This is an M13 Limited review.
If you want a pick order this isn't the article for you. I'll mention Murder as a first pick but only to count how deep the top tier of black commons is. I'll be talking about mana curves and making notes on what roles specific cards will likely play in the format.
The takeaway here should be about what each color looks like in context of a deck. What points on the curve you are weak at if you have common finishers or card advantage to support a control deck and what spells synergize best with your game plan.
One note on this for a base set: creature abilities get obnoxious to spreadsheet. While non-core set creatures are more complicated their abilities are often much less combat related and much easier to simplify. Core set guys need simple mechanics which often translates to combat related ones that bog up this style of review. I specifically tried to omit anything that wasn't hard evasion or exalted. Let me know your thoughts on what is or isn't important so I can adjust future iterations accordingly.
I've also opted to add haste guys and exalted creatures under tricks after losing to Mad Prophet by messing up math one too many times.
A note on exalted: this set has four common exalted creatures and four uncommon across two colors. Shards of Alara had five good common exalted creatures and one bad one plus four uncommons across three colors. It won't be quite as important as in that format as color combinations are more flexible but it potentially isn't too far off.
More detail on the above: this format being Wx means you have access to two common two uncommon "75%" of the time and the full eight "25%" of the time. In that format you were always sharded up so Wx by default meant four commons and three uncommons with a "33%" of full access.
|1||1||1/1 (Warclamp Mastiff)|
|2||3||2/2 (Ajani's Sunstriker)||1/1 Flying Exalted (Aven Squire)||2/2 (Silvercoat Lion)|
|3||2||2/2 + 1/1 (Attended Knight)||0/4 Exalted (Guardians of Akrasa)|
|4||3||3x 1/1 (Captain's Call)||2/3+ Flying (Griffin Protector)||2/4 (Pillarfield Ox)|
|5||2||2/2 Flying Pump (Battleflight Eagle)||1/6 (Guardian Lions)|
|Tricks||5 +2 Exalted||Battleflight Eagle||Divine Favor||Glorious Charge||Safe Passage||Show of Valor|
White has thirteen solid playable commons; good enough.
I also see at least two easy first pick commons. Pacifism is obvious but Griffin Protector is a top common as well. It's basically a Phantom Monster with +1 toughness in combat. Aven Squire is also very good and I can easily see Ajani's Sunstriker being obscene in a certain set of decks.
White's common curve seems very solid with the only real issue being a potential overload of four-drops if your secondary color is also heavy on them. That said there's a partial identity crisis here. On one hand you have half a swarm deck (Captain's Call Attended Knight and subtly Silvercoat Lion as an average vanilla body) and half an exalted theme deck (the two exalted guys good blockers big time fliers and Warclamp Mastiff as a good early drop to shove through).
Learning from experiences with exalted the first time around it seems like there's an easy solution to this supposed clash. Exalted decks often need chump blockers as the game devolves into race scenarios with your one big guy effectively "base racing" their team. The random dudes or Soldier tokens seem very well positioned as random non-exalted guys that can take one for the team.
This means Glorious Charge is probably much worse than expected in most decks and Divine Favor is a little better than you would think. If games come down to blocking and racing both halves of the card seem good.
Show of Valor is also going to be a bit worse. Combat is less likely to be your 2/2 against their 2/2 and more likely to be your 4/4 that was a 2/2 jamming into their board. It might be useful against mass ground blocks but a lot of the time your one creature will be in the air with little in its way. This limits what I have found to be one of the truly valuable aspects of pump spells in Limited: tempo on the offensive. It's still fine as it will act as a conditional Rebuke but not as good as it could be.
Safe Passage is a different story. People died to the card all the time in the past. Know it exists and you can minimize the number of times the same happens to you.
|1||1||2/1 Flying (War Falcon)|
|2||2||2/1 Exalted (Knight of Glory)||2/2 (War Priest of Thune)|
|3||1||*/* (Crusader of Odric)|
|4||2.5||Exalted Tapper (Angelic Benediction)||2/3 (Healer of the Pride)||3/3->4/4 (Prized Elephant)|
|5||1||4/4 Flying (Serra Angel)|
|Removal||2||Oblivion Ring||Rain of Blades|
|Tricks||0 +2 Exalted|
Uncommon bomb count is one but you have another clear first pick in Oblivion Ring. I could easily see Angelic Benediction or Healer of the Pride being insane as well but I would have to play more with both. Not that I wouldn't almost auto-main either as Benediction was insane the first time around and Healer of the Pride looks at worst to be on par with Staunch Defenders or Radiant's Dragoons.
