Betting the Over/Under in Mirrodin/Darksteel Limited
This week, I'm going to change pace a bit and talk about Limited ideas. As much as I like building new decks and trying out different ideas in Standard, my Limited credentials definitely exceed any successes I've had in Constructed play, so I should spend at least some of my articles talking about drafting. I would bore you with the details of how much better I've done in Limited events, but by the time I got to the"I" at the start of the sentence, I realized that it might require some effort to either think about or research the details, and I'm a pretty lazy person. For the 0.001% of you who actually care, I'm sure it's on the internet somewhere.
Lists seem to be the most effective means of expressing cards that you like and dislike, but I really don't think that pick orders specifically are a very good way to go about it. For instance, Ken Krouner and Mike Turian I think had some discussion of Clockwork Condor versus Steel Wall in their respective pick orders about a month back. The problem with having an argument like this is that there are a lot of different effective draft archetypes in Mirrodin/Darksteel draft, and there will be many instances where either Steel Wall or Clockwork Condor will be the clear cut best pick for the respective archetype... only in very drastic cases, like Bonesplitter versus Disarm, or Loxodon Warhammer versus Loxodon Mender, can such an argument actually come to a clear resolution.
You must also take into consideration what you've drafted, and, to a lesser extent, what you've passed, up to that point. For instance, in the Clockwork Condor versus Steel Wall argument, you may have a Green/Blue deck (a fine home for the Condor) in the works going into the end of pack two, only to find yourself without a Myr or Talisman in your stack... while that tenth-pick Condor would be an acceptable addition to your deck, Steel Wall could potentially save you significant amounts of life until you are able to crank out your four- and five-mana Green threats... after all, going into pack three, the only further mana acceleration you can hope for is Vedalken Engineer and the sketchy sketchy Darksteel Ingot. (I suppose Reap and Sow technically counts as well, but that card is really slow and really bad in Limited.) So it's a little more complicated than a set-in-stone one to thirtysomething list of stuff. That said, I'm going to present you with two lists... the top five most underrated cards that you should be playing with, and the top five most overrated cards that you should either avoid or put in your sideboard.
Top 5 Most Underrated Cards for Mirrodin/Mirrodin/Darksteel Draft
These are the cards that I can open in a draft, and even though I want to take it, I know for an absolute fact that it will lap the table (i.e. get passed all the way back to me). Cards like this are important to pick up and integrate into effective draft strategies, because, by virtue of the fact that they're underrated, unwitting drafters to both sides of you will be feeding these same cards to you draft after draft.
Honorable Mention - Malachite Golem
I'm not going to include him on the list, because the Golem shouldn't go in your deck every time, but, contrary to popular belief, he is not completely unplayable and is actually a fine substitute at the higher end of a draft deck's curve, assuming the obvious better options at those casting costs are exhausted. This card just shouldn't be going fourteenth or fifteenth.
5. Wurmskin Forger
I remember the first thing that I ever read about this card was how, at one of the first Grand Prix after the release of Mirrodin, this card was the butt of every"worst card" joke... until Antonio De Rosa tore through the Swiss and subsequent Top 8 with more than a few brutal Forger turns. The great thing about this card is that it has"half-Haste," if that makes any sense. Meaning that, the three power worth of tokens you get to drop onto a creature already in play, act as a three power haste creature of sorts, and you get a 2/2 body left over after that. Coupled with Blue bounce such as Aether Spellbomb or Crystal Shard, or other recursive measures, the Forger's draftability increases even more.
Some among you may be pointing to the seemingly hefty seven mana price tag on the Forger, but I've found Green and Blue decks specifically need to draft a lot of Myr and Talismans to be effective (a typical draft of mine in those colors is fifteen land and four or five Myr/Talismans in terms of a mana base). With that in mind, the Forger's casting cost is a little less of an issue.
4. Auriok Bladewarden
Whenever I see this card after sixth pick, or even at sixth really, I just scratch my head. Without any type of Equipment bonuses (and a good White deck is obviously going to have some good Equipment), it still provides a solid +1/+1 bonus with no activation cost, and has a meager casting cost of 1W. In my opinion, even if you have no Equipment, this is a very, very fine addition to a White deck. Most White creatures in this format suffer from the fact that they are crappy and not good to play with, and this makes them more bearable when they hit the board. Of course, a card like Bonesplitter that you can put on the Bladewarden, then activate, then move to a creature, makes the 'Warden absolutely ridiculous. It also has incredible synergy with another underrated White uncommon that didn't make the list, Roar of the Kha. Take this card if you're playing White.
