Well, we’ve finally reached the end. All in all, this guide has totalled some 33,000 words, which makes me wonder why Ben Bleiweiss didn’t just write some draft pick orders to very quickly surpass his 18,000 word target. I hope my target audience (those that draft 8th Edition or plan to do so), have enjoyed the series, and I want to thank everyone who has contributed in the forums, or has helped me with the articles. Now I can get on and start writing about something else, which is suddenly sounding very attractive after two months.
8th Edition Artifacts
The colorless cards in 8th Edition are a mixed bunch. There are some very good, first-pick quality cards. There are also a large number of awful cards. Here are some points to note about artifacts in the format. Note that I have also included the non-basic lands in this section, for the sake of completeness. Not that there are enough of them to interfere with the flow of the article much.
- Some artifacts should be picked higher than the equivalent colored card, because they don’t commit you to a color. Phyrexian Hulk for example is a perfectly acceptable first pick, because it is going to make your deck and be a reasonable card regardless of what colors you end up playing.
- On the other hand, when using artifact creatures, remember that Naturalize and Shatter can rain on your parade just as well as any creature destruction spell. Bear this in mind when setting up gang blocks or alpha strikes.
- Because you will often be playing three colors in 888 drafts, you can help your cause by picking up one or more non-basic lands to smooth out your mana-base. However, don’t pick these over decent maindeck cards, as they will come around late.
That’s about it really, there’s not much to say about a narrow group of cards that can fit in any deck. Lets just list the cards, as always, from best to worst.
Fodder Cannon (u)
In the first pack, first pick there are very few cards I will take over this. Although from a pure power perspective it doesn’t hold up to Worship or Plague Wind, the fact that it doesn’t commit you to a color is a huge bonus in a set where what you really need for a successful draft, is good color positioning. Like Bloodshot Cyclops, this can stabilize the board if your opponent is beating you down, finish him off if you have creature advantage, or break the game open if it is stalemated. There really isn’t anything not to like about it. Provided you keep mana open, all your creatures can either trade two-for-one, or one-for-one with much larger creatures. Unless your opponent has overwhelming board advantage or artifact removal he is likely to lose the game in short order.
Ensnaring Bridge (r)
An odd card that really screws around with Limited games. Given how early this comes down and how easy it is to empty your hand (usually), the issue really becomes what happens once this card hits? Well the first thing to realize is that the card is symmetrical. If you keep your hand constantly empty, your opponent will not be able to attack, but neither will you. The trick is to keep your hand at just the right amount of cards so that your best creatures can attack, but your opponents cannot.
This is far more tricky than you might think, especially as his creatures are still available to block, but can work in some circumstances. Remember that you can attack with one higher power creatures than your opponent, because you can draw your card, attack, and then drop the card. This can work great if you have something like Phantom Warrior, or a flyer when he has no flying defense but, on average, the most likely result is that neither player will be able to attack effectively.
However, this is in itself a great effect. If neither player can attack directly (and nobody has artifact removal), then the game will come down to one of two things. Either one person will have enough direct damage to burn the other out (unlikely), or the game will come down to whoever has the most cards remaining in their library. This makes the Bridge a powerful weapon for you to have as it can completely snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Because there is limited artifact removal in the set, your opponent’s likely response to the bridge hitting the table will be going into goldfish mode.
Phyrexian Colossus (r)
Big creatures are few and far between in this format, and they can sometimes rule the table. However, sometimes you will finally get the mana to play one, only to find that your opponent has a Drudge Skeletons in play, rendering it totally useless as an attacker. Here is another big creature that could fall into the same trap, but joy-of-joys it has a form of evasion. The fact that you can only block it with three or more creatures effectively nullifies the threat of a regenerator ruining your day, especially since none of the common regenerators have enough power to significantly contribute to killing the thing (which if you are effectively sacrificing two or three creatures, you really want to do). Okay, so now let’s get to the disadvantage. Eight life is certainly a large price to pay just to untap your creature and you will almost certainly only be able to do it once per game.
This is quite a difficult card to comprehend fully, so lets take a look at the main possibilities for this card. Firstly you can have an 8/8 blocker for seven mana. Not too bad if you need a blocker, but unexciting. Secondly you can have a card that effectively reads “opponent chooses to either lose eight life or sacrifice three creatures” which can also copy the ability again the next turn, if they choose the life loss option and you are also willing to pay eight life. Remember that even when he is tapped he serves a purpose. He can untap at any time for eight life, meaning your opponent will have to think twice before attacking with any important ground-based creature. I guess all in all, this makes for a pretty good card that gives you plenty of options, especially in a slow format where seven mana isn’t all that much.
