Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Limited Set Review – Black

Dirge Bat Art by Paul Scott Canavan
Dirge Bat Art by Paul Scott Canavan

With excitement levels unprecedented from the Human Drafts announcement, we’ve changed/added to some of our ratings to incorporate how exciting the news is! Fittingly, Black has some fantastic support for Humans decks…

Legend

Bastion of Remembrance

iko-073-bastion-of-remembrance

Drifter: C+

This card is at its best in Orzhov and Rakdos, but honestly it’s not too bad a 3 drop in the average Black deck – it gives you some sacrifice fodder, and over the course of the game will add up to a bunch of drains. It’s pretty medium in Golgari and Dimir, and it’s not that great a topdeck anywhere, so I’ve left it at mid C+. I could see moving it down or up, as the format shakes out.

Compulsion: B

I could see this being a very powerful engine in a BW go-wide deck. It is a little awkward to draw late but you are nearly always going to get a good amount of leeching out of this card.

Blitz Leech

iko-074-blitz-leech

Drifter: C+

This is a solid 6 drop. Removing all counters is great in this set, since you can remove abilities like flying and ambush the creatures, -2/-2 is enough that it’s going to be difficult to attack or block well if they fear this card, and this card is often an easy 2 for 1. A 5/2 flash body really just trades with anything. That being said, it’s not that hard to see coming and play around it at 6 mana, which is its main weakness, but even then it will be delaying them and giving you value, and you can just force them to do something disadvantageous by attacking. As the format goes on, this kind of card gets worse since more people play around it, but overall it’s still very solid; it also pairs really well with counterspells, and I expect Blue decks, especially those with Farfinder, will be happy to splash it.

Compulsion: C

I don’t like this card all that much. The flash aspect makes it a decent trick during combat, but I see this mostly as an overcosted removal spell as it will often debuff then trade with your opponent’s best creature.

Blood Curdle

iko-075-blood-curdle

Drifter: A

Why wouldn’t I just want to make one of my creatures much more threatening for free with my premium removal spell? This is the format’s best common. It’s funny that it actually hurts Black that it only costs B because with the advent of Human drafts, people will be snapping these up to splash. This is not a card I expect to see past third pick.

Compulsion: A

Instant speed removal is going to be so good in this format that paying 4 mana for it is not a big deal at all. I don’t think the menace counter adds too much value but it is a nice bonus.

Boot Nipper

iko-076-boot-nipper

Drifter: C+

This is strong early and late; good against both aggro and mutate. You’ll go for Deathtouch late most often and Lifelink early or if you’re looking to mutate onto it; I think Deathtouch will be more common, but the versatility makes this card really shine.

Compulsion: C

I like that Boot Nipper helps you build your own mutated creature. I think Lifelink is going to be frequently used in that scenario, but it is nice to have the deathtouch option to trade if your opponent has an important (and flightless) creature.

Bushmeat Poacher

iko-077-bushmeat-poacher

Drifter: C+

1 mana to do this is a fantastic rate. This is a high C+, pairing especially well with Orzhov (where it’s more like a low B) but just being a good card to have in most black decks. Unlike other cards of its ilk like Soulreaper of Mogis, it can also gain you a ton of life, so you can use this to stave off aggression or flying beats for quite a while.

Compulsion: C+

BW Humans is looking more and more viable. 4 mana is a hefty investment but you get a decent blocker and solid engine out of it.

Call of the Death-Dweller

iko-078-call-of-the-death-dweller

Drifter: C+

Giving a creature deathtouch and menace is super strong, even if you’re just returning one 3 drop. If you can actually return a 1 and a 2, that’s fantastic value, but the average case of this card is just good, as long as you have plenty of things to bring back. I leave it at high C+, since it doesn’t scale quite as well into the late game and does take some time to get going, but I could see moving it up.

Compulsion: C+

Not every deck will want this but if your curve it low the value is quite good. Orzhov or Rakdos look to be a good home for this one.

