There’s nothing quite like the feeling of busting open a pack of brand new cards. I would hate to lose that feeling to one of trepidation as I fumble around in the dark, unsure of how to approach that final booster. I don’t pretend to understand much of the impact of the new set on draft, but a little analysis should shed some guiding light. Let’s dive right in to the most important cards in the set: the mana fixers.
Borderposts should be valued as highly as tri-lands. Borderposts are probably slightly worse than fully on-color tri-lands, but it is somewhat close. I believe that Fieldmist Borderpost and Mistvein Borderpost in particular are stronger than Arcane Sanctum, as Esper has so many ways to abuse the artifact pseudo-lands. The Borderposts are significantly better than partially off-color tri-lands. The option to play as either dual-land or obelisk-style accelerant is strong, and the borderposts synergize with a TON of cards in the format:
View from Above
Knight of the White Orchid
Master of Etherium
Sharuum the Hegemon
Tezzeret the Seeker
Borderposts are anti-synergistic with Ad Nauseam, Celestial Purge, and cascade. Some decks will be happy to cascade four drops into the acceleration, but hitting a Borderpost is normally going to be disappointing. The big drawback to Borderposts is artifact destruction (and Celestial Purge). On that note, I expect that Naturalize and Filigree Fracture are going to be maindeckable now, and that Vithian Renegades is going to be very powerful. [card]Stone Rain[/card] is not really limited playable, but a two mana Crystallization that has highly profitable uses later in the game, in a format where mana bases tend to be pretty terrible, is just insane. A three mana Dispeller’s Capsule that nets a free card or 3/2 is even better.
Obviously your opponent isn’t always going to have an early Borderpost, but there is an average of 2.5 Borderposts per player each draft, and all of them are going to be played, so you can expect your opponent to have one fairly often – roughly 50% of the time by turn 3. In addition, Crystallization and the equipment cycle lead to a higher concentration of artifacts and enchantments worth killing than we had previously. Dispeller’s Capsule is still best relegated to the sideboard, as spending four mana to nuke a Borderpost is pretty bad value. Qasali Pridemage is of course amazing; keep in mind that it is going to be even better in this format than it would have been in SSC.
The only commons I can see regularly picking over Borderposts are Terminate, Crystallization, Esper Stoneblade, and Sangrite Backlash, with the first two being clearly superior and the last two being close to even. Of the set’s uncommons, there are only nine I would rate higher: Behemoth Sledge, Bituminous Blast, Enlisted Wurm, Bloodbraid Elf, Vengeful Rebirth, Stun Sniper, Slave of Bolas, Vithian Renegades, and Intimidation Bolt. You should rarely pass an on-color Borderpost, and you should not expect many chances to pick them up.
The Reborn landcyclers match up pretty evenly with the Conflux ones. They are much better at fixing your primary colors, but worse at finding splash mana. A base two color deck splashing domain would much prefer the Conflux cycle, but for most any other deck the Reborn ones are going to be better. The spells themselves are also slightly better in the Reborn cycle. Ultimately these advantages are pretty marginal though, and our valuations of the Conflux cycle will carry over: you want to be taking these in the high middle pick range, but be prepared to take them very highly if you are short on fixing going into pack three.
Cascade is very tricky to evaluate, as its power is so contextual. Slap cascade onto a card that would be good without cascade and you basically have a bomb. These cards are going to be ridiculous regardless of the contents of your deck: Bituminous Blast, Enigma Sphinx, Enlisted Wurm, and Bloodbraid Elf. Put cascade on a card you would be happy playing if it cantripped instead and you have a very good card: Ardent Plea and Kathari Remnant. Deny Reality would not be good enough if it just cantripped, but it is close in strength to these cards. You will normally wind up ahead on tempo and even on cards from Deny Reality, making it pretty exciting. Stormcaller’s Boon is a bit tougher, as its effect ranges from very desirable in say, an aggressive deck full of green fatty ground-pounders, to worthless in a typical Esper deck. In the right home, though, Stormcaller’s Boon should be quite powerful. Captured Sunlight is pretty marginal, as you need too many spells costing three or less to really be able to control what you get out of cascade. Spending an extra mana on a three mana spell to gain four life is fine, but you are getting shafted hitting most two mana spells.
The remaining cascade spells, Violent Outburst and Demonic Dread, are going to be unplayable in most decks, as a random one or two mana spell is not worth paying three mana for, and their effects are mostly worthless. If you draft and build your deck to make use of these cards, though, they can be insane, as paying three mana to tutor up and play Agony Warp or Terminate or Crystallization or other spells on a similar power level is quite awesome. Violent Outburst tutoring up Colossal Might would make for a mighty powerful alpha strike, though it doesn’t really seem plausible since two drop creatures would be too important. I expect these bad cascade spells will be quite good in control decks, where you don’t have to dick around with crappy two drop creatures, and can ensure that anything you hit is going to be a premium spell worth paying an extra mana for. I don’t know how realistic it is to be able to build a deck where these spells are going to be good, but if you can pull it off the rewards are pretty big, as you should be able to pick these cascade spells up relatively late.
It is very important to keep cascade in mind while drafting, building, and most of all playing. Don’t throw away value by running out a cascade spell that could hit removal when there are no good targets out; you should know exactly the possible cards you could hit whenever you play a cascade spell. Cascade is especially poor with pump spells, just in case you needed another reason to not run pump(I didn’t! – LSV), Colossal Might excepted, as it makes quite the burn spell. Also be wary of X spells (as in, play the X spells and not the bad cascade spells); I have already had Captured Sunlight hit Lavalanche and Apocalypse Hydra against me in a draft.
Two Color Decks
With Alara Reborn having only gold cards*, it would be reasonable to expect drafting two colors to become less viable, but that does not appear to be the case. Reborn has 15 cards in each allied color pair (excluding Borderposts), and thanks to the cycle of three hybrid spells in each shard, each allied color pair has access to six hybrid spells. 14.5% of Reborn is available to an allied color drafter. By comparison, for Shards this figure is 13.5% (plus 10 colorless spells) and for Conflux 16.6% (plus 7 colorless spells). These numbers don’t take into account which cards are actually playable, and there are far fewer garbage cards in Reborn than in Shards. Reborn should have little impact on the viability of two color decks, and if anything should marginally improve it.
* Note that red and green actually have a monocolored spell each in Reborn – Jund Sojourners and Naya Sojourners. If you can cast these guys, they are even more awesome, but the cards are high picks just for their cycling ability. Especially with the cards being new, it is easy to gloss over these if you cannot cast them, so just be aware that these are monocolored spells.
Meanwhile, there are stronger incentives to stick to two colors. In Reborn, all of the fixing is for two colors rather than the three found in Shards. Three to five color manabases aren’t exactly hurt by this, as there is proportionately more fixing in Reborn than in Shards, but it does give you less incentive to play three or more colors. When your two color fixers give you a third color for free, mise well play some spells in that color. With half as much free fixing, that “free” splash becomes much less attractive. The bigger push towards two colors comes from the awesome aggressive two drops in Reborn, with the ‘blade’ cycle, Putrid Leech, and Qasali Pridemage being the highlights at common. Two drops this strong make you really not want to spend your second turn landcycling or cracking a Panorama. Plus, thanks to them as well as the Borderposts adding efficient fixing, more awesome cheap removal, other efficient bodies, and Colossal Might, the format is likely to speed up a fair amount. Alara Reborn really helps aggressive strategies, and two colors is a good place to be to take advantage of this and to keep up with an opponent’s fast start.