When a new set comes out good card evaluation helps you get an edge on your opponents and allows you to take advantage of the more powerful spells before the community as a whole catches on. One factor that often gets overlooked is the importance of reevaluating cards as the draft metagame evolves. Recently, on my weekly podcast (a venture with my good friends Tristan Killeen and Benjamin Weitz which can be found here) we realized a fun topic would be to revisit card evaluation in these later stages of Modern Masters 2015. Cards initially considered wildly unplayable can earn their slot under the right conditions, and overrated cards need to be downgraded accordingly. Today I want to talk about some cards I’ve had a change of opinion on in MM15 draft and how I’ve readjusted my thinking on them over time.
Mighty Leap – Underrated
Combat tricks seemed awful to me when I first started playing the set. MM15 has some of the most abundant removal in recent history, so why would a pump spell ever be useful? The key is that the hard removal is mostly sorcery speed, and so pump spells help punch through the instant-speed damage based removal like Burst Lightning, Lightning Bolt, and Nameless Inversion. Beyond just being a decent spell in the RW double strike deck, Mighty Leap has performed well in sideboard games against BW Spirits, GB sacrifice, and GW tokens—the three ground clogging decks. Often you just need a way to push through the last 4-8 damage against these decks and Mighty Leap provides that out of the sideboard.
Raise the Alarm – Underrated
I was way off on this card initially and wasn’t drafting it very highly at all. Now, I see this card as a premium white common. GW tokens really is that good, but Raise the Alarm has many applications beyond that deck. Spirits can use the card in conjunction with Plagued Rusalka, while RW double strike likes tokens as low-risk threats to equip to. This card is one of those nice cross-synergy cards that were abundant in the first Modern Masters but are more scarce now, making it an easy early pick in the current format.
Taj-Nar Swordsmith – Underrated
I still think flying is one of the best abilities in the format since there are so few good ways to deal with flyers, which is why this guy is so good in conjunction with Kitesail. Often my decks with the Swordsmith will have a Darksteel Axe, a Flayer Husk, and a Kitesail, and sometimes even a Cranial Plating. The flexibility combined with the consistency make this one of my favorite underrated cards of the format and it provides a lot of reach while looking totally innocuous.
Air Servant – Overrated
This card is bad in MM15. I never thought I’d say that about Air Servant but when almost every single removal spell kills your 5-mana threat, it just can’t be that good. There will still be games where Air Servant can take over but I’ve found them to be few and far between, at which point I’d rather have almost any spell. Next time you consider picking Air Servant early because it looks like a good power card, take a higher risk synergy card— the payoffs will often be higher.
Mana Leak – Overrated
I find that I almost never have Mana Leak in my final 40, but my opponents constantly do, and that’s a product of my low priority on the card. It will usually make the cut in my blue decks when I happen to pick one up, but Mana Leak suffers in a format designed to push linearity. Mana Leak also makes for a terrible top deck later, and I almost always want to be attacking in my blue decks and tapping out on the early turns. The card is a much better sideboard card for tempo decks trying to stop backbreaking bombs than it is a robust 2-mana spell.
Water Servant – Underrated
If you look at many of the creatures in this set you’ll see that they’re quite small. That sounds weird after you hear it, since many games end with some of the largest creatures ever put in a Magic set, like Pelakka Wurm, Ulamog’s Crusher, or a 20/20 Algae Gharial. But by and large creatures are 2/2s or 3/3s and that’s why Water Servant is much better than it looks. That 4th toughness really shines, especially in a color that has some pretty small creatures outside of the all-star Aethersnipe. Consider Water Elemental for an Elementals deck, but more importantly for a blue deck in general since it is just an above-average creature.
Bloodthrone Vampire – Underrated
Bloodthrone Vampire is a great role player in this set. It typically attacks for 1, then 1, then 1, then becomes The Abyss since if it goes unblocked it just kills your opponent. It’s highly dependent on the surrounding cards, but is best friends with both Tukatongue Thallid and Reassembling Skeleton in GB, and soulshift Spirits like Thief of Hope in BW, though it is worse in the Spirit shell. I usually like to have exactly 1 Vampire in these decks since it still can be low impact at times, and drawing 2 has diminishing returns.
Deathmark – Underrated
I think sideboard cards are absolutely essential to help out your tough matchups. Because of the depth of playables within the set you can often take strong sideboard cards like Deathmark higher than you might in a more “normal” set like DTK. I think Deathmark is the best of the bunch, in part due to the strength of GW tokens, and don’t mind taking it 3-5th pick when I’m drafting black and need to decide between it and a mediocre filler card. Celestial Purge is highly efficient but more narrow, and so I like to pick it up closer to 7-9th pick. Flashfreeze and Combust simply aren’t that good in the set, so I’d pick them up when there isn’t much else for me. Lastly, there’s poor Karplusan Strider, and it’s hard to remember that it’s even part of the color hoser cycle of this set.
