M14: Follow-up on Door of Destinies

While I had drafted Door of Destinies previously, I’d never had enough creatures of any given creature type to justify playing with it — until yesterday. I was drafting a W/B enchantments deck and opened Door of Destinies in pack 2. Normally, I would have taken the Sengir Vampire from that pack, but this was a very casual draft and I was in the right colors for a Humans deck, so I decided to give it a try, even though I only had 3 Humans at that point. (Only do this at home, kids!)

I ended up with 10 Humans: 4 Auramancers (to go with 3 Quag Sicknesses; yes, it was every bit as sick as it sounds), 3 Corpse Haulers, 2 Masters of Diversion, and 1 Blightcaster. I left a Dawnstrike Paladin and a Soulmender in the sideboard since they aren’t playable on their own merits; I wouldn’t want to draw either of them if I didn’t also have Door of Destinies. I also didn’t have any cards that cared about lifegain, and my card quality was ridiculously high besides; I had Corrupt, Wring Flesh, and Accursed Spirit sitting in my sideboard!

I went 4-1 over the course of the evening, losing only to a monoblack deck with Nightmare (and a Grim Return to get it back), Dark Prophecy, Rachet Bomb, and Corrupt, and a Diabolic Tutor to fetch the most relevant one. The Door of Destinies contributed to 2 game wins, although I might have won one of both of those games anyway. I was rarely unhappy to draw it since it would at least give my next Human +1/+1, and it usually did more. There was often a temptation to try to optimize the casting order (Door of Destinies, then Blightcaster, then Quag Sickness, and then Auramancer) to maximize the utility of the cards involved, but you have to withstand that temptation if your opponent has attackers that you can’t already block effectively; sometimes you have to play Auramancer on turn 3 with no Quag Sickness in the graveyard and a Door of Destinies in your hand.

One interesting combo that I noticed was that with a Corpse Hauler in your graveyard and another in play, you can sacrifice the one in play to get the other one back, and then play that one to add a counter to Door of Destinies. You can rinse and repeat as many times as your mana will allow, so you should probably draft Corpse Haulers a little higher if you’re drafting a W/B Humans deck with Door of Destinies. (Corpse Hauler also allows you to reuse Auramancers, which can be very powerful if you also have a Quag Sickness.) Door of Destinies also would have worked well with the Liliana’s Reaver in my deck if I had named Zombies, but I was never willing to do that since the Door would be useless if they dealt with the Reaver.

I want to emphasize again that this was a very casual draft. While none of the Humans in my deck are high picks (other than Blightcaster), you won’t usually be able to snag the 3 Quag Sicknesses and 3 Pacifisms that made my Auramancers so good. In other words, your mileage might vary. However, I think it is possible to use Door of Destinies in a W/B Humans deck as long as you prioritize picking Humans that are playable on their own merits. Also, Door of Destinies is not usually a good target for Diabolic Tutor since if you cast Diabolic Tutor on turn 4 and Door of Destinies on turn 5, you’re spending a lot of time doing nothing. Unless your opponent isn’t playing anything, save the Tutor for later to fetch a bomb or a removal spell.

M14: Millstone and the mill deck

Now it’s on to evaluating artifacts, so we can determine whether it makes sense to maindeck artifact removal. Among the artifacts that I don’t have a good handle on yet is Millstone, even though I was forced to cobble together a U/B mill deck this weekend when I found both my colors cut off by the person to my right. I had Jace Memory Adept, Jace’s Mindseeker, Millstone, and 2 Tome Scours, but lacked early defense and was knocked out in the first round. Let’s look at the mill deck and evaluate how important Millstone is in that deck.

Other than Millstone, all the cards in the format that cause your opponent to mill/draw cards are blue:

  • Tome Scour (common) mills 5 cards.
  • Opportunity (uncommon) causes a target player to draw 4 cards, but you won’t usually want to target your opponent.
  • Traumatize (rare) mills half the library rounded down. If cast on turn 5, it will usually leave your opponent with 14-15 cards in their library.
  • Jace’s Mindseeker (rare) mills 5 cards and is a bomb even in the absence of any other mill cards because it’s still a 4/4 flyer that can give you a free spell.
  • Jace Memory Adept (mythic) can mill 10 cards each turn and is a bomb even in the absence of any other mill cards since it can single-handedly mill your opponent out in 2-3 turns if you can protect it.

