SOI: Madness and discard outlets

An analysis of cards with madness and the discard outlets that enable them in Shadows over Innistrad is available at


OGW: Allies examines how Allies archetypes have changed with the addition of Oath of the Gatewatch, and looks at whether Malakir Soothsayer might be less playable than it seems.

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.

BFZ: Converted mana costs of colorless cards

A U/B exile/process deck I recently drafted had more 5-drops than I would have liked, so I’d like to determine whether there’s a glut of good 5-drops for that deck. Almost all my cards in that deck were colorless, so we’ll just look at colorless cards for the purpose of this analysis. Since there are also 2 other archetypes that rely on colorless cards (U/R devoid and B/R aggro), we will also examine those.

The 3 tables below list the most important cards for each of these 3 archetype by converted mana cost and rarity, with bold indicating that a card is particularly strong in the archetype. I’m more concerned about the first few turns of the game, so the lists do not include splash cards and finishers. I’m hoping this analysis will help me decide which converted mana costs I need to focus on for each of these 3 archetypes in order to end up with a good creature curve.

Some observations:

  • U/B exile/process does not have an unusually high number of colorless 5-drops, it was my deck that was unusual (it had 2 Oracle of Dust and an Ulamog’s Reclaimer, plus a Windrider Patrol).
  • In addition to Mist Intruder and Culling Drone, U/B exile/process decks also have access to 2 uncommon 2-mana non-creature spells that can exile cards (Horribly Awry and Transgress the Mind). Similarly, it has access to Complete Disregard, Grave Birthing, and Spell Shrivel (all commons) at 3 mana. Unlike ingest creatures, these only exile a single card, but they can nevertheless get your first processor online.
  • All 3 archetypes have 4+ playable 3-drops at common, so you should prioritize 2-drops when drafting. This is especially true for U/R, which has another 4 playable 3-drops at uncommon, especially since a number of its common and uncommon 3-drops are particularly strong.
  • All 3 archetypes also have a number of strong mythics and rares that cost 6+ mana that you will rarely pass. However, U/B has a number of strong uncommons at that mana cost, so you probably shouldn’t prioritize those cards unless you really need a win condition.
  • Sludge Crawler is the only playable colorless 1-drop (Salvage Drone is unplayable, and Endless One will rarely be played as a 1/1). It fits in both the B/X archetypes that want colorless creatures, but I don’t have enough experience with it yet to determine how playable it is.

ORI: The sacrifice deck

Magic Origins has a number of cards in red and black that allow you to sacrifice a creature, and several other cards that are better if you have access to a sacrifice outlet. Does it have enough cards in both categories to allow for a sacrifice deck? Let’s enumerate the cards in both categories.

  • Cards that allow you to sacrifice a creature:
    • Black: Nantuko Husk, Consecrated by Blood (uncommon), Fleshbag Marauder (uncommon), Tormented Thoughts (uncommon) = average of 5.1 copies in an 8-person draft
    • Red: Fiery Conclusion (uncommon) = 0.9 copies (there’s also Pia and Kiran Nalaar, but that only allows you to sacrifice artifacts)
    • Green: Evolutionary Leap (rare) = 0.4 copies
    • Red/Black: Blazing Hellhound (uncommon) = 0.9 copies
  • Cards that allow you to borrow/steal a creature:
    • Blue: Willbreaker (rare) = 0.4 copies
    • Red: Act of Treason, Enthralling Victor (uncommon) = 3.3 copies
  • Cards that can create multiple creatures:
    • Colorless: Foundry of the Consuls (uncommon), Hangarback Walker (rare) = 1.3 copies
    • White: Murder Investigation (uncommon), Gideon’s Phalanx (rare), Sigil of the Empty Throne (rare) = 1.7 copies
    • Blue: Aspiring Aeronaut, Whirler Rogue (uncommon), Thopter Spy Network (rare) = 3.7 copies
    • Black: Undead Servant, Priest of the Blood Rite (rare), Liliana Heretical Healer (mythic) = 3.0 copies
    • Red: Dragon Fodder, Ghirapur Gearcrafter, Thopter Engineer (uncommon), Flameshadow Conjuring (rare), Pia and Kiran Nalaar (rare) = 6.5 copies
    • Green: Dwynen’s Elite (uncommon), Zendikar’s Roil (uncommon), Nissa Sage Animist (mythic) = 2.0 copies
  • Cards with beneficial effects that trigger when a creature leaves the battlefield:
    • Colorless: excluding Hangarback Walker since it was listed previously, Runed Servitor since it benefits you and your opponent equally, and Guardian Automaton since it only gains you 3 life)
    • White: excluding Murder Investigation since it was listed previously
    • Black: Deadbridge Shaman, Shadows of the Past (uncommon) = 3.3 copies (excluding Liliana Heretical Healer since it was listed previously, and Infernal Scarring since sacrificing the enchanted creatures leaves you a card down)

In an 8-person draft, black has an average of 5.1 sacrifice outlets and 6.3 cards that have synergy with those cards (although 2.4 of those are Undead Servants, which only create more than 1 creature if you have multiple copies). Red is the other color with cards in both categories, and a R/B player has access to an average of 6.9 sacrifice outlets and 17.4 cards that have synergy with those cards.

Many of these cards will be drafted by other players. Let’s assume that there are 3 drafters in each color but no other drafters in this archetype, and let’s try to determine how many of these cards we’re likely to end up with:

  • Nantuko Husk and Fleshbag Marauder will be taken by other black players, but a little less highly. Let’s assume that we get half of the copies of these cards (1.6 copies).
  • Foundry of the Consuls and Hangarback Walker can be played by any player at the table. Foundry of the Consuls is only good in the artifacts and sacrifice archetypes, while Hangerback Walker is a high pick in any draft deck, so we’re likely to end up with 0.5 of these cards.
  • The red and black cards that create multiple creatures are valued by any deck playing that color, as are Enthralling Victor and Deadbridge Shaman. These 12.8 cards are shared by 3 players, so we can expect to get 4.3 of them.
  • We will probably get most or all copies of the remaining cards: Consecrated by Blood, Tormented Thoughts, Fiery Conclusion, and Blazing Hellhound for sacrifice outlets (3.6 copies), and Act of Treason and Shadows of the Past for the remaining categories (3.3 copies).

Combining these number, we find that we’re likely to end up with about 5 sacrifice outlets and about 8 cards that work with them. That’s enough that if we start our draft with a few of the top cards from either of these categories (Fleshbag Marauder, Enthralling Victor, Priest of the Blood Rite, or multiple Undead Servants), then we can reasonably attempt to draft this archetype.

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.