THS: G/U skies

I had a chance last night to draft one of the archetypes I’d theorized about in my last post. After taking a Curse of the Swine from my first pack, I got passed a Mistcutter Hydra. (I guess the person to my right dislikes green even more than I do in this format!) After a few packs with uninspiring choices, I saw a Vaporkin and a Voyaging Satyr midway into the pack; knowing that G/U is more likely to be a skies deck than a ramp deck helped me realize that Vaporkin was the better pick. The prior analysis also helped me realize I should draft the Warriors’ Lesson I was passed late in the pack, even though it is a card I usually avoid (it often ends up just cycling, and is useless if you don’t have creatures with evasion). It turned out to be excellent in the deck but it might not have occurred to me to draft it if I hadn’t described the archetype in my last post. (Btw, don’t forget to gain life if you also have Horizon Chimera on the table.)

One of the weakness of G/U is that it lacks hard removal, but my deck lacked even the bounce and counterspells that help compensate for that. As a result, I decided to splash white for the Elspeth Sun’s Champion that I’d opened in pack 2 and a Divine Verdict. The final decklist was:

2 Vaporkin
2 Voyaging Satyr
1 Nimbus Naiad
1 Opaline Unicorn
2 Agent of Horizons
1 Wavecrash Triton
2 Horizon Chimera
1 Staunch-Hearted Warrior
1 Nessian Asp
1 Mistcutter Hydra
1 Horizon Scholar
= 15 creatures

2 Warriors' Lesson
1 Triton Tactics
1 Traveler's Amulet
1 Nylea's Presence
1 Divine Verdict
1 Elspeth Sun's Champion
1 Curse of the Swine
= 8 non-creatures

1 Prowler's Helm
1 Fleetfeather Sandals
2 Guardian of Meletis
2 Shredding Winds
2 Commune with the Gods
1 Vulpine Goliath
1 Satyr Hedonist
3 Benthic Giant
1 Mnemonic Wall
1 Spellheart Chimera
1 Demolish
1 Boon of Erebos
1 Viper's Kiss
1 Forest (foil)
= 19 sideboard cards

This list conforms somewhat to the G/U skies outline that I laid out in my last post, but lacks the early defense and bounce/counterspells that I’d believed were an important component of such decks. However, I did have mana acceleration in place of the early defense, and I had some hard removal in place of bounce/counterspells.

The deck went 3-1. Elspeth Sun’s Champion won a couple of games and Divine Verdict was also excellent, and was particularly devastating when the white mana for it came from Prized Unicorn or Nylea’s Presence since my opponent would usually play around Divine Verdict in that case if they hadn’t already seen Plains previously. Elspeth Sun’s champion did languish in my hand during one game, but was fine the rest of the time due to the Voyaging Satyrs which often provided the second white mana.

THS: Maindeck flyer removal

Today, we’ll use the updated card valuations to determine whether it makes sense to maindeck Shredding Winds in Theros. (Arbor Colossus and Bow of Nylea also kill creatures with flying, but those cards are good enough to play on their other merits, so I won’t evaluate them here.)

This spreadsheet lists all the flyers in Theros. Yellow highlight means that a cards can grant flying to another creature (e.g., Cavalry Pegasus); if the text is gray instead of black, it means the card does not have flying itself (e.g., Fleetfeather Sandals). A few things stand out:

  • Shredding Winds can kill all these creatures with the exception of Prognostic Sphinx and Sentry of the Underworld (if they have WB open), a really large Wingsteed Rider, and perhaps a bestow creature enchanting an already large creature.
  • White, blue, and black will have 9, 11, and 4 creatures with flying in an average 8-person draft. Each color is shared on average by about 3 players, so a typical W/U deck will have 7 flyers and Shredding Winds will usually have a target even if you don’t seen a flyer in game 1. Every other color combination will have 5 or fewer flyers, so it doesn’t make sense to side in Shredding Winds unless you see a must-kill flyer.
  • You don’t need flyer removal against red or green since they have almost no flyers. On the artifact side, neither Anvilwrought Raptor nor Fleetfeather Sandals are particularly exciting, and you’re better off siding in artifact removal against them anyway.
  • Nessian Asp is excellent in this format and so it likely to be played by every green deck that has it. It can block and kill all of the creatures listed in the spreadsheet except Abhorrent Overlord (rare) and Ashen Rider (mythic), which are marked with an S in the Must Kill column. In addition, there are 4 other flyers marked with a Y that I consider must kill — Cavalry Pegasus (white common), Wingsteed Rider (white common), Prognostic Sphinx (blue rare), and Shipwreck Singer (U/B uncommon) — each of which will win the game eventually if left untouched. These are flyers you need to be able to kill even if you have multiple Nessian Asps. Both commons in the list are white, so it might make sense to side Shredding Winds in against W/X decks if you have other cards you need to side out, even if you haven’t seen many flyers and they are not W/U.

