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Jeff's Ikoria Highlights

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Ikoria is here and today I would like to cover some of my favorite cards from the spoiler and talk about some of their possible applications in Magic's various Constructed formats.

Let's start with some of the sweetest cards in the set - the planeswalkers:

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
Vivien, Monsters' Advocate

I actually really like this set of planeswalkers overall. They are a fairly unique set of designs and I am honestly glad to see static abilities back for planeswalkers. While some planeswalkers, like Teferi, Time Raveler, used static abilities in a poor manner overall I think this is a good design space to have access to.

Lukka is a neat design that I expect will find a home in multiple formats. His +1 is a neat take on Red card advantage of casting cards from exile. The fact that the cards in exile simply need any Lukka in play is nice because if you lose your Lukka your cards are not just gone once you find your next planeswalker. This could be especially potent if we get more variations of Lukka printed down the line.

Lukka's minus 2 ability seems especially potent for building around. The fact that it explicitly finds us creatures with a higher converted mana cost means that we can construct decks in a manner to make it very predictable what we will be finding. For example in formats with larger card pools I fully expect to see Lukka alongside 12~ one mana creatures to be utilized to search up whatever scariest threat exists in that format.

Lukka's ultimate at a glance seems more like flavor text than something we are interested in utilizing most games, but it might let you steal a game or two through a board stall in a creature matchup.

Vivien seems powerful at a glance, but I think there is a real chance she won't really shine in Standard until Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis rotate out in the Fall. While Vivien only ticks up to four loyalty to start she does produce a blocker for herself while doing so. Both her static text and minus 2 generate card advantage for us. The real test for the current Standard will be if her card advantage can stack up against the other options we already have in Green.

Up next I would like to talk about some of my favorite cards that feature the Mutate mechanic. If you are unfamiliar with how the Mutate mechanic works I would recommend giving this spotlight video from Wizards a quick watch.

While the mutate mechanic is fairly straight forward at a glance, it actually provides a lot of depth in deck-building depth. Let's look at the range of different types of mutate effects:

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt
Sea-Dasher Octopus
Brokkos, Apex of Forever

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt leverages the mutate effects by encouraging you to play additional cards that mutate. Getting to potentially remove a creature or planeswalker and buffer our life total every time we power up a creature seems very potent. One especially interesting thing about these "three color" mutate designs is the fact that their mutate cost is only two different colors. This means we could reasonably play Snapdax in either a rw or bw deck in addition to Mardu.

The next type of mutate card we see are ones like Sea-Dasher Octopus. These ones do not have particularly impressive stat lines, but do have potent abilities we wouldn't mind adding to most creatures. Sea-Dasher Octopus strikes me as a card that is likely Constructed playable. Just on the surface level this creature is close to playable on its own and once we add mutate into the mix it really gets pushed over the top. Think of Sea-Dasher as a more flexible Curious Obsession that is never dead if you don't already have a creature in play.

The last category of mutate cards are ones like Brokkos, Apex of Forever that simply provide large stats for the creature you are mutating on to. In general I expect creatures in this category to be the least useful on average, but cards like Brokkos will likely be the exception to this since it can be played over and over again from your graveyard. Essentially making sure as long as you have at least one creature it will be a 6/6 with trample.

Past these first three mutate cards another that really jumps out at me is Vadrok, Apex of Thunder. Vadrok has a decent statline and a potent ability. I could see Vadrok being useful in conjunction with enablers like Sea-Dasher Octopus since Vadrok also provides an evasive body. It is worth noting that similar to Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, Vadrok cannot cast a spell while Teferi, Time Raveler is in play. Vadrok can however recast our own Teferi back to the battlefield though.

