THS: Sealed pool

Unfortunately, last week’s prep didn’t help me do well at the PTQ. I opened a weak pool — the person verifying the registration said he was happy he didn’t have to play with it — and then ended up with that pool after it was passed left 3 times. I also had some weak draws and ended up going 0-2 drop. But before I blame everything on bad luck, let me post the pool here and see whether I might have misbuilt it. (The pool’s also up at which might be easier to work with.) How would you have built this pool? Post your builds in the comments and I’ll post my build later this week.

Akroan Horse
Bronze Sable
Burnished Hart
Flamecast Wheel
Fleetfeather Sandal
Prowler’s Helm
Traveler’s Amulet
Witches’ Eye

Battlewise Valor
2 Cavalry Pegasus
Gift of Immortality
Glare of Heresy
Gods Willing
Observant Alseid
Phalanx Leader
Scholar of Athreos
Setessan Battle Priest
Silent Artisan
Traveling Philosopher
3 Wingsteed Rider

Aqueous Form
Lost in a Labyrinth
Meletis Charlatan
Mnemonic Wall
Nimbus Naiad
Prescient Chimera
Thassa’s Bounty
Triton Shorethief
Voyage’s End

2 Asphodel Wanderer
Baleful Eidolon
Cavern Lampad
Fleshmad Steed
March of the Returned
Ordeal of Erebos
Read the Bones
Viper’s Kiss

Borderland Minotaur
2 Boulderfall
2 Demolish
Dragon Mantle
Fanatic of Mogis
Firedrinker Satyr
Flamespeaker Adept
Lightning Strike
Ordeal of Purphoros
Purphoros’s Emissary
2 Satyr Rambler
Two-Headed Cerberus
2 Wild Celebrants

2 Agent of Horizons
2 Fade into Antiquity
Karametra’s Acolyte
Leafcrown Dryad
2 Nemesis of Mortal
2 Nessian Asp
Nylea’s Disciple
Nylea’s Emissary
Nylea’s Presence
Ordeal of Nylea
2 Shredding Winds
Time to Feed
Vulpine Goliath
Warriors’ Lesson

Horizon Chimera
Spellheart Chimera
Steam Augury
Triad of Fates

Unknown Shores

THS: Maindeck flyer removal

Today, we’ll use the updated card valuations to determine whether it makes sense to maindeck Shredding Winds in Theros. (Arbor Colossus and Bow of Nylea also kill creatures with flying, but those cards are good enough to play on their other merits, so I won’t evaluate them here.)

This spreadsheet lists all the flyers in Theros. Yellow highlight means that a cards can grant flying to another creature (e.g., Cavalry Pegasus); if the text is gray instead of black, it means the card does not have flying itself (e.g., Fleetfeather Sandals). A few things stand out:

  • Shredding Winds can kill all these creatures with the exception of Prognostic Sphinx and Sentry of the Underworld (if they have WB open), a really large Wingsteed Rider, and perhaps a bestow creature enchanting an already large creature.
  • White, blue, and black will have 9, 11, and 4 creatures with flying in an average 8-person draft. Each color is shared on average by about 3 players, so a typical W/U deck will have 7 flyers and Shredding Winds will usually have a target even if you don’t seen a flyer in game 1. Every other color combination will have 5 or fewer flyers, so it doesn’t make sense to side in Shredding Winds unless you see a must-kill flyer.
  • You don’t need flyer removal against red or green since they have almost no flyers. On the artifact side, neither Anvilwrought Raptor nor Fleetfeather Sandals are particularly exciting, and you’re better off siding in artifact removal against them anyway.
  • Nessian Asp is excellent in this format and so it likely to be played by every green deck that has it. It can block and kill all of the creatures listed in the spreadsheet except Abhorrent Overlord (rare) and Ashen Rider (mythic), which are marked with an S in the Must Kill column. In addition, there are 4 other flyers marked with a Y that I consider must kill — Cavalry Pegasus (white common), Wingsteed Rider (white common), Prognostic Sphinx (blue rare), and Shipwreck Singer (U/B uncommon) — each of which will win the game eventually if left untouched. These are flyers you need to be able to kill even if you have multiple Nessian Asps. Both commons in the list are white, so it might make sense to side Shredding Winds in against W/X decks if you have other cards you need to side out, even if you haven’t seen many flyers and they are not W/U.

