MM2: Evaluations by archetype

(Quick note: I’m walking in Relay for Life tomorrow to raise money for cancer research. My team will have at least one person walking around the track at any given time for 16 continuous hours. If you’d like to support me, you can make a donation on my fundraising page. All amounts raised will go to the American Cancer Society, and help in the fight to eliminate cancer.)

This is my initial evaluation of the cards in Modern Masters 2015. Since these cards are reprints, we already have have a good sense of how good they are in general, so I will focus on how good they are in the various archetypes. The general column indicates how good I think the card is in a generic deck playing the appropriate color(s); if there is an evaluation in an archetype column, I believe the card is better (or sometimes worse) than the general evaluation, e.g., Fortify is filler in most decks, but exceptional in G/W tokens. If my evaluation in the archetype column is the same as in the general column, I believe the card is slightly better in that archetype, but not sufficiently better to be bumped up to a higher valuation.

For this evaluation, I’m only going to consider the archetypes defined by the 10 color pairs:

  • W/U artifacts
  • U/B prolferate: I think this archetype is too slow to be viable in this format, but am including it for completeness. In practice, G/U graft splashing Spread the Sickness and Grim Affliction is probably a better option.
  • B/R bloodthirst
  • R/G domain/sunburst: Red and green have the only 2 domain cards and the only 2 landcyclers in the set. Red also has 2 creatures that get better if you have access to WUBRG, and this deck can usually also make the best use of the sunburst cards and Etched Monstrosity as well as splash bombs/removal from other colors. If you have multiple cards with domain, you should probably deprioritize bouncelands.
  • G/W tokens/convoke
  • W/B spirits
  • U/R elementals: Relies on Smoketeller + large blue Elementals, and Soulbright Flamekin + Incandescent Soulstoke (which can combine to give your creatures +3/+0, first strike, and trample once you have 7 mana).
  • B/G sacrifice: Eldrazi Spawn tokens can be sacrificed to Bone Splinters, to grow an Algae Gharial or Scavenger Drake, or to ramp into Eldrazi.
  • R/W equipment: The set has 2 cards that get better if equipped (Sunspear Shikari and Kor Duelist), 2 more that get better if their power is increased in any manner (Bloodshot Trainee and Spikeshot Elder), and 5 double strikers (Skyhunter Skirmisher, Viashino Slaughtermaster, Boros Swiftblade, Hearthfire Hobgoblin, and Mirran Crusader).
  • G/U graft: This deck can often splash black for Grim Affliction and Spread the Sickness, since proliferate combos well with graft.

Here’re what my evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and usually also difficult to deal with or play around, e.g., large flyers or mass removal.
  • Exceptional (+): A superior card that will turn the tide in your favor, e.g., cheap unconditional removal or a 3/3 flyer for 4 mana.
  • Good (/): The bread and butter of most decks, e.g., a 2/2 flyer or a vanilla 3/3 for 3 mana.
  • Situational/Filler (~): Good in the right deck, filler in most others, e.g., a vanilla 2/2.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment removal or color hosers.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1. Some unplayable creatures can be sided in against the right deck, e.g., a vanilla 1/3 for 3 mana might still be sided in against an aggressive deck if you need more cheap creatures.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many +1/+1 counters there are in the format.

While most of my evaluations should not be a surprise, here are some where my opinion may differ from the mainstream:

  • Arrest, Narcolepsy, Pillory of the Sleeples (~): Removal auras are weaker than usual in this environment because each color has a number of cheap, maindeckable ways to neutralize them or make alternate use of the creature. Even more important, the removal auras aren’t actually good against most of the archetypes in this format. Note that I still like Oblivion Ring since it can target any nonland permaanent, and since it removes that permanent from the game.
  • Terashi’s Grasp, Smash to Smithereens, Sundering Vitae (S): Decks other than W/U artifacts and R/G domain/sunburst are expected to have an average of 2.4 playable artifacts each. Also, an 8-person draft only has 9 playable enchantments, 6 of which are removal auras that aren’t particularly good anyway.
  • Cryptic Command (B), Wrecking Ball (+), Fulminator Mage (/): I value some of these higher than others may in part because bouncing/destroying a bounceland in the early game is not something most decks can recover from.
  • Wings of Velis Vel is usually filler (~) but is quite good (/) in U/G graft because +1/+1 counters are applied on top of the 4/4 base power/toughness.
  • A few black cards are ranked higher in U/G graft because it can splash the black proliferate cards since they combo with graft creatures. Also, while Puppeteer Clique is more difficult to splash, it can be particularly good in this deck; when it returns to play with a -1/-1 counter, you can graft a +1/+1 counter onto it, which removes the -1/-1 counter and means it will return to play again the next time it dies.
  • Reassembling Skeleton (~) combos quite well with reusable sacrifice effects, especially Plagued Rusalka, Mortarpod, Drooling Groodion, and Culling Dais.