Cavern Whisperer

iko-079-cavern-whisperer

Drifter: C+

Dreamtail Heron is a good comparison to this; it doesn’t scale as well into the late game since discard is much worse there than draw, future mutation triggers matter less, and it has a slightly worse body. That being said, it’s still a pretty good card – being able to attack immediately on t4 with a 4/4 Menace and discard them is really good, and the failcase of a 5 mana 4/4 menace isn’t terrible.

Compulsion: C+

This is a little worse than Dreamtail Heron, but similar in spirit. Since your opponent has to discard it doesn’t give up any card advantage if they blow up your mutation, and if it allowed to stick the effect keeps piling on as you add mutations.

Chittering Harvester

iko-080-chittering-harvester

Drifter: C+

Edict effects generally aren’t that amazing in Limited, but as we saw with Pharika’s Spawn which was a busted card (far better than this) in Theros: Beyond Death, repeated sacrifice really adds up. This combines with a pretty solid 4/6 body, and all of your other mutates will trigger this – your opponent is really incentivised to remove this card even after they’ve lost a creature, because it makes future mutates so much better. This is the sort of mutate synergy card you really want on that basis; it’s not as good when you’re not stacking mutates with plenty of them, so I’ve left it at C+ but I think that dedicated mutate decks will really want this, especially in Golgari.

Compulsion: C+

This one is going to depend a lot on the meta. If go-wide decks are popular they are going to be unfazed by sacrificing one (or more) 1/1s. If greedy mutation decks that go all in on one stack of creatures are the norm, this card is a great answer. At face value it seems good but not great.

Corpse Churn

iko-081-corpse-churn

Drifter: D

This is a weak form of 1 for 1 recursion, since in most decks it doesn’t give added value. It gets a lot better if you can make use of the graveyard, so I think it will be playable in some decks, especially those with the great Golgari uncommons like Back for More and Boneyard Lurker, or with Call of the Death-Dweller/Unbreakable Bond. Here’s a list of cards it synergises with – in decks that play 3 or more of these, I’d be reasonably happy to run the first copy of this card, and I’d take it at C- in Golgari in general. It’s still a D, but a very high one.

Compulsion: D

1-for-1 recursion tends to be bad in Limited. Comparing this to Aid the Fallen or even Omen of the Dead it simply falls short.

Dark Bargain

iko-082-dark-bargain

Drifter: C

The first copy of Dark Bargain was great in Dominaria; I expect it to be a bit worse here, but not too much. It’s a decent amount better than 4 mana draw two to pick the best two cards, and sometimes even the other card can produce some nice graveyard synergy. I’ve left it at C because I think that cycling cards fill this role to some degree, so there’ll be less space for cards like this.

Compulsion: C-

Four mana to draw two cards and hurt yourself is not a very good bargain, even at instant speed. It might make your deck sometimes but Black has much better playables than this.

Dead Weight

iko-083-dead-weight

Drifter: C+

Dead Weight remains a fantastic card against aggro, and still has a reasonable effect in the later game, shrinking bigger creatures by a significant amount.

Compulsion: C

Dead Weight was very good in Guilds of Ravnica but it had many good targets in that set. A lot of creatures dodge it in this format and although you can weaken them mutation triggers can still go off. I still think it is playable but wouldn’t consider it a good removal spell here.

Dirge Bat

iko-084-dirge-bat

Drifter: A

Whatever you do with this card, it’ll be great for you. You’ll often want to wait till t6 to get the big blowout, but even just eating a 2/2 in combat is fantastic, and if you want to run it out there early and pressure them if you’re ahead, it has a fantastic body for that too.

Compulsion: A

Six mana isn’t cheap, but hard removal comes at a premium in Ikoria. A minimum of a 3/3 flyer is a nice bonus, but this is also a good way for Black to give a bigger creature flying. Ideally you can destroy something end of turn and follow it up with an additional mutation on your turn to blow up something else.

Durable Coilbug

iko-085-durable-coilbug

Drifter: C-

I like how many of the 2 drops this format have a reasonable effect late game; I don’t really think things have gone wrong for you if you’re using this effect – it’s common in the late game to not have great ways to spend your mana, and this is just value there, especially if you’re milling it directly into your graveyard (which Golgari has a lot of ways to do) or looting it away. This sort of card can buy you a lot of time if you just recur it each turn and use it to trade for/double block things.

