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.

ORI: Expected numbers of copies of a card

Magic Origins has 101 commons, 80 uncommons, 55 rares, and 16 mythics. This means that an 8-person ORI/ORI/ORI draft will have an average of 2.4 copies of a given common, 0.9 copies of a given uncommon, 0.4 copies of a given rare, and 0.2 copies of a given mythic.

ORI: Compact FAQ

This is a compact version of the Magic Origins FAQ (16 pages vs. 39 pages for the original).

ORI: List of instant-speed tricks

This is a list of all the instant-speed tricks in Magic Origins. The first table has the spell names while the second one has abbreviated spell descriptions in case you don’t remember what the spell does. Note that the latter table may not accurately represent all uses of the spell and often leaves out certain details. Also, I sometimes make mistakes while filling out these tables; please let me know if you spot any issues.

Both tables categorize the tricks by converted mana cost, color, and rarity. Unless specified otherwise, each colored spell has one colored mana in its mana cost with the rest being generic mana, so a 3-mana white spell with no explicit cost listed has a mana cost of 2W. I also specify mana costs if the spell has X in its mana cost, is multicolored, or costs more than the column it is specified in. Spells in bold can leave a creature in play, e.g., flash creatures, spells that create token creatures, or spells that allow you to cast creatures at instant speed.

Here’s how to interpret the second table:

  • Abbreviations used: ~ (this card), A (artifact), attkr (attacker), blkr (blocker), 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), 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 (put 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), T (toughness), your X (X you control).
  • Spells that confer an effect (+X/+Y, -X/-Y, hexproof, first strike, prot from a color, etc.) last until end of turn unless specified otherwise.
  • Spells can target any legal permanent or player unless otherwise specified, e.g., X dmg without any qualifiers means that the spell does X damage to any creature or player.
  • Spell descriptions sometimes mention other spells as a way to describe their effects, e.g., Vine Snare is described as “Fog all C’s with P <= 4".

ORI: Compact spoiler

This is a 9-page version of the full Magic Origins spoiler. The card image gallery at DailyMTG is 70 pages, so I’m hoping this saves a couple of trees, while also being easier to carry in your pocket for reference. This spoiler is also text instead of images, so it’s easier to search for card types or keywords before the set is available on Gatherer.

M15: Convoke

Magic 2015 has 22 cards with convoke: 7 in green, 6 in white, 4 in black, 2 in red, 1 in blue, and 2 artifacts. Their quality varies considerably from exceptional (Devouring Light) to unplayable (Meditation Puzzle). There are also a few that remain to be evaluated: Seraph of the Masses, Feral Incarnation, and Overwhelm (which I’d initially evaluated, incorrectly, as a bomb). The quality of these cards depends largely on the number and quality of token producers in the set.

Magic 2015 has 17 cards that produce tokens. While the quality of these cards appears to be quite high at first glance (2 bombs, 7 exceptional, 4 good, 3 TBD, and only 1 unplayable), the expensive ones are less likely to be helpful in powering out expensive convoke spells early. Let’s just look at the ones that cost 4 mana or less:

  • 2cc: Raise the Alarm (excellent), Waste Not (unplayable since Black Cat and Mind Rot are the only non-rare ways to make your opponent discard cards), Spirit Bonds (rare), Necromancer’s Stockpile (generating a token requires discarding a creature, so you don’t actually have more creatures in play, at least in the short term)
  • 3cc: Coral Barrier (good), Hornet Nest (rare, and tokens are only produced when the creature dies), Chasm Skulker (rare, and tokens are only produced when the creature dies), Goblin Rabblemaster (rare)
  • 4cc: Brood Keeper (high setup cost), First Response (high setup cost)

Surprisingly, there are only 2 non-rare cards that produce tokens, cost 4cc or less, and don’t have a high setup cost: Raise the Alarm and Coral Barrier. The first card on the list confirms an intuition I’ve had for some time now: Raise the Alarm is the key enabler for convoke decks, not just because it enables some of the god draws, but because it’s one of the only cheap ways to get multiple creatures on the table. However, having Coral Barrier be the only other card on the list challenges my preconceived notion that, since 59% of the convoke cards are in green or white, the convoke deck should be G/W.

Reviewing the list of convoke spells, it seems that all the exceptional spells are white or artifact anyway, so perhaps W/U can utilize convoke most effectively, perhaps in the form of a skies deck that uses Raise the Alarm and Coral Barrier to hold down the fort. Military Intelligence is likely to be quite good in a deck with fliers and tokens, and Seraph of the Masses is likely to be an excellent finisher.

