Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Limited Set Review – Introduction and White

Luminous Broodmoth Art by Lie Setiawan
Luminous Broodmoth Art by Lie Setiawan

Hello and welcome! Compulsion and I are very excited to bring you our second MTG Arena Zone set review, with thanks to Terence for formatting and hosting again! As with other set reviews you may have seen in the past, we’ll be going through and rating every single card using the system below, in colour order. All these will be released daily on the site between the 11th and 16th, right before the Arena release. After the reviews have been released, we’ll be compiling a full tier list for your viewing pleasure, which will be updated over the coming months.

Please read on for our introductions, some information on our review criteria, some points of clarification, and the system we’re using. After that, we’ll get into the review itself. Enjoy!

Introduction

Who are we?

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Drifter

I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began in New Phyrexia. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube drafts, I’ve drafted more sets than I can count on every platform through wildly different eras. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited 30k or so gems from it at this point, and have made top 100 mythic several times. Self-reflection and critical analysis are paramount to Limited improvement, and that theme features in many of my articles on the subject. My profile picture is the promo art for Mulldrifter, my namesake!

compulsion-avatar

Compulsion

I’ve played Magic off and on for the last 20 years. I just checked to confirm that and it blew my mind a little bit. I started with 6th edition and began playing ‘competitively’ with Odyssey. My handle is actually a really good Limited card from the Odyssey block. Anyway, Magic Arena got me back into the game, and I have been drafting infinitely since closed beta and have finished top 1000 Mythic nearly every ranked season.

Why have a mission statement?

Limited reviews can be very finicky things that measure all sorts of different things; the ratings of cards is so contextual that having a universally applicable way of measuring precisely how good a card is is impossible. Even when you’re just considering whether to pick a card, there are a multitude of variables to account for. To name just a few using Smitten Swordmaster as an example: How early in the draft is it? How likely are you to be in Black? How many 2 drops do you have vs how many 2 drops do you expect to need (more in aggressive decks)? How many knights do you have or expect to end up with? Is there anything specific about the format that makes the Swordmaster pick better or worse – is black especially good or bad, are 2/1s especially bad because ping effects are abundant or because there are lots of 1/3s or 0/4s, are 2 drops especially important because there aren’t many? This is by no means a comprehensive list…

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Hi, I am really hard to rate accurately!

The reality is that in a draft, most of us won’t be considering all these things, but a good review has to. A good review must account for all the factors that lead to making a draft pick, but do so in an objective sense rather than comparing to other cards, and that’s very difficult because as you can see above, there’s really a lot to it… so you can approach a review in many different ways: a lot of them are pick orders or aim to assess the quality of p1p1s for this reason. That’s why we really need to state what we intend to do and what angle we’re approaching from specifically.

The mission statement of this set review (and later tier list):

Compulsion and I are rating how good the cards are likely to be in the composition of the final deck; we’re taking educated and researched guesses at what average well-drafted decks in the format will look like, and how well the cards will fit into them. For example, if a card requires auras to be useful, we’re considering how many auras you’re likely to get, how good the payoff is for getting there, how bad the failcase is if you don’t quite get there, and other considerations like how well the card fits on the ideal curve and how necessary it is for reaching that ideal curve. Whenever there are outliers (like if a card is really good in aggro and not in other decks), we’ll state them and factor them into our ratings.

Some points of clarification:

