Hello again! Last week I started off a breakdown of M15 limited with Blue, White, and Green. Today I'm back to finish the job with cards from Red, Black, and Artifact.
In this core set, Red looks about as good as it's ever been in limited. Not only are the usual suspects present in terms of burn spells, but there are a slew of solid creatures, tricks, and powerful spells to accompany them. First up, let's take a look at a few of the creatures.
At the end of the day, Goblin Pikers and Hill Giants will always have a place in limited because they provide playable combat stats for their slot on the mana curve. Thanks to this, any time I see one with additional abilities I can't help but look twice.
When it comes to Generator Servant, I can't help but look five or six times. This card is crazy! Not only does it let you jump the curve and play a five-drop on turn 3 or a six-drop on turn 4, but it gives that creature haste! Imagine putting something as simple as Miner's Bane into play a couple of turns early. You get to clock your opponent for six out of nowhere, and if they can't find a way to stop it, they will be dead very quickly. Red might not have many quality expensive creatures outside of rares, but it should be easy enough to move into another color like Green where an early Charging Rhino can run amok. Not to mention, you don't even need to spend the mana on a creature. You can just as easily use it to fuel a powerful instant or sorcery. Even if you don't have a giant spell or creature to accelerate into, you still get a two mana 2/1 that will force your opponent to play the game differently out of pure fear.
Similarly, Altac Bloodseeker really has the feel of a Piker done right. Not only do you get the two-drop when you need it, but if you happen to draw the 2/1 a little later in the game it can still pull its weight. If you can pair it with a cheap removal spell, you get a very hard to block creature that is going to deal a lot of damage if it makes it through the red zone. After that your opponent will always have to think twice before trying to tangle with it in combat or a removal spell can put them in a really awkward position.
Scrapyard Mongrel might be the least exciting of the three, but it is a strict upgrade from Canyon Minotaur (a card that frequently made my deck in M14). There are enough solid artifacts in M15 that turning Scrapyard Mongrel into a real threat is a very likely scenario.
Red also comes equipped with a very nice aggressive suite. Borderland Marauder provides a three-power two-drop which does a great job of putting an opponent on the backfoot. Krenko's Enforcer might not be a straight Phantom Warrior, but anyone who has drafted Time Spiral block can tell you how much reach a Skirk Shaman can give you. Frenzied Goblin ties the whole thing together as a great one-drop that can get some early points in and make sure your opponent has an especially hard time of playing the game defensively.
Now that's what I call solid removal! Lightning Strike provides the quintessential two mana three-damage burn spell that we've all come to know and love. Heat Ray might not be able to go upstairs, but given enough mana it can take down any size creature at instant speed, which is nothing to scoff at. As for Stoke the Flames, that is just one heck of a Magic card. Even if you took the convoke off, the card would be a limited all-star simply because it can kill most creatures and can also just deal a fifth of your opponent's life total when you need it to. With convoke, it's just bonkers.
To round Red out, we've got some absurdly powerful Magic cards. It has been a while since there has been a card as downright scary as Cone of Flame running around at uncommon rarity. Just think about how sick this card is. Not only will it be an easy two-for-one on average, it has potential to be a three-for-one on the right board state. Add in the fact that you can send any of the damage increments at your opponent and you're looking at a busted limited bomb. The card is basically a five-mana Plague Wind with upside. Easy call for best uncommon in the set.
As I learned last week, Furnace Whelp might not actually be in M15 booster packs, but luckily, Brood Keeper is here to pump out some dragons in its place. Creating a firebreathing flier every time an aura comes its way is a very strong ability, especially when there are multiple good auras to choose from. Not only does Red have Inferno Fist and Hammerhand, but each color has at least one playable enchant creature to choose from. Not to mention, if your opponent tries to put a harmful aura onto your Brood Keeper, you will get a dragon out of the deal. Talk about fancy. Trust me, you're going to want to pick this four-drop highly and try to build around it.
Last but not least, we have the Red paragon. Red has more than its fair share of small creatures to boost, so the anthem effect is going to be appreciated. What's more, giving haste to your creatures in the late game is a great mana sink. Of all five paragons, Red is my favorite.
Overall, Red looks amazing in M15 limited. We'll have to see if things change in practice, but in theory, I'm ready to call it the best color.
In core sets, Wizards of the Coast does their best to make sure that each color has cards that define its identity. When it comes to Black, that identity starts at removal spells. Let's see what Black removal M15 is bringing to the table:
Let's kick the analysis off with Ulcerate. The constructed world is abuzz over this new removal spell and with good reason. In a finely tuned aggressive deck, mana efficiency is crucial and you don't get much more efficient than one mana. Constructed Black aggro decks can now play a one-drop on turn 1, and follow it up with another one-drop and a removal spell thanks to Ulcerate. For the most part, the three life isn't going to be much of a drawback in decks like this since they are already all-in on being more aggressive than their opponent. In limited it's a very different game.
