Author: andrewkiene (Page 1 of 4)

One year of Eternal Sealed

There was a time when I posted here regularly, or at least once a month, summarizing my experience with Eternal’s monthly sealed leagues. Unfortunately I haven’t had much motivation to write lately. Part of it stems from not being as deeply invested in Eternal as I used to be, and part of it stems from some things that have been going on in my personal life that have left me without a ton of motivation to write.

But we recently crossed a major milestone for my favorite Eternal pastime, the monthly sealed league. A full year’s worth of leagues have come and gone, and I feel like I should have a retrospective look at how I have fared. Below is a table summarizing my records and the factions I played.

Month Wins Losses Win% Factions (Splash)
April ’18 22 18 55% FTJ
May 34 6 85% TJP(S)
June 33 7 82.5% TJP
July* 19 11 63.3% TS(P)
August 28 12 70% FJP
September 28 12 70% JP(S)
October 25 15 62.5% JP
November 28 12 70% TJP(S)
December 27 13 67.5% JP(S)
January ’19 28 12 70% FJS
February 28 12 70% TJP
March 29 11 72.5% TPS
Total 329 141 70%

How fitting that, after going 28-12 so many times, I’d wind up with exactly 70% overall win rate. Usually 27 wins will get you to the premium legendary reward tier (Top 500), and sometimes 26-14 will get there, but you might need some tiebreakers. The only months in which I failed to reach the premium legendary reward tier were April, July, and October–and I had a decent shot in July. The pool was better than the record showed, so I think I could have spiked an 8-2, but I missed that last week due to vacation. Alas.

70% is quite high. In a game with so much variance, in the highest-variance format possible, I managed to win 70% of my games. I’m pretty proud of that, but I’m also a bit disappointed to have not spiked any high finishes in the last nine months. While the difference between 28-12 and 33-7 is really only a few packs and bragging rights, and it’s certainly more economical to go 28-12 every month instead of 33-7 followed by 23-17 or whatever, I do love the rush of spiking tournaments and would gladly trade off some subpar finishes. Still, hitting premium legendaries nearly every month with very little effort compared to ranking up is pretty nice. I do have some dark secrets to share with you that I used to game the system a little bit.

The first of these is one I have discussed previously: It’s very often correct to wait to play your games. This is particularly true if you consider yourself to be an above-average player with a close-to-average pool. I’m not going to claim to be the best Eternal player out there–there are hundreds of people far more dedicated to the game than I am–but I have never had trouble hitting the top draft ranks when I devote the requisite time and effort. Having a more coherent deck and more tools to leverage will benefit you if you’re the stronger player, even if your opponent also has a stronger deck. If you play your games when you both have weaker decks, you may be able to play circles around your opponent, but it may not matter if they find their bombs and you don’t.

You will miss out on tiebreaker games if you choose to wait, but tiebreakers are worth at the very most one single win. You could go 28-12 and 80-0 in tiebreaker games over the month, but you’d still be ranked behind a person that went 29-11 and 0-80 in tiebreakers. They’re next to worthless, especially if waiting would raise your win rate by a single game, and your time is always better spent doing something else, unless you’re truly enjoying your sealed deck that much.

The second is one I’m moderately ashamed to have considered, but here it goes: I play my games at the end of weeks, often right up to the deadline. Why does this give me an edge? Well, the most dedicated players often play their games fairly early in the week. Same goes for those who have great pools and are excited to play them. That eliminates a large chunk of players who would be likely to beat me on pure skill. I have no data to back up this “hot tip,” other than my own personal experience, but I almost always felt advantaged based on the level of deck-building and decision-making that I saw from my opponents. More than in the average draft game, at any rate. Is it a bit scummy to try and game the system this way? Maybe, but my anxiety about rank/ladder keeps me from playing until the deadline anyway…

You can never have too much Justice

This isn’t really a hot secret, merely an observation about how my pools have played out. Below is the frequency at which I played (splashed) factions:

Fire: 3 (0)

Time: 7 (0)

Justice: 10 (0)

Primal: 8 (1)

Shadow: 3 (4)

Only two out of twelve months did not have Justice involved. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not really that surprising. Like white in Magic, Justice kind of does it all, even if not especially well. It’s capable of filling all of the holes left by your other factions while having a high density of the most important cards in sealed: the almighty flyers.

Fire and Shadow were the least-played factions by a lot, also unsurprisingly. Fire specializes in cheap dorks and removal (besides Torch) that isn’t very efficient if you aren’t ahead. Many of Fire’s cards only fit in aggressively-slanted decks, which cuts out a large chunk of cards you can pair with Fire. My Fire decks tended to be very tempo-oriented, which requires a high density of cards that fit that plan. If you don’t meet that density, you’re going to have a very bad time because clunky cards will punish you harshly when you’re also throwing away value for the sake of speed.

Shadow has great removal, but its units are quite underwhelming or demand synergies that your sealed pool isn’t likely to have. I splashed Shadow a lot, which reinforces that point: It’s good for removal, but not much else.

Really, if I could sign up to have playable TJP pools every time, I would. The combination of beefy ground-pounders, flyers, efficient weapons, and combat tricks is really what makes a sealed pool tick. Interestingly, I had the most success with lower-removal decks that were able to grind value in other ways. Sealed is completely combat-focused; there are very few true control decks. Combat tricks are often removal-but-better because they can also be used to change the dynamics of a race (or straight-up win one). That brings me to the card I’d call my overall sealed MVP:

This unassuming little trick just does it all. It’s efficient, for one, meaning you can often leverage it later in the game while still developing your board. It’s fantastic in board stalls, since the moment you are able to get a single creature through, even a 1/1, your opponent might just be dead. Even if they aren’t dead, this thing can blow out double blocks if they try to trade up, leaving you ahead on board and allowing you to keep your best unit that they were trying to take down. Big boards are common in sealed, where removal is limited, meaning this will be +4/+4 or more quite often. The fact that it’s often such a large pump effect allows you to have a trump card in combat-trick wars. Somehow people overlook this card quite a lot. I’ve seen a lot of people block such that they’ll beat Finest Hour when I have 2 power only to get absolutely wrecked by Strength of Many. Finest Hour is the better card, but I’ve just gotten so much work out of Strength of Many in so many of my pools that I’m always thrilled to see it.

Though I’ve certainly played less and less Eternal since MTG Arena and other games have occupied more of my time, I still love the sealed league and try to get my daily ranked wins done (shoutout to Isomorphic’s hilarious Diogo-Invoke the Waystones combo deck that has made ranked actually fun for me again). I still hope to post monthly updates on my sealed experience, along with reviews for the next draft set, which is coming “sooner than we think” according to DWD. Here’s hoping.

Until next time, whenever that is!

Defiance Set Review – Shadow

Bringing up the rear of the single-faction reviews, it’s time to have a look into the Shadows. Here I’ll be going over every card in the faction, complete with grades and deeper discussion if the card warrants it.  If you’re looking for an overview before getting started with the format, check out my primer article linked below. You’ll also find links to the other five set reviews.

Defiance Limited Overview

Defiance Limited Review – Fire

Defiance Limited Review – Time

Defiance Limited Review – Justice

Defiance Limited Review – Primal

Defiance Limited Review – Multifaction and Neutral

The format of the reviews will follow LSV’s classic Magic set reviews that I’ve always enjoyed. Each card will be assigned a grade from 0 to 5, based on the scale below:

0.0 – Completely unplayable in a main deck; might have market use if you draft a merchant.

0.5 – Unplayable in a main deck barring some insane circumstance

1.0 – Will always do something, but is generally niche or just plain overcosted.

1.5 – Extremely mediocre filler. Something you’re unhappy to wind up playing, but will sometimes have to.

2.0 – Filler. Your deck will have a few of these, but hopefully not too many.

2.5 – Slightly better filler. These will be the lion’s share of your deck, the “pawns.”

3.0 – Stronger playables. Not enough to perhaps draw you into the faction, but cards you are happy to wind up playing in your final deck.

3.5 – Very strong, efficient playables. You won’t have tons of these, but they represent a strong pull into their faction.

4.0 – Bombs or cards that warp the game around themselves, but are still answerable if your opponent has the right cards.

4.5 – Cards that are nearly impossible to beat if you draw and play them, but that come with some caveat (usually their cost). These almost universally generate card advantage or an absurd tempo advantage, and there’s nothing your opponent can do about it.

5.0 – Cards that are basically impossible for the opponent to answer cleanly, will win the game on their own, and aren’t prohibitive to play in any way. It’s extremely rare for a card to be a 5.0, and that’s a good thing, because they aren’t any fun to play against (looking at you, Pack Rat).

BA – Build-around. These are cards that are clearly meant to be played only when you have the right synergies, and their power level will vary wildly as a result.

Obviously every card can be more or less powerful depending on your archetype (aggro vs. midrange vs. control) or the other cards surrounding it (your 10th 3-drop isn’t going to be that good), so the grades are meant as a guideline, not a hard rule, and you should really be looking at the comments on each card rather than the hard number grade. The fact that we have to adjust our views on cards based on context as the draft progresses is what makes drafting so interesting.

I do want to preface this and all of my set reviews with the fact that I’m a filthy casual. I don’t devote tons of time to grinding card games anymore, but that just means that I try to play at the highest level possible when I do find the time. If I only have an hour to play, I damn sure want to win if I can, or revel in memes if I can’t. That does color my reviews a bit. I may be off on some cards due to lack of experience or desire to meme, though I hope that I at least do a decent job justifying the line of thinking that leads me to particular grades.

Borrowed Violence

Grade: 0.0

If somebody asks you to borrow an entire card just to give their units +1 attack, please encourage them to get help.

Cabal Scavenger

Grade: 0.5

This is just too low-impact for most decks. If lifeforce were still a thing, this would look a little better, but there aren’t any of those cards in the curated packs anymore, so this is not the relic payoff you’re looking for.

Direwood Slasher

Grade: 1.5

If you are very, very aggressive, this is fine, but this basically only fits in the super-aggro TJS (Vision) Empower shell. Because TJS can also play a slower game, I would basically never pick this card in pack 1 unless there’s literally nothing else playable in the pack. I want to be 100% certain I’m the beatdown before spending real picks on a 1/1 for 1.

Lethrai Lobotomy

Grade: 1.0

This is a Combust that’s harder to play and has extremely high tension with the rest of TPS (Knowledge)’s relic-matters plan. At the end of the day, this is card disadvantage and situational to boot. It might make the cut sometimes, but it will rarely be actively good.

Rat Cage

Grade: 1.0

Because the rats can’t block and also most likely can’t profitably attack, you need to be getting a LOT of rats for this to get there, but I just don’t see that coming together.

Also, why is this cage making more rats? It’s clearly a terrible cage.

Secret Passage

Grade: 3.0/1.0

This represents a way to punch through to end a game, which means I want exactly one. Knowing when to turn the corner on this is going to be a big deal, since you’ll probably be killing them over the course of a few turns. If you make the call at the wrong time and start sacrificing units, you’ll be in big trouble if you can’t close the deal.

Weary Spiteling

Grade: BA

This is unplayable without a few ways to get it back from the void. If you have at least three of those, this can get pretty nasty, but don’t play it otherwise.

Blood Quill

Grade: 0.0

My hands would be bleeding by the time I finished writing up with a situation in which this was remotely a playable card, so it’s a flavor win I guess? At least this bottom-card-thing isn’t clogging up our legendary slots this time.

Curator’s Spear

Grade: 2.0

Most of the time this is just a Talon of Nostrix, which is fine, if unexciting. Sometimes it’ll get to kill an X/3, which ain’t nothin’. Makes a good target for Elvish Swindler.

Heirloom Seeker

Grade: 2.5

I like pledge on this a lot, because it’ll be pretty obvious how good this is going to be by your opener. If you’re missing a cheap relic, pledge away. If you’ve got the relic, this can get some pretty good beats on in the early turns and stay relevant late.

Kerendon Steward

Grade: 3.0

This is so much better than the other cheap deadly units because it’s a relevant clock that your opponent can’t just refuse to trade for, and attacking with 4 health means it demands a real, impactful card to trade with it. It’s good on offense and on defense, which is why it earns such a higher grade than, say, Direfang Spider.

I’m not sure how guy-pouring-wine gets swole enough to smash as hard as some dinosaurs, but maybe he’s got some hulk drugs to go with his poisons.

Mob Rule

Grade: 3.0

Boards often tend to get pretty big in limited, so this does a serviceable job killing stuff without costing too much. Note that your opponent can get you with a pump effect, since this counts attack, not cost. If you are super controlling with a higher curve, you may not want this, but most midrange or aggro decks will be fine playing it.

Mournful Deathcap

Grade: BA/1.0

This would be much higher if only it weren’t rare. Most of the time, the discard effect will be entirely irrelevant, so you’re playing a hard-to-cast 0/4. If you do have a Sadistic Glee or two, this can be a nice way to supplement that, but I wouldn’t play it otherwise.

Obliviobot

Grade: 1.0

If you get a real beatdown deck, this might fit there, since your opponent can’t take 5 forever, but the fact that they can just trade a 1/1 for it makes this pretty loose.

Scavenge

Grade: 1.0

Again, the rats being unable to block just kills all of these cards. There are several Fire cards that also generate 1/1s, but those can at least block (and have charge). I’d rather just stick to those if I want to play tokens, I think.

Tavia, Lethrai Raidleader

Grade: 4.0

Attacking as a 3/2 with quickdraw means it’s going to be tough to block her, and pumping any other elves you happen to have is a nice bonus. Her “spellshaper” ability costs a lot, but it’s a great way to turn situational cards or extra power into relevant bodies, and you’re not forced to use the ability to make this a very good card; it’s all upside.

Warlock’s Brew

Grade: 3.0

If we had the opposite effect (+2/+2) somewhere in the set, then all these stupid rats would make more sense. The existence of this card just serves to make them, and any other repeatable token-makers, worse. Even without the bonus clause, a fast -2/-2 is a great deal for 2.

It’s a real shame that DWD decided to keep the training wheels on this one and make it only affect enemy units. I was ready to put out an easy meme bounty for an opponent killing their own thing with this. Too bad.

Flickerling

Grade: 2.0

It is a wisp, which is about the only notable thing here, except we don’t have any wisp-matters cards in the curated packs.

Mug

Grade: 1.0

This is a card that a lot of people erroneously play in Magic. On the surface, it looks like a fine card: always trades 1-for-1 (unless they are out of gas, in which case you’re happy either way), will sometimes nab a big bomb. What else do you want?

A key realization when evaluating this and other discard spells is that YOU are spending power while they are not. You might get their big 7-drop bomb, but you’re losing a lot of tempo to do it. Imagine missing your 2-drop and having this be the 3-drop you draw. You’re going to be so far behind after playing this that it doesn’t matter how good of a card you discarded with it.

In Magic, it’s a very potent sideboard card if you see one or more of the aforementioned bombs out of your slower opponent, but generally not a card you want in your main deck. Eternal doesn’t have sideboards, so keep this on the sidelines unless you can merchant for it.

Rhysta, Acantha’s Herald

Grade: 3.0

Can’t block is a real drawback, but your opponent isn’t going to want to attack past her too often, since a 4/3 with warcry is going to demand a block. It’s nice that she helps smooth out your power draws, too.

Dumping Ground

Grade: 3.5

The “pay 10” ability looks a little less far-off when you give the enemy team -2/-1, but it’s still not the most relevant. Treat this as a plague-type effect, which makes it strong, but the sacrifice is a real cost.

Fangs in the Dark

Grade: 1.0

This might sometimes be a blowout, but if you’re making obvious bad attacks, your opponent is going to be ready for something like this. The fact that this is a combat trick that doesn’t work on defense make it unplayable in most cases.

Governor Sahin

Grade: BA

The day I hit Pit or Chains off this is the day I quit drafting and go out on top.

Meme Bounty: Show me a screenshot of Sahin hitting Pit of Lenekta or Martyr’s Chains in draft or sealed. $10 paypal to the winner.

Lethrai Intimidator

Grade: 1.5

Empower on 4-drops is not always the best, since you’re not always going to be hitting power drops from there on, especially so when the bonus doesn’t stick around. The bonus itself is fine, but you’re paying a pretty big cost for it, as a 2/3 is a bad deal for 4. Maybe this is something to do with your horde of rats, but this doesn’t block well enough to mean you won’t just die because nothing you have can block.

Umbral Edge

Grade: 1.0

This is an odd card. It’s one you want to play while ahead on board and just sit on for a few turns, but how often can you engineer that in limited? The payoff isn’t really worth that set-up cost. On 5, this is a 3/3 relic weapon, which does something, but still isn’t really worth the power.

Breathstealer

Grade: 1.0

This utterly fails to take my breath away. Pledge doesn’t save it. It trades down far too easily to be good, and there are too many other 5s I’d rather play.

Consuming Greed

Grade: 3.5

Hey, they finally put me on a card!

The 3/1 Valkyrie for 4 was a solid clock, and paying 1 more for the ability to convert a useless relic into a 6/4 is a pretty nice bit of value. This brings a lot of attack to the table for its cost.

Elder Astrologer

Grade: 4.0

One of the ways you can lose when you play big, expensive flyers like this is by getting raced by big ground-pounders, or by getting behind when they remove your big guy. The possibly-huge lifesteal swing the Astrologer brings with it goes a long way toward alleviating that risk.

Eye for an Eye

Grade: 2.5

While it’s rough that you often need to take a hit from something to set this up, it can potentially bring you sweet, sweet card advantage to make up for it. The best way to utilize this will be to send a big unit into a double-block situation, then kill the now-exhausted blocker that survived and get back your big guy, so be aware of opponents trying to do just that.

Pillar of Dreams

Grade: 0.0

I’m struggling to dream up a situation where this is good enough to warrant its cost. Even if you give your things +1 attack once or twice, playing an average 5-drop probably adds more power to the board at lower risk.

Auric Captain

Grade: 4.0

A big lifesteal unit can quickly turn the game around, and pumping your team (go rats!) is a pretty nice upside.

Bloodlust

Grade: 3.0

Madness-type effects aren’t usually good without ways to sacrifice the unit you’re stealing. Giving it reckless is kind of a built-in way of doing that, provided you have something that can block it, plus you get to smash them twice with their best unit. I like this card in general, though more controlling decks might not want it.

