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 W/B spirit control is bad: Lessons from day 2 of GP Las Vegas, draft 2

Yesterday, I discussed some of the problems with my first draft deck on day 2 of GP Vegas: the person to my left was also in W/B spirits after first picking a Long-Forgotten Gohei, and I drafted too many removal auras and then discovered they aren’t as good in Modern Masters 2015 Limited as they are in other formats. For reference, here is my decklist from that draft.

Creatures (13):
– 1cc: Vampire Lacerator
– 2cc: Dimir Guildmage, 2 Sickle Ripper, Raise the Alarm
– 3cc: 2 Thief of Hope, Restless Apparition, Waxmane Baku, 2 Blinding Souleater
– 4cc: –
– 5cc: Scuttling Death, Hikari Twilight Guardian

Non-creatures (9):
– 1cc: Dismember, Sunlance, Apostle’s Blessing
– 2cc: Otherworldly Journey
– 3cc: 2 Pillory of the Sleepless, 3 Arrest

Lands (18): 9 Swamps, 9 Plains

Sideboard (23):
– Artifact: Alloy Myr, Runed Servitor
– White: Conclave Phalanx, Fortify, Mighty Leap, Terashi’s Grasp
– Blue: 2 AEthersnipe, Air Servant, Faerie Mechanist, Narcolepsy, Somber Hoverguard. Steady Progress, Vigean Graftmage
– Black: Bone Splinters, 2 Death Denied, Duskhunter Bat, Instill Infection, Shrivel, 2 Waking Nightmare
– Multicolored: Agony Warp

This deck has a lot of removal but lacks synergy, so maybe it wasn’t surprising that I went 1-2 with it. But I figured I’d learned some useful lessons, and was hoping to redeem myself in the second draft. That draft started with Spread the Sickness, Nameless Inversion, Blinding Souleater over Arrest, and Thief of Hope over Waxmane Baku (since it can Soulshift the Nameless Inversion). I got passed another Waxmane Baku mid-pack, and realized spirits was wide open when the first one wheeled. This time, my W/B spirits deck had less removal, but had a ton of synergy. I had 6 (six!!) Waxmane Baku, almost thrice the 2.2 you’d expect to see in a 7-person pod. I also had 2 Thief of Hope, 2 Nameless Inversion, Dismember, and Sunlance. Here’s the decklist from that draft.

Creatures (17):
– 1cc: 2 Plagued Rusalka
– 2cc: Spellskite, Reassembling Skeleton, Sickle Ripper
– 3cc: 2 Thief of Hope, 6 Waxmane Baku
– 4cc: 2 Moonlit Strider
– 5cc+: Chimeric Mass, Scuttling Death

Non-creatures (6):
– 1cc: Dismember, Sunlance
– 2cc: 2 Nameless Inversion
– 3cc: Waking Nightmare
– 4cc: –
– 5cc: Spread the Sickness

Lands (17): 9 Swamps, 8 Plains

Sideboard (22):
– Artifact: 2 Blinding Souleater, Cathodion, 2 Runed Servitor
– Colorless: 2 Ulamog’s Crusher,
– White: Skyhunter Skirmisher, 2 Spectral Procession, Terashi’s Grasp
– Blue: Tezzeret’s Gambit, 2 Wings of Velis Vel
– Black: Instill Infection, 2 Sickle Ripper, Sign in Blood, 2 Vampire Lacerator
– Green: Thrive, Tukatongue Thallid

Sickle Ripper is a speedbump against aggro decks. Reassembling Skeleton does that to a lesser degree, but also combos with Plagued Rusalka. Waking Nightmare triggers spiritcraft abilities and is a proactive answer to bombs. Everything else is good enough to not even require explanation, yet I also ended up 1-2 with this deck. While the second loss was a concession to an opponent who’d been paired down, just before I would have won, the 1 official win was once again a bye. This was obviously quite disappointing, especially since I thought I had a pretty good deck. It was lacking Kami of Ancient Law and did have a lot of creatures at 3cc, but was otherwise a model W/B spirits deck.

My first opponent was playing W/U affinity and we split the first 2 games. In game 3, my 7-card hand had 3 Swamps and 4 white spells. It was a sketchy keep, but I figured I had a decent chance of drawing a Plains or a black card. Instead I only drew Swamps and white spells until my last turn, while my opponent played Glint Hawk Idol, Cathodion, another Glint Hawk Idol, and Rusted Relic on turns 2-5, a sequence of plays that my deck would not typically be able to withstand.