From the analysis above, I would say it doesn’t make sense to run Shredding Winds maindeck, but it is a great sideboard cards against decks with flyers, and it can be brought in preemptively against W/U decks which tend to have a lot of flyers, and even against other W/X decks which may have fewer flyers since white has a couple of common flyers that can take over or win the game given enough time.

THS: Maindeck artifact removal

Today, we’ll use the updated card valuations to determine whether it makes sense to maindeck artifact removal in Theros. This spreadsheet lists all the artifacts in Theros.

A quick glance at it reveals that there are only 5 bomb/exceptional artifacts, the legendary enchantment artifacts that are the weapons of the gods. A typical 8-person draft will have 2 of these 5, so you do need the ability to deal with them, but not necessarily maindeck since there’s about a 1/4 chance of facing one in any given match. Apart from these, the only artifacts that I consider good are Akroan Horse and Guardians of Meletis, although Fleetfeather Sandals and Prowler’s Helm can be scary if you have a stalled board. Even if you consider all 4 of these in addition to the weapons of the gods, there will only be an average of 9.5 of them in a typical 8-person draft, so each player will usually only have 1, and you don’t usually want to run artifact removal maindeck or even side it in just to handle a single card unless it absolutely wrecks you.

Even against an opponent with playable artifacts, you’re better off siding in removal that destroys enchantments in addition to artifacts. Fade into Antiquity, Artisan’s Sorrow, and Destructive Revelry (and perhaps even Annul), are better sideboard cards than Demolish since Theros doesn’t have many particularly scary artifacts or lands that. Even Ray of Dissolution is a better artifact removal spell than Demolish since it kills the weapons of the gods and also has many other targets. The only color that has access to artifact removal but not enchantment removal is red, and if you’re in red but not green (or blue), you’re probably better off siding in Wild Celebrants, or running them maindeck since they’re reasonable as just a 5/3 for 3 mana that may occasionally destroy an artifact. The only reason to even side in Demolish is if you don’t have enough other artifact removal, and there’s never a reason to run it maindeck unless it also destroys enchantments.

THS: Maindeck enchantment removal

When I first read through the Theros spoiler, I figured enchantment removal would be maindeckable, just as Shatter was in Mirrodin, because it was an enchantment themed set with a higher than usual number of enchantments. So in my first Theros event, I drafted enchantment removal highly and played 3 of the 5 enchantment removal spells I drafted maindeck. That didn’t work out too well. Nowadays I often go to the opposite extreme, picking enchantment removal fairly low and rarely playing any maindeck. But I’d never done any analysis to determine whether this was the right play from a statistical standpoint.

Let’s now use the updated card valuations from yesterday to determine whether it makes sense to maindeck enchantment removal in Theros. This spreadsheet lists all the enchantments in Theros, and then summarizes quality by color and rarity. The total row for each color does not sum the rows above it, but instead computes the average number of cards of that color/rarity/quality in an 8-person draft.

Even though Theros is enchantment-themed, it turns out that there aren’t actually that many bomb/exceptional enchantments in the typical draft. In fact, the average Theros actually has the same number of exceptional enchantments as the average M14 draft. While there are a lot more good (/) enchantments than there were in M14 (31 vs. 10), you don’t usually need removal for those. Of course, card quality can be different from whether you need to deal with a card. For instance, if your opponent has a bestowed Aura on a flyer, you probably lose the game in short order if you don’t deal with either the flyer or the enchantment.

