Kristen takes a moment to say goodbye to Ikoria, a set that seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye while feeling like it lasted a lot longer. 

I’m not sure if anyone else agrees, but I’m personally just tired of Ikoria at this point. From the elongated release window thanks to the pandemic, to the issues with Companion, and the fact that Commander 2020 released alongside it, I feel like I’m ready to bid Ikoria adieu.

That’s not to say, though, that Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths didn’t have successes of its own. There’s a bunch of things I think were successful about the launch of Magic’s 84th expansion; and today, I’d like to savor a few of them before we bid goodbye to move on to pastures new. As excitement ramps up for the release of Core 2021, it’s easy to linger on the negatives—and boy, as a community, do we Magic players love to concentrate on those—so instead let’s celebrate what Ikoria achieved.

Commander 2020

Despite the usual complaints about awkward and miserly manabases, I think Commander 2020 had a number of things going for it. When I wrote my Hopes & Fears for Ikoria article, one of my main desires for this year’s sets was for the decks to explore different space. The Sultai deck, Enhanced Evolution, did that and more for me. The Sultai Commanders all prompt different strategies than the usual bread & butter value of playing BUG, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I’ve really enjoyed creating Hydra tokens as pay off for casting X spells I usually wouldn’t play with Zaxara, the Exemplary; and the prospect of trying out a Sultai Voltron/Aristocrat build with Cazur, Ruthless Stalker & Ukkima, Stalking Shadow is keeping my brewing juices flowing.

In addition, the reprints were a lot better than in previous years. Seeing cards like Karametra, God of Harvests, Skullclamp, and Arcane Signet was a pleasant surprise, and even some of the less impactful reprints were good too—I’m always happy to pick up another Disciple of Bolas or Etali, Primal Storm. They could always be better, but we’re moving in a positive direction.

The new cards in the decks were equally promising in many ways. White’s access to a free protection spell in Flawless Maneuver is precisely what it needed, and I’m not opposed to the idea of giving bonuses to having a Commander in play. The lieutenant mechanic, for instance, is a really good way to hit that sweet spot. Deadly Rollick and Fierce Guardianship may have crossed that balance line, but hopefully that feedback will help shape future attempts at carving out this design space, which I must reiterate should be explored cautiously.

While free spells are always going to ruffle feathers, the other new cards were notable too. White got some ways to ramp in Verge Rangers and Cartographer’s Hawk, efficient removal in Dismantling Blow, and a highly competitive token producer in Call the Coppercoats. Tidal Barracuda is a fairer Teferi for multiplayer, allowing players to still stop the other threat from spiralling out of control; Species Specialist is a great draw engine for token decks; Netherborn Altar even makes Phage, the Untouchable playable; and Manascape Refractor is one of the most exciting mana rocks for a long time.

If there’s one thing I would say, it’s that for me Commander is generally a break from what’s going on in Standard from a Vorthos point of view; a time to catch up with other parts of the multiverse that we don’t visit in Standard sets. Ikoria‘s focus on a planar release took away from this a little, and it’s probably one of the reasons I’m so pumped for the pallette cleanser that will be Core 2021. 

One final note on this before I move on: I think the decisive action on banning Lutri, the Spellchaser from Commander from the Rules Committee was a strong and confident move, and one that reflects well on their capacity to work with Wizards to inform them on how to keep Commander a good format (for the most part).


Though Ikoria was never on the top my list of planes I’d like to see, it nonetheless managed to pique my interest in different ways. Great artwork always manages to lift my spirits, and there were many pieces in this expansion that really captured me. Svetlin Velinov’s Spellpyre Phoenix was a particular highlight; but Gavi, Nest Warden, Of One Mind, and Cunning Nightbonder all managed to inspire in their own ways too. Donny has more on the art in his Grand Art Tour, with many more highlights captured within.