From the analysis above, I would say it doesn’t make sense to run Shredding Winds maindeck, but it is a great sideboard cards against decks with flyers, and it can be brought in preemptively against W/U decks which tend to have a lot of flyers, and even against other W/X decks which may have fewer flyers since white has a couple of common flyers that can take over or win the game given enough time.

M14: Plummet vs. Windstorm

When drafting green decks, I’ve faced the choice of drafting either Plummet or Windstorm from the same pack, or having both in my draft pool but not knowing whether either is worthy of maindecking. Another choice I’ve faced is deciding which one to side in against an opponent who has one or more flyers in their deck. Let’s see if we can figure out the right choices in these scenarios.

If you’re running green as a main color, Deadly Recluse and Giant Spider are great ways to deal with flyers. They can also defend quite well against non-flyers, and sometimes even get to attack. Deadly Spider is easier to kill than Giant Spider, so our analysis will look at 3 different categories of flyers:

  • must-kill non-defender flyers (see the spreadsheet from my post on creature evaluations)
  • flyers with power >= 4 (or deathtouch) and toughness >= 3, since they can kill Giant Spider without dying in the process
  • all non-defender flyers

There are only 5 must-kill flyers in M14: 1 common, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, and 2 mythic. An average draft will have 0.57 of these flyers per player, all in white, blue, and black. Must-kill means that you can’t reliably block or gang block the creature with flyers/spiders to neutralize it, or that it has a static ability that makes it dangerous even if it’s not in combat, which is why Nightwing Shade, Air Servant, and Galerider Sliver fall into this category, along with the more obvious inclusion of Archangel of Thune and Windreader Sphinx.

There are 6 flyers with power >= 4 (or deathtouch) and toughness >= 3: 2 uncommons (only Serra Angel and Sengir Vampire, since we’ve already counted Air Servant above), 2 rares (Jace’s Mindseeker and Shivan Dragon), and 2 mythics (Shadowborn Demon and Scourge of Valkas). An average draft will have 0.45 of these flyers per player, primarily in black. Note that although Shivan Dragon and Scourge of Valkas can attack for a lot of damage, I don’t consider them must-kill since firebreathing doesn’t pump toughness, so they can still be blocked and killed by multiple opposing flyers/spiders.

Adding these numbers tells us that the average draft will only have about 1 flyer per player that falls into either of these 2 categories, so you probably don’t want to run either Plummet or Windstorm in your maindeck. Obviously, there are exceptions to this. For instance, if you have Diabolic Tutor or Ring of Three Wishes in your deck, you could run a singleton Plummet or Windstorm as a silver bullet. If you have a U/G control deck with limited creature removal, you’re more likely to face a bomb flyer that you can’t handle, so Plummet or Windstorm might have a place in that deck, especially if you can regrow it using Archaeomancer. And if you have an otherwise really strong monogreen or G/R deck that lacks flying defense, you might run Plummet and/or Windstorm maindeck to shore up that weakness and as insurance against your opponent having a flying bomb.

Finally, let’s look at all non-defender flyers in M14. All of them are playable, except perhaps Dragon Hatchling. Let’s exclude those creatures and then look at the number of flyers we would expect a player in those colors to have in an 8-person draft, assuming there are 3 drafters in each color. (This analysis is more useful here than looking at the average number of these flyers per drafter.)

  • White: 3 common, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, 1 mythic -> 8.9 at the table, or 3.0 per white drafter
  • Blue: 4 commons, 2 uncommons, 2 rares, 1 mythic -> 12.9 at the table, or 4.3 per blue drafter
  • Black: 2 commons, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, 1 mythic -> 6.6 at the table, or 2.2 per black drafter
  • Red: 1 uncommon, 2 rares, 1 mythic -> 2.2 at the table, or 0.7 per black drafter

From this analysis, we can see that only U/X decks are likely to have more than 1 flyer on the table at a time, and so are the only ones against which you’d rather bring in Windstorm. There are only 2 rare and 2 mythic flyers with toughness >= 5 (I’m including Nightmare but not Nightwing Shade here), so Windstorm will usually be able to take down all your opponent’s flyers. (And sometime they’ll play a Galerider Sliver and you’ll knock out most of their side :)) Of course, if your deck also has flyers, you may still prefer Plummet, even when playing against a U/W or U/B deck.

M14: W/U skies

Yesterday, I drafted a W/U skies deck for the first time in M14. It had only 11 creatures (including 8 flyers and an Angelic Wall), but I still went 3-1, at least in part because Path of Bravery swung some races in my favor. The deck is not that different from W/U skies decks in other draft formats and relies on having some good defensive creatures and then winning in the air with flyers. This post will do an overview of the cards that go in this archetype.

Most of the defensive creatures are 2-3 mana. Some of them have flying and can double as attackers in the late game.

