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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.


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The Southwestern Paladin

Best of Betrayers
20 Solid Gold Hits for Limited Play
by Jeff Zandi - 2.4.05

Commons are the most important cards in limited because they are the cards that you will see the most of. Identifying the best commons in Betrayers of Kamigawa, and understanding how they can enhance the cards from Champions of Kamigawa will make the difference between a successful sealed deck or booster draft and an unsuccessful one. In this article, we will take a look at the twenty commons that I believe are the best for booster drafts and sealed decks.

As my experience with this new set continues to grow, I am increasingly of the opinion that Betrayers is just as good AND MAYBE BETTER in booster drafts than a third pack of Champions. There are lots of guys who are still drafting three packs of Champions in their booster drafts (Magic Online players). These guys will be pouting BIG TIME when they have to give up their third Champions booster in favor of a Betrayers pack because of the smaller number of Glacial Rays and Devouring Greed cards that will be available to them.

And now on with the countdown…

TWENTY – Split-Tail Miko is a 1/1 Fox Cleric for 1W.
For an activation cost of tapping one white and Split-Tail Miko, you can prevent the next two points of damage that would be dealt to a target player or creature this turn. Basically, for the casting cost of a Samite Healer, which only prevents one point of damage, you get a creature that can prevent TWO points of damage. Of course, Samite Healer’s only activation cost is tapping itself. The only reason this card is not ranked higher on this list is the fact that speed plays such a big part of Champions block limited. Split-Tail Miko is a little too slow and a little too easily destroyed in the current limited formats.

NINETEEN – Psychic Spear is a sorcery for one black mana. When you cast Psychic Spear, target player reveals his hand, choose a Spirit or Arcane card from it and that player discards the chosen card. This card comes close enough to Duress to be valuable for limited play. A lot of the most important cards you want out of your opponent’s hand are Arcane spells and Spirit creatures. Like Distress (from Champions), Psychic Spear may be a sideboard card at best most of the time. Still valuable.

EIGHTEEN – Roar of Jukai is an Arcane instant for 2G that gives each blocked creature +2/+2 until end of turn if you control a Forest. In the aggressive world of Champions booster draft, the right strategy is often to attack with everyone even though you might lose one or two of your attackers. Your opponent knows this too, and will be willing to create situations with his blocking decisions that make it very probable that you can gain a two for one card advantage with Roar of Jukai. Of course, you are gaining the best possible kind of card advantage with this play because you are gaining actual board advantage as well, keeping your own creatures alive while destroying his.

SEVENTEEN – Child of Thorns is a 1/1 Spirit for one green mana that you can sacrifice to give a target creature +1/+1 until end of turn. This creature is a small but useful addition to green decks, providing both a chump blocker as well as a way to swing combat in your favor ever so slightly.
Useful one drops like this one are the key to good mana curves, making the most of every opportunity beginning with your very first turn.

SIXTEEN – Frostling is a 1/1 Spirit for one red mana that you can sacrifice to deal one point of damage to a target creature. Everything that’s good about Child of Thorns also applies to Frostling. Frostling is slightly better because he can provide immediate creature elimination for the large number of popular creatures in this format with one toughness.

FIFTEEN – Torrent of Stone is an Arcane instant for 3R that deals four points of damage to a target creature. Torrent of Stone also has Splice onto Arcane for a cost of the sacrifice of two mountains. The late game combination of this card with Glacial Ray will provide the ending of a lot of games in your favor. This card would be playable even if it did not have the ability to be played repeatedly with Splice onto Arcane.

FOURTEEN – Gnarled Mass is a 3/3 Spirit for 1GG. With no special abilities, this card is exactly equal to the old Trained Armodon from Tempest. This creature helps the green deck’s mana curve a great deal and is a Spirit as well, a win-win for green.

