Thursday, July 21, 2011

Editor's Note: This is a continuation of Limted Interest 32.1 - Numbers Crunch (Part 1)

Black Commons:
  1. Doom Blade
  2. Grave Digger
  3. Sorin's Thirst
  4. Devouring Swarm
  5. Child of Night
  6. Tormented Soul
  7. Wring Flesh
  8. Duskhunter Bat *+
  9. Mind Rot
  10. Bloodrage Vampire *-
  11. Warpath Ghoul
  12. Blood Seeker *+
  13. Disentomb
  14. Drifting Shade
  15. Zombie Goliath
  16. Distress
  17. Brink of Disaster
  18. Dark Favor
  19. Hideous Visage
Analysis: To me, opening a Doom Blade is the single greatest consolation prize in M12 Limited.  Didn't rip an Oblivion Ring, Mind Control, Planeswalker or Titan?  No problem; simply snatch up the Doom Blade and draft with the confidence of a person who knows that whatever ridiculous monsters your opponents just drafted you can probably just kill them with Doom Blade.  Unfortunately after Doom Blade Black gets a little thin at the top end of the rankings with only one creature and one removal spell in the "2nd tier".  Grave Digger is highly underrated at the moment despite being pretty awesome in a format full of small/midrange creatures that die so frequently but he's usually only as good as the creature you're returning from the graveyard.  Alternately, Sorin's Thirst is an excellent "small fire" removal spell but still shouldn't be picked ahead of the various 4/4 critters for 4-5 mana with good abilities it is incapable of killing in the format.  Where Black really shines in M12 however is in it's sheer depth of solid, playable creatures in the common slot.  While cards like Devouring Swarm, Child of Night, Warpath Ghoul and Tormented Soul are unlikely to win you games all by themselves they do form a solid foundation on which to build good black aggro decks in Limited.  At this point I should mention that I have been mildly disappointed with Duskhunter Bat; unless you have a significant number of 1 drops in your deck (Goblin Fireslinger, Tormented Soul) it's actually pretty hard to cast him on turn 2 with a Bloodthirst counter.  This doesn't make the Bat unplayable but it usually means you aren't casting him until turn 3 or 4 in my experience and I was forced to downgrade it's ranking accordingly; in a deck that *can* easily play it on turn 2 with the token it's basically a better Stormfront Pegasus and should be drafted a couple of slots higher than indicated here.  Alternately, Bloodrage Vampire is pretty much useless unless you can consistently trigger his Bloodthirst counter and isn't exactly the most durable "thumper" when you do; there are certainly times where I would pass this for a Warpath Ghoul in a heartbeat for example.  Finally I should mention that while I'm not a huge fan of Blood Seeker even in a fast aggro build the card gains significant power when played in multiples.  As such I'd likely leave a single Blood Seeker in my sideboard, include 2 Blood Seekers in any Black aggro build I was drafting and auto slam down 3 Blood Seekers as a legitimate backup plan in any Black deck I was building.

Black Uncommons:

  1. Sengir Vampire
  2. Onyx Mage
  3. Vampire Outcasts *-
  4. Reassembling Skeleton *-
  5. Consume Spirit *+
  6. Deathmark
  7. Diabolic Tutor *+
  8. Smallpox
  9. Zombie Infestation
Analysis: By now it should be pretty obvious that I think 4/4 Uncommon Flyers for 5 mana are pretty good in M12 Limited; shocking I know.  As such there is really no good reason to pass the "Black Serra Angel" for anything except the very best removal spells and the most dangerous bombs in the format if you're in Black.  Coming right behind Sengir Vampire is my favorite member of M12's "Mage" cycle; Onyx Mage (aka M.C. Murder).  Deathtouch is an absolutely insane ability in Limited and being able to turn even your most worthless creature into a combat based removal effect at the cost of B1 is more than just a good bargain; it's borderline criminal.  Vampire Outcasts helps round out Black's top tier selections because a 4/4 lifelinked critter for 4 mana is pretty ridiculous in this format.  As a word of note however I should mention that this ranking is based entirely on the idea that you'll be able to easily trigger his Bloodthirst: 2 ability; a 2/2 lifelinker for BB2 is a significantly worse deal overall.  In this same vein the ranking for Reassembling Skeleton assumes that you have some way to gain additional value from sacrificing him over and over again in a single game; Call to the Grave, Onyx Mage, Devouring Swarm and to a lesser degree Smallpox all come to mind.  Unfortunately in a format with so much Flying and Trample the Skeleton is no longer the time wasting infinite blocking monstrosity that he was in M11; once again draft accordingly.  On the other side of the coin the rating given here for Consume Spirit assumes a deck with 8 or 9 Swamps; where it's a marginal removal spell that usually kills 2/2's and 3/3's in the mid-game.  In a deck with 12 or more Swamps however this card becomes considerably more powerful; both as a removal effect and potentially to "dome" your opponent out in the late game after you'd dropped 6-7 Swamps.  The only other Black uncommon really worth talking about is Diabolic Tutor.  While ultimately I feel this card is pretty slow in this format there are definitely situations where I am comfortable running 1 or even 2 copies in my initial pile of 40.  Most of the time the magic recipe here is 1 bomb finisher, 2 good removal spells and the absence of 23 cards I simply *have* to play.  There definitely comes a point where running one more crappy 2-3 drop creature just to fill your curve makes absolutely no sense compared to having an "extra" copy of the best cards in your entire deck if you draw the Tutor.

