Judging is always an interesting experience. I typically only judge at pre-releases, but it always amazes me how much I learn by osmosis in such a short time. You watch games of Magic played all day long, flight after flight, draft after draft, player after player. Within an hour or two, you know what all of the cards look like by heart. But even more interesting is that you see what cards rise to the top tables and which often hang out in the 0-2 bracket. You see cards you wouldn’t have thought about playing in action, and see how good the cards that already look good are once they’re played.
In many ways, I feel watching at a pre-release is often a better way to construct card evaluations than playing in it. Sure, when you play you get to see how all of your cards are — but that’s just it. You only see a segment of your cards. Whichever cards are in the colors you play, and perhaps what your opponents play, is the breadth of your experience. By watching, you see every color played, every card played, both players hands, and how often cards are stranded. As opposed to playing, which is often a results oriented experience, watching is more of a data collecting experience.
After watching people play all day, playing in a flight myself, and talking with people about how the cards they played with performed, I have formulated my take on the common and uncommon rankings for each color.
Join the Ranks (In a heavy ally deck)
Loam Lion (In W/G)
Perimeter Captain (In a slower, control deck)
Ruin Ghost (In a deck with at least four landfall triggers/lands with enters the battlefield triggers)
Hada Freeblade (In a heavy ally deck)
Lightkeeper of Emeria
Guardian Zendikon (In a slower, control deck.)
Perimeter Captain (In an aggressive white deck)
Join the Ranks (Without many supporting allies.)
Guardian Zendikon (In an aggressive deck.)
Ruin Ghost (in a deck with 1-2 landfall triggers/lands with enter the battlefield triggers.)
Cards I would prefer to never play maindeck:
Hada Freeblade (Without many supporting allies)
Loam Lion (without green)
Rest for the Weary
Ruin Ghost (in a deck with 0 landfall triggers/lands with enter the battlefield triggers.)
If you’re playing heavy allies, Join the Ranks is just absurd. It triggers all of your allies, makes combat impossible to figure out for your opponent, and can also just double as Raise the Alarm when necessary. I would say it hits the point of absurdity if your deck has at least six allies, but it depends on which allies they are. If you already have Turntimber Ranger in your picks, it’s going to take far fewer allies to convince me to Join the Ranks. If you don’t have a lot of good allies, it’s still borderline playable as a 4 man Raise the Alarm, but I would prefer to not play it at that point.
2/2’s for 1 may be common in this format, but a 2/3 for one outclasses most two drops. If you consider how the average game of Zendikar limited is 2/1 heavy, an early Loam Lion halts their offensive and then tears in for 2 damage and requires a 2-for-1 to trade with. This single innocuous card can cause tempo to shift entirely in your favor.
Speaking of tempo, Perimeter Captain was causing trouble for people all day. In a slower control deck, this is exactly the card you want. Not only does it do what Kraken Hatchling does, but it makes all of the times when they attack you with two 2/1’s unprofitable for them. The usual problem with 0 power defenders is that they can just attack into them, but the Captain dissuades that notion. There are few commons or uncommons I would take higher in control.
Ruin Ghost is a card which can be tricky to evaluate, but is often absurd. Every time I saw him in play, he was busy being a total blowout. He lets you double up on your landfall triggers, ensure you always hits landfall, let you landfall on your opponent’s turn, reuse Teetering Peeks, Halimar Depths, and similar cards, and so on. Of course, there are a lot of situations where I would not play him. I think with four or more cards that benefit from him being around, he’s worthwhile to have in your deck. With any less, he’s going to be too inconsistent.
Fledgling Griffin is not only a 2/2 for 2, but most of the time flying 2/2 for 2 which pushes it above Marsh Threader which is a sometimes unblockable 2/1 for 2. Still, the Threader comes next after the Griffin because black is so popular in this format that he’s going to be unblockable more than not. Remember how Bog Tatters was maindeckable? This guy is loads better.
