often talk about card evaluation here on Limited Information. It's one of the most important abilities a Limited player can possess. Solid card evaluation is a part of what sets one level of player apart from the next.
One aspect of card evaluation, though, is the contrast between evaluating in a vacuum versus evaluating in context. When we first see the set fully revealed in the Card Image Gallery here on DailyMTG.com, it's a lot to take in. We have to begin from a reasonable starting point, usually evaluating each card in a vacuum. This allows us to get a feel for the base power level of a card. Once we see it in action, we can make adjustments as needed.
Speed of the format, general toughness level of creatures, quality of removal, presence of bombs, and synergy demands are just a few of the factors that can affect any one card's evaluation.
This week, I want to look back at some of the cards from Gatecrash that I have made adjustments to since the set came out.
When I first saw Assault Griffin in this set, I doubted that there would be a deck running white in which I didn't want one of these. While this held true to an extent, I have realized that I often passed this guy for a cheaper alternative. I still run the Griffin when I can, but it's a lower-priority pick than I assumed it would be.
The fact that it dies to Mugging is also a strike against it.
This little guy has performed better for me than I anticipated. I wasn't interested in a lousy 1/1 for one mana with a marginal ability when I first saw it. But after fully grasping what Orzhov is trying to do in Gatecrash I like the card a lot more. It holds the ground pretty effectively and it makes casting cards like Smite and Executioner's Swing significantly better.
I won't run this in my Boros deck; this thrull is in Orzhov or it is on the bench.
Shielded Passage doesn't carry a big effect. It's not very good unless you are doing a lot of attacking and offering a lot of trades. Thankfully for Shielded Passage, you do that often in Gatecrash.
Well, specifically in Boros. You can pick up this cheap combat trick late in the pack, and I'll usually run at least one in my battalion-themed decks.
It's a lot worse if you are using it in Orzhov, but it does have the benefit of turning double-blocks into one-for-ones, and it's cheap enough that you will often be able to pay the extort cost for it. Just make sure you target the first creature your opponent orders if you are on the double-block plan.
I love big tempo plays. Love them. Mist Raven is one of my all-time favorite cards for Limited. And the only thing better than Mist Ravening your opponent in Avacyn Restored Limited was casting a turn-four Into the Void on him or her. Man, that felt good.
When I first looked at Ætherize, I thought I had a slightly trickier Into the Void on my hands.
I was wrong. It turns out it's a lot to ask to leave up four untapped mana in this format. Things are hostile in Gatecrash and allowing our opponent to play around Ætherize is a risky proposition. Plus, our opponent often just lets you do it, then recasts two of his or her creatures. Sure, our opponent used up some time and mana to do it, but so did we.
Sadly, this format is just too aggressive to make Ætherize a top-tier card. It's still playable, just not as good as I thought it would be.
I liked Cloudfin Raptor when I saw it. What I did not realize was that it would be the lynchpin for an entire archetype. I figured it was bold to assume you would have this guy on turn one, and that it would lose a ton of value later in the game.
I was partially right. Really late Cloudfin Raptors are underwhelming. But really early ones are downright nasty. I'm still surprised at how good this card is sometimes. It takes a lot to make a one-drop really awesome, but the Raptor has it.
Metropolis Sprite isn't a great card. And when I saw it, I noted it as such. What I didn't know, though, was that a cheap, evasive threat had a lot going for it. This Sprite is often the recipient of some encoding, and that's where it shines.
A neat trick is to get some amount of +1/+1 counters on it, so you can use its pump ability more than once per turn. It turns from annoying insect to ferocious wasp in a hurry if you can get two or more such counters on it.
I'm not a huge fan of counterspells in Limited. They are often cumbersome and expensive. They are also purely reactionary, where I prefer to be proactive. There are few things more frown-inducing than drawing a counterspell right after your opponent resolves a big threat.
But sometimes they fit. And I found that Spell Rupture goes quite nicely in the Simic deck. I only want one, but it's an important card, as Simic lacks ways to interact with opposing creatures. Countering your opponent's bomb is a big deal, and there is usually no shortage of big, powerful creatures in Simic.
