Welcome back, travelers! As I mentioned last week, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is not a set that rewards stubbornly sticking to a fixed pick order. Instead, I recommended that you reevaluate cards frequently during a draft to maximize the power level of your decks. However, Ikoria is a complex set and there are people that might need a little help to understand when a card that looks bad becomes good. Or when a card that’s already good becomes fantastic. For them, I shall outline the Ikoria draft archetypes in this article.
With some Magic sets, a breakdown for each of the 10 color pairs is good enough – but not Ikoria. Many color pairs actually have multiple themes with their own unique build-around cards. Ikoria’s variety adds nuance to every draft as you craft a synergistic two-color deck or even splash bomb rares. With the above-average fixing in the set (rare triomes, uncommon crystals, Evolving Wilds, common dual lands, Farfinder), it’s not hard to increase the power of your deck without harming its consistency. By being aware of the set’s diversity in themes, you can properly navigate the different Ikoria draft archetypes while drafting. Then, you will end up with a powerful deck that has a focused plan for victory.
For each theme below, I give a brief description of the theme’s game plan and list its synergy cards. Synergy cards are either the enablers that help you play a certain theme or the payoffs. Payoffs are the cards that reward you for playing into a theme. I list both enablers and payoffs as they all go up in value when you are in that theme. Consequently, many bomb cards and efficient removal cards from Ikoria will not be seen below. Their strength is already quite high and being in one theme vs. another has little-to-no bearing on their value. As I am just listing the cards, I’ve left it up to my audience to read each card and come to their own understanding of how it helps a particular game plan. Ultimately, I have full faith in each of you to figure this out.
Now that you can identify the many themes within the Ikoria draft archetypes, you should be able to make better decisions in your drafts. You’ll see when a certain theme might be open to you by a synergy card coming to you late in Pack 1. You’ll have the ability to understand when a card should be picked because it contributes more to your deck than it normally would. In short, you’ll win more drafts!
Thanks for listening to my words, friends, and may fortune favor you on Ikorian battlefields. If you’d like to join me and a great community of players in our explorations of the different Ikoria draft archetypes and themes, enter our Discord server at https://discord.gg/5nRhMGV. During this time of quarantine, Three Kings Loot still fires draft tournaments, using MTG Arena and 3rd party sites. Come play with us Monday, Friday, and Saturday at 19h30 Eastern Time!
-Evan, Chewer of Thoughts
Hello traveler! Ah, I see you’re going to Ikoria – the Lair of Behemoths. Yes, if I recall it’s a wild plane and full of monsters, both man and beast – all of them sure to be out for your blood. Best not let your guard down! Being a Mythical planeswalker, I have ventured there and survived its dangers time and time again. As a result, I have some advice that might just help you keep your head when exploring the depths of Ikoria Draft. So, please, listen carefully…
It’s dangerous to go alone! Companions are creatures that allow you to play them from your sideboard as long as your starting deck meets the card’s companion requirements. You should take all of them highly. First of all, they are powerful rares with hybrid mana costs. This increases their chance of remaining a relevant first pick. As long as your deck is able to play either of the hybrid colors, you can play it normally. In addition, if your 40-card deck meets their requirements, you can make them your companion. More often than not, it is worth doing this while drafting as long as you maintain an average power level. In Limited, resources are often traded fairly evenly between players and end before either player has seen most of their library. Starting a game with an extra card will end up winning you many duels on Ikoria.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is not a set that supports blocking. Firstly, there’s a lot of instant speed interaction that can make combat turn out bad for you. Secondly, the value of your own creatures is high. This is especially true for decks that are built around mutating, a set mechanic that demands you have a non-human creature on the battlefield. Finally, there’s an abundance of creature removal, able to take out the biggest bombs and threats of this format.
When you are faced with a choice to block, it’s important to step back and consider if you can afford to accept this damage in exchange for one of their own blockers becoming tapped to attack. You must think about your ability to win a race, given what’s in your hand and your potential draws. After all, in an Ikoria draft, there are many cards that can help you deal damage more quickly than, and ultimately defeat, your opponent.
The first prominent type of card in this set is an efficient removal spell. Blood Curdle, Ram Through, Pacifism, and Fire Prophecy are just a few examples all found at common rarity. Using efficient removal means you spent less to deal with a threat than your opponent spent to cast it, also known as mana advantage. With enough mana advantage, you are able to develop and attack with a few creatures while simultaneously removing their relevant threats. Be aware of the strength of removal in this set and use it judiciously!
