The original Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths release date would be just around the corner. Because of the global pandemic we still got to bite our nails and make our palms sweaty for almost a month. From the perspective of the Commander format, the forthcoming set seems to be a blast! At the very moment, Ikoria is released there will also be the first set of Commander decks for the year 2020 seeing the daylight. In this episode of Poroscope, we will dig into the base set of Ikoria.
As is easily interpreted from the name, Ikoria brings a variety of monsters to Magic. Ultimatum cards, originating from Alara will finally get their last counterparts to fulfill the cycle.
From the ultimatums, Ruinous Ultimatum and Eerie Ultimatum seem to be very strong and ultimate indeed. In line with the previous ultimatums, the new ones also have very heavy mana costs regarding tons of colored mana to cast - if you are not about to cheat them into play. The other ultimatums are also nice, but not as powerful as the Abzan or Mardu ones in regards to Commander gameplay.
The triple-color combinations also receive another cycle of cards when a cycle of Mythos is printed in Ikoria. Mythos cards are mono-colored, but their color identity is three colors and using certain colors instead of generic mana the effect is slightly changed. In this cycle, the Mardu one seems to be the strongest once again. It creates a cataclysm-like effect and if you cast it with red and black, you can decide which cards are not sacrificed. The Abzan mythos is a nice spot removal that might see the play also. Other ones don't seem to be strong enough to become commander staples.
Besides Ultimatums and Mythos', the triple-colors will also get one legendary creature each with the mutate ability. Mutate let's a player cast the creature spell with it's mutate cost targeting a non-human creature already on the battlefield. If a player does so, the creature will mutate with the target creature and the player decides to put the mutated card on the top or below the target creature. If the target is illegal when the Mutate spell resolves, the creature will just enter the battlefield as it normally would.
The mutated creature has the name, power, and toughness of the topmost card and abilities of the cards below it. If the mutated creature is removed from the battlefield, all the mutated cards on the same pile are put into the players' graveyard or to the right location depending on the spell cast to the mutated creature. A card can mutate as many times a player wants. If the mutated creature has the commander of any player at any time, it will be treated as the player's commander and it will also deal commander damage. This is because the commander is tied to the physical card by the rules of the commander format. Commander tax applies also to the mutate cost if the player's commander has mutate ability.
Mutate provides interesting opportunities. If the player plays a lot of mutate cards in the deck that triggers each time a creature mutates or has mutated, the deck can be built around this mechanic pretty well. All of the five Legendary Creatures from Ikoria are very mutate centric. In my opinion, the best are Abzan colored Nethroi, Apex of Death, which gives a powerful reanimate effect for its player. Another one is Brokkos, Apex of Forever, which can mutate from the graveyard. If Brokkos is your commander, the commander tax will naturally be avoided if the creature is cast from the graveyard. This lets the player cast the creature numerous times with the original mana cost.
The triple-color cycle gets also one enchantment for each color combination. From these three the Song of Creation and Whirlwind of Thought are the most powerful. The first one can push a player to a massive storm turns with drawing cards, the latter one offers a constant card advantage. The other three are not as powerful as these two but they also offer nice deck building possibilities.
Outside the cycles, there are some picks that I wish to highlight. Some of these might see play in cEDH and some in the more casual tables but overall, these are cards that every commander player should check out. Drannith Magistrate is the first pick. This card really stops Food Chain or Underworld Breach combos, but all in all, it also doesn't let your opponents cast their commanders from the command zone. This ability is very strong for a two-mana creature card. It is highly unsure will this card be legal in commander for how long time as it's power is very strong with very little drawback. From white cards, the Luminous Broodmoth is also very likely to generate some nice combos with Solemnity. It is a strong card even without it, especially in reanimator style decks. In other one-color cards, the Vivien, Monsters' Advocate seems pretty interesting. Tutoring a combo piece when casting your Kiki-Jiki sounds pretty strong!
From the two-color cards there are some legendaries that can be your commander if you want to brew a whole deck around them! From these legends, my favorites are Rielle, the Everwise and Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy. The first works pretty well with cards that discard and draw cards. It is possible to find some nice support for this kind of commander. It can also work in some other commander decks. For example Nekusar, the Mindrazer could have a slot for a card drawing creature. Kinnan lets you generate more mana from your mana producing creatures so it is a good include for decks playing mana dorks. From non-legendary two-color creatures Fiend Artisan is worth noting. This creature let's you cheat creatures from your deck into play. Even though you have to pay mana for those creatures, it is still easier to tutor for them than trying to draw into them. I'd say this card will see a lot of commander play.
