RGD Limited: The Beauty of Bad Cards

In our neverending quest to bring you the best writers and theorists, today sees Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz join our ever-growing ranks of Featured Writers. In his first article, Dan shares his thoughts on some of the undersung heroes of Ravnica Block Limited. Do some of those fifteenth-pick “powerhouses” require a second look?

There are plenty of strategy articles on Limited that break down the best cards and strategies to look for in each format. The card rankings that many top players develop are invaluable, even in a format such as RGD where the values of many cards fluctuate based on a particular situation. Ravnica block draft has become one of the most popular formats ever, due to the fact that there are many playable cards to choose from, even when the packs start to thin. In most draft formats, there usually were very few decisions to make in deck construction, as you usually just played the best cards you drafted in your colors. In Ravnica block, you will find that you have many options when you construct your deck. I have even had drafts where I didn’t know exactly which colors I would play after finishing the last pack!

In this article, I would like to share my thoughts on some of the cards I feel may be underrated in Ravnica Block Limited. Most of these cards don’t look too exciting on their own, but considered in the context of the RGD format, they all have a chance to shine. While none of these cards are close to being worthy of being a high pick, let a lone a first pick, you should be aware of these cards and why you would want them while you draft. You also shouldn’t be ashamed to round out your Sealed Deck with some of these cards every now and then.

The Mark of the Mage

The cards that comprise the Magemark cycle from Guildpact vary in value. Most people already appreciate the Blue and White Magemarks, as the ability to create a virtually unblockable creature or to give +1/+1 at instant speed, respectively, has these two cards often making the cut. The Green, Black, and Red Magemarks do not have as powerful effects on the game as the White and Blue ones, yet under the right conditions they can find a place in your draft deck. One of the primary conditions for considering the three weaker Magemarks for your deck is the presence of at least two other playable creature enchantments, including the White and Blue Magemarks. After a draft, you may find yourself with a pile of solid creatures, but a limited number of removal spells and tricks. This is a situation where you may find the Magemarks come in handy to help put your creature attack over the edge. Any two Magemarks will combine to give all of your enchanted creatures +2/+2, which is almost enough to merit their inclusion. The Red, Green, and Black Magemarks all provide fine abilities that, together with the power and toughness bonuses, will make your enchanted creatures a pain for your opponent to block.

It seems that the Eidolon cycle from Dissension has grown in appreciation since Dissension was first released. I have a feeling that people still may not feel comfortable ranking the Eidolons properly. Let’s run down the value of each Eidolon based on just the respective activated abilities: The White Eidolon is clearly the strongest, as the threat to be able to prevent three damage at any time will make combat difficult for opponents. The second-best Eidolon ability probably comes from the Black one, but I feel the Green Eidolon could be better for the right deck. The Green Eidolon is great for a deck with a lot of powerful gold cards, and that can be said for a lot of decks in this format. You sacrifice your Eidolon to cast that Savage Twister or Wrecking Ball you splashed, and then the spell brings your guy right back. After the Green and Black Eidolons, I feel there is a big drop to the Blue and Red Eidolons, as I feel neither of their abilities provide enough when you consider these two for your deck. The important thing to keep in mind when looking at the Eidolons is their return-to-hand ability whenever you cast a gold card. Blinking Spirit was the original four-mana 2/2 that returned to your hand for free, and that was one of the most popular creatures when it came out. You should look to have at least five gold cards when you consider Eidolons in your deck, but the White one has the potential to make the cut on the damage prevention ability alone.

Delirium Skeins/Cry of Contrition/Strands of Undeath
Everyone loves removal spells that kill more than one creature, but discard spells that take out more than one card often get passed with nary a glance. Removal spells are generally much more important for your deck than discard spells, but you should not overlook the ability of discard to swing a game in your favor. Delirium Skeins is one of the most powerful “fifteenth cards” out there, as the potential to Mind Twist your opponent when you have an advantage on the board can’t be ignored. Delirium Skeins fits well in a deck with lots of cheap creatures, and obviously works nicely with Hellbent creatures such as Gobhobbler Rats and Rakdos Pit Dragon. Cry of Contrition is another card that often gets very little consideration, but in the right deck it can work very nicely. Black gives you access to a lot of removal and sacrifice outlets, making it possible for many decks to cast Cry of Contrition, and then immediately force a second discard. I don’t recommend playing it often, but Cry of Contrition fits into some of the same fast decks as Delirium Skeins. Strands of Undeath is probably appreciated by most, and it is much better than Delirium Skeins or Cry of Contrition, but I think it is slightly underrated. I had a second pick Strands of Undeath in my last pod of Pro Tour Prague, and I really didn’t mind. I went 3-0 with the deck, including a win won by following up my opponent’s Mark of Eviction with a Strands of Undeath on the same creature. That may not be a good enough reason to second pick Strands of Undeath, but it sure was fun!

