This is my first time doing 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!
I’m a big fan of Banewhip Punisher, and I think it’s one of the best cards in the set. It’s just extremely versatile—it can act as a 2BB kill anything sorcery speed, 2-for-1 them if they have a 1-toughness creature, chump block, attack, work with -1/-1 synergies, and so on. It’s also an excellent creature to recur with cards like Wander in Death. Overall, I think the versatility pushes it above anything else in this pack and it’s better than any common.
Honorable Mention: Hour of Glory.
A lot of people are going to look at Hour of Glory’s rarity symbol and think it’s a must-pick, but in practice this is just a glorified Final Reward. It’s a good card and I’ll always be happy to play as many as I have in a format with embalm and eternalize, but I don’t think it’s a bomb, especially because there are fewer must-kill threats in this format now.
A 3/1 for 3 that pings them is already OK, and the ability to ping creatures pushes this over the top for me, especially since a lot of the good aggressive creatures in this set have 1 toughness. Most of the time you’re not going to have to use it to kill creatures because your opponent won’t just play a 2/1 into it, so you get the effect without having to exert anything. It’s also good to keep in mind that this format has several untap effects that are already playable because of exert, so you can combo those with Fervent Paincaster to kill bigger creatures.
Honorable Mention: Open Fire.
I think there are formats where Puncturing Blow would be better than Open Fire, but this is probably not one of them. There aren’t many bombs that you want to kill with Puncturing Blow that you won’t kill with Open Fire (most of them are in Amonkhet, and that’s just one pack), and the ability to a) cast this at instant speed, b) splash it, and c) hit face make Open Fire overall a better deal. I think the burn aspect of it will be more relevant than normal in this format because it’s very aggressive and there are other playable burn spells to complement it, so I expect Open Fire to finish off a lot of games.
A 4/4 for 4 is already a good rate, and this Crocodile is significantly better than that. Vigilance on a 4/4 is great, especially when that 4/4 comes into play at a time when it’s going to completely dominate the board. Your opponent won’t be able to block it, and they also won’t be able to attack into it. Their best way of dealing with it is double-blocking at this point of the game, but then it has deathtouch to punish that. Since it counts any creature, yours or theirs, the condition seems very easy to meet.
Honorable Mention: Ambuscade.
Ambuscade is a solid removal spell. It does open up the potential for you to get 2-for-1’d, but the fact that it’s an instant should mean you can play around it most of the time. You can also use it as a combat trick, sometimes pushing through for 1 extra damage and in rare occasions even winning two combats with it. Keep in mind that this card doesn’t fight—you deal the damage, but receive none in return.
I think this card is quite powerful. Sometimes it’s going to do nothing because they’re going to want to attack anyway, but a lot of the time you’ll be in a spot where they wouldn’t have attacked with all of their creatures (or with any creature), and then this forces them to suicide their squad. In stalled boards, all-out combat definitely favors the defender, so forcing them to attack with everything is likely to win you the game, especially since you know nothing is going to untap the following turn either. In scenarios where this wouldn’t be good, you could either cast it sorcery speed as a preemptive Fog, or you can just cycle it away.
Honorable Mention: Desert of the Fervent.
This next pick is very tricky for me. I’m relatively certain you should pick a land, since all the cards in the pack are awful and it’s good to be able to play a higher land count and turn on Desert synergies, but I can’t see any of them being the correct choice.
As a whole, the cycling lands are a bit better than the white land (though there are certainly spots where you will want it). So the question is: Which of the cycling lands do you want—black, blue, or red?
I think blue is the color I’m least likely to play, and most of the time I do play it, it’ll be with black. As such, I think the black Desert is better than the blue one. The black Desert wins over the red Desert in cycling capacity (there are cycling synergies for black), but the Desert synergies in red are good—Sand Strangler is super powerful if you can turn it on, and Gilded Cerodon isn’t bad either.
The red Desert is a better pick because I think you’re more likely to find cycling synergies than Desert synergies later on. If you play Horror of the Broken Lands with 7 cyclers instead of 8, then that’s OK, but if you play Sand Strangler with 2 Deserts instead of 3, then that’s a big difference. On top of that, I think red is more likely to be aggressive and those decks usually want to cycle lands in the late game more than the slower decks do.
A 3/3 for 4 is a playable deal already, and Sand Strangler asks for very little to become an insane deal. Every time you can play a 3/3 and kill their 3- or 4-drop you get a huge tempo swing that more than makes up for the fact that you had to play or cycle a Desert early on. The fact that this is removal in creature form also makes it more synergistic with the likes of bounce and reanimation spells.
Honorable Mention: Rhonas’s Last Stand.
This will be a card that we will have to play with to see if it’s good or bad because it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen. 5/4 for 2 is huge, and it will dominate the board early on, but is the cost too high? If you can play a 4-drop and this on turn 6, is that worth skipping your untap on turn 7? I think it is. It’s certainly possible that I look back at this pick after playing more with the card and think that I was silly for not picking Ambuscade over it, but right now, my inclination is that this card is quite good, so that’s what I would pick if Sand Strangler wasn’t in the pack.