BFZ: Is there a B/G deck?

B/G in Battle for Zendikar limited is sometimes referred to as a sacrifice-based deck and sometimes as an Eldrazi Scion ramp deck. Let’s crunch some numbers to determine which, if either, of these is an accurate description of what B/G has to offer.

Let’s start by looking at 3 categories of cards that are important to either or both decks mentioned above. 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.

  • The Sacrifice table lists cards that allow you to sacrifice a creature. Cards in bold have a reusable ability whose activation cost/condition is listed before the description.
  • The Scions table lists cards that produce Eldrazi Scion tokens. The number of tokens created by the effect is listed in parenthesis, and cards in bold produce a token each time the activation cost/condition listed in the description is met.
  • The Triggers table lists cards that have a beneficial “leaves the battlefield” (dies) trigger. Cards in bold also provide a benefit when other creatures die. (If the description begins with “another C:”, they only provide a benefit when other creatures die.)

I don’t see much potential for a B/G sacrifice deck in these tables.

  • Bone Splinters and perhaps Vampiric Rites are the only common/uncommon sacrifice effects that I’d be happy to run, but there are an average of only 3.3 of them in an 8-person draft, and you’ll usually have to share Bone Splinters with other black drafters.
  • None of the common/uncommon “leaves the battlefield” triggers are particularly impressive.
  • Even the B/G multicolor cards are not as good as they would be in a different environment; the many 4-, 5-, and 6-toughness creatures mean that the bodies on Catacomb Sifter and Brood Butcher are irrelevant against half the decks in the format.
  • While Turn Against combos well with sacrifice effects, it’s an uncommon, costs 5 mana, and requires splashing another color.

Consequently, I would rather draft G/W Allies (which has other ways/reasons to produce tokens) and splash Bone Splinters and Brood Butcher.

How about a B/G ramp deck that uses Eldrazi Scion tokens to power out large monsters? From the Scions table, it’s clear that G/U is a more appropriate color combination for a deck aiming to do that. I also don’t think a strategy focused on ramping out a single large monster is viable since there are many answers available at common: white has Sheer Drop and Smite the Monstrous, blue has Clutch of Currents, Murk Strider, and Tightening Coils, black has Bone Splinters, and all colors have access to Scour from Existence.

So there doesn’t appear to be a good B/G deck in this format. While there are some interesting interactions, they don’t appear to be numerous or powerful enough. G/W/b/x Allies and perhaps G/U monsters are better alternatives.

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.

KTK/FRF: Act of Treason and sacrifice effects

I still don’t have a good handle on how good Act of Treason is in this format. I don’t mind running one copy as a finisher in aggressive R/X decks, but I often prefer Barrage of Boulders; in a recent draft deck, I played 3 copies of the latter and left both copies of Act of Treason in my sideboard (I had 8 creatures that could trigger ferocious). I have played Act of Treason in other decks, although it has been a little inconsistent for me, ranging from underwhelming to amazing, depending on the board state.

Act of Treason does get better if you can sacrifice the borrowed creature or if the format has a lot of creatures with relevant combat triggers. This format does have multiple ways to borrow creatures (there’s also Jeering Instigator, Mob Rule, and Yasova Dragonclaw at rare), so it’s worth examining how many effects are available in both categories.

Here’s a list of all the sacrifice effects in the format, along with their costs and rarities. One-time effects allow you to sacrifice a single creature for the specified cost, while recurring effects allow you to sacrifice a creature for the specified cost if you already have the permanent in play.

