The Secret to Getting ABs in Ikoria

Ethan Saks • May 13, 2020

Are you tired of scrubbing out of your drafts? Feeling like Companions or Cycling are getting the best of you? Looking at your draft deck and feeling like you just don’t have a clear game plan?

Well, have I got the solution for you! My two-step ABs program is here to help you contextualize the cards in Ikoria Limited under two distinct categories: Column A (Payoffs) and Column B (Enablers). Synergistic decks are the place to be in this format. For that reason, categorizing cards into Column A and Column B is very important to make sure your deck ends up as greater than the sum of its parts rather than a pile of good cards.


At the beginning of each Ikoria Draft, I’m looking for cards that are going to give my deck a direction. I’m taking cards that I consider strong payoffs in any of the good archetypes over basically anything else. I would rather start a draft with Valiant Rescuer, Archipelagore, Sanctuary Lockdown, Weaponize the Monsters, or Alert HeedBonder than a Blood Curdle or Fire Prophecy*. I’m taking most Companions P1P1 over anything and, in some cases, just blinders-up hard forcing them. The support for these varying build-arounds runs deep so you should be able to back up your payoffs once you identify the correct lane for your draft (or brute force your way into it in some instances.)

*A note about removal in this format: there is an abundance of it and it is almost all splashable. Blood Curdle and Fire Prophecy are the best of the bunch in my opinion, but there’s also Flame Spill, Heartless Act, Capture Sphere, Pacifism, Ram Through, Go For Blood, Dead Weight, etc. The list of removal at common and uncommon goes on and on and I think it is very likely you will have an opportunity to pick some up at some point in the draft once you’ve identified the synergy lane you want to be in. My general feeling is that non-premium removal is overrated in this format. This is almost certainly a holdover from the notion of BREAD (Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro, Dregs) to help new drafters form a pick order. You want to be the one posing questions not looking for answers in this format. Don’t load up on filler removal spells.


Once you know you’re in a particular lane, or if there aren’t any payoffs to hedge your bets on, you want to start taking enablers very highly. This is most pronounced when drafting the RW Cycling deck as the 1-CMC cyclers are incredibly important for it to function. You can actually have too many payoffs in that kind of deck and not enough enablers, which is one of the few times the deck will stumble.

This was one of the first decks I tried to draft and I went 0-2 in an MTGO league. I recently went back to look at the draft log and was SHOCKED at the picks I had made. Swallow Whole and Raking Claws over Startling Development, Unpredictable Cyclone over Drannith Healer, Will of the All-Hunter over Frostveil Ambush. I think pick orders for the cycling decks have generally solidified for the community by now, but I think the support for the other archetypes is still eluding a lot of drafters.

In heavy mutate decks (6 or more Mutate creatures), I want to ensure I have as many good 2 drops to mutate onto as I can. Especially if I have Migratory Greathorn or Parcelbeast, I might start looking at 1 drops like Almighty Brushwagg and Mysterious Egg to include. If I have Porcuparrot, deathtouch from Void Beckoner, Insatiable Hemophage or Boot Nipper goes up in my pick order. Mutate decks want to curve out hard, so making sure you have enough pieces of both sides is paramount to the deck’s success.

Sanctuary Lockdown is a card that will turn anyone’s pick order on its head. Every non-human in a Lockdown deck weakens the overall power of that card. Whisper Squad skyrockets in value. Maybe you can spare a slot for a Durable Coilbug if you have Bastion of Remembrance or a Mutual Destruction. And now Bushmeat Poacher is looking great. Do you have a good mix of 1 and 2 drops? Now Call of the Death-Dweller is another card that makes multiple bodies. You’re also actively looking for a Coordinated Charge for the times when you go wide enough on your opponent. And now maybe you have a cycling subtheme in your white based humans deck and suddenly Snare Tactician gets better than it might normally be outside of a dedicated cycling. These are the kinds of things to be thinking about as you draft: how do all the pieces of your deck work towards a common goal? How can you get those chiseled ABs?

Putting your ABs to the Test!

Let’s walk through a few picks of a draft and talk through the considerations I’m making when drafting for synergy in this format.

Here the pick quickly boils down to Skycat Sovereign vs. Flourishing Fox. While Skycat is a fun rare that opens up a color pair that is normally not very powerful, Fox does it all: it’s a Payoff and an Enabler at the same time and goes in the best deck in the format. It can also be a part of a cycling package in a deck that doesn’t get there on the all-in cycling plan. I also want to notice the two 1-cmc cyclers in the pack that could wheel.

Extinction Event is a card that I think is incredibly powerful. It’s one of the only non-synergistic bombs in the format. I’m happy to slam that here, recognizing that Fox will not be at its best if I end up in BW. It’s only the second pick of the draft, but yes, I’m already thinking about how the two cards in my pile are going to work together.

This is an easy Flourishing Fox as a follow up, but I think this pack is super interesting to look at if Fox isn’t here. With Fox absent from the pack, the choice between Heartless Act as “great removal spell to follow up our Extinction Event with” or Drannith Stinger as “Payoff and Enabler for the cycling deck to pair with our Fox” is very tough. And what if Extinction Event was Bastion of Remembrance instead? Well, in that case, I honestly think Whisper Squad is in the conversation as a pick over Heartless Act.  Many of you may think this is crazy, but those are the kinds of synergy-based picks you need to make in this format to have powerful decks.

With two Foxes in your pile, you’ve got a few considerations here. Sanctuary Lockdown is the best and only Payoff in this pack. It doesn’t pair well with your Foxes but I think is the strongest pick to make to have the greatest chance at finding the open archetype. However, you could make an argument for Fight as One since you already have two strong Payoffs with the Foxes, which are non-human threats you are going to want to protect. If you can get into the cycling deck, the rest of your Payoffs are likely to be human like Valiant Rescuer, Snare Tactician and Drannith Stinger. That’s a deck where Fight as One can really shine. Thinking about a fine but unexciting removal spell like Ram Through out of this pack is a mistake in my opinion. Perhaps it wouldn’t sway you in this particular instance, but be wary of picking removal for removal’s sake in these situations.

Having confidence in your pick orders in this format is incredibly difficult. You have to have a good understanding of what the key cards for the archetypes are and you must be flexible in the beginning of the draft to try to maximize the most powerful Payoffs that you see. You also have to end up with enough Enablers to support your payoffs and to be thinking about all the interactions between your cards as early as the second pick of the draft. Once you stop making picks with BREAD in mind, you too can end a draft with some good looking ABs!

Happy Drafting!