Since this is a draft evaluation of every single card in Dark Ascension, I’ll keep the introduction brief. Pick orders are obviously fluid, but in the grand scheme of things, when you consider cards’ average usefulness over the course of all games of Limited, some sort of hierarchy will emerge. Thus, while you won’t always take a given list’s card 7 over card 8, the orders should give some indication of the cards’ relative value.
Also, this was written before the Prerelease, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of my evaluations are off. I definitely welcome dissenting opinions from people who’ve gotten to play the cards. Keep in mind, thoughâ€”just because you won with something I consider bad doesn’t necessarily mean it was good. Prerelease crowds include a high percentage of casual players, so take the strength of your opposition into account; the stuff that worked against them won’t necessarily work against more competitive gamers.
1. Increasing Devotion: A handful of 1/1s won’t be that useful unaidedâ€”they can be held off pretty well by a Selhoff Occultist and a Silverchase Foxâ€”but something like a Rally the Peasants or even a Selfless Cathar can make this pretty scary. In addition, there are plenty of ways to scrounge value out of whatever random creatures you have lying around, especially if they’re Human. And if somehow the game goes long enough for you to flash it back, ten extra creatures are likely to be enough to Fireball the opponent out.
2. Requiem Angel: The tacked-on Field of Souls makes Requiem Angel better than Dearly Departed, but probably not by a significant amount. In short, this is an easy first pick and potentially splashable, but it’s not quite on the level of Olivia or Geist-Honored Monk.
3. Thraben Doomsayer: Most of what was said about Increasing Devotion applies here, but a Dead Weight can keep you from getting off the ground. I don’t think fateful hour will come up much, but even if I’m right about that, Doomsayer is still first-pick quality.
4. Lingering Souls: The only thing keeping this behind the rares is that it commits you to two colors (or at least to one and splashing the other) if you want to get full value out of it. Maybe that’s just a sacrifice worth making.
5. Hollowhenge Spirit: It flies; it’s tricky; it does things, etc.
6. Burden of Guilt: This doesn’t “feel” like top pick material, and paying a mana every turn can be deleterious; however, this set’s power level is lower than Innistrad’s, and removal is removal. It’s not much help against Olivia or Bloodline Keeper, but it can keep Grimgrin, Manor Gargoyle, Vorapede, and the rest of the scary attacky-blockies on lockdown for a reasonable price. It can also be used to keep an early Reckless Waif or Gatstaf Shepherd from flipping, and in such cases, Burden might not require any additional mana to do its job.
7. Niblis of the Urn: Harrier Griffin was a huge pain to play against, and while the Niblis isn’t quite as good, it should still cause a lot of headaches for opponents hoping to stabilize. Your opponent will have to leave two creatures back to be able to block at all, which will often force him or her into a race. I expect this to be underrated at first.
8. Loyal Cathar: Two-drops are important; Humans are good, comes back from the dead, etc.
11. Niblis of the Mist: The tap ability isn’t nearly as impressive when it’s a one-shot, and this has a frail body at a competitive spot on the curve. It’s still a two-power flier for three, so it’s playable. Even though the tap ability is marginal, I think Niblis would move down a couple slots without it.
13. Gather the Townsfolk: The same stuff I said about the token-making rares applies here…but rather than five or ten or a potentially limitless supply of dudes, Gather will probably only give you two. I don’t think the value of a “warm body” is high enough to make two vanilla 1/1s better than a vanilla 2/2. Unless you have some help, a single Village Ironsmith or Sanctuary Cat halts your offensive. If fated hour comes up more often than I anticipated, this moves up to the #6-8 range.
14. Sudden Disappearance: This will be insane when your eligible attackers’ power is greater than or equal to your opponent’s life total, but it can also be completely blank. Its versatility will probably make it maindeck-worthy despite the risk. There will be some circumstances where you use it to effectively untap your guys after combat; it can reset Werewolves and +1/+1 counters; it wipes out annoying Spider Spawning tokens for good; and if you’re really lucky, you might be able to reuse Slayer of the Wicked or Morkrut Banshee.
15. Elgaud Inquisitor: This is playable, but you hope for more out of a four-drop. Unless you have a handful of sacrifice-for-benefit effects, this doesn’t compare favorably to the decidedly mediocre Abbey Griffin.
16. Faith’s Shield: Speaking of mediocre…decent tricks are a dime a dozen and largely interchangeable. This is about on par with Spare from Evil, which is perfectly serviceable but often gets squeezed out of maindecks because of Innistrad’s overabundance of playables.