Sadistic Glee

Grade: BA

Don’t overrate this thing. The first one probably isn’t going to kill them, so most of the time it will just be a 6-cost 5/5, which is below-rate. If you have multiple copies or some ways to get it back when it dies, it becomes a legitimate win-condition, but I would avoid playing it otherwise.

Dizo’s Office

Grade: 4.5

This is expensive enough that you can hopefully set up to defend it . You’re only overpaying by 1 for Cut Ties, which further helps you protect the Office. If it survives even a single turn, Cut Ties + Scheme for 7 power is a sweet deal, and if Dizo shows up, he will probably end a stalled game quickly.

Fear Made Flesh

Grade: 3.5

Because this only comes down in the late-game and has to hit them for 5 to trigger, the ability is not as amazing as it looks, since they will be dead very soon if they’re eating hits for 5. Still, a 5/7 flyer with pledge is good on its own.

Improvised Club

Grade: 1.5

Sword of the Wanna-Be Sky King. This is a solid finisher for a midrange or control deck, as it will usually get at least two things. If you ever get to return it from your void, it will feel really good. You’ll never want more than one, though, and it’s easily replaceable with any big bomby card.

Acantha, the Huntress

Grade: 2.5

Her costing 9 keeps her from getting a higher score, but if you can get there, she pays you off handsomely by killing their best unit, then killing them. Pledge is a great upside on a card like this, since you’ll almost certainly Pledge her if she’s in your opener.

Wrap-Up

One notable thing here is that Shadow’s bigger removal spells are both conditional, but potentially very powerful, either in their efficiency or in card advantage. Aside from two very good 2-drops, the low-rarity units here are quite weak, so be aware of that if you get deep into Shadow during drafting–you’ll need to prioritize units elsewhere.

Defiance Limited Review – Multifaction and Neutral

This is the sixth and final in my series of card-by-card reviews of Defiance. Here I’ll be tackling the most interesting cards in this three-faction set: the multi-faction cards. You’ll find a lot of the power is concentrated here, as is typical. If you’re looking for an overview before getting started with the format, check out my primer article linked below. You’ll also find links to the first five set reviews.

Defiance Limited Overview

Defiance Limited Review – Fire

Defiance Limited Review – Time

Defiance Limited Review – Justice

Defiance Limited Review – Primal

Defiance Limited Review – Shadow

The format of the reviews will follow LSV’s classic Magic set reviews that I’ve always enjoyed. Each card will be assigned a grade from 0 to 5, based on the scale below:

0.0 – Completely unplayable in a main deck; might have market use if you draft a merchant.

0.5 – Unplayable in a main deck barring some insane circumstance

1.0 – Will always do something, but is generally niche or just plain overcosted.

1.5 – Extremely mediocre filler. Something you’re unhappy to wind up playing, but will sometimes have to.

2.0 – Filler. Your deck will have a few of these, but hopefully not too many.

2.5 – Slightly better filler. These will be the lion’s share of your deck, the “pawns.”

3.0 – Stronger playables. Not enough to perhaps draw you into the faction, but cards you are happy to wind up playing in your final deck.

3.5 – Very strong, efficient playables. You won’t have tons of these, but they represent a strong pull into their faction.

4.0 – Bombs or cards that warp the game around themselves, but are still answerable if your opponent has the right cards.

4.5 – Cards that are nearly impossible to beat if you draw and play them, but that come with some caveat (usually their cost). These almost universally generate card advantage or an absurd tempo advantage, and there’s nothing your opponent can do about it.

5.0 – Cards that are basically impossible for the opponent to answer cleanly, will win the game on their own, and aren’t prohibitive to play in any way. It’s extremely rare for a card to be a 5.0, and that’s a good thing, because they aren’t any fun to play against (looking at you, Pack Rat).

BA – Build-around. These are cards that are clearly meant to be played only when you have the right synergies, and their power level will vary wildly as a result.

Obviously every card can be more or less powerful depending on your archetype (aggro vs. midrange vs. control) or the other cards surrounding it (your 10th 3-drop isn’t going to be that good), so the grades are meant as a guideline, not a hard rule, and you should really be looking at the comments on each card rather than the hard number grade. The fact that we have to adjust our views on cards based on context as the draft progresses is what makes drafting so interesting.

I do want to preface this and all of my set reviews with the fact that I’m a filthy casual. I don’t devote tons of time to grinding card games anymore, but that just means that I try to play at the highest level possible when I do find the time. If I only have an hour to play, I damn sure want to win if I can, or revel in memes if I can’t. That does color my reviews a bit. I may be off on some cards due to lack of experience or desire to meme, though I hope that I at least do a decent job justifying the line of thinking that leads me to particular grades.

Darya, Warrior Poet

Grade: 4.0

This is a lot of abilities. Playing Darya on 4 is going to be tough with limited fixing, but that’s okay, since she’s much better on 6. The amplify effect gives her a pseudo-charge, since you’re often doubling the power of the berserked unit, and deadly means that your now-reckless unit at least will trade instead of getting eaten by something. Slap the deadly onto a quickdraw unit for maximum effect.

Stoneshell Walker

Grade: 3.0

FIRE UP YOUR LENEKTAS!

Your opponent is going to clench their cheeks every time they have to trade with this, as you could have any number of huge bombs to follow up. And they’ll have to trade with it sooner rather than later, since they can’t chump it, and they can’t just eat 5 for too many turns.

Obviously worse on defense, since you’ll most likely lose out on the power, but a 5/5 can stabilize things pretty well in a pinch, and you can at least play a fast spell post-combat. Maybe even an amplified Conflagrate?

Bear Arms

Grade: 2.5

Art: 5.0

This is both a classic pun and a nice way to trigger renown and create some early pressure. The best use for this will be playing it on turn 4, followed by a 2-drop to hopefully snowball your 3-drop out of control. It’s a rancid topdeck later in the game, but it has enough potential to run away with things early on that I’m happy playing a couple.

I love that the art manages to subvert comical expectations, depicting not some shamanic ritual that half turns you into a bear, but literally just manufactured sleeves that give you giant claws (complete with a neat hat). A+

Highland Sharpshooter

Grade: 4.0

Like Hojan, this is another insane rare 2-drop that can just take over a game on its own. I have absolutely zero qualms about slamming something like Barrel Through on her on turn 3 and giving the top unit of my deck +6/+5. That kind of beef is going to be hard to overcome, combined with the pressure of an aggressive 2-drop.

Do note the mechanical oddity here that she must attack after triggering her renown ability–it won’t work if you play a trick mid-combat (and it will eat her renown, so don’t do this!).

Red Canyon Smuggler

Grade: 4.0

As noted in the overview article, pretty much every market in draft is a Black Market, with the exception of sigils. Merchants were already great in draft, as even cashing in a late-game power for an overcosted dummy is a great way to pull ahead in topdeck wars. This one takes things a step further with an incredible body to go with the merchanting. Double damage is especially potent in the pump-spell-and-weapon factions, and you can even throw a very over-costed pump effect into the market to self-enable.

Eaton, Seditious Noble

Grade: 4.0

Eaton is powerful enough that it’s worth taking early, despite the ambitious faction requirements and the fact that he doesn’t do anything on his own. If you get even a single trigger, he becomes very powerful, and anything more than that and he graduates to truly absurd territory.

Ijin’s Workshop

 

Grade: 3.5

This is on the weaker side of sites, mostly because none of the three agenda spells do anything at all to defend it or generate card advantage. The value here is entirely dependent on whether you can make it to Ijin. That doesn’t make it bad, however; you should absolutely be playing it. If you can set up a board that defends it, Mithril Armors will quickly overwhelm your opponents. Notably it does have 4 health, so it won’t always die if played on curve, even if you’re not able to block everything.

Deadeye

Grade: 2.0

This is fine, but it take some work to get there, and you can’t run too many 6s. It doesn’t do anything super special, and it’s conditional, so I’d be on the lookout for something more consistent, and I wouldn’t hesitate to pledge it if given the opportunity.

Mighty Strikes

Grade: 3.5

This is a mighty grade for a combat trick, but the card-advantage and kill-ya potential of this makes me want as many of them as I can get my hands on, both in the beatdown-centric Honor faction and in the Instinct decks packing big boom-booms that can take advantage of the overwhelm. On turn 5 you can use it to win a pair of combats, and on turn 8 you can just murder your opponent with 6 points of surprise burn.

When playing against FP, be very keenly aware of this on turns 5-7, since it is a common. If they send two things into what looks like trades or good blocks for you, maybe just block one, if your life total can take the hit. You’ll take a bunch of damage, but at least you’ll deny them the card advantage if they have it.

Howling Peak Smuggler

Grade: 3.5

Merchants are great, but this one is a far cry below Red Canyon Smuggler. Spell damage isn’t great in limited, since you’ll probably have very few spells running around, and a 2/2 for 3 doesn’t brawl well enough on its own. Still, it’s a merchant, and I’m in for that alone.

Iceberg Shineefinder

Grade: 2.5

If you do manage to snipe something with this on 5, good on you, but I would most often just treat it as a medium 3-drop with the upside of fixing on turn 1. The flexibility is nice, though, and sometimes you’ll topdeck this late in the game and get something real.

I’m curious on the flavor here: Is the yeti throwing the shinees at people? Is he getting mad at people trying to take his shinees? We must know.

Chunk Chunk

Grade: 3.5

Jarrall’s Frostkin is the obvious comparison here. This is much, much harder to play on time, but there are quite a few upsides. Pledge makes this into an early fixer, and one I’m okay with pledging, as it does a lot but nothing game-breaking. The renown ability is a decent bonus, especially if you can leverage it into winning multiple combats.

Burn them All (if “all” equals two)

Grade: 3.5

You’ll pretty much never get more than two things with this, but that’s fine. Even if you removed the amplify text, this would be a great card because it goes upstairs, but the ability to hit two targets late in the game really puts icing on the cake.

Howling Peak

Grade: 5.0

If you’re a constructed player, you’re well familiar with Howling Peak, and it lives up to the hype in limited, too. It immediately Guns Down a large unit for only a single extra power, then further helps you defend it by creating a second copy of your best unit (with +3 health when it blocks). Or you can do those things in reverse order if you’re ahead to slam the door on the game. With 5 health, the Peak can take a few hits from random dorks, meaning you don’t even need to reach full parity for it to generate value. All-in-all this is just an absurd card that puts your opponent into no-win situations. Even if they can kill it, they’re likely going to have to send the whole team to do it, meaning you can take good blocks and earn some value that way before cracking back.

Clan Huntcaller

Grade: 3.0

This card is a prime example of why understanding the texture of the format is important to evaluating cards. In a vacuum, this card looks like a 3.5 or better. If you put this in any of the other draft formats we’ve had, it would be a windmill-slam. Curving 1-2-3-Huntcaller in your standard Stonescar beatdown deck would be game over in most cases. In Set 1, I’d have taken this very early and planned to draft around it.

Defiance is a little different, however. For one, three-faction powerbases will mean that you won’t curve out as often as you might like. Two, the Stonescar faction pairing shows up only in the Ambition wedge. Ambition isn’t really a beatdown deck by default; more of a midrange grind-you-down kind of deck, where this card would not be at its best. Still a fine card, mind you, but not living up to its full potential, and you don’t want to commit to it too early, since it leaves you fewer audible options if powerful three-faction cards come around later.

There will be decks where this is bananas, but they will be rarer than you might think. Were this in set 1, I would happily take this early and know that I’m going to be able to get a serviceable beatdown deck. In Defiance, you will sometimes be able to get a good number of aggressively-slanted FJS cards to really capitalize on this, but that is much less of a guarantee. It’s for that reason that I’ve docked some points from the rating, but the ceiling on this card is very high. It’s still an early pick, but not as early as it otherwise would be.

Syl, Hand of the Cabal

Grade: 4.0

Were Syl just an unblockable 4/5 for 5, she would be quite good. The bonus text can help you slam even bigger threats, or simply double-spell to catch up if you’re behind. The steep influence requirements aren’t irrelevant, and you certainly should pledge this sometimes, but it’s going to be hard to avoid the greed–perfect flavor for the Cabal.

Penitent Bull

Grade: BA

This only really goes in the Vision ramp deck, and even then you need some very good reasons to want to invest two full turns in ramping to 8 or 9. If you have those reasons, this is very strong, but if you lack the payoffs, don’t subject yourself to this punishment.

Serene Meditant

Grade: 3.5

This thing hits like a truck, which is basically all Vision wants to be doing. In this set, however, this is deceptively medium. There are a lot of units that get huge pumps off Empower even lower on the curve (and lower on influence requirements). If you want that kind of effect, you can get it there. Don’t get me wrong–this card is powerful, but it’s not really a unique effect, just an upgraded version of cards that are plentiful in the set. You definitely should be playing it, but it’s not a crazy-valuable card to have.

Honeypot

Grade: BA/2.5

I wonder how much the Ark of the Covenant cost?

This is an interesting card: a build-around removal spell. There are plenty of relics in the set that cost around 2, so I am going to give this a baseline grade as if it deals 3 most of the time, then dock it a little for being bad if you don’t draw your relic. However, if you have a few ways to pump this up even further, it gets very strong very quickly.

Torgov’s Trading Post

Grade: 4.0

Yes, none of these generate card advantage on their own, but this card is still very strong. Call the Ancients is a card that’s tough to evaluate, but my experience with it has been quite good. A 6/6 with aegis and endurance is hard to cleanly answer, so if you draw even one at any point in the game, you’ve done well, and two is absurd. The Trading Post is worth it for that spell alone, so the rest is just gravy. Weather the Storm is weird, since it’s only good for an attack, but at least Ask for Directions helps dig you closer to a Titan.

If you manage to land this on turn 2, it’s a real possibility you’ll get to protect it long enough to get your free Torgov, but I’ll play it even if I can’t defend it, just for the Call.

Great Valley Smuggler

Grade: 4.0

Given that there are so many relics in the set, you’re very likely to have at least one to turn on your other cards already. Even if you don’t, you can throw a mediocre one into your market to ensure you can enable this and your other relic-matters cards. Even failing that, this is still a 3/3 for 3 and a merchant, so take it highly.

Bazaar Stampede

Grade: 1.5

This one is a little bazaar for my tastes. While the bonus is permanent, the more relics you have, the fewer cards you have left to spend on units. The more units you have, the fewer relics you’ll have. If everything lines up right, this can pull a lot of weight, but I’d rather not lean too heavily on such a swingy card.

Colossal Pteriax

Grade: 4.0

Shadowlands Bonepicker was always a very strong power sink-type card, and this one is even better, thanks to the evasion and cheaper activation. This will run away with things quickly in a stalled game, and even if you’ve got other things to do with your power, a 4/4 flyer is a big deal.

Tunneling Gargantua

Grade: 2.5

Best friends with Eternity Core, this is a big payoff for the ramp decks. Even if you somehow manage to whiff on relics by 8, this will still kill something and stick around. But if you have any old relic, this will just eat their best unit and then start chunking them. It’s not quite build-around territory, since if you are in Elysian in this format, you should be ramping and playing relics already.

Lethrai Courtier

Grade: 2.5

From his expression, I get the impression that Lethrai Court is not a nice place.

This guy has actually impressed me quite a lot. He blunts some early aggression while drawing you cards–what’s not to love? Once again, I’m not giving the BA grade here, since it’s kind of expected that you’ll have some random relics, and that’s all this needs to shine.

Ebon Dune Smuggler

Grade: 3.5

Like Howling Peak Smuggler, this merchant’s body falls a bit short, but ambush opens up interesting possibilities, such as swapping for situational combat tricks and eating something in combat. As I said before, even failing all that, this is still a merchant, and merchants are still powerful.

Sadistic Ritualist

Grade: 1.0

I’d say you’re more of a masochist if you try to make this work. This just asks so much of you that the text box might as well be blank before turn 10, and even then you’re going to have a hard time getting ahead by sacrificing units. I guess this might be a rat payoff? But paying 2, exhausting a good blocker, AND sacrificing a unit just to draw a card is a major, major tempo cost. You’re going to be dead before you can leverage those cards, and there are better ways to grind out advantage in longer games.

Dread

Grade: 1.5

I definitely dread drawing this as my 4-drop when I’m trying to curve out, as the sacrifice is mandatory even if the stars align and you have TTSS on turn 4. I’ll almost always pledge this because that’s about the most value I expect out of it. If your opponent wants to deny you the unit from your void, they can trade an idiot for this. If you don’t have anything good in the bin, they can just eat the damage and you’ve paid 4 to redraw a mediocre unit.

Xenan Temple

Grade: 4.0

This doesn’t have a ton of health, and Xenan Initiation isn’t the best at defending the site, since it trades a blocker for a unit. Still, a 5-power Xenan Initiation is far from the worst card ever printed, and that’s the floor for this card. The ceiling, obviously, is much higher. If it does stick around, you get card advantage on the second use, and Worldjoiner is a hell of a unit if the game gets that far, though I’d expect a concession before she comes down in a lot of cases.

Blistersting Claws

Grade: 0.5

Ironically, it’ll sting most if you have to play this without a Deadly unit. Really, even if you do get there, this is a pretty mediocre card because you want deadly to kill bigger things, but those bigger things are probably going to smash through your 4 armor on their way out, so this is essentially a slow Cut Ties that you have to jump through major hoops to even enable.

Meme Bounty: Show me a situation where you have Claws, a Deadly unit, and a damage-based sweeper (Cirso’s Choice, Lightning Storm, etc.) that will give you at least +2 card advantage when you play it. ($10)

Aniyah, Arctic Sheriff

Grade: 4.5

Are Sheriffs just a badass babe club? Rakano Sheriff, Marley, and now Aniyah. She certainly lives up to the bomb status of her predecessors. The fact that she’s slightly vulnerable for a turn if played on curve is a minor drawback, but if you can get some 1-power tricks, she’s just as good on 6. Don’t wait forever to deploy her, but don’t rush it if you’re not forced to, as it’ll be really hard for them to come back if you can stun something AND blow out a removal spell.

Pledge, dying before I’d do that, and so forth.

Gate Guardian

Grade: 2.0

This is a great follow-up to the Bear Arms joke. Okay, we want to make the bear fly, and we have these valkyrie wings that are prominent in our world. We already made artificial Bear Arms, so why not strap some Valkyrie wings onto the bear?

