Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Top 10 M13 Cards for Limited; M13 Meat and Potatoes

Hello, Magic players!  Thanks for visiting again!  It’s time for one of my favorite times in the Magic year; Prerelease time!  I’ve been watching the previews closely in anticipation of July 7th, and now that day is nearly upon us.

I’ve always enjoyed drafting Core sets.  They’re usually a nice “back-to-basics” kind of set with the addition of some specific mechanic to mix it up; before M10 or so, most core sets were just ho-hum reprint packs, and so it was hard to have that different an experience from, say, 8th Edition to 9th Edition.  Moreover, many of the cards from middle core sets have had trouble seeing play (unless they were printed somewhere else), while the new core sets are full of playables for the four “C’s”: Casual, Cube, Commander and Constructed!

M12 was the first core set I’d drafted since Tenth Edition, and I was able to perform very well in the Sealed portion of our LGS’ Release tournament (2nd place in the final!), so I have high hopes for the 10 weeks of M13 Limited ahead. 

With all my Constructed play over the last few weeks bolstered by my negative opinion of AVR draft, I feel a little rusty tackling the spoilers with a Limited-only eye.  We’ll give it a shot though; I’m excited to step back into drafting for this set! 

Below, I’ve chosen ten cards that, within the environment of M13 Draft and Sealed, I believe to be the strongest commons and uncommons in the set.  Rares are usually more powerful and splashier, and it’s usually pretty obvious which ones are great in Limited and bad in Constructed and so forth.  I only choose commons and uncommons because, in general, this will be the vast majority of cards you will play with and against, the “meat and potatoes,” if you will.  In a draft, there are only 24 rares (a couple extra with foil rares), but you’re bound to come in contact with each common and uncommon in a given draft, and the chances are high you’ll run into them in Sealed, too.  In my opinion, there are three criteria that make a card a powerful card in Limited. 

The first criterion is an overall power level.  Efficient, flexible and/or aggressive, these cards will find their home in many decks and will affect the game in a powerful way when they’re cast.  Secondly, a card is strong in Limited if it has a presence even outside of the game.  That is, you want to play around it or remind yourself of it; you are less likely to let yourself sink to 5, say, in a format with Lava Axe.  Finally, a card is powerful if it plays well with others.  This goes along with the power level, but it is subtler.  Some cards are good in the abstract, but some, perhaps “worse” at first glance, are crucially powerful in a specific archetype or perhaps even central to it (say, Spider Spawning or Ichorclaw Myr, in recent years).

With that, let’s take at our Meat and Potatoes, M13 Edition, starting with an honorable mention that didn’t quite make the cut.

Honorable Mention

Vile Rebirth

And the piercing blue eyes of Siberian Husky.
Woah, what a neat card, and the casting cost is just right!  Sporting great flavor and mechanical design, this has potential in a variety of Limited, Constructed and Tribal formats.  In Draft, this serves a narrow, but unique purpose.  Reactively denying your opponent’s reanimation is usually fairly weak, but this is a perfectly legitimate combat trick.  I like to think of it as a Walking Corpse with flash for B.  Most of the time, this will be the case even after just a few turns.  It’s a great blocker for that huge exalted creature in a pinch, or it’s a great aggressive play after your opponent trades creatures in combat.  Its inexpensive cost also facilitates its inclusion in your spell casting schedule for any turn.  It didn’t make the Top 10 because it does require a dead creature, but its versatility once that condition is met is pretty strong.  I also love the flavor; considering the flavor text, it’s possible this was slated for Innistrad (or another set within the block) but didn’t make it into the final set.

10. Chandra’s Fury

She's Chandra-ing her lazerz!
Ok, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.  This card combines the best part of two narrow cards and improves on each: Lava Axe and Scorch the Fields.

Bairn, baby, bairn!
People try to keep above five in case of Lava Axe against a lot of red Core Set draft decks.  Nothing feels worse than taking damage from creatures that you didn’t really have to and then having your opponent immediately tap down for an Axe. 

Scorch the Fields was a narrow (read: bad) card from Dark Ascension that rotted in plenty of sideboards, only seeing use against the Gather the Townfolk deck or as sideboarding against a must-answer land.  So, pretty bad.

Chandra’s Fury combines both abilities, amps up the one-sided Seismic Shudder to include anything and it’s an instant.  It can be used for either half of its effects for great effect.  Any opponent should always tarry above 4 against a red deck and think twice about playing unbuffed 1/1 tokens into 5 untapped Mountains.  It can be used to shut down an offense or even to finish off an anemic defense.  The fact that this card is common means two things: first, you will see this card, likely in multiples, and second, watch out for red decks post-board if you’re playing wee critters. 

9. Griffin Protector


Ahh, nice Griffin.  A 2/3 flyer for 3W?  Fairly average, right?  What’s that, Mr. Griffin?  You like tokens?  Good boy!

