I like to write my articles straight through from beginning to end, so I usually try to start with a title and an opening to frame where I'm going. Whenever possible, I try to essentially offer a thesis statement as an anchor and defend it through the article, paying some attention to structuring my article like an academic paper. Then there are other times, like this week, when there are a handful of completely distinct topics I want to touch on and framing them together is difficult or impossible. I've played and watched a lot of formats lately, and I have feelings that I think are worth sharing on all of them. Here they are.
Results point to W/U Flash being the best deck in Standard. I tried playing a league with it, and felt surprisingly clueless. Despite my historical familiarity with Faeries, this felt more like a W/U Midrange good-stuff deck, like Caw-Blade, which I never really learned how to play well.
With limited time to prepare for the Magic Online Championship Series Quarterly Playoff tournament, I decided I'd be better off finding a different deck. I played W/R Tokens, and I was really happy with the deck.
After the first weekend of this format, when Smuggler's Copter dominated the event, it felt like the natural reaction was to play more cards that are good at answering Smuggler's Copter. After all, how can you let your opponent have a card that powerful? As it turns out, a large portion of Smuggler's Copter's strength is its ability to dictate the terms on which it can be interacted with, and trying to kill it is actually just playing into it. Having played the format more, I believe it's best to attack Smuggler's Copter structurally rather than directly.
We tried to do that at the Pro Tour by going way over the top of the incremental advantage it can gain. I think this was the right kind of thinking, but the plan was too easy to counter and people were too prepared. This weekend, both online and at the StarCityGames.com® Standard Classic in Milwaukee, I tried another approach, going quickly enough that my opponent couldn't afford to tap both their blocker and their two-drop to attack me for three on turn 3. If they didn't, I wouldn't mind because it would let me get in enough damage that I'd be in a good position to end the game quickly. This approach to interacting with Smuggler's Copter felt great. I was never sad when my opponent played one and mine were always excellent for me.
Servo Exhibition isn't as strong a card as Veteran Motorist, but playing it instead gives you a higher artifact count, which makes Inventor's Apprentice and Toolcraft Exemplar more likely to be on and gives Pia Nalaar more options. Most importantly, getting two creatures in one card enables Outnumber, which is actually the best removal spell in the format. People talk about how well-positioned Grasp of Darkness is, but one mana is so much less than two, and there are more spots where I can kill a Mindwrack Demon than there are spots where I can't kill a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or Archangel Avacyn.
The more people move away from trying to use removal to answer Smuggler's Copter (as they should, because it doesn't work well), the less removal there is in the format, the more your creatures live and so the more Outnumber is great. Outnumber is the card that most makes me want to build my deck this way, but in general, being the fastest deck and the deck with the most high-impact one-mana plays is structurally a great place to be in this format.
Other writers and I have previously compared this Standard format to Modern, and this deck really embraces the comparison to Eternal formats in the way it respects the value of mana costs. I've played games where I look down at the battlefield and realized that I've cast five spells, they've each cost one mana, and I'm about to win. You can't often do that in Standard, and it's a big deal.
Reckless Bushwhacker is fantastic in this deck, but it's worth thinking of it as a Game 1 card. It gives you your fastest proactive draws. It allows you to race combo decks, go around bigger creatures, and close out games against control, but it is the kind of card that almost always gets worse after sideboarding. You should expect every opponent to play to stop your creatures, and Bushwhacker is best with a critical mass.
I don't want to overload my deck with removal in Game 1 because not all opponents play creatures and I can beat the ones who do by going under them. It's much harder to go under an opponent who's prepared for that, and I need to expect to play a real, interactive game of Magic after sideboarding. Therefore, against a vast majority of opponents, my sideboard plan is to cut Servo Exhibitions and Reckless Bushwhackers and add four Declaration in Stone, three Harnessed Lightning, and a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. This makes Outnumber worse, but it's still been good enough that I'm happy to have it.
