Limited Set Reviews:
The first thing I look at when I look at red is how many of the cards trigger Goblinslide, and which I’ll enjoy casting in order to do so. The second, and much more useful, is looking at how the cards seem to interact with the non-Goblinslide parts of the format, however much less interesting they may be. Red is the second dash color, and unlike the ones in black, I like all the red creatures that have the ability. Red also has some reasonable burn spells, as well as a few unreasonable ones that I’m going to try to convince people not to play, but we will get to that shortly.
First, the ratings scale:
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.)
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
Alesha can smile all the way to the bank, as she isn’t getting blocked until turn five at the soonest, and more realistically turn six or seven. That represents a lot of damage, and doesn’t even account for her second ability. Unfortunately, counting the second ability doesn’t add a ton, as not every deck will have an abundance of targets, and many of those targets will immediately die once they attack. She is a sweet combo with Mardu Skullhunter, and other small raid creatures, so if you can pick up a few of those, I’m sure you’ll be able to turn your frown upside down (or at the very least let you rifle sullenly through your graveyard).
This is a tricky card to evaluate, so tricky I had to call in the big guns and get an opinion from Huey Jensen (I call him that because he’s been working out lately, not because of his Limited prowess). Huey said the card is probably great, and that confirms my thoughts. The reason the card is great (probably) is because of how powerful it is. It can deal 5+ damage to every creature and player for three mana, and even dealing 3 is a huge swing in the right situation.
The part that makes this card confusing is figuring out how often the situation will be the right one. The lucky thing is you have all the control, which is why I (and Huey, let me remind you) like the card. Arcbond can target any creature, so any time damage is going to be applied to a creature, you have the opportunity to make that damage go to everything. You know it’s coming, and can play to set it up, whether that means not playing creatures that will die to it, chump blocking a big creature to deal tons of damage, or chump attacking with a small creature to deal a small amount of damage.
Arcbond is a very swingy card, and getting it to do what you want is going to take a lot of maneuvering, but the rewards are there. I’d recommend taking this early to get practice with it, as you don't have many opportunities to play with rares, and the more you learn about cards like this the more well-versed you will be when it really matters.
Bathe in Dragonfire
This card is much easier to evaluate. It deals 4 damage. That is acceptable.
Remember when I said Canyon Lurkers is not a good look? This is a worse Canyon Lurkers until you put in the effort, and if you are the base-red deck that is putting in the effort, it’s unlikely that other people will be competing with you. A 5/2 first strike trample is a real threat, and in a deck with 4-5 of each spell type, this is a real card.
Break Through the Line
You need a lot of 2-power creatures to make this a consideration, and I am not in love with the idea of paying a red mana just to make them unblockable. The haste part isn’t going to come up a lot either, and overall this is not the kind of card you can just put into a deck and expect to have it do well. It may be the kind of card that once every 15 drafts ends up being the perfect finisher for your aggressive red deck, and the rating reflects that. A 1.0 that is usually a 0 but can sometimes be a 4.0 is a good thing to know about for when you do end up in the rare situation it is awesome (which in this case seems like a 2-color aggressive deck with 8+ creatures that this can target).
This is one of those burn spells that I’m going to try and convince you not to play, as the sacrifice is not worth the (discounted) cost. The only way I’m running this is if I have multiple cards like Act of Treason, at which point it’s a combo card more than a removal spell. It’s also a reasonable sideboard card if you are desperate for ways to kill fliers, though I wouldn’t ever be excited to be bringing it in. If you take one thing away from this, it’s that playing this in a random deck will damage your chances of victory every time you draw it.
In defiance of the rest of the cycle, this Ogre decided to be very mediocre instead of great. A six-mana 4/6 is not impressive, and there aren’t that many artifacts for this to destroy. It’s a fine sideboard card and a fine filler card, but that’s about it.
This is basically +1/+0 to all your attacking creatures, except lets you distribute that however you please, which is interesting. It also lets you use any leftover Mountains as well, and ultimately it’s less of a damaging card like Trumpet Blast and more of a way to make sure all the creature combat ends with your opponent’s creatures in the graveyard. It also can deal 5-6 damage to the opponent, making it a mix of a combat trick and a burn spell.