17. Skillful Lunge: Not as good as Moment of Heroism, which is, incidentally, better than Spare from Evil. Faith’s Shield obviously gets the nod over this because it can protect from removal and has the outside shot of “going ultimate.”
18. Gavony Ironwright: As you’ve probably noticed by now, I don’t anticipate fateful hour turning on early enough to be relevant very often. If you’re at, say, three life with this in play, you’ll still need to find an answer for that Battleground Geist, and you’re still kold to Brimstone Volley. This is worse than Village Bell-Ringers and most other things you can do at three mana.
19. Break of Day: The bonus is tiny, and the indestructibility rider is unreliable and deceptively paltry. On the latter point, suppose one of your blocked/blocking creatures getting the bonus is a 2/2. If your opponent’s guy was 2/3, the +1/+1 was enough. If it’s a 3/4, your guy will live, but so will the opponent’s. And I can’t imagine how rare it’s going to be for you to have this in hand and be at five or less life when the opponent casts Blasphemous Act. If it looks like you’re going to have a lot of tokens, Break’s value goes up slightly, but it still compares unfavorably to Selfless Cathar.
21. Ray of Revelation: Not maindeck worthy and will rarely be sided in, especially with Foxes to come in Innistrad. Obviously better to have the sideboard option than hate-drafting something equally narrow in another color.
22. SÃ©ance: I’m not willing to invest four mana and a card into something that can situationally make chump-blockers. You’re never guaranteed to have creatures in the yard, and there are plenty of ways to make better use of them than this (Skaabs, Spider Spawning, Unburial Rites, probably Harvest Pyre, etc.). As with Break of Day countering Blasphemous Act (though not quite to that degree), getting multiple uses out of Slayer of the Wicked or Geistcatcher’s Rig with this will be quite uncommon.
24. Sanctuary Cat: Hopefully, it could have gone without saying that this isn’t worth a card. Still, if your opponent’s deck is extremely aggressive with multiple copies of Reckless Waif, Ashmouth Hound, Bloodcrazed Neonate, etc., it might not be totally crazy to bring this in.
25. Archangel’s Light: For this to be useful, you need to live to see eight mana AND have enough resources to win or stabilize in the extra turns this buys you. It gains more life than Gnaw to the Bone, but Gnaw costs THREE, and you can cast it from your graveyard. Oh, and hopefully you’re not shuffling any flashback cards back in. You could side this in against a dedicated mill deck, but even then you probably won’t get to cast it. I guess its most likely sideboard application is in a control mirror where neither deck can reliably break through the other’s defenses.
26. Curse of Exhaustion: You can make sure your opponent never flips your Werewolves back! If that’s not worth a card (it’s not), then I don’t know what is (plenty of things).
2. Beguiler of Wills: It’s fragile, but if you untap with it, you’ll probably be able to take at least one of their guys. If Beguiler lives for several turns, it should be pretty hard to lose.
3. Havengul Runebinder: While this does take time and effort to get up and running, it’s a must-kill if you have a couple creatures in the ‘yard (and maybe a Zombie or two in play already). It’s no Bloodline Keeper, but what is?
6. Tower Geist: A reasonably costed evasive body that provides card advantage as well as the possibility of feeding Skaabs.
7. Griptide: While instant speed doesn’t quite make up for lack of flashback, it does provide some nice advantages. It trumps combat tricks; if a player forgoes casting spells in an attempt to flip Werewolves, Griptide can set him or her way back; you might be able to use it as a pure removal spell in response to opposing self-mill; and if nothing exciting happens when you left mana up for it, you can still “burn” it without losing a card.
8. Nephalia Seakite: I think this is about as good as the obviously comparable Chapel Geist, with the easier colored mana requirement plus potential to ambush the opponent balancing with the extra mana in the cost. People have more and more reason to fear attacking into open mana. Cards like this and Griptide might make counters more playable.
9. Geralf’s Mindcrusher: The Mindcrusher is solid in a lot of areas, but it doesn’t really excel at anything. It dumps stuff into your graveyard, but you’d rather not wait until turn 7 to cast a Stitched Drake. It could mill your opponent out, but it usually threatens to kill him or her with damage before that would happen. It’s big and has undying, but it doesn’t have evasionâ€”and even a lowly Fortress Crab can hold it off. This is not to say that self-mill and undying aren’t welcome additions. All things considered, this is probably most comparable to Skaab Goliath.
