Anyway, back to this week's topic. The situation was that you were opening up your Fifth Dawn booster in a Mirrodin-Darksteel-Fifth Dawn booster draft. Throughout Mirrodin and Darksteel you'd managed to accumulate the following playable cards:
Tree of Tales
Upon opening your Fifth Dawn pack you found yourself with the following cards to select your first pick from:
Which card should you draft?
Well there's quite a selection there for you. There are at least seven cards that would easily make the cut into your main deck and there are several powerful cards that would definitely be worthy of a first pick. The question is which one is the one to go for?
Thinning the field
Before discussing the more powerful cards it's worth eliminating the weaker ones first. At this point in time you should all have plenty of experience of the power level of the various cards in this set so I won't dwell too long here.
Sparring Collar, Tel-Jilad Lifebreather and Vicious Betrayal are more-or-less unplayable in every circumstance. Their effects are either too weak or they are drastically over-costed for a limited format. Whatever the reason, you certainly wouldn't play any of these in this deck.
Anodet Lurker is a card that can sometimes make the cut if you are really short on creatures but you want to avoid paying five mana for a 3/3 creature unless the ability is really good. The possibility of gaining three life should the Lurker die is not a great ability unfortunately and the Lurker isn't a high pick as a result. There's a lot of power in this pack so there's no need to select the Lurker.
Vanquish is a situational removal spell but again it's one that can make the cut into your deck if you're short on quality cards. The reason it's not highly valued is simply because it doesn't deal with creatures that are attacking you. If you're taking repeated hits from a Neurok Spy or Skyhunter Patrol then Vanquish isn't going to help you get out of that situation. It's decent but not that powerful and it shouldn't be picked here as a result.
Most limited matches take around ten turns or so. With the initial seven cards they draw and an extra card drawn every turn that still means they've only drawn seventeen cards and on average will have a library containing more than 20 cards at the end of the game. For Grinding Station to win you the game you'll have to sacrifice seven artifacts to it and that just isn't something you'll be in a position to do in the vast majority of limited games. Grinding Station wasn't designed as a limited card and it's something you should normally be leaving in your sideboard should you happen to pick it up in a draft.
Good but not needed
There are several cards in this pack that are good, but that just aren't useful in this deck for various reasons.
Vulshok Sorcerer has to be dropped simply due to its casting cost. It's an excellent card and although this deck may splash red for Dismantle it still won't be able to generate the double-red mana needed to cast the Sorcerer with any sort of consistency. The Sorcerer is an excellent card, but not for this deck.
Fleshgrafter and Pentad Prism can be lumped together as they're both very playable and would both be fine additions to this deck but unfortunately they just don't have the power of some of the other cards in this pack. If you were lucky you might get one of these two when the pack comes back around to you but for a first pick these two should be passed up in favour of the more powerful cards in the pack.
The main contenders
That leaves the following five cards to choose from.
All of these cards are powerful and all of them would be fine first picks for this deck. Some of them outshine the others though so it's time to find out which those are and why.
The second card to get cut here would be the Skyreach Manta. The mana base for this deck supports the Manta fairly well as there's a Copper Myr, the Tree of Tales, a Vedalken Engineer and a Darksteel Ingot that can all provide sources of off-colour mana. Four sources are enough to believe that the Manta would be a 3/3 fairly regularly but that's by no means guaranteed. In addition to that the chances of it being any larger than a 3/3 are fairly slim unless you can pick up a Pentad Prism or two later on. That's a distinct possibility of course but again, you have no assurances that you'll get a Prism passed to you as they're typically drafted fairly highly (I would go so far as to say they're slightly over-valued right now but that's a topic for another column). Under the worst circumstances you might not be able to get the Manta any larger than a 2/2 in this deck and the other cards that are still to be discussed are at least as powerful as the Manta and are not as reliant on the rest of your Fifth Dawn packs coughing up the appropriate support cards that the Manta really needs.
