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.
This guy is very hard to block. Normally the downside of a high power, low toughness creature is that it will trade with just about any creature thrown in front of it. Dealing 2 damage to each blocker means that it’s going to trade with a real card – either a removal spell or an x/3 will be needed to take this down.
Act of Treason – C
A good 1-of in an aggressive red deck to close out games. This is usually only desirable if you are all in on the aggressive game plan so most decks won’t want it. It does next to nothing if you’re not already ahead and is only good for dealing the last few points of damage. This effect always gets better if you have sac outlets to get additional value out of the effect.
Akroan Sergeant – C+
A 2/2 first strike for 3 is not bad, but getting it up to a 3/3 is a real threat. Even as a 2/2, first strike makes it a fine blocker in the early game.
Bellows Lizard – F
It pains me to see people play this card. It may look ilke it has an ability, but in reality this is a 1 mana 1/1, and that is very, very bad. If you ever spend a turn pumping mana into pumping this then you aren’t progressing your board. No matter how much mana you have to pump into the Lizard it will still trade with absolutely anything on the other side of the board. Just pass this along and hope your opponent plays it.
Boggart Brute – C+
Similar to Acolyte of the Inferno, it can be difficult to block this guy. The Boggart Brute is easier to take down , but forcing your opponent to double block does open up the opportunity to get value out of combat tricks.
Giving +3/+2 and trample is not a small effect. But an aura is still an aura, and it caries the risk of getting 2-for-1’d by removal or knocked off by bounce spells like any other aura. I will definitely lose to this sometimes since it does put on a very fast clock but I’m still hesitant to recommend it unless you have other enchantment synergies in your deck.
Chandra’s Fury – C-
Burn spells that only damage a player are not exactly what you’re looking for. This can be a good sideboard card against certain decks with a lot of x/1s. But even then, I’d only play it if I can take advantage of the 4 damage to the player as well, meaning I’d be more likely to consider it in an aggressive or tempo deck.
Cobblebrute – C
This is good filler for most decks. It does a ton of damage on an empty board so it’s great in conjunction with a pile of removal spells. It trades up with just about any big threat on the ground if you have to leave it back on defense. The 2 toughness ensure that it’s not a high pick however.
Demolish – F
I see no reason in this set to upgrade this from unplayable.
Dragon Fodder – C-
We’re used to drafting this as it is in the current draft format. It’s not a very powerful effect so unless you are able to take advantage of having lots of small creatures it’s just a filler 2-drop. These do provide good sacrifice fodder if that becomes relevant.
Entralling Victor – B-
Unlike Act of Treason which is usually used as a finisher, I can see this guy being used as a powerful mid-game tempo play. In the mid-game you are often faced with the choice of adding to your board or using a removal/combat trick to enable your attack for the turn. If your opponent tries to stop your early curve by playing a 2/3 you can play this as another aggressive threat and still get in a bunch of damage. Stealing a 2 powered creature isn’t going to do much to help end a game, but it will allow for some powerful turns as you’re developing.
Fiery Conclusion – C-
Sacrificing a creature is no small cost. One way to mitigate the cost is to use this to sacrifice a creature in response to an opponent’s removal spell. The ultimate combo is sacrificing a creature that you Act of Treason from your opponent, turning two situational cards into a lot of value.
Fiery Impulse – B-
Not too much to say here. A cheap removal spell will usually be a good pick. Not going to the face does make this worse than a typical burn spell. I can see side boarding it out in grindy match ups where the creatures you care about are usually bigger.
Firefiend Elemental – C-
It seems like this would be difficult to get in for a clean attack. By turn 4 your opponent is likely to have a 2 powered creature on defense to block. It’s a better top-deck in a race as it can provide a surprise attacker. Playable, but not great.
If UR artifacts is a deck then this can be playable as a way to close games outside of combat. But it’s not very powerful and it’s not wanted by many decks, if any, so it will be a late pick.
Ghirapur Gearcrafter – C+
Similar to Sandsteppe Outcast, which was already a good card, I think this effect is even better in red which generally has access to fewer flyers.
