D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR) Limited Set Review: Blue
D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR)
Welcome back! Today is the second day of Limited Reviews, make sure to check out the Introduction if you haven’t already, and otherwise enjoy!
Who is rating?
I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began playing Magic a decade ago. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube, I’ve drafted dozens of sets. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited more than 50k gems with a winrate that is usually mid-70%s, and have made top 100 mythic many times. I’m an experienced Limited coach with testimonials from people who reached mythic with my help, check out details here if you’re interested!
- S: Ridiculous bomb: has a huge immediate impact on the game and threatens to dominate it if unanswered. Often hard to answer. (Professor Onyx, Kaya the Inexorable, Emeria’s Call)
- A: Bomb or one of the best cards in your deck, pulls you strongly into its colour. (A+: Tanazir Quandrix, A: Sparring Regimen, A-: Swords to Plowshares)
- B: Great playable: happy to pick early, pulls you into its colour or archetype. (B+: Igneous Inspiration, B: Returned Pastcaller B-: Frost Trickster)
- C+: Good playable that rarely gets cut, or very good in the right deck. (Pigment Storm, Karok Wrangler, Divide by Zero)
- C: Fine playable, sometimes gets cut. (Snow Day, Leech Fanatic, Fortifying Draught)
- C-: Mediocre playable or decent filler, gets cut around half the time. (Sudden Breakthrough, Arcane Subtraction, Vortex Runner)
- D: Medium to bad filler, gets cut a lot. (D+: Springmane Cervin, D: Hall Monitor, D-: Detention Vortex)
- F: Cards that are unplayable in the vast majority of decks. (Dragon’s Approach, Secret Rendezvous, Fracture since it’s a sideboard card in most sets)
Grades are based on maindeck power level; if a card is good in the sideboard, I will mention it in the review. Every grade can have a sub-grade within it, but the differences are most pronounced in the C-Category, so they have their own description. Beyond that, a B+ means it’s almost an A, but not quite.
Hall of Storm Giants
This is a manland that only has an effect once you reach 7 mana, but it’s powerful and will force them to play in a very awkward way. Ward 3 is a lot, even in the late game, and sometimes they straight up won’t be able to cast removal spells. Threat of activation is fantastic here, since if they have a bunch of mana up then you can just play other stuff and pass the turn back, and they’ll have to waste their mana or remove something other than the giant. Additionally, they’ll often have to leave a chump blocker back whether you activate or not.
Again, free spells are amazing and the investment is only one pick in your draft!
Aberrant Mind Sorcerer
This isn’t a set with nearly as many spells as Strixhaven, and I foresee even some Blue decks struggling to have lots since a lot of their removal is aura-based. Nonetheless this is a powerful enough effect that I’m happy to take this card highly, since a fine defensive body with 55% to draw a card and 45% to vastly improve your next draw means you’re getting a great deal either way.
I think this is a 6 drop a lot of people will underrate, but I’m very into it. This statline is very good on both offense and defense, stops enemy fliers in their tracks, and bouncing something is amazing when attached to a good body. This card will often stabilise you instantly on turn 6, and can be absolutely crushing if it bounces an equipped creature (especially since most equipment in the set has a high equip cost) or a token.
If your opponent is going down the Tomb of Annihilation dungeon route, consider saving this card to counter the 4/4 deathtouch token they’ll eventually get.
This is a pretty good late game mana sink, but there are enough ping effects and ways to punish 1 toughness that I think it’s worse than it looks. It’s an okay 2 drop when you don’t have better options, but it’s not something I’d be looking to prioritise. One problem is that access to dungeons means that pretty much every deck can summon 1/1 tokens at some point in the game, which this can’t block. 6 to activate is really a lot, but it does get better if you have other instants to hold up.
I expect beatdown decks to be quite strong, with the abundance of good equipment and lots of 2 drops that attack well, and this card is absolute garbage against those. If you have a few of these, consider shaving 6 drops and other late game to shore up your early game. You still need some high impact cards, but if you have expensive mana sinks then it’s fine to have one or two less.
