Even before core sets were designed with a focus on Limited, I have always enjoyed playing them. Over the weekend, I had a chance to play a prerelease with Magic 2015. I’ve also had the chance to do a little bit of drafting with some great Magic players and develop my understanding of the format. So far, M15 has seemed quite a bit different than its predecessor. M15 looks much more aggressive than M14, which was not very aggressive at all, much more tempo-oriented, and much less about brute forcing card advantage. The convoke mechanic has made a return in M15, and is featured on cards of every color. In this article, I’m going to explore what I believe, so far, to be the top couple commons, uncommons, and rares of each color.
Flesh to Dust is the only common in the set that permanently removes a creature without any restrictions. It isn’t cheap at five mana, but at least it is an instant. The best cards are often the most efficient creature removal spells, so while Flesh to Dust might not be better overall than a card like Lightning Strike, its power level likely still makes it the best black common.
Covenant of Blood is another very expensive black creature removal spell at common. At first look, Covenant of Blood might seem too pricy at seven mana, but given that it has the convoke mechanic, we will often be able to cast it without seven lands in play. The fact that Covenant of Blood gains us 4 life will also make it easier to tap some potential blockers to remove an opponent’s creature, and possibly mitigate some of the damage that we’ll take from being unable to block on the swing back. Another added bonus of Covenant of Blood is that is has the capability to target players, so it can be used as a Soul Feast when the situation warrants it.
1. Stab Wound
If you were playing a lot during Return to Ravnica block, you likely remember the power of Stab Wound. Stab Wound can be used as a removal spell for a 2-toughness creature, or even be put on an evasion or larger creature to swing the race in your favor. A cheap removal spell that doubles as a finisher is great in any format. It was one of the best cards in Return to Ravnica block and I’m sure it will repeat as such in M15.
Ulcerate is almost everything we want in a removal spell: Cheap, efficient, and instant. Ulcerate is very similar to Lightning Bolt in dealing with creatures. The obvious downsides are that Ulcerate costs us 3 life, and it can’t be used to target a player. However, Ulcerate also has upsides. Because Ulcerate gives -3/-3 and doesn’t deal damage, it can be used very effectively as a combat trick. For example, if our opponent blocks our 5/5 with a 3/3, Ulcerate can allow our 3/3 to win the battle and stick around. One mana removal spells are almost always great and Ulcerate is no exception.
The Souls are going to be a common occurrence in the rares section of this article. Of all the Souls, the black one is arguably the weakest. The deathtouch ability is great on a card like Typhoid Rats as it allows the Rats to trade up against creatures with much higher power, toughness, and mana investments. Of course deathtouch is still better than no deathtouch on a large creature, as it makes life much more difficult for an opponent who intends to deal with it by blocking with two or three creatures, but almost any other ability would be stronger.
Soul of Innistrad just doesn’t have the same immediate impact on controlling the board that some of the other Souls have. What it does do is allow you to pay 5 mana to return three creatures from your graveyard to your hand. That is a very powerful effect, and also fairly focused. For that reason, Soul of Innistrad might be among the best Souls to actually build a deck around because of its synergies with a card like Satyr Wayfinder.
2. Liliana Vess
I have loved Liliana Vess ever since the first times I played with her (which was in a Cube draft). Her one major drawback in Limited is that she doesn’t have any immediate impact on the board. However, in a game where the board is at parity, or if you’re ahead, she will almost always put the game out of reach. Both her non-ultimate abilities create great incremental advantages, and her ultimate will practically end the game on the spot every time.
1. Frost Lynx
Blue has a lot of tempo-based cards in M15 and Frost Lynx appears to be the best of them, at least at common. A 2/2 for three is fine, but locking down your opponent’s best blocker for two turns can swing a race very heavily in your favor. Frost Lynx can also be very powerful when paired with effects that allow you to reuse its ability such as Roaring Primodox, Peel From Reality, or Gravedigger. Although I think Frost Lynx might be the best blue common, it does seem significantly weaker than the best commons of every other color, which indicates that blue could be one of the weaker colors in M15, although I’m not 100% certain about that yet.
Peel from Reality is another great tempo card which can actually serve multiple purposes. Part of the time it is just an Unsummon with a drawback, when you simply need to use the card to remove an opponent’s creature to get through with some attackers, or maybe an opponent’s creature with a creature enchantment on it. Other times, it’s an Unsummon with a benefit, like when you’re saving one of your own creatures from a removal spell or returning a creature (like Frost Lynx) to your hand in order to reuse its enters-the-battlefield trigger. It’s a very powerful effect, and I draft it highly in my blue decks.
