OGW: Allies

http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/allies-in-oath-of-the-gatewatch-draft 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.

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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: 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.

DTK/FRF: Warriors

Warriors was a viable archetype in KTK/KTK/KTK and FRF/KTK/KTK. Dragons of Tarkir has a few Warrior tribal cards, but are they good enough, and are they supported by enough good Warriors, that the archetype remains viable in DTK/DTK/FRF?

Let’s start by looking at the Warrior tribal cards in Dragons of Tarkir:

  • White: Herald of Dromoka (common), Arashin Foremost (rare)
  • Black: Blood-Chin Rager (uncommon), Blood-Chin Fanatic (rare)

Fate Reforged also has Mardu Woe-Reaper and Diplomacy of the Wastes, but neither provides strong incentive to play additional Warriors. This means that a DTK/DTK/FRF draft has 1.8 white and 0.9 black Warrior tribal cards that might cause you to draft a Warriors tribal deck, so such decks are likely to be rare in this format. When you do draft them, they are likely to still be W/B.

Next, let’s look at the expected number of Warriors by color in an 8-person draft, how many of them are playable, and which color pairs could potentially support the archetype (assuming your tribal cards are either only in white or only in black). Bold indicates the cards I think are playable on their own merits.

  • White has an average of 11.5 Warriors in an 8-person draft, 6.6 of which are playable on their own merits:
    • Common: Champion of Arashin, Dromoka Warrior, Herald of Dromoka, Lightwalker, Aven Skirmisher (filler without raid or Raiders’ Spoils), Sandsteppe Outcast
    • Uncommon: Aven Sunstriker, Dragon Hunter, Mardu Woe-Reaper (downgraded to filler because there are more 2-drops)
    • Rare: Arashin Foremost, Hidden Dragonslayer, Dragonscale General, Daghatar the Adamant
  • Blue has no Warriors in either Dragons of Tarkir or Fate Reforged.
  • Black has an average of 9.9 Warriors, 5.3 of which are playable on their own merits:
    • Common: Dutiful Attendant, Hand of Silumgar, Kolaghan Skirmisher, Alesha’s Vanguard, Sultai Emissary (less impressive in an aggressive deck)
    • Uncommon: Blood-Chin Rager, Battle Brawler, Mardu Shadowspear, Merciless Executioner
    • Rare: Blood-Chin Fanatic, Mardu Strike Leader
    • Mythic: Risen Executioner, Brutal Hordechief
  • Red has an average of 6.4 Warriors, 5 of which are playable on their own merits:
    • Common: Kolaghan Aspirant, Sabertooth Outrider, Defiant Ogre
    • Uncommon: Atarka Pummeler, Qal Sisma Behemoth
    • Rare: Zurgo Bellstriker, Alesha Who Smiles at Death, Flamerush Rider
  • Green has an average of 3.3 Warriors, 2.9 of which are playable on their own merits:
    • Common: Atarka Beastbreaker
    • Uncommon: Salt Road Ambushers, Abzan Kin-Guard
    • Rare: Den Protector, Surrak the Hunt Caller, Yasova Dragonclaw

White and black have the most number of Warriors but only about half of them are playable on their own merits. Surprisingly, red has about as many playable Warriors as black, so if all your Warrior tribal cards are in a single color and you are cut off from the other one, you could attempt to draft a R/W or B/R Warriors deck, which would also give you access to Volcanic Rush and/or War Flare. (You probably don’t want to try for a 3-color Warriors deck since DTK/DTK/FRF doesn’t have enough mana fixing to support that, and since aggressive decks don’t do well when they stumble on colors.)

It’s also worth noting that most of the playable Warriors are in Dragons of Tarkir and that even a W/B deck only has access to about 12 playable Warriors. If you want to ensure you have enough Warriors for a focused tribal deck, you might need to take playable Warriors somewhat higher in your first 2 packs, and use the last pack to round out your tricks and mana fixing.

THS: Humans

Other than Minotaurs, the other main tribal interaction in Theros is with Humans: Cavalry Pegasus gives Humans flying if they attack alongside it, and Titan of Eternal Fire gives Humans the ability the ability to tap to do 1 damage to a creature or player. Much of the value of these cards depends on how many Humans you have in your deck, so it helps to know whether Theros has enough playable Humans to make these cards worth taking early.

