Insider Information – Overrated and Underrated in M11 (Part 2)

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Friday, July 16th – Last week, Cedric began the M11 instalment of his popular Overrated and Underrated series, highlighting the cards he believes are being badly evaluated by the Magic populous. Today, he completes the job, calling out a number of powerful cards that he believes will not cut the proverbial mustard.

Interesting Card # 1: Dark Tutelage

Dark Tutelage
At the beginning of your upkeep, reveal the top card of your library and put that card into your hand. You lose life equal to its converted mana cost.

Dark Tutelage is a card without a home. A card this powerful should not be homeless, yet it is. With how Standard has looked pre-M11, and how I think it is going to look post-M11 (read: pretty much the same), I can’t really see Dark Tutelage making much of an impact. Not yet.

The problem with Dark Tutelage, of course, is the inability to control it. This is not the card that is going to re-spawn everyone’s favorite terrible mono-colored control deck; Mono Black Control. The impact cards in an ideal Mono Black Control deck (Grave Titan, Corrupt, Consume the Meek) are simply too expensive to reveal.

Some could say that this fits nicely into Vampires, but the three-drop is already so full that I can’t see it finding room there either. Between Vampire Nighthawk, Gatekeeper of Malakir, and Arrogant Bloodwitch, I don’t see any room for Dark Confidant Lite.

Right now, the only place I could see Dark Tutelage seeing a home is in Vintage, and I’m not even sure about that. I am far from a Vintage master, but with so many low costing, high impact cards available in that format, I could see a turn 1 Dark Tutelage being cast and having a major impact in games.

I don’t think Dark Tutelage is overrated or underrated. It’s clearly powerful, but not overpowered. It’s just uncontrollable and homeless right now.

Overrated Card # 1: Grave Titan

Grave Titan
Creature – Giant
Whenever Grave Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, put two 2/2 black Zombie creature tokens onto the battlefield.

I’m just going to get this out there right now:

Grave Titan is not better than Broodmate Dragon!

You can make the comparisons all day, but the friend that Broodmate Dragon brings with it is far more relevant that the friends Grave Titan brings with it. I feel that Grave Titan suffers from the same problem that I feel cards like Sea Gate Oracle, Aether Adept, Borderland Ranger, and Goblin Ruinblaster suffer. While they are all extremely powerful effects, the body attached to them quickly becomes irrelevant, if it’s not already irrelevant upon resolution. Grave Titan itself is not irrelevant, as a 6/6 with deathtouch is, of course, a major threat. The issue I have is with the tokens it brings to the party. While anything free is a great, I’d much rather have a free 4/4 flyer with my six mana threat than two 2/2 zombies, especially when Sarkhan the Mad is seeing a lot of play in Jund decks.

In the end, the argument is over a slot that used to be a four-of but has worked itself down to a singleton in most lists. Some lists opt to not even run Broodmate Dragon. If your Jund list is one that is still playing a miser’s six-drop, stick with old faithful (Broodmate Dragon) instead of the new hotness (Grave Titan).

Overrated Card # 2: Nantuko Shade

Nantuko Shade
Creature – Insect Shade
B: Nantuko Shade gets +1/+1 until end of turn

I’ve simply heard enough about Nantuko Shade being back for the past two weeks. Did you know that Nantuko Shade wasn’t even that good when it was printed back in Torment? It was a perfectly acceptable threat, but for those of you who played way back in 2002 (I can’t believe it was that long ago either), I think your memory is a little hazy. Nantuko Shade was in Mono-Black Control decks, but mostly in the sideboard as it was very bad in the mirror. Most games were won with Diabolic Tutor for Mind Sludge, Mirari, Riptide Replicator, Visara the Dreadful, or Corrupt/Soul Burn going to the dome. Rarely was a game won with a large Nantuko Shade attacking.

Fast-forward eight years later, and we now have Putrid Leech, Bloodbraid Elf, Baneslayer Angel, Knight of the Reliquary, and, and maybe most importantly, no damage on the stack. If you want to play with a 2/1 creature for two mana, may I point you in the direction of Lotus Cobra?

And before you ask, NO! This isn’t going to bring Mono Black Control back either.

Bold Prediction # 1: Phylactery Lich

Phylactery Lich
Creature – Zombie
As Phylactery Lich enters the battlefield, put a Phylactery counter on an artifact you control.
Phylactery Lich is indestructible.
When you control no permanents with phylactery counters on them, sacrifice Phylactery Lich.

I don’t have much to say about Phylactery Lich. It’s a pretty cut and dry card. When Phylactery Lich is good, it’s going to be great. When your artifact gets killed and Phylactery Lich dies as a result, it’s always going to feel miserable. I think these things are all obvious, no?