NOPE, this bear just has spirit wings because why not?

As for the card itself, it’s a great way to finish a game in Honor. A 5+ power flyer closes things very quickly, but you do need to do some work to get it there, and there are plenty of other 6s to go around.

Lost Scroll

Grade: 1.5

2-power ramp in a faction outside Time is quite interesting, and 2-power ramp spells in general are powerful. Unlike things like Initiate of Sands and Trail Maker, your opponent has no recourse to deny your ramp, so they have no choice but to brace themselves for early fatties.

That would be all well and good, but this is no Rampant Growth. It won’t fix very well, since you already had J and S if you played it. Furthermore, it won’t come down on curve very often because of its influence cost. It will be difficult to build a deck that leans hard on this as a 2-drop, which kind of defeats the purpose of 2-cost ramp. It does synergize well with the beefy Empower cards in the set, which means it may be a role-player in that kind of deck, or if you really, desperately need some way to bridge the gap to your more expensive plays.

Back for More

Grade: 1.0-ish

If you can hit the influence requirements, this is potentially very powerful. If you have very good targets for it, it’s obviously much better (hence the “ish”). Even if you don’t, it could still do work, but it’s very situational, so I’d hesitate to play it. Note that, unlike Sleeping Draught that we’ve seen previously, this does not exhaust the unit that comes back. If your opponent tries to press an attack by killing your big blocker, you can get ’em with this.

Hidden Road Smuggler

Grade: 4.0

There’s not much to say here that hasn’t been said about the other merchants. Lifesteal is quite nice, especially if you pack an overcosted weapon (Aerialist’s Khopesh or similar) in the market.

Resilient Wagoneer

Grade: 1.0/3.5

I’m giving this a split grade because it’s very bad in slower decks, but if you are the beatdown JSx deck, this thing can hit like a truck. If you aren’t in a beatdown deck, this drops off a cliff because he’s not so resilient on defense.

Howling Kurtarr

Grade: 4.0

Holy keywords Bat Direbeastman! The Kurtarr is guaranteed to trade with something, and attacking for 5 in the air is no joke on top. Not much more needs to be said. Don’t be afraid to pledge it if you are missing a lot of influence toward it. Even if you eventually get there, it’s a lot worse on turn 8 with no power to follow-up.

Regent’s Tomb

Grade: 2.0

I’m actually not feeling this one. Even if you stapled all three of the agenda cards together, it would be merely decent for 4 power. 2 health means you must block every single unit that attacks the Tomb, and none of the agenda do anything at all to protect the Tomb. If by some miracle you manage to get it to stick, Elias is a crazy-good unit, but I don’t see it happening very often in limited.

Lethrai Hideaway

Grade: 3.0

There’s very little risk here, as the floor is a 2-power 2/1. That’s not great, obviously, but it’s a fine on-curve play. You’re likely to have some other incidental elves if you’re in the Feln factions, so this can stick around even after your 2/1 trades and provide some value later. The Hideaway is a really nice combo with Heirloom Seeker, and I expect a lot of games to get decided by a 4-power unblockable elf.

Zende, the Heart-Binder

Grade: 4.0/2.5

This is a solid 4 if you have more than a couple elves to reliably get one or two back. It’s more like a 2.5 if you only have 1 or 2 other elves, as sometimes it will just be a 4/4 flyer that’s hard to play, which is an unexciting 6-drop. It’s not quite a build-around because the floor is still a 4/4 flyer.

Carnivorous Sauropod

Grade: 3.5

This is a pretty big payoff for ramping in Instinct, and the fail case of a 3/3 isn’t too bad. The bonus is permanent, even if the Sauropod dies, so the best use of this is slapping the buff onto a flyer and trading off the Sauropod itself, which will often be enough to win a race. At common, you can load up on these, and I’d be happy doing so.

Display of Instinct

Grade: 4.0

My instinct is that this is insane. All three modes are absolute gas in limited, and the flexibility of the card pushes it over the top in terms of premium uncommons. It kills something, goes upstairs, protects your units from removal spells and can even defend them from things like relic weapons and summon effects through the use of the middle mode. There are just so many ways to blow your opponent out with this card.

Zal Chi, Herald of War

Grade: 4.5

Ruin Stalkers are fitting here because Zal Chi is going to leave your opponent in ruins if you can meet his steep influence requirements. 7 damage out of nowhere is sometimes good enough to win on its own, and even if they manage to trade for him, they have to deal with another set of major threats. If they don’t have an immediate silence, the game is probably over.

Display of Honor

Grade: 3.5

I never knew that turning something into a goat was a way to show off how honorable I am. Most of the time you’ll be using the first mode to win a combat and pull way ahead in the race, but the other modes provide a nice bit of flexibility when you don’t need combat tricks. Hitting an attacking flyer with the goat mode can lead to major blowouts. The draw-two-weapons mode is a great fallback to ensure your power isn’t wasted at the end of their turn if they don’t play into this. All in all, it combines to make this a very powerful utility spell.

Kosul Beastmaster

Grade: 3.5

I love that this badass warrior has not a pet bear or wolf or mountain lion, but a little flying squirrel. The base rate on this card is fine, if unexciting, but the renown allows you to fight on two fronts by getting busy with a big ground-pounder and having a decent flying threat left in reserve.

Quinn, Lone Wanderer

Grade: 4.5

This narrowly misses the 5.0 mark because you do need to put in some work to make sure you can hit the influence requirements, but if you get there, Quinn represents a ton of inevitability for your typical renown-based honor deck. Don’t pass this.

Display of Ambition

Grade: 3.0

This Display is much more conditional than the previous two, but still potentially powerful. The first mode is highly situational and irrelevant unless you’re winning this very turn, which knocks it a bit. The removal option is less proactive than it could be, although blowing out a weapon or combat trick is still a nice ability to have in your back pocket. I think the draw-two-units mode will be the most often used mode as it’s card advantage without requiring too much work. Despite its ambitions falling a little short, this is still a very good card.

Blaze

Grade: 1.5

Flavor: 0.0

For a 3-faction removal spell, this isn’t so hot. It’ll usually kill something, but not always the thing you want. I want a high number of 2-drop units before putting this in my deck, as it’s going to be a rough game if you only play units on 3 and 4 before leaning on this as your 5-drop. It’s not even fast!

Flavor-wise, why does having more units make your fire spell do more damage, and why on Myria does slinging fire give you armor?

Brel, Solist Apostate

Grade: 4.0

Icaria this is not, but Brel does a decent impression. The major knock on this card is that neither half deals with a 5/5 on its own, and if you’re playing a 7-drop, chances are your opponent will be playing larger units of their own. If you can work around that drawback with other cards, then you should come up smelling like (burning) roses.

Bleak Basin Guide

Grade: 3.0/1.0

This is another swingy empower card. If you are the beatdown, this is great, but it starts to look bleak if you need to block.

Display of Vision

Grade: 3.0

Fast-speed Plague is no joke, and the ability to trigger things like Bleak Basin Guide on blocks means that the ramp ability starts to look a little better. The attachment-killing mode is more relevant than ever with relic-matters cards in the format and is a nice situational upside to an already serviceable card. This is the least flashy of the Display cycle, but it’s still very good.

Grinva, Breaker of Will

Grade: 4.5

Cowards can’t block Gunslinger Minotaurs (or anything for that matter). The ability to bring you back from the brink of death thanks to her lifesteal is what solidifies this as a great card. If she gets going, endurance makes her nearly impossible to race. It’s hard to set up to block her, and you’ll be able to tell if they have a trick based on the number of things they leave back.

Display of Knowledge

Grade: 3.5

Removal, tutor, combat trick; the only thing Knowledge isn’t is power. Jokes aside, this is primarily a defensive removal spell for clunky relic-based decks, with the second mode of finding said relics if they don’t play into the removal option. If you have something really powerful like Improvised Club to get in the late-game, this really shines, but a removal spell that denies entomb is a pretty good card by itself. The last mode will be the least used, but it’s good that the card can be used in a proactive way if you’re ahead, which really wraps up the package neatly.

Tumbling Sloth

Grade: 3.0

Flavor: 5.0

It has ambush because it’s falling off of whatever big thing you’ve built. Poor guy was just looking for a tree…

This adorable creature is no joke in combat, and a 3/4 on curve will do some serious work buying you time to set up. The typical “decent playable” 3-drop is a 3/3, so this is a great trump to that. If you do manage to set up the ambush clause, you can eat some real units. Storm Lynx was always a huge groan when you got got by one, and this will be similar, if a little more obvious. I still expect plenty of people to walk into it, though. If you’re on the other side of the table, be very wary of both this and Display of Vision if your opponent passes with 3TPS.

Talir’s Unwinding

Grade: -0.5

I just…why? Seven? SEVENAnd we have to sacrifice something? The other members of the AABBCC legendary cycle were all so amazingly powerful, but this just doesn’t do anything but give your opponent first crack at seven fresh cards. It’s already hard to set up situations where draw-7s are good, but you have to put yourself further behind on the board by sacrificing a unit in addition to spending all your power. If this reset our power somehow (come on; power shenanigans are Talir’s thing!), I could see it being good, but oof.

Meme Bounty: $10 if you can show me a situation where this card actually looks good (to play, not to market or discard), then show me the victory screen from the same game where you played it. It must actually be a good card to play when you won despite the Unraveling, but because of it. I expect this one to go unclaimed.

The Tokens

Grade: 2.5

These are serviceable fixers, but they do put you a turn behind the curve. You will almost always want some number of these, but don’t overload on them unless you have some very good catch-up tools.

The Cargo/Contraband Cycle

Grade: 3.0

There are five of these, one for each of the five faction wedges featured in Defiance. The front half is basically a Token (or a Seek Power, same thing essentially), but the bonus Contraband half is quite strong in the late-game. The card you get is random, so you won’t always get something too useful, but turning a late-game power topdeck into a functional card is nothing to sneeze at, and the opportunity cost of doing so is very low. In constructed, these can power-screw you because you run so many dual-faction powers that you might have AABBCC on turn 4, but in limited, this will rarely be a Contraband when you need a Cargo. By the time you transmute it, you should have almost all the power you need, so it’s almost a universal upside.

Astromancer’s Compass

Grade: 0.5

I…I have some questions. One: How is this round, ringed thing with a ball inside it a compass? Two: How does a compass pump my unit? Three: Why would an astromancer create a compass that did this instead of something, like, useful to an astromancer?

In terms of the card itself, it just wants too much investment for too little payoff. Note this doesn’t even trigger renown, and the cost of the relic is low as well, which matters for some of the cards that care about relics.

Bannerman

Grade: 2.5

Flavor: 0.0

Come on, how do you use up this name on a card that doesn’t say “Summon: Play the banner of your choice.”

This card is the anti-stranger. Like some kind of loyal friend. One that you can call to your side to fight for you. Kind of like a…well, okay. Fine.

This is an unexciting, if useful enabler for multifaction decks. The ability to hit your influence requirements while not falling too far behind is pretty key, especially with the removal of strangers from the curated packs.

Iron Hook

Grade: 1.0

This is just a worse Alchemical Blast in most situations. Warcry pumps it, I guess, but it’s not a good enabler for relic synergies, since it’s likely to just die.

Makeshift Barrier

Grade: 2.0

This might sneakily be better than it looks in some decks. Blocking well in the early turns, combined with the ability to go to the air later in the game, whilst still blocking on the ground, is a useful way to spend your power later in the game. Weapons make this even better, so don’t sleep on it, even if it looks rather innocuous.

Replicator Engine

Grade: 1.0

This isn’t impactful enough, even if you get to go off with a bunch of them. A single shpear 3/3 would brick your entire engine, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. It’s too bad they didn’t give this the Assembly-Worker treatment from Magic, where it could get an Engine (i.e., a Makeshift Barrier or Rumbling Contraption) instead of just another 2/1.

Rumbling Contraption

Grade: 0.5

This is just too expensive, and if I’m spending 7 power, I at least want the stupid thing to block. Stay away.

Wrap-up

Phew. That was a long one. Who knew three-faction sets had so many multifaction cards?! This concludes the individual reviews for Defiance. It was quite a project to get through, so mad respect to LSV and others who do this on a regular basis (and quickly, too). I plan to write another article about the notable cards (and absent cards) from the curated packs, in the context of Defiance’s themes. Stay tuned for that, if you’re interested.

 

Defiance Set Review – Primal

It’s Primal time! This article will grade the Primal faction card-by-card, with some deeper discussion about the more interesting cards. If you’re looking for an overview before getting started with the format, check out my primer article linked below. You’ll also find links to the other five set reviews.

Defiance Limited Overview

Defiance Limited Review – Fire

Defiance Limited Review – Time

Defiance Limited Review – Justice

Defiance Limited Review – Shadow

Defiance Limited Review – Multifaction and Neutral

The format of the reviews will follow LSV’s classic Magic set reviews that I’ve always enjoyed. Each card will be assigned a grade from 0 to 5, based on the scale below:

0.0 – Completely unplayable in a main deck; might have market use if you draft a merchant.

0.5 – Unplayable in a main deck barring some insane circumstance

1.0 – Will always do something, but is generally niche or just plain overcosted.

1.5 – Extremely mediocre filler. Something you’re unhappy to wind up playing, but will sometimes have to.

2.0 – Filler. Your deck will have a few of these, but hopefully not too many.

2.5 – Slightly better filler. These will be the lion’s share of your deck, the “pawns.”

3.0 – Stronger playables. Not enough to perhaps draw you into the faction, but cards you are happy to wind up playing in your final deck.

3.5 – Very strong, efficient playables. You won’t have tons of these, but they represent a strong pull into their faction.

4.0 – Bombs or cards that warp the game around themselves, but are still answerable if your opponent has the right cards.

4.5 – Cards that are nearly impossible to beat if you draw and play them, but that come with some caveat (usually their cost). These almost universally generate card advantage or an absurd tempo advantage, and there’s nothing your opponent can do about it.

5.0 – Cards that are basically impossible for the opponent to answer cleanly, will win the game on their own, and aren’t prohibitive to play in any way. It’s extremely rare for a card to be a 5.0, and that’s a good thing, because they aren’t any fun to play against (looking at you, Pack Rat).

BA – Build-around. These are cards that are clearly meant to be played only when you have the right synergies, and their power level will vary wildly as a result.

Obviously every card can be more or less powerful depending on your archetype (aggro vs. midrange vs. control) or the other cards surrounding it (your 10th 3-drop isn’t going to be that good), so the grades are meant as a guideline, not a hard rule, and you should really be looking at the comments on each card rather than the hard number grade. The fact that we have to adjust our views on cards based on context as the draft progresses is what makes drafting so interesting.

I do want to preface this and all of my set reviews with the fact that I’m a filthy casual. I don’t devote tons of time to grinding card games anymore, but that just means that I try to play at the highest level possible when I do find the time. If I only have an hour to play, I damn sure want to win if I can, or revel in memes if I can’t. That does color my reviews a bit. I may be off on some cards due to lack of experience or desire to meme, though I hope that I at least do a decent job justifying the line of thinking that leads me to particular grades.

Steely Resolve

Grade: 0.0

It would be a bit of a mental misstep to play this.

Crystal Dirk

Grade: 0.5

While interesting that Primal is getting a “just stats” weapon, this doesn’t do enough, even with Renown. Especially since many of the really good Renown cards scale with the cost of the triggering thing.

Frostwave

Grade: 3.0

I am a big fan of this as a finisher, and even at its base rate it can put in some work. The second copy is much less valuable, but I am quite high on the first.

Mischief Yeti

Grade: 2.5

This is a very low impact card later in the game, but if you do get to use it to trade a trick for something, you get some bonus value.

Pitfall Trap

Grade: 2.0

You will probably get some loots out of this even later in the game, and the ping isn’t nothing. Relics do matter, which makes this decent. If you do run this, don’t fall into the trap of playing it too early. If you can’t spare the power to loot in the immediate turns, it may be best to hold it and try to get value out of the ping effect later.

Savagery

Grade: 0.5

If you’re desperate for interaction, I guess this does that, but the savage influence cost makes this extremely unwieldy.

Frost Talisman

Grade: 1.0

Again, you ideally want higher-impact relics, unless you really think you’ll have the time to use this, which 95% of decks won’t.

Kosul Huntsman

Grade: 2.0

This blunts early aggression and lets you turn a combat trick into a kill spell, which is fine, but not the most exciting thing in the world, since you need to engineer a situation where you need to kill something that isn’t also in combat with your guy. Bit of a weird card.

Meme Bounty: Combine this with Kosul Elite to play a weapon on the Huntsman, block and eat something, and then eat something else with the Killer. $10 paypal to the winner.

Master Cartographer

Grade: 2.5

This carries extremely medium stats, but it can smooth your draws early and get value later in the game if you’re flooding. Just remember to hold spare power if this is in your deck.

Parry

Grade: 3.5

Lack of experience with this makes me unsure how easy it will be to engineer a 2-for-1. Still, the floor is a “+2/+2” trick, which is fine. If you get to use it to kill two things, that is an incredible deal for 2 mana, which makes me want to take this extremely highly.

Reinforced Towershield

Grade: 1.0

This is a little odd, to say the least. Fixing is valuable, but not so much so that a 0/4 relic weapon is worth playing. And I don’t really want a relic that just dies if I get hit by anything. There may be decks where this makes the cut, but I hope not to play any.

Snowdrift Delver

Grade: 2.5

This probably doesn’t hit what you want it to hit (i.e., Martyr’s Chains) very often, but that’s fine; it’s still a free card off your 2-drop. Underwhelming as far as legendaries go, but very playable.

Stormtamer Operative

Grade: 2.0

THIS IS CLEARLY A TRACKER WHO FOUND A SCRAP OF CLOTH TO HELP HER FOLLOW HER QUARRY AND THEREFORE SHOULD HAVE BEEN NAMED STORM SEEKER. COME ON, DWD.

Ahem.

You get to account for this in your deckbuilding, which isn’t nothing, but it has lots of tension with snowballs and other Primal/Skycrag staples. A 2/3 for 2 is still a reasonable card in a faction that doesn’t usually get those, but the ability is probably a net negative.

Wind Cloak

Grade: 1.0

Primal sure does have a lot of these low-impact relic enablers, but none are all that exciting. This can certainly get there in the very late game, but it’s going to do stone nothing for many, many turns before that.

