For limited, the commons and uncommons of a set drive the pace and archetypes of a format so I’ll be focusing my set reviews only on those cards. The rares and mythics are splashy and exciting complements to the format, but they don’t come up often enough to drive the direction of the format. The rares may be dessert, but the commons and uncommons are the meat and potatoes of any limited format.
The Grading Scale
I’ll be following a convention similar to popular limited set reviews from the Limited Resources podcast, Channel Fireball and other set review articles.
A – A limited bomb. You won’t see an A in every draft, but it’s an easy first pick if you do. If you get passed one you’ll take it as a sign that the color is almost certainly open. You may even warp your deck building to try to play it. Very few of these are ever available in the common/uncommon slots.
B – A high pick and above replacement-level card. Seeing this is an incentive to be in a certain color or archetype. Get passed a card in this category is a signal that a color may be open, but the signal will need to be confirmed by future packs.
C – A playable card but mostly filler. Most of your deck will be comprised of cards in this category. They aren’t signals to move into a particular color or archetype, but they are decent playables to fill out the rest of your deck.
D – Below average cards. These are cards that I would expect not to play in most decks but I might have to resort to if I can’t find enough playables. Some of these are very situational cards that may be playable in some deck builds but aren’t powerful enough in general.
F – The best way to get value out of these is to pass them in favor of a basic land and hope that your opponent puts them in their deck.
Multi-colored spells are often more powerful because they are harder to cast. This means they reward you if you can play them, but they are risky to pick early in a draft because you don’t know if those colors will be open for you. Draft pick orders aside, multi-colored spells are often used as guideposts by WotC R&D to help lead players toward certain draft strategies for each color pair. Paying attention to the multi-colored cards can give you hints at each color pair archetype and give you context for evaluating the other cards in the colors.
Blazing Hellhound – B-
A 4/3 for 4-mana is totally fine but not exciting. The ability serves at least 4 purposes: sacrifice outlet, incidental value when a creature is about to die, reach against the opponent’s life total and a way to interact with your opponents creatures (at a steep cost). This much flexibility with a cheap activation cost adds quite a bit of value to an already playable creature.
Blood-Cursed Knight – B-
A 3/2 for 3-mana is already fine. The ability gives a meaningful incentive to play enchantments. I would expect to play this in most of my BW decks even without a way to turn it on. And I wouldn’t play any enchantments just because this is in my deck. But the upside is powerful if you have some playable enchantments in your draft pool.
Bounding Krasis – B
This is a very good tempo card. A 3/3 body for 3-mana at instant speed is above the curve. There are lots of great tricks the ETB effect enables. Just the tempo of tapping down a potential attacker or potential blocker for a turn is good. Untapping your fatty and presenting two surprise blockers may be even better. The synergy with the counter spell suite available in blue, particularly Calculated Dismissal, could be the start of a good core to a tempo UG deck.
Citadel Castellan – C+
Like all Renown creatures, once triggered this is a very good value. If you can’t get it to connect then the rate is below the curve. The rewards are there because if you can hit once a 4/5 vigilance is not a small threat.
Iroas’s Champion – B-
Double strikers are so scary to block. A 3-drop that hits for 4 and has two toughness is a pretty good deal. Any pump spell threatens to do a ton of a damage so your opponent is forced to choose between throwing creatures under the bus every turn or risk taking a ton of damage to the face. This is an aggressive card and will be very good in a color pair that usually wants to be attacking early and often. The turn you play her, she’s also a pretty good blocker.
Possessed Skaab – C+
You get some good value out of this card in a grindy game, but nothing it does is very powerful. The body is small, the effect is good, but you have to have a deck that can take advantage of these kind of value engines in a long game. This is a role player in a deck that’s already built to survive and win the long game. This is a decent card but certainly not an early pick or even an incentive to go into these colors.
This one is pretty narrow. A 2/3 haste for 4 really isn’t up to par. At a minimum you’ll want to deal 2-3 damage with it’s ETB effect. This will have to be in a very artifact/thopter heavy deck to have a good impact which means you won’t want to pick this up in a draft until you’ve seen that the colors are open and you’ve got the support cards to make it work. In the right deck it will be powerful, but most decks won’t want it.
Shaman of the Pack – B-
As I’ve said before, a 3/2 for 3-mana is already fine. The ability is all upside and it benefits from any other Elf synergies your deck might have. Even though this reads as an Elf card don’t forget that it will be fine in basically any green-black deck.
Another blue flash creature that will go well with the blue counter spells that we’ve seen earlier. Blue-white is typically the color of flyers so the anthem effect will be put to good use here. This can turn any thopter tokens into formidable threats. As a 2/3 flyer it’s a little small but already a fine threat on its own. The 3 toughness means you may often get to flash it in and pick off a small attacker for some extra value if you want to risk it in combat. This is a very solid card that doesn’t require any particular deck-building synergies to be effective.
At 4-mana you can expect to have a 4/4 which is great. The fact that he gets bigger as the game goes on is gravy. He’s vanilla, but he’s a very good rate for a vanilla creature which is generally what red-green wants to see.
The strength of each of these cards will have to be adjusted based on the strengths of the individual color pairs they belong to. Just on power level of the individual cards I believe the best 3 are: Shaman of the Pack, Thunderclap Wyvern and Zendikar Incarnate. I think the worst 3 are: Citadel Castellan, Reclusive Artificer, Possessed Skaab.