Despite that you already have two other powerful splash cards in Dismantle and Leonin Battlemage. Although those two aren't supported as well as the Justice could be you may wish to splash a third colour to help out any Sunburst cards you pick up later in the draft. Taking the Justice here basically means you'll be forced to discount those two cards as this isn't really a deck that would easily support two splash colours. On top of that there are two cards that are on colour and that hold just as much power as the Justice does in this particular deck. Moriok Rigger and Cranial Plating are both excellent in this deck and arguably stand a much better chance of influencing the outcome of a game than Tel-Jilad Justice does. Taking either of those two cards leaves your colour options open whilst still giving you an exceptional card for your deck. It's for that reason that my preference would be to take one of those two cards over the Justice.
Before I get down to my reasoning on the final two cards I'm going to take a second to include a few opinions from some other experienced players.
Kai Budde: For me it comes down to Moriok Rigger, Skyreach Manta and Cranial Plating. Trinket Mage and Tel-Jilad Justice are both options. The Justice obviously becomes a lot better if you manage to pick up another Trinket Mage later on, due to the Tree of Tales. Both Leonin Battlemage and Dismantle are superior cards to Justice though and while five colours are possible, I'd rather not go that way. Trinket Mage is just mediocre in this deck with only one really good target so that eliminates that. The Manta seems powerful as I would probably end up running one Mountain and one Plains for the Battlemage and Dismantle. Cranial Plating is overrated in my opinion. A lot of the time it's just a better version of Bonesplitter and I hate that card in non-white decks. Having access to black mana obviously makes the Plating much better, but still I don't think it's as good as the other two cards.
My pick would be Moriok Rigger. The Manta could potentially be a 2/2 and it still costs five to cast. I haven't played a lot with the Rigger, but whenever I've seen it in play, it was amazing. The deck already has one Spellbomb and the Ravager to go with it and maybe other baubles will join the team, which all improve the power of the Rigger.
Ken Krouner: This is the toughest limited information yet. The cards it breaks down to are Moriok Rigger, Cranial Plating, Skyreach Manta, Tel-Jilad Justice, and Trinket Mage. These are the best cards that could conceivably make the cut in this pack.
Manta and Justice put us firmly into multi-color. This strategy is solid, but we have an opportunity to draft a great aggressive deck by taking the Rigger or the Plating.
I think the Plating wins here in a VERY close call. You have a lot of evasion and a lot of Artifacts so despite the synergy Rigger has with the deck I am going to give the nod to Cranial Plating.
Jeroen Remie: I'd pick the Cranial Plating. Your deck has a lot of evasion guys, but not a lot of power at all. Plating fits perfectly into that kind of deck as it can give your creatures some serious additional power. The deck also needs a bunch more artifacts to get its theme off the ground (Hoverguard, Familiar, etc) and that helps. The other cards you could consider: Manta: You don't want to make the extra commitment to be assured of an extra fat body. It's ok as a 3/3, but not of the same value as the Plating.
The Rigger is a very good creature, but your deck doesn't have enough artifacts just yet, and is often only really good on early turns, whereas Plating is also good later in the game. Justice and Cocoon don't warrant the extra colour troubles for me and aren't really considered. The Plating is the pick for me.
Victor Van Den Broek: Since you're mostly blue/black, and have some evasion creatures already, I'd pick Cranial Plating here. It's aggressive, fits in with the deck so far, and hardly ever a dead draw. Other options would be Moriok Rigger, Manta and the Trinket Mage. Out of these, I'd be most tempted towards the Manta, as you have an Engineer, Copper Myr, Tree of Tales and an Ingot to power it up. However, I think the speed boost that Plating gives is a better fit for this deck.
Plating edges it three to one amongst these Pros but I can't say I disagree with any of their sentiments. I agree with Ken in that this one is a VERY close call. It's interesting to see the differing opinions the players have of the Plating. All three acknowledge the power of the Rigger but opinions differ much more when it comes to the Plating.