The second category I want to note is cards that have the potential to deal huge damage on the turn that you play them. There are many examples in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Zenith Flare, for decks that are heavily invested in cycling. Similarly, unblocked Prickly Marmosets and several Drannith Stingers also use cycling to deal so much damage that games will suddenly end in your victory. In other decks, mutating creatures effectively grant themselves haste when merging with a non-human that you already own on the battlefield. You can easily swing a race in your favor by adding significant power (Archipelagore) or evasion (Vulpikeet/Cavern Whisperer) to an important attacker. Even the humble Lava Serpent works in a pinch to deal an unexpected 5 damage.
In this set, you should highly scrutinize every block you make, even ones that seem favorable to you. It doesn’t matter if your creature seems much larger or if you might have an instant-speed interaction spell. Ultimately, not blocking means that you avoid risking your board state and you preserve your ability to swing back on future turns. Then, with the aid of the aforementioned spells, you can deal the final points of damage for an exciting victory!
You should take 1 mana cycling (1MC) cards more highly. Particularly if you’re in pack 1 of the draft and there are no above-average playables. These are likely to end up being good picks for several reasons. First, if you end up in the cycling deck, you will definitely play the card. Second, this signals to others that the cycling deck is closed off to them which will help you move into the archetype. Lastly, even if you’re not cycling or of it’s a cycling card you can’t play, they can be used as a colorless cantrip to effectively reduce your deck size. Instead of playing an average 23rd card and a 17th land, you can simply stick two 1MCs in your deck. This increases your chances of drawing powerful cards you want to play.
Keep in mind, however, you’ll need to reduce your land count proportional to the amount of 1MCs you play. Otherwise, you risk drawing too many lands and flooding. Personally, I tend to treat them as non-cards. So, for a deck with five 1MCs, I would build a mana base for a 35 card deck. Meanwhile, others use ratios such as one land removed per every three 1MCs.
No matter what, pay attention to how the deck feels while playing. There’s no exact science to the proper amount of lands when cheap cycling is available. Many factors are involved: cards that cycle for higher costs, the number and quality of your cycling payoffs, whether you’re playing Best-of-One on Arena which uses a hand smoother to improve starting hand quality, etc. All these affect the number of lands a cycling deck might require. The most important thing one can do is stay observant!
An Ikoria draft is not a place for inflexible pick orders. It’s more important to build a deck that synergizes with itself than to end a draft with a mixed bag of “strong” cards. Even some removal is hard to play in certain styles of decks. For example, Rumbling Rockslide has a lower value in streamlined cycling decks. Such decks often posses a low land count both in the library and on the battlefield. In fact, such decks usually look to defeat their opponent before Rumbling Rockslide becomes respectable removal. In those same decks, you will likely want to play Cathartic Reunion to avoid flood. Meanwhile, hardly any other archetype would want such a card. It is one of many cards in this set that may look bad but are useful – somewhere.
You must be able to recognize when a card goes from barely playable to above-average in your deck. Otherwise, you will struggle in this set. A pick order cannot tell you when such moments occur, so you’ll have to determine them for yourself.
Thanks for listening to my words, friends, and may fortune favor you on Ikorian battlefields. Check back here next Wednesday, May 6, for my next article breaking down Ikoria’s many archetypes and themes. It will be a great guideline for understanding the synergies of the set and thinking flexibly about your card evaluations. If you’d like to join me and a great community of players in our explorations of the Ikoria draft format, enter our Discord server at https://discord.gg/5nRhMGV. During this time of quarantine, Three Kings Loot still fires draft tournaments, using MTG Arena and 3rd party sites. Come play with us Monday, Friday, and Saturday at 19h30 Eastern Time!
-Evan, Chewer of Thoughts
We’re back for some more Conspiracy draft archetypes! I’ve had the good fortune to draft some more of this set since the last article went up. My conclusion: it’s baller.
Each color combo is super deep, but today we’ll be focusing on the more prominent synergies for the allies. If your looking for the enemy color pairs, check out this article.
Okay, let’s get started.
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Platinum Angel
Let’s start off with a true classic. Not much has changed for blue-white flyers in this set; you’re looking for your titular flying dudes, quality blockers on the ground, Pacifism-type effects, stuff like that. Your creatures might be relatively small, but the evasion gives you a huge advantage.
As quality flyers go, I really dig Ascended Lawmage. Three aerial damage each turn is nice. Three aerial damage each turn that can’t be targeted is even nicer. Also, you have the perfect opportunity to quote Sylvester Stallone when you cast it. If that’s not reason enough to draft it, I don’t know what is.
