Twelve Cards You’re Underdrafting Right Now

There are a number of cards in Onslaught Limited that I do not believe are getting the proper appreciation – so I’ve created a list of them, and I’ll also delve into the reasons why I think they’re going unappreciated. These are cards that are going really late in the draft, or just not seeing the amount of play that they should be – but in one way or another, I feel they are definitely underrated.

With the holidays comes endless family get-togethers. I think we all know what that means, and you really can only stand certain relatives and their constant questioning for so long. This usually drives me off to my room to play a game or talk on AIM or something – but instead, I decided to actually do something productive and write.

Lately, my email has been filled with questions and comments about recent articles, but there has been one question in particular that has been prominent: A lot of you have emailed me, asking me to cover a draft of mine where everything doesn’t go so smoothly and I don’t get shipped a ridiculous deck – like the one I last covered. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this request.

First, since the drafts I use for coverage are occurring on Magic Online, more often than not they go well for me – or well enough that it is relatively easy to win or split in the finals. This is because of the lower overall standard of play when compared to a Pro Tour or Grand Prix type of draft, as well as the much greater concentration of casual players on MODO. This is far from an attempt to brag or anything like that; I’m just trying to get across that most of the drafts go fairly well for me on there.

Second is the problem that you don’t really know that a draft is going horribly for you until you are nearing the end. This is common sense – because as long as there are packs left, there are chances for your deck to improve greatly. The reason this becomes a problem is that by the time you are aware that a draft is not going the way you’d hoped, it’s far too late to start a draft coverage on it.

Because of the difficulty associated with covering every draft in an attempt to find a bad one, the only real possibility to find one of these”bad” drafts is for it to happen during one of the drafts that I was actually planning on covering before I started it. It’s too hard to remember all of the picks and try to start from there once I realize something is going wrong (like the guy feeding me being in the same colors as I am).

So based on all of this, there are only two solutions to this request.

I can continue covering my drafts in an attempt to find one that goes wrong by chance. This is, of course, something I plan to do – but it is a long process, so the likelihood of it happening is left to mere chance. The second (and more important) solution is that I can offer you the readers the chance to have me analyze one of your drafts in an article. This can be any draft that you like, where something went wrong, or you lost when you think you shouldn’t have, or whatever. To me, this seems to be the easiest way to produce this type of article, and hopefully you can help me out. All you need to do is email me a list of the relevant cards in the packs and also indicate the card you picked, as I’ve done in the last two Walk With Me articles. Any other comments about the draft are welcome but also unnecessary. I look forward to receiving some, or at least hearing some reasons why you think this is a bad idea.

With that out of the way, we can dive into the good stuff.

There are a number of cards in Onslaught Limited that I do not believe are getting the proper appreciation – so I’ve created a list of them, and I’ll also delve into the reasons why I think they’re going unappreciated. These are cards that are going really late in the draft, or just not seeing the amount of play that they should be – but in one way or another, I feel they are definitely underrated. Also, keep in mind that they are in no order, as I’m just going down the list I’ve made over the past few weeks of drafting, and all are considered to be equally important.

  1. Sage Aven Sage Owl’s big brother? Quite possibly, although he boasts neither the mana efficiency or good looks of his older brother. Despite being a 1/3 for four mana, the Aven certainly has his purpose in the blue mage’s arsenal. First of all, let’s take into account some of his main functions, that of being a Wizard (a.k.a. Lavamancer’s Skill target), setting up a possible Erratic Explosion, and blocking the many 2/2s and two-power fliers of the format. His ability is possibly the most important factor, however, as he allows you to plan the next few turns properly as well as helping you find that crucial spell or hopefully digging you out of a mana flood or screw. A good dude all around, and he almost always makes the cut in my UR decks, sometimes in multiples. It’s also important to note that he is the second-best skill target behind the all-powerful Mistform Wall. The two combined form a tight defense for you to sit behind until your tricks take over the game.

