Guys: M13 is awesome!
I realize it's still early in the format but this is the best core set experience I've ever had. The speed of the format feels like it's in a good place. Seven-drop bombs aren't as dominating as they were in M10 but neither are they as clunky as they were in M12. The high-variance bloodthirst is gone replaced with exalted. It's another great aggressive mechanic that makes sure games don't stall into who can activate their Vedalken Entrancer more times but the quick exalted draws don't wipe you off the map the way Goblin Fireslinger into Stormblood Berserker into Blood Ogre did.
It also feels like games have more interaction. The creatures aren't all vanilla or "French vanilla" (like Wind Drake with a blank text box except for a single keyword ability). We have common guys like Griffin Protector Rummaging Goblin Scroll Thief and Liliana's Shade with abilities that add a dimension to the game. You're actually looking for synergies when drafting not just taking the generically best card and hoping they draw more lands than you.
These are my favorite and least favorite cards from each color. It's certainly not a scientific card-by-card breakdown and pick order. Those are no fun to read plus you already know that Searing Spear is good.
This guy looks a little like the old stalwart from Alpha Hurloon Minotaur. Minotaurs have never been bad cards in Limited but they've never been exceptional either. So you could be forgiven for imagining that Watercourser is similar. A reasonable filler creature but don't take it high and cut it if your deck's very good.
As it turns out Watercourser is closer to the Courser of the Centaur variety than to any labyrinth inhabitants from Hurloon. A 2/3 is reasonable but it's the ability to be a 3/2 or a 4/1 at will that makes him surprisingly efficient. On defense he can take down a Sentinel Spider. On offense he can swing into a board of Serra Angel and Silvercoat Lion and all their blocks are miserable. Watercourser behaves more like a 4/3 any turn you have a couple mana up.
It's the set's flagship keyword—exalted—that pushes him over the top. Every point of toughness Watercourser has counts double because you can turn it into power. Swinging with a 3/4 Watercourser is like attacking with Craw Wurm. Imagine they have three blue mana up and you're trying to block it with a board of two 3/3s and a 0/5. If it was a regular 3/4 you'd have great options: take three double block and trade with a Canyon Minotaur or stop it with your Wall. Thanks to that pesky Morphling-esque ability your choices have deteriorated. Take six chump with Wall or trade both your Hill Giants for it...
… And to make matters that much worse it's that "generic dorky blue guy" you passed eighth pick.
Overrated: Jace's Phantasm
Werebear was good. Springing Tiger was frankly enormous. Krosan Beast was a little more dicey but you could get the deck for him and boy did he make for some great stories. Why not the Phantasm? A one-mana 5/5 with flying is worth the wait surely.
Two reasons. One ten cards in graveyard is a lot more than seven. It's well known that Magic doesn't scale linearly so six mana to five is a far bigger gap than three mana to two. Similarly five cards in graveyard is not much more than three but nine is quite a bit more than seven. Four or so cards in graveyard will probably happen naturally by turn 6 but every card after that needs work. Seven cards means you need the game to go long or some active mill. Ten cards means you need the game to go long and some active mill. You are simply never triggering this guy without Vedalken Entrancer and Mind Sculpt.
Two he looks at their graveyard instead of yours. It's much easier to influence your side of the table. A few Rummaging Goblins cantrips removal maybe even a cheeky Trading Post. Putting cards in their graveyard is much harder. Only a few cards in the set will help you out and fewer still of those are cards you actually want to play. Vedalken Entrancer is not a great blocker because a lot of decks you play against will be sending in their single enormous exalted attacker turn after turn. Mind Sculpt? Sure if you live the dream with five of them two Entrancers and a Jace Memory Adept. Two Jace's Phantasms as well why not?
Underrated: Knight of Glory
You know this guy is good.
But he's even better than that.
