M14: Plummet vs. Windstorm

When drafting green decks, I’ve faced the choice of drafting either Plummet or Windstorm from the same pack, or having both in my draft pool but not knowing whether either is worthy of maindecking. Another choice I’ve faced is deciding which one to side in against an opponent who has one or more flyers in their deck. Let’s see if we can figure out the right choices in these scenarios.

If you’re running green as a main color, Deadly Recluse and Giant Spider are great ways to deal with flyers. They can also defend quite well against non-flyers, and sometimes even get to attack. Deadly Spider is easier to kill than Giant Spider, so our analysis will look at 3 different categories of flyers:

  • must-kill non-defender flyers (see the spreadsheet from my post on creature evaluations)
  • flyers with power >= 4 (or deathtouch) and toughness >= 3, since they can kill Giant Spider without dying in the process
  • all non-defender flyers

There are only 5 must-kill flyers in M14: 1 common, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, and 2 mythic. An average draft will have 0.57 of these flyers per player, all in white, blue, and black. Must-kill means that you can’t reliably block or gang block the creature with flyers/spiders to neutralize it, or that it has a static ability that makes it dangerous even if it’s not in combat, which is why Nightwing Shade, Air Servant, and Galerider Sliver fall into this category, along with the more obvious inclusion of Archangel of Thune and Windreader Sphinx.

There are 6 flyers with power >= 4 (or deathtouch) and toughness >= 3: 2 uncommons (only Serra Angel and Sengir Vampire, since we’ve already counted Air Servant above), 2 rares (Jace’s Mindseeker and Shivan Dragon), and 2 mythics (Shadowborn Demon and Scourge of Valkas). An average draft will have 0.45 of these flyers per player, primarily in black. Note that although Shivan Dragon and Scourge of Valkas can attack for a lot of damage, I don’t consider them must-kill since firebreathing doesn’t pump toughness, so they can still be blocked and killed by multiple opposing flyers/spiders.

Adding these numbers tells us that the average draft will only have about 1 flyer per player that falls into either of these 2 categories, so you probably don’t want to run either Plummet or Windstorm in your maindeck. Obviously, there are exceptions to this. For instance, if you have Diabolic Tutor or Ring of Three Wishes in your deck, you could run a singleton Plummet or Windstorm as a silver bullet. If you have a U/G control deck with limited creature removal, you’re more likely to face a bomb flyer that you can’t handle, so Plummet or Windstorm might have a place in that deck, especially if you can regrow it using Archaeomancer. And if you have an otherwise really strong monogreen or G/R deck that lacks flying defense, you might run Plummet and/or Windstorm maindeck to shore up that weakness and as insurance against your opponent having a flying bomb.

Finally, let’s look at all non-defender flyers in M14. All of them are playable, except perhaps Dragon Hatchling. Let’s exclude those creatures and then look at the number of flyers we would expect a player in those colors to have in an 8-person draft, assuming there are 3 drafters in each color. (This analysis is more useful here than looking at the average number of these flyers per drafter.)

  • White: 3 common, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, 1 mythic -> 8.9 at the table, or 3.0 per white drafter
  • Blue: 4 commons, 2 uncommons, 2 rares, 1 mythic -> 12.9 at the table, or 4.3 per blue drafter
  • Black: 2 commons, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, 1 mythic -> 6.6 at the table, or 2.2 per black drafter
  • Red: 1 uncommon, 2 rares, 1 mythic -> 2.2 at the table, or 0.7 per black drafter

From this analysis, we can see that only U/X decks are likely to have more than 1 flyer on the table at a time, and so are the only ones against which you’d rather bring in Windstorm. There are only 2 rare and 2 mythic flyers with toughness >= 5 (I’m including Nightmare but not Nightwing Shade here), so Windstorm will usually be able to take down all your opponent’s flyers. (And sometime they’ll play a Galerider Sliver and you’ll knock out most of their side :)) Of course, if your deck also has flyers, you may still prefer Plummet, even when playing against a U/W or U/B deck.

