Ikoria Set Review - Blue
(Shark Typhoon | Art by Caio Monteiro)
Chumming the Waters
With the release of Ikoria, Wizards has finally recognized and canonized a new card typing. Yes, Sharks are joining Leviathans, Octopuses, Krakens, and Serpents as the big blue creatures of the deep. But for some reason, on the plane of Ikoria, they can also... fly? While I do enjoy the feel and flavor of this plane, the blue offerings are fairly modest this time around. We have a few niche picks, a few role-players for specific archetypes, and one very kitschy reference to Sharknado. Let's get into it!
Magic: The Gathering has always been crammed full of references to the real world. I’ve never had an issue with Arabian Nights as a set, nor with the Shakespeare quotes that used to appear in flavor text. Most of us adore planes like Innistrad and Eldraine for their clever references to our world. However, there are moments in which the references can border on kitsch. Shark Typhoon, for example, feels like it winks too hard at the camera. I’m half expecting a card called Snakes on a Lammasu the next time we return to this plane.
Outside of the flavor, this card is a decent value engine for control decks that want to grind out their opponents. This reminds me of two different cards from two different archetypes. First, this is a lot like Metallurgic Summonings. Spellslinger decks love cards like this—ways to produce presence on board while sticking to the real gameplan of hurtling through your deck. Unfortunately, Summonings is superior to Shark Typhoon in almost every way in that strategy. The second ability on Summonings vaults it into a higher tier, allowing you to restock your hand later on.
Enchantress, however, may be a more suitable home. Shark Typhoon is actually much more similar to the powerhouse Sigil of the Empty Throne, but it may be even better. You make tokens from all of your enchantments, but you also make tokens even from the instants, sorceries, and planeswalkers that you cast. This style of card is valuable to the Enchantress archetype, which is hungry for ways to turn their efficient value engines into real threats. Often, Enchantress decks can construct well-protected board states but actually struggle to actually end games, and this card is one way to do so. Consider this card with generals like Tuvasa, the Sunlit and Alela, Artful Provocateur.
This card is a pretty significant upgrade to effects that we’ve seen a lot of over the years. While Ophidian effects are far from EDH powerhouses, they are playable in creature-based decks and archetypes that like poking opponents with small, evasive creatures. Sea-Dasher Octopus is great in that style of deck. Make no mistake: this is a modal spell, and both modes are cards we already have reference for within the game.
Three mana is the standard rate for an Ophidian effect, and the fact that this Octopus has flash as well as Mutate launches it into another league. The fact that you can Mutate this card onto an unblocked creature makes it versatile enough to immediately warrant attention. You either get an instant-speed Ophidian or a discounted Ophidian Eye that can only attach to non-Human creatures. That’s not bad at all. I don’t think this card deserves a spot in every blue-inclusive deck, but I would consider it for creature-based blue decks such as Kaseto, Orochi Archmage or Yuriko, The Tiger’s Shadow. And, of course, a dedicated Mutate deck like Otrimi, the Ever-Playful loves instant-speed mutation triggers for its many other mutants.
All that being said, Tetsuko Umezawa is sad that neither of those numbers in the bottom right is a 1.
Jinkies! It’s Desertion! Both cost five mana, both check for artifact or creature spells, and both are trying to make tricky tempo plays. I’m not a huge fan of Desertion in EDH. Yes, it can lead to swingy plays where you end up with a Woodfall Primus that an opponent tapped out to cast, but it’s hard to leave five mana open for more than a turn hoping to catch a haymaker. Voracious Greatshark avoids one of Desertion’s great weaknesses—it does give you the option of playing it as a body without countering anything. Desertion is easy to strand in your hand when there are no creatures or artifacts worth countering. This Shark will always be a 5/4 with flash, and that is worth something.
Even though I do like this card better, I still don’t see myself playing this generally. I’ve seen some Prime Speaker Vannifar builds that include Frilled Mystic and Mystic Snake, so maybe the Shark earns a spot there. Alternatively, maybe blink decks that run cards like Cloudshift and Ghostly Flicker might want this one. Brago, King Eternal, particularly, hasn't had access to this effect all that much. Even then, I’m not convinced that this is an effect that those decks need.
Uncommons & Commons
This is low-key one of my favorite cards from this set. With this card, we're rapidly approaching a critical mass of Coastal Piracy effects for combat-focused blue decks. For the majority of Magic's history, blue has explored this theme—gaining some sort of advantage out of small evasive creatures when they deal combat damage to opponents. Unfortunately, in EDH, a combat-focused blue archetype is difficult to manage. There just aren't enough tools in the color to win through combat damage. Furthermore, there were previously only two stellar card advantage effects with this text.
