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.

MM2: Maindeck artifact/enchantment removal

I’ve heard a number of people suggest that artifact removal is maindeckable in Modern Masters 2015 Limited since there are a number of playable artifacts that can go in any deck. My initial instinct is to disagree. Most of my decks have had 3-4 artifacts, which means that my opponents may never see an artifact. Even if they do, it may not be problematic, yet they will usually have to spend their removal on it since they may not see another artifact later. I’ve also seen a few B/X decks that have no artifacts, although I don’t know how common they are.

Let’s start by looking at the playable artifacts in the set by archetype / color pair:

  • W/U artifacts: Court Homunculus, Faerie Mechanist, Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, Rusted Relic, Ethercaste Knight (uncommon), Glassdust Hulk (uncommon), Cranial Plating (uncommon), Etched Champion (rare), Lodestone Myr (rare), Mox Opal (mythic) = 5 commons + 3 uncommons + 2 rares + 1 mythic = 16.7 in an average 8-person draft / 4.2 in sealed deck (excluding Darksteel Citadel since it’s indestructible)
  • R/G sunburst: Alloy Myr, Skyreach Manta, Sphere of the Suns, Etched Oracle (uncommon), Everflowing Chalice (uncommon) = 3 commons + 2 uncommons = 9.6 in draft / 2.4 in sealed (excluding Wayfarer’s Bauble and Expedition Map since they can usually only be taken out on turn 1)
  • G/W or B/G tokens: Culling Dais (uncommon), Mortarpod (uncommon) = 2.0 in draft / 0.5 in sealed
  • U/B or G/U proliferate: Tumble Magnet (uncommon) = 1.0 in draft / 0.2 in sealed
  • W/B Spirits: Long-Forgotten Gohei (rare) = 0.4 in draft / 0.1 in sealed
  • W/X: Blinding Souleater, Glint Hawk Idol = 5.1 in draft / 1.3 in sealed
  • U/X: Gust-Skimmer = 2.5 in draft / 0.6 in sealed
  • Other equipment (any deck, but especially good in G/W or B/G tokens, or in R/W): Copper Carapace, Flayer Husk, Kitesail, Sickleslicer, Darksteel Axe (uncommon), Sunforger (rare) = 4 commons + 1 uncommon + 1 rare = 11.5 in draft / 2.9 in sealed
  • Most decks: Cathodion, Runed Servitor, Chimeric Mass (rare), Etched Monstrosity (rare), Lodestone Golem (rare), Precursor Golem (rare), Spellskite (rare) = 2 commons + 5 rares = 7.2 in draft / 1.8 in sealed

If you face W/U artifacts or R/G sunburst, you’ll be quite happy with your maindeck Smash to Smithereens. Otherwise, they player is sharing 19 artifacts with the table and so is likely to have about 2.4 artifacts, perhaps slightly more if you’re playing against a W/X or U/X deck. However, the average could also be lower than 2.4 since the W/U artifacts deck will probably pick some of these artifacts more highly than the other archetypes. This is certainly not enough to merit playing maindeck artifact removal, since you’re likely to never see either of the artifacts they’re playing in any given game.

A sealed deck that is not W/U artifacts or R/G sunburst will typically have about 5 artifacts it wants to play. About 3-4 will usually make the cut, so you’re likely to see about 1 in a typical game. If we assume we’re equally likely to face all archetypes, then maindeck artifact removal is only slightly more playable in sealed than in draft. However, if you believe, as some people do, that sunburst is going to be the most popular archetype, then it may make sense to run Smash to Smithereens maindeck.

Since a lot of the artifact removal spells also destroy enchantments, let’s also look at the playable enchantments in the format:

  • White: Arrest, Oblivion Ring (uncommon) = 3.5 in draft / 0.9 in sealed (excluding Daybreak Coronet and Leyline of Sanctity, which are unplayable in Limited)
  • Blue: Narcolepsy, Inexorable Tide (rare) = 3.0 in draft / 0.7 in sealed
  • Black: Bitterblossom (mythic) = 0.2 in draft / 0.05 in sealed
  • Red: Splinter Twin (rare) = 0.4 in draft / 0.1 in sealed (excluding Goblin War Paint, which is usually unplayable in Limited)
  • Multicolor: Necrogenesis (uncommon), Pillory of the Sleepless (uncommon) = 2.0 in draft / 0.5 in sealed

So white and blue have the most enchantments as well as the most artifacts. If you’re playing against a W/X or U/X deck, it may make sense to side in artifact/enchantment removal, even if you haven’t seen any particularly juicy targets yet.

