Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Limited Set Review – Red

Everquill Phoenix Art by Lie Setiawan
Everquill Phoenix Art by Lie Setiawan

Red is unsurprisingly looking to be an aggressive color, featuring strong removal spells that support relatively cheap and efficient creatures, many of which come with first strike or menace.

Legend

Blazing Volley

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Drifter: F

I don’t think there is a reason to run this game 1. It can be a fine sideboard card, so you take it higher than this, but I wouldn’t play it in any maindeck.

Compulsion: D

It is okay to have Blazing Volley in your sideboard against Humans, but the glaring lack of Cycling here prevents it from being any more than that.

Blisterspit Gremlin

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Drifter: D

This card would be very decent if it didn’t cost 1 each time, but it impedes your development far too much to be a great card in any deck.

Compulsion: C-

Electrostatic Field and Brimstone Trebuchet were playable mostly because they did a good job blocking. The Gremlin doesn’t do that at all, but is capable of putting out more damage. I am skeptical of this trade off in Ikoria UR Noncreatures.

Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor

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Drifter: D

Even with 7 instants and sorceries, you’re only about 62% to draw enough to have this deal at least 2 damage on turn 4 (my article here explains how to calculate this stuff). 2 damage is pretty weak by then, and 7 instants/sorceries isn’t trivial to reach either. There might be some decks with enough cycling instants/sorceries to be able to run this, but it won’t be good in the vast majority. Just don’t play this unless you have a good reason to, and don’t go out of your way – the problem is that this card is just never that good; the payoff isn’t here.

Compulsion: D

You need to be running a ridiculous number of instants and sorceries to make this worth playing. Perhaps that sort of deck will exist in this format, but generally running a low number of creatures is a trap in Limited.

Cathartic Reunion

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Drifter: F

This is a terrible topdeck, since you often won’t have two cards in your hand to discard in the late game, and it’s not even card advantage if you cast it earlier. Cathartic Reunion is significantly worse than Thrill of Possibility/Tormenting Voice since two cards is really hard to hold onto, and those cards have lately been in formats with Escape and other support, and still not been great; this format has less synergy, and this is a much worse card. I don’t foresee myself ever playing this card in Limited and would encourage you not to either – save it for your Dredge decks!

Compulsion: D

The only decks I see making use of this Thrill of Possibility on steroids are heavy Cycling ones. You are getting a good amount of flooding mitigation out of this card, but that is the only way to derive card advantage out of it.

Clash of Titans

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Drifter: C+

This card is a bit of a trap; it looks really good and it has the potential to be busted, but the average case is really not. Most Limited boards just don’t line up that well for this – they have to play two specific high power creatures for you to get a blowout. On the vast majority of boards, it just won’t do what you want – there’ll be many spots where you have to use this as a 5 mana fight card or a 5 mana kill their second best creature (not even their best!), because you can’t afford to wait anymore. Really you should not be waiting that much with this card; it’s important not to fall too far behind. The most likely great scenario for this is you block their biggest creature with a smaller one and play this post-combat to fight that and their second best creature – and that’s good, but it requires a lot of set-up. The blowout potential is powerful enough to incur some risk, so this is still a high C+, but it’s an awkward situational card, leagues away from a bomb.

Compulsion: A

Here is another somewhat tough card to rate. The upside here is incredible as you can theoretically get your opponent’s two best creatures to destroy each other. Plan B would be a more traditional fight effect where your best creatures destroys theirs. Worst case scenario you have no way to destroy the creature you need it to. The key thing for me is that this is an instant-speed effect, which means you can use it creatively during combat to maximize the result. Ultimately this is a premium Red spell to have in your deck and I am looking forward to playing it.

Cloudpiercer

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Drifter: C+

5 mana 5/4 Reach is a pretty good statline and that’s what this card will be mostly. I like my random creatures that are decent by themselves to have Mutate so that I can enhance my bigger Mutate payoffs like Dreamtail Heron, Cavern Whisperer, or god forbid, even Ausipicious Starrix. Hitting for 5 and looting a card for free in the late game is going to be really nice just by itself, so I’m fond of this card. It’s a low C+, but I think deserves the grade.

