BFZ: Is green really that bad?

My last few posts have explored potential G/X decks in Battle for Zendikar draft. My conclusion was that G/W tokens/Allies and R/G landfall are possible, but that B/G sacrifice and G/U ramp/converge are difficult to pull off in a typical 8-person draft. Most of these posts have had at least one person respond saying “green is terrible.” I’ve generally stood up for green, saying that it can be good if it’s underdrafted and if you know what you’re doing, but I do agree that green doesn’t have very many good cards in Battle for Zendikar, and I want to try to quantify that.

Let’s start by looking at the playable green cards by rarity:

  • Common (7): Broodhunter Wurm, Giant Mantis, Oran-Rief Invoker, Snapping Gnarlid, Swell of Growth, Tajuru Beastmaster, Tajuru Stalwart
  • Uncommon (6): Infuse with the Elements, Murasa Ranger, Plated Crusher, Scythe Leopard, Brood Monitor, Tajuru Warcaller
  • Rare (5): From Beyond, Beastcaller Savant, Nissa’s Renewal, Woodland Wanderer, Oran-Rief Hydra
  • Mythic (2): Greenwarden of Murasa, Undergrowth Champion

This means that an 8-person draft has an average of 24.6 playable green cards, or enough for 2 G/X decks, which is what I’d expected. However, I do see some deficiencies as I look through this list of cards:

  • There’s only one card I’d consider a bomb (Oran-Rief Hydra).
  • The green cards are not all good in the same deck. A few of the playable cards are 2-drops that are best in an aggressive deck, but Tajuru Stalwart and Giant Mantis don’t fit well in aggressive strategies.
  • There are almost no playable green creatures at the odd mana costs. At 1 and 5 mana, the only playables are one uncommon each (Scythe Leopard and Tajuru Warcaller). And Tajuru Stalwart is unlikely to consistently be playable as a 3/4 for 3 mana in most decks, so it will usually either be played as a lackluster 2/3 or played off curve.
  • The green lands (Fertile Thicket and Blighted Woodland) don’t fit in most aggressive strategies.

I still think it’s possible to draft green successfully as long as you keep these weaknesses in mind. Green can usually only support 2 decks at an 8-person draft, so you probably shouldn’t commit to green until pick 3-5, which means it should usually be the second color you select. B/G and G/U decks are difficult to pull off, so you should only consider green as your second color if your first color is red or white. Both R/G landfall and G/W/x/y tokens/Allies decks should prioritize 3-drops like Valakut Predator and Tajuru Stalwart. Since green lacks bombs, you need to focus on a good curve even more than usual, since you can’t rely on drawing a bomb to help turn the tables. Green also lacks playable removal, so you need to ensure you draft some in your other color(s), along with pump spells that help you break through the myriad 4-, 5-, and 6-toughness creatures in the format.

Advertisements

ORI: Evaluations

This is an initial set of evaluations of the cards in Magic Origins. The main purpose is not to share deep insights into the new cards, but to figure out which cards need further analysis and to help evaluate those cards. For instance, artifact removal spells were very good in Mirrodin block, but are less relevant in Magic Origins.

Here’re what my various evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and also difficult to deal with or play around, e.g., large flyers or mass removal.
  • Exceptional (+): A superior card that will turn the tide in your favor, e.g., cheap unconditional removal or a 3/3 flyer for 4 mana.
  • Good (/): The bread and butter of most decks, e.g., a 2/2 flyer or a vanilla 3/3 for 3 mana.
  • Situational/Filler (~): Good in the right deck, filler in most others, e.g., a vanilla 2/2.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment removal or color hosers.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1. Some unplayable creatures can be sided in against the right deck, e.g., a vanilla 1/3 for 3 mana might still be sided in against an aggressive deck.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many +1/+1 counters there are in the format.

The spreadsheet also has explanations for many of my evaluations in the Notes column. Here are some evaluations that might not be obvious at first glance.

