EMN: Tribal cards

The list of tribal cards in Eldritch Moon and Shadows over Innistrad, and how many you can typically expect to see for each tribe in an eight-person draft, is available at http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/tribal-cards-in-eldritch-moon-draft.

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SOI: Cross-archetype enablers

http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/cross-archetype-enablers-in-shadows-over-innistrad looks at which cards in Shadows over Innistead enabled multiple archetypes or themes. For instance, Macabre Waltz:

  • enables Madness,
  • is a sorcery and a noncreature for cards that care about those attributes,
  • helps get 2 creatures for 1 card if you have cards that care about the number of creatures you control, and
  • works well in Delirium decks since they’re likely to have multiple creatures in their graveyard.

SOI: Things to track when drafting

http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/things-to-track-when-drafting-shadows-over-innistrad examines how many cards are in or care about each mechanic in Shadows over Innistrad, so you know what things to track while drafting. For instance, if you’re drafting white, you’ll want to keep track of how many cards you have with Delirium and how many Delirium enablers you have, how many creatures you have in your deck, how many of them are Spirits, and how many pieces of Equipment you have.

BFZ: Allies

Battle for Zendikar has Allies in each color as well as several powerful multicolor Allies. Consequently, it seems like Allies decks should usually be 3-, 4-, or even 5-color green, especially since green also provides access to Tajuru Warcaller and Tajuru Beastmaster, which are powerful finishers. Let crunch some numbers to determine whether this is the case.

Let’s start by looking at all the Allies and Ally tribal cards in the set by color, rarity, and converted mana cost. (Cards in parentheses are not Allies but can create Allies or have an Ally tribal ability.) Especially strong cards are bolded, and those with tribal abilities are highlighted in yellow.

Some observations:

  • White has the most Allies, followed by black and red which have roughly equal numbers. Green has only 4 Allies, although Tajuru Warcaller and Tajuru Beastmaster are both quite strong. Finally, blue has only 2 Allies, neither of which have Ally tribal abilities. 8 of the 9 multicolor Allies are W/X: 3 are R/W, 2 are G/W, 2 are W/B, and 1 is W/U.
  • Next, let’s determine the average number of Allies available to the 2-color Allies decks that seem most probable.
    • W/B has access to an average of 25.9 Allies in an 8-person draft, 9.0 of which are especially strong (bolded).
    • R/W has access to an average of 25.6 Allies, 8.5 of which are especially strong.
    • B/R has access to an average of 19.5 Allies, 3.9 of which are especially strong. This color combination does not seem very promising.
  • A R/W/B (Mardu) Allies deck seems unlikely because:
    • several of the best Allies in these colors are early drops, which are more difficult to cast on curve in a 3-color deck,
    • a third of the black and the red Allies require 2 colored mana,
    • most of the black Allies have a lifegain subtheme, which interacts well with white but not with red, and
    • there are only 2 non-rare ways to fix your mana if you’re not playing green: Evolving Wilds, which is likely to be taken early, and Pilgrim’s Eye, which does not help you cast your 2- and 3-drops on curve and is not an ideal turn 3 play in an Allies deck.
  • 18 cards have Ally tribal abilities:
    • 8 are Allies with “When ~this~ or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, creatures you control gain X.” These abilities are not cumulative, i.e., the second trigger each turn does not confer any additional benefit.
    • 2 are Allies with “When ~this~ or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, creatures you control get +X/+X”.
    • 4 are Allies with “When ~this~ or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, X”, where X is one of {tap a creature, drain 1 life from opponents, make a 1/1 token, or scry 4 for Allies}.
    • Angelic Captain and Veteran Warleader are Allies that get more powerful as you have more Allies.
    • March from the Tomb reanimates Allies in your graveyard with a total converted mana cost of up to 8.
    • Ally Encampment makes it easier to cast Allies of different colors and can be sacrificed to raise a dead Ally.
  • 13 of these 18 are especially strong (bolded): 2 commons (Kalastria Healer and Tajuru Beastmaster), 6 uncommons, and 5 rares. Let’s break these 13 cards down by color:
    • White: 2 uncommons + 2 rares = average of 2.6 in an 8-person draft
    • Black: 1 common = average of 2.4
    • Red: 1 uncommon = average of 0.9
    • R/W: 1 uncommon + 2 rares = average of 1.7
    • Green: 1 common + 1 uncommon = average of 3.3
    • G/W: 1 uncommon + 1 rare = average of 1.3

    Among 2-color combinations, G/W has access to an average of 7.2 strong Ally tribal abilities, followed by B/G with 5.7, R/W with 5.2, and W/B with 5.0.

