BFZ: Converted mana costs of colorless cards

A U/B exile/process deck I recently drafted had more 5-drops than I would have liked, so I’d like to determine whether there’s a glut of good 5-drops for that deck. Almost all my cards in that deck were colorless, so we’ll just look at colorless cards for the purpose of this analysis. Since there are also 2 other archetypes that rely on colorless cards (U/R devoid and B/R aggro), we will also examine those.

The 3 tables below list the most important cards for each of these 3 archetype by converted mana cost and rarity, with bold indicating that a card is particularly strong in the archetype. I’m more concerned about the first few turns of the game, so the lists do not include splash cards and finishers. I’m hoping this analysis will help me decide which converted mana costs I need to focus on for each of these 3 archetypes in order to end up with a good creature curve.


Some observations:

  • U/B exile/process does not have an unusually high number of colorless 5-drops, it was my deck that was unusual (it had 2 Oracle of Dust and an Ulamog’s Reclaimer, plus a Windrider Patrol).
  • In addition to Mist Intruder and Culling Drone, U/B exile/process decks also have access to 2 uncommon 2-mana non-creature spells that can exile cards (Horribly Awry and Transgress the Mind). Similarly, it has access to Complete Disregard, Grave Birthing, and Spell Shrivel (all commons) at 3 mana. Unlike ingest creatures, these only exile a single card, but they can nevertheless get your first processor online.
  • All 3 archetypes have 4+ playable 3-drops at common, so you should prioritize 2-drops when drafting. This is especially true for U/R, which has another 4 playable 3-drops at uncommon, especially since a number of its common and uncommon 3-drops are particularly strong.
  • All 3 archetypes also have a number of strong mythics and rares that cost 6+ mana that you will rarely pass. However, U/B has a number of strong uncommons at that mana cost, so you probably shouldn’t prioritize those cards unless you really need a win condition.
  • Sludge Crawler is the only playable colorless 1-drop (Salvage Drone is unplayable, and Endless One will rarely be played as a 1/1). It fits in both the B/X archetypes that want colorless creatures, but I don’t have enough experience with it yet to determine how playable it is.
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ORI: The enchantments deck

Magic Origins has a number of cards that get better if your deck has enchantments/auras. Other than Helm of the Gods and Herald of the Pantheon, all these cards are white and/or black.

  • Helm of the Gods, Blessed Spirits, Sigil of the Empty Throne, Blightcaster, Herald of the Pantheon, and Blood-Cursed Knight get better if you’re playing more enchantments.
  • Totem-Guide Hartebeest gets better if you’re playing more auras.
  • Auramancer and Starfield of Nyx get better if you’re playing more enchantments that are likely to end up in your graveyard (usually black removal auras).

Next, let’s look at all the enchantments that are might be playable. The usual evaluation key applies: B means bomb, + means exceptional, / means playable, ~ means filler/conditional, ? means I don’t know yet, and I’ve left out sideboard/unplayable cards. Cards are commons unless specified otherwise, and underlined cards are auras.

  • White: Grasp of the Hieromancer (?), Suppression Bonds (/), Knightly Valor (+, uncommon), Sigil of the Empty Throne (?, rare)
  • Blue: Claustrophobia (/), Stratus Walk (/), Sphinx’s Tutelage (?, uncommon), Thopter Spy Network (R, bomb)
  • Black: Infernal Scarring (~), Weight of the Underworld (~), Consecrated by Blood (~, uncommon)
  • Red: Molten Vortex (B, rare)
  • Green: – (all green enchantments are unplayable)

Things don’t look promising: green has no playable enchantments, red has 1 at rare, and black has 3 but they’re all filler (although I did lose to Consecrated by Blood last week, so maybe I’m undervaluing it). White has 1 common and 1 uncommon, for an average of 3.3 playable enchantments in an 8-person draft. Blue has 2 commons and 1 rare, for an average of 5.2 playable enchantments. Other than Stratus Walk, the playables are not likely to be passed by drafters in those colors. If we assume 3 drafters at the table are in each color, then you can expect to get passed 1.1 playable white enchantments and 3.3 playable blue enchantments. Even if we’re W/U and draft all 4.4 playable enchantments in our colors, we can only expect to draw 1 enchantment most games.

