Pick orders are a thing of fluctuation. By this, I mean that they are not a Bible of absolute truth that you live by, but rather a page in your mind’s notebook that you can refer back to during a draft. The more pages full of knowledge in your notebook, the better you’re gonna do on the test – or in this case, the draft.
That said, I’m not claiming that the pick orders I give in this article are gospel, and that you should always take a certain common over another common. Instead, I’m giving them in order of overall power level in the format. Your picks in the draft should be based on what your deck needs – which sometimes results in taking an inferior card to fit your curve, or in some rare cases, your tribe. These are the top 5 commons for each color in overall value… And if there is no specific need to accommodate some aspect of your deck that is lacking, this is the order that you should pick them in.
With that out of the way, here are the orders!
- Sparksmith – Enough good cannot be said about this guy. He is far and away the best common in the set, and also on the power level of a bomb. When he’s on the table, he completely dominates the board. Obviously, this guy is good in any deck with red, as you will have enough Goblin Taskmasters, Goblin Sledders, Skirk Commandos, Goblin Machinists, and so to power him up to the second level where he annihilates most of the creatures in the environment, and sometimes high enough to kill some of the green fat. However, he’s also an excellent splash card in a deck lacking removal, even just as a one-point pinger. Generally if my deck is solid, I won’t want to splash him and compromise my mana… But a few times, I’ve had Black/X decks with two or three Festering Goblins and splashed him just because he can get to the crucial two goblins in play level. I’ve also had situations where my opponent was the one with the goblins, and I boarded the Sparksmith in as a splash to use my opponent’s goblins against him. Maindeck, he is at his best in Blue/Red because of the Mistform creatures that let you control the amount of goblins in play and minimize the additional damage you would take from him, but he is a happy addition to any deck with red regardless. Sparksmith is the format-defining common of OOO draft, and he is twice as good in this format as Wild Mongrel and Cephalid Looter were in the Odyssey draft format. This format is slacking on removal, and it creates the perfect environment for the dominating utility creature. Basically, I could go on all day, but all I really have to say is that this guy is the absolute nuts.
- Solar Blast – Somethin’ on fire? I thought so. This card is the most flexible Limited burn spell in quite some time. For Lightning Blast mana (and still at instant speed), you get to burn three into a creature or player. As an alternative, RR1 can get you an uncounterable Zap. Talk about flexibility! Solar Blast is clearly the best common red removal in the set, not to mention being the best splashable red card due to the single red in its regular casting cost. And we won’t even talk about when you have one of the cycling enhancers (Astral Slide, Lightning Rift, Invigorating Boon) in play; then it’s just ludicrous to cycle it. It also serves as a great answer to the Sparksmiths and Wellwishers that annoy you to death. Just cycle, rinse, and repeat.
- Shock – Efficient burn? You betcha. Shock is much better in Onslaught Limited than it ever was in Tempest Limited – this is obviously because of the flood of Grey Ogre commons due to morph, but Shock is also good at doing those crucial last two points to the head. At GP Philly, I heard that some people were taking Pinpoint Avalanches over Shocks, which is completely mind-boggling. The explanation they gave was that it does twice the damage. Sure, twice the damage, at five times the cost, and only to a creature. I’ll pass on that reasoning, thank you….
- Pinpoint Avalanche – …But hat isn’t to say that Pinpoint isn’t good or anything. 🙂 It’s still a great removal spell, especially against green or white (considering white can’t prevent it with their annoying Daunting Defenders and Daru Healer). Some people say they’d take the number 5 pick over it, but I think it is mostly deck-dependent. If your deck isn’t too heavy in the mana curve, you would always take Pinpoint – and if it is heavy in the curve, you would always take Erratic Explosion because it’s cheaper and also has a better chance of hitting something larger and less chance of”missing”. That said, the only bad thing about pinpoint is that it’s blatantly obvious when you’re going to cast it on your opponent’s turn in the early- to mid-game. 3RR is not something that’s easy to hide, so be careful.
