M14: Rod of Ruin and Shrivel

I’ve never been quite sure how highly to take Rod of Ruin in M14 drafts. While it is reusable removal, it is also quite expensive. In my post on the B/R sacrifice deck, I’d determined that “27% of the must-kill creatures” and “23% of the flyers” in an average draft have 1 toughness. There is a bit of an overlap here, since both numbers include must-kill flyers, but it means that Rod of Ruin can kill about a quarter of the must-kill/flying creatures your opponent plays. M14 draft decks usually run about 12-16 creatures, so a typical deck will have 3-4 1-toughness creatures. Furthermore, the threat of activation is often sufficient to let you get creatures past blockers or to strand 1-toughness creatures in your opponent’s hand, and it can slowly ping away at your opponent if the board is stalled.

(Note: must-kill differs from my usual evaluation scale of bomb through unplayable. It means the creature can create problematic board states if it remains on the table. A creature like Goblin Shortcutter with a great enters-the-battlefield ability can be very playable but still not must-kill. Other less playable creatures like Striking Sliver and Nightwing Shade are must-kill because you can end up losing the game if you’re not able to deal with them in a timely manner. If your deck is sufficiently aggressive, you may be able to kill your opponent before these creatures become a problem, and so may need less removal. Note also that large flyers are not classified as must-kill unless they also possess problematic abilities, e.g., Archangel of Thune, since they can be gang blocked in theory. In practice, you usually either need a removal spell or a Deadly Recluse.)

I also want to know if Rod of Ruin is more likely to be effective against certain color pairs, so I know whether to side it in/out against certain decks, regardless of what I’ve seen them play so far. Partly, this is because of a recent game I played against a U/R deck. I didn’t see any 1-toughness creatures in game 1, so I reluctantly sided out the Rod of Ruin out for a Naturalize, and then found myself staring down 2 Academy Rectors and a Trained Condor.

Here’s an updated version of the spreadsheet I’d created for that post. This version also computes how many creatures you can expect to see of each type in a typical 8-person draft. It also includes additional columns that sum up the number of must-kill, not must-kill, flyers, non-flyers, and all creatures. Looking at the number of must-kill creatures by color, we see that red has the most by far (6.3) because of Academy Raider, Striking Sliver, Young Pyromancer, and Goblin Diplomat. Each color is typically shared by 3 players, so an average R/X deck will have 2.1 must-kill red creatures with a toughness of 1. That’s not a large number, but it still means you might want to consider keeping Rod of Ruin in against R/X decks, even if you haven’t seen a lot of problematic creatures. Red also has the highest total number of creatures with 1-toughness in an average 8-person draft (14.7), followed by black (11.1), white (9.9), blue (7.9), and green (6.0).

Shrivel also kills 1-toughness creatures, but on both sides of the table. Consequently, it ends up going very late and often languishes in sideboards. However, I think it is actually a reasonable sideboard against R/X decks, and especially against U/R tempo decks since it kills Goblin Shortcutter, Coral Merfolk, and Trained Condor. Shrivel is also a reasonable card to side in against Young Pyromancer or Sporemound, since it can kill the tokens they produce. However, you need to ensure that your deck doesn’t have too many 1-toughness creatures yourself, or that you delay playing some of them if you haven’t yet cast the Shrivel.

Why are we not also talking about Barrage of Expendables, Thorncaster Sliver, Festering Newt, and Wring Flesh, even though they also kill 1-toughness creatuers? I already talked about Barrage of Expendables previously, and part of the benefit of the card is that it lets you sacrifice creatures, not just that it does a point of damage. Thorncaster Sliver is usually surrounded by other Slivers and so will usually do more than 1 point of damage. Festering Newt trades with 2/2’s. And Wring Flesh is an excellent combat trick that I’ve heard compared to Giant Growth; while it can’t save a creature from Shock or do the last 3 points of damage to an opponent, instead it sometimes kill a 1-toughness creature.