Courier Albatross

Grade: 3.0

The base rate is mediocre, but if you topdeck a 3/3 flyer and get to draw a card, it is very strong. Flexibility is underrated, and the ability to deploy this on 3 when power-screwed should not be overlooked, even if you’ll be sad to do it.

Fledgling Avisaur

Grade: BA

A 1/2 isn’t good enough for 3 power, but if you have enough weapons, this is a great way to use them, thanks to the aegis, which gives me the BA grade. This is a slightly worse version of Silverwing Familiar if you’re on that plan, but the fact that this is a common is very relevant, since you’ll be likely to see one or two if you’re heavy on weapons.

Glacial Shaper

Grade: 4.0

This is on my short list for best uncommon of the set. Any game where you follow this up with a 4-cost weapon is probably going to be over in a hurry, and there are plenty of said weapons to go around. Even if you can’t immediately trigger the renown, a 2/4 isn’t the easiest thing to kill, so it’s likely to stick around and buy time until you can. Given its splashability, I’m slamming this any time I see it.

Shapeshifter’s Mask

Grade: 2.5

This is tough to evaluate, but your unit will eventually turn into something huge (and/or Idol of Destran), which makes me think this is worth playing, if for nothing else but the memes.

Skycrag Scalebreaker

Grade: 3.5

This basically brings its own Wind Cloak for free, and the body is fine to boot. The renown bonus is small, but the rest of the card is very strong.

Storm Spiral

Grade: 2.5

This has pretty big blowout potential. You get the knowledge that this is coming, which means you can craft your deck around it. Play 2/3s over 3/2s and punish your opponents’ aggression. Later in the game, you can turn “chump blocks” into trade-ups. It doesn’t solve every problem, but it has enormous potential.

Clutch of Talons

Grade: 4.5

This basically costs 6, since you’ll almost never have PPP on 4, but 6 is where you wanted to play it anyway. It’s effectively 2 dragons for that price, which is a great deal. This thing is extremely powerful, and the only real caveat is the PPP cost.

Court Mage

Grade: 1.5

If you are desperately trying to resolve 8-drops, the combination of pledge and a big butt might make this begrudgingly playable, but not in your average deck.

Lens of Clarity

Grade: 0.0

It’s tempting to give this a BA grade, but I’m just not sure it’s possible to draft enough damaging spells to make this do much of anything.

Mass Entomancy

Grade: 1.5

This is a lot worse than polymorph unless you are playing it for 8. The flying is a big deal, as you can no longer use this nearly as well on units wielding weapons (and the Humbug makes a nice target for your opponent’s future weapons). Sure, sometimes you might get two things with this, but I don’t think that outweighs the major downgrade from Polymorph. This is also a common, meaning you should get one if you’re looking for it, so there’s not a need to take it super early, as you can certainly overload on this effect.

Reclusive Scholar

Grade: BA…?

As a reclusive scholar, I feel personally attacked. My butt is not that big and I at least try to hit the gym!

This is a card that wants you to be doing something very specific, that being playing a slow deck with combat tricks and probably relic synergies. If you’re doing that, he might be good, but stay away otherwise.

Rejection

Grade: 0.5

Do yourself a favor and reject this one, unless you’re rare-drafting. This costs too much and the discard clause isn’t relevant to limited, most of the time.

Shadowlands Borderscout

Grade: 4.0

Primal ends a streak of bad cards with a bang! Yes, this is small, but if it ever connects, it can run away with the game in a hurry. Pity the opponent if you slap a weapon or warcry on this…

Meme Bounty: Show me a situation in which either you or your opponent can’t attack with this without decking and win $10. A bonus $5 if your opponent actually attacks and puts themselves dead (pump spells are allowed).

Sudden Schism

Grade: 3.5

This acts as a second copy of your best unit, plus ambush. It will be pretty easy to get value out of this on blocks, and the unit that sticks around afterward is all gravy. Obviously this scales in quality with your units, but it’s generally very good.

Cliffdiver Mantasaur

Grade: 3.5

It’ll hurt to pledge this one, but less than some other cards. Aegis flyers are almost always great in limited, and this comes with the stats to back it up, being a legitimate threat on its own, without any buffs.

Elvish Swindler

Grade: 1.5/BA

Flavor: 5.0

You’re getting a Bold Adventurer plus 2-cost relic for 5 power, so you are indeed getting swindled here. I gave this a split grade because I do feel like the average primal deck in this format will have some mediocre targets for this almost all the time. However, his power is highly dependent on your relics. If you have something like Paladin Oathbook to fetch, I’d be looking a lot more closely at this.

Acantha’s Outrider

Grade: 3.0

This being a common makes me excited to draft a critical mass of them. This is a great way to offset some of the negative tempo generated by clunky relics, and pledge shines best on a card like this. If you have no relics and are light on power, you can pledge this and feel pretty good about it.

Brilliant Idea

Grade: 1.0

As much as I love drawing cards, you really need to be paying 8+ to make this remotely worthwhile. If you think you can do that, great, but your average deck won’t get there reliably. This could serve as a finisher in more grindy decks, but I wouldn’t start with it in mind.

Shaluuk Captain

Grade: 4.0

5/5 flying for 6 is already a good stat line, and the bump to all your other primal units is just gravy.

Snowsculptor

Grade: 3.5 (5.0 in my heart)

I’d much rather use this as my big dumb card-draw spell than something like Brilliant Idea. IF this goes unmolested, you can really go off, but the fact remains that it’s a 6-cost 3/3, so you need to temper your expectations (or Temper this, if you really miss pre-nerf Inspire).

Quicksilver Mirror

Grade: 1.5

This is a big-time bomb if you can land it in a drawn-out game where both players are topdecking. This effect will quickly overwhelm your opponent if left unmolested, but 7PPP is far from trivial, and it won’t be good enough if you are very far behind. When it goes off, it will be sweet, but I wouldn’t count on that happening too often.

Starved Vorlunk

Grade: 1.0

This is just too mediocre on the front half to justify the amplified side. A 9-cost 9/9 isn’t even very good, and you won’t always get to 9. Don’t play this unless truly desperate for finishers.

Eilyn, the Rising Storm

Grade: 3.5

Pledge on your big bomb will feel bad, but you probably should do it if you’re only on 2 or 3 other power, as you would have a hard time getting to 8 anyway. If you do, though, Eilyn should do a fine job of swinging the game in your favor.

Wrap-Up

Primal has a great deal of power at uncommon, between Parry and Glacial Shaper. Many of the commons are worthless or situational, but there are a few nice ones like Master Cartographer that really help hold a deck together. The lack of cheap, aggressive units at common means that Primal should almost always be your “splash” faction in an Honor deck, but there are a lot of tools for Knowledge or Instinct if you wind up with Primal as a primary faction.

 

 

 

Defiance Set Review – Justice

This is the third in my series of card-by-card reviews of Defiance. Here I’ll be going over the Justice faction, ol’ reliable, card-by-card.  If you’re looking for an overview before getting started with the format, check out my primer article linked below; otherwise, check out the other card-by-card reviews.

Defiance Limited Overview

Defiance Limited Review – Fire

Defiance Limited Review – Time

Defiance Limited Review – Primal

Defiance Limited Review – Shadow

Defiance Limited Review – Multifaction and Neutral

The format of the reviews will follow LSV’s classic Magic set reviews that I’ve always enjoyed. Each card will be assigned a grade from 0 to 5, based on the scale below:

0.0 – Completely unplayable in a main deck; might have market use if you draft a merchant.

0.5 – Unplayable in a main deck barring some insane circumstance

1.0 – Will always do something, but is generally niche or just plain overcosted.

1.5 – Extremely mediocre filler. Something you’re unhappy to wind up playing, but will sometimes have to.

2.0 – Filler. Your deck will have a few of these, but hopefully not too many.

2.5 – Slightly better filler. These will be the lion’s share of your deck, the “pawns.”

3.0 – Stronger playables. Not enough to perhaps draw you into the faction, but cards you are happy to wind up playing in your final deck.

3.5 – Very strong, efficient playables. You won’t have tons of these, but they represent a strong pull into their faction.

4.0 – Bombs or cards that warp the game around themselves, but are still answerable if your opponent has the right cards.

4.5 – Cards that are nearly impossible to beat if you draw and play them, but that come with some caveat (usually their cost). These almost universally generate card advantage or an absurd tempo advantage, and there’s nothing your opponent can do about it.

5.0 – Cards that are basically impossible for the opponent to answer cleanly, will win the game on their own, and aren’t prohibitive to play in any way. It’s extremely rare for a card to be a 5.0, and that’s a good thing, because they aren’t any fun to play against (looking at you, Pack Rat).

BA – Build-around. These are cards that are clearly meant to be played only when you have the right synergies, and their power level will vary wildly as a result.

Obviously every card can be more or less powerful depending on your archetype (aggro vs. midrange vs. control) or the other cards surrounding it (your 10th 3-drop isn’t going to be that good), so the grades are meant as a guideline, not a hard rule, and you should really be looking at the comments on each card rather than the hard number grade. The fact that we have to adjust our views on cards based on context as the draft progresses is what makes drafting so interesting.

I do want to preface this and all of my set reviews with the fact that I’m a filthy casual. I don’t devote tons of time to grinding card games anymore, but that just means that I try to play at the highest level possible when I do find the time. If I only have an hour to play, I damn sure want to win if I can, or revel in memes if I can’t. That does color my reviews a bit. I may be off on some cards due to lack of experience or desire to meme, though I hope that I at least do a decent job justifying the line of thinking that leads me to particular grades.

Endure

 

Grade: 0.0

I thought this card was great. Then I read it again and noticed it was missing one rather important word…

Adjudicator’s Gavel

 

Grade: 0.0

This is pretty clearly a constructed plant, most directly a hate card for Haunting Scream. Most limited opponents aren’t going to lean hard enough on the void for this to be worth playing except in market situations.

Defiance

 

Grade: 3.5

The namesake of the set, and it doesn’t disappoint. The efficiency here more than compensates for the fact that you can’t kill more expensive units. Sometimes it will just kill a 3-drop wearing a weapon, all for a single power. Even if you can’t kill anything, denying 2 attacks from their biggest threat can help swing a race.

Oni Samurai

 

Grade: 2.5

This is worse than Oni Ronin by a good margin, but this is a common you’ll see much more reliably. I can imagine a deck full of cheap Oni and cheap weapons just putting the beatdowns on greedy powerbases in a 3-color format, and the Oni being common means you can draft with that plan in mind much more reliably.

Svetya’s Bravery

Grade: 1.5

This will get the job done in combat enough of the time that it’s playable, but it doesn’t leave you much room for error. If you manage to protect your weapon-wielding threat from a removal spell, that can often slam the door on a game, but this isn’t a card I want too many of, so I would take it late and not worry too much if I don’t get one.

Unmoored Valkyrie

 

Grade: 1.5

I’m always low on 1/1s, and the lifesteal just isn’t wowing me enough to make me play one. Sure, if you get a big weapon on it, it’s very hard to race, but the same is true of most things. If you’re going to play a 1/1 in your deck, it should be relevant on its own later in the game, and this just doesn’t hit that mark.

Axe Sharpener

 

Grade: 3.5

Holy cow, this is a 2-drop. You’re sacrificing nothing for the body, and alleviating the risk of going all-in on weapons is a pretty great upside. Beware of silence effects, but otherwise go for it!

Barrel Through

 

Grade: 3.0

This might actually be a 3.5, but I like to temper my expectations for combat tricks, since you can easily cap out on them, even if this is probably the best one in the set. The fact that it’s an efficient combat trick that also fixes in a faction that doesn’t want to muck around with deplete power is a really nice bonus.

Chancellor’s Horn

 

Grade: 0.5

The only way this should ever sound off from your main deck is if you have some sort of 5.0-level bomb, but it even limits the possible pool further than that with the health restriction. Why does a chancellor even have a horn?

Fall Short

 

Grade: 3.0

This will almost always trade for something, and it is efficient, so it’s certainly worth taking the first couple relatively high. However, almost all the top-tier threats in limited have some sort of battle skill, meaning this will fall a bit short of greatness. Though it is a fast spell, be aware of weapons, mentor, and even certain combat tricks. that may punish you for waiting to pull the trigger.

Golem Press

Grade: 2.5

This can be a potent way to grind out value in a protracted game, but the fact that you need to invest 4 power to get your first 1/1 limits it quite a bit. Double Damage is a real upside, but I’m not sold yet. It is a rare, so this isn’t a huge concern, but if you ever do have the opportunity to take a second…don’t.

Hojan, Crownbreaker

Grade: 4.0

If you’ve played constructed since Defiance released, you know how powerful this guy is. Hojan deserves every bit of 4.0, and maybe more. He will attack for 4 with lifesteal pretty much every turn, and if you manage to trigger his renown, you get not only a ramp effect but also another empower trigger. The fact that he isn’t a great topdeck keeps him from reaching 4.5, but he will feel like he deserves it when he goes unanaswered on turn 2.

Kosul Diplomat

Grade: 1.5

DWD is really trying to haggle with us on the price of a silence. Frontier Confessor remained a top common despite his nerfed body, so they made sure to make this one extra awful. I do think you want to have access to some number of silence effects in an average limited deck, and if that means playing a copy of this, so be it. I would definitely feel much worse about the second, since there are only so many things toward which you can leverage a 1/1.

Avigraft

Grade: 3.5

This is a powerful effect, though missing on flyers is a big deal. I was worried that, with the expanded role of relics in the set, there might be some incidental relic hate that would hurt Avigraft, but that does not appear to be the case. I fully expect my opponents to get me with the lock-out clause. A small edge case, but if you’re considering two units of equal power, target the one of lower rarity. Who knows, maybe you’ll get ’em.

Fur Hat

Grade: 1.5

DWD has sent a clear message to PETA here: Fur = Justice. This is mediocre in a vacuum, though the prevalence of both renown and empower can turn this into a decent roleplayer if you have a mix of both (or a Hojan).

Kemmo, Ijin’s Apprentice

 

Grade: 4.5

Crownwatch Deserter was already a decent card, and this is easier to play to boot. The upside of 7/7 weapons is huge, and you lose absolutely nothing for it. There will be games where you never see one, and then this obviously misses on its potential, but a 3-cost 7/7 weapon is going to swing the game in your favor most of the time. I’m not sure why the Bladebreakers needed Warcry, but hey. I guess if your thing does die, your next Bladebreaker will be even bigger!

Kosul Elite

Grade: 2.0

This is both hard to play on time and below-rate when you do. The ability is tough to evaluate, but my gut says it’s less impressive than it seems at first glance. Most weapons aren’t super defensive, so you can’t often blow out a removal spell or anything like that. You may be able to get value if an opponent sets up a trade, but they’ll know what they are getting into when this is on-board, so beware over-committing if you smell removal.

Kosul Recruit

 

Grade: 2.5

Pledge shows up often enough that it’s not enough of an upside to push this above mediocrity. It’s reasonably-costed filler, but that’s all it is.

Rotorsmith

 

Grade: 1.0

Unless you are deep on relic weapons, gaining 1 armor a turn isn’t worth playing such a weak body.

Siraf’s Beacon

 

Grade: 1.0/BA

Flavor: 5.0 if you are me, whose Sirafs always find the District Infantry.

If you do manage to grab enough 1s and 2s to make this trigger reliably, it can put out a quick clock, but it is so heinous if you can’t A+space that I can’t justify taking it over much of anything. It may just be a build-around, since it needs some very specific things to shine (which doesn’t make it a great lantern).

Steel-Eyed Pistoleer

 

Grade: 3.0

I think this is enough of an upside to push her into 3.0 territory. There are simply a million efficient ways to pump her, two of which have Amplify, meaning she demands blocks once your opponent is lower than, say, 15.

Aerial Spotter

Grade: 2.0

4 is a competitive slot, and the JJ requirement is a downside in a format full of awkward powerbases. The card itself is just a little too small and easy to kill. If you do trigger it, a 3/2 is nothing to sneeze at, but the base unit is just too mediocre to win most battles for the 4-slot.

Auric Weaponsmith

Grade: 2.5

If you get multiple pumps off this, it certainly could be more valuable than it looks, but if you don’t get there, it’s mostly filler.

Imperial Loyalist

Grade: 4.0

Flavor: 5.0

4/3 for 4 is an okay stat line to begin with, but the renown clause here is pretty insane. There is real ambush potential there, if you can get a 3- or 4-power fast spell onto her. She has pledge, but this is another one of those cards that I’ll happily die with in my hand before I pledge it.

The flavor here of a spy unveiling herself when “activated” and ambushing a rebel with reinforcements is pretty great. DWD did a fantastic job with the flavor design in this set.

Loyal Falcon

Grade: 3.0

As with Aerial Spotter, the JJ requirement is rough, but I like this one a bit more. Fourth-Tree Elder this is not, but a big-butt endurance flier is great in a race situation, and you can pledge it if your hand is light on Justice influence.

Side-note: Am I the only one who sees a bearded guy wearing a helm when I look at this from far away?

Pistolwhip

Grade: 1.0

Again, this is missing one really important word. If you are ahead this might be enough to seal it, but the fact that this does very little when you aren’t just keeps it from playability except in the most aggressive of lists.

Broken Wing Brawler

Grade: 2.0

You only get so many empowers past 5, and there are just more efficient 5s out there. If I could guarantee empower every turn, this rating would be different, but you simply can’t do that in a normal deck.

Rallying Banner

Grade: 0.5

Maybe I’m wrong on this one, but I just can’t rally behind something that asks me to invest so much power for what amounts to a slow-speed pump spell. If the game lasts many more turns, this will obviously present tremendous value, but the fact that you have to spend 5 to do nothing means it’s going to be tough to drag the game out if you draw this too early.

Warband Skald

Grade: 3.0

Again, the 5-slot is competitive, but this can get a pretty darn big warcry floating on top of your deck even if it just trades, and your opponent basically has no choice but to block. Throw in a combat trick to save the Skald and you might just run away. If you have lots of flyers or relic weapons to hit with the warcry, this goes further up in value.

Xulta Foil

Grade: 4.5

This just does it all. I’m not sure what else to say about it, except now I’m interested in this Xulta person/place/thing.

