Ikoria Spotlight: Vivien, Monsters' Advocate
- Rodrigo Martin
In case you missed it, the biggest monsters of all time are waiting for you in the next Magic set, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. If you need someone's advice facing them, Vivien Reid is the perfect companion for this journey. Today we are reviewing the main protagonist's new card and its future applications.
Hello! Happy to see you around! I sincerely hope you are safe and sound wherever you may be. We gather here to enjoy the latest preview season, a curious one since all release events will be delayed by a few weeks. In the meantime at least we can try out the new cards on digital platforms in order to decide which ones are worth an investment.
The setting has drastically shifted, from ancient Greek mythology to a Jurassic Park full of mutated monsters, half Dinosaur, half Beast, Shark, or whatever works for Magic R&D's imagination. Nevertheless, there still is a common bond to previous sets, and it is by design: Wizards intended planeswalkers to provide some continuity, a job for Vivien, Monsters' Advocate who also seems to be the main character and face of the set. Although this planeswalker lady has a short history compared to other green protagonists of Magic lore, such as Nissa Revane or the infamous Garruk Wildspeaker, she already counts three previous incarnations, plus two more if you include the ones from the core sets' starter decks.
So, the plan for today is very simple: let's break down Vivien, Monsters' Advocate, her two static abilities, the two activated abilities, then see how she may fit into Standard as well as into older formats.
1. Mana Cost, Loyalty, and Static Abilities
"You may look at the top card of your library any time."
"You may cast creature spells from the top of your library."
Actually, both static abilities work as one, similar to recently printed cards that allow you to play from the top of your library: Experimental Frenzy, Bolas's Citadel, or Mystic Forge. But this time around the effect applies to creatures, exactly like it did with Vizier of the Menagerie from Amonkhet.
Needless to say, this Vivien is pretty much focused on creature spells, while previous versions also had abilities to either pump or cast them as instant speed. The Ikoria incarnation will mainly fit into creature-based strategies, like tribal, that aim to maximize the chances of hitting something on top of the library to generate card advantage.
Regarding her starting loyalty, it might seem a bit low for 5 mana. Other planeswalkers with the same cost have loyalty 5, for example Nissa, Who Shakes the World or Vivien Reid herself from Core Set 2019. Good news is, both her abilities will likely add a body to the battlefield immediately, making it easier to protect her from opposing attacks. Later in the game, we may even get some value out of Vivien's static ability, even if an opponent destroys her on their very next turn.
2. Activated Abilities and Future Applications
As I was saying, both activated abilities are ready to activate the moment Vivien hits the battlefield. There's no real back-breaking ultimatum at a higher cost; however, that doesn't mean the card is weak. In fact, the combination of all abilities make Vivien super flexible and capable of winning games just with the extra cards she provides.
Vivien's +1 ability creates a generic 3/3 Beast, just like Garruk Wildspeaker used to do, which is quite useful either to protect her or to go aggro. Luckily, the creature comes with an upside: a counter of our choice, showcasing one of Ikoria's new mechanics: ability counters. This humble writer feels that the counters-with-abilities idea, although very flavorful, will cause trouble when representing them in real life, while digital games have no problem at all. Just my two cents. Either way, Beasts can have reach, vigilance, or trample, depending on our needs. Getting a creature to block fliers or one that can trample over smaller defenses looks kind of unique.
Moving on to Vivien's second ability, this might be the real deal. We can compare the tutor effect to a one-shot, pseudo Wild Pair, searching for a creature with lesser cost than the one we first cast. This basically enables two creature combos, if you have the more expensive piece in hand, either casting Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to search for Deceiver Exarch/Restoration Angel or Archangel of Thune to go get Spike Feeder. Sadly, many other pairs don't work at all with Vivien, like Heliod, Sun-Crowned plus Walking Ballista or Vizier of Remedies plus Devoted Druid. Finally, there are some older interactions that might be worth a try. Cephalid Illusionist combined with Nomads en-Kor is still a legitimate deck in Legacy, but adding a 5-mana planeswalker isn't very appealing.
When looking at homes for Vivien, starting with Standard, it's hard to incorporate her into a pre-existing strategy. There is a lot of competition with the almighty Nissa, who sees play in almost every green deck. Neither Sultai nor Bant Ramp pack a ton of creatures, so we don't have use for Vivien here.
There is an argument for a themed deck based on new Ikoria mechanics like mutate or companion that surely work with Vivien as a card advantage tool, either Beasts, Dinosaurs, or one of the recent tribes that never took off in the past: Elementals!
Packing 23 creatures should be almost enough to run two copies of Vivien, who can add some more pressure to the board. Also, she will be able to search for Risen Reef, and every time you cast Cavalier of Thorns you can find the singleton copy of Thassa, Deep-Dwelling and go to town. Sounds about right, doesn't it?
Interestingly, one of the final previews might play a major role here as well. Kaheera, the Orphanguard can become your companion for Elementals if you go full-on tribal, having only that type of creature in your deck, thus ensuring you always have a 3-drop Lord to pump your team.
Moving forward, we have Pioneer, where at this point I can only imagine Vivien in Stompy decks like Golgari of Gruul, both relying on virtually eight Llanowar Elves to ramp up your beefy team of 28 or up to 30 creatures. There, Vivien is likely to hit creatures on top of the library and act as additional copies of Collected Company. Modern, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be the place for Vivien, unless someone is willing to ty her out in an Elves deck that really isn't at the top of its popularity these day.
Where I am most excited about to see Vivien in action is in the Legacy version of Elves, where you can generate absurd tons of mana due to Gaea's Cradle and Heritage Druid alongside Quirion Ranger and the rest of the folks.
Adding two copies of Vivien will allow more card advantage and longevity. In a deck where half the cards are creatures, you might string together two or even three in a row, and if not, you can shuffle by using her minus ability, since you can always tutor for Dryad Arbor when playing your 1-mana Elves. What's more, if you hit a copy of Elvish Visionary with Vivien in play, you can proceed to minus her, search for Wirewood Symbiote, and keep the value chain going.
Overall, it might take some time until the card proves to be Legacy material, but from here on I am cheering for Vivien to earn her slot in the Elves' 75.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths looks like an odd approach to Magic. Nevertheless we will adapt to the new mechanics, art, and ability tokens, as Magic players always do, and focus on the fun aspects. I am sincerely hoping Vivien, Monsters' Advocate will play a major role here as the face of the set and will prop up tribal and creature-based strategies along with the rest of the cards from Ikoria.
As usual, I'm looking forward to reading your opinions and thoughts in the comments below. Until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.