Compulsion: C+

Looks like Red is going to have some really solid creatures at common as well. A 5 mana 5/4 Reach as a floor is not a bad place to be, and remember that Mutate gives these creatures pseudo-haste, which is going to be great in aggressive-leaning decks.

Drannith Stinger

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Drifter: C+

The colour-shifted Drannith Healer is a bit better in terms of effect since dealing damage is better than gaining life for most decks, but it’s in a worse colour for cycling; this is especially good in the dedicated cycling decks but I don’t think those really want to be Boros as often as Azorius. In other decks, this is a decent 2 drop in a format full of good 2 drops. It’s okay early and can be okay late but as I explain in the mechanics section, cycling is a reasonably big cost, even in the late game when you just have a 40% chance to draw a land, which a 2/2 does significantly more than at that stage. Remember that a few of these cyclers for 1 is a good reason to play 16 lands, if they’re not especially good and you plan to cycle them a fair bit. Red looks like it will be able to capitalise on the damage it does in this set well, even if that’s only 2-3 damage over the course of the game since you don’t want to overcycle, so I like low C+ for this.

Compulsion: C+

Another strong common creature, this guy is going to be a staple in RW Humans/Cycling.

Everquill Phoenix

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Drifter: S

This card is very splashable, because you almost always want to Mutate it and it’s busted when you do. It lives twice at a base rate, but the more you mutate it, the more lives it gets…

Compulsion: S

I really like the card design on this bomb. This is certainly better than Arclight Phoenix (in Limited) and probably as good as Phoenix of Ash. Opening this would be a fantastic reason for going into Red, and it is also quite splashable given the 3R Mutate cost.

Ferocious Tigorilla

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Drifter: C+

A 4/3 Menace for 4 is a really solid statline; I think this is a card you’re actively going to be happy to have in your beatdowny decks – it’s really hard to block this in an efficient manner. Trample will come up only like 5% of the time, but sometimes you’ll want to turn your Hornbash Mentor on, get some damage in with Ram Through, or you’ll have a deathtouch mutate for the trample-deathtouch combo!

Compulsion: C

The ‘Tigorilla’ is playable for sure but seems like it will be filler in your 4-slot and not something to actively seek out.

Fire Prophecy

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Drifter: B

2 mana 3 damage at instant speed is great, rummaging for free is great. This is the best red common.

Compulsion: B

Cards like this are Red Limited staples without the pseudo-rummaging text. With the bonus Fire Prophecy becomes one of the best Red commons.

Flame Spill

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Drifter: B

Super Duper Death Ray returns to savage some black-border Limited formats! This is an efficient and versatile card – I look forward to that one time in the format when I cast this on my opponent’s 1/1 and they hard remove it in response to avoid dying to the damage, for the truly fantastic screenshot.

Compulsion: B

The spillover damage concept is really neat! Getting some bonus damage when you need to overkill something is great, and I foresee shooting 1/1’s with this to close out some games.

Footfall Crater

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Drifter: D

This is a card that only really belongs in the dedicated cycling decks or in very aggressive Gruul decks, since the effect is so weak. It’s a high D, since I do think it will be reasonable in those decks.

Compulsion: D

I really don’t see the ability being worth a card slot in your deck, despite it having Cycling (1). Cycling is nice and all but if you are never going to hard-cast a card it shouldn’t be in your deck.

Forbidden Friendship

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Drifter: C

2 1/1s for 2 mana isn’t that exciting for most decks, and there aren’t enough cards that pay you off for having both Humans and nonHumans for this to be really good. I also don’t think you need to go out of your way to enable those that much – there’s a good split of each in the set, so it’ll happen naturally for the most part. Mutate helps this card, but honestly if the thing you mutated onto the dinosaur gets killed with this, you’re not actually getting that much out of it. That being said, I do like the t5 play of make a Dinosaur then immediately mutate and attack, so I consider this a low C.

Compulsion: C+

This card is extremely good and might even give Fire Prophecy a run for best Red common. The key here is you get a Human and something to mutate in one card. It is still a fine deal in a dedicated Humans or dedicated Mutate deck, but if you are running a hybrid this is your ideal two drop.

