A couple of months ago I began to address the general conception that white is Magic: The Gathering’s most maligned colour. We saw in Eldraine that, for the most part, white had a pretty poor showing along with red. However, I will be the first to admit that my original analysis was flawed: I conflated Limited and Constructed potential, I used vague criticism like calling designs “dull” without expanding, and I even missed a cycle!
So, this time, let’s examine the various mono-coloured cycles in Ikoria, looking at both their limited and constructed potential, and let’s leave no cycle unturned to work out if White has, yet again, been the subject of a shafting.
Let’s start with the rare mutates.
The two most obviously powerful cards are black’s Dirge Bat and blue’s Sea-Dasher Octopus. The Bat is probably one of the clearest limited bombs, being instant speed, repeatable removal on an evasive creature. The Octopus is less of a windmill slam in limited, but it’s potential to find a home in a Temur, Simic, Sultai, or Mono-Blue Flash deck should not be understated, especially mutating onto a Spectral Sailor or a Brineborn Cutthroat.
The other cards are all decent limited picks, with a much narrower scope for constructed play. Cubwarden provides a wall of bodies that can be mutated onto on future turns. Everquill Phoenix isn’t the most un-killable Phoenix in Magic’s history, and it’s recursion ability I feel is a lot more fragile and potentially disruptable than most. Kill the creature the Phoenix is mutating onto and it’s vulnerable. Kill the Phoenix before the creature mutating it sticks the landing and it’s gone for good. That being said, in limited, Phoenix may well just eek out an advantage over Gemrazer who, unless you’re facing a blue/white deck whose main removal consists of Pacifism and Capture Sphere, is just a random 4/4 with trample and reach.
Within a constructed environment, however, of these three cards Gemrazer does seek out an advantage. It combos well with other cards being run in Gruul decks that give +1/+1 counters, could be an effective card against enchantment/artifact heavy decks like Fires, Bant, and Cat/Oven and a three mana mutate cost lets you play it out earlier with mana open to pay for Quench or to drop another creature should you hit a solid counter spell. On top of all of this, both Gemrazer and Sea Dasher Octopus have been showing up in top 8 decklists during Magic Fest Online.
Next: the Cycle tricks.
These are the series of uncommon cards that cycle to grant keyword counters and all of them are decent limited pick-ups. The combat tricks offered by Void Beckoner and Sanctuary Smasher are great. The evasion offered by Avian Oddity is superb, and the life advantage that Titanoth Rex and Splendor Mare can net you are great as well. There isn’t a clearly weak card here. However, removal and evasion trump the comparatively minor advantages that Splendor Mare and Titanoth Rex offer. However, trample as a keyword has a lot of support in the limited environment with Hornbash Mentor and Proud Wildbonder offering huge boons to creatures with trample. The same cannot be said for Lifelink, which only has one pay-off card in the form of Duskfang Mentor, which requires you to be playing some kind of white/black deck. Also, out of all of these cards, the most likely to find its way into a constructed deck is probably Titanoth Rex. An 11/11 trample monster that can easily find its way into your graveyard? Sign me and my budget Living End deck up!
As such, and only by a minor margin, white’s Splendor Mare just finds it’s way to the bottom of the pack.
The “Choose Your Own Adventure Commons” are a series of five creatures that can enter with one of two types of keyword counters. Helica Glider is the strongest card here, being a cheap flyer that acts as one of the foundational commons of the Go-Wide-With-White limited deck. As for the others, they’re all on a similar level, with Boot Nipper’s deathtouch putting it slightly above the rest. With the others, let’s see how they compare in different states of the game. If you’re winning, Wingfold Pteron’s evasion/ability to dodge whatever removal your opponent is hoping to draw puts it above the rest with Flycatcher Giraffid at the bottom. If you’re at parity, again Wingfold’s evasion puts it above the rest, but Ferocious Tigorilla is a strong second place, also having evasion in the form of menace and maybe being able to 2:1 your opponent if they need to block it. If you’re losing, the Tigorilla is probably the weakest, and Wingfold and Flycatcher are both great blockers.
Overall, Wingfold Pteron is the best of the rest, followed by Ferocious Tigorilla, followed by the weakest on the cycle: Flycatcher Giraffid. So far, green, white, and red all have one weakest card in a cycle, with blue and black pushing through at the top.
Next let’s look at the Mentors cycle.
