Drafting is about ranking cards, not rating cards. What I mean by this is that it doesn’t matter how good a card is while drafting—what matters is how good it is compared to the other cards in the pack with it. It’s useful to know how far you’re thinking about deviating in power level when taking a card that works with your current plan in some way, but at least in the beginning, a straight ranking system can go a long way. Since Dragon’s Maze will only be drafted as the first pack in a draft, a ranking of the power of cards in it is particularly useful since a high percentage of decisions will be made with relatively little preexisting information about your deck. Today, I’m going to attempt to rank the entire set.
I’ve now played six full block Return to Ravnica drafts with Dragon’s Maze. I mention this just to give you an idea of my confidence level in what I’m about to write.
I’m sitting at my desk with a pile of cards in front of me that contains one of every common and uncommon from Dragon’s Maze (I had to make a few proxies). Borrowing a tool demonstrated to me by Craig Wescoe, I’m going to arrange them in order from best to worst and write that order with some explanation. I’m still relatively early in learning this set, so the great thing about using a physical stack of cards is that when I reevaluate and discuss later, I have a physical representation of my thoughts that I can easily change as I gather data. I’ll be slotting rares and mythics without commentary since most of them are fairly obvious and the details aren’t as important since they don’t come up much.
So the cards won’t have any kind of rating attached to them, but the order you read them in will be roughly the order I recommending picking them in from best to worst.
Far // Away: It’s not difficult to get a two for one and/or a ton of tempo out of this card, and you can play either half in a deck that can cast it with a very light splash of the other color and be quite happy—I’ve even been happy playing it when I couldn’t ever cast Away. I love the flexibility.
Turn // Burn: I think this card is more or less exactly as good as Far // Away. Both are good on either side, will often kill huge creatures, and/or result in huge tempo swings. I’ve been a little unhappy with Burn sometimes not having a target, and too often I want to just clear two guys for five mana like Far // Away and instead have to “just” kill their best creature.
Warleader’s Helix: Arguments can be made that this is worse than hard removal, but I think the ability to go to the player for four and gaining four life are both huge.
Putrefy: This one’s pretty straightforward. Unconditional instant speed removal at a Constructed-level cost is always pretty amazing in Limited.
Warped Physique: Two mana for mostly unconditional instant speed removal is a steal. The only problem with this card is that it sometimes doesn’t work in the late game, but it’s a great way to buy time and a lot of decks can hold lands to prepare for it.
Zhur-Taa Druid: This guy is awesome. He accelerates your fatties and gets the beats going. If you’re ever playing old + new Ravnica, he’s the nut with bloodthirst, and he even does two damage in 2HG.
Sin Collector: This guy is around 6-0 at hitting a spell in the times I’ve seen him cast, and the information itself is pretty good. Definitely happy taking him early.
Tithe Drinker: This thing is just great at what it does.
Fluxcharger: This is exactly what Izzet is looking for. If you end up being a control deck, it holds the fort while you draw some cards, shutting most fliers down cold, and if you’re beatdown, four mana for five power with evasion is pretty absurd, especially since it blocks as a 1/5 the turn it comes down, which is nice when you’re racing.
Krasis Incubation: This card is worse than One Thousand Lashes, but that’s not saying much. For the most part, it’s a four mana enchantment that kills a creature, but the ability to pay seven mana to +2/+2 your creature with buyback is a real thing, even if it comes up pretty rarely. Also rarely useful but likely a very big deal when it comes up is the ability to move it between creatures your opponent controls.
Gruul War Chant: When I first read this card, I thought it was a sorcery and that it was a pretty weak Falter, but I could see trying it out. As an enchantment, it’s a giant beating. Double blocking is not what you’re looking to do against Gruul’s big monsters, and it makes bloodrush a huge blowout every time. This is a card I’m happy to draft around. (I haven’t actually played with this, so it’s possible I’m overrating it, but probably not by much.)
Maw of the Obzedat: This guy just makes everything a nightmare for your opponent. There’s a huge chance they’re dead shortly after this comes down if you’re remotely aggressive.
Haunter of Nightveil: So far, this has done a great job of making my opponent’s creatures almost all irrelevant. Getting a body and shrinking their team just makes combat bad for them all around. I’m a big fan.
Jelenn Sphinx: This is a lot like Fluxcharger. It locks down the air, it’s awesome on offense, and it does both at the same time. I prefer Fluxcharger because it costs less mana and can get the job done by itself, but I’m not particularly confident that it’s better.