Refraction Trap is a combat blowout even at four mana. Harm’s Way was a great limited card, and Refraction Trap does what Harm’s Way does for three. While a little expensive, it is the kind of card which can absolutely blow out an opponent and turn the game in your favor.
Apex Hawks is underneath the two drops, but still a very solid Wild Griffin. As with all of the multikicker cards, having the potential to be a 3/3 flier for 5 is solid as well. Unexciting, but a good card to have that will almost always make your deck.
Hada Freeblade is good in a heavy ally deck, but only there. You could board him in to trade with opposing two mana 2/1’s, but I think you will usually have something better to bring in. On turn one it can become huge, and later in the game it triggers your allies for a single W. It’s pretty self-explanatory, really.
Lightkeeper of Emeria does a fine job outclassing Pillarfield Ox. Like all multikicker cards the bonus is nice later on, but you should seldom forgo casting Lightkeeper just to gain some life. A 2/4 holds off the opponent, but unlike the Ox it also flies so it has an easier time getting through. A solid card.
Three toughness is far above what most creatures have in this format. Having 3 power and first strike ensures you can get through almost everything that isn’t green. I think Battle Hurda is one of the most underrated commons right now. Yes, a 3/3 for 5 is below average, but it’s ridiculously hard to fight through one with first strike in this format. I wouldn’t want to start a ton of them, but I am perfectly happy running them.
Iona’s Judgment is expensive removal, but it’s still removal. Play it when you have to, but it won’t always make your deck.
Sejiri Steppe can range from very good to weak depending on matchup. If your opponent’s creatures have an even color split, it gets a little worse. If they’re heavy on one or the other — like white red or black red often is — then it gets a little better. Most often, though, it’s going to function as a one-creature Smoldering Spires. They leave a blocker up, and you let one of your creatures get through. Not impressive, but not terrible either. A good sideboard card if they have Paralyzing Grasps.
Guardian Zendikon is OK in control strategies, and not great in aggressive ones. Pretty clear-cut, for the most part. However, losing tempo if they kill your land is such a beating I would try to avoid playing with these too much. With that said, a 2/6 is pretty formidable on defense in this format.
Kor Firewalker is great against red decks, but maindeck it’s going to be a 2/2 for WW with little impact on the game state too often. I’d probably leave this one in my board if I was choosing between it and another 2 power creature for 2.
As far as the cards I would prefer not to play, Kitesail Apprentice could be ok in some heavy Kor decks, Veteran’s Reflexes is a card you can board in if you’re racing back and forth and devoid of any way to break the race open. Other than that, it would take a stretch to play any of these.
Sejiri Merfolk (In U/W)
Halimar Excavator (In slower, control decks)
Mysteries of the Deep
Sejiri Merfolk (Without white.)
Cards I would prefer to never play maindeck:
Vapor Snare is clearly at the top. It steals tempo and turns on your landfall cards. After that, Sejiri Merfolk is absurd for many of the same reasons Loam Lion is. A 2/1 first striking lifelinker for 2 is very hard to deal with, and early on it puts the game out of reach in the same fashion as Vampire Nighthawk.
Calcite Snapper is excellent because not only is it great defensively, but it is fine offensively later on in the game. The shroud really pushes it over the top because often the only way to deal with a Makindi Shieldmate was something like Hideous End or burn spells. Calcite Snapper avoids that issue and is a very solid blue common.
Tideforce Elemental can pull an amazing batch of tricks. While a little bit of a mana sink, it can untap your creature that attacked to block, then untap itself to tap another creature. It can tap their creature pre-combat so you can get in, then tap another on their turn. And that’s not even thinking about what happens if you throw a Harrow in the mix. A very high pick, especially if you aim to be more controlling than aggressive.
Horizon Drake is a 3 power flier for 3, and Voyager Drake is 3 power for 4 with potential upside. Both are solid additions to your blue decks are should be picked highly. Horizon gets the nod over Voyager for me because it costs one less, but the ability on Voyager certainly does come up more often than Horizon.
