After a long an uncomfortable period without new Magic cards, we have the full list of new cards from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths to finally consider. A plane full of monsters and mutants, Ikoria’s creative themes revolve around large creatures and larger spells.
Cycling: A returning mechanic, cycling allows players to discard a card from their hand for a cost in exchange for drawing a card. Occasionally, we see all-star cards like Krosan Tusker that offer an additional benefit in addition to the card draw from cycling. Unfortunately, Ikoria offers that extra benefit only at higher rarities.
Mutate: Creatures with the “mutate” ability have an alternate casting cost which allows them to be combined with a creature already on the battlefield. When you pay the alternate cost, the creature with mutate will modify a creature already on the battlefield, either coming in on top or on bottom of the original creature. The resulting creature will have the base power and toughness, as well as the other characteristics like color, of the creature on top, and the abilities of cards underneath.
You can also cast the creatures for their normal cost, in a pinch.
Frankly, the mechanic is a lot, and there is a lot to consider when looking at how it interacts with kill spells and flickering, in particular.
Companion: At the moment, companion allows players to access a card from their wishboard during gameplay as long as certain requirements for deck construction (unique abilities written on each companion creature) are met. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to consider any of the companion cards for Pauper, but most of the Ikoria companions are worth playing even without using the powerful companion ability.
Keyword Counters: Finally, Ikoria offers us another way to turn our vanilla creatures into monsters with counters. For example, you might cast a creature buff that adds a Flying Counter to your creature. While most of the buff expires at the end of the turn, the Flying counter will stay with the creature as long as it remains on the battlefield. Menace, Flying, Trample, First Strike, Lifelink, Reach, and Hexproof counters are all in the set.
Phizzled: We’re already running two 2WW cards that create a combined 4 power and 4 toughness over 2 bodies, in Gallant Cavalry and Call the Cavalry, but I think 2/2s with vigilance are likely more appealing for most games than a 3/3 and a 1/1. I do want to see how the sword looks in foil, though.
Omniczech: 2/2s are actual bodies I care about that can do something, I think if the variant of this that makes 2 vanilla changelings didn’t make it, this one is a bit sketchier than that
P: Another in the Doomed Traveler family, the token lacking a keyword seems imperfect. We never brought in Sacred Cat, and I’m not sure this compares favorably, even with the various Aristocrats plans.
O: I love a good redundant piece that supports fan favorite archetypes. This is definitely the worst take so far as both the front and back half are vanilla creatures. I want input from the community to see how people are feeling about the need for another Doomed Traveller.
P: Agreed. If there is a strong desire for more resilient but small bodies, we can certainly put one in, but I think it would cost us more appealing one-drops.
P: I feel weird wanting to talk about it, but this is a charm. The permanent buff seems good as a flexible option, but the life gain mode isn’t anything to write home about. We discussed this when the Pauper Cube went live on MTGO – is technically maindeckable enchantment removal worth taking up a card slot? I’m pretty sure it’s not, but the more we see it on charms, the more I’m sure one will, eventually, make it in.
O: I actually really like this as a catch all, I think the life gain mode is the only one that really isn’t thrilling me. I like a card that can either buff a creature or deal with problematic enchantment. The opportunity cost isn’t huge and it does 3 very distinct things. I think that this is one I’m interested in.
P: 1/4 with just vigilance isn’t must as a threat, but four toughness stonewalls a lot of the aggro cards in the cube. I’m not sure what it means that this body is available as a two-drop in one of our aggro colors.
O: While technically a strictly better Affa Protector, I’m not sure that’s the level of praise that qualifies cards for inclusion.
P: 3/2 for 3 CMC being a more standard body means the special ability is the selling point, and a repeatable pump for all your humans is potentially a big sell. We don’t have as many humans as we could, of course, but we only have to add a few net power onto the board for it to feel powerful.
