Welcome back to What’s the Pick? Pack 1 Pick 1. I present you with a pack, then explain my choice, and what I would pick if that wasn’t in the pack. Let’s get started!
Burning-Fist Minotaur is just incredibly efficient. A 2-mana 2/1 first-strike is already a good deal, and the ability to gain +2/+0 for only 2 mana makes it very hard to block. Sure, you do have to discard a card, but most of the time your opponent is not going to block so you’ll rarely actually have to activate it, except in the late game where it’s threatening lethal every turn. As a potential 4/1 first striker, it’s also an excellent blocker.
Honorable Mention: Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh.
It’s hard to know exactly how good a card like Nicol Bolas is without knowing how the format will play out. In some formats, it would be a mega-bomb—in others, it would be virtually unplayable. If you first pick it, you can then build your deck around it, but the big question is whether the type of deck that is built around Nicol Bolas is good or not. In Amonkhet, those decks weren’t great for the most part. I think Hour of Devastation is still going to be quite fast, which should limit the number of decks that actually want to play Nicol Bolas, but there’s no denying that it’s a very powerful card if you can support it.
Oketra’s Avenger isn’t an exciting first pick, but this pack is weak. It won’t get through in the late game like Gust Walker will, but it attacks for 1 more if unimpeded, so it punishes them more for not leaving up a blocker because you can exert it anyway. Overall it’s not as good as Gust Walker, but it’s still a common all aggressive white decks will want, and that’s the great majority of white decks.
Honorable Mention: Lethal Sting.
I think Lethal Sting isn’t as good in this format as it might appear because there are few must-kill creatures, and a lot of the time you’ll just be using it to kill a generic 3- or 4-drop, which is not that good. That said, it’s unconditional removal spell that only requires you to have a creature, and I’ll be happy to play it in the great majority of my black decks. Unraveling Mummy is a more powerful card, but I don’t like to commit to 2 colors this early, even if I do like the color combination.
At 3/3 vigilance, trample, and reach, Ramunap Hydra is about what I would expect for a 4-drop. Once it turns into a 4/4 or 5/5, though, then it’s way above the curve, especially given how well its abilities scale with higher power/toughness. I would pick Deserts slightly higher than normal if I had it, keeping in mind that the cycling Deserts are going to be better here because they’re easy to throw in the graveyard and can act as a surprise pump effect.
Honorable Mention: Puncturing Blow.
Puncturing Blow is a solid card—for 4 mana at sorcery speed, you get rid of virtually anything and you make sure it’s not going to come back. You don’t want a lot of them because they are clunky, but every red deck will be happy to have 1 or 2 to clear out big blockers.
Struggle // Survive is one of the more unique aftermath cards since you’re really only playing it for the Struggle half. Given that this card scales with the number of lands you have, it’ll be able to kill basically anything at any point in the game, which is quite good for a 3-mana instant. Survive is almost never going to be played, and I wouldn’t go to any lengths to make sure I can cast it, but if you happen to have access to green mana you can sometimes shuffle back some of their aftermath, embalm, and eternalize cards, which is a nice bonus.
Honorable Mention: Eternal of Harsh Truths.
Scroll Thief was a good card back in core set Limited, and this is substantially better if your deck is set up in a way to take advantage of the afflict ability. If you have any ways of getting it through, then the snowball can run away with the game, and blue has bounce spells, Cartouche of Knowledge, and Aerial Guide.
This is a pick I’m not entirely sure of—it’s possible that Rhonas’s Stalwart and Dauntless Aven are both better if blue can’t support this type of card, and it’s also possible that Chaos Maw is better if there’s a such a thing as a slow red deck (5-color green, maybe?). Right now, though, I’m taking Eternal of Harsh Truths.
4/4 flyer for 3UU is an excellent rate, and the ability from Ominous Sphinx can make combat a nightmare for your opponent. Even if you have nothing, there’s no way for them to know that, and sometimes you have 2 cyclers and they suicide all of their creatures. This card is definitely one of the top uncommons in the set.
Honorable Mention: Champion of Wits.
On first cast, Champion of Wits offers a below-standard body with some card selection added in. By itself, that would be OK, but not great. If you ever manage to eternalize it, though, then it will be powerful in the late game, as a free 4/4 is already good and it lets you draw 4 cards on top of that. It is a bit awkward that the first part makes you want to discard lands, which means it’ll be harder to reach 7 to eternalize it, but I still think it’s better than anything else in this pack.