My bold prediction very LSV-esque. LSV predicted that Eye of Ugin was going to be a relevant card when more sets were released. While he didn’t hit the nail directly on the head, Eye of Ugin was a relevant Block Constructed card that I was more than happy to play with at Pro Tour: San Juan. It is seeing a little play here and there in Standard right now as well. I believe that Phylactery Lich is going to be what LSV wanted Eye of Ugin wanted to be: a super-expensive card once more sets are released.

It can’t hurt to have a playset ready for when Scars of Mirrodin comes out, but I don’t believe Scars of Mirrodin will be the set to put Phylactery Lich over the top. I think the second or third set of that block will take Phylactery Lich from obscurity to relevance rather quickly. You heard it here first!

Underrated Card # 1: Reassembling Skeleton

Reassembling Skeleton
Creature – Skeleton Warrior
1B: Return Reassembling Skeleton from your graveyard to the battlefield tapped.

I really like Reassembling Skeleton. Comparing this with Nether Spirit hardly seems fair, because Nether Spirit was capable of winning games on its own. Magic was also a much different game back then. I think Reassembling Skeleton could find its home in Ultimatum Control decks like Esper or Grixis.

Due to the lack of acceleration that those decks have, they often don’t make it to turn 7 to cast their namesake Ultimatum. Instead of acceleration, these control decks need to stall the game long enough to get to their end game spell and Reassembling Skeleton could be the card to assist them in that process. The 1/1 body attached to Reassembling Skeleton is not hard to deal with at all, but the fact that it can continuously come back to soak up damage is quite relevant in my mind. If Reassembling Skeleton draws a removal spell, this seems like a win to me, especially if the removal spell is Path to Exile.

Reassembling Skeleton is far from a great card. It is the exact definition of a role player. But that role may be to soak up enough damage to allow these Ultimatum Control deck to cast their game-winning spell. If that’s the case, that is a pretty important role!

Properly Rated Card # 1: Combust

Combust can’t be countered by a spell or ability.
Combust deals 5 damage to target blue or white creature. This damage can’t be prevented.

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that Combust needed to be printed, but I think we can all agree that it is necessary. It’s pretty hard to watch someone play a Baneslayer Angel against a Red deck without laughing out loud at the Red player as they struggle to deal with it. Combust does a great job at solving the Baneslayer Angel problem, as well as giving Red mages the ability to deal old monsters like Rhox War Monk and Knight of the Reliquary, as well as new threats like Conundrum Sphinx.

I have nothing negative say about Combust. Good card is good!

Underrated Card # 2: Destructive Force

Destructive Force
Each player sacrifices five lands.
Destructive force deals 5 damage to each creature.

Lazy design aside, I am actually a huge fan of Destructive Force. This is the first card I have seen from M11 that gives players a new angle of attack on our current Standard format. When Wildfire has been relevant, it always had a threat to go along with it that was bigger than the damage it was dealing. Covetous Dragon was the first, and Magnivore was the best. Currently, Red doesn’t really have that option, but it has a much different friend:

Garruk Wildspeaker!

Garruk Wildspeaker is a natural combination with Destructive Force, as it untaps lands to accelerate to Destructive Force and then provides creatures to kill the opponent before they are able to recover. I’m not entirely sure what a RG Destructive Force decklist would look like, but those two are great launching points.

A card that you need to beware of when looking to build a deck like this is Knight of the Reliquary. Knight of the Reliquary is one of the few creatures that can easily get out of Destructive Force range, so be sure to take that into account when trying to build up this new concept.

I think a Destructive Force deck is going to pretty good in the near future. It already has a great win condition in Garruk Wildspeak and some perfectly acceptable role players in Cultivate and Lightning Bolt. Where to go from there is anyone’s guess.

Overrated Card # 3: Ember Hauler

Ember Hauler
Creature – Goblin
1: Sacrifice Ember Hauler: Ember Hauler deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

The last thing Mono Red needs is another two-mana creature. Is Ember Hauler better than any of these cards:

Hellspark Elemental
Plated Geopede
Kiln Fiend
Kargan Dragonlord

I’d be willing to listen to an argument over Kiln Fiend, but that’s it. On paper, Ember Hauler is a good card. It has good stats, a relevant activated ability, and is even a relevant creature type as Goblin decks are good every couple of years. Unfortunately, it is outclassed by three (possibly four) other two-drops.

Overrated Card # 4: Leyline of Punishment

Leyline of Punishment
If Leyline of Punishment is in your opening hand, you may begin the game with it on the battlefield.
Players can’t gain life.
Damage can’t be prevented.

In theory, I could understand why someone would be excited about Leyline of Punishment. It’s the counter to Kor Firewalker, stops Rhox War Monk and Baneslayer Angel from gaining life, and can be free of charge. That all looks great.

Do you know what I see when I look at Leyline of Punishment?

