Twelve-Land Decks In Ikoria Draft Are A Real Thing

Twelve-Land Ikoria Draft decks are real, and Ryan Saxe has the trophy to prove it! Would you make the choices he did on his way to victory?

Drannith Stinger, illustrated by Denman Rooke

Wait, what? I can’t play twelve lands in Limited, can I?

In most formats, it would be a terrible idea. But in Ikoria, one-generic-mana cyclers change the game. In prior formats like Amonhket, it wasn’t correct to cut lands due to a density of one-mana cyclers because it was impossible to guarantee the right color to cycle. This meant one-land hands weren’t keepable. But in Ikoria, since you can always cycle regardless of color, the risk of one-land hands is much lower. They aren’t always keepable, but the fact that they can be enables cutting lands aggressively.

I haven’t had a ten-land deck yet, but two of my trophies are decks with twelve lands. One is below, and I’ll show the other at the end of this article, since it’s the draft we will go through.

In general, my current heuristic for cutting lands is as follows:

  1. For every three one-mana cyclers, cut one land.
  2. With five or more two-mana cyclers, cut one land.

This means that decks with around twelve one-mana cyclers and a good number of two-mana cyclers should be playing twelve lands! And don’t worry, the mulligan math checks out nicely for a deck with twelve lands and twelve one-mana cyclers. According to the hypergeometric calculator, over 93% of hands will have one or more lands. And in one-land hands, about 91% will have a one-mana cycler. I know intuition might seem like twelve is too few, but this math suggests that you might even be able to cut more!

This Magic Online Limited grinder trophied with a ten-land deck already! While I think ten is a bit aggressive (I would have played eleven or twelve in that deck), I think in the best versions of these twelve-land decks, I’m closer to cutting a land than adding one. It’s truly bizarre. Instincts will tell you to play fourteen or fifteen. I’m telling you that that would be suboptimal. You’ll flood. It might sound crazy, but you spend so much time cycling that it’ll happen.

Enough of the math and theory, let’s jump into the draft! Twelve-land deck, here I come!

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

Drannith Stinger Gust of Wind Dreamtail Heron Serrated Scorpion Springjaw Trap Thwart the Enemy Divine Arrow Solid Footing Farfinder Pacifism Ominous Seas Indatha Crystal Void Beckoner Whirlwind of Thought Island

The Pick:

My take!
Believe it or not, but Pacifism is actually the worst of these options. It’s a solid removal spell, but that’s not what this format is about. Anything that pushes me strongly towards a macro-archetype like cycling or mutate is a better first-pick than Pacifism. Don’t take the random one-mana cyclers or the mediocre mutate enablers over Pacifism, but Farfinder, Ominous Seas, and Drannith Stinger are all a full tier above the white removal spell.

Farfinder is a fantastic common. It’s the bread-and-butter than helps both the mutate deck and the multicolor deck succeed. I have no problem taking it highly, but it just doesn’t compete with the best cycling cards. Until the world calibrates, I believe it’s correct to strongly bias towards the cycling archetype. It’s that good.

As of writing this on Tuesday, cycling is still open way too often. By the time you’re reading this, I’m not sure if that will be true. However, biasing towards cycling doesn’t actually come with the normal downsides of drafting with a strong bias. Even if the cycling archetype isn’t open, the cards have cycling, making them reasonable playables as long as they can be cast. Drannith Stinger might be unbelievably strong in the cycling archetype, but it’s still a phenomenal two-drop for Rakdos Midrange since it can be cycled when irrelevant.

So, is Drannith Stinger better than Ominous Seas? I don’t think so. Ominous Seas has impressed me. It’s one of the best plays in the entire format on Turn 2 and it can always be cycled later on. However, I took Drannith Stinger here. While I think Ominous Seas is the best card in the pack, Stinger is the only red card. This presents the opportunity to cut red, which I currently have as the best color in the format. Given that Ominous Seas isn’t that much better than Drannith Stinger, I took the Stinger.

