MM2: Memorizing the instant-speed tricks

With Modern Masters 2015 release events this weekend and GP Las Vegas coming up, it’s worthwhile trying to memorize the list of instant-speed tricks in the format so you don’t get blindsided by a trick you didn’t anticipate.

I normally break tricks down into 5 categories:

  • Instant-speed creatures: Flash creatures, token generators, and spells that let you play reatures at instant speed.
  • Creature removal: This includes bounce, tapping, and other temporary removal.
  • Pump/protection: Pump spells primarily affect combat by giving a creature +M/+N, while protection spells are primarily used to save a creature from removal by giving it hexproof or protection from a color. However, +M/+N can save creatures from removal, and protection from a color can help creatures survive combat, so I’ve combined them.
  • Sideboard cards: This includes color hosers, artifact and enchantment removal, and conditional removal (e.g., Plummet, which only kills flyers). You don’t usually need to play around them in game 1.
  • Other: Everything else, including counterspells, card draw, and life gain. You may want to play around counterspells on occasion, and you may sometimes want to play around lifegain if you’re planning an alpha strike, but you don’t usually need to play around the rest.

This table shows the count of tricks in each category by color. Note that this count combines all rarities, since the primary purpose of this table is to help you remember the tricks in the set so you can quickly enumerate the relevant ones. If a card belongs to multiple categories, it will be counted in the leftmost column, e.g., Combust is listed under sideboard cards, even though it is also a removal spell.

TOTAL Sideboard Cards Instant-Speed Creatures Creature Removal/ Bounce Pump/ Protection Other Spells in “Other” Category
Colorless 5 1 2 2
White 6 1 1 1 3
Blue 12 2 1 3 1 5 = 3 counterspells (Mana Leak, Remand, Stoic Rebuttal) + 2 card draw (Telling Time, Proliferate)
Black 4 3 1 = Death Denied
Red 8 2 4 2
Green 5 2 1 1 1 = Sylvan Bounty
Multicolor 5 1 3 1
TOTAL 45 8 4 16 10 7

Let’s examine this table and see what we can learn. We’ll ignore the Sideboard and Other categories for the purposes of this discussion, since those are often not relevant.

  • There are 30 tricks in the set, about half of which are removal and a third of which are pump/protection.
  • Every color has access to the 4 colorless tricks, 2 of which are removal (Dismember and Gut Shot) and 2 of which are pump/protection (Mutagenic Growth and Apostle’s Blessing).
  • White, blue, and multicolor have 5 tricks each. All 3 have an instant-speed creature (Raise the Alarm, Vendillion Clique, and Mystic Snake). White has 1 removal spell and 3 pump/protection spells, while blue and multicolor have 3 removal spells and 1 pump/protection spell each. (Blue’s removal spells are all bounce spells.)
  • Black has 3 tricks, all of which are removal. Red has 6, 4 of which are removal and 2 of which are pump.
  • Green has only 2 tricks, 1 of which produces instant-speed creatures and the other of which is a pump spell.
  • There are 4 instant-speed creatures, none of which are particularly large (multiple 1/1s at common, a 2/2 at rare, and a 3/1 flyer at mythic).
  • The 16 instant-speed removal spells are mostly commons and uncommons, and vary widely in the size of the creatures they can handle.
    • 1 toughness: Gut Shot, Instill Infection
    • 2 toughness: Burst Lightning, Grim Affliction, Electrolyze (uncommon)
    • 3 toughness: Nameless Inversion, Lightning Bolt (uncommon), Agony Warp (uncommon)
    • 5 toughness: Fiery Fall, Dismember (uncommon)
    • Any toughness: Vapor Snag, Repeal, Dispatch (uncommon), Wrecking Ball (uncommon), Cyrptic Command (rare), Comet Storm (mythic)
  • Most pump/protection spells are commons, with only Mutagenic Growth and Sigil Blessing at uncommon.
    • Of the pump spells, there are 2 each that grant +2/+2, +2/+0 to multiple creatures (Fortify can also be used to give +0/+2), +3/+3 (Sigil Blessing also gives +1/+1 to all your other creatures), and +4/+4 (Wings of Velis Vel only gives +4/+4 to graft creatures, but that’s also the deck that will tend to play this card the most).
    • There are 3 pump spells that affect multiple creatures: 1 gives +2/+0 (and changeling) to 2 creatures, 1 gives +2/+0 or +0/+2 to all your creatures, and 1 gives +1/+1 to all your creatures and an additional +2/+2 to 1 of them.
    • There are 3 protection spells: 1 gives hexproof (and is also a pump spell if kicked), 1 gives protection from a color, and 1 exiles a creature until end of turn and gives it a +1/+1 counter when it returns (it can also target your opponent’s creatures and so can be used to remova an aura).
  • The 8 Sideboard tricks include 3 color hosers, 3 artifact/enchantment removal spells, 1 that kills flyers, 1 that hurts graveyard strategies.
  • The 7 Other tricks include 3 counterspells (this does not include Flashfreeze, Cryptic Command, and Mystic Snake, which are counted in other categories), 3 card draw/recoup spells, and 1 lifegain spell.

