Thursday, July 21, 2011

Of Limited Interest #32.4 - Number Crunch (Part 4)

Editor's Note continued from (insert link here):

Green Rares and Mythics:
  1. Garruk, Primal Hunter
  2. Primordial Hydra
  3. Primeval Titan
  4. Arachnus Spider
  5. Skinshifter
  6. Garruk's Horde
  7. Dungrove Elder *+
  8. Birds of Paradise
  9. Elvish Archdruid
  10. Rites of Flourishing
  11. Doubling Chant
Analysis: Let's get this out of the way right now; Garruk 2.0 is absolutely bonkers and I have no problem stating that opening him in pack 1 is pretty much the only reason I would ever force Green here in M12.  What's more I'm pretty confident that a deck with Garruk would be an odds-on favorite to win said draft despite being forced to include a bunch of crummy Green cards just to support the Primal Hunter.  When a card spits out 3/3 Beasts while *increasing* it's survivability, can draw you an entire new hand and comes with a game ending ultimate ability; only a fool would ignore it just because he didn't like playing Green.  Unfortunately after Garruk there's a steep drop off in terms of card quality and 5 of the next 6 cards are various incarnations of your typical "big green monster".  Of these cards Primordial Hydra is probably the most powerful; investing as little as 5 mana when you cast the Hyrdra will produce a 12/12 Trampling "thumper" only 2 upkeep phases later.  Keeping the Hydra alive until he's too big to be killed remains an issue but the potential to end games so quickly makes that a pretty nice issue to have.  As mentioned in the previous half of this article I'm not the world's biggest Primeval Titan fan in M12 Limited and to be perfectly honest I struggled mightily with the decision to rank it ahead of Arachnus Spider on this list.  Ultimately I decided that 6 Power and the word Trample made the Primeval the more powerful card but I could hardly fault someone for choosing the Spider over the Giant if the circumstances warranted; say for example you've already drafted 2 or more copies of Arachnus Web.  At this point I should mention that I think Dungrove Elder is pretty overrated here in M12 Limited; he's a good but not great card in a deck with 11 or so Forests but the very nature of the format makes you want to run 8 or less Forests as often as possible.  While I'll concede that Hexproof is a nice ability for a card that keeps growing as you play lands, Trample or Flying would have been far more relevant in M12 Limited.  I'm sure someone out there will win an entire draft on the back of this card eventually but that someone isn't going to be me because I refuse to tolerate the downside of having to run a pile of Forests to make this guy good.    

Artifacts and Land Common/Uncommons: 
  1. Crown of Empires
  2. Swiftwood Boots *-
  3. Manalith
  4. Scepter of Empires *-
  5. Greatsword *+
  6. Crumbling Colossus
  7. Rusted Sentinel
  8. Thran Golem *-
  9. Buried Ruin
  10. Elixir of Immortality
  11. Kite Shield
  12. Dragon's Claw
  13. Angel's Feather
  14. Demon's Horn
  15. Kraken's Eye
  16. Wurm's Tooth
Analysis: After playing 9 months + worth of Scars of Mirrodin drafts it's only natural that M12's allotment of Artifacts would seem stale and boring by comparison.  The best card here is probably Crown of Empires, aka the "pricey Icy"; although you wouldn't know that based on how late I've seen it hanging around in packs so far in M12 drafts.  While many people will argue that a 2 mana tap effect is "too costly" for such a fast format this argument is apparently based on the idea that the Crown's controller is a robot who's been programed to activate the Crown every single turn, no matter what.  Naturally of course a smarter player operating under his own free will can simply choose to cast or activate the Crown only *after* hes played some early creatures; such a player would then gain a tremendous advantage from tapping down his opponent's best creature each turn in a format with very little artifact destruction as a whole.  In terms of variance there's only a few cards to talk about in this section; Swiftwood Boots is good for protecting key creatures and is typically only as good as the card that's wearing it, Scepter of Empires is pretty solid in a Bloodthirst deck but is otherwise fairly mediocre and Greatsword goes from "excellent" in a deck with lots of flyers/evasive creatures to "a worthless hunk of junk" in a slower ground-based build.  Finally I should point out that the rating on Thran Golem actually assumes you are running at least 3-4 stat boosting Auras in your deck to "pump him up".  Unfortunately the downside to this assumption is that to make a single Thran Golem awesome you're forced to run 3-4 of the worst cards in the format; thus the "marginal" rating.

