JOU/BNG/THS: Followup on the mill deck

Last week, I’d hypothesized that mill decks in Theros block draft should be U/B, or perhaps U/W. I then proceeded to draft a mill deck that was actually U/G, like the mill decks in Magic 2014. I suspect this color combination is unusual for mill decks in this format; it came together primarily because I opened an Eidolon of Blossoms in my first pack, then took a Bassara Tower Archer (over a Thassa’s Devourer), a Golden Hind, and a Thassa’s Devourer hoping that the first one would lap the table (it did). In Born of the Gods, I picked up a pair of Evanescent Intellects, and then focused on rounding out the deck in the Theros pack. Here’s the deck I played:

Creatures Spells/Land Sideboard
Sedge Scorpion
Bassara Tower Archer
Golden Hind
Triton Fortune Hunter
War-Wing Siren
Nyxborn Triton
Nyxborn Wolf
Nylea’s Disciple
Cloaked Siren
Eidolon of Blossoms
Prescient Chimera
2 Thassa’s Devourer
Archetype of Endurance
2 Evanescent Intellect
Triton Tactics
Savage Surge
Ordeal of Nylea
Pin to the Earth
Kruphix’s Insight
Eternity Snare
Interpret the Signs

Temple of Plenty
8 Forests
8 Islands

Guardians of Meletis
Pillar of War
Hunt the Hunter
Defend the Hearth
Unravel the Aether
Fade into Antiquity
Aerial Formation
Lost in a Labyrinth
2 Stratus Walk
Pull from the Deep
Ephara’s Enlightenment
Leonin Iconoclast
Ephara’s Radiance
Font of Vigor
Glare of Heresy
Ray of Dissolution
Claim of Erebos

There were several tough cuts from the final build:

  • I really wanted to run the pair of Stratus Walks for the constellation/heroic triggers they offered and the interaction with Kruphix’s Insight, as well as the cantrip effect. However, I decided to run Prescient Chimera and Cloaked Siren instead, even though my deck only has 2 sorceries, 2 instants, no other flash creatures, and 2 instant-speed activated abilities. This is because I really didn’t want to go down to 12 creatures while running 5 Auras, 2 bestow effects, and 2 combat tricks. I also wanted to ensure I had enough aerial defense since this deck can take a while to get set up. (I should probably have prioritized Shredding Winds when drafting this deck, since it is fairly short on removal.)
  • Ephara’s Enlightenment combos well with my constellation creatures, but I would have had to run at least 2 Plains in addition to the Temple of Plenty, and I didn’t want to mess up my mana base. If I’d seen any other color fixing, I would have happily picked it up and run Ephara’s Enlightenment and Leonin Iconoclast.
  • Guardians of Meletis and Pillar of War would have fit the deck’s goal, but I had enough ground defense and enough 3cc creatures. I also didn’t want to expose myself to incidental artifact removal such as Reckless Reveler and Wild Celebrants since I wasn’t running any other artifacts.
  • Fade into Antiquity and Unravel the Aether would have provided my deck some much needed removal, but I couldn’t afford to run potentially dead cards.

The deck ended up going 1-2, but both the matches I lost were quite close, and I felt like things could have turned out differently if I’d had fewer mulligans or if my opponent has slightly slower starts. A particularly disappointing loss was to a B/G graveyard deck whose pilot was aiding me by milling his own library. However, I did win a game against him by playing Sedge Scorpion on turn 1 and Ordeal of Nylea on turn 2, and swinging for the fences.

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JOU/BNG/THS: The mill deck

Theros and Born of the Gods had a smattering of mill cards, but no particularly effective ones at common or uncommon other than Evanescent Intellect, which gave your opponent an opportunity to 2-for-1 you. Journey into Nyx brings Thassa’s Devourer and Countermand to the table. Does this give us a critical mass of mill cards in a block draft?

