CottonRhetoric's picture
By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Mar 28 2023 10:17am

Magic's first nine sets were not meant to be drafted. They were meant for multi-set constructed and are in no way balanced for anything else. So when you draft them, your "spidey senses" of what's good will not be as helpful as they are for conventional draft sets. You'd better keep reading!

We've already covered Antiquities in part one; The Dark, Fallen Empires, and Homelands in in part two; Legends in part three; and Arabian Nights in part four. Now for Ice Age and Alliances. Some of those sets I reviewed every single card of, but since these are big sets, let's just do the highlights of each!



How to draft a non-sanctioned format (click to expand).
  1. Find people who will draft with you. Discord and Reddit can help.
  2. Set up the draft portion on
  3. Coordinate a time for everyone to draft together. (For groups smaller than eight, bot drafters can fill in the gaps.)
  4. Buy the necessary singles for your decks, and play 1:1 freeform games on the MtGO client!

If buying them sounds daunting, keep in mind: with very few exceptions, these cards are only cents each.

As for cards that don't exist online, that is up to your group's house rules to determine. Common solutions are using substitutions (Goblin Cannon instead of Rocket Launcher) or banning the cards outright (Tempest Efreet).



Ice Age

Brrrrr! Urza and Mishra do whatever they want and we're the ones stuck paying the consequences.


    Kjeldoran Elite Guard

Commons: Grab some banding creatures, but the two that don't fly. Kjeldoran Guard can be good, depending on how your playgroup handles snow-covered lands. The circles of protection are obviously strong in the sideboard. Elvish Healer and Death Ward playable. Cooperation can dominate a whole game if it's put on a 3/3 or bigger, and you can dodge removal.

Uncommons: Here we have the best removal spell in Magic's history in Swords to Plowshares, so obviously take those. Order of the White Shield can be surprisingly strong if you're not spread across three colors (which I often like to be). Kjeldoran Elite Guard can really make combat difficult for the opponent. As for Kjeldoran Skycaptain—the cost is obviously steep but two of these in play can win any fight in the sky not involving rare creatures.

Rares: Lightning Blow is usually a 2 for 0. (Kjeldoran Knight) and (Kjeldoran Phalanx) can be good. Order of the Sacred Torch is an overpowered sideboard option. Seraph is brutal if unanswered. Unfortunately, Ice Age has a lot more removal than these other pre-Mirage sets, so you can't count on that. Blinking Spirit was a bomb when damage was stackable but is now mediocre. And Enduring Renewal... there are no great combos for it, but I guess Ice Age has a couple of sacrifice outlets you can make repeatable. Or even just cast it after a Seraph to make it more resilient. I don't think I recommend this card but I may be missing something.


    Wind Spirit

Commons: The cantrips are all fine but low priority, Enervate likely being the best of them. Arnjlot's Ascent can win a late-game board stall, but it's not like those always happen. (Who is Arnjlot? Can they get a legendary card?) Zuran Spellcaster is a fine pickup. Krovikan Sorcerer, Illusionary Forces, and Ray of Command are quite strong.

Uncommons: Whether on offense or defense, both parts of Phantasmal Mount's ability (the flying and the p/t boost) can be relevant. Binding Grasp and Wind Spirit are both ridiculous. Silver Erne is not so good, unless you're in white and pairing it with Kjeldoran Skycaptain.

Rares: Most of these are not too good. Sibilant Spirit's drawback isn't as bad as it seems, since it will usually only trigger around twice before the opponent dies, and there are not many useful things they can draw in that time. Wrath of Marit Lage is another typical overpowered old-set color hoser.


Commons: Dark Banishing is one of the top picks in the set. Moor Fiend is a decent body whether you're facing swamps or not. Dark Ritual has an extremely high raw power, but this is not the environment to make the most use out of it. There are no quick aggro or combo kills, and tempo certainly matters in this set, but not as much as newer players are used to, so I would caution you against overvaluing this card.

Uncommons: Abyssal Specter and Hyalopterous Lemure are both great. Not much else going on here.


Rares: Spoils of War is quite strong, but note X's value is inflexible. Necropotence can be ridiculous, but my advice is not to cast it earlier than you have to. (Turn one off Dark Ritual: absolutely not, under any circumstances.) My advice for Pox: try to cast it when you are at multiples of 3, and your opponent is at 1 greater than multiples of 3. Dread Wight is a formidable body. Minion of Tevesh Szat is pricey but decent. The other 7-8 drops: I just cannot imagine them being good. Like it's possible, but so unlikely.