In regards to our blockers, I really like Jeering Homunculus in this deck. It’s a nice early drop that halts little attackers early and distracts bigger attackers later. That’s exactly what you’re looking for in one of your defensive creatures. Also, the art is outstanding.
And then there’s Guardian of the Gateless, which is good on both offense and defense (especially defense). It’s just such an amazing deterrent, especially for decks that might be swarming you with with a bunch of little creatures (we’ll get to those in a second).
Though I like this color combo, be warned: other players aren’t going to like it nearly so much. Board wipes are going to hurt, especially considering that many of your best offensive threats are vulnerable to spells like Hurly Burly and Infest.
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Splitting Slime
For the stompy people out there, this is a fun one. Just draft big dudes, make them bigger, then smash faces. The monstrous ability is an old favorite and a great way to use your mana whenever you have it.
Since Conspiracy is a mutiplayer format, you’ll have more time than usual to ramp. Take advantage of that time to build up a mana base, throw down some threats, trigger monstrous, then rumble. It’s a simple game plan, but it’s a fun one.
Sulfurous Blast is very nice in this deck because your creatures are going to be so darn big. You’ll easily turn a three-for-one profit off this, if not more. That’s big upside, even in multiplayer.
And now the downside: this deck feels a little one dimensional. Your big dudes are big, sure, but when you invest 12 mana into your Nessian Asp and then your opponent nukes it with a one-mana Regicide, you can’t be happy.
From what I’ve gleaned in my limited playtime with this format, small flyers are a big problem for this deck. Therefore, I recommend prioritizing life gain and creatures with reach. You might even try mainboarding a Plummet. Trust me—you’ll find juicy targets (except for that stupid Lawmage).
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Harvester of Souls
We’ve got another returning classic in red-black sacrifice. Look for cards like Shambling Goblin, which give you a bonus when they die. Looks for cards like Driver of the Dead, which resurrect the Goblin when they die. You should also snatch up Assemble the Rank and Vile, which allows you to get even more sacrificial fodder when your named creatures die.
At the uncommon slot, Fleshbag Marauder is primo in your deck. Weakening each opponents’ board is sweet, and since you’ll probably benefit from whatever creature you sacrifice, this dude makes for a nice turn three play.
Havengul Vampire is also sweet, quickly growing into a straight up beefer from all your sacrificing. Oh, and did I mention that the Vampire gets pumped not just for your creatures dying, but for your opponents’ as well? That means you can throw down the aforementioned Fleshbag, dump four counters on your vampire, then swing for six. And if your victim happens to have no blockers, throw another counter on there after combat. I’ll take a playset, please.
I think this is one of the strongest archetypes in the set. With twice the number of players, twice the number of creatures are going to hit the bin.
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Sphinx of Magosi
This is one of the less synergistic pairs in the set, but it’s still powerful. Blue-black wants to generate two-for-ones, recursion, and solid card advantage. Luckily, there are all kinds of cards that fit that bill in these two colors.
Regicide shines in this archetype. Though one-for-one removal takes a bit of a hit in multiplayer Magic, it’s not every day that we get one mana, instant speed, nearly unconditional removal. Sure, your opponents get to choose what colors you can target, but even if you draft just two Regicides, you’re guaranteed four colors to target. And if you’re lucky enough to draft three? You can kill anything. For one mana. At instant speed!
Other than removal, look for Mnemonic Wall, which can recur your sweet removal. Spire Phantasm is another nice one here. If you can guess correctly—which isn’t as difficult as it seems—you get to throw down a four mana, three-power flyer that even draws you a card. Sweet!
Last thing: no control deck is complete without a big ol’ game-ender. I’d be looking for Sphinx of Magosi, Guul Draz Specter, or Archdemon of Paliano to do some work for you. It’ll be a slow build to get to the fatties, but once you do, they’ll end the game quickly.
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Forgotten Ancient
Everyone’s least favorite standard deck is back for Conspiracy. Well, sort of.
This is an interesting color combo. While white seems to have the token makers, green appears to offer the payoffs for making them. Your strategy is simple: wall up behind a lot of tokens, then give them a massive boost, swing for a win. Sounds fun, right?
Tokens are a bigtime archetype in multiplayer for a reason. Though your tokens are generally 1/1s and 2/2s, you’ll often have enough of them to serve as a strong deterrent for attackers. In addition, when you yourself decide to attack, a wide board usually makes for big damage.