Compulsion: C-

Durable Coilbug is a little better than a Grizzly Bear, but if your best play is spending 7 mana to recur a 2/2 something has gone seriously wrong.

Duskfang Mentor

iko-086-duskfang-mentor

Drifter: B

Growing your lifelink creature every turn for only 2 mana is a great rate, and will quickly overwhelm your opponents if unchecked. There aren’t tons of other lifelink creatures in the format, but they’re all good, and as always having two creatures to hit with this is busted.

Compulsion: B

Lifelink can be very strong, especially in Limited. This card cycle is pretty cool! I like Duskfang Mentor more than its White Vigilance counterpart but less than the Blue Flying one.

Easy Prey

iko-087-easy-prey

Drifter: C

This would be terrible without cycling, but the fact that you can ditch it when you don’t have a good target really saves it. Still, it’s cycling 2 rather than 1 which hurts a lot, and really you never get to kill what you want with this kind of card; there aren’t tons of high value targets with CMC 2 or less, so you’ll have to cycle it a significant amount – in the mechanics section of the introduction, I talked at length about why cycling is a real cost outside of decks dedicated to it that are getting a great effect out of it. You can replace a medium 2 drop with this, but should never really be that happy to have it.

Compulsion: B

This is a nice way to disrupt Mutation, as often it will be targeting a creature that costs 1-2 mana. Remember, the mutating creature still resolves in this situation but the mutation trigger does not. There is a definite trend of situational cards having Cycling and it is neat from a card design/balancing standpoint.

Extinction Event

iko-088-extinction-event

Drifter: A

This is a really cool and intricate wrath; it has some downsides because your opponents can just have a split of odd and even creatures, but you have full control over it – you can trade your odd creatures with their even, you can wait for the right opportunity, and it’s really hard to see this kind of card coming.

Compulsion: A

One-sided wrath effects are amazing in Limited, even if it won’t always hit (or miss) everything you want it to. At minimum it is going to remove their best creature and more often than not get a little extra. Sure it could hit your stuff but if you know this is in your hand/deck you can play around it.

Gloom Pangolin

iko-089-gloom-pangolin

Drifter: D

This is too expensive to be a good dedicated blocker; cards in the Mutate format are more likely to exceed 5 power since you choose the biggest one of them. It’s cute with deathtouch counters and I would certainly take it higher if I already had a couple of Void Beckoners, but it’s a really mediocre card overall. This is the kind of card you want to side in, if they’re aggressive or have a lot of x/1s though, so I’d probably take it at high D in best-of-three.

Compulsion: D

I don’t see any reason why anyone would want this in their deck. Black has some sweet commons but they can’t all be winners.

Grimdancer

iko-090-grimdancer

Drifter: A

This is a low A, but really whatever you do with it is fantastic. The most common pairing will be Menace/Deathtouch, the best one for attacking, but being able to give it Lifelink/Deathtouch if you’re looking to block, or Lifelink/Menace if you’re looking to mutate onto it makes this card a house in pretty much any situation. It drops off in the late game a bit, but really not thatmuch.

Compulsion: A

This card is awesome. Not only is a 3/3 for 3 with two of these abilities great, but having the ability to mutate a larger body on top of it takes things to the next level. I wouldn’t take it over Dirge Bat but it is going to beat out a lot of rares.

Heartless Act

iko-091-heartless-act

Drifter: B

There are more counters than usual this set, but this card is still going to hit the vast majority of the format with that first mode. Still, sometimes you won’t be able to kill what you want, so it’s merely a high B – the counters mode is okay, can sometimes ambush things with flying counters, but overall isn’t that exciting. This is a good splash card, so I expect to see it less in human drafts.

Compulsion: A

You are almost always going to want to utilize the first mode, but the second option is going to be relevant sometimes. Cheap instant-speed removal with some utility? Sign me up!

