MM2: Today I learned

Some things I learned over the course of day 1 at GP Las Vegas and Modern Masters 2015 release events:

  • I’d done some analysis previously to try to determine whether it made sense to maindeck artifact removal in Modern Masters 2015 limited. My conclusion was that it didn’t make sense in draft, and only made sense in sealed if you expected a lot of W/U artifacts or sunburst decks. However, there was no way to know predict the metagame would be. My 8th round match took only 15 minutes, so I decided to scout the rest of the tables to see what people were playing. There were indeed a lot of 4- and 5-color decks. For each game that was in progress and not in the first few turns, I looked at whether each player had at least one artifact in play that I’d be willing to expend a card to destroy. I was trying to do this quickly, so I didn’t evaluate the board state to determine whether a Cathodian or a Flayer Husk, for instance, was really relevant to the board state, and I didn’t keep track of how many artifacts each player had in play. I saw 42 tables with an appropriate game state and found that 49 players had an artifact that I’d want to destroy if I were their opponent, while 35 did not. This is just 58%, so my inclination is still to not play artifact removal maindeck. I will add, however, that a surprising number of those 49 artifacts (I didn’t keep a count, but it was about 8-10) were Chimeric Masses, which can become quite problematic if you don’t have an answer, since much of the removal that kills large creatures can’t kill Chimeric Mass (e.g., Arrest, Narcolepsy, Bone Splinters, and Spread the Sickness). Also, colorless bombs can go in any deck, so you’re also more likely to face them than you are to face colored bombs, and you may need to ensure you have a way to deal with them if you hope to make day 2 or the top 8 of a tournament.
  • Grim Affliction interacts differently with +1/+1 counters than I’d realized. I thought if the counter went on a creature with a +1/+1 counter, then the -1/-1 and +1/+1 counter would cancel each other out right away and that you could not add another -1/-1 counter to the creature. It turns out that the +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters don’t cancel each other out immediately, however. They both exist until the next time state based effects are checked, so the -1/-1 counter is still there while Grim Affliction is resolving, and you can give the creature an additional -1/-1 counter.
  • You can’t tap an Eldrazi Spawn token to pay a convoke cost and also sacrifice it for mana to pay for the same spell. An opponent tried to do this at a release event last week, but a judge confirmed that he couldn’t do that.

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.

THS: Maindeck artifact removal

Today, we’ll use the updated card valuations to determine whether it makes sense to maindeck artifact removal in Theros. This spreadsheet lists all the artifacts in Theros.

A quick glance at it reveals that there are only 5 bomb/exceptional artifacts, the legendary enchantment artifacts that are the weapons of the gods. A typical 8-person draft will have 2 of these 5, so you do need the ability to deal with them, but not necessarily maindeck since there’s about a 1/4 chance of facing one in any given match. Apart from these, the only artifacts that I consider good are Akroan Horse and Guardians of Meletis, although Fleetfeather Sandals and Prowler’s Helm can be scary if you have a stalled board. Even if you consider all 4 of these in addition to the weapons of the gods, there will only be an average of 9.5 of them in a typical 8-person draft, so each player will usually only have 1, and you don’t usually want to run artifact removal maindeck or even side it in just to handle a single card unless it absolutely wrecks you.

Even against an opponent with playable artifacts, you’re better off siding in removal that destroys enchantments in addition to artifacts. Fade into Antiquity, Artisan’s Sorrow, and Destructive Revelry (and perhaps even Annul), are better sideboard cards than Demolish since Theros doesn’t have many particularly scary artifacts or lands that. Even Ray of Dissolution is a better artifact removal spell than Demolish since it kills the weapons of the gods and also has many other targets. The only color that has access to artifact removal but not enchantment removal is red, and if you’re in red but not green (or blue), you’re probably better off siding in Wild Celebrants, or running them maindeck since they’re reasonable as just a 5/3 for 3 mana that may occasionally destroy an artifact. The only reason to even side in Demolish is if you don’t have enough other artifact removal, and there’s never a reason to run it maindeck unless it also destroys enchantments.

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: Maindeck artifact removal

Last week, we determined that it doesn’t make sense to run maindeck enchantment removal in M14. Today, we’ll determine whether it makes sense to run maindeck artifact removal.