The card you’re looking for when you draft this deck is Overrun. Triple green makes it a little annoying to cast, but when you cast it, the upside is huge. A lot of times you’re going to catch players when they’re tapped out, maybe even when they have no blockers, and you’re going to hit them hard. +3/+3 is no joke, and trample breaks through for even more.
The problem with a deck like this is that it’s pretty obvious what you’re doing from the get-go. Furthermore, for colors like red or black, disrupting your plan will be fairly simple—all it takes is a well-timed Sulfurous Blast or Infest to really ruin your day.
Whew, that’s all for now. Happy drafting!
Ever since Brago got stabbed in the neck, I know you’ve been excited to play this set. All the weird draft mechanics and fun multiplayer action from the first set are back and better than ever.
Though this format is deep enough to support more than one archetypes per color pair, we’ll be looking at the most prominent ones for the enemy color pairs today. In Part 2, we’ll look at the allies.
Without further ado, let’s get archetyping!
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Adriana, Captain of the Guard
Attacking is red-white’s bread and butter, so it’s no surprise to see that again here. Melee is the new twist—it’s a keyword which buffs your attackers based on the number of people you’re attacking.
I won’t deny that attacking three people at once sounds fun… until all three of them attack you back. This has always been red-white’s Achilles heel in multiplayer. Aggro is effective in one-on-one, but struggles when more people join the table.
My suggestion is to leave one player unattacked each game and do your best to form an alliance with that player. If you’re at a four player table, taking on two players is certainly more doable than taking on three—especially if that third player helps you out every now and then.
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Charmbreaker Devils
Though there’s a decent amount of goad cards in this color combo, the spells path has the bigger payoff. Expect to have a lower creature count with this deck. In game, my guess is you’ll lay back until someone seems vulnerable, then blow them out with three or four spells in one turn. Sounds pretty sweet.
However, the funny thing about multiplayer is, people’s imaginations scare them even more than what’s actually on the board. So if you sit there doing nothing and playing no creatures, there’s a fair chance your opponents might attack you out of fear of what you might have.
My suggestion is to leave everyone alone—unless they attack you. When that happens, drop a Garbage Fire on their dude. Do that a few times and people will probably stop attacking you. And then you can go back to building for your big turn.
And remember those goad cards I mentioned? You’ll want to prioritize them. Since you won’t have many creatures, cards that divert attackers to other players are going to be lifesavers.
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Assemble the Rank and Vile
Of all the color pairs, I find this one the most difficult to nail down. There’s not a lot of synergy here, but that’s made up for in raw card advantage. Assemble the Rank and Vile replaces anyone who dies, Pharika’s Mender revives both creatures and enchantments, and Smuggler Captain functions as a nifty tutor.
In general, look for creatures which serve dual roles. Squeaking out added value whenever you can is a big deal in multiplayer, so I expect this color combo to be pretty strong, even without big synergies.
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Expropriate
This one’s pretty simple: search up some lands, tap ’em, play big stuff. There’s a good number of monstrosity creatures in green just waiting to munch on some delicious mana, plus a few more in blue.
I like this color combo because there’s enough mana fixing to get you into a third color for a big bomb. If you’re lucky enough to open Birds of Paradise, for example, you have access to any color. If not, Opaline Unicorn is a serviceable substitute. Look out for bombs with high costs or unusual mana requirements such as Subterranean Tremors, Protector of the Crown, or Leovold, Emissary of Trest. While other drafters might fear these cards and pass them, you can snag them and smile. Just don’t look too smug.
Sweet Bomb You Want to Open: Queen Marchesa
Purely from a fun standpoint, this might be the best archetype in the whole set. I love the game-within-the-game aspect the monarch token presents. Plus, now we finally have an excuse to wear a crown during a game of Magic. Thanks, Wizards!
Why would you want to play this archetype? So you can say “Garrulous Sycophant” repeatedly, of course. Also, being the monarch produces a tremendous amount of card advantage; at the beginning of your end step, if you’re the monarch, you draw a card. Though any player can become the monarch, you’ll benefit most from it thanks to cards such as Throne Warden and the aforementioned Sycophant. Plus, if you’re lucky enough to draft Ghostly Prison, it’ll be extra hard for your opponents to steal your crown.
But let us not forget the dangers of being a monarch (just ask King Joffrey). Everyone likes drawing cards, so players won’t hesitate to steal your monarch token. Therefore, be conservative with your attacks and leverage those extra cards for a late-game win.
Which archetype are you most excited to draft? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget to come back when we take a look at the ally color pairs.
Until then, watch your back. There’s a conspiracy afoot!