I love free pumps, and they add up quick.  If you’ve never played with Exalted or Landfall before, you will quickly find out how powerful free pumps are, especially ones you can build around!  Griffin Protector supports your token generation, and on a hard-to-block stick!  A good topdeck and a great finisher, he can hit hard, even if you just cast a creature every turn.  Bringing in a creature at instant speed (see Vile Rebirth) also acts like a little combat trick!  This common, while acceptable filler in any deck, is viciously powerful in token decks and flash creature decks.  Don’t underestimate him, or you might be Griffin food.

8. Knight of Glory/Knight of Infamy

"It don't matter if you're Black or White!"
Alongside evocative art, these are great Exalted attackers.  Their protection means that, in the right deck, they will dodge removal and blockers effectively while being acceptable blockers, when needed.  They go best in concert, providing options depending on your opponent’s deck while providing either a +2/+2 bonus when either attacks alone.  Exalted decks want as many permanents with Exalted as they can get, and these are pretty good ones to grab.  They’re also good because they play very well against the mono-colored decks that might arise most (especially mono-black with all the “Swamp matters” love.)  Against mono-black, Knight of Glory is an efficient and aggressive win condition.  Time will tell the value of these.  On another note, unlike other Knight cycles in the past, they can easily be cast one after the other in the exact same deck.  This is major for Exalted’s gameplan of consistent, mounting pressure. 

7. Flames of the Firebrand

Eenie, meenie, miney, FRSHSHHHHSHH
Chandra is not a subtle woman.  Nevertheless, she hones her goggles-guided aim for this spell.  Flames of the Firebrand lumps three great cards together and gives you the option of whatever you need; Lava Spike your opponent, Arc Trail two targets, or just squash three little creatures like bugs.  The flexibility and fair cost of this spell garner something else that Red desparately needs; card advantage.  On three, you can smash a 1/1, a 2/2 and then swing with your own 1/1 and 2/2.  Now that’s comedy!  This is what red wants to be doing with their mana, and its broad appeal will make it an auto-slam for any red deck in the first few picks of a pack and provide great utility and flexibility for a Sealed Pool, even as a splash.

6. Vampire Nighthawk
I am the terror of the night!
Hey, look who’s back!  It’s Darkwing…Darkwing Duck!  Who doesn’t love this guy?  A frustratingly powerful three-drop, this fellow saw a marginal amount of medium-high level Constructed play back in Zendikar’s Standard.  In Limited, he’s a bit of a house.  Evasive lifelink is always dangerous, effectively blanking your opponent’s more meager attacks.  Lifelink is a very powerful ability, especially without any work, and the deathtouch makes him an exceptionally effective attacker and blocker; no one feels good throwing their Serra Angel under a Nighthawk.  Not much else to say except that he is a beast, his mana cost being the only prohibition from every deck that contains a Swamp.

5. Talrand’s Invocation

Fly, my pretties!
Token production can be great in Limited and Constructed.  Making two tokens is better.  Making two evasive, non-1/1 tokens is great.  Putting four evasive power on the board in blue is awesome, not to mention synergetic with myriad different strategies in the format; token, instant matters (Talrand himself, Archaeomancer, etc.)  A strong turn four attack plus these two blue blokes is just what a blue deck needs; it fits in most any deck and can count as a creature and a spell, depending on what you need more of when crafting your deck.  Think of it as a flying Moan of the Unhallowed, a great Limited card in its own right, where flight is gained in exchange for flashback.  Not too bad, and it’ll just about always be a strong play either on turn 4 or off the top to save you from an otherwise lethal combat or to land those final points of evasive damage.  Keep your eye on the skies…

4. Murder

Great Sword, Watson!
The very name echoes the simple and vicious nature of this spell.  Wizards had been beating around the bush for a long time on this one; an all-inclusive instnat kill spell in black. We’ve had Terminate, or perhaps Death’s Caress in recent history, but this one is beautiful in its three little words.  The fact that nothing except the occasional Hexproof creature will dodge this removal is very powerful; unlike Chandra’s Fury, where you could play around it to an extent, there is no way to play around Murder.  If your opponent has two Swamps and another land up, he could be tried for Murder.  The only tough part about Murder is making sure you use this precious card against the right target…

3. Primal Huntbeast

Geez, at beast he could have hunted for something more interesting.
Yes, a French Vanilla probably doesn’t belong this deep on the list, but hexproof is a very relevant ability in this game of tapping, killing, and bouncing.  Primal Huntbeast in itself is a fairly bland card, but it is strong in this format because of everything that doesn’t kill it.  In a vacuum, Primal Huntbeast dies to Wrath effects, sacrifice abilities, and just normal old combat.  However, in this format, very few non-rares can kill Primal Huntbeast outside of combat.  Pumping him up even a little bit is a secure investment, and he holds any number of enchantments and Equipments well.  He also combos sublimely with a particular one…

Suffice it to say that Hexproof has proven its usefulness in Standard, whether it’s on a white/blue legendary Spirit or a Forest-loving Treefolk.  That format has access to plenty of board wipers that can hit them; think of how much better an augmented creature your opponent can’t target is!  Miles better than previous offerings like Gladecover Scout and Sacred Wolf, this can fight well in its own right; it just helps that you can’t burn it to death.

