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Building With Ikoria

Written by Scott Campbell on . Posted in Competitive Magic

Building With Ikoria

Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell, also known as MTGPackFoils, has played Magic: the Gathering since Revised. He mostly plays Azorius based Control, or Golgari based Midrange decks. He also enjoys MLB, D&D, and is a former DJ.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to LegitMTG. The full set of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has been revealed, and while we can only play the set on Magic Arena, or Magic Online, until the middle of May (hopefully) we can still build with these cards in some manner. So you know what that means, right?

Yep! It’s Construction Time Again.

(Yes Depeche Mode is great.)


I will take a look at a card in each color, and provide some insight where to begin looking when building decks, or inserting it into existing Modern decks. Before we begin let’s take a look at some of the mechanics, and a theme.



With the focus on Commander players with each set release this year Ikoria is full of fun, and interesting options for those of us who enjoy the multi-player singleton format. Cards with Companion bring a bit of that flavor to Standard. These cards take up a sideboard slot, and are always revealed during the course of the game. You can cast them once, putting them into play, and then they act just as any other creature. These cards are all hybrid colored cards, and there is one for each color combination providing us ten companions in total. 

Each one has a unique deckbuilding restriction only allowing certain cards in your deck. For the above example in Zirda, the Dawnmaker each permanent card in your deck has to have an activated ability. This not only covers permanents that tap to produce an effect (either with or without a mana cost), but also planeswalkers.

A lot of these cards will produce unique deckbuilding opportunities, and even if you don’t wish to use them as your Companion you can still play them in your deck. 


Have you ever had a card in your hand that you can’t cast for multiple turns, and wish it was something else? This is where Cycling comes into play. This ability is not only powerful, but can be found on any color card in this set. Cycling is a returning mechanic so take a look at cards with this ability, and you might be able to forge a brand new archetype in the format.


I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe these were made. Lands that would normally come into play tapped that produce three colors, such as Opulent Palace, have been the standard of design for those types of lands. Now you can use a fetchland to put these into play. These would be solid turn one plays if you do not have a spell to cast, or a solid target of your fetchland during turns where you want to find a land but don’t need to leave a mana open. My only concern is that we only have five of them. Once we have the full cycle of these lands then we can better evaluate this design. These will definitely be solid picks ups for Commander, but that goes without saying.

Mana Rocks

Speaking of Commander here we have a set of mana rocks that have Cycling. While don’t expect these to see any Modern play they are excellent pickups for Commander, however like the lands we don’t have a full set of all three color combinations.


Now we get to the meat and potatoes of the set. Mutate is a mechanic allowing you to mutate your non-human creatures into something more powerful. When you cast a Mutate spell for it’s special Mutate cost you can then choose which creature (the one already in play, or the one with Mutate) is on top, and which is on bottom. Once you make that decision the top creature represents it’s abilities, power, and toughness as normal, but it also has the text box abilities of the creature on the bottom.

Let’s take a look at the example above. If you mutate Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt, onto a creature that has Trample, then you have a creature that has Double Strike, and Trample.

 …oh and abilities such as the one on Snapdax will trigger when you mutate.

You can mutate a creature as many times as you have cards with that ability. Build your own monster, or play an army of creatures. The choice is yours. While I don’t see this ability making the leap to Modern it will be interesting to see how many fair decks try to use these cards as their top end threat.


Are you not a fan of the monsters in the set? That’s fine as there are quite a few Humans to build around. Once again Wizards of the Coast has provided yet even more Humans. While the namesake deck has been somewhat absent from Modern recently the options in this set could either reinvigorate the archetype, or…mutate it…to run different cards. I expect an Orzhov Taxes to be the first experiment in this direction as the mana is not as painful as traditional builds, plus cards such as Kitesail Freebooter, and Sin Collector slot right into such a build. 

Honorable mentions

Those are some pretty interesting mechanics, and hopefully they will spark some imagination, however now it’s time to look at the individual colors as well as my picks. First though I want to review some honorable mentions.

