FRF: Reusing enters-the-battlefield effects

Fate Reforged brings 4 creatures that allow you to profitably reuse enters-the-battlefield (ETB) effects:

  • Temur Sabertooth is a near bomb, being a 4/3 for 4 mana and making most of your creatures unkillable if you have 1G open.
  • Flamerush Rider is exceptional, especially in an aggressive deck.
  • Jeskai Barricade is situational, since it doesn’t fit in any of the aggressive white decks, but may have a home in a controlling Abzan or 5-color deck.
  • Ambush Krotiq is usually unplayable, both because it costs 6 mana and because returning a creature to your hand is not optional.

In addition to these, there are also several blue bounce spells that let you reuse ETB abilities. While they usually target your opponent’s creatures, some of them can be profitably aimed at your own creatures, for instance, Rite of Undoing, Sage-Eye Avengers, and Supplant Form.

My evaluation of these 4 cards could be affected if the format has an usually low or high number of ETB effects. In addition to ETB effects, I am also interested in abilities that trigger when a creature is turned face up, creatures that you might want to recast later in a game (e.g., Clever Impersonator and Hooded Hydra), and a small number of other cards that cause you to want to return creatures to your hand (e.g., Lightning Shrieker and Outpost Siege), or to its owner’s hand in the case of Act of Treason. Let’s look at what’s available, to get an idea of what colors/clan we should prefer once we have 1 or more of these creatures. (Cards in italics are only really worth reusing with Temur Sabertooth since a single reuse doesn’t provide much gain.)

  • White: Arashin Cleric, Mardu Hordechief, Sandsteppe Outcast, Elite Scaleguard (uncommon), Lotus-Eye Mystics (uncommon), Mardu Woe-Reaper (uncommon), Watcher of the Roost (uncommon), Timely Hordemate (uncommon), Daghatar the Adamant (rare), Master of Pearls (rare), Mastery of the Unseen (rare), Wingmate Roc (mythic)
  • Blue: Aven Surveyor, Mistfire Weaver (uncommon), Kheru Spellsnatcher (rare), Thousand Winds (rare), Clever Impersonator (rare)
  • Black: Mardu Skullhunter, Merciless Executioner (uncommon), Orc Sureshot (uncommon), Ruthless Ripper (uncommon), Sibsig Muckdraggers (uncommon)
  • Red: Act of Treason, Lightning Shrieker, Horde Ambusher (uncommon), Mardu Heart-Piercer (uncommon), Jeering Instigator (rare), Outpost Siege (rare)
  • Green: Frontier Siege (rare), Sandsteppe Mastodon (rare), Temur War Shaman (rare), Trail of Mystery (rare), Hooded Hydra (mythic)
  • Multicolor: Efreet Weaponmaster, Ponyback Brigade, Armament Corps (uncommon), Bear’s Companion (uncommon), Icefeather Aven (uncommon), Secret Plans (uncommon), Sultai Soothsayer (uncommon), Warden of the Eye (uncommon), Siege Rhino (rare), Temur Ascendancy (rare), Sidisi Brood Tyrant (mythic)

In addition, Temur Sabertooth and Jeskai Barricade allow you to return a creature to your hand at instant speed, so you can also use them to save a creature from removal or a disadvantageous block (especially if you attacked to trigger an ability). Let’s take a look at the cards in this format that you might attack with to trigger an ability. (I won’t list the multicolor dragons here since they can rarely be blocked advantageously.)

  • Artifact: Heart-Piercer Bow (uncommon)
  • White: Wardscale Dragon (uncommon)
  • Blue: Sage-Eye Avengers (rare)
  • Black: Mardu Shadowspear (uncommon), Mardu Strike Leader (rare)
  • Red: Goblin Heelcutter, Mardu Blazebringer (uncommon), Vaultbreaker (uncommon), Alesha Who Smiles at Death (rare)
  • Multicolor: Mardu Roughrider (uncommon), Ankle Shanker (rare), Avalanche Tusker (rare), Anafenza the Foremost (mythic), Mardu Ascendancy, Narset Enlightened Master (mythic)

