ORI: Follow-up on the enchantments deck

Shortly after concluding that an 8-person ORI/ORI/ORI draft cannot support an enchantments deck, I ended up drafting an Esper control deck with a minor enchantment subtheme.

Creatures (16):
– 2cc: 2 Screeching Skaab
– 3cc: 2 Scrapskin Drake, 2 Deadbridge Shaman, 2 Auramancer
– 4cc: 2 Separatist Voidmage, Tower Geist, Returned Centaur
– 5cc: Priest of the Blood Rite, Ringwarden Owl, Totem-Guide Hartebeest
– 6cc: Skaab Goliath

Non-creatures (6):
– 2cc: Swift Reckoning
– 3cc: Claustrophobia
– 4cc: Suppression Bonds, 2 Weight of the Underworld, Consecrated by Blood

Lands (18): 2 Evolving Wilds, 7 Islands, 6 Swamps, 3 Plains

Sideboard (18):
– Artifact: Alchemist’s Vial
– White: Healing Hands, 2 Yoked Ox
– Blue: Artificer’s Epiphany, Bone to Ash, Calculated Dismissal, Faerie Miscreant, Hydrolash, Nivix Barrier
– Black: Infinite Obliteration, Nightsnare, Rabid Bloodsucker
– Green: Dwynen Gilt-Leaf Daen, Llanowar Empath, Orchard Spirit, Might of the Masses, Sylvan Messenger

I first picked Priest of the Blood Rite over Whirler Rogue, followed by Swift Reckoning over Anchor to the AEther, and then Suppression Bonds over Separatist Voidmage. All of these were close calls that I expect others might disagree with. Unsurprisingly, the person to my left went blue after being passed 3 strong blue cards. When I saw a 4th pick Tower Geist, I decided I needed to be in blue, even though I realized that I’d probably already put the person to my left into blue. Unfortunately, he also went into black after opening Liliana, Heretical Healer in pack 2, so I didn’t get many good cards in either of my primary colors in that pack.

I ended up going 1-2 in matches with this deck (it was a casual draft where you can continue to play after you lose). Some of it was because I was in the same colors as the person to my left, some of it was due to the color issues associated with playing a 3-color deck, and some of it was because the deck couldn’t handle fast starts backed up by 1-2 removal spells, but some of it was also due to bad luck (multiple mulligans and multiple opponents with Gilt-Leaf Winnower). With better luck, this deck is probably capable of going 2-1.

Some lessons from the draft:

  • U/B/w is a good color combination for an enchantments deck. While W/B may seem like the natural color combination for this archetype, blue provides Claustrophobia and Separatist Voidmage, and most of the white cards in the deck (Totem-Guide Hartebeest, Suppression Bonds, Auramancer) work well even if they are in the splash color.
  • Totem-Guide Hartebeest is even better than I’d expected. Not only does it find you a removal spell, the 2/5 body is so relevant that I began to wonder if Catacomb Slug might be playable in this format. When I also had an Auramancer in hand, I would usually get Weight of the Underworld so I could kill multiple creatures.
  • Returned Centaur was also surprisingly good. It can block the numerous 2/2’s and 3/3’s in the format and can’t be killed by most of the removal in the format. And with 5 enchantments in the deck, there’s a 36% probabiility that this will put an enchantment in the graveyard for Auramancer to retrieve. (Obviously, the probability goes down if you draw a higher than average number of enchantments before playing it, and goes up if you draw a lower than average number.)
  • Screeching Skaab provides a much-needed 2-drop for the deck and has a 22% chance of putting an enchantment in the graveyard.
  • Consecrated by Blood was very weak in this deck and was sided out every match. I’d thought it might be a good finisher, but it doesn’t belong in a control deck.

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: Why removal auras are bad: Lessons from day 2 of GP Las Vegas, draft 1

Unfortunately, I scrubbed out on day 2 of GP Las Vegas. I drafted W/B spirits both drafts and went 2-4, and both my wins were actually byes 😦 I could have won my last round but conceded because my opponent had been paired down and had a better shot at prizes.

The first draft started with Dismember over Nameless Inversion, Pillory of the Sleepless over Hikari Twilight Guardian, and Arrest over Waxmane Baku, then a Blinding Souleater, and then another Arrest. At the time, I thought this was shaping up to be a pretty good draft deck. By the end of the draft, I had a 3rd Arrest, a 2nd Pillory of the Sleepless, a 2nd Blinding Souleater, and a Sunlance, but only about 6 spirits, and I didn’t have cards that could replace the spirits. I thought the deck would do well because of the extensive removal suite, but there were 3 problems.

The first was that the person to my left was also in spirits. I knew someone else at the table was playing spirits when the Waxmane Baku and a mid-pack Devouring Greed didn’t wheel, but it was too late to switch colors that close to the end of pack 1, and I didn’t realize that it was the person immediately to my left. He’d opened a Long-Forgotten Gohei and taken that pack 1, pick 1! He didn’t take the Nameless Inversion second pick (and didn’t remember what he took over it), but the 4th pick Waxmane Baku and the Devouring Greed put him solidly in W/B spirits. He had some reasonable spirits and a couple of Ghostly Changelings to help trigger their abilities.