Dredge and Burn were the most-played decks in Day 2 of the Milwaukee Open with eleven copies each. Nine of the those Dredge decks made the Top 32, while two of the Burn decks made the Top 32 with a top finish of 22nd. That's an amazingly good showing for Dredge and, incidentally, a horrible showing for Burn.
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 1 Haunted Dead
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 1 Scourge Devil
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
Walking around the room, I saw a lot of Dredge and a lot of Dredge hate. In the near future, I recommend bringing a lot of hate, and, correspondingly, I recommend not playing Dredge. I watched one player complain about having lost to Dredge multiple times despite a sideboard with seven total copies of Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage, so I'd offer the advice to be prepared even more strongly than the advice to avoid playing Dredge.
Moving forward, I think I'd like to see Golgari-Grave Troll return to the banned list. Partially, I think Prized Amalgam and Cathartic Reunion pushed it over the top, but really, it's not so much that I think Dredge itself is a problem, it's more that I think that it forces everyone to play a lot of graveyard hate, and while that's not inherently a problem, I think it prevents a lot of other decks that use the graveyard in sweeter and fairer ways from getting to exist, which I think is a problem. It's like when Affinity was in Standard: Mirrodin had all kinds of sweet artifacts, but no one could play with them because everyone had to be ready to destroy every artifact so that they could compete with Affinity. Modern has all kinds of sweet graveyard strategies, but no one can play them because everyone has to be ready for Dredge.
While the continued rise of Dredge is the most significant news in Modern, it's also worth noting that daily Magic Streamer Caleb Durward won the event with a Bant Spirits deck he's put a lot of (very public) work into, demonstrating some combination of the strength of Bant Spirits as an archetype and the value of familiarity with and tuning of a deck leading up to a Modern tournament. Personally, I'm more inclined to credit Caleb's familiarity than to think Bant Spirits is the next big thing in Modern, but there's a good chance it's at least a real deck.
Just before Pro Tour Kaladesh, I learned about the existence of Draftaholics Anonymous and their p1p1 tool. This tool offers a game where the page shows two cards, and you click on which one you'd take over the other to start a draft. As people play, it collects these results to form a ranked list of which cards win the most that it displays below the game. I'm not sure how the rating is calculated, but the system is straightforward enough that I trust that their methodology isn't horrible, and the list below roughly accurately expresses the preferences of the users.
If you don't have any idea which of two cards is better, this is an easy resource to reference to decide which to take while drafting online, but, for my purposes, it's better used as a tool to show me which cards the community over- and underrates, since I'm pretty confident in my own assessment of most cards in Kaladesh Limited at this point (unlike most sets, I've actually been drafting this online extensively after the PT, and have been doing well).
I want to highlight a few that I think are way off on this list:
Top 5 Overrated Cards:
Planeswalkers are great in Limited, and this card isn't bad, but it is two colors and it's not great, and it appears very high on this list. The ten cards below it are all clearly better, and the next card after that is Mana Vault, which I suspect is much better, but it's a little harder to evaluate, since I haven't played with anything like it in a format anything like this. I'd place Dovin Baan significantly lower than that if I were just rearranging the list as a whole.
Staying open is nice, but having this card immediately below Saheeli's Artistry and above cards like Fleetwheel Cruiser, Aethersquall Ancient, Longtusk Cub, and Master Trinketeer is just madness. A 2/2 body does very little in this format, so I've actually cut this card from my aggressive decks, and even when it's good, it's very rarely high-impact. It's an effortless way to get a bit of extra value in your deck, but its value over replacement will always be fairly low. It should never be taken over a bomb. It's cute, but this is egregious.
This is a great card, but there's no way it should be the first common to show up on the list. A 4/4 trampler for four is a great rate in Limited, but it's not enough better than other four-mana creatures that I'd want to start a draft with this rather than knowing that I'll have a removal spell. Also, the nature of this format is such that there are a lot of good four-mana plays and very few good three-mana plays, so I actually think Thriving Rhino offers green decks much better value over replacement in their curve than Peema Outrider, and as such, it should be taken earlier.