These 2 lists have a lot of rares/mythics, as well as a lot of cards in italics. We’re unlikely to take 1 of the 4 cards above in the hopes of opening or being passed a specific rare, and we already know to draft Temur Sabertooth if we can play him, so let’s strip out those 2 categories. That leaves us with the following cards:

  • Artifact: Heart-Piercer Bow (uncommon) = 0.6 copies in an average 8-person draft
  • White: Sandsteppe Outcast, Elite Scaleguard (uncommon), Lotus-Eye Mystics (uncommon), Timely Hordemate (uncommon), Wardscale Dragon (uncommon) = 3.1 copies
  • Blue: Aven Surveyor, Mistfire Weaver (uncommon) = 1.9 copies
  • Black: Mardu Skullhunter, Merciless Executioner (uncommon), Orc Sureshot (uncommon), Sibsig Muckdraggers (uncommon) = 2.8 copies
  • Red: Act of Treason, Goblin Heelcutter, Lightning Shrieker, Mardu Blazebringer (uncommon), Mardu Heart-Piercer (uncommon), Vaultbreaker (uncommon) = 5.8 copies
  • Multicolor: Efreet Weaponmaster, Ponyback Brigade, Armament Corps (uncommon), Bear’s Companion (uncommon), Icefeather Aven (uncommon), Secret Plans (uncommon), Sultai Soothsayer (uncommon), Warden of the Eye (uncommon) = Abzan has 0.6 copies, Jeskai has 2.2, Mardu has 1.6, Sultai and Temur have 1.8 each (I’m counting the 2 U/G uncommons in both Sultai and Temur)

Red has by far the most cards that combo with the 4 creatures, although a number of them are not ETB effects but finishers like Act of Treason and Lightning Shrieker. Those don’t pair well with the already expensive Ambush Krotiq, and while they might pair better with Jeskai Barricade in a R/W, Jeskai, or Mardu deck, those decks are too aggressive to want to play a 0/4 creature. On the other hand, while green has both Temur Sabertooth and Ambush Krotiq, it has no good ETB effects to pair with them at common/uncommon. This probably means that Ambush Krotiq is just as unplayable as we initially anticipated. There’s no clear color combination that maximizes Temur Sabertooth, but you probably shouldn’t be trying to build your deck around 1, or even 2, copies of the card. I think the main outcome of this exercise is that we now have a fairly comprehensive list of all the cards in the format that combo with Temur Sabertooth and Flamerush Rider.

Finally, let’s take a brief look at the artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers you might want to return to your hand, since Rite of Undoing lets you return any nonland permanent. The playable ones are Singing Bell Strike, Cloudform (uncommon), Lightform (uncommon), Rageform (uncommon), Sage’s Reverie (uncommon), Suspension Field (uncommon), Abzan Ascendancy (rare), and planeswalkers (mythics) after using their -N abilities.

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KTK/FRF: Mnemonics for tricks

I’d posted a spreadsheet of the combined instant-speed removal/tricks in Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged a few weeks ago. However, I found it less useful than I’d expected. Even though it gets rid of the chaff and several categories of effects that are less relevant to limited, there are still 72 effects left (although some spells appear in the list more than once if they have multiple effects). Not only is that a lot to memorize, it’s nearly impossible to recall all the possibilities in the middle of a game, especially if you’re playing under time constraints.

However, while I was studying the list in preparation for GP San Jose, I noticed there were several patterns that, taken together, cover almost all the different effects. The cards will sometimes appear in more than one place in this list if they have more than 1 effect or the effect falls into more than 1 category; if the same mode of a modal spell appears more than once, each instance will be in italics. I will list rarities in parentheses after the number of spells in the category to get a sense of how common each of these effects is, with C meaning common, U meaning uncommon, R meaning rare, and M meaning mythic, so CCU means that there are 2 commons and 1 uncommon that provide this type of effect. These are listed in order of increasing rarity, and are not in the same order as the spell summaries that follows. All descriptions are very approximate. Let’s break down the tricks by categories:

  • 12 pump (7 commons, 5 uncommons): Assuming X is the converted mana cost of the spell,
    • 3 (CUU), all green, give +X/+X to 1 creature: +2/+2 & trample (1G), +3/+3 & trample (2G), +6/+6 (5G – delve)
    • 3 (CCU) give X/2 (rounded up) +1/+1 counters to 1 creature: 1 counter & protection (1W), 2 counters distributed across 1-2 creatures (WBG), 2 counters & untap (3G)
    • 2 (CU), all white, give X-1 +1/+1 counters to the creature with the lowest toughness: bolster 1 & opponent sacs an enchantment (1W), bolster 2 & gain 4 life (2W)
    • 3 (CCU), all with red in their casting cost, give all your creatures +M/+N, where M+N = X-1: +1/+1 & lifelink (URW), +2/+0 to attacking (2R), +2/+1 & untap (2RW)
    • 1 (C) gives +1/+0 & draw a card (W )
  • 9 flash creatures (mostly uncommons, with only one common):
    • 4 have a combined power (and usually also a combined toughness) 1 less than the converted mana cost (CUUM): 2 1/1 Warriors with first strike until EOT (RWB), manifest 2 (3UG), 4/4 (4R), 6/7 with prowess (5UU)
    • 5 remaining (UUURM): 0/4 wall that may bounce your creature (1W), exile your own creature and manifest the top card (1U), 3 1/1 Warriors (4W), 6/6 (2GUR), bounce creature and copy it (4UU)
  • 5 untap effects (CCCUR), most of which have G or RW in their casting cost: untap & draw a card (1U), untap & reach + deathtouch (1G), 2 +1/+1 counters & untap (3G), untap all & +2/+1 (2RW), untap & flying + double strike (3URW)
  • 3 fog (UUU): Fog, only opponents’ creatures if ferocious (1G), redirect all damage from you and your permanents to a creature (5W), -4/-0 to opponents’ creatures & draw a card (4U)
  • 2 falter (UR): creatures with power <= 3 can't block, untap & flying + double strike

A number of other effects require a particular color:

  • White:
    • 3 save a creature for 1W (CUU): +1/+1 counter & protection, indestructible, 0/4 wall that may bounce your creature
    • 2 kill attackers/blockers for 2W (CC): destroy attacker, 5 damage to attacker/blocker
    • 3 power/toughness-based removal (CUU): power >= 3 (WBG), power >= 4 (3W), toughness >= 4 (1W)
  • Blue:
    • 6 bounce/Repel (CCUUUR): bounce creature (1U), Repel attacker/blocker (2U), Repel creature (URW), bounce your nonland and opponent’s nonland (4U – delve), bounce 1-2 creatures (4UU), bounce creature and copy it (4UU)
    • 3 freeze (CCR): freeze & draw a card (2U), freeze 1-2 (4UU – delve), tap X, or freeze X if ferocious (XU)
  • Black: 7 removal (CCCUUUR): 2 damage & gain 2 life (2B), kill creature with 4 toughness (4 damage for RWB, -4/-4 for 4B), kill creature (kill permanent for 2WB, 4B – delve, colored for 4B, monocolored for BGU)
  • Red: 7 removal (CCCUUUU): 2 damage (R, also tap another creature for 1UR, also draw a card for 3UR), 3 damage (R + sacrifice creature), 3-5 damage (3R), 4 damage (RWB), 6 damage (4R)
  • Green:
    • 2 fight (CU): toughness-based fight (1BG), +1/+1 & fight (GUR)
    • 3 flyer removal (CUU): untap & reach + deathtouch (1G), kill flyer (3G), X damage to all flyers (XG)

That leaves only 10 tricks that aren’t covered above (or with an effect that isn’t the focus of one of the categories above):

  • 2 white (CU): tap creature & draw a card (1W), damage to creature equal to damage that would be dealt to you and your permanents (5W)
  • 1 blue (U): exile creature & manifest card (1U)
  • 3 red (CUU): double strike, and trample if ferocious (1R), +2/+0 and first strike, at instant speed if ferocious (2R), add R to your mana pool for each attacker you control & attackers get Firebreathing (2R)
  • 4 multicolor (CURR): damage equal to # of creatures you control & gain that much life (1WB), destroy blocker & trample (RW), redirect damage from source to its controller (RW), 2 damage to each opponent and they sacrifice a creature with the highest power among creatures they control (RWB)