10. Chant of the Skifsang: There’s a world of difference between removing something from play and reducing its power to zero. Nevertheless, this should prove useful in neutering Werewolves and the like while your fliers go about their business.
11. Stormbound Geist: When you factor in colored mana cost, toughness, and abilities, I think Stormbound Geist is pretty close to Lantern Spirit. The Geist’s inability to block gives a slight edge to Lantern Spirit, I suppose.
13. Increasing Confusion: Even though this could singlehandedly mill your opponent out, it would take a ridiculous amount of mana to do so; since it probably won’t be doing the job by itself, you only really want it if your deck is dedicated to milling one of the two players. I believe its power level is high enough and that Curse of the Bloody Tome and Ghoulcaller’s Bell are generally unwanted enough that first-picking this and forcing mill is a viable option. Still, I prefer more traditional strategies.
14. Bone to Ash: Four mana is a lot to ask for a counterspell, even one that replaces itself. If you’re behind on board and your opponent refuses to play a creature into your four open mana, you’ll just fall further behindâ€”especially if he or she has a noncreature spell. This card’s playability may hinge entirely on how many other instants and flash creatures you can assemble.
15. Thought Scour: You might hit a creature or a flashback card, and if you don’t, no harm no foul.
16. Relentless Skaabs: Maybe I’m underrating these a little, but it seems that efficient ways to put cards in your graveyard are more useful and harder to come by than ways to make use of the milled cards. How much better does undying make this than Makeshift Mauler or Headless Skaab? Once you factor in casting cost, is it better at all?
17. Headless Skaab: A deck can only support so many Skaabs, and you’d rather have any of the others (except for, arguably, Relentless Skaabs). It won’t even necessarily matter that it’s at a better spot on the curve than Mauler or Relentless Skaabs since you won’t reliably have a creature in the ‘yard on turn 3. Furthermore, I anticipate coming into play tapped being a bigger drawback than it appears. It’s certainly playable, but I’m not sure it’s better than, say, Fortress Crab.
18. Divination: While it’s more cost efficient than Think Twiceâ€”which, believe it or not, is filler in Limitedâ€”Think Twice at least has some function if it gets milled. This is a reasonable if unimpressive 23rd.
19. Secrets of the Dead: This costs the same as Divination but requires a lot more time and effort to net a card. You’ll need something like seven flashback cards in your deck to reasonably expect this to perform better than Divination, and you’ll be fighting other people for the good flashback cards. Secrets seems like an extravagance even in some of the decks that would appear to want it.
20. Saving Grasp: Flashback turns an effect that’s ordinarily too narrow into a passable 23rd card. It’s still hard to justify using up a noncreature slot on this, so I anticipate it will see more play out of the sideboard against removal-heavy (and maybe Werewolf-heavy) decks.
21. Artful Dodge: I guess you could maindeck this in the occasional blue/green non-Spawning deck or even side it in if a matchup looks apt to involve a clogged board. Ordinarily, though, I can’t see it being worth playing over whatever creature, removal, or trick you have lying around.
24. Call to the Kindred: An enchant creature that provides neither power boost nor certain benefit is a tough sell. It’s like you’re DEMANDING to get 2-for-1ed. Call does have an unexpected redeeming quality, though: you can put it on an opponent’s creature as a safety net. Obviously, this requires some creature type overlap and probably means this is best kept in the sideboard until you’re sure you don’t have to risk putting it on your own guy. Even then, it’s dubious at best.
25. Mystic Retrieval: Almost everything you’d really want to get back already has flashback, so this is likely to see play almost exclusively in too-many-color nonsense gimmick decks.
26. Curse of Echoes: I can’t endorse playing a 5-mana card that doesn’t impact the board immediately and is contingent on the opponent doing something he might never do before it has ANY effect. (Clarification on “might never do”: Every deck will have some amount of spells, but maybe the opponent will have cast the relevant ones before this hits play, or maybe he’ll play a Rebuke or a Geistflame on your one-toughness guy when he doesn’t have one, etc.)
27. Counterlash: Six is an exorbitant amount of mana for a counterspell. There isn’t a lot that’s exciting to cheat into play, and the spell you want to cast for free even has to have the same type as the one your opponent’s casting. Yikes.
1. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed: He’s an evasive 5/5 for six, and since he has the sheer audacity to cost that much, he provides an immediate bonus to your other creatures.
