M14: Zephyr Charge

The value of Zephyr Charge is determined by a few different factors:

  • How many blue creatures already have flying
  • How likely blue is to be paired with another color that would benefit from Zephyr Charge
  • How many cards provide a benefit if you have more creatures with flying
  • How many blockers/answers are there for flyers

This spreadsheet of M14 creatures tells us that among blue creatures, 4 of the 9 commons have flying, as do 2 of the 5 uncommons, 2 of the 5 rares, and the only mythic, so 56% of the blue creatures in a typical draft will already have flying. The rest of the creatures are likely to be blockers for opposing ground creatures and don’t usually need flying, so a monoblue deck wouldn’t really benefit from Zephyr Charge.

Among the 4 possible color pairings, U/W and U/B decks in M14 already have access to sufficient numbers of flyers. U/R has access to Goblin Shortcutter, Seismic Stomp, Lightning Talons, and Shiv’s Embrace as cheaper ways to get through opposing defences, although Zephyr Charge might work in a deck with multiple Regathan Firecats and Marauding Maulhorns, or as a sideboard card against a control R/X deck to get your Academy Raiders through. I can imagine a U/G deck that uses Deadly Recluse, Seacoast Drake, Wall of Frost, and Giant Spider to stall the board and Zephyr Charge to get large green creatures past opposing blockers. However, this requires drawing your defensive creatures early and having both large creatures and Zephyr Charge before you can start attacking, so I would rather draft a G/R or G/W Slivers deck, or a G/R Beasts deck instead.

M14 has 2 cards that benefit from creatures having flying: Warden of Evos Isle and Windreader Sphinx. Warden of Evos Isle only affects flyers not in play, so it doesn’t benefit from Zephyr Charge. And if you’re attacking with Windreader Sphinx, you’re probably already winning, so Zephyr Charge would usually just be a win-more card.

Finally, M14 has a number of answers to flying creatures, including Deathgaze Cockatrice, Deadly Recluse, Giant Spider, and Plummet, in addition to the normal removal spells.

So Zephyr Charge is filler, at best. It is a common and comes around reasonable late, so you shouldn’t spend a high or even a mid pick on it. You should only consider it if it’s late in the draft and your deck don’t have many win conditions.

M14: Domestication

Like most Control Magic effects, Domestication is obviously a very good card. Normally, such effects are better than normal removal spells because they not only neutralize an opposing creature, but add a creature to your side and thereby provide card advantage (a 2-for-1) unless the enchantment is removed. However, M14 has a lot of Auras that increase a creature’s power, so the goal of this post is to determine whether Domestication is exceptional or just playable in M14 drafts so we know whether to pick it over Pacifism or Quag Sickness, for instance.

Let’s start by referring to the spreadsheet I’d previously created with a breakdown of all creatures by power and toughness. Of the must-kill creatures in M14, all 8 commons, 4 of the 6 uncommons, 13 of the 15 rares, and 1 of the 2 mythics have power <= 3, so Domestication can handle about 90% of the must-kill creatures in a typical draft (accounting for rarity). Of the flyers in M14, all 10 commons, 2 of the 5 uncommons, 4 of the 7 rares, and 1 of the 3 mythics have power <= 3, so Domestication can handle about 84% of the flyers in a typical draft.

Those are pretty good numbers, but we need to also account for effects that increase a creature's power. Since Domestication checks the enchanted creature's power at the beginning of the controller's end step, instant-speed pump spells (and some Auras like Blessing where the creature doesn't receive any benefits until you choose) are very effective against Domestication since you can pump the creature after its controller's combat step. Auras that increase a creature's power and sorceries that add +1/+1 counters are also quite effective; while they give your opponent a turn to attack with the enhanced creature, the enchantment remains when you get the creature back, so you've dealt with the Domestication without spending a card. Finally, certain spells are ineffective against Domestication: spells like Fortify and Ranger's Guile that only pump creatures you control work only if cast in response to Domestication and so cannot be relied upon to neutralize it, and sorcery-speed temporary pump spells like Enlarge don't work at all (unless used with Quicken) since the creature's power returns to its original value before your opponent's turn.

