Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Limited Set Review – Blue

Boon of the Wish-Giver Art by Chris Rahn
Boon of the Wish-Giver Art by Chris Rahn

Today, we gaze upon the mutant abominations as they emerge, heaving their wings through stormy skies or slicing fins through slimy depths… Blue has a lot going for it this set, having a self-contained and great fliers deck, and offering great support to every other colour in the form of extremely powerful noncreature spells.

Legend

Aegis Turtle

iko-039-aegis-turtle

Drifter: C-

0/5 is a better statline than most walls get, and should be able to block even mutated creatures decently. I suspect the combination of that and being bad mutate fodder makes this a playable, if unexciting, early drop. This card tends to be good in fliers decks, and those are heavily supported in Blue this time round.

Compulsion: D

It doesn’t have Defender so you can mutate it I guess? Even if I am playing a deck that wants to ‘turtle’ I don’t foresee playing this one. You should be able to find better targets for Dreamtail Heron.

Anticipate

iko-040-anticipate

Drifter: D

Blue’s power level is high enough this format that I suspect you can just do better than Anticipate in almost every deck. It gets a bit better if you have some bombs you want to search for, but you should never be too excited to run it especially in a cycling format – you can use the mana for that if you really need to.

Compulsion: D

Anticipate gets printed a lot, and I almost never want to play it. There is nothing about this format that makes it more appealing this time around.

Archipelagore

iko-041-archipelagore

Drifter: B

When your 7/7 has pseudohaste and takes something out of combat for two turns, that’s a huge game. This is the sort of mutate creature I want, and is well worth the risk of being 2 for 1ed, because it has such a huge immediate impact on t6. If they can’t kill it, it threatens to crush them at any point you draw another mutate creature, and outsizes the vast majority of other creatures in the format… hopefully you’ve been exhaust their removal a bit by the time it comes down. Even the failcase of 7 mana 7/7 really isn’t that bad; this is the kind of Mutate creature I’ll be prioritising.

Compulsion: C+

I am scratching my head a little on this one because it is going to be really format dependent. At this point I think the ability is better than it looks. I foresee many games being a faceoff of super-powered mutated creatures. Being able to tap down theirs and attack twice past it seems quite good, and if you have a good amount of mutate creatures in your deck you can keep piling on.

Avian Oddity

iko-042-avian-oddity

Drifter: B

This cycling ability is busted. You can use it to ambush enemy fliers or just suit up a great threat without even costing yourself a card. That combined with a failcase of a 2/4 flier for 4, which is a fine rate, makes this a card I’m happy to take early.

Compulsion: C+

Flying counters sound pretty good in Limited, and this provides one for ‘free.’ I won’t be thrilled to play a 2/4 flyer for 4, but it isn’t bad if you need a creature in a pinch.

Boon of the Wish-Giver

iko-043-boon-of-the-wish-giver

Drifter: A

This card is completely absurd and likely the best single-colour uncommon. Cycling for 1 is just nuts on a card that wins the late game as hard as this one; it almost completely eliminates all associated costs. This is a card I’d be excited to first pick.

Compulsion: A

6 mana is an amazing rate for three extra cards, and Cycling (1) really seals the deal. While it doesn’t win by itself, if you aren’t too far behind when you cast it your odds of winning go up dramatically. Boon of the Wish-Giver is an easy first pick and one of the best uncommons in the set.

Capture Sphere

iko-044-capture-sphere

Drifter: C+

This is removal on the slower side but in a format full of giant mutated monsters, you take what you can get.

Compulsion: C+

The Flash can punish precombat mutations but generally this is an overcosted Pacifism. I am still happy to pay the fee in this Godzilla filled format.

Convolute

iko-045-convolute

Drifter: C-

3 mana counterspells that fall off in the late game aren’t really very exciting – it’s hard to get all that big a tempo lead, and Green ramps in this set a lot, so it will be able to pay the 4 in short order.

Compulsion: C-

While this is mostly a hard-counter, outside of cycling there aren’t a lot of good instants to play beside it. If you pass with an Island untapped your opponent will know what is happening. You need to get ahead on the board in order to hold this up which is why I am not usually interested.

