With Pro Tour Journey into Nyx in the rearview mirror, you would think we would have to wait a while before getting our next Magic fix. Luckily, however, the new Grand Prix schedule means we get another big tournament right behind it in the very same city, and this time it is all about Limited.
With Grand Prix Atlanta this weekend, I have been doing my best to jam as many practice drafts and Sealed decks as possible. As with any new set, Journey into Nyx has done a fine job of turning the format on its head and bringing a whole new slew of strategies to the table. With such a small amount of time in the public eye, it only stands to reason that some of Journey's powerful cards haven't come to light just yet. I'd like to take today to point out a few of these hidden gems that I've found in hopes of avoiding them sitting awkwardly on sideboards all this weekend.
The Undercover All-stars
When I first saw this constellation duo, two words came to mind: too slow. I thought their abilities were too low-impact to make up for their high mana costs and weak combat stats. After having some time to play with both and try them out I can say I was right...but only to a certain extent. These two are classic examples of cards that are bad in Draft, but actually pretty good in Sealed. One of the basic differences between Draft and Sealed is speed, with Sealed often being the slower of the two.
Both the nymph and the lamia make great additions to a grindy black Sealed deck as long as you have the enchantments to back them up. Dreadbringer Lampads is at its best in a B/G deck where you have an abundance of giant creatures and a scarcity of evasion. In a U/B control deck, Thoughtrender Lamia does a great job of complementing the multiple bounce spells you are likely to have to deal with hard to answer threats. You would be surprised how often you can just play it when your opponent has one card left in hand and snipe the big bomb or crucial bestow card they've been saving.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an introductory article on Journey into Nyx Limited . If you scroll all the way down to bottom, you will find the part where I talk about the removal in the new set, accompanied by a big ol' pile of cards displaying said removal. Notice anything? I was so sure at the time Pin to the Earth was a bad card, it wasn't even on my radar. Now I think it is one of best removal spells in the set.
You see, when I first looked at Pin to the Earth, I saw card disadvantage. Sure, -6/-0 is going to be enough to blunt most creatures, but I'm still leaving my opponent with a blocker, so that has to be bad right? The thing I was forgetting is that we are on the plane of Theros, where auras (and more importantly bestow) run wild. I go on in that article to croon over how Deserter's Quarters, Oppressive Rays, and Armament of Nyx are all awesome because they have the ability to shut down bestow without getting two-for-oned. As it turns out, Pin to the Earth does the same thing, except consistently and at a reasonable cost. Sure, your opponent is left with a big blocker, but it isn't too hard to fly over it or just swing through it.
Normally, symmetrical effects like Dakra Mystic aren't good because there is no way to regulate whether you or your opponent is going to get a bigger benefit; however, with Dakra Mystic, you have absolute control over the extra cards your opponent is going to get. Think about getting to the late game with a Dakra Mystic in play. Every turn you activate the ability, and if your opponent hits a good card you send it straight to the graveyard, and if they hit a useless card like a land, you get to draw an extra card for free. There is no way your opponent is going to be able to overcome that kind of card manipulation without getting extremely lucky.
Cyclops of Eternal Fury is a particularly interesting card. There's no doubt that it has a powerful and impactful effect, but it doesn't seem to mesh well with what red decks are trying to do in this format. Most red decks are very low-curve heroic decks that get their late-game power from bestow cards and simply can't afford to have a card on their curve that only has a six-mana option. The one exception to this rule is G/R decks.
Because Green decks are filled with ramp to begin with, they are perfectly set up to get Cyclops of Eternal Fury on the board and take full advantage of it. Once you have a deck able to actually cast the card, it becomes absolutely insane. To start off, it's basically a six-mana Lava Axe since people never see it coming. Once you untap with it and get to either play another big creature with haste, or two little creatures with haste, the game is going to be pretty much over. Next time you find yourself playing G/R, give this big one-eye a try. I promise you won't be disappointed.
I know what you're thinking. It is no secret that Ajani's Presence is a good card. Here's the thing, though. It's not just good, it's slam-dunk-first-pick-fist-pump-victory-dance good. The card is a perfect example of versatility and power all wrapped up in one sweet little package. From the get-go, you get a Mortal's Resolve for half the mana. Pump in a little extra mana for strive and all of a sudden you're looking at a multi-heroic triggering instant that will absolutely devastate the combat phase. It's rare that you get so much bang for your buck out of a common.