Unflinching Courage: This card has huge upside and can easily run people over, but it’s an Aura, so all the usual risks and caveats apply. Well worth the risk, as this is a giant beating.
Toil // Trouble: It’s more likely that this card is better than this than worse than this, but I’m deducting points for being narrow because I had to cut it from a deck that could cast it tonight because I was milling and already had three draw twos. If you’re remotely aggressive, this card just kills people out of nowhere. You’re not really looking to cash this in as a Sign in Blood if you can avoid it at all, and if your opponent is foolish enough to hold lands in their hand in the late game against your Rakdos deck, they’ll just die.
Alive // Well: A populate enabler that also just crushes any race. This card is outstanding, and I’ve often just wanted to draw it to put a game completely out of reach for my opponent.
Punish the Enemy: Expensive since it generally won’t kill creatures that cost more than it, but the value of bashing the opponent and the flexibility of being monocolored are both very valuable.
Woodlot Crawler: It’s hard to rate this guy because he’s a complete all-star against half of your opponents and a hard-to-cast Goblin Piker against the other half. The upside is just so high that I’m very happy to have him.
Blast of Genius: There are a lot of good things you can do for six mana, and when you draw and discard and already have six mana in play, you’re generally not interested in discarding the most expensive spell you have. Also, if you don’t already have a card to discard, you have to guess what you’re shooting before you draw and see what kind of ammo you have, which can make the card a bit of gamble in the wrong situation. Still, it’s hard to argue with removal that comes with card advantage attached, and you can always play it as a straight draw spell and look to discard a land if you don’t need to kill anything.
Scab-Clan Giant: The Gruul version of Blast of Genius. Instead of drawing cards, you get a big dude, which is probably better, but you don’t get to choose what to kill, which is a bit of a problem. Still, I’m not particularly sure this is worse than Blast of Genius, and I can imagine it being quite a bit better.
Gleam of Battle: Six is a ton of mana for Boros, but unless you’re way behind it has an immediate effect and makes any creature a huge problem unless they have a giant blocker. Slow decks have a huge problem with this.
Give // Take: Moldervine Cloak isn’t a bad start—it’s a little different since you can’t dredge it, but it can’t be disenchanted. Counters kind of matter, but realistically you’re paying three mana to make your 2/2 a 5/5 and smashing them and hoping they don’t have a removal spell. That’s a solid plan that’s capable of stealing a lot of games. The best part is that the times you’re least interested in doing that are the times when your opponent has a lot of removal, which is exactly when you’re happiest to pay six mana to draw three+ cards—just be sure they can’t kill your creature in response.
Profit // Loss: I’m not exactly sure how to evaluate this or cards like Izzet Staticaster and Electrickery in full block yet, but this one is at least an awesome combat trick that will blow out almost all of your opponent’s creatures in combat if they don’t have x/1s to pick off with Loss.
Armed // Dangerous: I didn’t love this when I first read it, but the baseline is roughly smashing them for twelve with a Zhur-Taa Swine and getting the rest of your creatures except for the smallest one through, which should kill people a lot of the time. Other times, maybe you’re just racing, your opponent has somehow left themself without any blockers, you just pay two mana and bloodrush something and build your own Wrecking Ogre, and they’re dead. Too many chances at free wins to dismiss this card.
Haazda Snare Squad: I give this card a lot of points for flexibility. It’s one color and plays very well on offense and defense. Perhaps subtly one of the best commons.
Spike Jester: Nothing fancy, but it’s an aggressive creature that’s exactly what your Rakdos deck will be looking for.
Ascended Lawmage: I’ve beaten control decks that are looking to removal as their answer to fliers with this, and I’ve drafted a lot of decks like that that would basically concede to this guy. I’m generally pretty down on Snapping Drakes, but this fills a great metagame role. On top of that, it’s basically unbeatable if you follow it up with something like Ethereal Armor, Knightly Valor, Gift of Orzhova, or Unflinching Courage. It’s more likely that I’m underrating this than overrating it.
Rubblebelt Maaka: Flexible, powerful.
Thrashing Mossdog: Just a good man.
Armored Wolf-Rider: I haven’t played with this yet, so I’m not really sure, but on paper right now it looks huge.
Nivix Cyclops: After playing with this guy, I’ve moved down on it a little bit. It’s not really just a 4/4 smasher, and the fact that it can’t even attack for one when you don’t have a spell makes it very much a wall most of the time. But a Horned Turtle is pretty good, and it can definitely get people.