An average draft will have only 1.2 Millstones and 2.4 Tome Scours, which are not enough to build a mill deck around, so you should only consider drafting the mill deck if you get Traumatize or are passed multiple Millstones late. (The mill on Jace’s Mindseeker is a one-time effect, and neither it nor Jace Memory Adept need a mill deck built around them. And late Tome Scours aren’t sufficient reason to draft a mill deck since you’d need to cast about 4-5 of them to win the game, which means you’d need to draft about 8-10 of them if that’s your only mill spell.)

Next, let’s figure out how fast you can mill an opponent out. Even if you play Millstone on turn 2 and mill your opponent on every subsequent turn, they still have 13 turns, which is usually enough for them to kill you, even in a slow format like M14. Even if you have a Tome Scour to go with your Millstone, they still have 11 turns to kill you. If you cast Traumatize on turn 5 instead of activating Millstone, your opponent still gets 10 turns. Even with a perfect draw consisting of a turn 2 Millstone, turn 5 Traumatize, and turn 6 Tome Scour (it’s better after the Traumatize), your opponent still has 8 turns to kill you; if you don’t have any creatures, they can accomplish that simply by playing a 2/2 creature on turn 2, a 2/2 creaure on turn 3, and attacking with both of them every turn. So clearly we need more than just the mill cards listed above.

Given this, I would say that Millstone is conditionally playable bordering on unplayable since it usually requires you to have certain rares before it is playable, and since takes a long time to mill out the opponent. However, it is still playable if you get those rares.

Blue does have several other cards that are quite effective in the mill deck:

  • Time Ebb allows you to get rid of a creature permanently if you can mill your opponent before their next draw step. And it slows them down significantly even if you can’t.
  • Frost Breath can buy you time by holding down your opponent’s 2 best creatures for 2 turns.
  • Essence Scatter and Negate have the same converted mana cost as a Millstone activation so you can decide whether you’d rather counter a spell your opponent is casting, or mill them and save the countermagic for another spell.
  • Archaeomancer allows you to reuse Tome Scours, Traumatize, or any of the spells listed above, and then chump blocks their largest creature.
  • Nephalia Seakite works well with countermagic.
  • Scroll Thief can block 2/2 creatures and force your opponent to play more defensively that they normally might. (Most people are far more scared of it drawing their opponent a card than they should be.)
  • Seacoast Drake and Armored Cancrix are unexciting but reasonable on defense.
  • Wall of Frost (uncommon) is one of the best defenders in the format because of its high toughness and because it effectively blocks 2 creatures if your opponent attacks each turn.
  • Elite Arcanist (rare) imprinted with Frost Breath, Fog, or Silence (rare) can potentially buy you a lot of time. Note that you can only imprint instants, so it does not work with Tome Scour.

What color is likely to work best with blue in a mill deck? On the one hand, white has great defenders in the form of Angelic Wall and Wall of Swords (uncommon), both of which fit quite well in this deck. Griffin Sentinel is also quite good on defense, and Pillarfield Ox and Siege Mastodon are okay if unexciting. Divine Favor can make a creature nearly impossible to get past, and if you’re lucky, you might also get Planar Cleansing (rare) which your opponent might be forced to overextend into if you have a Millstone on the table.

However, I think green actually has better defensive cards: Rumbling Baloth and Sporemound can gum up the ground effectively while Deadly Recluse and Giant Spider (and Plummet postboard) hold the air, Brindle Boar and Fog can neutralize entire combat steps (Fog is also great with Elite Arcanist, as mentioned above), Elvish Mystic and Verdant Haven help you get going faster, Briarpack Alpha (uncommon) and Rootwalla work well with countermagic, and Bramblecrush (uncommon) and Naturalize deal with troublesome noncreature permanents. The next time I try a mill deck, it will likely be U/G.

