Hello again! Unfortunately for me, this past week two of my closest friends went on separate vacations, and I found myself without much to do. Fortunately for you, that means I spent most of my nights drafting Magic’s newest core set, M14, repeatedly online.
My first taste of the set came when I played in a Prerelease event at my local store. The format was Sealed Deck, and I have to say I was a little underwhelmed. The decks built themselves, there was a lot of variance in card pool power level, and a few too many games were decided by bombs for my liking. Because of this I was a little wary when I settled in for my first dose of M14 Draft. Limited is by far my favorite format, and the difference between a good Draft set and a bad Draft set directly correlates to how much I look forward to playing Magic in the months after its release.
That being said, I was pleasantly surprised and extremely happy once I had a few drafts under my belt. The drafting itself felt very intuitive, and having a plan as opposed to just powerful cards is very important. I have still met defeat at the hands of cards like Shadowborn Demon and Kalonian Hydra, but there’s going to be some amount of that in every set. Most bombs in this set fall more into the Shivan Dragon or Colossal Whale classification: still powerful but slower and beatable if you leverage your removal and tricks correctly.
For today’s article, I’d like to go over some of the cards in the set from a Limited perspective. I’ll be going color by color, and along with generally solid cards I’m going to talk about cards I’ve found underwhelming, cards that are better than they first appear, and cards that act as role players for specific archetypes. For the sake of keeping this article a reasonable length, I’m going to split the analysis up between today and my article next week. We’ll start by covering blue, red, and white and save green, black, and artifacts for next week.
Air Servant: Let’s kick things off with a big one. This guy hits like an Air Elemental, which is a great place to be in a core set. For the cost of one toughness, you get the bonus of being able to tap down all of your opponent’s fliers. In the right matchups, this ability is great because not only do you get to attack through with all of your fliers but you don’t even have to worry about the crack back. Air Servant is a great first pick and probably the best non-rare blue card in the set.
Claustrophobia: Claustrophobia is one of the reasons blue is probably the best color in Magic 2014. If the set lacks anything, it is easily accessible hard removal. Claustrophobia gets the job done at a great rate, and unlike in Innistrad you don’t have to worry about a Village Bell Ringer coming down to ruin your day.
Coral Merfolk: The blue Goblin Piker. Every time I’ve had to play this guy in my maindeck I’ve been very sad. It doesn’t fly, and blue doesn’t have any tricks to help push it through the red zone. When paired with other colors that do have combat tricks, you should have access to much better ground attackers so Coral Merfolk should never make the cut. The only use I’ve found for it is after sideboarding against very aggressive R/W decks where I absolutely need a small creature to get in the way of Master of Diversion.
Disperse: Unfortunately, in Limited Disperse is close to a two-mana Unsummon. Fortunately, M14 has a very powerful Aura theme, which makes Disperse’s stock go way up. Additionally, most of my blue decks have been very tempo based. Disperse does a great job of slowing your opponent down while you peck away at them with fliers. When drafting U/G, make sure to keep an eye out for Disperse because the color combination is very light on cards that can interact with your opponent. Overall, a solid card that I always like to play in my blue decks.
Frost Breath: With a card like Frost Breath, you’re trading a card for a temporary effect, which I usually don’t like. However, Frost Breath’s effect is very powerful, acting like a mini Blinding Beam. I wouldn’t recommend playing more than one of these unless you really need a way to get your creatures through the red zone. Frost Breath is most at home in U/G because when you cast it your ground pounders are big enough to really leave a dent in your opponent’s life total before their creatures get to untap.
Negate: A very important skill to have in Limited is drafting strong cards for your sideboard. Negate is exactly that type of card. While it won’t help you out much while you’re being crushed by an aggressive creature deck, bringing in a Negate for games 2 and 3 against the right deck can be backbreaking. If your opponent has a lot of removal or a powerful noncreature card (i.e., a planeswalker), you’re going to want to have access to a two-mana way to deal with it.
