The Rise of Lukka
- Gianluca Aicardi
Ikoria had a big impact on Standard, inspiring a number of spicy brews. Cycling decks, mutate synergies, and the radical innovation of the companions are all front and center in the conversation, eclipsing the role of the three new planeswalkers. But at least one of them is already making strides to the top.
With the first few weeks of Ikoria Standard behind us, the initial dust has started to settle, leaving a significant amount of different decks to vie for dominance. Looking closely, though, many of those that currently enjoy the most success are merely the redressing of lists that competed at Worlds last February or were otherwise already hot back then: Jeskai Fires has added Keruga, the Macrosage at basically no cost. Rakdos Sacrifice reconfigured itself around either Lurrus of the Dream-Den or Obosh, the Preypiercer. Azorius Control fused with Bant Ramp under the auspices of Yorion, Sky Nomad. Even Temur Reclamation, which is the only one of these that didn't find a suitable companion to work with, is still very much a primary force in the metagame; now the deck counts on Shark Typhoon as an alternative, hard-to-beat finisher.
Just one major archetype was forged from scratch, or at least coalesced around a group of different cards. It's all thanks to the unique effect of one of Ikoria's main contributions, namely one of its three planeswalkers: Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast.
Now, 5-mana planeswalkers are tricky. Even in Standard, by the time you get to that point in the curve — which doesn't necessarily mean turn five, one way or the other — your play can't afford to be durdling anymore. It needs to deliver the goods, right there and then.
The last success story for this type of card in this very spot was Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Is Ikoria's own conflicted monocolored protagonist made of the same mettle as the explosive green animist?
At first sight, Lukka may seem like a cool but mostly harmless counterpart to Vivien, Monsters' Advocate — who's indeed his main foil in the story. You can certainly incorporate Lukka into any creature-based deck, probably in Gruul, exploiting his plus ability as solid card advantage on your way to an ultimate that very much lets you Weaponize the Monsters in a final blaze of activated, noncombat-based supertrample.
But that's not the whole story. In fact, that's not even where Lukka's true power resides. Essentially, the builds that are playing Lukka right now all but forget he has more abilities other than his minus. This minus ability is singularly at odds with the rest of his design, not because it's about sacrificing creatures, but because it's less Birthing Pod than it is Oath of Druids. Or better, it's the premise of the Pod — sacrificing a creature to get a more expensive one — attached to the proto-cascade payoff of the Oath. And if the sole mention of such extremely overpowered cards sounds scary, that's because it is scary.
Mind you, Lukka is not a broken card by any metric, as he requires some deckbuilding gymnastics to be effective. You want to make sure he can drop, minus, and immediately change the board state in a game-winning direction. In short, you need to guarantee the fetching of some big, fat terror. Older formats have no shortage of those, and even Historic will soon have Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to that effect. But poor little Standard still contains a couple of good options in its pool as well.
Boar with Me
Here's the thing: when Lukka minuses, you want to hit the payoff every single time, deck composition be damned. You don't want to stumble upon extraneous creatures along the way, because, just like with the Oath, you're cascading blindly from the top of the library. So it's a first come, first served situation. However, and that's the Lukka's paradox to reconcile, you can't do the trick without having a sacrificial lamb on the battlefield to begin with. So you don't want other creatures, but you need other creatures. To solve this conundrum, there are two main approaches.
The first, as we see demonstrated here by Luca Van Deun, still allows for a creature build to some extent, which has the advantage of not wasting Lukka's other abilities. You just need to engineer a very peculiar curve where there's no converted mana cost in between what you're going to sacrifice and what you aim to get.
|Lukka's Pig Farm by Luca "LegenVD" Van Deun|
This is a very straightforward build where everything is instrumental to the plan. The sixteen mana dorks work in conjunction with Leyline of Abundance to ramp out Lukka as early as turn three. Then twelve of them — all with the exception of Gilded Goose — can be sacrificed to make End-Raze Forerunners appear.
Contrary to most decks that use the big pig as a payoff, its first advent is rarely decisive here, as your other creatures will be either tapped or dead at that point. But our sounder of rampaging hogs still swings for 7. It then remains vigilant to defend Lukka, who will be able to just repeat the process to more conclusive fashion the next turn, adding even more swines to the deafeningly grunting board of boars.
You accidentally drew into a Forerunners? Fire Prophecy can put it back into the library. You can't find Lukka? Nissa's there to give you an alternate win condition, or as an option just hardcast those damn pigs already. The deck's definitely very rigid in its play patterns, but its consistency is surprising, speaking to the sheer power of Lukka's second ability.
Fire the Agent
That power didn't go unnoticed in the highest echelons of Magic's intelligentsia. Which brings us to the other way to have creatures on the battlefield without having creature cards in Lukka's way. Simply make some tokens with cards like Castle Ardenvale, The Birth of Meletis, Omen of the Sun, and Shark Typhoon.
|Jeskai Lukka Fires by EasyMac, 1st at MagicFest Online (Season 2 Week 2)|
Yeah, I know, this is a Fires of Invention deck, so not exactly breaking news. But it's a Fires deck that shed most, if not all, of the trappings of its previous, more established incarnation — which, as noted, is still very much alive as well. Gone are all the Cavalier of Flame and Kenrith, the Returned King shenanigans. So are the Adventure creatures, which Lukka certainly doesn't like to have around.
To be honest, this build doesn't even need Fires of Invention as much, since Lukka is his own engine, and the endgame is now the most sought-after 7-drop in the entire format. I'm referring to the fearsome Agent of Treachery itself, more and more positioned as the be-all and end-all of the high-profile swings; especially when you can summon it two turns in a row.
And there's another novel element in addition to Lukka in this list. It goes up to 80 main-deck cards for the ability to cast Yorion, Sky Nomad directly from the sideboard. Yorion is one of the most impactful companions, already by virtue of being a decent evasive clock that's guaranteed to drop in the mid-game. But here the spindly Bird will also be able to put to good use its flickering powers, retriggering Agents, Sagas, and Omens, all at once. Even resetting depleted planeswalkers is a big deal, akin to playing new ones. Not to mention that Yorion can remove Fires until end of turn, allowing the casting of a third spell, while both Teferi and Elspeth Conquers Death can make Yorion give an encore later.
To the same end, other players, such as Gabriel Nassif, include some Mythos of Illuna in their 80, with the plan to copy Agent of Treachery, Elspeth Conquers Death, or what have you. Of course the main reason for its presence is Spark Double and Thassa, Deep-Dwelling not being Lukka-friendly. But it's a very powerful cloning spell all the same, even when not cast for Temur colors — although Ketria Triome can help in that regard. Light of Hope is another surprisingly versatile little instant we can find in some versions: good against opposite Fires and Reclamations, as well as to stop early life bleed, but also able to save one of your precious Agents and the larger Sharks against Heartless Act, provided Fires is not there. And if it is, Shark Typhoon doubles as a pretty sweet mana sink in a deck that can't otherwise cast anything during the opponent's turn.
In summation, Lukka is actually a thing, possibly the biggest thing in Standard right now. If you can't counter him, leave his side of the board devoid of sacrificial fodder, or at least kill his target in response, he'll release more than just the proverbial kraken — be they angry boars that'll stomp all over your face, or wave upon wave of deceitful operators that'll spread dissent and turn your own people against you.
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