MM2: List of instant-speed tricks

This is a list of all the instant-speed tricks in Modern Masters 2015. The first table has the spell names while the second one has abbreviated spell descriptions in case you don’t remember what the spell does. Note that the latter table may not accurately represent all uses of the spell and often leaves out certain details. Also, I sometimes make mistakes while filling out these tables; please let me know if you spot any issues.

Both tables categorize the tricks by converted mana cost, color, and rarity. Unless specified otherwise, each colored spell has one colored mana in its mana cost with the rest being generic mana, so a 3-mana white spell with no explicit cost listed has a mana cost of 2W. I also specify mana costs if the spell has X in its mana cost, is multicolored, or costs more than the column it is specified in. Spells in bold can leave a creature in play, e.g., flash creatures, spells that create token creatures, or spells that allow you to cast creatures at instant speed.

Here’s how to interpret the second table:

  • Abbreviations used: A (artifact), attkr (attacker), blkr (blocker), bounce (return to owner’s hand), bury (destroy & it cannot be regenerated), C (creature), CMC (converted mana cost), counter when used as a verb (counter a spell), dmg (damage), draw X (draw X cards), E (enchantment), ETB (enters the battlefield), flyer (creature with flying), freeze X (tap X and it doesn’t untap next turn), gain X (gain X life), GY (graveyard), I (instant), L (land), loot X (draw X cards, then discard X cards), lose X (lose X life), mill (put cards from a library into a graveyard), opp (opponent), opp’s X (X controlled by opponent), P (player or power, depending on context), prot (protection), PW (planeswalker), raise (return card from your graveyard to your hand), reanimate (return card from the graveyard to the battlefield), redirect X dmg from A to B (next X dmg that would be dealt to A is dealt to B instead), regen (regenerate), S (sorcery), sac (sacrifice), T (toughness), your X (X you control).
  • Spells that confer an effect (+X/+Y, -X/-Y, hexproof, first strike, prot from a color, etc.) last until end of turn unless specified otherwise.
  • Spells can target any legal permanent or player unless otherwise specified, e.g., X dmg without any qualifiers means that the spell does X damage to any creature or player.
  • Spell descriptions sometimes mention other spells as a way to describe their effects, e.g., Revealing Wind is described as “Fog; look at face-down attkrs/blkrs”.

DTK: List of instant-speed tricks

This is a list of all the instant-speed tricks in Dragons of Tarkir. The first table has the spell names while the second one has abbreviated spell descriptions in case you don’t remember what the spell does. Note that the latter table may not accurately represent all uses of the spell and often leaves out certain details. Also, I sometimes make mistakes while filling out these tables; please let me know if you spot any issues.

Both tables categorize the tricks by converted mana cost, color, and rarity. Unless specified otherwise, each colored spell has one colored mana in its mana cost with the rest being generic mana, so a 3-mana white spell with no explicit cost listed has a mana cost of 2W. I also specify mana costs if the spell has X in its mana cost, is multicolored, or costs more than the column it is specified in. Spells in bold can leave a creature in play, e.g., flash creatures, spells that create token creatures, or spells that allow you to cast creatures at instant speed.