2. Fiend of the Shadows: Another easy first pick.
3. Ravenous Demon: Since every color has SOME Humans, this should be awesome no matter what combination you end up playing. I would strongly suggest killing the opponent the turn you flip the Demon unless you’re sure your opponent won’t be able to remove all your other Humans before your upkeep; that is one catastrophic penalty.
4. Tragic Slip: The premier common removal spell of the format. That Tragic Slip only costs one mana means you should have plenty of resources at your disposal to enable morbid. Sometimes you won’t get the full effect, but it costs ONE and can kill every type of creature and even indestructibles.
5. Skirsdag Flayer: While Flayer is somewhat unwieldy, it IS reusable creature removal. If it weren’t a Human itself, it would move down several places.
6. Death’s Caress: Being able to kill anything should be more worthwhile than having a 2/2 body attached.
7. Farbog Boneflinger: This, of course, is still a strong early pick.
8. Geralf’s Messenger: It’s possible this could move up a few places, but I think the triple-black is a relevant drawback. Messenger isn’t quite strong enough that you’d want to warp your mana base around it, and if you don’t, you might not be able to cast it reliably until turn 5 or laterâ€”and it can’t even deter attacks the first turn it’s in play.
9. Highborn Ghoul: Cheap, evasive, relevant creature type, etc.
10. Gravecrawler: Sometimes its ability will be game-winning; other times, a 2/1 that can’t block wouldn’t be relevant even if it were indestructible and had shroud. Still, Gravecrawler can lead to some scary starts and assist in token-fueled swarms.
11. Falkenrath Torturer: This is one of the easiest ways to enable morbid, and it lets you level up any undying guys that your opponent has under control at their current size. With enough Human fodder, it can even grow into a legitimate aerial threat.
12. Vengeful Vampire: Six mana is a lot. If your opponent has no flying blockers and/or wasn’t planning on dealing with this by killing it, you just paid two extra for a Moon Heron. Then again, it will be annoying for removal-heavy decks, and you can often threaten to “chump” with it on its first turn in play to give it more respectable stats.
13. Increasing Ambition: Expensive tutors have traditionally been marginal in Limited, often because whatever you’re searching for becomes less impressive with 4 or 5 mana and a turn tacked onto its cost. A good amount of the time, you’d rather have an arbitrary creature than the tutor. The flashback is pretty expensive, but it does help give this card more of a Forbidden Alchemy feel (unfortunately without the graveyard dump), meaning it might be playable even when you don’t have an absurd bomb. There are plenty of bombs in this format worth searching for, though, assuming you can hold your opponent off while you “waste” a turn casting the tutor.
14. Zombie Apocalypse: This is a difficult card to evaluate because it has such a wide range of possible effects. Sometimes you’ll kill two or three of your opponent’s creatures and get three of your own guys back; others, you may be paying six just to rebuy a Walking Corpse and a Headless Skaab. If you don’t have a dedicated Zombie deck, it might not be worth maindecking; but it has enough potential that I wouldn’t feel bad taking it over the heaps of mediocrity beneath it on the list. This may prove good enough to slam first and draft around.
15. Wakedancer: This is really good on turn 3 when you have a Neonate on turn 2, but as the game progresses and the board becomes more conducive to enabling morbid, getting an extra 2/2 becomes less and less relevant. Also, obviously, this is fairly embarrassing if you have to play it without morbid. I think this is in about the same power range as Markov Patrician and Walking Corpse. It moves up a little in the red/black aggro decks that encourage the opponent to trade on turn 3.
16. Deadly Allure: Sometimes Allure will let you nab the opponent’s best creature (usually at a loss of a card), and it will probably be enough to enable morbid. Its effectiveness will be far from certain, though, and it definitely isn’t enough incentive to put any real effort toward drafting black/green.
17. Chosen of Markov: More curve filler. I would have expected a slightly bigger upside to flipping this considering the time and effort it takes to do so.
18. Gravepurge: Footbottom Feast was filler, and while the self-milling theme of Innistrad probably bolsters Gravepurge’s value somewhat, I can’t imagine it will be much better than its Lorwyn counterpart.
19. Harrowing Journey: Three life isn’t exactly negligible in a world of Reckless Waifs and Invisible Stalkers with Silver-Inlaid Daggers. It has some extra “versatility,” but in the decks where targeting your opponent would come up more than a fraction of the time, you’d rather just have Bump in the Night. This will be reasonable in pretty aggressive decks or against the occasional slow control deck.