O: I like a good battle cry as much as the next person, but this being limited to a creature type that only appears incidentally in the cube makes it tricky to evaluate how often this will be a 3/2 for 3 vs just having battle cry printed on it. I’m not a fan.
P: Flash and +1/+1 have to be considered the only text on this card. If so, this isn’t much more exciting then Light of Hope’s +1/+1 counter mode. Incidentally searching for this with Heliod's Pilgrim and Totem-Guide Hartebeest make this slightly more appealing, but I’m not confident this is flexible or powerful enough to warrant a slot.
O: I’m not here for this middling combat trick, even if two cards in the cube tutor for it. The trinket text about vigilance only adds to the confusion, so I’d prefer to avoid this.
P: The additive distraction point is well made.
P: The flying fox brings the same base stats as Aven Riftwatcher to the table for the mutate cost, but gains a +1/+1 when mutated. Is the more aggressive body relying, essentially, on trading in one of your earlier creatures going to be worth trading something like Riftwatcher? I’m not fully sold, but I have plenty of time to test before I can put my hands on the physical cards, sadly.
O: I like this more than most of the common Mutators, granting evasion and a free counter when mutating is nice, but I think after the initial trigger, it’s unlikely the counter text is more than flavor text.
P: Without mutating, the 5 CMC cost for a 3/4 flyer is less thrilling than Watcher in the Mist, but mutating the Heron drops the cost by 1 generic mana and gains us a card draw. This seems like the safest mutate creature for cube. Right now, killing the mutation in response to casting will still give us the undercosted 3/4 flier, and killing it after the Heron resolves will at least leave the caster with the card draw.
O: This reminds me a lot of Wretched Gryff. Both of them wind up eating a creature to create an evasive cantripping body. That said, this one gets cheaper even if you have a random token sitting around, which feels better than sacrificing a meaningful 3 mana creature to get a cost reduction. The card draw being interruptable is a disappointment, but I think this will still put in work.
P: If we force an opponent to use a kill spell on whatever we targeted with mutate, have we gained enough card advantage when we’re left with our 3/4 flier? I think the Q&A section here is going to be critical.
P: The sorcery speed is going to be the thing that kills this. We’ve been happy to pay full price for both Blink of an Eye and Into the Roil for the bounce and the card draw, so having the ability to case Gust at half price if we can keep a flying creature alive isn’t a terrible offer. But I don’t know if I can talk myself into the bounce option coming only at sorcery speed.
O: As Phizzled noted, the sorcery speed on this is a bit rough, but being either a full cost Blink or Into the Roil or a cheaper version is decent. I think this is another one that needs to be put in from of the community, but I’m erring on the side of this not being quite good enough.
P: We only have a few spells that target permanents that aren’t creatures, in the cube. A conditional counterspell that won’t always be castable in a cube game is a conundrum, even with the tacked on card draw. I think I just want to like this as much as I like Shelter, even though it is much harder to use on offense the way Shelter is.
O: Not a fan, counterspells in the history of Magic have been better in the past, and while the special words “draw a card” are on it, I’d rather have a more open ended option that allows me to stop my opponent from developing their own board rather than simply protecting mine.
P: The body isn’t especially fragile, and the attack trigger means you’ll still be getting damage through when your opponent kills this with blocks. Four toughness means it will also be able to hold the fort for a while while you try to land a powerful finisher. How often will this creature be a decoy that allows a 4/4 or larger green monster sneak through? How excited am I to play this in Ikoria limited?
O: If this is how blue gets these type of effects, I might be in, it’s slow and really needs another payoff to get its value, but I think this is worth giving serious consideration as a way to clock in.
P: When I first saw this, I thought about Phantasmal Form, and I disliked this. But maybe I should think about this more as a counterspell and less as a way to enable an alpha-strike in blue. Giving your creature 4 toughness should counter red burn spells or green’s fight spells. There are only 12 creatures in the cube with base power greater than 4, but slowing any one of them down even a little bit could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
O: I think this has a lot of things it can do, but I’m unconvinced they’re all good enough, this feels like it’ll get stranded in your hand and become a 1 mana draw a card too often for me to really like it. I do enjoy the idea of a weird blue combat trick, but I’m far from sold.