Looking at the totals, it appears that white and blue (especially blue) have a disproportionate number of the exceptional enchantments in Theros. In fact, those colors have the only exceptional cards at common/uncommon: Heliod’s Emissary, Nimbus Naiad, and Thassa’s Emissary. If you’re playing against a U/x deck, it is likely you’ll want to keep your enchantment removal in even if you haven’t seen enchantments that you care about removing. If you’re playing against a W/U deck, you may even want to side in additional enchantment removal, even if you haven’t seen targets. On the other hand, you’re less likely to need enchantment removal against R/G, so you can consider siding it out if you haven’t seen good targets and have other cards you want to side in.

We still need to determine whether it makes sense to run enchantment removal maindeck. All the colors have roughly the same number of enchantments in a typical draft, and very few of them are completely unplayable, so let’s look at the grand total row. An average draft will have 55 enchantments between 8 players, or about 7 enchantments/player. If we exclude filler, unplayable, and TBD enchantme1nts, we’re still left with 40 enchantments, or 5 per player. If your opponent has 5 enchantments that you would be happy to destroy, that means you’ll usually see 1-2 enchantments in most games. That means you probably want to run 1 enchantment removal spell maindeck and relegate additional ones to the sideboard.

Sealed deck are built from 6 packs, so they have access to a lot more enchantments, an average of 10 playable ones per player. However, they’re also likely to be distributed evenly across the colors and so a player will usually only be playing 4-5 of them. On the other hand, since color choices in Sealed are dictated by the strength of a color, players are more likely to play a colors with bomb/exceptional enchantments, so the quality of these 4-5 enchantments is likely to be higher than in a draft. You probably don’t want to run more than 1 enchantment removal spell maindeck, though, since there are unlikely to be enough targets for them.

We’ll look at artifact removal tomorrow, but that is unlikely to change this conclusion since Theros has very few impressive artifacts.

THS: Updated evaluations

I’d posted my initial evaluations of the cards in Theros several weeks ago. Since then, I’ve updated several of my valuations based on experience with the format and the analysis I’ve posted here. This spreadsheet lists my current valuations and the original valuations. (Valuations that have changed are highlighted.) I’ve used the same evaluation key as before: B for bomb, + for exceptional, / for good, ~ for situationally playable and filler cards, S for sideboard cards, x for cards that are unplayable in most circumstances, and ? (TBD) for those requiring further evaluation.

Too many of my evaluations have changed for me to explain each one individually, but here’re the general themes:

  • I’ve updated several of the cards that were marked TBD based on analysis during the intervening weeks.
  • White and red cards that target creatures have gone up in my estimation because of how powerful R/W heroic decks are.
  • I value equipment less because it does not target a creature when cast, and so is often inferior to enchantments, which do target the creature.
  • I value enchantment/artifact removal less because I’ve often found myself in situations with no targets (or no good targets) on the other side of the board. I’ve marked all such cards as sideboard cards for now, but I’m going to crunch some numbers later this week to determine whether my experiences might have been atypical and whether I should perhaps start running them maindeck again.
  • I value a lot of removal less, especially expensive removal like Sip of Hemlock and Rage of Purphoros. I also value Last Breath less because the 4 life is often very relevant if you’re playing an aggressive R/W deck.
  • On the other hand, cards like Leonin Snarecaster and Heliod’s Emissary that let you deal with creatures temporarily while adding a creature to the board have gone up in my estimate.
  • I value large creatures without monstrous less, unless they have flying or very useful abilities. On the other hand, I value Nessian Asp a lot more; 4/5 and reach can completely shut down a lot of aggressive decks.
  • Heroic triggers that don’t result in a +1/+1 counter have gone down in my estimate because that does not enable those creatures to keep attacking on subsequent turns. This is especially true for white and red creatures since those colors tend to be more aggressive.

THS: Memorizing the instant-speed tricks

Most of the analysis I do here is focused on draft. However, we have a Sealed deck PTQ in Seattle this weekend, so I will use this week to focus on preparing for Sealed deck tournaments. I will try to write a post each day this week.

