ORI: Elves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ORI: G/W renown vs. R/W renown

The renown archetype in Magic Origins is usually thought of as G/W, but I’ve often felt that R/W is a better color pair for renown because red has more ways to get the renown creatures through, e.g., Subterranean Scout, Enthralling Victor, and Seismic Elemental. The only renown deck I’ve drafted so far was monowhite so I don’t have experience with either G/W or R/W renown, but let’s see if the numbers agree with my intuition.

The table below lists the white, red, and green cards in the set that either have renown (highlighted) or that can help renown creatures deal combat damage to your opponent, along with their cost and quality.

All 3 colors have similar numbers of renown creatures: 2-3 commons, 2 uncommons, and 1-2 rares. If we exclude unplayable (x), filler (~), sideboard (S), and TBD (?) cards, we get the following numbers:

  • White: 8 commons + 6 uncommons + 2 rares + 1 mythic = average of 25.6 cards in an 8-person draft, 7.4 of which are renown creatures
  • Red: 4 commons + 3 uncommons + 3 rares = average of 13.5 cards, 1.3 of which are renown creatures
  • Green: 5 commons + 3 uncommons + 1 rare = average of 15.1 cads, 7.0 of which are renown creatures

Based on these numbers, it appears my intuition was incorrect. G/W is a better color combination than R/W for a renown deck (and R/G is not feasible at all) for multiple reasons:

  • Green has far more playable renown creatures than red. This is especially important because there are only about 16 good renown creatures in a typical 8-person draft. Many of these are playable in other archetypes, and you may also be competing with another renown drafter, so this is the scarcest resource for the deck.
  • Green has the only 2-drop with renown other than Topan Freeblade. (It is an uncommon, however, so there are an average of only 0.9 copies of it in an 8-person draft, and it is not likely to be passed by other green drafters.)
  • Green has fewer support cards than red, but that is not the limiting factor in a renown deck since each color has more support cards than it has renown creatures. Also, white has as many support cards as red and green combined, so you should rarely lack support cards.

Red’s main advantage is that its support cards allow your creatures to get through instead of just winning combat, but that’s irrelevant if you don’t have enough good renown creatures. And if you don’t, some of the red support cards are considerably less impressive, while green’s solid creatures and combat tricks are more likely to leave you with a playable deck.

DTK/FRF: The +1/+1 counters deck

In a recent draft, I took a Gleam of Authority first pick, followed by Scale Blessing, Epic Confrontation, Inspiring Call, Enduring Victory, and Enduring Scalelord. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up with many cheap sources of +1/+1 counters to maximize the value of my early picks. (Sandsteppe Outcast always made a flier, I never triggered the ferocious on Frontier Mastodon, and Shieldhide Dragon doesn’t give counters until you have 7 mana, so my main sources of counters were Gleam of Authority, Abzan Advantage, Scale Blessing, and Enduring Victory.) I still won both matches I played, but much of that was on the strength of a good curve and Gleam of Authority. Here’s the deck I played:

Creatures (14):
– 2cc: Lightwalker, Soul Summons, Dromoka Warrior, Atarka Beastbreaker
– 3cc: 2 Sandsteppe Outcast, 2 Shieldhide Dragon, Salt Road Quartermaster, Frontier Mastodon
– 4cc: Abzan Skycaptain, Champion of Arashin
– 5cc+: Enduring Scalelord, Wardscale Dragon

Non-creatures (9):
– 2cc: Gleam of Authority, Abzan Advantage, Center Soul, Epic Confrontation
– 3cc: Inspiring Call
– 4cc: Scale Blessing, Great Teacher’s Decree
– 5cc: 2 Enduring Victory

Land (17): Blossoming Sands, 9 Plains, 7 Forests

Here are the cards in the format that care about +1/+1 counters. I had 4 out of the 6 non-rare cards in this list.