The False Prophets
Just as there are cards in this set that are better than they first appear, there are also cards that are much worse than they would initially lead you to believe. Luckily for you, I've already managed to fall prey to their tempting allure and have come here today to expose them for all to see.
When I first saw this card, I immediately started to daydream about how fun it was going to be to blow people out with it on the regular. I mean, come on, putting a giant zombie into play at instant speed and ambushing your opponent's creatures...how could you go wrong?
The problem is I got too caught up in the best-case scenario of what the card could do and lost sight of the most important rule of Limited evaluation: context. In Theros, creatures don't start out big. They get big after either going monstrous or being beefed up by heroic and bestow. If your 10/10 Wingsteed Rider dies and you use Ritual of the Returned to get it back, you're looking at nothing more than a Grizzly Bear. The fact that you don't even get the creature's abilities makes Ritual of the Returned all-around underwhelming.
The one exception is if you have a G/B deck heavily based around graveyard synergy. Green actually has a few creatures with base stats sizeable enough to give you a zombie token that can get by on its combat stats alone. In any other deck, leave this Makeshift Mannequin wannabe on the bench.
Have you ever had the opportunity to activate the monstrosity ability on Shipbreaker Kraken? What's more, have you ever had your opponent use a card like Voyage's End in response, leaving you with nothing to show for your fourteen-mana investment? When it comes to Shipbreaker Kraken, we're more than willing to take that risk. A six-mana 6/6 is a good-sized creature to start with, and if you do manage to safely get the monstrosity ability off, the game is usually over on the spot. Wildifre Cerberus is very similar to Shipbreaker Kraken in that it comes with all the same risk, but nowhere near the same reward.
Strike one: A five mana 4/3 is nothing special, especially since the only deck that can support this puppy's mana demands is R/G, which already has cards like Nessian Asp in the five-mana slot.
Strike two: Wildfire Cerberus only gets one measly counter from its monstrosity, leaving you with a 5/4 in exchange for your twelve mana.
Strike three: As tempting as it is to Bonfire of the Damned your opponent for two, when that Bonfire comes on Turn 7 or later, it isn't going to kill anything relevant. That late in the game, most of your opponent's creatures will be bestowed or heroic'ed out of range, especially since your opponent gets to see the damage coming from a mile away.
Sorry, Wildfire Cerberus, you're out.
Ever since triple Theros, there has been one rule for green decks: ramp is good. Voyaging Satyr was regarded as the best green common in the set, often deciding whether your green deck was good or not. Things haven't changed with Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx in the mix, and as such, Golden Hind is another top common. Why, then, am I listing Font of Fertility amongst the traps?
The thing is, it doesn't reliably do the job you want it to do. Unless you have it to play on Turn 1 and sacrifice on Turn 2, the three mana required to Rampant Growth gets really awkward. Golden Hind and Voyaging Satyr also have the major upside of being creatures in a format based around slapping enchantments onto whatever is available. I know I've sent my fair share of eight-power Voyaging Satyrs into the red zone. Not only does Font of Fertility not provide a warm body to bestow onto, but it's a very poor draw later in the game and triggering constellation is not enough of a benefit to make up for that.
My advice: only play Font of Fertility if you absolutely and direly need the mana ramp and can't get your hands on either of the better options.
Last but not least, we have this little Centaur. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Lagonna-Band Trailblazer is bad. It just didn't live up to my initial expectations for two reasons. First off, as soon as I saw this supreme Yoked Ox, my mind jumped to how well it would sport an Ordeal. As it turns out, with only a third of the packs available supplying the powerful auras, the dream of one-drop into Ordeal comes together much less often. The second reason comes from Journey into Nyx itself: Satyr Hoplite. With so many cheap heroic creatures running around now, it becomes a lot harder to justify suiting one up that doesn't have any power to start with.
Should you still play Lagonna-Band Trailblazer? Of course. It simply isn't the auto-include in every aggressive White deck I thought it would be.
That's all I've got for this time around. I hope this helps get you guys in the zone for Grand Prix Atlanta! If anyone has any other sleeper/trap cards they've found, I'd love to hear about them so I can be fully prepared to win another Limited Grand Prix!