Artifacts and Land Rares/Mythics:
  1. Pentavus
  2. Druidic Satchel
  3. Solemn Simulacrum
  4. Quicksilver Amulet
  5. Throne of Empires
  6. Glacial Fortress
  7. Dragonskull Summitt
  8. Drowned Catacombs
  9. Adaptive Automaton
  10. Rootbound Crag
  11. Sunpetal Grove
  12. Worldslayer
  13. Sundial of the Infinite 
Analysis: Despite being fairly slow and somewhat awkward to use properly, Pentavus is actually a very powerful card in Limited.  Typically the best way to use it is to cast the Pentavus and then remove up to 4 of its +1+1 counters to create a bunch of 1/1 flying Pentavites as soon as possible.  Assuming you can leave enough mana up it becomes virtually impossible for your opponent to actually kill the Pentavites; as soon as he targets or engages one in combat you simply pay 1 to reabsorb it into the Pentavus.  Naturally a smart opponent will eventually decided to kill the Pentavus but unless he does so right away or in response to you tapping out, you will still be left with 4-5 flying weenies for your trouble.  Unfortunately the mana involved in taking proper advantage of a Pentavus is astronomical; which is why it's only rated as a "very good" card rather than a true game winning bomb.  Coming in behind the Pentavus is easily the most interesting artifact/land in the entire set; Druidic Satchel.  While on first pass I was tempted to write this card off as "another way to waste a lot of mana while revealing the top card of my deck" I eventually realized that not only was the Satchel a real card; it was actually pretty good in M12 draft.  The key here is that the Satchel always does *something* positive for you no matter what kind of card you reveal.  Sure the random factor can be a little annoying and I'm not always thrilled about saving 2 mana until my opponent's end step each turn but for the most part the reward is worth the investment and given enough time repeatedly activating a Satchel will help you grind out wins you would not otherwise achieve.  Rounding out the list of "very good but not great" artifacts here in M12 is Solemn Simulacrum; any card that can help you fix your land and eventually let you draw a card is going to be good in Limited but his 2/2 body for 4 mana really isn't going to help you much on the battlefield.  In other words "Sad Robot" is a pretty boring pick unless you're running a 3 color deck but he's a solid card you will rarely regret adding to your pile if the price is right.  Quicksilver Amulet is a pretty weird card here in M12 because most players either badly overrate it or badly underestimate it in my experience. Simply put drafting an Amulet and then loading up your deck with a bunch of incredibly expensive creatures to combo with it is a pretty terrible idea; mostly because if you fail to draw the Amulet or your opponent destroys it you'll end up with a hand of completely uncastable fatties.  On the other hand giving one creature in your hand per cycle Flash and thus the ability to ambush enemy creatures in combat or fake "Haste" is actually pretty powerful.  If those creatures happen to cost more than 4 mana so much the better but the idea here is to use the Amulet to milk extra combat tricks out of your monsters more than to save a lot of mana while casting your creatures. As an unrelated side note I should mention that the rating for Throne of Empires is based entirely on it's own ability to affect games in M12 Limited; making a 1/1 man every turn for 1 mana is a pretty sweet deal once you past the initial 4 casting cost.  I honestly have yet to see someone put 2/3's of the "Empires" combo into play at the same time so it's difficult for me to speculate just how good these cards are as part of the combo; I would imagine the answer is "very good" but requiring 3 separate permanents that all do different things in the play at the exact same isn't exactly easy.  I have my doubts that I'll see this "combo" very often in the format.         

Well that was certainly epic wasn't it folks?  When I sat down to write the second half of this article on Sunday morning I was pretty sure it was going to be a piece of cake; post some lists, add some pictures and talk a little bit about why your rankings may be different than other peoples.  How hard could this possibly be?  Naturally of course I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into; 2 computer crashes, 3 blisteringly hot days trapped in front of a keyboard and roughly 10 thousand words later I can safely say that the answer is "very very hard indeed".  Thankfully at the end of the process I feel confident that it was worth the effort involved and it is my hope that by providing a detailed look into how I pick cards here in M12 I can help less experienced drafters "get more" out of the experience the next time they crack some packs and "get their draft on".  As always I'd like to thank those of you who made it this far for reading and I promise not to make a habit of writing long articles full of charts and numbers in the future; it was painful enough this time!  Until next time then gang always remember that passing a Mind Control is a great way to lose drafts; keep it weird but don't ship your opponents "the nuts" in the name of doing so.

Of Limited Interest #32.3 Number Crunch: M12 Pick Rankings by Color and Commonaltiy (Part 3)

Editor's note this is a continuation of (insert link here).

