Last week I began analyzing M14 Limited by looking at key cards from blue, red, and white. Today I'm back to finish up the evaluation with the black, green, and artifact cards. I've continued drafting the set a ton this past week, and I'm still in love. Gerard Fabiano and I have been running drafts together every other night on Skype, and I'm pretty sure we're both masters now. It's going to be very tough for me to decide between traveling to Baltimore to play in the Open Series and going Pennsylvania for the M14 Sealed PTQ this coming weekend. The Open Series definitely wins in the "value" department, but I'm not sure I can pass an M14 Limited tournament up; it's just that good.
For those of you who are going to be taking the PTQ route or are planning on going to Grand Prix Oakland, let's get things started with black.
Accursed Spirit: Accursed Spirit has a few good things going for it and a few strikes against it. On the plus side, it's a three-power evasive creature for four mana—about the rate you can expect on a good Limited card. It's great at closing out games and provides a reasonable clock that your opponent might just be unable to interact with. Lastly, it's one of the best black creatures at carrying an Aura.
It's big downside it that is it's easier to stop than it might appear. Obviously, against an opponent playing black, it's going to be a bit worse than a Hill Giant. Unfortunately, Sliver Construct is also a card everyone has access to. While players without a Sliver theme might not play it maindeck, expect to see them board a few in if you win game 1 on the back of an Accursed Spirit. Shock is also incredible against Accursed Spirit. Paying one mana to remove a four-mana threat is a pretty huge tempo swing.
Even with its flaws, I still like to play a few Accursed Spirits. While I won't dive into black just because I see one, I'm more than happy to grab a few once I'm established in the color.
Altar's Reap: Ever since damage on the stack has been removed, cards like Altar's Reap have been in a bit of an awkward position. You don't want to be playing a card like this if your plan is to just chump block and sacrifice your creature. Once you start pairing it with things like threaten, its stock goes way up. Unless I have a lot of ways to take advantage of Altar's Reap, I'll usually relegate it to the sideboard to combat cards like Pacifism and Claustrophobia. Even when I do want the effect maindeck I usually won't play more than one because you can run the risk of your deck being filled with too much air and not enough threats.
Blightcaster: I've had a lot of success drafting B/W enchantment-themed decks. Auramancer and Blightcaster are the two cards that make this archetype tick. Having a repeated source of removal attached to a decent body is great and can make up for having to play some of the less powerful enchantments. Cards like Divine Favor start to look a lot more tempting once they have "target creature gets -2/-2" attached. I like to move in on Blightcaster early when I can and build around it. It's a lot riskier to grab a bunch of enchantments first and hope to get the enablers later.
Corpse Hauler: In Corpse Hauler we find a very solid role player. On one hand, Corpse Hauler offers a way to interact early, either by trading with your opponent's two drop or getting a few points of damage in. On the other hand, it offers a serviceable late game ability by getting your strongest creature back from the graveyard. Being able to play a two-mana 2/1 that won't be a dead draw later in the game is awesome and makes Corpse Hauler a card I will almost always play. Once I'm in Black, I look to pick up one or two of these.
Corrupt: Corrupt is a very powerful card and one of the big draws to play black. If you manage to pull off a solid mono-black deck (I haven't yet), this is the best card you can have. Even in a two-color deck Corrupt is still a great card, especially if you can slant your mana base towards Swamps. As long as you can reliably Corrupt for three or four on turn 6, you're probably killing one of their best threats and gaining some life while you're at it. As the game goes long Corrupt becomes your best topdeck, letting you dome your opponent for a ton and close out the game. Corrupt falls into the first-to-second pick range for me, and the only non-rare black cards I'd rather have are the more consistent Sengir Vampire and Doom Blade.
Diabolic Tutor: I have yet to cast a Diabolic Tutor in M14 Limited. I think it's really slow and can't convince myself to sacrifice so much tempo on a one for one, and because of that I don't value it high enough in draft to take it before someone else has. That being said, I have had it cast against me, and it is not a good feeling. You know next turn you're going to be facing down the best card in your opponent's deck, or at the very least a removal spell for your best creature. How good Diabolic Tutor is directly correlates to how powerful the rest of your deck is. If you have a game-winning bomb, it becomes much more reasonable to grab a Tutor early so you can more reliably find it. When it comes to Diabolic Tutor, I don't hate it, I don't love it, and I would never play more than one.