  • This is primarily a Draft review and should be taken as such. We’ll try to highlight outliers when a card is much better in Sealed than Draft, but overall there are a few things one should remember about the Sealed format: Sealed is slower, you’re less likely to face aggressive decks, expensive cards and cards that generate value are better, splashes and mana sinks are better, and playing 18 land is more often right than in Draft. That doesn’t nearly cover all of the differences but if you keep those factors in mind, you’ll go a long way.
  • All reviews and tier lists are more accurate early on in the Draft, when picks are less contextual; this one is no exception.
  • This is a first impression; the set is not out yet so Compulsion and I have not had the pleasure of playing with it. We’re going to get some things wrong and there’ll be some uncertainty of how things shake up. The tier list will be updated, this review will remain the same, feel free to make fun of us later on! This review, like every other review, is not the end all be all. We don’t recommend following it blindly, draft is far too contextual for this to be more than a good overview and helpful guideline. Compulsion and I will disagree sometimes, but you have our individual ratings and thoughts to inform your decision.
  • Now that Arena has introduced Human drafts, we will not be rating with respect to bots at all; all our ratings are for Human drafts. The same goes for the tier list.
  • LSV’s Rating System is an often-used one, so we’ve included roughly how our letter grades translate to his number grades in our Legend. That being said, our mission statement and the things we’ve considered are different from LSV and we’ve cut away and combined some of the less useful tiers from LSV’s system, so it’s nowhere close to an exact comparison.

Ikoria’s Mechanics

Cycling returns and remains a powerful way to get value off situational cards, since you can ditch them when they’re unnecessary and get a fresh draw, while also staving off mana screw, since you get to cycle away your dead cards to look for lands. Many cycling cards have additional bonuses on top, which can lead to some real blowouts.. That being said, Cycling is usually a failcase for cards because it has a very real downside – cycling too much makes you far more likely to flood since each fresh draw gives you a roughly 40% chance to draw a land, in which case you’ve converted a real card into one that will eventually be irrelevant; playing fewer lands is reasonable if you have lots of cyclers, but you don’t want to go too low or you’ll spend too much time cycling and falling behind on the board – for this reason, 1 mana cyclers are much better than 2 mana cyclers for shaving lands.

Cycling is more important on a card the more situational the card is, since you’re more likely to use the ability. That being said, there’s an interesting tension because Ikoria has plenty of payoffs at common and uncommon, so if you’re reaping good enough rewards, then it can be well worth cycling aggressively! I do mean more than just a +1/+1 counter or tapping a creature though; cycling a couple of situational cards and getting that bonus is nice, but you don’t want to cycle cards that are generally decent or that you can make decent soon, unless you have a really good reason. The act of cycling isn’t necessarily good for you in your current spot, but the option to do so is always good upside, and as we’ll see soon can even transform bad cards into solid ones!

Mutate makes its debut; it’s a lot like weird auras that you can convert your creatures into – if you mutate onto a creature, you can choose to place the creature you’re mutating on the top or bottom. The new creature will be a copy of the card on top but have all the abilities of the card on the bottom – so if you mutate a 3/4 with no abilities on top of Llanowar Elves, the new creature will also be a 3/4 but can tap for G. Key points:

  • Mutate counts as casting a creature spell, so you can Essence Scatter mutations!
  • Many of the creatures in Ikoria have “when this creature mutates” triggers, which will work whether you put them on the bottom or top.
  • Mutate has most of the downsides of auras, but with one key difference: if your opponent tries to kill the creature you mutate onto in response, the creature you just cast will enter the battlefield instead. So they’ll generally want to wait, giving you your “when this creature mutates” trigger, and then destroying both creatures with one spell. Mutate ends up being a little better than an Aura in this regard, but the risk of card disadvantage is still very real.

Keyword counters have been introduced; these apply an evergreen ability permanently to a creature, while it has the counter. You can have any number at once, but putting a second counter of the same type on won’t do much. If you somehow get them on a noncreature, then they’ll work if they can work – so a hexproof counter will work, but a trample won’t until the noncreature becomes a creature again.

Companion is only on rares and mythics, so it’s not of huge importance for Limited. It’s perhaps the wildest new mechanic, allowing you to cast the companion creature from outside the game once if your deck meets the requirements. This is basically like drawing a card for free, and having access to your companion creature whenever you most need it; the requirements are usually pretty harsh for Limited, but there are a couple like Lutri, the Spellchaser which are easy enough.

Legend (important reading!)