Crystacean

iko-046-crystacean

Drifter: D

This is just too expensive to be a good mainboard inclusion. I’m happy to side this in against decks playing lots of x/1s though, and there are a few decks with lots of instants that might want it.

Compulsion: D

For example, passing with mana open to counterspell or play 1/6’s is probably not the deck you want to be playing.

Dreamtail Heron

iko-047-dreamtail-heron

Drifter: B

Why don’t we forget all that nonsense about risking 2 for 1s with mutation, and instead just have 3/4 fliers for 4 that threaten to get even more value if left alive?

Compulsion: B

I love this card and can’t believe it is common. Seeing this made me suddenly very interested in playing Blue.

Escape Protocol

iko-048-escape-protocol

Drifter: B

This card is great even if you don’t have tons of ETBs – it makes removal look like a joke, and allows you to repeatedly block creatures by blocking then flickering the blocker. If you happen to have even something as innocuous as Frost Lynx, there’s really not much they can do. I suspect this is an uncommon you really want in any deck with 7 or more cyclers, and will take it highly.

Compulsion: C+

If your deck has several Enter the Battlefield creatures and Cyclers it could be worth running. It helps against Pacifism and Capture sphere, which are sure to be heavily played, and instant speed makes this effect much more useful.

Essence Scatter

iko-049-essence-scatter

Drifter: C+

Mutations count as creature spells, so Essence Scatter is fantastic. 2 mana to counter most of what you care about countering is a nuts rate;this is a high C+.

Compulsion: C+

I tend to like playing Essence Scatter. Two mana is fairly easy to hold up and decks are looking to be creature heavy.

Facet Reader

iko-050-facet-reader

Drifter: C+

While cycling does some of the Reader’s job, it does its job cheaply enough to remind me of Merfolk Looter, a busted Limited card. Being a 2 mana 1/2 does suck though.

Compulsion: C

Run of the mill but decent two drop. You can’t mutate him but looting is a great effect to have in prolonged games.

Frost Lynx

iko-051-frost-lynx

Drifter: C+

Frost Lynx returns to be a solid Limited card again! It buys you a ton of time and has a reasonable body.

Compulsion: C+

Blue is sure packing a lot of Core Set staples. Frost Lynx is always a good card to have (and a nice candidate for Escape Protocol).

Frostveil Ambush

iko-052-frostveil-ambush

Drifter: C

This card is really expensive to hardcast, so the main mode of it isn’t super exciting, but it’s the exact card Cycling 1 really wants to be stapled onto. I’d be happy to run 1 of it in most decks, and more in decks that really want cards that cycle for 1.

Compulsion: C

Frostveil Ambush is no Sleep, but at instant speed it potentially locks down two entire combats for those creatures. The double Blue mana cost does make it less splashable than one might want, so the value of this card will often come down to how important Cycling is to your deck.

Glimmerbell

iko-053-glimmerbell

Drifter: C

This is a fine 2 drop, giving vigilance to itself and mutates in the late game is okay upside. It’s not actually that exciting for the fliers decks.

Compulsion: C

Facet Reader and this thing are not thrilling options for Blue players, but they are serviceable. This one works well with Gust of Wind and provides flying/untap when it mutates so it will often be a better bet.

Gust of Wind

iko-054-gust-of-wind

Drifter: C+

If you ever get to cast this for 2 mana and enable an attack, you’re just crushing your opponent, and there are enough fliers in Blue that that should happen a lot. I’ve left it at C+ because it’s a lot less exciting if you’re not a fliers deck or can’t capitalise well on the tempo, and you don’t want to run too many for fear of having a couple trapped in your hand.

Compulsion: B

Dreamtail Heron and this have Blue looking pretty darn good right now. I would take Heron over Gust of Wind but they are close and complimentary.

Hampering Snare

iko-055-hampering-snare

Drifter: D

If this cycled for 1, I’d be much happier, but as is I don’t think you should play it very often. As I said in the mechanics description, you really don’t want to be cycling too many cards each game in decks that lack great cycling payoffs, and this effect isn’t worth it.

Compulsion: D

This doesn’t do enough to justify a card. Spells like this are going to trap some players because they think ‘I can always cycle it if I don’t need it.’ The problem is most or all of a turn is sacrificed when you cycle (especially (2)), which can end up putting you behind on the board enough to snowball.