Commons: Lava Burst, Incinerate, and Meteor Shower are all excellent. Errantry on a flier can do some nice poking. There are a surprising number of creatures here with decent stats.

Uncommons: Pyroclasm is nice, especially with all of the X/3s you can run to survive it (here and in green, which is a frequent pairing for red in this set). Orcish Cannoneers can't activate often, but it doesn't need to! Once or twice can turn the tides. Anarchy is obviously a game-winning sideboard card. Goblin Mutant is not great, but is at its best in red-black to pair with the common Dark Banishing. Stone Spirit of course has good stats.

Rares: Dwarven Armory, Marton Stromgald, and Karplusan Yeti all stand out. Curse of Marit Lage is just so egregioius.



Commons: The one-mana ramps are all playable, but not as powerful as normal given tempo's lessened importance. Giant Growth is excellent. Earth Lore and Regeneration can play roles in combat. Woolly Spider, Folk of the Pines, and especially Shambling Strider have good bodies (just watch out for those Dark Banishings). Scaled Wurm can totally do it, but many decks can kill it outright or stymie it with a regenerating wall.

Uncommons: Hurricane's nice, and can even be maindecked to help finish off a game. Green has some of the set's best defense here in Yavimaya Gnats and Wall of Pine Needles (imagine Errantry on the former!). Johtull Wurm is markedly worse than the common 6-drop; avoid it.

Rares: Stunted Growth is absolutely absurd when it works, and this format is slow enough to usually get full value out of it on turn 5. Ritual of Subdual can help preserve a lead if you're in one. Wiitigo is generally worth running, but be aware that if your opponent is able to soak up 9 damage, this will probably die in combat shortly after.


Azorius: Wings of Aesthir is quite strong if unanswered. Spectral Shield really needs a high-value target to be worth running. Glaciers is of course bonkers from the board.

    Fire Covenant

Dimir: Brine Shaman surprised me with how useful its two modes are. It even performs a nice combo with Ray of Command, saccing the creature you steal. Zuran Enchanter can get some nice value (and is small enough you don't mind saccing it to a Brine Shaman). Skeleton Ship can grind out games, especially when untapped with Norritt.

Rakdos: Fire Covenant gets my vote for the single best card in the set. This card is strong honestly enough to be a bomb in vintage cube. Ghostly Flame is your only weapon against Circles of Protection, which is relevant since they are after all in common. Fumarole is overcosted but still worth running.

Gruul: Tinder Wall is versatile (ritualing, stalling, and shocking), and good at all three! Centaur Archer and Giant Trap Door Spider are both playable. Stormbind will surprise you with how it steals games. It kills three creatures, let's you get through on some attacks, and when your opponent finally stabilizes, they're down to six life, meaning you have inevitability by discarding your next three draws.

Selesnya: Kjeldoran Frostbeast is fine.


Uncommon Artifacts: Icy Manipulator is another candidate (my runner up) for best card in the set. Baton of Morale, Pit Trap, and Wall of Shields are all fine pickups. Skull Catapult is generally weak, but gets better if you've picked up enough Ray of Commands (a card you already want). Walking Wall, Adarkar Sentinel, and even a late-game Soldevi Simulacrum all boast significant stats.

    Soldevi Simulacrum

Rare Artifacts: Surprisingly, none of these are that good. Crown of the Ages maybe for the sideboard, Elkin Bottle maybe for the late game, and Snow Fortress for the stats. That's about it.

Lands: The painlands (like Adarkar Wastes) are great. The depletion lands (like Lava Tubes) are horrible. Ice Floe is fine, and I'm not seeing it on Glacial Chasm or Halls of Mist.


Pow! Fun set. More balanced than some of the others in this series.



It's fun to watch Magic design improve over the years. Even before sets were made with drafting in mind, these final few expansions draft way more smoothly than the earlier ones.



Commons: Errand of Duty is a nice lil trick. Wild Aesthir and Kjeldoran Escort are both formidable bodies. The format is generally slow enough for Carrier Pigeons to pay off. As for Reprisal, here is everything it can target. Only two are non rares, so I wouldn't maindeck it, but some of those rares are formidable enough that it's worth having one in your sideboard. Being able to push through regeneration is a nice boost, relevant for two of those eight.