Here’s how to interpret the second table:

  • Abbreviations used: A (artifact), attkr (attacker), blkr (blocker), bounce (return to owner’s hand), bury (destroy & it cannot be regenerated), C (creature), CMC (converted mana cost), counter when used as a verb (counter a spell), dmg (damage), draw X (draw X cards), E (enchantment), ETB (enters the battlefield), flyer (creature with flying), freeze X (tap X and it doesn’t untap next turn), gain X (gain X life), GY (graveyard), I (instant), L (land), loot X (draw X cards, then discard X cards), lose X (lose X life), mill (put cards from a library into a graveyard), opp (opponent), opp’s X (X controlled by opponent), P (player or power, depending on context), prot (protection), PW (planeswalker), raise (return card from your graveyard to your hand), reanimate (return card from the graveyard to the battlefield), redirect X dmg from A to B (next X dmg that would be dealt to A is dealt to B instead), regen (regenerate), S (sorcery), sac (sacrifice), T (toughness), your X (X you control).
  • Spells that confer an effect (+X/+Y, -X/-Y, hexproof, first strike, prot from a color, etc.) last until end of turn unless specified otherwise.
  • Spells can target any legal permanent or player unless otherwise specified, e.g., X dmg without any qualifiers means that the spell does X damage to any creature or player.
  • Spell descriptions sometimes mention other spells as a way to describe their effects, e.g., Revealing Wind is described as “Fog; look at face-down attkrs/blkrs”.

KTK/FRF: Memorizing the instant-speed tricks

Memorizing all the instant-speed tricks in a set is not easy, especially for a multicolor set. Adding a second set to the mix makes it more complex, especially when you’re trying to figure out what to play around during a tournament. Let’s see if we can make the list a little more manageable.

We know from prior analysis that cards at any given rarity from Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged appear in roughly similar numbers in both sealed and draft because the new set has fewer cards, so let’s combine the list of tricks from both sets. Next, let’s ignore cards/modes that don’t usually affect creatures (other than by triggering prowess):

  • card draw: Dig Through Time, Enhanced Awareness, Weave Fate, Abzan Charm (2nd mode), Sultai Charm (3rd mode), part of the effect of Force Away
  • counterspells: Cancel, Disdainful Stroke, Mindswipe, Neutralizing Blast, Rakshasa’s Disdain, Stubborn Denial, Trap Essence, Temur Charm (2nd mode)
  • discard: Mardu Charm (3rd mode)
  • enchantment/artifact removal (even though it can be relevant to combat in this format): Erase, Naturalize, Shatter, Sultai Charm (2nd mode), Return to the Earth (1st/2nd modes), part of the effect of Abzan Advantage
  • lifegain: Feed the Clan, part of the effect of Honor’s Reward
  • damage to opponents: Jeskai Charm (2nd mode), part of the effect of Cunning Strike and Crackling Doom
  • regrowth effects: Sudden Reclamation

And finally, let’s get rid of the cards that are so weak that you will rarely play them: Empty the Pits (primarily due to BBBB in the casting cost), Friendly Fire, Rally the Ancestors, Swift Kick, Take Up Arms, and Will of the Naga. Unfortunately, that still leaves 60 cards to remember.

This spreadsheet contains those 60 cards divided into 2 tables: combat tricks and removal spells. Removal spells that can only be used during combat are listed in the first table, while removal spells that have a separate effect that affects combat are listed in both tables (e.g., Supplant Form bounces a creature and also leaves a creature behind). Both tables are organized by color and converted mana cost, with multicolor cards listed in a separate column next to the first color listed in their mana cost (e.g., a spell costing URW will be listed in the column next to blue). Delve cards are now listed at the cheapest mana cost they could be cast for (this is different from the original tables). Uncommons, rares, and mythics are written in successively lighter fonts so the focus is on the tricks that we’re most likely to run into. Yellow highlight is used for spells that can leave a creature in play, and orange highlight is used for spells that affect more than one of your creatures.

