SOI: The mill deck

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

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OGW: My best and worst OGW draft decks

http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/ahead-of-the-curve-my-best-and-worst-oath-of-the-gatewatch-draft-decks takes a look at my best and worst Oath of the Gatewatch draft decks so far.

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.

BFZ: Is there a G/U deck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BFZ: Is there a B/G deck?

B/G in Battle for Zendikar limited is sometimes referred to as a sacrifice-based deck and sometimes as an Eldrazi Scion ramp deck. Let’s crunch some numbers to determine which, if either, of these is an accurate description of what B/G has to offer.

Let’s start by looking at 3 categories of cards that are important to either or both decks mentioned above. Within each category, cards are organized by rarity and converted mana cost. The highlight indicates the color of the card, with some exceptions: no highlight (white background) is used for lands, grey highlight is used for colorless/artifact cards, yellow highlight is used for white cards, and gold is used for multicolor cards. Unless specified otherwise, monocolored cards require one colored mana.

  • The Sacrifice table lists cards that allow you to sacrifice a creature. Cards in bold have a reusable ability whose activation cost/condition is listed before the description.
  • The Scions table lists cards that produce Eldrazi Scion tokens. The number of tokens created by the effect is listed in parenthesis, and cards in bold produce a token each time the activation cost/condition listed in the description is met.
  • The Triggers table lists cards that have a beneficial “leaves the battlefield” (dies) trigger. Cards in bold also provide a benefit when other creatures die. (If the description begins with “another C:”, they only provide a benefit when other creatures die.)


I don’t see much potential for a B/G sacrifice deck in these tables.

  • Bone Splinters and perhaps Vampiric Rites are the only common/uncommon sacrifice effects that I’d be happy to run, but there are an average of only 3.3 of them in an 8-person draft, and you’ll usually have to share Bone Splinters with other black drafters.
  • None of the common/uncommon “leaves the battlefield” triggers are particularly impressive.
  • Even the B/G multicolor cards are not as good as they would be in a different environment; the many 4-, 5-, and 6-toughness creatures mean that the bodies on Catacomb Sifter and Brood Butcher are irrelevant against half the decks in the format.
  • While Turn Against combos well with sacrifice effects, it’s an uncommon, costs 5 mana, and requires splashing another color.

Consequently, I would rather draft G/W Allies (which has other ways/reasons to produce tokens) and splash Bone Splinters and Brood Butcher.

How about a B/G ramp deck that uses Eldrazi Scion tokens to power out large monsters? From the Scions table, it’s clear that G/U is a more appropriate color combination for a deck aiming to do that. I also don’t think a strategy focused on ramping out a single large monster is viable since there are many answers available at common: white has Sheer Drop and Smite the Monstrous, blue has Clutch of Currents, Murk Strider, and Tightening Coils, black has Bone Splinters, and all colors have access to Scour from Existence.

So there doesn’t appear to be a good B/G deck in this format. While there are some interesting interactions, they don’t appear to be numerous or powerful enough. G/W/b/x Allies and perhaps G/U monsters are better alternatives.

BFZ: The landfall deck

Green is so unpopular in Battle for Zendikar nowadays that it is frequently underdrafted. This opens up opportunities for those who are less biased against the color and are willing to move into it under the right circumstances. I’ve written about G/W Allies previously; today, we’ll try to determine whether there’re enough cards to support a landfall deck in a typical 8-person draft, and identify the cards that should draw you into the archetype.

Let’s start by looking at 2 categories of cards that are important in this deck: cards with landfall, and enablers (cards that allow you to find/play additional lands). Within each category, cards are organized by rarity and converted mana cost. The highlight indicates the color of the card, with some exceptions: no highlight (white background) is used for lands, grey highlight is used for colorless/artifact cards, yellow highlight is used for white cards, and gold is used for multicolor cards. Unless specified otherwise, monocolored cards require one colored mana. In the Landfall table, the text in parenthesis after the card name describes the landfall trigger, and bold indicates creatures whose trigger makes them larger without additional mana. In the Enablers table, the text in parenthesis describes the effect that allows you to find/play additional lands, and bold is used for cards that let you trigger landfall more than once a turn.


R/G has access to 5 commons, 8 uncommons, 2 rares, and 3 mythics with landfall. Excluding Jaddi Offshoot and Omnath Locus of Rage, which are not good fits with the otherwise aggressive cards, a R/G deck has access to an average of 19 cards with landfall in an 8-person draft. While the other colors offer 1 splashable common and uncommon each, those cards are not good fits for an aggressive deck, with the exception of Retreat to Emeria.

All the commons in the first table except Belligerent Whiptail are creatures whose landfall trigger makes them larger without additional mana. There are also 2 uncommons (Scythe Leopard and Grove Rumbler) and a rare (Undergrowth Champion) that have such abilities. These cards are bolded because they usually form the core of most landfall decks, and are quite strong in aggressive decks.

Next, let’s look at the cards that help you find/play additional lands. They are all colorless or green, except Kiora Master of the Depths which is G/U but can easily be splashed. There are 3 commons, 1 uncommon, 1 rare, 1 mythic, and 10 expeditions (bolded) that let you trigger landfall more than once a turn, for an average of 8.7 such cards in an 8-person draft (some of these also help you find a land to play). And there are 2 commons, 3 uncommons, and 1 mythic that only help you find lands, for an average of 7.7 such cards in an 8-person draft.

It seems there are enough cards to enable 1-2 R/G landfall decks in an 8-person draft. However, that doesn’t mean the deck is necessarily good, and it certainly doesn’t seem popular or particularly strong. This is because the format contains a plethora of cheap 4-, 5-, and 6-toughness creatures: Fortified Rampart, Kozilek’s Sentinel, and Benthic Infiltrator at common, and Tide Drifter, Vile Aggregate, and Herald of Kozilek at uncommon. W/U skies, U/B exile/process, and U/R devoid all have access to more than one of these, so aggressive decks need to have a plan for getting past them.

Even if you trigger landfall once each turn, an X/4 blocker can safely block all the common landfall creatures except Valakut Predator, Belligerent Whiptail, and Territorial Baloth, while X/5 and X/6 blockers neutralize everything except the Baloth. Red and green don’t have removal that can kill high toughness creatures in the early game, so we have to consider other options. We can use pump spells like Sure Strike and Swell of Growth, global pump effects like Tajuru Warcaller and Retreat to Emeria, or we can find ways to trigger landfall more than once a turn (most landfall abilities are cumulative; only Belligerent Whiptail doesn’t benefit from additional landfall triggers).

I believe that in order to combat the powerful defense available in this format, landfall decks have to have a number of these cards. Swell of Growth, Evolving Wilds, Blighted Woodland, and Nissa’s Renewal need to be picked especially highly. If you have a few of the bolded creatures from the first table in play, the additional landfall triggers act like a mini Overrun. Similarly, you should snap up any Tajuru Warcallers you see, even though there aren’t any Allies with landfall (the closest is Retreat to Emeria). And don’t always crack your Evolving Wilds and fetchlands (if you were so lucky) immediately; the threat of activation can sometimes be more powerful than getting in for a few extra points of damage right away.

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.