Doom Blade: I'm pretty glad they moved Doom Blade up to uncommon for M14. The effect is just so powerful that it can get pretty annoying when every black drafter has one or two Doom Blades in their deck. Paying two mana to take care of anything from a pesky Master of Diversion to a potentially game-ending Colossal Whale is as good as it gets. A slam-dunk first pick, the only non-rare black card that gives Doom Blade competition is Sengir Vampire. Fortunately, if both are in the same opening pack 1, I'd probably try to move into a different color to avoid getting cut hard pack 2. If I had to make the choice once already in black, it would depend on the structure of my deck. If I really need a good win condition, I'll take the Vampire, although Doom Blade wins the fight most of the time.
Gnawing Zombie: The more I play with Gnawing Zombie, the more I like it. Just like with Seacoast Drake, a two-mana 1/3 can do a lot to brickwall your opponent's early aggression. The drain life ability can become very threatening later in the game, allowing you to outrace your opponent effectively. Gnawing Zombie also benefits from being in a Limited environment including cards like Pacifism, Claustrophobia, and Sensory Deprivation. The fact that it fits well into any sacrifice-themed deck adds up to make Gnawing Zombie a very strong middle pick for most black decks.
Mark of the Vampire: This card goes criminally late, just like it did in M13 Draft. I understand the idea of getting two for oned is scary, but sometimes the risk is well worth the reward. Even without a Primal Huntbeast to bite into, Mark of the Vampire has dominated many games for me. Playing with it reminds me of playing with a mini planeswalker. Once it hits the board, the game becomes about Mark of the Vampire. Your opponent is not going to be able to win if it gets to run free and do its thing. Assuming you put it on a 3/3, how can your opponent outrace a ten-point life swing a turn?
Mark is at its best in green and red. Not only do you have beefy creatures to put it on, but you have access to cheap tricks to absolutely blow your opponent out when they reach the desperate point of putting their entire team in front of your enchanted dude.
Mind Rot: Mind Rot is another card that I don't think people give enough credit. Core set Limited is rarely blisteringly fast, and M14 is no different. The most powerful cards usually cost five or six mana and will oftentimes be left as the last two cards in your opponent's hand. Paying three mana to snipe those last few spells is absolutely back breaking. Even though Mind Rot is a pretty poor late game topdeck, I always look to pick one up when drafting black. That being said, it's definitely not worth taking over powerful cards because you will probably be able to pick one up late. After the first copy, I like to keep the rest in the sideboard for particularly grindy matchups.
Minotaur Abomination: Pretty much the biggest creature that has ever existed. Although a six-mana creature with nothing but flavor text might not be great on its own, if you're in the market for an endgame, you could do worse. I've probably played one copy of Minotaur Abomination around 50% of the time, and he is capable of doing some heavy lifting. The best place I've found for him is in more controlling U/B decks when you just need a resilient finisher. The only time I'm really not looking to play him is in B/G, where better giant monsters are pretty easy to come by.
Nightwing Shade: I like the idea of Nightwing Shade in a vacuum: an easy-to-come-by black flier that can take advantage of your spare mana in the midgame and really dominate / finish things off in the late game. Unfortunately, it usually doesn't work out that way when I play it. Shade would be too strong if you could pump it for a single mana, but it feels too weak needing to pay two. Five mana is a lot to pay for a 2/2 baseline body, even if it does fly. I often end up playing one Nightwing Shade as my 22-23rd card, but I'm never very happy about it.
Sengir Vampire: The mighty Sengir Vampire! Ever since the days of Alpha, Mr. Sengir has been wreaking havoc, and he's not about to slow down for M14. Sengir Vampire brings two things to black that it doesn't always get easily, especially in combination: a flying creature with a very strong 4/4 body. Even though his ability only triggers once a millennium, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better win condition at the uncommon level. Getting around Doom Blade—one of the best removal spells in the set—makes him that much better. If you see one of these early, take it as a strong signal that black is open and move on in.
Tenacious Dead: It's funny how degenerate a one-mana 1/1 can be. To start things off, Tenacious Dead does a pretty reasonable job as a blocker. In that sense, it basically has two-mana regeneration, making him a reverse Drudge Skeletons of sorts. That alone brings him close to playable or at least sideboardable against decks with a lot of huge ground pounders. Tenacious Dead really hits its stride once you pair it with sacrifice effects.
