much stronger card overall.
First, because you’re discarding cards to the graveyard instead of exiling them, it can be a true enabler as well as a payoff. But you’re also able to spend all that mana over one or two turns if you want to flip it in a hurry — and you can potentially have its transform condition fulfilled before you even cast it!
In a set with plenty of other incentives to fill up the yard with permanents, The Core seems like it will absolutely be impactful in those games where it does come online. You can even use a second copy of Matzalantli to continue your descent after one flips. Both sides are legendary, but since they have unique names, you’re allowed one of each side in play together!
The Everflowing Well
Drawing two for 2U makes this one of the more immediately impactful front sides among the flip-lands — which is good, since most fair decks will struggle to hit Descend 8 that early, even in fetch land formats.
It’s also interesting that after you load up your graveyard to flip it, the land side doesn’t offer any kind of recursion or graveyard scaling itself. It makes for a slightly less obvious deck building puzzle than the other flip-lands, but the actual copying effect is undeniably powerful.
Final note: this is the one flip-land spoiled so far that is an artifact on both sides. This has many implications, but Voltaic Key is a nice place to start for a land whose effect doesn’t cost additional mana to utilize!
Rather than tying into the graveyard themes of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, Dowsing Device seems to harken back toward the various blood and treasure token generators already in Standard. Of course there’s plenty of treasure (and map tokens!) in The Lost Caverns as well!
Getting one point of damage per artifact ETB is more efficient than Dragonspark Reactor if your attacks land (not to mention double-strike or other synergies), and the haste opens up some tasty combinations with token generators like Oni-Cult Anvil.
I can imagine situations where I’m almost sad to see it transform, seeing as how the land side actually requires mana to pump. But then again… this is a cheap enough card in a deck with enough velocity that you could potentially play it in a land slot. Just don’t tell the deck police I said that.
Wizards really, really wants to make sure “2R: Redraw your hand” is something red mages can sneak into their decks without spending a card slot on it. It’s been a Lesson, it’s been an MDFC land, it’s been the middle turn of a Saga and now it’s the semi-relevant ETB for a flip-land.
Most of those cards were unplayable in practice, but it does really help that we get to use both sides at once here, instead of having to choose between them. It’s also cool that both effects on this want you to play the same sort of payoff cards: you can discard Etali, Primal Conqueror and Cityscape Leveler as reanimation targets or you can ramp into them to get a massive discover trigger off Tecutlan, the Searing Rift.
This might be the flip-land I’m having the most trouble rating so far, but I do know I like it! It’s quite difficult to design a reanimation engine that promotes fair, grindy gameplay instead of aggressive combo shenanigans, but The Tomb of Aclazotz strikes a handsome compromise.
The fact that you have complete choice over when to flip the Journal (or even whether to flip it at all) really ups the potential here, and even being able to turn a creature into a card for zero extra mana each turn cycle is a high-power effect. It might still end up being too fair and slow to make a splash in Constructed, but it’s going to at least merit testing.
There’s also that sneaky bit of bonus text about making anything you recur with Tomb a Vampire! These effects can be tricky to leverage, since a Vampire typal deck probably isn’t playing many creatures that aren’t Vampires to begin with. It mostly seems relevant for cards like Evelyn the Covetous or Falkenrath Pit Fighter, which already see play without extra vampire support but definitely wouldn’t say no to the extra help.
LANDS OF CONFUSION
In a more general sense, the way these transforming lands impact gameplay/deck building is very unique and difficult to evaluate. Unlike the Zendikar Rising MDFC lands, you cannot play them on their reverse side as your normal land drop. So while they end up producing mana, playing them in your land slots will lead to disaster!
Each flip-land has unique conditions that trigger its transformation, which means you also need to build around them with your remaining spell choices to ensure they’re worthwhile. With the exception of the new god card cycle, the land side of each card is always more powerful; usually the front side effect is simply a way to directly or indirectly meet the flip condition.
The overall effect is like a ramp spell or mana rock crossed with the Quest/Expedition enchantment cycle from the original Zendikar block. You need to both pay the initial mana cost and complete the attached “quest” in order to get the ramp or utility payoff on the other side.
That’s a huge commitment just to make one card work. If you want to get your mana’s worth from a flip-land, you need to ensure your deck can reliably fulfill the condition on the front and effectively use the land on the back.
I don’t mean to discourage people who are excited to play these cards, as most of them seem plenty powerful enough to justify their build-around status. I just wouldn’t immediately throw these into every deck list that matches their color like you would most other rare lands.
THE ONLY WAY FORWARD, IS DOWN
The list of flip-lands spoiled at time of writing is not complete, but I think it gives us some clear expectations for how these funky build-arounds will fit into the The Lost Caverns environment.
The uncommon versions look like great signposts for draft archetypes, and with low mana costs might become Standard role-players. The new rare flip-lands seem to all revolve around filling your graveyard in one way or another, which might mean it’s actually best to play a few of them in the same deck so you’re progressing all the flip conditions at the same time!
Even taken on their own, all of them so far have little unique touches which will give them appeal to certain themes — Vampires, cascade, artifact combo, direct-damage red and more. Cards this complicated have to be doing something really cool and thematic to justify their presence when Magic is already hard for players to keep up with, but these hidden wonders of buried Ixalan pass that test.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.