Keep Safe

iko-056-keep-safe

Drifter: C-

This card reads powerfully, but in my experience effects like this tend to be a trap. At 2 mana, they’re hard to hold up and an opponent experienced with the format won’t let you make good use of them until the late game. I’m still going to give this a C-, since it’s easier to hold up in a format full of cycling, but I’m sceptical. Starlit Mantle did a lot more in more situations than this card does, like ambushing creatures and providing Enchantment triggers; the card rarely just rotted in your hand forever. The big mutates are going to cost lots of mana, so you won’t have time to hold this up. I deliberated moving this down to D and wouldn’t be shocked if I did so in a tier list update.

Compulsion: C

I can imagine playing important Mutate creatures off curve to back them up with something like this. Starlit Mantle was a pretty nice card and this is even better.

Mystic Subdual

iko-057-mystic-subdual

Drifter: C

-2/-0 is just too small a reduction to make this card especially great; it’s good against aggro and mutates but it drops off quickly. Sometimes you’ll be able to ambush creatures with it or shut off important abilities, and it goes well in the fliers decks Blue naturally favours, but it does nothing all that impressively all in all and the effect falls off quickly.

Compulsion: C+

I like this more than Capture Sphere because it shuts down mutations outright. Whatever remains can attack you but it is a lot less threatening, and some abilities can trigger despite Capture Sphere or evade it outright (untap).

Mythos of Illuna

iko-058-mythos-of-illuna

Drifter: A

Clone was fantastic in Limited, and this card is a lot more than that. You can copy any permanent, including their nasty artifacts, enchantments, and (god forbid) planeswalkers. In a format with Skittering Surveyor 2.0 (Farfinder) at common, splashing will be easier and the fight ability is a nice cherry on top, but you don’t really even need to splash for this to be nuts. This is a high A, missing out on S only because rarely neither you nor your opponent will have something good to copy, and it’s a bit worse against aggro.

Compulsion: A

The best part about this is you get to copy the entire stack when you target a mutation pile. I think this will be the best Limited environment for clone effects in a long time, possibly ever.

Neutralize

iko-059-neutralize

Drifter: C-

I don’t think cycling 2 actually does that much for this card – you’re only going to want to cycle this in the late game because it will take your whole turn to do so, and counterspells are at their best in the late game. The only times cycling this will be good are if you’re behind and need to dig for a land or a creature, and that’s really unexciting. I also don’t want to just hold my mana up and cycle this away if they don’t play into it, that just sounds very unexciting. This is a pretty low C-, but it has a home as a 1-of in some slower decks .

Compulsion: C

I actually like that this has a cycling mode as it allows you to hold up a counter and still be able to do something if you opponent passes or plays something inconsequential. I like this one more than Convolute but less than Essence Scatter.

Of One Mind

Of One Mind

Drifter: C+

This card is obviously busted if you can cast it for 1 mana, but Divination isn’t too bad either. I left it at C+, because as you can see here, there’s only one Human in Blue at common, but if you’re in Azorius or Dimir then this is a B.

Compulsion: C+

Blue keeps getting nuttier at common. Casting this for 3 is perfectly reasonable so it is all upside from there.

Ominous Seas

iko-061-ominous-seas

Drifter: D

The cycling on this is expensive and this ability is really slow. The Kraken doesn’t do anything special apart from being big. I do think it gets better in dedicated cycling decks which have other payoffs, since you can really reduce the number of turns required, but I’m not fond in general.

Compulsion: C

Obviously you need to have several Draw/cycling spells for this to be playable. I am imagining a UW deck with cycling payoffs and Vulpikeet that could make good use of this. Casting this on turn 2 all but ensures at least one Kraken and it can be cycled if you draw it late. There is some potential in this one.

Phase Dolphin

iko-062-phase-dolphin

Drifter: C

I like this card – it blocks well for the fliers decks and then later on can give them a final push to victory. This ability is also a good one to mutate onto, and it combines especially well with Thieving Otter; if you happen to have that card already, you can take this slightly higher. This is a high C.

