Card evaluations have large error bars at the beginning of any Limited format. It’s not uncommon for a card we think is a D to be a B, and vice versa. Additionally, it can be really hard to compare cards. After a few weeks in a format, I can look at two cards and say confidently which is better. At the beginning of a format, it’s almost impossible to discern the better card between two cards with the same generic evaluation (e.g. both got a B-grade in most set review content). This creates an interesting phenomenon:
Pack 1, Pick 1 is often the hardest decision at the beginning of a format, while it is often the easiest decision by the end of the format.
The framework I like to use to help address this is making sure to track a front-runner, and iterating through the pack, making more comparisons than usual. For example, I’ll isolate a card that looks like it could be the best option, often the rare. Then, I’ll go color-by-color. I’ll compare all cards in one color to each other and come up with the best card of that color. I then compare that card to the current front-runner. If it is better, then the new card becomes the front-runner. Rinse and repeat. I move on to another color, comparing those cards to each other, and then the winner to the front-runner. This removes a lot of the overwhelming overhead when looking at a pack of new cards, and swiftly gets me to the correct pick out of the pack.
There are many cards in the following pack that look enticing. What would you pick?
Pack 1, Pick 1
Boseiju, Who Endures is the best of the cycle of lands. An untapped green source stapled to a Naturalize is incredibly powerful. While I don’t think I’d be excited to start literal Naturalize in this format, the fact that you can always play Boseiju as a land mitigates those risks. Yes, it’s card disadvantage in Naturalize mode, but a land is worth significantly less than a card as long as the opponent has a good number of lands to start with. With the prevalence of enchantment and artifact creatures, and the ability to blow out combat by targeting an Equipment or Aura, I expect Boseiju to be at least as good as the top green commons, and I wouldn’t fault anybody for taking it out of this pack.
Flame Discharge is a solid card, but nothing special. It’s an uncommon that is likely to be quite overrated. Yes, it’s flexible and can range from a cheap to expensive removal spell depending on the threat, but it’s always inefficient without a modified creature. Unless having a modified creature is trivial, I expect this to be noticeably worse than both red removal spells. I think there’s a bias to like cards like this because, historically, the red X-damage spells can hit players and hence finish off a game. This one can’t, which makes it significantly worse. It’s a good playable for red decks, but it’s worse than Boseiju.
Both Dockside Chef and Twisted Embrace are powerful black cards. The Chef is cheap, and one of the few ways to enable a Turn 2 ninjutsu activation in black. The enchantment creature line is a nice buff, and it provides value and sacrifice synergies. That’s a lot for a one-drop, and so I’m hopeful the card will be good.
Twisted Embrace is also powerful, and arguably more powerful, but quite clunky. Four-mana sorcery-speed removal isn’t where I like to be, but the upside of being an Aura in a format that cares about it is interesting, and the +1/+1 can push damage, putting you pretty far ahead. That being said, this format has quite a lot of instant-speed interaction, and I’d be worried about casting Twisted Embrace if my opponent is representing any removal, as that’s a complete blowout. Overall, I think Twisted Embrace will be a solid card, but it doesn’t make my Top 5 commons because of clunkiness.
One other note on Twisted Embrace is that it’s a removal spell that requires you to have a creature in order to cast it. Given the density of removal in the format, I can see that also being awkward. Between the two black cards, I would take Dockside Chef. I think it’s close to Boseiju in power level, and I think Boseiju just barely gets the nod to stay the front-runner in this pack.
Blade-Blizzard Kitsune and Mothrider Patrol are interesting white aggressive options. Kitsune is the only white Ninja, but is just efficiently costed. A three-mana 2/2 with double strike is significantly above rate for the cost, and works beautifully with any modifications. However, it doesn’t fit with any of the white themes. It plays awkwardly with Vehicles, doesn’t work with Warrior/Samurai synergy, and is neither an enchantment nor an artifact. It’s a good card, but I don’t see it as a pull into white.
Mothrider Patrol is also not a pull into white, but I want to mention it, as I do think it is at least as good as Blade-Blizzard Kitsune. It’s a Warrior for the Boros synergy, opens up ninjutsu lines in Orzhov and Azorius (and technically also Selesnya as there are green Ninjas). Additionally, it holds modifications well, and has an ability to maintain relevance in the late-game. I’m not sure exactly where it will land, but I’m confident it’s in the Top 3 white commons, and see a world where it’s #1. Still, it doesn’t beat out Boseiju.
