MTG Ikoria Draft archetypes and themes to build around

Ikoria has some of the deepest draft synergies in recent memory. Brush up now before hitting that draft button.

Ferocious Tigorilla Art Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

It’s officially the first week of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths on Magic Arena.

With the full set out, there’s never been a better time to take a comprehensive look at each Draft archetype and themes to build around. This set is deep, so make sure to get a good grasp of each of these powerful deck types.

WB Humans

This set seems largely built around enemy color pairs—and this one will be deadly if drafted correctly. Orzhov decks on Ikoria are meant to go wide with lots of Humans, including a fair amount of human tokens. Start by making a lot of tokens with generators like Valiant Rescuer and Nightsquad Commando.

Valiant Rescuer Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Close the game by attacking large using Coordinated Charge. Use cards like Bastion of Remembrance for an alternative win condition or General’s Enforcer for some multicolored good stuff. This pair has arguably the best removal card in the set outside of rares with Dire Tactics.

Coordinated Charge Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
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WR Cycling

This deck is getting pinpointed as one of the more powerful archetypes. Start by drafting some cheap cycling commons—cards like Drannith Healer and Drannith Stinger. Pair them with powerful payoff cards like Flourishing Fox and the archetype’s signpost uncommon, Savai Thundermane.

Savai Thundermane Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Chain those cycling cards together in a single turn to smash some face. Seal your victory with a finisher like Zenith Flare or the pushed Prickly Marmoset.

Prickly Marmoset Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
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UR Spells

The Izzet deck this go-around is a fairly straightforward “just cast spells” archetype with some solid roleplayers. You’re going to be fighting over some of the best enablers for this deck, though. Solid commons like Fire Prophecy and Of One Mind go well into any deck that can run them.

With that in mind, this deck takes the value from these cards and dials it up to 11. UR has a few dedicated enablers, with Lore Drakkis as the prime example. Use cards like Channeled Force to keep the board clear and level up this deck’s signpost uncommon, Sprite Dragon, for certain victory.

Sprite Dragon Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
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UG Mutate

Mutate qualifies as a crazy new mechanic and Simic decks are perfectly aligned to take major advantage of it. Getting out something small is key here. Essence Symbiote, Pollywog Symbiote, and Mysterious Egg are the main enablers, but anything that’s cheap, like Aegis Turtle, will work in a pinch.

Then, slam down some mutations. UG’s signpost is Trumpeting Gnarr, a decent play. But the colors also include some of the most powerful mutate creatures in the set—Pouncing Shoreshark and Auspicious Starrix.

Pouncing Shoreshark Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

BG Reanimator

Golgari decks are all about bringing things back from the graveyard. And they have many tools to do just that. Back for More is the best option, but Unbreakable Bond, Call of the Death-Dweller, and Boneyard Lurker can put in similar work as needed.

Back for More Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Of course, you’ll also need things to bring back. Aim for big creatures with cycling, like Titanoth Rex and Greater Sandwyrm. Cycling puts them right into the graveyard and draws you a card for the trouble, making it a perfect early-game play to set up a back-breaking reanimation.

Titanoth Rex Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Ally color pairs

The ally color pairs have less support than the above enemy pairs, but they each do have a signpost rare, along with two uncommons (a bonder and a mentor), and a critical common that you’ll want to grab along the way. If you see these latter cards open, it may be worth moving in. They’re monocolored, though, so you will be fighting over them with other drafters.

In terms of power level, Trample, Flying, and Menace are all strong enough to build around if you get the right cards. Vigilance and Flash play more of a supportive role for three-color decks.

RG Trample

Quartzwood Crasher Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

UW Flying

Skycat Sovereign Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

BR Menace

Labyrinth Raptor Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Theme decks

Ikoria also has a number of decks that break from these traditional color pairs to focus on different themes or even build-around cards that can take over a game if you build a specific deck (like Eldraine‘s mill deck). These decks require some more dedication but can have major payoffs.

Splash for a rare

There are a lot of powerful two and three-color rares in this set and many of them are worth splashing for. The apex cycle, for example, can be cast for three colors or mutated for two and comes with powerful abilities.

Snapdax Apex of the Hunt Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Color fixing and ramp are widely available, especially with Evolving Wilds and Farfinder in the set. Don’t be afraid to take one of those rares and add a splash or two to give your deck some extra oomph. Just make sure this doesn’t change your game plan.

“Weaponize the Monsters” Token Aggro

Weaponize the Monsters Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Weaponize the Monsters is a unique enchantment that allows you to sacrifice any creature to deal two damage to any target. There are three main steps to this strategy:

  1. Deal damage early
  2. Make a bunch of tokens
  3. Weaponize to victory

This deck is a dedicated aggro build that only cares about dealing lethal damage as fast as possible. Remember that you can stall an enemy’s lifelinker by sacrificing your own creature facing off against it to prevent combat damage—unless it’s attacking and has trample.

The “Actually cast an Ultimatum” Deck

The cycle of triple-colored ultimatums are all remarkably powerful. Some will even end the game on the spot. But actually casting them is a difficult challenge since they all cost seven mana and all of it must be colored.

IKO Ruinous Ultimatum MTG
Image via WotC Magic: The Gathering

If you’re up to the challenge, start by getting mana fixing. Green has a few options, but don’t overlook useful lands like Evolving Wilds, the gainland cycle, and the crystal cycle.

Each of them shines in different ways, so feel free to get creative. And while all of them are remarkably powerful, Inspired Ultimatum isn’t on the same level as the rest and shouldn’t be drafted around.

The “Actually use Companion” Deck

Companions are another new mechanic to the set and are a cycle of dual-colored rares. All of them can be used as regular creatures. But if your deck meets certain requirements, you’ll be able to cast this for free from your graveyard, making it a useful eighth card in your opening hand for every game.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den Magic Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
Image via Wizards of the Coast Magic: The Gathering

Each companion varies in terms of power level and usefulness in Draft, but the ones that shine can become back-breaking if you’re able to cast them in each game. Here are the companions we think are particularly worth building around.

  • Lurrus of the Dream-Den: You’ll need to draft low-cost permanents, basically all draft long, but the payoff here is huge. As long as this is on the battlefield, it will generate a huge amount of value. And yes, you can bring it right back with Call of the Death-Dweller.
  • Gyruda, Doom of Depths: As a reanimation card you can cast any time, this is incredibly valuable and shouldn’t be overlooked. Just make sure you draft evens only.
  • Kaheera, the Orphanguard: These five creature types are plenty frequent in this set and sticking to the rules here will give you a powerful lord for your growing army of monsters.
  • Obosh, the Preypiercer: Certainly an odd card, but doubling up your damage is huge and it’s hard to see not winning on the spot if you build and play this deck the right way.
  • Keruga, the Macrosage: The downside here is pretty low, especially if you plan to do some cycling in your first couple rounds. The upside is drawing a ton of cards for free, so it should be easy to get this hippo online.