From the section of the lands, we will get three-color fetchable lands that come into play tapped! This is a nice addition since if you are playing fetch lands, there is always room for some nice targets for them. And if you draw to these later in the game, you can always cycle them away!
Is that all? No way! Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths brings yet another huge change to the commander format and to the Magic overall. The Companion mechanic lets the player cast their chosen Companion once in the game outside of the game. In other formats with sideboards, the chosen companion will be in the player's sideboard. In Commander, the companion is just outside of the game so it doesn't count towards the limit of 100 cards. Does this sound too powerful? Worry not - the companions have deck restrictions to allow you to choose them as your companion. There are ten possible companions, which of one has already been banned in commander. Lutri, the Spellchaser can be your companion, if all your nonland cards in your starting deck have different names. In commander this means that Lutri would've been a possible companion in all the decks playing blue and red, making it a zero effort auto-include in your deck. The Commander rules committee saw this as a possible negative effect for the format and decided to ban the card even before it was actually released on paper.
All the companions can be played in the player's deck as well. Since they are legendary, they can be played also as commanders. If the player decides to use a companion, it must be announced when the game is about to start.
The companions overall are interesting cards. Besides already banned Lutri, the Yorion, Sky Nomad cannot be played in Commander as a companion as it requires the player to play 120 card deck, which is not allowed. Lurrus of the Dream Den is also pretty tricky, as the commander has to meet the requirements for the companion as well. That lets the player to play Lurrus as a companion only if Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim or Karlov of the Ghost Council is the player's commander. One of the most speculative ones of the companions is Zirda, the Dawnwaker. Zirda lowers the cost of non-mana activated abilities of permanents you control by two generic mana. This will generate infinite colorless mana with either Basalt Monolith or Grim Monolith. Zirda restricts the player to have only permanents with activated ability in their deck to allow it to be your companion. In any case, Zirda is a combo piece for infinite colorless mana and easily playable if it is your companion so it is indeed very powerful.
The restrictions for other companions offer a possibility to build around pretty easily, even though the restrictions are pretty wide. Kaheera, the Orphanguard is nevertheless easy to include in the Commander 2017 precon Arahbo, Roar of the World cat tribal deck. Obosh, the Preypiercer could be an interesting companion to for example Vial Smasher, the Fierce deck. Jegantha, the Wellspring could fit into a Jodah, Archmage Eternal deck if built according to the companion restrictions.
Keruga, the Macrosage, and Umori, the Collector seem to be very restricting if the player doesn't want to exactly build a deck with the companions in mind. In Keruga deck, the lack of one and two mana spells can make the deck pretty slow. Umori, the Collector will greatly restrict the cards a player can play in their deck thus limiting it to either creatures or artifacts. Gyruda, Doom of the Depths might also be a bit restrictive. However, in legacy, there has already been a turn one combo deck with Gyruda that plays only fast mana and copying creatures. In commander, the singleton limits this possibility but it might be still a bit too early to say that you cannot build a deck with similar, maybe slower strategy and have Gyruda as your companion. The time will tell!
In other formats, the companion mechanic seems to be dominating right now. We will see if the companions will eat the ban hammer or if there will be even more companions in MTG in the future. In Commander, the companions don't seem to be game-breaking, at least not yet.
Commander Ban update!
At the beginning of this week, there was a commander ban update! As Lutri got the pre-emptive boot, also the cEDH metagame got warped by the ban of Flash. Flash has been a key piece to a deck archetype called Flash Hulk. This ban is strictly pointed out to the cEDH and is probably the first time the rules committee regulates the cards in commander by an invitation by players. The committee said in its article, that they have been connected many times about the issue and that in mind they have decided to ban the Flash. We will see in the near future will this create more diversion in the cEDH meta!
The reason for Flash being so oppressive in EDH is that it creates a two-card instant speed combo that can be played at any good spot to win the game straight on. In the tables I've been playing cEDH lately, the Flash Hulk decks have been a minority. A bigger part of the meta has been playing Dockside Extortionist and Underworld Breach, so the ban of Flash doesn't really affect the local games. Though now, when the Flash is completely ruled out of the games it might be that players divert more to the direction of answers for Dockside Extortionist and Breach. We will see how meta develops!
Pekka "Löhis" Löhönen