Looking at a Random Card: Drowned
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Drowned: Finally – a creature! (Did you notice the invisible sarcasm tags?)
This is the card which, although possessing absolutely fantastic flavor, didn’t make it as a reprint into Innistrad, even though that set has a tribal zombie theme in Blue and Black, because the Drowned are of the necromantic zombie variety associated with Black, and not of the “Frankenstein” variety attributed to Blue. Also, they were not considered cool enough, since they aren’t exactly a strong creature.
That is a pity! Their flavor is really spot on, and as far as I can tell, a cheap regenerator would actually be quite useful in the Innistrad limited environment, where thanks to the werewolves and the skaab mechanic, early attacks with big creatures are a common occurrence. But then again, in a set without a strong multicolor theme, having an essentially two-colored workhorse creature really doesn’t fit that well.
As usually, limited considerations will be the major factor in rating this card. Yes, it has extremely cool flavor, and no, it has no uses in constructed environments. That’s it otherwise.
In limited environments, the Drowned belong to the class of “hidden” multicolor cards. You can play them in a non-black deck, but you don’t want to – you really need black mana to find a use for them. Still, they have advantages over true multicolor cards: They’re a bit easier to cast, obviously, and that you can play them before your black mana shows up is a relevant boon. Also, they are NOT black, meaning that they can, for example, stop a creature with protection from that color (protection is often plentiful in multicolor environments, since it enriches color-matter themes and encourages playing multiple colors to deal with protected creatures). For those reasons, it makes sense to build a multicolor environment not only with actual multicolor cards, but also with cards of this kind.
Drowned are certainly nothing spectacular, just a Drudge Skeletons variant branching out into an additional color, and they will often sit in a player’s sideboard in limited even if he plays Blue and Black. However, they ARE useful – as fillers after a draft which didn’t go perfect, brought in from the sideboard to defend against certain decks, or even maindecked in a more defensively-minded strategy. Note that small regenerating creatures become more useful in slower environments (because there will be more big creatures needing to be blocked, and because keeping mana up for regenerating becomes easier as games go longer), and that multicolor environments, by their definition, tend to fall into that camp.
The very reason why this card was a bad fit for Innistrad is a small strike against it, though: It really needs a multicolor environment. While it is possible to include a few hidden multicolored cards in any environment, those cards just need a little more punch to be worth it. Their point would be to tempt players into playing a certain color combination (example: Sedraxis Alchemist) or maybe include a small splash (example: Unburial Rites), but of course, Drowned isn’t a creature you’d ever be willing to do either for! In an environment where multicolored decks aren’t the norm, all that including this card achieves is to reduce the number of playables for most drafters, while at the same time not giving a substantial reward to the player drafting a deck able to use it.
Thus, Drowned are not an overly flexible tool for cube builders, and they’re not exciting either. But don’t forget that it is important in a limited environment to have a number of unexciting, yet useful cards! Drowned fulfill that function, and they do so with great flavor. I must confess that I actually abandoned them in favor of the newer Metathran Zombie, which differs from them by having an additional creature type, but since there are no signs that the metethran type will become important in any of my cubes ever, and since the new variant of this card really doesn’t stand up to the original’s flavor, this might have been a poor decision on my part.
In the end, Drowned get a C from me – downgraded to C- because of their low flexibility, but upgraded to C again because of their excellent flavor!