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From the Fringe: Reevaluating Limited Formats

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

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One of the greatest skills a Magic player can possess is the ability to evaluate cards. For a dedicated Limited player, this skill is even more valuable. Much like stockbrokers buying and selling shares, Magic players need the ability to judge and reevaluate cards as formats evolve. With the addition of Dragon’s Maze to the draft environment, certain Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica cards that were only OK in their previous existence are now much more phenomenal. Consider these just a few of the fringe commons and uncommons that are making a comeback in the current environment.

Batterhorn

There are a plethora of four-, five-, and six-mana creatures at common that get overlooked in drafts, and Batterhorn was one of them. In triple-Return to Ravnica draft, Batterhorn saw limited use as a curve-topper for Rakdos and Izzet decks that needed a little bit of beef to close out games. With the addition of Dragon’s Maze, however, Batterhorn is far better than before. Its four power continues to be relevant as it can tangle with most creatures in the format. But what makes Batterhorn far better now is the increase in relevant targets for its enters-the-batterfiled ability. In Return to Ravnica, the usual targets for Batterhorn were the occasionally Keyrune; now it has an entirely new field of targets in the Cluestone cycle. Almost every Dragon’s Maze deck that runs more than two colors has at least one Cluestone, in addition to any other artifacts in their deck. This makes Batterhorn an excellent maindeck creature who can ruin an opponent’s mana-fixing and punish them if they rely on artifacts for mana production and can’t hit a land drop.

Rubbleback Rhino

Part of what makes fringe creatures more applicable in draft is how they work not only within a vacuum but with the other spells in a current set. The perfect example is Rubbleback Rhino. A 3/4 for five mana is downright sad in Limited, even with the hexproof ability. And in almost any other set, this creature would be an overlooked card. Return to Ravnica did have some powerful enchantments such as Ethereal Armor and Knightly Valor, along with the scavenge mechanic. The addition of Dragon’s Maze and Gatecrash packs, however, have introduced several cards that can turn this unassuming beast into a monster. The evolve mechanic grants +1/+1 counters and cards such as Madcap Skills and Holy Mantle can turn the five-drop into a legitimate finisher. A 5/6 creature with protection from creatures and hexproof or a 6/4 creature who must be blocked by two or more creatures is terrifying prospect for your opponent. If this wasn’t enough to help push this once-fringe pick, Rubbleback Rhino makes an excellent target for bloodrush without fear of losing the target for your abilty.

Armored Transport

This was a solid creature for aggressive decks in triple-Gatecrash draft. It excelled primarily because it was a creature that could come out of the gates quickly, attack with relative impunity, enable battalion, and serve as an excellent target for bloodrush. What Armored Transport lacks is an ability to block effectively, but in a lightning-fast format like Gatecrash, it was still a solid choice for aggressive decks. But Dragon’s Maze is a far slower draft environment. Players have access to a stronger suite of removal spells and x/4 defensive creatures, stretching games out longer and longer. If you are attempting to draft an aggressive two-color deck, Armored Transport can still be a reasonable choice; but strong three-color decks and an inability to block effectively means this card has dropped significantly in value.

Simic Fluxmage

In triple-Gatecrash draft, Simic Fluxmage was highly debated by some of the game’s best pro players. Some insisted that it made combat a nightmare for your opponent and that switching +1/+1 counters could keep the Simic train going when your creatures got too big to evolve but not big enough to break through. Other players contested that because of the inherent speed of Gatecrash, spending three mana on a 1/2 wasn’t worth a high pick when nine times out of 10, it wouldn’t evolve any of your other creatures when it entered the battlefield. But the games in Dragon’s Maze draft have slowed down considerably, allowing more time to slowly increase your forces with repeated use of the Fluxmage’s ability. What makes this card even better now is the fact that many players had mixed reactions to it during Gatecrash — now you can pick it up far later in the pack than its power suggests.

Dark Revenant

One of the most maligned uncommons in Return to Ravnica draft, there are times when Dark Revenant is absolutely terrible and times where a permanently recurring 2/2 flier is actually very good. As an attacker, it bypasses ground blockers and tangles with most flying creatures including pesky bird tokens. As a blocker it essentially allows you to permanently lock down an opposing creature as long as you can continue to pay for the Revenant’s mana cost. The card made a valuable appearance at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, when Piotr Wald used Dark Revenant to apply constant pressure against his opponent, Sean Plott. While Plott maintained an initial advantage, Wald’s constant 2/2 flier meant he could afford to block and trade without losing his board presence.

Nivix Cyclops

Yes, this is a Dragon’s Maze card, but it shows how the value of archetypes also also change as new sets are added. In triple-Return to Ravnica draft, Izzet players relied heavily on strong defensive creatures to get them from a tumultuous early game to a point where their high-cost overload cards could do some serious damage. There were a number of good defensive options such as Doorkeeper, Hover Barrier, and even Frostburn Weird, but the defenders were unable to provide the extra push needed for the final attack. Nivix Cyclops solves that problem, and is a high pick for decks with lots of good instants and sorceries. It’s a capable blocker — able to handle the attacks of most unleashed cards and 3/3 centaur tokens — but the ability to pump and attack is what makes Nivix Cyclops so dangerous. Having these in multiples can be especially useful for the large, haymaker plays for which Izzet spells are famous. Using Teleportal on a board with two Nivix Cyclops creates 10 points of unblockable damage. Using Blustersquall to tap down an entire defensive force simultaneously makes your team bigger and forces your opponent to take a ton of damage.

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