  • Cleric of the Forward Order (~), Faerie Miscreant (S), Undead Servant (~), Infectious Bloodlust (x), Timberpack Wolf (/): there will be an average of only 2.4 of each of these in an 8-person ORI/ORI/ORI draft
  • Hallowed Moonlight (S): good against tokens and reanimation
  • Valor in Akros (x): worse than Ampryn Tactician since it doesn’t give the bonus immediately, and doesn’t come with a 3/3 body
  • Mizzium Meddler (+): can also move enhancing Auras spells to itself
  • Consecrated by Blood (~): difficult for B/R, B/G, or R/G to deal with
  • Graveblade Marauder (/): good even as a 1/4 deathtouch for 3 mana
  • Evolutionary Leap (x): note that the creature goes in your hand, not into play

Here are the cards that need additional analysis to fully evaluate, and what the evaluation will depend on. Some of these cards have an initial assessment based on a standalone evaluation, but that may change after further analysis.

  • Blessed Spirits, Sigil of the Empty Throne, Blightcaster, Herald of the Pantheon (/), Blood-Cursed Knight (~), Helm of the Gods: #/quality of enchantments
  • Totem-Guide Hartebeest: #/quality of auras
  • Auramancer, Starfield of Nyx (x): #/quality of removal auras that go to the graveyard
  • Enlightened Ascetic (S), Demolish (S), Smash to Smithereens (S), Caustic Caterpillar (S), Conclave Naturalists (+): #/quality of artifacts/enchantments
  • Eyeblight Massacre (+), Dwynen Gilt-Leaf Daen (+), Sylvan Messenger: #/quality of Elves
  • Nantuko Husk (/), Fiery Conclusion (~), Blazing Hellhound (/): #/quality of borrow effects, tokens, and creatures with leaves-the-battlefield triggers
  • Act of Treason: #/quality of sacrifice effects
  • Dreadwaters (x), Sphinx’s Tutelage: #/quality of mill cards
  • Chief of the Foundry: #/quality of artifact creatures
  • Goblin Piledriver: #/quality of Goblins
  • Orbs of Warding, Grasp of the Hieromancer: experience with the card/format
  • Reave Soul (/), Eyeblight Assassin (/), Gilt-Leaf Winnower (+): power/toughness distributions
  • Aerial Volley (S): #/quality of flyers

MM2: Evaluations by archetype

(Quick note: I’m walking in Relay for Life tomorrow to raise money for cancer research. My team will have at least one person walking around the track at any given time for 16 continuous hours. If you’d like to support me, you can make a donation on my fundraising page. All amounts raised will go to the American Cancer Society, and help in the fight to eliminate cancer.)

This is my initial evaluation of the cards in Modern Masters 2015. Since these cards are reprints, we already have have a good sense of how good they are in general, so I will focus on how good they are in the various archetypes. The general column indicates how good I think the card is in a generic deck playing the appropriate color(s); if there is an evaluation in an archetype column, I believe the card is better (or sometimes worse) than the general evaluation, e.g., Fortify is filler in most decks, but exceptional in G/W tokens. If my evaluation in the archetype column is the same as in the general column, I believe the card is slightly better in that archetype, but not sufficiently better to be bumped up to a higher valuation.

For this evaluation, I’m only going to consider the archetypes defined by the 10 color pairs:

  • W/U artifacts
  • U/B prolferate: I think this archetype is too slow to be viable in this format, but am including it for completeness. In practice, G/U graft splashing Spread the Sickness and Grim Affliction is probably a better option.
  • B/R bloodthirst
  • R/G domain/sunburst: Red and green have the only 2 domain cards and the only 2 landcyclers in the set. Red also has 2 creatures that get better if you have access to WUBRG, and this deck can usually also make the best use of the sunburst cards and Etched Monstrosity as well as splash bombs/removal from other colors. If you have multiple cards with domain, you should probably deprioritize bouncelands.
  • G/W tokens/convoke
  • W/B spirits
  • U/R elementals: Relies on Smoketeller + large blue Elementals, and Soulbright Flamekin + Incandescent Soulstoke (which can combine to give your creatures +3/+0, first strike, and trample once you have 7 mana).
  • B/G sacrifice: Eldrazi Spawn tokens can be sacrificed to Bone Splinters, to grow an Algae Gharial or Scavenger Drake, or to ramp into Eldrazi.
  • R/W equipment: The set has 2 cards that get better if equipped (Sunspear Shikari and Kor Duelist), 2 more that get better if their power is increased in any manner (Bloodshot Trainee and Spikeshot Elder), and 5 double strikers (Skyhunter Skirmisher, Viashino Slaughtermaster, Boros Swiftblade, Hearthfire Hobgoblin, and Mirran Crusader).
  • G/U graft: This deck can often splash black for Grim Affliction and Spread the Sickness, since proliferate combos well with graft.