THIRTEEN – Toils of Night and Day is an Arcane
instant for 2U that can tap or untap two different permanents. This card can allow you to change the board situation very quickly by either tapping two of the opponent’s would-be blockers at the end of HIS turn, or by untapping two of your heavy hitters just in time to block and kill two of your opponent’s creatures.

TWELVE – Kami of the False Hope is a 1/1 Spirit for one white mana that can be sacrificed to prevent all combat damage that would be dealt this turn.
This creature is great for your mana curve, puts another Spirit in your deck and gives you the ability to negate one entire combat round, all for just one white mana. This card’s fog ability lacks the surprise of a card in your hand, but will actually work to your advantage at times. When your opponent knows that you can sacrifice the Kami of False Hope to prevent all combat damage for the turn, he is less likely to send an alpha strike of all of his creatures in an attempt to win the game more quickly. Your opponent has to attack more carefully, giving you more turns to live and more chances to draw some cards that can make your board position better.

ELEVEN – Hundred-Talon Strike is an Arcane instant for 1W that gives a target creature +1/+0 and first strike until end of turn. This card also has Splice onto Arcane for a cost of tapping an untapped white creature you control. This is a powerful combat trick that has the possibility of easily being used more than once in the same combat round. Imagine, your opponent attacks with three creatures, you block with three of yours. Imagine the creatures are all the same size, 2/2 for example. With no combat tricks, you and your opponent have just traded three creatures each, sending a total of six creatures to the boneyard. Imagine now that after declaring blocks, you play Blessed Breath giving one of your blockers protection from the color of the creature he is blocking, and you Splice onto Arcane Hundred-Talon Strike by tapping one of your (white) blockers, giving your second blocker +1/+0 and first strike. Now, with Hundred-Talon Strike still in your hand and only one white mana spent so far (for the Blessed Breath) you now play Hundred-Talon Strike on your third blocker giving him first strike and
+1/+0. Suddenly all your creatures are alive and all of your opponent’s
creatures are dead. Nice. Even though the actual amount of card advantage you have gained is one, since you played two cards from your hand and your opponent sent three of his cards to the graveyard, you have increased your control of the board dramatically.

TEN – Goblin Cohort is a 2/2 Goblin Warrior for one red mana that cannot attack unless you have played a creature card this turn. In today’s aggressive red/black and red/white (maybe even red/green) draft decks, the Cohort’s drawback is hardly noticeable. When you do fail to play a creature card, you still retain the ability to block with a 2/2 body for which you only paid a single red mana. Even though my emphasis this week is on Betrayers commons that are good for limited games, the Goblin Cohort obviously deserves some attention in constructed format Goblin decks.

NINE – Moonlit Strider is a 1/ 4 Spirit for 3W that can be sacrificed to give a creature you control protection from the color of your choice until end of turn. The Strider also has Soulshift 3, making him an important part of your creature recycling efforts. This card, while ideally at home in less aggressive blue/white limited decks, is good enough to include in more aggressive decks as well.

EIGHT – Shimmering Glasskite is a 2/3 flying Spirit for 3U. Whenever Shimmering Glasskite is the target of a spell or ability for the first time in a turn, counter that spell or ability. First of all, 2/3 flying commons for just four mana are pretty hard to come by. Add to that the fact that this card is a Spirit and that it has a built in resistance to targeted spells and effects, and you have a solid card that deserves to be in your deck. It doesn’t matter that your opponent may be able to target your Glasskite with two different effects in order to successfully get rid of it, the point is that this creature makes your opponent work harder than usual, which is obviously an advantage for you.

SEVEN – Okiba-Gang Shinobi is a 3/2 Rat Ninja for 3BB that causes any player taking combat damage from it to discard two cards from their hand. This card has Ninjutsu for a cost of 3B, allowing you to switch this card into combat for one of your unblocked attackers. This is one of the best Ninja cards in the set. Like Ninja of the Deep Hours, the Okiba-Gang Shinobi can make great use of Phantom Wings, giving the Ninja evasion at unexpected times, allowing you to plunder your opponent’s hand further. Card advantage is so important in the current limited formats that if you successfully use the Shinobi to cause your opponent to discard two cards even once without spending any cards of your own, you have gained a great advantage.