I can normally make cards like this work. I remember casting Griptide a fair bit and always feeling like I got good value for it. Totally Lost, though, is more expensive and in a much faster environment. I always feel like I end up casting it on a two-drop. Even though this isn't fully accurate, it happens often enough to make me look other places for creature solutions.
A 1/2 with flying for two mana isn't very good. And when I first evaluated Basilica Screecher, I put more emphasis on the body than the ability. I remember noting to myself that if extort ended up being its own archetype, then this card would be bumped up.
Well, as it turns out, extort is its own archetype, and Basilica Screecher gets a big bump as a result. Any permanent with extort on it is playable. We have even seen 1/1s for one with marginal side abilities see plenty of play because they have extort. Screecher (along with Syndic of Tithes) is a premier two-drop for the deck.
I'll run as many bats as I can in a true extort deck.
The question with Wight of Precinct Six was always around how much mill we would see in Gatecrash. Is it a real strategy? If not, is there enough incidental mill to make this guy good?
As it turns out: no and yes, respectively. The mill deck is a possibility in Gatecrash, but it's not a staple archetype. Wight of Precinct Six, however, is a card I really want in any Dimir deck I run. The incidental mill adds up enough to make this guy huge. He is a great win condition and can combine with removal to make for some pretty awesome early combat steps. Our opponent has to think twice before attacking with his or her team if we have a bunch of mana available and a Wight on the table.
I take this card a lot higher than I thought I would have.
I didn't like Madcap Skills when I first saw it. Heck, I still don't.
That said, I have grown to respect it a lot more. It has stolen many games from me, and I have stolen some with it as well. The ultimate in risk, it can outright win games if the opposing player can't find suitable removal quickly enough. If the opponent already has removal, Madcap Skills often means an early loss.
I don't draft the card particularly highly, but I will play it and I will win with it. And I'll fear it, too.
I remember thinking that this guy was just okay when I first read him. "Solid card," I thought. Well, it turns out it is a solid card. What I didn't realize was that a 2/4 in this format is pretty darn tough to get around: 2/3s aren't a big deal, but 2/4s can block almost all two-drops and stop them cold.
I was so excited when I first read Bane Alley Broker. Looting is one of my favorite things to do in Magic and it had been a while since we had a looter as sweet as this one. I had dreams of looting away expensive spells early in a game, then buying them back with the Broker and casting them.
It was going to be glorious.
So what happened?
Dimir isn't great, and blocking with 0/3s is a surefire way to get dead in this format. With plenty of 3-power two-drops running around, this card simply doesn't block well enough for the cost. The effect is still good, but we don't have the time to use it.
I was wrong. Being one mana cheaper is a significant drop in price for this effect, especially since Orzhov wants the cheapest possible spells so it can max out on extort payments.
There are also a few pesky threats that die to -5/-5 but don't die to other answers, and I always feel better having this in my deck than not.
I am so sad every time I pass an Urban Evolution. I love this card; it may be my favorite card to resolve in the whole set. It's fun, powerful, and encourages us to push some boundaries a bit.
Sadly, spending our fifth turn doing essentially nothing to affect the board correlates strongly to dying in Gatecrash. I just want to cast Urban Evolution all day, but I'm too busy attacking to bother with it.
I thought this was the best guildmage when I first saw it. I remember thinking that Sunhome Guildmage was close, perhaps better even, but Zameck Guildmage was very strong.
I was right about Sunhome Guildmage being better. What I didn't know at the time is that this format is fast. Fast enough that messing around with adding two mana to your creature just to make it a bit bigger isn't worth the time. Sure, it's a sweet late-game draw engine, but if you build your Simic deck correctly, there is no late game.
Look, it's still a 2/2 for two with significant upside. We will play this guy in our Simic decks; it's just not the priority I thought it would be.
Taking the time to get strong, baseline card evaluations for the set before your first draft is a big step toward becoming a better player. The next step is to constantly readjust your evaluations.
As things change with the format, go back over your previous assumptions and make the necessary changes. People who get stuck with their first impressions fall behind quickly.
It's the ones who are agile and adept at making changes who succeed the most.
And by "the ones," I mean you.
Marshall Sutcliffe hosts the Limited Resources podcast, does Pro Tour and Grand Prix video coverage, writes articles, and produces strategy videos. Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited following a long hiatus from the game, but he enjoys all forms of the game. He lives in Seattle, WA.