Ikoria Set Review - Red

(Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast | Art by Kieran Yanner)

All Hail the Tiger King

Greetings, and welcome back to the EDHREC set review for Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. I'll be your safari guide today as we track down all of the red monsters on Ikoria. Don't mind all of the protective gear I'm wearing, you'll be fine. I only lost two people on my last tour!

Red offers up some exciting new options for our format, including Cycling support cards, quirky removal, and a new way to cheat in giant creatures. We'll discuss the giant Turtle in the room and why he won't be wandering into many Commander decks. We'll analyze a few cards with interesting mechanics that point to future shifts in red card design. Welcome... to Ikoria Park!

Mythics & Rares

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast

The first stop on our safari is also our most popular photo destination. Please don't ask Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast for an autograph unless you want to be mauled by a tiger.

The main character from the Ikoria story has a unique suite of abilities that feel like a fresh direction for red. Lukka's +1 is a strong engine for decks built with a high concentration of creatures, something we typically see in green. This ability is stronger yet if we can manipulate the top of our library with cards like Scroll Rack, Orcish Librarian, or Soothsaying so we can be sure to hit at least 1 or 2 creatures.

Lukka's -2 ability starts to make things spicy. Provided that we have at least one creature sitting around, this will immediately affect the board in a dramatic way. It's a blind, un-hasted Sneak Attack from our deck, except the creature sticks around. Any deck running Sneak Attack or lots of fatties is a good candidate for the Tiger King.

Etali, Primal Storm, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, Xenagos, God of Revels or Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded will all benefit from this ability since they're already running lots of fun creatures that they don't want to hard cast.

There's another niche strategy that I like Lukka's -2 for: the deck with very few selective creatures. If you only have 1-2 creatures in your deck, you know precisely what you'll hit when you activate this ability using a cheap token for fuel. And if those creatures are Blightsteel Colossus or Worldspine Wurm, for example, that's just grand! The Wurm could be very effective in this sort of setup if you have a sacrifice outlet since its tokens can be used as fodder for Lukka's -2 again the following turn. This is a strategy that some Atla Palani, Nest Tender players are already familiar with, and Lukka provides redundancy for that deck.

Lukka's ultimate is a doozy. At -7 it's not too far of a reach, though it requires some setup to camouflage what you're doing. Even though it feels somewhat win more, I'm determined to find a way to pull off this ultimate, as it seems like a supremely satisfying way to close out a game.

Overall, Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast is an exciting new twist for red. He can be built around or support existing creature strategies in a variety of decks. A king worthy of his striped crown!

Yidaro, Wandering Monster

I was excited when I first heard about the Godzilla variant cards, and a giant Turtle who nervously skitters around is great flavor. An 8/8 hasty trampler for seven mana is okay in some formats, but pretty lackluster in a game where you need to deal somewhere north of 100 damage to win. There might be a few Gishath, Sun's Avatar decks that will welcome him, since they can cheat him in, but there is a lot of competition at the top of the dino curve.

I'm disappointed that Yidaro, Wandering Monster doesn't have a happy home in Commander, even in Cycling decks, because I like the monster variant art and the flavor of the card. Skitter along, giant Turtle dude.

Everquill Phoenix

At first glance, it looks like we're 0/2 on rares. Phoenixes (Phoenices?) tend to be more impactful in Standard than in Commander. There are only 37 Phoenix tribal decks on EDHREC, lower than Elephants and Griffins, and right on par with Crabs as of this writing. I don't anticipate that Everquill Phoenix is going to move the needle.

That being said, there is some jank potential here for those looking for it, so maybe we're more like 0.25/2 for rares. This Phoenix is different from most in that it creates a token which lets you return any Phoenix card from your graveyard to the battlefield. This means that we can leverage token-doublers like Anointed Procession or Doubling Season to yield multiple tokens upon each mutation. Combine this with sac outlets and some of the Changelings from Modern Horizons, like Irregular Cohort and Graveshifter, and you could unlock some serious value. The new tribal doubler Molten Echoes could work wonders for a line of play like this because it doubles our Graveshifter and Cohort ETB triggers. Just keep in mind that you can't Mutate on a Changeling!

This sort of jank is hard to assemble, and maybe more trouble than it's worth, but this is the sort of rabbit hole I like to explore. I'm pleased that we now have a Phoenix card that enables some fun things with our versatile new Changeling friends.

