A Look Back

With Betrayers coming out soon, I think this week is a good time to take a look back at some of the initial reviews of CoK Limited and see what we can learn from the mistakes that were made in initial evaluation of the new cards as well as how the format turned out as a whole. I do realize that this format will still be legal on MTGO for some time, but I think it’s still worth analyzing what has changed over the past few months of drafting in comparison to the initial insights on the set.

Before we get into any actually strategy today, I have a couple of things I want to clear up.

Maybe it’s me, but I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t trying to say that the UW Arcane decks that I posted in my “Backup Plan” article were bad decks or “trainwrecks”. I was actually just introducing a new archetype I found somewhat on accident while falling in love with drafting Dampen Thought and just control decks in general in this format. Mr. Becker seems to think otherwise though, and if I did come off as saying that the decks were “bad,” it was my mistake.

The first deck listed in Jon’s article though is the 4-color pile that I wrote a walkthrough about, and that deck is actually pretty mediocre. Yes it has a Jugan, and a Strength of Cedars, but does having those two cards alone make a deck a winner? I certainly think not, and as far as deck cohesion goes, the deck is severely lacking. The deck has no real plan of attack, and goes off in five different directions at once. Having a couple bombs doesn’t turn a pile of cards that don’t go well together into a well-oiled machine in my book.

Regardless, if it came off as whining, it wasn’t intended to sound that way, and I’m sorry. Hopefully we’re clear now, Jon, as I have always respected your opinion.

With that cleared up, we can move onto the topic of the week.

Ken Krouner once said that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to write articles about a new set until after it’s been out and been drafted for a few weeks. Clearly his point has merit, since people won’t have much experience with the new cards yet (except for the prerelease) and anything they write is based mostly on speculation and talking about how good a card should be in draft. I personally disagree with this, believing instead that the more that is written and talked about, the faster we will actually figure out a new set, but unfortunately I do believe Ken’s theory was right on the money with Champions. If you look back at the initial reviews that were done about the set, you’ll see a lot of things that were widely accepted about the new format actually turned out to be way off base. With Betrayers coming out soon, I think this week is a good time to take a look back at some of the initial reviews of CoK Limited and see what we can learn from the mistakes that were made in initial evaluation of the new cards as well as how the format turned out as a whole. I do realize that this format will still be legal on MTGO for some time, but I think it’s still worth analyzing what has changed over the past few months of drafting in comparison to the initial insights on the set.


So where do we even begin?

How about with Befoul. Befoul was a classic “it was great in Urza’s, so it’ll definitely be great in Champions.” Wrong.

When the set first came out, Befoul was at the top of everyone’s Black pick order, but now we’re seeing it nowhere near the top. Most people take Rend Spirit and Rend Flesh over it, as well as what is pretty much widely considered to be the best Black common now, Nezumi Cutthroat. I don’t play Black enough to know whether Rend Spirit is better than Befoul or not, but I’d definitely take Flesh over it. The real lesson to be learned here though is that just because a card was good in a past format doesn’t mean it’ll be good in the new one, and vice versa. A good reverse example of this would be in the case of Harrow, where it was terrible when initially printed in Tempest, but a first pick when reprinted in Invasion block due to the emphasis on gold cards, and therefore multicolored decks. Befoul is also deceiving because it has all the workings of an excellent removal spell, since it can always kill a land if your opponent has no non-Black guys. The real reason Befoul ended up not being as attractive in this format though is simply because it is so tempo oriented instead of control oriented like Urza’s Saga was.

Next up is Devouring Greed, which was found to be excellent pretty early on. Even though many people (myself included) wrote that Greed was a great spell, I don’t really think it sunk in that the card is basically a bomb and should be drafted and hatedrafted highly when possible. I think you can easily argue that Greed is better than Cutthroat first pick first pack if you plan on forcing Spirits as well. Just remember that you’re passing a Cutthroat and that could be bad in pack two.

Distress also began to get some playing time recently, mostly as an answer to the Dampen decks and control decks popping up everywhere, but in the end, the card is still a pain to cast and too marginal for most maindecks.

