Magic's Lost Caverns of Ixalan set is a return to the dinosaur-hunted jungles of Ixalan, but it's also a return to a theme Magic has tinkered with before: the world underground. As head designer Mark Rosewater mentioned in his Making Magic column, the dungeon cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms presented one angle on underground exploration in card form, but The Lost Caverns of Ixalan tackles another, one with more of a focus on "resource acquisition and the building/upgrading of items." To say the quiet part out loud: it's loosely inspired by Minecraft.
That means there's a Diamond Pick-Axe card, and a new ability called Craft, which lets you transform artifacts into more powerful cards. There's no "Mine" mechanic but there is Descend, which triggers various effects when you discard to the graveyard, and Discover, which lets you flip cards from your deck into exile until you find something with a set mana value that you then either cast or put into your hand. The Explore mechanic from the original Ixalan set returns too, letting you draw a card and if it's a land play it immediately, which is nicely thematic.
That's all cute stuff for evoking a survival crafting game where you roam around looking for things to improve your equipment with, but that's not all there is to The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. There's also a story about competing factions racing to Ixalan's core: Mesoamerican explorers riding tame dinosaurs, treasure-hunting pirate revolutionaries, vampire conquistadors trying to awaken a bat god, and the fungal parasite zombies of the Mycotyrant. Also, merfolk and cat-people are there too? It's a colorful mix. There's a lot going on underground.
Playing the pirate-themed Commander deck called Ahoy Mateys, I accumulated a thematically appropriate hoard of treasure tokens I could trade in for mana—at one point I had 14 of them stockpiled—and got to make like Captain Barbossa and bring my crew back from the dead. That didn't help when an opponent with the dinosaur-themed Veloci-RAMP-tor deck did as the name suggests and ramped up to the point where he was dropping a 4/8 with indestructible (Zetalpa, Primal Dawn) followed by a 9/9 well beyond my crew's ability to fight (Zacama, Primal Calamity). Oh well, I'll win a game of Commander some day.
If you're into dinosaurs, this set's showcase crossover is with the Jurassic World series. This means that, like with the Transformers crossover in The Brother's War, there's a chance of a Jurassic World card popping up in certain physical booster packs (set and collector boosters). Yes, this means that Jeff Goldblum and Samuel L. Jackson now appear in Magic: The Gathering. I want both of them.
The Lost Caverns of Ixalan was released in digital form in Magic: The Gathering Arena on November 14, and is available in tabletop Magic from November 17.