With Ravnica Allegiance’s return to best-of-one and good feedback from you, my lovely readers, on my last Limited Spotlight, I decided to do a follow-up! I don’t have a Tier List for this set, but I will provide the grades I would give the cards if I were making one right now. See my Theros Beyond Death Limited Tier List for the Legend, in case you’re not familiar.
We’re doing overrated rather than underrated cards this time, which I honestly kind of found a blast to write; perhaps it says bad things about me that I had more fun tearing into the bad cards than hyping up the good ones… In any case, I hope you find this just as amusing a read as I did in writing it! I’ll be doing a followup for underrated cards in the next couple of days, stay tuned for that.
As always, my aim is not just to write about overrated cards, but to teach you about the context in which cards present themselves and to impart more general lessons about drafting using them to illustrate. I also noted some differences between the platforms on which you can play best-of-three and Arena, since whether you can sideboard cards in matters a lot for card evaluation.
I try to avoid repeating myself this article, so you might miss a little context if you skip to the later cards in it. If something’s not clear, jump back and look at older cards, or just ask me!
I’ve put Swirling Torrent first as it inspired me to do overrated rather than underrated cards, because really I have a lot to talk about for this one and some more general lessons to impart here. The trouble is that it’s one of those classic cards where people tend to remember the times where it was a colossal blowout and you just won the game immediately! In reality, Torrent is a pure tempo card and those tend to have very varied effects based on how the game is going for you…
We need to look at Torrent as a whole to evaluate it correctly… there are three cases a Limited player generally looks at for a weird spell like this – situations when you’re ahead, at parity, or behind. Here’s a strategy article from pro player Reid Duke himself on this analysis method; I won’t go over what he says again so just come back when you’re ready!
So now, let’s look at Torrent through these lenses;
- it’s really good when you’re ahead because it will generally just kill them – if you can follow Torrent up by attacking for a load of damage and then they have to play an expensive creature again, you might well just be able to go around it and win (or just win off the initial attack). This assumes you’re bouncing expensive creatures and they don’t have much on the board after since Torrent only bounces two, but you’re ahead so that’s probably going to be the case mostly.
- At parity, when you have the same number of creatures, Torrent can still be pretty good but it’s certainly a lot worse – now you’re not really pushing gigantic damage, you’re not forcing them to trade down or chump, and they might well have time to replay both creatures. So two turns from now, you might be looking at the same board state but they’ll be on 5 instead of 13 – did that Torrent for 8 damage do as much there as any other 6 drop would’ve done? Maybe your flier can kill them now, maybe the 6 drop would’ve just been stonewalled by their creatures anyway but it’s not really that likely because other 6 drops tend to be good too, or why would you be playing them in your deck? When you look at Torrent from this angle of comparison, it doesn’t look that great. And the worst is yet to come…
- Torrent is total garbage when you’re behind. It might buy you an extra turn or two before you die but it won’t get rid of their threats; they’ll lose a draw and nothing else from your Torrent. You won’t have affected the board at all, because in one or two turns they’ll be back in full force. It bears mentioning that this is the most important of the three scenarios – you really want cards that help you when you’re behind in most decks, especially 6 drops that stabilise you.
But Drifter, you cry, I’m only going to play Torrent in decks where I’m going to be ahead all the time! Right, and Torrent is certainly better there, I agree, but being ahead all the time is easier said than done… the format isn’t as slow as recent formats like ELD and TBD but it’s still not super fast. There will still be games where you’re on the draw, where they’ve already stabilised and you topdeck Torrent and you wish it were anything else. At least a creature will block and deal with their stuff, at least a flier will represent the ability to win the game. It doesn’t help that neither Simic nor Azorius tend to be particularly aggressive…
In the world of RNA, games are going to go long and your Gates opponent who’s had great removal all game will have left you only able to attack with your weakest creatures after you Torrent. We haven’t even mentioned the pain the other best deck will inflict on you if you try to beat them with burst damage… Torrent is an absolute joke when it’s bouncing two small value creatures and you still don’t have great attacks into your opponents on 30. It’s laughably bad against Orzhov.
