3. Consecrate // Consume
Busted rare is busted. The times when Spawn of Mayhem enters the battlefield on turn 3 are going to result in some savage beatings for whomever is on the receiving end of this evasive trampler. Spawn of Mayhem will close out any game in a hurry if it goes unanswered, and the answers for a card like this are hard to find in this format. Beyond that, I think Gateway Sneak as an Ophidian with upside is just going to be great in either Azorius or Simic decks and might even be a push into a multi-color Gate deck. It being a single color and able to go in multiple decks is why I have it ahead of Consecrate//Consume, which is a great removal spell but pigeonholes you into a guild a little too soon for my taste - even though a Crackling Doom that gains you life is definitely something I'm in for.
2. Consecrate // Consume
A bomb rare is a bomb rare. Spawn of Mayhem seems absurd to me. A 4/4 flier on turn 3? Okay fine - sometimes turn 4. But that's still substantially above rate. As far as the next best cards, I think it's very close between Consecrate//Consume and Gateway Sneak. The Sneak has a very high ceiling but isn't going to be great in a deck without a bunch of Gates since a 1/3 is unlikely to successfully rumble in combat. When evaluating new cards, we often look at old ones, such as Ophidian. However, Ophidian is from a time when creatures were worse. The most recent variant, Eternal of Harsh Truths, was good but not busted or anything. It was just too hard to attack with a 1/3. You need to draw more than one card off this to be happy because a 1/3 isn't a good enough body on its own. Maybe that's being too pessimistic, but my gut is hesitant about this card especially because the creature stats in this set are inflated thanks to both adapt and riot. Consecrate//Consume doesn't come without downsides, but it'll mostly remove the most relevant threat and has a cantrip mode if all else fails. It's also splashable so I give it the nod.
2. Consecrate // Consume
Spawn of Mayhem is an absurdly efficient bomb and a windmill slam here. Worst case scenario is a turn 4 flying threat that will trigger spectacle every turn for as long as this survives. When you cast this on curve with spectacle for three mana, the game is practically over unless your opponent has removal immediately, and four toughness dodges most of the common removal spells.
Consecrate // Consume is very close with Gateway Sneak for me in the runner-up contest, but ultimately, I think it boasts more raw power than the Sneak. You'll rarely be Consecrating anything, but Consume will often be "four-mana, kill the biggest threat from your opponent and gain 3-5 life to help catch you back up if you've fallen behind early." The times you need to pick off a smaller utility creature will feel bad when this is in your hand, but I think those will be few and far between. This format looks to be slower than Guilds of Ravnica at first glance, and I think that will lead to more splashing and picking guildgates more highly. Consequently, taking an easily splashable gold card that has high power level is a fine place to start your draft.
If the bomb weren't in the pack, Gateway Sneak as a mono-colored card would be a very respectable way to start off your draft. I like an Ophidian, and this comes with free upside of getting in unblocked occasionally. Don't make the mistake of thinking this needs Gates to be good - you'll be playing this in every blue deck, and playing Gates alongside it is just pure upside. Speaking of Gates, this pack has weak commons, and I think Gruul Guildgate is likely the next best card in the pack after Gateway Sneak.
Another super strong line up of uncommons and what looks to be a great rare. Gruul Spellbreaker having trample and coming down as a either a 3/3 with haste or a 4/4 for the low price of three mana is a fantastic rate and exactly what Gruul looks to be doing in this format. This is a powerful card that certainly makes me willing to commit to a guild early to try and ensure I can play it.
Next in line is Azorius Skyguard which looks like a great top end for any control deck, and I imagine is quite splashable in Simic or Orzhov as well. If you've never played with a -1/-0 effect to all your opponent's creatures before, you may make the mistake of undervaluing this card, but believe me - it's incredible. And this format looks to have some high toughness creatures, so shrinking a four-power attacker to a three-power creature could be the difference between a profitable attack and a battlefield stall. The only drawback here is it's quite expensive, but I'm willing to take the risk early. On the other end of the CMC spectrum we've got Hackrobat, which is cheap, flexible, and synergistic. All things I like on a Magic card, and I wouldn't be surprised if in a few weeks it was a higher pick than the Skyguard.
