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.
Now on to the first color from Magic Origins!
Akroan Jailer – D
I tend to overvalue tappers since they are pseudo-removal, but I think I’ve learned my lesson by now. The 1/1 body is too small to be relevant and the 3-mana activation is very expensive. If the format is slow enough and white needs the removal, I could see this being good enough.
Ampryn Tactician – C+
As a 4-mana 3/3 this is a reasonable but unimpressive body with a more restrictive mana cost. The Tactician may have a home in aggressive decks looking to curve into this and could be actively good if there is a token strategy in white. I think he’ll have extra value in this set as a way to push through Renown creatures to force trades or trigger the Renown ability.
A 1/1 for 1 has to have a pretty good upside for me to want to play it. On-board tricks are something R&D tends not to print anymore because they want to reduce board complexity. It may catch a careless opponent off-guard but and +1/+1 can be relevant in combat. The fact that it can only pump attacking creatures is a definite downside. It’s nice that the activation is free and cards with threat of activation are always nice, but this effect seems too small to be worth it. As 1-mana 1/1s go, I’d probably rather have the Akroan Jailer since the effect is more powerful and can be used on offense or defense.
Auramancer – C
Auramancer has always been a decent value. A 2/2 for 3 is a fine rate. Its value will depend on the auras available in the rest of the set. For example, in M14, this card’s stock went up due to Quag Sickness which enabled Auromancer to recur a permanent based removal spell. The presence of Auramancer also lets you play with creature auras a little more freely. The threat of being 2-for-1’d when your creature + aura get hit by removal is mitigated when you can get the enchantment back later.
Aven Battle Priest – D-
Paying 6 for a 3/3 flyer is a pretty bad rate, so I expect some decent upside with the ETB ability. Unfortunately a free Healing Salve isn’t exactly a good payoff. Evasion is evasion, but hopefully you can find better places to spend for your 6-mana.
Blessed Spirits – B-
Wind Drakes are already great. This one has upside that lets you get value off of casting an enchantment regardless of whether the spells resolves or not. Between this and Auramancer it’s starting to look like there may be a decent incentive to put enchantments in your white decks.
Celestial Flare – B
A solid removal spell but with a restrictive casting cost. It’s situational but in a board state where your opponent may only have one good attacker or one good blocker, this can get their best creature off the board. Conversely, when you are attacking or blocking and your opponent has double white available you may want to play around this by getting other creatures involved in combat. However, remember how this spell interacts with the end of combat phase. Once combat damage has been dealt, attacking creatures are still considered attackers and blocking creatures are still considered blockers. If your opponent attack with two things, you can trade with their 2/2 in combat and at the end of combat you can cast Celestial Flare to kill their remaining creature. You will take a hit from it to do this, but it may be the only way you can get a hard to deal with threat off the board.
Charging Griffin – C+
A decent evasive threat, the Griffin rewards attacking. Any deck will play it, but it’s at its best in decks that are looking to be on the offensive.
Cleric of the Forward Order – C
Two mana 2/2 are about as basic as they come and are totally serviceable creatures. Any life gain is a small bonus but not necessary to make this card playable. Even if you have one or two of these already in your draft pile, don’t over-value additional copies thinking that you are combo-ing off with the additional life gain.
A 2-powered first-strike for 2 mana is a good deal, but the casting cost is prohibitive. You’ll have to be heavy white to reliably cast this early and it gets much worse if you can’t cast it on time. If near mono-colored decks are viable then this creature has a good body at a good rate. Being able to connect to once to trigger the Renown ability does mean that you once get ahead it will help keep you ahead.
Enlightened Ascetic – D-
Another 1/1 body, but this time we get to pay 2 mana. It would have to be a very enchantment heavy format for this card to see main deck play. That said, a number of white cards already indicate an enchantment-matters theme, so this card’s value may go up.
Enshrouding Mist – C+
For 1 mana this spell does do quite a bit. First, it’s an instant. A +1/+1 can help win combat, but even if it doesn’t make your creature large enough to trade with your opponent then prevent all damage clause ensures that at least your creature lives. This can let you alpha strike and save the creature your opponent blocks. Used on defense it can prevent some damage and keeps your creature around to attack on the backswing which helps a lot in a race. The prevent damage clause can also be used outside of combat as a counter to damage-based removal spells. And we haven’t mentioned the bonus upside of using this on a renown creature to surprise your opponent by untapping a creature mid-combat. It’s hard to ask for more out of a 1-mana spell.
Finally, our first enchantment. I’m always shy to slap auras on a creature but this one does have a good effect for an aggressive deck. A permanent +1/+1 is relevant (the fact that it pumps toughness is a big help) and being able to tap down a blocker every turn will really help get in for damage. At 2 mana the effect is reasonably costed and I can see curving 2-mana creature, 3-mana creature into Hieromancer plus another 2-mana creature giving a lot of decks trouble.
Healing Hands – F
Sorcery speed life gain. No thanks. Yes, it cantrips, but you should just put a better card in your deck rather than spend 3 mana to cycle a bad one.
