The Ten Most Underrated Cards in Alara Reborn

Posted in Limited Information on June 9, 2009

By Steve Sadin

Whenever a new set comes out there are plenty of cards that don't get the kind of respect they deserve. I remember drafting at the Ravnica Prerelease and seeing Halcyon Glazes and Mark of Evictions go 15th pick before they found their homes in people sideboards, never to see the light of day ever again. Two weeks later, Halcyon Glaze and Mark of Eviction were both considered easy first picks.

Then there are other cards that escape our eye for even longer. It took weeks and weeks before people recognized that Leonin Bola was a good card, but eventually it got to the point where Zvi Mowshowitz was taking it over Fireball.

But not all underrated cards turn out to be incredible first picks. Sometimes underrated cards are barely playable but are still noteworthy sideboard cards; or they could be valuable role players; or they could be above-average creatures that are being treated like they are average. No matter how good it is, if a card isn't being respected for its full potential, then it's probably underrated.

Glaze Fiend is a more recent example of a card that was initially seen by most as unplayable, but was eventually recognized for its potential in artifact-heavy decks.

But enough about the past. Let's take a look at some of the most underrated cards in Alara Reborn.

This card gets a pretty bad rap. And understandably so—it's a very mana intensive piece of Equipment that doesn't actually protect the creature it's equipping. This means that you're going to have to reequip Demonspine Whip quite a few times before the end of most games.

Early on, Demonspine Whip doesn't do much. If you are spending full turns early on just to punch through a few extra damage, your opponent is going to get to develop his or her board significantly while you are doing nothing but, well, knocking away a few meager life points.

A lot of the time Demonspine Whip won't make the cut in my decks. But if my deck has a lot of evasion, tramplers, or especially unearth creatures, then I am going to strongly consider playing, or at least sideboarding in, this piece of Equipment.

Demonspine Whip is also quite good if your opponent's deck is slow.

Unlike many of the other cards on this list, I don't think that Demonspine Whip is severely undervalued during the drafting portion (it really shouldn't go before 9th pick or so in anything but extreme situations) but there are plenty of times when players should be including it as their twenty-third card, or as one of the first cards that gets swapped in for Games 2 and 3.

I will frequently see Drastic Revelations go as late as 12th or even last pick. But in the right deck, this card is actually fantastic. In a deck with a low curve and a lot of unearth, Drastic Revelations is often better than Tidings.

Now you might be saying to yourself, "Wait, really? Drastic Revelations can be better than Tidings? Steve, are you sure about this?"

Yes, I am sure about this.

Without considering unearth, if you don't have any cards in your hand Drastic Revelations is roughly equivalent to Tidings. And if your curve is low, there is nothing stopping you from just dumping your hand before casting Drastic Revelations on turn seven or eight to completely restock.

And if you have unearth in your deck, watch out.

I'll admit that I'm using a bit more hyperbole than I would like to in order to make this point. Of course Tidings has a huge advantage over Drastic Revelations no matter how you cut it: even if you could spit out all of the cards you would often want to hold onto one, or more, of your tricks until a particularly savory situation presented itself.

If you have the right deck for Drastic Revelations, it could easily be worth taking with one of your first few picks in Alara Reborn. As things are right now, you don't have to take it that early as you can reliably table this five-mana card drawing spell.

Hopefully it won't be that easy to get Drastic Revelations 12th pick soon.

Etherwrought Page is a very solid role player. It often acts as a Honden of Cleansing Fire would, gaining you 2 life a turn as you lock up the board and make quick work of your opponent with evasion creatures.

But it does more than that.

There are times when all three of Etherwrought Page's modes can come in handy. The card-quality improvement that you get from being able to yes/no your draw every turn can be absolutely huge if you and your opponent are looking at an empty board or a stalemated position.

And being able to hit your opponent for 1 life a turn can be exactly what you need to close out the game.

If you have good enough mana to reliably cast Etherwrought Page on turn four or five, it should probably be in your deck. Because it is three colors and not particularly powerful, it does make sense that Etherwrought Page will often go 8th pick or later, but it shouldn't be going 13th. More importantly, it shouldn't be rotting in sideboards nearly as often as it does.

Kathari Bomber is a racer's dream. If it connects twice (once naturally and once off of unearth), you get 4 damage and four 1/1 tokens. If you are complementing that with additional evasion creatures and/or burn spells then you are often going to be sitting pretty, especially if your opponent is playing an exalted deck or a Naya fatty deck.

While it might appear as though you are downgrading your 2/2 flier into two 1/1 tokens, the fact that you get in for 2 damage first makes a world of difference. And you get that effect again as soon as you have five mana to spare. For one card and eight mana, divided into two reasonably sized pieces, you get 4 damage and four 1/1 tokens.