Blade Banish

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Drifter: C+

Even though mutate doesn’t explicitly increase stats, mutated creatures are still likely to be bigger than the average creature as you’re picking the biggest of the two, so most of the time they will reach that 4 power mark, which makes this a pretty good removal spell in the format. Instant speed can lead to some real blowouts – you want to make sure that the creature resolves and then exile it so the mutated creature doesn’t enter the battlefield (not in response – read the mechanics section of this article!). I also think that the removal is a bit worse than in Theros: Beyond Death, where Triumphant Surge was pretty mediocre, so I’ve upped the grade on that basis, though it’s a low C+ and I could see moving it to high C as the format develops.

Compulsion: C+

Conditional removal isn’t usually exciting to me, but I think this will have plenty of targets in Ikoria. It will certainly disrupt some mutations, just keep in mind the creature still resolves if you remove the mutation target. So, those situtations will still be advantageous for you but not complete blowouts.

Checkpoint Officer

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Drifter: B

Tappers tend to be great in Limited, but exceptionally so in a format where people are looking to suit up just one or two big creatures with Mutate. Every white deck will be happy to have a couple of these.

Compulsion: B

Tap-down effects tend to be very good in Limited. The mana cost is more than usual, but having the ability to lock down your opponent’s beefy mutated creature in this format is going to be well worth it. Even aggressive decks can benefit from a card like this since you can effectively remove two blockers for a big swing (one at end of turn and the second on your turn before attacking).

Coordinated Charge

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Drifter: D

This is a pretty mediocre effect; I’d be much more excited about this card if it cycled for 1 since then the cycling synergy decks would want it, but as is, I’d only play it in decks that are really going wide.

Compulsion: D

There are enough good cards with cycling that you shouldn’t need to run this. It is fine to draw later in the game, but having an opening hand of cards like this is a good way to durdle yourself to a loss.

Cubwarden

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Drifter: B

This is a really strong mutate, because it has a great body when you don’t mutate it and recoups almost a card’s worth of advantage when you do. Getting to attack immediately and gain a bunch of life when mutated is great, and if it sticks around then your opponent must kill it or risk you letting some more cats out of the bag. That being said, I’m leaving it at high B because it’s a bit medium late game, and it still wants fodder which White doesn’t have much of.

Compulsion: A

Leonin Warleader was a great card and I think this will be as well. Lifelink is a great keyword to have on a mutated creature and you can never have enough cats (I’ve got three myself).

Daysquad Marshal

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Drifter: C+

Daysquad Marshal enables the few Human synergies White has, is good with the team buffs that White has access to, and is an all-round solid card. It’ll be a good 4 drop and one you’re happy to run in most decks, but don’t make the mistake of trying to mutate the token!

Compulsion: C+

With all of the team buffs it will often be advantageous to play two creatures at once. 4-mana for a pair of 2/2’s has been printed a couple times in the recent past and done really well in go-wide decks. I have a feeling this will be no different.

Divine Arrow

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Drifter: C+

Most mutate creatures will be x/4 or less since it doesn’t add up the stats like an aura would, so Divine Arrow is going to be pretty good. It will miss the bigger mutates and will be awkward against Green specifically, which has a bunch of x/5s and 6s at common/uncommon but hitting most of the set is fantastic, and this is still a high C+.

Compulsion: C+

Another situational removal card that I am more excited than usual to play. 4 damage is a good amount of stopping power, and should be able to get some 2-for-1’s off of mutated creatures. There are also a lot of good combat tricks in the format, so having the ability to ‘counter’ them with this is a nice tool to have.

Drannith Healer

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Drifter: C+

This is the exact kind of 2 drop I want in every deck, because it still has a relevant effect late and it cycles so cheaply. That being said, there will be some spots where you actually want the 2/2 late because you have a 40% chance to just draw a land if you cycle it away, so there’s a little tension there! If these are your 2 drops, you can often afford to play 16 lands, which helps a bit. The lifegain is nice upside and will be great in the dedicated cycling decks, which are the only ones that can afford to cycle a ton of cards freely, but most of the value is just in being a 2 drop that is good early and late.

