Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is officially out!… err… on Arena and Magic Online. That means we’ve had several days to mess around in Standard with the inclusion of Magic’s latest set, and a surprising amount has changed!
Companions are, as predicted, incredibly strong and possibly too good. I could write about why, as a game designer, they worried me from the first preview, but I’ll save that for another article. Instead, today I’m going to be focusing on the good in Ikoria; the big, bad monsters! Here are my rankings for each of Ikoria’s “Monsters” based on how scary they’ve been in Standard thus far!
Tier 1: The Biggest, Scariest Monsters
Sea-Dasher Octopus // Voracious Greatshark
Sea-Dasher Octopus, along with Voracious Greatshark have greatly helped the flash deck from previous formats move in a new direction. Sea-Dasher Octopus was obviously very powerful when spoilers came in, but the Greatshark, in my opinion, is a bit more of a surprise. While the Frilled Mystic 2: Electric Boogaloo is limited to one color, the additional mana, in my mind, wasn’t going to make up for the additional 2 power and 2 toughness it gained. As it turns out, I was pretty wrong! These types of Mystic Snake effects were always positive, since they traded 1-for-1 and left you with a body. However, they were somewhat limited in that they didn’t pull enough weight on their own if they weren’t countering a meaningful spell. This is where Greatshark is a bit different, as a 5/4 flash body for 5 mana is nothing to shake a stick at.
Winota, Joiner of Forces
This one is the biggest surprise for me, but Winota is a big, bad monster! While certainly swingy, Raise the Alarm and Legion Warboss have allowed Winota to hunt 12 or more cards deep each attack phase to look for major tempo swings in the form of Agent of Treachery. This deck has shown the combination of power and consistency needed to have it stick around over the next few weeks, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes on to be one of the defining features of the format.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den // Keruga, the Macrosage // Yorion, Sky Nomad // Gyruda, Doom of Depths
A lot can be said about the impact the companions have had on Standard. Without getting into why they’re so powerful and why many believe printing them was a mistake, each has created fascinating new decks that for the time being are exciting to both play with and against. Lurrus has slotted very well into the various Priest of Forgotten Gods and Cat-Oven decks, sacrificing Mayhem Devil and moving the deck to rely more on Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and Whisper Squad (w h i s p e r s q u a d).
Keruga, the Macrosage has shown its power so far, but appears to be underrepresented at the moment due to people wanting to try out some of the new decks before they revert back to their powerful tier 1 Standard Fires of Invention deck. Yorion, Sky Nomad has found a home mostly in Temur Elementals, but some control decks have been using the big 5 mana flier to good effect as well. In Temur Elementals, specifically, it provides a “win the game” button when a certain mass of powerful enters the battlefield abilities have been accumulated, as well as a good secondary plan. The restriction of playing 20 more cards hasn’t had too much of an impact on this deck, and has even allowed it to go harder on self-mill and card draw than previously.
Gyruda, Doom of Depths is certainly the biggest build-around that this set has provided. Spark Double, Thassa Deep-Dweller, Charming Prince, and End-Raze Forerunners have all made the all-in Gyruda strategy a viable one in the early days of this Standard format. While it isn’t a certain win the game button, resolving a Gyruda very frequently allows you to put 8-18 mana worth of threats on the board for just 6 mana, frequently putting you too far ahead to be caught. Fortunately for combo-haters, this deck is very likely to get hated out in the coming weeks, as countering a 6 mana sorcery-speed card is very doable for most decks in this format.
Tier 2: Somewhat Large, Somewhat Scary Monsters
Kogla, the Titan Ape
Found mostly in the Gyruda decks, King Kong… err… Kogla, the Titan Ape might just be a sleeper to keep an eye on. While six mana is certainly a lot, the immediate impact of fighting a creature (and usually winning) plus the added impact of killing artifacts and enchantments, which are very important in this format, has made Kogla a pleasant surprise in the early days of this format. Stay tuned, we might just be going Ape very soon!
Naturalist is another creature that has mostly found a home in Gyruda decks thus far, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it as a cornerstone of the Jegantha, the Wellspring decks that seem to be close to breaking through.
Serrated Scorpion has been a seriously impressive card in the Lurrus Sacrifice decks thus far. Sacrificing it to Witch’s Oven has given those decks a second creature they enjoy sacrificing, while also putting a major clock on the opponent when combined with Priest of Forgotten Gods.
While I’ve already talked about multiple of the cards that have made Dimir Flash a viable deck in this format, Slitherwisp has been the least impressive of them, in my opinion. While the text is certainly very powerful, it’s a somewhat small body and doesn’t play perfectly with the rest of the deck. When Voracious Greatshark is involved, the ‘Wisp shines, but early results suggest that Slitherwisp might not be the all-star it was looking like during preview season.
Izzet Phoenix appears to be back thanks to Sprite Dragon, which gives the deck a second very powerful turn 2 play alongside Goblin Electromancer. It scales well with the game as it advances, and gets in good damage early and late. One concern that I have at the moment is that it makes the deck much weaker against Claim the Firstborn, which was previously a fairly anemic card in the matchup.
Fiend Artisan has been slightly disappointing thus far, but most agree that that is mainly due to it not having a home at the moment. The Sacrifice decks have been much more focused on Priest of Forgotten Gods and Lurrus of the Dream-Den, which has squeezed out the tiny Birthing Pod for now. However, don’t be surprised if it becomes a pillar of the format very soon.
Obosh, the Preypiercer
While Gyruda has already made a big impact on Standard, Obosh appears to be getting closer. Watch this space.
Tier 3: Not Large, Not Scary Monsters
Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt // Illuna, Apex of Wishes // Nethroi, Apex of Death // Vadrok, Apex of Thunder // Brokkos, Apex of Forever
These cards have not been playable yet, and I’m struggling to see how any of them enter playability moving forward. If I had to pick one, however, I would pick Brokkos as a card to watch.
Mothra, unfortunately, has not been good enough yet. White aggro/midrange is not a strategy that this Standard format supports yet, and frankly, I don’t think it ever will. Broodmoth looks powerful on the surface, but has no immediate effect on the board when it comes down and struggles to take advantage of its triggered ability without help.
While the Magistrate hasn’t found a home in Standard just yet, don’t be surprised if it becomes a major player in the coming weeks, as Companions and Adventures continue to be important parts of the format.
General Kudro of Drannith // Rielle, the Everwise // Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy // Chevill, Bane of Monsters
Of this cycle, Winota has certainly made its intended impact, and while I don’t expect the other four to make a big splash in the coming days, each has a powerful enough effect that they should always sit in the back of brewers’ minds.
Labyrinth Raptor // Regal Leosaur
I had such high hopes for aggro! Let me beat down, Wizards!
I’m being pulled in two directions by Ikoria. On the one hand, Companions have been nothing short of a problem thus far, and most players believe that the ten of them won’t emerge from 2020 unscathed. They have caused games to already seem somewhat monotonous and gameplay to become narrow.
However, on the other hand, there seem to be a ton of powerful, fun cards to build around! This article doesn’t include roughly a dozen cards that are on my bucket list of cards I need to play with before they rotate. I am concerned about Companion, but am also very excited to play as much Magic as I can!
Until next time,
@jonahgaynor on Twitter
Check out Andrew Eaddy’s interview with PTQ winner Ryan Donkin regarding how he prepared, and what deck he chose for the event.