ORI: Memorizing the instant-speed tricks

I usually memorize the tricks in draft formats I play, so I can quickly determine what plays are available to my opponent given the mana they have open. I typically break tricks down into 5 categories:

  • Instant-speed creatures: Flash creatures, token generators, and spells that let you play reatures at instant speed.
  • Creature removal: This includes bounce, tapping, and other temporary removal.
  • Pump/protection: Pump spells primarily affect combat by giving a creature +M/+N, while protection spells are primarily used to save a creature from removal by giving it hexproof or protection from a color. However, +M/+N can save creatures from removal, and protection from a color can help creatures survive combat, so I’ve combined them.
  • Sideboard cards: This includes color hosers, artifact and enchantment removal, and conditional removal (e.g., Plummet, which only kills flyers). You don’t usually need to play around them in game 1.
  • Other: Everything else, including counterspells, card draw, and life gain. You may want to play around counterspells on occasion, and you may sometimes want to play around lifegain if you’re planning an alpha strike, but you don’t usually need to play around the rest.

This table shows the count of tricks in each category by color. Note that this count combines all rarities, since the primary purpose of this table is to help you remember the tricks in the set so you can quickly enumerate the relevant ones. If a card belongs to multiple categories, it will be counted in the leftmost column, e.g., Aerial Volley is listed under Sideboard Cards, even though it is also a removal spell.

TOTAL Sideboard Cards Instant-Speed Creatures Creature Removal/ Bounce Pump/ Protection Other Spells in “Other” Category
White 7 1 2 2 2
Blue 13 3 3 1 6 = 5 counterspells (Negate, Clash of Wills, Psychic Rebuttal, Calculated Dismissal, Bone to Ash) + 1 card draw (Artificer’s Epiphany)
Black 4 2 2
Red 6 1 4 1
Green 5 1 3 1 = Reclaim
Multicolor 2 2
TOTAL 37 3 7 11 9 7

Let’s examine this table and see what we can learn. We’ll ignore the Sideboard and Other categories for most purposes, since they are encountered less frequently.

  • There are 27 relevant tricks in the set: 40% are removal, 33% are pump/protection spells, and 17% are instant-speed creatures.
  • Of these, blue has no tricks that cost 1 mana. White, black, and green have 1 each, while red has 2. White’s tricks all cost 2 or less, except for its instant-speed creatures. All the black instant-speed removal spells cost 5 mana.
  • All the instant-speed creatures in the set require white and/or blue mana.
    • White has 2 instant-speed creatures, blue has 3, and W/U and U/G have 1 each.
    • The monocolored creatures are all rares other than Nivix Barrier, and are either 2/2’s or X/4’s.
    • The multicolored creatures are both uncommons and are X/3’s.
    • Excluding the largely unplayable Nivix Barrier, an 8-person draft will have an average of only 3.4 instant-speed creatures, so we don’t need to worry about them too much. There are also 2 instant-speed spells that can untap creatures in this format, but Enshrouding Mist only untaps a renowned creature and Bounding Krasis is a multicolor uncommon.
    • All 7 of these creatures also have additional effects when they enter the battlefield; Hixus Prison Warden and Harbinger of the Tides double as creature removal, Gideon’s Phalanx, Mizzium Meddler, Nivix Barrier, and Thunderclap Wyvern double as pump/protection, and Bounding Krasis taps/untaps a creature.
  • Other than the 4 flash creatures and a sideboard card (Hallowed Moonlight), the rest of the tricks are commons and uncommons.
  • Most colors have 4 removal + pump/protection spells, except red which has 5, and green which has 3. White and black both have 2 in each category. Blue and red have 1 pump/protection spell each (Hydrolash and Titan’s Strength), with the rest being removal. Predictably, green has 3 pump/protection (Aerial Volley is in the Sideboard category since it is unlikely to be playable maindeck).
  • There are 12 instant-speed removal spells. The red ones can kill creatures from 2-5 toughness, other than Ravaging Blaze which can kill larger creatures if you have enough mana. The rest are capable of handling creatures of any size.
    • 2-3 toughness: Fiery Impulse
    • 4 toughness: Chandra’s Fury
    • 5 toughness: Fiery Conclusion (uncommon)
    • X toughness: Ravaging Blaze (uncommon)
    • Any toughness: Celestial Flare, Swift Reckoning (uncommon), Disperse, Send to Sleep, Turn to Frog (uncommon), Unholy Hunger, Cruel Revival (uncommon). The 2 instant-speed creatures that double as creature removal (Hixus Prison Warden and Harbinger of the Tides) can also handle creatures of any size.
  • All pump/protection spells other than Hydrolash are commons. In addition, many of the instant-speed creatures, have a pump/protection effect when they enter the battlefield.
    • The pump spells are fairly well spread across the spectrum: Touch of Moonglove gives +1/+0 (and deathtouch), Enshrouding Mist gives +1/+1, Mighty Leap gives +2/+2, Titan’s Strength gives +3/+1, Titanic Growth gives +4/+4, and Might of the Masses gives +N/+N where N is the number of creatures you control. Among the instant-speed creatures, Thunderclap Wyvern (uncommon) gives all other flyers on its side +1/+1. That is also the only instant-speed pump spell that affects multiple creatures.
    • Hydrolash (uncommon) and Vine Snare are Fog effects. Among the instant-speed creatures, Nivix Barrier gives a single creature -4/-0.
    • The only protection-only spell is Dark Dabbling, which regenerates a creatures (or regenerates all your creatures if you have spell mastery). Enshrouding Mist also doubles as a protection spell since it prevents all damage to the targeted creature. Among the instant-speed creatures, Gideon’s Phalanx (rare) can make your creatures indestructible, while Mizzium Meddler (rare) can change a spell/ability’s target to itself.
  • The 3 Sideboard tricks include artifact removal, flyer removal, and a spell that hurts reanimation/token strategies.
  • The 7 Other tricks include 5 counterspells, a card draw spell, and Reclaim.
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