M15: Tribal effects

Magic 2015 has 11 cards with tribal effects: Obelisk of Urd, Belligerent Sliver, Constricting Sliver, Diffusion Sliver, Leeching Sliver, Venom Sliver, Sliver Hivelord, Preeminent Captain (Soldiers), Necromancer’s Stockpile (Zombies), Crucible of Fire (Dragons), and Goblin Rabblemaster (Goblins).

The first time I drafted Obelisk of Urd, I had a R/G deck that didn’t have more than 4 of any creature type. I was short on playables so I ended up running it. As might be expected, it never gave more than 1 creature +2/+2 and was underwhelming. The next time I drafted Obelisk of Urd, I had a B/r deck with 11 Zombies and the card was a beating and a half whenever it hit play. It was clear from these experiences that the value of Obelisk of Urd depends heavily on the colors you’re drafting. It was also clear that if Obelisk of Urd gives 2+ creatures in play +2/+2, you’re likely to win the game. Let’s take a look at all the tribes in Magic 2015 to determine which color combinations work best with Obelisk of Urd. While determining that, we will also look at which color combinations work best for the other tribal cards in Magic 2015.

This spreadsheet contains a summary of all the creatures in Magic 2015 (including Raise the Alarm, Triplicate Spirit, and Feral Incarnation). That information is summarized by creature type and rarity, with unplayable and sideboard-only cards excluded. The total column shows the expected number of playable/TBD creatures of that creature type in a typical draft.

Looking at this, there are 8 tribes that are expected to have 8+ representatives in an average 8-person draft:

  • Humans are spread across all 5 colors, but W/U, R/W, and U/R have access to the most number of playable ones: 13.5, 12.6, and 11.1 respectively.
  • Elementals are spread across blue, red, and green. G/U has access to 12.2, U/R has access to 11.9, and R/G has access to 9.9.
  • Warriors are almost entirely in red, which has 8.8 in a typical draft.
  • Goblins are entirely in red, with 11.2 in a typical draft.
  • Soldiers are entirely in white, with 10.2 in a typical draft. Note that while Raise the Alarm doesn’t combo with Preeminent Captain, it combos really well with Obelisk of Urd, allowing you to cast it earlier and turn your 1/1’s into 3/3’s. (Similarly, while there are only an average of 6 Spirits in a typical draft, Obelisk of Urd can be absurd with Triplicate Spirits.)
  • Zombies are entirely in black, with 9.8 in a typical draft.
  • Walls are spread across all 5 colors, and no color combination has more than 6.
  • Cats are spread across white, blue, and black, and no color combination has more than 6.

Given these numbers, it seems that most color combinations can make good use of Obelisk of Urd if you draft it early and know what creature types to start drafting once you’ve drafted it. Red provides access to the most options.

  • White: Soldiers (W/X) or Humans (W/U or R/W)
  • Blue: Humans (W/U or U/R) or Elementals (G/U or U/R), so only U/B doesn’t work
  • Black: Zombies (B/X)
  • Red: Warriors (R/X), Goblins (R/X), Humans (R/W or U/R), or Elementals (U/R or R/G)
  • Green: Elementals (G/U or R/G), so only B/G and G/W don’t work

From this, it appears that Preeminent Captain, Necromancer’s Stockpile, and Goblin Rabblemaster have the potential to be good in their respective colors. On the other hand, there are only 2 Dragons in Magic 2015, both at rare, plus Brood Keeper, so Crucible of Fire is unplayable. Also, the set only has 5 playable/TBD Slivers (I don’t consider Sliver Hivelord playable in most decks), all at uncommon, so an 8-person draft will have an average of 4.5 Slivers. Constricting Sliver, Belligerent Sliver, and Venom Sliver are good on their own, but Diffusion Sliver and Leeching Sliver are unplayable.

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.