The preview season for Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and Commander 2020 continues to be jam-packed, with quite the assortment of rarities on show. One especially exciting aspect is how good some of the uncommons are for Constructed; there’s even a potential multi-format all-star so it’s certainly not all decided by the rares and mythics today!
I talk about possible homes in Constructed throughout, but I also refer to Limited playability frequently for the commons and uncommons; look out for Compulsion’s and my Ikoria Limited Reviews & Tier List for more in-depth analysis of each card, including the rares! The first is due to be released right after all the spoilers have been released, on the 11th.
Each day, we will be rounding up all the spoiled cards in chronological order with a brief review on each card according to the schedule. Remember, you can always check out the most up to date card gallery right here. During the weekend, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths spoilers will be taking a break until Monday as the weekend is reserved for Commander 2020 spoilers. We’ll be around for the Mythic Point Challenge and the MagicFest Online Weekly Championship though!
Chevill, Bane of Monsters
Chevill together with Mythos of Nethroi, heralds the birth of a powerful Abzan Midrange-Control shell using the two cards in tandem with other removal and cards like Vraska, Golgari Queen. It remains to be seen whether this deck will be built around Doom Foretold or more of a good-stuff build, but I suspect either way there will be a decent Abzan deck in Standard, and Chevill is one of the main reasons why. The card is fantastic against aggro – the body will hold off any small creatures your opponents have and may even force people to move away from shock effects towards 3 damage removal in aggro decks, because it has the Wildgrowth Walker effect where if it lives a turn, it promises to gain a bunch of life and make the situation worse and worse for them. Against Midrange, Chevill is still great because it will trade up and make all your removal spells into easy 2 for 1s. Control in Standard runs plenty of planeswalkers, so Chevill will still be annoying for them there, even if he’s not as his best in that matchup. All in all, I suspect Chevill will be meta-defining in Standard; expect to see a lot of him soon!
Mythos of Nethroi & Mythos of Snapdax
Wonderfully abstract art is just one of the things Mythos of Nethroi has going for it… the card is specifically designed to be powerful in any Abzan deck, and it certainly is! Artifacts, enchantments, planeswalkers, all of them live in fear of the sudden emergence of instant speed Maelstrom Pulse…. Expect this card to be heavily played in Standard and Historic; see my paragraph on Chevill above for some likely homes for it. You can also play Fabled Passage in your Golgari Deck, have one Plains, and have the card be fine when it’s not turned on and get some extra value when you do eventually fetch that white mana out!
Mythos of Snapdax
Tragic Arrogance ended up being a really solid card in Standard, and this is the same card for 1 cheaper but you have to play Mardu. The ideal situation for this card is you have one good creature and maybe an artifact, and your opponent has only creatures but lots of them, including at least one bad creature. At that point, it’s just a devastating blowout, and that’s not really that hard to set up, especially if you run this alongside removal for other permanent types. It remains to be seen if this is an effect that Mardu wants, or if Mardu will even be good, but this has already proven itself to be a very powerful effect in the past.
Mythos of Vadrok
4 mana deal 5 damage divided as you choose can be a powerful anti-tokens/small creatures card; unfortunately these days, even Mono Red has plenty of big creatures. The bonus for playing Jeskai is nice upside, but it’s not really a massive deal, since the card is a sorcery. When cast with Teferi, this card is nuts, but that’s pretty hard to actually set up. All in all, this could be an anti-aggro card for some metas, but I don’t expect it to see tons of play.
Fiend Artisan is a really exciting card, combining the immense power and versatility of Birthing Pod, a card that was banned in Modern, with having a potentially huge body itself. It costs a lot more for it to do what Birthing Pod does and is more vulnerable to removal, but in return it allows you to sacrifice tokens and smaller creatures and get the same effect, and it has a lower initial investment. This is a potentially powerful card in Rakdos Sacrifice, which has infinite fodder to throw away, and really appreciates being able to search up its Mayhem Devils and Midnight Reapers for cheap. In Historic, you can combine it with Sticher’s Supplier to make it big quickly and give you some great sacrifice fodder to search up all manner of horrors from Polukranos Unchained to Carnage Tyrant, or even set up your Wildgrowth Walker/Jadelight Ranger combo early on against aggro.
