M14: Archetype wheel

Magic 2014 Archetype Wheel

If we take all the archetypes discussed in my last post and plot them on a color wheel, this is what we get. A line between 2 colors indicates that there is an archetype that spans those 2 colors (we’ll ignore the occasional 3- and 5-color decks in M14), and is labeled with the archetype name. A thick line indicates that the archetype that is more likely to come together in a draft because it relies on fewer key cards or requires fewer uncommons/rares; these are the archetypes that were bolded in my last post. Archetypes that rely on specific rares or multiple copies of a common/uncommon in order to function are riskier to attempt and are indicated with thinner lines. If you want to read more about a particular archetype, my last post has a list of the key cards for each archetype and links to more detailed descriptions.

The purpose of the archetype wheel is to help us see visually which colors support the most number of archetypes and, therefore, offer the most flexibility. This can help when choosing between 2 cards of similar power levels in the early stages of a draft. For instance, white and red support the most number of archetypes, so you might take a card in one of those colors slightly higher pack 1, pick 1. White is especially flexible in that it has a likely archetype with each other color. The downside of this is that you’re more likely to be competing with other players for good white cards.

On the other hand, black only pairs well with white, and so offers less flexibility, but you’re also likely to face less competition for good black cards. Also, a good W/B enchantments deck is one of the strongest decks in the format. This does not mean that W/B is the only possible color pair for black, just that it is the only one that offers strong synergies; I have seen good U/B and B/G decks drafted when cards in those colors were flowing.

Note that W/B, U/R, R/G, and R/W each support 2 archetypes, although U/R is the only one that supports 2 archetypes that are likely to come together. While the 2 U/R archetypes are quite different, they both want red burn spells and blue removal/pseudo-removal (Claustrophobia, Time Ebb, Disperse, and Frost Breath), as well as certain uncommons like Young Pyromancer, so it is likely that a table can only support 1 of each. Also, while Slivers can be G/R, G/W, or R/W, an 8-person draft can usually support only 2 Sliver decks.

Let’s look at one more piece of information. This spreadsheet summarizes card quality by color. It shows that white will have the most number of bombs in an average 8-person draft, but also the most number of unplayable cards by far. Black will have the most number of bombs + exceptional cards, and black and green will have the most number of bomb + exceptional + playable cards in a draft. This means that it is more difficult to put together a white deck, since white has fewer playables spread across more archetypes, while it will often be easier to get enough playable black cards since it has more playables spread across fewer archetypes.

Weaving all this information together, we can conclude that a typical draft will likely have:

  • 1 W/U skies deck
  • 2 W/B enchantments decks (which tend to be heavier black), one of which might also have a lifegain subtheme
  • 1 U/R tempo deck
  • 1 U/R control deck
  • 2 Slivers deck: 1 R/G and 1 R/W or G/W
  • Given that there are 4 white decks, 3 blue decks, 2 black decks, 3.5 red decks, and 1.5 green decks, and that black and green also have the most number of playables in the typical draft, the last deck is likely to be B/G or 5-color green

This is the last M14 post I have planned for now, since I’ve run most of the analysis that I’d wanted to. If I missed your favorite archetype, if you’d like me to look at another card more closely, or if you’d like to write a guest post, please email me at sameer underscore (_) merchant at yahoo or leave a comment below.

M14: Summary of archetypes

Here’s a summary of the M14 archetypes we’ve covered, in the order they were discussed. Archetypes in bold require fewer uncommons/rares or have more substitutes, and are therefore more likely to come together in a draft. These archetypes may also be able to support more than one drafter at an 8-person draft. “+” is used to separate different categories of cards required for the archetype. Italics denote cards that are secondary for this archetype and should usually be drafted once you have a number of the non-italicized cards listed. [] indicates that a card is rare or mythic.