Bar the Gate
3 mana counterspells tend to play pretty badly in Draft, but venturing is a lot of value to add onto this one, and it does seem as though AFR has way more instants than normal, including a bunch of ways to draw cards like Contact Other Plane. It’s still not that exciting and most decks won’t want more than one.
It only hits creatures, which makes it a lot worse and means if your opponent suspiciously leaves mana up on turn 3 in Blue and you have a noncreature to play, you should strongly consider trying to make them waste that mana.
The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
This is theoretically great the right deck if you happen to have enough nontoken artifacts, alongside stuff like Potion of Healing perhaps, but there aren’t that many of those that don’t cost you a card – it’s not great if they do, since you’re also spending a card on this so it’s sort of like an aura. It is repeatable so to get enough value, you need to be able to use this ability several times, or have enough of those disposable artifacts, which seems really hard to do when it specifies nontoken. It is good with stuff like Silver Raven (which keeps the flying), but I really don’t want to be playing bad cards like that if this is your only big payoff for doing so – you’ll lose plenty of games to just not drawing this card at that point.
This is the sort of buildaround where I want to pick it up in pack 3 when I already have the deck, but really that’s going to be very rare – ideally you have at least 3 or 4 disposable artifacts and then a few others, which is a really high bar. Maybe if you’re in specifically the Azorius Ingenious Smith deck.
This dragon kind of reads “your opponent skips their next attack step”, and sometimes you get to push a bunch of damage through yourself. This is combined with a body that demands an answer, but even all that is not enough to make for a really exciting 7 drop. It’s decent but somewhat overshadowed by other late game and other dragons.
This is your bread and butter removal aura, you’re happy to take it pretty highly, but it’s quite hard to cast and just an okay rate. Nevertheless, it’ll be one of the best Blue commons practically by default – this is a colour that tends to be quite removal-starved. When you pair Blue with Black or Red, you might not care that much about it though.
I’m quite fond of this card, because its chief use is ramp which I love in Limited, especially in a set with lots of good 5 and 6 drops like this one. This is also a solid way to squeeze extra value out of cards with tap abilities like Half-Elf Monk and Ranger’s Hawk, and giving your biggest thing Vigilance in a pinch will definitely come up too. This card does get worse in multiples, as with most ramp effects.
Don’t forget that this can only untap stuff at sorcery speed – that does hurt a bit.
Contact Other Plane
Behold the Multiverse was a great Limited card, and this is a lot worse, but 55% to be that without Foretell is good enough when the failcase is still okay – 4 mana draw two isn’t good, but it’s not awful either.
Card draw in Limited is a fantastic way to break parity in the late game, because both players almost always end up running out of cards over the course of a Limited game. Keeping the cards flowing is also a fantastic way to make sure you hit all your land drops for those big dragons. Board more of these in in slower matchups in best-of-three, play pretty much every copy you have in Sealed.
It’s worth noting that rolling a 20 is absolutely insane on this card – I’m not rating higher on that basis because the chances are so low, but if you have some of the synergy cards that allow you to roll twice and take the best result then you do want to play this a little bit higher.
This strikes me as a really powerful buildaround card, because it’s a fantastic reason to include more instants and sorceries in your deck. Even if you can only cast one, you’ll be able to run this out in the late game, but if you have some cheap ones and get to double spell then maybe you won’t need truly tons of Blue mana. Whenever you can cast it, it’ll generate you massive value and if you really get there, maybe it’ll win you a really long game by reanimating itself, but I wouldn’t count on that!
You do want to be heavy Blue and to have at least 6 or 7 instants and sorceries, because this is not a card you’ll be able to cast until the insanely late game unless you have one ready. I hesitate to give this a higher grade, because Blue in this set doesn’t seem as instant and sorcery-focused – lots of the removal is enchantment-based, and you want to have lots of creatures for your Equipment and fliers decks.
The base rate of a 3 mana 3/2 that gives you some immediate value is decent, and this is a mana sink that can run away with a longer game.
As always, venture cards get way better the more you have but repeatable effects like this are key to completing Dungeon of the Mad Mage, the high risk high reward dungeon.