MM2: Why W/B spirit control is bad: Lessons from day 2 of GP Las Vegas, draft 2

Yesterday, I discussed some of the problems with my first draft deck on day 2 of GP Vegas: the person to my left was also in W/B spirits after first picking a Long-Forgotten Gohei, and I drafted too many removal auras and then discovered they aren’t as good in Modern Masters 2015 Limited as they are in other formats. For reference, here is my decklist from that draft.

Creatures (13):
– 1cc: Vampire Lacerator
– 2cc: Dimir Guildmage, 2 Sickle Ripper, Raise the Alarm
– 3cc: 2 Thief of Hope, Restless Apparition, Waxmane Baku, 2 Blinding Souleater
– 4cc: –
– 5cc: Scuttling Death, Hikari Twilight Guardian

Non-creatures (9):
– 1cc: Dismember, Sunlance, Apostle’s Blessing
– 2cc: Otherworldly Journey
– 3cc: 2 Pillory of the Sleepless, 3 Arrest

Lands (18): 9 Swamps, 9 Plains

Sideboard (23):
– Artifact: Alloy Myr, Runed Servitor
– White: Conclave Phalanx, Fortify, Mighty Leap, Terashi’s Grasp
– Blue: 2 AEthersnipe, Air Servant, Faerie Mechanist, Narcolepsy, Somber Hoverguard. Steady Progress, Vigean Graftmage
– Black: Bone Splinters, 2 Death Denied, Duskhunter Bat, Instill Infection, Shrivel, 2 Waking Nightmare
– Multicolored: Agony Warp

This deck has a lot of removal but lacks synergy, so maybe it wasn’t surprising that I went 1-2 with it. But I figured I’d learned some useful lessons, and was hoping to redeem myself in the second draft. That draft started with Spread the Sickness, Nameless Inversion, Blinding Souleater over Arrest, and Thief of Hope over Waxmane Baku (since it can Soulshift the Nameless Inversion). I got passed another Waxmane Baku mid-pack, and realized spirits was wide open when the first one wheeled. This time, my W/B spirits deck had less removal, but had a ton of synergy. I had 6 (six!!) Waxmane Baku, almost thrice the 2.2 you’d expect to see in a 7-person pod. I also had 2 Thief of Hope, 2 Nameless Inversion, Dismember, and Sunlance. Here’s the decklist from that draft.

Creatures (17):
– 1cc: 2 Plagued Rusalka
– 2cc: Spellskite, Reassembling Skeleton, Sickle Ripper
– 3cc: 2 Thief of Hope, 6 Waxmane Baku
– 4cc: 2 Moonlit Strider
– 5cc+: Chimeric Mass, Scuttling Death

Non-creatures (6):
– 1cc: Dismember, Sunlance
– 2cc: 2 Nameless Inversion
– 3cc: Waking Nightmare
– 4cc: –
– 5cc: Spread the Sickness

Lands (17): 9 Swamps, 8 Plains

Sideboard (22):
– Artifact: 2 Blinding Souleater, Cathodion, 2 Runed Servitor
– Colorless: 2 Ulamog’s Crusher,
– White: Skyhunter Skirmisher, 2 Spectral Procession, Terashi’s Grasp
– Blue: Tezzeret’s Gambit, 2 Wings of Velis Vel
– Black: Instill Infection, 2 Sickle Ripper, Sign in Blood, 2 Vampire Lacerator
– Green: Thrive, Tukatongue Thallid

Sickle Ripper is a speedbump against aggro decks. Reassembling Skeleton does that to a lesser degree, but also combos with Plagued Rusalka. Waking Nightmare triggers spiritcraft abilities and is a proactive answer to bombs. Everything else is good enough to not even require explanation, yet I also ended up 1-2 with this deck. While the second loss was a concession to an opponent who’d been paired down, just before I would have won, the 1 official win was once again a bye. This was obviously quite disappointing, especially since I thought I had a pretty good deck. It was lacking Kami of Ancient Law and did have a lot of creatures at 3cc, but was otherwise a model W/B spirits deck.

