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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