Permafrost Trap can be a tempo blowout. It’s expensive at four mana, but it’s best against green which makes its trap condition work in a lot of situations you want it to. Still, even against R/B just shutting down two creatures for two turns is often enough to win the game. Blinding Beam was a high pick in Mirrodin block, and this card is very similar.
When played at the right time, I saw Aether Tradewinds create tremendous blowouts. It takes some setting up, and is a little worse than Peel from Reality was because of no damage on the stack, but it can still mess up combat. It’s especially good for attacking with everybody, having them block, and then pick up one creature they blocked and would kill and then one of two creatures they had to block a larger creature with. I wouldn’t want too many in my deck though, because drawing two early on gives you two weak draws. The first is very good when you craft to set it up, and often the first is all you will need.
Sometimes, you just need a Lumengrid Warden. Halimar Excavator does that for your control decks and is especially good in this format because it blocks all of the 2/1’s. In allies, in takes the deck an entirely different direction which requires you drafting much differently. If you want to pick up a couple of Excavators and try and mill them out, the support allies you want are going to be different then the ones for the aggressive ally deck.
Wind Zendikon is not to be played on turn 1 most of the tie. As long as we have that part down, it’s a fine card to cast on turn four or five to add a 2/2 flier to your party. It’s not a card I want a ton of for fear of being choked on them early, but it is fine nonetheless.
Halimar Depths is just fine. It’s a land, so I would probably pick it higher than most people. It gets better if you have a lot of two drops you can try and find, and later on it’s still a fine drew. It’s probably worse that Soaring Seacliff depending on archetype, but if I end up with Depths in my draft they will almost always make my deck.
Surrakar Banisher is a card a lot of people maligned but showed up in a lot of decks that were doing well. In a format where both players are attacking every turn, Banisher sets them back on tempo and leaves a 3/3 behind. It’s not good for pushing guys through, but it’s still a respectful card to play
I give Treasure Hunt the nod over Mysteries of the Deep because cycling early to find land drops can be very important. Overall though, neither of these cards impressed me very much. A lot has been said about each, but the former too often doesn’t do very much too often and the latter is so expensive for a card which just draws cards in a tempo dominated format. I wouldn’t be unhappy to play either one, but I wouldn’t want to fill my deck with them either.
Rounding out the list is Dispel, which is a card I will probably play maindeck at some point but is better sideboarded in, Twitch, which seems far too expensive in this format no matter how much I want cantrips, and Enclave Elite, which is fantastic if your opponent is playing blue, but blue seems to be the least played color from everything I’ve seen. I would rather put the Elite in the board and bring him in than start him maindeck.
Spell Contortion is far too expensive and situational for me to want to play in limited.
Urge to Feed
Bojuka Brigand (with 3 or more other allies in your deck)
Bojuka Brigand (with 1-2 other allies in your deck)
Brink of Disaster
Cards I would prefer to never play maindeck:
The top four black commons/uncommons all have one thing in common: they’re cheap removal spells. Yep, that’s right. Four very solid removal spells line the top of the list. The order is flexible, but Urge to Feed is on top for me because it’s an instant speed trick that can often puts a counter on at least one creature. Tomb Hex and Smother are close behind, and Dead Reckoning isn’t much further back. Reckoning even leaps up a few if you have great creatures that you can rebuy. All in all, I would be very happy with first picking any of those cards.
Jagwasp Swarm is a 3/2 flier for 4, which gives your black deck some evasion. Unexciting, but 3 power for 4 mana is still very good. Snapping Drake was a top common, and this card is the same thing.
As Brian David-Marshall said at our pre-release, “Bojuka Brigand is an Oran-Reif Survivalist in better colors.” I tend to agree. A 2/2 for 2 is already a fine card to have in your deck, but the synergy with allies lets him push through the sea of 2/1’s out there. Who cares if he can’t block? He’s not going to be on blocking duty very often anyway.
Ruthless Cullblade is a 2/1 vampire for 2. Fine, but unexciting to have. If they’re at 10 or less he becomes very good, but still isn’t much more notable then most of his vampire brethren.