  • G/R, G/W, R/W, G/R/W, or 5-color green Slivers: Manaweft Sliver, Predatory Sliver, Battle Sliver, [rare Slivers], Steelform Sliver, [Door of Destinies] + mana fixing if playing 5-color green (Verdant Haven, Shimmering Grotto)
  • G/R Beasts: Beasts (Kalonian Tusker, Rumbling Baloth, Marauding Maulhorn) + Beasts tribal effects (Advocate of the Beast, [Door of Destinies])
  • B/W(/g) lifegain deck: Lifegain-matters cards (Angelic Accord, Sanguine Bond, Voracious Wurm) + lifegain (Mark of the Vampire, Child of Night, Corrupt, Congregate, Bubbling Cauldron, Trading Post, Elixir of Immortality, Brindle Boar)
  • B/W enchantments: Enchantments-matter cards (Blightcaster, [Ajani’s Chosen], Auramancer — if you have Quag Sickness) + enchantments (Quag Sickness, Pacifism, Mark of the Vampire)
  • B/R sacrifice: Act of Treason, Tenacious Dead, [Chandra’s Phoenix], [Dark Prophecy] + sacrifice outlets (Barrage of Expendables, Blood Bairn, Gnawing Zombie, Altar’s Reap, Bubbling Cauldron, Trading Post) + token generators (Young Pyromancer, Molten Birth)
  • U/G mill: [Jace Memory Adept], [Traumatize], [Jace’s Mindseeker], Millstone, Tome Scour + Archaeomancer + stall (Time Ebb, Frost Breath, countermagic + Deadly Spider, Seacoast Drake, Wall of Frost)
  • U/R control: Academy Raider, Archaeomancer + stall (burn, countermagic, Time Ebb, Disperse, Frost Breath) + card advantage (card draw, [Strionic Resonator]) + win conditions
  • U/R tempo: Trained Condor, Goblin Shortcutter + cheap creatures + burn + tempo (Time Ebb, Frost Breath, Disperse) + finishers (Seismic Stomp, Lava Axe). Watch out for Shrivel.
  • W/U skies: Wall of Frost, Seacoast Drake, Angelic Wall + white/blue evasion creatures (especially Warden of Evos Isle, [Seraph of the Sword], [Windreader Sphinx]) + removal (Claustrophobia, Pacifism, Sensory Deprivation, Time Ebb, Disperse, Frost Breath) + creature enhancement (Accorder’s Shield, Fireshieker, Divine Favor)
  • G/B(/x) or 5-color green Gladecover Scout: Gladecover Scout + enhancing Auras (Trollhide, Mark of the Vampire, Dark Favor, Lightning Talons, Illusionary Armor, Divine Favor) + mana fixing if playing 5-color green (Verdant Haven, Shimmering Grotto). Watch out for Celestial Flare.
  • R/W tokens: Young Pyromancer, Molten Birth, Hive Stirrings + Barrage of Expendables, Bubbling Cauldron + Fortify, [Ogre Battledriver], [Path to Bravery]. Watch out for Shrivel.

M14: Rod of Ruin and Shrivel

I’ve never been quite sure how highly to take Rod of Ruin in M14 drafts. While it is reusable removal, it is also quite expensive. In my post on the B/R sacrifice deck, I’d determined that “27% of the must-kill creatures” and “23% of the flyers” in an average draft have 1 toughness. There is a bit of an overlap here, since both numbers include must-kill flyers, but it means that Rod of Ruin can kill about a quarter of the must-kill/flying creatures your opponent plays. M14 draft decks usually run about 12-16 creatures, so a typical deck will have 3-4 1-toughness creatures. Furthermore, the threat of activation is often sufficient to let you get creatures past blockers or to strand 1-toughness creatures in your opponent’s hand, and it can slowly ping away at your opponent if the board is stalled.

(Note: must-kill differs from my usual evaluation scale of bomb through unplayable. It means the creature can create problematic board states if it remains on the table. A creature like Goblin Shortcutter with a great enters-the-battlefield ability can be very playable but still not must-kill. Other less playable creatures like Striking Sliver and Nightwing Shade are must-kill because you can end up losing the game if you’re not able to deal with them in a timely manner. If your deck is sufficiently aggressive, you may be able to kill your opponent before these creatures become a problem, and so may need less removal. Note also that large flyers are not classified as must-kill unless they also possess problematic abilities, e.g., Archangel of Thune, since they can be gang blocked in theory. In practice, you usually either need a removal spell or a Deadly Recluse.)