Hunted Nightmare

iko-092-hunted-nightmare

Drifter: B

This is a really powerful card on turn 3 – if your opponent misses their 2 drop, they’re incredibly far behind. It can still be decent late game, since the hope is they have to double block it with whatever you give deathtouch to, but it does drop off a bit there. It pairs especially well with Blue, which has a bunch of ways to give it flying.

Compulsion: B

This is a very cool card from a flavor standpoint. I love the old ‘hunted’ cycle from Ravnica and the design on Hunted Nightmare is very good. As a Limited card I like it quite a lot. The Menace gets around the downside somewhat, and there are things like flying tokens, mutations, or removal to avoid it altogether.

Insatiable Hemophage

iko-093-insatiable-hemophage

Drifter: C+

4 mana 3/3 deathtouch is an okay rate. The mutate effect doesn’t matter by itself too much, but it benefits all your other mutate cards just by having it – when you’re stacking effects, this kind of card gets a lot better. This card gets a lot worse if you’re not doing that, so it’s a lot better in say Golgari or Dimir than as a standalone card.

Compulsion: C

I have a hard time seeing this mutate enough times to really pay off, and the deathtouch keyword does better on cheap creatures you want to trade, not the ones you are going all in mutating on top of.

Lurking Deadeye

iko-094-lurking-deadeye

Drifter: C+

The combination of Flash and a 4/2 body which can trade for basically anything together make this the best card of this ilk we’ve seen. It’s exceptionally good in Orzhov and Rakdos. It’s really nasty with first strike, so watch out for that!

Compulsion: C+

Fathom Fleet Cutthroat performed very well back in Core Set 2020. The flash on this adds some value but the applications are limited since you will need to choose between flashing it in to block or using the ability post combat.

Memory Leak

iko-095-memory-leak

Drifter: C

This is another one of those cards where Cycling 1 makes it much better, but you don’t want to play this unless your deck is likely to get some good additional effect out of the cycling, since you’ll be doing that a lot. Still, this has a more relevant effect early than Imposing Vantasaur, and you can just cycle it away late, so I consider it significantly better.

Compulsion: C

I’d be lower on a card like this if it weren’t for Cycling (1).

Mutual Destruction

iko-096-mutual-destruction

Drifter: C

This card is wildly divergent in how good it is in your deck; it all comes down to whether or not you have fodder. Antisynergy with mutate makes this a bit worse than it ordinarily is; that mechanic really wants fodder, and you’re expending it for this. Even so, it’s usually good in Orzhov and Rakdos, great with Nightsquad Commando in a deck that supports that card well and with Daysquad Marshal, and really bad if you’re trying to play it in your random midrangey decks without fodder. The flash text is worth a bit since there are three commons with it in Black.

Compulsion: C

I like Sac/Destroy spells in Orzhov or Rakdos, but other archetypes probably won’t want to play this.

Mythos of Nethroi

iko-097-mythos-of-nethroi

Drifter: A

I wouldn’t splash extra colours just to enable the second half of this, since it’s great anyway and it doesn’t add that much. If you’re splashing already, hey it’s a little bonus. In games 2 and 3, if you see some good targets where you really want the nonland part of this, and have Skitting Surveyor 2.0 (Farfinder) in your deck, you can just swap a Plains in (I don’t have a bet to see how many times I can mention Farfinder in these comments sections, I promise, the card is just really good!).

Compulsion: A

I wouldn’t worry at all about being 3-color for this one, creature removal is more than enough reason for a first pick.

Nightsquad Commando

iko-098-nightsquad-commando

Drifter: C+

You won’t always be able to get the 1/1 out of it; you do need to be able to beatdown, but if you have a good 2 drop density, most decks will be happy to have it. 3 mana for 3/4 of stats is great, and the Orzhov Humans deck go from happy to overjoyed. This also makes Mutual Destruction a lot better.

Compulsion: C+

This is a great 3-drop for Humans go-wide decks, but the rating drops significantly if you aren’t in that archetype.

