Magical Thinking: Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
Welcome back to Magical Thinking, a look back at the cards and art of Magic: the Gathering, set by set, from the beginning. All through the eyes of a casual fan. This week we’re looking at the April and May 2020 set, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths.
On the plane of Ikoria, monsters rule. Humans live on a plane of wild combined biomes surrounded by monsters of all types and varieties, which have the ability to evolve and mutate at the drop of a hat. Different human groups cope with these living conditions in different ways; some live behind walled fortresses, some forge bonds with the monsters, some hunt them for parts. Basically, the setting is Pacific Rim meets Monster Hunter with a dash of Pokemon. Also Godzilla, but we’ll get to that.
So let’s dive in and see how big these behemoths get.
Well, you got to start somewhere right? And trust me, from these humble beginnings some big things can happen. As for mutate, we’ll get to that in a minute. But first…
I wasn’t kidding when I brought up Godzilla before. This set is the first time Magic crossed over with another franchise. In this case, Godzilla. There are a bunch of cards which get alternate art that features Godzilla characters.
As you can imagine, this got my inner ten year old screeching like a howler monkey. I’m pretty sure everyone who has an interest in Magic has made their version of a Godzilla card, and now Wizards of the Coast is coming out to set the record straight. Lets keep going and see how this goes.
Here’s our first proper mutate card. Mutate lets you play a card on top of another non-human creature (usually for a reduced, or at least different, price) to create a creature with the powers of all the creatures below it. Also, a ton of these creatures do stuff the more they mutate, so it pays to just keep mutating forever. That little egg we saw before can turn into a big kitty, and that kitty can turn into something else.
Always remember to tip your healer.
Ikoria also has a cycling theme, as you can see here. Not only cards that cycle, but cards that do stuff when you cycle. That’s pretty important when you have a deck full of big creatures.
Another example of an alternate art card. King Caesar is probably one of my all-time favorite Godzilla characters. I was pleased as punch to see them get in here. Don’t worry though, not every mutate creature is a cat.
Ikoria also introduced the concept of ability counters, which lets you put a counter on a card in order to give them an ability. Pretty straightforward and I’m pretty sure this is now an evergreen ability.
Three guesses on which Godzilla character gets alt art for this card.
Yep, it’s King Kong.
No, it’s Mothra, the nicest of the Kaiju and Godzilla’s space bug wife in the more recent movies.
As implied, Ikoria has a “Humans vs. Monsters” theme. If you’re wondering how that can even work when the humans are outnumbered, I actually ran an Orzhov human deck during this period that was a lot of fun. This card was a big part of it too, showing how superior tactics and bolstering of defenses can overcome even the biggest beast.
That guy getting exiled is Lukka, the local planeswalker. He’ll be relevant later.
Ikoria has some weird critters in it. This guy can be extremely annoying if you aren’t aware what they can do.
It should be noted that they restricted mutate to nonhumans because of the flavor of Ikoria, which doesn’t have sapient nonhuman natives. But remember that the rest of Magic does have sapient nonhumans. Just imagine a merfolk or vedalken coming to Ikoria and then turning into a giant island turtle out of nowhere. That would be weird.
Or turning into a giant bird, which would be less destructive, but still kind of weird overall.
Now this was pretty much the bread and butter of every Blue deck I ran in this period. Just drop this on turn two and then reap the reward of getting kraken after kraken as you draw more and more cards. Definitely one of my favorite cards of the set.
Here’s another little guy who is designed to be mutated upon. And look who else it is…
Now I was a fan of the old school Godzilla films, so I didn’t see much of Baby Godzilla. Godzilla’s son for me will always be Minya. But this guy’s alright too I guess (I mean, at least it’s not Godzooky).
Yes, your eyes do not deceive; there is a Sharknado card in Magic. This is the card that pushed the set into a check plus for most people, myself included. And I was already here for the Godzilla cards so this was pretty much gravy for me.
Of course not every shark lives in the typhoon. I like the flavor here because they eat your boat, they eat your friend, they eat everything. I got a lot of mileage out of this card.
You know you never really appreciate how messed up some of this art can be when you are playing it on Arena or looking at images on Scryfall. That is one messed up parrot alien thing. It’s also a nice example of the versatility of the new counter mechanic, since you can use this little guy as a lifegain tool or as a deathtouch chump blocker.
