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.

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.

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.

THS: Chronicler of Heroes

In a recent draft, I took 2 Chroniclers of Heroes early in pack 1, thinking I’d be able to build around them and that they would still be servicable as 3/3’s for 3 mana even if I weren’t able to draft creatures with +1/+1 counters. However, I don’t recall seeing many creatures with +1/+1 counters in that draft, and the ones I did see were rather expensive, making it unlikely that I would be able to play Chronicler of Heroes early and draw a card off it. Does Theros have enough early creatures with +1/+1 counters that there’s a reasonable chance of playing Chronicler of Heroes early and still drawing a card off it? Let’s find out.

Theros has 31 cards that can cause themselves or a creature to get +1/+1 counters. They can be broken down into 4 categories:

  • 16 creatures with monstrosity, concentrated in red and green: Hundred-Handed One (white rare), Sealock Monster (blue uncommon), Shipbreaker Kraken (blue rare), Hythonia the Cruel (black mythic), Keepsake Gorgon (black uncommon), Ember Swallower (red rare), Ill-Tempered Cyclops (red common), Stoneshock Giant (red uncommon), Stormbreath Dragon (red mythic), Arbor Colossus (green rare), Nemesis of Mortals (green uncommon), Nessian Asp (green common), Polukranos World Eater (green mythic), Fleecemane Lion (G/W rare), Polis Crusher (R/G rare), and Colossus of Akros (rare artifact).
  • 7 creatures whose heroic triggers add +1/+1 counters, largely in white and green: Fabled Hero (white rare), Favored Hoplite (white uncommon), Phalanx Leader (white uncommon), Wingsteed Rider (white common), Centaur Battlemaster (green uncommon), Staunch-Hearted Warrior (green common), and Battlewise Hoplite (W/U uncommon).
  • The cycle of Ordeals (commons), 1 in each color.
  • 3 green rares/mythics: Bow of Nylea (rare), Mistcutter Hydra (mythic), and Reverent Hunter (rare).

Looking at these cards, it seems that R/G and G/W are the colors with the most number of creatures with +1/+1 counters, so it seems like I should have been able to make the Chroniclers work. Eliminating the unplayables (the white/green Ordeals and Colossus of Akros), a G/W deck has access to 15 of these cards: 6 of the 16 creatures with monstrosity, 6 of the 7 creatures whose heroic triggers add +1/+1 counters, and all 3 cards in the last category. Of these, 3 are common, 4 are uncommon, 6 are rare, and 2 are mythic.

Now let’s take a look at when green and/or white creatures are likely to have +1/+1 counters so we can determine when Chronicler of Heroes is likely to draw us a card.

  • Commons: Nessian Asp (5 to cast + 7 to add counters), Wingsteed Rider (3 + spell that targets), and Staunch-Hearted Warrior (4 + spell that targets)
  • Uncommons: Nemesis of Mortals (2 to 6 + 2 to 8), Favored Hoplite (1 + spell that targets), Phalanx Leader (2 + spell that targets), and Centaur Battlemaster (5 + spell that targets).
  • Rare: Hundred-Handed One (4 + 6), Arbor Colossus (5 + 6), Fleecemane Lion (2 + 5), Fabled Hero (3 + spell that targets), Bow of Nylea (3 + 2 + creature), and Reverent Hunter (3).
  • Mythic: Polukranos World Eater (4 + 1, or 4 + 5), Mistcutter Hydra (2+, usually at least 4).

Monstrosity costs 5+ to activate (except for Polukranos World Eater and, possibly, Nemesis of Mortals), so those creatures are not going to allow you to draw a card off an early Chronicler. Moreoever, if you have a monstrous creature, it’s likely that you’re already winning the game and that an additional card and a 3/3 body won’t make much difference. Heroic is a better bet since there are commons available at 3 and 4 mana, uncommons at 1, 2, and 5 mana, and a rare at 3 mana, but it still requires you to cast an additional spell to trigger the Heroic effect. The remaining cards are rares and mythics; of these, Reverent Hunter can enable a turn 4 Chronicler that draws a card, and Bow of Nylea can enable the same on turn 5 (you can put the +1/+1 counter on the Chronicler itself if you have 5 mana). If you really need to draw a particular card, Mistcutter Hydra can enable a turn 3 Chronicler that draws a card, although you’ll usually want to wait until you can cast the Hydra as a 3/3 at least.