Crownwatch Captain

Grade: 4.0

Aegis might be the best of the captain abilities. That is exactly what I want on my anthem effect. This is a great top-end finisher that’s hard to answer 1-for-1, and Justice was already the faction of many dorks, so the +1/+1 is at its best here.

Defender’s Bulwark

Grade: 1.0

When I first read this, I thought it was a relic weapon and was a lot higher on it. This really needs to hit 5 to be good, but how many times are you taking 5 damage on turn 5 or later, before you’re dead? A relic weapon would at least mean you “gain back” all the damage you took. This also does stone nothing if you are ahead or at parity, which is exactly what I want my 6s to not do.

New Order Watchwing

Grade: 3.5

This is a great uncommon finisher. 4/4 flying for 6 is already a fine deal, but the renown trigger pushes it ahead a good bit.

Oathkeeper’s Hammer

Grade: 1.0

If you do manage to slap this on a New Order Watchwing, you win the internet, but otherwise this is just too few stats for 6.

Reyna, the Unwavering

Grade: 3.0

There is a lot of flavor text here, but she really just amounts to a lot of beef with an added middle finger to shadow decks. JJJ is a real drawback in a three-faction format, but she still packs enough stats that it’s worth playing her.

Martyr’s Chains

Grade: BA

Meme level: 1000

8JJJJ is so far out of the realm of the average three-faction deck that you’ll need to put in some work to play this. The payoff is real, though. I am certainly going to try.

Meme bounty: Show me a draft deck that gets both this and Pit of Lenekta in play at the same time. The reward was $10, but Martyr’s chains doubled it to $20.

Savior of the Meek

Grade: 1.0

Of all the cards that actually wanted pledge tacked on… This is just too expensive for what amounts to a minor upgrade over Rolant’s Honor Guard.

Wrap-Up

Justice has a pretty deep common slot, but is fairly flat on power-level, as is tradition. Very few of the cards are outright bad, compared to some other factions, but there are also fewer windmill-slam cards. It’s hard to have a lot to say about a specific faction when there are many different wedges it can slot into, but Justice slots in nicely to any of them, and it’s nice to start a draft there, since you won’t have to worry about playable count as often thanks to its depth.

 

Defiance Set Review – Time

This is the second in my series of card-by-card reviews of Defiance. Here I’ll be going over the Time faction, card-by-card.  If you’re looking for an overview before getting started with the format, check out my primer article linked below. You’ll also find links to the other five set reviews.

Defiance Limited Overview

Defiance Limited Review – Fire

Defiance Limited Review – Justice

Defiance Limited Review – Primal

Defiance Limited Review – Shadow

Defiance Limited Review – Multifaction and Neutral

The format of the reviews will follow LSV’s classic Magic set reviews that I’ve always enjoyed. Each card will be assigned a grade from 0 to 5, based on the scale below:

0.0 – Completely unplayable in a main deck; might have market use if you draft a merchant.

0.5 – Unplayable in a main deck barring some insane circumstance

1.0 – Will always do something, but is generally niche or just plain overcosted.

1.5 – Extremely mediocre filler. Something you’re unhappy to wind up playing, but will sometimes have to.

2.0 – Filler. Your deck will have a few of these, but hopefully not too many.

2.5 – Slightly better filler. These will be the lion’s share of your deck, the “pawns.”

3.0 – Stronger playables. Not enough to perhaps draw you into the faction, but cards you are happy to wind up playing in your final deck.

3.5 – Very strong, efficient playables. You won’t have tons of these, but they represent a strong pull into their faction.

4.0 – Bombs or cards that warp the game around themselves, but are still answerable if your opponent has the right cards.

4.5 – Cards that are nearly impossible to beat if you draw and play them, but that come with some caveat (usually their cost). These almost universally generate card advantage or an absurd tempo advantage, and there’s nothing your opponent can do about it.

5.0 – Cards that are basically impossible for the opponent to answer cleanly, will win the game on their own, and aren’t prohibitive to play in any way. It’s extremely rare for a card to be a 5.0, and that’s a good thing, because they aren’t any fun to play against (looking at you, Pack Rat).

BA – Build-around. These are cards that are clearly meant to be played only when you have the right synergies, and their power level will vary wildly as a result.

Obviously every card can be more or less powerful depending on your archetype (aggro vs. midrange vs. control) or the other cards surrounding it (your 10th 3-drop isn’t going to be that good), so the grades are meant as a guideline, not a hard rule, and you should really be looking at the comments on each card rather than the hard number grade. The fact that we have to adjust our views on cards based on context as the draft progresses is what makes drafting so interesting.

I do want to preface this and all of my set reviews with the fact that I’m a filthy casual. I don’t devote tons of time to grinding card games anymore, but that just means that I try to play at the highest level possible when I do find the time. If I only have an hour to play, I damn sure want to win if I can, or revel in memes if I can’t. That does color my reviews a bit. I may be off on some cards due to lack of experience or desire to meme, though I hope that I at least do a decent job justifying the line of thinking that leads me to particular grades.

Unearth the Past

 

Grade: BA

This plays best with relic weapons, and if you have quite a few of those, feel free to run this as a free rebuy. I don’t think this is playable otherwise, unless you have quite a few relic sacrifice synergies, but that will be rare since your non-weapon relics don’t usually die on their own.

Araktodon Egg

 

Grade: 2.0

These are high-risk 1-drops, but if you can get this down on 1 (or even a second one before your second power), you can really just run an opponent over before they can do their thing. Drawn late, however, these are pretty much blanks, so make sure you are on the beatdown plan before you play this.

Be Gone

 

Grade: 1.0

Like all the spells in the fixing cycle, this goes up if you’re desperate for that, but the fact that this is slow really hurts it. I can see it slotting into some more aggressive decks, but you can’t leverage it to blow out a combat trick, and even if you get to eat a weapon with it, you’re still getting smacked with it first, which hurts.

Crested Runt

 

Grade: 2.5

Make no mistake: this is a 6-drop. Is Towering Terrazon + Chumper worth 6 power? Probably. One of the ways to lose when you’re slamming big dumb dinos is to get tempoed out, either by bounce effects or removal, and having a chump blocker down to stifle those plans can make a big difference. And hey, if you’re flooding badly, you can even pay 11 for two dinos. I hope that never happens, but it might save you once in a while.

Scorpion

 

Grade: 2.0

The guy kinda looks like Marisen’s Disciple, too…

The breakup was rough, and now Marisen’s Disciple’s exes are just aimlessly wandering around our packs while he gets some of that thicc humbug thorax. As a card, lil’ scorpion suffers from all of the problems that weak deadly units do: your opponent can choose to play into it or not. Giving your opponent that choice weakens this significantly. Because it only hits for 1, you aren’t usually going to be able to force the action either, as they can just take 1 and crack back. Still, the fact that Time in this format wants to buy, well, time makes this a bit better than it would have been in other formats.

Meme Bounty: I’ll paypal you $10 if you’re the first to send me proof of you somehow killing an opposing Ravid, Insect Master with one of his former lovers.

Bazaar Trickster

 

Grade: 4.0

This grade seems high, but what can I say, I got hypnotized by those jazz hands. Seriously, though, repeatable silence is an extremely powerful upside to a card that has a good body to begin with. Maybe I’m overvaluing this, but this is a 3.5 at worst, and just the threat of making your opponent’s cards worse will warp the game. Suddenly that Loyal Watchwing they wanted to play doesn’t look so hot.

Dissociate

 

Grade: 0.5

I tried to give this a 0.0, but it got Dissociated a little higher. I suppose you can win a combat with it? Maybe? That’s not worth a dead card in many games.

Locust

 

Grade: 3.5

Definitely the most powerful of the Disciple’s exes. Take as many of these as you can, and let them descend in a plague upon your opponents.

Packbeast

 

Grade: 2.0

It’s definitely not the best beast in your pack, but it’s still fine. This body is below-rate, but it gets you ahead on power, which is an okay upside. You don’t want too many of these, but you could do worse for a 2-drop.

Porcelain mask

 

Grade: 1.0

I’d really like to know how a mask does this, but that’s about the most interesting thing about the card for limited. So many units in limited are already vanilla or very close that you’re often not going to get much value out of it beyond it being a relic, and if you’re looking for relics to enable synergies, you can do better.

Resolute Monk

 

Grade: 3.0

This is a beatstick. It attacks for five. FIVE! On turn 3! It’s not that hard to trade with it, but Overwhelm means you’ll get some damage through, and if you can toss a combat trick or two on him, your opponent is going to be dead before they know it. Plus, it’s in the faction that has the most ability to trigger multiple empowers in a single turn.

Sustaining Harp

 

Grade: 0.0

I suppose if this is multiple instances of lifegain (not sure it is, and you won’t catch me playing the card to find out), this might do something in a dedicated Lifeforce shell, but I’m pretty sure it’s just terrible, since there’s only two packs of very thin Lifeforce cards to begin with.

Vapor Hut

 

Grade: 2.0

Ah do declare, Ah have the vapors. And so did whoever designed this wacky relic.

At first glance this looks like a very bad deal for the cost, but unlike some of the cards we’ve seen previously, this plays the top power card of your deck, which is a major improvement over a random power card from the deck, since it smooths your draws much more effectively. It’s still worse than straight-up drawing a card, but it costs a lot less than Frost Talisman, and it begins to help offset its own cost fairly quickly.

Antique Polisher

 

Grade: 3.0

There are a few bomby relics (okay mostly Pit of Lenekta) that I want to hit with this, but even hitting a mid-cost relic weapon to jump the curve a little is pretty great. A 4/2 Endurance for 3 is a solid body, so even if you whiff this isn’t bad.

Awaken the Ages

 

Grade: 1.0

I don’t like 3-mana ramp nearly as much as 2-mana ramp, and this isn’t a guaranteed fixer either. While it has amplify, I don’t think it’s that useful unless you’re planning to play several 8-drops.

Mesmerized Moth

 

Grade: BA

Flavor: 1000000000

While this adorable little fellow is a flavor home run, I’m a little unsure on his power level. Ancient Bauble is a very weak card, and so is a 3-power 1/2, but this card is quite good with things that ask you to sacrifice relics, such as Lehtrai Lobotomy or Consuming Greed. For that reason this is a really nice roleplayer in a deck with those effects, but something I really hope to cut otherwise.

Sandcrawler 

Grade: 2.5

3/3 for 3 is baseline for “decent playable” and adding overwhelm helps it crawl on up to 2.5.

Unraveling Fanatic

 

Grade: 3.0

This is a really tough one to rate. Obviously a 1/1 for 3 is horrible and extremely vulnerable to just getting murdered, and it helps your opponent find something to murder it, but if it survives, it’s almost certainly winning you the game. Fortunately they worded the trigger such that you both draw a card at the same time, which really saves it. Traditional Howling Mine type effects have your opponent draw first, meaning they wind up gaining a card on you if they can destroy your Mine before you get to use it, but this at least leaves you both on equal footing, even if it dies immediately.

Cykalis, the Burning Sand

 

Grade: 3.5

Pledging this will hurt, but the combination of 5 attack, charge, and a basically free swing shores up a lot of the risk in playing a 5/2. This will almost always hit for 5 and then a few more Overwhelm on the next attack before trading for something. If you don’t care about that kind of burst damage, you can decline to take him super high, but most midrange-to-aggro Time decks will want this.

Eternity Core

 

Grade: 3.0/2.0

If we’re casting Magmatic Sentinels, this is our jam. If not, I’d value it a lot less highly. Sure, sometimes you get to play a 7-drop ahead of schedule, but you need a very dedicated ramp deck with lots of hits for that to be something to game plan around. I’ll never sneeze at 2 bonus power, but there will definitely be beatdown decks that will cut this, so be aware if you’re speculating on it. It’s not quite niche enough to be a BA, but it’s not that far off.

Maddening Whisper

 

Grade: 1.5

The fact that this can just stone-cold steal a game makes it passable. The fact that it’s fast means you can also use it as a clunky combat trick where needed, and a surprise game-ender when it’s not. It’s not the type of effect you want multiples of, but it’s flexible enough to play one if your deck is otherwise light on clunky effects.

Pompous Historian

 

Grade: 3.0

Five cards is a pretty deep look, and there are a lot of relics floating around. Sentinels are not as prevalent, but this still digs deep enough that you’ll hit often, and the fail case isn’t crushingly bad. Really great in the 4x Magmatic Sentinel deck, if that’s a thing.

Sirocco Glider 

Grade: 2.5

This may be a little high, but a 2/5 flyer for 4 is pretty okay. It wears weapons well, and in my drafts so far, hitting some kind of relic has not been much of a problem. Obviously this card has some variance to it, so keep that in mind.

Temple Artisan

 

Grade: 1.5

I don’t like these terrible blockers, as you will be behind some percentage of the time in limited, whether you like it or not. However, the upside here can be huge. Attacking as a 4/4 is mediocre, but if you can get a weapon or pump spell – or, if you can leverage one of the several ways in Defiance to play multiple powers in one turn – this can get pretty scary for the opponent. I would snap pledge this in a power-light hand, and maybe even snap-pledge in less power-light hands too.

The Praxis Arcanum

Grade: 3.5

We come to our first Site. If you’re unsure how these work, see my overview article.

This agenda is pretty medium. I like the Sites whose agendas guarantee me some kind of value. While I can give a unit deadly for a trade or give a unit +4 health to defend the site, none of those matter if I’m behind on board. And since I’ve taken a turn and a card to play this Site, chances are I’m going to be, or at least prone to be if my opponent has removal. Because these effects are also slow-speed, my opponent gets to take a crack at disrupting my plan. If they can, the site does not have enough health to survive much of anything.

Despite all those knocks, this is still something you should take and happily play, even if it falls short of some of the other sites. All sites are inherently powerful because of the potential mana and card advantage you get by playing out the full agenda, but this one is on the lower end of the scale because it isn’t very good at defending itself.

Thrashing Dune Worm

 

Grade: 4.0

Now here’s a fun legendary bomb. I almost always will treat this as a 6-drop, unless I happen to have an unused Killer on-board, which is rare. If you can set it up right, this can be a neat little 2-for-1, or even better if you can ramp some. Its ceiling is fairly low, though, as at the end of the day it is “just” a 3/4, which keeps it from truly elite status.

Twinfang Cobra

 

Grade: 2.5

This once again suffers from low-power-deadly syndrome, but this pressures the opponent a little harder and leaves some value behind at the end, even if it trades with a 2/2. I like it, but it is extremely vulnerable to silence and has a tough influence cost, which limits the rating.

Ancient Excavator

 

Grade: 3.5

This nudges closer to the coveted 4.0-uncommon territory if you have a few efficient relic weapons, but the fail case is a serviceable body anyway. Even if you’re just playing it to beat incidental relic hate, it’s very strong.

Confiscate

 

Grade: 0.5

While relics are a theme in Defiance, this remains a market-only card, in my opinion. While it does draw you a card, thus representing card advantage, it costs far too much for a situational card. The risk is very high in putting such cards in your deck already, and now you’re adding more risk of being unable to take the time to play it, even when it’s good.

Etched Monolith

Grade: 0.0

Lordy, them’s was some strong vapors.

Infused Guardian

 

Grade: 3.0

The third or fourth copies of this are less valuable in general, but I’d play two pretty happily. While you won’t get too many empower triggers after 5, Endurance makes this a decent ground-pounder, and Pledge means you can dump it early if you don’t look like you’ll be hitting 7 or 8 power.

Moonstone Vanguard

 

Grade: 4.5

In Soviet Kosul, reliquary raid you!

This is far better than Reliquary Raider ever was, and it even has Pledge for desperate situations, though I think I’d rather die with this in my hand than Pledge it (There are a lot of bombs that I’d say this about).

Powerbreach Sentinel

 

Grade: 3.0

It takes a few Empower cards to make this really shine, but there is a lot of beef here to play with, even if you can’t leverage the bonus power.  The fact that this plays the top power of your deck is an upside that is very easy to miss on a first read, same as Vapor Hut. That means you are far, far more likely to draw gas in the subsequent turns than if it played a random power from the deck. That said, it’s still a 6-drop that doesn’t present immediate value, and there are a lot of those.

Temple Captain

 

Grade: 3.5

I may be overrating this a bit, as Overwhelm isn’t as big of an upside as some of the other Captains. Still, Time is all about beef, and this has it in spades. Depending on the texture of your deck, this could nudge downward to 3.0 in more top-heavy strategies, since your 6/6s don’t usually need +1/+1.

Ravid, Insect Master

 

Grade: 3.5

I should dock some more points for what this jerk did to those poor bugs. Marisen’s Disciple decided he wasn’t a Disciple any more and has gone rogue, consorting with Humbugs instead of truly noble locusts. This card is fine as a top-end bomb, but the fact that it only makes 1/1s makes it a slow clock, prone to getting stonewalled.

Runic Protector

 

Grade: 1.5

I give this a 1.5 because of Pledge and the several ramp effects in the set, but I’m regretting that as I think about it now. It just looks so bad compared to other 8 drops (in different factions, granted) that Pledge isn’t enough of an upside to make me want to play it, almost ever.

Pit of Lenekta

I’ll show you a Sandwurm Convergence!

Grade: meme

This is it, the big bad holy grail of the set. You’ll never see me pass one, and I’m going to find some way to make this baby hum (or writhe). In all seriousness, this costs far too much to go into an “ordinary” deck. Have several ways to ramp before you consider this, but if you do get there, enjoy the ride.

Wrap-Up

As usual, Time is all about the beef. There are two forking paths you can take with Time decks: beatdown and ramp, which means you need to be careful not to hedge too long on which one you want to be. The power level at common, however, is extremely low, as evidenced by the top score being Sandcrawler of all things. This is a three-faction set, so Time doesn’t have to fill in quite as much of your deck as it might have in a two-faction set. That makes it a bit more forgivable, but you’ll really need some help (i.e., Trail Makers) from the curated packs if you want to be heavily invested in Time.

 

 

 

Defiance Limited Review – Fire

Welcome to the first of my Defiance card-by-card reviews. I’ve written one for each faction, as well as the multifaction cards, in addition to an overview article. Those are linked below:

Defiance Limited Overview

Defiance Limited Review – Time

Defiance Limited Review – Justice

Defiance Limited Review – Primal

Defiance Limited Review – Shadow

Defiance Limited Review – Multifaction and Neutral

The format of the reviews will follow LSV’s classic Magic set reviews that I’ve always enjoyed. Each card will be assigned a grade from 0 to 5, based on the scale below:

0.0 – Completely unplayable in a main deck; might have market use if you draft a merchant.