FRF: Lotus-Eye Mystics and Abzan Advantage

Lotus-Eye Mystics and Abzan Advantage both get better if the format has good enchantments, although for different reasons. Khans of Tarkir had very few good enchantments, so neither of these cards would have been strong in a triple Khans of Tarkir draft deck. While Fate Reforged brought more enchantments to the format, including some excellent uncommon, I’ve often ended up with just a 3/2 prowess creature or a +1/+1 counter and am not sure whether my experience is representative. Let’s try to get a better sense of how many playable enchantments exist in the format, and in which colors. (I’ve left out the enchantments whose quality is still TBD — Ancestral Vengeance, Molting Snakeskin, and Frontier Siege — as I suspect they are unplayable in most decks.)

  • White: Lightform (uncommon), Sage’s Reverie (uncommon), Suspension Field (uncommon), Citadel Siege (rare), Mastery of the Unseen (rare) = 1.8 copies in an average 8-person draft
  • Blue: Jeskai Runemark, Singing Bell Strike, Cloudform (uncommon) = 3.3 copies
  • Black: Debilitating Injury, Raiders’ Spoils (uncommon), Retribution of the Ancients (rare) = 2.5 copies
  • Red: Dragon Grip (uncommon), Rageform (uncommon), Outpost Siege (rare) = 1.3 copies
  • Green: Trail of Mystery (rare) = 0.3 copies
  • Multicolor: Secret Plans (uncommon), Abzan Ascendancy (rare), Mardu Ascendancy (rare), Sultai Ascendancy (rare), Temur Ascendancy (rare) = 1.6 copies

So an 8-person draft has only 11 playable enchantments on average. Of the clans, Jeskai is expected to have most number of playable enchantments available in a draft (6.5), so I would expect a typical Jeskai deck to have no more than a couple of enchantments. This means that while Abzan Advantage is a reasonable card for your sideboard, it is probably not worth playing maindeck unless the +1/+1 counter is particularly relevant to your deck. Similarly, if you already have a couple of enchantments, it makes sense to draft Lotus-Eye Mystics more highly, but it’s probably not worth drafting early with the expectation of picking up enchantments to go with it. If you do draft it, keep an eye out for Debilitating Injury.

EDIT: I somehow missed the Khans of Tarkir auras in the list above. Singing Bell Strike, Debilitating Injury, and Dragon Grip (uncommon), are all quite playable, so I’ve added them to the analysis above.

JOU: Additions to the enchantment reuse deck

I’d previously written about a deck that might use Floodtide Serpent to reuse enchantments, primarily cantrip enchantments, but also some others. Journey into Nyx also brings us 3 additional ways to reuse enchantments: Kiora’s Dismissal, Riptide Chimera, and Triton Cavalry. An 8-person JOU/BNG/THS draft has an average of 0.4 copies of any given Journey into Nyx uncommon, so there are likely to be 1.2 copies of these 3 cards, roughly equal to the number of Floodtide Serpents you’re likely to see (1.3).

Reusing enchantments works well with constellation since you can retrigger each of your constellation abilities. In addition, there are a couple of Journey into Nyx cards that work especially well in this deck:

  • Harvestguard Alseids allows you to attack with Floodtide Serpent without worrying about losing it in combat.
  • Crystalline Nautilus becomes reusable removal if you bestow an opponent’s creature, target that creature, and then return Crystalline Nautilus to your hand once it’s a creature. Journey into Nyx also provides several reuable targeting effect on permanents with constellation: Harvestguard Alseids, Whitewater Naiads, Dreadbringer Lampads, Forgeborn Oreads, Goldenhide Ox, Oakheart Dryads, and Strength from the Fallen.
  • Dictate of Kruphix can become a one-sided Howling Mine if played on your opponent’s turn and returned to your hand during your turn. (It doesn’t work with Riptide Chimera, however, since that requires you to return the enchantment on your upkeep.)

(Note that Skybind doesn’t fit in this deck because it only allows you to flicker nonenchantment permanents.)

There are also 3 green cards that might fit well in this deck: Kruphix’s Insight, Reviving Melody, and Strength from the Fallen. Strength from the Fallen is likely unplayable since it has a very high setup cost; it requires you to have a large number of enchantments in your deck, to have creatures in your graveyard, creatures in play (to receive the +X/+X bonus), and to be on the offensive (since the set provides only a few ways to have an enchantment enter the battlefield at instant speed).