R/G is not a better option than G/W since it just replaces Hundred-Handed One, Fleecemane Lion, Fabled Hero, Favored Hoplite, Phalanx Leader, and Wingsteed Rider (1 common, 2 uncommons, and 3 rares) with Ember Swallower, Ill-Tempered Cyclops, Stoneshock Giant, Stormbreath Dragon, Polis Crusher, and the red Ordeal (2 commons, 1 uncommon, 2 rares, and 1 mythic). While there is one additional common, many of the red cards are creatures with monstrosity which, as discussed above, are not likely to yield creatures with +1/+1 counters in the early turns of a game. Going R/G also requires you to splash white for Chronicler.

So Chronicler of Heroes can be used in 2 kinds of decks. It can be used in a G/W or R/G/w deck with monstrous creatures, although you’re likely to already be winning the game if you have monstrous creatures in play, and an extra card and a 3/3 body are unlikely to have much impact on the game. Consequently, it is likely to be more effective in a G/W heroic deck.

M14: Slivers

Okay, now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let’s see if we can use that information to figure out whether Slivers is a good deck to draft in M14. Here’s a list of all the Slivers in the set along with their rarity, mana cost, and my prior evaluation of them:

  • White: Sentinel Sliver (C, 2, good), Hive Stirrings (C, 3, filler), Steelform Sliver (U, 3, good), Bonescythe Sliver (R, 4, bomb)
  • Blue: Galerider Sliver (R, 1, exceptional)
  • Black: Syphon Sliver (R, 3, good)
  • Red: Striking Sliver (C, 1, good), Blur Sliver (C, 3, good), Battle Sliver (U, 5, exceptional), Thorncaster Sliver (R, 5, bomb)
  • Green: Predatory Sliver (C, 2, exceptional), Groundshaker Sliver (C, 7, unplayable), Manaweft Sliver (U, 2, exceptional), Megantic Sliver (R, 6, bomb)
  • Artifact: Sliver Construct (C, 3, filler)

White, red, and green have the most and best Slivers. There is relatively little manafixing in M14 — only Verdant Haven at common, and Darksteel Ingot, Manaweft Sliver, and Shimmering Grotto at uncommon — so we probably want to stick to a 2-color Sliver deck (possibly with a third splash color) unless we get multiple Manaweft Slivers, which is unlikely since it’s an uncommon and is playable in non-Sliver decks. How do we decide whether to aim for W/R, W/G, or R/G?

We can start by looking at the quality of the Slivers in each color. In my opinion, green has the best Slivers across all rarities, followed by red, and then white. By this measure, G/R is the best color pair for Slivers, followed by G/W and then R/W.

Another thing to keep in mind is the mana costs of the Slivers in each color. Green and red may have the best Slivers, but if they all fall at the same spot in the mana curve, we may be better off drafting a different color pair. This spreadsheet shows the number and quality of Slivers at each mana cost and rarity for the 3 color pairs being considered (Sliver Construct is listed for each of them). From this, it seems like G/R has the best distribution of Slivers across the mana curve, while R/W has a bit of a glut at 3.

A third thing to consider is whether any of the common/uncommon Slivers in a color pair have particular synergy. The main synergy that stands out to me is that power-enhancing Slivers — Predatory Sliver (G) and Battle Sliver (R) — work well with Striking Sliver (R), Steelform Sliver (W), and Hive Stirrings (W). While W/R has the most creatures in the list above, Battle Sliver is an uncommon, and first strike, +0/+1, and 2 1/1 Slivers are all less exciting if you don’t have a way to increase their power. This suggests that most Sliver decks should run green if possible so they have access to power enhancement at common.

Finally, let’s look at is which Slivers are most likely to be drafted by non-Sliver players. In my estimate, Predatory Sliver, Manaweft Sliver, and Bonescythe Sliver are most likely to be poached by non-Sliver players. (I had 2 Predatory Slivers and 1 Battle Sliver in a G/R Beast deck recently, and they were great — my deck really needed 2-drops, and there was more than one game where I had 2 3/3 Predatory Slivers attacking on turn 4.) This is unfortunate for green Sliver players, and may lead to Sliver decks having to go R/W in some cases.

Two more things to consider. First, Slivers are likely to be very popular at casual drafts, especially early in the format where other archetypes are less known, so it may be worth staying away for a bit unless you find yourself being passed Predatory Slivers. Also, I haven’t considered other non-Sliver cards in green, red, and white that may work particularly well with Slivers, such as Hunt the Weak if you have some power/toughness enhancing Slivers. Look for such cards and keep them in mind when figuring out what color pair you want to be in when drafting Slivers.

EDIT: I forgot one other piece of analysis I sometimes do. M14 has 101 commons, 60 uncommons, 53 rares, and 15 mythics. Of the playable Slivers, there are 6 commons, 3 uncommons, and 5 rares. That means than an average 8-person draft will have about 20 playable Slivers, which is probably enough to support 1-2 Sliver decks per table.