A three-mana 4/4 flier! Of course Illusory Angel comes with a major drawback. Being unable to cast Illusory Angel unless we’ve already played a spell that turn makes it very unlikely that we’ll be able to cast it before turn four, and more realistically turn five. Also, sometimes when we’re in a long game and drawing off the top of our deck, Illusory Angel will be a poor draw. I think these are risks we’re willing to take with Illusory Angel. Most often it seems like the Angel will be a turn five or six play, accompanied by a two- or three-drop, and frankly a 4/4 flier with that drawback is still strong enough for me to consider it the best uncommon.
Three cards for five mana at instant speed is a pretty good deal. I don’t think this card will have the same effect on M15 as Opportunity did last year on M14, but still Jace’s Ingenuity is a very high pick, and we’ll be happy to have it in our blue decks.
Soul of Ravnica, like Soul of Innistrad, doesn’t do much to take control of the board once it gets into play. What Soul of Ravnica does do better than Soul of Innistrad is deal damage to the opponent. A 6/6 flier for six mana is a real bargain, and that alone would make it the best blue rare. Factor in that you can get some additional value from it, even from the graveyard, and Soul of Ravnica is the easy choice for the best blue rare.
The choice between Master of Predicaments and Jace, the Living Guildpact for the second best blue rare was tough. I had the good fortune of opening Jace, the Living Guildpact at the prerelease, and frankly I wasn’t particularly impressed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a planeswalker, and it’s still a very good card, but it just doesn’t have much of an impact on the board, and unless you’re using the ultimate, it takes a very long time to create the kind of incremental advantages that we expect from planeswalkers. Master of Predicaments is a 4/4 flier for 5, which is already a great card. The ability is actually very relevant, much more so than I thought when I first read the card. Often, an opponent will allow us to cast a cheap spell for free, which allows us to greatly increase the board pressure that we already have thanks to the Master himself. I think the two cards are close overall, but for now, I’d give the slight nod to the flier.
Elvish Mystic and the like are very often the best green commons in any set. M15 looks to be no exception. One of the biggest strengths of green is that it has very solid and efficient creatures to play all the way up to the five slot in our mana curve. With Elvish Mystic, we are accelerating to those plays a turn faster, and also only spending our first turn to do so. On the play, Elvish Mystic puts us way ahead of the curve of our opponents, and on the draw, it effectively allows us to steal being on the play.
One frequent issue with green is that it doesn’t have a lot of great creature removal spells. Therefore, when they do come along, they should be prioritized pretty highly. Hunt the Weak is a little expensive at four mana and it requires setup, but, in addition to removing an opponent’s creature, it gives a permanent +1/+1 counter to one of ours. Because it fills such an important need, and has such a powerful effect, I’m comfortable ranking it as the second best green common.
The green uncommons in M15 are not particularly exciting. There are a lot of reasonably solid cards, but I think the one that stands out most is Roaring Primodox. Four mana for a 4/4 is a great deal, but Roaring Primodox has a drawback. Each turn we have to return a creature to our hand.
Part of the strength of Roaring Primodox is in finding cards that allow us to turn that drawback into a benefit. Cards like Frost Lynx, Heliod’s Pilgrim, Kinsbale Skirmisher, Gravedigger, Hornet Queen, Living Totem, and Reclamation Sage all have enters-the-battlefield effects. By replaying them turn after turn there is a lot of advantage to be gained from bouncing them with the Primodox. Also, when we aren’t able to find any of those cards to absue the Primodox, often it’s a big enough threat as a 4/4 attacker that our opponent is forced to deal with it, either by trading or using a removal spell, and the drawback isn’t an issue anymore.
Another area green typically falls short is in card advantage. Restock is somewhat similar to a card like Jace’s Ingenuity. It’s one less card, but you are more able to sculpt what you get, and generally the two cards you draw are going to be very high impact. Restock is best in a deck where it can be paired with good removal spells, but even in a mostly-green deck returning two efficient green creatures, it is a very powerful card.
Nissa does everything that we look for in a good planeswalker. She is able to protect herself the turn she comes into play, either by turning a land into a 4/4 to block, if we have one untapped, or by untapping some of our Forests so that we’re able to play a creature in the same turn. If we are the aggressor in a game, Nissa also has the capability of coming into play and making any land into a 4/4 which can attack right away. And of course, if we’re ever able to actually ultimate Nissa, it practically ends the game every time.
Another Soul, another six-mana 6/6. In the case of Soul of Zendikar, having reach is very important. Given that it’s hard enough to attack through him on the ground, by having reach, Soul of Zendikar is able to stop our opponent from attacking us in the air as well. While he buys all that time, he can fill the board with 3/3 Beasts, and overrun our opponent.
Lightning Strike makes an appearance in the core set after spending the last year being drafted as part of Theros Block. A very cheap and very efficient removal spell, there’s not a lot more to say about Lightning Strike, but it’s no surprise that it is the best red common.