This spreadsheet lists all 33 Humans in Theros. White has about a third of these and a disproportionate number of the commons, so about 40% of the Humans in a typical draft will be white (this is not a commentary on the racial makeup of the Magic community :)). 1 of the white commons is unplayable and 2 are filler, but white does also have an exceptional Human at common (Wingsteed Rider, although it does not benefit from Cavalry Pegasus since it already flies). White also has 2 exceptional Humans at uncommon (Favored Hoplite and Phalanx Leader) so it will have 4.8 exceptional Humans in a typical 8-person draft, 4 times as many as any of the other colors, and none of which can be played as a splash by non-white players. If you don’t have Titan of Eternal Fire, Wingsteed Rider is not any better than a non-Human since it does not benefit from Cavalry Pegasus, but white will still have 2 times as many exceptional Humans as the other colors in a typical draft. Finally, all the multicolor Humans are also white except for Prophet of Kruphix: 2 are R/W, 2 are W/U, and 1 is W/B. This means that a Humans deck will need to run white as a main color rather than just splashing Cavalry Pegasus as a finisher.

Red and green are next with 5 Humans each, including 2 at common. The commons in both colors are playable, but red has an edge because it has 2 uncommon Humans instead of 1, provides access to 2 multicolor Humans, and has Titan of Eternal Fire. Black has 4 Humans, only 1 of which is a common, and that one is unplayable unless you’re drafting the black devotion deck. On the far end of the spectrum, blue has only 3 Humans, 2 of which are rare, although it does also have 2 of the multicolor Humans.

Let’s also look at Humans that particularly benefit from having the evasion that Cavalry Pegasus grants:

  • Daxos of Meletis (W/U rare): generates card advantage if it deals combat damage to an opponent
  • Favored Hoplite (white uncommon), Soldier of the Pantheon (white rare), and Tormented Hero (black uncommon): can enable aggressive starts with Cavalry Pegasus allowing you to keep up the pressure
  • Fabled Hero (white rare), Staunch-Hearted Warrior (green common), and Akroan Hoplite (R/W uncommon): these creatures can do a lot of damage if they are unblocked
  • Arena Athlete (red uncommon): can prevent opposing flyers/spiders from blocking your creatures

Looking at all of this information in concert, it appears that R/W is the best color for a Humans deck as it has both cards that interact with Humans, the most number of playable Humans, and the most Humans that benefit from the evasion granted by Cavalry Pegasus.

M14: The tokens deck

Another deck that I have yet to try is the tokens deck. It is usually centered around Young Pyromancer, Molten Birth, and Barrage of Expendables. This spreadsheet lists all the cards in M14 that produce tokens, and also attempts to list most of the cards that interact particularly well with tokens. Cards in bold are particularly important to the strategy, while cards in italics help tokens get through blockers. (I haven’t listed pumps spells here, only effects that have a more permanent impact.)

From this, it seems that the deck wants to be R/W, with:

  • Young Pyromancer, Molten Birth, and Hive Stirrings to produce tokens
  • Goblin Shortcutter, Master of Diversion, and Seismic Stomp to help the tokens get past blockers
  • Fortify, Lightning Talons, Shiv’s Embrace, and Ogre Battledriver to help push damage through
  • Barrage of Expendables, Congregate, Path of Bravery, and Bubbling Cauldron to buy time, plus Act of Treason if the deck has a reasonable number of sac outlets (or to enable an earlier alpha strike)

If you have a chance to pick up Dark Prophecy and/or Gnawing Zombie, you can also try to make a B/R tokens deck that looks a lot like the B/R sacrifice deck I’d written about previously. In addition to these cards and the red cards from the list above, Altar’s Reap, Blood Bairn, and Vile Rebirth are also important, especially if you have a Young Pyromancer on the table.

One downside of this deck is that Young Pyromancer is good in just about every red deck, so you won’t get passed it very often. But if you do draft an early Young Pyromancer, keep this deck in mind as an option.

EDIT: Shrivel can be a problem for this deck since most of its key token producers make 1/1 tokens. Be careful to not overextend into it against opponents playing black, especially post-board.

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.