Not many will be able to argue that the Ikoria draft format wasn’t fun. The mutate mechanic provided deeper lines of play than on the surface. Deciding whether to destroy the creature in response to a mutation, or letting it resolve and losing tempo, only to then destroy the single creature provided some important decision points, and I found that gameplay pretty interesting. There were also a lot of games that ended with both players on low life totals, where every play counted—again, the sign of a format with potential.

The variety of builds that were possible due to the Companion mechanic kept things fresh, and though there were some games in which it was an uphill struggle against these builds, they still offered a lot to the environment. Figuring out the correct builds, and the correct Companions to play, was an interesting aside to drafting archetypes; and when it happened, it was exciting.

Part of what made these Companions more balanced than they could have been was access to strong removal. Ikoria brought such powerful spells as Heartless Act and Dire Tactics, two spells I think will have a huge impact going forward—not only on Standard, but also Pioneer. Part of what’s been plaguing modern design of Magic in constructed formats is that the removal isn’t good enough, and doesn’t deal with the threats efficiently enough (though there’s also Teferi, Time Raveler to blame for that, I suppose).

Either way, more efficient and powerful removal is a good thing when the power of Standard has increased. I’m happy to see that starting to happen with Ikoria, and hopefully continue into Core 2021 and beyond.

Though the changes to the Companion mechanic have erased a lot of what Ikoria offered in card design, I’m also pleased to see efforts into card design in different areas. The Ultimatum cycle was finished with more relevant and powerful effects; Triomes are great fixing in Commander for budget conscious players; Boros got some interesting Legendary Creatures to play with again, plus Luminous Broodmoth to answer the card advantage issue, two things which bode well for the future of Red/White design. Balancing between colors is moving in the right direction, but with the caveat that the rising tide is certainly raising all ships: Green is still a bit too good, and still encroaching into areas that feel a little too powerful.

Ikoria Collector Boosters

I never thought I’d say it, but I kinda get Collector boosters?

For anyone who likes to open a box or two of a standard set, for the joy of opening boosters, I think these can be a great option. Again, for most people, they aren’t in scope—but I think that’s fair. These aren’t for drafting, are they? As a product aimed at Collectors, the Ikoria edition of this product is the best iteration we’ve had yet.

The secret lies in two main areas. First, the fact that the ancillary slot in this product contains Commander 2020 cards. Getting more copies of new Commander cards into the hands of players is always a good thing, especially as a lot of players won’t be purchasing every deck of the five available. It’s also a great way to get extra copies of cards for more than one deck.

Raugrin Triome by Robbie Trevino. Digital.

The other secret to success here is having a great rare land cycle to get excited about. The Triomes have beautiful alternate art, and are highly playable in most formats. When you factor this in with the Commander cards, you end up with a product stacked with great chances at getting sought after cards. That’s before considering the cool foil and borderless cards available at a higher rate than in normal boosters, and the Godzilla alternate art cards, which are a hit with a lot of people (though not me, admittedly).

Again, I’ll reiterate that I don’t think this product is for everyone, and that’s okay. What I am satisfied about is that this iteration of the Collector’s Booster line of products was the strongest yet, and should be a blueprint for what makes these products worthwhile. I think the Core 2021 version will have big shoes to fill come July.

In Closing

It’s easy to feel down when it comes to Magic releases. Wizards are in the unenviable position of having to please a lot of people; and though I think it can be done more often than it sometimes is, they do generally do a great job of ticking boxes across the board for many people, from drafters, to Commander players, to art fans. We’re all in a pretty down state of mind right now too with the current political situation—and let me be clear on our stance here at Hipsters on that too—so it’s natural to approach the things we love more critically when we’re experiencing so much unrest in our lives elsewhere.

Though there were some things that undoubtedly could have been done better with Ikoria—like some aspects of worldbuilding/story—I think there’s also a lot that we’ll look back more fondly on as time goes on, and a lot that will have an impact going forward. Let’s savor the highlights of Ikoria’s sunset as we look to new horizons.

Based in the UK, Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up.

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