Cosmotronic Wave was good in Guilds because it didn’t matter how many creatures your opponents had, a Wave would kill them all the same, and Boros was great so the format was much faster. It doesn’t help that Torrent is a sorcery; If it were an instant, their recovery time would be so much slower. Even then, it wouldn’t be busted or anything but it would be far far better and much more comparable to old cards like
As I’ve hopefully shown, the base case of Swirling Torrent is actually pretty bad; a decent proportion of the time it just won’t do what you want it to do. Let’s look at other 6 drops: your Archway Angel will gain you a bunch of life if you’re taking Gates highly and then has a great body, your Prying Eyes will win the late game, your Consigns will take out any creature; they’ll pretty much always have a relevant and consistent effect on the game if you can cast them. You really have to compare the cards you play to what you could instead be playing in that slot, and Torrent just doesn’t win any comparisons. I haven’t given it an F because I don’t think it’s totally unplayable; there are some especially aggressive decks that might want it (especially if you’re drafting something weird like Dimir), or those that just don’t have any other late game. Back when sideboards were around or in your paper games, you could sometimes bring in Torrent to combat slow midrange decks that are based around a few expensive creatures, and have it be great there so it’s worth taking a little higher on that basis, but all in all I would really recommend avoiding this card.
Grade: C- in Simic, C+ in Gruul, D in Gates, pick at C early
Biogenic Upgrade is a card often taken in the B range, and I really feel like it shouldn’t be. The fact is it just doesn’t do what Green wants in this format; the green decks in the format tend to be either Adapt Midrange, Gruul, or Gates so let’s look at each:
- Adapt decks have plenty to do on 6 mana; Sauroform Hybrid is a great common and they already actively want to hit that land drop, and the nature of the deck is they have a million ways to use their mana anyway. It’s the deck in the format that least needs dedicated 6 drops, and Upgrade even has some antisynergy in that you have to have already Adapted the creatures you put the counters on to avoid losing value. Adapted creatures are big enough to overwhelm the format anyway; Upgrade ends up just being overkill most of the time unless the counters go on Flying or Trample creatures, of which there are some but the vast majority tend to be just ground beaters. Upgrade gets a bit better in decks where you have a lot of Aeromunculi or Chillbringers (both of which you’re taking highly anyway), but this is still a good recipe to lose to Orzhov and Rakdos. I tend to think of Upgrade as a good sideboard card for this archetype, and just a medium playable.
- Gruul decks make best use of Upgrade. They have plenty of creatures that really benefit from being buffed, from Frenzied Arynx to Rubblebelt Runner to Gruul Beastmaster, there’s no Adapt anti-synergy, and they’re beatdowny so a) they have less good ways to use mana late and b) Biogenic Upgrade is far more likely to kill the turn you play it. However, Sauroform Hybrid still lingers in this archetype, and you also have other decent 6 drop uncommons in Flames of the Raze Boar and Rumbling Ruin to contend with, and Flames wins that war. Being beatdowny means you still don’t want to run too many 6 drops, but it is nice that Upgrade enables the other two and your other “creature with 4 power or greater” synergies. This is a good pick in Gruul.
- This card is total trash in Gates. It’s just not what you want in your removal pile + great creatures deck at all. Dear God, Gatebreaker Ram and Gateway Colossus are big enough! You just want to spend your picks on more Gates, payoffs, and good removal.
RNA has pretty good removal too; it’s not like you’re always going to have a bunch of creatures on t6 and if you dump them all on one, your opponent better be on a pretty low life total or not have many cards in hand. Biogenic Upgrade suffers from a much less crippling version of the Torrent problem, where it’s a 6 drop which forces you to make awkward plays around it and sometimes to do bad things. Bad things are better than nothing for Torrent, but the card is still not a really high pick.
Bring to Trial
Grade: C in Azorius, D+ in Orzhov, take at C- early
Let me preface this by saying that Bring to Trial is a great Sideboard card; if you’re playing paper or on MTGO, you want to raise the grade a little since it’ll be better as a late pick than other C-s for sure. It’ll bail you out vs Gate Colossus where other cards might well fail you. That being said, Bring to Trial isn’t an amazing maindeck card in this format; more of a necessary evil that Azorius sometimes has to run (but even they usually don’t), and yet I see people take it highly all the time and tier lists tend to overrate it a bit (though not egregiously).