20. Gruesome Discovery: No one’s ever excited to play Brain Weevil (or Night Terrors, for that matter), but the morbid upside on Gruesome Discovery could make it a less begrudging 23rd than its Innistrad counterparts.
21. Reap the Seagraf: This is at a pretty competitive spot on the curve, and its only upside is that you get another vanilla 2/2 later when it’s less likely to be relevant. It’s not that much worse than Chosen of Markov, but it’s only playable in U/B…and you can’t get it back with Ghoulraiser or Apocalypse even though it’s a Zombie.
22. Sightless Ghoul: It seems like you’d need a large amount of “Zombies matter” cards and/or a way to immediately level this up for profit before you’d consider playing it.
24. Black Cat: The ability isn’t strong enough to compensate for its irrelevant body.
26. Spiteful Shadows: This ability has never been worth a card.
27. Curse of Misfortunes: This can start impacting the board as soon as a turn and a half after you spend five mana to play it (in a dedicated curse deck).
2. Hellrider: Just disgusting if you have a reasonable curve.
4. Flayer of the Hatebound: I doubt Flayer’s ability will trigger very often for anything but itself, but it’s still likely to get you a tidy 3-for-1 given enough time (assuming you can’t just burn the opponent out).
5. Fires of Undeath: The gap between two and three damage is pretty significant, but there will still be plenty of targets to make this a 2-for-1. This should be good enough to pull you strongly toward red/black, and it’ll be fine even with 1-2 black sources. Heck, it’s still fine with NO black sources, but you might as well play at least one.
6. Markov Warlord: I have high hopes that this will be a good finisher and significantly better than Night Revelers. Keeping two creatures from blocking will often be enough for a full Falter, and if it’s not, the Warlord is still a significant-size haster. If this isn’t good enough to end the game in one attack a reasonable amount of the time, it could move way down the list.
8. Burning Oil: Unfortunately, you need to be playing the much-maligned red/white to get maximum value out of this. Fortunately, it’s still perfectly fine even if you can’t flash it back. Fires of Undeath obviously gets the nod over this for its versatility and better color combination.
9. Wrack with Madness: Removal’s removal. This can’t kill everything, but it can kill a lot of things.
10. Blood Feud: This seems too expensive for its effect unless the opponent’s two biggest creatures can kill each other. It’s still an early pick, and I don’t think you can cut it from your maindeck; but it’s unpredictable and unwieldy, so I’m not expecting miracles.
11. Faithless Looting: I didn’t like Careful Study much in Odyssey draft, but it seems better here thanks to Skaabs and, of course, Looting’s flashback. Obviously best in decks with lots of graveyard-based stuff, it can be fine in anything if you remember to sandbag lands.
12. Markov Blademaster: Largely unimpressive unless you can get it through at least once. If you can’t, it dies to Geistflame and trades with Walking Corpse. I think its potential upside elevates it above “curve filler” status, but maybe I’m just being blinded by its rarity.
13. Fling: Fling’s been about the same in Limited every time it’s printed. It’s bad if you’re just 2-for-1-ing yourself, but good if you’re sacrificing something in response to removal or simply killing your opponent with it outright. Undying increases its value some, but not many creatures actually have that. I guess it’s a reasonable morbid enabler too. Still, I wouldn’t want more than one of these most of the time, and I think there are times where I wouldn’t play any.
14. Forge[/author] Devil”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Devil: Geistflame this ain’t. A 1/1 ground dude is usually not relevant, so if you’re getting something like half of a Midnight Haunting with this, you’re a little behind. (It fares a little better against Gather the Townsfolk.) I’m not actually sure you’d want to maindeck multiples, but one should always be a welcome addition.
16. Hinterland Hermit: Not the most impressive transformation, since the opponent will probably have something he/she is willing to trade with this if he/she leaves anything back to block. Not as good as Ashmouth or Village Ironsmith, but better than Neonate.
17. Nearheath Stalker: While this seems likely to 2-for-1 your opponent, he or she will probably be able to trade any old thing for it. Also, five isn’t a very exciting spot on the curve; this is better than Stromkirk Patrol, but the power disparity seems largely inconsequential.
19. Talons of Falkenrath: It’s a lame-looking enchant creature that I’d rather not play, but it does have some uses. Specifically, it can be a fireball during an alpha strike; it can deal a huge amount of damage over a couple turns on a flier; or it can let your 2/2 kill your opponent’s 1/4, etc.
21. Shattered Perception: A less flexible, more expensive Faithless Looting. Like Mystic Retrieval, this will find a home in some X-color nonsense graveyard decks. Most of these decks will be clumsy and painfully bad, but a few could potentially be the best at their respective pods.