Let’s start by looking at all the cards in the format that help you get cards out of your opponent’s library, organized by set, rarity, and color. The number after the color indicates how many cards it mills. N / X means it is a reusable effect that mills N cards each time X occurs, whether that be a mana cost or an ability trigger.

Journey into Nyx Born of the Gods Theros
Common Countermand (blue, 4) Evanescent Intellect (blue, 3 / 1U+{T}) Thassa’s Bounty (blue, 3)
Thassa’s Devourer (blue, 2 / constellation) Forsaken Drifters (black, 4) Returned Centaur (black, 4)
Returned Reveler (black, 3)
Uncommon Dakra Mystic (blue, 1 / U+{T}) Siren of the Silent Song (U/B, 1 / inspired)
Rare Mindreaver (blue, 3 / heroic) Pyxis of Pandemonium (artifact, 1 / {T})
Daxos of Meletis (W/U, 1 / dealing combat dmg to opp)
Mythic Phenax, God of Deception (U/B, T / creature) Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver (U/B, 3 / turn)

Thassa’s Devourer is the strongest of the mill effects at common since it has a reusable effect with a reasonable trigger condition, and provides a strong defence that buys you time to mill out your opponent. None of the other common or uncommon mill effects in Journey into Nyx are worth building a deck around, and an 8-person draft will only have 1.3 copies of Thassa’s Devourer, so a mill deck is only possible in a draft with an unsually high number of copies of the card or in a casual draft with more than 8 people. If you’re already in blue and see a couple of copies going around, you can plan to take them if they lap the table. (If someone else takes them, you don’t want to be drafting a mill deck anyway, since the format does not have enough mill cards to support 2 drafters.) If you don’t end up drafting a mill deck, they can still be a good sideboard plan against control decks. Since you have to draw at least 1 Thassa’s Devourer for the deck to get going, you’re not likely to have a strong mill deck unless you draft at least 3+ copies of the card, especially since the format has a fair bit of enchantment removal.

Once you have decided to draft a mill deck, it is probably worth picking up Evanescent Intellect in Born of the Gods. While playing it still involves a certain amount of risk, I believe Journey into Nyx makes the card more playable since it triggers Thassa’s Devourer (and so can mill 5 cards on the turn it comes into play) and Countermand can protect the enchanted creature from removal. Like Thassa’s Devourer, Evanescent Intellect is likely to lap the table, so you don’t need to take them the first time around.

If you’re building towards a mill deck but are not yet in black when you get to Born of the Gods, you can also consider white as your second color. The color provides Dawn to Dusk and Griffin Dreamfinder as ways to get Thassa’s Devourer back if it is killed. It also provides access to Daxos of Meletis and Gods Willing in the Theros pack, although those are not passed quite as often as Returned Centaur. If you’re drafting this deck, you should also prioritize Griptide higher since it allows you to mill away your opponent’s best creature after putting it back on top of their library.

JOU: Pheres-Band Warchief

How good is Pheres-Band Warchief in Theros block draft, and how early should you pick him? I’ll start by pointing out that even if you draft a Pheres-Band Warchief, you should not try to draft around it, since you may never draw the card. And it’s a rare, so you’re unlikely to get passed another copy (although I have seen that happen). Consequently, while you might pick centaurs slightly higher than you might otherwise once you draft a Pheres-Band Warchief, you should still only draft those that are playable on their own merits. (Journey into Nyx only has 2 common centaurs, so it would be difficult to commit to a centaurs deck even if you have multiple copies of Pheres-Band Warchief.)