Gruul Spellbreaker is a stat-monster at an efficient cost. It's possible that Gruul ends up being lackluster and this first pick isn't correct, but we can't know that going in. I think it's important at the beginning of the format to do the following things: assume each archetype is good and of equal value and take rares to get data on cards you won't see often. That makes this easy pick even easier!
After Gruul Spellbreaker, the standout cards are Hackrobat, Final Payment, Azorius Skyguard, and Skewer the Critics. While I think Skyguard is good, six mana is a lot for a three-toughness creature. Sure, it plays like it has four toughness in combat thanks to the -1/-0 ability, but the fact that Skewer the Critics, a common, can answer this for just one mana raises an eyebrow. Final Payment is a fantastic removal spell, but it does get worse in multiples as you can't always pay life. I still think it's a better first pick than Skewer the Critics, although that could be wrong.
That being said, Hackrobat seems like one of the best uncommons to me. If you can manage to play this on turn 2, it's an absurd rate and probably even better than the rate on Gruul Spellbreaker. And it's still substantially above rate as a three-drop anyways. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the pick over the Spellbreaker, but as I said earlier, I'm taking the rare to prioritize learning.
This is a deep pack, and I think five cards are worthy of P1P1 consideration - Azorius Skyguard, Gruul Spellbreaker, Hackrobat, Final Payment, and Skewer the Critics all seem like reasonable places to start a draft right now. However, my nod for first pick goes to Azorius Skyguard because a splashable flyer that gives -1/-0 to the opponent's team is borderline bomb status if it goes unanswered. The -1/-0 effect is extraordinarily powerful and will bring the opponent's offense to a complete halt if you have any sort of a reasonable battlefield. The only knock here is that three toughness may end up being too fragile to spend six mana on.
Gruul Spellbreaker is a maybe a slight notch above Azorius Skyguard in power level, but only if it comes down on turn 3, which will require you being solidly in Gruul. As such, I would view this as a high-risk, high-reward first pick. I'm sure Ryan will be slamming this and looking to smash face, and if I were him, I would be looking to go hard into Gruul if I started with this, but I would also be very willing to move off it if Gruul didn't flow my way.
Final Payment is one of the most difficult cards to evaluate in the entire set. The first copy is extremely valuable and subsequent copies drop off a tad after that. Solving the puzzle of how good multiple copies play alongside each other is going to determine how highly you need to pick it in Draft. I think it is fine to pay five life once for this effect, and it can also be used as an instant in response to your opponent's removal if you have two mana up. I also assume you'll have some afterlife creatures or Spirit tokens you won't mind sacrificing if you're in exactly Orzhov. Add in the fact that other drafters will be looking to splash this and I'm going to start the format off with it as a high pick then adjust if needed.
1. Gates Ablaze
I have no idea if Gates Ablaze is going to be as good as I hope, but there's only one way to find out. If you can get 8-9 Gates, this being a Sweltering Suns on turn 5 or 6 doesn't seem unreasonable, and it can get better from there. It's also cheap so you can often deploy a threat after the dust settles from your sweeper. I'm interested in grabbing this early and moving in on the Gate deck (and hoping to get passed some Archway Angels along the way).
Next in line is Final Payment. The removal in this format is not great, so seeing "destroy target creature" on a two-mana common is very enticing. The additional cost to cast this card does require some set up so I'm unsure how many you can end up with in your deck, but it looks like one of the strongest options out of this pack certainly. Sauroform Hybrid is definitely one of the best two-drops in the set and has my vote for best green common - good early, good late, and even better with some +1/+1 counter synergies.
I'll start this off by saying that I don't think Benthic Biomancer is the best card in this pack. However, I said that I prioritize taking rares early for data and that's exactly what I'm doing here. How easy will it be to trigger Biomancer multiple times? Does Simic use a bear well? Does it need the card selection more than you would think? I think Benthic Biomancer is good enough to justify taking early and I'm not just taking a rare for the sake of taking a rare, but my gut says this card will overperform, and I won't know unless I take it. It's kind of like the Multi-Arm Bandit problem if you think about it. You can't approximate the payout of the slot machine until you play it a couple times, and so a good solution - the solution here is learning the limited format - assumes machines you haven't played on payout highly, which biases yourself to new information!
