Ikoria Set Review - Gold (Pt. 1)

Top of the Food Chain

Welcome to Part 1 of the review of the multicolored cards in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths! I have the honor of covering this set's numerous legendary creatures, including all of our Companions!

I'll also be going over all the gold cards with Mutate, since it's impossible to discuss the Apex cycle without talking about this completely new strategy for deckbuilding. Let's make sure we re-acquaint ourselves with how this mechanic works: If you cast this spell for its mutate cost, put it over or under target non-Human creature you own. They mutate into the creature on top plus all abilities from under it.

The key thing thing that this doesn't mention is that if you Mutate another creature onto the pile, all of the Mutate effects in the pile will trigger. This gives us an entirely new archetype for Commander where we build a gigantic pile of creatures and generate value by repeatedly triggering all of their effects. These decks will put all their eggs into one (hopefully hexproof or indestructible) basket in a manner similar to Voltron decks, but with a tad more flexibility. Let's look at our uncommon mutants:

Boneyard Lurker's effect is perfectly fine for four mana (Golgari Findbroker sees play), but you'd probably be better off running Regenesis or Nature's Spiral for that effect. That is, of course, if you're not running a Mutate deck, which will get exceptional value out of this card, especially in the event of the pile getting destroyed somehow.

Lore Drakkis is definitely worth running even outside of a Mutate deck. For context, there's only one other card with this effect for two mana, Flood of Recollection. This has a more flexible color requirement and doesn't exile itself—it can even be bounced for extra value! Here's some fun jank: if we Mutate it onto an Salvager of Secrets, we can use a simple Unsummon to return it to our hand, then restart the chain again, getting back the Unsummon and another spell on top of it. The potential to repeat the effect in a Mutate deck is fantastic, especially if you're using counterspells to protect your pile.

Necropanther is similar to Boneyard Lurker in that it's not the best value for cost if it's just the one trigger, but in a Mutate deck it can repeatedly give us a Bishop of Rebirth attack trigger without putting itself in any danger.

Parcelbeast is the only one of these without an actual Mutate trigger, and its effect is thankfully pretty good outside of those decks. You can activate the effect immediately after Mutating onto another creature that doesn't have summoning sickness, replacing the card in your hand at worst and ramping you at best. And Mutate decks will definitely love a two-mana trigger for their pile.

Trumpeting Gnarr definitely shouldn't be played outside of Mutate-focused strategies. It does mitigate the all-eggs-in-one-basket weakness of Mutate, but you'd want to get this onto the pile early to justify the five mana.

The only one of these that's probably not worth running even in a Mutate deck is Regal Leosaur. The rest of these all give you a card or a creature, and this thing just doesn't really measure up. If you've got any ideas for some kind of bounce combo or go-wide token Mutate deck that could make use of this, definitely let me know in the comments.

Apex Legends Battle Royale

Now that we've been through some of the payoffs, lets take a look at a few of our potential commanders for Mutate decks! Also, if any if you follow my Diabolic Intent column, I am DEFINITELY doing an article on the Toho monsters just as soon as I get around to watching that new Godzilla movie.

Illuna, Apex of Wishes

She's almost certainly not worth running without Mutate synergy, but this is a very fun effect to pop off repeatedly if we have her in the command zone. It's especially nice of her to give us the option of putting the permanent in our hand, given the requirements of Mutate. It is worth noting that she doesn't put the rest of the cards on the bottom of our library, so we'll probably want to be running a healthy majority of permanents with her. I think I also smell a potential Polymorph deck here!

Vadrok, Apex of Thunder

This is also probably not the best commander for non-Mutate strategies, and while its effect is absolutely worth repeating at the helm of Mutate decks (it doesn't exile the card! Play instants and sorceries over and over!), it's worth noting that it can't actually recur any of our Mutate cards. I could also see this as an interesting choice for Elsha of the Infinite decks, given how useful it is to give her evasion once she’s been pumped up.

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt

Blowing something up and gaining four life every time we trigger our pile is no joke, so this is definitely another solid contender for a Mutate commander as long as we include some of white's indestructible creatures to Mutate onto. The problem is that most of the Mardu mutants just aren't that great, and there aren't a ton of them in the set, either. So, beyond that, I think this might actually be really fun as a finisher in the 99 for some kind of Mardu aggro deck; maybe a Zurgo Helmsmasher Voltron deck?

Brokkos, Apex of Forever

What if we could run Rancor as our commander? Given the way that Mutate works with commander damage, this guy seems like he could helm a really interesting Voltron deck. Every time he dies, we can just pay five mana and slap him back out, preferably onto something with deathtouch to get as much damage through as possible. There's not even any risk of losing him if we get Bojuka Bogged, since we can just toss him right back in the command zone.

At the helm of a Mutate deck, this card gives some interesting options. Having somewhat reliable access to a five-mana trigger is extremely useful, and he's actually tied for the highest base stats of any Mutate creature in the set, which makes him a great choice for the top card of the pile. That said, we're probably better off running another one of the other legends with a powerful trigger.

