December 28, 2014

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KTK Draft Commons: The Good, The Bad, and The Surprising

Limited formats are mainly defined by their commons. Cards like Jeskai Windscout and Bring Low are what shape and define Khans of Tarkir limited, even if its the Flying Crane Technique blowouts that we remember more vividly. Knowing the value of your commons is key to succeeding in any draft format.

Several recent sets have had commons that were better than most uncommons and many rares in draft: Stab Wound in Return to Ravnica, Madcap Skills in Gatecrash, and arguably Gray Merchant of Asphodel in Theros. Khans of Tarkir does not have any single stand-out common like these (which is probably a good thing), but there are a couple commons that can be picked first overall in a booster without feeling like a weak pick:

THE GOOD:

With 2 toughness being the marquee number in the format, dealing exactly 2 damage is a big deal. There is no Shock, Pillar of Flame, or Mugging to be had in KTK, so debilitating injury becomes the cheapest, most reliable removal available. It’s an excellent early game play to remove a morph, and a valid late-game play that can top-up combat damage to take out one of the many high toughness creatures in the format or just shrink a large creature down to something more manageable.

Instant speed protection from a colour is usually very good in limited. Protection can counter removal spells, nullify combat tricks, change combat trades into wins, and even make a creature unblockable. In a format like KTK limited where the tricks and removal are both fairly costly, two mana for a protection spell is almost always a tempo gain. That Feat leaves behind a +1+1 counter is what pushes it over the top, especially with the potential for synergy with cards like Abzan Falconer or Mer-Ek Nightblade.

Not as good as debilitating injury, but still a reasonably cheap removal spell with a condition that’s fairly easily met. I’ve declined to maindeck this in a few aggressive mardu and jeskai decks, but for any midrange deck this spell is an auto-include. While its frustrating to draw when you’re on the offensive, it’s nice to know that you have an answer ready for the next threat that swings at you should you lose your advantage.

Completing the ring of first-pickable Abzan commons is Savage Punch. I don’t believe I’ve ever cast this card without ferocious, so I’m not sure its very effective as a two mana Prey Upon. However as long as your deck can reasonably put ferocious online this is absolutely fantastic removal. Most of the time I see it curve off of a turn 3 Alpine Grizzly or Bloodfire Expert and then crash in for 6 damage, or target a Wooly Loxodon to make silly things happen. Its certainly near the edge of “too conditional” since there are plenty of scenarios where it won’t do what you need, but the upside is so good that I’m happy to pick this highly and then focus on enabling ferocious with my creatures.

Honorable Mention:

Another Abzan card… while Efreet Weaponmaster can lead to blowouts, I find Abzan Guide is the common morph that outright steals the most games. It counters decks that try to wall up with Bloodfire Mentors and win with Jeskai Windscouts, as well as decks that try to race with tokens and Trumpet Blast. In a fair midrange match, it almost always buys you extra turns or straight up puts the game out of the opponent’s reach. The only reason I don’t rank this card as a good first pick is that despite the best commons being Abzan, the guide is not good enough to make me want to force it from the start of a pack.

On the other end of the spectrum are the commons that should pretty much never be played. Khans of Tarkir has a surprisingly high number of playable commons, as many cards that look terrible actually have niches to fill in various deck archetypes (e.g. Kin-Tree Warden in the morph or warriors deck). That being said I can still identify ten cards that I never want to see in my maindeck in KTK draft:

THE BAD:

I’m sure this is meant to answer artifacts out of the sideboard, but the only artifacts I would really worry about would be Ghostfire Blade and maybe Dragon Throne of Tarkir, which are both rares and alone not likely reason for me to sideboard in a shatter.

A card that does nothing but gain life is usually not playable. While lifegain can be excellent when stapled onto another effect that we consistently want, on its own is usually just worse than a Fog. Ten life for 2 mana may be the most aggressively costed life gain we’ve seen, and its still not enough to make it good. Theoretically this could be boarded in by a Temur deck when matched against an aggressive trumpet blast deck, but in practice I’m not sure I could actually bring myself to sleeve this card up even in this scenario.

Enchantments are a bit more significant than artifacts in KTK limited, but still not really something you need maindeck answers to. Debilitating Injury is usually used as a kill spell, Singing Bell Strike takes care of itself eventually. Getting rid of an ascendancy or Suspension Field is very good, but I’d need to see a couple of valid targets before really wanting to bring this card into my deck – and I’d never run it in my starting 40.

I think this is actually a bit better than naturalize. Hitting artifacts is rarely relevant, but costing half as much mana and exiling is something (take that delve!). I’m still almost never running this even out of the board, but I could imagine sideboarding it in in very rare circumstances.