Decks that want cards like this would rather they be all-in, like Trumpet Blast, so I like this less, but it’s still a payoff card if you can assemble a large enough force. If you somehow have a bunch of first-strikers, this does get a little better, which is another thing to keep in mind.
A 4/4 for five is a little worse than the average creature, and I don’t think the chance of manifesting a creature makes this a lot better than that. It’s still a fine addition to any deck that needs a 5-drop, but it’s below replacement level for 5-drops, which puts it pretty far down on my list when drafting. Triggering prowess is nice, though decks that want prowess often have lots of misses, so it's give and take.
Dashing this into play leads to a pretty big combat swing, and is probably better than casting it if you have anything decent to copy. The dream is to copy something with an ETB effect, but even copying a 4/4 is a lot of damage, and this is exactly the kind of card that crushes an opponent on the back foot.
Of course, winning more is not really what you should look for in a card, but the dash is what makes this interesting, as it can represent 7 or 8 damage without too much setup, and that sort of surprise can swing games.
If your deck is creature-light, this gets worse, as it really needs to copy something good in order to justify itself, and I can imagine decks where this doesn’t make the cut.
Flamewake Phoenix is basically Sulfuric Vortex targeting your opponent. It just gets them for 2 every turn, and not even removal can stop that. Not every deck wants to attack, but the power level is high enough that if you see this early you should likely just take it and plan on attacking. Just make sure you have a couple 4-power creatures in order to bring this back if it somehow does die (or if you are really fancy, use this as sacrifice fodder).
Limited: 0.0 or 5.0, depending on how lucky you are
Welp, looks like Shahar is going to be World Champion again. Casting this card is not for the faint of heart, and I myself am probably not going to do a whole lot of it (what with the bad luck and all). Sometimes this deals 7 damage to them and kills their 5-drop, and sometimes it whiffs when you target a morph, and given how little information you tend to have, it’s just a huge gamble. You can control it a tiny bit with bounce and by waiting until the late game, but keeping lands in hand to foil this will be effective, and wary opponents are more likely to do so (especially ones named Will).
Unlike its chosen prey, this is not a card that will be cut very often. Any deck that wants to attack will be happy to play this on turn four or dash it out later in the game, and this kind of common will drastically affect how you should play when you are at a low life total. If you are at 5 and facing down a 2/2, leaving back multiple blockers will often be correct, especially if you saw multiple Heelcutters in the draft.
I love cards like this. On its face, it’s not fantastic, as it’s a mediocre rate 2-drop that has an ability that benefits both players. In the hands of someone willing to draft bounce spells and Refocus, it becomes a monstrous card-drawing machine. Guess which person I am in this little scenario.
Even if you have just one combo with it (Rite of Undoing being the best), this is still fine, as a 2/1 for 2 is at least passable, if not something I’m excited about. Once you have multiple combos things get pretty insane, and if I get two of these in my first couple cards, the sky is the limit.
I can sympathize with this Yeti, as I too get hungry in a flash. It’s mediocre in decks without the appropriate permanents, and becomes solid once it gains its ambushing text. There are a lot of nasty tricks in this format, and this may be one of the most brutal. It is unfortunate that ambushing a morph with mana open won’t always work out well, and that is part of what stops me from giving this a higher rating.
I never thought I’d see the day where I said a 5/5 flying haste Dragon for 5 was one of the worst commons, but I also never thought I’d see the day where such a card was a common to begin with. This actually makes sense to me as a common, but I still don’t think the card is powerful. It’s a Lava Axe that can be stopped by removal or flying blockers, and shuffling it back in barely changes anything compared to just going straight to the graveyard. If your deck doesn’t want Lava Axe, it doesn’t want this, and even if it does, it’s not a guarantee.
First strike is at least a plausible way to get through, and red is more aggressive than some of the other colors, so this gets a pass. I still don’t like it as much as flying, or even vigilance, but these Jeskai colors want this kind of effect more than most.