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M14: Follow-up on the Gladecover Scout deck

I attempted to draft the Gladecover Scout deck at a casual draft yesterday. My first pick was Garruk Caller of Beasts, but the next few packs had very little to offer, so I took 2 Gladecover Scouts, Elvish Mystic, 2 Verdant Havens, and Howl of the Night Pack (not in that order). At this point, I figured I could easily splash strong enhancing Auras from most colors, so I was planning to take them, and any additional Gladecover Scouts, over anything but bombs. I stuck to that plan, taking 2 Trollhides over Pacifisms, even though I knew could splash the latter. I was monogreen until the middle of pack 2, when I finally saw some non-green enhancing Auras in the form of Mark of the Vampire, Dark Favor, Lightning Talons, and Illusionary Armor. (At that point, I had 4 Verdant Havens, so I had no concern about splashing cards from multiple colors.)

Unfortunately, I never saw any more Gladecover Scouts, or any Witchstalkers. I did pick up a Ranger’s Guile (and passed a second one) which someone else suggested is equivalent to a Gladecover Scout in my deck since I also had 3 Trollhides. I disagree with that assessment, however, because the creature can still be shut down by Pacifism, Claustrophobia, Time Ebb, Disperse, and a few other spells that regeneration doesn’t protect against. I didn’t want to splash the non-green Auras since there was a high likelihood that I would not have a Gladecover Scout in my opening hand, and I would not be excited to put these Auras on the other creatures in my deck.

Luckily, I had enough decent green cards to build a monogreen deck. I did run the 2 Gladecover Scouts I’d drafted, and they worked quite well with my Accorder’s Shield, 3 TrollHides, 3 Hunt the Weaks, and 3 other pump spells. The deck’s only paths to victory were Gladecover Scout + Trollhide, Garruk Caller of Beasts, or Howl of the Night, but I still managed to win all 4 matches I played, probably because no one at the table had a particularly strong deck. Also, this was a very casual draft, and you shouldn’t expect to do particularly well with a monogreen deck like mine at most drafts.

Conclusion: it’s risky to attempt to draft the Gladecover Scout deck. An average 8-person draft will have only 2.4 Gladecover Scouts. That number goes up to 2.8 if you include Witchstalkers, but that is likely to be drafted highly by other green players, and possibly even raredrafted if you’re at a casual draft. Even though I had 2 Gladecover Scouts before we were halfway through the first pack, I never saw another one, even though I was one of only 2 green drafters at the table, and there aren’t any good alternatives to him in M14.

M14: The tokens deck

Another deck that I have yet to try is the tokens deck. It is usually centered around Young Pyromancer, Molten Birth, and Barrage of Expendables. This spreadsheet lists all the cards in M14 that produce tokens, and also attempts to list most of the cards that interact particularly well with tokens. Cards in bold are particularly important to the strategy, while cards in italics help tokens get through blockers. (I haven’t listed pumps spells here, only effects that have a more permanent impact.)

From this, it seems that the deck wants to be R/W, with:

  • Young Pyromancer, Molten Birth, and Hive Stirrings to produce tokens
  • Goblin Shortcutter, Master of Diversion, and Seismic Stomp to help the tokens get past blockers
  • Fortify, Lightning Talons, Shiv’s Embrace, and Ogre Battledriver to help push damage through
  • Barrage of Expendables, Congregate, Path of Bravery, and Bubbling Cauldron to buy time, plus Act of Treason if the deck has a reasonable number of sac outlets (or to enable an earlier alpha strike)

If you have a chance to pick up Dark Prophecy and/or Gnawing Zombie, you can also try to make a B/R tokens deck that looks a lot like the B/R sacrifice deck I’d written about previously. In addition to these cards and the red cards from the list above, Altar’s Reap, Blood Bairn, and Vile Rebirth are also important, especially if you have a Young Pyromancer on the table.

One downside of this deck is that Young Pyromancer is good in just about every red deck, so you won’t get passed it very often. But if you do draft an early Young Pyromancer, keep this deck in mind as an option.

EDIT: Shrivel can be a problem for this deck since most of its key token producers make 1/1 tokens. Be careful to not overextend into it against opponents playing black, especially post-board.

M14: The Gladecover Scout deck

The Gladecover Scout deck involves putting Auras on a Gladecover Scout or a Witchstalker and smashing in with a large hexproof creature. I’ve been meaning to try this deck out for a while, but haven’t yet been willing to prioritize Gladecover Scouts highly enough, and this deck obviously does not work without them. A friend recently assured me that this is a strong deck, so I will try to give it a shot at some point and report back. Meanwhile, the goal of this post is to figure out what colors this deck usually is and which other cards I’ll need to prioritize when attempting to draft this archetype.

