Thursday, July 21, 2011

Of Limited Interest #32.1 - Number Crunch M12 Pick Rankings by Commonality and Color (Part 1)

Hello ladies and gentlemen; hopefully you are all having a fine weekend and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  For those of you just joining us, yesterday I posted a basic primer on how to succeed in M12 drafts; this article is intended primarily as a continuation of that primer.  As promised in the first half of the article we're back talking about drafting M12; this time with a look at my initial pick rankings by color and commonality for the entire set.

Now before we get started I'd like to take a moment to talk about what a "pick ranking" really is; what it's good for, what it's not good for and most importantly when you should ignore it completely.  First and foremost to gain any value form another person's pick ranking list you need to know a little bit about the methodology used to create it.  For example when making this pick ranking I assumed that I was choosing the cards early enough in pack 1 to be open to every color/archetype in the format; so basically my first 5-6 picks.  I felt this was important because it allowed me to judge each card entirely on it's own merits which would provide the most accurate ratings possible.  Unfortunately the downside to this is that drafting is as much about building a deck as it is about drafting powerful cards; you can't pick cards in a vacuum but it's really the only fair way to rate them.  In order to compensate for this effect I've tried to note when a card would be more or less effective depending on how much synergy it creates with other cards in your deck.  Ultimately however there's only so much variance you can account for when making a pick ranking list; the further into the packs you go the less accurate these ratings will be simply because the cards you've already drafted will exert greater and greater influence over your subsequent selections.  In light of this I'd advise you to use these charts as more of a guideline than an absolute bible on what you should and shouldn't be picking here in M12; after all there *will* be situations where picking a Fiery Hellhound over a Shock is the right decision (usually pack 3 when you've whiffed on playable creatures so far) but said situations are pretty rare.

I should also mention that since these lists are sorted by color and commonality they are primarily focused on grading and ranking cards against each other within the same colors and deck-types.  While this is obviously pretty useful when you already know what colors you're drafting it does very little when helping you decide between two cards of different colors; say a Chandra's Outrage and a Sorin's Thirst for example.  In order to help combat this problem I've used color coded text to divide each of these lists into "tiers" for the purposes of comparison.  While this system is hardly fool-poor it allows you to cross-reference cards by both color and overall power in the format to make more informed choices and hopefully as a result, better draft decks.  Let's take a quick look at what each of these colors mean:
  • Red: Cards marked in red ink are in my opinion the very best cards here in M12 Limited.  These are your bombs, your finishers, your premium removal spells and any card in general that makes your opponent groan in audible distress when you cast it.  In other words; these are excellent cards that I expect to help me win games virtually every time I cast them.
  • Blue: This color is primarily reserved for cards I consider "very good" but not necessarily "game breaking".  While it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between an "elite" card and just a very good one my general guideline here is that if I am always happy to add a card to my pile but will rarely be happy to pick the same card first out of a pack it's a "very good" card and thus gets printed in blue text.
  • Green: These are basically "good" cards; not special, not even exceptional but quality building blocks for virtually any on-color deck in this format.  In my opinion the single biggest difference between winning and losing in Limited play is your ability to fill your deck almost entirely with cards from this tier or higher.  I won't chase these types of cards around the table but I'm always happy to draft them when the price is right (4th-10th pick).
  • Orange: This color is reserved primarily for situational cards that can either be good or very bad depending on the context of the deck you are drafting or the game you are playing.  Typically combo cards, sideboard hosers and tribal "Lords" end up marked in orange.
  • Purple: Basically these are cards I consider "poor" overall.  To be marked in purple ink a card as to be so uninspiring in Limited that I will not want to have to play it in my main deck under any circumstances and will rarely be happy to sideboard in except under the most dire of circumstances.
Okay so with that out of the way let's dive right in and take a detailed look at M12 drafting by color and commonality as I see it:     
White Commons:
  1. Gideon's Lawkeeper
  2. Pacifism
  3. Stormfront Pegasus
  4. Assault Griffin
  5. Peregrine Griffin
  6. Griffin Sentinel
  7. Armored Warhorse *-
  8. Mighty Leap
  9. Auramancer *+
  10. Benalish Veteran
  11. Griffin Rider *++
  12. Guardian's Pledge *+
  13. Stave Off
  14. Stonehorn Dignitary
  15. Demistify
  16. Pride Guardian
  17. Divine Favor
  18. Lifelink
  19. Angel's Mercy 
Analysis: There really isn't much that stands out here; the two best cards are removal (of sorts) and most of the "upper crust" cards are flying creatures.  Oddly enough many drafters aren't as high as I am on the Peregrine Griffin because his stats aren't all that impressive; while I certainly understand this argument I personally value First Strike and 4 toughness on a Flyer more highly than I would an equivalent "groundpounder".  Think of it as a "super" Giant Spider that can still fly over blockers to apply beats if necessary; it's also a pretty sick combo with a Greatsword so long as you don't pay too highly for the Equipment.  Armored Warhorse is excellent in a deck with 10 Plains but loses a lot of value (5-6 picks even) otherwise.  Alternately Auramacer and Griffin Rider gain a lot of value in a deck with the right pieces; 3-4 quality Auras and 4-5 creatures that say Griffin respectively.  Finally Guardian's Pledge is a pretty high variance selection; in a deck with 10+ white creatures it's an awesome mini-Overrrun that can totally win you games.  Otherwise it's the worst Mighty Leap ever; draft accordingly.

