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.
Ikoria Draft Archetypes for each Color Pair
White & Blue (Azorius)
- Flying – Goes over the top of normal creatures and removes the threats that would let its adversaries win the race.
- Synergy cards: Skycat Sovereign, Jubilant Skybonder, Wingspan Mentor, Gust of Wind, Reconnaissance Mission
- Mutate – Uses mutations for card advantage and to either give evasion to key bodies or good power/toughness to evasive bodies.
- Synergy cards: Archipelagore, Majestic Auricorn, Pollywog Symbiote, Pouncing Shoreshark, Dreamtail Heron, Glimmerbell, Thieving Otter, Vulpikeet
Blue & Black (Dimir)
- Flash – Counters the most important spells, removes threatening creatures, and develops creatures at instant-speed.
Black & Red (Rakdos)
- Menace – Attacks with menacing creatures that can often kill both blockers and eventually attacks with all their creatures when the opponent doesn’t have enough blockers to prevent lethal damage.
- Sacrifice – Plays many small threats, steals the opponents’ big creatures, and kills with attrition by block-sacrificing for damage or value.
Red & Green (Gruul)
- Trample – Uses large trampling creatures to brutalize its foes.
Green & White (Selesnya)
- Vigilance – Stalls the ground until it dominates the board with a Frondland Felidar or the enormous creatures produced after several turns with Keensight Mentor.
- Humans & Non-Humans – A mid-range creature-based deck that gets by with some internal synergies.
- Synergy cards: Exuberant Wolfbear, Daysquad Marshal, Patagia Tiger, Humble Naturalist, Green–White Mentors, Kogla, the Titan Ape, Fight as One, Fully Grown, Survivors’ Bond
White & Red (Boros)
- Cycling – Uses a mix of its many early game payoffs, cards that cycle, and low land counts to quickly deal spectacular damage.
- Go-Wide – As this deck often heavily relies upon Valiant Rescuer and Coordinated Charge, it could be considered a variant on the cycling theme but there are some unique go-wide payoffs to be found.
Red & Blue (Izzet)
- Tempo/Non-Creature Spells – Gets on the battlefield early with dangerous creatures. Then, it uses removal and bounce effects to keep up the pressure.
- Cycling – Plays similar to Boros Cycling but often more controlling (with access to counterspells and superior removal) as it attempts to either win with card advantage or just generate a couple of 8/8 Krakens.
- Synergy cards: Rielle, the Everwise, Ominous Seas, Boon of the Wishgiver, Channeled Force, Facet Reader, Drannith Stinger, Prickly Marmoset, Spelleater Wolverine, Reptilian Reflection, Neutralize, Rooting Moloch, Yidaro, Wandering Monster, any card that cycles for 1 mana, Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor
Blue & Green (Simic)
- Mutate – Makes use of some of the best mutate targets and triggers as it overwhelms the opposition with large bodies and multiple mutations (including easy-to-splash, off-color mutations).
- Synergy cards: Trumpeting Gnarr, Auspicious Starrix, Pollywog Symbiote, Essence Symbiote, Glimmerbell, Ivy Elemental, Lead the Stampede, Keep Safe, Fertilid, Migratory Greathorn, Powerful off-color mutations such as Chittering Harvester and Boneyard Lurker
- Resource Advantage – Brickwalls the opponent and sits back until it draws its expensive bomb(s) or simply drowns the opponent in card advantage.
Green & Black (Golgari)
- Graveyard Cheating – Gets very expensive creatures into the graveyard for cheap and then brings them onto the battlefield for a fraction of the cost.
- Recursive Mutate – Overcomes the enemy by bringing creatures back to their hand from the graveyard to mutate for value again and again.
- Synergy cards: Boneyard Lurker, Auspicious Starrix, Insatiable Hemophage, Zagoth Mamba, Essence Symbiote, Humble Naturalist, Bushmeat Poacher, Death’s Oasis, Mythos of Brokkos, Survivors’ Bond, Any mutation card that the deck can play
Black & White (Orzhov)
- Humans – Goes wide early with as many humans as possible and then finishes the opponent off with removal and tribal payoffs.
- Synergy cards: General Kudro of Drannith, General’s Enforcer, Sanctuary Lockdown, Perimeter Sergeant, Valiant Rescuer, Coordinated Charge, Daysquad Marshal, Nightsquad Commando, 2 CMC creatures to activate Nightsquad Commando, Lurking Deadeye, Patagia Tiger, Snare Tactician, Whisper Squad, Dire Tactics
- Grindfest – Trades resources evenly but slowly pulls ahead by getting a little extra value from the trade each time or by recurring its resources. Many Orzhov decks actually lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between Humans and Grindfest.
- Lifelink – Builds up large lifelink creatures that cannot be beaten in a race.
- Synergy Cards: Duskfang Mentor, Cubwarden, Boot Nipper, Splendor Mare, Unexpected Fangs, Unbreakable Bond
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