While I generally don't want to take a Kathari Bomber in my first few picks, I'm more than happy to pick it up 4th through 6th.

Leonin Armorguard lets you hit hard without missing a step in your board development.

While it might not be quite as impressive as a Rhox Charger, Leonin Armorguard is certainly comparable, and is in many situations actively preferable, to the first-pickable green uncommon.

On an early turn where both players have a couple of comparable creatures, Leonin Armorguard will often allow you to punch through for 4 to 6 extra points of damage. On a stalled board, Leonin Armorguard will often have a huge impact the turn you play it, especially if you have an additional combat trick or two.

You should feel completely comfortable taking Leonin Armorguard early if you have the mana to reliably cast it on turn four.

The fact that Skyclaw Thrash is blue-red severely limits the number of decks that can play it. But it's good—really good. And there's no reason why it should be tabling in drafts.

Five mana for a vanilla 4/4 used to be a steal of a deal. Now people see a five-mana 4/4 that attacks as a dragon half the time and they often leave it sitting in their sideboards. That shouldn't be happening. While a vanilla five-mana 4/4 is not very impressive, Skyclaw Thrash should be a pretty early pick in decks that can support it. It even makes a very good splash.

At first I severely underrated this card too. All that I could think to myself is that "half the time this won't even be a 5/5 flier, then my opponents will just block it and kill it." But that's not the right way to think of it at all.

Half of the time Skyclaw Thrash will attack as a 5/5 flier, but it's always going to be a 4/4 monster. A card with those credentials is worth taking somewhere during the early to middle stages of the draft and should never rot in your sideboard if you can cast it.

The amplify creatures in Legions were highly sought after draft picks and those required an even more specific set of cards to be in your deck than simply "artifacts."

Arsenal Thresher requires you to be playing with a lot of artifacts for it to be an impressive card. That might make Arsenal Thresher a dead card for some, but having a lot of artifacts just happens to be the hallmark trait of a good Esper deck.

In a deck with 15+ artifacts, Arsenal Thresher will often come down as a 4/4 or a 5/5 if you draw it early, even if you draw it late it will pretty much always be at least a 3/3.

This is actually one of the few times where I just don't know understand why a card doesn't get more love. In an artifact-heavy deck, Arsenal Thresher is roughly equivalent to Rhox Brute in a red-green deck. Rhox Brute is a pretty early pick, and Arsenal Thresher should be too.

Often times when you play a trick during the early to midgame to win a creature combat, you get a fairly equitable deal. And while you will often get an apparent mana advantage because your trick is cheaper than your opponent's creature that you just stomped all over, that mana advantage will be irrelevant unless you have another low-cost play to make that turn.

However, Colossal Might not only offers you the potential for a mana advantage, it also gives you a sizable damage advantage pretty much every time it resolves.

Whenever I resolve Colossal Might on turn five or six to trample over a blocker, I feel so far ahead that I can't even imagine losing. Being able to punch through for 3 to 6 extra points of damage while you're killing a powerful creature is just such a huge swing.

Colossal Might is also an excellent way to close out the game, allowing you to deal those final 3 (or 6, or 7) points of damage.

If I have the mana to support it, and I already have a good number of creatures, I will feel perfectly comfortable taking Colossal Might over anything but the top bombs and removal spells in Alara Reborn.

Until about a week or two ago, Thopter Foundry was my pick for the most underrated card in Alara Reborn. However, people seem to have finally caught on to just how good this life gaining token generator is.

In decks that can take full advantage of it, Thopter Foundry is an absolute bomb. There isn't a single common or uncommon that I would take over Thopter Foundry in a deck that looks like it's going to have 15+ artifacts in it.

It becomes so difficult for your opponent to kill you if you have Thopter Foundry, giving you all the time in the world to kill them with evasion creatures—many of which might have been made by your Thopter Foundry itself ...

Ethersworn Shieldmage is without a doubt in my mind the most underrated card in Alara Reborn. I will frequently see Ethersworn Shieldmages as late as 6th or 7th. This simply shouldn't happen.

There are few cards that I take over Ethersworn Shieldmage in an Esper deck (Thopter Foundry is one of them), and whenever I have to pass up on this tricky, tricky three-drop I feel terrible about all the blowout opportunities that I've missed out on.

Ethersworn Shieldmage is a very first-pickable card to say the least. It's gotten to the point where I will take Ethersworn Shieldmage over Crystallization without even batting an eye.

    Bonus Exercise

What do you think the most underrated cards in Shards of Alara, Conflux, and Alara Reborn are? Are there any cards from Alara block that get no love but really make your heart sing?

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