My second round was a bye (both my drafts were 7-person pods). My third round opponent was playing G/W/r ramp with 4 Ulamog’s Crushers, a strategy that Waxmane Baku is particularly strong against. I conceded the match just before I would have won, since my opponent had been paired down and had a better shot at prizes and Pro Points.

So, what did I do wrong? It’s possible that I should have built a more aggressive deck, with 2 Vampire Lacerators, 2 Runed Servitors, and the remaining 2 Sickle Rippers replacing Spellskite, Reassembling Skeleton, 2 Moonlit Strider, Scuttling Death, and a land. In that deck, Thief of Hope and Waxmane Baku would hopefully serve as the nail in the coffin after an aggressive start. But I am convinced that a controlling W/B spirits deck is not a good choice for a competitive event. It may be well positioned against W/R equipment and R/G domain/ramp, but it’s too slow against the format’s aggro decks (W/U affinity, B/R bloodthirst, and U/G graft/proliferate) because they pay 2 mana for 2/2’s, while spirits usually pays 3. W/B spirits also has trouble with flyers since it has only 3 flyers of its own, none of which are at common, and has no creatures with reach.

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.

DTK/FRF: Warriors

Warriors was a viable archetype in KTK/KTK/KTK and FRF/KTK/KTK. Dragons of Tarkir has a few Warrior tribal cards, but are they good enough, and are they supported by enough good Warriors, that the archetype remains viable in DTK/DTK/FRF?

Let’s start by looking at the Warrior tribal cards in Dragons of Tarkir:

  • White: Herald of Dromoka (common), Arashin Foremost (rare)
  • Black: Blood-Chin Rager (uncommon), Blood-Chin Fanatic (rare)

Fate Reforged also has Mardu Woe-Reaper and Diplomacy of the Wastes, but neither provides strong incentive to play additional Warriors. This means that a DTK/DTK/FRF draft has 1.8 white and 0.9 black Warrior tribal cards that might cause you to draft a Warriors tribal deck, so such decks are likely to be rare in this format. When you do draft them, they are likely to still be W/B.

Next, let’s look at the expected number of Warriors by color in an 8-person draft, how many of them are playable, and which color pairs could potentially support the archetype (assuming your tribal cards are either only in white or only in black). Bold indicates the cards I think are playable on their own merits.

  • White has an average of 11.5 Warriors in an 8-person draft, 6.6 of which are playable on their own merits:
    • Common: Champion of Arashin, Dromoka Warrior, Herald of Dromoka, Lightwalker, Aven Skirmisher (filler without raid or Raiders’ Spoils), Sandsteppe Outcast
    • Uncommon: Aven Sunstriker, Dragon Hunter, Mardu Woe-Reaper (downgraded to filler because there are more 2-drops)
    • Rare: Arashin Foremost, Hidden Dragonslayer, Dragonscale General, Daghatar the Adamant
  • Blue has no Warriors in either Dragons of Tarkir or Fate Reforged.
  • Black has an average of 9.9 Warriors, 5.3 of which are playable on their own merits:
    • Common: Dutiful Attendant, Hand of Silumgar, Kolaghan Skirmisher, Alesha’s Vanguard, Sultai Emissary (less impressive in an aggressive deck)
    • Uncommon: Blood-Chin Rager, Battle Brawler, Mardu Shadowspear, Merciless Executioner
    • Rare: Blood-Chin Fanatic, Mardu Strike Leader
    • Mythic: Risen Executioner, Brutal Hordechief
  • Red has an average of 6.4 Warriors, 5 of which are playable on their own merits:
    • Common: Kolaghan Aspirant, Sabertooth Outrider, Defiant Ogre
    • Uncommon: Atarka Pummeler, Qal Sisma Behemoth
    • Rare: Zurgo Bellstriker, Alesha Who Smiles at Death, Flamerush Rider
  • Green has an average of 3.3 Warriors, 2.9 of which are playable on their own merits:
    • Common: Atarka Beastbreaker
    • Uncommon: Salt Road Ambushers, Abzan Kin-Guard
    • Rare: Den Protector, Surrak the Hunt Caller, Yasova Dragonclaw

White and black have the most number of Warriors but only about half of them are playable on their own merits. Surprisingly, red has about as many playable Warriors as black, so if all your Warrior tribal cards are in a single color and you are cut off from the other one, you could attempt to draft a R/W or B/R Warriors deck, which would also give you access to Volcanic Rush and/or War Flare. (You probably don’t want to try for a 3-color Warriors deck since DTK/DTK/FRF doesn’t have enough mana fixing to support that, and since aggressive decks don’t do well when they stumble on colors.)

