Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
This article is one of our set prospectives, a series in which we survey the Cube community about the cards they intend to play in their cubes from a particular set. Our survey is conducted between the set’s full-spoiler and official release and is meant to measure and document Cube designers’ first impressions of new cards.
The release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is upon us, so it’s time for another cube prospective survey! We’re keeping up the trend of increased participation in these surveys — this one has over 100 respondents! 90 of these cube designers have cubes that are not restricted by rarity, and this time around we also have 9 pauper cubes and 12 peasant cubes. We surveyed players simultaneously for both Ikoria and Commander 2020, but we’ve separated the results into two articles. As always if there’s a community we can reach out to or you would like to be notified of the next survey, let us know.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has garnered a mixed response from cube designers. Respondents are testing a median of 12 cards from this set, with each user only giving around 2 cards a rank of 3 (cube staples).1 These numbers are very similar to those from Theros, Beyond Death, but Ikoria is very heterogeneous with respect to power level. Among non-rarity-restricted cubes, only 14 cards have an average rating higher than 2, and 5 of these cards are the Triomes.2 In comparison, Theros, Beyond Death had 24 cards, while Throne of Eldraine had 33 cards with an average rating above a 2.
The processed data from the survey is available on Github.
|Vivien, Monsters' Advocate||56/90||2.4|
|Lurrus of the Dream-Den||44/90||2.5|
|Lutri, the Spellchaser||37/90||2.5|
|Kogla, the Titan Ape||25/90||1.7|
|Boon of the Wish-Giver||19/90||1.9|
|Bastion of Remembrance||13/90||1.5|
|Call of the Death-Dweller||9/90||1.4|
|Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy||9/90||1.8|
|Yidaro, Wandering Monster||8/90||1.9|
|Winota, Joiner of Forces||8/90||1.6|
|Yorion, Sky Nomad||7/90||2.0|
|Mythos of Nethroi||7/90||1.7|
|Weaponize the Monsters||6/90||1.9|
|Rielle, the Everwise||6/90||1.8|
|Vadrok, Apex of Thunder||5/90||1.8|
|Light of Hope||5/90||2.0|
|Mythos of Illuna||5/90||1.8|
|Jegantha, the Wellspring||5/90||2.0|
The companion mechanic represents a major departure from the core rules of Magic, and its arrival has had a profound impact on a number of formats. It is difficult to understate the power of beginning the game with guaranteed access to an eighth card. I believe it is almost always worth it to play a companion even if the rest of your deck is made worse for it. Importantly, our survey does not ask players to rate the objective power level of each card; it only asks whether the card is a good fit for each player’s cube. Therefore, we cannot determine how powerful the community believes these cards to be, only how enthusiastic people are about putting them in their own cubes.
Mechanically, companions do not lend themselves well to Cube. If opened in the third pack, most of their deck restrictions cannot be satisfied, but if they are opened in the first pack, they represent incredibly strong build arounds. This power variability has led to many cube designers to forego the mechanic entirely; in fact, nearly 50% of non-rarity restricted cube designers are testing no companions at all.
Lutri, the Spellchaser and Lurrus of the Dream-Den are the only companions being tested by more than seven respondents. Lutri, whose companion stipulation is automatically met by any deck drafted from a singleton environment, may be the strongest card ever printed for Cube, including the Power 9. It has a low consensus because many cube designers gave it a low ranking, viewing it as too powerful for their environment. The Cube community’s thoughts are clear — if you don’t play conspiracies or aren’t looking to max out power level, Lutri probably doesn’t belong in your cube.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den has a somewhat prohibitive deckbuilding stipulation, though still achievable in most cubes. I believe it is the strongest companion when maindecked, mitigating the aforementioned inherent power variability of the mechanic. While many cube designers still view Lurrus as too powerful for their cubes, more players are willing to give it a chance.
Based on the rankings of Lurrus and Lutri, it is likely that other companions aren’t being tested because respondents view their restrictions as being too demanding, outweighing the payoff. Given the inherent strength of a “free” eighth card, I believe this to be untrue; I think it’s likely that Jegantha, Yorion, Umori, Obosh, and Gyruda are all quite playable in even very powerful cubes (listed in decreasing order of strength). In fact, if you’re looking to try out companions in your cube, these five are probably the closest to balanced, and I could even see the last three being fun build arounds that don’t result in overpowered decks even when picked in pack one. Still, I would only look to test these cards in cubes without power level caps, and I would keep an eye on their play and draft patterns.
