With RNA’s return to best-of-one and good feedback from you, my lovely readers, on my first Limited Spotlight, I decided to do a two-part follow-up covering overrated and underrated cards in that format! This is the second part; you can find overrated cards here. I don’t have a Tier List for this set, but I will provide grade I would give the cards, were I making one right now. See my TBD tier list for the Legend, in case you’re not familiar.
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’ll be sticking to commons and uncommons since they’re the most important cards/the ones you’ll see the most in Draft.
Code of Constraint
This fantastic little cantrip really shines on the back of its versatility through a variety of modes that together mean that the card is good in basically every blue deck. I think a lot of people just look at it as “one of those awkward instants that don’t do much”, without factoring in that cards like Befuddle aren’t good because they tend to have a lot of failcases where they don’t do anything. Code has two main modes that cover most scenarios:
- You attack into them and use it to kill a blocker. This is the best mode since it’s a clean 2 for 1, if it works, and it’s reasonably likely to if they don’t have a bunch of mana up. This is the mode that really shines in Simic – your creatures are naturally big, they’ll often have to double block, and you’ll just get to blow them out. You can also sometimes do the reverse – let them attack into you and then Code to take out an attacker that would otherwise trade. This is often pretty scary to do, since they probably have a bunch of mana untapped and won’t attack unless they have something, but Adapt cards can conceal Code really well and you can always do things like triple block the now 0 power attacker for safety from tricks and removal.
- You use it in your main phase to gain a bunch of life against an attacker/remove a blocker for a turn and replace itself. While this is less devastating, it’s still good for you – you get a full turn cycle of a creature not being able to attack or block which often represents both 4 or 5 life and potentially a lot of damage with your Azorius fliers or huge Simic creatures. Even in Gates, buying some time for free is absolutely on-plan.
Together these two modes mean that Code is great when you’re ahead or at parity, because you get to deal a bunch of damage and gain some life without costing yourself a card, and decent when you’re behind – it’s rare that you’re really unhappy to have Code at any point. Code also has all manner of sweet situational plays and “gotcha” moments you can construct with it:
- Code often comes in handy for blowing out tricks and fight effects – you can block with your creature, wait for your opponent to cast a trick, and then get a 2 for 1 by trading for the trick and drawing a card. If the trick boosts toughness, their creature won’t die, but sometimes you’ll also be able to hose Titanic Brawl or Storm Strike for the truly absurd blowout.
- You can Code your own creature to counter Bring to Trial! I’ve had this come up quite a lot, Bring to Trial being a sorcery and all. This is why you really want to Bring to Trial in your second main phase when they have 3 mana up in Blue, because they might just cycle it to gain some life if you threaten an attack and so you get to avoid the blowout. This also works against Consume, giving you the option to instead sacrifice your second biggest creature.
- Bladebrand is a very heavily played card in Orzhov and Code is great against it – they’ll still draw the card off Brand, but they lose 2 mana, their creature (and your creature lives), and a card that’s really powerful in that archetype.
- There are a bunch of cards in the set that reward you for having creatures with power 4 or greater, which Code can sometimes shut off! This comes up especially with Flames of the Raze Boar, but just preventing Clear the Stage from picking up a creature can be a big game.
- Being able to deny Spectacle at critical moments is often key; preventing Blade Juggler from being cast on 3 when you’re on the play will sometimes just force them to pass the turn, for example.
All in all, Code ends up being a real headache for your opponents to play around, and something they have to keep in mind in a multitude of situations. It isn’t one of those cards that often just cycles itself or rots in your hand, because you’ll almost always have something useful to do with it. I like taking it pretty early and don’t mind playing multiples.
While I’m certain that nobody thinks Oligarch is bad, I’ve found that a lot of people don’t rate or pick it nearly highly enough; you should be taking it early and often as it’s one of the best 2 drops you can get and one you actively want. Undercity Scavenger and Final Payment are two of the best commons in Orzhov, and Oligarch enables those fantastically while being a great card by itself – it’s a card they never want to trade with because the Spirit puts you so far ahead, so it’ll essentially just disable other 2 drops; x/2 is a very common statline in Allegiance. Vigilance means they’re never really safe; their 2 drops can’t attack or block. Oligarch can deter their own attacks, since if they don’t have an x/3 or higher, you can just crack back and still have it available to double block with or whatever. Numerous times I’ve seen people forced to use Grotesque Demise on your 2 drop, and they’re usually not wrong to do it because it represents so much value and longevity.
I think it’s because the card looks unassuming that people get into the mindset that they don’t need to take it highly but the fact is that a 2 drop is great early and good with your synergies late is just a premium pick. Chip damage is really important in Orzhov; it makes your Ill-Gotten Inheritances and Grasping Thrulls absolutely deadly but even a 1/1 Spirit (such as the one Oligarch provides you himself) often gets the job done, so having good beatdown 2 drops really matters. Oligarch is also great with Bladebrand, and that’s a card you probably want at least 1 of.
Make no mistake; if you’re seeing Oligarchs go past fifth or sixth pick at any point, you should be considering moving into Orzhov; it’s the best faction pair anyway and that’s a strong sign either the bots or the people in your paper drafts have left it more open than it should be.