Cheap exalted creatures are great for two reasons. One they have exalted. This is a sweet ability as anyone who remembers curving Akrasan Squire into Qasali Pridemage will tell you. A few exalted triggers let you swing every turn with a single creature which either does them a ton of damage gets chumped or trades for a much better dude. If it does trade send your next 2/2 in as a 5/5. It's an attrition war they can't possibly win.
Two they do a tonof damage early. This is why Knight of Glory is better than Aven Squire and also why Akrasan Squire is better than Duty-Bound Dead (we'll get to that in a second.) An effectively three-power two-drop can hand out six damage easy as anything. More like eight to twelve if you follow him up with a Guardians of Akrasa. And with exalted once you've got them on the back foot the fun never stops. They trade their Sentinel Spiders for your Aven Squires a few times and then die. You win a big chunk of games when you hit the Knight on turn 2.
Overrated: Safe Passage
This card was sweet two years ago. It salvaged two-for-ones from messy combats Fogged for a critical turn or just filled that Giant Growth-esque role when you needed your 4/4 to beat theirs.
Sadly that was two years ago. Thanks to exalted combats are now frequently one huge guy getting chumped by a Goblin token. Especially in white decks you don't smash with everyone very often. It can be sweet out of the board against green/red decks that plan to do just that but I wouldn't start it.
Show of Valor is a better trick if you happen to be in the market. Let this one safely past you.
Underrated: Crippling Blight
It's remarkable how sometimes when you tack a trivial ability onto a marginal card it becomes a solid playable. Crippling Blight would be merely a filler card without that "can't block" text comparable to Ghoulflesh from Avacyn Restored. While a lot of the early creatures in this format have one toughness (Rummaging Goblin Arbor Elf Aven Squire Welkin Tern Servant of Nefarox) it wouldn't be a versatile enough removal spell to justify a second copy.
But "can't block" makes all the difference. Blight on a Fog Bank or a Scroll Thief is as good as a Murder. It kills the better part of a Pillarfield Ox or a Wind Drake. Even on a Serra Angel Crippling Blight might get the job done. You're taking three a turn but if that was what you needed to clear the way for Bloodhunter Bat wearing a Mark of the Vampire it was one mana well spent.
Using a spell to make a guy smaller is usually a bad trade because that guy can still chump/trade at a crucial time. But Blight precludes that possibility. And since small creatures make terrible attackers it's often most of a removal spell—rate it accordingly. I've taken Crippling Blight over Liliana's Shade in the right deck.
Overrated: Duty-Bound Dead
Ok so this is a little misleading.
But he's just a good card. Maybe the sixth best black common. There are situations I would take Crippling Blight over him. Probably only 25% of the time but still.
The problem is Akrasan Squire. There were decks in Shards Limited that would take Akrasan Squire over Oblivion Ring. Duty-Bound Dead is like Akrasan Squire in that he costs one mana and has exalted. On turn 6 he's actually a lot better than Akrasan Squire because he can block and regenerate in addition to pumping your attacker! What's not to love?
But no one played Akrasan Squire for how good it was on turn 6. They played it to drop on turn 1. The plan was to attack for two on turn 2 then three when you play Guardians of Akrasa then three again on turn 4 and play a flier. Suddenly they're dead in three hits. And that was just an average draw—you didn't even hit your two-drop.
You can see how much worse Duty-Bound Dead is in this situation. It's still fine of course. But you're playing it for the extra exalted trigger not the body. The Dead itself doesn't race well. The regeneration is nice but four mana is actually a ton and it won't be relevant until turn 8.
Underrated: Chandra's Fury
You haven't lived until you've ripped this off the top to kill four Goblin tokens a Rummaging Goblin and a Knight of Glory plus put them in lethal range of your attackers so Guardians of Akrasa has to chump Servant of Nefarox.
Initially I thought Chandra's Fury was expensive and a little narrow and that the sideboard was the best place for it. I thought wrong. That bit above about Crippling Blight and lots of one-toughness creatures in this format is very relevant. Usually Chandra's Fury will kill something and even when it doesn't it's four-fifths of a Lava Axe. The card is a little like Blisterstick Shaman: sometimes amazing never dead.
