Ikoria Limited Archetype Breakdown

Ethan Saks • April 28, 2020

Ikoria Limited is upon us and the format is shaping up to be a fantastic draft experience for the foreseeable future. The synergy in this set is off the charts, leading to lots of buildarounds and varying pick orders based on the cards you end up drafting early. The format certainly rewards drafting the hard way, but once you find your lane incentives you turn hard into that lane. For my first Ikoria focused article, I want to run through the different synergy decks in the format to help frame the payoffs and enablers and what decks and archetypes they go best in.


This is the consensus best deck in the format and the most synergistic 40 cards out there. This archetype is most potent in Boros but can certainly be in Izzet or Azorius as well. The most powerful build will take advantage of the myriad of payoffs at common and uncommon and back them up with as many 1 and 2 mana cyclers that you can. The headliner for this deck is Zenith Flare, the best uncommon in the format and one of the most powerful cards in the set full stop. Valiant Rescuer, Flourishing Fox, Reptilian Reflection, Drannith Stinger, Savai Thundermane and Snare Tactician all work towards the same goal of getting your opponent dead as fast as possible.

Because of the high density of cyclers that you have in a deck like this you get to greatly reduce the number of lands you need to include. I’ve seen folks go as low as 10 lands in winning decks, so don’t be afraid to skimp. A good heuristic is to remove one land for every three 1-cmc colorless cycler you have. If I end up in a blue cycling deck, it’s usually for Ominous Seas which is an absolute powerhouse in this format.


The headliner mechanic for this set does not disappoint. This value-oriented creature deck is my favorite to draft and pilot. While mutate exists across all colors, the best of these decks are concentrated in the Sultai colors. Base Simic is my favorite flavor because that gives you the two best mutate enablers in Pollywog Symbiote and Essence Symbiote. While the deck certainly wants as many mutate creatures as it can get its hands on, it really needs to have a good curve of cheap creatures onto which you can mutate. The symbiotes are the best of the bunch but anything that contributes some attributes to the stack of mutate creatures is quite good. Glimmerbell provides flying and pseudo-vigilance (as well as some sick synergy with Porcuparrot and Parcelbeast.)

Speaking of Parcelbeast, once I have that card in my pile I’m actively looking for one drops as well like Mysterious Egg and the Almighty Brushwagg. In black, Boot Nipper gives the option for deathtouch on a future menacing mutater like Cavern Whisperer or lifelink to race in the air with Dreamtail Heron. And Durable Coilbug mitigates the inherent card disadvantage that comes with mutating by providing a recurrable body. As far what the good mutate creatures are, they’re honestly almost all fantastic save for a few clunkers. Archipelagore and Auspicious Starrix lead the pack with their incredibly large bodies and how they take advantage of large mutate stacks.


This archetype relies a lot more on uncommons than the two headliners, but is another powerful deck at your disposal. Sanctuary Lockdown is the best of the bunch in terms of cards to push you into this deck. Pumping up all your creatures and providing a way to tap down your opponent’s board is incredibly powerful especially with cards like Daysquad Marshal and Nightsquad Commando bringing multiple bodies to bear. Speaking of multiple bodies, Whisper Squad is a great catch-em-all in most black decks. Providing a source of card advantage and multiple bodies is just what the doctor ordered. All of these creatures pair nicely with another powerful payoff in Bastion of Remembrance. And General’s Enforcer can help keep the party going by providing a lategame mana sink and constant stream of 1/1s.


The Humans deck has a lot of overlap with the Rakdos Sacrifice archetype. There can be any combination of Mardu colors here as both of the decks care about grinding out value. As mentioned, Black and White are very good at providing multiple bodies. Red adds Forbidden Friendship to the fold, which really shines in this deck, but the real power comes from a very underrated uncommon in Weaponize the Monsters. This sacrifice outlet packs a huge punch in terms of removing opposing creatures as well as reducing the opponent’s life total to zero in a hurry. Bushmeat Poacher as a repeatable sacrifice outlet that accrues value is another great engine here. Tentative Connection gives the deck the ability to “steal’n’sac” like we’ve seen Rakdos do in many limited sets before. Menace from various creatures and spells like Blood Curdle help to reduce the cost here, but honestly Bushmeat Poacher on 4 into steal a creature and sacrifice it on 5 is a totally reasonable curve. Add in Mutual Destruction as a cheap removal spell and you’ve got yourself a great deck (that’s comprised almost entirely of commons to boot!)


This is not a meme. I repeat, this is not a meme. The reanimate deck is very good and very real. We’ve got two spells at uncommon that bring creatures from the graveyard into play: Back for More and Unbreakable Bond. The former is savage blow out at instead speed and the latter helps to recoup any tempo lost from going in on this strategy by providing lifelink. The other piece of this awesome puzzle is the giant monsters with cycling in the set. You’d hope to get Titanoth Rex and Void Beckoner, but you’ve got the tools at common as well with Greater Sandwurm and Lava Serpent. Ramp in the form of Humble Naturalist or Migratory Greathorn is a nice way to jump start the curve and Honey Mammoth is perfect as top end and as a recursion target. Because this deck relies so heavily on uncommons, it’s often a subtheme of a Golgari deck that is perhaps ramping into the fatties as well or looking to mutate.


While Companions may be the bane of every constructed player’s existence at the moment, they provide really cool buildarounds for us limited junkies. I’ve seen just about every companion work out to great success. My vote for most powerful is Keruga, the Macrosage which can have the feeling of adding about 4 free cards to your opening hand when you resolve it. Obosh, the Preypiercer turning Springjaw Trap into a deal 6, Lurrus of the Dream-Den recurring Dead Weights, Lutri, the Spellchaser copying a premium removal spell, and Jegantha, the Wellspring ramping hard and turning off-color cyclers into actual castables are all incredibly powerful in a game of limited. There is a cost to trying to companion these creatures and you really need to weigh the pros and cons, but when it works out it can feel nearly unbeatable.

Keyword Matters

Each allied color pair in this format has a subtheme centered around a keyword. Selesnya has Vigilance, Gruul has Trample, Rakdos has Menace, Dimir has Flash and Azorius has Flying. Other than Azorius, which I think can be strong as a cycling or card draw deck, not so much as a flyers deck, I’ve seen these keyword decks be strong. In the Vigilance deck you have the option of living a High Alert style dream with Solid Footing on Maned Serval or just gaining a ton of life with Alert Heedbonder. Proud Wildbonder threatens to end the game in a hurry or finish off your opponent once they’ve stabilized. And while it comes together infrequently, the Dimir Flash deck definitely has the tools to pair the number of flash creatures in black with blue’s permission spells in Essence Scatter and Neutralize as well as removal like Capture Sphere.

There is so much to explore in this format. I can’t remember a non-masters set that felt as synergistic as this. There are even more decks and interactions beyond those outlined above that I look forward to figuring out in the coming weeks. It’s only been a few days with this format, but it’s already feeling like an all-timer to me. What have been some of your favorite decks to draft? Let me know on Twitter!

And, as always, happy drafting!