One of the aspects of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan that makes the set rather interesting is the elements of nostalgia. Ixalan is one of the more beloved planes in MTG, and the new set makes a lot of references to well-established characters and cards. In some cases, like with Gishath, Sun’s Avatar, we are even getting intriguing reprints from the original Ixalan set. Not to mention other solid reprints, such as Cavern of Souls and Resplendent Angel.
Beyond simply reprinting previously utilized cards, it’s clear the designers made some cards that directly reference previous designs in their functionality. For example, Earthshaker Dreadmaw is a strict upgrade over Colossal Dreadmaw, one of Ixalan’s most iconic Dinosaurs. Earthshaker Dreadmaw maintain the same stats as a 6/6 with Trample, but with the added boost of potentially drawing some cards when it enters the battlefield.
Interestingly, one of these clear instances of a new card showing off reworked designs from a previous card focuses on an old card from outside of the Ixalan plane. This old card is from Throne of Eldraine, and it is none other than The Great Henge. The Great Henge was an incredibly powerful card, especially in its Standard environment, and it has a ton of similarities with The Skullspore Nexus from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. Both cards rely on you having big Creatures in play to cast on the cheap, and both cards provide some excellent inevitability. Still, there are some noticeable differences in how they play out.
Which Card is Better?
In many scenarios, The Great Henge is going to provide more value over time than The Skullspore Nexus, for a few key reasons. First of all, The Great Henge has the ability to add mana and gain life the turn you play it. This means that you can often follow The Great Henge up with another Creature, providing another blocker as well as a life buffer to make help protect you until you can untap for you next turn. From there, the fact that every Creature you play draws you cards allows The Great Henge to spiral out of control, as playing Creatures draws you more Creatures to play.
The Skullspore Nexus, on the other hand, provides value in a different way. Rather than generating card advantage when Creatures enter the battlefield, you generate tokens when your non-token Creatures die. Importantly, because of the “one or more” clause, a board wipe from the opponent will only net you one Creature, albeit likely an enormous one. What’s nice about The Skullspore Nexus is that, by providing large replacement threats when your large threats die, Sorcery speed removal becomes extremely poor.
Additionally, unlike The Great Henge, The Skullspore Nexus can double one of your threat’s power out of nowhere, leading to potential unexpected kills. The Great Henge absolutely provides more of an edge in the long game than The Skullspore Nexus, but The Skullspore Nexus’s ability to end games quickly is worth attention.
Maximizing The Skullspore Nexus in Standard
In Standard, where The Great Henge is no longer a source of competition, there’s a good chance The Skullspore Nexus is a great addition to decks with beefy Creatures. Fortunately, there are actually a surprisingly large number of three and four mana Creatures that will completely reduce the cost of The Skullspore Nexus down to just two green mana. Already in Standard, both Shakedown Heavy and Devouring Sugarmaw are six-power Creatures that can be played for cheap. Not only that, but both cards have built-in evasion. This makes them difficult to block and makes the power doubling ability of The Skullspore Nexus potentially backbreaking.
Beyond these two Creatures, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan has provided another three-mana six-power Creature in Pugnacious Hammerskull, helping to add consistency to your ability to cast The Skullspore Nexus. In some games, it’s perfectly reasonable to cast Pugnacious Hammerskull with five mana available, then immediately cast The Skullspore Nexus with the two remaining mana. Now, you’re protected against removal.
It’s possible that the introduction of another three-mana six-power threat alongside The Skullspore Nexus also gives rise to a powerful payoff for huge Creatures that hasn’t had much of a home: Fight Rigging. Fight Rigging decks have always had a major weakness against decks that could simply kill your big Creatures before you were able to enter combat, effectively blanking the strong Enchantment. This is where The Skullspore Nexus shines, helping you beat a slew of removal spells while simultaneously increasing your clock.
Maximizing The Skullspore Nexus in Commander
In the context of Commander, The Skullspore Nexus works especially well in decks built to sacrifice large Creatures for benefits. Perhaps no Commander thrives off of The Skullspore Nexus more than Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. Jarad is designed to convert massive Creatures into a boatload of life loss for each opponent. The Skullspore Nexus works double duty here. Every time you sacrifice a big Creature, you get a Creature token with the same power in return.
However, if you double the power of the Creature you intend to sacrifice, not only do your opponents lose twice as much life, but the token you generate will enter twice as large. Imagine you have a 10/10 in play along with Jarad and eight mana. You can double the 10/10’s power, sacrifice it, then sacrifice the token, and all of your opponents have lost 40 life all at once!
Aside from Jarad, The Skullspore Nexus also seems like an automatic inclusion in Yargle and Multani decks. Doubling Yargle’s power immediately presents lethal Commander damage if you can connect in combat. Otherwise, using effects like Essence Harvest or Rite of Consumption to drain your opponents for 36 life is easy. The Skullspore Nexus may not be quite as ubiquitous as The Great Henge was in green Creature decks, but that doesn’t mean the card doesn’t have places to shine.