Black Rares and Mythics:
  1. Grave Titan
  2. Rune-Scarred Demon
  3. Sorin Markov
  4. Bloodlord of Vaasgoth
  5. Vengeful Pharaoh
  6. Royal Assasin
  7. Cemetery Reaper
  8. Call to the Grave *+
  9. Sorin's Vengeance
  10. Sutured Ghoul
  11. Monomania
Analysis: While some may argue on behalf of Inferno I'm of the opinion that Grave Titan is actually the best Titan in terms of Limited play.  At it's heart draft is essentially a game of playing and destroying permanents; in particular creatures.  As such it's pretty hard to argue with a card that gives you 3 creatures all at once; throw in the fact that all of those creatures are black and one of them is a 6/6 beatstick and it's pretty easy to see why casting Grave Titan wins games in M12 Drafts.  The fact that he produces 2 additional Zombies every time he turns sideways is pure "grave-y" (forgive me) and typically if your opponent can't kill Grave Titan before you make 4 Zombie tokens he'll be scooping for the next game.  While I have my doubts that anyone is going to disagree that Grave Titan is the best black card in the format based on the way I've seen people passing Rune Scarred-Demon, I get the impression my choice for 2nd place will be more controversial.  My thought process here is pretty simple; for seven mana I get a 6/6 flying Black (immune to Doom Blade) Demon that let's me go get the best card left in my deck; typically a sweet removal spell or yet another potential game winning bomb.  Think about it for a moment; Diabolic Tutor costs BB2 here in M12. How much then is a 6/6 Flyer worth?  What's more; how much harder is it for your opponent to deal with 2 potential game winning bombs than for him to kill just one?  One day before I'm finished drafting M12 I sincerely hope I'm able to cast a Rune-Scarred Demon and use it to tutor up my Mind Control while openly mocking an opponent who thinks 7CC cards are "too expensive" for M12 Limited.  Coming in at a distant 3rd is Sorin Markov himself; as previously mentioned in part 1 of the article Sorin's major issue is that he requires 10 Swamps and thus is likely to make most mana bases somewhat awkward in a format with so many awesome double mana spells.  Otherwise Sorin is a legitimate game winner on the strength of his +2 ability alone; he won't solve all of your problems by himself and you'll have to work to protect him but even just draining your opponent for a 4 point life swing every turn will usually decide the game in your favor.  Naturally of course his -3 ability can be quite useful if you cast him early in an aggro race and if you do ever drop his -7 "ultimate" ability it shouldn't be too hard to make your opponent play poorly enough to let you win on the next turn.  Once again the race between 4th and 5th place was decided primarily by mana requirements; while functionally I like the Pharaoh's ability to kill enemy attackers while recurring himself from the graveyard better than a 6/6 Flyer for 5 it's just impossible to get past those 3 Black mana symbols.  As a side note I should mention that if you *do* draft Bloodlord of Vaasgoth it should be pretty easy to snap up 3-5 other Vampires as the draft progress.  Pay particular attention to the two Vampires who already *have* Bloodthirst as this ability does stack and a Vampire Outcasts put into play while Vaasgoth is around will gain an incredible 5 +1+1 counters if you've damaged your opponent that turn.  The only thing keeping Royal Assassin from joining these badboys in the top tier is his very fragile 1/1 body; repeatable kill effects are amazing in Limited and assuming you can combine him with a few "tap" effects (Gideon's Lawkeeper, Frost Breath) this card can be absolutely bonkers.  At the risk of boring experienced players I should point out that the Royal Assassin can kill a tapped creature it can target at any time; this includes during the declare attackers phase long before enemy creatures will every be allowed to deal damage.  Finally I should mention that while I find Call to the Grave to be a very marginal card in most decks it's worth playing in a deck with a few good Zombies.  Unfortunately "good" Zombies here in M12 consist of Grave Titan tokens, Cemetery Reaper, Cemetery Reaper tokens, Reassembling Skeleton (yes I know he's not a Zombie), Grave Digger and the occasional Warpath Ghoul.  Running cards like Zombie Infestation and Zombie Goliath will do more to make your deck bad than they will help make Call to the Grave good.