Unlike with regeneration, this little guy keeps coming back for more after being sacrificed. Have a Bubbling Cauldron? Now you can pay three mana to gain four life a turn. How about a Blood Bairn? Now you can pay two mana to give it +2/+2 as many times as you like! Tenacious Dead even turns Altars Reap into Inspiration with a chump block attached. Although it's not at its best in every deck, if you're set up to take advantage of it, Tenacious Dead is one of the best cards you can have.
I like black a lot in M14 and think it is the best support color in the format. Pairing black with other colors ensures you always have access to removal for the bombs of the format as well as solid enablers such as Blightcaster and Tenacious Dead. Black even has the beefy creature department covered pretty well, paling only to our next color:
Advocate of the Beast: Don't underestimate the work a three-mana 2/3 can do. I achieved my first PTQ win on the back of Riot Devils! Advocate of the Beast even has a very relevant ability. In Green alone you have access to Kalonian Tusker and Rumbling Baloth, which both curve perfectly with Advocate. I'd go as far as to say that turn 2 Kalonian Tusker into turn 3 Advocate of the Beast is one of the best starts in the entire format. Although it's better to pick up the Beasts first and move in on the Advocates after, it's not unreasonable to grab an Advocate early and prioritize grabbing some Beasts down the line.
Briarpack Alpha: An easy pick for best green uncommon in the set. A four-mana 3/3 with flash would already be a great rate, and the pump effect pushes it over the top. Oftentimes when you play a combat trick, it's going to take up your turn and prevent you from advancing your board. With a card like Briarpack Alpha you get play a combat trick and advance your board at the same time. If you play the Alpha on turn 4 and use the effect to win combat, you're going to be insanely far ahead on board. "Worst"-case scenario you can use Briarpack Alpha as a 5/5 ambush blocker, which will take out all but the formats biggest creatures. This card is a Limited all-star.
Deadly Recluse: Deadly Recluse has been hailed as the green Doom Blade. This is a much-warranted title, as few creatures are getting past Deadly Recluse without at least a trade. The biggest downside is that Deadly Recluse can be cleared out of the way with cards like Shock, making it a little less reliable. But green is hard-pressed for good removal, so Deadly Recluse is a great early pick and a good signal that green is open. There's pretty much no reasonable limit to the amount of Deadly Recluses I'd play, and I'd only ever side it out against a super controlling no-creature deck.
Elvish Mystic: Being ahead on mana early is very valuable in Limited. In M14, Elvish Mystic and Manaweft Sliver are the two ways to do so. Because fixing isn't very important in this set, getting to play your accelerator a turn earlier makes Elvish Mystic superior outside of a dedicated Sliver deck. When you play a turn 1 Elvish Mystic, it puts your opponent a turn behind from the get-go and puts you in the driver's seat, which isn't something you often get from a one-drop. Elvish Mystic gives Pacifism a run for its money for best common in the set.
Enlarge: Enlarge is an extremely powerful card and could easily have been a rare. Although it's not as miraculous as Revenge of the Hunted, it is naturally castable a turn earlier and offers a bigger pump. It won't serve as a one-sided wrath, but it will almost always pick off something and push a lot of damage through in the process. All in all, Enlarge is a very good card and a great first pick.
Giant Spider: Giant Spider has been a defensive staple in core set Limited for quite a while now. One of green's main weaknesses is fliers, and Giant Spider does a great job of keeping the skies under control. It has historically been a great card to have on the team and something gets better in multiples. Although I still play most of the Giant Spiders I draft, I've found it to be less of a block all in M14. Because of cards like Rumbling Baloth, Marauding Maulhorn, and Master of Diversion all being at common combined with the bevvy of power-boosting Auras, Giant Spider can come up a bit lacking. It can't even tangle with the best fliers in the format effectively outside of Messenger Drake. It's still a good creature to have around, but don't expect it to be as dominant as in previous sets.
Howl of the Night Pack: Howl of the Night Pack is one of the best finishers around. As long as you're not being beaten to death by fliers, surviving until you can cast Howl of the Night Pack for four will not only stabilize the board but usually put you into a winning position. Because it costs seven, I won't move into green because of Howl, but once I'm there I'll happily play one almost every time. When you build your mana base, make sure to take Howl of the Night pack into account. It's best to draft a deck that lets you slant towards playing more Forests, which is already something you want to do because of cards like Kalonian Tusker and Elvish Mystic.
