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 forĀ 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.

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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.

M15: U/R artifacts

The playability of Aeronaut Tinkerer, Chief Engineer, Ensoul Artifact, Scrapyard Mongrel, and Shrapnel Blast all depend, at least in part, on the number and quality of artifacts in M15. The set has 29 artifacts, including Darksteel Citadel (which I’ve downgraded from good to conditional). Here’s a breakdown by rarity and quality (based on their own merits, not their interactions with other cards in M15).

Quality
Rarity Bomb Excep-
tional
Good Filler/
Conditional
Side-
board
Unplay-
able
TBD TOTAL
Common 2 1 1 4
Uncommon 4 2 1 7 1 15
Rare 2 1 3 1 7
Mythic 1 1 1 3
TOTAL 1 3 5 7 2 9 2 29

Let’s ignore the 9 unplayable and 2 sideboard cards. There are only 2 TBD cards, 1 each at uncommon and rare; they won’t have much impact on the results, so I will ignore them too. That leaves us:

  • Common: 2 filler/conditional cards
  • Uncommon: 4 good and 2 filler/conditional
  • Rare: 2 exceptional, 1 good, and 3 filler/conditional
  • Mythic: 1 bomb and 1 exceptional
    • In an 8-person draft, there will be an average of 0.2 bombs, 1 exceptional card, 4 good cards, and 7.8 filler/conditional cards, for a total of 13 cards. Any player can play an artifact card, so if they are shared evenly, we can only expect to end up with 1.6 on average. However, if we already have some cards that benefit from the presence of artifacts, we can draft artifacts a bit higher. In particular, the filler/conditional cards are likely to come around mid to late pick. Let’s assume that the bomb and exceptional cards are shared evenly among players, that we draft about twice the average share of good cards, and that we draft half the filler cards at the table (the other half might be lost to another player drafting a similar deck, or they might be a better pick in the pack). That would give us 5 artifacts, 4 of which would be filler. Consequently, we would expect to have 1 artifact in our opening hand and draw another one over the course of the game.

      Given that, here’s my evaluation of the cards listed above:

      • Aeronaut Tinkerer (/): It will usually have flying as long as your opponent does not destroy the artifact from your opening hand. Even if they do, you are left with a 2/3 that might regain flying later.
      • Chief Engineer (~): Since we only expect to see 2 artifacts over the course of the game, this will mostly function as a 1/3 blocker.
      • Ensoul Artifact (/): The dream is to play this on turn 2 on a 0/1cc artifact (ideally an Ornithopter) and attack for 5 on turn 2, or play it on a Darksteel Citadel and attack on turn 3 with a 5/5 indestructible creature. However, both those cards are uncommons so a draft will only have about 1 of each, on average. Even if you manage to draft them, there’s no guarantee you’ll start the game with them. Instead, they’re more likely to go on a random artifact and trade for 2 of your opponent’s creatures, resulting in no card advantage. Consequently, this is likely to be better as a late game play on a Darksteel Citadel, Ornithopter, or Gargoyle Sentinel. (Note that Ornithopter is not playable unless you have multiple cards that benefit from artifacts.)
      • Scrapyard Mongrel (/): A 4-mana 3/3 is filler, but this will often be a 5/3 trampler.
      • Shrapnel Blast (/): 5 damage is a lot, but if you have other blue/red cards that benefit from artifacts, then you won’t want to sacrifice your artifact unless you’re killing a particularly troublesome creature or your opponent.
        • Aeronaut Tinkerer and Scrapyard Mongrel are both commons, and ones that other blue and/or red players probably won’t value highly, so U/R artifacts is probably a reasonable archetype in M15 draft.

M15: Typical power/toughness of creatures

In order to determine how good a given creature is, as well as how effective a removal spell is, we need to know the typical power and toughness of creatures in the format. This spreadsheet uses the Must Kill breakdown from my initial set evaluation along with the expected number of cards at each rarity level to determine how likely a creature is to have a given power and toughness, and how likely that creature is one that you really have to get off the battlefield. As mentioned in that post, the Must Kill classification does not automatically include large creatures with flying (or other forms of evasion) since you can neutralize them if you have a large flier or spider.

It appears that the typical creature you will encounter in M15 has 2 power and 1 toughness, which means the format is likely to be aggressive. Must Kill creatures most commonly have a toughness of 2. (Yes/No in the charts below refer to whether the creature was classified as Must Kill.)

Magic 2015 Creatures Power Magic 2015 Creatures Toughness

Here are the percentage of creatures with power/toughness less than a given number.

N % Creatures with Power <= N % Creatures with Toughness <= N
0 7% 2%
1 33% 32%
2 69% 59%
3 86% 84%
4 96% 91%
5 100% 98%

And here are the percentage of Must Kill creatures with power/toughness less than a given number.

N % Must Kill Creatures with Power <= N % Must Kill Creatures with Toughness <= N
0 7% 7%
1 42% 23%
2 76% 65%
3 89% 89%
4 96% 94%
5 100% 95%

Removal that kills 1-toughness creatures can kill a quarter of the Must Kill creatures and a third of all the creatures in the set, so it is more useful than in other formats, and perhaps even maindeckable. (I will explore this in more depth in a future post once we have evaluated most of the creatures whose quality is TBD.) Removal that kills 2-toughness creatures can kill about two-thirds of all creatures in the format, Must Kill or otherwise, and so is definitely maindeckable. Removal that kills 3-toughness creatures hits about 90% of the creatures in the format.