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Feature Article – M11 Pick Orders

In stark contrast to most of my “articles,” which are 70% blithering and 28% fluff, this one is basically all meat. If you’re expecting poignantly self-aware rambles, pointless Offspring lyrics, or shameless Peebles-Mundy namedrops, you’ve come to the wrong place. If, however, you’re one of the many who know Standard like the back of their mouse-clicking hands but fumble around blindly when it’s time to sleeve up 40 (you should probably sleeve, by the way, since the lands often stick together :B), this could help a great deal.

This is “just” a pick order article, but as such, it should give you a general idea of the relative values of cards. I won’t get too bogged down in the basics of Limited play, nor will I go too in-depth about archetypes. As to the latter, core set draft is fairly straightforward, so while some cards change in value depending on color combination and style of deck, you generally just want to fill your curve with the best possible cards.

Obviously, not everyone will agree with all of these, but I’m confident they’re pretty close to “accurate.”

WHITE

 

Notes

Vengeful Archon, Angelic Arbiter: I wanted to put Blinding Mage over these, so I checked with Luis, and he agreed. Yeah, they’re “bombs,” but 7 mana is a lot, especially with Man-o’-War, Mana Leak, etc. Even ignoring those cards, the difference between each cost gets bigger and bigger as you move up. It’s possible they could move down even further—it probably wouldn’t be problematic if you wanted to shun them completely—but it’s hard for me to pass something that just wins the game when you untap with it. Some games do go long, after all. If they were 8 mana, they’d be even easier to pass.

Day of Judgment: I’ll look for any excuse to pass this. It’s pretty hard to set up a good board state for it, especially in a color that’s looking to swarm and win quickly. It is a catchall, and as with the 7-mana fliers, there’s something of a concern about people down the line seeing it as a definite signal. Something else worth considering is that people might consciously avoid overextending just because you have Plains in play, meaning people are somewhat less likely to play into a wrath regardless of whether there’s even one in your deck.

Honor of the Pure: Basically, you should draft this as though it were a bomb that costs WWWW. If you expect to have 10 or more white creatures, it’s an easy pick over everything but Serra Angel; it’s sort of awkward with 7; and with 6 or fewer, it’s probably not even worth playing.

Excommunicate: Of course, a typical draft deck has between 14-16 dudes. Depending on current spell count and curve, the first Excommunicate can be better than the third Assault Griffin.

Celestial Purge: Usually maindeck if you’re neither red nor black. Sometimes you’ll just have enough good spells that you won’t even need to play something as “situational” as this.

Squadron Hawk: The first Hawk is worth about as much as Elite Vanguard; the second is worth a little more than Safe Passage; the third is somewhere in the scrum with the good common fliers. It’s worth speculating with the first one over something that’s a little “better” than it because multiple Hawks can be pretty annoying.

Roc Egg: This kind of fits in with the philosophy of white wanting to attack. Sure, this deters counterattacks from 3-power non-evasive threats, but if your opponent doesn’t have much of a board, this does nothing to keep the pressure up. It’s playable but far from awesome.

Solemn Offering: I prefer not to maindeck this, but it’s not the worst 23rd, and I’ll usually want one for my sideboard.

Siege Mastodon: Actually a better maindeck card than Solemn Offering, but hopefully you have good enough 4-to-6-drops in your other color that you won’t have to run it.

Ajani’s Pridemate, Silvercoat Lion: You don’t ever WANT to play these, but sometimes you need to fill out the curve.

Inspired Charge: It’s just too expensive for a trick. Moves up considerably if you have the Hawk deck or few ways to interact.

Tireless Missionaries: I’m about as happy maindecking this as Solemn Offering but less likely to board this in. If your opponent is super aggressive or has the Lava Axe deck, bring it in.

Serra Ascendant and below: Don’t play these. Some have fringe uses (Holy Strength against multiple Ice Cages, etc.), but they’re rare and fairly obvious. I wouldn’t even bring in Ajani’s Mantra or Goldenglow Moth against a burn deck.

BLUE

 

Notes
Conundrum Sphinx: While this is rarer and cheaper and has a bigger toughness, it really seems like Air Servant is just the better card. Air Servant can single-handedly dominate a board, while Sphinx sometimes helps your opponent. I suppose enough scry could make the Sphinx better, or it may just be better. I wouldn’t be upset with either of these, of course.

Sleep: Haters gon’ hate.

Jace Beleren: Jace’s Ingenuity draws three cards. Jace himself MIGHT draw three cards. Initially I had Jace lower than his Ingenuity, but 5 mana is surprisingly annoying.