White has the most Allies and the most Ally tribal abilities, so it is likely a necessary color for any Allies deck. I believe there are 3 primary Allies decks:

  • An aggressive R/W deck that relies on cheap Allies backed by removal and combat tricks to underrun its opponent. Key cards include Kor Bladewhirl, Firemantle Mage, and perhaps Chasm Guide. The deck has access to several finishers, including Retreat to Emeria, Kor Entanglers, Resolute Blademaster, and several 4- and 5-mana rares. It’s possible that Cliffside Lookout is playable in this deck since it is a 1-drop that can trigger Ally tribal abilities and act as a finisher if drawn late.
  • A W/B lifegain deck. The key cards are Kalastria Healer and Drana’s Emissary, followed by Stone Haven Medic, Retreat to Hagra, and possibly Vampiric Rites and Zulaport Cutthroat. This deck could potentially splash green for Tajuru Beastmaster, and perhaps even Retreat to Kazandu. I’ll explore this archetype in more detail in my next post.
  • A base G/W token deck that uses Unified Front, Grovetender Druids, and Retreat to Emeria to create tokens, green and white combat tricks to push through early damage, and Tajuru Warcaller, Tajuru Beastmaster, and Retreat to Emeria as finishers. It also uses green manafixing (Natural Connection, Blighted Woodland, Sylvan Scrying, Fertile Thicket, and Seek the Wilds, the last of which can be used to find key Allies or bomb creatures instead of land) to splash bombs and removal, and to maximize spells with converge (Unified Front, Tajuru Stalwart, Skyrider Elf, and Bring to Light).

A B/G control deck may also be possible since both colors have a strong Ally tribal effect at common. However, these colors don’t have specific synergies, so it probably makes more sense to instead draft a W/B Allies deck that splashes Tajuru Beastmaster, or a base G/W Allies deck that splashes black for bombs, removal, and maximizing converge.

ORI: Elves

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There are a number of Elf tribal cards in Magic Origins: Dwynen’s Elite, Eyeblight Massacre, Gnarlroot Trapper, Shaman of the Pack, and Sylvan Messenger at uncommon, and Dwynen Gilt-Leaf Daen at rare. Gnarlroot Trapper and Sylvan Messenger require a critical mass of Elves, usually 10+, before they’re playable; the rest are playable without other Elves but get better as you have more. Does Magic Origins have enough playable Elves to make it likely that you’ll be able to draft that many playable Elves?

Let’s start by enumerating the playable Elves in the format at each rarity, along with their converted mana cost. (The only unplayable Elves in the format are Thornbow Archer and perhaps Sylvan Messenger.)

  • Common: Elvish Visionary (2cc), Leaf Gilder (2), Deadbridge Shaman (3), Eyeblight Assassin (3), Yeva’s Forcemage (3), Llanowar Empath (4)
  • Uncommon: Gnarlroot Trapper (1), Dwynen’s Elite (2), Shaman of the Pack (3), Sylvan Messenger (4)
  • Rare: Dwynen Gilt-Leaf Daen (4), Gilt-Leaf Winnower (5)
  • Mythic: Nissa Vastwood Seer (3)

This means that an average of 19 playable Elves are opened at an 8-person draft, of which 3.6 (the uncommons) are usually only valued by Elves decks. If there are no other players drafting Elves at the table and if we draft them highly enough, we can probably draft most of the uncommon Elves and about half of the rest, ending up with about 11.3 of the 19 Elves. This means that if you see a Gnarlroot Trapper or a Sylvan Messenger halfway through pack 1, there’s a reasonable chance that you can take it and draft enough Elves to make it good. (Note that even if your deck has 10 Elves, Sylvan Messenger is only going to net you 1 Elf on average, so it’s still worse than Llanowar Empath which gives you more control over your next draw steps.)

The 6 Elf tribal cards are all uncommons and rares, so there’re only about 5 of them in an 8-person draft. This means we will rarely want to focus on drafting Elves with the hope of picking up the tribal cards later in the draft. However, almost all the Elves are playable on their own merits, so if you’re in black and/or green, you’re likely to have some Elves, and you may be able to switch to an Elves deck if you see Elf tribal cards early enough in the draft.