Let’s look at the centaurs in the format, organized by color and set, along with information about their quality, rarity, and how many playable ones you can expect to see on average in an 8-person draft:

Journey into Nyx Born of the Gods Theros
White Lagonna-Band Trailblazer (good) Lagonna-Band Elder (good)
Black Returned Centaur (unplayable)
Green Pheres-Band Thunderhoof (good), Pheres-Band Warchief (TBD, rare) Swordwise Centaur (good), Pheres-Band Tromper (good), Pheres-Band Raiders (filler, uncommon), Courser of Kruphix (bomb, rare) Nessian Courser (good), Nylea’s Disciple (good), Pheres-Band Centaurs (unplayable), Centaur Battlemaster (good, uncommon)
Multicolor Fanatic of Xenagos (uncommon) Chronicler of Heroes (good, uncommon)
TOTAL (good+) 2.8 3.2 3.2

Most of the centaurs in Theros block are green, with a couple in white, a couple more that are multicolor, as well as an unplayable one in black. Most of them are playable on their own merits, and an 8-person draft will have about 9 playable ones on average. However, the green centaurs are good in B/G control, and Lagonna-Band Trailblazer is excellent in W/U heroic, so you will have to compete with other players for them. You probably can’t expect to get more than 3-5 of them, unless you prioritize them exceptionally high, or unless green is completely open at the table.

Given that, Pheres-Band Warchief should just be drafted on it’s own merits since you’re unlikely to be able to draft a large number of centaurs to go with it. A 3/3 with vigilance and trample for 3G is quite good, but probably shouldn’t be picked above a decent removal spell.

JOU: Additions to the enchantment reuse deck

I’d previously written about a deck that might use Floodtide Serpent to reuse enchantments, primarily cantrip enchantments, but also some others. Journey into Nyx also brings us 3 additional ways to reuse enchantments: Kiora’s Dismissal, Riptide Chimera, and Triton Cavalry. An 8-person JOU/BNG/THS draft has an average of 0.4 copies of any given Journey into Nyx uncommon, so there are likely to be 1.2 copies of these 3 cards, roughly equal to the number of Floodtide Serpents you’re likely to see (1.3).

Reusing enchantments works well with constellation since you can retrigger each of your constellation abilities. In addition, there are a couple of Journey into Nyx cards that work especially well in this deck:

  • Harvestguard Alseids allows you to attack with Floodtide Serpent without worrying about losing it in combat.
  • Crystalline Nautilus becomes reusable removal if you bestow an opponent’s creature, target that creature, and then return Crystalline Nautilus to your hand once it’s a creature. Journey into Nyx also provides several reuable targeting effect on permanents with constellation: Harvestguard Alseids, Whitewater Naiads, Dreadbringer Lampads, Forgeborn Oreads, Goldenhide Ox, Oakheart Dryads, and Strength from the Fallen.
  • Dictate of Kruphix can become a one-sided Howling Mine if played on your opponent’s turn and returned to your hand during your turn. (It doesn’t work with Riptide Chimera, however, since that requires you to return the enchantment on your upkeep.)

(Note that Skybind doesn’t fit in this deck because it only allows you to flicker nonenchantment permanents.)

There are also 3 green cards that might fit well in this deck: Kruphix’s Insight, Reviving Melody, and Strength from the Fallen. Strength from the Fallen is likely unplayable since it has a very high setup cost; it requires you to have a large number of enchantments in your deck, to have creatures in your graveyard, creatures in play (to receive the +X/+X bonus), and to be on the offensive (since the set provides only a few ways to have an enchantment enter the battlefield at instant speed).

Given the above analysis, I will now rate 3 of the TBD cards from my evaluation of Journey into Nyx cards:

  • Triton Cavalry: good; defends while you set up your combos
  • Kruphix’s Insight: good; stocks your graveyard while drawing you cards
  • Strength from the Fallen: unplayable

JOU: Expected numbers of copies of a card

In BNG/THS/THS, an 8-person draft had an average of 1.3 copies of a given Born of the Gods common, 0.4 copies of an uncommon, 0.2 copies of a rare, and 0.1 copies of a mythic. Similarly, it had 1.6 copies of a given Theros common, 0.8 copies of an uncommon, 0.26 copies of a rare, and 0.13 copies of a mythic. While there were twice as many packs of Theros as of Born of the Gods, there weren’t just twice as many copies of a card at a given rarity because small sets have a different rarity distribution (60 commons, 60 uncommons, 35 rares, and 10 rares).

