Every set comes with cards that are funky, and Ixalan is no exception. These are the kinds of rares that are most often misevaluated at the beginning of the set because it's hard to lean on evaluations of previous cards. More often than not, they are very bad in Limited, but occasionally one will slip through that is completely busted!
Let's take a look at some funky rares from Ixalan!
One mana for a 3/3? It should be great, right? Nope. The downside is way worse than it looks. I wouldn't be surprised if Old-Growth Dryads is unplayable. The reason for this has to do with when the card should be good.
After about turn 5, a vanilla 3/3 doesn't impact the battlefield as much as it does on the early turns. That should make Old-Growth Dryads even better because you can cast it on turn 1, but the problem has to do with the value of lands at different stages of the game.
For the beginning couple of turns of any game of Magic, lands have extremely high value, and near the end of a game, excess mana has little-to-no value. Giving an opponent a free Rampant Growth on turns 1 through 4 of any game of Limited is extremely worrisome, as it enables them to play above curve and double spell at a higher rate than normal.
Even though Old-Growth Dryads is above curve, it's letting your opponent play multiple cards above curve. And the body eventually doesn't impact the game as much. In fact, the additional land gifted to your opponent expedites the time in which the 3/3 body becomes outclassed. So playing Old-Growth Dryads early is a bad idea, and when the downside doesn't matter as much, the 3/3 body isn't good enough. Hence the card isn't very good.
I'm going to start by putting it in my decks, because maybe double-spelling on turn 5 by playing this and a four-drop ends up being good, but I'm very skeptical on the card, as the ceiling isn't very high and the floor is quite low.
Three mana for an 0/1 is absolutely terrible. Luckily, there's more to Tilonalli's Skinshifter than the body.
Essentially this card is going to range from absolutely terrible to completely insane. If you're even slightly ahead as far as combat is concerned, this card should push you close to the finish line. Haste creatures can really surprise your opponent, and when it's a copy of your best attacker, you better'd bet that it can do some real damage.
Curving a two-drop into this creature is going to be hard to beat on the play. And later in the game, you can copy your giant Dinosaur and cast an additional spell because Tilonalli's Shapeshifter is only three mana. But unfortunately, that's the best-case scenario.
In many other cases, when you're behind or don't have good attacks, this card does absolutely nothing. Most aggressive creatures can still trade when behind, but this one completely lacks that dimension. Overall, I'm going to guess this card is just too powerful to pass up, and I'm going to start the format taking it early to try it out. It has the potential to be busted, but I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't turn out that way.
Planeswalkers are often powerful forms of card-advantage, and hence slam-dunk bombs in Limited. But sometimes you get a true stinker. While I don't think Jace, Cunning Castaway is unplayable, I don't think it's good. Let's look at the different parts of the card.
First off, three loyalty is a good number to start with for three mana. If you cast Jace and immediately use the plus ability, it is unlikely that your opponent can kill it even if you missed your two-drop (assuming you're on the play). While this is a good starting point, Jace still has to do relevant things in order to be good.
This ability effectively has two modes. It either lets you loot once, or it does absolutely nothing. A three-mana planeswalker that has the ability "+1: Loot" is actually pretty solid in Limited.
Unfortunately, this ability isn't always going to be online. You need to be able to attack without being blocked, and that isn't trivial on many battlefield states. Additionally, if you're attacking to get a marginal advantage from this looting ability, then you're less likely to have creatures back to protect Jace.
My problem with it is that, if this ability is always working, then you're always able to attack your opponent and your opponent is not able to attack back to kill Jace, Cunning Castaway. This doesn't sound like a game you're losing anyway!
First off, I'm glad that the Illusion sacrifice ability no longer counts for abilities (as we saw from Labyrinth Guardian). If this 2/2 died from targeted abilities, it would be much worse. As is, it's still not great, but serviceable. The problem is that a 2/2 body is just bad for three mana, so I would only like this part if the plus ability that could be activated the next turn or two was good. But it's also mediocre.
Again, this ability seems pretty bad from behind, and not even that great when ahead or at parity. It's just a medium creature. Hopefully the ultimate does something to string it all together…
I don't need to say much about this. Sure, it's cool, but it still doesn't necessarily win the game. I could see a pattern where you just keep plussing both copies and it's very hard for your opponent to kill both, and then once you ultimate one of them, you rinse and repeat. But since these cards aren't that great, why doesn't your opponent just ignore the Jaces and kill you? And if that's not an option, you were ahead anyway.
All in all, Jace seems terrible from behind and reasonable while ahead. At parity you'll be able to try and take over the game with the ultimate, but even that doesn't seem too detrimental. I don't think this is a high pick, but it seems playable. I'll start taking it around Pick 6 or 7 if I'm already blue, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it perform worse than that.