There are a couple of color combinations that can get away with these. Dave Humphreys did pretty well at some West Coast Grand Prix with a nineteen land White/Blue deck that had a lot of solid non/Myr/Talisman early drops, and Kai Budde won some Grand Prix: Madrid with an eighteen land White/Red/splash Black deck, but, generally speaking, you need these things to be competitive at a serious draft table. You're probably thinking,"Dude, I already take Myr and Talismans at pick five or so!" That might not be early enough. With one less pack of Mirrodin in the mix, Myr are harder to get, and being the guy that has his already gives you greater flexibility
After all, how many times have you waited on Myr and then been forced with something like Off Color Myr vs. Somber Hoverguard at pick seven? What do you do? It's not like the Hoverguard will be worth a damn without any mana acceleration, so you're pretty much trapped into taking the Myr at that point. On the other hand, if you snag three or so after pack one, you get to take advantage of all the stragglers who waited on their Myr, and you'll be the guy taking the eighth-pick Hoverguard that Hypothetical Dude had to ship. White doesn't really need them, but just about every other color has an insatiable appetite for these things, and fulfilling that will put you into the finals more often than not.
2. Sun Droplet
I wasn't sure to put this at first, and, in fact, it's probably a neck-and-neck tie between Sun Droplet and the number one card, with the only tie breaker being the fact that the number one card is far easier to get in a draft, although Sun Droplet is rather easy to get. To say that I think extremely highly of this card would be a huge understatement... after getting wrecked by this card about three times in Mirrodin-Only Draft on Magic Online, I made a point to draft it the next time I saw it. I did, and instantly saw the power of this card.
For an investment of two mana, you get a pseudo-Ivory Tower for creature damage racing. In fact, the very first time I played it was just after my opponent played a turn 3 Neurok Spy. I had led with a Myr, and dropped another Myr and the Droplet turn 3. That Neurok Spy never once attacked, eventually chump-blocking a Trolls of Tel-Jilad about five turns later. When you consider that most creature removal is used to kill evasion creatures that are threatening to attack, Sun Droplet functions in much the same capacity -either neutralizing them by forcing them to hold back on defense, or drastically reducing the damage they inflict over the long term. The sad thing is, I've taken this card as high as my first overall pick in a draft, but also have gotten it as late as eleventh or twelfth. Snag it when you can, and your deck will be better for it.
1. Synod Sanctum
I ignored this card for quite some time, but, as you can tell, I actually read up on the big events (i.e. Grand Prix and Pro Tours) once in awhile, and, in one of those readings, saw that Yann Hamon had won a Grand Prix using a Blue/Green deck. Upon perusing the list, I saw the Sanctum, and was a bit surprised. This Hamon guy is apparently pretty sharp, having won that Grand Prix, and then finished in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour the next week, so I figured I'd give it a whirl. I figured its best synergy would be with Green and Blue, but I was wrong on both counts. The very first time I had this card in play in a Black deck, I knew at once that this card was much more powerful than most people give it credit for. My Nim Lashers, once moderate threats at 3/1, now became 4/1s that my opponent no longer had any interest in blocking in a one-for-one situation. My Moriok Scavenger got back the same Myr Enforcer twice, the second time after being called back into duty by the Sanctum at instant speed during combat to chump block a would-be lethal Plated Slagwurm.
It has great synergy with any positive comes-into-play ability creature, makes blocking and trading a strategic blunder for the opponent, counts towards your Affinity/Nim count, brings tapped creatures back into play untapped (stopping such spells as Blinding Beam), gives your chump blockers double duty, counters artifact or creature destruction spells on your other permanents, and just generally frustrates your opponent once it hits the board, much in the same way Sun Droplet does. The laughable part of it all is how easy this card is to get in draft. I've opened this card many times (it comes in the Mindstorm Crown run of uncommons), and I can always pass it, secure in the knowledge that it will definitely, 100% of the time come back to me. I'm not sure why this is... I guess people just aren't used to the function that the card provides, and don't want to take the risk of evaluating it during in-game situations. Draft this card, you won't be sorry.
