Awwwwwww yea, baby. Ikoria is looking to be a beast (ba-dum-tiss) of a set, and for Commander players, Wizards came out of the gates swinging.
What was spoiled so far is showing that creatures matter, and midrange and aggressive strategies are about to get a huge boost with not only the mutating commanders, but powerful planeswalkers to supplement strategies.
What makes the mutate commanders so exciting is that the fundamentals of deck building will shift around them. No more worrying about setting up with mana rocks, you're able to start playing spells and creatures right off the bat and are rewarded for generating a board presence within the first few turns. Unlike other Commanders that may have diminishing returns as the game goes on, each mutating commander brings a unique ability that is useful at all points of the game.
Forget the long intro. Let's dive right in.
Vadrok, Apex of Thunder is the real deal. Jeskai is well known for its love of cheap, impactful instants, and the rate on Vadrok is insane! For the low price of a blue, red and white, you get a Mantis Rider that trades haste for first strike and an ability that has blowout potential. Remember, it's not just an instant or sorcery like you might be used to with Jeskai—this casts noncreature spells. That means Vadrok can bring back enchantments, artifacts, and yes! Planeswalkers!
These are a tiny handful of the cards you can replay. Imagine hitting the ultimate on a Gideon of Trials and then immediately bringing it back to play. Mutate will allow you to keep casting Vadrok, Apex of Thunder on your creatures when it's sent to the command zone for its mutate cost as many times as you want (though you still have to pay commander tax), which means continuous returns of the best three-drop spells in your graveyard.
Vadrok has power we have not seen in a very, very long time. Building your deck around cheap and powerful noncreature cards within Vadrok's mutation ability is going to change the landscape of any table it is involved in immediately.
Banned lol. Stupid Otter.
Brokkos, Apex of Forever does not die. In a color combination notorious for being able to return threats from the graveyard, Brokkos feels like power creep. As a 6/6 for five mana, the rate is already acceptable. Not great, but not bad. Where it starts to get better is the fact it can be mutated from your graveyard over and over again, providing you with a very dangerous form of commander damage.
In Sultai, something as innocuous as a Mulldrifter becomes a 6/6 flying creature that drew you two cards. A Yarok, the Desecrated turns into a Brokkos with trample, deathtouch, lifelink and Yarok's trademark ability. Combine with something like Asceticism and you have a juggernaut of a creature that will refuse to die and eventually grind out opponents.
Combining Brokkos with as many abilities as possible is going to make for an absurdly powerful Voltron-like creature.
Check out my article from last week to delve deeper into Gavi!
Now we're getting into dangerous territory.
Combining Illuna, Apex of Wishes with something like Brainstorm can mean anything from dropping a powerful enchantment, game-winning artifact, or even Craterhoof Behemoth into play. Blue is notorious at library manipulation, and Temur is one of the best color combinations for ramping, controlling the board, and putting massive threats on to the battlefield. You can Ponder, see something incredible, and know there and then is the best time to pull the trigger on Illuna's mutate.
From there, setting up a win condition could be elementary. It all depends on how deep the deck builder wants to go, which is what I think makes Illuna, Apex of Wishes unique. You'll get a good feel from an Illuna player's intentions early in the game. They may be building a Temur version of Yarok, the Desecrated, focusing on putting creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers into play. It could be something more sinister, like filling their deck with mammoth Eldrazi, Woodfall Primus, Terastadon, or other huge beasts that impact the board immediately.
Temur also can play unfair games of Magic with flash. Combining Illuna with a Yeva, Nature's Herald will give you a lot of control over where and when the best times are to mutate, ensuring your Illuna will hit and generate the most value. I'd keep an eye out for this one.
Here is where they screwed up. Nethroi, Apex of Death is a new Abzan commander that will 100% kill you with a combo.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed + Triskelion? Check.
Hermit Druid + Anything? Check.
Walking Ballista, Vizier of Remedies, Protean Hulk, Carrion Feeder, and the list goes on.
Imagine casting a Buried Alive that you knew would win you the game the moment you mutated Nerhroi, or Entombing half of a combo. You might think I'm overreacting, and it's possible that I could be. The issue I see with Nethroi, Apex of Death is two-fold.
This kind of power is not very difficult to work for. Abzan, as we've seen with commanders like Ghave, Guru of Spores, has no trouble tutoring, ramping, and setting up graveyards. It can be as Spike or as Timmy as the designer wants it to be, but there are very few ways to make it weak.