P: Discord member saddlebags compared the leech to cube mainstay Predatory Nightstalker. The ability to kill a small creature or remove counters from one which has been buffed isn’t something that should be overlooked. Flash makes the leech’s higher casting cost more palatable, and 5 power means that if you are able to give the leech a clear path, it will eat huge chunks of an opponent’s life total quickly. I’m not completely sold, but I looked long and hard at Blight-Breath Catoblepas last set and that does less than the leech by itself.
O: If you get to 6 mana, this can be a blowout by flashing it in, eating a huge and small thing in combat and even deal with a counter heavy aggressor. I think the big old issue is that it requires getting to 6 mana. I also think this thing is a miserable attacker, so it’s not for me.
P: As a 2/1 for two mana, there isn’t much to write home about. But choosing between deathtouch and lifelink lets me choose between aggro and control, and potentially go toe-to-toe with anything my opponent might have. Being able to block with my 2 drop deathtoucher doesn’t upset me. Is it time to reconsider Thrill-Kill Assassin?
O: So I get a modal Child of Night or Hand of Silumgar? I’m actually kinda a fan. Both of those have been pretty solid in limited as “above average filler” and being able to pick the mode that matters is a big difference. I think that this is a surprisingly solid option.
P: Another mutating threat that is only a fair body when cast for it’s normal casting cost, Whisperer is offers a 4/4 for four mana, and strips the opponent of a card. I don’t always love discard effects in pauper, but the mutation requirement means this won’t be backbreaking in the way that Okiba-Gang Shinobi was in the past.
O: I think this is lukewarm. If I want to discard things, I want to the effect early on. I think the menace does some work to help make this a bit more appealing, but I’m not sold on this effect in a cube context.
P: If we ever pay our three mana and don’t get the extra body, I’m pretty sure we’re disappointed. The combined bodies a less great than a morbid Wakedancer, but I assume I’m not the only person who has encountered more combat phases in cube where nothing dies.
O: I was fine with Mardu Hordechief, and this is the same thing in black. 3/4 of stats for 3 mana is just fine in my book.
P: The scorpion is not as effective a blocker as 1/1s like Typhoid Rats or Ruthless Ripper, but the incidental life swing it can offer are intriguing. I’ll keep one one hand more because I think it will look great in foil than because I think it will cleanly slot in to the cube.
O: I kinda like this, the fact it’s minorly above rate and nugs your opponent if it dies just makes it seem decent. This is one I’m not hellbent on including but feel like someone will need to talk me out of come update time.
P: We’ve seen a lot of 1/1s for R that sneak a little extra damage in, but most encourage us to either attack or sacrifice them to create that advantage. The gremlin offers a consistent mana-sink that comes online early, while also enabling spells-matter decks to get that damage through early and often. I don’t think this is an obvious pick-up, but it’s made me think for long enough that I want to talk about it with the committee.
O: This is really close to where I want to be for these “storm lite” payoffs red has been getting at common. The real killer here is the mana cost for each activation, if a game stalls out it isn’t the hardest, but I really wish this were more in the vein of Thermo-Alchemist where the cost was up front rather than on each interaction.
P: I know people are clamoring for this particular mutate card, but I’m struggling to be excited about it. A 5/4 splashable threat is fine, but reach is an odd ability for most of our red pairs, which would like to apply damage to the face. With the mutate cost of 3R the body is agressive, and I don’t often say “no” to optional rummaging, but I don’t think this accomplishes what we’ve set red up to accomplish most of the time.
O: 5/4 is a really solid body, reach helps red deal with flyers, but it’s rough trying to sell me on something where the fail case is a 5 mana 5/4 reach that is unlikely to every trigger the rummage. I’m not a fan.