The removal is really good in Orzhov in Ravnica Allegiance. That means they really don’t need to resort to this sort of thing, to have a mostly dead card against the mirror or Rakdos for the sake of gaining a little bit against Gruul or Simic. When you have four or five great other removal spells minimum, your need for this sort of card goes way down. Being a card down can easily decide games, and you really don’t want to risk having this card unless you have to.
Sometimes in Azorius, you have to. Maybe you didn’t get enough Summary Judgments and Sky Tethers, but this is really never a card you should be excited to have, and you should be looking to replace it. If you already have a few good removal spells in for example mid pack 2, just don’t take it because you probably won’t need it but it’s not quite as bad when you have to play it – you have better blockers than Orzhov for small things anyway with all your 1/3s and 2/5s and such.
I fear a lot of people just look at situational removal spells like this and default to their being good, when there’s really no reason to think that they will be in a particular format. How good this sort of effect is is very sporadic in Magic; in Theros: Beyond Death, Triumphant Surge is a much better card but still not an amazing pick or anything, and that has the upside of having some additional effects like being instant and gaining life that are worth paying extra for in a much slower format where you can afford to hold onto your spells more.
Cry of the Carnarium
Grade: C-. Higher if your deck is shaping up to be one that can actually support it.
Bad in Rakdos. Worse in Orzhov. My most hilarious Cry moment was when I saw a friend cast Cry for an insane blowout of like six creatures, play three 2 drops they were sandbagging the turn after, and then run into an opposing Cry that the opponent had been holding all game because their entire board died to it. It turns out that blowing up your own board is not a good way to win games; I see opponents all the time kill four of my creatures and three of their creatures with Cry because they’re tired of waiting and getting chipped down, and each time I wonder if they really couldn’t have done better…
As I said before, the format is very small creature-oriented. Most of your 2 drops in Rakdos and Orzhov will be x/1s and you’ll even have expensive x/2s like Griffin, which die to Cry all the same. Sandbagging is one option, but chip damage is so important to enable Spectacle and to maximise the power of cards like Ill-Gotten Inheritance and Grasping Thrull that you won’t want to most of the time. Sandbagging is only an option in the Mirrors anyway – if you ever play against a Green deck or Azorius, then you might be lucky to hit one creature with it. Sometimes you’ll be able to attack and then cast it, but that still involves some sandbagging so your bystanders don’t all die too… it’s just not worth it.
Cry is a much better card in Bo3, where you can board it in in the mirror and sandbagging will be more realistic, especially on the draw. If you’re playing in paper or on MTGO, you should probably take the card as more of a C in the average Rakdos/Orzhov deck on that basis. On Arena though, the card really won’t be that great for you and you shouldn’t take it at anything beyond C- early. Even then I feel like I’m being a bit generous because when it works, it really works, but in the other 5 or 6 games, it’ll be total trash, and that’s what you need to focus on.
Now, that’s not to say there are no Rakdos or Orzhov decks where Cry is good in the maindeck; they’re just rare. You need to not be playing cards like Plague Wight, Rakdos Roustabout, Noxious Groodion (which are all decent cards, and Plague Wight is great; look out for it in the underrated cards article!); your 2 drops need to be more along the lines of Rakdos Trumpeter and Concordia Pegasus (so your deck has to basically be worse because those cards aren’t as good). If your deck is looking like it’ll shape up like that late in the draft, you can take Cry very highly, possibly in the B- or so range, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Clear the Mind
Grade: F outside dedicated Clear the Mind decks
Important EDIT/Clarification: Some friends I trust were kind enough to tell me that there’s a way to draft completely around Clear the Mind as its own archetype in a creatureless control deck on Arena and have it be very good, especially in best-of-one where people can’t board out their removal. I drafted RNA mostly in paper, so this strange aspect of the Arena format has eluded me – Gates get taken much higher in paper, so it’s harder to draft both the namesake deck and strange decks with lots of colours like this one, and it’s harder to rely on your synergies panning out as people are much less predictable than bots.
I assessed Clear the Mind’s strength here as a card that people slot into the average deck, which I see all the time and where I stand by my words below. So, I still consider it an F in random decks that don’t use it as a focus point, but I’m amending my statement slightly. I plan to investigate the dedicated archetype properly; I see my friends’ claims as putting a responsibility on me to do some research and verify my viewpoints. So until then, take my words below with a grain of salt, but still don’t put Clear the Mind/take it highly in decks where you aren’t properly building around it!