Beast of Burden (r)
In this format fatties are at a premium, and this guy can be very fat very quickly. If you draw this in your opening hand, and play with it in mind (i.e. don’t trade off creatures if possible), then it will probably come down at about 6/6 on turn 6, and this can just be too big for your opponent to handle. Of course you could draw it in the late game, in which case, if you have played with it in mind, it can be absolutely huge! I’ve seen this enter play as a 17/17 before. In this case, it should have a profound effect on the game, although bear in mind your opponent could still race you if he has plenty of chump blockers and an evasive threat, or can completely shut it down with a regenerator. Lack of evasion can really hurt these arbitrarily large creatures.
Planar Portal (r)
Planar Portal is powerful, but it is also not as good as it first looks. If you play this in the mid-game, it will take you three turns to play the card you require (one turn to play the Portal, the next to tutor, and the turn after to actually play the card). This is pretty damn slow, too slow in fact if you are under any pressure. In the late game this will be better, as you will normally be able to tutor and play the card in the same turn. I guess the true power of this card will depend on just what you have in your deck. If you have bombs to fetch, or a lot of cards that are situational, such as Aven Cloudchaser or Mind Rot, then this will be broken. Even if you have nothing like this, then the fact that you effectively have a painless Phyrexian Arena in play will normally win you the long game.
Aladdin’s Ring (r)
Here’s the top end of your mana curve right here. Once it is in play, at the cost of your turn, you can destroy pretty much any creature in play or serve four to the dome. Once it gets going, this will probably win you the game providing you can survive long enough to get over the sixteen mana you will need to get in the first four damage.
Vexing Arcanix (r)
In a format of rather dull and vanilla cards, this one is rather fun. When you look at this card, you will almost certainly realize that it’s best use is as a slowly ticking damage clock on your opponent, rather than a really bad card drawing mechanism (although cards such as Sage Owl will change this and hence make it a better card). In the former case, it is a pretty potent weapon.
Your opponent’s most populous card in his deck is likely to be about ten (basic land in his primary color). Therefore, when you activate this, your opponent will have a three in four chance of taking two damage, and a one-in-four chance of drawing a card he probably no longer needs. Obviously you don’t want to be tying up all your mana to do this in the early game, but this can be a good finisher late game and a slow but persistent clock if you have nothing else to do with your mana.
A card that looks awful at first sight, but is actually good in the context of the format. In an average match in 888 draft, both players will go through over half their deck and so this will normally act as an eight or nine turn clock, albeit one that isn’t cumulative with any of your other clocks. It also has the added bonus that it will win any of those games that stalemate naturally. There are a couple of fringe benefits of this card too. At two mana it fits nicely in your mana curve, and it also allows you to see what cards are no longer in your opponents deck, which can free up resources. For example, if you bought in Naturalize from the board to handle a Grave Pact, but the Grave Pact has now been milled, you know you are free to use the Naturalize on a Pacifism that is troubling you.
Phyrexian Hulk (u)
It’s either a Spined Wurm that costs one more mana or a Craw Wurm with one less power, depending on how you want to look at it. However, it is still a large body, which is good, and if you’re not playing Green, then you’re not going to have either of the above creatures and so this becomes very playable. If you find yourself late in the draft with little or no fat then you could do a whole lot worse than open and pick one of these guys.
Patagia Golem (u)
Like Phyrexian Hulk, Patagia Golem is good because it is perfectly playable in any deck, while providing some colors access to a type of creature they won’t normally have. Early in the game, you probably won’t have the mana to activate its ability, so this isn’t exactly a tempo card. However, later on in the game this is effectively a 2/3 flyer, which is great in a format full of 2/2s. This is especially good in G/R and B/R decks that are short of evasion or flyer protection.
Rod of Ruin (u)
Anaba Shaman is good, and this is good for the same reasons. It kills any X/1 creature, allows your creatures to trade with larger creatures, or provides a slowly ticking clock on your opponent’s life total. Unfortunately it is much less efficient than Anaba Shaman, its seven mana just to deal the first damage, means this probably won’t be an option in the early game. However, this is another card that gives a color specific ability to other colors and is a decent card in any deck, especially one that lacks direct damage through other means.
Flying Carpet (r)
Yet another card in the middle order that provides a color-specific ability. This is playable in any deck, but only really shines in decks that don’t have too many flyers already. It is especially good in Green decks, where making your 6/4 Craw Wurm fly every turn is well worth the four mana investment. The strength of this card is obviously that, unlike Flight, if the creature dies then the ability can then be used on another creature. In this way, it functions like the Equipment from Mirrodin. The best thing about this card is that it can be used either offensively or defensively, depending on need although often you will draw it when you really need a creature.
