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.
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.
I thought this card was great. Then I read it again and noticed it was missing one rather important word…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
Unless you are deep on relic weapons, gaining 1 armor a turn isn’t worth playing such a weak body.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.