Red Commons: 
  1. Incinerate
  2. Chandra's Outrage
  3. Gorehorn Minotaurs
  4. Blood Ogre
  5. Shock
  6. Goblin Fireslinger *+
  7. Act of Treason *-
  8. Fiery Hellhound
  9. Bonebreaker Giant
  10. Fling *+
  11. Goblin Arsonist *+
  12. Manic Vandal
  13. Goblin Tunneler *+
  14. Slaughter Cry
  15. Wall of Torches
  16. Goblin Piker
  17. Lava Axe
  18. Lightning Elemental
  19. Firebreathing
Analysis: Frankly in a world full of 4/4 problems I'm not entirely sure Incinerate is actually better than Chandra's Outrage; ultimately I decided the cheaper, more splashable removal effect was stronger but I couldn't fault someone for preferring Outrage's 2 bonus damage and ability to fry Serra Angels if they were already committed to Red.  Interestingly enough I feel the exact opposite about Red's two common Bloodthirst beaters; Gorehorn Minotaurs and Blood Ogre.  While I'm certainly not going to turn my nose up at a 3/3 First Striker for R2 in this case bigger *is* better and a 5/5 thumper for 4 mana is more than worth doubling up on Red mana symbols for.  To be fair, both cards are excellent but given the choice (and they often seem to come in the same pack together) I'll almost always choose the Minotaurs.  Speaking of Bloodthirst; I should mention that the rating for Goblin Fireslinger is based entirely on his own merits as part of a good aggro deck.  If you do happen to have a pile of Bloodthirst cards this guy becomes a little more valuable and I've been known to select him ahead of Shock or even the periodic Blood Ogre if I'm loaded up on "thirsty" creatures but short on enablers in pack 3.  Act of Treason on the other hand is rated assuming that you have some sort of sacrifice outlet to take maximum advantage of the card; too many players attempt to use multiple Act of Treasons as de facto finishers in Limited and while this occasionally works out most of the time it's a pretty mediocre play.  Following the same line of reasoning Fling is a fairly average card on it's own but becomes a potential game winning play when combined with Act of Treason; it's pretty easy to lose to a very mediocre Red deck if your opponent manages to double up on Act and Fling during the draft process.  Rounding out the list of cards that gain value in the right kind of deck are a couple of common Goblins: Arsonist and Tunneler. Goblin Arsonist is a decent but mostly unremarkable creature in Red aggro but he's a serviceable replacement for Fireslinger in a Bloodthirst deck and likely won't cost as high of a draft pick; after all even if they block him you can still throw the 1 damage at your opponent's head when he dies.  The Tunneler on the other hand is fairly worthless in most decks but rises to the occasion when combined with 2-3 copies of Fiery Hellhound.

Red Uncommons:
  1. Fireball
  2. Volcanic Dragon
  3. Stormblood Berserker
  4. Crimson Mage
  5. Goblin Grenade *+
  6. Circle of Flame
  7. Combust
  8. Tectonic Rift
  9. Goblin Bangchuckers *+
Analysis: This is another pretty straightforward list; at the top you have one of the best Limited cards of all time in Fireball followed up by a 4/4 Flying beater and a cheap 3/3 Bloodthirst monster that's pretty hard to block.  Considering how splashable it is I often wonder why people pass Fireball as often as they do; don't make that mistake because you can play this potential game winning card with as few as 3 Mountains in a 40 card deck.  While it's true that Volcanic Dragon is one of Red's best uncommons I rate it slightly lower than some of the other 4/4 Flyers in the format; say behind Sengir Vampire and Serra Angel but ahead of Phantasmal Dragon.  This is pretty much entirely about 6 vs 5 casting cost and while Haste makes up for this if you're winning, nothing in the game lets you cast a 6CC Dragon when you only have 5 mana.  I should also mention that while Stormblood Berserker is a fine card it suffers from many of the same problems as Duskhunter Bat; at 2CC it takes a very specific draw to bring this guy down "on time" with his Bloodthirst counter on line.  This usually makes him a turn 3 rather than a turn 2 play which downgrades his value in draft a little bit; fortunately unlike the Bat his 3/3 body and psuedo evasion ability make him *worth* waiting until turn 3 for so he's still a very good card here in M12.  Once again the high variance cards on this list are Goblin theme cards; Goblin Grenade is decent enough to play with as few as 4 Goblins and can turn into a real problem once you move into the 6-7 Goblins range.  Unfortunately the sheer "nut draw" potential of Goblin Grenade typically convinces multiple players at a give draft table to "go tribal" and most of the time the Grenade won't be worth the pick you have to spend on it.  If you can get it at the right price however (pick 6-7) this card can totally win you games and while "good" Goblins are hard to draft it's usually pretty easy to pick up a bunch of Pikers, Tunnelers and Arsonists at any given draft table.  Additionally while I am somewhat loathe to do so I should mention that Goblin Bangchukers isn't completely unplayable; you won't want this card most of the time but he's not horrible in a deck with 2 Goblin Grenades.  If your plan however is to attach a toughness boosting card to him and try to win coin flips all day I suggest you just leave all of those horrible cards in your sideboard and try something more consistent and/or rewarding.

Editor's Note: Continued in (insert link here)

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