Frenzied Raptor

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Drifter: D

This set doesn’t have the 4 power matters payoffs that Theros: Beyond Death and War of the Spark had, and those really helped this sort of card. It’s pretty cool with Heightened Reflexes since it’s more likely than most creatures to get into combat and to eat anything it comes into contact with with that card, but that card is just great anyway. This is a high D, and I wouldn’t be unhappy to run it in decks with lots of ways to give it first strike or just as a 23rd playable.

Compulsion: D

Vanilla 4/2 is a terrible stat line and I don’t foresee playing this unless it is desperately needed to fill in my curve.

Frillscare Mentor

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Drifter: B

As we saw with the others in the cycle, giving your creatures evasion and then growing them is really powerful and if you ever have 2 menace creatures in play, they better remove this quickly. This card benefits from the fact that it’s aggressively statted compared to its counterparts too – it goes well into every deck, rather than just defensive decks.

Compulsion: B

I like Frillscare Mentor about as much as the White Vigilance version in this card cycle. The Blue and Black versions are preferable, though. Menace could be a sleeper in this set though. There is quite a bit of incentive to having one super creature on the board and menace is a great way to punish that.

Go for Blood

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Drifter: C+

Prey Upon can be a pretty situational card, but this card doesn’t have that weakness! It’s especially good in Gruul, but cycling so cheaply means the first copy will slot into most decks – perhaps not you’re Boros ones which are really devoid of good targets, but the dedicated cycling decks are happy to run 1 mana cyclers regardless.

Compulsion: C+

It is interesting that Red got the fight spell over Green this time around. The sorcery speed and lack of larger creatures in Red are limitations, but the Cycling (1) and fact that most decks are going to have good targets for this more than make up for that.

Heightened Reflexes

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Drifter: C+

This card is actually really solid, because first strike is an amazing ability to grant permanently – it makes their attacks and their blocks so much worse. Imagine putting this on a deathtouch creature, for example…this is the first time this review I’ll mention Boot Nipper, the only deathtouch creature at common, but it won’t be the last! At 1 mana, this is a great rate, transforms any sizeable creature into a terrifying threat, and sometimes kills a creature to boot.

Compulsion: C

Getting First Strike permanently is kind of interesting and this might end up being better than it looks. Without that part a card like this is easily a D but getting the counter has me interested in trying it out in certain decks.

Lava Serpent

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Drifter: C

I’m actually pretty excited about this card, because a 6 mana 5/5 haste is actually very impactful on many boards, especially in Red. The ability to cycle it away when it’s not really cements this as a decent card to have in your deck; I consider it a high C.

Compulsion: C

This is mediocre filler in my opinion, but if the format ends up being on the slow side this will end up being played more often than not.

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast

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Drifter: A

As you would expect from a mythic planeswalker, Lukka is pretty busted. You do want to be playing plenty of creatures, but the format seems very creature-oriented so I expect his + to be great, and starting at 6 loyalty is amazing. I suspect you won’t use the – as much, since you’d rather just tick up and reach the ultimate in just two turns, but it’ll be nice when you have great creatures left to go get. It’s another good reason to have a screenshot of your deck available, so you can see what precisely is left at each converted mana cost! He’s a bit hard to play if you’re really far behind on board, since he doesn’t protect himself that turn, but 6 loyalty will bail you out of most spots.

Compulsion: A

Lukka is a bomb in the right deck but takes a little building around. It will be most at home in a creature-heavy Gruul deck with a few ridiculous targets for the -2 Ability. There is no limit to the upgrade so turning your 1/1 into Godzilla is a very real possibility, and you can game it by trading off a higher power creature if you know it will turn into a bomb. The +1 ability is also great as long as you have some control over the board.

Momentum Rumbler

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Drifter: C+

This is really good in Rakdos or Boros aggro decks. I don’t think it’s that great to mutate evasive creatures onto it, because that’s a really risky thing to do, but with Dreamtail Heron specifically it’s pretty good. You really need to make those attacks happen; this card is terrible when you’re behind, so I don’t want to take it too highly – I consider it a low C+ early because I won’t know at that point how aggressive my deck will be. In a deck that’s looking aggressive already, you can take this at low B.