Compulsion: C+

Cycling (1) cards can really break a Limited format because you can filter through your deck so quickly. A grizzly bear with an okay ability is not a bad card to lay down in many situations either.

Drannith Magistrate

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Drifter: D

This has no text.

Compulsion: D

Vanilla two mana 1/3’s is not where I want to be.

Fight as One

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Drifter: C+

While this has the common combat trick problem of being situational and sometimes rotting in your hand, it’s really good. We saw recently with Karametra’s Blessing that protecting your auraed (or mutated) up creature for 1 mana can easily be a gamewinning swing, and this is no different. K Blessing was fantastic; it was better protection since it stopped exile and bounce, and a better trick since it gave +2/+2, but this card can be a real blowout if you have a good mix of Humans and nonhumans (which most white decks will have anyway) so I consider it a little worse all in all, but not hugely – and the format seems similarly good for this kind of effect.

Compulsion: C+

This is definitely a combat trick to be aware of, but it is situational and not every deck will want it. If you have a decent balance of Humans and Nonhumans, winning two combats with 1 card doesn’t seem out of the question. It does protect against a good amount of removal as well.

Flourishing Fox

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Drifter: C+

The Fox is a decent card, but I consider it on the lower side of C+. Cycling for 1 really saves it, because it keeps it from being an awful topdeck and lets it enable your other payoffs, but in order to justify cycling lots of cards, you really need more payoffs than this (I talk a bit in the mechanics section at the top about the costs of cycling). Starting off as a 1 mana 1/1 means that your potential to ambush with the ability is fairly low. All that being said, this is really good in a dedicated cycling deck with lots of payoffs – both cycling it and having it as a beater is great there, and I would easily take it at B if your deck is looking well set-up for that. As an early pick, I don’t think this is amazing though.

Compulsion: B

This is a tough one for me, but I think it will be good. There seems like enough support in the format for a good cycling deck and this is a solid creature for it. If you start with it you can build it into a threat, and drawing it late isn’t an issue because you can cycle it for just one mana.

Garrison Cat

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Drifter: C-

If your mutates are good, this card is a reasonable inclusion – it gives you a little value if it dies and is a very cheap enabler for it. That being said, you’re still losing most of 2 cards if this dies so if the format ends up hostile to mutate i.e. there’s too much good removal for it to be a real force, I could easily see moving this down to D. It’s worth noting that this does pair well with deathtouch counters in Orzhov too, though.

Compulsion: C-

Hunted Witness saw some play, but I think that had a lot to do with the mentor mechanic. If there ends up being a deck as aggressive as GRN Boros maybe this will be okay. It does enable early mutations, but White isn’t really the color for that.

Helica Glider

Helica Glider

Drifter: C

Having the option of first strike is decent, because if you’re behind on board or staring down a 3/2 then you might want to dissuade their attacks, but this is mostly a 3 mana 2/2 flier, which is just okay. This is decent mutate fodder in that it has a nice ability to pass down; it still does open you up to 2 for 1s so you do need to be a bit careful though. Still, you’ll probably get a good swing in first thanks to the pseudohaste from mutate, so that’s pretty solid.

Compulsion: C

3-mana for a 2/2 flyer is a good rate. I doubt first strike will be needed often but it is good to have options I suppose.

Huntmaster Liger

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Drifter: C

This card is mostly a 4 mana 3/4 – the problem is that the mutate works against itself because mutate is a “suit up a guy” strategy which loses you an attacker, while this card wants you to go wide. There’s also the general problem where White isn’t greatly suited for mutated – it lacks good fodder in that there aren’t really nonhumans in White that recoup most of a card if they die, and there’s some awkwardness where a good proportion of white creatures are Humans, so you won’t always have targets. I’ve spared this card C- because the threat of mutating more than once can be very scary.

