Artifacts haven't been all that exciting lately, since the fact that any color can play them puts some pretty hefty restrictions on their power level, but there are a few good ones in M11. Now red has an actual answer to Kor Firewalker, since Blazing Torch doesn't work, and Stoneforge Mystic just found another friend to search up.
As usual, the grading system is as follows:
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. Celestial Purge. (Bear in mind that many cards fall into this "maybe" category, although explanation of why is obviously important)
1.0 It has seen play once. One with Nothing. (I believe it was "tech" vs Owling Mine, although fairly suspicious tech at that.)
5.0: I will always play this card. Period.
4.5: I will almost always play this card, regardless of what else I get.
4.0: I will strongly consider playing this as the only card of its color.
3.5: I feel a strong pull into this card's color.
3.0: This card makes me want to play this color. (Given that I'm playing that color, I will play this card 100% of the time.)
2.5: Several cards of this power level start to pull me into this color. If playing that color, I essentially always play these. (Given that I'm playing that color, I will play this card 90% of the time.)
2.0: If I'm playing this color, I usually play these. (70%)
1.5: This card will make the cut into the main deck about half the times I play this color. (50%)
1.0: I feel bad when this card is in my main deck. (30%)
0.5: There are situations where I might sideboard this into my deck, but I'll never start it. (10%)
0.0: I will never put this card into my deck (main deck or after sideboarding). (0%)
I would love to give this cycle a blanket 1.0 and be done with it, but Dragon's Claw has the habit of showing up in sideboards a good amount of the time.
It would take multiple Ajani's Pridemates for me to even consider playing this, and even then I probably would only side it in against another white deck. Now, if you could get ahold of the Angel that the feather came from, that's a different story.
This is somewhat pricey, and just a one for one, but Kor Firewalker must die. So far, this is the most reliable way I've seen to kill the Firewalker, and is much less narrow than something like Leyline of Punishment, since it can still kill their other random guys if they don't draw Firewalker. It also kills Baneslayer, or even giant guys like Knight of the Reliquary. Its use is not limited to Red decks either, though I suspect most of the play it gets will be in mono-red.
The flexibility of Brittle Effigy elevates it above most removal spells. No matter where your deck ends up, the Effigy is making the cut. Unconditional removal that even kills black creatures is few and far between, so don't pass this often. If you are already firmly in your colors, taking a cheaper on-color removal spell is worth considering, but the extra mana is usually going to be worth not having to worry about bounce/enchantment removal (Pacifism) or them having black creatures (Doom Blade).
Crystal Ball is undeniably powerful, and when in play its effect rivals that of Top. Not being able to trade it in for a card probably puts Top ahead, though it is close. It is the initial investment that kills it: paying three mana for a card that gets you incremental value as the game goes on is just not good enough for most Constructed decks. At what point is Crystal Ball better than a Divination, or even a Sea Gate Oracle? Only in a very long game is the Ball going to shine, and most decks aren't built with that in mind. Even the control decks in Standard have a ton of finishers, from Baneslayer to Jace to Gideon to Grave Titan, and they aren't designed to just grind over the course of twenty turns. Even in slow matchups, lands are good to draw, so all you are really doing with Crystal Ball is improving card quality slightly (unlike in Limited, where putting dead lands on the bottom is akin to drawing cards). Conveniently enough, Counterbalance also just rotated out of Extended, making a Counter-Ball deck impossible. As it stands right now, Crystal Ball is not Standard-playable, though I would certainly like to live in a world where it is.
This is a tough card to rate in Limited. You don't need a crystal ball to figure out that it is good, but how good is the question. Right now, I would take it over most common removal spells, at least early, but not over bombs like Fireball, Air Servant, or Serra Angel (which I believe is in a print run with the Ball). Filtering through your deck doesn't accomplish much if you don't have absurd cards to find, so taking the Ball over such cards doesn't make much sense. Similarly, if you have little or no removal late in the draft, you probably can't justify Crystal Ball over Pacifism or Doom Blade, whichever is applicable. The more lands your deck needs to function, the less awesome Crystal Ball is going to be, since it really starts to shine when you can just bottom every land you see. Then again, decks with expensive cards tend to have a good late game, and the late game is what Crystal Ball is made for. All those negatives are aside, a few turns with Crystal Ball in play will let you stabilize fairly easily, and a few more turns after that should put you far enough ahead to win most games, making this a high pick.