Unpredictable Cyclone

Please keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. This part of the safari is always a bit rocky.

For Commander purposes, Unpredictable Cyclone is the best red rare of the set. Casting things for free is a hallmark of Commander shenanigans, and it seems to be a growing design theme in red after Fires of Invention took Standard by storm. If you can reduce your Cycling costs with something like Fluctuator, this lets you play tons of semi-random spells for free from your deck, and how could that not be fun? Even if you can't reduce your Cycling costs, you're still playing spells from your deck for 1-3 mana a pop. This will be one of the strongest cards in a dedicated Cycling deck.

We'll look at a few Cycling tech pieces later in the article that really only belong in dedicated Cycling decks. But Cycling has such a deep, diverse card pool that it can work fairly well as a secondary or splash mechanic for tons of other decks, and I think the Cyclone will work well there, too. Like we talked about with Lukka, when you see "Exile/reveal cards from the top of your library until..." then scarcity is your friend. Run just two enchantments (other than Cyclone) in your deck: Omniscience and Dragon Wings. Now whenever you cycle Dragon Wings with the Cyclone on board, you know you'll be casting Omniscience out of your deck for free. Or run Storm Herd and Akroma's Vengeance with no other sorceries. Now your Cycling "splash" has become a win condition that your opponents were not expecting!

I'm excited to see what wacky things people do with this card. This is exactly the sort of enabler that Cycling needed so it could forge ahead into the battlecruiser style of Magic that we know and love in EDH.

Uncommons and Commons

Footfall Crater

Over on your right, you'll notice some large footprints about five times the size of our Jeep. We aren't sure what those are from, but if you see something that large, please point it out for the group.

Kessig Wolf Run is a good card, and it can be found in over 10,000 decks on EDHREC. Footfall Crater isn't quite as good, but by putting two of our format's most important keywords on a stick (land), it'll serve a similar purpose. Land removal is less common than creature removal (sorry, Messenger's Speed), so this card strikes me as having staying power in several strategies.

Decks that can make big commander attacks like Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and Etali, Primal Storm will scoop this card right up. All Prossh and Etali really need is trample and haste, and this card puts both repeatable effects on a land for them. Cycling and Enchantress decks that do any sort of attacking can use this since it has a low-risk Cycling cost. Decks that like to pump or add counters to a small number of quality creatures, like Hallar, the Firefletcher or Xenagos, God of Revels, can find sufficient value from this even if some of their creatures already have one of the keyword abilities. Go-wide and token decks have much more broader support options than the Crater.

It won't achieve Kessig Wolf Run levels of usage, but it'll be a lot more useful than Racecourse Fury; how's that for a hot take?

Shredded Sails

Abrade is found in over 5,000 decks on EDHREC, which I find a little surprising due to its 1-for-1 nature and the fact that 3 damage doesn't go as far in Commander as it does in Standard. I'm sure that part of the popularity here is the Standard carryover; lots of people have Abrade from playing Standard, so why not add it to your Commander deck?

I predict that Shredded Sails will be comparable in usefulness and ubiquity to Abrade in Commander. Versatility is highly prized in our format, evidenced by the fact that Chaos Warp can be found in over 40,000 decks on EDHREC. This card can do three things, where Abrade could only do two. No flyers or artifacts to kill? Draw. Then there's the fact that it deals four damage to a flyer, which is not a meaningless upgrade. Let's take a quick look at the Top Commanders from the past two years that this card can kill, which Abrade can't.

In addition to Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, Kess, Dissident Mage, and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, this will also knock out Feather, the Redeemed if you can pin her down. With Korvold, you'll need to respond to his ETB trigger before he gets that +1/+1 counter. The only Top Commanders that Abrade can kill that Shredded Sails can't are Krenko, Mob Boss and Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow.

The Sails will also become an important removal piece in the newly boosted Jeskai Cycling archetype. Shredded Sails gets this safari guide's stamp of approval, and I plan on using it in decks where I don't have access to the premium removal colors.

Drannith Stinger

Straight ahead you'll see an aristocratic red mage bicycling on the road. He's not part of the safari, but I've been too afraid to ask him to leave.

We got Glint-Horn Buccaneer last year, and he quickly found his place in Anje Falkenrath, the various Neheb iterations, and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. Many of those decks either wheel or use Madness effects, which Drannith Stinger doesn't support. But he has some advantages over the Minotaur Pirate, namely costing less mana. He also has the Wizard creature type, so he can be tutored with Vedalken Aethermage, one of the oddest Cyclers.