I also want to know if Rod of Ruin is more likely to be effective against certain color pairs, so I know whether to side it in/out against certain decks, regardless of what I’ve seen them play so far. Partly, this is because of a recent game I played against a U/R deck. I didn’t see any 1-toughness creatures in game 1, so I reluctantly sided out the Rod of Ruin out for a Naturalize, and then found myself staring down 2 Academy Rectors and a Trained Condor.

Here’s an updated version of the spreadsheet I’d created for that post. This version also computes how many creatures you can expect to see of each type in a typical 8-person draft. It also includes additional columns that sum up the number of must-kill, not must-kill, flyers, non-flyers, and all creatures. Looking at the number of must-kill creatures by color, we see that red has the most by far (6.3) because of Academy Raider, Striking Sliver, Young Pyromancer, and Goblin Diplomat. Each color is typically shared by 3 players, so an average R/X deck will have 2.1 must-kill red creatures with a toughness of 1. That’s not a large number, but it still means you might want to consider keeping Rod of Ruin in against R/X decks, even if you haven’t seen a lot of problematic creatures. Red also has the highest total number of creatures with 1-toughness in an average 8-person draft (14.7), followed by black (11.1), white (9.9), blue (7.9), and green (6.0).

Shrivel also kills 1-toughness creatures, but on both sides of the table. Consequently, it ends up going very late and often languishes in sideboards. However, I think it is actually a reasonable sideboard against R/X decks, and especially against U/R tempo decks since it kills Goblin Shortcutter, Coral Merfolk, and Trained Condor. Shrivel is also a reasonable card to side in against Young Pyromancer or Sporemound, since it can kill the tokens they produce. However, you need to ensure that your deck doesn’t have too many 1-toughness creatures yourself, or that you delay playing some of them if you haven’t yet cast the Shrivel.

Why are we not also talking about Barrage of Expendables, Thorncaster Sliver, Festering Newt, and Wring Flesh, even though they also kill 1-toughness creatuers? I already talked about Barrage of Expendables previously, and part of the benefit of the card is that it lets you sacrifice creatures, not just that it does a point of damage. Thorncaster Sliver is usually surrounded by other Slivers and so will usually do more than 1 point of damage. Festering Newt trades with 2/2’s. And Wring Flesh is an excellent combat trick that I’ve heard compared to Giant Growth; while it can’t save a creature from Shock or do the last 3 points of damage to an opponent, instead it sometimes kill a 1-toughness creature.

M14: Follow-up on the Gladecover Scout deck

I attempted to draft the Gladecover Scout deck at a casual draft yesterday. My first pick was Garruk Caller of Beasts, but the next few packs had very little to offer, so I took 2 Gladecover Scouts, Elvish Mystic, 2 Verdant Havens, and Howl of the Night Pack (not in that order). At this point, I figured I could easily splash strong enhancing Auras from most colors, so I was planning to take them, and any additional Gladecover Scouts, over anything but bombs. I stuck to that plan, taking 2 Trollhides over Pacifisms, even though I knew could splash the latter. I was monogreen until the middle of pack 2, when I finally saw some non-green enhancing Auras in the form of Mark of the Vampire, Dark Favor, Lightning Talons, and Illusionary Armor. (At that point, I had 4 Verdant Havens, so I had no concern about splashing cards from multiple colors.)

Unfortunately, I never saw any more Gladecover Scouts, or any Witchstalkers. I did pick up a Ranger’s Guile (and passed a second one) which someone else suggested is equivalent to a Gladecover Scout in my deck since I also had 3 Trollhides. I disagree with that assessment, however, because the creature can still be shut down by Pacifism, Claustrophobia, Time Ebb, Disperse, and a few other spells that regeneration doesn’t protect against. I didn’t want to splash the non-green Auras since there was a high likelihood that I would not have a Gladecover Scout in my opening hand, and I would not be excited to put these Auras on the other creatures in my deck.

Luckily, I had enough decent green cards to build a monogreen deck. I did run the 2 Gladecover Scouts I’d drafted, and they worked quite well with my Accorder’s Shield, 3 TrollHides, 3 Hunt the Weaks, and 3 other pump spells. The deck’s only paths to victory were Gladecover Scout + Trollhide, Garruk Caller of Beasts, or Howl of the Night, but I still managed to win all 4 matches I played, probably because no one at the table had a particularly strong deck. Also, this was a very casual draft, and you shouldn’t expect to do particularly well with a monogreen deck like mine at most drafts.