- Erratic Explosion – The last of the removal spells, but still a good one at that. Erratic almost always makes your deck, and is especially good in decks with lots of big casting costs in it (like Slipstream Eels, *cough*). Explosion is generally unpredictable, however, and this is why it is ranked below Pinpoint Avalanche. The problem occurs when you have lots of other good commons, like Goblin Taskmasters and Shocks, which cost one mana – and the Explosion is usually aiming to hit for 2 on most targets. You can’t really cut those other commons, and so sometimes you’re leaving it up to luck on whether or not their guy dies. That’s not always a good thing.
So in summary of red, as you can see, the top 5 consists of the one bomb common in the format and four very solid removal spells for the environment. This is of course why red is widely considered the best color in Onslaught Limited, with which I completely agree. Lavamancer’s Skill just missed the list, and is definitely pickable as high as over Shock if you are Blue Red and have Wizards to support it. In general, though, the one point of damage in none Blue/Red archetypes isn’t worth playing the skill for unless you get one of the nonblue wizards to put it on – like the Bloodline Shaman, Embermage Goblin, and the six-mana Cleric guy.
If you’re wondering why Skirk Commando isn’t on this list, it’s just that he’s too easy to deal with, and most of the time people are going to block. He’s a fine card to play, but not something you want to be taking over good removal.
- Cruel Revival – Call it what you like – a good Waste Away? A bad Dark Banishing? Whatever. The fact of the matter is that it’s the best common removal spell in the set, and is usually made even more degenerate by raising a zombie from the dead (preferably Nantuko Husk). 4B gets you a splashable answer to almost any Non-Zombie creature. Another good thing about the revival is that when you return a guy, it can’t be redirected by Meddle (this fact alone makes Meddle much worse than it normally would be). But for formality’s sake, ignoring the fact that it is very easy to splash this card, this is the one major common that every black deck longs for. It’s at its best in Green/Black, though, due to Spined Basher’s synergy with both it and Wirewood Savage, as well as Wretched Anurid being especially good in that deck (though it also goes well in Black/Red).
- Nantuko Husk – Phyrexian Ghoul, revisited. He’s back and better than ever, usually dominating a game when he’s on the board for too long. It’s very hard to attack two or more creatures into him just because you get wrecked by damage on the stack and pump. He’s also the fastest common kill mechanism, often serving for twelve or fourteen on a stalled board via Dirge of Dread. Where he really shines, though, is in the Green/Black deck with the symbiotic creatures. Symbiotic Elf is a +6/+6 boost over any number of turns for the Husk, and is basically ridiculous. We won’t even talk about when you get out the Symbiotic Beast with him – or, God forbid, the infinite mana Wurm. Also allows Vitality Charm to give +2/+2 by making an insect and saccing it, or even kill them by using the normal +1/+1 Trample and saccing a bunch of guys to trample for the kill. The Husk is a very solid creature, and a certain addition for any Black mage.
- Swat – As with Shock, Swat is definitely much more attractive in this format than it was in the past in Urza Block – not just for nuking morph creatures, but also for the cycling now that the cycling enchantments have been printed. Swat is especially good for removing problematic utility creatures like Wirewood Savage and Sparksmith due to its cheap casting cost.
- Severed Legion – Evasion is the key word for this guy, and he does his job well. The legion is insane against any nonblack deck, and it’s even good against black sometimes when they are short on good blockers for him like the Husk and Anurid. He’s a pretty quick clock when the board stalls out, and overall the second most solid black common man – even taking into account his double-black casting cost.
- Screeching Buzzard and Dirge of Dread – I couldn’t really come to a consensus pick for number five, but I know it’s definitely one of these two – and it’s pretty much dependent on what your deck needs. Personally, I Love having two Dirges in most of my black decks, as I usually have a Cabal Executioner or Haunted Cadaver that I will cast face-up and then cycle the Dirge on. But also, you will find that your decks are never too full in the four-drop slot of your mana curve, where the Buzzard is always a welcome addition. Don’t forget his excellent synergy with the Husk, where if you have some way to recurse him like Oversold Cemetery or Gravespawn Sovereign, you can effectively draw step lock your opponent by saccing the Buzzard to the Husk inside of their draw step after they’ve drawn for the turn. Dirge of Dread, on the other hand is by far the best Demoralize effect ever printed in the common slot. Fear is as good as unblockable a very high percentage of the time – and not only does the cycling make sure the card is never dead, but it also comes with the bonus of giving one guy fear, which I already mentioned is brutal with cards like the Executioner. It is also relevant to sneak in a guy that you don’t want to die in combat for a few points along with your regular assault (i.e. Wirewood Savage).