The cheap dash cost plus the cheap actual cost make me inclined to like this card, and the art certainly doesn’t hurt. I like dash cards that let me attack and play spells in the same turn, as they do plausibly enable raid, and 2 mana is very different from 3 in that regard. Casting this on turn two is pretty good, and later in the game it can serve as extra damage, which puts it ahead of cards like Alesha's Vanguard, which is worse on both ends.
You know what stacks incredibly well? Threaten effects, as each one is a 2-creature swing when it comes to combat (they lose one and you gain one). As such, a card that threatens to take multiple creatures at once is a card worthy of respect, even if you do have to build your deck such that you want Threatens to begin with. That means aggressive, and this is the perfect card to cap off an aggressive start.
There will be some boards where you can only take one creature, but those are made up for by the ones where you take three, and given the options you have it shouldn’t be impossible to end up doing the second more often.
Getting Chandra’s +0 every turn is worth almost a full card, especially the later the game gets (and given that you start at four mana, you are already pretty far along). That alone makes this card powerful, and there’s much more to it. If you choose Dragons, winning a grindy game seems like a nightmare for your opponent, though you do need to make sure you have the creatures necessary to make it good. Either way, this card is amazing, and you should grab it when you can.
It is true that there are formats where this is an unbeatable bomb, but it’s still great here. It shouldn’t be that hard to take out two creatures at most points in the game, and if you manage to snag three, you deserve fireworks in your honor.
A 4-mana 2/2 double strike is not super exciting, since it will end up trading for a 2/3 or 3/3 some amount of the time. That makes the base level of this card a step lower than the other forms, though like the other forms, if you hit an actual creature on the manifest, it’s amazing. Flipping up something with evasion or a 4/4 or bigger is very hard to stop, and the dream of that is what makes this good.
Shaman of the Great Hunt
In the tradition of Hellrider and Hero of Oxid Ridge, red gets another 4-drop that dominates if it comes out after a couple of early drops. Shaman of the Great Hunt is a strong card by itself, makes all your other creatures better, and even gives you a steady stream of cards in the late game. As long as this guy doesn’t find the Horn of Valere you are in good shape, and should win most games where you can play this in a timely fashion.
Shockingly, this is just about as good as the other Dragons in this cycle. Pinging their team for 1 is a decent bonus, though the fact that you have to first get a successful attack in does make it a lot less important than something like Noxious Dragon’s ability. If your 6-drop survives and attacks, that’s usually a decent sign on its own.
I’m not a big fan of 2-drops already, so don’t get me started on 2-drops with the special ability of punching you in the face when they die. Still, aggressive red decks want 2s and don’t care about the damage, so you can probably grab as many of these as you want (I sure won’t be taking them).
Temur Battle Rage
I don’t love combat tricks that require your creature to already be large, though that is mitigated somewhat by how much damage this can potentially do. It’s neat that trample is only on when you really would want it anyway, so that’s not as situational as it looks, and I can mostly see this being a finisher in a deck with a lot of big creatures (which isn’t a slot those decks need to always fill, to be clear).
While this is definitely not broken in Limited, it’s a 4/2 that gives you at least one loot, and has the ability to sneak in some hasty damage in the late game. That’s good enough for me, and I will play this almost every time.
The high rating may shock you, but 1-mana removal that kills morphs at instant speed is incredibly good. The damage prevention ability is basically flavor text and/or Constructed nonsense, but making plays like killing their morph end of turn two while on the draw or playing a morph and killing theirs on turn four is how you get ahead. Debilitating Injury is pretty good, and this is wildly better.
Top 5 Red Commons
Wow, red really took a bath when it comes to commons. Bathe in Dragonfire and Goblin Heelcutter are the only ones I would even consider taking early, and even then I’d do so somewhat begrudgingly. There are a lot of decent aggressive cards here, like cheap 4/1s and 3/1s and haste guys that make creatures unable to block, but that doesn’t make up for the very low overall power level. There are some great uncommons, which red does tend to get, so maybe red decks will be based on opening uncommons/rares or starting in other colors. That’s a strange spot to be in, but at least red is used to getting mediocre commons.
Remember, my Set Reviews go up at 11 a.m. EST, so check back at that time tomorrow for green.