I don't think Dragon's Claw has to worry about this horning in on its market share.
The same Ajani's Pridemate exception could technically apply to all of these, even though it is a thin premise indeed.
At long last, we have the king of the charm cycle, and the only playable one at that. Non-white decks can't just jam four Kor Firewalkers and be done with it, which is why Dragon's Claw has shown up in some sideboards. Of course, now that Jund decks can side in Obstinate Baloth instead, I don't see a bright future for the Claw. It is still tech for the mirror, and Grixis Control might go so far as to try and Claw them, but white and green decks now have way better options.
RW lifegain, coming to a draft near you!
Elixir of Immortality
This doesn't gain life very efficiently, which leaves its only use as a Feldon's Cane. If that is the effect you want, playing some giant Eldrazi is a better way to protect against being milled, since I doubt you are just playing Elixir to reshuffle back good cards. If you are looking for immortality, this won't do the trick.
Neither of these effects are worth a card, yet I still saw a ton of these in play at the prerelease. I guess this card looks playable, since it presumably staves off death by damage or decking, but in reality you are just wasting a card. It is a fine sideboard card against the mill deck or the Lava Axe deck, but avoid running it main.
Finally, now every color has access to a three-drop on par with Sprouting Thrinax!
You might not get to beat down on turn four with the Sentinel, yet it still does its job admirably well. It blocks until you have the mana to jump it, and even keeps flying creatures back if that's what you need.
Wall of Omens and Sea Gate Oracle mitigate the effectiveness of Jinxed Idol, though they don't completely neutralize it. Elspeth is a much bigger problem, and one which might forestall the appearance of the idol until after Shards rotates. Jinxed Idol is clearly quite powerful, and exactly what red decks are looking for, but now is not the time. Throwing away guys that are going to die (Ball Lightning, Hell's Thunder, Hellspark Elemental) for a hard-to-stop two damage a turn is a great deal, or at least will be once Elspeth rotates out. If some non-white control deck gets big, like Grixis, this could be the ideal card to fight it, though I don't want to jinx it.
The only deck that would possibly play this main is the Act of Treason deck, and that won't come up all that often. Jinxed Idol could be a decent sideboard card against a creature-light control deck, which is also something that won't show up all that often.
Lodestone Golem is everything Juggernaut wishes he could be, which I'm sure is quite a [card thorn of amethyst]thorn[/card] in Juggernaut's side.
When you slam down a 5/3 on turn four, the last thing you want to do is stay on defense, so that particular drawback isn't huge. Evading Walls is also not a big deal, making Juggernaut just a slightly underpriced beater.
(Don't) RELEASE THE KRAKEN!
You know what, no. Not even with Ajani's Pridemate in the UW vs mono-blue matchup. I'm tired of trying to construct theoretical situations where these cards are playable, so I'm going to just go ahead and tell it how it is.
Affinity aside, there has never been a use for the oft-invented Ornithopter. Now that Extended is rotating, even Affinity doesn't exist, so there goes the rating for this guy.
If your opponent has a horde of 1-power fliers, well, just be thankful for that and proceed to win the match.
Despite a little play in Reanimator, big Platz has never done a whole lot in Constructed. Krosan Grip defeated my vague attempts to make a Platinum Angel/Pact of Negation deck for Worlds 2007 (Platinum Blue was such a cool name, too), and past that, I have never felt the urge to try using her. As cool as it is to not be able to lose the game, paying seven mana for one of the most vulnerable types of permanents is not the way to go about it.