22. Curse of Bloodletting: This doesn’t attack, block, or kill creatures; all it does is help you if you’re already getting through for damage. Most of the time, you’d rather just have a dude.
23. Heckling Fiends: There are way too many red three-drops for you to have an active interest in this, and the ability just costs too much mana to be a relevant bonus under normal circumstances.
25. Increasing Vengeance: For this to be good, you have to draw a spell worth copying and be able to wait until you can cast it and this in the same turn. Rather than this, you’ll usually just want a spell that can do something on its own (or perhaps another creature). Hoping to use the flashback on this is greedy and contrived.
26. Erdwal Ripper: While this is technically playable, everything trades with it; double-red can be annoying; and there are hundreds of thousands of better common red three-drops in the format.
1. Increasing Savagery: It’s like a 5/5 haster that you can cast again later! It won’t take long for a 7/7 Orchard Spirit (or a 6/6 Invisible Stalker, or whatever) to finish the opponent off, and if your opponent manages to deal with it, you get another chance to make a monster in a few turns.
3. Briarpack Alpha: If you attack your 2/2 into the opponent’s 3/3, he’ll be expecting a trick, but he’ll probably expect it to be a 1-for-1 trade that eats up your turn. With Briarpack Alpha, that will hardly be the case. If your opponent doesn’t block and you have nothing else to play, you can still toss this out there for an extra two damage. It can also ambush up to two attackers (say your opponent attacks with a 2/3 and a 2/2 flier into your 1/1 flier), but you’ll be happy even if you “just” eat one attacker.
4. Ghoultree: This may just be a vanilla dude, but 10/10 is gigantic; your opponent probably won’t be able to gang-block it. I imagine it will cost 5 or 6 most of the time without much effort, and it easily outclasses its competition like Night Revelers and Kindercatch at those costs. Still, Ghoultree can be Bonds of Faithed or chumped…unless it happens to gain trample. This could move down a bit if 10/10 doesn’t end up being appreciably better than, say, 6/9 trample.
5. Deranged Outcast: This should make combat pretty irritating for your opponent, especially if you have stuff like Doomed Traveler and Gather the Townsfolk. It might be better than Ghoultree; however, it takes a little more effort to make Outcast truly shine, and sometimes you won’t be able to use it without opening yourself up to getting 2-for-1ed. Regardless, it’s a high pick.
6. Wolfbitten Captive: You have to respect a card that’s good at every point in the game. It isn’t really the end of the world for your opponent if he or she just lets it flip right away; it will just be, functionally, a Walking Corpse for several turns, and then your opponent can make you spend most or all of your mana by blocking it. All told, I’m not sure this is better than Darkthicket Wolf. It’s possible it’s worse than Wild Hunger, but I doubt it would go any lower than that.
7. Wild Hunger: This would be playable even without flashback; as it is, it’s a great reason to move into my favorite color combination. This does everything from saving your 2/2 from a Fires of Undeath to letting you plow through a chump blocker for lethal, and you get to cast it TWICE.
8. Scorned Villager: The Villager can lead to some impressive starts if your opponent lets it flip, but it will still be fine if he or she doesn’t. Mana cost is of the utmost importanceâ€”especially in green, which traditionally has a flat power curve in Limitedâ€”and this both gives you something to play on turn 2 and gets your real threats out faster.
9. Kessig Recluse: Opponents will be loath to attack into this (or block it) with their “better” creatures, especially if you have mana up. It can hold off a Murder of Crows, any number of Chapel Geists, etc.
10. Strangleroot Geist: Considering roadblocks like Armored Skaab and Selhoff Occultist, lack of important tribal synergies like you find with Humans and Zombies, and a cost that could make it awkward to cast on turn 2, I don’t think Strangleroot Geist is amazing. It’s at a good spot on the curve (if you’re playing enough Forest), but I don’t think I’ll be excited to take it early.
11. Hunger of the Howlpack: Some games this will be a boring filler trick; others it will be closer to an instant-speed Travel Preparations. Occasionally, you might even be able to target an opponent’s undying creature with it. While I’m not sure how impressive this will be, many of the cards below it seem like arbitrary curve filler.