Conclusion: it’s risky to attempt to draft the Gladecover Scout deck. An average 8-person draft will have only 2.4 Gladecover Scouts. That number goes up to 2.8 if you include Witchstalkers, but that is likely to be drafted highly by other green players, and possibly even raredrafted if you’re at a casual draft. Even though I had 2 Gladecover Scouts before we were halfway through the first pack, I never saw another one, even though I was one of only 2 green drafters at the table, and there aren’t any good alternatives to him in M14.

M14: The tokens deck

Another deck that I have yet to try is the tokens deck. It is usually centered around Young Pyromancer, Molten Birth, and Barrage of Expendables. This spreadsheet lists all the cards in M14 that produce tokens, and also attempts to list most of the cards that interact particularly well with tokens. Cards in bold are particularly important to the strategy, while cards in italics help tokens get through blockers. (I haven’t listed pumps spells here, only effects that have a more permanent impact.)

From this, it seems that the deck wants to be R/W, with:

  • Young Pyromancer, Molten Birth, and Hive Stirrings to produce tokens
  • Goblin Shortcutter, Master of Diversion, and Seismic Stomp to help the tokens get past blockers
  • Fortify, Lightning Talons, Shiv’s Embrace, and Ogre Battledriver to help push damage through
  • Barrage of Expendables, Congregate, Path of Bravery, and Bubbling Cauldron to buy time, plus Act of Treason if the deck has a reasonable number of sac outlets (or to enable an earlier alpha strike)

If you have a chance to pick up Dark Prophecy and/or Gnawing Zombie, you can also try to make a B/R tokens deck that looks a lot like the B/R sacrifice deck I’d written about previously. In addition to these cards and the red cards from the list above, Altar’s Reap, Blood Bairn, and Vile Rebirth are also important, especially if you have a Young Pyromancer on the table.

One downside of this deck is that Young Pyromancer is good in just about every red deck, so you won’t get passed it very often. But if you do draft an early Young Pyromancer, keep this deck in mind as an option.

EDIT: Shrivel can be a problem for this deck since most of its key token producers make 1/1 tokens. Be careful to not overextend into it against opponents playing black, especially post-board.

M14: The Gladecover Scout deck

The Gladecover Scout deck involves putting Auras on a Gladecover Scout or a Witchstalker and smashing in with a large hexproof creature. I’ve been meaning to try this deck out for a while, but haven’t yet been willing to prioritize Gladecover Scouts highly enough, and this deck obviously does not work without them. A friend recently assured me that this is a strong deck, so I will try to give it a shot at some point and report back. Meanwhile, the goal of this post is to figure out what colors this deck usually is and which other cards I’ll need to prioritize when attempting to draft this archetype.

This spreadsheet lists all the Auras, global enchantments, instants, sorceries, and planeswalkers that can enhance a creature’s power/toughness or grant it additional abilities, whether temporarily or permanently. Green and white have the most cards that go in this archetype, but black also offers some key cards at uncommon, especially Mark of the Vampire, which can make it very difficult for your opponent to race.

  • Green (permanent effects): Hunt the Weak, Trollhide, Oath of the Ancient Wood (rare), Primeval Bounty (mythic)
  • Green (temporary effects): Giant Growth, Ranger’s Guile, Enlarge (uncommon)
  • White (permanent effects): Divine Favor, Blessing (uncommon), Indestructibility (rare), Path of Bravery (rare), Ajani Caller of the Pride (mythic)
  • White (temporary effects): Fortify, Show of Valor
  • Blue: Zephyr Charge, Illusionary Armor (uncommon)
  • Black: Dark Favor, Mark of the Vampire
  • Red: Lightning Talons, Shiv’s Embrace (uncommon)
  • Artifact: Accorder’s Shield (uncommon), Fireshrieker (uncommon), Door of Destinies (rare), Haunted Plate Mail (rare)

Looking more closely at the cards listed above, it seems that this deck should usually be G/B, with Trollhide and Mark of the Vampire being the key commons, as well as Ranger’s Guild if you are running several creatures without hexproof to complement your Gladecover Scouts. At other rarities, Oath of the Ancient Wood, Primeval Bounty, and the artifacts listed can also contribute to a strong deck. The deck is also happy to splash white, blue, and red for Divine Favor, Illusionary Armor, and Lightning Talons respectively.