Here’re what my evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and usually also difficult to deal with or play around, e.g., large flyers or mass removal.
  • Exceptional (+): A superior card that will turn the tide in your favor, e.g., cheap unconditional removal or a 3/3 flyer for 4 mana.
  • Good (/): The bread and butter of most decks, e.g., a 2/2 flyer or a vanilla 3/3 for 3 mana.
  • Situational/Filler (~): Good in the right deck, filler in most others, e.g., a vanilla 2/2.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment removal or color hosers.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1. Some unplayable creatures can be sided in against the right deck, e.g., a vanilla 1/3 for 3 mana might still be sided in against an aggressive deck if you need more cheap creatures.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many +1/+1 counters there are in the format.

While most of my evaluations should not be a surprise, here are some where my opinion may differ from the mainstream:

  • Arrest, Narcolepsy, Pillory of the Sleeples (~): Removal auras are weaker than usual in this environment because each color has a number of cheap, maindeckable ways to neutralize them or make alternate use of the creature. Even more important, the removal auras aren’t actually good against most of the archetypes in this format. Note that I still like Oblivion Ring since it can target any nonland permaanent, and since it removes that permanent from the game.
  • Terashi’s Grasp, Smash to Smithereens, Sundering Vitae (S): Decks other than W/U artifacts and R/G domain/sunburst are expected to have an average of 2.4 playable artifacts each. Also, an 8-person draft only has 9 playable enchantments, 6 of which are removal auras that aren’t particularly good anyway.
  • Cryptic Command (B), Wrecking Ball (+), Fulminator Mage (/): I value some of these higher than others may in part because bouncing/destroying a bounceland in the early game is not something most decks can recover from.
  • Wings of Velis Vel is usually filler (~) but is quite good (/) in U/G graft because +1/+1 counters are applied on top of the 4/4 base power/toughness.
  • A few black cards are ranked higher in U/G graft because it can splash the black proliferate cards since they combo with graft creatures. Also, while Puppeteer Clique is more difficult to splash, it can be particularly good in this deck; when it returns to play with a -1/-1 counter, you can graft a +1/+1 counter onto it, which removes the -1/-1 counter and means it will return to play again the next time it dies.
  • Reassembling Skeleton (~) combos quite well with reusable sacrifice effects, especially Plagued Rusalka, Mortarpod, Drooling Groodion, and Culling Dais.

DTK: Evaluations

This is an initial set of evaluations of the cards in Dragons of Tarkir. The main purpose is not to share deep insights into the new cards, but to figure out which cards need further analysis and to help determine how many relevant cards there are when trying to evaluate the cards that I don’t have a good sense of yet. For instance, artifact removal spells were very good in Mirrodin block, but are almost useless in Khans block.

Here’re what my various evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and also difficult to deal with or play around, e.g., large flyers or mass removal.
  • Exceptional (+): A superior card that will turn the tide in your favor, e.g., cheap unconditional removal or a 3/3 flyer for 4 mana.
  • Good (/): The bread and butter of most decks, e.g., a 2/2 flyer or a vanilla 3/3 for 3 mana.
  • Situational/Filler (~): Good in the right deck, filler in most others, e.g., a vanilla 2/2.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment removal or color hosers.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1. Some unplayable creatures can be sided in against the right deck, e.g., a vanilla 1/3 for 3 mana might still be sided in against an aggressive deck.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many +1/+1 counters there are in the format.

The spreadsheet also has explanations for many of my evaluations in the Notes column. Here are some evaluations that might not be obvious at first glance.