War Falcon has both common three-drops one of the common two-drops and one of the common four-drops to activate it. Then two white uncommons then only one non-rare in the other colors (Knight of Infamy). Still blocks fine; I played my share of Oona's Gatewardens back in the day. It's also possible that there isn't a lot of blocking to trade in this format due to exalted and that a 2/1 flier is about the same as a 1/1.
|1||1||0/4 (Kraken Hatchling)|
|2||1||2/1 Flying (Welkin Tern)|
|3||3||1/3 (Scroll Thief)||2/3 Shifts (Watercourser)||2/2 Flying (Wind Drake)|
|4||2.25||1/2 Relearn (Archaeomancer)||1/4 (Vedalken Entrancer)||+2/+0 Unblockable (Tricks of the Trade)|
|5||1||3/3 Flying (Faerie Invaders)|
|6||1||5/5 (Harbor Serpent)|
|Removal||3||Encrust||Essence Scatter||Faerie Invaders|
|Tricks||4||Downpour||Hydrosurge||Tricks of the Trade||Unsummon|
11-12 solid blue cards depending on where Scroll Thief falls. Not super shallow but not a deep well either. Lots of borderline conditional ones to fill in the gaps though.
I see one first pick common: Faeries Invaders with another potential sleeper I'll hit on later.
Blue is super light on the low end. Welkin Tern not blocking is going to be a huge issue. Keep this in mind for your secondary color.
Blue also seems shockingly aggressive. Downpour is one side of this but the real hint here is Tricks of the Trade. It pairs amazingly with the exalted card or just monsters in general. I'm always partial to auras in Limited but this one represents a scary amount of damage.
Encrust seems a lot better than it is until you remember it is a Paralyzing Grasp or Glimmerdust Nap not or Claustrophobia with the trigger to kill something before it attacks. It doesn't even have the decency to turn off exalted. Admittedly I did play one of these in the Constructed portion of a Pro Tour so who am I to judge? It's not bad; it's just not actual removal.
One last note: Archaeomancer plus Unsummon brings back old memories. Not quite the same as Peel from Reality plus Izzet Chronarch but it will do for now. Archaeomancer plus Downpour is also probably pretty miserable to play against. Multiple Cryptic Commands anyone?
|1||1||1/1 Flying (Jace's Phantasm)|
|2||2||1/3 (Augur of Bolas)||0/2 Flying (Fog Bank)|
|3||2||2/1 -> 3/2 Flying (Arctic Aven)||1/1 (Courtly Provocateur)|
|4||1||2x 2/2 Flying (Talrand's Invocation)|
|Other||1||Augur of Bolas|
I count three easy top picks plus another likely top pick if it's on color. Blue has some loader uncommons.
The second is Switcheroo. Not the same as Mind Control but still pretty absurd. Archaeomancer plus Switcheroo is fun for the whole nobody especially when you Unsummon the Archaeomancer to run it back.
Sleep is the bottom of the top uncommons but it is still solid. It's hard to tell exactly what exalted does to the card but I think it means it gets better as there is more racing and less combat trading. Could also get worse as your extra attackers mean less damage when they attack.
Arctic Aven is the conditional one and I'm honestly not sure how you race this guy. Have fun with that.
Agent of Bolas math: it is only over 50% to hit in the most spell heavy Limited decks (eight is ~53% assuming all cards but two lands and an Augur are random).