As a corollary Cower in Fear is similarly great. Probably even better because you can play it in control decks where the Lava Axe effect is superfluous. Yes I've killed a Knight of Infamy and a Servant of Nefarox on turn 3 and yes it does feel good. Respect both cards when black and red decks are mysteriously leaving mana up. The last thing you need is their 2/2s trading for your 3/3s in addition to your Ravenous Rats and Captain's Call being wiped.
Overrated: Reckless Brute
This guy turns out to just be bad. His stats look reasonable but the "must attack if able" clause is a huge drawback on a creature his size. This set has Elvish Visionary Ravenous Rats and Krenko's Command all at common and any of them make Reckless Brute look embarrassing not to mention Attended Knight or Captain's Call or even Kraken Hatchling. And let's not get started on what happens when you draw him after turn 3 and they have some reasonably sized creature in play even a Vedalken Entrancer.
He looks tempting to play if you have a lot of Mogg Flunkies but try and resist the urge. Any random creature even a generic Silvercoat Lion or Walking Corpse leaves Flunkies without a friend just as quickly as it made one. And if you were on the draw and they play a turn 3 Attended Knight your "great draw" looks well...awkward. Be reckful and leave the Brute in the board.
Underrated: Primal Huntbeast
Green is a difficult color to do this for because all its cards are pretty self-explanatory. Prey Upon is still great Arbor Elf is still great there are a bunch of creatures of which Centaur Courser and Sentinel Spider are the best and then Plummet and Titanic Growth are sideboard/filler. Rancor is fantastic but don't get carried away because of how good it is in Constructed. It's powerful but exclusively an aggressive card. I'd take Centaur Courser over it if I thought my deck was on the controlling end of the spectrum.
So that leaves us with the unassuming Huntbeast. Hexproof doesn't look like much of an ability but it can be a game-breaker against some decks in the format particularly red/black or blue/black. And hey anyone remember Sacred Wolf + Spirit Mantle? That's what Primal Huntbeast does with Tricks of the Trade or (even better) Mark of the Vampire all at common. Assemble your very own Invisible Stalker + Butcher's Cleaver. Even the aforementioned Rancor can be devastating particularly combined with Titanic Growth.
In all but the most Vampirically Marked drafts I'd take Centaur Courser and Spider over this guy. But there are some sweet synergies to be aware of. And even if you don't get them he'll always be a solid curve-filler.
Overrated: Roaring Primadox
But there aren't enough synergies to make him worth it. Elvish Visionary is obviously the best and if I had three or more I'd actively start looking to pick Primadoxes up. Ravenous Rats is reasonable and Attended Knight is cute. Bond Beetle is a sufficiently awful card that I'd need multiple Primadoxes to even consider him. Putting multiple marginal cards in your deck because they work so well together is a good way to draw the wrong half and lose uneventfully to the consistent deck.
The payoff is high with this guy but the consistency isn't there. You need a lot to go right with your draft and you need even more to go right in the game. Even if you drop him early with Elvish Visionary in play and are all set to go big you roll over to Crippling Blight. My attitude towards this card is similar to my attitude towards mill: if it falls in your lap great go for it but don't go out of your way to try and make it work. Too often the pieces won't be there and you'll end up with half a deck.
Honorable Artifact Mention
I really like this unassuming little guy.
Limited decks unlike Constructed decks aren't renowned for their mana efficiency. You'll miss a two-drop and maybe play a three-drop on turn 4. Chronomaton turns that unused mana into beef. On turn 3 he can trade for a Knight of Glory. By turn 5 he'll likely be able to swing for three. If the game goes long he can swing for seven. He's fine to draw late and even better to draw early.
To give some perspective I rate Chronomaton slightly higher than Centaur Courser in most green decks. That means I wouldn't hate taking him first pick out of a weak opening pack. Not only does he let you remain uncommitted to color he's going to be good regardless of where you fall on the control/aggro spectrum.
Until next time