Throne of Eldraine has been in Standard for going on two years, and everyone is sick to death of the cards taking over formats across the spectrum. Fortunately, Commander hasn't been impacted in quite the same way, but it is time, all the same, to say goodbye.
While Eldraine has garnered most of the headlines, there were a few other sets released during the depths of the pandemic lockdowns. Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths was almost completely lost in the mix - which may not have been a bad thing given how Companions broke Magic - and Zendikar Rising was a sad one for me to not get to prerelease. The original Zendikar was my first "real" prerelease (I had dabbled for a few months beforehand but dove in with that block), and I was really looking forward to the return after the hit-or-miss experience that was Battle for Zendikar.
We'll get to Zendikar Rising in a later article, but today I want to focus on the set that briefly broke Magic. Ikoria has been hugely impactful for Commander, and like I did with Strixhaven and Kaldheim, I wanted to look at how the set has settled into the EDH format. What has risen to the top since the set's release?
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths in Commander
These are the most popular Commander cards in the set, and with good reason. I think we all "knew" these would be good, but even still they've managed to impress me in pretty much every format. The fact they are fetchable is really what puts them over the top, especially with the abundance of cards like Nature's Lore that allow you to search for any Forest to put into play. When these first released I thought the cycling was just a little too much given the basic land types on the cards, but in the context of how powerful everything else has been over the last few years these have settled in a really nice place in both Commander and 60-card formats.
These have provided some incredibly-needed fixing for three-color brews where people can't break the bank to load up on fetchlands and other duals. Triomes aren't exactly cheap (they range from $5-11 or so), but it's a hell of a lot better than asking players to shell out for Polluted Delta and Misty Rainforest.
The marquee power cards of the set - seven color mana symbols should get you a powerful effect - have shown up in a ton of decks, but which would you guess is the most represented according to the stats? The Standard/Historic staple Emergent Ultimatum? The discounted Rise of the Dark Realms-esque Eerie Ultimatum, maybe?
Nope. The answer is Ruinous Ultimatum.
Mardu struggles a bit in Commander when it comes to finding an identity. A lot of the Red-White cards tend to fall into this aggro/equipment realm, whereas your Black-White decks to develop into Aristocrats builds. But one thing all three colors have in common is that they're very good at removing problem permanents, so it makes for the Ultimatum to play into this space.
The five most popular Mardu commanders are Edgar Markov, Queen Marchesa, Kaalia of the Vast, Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale, and Alesha, Who Smiles at Death in that order, and while each of those push you in a very different direction, all are decks that want to get ahead on the battlefield with an army of permanents. The only problem, of course, is what to do when your opponents go bigger than your army of 1/1s or delay your fragile Kaalia.
Ruinous Ultimatum solves all those problems, and each of those decks is well set up to immediately pay off the board advantage by swinging with an army.
Compare that to the next most popular Ultimatum: Eerie Ultimatum. Now trust me, as someone who has cast it many times in (my favorite Commander deck) Karador, Ghost Chieftain, Eerie Ultimatum is broken in half. But Abzan colors have plenty of options for this type of effect, with more coming every year (including Nethroi, Apex of Death in the same set). If you're in the market for reanimation or the powerful tutoring provided by Emergent Ultimatum, you've got plenty more options, whereas Ruinous Ultimatum is the best game in town for Mardu decks.
On a personal note, I don't love how swingy these are. Rise of the Dark Realms cost nine mana at least, but getting your colors right isn't that hard in Commander with its plethora of rocks and fixing (see the aforementioned Triomes), and I would say that Emergent or Eerie Ultimatum end the game on the spot in most games they're cast. Still, it's Commander and powerful seven-mana spells are to be expected!
Hatebears, anyone? This one has to score pretty highly on the salt scale, based on the few times I've seen it played locally. Magistrate was printed to interact with Companions (which is ironic considering it actually doesn't work against them anymore), but it turns out it's pretty darn efficient at shutting down commanders. I really like that it punishes one-trick decks that just want to combo with their commander, but I totally get that many people don't like this Stax-type effect.
Still, Magistrate fits into a bunch of different decks, from control brews to something like Yasharn, Implacable Earth, which is itself a cool twist for tax decks by bringing Green into the fold (spoilers: Yasharn will be making an appearance in our Zendikar Rising lookback).
While there are some predictable cards in front of it - generically powerful stuff like Migration Path and Whirlwind of Thought - I'm not at all surprised to see the Bastion crack the top ten nonland cards from the set.
I mentioned Aristocrats decks earlier, and broadly that refers to decks that make a lot of small creatures and then do shenanigans with them, usually involving graveyard loops. Bastion of Remembrance fits perfectly into that shell. Even in decks that aren't trying to outright abuse the death trigger, it's a great value card that slots into token decks and pillow-forty decks. A subtle but really powerful effect and card all around.
This may be the best version of this effect we'll see for quite some time. Coastal Piracy was already really strong, and subsequent sets had actually powered down this effect, especially in Blue.
But Reconnaissance Mission came along and blew all that up. It's a Coastal Piracy with upside! Sure, you don't want to cycle the card necessarily, but any port in a storm, as they say. If the table is wiping the board over and over, cycle that Mission away for a card. If they aren't, slam it and draw a bunch of cards as a more resilient Edric, Spymaster of Trest.
Another Blue enchantment I want to call attention to here is Ominous Seas, which just sneaks into the top 20 non-mana cards. Same principle applies - late in the game you can cycle it painlessly, but slam it early and it can make a real difference, popping out 8/8s at any time you deem most convenient. Throw in some proliferate cards or token copying and you've got a sneakily powerful enchantment.
Here we have a card I expected to be higher up. Reanimation is all the rage in Commander, and the Broodmoth (or Mothra if you have the sweet Godzilla version) gives you reanimation with upside. It's sitting outside the top 30 cards in the set, behind surprises like Mythos of Brokkos and even Death's Oasis.
The Broodmoth is a sweet value piece, but its real power probably lies in being a combo enabler, fitting into persist/undying shells as alternative reanimation option but seemingly not making the cut in more general decks. I can see it being a late cut as it doesn't do a ton on its own.
Okay, this shocked me falling almost entirely out of the top 40. The Ozolith got a ton of press when it was printed, and even sees Modern play. That has to be good enough - I mean HAVE YOU EVER BEEN THE VICTIM OF THE NEVERENDING COUNTERS?!?
Seriously, this card is underplayed. It's an artifact and can fit in every color deck, and while it does ask for a fairly specific thing, it's not like counters (of any kind) are hard to come by in Commander. I do want to note that the fact it can go in literally any deck is one of the reasons it's not more popular by percentage, but don't forget about this one if you're browsing this site for cards to add to your decks. The Ozolith goes crazy under the right circumstances, and if your deck has even a handful of cards that might want to pass counters around, you don't want to let this one get lost in the shuffle.
Ikoria's main contribution to Commander has been the Triomes - and that's plenty, honestly - but there's definitely other high-impact cards from this lost set. What are your Ikoria favorites?
Thanks for reading,