This spreadsheet has a list of all artifacts in M14. None of the artifacts are common except Sliver Construct, and about half are unplayable. Of the rest, Darksteel Ingot is indestructible, and Elixir of Immortality will usually be sacrificed in response. That leaves 1 common, 4 uncommon, and 5 rare artifacts that you may wish to destroy, so an average 8-person draft will only have 9 artifacts, or about 1 per player. Of these 10 artifacts, only 2 uncommons and 2 rares are playable or exceptional, and there will only be 3 of those opened in an average 8-man draft.

Given these numbers, there’s no reason to maindeck Demolish and Smelt. Since your opponent is unlikely to have many playable artifacts, I would not even recommend siding in Demolish or Smelt unless you see multiple artifacts that you want to be able to destroy. Also, Solemn Offering, Naturalize, and Bramblecrush are no more maindeckable than previously determined.

M14: Strionic Resonator and the U/R control deck

Let’s try to evaluate Strionic Resonator today and determine whether it’s worth drafting early. This spreadsheet has a list of all cards in M14 with a triggered ability (see this post for the card quality key). It includes updated card quality evaluations as well as an assessment of the quality of the triggered ability, which can differ from the card quality (e.g., Sengir Vampire and Angelic Accord). These trigger quality assessments are very similar to the card quality assessments:

  • + means you would happily pay 2 mana to copy the trigger.
  • / means you would pay 2 mana to copy the trigger.
  • ~ means the ability is difficult to trigger or less useful to copy.
  • E(xpensive) means that you are unlikely to have 2 mana to spare when the trigger goes off, or that you’re already winning the game if the trigger goes off.
  • R(are) means that you’ll rarely want to copy the triggered ability or that it won’t trigger very often.
  • x means that there is never a reason to copy this trigger, barring very unusual game states.

The spreadsheet also indicates which archetype(s) each of these cards fits best in. If the archtype is in parentheses, it means that the card is playable even outside the archetype. If no archetype is listed, the card is usually played on its own merits rather than because it interacts particularly well with other cards.

Pivoting by color (to the right of the main table in the spreadsheet) shows us that red has the most triggered abilities we’d want to copy (11 in an average draft), followed by white and blue (8 each). Since most players draft 2 colors in M14, each color will have 3 drafters. If they split these cards between them, it means you can expect to get about 6.3 triggers you want to copy if you’re in R/W or U/R, and about 5.3 triggers you want to copy if you’re in W/U. However, Goblin Shortcutter and Archaeomancer don’t usually go in the same deck, so let’s also look at the cards by archetype instead.

Pivoting by archetype (also to the right of the main table in the spreadsheet) shows us that B/R sacrifice and U/R control have the most number of cards with triggers we’d want to copy (8 each in an average draft). If you’re the only drafter at the table, you will probably have enough triggered abilities that you’d want to copy.

The B/R sacrifice deck has Festering Newt, Pitchburn Devil, and Dragon’s Egg (uncommon), whose abilities trigger when they die, either in battle or when sacrificed to Altar’s Reap, Blood Bairn, Barrage of Expendables, Gnawing Zombie, or Vampire Warlord. It also has Young Pyromancer, whose trigger produces more cannon fodder for your sacrifice outlets. However, Pitchburn Devil’s trigger is the only one (at common or uncommon) that you’d really want to copy, so I’m not sure how well Strionic Resonator would work in this deck.

I haven’t drafted U/R control yet, but it seems like it should be a viable archetype. Red has Shock, Chandra’s Outrage, Flames of the Firebrand (uncommon), and Volcanic Geyser (uncommon) for removal. Blue has Essence Scatter, Negate, Cancel, and Spell Blast (uncommon) for countermagic, Time Ebb, Disperse, and Frost Breath for stall, and Divination and Opportunity (uncommon) for card advantage. Combined with Academy Raider and Archaeomancer, it could be a fairly potent counterburn deck that wins with a large flyer or by recurring Volcanic Geyser. In such a deck, Strionic Resonator could help ensure that that you don’t run out of cards before your opponent does.

So Strionic Resonator is probably conditionally playable. I wouldn’t recommend taking it early in the hope that U/R control is open. However, if you’re already drafting that deck, it might be worth taking it and then drafting cards with useful triggers slightly higher. (It’s also useful if you don’t remember how many triggered abilities you have in your deck when you’re passed a Strionic Resonator; if you’re drafting U/R control, you’re more likely to have enough triggers to play it.) This card does have a tendency to get passed late, so if I’m already in either blue or red the next time I see it, I might draft it to try it out (as I did with Door of Destinies recently) and post a follow-up.