Grade: B- in Rakdos, C+ in Orzhov, even out to C+ early
I know, I know, why am I harping on about another Orzhov 2 drop? Well, would it help if I told you this card was even better in Rakdos? Plague Wight is good in a weird and exceptional way in RNA so I really wanted to cover it too, and what I have to say about it is completely different. Whereas Oligarch is a great 2 drop in practically any format, there are certain aspects to this format which make Plague Wight the nuts…
I already talked about how good chip damage was in Orzhov; well it’s just as good in Rakdos because you really want to enable Spectacle (especially for known busted card Blade Juggler, which is great in both). Plague Wight is a 2 drop that trades with 3 drops; the creatures in the format are small and decks like Simic and Azorius don’t generally have good 2 drops so they end up relying on their 3s to help stabilise them. The format’s statlines for 2 drops tend to be mainly 2/1 or 1/3, and Plague Wight is unblockable against those. Also, good luck blocking it with a Goblin Gathering or Spirit tokens. The average case of Plague Wight is it tends to deal 4-6 damage and then trade up with a 3 or sometimes even a 4 drop; that’s not a joke. In Rakdos, this is the best common 2 drop you can get and you should take them early and often. My decks which had 4 or 5 Plague Wights were usually the really busted ones in Rakdos.
In Orzhov, Plague Wight is a little worse because there are other great 2 drops like Oligarch and this one doesn’t directly help your synergies, so I’ve knocked it down to C+, but it’s still great. This is a great way to enable Blade Juggler, so if you have a few of those then you can take it at B-.
The Wight is a little worse on the draw, but he’ll still trade up and do some damage most of the time, and it’s not like your Rakdos deck is lacking for removal to stop creatures that blank him (and Orzhov is just a joke in how many great removal options it gets).
Grade: B- in slow decks, C+ as an early pick
Most people know that Sky Tether performs well alongside evasive creatures and fits Azorius fliers really well, but I’ve come round on Sky Tether just being a solid card in many decks in the format. Obviously, you still don’t want it if you’re trying to beat down, but it’s great in any deck that wants to prolong the game. For example, the average Orzhov deck won’t want it but if you have a bunch of Ill-Gotten Inheritances then it’s fantastic – your aim there is to prolong the game until IGI kills them; you’re more of a control deck with good early game in that spot, and Sky Tether fits that plan perfectly. Sky Tether is also great in most Gates decks, because you can very much rely on your gameplan overwhelming your opponents in the late game there; you won’t care if they have random 3/3 defenders lying around if you’re attacking with Gate Colossus or a giant Gatebreaker Ram, or it’s just going to get swept for free with a Gates Ablaze at some point anyway.
The tempo swing from having 1 mana removal is worth incorporating quite a lot of risk, because the swing of being able to go e.g. t5 disable a major threat and also play a 4 drop is often just gamewinning. I think Sky Tether goes far too late in general, and people pigeonhole on the idea that it’s a fliers card too much; it’s just a good card in any deck that wants to go late. If you’re playing best-of-three, Tether is also a pretty good card to board in against aggro for most decks.
It’s worth noting that all these arguments also apply to Slimebind; the card is substantially worse, but it fills the same sort of role where it’s not just a fliers only card but onethat works well in any deck trying to prolong the game.
Grade: C+ in Gruul, C in Simic
One card I was surprised to see perform as well as it has is this rather unassuming common… Rendhorn lines up well against a format full of small creatures and fliers; the Azorius decks have a ton of good blockers in the 3-5 toughness range, and it can smash straight through them. The power of a 4/4 haste represents a lot of sudden pressure and reach, meaning that the Rendhorn performs especially well in Gruul, where it’s the best common 5 drop available (the other options being Mammoth Spider and Rubblebelt Recluse).
Simic tends to be a bit on the slower side so it ends up happier with Mammoth Spider, and has a fantastic common 5 drop in Chillbringer along with just better ways to use mana late in the form of Adapt. That being said, Rendhorn is still good since it blocks better than anything else Simic gets and alongside a flier, can again be a massive amount of unexpected pressure and racing potential.
With smaller Riot creatures, there tends to be a clear better option to pick e.g. you almost never give Zhur-Taa Goblin haste unless you’re trying to alpha strike, but Rendhorn’s power is in how versatile both its modes are; Rendhorn ends up just being solid whether you’re attacking or blocking, ahead or behind. It tends to wheel on Arena a lot more than it should, and you should absolutely snap it up when it does.
Grade: D but they’ll usually wheel!
This one only really applies to Arena and is a bit more of a fun one! The bots really don’t value Goblin Gathering at all, and it’s very easy to pick up loads on the wheel. At the point where you have 4 or 5, Goblin Gathering is actually a pretty good card and you can start taking cards like Burn Bright, Rally to Battle, and Civic Stalwart much higher (yes, Boros/Mardu is actually a good place to be here!). If you can get an Angelic Exaltation, that’s just in a league of its own here. There are also payoffs in Rakdos to watch out for like Vindictive Vampire, Fireblade Artist, Bloodmist Infiltrator, and Undercity Scavenger. Even if you don’t have specific synergies, this is just a package you can incorporate into a normal deck; your army of goblins will still be great at dissuading attacks and going wide.
This is a plan that’s not great against Gates Ablaze, Dagger Caster, or Cry of the Carnarium but those are specific uncommons, and it’ll be pretty quick to reload when your next Gathering is for four or five goblins. None of this means you should take Goblin Gathering highly, but you should take note of its place in packs and how many you can wheel, and formulate a plan in case you do get there; honestly early on taking Goblin Gathering over mediocre cards is a fine thing to do anyway. Tracking wheels is much easier with a deck tracker such as MTG Arena Tool or MTGA Assistant, so I do recommend getting one of those.
Thanks for reading!
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!
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