JOU/BNG/THS draft has half as many packs of Theros, so there is now half as much a chance of seeing a given Theros card at any rarity. Journey into Nyx has the same rarity distribution as Born of the Gods, so there is an identical chance of seeing a given card from either set, regardless of rarity. Here are the expected numbers for a given card from each set at a particular rarity for an 8-person draft:

JOU BNG THS
Common 1.3 1.3 0.8
Uncommon 0.4 0.4 0.4
Rare 0.2 0.2 0.13
Mythic 0.1 0.1 0.07

So a JOU/BNG/THS draft will, on average, have the same number of any given JOU, BNG, or THS uncommon, but will actually have significantly more of any given common, rare, or mythic from either small set as it will of a THS card at the same rarity.

If a given Theros common has a very close analog in both Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx, you’ll now have access to 3.4 copies of the card instead of the 2.9 copies you would have had in a BNG/THS/THS draft. If only Born of the Gods had a close analog, you’ll now have access to 2.1 copies instead of 2.9. And if only Journey into Nyx had a close analog, you’ll now have access to 2.1 copies instead of 1.6. Similaly, if Journey into Nyx has a close analog of a Born of the Gods card, you’ll now have access to 2.6 copies of it instead of 1.3 copies. We’ll use this information in future posts to determine the impact of the new set on existing archetypes.

JOU: Memorizing the instant-speed tricks

Most of the analysis I do here is focused on draft. However, we have a Sealed deck PTQ in Bellevue this weekend, so I’m going to look at the list of tricks in Journey into Nyx and see if there’s an easy way to memorize more of them, as I’d done previously for Theros.

Let’s start by looking at the number of instant-speed tricks in each color:

  • White: 5 = 1 common + 2 uncommon + 2 rare, 2 with strive = 1 common + 1 uncommon
  • Blue: 8 = 4 common + 2 uncommon + 2 rare, 4 with strive = 1 common + 2 uncommon + 1 rare
  • Black: 6 = 2 common + 2 uncommon + 2 rare, 2 with strive = 1 common + 1 rare
  • Red: 5 = 3 common + 1 uncommon + 1 rare, 1 common with strive
  • Green: 6 = 1 common + 3 uncommon + 2 rare, 5 with strive = 1 common + 3 uncommon + 1 rare
  • Multicolor: 1 uncommon without strive

I find it useful to know the total number of tricks in each color as that allows me to verify whether I’ve considered all the possibilities in certain crucial game states. When practising my recall of the tricks, it also allows me to verify whether I was able to remember all the tricks in a color. If I didn’t, I refer to a printout I carry of the list of tricks. Doing this regularly helps me increase the speed with which I can recall the tricks available given the mana my opponent has open. If you ignore blue and multicolor, the totals are 5, 6, 5, and 6. Each color has 2 rare tricks, except red which has 1. Similarly, most colors have 2 uncommon tricks, but red has 1 and green has 3, and there is 1 multicolor (G/U) trick.

Several of the instant-speed tricks in this format have strive. Knowing how many of the total number have strive can also help with memorizing the list. Blue and green have the most number of instant-speed spells with strive, 4 and 5 respectively. White and black have 2 each, and red has just 1. Each color has a common spell with strive whose casting cost is C+N(2C), where C is a given colored mana symbol (W, U, B, R, or G). White, blue, and green also each have an uncommon spell with stive whose casting cost is 2C+N(1C).

The set also has a cycle of flash enchantments at rare: Dictate of Heliod, Dictate of Kruphix, Dictate of Erebos, Dictate of the Twin Gods, and Dictate of Karametra. Remembering these 2.5 cycles gives us 13 of the 31 tricks, leaving us with only 18 to remember.

