Rare X

You know what is nice about Rorix besides all his other, obvious, attributes? It is the fact that he is a rare. I know it sounds dumb, but it’s true. People don’t play as well against rares. They don’t expect to be facing rares. They aren’t accustomed to playing against rares, so they are more likely to play poorly when facing rares. Entire Limited articles are written sometimes as if rares barely existed. How can you account for this in your Limited playtesting?

You know what I love opening up my pack and seeing? Rorix! Man, oh man is that guy a goody. He comes out and wins the game in a matter of seconds. No waiting around for summoning sickness! Nope! He just flies on over, smashing your helpless little opponent.

My favorite Rorix story involves my opponent, Andrew”Downtown” Brown, casting a turn 4 Tempting Wurm from his Green/Black deck with me dropping out a Rorix and an Anurid Murkdiver. Surprisingly, the game didn’t last much longer after that little beating.

You know what is nice about Rorix besides all his other, obvious, attributes? It is the fact that he is a rare. I know it sounds dumb, but it’s true.

People don’t play as well against rares. They don’t expect to be facing rares. They aren’t accustomed to playing against rares, so they are more likely to play poorly when facing rares.

Rares, rares, rares!

My Rorix example just shows how unexpected rares are. It is like casting Starstorm; your opponent is often just devastated. Sometimes they forget cards as powerful as these even exist, or just get overconfident and sloppy and walk right into them.

Rorix Bladewing and Starstorm are very obvious – and after a year of playing Onslaught cards, people are aware and ready for the best cards in the first expansion. However, if you look down another level, morph creatures like Quicksilver Dragon, Bane of the Living, and Silent Specter are totally devastating because people aren’t expecting power bombs from morph creatures. One of the reasons all three are super awesome high picks is because of their surprise value. They will all single-handedly win games.

Going further down the rare chain, we have cards like Harsh Mercy. How good is Harsh Mercy? Is it a first pick… Or should it be drafted right above Sea’s Claim? Gary Wise rated Harsh Mercy right beneath Daunting Defender, Aurification, Akroma’s Blessing, and Astral Slide. He rated it right above True Believer, Crude Rampart, Oblation, and Convalescent Care. When I asked him how he felt about the ranking, he says that he now believes it should be a little lower – and potentially up to four spots lower – than he originally rated it.

It can be a very powerful spell or one that does virtually nothing… But how many times have you had the opportunity to play it? How many times has it been cast against you? How good do you think it is?

It is very difficult to rate a card like Harsh Mercy. There are a hundred and fifteen rares in Onslaught, so you will only see a Harsh Mercy in your draft about once every ten times. Since it will often not be maindeck playable, you may have to draft twenty or thirty times before you have a chance to play against it, let alone with it.

Not only does this make a card like Harsh Mercy hard to evaluate, it also lets us set up potentially devastating situations. Consider playing against an opponent who lays out a morph on turn 3, and you know from the previous game that his deck is full of morphs. It might be right to hold back on your own creature or play a creature face-up that normally would be morphed in an effort to get a early game two-for-one, plus nice tempo.

The fact is that there are very few times that this situation will come up. We can theorize a lot, but the cards just don’t appear that often… And all of this analysis is done just for one rare: Harsh Mercy. As I was looking through my Magic Online collection, I came across a number of other good examples on just the first page of my collection.

Another card that fits this mold is Dragon Mage. A 5/5 flier that costs 5RR usually makes a pretty good Limited card, but Dragon Mage also has the Wheel of Fortune ability. At first glance, you can only theorize about the effect of Wheel of Fortuning – but only after taking this Dragon can you really appreciate how different the Dragon Mage makes you play the game. Emptying your hand quickly before the Mage attacks is vital to winning a game where each player is drawing eight cards a turn. Also, the Mage can be a pretty scary prospect if you are sitting on a low life total.

Do you know how to get around Aurification with Illusions? Did you know that you can break Glarecaster’s shield by doing a small amount of damage to it before your big combat damage resolves? Do you remember that with True Believer out, your other clerics can’t target you with damage prevention? Or when mana burning with Convalescent Care out is often the correct play?

Think about the answers to all the questions. I am sure most of you know the answers to these by now… But did you all along? Personally, CMU players argued about whether Aurification worked versus morphs for a long time after the set came out.

In the Pro Tour: New York that my team won, I was surprised to find that Two-Headed Dragon could not be blocked by only one creature, and also that he could block more than one creature. Luckily, I was the one attacking with the Dragon, so it all worked out well.

At Grand Prix: Los Angeles I first-picked Weathered Wayfarer over Pacifism. At the time, I thought this was a fine pick. I really liked the Wayfarer’s ability, but he just isn’t as good as Pacifism. Had I had the Wayfarer as often as I have had Pacifism, I wouldn’t have made this pick.

In the Top 8 at Grand Prix: Montreal, Tim McKenna picked Werebear over Savage Firecat for his red/green deck. My red/green deck welcomed the addition. I am sure if the set would have been more than a few weeks old, Tim would have already seen how sick the Firecat can be in Odyssey and taken it. As it turned out, the Firecat cracked some heads for me.

What is my point?

As Scourge’s release has just happened, make sure to pay close attention to the rares in the set. If you have the opportunity to draft a rare or a common in a fun or practice draft, often taking the rare is better – even if it might be a worse pick. Taking and playing a weird card like Force Bubble will at least be a learning experience, and potentially it will win you a game. Just like you have to be familiar with color archetypes, it is equally valuable to be familiar with the rares. Make sure to read the cards and know what they do. Only yesterday did I find out that Dawn Elemental was a 3/3; I thought it was a 4/4!

Taking a little time to look at and read every card in the set can pay big dividends at the draft table.

Playing well against rares takes a certain amount of discipline. Being the best Magic players in the world, as we all are, often we find ourselves in unlosable situations and our play gets sloppy. We have Shock in our hands and our opponent is at two or we have out five creatures to our opponent’s none – but we cast another anyhow, only to get Starstormed or Akroma’s Vengeanced. Remembering that our opponents are human beings struggling to win can often be the difference between winning and losing.

There are the subtler situations when we need to keep in mind the more obscure rares. Remembering that cards like Unstable Hulk and Clickslither exist can make you think more before attacking and blocking decisions. Practicing against cards like as Beacon of Destiny and Weaver of Lies will mean that when you are playing against them in a tournament you won’t make some stupid misplay. If your opponent has a morphed Mischievous Quanar, then you might just want to attack to kill them instead of first casting Rush of Knowledge or Torment of Fire.

I know Decree of Pain is a silly, silly bomb… But be aware of its existence. When your opponent is holding open a ton of White mana, be aware that Decree of Justice cycles. With a small set like Scourge, the number of rares is so low that reading them over and drafting them a couple of times to figure out what cards are really worth playing will make you a better Magic player and a better Magic drafter.

Most of the practice that you do revolves around the commons of the set; getting a feel for the format is very important, but it is also important to grasp the power and intricacies of the rares. Legions, being all creatures, may not have as many powerful bomb rares, but the creatures have many unique features. Knowing that Tribal Forcemage is an Elf Wizard or that Primal Whisperer costs 3G to morph up may well win you a game at some point. Pay attention to all of the cards in a format – not just the commons that you see time and again. Most importantly, practice for rares and learn how to properly react to each and every rare when it shows up.

Mike Turian

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Team CMU