  2. Vitality Charm – Here’s a card that’s been rising in popularity of late. However, when you get down to it, enough good can not really be said about it. I know myself; I’ve had a deck with five of these in it and I was still never unhappy to draw one or multiples. All three abilities are useful and relevant, and it’s a key breakthrough tool for your bigger boys as well as providing a mini-ambush to annoying utility guys that will often walk into it (Imagecrafter, Sparksmith if you’re lucky, Wellwisher). The thing that I’ve found to be highly annoying is the difficulty in playing around this card due to its many functions and cheap casting cost. A lot of times you have to just accept the consequences of the Charm if they do in fact have it – which is more likely than not. A great all-around utility spell.

  3. Grassland Crusader – Now here’s one that looks absolutely hideous upon first evaluation, but for some reason it tends to be far better than in an actual game. It’s something that is extremely hard to explain – but somehow, such an overcosted piece of work is not only playable, but actually good a decent amount of the time. It’s easier to just say he’s just good because he is… But the real reason is probably because your soldiers usually need that extra punch at that point in the game in order to bust through. Since he’s usually at the top of your curve, I never mind playing one, and sometimes even two if the soldier concentration is high enough. This is by far the most baffling common, though, in terms of how different your initial impression of him is compared to after you’ve actually ran it a couple of times. Weird stuff.

  4. Aphetto Alchemist – This one is a little more easy to understand, what with the ping effects now switching from red to blue. Still, however, I find that this guy is being picked far too low for the UR archetype. Early or halfway into a draft, he is strictly better than things like Imagecrafter, Riptide Biologist, Disruptive Pitmage, and sometimes even Mistform Wall and Choking Tethers. This is of course relative to the amount of useful effects for him to duplicate as well as the amount of time to accumulate such effects. Combined with a Skilled Wizard, though, and you’ve got the gatling gun from hell. Some other useful tricks are in combination with the Pitmage or something more conventional like Embermage Goblin. Pick this guy higher, people – he is important!

  5. Astral Slide and Invigorating BoonHere I become a bit confused. When the pack rolls around for 12th or 13th pick and one of these cards is still in there, I start to question a lot of things. Astral Slide is just a little worse than Lightning Rift when you have enough cyclers or it is earlier enough to get one. It is a first pick in a lot of cases – and yet people take Gustcloak Harrier and the like over it. The tricks with this card are near endless, with allowing for the possible splash of off-color morph monstrosities, along with the usual damage on the stack tricks and the ability to dodge any sort of removal your opponent may throw at your guys. I could go on all day about this card – such as the times I’ve had it in combination with Starstorm or Akroma’s Vengeance and the absolutely sick situations that have results from those interactions. But instead, all I’m gonna say is stop passing me this thirteenth!

  6. Now, as for the Boon, which is the next step down on the ladder below the Slide and Rift, it is only slightly worse than the Slide! The fact that it’s free like the Slide makes it even more ludicrous, since it works off of your opponent’s cycling. Now they have to somehow find a window when you have no guys in play (this happens a lot huh?), and use that to cycle their stuff, which prevents them from playing other things with that mana. This card is extremely under-appreciated for what it does, and tends to dominate the board a lot of times it’s in play in a deck with near critical mass of cyclers. Even if the effect wasn’t permanent I think the card would still be decent and playable, but the fact that it actually is makes it very hard to block your guys for fear of a potential”growth” in the form of the cyclers. Think Aggressive Urge was good? How about turning every cycling card in your deck into a permanent one? Sounds enticing.

  7. ThreatenMore of a sideboard card than anything else, Threaten still has it’s maindeck uses. If you have two or more Nantuko Husks, you should always be playing this in the main because its an extremely powerful banish effect at that point. Some other times I’ve ran it main were with a few Imagecrafters and Goblin Sledders or another way to sacrifice the stolen guy (Change to a Goblin, sac, voila!). However, where it really shines is out of the board. If your opponent is green, it’s almost always worthwhile to bring it in because it will often win the game by taking a fatty and bashing them back with it. It’s an excellent Husk and Sparksmith answer, as well as any other creature like that (cough, Visara). It’s great against giant bomb creatures like Butcher Orgg and the like to give your opponent a taste of his own medicine. It’s not being drafted when it should, and it’s certainly not being boarded in at the frequency it deserves.