P: By contrast, this 4/3 for four CMC isn’t as aggressive, but the option of trample (to crush chump blockers) or menace (to evade a larger threat) are both pretty just good enough to pique my interest. Both abilities help get damage through past Pauper Cube all-star Guardian of the Guildpact, which is no small feat.
O: I like this but 4 drops in red are a hard sell for me. This is one of the modal creatures I like more than the average as both modes present pretty similar value propositions. I think I could be swayed on this, but as stated, 4 mana things that die to bolt and similar removal spells are a bit of a hard sell to me.
P: I think I’ve been vocal about my general disillusionment with Lash Out on the Discord without needing to rehash it here. Every 1R instant that deals 3 damage to creatures will get a second look from me because I want there to be no downside to using that burn spell to clear out a blocker. Fire Prophecy includes the very helpful “may” that I love, and offers a card swap that doesn’t actually send your current dead card to the graveyard. We still get to power up Eyekite while clearing blockers, though I’m starting to think Wizards has given up on that mechanic for the red-blue pair.
O: I like this a lot, 3 damage is good vs a wide array of creatures, and being able to cycle away something that’s not relevant at exactly this moment is great. I think lash out makes this a very easy switch in my mind.
P: We have both Krenko's Command and Dragon Fodder but the bonus in the cube that cares about Goblin as a creature type is Warren Pilferers, which only cares about creature cards, not tokens. Haste on one of our tokens is a clear improvement. I can’t imagine we don’t add this.
O: Nice clear inclusion as a “strictly” better fodder/command, gets in on that basis alone.
P: While mono-red decks in the cube used to have access to Pit Fight, fighting isn’t a terribly efficient means of removing our opponent’s creatures. Fighting at sorcery speed is worse. Right now, I’d must rather trade a goblin token for four damage with Heartfire than trade that same goblin token and this card for one measly damage. Cycling isn’t going to do enough here, either, sadly.
O: God I really love cycling, and cycling for just 1 is so appealing, but I think this just has too little to keep me interested.
P: The power boost is potentially negligible, but giving your one drop threat first strike permanently can extend its life quite a bit. I’m imagining following my Jackal Pup with this and actually having a chance to race against some of the 1/3s in White and Blue without having to throw all my burn at them. I kind of like this more than I think it deserves.
O: Not a fan. This feels like a slightly buffed version of the only occasionally playable first strike combat tricks.
P: 2/3 trample for four isn’t especially exciting, but in larger cubes, this psuedo-prowess can easily join with or substitute for Pyre Hound, as the non-creature trigger is a clear upgrade over “instant or sorcery.”
O: I just don’t think at 4 mana this is going to do enough quickly enough. I like the built in evasion a lot, and the fact it’s the prowess style trigger is obviously a nice upside. I’m just not sure this is doing enough for me.
P: The fail case is the now-standard 3/2 for 3 CMC, which is merely okay. Double strike is potentially big game, though, and the possibility of creating a blow-out at instant speed makes the wolverine a possibility for inclusion. We’ve given serious consideration to recent double strikers like Raging Redcap.
O: I actually prefer this type of static buff to the more combo-y all in Kiln Fiend style of “spells matter” payoff. The fail case is unexciting but serviceable, so I think this is worth considering.
P: Green gets beefier bodies more readily, so a 3/3 for three doesn’t necessarily turn my head. Trample is a big perk in combat with so many small tokens running around, and makes the Mole worth looking at. The incidental self-milling is, I think, icing for many of our Discord members. I regret that we had but one Scion of the Wild to give.
O: I do like the rate here as a role-player in the self mill archetype we’re trying to encourage, this may be unexciting but it might be a decent option to continue to commit to the board while feeding the yard.
P: The more I look at this body, the more I wonder if the body isn’t actually impressive. Other cube-minded folks I’ve chatted with in the last few days have been as dismissive as I originally was, and then come around. I might, as well.