With our first true Cycling commander, Gavi, Nest Warden, this is the perfect time for the Stinger to arrive on scene. There are plenty of ways to trigger the Stinger multiple times per round, potentially for lethal. If you've built your deck for it (60+ Cycling cards), playing New Perspectives with the Stinger on the battlefield should mean game over for your opponents as you Cycle your library into your graveyard, stinging all the way.

With the new support for Cycling, we're going to see that theme jump from its current state of 500-ish decks on EDHREC, and I fully expect Drannith Stinger to be riding the wave.

Rooting Moloch

Over there you'll see the local Moloch, our safari's recycling enforcer. We keep him well-fed with visitors who littered in the park, so you have nothing to worry about.

Rooting Moloch will be a fun piece of tech and value for Cycling decks. First, he lets you play any card with Cycling from your graveyard, so he can help recur all of your pitched lands. He has great synergy with Cycling staples Astral Drift and Astral Slide or other blink pieces to let you use your graveyard like your second hand. The enthusiastic Lizard even has one up on Muldrotha, the Gravetide because he can re-cycle instants and sorceries, which conveniently resolve into your graveyard for repeated use.

There are lots of fun instants and sorceries that you can reuse over and over, depending on what strategy you're going for. Want to counter everything? The Moloch can do a Snapcaster Mage impression repeatedly with Neutralize and Miscalculation. Want to ride the value train? Ancient Excavation, Migration Path and Hieroglyphic Illumination are more your style. And of course if you're interested in controlling the board, there's always Sylvan Reclamation, Rebuild, Barrier Breach, Akroma's Vengeance, Decree of Annihilation... you get the idea.

I'm definitely rooting for this guy, and I think he'll show up in a very high percentage of the new Gen-C(ycling) decks we're going to see. Like the Stinger, you really need to be building around the Cycling mechanic to get enough mileage out of this guy, but mileage is exactly what he provides to that strategy.

Flame Spill

Here's my not-so-hot prediction: Wizards will print more red sorceries and instants with pseudo-Trample, and they will be bigger and better than this one. I'm excited for the potential here. This particular card doesn't do enough for us in Commander, but let's keep an eye on this "excess damage" clause in future sets.

Forbidden Friendship

There will always be token decks in Commander, and token decks like cheap ways of making tokens.

Forbidden Friendship is a helpful piece for Zada, Hedron Grinder, who plays all of the cheap token spells. Purphoros, God of the Forge pilots may want to consider it, as well. Basically any non-Goblin tribal deck running cards like Dragon Fodder or Krenko's Command (both at nearly 5,000 decks on EDHREC) should consider running this. It's a nice bonus that one of the tokens gets haste.

Clash of Titans

On your left, you'll see a few giant creatures having some sort of disagreement. Just some good old-fashioned shredding of the flesh.

Make my opponents' commanders fight each other? Fantastic! I'd love for Jimmy's Muldrotha, the Gravetide to fight Sally's Yarok, the Desecrated on Sally's end step. That way my mono-red deck can finally punish my friends for playing Sultai. Ha!

I really like this card, and I'm not sure why. Five mana to unreliably destroy two creatures is not a great rate. But there is sneaky potential to surprise your opponents here. Red has been lacking strong 2-for-1 removal options in Commander, and previous attempts like Divergent Transformations or Blood Feud have not impressed. I think the Clash will sneak into a few decks.

Mono-red is likely the only spot for Clash of Titans. Other colors have better removal options.

Survival of the Reddest

So ends our safari tour. I hope you've enjoyed yourself! With the heavy wedge emphasis in this set, there weren't a ton of new red options for Commander, but I think the ones that we got will be gems. I'm pleased to see an old, popular mechanic like Cycling get some strong support than can be built around in our format. Red's additions to that shell enable lots of fun interactions and combos.

What were your favorite red cards in this set? Did I miss any cards you're considering for your Commander deck? What do you think about Lukka? Comment below, and we'll see you in the next set review!

Grant is a father, writer, and digital marketer who lives in the frozen tundra of the northland. He enjoys playing with his kids, all flavors of Dungeons & Dragons, and thinking about going outside. He’s been playing Magic: The Gathering since 2013 and enjoys Commander, Standard, and Limited formats.