These are the three cards that the Cube community agrees are strong includes for cubes of any size and power level. Heartless Act is the card with the highest average rating and is being widely embraced as a clean Doom Blade variant. Vivien, Monsters' Advocate is a serious contender for one of the best 5-mana green planeswalkers, as she generates card advantage, protects herself (even from fliers), and offers a massive burst of battlefield presence with her -2. Shark Typhoon has a lower consensus rating. Some cube owners don’t find a scaling Cloudkin Seer very appealing. Others believe it is a new staple, owing to its powerful flexibility. I agree with the latter group; as our own Andy Mangold explains in his article on scaleable threats, cards like Shark Typhoon are often better than they seem.
These new, fetchable, cycling tri-lands give cube designers an interesting new option for their mana-fixing. They are quite slow, and anecdotally it seems that most cube owners rank them lower than good manlands, the Horizon cycle, untapped duals, shocklands, and fetches. Considering their stiff competition, they are being tested in more large cubes (450+) than small ones. Some cube designers have decided to test all but Savai Triome , as many players are not interested in tapped lands in their red-white, white-black, or black-red decks.
These round out those above an average ranking of 2 and represent the “maybes” of this spoiler season. Wilt and Neutralize are traditionally bad cards that are boosted significantly by the presence of cycling. Wilt competes with permanent-based options for artifact and enchantment removal like Reclamation Sage, while Neutralize competes with more mana efficient counterspells. Given their lower consensus ratings, respondents disagree on how much better they are made by the addition of cycling, but several people believe them to be new staples. Fiend Artisan is a card that probably reads better than it plays, and the Cube community tends to agree. It’s slow and does not generate mana or card advantage, but its hybrid mana cost and ability to scale into the late game give some hope. While it is a great tool for with an aristocrats or combo-green archetype, its inability to affect the board early condemns its chances in smaller or more powerful cubes. Luminous Broodmoth is the latest is a line of increasingly pushed Baneslayers, but many feel that these cards continue to underperform and the moth will be no different.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths offers a number of solid options for cubes of all sizes. Companions are game and draft warping, and are the first standard legal cards to compete with broken cards like Black Lotus, Time Walk, and Channel in powered cubes. Cycling is a mechanic beloved by players who like modal cards, and Ikoria introduces more of them for designers that want to emphasize options in their cubes.
Companions are better than the Cube community thinks.
Given the performance of companions in constructed since this survey was conducted, I would bet money that if we resurveyed these cube designers many would reevaluate companions in their cubes. Based on my own testing, I think that Lurrus and Lutri are both far too strong in cubes of all power levels. Surprisingly, I have enjoyed the presence of Jegantha and Yorion in my cube, as both offer unique build-arounds but have restrictions that limit their power. Jegantha decks need copious amounts of fixing to function well, and their power level can be limited if the balance between fixing and playables is not met. Similarly, Yorion decks need around 36 nonlands to function, and its very possible for the Yorion player to get cut in the draft and end up short. I think its likely that even these two companions are too strong for my cube, but they are certainly less egregious than Lurrus and Lutri. I would encourage those looking to try companions in their cubes to explore the less powerful companions, as they are still quite powerful.
Shark Typhoon and Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate are underrated.
The community already rates these cards highly, but I think Shark Typhoon and Vivien, Monsters' Advocate compete for the top spot within their niches in Cube. After my testing, I believe Vivien to be the strongest 5 mana green planeswalker outside of Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Her ability to block fliers is easy to underestimate, and her high loyalty means that you will often be able to -2 her the turn after you play her. Similarly, I now believe Shark Typhoon to be better than expensive card draw spells and most blue creatures. The ability to trade with early aggressive threats and close control mirrors, all while providing card advantage, make this card an incredibly high pick in Cube.
- Only on Tuesday’s IKO Set Review - Mono-Colored, Multi-Colored, Companion Reassessment
- MTG Cube Blogspot’s IKO Conclusions and Additions
- Wtwlf’s IKO (P)review
- Is Cube Ready for Companions by Derek Gallen
- The Verdict on Cube Cards from Ikoria by Jim Davis
- Solely Singleton’s IKO First Impressions - Part 1, Part 2
- The Art of Cube IKO/C20 Hot Takes
- Sniffygull’s IKO Hot Takes
- Peasant Cube IKO Review from DJ_Red_Lantern
- Fleish Dawg’s IKO Testing List
- Path to Cube IKO Review — Part 1
- Note that for these numbers, the
Triomes were considered as
separate cards. Considering the Triomes collectively as one card leads to a
median of 10 cards tested, with still a median of 2 cards rated 3. This is
because many cube designers are not testing the Triomes, and the cube
designers that are testing them tend to not rate them as 3’s.
- This number only looks at cards that were being tested by more than 6 cube designers.↩