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Limited Pointing: The Results!

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Today I'll be going over the results from last week's Limited Pointing exercise. If you weren't around for it then I'd suggest giving last week's article a quick skim through and then having a look at the survey from that column too. I'll be going through Director of Magic R&D Randy Buehler's opinions on some of the cards as well as my own but I think you'll find it useful to give your own scores first before you're influenced by what anyone else thinks.

The results made for some pretty interesting reading. There are some cards that were way over-valued and some that were consistently under-rated as well. Card evaluation is one of the key skills you need to be a successful drafter, but it's not always easy to determine just where on the scale a particular card should be. Everyone has their favourite cards – I recently took a lot of flack for drafting a second pick Altar of Shadows over Shatter at my National Championships but that's still a pick I'd make again – but in general you need to know how high to value each and every card. Hopefully some of the examples from today's column will give you more a bit more information about the fine line between playable and unplayable.

For the record the scale that the cards are rated on runs from 0 to 5, and worked out like this:

5.0: I will always play this card. Period.

4.5: I will almost always play this card, regardless of what else I get.

4.0: I will strongly consider playing this as the only card of its color.

3.5: I feel a strong pull into this card's color.

3.0: This card makes me want to play this color. (Given that I'm playing that color, I will play this card 100% of the time.)

2.5: Several cards of this power level start to pull me into this color. If playing that color, I essentially always play these. (Given that I'm playing that color, I will play this card 90% of the time.)

2.0: If I'm playing this color, I usually play these. (70%)

1.5: This card will make the cut into the main deck about half the times I play this color. (50%)

1.0: I feel bad when this card is in my main deck. (30%)

0.5: There are situations where I might sideboard this into my deck, but I'll never start it. (10%)

0.0: I will never put this card into my deck (main deck or after sideboarding). (0%)

Card evaluation is a key skill for successful drafting.

Very few cards are rated at 5.0. It really has to be a colourless card to score that highly as no matter how good a coloured card might be sometimes it just won't be worth sacrificing the consistency of your mana base for just one card. As a result it won't always get played and whilst it might score up to 4.5 or 4.7 you won't always play it and so it won't be worth a 5.0.

Today I'll be going through the cards from the survey and giving you the reader's score, Randy's score, and my own. Where appropriate I'll also give you a bit of discussion about why some of those scores are so different and what we can learn from those differences.

Let's start the ball rolling with…

Spikeshot Goblin

Randy's Score: 3.2
Reader Score: 3.4
My Score: 3.4

This is clearly above a 3.0 as you're always playing it if you are red. I think it's an excellent common but not one you'd always want to splash for and sometimes it might not be amazing if you have no way to boost the little Goblin's power up at all. One of the best commons in Mirrodin and this is reflected in its high rating.



Ogre Leadfoot

Randy's Score: 1.3
Reader Score: 1.7
My Score: 1.1

I said in my last article that it was very common for people to over-rate cards initially and I think you'll see this trend through-out this article. The reader score is a little high for the Ogre but you were all pretty close to Randy's score so it's not too bad. The problem the Ogre has is solely his casting cost. He's a perfectly fine creature when he's in play, I just don't like paying five mana for him. In this block he'd be a little under-costed if he only cost four to cast so five is probably correct but I personally like to keep the average cost of my deck quite low and as a result I almost always cut this guy from my decks.



Goblin Striker

Randy's Score: 0.3
Reader Score: 1.5
My Score: 0.3

Now we're getting to some serious differences. Its worth noting that these scores are just the average reader scores; hundreds of people ranked the Goblin at 2 or higher! So, the average reader rates the Goblin as making their main-deck around 50% of the time, whereas Randy and I basically think it's unplayable. Why the huge difference?

On the face of it the Goblin looks like he could be okay. Sure he's only a 1/1 but lots of 1/1s get played in this format. Auriok Transfixer, Acrbound Stinger and Disciple of the Vault are just a few examples of 1/1 creatures that often make the cut in limited decks. The Goblin only costs two mana, and he has First-Strike to help him out in combat as well.

The problem is just how much of an impact you can expect him to have on the game. The Transfixer can often negate a creature much more expensive than itself. When it's tapping down a Pewter Golem or a Goblin Dirigible every turn it's having a big impact on the game. Disciple of the Vault is a card that can easily cause life-loss to your opponent even when it's not able to attack. And Arcbound Stinger has Flying, which is a lot better than First-Strike on a 1/1, plus the Arcbound ability itself. Wizards thinks a +/1+/1 counter can be worth a card (think Battlegrowth) so getting the chance of a free counter on top of a 1/1 flyer makes the Stinger worth it's price.

Goblin Striker on the other hand has real trouble attacking into any other creature. Even if your opponent chooses not to block the Striker they'll only lose one life by doing so. If you get a Bonesplitter or Cranial Plating on a Striker then yes, your opponent might struggle but in those situations it's the equipment that's doing the work, not the Goblin itself. The Goblin just doesn't do enough by itself to make it worth two mana and a card. This is one creature you should definitely be leaving out of your decks pretty much all the time.

Fists of the Anvil

Randy's Score: 0.7
Reader Score: 1.7
My Score: 0.8

Fists is another of those cards that can look appealing initially. It only costs two mana, it grants +4 power and it's an instant as well! The problem is that it will rarely result in you gaining any sort of significant advantage in a game. Probably the best thing you can do with this card is use it on a First-Striker (not Goblin Striker I hope…) to kill off a big attacker or blocker. In that situation you've still only traded one card for an opponent's card. You've gained a bit of tempo maybe as the Fists only cost you two mana vs the five or so your opponent paid for his guy but that's it. A lot of the time you'll be forced to use the Fists to trade an average creature like a Krark-Clan Stoker for an opposing Fangren Hunter. Now you might have not been able to deal with the Hunter in any other way, which is fair enough, but this sort of trade is exactly the same as double-blocking really, you're trading two of your cards for one of your opponent's. Doing that often is a sure way to lose a match.

