How to Utilize Context from Past Limited Formats – Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Edition

Rotten Reunion Art by Aaron Miller
Rotten Reunion Art by Aaron Miller

Hey everyone! Today I wanted to talk about one of the most difficult skills for a limited player to master: evaluating cards without having played with them. This is important because of how big of an edge it gives you in the beginning of a format while still helping you later on when you open a rare or mythic that you haven’t played with yet.

I’m sure that it comes as no surprise, but I reference older cards a lot when I’m talking about limited. I find it to be one of if not the best ways to decipher which cards will perform well and which will not. However, it also comes with the risk of sometimes misevaluating cards. You always have to keep in mind what cards add to and what cards detract from a card’s overall value in a format.

Why is it that Feral Maaka could be mediocre, but passable in Ravnica Allegiance yet somehow unplayable in Midnight Hunt? Why was Inspired Charge so much better in Kaladesh than Ritual of Hope is in Midnight Hunt? How can Devious Cover-Up be fantastic in Guilds of Ravnica, but bad in Midnight Hunt? I want to explain how to utilize past format biases in a way that will help you tackle a new format. That way you’ll be able to quickly identify what cards in a new format have and have not withstood the test of time.

I wanted to give some examples of cards from the past and how they gave me clues about the power level of certain cards in Midnight Hunt. I feel like having played so many limited formats and acquiring this knowledge is one of the leading reasons behind why I believe myself to be a great limited player and why it is my favorite format of all time. By breaking down particular examples that are relevant to Midnight Hunt, I hope that I can distill my thought process into a consumable form for you. So let’s get into it because I’m really excited to talk about this topic!

Tovolar’s Huntmaster and Grave Titan

Let’s go with with an easy comparison right off the bat. Grave Titan was considered the best card in all of M11 from a limited perspective, and when you compare it Tovolar’s Huntmaster, it becomes apparent that both cards are quite similar. Grave Titan has a slight edge because of always getting the trigger when it attacks while also being slightly harder to block, but them being so similar should immediately set off alarm bells in your head that Tovolar’s Huntmaster is going to be one of the best cards in the entire format. Knowing that it’s a near unbeatable bomb as opposed to just a solid rare could help you a lot during your draft because it could be what ends up convincing you to abandon a color in the beginning of pack two or three.

Vampire Interloper

This is the other example of using previous format experience to evaluate cards. Vampire Interloper was an all-star in the aggressive creature decks of original Innistrad, so it should give you the impression that the same will be true for it in Midnight Hunt. Welkin Tern, Kitesail Corsair, Stormfront Pegasus, etc. have always been one of the top common two drops of the format. By comparing Interloper to them you should make the connection that not much will be different this time around and a 2/1 Flying for two is still going to be fantastic.

Thermo-Alchemist

The same thought process as Vampire Interloper applies here except even moreso. Thermo-Alchemist was the bane of Eldritch Moon limited and far and away the best red common of the format. It’s even been bumped up to an uncommon, which should set off even more alarm bells in your head that it’s going to be one of the best red non-rares of Midnight Hunt.

I try to almost never pass it and you should do the same. I was able to come to that conclusion because I played Eldritch Moon limited, which further supports just how much your limited skills will improve if you draft more formats.

Slaughter Specialist, the Hunted Creatures and Kasmina’s Transmutation

This is a tough one to explain, but let me try to put you into my head for this one! Let’s start with comparing Slaughter Specialist to the hunted cycle from Ravnica. You get a great rate for these creatures, but it comes at the cost of giving your opponent some creatures. Something like Hunted Dragon is still good enough to be great in limited because of how quickly it kills the opponent even after you give them three 2/2’s. Hunted Horror on the other hand is atrocious because it gives your opponent threats that directly prevent it from impacting the board.

