Hi! This is a new series I’m doing as a supplement to my Theros Beyond Death Limited Tier List, that provides some quick analysis on certain aspects of the Limited format. I recently updated my tier list; check out the notes here!
Unlike my Reviews at the beginning of the format, these are tried and tested viewpoints I express; I’ve been especially impressed with these cards as compared to how I’ve seen other people rate/evaluate them. I’ve included a lot of analysis of playing both with and against the cards, along with some tips for evaluating and adjusting your assessment of cards to account for the environment they’re in, which is one of the most important high level skills to learn in Draft.
I’ll be focusing on commons and uncommons, as they’re the most important cards to the Limited format; rares will come around every so often but these are the cards that’ll be in a lot of your decks, and that you’ll have to play around a lot. I’ve picked a selection that I’ve used to best illustrate my overview of the format, rather than just random underrated cards.
I’ve only done 6 cards rather than the 10 people normally do, because I tried to focus on the learning angle a lot and had a lot to say for some of them as a result. Regardless, I’ll be doing six more hits later this week if it seems as though you lot like this style; please consider leaving some feedback or constructive criticism!
This isn’t in any specific order, though it should be clear which cards I think are more underrated than others based on how much I’ve written and what I’ve said!
Aspect of Lamprey
Tier List Grade: C+
This is a great format for Aspect of Lamprey. Ordinarily Mind Rot effects in Limited have a few things holding them back, but let’s see why that doesn’t apply to Aspect as much this format:
- Mind Rot effects don’t generally add to the board. Giving a creature lifesteal alleviates this somewhat; it can easily win you races and transform a reasonably sized creature into a major threat. Still, Aspect doesn’t offer nearly as much tempo as other 4 drops, but more importantly this isn’t a very fast format, so it’s fine to play some cards that don’t affect the board in a major way.
- Mind Rot effects fall off in the late game when hands tend not to have cards in them. This is where being a slow format comes into play again; in a format where people are playing more expensive cards, they won’t be emptying their hands all that fast and Blue decks especially are likely to have cards in their hand well into the late game since they play tons of card draw and countermagic. So this is still a downside here, but a much lesser one as compared to other formats.
- Mind Rot effects don’t combine well. This is something that’s still true for Aspect; you generally don’t want to take the card too early because the second copy is a bit worse (the first copy is like a low C+ in the first two packs and then a mid or high C+ depending on your deck in the last pack, and the second copy is like a mid or high C most of the time), but honestly I’ve been happy to play two copies often. Remember that if you have looting/cards like Thirst for Meaning, you can also just ditch the second copy so it gets a bit better.
There are a few other ahem aspects to Aspect’s overperformance. Firstly, this is the Enchantment synergy format; you want a high density of Enchantments to benefit Constellation cards, to trigger the Red White Heroic mechanic easily, and to turn on cards like Karametra’s Blessing, Rise of Glory, and Heliod’s Pilgrims. Heliod’s Pilgrim is a pillar of the format and has fantastic synergy with Aspect – it means that you can get Aspect as a silver bullet when you need it and get some other aura that best befits the situation when you don’t, and with multiple Pilgrims you get all the benefit of having multiple Aspects without the downside of potentially having to draw too many in a game. Every aura is better in this format than in most.
All this being said, there are certainly matchups where you want to board this card out, such as against anything aggressive.
Enemy of Enlightenment
Tier List Grade: C+
I’ve found that people are very hesitant to play Enemy, but I’ve been pretty happy with it. Let’s first talk about its major downside, and why people tend to underrate it – you can’t play Enemy when your opponents have four or more cards in hand (because they’ll draw and it’ll die) or if you think they have card draw right now. If they have three cards, they really only have one turn to draw cards before its ability puts it out of range, and it’s not that easy to draw multiple cards (cantrips wont affect Enemy!). Being unable to play it tends to come up a lot more against Blue decks than others, since most other decks won’t have tons of cards in hand in the later game or have much card draw, and even then it’s usually specifically Thirst for Meaning you’re fearing. The flipside is that the ability is exceptionally good against blue decks so it’s fantastic if you get to land it and they don’t have card draw.