Corpse Churn is a reprint from Oath of the Gatewatch (I missed it too!), and while not powerful at first glance I can see this as an option in Vengevine based decks. With it being an instant you can use it to save a creature from Surgical Extraction, or other graveyard hate. Unlike Dredge there are not a lot of cards that allow you to “draw” (such as Cathartic Reunion) so this could be a welcome addition.

Currently in Modern the removal suite has been the one mana spells. Path to Exile, Fatal Push, and Lightning Bolt. However now we have a two mana unconditional creature removal spell. Most creatures in the format will not have counters on them so this card can definitely see quite a bit of play. With it being able to kill any creature there is a chance it could replace Fatal Push in some decks, but only time (and testing) will tell.

 While Neutralize may not seem exciting at first, especially with Archmage’s Charm being the definitive three mana counterspell in Modern, the fact this can cycle early drawing you an extra card can be key. Blue based control decks want to draw cards, especially on the opponent’s turn, and having this in your graveyard gives you the option to flash it back with Snapcaster Mage, or put it back on top of your library with Mystic Sanctuary.


 White often times receives either some very basic cards, or cards that can provide some measure of hate vs other archetypes. It does seem like recent design has tried to provide Death & Taxes decks additional measure to combat some strategies, and this will be no different. Not only does this impact spells with Flashback, but cards with Escape can not be cast from their graveyards either while this is in play. Protect this card with Giver of Runes, and your opponent is playing on your level: fairly.


As I mentioned with Neutralize above blue based decks want to draw cards, and with this card having Flash you can do just that. Imagine if you will in a Stoneblade deck mutating your creature equipped with Sword of Feast and Famine. You can now draw a card as well as untap your mana, and watch the opponent discard a card. That’s quite the value! Any deck that has an evasive threat can use this to draw extra cards, but be careful you don’t try to mutate a creature with protection from blue!


Perhaps one of the most discussed cards based on it’s wording you can destroy a creature at instant speed by paying two mana plus a bladk mana, or you can destroy a nonland permanent if you spend a white, a black, and a green when casting this spell. You will need to be careful with how you tap your mana when using this spell. While I can see this finding a home in Abzan Midrange decks the removal spells available for that archetype already are quite plentiful. This could, perhaps, replace Maelstrom Pulse and/or Abrupt Decay providing you a Vindcate type spell. It’s definitely worth testing, but it may be too slow for the archetype.


Remember above when I talked about Cycling perhaps becoming a new archetype? Well here you have a finisher. Being able to turn this enchantment into a strong creature each time you cycle can not only provide you a solid blocker, but a creature to end the game quickly. Couple with Teferi, Time Raveler, and your opponent has to use spells on their own turn to get rid of it…while this is an enchantment.


Now this is a quality reprint. Sure it’s not expensive, but for anyone who wants to play a Tribal deck, such as Elves, this is definitely something you need. It’s now also legal in the Magic Arena format Historic, and is now also Pioneer legal. Green didn’t really do much for me in this set, but this card stuck out. A lot. We need more playable reprints like this.


Anyone who has followed me for any length of time knows how much I love Azorius based control strategies, and should know how excited I am to play with this card. Prior to the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor if you wanted to play any form of control more than likely you play Jeskai. More of a glorified burn deck it packed spells such as Lightning Bolt, and Lightning Helix to burn out the opponent. Now with Narset the turn you play her you can get a free Bolt, or even a free Path to Exile, using her +1 ability. You could even use the -2 to discard a Cryptic Command to remove a creature with four toughness, or perhaps deal with a planeswalker. I can’t wait to test with this card, and although I have been a tried and true Azorius Mage for years this card alone may cause me to change my stance on that.

In Conclusion

While Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths may be providing more for Standard, and Commander, than it does for Modern there are still some possible gems to mine from this set. Don’t hesitate to try out some new cards in your existing archetypes, and watch your deck mutate into more powerful versions of its former self.

What cards do you like from this set? Are you seeing any possible new archetypes? Let me know with a comment, and follow me on Twitter as well as Facebook.

Next week

I will return to flush out one of the archetypes I’ve mentioned in this very article, so stay tuned.

…until then.



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