3/3 flier for 4 is a solid rate, and scrying 1-2 on top is fantastic. This is a good topdeck at any point in the game, doesn’t block too badly, and is a card that they absolutely need to answer.
I expect this to be Blue’s best common and the lynchpin of the fliers decks, but this does seem like a format with lots of good 4-drop plays so don’t go overboard.
While this isn’t a Flash creature in the sense that you can ambush stuff with it, it’s kind of like an instant that taps down their best creature for a couple of turns and after that’s done, you get an amazing efficient body.
This is the cheapest way to enable Dragon synergies, but there aren’t enough cards in the set that care about that for me to up the rating – if you’re playing a couple of Dragon’s Disciples, sure take it a little higher.
2/2 flier for 3 isn’t too bad a rate, and then this card has two great abilities. If you complete a dungeon, it renders your opponent’s best creature pretty much unable to block and early on, it gets you 1/4 of the way towards that and nets you some free value.
Flying tokens are absurd in Limited, and if you make even one over the course of the game then you’re getting a good deal out of this. Obviously you need to be rolling some dice, but there are plenty of Blue cards that do that, a few in Black and Green, and then this is the nuts if you’re an Izzet deck.
This is a terrifying card for your opponents to leave in play, so it’ll often eat a removal spell even if you don’t have too many enablers. If you do have lots, then you probably want to hold it until you get a token immediately.
This card has the usual weaknesses of auras, chiefly that they let your opponent 2 for 1 with removal, but if you get two hits then you’re probably doing great. The first hit probably won’t be worth a card unless you have a bunch of other Venture, but it will if you put it on Soulknife Spy!
Modern sets tend to be heavy on efficient removal, and there’s plenty of that this set. It’s also embarrassing if you’re being beaten down, and many of your creatures in Blue will fly anyway. Still, this is very good in the right deck, say if you do have a bunch of creatures with attack/damage triggers that really benefit from flying, if you have creatures with Ward, or lots of other venture cards.
Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar
I think this card is a little worse than it looks, which is good because it looks very stupid. Bouncing your own creatures repeatedly isn’t great until you reach the late game, and this doesn’t actually make your attacks better – you have to already have good attacks and hence be ahead for this card to be gamewinning. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s ridiculous if you’re even a little ahead and it won’t be hard to just chip away with one evasive creature and get a free card or two, or go wide and get a great attack. Often they’ll just kill it to save themselves the headache.
I’m not fond of this card – it just takes too long and costs too much mana to get going. It’s technically good with equipment, but equip costs in this set are expensive so actually having one on it and then being able to give it unblockable is a ton of work and leaves you very vulnerable to them using their mana in a more fruitful way. There are better ways to break board stalls and win late game situations.
In the early game, you better hope they miss their 2 drop because otherwise suddenly you’re down a card, and they should be playing more 2 drops than usual to maximise their equipment.
Iymrith, Desert Doom
Ah so this card has a ridiculous body, is extremely hard to kill for most of the game, and puts you further and further ahead every turn it lives.. okay. There’s very little removal that kills a 5/5 at instant speed, and remember that you can just not attack and waste their mana if they’re going to spend their turn waiting.
Demanding an immediate answer and otherwise running away with the game is the definition of a Limited bomb, and there aren’t many cards that match that criteria so perfectly. Stealing their best creature will be highly impactful on almost every board state, and by the time they can kill this, it may well have completely swung the game in your favour.
This is your classic ridiculous planeswalker, providing massive card advantage or protecting itself in an insane way – those Dogs are often going to be really big! The + ability will quickly run away with the game and he’s extremely difficult to kill at 7 loyalty. He ults quite quickly but that probably puts you in range of decking, so you’re better off just spawning infinite dogs and drawing cards.
This is a very mediocre trick or potentially a burn spell in the late game, but mostly it’ll just rot in your hand or give you a big weakness to instant speed removal.
1/3 flier is a pretty good body, blocking well when you need it to and chipping away when you don’t, and acting as a great bearer of equipment later on. This ability can net you a ton of incremental value if you do have dice rolling cards, since often you’ll get amand discount or an extra Goblin or get to scry one more card… these things really add up, Limited is a game of small advantages.