Right around here is where black begins to drop off. Shoreline Salvager is passable as a Hill Giant, and Corrupted Zendikon is surprisingly solid as a 3/3 you play on turn 2 then attack and cast another two drop on turn 3. After that, QuagVampires is an Phantom Warrior sometimes (probably 60%), Bloodhulk Ritualist is a Grey ogre that maybe nugs a card on its way down, and Caustic Crawler is great in traditional black-red 2/1 races, but often its -1/-1 ability is lacking.
Nemesis Trap is absurd against white, but against an unknown opponent it’s ridiculously expensive at 6 mana. Yeah, it’s a total blowout, but leaving six mana up turn after turn is just asking to fall behind if they have any idea what you’re up to. Brink of Disaster is a card I really never want to play, but I know will probably end up in trainwreck drafts once or twice. After that, Scrib Nibblers, and Mire’s Toll are cards I think I can safely say I would rather have lands over, Bojuka Bog I would rather have a Swamp over, and Pulse Tracker is probably only playable in the most aggressive of aggressive decks and Vampire decks that really need more Vampires for Feast of Blood.
Skitter of Lizards
Claws of Valakut
Slavering Nulls (in R/B)
Slavering Nulls (without black)
Cards I would prefer to never play maindeck:
Quest for the Goblin Lord
Cunning Sparkmage is the clear number one red common/uncommon. This card just dismantles games In a way I haven’t seen from an uncommon since… Okay, well, since Vampire Nighthawk. But still. X/1’s dominate games in this block, and Cunning Sparkmage removes them all. It has haste, so even if they kill it immediately it’ll still take a creature down with it. Vulshok Sorcerer was great in Mirrodin limited, and Mirrodin limited had nowhere near the prevalence of x/1’s. This is a card I will take and happily splash for if I have the tools to do so.
Searing Blaze is an amazing removal spell. Three to a creature and its owner? Yes please.
Skitter of Lizards is solid. Ronin Houndmaster and Suq’ata Lancer were both great cards in aggressive decks. Skitter of Lizards trades off the bushido/flanking ability for being able to kick up and be a 3/3 or even 4/4 haste, which is fine.
However, after Skitter of Lizards the power level of red drops off completely. It’s actually staggering.
The next best card is Smoldering Spires. It’s fine, but doesn’t feel like it should be the fourth best red common. Several people weren’t playing these for some reason, but extra Goblin Shortcutters seems just like what the red deck wants. They have one guy left untapped, you don’t let it block and bash in. The more times you can do this, the better. But still, the fourth best common?
At number five is Claws of Valakut. Claws gives a good bonus — first strike is great in this format — but as a creature enchantment it’s prone to creating card disadvantage. Generic guys like Nulls, Roughrider, Thrasher, and Shaman are playable, but doesn’t really provide a boost to what red already has.
Finally you get into fringe playable cards like Bull Rush and Tuktuk Scrapper and you think you’re at the bottom of the barrel, but then you see four cards you pretty much never want to maindeck like Quest for the Goblin Lord and Rumbling Aftershocks. The quality of red drops off fast in Worldwake.
Greypelt Hunter (In a deck with 4 or more other allies.)
Quest for Renewal (In particular decks.)
Cards I would prefer to never play maindeck:
The top card of green commons/uncommons has to be Leatherback Baloth. A 4/5 is so imposing in this format on turn three that if it’s not dealt with immediately your opponent is going to lose, in the same fashion as Woolly Thoctar. And furthermore, it can’t be straight-up killed by Tomb Hex or Urge to Feed or Searing Blaze. It’s cheap. It’s huge. It’s exactly what a committed green deck wants. If you can’t cast it until turn 6 it’s still good, and if you have enough forests to cast it on turn three it’s completely absurd.
Bestial Menace comes in at a close second. It’s 6 points of power for 5 mana, but being spread out in this way is very good in this format. Your 3/3 can block 2 power creatures, and your 1/1 can favorably trade with x/1’s. It’s a great card to have on offensive or defensive, and I saw this card played — and played this card myself — to great effect.