This pick comes down to Boseiju, Who Endures and Network Disruptor. I have Network Disruptor as the third-best common overall, just behind the incredibly efficient red removal spells of Kami’s Flare and Voltage Surge. As I mentioned earlier this week, I expect blue to be the deepest, and possibly the best, color in the format. I’m very excited about the artifact and ninjutsu synergies in blue, and Network Disruptor is a beautifully efficient enabler for both of those things. I also think people underestimate the tap ability on the card.
When you realize that the ability means that Network Disruptor enables two attacks from a Ninja, often with a combat damage-related ability, it opens your eyes to the power of the card. I think the best blue decks will have Network Disruptor in multiples, and hence while the card isn’t so powerful in a vacuum, I think it needs to be a high priority to maximize the overall power of blue decks.
There’s a world where the artifact deck isn’t aggressive, and ninjutsu underperforms; in that world, taking Network Disruptor here is a mistake. But I’m betting we live in a world where ninjutsu is awesome, and so is an aggressive artifact deck, hence I believe Network Disruptor is a better pickup than Boseiju. I think it’s important to say that I would probably take Boseiju over every common except Network Disruptor, Kami’s Flare, and Voltage Surge. So this pick is quite close, but I’m still landing on Disruptor.
Pack 1, Pick 2
The Picks So Far:
Go-Shintai of Boundless Vigor is the only Shrine I really like. It’s not that inefficient. It scales well with the game. As an enchantment creature in green, it has extra synergistic benefits. If the Shrine deck ends up being something you can pursue reliably, I can see taking this card. However, my current expectation is that Shrines will not be a common deck to see, and hence if I were to take a green card, I would rather take a reasonable removal spell in Master’s Rebuke.
If I want to stay in my blue lane, I have three options: Covert Technician, Moon-Circuit Hacker, and Tamiyo’s Compleation. Between the two Ninjas, I think Moon-Circuit Hacker is better, The Technician has a better body and is an artifact for synergies, but can’t provide card advantage. A two-drop that’s capable of providing card advantage is just too much better in my opinion. As for Tamiyo’s Compleation, it’s a playable interactive spell, but at four mana is a little clunky. If I were to take a removal spell here, I would rather take Master’s Rebuke.
This pick comes down to Master’s Rebuke versus Moon-Circuit Hacker. I can see a world where this is a clear Master’s Rebuke, but at the moment I have Moon-Circuit Hacker above Master’s Rebuke in my Pack 1, Pick 1 ordering. With a Network Disruptor in my pool, this is a clear Moon-Circuit Hacker for me.
Pack 1, Pick 5
The Picks So Far:
At this point, I’m committed to Dimir Ninjas. Something crazy can happen to change my lane, but a fourth-pick Dokuchi Silencer is enough to make me cement my lane.
Disruption Protocol is one of the best Cancel-with-set-relevant-synergy cards we have seen. There are so many artifacts running around in blue that it’s not so hard for this card to play out as literal Counterspell. Counterspell is a good card in Limited, and Cancel is a bad card in Limited, so this is a pretty hard card to evaluate without playing the set. I currently land on treating it like a reasonable playable, but not a high pick. It’s possible it is a grave error to pass it here, but at the moment I’m not starting so high on the card.
Armguard Familiar is a solid two-drop, although Dimir would tend to prefer an evasive creature if possible. Still, a 2/1 artifact that has late-game relevant text is a reasonable playable in most decks. However, I don’t think it stands up well next to Clawing Torment.
Clawing Torment, I expect, will be one of the more underrated black commons in the format. Call me crazy, but I think there’s a world where it’s actually better than Twisted Embrace. There are quite a lot of one-toughness creatures in the format, and the “can’t block” alongside the life loss aspect of it can very easily swing a race when placed on a bigger creature. Furthermore, I expect it to be maximized in the Dimir Ninja archetype because it’s a cheap way to push a Ninja with an Ophidian-like ability through. I’m happily slamming Clawing Torment here, and I’m really excited to play with the card!