Anyway, on with the show!
Ninjas – Hit!
Let's not even get started on the more powerful uncommon and rare Ninjas. Higure and Ink-Eyes are both extremely powerful and even one hit from a Throat Slitter is going to hurt. All these cards will be very high picks in the weeks to come.
In Ninja-heavy decks it can be worth playing a few cards that help your Ninjas get through that extra time. I'm not talking about playing terrible cards but things like Phantom Wings, Toils of Night and Day and Veil of Secrecy are all cards that might not make the cut sometimes, but that can become very useful if you have a Ninja or two hanging around. A good example of this is a play I saw in a draft just yesterday. There were two Ninjas in play on one side of the board: an Okiba-Gang Shinobi and a Mistblade Shinobi. The opposing player attacked with one guy, and leaving one blocker and then cast a second blocker after combat leaving him with one card in hand. The Ninja player cast Toils of Night and Day tapping both blockers and then swung in with both Ninjas. Stacking the abilities correctly, he was able to bounce the best creature to his opponent's hand, and then make his opponent discard his last card along with the creature he just bounced!
Shuriken – Hit!
Now this piece of equipment is a hit in terms of power, and in terms of flavour. In some decks it's pretty much useless and yet in others it's about as powerful a piece of equipment as you could hope to open. More than one player was utterly destroyed by the simple play of “Turn two Skullsnatcher” follwed by “Turn three Shuriken, Equip, kill your guy”, which can be a tough way to go. It will certainly make you want to consider snagging those Wear Aways and Terashi's Grasps for your sideboard. The Shuriken will be an almost automatic first pick in draft if you're blue-black and even if you're playing just one of those colours you'll probably want to draft it highly as the common Ninjas are fairly playable in their own right so you would expect to pick some up anyway.
Baku – (Mostly) Miss!
Flip cards – Hit!
The five new flip cards are another cycle that runs through all the colours. These also rely on Spiritcraft triggers to flip them but these guys are much more impressive than their common cousins. Indeed, every card in this group seemed extremely powerful when I've seen then played. Even if you just ignore their abilities they become very large creatures for their initial casting cost once they've flipped. Three mana for a 3/4 white flyer is an amazing deal for example.
The abilities of these guys have really been pushed to the edge as they're all very powerful. The green and red ones are arguably the best but they're all worthwhile. The green one can end games very quickly as his trample ability means those additional +2/+2 effects always have a way of getting past an opposing chump blocker.
Getting two counters on these guys really isn't very difficult at all and you even have the option to accumulate more before flipping them if you want to. Although their casting costs can be a little awkward on turn three they're all very powerful and definitely worth the effort.
Hundred-Talon Strike – Miss!
This is one card that looked like a very nice combat trick when I looked through the card-lists before the pre-release, especially with the Splice ability and it being an Arcane card too. I've played with it a fair bit now and it's been far less impressive than the other white tricks like Indomitable Will or Blessed Breath. First of all it's obviously only useful in combat; Will can save your guy from a burn spell and Breath can stop just about anything but Hundred-Talon Strike has neither of those things going for it., In addition to that, unlike Will and Breath, you have to cast Hundred-Talon Strike before any damage is dealt. With Will and Breath you can wait until after damage is on the stack before using them and that way you'll never really lose any card advantage. If your opponent has a removal spell that they use in response you'll still have dealt damage to (and hopefully killed) their creature so it's a simple two-for-two trade. If they have a removal spell in response to Hundred-Talon Strike however you lose your creature and the Strike itself while your opponent's creature still lives to tell the tale. Hundred-Talon Strike isn't a terrible card by any means and it's better if you have other cards you might want to Splice onto it like Soulless Revival or Glacial Ray, but overall I can see this one sitting in my sideboard a lot of the time.
One-drops – Hit!