Another thing I do to help my recall of the tricks is to break them down into 5 categories: creature removal (including bounce), non-creature removal, combat tricks, countermagic, and other (usually card draw). Removal that hits both creatures and non-creatures is classified as creature removal since creatures are the most common (and usually also the most important) permanents in limited formats. Combat tricks are spells that you should be aware of when entering combat, e.g., pump spells and other enhancers, spells that let you temporarily neutralize opposing creatures (tap, reduce power, Fog), and flash creatures. Here’s what available in each color:

  • White: 5 = 1 creature removal spell (Reprisal) + 1 non-creature removal spell (Deicide) + 3 combat tricks (Ajani’s Presence, Phalanx Formation, and Dictate of Heliod, sorted by converted mana cost and rarity)
  • Blue: 8 = 1 creature removal spells (Hubris) + 1 non-creature removal spell (Kiora’s Dismissal) + 4 combat tricks (Aerial Formation, Hour of Need, Polymorphous Rush, and Cloaked Siren) + 1 countermagic (Countermand) + 1 other (Dictate of Kruphix)
  • Black: 6 = 3 creature removal spells (Feast of Dreams, Nightmarish End, and Silence the Believers) + 3 combat tricks (Cruel Feeding, Ritual of the Returned, and Dictate of Erebos)
  • Red: 5 = 3 creature removal spells (Magma Spray, Starfall, and Riddle of Lightning) + 2 combat tricks (Rouse the Mob and Dictate of the Twin Gods)
  • Green: 6 = 1 creature removal spell (Setessan Tactics) + 1 non-creature removal spell (Consign to Dust) + 3 combat tricks (Nature’s Panoply, Solidarity of Heroes, and Colossal Heroics) + 1 other (Dictate of Karametra)
  • Multicolor: 1 combat trick (Fleetfeather Cockatrice)

Note that white, blue, and green each have 1 creature removal spell and 1 non-creature removal spell, with the rest being combat tricks or other (blue also has 1 counterspell). Black and red both have 3 removal spells each, with the rest being combat tricks.

Next, let’s look at the mana curves and rarities of the tricks:

  • White’s has 1 trick that costs 1 mana, 2 tricks that cost 2 mana, 1 trick that costs 3 mana, none that cost 4 mana, and 1 trick that costs 5 mana. I’ll abbreviate this as 1/2/1/0/1. Because of white’s distribution of tricks across rarities, white will have 2.5 JOU tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Blue has 2/1/3/2/0, with 6.5 tricks in the average 8-person draft (5.2 if you exclude the counterspells).
  • Black has 1/1/1/2/1, with 3.9 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Red has 2/0/0/0/3, with 4.6 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Green has 1/2/2/0/1, with 2.9 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • The only multicolor trick costs 5 mana, and there are 0.4 copies of it in the average 8-person draft.

From this we can tell that blue will have the most tricks in a typical 8-person draft, even if you exclude counterspells (which are not usually played maindeck in limited formats). After that, black and red have a similar number of tricks (about 4.25), and white and green have the fewest (about 2.75). Black and red have particularly memorable distributions. Black’s list looks like a diagonal line in the list of tricks because of the distribution (2 commons at 1cc and 2cc, 2 uncommons at 3cc and 4cc, and 2 rares at 4cc and 5cc). Red’s list looks like a set of uneven pronghorns, with 2 spells at 1cc and 3 at 5cc. White and green have almost identical distributions with respect to both mana curve and rarity, with the only difference being that green has an additional 3-mana trick at uncommon.

Also, note that there are 4 ways to get a creature into play at instant speed: Cloaked Siren (blue common), Hour of Need (blue uncommon), Ritual of the Returned (black uncommon), and Fleetfeather Cockatrice (G/U uncommon). Only one of these does not require blue mana.

I hope these strategies help you memorize the tricks in Journey into Nyx, and that this helps you do well at the tournament.