Red Rares and Mythics: 
  1. Inferno Titan
  2. Flameblast Dragon
  3. Chandra, the Firebrand *+
  4. Grim Lavamancer
  5. Furyborn Hellkite
  6. Chandra's Phoenix
  7. Goblin Chieftain *-
  8. Warstorm Surge
  9. Reverberate
  10. Manabarbs
  11. Scrambleverse
Analysis: As previously mentioned I think Inferno is at worst the 2nd best Titan in M12 Limited and even then my preference for Grave Titan comes primarily from preferring control-ish builds to crash and burn decks.  Regardless of how "Flaming Man" compares to other Titans however he's easily the best Red card in the entire set and as such should be a snap 1st pick every time you open him.  While it's certainly no surprise that a Titan tops this list, I expect a slightly stronger reaction to my choice for 2nd; Flameblast Dragon.  Look we've already established that 5/5 Flyers are disgusting in this format primarily because they are very hard to engage in combat or kill with a single card.  We've also already established that you don't want to be passing premium removal spells here in M12 and that Fireball is in fact one of these spells.  Putting 2 and 2 together is it really so far fetched to suggest that a 5/5 Flyer with a built-in reusable Fireball is a ridiculous card in this format?  I would have no trouble whatsoever slamming Flameblast Dragon into my pile out of a mythical pack that had both it and a Chandra inside; assuming I was playing to win and not to build my collection that is.  Speaking of Chandra I'd like to note that I've now actually opened her in a draft and despite not being the absolute *best* Planeswalker in the format she's hardly the steaming pile of garbage many people have suggested her to be.  While it's certainly true that 1 damage per turn to a single target isn't exactly "earth shattering", doing 6 damage to up to 6 targets all at once most certainly is.  What's more her -2 "Fork" ability is literally incredible when combined with the right spells; when I drafted her my deck also contained an Incinerate, 2 Chandra's Outrages and a Divination as potential game-breaking "Fork" targets.  The downside of course is that she's much harder to protect than the other Planeswalkers in M12 and without 1 toughness targets or interesting cards to copy she can be kinda useless until you hit 6 Loyalty, which is why she only comes in at 3rd on this list. Coming in just outside of the top tier is fan favorite Grim Lavamancer and a couple of Flyers that serve very different roles.  Repeatable burn effects are "some good" in Limited which makes the Lavamancer a legitimate early pick despite his fragile 1/1 body and occasionally awkward activation cost.  Furyborn Hellkite however is pretty much all about the beats; hit your opponent, cast a 12/12 Dragon and wait for your next combat step.  If your opponent doesn't kill the Dragon before it hits him you've probably just won the game.  On the opposite end of the scale is Chandra's Phoenix; mostly at home in a quick aggressive build this "firechicken" provides added value if you have a reasonable number of burn spells to throw at your opponent's "dome".  This can be harder than it looks because in many cases wasting a Shock or Incinerate on your opponent's life total instead of his creatures will be a sub-optimal play even if you do get the Phoenix back from the graveyard.  Of course you could just fry your opponent's critters out with Chandra's Outrage and accomplish both goals but I wouldn't want to suggest that the set designers for M12 wanted you to play these cards together or anything. :)  The only other cards worth mentioning here are Goblin Chieftain and Warstorm Surge.  Like all tribal "Lords" the Chieftain is a pretty mediocre card on his own but gains a reasonable amount of value when combined with 5-7 other Goblins; just don't build your whole deck around him because it's still surprisingly easy to kill a 2/2 Gobo even if he is "kind of a big deal" in his tribe.  Finally I suppose I should mention that while it's not a strategy I am likely to be pursuing here in M12, Warstorm Surge isn't as bad a card as it looks and in a pinch can serve as a "bomb-like substance" in a deck with a reasonable amount of 3-5 power beaters.  I'm certainly not recommending that you slam Surge 1st pick and try to build your deck around it but if you're already playing a "Stompy" style deck and the price is right (5th-7th pick) you could do a lot worse than Warstorm Surge as a "finisher" here in m12.  

