The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Standard Cards You'll Want to Play

The Lost Caverns of Ixalan: Standard Cards You’ll Want to Play

Tom AndersonStandard

The new cards from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan hit Standard this week! Fittingly, they’re about to enter a strange and deadly environment unlike anything ever seen before. 

Changes to Standard legality have led to a larger card pool and higher standard of card quality than in many other years, which makes it hard for new mechanics and archetypes to break through.


That might be the reason Wizards have downplayed the importance of Ixalan’s iconic creature type factions in this set. 

We’re still getting powerful new merfolk, vampires, dinosaurs and pirates in Lost Caverns Standard; even including some direct typal support if you’re determined to play those decks! But my early predictions for Standard impact are for the cards that don’t need to go looking for a home, because these can immediately patch up a weak area for established meta decks.

White Decks (Mono-White Aggro, White-Blue Soldiers, White-X Control) 

As a career white mage, I’m extremely satisfied with the depth and variety of white decks in current Standard. Multiple flavors of aggro are viable, as well as a control deck so deliciously permanent-heavy that it’s often designated “midrange.” You know the one:

Whatever you want to call them, those slower decks already love to double-dip on their value-generating triggers by using reanimation or flicker effects. Abuelo, Ancestral Echo could let them do so repeatedly, while still being cheap enough itself to be recurred by Serra Paragon

Factor in its potential value as a mana sink in a deck that forces very long games and Abuelo might be worth splashing even in non-blue builds.

Turning to the aggressive white decks, I’ve found they really struggle when blockers are too numerous to go around and too large to trade with. Warden of the Inner Sky and Guardian of the Great Door seem like possible evasive options that could help break through such a stalemate. Warden especially makes a perfect complement for Knight-Errant of Eos.

The last thing on my white wish list for Lost Caverns was some new ways to generate artifact creature tokens. White’s potential to convert artifact ETB triggers into damage might rival red’s, but it lacks enablers outside of Myrel, Shield of Argive

Thousand Moons Smithy will definitely be a huge help for that theme — and possibly for blue/white soldiers as well, given the convenient typing of its tokens. There’s even an option to unify those themes in Jeskai colors with Anim Pakal slotting in well alongside existing cards like Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival and Third Path Iconoclast.

Blue Decks (Mono-Blue Tempo, Esper Control, Esper Legends)

Blue’s current needs are the same as what it always needs: the cheapest possible interactive cards and the dearest possible one-card threats. 

The former need is the more dire one given we still enjoy the presence of Hullbreaker Horror and Horned Loch-Whale in the format. Since blocking is often still blue’s best form of interaction against small creatures, I see both Cogwork Wrestler and Subterranean Schooner as potential answers.

For only slightly more mana you can actually straight-up remove the creatures with Kitesail Larcenist, which feels like it will at least earn a sideboard slot in Standard besides becoming an instant Commander staple.

The other big piece that could open up options for blue is an in-color substitute for Wedding Invitation. The tempo game plan demands a mana-efficient value engine, and a non-creature, non-planeswalker card takes fewer resources to protect. 

The first candidate for the role is Malcolm, Alluring Scoundrel, who seems like a 10/10 include (and an 11/10 for those Esper decks with strong legendary themes). 

The more consistent, lower-ceiling card to try in this role is the humble Treasure Map. The mana investment to use the Map is miniscule, and the benefits (particularly in multicolor) are highly desirable. 

Blue doesn’t exactly lack for card draw, but it’s much easier to find room for one spare mana per turn cycle than to find five spare mana for Flow of Knowledge. Sometimes Magic is just that simple

Black Decks (Mono-Black Aggro, Sultai Midrange)

Black has been notoriously powerful this Standard season, and so long as it has Liliana of the Veil and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, that is unlikely to change. However, the low end of its curve has been quite suspect, with the slow-starting Evolved Sleeper as its only decent one-drop. Lost Caverns sees this need, and rewards it with a feral-looking cave goblin.

With this much text on a one-mana creature, you can have confidence Stalactite Stalker will carve out a place in Standard games. Descend is very easy to trigger in a variety of ways and is very easy to make your build-around mechanic given black’s iconic reanimation abilities.

Another knock-on effect of Sheoldred and Liliana has been a sharp decline in new black draw spells, since both those threats are significantly better with bonus draws. Finally, Lost Caverns provides us with a new option on this front: Starving Revenant.