Beetleform Mage: I know this card is powerful, probably better than I’m giving it credit for, but I just don’t want to be Simic—I thought it was the worst guild in Gatecrash, and I also think it’s the worst guild in Dragon’s Maze. The Mage also doesn’t evolve your stuff well. It is a very powerful card though.
Trostani’s Summoner: This is a nice card to have early since it offers a reasonably powerful endgame to build toward that can catch you up from pretty far behind on board, which is exactly what you’re looking for if you’re drafting a deck that’s looking to play a Cluestone on turn 3 every game. I believe there’s an average of one and two-thirds Cluestones per pack (occasionally there are commons that are not actually exactly as common as others, but assuming that’s not the case, that’s how many there should be).
Because there are so many and most decks don’t want many, you can get as many as you want in the second half of the pack most of the time. It’s trivially easy to draft around five Cluestones if you just want to ramp, and you can build your curve based on playing a two mana spell on turn 2, then a Cluestone on 3, then a five mana spell on 4, and then big spells. Trostani’s Summoner is an awesome card to ramp to in this strategy.
Korozda Gorgon: This is a weird card. Five mana for a 2/5 deathtouch is enough to get me interested, but the second ability is unusual. By itself, it doesn’t do anything, but it feeds off scavenge, evolve, and unleash, all of which are in its colors. If you have some counters and some mana, it makes combat anywhere difficult for your opponent and lets you pick off utility creatures, and the base stats help give you time to grind out an advantage with this kind of thing, especially if you have a lot of evolve or scavenge to keep it fueled.
Every Guildgate: One of the tricks to this format is figuring out when to take Guildgates. In single set Ravnica, I didn’t like to take them until I knew I’d need them, and I always wanted to take good cards over them. In the drafts I’ve done so far, I’ve almost never gotten a Guildgate out of Dragon’s Maze, so I think I need to adjust to taking them a little more aggressively since the format wants you to use them more often than you used to. My current guess is that the line is around here, but I’m not sure.
Battering Krasis: This works pretty well.
Steeple Roc: Major points for flexibility here, even if a one toughness creature for five is a bit of a gamble.
Carnage Gladiator: This guy is great at what it does, but it commits you very strongly to beating down. While Rakdos is definitely into that, R/B/x in this format isn’t since you might be a control deck with red and black removal. As a result, this guy loses points for being a bit narrow, but if you end up in the right deck for it, it can just win games.
Down // Dirty: This card has three very different modes that are all quite reasonable. Fusing it is a lot of value. It’s a slow, grindy card, but it does that well.
Weapon Surge: I’m not sure exactly where to rate this, but I think it’s quite good.
Fatal Fumes: It’s more than I want to pay and not as reliable as I’d like, but removal is removal.
Boros Mastiff: It’s not flashy, but Boros is looking for easy-to-cast two-drops for battalion, and if your bloodrush this guy with battalion, it can be huge for a race.
Blaze Commando: If you trigger this thing once, your battalion is guaranteed that turn, and your opponent takes some extra damage—this guy’s been awesome for you. If it happens more than once, you’re just going off. This is an excellent five-drop for Boros. The problem is that it’s a five-drop for Boros, which it’s not really that interested in to begin with.
Bronzebeak Moa: This is a good aggressive creature, but it doesn’t block and you need a high creature density. It’s not too hard to trigger it twice in one turn, often off a single card, and then it hits very hard. But it’s extremely narrow and relatively easy to kill, so I mark it down a bit. It plays pretty similarly to a Timbermaw Larva but much more swingy.
Protect // Serve: I haven’t seen this card cast yet, and I’m really undecided on it. I like cards that can impact combat between multiple pairs of creatures, and this is substantially more likely to two for one than Martial Glory. On the other hand, it costs a lot more to do it. It’s not an effect people are really expecting out of blue/white though, which has some upside. Pretty uncertain on my evaluation of this card.
Species Gorger: This thing’s huge; it lets you reuse come into play abilities and, obviously, trigger evolve more. In reality, like Roaring Primadox in M13, I think you’re not often going to have enough guys that do sweet things when they come into play, and this guy’s mostly just going to have an expensive upkeep cost that keeps one of your other guys from attacking. On the other hand, five mana for a 6/6 is ginormous, and there’s a lot of upside here.