Jayemdae Tome (r)
Treasure Trove is a card that can be great in the right deck, and awful in others. Jayemdae Tome is a slightly worse Treasure Trove (as it can only be activated once per turn). In a control-ish deck, this is going to be very useful and should win you the game once the board is locked up. I miss being able to draw multiple cards per turn, like you can with the Trove, but unless you are blue then you won’t be able to use Treasure Trove anyway.
Wall of Spears (u)
Not a whole lot to say about this card. As a 2/3 First Striking Wall for three, this isn’t terribly exciting. It’s a very good card to drop on turn three if you are on the defensive, as it will stop dead most of the fast aggressive creatures in the format (it is particularly good versus Balduvian Barbarians and Lightning Elemental). It is a far less inspiring drop when you are looking to apply pressure on your opponent, or if the threat your are facing is large or evasive which is often the case.
Tap Lands (u)
Coastal Tower, Elfhame Palace, Salt Marsh, Shivan Oasis, and Urborg Volcano are all lands that come into play tapped, and allow you to tap for two (allied) colors of mana. This is a great way to smooth out your mana curve, and the”comes into play tapped” clause is rarely that significant. If you draw one in your opening hand you can play it on turn 1, when you will almost certainly have nothing else to play anyway, and if you draw it later you can normally find a turn where you have a mana to spare. When all is said and done though, these cards are a luxury. You don’t win the game with land, and so if it comes down to a choice between one of these and a shoe-in maindeck card, you are certainly going to want to pass the land along.
One final note, the rank I have assigned the card here assumes you are already playing both colors. However, if there is nothing else in the pack, don’t be afraid to pick tap-lands of which you are only in one color (e.g. Shivan Oasis when you are B/G). You never know, when you open your next pack you could find yourself staring at a great splashable card in the other color and the tap land will make the splash far more friendly on your mana base.
City of Brass (r)
See above really. This will smooth your mana base considerably, although you will take a point of damage each time you use it. I will happily play one of these if I have it though, as it can tap for any colors and doesn’t even come into play tapped.
Star Compass (u)
Well it’s mana acceleration, but not color fixing. Giving you an extra mana per turn for a two mana investment, this is similar to Rampant Growth, except it doesn’t fix colors and it doesn’t thin your deck. However, as only Green has access to Rampant Growth (and the other mana acceleration cards), this will certainly find a home in a lot of non-Green decks, especially ones that have a lot of cards costing four mana.
Coat of Arms (r)
A card that can be extremely good, extremely crap, or a lot of things in between. If you pick this up in the first pack, then it is possible to build a deck around it. There is no doubt that if you have seven or eight Zombies, Birds or Soldiers in your deck, then this is probably going to be great when it comes out, but the problem with building a deck around one card, is that if you don’t draw that card, you are left with a sub-standard deck that is running three copies of Scathe Zombies. Obviously if you pick this up in pack two or three, then it is probably going to be pretty useless although, if you see it, it’s always worth checking what you have drafted to see if you have any tribal theme (Birds in a White deck are quite common for example).
Urza’s Armor (r)
This is a decent card in theory, hindered a little by its high casting cost. If your opponent is beating down with large creatures, then this will make very little difference, whereas if he is beating down with weenies then this may come out too late to make a difference. Remember it only affects damage dealt to you so most of the time this is just like a weak, over-costed Circle of Protection. Not unplayable by any means but certainly not as good as it first looks.
Skull of Orm (r)
We now take a big dive down the playability scale, and hit the group of cards that are either unplayable, or only playable in very specific circumstances. Skull of Orm falls into the latter category. The ability can be vaguely useful, if you have a lot of Enchant Creature cards of if you have some powerful enchantments and your opponent has enchantment removal. In the late game, recurring a Flight, Fear, Unholy Strength, or Invisibility can be a powerful ability. However in the majority of deck this just isn’t going to have enough targets to warrant a slot.
Disrupting Scepter (r)
This is pretty useless as discard goes. Given your opponent’s hand will probably be empty by about turn 8, the only way you can get card advantage off this thing is to spend three turns playing it, and then activating it twice by this time. This is really not what you want to be doing with your mana early in the game, as your opponent is likely to overwhelm you by playing real cards during this period. This really isn’t a maindeck card, although it may be worth bringing out of the sideboard if you see a high cost card (seven mana or more) that you really can’t handle such as Plague Wind, Tidal Kraken, or Obliterate. In this case you may be able to activate the Scepter while they have it stuck in their hand.
