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Ikoria Limited Strategy Part 3: Ally-Archetypes!

Guide Limited 
By: Intrepid_Tautog - 04 May 2020

Part 1:Ikoria Limited Strategy: The Viability of Aggro in a World of Kaiju

Part 2:Ikoria Limited Strategy: Aggro-archetypes!

When it first stumbled into my den, I thought it a weakling with a deathwish. No claws. Blunt teeth. And a build even a hatchling would find feeble. Certainly, this lowly creature desired an abrupt end. That, or it was simply too foolish to know a raptor den when it saw one. I didn't know whether to pity or salivate.

Then something surprising happened. The suicidal being's poor eyesight must've finally caught a glimpse of my brood. Any other creature worth a spit would've seen us immediately, but this thing had to be practically on top of us. It jumped and let out what I assume was a cry of terror. Could've been a defensive bellow. Hard to tell with squeaks. Had to tilt my head a moment to contemplate the meaning of the sound. I didn't have to think for long.

The intruder planted their feet and lifted a pointy object in my direction. A stick? That was its grand show of strength? The weakling was clearly no threat. Better to let my young practice their hunting on than kill outright. I motioned to my oldest to move in. The little one lowered its neck and sprinted forward, as unafraid of the creature as I. To my surprise, the stick lowered. Did this poor meatsack come to accept its inevitable fate?

My eldest lunged. It ought to have been quick and clean. I still cannot believe, much less understand, what transpired next.

The two became friends.  

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In our last episode, our heroes (that's us!) explored W/B Humans and W/R/u Cycling as the most highly-supported Aggro builds in Ikoria Limited. Today, we'll venture out to the fringes and investigate the less-supported ally-color options available. Can we build viable aggressive decks in not-so-obvious color combos? Let's find out!

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Much of the time, a format's multicolor cards point you in thematic deckbuilding directions. Ikoria's primary color breakdown is similar to "Khans of Tarkir" in that it's more enemy-color centric. However, there are a handful of ally-color options, and they very clearly spell out what each allied pair wants to be doing. In short: it's all about the keywords, baby!

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You're highly unlikely to run into any vanilla creatures in this format. Heck, even if it starts out that way, that lowly Gloom Pangolinimage isn't likely to stay vanilla for very long. The introduction of ability counters (Spontaneous Flightimage, Unexpected Fangsimage, Sudden Spinneretsimage) anchors keywords to color identity perhaps more than ever before. Ikoria is stuffed full of keyword abilities like a mutated turkey. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there's actually a literal mutant turkey in the set somewhere.

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Eh, close enough.

On the surface, the Ally-color combos appear to reward you for maximizing quantity of a given keyword. So our goal will be to collect as many of that keyword (and it's payoffs) as possible.

Let's dive into some archetypes!

Quick Disclaimer: As this is strictly-limited we're talking about, Rares and Mythics will be largely ignored. However, when it comes to the keyword themes, a cycle of Rares do warrant some discussion, as they illustrate the point beautifully:

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All of these beasties are amazing pay-offs in their respective decks. Each rewards having a critical mass of the keyword they champion. Of these, Skycat Sovereignimage and Quartzwood Crasherimage strike me as the strongest on their own, without additional keyword support. Both have the ability to hit for serious damage and generate additional bodies without additional instances of flying or trample. That's some serious power. Labyrinth Raptorimage and Frondland Felidarimage are fine by their lonesome, but really want additional keywords to live up to their full potential. Slitherwispimage is the only one that requires additional instances of Flash, as otherwise it's just a hard-to-cast Hired Bladeimage. Playable, yes, but nothing fancy.

 

Archetype 1: B/R Menace

Sadistic as they are, the Rakdos gang are at least upfront and honest. No sneaky agendas. They're simply all about killing things and dealing damage. Wall-to-wall violence. And menace makes for a nice way to get around said walls so you can attack with impunity.

The Payoffs:

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It's fitting that Rakdos feature Menace, as the ability requires multiple blockers, and this color pair happens to be very good at removing blockers. As such, your goal is simple: swing away and kill impediments. You're far less concerned about your own life total. Getting in for damage is where it's at. Blood Curdleimage is everything you could ever want in that regard. Kill a potential blocker and make a threat harder to stop. All in one spell. Black/Red naturally have access to other great removal like Flame Spillimage, which can grant additional reach to kill an opponent, Dead Weightimage, Clash of Titansimage (Yea, kill two blockers!), and Heartless Actimage.