0.5 – Unplayable in a main deck barring some insane circumstance

1.0 – Will always do SOMETHING, but is generally niche or just plain overcosted.

1.5 – Extremely mediocre filler. Something you’re unhappy to wind up playing, but will sometimes have to.

2.0 – Filler. Your deck will have a few of these, but hopefully not too many.

2.5 – Slightly better filler. These will be the lion’s share of your deck, the “pawns.”

3.0 – Stronger playables. Not enough to perhaps draw you into the faction, but cards you are happy to wind up playing in your final deck. 

3.5 – Very strong, efficient playables. You won’t have tons of these, but they represent a strong pull into their faction.

4.0 – Bombs or cards that warp the game around themselves, but are still answerable if your opponent has the right cards.

4.5 – Cards that are nearly impossible to beat if you draw and play them, but that come with some caveat (usually their cost). These almost universally generate card advantage or an absurd tempo advantage, and there’s nothing your opponent can do about it.

5.0 – Cards that are basically impossible for the opponent to answer cleanly, will win the game on their own, and aren’t prohibitive to play in any way. It’s extremely rare for a card to be a 5.0, and that’s a good thing, because they aren’t any fun to play against (looking at you, Pack Rat).

BA – Build-around. These are cards that are clearly meant to be played only when you have the right synergies, and their power level will vary wildly as a result. 

Obviously every card can be more or less powerful depending on your archetype (aggro vs. midrange vs. control) or the other cards surrounding it (your 10th 3-drop isn’t going to be that good), so the grades are meant as a guideline, not a hard rule, and you should really be looking at the comments on each card rather than the hard number grade. The fact that we have to adjust our views on cards based on context as the draft progresses is what makes drafting so interesting.

I do want to preface this and all of my set reviews with the fact that I’m a filthy casual. I don’t devote tons of time to grinding card games anymore, but that just means that I try to play at the highest level possible when I do find the time. If I only have an hour to play, I damn sure want to win if I can, or revel in memes if I can’t. That does color my reviews a bit. I may be off on some cards due to lack of experience or desire to meme, though I hope that I at least do a decent job justifying the line of thinking that leads me to particular grades. 

Melt Down

Grade: 0.0

I might have a meltdown if I had to play this. Unless you’ve got a merchant, there’s no reason to take this. It doesn’t matter how little spells like this cost; they are just too situational, and this one can’t even blow out a combat because it isn’t fast.

Bottoms Up

Grade: 2.5

Ordinarily, a trick that doesn’t give some form of survivability would never get a 2.5 grade, but the fact that this can double as a fireball-type effect to end the game out of nowhere means the first one is very good, and I’d probably play multiples in a sufficiently aggressive deck, and it may be closer to a 3.0.

Cautious Traveler

Grade: 1.0

This is marginally playable, particularly in a deck that wants to blunt early aggression, but there just aren’t enough cheap sentinels to make this any more than a blocker.

Research Assistant

Grade: 1.0

I was one of these not so long ago, but I hope I was a bit more useful. This is a fixer if you’re desperate, but a 1/1 just is too low impact to make the cut most of the time. You can deploy something big a turn early, but you probably want to get more than a single turn’s advantage for the cost of a full card. If you do open some sort of insane bomb like Zal Chi, this does look a little more attractive, since it can both help you hit the influence and also hit the 7-power requirement, so that is worth keeping in mind when making garbage-time picks.

Softfoot Burglar

Grade: 2.5

In my limited experience so far, this has been pretty strong. Again, it’s a low-impact card at the base rate, but there are quite a few tricks that give +3/+3 or better, so if you can trade said combat trick for an opposing 4/4 and get a treasure trove out of the deal, you’ve done well.

Urn of Choking Embers

Grade: 0.5

This might have use in the most aggro of aggro decks, but probably belongs in constructed, if anywhere. Most limited decks can’t leverage a single exhaustion that well, and it’s not worth a whole card.

Conflagrate

Grade: 3.5

This is a very efficient removal spell with 2-for-1 potential if topdecked late. Don’t hold it unless you have good reason, but sometimes you’ll get two things, and that nudges this up to 3.5.

Firemane Lioness

Grade: 3.0

This is a great topdeck later in the game, and could reach 3.5 if the format is vulnerable to 1/1s. Early in the game, it’s fairly mediocre, but I like the flexibility to play it on 4 or 6 if you have nothing else to do. Individual 1/1s are fairly weak, but a swarm of them can be enough to get around blockers to deliver a finishing blow, or to chump in a tight race.

Notorious Scoundrel

Grade: 3.0

A 2/1 can at least trade for something small a lot of the time, and you aren’t forced to renown him if you think it’s too risky. However, you will sometimes have draws where this thing just attacks for a billion on turn 3 or 4. Even if they manage to kill him, if you can get far enough ahead, they won’t have time to leverage their extra cards.

Oni Forgemaster

Grade: 3.0

This is a pretty sweet common, especially if you can get multiples going (or just other Renown units) since triggering the first one will provide you fuel to keep the chain going. Heavy Axe is a nice weapon to have when you are in the middle developing stages of the game, since your curve won’t always line up perfectly, and you can find a spare power to slap it on an attacker. I’m a huge fan of this card.

Plunder

Grade: 1.0

This is a neat idea, but it’s just too costly for too little effect. You have to pay 6 to draw a single extra card, and you also need to sacrifice an attack/block, which isn’t trivial. I’d stay away from this.

Dune Painter

Grade: BA

This is the most obvious build-around of the set. A 3-power 2/2 isn’t good enough to play on its own, but once I have 3 or 4 Amplify effects, I’m going to look harder at this. It’s pretty nutty with Bottoms Up or Firemane Lioness, to name a few. If you see this across the table, prioritize killing it.

Fireheart Recruit

Grade: 2.0

Pledge is a minor upside, but enough of one that I’d be a little happier playing this in a slower deck where a 3/1 for 3 wouldn’t ordinarily make the cut.

Flametail Whip

Grade: 1.0

I don’t think this is very good. Charge on a 3-cost weapon is somewhat odd, since it seems to be asking you to play it on a newly-summoned unit, but that unit isn’t going to be very big if you also need 3 left over to play this. And this doesn’t make the unit sufficiently bigger that it will often enable an attack that you wouldn’t otherwise have had. The three cats are a couple free points of damage, but without some kind of way to buff the cats (Xenan Obelisk) or some kind of synergy that cares about your units dying, I’d avoid playing this. It does a lot of things, but none of them really seem good enough.

Grandfather’s Axe

Grade: 1.0/BA

This asks a lot of you. Paying 3 each time for a measly +1/+1 is not great, even if it is somewhat repeatable, but if you have enough good renown effects, this could make the cut. I would hesitate to play it with only 3 or 4 Renowns, but if you have a higher density, you can give this a whirl.  

Lazy Firemane

Grade: 2.5

A 3/3 for 3 is baseline decent, and the incidental upside of a 1/1 with charge is not irrelevant, especially in a race situation.

Nika, the Freescaler

Grade: 2.0

This card is obviously very efficient, but that is blunted by the FFF faction requirement. In a 3-faction format, this is never coming down on 3, and it’s unlikely even in a 2-faction deck. Still quite playable, but don’t treat her like a 3-drop and definitely don’t be afraid to pledge her if FFF looks like it’s a long way off.

Phoenix Stone

Grade: 3.5

A 4/4 flyer is no joke. While this one may be expensive to maintain, the upside is that it isn’t vulnerable to slow removal. Phoenix Stone also gives you relic synergies, if you care about that. Put all that together, and you’ve got a very nice clock.

Shiftstone Processor

Grade: 0.0

I’m unable to process why we’d want this in a limited deck (or a constructed deck, really, given Combustion Cell exists).

Bladerang

Grade: 0.5

What a sick concept to have wasted on a basically-unplayable card. Maybe there’s something you can do in constructed with this thing, but FFFF is just too much for what amounts to a “2”/3 weapon.

Flamebrewer

Grade: 4.0

Reckless makes this hard to evaluate. If it doesn’t immediately die, you are going to crush your opponent in card advantage. Most spells are either removal or combat tricks or another unit/card draw. All of these things either A) protect him, or B) replace him so that when he trades with something you’re still ahead. I’m a fan. If only we could Permafrost our own units…

Gilded Flames

Grade: 2.0

This can be card advantage, but it’s very conditional, and expensive even when it works, costing 6 total power to get ahead. I might play one of these, but I wouldn’t load my deck down with clunky, weak removal.

Hardsight Cyclops

Grade: 3.0

I love amplify/kicker cards like this. The base rate is fine enough, if unexciting. At least you won’t be actively losing tempo if you play this on 4. But if you draw it late, it can turn a stalled board into a win, and that’s exactly what I want out of a flexible card like this.

Ruckus Rouser

Grade: 0.5

The base rate on this is too poor, and the upside very minor. You’re never turning a profit in terms of power off this, so you have to be using it to generate tempo by playing multiple cheap things. The issue is that you already lost tempo by playing a 4-cost 2/2.

Shingane Firebrand

Grade: 4.0

This is much better than Hardsight Cyclops (as I hope a rare would be), as the card advantage potential is very attainable. Win a combat with a trick and take out another unit. Note that his burn can also go upstairs. In one of the few drafts I’ve played, I died from 13 to an Aerialist’s Khopesh on this guy.

Siege Breaker

Grade: 3.5

This thing is a potential game-ender, especially if you have a trick or weapon to blow out an opponent trying to set up blocks. Not everyone will have many relics to go get, and those who do are also likely to have one in play. If you do manage to snipe one on the way down, you’ve done well. Even if they have something to get, I like this guy because he demands they have an answer, and fast. Unlike Refracted Sentinel from Fall of Argenport, which was a similar concept, this  doesn’t give them value up front; they have to kill it first, and that’s the difference between a medium card and a very good one.

Spitfire

Grade: 0.5

This might do something, but you have to pay eight to get the first ping. If you desperately need relics for some synergy, I guess this serves, but I’d stay away without some very good reasons.

Surveilor

Grade: 1.0

I’m not a fan of low-health units this high on the curve. Pledge is an upside that is tough to evaluate, as it’s very contextual on how many Pledges you have in your deck. Still, a 5/2 isn’t unplayable, it’s just below the bar. If you can make it trade for something big, it can still put in work for you. Just let it be one of the first things on your chopping block.

Ashen Snakepit

Grade: BA?

I put the question mark there because this looks like something that is supposed to be a build-around type card, but I’m really not sure exactly what it’s supposed to do. It costs 5, so you won’t get a snake before turn 6. They’re reckless, and they can’t block, so a single 1/4 bricks your entire game plan. And you’re only going to have so many spells…I just don’t see it fitting in any archetype. It’s probably safe to treat this as a 0.0 and move on.

Hordeleader

Grade: 2.0

This bonus is temporary and it doesn’t buff himself, so any 3/4 just eats him. If you are going sufficiently wide (or have some Firemane Lionesses), that one punch can be enough. Barbarian Camp is a decent upside to get if you renown him, which can also help him get more attacks in. This seems like a very swingy play, but it’s extremely bad if you’re behind, which limits its potential in a highly-contested 5-slot.

Shingane Forge

Grade: 1.5

If I’m going to play a 5-mana do-nothing relic, I’ll play this one over the Snakepit. For one, your deck will have way more units than spells. For two, a Heavy Axe is probably a better card than a Flamefang in a vacuum. It’s not free (you have to pay 1), but the axe triggers renown and, more importantly, is stackable if your opponent has a big blocker in the way. I would not draft more than one of these, howver.

Phoenix Hammer

Grade: 1.0

This is technically removal, but it’s quite poor removal. It’s 6 power for 4 damage that likely deals you some damage as well. Oof. You’re almost never buying it back in your average limited deck. As a fan of spell-heavy decks, I hope I draft a deck where this is playable, but I doubt I will.

Shingane Captain

Grade: 4.0

The cycle of captains are very powerful. This one does exactly what Fire wants, acting as both an anthem and a surprise charge curve-topper. You don’t get to play many 6-drops, in beatdown decks but this is a shoe-in for one of those slots.

Sunscorched Elemental

Grade: 0.5

Speaking of scorching-hot 6-drops…this isn’t one. 2 health just means it walks into any old dork and dies. Even if you manage to renown it, it’s still not going to be that hard to trade with, and while the 3/1s can dish some damage, you are taking a huge risk when including this card in your deck. It’s not worth it when there are so many stronger 6s out there.

Forgeborn

Grade: 1.5

As with all 6+ drops, you should remember that you only get to play so many. Will this be the best of your 7-drop options? Not often, but it’s playable if it’s all you have. It’s not the most spectacular 7-drop, but it’s there if you want one, and Pledge gives it some minor flexibility.

Xo of the Endless Hoard

Grade: 4.5

Because this costs 7FFF, it narrowly misses on the 5.0 mark, but the fact that he gives you a Treasure Trove for doing nothing at all is a massive bonus. The fact that it’s a giant flyer that can draw you MORE cards and deal some extra damage in the event that a 6/6 isn’t enough is also a pretty damn good upside. Even if you don’t get to 7 or FFF, you still get your card back from the Trove, meaning there’s almost zero risk to playing this expensive card.

Magmatic Sentinel

Grade: 2.0

If you can ramp or reduce the cost of this guy, make sure you value him a little higher. It’s guaranteed card advantage, and a very powerful threat. The biggest drawback is obviously the 8 in the top left. I think the first might make the cut on raw power in any non-aggro shell, but if you’re a ramp deck, you could play 2 or 3. There is a common Argenport ramp spell for 2 in the set, which makes me like this in FJS (ambition) as well as in FTP (instinct).

Wrap-Up

Fire gets some nice aggressive tools that can scale into the late-game, which I like. Things like Firemane Lioness and Hardsight Cyclops are exactly the kinds of things that an aggressive faction needs, since they are fine plays on curve, but can also help you close a game that has stalled out. I do worry for Fire’s removal, as there’s only a single (good) direct kill spell at common or uncommon, so you’ll need to look to other factions (or multifaction cards) to really solidify your removal suite. 

Defiance Limited Review – Overview

Welcome to the first in a series of articles taking a deep dive into the Defiance limited format. I realize this is a bit delayed, but the set had an unfortunate release date for me, since I spent a good portion of December traveling, then it was right back to work after the holidays.

Nonetheless, I hope this series of articles is of use to some folks out there who may just be picking up the game, or perhaps some of you who have been around may find the more in-depth set reviews helpful. 

I do want to preface this and all of my set reviews with the fact that I’m a filthy casual. I don’t devote tons of time to grinding card games anymore, but that just means that I try to play at the highest level possible when I do find the time. If I only have an hour to play, I damn sure want to win if I can, or revel in memes if I can’t. That does color my reviews a bit. I may be off on some cards due to lack of experience or desire to meme, though I hope that I at least do a decent job justifying the line of thinking that leads me to particular grades. 

In addition to this article, I have also written six card-by-card reviews with grades and discussion for each card. Those are linked below:

Fire  Time  Justice  Primal  Shadow  Multifaction/Neutral

This article, on the other hand, will include very little single-card discussion. It is intended to be an overview of the format as I see it. I’ll go over the primary archetypes, as well as any other noteworthy potential build-around cards and cycles. First, and most importantly:

Defiance is a three-faction format

Any format that has powerful three-faction cards at common and uncommon is going to be a format where you are basically forced to play three factions if you want to win. Defiance backs that up with a number of faction fixers at low rarities. You may be able to draft cohesive two-faction decks, but you will be missing out on a great deal of potential power from the three-faction cards.

Only five of the ten possible three-faction combinations are represented in Defiance, meaning you’ll want to slot yourself into one of those for best results. I’ll discuss each of them briefly below. But first, there is one mechanic found across all five factions, and it’s quite an interesting one: Pledge.

Pledge allows you to play the card as if it were a sigil of any of its factions, but you can only do this on your first turn. After that, Pledge does nothing. It’s a bit of a weird mechanic, seemingly tacked on at random to a lot of cards at all rarities. It is better on the more expensive cards, since your opening hand is exactly where you don’t want to see an 8-drop. However, there’s nothing really to do with Pledge. Nothing cares about whether or not a card has Pledge. It’s just a first-turn-only upside. What it does do is sometimes turn a hand that would be unkeepable into a keepable one, effectively adding an extra power to it. Don’t draft a card specifically for pledge, but do take note of how many pledges end up in your deck at the end. If you have enough (not sure on the exact number), you may be able to shave a power, but probably never more than one, since pledges drawn after the first turn won’t help you.

Faction Breakdown

I’ll discuss the faction combinations individually in a moment, but drafting is a gradual process. You need to start somewhere, and the best strategy is usually to stay as open as possible until you see something worth committing to, such as a late Display or other splashy three-faction card. Taking hard-to-play multifaction cards with your opening picks is not always a great strategy because you could find yourself cut off from that faction pairing later on, meaning you’ve wasted your first pick(s)!

However, in this format, you are eventually looking to settle into one of the five multifaction wedges, meaning you’ll actually have a little more freedom to take two-faction cards in the opening picks. The five wedges break down as:

Instinct:  

Honor:  

Ambition: 

Vision: 

Knowledge: 

If you look closely at these combinations, there are five two-faction combinations that appear in multiple wedges. These are:

Skycrag  (Instinct, Honor)

Rakano  (Honor, Ambition)

Argenport  (Ambition, Vision)

Xenan   (Vision, Knowledge)

Elysian  (Knowledge, Instinct)

With that in mind, it’s highly beneficial to start your draft in one of these five pairings, since you’ll be able to tack on one of two other factions, depending on what is open. Keep that in mind while drafting. If you wind up in something else after pack 1, say, Combrei, you really can only go from there to Vision, unless you abandon an entire faction’s worth of your picks. Not ideal!

While it’s surely possible to draft a good deck outside the five main wedges, you’re losing out on a lot of potential power from the strong multifaction cards in those wedges. Don’t force yourself to play a wedge, certainly, but an “alternative” deck should be a fail case, not the norm.

Fire-Time-Primal: Jennev/Instinct

(I am not certain which of the names is the “official” name of these factions. I’m going to go with the trait, Instinct, over the location, since that’s somewhat future-proof.)