Based on this computation, the enchantments theme appears to be a trap. Helm of the Gods, Sigil of the Empty Throne, and Blightcaster are unplayable. Blessed Spirits, Herald of the Pantheon, and Blood-Cursed Knight are playable on their own merits, but if you’re playing Herald of the Pantheon or Blood-Cursed Knight, you’re probably not W/U and so you’re likely to have even fewer enchantments. Most of the playable enchantments are auras, so Totem-Guide Hartebeest is a reasonable draft pick if you have some auras in your deck, especially the removal auras. However, the only enchantment likely to end up in your graveyard regularly is Weight of the Underworld, so Auramancer and Starfield of Nyx are not worth drafting either.

If we assume that Grasp of the Hieromancer, Sigil of the Empty Throne, and Sphinx’s Tutelage are also playable but not valued outside this archetype, then you can expect to get passed 3.9 playable white enchantments and 4.2 playable blue enchantments. However, even if you’re in W/U and draft all 8 of these cards, you only end up with 3 enchantments, so my conclusions above don’t change.

In short, you’re unlikely to be able to draft enough enchantments to build this archetype in an 8-person ORI/ORI/ORI draft. However, Blessed Spirits and Totem-Guide Hartebeest are still playable, especially if you’re W/U.

MM2: How many drafters can each archetype support?

While Modern Masters 2015 has an archetype for each color pair, it doesn’t have equal numbers of cards for each of those archetypes. And sometimes, the key cards for one archetype are also valued by other archetypes, which means you’re less likely to get passed that card. Let’s take a look at how many cards are available for each archetype, and how many other archetypes are likely to want those cards, to try to get a rough estimate of how many drafters each archetype can support at a table.

The table below lists what I think are the key commons and uncommons for each archetype, as well as the other archetypes those cards are shared with. If a card is listed with italics, that means the card is a splash for that archetype. If the other archetype is listed in parentheses, it means it is slightly less valued by the other archetype. “all” (which I’ve also highlighted in yellow) means that the card is valued highly by most or all of archetypes in those colors.


Some observations from this table:
– The artifacts archetype has the most number of key cards at 24, while elementals has the least at 4 (primarily because I’m only including elementals with tribal abilities or that are key to the archetype). The rest of the archetypes have between 10 and 17 key cards.
– The domain/sunburst archetype has the most number of cards that are valued by other archetypes (Evolving Wilds, Wayfarer’s Bauble, Skyreach Manta, and Savage Twister). This means that you should prioritize taking these cards, especially the mana fixing, in the early portion of the draft. Shortly after the set was released, I had a draft where I did the opposite, taking Tribal Flames and Matca Rioters over the mana fixing in pack 1, because I didn’t want someone else at the table to go into the archetype. I ended up with 4 Matca Rioters, 3 Tribal Flames, and 2 Skyreach Mantas, but the only mana fixing I saw after the first pack was a Fiery Fall and a Sylvan Bounty, and my domain count was frequently 2 😦
– The artifacts and equipment archetypes share a number of key cards, primarily equipment. While these archetypes can be drafted in adjacent seats, you may want to prioritize good equipment if you suspect you’re next to a player in the other archetypes, since you’re less likely to see those cards late.
– The sacrifice archetype share cards with both the tokens and the domain/sunburst archetypes. While there may be enough of these cards to support each archetype, you may need to prioritize the shared cards if you believe you’re drafting next to a player in one of those archetypes. (Nest Invader, Kozilek’s Predator, and Bone Splinters are shared with tokens, and Ulamog’s Crusher, Artisan of Kozilek, and Pelakka Wurm are shared with domain/sunburst.)
– Graft and proliferate share a lot of cards, primarily the blue and black spells with proliferate. (While graft is base G/U, it can easily splash Spread the Sickness and Grim Affliction since they only require 1 black mana.) These cards are often better in graft, since they can proliferate +1/+1 and charge counters on your permanents, while proliferating -1/-1 counters on opponents’ permanents. The bloodthirst and domain/sunburst archetypes are also likely to take the black proliferate cards highly since they are likely to have creatures with +1/+1 counters. Because of this, and because U/B proliferate is usually a very slow control deck (although I have seen aggro builds with Vampire Lacerators and Duskhunter Bats), I don’t think it is a viable archetype in this format.