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M14: W/U skies

Yesterday, I drafted a W/U skies deck for the first time in M14. It had only 11 creatures (including 8 flyers and an Angelic Wall), but I still went 3-1, at least in part because Path of Bravery swung some races in my favor. The deck is not that different from W/U skies decks in other draft formats and relies on having some good defensive creatures and then winning in the air with flyers. This post will do an overview of the cards that go in this archetype.

Most of the defensive creatures are 2-3 mana. Some of them have flying and can double as attackers in the late game.

  • common: Angelic Wall (converted mana cost = 2), Seacoast Drake (2), Griffin Sentinel (3). Coral Merfolk (2) and Scroll Thief (3) are reasonable, especially if you have Trained Condors, and Scroll Thief often keeps 2 of your opponent’s creatures at bay since people are more scared of it than they probably should be. Capashen Knight (2) is great against X/1’s but should usually start out in your sideboard.
  • uncommon: Wall of Frost (3), Wall of Swords (4)

There are a lot of good evasion creatures in white and blue, but most cost 3-5 mana, so you should prioritize defensive creatures that cost 2 mana. Seraph of the Sword is also excellent on defense against large creatures, lifelink, and deathtouch.

  • common: Suntail Hawk (1), Trained Condor (3), Charging Griffin (4), Nephalia Seakite (4), Messenger Drake (5)
  • uncommon: Warden of Evos Isle (3), Phantom Warrior (3), Air Servant (5), Serra Angel (5)
  • rare: Galerider Sliver (1), Seraph of the Sword (4), Jace’s Mindseeker (6)
  • mythic: Windreader Sphinx (7)

Much of the permanent removal is in the form of enchantments, so I ran an Auramancer maindeck, but moved it to the sideboard after a couple of games since most of my Auras remained on the creatures they were enchanting. The temporary removal and counterspells work well with Archaeomancer, but its higher casting cost (which includes double blue) and smaller body make the interaction less exciting.

  • common: Claustrophobia, Pacifism, Sensory Deprivation (best against ground creatures that your defensive creatures can’t handle, or against Deadly Recluse and Deathgaze Cockatrice), Disperse, Time Ebb, Frost Breath, countermagic
  • uncommon: Rod of Ruin, Spell Blast
  • rare: Planar Cleansing, Rachet Bomb, Domestication

Of the creature enhancements, Divine Favor and Accorder’s Shield were both very good. Path of Bravery was amazing, giving my creatures +1/+1 if I’d managed to set up an early defense; even when I didn’t, the lifegain still shifted races in my favor whenever the board state allowed me to attack with multiple flyers. Illusionary Armor seems like it could be quite powerful since it takes the opponent out of the game very quickly if they don’t have an answer. It can usually be put on your smallest flyer, which can force your opponent to direct their removal at it instead of another threat, and it gets better if you have an Auramancer. Although I didn’t get to try it out, Fortify seems like it has a lot of potential in this deck since most of your attackers are likely to go unblocked. Furthermore, Fortify allows your Seacoast Drakes and Griffin Sentinel to switch from defense to offense for an alpha strike.

  • common: Divine Favor, Show of Valor, Fortify
  • uncommon: Accorder’s Shield, Fireshrieker, Illusionary Armor
  • rare: Haunted Plate Mail, Path of Bravery

My deck also had 2 Divinations and 2 Opportunities. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the former since they were at the same mana cost as a lot of my 3-drops. Opportunity was better and let me refuel my hand in the late game, but would probably have been better as a singleton.

M14: Maindeck countermagic

M14 has 4 counterspells: Essence Scatter, Negate, Cancel, and Spell Blast. Are any of them good choices for the maindeck?

The spreadsheet I’d created for my last post shows that a typical M14 draft deck has 4 good targets for Essence Scatter (1 bomb + 2.8 exceptional) and 3 good targets for Negate (0.2 bombs + 2.5 exceptional). That means that you will only encounter 1-2 worthy targets per game for either of them. Even then, you need to have the counterspell in hand and have mana open to cast it, so they’re unlikely to be consistently good.