Power of Persuasion
Here’s a medley of mediocre options, all unfortunately at sorcery speed (which is really bad for bounce effects). The first mode is card disadvantage, and you can’t save your creatures with it so you need to be a deck that really cares about tempo to be happy – if you can do a bunch of damage off them, then bounce spells become far better. This card’s middle mode is the main draw, but your opponent being able to choose whether to redraw the card or not is pretty unfortunate – imagine bouncing a small creature with equipment on it and your opponent just lets it go. Even the 5% to roll a 20 isn’t that good – you might get 1-2 good hits in, but it’ll still be card disadvantage at the end of the day unless you can sacrifice the creature.
Compare to Bury in Books in the last set, where you convert all of these negatives into positives…
Ray of Frost
This is another in the cycle of really good sideboard cards, but this one is actually okay to maindeck one or two copies of in slower decks. If you’re using it against nonred creatures, you need to let them hit you first or tap them in some other way, and that’s a severe downside but it’s one you’re willing to pay for efficient removal. It gets a lot worse in multiples, so I wouldn’t take it too highly before pack 3 (at which point, if you need removal, sure take it at a C+).
This card gets a lot worse if you are the one attacking – you don’t want to play it in beatdown decks unless you’re strapped for removal, and never in dedicated aggressive decks. Your opponent is less likely to attack when you’re ahead, and even in slower decks, there will be games where you just won’t be able to use this effectively.
Rimeshield Frost Giant
This isn’t a terrible card, and mostly I’m not giving it a higher grade because it’ll compete with better cards for a 5 drop slot. Ward 3 makes it pretty good against removal and it blocks well, so it’s a good stabilising play on turn 5. It’s a nice thing to put Equipment and stuff like Fly on, because it’ll probably take them quite a while to remove – it’s a full 8 mana to kill it with Farideh’s Fireball and most auras will cost 6!
One problem with this statline this set is that it’s pretty easy to overcome with equipment – having to trade this for a 2 drop isn’t great even if they spent a bunch of mana equipping it, and you’ll be forced to more often than I would like.
Scion of Stygia
This is a bit low impact for my liking, the problem being that a 2/1 for 3 is very weak and 45% of the time it’ll only cost them one turn of attacks. It’s a medium roleplayer and it does its job, but never particularly well, and it doesn’t better your synergies or really build you towards anything.
This card strikes me as one that will do enough in plenty of games, between being a good blocker and a late game mana sink. It fits Blue’s decks very well, which tend to be either slow and value-oriented or fliers. Fliers is a deck that desperately needs good blockers, because your opponent’s natural inclination is just going to be to race them with bigger creatures – you almost always have to pay a mana or stats tax for the flying ability.
Decks with other venture cards will be very happy to include this, and it might even force opponents to remove it in a longer game since they can’t let you sit there and accrue value while they’re just drawing lands nearly half the time.
This may draw a card, but it’s a pretty mediocre trick nonetheless. The problem is that -2/-0 isn’t enough to win most combats, and you really need to be trading already for it to be at its best, and trades while you have 2 mana up just don’t happen often enough. Still, it’s a medium card I’d be okay to play if I’m low on playables or need to buff up my spell count.
It’s pretty hard to get a 2/5 through on turn 5, but this is a fine blocking statline and threat of activation can be a big deal here – they may not want to attack with two 3/3s and trade 3 damage for a venture trigger. If your opponent does happen to be short on creatures or going tall with just one, this will eke a lot of value out of your removal and tempo spells.
1/1 fliers are rarely worth a card in Limited, scry 1 doesn’t add enough, and there there being lots more Equipment isn’t enough to make me happy with this card – it just does next to nothing until you equip it. A big power boost just isn’t enough – they’ll just play other fliers or removal spells to stop you (or just race you with bigger creatures), and it’s not good tempo if you had to spend a bunch of mana equipping this.
This might find a home in decks with specific equipment that benefits from evasion like Delver’s Torch or Reaper’s Talisman, but I’d stay away in the vast majority of decks.