This is still a lot of data, but hopefully these tables make it easier to remember key tricks you need to play around. Some quick observations from looking at these tables:

  • Most instant-speed removal spells in the format do 2 damage. The main exceptions are Collateral Damage (3 dmg), Bring Low (3-5 dmg), Throttle (-4/-4), Mardu Charm (4 dmg), Burn Away (6 dmg), and Harsh Sustenance (#C dmg).
  • Much of white’s instant-speed removal cares about a creature’s power or toughness: Abzan Charm, Smite the Monstrous, and Valorous Stance (there’s also Suspension Field, which is an enchantment). These are worth keeping in mind when playing pump spells against an opponent who has white mana open.
  • There are a number of combat tricks in the environment that affect multiple creatures, including 2 at common (Trumpet Blast and War Flare).
  • Half the pump spells in the format boost power by 2: Trumpet Blast, War Flare, Ruthless Instincts, Dragon Grip, Dragonscale Boon, Honor’s Reward, and sometimes Abzan Charm (there’s also Rush of Battle, which is a sorcery). 5 others boost power by 1: Defiant Strike (+1/+0), Feat of Resistance (+1/+1), Abzan Advantage (+1/+1), Jeskai Charm (+1/+1), and sometimes Abzan Charm. The only ones that affect the creature’s power by a different number are Awaken the Bear (+3/+3) and Become Immense (+6/+6).
  • There are 4 spells that give the creature trample: Awaken the Bear, Temur Battle Rage, Ride Down (uncommon), and Ruthless Instincts (uncommon).
  • There are only 2 instant-speed bolster spells, and the common one only gives 1 +1/+1 counter, so you don’t have to go too far out of your way to avoid blocking the creature with the lowest toughness.
  • Black doesn’t have any relevant combat tricks, and doesn’t even contribute to any other than Abzan and Mardu Charm.

FRF: List of instant-speed tricks

This is a list of all the instant-speed tricks in Fate Reforged. The first table has the spell names while the second one has abbreviated spell descriptions in case you don’t remember what the spell does. Note that the latter table may not accurately represent all uses of the spell and often leaves out certain details. Also, I sometimes make mistakes while filling out these tables; please let me know if you spot any issues.

Both tables categorize the tricks by converted mana cost, color, and rarity. Unless specified otherwise, each colored spell has one colored mana in its mana cost with the rest being generic mana, so a 3-mana white spell with no explicit cost listed has a mana cost of 2W. I also specify mana costs if the spell has X in its mana cost, is multicolored, or costs more than the column it is specified in. Spells in bold can leave a creature in play, e.g., flash creatures, spells that create token creatures, or spells that allow you to cast creatures at instant speed.

Here’s how to interpret the second table:

  • Abbreviations used: A (artifact), attkr (attacker), blkr (blocker), bounce (return to owner’s hand), bury (destroy & it cannot be regenerated), C (creature), CMC (converted mana cost), counter when used as a verb (counter a spell), dmg (damage), draw X (draw X cards), E (enchantment), ETB (enters the battlefield), flyer (creature with flying), freeze X (tap X and it doesn’t untap next turn), gain X (gain X life), GY (graveyard), I (instant), L (land), loot X (draw X cards, then discard X cards), lose X (lose X life), mill (put cards from a library into a graveyard), opp (opponent), opp’s X (X controlled by opponent), P (player or power, depending on context), prot (protection), PW (planeswalker), raise (return card from your graveyard to your hand), reanimate (return card from the graveyard to the battlefield), redirect X dmg from A to B (next X dmg that would be dealt to A is dealt to B instead), regen (regenerate), S (sorcery), sac (sacrifice), T (toughness), your X (X you control).
  • Spells that confer an effect (+X/+Y, -X/-Y, hexproof, first strike, prot from a color, etc.) last until end of turn unless specified otherwise.
  • Spells can target any legal permanent or player unless otherwise specified, e.g., X dmg without any qualifiers means that the spell does X damage to any creature or player.
  • Spell descriptions sometimes mention other spells as a way to describe their effects, e.g., Winds of Qal Sisma is described as a Fog that only Fogs your opponent’s creatures if you have ferocious.

KTK: List of instant-speed tricks

This is a list of all the instant-speed tricks in the format.  The first table has the spell names while the second one has abbreviated spell descriptions in case you don’t remember what the spell does.  Note that the latter table may not accurately represent all uses of the spell and often leaves out certain details.  Also, I sometimes make mistakes while filling out these tables; please let me know if you spot any issues.