Heavy Infantry – C-
Siege Mastodon was never an exciting card and this guy has 1 less toughness. The tap effect again favors building an aggressive white deck, but even then I think I’d rather just have more threats lower on the curve. If you need ways to get damage through, it’s fine filler, but not a high pick as you probably don’t want too many 5-drops in your aggro deck.
Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road – C+
Three power for 3 mana is a fine deal. If you can play this on curve and get in for damage, a 4/3 for 3 is a downright bargain.
Knightly Valor – B-
Now here’s an enchantment that’s worth 5 mana. This card was originally printed at common, so it’s promotion to uncommon should give you an idea of how impressive it was. A +2/+2 is a very sizeable bonus and granting vigilance means that your opponent has to go through your giant creature one way or another. Even if your enchanted creature gets killed you’ll still get a 2/2 with vigilance for your troubles (as long as your spell resolved). If they don’t deal with your guy then you have a huge creature and if they do you’ve still got a 2/2 vigilance and a great target for your Auramancer.
Being a sorcery is a major downside for any pump spell. The vigilance is a nice bonus if you can trigger it but only granting +1 toughness means that your opponent will often be able to trade with a lot of your creatures anyway. Add to his a double-white mana cost and I don’t think the card is very good. Similar to Ampryn Tactician, it gets a lot better if there is a token strategy available.
Mighty Leap – C
This is a generically reasonable pump spell. Instead speed. Pumps power and toughness. Only 2 mana. Granting flying is the big upside here as a surprise evasive threat can win a game when your opponent doesn’t see it coming. If you’re in the market for a combat trick, this one will do just fine.
Murder Investigation – D-
Paying 2 mana for an aura that doesn’t affect the board is a pretty tough sell. Sure you can do some cute things by recurring this with Auramancer, but it’s really not worth the trouble.
A 4/4 flyer for 5 is a great deal. If you ever trigger the ability you’ll be ecstatic to get the extra value, but it’s not needed. Any Renown creatures will be happy to see the Patron fighting by their side.
Sentinel of the Eternal Watch – B+
Wow, this card does wonders to stabilize the board. She effectively removes their best threat plus she provides a 4/6 body to handle the rest of their team. The vigilance means that while she’s tapping down your opponents best creature and holding back their team she can still get in for damage. The first real control card for white sure is a good one.
Stalwart Aven – C
Flying makes it much more likely that you’ll be able to trigger Renown and a 2/4 flyer for 3 is very good. If the format is aggressive, a 1/3 blocker that can turn into an evasive threat could play a key role in control decks.
Well, a 4-mana Arrest is still an Arrest, I suppose. Removal continues to get more clunky but it still does the job. This can hit non-creatures if that becomes relevant but mostly will be used as a removal spell. Unconditional removal in white is always good to have and hard to come by.
Swift Reckoning – B
Even at sorcery speed 2 mana is pretty good for a removal spell. The creatures you care about killing will probably be tapped from attacking you anyway. This spell is worse in an aggro deck because it can’t kill blockers to clear the way for an attack. This effect is great in a control deck that is OK with using its life total as a resource and it’s cheap enough that you can cast a removal spell on an attacking creature and have enough mana to play a second spell.
Topan Freeblade – C+
The Freeblade easily passes the vanilla test as just a 2/2 for 2 mana. Having vigilance and renown means that your opponent is going to be forced to block it since it will only get bigger and be available to block each turn. If they can’t trade with this right away you’re going to get a lot of value out of your 2 mana.
A reasonable defensive body and card advantage is what you get here for 5 mana. The card isn’t very good unless you have a reason to be searching up Auras, but once you have a Knightly Valor or a Suppression Bonds in your stack I think this guy becomes very playable.
Valor in Akros – D-
This doesn’t affect the board the turn it comes into play. Normally you would expect white to get a permanent anthem effect (+1/+1 to your team) but for 4-mana you get nothing unless you can trigger it each turn. If you are trying to kill your opponent, the last thing you want to do is spend 4 mana for no real effect and give them a free turn to stabilize. If you can trigger this multiple times in a turn, maybe there’s some hidden ‘combo’ potential, but I doubt it.
War Oracle – C+
Four mana for a 3/3 lifelink isn’t the greatest deal but it’s not the worst. Like many of the Renown creatures, if you can trigger the ability it becomes a very good deal. Even if you don’t, 3 power will be enough to trade for a lot of your opponents creatures and the lifelink will help stabilize you in a race.
Yoked Ox – D
The Ox is very good at blocking early in the game. Unfortunately it’s too 1-dimensional to deserve a slot in most decks and is best left in the sideboard unless you really need some early interaction against an aggressive deck.
White looks like an aggressive color with a lot of cheap creatures and a lot of cards that give incentives for attacking. There are some enchantment matters cards, so keep an eye out for enchantments in other colors that pair well with white. The combat tricks available aren’t great. The removal is situational and often conflicts with the aggressive creatures (Celestial Flare and Swift Reckoning are better on defense) which suggests that an aggressive white deck will want to get paired with another color that can provide removal or combat tricks to get damage through.
A white control deck is possible with a shell of Stalwart Avens, Sentinel of the Eternal Watch, Patron of the Valiant and a decent removal suite. However, the power cards for such a deck come from the Uncommon slot which means this is likely to be the exception and not the norm.