There are 4 important ways I prepare for Sealed PTQs:

  1. Build Sealed decks from pools, either by opening packs, using sites like to generate Sealed pools, or finding articles online that have Sealed pools. Opening packs has the advantage that you get practice with actual physical cards. You also get to practice building a deck under time constraints, and it’s easy to take the deck with you so you can play against other people and solicit opinions on your build. Using an online Sealed deck generator also lets you practice building a deck under time constraints. Many of these sites are free and allow you to play against opponents online, so it’s easier to get experience playing the deck, but it’s a bit more difficult to ask for opinions on your build. Articles have the advantage that they are often accompanied by the deck the author built from the pool, some commentary on the choices made, and how that build performed in an actual event.
  2. Play with the deck you build. This allows you to develop a sense of whether the format is fast or slow, so you can build decks accordingly and consider whether you might want to play first instead of drawing first as in most Sealed formats. You might even develop a sense of the Sealed metagame, e.g., most Scars of Mirrodin Sealed decks were R/W, so you could often maindeck cards that were particularly strong against those colors.
  3. Memorize the list of tricks (instants and creatures with flash) in the format.
  4. Figure out whether any cards that might be considered sideboard cards in a different format are playable maindeck in this format.

While #1 and #2 are very important, there are plenty of sites offering Sealed pools and analysis of possible builds. Moreover, nothing is a substitute for actually getting some experience building/playing some Sealed decks yourself. So I will focus on #3 today and #4 later this week.

2 months ago, I’d posted a list of the tricks in the set. What’s the best way to memorize this list and recall them quickly (since we don’t have the luxury of infinite time during a tournament)? I always start by making sure I know the number of tricks per color: white has 6, blue has 10, black has 7, red has 6, green has 7, and there are 3 multicolor tricks. If you ignore blue and multicolor, the rest have a pattern of 6, 7, 6, and 7, so the totals are easy enough to remember. Part of the reason it is useful to know the total number of tricks in each color is that it allow me to verify whether I’ve considered all the possibilities in certain crucial game states. When practising my recall of the tricks, it also allows me to easily determine whether I remembered all the tricks in a given color. If I didn’t, I refer to a printout I carry of the list of tricks. Doing this regularly helps me increase the speed with which I can recall the tricks available given the mana my opponent has open.

Another thing I do to help my recall of the tricks is to categorize them into 5 categories: creature removal (including bounce), non-creature removal, combat tricks, countermagic, and other (usually card draw). Removal that kills both creatures and non-creatures gets classified as creature removal since creatures are usually the most important permanents in limited formats. Combat tricks are spells that you should be aware of when entering combat, e.g., pump spells and other enhancers, spells that let you temporarily neutralize opposing creatures (tap, reduce power, Fog), and flash creatures. Here’s what available in each color:

  • White has 6: 1 creature removal spell (Last Breath), 1 non-creature removal spell (Ray of Dissolution), and 4 combat tricks (Gods Willing, Battlewise Valor, Dauntless Onslaught, and Divine Verdict, sorted from low to high converted mana cost, irrespective of rarity).
  • Blue has 10: 2 creature removal spells (Voyage’s End and Griptide), 3 combat tricks (Lost in a Labyrinth, Triton Tactics, and Breaching Hippocamp), and 5 countermagic (Annul, Swan Song, Stymied Hopes, Gainsay, and Dissolve).
  • Black has 7: 4 creature removal spells (Dark Betrayal, Pharika’s Cure, Hero’s Downfall, and Lash of the Whip) and 3 combat tricks (Boon of Erebos, Cutthroat Maneuver, and Rescue from the Underworld).
  • Red has 6: 4 creature removal spells (Spark Jolt – 1 damage, Magma Jet – 2 damage, Lightning Strike – 3 damage, and Boulderfall – 5 damage) and 2 combat tricks (Titan’s Strength and Coordinated Assault).
  • Green has 7: 1 creature removal spell (Shredding Winds), 1 non-creature removal spell (Artisan’s Sorrow), and 5 combat tricks (Warriors’ Lesson, Savage Surge, Defend the Hearth, Feral Invocation, and Boon Satyr).
  • Multicolor has 3: 1 non-creature removal (Destructive Revelry), 1 combat trick (Horizon Chimera), and 1 other (Steam Augury). Note also that the multicolor tricks all involve blue, red, or green. In fact, each of the 3 combinations (UR, RG, and GU) is represented once in the multicolor tricks.