Call of the Death-Dweller
Don’t sleep on this unassuming uncommon; it’s likely to be a multi-format all-star and one of the best cards in the set for Constructed! In Historic, Goblin Chainwhirler + Call is a combo that wipes their entire board and only requires you to have Call and a Chainwhirler in your Graveyard. In Modern, it looks like it could be huge in the Death’s Shadow decks; bringing back a Deadly Snapcaster Mage and a Menace Death’s Shadow is just one of the absurd sequences you can have with it. In Legacy Sultai Delver decks, bringing back Menace Deadly Tarmogoyf and a Delver of Secrets is fantastic by itself. Basically, the better cheap creatures you have access to, the better this card is. I could also see it cropping up somewhere in Standard, if there’s a good combo with it – the possibilities really are endless when a card is as pushed as this one!
This card is a lot like a Grafdigger’s Cage on wheels, but it has a few upsides: a) it stops Adventure creatures cold, so you could sideboard this against Clover/Innkeeper decks. b) It prevents both Companion and Escape. c) In the Commander/Brawl formats, this card is going to be a staple as it reads “Your opponent can’t cast their Commander from the Command Zone”. d) It also prevents stuff like Chandra, Fire Artisan’s +1 ability – you can’t cast cards from exile anymore. Eternal formats are very happy to have access to these effects, so this card is a shoe-in to see some Sideboard play outside Commander at the very least.
General Kudro of Drannith
General Kudro’s first line of text is the most relevant, and he could see a lot of play on the basis of just being a lord. He has some anti-synergy with tokens in that he buffs them and wants you to sacrifice them, but the third line does let him resist removal well – if they try to remove it, you can just sacrifice him and a human token to destroy their biggest creature, and the payoff of getting to kill anything is very strong. The second line is situational but great against some decks. All in all, he’s an Orzhov Humans card and really lives and dies on whether that deck is good enough.
Obosh, the Burrower
Companion — Each nonland card in your deck has an odd converted mana cost. (If this card is your chosen companion, you may cast it once from outside the game.)
Whenever a source you control with an odd converted mana cost deals damage, it deals double that damage instead.
Obosh strikes me as much better than the Even payoff, Gyruda, Doom of Depths, since the effect is far more powerful and immediate – we’ve seen how good Torbran is at ending the game, and Obosh is very reminiscent of him, while being deadlier with bigger creatures and worse with 1/xs and Scorch Spitter-type cards. Having access to him every game using his Companion ability is really powerful; Companion in general is more useful in decks like Aggro and Ramp, which are prone to flood.
This enchantment has two synergistic effects which combine to make it an absurdly powerful card in Limited, and possibly decent in Standard/Artisan too. In Constructed, the +1/+1 counter mode is underpowered and will hold it back, but it only takes a few payoffs with “Whenever you put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control” for it to be worth it! It’s nice that it enables itself, but your creatures will be dying a lot anyway, so it’ll be hard to rely on that outside of slow grindy midrange creature mirrors (which is not really where Standard has been for a while).
Colossification’s efficacy in Limited really depends on the format’s removal and if there are cheap throwaway creatures with trample, but it’s probably just okay, nothing exciting. In Constructed, the idea of playing this card then untapping the creature and attacking is cool but a bit slow and awkward, even in Storm’s Herald combo; I really hope that deck gets there as a spicy brew! It’ll also be a cool Brawl and Commander card and is the latest art in the theme of making cats enormous!
Limited Removal Spells from Marshall_LR
- Shredded Sails is an okay Limited card, since there’ll be flying counters popping up, and it cycles away when you don’t need it. Not a high pick unless this is an really good format for fliers/artifacts though.
- Blood Curdle , on the other hand, is fantastic and first-pickable. Expect this to be one of the best commons in Black, as a Menace counter is solid upside on your premium removal spell. It’s worth noting that instant speed removal is especially good in this set, since you can blow out Mutations with it, and they won’t even get the “when this creature mutates” payoff.