Cancel and Spell Blast have about 6.5 good targets (1.2 bomb + 5.3 exceptional). However, they’re more expensive to cast, especially Spell Blast, so you’re less likely to have mana open to cast them when your opponent casts one of those targets. Also, some of these targets are likely to end up sitting in sideboards, either due to hatedrafts or players switching colors, so you’re less likely to encounter them than the numbers indicate. Finally, countermagic does very little if you’re behind on the board, and good players can sometimes play around it.

Given this, you probably want to leave countermagic in your sideboard unless you’re playing a U/R control or U/G mill deck. In such a deck, Essence Scatter can prevent you from falling behind early and the countermagic can be regrown using Archaeomancer. Also, since these decks don’t usually win quickly, you’re likely to see more of an opponent’s decks and therefore more likely to encounter their bombs.

Other scenarios in which you might want to maindeck countermagic are if your deck lacks creature removal or if you’ve passed multiple bombs and know you’re likely to face them.

EDIT: Someone pointed out yesterday that I hadn’t covered some other reasons to run countermagic. He specifically mentioned that Negate can be useful if you have bombs or combos to protect, which is a valid point. In addition, countermagic gets better if you have other things you can do on your opponent’s turn if they don’t play anything you’re interested in countering. For instance, you might be able to play a creature with flash (although there are only 2 in M14, and both cost 4 mana) or use an instant-speed activated abilities (such as Rod of Ruin and Ring of Three Wishes).

M14: Essence Scatter vs. Negate

Which is better in M14 draft: Essence Scatter or Negate? This spreadsheet breaks down the creatures and non-creatures in M14 by color and quality, using the updated evaluations from my last post. The tables list the average number of cards of that color and quality per player. Looking at the totals, it is immediately clear that M14 has more creatures than non-creatures that are bombs, exceptional, good, or even situational/filler. So Essence Scatter is superior to Negate, although you may prefer the latter if your deck already has enough creature removal. Essence Scatter is also more likely to have targets since limited decks tend to run more creatures than non-creatures.

Are there any color pairs against which Negate is better? B/R is the only color pair with more bomb/exceptional non-creatures than creatures. Of course, your sideboarding decisions also have to factor in what you’ve seen of your opponent’s deck and what colors you’re playing; if you’re in G/U and lack hard creature removal, you may want to run Essence Scatter over Negate even against B/R decks.

M14: Updated evaluations

I’d posted my initial evaluations of the cards in M14 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, the original valuations, and the reason for the change. (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.

Most of the cards whose valuations have changed were originally TBD:

  • I have had good experience with the W/B enchantments deck, so Ajani’s Chosen and Blightcaster are exceptional and Auramancer is good (it is mostly good with Quag Sickness).
  • I’ve been less impressed with the W/B lifegain deck, so Angelic Accord, Congregate, Sanguine Bond, and Trading Post are situationally playable, and Dawnstrike Paladin and Soulmender are unplayable.
  • The mill deck requires multiple Millstones or some of the rare/mythic cards, so Traumatize is good and Tome Scour and Millstone are situationally playable.
  • B/R has enough sacrifice interactions that Act of Treason and Barrage of Expendables are good.
  • Hive Stirrings and Sliver Construct are playable if you have enough good Slivers and so are situationally playable. (Sliver Construct is also a good sideboard card against black or red decks with multiple intimidate creatures.)
  • Door of Destinies is situationally playable in either a Slivers deck or a W/B Humans deck.
  • Xathrid Necromancer leaves behind a 2/2 when killed and can be nuts in a W/B Humans deck, and so is exceptional.
  • Advocate of the Beast is situationally playable because an average draft will have only 7 Beasts, all of which are likely to be highly picked by non-Beast players. It can be picked higher if you already have a few Beasts.
  • Dismiss into Dream is unplayable due to its mana cost and a lack of reusable targeting effects in M14.
  • Domestication is good but not exceptional because M14 has many effects that can increase a creature’s power.
  • Zephyr Charge is situationally playable if you’re short on win conditions.
  • Strionic Resonator may be situationally playable in a U/R control deck since it has enough triggered abilities.