Alchemist’s Vial – F
This does have the magic words ‘Draw a card’ on it. However, it doesn’t really do anything else. This could only be playable if an archetype demands having a critical number of artifacts in it to turn on other artifact-matters cards.
Angel’s Tomb – C-
This is a really tough one for me. A 3/3 flyer for 3 is clearly way above the average rate. It does dodge sorcery speed removal. However, the drawbacks: it can’t block under normal circumstances, you have to play a creature every turn to turn it on. This is great in your opening hand as you can play it on curve and then you’ll likely be playing out creatures for a few turns as you develop your board. Once you run out of gas or if you go into top deck mode this card can easily do nothing though.
If you play this in a low-curve aggro deck, you’ll empty your hand of creatures pretty early and be left hoping for creature topdecks. If you play this in a midrange or control deck being unable to play defense is a huge downside. It’s tempting because of the rate, but the dependence on having a steady stream of other creatures to play makes me want to give this a low grade.
Bonded Construct – D-
The rate here is good but being unable to attack alone usually means that you’ll have to wait until turn 3 to start swinging with this. The power of a 1-drop comes in being able to start attacking from turn 2 before the opponent’s defenses get set up, which this can’t do. And if your opponent kills your second creature you and your Bonded Construct will be very sad.
Brawler’s Plate – D-
An equip rate of 4 is just too expensive. Getting +2/+2 and trample are decent bonuses, but it’s just way too costly to move around and punishes you for getting your equipped creature interacted with in any way (removed, bounced, tapped).
Chief of the Foundry – C+
This fills a curve with an easy to cast 3-drop and the bonus can be very good upside in some decks. Obviously strong in the thopter decks, it’s a fine blocker regardless so I could see putting this in other decks with fewer synergies. Picking colorless cards early if the pick is close is always a good hedge since you can play it no matter what colors you end up.
A colorless 4/4 flyer is nothing to sneeze at. It’s not exciting, but it’s a finisher if your deck is lacking on a way to end the game.
Being easy to cast and the incidental life gain could fill a hole in the middle of the curve for a control deck looking to survive to the late game. If you aren’t looking to survive to cast 6 and 7 drops I doubt you want this though.
It’s a good blocker, but unfortunately that’s all it does. Unless this fills a specific hole in your deck this should be relegated to the sideboard and brought in against big ground pounders.
Jayemdae Tome – D
At 8-mana to draw your first card, the format would have to be pretty warped for this to be a high pick. At first glance I expect the format to be too fast for this to be good. Maybe this will have a home in sealed.
Meteorite – D
There isn’t much fixing in this set, so if you’re desperate for it you might want this. It’s expensive so it doesn’t usually have a home.
Prism Ring – F
It’s a trap! Even if you gain 6 or 7 life off of this in a game it’s just not worth spending a card on it.
Ramroller – D+
You really want to have a lot of artifacts before you play this. A 2/3 will get eaten alive if you can’t turn on the +2/+0. If you can, however, a 4/3 attacker is pretty strong.
Runed Servitor – C
A good way to fill out your curve it gets bonus points if your deck is looking to increase it’s count of playable artifacts. Any deck will play it though if you need a 2-drop.
Sigil of Valor – C
This is getting cheap enough as an equipment that I’m starting to be interested. It does ask that your deck be built in a certain way to take advantage of it so it won’t be good all the time. If you have a token strategy or can equip this to a flyer during a ground stall you will be happy. I’ll be interested to try this is certain decks.
Throwing Knife – D
Granting no bonus to toughness is the biggest downside here. It does make any creature more threatening but it will still probably trade with just about anything your opponent has. While you’re spending mana to equip and trade they are free to develop their board. The second ability is probably the most useful but I’d rather not play it as a 4-mana Shock.
Getting +1/+1 just isn’t big enough incentive for me to want this.
War Horn – D
An anthem effect that only pumps attackers really narrows the decks that want this. Again, not pumping toughness is a big downside. One of the benefits of a card like Trumpet Blast is the surprise factor, which this will not have. It’s too situational and only adding +1 power isn’t that strong unless you can reliably create an army of thopters.
Any time you can get value out of your land slots you’re doing pretty well. If you have a lot of cards with restrictive mana costs I wouldn’t recommend running this colorless land, but otherwise I think most decks would like having this value land. You don’t need to be a thopter deck to appreciate two 1/1 flyers.
Rogue’s Passage – C+
Not an early pick, this does give you inevitability and a way to break through board stalls. Depending on your deck’s mana requirements you may want to add this as an 18th land, taking the slot of a spell rather than the slot of a colored mana source.
Storage lands are pretty cool, but only being able to generate colorless mana seems pretty narrow. You’d have to have a lot of mana sinks for this to do much of anything. Most of the time you’d probably rather have a colored mana source to cast your spells. If you don’t have many 2-drops in your deck this can be a reasonable way to spend mana early in the game and help ramp out some bigger spells.
Evolving Wilds – C+
There is not much fixing in this set so Evolving Wilds may be in high demand. You are usually happy to play one in your 2-color decks for the fixing. If you are planning to attempt a splash in this format you may need to prioritize Evolving Wilds pretty highly.