Both tables categorize the tricks by converted mana cost, color, and rarity.  Unless specified otherwise, each colored spell has one colored mana in its mana cost with the rest being generic mana, so a 3-mana white spell with no explicit cost listed has a mana cost of 2W.  I also specify mana costs if the spell has X in its mana cost, is multicolored, or costs more than the column it is specified in.  Spells in bold can leave a creature in play, e.g., flash creatures, spells that create token creatures, or spells that allow you to cast creatures at instant speed.

Here’s how to interpret the second table:

  • Abbreviations used: A (artifact), attkr (attacker), blkr (blocker), bounce (return permanent to owner’s hand), bury (destroy permanent & it cannot be regenerated), C (creature), CMC (converted mana cost), counter when used as a verb (counter a spell), dmg (damage), draw X (draw X cards), E (enchantment), ETB (enters the battlefield), flyer (creature with flying), freeze X (tap X and it doesn’t untap next turn), gain X (gain X life), GY (graveyard), I (instant), L (land), loot X (draw X cards, then discard X cards), lose X (lose X life), opp (opponent), opp’s X (X controlled by opponent), P (player or power, depending on context), prot (protection), PW (planeswalker), raise (return card from your graveyard to your hand), reanimate (return card from the graveyard to the battlefield), redirect X dmg from A to B (next X dmg that would be dealt to A is dealt to B instead), regen (regenerate), S (sorcery), sac (sacrifice), T (toughness), your X (X you control).
  • Spells that confer an effect (+X/+Y, -X/-Y, hexproof, first strike, prot from a color, etc.) last until end of turn unless specified otherwise.
  • Spells can target any legal permanent or player unless otherwise specified, e.g., X dmg without any qualifiers means that the spell does X damage to any creature or player.
  • Spell descriptions sometimes mention other spells as a way to describe their effects, e.g., the third mode of Mardu Charm is described as Duress to avoid having to write the full description.

M15: List of instant-speed tricks

This is a list of all the instant-speed tricks in the format. The first table has the spell names while the second one has abbreviated spell descriptions in case you don’t remember what the spell does. Note that the latter table may not accurately represent all uses of the spell and often leaves out certain details. Also, I sometimes make mistakes while filling out these tables; please let me know if you spot any issues.

Both tables categorize the tricks by converted mana cost, color, and rarity. Unless specified otherwise, each colored spell has one colored mana in its mana cost with the rest being generic mana, so a 3-mana white spell with no explicit cost has a mana cost of 2W. I also specify mana costs if the spell has X in its mana cost, is multicolored, or costs more than the column it is specified in. Spells in bold can leave a creature in play, e.g., flash creatures, spells that create token creatures, or spells that allow you to cast creatures at instant speed.

Here’s how to interpret the second table:

  • Abbreviations used: A (artifact), attkr (attacker), blkr (blocker), bounce (return permanent to owner’s hand), bury (destroy permanent & it cannot be regenerated), C (creature), CMC (converted mana cost), counter when used as a verb (counter a spell), dmg (damage), draw X (draw X cards), E (enchantment), ETB (enters the battlefield), flyer (creature with flying), freeze X (tap X and it doesn’t untap next turn), gain X (gain X life), GY (graveyard), I (instant), L (land), loot X (draw X cards, then discard X cards), lose X (lose X life), opp (opponent), opp’s X (X controlled by opponent), P (player or power, depending on context), prot (protection), PW (planeswalker), raise (return card from your graveyard to your hand), reanimate (return card from the graveyard to the battlefield), redirect X dmg from A to B (next X dmg that would be dealt to A is dealt to B instead), regen (regenerate), S (sorcery), sac (sacrifice), T (toughness), your X (X you control).
  • Spells that confer an effect (+X/+Y, -X/-Y, hexproof, first strike, prot from a color, etc.) last until end of turn unless specified otherwise.
  • Spells can target any legal permanent or player unless otherwise specified, e.g., X dmg without any qualifiers means that the spell does X damage to any creature or player.
  • Spell descriptions sometimes mention other spells as a way to describe their effects, e.g., Hunter’s Ambush is described as Fog all nongreen Cs to avoid having to write the full description.