The time I think Fists is at its best is simply when it's dealing four damage to an opponent. If your deck is very aggressive and has a lot of evasion then Fists can usually be relied on to deal four to an opponent for just two mana. Sometimes you might want that. Personally, I'd almost always rather just have another creature to help keep up the pressure. Randomly casting Fists of the Anvil on an unblocked creature can be a very bad idea if your opponent happens to have a trick like Echoing Truth or even something like Awe Strike in their hand. In those situations you're just giving away card advantage.

Slith Firewalker

Randy's Score: 2
Reader Score: 2.6
My Score: 2.3

All the scores here are fairly close together and I don't disagree with any of them really. I don't think Slith Firewalker really makes it up above 2.5 as it often does get cut if the mana base of the deck can't support it. It's only ever the double-red casting cost that hurts this guy, if he cost 1R instead of RR he'd be in every red deck I ever had I'm sure. He's still very powerful and when you think your mana will usually be able to support his casting cost on the second turn then you should always have him in your deck.



Grab the Reins

Randy's Score: 3.7
Reader Score: 3.7
My Score: 3.7

Everyone was in complete agreement on this one and I think that score is correct. A Grab the Reins in your sealed deck pool is a definite pull towards red. I don't like splashing for it though, as you really do need to be able to Entwine it to get the full use from it. Without access to double red consistently you won't get the full power from this card and that's reflected in it's rating. If it had a colourless Entwine cost then you'd be looking at a score in the mid 4s for this one. Easily one of the most powerful red cards in the set but still 'only' a score of 3.7.



War Elemental

Randy's Score: 0.1
Reader Score: 1.8
My Score: 0.3

Another creature that seems heavily over-rated by the readers here. This guy is theoretically very nice – he gets huge very quickly if he's in play and your opponent is taking damage. Unfortunately there are just far too many restrictions in getting that scenario to actually happen. Let's go through them:

  • First, you have to have access to triple red mana.
  • Second, you need to have dealt your opponent damage the turn you cast it.
  • Third, you need your opponent to be unable to deal with a 1/1 for a turn.
  • Fourth, you need to be able to deal damage to your opponent even when they know the War Elemental is in play.

It might sound possible but in reality you basically never get all of those things happening at the same time. If you are able to repeatedly deal damage to your opponent then chances are you're in good shape anyway and you don't even need the War Elemental. When your draw isn't the best and you do need something to help you out then War Elemental is terrible as a 3 mana 1/1 with a drawback. Although the situation might exist where War Elemental makes the cut (maybe a mono-red deck with several Vulshok Sorcerers) I never found a situation yet where I could consider playing it.

Arc-Slogger

Randy's Score: 3.4
Reader Score: 3.1
My Score: 3.6

I probably like Arc-Slogger a little more than most people but I still think it's been under-rated slightly in the survey. Let's compare it to Fangren Hunter. If you're the green drafter then you'll be playing Fangren Hunter all the time. Fangren has to rate around a 3.0 on our scale. With Arc-Slogger you get an extra point of toughness, which is very nice, and you get this great ability that usually lets you take out two creatures or simply deal four damage straight to an opponent's head. Even though you're running a 40 card deck you'll still find that most limited games end inside 13 turns and you can usually afford to activate it twice. You also tend to find that your games do end a lot faster when you take out two opposing creatures without it even costing you a card. At only five mana, Arc-Slogger is a real game winner and I put it very close to Grab the Reins in terms of power on this scale.

Inflame

Randy's Score: 0.4
Reader Score: 0.8
My Score: 0.5

The scores on this one are fine really. While the effect you get is good enough, and the card itself is very cheap, there aren't too many situations where you can take advantage of it. The most common time creatures will be receiving damage is during combat and you'd usually hope to kill the opposing creature outright with combat damage. If you have to sacrifice a creature to deal the initial damage and then use Inflame to finish it off your opponent's then that's back to two cards you've used to kill one of your opponents. Not a good place to be. The time when Inflame is best is when you have something like a Longbow or Spikeshot or some other ways of dealing non-combat damage. In those situations Inflame is fine. Sometimes it can even be good – you can shoot something with a Longbow, equip it to another of your creatures and then shoot something else. An Inflame at that juncture might allow you to take out two respectable creatures for just the loss of just one of your own cards. That situation is a bit extreme though; if you have an active Longbow hopefully the Inflame wouldn't be necessary.

The other time it's useful is if you have a number of first-strikers. You can attack your Goblin Brawler into a Fangren Hunter then cast Inflame after the Goblin has dealt its first-strike damage but before the Fangren Hunter deals its damage.

If you have a deck with several first-strikers and pingers then Inflame way have a place in your main deck but under the vast majority of circumstances it should be in your sideboard and left there.

Barbed Lightning

Randy's Score: 2.9
Reader Score: 3.0
My Score: 3.3

A slight disagreement on this one but again, all the scores are basically the same. I can't conceive of a red deck that I wouldn't play Barbed Lightning in and I'll usually give it a lot of consideration when deciding upon whether or not to splash a colour too. Removal spells are always at a premium in both draft and sealed deck and this is definitely one of the better ones. In an aggressive deck the extra three damage you get through the Entwine cost is excellent and significantly adds to this card's power. I think it has to deserve a rating somewhat over 3.0 because it's an “always play” card and it will frequently influence your decision on whether to have red as a splash colour.

Next Week

That's half of the cards done with. Next week I'll be going through the rest of them, including the one card that caused the biggest discrepancy in the ratings. I'll also be summing up some of the major points you can use when evaluating cards in the future. See you then!

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