I’m about fifteen drafts into Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and wow is it a fun new puzzle. Most formats have about ten archetypes and each archetype does something different synergistically. But that archetypal synergy rarely defines a format. I call these micro-synergies, as they’re important for a cohesive feel to a format but the impact of that synergy on the format is localized to a small set of archetypes.
This is not the case for Ikoria.
Ikoria is about macro-synergy rather than micro-synergy. Mechanics like cycling and mutate bleed across such a large density of archetypes that their impacts are not localized to a small portion of the environment. I expect to interact with cycling and mutate synergies in every single draft, both in my deck and my opponents’ decks, regardless of color combination.
Consider Rakdos, a color pair that is ill-defined in Ikoria. There are some menace and sacrifice synergies, but the common shell can push towards cycling or mutate. Is the optimal threat for a deck Prickly Marmoset or Cavern Whisperer? If it’s Marmoset, then Drannith Stinger will be my two-drop of choice. But if it’s Whisperer, then I’d rather go for Forbidden Friendship or Durable Coilbug. Even the non-cycling, non-mutate decks are built and drafted with these synergies in mind.
This requires significant reframing of card evaluation related to draft navigation. Rather than hedging towards a two-color pair, I find myself hedging towards synergies. This yields a couple of new observations:
- Observation #1: Five-color is one of the best decks. This is because that deck exists perfectly at the intersection between mutate and cycling. It is often base-green, and hence wants a shell of Essence Symbiote, Farfinder, and Migratory Greathorn. And since it’s multicolor, many of the colorless cycling cards are castable late-game and help smooth out mana.
- Observation #2: The one-generic-mana cyclers are all fantastic. There’s an old Magic theory called Xerox, which essentially boils down to: “For every four cantrips in a 60-card deck, cut one land.” In a 40-card deck in Ikoria Limited, that mathematically translates to: “For every three one-generic-mana cyclers in a deck, cut one land.” This means it’s easier to find the best cards in the deck, and it capitalizes on cycling synergies and the modality the mechanic intrinsically provides. All of those cards are good. They’re currently wheeling on Magic Online and Magic Arena. They shouldn’t.
Taking that all into consideration, the following are my top three commons in each color.
|Pacifism||Of One Mind||Blood Curdle||Fire Prophecy||Essence Symbiote|
|Drannith Healer||Essence Scatter||Memory Leak||Drannith Stinger||Ram Through|
|Snare Tactician||Dreamtail Heron||Dead Weight||Prickly Marmoset||Migratory Greathorn|
Yes, I do believe Memory Leak is a higher pick than Dead Weight. Shake your head at me about that one because I’ll gladly be wrong. But in my experience, Dead Weight is the worst it has ever been and cycling is king!
Take a breath. Reframe into this way of evaluating cards. How would you navigate the following Draft?
Pack 1, Pick 1
Pack 1, Pick 5
The Picks So Far:
Pick 1 Pack 6
The Picks So Far: