Whenever it's preview season, the spotlight becomes glued on the rare and mythic bombs in the upcoming Magic expansion. Sometimes there are cards in the vein of Fatal Push and Opt that get a good bit of attention as a result of their versatility and obviously reasonable rate for their effect.
The cards that don't get nearly the amount of attention they deserve are the role-players – the unsung heroes of archetypes that aren't ever scoring the game-winning touchdown but consistently pave the way for the receiver to make it to the end zone. Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner is exactly this type of card.
Most of the discussion around Kiora has been around the fact that she can untap lands. At a glance, Kiora may just look like a legendary Manalith, but beneath the surface, Kiora has more things at play than simply being a mana rock.
She's Two Engine Pieces
At the very least, it's healthier to think of Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner as something more akin to Dragon's Horde than anything of the traditional three-drop mana rocks. That being said, there are a couple of key differences between Kiora and the aforementioned Horde:
- Kiora immediately draws a card and doesn't require her controller to take a turn off from using her for mana in order to draw cards.
- Kiora's condition is much easier to meet than Dragon's Horde.
- Kiora's ability isn't restricted to targeting lands. She can also untap cards with activated abilities that are good for another use or even give creatures pseudo-vigilance.
Even when taking all of that into account, it doesn't give us all her uses. It does, however, give us a handful of uses worth exploring when brewing decks with War of the Spark cards.
Maximizing Kiora's Triggered Ability
- 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
- 4 Gruul Spellbreaker
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Regisaur Alpha
- 3 Rekindling Phoenix
- 2 Skarrgan Hellkite
- 1 Thrashing Brontodon
- 1 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
This deck is simply trying to cast a big creature every single turn and assume that will eventually be good enough. Kiora is doing a pretty reasonable Colossal Majesty impression in this deck, with the key difference being that she bridges the gap to the high number of five-drops more reliably. On top of that, she has the added bonus of not relying on a creature surviving for a turn in order to net a card from her triggered ability.
One thing that this deck is doing that's particularly attractive is that it's helping circumvent Kiora's biggest weaknesses: her mortality. Although she has a higher starting loyalty, she doesn't have any way to recoup loyalty on her own, and each time she's used for mana or to untap a creature, she gets closer and closer to going away. Couple that with the fact that people are far more eager to play things like Vraska's Contempt than they are Naturalize, it's easy to internalize the fact that her being a planeswalker instead of a more traditional mana rock isn't all upside.
This deck, however, is playing so many powerful creatures that it's planning to tax the opponent's removal in such a way that it's difficult to prioritize removing Kiora. Everything else in the deck is at such a high power level on its own that it's incredibly punishing to leave them on the battlefield in order to deal with Kiora.
Maximizing Kiora's Activated Ability
This next decklist is born from one of the most useful things I've learned in the last few years that comes from a bit of Sam Black and a bit of Michael Majors. The overarching premise of the theory is that during preview season there are inevitably going to be cards previewed that are difficult to evaluate but are obviously abusing some sort of axis. The best way to see just how powerful they are? Push them to the limit.
- 4 Biogenic Ooze
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Paradise Druid
- 4 Thorn Lieutenant
- 4 Marwyn, the Nurturer
This deck is all about making a ton of mana as quickly as possible; preferably by creating a permanent that taps for multiple mana and then tapping it several times in the same turn.
Rather than overloading on a ton of ways to try to use mana, this deck wants to charge up a Spirit Bomb to chuck at the opponent, either in the form of a flying Lizard or a group of Oozes.
On the other side of things, what about abilities that aren't so focused on mana?
- 1 Biogenic Ooze
- 1 Carnage Tyrant
- 1 Exclusion Mage
- 1 Golgari Findbroker
- 1 Hostage Taker
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 2 Jadelight Ranger
- 1 Kraul Foragers
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Plaguecrafter
- 1 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Fblthp, the Lost
- 1 Muldrotha, the Gravetide
- 4 Prime Speaker Vannifar
- 1 Roalesk, Apex Hybrid
There aren't a ton of particularly abusable tap abilities in Standard at the moment that Kiora can make use of, but the most recent take on Birthing Pod can do just fine.
There are builds of Prime Speaker Vannifar that are more interested in looking to use the explore package with Wildgrowth Walker and friends, but Kiora being a three-drop provides a pretty heavy incentive to try to use Llanowar Elves as our early green filler. Fblthp, the Lost in particular is a particularly attractive card to try to turn an early Llanowar Elves into.
Kiora's inclusion lets the deck lean into the larger side of its curve for a couple of reasons. The first is fairly intuitive at this point – Kiora likes mana creatures and Incubation Druid in particular. The increased emphasis on early mana creatures makes it easier to lean a bit harder due to an abundance of mana sources. It's also much easier to fly up the converted mana cost chain with Prime Speaker Vannifar when she's being activated multiple times a turn.
Kiora Is Blue
A key aspect of Kiora that shouldn't be ignored isn't just in her text box, but at the top of her card as well: she's a hybrid-mana spell. This means that in the above lists that utilize Kiora as a green card, she can also be used as a blue card:
- 3 Dovin, Grand Arbiter
- 3 Karn, Scion of Urza
- 1 Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor
- 3 Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
- 2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
This deck has a lot of powerful cards but is relatively unfocused. The idea is that War of Spark is providing enough cheap legendary creatures in blue to justify cards like Mox Amber and Karn's Temporal Sundering. It's hard to imagine that there isn't something there, but the shell may be closer to a Saheeli, Sublime Artificer deck than a Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner one.
What Kiora is doing for this deck is that she's doing what she does best for the earlier decks in this article – she's bridging the gap between the end of the early-game and the mid-game. Rather than having to waste time on some of the weaker four-mana spells of the format, she's jumping her caster straight to five or six mana.
Even after the third turn of the game, Kiora having the ability to untap one of the lands that was used to cast her means that she can effectively play as a two-mana legendary permanent – a big deal when trying to set up cards like Karn's Temporal Sundering or Urza's Ruinous Blast.
Mox Amber in particular is the type of card that will eventually find more success in Standard, despite not seeing much of it in Modern. The biggest reason for this is because it is better at jumping players from three or four mana up to five or six mana on back-to-back turns. Standard is a format with games that are far less condensed than Modern, making this a far more interesting effect.
Regardless of the specifics on how Kiora is being abused, she's obviously a card that has several different modes of play. War of the Spark is pushing the boundaries of how we evaluate cards, and looking at cards through a lens of "What is everything that can be done with this?" is going to frequently be more productive in the long term than "What existing deck can I fit this in?"
This set has an incredibly high power level and will warp the game as we know it upon its release.