KTK/FRF: GP San Jose recap

Last week, I posted our pool from GP San Jose, the decks we built, and how I would build them today. We had a ridiculous pool, with Duneblast, Elite Scaleguard, Sage-Eye Avengers, 2 Sagu Maulers, Silumgar the Drifting Death, and several other powerful cards, but dropped at 5-2-1 and finished in 94th place. I’m unsure whether we misbuilt because my teammates wanted to follow a fairly ad hoc method for building our decks, or due to tournament time pressure. (While I’d built a few team sealed pools with local players under timed conditions and with deck registration, neither of my teammates had.)

Teaming with friends that live near a GP makes certain things easier: there’s less worry that they will cancel because they can’t find cheap flights, and you may also not have to pay for a hotel room. However, it makes it far more difficult to practice together and agree upon an approach to building a pool. In addition, not having to pay airfare could result in them treating the event as just another local tournament, so they may approach the event less seriously than you do. I would still rather play with friends and do poorly than play with good players and do well, and made the conscious decision to team with Chris again, even though he was having a wisdom tooth surgery a week before the tournament. But I was still disappointed with the outcome since I believe we could have been among the 7.2% of teams that made day 2 with the pool we opened.

Here are our results for each round, what each opponent was playing, and what the game results were. (I was playing U/G/r/b ramp in seat A, Alan was playing B/G/w control in seat B, and Chris was playing R/W aggro in seat C.)

  1. Elliott Ballard Ballard (211th place after the swiss): 2-0 vs Jeskai, 1-0 vs Mardu, 2-1 vs Sultai
  2. Modarressi Diamond Twerdahl (377th place): 2-0 vs Mardu, 2-0 vs Abzan, 2-1 vs Temur
  3. Martin Martin Martin (363rd place): 2-0 vs Temur, 2-0 vs Sultai, 2-0 vs Mardu
  4. Cipriano Nabi Pannell (29th place): 2-1 vs Abzan, 2-1 vs Mardu, 0-2 vs Temur
  5. Sperling Williams Rietzl (2nd place): 2-0 vs Temur, 0-2 vs Sultai, 0-2 vs Mardu
  6. Dentith Hardin Mulligan (172nd place): 2-1 vs U/B, 2-1 vs R/W, 0-2 vs Abzan
  7. Ma Cerone Post (96th place): 1-1-1 vs Jeskai (game 1 took 28 minutes and ended with me running out of cards in my library), 1-2 vs Abzan, 2-1 vs Sultai
  8. Rubin Boccio Bragg III (5th place): 1-2 vs Jeskai, 1-2 vs Sultai, 2-1 vs Mardu

Some observations gleaned from this very small sample size:

  • All but one of the teams we faced had each player playing a 3-color deck, although the third color was frequently a splash.
  • The decks we faced most often were Mardu (6 times) and Sultai (5 times). We faced Jeskai the least (3 times), all in seat A, and both my losses were to that deck.
  • None of the teams we played had a color that was either unplayed or played by all 3 players. (I wasn’t keeping track of which colors were main colors and which ones were splashes, so it is possible that some teams may have had 1 or even more colors that were not main colors in any deck.)
  • Black was the most popular color among our opponents, occurring in 16 decks. White and red appeared in 14 decks, and blue and green appeared in 13. (Again, this does not distinguish main colors from splash colors, and black may have been more in more decks because multiple decks were splashing black removal while fewer decks were running it as a main color.)
  • There was no pattern to which deck the middle players were playing. Alan (our player B) faced 2 Abzan, 2 Mardu, 3 Sultai, and 1 R/W deck. (We’d talked about putting the deck that could beat aggro in the middle based on some of my observations, but ended up with Abzan control in our middle seat because that’s what Alan decided to play.)