Finally, let’s look at the cards in M14 that are problematic for mill decks. Elixir of Immortality is the most concerning but is an uncommon, so an average 8-person draft will only have 1.2 of them. Cards that interact with the graveyard can also benefit your opponent if you’re milling them: Auramancer, Archaeomancer, Corpse Hauler, Rise of the Dark Realms, Shadowborn Demon, Vile Rebirth, Chandra’s Phoenix, Scavenging Ooze, and Trading Post. However, many of these are rare/mythic, and the rest aren’t scary enough that they make mill decks unplayable. So these cards shouldn’t concern you too much if it looks like you’re going to end up with a mill deck.

M14: Reevaluating Sanguine Bond

In my post about the lifegain deck, I had evaluated Sanguine Bond as playable in the right deck. I had a great opportunity to test it out this weekend when I opened Sanguine Bond in pack 1 of 2 consecutive drafts and tried to build around it. I even drafted a late pick Congregate to go with it both times. Unfortunately, I lost in the first round of both drafts. Let’s try to figure out what went wrong, and whether we need to reevaluate Sanguine Bond.

The first draft was just terrible all around. The best cards in the second pack were Predatory Sliver, Manaweft Sliver, and Battle Sliver, with the best W/B card being a Divine Favor, so I took the Predatory Sliver, just in case Slivers ended up being open, and hoped that the Divine Favor would table (it didn’t). I got passed a Pacifism third pick, one of my favorite cards in W/B since it also triggers the cards that care about enchantments. Unfortunately, the person to my right was B/G and decided to switch to B/W after being passed a tenth-pick Celestial Flare. Blue was wide open, but I was trying to make the lifegain deck work, so I only picked up a late Time Ebb and a late Traumatize in the first 2 packs. While reviewing my picks at the end of pack 2, I realized that my deck was quite weak and had few win conditions, so I took the Jace Memory Adept I opened in pack 3, a Jace’s Mindseeker third pick (over Air Servant and Claustrophobia!), a Messenger Drake, a Millstone, and 2 Tome Scours, and passed the Angelic Accord I saw since I knew it was too late to make that deck work. The deck lacked early defense and sufficient playables, and rolled over to Predatory Slivers in 2 games.

The second draft went a little better. I drafted 2 Blightcasters to go with 6 enchantments. Unfortunately, at the end of the draft, my only lifegain was the aforementioned Congregate, a Divine Favor, and 2 Dawnstrike Paladins, and I really didn’t want to play the Dawnstrike Paladins. I did consider playing just the Sanguine Bond/Congregate combo since I had a Diabolic Tutor to fetch the missing half of the combo, but decided I would be very unhappy if I drew only 1 of those 3 cards. I was tempted by the fact the Sanguine Bond triggers the Blightcasters and that Congregate can swing some game, but decided that they weren’t good enough to merit inclusion, so I left them out and focused on building a W/B enchantments deck with a good mana curve. I lost round 1 again, but at least I got to win a game this time.

I still think Sanguine Bond is playable in the right deck, but I think you need to be very committed to making it work if you decide to go down that route. The only common lifegain cards in white and black that are good enough to play on their own merits are Divine Favor, Child of Night, and especially Mark of the Vampire, so you need to draft these cards highly, sometimes over better cards, even before you know whether you will be passed any of the other uncommons/rares/mythics that care about lifegain. Diabolic Tutor also goes up in value in this deck as it allows you to tutor for Sanguine Bond if you don’t draw it, or for Congregate or Corrupt if you do.

M14: Maindeck enchantment removal

Now that we have evaluations for all the enchantments in M14, let’s figure out whether it makes sense to run maindeck enchantment removal. Note that this won’t be a complete assessment because all the enchantment removal spells in M14 also destroy artifacts. However, the only scary artifacts in M14 are Door of Destinies (in the right deck) and Haunted Plate Mail, so our conclusion probably won’t change. We’ll evaluate all the remaining TBD artifacts next week (I’m especially interested in analyzing Millstone and Strionic Resonator) and then revisit whether that makes Solemn Offering and Naturalize more playable in the maindeck.