Note that both white and green have 1 creature removal spell and 1 non-creature removal spell, with the rest being combat tricks. Black and red have 4 removal spells each, with the rest being combat tricks. Most pump in the set is +2/+2 (Battlewise Valor, Dauntless Onslaught, Savage Surge, Feral Invocation). Boon of Erebos also increases power by 2, but regenerates the creature instead of increasing its toughness. 4 of these 5 are common, while Dauntless Onslaught is uncommon. Cutthroat Maneuver and Coordinated Assault, both part of the previously mentioned cycle of uncommons, increase power by 1. Titan’s Strength is +3/+1, and the rare Boon Satyr’s bestow ability grants +4/+2.

One thing you’ve likely noticed that can help you remember some of the tricks is that each color in Theros has a combat trick at uncommon that affects 2 creature: Dauntless Onslaught, Triton Tactics, Cutthroat Maneuver, Coordinated Assault, and Warriors’ Lesson. In addition to paying attention to cycles, it can also help to think about what effects each color usually has access to, since most sets include variants on a number of staples. For instance:

  • White usually has some creature removal, enchantment removal, and pump spells. It also usually has a spell like Divine Verdict that only affects attacking and/or blocking creatures, and a spell like Gods Willing that gives a creature protection from a color.
  • Blue usually has access to bounce, neutralizing spells, flash creatures, countermagic, and card draw.
  • Black usually has removal and some tricks.
  • Red usually has removal and some pump effects, most of which enhance power and grant first strike in leiu of enhancing toughness. Red also usually has instant-speed artifact removal and a rare effect like Shunt, but neither of these are present in Theros.
  • Green usually has flyer removal, artifact and/or enchantment removal, a couple of pump spells (one of which usually offers a permanent pump, usually in the form of +1/+1 counters, but in the form of a +2/+2 enchantment this time), flash creatures, and a Fog variant.
  • Multicolor spells offer effects that are available to either color, but tend to prefer effects that are available to both colors.

Next, let’s look at the mana curves and rarities of the tricks:

  • White’s has 1 trick that costs 1 mana, 2 tricks that cost 2 mana, 2 tricks that cost 3 mana, and 1 trick that costs 4 mana. I’ll abbreviate this here as 1/2/2/1. Because of white’s distribution of tricks across rarities, white will have 13.1 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Blue has 4/3/1/2, with 18.3 tricks in the average 8-person draft (10.7 if you exclude counterspells).
  • Black has 2/1/1/1/2, with 12.3 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Red has 3/2/0/0/1 (the last one actually costs 8 mana, not 5, but this pattern is easier to remember and there aren’t very many 8-mana tricks), with 11.9 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Green has 1/2/3/1/(1) (the (1) refers to Boon Satyr’s bestow ability), with 12.3 tricks in the average 8-person draft.

From this we can tell that blue has the most tricks if you include counterspells. If you exclude counterspells, all the colors have access to roughly the same number of tricks. Blue and red also have the most number of tricks that cost 2 mana or less.

I hope these strategies help you memorize the tricks in Theros, and that this helps you do well at the tournament.

THS: Combat damage triggers

I drafted a fairly weak W/U deck last week. It had a couple of heroic creatures, 3 Fate Foretold*, and 2 Thassa’s Emissary. Once I picked up the second Emissary, I started keeping an eye out for cards that could grant them evasion. I drafted a Nimbus Naiad, took a Sea God’s Revenge over an Aqueous Form, and then didn’t see any other cards that would have allowed the Emissaries to get through.