Card selection and delve enabling! Sure… and Chimney Imp is evasive card advantage. If this card had been instant, it could be played for its ability to trigger prowess as a combat trick or make use of mana at the end of the opponent’s turn. If it drew a card, it’d actually be worth the mana on turn 2 to turn on delve. Sadly it does neither, and the ability to maybe put a couple good cards on top of your deck is still not worth a card. A lot closer to Index than Grisly Salvage.

Maybe – maybe – I sideboard this in versus the 5 colour morph deck. This card would be a lot better if there had been more shuffling effects available to manipulate the top card of your deck. Unfortunately this is not the case, and its just not worth an entire card for nothing but information in a format that is so often a game of attrition.

A rampant growth that blocks morphs all day! Well, except as a rampant growth it requires two colours on the field to activate, and as mana fixing its more expensive, clunky, and slow than just playing one of the many dual or tri lands. This is also not really a format where jumping straight from 2 mana to 4 mana is particularly great since there’s a glut of 3 mana creatures and almost nothing to do with 1 mana (I suppose a tapped land counts). As for blocking morphs, most morphs will unflip and kill a 0/3, so you’ll need to keep 1G available to avoid losing card advantage against morphs anyways.In the early game this isn’t realistic, and in the late game fetching a land is not likely to make much difference.

Defender really kills this card. If it had been a Durkwood Boars with an off-colour ability to gain life it would have been quite playable and maybe even good. However I’m not really looking for my 5 drops to help me stall the game. It has some very tenuous synergy with Kheru Bloodsucker, Swarm of Bloodflies, and Act of Treason, but not nearly enough to make the card a good pick. Just play Rotting Mastodon if you need a 5 mana wall – at least it swings for 2 and can plausibly win the game.

For one more mana over Taigam’s Scheming we get to probably draw a card. Slightly better as well for being green instead of blue, as green traditionally isn’t great at drawing cards. Unfortunately I’m still not really looking to pay 3 mana at sorcery speed to draw 1 card and add 4 to my delve count. Again, as an instant this would have been far more interesting. Decks have limited space for non-creature spells, and I’m running combat tricks and removal before I even consider such weak “card advantage”.

Like Scout the Borders, Dutiful Return isn’t flat-out unplayable, it’s just not good enough to earn a slot in the vast majority of draft decks. It’s painfully slow at what it does, and needs to be returning rares or abzan guides to really generate value. Most of the time its going to cost you an entire turn to draw one good creature and one more-or-less irrelevant one, which for four mana is going to usually be too little too late.

Honorable Mention [TEDitor’s Note: or possibly dishonourable?]:

I believe the risk of getting 2-for-1d is still too great for +2+4 to be worth a card, but we are in a format where the removal is slow and conditional. I’ve seen it played in situations where it posed a real problem, such as a turn 3 Mardu Hordechief turning into a 4/7 or Jeskai Windscout turning into a 4/5 (temporarily 5/6!). These are relatively high risk plays – if the opponent has an answer (e.g. Kill Shot), you lose tempo and cards, but if they don’t have the removal the threat may be big enough to carry the game.

Finally, there are a few commons that have simply surprised me over the course of the last few months in drafting without necessarily being on the unplayable or top-picks list:

THE SURPRISING:

When KTK spoilers came out I thought Jeskai Student was going to be amazing. A two-drop that could stare down morphs with ease, threatening to kill them with any random instant cast during combat. The problem is that morphs don’t stay 2/2 for very long, and there aren’t that many instants that you can just throw away for a prowess trigger (Weave Fate, Defiant Strike). Jeskai Student ends up being outright worse than Wetland Sambar a lot of the time, as it can’t actually trade with a morph, and presents half the damage of a sambar on an empty board. I’ll run it for curve purposes, but I no longer pick them highly and actively avoid maindecking them unless I’m on some crazy jeskai prowess deck.

This is a card I originally dismissed as junk, and have since come to see as a card I always want 1 of in my deck if I’m in red. Khans has a lot of ways to gum up the board, so the Falter effect is crucial to being able to alpha strike when a game gets slow. The Electrickery effect is also not to be underestimated, as it takes out goblin and warrior tokens, and some relevant creatures like Jeskai Windscout and Mardu Skullhunter.

At a glance this seems pretty weak, but its actually a reasonable playable especially in aggressive decks. Like Siegecraft, it benefits from the removal in the format being fairly weak but unlike Siegecraft its very cheap and protects the creature from a lot of possible removal if it resolves. While “2 haste damage” is often all an aggressive deck will really care about, it doesn’t hurt that the card helps smaller bodies punch through the signature KTK high toughness blockers.

Another part of the trend of weak removal is that 5 mana instant speed -4-4 is actually almost unconditional. Throttle kills the vast majority of cards you want to get rid of straight up, and can team up with a blocker to take out anything else. I’m not happy taking this card high in a pack, nor am I upset about having a copy or two in my midrange deck.

That’s all for now, draft your commons wisely and good luck with your remaining KTK drafts!