Now, the Top 5 Most Overrated Cards in Mirrodin/Mirrodin/Darksteel Draft
As hyped as this card was after the release of Mirrodin, I've found that in most cases it's simply too slow to be effective and consistent. It's still a pretty good card, and can pull you out of some unbelievable situations, but sometimes even when it's activated, it only prolongs the inevitable. For every time that you are able to sacrifice all your opponent's creatures to their Nim Shambler or dump all their artifacts to a member the Krark-Clan, there will be just as many times where you simply tap them out as best you can and get back to your turn. Still worth drafting for the stories though.
4. Tel-Jilad Chosen/Tel-Jilad Archers
When I tell people how much I like to draft Green in the current format, I get a lot of lukewarm responses from draft friends. They often point back to one of those two cards, and say"But those Tel-Jilads just aren't that good." I agree. Apparently, people have the mindset that the pro-artifact route with those two creatures is the way to go with Green, and this is just plain wrong.
They both have major inherent flaws. The Chosen, for instance, comes at the pivotal two-mana slot. Earlier I expressed how important I think Myr are, and, I think they're so important that there are maybe three creatures that I'd consider playing at the two mana slot to complement them, Auriok Bladewarden being one of them. Tel-Jilad Chosen, on the other hand, isn't. For two mana, you get an unequippable 2/1 that will be unblockable for two turns if you're lucky. No thanks, I'll take an off-color Talisman over that any day. The Archers, on the other hand, suffer from their horrendous stats. 2/4 for five mana? Who cares about blocking fliers, when I want to attack every turn? It's not the absolute worst card, but not something you should be proud of.
3. Mirror Golem
I used to think this card was the best thing since Fireslinger. I'd take it over pretty much anything in a pack (it comes together with Fireshrieker usually), since it absolutely owns the long game. The more I played with it though, the less impressed I became. It is a moderately good card in the mid-to-late game, but did nothing to deserve the high pick status that I had designated to it. It is slow, it only hits for three damage, and it's not immune to artifact kill most of the time, since the most common imprint on it is an artifact creature for both protection abilities. If you get it late, that's cool, but it's not worth taking over anything of consequence, such as a Hoverguard, Bonesplitter, Fireshrieker, etc.
2. Neurok Prodigy
The only Darksteel card so far to make the list! I have played about fifteen Darksteel inclusive drafts so far, and I initially rated the Prodigy really highly. The only thing in Blue I'd take over it would be Spire Golem. However, my experience has shown that a 2/1 flier is no big deal in this format, and the bouncing ability is negligible, because the artifacts that you'd be pitching are almost certainly as meaningful, if not moreso, than the Prodigy, save artifact lands and late game Myr. The Prodigy will probably still find his way into your deck, but don't prioritize him highly at all. The Quicksilver Behemoth in the same set is infinitely better.
1. Spikeshot Goblin
Yep, good 'ole Spike makes the list at numero uno. Even in Mirrodin-Only draft, I had begun to question how good it actually was, but there is no doubt that Spikeshot moves down a notch on the power scale with the addition of a Darksteel pack, and, more crucially, the loss of a Mirrodin pack. While Mirrodin had more than a few ways to turn Spikeshot from a glorified Prodigal Sorcerer into a Howitzer, Darksteel is pretty lacking in that capacity. Only Vulshok Morningstar and the uncommon Stand Together can reliably put some permanent power into Spikeshot's punch, and, let's face it, without a power bonus attached to him, Spike would have a hard time fending off anything of consequence. As in the case of the Golem and the Prodigy, I'm not saying that these cards are outright terrible, moreso that their stock has declined with the addition of the new set.
Why aren't there more Darksteel cards on the list, you ask? Honestly, having played with the set for some time now, I really feel that it is fairly obvious to most people, myself included, which Darksteel cards are really good, which are so-so, and which are outright terrible. (With the exception so far being that a lot of people seem to think Neurok Prodigy is good, while I merely think it's an acceptable sixth or seventh pick at best.) Perhaps the one thing that I'm totally undecided on in terms of card quality right now is the Vedalken Engineer - I know he's good with enough artifacts, but it's not really that simple. If you have twelve artifacts, but eight of them cost one or two mana, then the Engineer is going to be near useless. On the other hand, you could have eight artifacts that are all either expensive equipment or five-mana creatures, in which case I think the Engineer would have a home despite the low overall artifact count.
Hopefully I'll have it sorted out before Grand Prix Columbus.
'Til Next Week,
Mkrzywicki and RonnieDobbs on MTGO- Message me or my friend Heineken online if you are interested in buying or selling cards...We're always buying collections!