I’d love to shift my focus to Standard and write about that, but the fact of the matter is that I’m about to start focusing on Standard, but I haven’t yet.
My job has always been entirely about “writing what I know” and that just isn’t Standard right now. I’d like to think it is full-Block draft.
I usually try to avoid writing about drafting unless I feel like I’ve really figured it out, and I like to have something that I think is somewhat
groundbreaking to say. In this case, it’s harder for me to know if I’ve really figured it out–I’ve gone 2-1 in most of my drafts with this set. I almost
never 3-0, but I’ve been winning more than half of my matches. Given that my opponents have been the rest of team CFB: Pantheon, that’s not a bad place to
be. I made Day 2 of GP Atlanta with a very weak Sealed deck that I misbuilt completely at 7-2, and went 2-1 in both drafts (I drew the last round, but won
when we played for fun at my opponent’s request). My rating on Magic Online has climbed in the few online drafts I’ve done, but that’s actually not saying
too much, as, despite trying very hard and playing a lot, it had been embarrassingly low.
I don’t think I have it all figured out, but I do have reasons for my beliefs, and, more importantly, I’m extremely plugged into what the other top players
(or at least my teammates and a few others) think. I also think I approach the format a little differently than one might expect to coming from Born of the
Gods, so I definitely feel like I have something to contribute.
Two weeks ago
, I outlined my plan to improve my team’s process for talking about Limited. I fell a little short of my goals, but I did manage to get almost everyone on
the team to rank the commons and uncommons of every color. Then I collected those rankings and entered them into a spreadsheet, and used that to come up
with a composite ranking for our team, and used those spreadsheets to guide a full team discussion about drafting before the PT. I don’t have the numbers,
but I believe we did better than we usually do in Limited, and I know a lot of us felt like this process was a contributing factor.
Let me start by talking about our collective thoughts on each color. Note that not all commons and uncommons are included, and that rankings on the bottom
are much less precise, as I only asked people to rank as many as they felt like starting at the top, and some players ranked fewer cards than others.
Anything that isn’t ranked is considered worse than the ranked cards.
In White, we came to this as the order of the cards by average ranking:
In discussion, there was some vocal opposition to Sightless Brawler being that high, and many of its supporters had little experience with the card. I
personally think it’s good, but worse than Oreskos Swiftclaw, about on par with Stonewise Fortifier.
My teammates generally love Skyspear Cavalry, with some notable exceptions who think the card isn’t particularly good. I’m more in the latter camp. I
understand that the card has high upside, but ultimately I think it’s clunky and extremely vulnerable, and I have it behind most of the good commons.
I think we have Leonin Iconoclast too high, and that was another card that everyone was pretty split on. It’s hard to have a large enough sample size with
that card, as it’s easy to have great or terrible experiences depending on whether you run into targets, and some people ranked it highly because they
I think Ajani’s Presence, Oreskos Swiftclaw, Supply-Line Cranes, and Akroan Mastiff are all at a very similar power level, and as early as second pick, I
can see myself preferring any of them based on what I already have. In general, my leaning is away from the Swiftclaw, which I see as unconventional. My
reasoning is that I think people in general are overrating aggression and having a low curve from their experiences with the block in the past, and I’ve
been far more impressed by individually powerful and more expensive cards.
For this reason, I personally like Quarry Colossus far more than everyone else on my team. It’s a clear step down from Banishing Light and Reprisal, but I
think it’s roughly on par with the best white commons.
I also think Lagonna-Band Trailblazer is better than people think. While I think some heroic creatures are overrated, which I’ll get to later, I think this
one is underrated. It’s a serviceable blocker that can actually be scary to attack into, as you get very real value if you block with it and kill an
attacker with a combat trick. It’s also an excellent creature to bestow onto as it makes it very hard to kill, which keeps your bestow creature around.
I like taking this over average cards like Harvestguard Alseids because I think there’s quite a bit of upside if you happen to end up with a deck with a
lot of auras, where the other cards are going to be consistent filler–this principle is a basic extension of the position I outlined in my article Draft the Cards You Want to Play. Nyx-Fleece
Ram is another card that I see as not fitting in a lot of decks, but with a ceiling that is higher than the filler cards, so I’d take it earlier if it was
possible that I’d end up with a controlling deck.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but my opinions on Blue have changed significantly since we did this exercise. I know that the other CFB team liked Hubris
even more than we did (by quite a bit), but I actually think the card is overrated here. War-Wing Siren, which we had once thought of as the best common in
the set, has consistently underperformed. Heroic creatures are just nowhere near as good as they used to be because Journey into Nyx has so few ways to
target them outside of the Strive cycle, and the fact that a larger portion of the things targeting heroes are now combat tricks means that heroic
creatures with flying and heroic creatures with only one power are both worse than they had been, because it’s more likely that your opponent can just
ignore them and you’ll never get a chance to get them going.
I’ve also traditionally underrated Sigiled Starfish compared to others, and as a result, I’ve almost never had it in play. I currently think it and Pin to
the Earth are actually the two best blue commons, which I think is radically different than the consensus. Even Cloaked Siren is likely better than
Rise of Eagles and Dakra Mystic are both definitely better than Thassa’s Devourer (I might even take Dakra Mystic over Hubris). At the GP I had a Market
Festival deck with Thassa’s Ire, and Thassa’s Ire ended up being one of the best cards in my deck, so if you do find yourself in the Market Festival Ramp
archetype, I’d certainly recommend grabbing a Thassa’s Ire if you see it late.