That means there are 14 spells that can effectively deal with Domestication even after you no longer control the creature:

  • White: Show of Valor (common), Divine Favor (common), Blessing (uncommon), Ajani Caller of the Pride (mythic)
  • Blue: Illusionary Armor (uncommon)
  • Black: Dark Favor (common), Mark of the Vampire (common)
  • Red: Thunder Strike (common), Lightning Talons (common), Shiv’s Embrace (uncommon)
  • Green: Giant Growth (common), Trollhide (common), Briarpack Alpha (uncommon), Oath of the Ancient Wood (rare)

So white, red, and green have the most number of effective ways to deal with Domestication. Not including the unplayable Oath of the Ancient Wood, there are 8 commons, 4 uncommons, and 1 mythic in the list, so a typical draft will have 24 spells that can potentially combat Domestication. That’s a lot of maindeck-playable answers to Domestication (an average of 3 per player) before we even account for Solemn Offering and Naturalize. While these spells won’t always increase a creature’s power to 4 or more, they will do it often enough for creatures that matter, so Domestication isn’t guaranteed to stick around even if you do have a good target.

In addition, black has a number of sacrifice effects that can turn Domestication into “just” a removal spell (Blood Bairn and Altar’s Reap at common, and Vampire Warlord and Gnawing Zombie at uncommon). Blue has Disperse which can be used after the fact without incurring card disadvantage. And while Ranger’s Guile has to be used in response to Domestication, it only costs one mana.

None of this means that you should not draft or play Domestication, but based on the analysis above I would rate it playable instead of exceptional, and would take Pacificm or Quag Sickness over it early in a draft; while they’re less likely to have as large an impact on the board state, they’re more likely to deal with a creature permanently. If you are playing Domestication and your opponent knows that, they can save their pump effects to deal with it, and side in additional pump effects and enchantment removal, so you might also considering siding it out, especially if you don’t have other enchantment or artifact targets (all enchantment removal in M14 also hits artifacts).

M14: Dismiss into Dream

As a precursor to determining whether it’s worth running enchantment removal maindeck, let’s complete evaluating the remaining enchantments whose quality is still to be determined (listed as “?” in the spreadsheet).

The first of these is Dismiss into Dream. 7 mana is a pretty hefty price tag for a enchantment that probably won’t affect the board on the turn you play it, and may not affect it at all unless you have the right cards to go with it. If you get passed it late, you can determine whether your deck has is sufficiently slow and has enought targeting effects to take advantage of this, but I’d like to determine whether it’s worth taking a little earlier in the draft.

Let’s start by looking at the reusable targeting effects in the format, along with their rarity and the mana cost associated with the ability and any restrictions:

  • White: Master of Diversion (common, 0), Ajani Caler of the Price (mythic, 0)
  • Blue: Zephyr Charge (common, 2), Air Servant (uncommon, 3, flyers only)
  • Black: Blightcaster (uncommon, 0, when you cast an enchantment spell), Liliana of the Dark Realms (mythic, 0, if she has 3+ loyalty counters)
  • Red: Barrage of Expendables (uncommon, 1, requires sacrificing a creature), Chandra Pyromaster (mythic, 0), Scourge of Valkas (mythic, X, when a Dragon enters the battlefield under your control)
  • Green: Oath of the Ancient Wood (rare, X, when an enchantment enters the battlefield under your control)
  • Artifact: Rod of Ruin (uncommon, 3)

So there are 2 common and 3 uncommon reusable targeting effects. The 2 commons are in white and blue, but a W/U deck would prefer to run tempo spells like Disperse, Frost Breath, and Time Ebb to fend off the largest creatures temporarily while it wins in the air. There are also 3 uncommons, but Rod of Ruin is the only one I’d be happy to use with Dismiss into Dream, and it won’t usually kill a creature until the turn after Dismiss into Dream is played.

Let’s look at the remaining targeting effects. I won’t list removal that can usually handle large creatures by turn 8, even if it is slightly conditional (e.g., Doom Blade), requires a permanent to remain in play (e.g., Banisher Priest, Pacifism) or requires a condition that can usually be met on turn 8 (e.g., Hunt the Weak), since those would often be just as effective without Dismiss into Dream.