Note that this does not mean that Siege Wurm is not good, just that you cannot expect to reliably play it on turn 4, even in a G/W deck. It also means that Overwhelm and Feral Incarnation are likely unplayable given the speed of the format.

M15: Mill and self-mill cards

Magic 2015 has only 2 cards that let you mill your opponent: Mind Sculpt and Grindclock (rare). Grindclock is playable as the only mill card in a control deck since it enables a turn 11 win if played on turn 2 and set to 5-9 counters. Mind Sculpt is unplayable, even in multiples; if you assume a typical game in this format runs about 10 turns (a generous assumption given the speed of aggressive decks in the format), you still have to mill 23 cards. That requires you draw 4 Mind Sculpts, 3 if your opponent plays any draw spells or self-mill cards. By turn 10, you’ve seen about half your deck, which means you need to have drafted 6-8 Mind Sculpts, but an 8-person draft will only have 2.4 of them on average.

The set does have a few other cards that let you mill yourself and several cards that benefit from you having more cards in your graveyard. There are 4 cards that allow you to mill yourself: Satyr Wayfinder, Necromancer’s Assistant, Jace the Living Guildpact (mythic), and the previously mentioned Grindclock (rare); Mind Sculpt only allows you to mill opponents. This means that an 8-person Magic 2015 draft has an average of only 5.6 cards that let you mill yourself. If you’re playing B/G/u and draft all 5.6 of these cards, this means that 1 out of 7 cards in the resulting deck will be a self-mill card, so you can expect to have 1 in your starting hand and draw another over the course of the game.

Next, let’s look at the cards that benefit from having cards in your graveyard to see whether 1-2 self-mill spells is sufficient to power them. Magic 2015 offers us Return to the Ranks (rare), Endless Obedience (uncommon), Gravedigger (uncommon), Liliana Vess (mythic), Soul of Innistrad (mythic), Unmake the Graves, Restock (uncommon), Undergrowth Scavenger, Vineweft (unplayable), and Profane Memento (uncommon). Looking at this list makes it clear that self-mill decks in Magic 2015 (as in most recent formats) are B/G. Of these, there are only a handful of common/uncommon cards that I’d be happy to play if I were only expecting to see 1-2 self mill cards over the course of a game: Endless Obedience, Gravedigger, Unmake the Graves, and Restock.

Looking at both sides of the equation, it seems that there are neither enough self-mill cards nor enough powerful commons and uncommons that benefit from them to make it worth trying to assemble a dedicated B/G self-mill deck. However, it could be a reasonable subtheme in a B/X deck that has a couple of Necromancer’s Assistants.

M15: Tribal effects

Magic 2015 has 11 cards with tribal effects: Obelisk of Urd, Belligerent Sliver, Constricting Sliver, Diffusion Sliver, Leeching Sliver, Venom Sliver, Sliver Hivelord, Preeminent Captain (Soldiers), Necromancer’s Stockpile (Zombies), Crucible of Fire (Dragons), and Goblin Rabblemaster (Goblins).

The first time I drafted Obelisk of Urd, I had a R/G deck that didn’t have more than 4 of any creature type. I was short on playables so I ended up running it. As might be expected, it never gave more than 1 creature +2/+2 and was underwhelming. The next time I drafted Obelisk of Urd, I had a B/r deck with 11 Zombies and the card was a beating and a half whenever it hit play. It was clear from these experiences that the value of Obelisk of Urd depends heavily on the colors you’re drafting. It was also clear that if Obelisk of Urd gives 2+ creatures in play +2/+2, you’re likely to win the game. Let’s take a look at all the tribes in Magic 2015 to determine which color combinations work best with Obelisk of Urd. While determining that, we will also look at which color combinations work best for the other tribal cards in Magic 2015.

This spreadsheet contains a summary of all the creatures in Magic 2015 (including Raise the Alarm, Triplicate Spirit, and Feral Incarnation). That information is summarized by creature type and rarity, with unplayable and sideboard-only cards excluded. The total column shows the expected number of playable/TBD creatures of that creature type in a typical draft.