Uncommons: Honestly all six of these are playable. Inheritance is my vote for sleeper hit of the set. It doesn't look like much, but you will reliable draw multiple cards off this, in a set with slowish gameplay and few ways to accrue card advantage. It's not exactly a bomb, but it is better than it looks.

Rares: Exile is outstanding. The rest are surprisingly meh.


Commons: Not much going on here. Benthic Explorers' body is decent, and (shudder) Storm Crow can look good with certain auras. Soldevi Sage and Lat-Nam's Legacy are mediocre card draw but certainly playable in low numbers. False Demise is rarely as good as it ought to be.

Uncommons: Viscerid Drone can be good. I like Spiny Starfish. This is not the ideal format for Force of Will to shine but sometimes you'll be glad you have it. Browse in 40-card formats is unlikely to get much use. Storm Elemental is a top card in the set.

Rares: Five swings... five misses. If you have a bomb in your deck I suppose you could run Library of Lat-Nam to tutor it up (the first time you cast this, most opponents choose the tutor mode).



Commons: A lot of good ones! I wouldn't play Insidious Bookworms for its face value, but it's a strong combo with Viscerid Drone (or even Ritual of the Machine at rare). And you can sideboard it in against Elvish Ranger and Deadly Insect! Casting of Bones can do work. Lim-Dul's High Guard and Phantasmal Fiend have formidable stats. Phyrexian Boon's versatility is nice. And Feast or Famine is quite a high pick.

Uncommons: Krovikan Plague is sideboard only, against decks with lots of X/1s. Contagion is obviously strong. Balduvian Dead and Stromgald Spy are medium.

Rares: Ritual of the Machine is a great way to trade up. View Keeper of Tresserhorn as a strong defender with mild upside. Obviously Dystopia is a strong sideboard card. I don't believe you should ever run Fatal Lore. (It would be so good, if not for those last few words!)


Commons: Veteran's Voice can gum up combat. Guerrilla Tactics is great as an overcosted Shock. Bestial Fury rarely accomplishes much. The "body" creatures here all teeter on the threshold of what's acceptable.

Uncommons: Pyrokinesis is absolutely top tier. The other five are meh or worse.

Rares: Varchild's War-Riders cannot accomplish anything without combo pieces, and this set does not have any. Balduvian Horde is great against non-black opponents. 


    Elvish Bard

Commons: Gift of the Woods and Elvish Ranger are both medium but do go well together. Whip Vine is nice pseudo-removal. Gorilla Chieftain and Yavimaya Ancients both have excellent stats. Gorilla Berserkers is way overcosted, as its rampage is unlikely to matter. And Deadly Insect... yes, the ceiling is high, but in nearly every game it will trade for some dork costing 2 mana.

Uncommons: Elvish Bard can dominate certain boards and has a surprising variety of uses. It's even better with this set's many auras. The rest are underwhelming.

Rares: Love love Tornado. Kaysa is good (don't forget it pumps itself). Gargantuan Gorilla is outstanding in a vacuum, but don't forget how easily it's killed by removal at common or stymied by regenerators at common. (It's still worth running and even picking highly, but prepare for occasional disappointment.)


Commons: Aesthir Glider is fine against nonwhite opponents (white has a common first striking flier). I don't like Phyrexian War Beast or Soldevi Steam Beast but they can be good in the right situations.

Uncommons: All eight of these are weak. Whirling Catapult has the highest potential of them, but even then I'm thinking sideboard only.

Rare artifacts: I really don't like any of these nine. Many have contructed uses, which was the purpose of this set, but in triple Alliances limited, which was of course not intended, don't expect any to do much.

    Nature's Blessing

Rare lands: Here we have some power. Say yes to the R, U, G, and especially W ones. No to the B one, and an even more emphatic no to Sheltered Valley and Thawing Glaciers.


Uncommons: Think of Lim-Dul's Vault as an expensive Vampiric Tutor—some decks want it, but few. Lim-Dul's Paladin is generally not worth it, but can be fun. Nature's Blessing is way better than it looks. Honestly a bomb. The threat of activation dominates combat, and the abilities it grants are permanent.

Rares: I overrate Lord of Tresserhorn. It can easily backfire, and get blocked by a common regenerator after giving your opponent massive advantage, but it's splashy and exciting enough that I want to run it anyway. Misfortune is so close to being good but needs such specific conditions to flourish. Phelddagrif is fine but not exactly worth forcing. Wandering Mage is playable, mostly for its first ability.


And there it is!