It’s also worth noting that most of the playable Warriors are in Dragons of Tarkir and that even a W/B deck only has access to about 12 playable Warriors. If you want to ensure you have enough Warriors for a focused tribal deck, you might need to take playable Warriors somewhat higher in your first 2 packs, and use the last pack to round out your tricks and mana fixing.

KTK: Warriors

W/B Warriors is a popular archetype in Khans of Tarkir draft, but I’ve had a difficult time making it come together on the couple of occasions I’ve tried. Often I’ll take an early Chief of the Scale and hope to pick up an additional Chief (Edge or Scale) and a Raiders’ Spoils, but instead will only see a couple of copies of Rush of Battle. I’ve also had the opposite happen, where I’ve passed an early Raiders’ Spoils when in black, only to get passed another copy later and then a Chief.

First, let’s refer back to the expected frequencies of cards in KTK. An 8-person draft will have an average of 2.4 copies of a given common and 0.9 copies of a given uncommon, so it’s not surprising that I often don’t see the tribal uncommons, especially since they’re all quite playable even outside the archetype. The Chiefs can be played in either Mardu or Abzan and are among the few good 2 drops in the format, and Raiders’ Spoils is decent even if you don’t have many Warriors, especially if you’re playing a token-heavy Mardu deck.

Next, let’s try to determine whether it worth trying to go into the archetype early. Khans of Tarkir has 29 Warriors and another 4 cards that produce Warrior tokens:

  • White: Mardu Hateblade, Mardu Hordechief, Sage-Eye Harrier, Seeker of the Way (uncommon), Take Up Arms (uncommon), Timely Hordemate (uncommon), Herald of Anafenza (rare)
  • Black: Disowned Ancestor, Krumar Bond-Kin, Mardu Skullhunter, Sultai Scavenger, Unyielding Krumar, Bellowing Saddlebrute (uncommon), Bloodsoaked Champion (rare)
  • Red: Mardu Blazebringer (uncommon), War-Name Aspirant (uncommon)
  • Green: Kin-Tree Warden, Woolly Loxodon, Heir of the Wilds (uncommon), Tuskguard Captain (uncommon)
  • Multicolor:
    • W/B: Chief of the Edge (uncommon), Chief of the Scale (uncommon)
    • B/G: Kin-Tree Invocation (uncommon)
    • Abzan: Abzan Guide
    • Mardu: Ponkback Brigade, Mardu Charm (uncommon), Mardu Roughrider (uncommon), Zurgo Helmsmasher (mythic)
    • Temur: Snowhorn Rider, Bear’s Companion (uncommon), Avalanche Tusker (rare), Savage Knuckleblade (rare), Surrak Dragonclaw (mythic)

I usually try to avoid playing marginal cards that are good only if I draw another card in my deck, so I will leave out Sage-Eye Harrier, Take Up Arms, Unyielding Krumar, Mardu Blazebringer, and Kin-Tree Warden from subsequent analysis. Also, Woolly Loxodon is too expensive to benefit from the Warrior tribal cards, and we’re unlikely to be able to use the Chiefs effectively in a Temur deck, so let’s ignore those cards as well.

Applying the expected frequencies, we find that there are an average of 30 Warriors in an 8-person draft: 11 in black, 7 in white, 2 in green, 1 in red, 4 in Mardu, 2 in Abzan, 2 in W/B, and 1 in B/G. This means that W/B has access to 20 playable Warriors, Abzan and Mardu deck have access to 25, and even B/G has access to 14.