I also think the Disenchant spells are quite strong and should be drafted earlier than normal. A good affinity deck can really run the tables if left unchecked and having 3-4 pieces of artifact removal can clearly change how a game plays out. Additionally, both Terashi’s Grasp and Sundering Vitae have a lot of utility versus the 5-color decks which often lean on enchantment-based removal and play Skyreach Manta as one of their common finishers.
Dread Drone – Overrated
Originally I thought Dread Drone was just a reasonable creature because it was simply good in its original set ROE, but the more I’ve played with it, the more I realize it needs a good supporting cast. Payoffs include token support like Scion of the Wild, sacrifice engines like Culling Dais, or expensive cards to ramp into such as Ulamog’s Crusher. When those cards are present in my deck, I’m happy to have Dread Drone, but otherwise I can find better cards like Scuttling Death when I’m in a different synergy deck like BW Spirits.
Spread the Sickness – Overrated
There is an abundance of removal in the set, so Spread is simply overcosted. I still like it when my deck has fewer removal spells and/or has a bunch of proliferate, but it’s not an auto-include and often gets cut in my black decks by the time I submit my final deck.
Blood Ogre – Overrated
This was one of the better commons in its original format M12 and I picked it a bit higher in MM15 originally due to my preconceptions of the card. Over time though, I realized that the payoff of bloodthirst just isn’t a very strong incentive, and I only want to be RB now when it’s clearly open in my seat and I can’t be in a more powerful archetype. You should aim to pick up Blood Ogre on the wheel but it isn’t particularly exciting.
Inner-Flame Igniter – Overrated
This card isn’t all that great a payoff in Elementals. Sure it can boost your whole team but you really want to get to the triple activation so that you can actually win combat (and the game after). 9 mana is a hefty price but both Soulbright Flamekin and Smokebraider help accomplish that goal, and are exceedingly good together, so the dream scenario does come up from time to time. What I have found though is that Inner-Flame Igniter is quite a decent threat in the RW double strike deck. The big drawback on Igniter’s activation is that it doesn’t pump toughness until it effectively does at 9 mana due to first strike. The RW creatures luckily have double strike built in, which helps get around this issue.
Matca Rioters – Overrated
I mention the Rioters because not only is it archetype specific but it is also sub-archetype specific. The 5-color cards’ payoffs are in domain and sunburst, and you’ll sometimes end up having bouncelands without a ton of basic land fixing, at which point Matca Rioters is quite bad, even when your Etched Oracles and Skyreach Mantas are quite good. Don’t go jamming Matca Rioters into every 5-color deck, and when you do make sure it’s supported with Rampant Growths, Evolving Wilds, and Wayfarer’s Baubles.
Scatter the Seeds – Underrated (!)
We all know by now that Scatter the Seeds is very good, but I’d argue it’s first pickable. Synergy is super important and when I’m in tokens, there isn’t often a card I want more than Scatter the Seeds. You’re likely passing this card too often since the card is just all around good, and absurd when it becomes the focus of your deck.
Agony Warp – Overrated
I originally thought Agony Warp would be a pretty good spell in the format, but it turns out that a good UB deck is basically nonexistent. The color combination relies entirely on power cards which simply doesn’t work in a synergy-driven format. At that point, why aren’t you just playing 5-color?
Vengeful Rebirth – Underrated
Each time Vengeful Rebirth resolves I find that the player casting it just wins the game. It is truly an absurd spell. Not only is it an easy 2-for-1, but it often gets back a game-winning spell, or just happens to deal the final 5-8 damage straight at the opponent. There aren’t that many card that really draw me into the 5-color deck but this is one of them, and I see the card table way too often.
Blinding Souleater – Underrated
Blinding Souleater is my go-to unexciting first pick of the format. It helps stabilize, keep up pressure, and goes into all my favorite decks. When a card can let you move into affinity, tokens, or 5-color at the same time you know you have a textbook flexible card, and when that card is also quite powerful you have something that’s better to pick-1-pack-1 over some uncommons and rares.
Flayer Husk – Underrated
I end with one of my pet cards. Flayer Husk has just put in overtime for me. The body that comes attached is pretty insignificant but helps push tokens and sacrifice themes while getting on the board with a cheap artifact for affinity decks. The real reason I’ve listed the card here though is that +1/+1 is meaningful in the format. I mentioned that many creatures are either 2/2s or 3/3s in the format so Flayer Husk helps push a creature all the way into the next weight class. I’ve literally first-picked a Husk out of pack 3 from a weaker pack when I knew it’s what I needed, and while that situation doesn’t come up often, it goes to show how highly I value this effect.
Were there any of my evaluations that you disagree with? Let me know in the comments.
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