Next, I’m going to attempt an exercise to help get a rough estimate of how many drafters each of these archetypes can support. There are an average of 2.5 copies of any given common and 1.0 copies of any given uncommon in an 8-person draft. The Unshared #Cards column computes the number of cards available to an archetype in an 8-person draft by computing (#commons * 2.5) + (#uncommons * 1.0), ignoring the fact that some cards are shared with other archetypes. The Unshared #Drafters uses this to compute the average number of players the archetype can support in an 8-person draft. The Shared #Cards column assumes that this is the average number of players for each archetype, and assumes that an archetype’s chance of ending up with a card is proportional to its representation at the table. And the Shared #Drafters column uses the relative proportions of Shared #Cards to try to estimate how many drafters each archetype can support. (Ideally, this computation would be repeated until it converged, but I didn’t have time to do that.)

Archetype Unshared #Cards Unshared #Drafters Shared #Cards Shared #Drafters
Artifacts 48.0 1.5 40.9 1.7
Bloodthirst 20.5 0.6 15.6 0.7
Domain/sunburst 31.0 1.0 20.8 0.9
Elementals 8.5 0.3 8.5 0.4
Equipment 26.0 0.8 18.5 0.8
Graft 22.0 0.7 12.3 0.5
Proliferate 19.0 0.6 11.8 0.5
Sacrifice 29.0 0.9 19.9 0.8
Spirits 23.0 0.7 19.0 0.8
Tokens 28.5 0.9 21.5 0.9

Based on this rough computation, it seems that artifacts can support about 2 drafters in an 8-person draft, and that bloodthirst, domain/sunburst, equipment, sacrifice, spirits, and tokens can usually support 1 drafter each. However, in every other draft, elementals and/or graft (and perhaps also proliferate) might take the place of 1 or more of these decks.

MM2: Evaluations by archetype

(Quick note: I’m walking in Relay for Life tomorrow to raise money for cancer research. My team will have at least one person walking around the track at any given time for 16 continuous hours. If you’d like to support me, you can make a donation on my fundraising page. All amounts raised will go to the American Cancer Society, and help in the fight to eliminate cancer.)

This is my initial evaluation of the cards in Modern Masters 2015. Since these cards are reprints, we already have have a good sense of how good they are in general, so I will focus on how good they are in the various archetypes. The general column indicates how good I think the card is in a generic deck playing the appropriate color(s); if there is an evaluation in an archetype column, I believe the card is better (or sometimes worse) than the general evaluation, e.g., Fortify is filler in most decks, but exceptional in G/W tokens. If my evaluation in the archetype column is the same as in the general column, I believe the card is slightly better in that archetype, but not sufficiently better to be bumped up to a higher valuation.

For this evaluation, I’m only going to consider the archetypes defined by the 10 color pairs:

  • W/U artifacts
  • U/B prolferate: I think this archetype is too slow to be viable in this format, but am including it for completeness. In practice, G/U graft splashing Spread the Sickness and Grim Affliction is probably a better option.
  • B/R bloodthirst
  • R/G domain/sunburst: Red and green have the only 2 domain cards and the only 2 landcyclers in the set. Red also has 2 creatures that get better if you have access to WUBRG, and this deck can usually also make the best use of the sunburst cards and Etched Monstrosity as well as splash bombs/removal from other colors. If you have multiple cards with domain, you should probably deprioritize bouncelands.
  • G/W tokens/convoke
  • W/B spirits
  • U/R elementals: Relies on Smoketeller + large blue Elementals, and Soulbright Flamekin + Incandescent Soulstoke (which can combine to give your creatures +3/+0, first strike, and trample once you have 7 mana).
  • B/G sacrifice: Eldrazi Spawn tokens can be sacrificed to Bone Splinters, to grow an Algae Gharial or Scavenger Drake, or to ramp into Eldrazi.
  • R/W equipment: The set has 2 cards that get better if equipped (Sunspear Shikari and Kor Duelist), 2 more that get better if their power is increased in any manner (Bloodshot Trainee and Spikeshot Elder), and 5 double strikers (Skyhunter Skirmisher, Viashino Slaughtermaster, Boros Swiftblade, Hearthfire Hobgoblin, and Mirran Crusader).
  • G/U graft: This deck can often splash black for Grim Affliction and Spread the Sickness, since proliferate combos well with graft.

Here’re what my evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and usually 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., cheap unconditional removal 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 2/2.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment removal or color hosers.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1. 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 if you need more cheap creatures.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many +1/+1 counters there are in the format.

While most of my evaluations should not be a surprise, here are some where my opinion may differ from the mainstream:

  • Arrest, Narcolepsy, Pillory of the Sleeples (~): Removal auras are weaker than usual in this environment because each color has a number of cheap, maindeckable ways to neutralize them or make alternate use of the creature. Even more important, the removal auras aren’t actually good against most of the archetypes in this format. Note that I still like Oblivion Ring since it can target any nonland permaanent, and since it removes that permanent from the game.
  • Terashi’s Grasp, Smash to Smithereens, Sundering Vitae (S): Decks other than W/U artifacts and R/G domain/sunburst are expected to have an average of 2.4 playable artifacts each. Also, an 8-person draft only has 9 playable enchantments, 6 of which are removal auras that aren’t particularly good anyway.
  • Cryptic Command (B), Wrecking Ball (+), Fulminator Mage (/): I value some of these higher than others may in part because bouncing/destroying a bounceland in the early game is not something most decks can recover from.
  • Wings of Velis Vel is usually filler (~) but is quite good (/) in U/G graft because +1/+1 counters are applied on top of the 4/4 base power/toughness.
  • A few black cards are ranked higher in U/G graft because it can splash the black proliferate cards since they combo with graft creatures. Also, while Puppeteer Clique is more difficult to splash, it can be particularly good in this deck; when it returns to play with a -1/-1 counter, you can graft a +1/+1 counter onto it, which removes the -1/-1 counter and means it will return to play again the next time it dies.
  • Reassembling Skeleton (~) combos quite well with reusable sacrifice effects, especially Plagued Rusalka, Mortarpod, Drooling Groodion, and Culling Dais.

KTK/FRF: Expected numbers of copies of a card

EDIT: I didn’t realize when I posted this that the gain lands were going to take the basic land slot. I’ve updated the post to reflect the new numbers.

Fate Reforged has 165 cards (not counting the gain lands, which take the basic land slot): 60 commons, 60 uncommons, 35 rares, and 10 mythics.

Let’s consider the expected number of copies of any given common, uncommon, rare, or mythic from both sets in the block for a few different formats.

8-person draft (8 pack of Fate Reforged and 16 packs of Khans of Tarkir at the table)

Fate Reforged Khans of Tarkir
Commons 1.33 1.58
Uncommons 0.40 0.60
Rares 0.20 0.26
Mythics 0.10 0.13

Individual sealed (3 packs of Fate Reforged and 3 packs of Khans of Tarkir per person)

Fate Reforged Khans of Tarkir
Commons 0.50 0.30
Uncommons 0.15 0.11
Rares 0.08 0.05
Mythics 0.04 0.03

Team sealed (6 packs of Fate Reforged and 6 packs of Khans of Tarkir per team)

Fate Reforged Khans of Tarkir
Commons 1.00 0.59
Uncommons 0.30 0.23
Rares 0.15 0.10
Mythics 0.08 0.05

Some observations:

  • An 8-person draft will only have 0.6 copies of any given Khans of Tarkir uncommon, so you shouldn’t draft towards an archetype that relies heavily on one until after you’ve actually drafted a copy. In fact, there are only 1.6 copies of any given Khans of Tarkir common, so you probably shouldn’t expect to see any specific one of those either, unless it tends to not be valued by other players.
  • Drafts will have 1.2 – 1.5 times as many copies of a specific Khans of Tarkir card as of a specific Fate Reforged card at the same rarity, not 2 times as many copies as one might expect from the pack distribution.
  • The expected numbers are roughly reversed for sealed, with 1.3 – 1.7 times as many copies of a specific Fate Reforged card as of a specific Khans of Tarkir card at the same rarity, despite an even pack distribution, so the small set should have a big impact on these formats.
  • Sealed now has half as many copies of Khans of Tarkir cards. This means that the team sealed deck patterns previously observed are likely to change since there will be fewer copies of Savage Punch, Secret Plans, and the Warrior tribal cards, which enable the R/G, Sultai morphs, and B/W/x Warriors decks respectively. (The Sultai morphs deck does get Mastery of the Unseen, Temur War Shaman, and Whisperwood Elemental, but those are all rare or mythic. And while Fate Reforged has 2 Warrior tribal cards, neither of them has a particularly strong interaction with Warriors.)
  • An 8-person KTK/KTK/KTK draft had an average of 24 gain lands, or 1 per pack opened. Since Fate Reforged also has 1 gain land per pack, the average number of gain lands in a draft won’t change. We will lose 1.5 tri-lands and 0.7 fetch lands per draft, but that is not likely to have a huge impact on the format.

KTK: Team sealed at GP Nashville and the World Magic Cup

I scoured the coverage for the team sealed portions of GP Nashville (early November) and the World Magic Cup (early December) to try to determine whether the deck patterns we’ve seen during practice are also prevalent at high level Magic events.

I’d mentioned previously that the only undefeated deck from day 1 of GP Nashville had a R/G deck, a W/B deck, and a Sultai morphs deck that splashed white. In addition, there are 9 different decks described in the feature match coverage for the team sealed portion, and here are my derivations of the deck colors from the coverage. (It’s difficult to determine more than just the colors since they don’t include decklists.)

  • Davoudi-Nelson-Merriam: G/U, Mardu, Jeskai
  • Wescoe-Hayne-Skarren: Mardu, Temur, Jeskai
  • Stark-Reeves-Fennell: G/U/r, R/W/b, Abzan
  • Ochoa-Cuneo-Parker: R/G/u, W/B, Jeskai
  • Black-Severa-Vidugiris: Jeskai, R/G, Sultai
  • Wescoe-Hayne-Skarren: R/W, Abzan/u, G/U/r
  • Utter-Leyton/ Cho-Thompson: Abzan, Mardu, Temur morphs
  • Black-Severa-Vidugiris: Jeskai, R/G, Sultai
  • Kazuaki-Teruya-Ryoichi: Temur morphs, Jeskai, W/B/R/G

Of these 9 teams, 6 had a Jeskai deck, 6 had a Temur deck, and 4 had a Mardu deck (although only 2 teams had all 3 of those decks). Only 5 of the 27 decks are 2 color, and there were only 2 R/G decks and 2 Sultai decks. This is quite different from what we’ve been building during practice. 4 of the teams had Mardu or B/W in the middle seat, 2 had R/G, 1 had Temur, 1 had Abzan, and 1 had Jeskai, so it seems that teams are inclined to put an aggressive deck, usually Mardu, in the middle seat. Of the 13 completed individual matches, Jeskai was 4-2 in matches, Temur was 3-4 (one set of decks was featured twice in the coverage), Mardu was 1-2, Abzan was 2-1, Sultai was 1-0, R/G was 0-2, W/B was 1-0, R/W was 1-1, and G/U was 0-1. 2-color decks did surprisingly poorly, going only 2-4 collectively, and only Jeskai had particularly good numbers.