Courtly Provocateur seems much more alluring than its predecessors with exalted in the format. You can start eating their exalted guys that are left back to block or forcing awkward attacks.
|1||3||0/2 Exalted (Duty-Bound Dead)||1/1 Unblockable (Tormented Soul)||2/2 (Vile Rebirth)|
|2||3.5||1/1+ (Bloodthrone Vampire)||1/1 Discard (Ravenous Rats)||2/2 (Walking Corpse)||+3/+1 (Dark Favor)|
|3||2||1/3 Deathtouch (Giant Scorpion)||3/1 Exalted (Servant of Nefarox)|
|4||2.5||2/2 Flying (Bloodhunter Bat)||+2/+2 (Mark of the Vampire)||1/1+ (Liliana's Shade)|
|5||1||4/3 (Zombie Goliath)|
|Removal||3||Crippling Blight||Essence Drain||Murder|
|Tricks||1||Dark Favor||Mark of the Vampire||+2 Exalted|
|Other||4||Duress||Disentomb||Mind Rot||Sign in Blood|
I count thirteen solid playables in black and a few of the ones I didn't include are things you will happily play more often than not. Probably deeper than white.
I'm unsure exactly how many high pick commons there are in the color. Obviously Murder is one but I can see Mark of the Vampire and Essence Drain also being up there. Duty-Bound Dead also could secretly be a first pick; I remember taking more than my fair share of first and second pick Akrasan Squires.
Post-Prerelease note: Mark and Duty-Bound Dead are actually that good.
Black's mana curve is also perfect.
Crippling Blight is interesting. There are probably enough relevant common x/1s to maindeck it on its own but most of them are black and as such will likely be in your deck not theirs. Fortunately any debate here is solved by the fact that this card also "kills" the many defenders in the format. This is your usual early-mid pick removal spell.
Full list of solid/semi-solid commons Crippling Blight kills (or "kills"):
Guardians of Akrasa
Servant of Nefarox
Most of Sentinel Spider
As a color black seems a bit short on good bodies for exalted. There are only two evasive commons compared to white's three and Ajani's Sunstriker. Keep this in mind in your secondary colors.
Bloodthrone Vampire is much worse than before. It does not play well with exalted.
Worth noting is that black bucks a couple traditional trends in M13: its top removal spell is no longer splashable and none of its early drops cost double black (Sign in Blood doesn't count). This means that 1) black cards are actually going to go to the base black players and not those splashing them and 2) black plays well with others. In the past black has suffered from feeling shallow in drafts because its top picks dry up faster than other colors and the mana requirements short the cards you can reliably play. Black in this format is just like every other color and I think that's a big step forward in set design.
|2||1||2/1 Exalted (Knight of Infamy)|
|3||2||2/2 -> 3/3 Unblockable (Harbor Bandit)||2/3 Flying Deathtouch (Vampire Nighthawk)|
|4||1||2/2 Exalted (Duskmantle Prowler)|
|5||2||Rise from the Grave||4/1 (Veilborn Ghoul)|
|Removal||2||Cower in Fear||Public Execution|
|Tricks||1 +2 Exalted||Duskmantle Prowler|
There are two legitimate bombs here: Vampire Nighthawk and Public Execution. Nighthawk needs no introduction but Public Execution might need some elaboration. Look at creature stats and you will see that almost all of the commons are Fogged by the -2/-0. This isn't just six mana kill a guy and a small bonus; it's Murder plus Safe Passage in one card.
Cower in Fear incidentally killing the tokens is nice but the instant half seems unreal. If combat fights ever occur this card is going to be unreal. If it's all exalted this card gets much worse.
Rise from the Grave is always worse than everyone thinks it is or Disentomb is better than you think. Think about it: when you Rise from your own graveyard you are playing a Disentomb then four mana for the creature you got back. Both are fine; just be aware of this note when making decisions.
|1||0.5||1/1 (Goblin Arsonist)|
|2||3.5||X/1 Flying (Dragon Hatchling)||3/3 (Mogg Flunkies)||2x 1/1 (Krenko's Command)||+2/+2 (Volcanic Strength)|
|3||2.5||3/1 (Reckless Brute)||1/1 (Rummaging Goblin)||X/5 (Wall of Fire)|
|4||3||3/2 Intimidate (Bladetusk Boar)||3/3 (Canyon Minotaur)||2/2 (Goblin Battle Jester)|
|5||1||5/4 (Fire Elemental)|
|Removal||3.5||Chandra's Fury||Searing Spear||Turn to Slag||Smelt|
|Tricks||5||Chandra's Fury||Goblin Battle Jester||Kindled Fury||Trumpet Blast||Reckless Brute|
I count twelve solid playables with a lot of conditionals.