Compulsion: C+

Buffing your entire team is looking pretty good for White in this set. It will be interesting to see what number of mutations is realistic. The more you stack on the more you risk getting blown out, but the payoffs are good as well.

Imposing Vantasaur

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Drifter: C-

This is a card entirely saved by cycling 1. The dedicated cycling decks will want this purely for that reason, and most other decks on the defensive side won’t mind having it around either (and being able to ditch it when they don’t need it). Let this demonstrate how much cycling 1 means; this card goes from unplayable to C-!

Compulsion: C-

I don’t think you are going to want to cast this often enough to be worth a card unless you are hurting for more cycling cards to fill out the archetype.

Keensight Mentor

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Drifter: B

Vigilance is exceptionally frequent at common in this format, but I think this card would be great even without that. Most White decks will have a good mix of Humans and nonhumans, and this makes a creature a better threat while being very frightening itself – 2 mana is a very fair rate to spend each turn for permanently growing your creature, and if you ever have 2 vigilance creatures in play, then they better have a removal spell quickly… All this coupled with a solid blocker makes me very happy to take this card early and often.

Compulsion: C+

I could see the rating moving up on this if the format ends up being slow. In theory the 1/4 body and vigilance allow you to play defense while you build up the creature. Importantly, it hits each creature you control with vigilance, so this could get out of control quickly if you are able to hit 2+ creatures every turn.

Lavabrink Venturer

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Drifter: B

I think this card is worse than it looks, while still being very good. I consider it a mid tier B. The problem is that it’s a very slow clock, it’s not good on a stalled board or against fliers and drops off in the late game, and the protection is far from all-encompassing – often they’ll just have a creature or removal spell of the mode you didn’t name and then it won’t do much. That being said, it’s still great that it will force them to play in a really awkward way and has solid applications on both attack and defence; I just don’t think it comes close to being a bomb, and I suspect plenty of uncommons will be better first picks.

I disagree that it’s better than Haktos – Haktos is fantastic late game, has better protection, and gives them far fewer turns to answer it.

Compulsion: A

Haktos the Unscarred was a really fun card, but this one seems even stronger to me. You are sacrificing 3 power for 2 additional toughness, a choice in the protection, and having the ability to play defense. Lavabrink Venturer isn’t quite invincible, but it has a lot of utility in an efficient body, and I am all for that.

Light of Hope

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Drifter: D

This isn’t Theros Beyond: Death; we’re back to a regular Limited format and this one only has four Enchantments at commons. There are some uncommon hits, but this card would be very much just a sideboard card without that third mode. The third mode is still nothing special though – it’s a pretty situational trick, it’s nice that it only costs 1 and applies a permanent buff, but Stony Strength from Rav Allegiance was much better than this, and still not really exciting. That being said, I would take this as a really high D for sideboard applications, and because it has a pretty high ceiling over other D cards, so maindecking it is probably better than those.

Compulsion: D

There will be times when this is 23rd card status, but we aren’t in Theros anymore and enchantments aren’t really a thing.

Luminous Broodmoth

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Drifter: S

There’s really not much to say about this card – it’s just classic busted rare where if they don’t kill it, they’ll lose very quickly. Likely to be in the top 5 best cards of the set.

Compulsion: S

Wow, this is an awesome creature. Unless your board is empty you are very likely to win unless this is quickly removed, which makes it a bomb in my book.

Majestic Auricorn

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Drifter: C-

I think White doesn’t have enough good fodder to make you want to play tons of creatures where they’re not good unless you mutate them. This is one of those; I’d rather look to pick up a more exciting Mutate if I can, something that gives me a bit more value than 4 life if I run into a removal spell, and the failcase of a 5 mana 4/4 Vigilance is pretty weak. I could see moving this up to a regular C, but I like starting it here for the moment.

Compulsion: C

I think Mutate creatures are going to have some Premium, even though this one will likely need to be cast as a 5-mana 4/4 vigilance a fair amount of the time. You will want to have payoffs like Zagoth Mamba or Essence Symbiote to maximize its value.