Goblin Glory Chaser – C-
One-drops are always such a risk in limited because you’re unlikely to draft enough of them to have a consistent deck. If played on turn 1 he can get some good damage since your opponent will have to have the time to play two creatures to block and not just one. He’s definitely strong if you can surround him with enough other cheap threats to reliably curve out in most games. We’ll just have to see if the support is there for that type of deck.
Infectious Bloodlust – D-
I don’t think I’d ever want one of these in my deck, never mind multiple.
Lightning Javelin – C+
This sure is a far cry from Lightning Bolt. They’ve pushed the limits of how much we’re willing to pay for a 3 damage burn spell and this may be the line for me. The scry is a nice bonus, but 3 damage at sorcery speed seems like a really bad rate. I’m crossing my fingers that the removal isn’t bad enough that I’ll have to settle for these but I’m afraid that these are still going to be good enough to play. During the course of my review I’ve reluctantly moved this all the way from a C- to a C+ because red just needs this effect and even thought it’s much worse than Lightning Bolt, I have to be realistic and rate this card in the context of modern Magic and not against the best red removal spell of all time.
Mage-Ring Bully – C+
Being forced to attack is a very real drawback, but this is not your average Valley Dasher. Having Prowess makes it very scary to block. The must attack ability might even be a hidden upside. It may look like you’re forced into chump-attacking, so your opponent is more likely to call your bluff giving you the opportunity to surprise them with combat tricks. I predict having a lot of trouble playing against this card and your opponents will too, especially early in the format.
Magmatic Insight – C
I would easily play one of these in any of my red decks. It’s one downside in comparison to Tormenting Voice is that it can’t be used early in a spell heavy hand to ensure that you hit your land drops. I’ve kept a number of 2 land, Tormenting Voice hands knowing that I could ditch a spell in order to churn through the deck looking for lands.
Prickleboar – C+
A 5/3 first strike is a very powerful attacker. It’s expensive for an aggressive red deck, but at the top of the curve this is very threatening. Sideboard it out against damage based removal but otherwise it’s a strong attacker. The downside of course is that it plays defense very poorly. If you aren’t sure that you are going to be the beatdown, you may want to leave this in the sideboard.
Ravaging Blaze – C
This is an expensive removal spell, but with enough mana it can kill just about anything. The lack of efficiency makes it a fairly low priority though. I think it’s more likely that it will be used as an X spell to kill opponents than it will be used to kill creatures. This is certainly one to be aware of against your red opponents so watch your life total.
This effect is desired by a lot of red decks. The problem I always have with playing spells that have this effect is that they are very situational. In the worst case here you can play a 4/4 for 5, but is totally fine. And it still has the upside of just killing your opponent out of nowhere on a clogged board.
Skyraker Giant – C
Summit Prowler was always a fine card and adding Reach certainly seems like a good deal.
Smash to Smithereens – D-
This is unlikely to be good. There are a number of artifact producers in the set, but I’m not sure yet if there will be enough individual artifacts that you’ll actually want to kill.
Subterranean Scout – C+
Two power for two mana is a good curve filler and this will help get in a couple extra damage on the turn you play it. Not an all-start, but certainly a good card.
Thopter Engineer – C
Getting two bodies, including a 1/1 flyer, is fine. Giving your artifacts haste probably won’t be relevant often, but I’ll have to wait until we get to the artifacts in the set to get a better feel for that.
Titan’s Strength – C
As pump spells go, this one has a high variance. It helps give your deck reach, but not giving much of a bonus to toughness means that it won’t often be used to save your creature in combat.
Volcanic Rambler – D+
This guy is big and expensive. It’s a fragile body for the price which means the ability has to pull a lot of weight. By the time you cast him you’ll have enough mana to activate the ability twice a turn, but even that’s a fairly slow clock if you haven’t already attacked your opponent pretty low.
Red seems pretty weak to me, but that could just be my personal bias against the color. Most of its creatures want to be aggressive so at least it is consistent. It looks like there is a glut of 3-drops and is lacking good 2-drops, so I’d prioritize good 2’s over 3’s when drafting. There are a couple of a cards that support an artifact theme, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a critical mass of those to support an archetype consistently. The red removal seems worse than normal and there aren’t any good tricks for winning combat so red’s cheap efficient creatures will need to be paired with another color to provide removal and combat tricks.