Also holy crap a common creature that is bigger than 2/x and can attack! Two of them? Who does that?
Red basically has the same curve as white. Keep this in mind for color pairings.
I was originally high on Dragon Hatchling given how playable Blistering Dieflyn was in Shadowmoor but I've come to realize this is a much different card. In that format you were always mono-red and could use all your lands to activate Dieflyn. Hatchling rarely gets bigger than a 3/1. It's less of a Blaze every turn and more of a bad Scalding Devils.
I might be biased towards Reckless Brute but as I noted above there aren't too many high toughness guys to aggro-Abyss it. It will trade for something mediocre but you can time it to get damage out of it first.
I love me a Lava Axe but Chandra's Fury is the first one I would probably want to maindeck without being a degenerate. The mini-sweeper effect is a huge bonus on top of the reach. For those that remember Ember Gale (all these Shadowmoor comparisons!) the sweeper part came up enough against tokens that it was cool and I expect similar things from Fury. It's likely it is even better at this as you don't have to make any forced attacks to get damage through with the spell.
Goblin Arsonist could easily be better than expected chumping down an exalted attacker and actually taking down some of the exalted guys.
There may be a non-exalted white/red deck with Trumpet Blast and the token making commons. That is all on that.
|2||2||2/1 -> 3/2 (Crimson Muckwader)||2/1 (Torch Fiend)|
|3||1||1/1 (Arms Dealer)|
|4||1||2/2+ Flying (Furnace Whelp)|
|5||1||2/2 (Mindclaw Shaman)|
|Removal||2||Flames of the Firebrand||Arms Dealer||Volcanic Geyser||Torch Fiend|
|Tricks||1||Cleaver Riot||Mark of Mutiny|
I count two obvious first picks in Volcanic Geyser and Flames of the Firebrand with Furnace Whelp and Arms Dealer probably bringing the total to four. With five common Goblins Arms Dealer has a lot of ammo to Fling. One of those is even Krenko's Command!
Mindclaw Shaman seems like a trap. I've played with Treacherous Urge and it was extremely conditional. This seems even more so. I would board it in if they have a ton of targets but I don't want to be ripping five-mana 2/2s going late.
|1||2||1/1 (Arbor Elf)||0/1 +1/+1 (Bond Beetle)|
|2||3.5||1/2 Deathtouch Reach (Deadly Recluse)||1/1 (Elvish Visionary)||2/2 (Timberpack Wolf)||Farseek|
|3||2||3/3 (Centaur Courser)||2/2 (Yeva's Forcemage)|
|4||2||3/3 (Primal Huntbeast)||4/2 (Spiked Baloth)|
|5||1||4/4 Reach (Sentinel Spider)|
|6||1||5/6 (Vastwood Gorger)|
|Tricks||1||Fog||Serpent's Gift||Titanic Growth||Yeva's Forcemage|
Green has thirteen solid playables so about average for the set.
Green has two first pickable commons. Prey Upon falls under "good removal is good" but Sentinel Spider is just unreal. I have no idea how anyone beats this card without a kill spell or multiple exalted triggers. There are literally three non-green commons that match up to it in size. Not that I don't expect this from green but Spider has reach and is a five-drop. That means he is going to impact the board on time and fights with everyone that isn't Bladetusk Boar or Tormented Soul.
The mana curve isn't bad either especially with two ramp spells.
Plummet has a reasonably high number of decent targets in non-green colors. Both have a good common and an unreal uncommon to gun down. You are going to board this card in a lot more often than in past sets and I would not be embarrassed with it as a 23rd card.
Serpent's Gift seems pretty terrible. Most of the guys you would be willing to use a 2G Bone Splinters to kill are green. It's only really on the list because there are enough value bodies across all the colors to not make it absolutely embarrassing as a 23rd card. It is probably best in G/W where you have high toughness blockers and random Soldier tokens to make it into Rebuke which is fine but unimpressive.
|2||1||2/2 -> 3/3 (Flinthoof Boar)|
|3||1||2/1 (Mwonvuli Beast Tracker)|
|4||2||? 1/1 (Fungal Sprouting)||4/4 (Roaring Primadox)|
|5||2||2/2 Deathtouch (Acidic Slime)||4/4 (Garruk's Packleader)|
|7||1||7/7 (Duskdale Wurm)|
Roaring Primadox isn't that great. The only commons I want to loop are Elvish Visionary Battleflight Eagle and Archaeomancer. The last one of these is going to be fun for absolutely none of your opponents.