Interpret the Signs was another card we were split on. The basic question was whether it was radically better than Thassa’s Bounty or not. I think it is
more similar than different, but enough better to push it over the edge, and that Thassa’s Bounty is closer to good enough than it used to be. As a result,
I think Interpret the Signs is actually quite good, and it’s another card I’d been less into before. On the other hand, I’m still not actually sure how
often I’d rather spend six mana on that than on Rise of Eagles, since catching up and impacting the board right away can be really important. Both are good
in control decks, but the exact texture of your deck will determine which is in any given deck.
I’ve been skeptical of Feast of Dreams. It can be great, but I’ve also had it rot in my hand quite a bit. My teammates seemed very confident that it’s
good, and I knew that it was the consensus best black common, so I’d been trusting that. Throughout the PT, I’ve had people tell me that they were often
disappointed with it. It’s certainly good, but it’s good in a very frustrating, swingy way. I suspect is should be a bit lower on this list, likely below
Spiteful Blow and Gnarled Scarhide.
Nyx Infusion and Grim Guardian are cards I’d ranked a little lower than others, and I still believe they’re worse than Brain Maggot, Pharika’s Chosen, and
Cast into Darkness. Font of Return should also be quite a bit higher on this list because it’s so good in some G/B decks, but you rarely want two and
almost never have to work to get it, so it accurately isn’t a card you should prioritize.
Red is similar to white in that (after Magma Spray) there’s a cluster of very similar cards at the top–I consider Sigiled Skink, Flurry of Horns, and
Bladetusk Boar to be of about the same power level, and my pick will depend on my curve, color combination, and expected strategy.
I think Wildfire Cerberus is highly overrated on this list for reasons I don’t really understand, as the card has never looked good to me. Satyr Hoplite,
the strive cards, Rollick of Abandon, and even Spite of Mogis (only in U/R) are cards that I think have enough upside that I would hope to be able to take
them over cards like Akroan Line-Breaker, Pensive Minotaur, and Starfall.
For the most part, this order still seems pretty good to me aside from that.
Strength From the Fallen
Golden Hind has been the consensus best common in the set as of late, and I think that’s a position that I share. For the most part, I think this ordering
is reasonable for something that feels like a “Generic Green Deck”–something with green creatures and a few tricks and tempo spells or removal, like G/R
or G/U, but I think this list is willfully oblivious to valid niche archetypes, particularly graveyard, constellation, and ramp, often in some combination.
I would note Market Festival, Font of Fertility, Kruphix’s Insight, Strength from the Fallen, Reviving Melody, and Renowned Weaver as cards with
substantial upside. Colossal Heroics is also a card that I often cut because it doesn’t fit in the niche green decks–it’s only good in the really
generic feeling decks, and more often, I draft Green with more of a niche focus.
I should note, Market Festival specifically is a card that my teammates liked to tease me for playing. I think Market Festival Ramp is a valid archetype,
and one that I look for, but I only move into it if I see multiple Market Festivals, and only if more than one of them tables. It’s safest to only do this
if you already have a Golden Hind, as it’s extremely important to also have a two-mana accelerator. In a pinch, late picked Font of Fertility can also work
here. If I have multiple Market Festivals, I’m looking to pick up cards like Archetype of Endurance and Boulderfall for free–I’ll always try to table
these cards, but I actively want them in my deck.
So that’s where I am with Journey into Nyx card rankings. Outside of that, I think the important thing to understand is that the format is a little slower
and a little less powerful. This felt most radically evident in sealed, where a lot of pools I saw just looked much weaker than I’m used to. The cards are
there to pursue a lot of different strategies, and many different kinds of cards don’t work well with other cards even if both cards can be good, which
means that Sealed is going to take a bigger hit to its overall power level than draft, but I still think draft decks took a hit as well. Before there were
fewer strategies supported, which meant there was more help for each of them. Now, even if you can carve out a strategy that others aren’t in, sometimes
key cards you’re counting on simply won’t be opened.
Heroic is much more of a niche strategy than we’ve come to think of it as. Before, it was what aggressive decks wanted to do, and most people wanted to be
aggressive; now, it’s just a lot harder to set up and a lot more fragile. I’m not convinced Akroan Skyguard is the best white common in Born of the Gods,
and more often than not, I’d rather just avoid the whole mess and take cards that stand on their own or a different niche strategy that I expect to be less
I like White as a control color a lot more than most people do, and I like control in general more than most people do. I love most of the seven-mana rares
like Spawn of Thraxes, Tromokratis, and Fated Return. The format isn’t terribly slow, but it’s no longer especially fast either. I think people have a
memory of the old format and bias their curves too strongly toward two-drops and overvalue cards that resemble Grizzly Bears. The format finally feels a
lot more like a traditional Limited set with a few obvious exceptions, like the value of enchantment removal.
Aside from information about consensus pick orders, I’d want the takeaway here to be that this is now a format where blocking is a reasonable plan and
larger creatures can invalidate smaller creatures, which makes curving out less important and stabilizing from behind easier. Longer games and board stalls
are a little bit more likely, and bombs that break through are a little bit better.