Looking at this, there are 8 tribes that are expected to have 8+ representatives in an average 8-person draft:

  • Humans are spread across all 5 colors, but W/U, R/W, and U/R have access to the most number of playable ones: 13.5, 12.6, and 11.1 respectively.
  • Elementals are spread across blue, red, and green. G/U has access to 12.2, U/R has access to 11.9, and R/G has access to 9.9.
  • Warriors are almost entirely in red, which has 8.8 in a typical draft.
  • Goblins are entirely in red, with 11.2 in a typical draft.
  • Soldiers are entirely in white, with 10.2 in a typical draft. Note that while Raise the Alarm doesn’t combo with Preeminent Captain, it combos really well with Obelisk of Urd, allowing you to cast it earlier and turn your 1/1’s into 3/3’s. (Similarly, while there are only an average of 6 Spirits in a typical draft, Obelisk of Urd can be absurd with Triplicate Spirits.)
  • Zombies are entirely in black, with 9.8 in a typical draft.
  • Walls are spread across all 5 colors, and no color combination has more than 6.
  • Cats are spread across white, blue, and black, and no color combination has more than 6.

Given these numbers, it seems that most color combinations can make good use of Obelisk of Urd if you draft it early and know what creature types to start drafting once you’ve drafted it. Red provides access to the most options.

  • White: Soldiers (W/X) or Humans (W/U or R/W)
  • Blue: Humans (W/U or U/R) or Elementals (G/U or U/R), so only U/B doesn’t work
  • Black: Zombies (B/X)
  • Red: Warriors (R/X), Goblins (R/X), Humans (R/W or U/R), or Elementals (U/R or R/G)
  • Green: Elementals (G/U or R/G), so only B/G and G/W don’t work

From this, it appears that Preeminent Captain, Necromancer’s Stockpile, and Goblin Rabblemaster have the potential to be good in their respective colors. On the other hand, there are only 2 Dragons in Magic 2015, both at rare, plus Brood Keeper, so Crucible of Fire is unplayable. Also, the set only has 5 playable/TBD Slivers (I don’t consider Sliver Hivelord playable in most decks), all at uncommon, so an 8-person draft will have an average of 4.5 Slivers. Constricting Sliver, Belligerent Sliver, and Venom Sliver are good on their own, but Diffusion Sliver and Leeching Sliver are unplayable.

M15: Converted mana cost distributions

The charts below show the converted mana costs (CMCs) of playable creatures and spells, respectively, by color. (Raise the Alarm, Triplicate Spirits, and Feral Incarnation are counted as creatures rather than spells.) Playable spells are those that I’ve previously evaluated as bombs, exceptional, or good; some of those evaluations have been updated after analysis in subsequent posts. The y-axis of the chart shows the expected number of playables of that color and CMC in an 8-person draft, and weights commons, uncommons, rares, and mythics by the expected number of copies of each in a draft. The charts don’t account for convoke, so white and green spells will appear more expensive than they are in practice.

CMC Distribution - Creatures CMC Distribution - Spells

There are 3 things I want to examine.

  • How many playable 1-2 mana green and blue creatures can we expect to see in a draft? We can combine this information with that from last week’s post to determine how good the various creature reuse spells are. An 8-person draft will, on average, have 3 1-mana (all green) and 7 2-mana creatures (4 green, 3 blue) that fit this bill. Assuming that there are 3 drafters at the table in each color, you can expect to get 1 playable 1-mana creature and 2 playable 2-mana creatures, which is not enough to consistently play Invasive Species on turn 3 or Roaring Primadox on turn 4. Both cards do offer opportunities in the long game by allowing you to recur Frost Lynx, Kapsho Kitefins, Living Totem, Satyr Wayfinder, Shaman of Spring, and Reclamation Sage, but Magic 2015 seems like a fairly fast format so far, and so Invasive Species and Roaring Primadox are probably best relegated to the sideboard and brought in against slower decks where you have to grind out card advantage. Peel from Reality and Quickling are still both excellent, since they can be used at instant speed to save your creatures from removal.
  • Is there a glut of good creatures at 3-mana? I have had a couple of drafts so far that have been heavy on 3-mana creatures, especially when playing black, but am not sure whether that is typical in this format. From the chart on the left, we can see that blue certainly has a plethora of good 3-mana creatures, but this is not true for the other colors. If you are drafting a U/X deck, you might want to pick 3-drops a little less highly. Conversely, black decks should prioritize 2-drops. Looking at (non-creature) spells, we see that red has a large number at 2 mana, as does blue to a lesser extent. Similarly, white has a fair number of spells at 3 mana.
  • Do any color pairs have mana curves that fit together particularly well? White and red both have a fair number of playable 2-drops and fewer 3-drops, while blue and black have fewer 2-drops and more 3-drops. W/R decks in Magic 2015 tend to be aggressive while U/B decks tend to be controlling, so it may seem that these colors don’t fit well together. However, a fast start from a red or white deck backed up by Frost Lynx has the potential to be quite devastating, so it might be worth considering W/U, W/B, U/R, and B/R decks.