I can imagine Abzan Elves using this to put eight to ten elves into play immediately and end the game if they ever untap. Does it sound like a competitive archetype? Maybe not. But Nethroi can make it good strictly by giving you a one-sided Living Death or a cheaper one-sided Rise of the Dark Realms. This card is as dangerous as you want it to be.
The other problem I have with it is that it's alluring. Casual tables will pick this commander up to create a theme around and they'll make it too competitive on accident. That's the crux of a card like Nethroi, Apex of Death: it's so good people are going to have a difficult time not making it broken.
This thing is awesome, and I'm building it.
When I was a kid my grandmother bought me King Kong vs. Godzilla and it has been my favorite Kaiju film since I was seven. Everyone always rooted for Godzilla because it was the massive dinosaur that breathed fire, but me? I was Team Kong. He was brilliant and a vicious fighter. As far as big cryptids went, King Kong was my King of the Monsters.
Kogla is another in a long line of awesome mono-green commanders, but the Titan Ape brings very powerful skills to the table.
Fighting a creature upon entering the battlefield when you're as big as a 7/6 means something is dying, and when you're as cheap as Kogla is in a color that specifically values ramp as an asset, as early as turn four you could be dropping Kogla into play and nuking the best creature an opponent controls. That's the easy part. Emanating from the Command Zone is going to give you repeatable access to this effect, and that's great in a color lacking a ton of direct removal.
Kogla, the Titan Ape's best asset is its attack trigger, which lets you destroy target artifact or enchantment that the defending player controls. Why? Because big ape, that's why. We're swatting helicopters out of the sky. Get outta here, Smuggler's Copter.
This is another consistent effect that makes Kogla so good. With a Whispersilk Cloak (that must be a huge cloak) or Swiftfoot Boots, Kogla is going to give opponents fits removing him. Not only that, but combining him with something like Asceticism will boost his power exponentially. Now it's unkillable and constantly destroying any problematic artifact or enchantment.
The last ability may seem for flavor, but guess what? I'm going to return Ainok Survivalist to my hand with Kogla on principle! Don't sleep on the returning Humans to your hand ability. Den Protector? Yeva, Nature's Herald? Mayor of Avabruck?
All humans. Now green can generate card advantage. Look for Kogla, the Titan Ape to be a new premier mono-green commander.
A lot of people have told me Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt is the weakest of all the Apex creatures, but I don't see it. At four mana, a 3/5 double striking commander is a bargain. That's extremely good in Mardu, which focuses on equipment augmentation to make its creatures even bigger. Right out of the gate we're talking about a potentially massive double striker that can kill out of nowhere with commander damage. That isn't weak.
Mutating for five puts it right in line with its kin, and a Warleader's Helix tagged on for removal doesn't seem bad to me. Sure, it's not out there winning games like Nethroi, Apex of Death, but when you build a Mardu Commander deck you understand that your inherent strengths aren't instantly winning, but instead setting up board states where it's very difficult to lose once you get the ball rolling.
I'm not sleeping on Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt. The double strike is too good to ignore along with a very cheap cost. Powering this out on turn three off of a Boros or Rakdos Signet is going to win a lot of games.
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy is in one of the most historically screwed-up color combinations in all of Commander. Yes, Prophet of Kruphix, I'm looking at you.
For TWO FREAKING MANA you get a mana doubler to all of your nonland permanents. That's already dangerous when you're turning your Birds of Paradise into a Bloom Tender, or a Sol Ring into a Thran Dynamo.
Kinnan screams for you to generate infinite mana and put every creature in your deck onto the battlefield, but I don't think it's as dangerous as everyone is making it out to be. Kinnan is great design because it gives casual players this incredibly interesting and strong option to build around, but semi and seriously competitive players get a commander that will let them express themselves—a toolbox general that can put into play whatever creature fits the situation.
Yes, combined with something like Sylvan Tutor or Worldly Tutor, Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy is going to win games. Hello again, Craterhoof Behemoth or End-Raze Forerunners. I see we now have uncounterable ways to put you on the battlefield.
Kinnan is going to be the standard bearer for casual and competitive Commander coming out of Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths. I think it represents the best possible design of the set.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this really long look at some of your options for new generals from Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths. I'm already in love with this set from about every possible angle, and I hope you feel the same way as I do.
I can't wait for this quarantine to be over so we can all focus on what really matters: staying up until six in the morning drafting it at our local game store.