  • White: Lightwalker, Scale Blessing (uncommon), Gleam of Authority (rare)
  • Green: Ainok Artillerist, Battlefront Krushok (uncommon), Inspiring Call (uncommon), Avatar of the Resolute (rare), Sunbringer’s Touch (rare)
  • Multicolor: Enduring Scalelord (uncommon)

Let’s take a look at the sources of +1/+1 counters in DTK/DTK/FRF, to see whether there are enough options available to justify taking Scale Blessing and Inspiring Call early next time. Bold indicates the cards I think fit particularly well in this archetype, usually because they’re playable on their own merits and/or provide counters before you get to 5 mana.

  • White:
    • Common: Aven Tactician, Enduring Victory, Misthoof Kirin, Sandcrafter Mage, Sandstorm Charger, Abzan Advantage, Abzan Skycaptain, Sandsteppe Outcast
    • Uncommon: Aven Sunstriker, Dromoka Captain, Echoes of the Kin Tree, Scale Blessing, Shieldhide Dragon, Elite Scaleguard, Honor’s Reward
    • Rare: Anafenza Kin-Tree Spirit, Gleam of Authority, Hidden Dragonslayer, Sunscorch Regent, Citadel Siege, Daghatar the Adamant, Dragonscale General
  • Blue:
    • Common: Dirgur Nemesis, Ojutai Interceptor, Aven Surveyor
    • Uncommon: Belltoll Dragon, Gudul Lurker, Monastery Loremaster, Silumgar Spell-Eater
    • Rare: Stratus Dancer
    • Mythic: Shorecrasher Elemental
  • Black:
    • Common: Marsh Hulk, Ancestral Vengeance, Hooded Assassin
    • Uncommon: Acid-Spewer Dragon, Marang River Skeleton, Fearsome Awakening, Grave Strength
    • Rare: Silumgar Assassin
  • Red:
    • Common: Atarka Efreet, Kolaghan Stormsinger, Defiant Ogre, Fierce Invocation
    • Uncommon: Stormcrag Elemental, Stormwing Dragon
    • Rare: Ire Shaman
    • Mythic: Shaman of the Great Hunt
  • Green:
    • Common: Aerie Bowmasters, Guardian Shield-Bearer, Pinion Feast, Sandsteppe Scavenger, Segmented Krotiq, Servant of the Scale, Ainok Guide, Formless Nurturing, Frontier Mastodon, Hunt the Weak, Map the Wastes
    • Uncommon: Ainok Survivalist, Dromoka’s Gift, Herdchaser Dragon, Salt Road Ambushers, Salt Road Quartermasters, Scaleguard Sentinels, Cached Defenses, Wildcall
    • Rare: Den Protector, Foe-Razer Regent, Sunbringer’s Touch, Sandsteppe Mastodon
    • Mythic: Deathmist Raptor, Warden of the First Tree
  • Multicolor:
    • Rare: Dromoka’s Command, Dromoka the Eternal

Here are the expected number of cards of each color from the list above in an 8-person draft, as well as the expected number of bolded cards.

E(bolded) E(all)
White 8.3 17.3
Blue 3.8 7.3
Black 3.5 6.5
Red 1.9 7.4
Green 7.7 21.7
G/W 0.5 0.5

G/W, which has all the +1/+1 counters matter cards, also has the most number of playable cards that provide +1/+1 counters. An 8-person draft will have an average of 16.5 such white, green, or G/W cards (and 39.5 if you’re willing to play filler or wait for your counters), which means you have a reasonable chance of assembling a deck with a critical mass of such cards if you stay on task. It’s much more difficult to get that in any other color pair; W/U has the second highest number of playables at 12.1, and also doesn’t have access to the 6 green or G/W cards that care about +1/+1 counters.