Even long after the format has been and gone, Clear the Mind is still chronically overrated and gets played all the time in decks where it’s a very poor fit; in the two Allegiance drafts I’ve done in the last couple of days, I saw the card played no less than five times (two from one unfortunate opponent) in random Azorius fliers and Gates decks, and it never did anything. I don’t really want to beat a dead horse, but I’m lower than most people on this anyway and it felt like the list was incomplete without it.
I’m going to keep it short and sweet: the vast majority of decks in RNA have no reason to want Clear the Mind and will be hurt by having it; there’s no mill, the Azorius decks are all about trying to beat down with evasive creatures alongside great blockers, rather than trying to control the board as much, The games just are not about stall forever, and cards like Ill-Gotten Inheritance and Rhythm of the Wild will ensure that you can’t.
The Gates decks get to play great wincons in every colour so you really don’t need to shuffle that Gate Colossus or Gatebreaker Ram back in to win the game; you’ll manage, believe me! The cost of playing 3 mana do absolutely nothing when the other best deck is Orzhov could easily be gamelosing, and the gain is you might win one game in a hundred you wouldn’t have won anyway. Draft evaluation is about looking at average case, and the average case of the other cards you can put in this slot will almost always be better.
Grade: D+ in Azorius, C in Orzhov, bad as an early pick
So the problem with Torrent was complex and I had to go over a bunch of different situations to show you. The problem with this card is that 2 in the bottom right isn’t a 3. Yes, that’s all. Senate Griffin looks like it would do what Azorius wants; it just flies over and kills them, right? Well no, because what actually happens is it flies over and you die. Orzhov is the menace of Ravnica Allegiance; it competes for best deck with Gates and usually wins, and having 4 drops that can’t block is really not where you can afford to be against them. You cannot afford to take much chip damage, because they have Ill-Gotten Inheritance and Grasping Thrull at Commmon to really punish that, and even their Spirit tokens + removal can add up to a lot of pain. On the turn you play Senate Griffin, you basically hold up a banner that says “I played nothing this turn guys, come get me!” and then their army of 2/xs get to swing in and then a few turns later, they’ll burn you out. I’m not saying that happens literally every time but the card is really bad when you’re behind and it’s still pretty bad when you’re at parity – then your Gruul opponent or whatever probably played a much bigger creature and their 2/2s and 3/3s still get to attack. The nightmare scenario is 3 drop + Skewer or 2 drop + Scorchmark, and that’s probably just a gamelosing tempo swing; Azorius doesn’t even have other good targets for Scorchmark, so that’s pretty likely to happen. I consider Senate Griffin a D+ in Azorius and am rarely happy to play it.
So if you can’t beat them, why not join them? Senate Griffin is much better in Orzhov, and that’s why I haven’t given it a D overall. In a format full of Gates, it’s not too hard to fix there, and it actually does do what Orzhov wants – keep their aggressive lead going. Your deck is weak to Scorchmark anyway, so they’re less likely to have it on turn 4 and it’s less bad because then your Ministrant of Obligation or whatever might live. That being said, I think people still overrate it because Orzhov is jampacked full of good 4 drops anyway. I would way rather have other 4 drops like Ill-Gotten Inheritance, Undercity Scavenger, or Syndicate Messenger; none of those are even going to tax my mana and they’re all fellow commons.
So really, just don’t take this card early outside of really weak packs.
Thanks for reading and look out for that underrated cards followup! I’d be overjoyed to get your feedback/constructive criticism on how well I’ve explained things and feel free to ask me any questions, as always.
As always, you can find all my other articles, the whole shebang from Limited Set Reviews + Tier List to Strategy Articles to Deck Guides, at mtgazone.com/drifter. If you don’t see anything specific then I’d recommend my last strategy article, Heuristics in Magic, which gives advice and tips on how to optimise your learning to maximise your improvement in the shortest period of time!
- I offer draft coaching at negotiable rates! Learn some fundamental skills in just a few short hours.
- If you’re looking for Limited streamers to watch, I’d recommend twitch.tv/justlolaman: a longtime friend of mine, strong drafter, and good teacher.
- The MTG Arena Zone discord: https://discord.gg/SPYMExR. Engage with your favourite arenazone content creators there, myself included!