BFZ: The exile/process deck

I recently drafted a U/B exile/process deck with 6 ingest creatures, no other exile effects, and 7 processors. Here’s the decklist:

Creatures (18):
– 2cc: Fathom Feeder, 3 Culling Drone
– 3cc: 2 Benthic Infiltrator, Eldrazi Skyspawner, Hagra Sharpshooter
– 4cc: 3 Murk Strider, Mind Raker, Silent Skimmer
– 5cc: Ulamog’s Reclaimer, 2 Oracle of Dust, Endless One, Windrider Patrol

Non-creatures (4):
– 1cc: Clutch of Currents
– 2cc: –
– 3cc: Swarm Surge
– 4cc: Dampening Pulse
– 5cc: Demon’s Grasp

Land (18): 9 Islands, 8 Swamps, 1 Blighted Fen

I thought the deck looked strong, but I had several opening hands with no ingest creatures. Other times, my opponents would prevent me from getting my processors online by trading with or killing my Culling Drone. I still managed to go 4-1 with the deck, but only because many opponents had slow starts, which allowed me to stall the game using my X/5’s and then use Fathom Feeder, Oracle of Dust, Hagra Sharpshooter, and/or Windrider Patrol to win the long game. I also managed to curve out in a couple of games and then cast Swarm Surge for the win.

I realized that 6 exile effects is insufficient for this archetype. While the expected number of exile effects in my opening hand is 1, there’s a 29% chance of having none. Here’s a table showing the probability of having 1+ and 2+ exile effects in a 7-card hand (assuming a 40-card deck).

# exile effects in deck 1+ exile effects in hand 2+ exile effects in hand
4 55.22% 13.43%
5 63.93% 20.40%
6 71.14% 27.86%
7 77.09% 35.50%
8 81.95% 43.06%
9 85.90% 50.35%
10 89.08% 57.23%
11 91.63% 63.60%
12 93.65% 69.40%
13 95.24% 74.60%
14 96.47% 79.18%

Given these numbers, and given that opponents may be able to kill my ingest creatures, I’d like to have 9+ exile effects the next time I draft this archetype. Let’s take a look at the playable exile effects in the format to determine whether this is a reasonable expectation. The table below categorizes them, as well as process effects, by rarity and whether the effect is reusable. Within each category, cards are sorted by color and then mana cost. Exile effects with a strikethough are ones I believe can’t be relied on to exile a card; for one-time exile effects, they also need be able to exile a card on curve (i.e., once you have the mana needed to cast the card).

Some observations:

  • The best exile and process effects are both in blue. While most exile/process decks will usually be U/B or U/b, a U/r deck is possible if you get multiple copies of Touch of the Void, Vile Aggregate, and Processor Assault. A monoblue deck may even be possible on occasion since 8-person drafts have an average of 13 exile and 10 process effects that are blue or colorless.
  • I was not impressed with Culling Drone in this deck, so I would prefer to have Mist Intruder instead when I draft this archetype next, even though it is less playable in the absence of process effects. Since U/B exile/process decks should be heavier blue, this should also reduce the likelihood of having a 2-drop ingest creature that you cannot cast because you don’t have the right color of mana.
  • An 8-person draft has 6.5 reusable and 11.6 one-time exile effects that are playable in U/B. If you want to have 9 exile effects in a U/B exile/process deck, you have to play either some reusable exile effects that are unreliable and/or some one-time exile effects.
  • Most process effects are one-time, and the reusable ones are less impressive, so it should be okay to run a number of one-time exile effects. (Reusable exile effects are still better, since a single one can enable multiple one-time process cards.)
  • There are fewer process effects than exile effects (14 vs. 18 playable ones for U/B). While it makes sense to draft exile effects before process effects, you should not usually draft exile cards over powerful processors like Murk Strider with the expectation that you will be able to pick up the processors later.

BFZ: Observations on removal

Some observations on the removal in Battle for Zendikar:

  • There are 8 global removals spells. Boiling Earth is common, Rising Miasma and Breaker of Armies are uncommon, Void Winnower is mythic, and the rest are rare. Boiling Earth, Breaker of Armies, Gruesome Slaughter, and Void Winnower are not symmetric, while Rising Miasma, Radiant Flames, Aligned Hedron Network, and Planar Outburst are. The black and red spells kill creatures with toughness 1-3, while Planar Outburst and Void Winnower don’t care about a creature’s power or toughness. Half of the global removal is colorless.
  • Most of the reusable removal requires a land to enter play, an Eldrazi to attack, a creature to be sacrificed, or a significant mana investment. Some of the other themes in the set also have 1 associated piece of reusable removal: a colorless creature or an Ally entering play, a card being processed, or reuse based on the number of colors of mana used to cast the spell.
  • There are only 3 removal auras: Tightening Coils, Stasis Snare, and Quarantine Field. (The latter 2 are not actually auras, but function very similarly to them.) Apart from those, Aligned Hedron Network and Void Winnower are the only pieces of removal that have to remain in play for the effect to continue.
  • Looking at removal by color:
    • There are 9 colorless removal spells: 4 are global removal, 2 affect multiple targets, and 3 are reusable.
    • White has 1 global removal spell, 2 spells that affect multiple targets, and 1 reusable removal spell. Its removal suite includes 2 spells that can only be used during combat and 2 more that don’t care about the creature’s size (Sheer Drop and Stasis Snare). Many of white’s removal spells are better in a controlling deck since an aggressive deck prefers spells that remove untapped creatures before they can block.
    • Blue has only 1 removal spell that affects more than 1 creature, but has 6 reusable tap effects, which is usually the domain of white. It has only 1 permanent creature removal spell (which steals a creature), and doesn’t have the usual aura that can keep a creature tapped. Unlike in most sets, there are no instant-speed bounce or repulse effects.
    • Black has 1 global removal spell, 1 spell that affects multiple creatures, and 2 reusable removal spells. Black can kill larger creatures than in some other sets. Demon’s Grasp kills 5-toughness creatures, and Bone Splinters and Grip of Desolation don’t care about a creature’s toughness.
    • Red has 2 global removal spells, 2 spells that affect more than 1 creature, and 5 reusable removal spells. Most red removal that does a fixed amount of damage usually does 1-3 damage; the only exceptions are Serpentine Spike (4 damage) and Processor Assault (5 damage, but it also requires processing a card). In addition, Outnumber does damage equal to the number of creatures you control, Stonefury deals damage equal to the number of lands you control, Rolling Thunder deals X damage, and Barrage Tyrant deals damage equal to the power of another sacrificed creature. Borrowing creatures at instant-speed is back, this time at 5 mana.
    • Green has a fight spell, a flyer removal spell, and an artifact/enchantment/land removal spell, all at common.
    • There is only 1 multicolor card that affects more than 1 target, a rare that resembles Jilt with kicker. All multicolor removal spells require either blue or green mana.

BFZ: List of removal

This is a list of all the removal in Battle for Zendikar, divided into permanent creature removal, temporary creature removal (such as bounce, tap, and falter effects), non-creature removal, and off-battlefield removal (hand, stack, and graveyard). The column labeled T (to the right of the permanent creature removal column) indicates how tough a creature the removal can handle; if there is no number in that column, the removal is independent of the creature’s toughness. Conditional removal is indicated after the card name.

Italics indicates that one or more permanents have to remain in play for the effect to continue. Bold indicates a reusable or ongoing effect. Yellow highlight indicates that multiple targets are affected. Red highlight indicates mass removal that you may be able to avoid overextending into. Within each color/rarity, cards are ordered by how tough a creature they can kill, then by converted mana cost.

Unlike the list of tricks, this list does not try to provide an abbreviated description of the effect, but just references how it affect the targeted permanents/players. Here’s how to interpret those effects:

  • Abbreviations used: A (artifact), attkr (attacker), blkr (blocker), borrow (untap & gain control until end of turn; the permanent gains haste), bounce (return to owner’s hand), bury (destroy & it cannot be regenerated), C (creature), CMC (converted mana cost), counter when used as a verb (counter a spell), dmg (damage), draw X (draw X cards), E (enchantment), ETB (enters the battlefield), flicker (exile, then return to the battlefield), flyer (creature with flying), freeze X (tap X and it doesn’t untap next turn), gain X (gain X life), GY (graveyard), I (instant), L (land), loot X (draw X cards, then discard X cards), lose X (lose X life), mill N (put N cards from a library into a graveyard), opp (opponent), opp’s X (X controlled by opponent), P (player or power, depending on context), prot (protection), PW (planeswalker), raise (return card from your graveyard to your hand), reanimate (return card from the graveyard to the battlefield), redirect X dmg from A to B (next X dmg that would be dealt to A is dealt to B instead), regen (regenerate), S (sorcery), sac (sacrifice), steal (gain control of permanent), T (toughness), your X (X you control).
  • Effects (+X/+Y, -X/-Y, hexproof, first strike, prot from a color, etc.) last until end of turn unless specified otherwise.
  • Effects only target creatures unless otherwise specified, e.g., X dmg without any qualifiers means that the effect does X damage to any creature. If the effect also targets players, that won’t be mentioned here.
  • Descriptions sometimes mention other spells to avoid lengthy descriptions.