Everlasting Torment was not a good card last year. It was a necessary evil. Everlasting Torment was a card that a Red player had to draw at the correct time, and a card that a Red player only wanted to draw once. As a result, Red decks had to play three copies and had to cross their fingers not to draw a second. That is not the sign of a good card!

Leyline of Punishment is the exact same thing. This is a card that you really want in your opening hand. A Red player does not want to waste his/her fourth turn hard casting this card. Furthermore, a Red player does not want to draw more than one of these, as the second copy is more or less a dead card.

I think the worst part about Leyline of Punishment is that it doesn’t even permanently solve the problem a Red player faces. Leyline of Punishment does not have shroud, so it can be dealt with if necessary. Decks that Leyline of Punishment are good against are going to be base White, so they will have access to Celestial Purge if they want.

It’s nice that R&D attempted to give Red mages an answer to Kor Firewalker and in some cases, Leyline of Punishment will get the job done. I just find those cases to be few and far between.

Useful Card # 1: Pyretic Ritual

Pyretic Ritual
Add RRR to your mana pool

Hello Goblin Charbelcher combo deck in Legacy. It was very nice to meet you.

Underrated Card # 3: Reverberate

Copy target instant or sorcery spell. You may choose new targets for the copy.

Just like Redirect from last week, effects like Reverberate should never be overlooked. Reverberate will almost never be a maindeck card, but it will have a major impact on sideboarded games where it is applicable. Wild Ricochet was a card that saw some play in Red mirror matches as well as a way to completely blow someone out for casting Cruel Ultimatum. While not as explosive as Wild Ricochet, Reverberate still has the same applications. Copying Time Warp, Cruel Ultimatum or a large Mind Spring is a pretty big deal. For those not playing Red, be sure to remember that Reverberate exists.

Overrated Card # 5: Autumn’s Veil

Autumn’s Veil
Spells you control can’t be countered by blue or black spells this turn, and creatures you control can’t be the targets of blue or black spells this turn.

Dear R&D,

0/2 on the Green hate card for Black and Blue decks.


Magic players everywhere

Overrated Card # 6: Cultivate

Search your library for up to two basic land cards, reveal those cards, and put one onto the battlefield tapped and the other in your hand. Then shuffle your library.

Much like Nantuko Shade, I believe people have hazy memories on Kodama’s Reach. Kodama’s Reach was a perfectly acceptable card in block Gifts Ungiven decks and in the Standard Heartbeat of Spring combo deck, but it never set the world on fire. Don’t get me wrong, I think Cultivate is a good card, but I don’t think it’s a card that should generate a ton of excitement. It does its job of searching out lands fairly well, and nothing more than that.

People have asked me if this is a card I would want to play in Turboland, and my gut tells me no. Turboland is a deck that wants to ramp from turn 2 to turn 4, not turn 3 to turn 5. Cultivate does make it easier to power out a Sphinx of Jwar Isle against Jund, but I never found that to be much of a problem anyway.

Overall, I believe Cultivate is a good card, but the kind of hype and excitement it has generated is completely unwarranted.

Overrated Card # 7: Fauna Shaman

Fauna Shaman
Creature – Elf Shaman
G, T, Discard a creature card: Search your library for a creature card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

Quite a few overrated cards today, aren’t there? Strictly comparing Fauna Shaman to Survival of the Fittest isn’t really fair, but since Survival of the Fittest is the most apt comparison, I feel as though I must.

One of the reasons Survival of the Fittest was good was due to how favorably it interacted with Squee, Goblin Nabob. There is no Squee for Fauna Shaman to work with, but she does have Vengevine, Bloodghast, and the unearth mechanic, so I consider this comparison to be a wash.

Another reason Survival of the Fittest was good was that it was an enchantment. We all know that enchantments are harder to kill than creatures, so that is a nod in Survival of the Fittest’s favor. Let it be known that I don’t think Fauna Shaman is a bad card because it is a creature. Everything is a creature nowadays. The excuse of “it just dies” is not legitimate, because if that were true, Sovereigns of Lost Alara plus Eldrazi Conscription would never work.

But one of the biggest reasons that Survival of the Fittest was a great card was because you could activate it numerous times in one turn. The issue I have with Fauna Shaman is that it is going to be a little slow at accomplishing its goal, which in turn will give your opponent an opportunity to kill it before it is fully utilized. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with Fauna Shaman. I just think that if you want to play a two-mana threat that your opponent has to kill or they lose the game, Lotus Cobra is much better at playing that role.

I would not be surprised if Fauna Shaman is a great card, but I don’t think it will be for some time.

