With the early leak of Ixalan spoilers, I had to wonder: is it better to know what is in the next set or to wait until it comes out to be surprised? This hasn’t been the first time cards have been revealed before they were supposed to, nor was it the first such leak in recent memory; the early reveal of Kozilek, the Great Distortion from Oath of the Gatewatch comes to mind. Much has been said about these leaks and Wizards’ efforts to prevent them. While it is an interesting topic, I am more interested in the reactions by the Magic community and my own experience at seeing leaks, and at seeing these two in particular.
For me, try as I might, I can never resist an early peek at what is to come. I seek out new card images as early as I can and eagerly await the next reveal. I have been this way pretty much since I started playing, and whenever a card is revealed ahead of schedule, I can’t help but take a look, no matter how hard I try to resist.
When we got a premature peek at Kozilek, there was a lot of speculation at whether it was a real card or not. Most people seemed to agree that it was probably real, and at the very least if it was a fake, it was a very convincing one. Assuming that it was a real card, there was naturally a lot of speculation surrounding the new Colourless mana symbol and what it might mean.
The fact that there was going to be a new card of Kozilek in Oath of the Gatewatch was unsurprising, but nevertheless the community as a whole was intrigued by what this card might mean for the set and for Magic in general. Was a new colour being introduced? Was this some new resource, like Phyrexian Mana (or, in hindsight, perhaps something akin to Energy)? There was a lot of buzz around the leak, and everyone was pretty excited about it. When the card was officially revealed, there was perhaps less fanfare around it than Wizards intended, but the community received the confirmation of their suspicions very positively. I, for one, was quite happy to hear that the card was real, and was intrigued at the idea of colourless mana mattering.
With this Ixalan leak, however, things felt different. For one thing, the leak happened so much earlier, when everyone was still getting excited for Hour of Devastation. For another, I couldn’t help but feel mildly complicit when looking at the blurry photographs. There was something unsettling and taboo about seeing these images, and I quickly shut my browser and stepped away before going through all of the cards. For once, I didn’t want to see the new cards as soon as possible. I wanted to be kept in the dark as much as possible until the official spoiler season started. In a conversation with some friends at FNM, I actually stepped away from the table when they were discussing one of the returning mechanics rather than hear what was going to be in the set. I wasn’t the only one like this, either; several people I talked to decided not to look at the photos at all.
While I can’t speak to the motivations of anyone else, for me it went a bit like this: if I knew exactly what mecahnics would be in Ixalan, I wouldn’t be able to speculate at what could be in the set. I would just know what to expect, and that would be that. I decided that I would rather have some time to think about the set and consider how I might design it, independant of anything Wizards did. If I was in charge, what mechanics would I include in a set filled with dinosaurs and pirates?
Now that Wizards has officially revealed the leaked cards as well as the set mechanics, I thought it might be fun to look at some of the mechanics I imagined could be in the set. I was close with a few of them, but I missed a lot:
One of the first mechanics I thought of when imaging a Magic set full of pirates was the Gold token from Born of the Gods. What better place for these artifacts than in the grubby hands of buccaneers? I imagined them functioning similarly to Clues in that Gold tokens could be acquired by all sorts of means; creatures could create them when entering the battlefield or dealing combat damage, or you might even see a spell like Confirm Suspicions that made Gold instead. I imagined a possible mechanic called “Plunder” that would basically be the same as Investigate, but that would create Gold instead of Clues.
Obviously, with the introduction of Treasure tokens we won’t be seeing Gold any time soon. Still, I wasn’t that far off on my guess. Apparently, according to Mark Rosewater, Gold tokens were initially considered for the set, but they caused problems with the Improvise mechanic in Standard.
Ferocious or Monstrous
I heard we could expect to see a returning mechanic or two in Ixalan, so I started wracking my brain trying to think what we might see for the dinosaurs. They would almost assuredly be big creatures, appearing in green and maybe in red. I was expecting the dinosaurs to function similarly to the dragons in the Tarkir block or the monsters in the Theros block. As such, Ferocious and Monstrous both seemed like plausible inclusions, being two mechanics centred around big creatures. Of the two, Ferocious seemed more likely, but I wasn’t too confident in this guess. I didn’t really have a great idea of what to expect from dinosaurs, to be honest; a part of me even imagined a return of Rampage!