My first opponent was playing W/U affinity and we split the first 2 games. In game 3, my 7-card hand had 3 Swamps and 4 white spells. It was a sketchy keep, but I figured I had a decent chance of drawing a Plains or a black card. Instead I only drew Swamps and white spells until my last turn, while my opponent played Glint Hawk Idol, Cathodion, another Glint Hawk Idol, and Rusted Relic on turns 2-5, a sequence of plays that my deck would not typically be able to withstand.

My second round was a bye (both my drafts were 7-person pods). My third round opponent was playing G/W/r ramp with 4 Ulamog’s Crushers, a strategy that Waxmane Baku is particularly strong against. I conceded the match just before I would have won, since my opponent had been paired down and had a better shot at prizes and Pro Points.

So, what did I do wrong? It’s possible that I should have built a more aggressive deck, with 2 Vampire Lacerators, 2 Runed Servitors, and the remaining 2 Sickle Rippers replacing Spellskite, Reassembling Skeleton, 2 Moonlit Strider, Scuttling Death, and a land. In that deck, Thief of Hope and Waxmane Baku would hopefully serve as the nail in the coffin after an aggressive start. But I am convinced that a controlling W/B spirits deck is not a good choice for a competitive event. It may be well positioned against W/R equipment and R/G domain/ramp, but it’s too slow against the format’s aggro decks (W/U affinity, B/R bloodthirst, and U/G graft/proliferate) because they pay 2 mana for 2/2’s, while spirits usually pays 3. W/B spirits also has trouble with flyers since it has only 3 flyers of its own, none of which are at common, and has no creatures with reach.

MM2: Why removal auras are bad: Lessons from day 2 of GP Las Vegas, draft 1

Unfortunately, I scrubbed out on day 2 of GP Las Vegas. I drafted W/B spirits both drafts and went 2-4, and both my wins were actually byes 😦 I could have won my last round but conceded because my opponent had been paired down and had a better shot at prizes.

The first draft started with Dismember over Nameless Inversion, Pillory of the Sleepless over Hikari Twilight Guardian, and Arrest over Waxmane Baku, then a Blinding Souleater, and then another Arrest. At the time, I thought this was shaping up to be a pretty good draft deck. By the end of the draft, I had a 3rd Arrest, a 2nd Pillory of the Sleepless, a 2nd Blinding Souleater, and a Sunlance, but only about 6 spirits, and I didn’t have cards that could replace the spirits. I thought the deck would do well because of the extensive removal suite, but there were 3 problems.

The first was that the person to my left was also in spirits. I knew someone else at the table was playing spirits when the Waxmane Baku and a mid-pack Devouring Greed didn’t wheel, but it was too late to switch colors that close to the end of pack 1, and I didn’t realize that it was the person immediately to my left. He’d opened a Long-Forgotten Gohei and taken that pack 1, pick 1! He didn’t take the Nameless Inversion second pick (and didn’t remember what he took over it), but the 4th pick Waxmane Baku and the Devouring Greed put him solidly in W/B spirits. He had some reasonable spirits and a couple of Ghostly Changelings to help trigger their abilities.

The second problem is that Arrest, Pillory of the Sleepless, and the other removal auras (Narcolepsy, and to a lesser extent, Oblivion Ring) are not actually that good in this format. Each color has a number of cheap, maindeckable ways to neutralize them or make alternate use of the creature: white has Apostle’s Blessing, Otherworldly Journey, Kami of Ancient Law, and Moonlit Strider, blue has a number of bounce spells plus AEthersnipe (although at least those require them to spend mana to recast the creature), black has Bone Splinters and Plagued Rusalka, and green has Vines of Vastwood. There’s also Terashi’s Grasp and Sundering Vitae in postboard games. Red is the only color that doesn’t have good answers to the removal auras.