Maned Serval

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Drifter: C-

This blocks a little worse in a mutate format, but has the upside of being medium mutate fodder itself. Giving a big Mutate creature Vigilance can be pretty impactful. This is also a reasonable card to main or sideboard in against aggressive decks, which I think will be at their best at the start of the format.

Compulsion: C-

I could see this acting like a wall in slower decks and mutating later, but that doesn’t really seem like what White wants to be doing in this set.

Mythos of Snapdax

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Drifter: A

In a format with Skittering Surveyor 2.0 (Farfinder), this card strikes me as fantastic. It’s decent if you don’t have RB mana, since they won’t play around it and you can wait for them to expand their board while holding onto your cards, as you would with a normal wrath. If you do have it, it’s absolutely gamewinning… leaving them with their worst creature while you keep your best is nuts. This is one of the best splashes in the set and a stone cold bomb.

Compulsion: B

I like this card but I am not blown away by it. I can envision a lot of situations where this is going to remove cards but not the one you need it to. If your deck can reliably produce all three colors (ideally without bending over backwards to it), then Mythos of Snapdax will be one of your best cards. I really love the art on this one, it reminds me of the Allure of the Unknown aesthetic (same artist).

Pacifism

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Drifter: B

Pacifism good in a Limited format? No, say it ain’t so!

Compulsion: B

Pacifism is the best White common, a great Answer to mutate, and is sure to be an early pick in Draft.

Patagia Tiger

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Drifter: C+

This usually represents as much as 5 damage immediately and then has a solid body to back that up; any deck looking to beat down will be happy to have it, but it’s exceptionally good as an aggro curve-topper.

Compulsion: C+

I’ve been happy with Witness of Tomorrows in Theros Draft. I like Patagia Tiger as a follow up to something like Daysquad Marshall, and would be perfectly happy topping my curve with this in an aggressive deck.

Perimeter Sergeant

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Drifter: C-

This card is good in aggro decks with lots of Humans, and really bad everywhere else. Take it at more like C+ if you fill those requirements, don’t take it high early, and don’t take it late if you don’t have a good Human count (probably about 6-7 in pack 3).

Compulsion: C-

This will slot into the human archetype in a pinch, but he is very reminiscent of Hero of the Games which isn’t a compliment.

Sanctuary Lockdown

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Drifter: C+

This card is great with Daysquad Marshal, and has a fantastic ceiling; in the decks where it’s good, it’s going to be really good. That being said, there’s a much higher density of nonhumans in the set to enable mutate so I think it’ll fall short in plenty of White decks. I could see moving it down or up, but would take it at C+ early for the moment, and higher if you already have a bunch of Humans.

Compulsion: B

I think the Humans deck is going to really need this card. The lord effect brings your humans up to par with most of the other creatures in the format, while the tap-down ability gives you a nice option against the broken ones.

Savai Sabertooth

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Drifter: C-

Very medium statline, mediocre mutate enabler. This card has always been either a C- or a D, but there aren’t loads of 2 drops in White at common, so I’ve left it here for now. I suspect aggro will be strong at the start of this format since people might overvalue mutate and there are lots of spots where mutating creatures is awkward and clunky, so that helps this card somewhat.

Compulsion: C-

There is always an Aggro archetype that wants this statline, and in Ikoria I think it will be using it to mutate as well. Still, it is a filler card and no more.

Snare Tactician

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Drifter: C+

This is fantastic in a dedicated cycling deck, but for reasons I explained in the mechanics section at the start, you really don’t want to cycle good cards willy-nilly unless you get more of a payoff than this. That being said, I’ve left it at low C+ since there will some good situational cards to cycle away in most decks, and if you can do it for 1 mana then that can be a big swing.

Compulsion: C

If the cycling deck ends up being good, this is a decent payoff at common. If a dedicated cycling archetype is a bust then so is this.