The other cards to consider in this pack are Gates Ablaze, Final Payment, and Orzhov Racketeers. Gates Ablaze has the highest upside but is incredibly narrow as it really requires three Gates to be first-pick worthy. Occasionally a Pyroclasm will be first-pick worthy - Golden Demise in Rivals of Ixalan, for example - but usually it's not. I'm going to pass on Blaze, but I'm sure Ethan is all about it.
I think Final Payment and Orzhov Racketeers are close. Final Payment is a fantastic removal spell, but Orzhov Racketeers has so much potential. Trading and leaving back two 1/1 fliers sounds fantastic to me and if they don't want to trade, they have to discard a card? Sign me up! It's five mana, and there's only so much room at that slot, but I have high hopes for this.
1. Gates Ablaze
Building your own three-mana wrath with Gates Ablaze is one of the things I'm most excited to do in this format. Add cards like Archway Angel and Gatebreaker Ram into the mix, and the Gate deck looks crazy fun and powerful. The speed of the format looks to be a little slower, which incentives splashing and makes Gates a higher pick. All this leads me to believe is that Gates Ablaze is going to be one of the best uncommons in the set and well worth building around.
Orzhov Racketeers is a distant second to Gates Ablaze for me, but it definitely has less setup cost. This is always going to trade for something and leave behind two 1/1 Spirit tokens, making it a surefire two-for-one that's easily splashable. However, there looks to be a lot of powerful five-drops in this format, which may lower the stock on this card a bit because you can only run so many.
Finally, Final Payment as a powerful, instant speed removal spell is again going to get the nod from me at the start of the format over cards like Benthic Biomancer as a flexible, yet clunky looter or Collision // Collosus as a fantastic trick in Gruul.
I'm not sure if Rakdos is going to be all that aggressive this time around. If there's a strong Act of Treason/Sacrifice deck, that definitely lends itself to a more midrange strategy and this card will be a nice curve topper for those decks. I imagine games being decided by incremental advantage in this format and once Captive Audience hits the battlefield, your opponent only has a couple of turns before the curtain comes down (it's a theater reference, get it?) It's also a mythic, and I'd really like to take the opportunity to play with this early to get a sense if it's good or not.
If I'm not trying the rare, I'd like to take the uncommon Goblin Chainwhirler which obliterates Afterlife tokens and can usually be used to do something beneficial, either enabling attacks by playing it precombat or finishing off creatures post combat (and don't sleep on the interaction with Bladebrand to build your own Plaguewind). Fireblade Artist also looks very strong as a great two-drop in a format where there aren't a lot of great two-drops. Not only is it a free sacrifice outlet for some shenanigans with Vindictive Vampire, but if you can get your opponent down to six, this can help close out the game in a hurry as well.
2. Consecrate // Consume
Alright, Cedric, you gave me a rare that I'm not going to take for data. Maybe Captive Audience is good, and I'm sure Ethan or Ben can figure that out, but personally, I think the probability that Captive Audience is utter trash is just too high to justify taking it. If I'm paying seven mana for a card, does my opponent really have cards in hand? Are they really at a high life total? I get that after three turns have passed, I can guarantee that my opponent doesn't have many cards in hand, is at a low life total, and I have plenty of creatures, but in what world am I paying seven mana for an enchantment and not dying before all that goes my way?
I think this pick is Fireblade Artist by a large margin. Rakdos really has some nice uncommons this time around and while I don't think Fireblade Artist is better than Hackrobat, the card is very powerful. A 2/2 haste for two is a fine rate and it becomes a must-kill threat once you've dealt enough damage. Add on the fact that it enables spectacle without a mana investment and this card really is the whole package. Following the Artist, the pack gives a reasonable removal spell in Consume and a potential value creature in Dagger Caster.
I'm going to give my first hot take of the set: Dagger Caster is mediocre. It's probably not that bad, but I don't expect it to be good and am just giving this the benefit of the doubt given the high upside. Sure, it cleans up afterlife tokens, but I'm not convinced that's going to be incredibly relevant. The window to play this card with high impact feels too small. And even though it can maybe get some creatures after combat, a 2/3 for four is so unbelievably below rate that potentially getting your smaller creatures to trade up just doesn't seem worth it --- and yes, I'm taking into account that you can make your own Plague Wind with Bladebrand. Looking at the set list, there really aren't that many one-toughness creatures running around, disregarding afterlife. I think people are thinking about this card with Guilds of Ravnica in mind, which had a lot of one-toughness creatures, but it's a new set now.