Compulsion: B

This is a Red card I am really excited to play. On it’s own it is good, while mutating it in a way to provide flying/trample/larger stats turns this into a game-breaking creature. I am tempted to go A on this one, but it does more synergy than most A’s to reach that level.

Mythos of Vadrok

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Drifter: A

This card is powerful and efficient – 5 damage is nuts especially against small creature decks like Orzhov and Boros, but it doesn’t have an overwhelming enough effect to make S in my view. Oftentimes against Green decks, it’ll just trade 1 for 1 with a creature. I don’t think the extra cost is actually that meaningful – it gets you one extra attack and denies them one attack only, since this is a sorcery; it’s nice upside if you’re splashing anyway, but not worth splashing for. I consider this a low A and the second to worst Mythos (but still above the green one, as we’ll see tomorrow!).

Compulsion: S

Red gets the best Mythos in my view. Four mana for a 5-damage split is fantastic, and with the UW bonus the potential here is off the charts.

Porcuparrot

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Drifter: C+

One of the biggest swings in the format is going to be to mutate this card onto a deathtouch creature, immediately kill something, and then win the game if they can’t kill it.. the ceiling on this card just on that basis is incredible. There’s only one common deathtouch creature in the format, but this really is Boot Nipper’s best friend; I would have given this an easy B if there were more. By itself, this card is still pretty good because the failcase of a 4 mana 3/4 isn’t that bad and if you do mutate it, you’ll often be able to kill an x/1 or allow one of your creatures to trade up immediately, and then it’ll stick around to make future mutates more annoying. You take this card higher if you’re already Rakdos – in the low B range.

Compulsion: C+

Pinging any target is an extremely powerful ability in Limited, but I am a bit conflicted on this parrot. If you mutate it twice you have something that can shock every turn, which is great! But, is a shock stick enough to justify three cards?

Prickly Marmoset

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Drifter: C+

I like this card a lot, because the threat of activation is so big – it’s really rough to attack into or block it, and a 2/3 first strike for 3 is pretty reasonable to begin with.

Compulsion: C+

It is so easy to cycle cards in this set that it can basically attack the entire game for free, or threaten a nasty block if you are behind. There are quite a lot of tricks in this set so you have to be careful not to get blown out cycling, but even that isn’t a terrible disadvantage since cycling is card neutral.

Pyroceratops

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Drifter: C

This is a lot worse than Spellgorger Weird – starting off at 4 mana rather than 3 is pretty weak. This isn’t really good to mutate onto either – you don’t want to mutate onto random 4 drops that don’t give you value when they die; you want to leave this alone to tick up counters until it’s a real threat. In WAR, you were playing a lot more noncreature spells than you will be in this set – Ikoria is very creature-oriented, which makes this card significantly worse.

Compulsion: C

I think this is going to take too long to get going, but GR mutate decks will probably be okay with it. +1/+1 counters and trample are a good bonus to give a creature with bigger stats, 4 mana is just a lot of opportunity cost to get there.

Raking Claws

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Drifter: C-

This is a card that’s transformed by cycling from a mediocre trick into being pretty solid. It represents a ton of potential damage, is great with Trample, and you can sometimes leverage it to kill a creature, and hey if none of those situations are good for it, you can draw a fresh card. It cycles for 2 rather than 1, so it’s still only on the higher end of C- but I’m fine to run the first copy in most beatdowny decks.

Compulsion: C

Double Strike at instant speed is scary. Not every deck will care about this card, but if you have some tools like trample and/or high power creatures there isn’t much downside to running it due to cycling.

Reptilian Reflection

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Drifter: C-

One of the big things with cycling is that often you can just play the card, and have it have more of an effect than this. Cycling is a pretty big cost, as I describe in the mechanics section – it’s not a natural thing you just want to do a lot in every deck, you do need to be a dedicated Cycling deck in Boros with other payoffs for this to be worth it, and I don’t think Boros is especially good for that. The best part about this card is how scary it is to swing into this, specifically because every colour has access to at least one 1 mana cycler at common, but I don’t think that’s exciting enough to make it a great card.

