Dragon’s Maze comes out this week! Woo-hoo! A new Limited format is upon us!

Hopefully you had the opportunity to attend a prerelease. I took part in two of them at Twenty Sided Store and saw every Hipsters of the Coast contributor over the course of the weekend. I had a blast, going 4-0 in the sealed portion and 2-1 in Two-Headed Giant (we split the prizes but my team was demolished in the finals by Hugh and Jason’s aggro decks). There are going to be plenty of tournament reports from other writers, so I’m going to return to card analyses.

Remember these cards?

aetherizehands of binding

I remember being underwhelmed when they were spoiled. I wondered how good pure tempo plays would be—they seemed fine but not great. Then Gatecrash prerelease happened. Hands of Binding was an all-star in my 4-0 Dimir sealed deck and Ætherize was an utter blowout in Two-Headed Giant. My evaluations shifted and I expected these cards to be top picks rather than merely serviceable.

After a few drafts, I returned to my initial impressions. Hands of Binding is okay (usually better in Simic than Dimir) and not something I want multiple copies of. Ætherize can be a blowout, but four mana is a lot to hold up. Often the aggressive decks can replay all of their cards immediately, so it’s just a four-mana Fog.

The lesson? Sometimes our initial impressions are correct. When we first play with a card it can overperform. Hands of Binding was great at beating my mostly Orzhov opponents with insufficient blockers to stop my Metropolis Sprites, and Ætherize was great when no one thought to play around it. But when the format settled (and we weren’t playing with guild packs), the cards weren’t as powerful as they appeared to be.

Remember these cards?

daggerdrome imp rubbleback rhino

Daggerdrome Imp looked like a joke. Sure, you could scavenge onto it, but a 1/1 for two mana is terrible! Lifelink is a sweet ability, but with one power, the little imp wasn’t gaining any relevant amount of life. It died to Electrickery, for goodness’ sake!

Rubbleback Rhino looked like an apology for Invisible Stalker. “Sorry we printed a busted, cheap, unblockable creature with hexproof. Here—have an overcosted, unevasive, undersized rhino (and a Mudhole).” The Rhino looked like a target for scavenge and little else (just like the Imp). Sure, having four toughness was good against aggressive 3/3s for three like Centaur Healer and Splatter Thug… but it cost five mana!

I went Golgari at the Return to Ravnica prerelease. Daggerdrome Imp sat in my sideboard (if I even had one—the card wasn’t memorable). Rubbleback Rhino was in my deck but didn’t do anything other than be a vanilla 3/4. The prerelease changed none of my evaluations. No opponents relied on these cards—or, if they did, I beat them.

A month later, I went to my first major event, Grand Prix Philadelphia… and lost to a 5/4 Daggerdrome Imp in the finals of a grinder (thanks, Pursuit of Flight and Deviant Glee!). Turns out, the little imp is good enough on its own and fantastic when beefed up. It can break the Rakdos mirror wide open or keep Golgari alive long enough to resolve its big threats. The ol’ Rhino, meanwhile, proved that hexproof remains a powerful ability; it was an almost unkillable blocker (only combat tricks like Giant Growth and Common Bond could kill it) that could eventually become a 7/8 (or something else comically large) thanks to scavenged +1/+1 counters or a key aura (or two).

The lesson? Sometimes our initial impressions are wrong. Some cards seem terrible, so we don’t play with them. We beat inexperienced players who use them, so we “confirm” that the cards are bad. Then we get stomped when the cards don’t underperform.

Remember these cards?

Deputy of Acquittals sunspire gatekeepersHidden StringsRunner's BaneFatal Fumes

I had impressions about ’em all—and all of which were in my sealed pool this past Saturday. So with the prerelease in my rearview mirror, which of these overperformed, which underperformed, and which are unplayable? Which did I get right and which was I dead wrong about?

Deputy of Acquittals and Sunspire Gatekeepers I have already written about. The Deputy was everything that I expected and more. I flashed her in to trade with good creatures and evolve my dudes. She reused Sunspire Gatekeepers and Isperia’s Skywatch. She saved my creatures from countless removal spells. Once, I flashed her in to kill Ral Zarek. Another time, two Deputies approximated a Dazzling Beauty by bouncing each other after the one on the battlefield blocked. I wouldn’t be surprised if she overperformed—but, even if she turns out to be appreciably worse than she was for me, she’s still quite good.

Sunspire Gateekepers was what I anticipated—good, and sometimes quite good. It clogged up the board when I needed it to, being a good blocker and sometimes a small army. I could throw it down on turn four and reuse it with Deputy of Acquittals later on.

Hidden Strings seemed terrible. I had more than twenty cuts to make my from Bant sealed pool but this card was never under consideration. Maybe it’s the next Daggerdrome Imp? I’ll give it a try, but man, having a conditional Ral Zarek +1 seems lousy.

Runner’s Bane looked reasonable, but my wise friends expressed trepidation. I put two in my deck main and frequently flipped them in and out of my sideboard. In some situations, it was Pacifism—in blue! Amazing! Sometimes it bought me a little time à la Dramatic Rescue. Once my opponent cast Deviant Glee and knocked it right off. That said, I didn’t draw them enough to get a good feeling for the card. I think it’s fine—neither great nor terrible. Time will tell whether it’s sane to play the bane.

Fatal Fumes was cast against me once. It killed my creature but would not have had I enough mana for Protect/Serve. It seems fine but nothing special. Four mana is a lot for conditional removal, particularly as it can’t kill large creatures without involving combat (and it’s so much worse than Disfigure).

That’s all from me for this week, but I want to know what you think. What are your impressions? What cards surprised you? What was better or worse than you expected? What were some interactions you saw or experienced that you didn’t anticipate?

Thanks for reading! Here’s looking forward to drafting Return to Ravnica block!

—Zach B.

twitch.tv/ZennithGP—livestreaming Shadowmoor block, Lorwyn block, and MODO cube all week long! Join the fun!

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