The other new mechanic that was introduced in Ikoria is the "Companion" mechanic that allows us to always have access to a specific creature in our starting hand so long as our deck meets a specific requirement. The companions that jump out to me as most likely to be constructed playable in Ikoria are:

Yorion, Sky Nomad
Kaheera, the Orphanguard
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Lutri, the Spellchaser

Yorion, Sky Nomad is probably my pick for the most powerful companion. Making our deck 20 cards larger in Constructed isn't difficult and from a statistical perspective it is kind of like playing a 60 card deck where we are only allowed to play three copies of our best cards instead of four. A 4 / 5 flying creature for five mana is an OK rate and there are a lot of different things in both White and Blue that we would not mind blinking. Notably Yorion can blink any non-land so this includes this like Elspeth Conquers Death and planeswalkers like Narset, Parter of Veils. I would not be surprised if this card showed up in Standard and I know I am excited to try it in formats with deeper cardpools like Modern.

Kaheera, the Orphanguard is probably the easiest of all the companions to meet the requirements for. Even in Standard there is a pretty deep selection of the creature types Kaheera cares about and in theory you could even play Kaheera to always have a 3-drop in an otherwise creatureless control deck.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den is a card that strikes me as both being playable as a companion and just being a generically good card to play as a 3-drop. Obviously its restriction prevents us from doing both at the same time, but I would not be surprised if Lurrus was a card some aristocrats decks wanted to simply play main deck. While I am not well versed in Legacy at this point, I have also heard buzz from folks that they expect this cat to make a splash there - especially alongside Lion's Eye Diamond.

Lutri, the Spellchaser is one that I would be a bit surprised if it ended up being competitive in Standard. Playing singleton in a format with a small cardpool is going to make the power level of your deck a lot lower. In larger formats like Modern, Pioneer and Historic, however, this little Otter might have a real chance.

In addition to new mechanics Ikoria also brought with it the return of the cycling mechanic! My favorite new cycler is easily this giant monster:

Yidaro, Wandering Monster

This card seems like it could be a very interesting controller finisher. While not quite as powerful as a cantrip like Opt, the fact that this cantrip doubles as a cheap threat in the late game is a big deal. Cycling in general, but especially Yidaro, seem like they will pair well with the various "draw two" cards currently Standard legal such as Improbable Alliance and Irencrag Pyromancer.

Another new thing that Ikoria brings with it is the introduction of "Shark" as an official creature type. We gained a pair of Shark based cards that seem potentially playable:

Voracious Greatshark
Shark Typhoon

Voracious Greatshark seems like a fantastic piece of top end for the flash decks that have already existed in Standard. More importantly it should be a large boon to flash decks that do not play Green since they will now get to play a card similar to Frilled Mystic. In addition to countering spells, the large body of the Greatshark should also allow it to act as a pseudo removal spell in a lot of instances by ambushing something in combat.

Shark Typhoon is a sweet design overall. It can act as a top end bomb in a largely spell based deck, but it can also just be a threat itself when cycling. Similar to Yidaro I expect to see some Typhoons alongside the various draw two cards in Standard. Something nice to note about designs like this is that because cycling is an ability - we can utilize it while Teferi, Time Raveler is in play.

Finally - the last couple of cards I would like to talk about from Ikoria are a pair of removal spells:

Mythos of Nethroi
Heartless Act

The entire Mythos cycle in this set are neat designs, but Mythos of Nethroi is likely the best among them. I really like that these are "three color" cards that you can still get some utility out of when you are missing a color. I also like that this is a pseudo Green spell that does not get targeted by things like Aether Gust.

Finally Heartless Act, while not a flashy card, feels like it will be in the running for best two-mana Black removal spell in larger formats like Pioneer, Modern and Historic. What few creatures this does miss in Modern, it will at least be able to shrink down by removing counters from them.

Wrapping Up

Figuring the puzzle of trying to fit Ikoria cards into new and existing Standard shells is one I am looking forward to in the coming weeks! What cards are you excited to jam some games with in Ikoria? Are you looking to mutate some monsters or perhaps just draw a bunch of cards with sweet cyclers?

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