Hunt the Weak: Green removal is always at a premium in Limited, and Hunt the Weak is no different. The only requirement to make it good is having big creatures to work with, which it turns out is green's specialty. It can be a little scary to play Hunt the Weak into open mana because if your opponent has a trick in response not only are you getting two for oned but you just lost your entire turn in the process. Be very careful when firing off a Hunt the Weak into open mana, and remember it can often be worthwhile to either wait for when your opponent is tapped low or until you have Giant Growth backup.
Kalonian Tusker: Kalonian Tusker is a boss. Just like its predecessors Watchwolf and Call of the Conclave, a turn 2 3/3 is far ahead of the power curve in Limited. The obvious downside with Kalonian Tusker is that double green can be tough to pull off on turn 2. The secret solution to this problem is that playing it on turn 3-4 really isn't that bad! Canyon Minotaur is a perfectly playable card in this format, so clearly Trained Armodon gets the job done as well. Kalonian Tusker is a great first pick and a good reason to move into green early.
Lay of the Land: I have a lot of respect for Lay of the Land. Although you're normally going to be playing a two-color deck in M14, your mana base can be clunky since playing cards like Kalonian Tusker and Claustrophobia alongside each other can be very awkward. Lay of the Land can help you smooth out your mana on turn 1 and even helps set up for cards like Corrupt and Howl of the Night Pack in the late game. When I play green, I'm always looking to play one Lay of the Land over my seventeenth land and have never regretted the decision.
Naturalize: In most sets, Naturalize would be an auto-sideboard card. However, the enchantment theme in M14 is so strong that it's actually not unreasonable to start one maindeck. I usually won't be looking to do so, but the potential to really ruin your opponent is high enough that I'll normally maindeck Naturalize over a random filler creature (something like Pillarfield Ox). Some people won't be expecting a mid-combat Naturalize on their Pacifism to mess up their day after game 1. Pretty much no one will be expecting it in game 1.
Plummet: Plummet is a perfect example of the ideal sideboard card. Against certain decks it'll be almost a complete blank, making it too risky to maindeck. However, against decks where the best creatures are fliers, it becomes on par with Doom Blade. Take a look at the best uncommons from black, white, and blue; Sengir Vampire, Serra Angel and Air Servant all fall to Plummet. I'm always looking to grab a couple of Plummets when I can and will usually take it over fringe playables as long as I'm not in danger or falling short.
Predatory Sliver: Predatory Sliver is one of the main cards that make the Sliver deck tick. Hive Stirrings starts to look a lot more powerful once it's making a pair of 2/2s instead of 1/1s. On top of that, unlike a card like Striking Sliver, a two-mana 2/2 is a perfectly reasonable card on its own in core set Limited. I've often drafted a deck that isn't Sliver based outside of a few Predatory Slivers and a stray Sliver Construct. When you draw them on their own, they act as decent bodies, but when you draw multiples early, you can create a large board advantage. If I see a Predatory Sliver around pick 4-5 and I'm already drafting green, I like to move in even if I don't have a Sliver plan in the works.
Rootwalla: I think Rootwalla is a truly great creature that is somewhat undervalued. When you play it on turn 3, it basically can't be blocked by anything smaller than a 4/4 unless your opponent wants to lose a creature to the pump. However, you don't have to pump it and can settle for getting in for two damage and use your mana to play another threat. You can also hold Rootwalla back as a blocker, making it very hard for your opponent to attack as long as you have two mana up. Once the late game rolls around and you have mana to spare, Rootwalla becomes a legitimate Rumbling Baloth. I like cards like this that are very versatile and good at every stage of the game. Although Rootwalla won't send me diving into green, once I'm there I'm glad to pick them up.
Rumbling Baloth: Not too much to say here; Rumbling Baloth is just a very good card. Definitely the best power / toughness to mana cost rate you're going to get at common. I've started off a lot of winning drafts by first picking a Rumbling Baloth. It pairs best with blue and black, where you have a lot of removal / bounce as well as Trained Condor to guide it into the red zone. Rumbling Baloth is one of the best creatures to pair with Mark of the Vampire to create an unstoppable beater that your opponent won't be able to gang block.
Woodborn Behemoth: Paying four mana for a 4/4 is ahead of the curve in Limited. Paying five mana for a 4/4 is pretty much on par with what you're looking to get. After you add in the bonus effect of having eight lands in play, Woodborn Behemoth becomes card you should always be happy to get. The only concern here is making sure you don't get too glutted at the five-mana slot. As sweet as big creatures may be, they won't be very helpful if you play them at a low life total while your opponent has an army of small creatures in play. I'll usually take the second Rumbling Baloths over Woodborn Behemoth, but after that I'd begin to value the power of the Behemoth over the consistency of the Baloth.