Of the rest, there are 7 cards that I value more, 1 card I value less (Blessing), and 1 card that I’d considered unplayable that I now think requires further evaluation (Pyromancer’s Gauntlet). The cards I value more are:

  • Griffin Sentinel went from filler to good because it is surprisingly good when enchanted Mark of the vampire, Dark Favor, or even Divine Favor in the W/B enchantments deck.
  • Merfolk Spy went from unplayable to sideboard because it’s a reasonable sideboard card against other blue decks.
  • Dark Prophecy went from exceptional to bomb because very difficult to win if your opponent has a few creatures and has this on the board.
  • Quag Sickness went from playable to exceptional because the W/B enchantments deck is strong, tends to be heavier black anyway, and can regrow Quag Sickness using Auramancer.
  • Ogre Battledriver went from exceptional to bomb because it can dominate the game if unchecked.
  • Howl of the Night Pack went from filler to exceptional (the only card that has moved 2 spots) because it has proved problematic when played against me.
  • Fireshrieker went from filler to playable because it has proved problematic when played against me.

Blessing went from filler to sideboard because the W/B enchantments deck tends to be heavier black and have access to more cost-effective Auras. However, it can still be sided in against slower decks since it can take over a game under the right circumstances.

Finally, there are still 5 cards are still TBD; I will attempt to evaluate them in subsequent posts:

  • Archaeomancer: This should be playable at least in U/R control decks.
  • Frost Breath: This might be playable in U/R control and U/G mill decks.
  • Seismic Stomp: This might be playable in U/R tempo decks.
  • Gladecover Scout: This might be playable if you have the right Auras.
  • Pyromancer’s Gauntlet: I’d initially considered this unplayable, but want to see whether it might find a home in a U/R control deck.

Also, my valuation of Academy Raider and Elite Arcanist may go up if the U/R control deck turns out to be good, and my valuation of Fortify may go down if there isn’t a good archetype that wants it.

M14: Maindeck artifact removal

Last week, we determined that it doesn’t make sense to run maindeck enchantment removal in M14. Today, we’ll determine whether it makes sense to run maindeck artifact removal.

This spreadsheet has a list of all artifacts in M14. None of the artifacts are common except Sliver Construct, and about half are unplayable. Of the rest, Darksteel Ingot is indestructible, and Elixir of Immortality will usually be sacrificed in response. That leaves 1 common, 4 uncommon, and 5 rare artifacts that you may wish to destroy, so an average 8-person draft will only have 9 artifacts, or about 1 per player. Of these 10 artifacts, only 2 uncommons and 2 rares are playable or exceptional, and there will only be 3 of those opened in an average 8-man draft.

Given these numbers, there’s no reason to maindeck Demolish and Smelt. Since your opponent is unlikely to have many playable artifacts, I would not even recommend siding in Demolish or Smelt unless you see multiple artifacts that you want to be able to destroy. Also, Solemn Offering, Naturalize, and Bramblecrush are no more maindeckable than previously determined.

M14: Strionic Resonator and the U/R control deck

Let’s try to evaluate Strionic Resonator today and determine whether it’s worth drafting early. This spreadsheet has a list of all cards in M14 with a triggered ability (see this post for the card quality key). It includes updated card quality evaluations as well as an assessment of the quality of the triggered ability, which can differ from the card quality (e.g., Sengir Vampire and Angelic Accord). These trigger quality assessments are very similar to the card quality assessments:

  • + means you would happily pay 2 mana to copy the trigger.
  • / means you would pay 2 mana to copy the trigger.
  • ~ means the ability is difficult to trigger or less useful to copy.
  • E(xpensive) means that you are unlikely to have 2 mana to spare when the trigger goes off, or that you’re already winning the game if the trigger goes off.
  • R(are) means that you’ll rarely want to copy the triggered ability or that it won’t trigger very often.
  • x means that there is never a reason to copy this trigger, barring very unusual game states.