These two cards are exceptional and can generate incredible amounts of card advantage in the right deck. They've only gotten better over time, too. Bident of Thassa is better than Coastal Piracy, and the newly minted Reconnaissance Mission seems better than Bident of Thassa. I highly recommend this card and this entire package in blue-inclusive decks focused on small, evasive creatures. Consider this card for Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Kykar, Wind's Fury, and Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive.
I am far too excited for the newest Cancel variant. While at first glance Neutralize may appears to be a slight re-skin of Countervailing Winds, I believe it to be significantly better. This is a hard counter; no amount of mana can pay it away. Although this difference is slight, it adds an amount of inevitability to the card. You will either counter an opponent’s play, or draw a card. There is no recourse.
Being honest, I will almost always prefer two-mana counters such as Counterspell and Delay if they are available to me. However, I'm open to three-mana counterspells that provide additional value or flexibility. Neutralize looks like it will do exactly that. In EDH, counterspells carry the inherent risk of all removal—they can get stranded in your hand when nothing seems worth countering. Neutralize mitigates this risk. Cycling on a counterspell transforms it into something special. It can stop your opponents’ big plays, or it can help you proactively dig through your deck.
I expect Neutralize to see very light play and to fulfill its role as an innocuous niche roleplayer for people who want a better Cancel.
I love this little Frog maestro but, unfortunately, it has little application in EDH. As with all set-specific mechanics, Mutate synergy cards will likely lack the critical mass of cards necessary to facilitate this strategy in our format. 100-card singleton just isn’t the right environment for strategies that revolve around mechanics like Food, Surveil, Clue tokens, Explore, or Mutate. This Symbiote seems destined to only ever see play in Otrimi, the Ever-Playful decks. That being said, I would have loved to see this card with a legendary typing so that, when we do return to Ikoria several times and receive a bevy more Mutate cards, we would already have an excellent mono-blue facilitator in the command zone.
This rules text sounds eerily familiar. Cycling and blinking on an enchantment? We all know where this is going. We've seen this before. Escape Protocol is made for our format and shares a marked resemblance to a couple of cards that are fun, potent, and well-known in EDH.
Escape Protocol is obviously inferior to the above cards, but perhaps that isn't a death sentence. While it does cost one mana less at sticker price, every activation costs one generic mana. That doesn't sound like much, but it really adds up. Most times, you have to pay to cycle and then, with the Protocol, pay again to blink one of your artifacts and enchantments. Oh, and you can only target your own permanents. You can't even use this to blank attackers or remove tokens! The true power of Astral Slide and Astral Drift lies in the fact that their triggers are free and they are so versatile at controlling the table.
Even so, maybe the Cycling decks that want this style of effect want every iteration of it they can find. I expect that Escape Protocol could see play in Zur, the Enchanter and, hot off the presses, Gavi, Nest Warden.
I love this card even though I don't have a deck for it yet. At two mana, this is a very small investment for an enchantment that can generate incredible value over the course of the game. This style of card can easily grind your opponents out, given the right support. All you need is one wheel effect like Windfall or Jace's Archivist and you can immediately make an 8/8. Decks that wheel and loot and rummage are always looking for ways to turn all that churn into a proper win condition.
Additionally, why not try this in a deck that is already leveraging the Proliferate mechanic? Yes, this card needs time on the battlefield, but if you draw it late in the game, you can flip it away for two mana. And hey, if you like sea monster decks, this is a total flavor win. Ominous Seas seems like it has all the right numbers on it for my taste. I recommend trying this card in blue-inclusive decks that already run wheel effects. Or, try this out with the exceptional token commander, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer.
Of One Mind
I've never seen a straight-up draw two at one mana before. Yes, there are conditions to meet, but this card just feels very new to me for some reason. Maybe it's because I rarely see Thoughtcasts get cast. We all know that Treasure Cruise can be powerful in EDH, and this card may seem similar, but perhaps this card is less similar to Treasure Cruise and more similar to one of the well-worn cantrips. In my evaluation, the question becomes whether Of One Mind is significantly better than Preordain? Is the certainty of scry 2, draw one better than a conditional draw two?
While Preordain is a cantrip and Of One Mind is card advantage, I don't see a clear home for the latter in EDH. Although a one-mana draw two sorcery is intriguing, there are more intuitive card advantage options for most decks. Controlling a Human and a non-Human doesn't seem difficult, but even in decks that will almost always meet that condition, is Of One Mind a significant inclusion? I'm honestly unsure. If you know of the perfect home for this card, please let me know in the comments below.
Creatures of the Deep
Those are the mono-blue cards that struck me from Ikoria. I'm not very excited about many of the options on show here, but maybe I'm dead wrong, so now I want to hear from you all! Is Of One Mind better than I think it is? Did they go too far with Shark Typhoon? And, of course, why do Sharks fly on Ikoria? Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all on down the road!