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By: Gardevi, Lee McLeod
Feb 01 2012 12:21pm
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Just like Mirrodin Besieged before it, Dark Ascension will be inserted into draft slot position number 1. You'll open your Dark Ascension pack and see all the new cards before going on to familiar Innistrad. But, this means there is going to be a small knowledge gap where people don't know what to pick first to set their draft in motion. This article will rank and sicuss all of the first picks in Dark Ascension.

 
Bomb Rares
 
In most of my articles, I choose not to discuss rares because of the relatively small footprint they have in draft compared to commons and uncommons. However, it's ideal to open a bomb rare anyway. I'm going to rank these in no particular order, since you won't usually open two rares in the same pack. Except for flip cards, of course, but there's really only one or two flip rares worth taking, so you'll probably know when to take one of those two over the single-sided rares. If you do open two rares and try to consult this guide, I'm sorry. Just take the one that is worth the most (foil mythics are always worth surprising amounts thanks to their need for redeeming sets). 
The Top Three:
 
Beguiler of Wits - My pick for what you most want to open from Dark Ascension, other than Sorin (of course). Very insane. Unlike Sower of Temptation and the like, Beguiler steals the creatures away forever, not just as long as she's in play.

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad - I forgot this on my first draft of this article because it was a given. While I think this card is worse in Limited gameplay than Beguiler of Wits, it's still worth the most money in the set, so there's no realistic way you're passing this. I could be wrong about Beguiler being better, since I've only played in a few prerelease events at this point. Regardless, Sorin is still insane, though it does put you into multiple colors right off the back.

Huntmaster of the Fells - This is a flip card, so you may see it in a pack with another, nonflip rare. If it's not Beguiler of Wits/Sorin, just take the Huntmaster. It does 'lock' you into two colors, or at least splashing a third, but the card is insane. If it flips on either side, it puts you so ahead!

The rest of the following rares are in color order, not pick orders. Though it is possible to open up to four rares in a single pack (rare, foil rare, DFC, foil DFC), it's highly unlikely. So if you have to pick between two rares, use your best judgment or just take your favorite between the two.

Increasing Devotion - Similar to Geist-Honored Monk, but you can also flash it back to win the game that way, too.
Requiem Angel - A dragon.
Increasing Confusion - It sits in your hand for until about turn 8 or 9, then you just kill them with it. 
Dungeon Geists - Kibler's "littlest Frost Titan". An undercosted 3/3 flier that doubles as a removal spell.
Geralf's Mindcrusher - The closest thing Innistrad gets to a real Frost Titan. Every card with undying is worth playing; the cards that are already strong without a counter are doubly worth playing.
Fiend of the Shadows - I only rarely see this regenerate, but the fact that it can tear apart your opponent's hand and let you play their spells, along with not a bad pair of stats, makes this a fine pick.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed - Absolutely bonkers in Limited, like Wizards likes to have for a bunch of mythics nowadays.
Flayer of the Hatebound - Leads to awkward board positions where they can't kill this creature, or they die. Also makes Unburial Rites and other Undying creatures better.
Hellrider - Very good midrange card for an aggro deck with a low curve; I'd try to draft a weenie deck if I first picked it.
Moonveil Dragon - Just a dragon.
Increasing Savagery - Makes an innocuous creature into a monster. Especially devastating with any flier, or Invisible Stalker and the like.
Vorapede - Another giant creature with Undying. I keep thinking it has haste, but it does not.
Drogskol Reaver - If you draw a card off it, you're winning, since that means they cannot remove it.
Falkenrath Aristocrat - Very good against decks without fliers.
Havengul Lich - A value creature with a very good ability. Has some random combos in the set, like with Skirsdag Flayer.

Flip Cards:
Mondronen Shaman - Tormented Pariah sucks, we can all agree. But Mondronen Shaman is a fine replacement; does a ton of damage on its Night side.
Elbrus, the Binding Blade - Originally, I thought this only required the creature to deal combat damage similar to Umezawa's Jitte. Apparently not, and you have to hit the player with it. I guess 7 mana for a card that doesn't even win the game as surely as Jitte does needs to have a worse trigger condition. Probably want to shy away from taking this one.


Removal

 
You can't always open a bomb rare. In fact, you usually don't. In that case, you'll want to be looking for a removal spell. Here are the best ones, roughly in order of how good I perceive them to be.

Top Tier
Tragic Slip - This is usually reactive removal, meaning that you'll most often use it in response to your opponents doing something detrimental to your own creatures. This would normally be bad, since you have less control over when Morbid is triggered, but since it only costs 1 mana, you can leave it up basically forever with little cost.
Fires of Undeath - Instant speed burn spell with flashback! Can target their dome, which makes it a fine way to close out games.
Burning Oil - Similar to Fires of Undeath, but in worse colors to flashback. Still a very good option because of how efficient it is to cast.