I was certainly off the mark, but I am actually really pleased to be wrong. The actual mechanic that is in Ixalan is Enrage, an ability that triggers whenever the Enraged creature takes damage. It looks far more interesting than anything I was considering; while I dread facing off against an Enraged creature at the pre-release, it should make for some tough decisions and intriguing matches. I do wonder if we will see an Enraged creature that grows as it takes damage; that is a somewhat terrifying thought, but one that reminds me ever so slightly of Rampage.
Thinking about other potential mechanics to bring back, Raid came to mind as one that seemed fitting for a set full of pirates. The mecanic itself worked well in the Tarkir block, being both easy to understand and a way of driving games forward. Not only was it a fun mechanic, but it fit the theme of pirates perfectly.
I was very pleased to see Raid returning in Ixalan. In Tarkir it was very closely tied to the Mardu, and as a result it saw a lot of play alongside creatures with Dash to make for very agressive decks. I look forward to seeing Raid in a new context; will the triggers on the new creatures be worth making a bold attack, or will something like a dinosaur with Enrage be enough of a deterrent that Raid will be underwhelming?
I will admit that I am not that fond of vehicles. The way they are implemented is fine, and I will admit that it is an elegant way to represent this complex idea within the confines of the Magic rules. I still don’t really like them, though. The first few games I played with them were alright, and I was not opposed to including a vehicle or two in my draft decks early on, but it didn’t take very long for me to grow tired of them. I did not find their inclusion in the Kaladesh block to be all that necessary or beneficial, and when there was a vehicle on the battlefield it did not make the game more interesting. More often than not, the vehicle only served to bog the game down. As such, I was very glad to leave them behind when Amonkhet came out.
That said, I really liked the idea of a pirate ship as a vehicle. It was a natural fit; who better to crew a vehicle than a bunch of scurvey freebooters? The flavour once again fit so well that I was willing to overlook my earlier dislike of vehicles and actually hoped to see a few in Ixalan. I did wonder if “Ship” would appear as a new artifact subtype alongside vehicle, but determined that it would be very unlikely, since “vehicle” would already fill that design space.
Perhaps the issue I had was actually with the individual vehicles of the Kaladesh block, and not the mechanic itself. There were very few vehicle cards that I ever felt were worth using, and those were never ones I saw when drafting. Furthermore, the flavour of them didn’t really appeal to me; I am not that crazy about cars, so when presented with a myriad of dragsters and cruisers, I remainded unimpressed. That said, with the confirmation that vehicles are returning in Ixalan, I am looking forward to seeing what sort of designs they will have. Ships are a bit more interesting for me, but I do have to wonder how many different designs there could be for them.
The inclusion of double-faced cards in Ixalan was completely unexpected for me. I knew we were likely to see Transform cards every now and again since their inclusion in Magic: Origins, but I never dreamed we’d see it here. Seeing cards Transforming into lands is particularly cool, and I really want to see what the other cards will be. I’m curious how many different double-faced cards there will be, too; will we see as many transform cards as we did in the Innistad blocks, or will it only be a handful of them, like we saw in Magic: Origins?
Ixalan has been full of unexpected twists. While a return of merfolk seemed obvious in a set with pirates, the vampires and (especially) the orcs were surprising. That’s not even mentioning the mono-white vampires and mono-green merfolk!
The whole set is shaping up to be close enough to what I imagined that I am satisfied, but is different enough that I am eagerly awaiting the reveal of everything else. Spending the time to imagine my own version of the set was well worth it, and now that the set is almost here I can get properly excited for everything. Suffice it to say, I am really glad I didn’t ruin the surprise early.
Oh, just one last thing. Is anyone else hoping that Ixalan has a Desert Island in it?