The second problem is that Arrest, Pillory of the Sleepless, and the other removal auras (Narcolepsy, and to a lesser extent, Oblivion Ring) are not actually that good in this format. Each color has a number of cheap, maindeckable ways to neutralize them or make alternate use of the creature: white has Apostle’s Blessing, Otherworldly Journey, Kami of Ancient Law, and Moonlit Strider, blue has a number of bounce spells plus AEthersnipe (although at least those require them to spend mana to recast the creature), black has Bone Splinters and Plagued Rusalka, and green has Vines of Vastwood. There’s also Terashi’s Grasp and Sundering Vitae in postboard games. Red is the only color that doesn’t have good answers to the removal auras.

Even more important, the removal auras aren’t actually good against most of the archetypes in this format. In my opinion, they’re only really good against B/R bloodthirst, R/G domain/ramp, and to a lesser extent, U/R elementals.

  • W/U affinity: Disabled artifact creatures still help with affinity/metalcraft. Also, equipment can turn a different creature into a bigger threat.
  • W/B spirits: Thief of Hope’s triggers continue to occur, and ki counters accumulate on Waxmane Baku until they find a Kami of Ancient Law or Moonlit Strider. It sometimes helps that the removal auras don’t put the creature into the graveyard, but the deck often has Plagued Rusalka and Bone Splinters.
  • W/R equipment: They just move their equipment to another creature.
  • W/G tokens: You don’t usually want to arrest a 1/1 token, so the removal auras are only good against their larger convoke creatures and Scion of the Wild. However, W/G has access to both the white and the green protection spells, so you might have a difficult time keeping the creature disabled.
  • U/B proliferate: Unsure, since I haven’t actually seen anyone play a U/B proliferate deck.
  • U/R elementals: Incandescent Soulstoke and AEthersnipe are problematic, but this is good against some of their other cards.
  • U/G graft: Disabled creatures can continue to graft their +1/+1 counters onto your other creatures.
  • B/R bloodthirst: Removal auras are good against this deck.
  • B/G sacrifice: This deck runs Bone Splinters, Plagued Rusalka, Drooling Groodion, and other cards that allow them to sacrifice the disabled creature profitably. It might be worth it if their plan is to use Eldrazi Spawn tokens to accelerate into Eldrazi.
  • R/G domain/ramp: Removal auras are good against this deck.

    • The third problem is that I played poorly. My first opponent appeared to be playing Jund, although I suspect there might have been some Plains and Islands in the deck because he had at least 2 Dragonsoul Knights and 2 Tribal Flames. I won game 1 and had control of game 2 until I misplayed. The first time he went to attack with his Dragonsoul Knight, I tapped it with my Blinding Souleater. On subsequent turns, he declined to attack with it, so I was tapping it on his end step. After a couple of turns of this, he announced an attack step and I just automatically tapped his Dragonsoul Knight without thinking about why he was declaring an attack when he hadn’t been doing so previously. It should have occurred to me that he might have drawn Vines of Vastwood, and in that case I would have been better off just blocking with the Souleater. The Vines of Vastwood took me from 10 to 4, and he drew 2 Tribal Flames to kill me over the next 2 turns. Another possible mistake in this game was that I had an Arrest in hand and maybe I should have played that on the Dragonsoul Knight so I could attack with the Blinding Souleater in addition to my 2/2, since the Souleater could probably neutralize the next creature they played.

      Then I misplayed twice more in game 3 to punt the match. My opponent had a fast start that got me to 4 life, but I was starting to wrest control back. On turn 7, I had 6 lands and Thief of Hope on the table, and Pillory of the Sleepless, Plains, and Swamp in my hand, but didn’t have an answer for his 3/3 Chimeric Mass. I normally advocate never holding back more than 1 land, but I decided to hold back and not play a land that turn, hoping he would think I had a trick. He played a 2/2 on his turn. On my turn I drew a Conclave Phalanx, played Pillory on the Knight and then tapped 4 lands and the Thief of Hope to play the Conclave Phalanx, going from 4 to 6 life. He cast Sundering Vitae on my end step and then played Goblin War Paint on his 2/2 and attacked. If I chumped with my Phalanx, I would not have had any good blocks the following turn, so I went to 2 life and he had a Tribal Flames to finish me off the next turn.

      My opponent had sided in 2 Sundering Vitaes against me, and cast both of them in both our postboard games, usually immediately after I cast a removal aura, so he did get a little lucky. But this was definitely a winnable matchup against a mediocre deck and an opponent who also misplayed a few times.

      Unfortunately, I then got paired against the other spirits deck. My removal auras were useless against him since he still got his spirit triggers and had Kami of Ancient Law and Bone Splinters (which is extra good with soulshift). I sided out all 5 of my removal auras for game 2, but lost to Long-Forgotten Gohei.

      I received a bye the next round and so ended the first draft at 1-2.