  • White: Divine Favor (common, 2), Show of Valor (common, 2), Blessing (uncommon, 2), Indestructibility (rare, 4)
  • Blue: Disperse (common, 2), Frost Breath (common, 3), Time Ebb (common, 3), Illusionary Armor (uncommon, 5), Domestication (rare, 4)
  • Black: Dark Favor (common, 2), Festering Newt (common, 1, has to die for effect), Mark of the Vampire (common, 4), Wring Flesh (common, 1)
  • Red: Act of Treason (common, 3), Goblin Shortcutter (common, 2), Lightning Talons (common, 3), Pitchburn Devils (common, 5, has to die for effect), Shock (common, 1), Thunder Strike (common, 2), Flames of the Firebrand (uncommon, 3), Shiv’s Embrace (uncommon, 4), Thorncaster Sliver (rare, 5)
  • Green: Giant Growth (common, 1), Trollhide (common, 3), Briarpack Alpha (uncommon, 4), Enlarge (uncommon, 5)
  • Artifact: Vial of Poison (uncommon, 1+1)

Blue and red have the most number of playable targeting effects at common, but M14 U/R decks are usually aggressive and would prefer to use cards like Goblin Shortcutter, Trained Condor, Lightning Talons, Seismic Stomp, Disperse, Frost Breath, and Time Ebb, to underrun the opponent, than to cast a 7-mana enchantment that allows you to remove the opponent’s creatures permanently.

In short, M14 does not have a lot of cheap, reusable targeting effects to support Dismiss into Dreams. It may be playable as a sideboard card in certain control mirrors, but is otherwise just as unplayable as you probably think it is.

M14: The enchantments deck

Okay, now that we know how to value Angelic Accord and Path of Bravery, it’s time to get to a post I’ve been wanting to write since I first read the spoiler. White and black have 3 cards that get better if your deck has more enchantments: Auramancer (white common), Blightcaster (black uncommon), and Ajani’s Chosen (white rare). How early should you take these cards?

I believe that white and black also have the best common and uncommon enchantments, such as Pacifism and Quag Sickness, so I will only look at these colors when determining how viable the enchantments deck is. I will evaluate enchantments of other colors in another post in the near future, primarily to determine whether Solemn Offering and Naturalize are worth maindecking. It is worth noting that Auramancer works best with enchantments that are likely to end up in the graveyard (such as Quag Sickness) and Ajani’s Chosen works especially well with Auras that enhance your creatures (but not with removal Auras like Pacifism and Quag Sickness or non-creature Auras like Awaken the Ancient and Verdant Haven), so we will treat each of them a little differently.

This spreadsheet lists all enchantments in M14. Note that I have changed some of my evaluations since I first posted the list:

  • Angelic Accord and Sanguine Bond were TBD. After my last post, I now consider them conditional, since they are playable in the right deck.
  • Blessing: I’d initially evaluated this card as filler, but it’s actually dropped in my estimation since I feel that W/B decks in this format tend to run more swamps than plains, in order to maximize Quag Sickness and Corrupt. Also, it doesn’t confer evasion like Shiv’s Embrace or change the race like Mark of the Vampire can.
  • Quag Sickness: I’d initially evaluated this card as playable, but it’s risen in my estimate, partly since most black decks I’ve seen are W/B with more swamps than plains. This means that Quag Sickness can kill larger creatures than I’d expected, and can be retrieved by Auramancers.

The other table in the spreadsheet shows the enchantments pivoted by color, rarity, and my updated evaluation. Let’s consider the white and black enchantments that are not unplayable (minus Indestructibility, which you’ll only rarely sideboard) to see how well they work with each of the enchantments-matter cards:

  • Divine Favor (white common, playable): enhancing Aura
  • Pacifism (white common, exceptional): somewhat likely to end up in graveyard due to enchantment removal, bounce, or sacrifice effects
  • Angelic Accord (white uncommon, conditional): potentially playable since the lifegain deck is also usually W/B
  • Path of Bravery (white rare, exceptional)
  • Dark Favor (black common, playable): enhancing Aura, but I’d rather put it on a creature with evasion
  • Mark of the Vampire (black common, playable): enhancing Aura, but I’d rather put it on a creature with evasion
  • Quag Sickness (black common, exceptional): likely to end up in graveyard
  • Dark Prophecy (black rare, exceptional)
  • Sanguine Bond (black rare, conditional): potentially playable since the lifegain deck is also usually W/B