Another card that wasn’t given much credit right off the bat either was Kami of the Waning Moon and he actually turned out to be quite good, especially in combination with something like Wicked Akuba or a big Green creature.

Ragged Veins is actually playable, though probably not as good as I once suggested that it was. My bad.

Scuttling Death ended up being a lot better than people initially thought it would, and I actually take it over the removal spells a good bit of the time. The Soulshift combined with the ability to fizzle some spliced Arcane spells with only one target all stuffed into a 4/2 Spirit is an excellent package for the price.

As you can see, the card values in Black have done almost a complete 180 from the initial pick orders to the pick orders of today. Since I’m not a huge Black drafter, I don’t have a general definitive pick order and instead just draft what will suit my deck best at the time. The general evaluation of cards though did switch from Befoul, Rend Spirit, Rend Flesh all being near the top ranks to Cutthroat, Scuttling Death, and Devouring Greed. Just shows that nobody can really claim they understand a format until at least a month or two of extensive drafting and testing things out.

One last thing about Black is that I avoid it like the plague for two reasons. First, I’ve drafted it enough to know I don’t like it and don’t think the color is as good as most people make it out to be. Second, everyone and their brother tries to draft it, so even though the color is pretty deep, it ends up being a real strain on your card pool when many people enter the color. Just my two cents and I’m not claiming it’s 100% right, just my feelings on the issue.


Ah, my favorite color. This tends to be true in most draft environments by the way, not just Champions.

Blue is the real surprise color of Champions though, which everyone now knows is because of Dampen Thought. When the set first came out, I know everybody was thinking that Peer Through Depths and Sift Through Sands were just a big joke to summon Unspeakable with. I know I was. Now we’ve realized though that the power of Arcane justifies certain setbacks in spell costing, and those extra mana costs are well worth having the word Arcane in the textbox.

So Arcane spells got a big boost once people started to understand the format, but what went downhill? Two words for you, Mystic Restraints.

When the set first came out, this insta-enchantment was near the very top of everyone’s pick order and even in competition with Teller of Tales in some places. Wow, was that off. Anyone who still thinks Restraints is a high pick and great spell clearly hasn’t played enough of this format yet. I personally loathe the card and will only play it as an absolute last resort. I don’t even like picking it out of a pack because that may result in having to play it. I’d usually rather hate-draft a Greed or something. Why? The problem isn’t the actual power of the spell, but more that there are a million and one easy answers to the card present in the set. I’ve been over this in other articles, but I really think it is a solid point to make since what looks to be a great “removal” spell in Blue is actually not because of the other cards in the format. Kami of Ancient Law, Teller, Psychic Puppetry (which I’d rather have than Restraints – sad I know), Consuming Vortex, Blessed Breath…the list goes on and on. My real point here is that this card isn’t very good and you shouldn’t be playing it that often. As with Befoul, certain aspects of the environment can make what looks to be an excellent card into a sideboard scrap.

Anyway, let’s move back to something good. Hisoka’s Defiance seemed pretty marginal upon release of the set, and I know I wasn’t a huge fan right away. This is the opposite of Restraints, as I now love this card and will play up to two maindeck most of the time. The card is such a great answer to most of the powerful spells in the format, and also a good solution to the Arcane trend of late.

Teller of Tales of course lived up to the initial hype, and possibly even exceeded it, being by far the best Aven Windreader we’ve seen. Another reprint in River Kaijin actually turned out to be excellent, while its brother Horned Turtle didn’t really cut the mustard. This is especially interesting since Horned Turtle was in Tempest, which was also considered to be an aggressive tempo environment. Maybe it’s just because of all of the good two-drops in Champions that the Kaijin succeeded, or the fact that he can stop Kitsune Blademaster and Ronin Houndmaster? Whatever the case, this guy is a great addition to anything sporting Islands.

Lifted by Clouds was uh.. yeah… still terrible.