But everyone knows Rakdos and removal are the Chocolate/Peanut Butter of Magic. We can kill all the blockers in the world, but we still need to get in for damage. Sonorous Howlbonderimage is just the ticket, making already-difficult-to-block Menace creatures (itself, included) even more difficult to block. As an ability, Menace has a nice way of incidentally opening up your opponent for 2-for-1's. If you're able to kill one of the two blockers prior to damage getting dealt, you'll often kill both creatures. Well, as Sonorous Howlbonderimage now makes your opponent require three blockers per attacker, that opens up the chance for the glorious 3-for-1. Frillscare Mentorimage is also fantastic as a "Menace Lord" that teaches another creatures the ability. Each color has one of these and they are all valuable additions. 

The Bread and Butter:

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Making up the rank and file is an assortment mid-rangy beaters, and a nice little sacrifice outlet if you can get it going. We're stretching the definition of "Aggro" here, as cards like Ferocious Tigorillaimage, Grimdancerimage, and Cavern Whisper lean more mid-game than early. As our mid-game creatures largely have Menace built-in, don't be afraid to hand the ability out to smaller threats like early Boot Nipperimage or Durable Coilbugimage. Getting damage in often is more important than getting it in via one or two big swaths.

Rakdos limited decks often feature a Sacrifice-theme to go along with their kill-crazy attitude. There's a whisper of that here, and fortunately for us, Menace facilitates it. Threatenimage effects like Tentative Connectionimage are typically used by Boros Aggro decks to removal a blocker (hopefully a big one) and temporarily enlist for the alpha strike. Rakdos tends to steal the creature, smack the opponent with it, then eat it themselves. Downright mean! Tentative Connectionimage should often be discounted in your deck, and with all the giant monsters running around, stealing a kaiju, attacking its former owner with it, and then feeding it to a Bushmeat Poacherimage or Weaponize the Monstersimage is very doable goal. This nasty little combo isn't a stretch to put together by any means. 

The Challenges:

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Because you're less focused on your own life total than killing your opponent, defense can be lacking at times. That Boot Nipperimage is more important to your deck than you might think. If your opponent is able to get threats to stick, especially threats that can counteract the 1-for-1 removal you're slinging, you're in trouble. Valiant Rescuerimage, Auspicious Starriximage, Trumpeting Gnarrimage, Boneyard Lurkerimage, and Necropantherimage all have the ability to generate additional bodies or return fallen comrades. This not only makes spot-removal less effective, it also provides your opponent with more blockers. Even the 1/1's generated by Daysquad Marshalimage and company can become annoying. As such, plan to use removal to clear the way whenever possible, but if one of the above value engines makes an appearance, priority number one transitions over to getting rid of it before you're overwhelmed.

 

Archetype 2: W/G Vigilance

On the other philosophical side, we've the tree-hugging Selesnya color combo. Very zen. Very in touch with nature. But more than willing to use said nature to bash your face in. And with Vigilance as their thematic keyword, blockers will be hanging around to stifle a backswing.

The Payoffs:

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White/Green's payoff cards are less intuitive than Black/Red's. Vigilance makes for a nice defensive ability, but it's just that. We still need a way to win. Solid Footingimage enables that in an efficient and often surprising fashion. As I mentioned in Part 1, the combination of Maned Servalimage and Solid Footingimage is easy to assemble and can often be too much for an opposing deck to deal with, especially if that deck is slower or needs time to set up. Green also offers Mosscoat Goriakimage as an additional common target. Alert Heedbonderimage can provide some hefty life gain over time, but honestly, I find it's best role here is just to serve another body for Solid Footingimage.

Also aiding in the switch from defensive-to-offensive is Keensight Mentorimage, who's ability to pump the team is  more valuable here than in any other color combo. Fliers and menace creatures are already evasive, and things that Trample already tend to be big. But Vigilant creatures are known more for big butts than anything else, so the +1/+1 counters are vital. Overall, I feel the explosive nature of the Solid Footingimage combo is the only big payoff for Selesnya. But there is another factor the color pair can draw on...

The Bread and Butter:

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White/Green seems best suited to utilize a blend of Humans and non-Humans, packing an assortment of cards that reward you for having both. Fight as Oneimage can easily serve as a 2-for-1 combat trick, Survivors' Bondimage will frequently have two targets, and Exuberant Wolfbearimage and Patagia Tigerimage should frequently have Human targets to assist.