Pack 2, Pick 1

The Picks So Far:

Drannith Stinger Drannith Stinger Drannith Stinger Lava Serpent Drannith Healer Pyroceratops Imposing Vantasaur Spelleater Wolverine Ominous Seas Convolute Glimmerbell Hampering Snare Sleeper Dart Cathartic Reunion Hampering Snare

Take a minute to review the cards so far. All I know is that I’m a red cycling deck. Blue appears more open than other colors, but the deck could go any other direction if a lane presents itself.

The Pack:

Thieving Otter Migratory Greathorn Crystacean Savai Sabertooth Durable Coilbug Cavern Whisperer Excavation Mole Mysterious Egg Solid Footing Greater Sandwurm General's Enforcer Cunning Nightbonder Mystic Subdual Yidaro, Wandering Monster Forest

The Pick:

My take!
Yidaro, Wandering Monster is a glorified Lava Serpent. However, seven mana is a lot more than six. The 8/8 body with trample is certainly an upgrade, but if I’m planning on playing twelve lands, I would rather have the Lava Serpent. I know many other players are high on this card, and I could be wrong about it, but in my experience it has been clunky. It’s possible in the variants with tons of Prickly Marmosets and Snare Tacticians, shuffling a cycler back in the deck is impactful enough that I should take this card higher than I do. However, in the two decks I’ve had it, it was very underwhelming.

Mystic Subdual looks like the classic mediocre blue-flash enchantment removal spell. It’s not. It’s so much better. The card demolishes mutate strategies. And it sufficiently kills all the cycling-matters cards, since those are all about the cycling triggers (e.g. Prickly Marmoset, Drannith Stinger, Snare Tactician). Hence Mystic Subdual covers both macro-archetypes in the format, and is a lot closer to Doom Blade than I initially thought, so I’m taking it over Yidaro here.

Pack 3, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

Drannith Stinger Drannith Stinger Drannith Stinger Lava Serpent Drannith Healer Pyroceratops Imposing Vantasaur Spelleater Wolverine Ominous Seas Convolute Glimmerbell Hampering Snare Sleeper Dart Cathartic Reunion Hampering Snare Mystic Subdual Fire Prophecy Zenith Flare Imposing Vantasaur Fire Prophecy Evolving Wilds Mythos of Vadrok Porcuparrot Thieving Otter Go for Blood Forbidden Friendship Spelleater Wolverine Wingfold Pteron Frenzied Raptor Mountain Fire Prophecy Flourishing Fox

Again, take a minute to review the pool so far. Just like last time, the second color isn’t clear. The only thing I’m certain of is that Zenith Flare is in the deck. Whether the white is a main color or a splash isn’t important for that decision. I should note that I’m currently leaning towards blue as the secondary color because of Ominous Seas.

The Pack:

Greater Sandwurm Drannith Healer Aegis Turtle Wingfold Pteron Spelleater Wolverine Pyroceratops Essence Scatter Blisterspit Gremlin Boot Nipper Barrier Breach Keensight Mentor Ivy Elemental Swamp

The Pick:

My take!

Pack 3 can be incredibly difficult. There are versions of red decks where each of these four options would be the correct pick. So which is correct given this pool?

Currently, my deck has plenty of threats. I already have multiple Spelleater Wolverines and Drannith Stingers, plus Zenith Flare and Ominous Seas are great win conditions. This eliminates Spelleater Wolverine and Pyroceratops as options. I would rather pick up a premium piece of interaction in Essence Scatter, or another one-mana cycler in Drannith Healer.

This pick boils down to the threats — a lack of Snare Tacticians and Prickly Marmosets. Tacticians would make me lean white instead of blue, and Prickly Marmoset would incentivize me to take one-mana cyclers over pretty much everything. However, Spelleater Wolverine wants Essence Scatter, and with the deck leaning more on interaction than on quick aggressive kills, Essence Scatter is the perfect card to pick up here.

Below is the trophy deck in all its glory! Twelve lands. It has really been a treat experimenting with the cycling archetype. If you haven’t tried it yet, I strongly recommend it!

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