Voracious Greatshark looks like it has a home ready for it already in Simic Flash, at least in the Sideboard! It’s rare that we see a Mystic Snake quite so big, and this will be a devastating blowout if you can counter basically anything, so we could see it crop up in other decks too. This is the sort of card that gets much better if the meta is comprised of grindy midrange creature decks.
- Auspicious Starrix was spoiled by Gamespot here. As a 5 mana 6/6, this would be a reasonable card in Limited but its mutate ability gives it massive upside on top. You’ll usually just get lands or 2 drops with it, but having access to a 6/6 pseudo-haste and sometimes getting something good on top of your regular great creature is fantastic, and there are more 8 and 9 drops this format to turn those lands on.
- Archipelagore was spoiled by Good Games Adelaide here. It pretty much always wants to be mutated in Limited, but is really strong if you have good mutate fodder, as a 7/7 that can tap their best creature to facilitate its immediate attack on t6. As long as you’re not fusing something great to form this, you’re getting an amazing deal.
- Glowstone Recluse was spoiled by @AttackonGeek here. The card’s baseline of a 2/3 Reach for 3 isn’t amazing, but having the versatility of a 4 mana 4/5 Reach that can attack immediately when mutated is worth a lot, so this will be a decent card!
Back for More
Back for More is a great card in Limited, combining getting your best creature back with a free removal spell. I suspect it’s too slow for Constructed, even if some 5 mana reanimation spells have seen play lately, unless there are creatures you want to reanimate with fantastic “when another creature dies” triggers or something like that. A possible home, however, is in Fae of Wishes wishboards in Fires of Invention decks.
As a 2 drop with a great statline and a really strong first ability, this is good in any deck running plenty of Legendary Humans; the second ability is great upside, providing an easy mana sink and some graveyard hate. However, I think we would need to see some good Legendary Humans printed in Ikoria for this to be worth running in Standard, and potentially even a Historic Humans deck won’t actually end up having space, as good as this is with Thalia, since it doesn’t present much of a threat by itself.
This seems like a clear Brawl/Commander card, since it’s a lot of hoops to jump through for not that amazing an effect in the regular Constructed formats. It has some really sweet abilities though, allowing you to continuously return your best cheap creatures to your hand, and “chain” off if you have creatures of each converted mana cost to return. That lifegain ability can convert any of your creatures into a ton of life, since it just works off your biggest creature rather than the one that was sacrificed, so all in all I see this being a very sweet card for those formats!
Clash of Titans
Clash of Titans
Target creature fights another target creature.
I think this card is going to be sort of overrated in Limited; it’s fine because making two of their creatures fight at instant speed can be a pretty big blowout and an easy for 2-for-1 some amount of the time, but 5 mana is really a lot to pay for this effect and it often won’t be worth that if their creatures don’t quite line up and you end up having to kill a 3 drop or whatever. Sometimes you can do it after they’ve attacked so one of their creatures is damaged, but all in all it’s a pretty situational card and I wouldn’t be looking to play more than one. This is the sort of card which would benefit immensely from cycling, so it’s a shame that it doesn’t have it!
Devouring Bite 2G
As an additional cost, reveal a creature card from your hand.
Devouring Bite deals damage to target creature or planeswalker equal to the revealed card’s power.
Devouring Bite looks to be a great Limited removal spell in almost every deck. Having a couple of Titanoth Rexes or other big creatures helps a lot, but 3 mana deal 3-5 is great by itself.
3-cost mana rocks aren’t generally great in Limited, but these could be an exception because Cycling is such a huge boon on them, as you just get to get rid of them late instead of being down a card. It also looks as though there’ll be more things to ramp into this format, so all in all I have high hopes for this cycle, especially if there are good common splashes too (of which we saw Blood Curdle in this very article!). It’s possible these could see some fringe Artisan play too, but I don’t have especially high hopes for anything Constructed.
Counter target spell that targets a permanent you control. Draw a card.