I have no idea what Fungal Sprouting does. I mean I know what it does but what does it do in a game? I have a feeling it's a bit win more but if I'm wrong I also wouldn't be surprised.
I want to make a point about the Flinthoof Boar cycle here: all of these are reasonable bodies even as "off color" cards. The black one is on the low end of reasonable and the white one is in an already heavy area of white's curve but don't be afraid to play them as Grizzly Bears Goblin Pikers or Hill Giants.
I'm not going to curve these out because they are all uncommon.
The three creature are fine but unimpressive: Primal Clay Phyrexian Hulk and Chronomaton. They each have a few colors where they fit best. Clay is best in black and green as both colors could really use the 2/2 flier. Hulk is best in red as it probably wants more big bodies for the mid-late game but is a bit short on them. Chronomaton is a very solid blue card due to the lack of early action.
Gem of Becoming seems like a bad way to splash. The biggest issue I have is that of the three the color that has the cards I want to splash most is red. Unfortunately if I'm getting two random lands I want to be base red for Wild Guess and Rummaging Goblin to get value out of them. The card is probably at its best splashing Faerie Invaders and Switcheroo or Essence Drain and Public Execution. That or some silly rare like Nicol Bolas Planeswalker
As a note the Ring cycle is all fine if you actually have a lot of creatures in that color but I can't imagine "splashing" any of them.
Apparently Jayemdae Tome is an uncommon this time around. My experience has been that it is too clunky but your mileage may vary depending on matchup.
Also don't forget Kitesail. People never played that card in Zendikar Limited but it was awesome. The +1/+0 really set it apart from Neurok Hoversail and I can see every color but blue using this card to good effect.
W/U: Seems fine as just the Skies deck as always. Blue fills in the bombs; white fills in the early curve. Blue is light on twos and fours where white is heavy and heavy on threes where white is light. There are also some cute exalted synergies in blue between Scroll Thief and Watercourser getting better when pumped and Tricks of the Trade forcing a ton of damage through. White also has a bunch of crappy guys or tokens to Switcheroo. Likely almost always nine Plains eight Island because of the low curve being white but playing a bunch of double blue spells.
U/B: Similar to W/U but it seems a little worse on paper as black's non-evasive creatures don't block nearly as well as white's. Sleep is much better in this color combination than W/U due to Servant of Nefarox. This is also where Dark Favor has a home.
B/R: Shockingly this doesn't seem like a good pair for this format. Red does not play well with exalted and black seems low on the usual aggressive bodies. The themes also seem very split. You have black two for ones and red Lootings pushing control but you have a lack of defensive bodies pushing the other way.
R/G: Your guys are bigger than their guys. Kindled Fury seems like an all-star to spike down double blocks.
G/W: Not a lot of synergy but the cards are all good enough on their own so the combination is probably fine. Shockingly there is enough removal between the two colors this set. Battleflight Eagle is a good man here.
W/R: Not a lot of normal synergy but there is the tokens deck I mentioned. I haven't gone too deep on it yet so I can't sculpt an exact shell for it right now but I know it involves a lot of two-drops.
R/U: Probably the best control pairing with red having Looting effects removal that can be Archaeomancered and Wall of Fire. Your mana curve isn't going to be pretty but the deck should be able to grind out of it. You also have a high density of uncommon bombs to fill in the end game.
U/G: Base green tempo with blue as a secondary color for some fliers Unsummon Downpour and Tricks of the Trade. I don't think you want the blue defensive guys as green's size handles the early game very well. Deadly Recluse drops greatly in quality here.
G/B: Big dudes good removal nothing special. Probably more on the controlling end of the spectrum based around the black two for ones. I wouldn't try to actively end up in this color combination but I wouldn't feel bad doing so.
B/W: The exalted theme deck. Probably one of the strongest color configurations as both colors are deep on playables and have lots of removal on top of the natural synergy.
White is a lot of good cards but the high end of the power curve seems low in comparison to other colors.