  • Dromoka Captain (/): strong on the play and esp. good with either of the white rebound spells
  • Scale Blessing (/): even with no +1/+1 counters, this is a little like Dragonscale Boon, but with less choice of target and no untap
  • Sight Beyond Sight (~): weaker version of Bitter Revelation
  • Skywise Teachings (~): 6 mana + 2 noncreature spells = 1 2/2 flyer; 8 mana + 3 noncreature spells = 2 2/2 flyers
  • Butcher’s Glee (/): improved Necrobite
  • Dragon Tempest (?): anti-synergy with the uncommon Dragons in this format, since you usually want to play them face down
  • Ainok Artillerist (~), Conifer Strider (~): formidable enablers
  • Atarka’s Command (~), Dromoka’s Command (+), Kolaghan’s Command (/), Ojutai’s Command (~), Silumgar’s Command (+): the Commands are not as good as they initially seem because usually only 2 of the 4 choices are relevant in Limited formats, so you don’t have as much flexibility as it may seem

Here are the cards that need additional analysis to fully evaluate, and what the evaluation will depend on. Some of these cards have an initial assessment based on a standalone evaluation, but that may change after further analysis.

  • Arashin Foremost (B), Herald of Dromoka (/), Blood-Chin Fanatic (+), Blood-Chin Rager (+): #/quality of Warriors
  • Lightwalker (/), Scale Blessing (/), Avatar of the Resolute (+), Inspiring Call (+), Enduring Scalelord (/): #/quality of +1/+1 counters
  • Salt Road Quartermasters (+), Servant of the Scale: #/quality of effects that care about +1/+1 counters
  • Ambuscade Shaman (/), Warbringer (+): #/quality of dash creatures (and haste creatures, for Ambuscade Shaman)
  • Magmatic Chasm, Roast (+), Seismic Rupture (/), Pinion Feast (S): #/quality of flyers
  • Impact Tremors, Virulent Plague (S): #/quality of tokens
  • Obscuring Aether: #/quality of megamorphs
  • Dragon Tempest, Dragonlord’s Servant: #/quality of Dragons
  • Risen Executioner (+): #/quality of Zombies
  • Glaring Aegis: speed of format & #/quality of cards that benefit from enchantment/Aura
  • Graceblade Artisan: #/quality of Auras
  • Deadly Wanderings: how often exploit decks have only 1 creature in play
  • Dutiful Attendant: #/quality of exploit cards
  • Ancestral Statue: #/quality of ETB effects
  • Sight of the Scalelords, Gate Smasher: #/quality of creatures with toughness >= 4
  • Assault Formation: #/quality of creatures with toughness >= power and #/quality of defenders

There are also a couple of cards whose evaluation depends on how fast the format turns out to be.

  • Glaring Aegis
  • Foul-Tongue Shriek
  • Lose Calm
  • Magmatic Chasm
  • Volcanic Rush (+)

FRF: Evaluations

This is an initial set of evaluations of the cards in Fate Reforged. The main purpose is not to share deep insights into the new cards, but to figure out which cards need further analysis and to help determine how many relevant cards there are when trying to evaluate the cards that I don’t have a good sense of yet. For instance, artifact removal spells were very good in Mirrodin block, but are almost useless in Khans block.

Here’re what my various evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and also difficult to deal with or play around, e.g., large flyers or mass removal.
  • Exceptional (+): A superior card that will turn the tide in your favor, e.g., most unconditional removal that isn’t overcosted or a 3/3 flyer for 4 mana.
  • Good (/): The bread and butter of most decks, e.g., a 2/2 flyer or a vanilla 3/3 for 3 mana.
  • Situational/Filler (~): Good in the right deck, filler in most others, e.g., a vanilla 2/1 in a deck that is not particularly aggressive.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment destruction or color hosers that aren’t good if you’re not playing against those colors.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1 for 1 mana. Some unplayable creatures can be sided in against the right deck, e.g., a vanilla 1/3 for 3 mana might still be sided in against an aggressive deck.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many playable enchantments there are in the format.