Scroll Thief: Fluctuates depending on how many ways you have to let it connect, obviously.

Stormtide Leviathan: There’s the whole cost thing, but blue is more defensively-minded than white (if you’re white/blue, the aggressiveness of your deck can go either way) and this can really turn a game around.

Negate: I’m usually happy maindecking one of these, and sometimes I’ll play the second.

Ice Cage: This can make the maindeck, but I prefer to treat it as a sideboard card against decks that have a hard time getting rid of it. Sometimes it’s good when my opponents play it against me, but I’m looking to cut down on variance. It’s awesome if it lets you connect even once with a Scroll Thief, but downright miserable if the opponent kills it with an equip or an untimely Giant Growth. (I imagine this is one of the most disputed evaluations in the set.)

Diminish: I usually seem to end up cutting this. The fact that it interacts unfavorably with opposing Armored Ascensions and [card]Giant Growth[/card]s doesn’t help its cause. I boarded it in recently against a Baneslayer Angel, and it’s probably good to bring in against green decks if you’re short on ways to handle monsters.

Cancel: Fine to either maindeck or eschew. Sometimes it will save you from their bomb; sometimes it will rot in your hand because three is a lot to leave open, especially in an aggressive deck.

Redirect: It’s a blowout when you cast it, but it’s so narrow in its application. I’d tend to leave it in the board unless I came up short.

Maritime Guard: Maindeck this if your curve is otherwise atrocious, or sideboard it against Lions and Bears. It’s never embarrassing to maindeck one because it blocks stuff like Black Knight and White Knight, but you’ll be able to pick it up late.

Phantom Beast: Same as Ice Cage, but boarded in less frequently.

Mass Polymorph: I’ve heard this can work, but I haven’t gotten the deck for it yet. It probably would have a lot of Sylvan Rangers (or Maritime Guards).

Merfolk Sovereign: A little better than in M10 because of Scroll Thief, but you’d want multiples before playing this. 1UU for a Gray Ogre is unacceptable.

Alluring Siren: In a perfect world, you’ll never have to play this. If you can force the opponent into unfavorable attacks, you’re probably looking at an already-favorable board state.

Call to Mind: It seems plausible that there’s a deck with enough good targets for this (e.g. NOT Giant Growth, Mana Leak, etc.), but I have yet to see it.

Traumatize, Jace’s Erasure, Tome Scour: Don’t draft this deck, but be on the lookout to cack these when there’s nothing for you.

Merfolk Spy and below: No way, no-how.

BLACK

 

Notes
Liliana Vess: Never affects the board until she goes ultimate; can’t protect herself in any way. She’s pretty good on a stable board but useless if you’re too far behind. Still a planeswalker, though.

Corrupt: Moves down a bit as you go below 11 Swamps (at 9, you’ll still probably have to take it over Quag Sickness even though you don’t want to), moves to #2 if you’re mono or very close to it.

Nantuko Shade: It’s possible this belongs below Quag Sickness, but I have it pegged as more of a “robust win condition” than just “arbitrary dude.”

Necrotic Plague: I like this better than a “regular” wrath. It’s not even that unwieldy since you get to pick which of your opponent’s guys it goes on each time it’s your turn to place it. I guess it goes later than it should because people don’t want to read it.

Deathmark: Moves into the Sign in Blood/Rotting Legion zone if you’re B/G or B/W. If I’m not green or white, I’ll always maindeck one and usually be happy maindecking two.

Black Knight: Not really as good as the fliers (unless your opponent is white), but good 2-drops are hard to come by.

Nightwing Shade: Black is good at stalling to the late-game with its removal, and this makes good use of the mana once you get there.

Howling Banshee: I hate the comes-into-play ability, especially with no Tendrils, plus the 4-slot isn’t hard to fill. It’s still a 3/3 flier, though. If your deck is pretty aggressive, which doesn’t seem common for black, it can move to right around Gravedigger.

Reassembling Skeleton: Take it higher if you have combos with it, obviously.

Diabolic Tutor: Generally not worth bothering with unless you have multiple bombs.

Barony Vampire: Better than Diabolic Tutor in a deck with no bombs. Basically, if you need to fill your curve, he’s the man for the job.

Captivating Vampire: A poor reason to load your deck with mediocre dudes.

Stabbing Pain: I prefer to leave this in the sideboard. It’s versatile, but what it does is rarely worth a card. I definitely wouldn’t want to maindeck more than one.

Duress: A reasonable maindeck inclusion, this is obviously really awkward when it misses. I’m happy to board it in against various combinations of U/R/B.

