Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has been a unique experience. The physical prerelease, of course, was cancelled (along with society at large) due to communist bioweapon Covid-19, so we’ve all been interacting with the set digitally. Definitely a bummer, as prereleases at my LGS are some of my favorite events throughout the year.
For me, the most exciting thing about Ikoria’s digital release had nothing to do with the set itself. For the first time, we got human draft tables on Magic Arena, which is huge. I did so many of these I lost count. The first couple weeks of the format were a blast, some of my multicolor piles reminded me of the halcyon days of Khans of Tarkir draft. Eventually people figured out the RW Cycling deck, though, so I’m kind of over it.
And that’s the thing: I’m over it. Like no other set I remember, I feel I have thoroughly explored Ikoria, especially in draft, and I already want to move on. I know that in every draft run I’m going to play against the Cycling deck (or I’ll be piloting it myself) and I’m just not interested. I don’t necessarily blame Ikoria itself. The circumstances of this whole Corona thing gave me the time on my hands to chew through the content way faster than I typically would have.
Moving on to Constructed: holy shit Companion sucks. It’s just awful. I don’t understand how anyone thought this was a good idea. They’ve already banned Lurrus in Legacy & Vintage and I have no idea why they didn’t include Modern & Pioneer – or, yes, even Standard. I think they should just go back in time and smother the entire mechanic in its crib. Working from home, I’ve been able to put on Twitch streams off to the side for background noise and Companions are everywhere. It’s simply incorrect not to play one if you’re trying to win. I’m seeing Modern Humans and Mono Green Tron decks play a Jegantha, the Wellspring just as a free something to do if circumstances line up. A guy won a MTGO Modern PTQ with a Blue-White Miracles deck that mise’d a Kaheera, the Orphanguard in an otherwise creatureless control deck. That’s stupid – and those are the inoffensive cases. Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Yorion, Sky Nomad are utterly toxic. WOTC needs to nut up and erase the whole sordid affair, somehow.
I took my wife & kids to Kansas City for a fun weekend and, lo and behold, there just so happened to be a MagicFest going on at the convention center attached to our hotel… WHAT A COINCIDENCE.
Regular draft sign-ups were over by the time I arrived on Friday evening, but there was a Modern side event firing soon so I gave that a shot. Two of my favorite artists were in attendance so I got some cards in my trusty Ponza deck signed just before we started: Arbor Elf and Tireless Tracker by R.K. Post and Eric Deschamps, respectively.
I went 0-4 in Modern, it was embarrassing. I got locked by the new Karn, the Great Creator + Mycosynth Lattice combo twice, and also lost to UR Phoenix and Cheerios Storm (of all things). Look, I’m a huge fan of Modern – an apologist, even – but the format is a garbage fire right now, and I think the newly-implemented London Mulligan is going to make it worse. On the other hand, we have Modern Horizons entering the fray so maybe that will shake things up. I’ll hope for the best but I see some bannings in our future. I could go on, but that’s a rant for another day.
Come sunrise and with the bad beats out of my system, I set out upon a draft binge. I drafted from 9am until 9pm, skipping meals and not drinking enough water. I lost track of how many drafts I did. It was glorious. I started the day with a P1P1 Chandra, Fire Artisan.
This deck needed some Bloom Hulks to be truly nuts but whatever: I drew Chandra and Nissa over and over. I could probably add 20 other cards and take this pile to Standard Showdown at my LGS. After this I had a few middling drafts where I died in round one or two but there was always a bright side. Maybe my deck was bad but at least I pulled a Karn. Or maybe I died but my opponent was a nice kid soaking in his first event of this size and I was truly happy that he was having such fun. Of course, fun is fun but winning is nice, too, so I was pretty stoked to end the day on a bit of a heater.
I signed up for a Chaos Draft. Some people can’t turn it off long enough to spew on something like this but I like the screw-around nature of it. Everyone got one “premium” pack – mine was Masters 25 – and it was funny that we all chose to open that pack first. Nobody wanted to slow-roll their expensive pack until the end!
Whether it’s at your friendly neighborhood LGS with folks you know personally, or it’s at a huge MagicFest with total strangers, when you sit down at a draft table you’re naturally gonna look across at the player you’ll face in round one and try to size them up. At this table, my dude was a real Chatty Cathy who seemed to know what he was doing. Had plenty of comments about what the guys next to him might be doing wrong, how he had things figured out, etc. I won’t draw this guy up as a cartoon villain or whatever – he’s just a dude – but I will say that I didn’t wanna lose to him.
My packs were Masters 25, Fate Reforged and Ravnica Allegiance. I first-picked an Elvish Piper out of my Masters 25 pack – no Jace?! Rip-off! After that I settled into kind of a blue-red spells deck with 2x Jhessian Thief (one foil, holla) and a Metallurgic Summonings. Maybe the Shiv’s Embrace was loose but I think it’s okay to build some “Bogle Equity” into your deck when the aura’s good enough. This Shiv’s Embrace was foil, too, so that counts for something, right?