I also want to point out that Wretched Anurid just missed this list, and is sometimes picked over cards on the list in an aggressive Black Red deck, due to the fact that he provides a very explosive start when combined with removal. However, his shortcomings are many, considering that Riptide Biologist, Pacifism, Sandskin, Disciple of Grace, Mistform Wall, and even Wall of Mulch all shut this guy down and put its controller in a world of hurt, often serving as your opponent’s win condition once he has been held at bay.
- Snarling Undorak – Best common”Hill Giant” ever? I think he’s surely up there as being so, especially after taking into account the large number of beasts present in Green (as well as Green’s favorite partners in crime, Red and Black). The Undorak does it all, he morphs, he pumps multiple men in your army, and he’s just plain fat. When he stays on the table with other beasts in your army, it is very difficult for your opponent to block without losing too much card economy to his annoying pump effect. This is one man you’ll always want on your side.
- Wirewood Savage – Hot on the heels of the Undorak, we find the engine card of most green-based decks in the format: The Savage. There are definitely cases where I would take him over the Undorak – such as when you have plenty of beasts in your deck already and you just want a way to push your card economy over the edge. The fact that he works on your opponent’s beasts as well is just gravy, forcing them to play them face-down in most cases and then pay the mana again to flip them face up, greatly slowing their development. The only reason the Undorak is ranked higher is because it is a more solid card in general, and I find that I’m much more annoyed when my opponent plays or morphs up an Undorak than I am when they play the much-easier-to-deal-with Savage. There are plenty of cards already mentioned that deal with x/2 creatures, and that makes his ranking slightly lower than it otherwise would be. Regardless, he’s a high pick, and don’t pass him up for much.
- Krosan Tusker – Inspiration meets Giant Fatty is the name of this card. The Tusker is great for its wonderful flexibility, where he will guarantee you don’t miss crucial early land drops, and be a huge monster when you’ve already got the land you need. The Tusker is also a good reason to splash – particularly if you have two of them or more – allowing you to only run one splash color land in most cases knowing that you can just fetch it with the Tusker while gaining card advantage along the way. The real sick thing is when you cycle this guy with Lighting Rift in play, it almost feels like you’re cheating – you kill a guy, search for a land, and draw a card. Ridiculous.
- Barkhide Mauler – Sensing a pattern here? Another flexible fatty with cycling; more often than not, the Mauler gets busted out on turn 5 and is bigger than everything else on the board. The one colorless and the cycling allow for a possible splash of multiple Maulers in a deck lacking fat, or just needing more cycling cards to abuse a Slide or Rift. A solid monster.
- Spitting Gourna – Giant Spider never looked so good! At 3/4, the Gourna is a powerhouse at taking down annoying fliers trying to race your ground fat. His morphing allows for damage on the stack tricks, as well as ambushing unaware fliers (though it’s pretty obvious to anyone who knows about it). He is at his best in Black/Green, or Black/Red, where you really have no defense against fliers except for your removal.
- Pacifism – This is one card that I’m not a huge fan of – but it still has its place because of its ability to neutralize fatties. The problem with it is obviously that it’s a creature enchantment, which leads to them boarding in enchantment removal if you show them multiple targets… And after that, you can never really be sure how effective your Pacifisms are going to be. The other problem is Nantuko Husk, where by pacifying one of their men, if the Husk comes down later on, he gets a free pump out of the deal and you’re down a card and two life. In general, I’m not a fan, but sometimes you gotta make do with what you’re given.
- Gustcloak Harrier – Finally, a good aggressive flier. The special ability is nice, but rarely proves relevant on an evasion creature, and is much better suited to a creature like Gustcloak Sentinel. This card gives its worth just by being a 2/2 flier for three in a format where fliers are not as plentiful. It’s the backbone of the Red/White archetype (and almost as good in Blue/White), this guy is also very necessary for the much-maligned Green/White archetype if for some reason you are forced to draft it.
