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Best Commons And Top Strategies Of Ikoira: Lair Of Behemoths Draft

Ryan Saxe breaks down his top Ikoria commons for each color before making a series of tricky draft picks!

Gemrazer, illustrated by Svetlin Velinov

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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.

WhiteBlueBlackRedGreen
PacifismOf One MindBlood CurdleFire ProphecyEssence Symbiote
Drannith HealerEssence ScatterMemory LeakDrannith StingerRam Through
Snare TacticianDreamtail HeronDead WeightPrickly MarmosetMigratory 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

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
Gremrazer is a solid rare. A 4/4 reach trample for four mana is above-rate. But I’m not looking to pick an above-rate card Pack 1, Pick 1. It’s awesome if the Naturalize mutate trigger has a target, but I haven’t seen that come up yet. Overall, this card seems to be not much better than common four-mana 4/4s like Voracious Typhon and Peema Outrider.

But is Savai Thundermane a good enough gold card to justify taking over the above-rate rare? Yup! Savai Thundermane is one of the top uncommons in the set. It’s splashable in Izzet Cycling and unbelievable in Boros Cycling. There’s even a version of Rakdos that will look to splash the card. It may seem odd to take a gold card when there’s a good rare, but the ceiling on Savai Thundermane is incredible. Additionally, cycling is one of the best archetypes and this is one of the best payoffs. A great way to start a draft.

Pack 1, Pick 5

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
This pick is quite difficult. Pouncing Shoreshark is a better card than Snare Tactician. And it’s late enough for the Shark that I read it as a signal that blue is likely to flow. Normally that would make the Shark an easy pick; however, that’s not what I took.

Snare Tactician has impressed me. This card and Prickly Marmoset make the cycling deck tick. They’re incredibly impactful three-drops capable of winning a game on their own. At the time of this draft (four days ago), I felt that cycling wasn’t as well known and that it was still likely to be open. This may sound like odd logic, but it’s an important lesson. Taking the card that keeps you most open isn’t always the correct answer. This isn’t forcing a strategy, but rather biasing towards an exploitable lane. If Pouncing Shoreshark had been in the opening pack instead of Gemrazer, I would have taken it. But the cards in my pool so far go so well with Snare Tactician that I believe it’s correct to take the card here.

Pick 1 Pack 6

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
Frillscare Mentor is a solid three-drop. Menace is a nice form of evasion, and the late-game inevitability of the activation is great. The body is lackluster, but it’s serviceable. It’s not a card I’m happy to take early, but taking it here would do a nice job of cutting red and staying the course hedging towards a base-red deck. That kind of strategy — attempting to stay mono-colored — is one I employ in many Limited formats. But remember what I said at the beginning: this format is about synergy before it is about color-combinations. That’s why I think both Shredded Sails and Imposing Vantasaur are better picks than both Frillscare Mentor and Patagia Tiger. The current deck is already pushing towards cycling synergies and I think it’s crucial to lean into that.

I think it’s easy to think that Shredded Sails is a more impactful spell than a 3/6 creature, hence it’s the correct pick. They both have cycling, right? The difference between cycling for one and cycling for two is enormous. I love Vantasaur in all of my white decks, and this is no exception.

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