This spreadsheet lists all the Auras, global enchantments, instants, sorceries, and planeswalkers that can enhance a creature’s power/toughness or grant it additional abilities, whether temporarily or permanently. Green and white have the most cards that go in this archetype, but black also offers some key cards at uncommon, especially Mark of the Vampire, which can make it very difficult for your opponent to race.

  • Green (permanent effects): Hunt the Weak, Trollhide, Oath of the Ancient Wood (rare), Primeval Bounty (mythic)
  • Green (temporary effects): Giant Growth, Ranger’s Guile, Enlarge (uncommon)
  • White (permanent effects): Divine Favor, Blessing (uncommon), Indestructibility (rare), Path of Bravery (rare), Ajani Caller of the Pride (mythic)
  • White (temporary effects): Fortify, Show of Valor
  • Blue: Zephyr Charge, Illusionary Armor (uncommon)
  • Black: Dark Favor, Mark of the Vampire
  • Red: Lightning Talons, Shiv’s Embrace (uncommon)
  • Artifact: Accorder’s Shield (uncommon), Fireshrieker (uncommon), Door of Destinies (rare), Haunted Plate Mail (rare)

Looking more closely at the cards listed above, it seems that this deck should usually be G/B, with Trollhide and Mark of the Vampire being the key commons, as well as Ranger’s Guild if you are running several creatures without hexproof to complement your Gladecover Scouts. At other rarities, Oath of the Ancient Wood, Primeval Bounty, and the artifacts listed can also contribute to a strong deck. The deck is also happy to splash white, blue, and red for Divine Favor, Illusionary Armor, and Lightning Talons respectively.

When playing this deck, you need to be very careful to not walk into Celestial Flare when either attacking or blocking. Shrivel can also be an issue if your Gladecover Scout is enchanted only with Lightning Talons and/or Indestructibility. This, along with the fact that you won’t always draw Gladecover Scout (or be willing to try to mulligan to it) means that the deck also needs other creatures. The deck generally wants to run cheaper creatures so it can put an Aura on them and start attacking, so here are the 1-3 mana creatures in green and black that seem to be good candidates for this archetype:

  • 1cc: Elvish Mystic, Festering Newt, Tenacious Dead (uncommon)
  • 2cc: Child of Night, Corpse Hauler, Predatory Sliver, Gnawing Zombie (uncommon), Manaweft Sliver (uncommon), Voracious Wurm (uncommon), Scavenging Ooze (rare)
  • 3cc: Brindle Boar, Rootwalla, Lifebane Zombie (rare), Syphon Sliver (rare), Witchstalker (rare)

Blightcaster is also a key card since the deck already runs several Auras. If the deck has sufficient mana fixing, other cards from the enchantments and lifegain decks can also be included.

M14: Archaeomancer

To date, I’ve mentioned Archaeomancer in the context of a few different archetypes: U/R control, U/G control, U/G mill, and W/U skies. And intuitively, it would seem that U/R or U/B are the best color pairs for Archaeomancer since you can regrow instant/sorcery removal in those decks. (Much of the removal in white and blue is in the form of enchantments, and the removal in green is largely conditional, hitting flyers and non-creature permanents.) However, I always prefer hard numbers (hence this blog), so let’s get crunching.

M14 has 61 instants and sorceries. This spreadsheet breaks them down by color, rarity, and quality. It’s clear that red and black have the most number of exceptional instants/sorceries per player in an average M14 draft (0.6 and 0.4 respectively). If you combine bomb, exceptional, and playable instants/sorceries, red and green have the most (1.4 and 1.2 respectively). This corroborates some of my intuition above, and seems to reinforce U/R control as the best home for Archaeomancer.