My experience is that I almost never have Enemy stuck in my hand the entire game in games where 6 drops wouldn’t be stuck anyway, unless my opponent is mana screwed or something (a spot that favours me anyway) and when I am able to play it, it enables itself and becomes big very fast. This is because the format is so slow – it often doesn’t matter that much if you can’t play Enemy immediately because you’ll have other stuff to play. If you do manage to land Enemy when they have three cards in hand and you have zero, it’s often just devastating because the discard ability will generate you value. The card is much better on the play than draw for this reason, and better against decks with ramp.
I mention Enemy right after Aspect because the cards combine really well – stripping their hand to jam Enemy as a giant flier sooner helps alleviate this downside a lot. You shouldn’t take Aspect higher because Enemy exists, but you should absolutely take Enemy a little higher because Aspect exists – it’s much easier to rely on getting specific common/s than uncommon/s.
Certainly if you’re on the draw, you can think about boarding out Enemy. you should be thinking about regardless since 6 drops are a bit worse on the draw anyway, as you’re more likely to get run over and will have less need of them given that you have the extra card as flood protection.
Tier List Grade: C+
I’ve seen a bunch of other tier lists give Karametra’s Blessing merely a C or C- (2.5 or 2.0 by the LSV tier list). I strongly disagree; in my experience, the card is absolute nuts and that the first copy is a high C+. White has an abundance of fantastic auras, it has Heliod’s Pilgrim which is a nuts aura enabler, there are plenty of Enchantment creatures, and the card costs just 1 mana to give both hexproof and indestructible when you use it on a enchanted creature; the ones you want to be protecting anyway!
Usually when I slam my Staggering Insight or Commanding Presence onto a creature with 1 mana up for K Blessing, I feel like I basically can’t lose. Even if they have two removal spells, I’ve probably gotten insane tempo with my 1 mana counterspell. I’ve been happy to run as many as 3 K Blessings in my heavy creature/aura count decks because the card is so cheap and even when you don’t have an aura, the failcase is still good; 2/+2 for 1 mana is just solid and you get to enable your “cast first spell on opponent’s turn” and heroic synergies for free. In this case, I don’t think people have been rating it as a mediocre card so much as failing to realise that the bots have been updated a lot, and it’s rarer to get K Blessings really late (as it should be). I think with the new bots, you should absolutely take the card highly and almost never cut it, aside from in your more controlling Azorius decks/other decks with low creature counts.
Tier List Grade: B–
I’m not sure if I’m beating a dead horse here, since I know a lot of people have talked before about how good Nessian Wanderer is, but I still do get lots of people confused in my coaching sessions and comments and such about why I consider this card easily the best of the six in this article.
Nessian Wanderer is really easy to enable this format so it essentially reads “1/3 for 2 which means you never miss a land drop for the rest of the game” if played early on. You can cut down to 16 lands if you have a couple of these (it doesn’t really matter if you miss once as a result, because your deck will have so many Enchantments anyway) and it will provide free fixing. In a slow format, this is invaluable – with Escape creatures, you can often double spell really late in the game with 10 or 11 lands.
There are also quite a few ways to break this effect – if you have looting effects such as Oread of Mountain’s Blaze, you can convert your free lands into real draws. With shuffle effects like Heliod’s Pilgrim, the thinning aspect of removing potentially six or seven lands from your deck will make your draws very likely to be live in the late game (in the really late game, you don’t even need the shuffle effect since you’ll just have gone through your library anyway).
And what’s the cost of all this? Playing a card that’s reasonable on curve anyway – as a 1/3 for 2, it will block 2/2s just fine. The only place this card is bad is in really aggressive decks, and those are very rare – most aggressive decks in this format tend to have Escape creatures and such which mean they can use their mana late.
