From Godzilla to companions, giant cats to tiny nightmares, Ikoria really does have it all! It’s a jam packed set that’s bound to change Pioneer as we know it, and the cards that seem the most innocuous may have the biggest impact.
Let’s jump right in!
This card will always have a use in decks like Mono-Black Aggro and Dimir Inverter. That says a lot, because both decks want to be as efficient as possible with their resources. Taking out a small but potent threat while making it easier to dig for your combo later on in the game (or in match-ups where it isn’t useful) is the exact type of modularity that slower midrange or combo decks look for. Expect to see this one as a one- or two-of.
Neutralize and Easy Prey play similar roles, but Neutralize has much broader applications. Never has a Cancel been more useful. This simple design is yet another tool for slow blue decks that need things to do with their mana at all times.
The biggest sticking point will be choosing between Neutralize or a more flexible spell like Hero’s Downfall. While Neutralize is very good, you’ll need to do some serious adjusting if you want to include it in your deck. You can’t counter what’s already on the board, and cycling doesn’t affect the board state. Like Easy Prey, this card will consistently show up in Dimir Inverter and blue-based control decks in small numbers.
Heartless Act is one of the best two-mana black removal spells ever printed. It’s modality is what really sets it apart, as the card still functions in unfavorable match-ups. Historically, black removal spells that cost three mana destroy everything, while their two-mana counterparts have major restrictions. Heartless Act doesn’t kill everything, but if something with more than three counters is too much for you, chances are you aren’t in the market for this type of card in the first place. I expect to see this card in any deck capable of blocking and making good trades, especially if +1/+1 counters become a factor.
Companion cards have been very controversial, to say the least. Of these, Lurrus of the Dream-Den stands out as the premier companion card in Pioneer. The thing is, I’m not interested in playing this as a companion. Having these in the main deck can feed Mono-White Devotion, bringing back Walking Ballistas and other permanents as needed. You can also try it in decks like Rally, where it can bring back sacrifice outlets. This is a very powerful card for decks that have needed one more tool to push synergies over the top, and I expect this to bring at least one tier-two deck into the big leagues.
These lands are pushed very hard, and every midrange deck will want to play a number of them. Decks like Sultai Delirium and 5-Color Niv benefit from these the most by far, as they were already in the market for both consistent mana and additional ways to use excess mana. In Sultai Delirium’s case, it was always a bit of a chore to put land cards in the graveyard if you weren’t hitting them with Satyr Wayfinder; now, you never really need to worry about that again. Additionally, decks won’t need to play as many shock lands, so they’ll take a little less damage over the course of the game and gain slightly more flexibility in exchange for speed. I don’t think these will replace Fabled Passage — Fatal Push is still a huge staple in Pioneer, and having an easy way to get revolt is important — but the format is slow enough that I don’t see much reason why you couldn’t play these side by side.
Ikoria is such a wonderful set, and there are so many powerful and exciting cards on the horizon. I cannot wait to give all of these cards a shot in Pioneer!
Anthony Lowry is a high level competitor in several games, and Magic is no exception. His newfound passion for deckbuilding has reignited his drive to compete and test his skill against the best.