You may recall I’m a huge fan of creatures that force sacrifices, so this particular mutate creature is right up my alley. The fact that a 4/6 can stand up to a lot of punishment doesn’t hurt either.
I think this is the first mutate card we have that’s more expensive to mutate than to play straight, though it’s easy to see why with that ability.
And here we have Battra, who is… yeah I have no idea. I think they’re like the evil anti-Mothra but I don’t think I’ve seen any movies with them. Sorry. As I said, I’m a fan of the old school Godzilla so some of this newer stuff goes over my head.
I don’t know what could cause an extinction event on Ikoria, but I hope I never meet it in a dark alley.
I saw this card a lot on the field. It’s a very annoying bit of removal (or weakening if you need to shave off some counters).
Also, I hope that kitty isn’t a beloved companion to a powerful planeswalker or anything.
It’s always annoying to see a scorpion that doesn’t have deathtouch, but I still got a lot of use out of this guy. I think I even once KOed an opponent with ones effect. You love to see that.
Huh, I did not realize that there were gremlins in Ikoria. I completely missed this little guy.
It’s a Godzilla related set. Of course we’re gonna get a “Let them fight” reference. Also, Clash of the Titans. I mean, we do have Kraken’s in the set, and Theros Beyond Death is right there, so…
And special guest star Sauron apparently. Another card I used a lot, especially after Lava Coil left standard.
And here we have our new planeswalker. And his winged kitty, who you may remember from Heartless Act up there… I think there may be a rampage of revenge in Lukka’s future.
Remember that scene from Pacific Rim where they show the walls getting knocked through effortlessly by the kaiju even as the governments were still pushing them over the Jaegers? Look, after four years of Trump, stuff like this is kind of cathartic.
Now that’s a big fella, isn’t it? And a pretty impressive ability. I don’t think I ever played them with their cycle cost, but it’s still impressive. Also…
Oh yeah, there he is. The Big G Unit himself. And it’s not the last time we see him either. I am glad they decided to make sure to save Godzilla for the biggest and baddest cards, as suits him.
Yeah, remember that Storm Herald card I talked about a few sets ago? The one that you put an enchantment on them from your graveyard when they attack? Yeah. That happened to me once. It was annoying, but I’m not even mad.
Owlbears are yesterday’s news. Now it’s all about the wolfbear.
Ah, Gemrazer. A real triple threat of a card; they have reach, trample, and destroy artifacts and enchantments. A pretty powerful suite of abilities. This guy was pretty much a staple of my Green decks back in the day, but not in this form…
Anguirius is basically the Krillen of the Godzilla franchise. He’s not powerful, he’s never won a fight pretty much ever, and these days he only sticks around to be Godzilla’s best friend. But dammit you can’t not love the guy.
Sadly, despite being Godzilla’s main rival for many years, King Kong is now owned by Toho, so no King Kong alternate art for you. But Wizards still gives the shout out. Kogla here even has the flavoring of Kong; protecting their little human buddies and becoming super badass in the process. I think most people just played him for the fight effect.
Here’s another mutate card that got a lot of play, mainly because land fixing is always important in Green.
During this period this was pretty much the go-to card for removal for Green, especially since it counted if your creature had trample.
I think I’m more familiar with the Godzilla art for this one than the original. This is very close to the Godzilla card I designed on my own years ago, but without cycle. But still, huge power and trample mono Green.
And here we have the main hero of the set. You may remember Vivien from War of the Spark. Now she’s here in a starring role with an army of beasts, and with the ability to play your monsters way easier.
Ikoria is home to five uber-powerful monsters. Each are covered by a specific Tarkir wedge. Brokkos here has the ability to never die because they can just mutate into your living creatures. Like genetic memory.
Also: Space Godzilla.
Space Godzilla is another one of those monsters I missed the boat on, but I get the general idea of them; it’s Godzilla, from space. Pretty cool.
Dictator for life Wilford Brimley.
Kudro is meant to represent your asshole “Hard man making hard choices” guy who acts like he cares about the people but will kill as many of them as he has to to save his own skin. You can tell from his ability, where he basically kills two of his own men to take down one monster. Remember that Ikoria is a setting where the monsters outnumber the people. He’s not gonna be able to keep that up forever.
Hey, a giant wish granting beast. But shouldn’t that be a dragon?
