Ikoria has had an impact as big as the kaiju that inhabit it. Trilands have been very welcome mana fixing, but companions have been a huge factor in the metagame right off the bat.
Leading into this weekend, the story of the format was Gyruda, Doom of Depths decks capable of putting an absurd amount of power and toughness on the board as early as turn four. Turns out these decks don't have much in the way of interaction, and Lurrus of the Dream-Den Sacrifice decks rose up to prey on them, as well as countermagic-heavy flash decks.
The story of this weekend's tournaments was Lurrus Sacrifice, Jeskai Fires and Temur Reclamation, though the MTGO events of this weekend are skewed by a bug causing Gyruda, Doom of Depths to be temporarily banned. However, on top of playing in the Lotus Box 1k I've also been playing a ton of Ikoria Standard on the ladder, and I'm here to help you figure out what's what.
It's too early in the format for a stable metagame, so instead of the usual Hot Take Tier List, I've sorted Ikoria's early archetypes into three, alliterative categories.
These are the decks that looked good, but aren't. Many of these are aggressive or linear decks that have been preying on the lack of removal in the format. As we move into week two of this format, there's going to be a lot more interaction and these decks will be heavily punished.
Didn't these decks just win both Standard tournaments this weekend? They did, but on a fundamental level I do not believe in Lurrus of the Dream-Den's power level as a companion in Standard. While it's certainly a powerful engine if uninterrupted and is a part of some strong early sequences, it's also very vulnerable to interaction.
Speaking of vulnerable to interaction, Gyruda decks are struggling with the return of Mystical Dispute and early aggression. While Gyruda was incredibly successful in the first two days as people tried to ignore each other as much as possible, the lack of powerful odd sideboard cards has hurt the strategy a lot. Destiny Spinner can only do so much work.
Immediate caveat that I do not include the Temur Flash decks here. Those are basically Temur Reclamation with different threat selection, and are much better positioned. The Ikoria flash-themed cards have been largely disappointing, as good as Neutralize has been. These decks might have more promise if aggro gets chased off, but until then I think this deck is simply too bad at playing from behind.
Mono-Red Aggro is traditionally the week one all-star, but things have been rough on our budget hero. There are very few Ikoria cards that help out, and many other decks got powerful tools. Lurrus Sacrifice is the most popular deck and plays to the board just as fast as Mono-Red does, and the other two most popular decks, Jeskai Fires and Temur Reclamation, are historically bad matchups that have not improved.
These are the decks that either live up to the hype or won without any real fanfare. They all have strong interaction and a plan to close the game, and all of those things are very important in the face of Lurrus of the Dream-Den, the format's currently most popular deck, and Gyruda, Doom of Depths, which isn't very far behind.
Temur Reclamation remains the queen of interaction: removal spells, countermagic, and an over-the-top finisher. Expansion // Explosion still kills people very dead, and the ability to play a control game against the aggro decks remains very powerful. I think this is the least flashy (heh) deck in Ikoria Standard because it plays very few new cards and no companion, but it's quite possibly the most powerful deck in the format.
Jeskai Fires does get to play new cards, and Keruga, the Macrosage and Narset of the Ancient Way are very good new cards. Keruga, the Macrosage allows the deck to run a higher land count and still have access to threats and card draw, and Narset of the Ancient Way gives the deck a way to stabilize its life total while having access to planeswalker removal and additional card advantage.
Jeskai Fires has been a strong deck for multiple sets now and looks stable enough to remain so in Ikoria. It has better mana, increased consistency, and a lot of decks weak to Deafening Clarion to prey on.
Where the fancy flash decks have clunky mana and often fall behind before they can establish threat-plus-countermagic, Mono-Blue Tempo is much leaner and more capable of going under decks like Jeskai Fires and Temur Reclamation. This list was designed by Mason Clark who also Top 16'd the Lotus Box 1k. I expect this list to pick up in popularity as Jeskai Fires and Temur Reclamation take over and shove Lurrus Sacrifice decks out of the format.
These are decks that performed reasonably well and caught my eye as ways to attack the format, but still have something holding them back. If the weakness can be patched up, expect these decks to thrive.
This is one of the most impressive Lurrus of the Dream-Den decks to me personally, as leaner mana allows it to more consistently attack the opponent down and force interaction on non-Lurrus cards. Maindecking its own interaction and playing Fiend Artisan to get better use out of the naturally recursive threats means that this deck can compete well with other aggro decks and actually outsize Deafening Clarion and threaten Jeskai Fires right back. If Lurrus of the Dream-Den does stick around, I imagine it looks a lot more like this.
These decks are grouped together because they are playing the card people keep giving up in order to play Lurrus: Mayhem Devil.
An unanswered Mayhem Devil absolutely dominates small creature decks and is capable of burning opponents out from high life totals. Lurrus decks have an abysmal time against the best sacrifice payoff in Standard, and I don't think it's particularly close.
The Obosh, the Preypiercer version Top 8'd the Standard Challenge, and gets to play Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Mayhem Devil while only giving up Priest of Forgotten Gods and maybe Fiend Artisan. Mayhem Devil and Judith, the Scourge Diva do an astronomical amount of damage when Obosh hits the field. This deck's biggest weak point is well, the curve. Sixteen three-drops. Ouch.
Meanwhile, I played Jund Sacrifice to a Top 32 in the Lotus Box 1k and played against Lurrus five times without dropping a match. Fiend Artisan gives the deck a huge boost in consistency, allowing constant access to Mayhem Devil and combo turns with Woe Strider. Much like the mono-black deck, I played Mire Triton to feed Fiend Artisan and Call of the Death-Dweller, which was incredibly impressive as a way to rebuy multiple creatures or one absolutely terrifying Mayhem Devil. As much as I dominated creature matchups, the archetype still struggles with Temur Reclamation, as you are not allowed time to set up a combo kill and they can quickly outscale what you're up to.
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So far Ikoria Standard has been incredibly fun, and the gameplay has been shockingly varied despite some companions looking repetitive on the surface. I've greatly enjoyed this format and look forward to playing a lot of online tournaments. This week MagicFest Online resumes, and we get yet more 24/7 coverage of Standard culminating in a Weekly Championship. I expect Temur Reclamation to be the best deck this weekend, though not the current flash variants.
Please let me know how you all enjoyed this new format, what you've been enjoying in Standard, and where you think I've got it wrong! I plan to put my money where my mouth is and see if I can't take down this weekend's Weekly Championship, but while you wait on that tournament remember to stay safe, take care of each other, and wash your dang hands.