When playing this deck, you need to be very careful to not walk into Celestial Flare when either attacking or blocking. Shrivel can also be an issue if your Gladecover Scout is enchanted only with Lightning Talons and/or Indestructibility. This, along with the fact that you won’t always draw Gladecover Scout (or be willing to try to mulligan to it) means that the deck also needs other creatures. The deck generally wants to run cheaper creatures so it can put an Aura on them and start attacking, so here are the 1-3 mana creatures in green and black that seem to be good candidates for this archetype:

  • 1cc: Elvish Mystic, Festering Newt, Tenacious Dead (uncommon)
  • 2cc: Child of Night, Corpse Hauler, Predatory Sliver, Gnawing Zombie (uncommon), Manaweft Sliver (uncommon), Voracious Wurm (uncommon), Scavenging Ooze (rare)
  • 3cc: Brindle Boar, Rootwalla, Lifebane Zombie (rare), Syphon Sliver (rare), Witchstalker (rare)

Blightcaster is also a key card since the deck already runs several Auras. If the deck has sufficient mana fixing, other cards from the enchantments and lifegain decks can also be included.

M14: Archaeomancer

To date, I’ve mentioned Archaeomancer in the context of a few different archetypes: U/R control, U/G control, U/G mill, and W/U skies. And intuitively, it would seem that U/R or U/B are the best color pairs for Archaeomancer since you can regrow instant/sorcery removal in those decks. (Much of the removal in white and blue is in the form of enchantments, and the removal in green is largely conditional, hitting flyers and non-creature permanents.) However, I always prefer hard numbers (hence this blog), so let’s get crunching.

M14 has 61 instants and sorceries. This spreadsheet breaks them down by color, rarity, and quality. It’s clear that red and black have the most number of exceptional instants/sorceries per player in an average M14 draft (0.6 and 0.4 respectively). If you combine bomb, exceptional, and playable instants/sorceries, red and green have the most (1.4 and 1.2 respectively). This corroborates some of my intuition above, and seems to reinforce U/R control as the best home for Archaeomancer.

However, this also include spells that are better in aggro decks (e.g., Act of Treason and most combat tricks) or spells that usually win you the game when cast (e.g., Devout Invocation and Planar Cleansing). Let’s take a slightly different look at this; let’s look at which instants/sorceries we’d most want to recast:

  • White: Celestial Flare
  • Blue: Cancel, Divination, Essence Scatter, Frost Breath, Negate, Time Ebb, Tome Scour, Opportunity (uncommon); you won’t usually want to recur Traumatize since the second casting will typically mill about as many cards as a Tome Scour
  • Black: Altar’s Reap, Liturgy of Blood, Wring Flesh, Corrupt (uncommon), Doom Blade (uncommon)
  • Red: Chandra’s Outrage, Shock, Flames of the Firebrand (uncommon), Molten Birth (uncommon), Volcanic Geyser (uncommon)
  • Green: Fog, Hunt the Weak, Plummet, Howl of the Night Pack (uncommon), Windstorm (uncommon)

Blue itself has the most number of instants and sorceries we’d want to regrow with Archaeomancer, and white has the least. Black, red, and green have similar numbers of them, but red has the most number of good removal spells, followed by black. The green instants and sorceries have very specific purposes, with Plummet and Windstorm only being useful against flyers, and Fog usually only useful if you’re playing a mill deck or if your opponent has falter effects.

Conclusion: Archaeomancer is at its best in U/R control where it can recur removal and blue card draw and counterspells, and in G/U mill where it can recur mill spells and cards like Fog and Frost Breath that can buy you time to mill your opponent out. It may also be playable in U/G control and U/B. That is a fairly limited set of archetypes and Archaeomancer only leaves a 1/2 body behind, so I would consider it only conditionally playable.