There we go. Ghidorah, the ultimate enemy to Godzilla. Now that’s what I call an eternal dragon.
Oh, and Narset is here. Apparently. I have no idea what she did this expansion. I think it should have been Kiora. Giant monsters are totally her jam she would have loved Ikoria.
And here we have Ikoria super beast number three. I didn’t play with most of these (I don’t really do three color decks) so I can’t comment on most of them. Let’s see the reskin.
And we have Biollante, the giant plant monster which is another one I’m only vaguely familiar with. Looks cool as hell though, right?
Now this is one I saw in the wild a few times. He was really annoying with the constant damage, double strike and life gains. But wait! Let’s see who this giant cat really is!
Oh yeah, you love to see him. He looks even cooler here than he did on the mono White card.
Now this was an annoying card. I didn’t even think there were dragons on Ikoria but here we are. I recall these little pests could really snowball out of control if you weren’t careful.
I have no idea what these are, but looking at them up close they look like baby Ghidorah? *Checks* Yep. Baby Ghidorah. Again, not something I could tell until I looked at the art up close.
Here’s our last Aspect creature, another good card but again I didn’t really play tricolor cards so I wasn’t too familiar. Let’s see what they become in the Zillaverse.
Rodan! You may remember them from the recent Godzilla movies as that guy who switched loyalties pretty much on a dime. Considering how much stronger the Godzilla and Ghidorah cards are compared to this one I expect more of the same here.
There was an entire deck archetype at this time which was basically “cycle cards all day, then play Zenith Flare and instakill the opponent”. The frustrating thing is how often it worked.
Ah, the companion cards. Companion was another new mechanic from this set. There were ten companions in all, for each color combo. If you built your deck to certain specifications, you could add them to your hand by paying three mana from out-of-game. Yes, it says different on the card. They had to nerf that ability pretty quick. Companion was a super strong ability and one not a lot of people liked as I recalled, so don’t expect to see it again.
One of my favorite villains from Godzilla. Gigan, a giant monster turkey with hooks for hands and a buzzsaw on their belly. Always a fan favorite in my book.
Lurrus is probably exhibit A as to why the companion mechanic was considered so busted. I played a LOT of Lurrus decks, and if you have been paying attention you know there are a lot of busted White and Black cards at 2 mana or less. Lurrus currently sits banned in Pioneer, Modern and Legacy formats, and was banned in Vintage for a while as well.
Companions are a 9 on the Storm Scale, and was considered by Mark Rosewater himself to be the biggest design mistake of that year.
One fun trick I pulled with this card was to use him to make an enchantment deck. Since Theros had just came out there were plenty of enchantment creatures to fill the ranks, so it wasn’t even much of a drawback. Still, this card was only kind of okay. Also, no Hedorah alternate card, which annoyed me.
This is a great card that gets better over time, but the randomness of the ability you get is always annoying. You almost always want to start off with hexproof, right? Still, it’s a good card that snowballs out of control if left alone.
And of course we also have Mechagodzilla, AKA my favorite bad guy from the old movies. It’s just his theme music. That big band horn suite absolutely slaps. Look it up on Youtube or Spotify if you have the mind to do so.
Tired of wasting all those counters you spent putting on your creatures? Well worry no longer. Now we have the Ozolith, which will store those counters and let you put them on an all new creature. Just store up all the counters you need across multiple creatures and throw them on one last guy for the big final push. It’s that easy.
Yeah, this is another one of those cards I didn’t play but I saw a LOT of in the wild.
And last but not least, we have the Triome cards. These are the triple land cards for the various Tarkir wedges. Also, you can cycle them. A lot of people were excited for these cards. The only time I ever used them was when I made a five color shrine deck.
And here’s your buy-a-box card. I’m starting with the Godzilla art first because this is what was presented initially. Here is the “real” art for the card:
I don’t think this card actually exists. It’s only the Godzilla version, but that’s the draw. right? And a pretty appropriate ability to have. With Godzilla, only the strong survive.
Speaking of survival, it’s time for us to go and learn some survival skills on another plane, one we have visited before. It’s time to go back to Zendikar, ride the roil, pick up an adventuring party and get ready for some good Eldrazi-free adventuring for a change. Check in next week for Zendikar Rising. Until then, Stay Magical.