12. Village Survivors: Maybe this is optimistic, but I think vigilance is a big enough upside to propel this past the dreaded Night Reveler Zone. When you stabilize at a relatively low life total against an aggressive deck, it’s nice to be able to get damage in without dropping your defenses, hopefully letting you kill your opponent before he or she draws a burn spell or enough extra creatures to swarm you. Still, without any sort of evasion, the Survivors might end up being as boring as Grizzled Outcasts.
13. Predator Ooze: This should be better than the comparable Creepy Doll because it at least has the option of going aggro. (Yeah, Creepy Doll can attack…for one a turn, starting on turn 6.) What I said about Geralf’s Messenger’s cost is true here as well; this isn’t strong enough to make you actively look toward playing 11 or 12 Forests, and if you don’t, you just have to accept that it will be stranded in your hand sometimes.
14. Dawntreader Elk: On the whole, this won’t be much more valuable than a Runeclaw Bear. Even so, it’s more important to make sure you have something to play on turn 2 than to prioritize slight power upgrades in your 5- and 6-drops.
15. Somberwald Dryad: Ditto.
16. Gravetiller Wurm: This is unquestionably a better card than a random 2-drop, but the world is hostile to 6-drops considering bounce spells, the possibility of the game being all but over by the time you can play the 6-drop, etc. If this were just an 8/8 trampler, it would move up quite a bit, but obviously you can’t count on it being that big. Finding comparable Innistrad cards has been a good jumping-off point in determining Dark Ascension cards’ approximate utility, but I’m not sure what the best comparison here is. It resembles Moldgraf Monstrosity, Festerhide Boar, Skaab Goliath, or Kindercatch. I assume it’s slightly worse than Boar and Monstrosity, close to the same as Goliath, and better than Catch.
17. Hollowhenge Beast: A good vanilla 5-drop is still a vanilla 5-drop.
18. Grim Flowering: This begs comparison to Creeping Renaissance, a powerful spell that nevertheless frequently went late in triple INN due to being expensive and yielding unpredictable benefits. It’s hard to say whether drawing a card is better on average than returning a creature to your hand on a spell like this, but Renaissance could be cast even if it got milled. I was immediately interested when I first saw this, but in practice it probably won’t be a high pick unless the format unexpectedly becomes “grindier.”
19. Lambholt Elder: Its front face is almost completely useless, and you’re unlikely to flip it in a timely fashion without skipping an important turn of development. Even though threatening to draw a card is a nice bonus, this is plenty worse than the unwieldy Hanweir Watchkeep.
21. Tracker’s Instincts: While this seems like it would be awesome, it has a couple of tragic flaws. First, it’s not going to be very good unless you’re both colors. Cards like this can miss; a creature card will always yield a creature. If you have enough flashback spells to make this interesting, you’re less likely to hit a creature. I can easily see playing just the front half in a red/green deck with multiple Harvest Pyres, though. If you’re playing both halves, you’re in the colors of the famously powerful self-mill deck, but the problem there is that you don’t want the creatures in your hand. The Spider Spawning deck would love this card if it said “non-creature.” It will still be okay since it helps you find the Spawning itself, but then it’s in the realm of “glorified Dream Twist.” Additionally, this could drag you down the path of trying to draft Spawning and then not even seeing one of the deck’s signature cards.
22. Feed the Pack: Considering that this is a green enchantment reliant on certain board states involving you controlling creatures, it’s probably apt to compare this to Gutter Grime. Feed the Pack isn’t inherently bad; it’s just too situational for you to be happy about maindecking it. There will be times where you could swarm your opponent by turning 3/3s into three 2/2s, but maybe you won’t be able to build up a critical mass before he or she just kills you with fliers. Maybe you won’t have anything worth sacrificing. You’ll be able get a lot of extra value from a Spidery Grasp the turn after you play this, but that seems a little too ambitiously “Johnny.”
23. Young Wolf: This isn’t far from being a Mons’s Goblin Raiders. A vanilla 1/1 isn’t exactly threatening, so the opponent will be able to ignore it entirely until he or she is prepared to deal with a lowly Runeclaw Bear.
24. Crushing Vines: A decent sideboard card that will sometimes sneak into the maindeck if your deck is slow and weak against fliers.
26. Favor of the Woods: Rather than playing something that grants you a bonus when you already have a blocker, why not play something that can block? Sure, you could put this on an opposing blocker, but it doesn’t seem like much of a deterrent.
27. Lost in the Woods: A small chance of getting a temporary reprieve from a fraction of your opponent’s creatures is certainly not worth five mana and a card. Incidentally, is it a coincidence that the two worst green cards for Limited have “Woods” in the name? Clearly they’re trying to appeal to Conley’s narcissism to encourage him to go back to playing nonsense.