Brass Herald (r)
A 2/2, which gives creatures of a chosen type +1/+1, and also has potential card advantage ability built in. This is a reasonable set of abilities, but for six mana? Once you have the mana to play this, all it will be is a 2/2 chump blocker that gives a creature +1/+1 (or maybe two creatures in exceptional circumstances), and once in a blue moon might net you a card. I want a whole lot more for six mana.
Distorting Lens (r)
Another card that clings to the edge of usefulness by the skin of its teeth. This is a makeshift sideboard card against a few cards that your opponent may have that are color dependant. If your opponent has a lot of Fear creatures, or particular color hosers (hint: this isn’t great against Evacuation) then this might just about be worth bringing in from the sideboard. However most of the cards it deals with will have far better answers, and so try not to get cute by using this to get around Wrath of Marit Lage when a simple Demystify will do.
Defense Grid (r)
I can’t be too hard on this card because it’s obviously designed for Constructed, and it does a commendable job there. In Limited however it is teetering on the useless side. The only playable cards that this will hurt, (i.e. not Instants your opponents can just wait until his turn to play) are the three counterspells (Remove Soul, Mana Leak, and Rewind). Unfortunately it doesn’t even render these unplayable, as in this slow format, your opponent may well be able to wait until they have the three extra mana. Certainly don’t maindeck this and I don’t think I would even sideboard this in against a Blue deck featuring multiple counters.
Crappy Life-Gaining Artifacts (u)
Crystal Rod, Iron Star, Ivory Cup, Throne of Bone, and Wooden Sphere are bad. In fact they are so bad that it’s quite embarrassing that there are so many worse artifacts in the set. At the cost of a card and a mana, you can pay one mana any time a certain color spell is played, to gain a measly one life. So even if you play this turn 1, you are going to have to pay another four mana over the course of a long period of time, just to get the benefit equal to the god awful Sacred Nectar. That is such a bad deal that I don’t even see the really bad players on Magic Online playing with these. Just put a random 1/1 in your deck, an extra land, anything except one of these.
Dingus Egg (r)
Please don’t try to build a deck around this card. Sure, if you manage to draft about six Stone Rains, and get enough of them early, then this is going to do a fair bit of damage, but if you do this you will still lose, as you can’t start playing the Stone Rains until turn 5, by which time your opponent will be playing good creatures. Besides, the odds of you drafting such a deck are remote anyway, as each 888 draft will only contain, on average, two or three Stone Rains.
Teferi’s Puzzle Box (r)
A symmetrical card that has no real uses. It will constantly recycle your hand, to give you more threats that you are capable of playing, but will also do the same for your opponent, and so you don’t want to be playing a card like this on turn 4. Maybe if you had a fast deck with one or two late game cards you don’t want stuck in your hand? Nah, don’t bother.
Howling Mine (r)
I’m annoyed because I really wanted to make this the worst card in the set, and in any other color it would be. However the raw power of Spellbook and the Urza lands in Limited means that this manages to escape the cellar.
The reason I hate this card so much is that people play it against me in drafts sometimes, and I just feel like throttling them! This card will provide a benefit to you, while providing a far greater benefit to your opponent. This is almost guaranteed, there is no way within the 888 environment to even achieve symmetry with this card, let alone break it. Lets say you play this on turn 2. The following turn, your opponent has drawn an extra card and you haven’t yet, meaning that he is now two cards up, as it also cost you a card to play the Mine in the first place. After this he will constantly fluctuate between being one and two cards up on the deal, plus of course the two mana that you paid to play this. The only use I can think of for this card is if you somehow acquired multiple copies of Maro.
Urzatron Lands (u)
As unlikely as it is that you pick up multiple copies of Maro, that’s nothing compared with the cards you need to pick up to make these lands remotely playable. Firstly, you will probably need two each of the lands, which will be quite an effort given there are, on average, less than one of each in each draft. Then you will need a mana-base capable of supporting six lands that don’t tap for colored mana, meaning your deck will have to be effectively mono-colored or close to. Then you will need some cards that can actually make good use of nine colorless mana early in the game, of which there are only a handful. If you manage to get a deck with all of the above criteria, then quit the draft and go buy a lottery ticket instead.
Ever found yourself with more than seven cards in your hand after having already played out four lands and another card? Didn’t think so.
I hope you have enjoyed this series, I have certainly enjoyed writing it. Hopefully I have given some exposure to a relatively unknown format. If you ever get bored with drafting Mirrodin, why not hop on to Magic Online and give 888 drafting a try. You might be pleasantly surprised by how fun it can be.