For obvious reasons, any time a Platinum Angel hits the board, the game revolves around her. Some decks have few or no outs, and the decking plan is viable, while others have enough ways to kill her that you still need to keep your life total positive. Counterspells, particularly Cancel and Negate, are awesome in conjunction with the Angel, and you can legitimately plan on decking some opponents. You aren't going to run into Platinum Angel all that often, but having a way to kill or remove creatures is something you need to just to have a good deck, so try not to be caught dead. If you know they have a Platinum Angel, your removal needs to be conserved even more rigorously than normal (one of the best ways to up your Core Set win % is to not burn removal unless you absolutely have to, since it is scarcer than in normal sets).
The Sorcerer isn't hiding any treasure interesting enough to bother trying to break open his box, especially since you can just choose a Jace instead (but there could be anything in the box, even a Jace!).
Much like Ember Shot was the most expensive removal spell that people still played, this is one of the most expensive card draw spells that is still going to make the cut. Three cards is three cards, even if it takes at least six mana, and often more, to get them. A strong card (though hopefully not too strong).
I'm not entirely sure what troops this guy is supposed to oversee, and I suspect that Scars of Mirrodin may provide answers. A cheap recurring ability like this is definitely worth paying attention to, there just aren't any other guys that can really get big. Lodestone Golem is the best of the bunch, and he doesn't need too much help.
Even by himself (and most of the time, he will be by himself), Steel Overseer grows rapidly enough to steal games. If you ever get multiple artifact guys out, your opponent will be hard-pressed to keep up, making him a solid pick.
This guy is most certainly not the stones.
I don't see how you can get away from playing Stone Golem, unless you are in green and have a ton of 5+ drops already. A 4/4 for five is not overpriced in the least, which means that Stone Golem will spend very little time in the sideboard.
Sword of Vengeance
The playable equipment count in Standard just increased by 50% (for the record, I'm not counting Adventuring Gear at this time). The Sword isn't at its best against control, but it more than makes it up for that in creature-based matchups. It is hard to beat any Sworded guy in combat, and just the threat of hasting up cheap threats like Knight of the Reliquary is substantial. Even against control, it can threaten Planeswalkers out of nowhere once you get to six or more mana. Standard might be a bit fast-paced for the Sword to see play right now, but it will certainly have its vengeance once Shards rotates.
Once you have a Sword in play, all you usually need to do to win the game is draw a few creatures, even bad ones. It is very difficult to race, and even putting it on something like Barony Vampire will dominate the board. The hefty equip cost can lead to problems if you are too hasty, so try and make sure that a well-timed removal spell doesn't blow you out. A mid-combat Naturalize is going to be ugly regardless, so just hope that doesn't happen I guess. Still, there are few cards I would prefer to open, especially early in the draft.
I'm sure there are plenty of people just waiting to build the next generation of Turbo-Fog and Time Sieve decks, and Temple Bell replaces Howling Mine well enough. I suspect the extra mana isn't worth being able to draw immediately or wait until their end of turn, but you work with what you got. My dislike of Howling Mine strategies in general is well-documented, and Temple Bell does little to change that.
Stupid mill decks, making it so I can't call all these unplayable cards unplayable. The combo with Jace's Erasure is actually pretty good, but don't slam Temple Bell on that account. Combo decks like that work if you have enough pieces, but something like 1 Bell 2 Erasure 2 Tome Scour isn't even enough to outrace an average draw unless you have a good defensive deck to go with them. Turbo-Mill isn't the approach that I would go for, more like U/x control with mill as a kill.
Vintage aside, I can't say that Trike gets much action. That's too bad, since I have always liked the three-armed machine, and even have a crimped Antiquities one in my EDH deck just because it's sweet.
Damage may not stack anymore, but Trike is still awesome. Eating a Blinding Mage and still trading for a 2-drop is more than fine, and there are plenty of neat combos with Trike. Unsummon, Rise from the Grave, Gravedigger; they are all two for one's at the very least once Trike gets involved. Even if you have to trade Trike for a 4/4, you at least have the option, and most games he will do much more than that.
The archetype this helps is of course just Vintage Time Vault-Key decks, and it ends there. For now, there is nothing very interesting to untap in any other format, and I don't expect some cheap mana artifact to appear anytime soon.
Playing a card whose only function is to give your artifact creatures vigilance or untap Crystal Ball is not the key to winning matches in Limited.
