Welcome to another round of set reviews, this time featuring Fate Reforged. When I say “round,” I really mean it, as I'm now on the hook for both written and verbal set reviews every time a new set comes out. The written one isn't too hard to find, as you have already demonstrated, and the audio version is coming up in a few days. Marshall Sutcliffe and I go over every common and uncommon in Fate Reforged for the Limited Resources set review starting on Tuesday, which means there are multiple ways to find out why this set's Divination equivalent is the best common.
As usual, I'm starting by looking at the Limited potential of each card, and I'll be using the following ratings scale (with new card examples, even).
5.0: The best of the best. (Pack Rat. Umezawa's Jitte. Wingmate Roc.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Butcher of the Horde. Savage Knuckleblade. Crater's Claws.)
4.0: Good rare or top tier uncommon. (Triplicate Spirits. End Hostilities. Necropolis Fiend.)
3.5: Top tier common or solid uncommon. (Lightning Strike. Woolly Loxodon. Suspension Field.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Debilitating Injury. Mardu Hordechief. Flesh to Dust.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Glacial Stalker. Bitter Revelation. Hunt the Weak.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Dragonscale Boon. Defiant Strike. Cancel.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Scout the Borders. Aeronaut Tinkerer. Ranger's Guile.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Tusked Colossodon. Bronze Sable. Oppressive Rays.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Naturalize. Feed the Clan. Congregate.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Search the City. Pyxis of Pandemonium.)
While the enchantment removal part of this may look like strict sideboard material, two-mana for bolster 1 makes this at least plausible in the main deck. Bolster is interesting, in that it gives you a little less control than a normal pump spell, but makes it harder for your opponent to 2-for-1 you because the +1/+1 counters have to land somewhere. Bolster 1 isn't insane, and you really don't get an advantage out of this unless you are killing an enchantment, so try and keep this in your sideboard if at all possible.
I'm not the biggest fan of Auras in Limited (or Constructed, for that matter), but if you can reliably get this to grant vigilance it's a strong bonus. If the opponent doesn't have removal, they probably don't get to attack, and they are taking at least 4 a turn from whatever you have marked. The +2/+2 bonus makes a lot of the removal spells in the format miss, and this isn't a particularly removal-heavy format to begin with. This Runemark is not the strongest of the bunch, and it will be at its most effective out of the sideboard against decks that are light on unconditional removal.
A 2/2 flier for 4 isn't what it used to be, but getting bolster 2 on the way out makes this a solid card. Your opponent has to do a lot of work to make sure you don't get value from it, and you have a degree of control over it yourself. Playing with and against bolster is going to be one of the more skill-testing aspects of this format, as it really ups the complexity of how removal spells and bounce spells interact with combat. I can't wait to get really tricky and chump a first striker with this in order to bolster another one of my blockers and win that fight.
Unless we have been transported back to Zendikar all of a sudden, this is not the kind of card I want in most of my decks. It isn't mandatory to have a 2-drop these days, especially one that gets utterly blanked in the late game. It is a fine sideboard card against decks like BW Warriors, and if you do end up having to maindeck this, it's not the end of the world. Jeskai Student or Mardu Skullhunter are the kinds of 2-drops you want, as those have value throughout the game, unlike Arashin Cleric.
Here we go again. Lantern Kami and Suntail Hawk are perennial Limited favorites, despite neither one being worth a card. That this is a Warrior does give it a tiny bit more value, but I'm going to just call it unplayable in the hopes of dissuading those who would otherwise be tempted to put it in their decks.
The times when you should play this are few and far between, because it just does not do enough. It won't kill your opponent without help and contributes very little to that cause, it can't block effectively, and even Warrior synergies are unlikely to push it over the top. If you have 2-3 Raiders' Spoils, maybe you consider this, but that's enough of an edge case that I think it's safer to balance the scales and just call it a 0 in the vain hope that at least some of the people who would play this won't. If a deck full of 2/1 fliers was a thing, maybe this would be solid sideboard material, but that's also an unlikely scenario.
That may have come off as a bit of a rant, but I've been playing Magic for a long time, and cards like this always look better than they are, so I'm trying to fight the good fight by assuring everyone that this isn't the 1-drop you are looking for.
Since ChannelEmrakul.com has already been taken, I guess I'll have to settle for ChannelHarm.com for all my website needs. It's like a Channel and a Fireball put together, killing your opponent's best creature while saving you and yours!
The effect here is very powerful, and it costs a ton of mana as a result. I do still like the card though, and not just because of the name. In a normal format, this would be so obvious that cunning opponents would be able to play around it with ease, but this is a format where leaving six mana up is really not that suspicious. Sometimes you have two morphs in play, and your opponent suspects that you are waiting to unmorph them, makes an attack, and gets Channel Harmed right out of the tournament. It's also such a powerful spell that even if they know about it they may not be able to do all that much, because it buys you a turn and kills a creature almost no matter what.
This does get worse the better your opponent is, as it can be played around, but the first time you cast it can be incredible, saving multiple creatures and lots of damage while also completely turning the tide of combat. In subsequent games it will be less of a blowout, but still fits very nicely into decks that play a lot of instants and plan to leave mana up to cast them.
