The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Set Review - Pauper/Budget

Alejandro Fuentes • November 11, 2023

Kutzil, Malamet Exemplar by Marie Magny

White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Artifacts & Lands | Allied & Shards | Enemy & Wedges | cEDH | Reprints | Minotaur | Budget

Welcome to the Jungle, We've Got Fun and Games!

We're back on Ixalan, and there's so many things to be excited for. Some of the all-time most popular creature types live here, along with some of my favorite mechanics. The storytelling of this plane is so intense, and the card design complements it perfectly. Everything about this set is made to feel like you're deep in the jungle, or this time around, deep in the caves. What mysteries await us below? Hopefully some good commons and uncommons, playable in pEDH. You never know what the shadows maybe hiding!


Kutzil, Malamet Exemplar

Edric, Spymaster of Trest is a really fun commander, and very simple. You play small guys, you smack your opponents, you draw more small guys, and you win the game with card advantage. Kutzil, Malamet Exemplar is quite similar, where you want to play some small dudes to hit your opponents and draw cards. However, there's a twist on this one. The creature's power must be greater than its base power. Any buff will do, but anthems are going to be the easiest way to achieve this. Just a Selfless Cathar can help you get up to three triggers in one attack on Kutzil. Or, if you'd rather have your buffs on individual creatures, you can make a Servant of the Scale deck, where all the creatures enter with a counter.

In addition to being a card advantage engine, Kutzil makes you immune to interaction on you turn. This will absolutely make him a target, but it means you can pull off some big plays without having to worry about a counterspell. Anyone who likes resolving big green things knows how great this is. The combination of abilities is going to make Kutzil versatile, yet potent, and hopefully, a lot of fun. 

Nicanzil, Current Conductor

How many cards can you explore with in pauper? In Simic, there's, um... eleven. That's not a great number, but luckily, every single one is an enter-the-battlefield effect. With some consistent blink or bounce in the deck, you'll be able to trigger Ixalli's Diviner over and over again, and if you ask me, explore is a really powerful ability. It allows you to clear all the lands of the top of your deck so that you're drawing nothing but gas, and then, when the lands are in your hand, you creatures just start getting bigger. It's the perfect mix of card advantage and board development. Nicanzil takes the power of explore and streamlines it, just like her name suggests. Now, exploring ramps you, and she doubles your +1/+1 counter output. This, plus a few counter or land synergies, and the deck will flow like water. Value engines are going to emerge out of nowhere. This deck's going to be like a river, impossible to stop, and it's going to be a blast to whoever's conducting it. 

Akawalli, the Seething Tower

Can a deck be built consistently enough that it gets the turn-three 7/7 everytime? Circle of the Land Druid and Satyr Wayfinder get you pretty close all on their own. If you can discard a Stinkweed Imp, you'll have no problem. Shriekhorn will put six cards into your graveyard by turn three. There's definitely some combo that both mills and ramps you on turn one and gets you the 7/7 by turn two. It's incredibly important that your entire deck is permanents, or your milling won't be nearly as effective, but in exchange for the deckbuilding challenge, you improve all of your cards by a significant percentage. If you do get the milling done, you get a very strong beater that can end games. Still, the payoff seems kinda lackluster for what graveyard decks can normally do. I think there's better reasons to mill yourself, even in pauper. 


Dauntless Dismantler

Treasure decks are getting incredibly popular in commander, but does that make it worth it to play a card that pretty much exclusively hates on those strategies? I mean, you can blow up bigger artifacts if you want, but to blow up everyone's two-drop mana rocks, you have to pay five, and at that point, you're just putting yourself behind. I do kind of wish that Commander had a sideboard, and there was a mutual agreement to optimize decks against each other. It might make it a more back-and-forth game when you can bring in cards that are good against your opponents, and also give a home to cards that would have no decks otherwise. Or would that make the game too oppressive? Cards like Anarchy would be extremely unfair. It does make me sad that Dauntless Dismantler will never really be worth a spot, though. 

Miner's Guidewing

I don't think we appreciate the small value creatures enough. We're always focusing on the big turn-ten plays that we forget to add the turn-one to our decks. But does this creature do enough that you'd really want to play it on turn one? What does it have going for it? Being a Bird gives it a home in your various Bird kindred decks. It's got flying, and that's enough for either Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor or Edric, Spymaster of Trest, if it was in the right colors. Are there any flying men decks in white? Being a cheap 1/1 body makes it a decent thing to sacrifice, and it's even better because it has a death trigger. Exploring is good, and if this happens early, it'll help you keep up on land drops. Bear in mind that you need a creature for it to target when it dies. Put those all together, and you get some weird synergies that are kinda helpful, but don't really do much. Deathrite Shaman doesn't do that much either, but it sees play in 90,000 decks. What is the bar for a creature that doesn't really synergize? Very high in EDH, it seems. 