Compulsion: C

This is a much better version of Mistford River Turtle. It is cheaper, less conditional, and can be mutated. I could even see taking it over Frost Lynx in some decks.

Pollywog Symbiote

iko-063-pollywog-symbiote

Drifter: C+

This is a really sweet 2 drop, since it has double synergy with mutate; that being said Blue only has one mutate at common and two at uncommon, so you’re going to need to pair this with Black or Green to really go wild.

Compulsion: B

I can see some really scary mutation chains starting with Pollywog Symbiote. It is rare to see a card that enables and pays off a mechanic at the same time.

Pouncing Shoreshark

iko-064-pouncing-shoreshark

Drifter: B

Man-o-wars don’t usually come this big and when they do, they’re a huge game. While you still get 2 for 1ed by removal, the tempo loss for your opponent can make that well worth it, and being able to mutate this at instant speed is really strong. Playing it as a 5 mana 4/3 flash is pretty mediocre, so you really do want to mutate it if you can, but sometimes it’ll be a nice way to make use of mana if you’re holding up counters or whatever. This card is at its best in aggressive or fliers decks, but good in every deck.

Compulsion: B

I could see bouncing effects getting a little awkward when the thing you need to bounce also triggers mutate for your opponent. But, the tempo potential here is awesome. It reminds me of Sharktocrab, another card I was always happy to have in my deck.

Reconnaissance Mission

iko-065-reconnaissance-mission

Drifter: C-

The problem with this card is that cycling for 2 is really bad when you’re behind, and cards like this are terrible when you’re behind already. You just won’t want to make the time to cycle this if you’re under pressure, so it’ll rot in your hand as though it didn’t have cycling. I think this card illustrates the difference between 1 and 2 mana cycling, because it would be a B if it cycled for 1, but it’s pretty medium as it stands. Fliers decks have to have a mix of good blockers and flying pressure to make good use of this card, and until you draw your third card with it, it’s pretty bad – 4 mana draw two is not very exciting, and that takes a full two hits.

Compulsion: B

4 mana is an investment to be sure, but with all of the flying, unblockable, tap-down, and bounce going around in this set I have a hard time imagining not getting value out of this. Once again, having a Cycling option on a situational card makes it that much better as well.

Sea-Dasher Octopus

iko-066-sea-dasher-octopus

Drifter: B

Mutating so cheaply for a solid effect is a massive boon, and being able to ambush with the flash is great upside. That being said, I consider this card a low to mid B for two reasons: a) because it’s pretty bad when you’re behind – this sort of card becomes much worse on the draw, for example and b) unless you need to mutate it onto an evasive creature and for them not to have removal; otherwise you’re only going to get one card out of it. That’s still good but it just cycles itself at that point – it’s not like the mutate is granting any stats. The failcase of having to play this as hard to cast Thieving Otter is not really a great one either. It really takes a lot of good case scenarios to make this card busted, though it is better in fliers decks than normal decks (but then you’re not putting as much on the board, which fliers decks need to do).

Compulsion: A

This ability is a great way to mitigate the downside of mutation. Curious Obsession was an incredible card in Limited (and Constructed), and this is even better.

Shark Typhoon

iko-067-shark-typhoon

Drifter: A

Being able to ambush with a flying 3/3 for 5 or 4/4 for 6 in combat and drawing your card back is absolutely nuts. If your hand is well set up for it, you can play the other mode instead, but the main value is in the cycling.

Compulsion: A

I am skeptical of how many noncreature spells will be played in this format, but the cycling mode on this is fantastic. Instant speed flying sharks are a thing now I guess.

Startling Development

iko-068-startling-development

Drifter: C-

This is another card that Cycling 1 really saves, since it will go well in any deck that wants more cyclers for its payoffs. The main mode is really unexciting; if you can kill a 3 drop or something with it then you’re getting a great rate, but you usually don’t want to try if they have mana up/you’re fearing a trick (especially against White). I consider this card pretty comparable to Imposing Vantasaur, where the cycling 1 is the main reason for it.

I don’t think mutating on top of a Human will come up very much/be worth expending a card.

Compulsion: C+

For me the most interesting part about this is being able to Mutate on top of a human. Ideally this comes down as a combat trick and you follow up with the mutate. If that situation doesn’t present itself Cycling for 1 is a nice out.