This spreadsheet has the updated evaluations for all the enchantments in M14. Of these, Quag Sickness often kills the enchanted creature and so enchantment removal isn’t usually effective against it, so I will not include it in the analysis. That leaves 10 common, 4 uncommon, 6 rare, and 1 mythic enchantment that are not unplayable. That means that an average 8-person draft will have 31 such enchantments, or about 4 per player. Even if we only consider playable and exceptional enchantments in M14 (I don’t consider any of them bombs), a typical 8-person draft will still have 27 enchantments, or about 3.5 per player.

3.5 – 4 enchantments per player feels somewhat high for a limited environment, but it makes sense given the various enchantments-matter cards in the format. The enchantments deck at the table is likely to have a higher proportion of enchantments, but we can still expect the remaining decks to have about 3 enchantments each. Is that enough to justify running enchantment removal maindeck? My answer would be No, especially since none of the enchantments are bombs, and the exceptional ones are mostly 1-for-1 removal. (Domestication can net a 2-for-1, but there are a lot of answers to it other than enchantment removal, as we determined previously.)

The other thing to look at is whether the enchantments are concentrated in particular colors or color pairs so we know whether to side them in proactively against certain opponents even if we haven’t seen any particularly scary enchantments yet. For instance, most of the playable enchantments in Scars of Mirrodin were in white and blue, so I would sometimes side in an enchantment removal spell against W/U decks in that format, even if I hadn’t seen any enchantments that I was particularly worried about, because I knew that my opponent was likely to have targets. The playable enchantments in M14 are fairly well distributed across colors, with green having slightly fewer than the other colors. However, it might still make sense to side enchantment removal in against W/B decks, especially if you’ve seen some of the enchantments-matter cards and know they’re playing the enchantments deck, since those decks are more likely to play cards like Dark Favor and Mark of the Vampire which can sometimes be problematic.

EDIT: M14 has very few playable artifacts, so Solemn Offering and Naturalize are not any more playable in the maindeck by virtue of being able to destroy artifacts. Also, there are very few cases in M14 where you would want to destroy a land — usually only 5-color green with Verdant Havens or Shimmering Grottos — and the average 8-person draft will only have one planeswalker, so Bramblecrush is essentially a 4-mana sorcery-speed Naturalize. Start it in the sideboard and bring it in for things that Naturalize can’t handle, or if you need multiple enchantment/artifact removal spells, but don’t have enough Naturalizes.

M14: Barrage of Expendables and the B/R sacrifice deck

The final enchantment left to evaluate is Barrage of Expendables. Its value will depend on 6 factors:

  • How many must-kill creatures and flyers have 1 toughness.
  • How many spells steal opponents’ creatures.
  • How many cards can an opponent play that would cause you to want to sacrifice a creature.
  • How many creatures provide a benefit when sacrificed.
  • How many creatures don’t mind being sacrificed.
  • Its effect relative to other sacrifice outlets.

Referring back to the spreadsheet of creatures in M14, we see that of the must-kill creatures, 2 of the 8 commons, 2 of the 6 uncommons, 4 of the 15 rares, and neither of the 2 mythics have 1 toughness. This means that 27% of the must-kill creatures in an average draft will have 1 toughness. Similarly, of the flyers in M14, 3 of the 10 commons, none of the 5 uncommons, 1 of the 7 rares, and none of the 3 mythics have 1 toughness, so 23% of the flyers in a typical draft will have 1 toughness. In addition, Barrage of Expendables can work with Shock and other removal spells to take down larger creatures. You can also sacrifice 2+ creatures to kill an opposing creature, but that’s unlikely to be a common occurrence.

Sacrifice effects combo especially well with effects that steal creatures temporarily and M14 has Act of Treason which is also red. In fact, unless you’re playing R/B, the only sacrifice effects a red deck has access to are Barrage of Expendables, Bubbling Cauldron, and Trading Post (a rare), and neither of the artifacts offer an impressive benefit for the sacrifice. If you have a couple of Act of Treasons, Barrage of Expendables could be worth picking up, especially if you don’t have other sacrifice effects yet. M14 also has Domestication, which steals the creature permanently. However, as we determined previously, there are a number of ways for the owner of the creature to pump its power and get the creature back, and Barrage of Expendables can help protect against that too.