Overall, I think green is a very strong color in M14 Limited, coming in second to Blue. Green has the best creatures and tricks and even has a reasonable amount of situational removal. Conveniently enough, I think U/G is one of the best color combinations in the format, and it's one I'm always looking to draft. Next, let's wrap things up with the artifacts.
Bubbling Cauldron: Bubbling Cauldron's main use is as a sacrifice outlet in the R/B sacrifice deck. Even so, it's actually pretty good in any deck with a large creature count. Being able to turn all of your creatures into Brindle Boars makes it very hard for your opponent to kill you. Although you shouldn't jam this into every deck, it's a very nice card to have on your sideboard for when four life might equal a card's worth of value or more.
Darksteel Ingot: I'm not really a fan of Darksteel Ingot in this set. For the most part, I find it a lot more effective to just curve out instead of trying to skip the four slot. This is especially true when some of the most efficiently costed creatures can be found at four mana (Rumbling Baloth, Water Servant). Darksteel Ingot can't really take the place of a land, and because of that I'd rather play a real card in its place. The only times I've found it worth playing is if my deck is incredibly top heavy or if I'm really in need of mana fixing, although in this set I try to avoid splashing a third color.
Fireshrieker: Strong artifact cards are usually great first picks because they don't commit you to any color and will regularly make it into your deck. Fireshrieker is a little different though. Giving a 2/2 Double Strike is fine, but it's not worth five mana and a card. However, giving a four- or five-power creature Double Strike is insane and will produce a game-ending threat. Because of this, Fireshrieker lends itself more to red and green decks, where the creatures are big enough to really pack a punch once they get double strike. Marauding Maulhorn is by far the best creature to put Fireshrieker on, not only because it fits so well on the mana curve but because it will threaten to kill your opponent in two hits. Although I have picked Fireshrieker first more than once, I usually look to pick it up more towards the middle of the pack.
Haunted Plate Mail: Haunted Plate Mail, on the other hand, is pretty much the opposite. It's a great card to first pick because it will always make your deck no matter what and probably be one of the best cards in it. In a deck with a lot of smaller creatures, Plate Mail will turn them all into legitimate threats your opponent will have to answer. In a controlling deck with a lot of removal and few creatures, it serves as a tough to kill win condition and a great blocker. Haunted Plate Mail can do no wrong and is the best first pick in the set.
Millstone: Millstone serves an odd role in M14 Limited. You're trading a card for a repeatable effect that doesn't actually impact the game until you mill their entire library. Because you're down a card and it takes a repeated mana investment to keep up the milling, most decks won't want Millstone. However having a one-card win condition can be very strong and fits perfectly into an extremely controlling deck. I've won more than one draft where a pair of Millstone acted as my only real win conditions and the rest of my deck was just removal and card draw. Other than that, having a Millstone on your sideboard can be an effective way to actually beat such control decks. They will be mostly setup to answer creatures, and combined with their own card draw Millstone can serve as a viable win condition.
Rod of Ruin: Seven mana is a steep price to pay to deal one point of damage. Even though you only need to pay the initial casting cost once, three mana for one damage isn't exactly a steal. That being said, there are a reasonable amount of targets that Rod of Ruin can kill, ranging from a good amount of the two-drops to more powerful cards like Trained Condor. It can also pair up with smaller creatures to trade up for some of your opponent's bigger threats. Even though it has a few things going for it, I usually like to keep it on the sideboard for the matchups where it's going to have a real impact. Still, I'm not totally miserable when I have to fit it in as a 23rd card.
The Staffs: It's a pretty big bummer that these cards take up a valuable uncommon slot. At least with a card like Dragon's Claw, you could board it in a red mirror and hope to gain a ton of life between your cards and your opponent's. I tried to play the white staff once in a white-heavy U/W control deck, and I was even more disappointed than I thought I would be. I have heard whispers that Sam Black has been crushing eight-man draft queues playing a mono-blue staff decks, but I'd probably write that off as him being a master rather than the Staff actually being good.
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my rundown of some of the more interesting cards in M14 Limited. I'd love to hear any thoughts you guys have on the format or any cards you've found particularly sweet. Next week I'm going to close things out by covering an M14 draft on Magic Online to put my ideas to the test. Thanks for reading!