M15: Mill and self-mill cards

Magic 2015 has only 2 cards that let you mill your opponent: Mind Sculpt and Grindclock (rare). Grindclock is playable as the only mill card in a control deck since it enables a turn 11 win if played on turn 2 and set to 5-9 counters. Mind Sculpt is unplayable, even in multiples; if you assume a typical game in this format runs about 10 turns (a generous assumption given the speed of aggressive decks in the format), you still have to mill 23 cards. That requires you draw 4 Mind Sculpts, 3 if your opponent plays any draw spells or self-mill cards. By turn 10, you’ve seen about half your deck, which means you need to have drafted 6-8 Mind Sculpts, but an 8-person draft will only have 2.4 of them on average.

The set does have a few other cards that let you mill yourself and several cards that benefit from you having more cards in your graveyard. There are 4 cards that allow you to mill yourself: Satyr Wayfinder, Necromancer’s Assistant, Jace the Living Guildpact (mythic), and the previously mentioned Grindclock (rare); Mind Sculpt only allows you to mill opponents. This means that an 8-person Magic 2015 draft has an average of only 5.6 cards that let you mill yourself. If you’re playing B/G/u and draft all 5.6 of these cards, this means that 1 out of 7 cards in the resulting deck will be a self-mill card, so you can expect to have 1 in your starting hand and draw another over the course of the game.

Next, let’s look at the cards that benefit from having cards in your graveyard to see whether 1-2 self-mill spells is sufficient to power them. Magic 2015 offers us Return to the Ranks (rare), Endless Obedience (uncommon), Gravedigger (uncommon), Liliana Vess (mythic), Soul of Innistrad (mythic), Unmake the Graves, Restock (uncommon), Undergrowth Scavenger, Vineweft (unplayable), and Profane Memento (uncommon). Looking at this list makes it clear that self-mill decks in Magic 2015 (as in most recent formats) are B/G. Of these, there are only a handful of common/uncommon cards that I’d be happy to play if I were only expecting to see 1-2 self mill cards over the course of a game: Endless Obedience, Gravedigger, Unmake the Graves, and Restock.

Looking at both sides of the equation, it seems that there are neither enough self-mill cards nor enough powerful commons and uncommons that benefit from them to make it worth trying to assemble a dedicated B/G self-mill deck. However, it could be a reasonable subtheme in a B/X deck that has a couple of Necromancer’s Assistants.

M15: G/U creature reuse

Magic 2015 has a plethora of ways to return permanents, especially creatures, to your hand. Some of these, such as Into the Void, can be used on opponents’ creatures and so are always playable if you’re in the color. Others, such as Peel from Reality and Quickling, are instant speed and so are usually playable even if you don’t have particularly cheap creatures or creatures with enters-the-battlefield (ETB) triggers. However, cards such as Invasive Species and Roaring Primadox usually need to be in a deck with multiple ETB triggers in order to shine, so let’s take a look at what Magic 2015 has to offer in that department.

The list below has all the permanents in Magic 2015 that have ETB triggers, sorted by color and rarity. I’ve bolded the common/uncommon creatures that we really want to recur, or that provide a reasonable benefit when we recur other creatures. Italics mean that this permanent has an ETB effect that allows you to reuse creatures.

  • White:
    • commons: Heliod’s Pilgrim (x), Kinsbaile Skirmisher (/, ETB is irrelevant), Midnight Guard (~, ETB is irrelevant), Tireless Missionaries (x)
    • uncommons: Boonweaver Giant (x), Constricting Sliver (B, but it’s only useful to recur Slivers played before Constricting Sliver was played, and the set has very few good Slivers)
    • rares: Resolute Archangel (B), Spirit Bonds (+)
    • non-creatures: Divine Favor (common, x)
  • Blue:
    • commons: Coral Barrier (/, but ETB is rarely relevant), Frost Lynx (/)
    • uncommons: Kapsho Kitefins (+), Quickling (+)
  • Black:
    • commons: Necromancer’s Assistant (~, ETB is useful only in a very specific archetype), Rotfeaster Maggot (S)
    • uncommons: Gravedigger (/)
  • Red:
    • commons: Forge Devil (/), Foundry Street Denizen (~, ETB is irrelevant)
    • rares: Hoarding Dragon (B, ETB is irrelevant since you lose access to the exiled artifact if you bounce Hoarding Dragon), Siege Dragon (B, ETB is rarely relevant)
    • non-creatures: Hammerhand (common)
  • Green:
    • commons: Invasive Species (?), Living Totem (/), Satyr Wayfinder (/), Shaman of Spring (/), Undergrowth Scavenger (?, ETB is irrelevant except perhaps in a B/G self-mill deck)
    • uncommons: Reclamation Sage (+)
    • rares: Genesis Hydra (+), Hornet Queen (B), Kalonian Twingrove (+)
    • non-creatures: Verdant Haven (/, ETB is irrelevant)
  • Artifact/Land (all non-creatures):
    • commons: Radiant Fountain (S)
    • uncommons: Meteorite (~), Staffs of the X Magus (x)
    • rares: Obelisk of Urd (?, ETB is rarely relevant), Phyrexian Revoker (~, ETB is rarely relevant)