- Daru Lancer – This guy is one of the best morph guys around, especially in Red/White where people will block, thinking it’s Skirk Commando. That’s also one question that’s been raised that I’d like to talk about here, and that is when your opponent attacks you with a Morph and has RRWW mana up. Do you block? My answer is”no” most of the time, considering the four cards in question – if the morph is Gravel Slinger, Daru Lancer, or Battering Craghorn, you get wrecked. That means that the only time you actually want to block is when it’s a Skirk, or just to trade if it’s some other random guy. I think most of the time, though, you shouldn’t block unless you want them to use their turn morphing up one of these creatures and if it’s really worth a card in exchange for the tempo you gain. The other times – when you know most of their deck or have seen various morph creatures in earlier games – I think you have to base your decision on the facts as well as what you have seen. Anyway. The lancer is a solid guy for any white deck, and I’ve had plenty of matches where I actually just start hardcasting them for six mana – and at that point, they are very good at dominating the ground.
- Dive Bomber – Another good flier for the red white deck – and more importantly, a good four-drop. The ability is very good at dealing with annoying Severed Legions and also combining with damage on the stack to take out two creatures, or a bigger creature like Barkhide Mauler. Combine them with Harriers, and you have a quick and impressive air force in mana curve form.
- Glory Seeker – Fresh Volunteers is back… And it’s easily as good as it always was, if not better. Though it lacks the Rebel power to be searched up, the Seeker is also present in the 2/2 format, making that much more impressive. Getting a jump on the tempo at two mana, having multiple Seekers in your deck can ensure some fast starts that are usually very hard to overcome. This guy, along with the other three top guys in white, are all soldiers, making Piety Charm look very good as a Giant Growth as well as Lavamancer’s Skill removal. Another common to be on the lookout for in White/Red.
- Ascending Aven – Three-power fliers are always a rare and powerful commodity in Limited, and this one is no exception. Regardless of how good blue is in the format, this card is one of the fastest and most cost-efficient fliers we’ve seen in quite a while. He’s easy to cast and morph later when the time is right, or just good as a straight up turn 4 play. If you’re seeing these late, you’re probably in a good spot to hop into blue.
- Mistform Dreamer – Yet another cost efficient flier, and this time it comes with my favorite ability in the set: Mistform. The Mistform ability is very good in this format for many reasons, like powering up Sparksmiths and the like, having protection from Cruel Revival (which is especially important on the wall), and many other common tricks like the best combo available in Blue/Red, Mistform Wall + Lavamancer’s Skill. This guy is a quick clock with pumping buddies like the Taskmaster, too, and there are plenty of other tricks you can do.
- Mistform Wall – This guy is incredible. It’s funny when you look back at older cards that the new cards are modeled after… And I really don’t think you can even put Horned Turtle in the same league as the Wall. That just shows what tacking the Mistform ability onto a solid ground creature can do for you. Not only does it make it the best Skill target (only common answers are Swat and Pinpoint Avalanche, which can be stopped easily with a timely Mage’s Guile), but it creates an excellent man to hold the ground while your cheap fliers chip away at your opponent’s life total.
- Riptide Biologist – A staple for any blue deck, this wizard serves multiple purposes, all of which are filled in a cheap and most of the time mid-late pick package. First off, he’s a Wizard for your Skills. Second, and most importantly, he is your main line of defense against huge Monsters (a.k.a. Beasts). And lastly, when he’s not useful for what he is, he simply morphs and keeps your opponent wondering.
- Choking Tethers – An excellent Demoralize-like effect, the Tethers is more used as an Ice for creatures, or just simply cycling. Still, I’ve played as many as four, and usually never want more than two Biologists, so sometimes this is picked higher. A great trick you’ll always want for your blue decks though; especially good when you run a face-up Skirk on turn 3 and then tap down their guy. Just somethin’ to think about anyways.
Anyway, this is getting too long, so I’ll end it here for this week – and next week probably talk about the top archetypes of the format. If you have something related to Onslaught limited that you’d like me to talk about, though, feel free to email me about it – and maybe if it’s deep enough I can do that.
Email with questions, comments, flames, as always.