Yesterday, Mike Sigrist wrote about his favorite Limited formats. With all due respect to Siggy, I was immediately offended by his list simply because I disagreed with it. I'm only covering my Top 5, because the real reason you're here is to find out The Wizards Squares That Done Sold Good This Week. We'll get to it. This is more important. Right now, there is someone that I disagree with online, and I can't abide that.
I don't mind when a Limited format has a clear best color. Four of five of of my favorite formats have at least one color that's incredibly unbalanced, and in the case Planar Chaos Limited, blue is the best color to an absurd degree.
Since we're going to get to Time Spiral later on here (it's the best color in that set too), let's cover the blue commons in Planar Chaos. Shaper Parasite reads "Morph: Blow the game up." Even if you don't pair it with Merfolk Thaumaturgist, it's still a beating. Erratic Mutation is, for all intents and purposes, a blue removal spell. Primal Plasma, Aquamorph Entity, and Piracy Charm are swiss-army knives, versatility that blue doesn't really need, but got anyway. Dreamscape Artist is a blue card that has f#&%ing Harrow as an activated ability. Limited was much more interesting when designers were willing to take some swings with the commons.
Suspend made for a much slower Limited environment. The designers realized that for the suspend cards to be relevant, games still had to be open-ended by the time they came off suspend, so the cheap creatures in Time Spiral are almost deliberately weak. For every Trespasser il-Vec — a creature capable of putting an opponent on a fast clock — there are a bajillion Ashcoat Bears — a 2/2 that will never impact the game in any meaningful way. Blue's core competencies — bounce, evasion — shine brighter the slower the format.
Once you factor in the blue cards from Time Spiral, the only way to draft TTP is just draft blue.
Triple-Shards of Alara draft was probably better-designed than SSC or even SCA, but I appreciated SCA's clear terms.
Alara Reborn is an obnoxiously powerful set. These days, it is largely lampooned for its absurdly complex commons; it is for the better of the game that new players are no longer being handed copies of Esper Stormblade and told to "figure it out." That said, the goal of the first two packs should be to set yourself up to get as many of the best cards as possible in the third pack. This brings us to Alara block draft's second rule of engagement.
Conflux is terrible. Modern all-stars, like Noble Hierarch, Knight of the Reliquary, and Path to Exile live in Conflux, but for the most part, the set is very, very bad. The best commons are Drag Down and Dark Temper, the latter of which plays very well with Alara Reborn's cycle of Borderposts. The rest of Conflux is a smattering of creatures of varying efficiency and mostly color-fixing in the form of Rupture Spire, which you should take over most everything, and underwhelming basic-landcyclers like Gleam of Resistance.
Point removal gains a little more value in this context; there are only a few creatures that will influence the outcome of a game, and whoever can shoot the the most of them down on sight gains a clear advantage.
With those terms in mind, the strat for Alara block Limited is to try and draft a base red-black deck and splash for either blue or green. Blue's got a lot of goodies in Shards of Alara, but Bloodbraid Elf lives in Alara Reborn. That's the tradeoff.
Look, if you open Battlegrace Angel, obviously you just take it; the "draft r/b and splash blue or green" outline is more for if your p1p1 is underwhelming and you're trying to figure out how to best set yourself up for the long haul.
Packs one and two are all about removal and mana-fixing; the Alara Reborn pack is where the fun starts. You're really hoping to mise a Bituminous Blast, but if you don't get there, remember that you're trying to draft a tight, aggressive deck with good mana to punish the base-green drafters with slow decks that dedicate entire cards and turns to fixing/ramping their mana. You'll likely end up wth lots of Goblin Outlanders, which you'll ideally pair with some combination of Esper Stormblade, Grixis Grimblade, Jund Hackblade, Naya Hushblade, and Putrid Leech. The blade cycle also pairs well with Alara Reborn's Borderpost cycle, so take those when you can. Unbalanced sets make for novel experiences, and I'll take those when I can get them.
To me, Time Spiral plays like an old set that actually understood what the good cards were, as opposed to a set like Exodus that threw Kor Chant at common and told players to deal with it. It also plays a lot like "old" Magic because you never want to go base-green under any circumstance because the color does nothing compelling outside of Tromp the Domains, which continues the fine tradition Overrun began of winning you games you had no business winning. (You should pretty much always splash for Tromp the Domains.)