M14 also has a few effects that may cause you to want to sacrifice a creature in response to an opponent’s spell. While M14 doesn’t have anything like Pillory of the Sleepless, you may want to sacrifice a creature that your opponent is trying to steal with Act of Treason or Domestication. In addition, you may on rare occasion want to sacrifice a creature in response to Congregate if your opponent is at a low life total and there aren’t many other creatures on the board.

Next, let’s look at creatures that you might want to sacrifice anyway because they provide a benefit when they die:

  • Blue: Messenger Drake (common), although you’d usually rather have a 3/3 flyer than do 1 damage to a creature
  • Black: Festering Newt (common), Dark Prophecy (rare), Xathrid Necromancer (rare)
  • Red: Pitchburn Devils (common), Dragon Egg (uncommon)
  • Green: Vastwood Hydra (rare)

Then, there are creatures that you don’t mind sacrificing, such as Tenacious Dead and Chandra’s Phoenix, or the tokens produced by Molten Birth (which produces an average of 4 tokens) and Sporemound. You might also want to sacrifice creatures if you have Planar Cleansing, Rise of the Dark Realms, Scavenging Ooze, or Haunted Plate Mail, although these are all rare/mythic so that board state won’t arise too often. Of these, Barrage of Expendables works especially well with Tenacious Dead since you can repeatedly do 1 damage to a creature or player for 1BR.

Given the analysis above, it seems like Barrage of Expendables would work best in a B/R deck since that has access to Act of Treason as well a handful of common and uncommon creatures that you’d want to sacrifice. Black does provide access to several other sacrifice effects (Altar’s Reap and Blood Bairn at common, and Gnawing Zombie and Vampire Warlord at uncommon), but Barrage of Expendables would be one of the better sacrifice effects in such a deck.

M14: Zephyr Charge

The value of Zephyr Charge is determined by a few different factors:

  • How many blue creatures already have flying
  • How likely blue is to be paired with another color that would benefit from Zephyr Charge
  • How many cards provide a benefit if you have more creatures with flying
  • How many blockers/answers are there for flyers

This spreadsheet of M14 creatures tells us that among blue creatures, 4 of the 9 commons have flying, as do 2 of the 5 uncommons, 2 of the 5 rares, and the only mythic, so 56% of the blue creatures in a typical draft will already have flying. The rest of the creatures are likely to be blockers for opposing ground creatures and don’t usually need flying, so a monoblue deck wouldn’t really benefit from Zephyr Charge.

Among the 4 possible color pairings, U/W and U/B decks in M14 already have access to sufficient numbers of flyers. U/R has access to Goblin Shortcutter, Seismic Stomp, Lightning Talons, and Shiv’s Embrace as cheaper ways to get through opposing defences, although Zephyr Charge might work in a deck with multiple Regathan Firecats and Marauding Maulhorns, or as a sideboard card against a control R/X deck to get your Academy Raiders through. I can imagine a U/G deck that uses Deadly Recluse, Seacoast Drake, Wall of Frost, and Giant Spider to stall the board and Zephyr Charge to get large green creatures past opposing blockers. However, this requires drawing your defensive creatures early and having both large creatures and Zephyr Charge before you can start attacking, so I would rather draft a G/R or G/W Slivers deck, or a G/R Beasts deck instead.

M14 has 2 cards that benefit from creatures having flying: Warden of Evos Isle and Windreader Sphinx. Warden of Evos Isle only affects flyers not in play, so it doesn’t benefit from Zephyr Charge. And if you’re attacking with Windreader Sphinx, you’re probably already winning, so Zephyr Charge would usually just be a win-more card.

Finally, M14 has a number of answers to flying creatures, including Deathgaze Cockatrice, Deadly Recluse, Giant Spider, and Plummet, in addition to the normal removal spells.

