First there was Nick Eisel. Nick and I had a falling out following the events at Grand Prix: Boston that led to his eventual banning and his status as a writer was in question as well. Then Paul Sottosanti, one of my closest friends, and up and comer out of the CMU organization stepped in to take over. Paul is now interning at Wizards. So could I go now to find a partner in crime? Tim Aten passed on the opportunity. He was my first choice, as he is hilarious and the best writer currently on this site, but he turned me down.
So, I went back to my roots. CMU seemed a fine place to get a replacement for the Dilemma series – and why not choose the oldest member of that club, the venerable Mike Turian?
Mirrodin is a bit more "out there" than most sets. With all the artifacts it is often difficult to determine where you should pick cards. One of the biggest problems with Onslaught block pick orders was that they moved so much with tribal concerns. One White deck could see Daru Stinger as the best card in the set, while another would find it totally unplayable. With abilities like Affinity and enhancement when equipped, this set seemingly will also have picks moving around a great deal.
When I first looked at the set, I figured that choosing the best color was a no-brainer. It seemed that White was just so much faster than the other colors and made Equipment (which I disliked initially) insane. I figured it would be easy to bolster your deck with tons of Equipment and fill the rest out with Leonin Den-Guards, Arrests, and Skyhunter Cubs. I had dreams of Mountains and stacks of Bonesplitters coming my way. Let me tell you, Bonesplitter is a thousand times better than I gave it credit for. Everyone else realized it immediately, but I was behind the curve on this card.
In the beginning, the pick order seemed absurdly obvious to me: Den-Guard, Cub, Arrest. Considering how popular (and rightly so) equipment became, Arrest was catapulted to the top. That’s not the issue in dispute here though, as both Mike and I agree that Arrest deserves the top slot.
The dilemma this time is: Skyhunter Cub or Leonin Den-Guard?
Mike is going to try and tell you about how great the Cub is. He is right, the Cub is fantastic, but the Guard edges it out in my mind for several reasons.
If you are drafting these cards, you are hoping for the nuts Bonesplitter draw. In the nuts Bonesplitter draw Den-Guard is simply better. It is the same clock, only it gives you a 4/4 blocker while you are attacking for four. Not tapping to attack has been an underrated ability for years now. It is a form of implied card advantage, since in essence you get to use the same card twice.
We all know that we don’t live in a world of nuts Bonesplitter draws though, so let’s look at other scenarios. Viridian Longbow is not the most exciting equipment in draft, but with Leonin Den-Guard its stock goes way up. In fact, I would argue that with every piece of Equipment besides Mask of Memory and possibly Leonin Scimitar (but I am not convinced of this), the Guard is simply a better creature. I find my decks often have multiple copies of Vulshok Gauntlets in them. It is a no-brainer which creature these are better on.
People have constantly said that evasion is at a premium in this set. While that is true, you also have to consider that all creatures are at a premium. The average deck has between eleven and fourteen creatures. Having a creature perform double duty is more attractive in my eyes. On top of that, if evasion is at a premium, it is likely your large ground blocker will do the job.
I wasn’t going to insult you with a discussion about casting cost, but I think it is actually quite important. (Translation: He’s going to insult you, but don’t take it personally – Knut) Let’s face it – there aren’t many quality two-drops in this set that don’t tap for mana. These guys make Myrs far less important, and the ability to hit someone with a good creature on turn 3 in this format it very appealing.
There is also a fragility issue. If you attack with either one while equipped, you are far less likely to get two-for-oned with the Den-Guard should it lose it’s equipment in mid-combat.
Before I go on to the pick order a couple of caveats. First, Mike and I have decided to only use artifacts that are significantly better in the colors we are discussing. Second, at least for White, our lists are quite a bit different. In fact, we could have had this dilemma about any number of cards. However here is my pick order:
I was on a flight with Mark Rosewater on the way back from Pro Tour: Yokohama. He asked me what I thought was wrong with the block. I informed him that one of the biggest errors in my mind was reprinting Pacifism instead of Arrest. Then, magically, it was in the next set. Now I don’t know if this was a direct result of our conversation, but I like to think it was. If there are going to be creatures like Spikeshot Goblin in the common slot, Arrest has to exist to keep white playable with all the other colors. This also means that ninety percent of the time, Arrest will be the best card to pick for your deck. It is White’s only creature control and a must have.
2. Blinding Beam
At first I thought this card was playable. Then I thought this card was good. Now I think it is insane. It simply wins you the game almost every time you cast it. It wins races, it buys time, and the "Creatures don’t untap" ability is often misunderstood in just how much it works to your advantage. In a creature light format, tapping two of them will often cripple your opponent’s entire team. In short, Blinding Beam is excellent. (Let the forum battle begin! -Knut)
3. Leonin Den-Guard
4. Skyhunter Cub
5. Skyhunter Patrol
I am not sure that by the time this list is posted I will still have this bad boy below the Equipment guys. He is a formidable creature on both offense and defense and is not dispatched by either Pyrite Spellbomb or Electrostatic Bolt.
6. Auriok Transfixer
Remember Master Decoy? Well this is the Master Decoy of this set. He is slightly less powerful – but in a set with few one-drop creatures, the reduced casting cost is important. Don’t be afraid to take this guy early.
7. Soldier Replica
A great defensive creature. The only reason I have him this low is that White has been slowly shifting away from a defensive posture and moving to the offense. It doesn’t hurt to have these guys, as equipment can make any creature offensive, but he is not the most important card for White.
8. Razor Barrier
I believe Nick Eisel put this in the category of overrated. Well the sad truth of the matter is this card is underrated. I disagreed with all but five of the seventeen things that Nick said in his article. I am contemplating adding a rebuttal to that – um, interesting – article at a later date, but if I don’t, cruise the forums and look for a heated response. Razor Barrier is situational removal, it saves a creature, and it makes one creature unblockable quite often, which, with equipment, can be a powerful effect.
9. Awe Strike
Another situational removal card, it can also win races and get you back into games that look unwinnable. Not the best card in the world, but it’s not terrible – and it’s a very swingy card.
10. Raise the Alarm
I do not like this card as much as most, but it is certainly solid. If you have a lot of equipment, making two 1/1s at instant speed is fairly good. I may undervalue this card in a format with so few creatures.
11. Gold Myr
The Worst Myr. All the Myrs are solid, but the White one is likely the most useless of the set. White is most often the color that gives you things to do on turns 2 and 3 without Myrs. Tony Tsai, in Grand Prix: Kansas City, took a Myr over a Mask of Memory. His argument was that he had four Skyhunter Patrols – and that was also my argument, but that situation is clearly the exception to the rule.
12. Titanium Golem
Too expensive for white, generally, but far from unplayable. First strike can be incredibly powerful with equipment.
13. Sunbeam Spellbomb
Weak but playable.
14. Loxodon Mender
A powerful ability on an overcosted card; unless you have a good reason, don’t run this.
15. Ancient Den (moves up with multiple Affinity spells)
I am not a fan of the artifact lands unless you have a reason to run them. White generally only has a reason to run them – if they have Myr Enforcer, Lodestone Myr, or are playing Blue as well. If you are playing Frogmite, get out of my basement! Just go!
16. Leonin Elder
Don’t beat yourself up if you are running this, but try not to run it in the first place.
17. Sphere of Purity
Maybe there are situations to run this, I haven’t found one yet.
Blinding Beam has slipped under many players’ radars. I am even somewhat hesitant to put it below Arrest, as that card wins games in the same way bomb rares do. Try it out and I assure you, you will be glad you did.
As always, I would love to hear your comments – and I am sure you will have them due to the major discrepancies in our pick orders.