This is one of the cards that's hardest to evaluate based on just reading the set, and I won't be surprised if it ends up a full point higher or lower after I get to do 10-15 drafts.
Think of Citadel Siege as a multiple-choice test where both answers are correct and you will start to get a sense of how powerful the card is. Yes, it is possible to name Khans and have your opponent string three removal spells in a row, but I can't see losing most normal games if this stays in play, regardless of what you choose. Dragons is the safer choice, as locking down their biggest creature every turn is absurd, but if you have a good board presence, choosing Khans will overrun your opponent in short order. Once you look at the synergy this has with outlast creatures, it gets even more absurd, and the card was busted to begin with.
Daghatar the Adamant
A 4/4 for four is already very good, and the ability is a huge bonus. Not only does Daghatar make combat impossible for your opponent by himself, he also makes any +1/+1 counters on the opposing side into a huge liability. Nowhere does it say that the counters have to come from your creatures, and playing this against another Abzan deck is a beating. Imagine a board where you have an Ainok Bond-Kin or Tuskguard Captain. Any of your creatures can all of a sudden be 1 or 2 power and toughness bigger and gain a bunch of abilities, and if any of your opponent's creatures have counters, they risk being shrunk.
The mana costs involved aren't even that hard, with single white in the cost and your choice of black or green in the activation, so there's really no excuse not to take Daghatar early and often.
Dragon Bell Monk
This is a solid addition to any prowess deck, even if it occupies a casting cost slot that's usually pretty full. It's cool that when you attack and they don't block for fear of a trick, they still have to face the same decision on their turn, as Dragon Bell Monk is ready and willing to block. Even if this isn't a ringing endorsement, this card will fit into many of the decks I like to draft.
I'm generally a fan of cards that scale well into the late game, and this fits the bill. It's a great play after attacking with your morph on turn four and it's a great play when you have turned three creatures sideways on turn nine, which is a nice combination of power and flexibility. There are boards where this is just a vanilla 2/3 for four, but it shouldn't be that hard to make sure to get at least one counter, and even that is more than enough to justify the card.
This is very comparable to a five-mana 4/5 that taps a creature when it attacks, and that is a good card. It's overall a bit better, because the counters will often have haste by going on something that can already attack, which then also triggers the tap immediately as well. Of course, the downside is that you don't have the choice of where they go, and sometimes that isn't great either. This is a good card, but at five mana you don't have room for many of them.
In a format with morphs like War Behemoth, the giant vanilla creatures are not great, even if their name would imply otherwise. There's just no reason to play a card that isn't impressive and has to be cast for five mana when you can basically get the same card with the option to be cast for three.
Using this card seems tricky, though it's very rewarding if you can make it do what you want. Gaining 4 life, winning a combat, and having +1/+1 counters left over is a big swing—the downside is not having full choice of where those counters go. This gets a lot better in decks with equally tough creatures and decks with good outlast synergy, and will lead to very different play patterns than normal combat tricks. For example, sometimes you just have to cast this before blocks, so you know where the counters are going to end up in the event of a damage-based removal spell (which your opponent will presumably have to play before this resolves). Of course, if they do have unconditional removal, you will want to block first, which is part of what makes using instant-speed bolster cards tricky.
If you are in a matchup where the 4 life isn't very important, this card gets way worse, and like any pump spell, it doesn't match up well against a deck full of removal spells. I'd still start with this in the main deck, but be ready to sideboard it out when it's bad.
I like this card. I like Walls, tricky cards, and card advantage, and this can provide all three. It does require you to have a fair amount of creatures in your deck to get full value, so it won't fit into every deck, but playing this in response to a removal spell is good times. It's a great sideboard card even when it doesn't fit into the main, and it gets much better the more creatures you have with good enters-the-battlefield effects. Incremental value cards are all I look for, and it's no surprise that I like this one. Plus, if you draft two, that's infinite blockers.
The manifest enchantments are both very strong, and that even factors in manifesting a noncreature about 60% of the time. A 2/2 flying lifelink for three would be a solid playable already, and when you hit the jackpot and manifest any actual creature you almost can't lose. Flipping up a Glacial Stalker or something is impossible to race, and getting that upside next to a great worst-case scenario makes an awesome card.
A 4-mana 3/2 prowess is a passable card in some decks, so if you can draw a card off this even 1/3 of the time it wouldn't be a huge mystic to play it. There are some powerful new enchantments running around (much like the one directly preceding this), and you aren't giving up too much for the potential of drawing extra cards, which I'm always on board with.
In the black/white Warriors aggro deck, this is a high pick, but in the average white/x deck it isn't anything special. You reap what you sow, and if you are sowing a bunch of 1-drops in a midrange deck, your draw steps in the mid- to late game are going to suffer. 2/1s for 1 are more impressive in Constructed than Limited, and the same can be said about the disruptive ability. Woe-Reaper will find a more welcoming home in 60-card decks, where it can team up with other cheap creatures and fight against Whip of Erebos decks, even if it's a fine card in Limited.