As I mentioned before, the speed and scope of Time Spiral yielded the perfect setting for blue cards to be really, really good. Errant Ephemeron is the best blue common, narrowly beat out by Strangling Soot for title of best common in the entire set. Viscerid Deepwalker is a little slice of color pie hodgepodge capable of winning games by itself, somehow. Fathom Seer was tailor-made for a grindy environment, drawing more cards and feeding strong cards like Urborg Syphon-Mage and Flowstone Channeler. Looter il-Kor is better than Merfolk Looter (an uncommon, rightly so, in Eternal Masters) and it's common. Mystical Teachings fetches Crookclaw Transmuter, a card that's great by itself but also combos with Dream Stalker and the like. By the way, Dream Stalker lets you rebuy Fathom Seer flips.
Time Spiral is chock-full of cards that shouldn't really work anywhere else. Coal Stoker does cute stuff with Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens. Flowstone Channeler deals with an impressive percentage of potential threats. Fortify is a blowout on both ends that should be taken into account at all times. Games go long, and thanks to timeshifted cards, the set is massive, resulting in lots of unique situations.
Games outside the influence of Fortify or Tromp the Domains generally go to the player willing to grind the hardest. Time Spiral is a cool set, and it's highly unlikely we'll never see anything like it again. That's a shame.
Let's be clear: the blue commons in Ravnica are messed up. No other color even comes close to blue's depth. This was likely an effort to balance triple-Ravnica drafts; Selesnya is very, very good in triple-Ravnica, so the other colors needed some oomph. Blue got the real hookup, though, though it only really comes to fruition when you don't have to play the Dimir cards.
During last year's flashback RRG drafts, I realized that the Ravnica's blue cards are strong but also non-intuitive. Take Vedalken Dismisser, for example. It's a 2/2 for six. It's also the third-best blue common in the set:
1. Compulsive Research
2. Peel from Reality
3. Vedalken Dismisser
4. Flight of Fancy
5. Snapping Drake
The transmute commons move around depending on what's you've already drafted. Got a Compulsive Research? Prioritize Drift of Phantasms. Got a Peel from Reality? Prioritize Muddle the Mixture. Were you fortunate enough to open a Mark of Eviction? Take the damn Dizzy Spell. Terraformer also gets a lot better if you've got Flow of Ideas. You get the picture.
The logic behind listing blue's five best cards is to show off its depth. Compulsive Research may not be as good as Last Gasp or Galvanic Arc, but Snapping Drake and Flight of Fancy are miles ahead of, say, Stinkweed Imp and Dimir House Guard. Tidewater Minion isn't even a top-five card and it dunks on most of the green cards in the set! This is the problem with blue in Ravnica>.
In the context of Ravnica Limited — lots of Signets and bounce-lands getting tossed around, players setting up for a long game — Vedalken Dismisser is a real show-stopper, robbing them of their best threat and taking away a draw step in one fell swoop.
One of the most prized pastimes of any Magician is imagining all the ways in which a given card is a Time Walk. It doesn't matter how bad the card is, there's always some guy willing to do the mental gymnastics to make any card into a Time Walk. With Vedalken Dismisser, you don't need to stretch the logic very far. It combines "take away a draw step" and "force opponent to reuse their mana" to create a Time Walk... attached to a 2/2. A 2/2 that can be rebought and reused via Peel from Reality or Mark of Eviction. It's a good card.
While we're on the topic of cards that look goofy but are actually incredible, Mark of Eviction is the second-best blue card in Ravnica, behind Cerulean Sphinx (my friend Brad is convinced that Mark of Eviction is actually better; it's close, but that's a little too aggressive for my tastes), and is one of the top non-rares in the set. You can rebuy your own Steamcore Weird or bounce their most expensive threat. Galvanic Arc + Mark of Eviction can end a game very quickly. Mark of Eviction looks weird through the lens of today's cookie-cutter Limited formats, where every green deck has Giant Growth with the set's mechanic stapled to it, every black deck has a Mind Rot, and every blue deck has a literal Negate, but just cast the card sometime. It's ludicrous how good it is.
