A Win-Win Exploration

Posted in Card Preview on September 14, 2017

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Ixalan is a world of many things.

From one perspective, powerful tribes are all competing to find Orazca, the City of Gold. Pirates. Dinosaurs. Merfolk. Vampires. They're all vying for the power that lies within the city's walls . . . whatever that might be.

From another, Jace and Vraska have found themselves in quite the situation. Marooned and each trying to figure out where to go from there, they've unexpectedly signed up for an adventure like no other.

Oh, and that's without even mentioning the countless riches and power just available to plunder all across Ixalan.

It's a world of many things. But amidst the fighting, confusion, and collision of worlds, there's one thing that stands out from all others: That sense of adventure. That feeling of being on a journey.

Or, more generally speaking, the quest to, shall we say . . . explore.

In the set, that's showcased in mechanic form. You'll find the explore ability scattered throughout cards in Ixalan.

It's a mechanic that gives you a little bit extra—but you're never entirely sure what. (At least, not without some help setting it up.)

In fact, I have a brand-new example to show you right now! Let's take a look at this card.

You can expect to see a lot of explore sitting across from you on tables over the course of Ixalan's run, in Draft, Standard, and even potentially Eternal formats as well. This card is plenty strong in Limited—and it's far from the top of what explore has to offer.

Why? Well, the short version is that you get a bonus either way. You either end up with a larger creature and a bit of card selection, or you draw a card.

The longer version? Well, read on.

Exploring Explore

You're generally happy with either part of explore. Let's continue looking at Emissary of Sunrise as an example. It's a three-mana first striker that's either a 3/2 with some deck filtering or a 2/1 that draws you a card. I'd happily play either of those in my Draft deck!

Most explore creatures end up in that same vein. Usually, that means you're getting an overall stronger package than you normally would for that cost. But despite all the power, there is one hidden cost: you don't get to pick which option you get.

We've seen this falter in the past before. For example, take a card like Browbeat.

Browbeat reads super powerful. You either draw three cards or deal 5 damage for three mana—what's not to like? Either card would be well above the curve for red.

Well, the problem is that you don't get to choose. Your opponent gets to pick whichever is better for them in the situation. And despite reading like either thing is a bonus, you always end up with the slightly worse one.

Explore is quite a bit different.

With explore, your opponent isn't choosing the option for you. The top of your library is going to determine what you get, and you have a lot more control over that than your opponent does.

For example, let's say you have a way to scry, like Treasure Map (so flavorful!):

Scry lets you stack your library to create optimal explores. Want the larger creature? Find a nonland and put it on top. Digging for lands? Keep a land on top and get to it a tad faster.

In fact, one of the easiest ways to set up your explores is . . . explore!

Let's say you have a couple good plays for this turn, but you only want to play your explore card if it gets the +1/+1 counter. Well, if you can manage to explore beforehand, then you have a lot more information. If there's a nonland on top, you can just leave it for your next card.

A card like Deadeye Tracker will do wonders to keep your exploration rolling.

In addition to just leaving a nonland on top so it can pile up counters on itself, it's also just a cheap way to check the top card of your library for your explorations. It's definitely a nice one-drop to keep around. If you're building an explore deck, that's definitely the kind of card to keep in mind.

And speaking of building your deck with explore in mind . . .

All Hands on Deck

In addition to everything above, don't underestimate the deck-construction element! Since you get to choose what goes into your deck, that gives you some extra control over what happens with your explore cards.

If you're hoping to be aggressive and get counters with your cheap explore creatures, then you can try and build the 21-land deck featuring explore to give you about a 66% chance of getting a counter. Similarly, with a ramp or control deck that has a lot of lands, it's pretty easy to get to nearly 50/50 on lands and nonlands, consistently giving you what you want: more lands!

Plus, if what you are looking for is land, don't underestimate the deck-filtering aspect of explore. Getting to look at your top card and then choose to keep it or dump it into your graveyard helps you find what you need—lands or otherwise.

And hey, into the graveyard you say? I hear there's a lot of Amonkhet cards that like to be put into your graveyard.

That's right: there are also plenty of ways to build that take advantage of both sides of explore.

In a deck with plenty of cards that operate or interact with the graveyard, it's pretty easy to turn the ability to self-mill yourself into an occasional card draw as well. Either draw a land into your hand or an embalm card into your graveyard? Sounds like a fine deal to me!

But of course, that all ignores the clearest path to building an explore deck—play with cards that care about you exploring!

"Wait, like what cards?" you may be wondering. Well, good work for getting down much further in this preview article. You didn't think Emissary of Sunrise was all I had to show off, did you?

Take a look at this exploration Vehicle:

Now we're talking!

If you cast this on turn two and follow up with a string of explore creatures, it's going to get very big very fast. Not to mention, your fresh explore creatures are probably set up to crew this Vehicle just fine!

There are a couple cards in Ixalan that care about you exploring, and you will definitely have the tools to build an explore-heavy deck if that's what you're looking for. I'd expect Shadowed Caravel to be a key part of that as a sweeper-proof creature that grows every turn. When combined with repeated explore, like the aforementioned Deadeye Tracker, it can really get out of hand and steamroll right over your opponent.

Grab the Caravel and pilot it out of the shadows. You might just be surprised by the results.

The Adventure Continues

Ixalan has plenty to explore, and the explore mechanic is just one of the many new, excellent aspects of the set you'll be able to spend time mastering. Whether you're setting it up for Limited or your Constructed deck, playing with it and knowing just when to keep a card on top or not is going to take careful finesse. I look forward to the many great debates that explore will create over whether or not a player should have kept a card on top.

But now it's time to turn it over into your hands. This is where my Ixalan previews come to an end—and you get closer to playing with the cards themselves! With Prerelease events happening next weekend, stay abreast of the cards as they finish rolling out, and prepare yourself for battle.

In the meantime, do you have any questions or thoughts? Please, reach out to me! I'd love to hear from you. You can always find me by sending me a tweet or asking me a question on my Tumblr.

I'll be back next week with more Beyond the Basics! Enjoy Ixalan—and may your own explorations go well.


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