SIX – Phantom Wings is a creature enchantment for 1U that gives the creature it enchants flying. Additionally, you can sacrifice Phantom Wings to return the enchanted creature to its owner’s hand. Often, this will be an insurance policy for your own powerful creature, allowing you to bring that creature back to your hand in case it is targeted with some nasty spell or effect.
Just as often, however, you will play Phantom Wings on your oppponent’s creature in order to bounce that creature back to their hand so that you can attack unblocked and win the game. I believe you can and should play one or two of these in most blue draft decks. Three is probably too many in anything except blue/green.

FIVE – Shinka Gatekeeper is a 3/2 Ogre Warrior for 2R that deals damage to its controller equal to the amount of damage that is dealt to it. This beefed up Jackal Pup fills an important slot in the mana curve of today’s red booster draft and sealed decks, while providing another Ogre to black/red decks playing the uncommon Demon Spirits from Champions. This card is just so efficient. In red/black decks, it just feels like the best possible turn three play.

FOUR – Ninja of the Deep Hours is a 2/2 Human Ninja for 3U that allows you to draw a card anytime he deals combat damage to a player. This card has Ninjutsu for just 1U, making him threat to appear as early as turn two to start drawing free cards for you. Since you are already playing blue if you play this Ninja, you are in the perfect position to add one or two Phantom Wings to your deck to provide the needed evasion to this Ninja to keep him attacking unblocked. This card single-handedly increases the value of almost every one mana creature in the format.

THREE – Takenuma Bleeder is a 3/3 Ogre Shaman for 2B that causes you to lose one point of life any time he attacks or blocks if you do not control a Demon. Both of the uncommon Demon Spirit cards from Champions are very playable, but much better when you have an Ogre in play. In Champions, the Ogres are uncommon and each is somewhat unwieldy for combat. Along comes Takenuma Bleeder (almost looks like his name is goading your opponent to “take-a-number” for the beating he is about to receive) in the common slot in Betrayers. Now you can draft one of the uncommon Demon Spirits from Champions much more confident that you can easily have two or three Ogres in your deck as well. The Bleeder is winning a lot of games, however, just by being a big 3/3 monster for just three mana.

TWO – Horobi’s Whisper is an Arcane instant for 1BB that destroys a target nonblack creature if you control a Swamp. This card has Splice onto Arcane for a cost of removing four cards in your graveyard from the game. Creature removal cards that are also reusable are a rare thing indeed. This card’s Splice onto Arcane cost is a little trickier than you might think. No color makes better use of Soulshift than black, and it may not always be an easy choice to remove four cards from your graveyard. In fact, you will be unlikely to have four cards in your graveyard in the early game. Still, the ability to resuse this card over and over,
particularly without having to spend mana to use its Splice onto Arcane ability, makes Horobi’s Whisper practically the best common in the set for limited play.

ONE – Waxmane Baku is a 2/2 Spirit for 2W.
Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane card, you may put a ki counter on Waxmane Baku. For one colorless mana, you may remove X ki counters from Waxmane Baku to tap X target creatures. All of the other four Baku creatures are either more expensive to cast or smaller in size. The other Baku’s abilities cost more and are slower to use. This little 2/2 gives you a lot. You get a reasonable 2/2 for three mana, but more importantly, you get a way to break through to deliver the last points of damage in order to win the game, and you get this ability without having to tap Waxmane Baku and without having to spend much mana.

For his casting cost, this is the best common in the set for limited play, and one of the most powerful cards in the set for limited. If you could draft four of these, you would find a way to play every one of them in your deck.

As always, I’d love to know what you think.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
DCI Level II Judge
Zanman on Magic Online



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