Seacoast Drake: I’ve heard a lot of people bash this little guy, and I just don’t get it. Its 1/3 body matches up extremely well against all of the two-drops in the set sans Kalonian Tusker as well as a lot of the three-drops. It’s great at poking through early flying damage, and in an Aura-heavy set it carries cards such as Lightning Talons like a boss. Sure, it’s not the kind of creature that’s going to outright smash your opponent, but it serves a role and serves it well. Many of my winning blue decks have featured one or two Seacoast Drakes, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Spell Blast: I don’t really understand why a card like Spell Blast was reprinted in this day and age of Magic. The rate you get on this card is so terrible it makes me want to cry. Just compare it to Cancel—for one more mana, you get to counter anything! The only thing Spell Blast is more efficient at countering is one-drops, and it can’t even do that if you’re on the play! The only reason I mention Spell Blast is because for some reason I’ve seen people playing with it and I’m not sure why. Trust me, just draft some Cancels (a common) and you’ll be much better off. The fact that this card takes up an uncommon slot is infuriating.
Trained Condor: This Bird must have a really strong back because it has not only carried me to a lot of draft wins but it’s carried some 4/4 Rumbling Baloths to smash into my opponent’s face. A Wind Drake’s worth of power that lets your ground creatures keep swinging after the ground is gummed up is incredible. There’s not much else to say; Trained Condor is just a great man to have on the team. The fact that Scroll Thief is in this set is just gravy.
Warden of Evos Isle: A three-mana 2/2 flier for three is always going to be a solid playable in Limited, especially core sets. The fact that the Warden has some text to go along with its stats turns it from solid to potentially insane. Playing a turn 3 Warden into either a turn 4 Messenger Drake or Air Servant is going to put your opponent under some serious pressure. I still see Warden pretty late in a lot of drafts, and, I think that’s because people underestimate how relevant its cost reduction can be.
Overall, I think blue is the strongest color in M14 Limited. You have access to a lot of efficient fliers along with a premium removal spell in Claustrophobia. If you’re getting a blue signal, be happy and move in!
Next let’s move on to red.
Academy Raider: I absolutely love this guy, and from what I’ve seen I might be in the minority. Looters are always great in Limited because turning extra lands into real cards can bury your opponent in pseudo-card advantage. Dealing damage while you loot is where things start to turn from good to great, and let me tell you this guy does a great Looter il-Kor impression. Even against other red decks when they can actually block it you can usually find a one-toughness creature to trade it off with, although I do usually board him for games 2-3. The one downside I’ve found is how easily Sliver Construct can get in its way.
Act of Treason: A threaten effect is always a good thing to have around when you’re playing an aggressive deck. In this set, however, Act of Treason has some added utility. Between R/B and Bubbling Cauldron, there are a lot of ways to sacrifice creatures. What’s better than taking your opponent’s creature, bashing them with it, and then making sure they don’t get it back while you get additional value? Last time I checked Slave of Bolas was a five-mana card. In M14 the R/B sacrifice deck is a very real thing, and Act of Treason is one of the cards that rewards it.
Chandra’s Outrage: Clearly a very good card, and if you get passed one it means you should probably move into red in a hurry. It kills most of the biggest creatures in the set at a reasonable rate and does two points to the dome while you’re at it. There’s no red common in the set I’d take over it.
Cyclops Tyrant: What would you expect to find on a six-mana 3/4? Clearly a drawback. That being said, Cyclops Tyrant is actually a pretty serviceable finisher for red decks. Most red creatures can’t even effectively block it, so its intimidate is almost unblockability. Although I’ve probably played this guy maindeck less than 50% of the time, I always keep one eye open for matchups where the games are going to go long and I need to sideboard in a good finisher.
Flames of the Firebrand: This card is off the chain crazy. Hands down the best uncommon in red in M14. Being able to two for one your opponent on turn 3 is incredible, and on those special occasions where you get a three for one, your opponent will probably concede on the spot out of shame. Take it over Chandra’s Outrage every time. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did.