Serrated Scorpion

iko-099-serrated-scorpion

Drifter: D

This card seems like total trash to me – I didn’t consider Garrison Cat particularly good, but a 1/1 is worth much more than draining them for two. I don’t foresee myself ever playing this card really; things have to have gone really wrong and I need to really be desperate for cheap mutate fodder, but when that can be just any nonhuman creature, I’ll be able to do better the vast majority of the time. This is a low D.

Compulsion: C-

If you are in need of some cheap mutate targets you could do worse than this. Leeching two provides some minor compensation if you end up getting 2-for-1’d. In a deck that isn’t stacked with mutate creatures this doesn’t really have a place though.

Suffocating Fumes

iko-100-suffocating-fumes

Drifter: C+

Cycling 2 makes this card a lot better, but honestly -1/-1 to only their stuff at instant speed is decent to begin with. I would be happy to main deck one of these in most of my Black decks since between killing x/1s and really diminishing their attacks and blocks, it will do plenty.

Compulsion: C-

Having a sideboard option like this against Humans go-wide decks is not a bad idea at all. If those decks take over the meta then this rating may go up, but until that shakes out this is not a card I want in my main deck.

Unbreakable Bond

iko-101-unbreakable-bond

Drifter: C

This card is a very reasonable 1 of: lifelink is a great thing to put on the creature you’re reanimating and transforms medium into good threats. In this format specifically, you’re more likely to get back a high value thing since you can just cycle away gigantic creatures early to get back with this. It gets worse in multiples, but I think most Golgari decks will be reasonably happy to run 2 since there are some self-mill cards in Green too.

Compulsion: C-

Raise Dead effects are typically bad in Limited. Unless you have some really incredible non-mutate creatures in your deck this is not the five mana spell you are looking for.

Unexpected Fangs

iko-102-unexpected-fangs

Drifter: C-

A lifelink counter by itself isn’t worth a card, and +1/+1 doesn’t threaten to ambush most creatures. Put together, this does enough to be worth it but not really something you’re excited to play; it’s better in Golgari where you can just win most races with this + a big creature.

Compulsion: C-

I would play this if I had Duskfang Mentor or several large creatures to go with it, but there are better tricks to play in most decks.

Unlikely Aid

iko-103-unlikely-aid

Drifter: C-

Unlikely Aid was an okay card in War of the Spark, never anything particularly exciting. It looks to be slightly better here, since it protects your Mutates, and having bigger creatures means they’re more likely to have to double block. It does net you some value against removal spells too, since if you ever get to counter one for 2 mana, you’re super far ahead. It also gets better with cycling, since you’re less likely to waste mana holding this up. All in all, this is just an okay filler card that some decks will be happy to run 1 of. It’s worse in Orzhov since White just has better tricks, and you don’t want too many in your deck. You rarely want more than 1.

Compulsion: C-

This looks to play more of a protection role than aggressive one. I didn’t love playing this card in War of the Spark but it got the job done in certain situations. I could see cards like this slowing down the format, where players will wait to cast their important mutation until they have two extra mana to hold up for it (similar to how Starlight Mantle was often played in THB).

Void Beckoner

iko-104-void-beckoner

Drifter: B

This cycling ability is absurd – unlike with Bladebrand, even if they kill your creature in response, you still draw a card so it’s still just a 1 for 1. Granting deathtouch permanently really just means you can cycle this whenever you have time; you don’t need to ambush a creature for it to be good since it’s just free value. This is all coupled with the fact that sometimes you’ll get flooded or sometimes a game will go long, and the giant creature side of this will just win you the game. This card couples great versatility with staggering power.

Compulsion: C+

Bladebrand 2.0 is cool and all, and i’d like to have it in my Black decks. I don’t think this is a card I take in the first couple picks, though. 8 mana is quite a lot and I expect spells that cost that much to all but win the game and this does not do that.

