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.

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M15: Convoke

Magic 2015 has 22 cards with convoke: 7 in green, 6 in white, 4 in black, 2 in red, 1 in blue, and 2 artifacts. Their quality varies considerably from exceptional (Devouring Light) to unplayable (Meditation Puzzle). There are also a few that remain to be evaluated: Seraph of the Masses, Feral Incarnation, and Overwhelm (which I’d initially evaluated, incorrectly, as a bomb). The quality of these cards depends largely on the number and quality of token producers in the set.

Magic 2015 has 17 cards that produce tokens. While the quality of these cards appears to be quite high at first glance (2 bombs, 7 exceptional, 4 good, 3 TBD, and only 1 unplayable), the expensive ones are less likely to be helpful in powering out expensive convoke spells early. Let’s just look at the ones that cost 4 mana or less:

  • 2cc: Raise the Alarm (excellent), Waste Not (unplayable since Black Cat and Mind Rot are the only non-rare ways to make your opponent discard cards), Spirit Bonds (rare), Necromancer’s Stockpile (generating a token requires discarding a creature, so you don’t actually have more creatures in play, at least in the short term)
  • 3cc: Coral Barrier (good), Hornet Nest (rare, and tokens are only produced when the creature dies), Chasm Skulker (rare, and tokens are only produced when the creature dies), Goblin Rabblemaster (rare)
  • 4cc: Brood Keeper (high setup cost), First Response (high setup cost)

Surprisingly, there are only 2 non-rare cards that produce tokens, cost 4cc or less, and don’t have a high setup cost: Raise the Alarm and Coral Barrier. The first card on the list confirms an intuition I’ve had for some time now: Raise the Alarm is the key enabler forĀ convoke decks, not just because it enables some of the god draws, but because it’s one of the only cheap ways to get multiple creatures on the table. However, having Coral Barrier be the only other card on the list challenges my preconceived notion that, since 59% of the convoke cards are in green or white, the convoke deck should be G/W.

Reviewing the list of convoke spells, it seems that all the exceptional spells are white or artifact anyway, so perhaps W/U can utilize convoke most effectively, perhaps in the form of a skies deck that uses Raise the Alarm and Coral Barrier to hold down the fort. Military Intelligence is likely to be quite good in a deck with fliers and tokens, and Seraph of the Masses is likely to be an excellent finisher.

Note that this does not mean that Siege Wurm is not good, just that you cannot expect to reliably play it on turn 4, even in a G/W deck. It also means that Overwhelm and Feral Incarnation are likely unplayable given the speed of the format.

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.