1-4. Falkenrath Aristocrat; Havengul Lich; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; Huntmaster of the Fells: These should be as obvious first-picks as they appear and worth essentially committing yourself to colors over. I especially like Huntmaster because it’s in my favorite colors, AND it signals what you’re doing to everyone.
5. Vault of the Archangel: This is sort of in the above category, but not quite as good since it doesn’t do anything by itself. It has the same drawback of incentivizing you to immediately commit to two colors, but that’s not a huge deal, as there really aren’t any commons or uncommons in Dark Ascension that are strong enough to make you consider “playing it safe” instead.
6. Helvault: There aren’t many commonly maindecked ways to kill an artifact, so this will usually become Visara when you reach seven mana. This isn’t quite as strong as the Captains, but I believe having two fewer colors is enough to make this a better pick (assuming your colors aren’t established, of course).
7-10. Drogskol Captain, Immerwolf, Stromkirk Captain, Diregraf Captain: Arguably, I listed these in order of how good they are, taking into account color combination and abilities. Really, it doesn’t matter; they’re all great, so if two of them ever show up in a pack together, just go with your color preference.
11. Drogskol Reaver: Another fine first pick. Obviously, the Reaver’s cost is what makes me more inclined to want the cards above it.
12. Wolfhunter’s Quiver: I believe this is maindeckable despite the ponderous equip cost. It won’t help you much in containing your opponent’s initial rushâ€”other than maybe keeping a Reckless Waif from flippingâ€”but once it’s online, you blank the rest of your opponent’s X/1s and put a steady clock on him or her. If I didn’t maindeck it, I’d certainly board it in against most decks that played a couple of Werewolves against me.
13. Heavy Mattock: It’s a little clunky, but it can turn even Selfless Cathar into a relevant threat. Its value is somewhere between those of Butcher’s Cleaver and Sharpened Pitchfork. Its lower equip cost could mean it’s better than Quiver.
14. Avacyn’s Collar: Cutesy equipment like this (Sharpened Pitchfork, Trepanation Blade, etc.) has been fine but often gets cut because of modern-day Limited’s Too Many Playables syndrome. This is slightly better than filler in a deck with multiple sacrifice effects, and maybe vigilance is a good enough ability to elevate this to “frequent maindeck” status. For now, I’ll assume it will generally be on par with a mediocre trick.
16. Elbrus, the Binding Blade: One hit from Withengar will probably end the game, but you have to jump through a few hoops to make him appear, and then there’s always the possibility of Silent Departure or Burden of Guilt. If you can’t reliably get through to your opponent, this is a 7-mana Wooden Stake.
17. Warden of the Wall: The acceleration it provides is slow; it can’t attack; and it can’t even protect you the first turn it’s in play. This is definitely worse than One-Eyed Scarecrow, a card not every deck is even interested in playing.
18. Executioner’s Hood: A somewhat worse Cobbled Wings, especially since this provides no defensive bonus. Wings were kind of underappreciated, though, so while you won’t normally consider playing this, you shouldn’t automatically dismiss it. Your Scourge of Geier Reach or Krallenhorde Wantons will thank you.
19. Jar of Eyeballs: Traditional “tomes” tend to be on the clunky side in modern Limited formats because you don’t always have the time to spend 6 or more total mana before you break even. This one even imposes additional conditions before you can draw so much as one card. It might have been reliable enough to maindeck if it triggered off your opponent’s creatures too, but as is, I don’t think I’ll be bothering with it much.
20. Grim Backwoods: You have to be playing both black and green as well as a colorless land, and your only payoff is you have the option of tapping five of your lands and sacrificing a creature to get a card back.
21. Altar of the Lost: Another mainstay of the Crazy Nonsense Flashback niche deck that comes together properly so infrequently that you’re probably best off avoiding it altogether. This isn’t a spell or a true mana source, so you’d have to have an awful lot of flashback spells in an awful lot of colors before it becomes better than a basic land.
23. Chalice of Life: You’re never going to gain enough life to flip this, with the one possible exception involving Gnaw to the Bone. In most cases, you’ll have to be under no pressure whatsoever from your opponent for ten turns. This is a better maindeck card than Grafdigger’s Cage, but hopefully you won’t have to consider resorting to either.
24. Haunted Fengraf: Without the “random,” this could have been playable as an 18th land in some decks. As it is, it will basically always be worse than any other spell or land.