You've also access to some solid removal spells. Vigilance actually works wonderfully with Swallow Wholeimage, enabling you to get in an attack first, then eat something. Pacifismimage, Divine Arrowimage, Ram Throughimage, and Charge of the Forever-Beastimage will do great work, as well. White's mutation triggers tend to pump the team (Vulpikeetimage, Huntmaster Ligerimage, Regal Leosaurimage), making Green's removal more effective. Course, Green itself has a tendency to bring big monsters with it (Greater Sandwurmimage, Honey Mammothimage, Auspicious Starriximage), so there's that, too. Like with Rakdos, Ikoria's Selesnya deck tends to stretch the definition of Aggro out a little more towards the midrange.

My takeaway is this: the Vigilance synergy seems to center mainly on the Solid Footingimage + some other big-butt Vigilance creature. And/or the inclusion of Keensight Mentorimage. That can be game-winning when established early, but if it doesn't come together, focus less on Vigilance and more on your tribal cross-synergies and Mutation to help close things out. Essence Symbioteimage is a fantastic 2-drop that does great things in Selesnya.

The Challenges:

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At the end of the day, our little combo is based on an Aura sticking to a creature. And that creature has to live. The toughness-factor usually helps keep the enchanted beastie safe from the likes of Fire Prophecyimage and Divine Arrowimage, but other removal spells that easily shut it down (Mystic Subdualimage, Dire Tacticsimage, Blood Curdleimage). And let's not forget that even a humble little Boot Nipperimage or Grim Dancer would have no trouble with an enchanted Serval. Further, without the Solid Footingimage, our Maned Servalimage and Mosscoat Goriakimage are very quickly outclassed. A defensive ability like Vigilance leds itself to low-power, high-toughness creatures, which help keep us alive, but do little to dent the opponent. Thus, it's important to buff up our team via Mutate as the game stretches on and get as much value as possible from our cross-tribal synergies.

On that note, while the cross-tribal synergies can be powerful, proper balance of creature type quantity can be tricky. You'll want mainly non-humans, both for the Solid Footingimage combo and the potential Mutate targets, but try to include at least a few Humans in the mix like Keensight Mentorimage, Alert Herdbonder, Checkpoint Officerimage, and Humble Naturalistimage.

 

The Roundup: What are the less Aggro-Centric ally colors looking to do?

 

W/U Flying - Less Aggro, more Tempo-Control

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The classic Azorius "Skies" archetype! White and Blue seek to lockdown the ground with defensive creatures (Maned Servalimage, Aegis Turtleimage, Frost Lynximage) while chipping away via evasive damage (Dreamtail Heronimage, Vulpikeetimage, Helica Gliderimage, Jubilant Skybonderimage, Avian Oddityimage). The deck is very tempo oriented, happily stopping threats via Gust of Windimage, Checkpoint Officerimage, and Frostveil Ambushimage while the evasive creatures do the damage.

 

U/B Flash - Sneak around, draw cards, counter spells, then once they've got nothing left, move in for the kill

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Supervillain-style control is what U/B is all about. Dimir wants to establish total dominance over the opposing plays either by countering (Essence Scatterimage, Convoluteimage), outright killing (Suffocating Fumesimage, Chittering Harvesterimage), or nullifying opposing threats (Containment Sphere, Mystic Subdual). Along the way, any end-of-turn openings in mana will be taken advantage of via Flashing in threats (Cunning Nightbonderimage, Pouncing Shoresharkimage, Blitz Leechimage) to kill the opponent with in-between countering/killing all their stuff.

 

R/G Trample - HULK SMASH!...in the mid-to-late game.

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Gruul was never the most subtle clan, and that most certainly holds true for Ikoria. R/G seeks to go midrange-to-lategame, casting sturdy creatures (Momentum Rumblerimage, Bristling Boarimage, Glowstone Recluseimage) and buffing them further via Mutation, pumping, or both. As one can expect, Trample goes quite nicely with that gameplan. Removal (Fire Prophecyimage, Flame Spillimage, Charge of the Forever-Beastimage) is deployed more in the early game to stay alive against aggressive decks. If the deck survives long enough, larger threats (Auspicious Starriximage, Sanctuary Smasherimage, Cloudpiercerimage) will begin to outclass many opposing creatures. Then it's only a matter of clearing the way (Go for Bloodimage, Ram Throughimage), smashing in, and boosting creatures as-needed (Fully Grownimage, Raking Clawsimage) to seal the deal.  

 

I hope you're enjoyed our adventure into the wilds of Ikoria Limited. Lots of big Kaiju running around to make life difficult for as aggressive explorers! Hopefully, our travels have taught us enough to survive the brutes and snatch victory from their gargantuan jaws (of defeat)!

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment below and/or reach out to me on Twitter if you have any questions!

-Tautog-

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