Is it possible to have an Elf deck that’s not B/G? Of the 19 playable Elves in an average 8-person draft, 12 are green, 6 are black, and 1 is B/G. This means that B/X is unlikely, but G/X might be possible. If we assume that we get all the uncommon green Elves and half the rest, then we end up with an average of 7 Elves. That’s enough for some of the Elf tribal cards like Dwynen Gilt-Leaf Daen and Dwynen’s Elite, but not enough for Sylvan Messenger.

Finally, let’s take a look at the converted mana costs of the Elves in both colors. There are 0.9 at 1cc, 5.7 at 2cc, 8.3 at 3cc, 3.7 at 4cc, and 0.4 at 5cc. The high number of playable Elves at 3cc means that Gnarlroot Trapper is even better than I’d thought since it accelerates you to your 3-drops, and that Yeva’s Forcemage is a bit worse than it might otherwise be.

I have yet to draft a focused Elves deck. There have been 2 instances when I drafted a couple of Eyeblight Massacres in later packs, but only had about 6 Elves, which is the number you’d expect to end up with if you’re B/G but are not drafting Elves, and no one at the table is drafting Elves either. Given the numbers above, I expect I will attempt the archetype the next time I get passed Eyeblight Massacre, Gnarlroot Trapper, Shaman of the Pack, or Dwynen Gilt-Leaf Daen in pack 1.

DTK/FRF: Dragons

Dragons of Tarkir has more Dragons than most sets. But does it have enough to merit drafting either Dragon Tempest or Dragonlord’s Servant? And do the tribal abilities on some of the Dragons in the set affect their value? Probably not, but let’s double check.

All the Dragons in Dragons of Tarkir and Fate Reforged are either monocolor or in an allied color pair.

  • Common: Fate Reforged has Lightning Shrieker, which is usually only played as a Lava Axe in very aggressive decks.
  • Uncommon: Dragons of Tarkir has a cycle of monocolored 3/3 Dragons for 5C (they can also be played face down and have a megamorph cost of 5CC), and a cycle of 4/4 allied color Dragons that costs 4CD. There’s the colorless Scion of Ugin, which rarely sees play but might be playable in a Dragons tribal deck. And Fate Reforged has a cycle of monocolored 4/4 Dragons for 4CC.
  • Rare: Dragons of Tarkir has a cycle of monocolored Dragons, and another cycle of allied color Dragons. Fate Reforged has a cycle of allied color legendary Dragons.
  • Mythic: Dragons of Tarkir has the allied color Elder Dragon cycle.

If we exclude the mostly unplayable Lightning Shrieker, all colors have access to the same number of Dragons as each other, and all allied color pairs have access to the same number of Dragons as each other. There are an average of 0.9 allied color Dragons in each allied color pair, 1.6 monocolored Dragons in each color, and 0.6 Scions of Ugin in an 8-person draft. Consequently, a monocolor deck has access to 2.2 Dragons, an enemy color deck has access to 3.8 Dragons, and an allied color deck has access to 4.7 Dragons. However, you’re unlikely to be passed a mythic or rare Dragon in the first pack of Dragons of Tarkir, and even the uncommon allied color Dragons won’t make it very far, so in practice you’re unlikely to see more than 2-3 Dragons in your colors if you draft an allied color deck.

That’s enough to make it worth playing Dragonlord’s Servant in a slower R/X deck (U/R control or R/G ramp), since it’s still a 1/3 for 2 mana and so can also help you survive until you can start casting Dragons. However, it’s difficult to justify playing Dragon Tempest if you only have 2-3 Dragons, so you probably shouldn’t bother drafting it, even on the wheel. And the Dragon tribal effects will rarely be relevant, so you don’t want to value those cards any higher than usual.

Are any of these cards more valuable in a 3+ color deck? A 3-color shard deck has access to an average of 7.2 Dragons, a 4-color deck has access to an average of 9.7 Dragons, and a 5-color deck has access to all 13 Dragons in a typical 8-person draft. Most decks wouldn’t want to run more than a few, but you’re drafting a 3+ color control deck that runs red, Dragonlord’s Servant should go up in your pick order. However, so much needs to go right for Dragon Tempest to be even somewhat decent that you’re still better off passing under most circumstances.

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.