Rakdos Drake: Passable aggressive body.
Deputy of Acquittals: High theoretical upside, but I think mostly it’s just a bear.
Runner’s Bane: This is unreliable, but sometimes you just need removal to buy time. Don’t love it, but it’s serviceable.
Wear // Tear: I’m not sure if I want to maindeck this card. It has a lot of targets now, and while most artifacts are pretty low value, they let you do something with the card. Most of the time, when you hit an enchantment it will be a very big deal. It’s still probably mostly a sideboard card, but it has enough upside that I’m willing to take it over some cards I’d be more likely to maindeck.
Rot Farm Skeleton: This is a weird card to wrap your head around. It’s synergistic build-around card in that you can build a deck that gets value out of milling itself with scavenge strapped to an aggressive but grindy shell. The combination of aggressive and grindy is problematic—this guy offers a resilient threat with absolutely no defensive capabilities, so it’s awesome against control but useless if you’re on the back foot. This card is very similar to Veilborn Ghoul, except that it’s a mana cheaper and can come back without needing a Swamp but only a limited number of times, which I think is better overall in Limited. The big problem with this card is that it puts you very narrowly into Golgari Aggro
Riot Piker: Yeah, it’s kind of a Bloodcrazed Neonate, but first strike makes it a lot harder to just trade any two-drop with. They never know if you have bloodrush when you send it into a bigger guy, and a lot of the red decks really like having a little guy to get the beats going.
Maze Abomination: Serviceable clunker.
Bane Alley Blackguard: It is what it is, but I’ve been pretty impressed by that in this format.
Murmuring Phantasm: Best as a sideboard card, but it’s very good at what it does.
Every Cluestone: This is around where I’m looking for Cluestones, modified by whether I’m looking for a ton of them, and obviously taking ones I might end up using over anything off-color. The trick to these so far has been not to take them over anything good, even if you want them (unless you want a ton of them) because there are always more.
Maze Sentinel: Sometimes you just need a big body.
Phytoburst: Occasionally playable.
Mutant’s Prey: I think it’s just too hard to know you can make it work to take it early, but I could be wrong. Likely best in Golgari, oddly, just because of the overlap of unleash, evolve, and scavenge.
Ubul Sar Gatekeepers: Nothing special. Awesome if you ever trigger it, but that’s extremely difficult.
Hired Torturer: I like 2/3s, but I’d rather not have to pay four mana to attack with them.
Feral Animist: Realistically, they’re going to have to block and trade with it if you’re getting a reasonable amount of mana, but any creature can do that. It sounds sweet with bloodrush in theory, but I think it’s just too hard to make work in practice.
Drown in Filth: Sorry about that whammy, Golgari—every other guild got good gold commons.
Clear a Path: There are actually some decks with a lot of defenders.
Riot Control: Sideboard card.
Wake the Reflections: This isn’t usually going to be playable.
Restore the Peace: Aetherize wasn’t that great, and letting them hit you first is a much bigger problem than the upside of being able to bounce blockers with it after combat. Also, costing a white instead of two colorless isn’t really much of an upside. This card seems awkward and bad, but it might be a sideboard card against tokens and enchantments.
Debt to the Deathless: This card is much better in Sealed and in Draft might still be better than I have it ranked, but it does cost an absurd amount of mana.
Crypt Incursion: Maybe.
Bred for the Hunt: This card might be a little better than I think, but I think it’s safer to draft it as if it’s around this good. You’re not going to have a lot of evolvers in pack 1, and it’s a huge gamble that you’ll get them in pack 2. I don’t think this card is very playable.
Uncovered Clues: The density to make this work is extremely difficult to hit in Limited.
Hidden Strings: This might be marginally better than I think. Don’t play it.
Showstopper: There will probably be some stories of relative blowouts with this thing, but how good can it be? It just seems clunky and awkward. Pass.
Goblin Test Pilot: I’ve dreamed of matchups where you can side this guy in, but I just don’t see it happening in the real world.
This has basically just been a list, but I hope it’s been a particularly helpful one. I don’t often see cards of different colors and rarities compared, partially because it’s just so much information to fit into one article, but I think it’s really useful to see how they fit together to have a better idea of how to look at a pack as a whole.
Please let me know if you found this format particularly useful as a whole in the comments below.
Thanks for reading,
@samuelhblack on Twitter
I am Simic.
I don’t care that much about beating my opponent. I just want to learn and grow as a player.