2. Arctic Aven

Ceiling Bird is watching you die.
Let me make you a deal.  How about I give you a Turn 3 Insectile Aberration that, in exchange for two turns, can guarantee you the flip?  Oh, and I’ll throw in Lifelink?  In Limited?

Arctic Aven is one of a cycle of “multi-colored” creatures that benefit from controlling a basic land type other than the one required to cast it.  The others are very strong, too, offering trample, regeneration, haste and unblockability in their respective allied color combinations.  However Arctic Aven is wings and claws above the rest for three main reasons.

First, Arctic Aven is good even if you don’t have a Plains.  A 2/1 flyer for 2U is perfectly acceptable, albeit unexciting.  A non-Plains white source (like a Glacial Fortress) can still help you gain its ability, though.  The others are subpar filler without basic land support and, as such, rarely should be included as anything else if you don’t have the matching basic land type already in your deck.

Secondly, Arctic Aven is naturally evasive, an essential piece of a good creature.  Sure, so is Harbor Bandit (the blue/black one), but you gotta pay for his…the Aven’s got a deal with Pain Train Airlines, because he flies for free, y’all. 

Thirdly, he is the most efficient of them; a 3/2 flyer for 1WU (effectively) is way above curve and is nearing Constructed efficiency (see Talon Trooper).  Its lifelinking ability helps dampen your opponent’s attacks and its three power puts an intimidating clock on your opponent to find that answer.  Besides, this is a great addition to white/blue, a proven archetype in draft settings across history.

On a broader note, this cycle thrills me because of its natural reward for good deckbuilding and drafting.  Worldwake had a cycle like this, too (though I don’t believe nearly as good) and they were still very fun to play.  They make great inclusions in casual deck thanks to their simple, innate synergy and that little pinch of fun we get from casting an undercosted creature with an often relevant activated ability.  They will slide directly into my Cube the moment I get my hands on them, and they will reward good deck building and play throughout their entire Limited career.

1. Rancor

"I've got a bad feeling about this."
Me too, Luke.  Me too.

Reprint of the set right here.  Many have long opined that Rancor is the best enchantment ever printed, and few out there will be able to argue that once it returns to Standard.  In Constructed, this thing is an unstoppable force, turning any creature you have into a reasonable threat.  In Limited?  Well…

Rancor is a cheap, powerful and constant threat to any deck, creating unprofitable trades for your opponent, pumping your evasive creatures or protected creature (like the aforementioned Primal Huntbeast) and just about always guaranteeing you profit, all for G.  Rancor does so much work, and every single deck that can cast it can benefit from it in Limited.  It’s so powerful that several cards in this set were printed specifically with Rancor in mind, namely its single, undeniable answer: another reprint from Urza’s Block, Erase.

You will never be able to draw it fast enough.
With only a fizzled or Erased Rancor as possibilities, Rancor’s power and endurance will seal up a lot of Limited and Constructed matches alike.  Every green deck wants this.  Every deck wants this.  Decks that can’t cast this want to be able to cast it.  For the foreseeable future, you will be adding 2 to a creature’s power while considering combat math.  This enchantment warps this Limited format, putting value into otherwise mediocre cards (walls, for example), and removing it from others (tokens, at least on defense.)  This isn’t a bad thing; green needs some help in Limited.  Here it is, with a big trample-y bow on it!

There’s my Meat and Potatoes List, M13 edition!  I feel fairly confident about these picks and hope you find it helpful as you suit up for your Prerelease this weekend.  I will not be attending a Prerelease, as this Saturday is a milestone birthday for my father and I’d like to spend that time with him on his special day.  However, I will be participating in the fun the following weekend, looking to put this list to the test.

On a final note, I advanced my Pack to Power this weekend in a somewhat silly way.  Ben, a like-minded trader from BluegrassMagic, had a pack-to-power of his own.  He understood the trials of it and assisted me with what he could.  Here was Trade #4.

Restoration Angel - $11.99
Plains # 232 Full Art (Zendikar) - $0.75

*Foil* Geralf’s Messenger - $9.99
Dungeon Geists - $1.99
 FNM *Foil* Slave of Bolas – $0.99

Net Change - +$0.73

Little did I know that Restoration Angel had increased in price; Ben threw in the Slave of Bolas at the end, but if he hadn’t, I would have lost on this trade. 

I knew I wanted to trade the Foil Geralf’s Messenger flat for another Restoration Angel, which is climbing higher and higher.  Right after Trade #4, George, a frequent patron of our LGS, obliged with a straightforward trade.

*Foil* Geralf’s Messenger - $9.99
FNM *Foil* Slave of Bolas – $0.99

Restoration Angel - $11.99

Net Change - +$1.01

Whew!  I know that Restoration Angel is going to only go up, so having him ready to trade is a good deal.  Otherwise, trading a Zendikar Plains (effectively) for a Dungeon Geists seems like profit to me!  Can’t wait to keep working on it…

Total Pack Value - $19.44

Thanks again for reading, and feel free to leave a comment and subscribe if you like what you saw!

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt

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