Wow, it feels like the year just started, but we are already right in the thick of a new set release. Today, I will be leaving Khans of Tarkir behind in order to talk about the new cards coming out in Fate Reforged. I’m going to start the consideration of this new set with a set evaluation for limited. Whenever a new set comes out the most important thing is to become familiar with the cards. Going through the spoiler and evaluating each cards power level is an excellent way to do this. Since we are concerned with limited, I am only going to be discussing commons and uncommons. While rares and mythics certainly have a huge impact on limited, we encounter commons and uncommons significantly more, both when playing and when making decisions in the draft.
For this assessment, I’m neither going to rate each card nor give a true pick order. I think that there are a ton of fantastic resources out there where you can find great magic minds rating each card. I won’t be trying to compete with that. I also believe that labeling anything a pick order is problematic. So much of the draft is about recognize the needs of your deck and understanding what is happening at the table, that suggesting there can exist an absolute pick order undermines our ability to successfully draft.
Instead, over the next few articles I am going to rate my top 10 commons and uncommons from each colour, in order. I think doing this will be helpful for a couple reasons. First and foremost, these will be the cards which have the most profound influence on our drafts. They will comprise the majority of our early picks and they will be the most common FRF cards which we see in play. Furthermore, these will be the most interesting picks. As we get later into packs we have more information about our deck and the decision between two weaker cards is heavily influenced by what we already have. In contrast, early on in the pack (particularly pack one) it is the absolute power of the card which has greater impact.
A final note: I will be discussing these cards in the context of Fate Reforged and Khans of Tarkir. These evaluations will quite likely change when the format shifts and Dragons of Tarkir comes out. And with that out of the way, let’s start with white.
1. Valorous Stance
This card does a ton of work. It can be just straight up removal, killing things that we care about. The greater than four is significantly better than less than four, as it means it will answer the creatures which we normally struggle to deal with. For their smaller creatures, the indestructible mode can serve as pseudo-removal, while also enabling 2-for-1s and generally protecting our creatures. It also triggers prowess. Sign me up.
2. Channel Harm
Channel Harm is somewhat of a opposite to Valorous Stance, as it is not very flexible and is quite expensive. However, it is also removal and good removal at that. One sided fogs are generally playable, as they enable 2-for-1s or more almost every time they are played. This card goes far beyond that in negating the need for you to control your own creatures, as it will almost always take down one of the opposition with it. It is super easy to see this being fairly close to a one sided wrath. The worst case reasonable case for this card is it reads “destroy your opponent’s best creature, they tap all their creatures and skip their combat step”. The flexibility and cost of Valorous Stance holds this one back from being number one, but it is certainly close, and if you get to six mana this will have a much bigger impact on the game.
3. Elite Scaleguard
This guy is 4 power and 5 toughness for five mana.That’s a reasonable deal on its own. The fact that it taps down one guy when it (or it’s token minion) attacks would push it towards excellence on its own. However, the fact that it triggers for all your +1/+1 counters makes it really absurd. In the Abzan deck, it can reasonably be tapping 2 or more creatures each attack step. That being said, the ability only works if you are attacking, making this an amazing curve topper in an aggressive deck and a reasonable creature in something more defensive. One way or another, he will certainly make combat difficult for your opponents.
Ah, the first common on the list. One of the largest problems with Kill Shot in KTK was that it required your opponent to be attacking in order to turn on. Sandblast doesn’t care and functions just as well regardless whether you are attacking or blocking. However, it won’t let you get by the creature (unless you have trample) and you still have to be in combat. Also, while it single handedly can kill most things, certain creatures will need a little extra from combat itself (Woolly Loxodon, etc).
First of all, the double white in the mana cost of Lightform hurts it. When people are looking to play tons of colours, double coloured costs significantly reduce the value of a card. The aggressive white based deck is a real one in this format, and in some ways the costing of the card will only make this more accessible if you are playing that deck, since other players want it less. 2/2 flyers for three are playable in essentially every format. Some people really liked Jeskai Windscout in KTK and a lot of the time it was just a 2/1 flyer. The fact that Lightform gives lifelink is a significant upside, particularly since your flyers give you a decent ability to race, even on stalled boards. Finally, the deck which wants this card is also the deck best able to take advantage of manifest, as you will likely be playing a high density of creatures, with mana costs which you can reasonably afford to pay. Hitting an Ainok Bond-Kin with this seems pretty good.
6. Abzan Skycaptain
The Skycaptain comes in here as a somewhat distant sixth and we begin to see the divide between the elite non-rares and the more even leveled roleplayers. However, KTK has shown that 2/2s can stay relevant late into the game and long board stalls make flying a very relevant ability. Furthermore, the residual effect Abzan Skycaptain leaves when it dies is not insignificant. I think we will find that bolster has a larger effect than anticipated. When we analyze Dragonscale Boon it is easy to see that two +1/+1 counters are worth some portion of a card. However, it is important to remember that you have to have another creature for its death trigger to do anything.
7. Mardu Woe-Reaper
The Woe-Reaper is an aggressive one drop that can trade with morphs. It is also a warrior. It does however die in combat to every creature, including tokens. There will be games where you curve out with this card and it helps you steal games from slower, more powerful foes. However, its power level is hugely dependant on being able to put together an aggressive deck which can win before your opponents stabilize with powerful morphs and big threats. In KTK two mana vanilla 2/1s were highly playable, so I would be surprised if this card wasn’t eminently playable.
8. Dragon Bell Monk
I have this card pegged as one of the underrated cards of the set, at least early on. In KTK draft often games played out where on turn four you had to decide whether you wanted to attack with your morph into your opponents morph and allow them the potential to swing back at your second (and probably stronger morph). The Dragon Bell Monk dramatically changes this dynamic. It is able to attack into morphs with impunity and hold them back at the same time. While you won’t always have prowess, the threat of it is significant and trading with their morph after getting in for damage is a decent deal. In the later game it definitely loses significant utility but, as I mentioned earlier, 2/2s have a way of staying relevant for a long time in this format. On a side note, there appears to be an aura sub-theme in this set. If that deck is legitimate, then this card could go up in value further.
9. Soul Summons
A 2/2 for two was reasonable in KTK. Morphs were also the backbone of the set. Some of the time this will be a vanilla 2/2, some of the time it will be a morph, and other times it will be somewhere in between (manifesting a creature with a high CMC and no morph). With a low end of playable and a high end of quite good, this card has to be a worthwhile inclusion in any deck that can reasonably cast it.
10. Wandering Champion
The Champion beats out Wardscale Dragon and Pressure Point not necessarily on power level considerations, but on availability. This set and KTK have an abundance of worthwhile cantrips and big beaters, so an efficient two drop with upside beats out average cards in those categories. While the Wandering Champion dies to tokens, it will be a good roleplayer in aggressive starts and could end games very quickly when paired with a little disruption. Also, I hear looting is good.