  • common: Angelic Wall (converted mana cost = 2), Seacoast Drake (2), Griffin Sentinel (3). Coral Merfolk (2) and Scroll Thief (3) are reasonable, especially if you have Trained Condors, and Scroll Thief often keeps 2 of your opponent’s creatures at bay since people are more scared of it than they probably should be. Capashen Knight (2) is great against X/1’s but should usually start out in your sideboard.
  • uncommon: Wall of Frost (3), Wall of Swords (4)

There are a lot of good evasion creatures in white and blue, but most cost 3-5 mana, so you should prioritize defensive creatures that cost 2 mana. Seraph of the Sword is also excellent on defense against large creatures, lifelink, and deathtouch.

  • common: Suntail Hawk (1), Trained Condor (3), Charging Griffin (4), Nephalia Seakite (4), Messenger Drake (5)
  • uncommon: Warden of Evos Isle (3), Phantom Warrior (3), Air Servant (5), Serra Angel (5)
  • rare: Galerider Sliver (1), Seraph of the Sword (4), Jace’s Mindseeker (6)
  • mythic: Windreader Sphinx (7)

Much of the permanent removal is in the form of enchantments, so I ran an Auramancer maindeck, but moved it to the sideboard after a couple of games since most of my Auras remained on the creatures they were enchanting. The temporary removal and counterspells work well with Archaeomancer, but its higher casting cost (which includes double blue) and smaller body make the interaction less exciting.

  • common: Claustrophobia, Pacifism, Sensory Deprivation (best against ground creatures that your defensive creatures can’t handle, or against Deadly Recluse and Deathgaze Cockatrice), Disperse, Time Ebb, Frost Breath, countermagic
  • uncommon: Rod of Ruin, Spell Blast
  • rare: Planar Cleansing, Rachet Bomb, Domestication

Of the creature enhancements, Divine Favor and Accorder’s Shield were both very good. Path of Bravery was amazing, giving my creatures +1/+1 if I’d managed to set up an early defense; even when I didn’t, the lifegain still shifted races in my favor whenever the board state allowed me to attack with multiple flyers. Illusionary Armor seems like it could be quite powerful since it takes the opponent out of the game very quickly if they don’t have an answer. It can usually be put on your smallest flyer, which can force your opponent to direct their removal at it instead of another threat, and it gets better if you have an Auramancer. Although I didn’t get to try it out, Fortify seems like it has a lot of potential in this deck since most of your attackers are likely to go unblocked. Furthermore, Fortify allows your Seacoast Drakes and Griffin Sentinel to switch from defense to offense for an alpha strike.

  • common: Divine Favor, Show of Valor, Fortify
  • uncommon: Accorder’s Shield, Fireshrieker, Illusionary Armor
  • rare: Haunted Plate Mail, Path of Bravery

My deck also had 2 Divinations and 2 Opportunities. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the former since they were at the same mana cost as a lot of my 3-drops. Opportunity was better and let me refuel my hand in the late game, but would probably have been better as a singleton.

M14: Zephyr Charge

The value of Zephyr Charge is determined by a few different factors:

  • How many blue creatures already have flying
  • How likely blue is to be paired with another color that would benefit from Zephyr Charge
  • How many cards provide a benefit if you have more creatures with flying
  • How many blockers/answers are there for flyers

This spreadsheet of M14 creatures tells us that among blue creatures, 4 of the 9 commons have flying, as do 2 of the 5 uncommons, 2 of the 5 rares, and the only mythic, so 56% of the blue creatures in a typical draft will already have flying. The rest of the creatures are likely to be blockers for opposing ground creatures and don’t usually need flying, so a monoblue deck wouldn’t really benefit from Zephyr Charge.

Among the 4 possible color pairings, U/W and U/B decks in M14 already have access to sufficient numbers of flyers. U/R has access to Goblin Shortcutter, Seismic Stomp, Lightning Talons, and Shiv’s Embrace as cheaper ways to get through opposing defences, although Zephyr Charge might work in a deck with multiple Regathan Firecats and Marauding Maulhorns, or as a sideboard card against a control R/X deck to get your Academy Raiders through. I can imagine a U/G deck that uses Deadly Recluse, Seacoast Drake, Wall of Frost, and Giant Spider to stall the board and Zephyr Charge to get large green creatures past opposing blockers. However, this requires drawing your defensive creatures early and having both large creatures and Zephyr Charge before you can start attacking, so I would rather draft a G/R or G/W Slivers deck, or a G/R Beasts deck instead.

M14 has 2 cards that benefit from creatures having flying: Warden of Evos Isle and Windreader Sphinx. Warden of Evos Isle only affects flyers not in play, so it doesn’t benefit from Zephyr Charge. And if you’re attacking with Windreader Sphinx, you’re probably already winning, so Zephyr Charge would usually just be a win-more card.

Finally, M14 has a number of answers to flying creatures, including Deathgaze Cockatrice, Deadly Recluse, Giant Spider, and Plummet, in addition to the normal removal spells.

So Zephyr Charge is filler, at best. It is a common and comes around reasonable late, so you shouldn’t spend a high or even a mid pick on it. You should only consider it if it’s late in the draft and your deck don’t have many win conditions.