The Instinct mechanic is Amplify, which allows you to pay the Amplify cost any number of times to repeat the card’s effect. These cards are generally fine for their cost at the base rate, with amplify being a significant upside that will allow you to turn your single card into multiple cards worth of value if the game goes long. To amplify most cards, you’ll need 7 or 8 power, or even more if you want to leverage multiple amplifications. Dune Painter (above) is a nifty little build-around card for the Amplify deck, and I could see them getting pretty crazy in multiples, if you are lucky enough to have them and a sufficient density of Amplify effects. The amplify cards are mostly playable without ramp effects, but keep an eye out for them during drafting, as an early amplified Sauropod or similar can slam the door in a hurry.

The curated packs include Trail Maker which is absolutely bonkers in this deck, both fixing and ramping you (and providing a body for your Sauropods or Mighty Strikes to target).

Fire-Justice-Primal: Ixtun/Honor

Honor is, apparently, all about winning combats by cheating. No, really, you get bonuses for altering the terms of an “agreed-upon” combat.

Renown is the Honor mechanic. The first time you either play a spell or weapon targeting a creature with Renown, you get the bonus. It only works once, so keep that in mind.

It will be interesting to see how a clearly beatdown-oriented mechanic fares in a set with slow power bases. The Renown units are fairly mediocre without their renown bonuses, but few of them are truly bad. You’ll want a generous number of tricks and/or weapons to make this mechanic work. That will lead to some number of games where you just draw either all units or all enhancements and wind up getting outclassed by your opponent. However, when the Renown draw comes together, your slower opponents are going to die before they can execute their game plan.

With that in mind, you’ll want to be sure you curve out. This may be the kind of deck where you especially want to be in two primary factions, probably Rakano, splashing some of the better cards from the third, instead of a full three factions, since a beatdown deck is punished much more for stumbling than a deck with bigger catch-up plays. This is doubly so because the deck leans on a specific mix of renown units and things to trigger renown, so sometimes you will be faced with a decision between fixing and a desperately-needed piece of the deck.

For that reason, Barrel Through is very high on my list of picks for this deck. It serves double duty as a key enabler and a fixer.

Fire-Justice-Shadow: Winchest/Ambition

 

You might notice a lack of cohesion in these faction examples. That’s because Ambition has no set faction mechanic, for some reason. The classic “goodstuff” combination lies at the intersection of Renown and Empower in this set. FJS has historically wanted to play the midrangiest of midrange games, grinding an opponent down with big units backed up by removal and card advantage. The upside of lacking a cohesive mechanic is that the deck has many interchangeable parts, and you’ll never have a deck completely whiff if you draft the best FJS card in each pack.

Fire and Shadow have the most efficient removal out of all the colors, and Justice gets access to efficient, if conditional, removal as well. Despite being in Fire and Justice, you’ll be able to draft decks that want to play a more relaxed game than the typical Honor decks, taking trades where available, and overwhelming your opponent with bigger threats and card advantage generated through things like Display of Ambition or simply your bevy of hard removal on their weaponed-up threats.

You’ll also have outs to draft Honor-style beatdown decks, replacing Primal’s tricks with Shadow’s removal. You’ll need to be careful when doing this, not to get bogged down by too many of Ambition’s tempting grindy cards, lest your deck wind up lacking cohesion. 

Blaze, the tri-faction common here, is pretty bad if you’re behind, which does hurt the faction overall. If you can stall the game out, it gets pretty nuts, but paying 5 power to deal 2 damage in the mid-game is pretty terrible, and you just can’t justify playing too many copies.

Time-Justice-Shadow: Kerendon/Vision

Despite its name implying a certain forward thinking, Vision actually takes a step backward to Set 1 for its mechanic, Empower. It’s simple: every time you play a power, you trigger all of your empower effects. The interesting thing this time around is that there are quite a number of ways to play multiple powers in the same turn in Defiance. That means things like Bleak Basin Guide or Resilient Wagoneer (not pictured) can get real scary in a hurry. Vision is another grindy midrange faction wedge, but where Ambition leans slightly more heavily on removal, Vision is more about its efficient threat base, thanks to the inclusion of Time. There are two styles of deck in Vision, which may be to its detriment. One is a beatdown-type deck, full of 2-drops and Bleak Basin Guides, and the other is a go-big ramp deck with all of the various ramp spells curving into a thick top-end.

The split there may lead to some draft decks that wind up falling short of a good version of either of those decks, which means you’ll then be trying to win with a deck that lacks a real cohesive plan. This is especially true since the more aggressive empower cards like Bleak Basin Guide are temporary bonuses, so they will be very bad on defense if you can’t trigger them on your opponent’s turn.

For this reason, I think that one of the best ways to draft this deck may be to start off Xenan or Argenport, with outs to audible to Knowledge or Ambition, respectively, if you find the Vision cards aren’t coming together nicely.

Time-Primal-Shadow: Auralia/Knowledge

Knowledge is all about relics. There are lots of cards that riff on relics, and several ways to make sure you can have your relics at the ready. This is another synergy archetype, where you’ll want a higher proportion of relics than normal, which can lead to awkward draws. Cards like Acantha’s Outrider are obviously quite strong when they are “on” but a 6-power 3/3 flyer is very mediocre when you can’t cheapen it. Drafting Knowledge will take a bit of finesse, but it’s probably the most rewarding when you get there, both in terms of power level and in terms of fun gameplay, since it will involve a lot of grinding and drawing cards while utilizing some odd, niche effects from your relics.

There are a few more aggressive relics in the set, like Secret Passage, and if you can back those up with things like Acantha’s Outrider, you can actually present a very quick clock despite the clunkiness that might be suggested by the “do-nothing relics” archetype.

Archetype Summary

Though there are five supported wedges in this draft format, a few of them have multiple different styles of deck that they can support. This can be to their detriment, as they don’t get more cards per pack to account for their split-personality.

The beneficiaries of this are Instinct and Honor, primarily, which are pretty laser-focused on their plans without requiring too many moving pieces that are bad on their own. Honor does need some synergies to come together, but “dudes and tricks” has never really been that bad of a plan.

Knowledge does have a cohesive plan as well, but it is much more vulnerable to whiffing on good synergies than Honor is, since half of its plan is dependent on often-niche relics. One thing it does benefit from is that many of its cards are narrow enough that they won’t often fit into the other wedges that share its factions. Honeypot, for example, is a nice build-around removal spell that pretty much only belongs in this deck, despite it being in Instinct factions; Instinct isn’t often going to have the relics required to make it good.

Ambition just straight-up doesn’t really have a plan at all. It just wants to be a generic “goodstuff” deck, but that can be complicated with many of the Fire and Justice cards leaning more aggressive than it might like. There are certainly going to be viable aggro Ambition decks, but all that means is that the wedge is overall less consistent, but perhaps not so inconsistent as Vision.

Speaking of Vision, I think it really suffers. I haven’t drafted it enough yet to know how difficult it truly is to navigate, but I feel like the cards are too evenly split between beatdown and ramp to be able to commit to one or the other early enough to guarantee you can wind up with enough playables that fit that plan. One notable absence from the re-tooled curated packs is Awakened Student. Taking some generic Vision cards in pack 1, then opening pack 2 with an Awakened Student or two could have been a really great signal to commit to the Empower beatdown, but the removal of Student from the curated packs means that the signals for which way to go will be a lot more muddled. I guess DWD thought it might be too strong in the deck?

I am leery of the generic midrange decks in a format like this. I want to either be doing something aggressive or something way over-the-top. When the power level of threats is as high as it is in Defiance, midrange decks can get easily overpowered in one direction or the other, since their more generic tools may be unsuited for decks with a specific plan. For that reason, my initial impressions would class Vision and Ambition as the weakest of the wedges on average, with Honor and Instinct taking the top slots. Over time, we’ll see if there’s any truth to that.

Now that I’ve gone over the basic archetypes, let’s take a look at some notable aspects of the format as a whole.

The power level of Defiance is very high

I’ve alluded to this previously. Stronger cards on average are a symptom of three-faction formats, since the three-faction cards are naturally going to be a bit stronger than other cards of their rarity, in order to incentivize players to play the full three factions.

However, DWD has pushed more than just the multifaction cards. There are pushed cards all over the place at lower rarities, which can lead to some very sweet decks and very sweet games. In addition to outright-pushed cards, we get lots of interesting synergy-based cards that can achieve really bonkers power levels if you draft around them. I love high-powered formats where multiple strategies are viable, which is why Cube is the king of Magic formats.

Speaking of multiple strategies, the previous format was very aggro-centric due to mechanics like berserk and tribute that both punished blocking. Defiance leaves much more room for slower strategies to flourish, meaning…

Greed is back on the menu!

Because decks in three-faction formats either A) tend to miss on their faction requirements some of the time or B) contain lots of depleted power (e.g., Tokens, Petition, Seek Power), decks that need a little bit of setup time to play more expensive threats or for synergies to align can make that happen more frequently.

The last four of these are older cards from the curated packs that look a lot better in a slower meta. Some, like Bonepicker, were already very solid cards that get even better. Others, like Moondial, just required to much investment to shine, but now you’ll have more time to leverage them. Pretty much any grindy, power-sink type card falls into this category.

In addition to these options, there are tons and tons of crazy bomb rares and legendaries. You can’t guarantee you’ll see them, but even if you don’t, there are several lower-rarity options like Magmatic Sentinel and Tunneling Gargantua (which are basically the same card) that should find their way to you if you want to draft the splashy ramp decks.

In addition to the many new ramp tools in Defiance, the curated packs contain Trail Maker and Secret Pages as ways to accelerate your splashy plays. Trail Maker in particular seems to me like a card that is absolutely bonkers in this format. It was already strong, but the ability to fix for your powerful three-faction plays in addition to ramping you into them faster is a big game.

With all that said, however, the best thing you can be doing when players tend to have clunky powerbases is not to go big and over the top…

Beatdown is still the place to be

Honor is, in my estimation, the best faction wedge in the format. While the greedy decks are certainly a lot more viable than they were in Fall of Argenport, the nature of the 3-faction format means that a good curve-out draw is going to be hard to overcome, especially if you play a turn behind due to depleted power. The renown mechanic further punishes trying to block, since you’ll not only expose your units to getting killed by combat tricks, but your opponent gets even further ahead due to their renown bonuses. 

While Honor is the place to be, a well-crafted Vision or Ambition beatdown deck will do the trick, too. These will come together less often, for reasons I outlined above, but if you see the opportunity to be there, take it. 

Other notable cards or decks

The Mill Deck

Defiance gives us these two interesting tools that actually make decking your opponent semi-viable. Is it a real deck? No, almost certainly not. But I will be slamming the first Mournful Deathcap I see and giving it a try anyway.

Sadistic Glee on its own can kill an opponent if you’re able to get multiples or things like Dark Return to loop it. You’ll probably need to mill about 30 cards to kill most opponents, all while avoiding dying. The only other non-legendary “mill cards” are Banished Umbren and Fallen Oni, out of the curated packs. These just don’t have high enough impact to really accelerate any sort of clock, and they don’t even block particularly well. Sadistic Glee seems like an okay back-up plan, but I don’t think this deck is good enough to be plan A reliably.

“Fireballs”

Dubbed so after the classic “I was losing, but now you’re dead” card from Magic, there are a LOT of dangerous cards in this format of which you should be aware when making race calculations in the later turns.

While these aren’t upstairs burn spells like the traditional Fireball, these all represent huge late-game plays that can remove multiple blockers or produce multiple attackers and push through huge chunks of damage. Maddening Whisper is the only one of these that isn’t really a card I’d be super happy including in my deck, but it’s not horrible either, so people will play it, and you will die to it. We’ve had cards like this before (Cloud of Ash, Flame Blast), but they have tended to be very situational or hard to cast, and they have not been in the format with such density at low rarity.

Bottoms Up and Mighty Strikes are the most dangerous of these cards, as your opponent needs only a single thing getting through to be able to dump 8 or 9 power into just killing you out of nowhere. However, as I said, Maddening Whisper is the only one I’d be even slightly unhappy running in the main deck, so people will be playing these cards quite often. If you see Skycrag factions, do your best to not leave yourself open to these off the top on turn 10. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, of course, but it pays to keep them in mind.

A word on relics

There are TONS of relics in this set. If you’re looking for them, you’ll find at least a few. Many are quite situational or just straight bad. Try to be choosy, and don’t freak out if you get a few relic-matters cards early on. Every time I have drafted the deck, I’ve wound up cutting mediocre relics, so you can be a little bit choosy. Use your judgment, obviously, but don’t go taking Frost Talismans fourth-pick in pack 1 because you’re worried about turning on your relic-matters stuff.

Black Markets

Merchants were fantastic in Fall of Argenport, and these guys are even better. A Black Market is a market in which none of the cards are also in your main deck. In draft, pretty much every market was already a Black Market, since you don’t often have or want multiples of the situational or inefficient cards that go into markets.

Three of these merchants are probably slightly stronger in terms of their bodies than their FoA counterparts, but the real draw to all of them is being able to access multiple factions, which means having access to more situational cards like relic removal or void hate. One key drawback to these merchants is that you won’t be able to easily fit power into the market, since you can’t really use sigils in a black market. So if you do happen to snag a merchant early, you should try to keep an eye out for an off-faction banner or token that you can stick in the market, even if you don’t need the other faction(s) on it.

Sites

While you won’t see them very often, these are all very powerful, and there are some weird rules associated with them. It pays to understand them thoroughly, so that you don’t make the same blunder I did when I first played against one. They are very similar to planeswalkers from Magic, but the rules interactions are not quite the same.

Sites occupy the board like units do, taking up two slots. Each of them has a passive ability that gives you a small bonus in addition to everything else. Sites also have a health stat, the big green number. Unlike units, this does not recover at the end of the turn, and once a site reaches zero health, it’s destroyed. 

When the opposing player attacks, they have the option to send their units at the site. This is an all-or-nothing choice; you can’t split attacks between an opponent and their site. The site’s controller can block as normal to defend their site. One very important thing to note: you cannot attack sites with relic weapons, even if your opponent has no units. This is perhaps the easiest of the site rules to mess up; since your units can attack sites directly just like players, it’s easy to reason that your relic weapons will function the same way they do with players. I mentioned a blunder above, and this was it. The first time I encountered one of these, I had a relic weapon in hand, with the option to trade it for a unit, then attack, leaving them one unit short of defending their site. Instead, thinking myself clever, I attacked first and got them to trade and chump everything off to protect the site, then played my relic weapon thinking I’d get to finish the site and keep my relic weapon in the exchange. Instead I had to hit their face and went on to lose that game because I didn’t clear the site.

Moving on to what the sites do besides sit there, each site has an agenda associated with it. You should be able to mouse over the card to see each of its agenda spells, if you’re unfamiliar with them. When you play a site, you get to pick one of the agenda spells to play immediately. If your site survives, you get to pick another at the start of each of your turns until the agenda is exhausted. You can’t pick the same agenda spell twice, so keep that in mind. And the spell is chosen at the beginning of your turn, before you can do anything else. This is important to note for things like Mirror Image or Xenan Initiation that require you to target a unit; you can’t wait until you play one. A subtle difference from Magic’s planeswalkers, but it makes turns a lot more streamlined, which I like.

So you’ve been unable to kill your opponent’s site, but at least you’ve weathered the agenda, and now it’s just down to its passive ability, right?

Not quite. Notice the name next to the agenda? Kaleb’s agenda, Worldjoiner’s agenda, and so on? As if three spells plus a passive wasn’t enough, once their agenda is complete, that character shows up to help out! Again, mousing over the site will show the charater’s card. 

The bottom line here is that sites represent an absurd amount of value if they aren’t immediately killed. It’s almost always right to abandon all plans of attacking your opponent to send everything you’ve got at a site, since they’ll take over the game very quickly when not dealt with. The only exception to this is if you think you can kill your opponent in the next turn or two.

Wrap-Up

Phew. There is a lot to unpack about Eternal’s first three-faction draft format, and I’m sure I managed to overlook something. All-in-all, this looks like a great format to explore. There’s room for many different archetypes here, from aggro to control to even “combo” decks. I hope this was a useful read if you’re new to drafting Defiance. While I have done my best to outline the format above, I’ve only covered a small fraction of the total cards in the set here. At the top of the article are linked my detailed set reviews in which I go into deeper discussion about each individual card in Defiance. Give those a read if you want more analysis about particular cards.

If I had to give a two-sentence summary of Defiance it would be this: Be aggressive if you can, and do something over-the-top sweet if you can’t. Just try not to get stuck in the middle.

 

Finishing out the October sealed league and November’s build

It’s been a while since I made a post here, and I fully blame Red Dead Redemption 2. I haven’t looked at how many hours I’ve put into that game since it released, and I’m not going to.

Anyway, I finished up my October pool that stared out so promising. Sadly, the later packs gave me almost zero help, and, as expected, my opponents’ decks got better and better. I wound up taking my 7-3 start to a 25-15 finish, my worst since the first month of sealed.

 

From my last article, this is my week 1 deck that went 7-3:

Pretty solid! (Remember, Miner’s Canary and Calligrapher were un-nerfed at this point!)

The help was tepid, however:

Vanquisher’s Blade and Roosting Owl were the only truly exciting cards, with the rest amounting to decent filler. Archon looks like it might be a bomb, but it’s only okay. In the 30 games I played with it, it only went off once, as you usually don’t have enough units in play to justify paying 6 to activate.  Ageless Mentor would have been cool, if I had any Time fixing, and there was no help with the Shadow splash. I made the best I could of it, but my opponents got a lot more help than I did, as I turned my 7-3 start into a disappointing finish.

(Apologies for the phone screenshots; the league was ending, and I was at work when I remembered I needed to take some snapshots of the deck.)

Unfortunately, at 597, there wasn’t really much hope for me to get into the top 500, so I had to settle without my premium legendary! Boo.

Now, 25-15 is nothing to sneeze at! I’m happy to still have winning records throughout every sealed league thus far. Still, whiffing on the premium legendary stings a bit, especially when you start well and feel like your deck is solid. Just a single win in my last three games would have gotten me there; alas, I flooded a bunch. Here’s the final deck that I wound up with:

It really felt like this deck was better than 25-15, but I had some pretty atrocious draws when it mattered, and the deck did lack some haymakers to punch through stalled boards. If they answered my Aeva, I had a really hard time doing much.

