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.
These cards are difficult to evaluate. It’s a temporary removal since the creature will be redrawn next turn. At least it’s not card disadvantage since you force your opponent to redraw the bounced creature instead of a new card. This is a good tempo play against big green creatures and it’s a good answer to an enchanted creature or as a way to reset a Renown creature. It can be fine in both aggressive and control decks so it’s a decent playable. It gets a lot worse if your opponent is swarming you with smaller creatures rather than playing a few large threats. Having this effect at instant speed would be a huge boost to its power level.
Artificer’s Epiphany – B-
An instant speed Divination is a pretty nice effect. Even if you don’t control an artifact, in the late game you’ll often be able to draw 2 and discard a land, which is almost like drawing 2 cards in many cases. If you have a spell heavy hand and need to hit land drops this will help accelerate you through your deck as long as you can make it to 3 mana. Card draw is always good to have in limited and instant speed card draw helps smooth out a deck nicely.
Aspiring Aeronaut – C-
This card is uninspiring. Getting a 2/3 flyer for 4 is OK, but spreading the power and toughness over two anemic bodies isn’t very exciting. The both get blocked very easily and don’t do a good job of blocking on their own. Unless 1/1 thopter artifact creatures are very important to a deck, I can’t see casting this very much.
Bone to Ash – C
This is pretty expensive for a counter spell. Most things you’ll want to counter in limited will be creatures, but certainly not everything will be. It’s hard to leave up 4 mana for multiple turns if you don’t have anything else to do with your mana at instant speed which gives your opponent the chance to play around this. It can see play as a 1-of in certain decks and could be a good sideboard card as an answer to an opponent who has a few good top end threats. This type of card gets a lot better in sealed where the games will be slower and your opponents will all be playing their bombs.
If you played Modern Masters 2015 you’ll recognize this as an overpriced Mana Leak. A deck that wants this will likely have enough spells to trigger spell mastery. The awkward tension is that in the early game you are less likely to trigger spell mastery, but in the late game these soft counter spells lose their effectiveness. I think the sweet spot for soft counters is costing 2-mana since it’s cheap enough to give you an early play or to leave up after casting another spell in the mid-game. Once you hit 3-mana you want to be progressing your own board so you’ll want lots of other ways to use your mana at instant speed in case your opponent doesn’t play anything you want to counter. Artificer’s Epiphany will be this card’s best friend.
Clash of Wills – C+
OK, that’s a lot of counter spells. As an X-spell, Clash of Wills scales as the game progresses. You can counter a 2-drop on the play or counter an expensive threat in the late game. It’s also easier to hide as holding up 2 mana still lets you play it as a Force Spike. It is worse than Calculated Dismissal at 3 mana, but that’s the price of being more flexible. I believe Clash of Wills is the best of the 3 counters we’ve seen so far.
Claustrophobia – B
Unconditional removal in blue is pretty hard to come by and this card is usually very good every time it is printed. The double blue is a commitment, but it’s worth it. Event though the enchanted creature won’t untap during the untap step, be aware that your opponent may have effects that can untap the creature at instant speed during combat.
Deep-Sea Terror – D
Six mana for a vanilla 6/6 already isn’t very unexciting. It has no evasion and no trample. Adding a drawback is not giving me much hope for its playability.
Disperse – B-
Cheap instant speed interaction is always desirable in limited. If there are a number of playable Auras (like Knightly Valor) then Disperse is a great tool to have available. It also plays very well against the Renown mechanic, resetting creatures if your opponents have invested resources in making them Renown.
Dreadwaters – F
Mill effects are rarely playable and this looks like no exception.
Faerie Miscreant – D-
This is a dangerous card. A 1/1 flyer for 1 mana isn’t very playable. A 1/1 flyer for 1 that encourages you to play other 1/1 flyers for 1 is dangerous. The chance of drawing multiple in limited isn’t very high to begin with and even if you do, you don’t get the benefit if your opponent kills your one in response to casting the second. If you do draw a card, it’s only one card to replace the two that you had to spend out of your hand. The 1/1 body isn’t enough to put your opponent under any real pressure and they can usually just ignore this card until they have a way to block it or they just race you.
Hydrolash – C-
Whenever a card has ‘draw a card’ printed on it I sit up and take notice. Ultimately, I think this is still just a sideboard card against decks that are trying to go wide or to blow out someone relying on a Trumpet Blast effective.
Jhessian Thief – B-
Having prowess makes this a pretty difficult creature to reliably block. The threat of drawing cards will put your opponent into a difficult position where they are forced to leave a creature back and hope you don’t have a removal spell. Even if you don’t have removal, they’ll be forced to block and hope you don’t have a way to pump it and eat their blocker.
Maritime Guard – C-
A defensive creature if you need 2-drops. Depending on the speed of the format, this may or may not be needed to get you to the late game. At the very least it’s always good to have a body or two like this in the sideboard to bring in against aggressive decks.
Negate – C-
Until proven otherwise I generally assume Negate is a sideboard only card. In some formats it can be worth of a spot in the main deck.
