Welcome! Ken has bestowed upon me the honor of being the newest debater in the Dilemma series. I now have the ability to rip apart his draft pick orders in the public eye. Normally, I save this sort of thing for my friends and close companions, but I suppose the world should be granted this wonderful opportunity as well.
I was shocked when I heard Ken’s original pick order of Leonin Den-Guard, Skyhunter Cub, and Arrest. I immediately proposed Arrest, Cub, Den-Guard if forced to choose only among those three – but I think that the Skyhunter Patrol is also better than the Den-Guard.
Here is my White commons pick order for your reference:
2. Skyhunter Cub
3. Skyhunter Patrol
4. Leonin Den-Guard
5. Auriok Transfixer
6. Gold Myr
7. Blinding Beam
8. Soldier Replica
9. Ancient Den
10. Raise the Alarm
11. Razor Barrier
12. Awe Strike
13. Leonin Elder
14. Titanium Golem
15. Loxodon Mender
16. Sunbeam Spellbomb
17. Sphere of Purity
As Ken eventually saw (and I hope that most of you agree), Arrest is the best White common in Mirrodin. Why? Arrest delivers cheap and effective removal. Nothing else in White kills creatures, and the fact that people aren’t playing enchantment removal means that once you Arrest a permanent it is gone for good.
In general, a quick way to rate cards for limited play is removal, then creatures, then utility cards. White follows this guideline for ranking cards very well. Arrest, being White’s only real removal, is on top, followed by the three best creatures, followed by three utility creatures, followed by a handful of utility cards, and finishing with the chaff.
Do you remember Serra Angel? I am sure you do – but in case you don’t, let us review. Serra Angel is a 4/4 White flier for 3WW. Serra Angel doesn’t tap to attack.
If you had to take away either flying or not tapping to attack from Serra Angel, which removal would make her worse? Removing flying turns Serra Angel into a better Ardent Militia, while removing not tapping to attack makes her Air Elemental.
I have always thought that Ardent Militia is a nice guy, but I think Air Elemental is pretty cool. Air Elemental attacks for a lot of damage because of the nice evasion ability it has; Ardent Militia hangs out, occasionally pushing damage through.
For you SAT lovers out there, let’s try this little analogy game:
Skyhunter Cub is to _______ as Leonin Den-Guard is to __________.
Take some time to think about this one; it is very tricky.
If you said Skyhunter Cub is to Air Elemental as Leonin Den-Guard is to Ardent Militia, you are a hundred percent correct!
The Cub is a fast evasion creature that puts your opponent on a real clock. The Leonin Den-Guard is a 1/3 that doesn’t tap to attack when equipped.
Let’s face it – neither creature is particularly good when unequipped. The goal of playing either one is to get some equipment on them. The best two common equipment turn the Cub into either a 5/3 flier or a 4/4 flier, while the same two equipment make the Den-Guard a 4/4 that doesn’t tap to attack or a 3/5 that doesn’t tap to attack. Remember the Ardent Militia? It seems the Den-Guard has a lot in common with the Militia.
One more rule, while we’re at it: Evasion is a Good Thing.
Because it can fly, your opponent is forced to deal with the Cub. I realize that a lot of the removal in the set is tuned to kill a two-toughness creature – but luckily, the Cub gets an extra point of toughness when you equip him. Fortunately, one of the two-toughness removal cards is an artifact, so you can often just play your Cub and equip him before they have a chance to cast it. Black’s removal kills the Cub about as easily as the Den-Guard so that isn’t even an issue. Power is better than toughness. A two mana 3/1 is much better than a two mana 1/3.
There are so many more ground creatures that shut down the Den-Guard than flying creatures that deal with the Cub. Black is loaded with regenerating ground creatures. Yotian Soldier and Hematite Golem shut down a Den-Guard that only is carrying a Leonin Scimitar, while they have no effect on the Cub that is hopping over their heads.
White is a great color for damage racing. The Blinding Beam that Ken talks so highly of makes pushing damage through fantastic. At the same time cards, like Roar of the Kha actually reward you for tapping your creatures. Already in this set, I have attacked with a Skyhunter Cub equipped with Vulshok Gauntlets, only to Roar of the Kha him for a savage untap-and-block maneuver. Ken talks about how great the Gauntlets are on the Den-Guard, and he’s right – they are. However, I really like attacking with a 7/5 flier. It makes me happy. I am not as happy when my 6/6 Den-Guard is shut down by the 2/3 regenerating Tel-Jilad Exile.
I give Ken credit for pointing out that the Den-Guard costs one less mana than the Cub. I think that mana cost is the best argument for having the Den-Guard ranked above the Cub. However, Mirrodin offers plenty of solid two-mana cards that allow for the Cub to be ranked higher. The Myrs and the Talismans are all excellent two mana plays. White also has Auriok Transfixer and Raise the Alarm to give you something to do at two mana. Also, a lot of the equipment that is reasonable to play on either the Den-Guard or the Cub costs two mana. This high density of two-mana plays weakens the advantages of the Den-Guard’s lower casting cost.
After all of this talk about Den-Guard versus Cub, I am going to talk about Skyhunter Patrol. I listed the Patrol third because I think he is almost always better to take than the Den-Guard but often worse than the Cub. Early on in the draft I think it is worth it to take a risk on the Cub. The Cub only costs one White mana to cast, and he is more powerful.
The Patrol, on the other hand, is a very solid creature, but he is a tad bit slow. I like how he dominates most of the other fliers in the set but he is stopped fairly easily by Tel-Jilad Archers. Mainly, the Cub’s cheaper single colored casting cost and additional point of power make the Cub a better pick. That being said, if it is later in the draft and you don’t have any equipment you are considering playing, then the Patrol is the obvious pick.
Lastly, Ken discussed and ranked Blinding Beam very highly. Nick Eisel just said that Blinding Beam was underrated in his newest article, yet I ranked it seventh. I think Blinding Beam is an excellent card, but I don’t think it is as good as Choking Tethers was. It is being played in a creature-light format that has creatures that can pay mana to untap. Often, Blinding Beam just sits in your hand until you cast it in a last ditch effort to stay alive. Blinding Beam makes your good draws ridiculous but rarely helps your bad draws.
I think that it may be better than people think it is, but until you start having trouble getting one in drafts don’t overvalue it.
Before I go, do me a favor and remember Air Elemental. Think about how much fun it is to fly over your opponents while they look on hopelessly, and then decide between Skyhunter Cub and Ardent Militia… Oh, I mean Leonin Den-Guard.
Thanks for reading,