White Uncommons: 
  1. Oblivion Ring
  2. Serra Angel
  3. Arbalest Elite
  4. Timely Reinforcements
  5. Spirit Mantle
  6. Roc Egg *+
  7. Celestial Purge
  8. Alabaster Mage
  9. Elite Vanguard *+
Analysis: Basically what you see is what you get; a super powerful removal spell and one of the best flying creatures in the history of MtG Limited stand a significant cut above the rest of the White uncommons.  While I won't waste a lot of time explaining why Serra Angel is good I believe it's worth noting that Oblivion Ring is right on par with Mind Control for the best removal card in the entire set; as a general rule I try desperately to avoid passing either card in M12 drafts.  I should also mention that I am not 100% certain of my rating on Timely Reinforcements; to me this card seems very good and a potential 3 for 1 is hard to turn down in draft.  On the downside it's hard to use in White based aggro decks which is unfortunate because White aggro is one of the better deck options in the format.  If this were an Instant it would join Ring/Serra in the top tier but as it stands I feel pretty comfortable calling it a "very good card" here in m12.  Otherwise Roc Egg is better in a deck where you can easily sacrifice it or combined with say a Day of Judgment while Elite Vanguard gains decent value in a very fast white deck; maybe something built around Honor the Pure.

White Rares and Mythics:
  1. Gideon Jura
  2. Sun Titan
  3. Archon of Justice
  4. Angelic Destiny
  5. Aegis Angel
  6. Gideon's Avenger
  7. Day of Judgment
  8. Honor the Pure *+
  9. Grand Abolisher
  10. Messa Enchantress
  11. Personal Sanctuary
Analysis: Once again there are no real surprises here; White's best rare/mythic is a Planeswalker and following right behind Gideon is the White Titan.  While I haven't had the misfortune of playing against Gideon yet in M12, my previous experience with him in Rise of the Eldrazi Limited tells me that he's one of the most broken cards in the set.  The combination of a high starting loyalty, a repeatable creature kill effect and Gideon's ability to turn into a 6/6 Indestructable "man" is just way too much action from one card for most Limited decks to handle.  Sun Titan cracks the list at #2 and is surprisingly more effective here in M12 than he was in M11; the format is much more aggressive and as such it's *very* easy to pile up dead "mans" during early combat for your Sun Titan to resurrect later in the game.  Archon of Justice is both a strong evasive creature AND a removal effect; albeit one that ultimately costs you the 4/4 Flyer.  I'm still a little torn as to whether Angelic Destiny is actually a better card than Aegis Angel; in a format with Unsummon/Adept and so much instant speed creature kill this could be a really easy way to waste 4 mana.  On the other hand if your opponent *can't* stop this card it probably wins you the game regardless of what random dude is wearing it at any given time.  Aegis Angel on the other hand is *merely* a 5/5 Flyer for 6 with an ability that is highly unlikely to actually affect many games of Limited; though to be fair a 5/5 Flyer is *way* better than a 4/4 Flyer here in M12 so this argument could really go either way.   Gideon's Avenger just barely misses out on the top tier because the turn you cast him he's still pretty easy to kill and doesn't turn into a super "bomb" type card until you can force your opponent to tap a bunch of creatures.  Finally much like Guardian's Pledge, Honor the Pure is a decent card in any white deck with about 8 on color creatures; it turns into a *very* good card the moment you get about 10 white creatures in your deck.

