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.