Blue is probably the best secondary color in the format. Lots of good tricks uncommon bombs and midrange bodies but not enough to fill an entire deck.
Black is very good at specific things. It lacks on defense early and needs evasion but all the cards it has are very good. Also Vampire Nighthawk.
Red seems like the worst color simply because how poorly it pairs with the set mechanic of exalted. It isn't filled with bad cards; it just doesn't fit. It also still has the splashed removal issue that black doesn't anymore where your first picks disappear to people with fixing.
Green is just big. Exalted means you probably have to use this to push instead of be defensive as other people's guys can match you if you try to block but that's not a concern given your size advantage starts on turn 3.
From what I have played of the format so far I'm impressed. Exalted as a mechanic makes for interesting board states as it makes direct trading and big attacks worse. The rares also don't seem overpowering compared to the good spread of removal. Lots of big answerable creatures only a couple unbeatable bomb mythics (still never beating a Jace Memory Adept in a million). Notice how most of the "dumb fliers" are capped at x/5 aka Turn to Slag range? On the subject of removal it's all very well tiered in terms of cost to effect and everyone has access to it.
Despite not having a real event to draft the format for until August I'm excited about M13 Limited. Good job Wizards; you keep making core sets better and better these days.
I made some unintentional omissions of role-players during my read through of the set that I noticed on my way through the Visual Spoiler. Here are some more solid cards looking for good homes in a post-M13 world.
I completely missed this card last week mostly because I already knew about it. This guy was legal in Standard around the time I started playing real events and let me tell you he dominated matchups. Right now is not the time for him due to Gut Shot and the annoying fact all the guys in the format are 3/x fliers Titans that kill you anyways or have hexproof but his day will come. Nice Wolfir Silverheart try again next time. It admittedly dies to a Bonfire of the Damned relatively easily but again who doesn't? Other jobs will include telling Rancor to go die and eliminating any semblance of a self-mill deck from the format. Probably not a starter but definitely a good bench player.
P.S. It's a Human!
P.P.S. Silklash Spider was another good one from those days. I don't think he has quite the same charm as of now but he's a fine Green Sun's Zenith target against Delver for the next couple months. Jon Becker would be proud.
Important note: this is a planeswalker that doesn't have real issues with Zealous Conscripts. You can get it ultimated back at you but if you have that much fear +2 cards and a kill condition should be very workable. A similar note applies to Chandra the Firebrand. What instants or sorceries can they really cast well after paying five?
Conscripts is going to be a constricting force on high-end threats post-rotation. Plan accordingly.
Nothing else to say on the card specifically just a general note about a trap I often fall into. See whenever a new card is printed that fights for slots with an old card in an existing shell or just looks awkward on the mana at first glance I tend to back off. I almost missed Silverblade Paladin on this and have missed many more in the past.
Don't make this mistake. Play with new cards that look powerful. Try to make them work. They don't just belong in your old 60.
This guy is trying really hard to be a Titan. He might even be close enough once they leave. I don't think I would ever play more than two in a deck but I can see a lot of decks that would want to. Also not too painful against a Conscripts (notice some themes here?).
Finally a good Prerelease story for the road.
I opened up my pool for the event and was greeted by an obviously super powerful W/B deck. Ajani Caller of the Pride Planar Cleansing Serra Avenger Diabolic Revelation for any of those and removal plus exalted guys to back it all up.
Given how obvious that deck was I threw together something featuring the two Flinthoof Boars I had set aside. What I ended up with was surprisingly solid. The decks had absolutely no overlap so I got to lay them out side by side. The W/B deck was more powerful and had more removal but the mana was a bit awkward and was probably soft to real card advantage. The R/G was light on removal and short about half a playable but had an unreal curve. I ended up deciding that against green and white decks the W/B deck would be better as you could trump the midrange mirrors and against Grixis color decks the R/G would be better as it was either bigger than early aggressive decks or fast against grindy control.
That was all fine for game 2s; what about game ones? Well there wasn't deck registration so I could choose either one depending on my opponent's deck (MTR 7.2) but for the early rounds I had no clue what they were playing.
My solution: sit down with both decks in identical sleeves. Pull out a die and roll. Odds was B/W evens was R/G. I ended up taking game 1 down both times I did this...and promptly sideboarded into the other deck after doing so.