Given the above analysis, I will now rate 3 of the TBD cards from my evaluation of Journey into Nyx cards:

  • Triton Cavalry: good; defends while you set up your combos
  • Kruphix’s Insight: good; stocks your graveyard while drawing you cards
  • Strength from the Fallen: unplayable

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

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.

BNG: Floodtide Serpent and the enchantment reuse deck

Since the release of BNG, I’ve primarily drafted very aggressive decks, usually after being passed multiple copies of Loyal Pegasus, Fanatic of Xenagos, and/or red removal spells. I haven’t yet tried the archetypes I’d theorized that Born of the Gods might make possible. I’m particularly eager to try the enchantment reuse deck since I often see Floodtide Serpent late. I did once draft 2 Floodtide Serpents and 4 cantrip Auras (2 Dragon Mantles, 1 Stratus Walk, and 1 Fate Foretold) but left them in the sideboard because I had a U/R spells deck with Flamespeaker Adept, 2 Spellheart Chimeras, and a Prescient Chimera and so needed my noncreature slots for spells and not Auras.

Let’s consider which colors are best able to exploit Floodtide Serpent. Here are several ways to profit from bouncing and replaying enchantments, listed in order of descending importance for BNG/THS/THS drafts, along with the color(s) that benefit most (-C means that it interacts with rares or mythics in that color and so is less relevant):

  1. (U, G) Reusing enchantment with enters-the-battlefield effects: The format has several cantrip Auras — 1 in white, 3 in blue (including Eternity Snare), 2 in black, 1 in red, and 2 in green — plus Raised by Wolves and Ephara’s Enlightenment.
  2. (W, U, G) Retriggering heroic abilities: W/U and G/W have the most number of creatures with heroic, but both tend to be quite aggressive and probably wouldn’t run a 5-mana 4/4 maindeck.
  3. (all colors) Converting bestow creatures into bestow Auras: This is useful if you have a creature with bestow (either because you cast it as a creature early or because the creature it was enchanting died) and you’d prefer to have it be an Aura.
  4. (W, U, G) Moving Auras from one creature to another: You may want to move certain powerful Auras like Eidolon of Countless Battles, Ghostblade Eidolon, or Flitterstep Eidolon to a different creature as a game progresses. Or you can use it with Feral Invocation or Boon Satyr to make combat difficult. Or you can use it with the Ordeals to get additional +1/+1 counters (although you have to return a different enchantment, otherwise you won’t get the counter).
  5. (R) Bouncing borrowed enchantment creatures: This works with Akroan Conscriptor and Portent of Betrayal. The borrowed creature won’t get to do combat damage, but your opponent loses tempo and any Auras on the creature fall off.
  6. (U, -W/R) Moving a removal Aura to a different creature: This works with Eternity Snare, Chained to the Rock, and perhaps Viper’s Kiss. (You can’t use Chained to the Rock to trigger enters-the-battlefield effects on your creatures that aren’t also enchantments since it can only target an opponent’s creature.)
  7. (all colors) Rescuing an enchantment creature you control from some removal Auras: This is primarily useful against Eternity Snare and sometimes Viper’s Kiss. (Floodtide Serpent doesn’t work against Chained to the Rock since that exiles the creature.)
  8. (-R, -W/U, -G/W) Replaying enchantments to trigger enters-the-battlefield effects of other permanents: Purphoros God of the Forge, Ephara God of the Polis, and Karametra God of Harvests. These are all mythics, so this situation will rarely arise.
  9. (-G) Getting a second use out of an enchantment that has/confers a tap ability: This can potentially be used with Epiphany Storm (requires 3 mana + tapping 2 creatues), Ephara’s Radiance (5 mana + 2 creatures), Evanescent Intellect (5 mana + 2 creatures), Claim of Erebos (6 mana + 2 creatures), Bow of Nylea (7 mana), Oracle’s Insight (8 mana + 2 creatures), Hammer of Purphoros (9 mana). However, there are easier ways to reuse tap abilities granted by the Auras, and you’re unlikely to get to 9 mana if you have a Hammer of Purphoros in play, so this is mostly useful with Bow of Nylea, a rare that is rarely passed.
  10. (-B) Removing enchantments you no longer want in play: This is only useful if you need to get Herald of Torment out of play, a situation that should rarely arise.