Slaughter Specialist might only give the opponent a 1/1, but a free 1/1 is a lot better than you think it is when it comes to limited. This is where Kasmina’s Transmutation comes into the conversation. At first glance it appears to be a solid removal spell, but after playing with it you come to realize all the ways that it can be blown out and just how irritating a 1/1 can be. All this combines to explain why I consider Slaughter Specialist unplayable. The body is simply not good enough to warrant giving the opponent value and potentially opening yourself up to getting blown out by removal. There’s a lot of card references there but hopefully that somewhat made sense!

Vivisection

It’s interesting that Vivisection was pretty bad in Mirrodin Besieged and was a common, yet it got boosted up to uncommon rarity in Midnight Hunt. From a limited perspective, Mirrodin Besieged has way weaker cards in it than Midnight Hunt, so it’s weird to make a weak card like that less accessible. However, after reviewing the set it becomes obvious that the Decayed mechanic is very good with Vivisection, so even though it was bad in one format, you need to put your previous format biases aside and be willing to view the card from a different perspective.

Keep in mind that Magic play design tests these cards an unbelievable amount in order to ensure the health of the limited format. If a common from a past set gets bumped up to uncommon, there’s a good reason for it. Whenever that happens you should assume that the card is powerful because it would make no sense to make it more difficult to get multiple copies of an awful card.

Morbid Opportunist and Skullport Merchant

Skullport Merchant was the best uncommon in Forgotten Realms and Morbid Opportunist is the best uncommon in Midnight Hunt. This isn’t a coincidence and by noticing this pattern, you could have made out like a bandit early on in the format while also not making the mistake of undervaluing this type of effect. Both these cards might appear different on the surface, but they fill a similar, near unbeatable role.

Skullport Merchant and Morbid Opportunist reward you for getting into board stalls, chump blocking, sacrificing resources, and dragging the game on. The only difference is that Opportunist rewards removal heavy decks better whereas Skullport Merchant rewards Treasure heavy decks better. Drawing cards from creatures dying will always be an unbelievably powerful effect in limited, and by comparing these cards you should realize that and take that knowledge with you into Crimson Vow!

Gavony Silversmith and Saddleback Lagac

Saddleback Lagac kicked some major tail in Oath of the Gatewatch limited, and Gavony Silversmith is just a better version of it because you can fully use it’s event when you only have one other creature in play. That alone is enough to determine that Gavony Silversmith is going to be one of the best white commons.

Bereaved Survivor and Devoted Crop-Mate

It was obvious to me that Bereaved Survivor would be anemic because I had played with Devoted Crop-Mate in Amonkhet limited. Crop-Mate was a solid uncommon because it had a very punishing play pattern. Imagine trading your two drop early on, following up with it, and then backing it up with a pump spell or removal in order to ensure that it could attack profitably on the next turn. It snowballed the game in your favor early on while at the very worst being a 3/2 for three.

Bereaved Survivor lacks almost everything that made Crop-Mate good. Being a 2/1 for three is awful, and unlike Crop-Mate, Survivor is incredibly easy to play around. Your opponent will simply turn down trading creatures more often than not when it is in play. Survivor also puts your creature into play attacking, which is really awkward since a two drop can rarely attack profitably in the mid to late game. My past experiences with Crop-Mate were essential in highlighting why Bereaved Survivor would be an awkward and weak card in Midnight Hunt.

Gavony Trapper and Fan Bearer

Fan Bearer is a near strictly better version of Gavony Trapper because of the extra power and the synergies it had with Binding Mummy and the other zombies of Amonkhet. All of that combined to make it one of the best white commons of the format. Keeping that in mind is important so that you can realize that Gavony Trapper is a solid playable and an important part of the aggressive white decks of Midnight Hunt.

However, not being able to beat down early while also being expensive to activate makes Gavony Trapper a solid playable but an effect that you don’t want a ton of. That’s why it’s important to be able to compare similar cards but still be able to break down what makes them better/worse than one another.

Unblinking Observer and Vodalian Arcanist

Vodalian Arcanist underperformed in Dominaria despite fueling wizard synergies, so I figured that the same would be true for Unblinking Observer. It underperforms because it needs to be built around to be fine early on, and even when you do build around it it’s awful in the late game.

