Hi Readers! I hope you are all staying safe in a civilized isolation. These days there are tons of online ways to keep entertained and productive, including Magic, where the new set, Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths, has landed. Brewers are already brewing, and the cards are making waves. When it comes to Magic, I play with paper cards almost exclusively, and Ikoria is no different. That means I have to wait to play with the new cards until mid-May. My roommate and I have decided to split a box, so we’ll get them as soon as they’re available, but until then, I have to read about them online and salivate over the ones I hope to open. I picked 10 that I’m especially excited to find in my half of the box, and I’m breaking them down here!
Overall, I’m not super-excited about the set. I think Mutate is underpowered and confusing, Cycling is a little boring, the human/non-human thing is a shrug, and the counters thing adds to an already extremely visually confusing bunch of cards. I’m terrified of the implications of Companion, and hope for universal banning of some sort. I love Godzilla, and while the cards look cool, I wish the big G got design that was unique to itself and more suited to actual Godzilla lore, not skins for other cards. I’m super-terrified about a corporation being able to buy their way onto Magic cards.
All that being said, it’s a new set! All cynicism aside! Here’s what I’m excited about! Just as a side note, I’m not including cards from the new Commander precons. I’ll be doing those separately at a later date.
Honourable Mention: Triomes!
The Triomes could easily be #1, or any position on the list really. I want em, you want em, they’ll see tons of play in my various Commander decks. I would love to get the fancy ones, with the cool comic book art, but I feel like it’s a long shot. Maybe they’ll be cheap at some point, but I expect demand to be pretty high. Which is exactly the point. The excitement here is obvious, and I’d rather use my Top 10 to point out some more interesting cards. But yeah, awesome lands!
10. Dire Tactics
There is a lot of pretty good removal in Ikoria. Mythos of Nethroi and Ruinous Ultimatum are also both top notch spells that I hope to cast in the future. The set also has some cool fighting-based removal, including some that pairs up fighting with cloning, recursion, and even cycling. Great stuff, but Dire Tactics is my pick for the best of the lot. Instant speed, exile, a manageable CMC and a drawback that can be mitigated fairly easily are all big pluses for this card. There are definitely times where the life lost will be too big to swallow, but the ability to turn off that drawback by controlling a human (or changeling!) is easy to pull off. I love that this is an uncommon, because it’ll be simple to get a few copies for a bunch of different decks and such if I don’t open any.
9. Migration Path
Hard enough as it is to imagine, but Migration Path is an improvement on a longtime Commander Staple. Adding cycling to Explosive Vegetation is huge. Recently, we saw the card Circuitous Route add the ability to fetch Gate-lands instead of basics to Explosive Vegetation, and maybe the old Explosive Veg is out of date in 2020. Secret Lair should do an Explosive Vegetation series, with different vegetable-based artwork. Maybe still-life, old masters style. Avocados or Kale on one of them might really be a big draw! Migration Path isn’t really that exciting, but the work it will do in my decks is. Foil prices are sure to be bananas as the Commander community picks them up like crazy.
8. Ram Through
Ram Through is a great way for green decks to take out a creature and take a chunk out of an opponent’s life total at the same time. As a cheap source of instant speed removal, this is already pretty good for green. While fighting is cool and stuff, and your enrage dinosaurs love to fight, most of your other creatures would prefer to just deal the damage. The card gets really good with trample of course, which along with high power numbers, is trivial for green. But add deathtouch and all but one of the damage dealt ‘tramples’ over. Lots to like here, and a surprisingly deep amount of strategy for a common. I’m hoping to get a few of these for different applications like Battleboxes.
7. Bastion of Remembrance
I can’t tell you how many times I wished Zulaport Cutthroat wasn’t a creature so it didn’t just get zapped the second my opponents figured how bad it was going to be for them. Bastion of Remembrance is a mana more, and doesn’t give me an ally trigger or a blinkable body, but otherwise, it’s got the same potential for mayhem as the Cutthroat without the effect being attached to a fragile 1/1 body. But you still get the body. It’s a little weird that the token is white, but it has two useful types. This will probably be in consideration for most black creature decks I build going forward. I would love a foil.
6. Swallow Whole
Swallow Whole is at face, a derpy half-baked attempt at making a version of Path to Exile that won’t break Standard. Will it even be playable there? Sorcery speed plus hoops to jump through can turn a 1 mana exile spell into an unplayable, forgettable chaff card. But there are a handful of Commanders who will love this, and that’s one of the reasons I love Commander. While they are few, Commanders like Depala, Pilot Exemplar and Emmara, Soul of the Accord wouldn’t mind another way to tap themselves in exchange for some value. It’s important to note that Swallow Whole doesn’t target your creature when tapping it (your creature does the tapping) so no Feather shenanigans. But it allows you to use your Lightning Greaves-clad creature. I don’t know if this will ever be premium removal, but it has all sorts of interestingly worded text on it. Maybe all it will take is a decent tapdown outlet to make it cheap and easy exile plus upside.