M15: G/U creature reuse

Magic 2015 has a plethora of ways to return permanents, especially creatures, to your hand. Some of these, such as Into the Void, can be used on opponents’ creatures and so are always playable if you’re in the color. Others, such as Peel from Reality and Quickling, are instant speed and so are usually playable even if you don’t have particularly cheap creatures or creatures with enters-the-battlefield (ETB) triggers. However, cards such as Invasive Species and Roaring Primadox usually need to be in a deck with multiple ETB triggers in order to shine, so let’s take a look at what Magic 2015 has to offer in that department.

The list below has all the permanents in Magic 2015 that have ETB triggers, sorted by color and rarity. I’ve bolded the common/uncommon creatures that we really want to recur, or that provide a reasonable benefit when we recur other creatures. Italics mean that this permanent has an ETB effect that allows you to reuse creatures.

  • White:
    • commons: Heliod’s Pilgrim (x), Kinsbaile Skirmisher (/, ETB is irrelevant), Midnight Guard (~, ETB is irrelevant), Tireless Missionaries (x)
    • uncommons: Boonweaver Giant (x), Constricting Sliver (B, but it’s only useful to recur Slivers played before Constricting Sliver was played, and the set has very few good Slivers)
    • rares: Resolute Archangel (B), Spirit Bonds (+)
    • non-creatures: Divine Favor (common, x)
  • Blue:
    • commons: Coral Barrier (/, but ETB is rarely relevant), Frost Lynx (/)
    • uncommons: Kapsho Kitefins (+), Quickling (+)
  • Black:
    • commons: Necromancer’s Assistant (~, ETB is useful only in a very specific archetype), Rotfeaster Maggot (S)
    • uncommons: Gravedigger (/)
  • Red:
    • commons: Forge Devil (/), Foundry Street Denizen (~, ETB is irrelevant)
    • rares: Hoarding Dragon (B, ETB is irrelevant since you lose access to the exiled artifact if you bounce Hoarding Dragon), Siege Dragon (B, ETB is rarely relevant)
    • non-creatures: Hammerhand (common)
  • Green:
    • commons: Invasive Species (?), Living Totem (/), Satyr Wayfinder (/), Shaman of Spring (/), Undergrowth Scavenger (?, ETB is irrelevant except perhaps in a B/G self-mill deck)
    • uncommons: Reclamation Sage (+)
    • rares: Genesis Hydra (+), Hornet Queen (B), Kalonian Twingrove (+)
    • non-creatures: Verdant Haven (/, ETB is irrelevant)
  • Artifact/Land (all non-creatures):
    • commons: Radiant Fountain (S)
    • uncommons: Meteorite (~), Staffs of the X Magus (x)
    • rares: Obelisk of Urd (?, ETB is rarely relevant), Phyrexian Revoker (~, ETB is rarely relevant)

Looking over this list, it is clear that there are only a small number creatures that we want to replay or that cause us to want to replay other creatures. Most of these creatures are in blue and green, which are also the colors with the most ways to bounce your creatures. Blue has Peel from Reality at common, Quickling at uncommon, and Mercurial Pretender at rare. It also has other cards that let you bounce your own creatures or your opponents’ creatures: Void Snare at common, Into the Void at uncommon, and Jace the Living Guildpact at mythic. Green has Invasive Species at common and Roaring Primadox at uncommon. Of these cards, only Void Snare and Jace the Living Guildpact let you bounce non-creatures, so we do not have a reliable way to reuse ETB effects on those.

Consequently, a creature reuse deck will usually be G/U, and the colors do have enough bounce and ETB effects that the 2 groups of cards can build off each other. The colors also have cheap creatures with ETB effects, so Invasive Species and Roaring Primadox can be played relatively on curve. It is worth noting that Satyr Wayfinder is the only creature in these colors that would be played on turn 1-2 and still have a useful ETB effect, so you should make sure to pick up a few of them if you’re drafting this deck. They can also fix your colors to some extent, so they can give you the option to splash ETB creatures from other colors.