Recurring One-time
Artifact 4: Ugin’s Construct (uncommon)
Black 1B, {T}: Qarsi High Priest (uncommon)
2B: Kheru Bloodsucker (uncommon)
2B: Merciless Executioner (uncommon)
Red R: Collateral Damage
Green 1G: Kheru Dreadmaw
Multicolor 0: Butcher of the Horde (rare)

There are only 2 sacrifice effects at common, both of which are unplayable in most decks. The uncommons are much better, although the one-time effects require 6+ mana if you want to play them on the same turn as Act of Treason, and many aggressive decks may not want to run a Qarsi High Priest since it’s a 0/2. To this list, I will also add Rite of Undoing, since it allows you to bounce 2 of your opponent’s creatures if you use it on a stolen creature. That gives us a rare and 5 uncommons, an average of 2.4 cards in a 8-person draft. Even if you are willing to play Collateral Damage, this only goes up to 3.8 cards, and Collateral Damage and 4 of the 5 uncommons are in Fate Reforged, so you can’t wait until you have a couple of copies of Act of Treason before you draft them. Given this, you probably shouldn’t draft Act of Treason with the expectation that you’ll be able to draft sacrifice effects to go with it.

The other reason to run Act of Treason is because you can profit from stealing a creature with a combat trigger. I enumerated the list of such creatures in my last post. To that list, I will also add Dromoka the Eternal, Kolaghan the Storm’s Fury, Ojutai Soul of Winter, Silumgar the Drifting Death, and Yasova Dragonclaw. That’s a total of 20 creatures, but most of them are rares, and the expected number of such creatures in an 8-person draft is only about 7. So that is not a reason to draft Act of Treason either.

So you should draft Act of Treason on its own merits, and not in the hopes that you will either be able to steal a creature with a useful combat trigger, or that you will later be able to draft a way to sacrifice the creature.

THS: Portent of Betrayal and sacrifice effects

Whenever a set has a common card like Portent of Betrayal that allows you to steal a creature temporarily, I always look to see how many sacrifice effects the set has. That lets me determine whether the card can be used in control decks as well as aggro decks, which can affect how highly I value the card during a draft. In conjunction with a sacrifice effect, such cards allow you to remove any creature without hexproof/protection, regardless of size, regeneration, and/or indestructability, and so it can be worth the effort of trying to assemble the combo.

Unfortunately, Theros provides only 2 effects that lets you sacrifice creatures you control: Rescue from the Underworld, which requires 9 mana to use with Portent of Betrayal (but lets you keep the creature for the rest of the game), and Tymaret the Murder King, which is a rare. Triad of Fares also interacts well with Portent of Betrayal but is also a rare and requires a 3-color deck. Finally, Shipwreck Singer lets you kill an X/1 creature if you can attack with it but again requires a 3-color deck.

Theros also has 5 creatures (including Tymaret the Murder King) that have abilities that allow you to sacrifice them. While Portent of Betrayal can be used against these cards without a separate sacrifice effect, it requires a fair bit of mana to be able to steal the creature and sacrifice it in the same turn. It also requires mana of the right color, unless you’re stealing Burnished Hart. Most importantly, these 5 creatures are not particularly scary and you’ll rarely be happy spending a bunch of mana to get rid of them.

Given this, you should only draft Portent of Betrayal if you’re drafting an aggressive red deck that can make good use of its effect, and not for the potential combo with a sacrifice outlet. Most R/X decks in Theros are aggressive, but some U/R and R/G decks are more controlling and Portent of Betrayal is not a good fit for those decks.

M14: Strionic Resonator and the U/R control deck

Let’s try to evaluate Strionic Resonator today and determine whether it’s worth drafting early. This spreadsheet has a list of all cards in M14 with a triggered ability (see this post for the card quality key). It includes updated card quality evaluations as well as an assessment of the quality of the triggered ability, which can differ from the card quality (e.g., Sengir Vampire and Angelic Accord). These trigger quality assessments are very similar to the card quality assessments:

  • + means you would happily pay 2 mana to copy the trigger.
  • / means you would pay 2 mana to copy the trigger.
  • ~ means the ability is difficult to trigger or less useful to copy.
  • E(xpensive) means that you are unlikely to have 2 mana to spare when the trigger goes off, or that you’re already winning the game if the trigger goes off.
  • R(are) means that you’ll rarely want to copy the triggered ability or that it won’t trigger very often.
  • x means that there is never a reason to copy this trigger, barring very unusual game states.