Solid Footing

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Drifter: D

While there are more vigilance creatures at common here, this is still very low-impact and situational a trick. I consider it a high D since if you’re playing Maned Servals or Mosscloak Gortaks anyway, this is a reasonable combo with them (though those cards aren’t super exciting) but only giving any of your other creatures +1/+1 is really weak.

Compulsion: D

I would only slot this in if I had 3+ vigilance creatures worth attaching it to. A +1/+1 buff, even at instant speed, is not worth it otherwise.

Splendor Mare

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Drifter: B

This card is fantastic, whatever you do with it. It has a great body and giving something lifelink for free can make a medium threat into a great one and win any race.

Compulsion: B

I really like this creature. 3/3 Lifelink for 3 is a great rate, and having the option to give a strong creature lifelink for ‘free’ is a nice option.

Spontaneous Flight

Spontaneous Flight

Drifter: C

If this card were just Mighty Leap for 3, it’d be pretty bad. Giving flying permanently is a huge boon though, and I don’t mind having this card in many decks because it does have a relevant impact late game and gives some much-needed reach. I suspect White will be a good aggro colour at the start of this format, which makes this card better. If you ever get to kill a creature with this and give even a 2/2 flying, you’re getting a great deal.

Compulsion: C-

This isn’t a terrible trick. Ideally you win combat and keep a flyer, but this is the type of card you end up with not seek out.

Stormwild Capridor

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Drifter: C

Have Divine Arrows or be looking to go into Boros if you intend to play this card; there are three commons in red that are really good with it – Shredded Sails and Fire Prophecy both threaten to ambush a creature and make this a massive threat, and Rumbling Rockslide threatens to just kill people in one swing with it in the late game. Being able to convert your burn spells into giant auras and do a lot of immediate damage is pretty impactful, so I expect this card to be solid in Boros decks with those spells. I still wouldn’t take it all that highly though, since it’s generally pretty bad outside Boros (Divine Arrow is just reasonable with it, not nearly as good as the red ones).

Compulsion: C

There is some combo potential here where you buff it by damaging it yourself. A play like that is putting 2 or more eggs in one basket, so include the combo at your own risk I guess. The base rate isn’t very good so I don’t see all that much upside to this one unless you can damage or mutate it in a meaningful way.

Swallow Whole

iko-035-swallow-whole

Drifter: C+

This is a good removal spell, but it has some very relevant downsides; it’s not nearly as good in aggressive decks, since they won’t be attacking as much (or when they are, they might have already stabilised), there’s a good deal more vigilance at common than usual , and it’s a sorcery so you’re taking a potentially big attack before it does anything. That being said, 1 mana removal is busted and getting to kill anything with this is a huge tempo swing, and it’s especially good when people are trying to suit up mutate creatures (as long as they’re not mutating onto those Vigilance commons!).

Compulsion: C+

A flawed removal spell is still going to be pretty good in this format. Needing to own and tap a creature to use it could get you in trouble at times, so don’t underestimate the downside here. Additionally it is a reactive spell (they get to attack you first) and doesn’t work against vigilance (which is more common than usual in this set). Still, removal is going to be even more important than usual in Ikoria and this is a spell you will almost always want in your deck.

Valiant Rescuer

iko-036-valiant-rescuer

Drifter: B

Hero of Precinct Two is one of the best 2 drops in the format. This card is much better than Flourishing Fox because the payoff of a 1/1 vs a counter is much higher, and this starts off as a solid 2 drop body anyway. If you have two of these and you’re able to cycle cards, that’s just busted. My qualms about cycling too many cards, and cycling good cards (from the mechanics section at the top) still apply, but this goes a long way towards being enough of a payoff to make cycling really nuts. I really like this card and I deliberated on low B vs high C+, but honestly I think dedicated cycling decks are likely to be good, and will take this card really highly.

Compulsion: B

This guy is another important piece to the Humans go-wide deck. I think the trick to cycling will be getting more out of it than playing the cards outright, and having a card like this on your board significantly boosts that game plan.