Creature Tier
Briarpack Alpha - In Lorwyn, (Brianhorn) was an insane combat trick. They've made it worse in Dark Ascension with Briarpack Alpha, but it's still a very good card your opponents won't always have the luxury of playing around.
Nephalia Seaskite - Efficient body and flash. If your opponent doesn't play around it, you will nearly always get a creature for free, making this an honorary removal spell.
Hollowhenge Spirit - Not strictly removal, but you can flash it in and make trades, and it's a very good 'trick' of sorts for throwing off your opponent's clock.

Conditional Tier
Burden of Guilt - The set's Pacifism. The maintenance cost is annoying, but you don't always need to tap the creature, especially later in the game when you've managed to dwarf whatever threat the card held.
Wolfhunter's Quiver - I'm not sure how good this card is yet. Viridian Longbow was insane in Mirrodin block, mostly due to Trinket Mage and its low equip cost (3 as opposed to the Quiver's 5). Yet...this card still makes your guys into a Prodigal Pyromancer, and gets silly in the lategame when you can equip to multiple creatures. So I think it is worth first-picking, but my estimation of this card could change in the future.
Death's Caress - Weed Strangle was a fine card in Lorwyn block, and the Innistrad counterpart is fine, if not particularly exciting.
Wrack with Madness - Kiku's Shadow, but a little worse in Innistrad block because of the many toughness-higher-than-power creatures in the set.
Blood Feud - This card costs a lot of mana and needs a bit of setup, but can be an absolute blowout.
Griptide - Instnat speed is super relevant. Not as good as Grasp of Phantoms, but still worth playing.
Skirsdag Flayer - Very good in the Humans deck. Otherwise, it can just sacrifice itself to off their best guy.
Chant of the Skirfsang - Turns their best guy into a roadblock. Good, but nothing special. 


Archetype-Specific First Picks

 
If you open no bomb rare and a piece of luckluster (or no) removal, you might want to try forcing an archetype. Well, Dark Ascension adds more support to the niche Innistrad archetypes we've all come to know and love.

Mill

Chill of Foreboding - A very good mill card; the best in Dark Ascension. It hits them for almost as much as a Dream Twist, but filling your graveyard at the same time to hit further Dream Twists or Silent Departures. Also has flashback to finish them off.
Thought Scour - A very small Dream Twist, but replaces itself. Worth playing as many as you can get your hands on. Also, first picking this leaves you very open.
Shriekgeist - A fine mill card, but not the best positioned. Since so many of your win conditions are spells (Dream Twist, Chill of Foreboding, etc), mill decks often blank opposing decks' removal spells. Shriekgeist, which is actively killing them, turns those removal spells on. So, while I'd take Shriekgeist in mill, there's no way I'd first pick it.

Burning Vengeance

Secrets of the Dead - First picking this is akin to first picking Burning Vengeance in Innistrad, since you go into the same archetype either way.
Altar of the Lost - Very good in the Vengeance deck, since it allows you to use all of your mana more efficiently and flashback those Grasp of Phantoms and Forbidden Alchemy that much quicker.

U/G Mill

Whether it's the Spider Spawning deck or something else, these are good first picks for the U/G Mill-Yourself deck.

Tracker's Instincts - You're already picking Mulch very highly - and this one has flashback and gives you cards that kill them!
Grim Flowering - I'm not sure how good this card is yet. It costs a lot, but can have a large effect, especially in a dedicated deck.


Other Worthy First Picks (aka, "Might as Well Take this Good Card")

 
This is in color-order, then pick orders within colors. No short comments on each card because there isn't a lot to be said about cards that are simply solid.

Lingering Souls
Nibilis of the Urn
Nibilis of the Mist
Silverclaw Griffin
Loyal Cathar
Elgaud Inquisitor
Gavony Ironwright

Soul Seizer
Nibilis Of the Breath
Tower Geist

Stormbound Geist
Relentless Skaabs
Headless Skaab
Divination

Harrowing Journey
Vengeful Vampire
Highborn Ghoul
Reap the Seagraf

Pyreheart Wolf
Markov Warlord
Afflicted Deserter
Hinterland Hermit


Strangleroot Geist
Scorned Villager
Gravetiller Wurm
Wild Hunger
Dawntreader Elk
Tracker's Instincts

Diregraf Captain
Drogskol Captain
Immerwolf
Stormkirk Captain

Warden of the Wall

Evolving Wilds



Hope that was enlightening! I've only drafted Dark Ascension once as of yet (due to WotC discontinuing drafts at prereleases, we had to use prize packs), but I am very impressed with the format so far. Dark Ascension has many cards that impact how you draft new decks, as well as how you play around new tricks, without just vastly powering down everything like Worldwake did to Zendikar.

Prereleasing online is the weekend of the 19th for Dark Ascension. I can't wait!

Lee McLeod
Gard on MTGO
@Gardevi on Twitter