However, this also include spells that are better in aggro decks (e.g., Act of Treason and most combat tricks) or spells that usually win you the game when cast (e.g., Devout Invocation and Planar Cleansing). Let’s take a slightly different look at this; let’s look at which instants/sorceries we’d most want to recast:

  • White: Celestial Flare
  • Blue: Cancel, Divination, Essence Scatter, Frost Breath, Negate, Time Ebb, Tome Scour, Opportunity (uncommon); you won’t usually want to recur Traumatize since the second casting will typically mill about as many cards as a Tome Scour
  • Black: Altar’s Reap, Liturgy of Blood, Wring Flesh, Corrupt (uncommon), Doom Blade (uncommon)
  • Red: Chandra’s Outrage, Shock, Flames of the Firebrand (uncommon), Molten Birth (uncommon), Volcanic Geyser (uncommon)
  • Green: Fog, Hunt the Weak, Plummet, Howl of the Night Pack (uncommon), Windstorm (uncommon)

Blue itself has the most number of instants and sorceries we’d want to regrow with Archaeomancer, and white has the least. Black, red, and green have similar numbers of them, but red has the most number of good removal spells, followed by black. The green instants and sorceries have very specific purposes, with Plummet and Windstorm only being useful against flyers, and Fog usually only useful if you’re playing a mill deck or if your opponent has falter effects.

Conclusion: Archaeomancer is at its best in U/R control where it can recur removal and blue card draw and counterspells, and in G/U mill where it can recur mill spells and cards like Fog and Frost Breath that can buy you time to mill your opponent out. It may also be playable in U/G control and U/B. That is a fairly limited set of archetypes and Archaeomancer only leaves a 1/2 body behind, so I would consider it only conditionally playable.

M14: Plummet vs. Windstorm

When drafting green decks, I’ve faced the choice of drafting either Plummet or Windstorm from the same pack, or having both in my draft pool but not knowing whether either is worthy of maindecking. Another choice I’ve faced is deciding which one to side in against an opponent who has one or more flyers in their deck. Let’s see if we can figure out the right choices in these scenarios.

If you’re running green as a main color, Deadly Recluse and Giant Spider are great ways to deal with flyers. They can also defend quite well against non-flyers, and sometimes even get to attack. Deadly Spider is easier to kill than Giant Spider, so our analysis will look at 3 different categories of flyers:

  • must-kill non-defender flyers (see the spreadsheet from my post on creature evaluations)
  • flyers with power >= 4 (or deathtouch) and toughness >= 3, since they can kill Giant Spider without dying in the process
  • all non-defender flyers

There are only 5 must-kill flyers in M14: 1 common, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, and 2 mythic. An average draft will have 0.57 of these flyers per player, all in white, blue, and black. Must-kill means that you can’t reliably block or gang block the creature with flyers/spiders to neutralize it, or that it has a static ability that makes it dangerous even if it’s not in combat, which is why Nightwing Shade, Air Servant, and Galerider Sliver fall into this category, along with the more obvious inclusion of Archangel of Thune and Windreader Sphinx.

There are 6 flyers with power >= 4 (or deathtouch) and toughness >= 3: 2 uncommons (only Serra Angel and Sengir Vampire, since we’ve already counted Air Servant above), 2 rares (Jace’s Mindseeker and Shivan Dragon), and 2 mythics (Shadowborn Demon and Scourge of Valkas). An average draft will have 0.45 of these flyers per player, primarily in black. Note that although Shivan Dragon and Scourge of Valkas can attack for a lot of damage, I don’t consider them must-kill since firebreathing doesn’t pump toughness, so they can still be blocked and killed by multiple opposing flyers/spiders.

Adding these numbers tells us that the average draft will only have about 1 flyer per player that falls into either of these 2 categories, so you probably don’t want to run either Plummet or Windstorm in your maindeck. Obviously, there are exceptions to this. For instance, if you have Diabolic Tutor or Ring of Three Wishes in your deck, you could run a singleton Plummet or Windstorm as a silver bullet. If you have a U/G control deck with limited creature removal, you’re more likely to face a bomb flyer that you can’t handle, so Plummet or Windstorm might have a place in that deck, especially if you can regrow it using Archaeomancer. And if you have an otherwise really strong monogreen or G/R deck that lacks flying defense, you might run Plummet and/or Windstorm maindeck to shore up that weakness and as insurance against your opponent having a flying bomb.

Finally, let’s look at all non-defender flyers in M14. All of them are playable, except perhaps Dragon Hatchling. Let’s exclude those creatures and then look at the number of flyers we would expect a player in those colors to have in an 8-person draft, assuming there are 3 drafters in each color. (This analysis is more useful here than looking at the average number of these flyers per drafter.)

