SOI: Madness and discard outlets

An analysis of cards with madness and the discard outlets that enable them in Shadows over Innistrad is available at http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/madness-and-discard-outlets-in-shadows-over-innistrad-draft.

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SOI: The mill deck

http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/the-mill-deck-in-shadows-over-innistrad-draft looks at the mill deck in Shadows over Innistrad draft.

BFZ: Is there a G/U deck?

In Battle for Zendikar, blue and green have the most cards with converge and the most cards that generate Eldrazi Scion tokens. That means G/U could potentially function as a deck that uses manafixing to maximize converge and/or a deck that uses ramp spells and Eldrazi Scions to cast expensive spells. However, are there enough of either card to make this a deck that can be consistently drafted?

Let’s take a look at the blue and green converge cards first:

  • Blue: Brilliant Spectrum, Roilmage’s Trick, Exert Influence (rare), Prism Array (rare)
  • Green: Tajuru Stalwart, Infuse with the Elements (uncommon), Woodland Wanderer (rare)
  • G/U: Skyrider Elf (uncommon), Bring to Light (rare)

Neither of the blue commons with converge are particularly good, especially in multiples, so there’s little reason for a converge deck to be G/U. Green provides both the manafixing and the good commons and uncommons, so any G/X deck can play the green converge cards and splash Exert Influence and the G/U cards. G/W Allies is the most likely candidate since it often splashes additional colors for Unified Front anyway, and Tajuru Stalwart and Skyrider Elf are also Allies.

Next, let’s consider the cards that produce Eldrazi Scion tokens to see whether a G/U deck is likely to end up with enough of them to build a ramp deck.

  • Colorless: Spawning Bed (uncommon), Blight Herder (rare) = average of 1.3 cards in an 8-person draft
  • Blue: Eldrazi Skyspawner, Incubator Drone, Adverse Conditions (uncommon), Drowner of Hope (rare) = average of 6.1
  • Green: Call the Scions, Eyeless Watcher, Brood Monitor (uncommon), Void Attendant (uncommon), From Beyond (rare) = average of 7.0

An 8-person draft usually has about 3 people in each color, but many drafters tend to avoid green in Battle for Zendikar, so we’ll instead assume that there are 2 green drafters and 3.5 drafters in each other color. Then, we might expect to end up with 1.7 of the blue cards and 3.5 of the green cards, along with an occasional colorless card. Unfortunately, both the green commons are filler and a G/U ramp deck would have to play them in order to have more than a couple of cards that produce Eldrazi Scion tokens.

A G/U ramp deck would also have access to more traditional green ramp spells. However, green gains little from being paired with blue in that scenario, and is probably be better off as a R/G landfall deck since the ramp spells help it trigger landfall more frequently.

Unfortunately, a deck like this is likely to have draws that only have ramp spells/filler Scion producers or only have expensive spells with insufficient ramp. Also, the environment has a number of ways to deal with large creatures: white has Sheer Drop and Smite the Monstrous, blue has Clutch of Currents, Murk Strider, and Tightening Coils, black has Bone Splinters, and all colors have access to Scour from Existence, and that’s just at common.

Consequently, it seems that G/U(/x/y) is not a good color combination in this environment. Blue has little to offer in terms of converge spells and G/W Allies can make better use of the green converge spells. Similarly, blue has little to offer in terms of ramp spells and R/G landfall can make better use of the green ramp spells.

BFZ: Deconstructing W/U skies

There’s been some hype about the W/U skies archetype. However, the fliers in this format are relatively inefficient compared to recent sets and there are no good 2-drop fliers for the deck. Let’s crunch some numbers to determine whether there are enough cards available to support this archetype in a typical 8-person draft, which of these cards you’re competing with other decks for, whether there’s a need to prioritize flyers/defense/removal, and whether we need to focus on any particular converted mana costs while drafting the deck.

Let’s start by looking at all the colorless, white, blue, and W/U cards that I think are good options for this deck. The cards are divided into 4 categories, each with it’s own table: flying/evasion, defense, removal/tempo, and other (primarily cards that help you win faster or survive longer). Within a category, cards are organized by rarity and converted mana cost. The highlight indicates the card’s color(s): gray is used for colorless/artifact cards, yellow is used for white cards, blue is used for blue cards, and light blue is used for W/U cards. Monocolored cards require only one colored mana of their color unless indicated otherwise, so you can determine the mana cost of a card based on its color and converted mana cost. Cards with awaken have both costs indicated but are usually listed in the column for their awaken cost; since they are all in the removal or other categories, they are rarely cast on curve anyway. A thick border indicates that a card is playable by all other archetypes that share this color, a thins border indicates that a card is playable by some but not all of those archetypes, and no border means that the card will usually only be played by W/U skies.