P: In my mind, this competes with our green auras. Moldervine Cloak, Elephant Guide, and Cartouche of Strength all offer a way to mitigate the potential disadvantage of being auras, and can be searched for in Green-White decks. The larger buff on Fully Grown means we might see the creature survive longer anyway, though, mitigating the need for greater resilience.
O: I like this for retail limited, but it feels a bit strange to me. I think that generally this would wind up being a game ender with some large beater sans evasion, but the other use case of winning a combat and chipping in for a bit, either leaves us with a medium creature that now has trample or a large thing that was going to win eventually without evasion.
P: I’d be remiss to not mention this card. The defensive body absolutely helps us survive to ramp into our game ending threats. But it fixes our mana in a way that still enables five color nonsense, and we generally want to avoid that.
O: Given land options at common, 5 color nonsense tends to wind up being a bit more controlling so that bothers me less. I do like that this doesn’t just ramp out random big mana spells but specifically creatures. That said, this one I think needs to go to the community for discussion.
P: The Greathorn’s 3 power and 4 toughness is below rate for our green creatures at four mana. While the mutate cost is competitive and the land searching is appealing, I’m not sure how good it is that we have to already have a creature to gain that benefit. Is this better than the symmetrical Jungle Wayfinder?
O: I really really can’t nail down why but something about this just isn’t appealing to me. I think I need time with mutate to see how it plays, but this feels just off enough at first pass for me to be suspicious.
P: Green gets a punch effect at instant speed for two mana. This is a clean upgrade to Pounce. The trample rider might be a win-more effect, or it might turn your attack with Fierce Witchstalker into a game ender. I’m definitely grabbing one.
O: I really like this as a way to push more damage through in green decks, the fact we still have pretty vanilla fight effects makes this one an easy inclusion. The worst case of eating a blocker is solid and the best case of casting this on a trampler and getting to hit your opponent on top of that is just great.
P: I’m torn on this one. One the one hand, it’s a very decent Regrowth – most of the things we’ll ever want to get back are creature cards, after all. Chances are this grabs something more exciting than Revive would, and the potential to grab two cards is definitely better than Wildwood Rebirth, even at sorcery speed. But green has, itself, very few humans, and I wonder if we wouldn’t prefer the flexibility of Evolution Charm over Survivor’s Bond. I’m open to being persuaded.
O: I’m not personally a fan of including cards that hint towards tribal strategies that just aren’t present (green humans in this case), but I also have yet to crunch the numbers. I really want this to be a 2 mana divination, but I expect most of the time it’ll be an over costed Raise Dead.
P: I don’t think this is essential, but the similarity to white’s Prismatic Strands means I want to talk about it rather than simply dismiss it. I gave some consideration to Pause for Reflection last year when wondering how to give control decks more tools, and I like that Thwart can help increase the power of our fight spells. I don’t think that will be enough, but here we are.
O: I’m not sure if this is the type of interaction we’re looking to promote, but I like the idea of attacking out and having a way to both protect your own creatures and potentially eat some of your opponent’s creatures. I think this is a pass but has interesting play patterns.
P: A variant on the Pilgrim's Eye type creatures we’ve seen, there is a small benefit to Farfinder not being an artifact. Vigilance isn’t a terrible ability, but as a 1/2 the Fox was already more of a speed bump than a road block. Lacking the evasion of Pilgrim’s Eye and Skyscanner makes Farfinder unlikely as an inclusion, although the art is great.
O: I think this might be the point of diminishing returns on the 3 mana incidental body that draws a card. We’re a far sight away from the best in class Cloudkin Seer with this one.
P: I like Springjaw Trap more than I think I should. The ability to play it at instant speed is nice, the incidental ability to trigger prowess (though, not often in the cube), the amount of damage it deals, and even the ability to send the three to your opponent’s face are all nice. But for a combined 5 converted mana, I can’t help wondering if I would rather have Bloodtallow Candle.
O: I just can’t be sold on this, Bloodtallow was slow but didn’t go face, but this is just a very slow removal/burn option. It’s a pass from me.