So there are 5 common, 1 uncommon, and 3 rare enchantments in W/B that are exceptional/playable/conditional, meaning that an average draft will have about 14 of them. All work well with Blightcaster and Ajani’s Chosen, but Divine Favor works especially well with Ajani’s Chosen (I’m likely to want the other enhancing Auras listed above on creatures with evasion rather than a vanilla 2/2). Auramancer mostly combos with Quag Sickness but can also return Pacifism or one of the 3 enhancing Auras if the enchanted creature dies. All 5 of these are common, so an average draft will have 12 of these cards.

Furthermore, many of these cards are not always high picks so you are likely to be able to get your hands on a fair number of them (Quag Sickness requires heavier black, Angelic Accord/Sanguine Bond are only playable in the W/B lifegain deck, and the enhancing Auras are not usually early picks). This means that it’s possible to pick up the enchantments-matter cards early since you are likely to be able to get enough enchantments to go with them over the course of the draft. Sometimes, of course, this won’t work out. In my most recent draft, I took a Blightcaster pack 1, pick 1, over a Battle Sliver. My final deck also had an Auramancer, but I only had 3 enchantments in my deck: a Quag Sickness, a Mark of the Vampire, and a Dark Favor. (I did see a second Quag Sickness but took a Shadowborn Demon over it, and I passed a Pacifism for a Imposing Sovereign.)

It’s much more difficult to do the opposite, since an average draft will have only about 4 cards that care about enchantments. However, most of the white and black enchantments are playable on their own merits, and if you already have a few of them, you can value the enchantments-matter cards more higher if you see them later in the draft.

M14: The lifegain deck

I tend to place fairly low value on cards that gain me life. Even if a card provides incidental lifegain, I won’t usually play it unless I would also play it if it didn’t have lifegain. However, M14 has a number of white, black, and green cards that benefit from lifegain. Are those cards powerful enough that they are worth playing? If so, what lifegain cards should you play to go with them?

M14 has 6 cards that benefit from lifegain: 4 in white, and 1 each in black and green:

  • Ajani Caller of the Pride (mythic): This is a bomb even if you don’t have any lifegain in your deck.
  • Angelic Accord (uncommon): Requires evaluation.
  • Archangel of Thune (mythic): This is a bomb even if you don’t have any lifegain in your deck.
  • Path of Bravery (rare): This seems very playable to me in aggressive decks. It forces your opponent to decide whether to attack you to reduce your life total so you don’t get the bonus, but that opens them up to a return strike that also gains you life. If they hold back, they have to block creatures with +1/+1, either immediately or when you have enough creatures and are ready to alpha strike. It seems less impressive in defensive decks, which are often willing to take hits early until they’re able to stabilize the board, and which win with fliers or large bombs and care less about Crusade effects.
  • Sanguine Bond (rare): Requires evaluation.
  • Voracious Wurm (uncommon): This is always at least a 2/2 for 2, so it’s definitely playable and probably exceptional since it can get very large if you have any lifegain to go with it.

Note that none of these cards are common, so if you’re building a deck that cares about lifegain, it’s because you already have one or more of these cards and not because you get passed Congregate. There are 2 cards each at uncommon, rare, and mythic, so the average draft will have 3.6 cards that care about lifegain.

Now let’s look at the cards that gain you life. This spreadsheet lists all the cards that allow you to gain life (including creatures with lifelink) and care about lifegain. The Cares About Lifegain column indicates whether the card cares about lifegain; if it contains a specific condition, then the card cares about how much life you gain or your life total, otherwise you get some effect regardless of your life total. The Lifegain column indicates how much life the cards allows you to gain; usually that’s a fixed number, but sometimes it depends on some other variable such as the number of creatures (#C) or the power of an enchanted creature (P+2). (The abbreviations used here are the same as the ones I used in my post on instant-speed tricks.) Highlighted cells indicate recurring lifegain: green highlight means there is no cost other than perhaps tapping the card, yellow highlight means a creature needs to attack (usually indicating lifelink), orange highlight means you need to put in a small effort (usually a mana cost, sometimes in addition to attacking), and red highlight means you need to sacrifice a creature or discard a card.