KTK/FRF: GP San Jose team sealed pool

Team Merchant-Comer-Luhrs had a decent run at GP San Jose. We won our first 4 matches before losing to Sperling-Williams-Reitzl (the eventual runners up). Our other loss was in round 8 to Rubin-Boccio-Bragg (#5 after the swiss), and that plus our draw in the previous round knocked us out of contention for day 2. 5-2-1 drop was disappointing after the preparation we’d put in, although we still placed 94th out of 656 teams.

I’ll talk more about the tournament itself in a subsequent post, but first I’m curious how others would have built our sealed pool. (The pool is also posted on TappedOut if you find that easier to work with.) I’ll post our build in the comments later in the week.

Land
Bloodfell Caves
Dismal Backwater
Frontier Bivouac
2 Jungle Hollow
Nomad Outpost
Rugged Highlands
Scoured Barrens
3 Swiftwater Cliffs
2 Thornwood Falls
Wooded Foothills

Artifact
Abzan Banner
Lens of Clarity
Mardu Banner
Temur Banner

White
Abzan Falconer
2 Ainok Bond-Kin
Alabaster Kirin
Firehoof Cavalry
2 Kill Shot
Mardu Hateblade
Sage-Eye Harrier
Smite the Monstrous
War Behemoth
Watcher of the Roost
3 Abzan Advantage
Abzan Runemark
Abzan Skycaptain
Arashin Cleric
Aven Skirmisher
2 Dragon Bell Monk
Elite Scaleguard
2 Great-Horn Krushok
Jeskai Barricade
Mardu Woe-Reaper

Blue
Crippling Chill
2 Embodiment of Spring
2 Glacial Stalker
Jeskai Elder
Jeskai Windscout
Mistfire Weaver
Mystic of the Hidden Way
Scaldkin
Scion of Glaciers
Weave Fate
Whirlwind Adept
2 Aven Surveyor
Cloudform
Enhanced Awareness
2 Lotus Path Djinn
Monastery Siege
Neutralizing Blast
2 Rakshasa’s Disdain
Reality Shift
Refocus
Rite of Undoing
Sage-Eye Avengers
Will of the Naga
Write into Being

Black
2 Debilitating Injury
2 Mardu Skullhunter
Mer-Ek Nightblade
2 Molting Snakeskin
Raiders’ Spoils
2 Rite of the Serpent
Ruthless Ripper
Shambling Attendants
Sidisi’s Pet
Throttle
Alesha’s Vanguard
Dark Deal
2 Diplomacy of the Wastes
Douse in Gloom
Gurmag Angler
2 Hooded Assassin
Mardu Strike Leader
Reach of Shadows
Sibsig Muckdraggers
Sultai Emissary
Sultai Runemark
3 Typhoid Rats

Red
Ainok Tracker
Barrage of Boulders
Bloodfire Mentor
Bring Low
Crater’s Claws
Goblinslide
Leaping Master
Summit Prowler
3 Swift Kick
Trumpet Blast
2 Bathe in Dragonfire
Collateral Damage
Defiant Ogre
Goblin Heelcutter
Gore Swine
Humble Defector
2 Lightning Shrieker
Mardu Runemark
Rageform
2 Smoldering Efreet
Vaultbreaker

Green
Archers’ Parapet
Awaken the Bear
Hooting Mandrills
Meandering Towershell
Pine Walker
Sagu Archer
2 Scout the Borders
Smoke Teller
Abzan Kin-Guard
2 Ainok Guide
Ambush Krotiq
2 Archers of Qarsi
Destructor Dragon
Feral Krushok
Formless Nurturing
Frontier Mastodon
Frontier Siege
2 Map the Wastes
Return to the Earth
Shamanic Revelation
Sudden Reclamation
Temur Sabertooth
Whisperer of the Wilds

Multicolor
Abzan Guide
Armament Corps
Bear’s Companion
Death Frenzy
Duneblast
Efreet Weaponmaster
Kin-Tree Invocation
Master the Way
Ponyback Brigade
2 Sagu Mauler
Trap Essence
Winterflame
Cunning Strike
3 Ethereal Ambush
Silumgar, the Drifting Death