I hope that nobody axes me why this isn't good enough.
Vulshok Morningstar this isn't, but Warlord's Axe is still a good way to get an edge in the long game. The low toughness boost and expensive equip cost are not enough to stop me from playing the Axe in most decks, since equipment in Core Sets has always been absurd.
I once equipped Lightning Greaves to Bosh at a PTQ, and it was pretty sweet. It has been a long time since that sort of nonsense was good enough, and Whispersilk Cloak is way worse than Lightning Greaves, which puts it firmly in the Limited-only camp.
The Cloak was unplayable in Mirrodin Block, but I have since learned to respect its power. If you have any 3+ power guy, it puts them on fast clock, and one that isn't easily answered. I don't think every deck plays the Cloak, even though most do. If anything, people still overvalue this card; it certainly isn't a bomb, just a solid piece of equipment.
Writing reviews for this cycle is seriously like pulling teeth.
GW lifegain is not an archetype I plan on drafting, pretty much ever.
The manland cycle has overshadowed this one the whole time they have both been out, but these lands have their uses. In two-color decks, they are a fine choice, and even function reasonably well in a three-color fetchland manabase. They are probably going to show up some in Extended, which really drives the point home that Extended is just super-Standard.
If you are both colors, you play these, no questions, and they do a reasonable job of enabling a splash. Manafixing isn't usually that important though, so I wouldn't take one of these over most maindeckable cards.
I like this card. I don't think that it's awesome, or super-powerful, but it should fit well into some control decks. Tectonic Edge does take up many of the colorless land slots, so finding a home for the Maze might not be easy. I just like lands with spell-like abilities, since they feel like 2 for 1's much of the time. If you don't have a lot going on, Mazing a guy every turn makes them overextend into Wrath, or buys you time until you can cast Martial Coup or draw something awesome.
Every deck should play this, even as the 18th or possibly 19th land. Dealing with an evasive guy or huge threat is useful, and this will function well as a spell that taps for mana. In Limited, lands like this are essentially 2 for 1's, and Maze is one of the best. I do caution against using it at the expense of developing your board, since it is more of a late-game card or a way to win a race.
Not quite as many decks want Expanse as the Rootbound Crag cycle of duals, though some certainly do. Tri-color decks play this from time to time, and I expect it to continue seeing play, though I wouldn't expect the percentage to expand.
The same goes for this as the other duals: good in a 3-color deck and always playable in a 2-color, but not something particularly exciting. If you have a splashed Fireball or the like, it clearly moves up, but most decks don't need this all that much.
I'm going to skip on the Top 5 lists for artifacts and lands because there really isn't enough to populate a full list. Brittle Effigy is definitely the most interesting artifact, with Sword of Vengeance not too far behind, and all the nonbasic lands are playable. There are a fair number of draft bombs too, which all should be easy to recognize.
Top 10 Magic 2011 Cards for Constructed
The Top 10 from M11 is an interesting mix of powerful reprints (Baneslayer, Lightning Bolt, Birds, Duals, MANA LEAK) and cool new cards. I am particularly interested in seeing how Fauna Shaman and Grave Titan impact Standard, with Fauna Shaman even looking like a person of interest in Extended. Blue, Green, and Black all won pretty big in the M11 lottery, with Blue gaining Mana Leak, green gaining multiple new cards and keeping Birds, and black receiving Grave Titan. White broke even, and red definitely lost: trading Siege-Gang and Earthquake for Destructive Force is not exactly a deal, especially considering how Destructive Force is at its best in control, which is not a very "red" strategy.
I think M11 stacks up well when compared to M10, both in Limited and Constructed. While I can't say I'm excited to draft a Core Set at Nationals, a Pro Tour, and multiple GPs, Scry goes a long way to making the format more palatable. The bombs do seem to have gotten more absurd, which is never good for Limited play, but we have to literally play the cards we are dealt. For Constructed, the top three from that list are all going to make Standard a very interesting format, and one I look forward to playing. The monotony of the last year looks to be fully broken up, and Jund is now just a deck among decks, not the deck.