Scroll Thief, eat your heart out! This is the first time we’ve seen this effect on such a good statline at common, and I expect it to be a very solid card. It always forces an answer, and gets huge value out of your tricks and removal spells. Even getting to connect once can be enough to snowball a game, and the cards you draw make it more likely you’ll be able to connect again.
Split the Party
This is a pretty strong effect in the late game, especially in a set full of equipment. Getting to bounce multiple creatures is a much bigger game than just one and this represents a ton of tempo if it’s bouncing at least two things. If you’re a creature deck, you should be able to capitalise and deal a bunch of damage, and they’re pretty likely not to be able to replay and re-equip everything in just one turn. It’s still a pretty situational card, but I think it’ll be worth it in beatdown decks or the occasional deck that’s going really big and just wants to buy time for itself.
To be clear, since I’ve been asked a couple of questions about this card, you get to choose the creatures but it doesn’t count as targeting them – so it goes through hexproof and Ward.
Much as I love the idea of drawing a lot of cards, this card doesn’t play out in a great way unless you’re curving out well and trading off a lot of resources, and that’s a lot of hoops to jump through on a 6 mana card draw spell. All the equipment and buffs in the set makes it harder to trade off resources and get cards in the graveyard. Many decks will want to stick to Contact Other Plane or just having more generic high end.
Still, this is good if you have lots of other instants/sorceries, including cheap burn spells – I think Izzet decks will usually be happy to play a copy, and other decks will sometimes cut it, sometimes run it.
Tasha’s Hideous Laughter
I would not suggest ever playing this card in your draft maindeck – there’s no other mill in the set and this won’t usually mill for enough to come close to killing your opponent. If it left the lands in the deck, it would be much better, but this is just taking out a proportion of your opponent’s deck at random, not removing quality.
You could board this in in some glacially slow matchups, where decking is an actual concern, but I’d stay away otherwise – any deck that’s killing you in good time will be happy that you’re now down a card.
This is a pretty small buff, and this ability is quite hard to activate. First, you have to connect with the creature then it has to be worth copying, and at that point you’re still losing the Equipment. When this card costs 3 mana to begin with, I think it won’t be worth all that work oftentimes, and it interacts pretty poorly against heavy removal decks – so does all Equipment, but at least other Equipment is threatening them with a fast clock or more consistent and repeatable value.
I still think this card is fine for enabling your equipment synergies and with decent evasive units, and obviously the better your creature base, the better it gets.
This card requires buildaround but I think the payoff is well worth it. Mainly you need to be generating treasure tokens or have other disposable artifacts or creature tokens, which dungeons allow any deck with Venture cards to make as early as the second room in Lost Mine of Phandelver and a bunch of Red and Black cards make for free.
At that point, it becomes 6 mana copy the best creature on the board, or remove the best creature on the board – you can target their stuff to make it into treasure tokens, or you can make a copy. Because this effect is at instant speed, you can use it as a trick and that gives it a lot of 2 for 1 potential – copy their best creature then block their second best, for example. The card seems exceptionally easy to enable this set, and very good within it.
This is one insane Class, with the second level being reasonably costed and netting you a lot of value, and the third just running away with any sort of longer game. It doesn’t do anything until you spend the 3 mana as no maximum hand size is ridiculously winmore, but this combination of effects is enough for me to take it early and highly.
If this is a slower set, then this strikes me as an extremely powerful card, a way to go far over the top in a longer game, as long as your deck has a decent number of instants and sorceries. Unfortunately, I’m not ready to give it a high grade right now because it’s really slow and doesn’t do anything immediately if you play it on 7 mana, I’m expecting this set to have some really good beatdown decks, and Blue isn’t as spell-heavy as previous sets.
This will be a card I plan to test out and revisit later on, but for now it’s something I’d be very happy to play as my top end in a slower deck with efficient removal to stave off beatdown decks, say an Izzet spells deck, and an exceptional sideboard card.
You Come to a River
If you’re a deck that can capitalise on the tempo of bouncing a creature by doing a bunch of damage, or have cards like Soulknife Spy that you really want to get through for their effects, then this is a solid card.