The spreadsheet also indicates which archetype(s) each of these cards fits best in. If the archtype is in parentheses, it means that the card is playable even outside the archetype. If no archetype is listed, the card is usually played on its own merits rather than because it interacts particularly well with other cards.

Pivoting by color (to the right of the main table in the spreadsheet) shows us that red has the most triggered abilities we’d want to copy (11 in an average draft), followed by white and blue (8 each). Since most players draft 2 colors in M14, each color will have 3 drafters. If they split these cards between them, it means you can expect to get about 6.3 triggers you want to copy if you’re in R/W or U/R, and about 5.3 triggers you want to copy if you’re in W/U. However, Goblin Shortcutter and Archaeomancer don’t usually go in the same deck, so let’s also look at the cards by archetype instead.

Pivoting by archetype (also to the right of the main table in the spreadsheet) shows us that B/R sacrifice and U/R control have the most number of cards with triggers we’d want to copy (8 each in an average draft). If you’re the only drafter at the table, you will probably have enough triggered abilities that you’d want to copy.

The B/R sacrifice deck has Festering Newt, Pitchburn Devil, and Dragon’s Egg (uncommon), whose abilities trigger when they die, either in battle or when sacrificed to Altar’s Reap, Blood Bairn, Barrage of Expendables, Gnawing Zombie, or Vampire Warlord. It also has Young Pyromancer, whose trigger produces more cannon fodder for your sacrifice outlets. However, Pitchburn Devil’s trigger is the only one (at common or uncommon) that you’d really want to copy, so I’m not sure how well Strionic Resonator would work in this deck.

I haven’t drafted U/R control yet, but it seems like it should be a viable archetype. Red has Shock, Chandra’s Outrage, Flames of the Firebrand (uncommon), and Volcanic Geyser (uncommon) for removal. Blue has Essence Scatter, Negate, Cancel, and Spell Blast (uncommon) for countermagic, Time Ebb, Disperse, and Frost Breath for stall, and Divination and Opportunity (uncommon) for card advantage. Combined with Academy Raider and Archaeomancer, it could be a fairly potent counterburn deck that wins with a large flyer or by recurring Volcanic Geyser. In such a deck, Strionic Resonator could help ensure that that you don’t run out of cards before your opponent does.

So Strionic Resonator is probably conditionally playable. I wouldn’t recommend taking it early in the hope that U/R control is open. However, if you’re already drafting that deck, it might be worth taking it and then drafting cards with useful triggers slightly higher. (It’s also useful if you don’t remember how many triggered abilities you have in your deck when you’re passed a Strionic Resonator; if you’re drafting U/R control, you’re more likely to have enough triggers to play it.) This card does have a tendency to get passed late, so if I’m already in either blue or red the next time I see it, I might draft it to try it out (as I did with Door of Destinies recently) and post a follow-up.

Btw, here are the card quality evaluations I’ve updated since I originally posted the evaluation spreadsheet, in case you’re interested:

  • Ajani’s Chosen (TBD -> exceptional): A 3/3 for 4 mana is already a reasonable body, and W/B enchantments is a strong archtype.
  • Angelic Accord (TBD -> conditional): It’s difficult to draft a good lifegain deck, but I still believe it’s possible.
  • Auramancer (TBD -> playable): Ajani’s Chosen works well with all enchantments, but Auramancer mostly works well with Quag Sickness.
  • Blightcaster (TBD -> exceptional): Like Ajani’s Chosen, but with 1 less point of power and a stronger trigger.
  • Sanguine Bond (TBD -> conditonal): See Angelic Accord above.
  • Xathrid Necromancer (TBD -> exceptional): It’s a 2/2 for 3 mana that at least nets a 2/2 when it dies, and can be nuts in the right deck.
  • Door of Destinies (TBD -> conditional): It’s playable in a Slivers deck or a W/B Humans deck.
  • Advocate of the Beast (TBD -> conditional): It’s good if you already have Beasts.
  • Dismiss into Dream (TBD -> unplayable)
  • Domestication (TBD -> playable)
  • Archaeomancer is still TBD.