Nethroi, Apex of Death

This thing is hilarious. Honestly, it will probably be best used outside of Mutate strategies since recurring its effect more than once isn't going to help a deck with a majority of creatures that want to Mutate. But the possibilities here are just absurd. This works for Buried Alive-style combo decks, Dredge decks, goodstuff reanimator decks, or my favorite, Doran the Siege Tower decks! Note that it's 10 power or less, which pretty much lets Doran decks just dump their whole graveyard onto the battlefield! This is an absurdly fun and flexible card, and I can definitely see it becoming an Abzan staple and a very popular commander.

Human Legends

Now that we're done mutating, let's take a quick look-see at Ikoria's cycle of Human legends.

Chevill, Bane of Monsters

The return of bounty counters! And now they can go on planeswalkers! It's a shame that he's not in Mathas, Fiend Seeker colors. This guy feels like he's almost really good. He could generate some incidental value if you put the counters on threats that your opponents want to remove anyway, or use him in a deck that's already killing a lot of opponents' creatures, but he's kind of weird and hard to use, either as a commander or in the 99. It's definitely an interesting effect, and I'm sure the Johnnys and Jennys of the world will figure out some wacky brews for him to pilot.

General Kudro of Drannith

This guy could be a very goofy and fun weenie commander. Imagine playing Reverent Hoplite out of nowhere and just completely hosing the Meren player. The issue is that most of the cards that generate large amounts of tokens don't actually make Humans, they're usually just Soldiers. That said, there are plenty of options that do make Humans, and a ton of Human cards to choose from when filling out his deck. His best use will probably be in the 99 for his daughter, Jirina Kudro, since she can be flickered to make more Humans.

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy

Wow, so nice of Wizards to finally print a Commander-playable Simic legend! Jokes aside, this is BONKERS. It goes infinite with Basalt Monolith, and with Monolith and a color filter like Gemstone Array, it can just dump our deck on the board. And even outside of combo shenanigans, it's just an absurdly powerful effect for a two-mana creature. All of our rocks and dorks get a huge boost, so we'll be able activate that Mayael the Anima-style ability very early in the game. Don't be surprised when this guy starts popping up a lot at your tables.

Rielle, the Everwise

This is very exciting. Red has a ton of instants and sorceries that let you discard and draw, and this just turns them into straight-up draw spells. How about five cards for two mana with Cathartic Reunion? Burning Inquiry turns into a weird sort of Ancestral Recall. Tolarian Winds and Breakthrough and wheel effects become absolutely nuts. Run her in Grixis to play Awaken the Erstwhile and keep your hand stocked! And oh my goodness how busted is she with Forbid? Her capacity to just dig through your deck makes her very flexible. I kind of like the idea of running Niv-Mizzet, Parun as a secret commander you dig for, or even vice-versa. Pair with Brallin, Skyshark Rider and other discard rewards, or The Locust God and Psychosis Crawler for tons of draw triggers, or just give her unblockability, because she'll hit like a truck. This stands out as one of the top commanders of the set, so keep your eyes on this powerful new addition to the Izzet lineup.

Winota, Joiner of Forces

I wouldn't call this fantastic, but it's definitely a great new commander option for Boros. Card advantage! Note that this triggers for each attacking non-Human, so if this comes down after a gigantic Secure the Wastes, we'll get a ton of free Humans from our deck, and here's no risk of losing them during that combat, since they gain indestructible! The fact that it only finds Humans is a little frustrating, but again, there are a lot of Humans in Magic and we'll have plenty of options. This deck would probably want to run some of those Angels with Human synergies, like Angel of Glory's rise or Herald of War. All in all, she does require some building around and finagling, but it feels like there's definitely potential here, especially if used with Humans that make lots of non-Human tokens, from Lena, Selfless Champion to Captain of the Watch.

Zilortha, Strength Incarnate

What a cool card. He's the opposite of Doran, the Siege Tower! Definitely a fun inclusion for Dinosaur decks to help out some of those Enrage creatures with more power than toughness, like Silverclad Ferocidons! The frustration here is that most cards that come to mind with higher power than toughness are things like Ball Lightning, which kill themselves at end of turn, but if you build around this guy as a commander, you could try and consistently get out Sundial of the Infinite? Maybe? Most Gruul cards with high power already have high toughness too, so you have to reach to find the best cases. This is gonna make for some weird fringe decks, but I'm very here for it.

Faithful Companions

Finally we have the Companions, our pseudo-Partners. These are interesting to talk about because they each have three potential ways they can be used in a deck, and some are much better at certain roles than others.

I do want to address the Day 0 ban of Lutri, the Spellchaser here, just to say that I agree with it. I'm not going to take up space with my argument here, but this reddit post sums up my thoughts pretty well.