From the table, we see that an 8-person draft has an average of about 17 fliers (plus Angelic Gift and Coralhelm Guide), 19 defensive cards, 20 removal/tempo cards, and 14 other cards. Let’s assume that there are 3 people in each color but that no one else is drafting W/U skies. In that case, we can expect to get roughly a third of the cards with thick borders, roughly half of the cards with thin borders, and most of the cards with no border. Adding up the numbers gives us “E(in final pool)”, the rough number of cards we expect to end up with given our assumptions: 11 fliers (plus 2-3 copies each of Angelic Gift and Coralhelm Guide), 11 defensive creatures, 11 removal/tempo spells, and 7 other spells. So it is possible to draft enough cards for a W/U skies deck, possibly even if you’re competing with another W/U drafter.

There are many flyers and defensive cards that cost 5+ mana, so you should focus on 2-, 3-, and 4-drops when drafting, especially since you want to start casting spells for their awaken cost once you have 5-6 mana available. There are no good 2-mana flyers in this format, so you should try to pick up some defensive 2-drops or, in their absence, any other playable 2-drops.

Why is W/U skies a powerful deck in this format even though the fliers are not that efficient? I think it’s because the deck can take advantage of spells with awaken better than most of the other decks in the format. With an aggressive draw, it can cast them without awaken for tempo. If the games goes longer, the 3/3 or 4/4 bodies are not that impressive on offense, but can gum up the ground long enough for your flyers to finish the job.

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.

BFZ: The exile/process deck

I recently drafted a U/B exile/process deck with 6 ingest creatures, no other exile effects, and 7 processors. Here’s the decklist:

Creatures (18):
– 2cc: Fathom Feeder, 3 Culling Drone
– 3cc: 2 Benthic Infiltrator, Eldrazi Skyspawner, Hagra Sharpshooter
– 4cc: 3 Murk Strider, Mind Raker, Silent Skimmer
– 5cc: Ulamog’s Reclaimer, 2 Oracle of Dust, Endless One, Windrider Patrol

Non-creatures (4):
– 1cc: Clutch of Currents
– 2cc: –
– 3cc: Swarm Surge
– 4cc: Dampening Pulse
– 5cc: Demon’s Grasp

Land (18): 9 Islands, 8 Swamps, 1 Blighted Fen

I thought the deck looked strong, but I had several opening hands with no ingest creatures. Other times, my opponents would prevent me from getting my processors online by trading with or killing my Culling Drone. I still managed to go 4-1 with the deck, but only because many opponents had slow starts, which allowed me to stall the game using my X/5’s and then use Fathom Feeder, Oracle of Dust, Hagra Sharpshooter, and/or Windrider Patrol to win the long game. I also managed to curve out in a couple of games and then cast Swarm Surge for the win.

I realized that 6 exile effects is insufficient for this archetype. While the expected number of exile effects in my opening hand is 1, there’s a 29% chance of having none. Here’s a table showing the probability of having 1+ and 2+ exile effects in a 7-card hand (assuming a 40-card deck).

# exile effects in deck 1+ exile effects in hand 2+ exile effects in hand
4 55.22% 13.43%
5 63.93% 20.40%
6 71.14% 27.86%
7 77.09% 35.50%
8 81.95% 43.06%
9 85.90% 50.35%
10 89.08% 57.23%
11 91.63% 63.60%
12 93.65% 69.40%
13 95.24% 74.60%
14 96.47% 79.18%

Given these numbers, and given that opponents may be able to kill my ingest creatures, I’d like to have 9+ exile effects the next time I draft this archetype. Let’s take a look at the playable exile effects in the format to determine whether this is a reasonable expectation. The table below categorizes them, as well as process effects, by rarity and whether the effect is reusable. Within each category, cards are sorted by color and then mana cost. Exile effects with a strikethough are ones I believe can’t be relied on to exile a card; for one-time exile effects, they also need be able to exile a card on curve (i.e., once you have the mana needed to cast the card).


Some observations:

  • The best exile and process effects are both in blue. While most exile/process decks will usually be U/B or U/b, a U/r deck is possible if you get multiple copies of Touch of the Void, Vile Aggregate, and Processor Assault. A monoblue deck may even be possible on occasion since 8-person drafts have an average of 13 exile and 10 process effects that are blue or colorless.
  • I was not impressed with Culling Drone in this deck, so I would prefer to have Mist Intruder instead when I draft this archetype next, even though it is less playable in the absence of process effects. Since U/B exile/process decks should be heavier blue, this should also reduce the likelihood of having a 2-drop ingest creature that you cannot cast because you don’t have the right color of mana.
  • An 8-person draft has 6.5 reusable and 11.6 one-time exile effects that are playable in U/B. If you want to have 9 exile effects in a U/B exile/process deck, you have to play either some reusable exile effects that are unreliable and/or some one-time exile effects.
  • Most process effects are one-time, and the reusable ones are less impressive, so it should be okay to run a number of one-time exile effects. (Reusable exile effects are still better, since a single one can enable multiple one-time process cards.)
  • There are fewer process effects than exile effects (14 vs. 18 playable ones for U/B). While it makes sense to draft exile effects before process effects, you should not usually draft exile cards over powerful processors like Murk Strider with the expectation that you will be able to pick up the processors later.

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.