There are good cards in other colours too. Child of Thorns is great and both Teardrop Kami and Bile Urchin are playable if you want to get your Ninja of the Deep Hours attacking on the second turn. Most of these are Spirits too which means you have Soulshift implications to consider as well. I'm not a big fan of Traproot Kami but it's worth noting that it counts all Forests in play, not just yours, which can make it a good card in any green mirror match where it can easily get to a 0/6 or bigger for just one mana.
Takenuma Bleeder & Gnarled Mass – Hit!
At the common level it's very rare to get a 3/3 for just three mana so getting two in one set is very nice. Both of these creatures are very solid commons that you'll be happy to play over the coming weeks. They hold off opposing two-drops when they come down on turn three, and they hit pretty hard when they attack too. Although the Bleeder has a slight drawback, it is pretty minor really as you don't normally mind trading one life for three damage. The Bleeder is probably my favourite of the two simple because its casting cost is easier on your mana and it's in a colour which really benefits from having a tough third turn creature to follow up the many powerful two-drops like Nezumi Cutthroat and Wicked Akuba.
Gnarled Mass does have the whole Spirit thing going for it though and that's significant when you have Soulshift and Spiritcraft considerations. It's probably a little better than Kami of the Hunt despite the awkward double-green casting cost as creatures with two power can't attack into it when you're tapped out.
Scourge of Numai – Miss!
This is one uncommon that I thought would turn out to be very good when I looked through the set. Although its drawback is painful it's easily dealt with and having a 4/4 for just four mana is very good in limited. Looking through the card-list there were lots of Ogres! Takenuma Bleeder, Shinka Gatekeeper and Frost Ogre are all commons that negate the drawback.
However, now that I've had a chance to play with the Scourge a few times I have to say his drawback has just proven to be too severe. Even in a red-black deck with lots of Ogres you still had to keep them alive otherwise you started suffering that two-life per turn hit and that damage soon mounts up. In this format there are numerous small creatures that can chump block without too much loss of card advantage thanks to Soulshift, and if the Scourge of Numai is attacking then he isn't blocking so you also have the option of racing him too. Sometimes you get in a position where you can't really attack as the counter-attack will cause too much damage and then you can only sit their hoping to draw an Ogre whilst your opponent is content to just watch your life drain away.
Horobi's Whisper – Hit!
Torrent of Stone – Miss!
Along with Horobi's Whisper this is one card that I was quite excited to receive in the pre-release. Four damage to a creature is enough to take out almost all the common creatures in the format. Moss Kami, Kitsune Riftwalker and Kami of Tattered Shoji are the only exceptions that come to mind immediately. On top of that it can also deal with some of the more unfair rares like Kumano and Meloku. When I looked at it initially the addition of the ability to Splice it for free felt like it would really push the card over the top.
However now that I've had a chance to play with it a little I'm sorry to say that, unlike Horobi's Whisper this one rarely gets Spliced. The problem is that once you've sacrificed two Mountains to pay its Splice cost it can then be quite tricky to find the right mana to actually pay its casting cost so you get that second use out of it. It does happen sometimes but in order for that to happen you need to have six lands, and have three of them be Mountains (unless you can find another way to generate red mana obviously) and have the extra Arcane card that you can splice this onto. I managed to Splice this once at the pre-release and the one time I did that it was to win the game right there; I didn't have the extra Mountain to re-cast it if I'd needed to.
This is obviously a very good card all the same. Four damage for four mana is fine but that's comparable to Lightning Blast from 8th Edition. The fact that Torrent of Stone can't deal damage directly to your opponent makes it a fair bit weaker and the addition of the Splice ability only barely makes up for it. It's a solid four mana removal spell but it gets a 'Miss!' from me simply because it's nowhere near as exciting as I hoped it would be.
That's almost it for this week. If you're looking for some more Limited articles to read be sure to check out the Pro-Tour Nagoya coverage from this past weekend.
Before I depart, here's a little poll to see how you think Betrayers will change the limited environment over the coming months. Remember: its Limited Magic here so I want your thoughts based on sealed deck and draft only please!