Pivoting by color, rarity, and quality, and looking at all common and uncommons that are not marked as sideboard/unplayable shows that black has the best lifegain cards, followed by white and then green:

  • Black: Child of Night and Mark of the Vampire at common are both playable. At uncommon, Corrupt is very playable in a heavy black deck but is a one-time effect and Gnawing Zombie is also quite good but not a reliable source of lifegain since you don’t usually want to sacrifice creatures just to trigger the cards above.
  • White: At common, Divine Favor is playable, but Soulmender and Dawnstrike Paladin are less exciting. At uncommon, we have Stonehorn Chanter and Congregate. White Stonehorn Chanter is occasionally playable just because it’s a 4/4 for 6 mana, I don’t really consider it a lifegain card because you have to pay an additional 6 mana to give it lifelink, which doesn’t usually make sense if you have any other options. Congregate doesn’t excite me either since it doesn’t affect the board, even though it has the potential to gain a lot of life. However, it will almost certainly trigger Angelic Accord, bring you above your starting life total for Path of Bravery, can result in huge Voracious Wurms, and is likely to kill your opponent if you have Sanguine Bond in play, so it might be playable if you have enough cards that care about lifegain.
  • Green: Verdant Haven is playable and Brindle Boar is filler.
  • Artifact: None. However, Bubbling Cauldron and Elixir of Immortality may be playable if you have enough cards that care about lifegain since both of them gain you enough life to trigger Angelic Accord.

Based on this, it looks like any lifegain deck would have to be W/B, since white has the cards that care about lifegain and black has the best lifegain cards. A W/G or B/G deck might be possible if you get the right mix of cards, but it seems unlikely. Also, Verdant Haven, Brindle Boar, and Scavenging Ooze (a rare) are not cards you usually want to splash, but you might be able to splash Voracious Wurm or Primeval Bounty (a mythic). If you’re not building a lifegain deck, you can still play the better green lifegain cards on their own merits in a G/X deck and just treat your occasional 4/4 Voracious Wurm as gravy. (Mmm, wurm gravy. :))

Now let’s consider whether Angelic Accord is playable. Here are the commons and uncommons that allow you to gain 4+ life on their own:

  • White: Solemn Offering (common), Congregate (uncommon), Stonehorn Chanter (uncommon, recurring)
  • Black: Mark of the Vampire (common, recurring), Corrupt (uncommon)
  • Green: Brindle Boar (common)
  • Artifact: Bubbling Cauldron (uncommon, recurring), Elixir of Immortality (uncommon)

Of these, Mark of the Vampire and Corrupt and the only ones I’d be happy to have in my maindeck. (I’ll do another analysis later to determine whether Solemn Offering is maindeckable, but I’m going to assume it’s not for now.) I’d only play the others if I had at least 4 cards that care about lifegain, and that seems unlikely since we’ve already determined that an average draft will contain 3.6 of these cards. So, having an Angelic Accord or two won’t cause me to value the other lifegain cards any more than I usually would, because I don’t want to draw them if I don’t draw any cards that care about lifegain.

Finally, let’s talk about Sanguine Bond. It can be pretty insane with either Corrupt or Congregate, which both become win-the-game spells in many cases if Sanguine Bond stays on the table. Also, there are only 2 enchantment removal spells in the set, Solemn Offering and Naturalize, and neither of them are incidental (like Kami of Ancient Law), so people are unlikely to maindeck them unless the enchantments in the format are particularly scary. If I draft a Sanguine Bond early, I would start looking to pick up Congregate, Bubbling Cauldron, and Elixir of Immortality in the second half of the pack, but never over cards that care about lifegain and only rarely above other good cards.