Tier List Grade: C
Here’s another one I underrated a bit, and that I think a lot of people still are; I’ve heard the word “unplayable” thrown around a lot (which for a card like one is always going to be hugely hyperbolic…). I’m not saying Shelly is making huge waves but the splashes he makes aren’t of no consequence either. Here’s my list of reasons:
- A lot of the Turtle’s value comes from being fantastic with Blue’s set mechanic, having direct synergy with cards like Stinging Lionfish, and playinh really well with counterspells because you don’t have to waste your mana. All in all, he perfectly suits the controlling Blue decks; you really don’t want to be burning removal on smaller threats, and you won’t have to!
- Anyone experienced in playing flier decks in Draft will tell you that good blockers are at a premium there because your opponent’s main plan is going to be to race with their more efficient ground creatures. As usual, Blue has the heaviest density of fliers so…
- Destroy removal and small blockers don’t counteract Escape creatures well, but Shelly sure does! If you just block Voracious Typhon over and over then they won’t be able to get their 7/7 online to smash through, or get any value from one of the best cards in their deck.
- Aggro is a lot better now. The draft bots have been updated a lot to curb the incredible power of the slow Black and White decks and Red tends to be open a lot more these days. Having solid all-round cards like this that will do things in other matchups and still be great in aggro matchups is a great approach for combating aggro’s resurgence.
- Creatures are small this format; there aren’t a lot with 5 power. There are several 4/3s for 4 at common and those are just embarrassing against Shelly; he really neuters both red and green decks.
- Decks in this format don’t go really wide either; there aren’t a lot of good ways to generate tokens. Even in Boros, that tends to be on uncommons and a card like Hero of the Games might well not be big enough to attack through Shelly even with a Heroic trigger.
Tier List Grade: C
This is one I underrated myself, giving it merely a D in my initial reviews. I actually think the Rage-Hound is a mid or even high C nowadays and that’s for a few reasons:
- Three cards is a really cheap Escape cost. The Hound gets to keep raging over and over and over…
- There aren’t a lot of good Escape cards in Red so the Hound’s stock goes way up when your other colour doesn’t have many either. This is the main reason I haven’t been that impressed with Underworld Charger, but have with this. In Izzet or Boros decks, I would take the Rage-Hound at low C+ because you really want to have an Escape card this format and this is the best common one those colours have. If you don’t have one, you just tend to fall behind later on because your opponents essentially have access to several extra cards with their stocked graveyards. You still need to be at least vaguely aggressive, but this is a great payoff for that.
- As I said, creatures just aren’t that big this format; profitably blocking the Rage-Hound outside of Green doesn’t tend to happen until t5 (you might want to board it out if you’re facing Nexus Wardens, Voracious Typhons or Nyxborn Coursers, that being said) and at that point, you’ve gotten plenty of damage in. If your opponent ends up having to trade their 2 drop in to avoid taking 6 or 9 and then you just Escape the card back later, that’s an amazing deal for a low investment. There’s also plenty of good removal for big creatures; chances are unless your other colour is Green, you’ll have access to Triumphant Surge or Final Death or one of the myriad aura removal tools so they won’t actually be able to stop the Hound that way and will be forced to use their own exile/aura removal on your 2 drop.
- People aren’t as prepared for aggro in general, because it was so much worse at the start of the format when bots weren’t assessing black’s strength correctly. It’s still harder to get the tools necessary for a great aggro deck than a slower deck but you tend to just run over a lot of unprepared opponents when you do; this is an effect we’ve seen in Sealed formats since their existence. So opponents won’t be playing those mediocre Nyxborn Coursers, they won’t be playing walls that much, they’ll be forced to trade often. Good aggro decks aren’t generally bad in slow formats; they’re just hard to put together.
About the Author
As always, you can find all my other articles, the whole shebang from Limited Set Reviews 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 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.
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