Thieving Otter

iko-069-thieving-otter

Drifter: C+

This is a great ability to mutate onto, combos with Phase Dolphin, and this kind of card tends to just be decent in Limited. Ideally you’re playing a deck with plenty of removal or tricks to get this through.

Compulsion: C+

These Blue commons are good! This is a great ability to have on your mutated creature, and there are an abundance of ways to get this through as a 2/2.

Voracious Greatshark

iko-070-voracious-greatshark

Drifter: A

Pretty much whatever you do with this card is great – if you counter anything, it’s an easy 2 for 1 that wastes their mana and eating something in combat is still great. The worst case scenario is they play a noncreature spell, but Blue has a lot of ways to use its mana on other things at instant speed, and if you do have to develop your board by playing it end of turn, it’s still fine.

Compulsion: A

This is nearly always going to eat a spell or an attacker, putting you ahead by a 5/4 creature. This poor shark doesn’t get to fly though (unless you mutate it later).

Wingfold Pteron

iko-071-wingfold-pteron

Drifter: C-

3/6 flier for 6 is an okay rate – this card blocks well and attacks decently. Sometimes you can give it hexproof if you can mutate some crazy stuff onto it, but it won’t come up too often.

Compulsion: D

It feels like ages since Blue had a bad card in this writeup. Wingfold Pteron is quite bad, though, and I see no reason to play it.

Wingspan Mentor

iko-072-wingspan-mentor

Drifter: B

There are enough fliers in Blue that this is just great wherever, but it’s especially busted in Azorius – if this activated ability ever gets to hit two things, your opponent will be absolutely miserable. That being said, it’s a bit slow, the first ability needs you to have a good target, and the statline is awful, so I’m leaving it at high B.

Compulsion: A

The flying counter is a great way to get value out of cards like Thieving Otter, and hitting all of your flyers with a +1/+1 counter every turn seems broken. If you open a pack and see this and Boon of the Wish-Giver it is going to be the rare difficult decision that you are happy about making.

Conclusions

Drifter

Blue’s support cards are incredible in this set, but it does have a couple of big weaknesses: most of its creatures at Common are understatted and weak, and all its cards are a mixture of fliers cards and slow and defensive cards; those two factions don’t synergise amazingly. For those reasons, despite all its really high grades, I think it’s worse than it looks and you really need to lean on your second colour to have it reach its full potential. Blue’s power level is contained more in its uncommons than commons, since those are mostly completely absurd, probably the best in the entire set, but it also makes it a bit hit or miss. If you can support it well e.g. with big green creatures, black or red removal or in an Azorius dedicated cycling deck, Blue is going to live up to its ridiculous potential.The fliers deck is a bit more self contained, since Blue has all the tools it needs, but you do need to get the right half of Blue’s cards – the good blockers, the tempo stuff, and obviously good fliers rather than the cycling cards, medium counterspells, and slow Enchantments.

Blue has incredible potential and is likely to be one of the best colours, but it’s in an inconsistent fashion and I do caution a bit against overvaluing it, and being aware of and ready to mitigate its weaknesses.

Compulsion

Wow, Blue looks absolutely incredible in this set. There is an enormous amount of card advantage to be had here. Drawing extra cards and playing flyers is a classic recipe for great Limited decks. There are some duds here and there but overall I think Blue is looking like the best color in Ikoria Limited. There are amazing options at common, it looks to synergize well in any color combination, and some of its uncommons are downright broken. I have a feeling I will be tapping a lot of Islands over the next couple months.

Compulsion

I have been playing MTG for 20 years and am an infinite drafter on Arena. I teach high school chemistry full time and have a two year old daughter.

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Arix
Arix
5 months ago

One thing to keep in mind with Escape Protocol is that it can be used to break up mutate piles, giving you an unexpected extra two or three attackers/blockers out of nowhere. Don’t know if that’s enough to move the needle on the score, but it’s definitely something I could see coming up.

Shadowspawn
Shadowspawn
5 months ago

Pollywog Symbiote also discounts the hardcast cost of anything with Mutate (not just the Mutate cost) and, therefore, would trigger the draw and discard if a creature with Mutate is hardcast.