M14: Barrage of Expendables and the B/R sacrifice deck

The final enchantment left to evaluate is Barrage of Expendables. Its value will depend on 6 factors:

  • How many must-kill creatures and flyers have 1 toughness.
  • How many spells steal opponents’ creatures.
  • How many cards can an opponent play that would cause you to want to sacrifice a creature.
  • How many creatures provide a benefit when sacrificed.
  • How many creatures don’t mind being sacrificed.
  • Its effect relative to other sacrifice outlets.

Referring back to the spreadsheet of creatures in M14, we see that of the must-kill creatures, 2 of the 8 commons, 2 of the 6 uncommons, 4 of the 15 rares, and neither of the 2 mythics have 1 toughness. This means that 27% of the must-kill creatures in an average draft will have 1 toughness. Similarly, of the flyers in M14, 3 of the 10 commons, none of the 5 uncommons, 1 of the 7 rares, and none of the 3 mythics have 1 toughness, so 23% of the flyers in a typical draft will have 1 toughness. In addition, Barrage of Expendables can work with Shock and other removal spells to take down larger creatures. You can also sacrifice 2+ creatures to kill an opposing creature, but that’s unlikely to be a common occurrence.

Sacrifice effects combo especially well with effects that steal creatures temporarily and M14 has Act of Treason which is also red. In fact, unless you’re playing R/B, the only sacrifice effects a red deck has access to are Barrage of Expendables, Bubbling Cauldron, and Trading Post (a rare), and neither of the artifacts offer an impressive benefit for the sacrifice. If you have a couple of Act of Treasons, Barrage of Expendables could be worth picking up, especially if you don’t have other sacrifice effects yet. M14 also has Domestication, which steals the creature permanently. However, as we determined previously, there are a number of ways for the owner of the creature to pump its power and get the creature back, and Barrage of Expendables can help protect against that too.

M14 also has a few effects that may cause you to want to sacrifice a creature in response to an opponent’s spell. While M14 doesn’t have anything like Pillory of the Sleepless, you may want to sacrifice a creature that your opponent is trying to steal with Act of Treason or Domestication. In addition, you may on rare occasion want to sacrifice a creature in response to Congregate if your opponent is at a low life total and there aren’t many other creatures on the board.

Next, let’s look at creatures that you might want to sacrifice anyway because they provide a benefit when they die:

  • Blue: Messenger Drake (common), although you’d usually rather have a 3/3 flyer than do 1 damage to a creature
  • Black: Festering Newt (common), Dark Prophecy (rare), Xathrid Necromancer (rare)
  • Red: Pitchburn Devils (common), Dragon Egg (uncommon)
  • Green: Vastwood Hydra (rare)

Then, there are creatures that you don’t mind sacrificing, such as Tenacious Dead and Chandra’s Phoenix, or the tokens produced by Molten Birth (which produces an average of 4 tokens) and Sporemound. You might also want to sacrifice creatures if you have Planar Cleansing, Rise of the Dark Realms, Scavenging Ooze, or Haunted Plate Mail, although these are all rare/mythic so that board state won’t arise too often. Of these, Barrage of Expendables works especially well with Tenacious Dead since you can repeatedly do 1 damage to a creature or player for 1BR.

Given the analysis above, it seems like Barrage of Expendables would work best in a B/R deck since that has access to Act of Treason as well a handful of common and uncommon creatures that you’d want to sacrifice. Black does provide access to several other sacrifice effects (Altar’s Reap and Blood Bairn at common, and Gnawing Zombie and Vampire Warlord at uncommon), but Barrage of Expendables would be one of the better sacrifice effects in such a deck.