Here's the strategy for RRG drafts: force Izzet. It doesn't matter what's going on, whether you opened Blazing Archon or if your house is burning down. Force Izzet every time. Splashing Ribbons of Night, Last Gasp, or Disembowel isn't out of the question — mana-fixing is abundant here, and the latter is even searchable via Dizzy Spell — but Blue is so deep in Ravnica that it's basically impossible to get out of the first two packs without a decent array of blue cards. By pack three, the Izzet cards will fall into your lap, and they are doozies.
Steamcore Weird is clearly busted, but Ogre Savant plays the color's tempo game well, and Izzet Chronarch creates a soft lock in conjunction with a Peel from Reality. Torch Drake and Wee Dragonauts are fine closers, and Pyromatics is Pyromatics. And sometimes you open Electrolyze or Gelectrode or Hypervolt Grasp and yeah. You get the picture.
This is what Sigrist wrote about Eternal Masters:
I really appreciated that there were so few rares that were difficult to interact with and beat. The best Draft decks and Sealed decks were pretty similar in selecting almost exclusively 2-for-1s and removal spells while slowly grinding out the opponent.
All of his points Re: Eternal Masters Limited are true. The vast majority of rares and mythics are eminently reasonable, leading to a lot of games that aren't broken asunder by a few relevant cards, but rather, are slugfests won and lost in the trenches. Two-for-ones and repeatable advantage are the orders of the day, and the decks trend toward the slower side, especially since mana fixing comes so freely. That's not to say that there's not a competitive, aggressive deck to be drafted; even Burning Vengeance even plays as its own archetype.
Eternal Masters games get grindy, and can hinge on a minute misplay or card misevaluation. The way games play out, with cards that all have similar power levels, is fun for me because they make me feel like I'm leveraging my playskill. As a result, it stings extra badly when I lose, but that's okay! No one's sucking out on me in Eternal Masters Limited, and it feels like I'm earning every win. And I'm doing it with Deep Analysis! This type of Magic really speaks to me.
Alright. On to the cards.
So you just Fork this one, right? Easy peasy. NEXT
A couple co-workers are trying this out as a one-of in Modern Affinity. Could be good against Stony Silence, I guess. It's worth trying out.
On first glance I thought both of these cards were mythic rares; they're really powerful. Can't believe they're only rare. It's not hard to chain cycling cards together thanks to the nature of how drawing cards works — I'd expect to see Archfiend of Ifnir show up in Standard if the format slows down at all. Unfortunately, I see both of these cards playing roles similar to the role the New Phyrexia praetors played next to the Magic 2011 Titans in Standard five years ago; the praetors were cool and interesting, but the titans were so much more efficient that they pushed the praetors into relative obscurity. Archfiend of Ifnir and Glorybringer are cool, but as it stands, they don't stack up against Standard's good cards.
The first time I ever drafted was an Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse draft. I was 11. It was the most complicated thing I'd ever done up to that point, and thanks to it, I wrote off draft all the way up to Mirrodin. It's probably good they don't make Standard Limited environments that complex anymore.
Oh right, Amonkhet has minotaurs.
A word of unsolicited advice: If you never buy a Homelands card in your life, you will be better for it. It's strictly a heuristic — sometimes you just need that Serrated Arrows for your Pauper deck — but if you lived your life as if Homelands didn't exist, you'd be right to do so 99.9999% of the time.
Seth Manfield wrote a little bit about white/blue in Amonkhet Standard, so I'll just point you to his Drake Haven deck:
Sure. It makes some mana and stuff. I dunno. This card doesn't really excite me much. As always, I'm looking forward to this card being awesome and making me look like a fool, but right now I'm not seeing it.
Hey, did you hear? Zombie are back! In Amonkhet! Know what that means? TIME TO BUY ALL THE ZOMBIE CARDS
I never know if these are specs or if they're just good folk that want to give zombie tribal yet another spin, but yeah. Relentless Dead is maybe a fine spec target, but my soft spot is for Cryptbreaker, where it played the role of "fixed Pack Rat" in Eldritch Moon Limited. Be that as it may, both of these cards killed it this week because Amonkhet's got lots of Zombies.