JOU: Evaluations

This is an initial set of evaluations of the cards in Journey into Nyx. Here’re what my various evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and also difficult to deal with or play around, e.g., large flyers or mass removal.
  • Exceptional (+): A superior card that will turn the tide in your favor, e.g., most unconditional removal that isn’t overcosted or a 3/3 flyer for 4 mana.
  • Good (/): The bread and butter of most decks, e.g., a 2/2 flyer or a vanilla 3/3 for 3 mana.
  • Situational/Filler (~): Good in the right deck, filler in most others, e.g., a vanilla 2/1 in a deck that is not particularly aggressive.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment destruction or color hosers that aren’t good if you’re not playing against those colors.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1 for 1 mana. Some unplayable creatures can be sided in against the right deck, e.g., a vanilla 1/3 for 3 mana might still be sided in against an aggressive deck.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many playable enchantments there are in the format.

The spreadsheet also has explanations for many of my evaluations. Here are some evaluations that are worth noting:

  • Akroan Mastiff (+), Pin to the Earth (/): can neutralize bestowed/monstrous creatures
  • Skybind (+): especially good in W/B due to enter-the-battlefield effects
  • Aerial Formation (/): good in W/U heroic
  • Battlefield Thaumaturge (+): W/U uses more bestow than instants & sorceries, but this makes the common strive spells that cost C+N(2C) cost just CC for 2 creatures
  • Crystalline Nautilus (/), Kiora’s Dismissal (/), Riptide Chimera (+), Triton Cavalry (?): potentially powerful in the enchantment reuse deck
  • Daring Thief (+), King Macar the Gold-Cursed (B): U/B has multiple ways to get these through
  • Sage of Hours (x): 1/1 for 2 mana whose “ultimate” won’t usually win you the game; you’re better off using your targeting effects on better creatures
  • Whitewater Naiads (+): defends well while enabling another creature to get through
  • Dreadbringer Lampads (x): B/X already has a glut of good 5cc spells
  • Feast of Dreams (/): can bestow an opponent’s creature if necessary and then use this
  • Nightmarish End (x): too likely to just give -1/-1 or -2/-2 (or have no effect at all)
  • Flurry of Horns (~): Minotaurs is not a viable archetype now that only 1 pack of Kragma Warcallers is available, and that is the last pack to be drafted
  • Lightning Diadem (~): 2 dmg often won’t be relevant that late in the game, so you’re paying 5R instead of RR for Giant Strength
  • Rollick of Abandon (/): potentially good in B/R Minotaurs or U/R spells since most of the creatures in those decks are X/3
  • Renowned Weaver (/): one of the few ways to trigger Constellation at instant speed
  • Satyr Grovedancer (/): especially good in G/U skies since it can pump a flyer and chump later
  • Solidarity of Heroes (~): potentially good in G/W heroic since it triggers heroic before doubling the number of counters
  • Spirespine (/): the disadvantage is irrelevant if bestowed, but the decreased flexibility means this is usually worse than Nyxborn Wolf (which also makes Raised by Wolves better)
  • Athreos God of Passage (x): B/W control doesn’t put much pressure on opponents, so they can usually afford the 3 life; also not a particularly good finisher
  • Pharika God of Affliction (~): the B/G graveyard deck doesn’t want to remove creatures from its graveyard, but this may have a place in B/G control
  • Chariot of Victory (~): first strike is really good with deathtouch, so this may have potential in B/G
  • Gold-Forged Sentinel (/): worse than Horizon Scholar, which already isn’t a particularly high pick in this format
  • Hall of Triumph (/): much worse than Spear of Heliod

And here are the cards that need additional analysis to evaluate:

  • Ritual of the Returned, Kruphix’s Insight, Strength from the Fallen: depends on strength of B/G graveyard, which also received Reviving Melody (~) and Nyx Weaver (/)
  • Thassa’s Devourer: depends on #/quality of mill cards
  • Triton Cavalry: depends on #/quality of enchantments/heroic triggers
  • Triton Shorestalker: depends on how aggressive the format is
  • Master of the Feast: depends on how many ways each color has to deal with a 5/5 flyer
  • Knowledge and Power: depends on #/quality of spells with scry
  • Pheres-Band Warchief: depends on #/quality of Centaurs