Btw, here are the card quality evaluations I’ve updated since I originally posted the evaluation spreadsheet, in case you’re interested:

  • Ajani’s Chosen (TBD -> exceptional): A 3/3 for 4 mana is already a reasonable body, and W/B enchantments is a strong archtype.
  • Angelic Accord (TBD -> conditional): It’s difficult to draft a good lifegain deck, but I still believe it’s possible.
  • Auramancer (TBD -> playable): Ajani’s Chosen works well with all enchantments, but Auramancer mostly works well with Quag Sickness.
  • Blightcaster (TBD -> exceptional): Like Ajani’s Chosen, but with 1 less point of power and a stronger trigger.
  • Sanguine Bond (TBD -> conditonal): See Angelic Accord above.
  • Xathrid Necromancer (TBD -> exceptional): It’s a 2/2 for 3 mana that at least nets a 2/2 when it dies, and can be nuts in the right deck.
  • Door of Destinies (TBD -> conditional): It’s playable in a Slivers deck or a W/B Humans deck.
  • Advocate of the Beast (TBD -> conditional): It’s good if you already have Beasts.
  • Dismiss into Dream (TBD -> unplayable)
  • Domestication (TBD -> playable)
  • Archaeomancer is still TBD.

M14: Follow-up on Door of Destinies

While I had drafted Door of Destinies previously, I’d never had enough creatures of any given creature type to justify playing with it — until yesterday. I was drafting a W/B enchantments deck and opened Door of Destinies in pack 2. Normally, I would have taken the Sengir Vampire from that pack, but this was a very casual draft and I was in the right colors for a Humans deck, so I decided to give it a try, even though I only had 3 Humans at that point. (Only do this at home, kids!)

I ended up with 10 Humans: 4 Auramancers (to go with 3 Quag Sicknesses; yes, it was every bit as sick as it sounds), 3 Corpse Haulers, 2 Masters of Diversion, and 1 Blightcaster. I left a Dawnstrike Paladin and a Soulmender in the sideboard since they aren’t playable on their own merits; I wouldn’t want to draw either of them if I didn’t also have Door of Destinies. I also didn’t have any cards that cared about lifegain, and my card quality was ridiculously high besides; I had Corrupt, Wring Flesh, and Accursed Spirit sitting in my sideboard!

I went 4-1 over the course of the evening, losing only to a monoblack deck with Nightmare (and a Grim Return to get it back), Dark Prophecy, Rachet Bomb, and Corrupt, and a Diabolic Tutor to fetch the most relevant one. The Door of Destinies contributed to 2 game wins, although I might have won one of both of those games anyway. I was rarely unhappy to draw it since it would at least give my next Human +1/+1, and it usually did more. There was often a temptation to try to optimize the casting order (Door of Destinies, then Blightcaster, then Quag Sickness, and then Auramancer) to maximize the utility of the cards involved, but you have to withstand that temptation if your opponent has attackers that you can’t already block effectively; sometimes you have to play Auramancer on turn 3 with no Quag Sickness in the graveyard and a Door of Destinies in your hand.

One interesting combo that I noticed was that with a Corpse Hauler in your graveyard and another in play, you can sacrifice the one in play to get the other one back, and then play that one to add a counter to Door of Destinies. You can rinse and repeat as many times as your mana will allow, so you should probably draft Corpse Haulers a little higher if you’re drafting a W/B Humans deck with Door of Destinies. (Corpse Hauler also allows you to reuse Auramancers, which can be very powerful if you also have a Quag Sickness.) Door of Destinies also would have worked well with the Liliana’s Reaver in my deck if I had named Zombies, but I was never willing to do that since the Door would be useless if they dealt with the Reaver.

I want to emphasize again that this was a very casual draft. While none of the Humans in my deck are high picks (other than Blightcaster), you won’t usually be able to snag the 3 Quag Sicknesses and 3 Pacifisms that made my Auramancers so good. In other words, your mileage might vary. However, I think it is possible to use Door of Destinies in a W/B Humans deck as long as you prioritize picking Humans that are playable on their own merits. Also, Door of Destinies is not usually a good target for Diabolic Tutor since if you cast Diabolic Tutor on turn 4 and Door of Destinies on turn 5, you’re spending a lot of time doing nothing. Unless your opponent isn’t playing anything, save the Tutor for later to fetch a bomb or a removal spell.