BFZ: 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 quickly enumerate the relevant tricks in a given game situation. If a card belongs to multiple categories, it will be counted in the leftmost column, e.g., Plummet is listed under Sideboard Cards, even though it is also a removal spell. One exception is that spells with awaken are listed twice, once in the column they belong in when cast for their usual mana cost, and again after a “+” sign in the Instant-Speed Creatures column.

TOTAL Sideboard Cards Instant-Speed Creatures Creature Removal/ Bounce Pump/ Protection Other Spells in “Other” Category
Colorless 2 2
White 8+1 0+1 4 4
Blue 7+1 1+1 1 5 = 4 counterspells (Dispel, Horribly Awry, Spell Shrivel, Scatter to the Winds) + 1 card draw (Anticipate)
Black 4 1 2 1 = Altar’s Reap
Red 5 1 3 1
Green 5 1 1 2 1 = Natural Connection
Multicolor 2 1 1
TOTAL 33+2 3 2+2 13 8 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 25 relevant tricks in the set: 13 removal, 8 pump/protection spells, and 4 instant-speed creatures (2 of which are instants with awaken). Of these, a counterspell with awaken and a multicolor removal spell are the only rares, while the rest are commons and uncommons.
  • White and red each have a relevant 1-mana trick. White has 2 relevant 2-mana tricks, while red and green each have 1. All of these are commons. Blue’s only board-affecting instants cost 4+ mana.
  • Looking at tricks by color:
    • There are 2 colorless tricks, both of which are removal.
    • White has 4 removal spells and 4 pump/protection spells, one of which has awaken.
    • Blue has only 3 tricks that affect the board, 2 of which create a creature.
    • Black has 2 relevant tricks, both of which are removal spells.
    • Red has 3 removal spells and a pump spell.
    • Green has a removal spell and 2 pump spells.
    • There is 1 multicolor instant-speed creature and 1 multicolor removal spell.
  • There are only 4 instant-speed creatures in the set (not including Grave Birthing, which will usually be a sideboard card). 3 are uncommons and 1 is a rare, so there are only expected to be about 3 instant-speed creatures in an 8-person draft, so you usually don’t have to play around them.
  • There are no instant-speed removal spells that do a fixed amount of damage to a creature outside combat. The set has 3 unconditional removal spells (at 3, 6, and 7 mana), and 3 more that depend on the creature’s power (<= the power of a revealed colorless creature, = 4). Of the 13 removal spells in the set:
    • The 2 colorless removal spells include a 3-mana uncommon that also requires you to reveal a colorless creature whose power is greater than or equal to the power of the creature you want to exile, and a 7-mana unconditional removal spell.
    • White has 4 removal spells: 2 deal 4-5 damage to attackers/blockers, 1 destroys creatures with power >= 4, and 1 is a removal aura with flash.
    • Blue has no spells in the Creature Removal/Bounce column. (While Adverse Conditions does freeze up to 2 creatures, it also produces a 1/1 and so is included in the Instant-Speed Creatures column instead.) Notably, there is no instant-speed bounce in the set.
    • Black can exile a creature with power <= 3 for 3 mana or kill a creature and a land for 6 mana.
    • Red can deal damage equal to the number of creatures you control for 1 mana, damage equal to the number of lands you control for 5 mana, or borrow a creature for 5 mana. It has been a while since we’ve had an instant-speed spell that lets you borrow a creature, so it may take people a little while to learn to play around this.
    • Green has an instant-speed fight spell for 3 mana. (There’s also a flyer removal spell included the Sideboard column.)
    • There is a rare multicolor removal spell that resembles Jilt with kicker, but it can bounce a spell instead of a creature and can do 2 damage to a planeswalker instead of a creature.
  • The pump/protection spells can be divided into 5 groups:
    • White and green each have a 1-2 mana common that gives +2/+2 and also has an additional effect. The green one can also trigger landfall abilities. (In addition, there’s an instant-speed Rampant Growth, which can also trigger landfall abilities.)
    • Red has a 2-mana common that gives +3/+0 and first strike.
    • Green has a 4-mana uncommon that puts 1-4 +1/+1 counters on a creature (depending on the number of colors used to cast the spell).
    • White has 2 commons that give multiple creatures +M/+N, where M + N = 3. One of those is 2 mana and gives 2 creatures +1/+2, while the other is 4 mana and gives all your creatures +2/+1.
    • White and blue each have a spell that reduces/prevents damage from opponents’ creatures. (The white spell can also be cast with awaken to turn a land into a 2/2.)
  • The 3 Sideboard tricks include a spell that removes a card from a graveyard, a land destruction spell (that can also kill awakened creatures), and a flyer removal spell.
  • The 7 Other tricks include 4 counterspells, 2 card draw spells, and an instant speed Rampant Growth.