Although it is very possible to get an aggressive deck in limited, it will never be as linear and smooth as a constructed deck. Outside of the 'nut draw', you normally won't be hard pressed to squeeze every last bit of value out of your mana, and therefore, losing three life in exchange for efficiency isn't an appealing trade. For the most part, Ulcerate is going to be worse than Last Gasp in limited. That's not to say it is a bad card in draft or sealed, just that I guarantee you people are going to overvalue it and play it in decks where it really doesn't belong.
Next up we've got Covenant of Blood. Sure seven mana is expensive, but thanks to convoke you should expect this card to cost around four to five mana on average. If you look at it that way, the easiest parallel to establish is Warleader's Helix. Covenant of Blood might not be an instant, but it is mono-colored and it is in a color that doesn't always get easy access to direct damage, especially at common rarity. Because you need creatures in your deck to bring the cost of this card down, each copy after the first has diminishing returns. That being said, I expect every Black deck in the format to want at least one Covenant of Blood in their starting forty.
It really hurts me to say it, but I don't think Necrobite will be that great in M15 limited. The reasons it shined in Theros/Born of the Gods limited were a lack of removal paired with terrifyingly enormous monsters. The way it is looking, the average M15 game won't be plagued by either of those problems. It looks like we're back to the Necrobite of Avacyn Restored.
Lastly, we've got Flesh to Dust to round things out. I know Wizards has been moving away from spells being powerful, but come on! It wasn't that long ago that Terror was in core set limited. What I really would have liked to see is a reprint of Murder. Three mana felt perfect for a generic kill spell, especially when it was double-costed so it couldn't be easily splashed. Instead we get a five mana Murder with very little upside. Am I saying I won't play Flesh to Dust in my deck? No. I just won't be happy about it.
You might have noticed that I left one removal spell off the list. I'll tell you a secret: it's because I'm trying to pretend it doesn't exist.
Oh yes, I'm talking about Stab Wound. The nightmare of Return to Ravnica limited. This card is pure evil, and I can confidently say that I'm not looking forward to getting dealt twenty damage by it for the second format in the past year. The one upside this time is it's at least an uncommon, so there's a chance not every Black deck you run in to will have it. At least one can hope…
Alongside its solid removal, Black has some sweet fliers. Any aggressive deck will be happy to have Necrogen Scudder along for the ride, and Carrion Crow is basically a Black Wind Drake. You normally don't want to block with a two-toughness flier anyway, so the crow's drawback should be very minimal. I expect to see Black commonly paired with Blue in order to create a wicked aerial force.
The ultimate control win condition. Caustic Tar is hard to interact with and will end the game in a hurry once you get it going. Is it too slow and expensive for most decks? Probably. But that doesn't mean it won't be the best card possible in the decks that want it.
As one might expect, Black has its usual package of two-for-ones. Card draw at a cost, discard, and a way to bring back creatures. Yep, looks like Black to me.
The black paragon is unique for a few reasons. Outside of specific decks, Black is going to have trouble getting maximum value out of the anthem side of this four drop due to lack of cheap aggressive creatures. More noticeably, the activated ability on Paragon of Open Graves costs four unlike the one mana cost on the others. The reason for this is simple: it is by far the most powerful ability of all the paragons. Given enough time and mana, giving deathtouch to your other black creatures and turning them into removal spells can take over a game. It won't be the most consistent paragon of the bunch, but it has the highest ceiling.
Last but not least, let's take a look at the artifacts of M15. Instead of breaking them down by category, I'm going to talk about the ones that I find interesting individually.
More often than not, combining two cards to create one powerful and expensive card is a good thing. Think of Healing Salve + Lightning Bolt = Lightning Helix. Unfortunately, that is just not the case with Meteorite. Shock and Rampant Growth are both good because they are cheap. Dealing two damage on turn 1 is impactful. Ramping from two to four is impactful. Dealing two damage on turn 5 and ramping from five to seven? Not so much. The only time I see Meteorite being worth playing is in some wonky three-color control deck that is splashing for a card like Garruk, Apex Predator. In other words, not very often.
Gargoyle Sentinel is an example of an all-around solid card. Thanks to the solid body and reach provided by flying, only the most aggressive of decks won't be looking to add Gargoyle Sentinel to their roster.
Just like with Gargoyle Sentinel, you're going to be hard pressed to find a deck that doesn't have room for Juggernaut. Even controlling decks will have a use for it thanks to the fact that they can use it to single-handedly deal twenty damage when backed up with removal. It's been a while since we've had Juggernaut around, and I have to say I'm happy to see it.
Not too long ago I was pretty excited to get to play with Deserter's Quarters in Journey into Nyx limited. As it turned out, six mana is just too steep a cost to pay to temporarily lock down a creature, even when those creatures were the giant monsters of Theros. When it comes to Tyrant's Machine, you don't even get the luxury of paying one up front premium and hoping your opponent doesn't have a way to take it off the table. You're basically sacrificing four of your lands to “kill” a creature. Outside of fringe sideboard situations, it won't be worth it.
I'm sure everyone is happy to have this uncommon cycle back to clog up slots in each M15 booster pack. I'm sure of it.
That about covers my initial thoughts on this limited format. The only way to know things for sure will be to get out there this weekend and get your prerelease on. I know I'm going to!