Mind Rot: Like Ice Cage, sometimes this will do next to nothing and sometimes it will create a blowout. Like Wrath, people sometimes play around it when the opponent has the appropriate land type in play.

Bog Raiders: You’d rather not maindeck it, but you should be able to make room for it post-board.

Bloodthrone Vampire: Not worth playing unless you have a couple of the combo cards (Act of Treason, Reassembling Skeleton, Roc Egg).

Disentomb: Naturally, this gets better the more good creatures you have; the preferred target is Gravedigger. It’s still a fringe playable, and you’ll be able to get it late easily anyway. Keep it in the board most of the time.

Unholy Strength: A less embarrassing maindeck than Holy Strength, but you’d still prefer to only use this as a sideboard card against Ice Cages.

Demon of Death’s Gate: Nine is a lot, but if you can swing it, you’ll probably be the only person at the table who wants it, so it’s not worth taking early.

Phylactery Lich: It seems unlikely you’ll reach a critical mass of noncreature artifacts. I wouldn’t be happy about counting, say, [card]Juggernaut[/card] toward my artifact count for this.

Viscera Seer: If there aren’t enough Bloodthrones to combo with your Acts of Treason, the deck just wasn’t meant to be. Multiple Reassemblers aside, try your best not to play this.

Blood Tithe: I suppose certain decks need a little reach, or that this could go in a R/B burn deck. In general, you’d rather avoid playing it.

Dark Tutelage: Your deck would have to be ludicrously aggressive for this to be more of a benefit than a liability.

Liliana’s Caress and below: Goes without saying.

RED

 

 

Notes
Ancient Hellkite: Seven is a lot. It will win you the game if you get to attack with it, of course.

Prodigal Pyromancer: It’s pretty strong, especially against decks that can’t kill it (obviously), but it just doesn’t kill that much outright. I couldn’t fault someone for taking it over the Hellkite, but much higher than that is a stretch.

Chandra’s Spitfire: It’s harder to trigger this than I would have hoped, and you often have to do so pre-combat, meaning your opponent will know how much is flying over.

Act of Treason: It seems every dedicated red deck wants one of these and sometimes two. Obviously goes up in value if you’ve managed to draft the Bloodthrone/Fling deck.

Combust: I have changed my stance on this and no longer like maindecking it. (People like playing white and blue together, meaning fewer decks at the table will have at least one of these colors.) If you come up short, you could do worse than this.

Fling, Lava Axe: Depending on how aggressive you are and how much of a burn component you have, you might value these a little higher.

Destructive Force: I don’t like Wrath when it costs 4; this is way harder to set up and/or survive until you can cast. I’d hope to never play this at all, but I didn’t put it closer to the bottom as a minor hedge; sometimes it will fit with the deck.

Manic Vandal: A strong sideboard card or a semi-awkward last card main.

Goblin Chieftain: Lower than Piker because it’s at a more competitive slot on the curve. If you have several Ember Haulers, this moves up. :B

Arc Runner: The poor man’s Lava Axe. (Yes, I know, Lava Ox, etc.) Awkward in a “normal” deck, playable in burn.

Reverberate: I guess you can board this in sometimes, but your opponent would need a handful of good targets. Potentially sandbagging this to piggyback on your own spells isn’t sufficient or efficient.

Goblin Balloon Brigade: One damage a turn isn’t enough.

Bloodcrazed Goblin: This comes in if your opponent has a lot of Garruk’s Companions, Scroll Thieves, etc. and you don’t have early defense.

Leyline of Punishment and below: Nosir. Hopefully you have better ways to break an Ice Cage than Incite.

GREEN

Notes:

Overwhelming Stampede: If the draft is winding down and you don’t have a lot of guys, you may have to pass it. This should rarely be a problem in green.

Primeval Titan: I’m not really sure how good this is, as its Titan ability is definitely the worst in limited. Still, its extra 2 toughness makes it way better than Yavimaya Wurm, and its trample and size arguably make it better than Cudgel Troll. It’s might not be as good as Packleader, but if it’s not, it’s probably close enough that I’d take it for the money (even at Nationals or a PT).

Fauna Shaman: If you have a bomb to fetch, move this above the uncommons.

Gaea’s Revenge: I haven’t really seen this in action, but I imagine it’s of comparable quality to most of the cards above it. Might be worse than Acidic Slime, as Slime is downright awesome.

Sylvan Ranger: At some point, of course, you’ll have to take arbitrary monsters over these so that your deck isn’t just full of crappy 1/1s.

Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves: Green’s power level is relatively flat since it’s mostly hurfy dudes. Basically, keep an eye on your curve. Birds and Elves may be relatively low on the list (they’re pretty sketchy after turn 3), but once you have a couple monsters, the first Elf can become more attractive than, say, the third Spined Wurm. If your other color doesn’t help you fill out the curve, you should take acceleration higher.

Plummet: Almost always maindeck one.

Hornet Sting: As with Stabbing Pain, you’d rather not maindeck this.

Wall of Vines: A legitimate sideboard option against white or blue if you drafted poorly and ended up with too little flying defense.

Autumn’s Veil: I’d probably only bring it in against a deck that’s both blue and black.

Dryad’s Favor: If the board stalled in game 1 of the green mirror and you have plenty of guys but not many spells…

Back to Nature: Only this low because you should hopefully have a Naturalize or a Acidic Slime.

Hunters’ Feast: Maybe against the Lava Axe deck (really).

Fog: Now that Overrun is rare, there’s much less need for this. I wouldn’t totally discount it as a sideboard card, though; if the match looks to be a race and you’re cutting something unimpressive, this could steal a win.

ARTIFACT/LAND

Sword of Vengeance: Only take Fireball, Mind Control, and maybe Serra Angel over this. P1P1 I could see taking this over Mind Control to keep options open.

Platinum Angel: I’m not happy about taking this over Doom Blade, Blinding Mage, etc. but I feel obligated to. You can pass it if you honestly think you won’t get to 7 mana.

Triskelion: I could see taking the aforementioned three uncommons over this, but not much else.

Brittle Effigy: Approximately as good as Lightning Bolt.

Crystal Ball: Very good in a controllish deck, particularly one with black. Its activation can be cumbersome, and when you need to draw both lands and spells, it doesn’t do much. It’s awesome in a stalemate, but those don’t happen as frequently as you’d imagine. I value this around the same as Chandra’s Outrage or maybe a solid flier. Basically, I don’t take it over anything “good” early, and if I see it in pack 2 or 3, I have a better idea how good it’ll be in my deck.

Mystifying Maze: Mana symbols can be problematic, so this will likely be your 18th land. Like with the Ball, you have to think of how aggressive your deck is and whether it’s realistic that you’ll get to a board state where you can afford to activate this. I think it’s somewhere in Assassinate/Giant Spider/Assault Griffin range.

Gargoyle Sentinel: About as good as Wild Griffin, Cloud Elemental, Black Knight, Ember Hauler, and Awakener Druid.

Steel Overseer: Curve filler, but good because decks often lack quality 2-drops.

Sorcerer’s Strongbox: A reasonable way to refill in a control deck that makes 1-for-1 trades. Some decks will be too aggressive to want it, and hopefully you can draw more cards efficiently if you’re blue, but it’s grown on me a lot.

Whispersilk Cloak: Some decks just lose to it, but I always seem to find an excuse not to take it. I wouldn’t take it over anything good, but I’ll maindeck almost all the time I’m not either black with infinite removal or U/W.

Juggernaut: More curve filler. This, the Gargoyle, and the Overseer are pretty close in value.

Stone Golem: Filler etc. Especially useful when most of your guys have 1 or 2 power.

Warlord’s Axe: It’s very expensive to equip, and while it lets your guys trade up, it doesn’t generally push them out of range of trading with a guy with equal cost. I’d rather not play this unless I had a bunch of Sylvan Rangers or something lying around, but it’s not terrible.

Drowned Catacomb, Glacial Fortress, Dragonskull Summit, Rootbound Crag, Sunpetal Grove, Terramorphic Expanse: Once your color combination is locked in and you have a good idea what your mana symbols look like, these can move up above anything “average” since you’ll probably end up with enough playable spells.

Jinxed Idol: A peculiar piece of the Bloodthrone Vampire/Act of Treason puzzle. Probably worth boarding into a regular deck if your opponent is pretty creature-light.

Elixir of Immortality: The Jelger Wiegersma Invitational card. If you’re blue with a bunch of card drawing, this isn’t awful. I recently played it in a deck with 2 Strongbox, 2 Tutor, Fireball, and Corrupt, among others. In an ordinary deck, you do not want to play this.

Temple Bell: I guess if you’re casting more spells per turn than your opponent it could be more of a help than a burden. I’d just stay away from it, though.

Voltaic Key: It’s unlikely you’ll draft enough good artifacts to play this.

Ornithopter, Dragon’s Claw, Angel’s Feather, Demon’s Horn. Wurm’s Tooth, Kraken’s Eye: No.

Discussion

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