Looking over this list, it is clear that there are only a small number creatures that we want to replay or that cause us to want to replay other creatures. Most of these creatures are in blue and green, which are also the colors with the most ways to bounce your creatures. Blue has Peel from Reality at common, Quickling at uncommon, and Mercurial Pretender at rare. It also has other cards that let you bounce your own creatures or your opponents’ creatures: Void Snare at common, Into the Void at uncommon, and Jace the Living Guildpact at mythic. Green has Invasive Species at common and Roaring Primadox at uncommon. Of these cards, only Void Snare and Jace the Living Guildpact let you bounce non-creatures, so we do not have a reliable way to reuse ETB effects on those.

Consequently, a creature reuse deck will usually be G/U, and the colors do have enough bounce and ETB effects that the 2 groups of cards can build off each other. The colors also have cheap creatures with ETB effects, so Invasive Species and Roaring Primadox can be played relatively on curve. It is worth noting that Satyr Wayfinder is the only creature in these colors that would be played on turn 1-2 and still have a useful ETB effect, so you should make sure to pick up a few of them if you’re drafting this deck. They can also fix your colors to some extent, so they can give you the option to splash ETB creatures from other colors.

JOU/BNG/THS: Followup on the mill deck

Last week, I’d hypothesized that mill decks in Theros block draft should be U/B, or perhaps U/W. I then proceeded to draft a mill deck that was actually U/G, like the mill decks in Magic 2014. I suspect this color combination is unusual for mill decks in this format; it came together primarily because I opened an Eidolon of Blossoms in my first pack, then took a Bassara Tower Archer (over a Thassa’s Devourer), a Golden Hind, and a Thassa’s Devourer hoping that the first one would lap the table (it did). In Born of the Gods, I picked up a pair of Evanescent Intellects, and then focused on rounding out the deck in the Theros pack. Here’s the deck I played:

Creatures Spells/Land Sideboard
Sedge Scorpion
Bassara Tower Archer
Golden Hind
Triton Fortune Hunter
War-Wing Siren
Nyxborn Triton
Nyxborn Wolf
Nylea’s Disciple
Cloaked Siren
Eidolon of Blossoms
Prescient Chimera
2 Thassa’s Devourer
Archetype of Endurance
2 Evanescent Intellect
Triton Tactics
Savage Surge
Ordeal of Nylea
Pin to the Earth
Kruphix’s Insight
Eternity Snare
Interpret the Signs

Temple of Plenty
8 Forests
8 Islands

Guardians of Meletis
Pillar of War
Hunt the Hunter
Defend the Hearth
Unravel the Aether
Fade into Antiquity
Aerial Formation
Lost in a Labyrinth
2 Stratus Walk
Pull from the Deep
Ephara’s Enlightenment
Leonin Iconoclast
Ephara’s Radiance
Font of Vigor
Glare of Heresy
Ray of Dissolution
Claim of Erebos

There were several tough cuts from the final build:

  • I really wanted to run the pair of Stratus Walks for the constellation/heroic triggers they offered and the interaction with Kruphix’s Insight, as well as the cantrip effect. However, I decided to run Prescient Chimera and Cloaked Siren instead, even though my deck only has 2 sorceries, 2 instants, no other flash creatures, and 2 instant-speed activated abilities. This is because I really didn’t want to go down to 12 creatures while running 5 Auras, 2 bestow effects, and 2 combat tricks. I also wanted to ensure I had enough aerial defense since this deck can take a while to get set up. (I should probably have prioritized Shredding Winds when drafting this deck, since it is fairly short on removal.)
  • Ephara’s Enlightenment combos well with my constellation creatures, but I would have had to run at least 2 Plains in addition to the Temple of Plenty, and I didn’t want to mess up my mana base. If I’d seen any other color fixing, I would have happily picked it up and run Ephara’s Enlightenment and Leonin Iconoclast.
  • Guardians of Meletis and Pillar of War would have fit the deck’s goal, but I had enough ground defense and enough 3cc creatures. I also didn’t want to expose myself to incidental artifact removal such as Reckless Reveler and Wild Celebrants since I wasn’t running any other artifacts.
  • Fade into Antiquity and Unravel the Aether would have provided my deck some much needed removal, but I couldn’t afford to run potentially dead cards.

The deck ended up going 1-2, but both the matches I lost were quite close, and I felt like things could have turned out differently if I’d had fewer mulligans or if my opponent has slightly slower starts. A particularly disappointing loss was to a B/G graveyard deck whose pilot was aiding me by milling his own library. However, I did win a game against him by playing Sedge Scorpion on turn 1 and Ordeal of Nylea on turn 2, and swinging for the fences.

JOU: Pheres-Band Warchief

How good is Pheres-Band Warchief in Theros block draft, and how early should you pick him? I’ll start by pointing out that even if you draft a Pheres-Band Warchief, you should not try to draft around it, since you may never draw the card. And it’s a rare, so you’re unlikely to get passed another copy (although I have seen that happen). Consequently, while you might pick centaurs slightly higher than you might otherwise once you draft a Pheres-Band Warchief, you should still only draft those that are playable on their own merits. (Journey into Nyx only has 2 common centaurs, so it would be difficult to commit to a centaurs deck even if you have multiple copies of Pheres-Band Warchief.)

Let’s look at the centaurs in the format, organized by color and set, along with information about their quality, rarity, and how many playable ones you can expect to see on average in an 8-person draft:

Journey into Nyx Born of the Gods Theros
White Lagonna-Band Trailblazer (good) Lagonna-Band Elder (good)
Black Returned Centaur (unplayable)
Green Pheres-Band Thunderhoof (good), Pheres-Band Warchief (TBD, rare) Swordwise Centaur (good), Pheres-Band Tromper (good), Pheres-Band Raiders (filler, uncommon), Courser of Kruphix (bomb, rare) Nessian Courser (good), Nylea’s Disciple (good), Pheres-Band Centaurs (unplayable), Centaur Battlemaster (good, uncommon)
Multicolor Fanatic of Xenagos (uncommon) Chronicler of Heroes (good, uncommon)
TOTAL (good+) 2.8 3.2 3.2

Most of the centaurs in Theros block are green, with a couple in white, a couple more that are multicolor, as well as an unplayable one in black. Most of them are playable on their own merits, and an 8-person draft will have about 9 playable ones on average. However, the green centaurs are good in B/G control, and Lagonna-Band Trailblazer is excellent in W/U heroic, so you will have to compete with other players for them. You probably can’t expect to get more than 3-5 of them, unless you prioritize them exceptionally high, or unless green is completely open at the table.

Given that, Pheres-Band Warchief should just be drafted on it’s own merits since you’re unlikely to be able to draft a large number of centaurs to go with it. A 3/3 with vigilance and trample for 3G is quite good, but probably shouldn’t be picked above a decent removal spell.