2. Inferno Fist
Inferno Fist is an interesting card. Paying 1RR to do 2 damage to a creature or player would be a playable card on its own. While Inferno Fist effectively does that in some situations, it can be a tricky card to play. The biggest problem with Inferno Fist, like any creature enchantment, is that it is very susceptible a 2-for-1. But, at least unlike most creature enchantments, once the Inferno Fist hits play, if we have a red mana available, we can get value from the Inferno Fist if our opponent tries to remove the enchanted creature at sorcery speed on the following turn. Also, sometimes it will just be nice to give a creature +2/+0 and have a Shock at our disposal whenever we need it.
Cone of Flame is probably the best non-rare card in the set. The ability to remove three opposing creatures with a single card is completely absurd. Although Cone of Flame won’t be able to remove any of the Souls or some of the giant monsters, it will often be able to kill two of our opponents creatures. Killing three is the dream, but it will certainly happen, there are a reasonable amount of one-toughness targets in the set. Also, even when we only get two, we will be able to do some small amount of damage to our opponent.
Stoke the Flames is another premium removal spell. Four mana to do 4 damage to any target is extremely powerful and extremely efficient. Factor in that Stoke the Flames has convoke, which can make it cheaper, and we have a slam dunk for a card that I’d be very happy to first pick.
In a surprise to everyone, another Soul makes the list of one of the best rares of a color. Soul of Shandalar is great, since if you untap with it, it can easily control the board and deal heaps of damage to our opponent. It can also prevent our opponents from racing us with a couple small flying creatures.
Chandra, Pyromaster makes a return in M15. Chandra’s plus ability seems particularly strong in this format. It can fight off the Raise the Alarm/Triplicate strategies from the white deck, and there are also several 1-toughness creatures to pick off. With an aggressive enough draw, Chandra’s plus ability can also be used to prevent a creature from blocking for a couple turns. Her 0 ability is what is most exciting to me, though. Essentially it just allows us to draw an additional card every turn. This is the type of effect that is hard to find in a red deck, which makes it all that much more useful.
A convoke-based white deck is one of the more powerful decks available in M15. One of the good things about Triplicate Spirits is that even if our deck doesn’t end up as a super focused convoke deck, it is still a very powerful card. As many of us remember from playing against Lingering Souls, small armies of 1/1 flying creatures can be very difficult to deal with. Cards like Paragon of New Dawns, Sanctified Charge, or Selfless Cathar make Triplicate Spirits much more potent as well.
I’m not 100% sure on Raise the Alarm in the #2 spot for white, but like I said, it seems so far like the white convoke decks are the best decks, so I’m comfortable with it here, for now. Raise the Alarm creates two creatures, both of which can be used to convoke, and in a perfect world, after a 1-drop, can enable a turn three Triplicate Spirits. It’s also a valuable card to have in a format where people are playing cards like Oreskos Swiftclaw, Child of Night, Generator Servant, or other early drop, one-toughness creatures, and we can cast Raise the Alarm during combat, trading with our opponent’s creature and netting a 1/1.
Devouring Light is a great card. It can be used during combat to remove any attacking or blocking creature from the game. This is a powerful effect on its own. Also it has convoke, which means our opponent often won’t be expecting it. What I’m most looking forward to doing with this card is blocking a 2/2 or 3/3 of my opponent’s with Warden of Beyond and then using Devouring Light to exile another attacker, making my Warden of Beyond into a 4/4 and killing both creatures.
Seraph of the Masses’ power is going to be greatly increased by having cards like Triplicate Spirits and Raise the Alarm in our deck. But even without having a bunch of tokens in play, with just a few creatures, Seraph of the Masses is going to be easy to cast and can finish off an opponent very quickly. Certainly there will be games when the Seraph is very small, but I think those situations, although unfortunate, are going to be somewhat rare.
I think Soul of Theros is likely the single best card in M15. Because the activated ability gives first strike, in addition to lifelink, it is almost impossible to attack or block profitably when it’s in play. Even if our opponent is able to remove our Soul of Theros from play, the graveyard exile ability being activated a single time with a small army of white weenies is often enough to end the game.
This was a close to decision between Ajani and Avacyn, Guardian Angel. But since we are often going to end up having hordes of small white weenies and token creatures, and Ajani’s minus ability is just so powerful in those situations I give the nod to Ajani. The plus ability can also prove useful when we need to gain some life from the lifelink ability, or maybe we just need to give first strike to force a creature through. I have yet to see the ultimate activated by anyone, but I’m guessing that is not where the bulk of the power of Ajani comes from, and we’re usually going to be better off using the other two abilities.
My experiences with M15 so far have been quite fun, and I’m looking forward to continuing to explore the format. Early next week I’m heading to Portland to start practicing for the Pro Tour, and my team, The Pantheon, and I, will definitely dive right in to M15 Limited. I’m also quite curious to see Standard unfold and what kind of impact the new core set will have on the current Standard environment. Hopefully we’ll have something exciting to show off at the Pro Tour in a few weeks. I, for one, can’t wait!