FRF: Reusing enters-the-battlefield effects

Fate Reforged brings 4 creatures that allow you to profitably reuse enters-the-battlefield (ETB) effects:

  • Temur Sabertooth is a near bomb, being a 4/3 for 4 mana and making most of your creatures unkillable if you have 1G open.
  • Flamerush Rider is exceptional, especially in an aggressive deck.
  • Jeskai Barricade is situational, since it doesn’t fit in any of the aggressive white decks, but may have a home in a controlling Abzan or 5-color deck.
  • Ambush Krotiq is usually unplayable, both because it costs 6 mana and because returning a creature to your hand is not optional.

In addition to these, there are also several blue bounce spells that let you reuse ETB abilities. While they usually target your opponent’s creatures, some of them can be profitably aimed at your own creatures, for instance, Rite of Undoing, Sage-Eye Avengers, and Supplant Form.

My evaluation of these 4 cards could be affected if the format has an usually low or high number of ETB effects. In addition to ETB effects, I am also interested in abilities that trigger when a creature is turned face up, creatures that you might want to recast later in a game (e.g., Clever Impersonator and Hooded Hydra), and a small number of other cards that cause you to want to return creatures to your hand (e.g., Lightning Shrieker and Outpost Siege), or to its owner’s hand in the case of Act of Treason. Let’s look at what’s available, to get an idea of what colors/clan we should prefer once we have 1 or more of these creatures. (Cards in italics are only really worth reusing with Temur Sabertooth since a single reuse doesn’t provide much gain.)

  • White: Arashin Cleric, Mardu Hordechief, Sandsteppe Outcast, Elite Scaleguard (uncommon), Lotus-Eye Mystics (uncommon), Mardu Woe-Reaper (uncommon), Watcher of the Roost (uncommon), Timely Hordemate (uncommon), Daghatar the Adamant (rare), Master of Pearls (rare), Mastery of the Unseen (rare), Wingmate Roc (mythic)
  • Blue: Aven Surveyor, Mistfire Weaver (uncommon), Kheru Spellsnatcher (rare), Thousand Winds (rare), Clever Impersonator (rare)
  • Black: Mardu Skullhunter, Merciless Executioner (uncommon), Orc Sureshot (uncommon), Ruthless Ripper (uncommon), Sibsig Muckdraggers (uncommon)
  • Red: Act of Treason, Lightning Shrieker, Horde Ambusher (uncommon), Mardu Heart-Piercer (uncommon), Jeering Instigator (rare), Outpost Siege (rare)
  • Green: Frontier Siege (rare), Sandsteppe Mastodon (rare), Temur War Shaman (rare), Trail of Mystery (rare), Hooded Hydra (mythic)
  • Multicolor: Efreet Weaponmaster, Ponyback Brigade, Armament Corps (uncommon), Bear’s Companion (uncommon), Icefeather Aven (uncommon), Secret Plans (uncommon), Sultai Soothsayer (uncommon), Warden of the Eye (uncommon), Siege Rhino (rare), Temur Ascendancy (rare), Sidisi Brood Tyrant (mythic)

In addition, Temur Sabertooth and Jeskai Barricade allow you to return a creature to your hand at instant speed, so you can also use them to save a creature from removal or a disadvantageous block (especially if you attacked to trigger an ability). Let’s take a look at the cards in this format that you might attack with to trigger an ability. (I won’t list the multicolor dragons here since they can rarely be blocked advantageously.)

  • Artifact: Heart-Piercer Bow (uncommon)
  • White: Wardscale Dragon (uncommon)
  • Blue: Sage-Eye Avengers (rare)
  • Black: Mardu Shadowspear (uncommon), Mardu Strike Leader (rare)
  • Red: Goblin Heelcutter, Mardu Blazebringer (uncommon), Vaultbreaker (uncommon), Alesha Who Smiles at Death (rare)
  • Multicolor: Mardu Roughrider (uncommon), Ankle Shanker (rare), Avalanche Tusker (rare), Anafenza the Foremost (mythic), Mardu Ascendancy, Narset Enlightened Master (mythic)

These 2 lists have a lot of rares/mythics, as well as a lot of cards in italics. We’re unlikely to take 1 of the 4 cards above in the hopes of opening or being passed a specific rare, and we already know to draft Temur Sabertooth if we can play him, so let’s strip out those 2 categories. That leaves us with the following cards:

  • Artifact: Heart-Piercer Bow (uncommon) = 0.6 copies in an average 8-person draft
  • White: Sandsteppe Outcast, Elite Scaleguard (uncommon), Lotus-Eye Mystics (uncommon), Timely Hordemate (uncommon), Wardscale Dragon (uncommon) = 3.1 copies
  • Blue: Aven Surveyor, Mistfire Weaver (uncommon) = 1.9 copies
  • Black: Mardu Skullhunter, Merciless Executioner (uncommon), Orc Sureshot (uncommon), Sibsig Muckdraggers (uncommon) = 2.8 copies
  • Red: Act of Treason, Goblin Heelcutter, Lightning Shrieker, Mardu Blazebringer (uncommon), Mardu Heart-Piercer (uncommon), Vaultbreaker (uncommon) = 5.8 copies
  • Multicolor: Efreet Weaponmaster, Ponyback Brigade, Armament Corps (uncommon), Bear’s Companion (uncommon), Icefeather Aven (uncommon), Secret Plans (uncommon), Sultai Soothsayer (uncommon), Warden of the Eye (uncommon) = Abzan has 0.6 copies, Jeskai has 2.2, Mardu has 1.6, Sultai and Temur have 1.8 each (I’m counting the 2 U/G uncommons in both Sultai and Temur)

Red has by far the most cards that combo with the 4 creatures, although a number of them are not ETB effects but finishers like Act of Treason and Lightning Shrieker. Those don’t pair well with the already expensive Ambush Krotiq, and while they might pair better with Jeskai Barricade in a R/W, Jeskai, or Mardu deck, those decks are too aggressive to want to play a 0/4 creature. On the other hand, while green has both Temur Sabertooth and Ambush Krotiq, it has no good ETB effects to pair with them at common/uncommon. This probably means that Ambush Krotiq is just as unplayable as we initially anticipated. There’s no clear color combination that maximizes Temur Sabertooth, but you probably shouldn’t be trying to build your deck around 1, or even 2, copies of the card. I think the main outcome of this exercise is that we now have a fairly comprehensive list of all the cards in the format that combo with Temur Sabertooth and Flamerush Rider.

Finally, let’s take a brief look at the artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers you might want to return to your hand, since Rite of Undoing lets you return any nonland permanent. The playable ones are Singing Bell Strike, Cloudform (uncommon), Lightform (uncommon), Rageform (uncommon), Sage’s Reverie (uncommon), Suspension Field (uncommon), Abzan Ascendancy (rare), and planeswalkers (mythics) after using their -N abilities.

THS/BNG: Enters-the-battlefield effects and reanimation spells

In my most recent post, I discussed how Rescue from the Underworld lets us reuse enters-the-battlefield effects. In the past, I’ve also discussed how Triad of Fates lets you do that. There are also other reanimation spells in Theros and Born of the Gods — Fated Return, Champion of Stray Souls, and the temporary reanimation of Whip of Erebos — as well as March of the Returned and Pharika’s Mender, which require you to recast the creature. However, I haven’t yet done a comprehensive review of all the enters-the-battlefield effects on creatures in the format, which could help us decide which color to pair with black if we find that we have more that a couple of reanimation effects in our deck. Let’s do that now. In the list below, italics denote a relatively weak enters-the-battlefield ability or an unplayable creature, [] denotes rares and mythics, and bold indicates that the trigger happens when other creatures enter the battlefield.

  • White: Evangel of Heliod, Griffin Dreamfinder, Lagonna-Band Elder, Leonin Snarecaster
  • Blue: Breaching Hippocamp, Horizon Scholar, [Master of Waves]*, Mnemonic Wall, Omenspeaker
  • Black: [Abhorrent Overlord], Blood-Toll Harpy, Disciple of Phenax, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Mogis’s Marauder, Odunos River Trawler, Returned Centaur
  • Red: Fanatic of Mogis, Minotaur Skullcleaver, [Purphoros God of the Forge], Wild Celebrants
  • Green: Nylea’s Disciple, [Reverent Hunter], Satyr Wayfinder, Setessan Starbreaker
  • Multicolor: [Ashen Rider], Chronicler of Heroes, [Ephara God of the Polis], Pharika’s Mender

* The Elementals already in play die when Master of Waves is not in play, so this only helps if you’ve lost some of the Elementals in combat or if you now have a higher devotion to blue.

There are also a few creatures that have a trigger when they die: Forsaken Drifters, Loathsome Catoblepas, and [Ashen Rider]. [Reaper of the Wilds] and Fate Foretold also trigger when other creatures or the creature they’re enchanting dies.