  • White: 3 common, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, 1 mythic -> 8.9 at the table, or 3.0 per white drafter
  • Blue: 4 commons, 2 uncommons, 2 rares, 1 mythic -> 12.9 at the table, or 4.3 per blue drafter
  • Black: 2 commons, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, 1 mythic -> 6.6 at the table, or 2.2 per black drafter
  • Red: 1 uncommon, 2 rares, 1 mythic -> 2.2 at the table, or 0.7 per black drafter

From this analysis, we can see that only U/X decks are likely to have more than 1 flyer on the table at a time, and so are the only ones against which you’d rather bring in Windstorm. There are only 2 rare and 2 mythic flyers with toughness >= 5 (I’m including Nightmare but not Nightwing Shade here), so Windstorm will usually be able to take down all your opponent’s flyers. (And sometime they’ll play a Galerider Sliver and you’ll knock out most of their side :)) Of course, if your deck also has flyers, you may still prefer Plummet, even when playing against a U/W or U/B deck.

M14: W/U skies

Yesterday, I drafted a W/U skies deck for the first time in M14. It had only 11 creatures (including 8 flyers and an Angelic Wall), but I still went 3-1, at least in part because Path of Bravery swung some races in my favor. The deck is not that different from W/U skies decks in other draft formats and relies on having some good defensive creatures and then winning in the air with flyers. This post will do an overview of the cards that go in this archetype.

Most of the defensive creatures are 2-3 mana. Some of them have flying and can double as attackers in the late game.

  • common: Angelic Wall (converted mana cost = 2), Seacoast Drake (2), Griffin Sentinel (3). Coral Merfolk (2) and Scroll Thief (3) are reasonable, especially if you have Trained Condors, and Scroll Thief often keeps 2 of your opponent’s creatures at bay since people are more scared of it than they probably should be. Capashen Knight (2) is great against X/1’s but should usually start out in your sideboard.
  • uncommon: Wall of Frost (3), Wall of Swords (4)

There are a lot of good evasion creatures in white and blue, but most cost 3-5 mana, so you should prioritize defensive creatures that cost 2 mana. Seraph of the Sword is also excellent on defense against large creatures, lifelink, and deathtouch.

  • common: Suntail Hawk (1), Trained Condor (3), Charging Griffin (4), Nephalia Seakite (4), Messenger Drake (5)
  • uncommon: Warden of Evos Isle (3), Phantom Warrior (3), Air Servant (5), Serra Angel (5)
  • rare: Galerider Sliver (1), Seraph of the Sword (4), Jace’s Mindseeker (6)
  • mythic: Windreader Sphinx (7)

Much of the permanent removal is in the form of enchantments, so I ran an Auramancer maindeck, but moved it to the sideboard after a couple of games since most of my Auras remained on the creatures they were enchanting. The temporary removal and counterspells work well with Archaeomancer, but its higher casting cost (which includes double blue) and smaller body make the interaction less exciting.

  • common: Claustrophobia, Pacifism, Sensory Deprivation (best against ground creatures that your defensive creatures can’t handle, or against Deadly Recluse and Deathgaze Cockatrice), Disperse, Time Ebb, Frost Breath, countermagic
  • uncommon: Rod of Ruin, Spell Blast
  • rare: Planar Cleansing, Rachet Bomb, Domestication

Of the creature enhancements, Divine Favor and Accorder’s Shield were both very good. Path of Bravery was amazing, giving my creatures +1/+1 if I’d managed to set up an early defense; even when I didn’t, the lifegain still shifted races in my favor whenever the board state allowed me to attack with multiple flyers. Illusionary Armor seems like it could be quite powerful since it takes the opponent out of the game very quickly if they don’t have an answer. It can usually be put on your smallest flyer, which can force your opponent to direct their removal at it instead of another threat, and it gets better if you have an Auramancer. Although I didn’t get to try it out, Fortify seems like it has a lot of potential in this deck since most of your attackers are likely to go unblocked. Furthermore, Fortify allows your Seacoast Drakes and Griffin Sentinel to switch from defense to offense for an alpha strike.

  • common: Divine Favor, Show of Valor, Fortify
  • uncommon: Accorder’s Shield, Fireshrieker, Illusionary Armor
  • rare: Haunted Plate Mail, Path of Bravery

My deck also had 2 Divinations and 2 Opportunities. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the former since they were at the same mana cost as a lot of my 3-drops. Opportunity was better and let me refuel my hand in the late game, but would probably have been better as a singleton.