Goblin Diplomats: It’s rare that you find an efficiently costed beater that can lead to such blowouts. All you need are creatures bigger than your opponent’s and this guy will take over the game. It’s best when paired with green because you’ll generally have the biggest guys on the board. These diplomats may look innocent and funny, but trust me, you do not want to be on the wrong side of the table when they get tapped.
Regathan Firecat: Regathan Firecat moved up my list from 22-23rd card to card I don’t mind third-to-fourth picking in a hurry. It hits like a truck for the low cost of three mana, and if you can repeatedly push it through the red zone with cards like Goblin Shortcutter and Master of Diversion, it’ll end the game in a hurry. In a removal-light set, slapping Lightning Talons on it on turn 4 might end the game before your opponent knows what hit them.
Shiv’s Embrace: People tend not to like Auras because of how easily you can be two for oned. Shiv’s Embrace is the kind of card that makes that risk well worth the reward. If your opponent doesn’t find an answer to your monstrous Dragon, it will end the game in hurry. The fact that it also boosts the creature’s toughness is very relevant, automatically getting you out of Shock range. As long as my deck isn’t hungry for creatures, I think Shiv’s Embrace is a slam-dunk pick that will lead to some free wins.
Thunder Strike: My favorite and most successful archetype that I’ve drafted is R/W Aggro. One of the key ways to make this strategy function is to pick up a bunch of aggressive two-drops. Unfortunately, as the board progresses into the midgame, you run the risk of your smaller creatures becoming irrelevant. Thunder Strike is a great way to keep the beats flowing and allow your two-power attackers to take down four-toughness creatures to clear the way for future turns. I usually like to have a mix of two copies between Thunder Strike and Show of Valor in my R/W Aggro decks.
Young Pyromancer: This young lad has been getting a lot of hype all over the place. Drew Levin and Sam Black are even working on making him a star in Legacy, hailing it as the missing link of the power two-drop cycle. After playing with it a few times, it’s safe to say it’s also a house in limited. Depending on the spell count of your deck, it provides a small army of attackers that also make great chump blockers that can gang up to take down some bigger threats, all while providing a serviceable 2/1 body. I’ve first picked this guy many times and hope to more in the future. The only red cards I would take over it are the premium red removal spells.
Red is definitely the color I’ve drafted the most and have the most experience with. I like to think of red and white as the "your opponent can’t block colors" thanks to solid tricks, removal, and utility creatures. Being able to keep your opponent on the back foot while advancing your board is very strong, and I just can’t resist the allure of getting to play with Flames of the Firebrand.
Speaking of how well red pairs with white, let’s take a look at what white has to offer.
Angelic Accord: This card is clearly a very build-around-me type of card. Although I’ve never gotten it to work, I’ve seen some of my friends use it to very strong effect. It’s bit risky to play a four-mana card that has the potential to do nothing, but if you can get it to trigger just once, you’ve gotten value. Get it to trigger two or three times and things start to get insane. The best way to get this card into motion has got to be Trading Post. I know that’s getting into the realm of Magical Christmasland, but even if you’ve played nothing else but those two cards even on the draw, I imagine you’d win the game an incredibly high percentage of the time. Other than that, using Bubbling Cauldron to turn all of your creatures into Angels is a much more reasonable option.
Banisher Priest: I don’t think it’s a secret just how awesome this guy is, but just in case let me say it for you. This guy is awesome! Banisher Priest is my favorite non-rare pack 1 pick 1 in the whole set, and I always feel great every time I cast it. It does exactly what white wants to be doing: gets any problem creature out of the way while providing a reasonably aggressive body. As I said before, advancing your own board while keeping your opponent on the back foot is very, very strong. A++ in my book.
Charging Griffin: On offense Charging Griffin is a three-power flying attacker. That tends to be the sweet spot for a four-mana flier to be good in Limited. The fact that this Griffin is only at its best when charging is definitely a downside, but I like having access to a solid evasive body when drafting white to make sure I can close out games. While I won’t normally take this guy very highly, I’m happy to pick one up in the middle picks to round off my offensive squad.