Kai states that he believes the Plating to be over-rated and I think there may be some truth in that. A card like Cranial Plating often gets over-valued when it makes a big impact in constructed formats as players who are primarily constructed players witness how ridiculous it can be in decks like Affinity and they tend to have a slightly higher opinion of the card as a result.
That's the Pro's opinions but did you guys go along with that? The results from the poll last week shaped up as follows:
|Which card should you draft?|
Very similar to the Pro opinion with Rigger and Plating very far ahead of the rest. It's nice to see both of those getting such a high number of votes. I remember when this set was first released, and many polls had the votes spread out over a much greater number of the cards. No doubt everyone is getting more experienced with the set now and that definitely shows in the results to this poll.
So it's clear that the pick here comes down to Plating vs Rigger. There's no arguing that the Plating can provide an awful lot of power for its cost but that's only really useful when you can use that to hurt your opponent. In a deck without much evasion or in a deck that is even slightly defensive the power of the Plating will be reduced quite significantly.
In the deck you have here though I wouldn't anticipate that being a problem. This deck is quite aggressive with plenty of early drops and it a lot of evasion. Arcbound Stinger, Neurok Familiar, Grimclaw Bats, Neurok Spy, Clockwork Condor, Dross Golem and Somber Hoverguard will all probably make the cut to the main deck and they're all capable of coming out early. This deck is also looking like it will have a good number of artifacts amongst its spells, which further enhances the Plating. The final icing on the cake is the access to black mana that this deck will undoubtedly have. That's a very small addition but not one that should be over-looked. I've played several games with Cranial Plating where the final damage I needed to kill an opponent was only achieved due to having a creature overlap and thus being able to move the Plating to the unblocked creature after blockers had been declared.
Basically, Cranial Plating is a powerful card and this is just the sort of deck that suits it. A white deck with Glaivemasters and Cubs might be preferable but there's no doubt that the Plating shines here.
The only remaining alternative to Cranial Plating is the final choice: Moriok Rigger. Like the Plating this is another card that has been making an impact in the constructed scene as it often finds its home in the sideboards of block-constructed Affinity decks. There's no doubt that it's a truly powerful card, as it can easily grow to a very large size if not dealt with quickly. This deck also has an Arcbound Ravager and a Spellbomb as Kai mentioned and there's a good chance that you'll be able to pick some Wayfarer's or Conjurer's Baubles in the remaining Fifth Dawn packs. You can also use your Transmuter to turn any soon-to-be-dead creatures into artifacts once you know they'll be heading to a graveyard.
One of the things that the Rigger has going against it is that it isn't an artifact itself. This deck has a fairly heavy artifact theme with the Engineer, Ravager, Hoverguard, Irradiate and Familiar all working better with a higher number of artifacts in the deck. If we examine the cards that will definitely make the cut you can see that there's not as many as you might like:
Those are the cards that will certainly make the main deck in my opinion although there are others that are almost guaranteed to make it in too. There are only seven artifacts there and you could really use a few more cheap artifacts to make up the numbers and enhance the power of your existing cards. Quite often when you are drafting an aggressive blue-black deck your best picks in Fifth Dawn turn out to be coloured cards. Blind Creeper and Trinket Mage are amongst the best commons you can get and you're not always able to take advantage of the many Sunburst cards which take up the common artifact slots. Cranial Plating is by far the best common artifact you can get for this deck and although the Rigger does have some combos with the remainder of the deck it's the Plating that works best here.
This pick is very, very close. I wouldn't argue heavily against anyone who chose Moriok Rigger here but even in a pick this close I think there's almost always a 'best pick' and for me that has to be Cranial Plating. I think in this deck it will always be as good as a Bonesplitter and frequently it will be much, much better. There's a lot of evasion in this deck and the Plating gives those creature a great power boost.
It's a tight call, but Cranial Plating is my choice for the right pick in this situation.