The World Magic Cup coverage had even less information about the contents of each deck, but here’s what I was able to determine:

  • France: G/U, R/W/b (captain), Sultai/w
  • Russia: Temur (captain), W/B/g, B/G/u
  • South Africa: Abzan, G/U/? (captain), R/?
  • Slovak Republic: W/?, Sultai, R/G
  • Argentina: Abzan, Temur, Jeskai
  • Brazil: Abzan, Temur (captain), R/W
  • Argentina (day 2): ?, Jeskai, Sultai
  • Denmark (day 2): Sultai morphs, R/G, Abzan
  • Slovak Republic (day 2): Abzan, R/G, W/U

Of the 9 teams here, 6 had an Abzan deck, 5 had a Sultai deck, 3 had a Temur deck, 3 had a R/G deck, 2 had a G/U deck, 2 had a Jeskai deck, and 1 had a Mardu deck, 1 had a R/W deck, 1 had a W/U deck, and there were 3 other decks whose colors I could not extract from the coverage. Team captains usually sat in the middle seat but there was no clear pattern in the decks they played. Of the 8 completed individual matches for which I could determine a winner, Abzan was 2-0, R/G was 2-0, Temur was 2-1, Sultai was 2-2, Mardu was 0-1, Jeskai was 0-1, and G/U was 0-2.

Unfortunately, these numbers are too small to allow us to draw any meaningful conclusion. Instead, let’s look at the 2 decks built by Team Slovak Republic (the favorites going into the tournament) and Team Denmark’s deck (since they won the event). All 3 of those builds had a R/G deck, 2 had an Abzan deck, 2 had a Sultai deck, there was 1 W/U deck, and 1 deck whose colors I couldn’t determine. That’s very similar to the decks we’ve been building from our pools, but quite different from the teams at GP Nashville.

It’s difficult to draw any solid conclusions from this information. It appears that R/G + B/W/x + Sultai is a reasonable strategy since it was employed by the only undefeated team at GP Nashville and by the top teams at the World Magic Cup, but you should also be careful to not overlook a better set of decks. (It helps to have a plan of attack going into deck building.) Also, if you’re playing at a Grand Prix, you probably want to try to avoid building decks that roll over to Jeskai.

KTK: Team sealed deck patterns

I have built 3 team sealed pools so far, and have seen some definite patterns. Each pool I’ve looked at so far contains the following 3 decks:

  • A R/G, R/G/u, or U/R deck. R/G maximizes Savage Punch, one of the best removal spells in the format. (While ferocious is a Temur ability, blue doesn’t seem to have much to contribute to the deck.) However, a team sealed pool will only have an average of 1.2 copies of the card, and you will sometimes have a pool with no copies of the card. If that happens, a U/R (or Jeskai) deck may be necessary.
  • A W/B deck that sometimes splashes red or green. takes advantage of the Warrior tribal cards (Chief of the Edge/Scale, Raiders’ Spoils, and Rush of Battle). If it has good 2-drops, it can be an aggressive 2-color deck, while more controlling builds can splash red or green.
  • A Sultai morphs deck that sometimes splashes white. This deck maximizes Secret Plans, Trail of Mystery, Ghostfire Blade, and/or Pine Walker for card advantage and tempo. Blue and green also have the most morphs in Khans of Tarkir, so those are usually the base colors (especially since you want to be able to play Secret Plans on turn 2), and black is usually splashed for the Sultai cards and black morphs. The deck sometimes also splashes white for bombs like Duneblast that don’t fit in one of the other decks. This format only has a small number of powerful enchantments and artifacts, and there is no incidental removal for those cards, so people tend to leave them in their sideboard, which helps this deck.

I looked at the decks from the team sealed portions of GP Nashville and the World Magic Cup to see whether those line up with my experience. While the sole undefeated deck from day 1 of GP Nashville has the same 3 archetypes, I don’t see this pattern among most teams. Instead, there are plenty of R/W and Jeskai decks. I will scour the coverage for those events and share any patterns I find in my next post.