Blue was clearly the breakout color of the set, since no one expected the Arcane deck to be any good and it actually turned out to be a monster.

Red, Green, & White

I put all of these colors together because there really wasn’t that big of a flux in card valuations, and most of the stuff said early on was right on the money. There are still a few things to be said though.

First we have Red, which ended up being more of a supporting color than a main color on any regular basis. Sure, if you get an army of Frostwielders, go ahead and use Red as a main color. In most cases you’re simply gonna be splashing Glacial Ray and Yamabushi’s Flame.

A few cards that were underrated at first though and came out of their respective shells were Kami of Fire’s Roar and Yamabushi’s Storm. Storm as more of an answer to the Fear Rat (Cutthroat) trend, and Kami of Fire’s Roar as an excellent addition to anything already based around Spirits. Lava Spike also gained some recognition as of late in anything that leans toward aggression, or just as a splice “vessel” as Mr. Aten has been calling them. Nothing overly exciting here though.

Next is Green, which has had the dilemma of Kodama’s Reach vs. Tribe Elder since the set reached store shelves. The answer? It depends on the deck. First pick, first pack, I’m still taking Kodama’s Reach, since it’s a more flexible card and offers more raw power in mana acceleration. If you’re already in an aggressive deck though, Tribe Elder is certainly the pick since you’d rather gain speed from your mana acceleration than card advantage and color selection. Kodama’s Might also was initially rated too low on most peoples’ lists and turned out to be one of the best pump spells we’ve seen in Limited in quite a while. Commune with Nature is also very mediocre, while a card like Joyous Respite which was initially deemed worthless is pretty solid in a Green based Arcane control deck with Kodama’s Reaches.

Last, we come to White. The orders for this color were generally dead on as well, as there was the initial debate between Moth, Cage, and Blademaster, but the debate was easily solved and still holds true today. Cage, then Moth, then Blademaster if you didn’t know that already. [This is far from the consensus among the pros I talk to. – Knut] Kami of Ancient Law was one card initially not given enough credit that ended up being a very solid pick, as well as Blessed Breath, which is so much better than Indomitable Will it’s not even funny. Speaking of Indomitable Will, you all know I don’t like the card, and I think that it is still overrated by many players. The last card that was initially deemed a “mulligan” if your opponent cast it against you, but actually turned out to be fine due to the Arcane trend is Ethereal Haze. Quite the necessity in making the Dampen deck work, I might add, especially since it’s in the common slot.

Another interesting thing we learned over the past few months are that Zuberas aren’t really what they were supposed to be. Piemaster initially posted a Zubera draft strategy which doesn’t really get played very often, and isn’t that great when it does, since a single Hisoka’s Defiance will ruin your Greed or Rage plans and everyone is packing Defiance to stop the Dampen deck already.

A Look Forward

So what does all of this mean anyway?

Well, Betrayers is almost here. It’s nice to know where you stand in a current environment so that you’re able to evaluate the impact a new set will have on the existing cards and archetypes.

Clearly the Dampen Thought deck will suffer with the loss of a pack, even if there are plenty of good Blue Arcane spells among the new cards. One less pack to crack a Dampen is most likely bad news for the archetype unless some miracle comes along. The environment overall is pretty aggressive, and I think we’ll probably see a trend that still leans towards that notion.

While I have only seen the spoiler and the cards released on mtg.com, I think White may play a larger role once the new set is released because of the huge number of one-drops present in White that can be easily used to Ninjitsu out a powerful creature ASAP. Lantern Kami certainly tops this list and is joined by Devoted Retainer and Bushi Tenderfoot. Lantern Kami is an excellent creature for the Ninjitsu ability though, since it has evasion and is cheap anyway. Keep an eye out for that.

Hopefully we’ll have a more open mind when evaluating the new set, and at least now we’ll have the information about what the current environment is like and how certain cards may fit into it. And clearly, these Champions card evaluations will change yet again and we’ll have to stay on our toes if we want to keep up with it all.

Have fun at the prerelease.

Nick Eisel

Soooooo on MODO

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