However, many of these cards are likely to be of interest to other players in the draft also. If we assume that all players draft a wedge, then monocolored cards are shared by 5 drafters, wedge cards are shared by 1.5 drafters, and enemy-colored cards are shared by 3 drafters (since each enemy color pair appears in 2 wedges). That means we’re likely to end up with only 4 Warriors if we’re in W/B, 3 if we’re in B/G, 6.5 if we’re in Abzan, and 7.5 if we’re in Mardu. These numbers are important because they tell us that if we want to have enough Warriors to justify playing Raiders’ Spoils or Rush of Battle, we usually have to play either Abzan or Mardu, and also need to be willing to play some of the more marginal Warriors.

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.

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.

THS/BNG: Enters-the-battlefield effects and reanimation spells

In my most recent post, I discussed how Rescue from the Underworld lets us reuse enters-the-battlefield effects. In the past, I’ve also discussed how Triad of Fates lets you do that. There are also other reanimation spells in Theros and Born of the Gods — Fated Return, Champion of Stray Souls, and the temporary reanimation of Whip of Erebos — as well as March of the Returned and Pharika’s Mender, which require you to recast the creature. However, I haven’t yet done a comprehensive review of all the enters-the-battlefield effects on creatures in the format, which could help us decide which color to pair with black if we find that we have more that a couple of reanimation effects in our deck. Let’s do that now. In the list below, italics denote a relatively weak enters-the-battlefield ability or an unplayable creature, [] denotes rares and mythics, and bold indicates that the trigger happens when other creatures enter the battlefield.

  • White: Evangel of Heliod, Griffin Dreamfinder, Lagonna-Band Elder, Leonin Snarecaster
  • Blue: Breaching Hippocamp, Horizon Scholar, [Master of Waves]*, Mnemonic Wall, Omenspeaker
  • Black: [Abhorrent Overlord], Blood-Toll Harpy, Disciple of Phenax, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Mogis’s Marauder, Odunos River Trawler, Returned Centaur
  • Red: Fanatic of Mogis, Minotaur Skullcleaver, [Purphoros God of the Forge], Wild Celebrants
  • Green: Nylea’s Disciple, [Reverent Hunter], Satyr Wayfinder, Setessan Starbreaker
  • Multicolor: [Ashen Rider], Chronicler of Heroes, [Ephara God of the Polis], Pharika’s Mender

* The Elementals already in play die when Master of Waves is not in play, so this only helps if you’ve lost some of the Elementals in combat or if you now have a higher devotion to blue.

There are also a few creatures that have a trigger when they die: Forsaken Drifters, Loathsome Catoblepas, and [Ashen Rider]. [Reaper of the Wilds] and Fate Foretold also trigger when other creatures or the creature they’re enchanting dies.

Looking at the lists above, we see that black has the most and highest quality enters-the-battlefield effects, but that most of the other colors have 2-3 good enters-the-battlefield effects on creatures that are not rares or mythics.

Of course, Rescue from the Underworld and Fated Return can also be used purely for their reanimation. There are a number of cards in black, green, and blue that allow you to get cards from your library into your graveyard: Returned Centaur, Forsaken Drifters, Satyr Wayfinder, Commune with the Gods, Evanescent Intellect, Thassa’s Bounty, Steam Augury, and even Phenax God of Deception (although you’d usually want to use it to target your opponent). The best of these effects are in green, and they can be used to try to mill an expensive creature like Ashen Riders, or for a creature that is otherwise difficult to cast, such as Chromanticore. And if you end up drawing one of the cards accidentally, there are also a handful of discard outlets in the format (Epiphany Storm, Erebos’s Emissary, Prognostic Sphinx, and potentially also Disciple of Phenax, Ordeal of Erebos, and Thoughtseize). Given these colors of these effects, a reanimation deck would probably be a B/G graveyard deck with some reanimation, or a U/B control deck with perhaps some incidental self-mill.

THS: Rescue from the Underworld and Gift of Immortality in W/B control

A draft last Tuesday started with Fated Intervention, Odunos River Trawler, and Sunbond out of a weak third pack, followed by another Sunbond fourth pick over Asphyxiate because I was hoping I might be able draft around the pair of enchantments. Unfortunately, the Oreskos Sun Guides I saw were in the same packs as the Sunbonds, I took Abhorrent Overlord over an Insatiable Harpy, only saw one Scholar of Athreos, and never saw a Hopeful Eidolon or Ordeal of Heliod. My final pool had 6 potential ways to gain life, but Ephara’s Radiance and Cutthroat Maneuver were terrible in that deck unless Soulbond was already in play, and Last Breath and Setessan Battle Priest were unlikely to ever gain me life, leaving only Scholar of Athreos and Gray Merchant of Asphodel as playable sources of lifegain.