Sweepers are the other kind of spell Black has mysteriously lacked in the past few sets, forcing it to rely on secondary colors if it wants to control the most extreme enemy aggro starts. Those days are over, however, thanks to the fearsome appearance of the mighty Terror Tide (and its anti-recursion sidekick, Malicious Eclipse)!

Red Decks (e.g., Mono-Red Aggro, Red-Black Sacrifice):

It’s really cool to have Monastery Swiftspear back, but she’s been keeping pretty mediocre company at the bottom of the curve. Just one more point of power on red’s one and two-drops would drastically improve the math when you’re racing to get under Sheoldred every game.

That power might be conditional when it comes to Goblin Tomb Raider, but only barely. Voldaren Epicure and Charming Scoundrel already enable it for turn two without even needing to look at new cards for help. 

Once you do look at the other new artifact synergies and how efficiently they build damage, I suspect it’s going to be the main theme for red anyway. Those Oni-Cult Anvil decks are looking great right now!

At two mana, red gets a pair of dinosaur cards that are still worth considering even if you ignore all their type-specific text. Inti, Seneschal of the Sun feels like a direct improvement on Feldon, Ronom Excavator  (since they’re both legendary, this probably means playing a 1-1 or 2-1 split). 

Belligerent Yearling might be more controversial for stock mono-red, but I think it compares evenly (or better) against the likes of Bloodthirsty Adversary. Three power and trample beats a lot of blocking situations and mostly makes up for losing haste. 

You only need to play a few copies of a bigger dinosaur to give Yearling the same breakthrough potential in longer games, and it isn’t even hard to choose which one:

This card is only a few percentage points worse than Goldspan Dragon — which I’m pretty sure still makes it 70% better than 99% of Standard creatures ever printed. I had my buddy Scott double check the math.

Green decks (e.g., Green-X Aggro, Black-Green Midrange)

If green creature decks were a major sports franchise, we would probably describe 2023 as their rebuilding year. They need a lot of pieces to be competitive — starting with a huge, cheap threat to help them apply pressure early on.

Akawalli barely needs any help from the deck building phase to be its best self, but the Hammerskull is a different story. We just can’t afford to have our hellacious combat-math-ruiner sitting on the bench for 50% of combat! 

I know what I said in the introduction about typal decks, but Dinosaurs probably have the best shot of proving me wrong, and Hammerskull is a good reason to try them.

Reasons no. 2 and no. 3 are these dinosaur-specific mana dorks, which together can really shrink whatever window of vulnerability that deck has while gearing up to cast its massive thunder-lizards. Combined with Hulking Raptor (which can be useful in any deck, but is itself a dinosaur) and green more or less has a “Din-o-poly” on ramp spells this set, all for the same creature type.

Turning to the currently-popular GB-x Midrange piles, the biggest pain point is their win conditions. The real dream here would be a lethal combo to quickly ramp into, the way Emergent Ultimatum decks played a few seasons back. But if we can’t reliably win the game off a single spell cast, then Ojer Kaslem, Deepest Growth seems like the next-best thing. 

Mana value five is commendably cheap, allowing very early casts and great snowball potential from the trigger — all while being extremely annoying to kill. I just love that Kaslem is big enough to threaten opposing life totals in its own right but also bridges you to even bigger, nastier monsters! 

The Skullspore Nexus has likewise earned my interest thanks to its combination of discounted casting cost, anti-removal insurance and menacing potential to amplify green’s burst damage.


What was once said of archaeology is true here of Standard predictions, and I am under no delusions that all the cards I just mentioned are going to break out in this first week of play. 

Some promising new cards might never see play at all, while others might be in and out of lists for a while before brewers shrug and go back to what they were playing before The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. I wouldn’t even be shocked if Dinosaurs, Merfolk or both turned out to be respectable as typal decks. 

Being wrong and making mistakes are just a part of every explorer’s experience. I’m just glad mine doesn’t also feature killer mycoids and blade traps!

There’s also a lot of other obviously powerful cards in The Lost Caverns, which seem like they’ll be important even farther into our future — once another couple of Standard sets release to broaden their relevant themes. 

With multiple brand-new planes set to anchor the 2024 release schedule, there’s no way anyone can anticipate what direction Standard will take next. We can only tighten our pith helmets and hold on for dear life.