Voldaren Stinger and Fearless Pup

One mana aggressive creatures without evasion tend to be awful in limited. However, Fearless Pup overperformed in Kaldheim because of the plethora of solid equipment in the format. Midnight Hunt might be lacking good equipment, but it makes up for it with solid synergies with Voldaren Stinger. You should have a hunch that Voldaren Stinger will be playable since Fearless Pup was, and once you consider how good Stinger is at triggering your vampires, it should become clear that it’s actually a decent playable when you have the right synergies.

Organ Hoarder and Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths

This is a bit of a stretch, but Organ Hoarder really is that stupidly good. A four mana 3/2 that draws 1.5 cards is bonkers, and sure Atris is better because it has Menace, but the fact that the cards have such a similar power level is really baffling. Don’t let the disparity of rarity fool you when it comes to card evaluations!

Eaten Alive and Spark Harvest

Great removal from War of the Spark should obviously perform similarly well in Midnight Hunt. To the surprise of no one, it’s one of the top three black commons.

Silver Bolt and Scalding Cauldron

This was an initial evaluation that I actually was incorrect about because of my experiences with Scalding Cauldron in Eldraine limited. These Silent Dart effects are rarely ever something I want to play, so I figured that this would be the same for Silver Bolt. It turns out that most of the big creatures in this format happen to be werewolves, so Silver Bolt ended up being able to kill a good portion of the threats your opponent is deploying. This is an important lesson in not always dismissing a card because its predecessors were underwhelming.

Eccentric Farmer and Borderland Ranger

I feel like players are still way too low on Eccentric farmer despite it often being a Borderland Ranger with upside. Sure it’s not as good at color fixing and you can miss hitting a land, but an extra toughness and being a great Flashback and Disturb enabler makes Eccentric Farmer fantastic. Keep in mind that throughout the history of limited, it’s near impossible to find a bad three drop that gives you a two-for-one.

Blessed Defiance and Make your Mark

I’ve never cast a Blessed Defiance before and I do not plan on ever doing so. Make Your Mark was very underwhelming in Strixhaven Limited, and Blessed Defiance is an even worse version of it. Supernatural Stamina this is not, and a situational 1/1 flying that at best gains you a little life is just not a card you should be playing. There are better combat tricks and just better cards.

Cathar’s Call and Commander’s Authority

Sure Commander’s Authority from Avacyn Restored is worse because it’s way more expensive, but historically auras that slowly crank out 1/1’s are too slow and risky to ever be worth playing.

Why this All Matters

Evaluating the power level of cards before you play them is unbelievably hard. What I’m trying to do is encourage you to play as many limited format as you’re able so that you can keep expanding your card knowledge and better predict the power level of these new designs. Cards like Diregraf Horde snuck under the radar initially and was a card that I grossly undervalued because I had never seen or played with a design that was at all similar to it (maybe Rakshasa Gravecaller is kind of similar, but that’s honestly a stretch). By playing with more designs and constantly comparing cards to similar versions from the past, you drastically reduce the amount of times where you’ll miss cards like Diregraf Horde. You’ll be able to go into a format and immediately be able to distinguish the trash from the treasure if you master this skill!

I hope that by explaining my main method of card evaluation that you’ll come to the realization of how important it is to take the card knowledge that you’ve acquired from previous sets, and apply it to newly released sets like Midnight Hunt. You’ll level up your limited skills considerably by participating in more and more formats and encountering more cards. Being able to draw on that past knowledge and past experiences will give you such a huge edge in limited!

Best of luck with expanding your limited perspective and thank you for reading!

Chris Kvartek

While Chris Kvartek technically kicked off his career in 2012, he burst onto the scene in 2019 like few before him. With an early season Top Finish at Mythic Championship II and narrow miss for his second at Mythic Championship IV, Kvartek earned invitations to two more Mythic Championships through online qualifiers. He secured his second Top Finish of the season at Mythic Championship VII, and now this rising star must prove he can stay among the elite of professional Magic.