Compulsion: D

This is a playable card but there is a very specific niche for it. It needs to go in an aggro cycling deck and it is hard to know how well that archetype will come together. I do think RW has the tools to do it, but I don’t think this card has a place anywhere else thus the low rating.

Rooting Moloch

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Drifter: B

This card is fantastic, as a 5 mana 4/4 that draws you a decent card – no lands here! It’s a bit worse in really aggressive decks, but there are enough good cyclers in the format that I think most decks will be happy to have it; you don’t need to be a dedicated cycling deck at all. 2 of these also chain in a very cool way, and lock your opponent out of attacking on the ground for a while, since if you get to trade this off then you can just bring it back again!

Compulsion: B

The value this provides is really good. I like that it frees you to cycle something fairly important early if you need to and recur the hard cast version later. You could do much worse than a 5 mana 4/4 with an ability this strong as well. I wouldn’t be afraid to take this card early because Cycling is so prevalent in this set. You definitely don’t need to be in a dedicated Cycling deck to play this just as long as you end up with several potential targets.

Rumbling Rockslide

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Drifter: B

4 mana 4 damage to creatures that scales up into the late game is absolutely where I want to be; this card is a fine splash for other colours, and probably the second best red common after Fire Prophecy. It’s on the lower side of B, but you’ll always be happy to have it.

Compulsion: B

Another great removal spell at common for Red! It is about as hard as removal gets for Red and I would be happy to have it in any deck.

Sanctuary Smasher

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Drifter: B

This seemingly innocuous card is actually just the nuts. Giving something first strike and drawing a card for 3 mana at instant speed is absurd – you can use it as a trick and to transform a high power or deathtouch creature into a huge threat at the same time, one that’s good at attacking or blocking. The failcase isn’t even a failcase – a 6/4 first strike is ridiculously hard to attack into or block, so they better have a removal spell or be able to race with fliers. Everything you do with this card is fantastic; it’s a high B, and I want all of my 6 drops to be this.

Compulsion: B

This is even better than Void Beckoner because not only is it cheaper to hard cast but First Strike will generally win combats whereas Deathtouch leads to a trade. If your opponent has a huge creature you would rather have Deathtouch, but on average this is the better card to have in your deck.

Shredded Sails

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Drifter: D

Shredded Sails is a medium maindeck card if your deck is weak against fliers, since Blue is very flier-oriented in the format and White has some. There are basically no artifacts you really want to kill with this; you shouldn’t consider killing a Crystal much of a win. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t kill every flier – fliers tend to be bigger this format because mutate lets you pick the best of the two. All in all, you should be unhappy to start this but you take it at high D in best-of-three because of sideboard applications (lower in best-of-one).

Compulsion: D

There are enough Artifacts and Flyers in this set to main deck this in a pinch, but it is not a great idea. I won’t mind having this in my sideboard at all but it is not a very good card.

Spelleater Wolverine

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Drifter: D

Three or more instants or sorceries in your graveyard is really hard to reach. If your deck has 7 instants or sorceries in it, a sizeable number for a Limited deck, this card is only about 33% to have double strike on t6! This is mostly just a vanilla 3 mana 3/2.

Compulsion: D

I absolutely hate playing 3/2’s in my 3-drop slot and that is what this is going to be unless your deck is leaning super hard into Instants and Sorceries. As I mentioned on an earlier card, that is definitely going to be an archetype in this set but it almost never makes for a strong/consistent Limited deck.

Tentative Connection

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Drifter: D

The cost wasn’t really the important thing with this kind of card; it’s nice if you’re boarding in against midrangey Green decks where you can out-aggro them and they only have one or two creatures, but it doesn’t change the grade. There isn’t much sacrifice in the set to combo with this, but rarely you’ll get enough Bushmeat Poachers and Mutual Destructions to get there. Other than those two uses, this card is pretty bad; sometimes you can play it in your really aggressive decks with Menace creatures, but there’ll still be plenty of times where you’ll stare at it turn after turn in your hand, and wish it had cycling.

Compulsion: D

Threaten is generally not a good ability in any Limited environment, and this will usually cost an additional mana. I don’t foresee ever playing this card.