Thousand Moons Infantry

Aha! Now these are the kind of shenanigans I was looking for. Untapping and tapping a creature over and over again for nearly negligible value? That's my thing. How about Viridian Longbow? One damage every upkeep isn't a lot, but repeatedly killing one-toughness creatures can be decent. Careful Cultivation makes it into a mana dork, which can pay for an activated ability four times a turn cycle. Epiphany Storm lets you cycle through a heap of cards. Ooh! Quicksilver Dagger is a great one. The more I look through this pile of cards, the more I want to build this deck. The value here could be almost too much. 


Pirate Hat

Tip Hat Jack Sparrow GIF - Tip Hat Jack Sparrow - Discover & Share GIFs

There's already a good number of cards that have this effect, but in pauper, when the cards are much less powerful, consistency is the key to making a strong deck. Having a lot of small effects will add up to the big effects that are printed on rares and mythics. If you're running one copy of this effect, you probably want two of them. If you want two, you probably want a few more. Looting is great for all kinds of strategies, and having it on an Equipment can make it almost an incidental effect over the course of the game. This cards will steal a game all on its own, and what's a Pirate without his hat?

Inverted Iceberg

What is an Inverted Iceberg? This card would suggest that it's an icicle, but that doesn't seem quite right to me. An iceberg is just a big hunk of ice, right? Specifically one that's floating, right? The dictionary defines it as a piece of a glacier floating out at sea. I fail to see how a big ice spike hanging from the roof of a cavern is an iceberg. The real inverted iceberg would be one that's flipped upside down. But that would be extremely difficult to achieve. I mean, the reason an iceberg stays right-side up is because the other side is stupid heavy. Hundreds of thousands of tons keep it anchored. Good luck inverting that. 

Anyways, this card is about as playable as its name is accurate. Two mana to draw a card isn't bad, but six mana for a 6/6 isn't really a usable rate. The craft mechanic is cool, no pun intended, but not worth much here. 


Soulcoil Viper

This is a pretty potent piece of reanimation. By turn four, you can have creature in your graveyard onto the battlefield. The main issue is pauper's lack of strong reanimation targets. Ulamog's Crusher is by far the best beater you can get, but while it dominates in 60-card formats, it's not very resilient against all of the removal in Commander. So what are you going to do with Soulcoil Viper? It's slow, it's clunky, and in a graveyard-focused deck, the finality counter is a huge downside.

Deep-Cavern Bat

Okay, I probably shouldn't be suggesting this, because if anyone does this to me, I would be pissed, but Deep-Cavern Bat has some nasty tricks. Basically, once you cast it, its trigger goes on the stack, and then you have time do something with it before that resolves. If you sacrifice it in that time, and then allow the ETB to resolve, the card taken from your opponent's hand will be gone forever, because of course, the game won't see the Bat leaving the battlefield- 

Hold up, that's not right. This was the trick you could do with Oblivion Ring and other older cards with two separate abilities. On newer cards, however, Wizards has decided that they don't like this cheaty trick, and rephrased it as one ability, preventing this from happening, because the ability resolves all at once. As much as I liked the tricks you could do with older cards, this is a great design choice that forces the cards to be played as intended. All that being said, Deep Cavern Bat is still strong as a Thoughtsieze effect, and if you're in the colors, it's a quick upgrade from Elite Spellbinder. 

Man, I've seen so much cute artistic bat art this Halloween that I forgot what bats actually look like. And damn, they look freaky. 

Mephitic Draught

Another Ichor Wellspring? Sure, why not. This set really wants artifacts in your graveyard for the craft abilities, so naturally you get stuff that you want to sacrifice, along with stuff to sacrifice it, like Fanatical Offering. I really appreciate the work that Wizards puts into making these sets synergistic during draft. Of course, both those cards are very playable outside of draft, and they will both be potent parts of artifact decks, like Sludge Strider. You cast this card so that you can draw into more cards just like it, then you sacrifice this card so that you can draw more cards like it, then you sacrifice those so that you draw more cards like them, and after about half an hour you've won the game while your opponents are staring at their phones. Don't pretend you're not going off with this card. 


Geological Appraiser

Okay, so, awhile ago, I tried really hard to build a pauper deck around Shardless Agent. The idea was that I'd use it to cascade into the piece of a combo, then bounce it to do it again, getting a full combo onto the board. Unfortunately, I could never quite get it to work. Commons only, Simic colors, and each piece under two mana is a pretty severe set of restrictions, especially when you have to build the rest of the deck to be three CMC or more. When I saw discover getting printed, I was really hoping they'd make something that I could break. Unfortunately, the only uncommon creature with discover that we got was Geological Appraiser. I suppose that if you try really hard, you could fetch some combo pieces, but I don't even know if there's any mono-red pauper combos. And to do that, you'd have to build the rest of the deck to be four mana or more, at which point it's unplayable.

