Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths comes out on Arena tomorrow, and each and every set release I challenge myself to build 50 decks before the set's electronic release. Lately I've even been lucky enough to be invited by WotC to participate in the Early Access streamer event a day early, which means completing the challenge by Tuesday night.
Ikoria is unreal cool, so I finished 50 by Monday afternoon. I learned a lot about Ikoria Standard building all these decks, and have picked out five of the most promising decklists I brewed. If you want to check out all 50, scroll down or check out my Twitter thread where I break each of them down—but stick around for deck building analysis first.
Ikoria is a multicolor-focused set, and with that come a lot of powerful gold cards and some very strong tri-lands.
Triomes are incredibly powerful lands that open up possibilities at the top end of decks without any additional pressure early.
The dearth of untapped duals in Standard means it will continue to be difficult to play dedicated aggro decks. Cycling lands allow decks, especially ramp decks, to play additional mana sources without being punished as much later on for flooding out. Higher land counts mean more mana sources in general, and means we will likely see bigger top ends with more colors as the cost is low when opponents cannot pressure your top end.
Cycling isn't just on lands, however. There are a lot of very powerful, narrow effects in this set with incredibly low cycling costs. Maindecking cards like Naturalize is risky because they could be completely dead in several matchups, but Wilt is always good for at least a card. There are several "reprints" of older cards with cycling tacked on, and I promise they're all good. More options is better, and cycling puts a pretty high floor on the "worst case" mode.
Ikoria has some incredibly powerful top ends, with a cycle of ultimatums and several high-power engine enchantments that are incredibly strong if not outright broken. While targeted creature removal will likely remain largely relegated to the sideboard, interaction for these enchantments is going to be more and more important. This means that (for better or worse) we're also going to continue to see a lot of Aether Gust, as almost every gold card in Ikoria is a valid target.
Skull Prophet is an incredibly powerful enabler, Fiend Artisan is very powerful on its own, and the synergy between Death's Oasis and Molderhulk allows you to get consistent access to much of your deck. All that aside, there's very little room for interaction in a deck like this, and the key cards are all prime Aether Gust and Elspeth Conquers Death targets.
I think this will be a reasonable ladder deck, but I'm not sure that this deck is powerful enough to overcome the issues it faces against even existing decks.
Curious Obsession is gone, but Staggering Insight and Sea-Dasher Octopus allow you to play a very similar game plan.
I've opted (heh) to skip Brineborn Cutthroat for Faerie Vandal as a more evasive scaling threat that plays well with Staggering Insight's ability to race. Neutralize's ability to cycle is incredibly powerful as a way to get around Teferi, Time Raveler, grow your Faerie Vandal, or fill the bin for Pteramander. Cycling on countermagic may not seem very exciting, but having the option makes it much harder to get stuck with the wrong mix of answers and threats.
This is honestly the deck I'm the most proud of in this set's 50. Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast and Yidaro, Wandering Monster are going to be a pairing we see a lot of in Ikoria Standard because of how well they work together. A large threat that not only cycles when you draw it, but tucks itself right back into the deck to search up is exactly what Lukka is Lukking for (hold your applause, I'm not done with my bad puns yet).
I wanted to take that synergy one step further. Lukka always grabs a higher CMC, so if you pick a maximum CMC for the rest of your creatures, you can consistently get very similar effects every time you -2. Agent of Treachery is one of the premier expensive creatures, but there's another way in the format to cheat it out.
Winota, Joiner of Forces works very conveniently with cheap creatures, Agent of Treachery, and big hasty threats that aren't human. A few Scryfall searches later and you see the suite of humans and non-humans assembled here.
The curve may look high, but you still have 12 plays on turn two and the ability to play up the curve to Lukka himself. I'm very excited to sleeve this up on Arena and fine tune this archetype—there's an awful lot of potential here.
Fires of Invention isn't exactly a new archetype, but one of the things I sunk a lot of time into was figuring out just how greedy we could get in a format with Growth Spiral and Triomes. Turns out, you can get pretty greedy, and this is the version of Four-Color Fires I think has the most promise.
Migration Path may seem unnecessary in a Fires of Invention deck, but the ability to fire off Genesis Ultimatum on turn four or five is nothing to sneeze at, and cycling later doesn't take up your spell for the turn.
It's very possible that Jeskai Fires is just cleaner and more consistent, but I'm not sure that it will be worth it in Ikoria Standard to sacrifice this much power for just a bit of consistency. It'll still be fairly easy to cast Deafening Clarion on turn three or Fires of Invention on turn four, but getting the explosive starts that Temur Fires had access to is really appealing when we don't have to also give up Teferi, Time Raveler and Kenrith, the Returned King.
I know that 80-card decks in Standard sounds like a meme, but Yorion, Sky Nomad is some serious power.
Flickering your entire board is a very powerful effect in a deck built around powerful enters-the-battlefield effects. While older formats get access to cards like Restoration Angel, Spark Double isn't very far off in terms of its ability to double up on ETB triggers. The real fun begins when you copy Yorion, causing your battlefield (including Yorion) to flicker again, and then Yorion flickers Spark Double and well… you see where this is going.
Flickering your battlefield every turn not only gives you a ton of card advantage, but makes it incredibly difficult to interact with your permanents. Both Yorion and Spark Double dodging Aether Gust means the most played instant-speed interaction is completely incapable of stopping you from continuing your lööps.
There are a lot of busted things you can do with Song of Creation, but I wanted to highlight this promising new archetype. Ominous Seas is a way to get a lot of on-board power from all the cards you're drawing without additional mana. This archetype was initially built by VTCLA and looks like one of the better ways to combine Song of Creation and cheap Adventure creatures alongside Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath.
I chose to play a slightly different spell suite to try and get to Song more consistently, but the core package of Song of Creation, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, and Merfolk Secretkeeper is very powerful. Ominous Seas is the payoff card in this build, but I think you can also build similar packages with Arclight Phoenix as the payoff card to close the game.
What? You're mad I did all this Pioneering (lol) without including any Pioneer decks? Fine, here's the most promising and powerful deck in the entire challenge: Song of Creation Combo.
You're capable of playing Song of Creation on turn two and drawing your deck on the spot. That's wild. Song of Creation is more like Song of the End in older formats. Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy is unexciting in Standard, but any format with Mox Amber makes Kinnan much, much stronger. Springleaf Drum conveniently also taps for mana, and cheap artifacts power out Emry, Lurker of the Loch. Emry gives the deck both more powerful Underworld Breaches and more powerful Song of Creations by filling the yard and casting bonus spells from it.
Commune with the Gods helps find your important enchantments and creatures, and Blink of an Eye is there to get rid of any pesky Gideons. The one card I still want to try and find room for is Paradoxical Outcome because while turn-two Song of Creation is a really niche scenario involving at least three mana artifacts, early Paradoxical Outcomes aren't hard to pull off and make your Song of Creation turns nearly impossible to fizzle. The most likely candidates to cut are a pair of Walking Ballista.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is sure to shake up every format in Magic, but I'm most excited for its impact on Standard. ChannelFireball have been kind enough to host day one MagicFest Online Qualifiers. There will be an online MagicFest the first weekend the set is out! I'm so excited to try and qualify or at least watch coverage all weekend, but first things first, I'm going to be playing the Early Access event today! Thanks to Wizards of the Coast, I have a free preview account and will be jamming these and many other brews over on Twitch all day, so stop on by and check out Ikoria in action. We're all stuck at home anyway, so spend some time today hanging out in a bunch of Twitch channels and chatting with folks. Ikoria is lit, so stay home, grab some snacks, and enjoy the fun!