The Half Orc Report: Early Thoughts on Ikoria

The Ikoria spoiler season is upon us, and it’s time to start analyzing the set. While I’m not going to be going into much detail as far as the individual cards that have been spoiled, I do want to give my opinions on the sets mechanics. The draft boosters will feature four primary mechanics of which only one is a returning mechanic. I think that getting my thoughts down while previews are still happening will provide a nice baseline to compare things to once we have the full set.  Looking at the first 50-60 cards, it is clear that this will be one of more complex standard sets we have gotten in a while. It’s possible that by the time the prerelease rolls around in May, all of these mechanics will be second nature to everyone. Breaking them down early is an important step towards being able to explain them to new players.


I’m always happy to see cycling make its way into a set. Cycling just a little extra oomph compared to cards without. They are a great way to fill up the graveyard, dig through your deck,  or even just play them out of your hand ( I guess?). Honestly, I would play cards with cycling that you can’t cast from your hand. That’s how much I like my graveyard set up. Dump them in the bin to further future plays, that dear reader is the Golgari way. If I were to speculate we may see the other half of the Amonkhet “bicycle” lands. Because Wizards tends to print more ally cycles than enemy cycles, printing the enemy “bicycle” lands would be a nice boost for people brewing wedge commander decks.(Incidentally the Commander decks are wedges this year)

Keyword Counters

When Mark Rosewater did his “Ikoria Teaser” Back on March 18th, he mentioned that there would be 12 (13 including loyalty counters for planeswalkers) kinds of counters in Ikoria. As it turns out Keyword Counters make up the majority of these counters.(Of the twelve, nine are keywords with the only other known counters being +1/+1 and “foreshadowing” counters)  This is the first time that counters have been used to give a creature a keyword ability permanently in black border magic. We first saw them in the Mystery Booster packs on cards like “Recycla-bird”. 

My initial thoughts on keyword counters can be placed into three broad categories, those being “The Good”, “The Bad”, and “The Ugly”. I think that it will be interesting to see how they are used to create unique interactions and board states, but that overall this may be a bit too much for someone who doesn’t already play magic to handle.

Note: I’m only considering the nine keywords found on the punchout cards, It looks like there are more in the commander product, but I’m not worried about them until I have more information.

The Keyword counters, as found on the Punch-Out counters

The Good – Flying, Vigilance, First Strike and Menace

All of these counters are going to be highly sought after in the limited environment.  They help you stay on the offensive while the board gets clogged up with creatures.Given that 3 out of the 4 major mechanical themes are directly related to creatures, the board stalling out is a real possibility in limited. In addition, there aren’t as many edge cases with these mechanics. If I give a creature Vigilance, it doesn’t change anything else about how any other Keyword works. They are all simple abilities with relatively low mechanical depth.

The Bad -Lifelink and Reach

While there isn’t anything wrong with these keywords, they are more situational then the rest.  Reach is a fine way to combat Flying, but generally you would want another Flying creature to combat it. Lifelink is an ability that is either crushing your opponent’s ability to win the game, or doing absolutely nothing. I need to see more of the set before I can determine how useful these counters will be overall. As it currently stands, I think cards that grant these kinds of counters will see play because they fill another need in the deck, and as a nice upside you get a counter.

The Ugly -Hexproof and Trample / Deathtouch

These are the only counters in the bunch that I am worried about. Hexproof is a very powerful keyword that shuts down a wide set of the removal pool. It’s generally balanced by being either temporary or by being on a less powerful creature. If they printed a card like “Heroic Intervention”  except it placed Hexproof counters, it could create some pretty disgusting board states. As for Trample and Deathtouch, the two keywords have a bit of an odd interaction with one another. For those not in the know, a creature with both only needs to assign one point of damage to a creature that blocks it before it can get to a trampling. This can be confusing because Deathtouch is seemingly redefining how “excess damage” works. It’s something that Wizards of the Coast tries to avoid highlighting when possible. With the ability to drop counters on creatures all over the place, you will see this interaction come up more in Ikoria than in other sets.


This mechanic reminds me of “Curse of the Fire Penguin” in both terms of complexity and coolness.  Now you might be wondering why it doesn’t remind me of Host and Augment or even Bestow? The simple answer is that Mutate doesn’t stack up power, toughness, and creature types and I kinda wish that it did.  While it’s likely that creatures would get too big if you added together the collective power of all them together, isn’t this the “Lair of the Behemoths?”

Despite my bemoaning, I do like the mechanic. Much like cycling, it gives you another thing to do with your cards. While you’re mostly going to use it to make a tall creature with a bunch of abilities, you can still spread out if you’re playing against a deck with a lot of single targeted removal. (try doing that aura’s)  It is also a form of quesdo Haste since every creature with Mutate can put it’s stats right into combat as long as whatever dork it Mutates has been on the field long enough. I think that the various interactions you will be able to create with the mechanic are going to be worth the clunkiness that stacking cards on top and on bottom will create. It’s going to be fun flicking a stack of Mutated creatures, only to put an army back when they return as confirmed on the Blogatog. Of course, that interaction is another example of where complexity in Ikoria is higher than average.


(A Mowu with Companion would be a flavor win)

I think hate is a strong word, but I really really really don’t these guys. I’m sure that they are going to be fine in most formats, but I’m not convinced that I am going to enjoy their impact on the Commander format. If you want to run one of them, you’re going to go about it in one of two ways. Either you ignore the deck building restriction and just slap it into the 99, or the deck building isn’t strict enough and you always get a free extra card in your hand. I mean one of them got banned so fast that I didn’t even realize it was banned when I went to complain about it on Discord. “ Lutri, the Spellchaser” is now my least favorite otter in all of Magic. (Top Zoological experts point out that it is also my favorite otter in Magic.)

Your adorable, yet I feel unbridled rage

I also don’t like that cards Wizards has custom made to get around the “No Sideboard” rule in Commander.  I am really curious to see what kind of weird rule that they are going to have to write to make Commander have a one card sideboard that only accepts companions. I mean they can’t just put it in a zone that exists in Commander, due to the fact that it needs to be outside of the game at the start of the game. 

 I like weird deck building challenges. Anything ranging from “all shirtless dudes” to “Only cards that start with the Letter C” is fair game and makes for some crazy commander. Somehow Wizards has taken a thing that I like to do, and left me feeling empty inside.

Final Thoughts

I think Ikoria will be a very interesting set once it’s all on the table. It has mechanics that I absolutely love, and others that make me question my sanity. The level of complexity on display is kinda crazy. It reminds me of Modern Horizons in that respect. The main difference being that all of that complexity comes from using a multitude of mechanics from across Magics History Based on this early batch of cards, I will probably have a ton of fun at the prerelease. I just worry that the things I don’t like about the set could be what form my lasting impressions of it.

“The Half-Orc Report is an opinionated look at MTG news written by SillyHalfOrc. To get direct access to the author, consider supporting OnlyOnTuesdays on Patreon to access the community Discord for just 1 dollar a month”

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