Underrated Card # 4: Hornet Sting

Hornet Sting
Hornet Sting deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

I feel that Hornet Sting is a narrow sideboard card that accomplishes exactly what it needs to: Killing mana accelerants. Right now is a time where Cunning Sparkmage is doing a lot of positive things, but some decks have to go out of their way to play it. For a few weeks, Mythic was splashing Red for Cunning Sparkmage and Forked Bolt to get an edge in the mirror. It made the deck more powerful, but it made the mana a lot worse and has since been discarded for a more stable build. With the printing of Hornet Sting, Mythic can have that effect in the mirror without having to splash any more. Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Lotus Cobra, and opposing Cunning Sparkmages all bite the dust to this one-mana instant.

Hornet Sting isn’t ever going to see maindeck play, and people aren’t going to go out of their way to splash it in their constructed deck, but this is a sideboard card that could very subtly win you some games that you otherwise would lose. Keep it in mind.

Properly Rated Card # 2: Obstinate Baloth

Obstinate Baloth
Creature – Beast
When Obstinate Baloth enters the battlefield, you gain 4 life.
If a spell or ability an opponent controls causes you to discard Obstinate Baloth, put it onto the battlefield instead of putting it into your graveyard.

I feel that some are overrating Obstinate Baloth, but overall, this card is as good as advertised. The big thing that Obstinate Baloth does that no other card from M11 does is cause people to change their decks in deckbuilding. Take Jund for example. Jund was already boarding out Blightning against decks with Vengevine. With the printing of Obstinate Baloth, this gives Jund another reason to not only board it Blightning, but possibly not play it at all. We saw that Bradley Carpenter top 8’d Grand Prix: Washington DC with Blightning in his sideboard, so that route is easily possible.

Obstinate Baloth is also a big problem for Mono Red decks. Four toughness is the magic number against Mono Red as most of their spells deal three or less damage. A 4/4 is something that can’t be ignored, so Obstinate Baloth forces a red player to either use two cards to kill it, have a Flame Slash, or resolve a giant Earthquake. While all of these things can happen, the important thing is that it forces them to play differently than they normally would.

You can compare Obstinate Baloth to a lot of things, but the truth is that this card is just a good card. It has no drawbacks whatsoever. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Properly Rated Card # 3: Primeval Titan

Primeval Titan
Creature – Giant
Whenever Primeval Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, you may search your library for up to two land cards, put them onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.

Patrick Chapin has gone over this card better than I ever could, but I mostly agree with everything he has said. The only thing I dislike about Primeval Titan is when people compare it to Reap and Sow. The only thing that Reap and Sow and Primeval Titan have in common is that they both cost six mana.

That is it!

I think, much like Sun Titan, Primeval Titan can spawn new archetypes, or at the very least be a threat for which opposing decks have to save a removal spell/counterspell. Bringing two man-lands, Eldrazi Temples, or Tectonic Edges along with a 6/6 is a very scary prospect.

I don’t think it’s as good as everyone says it is, but Primeval Titan is a very good card that looks to be here to make an impact.

Overrated Card # 8: Mystifying Maze

Mystifying Maze
T: Add 1 to your mana pool
4, T: Exile target attacking creature an opponent controls. At the beginning of the next end step, return it to the battlefield tapped under its owner’s control.

Some people are going wild over Mystifying Maze, but I really don’t see why. This isn’t a land you can play in bunches. Mystifying Maze is a one-of (maybe two-of) for a control deck to play that does some positive things, but costs a lot of mana to do said positive things. I see this slotting into Blue based control decks like Super Friends or UW Control, as a one-of to do something positive every once in a while.

There are some colorless singleton lands that have a major impact on games, like Academy Ruins, Volrath’s Stronghold, and Kor Haven. Mystifying Maze isn’t one of them.

Overall, I think M11 is a pretty good set for Constructed. This is the best base set that R&D has made in a while, and I really like a lot of the cards. The return of Mana Leak (which I didn’t mention on purpose) is good for the game, and the titan cycle is cool from a flavor standpoint.

My bold predictions are as follows:

Grave Titan is the most overrated card in the set.
Destructive Force is the most underrated card in the set.
Mana Leak will have the most impact on the format.

Before I leave, I’d like to quickly say how much I hate that M11 is going to be the draft format for not only Nationals but for Pro Tour: Amsterdam. Grand Prix: Boston was one of the least fun tournaments I had ever attended, and from what I have heard, M11 Limited is a worse format than that. I haven’t played it yet myself, so I will reserve my opinion until I do, but I have gotten statements from people in this game that I heavily respect, and they did not have very much fun at their pre-release.

I don’t believe base sets are meant to be drafted at the highest level of competition. I understand that this causes them to sell more, but with how many high impact cards there are in M11, I think it would have sold well regardless. Now people are forced to learn a very basic format, where skill does not really play as much of a role as it probably should, in order to win $40,000.

This is a Pro Tour. Save the M11 drafts for FNM.

/end rant

See everyone next week!

Cedric Phillips

[email protected]