Ordinarily, I’d only give this a C- but it strikes me as exceptionally good in a set with lots of Equipment, since bouncing one of those and blocking the creature is one of the few ways to make this not card disadvantage. Between that and the regular uses of bounce effects, including this can bounce your stuff in response to removal/rebuy enter the battlefield abilities, I think this is a reasonable and versatile card but not something to take too highly.
You Find the Villains’ Lair
Cancel doesn’t tend to be great in Limited, but I think this second effect adds a good deal of versatility, meaning that if you really need to answer the board then you can dig for something. It’s still nothing too exciting and I’m expecting this set to be faster than Strixhaven or Kaldheim, but it’s a fine inclusion in decks with other instants, the best friend of Contact Other Plane, and a reasonable late game card in general.
If the set ends up slower than I think, I’ll up the grade on this to C-, and it’s pretty good in Sealed/as a sideboard card for slower matchups.
You See a Guard Approach
Both abilities are very situational, and neither adds up to a card I’m happy to play in the maindeck. The problem is that it’s a cost to hold 1 mana up turn after turn and some decks just won’t play into the hexproof ability, or you’ll be suffering the effects of being down a card by the time they do and have taken more damage or lost more ground than you needed to. That or you’ll burn this on a creature that wasn’t that impactful to save.
This is just a monumentally worse card than Snakeskin Veil, which was a buff and a trick and hence had far more use cases.
This is an absurd card, a 2 drop that will absolutely demand removal or often run away with the game. It can be awkward that it doesn’t let your other stuff attack, but gaining growing value every turn is well worth that downside.
AFR Tips from this article:
I’ll compile these and put them together later on, but they can act as a handy cheat sheet in the meantime! Note that the Introduction has a bunch more.
- Compared to the last few formats, I think AFR is going to be significantly faster and have more common beatdown decks. That means you need to change the way you think about 2 drops.
In recent formats, having enough 2 drops hasn’t been that important since the sets were pretty slow or you had mechanics like Foretell to mitigate them. I don’t think that applies to AFR at all – there are a ton of good attacking 2 drops, lots of good equipment to make every creature a problem, and plentiful creatures with attack/combat damage triggers. It’s going to be very important for slower decks to have blockers available on 2 and for faster decks to have lots of early drops. WIth equipment, your early drops stay relevant in the late game anyway, so don’t be afraid to have 6+ 2 drops in your beatdown decks.
- 1 toughness is a bit rough this set, since every deck has access to 1/1 tokens between the various dungeons, and there are some pingers like Shambling Gast and Magic Missile.
- This set has lots of good artifacts and good targets for artifact removal, especially Equipment. There are a bunch of modal cards in Red that offer that as an option and give you a lot of 2 for 1 potential. Watch out for those if you’re playing against Red decks, you might want to play your weaker equipment first or not be too eager to pay an expensive equip cost.
Note that I still wouldn’t often maindeck cards that only destroy artifacts or have otherwise weak modes e.g. You Find a Cursed Idol – look for the creatures if you’re in Red.
- There are only two fixing lands and I’d recommend taking them highly if you don’t have treasures or other fixers. Evolving Wilds and Temple of the Dragon Queen are both great, and no you don’t need to be playing more than 2 colours or to have dragons to want either of them. In Limited, there are lots more opportunities to play taplands than in Constructed, since you don’t always curve out perfectly, you get punished less for that, and most decks don’t have 1-drops, so that extra % not to get mana screwed is key. Having a couple of fixing lands will often decide games without you even realising it, in the consistency it lends to your deck.
- Fliers are supported, but remember that you need good blockers complementing them, because your opponent’s natural inclination is just going to be to race them with bigger creatures – you almost always have to pay a mana or stats tax for the flying ability.
- Most decks have a very difficult time splashing in this format, so gold weighting hurts a lot. Early on, you should take gold cards about two grade distinctions lower – basically still take them if they’re bomb tier but if there’s anything close in single colour, you should mostly grab that. You don’t want to commit too early and have to force colours that aren’t open.