Mastery of the Unseen
A 2-mana enchantment that lets you pay 3W for a 2/2 is not a bad card, and this is quite a bit more than that. Manifest means that you will hit some number of creatures and get to upgrade your 2/2s, and the life gain ability means that you will have the time to mess around with all this expensive nonsense. When you are gaining 3-4 life per flip, you can safely take advantage of this engine, and late in the game it is quite the engine indeed. It is more at home in a control deck than an aggro deck, so keep that in mind when building around it.
In the right deck, this is just outrageous. In the wrong deck, it's a Gray Ogre. Choose your path wisely. I'd go down the path filled with Defiant Strike, Feat of Resistance, Refocus, and Pressure Point, in which case Monastery Mentor is almost unbeatable. Making a 1/1 for each spell is already good, and imbuing those 1/1s with prowess is incredible. The more tokens you make the better the tokens you already have become and that's what I call an engine. Plus, if you are very lucky you can pick up some Goblinslides and go full-on combo.
Pressure Point is never bad, and in heavy-prowess decks its frequently great. Any cantrip is valuable in such decks, and tapping a creature can open the door to some good attacks or take the pressure off if you are in defense mode. Even non-prowess decks will want this card, so I'd make it a point to prioritize it.
Rally the Ancestors
This card is bizarre. I keep looking to see where it gives the creatures haste, but no, it's just for blocking, which makes it a lot less interesting for Limited purposes. There's probably some absurd Constructed combo here, but I'd stay away from this in 40-card decks. An expensive ambush card that requires certain creatures be dead is way too many situational things at once.
With no other combos, this is +1/+1 and draw a card for four mana, which is not particularly inspiring. Building a deck around Auras is suspect at best, and even if this replaces itself, it costs enough mana that it is rarely going to justify inclusion.
Given how situational most of the removal in this format is, I could see this being a higher pick than the rating would indicate. It is unfortunate that this won't always kill the creatures you want to kill, such as a sandbagged Woolly Loxodon, but 5 damage is still a considerable amount. Kill Shot fits into controlling decks better, though I've heard that some people want to attack, and for those people Sandblast is going to be the better overall card.
I love this cycle. Options like this go a long way toward making interesting games, and having a cycle of commons do this is awesome. That being said, the decision on Sandsteppe Outcast isn't all that difficult, as a 1/1 flier is going to be better the vast majority of the time. Some of the other members of the cycle have tougher decisions, which is in no way a knock on Sandsteppe Outcasts's power—the card is very good. A 2/1 just trades for morphs as well as a 3/2, and a free 1/1 flier is often going to be what you want.
This is the kind of 2-drop I don't mind playing. Sure, most of the time it's just a 2/2, but the times when it's more than that add a lot of value to the card. It can easily be worth a full additional card when you ambush the opponent, and even when it's just a 2/2 your opponent doesn't know that. Playing against manifest is going to be tricky, as it is most likely a blank, but you have to take into account that sometimes it isn't, and the range of what it could be is so wide. Plus, no force in the world can help your opponent if you manifest Master of Pearls, which is the actual dream, and something I think about whenever I see any manifest card (even if it doesn't significantly alter their value).
Soulfire Grand Master
A 2/2 lifelink for 2 is pretty sweet, and a 2/2 lifelink for 2 that lets you pay a bunch of mana to get extra value from your spells is even sweeter. It barely needs the spell-link ability to be good, so that's just gravy. Fiery, fiery gravy. Much like other powerful Jeskai cards, this does need a specific deck to reach its full potential, but given that “drafting cheap spells” is not a huge barrier, and something these decks want to do anyways, the rating reflects its power when enabled.
While this clearly isn't unconditional removal, as it literally has a condition, the condition is not that hard to meet. Creatures with 4 toughness are the kinds of creatures you really want to kill, and when the opponent has smaller creatures than that, the other half of the card becomes relevant. An efficient combat trick plus an efficient removal spell equals a very strong card (for both Limited and Constructed).
I may not love 2/2s for 2, but a 3/1 hits hard enough that I don't mind playing it, and trades up easier in the late game as well. Plus, this has an ability that will come up every now and then, even if getting this through is probably not so easy. I do like creatures that provoke blocking in a color with a lot of tricks, and adding the loot ability helps make that happen.
A 4/4 flier is a 4/4 flier, and that's always been above average in Limited, but I look at the casting cost and am a little concerned. I do like that it's immune to Kill Shot and prevents any combat tricks, since the ability just starts as soon as it's declared as an attacker, so as long as you can live long enough to play a 6-drop and attack you should be in good shape. Think of this as a Riverwheel Aerialists, which is the kind of card you want one of at the top of the curve.
Top 5 White Commons
White gets one of the best commons in the set in Sandsteppe Outcast, a solid removal spell in Sandblast, and some great prowess enablers in Soul Summons and Pressure Point. I'm not seeing an overwhelming reason to be either aggro or control, at least in the mono-white commons, which should leave you fairly open to either once you make it to the Khans pack if you are drafting base-white. The power level is here, and part of that is in the flexibility of these cards, which is definitely a good thing.
Next up is blue, which has all sorts of ways to draw cards!
Blue goes up at 11 a.m. EST tomorrow morning, so make sure to check back then.