The upside on this card is real, but the average use case is incredibly disappointing. This looks like the kind of card that should be busted in Limited, but this isn't the format for it. I think this is roughly a replacement-level card, which is nowhere near where it's ranked. Two-toughness creatures very rarely matter in this format. That said, it's pretty great against most black decks.
Having this card ahead of Skywhaler's Shot is just offensive. The problem with Skywhaler's Shot is that it doesn't answer cards like Rashmi, Eternities Crafter or Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter, but Revoke Privileges doesn't answer the relevant part of these creatures either. Meanwhile, Skywhaler's Shot is an instant that takes creatures like Master Trinketeer or Angel of Invention (if they choose +1/+1 counters) off the battlefield while letting you scry, which is huge.
The most important point, though, is that this is just an awful format for enchantment-based removal. Not only are people playing Appetite for the Unnatural and Fragmentize in their maindeck, but three different commons (Aviary Mechanic, Aether Tradewinds, and Acrobatic Maneuver) all punish it effortlessly. This card is a good way to temporarily deal with a blocker, but in general I like removal spells more in my control decks, and this is a removal spell I don't want to play in a control deck because it's more likely my opponent will eventually answer it.
Top 5 Underrated Cards:
This is the seventeenth card from the bottom of this list, while I think it's blue's sixth-best uncommon and better than all but two or three blue commons. It's unassuming and there aren't other cards in the set that support it, but it actually mills so quickly that it doesn't need support. As long as you can easily generate extra Energy, this card is surprisingly difficult to race. I've almost lost to the start of Minister of Inquiries into Woodweaver's Puzzleknot; I had an above-average aggressive draw in Sealed and won the game with zero cards in my library.
A lot of games come to battlefield stalls where, even when you don't draw this early and you don't win the game by milling your opponent out, the threat of doing so is such that it demands an answer. It's a one-mana play that gives you energy, and the body actually impacts the way the game is played after that at any stage in the game. Respect this card.
This is another card that's hanging out toward the bottom of the list, surrounded by cards I'd rarely be interested in siding into my decks, and I don't think that's reasonable. With all the Puzzleknots and creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers, returning a card to your hand is usually a benefit. This card is pretty close in power level to Dismiss, and far better than Cancel. If I have a decent number of things to pick up, which I'm usually looking to have, I want one of these in my blue decks.
I don't really want this list to be entirely blue cards, but I think people both underrate and misunderstand blue in this set, and this is probably the clearest example. When you have this card in a control deck, nothing can go wrong.
You play high-toughness creatures, Select for Inspection, and card draw. That should be the backbone of blue in this format. Aggressive decks in this format have to rely on combat tricks because the tricks are great and there are a lot of creatures with high toughness, so you play a high-toughness creature and keep a mana up. When your opponent tries to use a trick to get through your blocker, you cast Select for Inspection. You've traded cheap instants, but they're now down a ton of mana and tempo as they have to replay their creature, and you're up a scry, and you've now bought yourself time to play a Tezzeret's Ambition and start taking over the game. This is one of the best blue commons.
I can't begin to understand what's going on with this card's low ranking. Yes, it's best if you put some effort into drafting to support it. But that's easy to do, and once you've done it, it's among the best cards in the set.
This might literally be the best rare (not mythic) in the set to start a draft with. Like Eliminate the Competition, it takes some work to draft around, but it's hard to beat once it gets going. Whenever you cast a fabricate creature, you pay one extra mana to get both modes, which is nice, but once you have a counter anywhere, you can pay four mana to grow your creature and make another creature. This card goes both big and wide, which makes it very difficult to beat in any direction. If you have enough counters in your deck to consistently threaten to activate this, it's almost impossible to lose with it on the battlefield unless your opponent can win the race with evasive creatures.
Overall, I think this list is way off on a huge number of cards and should be given very little weight, but I think it's pretty awesome that the tool exists, and it's nice to get some frame of reference if you have no idea on a card. When that happens, however, still take it with a grain of salt, as if you have no idea, it's likely that it was also hard for other players to evaluate, and I can assure you that this list is consistently pretty bad with cards that are less straightforward.