This is a tricky cycle to evaluate as you really need to work out not only which key word is the best to worst, but also how much support each mentor can give outside of its single counter. Wingspan Mentor is a clear winner here, providing the best evasion as well as benefiting around 20 or other creatures who already have flying in the set. The vigilance and trample mentors also have a fair amount of support both within and outside their base colours of white and green, and having an ever growing troupe of creatures with those keywords is a recipe for a swift game.
Red’s Frillscare Mentor has only slightly more support than black’s Duskfang, with mini-lords like Sonorous Howlbonder at uncommon and great disruption pieces such as Blood Curdle and Cavern Whisperer at common broadening the pool of prospective menaces. Compare this to the three non-rare creatures in the whole of Ikoria that can get lifelink on their own, two of which offer you a choice between lifelink or better keywords such as the choice found on Grimdancer. Not only is menace more often than not a better keyword than lifelink in many stages of the game, but the support within the set is greater and, if we’re going to get real nitty and gritty, Frillscare is a 3/2 and Duskfang is a 1/3, which is less numbers.
The Mythos cycle is up next.
Whilst these cards are technically multi-coloured with their optional casting requirements, they can still be analysed as mono-coloured cards with potential upsides. In limited, most Mythos’ are amazing pick ups. Black’s Mythos of Nethroi is great spot removal and red’s Mythos of Vadrok is a brilliant sweeper against go wide decks. When you factor in their base case scenarios, however, these cards truly do shine. Mythos of Snapdax goes from a cheaper Tragic Arrogance to a devastating sweeper that leaves your opponents with only their worst cards. Mythos of Illuna transforms from a versatile clone effect to having removal stapled onto it. The only card that doesn’t shine as bright as the others, even in the best case scenario, is Mythos of Brokkos. Being able to tutor for your best creature and get another back from your graveyard is great, but it doesn’t have the kind of immediate, game altering effect that all of the other Mythos’ do. Mythos of Brookos is to slow if you’re losing, not impactful enough if you’re at parity and near useless if you’re winning.
Penultimately there are the uncommon X mutators; cards that do X of something where X is the number of times this creature has been mutated. Archipelagore and Auspicious Starrix are the clear winners in this cycle, with devastating stat lines and even more powerful effects that can turn a losing game into a winning one very quickly. Huntmaster Liger’s ability to turn an assortment of soldier tokens into a fearsome threat is nothing to be sniffed at in limited and whilst Porcuparrot doesn’t do anything on its own immediately, if left unchecked it can and will machine gun an entire board with just a few mutates. Insatiable Hemophage as well is a great card, with the added benefit of giving a mutated creature deathtouch, and it’s X ability can close out games or even save you when single life points are precious.
It’s a difficult choice between the three but the Liger is the only creature that relies on both an existing non-human creature AND a significant board state to really do work. It’s by no stretch a bad card, but it lacks that Good-In-Almost-Any-Scenario effect that it’s competitors have.
And finally we have everyone’s favourite cycle from Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths: The Cycle of One-Drop Non-Human Creatures. I said I’d be thorough this time round and goddamn it I don’t want any more mean comments.
For those who are unaware, this cycle consists of white’s Garrison Cat, blue’s Aegis Turtle, black’s Serrated Scorpion, red’s Blisterspit Gremlin, and green’s Almighty Brushwagg. The Brushwagg is the obvious winner in the limited battle here, not only because it is a Brushwagg and, therefor, the best card on this entire list. But also because it’s an early beater that retains relevancy in the late game and acts as a great mutate target, having inane trample and a decent pump ability.
The other cards range from the synergistic Garrison Cat, the surprising constructed all-star Serrated Scorpion, and the “Three More Of These And My Izzet Spell Slinger Draft Deck Might Go As Far As 4-3 This Time!” Serrated Gremlin all have their homes and uses. Really, it’s pretty clear that Aegis Turtle is the weakest of the bunch.
And that’s it for mono-coloured cycles! Ikoria was full of dual and tri-coloured cycles and, as interesting as each of those are, they are an article for another time. Right now, was white was indeed the most shafted colour in the various cycles of Ikoria? Well it’s very close. Both green and white had the worst cards in two separate cycles, and each colour only had the best card in one cycle each, every other card in their colours here fell in the middle of the discussion, either just slightly above or below the other. Assessing from cycles which colour is most maligned in a set is of course an imperfect method for evaluating relative shafting or lack thereof but, I think it’s safe to say that whilst white may not have been THE least powerful colour in Ikoria, the trend of it being towards the bottom of the pack continues, unbroken.