Arbor Elf is just Llanowar Elves for the most part. Sure, you might awkwardly have to cast him off of a Greypelt Refuge, but more often than not he’s just going to be a mana elf. In this sense, he’s excellent. Green’s problem can just be casting its fatties early enough, and with Arbor Elf’s help you can get your 3/3’s and 4/4’s on line at the same time as their 2/1’s and 3/3’s. An excellent card which I’ve seen several people mistakenly leave in their sideboard or pass around the table very late.
Greypelt Hunter is a trampling Hill Giant in a non-ally deck, which is fine. In an ally deck, though he can easily turn into a 4/4 or even 5/5 trampler attacking on turn five. It’s easy to see why this guy is very solid. However, if you’re not in allies, his value goes down not because he’s bad, but simply because a Hill Giant isn’t that exciting compared to what else green has to offer.
Gnarlid Pack is a card I was very impressed with. At 2 mana, it’s a Grizzly Bear. At four, it’s a Hill Giant. At six, it’s still a 4/4. The flexibility of Gnarlid Pack makes it good at any stage. Even though it’s average at best, it’s still better than cards like Greypelt Hunter (outside of allies) purely because of how flexible it is.
Groundswell is an absurd combat trick. It’s what Might of Old Krosa always wanted to be. It lets you attack all of your creatures into their huge creature, and is a solid trick in its own right. Pump spells are green’s form of removal, and this is a very good one.
Nissa’s Chosen was excellent, and Snapping Creeper, while costing one more, falls into a similar camp. It holds off 2/x’s, and unlike the Chosen, can often vigilance right into them so you can get in damage while keeping your defense up.
Explore is a tricky card to evaluate, and after playing with it and seeing it in action, I would place it middle of the pack. On turn two it accelerates you to four mana on turn 4, which is nice, but I think my favorite turn to cast it on is turn three so you can play it and a two drop, then be ready to cast a five drop on turn four. Additionally, any card which lets you double up on landfall has the potential to create absurd turns in limited and it cycles if you mulligan and have to keep a two lander. The kind of deck I draft will dictate how many Explores I want, but I am usually fine playing one and could see playing many more.
Khalni Garden is most comparable to Kabira Crossroads. It’s probably going to block a 2/1 and prevent two damage. However, the potential with pump effects and the ability to block larger creatures makes it a little bit better. Additionally, it can get out of hand with Ruin Ghost or Living Tsunami. I would take this late in the pack, and might play one depending on deck. Much like how Kabira Crossroads didn’t always make the cut, though, the same is true for Khalni Garden.
Grappler Spider is fine, and gives green an extra way to deal with the fliers which caused it problems in triple Zendikar. Especially with Horizon Drake in the mix, Grappler is a good card to have. After that, neither Vastwood or Summit Apes are cards I really want to play (even if I have a Mountain for the Apes) but are cards you can play if you need to, especially if you have a deck that’s all acceleration but needs fat creatures to ramp into.
Finally, there’s Quest for Renewal. This is the only card I’m still very uncertain on. I’ve never seen it in play, and I’m not really sure how it impacts an average game. I think its very deck dependant. It’s easy to trigger the quest condition (four for this is a lot easier than 7 for Beastmaster’s Ascension), and if you have a deck full of fatties it lets you attack and then untap to hold them off of attacking. But if your deck is full of red 2/1’s, being able to block isn’t so strong. If you have creatures with good tap abilities this card could go from mediocre to insane. This is definitely a card you have to keep an open mind about, but is probably not playable most of the time.
Canopy Cover is a card which will entice people in the same way Silhana Ledgewalker did, but I don’t think it’s very good maindeck. You can perhaps board it in against controlling strategies, but overall I don’t think its effect is actually that great in a format where blocking is at its weak point anyway. Slingbow Trap and Nature’s Claim are fine sideboard cards, but I would not maindeck them. Feral Contest can be boarded in narrow situations where your opponent has a bomb you absolutely have to kill to be able to win, but otherwise a four mana Hunt Down is not going anywhere near my deck. I don’t think Vastwood Animist is playable at all. It’s so expensive, and if you have enough allies in play to make it good, which is probably at least four, why aren’t you winning anyway?