Blue Commons:
  1. Merfolk Looter
  2. Aether Adept
  3. Skywinder Drake
  4. Frost Breath
  5. Aven Fleetwing
  6. Mana Leak *+
  7. Chasm Drake
  8. Divination
  9. Phantasmal Bear
  10. Cancel *+
  11. Unsummon
  12. Ponder 
  13. Ice Cage
  14. Amphin Cutthroat
  15. Merfolk Mesmerist *+
  16. Negate
  17. Jace's Erasure*+
  18. Coral Merfolk
  19. Flight
Analysis: Finally some controversy; while I'm not sure most drafters would rate Merfolk Looter ahead of Aether Adept here in M12 I'm comfortable with doing exactly that now that I've drafted the format a few times.  Look I love me a Man O'War as much as the next gal and there's certainly no denying that in a fast aggro based format Aether Adept can generate devastating tempo swings in the early/mid-game.  Unfortunately as the game drags past the point where 2/2 Gray Ogres and Unsummon effects are still relevant the Adept loses more and more power until it becomes a situational stall effect tied to a near-worthless chump blocker.  By contrast while the initial impact of casting a Merfolk Looter is somewhat minimal it's value grows stronger and stronger as the turns pile up and you "loot" deeper into your deck.  This is particularly noticeable once you've put 5-7 land into play and can therefore freely cycle any basic lands you draw to find more relevant cards; Magic is pretty easy when you're drawing gas every turn while your opponent is playing lands and passing.  In short Aether Adept wins turns while Merfolk Looter wins games and as such I can't in good conscience put the Adept higher than the Looter on this list even though they are both amazing cards here in this format.  Aside from the Looter/Adept debate this list is pretty straightforward; 3 of the next 5 cards are creatures with Flying sandwiched in between the highly under-rated Frost Breath and format staple Mana Leak.  I should mention that as usual the counterspells on this list gain reasonable value in decks that can spill out a number of cheap threats and then leave the necessary counter-mana open from turn to turn.  Additionally while I personally won't be chasing the "mill" strategy here in M12, if you *are* building this decktype Merfolk Mesmerist should rise 8-10 spots on this list; ditto for Jace's Erasure except more like 4-8 spots.

Blue Uncommons:   
  1. Mind Control
  2. Azure Mage
  3. Belltower Sphinx
  4. Phantasmal Dragon
  5. Turn to Frog
  6. Alluring Siren *-
  7. Flashfreeze
  8. Master Thief
  9. Levitation *+
Analysis: To be perfectly honest I'd have to say that Mind Control and it's many format specific variants is probably my favorite cards in all of Limited Magic.  There's something absolutely fantastic about knowing that no matter what kind of sick, disgusting, bomb-tastic monster your opponent is about to cast you'll be ready and waiting with the Mind Control to steal it on your next turn.  In my opinion this is *the* premier removal spell in M12 Limited and the short list of cards I'd take over Mind Control in a vacuum consists of: any Planeswalker except Chandra, any Titan except Primeval, Sphinx of Uthuun, Rune-Scarred Demon and Flameblast Dragon.  It's also fair to say that it's roughly on par with Oblivion Ring but with these few exceptions there really aren't a lot of good excuses to pass a Mind Control unless you can *not* play Blue.  After Mind Control there is a little bit of controversy at 2 and 3; personally I value repeatable card draw effects very highly in Limited and would typically slam the Azure Mage over Belltower Sphinx almost every time.  M12 however is absolutely littered with game breaking 4/4 Flyers and Belltower Sphinx blocks these cards all day while simultaneously punishing your opponent for attacking so I wouldn't fault someone for taking the Sphinx instead.  The rating for Alluring Siren assumes that you've also drafted some cards your opponent has no real desire to attack into; Wall of Torches, Peregrine Griffin, Belltower Sphinx, Sengir Vampire, anything with Deathtouch, Blood Ogre and Habor Servant all come to mind for example.  Without these types of cards however the Siren is pretty much reduced to helping you outrace opponents you were already beating and executing cycle "Mages" who have no real desire to attack into *anything*.  Finally while I don't personally think Levitation is a playable card in most Blue decks it *can* function as a "broke man's" Overrun in a U/G Stompy deck built around multiple Sacred Wolfs, Stampeding Rhinos and Garruk's Companions.  Whether or not U/G Stompy is a strategy you should be pursuing here in M12 drafts is another question entirely but if you do find yourself building this deck-type it would be foolish to ignore Levitation's game winning potential; especially in a deck that will likely be short on game winning cards already.    