If you can play mostly at instant speed and gain a quick aggro-control start with Curious Obsession or Staggering Insight, this is likely to be a good card in your deck, as the effect is absurd if you do counter something – they waste their mana and removal spell and you draw a card! The other side of this card though, is that most decks will only want it as a sideboard card because it’s the sort of card that has the tendency to rot in your hand and not do anything forever. I see this card as a “fixed” Veil of Summer, because costing 2 instead of 1 and being less versatile in the matchups where it’s good makes such a massive difference; I suspect this will be a good card in some shells such as the old Mono Blue decks, but will be chronically overplayed – if you’re hurting your gameplan to leave this card up and you’re not very far ahead, you’re not getting a good deal, especially in Standard where they’ll often just play Teferi and destroy you. Even if all they’re playing is a creature, you’re still getting very far behind and wasting your mana; 2 is far from trivial to hold up.
Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield and put a lifelink counter on it.
Indestructible Link looks to be a solid Sideboard card for Reanimator decks in Standard; they’re going to have better options game 1 in Concoct and Bond of Revival, but having this as a trump against aggro could be really strong! In Limited, Lifelink adds a good deal against every deck as the resulting creature becomes a much bigger threat, but this card wouldn’t be worth it at all without that so it’s merely decent rather than busted.
Tiger’s Will 1W
Target creature gains +2/+2 until end of turn. If it’s blocking, instead put two +1/+1 counters on it.
Tiger’s Will is a really interesting trick for Limited, in that it has a couple of huge upsides over regular tricks. First of all, it’s pretty busted on defence since you kill a creature and grow your own permanently if it works – that kind of swing for 2 mana can easily decide a game. It’s still fine on offense too, since it’s just a regular trick at that point. Getting to cycle it is especially valuable if you’re fearing instant speed removal and don’t want to risk getting 2 for 1ed. You won’t want to cycle it mostly though, since the card is pretty good and you usually just want to go for the blowouts.
Trumpeting Gnarr is a really solid card in Limited since it’s huge value to mutate onto it or with it; a free 3/3 is no joke.
Reconnaissance Mission has a pretty winmore effect in Limited, and in a lot of games you can’t afford to pay 4 mana to not affect the board; you need to draw minimum three cards (or two cards and stop some attacks) before you’re getting a good deal out of it, and that’s hard to do. That being said, Cycling is fantastic on it and really saves the card, since it’s such a situationally powerful effect – it would be almost unplayable without it, and is merely mediocre with it. It’s especially good in decks with good fliers and good blockers (so the best fliers decks, which probably don’t need it in the first place!).
“Monstrous Path” 4G
Target creature gets +7/+7 until end of turn. Up to one other target creature must block if able this turn.
Monstrous Path is an expensive risky removal spell in Limited – it says the opposing creature it targets must block this turn, not it must block the creature that got the +7/+7 buff so you can’t attack with anything else, and if they have a removal spell you get blown out very hard. It’s also really bad when you’re behind on the board. That being said, cycling helps this card a lot, and it does combo well with Trample creatures so it’s a fine playable, but nothing special.
This is mostly just a 4 mana 4/3 Trample in Limited; the difference is you can choose to assign the full 4 damage it (and any other trample creature) deals to your opponent rather than to any blocking creatures, which is minor upside and can lead to some kills on a stalled board. It’s a reasonable 4 drop, nothing too special.
Destroy target artifact or enchantment.
This is a really solid effect to give cycling to; in Constructed, this will be far better than Disenchant or Return to Nature, since the biggest downside of those cards is sometimes they just rot in your hand if your opponent doesn’t have enough targets, while Wilt really doesn’t have that problem. If there are some good artifact or Enchantment targets to hit, then Wilt is potentially maindeckable in Limited too (though Enchantment removal won’t be nearly as good in this format as in Theros: Beyond Death!).
A 5 mana 3/4 flier is fine in Limited as a base case, but the mutate mode allows you to draw a free card, give it pseudo-haste, and play it for one cheaper, as long as you have the mutate fodder. You can also use mutate it on the bottom of a creature to give it flying, which can be used to push for lethal in some spots, and it also threatens to become a draw engine later in the game where you can just mutate more and more onto it to cycle cards. All in all, this is a very solid card, and I would be surprised if it weren’t one of the better blue commons.
As a 3/3 Deathtouch for 4, Insatiable Hemophage wouldn’t be anything special, and the mutate ability isn’t super exciting either – you need to Mutate onto it several times before it starts to actually have a big effect. Giving one of your creatures Deathtouch isn’t really worth a card, so I suspect this will be a very medium playable in Limited, though it can be better if you have lots of mutate fodder or big trample creatures to combo the Deathtouch with.