Even more important, the removal auras aren’t actually good against most of the archetypes in this format. In my opinion, they’re only really good against B/R bloodthirst, R/G domain/ramp, and to a lesser extent, U/R elementals.

  • W/U affinity: Disabled artifact creatures still help with affinity/metalcraft. Also, equipment can turn a different creature into a bigger threat.
  • W/B spirits: Thief of Hope’s triggers continue to occur, and ki counters accumulate on Waxmane Baku until they find a Kami of Ancient Law or Moonlit Strider. It sometimes helps that the removal auras don’t put the creature into the graveyard, but the deck often has Plagued Rusalka and Bone Splinters.
  • W/R equipment: They just move their equipment to another creature.
  • W/G tokens: You don’t usually want to arrest a 1/1 token, so the removal auras are only good against their larger convoke creatures and Scion of the Wild. However, W/G has access to both the white and the green protection spells, so you might have a difficult time keeping the creature disabled.
  • U/B proliferate: Unsure, since I haven’t actually seen anyone play a U/B proliferate deck.
  • U/R elementals: Incandescent Soulstoke and AEthersnipe are problematic, but this is good against some of their other cards.
  • U/G graft: Disabled creatures can continue to graft their +1/+1 counters onto your other creatures.
  • B/R bloodthirst: Removal auras are good against this deck.
  • B/G sacrifice: This deck runs Bone Splinters, Plagued Rusalka, Drooling Groodion, and other cards that allow them to sacrifice the disabled creature profitably. It might be worth it if their plan is to use Eldrazi Spawn tokens to accelerate into Eldrazi.
  • R/G domain/ramp: Removal auras are good against this deck.

    • The third problem is that I played poorly. My first opponent appeared to be playing Jund, although I suspect there might have been some Plains and Islands in the deck because he had at least 2 Dragonsoul Knights and 2 Tribal Flames. I won game 1 and had control of game 2 until I misplayed. The first time he went to attack with his Dragonsoul Knight, I tapped it with my Blinding Souleater. On subsequent turns, he declined to attack with it, so I was tapping it on his end step. After a couple of turns of this, he announced an attack step and I just automatically tapped his Dragonsoul Knight without thinking about why he was declaring an attack when he hadn’t been doing so previously. It should have occurred to me that he might have drawn Vines of Vastwood, and in that case I would have been better off just blocking with the Souleater. The Vines of Vastwood took me from 10 to 4, and he drew 2 Tribal Flames to kill me over the next 2 turns. Another possible mistake in this game was that I had an Arrest in hand and maybe I should have played that on the Dragonsoul Knight so I could attack with the Blinding Souleater in addition to my 2/2, since the Souleater could probably neutralize the next creature they played.

      Then I misplayed twice more in game 3 to punt the match. My opponent had a fast start that got me to 4 life, but I was starting to wrest control back. On turn 7, I had 6 lands and Thief of Hope on the table, and Pillory of the Sleepless, Plains, and Swamp in my hand, but didn’t have an answer for his 3/3 Chimeric Mass. I normally advocate never holding back more than 1 land, but I decided to hold back and not play a land that turn, hoping he would think I had a trick. He played a 2/2 on his turn. On my turn I drew a Conclave Phalanx, played Pillory on the Knight and then tapped 4 lands and the Thief of Hope to play the Conclave Phalanx, going from 4 to 6 life. He cast Sundering Vitae on my end step and then played Goblin War Paint on his 2/2 and attacked. If I chumped with my Phalanx, I would not have had any good blocks the following turn, so I went to 2 life and he had a Tribal Flames to finish me off the next turn.

      My opponent had sided in 2 Sundering Vitaes against me, and cast both of them in both our postboard games, usually immediately after I cast a removal aura, so he did get a little lucky. But this was definitely a winnable matchup against a mediocre deck and an opponent who also misplayed a few times.

      Unfortunately, I then got paired against the other spirits deck. My removal auras were useless against him since he still got his spirit triggers and had Kami of Ancient Law and Bone Splinters (which is extra good with soulshift). I sided out all 5 of my removal auras for game 2, but lost to Long-Forgotten Gohei.

      I received a bye the next round and so ended the first draft at 1-2.