Blue Rares and Mythics:      
  1. Jace, Memory Adept
  2. Frost Titan
  3. Sphinx of Uthuun
  4. Djinn of Wishes
  5. Phantasmal Image
  6. Jace's Archivist *-
  7. Redirect
  8. Lord of the Unreal   
  9. Mind Unbound
  10. Visions of Beyond
  11. Time Reversal
Analysis: No matter how you feel about Jace 3.0 in constructed (ick) it's pretty hard to deny that he absolutely dominates games of Limited Magic.  Remember folks your opponent starts the game with 7 of his 40 cards in his hand and will likely have drawn at least 4 cards by the time you have a chance to cast Jace.  This means that even in the worst case scenario your opponent is now 3 activations away from losing the game because he's out of cards and 1 of those activations comes immediately after you cast Jace.  "Blocking twice" is a pretty unfair win condition and as such there's really never a good reason to pass Jace; even in pack 3 when you aren't in Blue.  Coming in right behind Jace 3.0 is the Blue Titan; while it's certainly fair to argue that "Frosty" is the worst of the 4 "good" Titans in M12 he's just as good a weapon against enemy Titans here in Limited as he is in Standard.  Naturally this only matters if one of your opponent drafts a Titan and you both get to cast them in a game against each other but it still feels weird calling Frosty the "weaker" Titan when he beats all of his brothers on the table.  Rounding out the top tier we have 2 flying "fatties" that generate some form of card advantage; personally I rate Sphinx of Uthuun higher than the Djinn because it's much harder to kill a 5/6 body and his "Fact or Fiction" effect is pretty much guaranteed to draw me into good cards.  The Djinn however is nothing to sneeze at; 4/4 Flying for 5 mana is a clearly defined benchmark here in M12 Limited and while a little random, burning Wish tokens absolutely *can* win you the game off the right top-deck.  It bears mentioning that Phantasmal Image would join these 4 cards in the top tier if not for the pesky Illusion clause; with that noted however it's still a 2 mana Clone and thus a very good card here in M12.  Just make sure that you have it copy a creature with an "enters the battlefield" trigger so that you've already gained value even if your opponent does target it.  The only real "high variance" card on this list is Jace's Archivist; in a very fast aggro deck that can repeatedly dump out its hand he turns into a ridiculous card drawing engine.  In your typical Blue control or tempo build however he's mostly good a mucking bad hands and as such taking him shouldn't be a high priority for these decks.

Editor's Note: Due to some technical difficulties with Blogger caused by the "graphic intensity" of this article (sarcasm intended) I've been forced to break it into 4 parts.  What's more I can't edit any of those parts without Blogger deleating enitre paragraphs of my work for no reason.  In light of this you'll have to bear with me for a little while in terms of editing mistakes, broken links and in one case the absence of an actual title.  In the meantime please feel free to use the following links to find the other 3 parts of this article:

Of Limited Interest #32.2 - Number Crunch Part 2 
Of Limited Interest #32.3 - Number Crunch Part 3 
Of Limited Interest #32.4 - Number Crunch Part 4 


  1. Incredible amount of work must be behind this article, but the result is the best m12 draft reference I have seen so far (not counting LSV because we are talking about casual magic and causal bloggers).


  2. Wow, high praise indeed; thanks! To be fair while it took a bunch of hours to write and research it didn't exactly feel like "work" :) I love Limited, especially draft. Thanks for checking out my blog and leaving a comment; you made my day.