Ah, well. It happens. I’ll just bounce back with November’s sealed pool!

Right?

That’s a yikes from me, dog.

There’s basically no path to a playable deck here. I wish I had more to say about this pool, but there just, like…aren’t any good cards to be found (except Gleaming Shield, for which I seem to have some sort of strange affinity in sealed).

The one good thing about this pool is that my fixing is quite good. Four strangers, a Banner, Petition, and  Recon Tower mean that I’ll be able to play any good cards that I open in the following weeks. That means the correct choice is almost certainly to not play week 1 and hope for some help in the next few packs…

Which…okay, I suppose there are some reasonable cards here. The problem is that there’s nothing overwhelmingly exciting. No huge bombs, but lots of really good midrange cards. Vanquish, Desert Marshal, and Wasp are great removal, and the Owl provides a path to victory in a longer game. Seek Power and Hooru Banner make my fixing even better. I assembled a passable, if thoroughly unexciting deck:

The major issue here is that Primal feels rather tacked on. All of my Primal cards are good, but none are really cards I want to be splashing. I feel priced into it, though, since the rest of my Combrei cards are quite bad.

Shadow is a solid consideration here–just go all-in on fixing and play Slimespitter, Rolant’s Choice, Cut Ties, and the double Dark Return. The main issue there is the SS cost on Slimespitter. My Primal fixing is very good, thanks to the double Banners, but I would have to jam three strangers into the deck to play Shadow.  Is that worth it? Here’s what I would play:

Just, uh, ignore the power base. Nothing to see there.

In all seriousness, as built this gets me:

9 Justice

10 Time

7* Primal

8 Shadow

Not counting the Learned Herbalist, which could get me anything but the first Time in a pinch. I think that’s pretty reasonable. I’ve left an asterisk next to Primal because Clan Standard won’t be a Primal source if I draw it after 5 (and I’d like to avoid using it as one, anyway).

I ditched the 6-drop package of Ambassadors and Champion of Progress. That may be for the best–it was probably a pipe dream. Many of the other units I cut were pretty mediocre, so that’s a positive. Slimespitter is still a non-bo with a lot of my cards, but it is such a potential bomb when you’re behind that I think it’s fine to run it. Wurmic Changer is cute with Dark Returns and Twinning Ritual, but just such a poor tempo card when you don’t get tribute. This deck is already going to be durdling quite a bit, so I think he’s a fine cut. I like the look of this list a lot more than the previous one, but I’m still undecided whether to wait for the final two packs to see if I can crack any more bombs.

I do think Clan Standard is worth it. It’s a powerful effect, and flood protection is nice. With Recon Tower and Seek Power, I should be okay with 17 non-Standard sources.

Wrapping up

I will be honest: I haven’t played that much Eternal lately. Between RDR2 and Magic Arena, my time has been pretty slim, and the lull before Set 5 hasn’t helped. I am thrilled that Eternal has finally reached its official release, and I’m enjoying playing my constructed decks for the moment, so overall I’m pleased with the state of the game. I hope they can keep this up as the tournament scene develops. Limited tournaments when?

As for my next post here, I’ll probably discuss my November results before I take off for my December travels to the AGU meeting in Washington, D.C. I may also try to do some Arena draft writeups, as I’ve been enjoying being able to play Magic at relatively low stakes compared to MTGO. It hurts a lot less to 0-3 a draft on Arena than it did to 0-3 on MTGO, that’s for sure.

Sealed league discussion: When is it right to skip a week?

September was an interesting month for me. I didn’t spend tons of time playing Eternal this month. It wasn’t because I’m bored of the game or anything like that; I simply had lots of other stuff to do. I did play in the sealed league, though–that’s far too great of a value to pass up! And with the new campaign releasing this week, I’m pretty excited to dive back into Eternal.

My September pool, initially, was fairly lackluster. So much so that I actually couldn’t build a 45-card deck without playing some real stinkers. Rather than risk going 4-6 or something like that in week 1, I just declined to play. When Week 2’s packs didn’t help at all, I figured I’d just go all in on Week 4. That kind of goes against the spirit of the league format, I suppose, but I’m a competitor at heart, and I’d rather play a good deck than struggle my way through several mediocre weeks, as happened to me in August. I started that league 8-8 with a weak deck before giving up until Week 4. After waiting for my pool to coalesce a little more, I finished that league on a 20-4 heater to claw my way into the top 500 at 28-12. Had I declined to play those first two mediocre weeks, I could very easily have made a run at the top of the leaderboards.

Rather than give a detailed recap of September here, I’m going to go in a different direction. My initial pools in these first seven months have all been wildly different in texture, so I thought I’d do a more detailed analysis of these initial 8-pack pools with the following question in mind:

When should you skip a week (or more)?

The easy answer here would be “when you feel your deck is below average.” That doesn’t do the question justice, however. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the majority of your packs (8 of 14) come in Week 1. If your starting pool is below average, you are going to have to have some stellar luck to come out with an above-average deck by the end of the league. That’s not to say it can’t happen–my August pool was very much above-average by the end of it, despite starting poorly. However, even if you run hot in your 6 extra packs, you are still likely to wind up with only an average deck. That’s certainly better than a below-average deck, but it still leans on you getting lucky in your bonus packs, which won’t always happen. Sometimes you do have to gamble on that, but there are times when it can be right to just jam the bad deck and pray.

It can be correct to play overall subpar decks in week 1 if they are set up to win through evasion or other “cheese.” Basically, you can assume that most of your opponents are also trying to scrape together a playable deck from not much. They are going to have limited pieces of interaction, especially in early weeks since two of the factions with good removal (Fire and Shadow) also tend to have the fewest playable units without synergy. This will lead a lot of people to shy away from those factions until they can flesh them out more, meaning your massive beater might just get there. If I have a pool with a bunch of unblockable units and high-power weapons, I’m just gonna jam and hope I don’t run into the guy who opened a few Torches. If your pool is one-dimensional and that doesn’t look likely to be fixed by the addition of a few packs, you should play early to take advantage of your one-dimensionality. Your opponents become more and more likely to be able to handle what you’re doing as their pools expand.

I’m more inclined to wait when there are just a few glaring weaknesses in the deck. If I’ve got a bunch of decent-to-good cards in most facets of the game, but I’ve got a huge lack of removal, I’ll probably want to wait. Likewise, if I’ve got four premium removal spells but my units are all 4/1s for 3 or something, I’m going to want to wait. I’ll also wait if I have one very solid deck that’s just missing a few playables. If my option is to play 3 or 4 F’s in my deck full of B’s and C+’s, I’ll probably just wait and see if I can upgrade some or all of those F’s to D’s at the very least.

To summarize: If your deck is very weak to particular strategies, but that could be fixed by the addition of just a few key pieces, you should wait. If your deck is weak overall, but you are poised to capitalize on an opponent’s weakness in a certain area (e.g., flyers, large units), you should consider playing early to capitalize while your opponents also have a smaller pool of answers.

Obviously, if you just have a stone unplayable pool, you should wait. But that’s not really worthy of discussion, now is it?

With all that in mind, let’s look at my initial pools so far in this league format and think about what I should have done in these situations.

Pool 1: April

My result: Played every week (5-5 Week 1); 22-18 overall.

This pool had some very nice relic weapons to function as removal, but it was very lacking in unit density, having to splash for Marisen’s Disciple just to get there on the numbers. Note that I started Lavablood Goliath because this was the first sealed and I honestly wasn’t sure of how fast it would be. I benched him after four games.

Overall, this initial deck had some glaring weaknesses (units with 5+ health) and very little closing power. I was also splashing two cards on only a single piece of fixing, which is obviously subpar. It leaned too hard on just a few units. If those were dealt with, or if I didn’t draw them on time, I really couldn’t recover.

What I should have done: Wait and hope for some better answers to bigger threats, e.g., Vanquish or Stonescar Maul. Another out would have been to hope for better aggro tools to get under some of the bigger threats.

Pool 2: May

Note: I believe I actually played Detain over the Snow Pelting for faction reasons.

My result: Played every week. 9-1 week 1, 34-6 overall.

This is by far one of the best pools I’ve had, and honestly the least interesting, so I won’t spend tons of time here. The initial pool was by far above average, and it had very few weaknesses. I had fixing, I had a good curve, I had bombs and closing speed. I didn’t have tons of removal, but that was fine, since my units could just outclass or outrace most everything.

What I should have done: Petition to be allowed to play all 40 ranked games week 1.

June’s Pool

I was traveling the majority of June, and did not get the chance to play until Week 4 anyway, so I’ll skip this one. Waiting was good enough for a 33-7 record, though!

July’s Pool

My Result: 6-4 Week 1, 19-11 overall (did not finish the last week due to travel).

This was shortly after the release of Fall of Argenport, so I didn’t really have a great handle on how strong some of these cards would or would not be. I had some very powerful cards in Preserver of Dualities, Siphon Vitality, Eye of Winter, and Gleaming Shield, but the pool was missing some things overall. Number one was fixing: Only Hooru Stranger and Amaran Archaeologist did any fixing, and both are very mediocre cards outside of their fixing role, yet I felt priced into splashing Primal because my pool was too thin on Xenan playables, particularly removal. I had to splash Clan Standard and Dragonbreath in order to get there, which are not cards I really want to be splashing.

If I could have built a 38- or 40-card deck, my straight-up Xenan deck might have been good enough, but I just didn’t have enough oomph to build a fully Xenan deck. This is a prime example of a pool that would benefit from some fleshing out. I have some very good grindy cards in this pool–the four powerful cards I mentioned above all benefit from games going long and stalling out. In addition to those, I had things like Surgeon’s Saw and Vital Arcana that would help push me ahead in longer games. The problem was that my deck just wasn’t consistent enough at executing its game plan, and it didn’t always have good ways to deal with major threats. I didn’t have consistent answers to the most common of game-enders: a bird with a sword. Even when I drew my answers (Eye of Winter, Clan Standard), I sometimes was missing the influence for them.

What I should have done: Wait until I found some more fixing or better removal (or both). This was a pool that was missing just a few key pieces, and it likely could have been a 7- or 8-wins per 10 games kind of deck, had that come together. Even if I missed on that, I don’t think it would have been much worse than 6 wins per 10 games, given the raw power of some of the cards. As it turned out, weeks 2 and 3 didn’t help me much, but they also didn’t hurt. 13-7 is roughly the same as 6-4, but that means that waiting probably was the correct choice, even if it didn’t pan out.

August

My result: 5-5 week 1, 28-12 overall.

Once again, I had a pool with a great deal of powerful cards that lacked the filler to support them. If you take a look at the two decks I considered (note: Primal sigils should not be in the Argenport deck), you’ll see such hits as double Changeestik, Polymorph, Rizahn, Valkyrie Spireguard, and Slimespitter Slug. These are all premium cards, but the decks here have some very glaring issues.

First off, the Argenport deck is all units! I had no removal outside of the Changeestiks and Polymorph, yet I also had only a single Skycrag Banner to help fix for them. That made them a no-go in the Argenport deck, which had to cast JJ and SS cards as well. Eliminating the Primal cards left me with a deck that had a whole pile of units, yet many of them were just subpar filler, even if there were some nice bombs in there. I didn’t even have removal to leverage swarm my opponent out of the game.

The Rakano deck at least got to take advantage of the Skycrag Banner to give me some hope of playing Changeestiks, but its main issue was the units as well. Again, I had some huge bombs, but look at the Fire units. None of those are things I really want to be playing. Even with Changeestiks, the removal just wasn’t there. I thought perhaps the strength of my bombs might carry me, but I finished a disappointing 5-5 after week 1.

What I should have done: Pump the brakes and wait until I found some better units for the Rakano version or some better fixing and/or removal for the Argenport version. I did wind up finding some better removal and better units for Argenport and, as I mentioned, finished the league on a 20-4 run in week 4.

September

Here’s the pool that really prompted me to write this article. Don’t bother with the Fire or Time cards–they’re pretty much all bad–but have a look at the great JPS cards I opened. I’ve got a high density of flyers and some nice weapons to slap on them. Shadow has four premium removal spells and another playable one in Spirit Drain.

One problem: The density just isn’t there. Shadow has maybe 3 playable cards outside of the removal spells, and neither Primal nor Justice has the depth to make up for it. Primal and Justice had a technically playable deck between them, but it had some major issues, namely that there was very little interaction, and I didn’t quite have the unit quality needed to play a strong tempo game. The only deck I could put together that looked remotely playable was to add the Annihilates to my Hooru base, but I had no fixing to help with the splash.

So the question I had to ask myself was: Will any of these decks come together if I can open just a few missing pieces? My Hooru deck in particular had some real promising signs: some reasonable 2-drops to trade off early, yet that still remained relevant later (Tranquil Scholar, Copperhall Herald, Dusk Raider), and a bunch of reasonably efficient flying threats. That combination leans toward a tempo deck, where I’m just trying to disrupt my opponent’s ability to block, with things like the Peacekeeper’s Helm and Strength of Many that I already had. The pool had enough reasonable bodies already; just a few upgrades and some additional ways to push through would wind up turning this into a pretty savage deck.

An Argenport or Feln deck could easily come together as well, if I managed to get just a few more playable cards in those factions. With the solid Shadow removal I already had, it wouldn’t take many decent units to flesh out that deck either. That meant that I had outs to several potentially great decks, if I was able to get either decent Shadow units or a few tempo plays for the Hooru deck. Had there only been one path forward, it may not have been correct to wait, but having two completely separate needs means that I’m very likely to get there on at least one of them in my next six packs.

Here is where I ended up:

Note: I actually have no idea what happened to Kosul Battlemage here. I don’t think I actually played him. Whoops. I’d probably have cut Longhorn Treasurer for him.

Shadow never really came together, sadly, and without fixing I wasn’t able to splash the Annihilates. Fortunately, Vanquisher’s Blade, Linebreaker’s Shield, Peacekeeper’s Prod, and Mirror Shield were exactly what the doctor ordered: Spellcraft weapons (yes, I know Prod isn’t technically Spellcraft; it’s close enough).

While I had a disappointing last 10 games with the deck, going 5-5, I started 23-7, which positioned me for a top-100 finish if I could keep up the pace. Sadly I had to settle for 200ish, but that’s still good enough to lock up my premium legendary for the month.

The biggest issue with this deck was the faction requirements. Peacekeeper’s Prod did rot in my hand a few times, and there were a lot of early dual-influence cards like Aerialist and Cloudsnake Harrier that gave me fits. Seek Power helped, but I’d have killed for a Stranger or Banner to flesh things out more.

October:

My pool this month is quite promising. Once again, Fire and Time just have very few redeeming qualities. It seems I almost always end up in Justice, Primal, and Shadow, but that shouldn’t be overly surprising because they have the highest concentration of flying threats. Sealed revolves around evasion and how well set up you are to deal with it.

This pool is full of juicy flying goodness, paired with some solid dorks to gum up the ground. Most of my 2-drops double as fixing for my two copies of Feeding Time. My 3s are unexciting, but they block well and have enough health that my weapons can turn them into real threats. My top-end is jam-packed with bomb flyers and spellcraft weapons, which is exactly where I want to be.

This is exactly the kind of pool you want to play in the early weeks. When you have a deck that has a very well-defined plan like this one, backed up by good removal, you’re rewarded for playing early because your opponents are unlikely to have similar consistency and ways to stop you, and their best ways to win are often to try and steal games with lots of weapons. My deck was ideally poised to mess with that, since I had 4 outright ways to kill large units, as well as the spellcraft stuns to just beat down past them.

In the early weeks, it’s worth noting, cards like Downfall are more valuable. Ordinarily, I’m very down on Downfall because it simply costs too much relative to what it does. Vanquish is very powerful because it offsets the risk (your opponent has no target for it) with extreme tempo (you kill their 6-drop for 2 power). Downfall fails at that. However, as I mentioned before, the go-to way to win when your pool is thin on playables is to slap weapons onto your few reasonable units. Downfall is decent at hosing that strategy, which makes it a solid play in early weeks, but something I’ll quickly drop as my opponents’ decks becomes more and more streamlined.

My result: 7-3 week 1 (4-0 in tiebreakers)

Unfortunately, I did wind up dropping three games, but I did so due to power issues. Twice I got stuck on 3, once I drew 11. During the games where variance was not hosing me, however, I mostly dominated. Only one or two of the games were remotely close. So, despite the good-but-not-stellar record, I was rewarded for playing week 1. Most of my opponents were playing some dubious synergies and units, but I didn’t have any of those issues. Every card in my deck was reasonably strong, even if not exciting. In terms of gameplay, if not power level, my deck played out like a week 3 or 4 deck.

Note that I only played 4 tiebreakers. There may come a time where I miss out on a premium legendary at the end of the league due to tiebreakers, but outside of that, tiebreakers are some of the lowest-value games you can play in Eternal. I played a few because I was a little tilted at finishing my last four leaderboard games at 1-3, but once I reassured myself that yes, my deck was good, I gave up on it. Had I started 8-2 or 9-1, I might have played them all out, but at 7-3 I doubt I’ll be pushing for a top-10 ranking this month, just by the law of averages.  I’m not super concerned about raising my finish from 155 to 126 or something like that. Once you’re in the top 500, your tiebreakers might net you 2 packs. Playing a full 80 games for maybe 2,000 gold just isn’t worth it!

Wrapping up

I hope that this has given you something to think about when you crack open that sealed pool in the first week of the month. While it does fly against the spirit of the league to not play your weekly games on purpose, it can be a great way to improve your chances of a high ranking when you have a less-than-stellar pool. Missing out on tiebreakers is mostly inconsequential. There are a lot of players out there who don’t even bother playing more than one or two. I tested this at the end of the last league. Getting to just two tiebreaker wins raised my rank from 240 to 207. Going purely by averages, the lowest ranked player in the next win bracket would be somewhere in the 120 range (~50% of 28-11 players would win their last game; in reality, it’s more). I therefore achieved 25% of my possible rank increase from tiebreakers in just two games. Furthermore, even had I gone 80-0 in tiebreakers, I likely wouldn’t have even moved up a prize bracket! So don’t feel like you’re missing out by sacrificing tiebreakers.

And, of course, feel free to completely disregard this if you simply enjoy playing the weekly games, win or lose.

Cheers, until next time!

 

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