Vulpikeet

iko-037-vulpikeet

Drifter: C

If you can mutate this card, you get a 3/4 flier for 3 that can attack immediately which is really good or a flying +1/+1 aura which is reasonable (Arcane Flight was pretty mediocre in Dominaria etc), but my reservations about Mutate still apply: the mutate fodder isn’t fantastic in White so you want to prioritise the really good mutates only, and this one is really bad vs removal. A 2/3 flier for 4 is pretty weak, but not the worst failcase, though I fear it will be a very common one. This does get better with mutate fodder in green and blue, but those colours also have their own good mutates so I wouldn’t take this that highly.

Compulsion: C+

This one reads as a 2W Enchant Creature +1/+1 and flying to me. You can also play it as a 2/3 flyer for 4 which isn’t bad. I like this at least as much as Sunmane Pegasus, a card I was always happy to play in THB.

Will of the All-Hunter

iko-038-will-of-the-all-hunter

Drifter: C+

This is a subversion of the usual state of the combat trick, which is usually better on the offense. Being great on the defence too is a huge boon; it’s really devastating if you get to kill something with this and permanently buff a creature. I suspect any deck with lots of creatures will be happy to have 1-2 of these, but decks that can make good use of tricks might run even more. Cycling means that the cost of having this card in your deck is pretty low, and it’s versatile enough that you’ll only be cycling it a small % of the time anyway.

Compulsion: C+

I like this combat trick quite a bit. Winning combat and keeping two counters on your creature is a huge swing. When that situation doesn’t come up you can still use it to buff an attacker or cycle, so the utility here is real.

Conclusions

Drifter

White has a rather odd amalgam of pieces floating around, but the overall quality is high – it has some good removal and tricks, some good aggro tools, and some good late-game tools. I suspect mutation will play a much weaker role in White than other colours such as Green and Blue; White doesn’t seem to synergise particularly well with it. Despite that, White seems pretty powerful and deep to me overall, playing good aggressive and supporting roles, and being the primary colour in an archetype I have high hopes for: the heavy cycling decks are solidly supported; they do seem have the payoffs and 1 mana cyclers necessary to be strong. If they are, then White will be a hotly contested colour.

Compulsion

In my impressions of Theros Beyond Death I somewhat underrated White, and don’t want to make the same mistake here. I do think in Ikoria it is a bit of a mixed bag and not particularly focused. The clearest theme is Humans go-wide, which looks fairly well supported especially with a cycling sub-theme. However, several of the White spells lean defensive and there are some mutate creatures that don’t really fit the mold. If the Humans have a fighting chance against the monsters in the metagame White will be appealing, otherwise I see it in more of a supporting role at this point. After we finish all of the colors I will take a stab at ranking them.

Drifter

I'm MTGAZone's content manager! I'm an infinite drafter and offer draft coaching alongside my articles. Follow me on Twitter (Mulldrifter06) or visit https://mtgazone.com/drifter/ for all my content!

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Random Anon
Random Anon
5 months ago

Thanks for the article! It’s great having access to this things so early. You may have missed the card “solid footing”

Terence
Admin
5 months ago
Reply to  Random Anon

Thank you so much! We’ll add that card as soon as possible.

Salmon
Salmon
5 months ago

Great break down! Looking forward to the other posts and to drafting Ikoria.
Haven’t done great much research into other colors yet, but I’m imagining a few archetypes after reading this review:
– WU cycling
– WB / WR humans
– WG mutate

Andrew M. Lauer
Andrew M. Lauer
5 months ago
Reply to  Salmon

The cycling is W/R archetype

Fernando
Fernando
5 months ago

I love the comments on every card considering them in the context of the set! Wish sealed wasn’t left to the sidelines though as everybody else already focuses on draft. One question though, was the article removed from the lrcast subreddit? I saw it there earlier and now can’t find it to look at the comments.