Ahoy planeswalkers! Two weeks ago, I had a bit of fun with some wild speculation about Rivals of Ixalan. While I’m eager to dive into Unstable’s previews when they come out next week, I think that first I need to make a more serious trip back to the story speculation well by examining some questions about what we will see in the final set of the Ixalan block. And let’s start with the big one:

What’s Going to Happen with Jace and Vraska?

Jace and Vraska’s blossoming friendship has formed the core of Ixalan’s story thus far. As the race to Orazca heated up, Vraska was already considering Jace as a potential romantic partner. Hitting his head after falling over a waterfall, however, has jogged Jace’s memories; and the mid-block cliffhanger saw an angsty Vraska approaching the mind-mage, bracing for her friend to turn on her.

The Magic Story Team has hinted that Jace—who has suddenly blossomed into an energetic, nerdy, and likeable character courtesy of the soft reboot that Bolas’s mental attack permitted—isn’t just going to revert to the old Jace. In the short term, I would expect him to reaffirm his friendship with Vraska. His memories of Bolas, however, are going to open up a big challenge: about two months ago in story, he watched Bolas unleash apocalyptic destruction upon Amonkhet, and Vraska is on Ixalan to get the Immortal Sun for the draconic mastermind. That is too big a shoe not to drop.

The real question is, how will these revelations come about? Does Vraska see what happened on Amonkhet as Jace’s memories continue to overflow from his mind and radiate psychically? This is a distinct possibility, as part two of The Race specifically ends with Vraska bracing to be blasted with another memory hyperlink. Does Jace just tell her what happened? Does Vraska dare admit she’s working for Bolas?

It would make one heck of a final scene if Vraska decides to keep quiet, only to have Tezzeret, Bolas’s favorite courier, show up to collect the Sun. That would reveal Vraska’s omission to Jace and set up quite a confrontation to end the block. On the other hand, Vraska and Jace have been pretty open with each other. Might they conspire to try keeping this magical MacGuffin out of Bolas’s hands for the time being?

Vraska’s self-confidence issues and fears of losing Jace certainly seem like they could keep her quiet. But what would happen then? Would Jace turn on her, or would he give her the chance to try righting the wrong her actions may inadvertendly help Bolas commit? Might she do this by joining the Gatewatch?

How are the factions going to play into the story’s climax?

At the end of Ixalan’s story, Tishana, Huatli, Kumena, Jace, Vraska, Vona, and Angrath are all racing to Orazca with minimal support. The key art for Rivals of Ixalan also depicts Huatli entering the golden city alone. By contrast, the set of Ixalan is about tribal conflict. So, the question is, how will these things fit together in the card set for Rivals of Ixalan?

There could, of course, be an easy hand-wave explanation. Maybe Orazca sends out a pulse of magical energy that summons the factions. Maybe the vampires and pirates will be Vona and Vraska’s crews, the merfolk will be Kumena’s tribe, etc. But it’d be interesting if there’s something more. The Planeswalker’s Guide to Ixalan suggests that Huatli’s vision inspires Emperor Apatzec with a great desire for the golden city. Does he have scouts tailing her, which will allow him to quickly rally forces and descend upon Orazca once it burst to the surface? Is Angrath’s crew (and perhaps other pirate crews) following the trail of the minotaur captain?

Perhaps the most likely explanation, though, is that the factions will arrive a day or two after the events of The Race to fight with Orazca’s first claimant (and each other). Indeed, Vraska’s crewmate Malcolm suggests that the Golden City emerged from the ground because someone else had beaten them to it and claimed it. We know that it isn’t Vraska, Jace, Huatli, or Angrath, and Vona looks terribly unlikely too. That leaves Tishana and Kumena, the latter of whom has not registered on Jace’s radar during the Race. Kumena may have had the head start and the insider knowledge to seize the advantage. It would also jive with some foreshadowing in “The Shapers,” where Tishana tells Kopala to marshal the strength of the merfolk tribes, because, “If Kumena takes Orazca—if anyone does—it may take all of us to win it back.”

How is Orazca Going to Shake Up the Block Mechanically?

This is my cleanest prediction of the column: get ready for the return of traps!

This is a bit of a risky prediction for a few reasons. While traps were a popular mechanic in Zendikar, they still rated six on Mark Rosewater’s Storm Scale due to small design space and rules baggage. Bringing back traps here could also risk making Zendikar and Ixalan feel even more alike. That is already a threat with the way each plane, in its own way, evokes a sense of exploration.

The thing is, this is just such a flavorful option. We have heroes and their factions raiding a lost city to try claiming the treasure it hides. While Orazca doesn’t seem likely to be entirely uninhabited, I don’t think it’s going to have an army of guardians, unless the set has a lot of constructs in the spirit of Gilded Sentinel. The city itself being the defense feels right, similar to the way the plane was enchanted to keep changing the way to the city in order to keep it hidden. And if the city is the defense, the return of traps would be the perfect flavorful mechanic to capture that.

Who Is the Last Guardian?

Recently, with the reveal of a mysterious sphinx on the top eight deck boxes for the store championships, Azor has become a popular candidate. While Azor is not known to be a sphinx, he also is not known not to be a sphinx. The founder of Ravnica’s Azorius guild and the creator of the Implicit Maze is one of the few known characters capable of creating something akin to Ixalan’s binding, and the chest plate of the character on the box evokes the sigil pattern on Ixalan’s Binding. Jay Annelli covered this option in some depth yesterday, and you should definitely take a look at his work (and Andrew Weisel’s Twitter thread) for more details on this theory. Suffice to say, however, that Azor having devoted himself to guarding the Immortal Sun for the better part of the last millennium is a compelling theory.

Annelli also covers the theory of Ugin in his article, but I personally have eyes on another mysterious figure that we saw glimpses of in Ixalan. My money is on the Sunbird.

We know from Mavren Fein that a winged beast stole the Immortal Sun from Torrezon, and most speculation assumes that the winged beast is also the Last Guardian. The Sunbird is the only sacred winged beast that we directly know about on Ixalan. It is clearly a being of immense power—its invocation functionally gives your spells Cascade with selection!—and its clear connection to fire and the sun might make it fit thematically as a guardian of the Eternal Sun.

But wait, there’s more! Look at Tilonalli’s Skinshifter:

The shaman is becoming a winged dinosaur, but look at the costume. It is more recognizably bird-like than the flying dinosaurs we’ve seen so far. To my eye, this costume looks like it might be meant to evoke the Sunbird, and the Sunbird might be tied in with the Sun Empire’s worship.

And why might the Sun Empire worship the Sunbird? Well, we know that The Last Guardian initially entrusted the Sun Empire with the Immortal Sun, but took it away once an unwise emperor used it carelessly and unleashed cataclysmic destruction. If the Sunbird is the Last Guardian and gave the Immortal Sun to the Sun Empire, that could be why it might be part of the Sun Empire’s worship of the Threefold Sun.

Alas, we have a long wait until we find out the true answers to these questions. That said, I am excited for Unstable, and you can expect me to have a lot to say about the set in this column as we head into the final stretch of 2017!

Beck Holden is a Ph.D. student in theater who lives in the greater Boston area. He enjoys drafting, brewing for standard, and playing 8-Rack in modern. He also writes intermittently about actually playing Magic at beholdplaneswalker.wordpress.com.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.