Divine Favor: You know what? I’m actually going to come out and say it. I like this card. Sure, it’s not great in every deck, but there are definitely certain creatures that make good use of the three extra toughness. The best two that come to mind are Regathan Firecat and Marauding Maulhorn. Both of these red beaters become a lot harder to deal with once they have a suitable toughness to match their frontloaded power. The fact that Divine Favor helps move your guys out of burn range also helps avoid the dreaded two for one. Don’t go jamming this card into every white Draft deck like I see some people do, but definitely keep in mind that it might be a good idea to pick one up in the later picks.
Imposing Sovereign: I consider myself lucky that I’ve never had the displeasure of facing this chick down in a draft. I have, however, had a deck featuring two of it, and it’s crazy good. It puts your opponent an entire turn behind on blocking and will cause them to have to hold more and more creatures back to try to stop your offense. It’s incredibly hard to race, and if your opponent doesn’t take it off the board fast, they are in for some rough beats. Overall, a very strong card and a great first pick to build around.
Master of Diversion: As I said, white really doesn’t want its opponents to block. Master has been nothing short of great for me, and once I’ve established myself in an aggressive white deck, I’ll start taking it over close to anything. Getting it in multiples makes things even more fun as your opponent will have to hold back more and more creatures to just get the chance to block. As long as you have a few solid tricks to back it up, Master of Diversion can get a lot of heavy lifting done. The fact that it’s a common makes this guy one of the most alluring reasons to draft white.
Pacifism: Not too much to say here—just a very good card. Probably the best white common, though I think Master of Diversion gives it a good run for its money and in certain decks I’ve taken Master over Pacifism. Most creatures won’t have powerful activated or triggered abilities that work without attacking, so having a catchall two-mana answer is a good place to be. The only thing slightly different about this set is the strong Aura theme makes cards like Naturalize more likely to be in maindecks, so be wary of the mid-combat blowout.
Pay No Heed: Pay No Heed is an interesting trick. Because it doesn’t actually help the combat stats of your creatures, it’s best left in the board for the matchups where it can be a blowout. It’s obviously very strong against red, shutting down Chandra’s Outrage, Flames of the Firebrand, and Shock for one mana. However, I’ve also found it to be very useful against black. Mark of the Vampire is a very powerful card, and it can sometimes take a lot of time to take the big guy down. One Pay No Heed later and not only do you not lose any creatures but your opponent doesn’t gain any life. In a similar vein, it’s an absolute blowout against Corrupt. Thanks to how it’s worded, not only did your opponent just spend six mana to not kill your creature but they won’t be gaining any life either. It’s a card I will rarely start but love to have access to in my sideboard.
Serra Angel: Ah yes. Serra Angel. Not too long ago this vigilant Angel was powerful enough to be a core set rare. Although today it’s a lot more easily accessible in a draft, it still packs a lot of the same game-dominating power. A five-mana 4/4 flier is a great rate, and the fact that it gets to play offense and defense can leave your opponent in a really tough spot. Although I enjoy picking Banisher Priest first more, I have to concede that Serra Angel wins title of best white uncommon.
Soulmender: It’s a shame we have to close out the day with such a marginal card. The only reason I bring Soulmender up is because it’s one of those cards I see people playing all the time. Why is an Eager Cadet that gains one life a turn so appealing, especially since if you’re gaining one life a turn you’re certainly not attacking? The only times I’ve found a use for Soulmender is out of the sideboard in aggressive white mirrors where I can reliably gain a few relevant points of life and trade it off with a one-toughness creature. If you’re in the market for a white one-drop, Suntail Hawk is much more reasonable. Having flying will help ensure you get to keep pecking away longer, and it can also hold an Aura quite well.
From what I’ve heard, people seem to think white is the weakest color in M14. I’ve actually found the opposite to be true and think an aggressive white-based deck can be very powerful. Sometimes you just need to jam little beaters and go under whatever your opponent is doing.
That’s all we have time for today, but make sure to tune in next week for green, black, and artifacts. As always, I appreciate all comments and questions below!