Etali's Favor

What happened to Etali? Didn't he get compleated and become a giant Blightsteel Dinosaur? I guess he's still handing out favors, though. Discover is a pretty good mechanic. At the minimum, you get a free one-drop when you cast this spell. That's value. In addition, you also get to give something trample, which I think is worth it for three mana. Given that discover casts from exile, it'll be decent in Faldorn decks, as long as you have something that you'd like to give trample. The most interesting thing about this card, however, is that has an enters-the-battlefield trigger. Cascade was always a cast trigger, which prevented it from being abused with blink. Etali's Favor has no such qualms. Most blink spells target creatures, but Displacer Kitten and Felidar Guardian will be happy to screw around with this.

Sunfire Torch

Ack, this card design is so close to being perfect. I love the flavor of it. It's like a weapon that you can throw at someone, which is very fun to imagine on the battlefield. But there's a glaring flaw. Why does it have to trigger on attack? If you cast this for the two damage, you're paying one to cast it, and one to equip it, then immediately throw it away. But it also gives +1/+0! If I toss it on attack, then I don't get the extra damage. But if I want that damage, then I don't get to burn something. Why couldn't it trigger on combat damage to a player? Now we just get two terrible options. 


Poison Dart Frog

I have this fairly tuned deck where I'm still running Quirion Explorer. I used to think that it was an underrated way of fixing my mana, then I realized that there's actually a ton of two-drop mana dorks that tap for all colors. I'm still not going to remove it, because I'm quite fond of it, and it taps for every color at least 90% of the time, but if I was really optimizing, then yeah, I should just replace it with Poison Dart Frog. This card is very good. Aside from being a dork, of course, it can give itself deathtouch. Give me a second, I need to rant about how deathtouch is the most underrated defensive ability. Just a single poisonous blocker is twice as good as a Propaganda. What's the tax for attacking into a Propaganda? Two mana? The tax for attacking into a deathtouch blocker is certain death. And Commander players hate making trades. Just leaving two mana up for that dart frog will divert every attacker. With Poison Dart Frog, you will never lose life, as long as you keep it untapped. And when you don't need it, it's a mana dork. Give it a try, and watch how your opponents start looking elsewhere. 

Disturbed Slumber

It's unfortunate that this card gives haste and "Must be blocked," because I think this is probably better as a combat trick. If I'm using this, I'm gonna be using it as a way to drastically change the math during combat. A 4/4 does make a big difference, and can cause a blowout in the right situation. You could also use it as a weird edict effect, where you opponent is forced to block it and lose a creature. But if it dies, then you lose a land. Maybe it'll do something in limited, but not in commander. 

Over the Edge

Hey, this one's actually really good. When looking over the commons from a set, there is an absolute ton of crap, because, unfortunately, most commons aren't meant to be good. But I have to be careful, because in every set, there's at least one card that needs to go in every deck. I think this card should probably replace Return to Nature in most decks, in the same way that Return to Nature should replace Naturalize. Exiling a card from a graveyard is good, and can be clutch, but exploring twice is straight value, and often card advantage. It feeds your graveyard, it pumps your creatures, it smooths your draws. When there's no artifacts or enchantments to be destroyed, this card can be slammed to push you ahead in value. I think that's worth the cost of some graveyard hate. 


Digsite Conservator

I suppose that I did just tell you to replace the graveyard hate in your deck with another card, but I do think that graveyard hate is important. That Bojuka Bog may feel like a tapped Swamp, but it will absolutely clutch up a game. Same deal with Digsite Conservator. The only real reason you'd be playing it is if you want that discover ability, but being able to exile four cards from a graveyard can be perfect. You need an answer to that Spore Frog + Muldrotha, the GravetideLoop. You won't regret having graveyard hate. Discovering for four is also pretty great. Any commander that cares about casting from exile loves the mechanic, and it's powerful if you have topdeck tricks up your sleeve. 

Hunter's Blowgun

Alright, who designed this card? You're doing it wrong. I don't need deathtouch on my turn, I need it on my opponents' turns so they won't swing their Colossal Dreadmaw at me! And what am I supposed to do with reach? Chump block? That's what deathtouch is for! Isn't this thing supposed to be a blow gun? Shouldn't I be able to ping things with it? Why is it giving my creature a buff? This entire card is deeply confusing to me. 

Does Guns n' Roses have any songs about caves?

Ixalan's such a cool, colorful set. Looking through the cards, it really feels like you're wandering through a jungle. There's nothing that blows me away, but I certainly see a few things I'm excited about. Kutzil, Malamet Exemplar seems like a fun build-around with a few different ways to make it work. I definitely want to do some wild things with Thousand Moons Infantry. Are there any cool commons you'll be glad to pull in booster packs? 

Alejandro Fuentes's a nerd from Austin Texas who likes building the most unreasonable decks possible, then optimizing them till they're actually good. In his free time, he's either trying to fit complex time signatures into death metal epics, or writing fantasy novels.