Cavern Whisperer is a good card in Limited, combining a strong body when mutated with an easy 2 for 1. As with most mutate cards, you really want to have good disposable fodder to mutate it onto, but the rate is better than most of the other common Mutate cards. The failcase of dropping it as a 4/4 Menace for 5 isn’t terrible either; there have been formats where that card is fine.
Edict effects don’t generally tend to be amazing in Limited but as we saw with Pharika’s Spawn, having them stapled to big bodies and be repeatable is worth a huge amount. The cost of Mutate is a lot higher than Escape, so this card is merely very good while Spawn was busted, but it also has the advantage of being able to attack immediately.
The one on the left is the art from this set, but as we see in StarCityGames’s art comparison, Fertilid is a reprint of a popular old card! Fertilid represents a lot of value on a stick, even if that value is of a very slow sort – the ability to ramp twice from one card is great, as we saw with Circutious Route. However, I fear that this time Fertilid will be relegated to a Limited-only card, where it’s good if the format is on the slower side! This is a format where people will routinely be trying to hardcast cycling 8 and 9 drops, like Titanoth Rex and Void Beckoner, after all.
Quartz Forest Crusher
“Quartz Forest Crusher” 2RRG
Creature – Dinosaur Beast
Whenever one or more creatures you control with trample deal combat damage to a player, create an X/X green Dinosaur Beast token with trample, where X is the damage dealt to that player by those creatures.
The Crusher is a solid payoff in a Constructed deck with lots of trample creatures; if you can connect with one the turn you play it, you’re getting massive value, and it has a great body to follow that up. I suspect the card would’ve been very good pre-rotation when Dinosaur decks were everywhere, since it plays fantastically with haste and so is great with Regisaur Alpha and Otepec Huntmaster, and that deck played plenty of trample creatures including Ghalta herself. If that sort of Dinosaurs/big Trampling Monsters deck makes a resurgence, we could easily see the Forest Crusher doing some very powerful things.
Explosive Vegetation with Cycling is a really powerful card.. this is a very strong effect for colour-intensive Ramp decks like Niv-Mizzet Reborn to have access to, while providing a free card in the late game instead of being dead as most other Ramp spells would be. This card will see a lot of Constructed play, and looks potentially reasonable for Limited too – being able to skip from 4 to 7 gives you access to some very powerful cards early, and there are more of them in this set to ramp to, with cards like Titanoth Rex and Void Beckoner at uncommon.
Dire Tactics is a very simple card to evaluate for Constructed: are you playing a Humans deck with White and Black in Standard or Historic? Then you should probably be playing several of these, and most other decks will want to stay away from this card! Those decks haven’t made many waves in Standard or Historic yet, but they did just get General’s Enforcer to help them along, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben was recently brought into Historic so it’s not hard to imagine this being good somewhere.
In Limited, you just take this card highly and play it in pretty much every deck; it is better in the ones with plenty of Humans, and Orzhov looks like it should have plenty, but you’re happy to have it regardless.
This is a decent cycling payoff in Limited, but potentially also in Constructed. We would need to see some sort of major cycling payoff like Astral Slide or Lightning Rift for this to break it into Standard, but personally I’m really hoping we see something along those lines anyway! If we do, this card is likely a very solid card in that dekc.
In Limited, this card is decent if you have 8-10 cyclers, but at that point you might be forcing yourself to cycle away actual good cards, and that increases your odds of flooding – it’s not worth cycling away good cards unless you’re getting some sort of additional effect (like an Enchantment payoff of the kind I just mentioned, or just an ability counter at the right moment) or ambushing something in combat with the +1/+1 counters, and you might want to play only 16 lands if you have a lot of cyclers, but I’m sure the Fox will flourish in many decks!
This card is pretty awkward in Limited – you’re unlikely to have that many cards in the late game to discard and it’s not card advantage. You really have to be killing a good creature with this for it to be worth it, or to have some good graveyard synergies, so it’s playable but not exceptionally good.