Gyruda, Doom of Depths

This comes off to me as a Dimir Sepulchral Primordial that costs one less but has higher potential to whiff. That said, it would still definitely be a solid inclusion in Lazav, Dimir Mastermind or The Scarab God decks since it does double duty in those decks' two goals, milling and reanimating. Using it as a Companion for those decks is certainly an entertaining prospect, but it's worth noting that his deckbuilding condition turns an opponent's Void Winnower into your own personal Iona, Shield of Emeria.

Jegantha, the Wellspring

Well this card seems like a new best friend for Jodah, Archmage Eternal or Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, who meet this requirement almost just by accident. Most existing five-color legends are better options to have as a commander than Jegantha, but this could absolutely find a home in the 99 for a lot of them, and Jodah decks in particular might even consider trimming the deck to make this work as a companion, though it does shut out good ol' Omniscience. Come to think of it, this will probably be an excellent inclusion in Sisay, Weatherlight Captain brews, as well, especially more combo-focused strategies.

Kaheera, the Orphanguard

This seems like the easiest one of these to add as a Companion with minimal changes to decks like Gishath, Sun's Avatar and Arahbo, Roar of the World. Cutting the few cards to fit the deckbuilding requirement seems really worth it. Those decks are often the first to develop a board and start killing people, and having a vigilance enabler as a consistent 8th card in hand sincerely mitigates the risk of dying on the crack-back.

Keruga, the Macrosage

This is a cripping deckbuilding requirement, especially in these colors. We're cutting out a lot of our access to quality ramp and removal spells (Sol Ring, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Reality Shift, Cyclonic Rift) not to mention countermagic entirely. We do have Cultivate and friends, but given how many other draw options these colors have, it's not worth skipping our first two turns to have this as a Companion.

Outside of that, the draw effect has the potential to be pretty good. Simic has many far better commander options than this, but it isn't a bad inclusion in the 99 of decks with flicker options like Roon of the Hidden Realm. I'd almost say it's the most boring of the Companions, but I love the art too much to even think that.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den

This seems like it could have some fun Companion builds with Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim or maybe even Karlov of the Ghost Council, but it's difficult to see how we would win if we built with this restriction. Worth noting that it doesn't say anything about instants and sorceries, so it's not as limiting as it first appears. In other news, this card is extremely silly with Selfless Spirit or Sakura Tribe-Elder in a deck with green.

Obosh, the Preypiercer

Holy crap, could we build an honest-to-goodness burn deck with this as the commander? Seriously, I could see this leading a deck full of "any target" burn removal spells. Lightning Bolt for 6 is no joke. The Companion requirement is pretty wacky, but it could definitely be a lot of fun with Judith, the Scourge Diva, Kaervek the Merciless, or even Greven, Predator Captain. That aside, it's not a great inclusion in the 99 over Fiendish Duo, or even more specific doublers like Fire Elemental.

Umori, the Collector

Since Companion rules count your commander, the only legal permanent types to choose would be creature, artifact, or enchantment if you feel like playing Pharika, God of Affliction (please don't). But cutting out instants and sorceries is probably not going to be worth having access to this effect, unless we're already running some kind of "oops all creatures" to take advantage of effects like Yeva, Nature's Herald. The effect isn't nothing, but Golgari definitely has more interesting commander options, and I'd usually rather just run Nylea, Keen-Eyed, except maybe in a Glissa the Traitor artifact deck.

Yorion, Sky Nomad

Using this as a Companion in Commander is right out, which is too bad. But it's absolutely worth a slot in flicker decks like Brago, King Eternal or Roon of the Hidden Realm. It basically lets Roon act like Brago! While it is legendary, though, I can't imagine ever running this in the command zone over Brago.

Zirda, the Dawnwaker

Am I crazy or did this set just give us the two best Boros commanders since Feather the Redeemed? Running some sort of activated ability tribal with this as a commander or a Companion seems like it could be fun. Blow folks out with super-cheap Eldrazi Displacers, Captivating Crews, Mimic Vats, and Aggravated Assaults. This discounts Cycling costs, too, which is pretty neat. The best build honestly seems like either combo or Equipment. Like Kinnan, it also goes infinite with Basalt Monolith and Grim Monolith, so Imperial Recruiter or Recruiter of the Guard can go find that Walking Ballista to blaze the table down. Alternatively, Sunforger sounds extremely fun with this. It even makes cards like Arcane Encyclopedia more palatable. It's also an excellent addition to Zacama, Primal Calamity decks. A very exciting and flexible new option for Boros.

We Did the Monster Mash

That's it! So what do you think? Is Mutate a viable deckbuilding strategy? Which one of our Apexes makes the best commander? What about Companion? Are there any fun uses for them that escaped my notice? Let me know!

Amos has been playing Magic since OG Innistrad, where in his first ever draft pack he passed a shiny Grimgrin for a Corpse Lunge. He hails from the icy wastes of Vermont, where he enjoys hunting Warhammer players on his dogsled and watching movies. You can follow his Tweeter at @Byrnenator.

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