Whisper Squad

iko-105-whisper-squad

Drifter: D

The problem with cards like this is you only ever want to draw one, no matter how many you play. A 1/1 for 2 is very unexciting so if you ever draw two, you just end up a full card down. Rather counter-intuitively, you don’t really want too many of these if you do choose to play it; you want like 3 at most, and then maybe with sacrifice outlets/cards like Bastion of Remembrance or in Orzhov Humans with Sanctuary Lockdown, it’ll actually be a reasonable card in your deck. It’s still not something you ever want to prioritise, and you do need a lot of synergy for it to be worth it.

Compulsion: F

I am going to lose to Whisper Squad now aren’t I.

Zagoth Mamba

iko-106-zagoth-mamba

Drifter: C

This is a hard card to rate without seeing how the mutate decks play out; if you really want a lot of them in your Black decks, then this card is great, since it is cheap and strong mutate fodder, and helps mitigate mutate’s downsides. Remember that you can attack with your creatures first and then use this to trade up, and -2/-2 will not only kill their small creatures but really mess with thier blocks. It’ll be especially good in Golgari and you should take it at C+ if you’re already there.

Compulsion: B

This is a premier mutate target in Ikoria. You definitely need a healthy amount of mutate creatures to target it with, but Disfigure is an excellent payoff and there are even some flash mutate creatures that make this even better. I am looking to take this card early if I see it in my first couple drafts and look forward to playing with it.

Conclusions

Drifter

Both colours are great in both regards, but Blue has slightly better uncommons and Black has significantly better commons, and the latter matters more. It’ll be interesting to see which ultimately wins out, but with the advent of Human Drafts (!), it’ll be hard to get some of the really good Black commons like Blood Curdle and Blitz Leech since people will also take them highly to splash/pivot into. Still Black is no one trick pony, with good mutates and synergy cards, and it has fewer weaknesses, so I expect it to be a really hard-fought competition against Blue. I’ll do a proper colour ranking at the end, but I’m really happy with Black; I suspect it will also have far better synergy with the other colours than Blue, which is kind of off doing its own powerful thing but still really needs support from them – Rakdos and Orzhov look pretty menacing, and Golgari Mutate is definitely loving the bag of Nightmares Black has to offer.

Compulsion

All in all Black seems good. As usual the main draw for playing this color is the removal spells, but there is a lot to like at common in this set. There looks to be a lot of support for Orzhov, Rakdos, or even Mardu Humans. Golgari Monsters looks like a great archetype as well, while pairing Blue and Black doesn’t look as intriguing as it normally does despite the high individual power level of both colors. I will keep an open mind there, though. At this point my impression is Blue > Black > White, but remember color rankings are far less important than synergy formed between 2-and-3 color combinations. I will be writing an article before Ranked-er-Quick Draft drops for the set on May 1st that goes over the key archetypes/wedges that make up this set. The timing will allow me to play a bunch of Premier (Human!) Drafts in the meantime to get a good feel for the set.

Drifter

Drifter is our site’s content manager and main editor! Follow him on Twitter and check out his content at https://mtgazone.com/drifter. A draft and strategy specialist, of special mention are his limited reviews and draft coaching service.

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A Planeswalker
A Planeswalker
5 months ago

Guys, great review, as well of the other colors, thanks a lot! Don’t think you need to make a comparison to LSV ratings 😉

Datze
Datze
5 months ago

Can’t wait for the rest of the reviews 🙂 Thanks for your work!

William
William
5 months ago

I think Unbreakable Bond, along with the other rise effects (within reason) are actually going to be pretty strong in the format. There are plenty of huge creatures with cycling at common and uncommon in most colors, like Void Beckoner, Titanoth Rex, Greater Sandwurm, Sanctuary Smasher, Lava Serpent and even Rooting Moloch to a lesser degree. Not only does cycling with rise effects allow you to ramp into those at no card disadvantage, it means you’re much less likely to not have a target, which is one of the scenarios that made rise effects in other formats more unreliable and was detrimental to their playability.

Great Review, I look forward to the remaining colors.

Shadowspawn
Shadowspawn
5 months ago

I feel that Whisper Squad will be a little better than anticipated. EoT search for attacking next turn, thinning your deck, ETB/LTB triggers, recursion…