I did nevertheless end up with a strong W/B control deck with a strong defense, some incidental lifegain, a few sources of card advantage, and a couple of finishers. Here’s my decklist:

2 Baleful Eidolon
1 Setessan Battle Priest
1 Guardians of Meletis
1 Felhide Minotaur
1 Odunos River Trawler
1 Scholar of Athreos
1 Observant Alseid
1 Wingsteed Rider
2 Disciple of Phenax
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Abhorrent Overlord
1 Traveler’s Amulet
1 Boon of Erebos
1 Eye Gouge
1 Revoke Existence
1 Last Breath
2 Asphyxiate
1 Read the Bones
1 Gift of Immortality
1 Rescue from the Underworld

10 Swamps
7 Plains

Sideboard:
1 Astral Cornucopia
1 Opaline Unicorn
2 Sunbond
1 Ephara’s Radiance
1 Loyal Pegasus
1 Cutthroat Maneuver
2 Asphodel Wanderer
1 Pharika’s Mender
1 Fated Intervention
1 Fade into Antiquity
2 Commune with the Gods
1 Agent of Horizons
1 Kiora’s Follower
1 Sphinx’s Disciple
1 Boulderfall
1 Reckless Reveler

I’ve drafted W/B control decks previously. However, I was surpised by the strength of 2 cards I’d never given much thought to previously: Rescue from the Underworld and Gift of Immortality.

I’d always thought of Rescue from the Underworld as an instant-speed Zombify that that could sometimes let you ambush an attacking creature and occasionally save one of your creatures from removal, but also cost an additional mana and couldn’t be used if you didn’t have a creature in play. However, it also has a couple of advantages over Zombify:

  • It allows you to reuse the enters-the-battlefield ability of the creature in play, possibly in addition to that of the creature being reanimated. My deck had 2 Disciple of Phenax, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Odunos River Trawler, and Abhorrent Overlord, all with potent enters-the-battlefield triggers and, on occasion, I was even able to reuse 2 enters-the-battlefield triggers. (I considered splashing Pharika’s Mender as it also has a strong enters-the-battlefield effect, but that would have required running Opaline Unicorn. The Unicorn is often quite good in B/X control decks, which tend to have a glut at 5cc, but this deck had a sufficiently low mana curve that Opaline Unicorn would have been substantially less impressive.)
  • Similarly, it also allows you to reuse monstrosity triggers and ask an opponent to pay tribute again (if they didn’t pay it the first time; if they did, they’ll just choose to pay it again and you’ll be back where you started).
  • It can let you attack in unfavorable board states without losing your best creature, which is especially useful if you have multiple creatures with inspired or a creature like Cavalry Pegasus, Noble Quarry, Silent Sentinel, or Prognostic Sphinx that has a “Whenever X attacks” abilities.

Gift of Immortality was an even bigger surprise. I consider Indestructibility unplayable, and viewed Gift of Immortality as a slightly cheaper version that provided your opponent a brief window of opportunity to permanently kill the creature. However, Gift of Immortality has a couple of advantages over Indestructibility:

  • When it enchants a creature with a powerful enters-the-battlefield effect, it can be a strong deterrent to your opponent attacking into or blocking the enchanted creature.
  • The creature comes back even if your opponent makes you sacrifice it, say with Agent of Fates.
  • It can get absurd if you can sacrifice the creature yourself, either to get additional uses out of the sacrifice ability (e.g., Burnished Hart), to retrigger an enters-the-battlefield ability (e.g., Abhorrent Overlord), or both (e.g., Odunos River Trawler). In addition to Burnished Hart, the format also provides Priest of Iroas, Reckless Reveler (although you’re unlikely to have the need to use its ability multiple times in a single game with BNG/THS/THS draft decks), and, if you’re willing to run 3+ colors, Crackling Triton and Tymaret the Murder King. Tymaret the Murder King also provides a way to sacrifice other creatures enchanted with Gift of Immortality to retrigger their enters-the-battlefield effects, as do Abhorrent Overlord, Champion of Stray Souls, Eater of Hope, and Scourge of Skola Vale.