The spreadsheet also has explanations for many of my evaluations in the Notes column. Here are some evaluations that might not be obvious at first glance:

  • Aven Skirmisher (/): is a Warrior, helps raid effects, and good with Rush of Battle/Trumpet Blast/War Flare
  • Channel Harm (~): expensive, wastes a turn if your opponent decides not to attack, and damage is not prevented if the target is removed in response
  • Grave Strength (/): helps with delve early (if you have a target), and can be gamebreaking late if you haven’t been delving much; remember to delve non-creatures first if you have this in your deck
  • Orc Sureshot (+): especially good with tokens and dash
  • Qarsi High Priest (+): good against removal; especially good with Sultai Emissary and Act of Treason
  • Dragonrage (~): usually worse than Trumpet Blast
  • Flamerush Rider (+): especially good with enters-the-battlefield effects
  • Humble Defector (/): comboes well with Refocus and Collateral Damage, but good even on its own in an aggressive deck since it can help you find your finishers, and since your opponent may have to hold it back as a blocker anyway
  • Lightning Shrieker (~): a blockable Lava Axe
  • Ainok Guide (/): if you use the second mode, you’re usually okay with the card disadvantage
  • Harsh Sustenance (/): I don’t usually like cards that require you to have multiple creatures in play in order to be good, but this card provides aggressive B/W or Mardu decks the ability to kill their opponent from nowhere, especially if they have multiple tokens

Here are the cards that need additional analysis to fully evaluate, and what the evaluation will depend on:

  • Jeskai Barricade, Ambush Krotiq: #/quality of ETB effects (could also affect my evaluation of Temur Sabertooth and Flamerush Rider)
  • Lotus-Eye Mystics, Abzan Advantage: #/quality of enchantments
  • Ancestral Vengeance: #/quality of 1-toughness creatures
  • Bloodfire Enforcers: #/quality of instants and sorceries
  • Temur Battle Rage: #/quality of creatures with high power
  • Return to the Earth: #/quality of flyers
  • Hewed Stone Retainers: #/quality of cheap spells

There are also a couple of cards whose evaluation depends on more experience with the format:

  • Frontier Siege: experience with the card
  • Map the Wastes: whether decks now tend to be 2-color
  • Honor’s Reward: whether people play around bolster

KTK: Updated evaluations

I’d posted my initial evaluation of the cards in Khans of Tarkir when the set first came out. As I played with the set, my opinion of several cards changed. This spreadsheet lists both my original and my current valuations. Valuations that have changed are highlighted, with darker highlighting indicating a bigger shift in my valuation of that card. The valuation levels are unchanged: B for bomb, + for exceptional, / for good, ~ for conditional/filler, S for sideboard, x for unplayable, and ? for TBD.

Too many of my evaluations have changed for me to explain each one individually, but here are the general themes:

  • Much of the removal has fallen in my estimation, the main exceptions being Savage Punch, Burn Away, and Master the Way. Conversely, I value Feat of Resistance much higher.
  • My opinion of most non-morph creatures that cost 5+ mana has dropped.
  • My opinion of Trail of Mystery and Secret Plans has gone up because the morphs deck turned out to be quite good.
  • Delve enablers and most delve cards have fallen in my opinion, with the main exceptions being Treasure Cruise and Dead Drop.
  • My opinion of Seek the Horizon and the Banners has fallen from filler to unplayable. There’s enough manafixing in the set that these are unnecessary if you pick the tri-lands and gain lands sufficiently highly.
  • Certain rares/mythics that were difficult to evaluate in a vacuum have fallen a lot in my opinion: Jeskai Ascendancy, Kheru Lich Lord, and Mindswipe. However, a handful has gone in the other direction: Sagu Mauler (it’s even better than I realized), Sidisi Brood Tyrant (it bears some resemblance to Grave Titan and is an excellent delve enabler), and Sorin Solemn Visitor (partly because the lifelink continues on your opponent’s turn).

KTK: Evaluations

This is an initial set of evaluations of the cards in Khans of Tarkir. Here’re what my various evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and also difficult to deal with or play around, e.g., large flyers or mass removal.
  • Exceptional (+): A superior card that will turn the tide in your favor, e.g., most unconditional removal that isn’t overcosted or a 3/3 flyer for 4 mana.
  • Good (/): The bread and butter of most decks, e.g., a 2/2 flyer or a vanilla 3/3 for 3 mana.
  • Situational/Filler (~): Good in the right deck, filler in most others, e.g., a vanilla 2/1 in a deck that is not particularly aggressive.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment destruction or color hosers that aren’t good if you’re not playing against those colors.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1 for 1 mana. Some unplayable creatures can be sided in against the right deck, e.g., a vanilla 1/3 for 3 mana might still be sided in against an aggressive deck.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many playable enchantments there are in the format.