Green Commons:   
  1. Giant Spider
  2. Rampant Growth
  3. Lurking Crocodile
  4. Arachnus Web
  5. Garruk's Companion
  6. Greater Basilisk
  7. Stampeding Rhino
  8. Sacred Wolf
  9. Trollhide *+
  10. Titanic Growth
  11. Llanowar Elf
  12. Vastwood Gorger   
  13. Plummet
  14. Runeclaw Bear
  15. Brindle Boar
  16. Reclaim *+
  17. Naturalize 
  18. Gladecover Scout
  19. Fog
Analysis: As befits a color I will purposely be avoiding in M12 drafts, I honestly could not find a single Green common that I felt qualified as a top tier draft choice.  This isn't to say that Green doesn't have some above average cards in the common slot, it does; 4 of them to be exact.  Unfortunately none of these 4 cards are good enough to consistently change games by themselves in this format; Giant Spider still blocks small flyers all day but dies to the numerous 4/4 beaters in the format, while Lurking Crocodile is awesome against someone running Islands but the worst Blood Ogre ever otherwise.  Arachnus Web is definitely a very interesting card here in M12 but as removal effects go you'd rather have cards that can deal with 4 power monsters permanently and these cards typically come in other colors.  If there is a single Green common in the format I really respect it's probably Rampant Growth and that's primarily because it allows me to play cards that aren't Green.  After that most of Green's best remaining commons are vanilla beaters with decent but unremarkable stat lines and sub-par abilities.  I should mention that while I'm not the world's biggest Trollhide fan it's remarkably good on creatures with Hexproof; Sacred Wolf and Aven Fleetwing both come to mind and if you've already grabbed a couple of these cards it's safe to move Trollhide up 4-5 picks on this list.  The only other remarkable card on this list is Reclaim which is mostly worthless but can periodically combine with some other, significantly better card to help you win the game.  While I wouldn't normally main deck this if you're struggling for playables and have something like a Fireball or an Overrun in your deck already this can be a decent 23rd card; don't ever run 2.

Green Uncommons:  
  1. Stingerfling Spider
  2. Overrun
  3. Jade Mage *+
  4. Acidic Slime
  5. Cudgel Troll
  6. Carnage Wurm
  7. Hunter's Insight
  8. Lure
  9. Autum's Veil *+ 
Analysis: If there is any hope for Green decks in M12 Limited I feel it will ultimately be be based on the strength of their uncommons.  While Green lacks real game changing cards in the common slot it actually has one the better uncommon spreads in the entire format.  In my opinion the best of these cards is Stingerfling Spider because with the number of Flyers in M12 it's almost a guaranteed removal spell and 5 toughness plus Reach help it fight off pesky 4/4 Flying uncommons in other colors.  Believe me there is something pretty satisfying about binning your opponent's freshly cast Aegis Angel with a splashable uncommon and considering Green's general weakness to flying creatures in the format this card should be a very early pick.  Next up is everyone's favorite lightning rod for criticism; Overrun.  While I will be the first to admit that Overrun is the soul crushing, game warping, "oh my gosh I guess I win" kind of card that I typically hate in Limited, I really don't have a problem with its inclusion here in M12 as an uncommon. Frankly, pouring over Green's card base I don't see how you win games *without* a few completely unfair game-changing cards because you certainly aren't getting there on the strength of your monsters.  With that having been noted Overrun does win games in a deck with enough bodies to generate huge "alpha strikes" the turn you cast it; if you're in Green already there are very few legitimate reasons to pass this card and the only reason it falls to 2nd on this list is the presence of 3 Green mana symbols.  Coming in at #3 we have the most interesting Green card in the entire format in my opinion; Jade Mage.  In a vacuum this card would be absolutely disgusting; repeatedly spitting out 1/1 Saproling tokens every time you have 3 mana free is normally pretty ridiculous in Limited and while the Jade Mage is no Imperious Perfect she's not *that* far behind.  Unfortunately as mentioned during the review of Reassembling Skeleton; 1/1 chump blockers just aren't as relevant in a format with this much Flying/Trample action and it takes an *awful* long time to swarm your opponent with weenie plant creatures.  Despite these shortcomings however Jade Mage is still a *very* good card here in M12 and can be particularly devastating when combined with Overrun; though this combo can be somewhat difficult to assemble as both cards are uncommon.  Rounding out Green's uncommon selection of "very good" cards are format staples Acidic Slime and Cudgel Troll; neither card is very exciting but both of them can help carry you across the finish line in limited.  The Slime is somewhat hurt by the lack of good artifacts in the format but he's still pretty good at blowing up Oblivion Rings and Pacifisms while the Cudgel Troll remains a sick mid-range beater against anyone not running Incinerate, Oblivion Ring or Pacifism.  Unfortunately the rest of cards on this list are pretty boring; a 9/9 Trampling Wurm for 7, a card draw spell that works best when you're already dominating the game with a big fatty, a marginal removal effect that doubles as an "alpha strike enabler" and finally a card that's only good out of the sideboard and even then only if your opponent is playing both Blue and Black.