I don’t see this card as playable in Constructed; if it could hit players, then it could be a wincon for some combo decks but this is far too weak an effect as is. Getting this countered is absolutely devastating; the cards you discarded won’t come back.
Mass Extinction 3B
Choose odd or even. Exile all creatures with a converted mana cost of the chosen trait.
Mass Extinction has some cool flavour, but is a pretty weak card in a Standard full of other better 4 mana Wrath effects. The way to build around this sort of card is to play a lot of even or odd creatures, and there are payoffs for doing so in Gyruda, Doom of Depths or Obosh, the Burrower, but there’ll be too many times when this card is really awkward compared to an actual Wrath, since most decks will still have some even creatures even if you’re playing an even deck.
The latest in a line of Cancel effects, Neutralize is some competition to Sinister Sabotage and Absorb but is probably worse in a vacuum – the times in the late game when you want to cycle Cancel are rare; Cancel’s weakness is in the early game when you really don’t want to be cycling cards for 2 mana. That being said, Neutralize is much better against Teferi, Time Raveler than those cards and that is a format defining card, so it could easily replace them in some decks on that basis.
Boon of the Wish-Giver
Giving Opportunity cycling makes it a fantastic card; I suspect we will see it in Standard somewhere as it’s far better than something like Finale of Revelation (at least outside Wishboards), which has seen play before. It’s not a shoe-in, as it has been pretty difficult to cast a 6 drop that doesn’t impact the board in the last few Standard formats, but I have high hopes!
This is one of the best Uncommons we’ve seen for Limited seen so far, because Cycling for 1 is so busted on a card like this that’s incredible in the late game. I do not expect to pass this card very often; it doesn’t even get that much worse in multiples since the Cycling cost is just so cheap.
In a world of Escape, having better ways to self-mill is a huge boon, and I could see this alongside Polukranos in some Constructed decks. That being said, it’s a bit slow and fragile, and has no immediate milling impact so I doubt it’ll be anything more than a fringe card.
In Limited, this card is a fine base rate, but obviously gets a lot better if there are good self-mill payoffs. I’m not sure yet; tune in for the set review when I’ll have a better view of the overall format; its existence is indicative of there being some payoffs at a Limited level for it though.
Phase Dolphin is a solid card in Limited, combining a good defensive statline with the ability to represent a very real offensive threat for only 3 mana! It’s ideal in fliers decks, which both really want good blockers, and wouldn’t mind the help for a final push.
Valiant Rescuer is very strong in Limited, and potentially in Constructed too. We saw Flourishing Fox earlier which was a pretty solid payoff, but making a 1/1 Human every time is a whole different ball game, and means Rescuer combines really well with cards like General Kudro of Drannith. The card does a very good Hero of Precinct One impression, and that card did a ton of work for a while! Having cycling itself is nice in the late game, and potentially with your other payoffs too.
Barrier Breach 2G
Exile up to three target enchantments.
Barrier Breach looks well set up to be a pretty strong Sideboard card – it’s never dead since it has cycling, and can be an absolutely gigantic blowout against anything from Fires of Invention decks also running Elspeth Conquers Death to any deck that dares to play Setessan Champion, or Sigil of the Empty Throne in Historic.
Rielle, the Everwise
I don’t want to give up on the Izzet Phoenix dream in Standard, but this Mythic Rare is probably not going to do it if Irencrag Pyromancer couldn’t since it does not impact the board the turn in comes into play. The upside is worth testing with cards like Thrill of Possibility or Thirst for Meaning.
This Bird Goat requires a bit of a build around since even Mono Red Aggro is mostly about creature damage these days. This will be tested with like Deafening Clarion or Storm’s Wrath.
The cards with Cycling 1 (like Neutralize) seem very good for both constructed and limited, since there’s almost no downside to playing these cards. They can help dig to the card you want and even has an effect that can suit your deck.
The shark is a fine limited card that can act as a blow out combat trick with a huge upside.
Boneyard Poison Beast
Whenever this creature mutates, return target permanent card from your graveyard to your hand.
This 4 mana 4/4 beast is already a decent base creature size for limited and the mutate ability means you can get great value out of the card as well. Just about as much we can expect from a black and green card!