Here we are again. Ikoria has just been released in paper, but we have had a number of weeks to really dig into what Standard with Ikoria has to offer. In my experience, the format has a lot of different things to offer every type of player. The cycling deck has broken into Standard from its dominant draft roots. Mutate provides an array of decision trees from gamestate to gamestate and game to game. The Companions have split the community into those who love the play patterns and mechanic in general; and those who loathe it entirely. We’ll discuss the Companions more at a later date.
This is my original top ten list for Ikoria Lair of Behemoths and my honorable mentions from our Ikoria Top Ten episode of Destroy Target Permanent podcast.
Song of Creation
Vivien, Monsters' Advocate
Vadrok, Apex of Thunder
Yidaro, Wandering Monster
Inspired Ultimatum/Narset of the Old Ways
General Kudro of Drannith
Let’s take a look at the list and where I believe those cards stand now that I’ve had time to play with them.
First up, General Kudro of Drannith. The problem that this card has in standard currently is that it’s just a little “small-ball” for what the other decks are able to do. I would imagine that if standard wasn’t solely about the large mana boosts and “going tall” with large creatures and effects, General Kudro would be a slam dunk in the format. The plus side for General Kudro of Drannith is that it gives a serious boost to Modern Humans and enables the Humans deck in Pioneer. However, at this point I wouldn’t have it in my top ten.
Secondly, we are split between Inspired Ultimatum and Narset of the Old Ways. I placed these together originally because I believed that they would see play in the same style of deck without branching into other archetypes. While this assumption held true for a time, it did not hold true to this date. The Fires of Invention decks immediately adopted the new walker, the Ultimatum only saw fringe play at best. That’s not to say that neither of these cards are good or lack potential, it just may not be their time in the format. Narset of the Old Ways was the new toy for Fires decks but, even that has changed now. Jeskai Lukka has become the de facto Fires list and it doesn’t play Narset. As of this moment, Inspired Ultimatum is out of the top ten and Narset of the Old Ways takes the number ten spot.
Lore Drakkis comes in at the number eight spot and it’s our first Mutate creature. I believe that this card still has a lot of potential and we just haven’t found the right home for it yet. That being said, Lore Drakkis stays in the number eight slot.
Next up we have Heartless Act, this card seemed “unconditional” when it was originally previewed. That is not the case when put into practice. There are numerous ways to add some sort of counter to your creatures thus making Heartless Act much more difficult to serve as a removal spell. It is still a perfectly serviceable removal spell for black decks, make no mistake about it, it just fails to hit the mark I believed it would. Exit, stage left for Heartless Act.
The Tri-Cycle Lands, or Triomes (Indatha, Ketria, Raugrin, Savai, Zagoth) are seeing exactly the impact that I believed they would have in Constructed. The hype around the new lands from Ikoria was rather lackluster, the same response players had to the Temples from the original Theros block. The Temples proved themselves and so will the Triomes. Sure they drop a few slots on my top ten, nothing more to say here.
Who doesn’t like the idea of a giant turtle with haste? Yidaro, Wandering Monster is the second biggest disappointment for me. I believed that this card was going to be a great control/midrange finisher and it fell flatter than I could’ve imagined. The makeup of the Standard format at the moment is about going as big as you can, as fast as you can (I’m looking at you Agent of Treachery) or doing the same but through controlling the gamestate and then going big (again, Agent of Treachery rears its head). I have to admit that I didn't really take into account how rarely you may find four copies of Yidaro within a given game. In my experience, Yidaro enters the battlefield through being cast rather than the triggered ability from being cycled. Yidaro, Wandering Monster exits the top ten.
My number four slot is Vadrok, Apex of Thunder and unfortunately Vadrok came in with a friendly shower rather than a powerful thunderstorm. This Apex falls into the same category as Lore Drakkis, I believe the optimal home has yet to be discovered. There’s no question that this creature is very powerful, but there are certain deck building requirements that must be taken into consideration. Mutate requires creatures to be mutated onto and Vadrok’s triggered ability wants you to play a number of non-creature spells. There’s a pretty good chance that a strategy involving both of these mutate creatures has yet to be explored. For now, Vadrok is being blown out of my top ten.
And in third place, we have Curiosity…er… Sea-Dasher Octopus. The comparison was made between this eight-legged beastie and enchantments like Curiosity and Curious Obsession, those it is not, but it does a pretty good impression. Aggressive decks that don’t involve red are having a rough time at the moment and that is the problem with Sea-Dasher Octopus. Just like Mono Blue in the previous formats, it’s only a matter of time before this creature and the archetypes that employ it see a resurgence. Until that day, I’m moving on from this Octopus.
The silver medal recipient is Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate and unfortunately she gets just that as far as Ikoria’s planeswalkers go. The dominance of Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast has definitely overshadowed what Vivien can do. That being said, the biggest hurdle that the new Vivien needs to clear is its mana-cost rival Nissa, Who Shakes the World. While the appearance of Nissa in standard has tapered off, in most decks that would want a five mana green walker, Nissa is a better option. We’ll have to revisit the power of Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate after rotation. Until then, Vivien is planswalking out of my top ten.
The biggest disappointment in my original top ten is by far Song of Creation. This card just did not deliver on what was promised during preview season. This “Song” was typically what decked you instead of contributing to your opponent’s demise. Expensive enchantments also fall afoul of not impacting the board the turn they are cast, if cast on curve that is. The biggest strike against this card is that the draw trigger is mandatory, thus resulting in self-decking a fair amount of the time. I may end up being wrong when it’s all said and done, but for now I’m not singing this song anymore.
My revised top ten is quite a bit different from the one I originally proposed before my experience with the cards in play.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Yorion, Sky Nomad
Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
Obosh, the Preypiercer
Illuna, Apex of Wishes
Narset of the Old Ways
My top ten definitely changed more than some of the lists I’ve had in the past. I’m okay with that. I find it refreshing to be reminded that the way I evaluate cards is going to have to adapt more from set to set.
Regardless of what we now know, the Companions were difficult to evaluate. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Yes they are all very powerful, but we’ve seen powerful cards fall by the wayside time and time again.
How has everyone been enjoying the new Standard format? I’ve been loving it personally. I hope everyone is staying safe and taking care of themselves physically and mentally.
I plan on alternating between written articles and more MTG Arena videos moving forward. If there is something you want to see in the future let me know. You can find me @jaymzsaint on Twitter or you can leave a comment below.
Good luck, I hope you lose!