Nivix Barrier – C-
This is a pretty reasonable mid-combat play. An 0/4 can provide a surprise blocker against a lot of early threats. The -4/-0 is a pretty sizeable effect which will often allow you to gang block a larger threat without losing of your own creatures or at worst trading up one of your small creatures for a big threat on the other side of the table. That said, the 0/4 does nothing after this nifty little trick so I wouldn’t play it against anything other than an aggro deck that I need help surviving against.
Psychic Rebuttal – F
This is a pretty narrow effect. My opponent would have to have some pretty powerful, unique and hard to deal with spells in order for me to resort to playing this.
Ringwarden Owl – C+
A big flyer is usually worth a decent grade for 5 mana. The prowess ability can do a lot of work and makes it difficult to deal with in combat. That said, we have 4/4 flyers for 5 in the same set, so it’s not pushed but it’s a solid finisher. The card gets worse if there are a lot of common ways to deal with 3 toughness creatures.
Scrapskin Drake – B-
A 2/3 flyer for 3 is above the curve. It has a downside if you plan on blocking, but it can block other flyers pretty well. When you have a 2/3 flyer on turn 3 though, why are you worried about blocking anyway? This puts on a good evasive clock.
Screeching Skaab – C
Not a very high pick this is acceptable draft filler. Two power for two mana. It’s an OK 2-drop and will usually find a use to trade with something. If there’s a way to get value out of the self-mill then some decks might be more interested in it than others.
Send to Sleep – C+
If you can trigger the spell mastery on this then the rate is very good for the effect. For a deck with a lot of spells, this is a good way to generate tempo at a low cost. This isn’t a high pick since you don’t know if you even want it until you’ve already got a deck that wants the tempo and has a lot of spells to trigger the spell mastery. You should be able to pick one up late if your deck wants.
Separatist Voidmage – B-
Bouncing a creature is only a 1-mana effect which means you are paying 3-mana for a 2/2 body. That’s not exactly a great rate, but getting both in one spell is pretty nice. This is best when you can take advantage of the tempo by curving into it and using the bounce to enable good attacks.
Sigiled Starfish – C+
The Scryfish is a pretty nice 2-drop for a control deck looking to get value in the long game. It comes down early, blocks well and helps filter your draws to dig for the lands or spells you need.
Skaab Goliath – B+
A great finisher, it’s very hard to kill, can’t be chump blocked and attacks for a lot of damage. By the time you have 6 mana you will usually have some creatures in the graveyard. If you have this in your deck you have an incentive to trade creatures off early to enable the Zombie Giant if you draw him.
Sphinx’s Tutelage – D-
Nine mana is too much to draw a card. The mill effect is not going to win games of limited unless a specific mill archetype is supported (which doesn’t seem to be true in this format). The card may have actually been better if you could choose to mill yourself to enable your Skaab Goliath or other self-mill shenanigans. It could be a sideboard card against a very grindy open where you just want the late-game card advantage at any cost.
Stratus Walk – C-
This card was decent in its original printing, but that was mostly thanks to the Heroic mechanic that rewarded you for targeting your creatures. It cantrips, which helps quite a bit, but the fact that it doesn’t boost a creature’s stats means that I’m not interested. It can be OK in a green deck that can send a fatty to the air.
Tower Geist – B-
A 2/2 flyer is pretty good for 4-mana – we’re used to paying 3 mana for a 2/2 flyer anyway. Paying an extra mana for Wind Drake that cantrips and helps filter your deck is a great deal. Looking at the top two is even better than drawing a card because it lets you dig for whatever you’re looking for, whether that’s land or spells.
Turn to Frog – C-
This is a situational spell that can be used as pseudo-removal when played to win combat against a larger creature. However, you need to have a creature in play and that creature has to be able to interact with your opponent’s creature in combat. Also keep in mind that this only sets the base power and toughness which means that any +1/+1 counters or pumps in effect will still add to the base power and toughness.
Watercourser – C+
Threat of activation is key here. As a 2/3 you can attack into a pair of 2/2s. Your opponent is forced to double block and lose both creatures to the activation or declare no blocks and take as much damage as you’re willing to invest mana. On defense the Watercourses can trade up with anything at 4 toughness. The ability also gets much better if you can buff the Watercourser’s toughness.
Whirler Rogue – B
This could be a solid build around uncommon. On its own, it provides 4 power and 4 toughness at 4 mana spread across 3 bodies which can provide a lot of blockers in a key situation. Two power in the air is a decent evasive threat. To boot, the ability means you can tap the two Thopter tokens the turn you play it to get one of your other creatures in for damage so the card has pseudo-haste.
Blue looks like a control color in this set. Many of the creatures have defensive stats and there are a number of playable counterspells. Artificer’s Epiphany looks like an important tool to pair with holding up counter-spell mana. There is a wide selection of good flyers for win conditions and creatures to take advantage of a tempo gameplan. Disperse and Separatist Voidmage are great enablers for Jhessian Thief. I expect Disperse’s stock to be very high in this format in particular due to the renown mechanic.