(Note that the enchantment is returned as the attack is declared, so you don’t get the trigger from cards like Spiteful Returned and Thunderous Might before they return to your hand. It is also not a combo with Perplexing Chimera because it only allows you to return a creature you control you to hand, not a creature you own.)

Looking over this list, we see that white, blue, and green have the most cards that work with Floodtide Serpent. However, W/U and G/U both tend to be aggressive decks in this format, and Floodtide Serpent is better suited to a control deck that can win by eking out card advantage. The control decks in this format are usually B/X or U/R, and we’ve already observed that U/R is not a good color pair for Floodtide Serpent. That leaves U/B and perhaps B/G/u. And there might also be a G/U control deck that uses Sedge Scorpions and Omenspeakers to hold the ground and mana acceleration to cast Floodtide Serpent earlier, while gaining incremental card advantage with Floodtide Serpent and Meletis Astronomer.

The good U/B decks I’ve drafted tend to run a lot of removal, and don’t usually have a lot of space for Auras. A U/B inspired deck could be a good home for Floodtide Serpent, but inspired creatures + cantrip Auras that grant evasion + Floodtide Serpents is a lot to ask of a single pack of Born of the Gods. However, it might be more feasible if you’re drafting with 2-3 packs of Born of the Gods.

B/G decks tend to focus on devotion or the graveyard. There are few enchantments that interact with the graveyard other than Evanescent Intellect, but B/G/u devotion is a possible home for Floodtide Serpent. The deck is happy to run Auras to increase devotion and can afford to run a couple of splash cards even though they don’t contribute to devotion.

Let’s look at which cards in blue, green, and black would work well in a control deck with Floodtide Serpent:

  • Commons: Chorus of the Tides, Fate Foretold, Stratus Walk, Wavecrash Triton // Baleful Eidolon, Grisly Transformation, Scourgemark // Sedge Scorpion, Feral Invocation, Karametra’s Favor, Nylea’s Presence, Setessan Oathsworn, Staunch-Hearted Warrior
  • Uncommons: Eternity Snare, Flitterstep Eidolon, Meletis Astronomer, Triton Fortune Hunter // Ashiok’s Adept, Ordeal of Erebos (if drawn late), Tormented Hero // Centaur Battlemaster, Order of Nylea (if drawn late and you already have access to blue mana), Raised by Wolves
  • Rares: Agent of the Fates // Anthousa Setessan Hero, Boon Satyr, Bow of Nylea, Hero of Leina Tower // Prophet of Kruphix // Astral Cornucopia

There seem to be enough cards that this deck might be possible. As always, keep in mind that an 8-person BNG/THS/THS will only have an average of 1.3 copies of any Born of the Gods common, so you don’t usually want to draft this deck unless you’re already in these colors and have a couple of Floodtide Serpents.

BNG: Sunbond

Sunbond is a card that’s intrigued me since I first saw the Born of the Gods spoiler. The format has a fair bit of incidental lifegain (lifegain that comes with another effect), and has relatively little removal that deals with large creatures. Sunbond seems especially strong on creatures with lifelink since they double in size each time they deal damage.

Here’s a list of all the cards in the format that can gain you life. Cards in bold provide recurring lifegain (this includes creatures with lifelink). While they may gain you less life than some of the non-recurring cards like Ordeal of Heliod, they can help even if you played before you draw Sunbond. Cards in italics are either filler/situational or only gain you 1 life at a time.

  • White (average of 10.1 cards with lifegain in an 8-person draft, 4.5 of which are recurring):
    • common: Hopeful Eidolon, Lagonna-Band Elder, Mortal’s Ardor, Oreskos Sun Guide, Ray of Dissolution, Setessan Battle Priest (Ephara’s Radiance is almost never playable and Last Breath is almost never used on your own creatures)
    • uncommon: Ordeal of Heliod
    • rare: Soldier of the Pantheon
  • Black (average of 7.2 cards, 3.2 of which are recurring):
    • common: Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Pharika’s Cure, Servant of Tymaret
    • uncommon: Cutthroat Maneuver, Insatiable Harpy, Tormented Hero
    • rare: Whip of Erebos
  • Green (average of 5 cards, 0.5 of which are recurring):
    • common: Nylea’s Disciple, Snake of the Golden Grove, Time to Feed
    • rare: Bow of Nylea, Courser of Kruphix
  • Multicolor (average of 3.3 cards, all of which are recurring):
    • common: Scholar of Athreos (while it doesn’t require black mana to be playable, it does require black mana to be used for lifegain)
    • uncommon: Daxos of Meletis, Horizon Chimera
    • mythic: Chromanticore

Unsurprisingly, white has the most cards with lifegain and the most cards that provide recurring lifegain, followed by black and then green. This means that W/B has the most cards with lifegain, and therefore is most likely to be able to maximize Sunbond. W/B also provides access to Scholar to Athreos, both creatures with lifelink in the set, and if you’re really lucky, Whip of Erebos.