Theros also has several other cards that have combat damage triggers, such as Daxos of Meletis (which I’ve been passed multiple times previously, but unfortunately not this time). In order to better understand how likely it is that I can make these abilities trigger, I decided to make a spreadsheet of all the cards in Theros with such triggers, all the cards that grant evasion, and also all the cards that have evasion (since Bident of Thassa and Warriors’ Lesson let you draw a card if any creatures get through), sorted by color and rarity. Here are some notes on interpreting this spreadsheet:

  • In the Combat Damage Triggers column, italics mean the card doesn’t actually have a combat damage trigger, but has the potential to do a lot of damage if it get through, usually due to Firebreathing or double strike. I have not listed creatures with monstrous, mostly because they’re too many of them and they would dominate the list. Yellow highlight means that the effect can trigger multiple times if 2+ creatures get through.
  • In the Grants Evasion column (which also includes cards that prevent an opponent’s creature(s) from blocking), italics mean that the card grants evasion as a one-time effect. This includes cards like Arena Athlete that can be triggered multiple times, but require a spell to target them for each use. Yellow highlight means that the effect grants evasion to 2+ creature.
  • In the Has Evasion column, italics mean that the creature has a form of evasion other than flying, e.g., intimidate. I have not listed effects that grant trample because it is not a reliable way to trigger these abilities. Yellow highlight means the card gives you 2+ creature with evasion.
  • Red text means that the card appears in more than one column, e.g., Nimbus Naiad has evasion but can also grant evasion to other creatures if played as an Aura.

From the spreadsheet, we can see that blue has the most cards with combat damage triggers: Thassa’s Emissary (uncommon) and Bident of Thassa (rare), as well as the multicolor cards Daxos of Meletis (W/U rare) and Medomai the Ageless (W/U mythic). Red has most of the italicized cards in this column: Dragon Mantle (common), Two-Headed Cerberus (common), and Firedrinker Satyr (rare), as well as the multicolor cards Akroan Hoplite (R/W uncommon) and Polis Crusher (R/G rare with an actual combat damage trigger).

Looking at the next column, white has 2 cards that grant evasion permanently + 1 that grants evasion temporarily (sort of; it only taps one creature). Blue has 3 + 1, black has 0 + 1, red has 1 + 2, green and multicolor have none, and there are 2 + 0 artifacts that grant evasion**. So blue also has the most number of ways to give creatures evasion.

Finally, white has 3 commons + 1 uncommon + 1 rare with evasion (8.7 in an average 8-person draft), blue has 4 + 1 + 1 (11.1), black has 2 + 1 + 1 (6.3), red has 1 uncommon and 1 mythic (1.4), green has 1 common (2.4), and there are 0 + 4 + 1 + 3 (5.8) multicolor cards with evasion and 1 uncommon artifact. Once again, blue leads the pack, but it followed very closely by white.

If you are trying to build around some cards with combat damage triggers but aren’t able to draft a monoblue deck, what is the best color to pair it with? Red seems like it would go well in this deck since it provides a few ways to give creatures evasion, multiple removal spells that allow creatures to get through, as well some creatures that can get through for a lot of damage if unblocked. In particular, Nimbus Naiad on a Two-Headed Cerberus can make short work of an opponent. And you can splash green for Warriors’ Lesson, Polis Crusher, Horizon Chimera, and perhaps Agent of Horizons.

The other possibility is W/U, either a flyers deck or a heroic deck. Since the deck runs several creatures with evasion anyway and has ways to give more creatures evasion, killing your opponent with flyers is a great plan B (or even plan A) for this deck. A heroic deck also has potential since some of the effects that grant evasion also trigger heroic. White also gives you access to Daxos of Meletis and has Gods Willing to protect your creatures once they have been given evasion or a combat damage trigger. As above, you can also splash green for Warriors’ Lesson, Horizon Chimera, and perhaps Agent of Horizons.

* This was my first time playing Fate Foretold and I was not impressed. However, that may have been because I only had a couple of heroic creatures and/or because I played against a lot of blue decks with bounce + Griptides.

** Note that Theros has only 1 Wall, so Prowler’s Helm essentially makes your creature unblockable. It’s very similar to Fleetfeather Sandals, except that it gives up haste in exchange for a near guarantee that the creature will be unblockable.