  8. Essence FractureThough I was definitely more enamored with this card in the first few weeks of Onslaught’s release, it’s still a great tool for the blue mage. I have been losing respect for it slowly though, as I often find it too slow and usually just cycle it, but it is certainly a board card if nothing else. Great against any opponent who is likely to cast many expensive creatures or anyone with Pacifisms or those types of cards, it is also an answer to things like Mythic Proportions and the more common Lavamancer’s Skill. The main use however is still the giant tempo advantage it will produce against an opponent with a lot of top end creatures, so put it to use.

  9. Unified Strike First off, before you hit the back button on your browser and call me a lunatic who has no idea what he’s talking about, this card is indeed horrible in the maindeck. Out of the board, though, it fills specific uses: The most potent of these is in the Soldier mirror match, where even if you don’t have enough soldiers in your deck to make it useful, your opponent surely will. I’ve seen this card take down Rorix, Mistform Skyreaver, and Exalted Angel after sideboarding, as it really is an unexpected trick. The nice thing is that it only costs one mana – but once they know about it be sure they will play around the number of Soldiers in play, so use it appropriately and don’t show it before the time is due. Some more unusual applications occur against specific creatures. I’ve had more than one match where my opponent had multiple Goblin Machinists in his deck and enough high casting cost spells in his deck to make them very lethal very quickly. In this case, I’ve brought in the Strike and responded to the activation of the Machinist by Striking for zero. This is usually unexpected and a great answer to this type of problem. Another suspect is the Taunting Elf – if, for some reason, your deck is really vulnerable to it, or they have lots of effects to use with it like Skirk Commando. Regardless, this is nothing more than a sideboard card, and if you’re maindecking it you’re probably in more trouble that you’d think.

  10. Crown of AweI had to mention this one, as it’s the anti-Skill tech. Strictly a better sideboard option against Lavamancer’s Skill than any type of enchantment removal like Naturalize or Demystify, the Crown can sometimes lock out even the second Skill if you’re lucky (i.e., they cast two on the same type of creature – though this is unlikely due to both Mistforms and Wizards being probable targets). Pinpoint skill removal at its best.

  11. There have also been a few rares that I’ve seen constantly go much later than they should.

  12. Entrails FeasterHere, kitty kitty…. This is anything but a normal housecat; this thing is a freakin’ machine. I’ve heard of people taking Husk over this, which I straight up disagree with, unless you’ve already got the Symbiotic Elves to go with it. But then I’ve also heard of people taking things like Severed Legion or Screeching Buzzard over it, which prompts me ask if anybody is actually home upstairs. Once you’ve since this guy in action you’ll understand, as he gets very big, very fast, all for the small price of one mana. What about running out of guys to eat, you say? This never happens, as he basically turns into The Abyss when he gets big enough. They have to keep chump blocking and therefore feeding him, until he finally eats their life total. I would take something like a Cruel Revival, Death Pulse, or Infest over him, but that’s about it – he’s really more ridiculous than given credit for.

  13. Convalescent CareWhy in the world does this card go regularly as a 10th pick or later? This card is nuts in most decks – and again, there is little that I would take over it. Once it gets going, it is very hard to beat, as you can keep bouncing between five and eight by manaburning or using something like Sparksmith. I’ve burned from eighteen to five before just to get this card online – and that alone should give you some idea of it’s worth. It’s certainly better than every white common, with the exception of possibly Pacifism if you’re removal-light – though I think I’d take it over even Pacify more often than not, and there are only a small number of white uncommons that I value higher. Try it; I think you’ll be quite surprised.

  14. Artificial Evolution Here is another awesome sideboard card that I wasn’t sold on until recently. An excellent answer to any of the”Ones”, I was recently crippled by it in the black on black matchup when my soulless one was banished by it. It can tone a Sparksmith down to one for good – which is sometimes a good thing, as well as many other uses that I’m sure you can imagine. This is however a very specific thing, and should not be boarded in recklessly, however it certainly has its place. If nothing else, it’s one-fifth of a ticket or something, right?

Anyway, I’m out of ammo for now, and I probably should be getting back to my family’s chit chat-sessions anyway, so I’ll end here for now. I look forward to receiving some emails regarding the draft coverage and hopefully some drafts to analyze in an article.

Until then, Happy Holidays.

Nick Eisel

Team CMU

[email protected]

Soooooo and ThatsGameBoys on MODO