3. Consecrate // Consume
Seven-mana mythic enchantment with lots of text that requires a semi-stable battlefield and multiple turns to do awesome stuff? Sign me up! The power level is here on Captive Audience, and I plan to be one of the first people testing it for science! It seems a bit at odds with the Rakdos curve out and trigger spectacle gameplan, so maybe this is more at home in a controlling Gate deck, which I plan to be drafting early and often anyway.
The Pro Tour first pick here is probably Dagger Caster. The ability to build your own Plague Wind in combination with Bladebrand is crazy strong for six mana and this Dagger Caster is a solid B- on its own. There are eighteen creatures with one toughness in the set not counting the 1/1 flying Spirits roaming around. If you pick off anything with this, you're going to feel great!
Consecrate // Consume again looks like a rock solid early pick as a splashable removal spell that deals with a large threat and helps catch you up from behind. I value its flexibility and power early over more narrow guild cards like Fireblade Artist. While the Artist will be good on turn 2 or maybe help you close out a game in a dedicated Rakdos deck, it's going to get blanked from attacking by the plethora of big butts running around in this format too quickly to pull me into Rakdos early.
3. Savage Smash
As a difficult to cast In Bolas' Clutches, I expect Mass Manipulation to be fantastic. And if you can cast this for eight mana, may God have mercy on your opponent with a game ending four-for-one. Sure, your deck needs to be heavy blue for this card to be reliably cast and you probably must prioritize guildgates, but that all seems worth it for this kind of back-breaking effect. Next in line is Sphinx of New Prahv, another card with a prohibitive mana cost. But even if this doesn't come down until turn 6, I'm pretty happy with a 4/3 flyer with vigilance. I wouldn't be surprised if Savage Smash ends up edging this out in a couple of weeks because the removal in this format is pretty weak. A fight spell that gives a +2/+2 buff until EOT is quite strong, and I imagine this will be great in Gruul or as a splash in Rakdos or Simic.
And back to a rare that I'm slamming on the table! Mass Manipulation has a steep cost, but dear lord is it a beating. Six mana for a mind control is a bomb in Limited as we learned from In Bolas' Clutches. Now, with the mana requirements, maybe I won't be able to play this on turn 6 that often, but I still think the upside is so high that, as a rare, I should take it. And if you ever take more than one creature, the game probably ends immediately.
Sphinx of New Prahv is a stupid card, but at least it's less frustrating than Nightveil Predator. Four mana for a 4/3 flying vigilance is already undercosted to first-pickable over most uncommons, but now it's also difficult to interact with? At least with three toughness it can't block all that well and can be answered by Skewer the Critics.
While there are a couple other cards that can take slot number three here, I think Bloodmist Infiltrator takes the cake. Cards that can enable spectacle easily seem great to me, and with afterlife it may not be difficult to find something to sacrifice. Any cheap creature that has the potential to be a must-answer threat is reasonable to take early, and Bloodmist Infiltrator is no different.
2. Savage Smash
Mass Manipulation is going to be one of the biggest bombs of the format. The slight saving grace is that there are common bounce spells running around, but a difficult to cast Control Magic is still Control Magic. The fact that X will sometimes be two and lead to an absolute blowout puts this card over the top. I will always first pick this and do everything in my power to be heavy base blue.
Savage Smash is savage, confirmed. You will hear those words coming out of my mouth on stream when I cast this and when it is cast against me. Fight spells that provide +2+2 are historically good - I'm looking at you, Savage Punch! - and I'm going to assume that Savage Smash is no different. This is going to lead to your Gruul creatures killing not only opposing creatures but also the opponent in a hurry.
Sphinx of New Prahv is a good card, but people are evaluating this with Nightveil Predator-colored glasses. Sadly, Nightveil Predator this is not. The fact that Sphinx has vigilance is largely irrelevant because you'll rarely want to risk your flyer in combat, and three toughness doesn't block all that well, anyway. The Frost Titan clause is nice, but it's a far cry from hexproof and deathtouch. I'll be taking this when I'm in Azorius later in the draft, but it's difficult to cast and not worth committing to early as your first pick.