Every Magic set goes through an excitable honeymoon phase, and it’s only after the first few weeks of events that you can really measure their impact on the metagame. The top minds in Constructed Magic have had some time to thoroughly explore Lost Caverns of Ixalan, so which shiny new decks have emerged to flash their tournament potential? More importantly, which ones are true gamechangers destined to stick around in this cutthroat Standard environment?
Lost Caverns was a tough set to analyze for impact prior to release, besides a few obvious slam-dunk cards.
Unique mechanical themes like crafting or dinosaurs are a fun change of pace for Limited, and I gave LCI Draft a great review partly for that reason! But since they mostly rely on cards from one set, they often struggle to compete against the sheer card quality of established Standard decks.
It would be a real shame if RG Dinosaurs fell prey to this phenomenon, especially with no other aggressive green lists showing up this Standard season. But thanks to a few cleverly-planted Dinosaurs from previous sets and the biggest bomb in LCI having the right creature type, Itzquinth and friends have started out on the right foot.
An impressive chunk of this deck comes straight out of Lost Caverns, so this is great choice if you’ve been opening a lot of those boosters. Pugnacious Hammerskull, Hulking Raptor and Bonehoard Dracosaur establish board dominance – often ahead of schedule thanks to our eight dino-loving mana dorks.
The fact that Raptor and Dracosaur also make mana lets us easily bridge into real game-enders like Etali and Tyrranax Rex, or mix in interaction with Itzquinth, Firstborn of Gishath, Tranquil Frillback, and Triumphant Chomp. Trumpeting Carnosaur actually straddles both those categories, able to serve as emergency burn or discover into (hopefully) another backbreaking Dracosaur.
Last note: I really like the Belligerent Yearlings in the sideboard. There’s a lot of very passive decks right now trying to either ignore the board or chump with tokens to buy time, and curving a Yearling or two into a Hammerskull or Carnosaur is a super-effective way to punish that lack of real interaction before they get their wincons online!
At the other end of the mana curve we have the efficient Oltec pairing of Inti, Seneschal of the Sun and Anim Pakal, Thousandth Moon. Their “whenever you attack” triggers let them impact the board as soon as they are cast, putting them in the same category as Winota, Joiner of Forces and Adeline, Resplendent Cathar.
These two have slotted in perfectly alongside the white Humans package – which now includes another LCI standout, Warden of the Inner Sky. These Humans lists seem to agree that two copies of Warden is the sweet spot, suggesting that drawing two in the same hand is a worse fate than drawing none.
But another group of RW players are all-in on the Warden and similar “convoke” effects which incentivize making the widest board possible – Regal Bunnicorn, Knight-Errant of Eos and the new Sanguine Evangelist among them.
It’s hard to say which build is more “correct”; just on paper, it seems like the choice comes down to which cards you like more and what matchups you want to win.
The “convoke” build should devour decks which rely on only single-target interaction, but has some very bad draw steps and is basically all-in on its gameplan. Meanwhile the humans build has better quality cards and a surprising amount of interaction maindeck, making it overall more well-rounded. I’m just glad to see such variety even within this one strategic niche of one color combo!
Aggro decks in general seem to have been the main winners out of Lost Caverns of Ixalan – which was also true of Wilds of Eldraine before it. Virtue of Loyalty in particular has proven a format-defining card, kickstarting a new archetype of midrange white token decks with different supporting colors.
Most of the UW Virtue builds have felt like imperfect marriages with the existing Soldiers or Control decklists. But thanks to Lost Caverns, we now have a more harmonious looking vision which puts our token engines in the spotlight.
As a top-of-curve finisher for aggro decks, Virtue of Loyalty is just “good”. But obviously a card which generates powerful free triggers is better the longer the game goes on! So our strategy here is to slow things down, both by dragging out the turn count and using open blue mana to try and freeze the tempo at which cards are being played.
Meanwhile, our efficient value engines should be building a lead without really needing to commit our mana. The Wandering Emperor, Subterranean Schooner, and Wedding Announcement all play a similar role to Virtue here, if not with quite the same punch. I especially like the playset of Schooners – I was high on this card during preview season as a blue replacement for Reckoner Bankbuster, and it’s perfect for a deck which spits out so many disposable 1/1s and 2/2s.
I am surprised how little interaction is in this specific list, but given the presence of nasty ramp/combo decks in the format and the new wrinkle of Cavern of Souls in creature matchups, I’m willing to believe it’s the way forward. Tishana’s Tidebinder may genuinely be enough by itself; the souped-up Merfolk Trickster has been one of the more surprising breakout stars from Lost Caverns so far.
There’s also some other proactive cards I’m excited to try should this strategy stick around. Invasion of New Phyrexia is another powerful token generator which this list should easily flip but I think the need to tap out might have excluded it from this tempo-centric build. You could also try running Ojer Pakpatiq, who allows you to cheat in Virtue (and other adventure cards like Horned Loch-Whale or Twining Twins) by casting their cheaper instant side while Pakpatiq is in play. When their rebound triggers at your next upkeep, you can choose to cast the expensive permanent side for free instead!
Magic’s New Seasonal Catalog
It’s not all the cards or the archetypes that I expected, but I’m gratified to see some entirely new decks making waves in this mature Standard format. Even very established decklists like mono-blue are experimenting with new cards in small amounts, which is great for improving variety within archetypes.
Wilds of Eldraine may not have triggered an actual rotation, but you can definitely detect a shifting design direction which has carried into Lost Caverns of Ixalan, and the cards from both sets generally have been doing well together. If you are interested in getting the most return on investment from your Standard deck it seems like this is a ripe opportunity to buy in on one of these fresh archetypes, knowing that their core cards will still be legal all the way through to Q4 of 2026!
That’s also a ton of time to experiment and find homes for other standout cards from the set, and I expect mechanics like craft and descend will rise in value once we can combine them with synergistic mechanics from upcoming sets. Until then, enjoy the schooners and ‘saurus season!
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.