The spreadsheet also indicates which archetype(s) each of these cards fits best in. If the archtype is in parentheses, it means that the card is playable even outside the archetype. If no archetype is listed, the card is usually played on its own merits rather than because it interacts particularly well with other cards.

Pivoting by color (to the right of the main table in the spreadsheet) shows us that red has the most triggered abilities we’d want to copy (11 in an average draft), followed by white and blue (8 each). Since most players draft 2 colors in M14, each color will have 3 drafters. If they split these cards between them, it means you can expect to get about 6.3 triggers you want to copy if you’re in R/W or U/R, and about 5.3 triggers you want to copy if you’re in W/U. However, Goblin Shortcutter and Archaeomancer don’t usually go in the same deck, so let’s also look at the cards by archetype instead.

Pivoting by archetype (also to the right of the main table in the spreadsheet) shows us that B/R sacrifice and U/R control have the most number of cards with triggers we’d want to copy (8 each in an average draft). If you’re the only drafter at the table, you will probably have enough triggered abilities that you’d want to copy.

The B/R sacrifice deck has Festering Newt, Pitchburn Devil, and Dragon’s Egg (uncommon), whose abilities trigger when they die, either in battle or when sacrificed to Altar’s Reap, Blood Bairn, Barrage of Expendables, Gnawing Zombie, or Vampire Warlord. It also has Young Pyromancer, whose trigger produces more cannon fodder for your sacrifice outlets. However, Pitchburn Devil’s trigger is the only one (at common or uncommon) that you’d really want to copy, so I’m not sure how well Strionic Resonator would work in this deck.

I haven’t drafted U/R control yet, but it seems like it should be a viable archetype. Red has Shock, Chandra’s Outrage, Flames of the Firebrand (uncommon), and Volcanic Geyser (uncommon) for removal. Blue has Essence Scatter, Negate, Cancel, and Spell Blast (uncommon) for countermagic, Time Ebb, Disperse, and Frost Breath for stall, and Divination and Opportunity (uncommon) for card advantage. Combined with Academy Raider and Archaeomancer, it could be a fairly potent counterburn deck that wins with a large flyer or by recurring Volcanic Geyser. In such a deck, Strionic Resonator could help ensure that that you don’t run out of cards before your opponent does.

So Strionic Resonator is probably conditionally playable. I wouldn’t recommend taking it early in the hope that U/R control is open. However, if you’re already drafting that deck, it might be worth taking it and then drafting cards with useful triggers slightly higher. (It’s also useful if you don’t remember how many triggered abilities you have in your deck when you’re passed a Strionic Resonator; if you’re drafting U/R control, you’re more likely to have enough triggers to play it.) This card does have a tendency to get passed late, so if I’m already in either blue or red the next time I see it, I might draft it to try it out (as I did with Door of Destinies recently) and post a follow-up.

Btw, here are the card quality evaluations I’ve updated since I originally posted the evaluation spreadsheet, in case you’re interested:

  • Ajani’s Chosen (TBD -> exceptional): A 3/3 for 4 mana is already a reasonable body, and W/B enchantments is a strong archtype.
  • Angelic Accord (TBD -> conditional): It’s difficult to draft a good lifegain deck, but I still believe it’s possible.
  • Auramancer (TBD -> playable): Ajani’s Chosen works well with all enchantments, but Auramancer mostly works well with Quag Sickness.
  • Blightcaster (TBD -> exceptional): Like Ajani’s Chosen, but with 1 less point of power and a stronger trigger.
  • Sanguine Bond (TBD -> conditonal): See Angelic Accord above.
  • Xathrid Necromancer (TBD -> exceptional): It’s a 2/2 for 3 mana that at least nets a 2/2 when it dies, and can be nuts in the right deck.
  • Door of Destinies (TBD -> conditional): It’s playable in a Slivers deck or a W/B Humans deck.
  • Advocate of the Beast (TBD -> conditional): It’s good if you already have Beasts.
  • Dismiss into Dream (TBD -> unplayable)
  • Domestication (TBD -> playable)
  • Archaeomancer is still TBD.