I’ll preface the artifacts and colorless lands by saying that, while pick orders for artifacts don’t matter as much in comparison to colored cards, it’s still nice to be able to think about where on the scale they fit in relation to one another
Artifacts and colorless lands:
Hammer of Ruin
Cards I would prefer to never play maindeck:
Even at double the mana, Bonesplitter is still great. Hammer of Ruin’s second effect doesn’t matter often (though when it does it’s a blowout; it’s certainly effective at killing Trusty Machete), but the +2/+0 bonus lets you deal a lot of extra damage with evasive creatures and trade up the curve. It’s no Trusty Machete — it costs one more to cast and doesn’t give the extra toughness pump — but it’s still a card I would pick highly.
Pilgrim’s Eye is excellent if you’re splashing a color, and still pretty good if you’re not. Civic Wayfinder is awesome, and while Pilgrim’s eye is smaller, it does fly and can trade with cards like Surrakar Marauder and Horizon Drake. I would pick these around fifth or so, but higher if I really needed fixing.
Quicksand is a very solid land which can turn races in your favor and discourage attacking, which is exactly what you want to do in this format. If you don’t have any color intensive requirements, it should always be in your deck. The same can be said of Dread Statuary. A 4/2 manland is pretty beefy later on, and it can trade up the curve too. Once again, it should always make your deck unless you have color intense spells — and even then, you can sometimes make exceptions.
Even in an aggressive format, Mind Stone is still alright. It’s better in some decks than others — green decks notably — because you don’t want to be playing a signet instead of a creature on turn two. But if you have a solid number of higher drops, Everflowing Chalice is a card I’m fine playing. I wouldn’t pick it super high, but it’s not a late pick either. Probably around sixth, higher if I really need it for my deck.
While 2 power creatures for 2 mana are literally a dime a dozen in Zendikar, 4 power for creatures for 4 mana are harder to come by. Sure, cards like Windrider Eel aren’t as good as we initially thought, but they’re still fine. I’m fine playing Hedron Rover, though I wouldn’t want to play more than 1.
Kitesail is great in green decks, and merely alright in other colors. They have been coming around fairly late and that’s probably where they belong, but I think they’re a card that’s always playable if you lack evasion or need some reach. Neurok Hoversail was great in green and passable elsewhere, and that’s right where Kitesail is.
Walking Atlas is not a card I am a fan of, but I can see playing it in decks with high land counts and a lot of landfall, or if you really need acceleration. Sakura-Tribe Scout is so much better on turn 1 than turn 2.
Tectonic Edge is not playable unless they have some absurd land like Valakut in Mono Red. There just aren’t enough nonbasics worth destroying, and the hit to your manabase isn’t worth it.
Finally, there’s Razor Boomerang. This card is just terrible. No matter how many x/1s people play with, it is a weak, slow answer that is a complete tempo black hole.
Worldwake overall seems like a lot of fun to play with, though, as always, we’ll see how we all feel in a few months when the excitement of new cards has faded. The format is still very fast, but the third pick does change many archetype dynamics. Keep in mind that pick orders can easily change based on what’s in your deck, and these are all just guidelines to start off with. It will be interesting to see how these evolve over time as more play occurs and more archetypes emerge.
I’m very interested to see what you think of these orders. If you think I’m way off, I’d love to hear why you think so, and if your play experience reflects differently or echoes my sentiments, I’d love to hear about it. It’s still early on, so there’s a lot to talk about in the way of Worldwake. Please post your thoughts on Worldwake limited in the forums, or e-mail me at gavintriesagainat gmail dot com. Hopefully through the forums and e-mail we can create a solid discourse on the limited format, with an eye toward the upcoming Pro Tour. I’m looking forward to talking with you soon!
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else