Including Scholar of Athreos, an 8-person BNG/THS/THS draft will have an average of 18.8 white or black cards with lifegain. Hopeful Eidolon, Ordeal of Heliod, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Pharika’s Cure, Insatiable Harpy, and Whip of Erebos are high picks in most decks running their colors and constitute 5.7 of the 18.8 cards. If you draft a third of these cards and half of the remaining 13.1, you end up with 9.5 cards, which is enough to power Sunbond.

Keep in mind that Sunbond is an uncommon, so an 8-person BNG/THS/THS draft will only have 0.4 copies of the card on average. I don’t recommend taking Sunbond early and trying to draft around it. However, if you’re looking at a weak pack or if you’re already in W/B, you can pick it up and prioritize the cards with lifegain just a little higher.

THS: Maindeck enchantment removal

When I first read through the Theros spoiler, I figured enchantment removal would be maindeckable, just as Shatter was in Mirrodin, because it was an enchantment themed set with a higher than usual number of enchantments. So in my first Theros event, I drafted enchantment removal highly and played 3 of the 5 enchantment removal spells I drafted maindeck. That didn’t work out too well. Nowadays I often go to the opposite extreme, picking enchantment removal fairly low and rarely playing any maindeck. But I’d never done any analysis to determine whether this was the right play from a statistical standpoint.

Let’s now use the updated card valuations from yesterday to determine whether it makes sense to maindeck enchantment removal in Theros. This spreadsheet lists all the enchantments in Theros, and then summarizes quality by color and rarity. The total row for each color does not sum the rows above it, but instead computes the average number of cards of that color/rarity/quality in an 8-person draft.

Even though Theros is enchantment-themed, it turns out that there aren’t actually that many bomb/exceptional enchantments in the typical draft. In fact, the average Theros actually has the same number of exceptional enchantments as the average M14 draft. While there are a lot more good (/) enchantments than there were in M14 (31 vs. 10), you don’t usually need removal for those. Of course, card quality can be different from whether you need to deal with a card. For instance, if your opponent has a bestowed Aura on a flyer, you probably lose the game in short order if you don’t deal with either the flyer or the enchantment.

Looking at the totals, it appears that white and blue (especially blue) have a disproportionate number of the exceptional enchantments in Theros. In fact, those colors have the only exceptional cards at common/uncommon: Heliod’s Emissary, Nimbus Naiad, and Thassa’s Emissary. If you’re playing against a U/x deck, it is likely you’ll want to keep your enchantment removal in even if you haven’t seen enchantments that you care about removing. If you’re playing against a W/U deck, you may even want to side in additional enchantment removal, even if you haven’t seen targets. On the other hand, you’re less likely to need enchantment removal against R/G, so you can consider siding it out if you haven’t seen good targets and have other cards you want to side in.

We still need to determine whether it makes sense to run enchantment removal maindeck. All the colors have roughly the same number of enchantments in a typical draft, and very few of them are completely unplayable, so let’s look at the grand total row. An average draft will have 55 enchantments between 8 players, or about 7 enchantments/player. If we exclude filler, unplayable, and TBD enchantme1nts, we’re still left with 40 enchantments, or 5 per player. If your opponent has 5 enchantments that you would be happy to destroy, that means you’ll usually see 1-2 enchantments in most games. That means you probably want to run 1 enchantment removal spell maindeck and relegate additional ones to the sideboard.

Sealed deck are built from 6 packs, so they have access to a lot more enchantments, an average of 10 playable ones per player. However, they’re also likely to be distributed evenly across the colors and so a player will usually only be playing 4-5 of them. On the other hand, since color choices in Sealed are dictated by the strength of a color, players are more likely to play a colors with bomb/exceptional enchantments, so the quality of these 4-5 enchantments is likely to be higher than in a draft. You probably don’t want to run more than 1 enchantment removal spell maindeck, though, since there are unlikely to be enough targets for them.

We’ll look at artifact removal tomorrow, but that is unlikely to change this conclusion since Theros has very few impressive artifacts.