Sadistic Augermage/Centaur Safeguard
You have probably heard a lot about the demise of the Selesnya guild with the introduction of Dissension, and unfortunately it is true. The inability to pick a third color that gives you a guild in all three packs is not the only reason Selesnya has come down in power so much. Selesnya decks depend a lot on the synergy of cards that generate multiple 1/1 creature tokens together with convoke creatures. Now that we are down to one Ravnica pack, it is difficult to put together enough of these cards to make this strategy successful. So what does all this mean for Mister Safeguard and Senor Augermage? There are far less tokens running around, so now your one-toughness creatures are not as likely to run into a 1/1 token creature. The upside of spending three mana for a creature with three power now exceeds the downside of paying that much for just one toughness. While Centaur Safeguard is a card that most people respect and have no problem playing, Sadistic Augermage usually does laps around the table and finds a home in a sideboard. His symmetrical “drawback” makes him at least as much of a pain for your opponent as it does for you. He fits well in the kinds of decks described above that use fast creatures mixed with discard to put your opponent on his heels. It sure is fun when you can make a deck with bad cards better by playing even more bad cards!

Splitting the difference

Shred Memory/Muddle the Mixture/Dimir Infiltrator
Shred Memory and Muddle the Mixture clearly don’t have much value beyond their Transmute abilities, but that may be all you need to include them in your deck. You should look at these two as split cards, with one half a three-mana tutor and the other half a marginal alternative spell. These cards should always be considered for your deck when you have two or more powerful two-mana spells. Here are some examples of two-mana spells that make playing the two-mana Transmute cards worthwhile: Last Gasp; Train of Thought; Pyromatics; Peel From Reality; and Guildmages. The two-mana Transmute cards are also solid if you play one powerful two-mana spell together with a situational two-mana spell, such as Leave No Trace or Rain of Embers. You must remember that you can Transmute for Savage Twister or Crime/Punishment with the two-mana Transmute cards. If you find yourself lucky enough to first pick one of these powerhouses, don’t forget to check the bottom of your pile to see if you picked up any “tutors” during garbage time in Ravnica.

Sundering Vitae/Leave No Trace/Smash/Haazda Exonerator
Enchantment and artifact removal cards are almost always ignored in most draft formats, save the atypical artifact-themed Mirrodin block. Ravnica block may not revolve around artifacts and enchantments, but it certainly has a fare share of those that range from solid playables (Faith’s Fetters, Plumes of Peace, Signets) to game-breaking powerhouses (Glare of Subdual, Sunforger, Plague Boiler.) These cards are often treated as blanks in drafts, but you should keep your eyes open for them in case you run into a deck with powerful artifacts or enchantments. Smash is particularly underrated, as nearly every good deck in Ravnica block limited has a few Signets. Blowing up your opponent’s Signet and peeling a card on turn 3 is a huge swing in your favor, and even later in the game it can ruin their mana.

Dromad Purebred
This horsey with the large back-end is what inspired me to write this article. I wanted to write an article about bad cards that people would have no idea could actually be playable. I shared some of the cards I was going to write about with some friends, and they all told me that the cards were popular already. It is very possible that the NYC drafters at Jon Finkel apartment simply love playing bad cards, but I’m sure a lot of you were aware of many of the cards in this article are at least playable. Well, the Dromad Purebred is a card that I sure never have played, but I have seem Jonny Magic summon him from more than one deck. I can’t sell you on this thoroughbred too much, but he actually can be played from time to time. It may be expensive at five mana, but with just one colored mana required, five toughness, and a decent little life-gain ability, sometimes he can hold down the fort.

Stone-Seeder Hierophant
I’m not too high on Stone-Seeder Hierophant, but you should be aware that it is a playable card that you can toss into your deck. He is obviously very powerful in a deck with multiple Karoo lands, allowing you to produce obscene amounts of mana by turn 5. Dropping a four-mana 1/1 with no combat ability is tough, but if you can bust out some fatties in the following turns, the Stone-Seeder Hierophant could help you out.

I don’t have much to say about Runeboggle, other than the fact that there is nothing wrong with playing this card every now and then. Runeboggle is a tolerable filler card that occasionally will counter a spell, though it also can shine simply by tying up one mana from your opponent. The one mana spent to pay for Runeboggle often will have been reserved for another spell or an in-play ability. You have to be aware of all of the ways you can gain even just a small advantage throughout your play, especially when you have little to lose when a card like Runeboggle replaces itself.

Ravnica block has become such a popular Limited format because deck construction for both Draft and Sealed Deck is so much more than trying to shove in the best 40 cards possible. In fact, with manabases becoming so complicated, many pros are more willing to play 41 cards now than they were in the past. Old Limited formats have often been defined by a few powerful cards, and trying to play and draw these cards as much as possible. With Ravnica block, you still have many powerful spells, but now the best decks are being defined by the synergy of the entire deck more than ever. Basically, you are rewarded for playing the right cards, not just the best cards. I hope this article will help open up your options when you try to determine the best way to construct your next Limited deck.

Until next time,