The one thing I feel like I did wrong in the draft portion was in pack 3, my Ravnica Allegiance pack. My rare was Angel of Grace but there was also a Rubblebelt Recluse that my deck really wanted. I was never going to play the Angel but the dopey little kid in me thought “sweet, mythic Angel!” so I took it. It’s worth like a crummy dollar, what was I doing?! Of course, I wheeled the Rubblebelt Recluse and learned nothing. Aside from the admittedly dorky vanilla Gilded Cerodon, I think this deck came together nicely.
Round one versus Guy Who Knows What He’s Doing: Opponent was also on blue-red spells, featuring triple-Guttersnipe. His deck might have been sick; alas, the world will never know. Game one he misses on lands and does nothing. Game two he does manage to go Guttersnipe + Guttersnipe and maybe he’s finna go off but then my turn four (after playing guys on 2 & 3) is sideboard Blue Elemental Blast on one Guttersnipe and Heat Ray on the other. Homeboy’s life is ruined at that point. Stomp.
Round two versus BW Gain-Drain: The match whose winner I’d be playing took FOREVER in round one so I got a good look at their decks while watching them play after I’d finished my own match. Please note I wasn’t nefariously scouting here, I was innocently wasting away as these durdles ate up time like a couple of Langoliers (I owe my friends Mat & Steve a nickel for using that joke). Anyway, one guy seemed to have really gotten there with a BW lifegain/drain deck. He had some payoffs like Epicure of Blood and, especially, Sanguine Bond along with a cadre of cards that either incidentally gain some life or have a repeatable effect. Frankly, I’m impressed.
So, BW guy wins his round one and then we play. I dunno what I was sweating for; I easily go under him while he’s farting around, casting Sanguine Bond as his only nonland permanent while I’ve already got him on the clock. He gives me enough time to go off with Metallurgic Summonings and X spells, so I appreciated having that opportunity.
Round three versus Guy Who Didn’t Know What Time It Was: “Do you wanna just split? No, you wanna play? Okay.”
Friends, one of the simplest, purest thrills in Magic is laying a ranch on the galaxy brain who no-sir’s the split. I don’t mean to portray this guy negatively, he was very pleasant to play with and I think he may have been a little green and didn’t quite know what was up. I think the best thing I saw out of him was a Crocodile of the Crossing, which I agree is a sweet card. Not much to say, I put my boot on this guy’s neck. Sweetest play was manifesting Rubblebelt Recluse with Write into Being and unmorphing it in combat. Almost as good as flipping up a Woolly Loxodon! (KTK was a goat-tier limited format, btw)
Coincidentally, my wife came into the convention hall and found me right as we were finishing up and snapped a photo. GG’s my dude, I’m gonna leave with my pretty wife and collect my 300 skeeball tickets now.
At a certain point in the evening they start running “Turbo Drafts” instead of the typical 3-round affairs. You draft a normal 8-person table with the normal cross-table pairings, but you only play one round and the 4 winners get appropriately scaled-up skeeball tix. My first turbo draft deck wasn’t anything special, I had hella Bloom Hulks but wasn’t really “going off” with them (zero Kronch Wranglers).
We went to game 3 in this match and it was a sweet one. Opponent was super cool and I appreciated him; shout-outs, wherever you are. We got into a wide board stall but after several turns of draw-go I topdecked Chandra’s Pyrohelix. I told the guy, “okay, I think I have this; I attack with everything” – but he did have a couple cards and some untapped mana. I didn’t believe there was anything in the format that could get him out of exactsies – but I’m gonna die if I don’t go for it sooner rather than later. So, I made the attack and let him block and then cast the Chandra’s Pyrohelix, somewhat apologetically saying “I’m not trying to slowroll you” and he was totally cool about it, he said it was the best match he’d had all day. Respek.
It’s getting late at this point, so I’m like “okay just ONE more…” I first-pick a Jaya’s Greeting but then get a pack with Spark Harvest, foil Spark Harvest and Command the Dreadhorde. I take the foil Spark Harvest but I’m thinking somebody’s gotta be going black after this. I settle into red-white after a few picks and end up with this sicko – I think all the rares were passed to me.
There were a couple of Lincoln acquaintances in this draft pod with me, a husband-wife duo; I was glad not to be paired against either of them. As I glanced over I saw one of them with an anemic board while their opponent, a small child, had both God-Eternal Oketra and Storrev, Devkarin Lich in play off of only the appropriate basic lands… so just ponder that. Woof. Anyway, my opponent never had a prayer.
After that it was last call, somewhere after 9pm, and while I could have probably squeezed in one more Turbo Draft, it felt like an appropriate time to call it quits. I cashed in my skeeball tix for some merch and enough assorted packs to host my own Chaos Draft sometime soon.
All in all, a great day of durdling. Many thanks to my lovely family for letting me abandon them all day. For what it’s worth, I invited the kids to come along but they just do not care about Magic at all. Fair enough!