To summarize, focused lifegain decks will usually be W/B, possibly splashing Voracious Wurm or Primeval Bounty. You want to go in that direction only if you are being passed the cards that care about lifegain, not because you’re being passed good lifegain cards (although you can still draft and play ones that are playable on their own merits), since there are fewer cards that care about lifegain. If you manage to get 4+ cards that care about lifegain, you can start picking up cards like Congregate, Bubbling Cauldron, Elixir of Immortality, and Trading Post which you would not normally want to play. (And, of course, you can pick some of them up if it’s early in the draft and you already have 2-3 of these cards.)

M14: Dragons

The only other tribal effect in M14 is Scourge of Valkas, which is a bomb even if it is the only Dragon in your deck, so let’s focus on whether it’s worth trying to draft additional Dragons if you already have a Scourge of Valkas.

M14 has 4 Dragons, 1 at each rarity: Dragon Hatchling at common, Dragon Egg at uncommon (note that it also triggers Scourge of Valkas’s ability when it dies), Shivan Dragon at rare, and Scourge of Valkas at mythic. Obviously, you take all the rare and mythic Dragons you see if you are in red. The uncommon is also great if your deck is not particularly aggressive since it can buy you time to draw and play your rare/mythic Dragon(s), and can serve as a threat if your opponent attacks into it or if you have a sacrifice effect. It is also great in the aggro mirror since it either stops their ground offense or fogs their largest creature for a turn and gives you another threat.

The common is less exciting since it doesn’t do any damage in combat unless you have red mana to spare, and since all the other Dragons in the format (and any creatures enchanted with Shiv’s Embrace) also have firebreathing. Also, every color other than red has multiple flyers or creatures with reach that can trade with it in combat. While it can be scary if enchanted with Lightning Talons, there are several removal spells that can kill 1-toughness creatures, so I consider Dragon Hatchling filler and will only play it if I really need additional creatures or a potential finisher. While it is better if you also draw Scourge of Valkas, I prefer to play creatures that are good on their own even if I don’t draw Scourge of Valkas since I should already be in good shape in most cases where I draw and play a bomb.

While an average 8-person draft will have 4.2 Dragons, 2.4 of those will typically be Dragon Hatchlings and the rare/mythic Dragons are unlikely to get passed very far, so it’s not likely that you will have multiple other Dragons to go with a Scourge of Valkas. But he’s still a bomb so you should draft him and hope you get to kill a Dragon Hatchling on the other side of the table when he comes into play.

M14: Humans

Humans are interesting as a tribe in M14 for 2 reasons: Door of Destinies (dicussed in my last post) and Xathrid Necromancer. While both cards are rare, you want to know if they’re sufficiently powerful in the right deck that they’re worth drafting early as a speculative pick.

Gatherer shows that most of the Humans in M14 are in white and black. Blue and red each have only one Human at common and another at uncommon/rare, and there are no green or artifact Humans. (Before you laugh, Magic actually has 16 artifact Humans, all but one from the Shards of Alara block.)

Of white’s 8 Humans, 5 are common, 1 is uncommon, and 2 are rare. Of black’s 5 Humans, 2 are common, 1 is uncommon, and 2 are rare. This spreadsheet sorts them by mana cost and lists my prior evaluation of them (I’ve changed my evaluation of Capashen Knight from unplayable to filler). Unfortunately, we have yet to determine how good several of the cards are because we have yet to determine how good enchantments and lifegain effects in M14 are. I will get to that in my next few posts. Meanwhile, I’m going to assume that Soulmender and Dawnstrike Paladin are filler, that Auramancer is playable (it works especially well with Quag Sickness, also a common), and that Blightcaster is exceptional (most colors have several good common/uncommon enchantments).

We can see that the common white and black Humans are either playable or filler, with only Shadowborn Apostle being completely unplayable. While you wouldn’t be excited if those were the only creatures in your deck, you’d probably do quite well if you had a couple of the uncommon/rare Humans and some removal. So I believe Xathrid Necromancer is quite playable and worth spending an early pick on. However, I would probably take most white or black removal spells over it since those would be exceptional in any W/B deck and not just a W/B Humans deck. Also, a sizeable amount of the removal in this set is in the form of enchantments, which makes any future Blightcasters, Auramancers, and Ajani’s Chosens you draft better.