So Zephyr Charge is filler, at best. It is a common and comes around reasonable late, so you shouldn’t spend a high or even a mid pick on it. You should only consider it if it’s late in the draft and your deck don’t have many win conditions.

M14: Domestication

Like most Control Magic effects, Domestication is obviously a very good card. Normally, such effects are better than normal removal spells because they not only neutralize an opposing creature, but add a creature to your side and thereby provide card advantage (a 2-for-1) unless the enchantment is removed. However, M14 has a lot of Auras that increase a creature’s power, so the goal of this post is to determine whether Domestication is exceptional or just playable in M14 drafts so we know whether to pick it over Pacifism or Quag Sickness, for instance.

Let’s start by referring to the spreadsheet I’d previously created with a breakdown of all creatures by power and toughness. Of the must-kill creatures in M14, all 8 commons, 4 of the 6 uncommons, 13 of the 15 rares, and 1 of the 2 mythics have power <= 3, so Domestication can handle about 90% of the must-kill creatures in a typical draft (accounting for rarity). Of the flyers in M14, all 10 commons, 2 of the 5 uncommons, 4 of the 7 rares, and 1 of the 3 mythics have power <= 3, so Domestication can handle about 84% of the flyers in a typical draft.

Those are pretty good numbers, but we need to also account for effects that increase a creature's power. Since Domestication checks the enchanted creature's power at the beginning of the controller's end step, instant-speed pump spells (and some Auras like Blessing where the creature doesn't receive any benefits until you choose) are very effective against Domestication since you can pump the creature after its controller's combat step. Auras that increase a creature's power and sorceries that add +1/+1 counters are also quite effective; while they give your opponent a turn to attack with the enhanced creature, the enchantment remains when you get the creature back, so you've dealt with the Domestication without spending a card. Finally, certain spells are ineffective against Domestication: spells like Fortify and Ranger's Guile that only pump creatures you control work only if cast in response to Domestication and so cannot be relied upon to neutralize it, and sorcery-speed temporary pump spells like Enlarge don't work at all (unless used with Quicken) since the creature's power returns to its original value before your opponent's turn.

That means there are 14 spells that can effectively deal with Domestication even after you no longer control the creature:

  • White: Show of Valor (common), Divine Favor (common), Blessing (uncommon), Ajani Caller of the Pride (mythic)
  • Blue: Illusionary Armor (uncommon)
  • Black: Dark Favor (common), Mark of the Vampire (common)
  • Red: Thunder Strike (common), Lightning Talons (common), Shiv’s Embrace (uncommon)
  • Green: Giant Growth (common), Trollhide (common), Briarpack Alpha (uncommon), Oath of the Ancient Wood (rare)

So white, red, and green have the most number of effective ways to deal with Domestication. Not including the unplayable Oath of the Ancient Wood, there are 8 commons, 4 uncommons, and 1 mythic in the list, so a typical draft will have 24 spells that can potentially combat Domestication. That’s a lot of maindeck-playable answers to Domestication (an average of 3 per player) before we even account for Solemn Offering and Naturalize. While these spells won’t always increase a creature’s power to 4 or more, they will do it often enough for creatures that matter, so Domestication isn’t guaranteed to stick around even if you do have a good target.

In addition, black has a number of sacrifice effects that can turn Domestication into “just” a removal spell (Blood Bairn and Altar’s Reap at common, and Vampire Warlord and Gnawing Zombie at uncommon). Blue has Disperse which can be used after the fact without incurring card disadvantage. And while Ranger’s Guile has to be used in response to Domestication, it only costs one mana.

None of this means that you should not draft or play Domestication, but based on the analysis above I would rate it playable instead of exceptional, and would take Pacificm or Quag Sickness over it early in a draft; while they’re less likely to have as large an impact on the board state, they’re more likely to deal with a creature permanently. If you are playing Domestication and your opponent knows that, they can save their pump effects to deal with it, and side in additional pump effects and enchantment removal, so you might also considering siding it out, especially if you don’t have other enchantment or artifact targets (all enchantment removal in M14 also hits artifacts).