5. Skull Prophet
I love cards that offer a ton of usable strategic options. Skull Prophet offers a premium creature type plus a decent one, is a solid attacker, and is a 2 colour mana dork to boot. As an extra bonus, it also has an interesting self-mill effect that plays well into what the combination of green and black likes to do. All that for 2 mana. The big knock here is 1 toughness, but the tradeoff is that 3 power. I imagine this does well in Limited. While using mana dorks instead of similarly costed ramp spells like Rampant Growth can be risky, they can be a lot of fun, and give your game all sorts of interesting dimension. Especially as they print ones like this.
4. The Ozolith
I’m cautiously excited for the Ozolith, because while the power potential is undeniable, it seems like a lightning rod for removal and a headache to keep track of. For +1/+1 counter decks, this is going to be bananas. Anything that plays Hardened Scales should take this out for a test drive. There are a crazy amount of other fun counters out there, too, and enough of them can be put on creatures to make this worth looking at whenever those counters come up. Even -1/-1 counter decks have to give this a look. Having the trigger take effect on a creature leaving the battlefield rather than dying is very relevant because it covers Commanders who go to the Command Zone instead of dying and going to the graveyard. It also gets through exile effects like Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace that would cancel all death triggers. Moving all counters onto one creature can be restrictive, and having that move happen at the beginning of combat is unusual, but both can be made features, not bugs. Very weird, very cool, possibly broken card.
3. Mothra, Supersonic Queen/Luminous Broodmoth
I’m going to refer to Luminous Broodmoth as Mothra, because Mothra is cool, even if she isn’t legendary. I mean, why limit something this bonkers to one copy in play? I can’t believe they unleashed something like this into Standard, but given the power level of Standard cards these days, it’ll probably be fine. In Commander, this is an easy way to double up ETB triggers. I have a Mardu Allies deck that barely flies, but has a plethora of ETB triggers. It’s a match made in heaven, and those tall buildings in the background are so Zendikar. Like many of the cards on this list, Mothra has some interesting subtle wording. In this case, it’s that the creature returns to its owner’s field with the flying counter when it dies. So you can’t steal stuff, sac it, and make it flying. But you can sac your own ETB payoffs, have them come back as flyers, then blink them for another trigger and to remove the flying counter so you can do it again. Or just keep them flying, which is amazing in itself. Ridiculous card.
2. Quartzwood Crasher
I haven’t seen much said about Quartzwood Crasher. I guess these days you’d call this a ‘little kid’ card, because it’s a big stompy monster that is easily outmaneuvered by most more complicated tech. But man, is it ever a cool big stompy monster. I imagine describing this to my young self in the early days of Magic. 6/6 trample for any 5 mana would have been completely insane and exploded my (slightly smaller at the time) head. Add two great creature types for big gruul monsters, and a repeatable source of dinosaur/beast tokens that can get large and reward you for trampling, and you’ve got the undivided attention of whatever’s left of my head. My dinosaur deck is super excited about this, as it has trouble making dino tokens at all. This is the dinosaur I wanted, but didn’t even know I wanted. Maybe ‘trample matters’ could be a thing, too. With all the keyword soup going around, adding it and/or deathtouch seems more doable than ever. I expect to have some good derpy fun with this.
1. Mythos of Illuna
I play a lot of Clever Impersonator in Commander. I think it’s one of the best blue cards, and one of the better cards overall, and Mythos of Illuna does a pretty clever impersonation of Clever Impersonator. The CMC and basic effect are identical, but Mythos is a Sorcery that leaves a token behind. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Sorceries are great for triggering things like prowess, have their own specific payoffs and recursion, and aren’t creatures in your hand/library/graveyard. There are a few decks that would prefer this straight out to Clever Impersonator… except there’s a couple of mana symbols in the text box that change the colour identity pretty substantially. But as long as you can play it, this card is just about as good. And then there’s the payoff for the RG in the box. If you spend that RG and copy a creature, it will fight for you. Getting removal or some other useful trigger alongside your permanent copier is just amazing. You can even copy something with a nasty death trigger and fight something large to kill your copy immediately. It’s the kind of thing that presents a myriad of strategic options, even beyond the ability to copy any permanent, which is really saying something.
There are plenty more Ikoria cards I’m excited for, and while I’m down on Mutate, I’d welcome an Apex to build a Commander deck around. I’m really happy that at least one card of each rarity made my Top 10. I’m also hoping for some hidden gems, or janky tech marvels, to emerge. What about you? Are you excited for them or other cards? Can you wait until mid-May for the cards, or have you already tried them out online? In any case, I wish you a continued good health and safety, and as always, thanks for reading!