Unpredictable Cyclone

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Drifter: B

This makes Cycling colossally better, taking all its downsides and making it immensely powerful. The fact that it itself cycles away in the spots where it’s bad – say you’re too far behind on board to tap out for a 5 mana enchantment – is gravy on a really powerful rare, and honestly that won’t happen too much because play this + cycling for 1 mana on t6 will come up a lot and provide immediate impact. Its main downside is that it’s not a great topdeck, since you need other cycling cards, so I’ve left it at high B, but I could see moving up to low A.

Compulsion: B

Wall of text alert! If your deck has many cycling cards it will be happy to support this. It basically turns your cycles into hard casts of something else. If the format ends up being pretty slow I could see this being an A.

Weaponize the Monsters

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Drifter: C-

I believe in this card in Boros and Rakdos a bit, because there are cards like Daysquad Marshal, Nightsquad Commando, and Forbidden Friendship that make 1/1s, but being an Enchantment really hurts – if this were on even a 2 mana 2/2, I’d be so much happier because then it’d be like better Lampad of Death’s Vigil, which was a great card. It doesn’t do anything by itself, so you really need a lot of those, or you need to be very aggressive and able to get your opponents down to 6 or so life so this can finish them off. This is a really low C-, I wouldn’t take it early at all but if you have some token producers already, you can take it late – other people probably won’t want it in your Human drafts anyway.

Compulsion: C

I am interested in trying this out in the go-wide decks. The reach you get from being able to throw all your guys at your opponent after they stabilize seems well worth a card. There are a lot of ways to get 1/1 creatures in this set and this is a great way to capitalize on them. You definitely don’t want this in every Red deck but I am sure it will see play.

Yidaro, Wandering Monster

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Drifter: B

A 7 mana 8/8 trample haste is super good and this makes your draws slightly better – you’re not going to cycle this card four times almost ever, but if you cycle it and then just draw it later naturally, you’re really happy. I was considering C+ but I’ve pushed it into low B range because it will often just end the game when you reach 7 mana and it doesn’t hurt you for playing a 7 drop in your deck because of the cycling; the shuffling back in also mitigates a little of the downsides of cycling since you’re not more likely to flood with this card.

Compulsion: B

Your deck needs to realistically be able to cast a 7 mana spell for this to be worth it. As long as you have some ramp or a higher curve Yidaro is a card you are happy to have in your deck. I do not imagine the Cycling ability will be happening in my Limited matches over the next few months, but it would be really cool to see.

Conclusions

Drifter

Red has a lot of strong commons and uncommons here, with some good paths to be aggressive. I don’t really see the spell matters archetype working out, since it demands far too much of you for too low a payoff, so that stings a little, and the cycling payoffs at common/uncommon are pretty weak apart from Savai Thundermane (a great Boros Gold card we haven’t reviewed yet!). All in all I see it as lending itself best to aggro and support and being good in both those roles, offering access to a lot of removal and some good creatures. It’s especially good with Black, where the cards have a lot of direct synergy. I suspect Red aggro will be good at the start of this format, since it’s a good way to punish people being too greedy with their mutates, and that main Red will taper off a bit more later on, while remaining a great splash colour.

Compulsion

On paper I like Red quite a lot in Ikoria. In particular, the removal spells are a lot better than average so be on the lookout for those. I don’t have a lot of confidence that the noncreature spell deck will be good though. However, the level of support for Boros, Rakdos, or even Gruul is quite high. With all of the mana fixing available in this set (more on that later), I think a lot of 3-color decks that feature Red will be going around. In terms of individual power I like Red about as much as Black, which is more than White and less than Blue. Again, individual power level is going to be much less important in this set than assembling complimentary cards of 2 (or more) different colors into a cohesive deck, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into color rankings but it is a question that I always get.

Compulsion

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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Shadowspawn
Shadowspawn
2 months ago

I was confused by the ratings on Tentative Connection…until I realized that the best you could do is a T2 steal (with Dreadmalkin) with a few more at T3 (when you could cast Threaten).

Of course, this is a little better than Threaten if it’s late in the game (when you want to conscript your opponent’s creatures)…odds will be good that this would cost R, leaving more mana open for other activities.