Looking at the lists above, we see that black has the most and highest quality enters-the-battlefield effects, but that most of the other colors have 2-3 good enters-the-battlefield effects on creatures that are not rares or mythics.

Of course, Rescue from the Underworld and Fated Return can also be used purely for their reanimation. There are a number of cards in black, green, and blue that allow you to get cards from your library into your graveyard: Returned Centaur, Forsaken Drifters, Satyr Wayfinder, Commune with the Gods, Evanescent Intellect, Thassa’s Bounty, Steam Augury, and even Phenax God of Deception (although you’d usually want to use it to target your opponent). The best of these effects are in green, and they can be used to try to mill an expensive creature like Ashen Riders, or for a creature that is otherwise difficult to cast, such as Chromanticore. And if you end up drawing one of the cards accidentally, there are also a handful of discard outlets in the format (Epiphany Storm, Erebos’s Emissary, Prognostic Sphinx, and potentially also Disciple of Phenax, Ordeal of Erebos, and Thoughtseize). Given these colors of these effects, a reanimation deck would probably be a B/G graveyard deck with some reanimation, or a U/B control deck with perhaps some incidental self-mill.

THS: Combat damage triggers

I drafted a fairly weak W/U deck last week. It had a couple of heroic creatures, 3 Fate Foretold*, and 2 Thassa’s Emissary. Once I picked up the second Emissary, I started keeping an eye out for cards that could grant them evasion. I drafted a Nimbus Naiad, took a Sea God’s Revenge over an Aqueous Form, and then didn’t see any other cards that would have allowed the Emissaries to get through.

Theros also has several other cards that have combat damage triggers, such as Daxos of Meletis (which I’ve been passed multiple times previously, but unfortunately not this time). In order to better understand how likely it is that I can make these abilities trigger, I decided to make a spreadsheet of all the cards in Theros with such triggers, all the cards that grant evasion, and also all the cards that have evasion (since Bident of Thassa and Warriors’ Lesson let you draw a card if any creatures get through), sorted by color and rarity. Here are some notes on interpreting this spreadsheet:

  • In the Combat Damage Triggers column, italics mean the card doesn’t actually have a combat damage trigger, but has the potential to do a lot of damage if it get through, usually due to Firebreathing or double strike. I have not listed creatures with monstrous, mostly because they’re too many of them and they would dominate the list. Yellow highlight means that the effect can trigger multiple times if 2+ creatures get through.
  • In the Grants Evasion column (which also includes cards that prevent an opponent’s creature(s) from blocking), italics mean that the card grants evasion as a one-time effect. This includes cards like Arena Athlete that can be triggered multiple times, but require a spell to target them for each use. Yellow highlight means that the effect grants evasion to 2+ creature.
  • In the Has Evasion column, italics mean that the creature has a form of evasion other than flying, e.g., intimidate. I have not listed effects that grant trample because it is not a reliable way to trigger these abilities. Yellow highlight means the card gives you 2+ creature with evasion.
  • Red text means that the card appears in more than one column, e.g., Nimbus Naiad has evasion but can also grant evasion to other creatures if played as an Aura.

From the spreadsheet, we can see that blue has the most cards with combat damage triggers: Thassa’s Emissary (uncommon) and Bident of Thassa (rare), as well as the multicolor cards Daxos of Meletis (W/U rare) and Medomai the Ageless (W/U mythic). Red has most of the italicized cards in this column: Dragon Mantle (common), Two-Headed Cerberus (common), and Firedrinker Satyr (rare), as well as the multicolor cards Akroan Hoplite (R/W uncommon) and Polis Crusher (R/G rare with an actual combat damage trigger).

Looking at the next column, white has 2 cards that grant evasion permanently + 1 that grants evasion temporarily (sort of; it only taps one creature). Blue has 3 + 1, black has 0 + 1, red has 1 + 2, green and multicolor have none, and there are 2 + 0 artifacts that grant evasion**. So blue also has the most number of ways to give creatures evasion.

Finally, white has 3 commons + 1 uncommon + 1 rare with evasion (8.7 in an average 8-person draft), blue has 4 + 1 + 1 (11.1), black has 2 + 1 + 1 (6.3), red has 1 uncommon and 1 mythic (1.4), green has 1 common (2.4), and there are 0 + 4 + 1 + 3 (5.8) multicolor cards with evasion and 1 uncommon artifact. Once again, blue leads the pack, but it followed very closely by white.

If you are trying to build around some cards with combat damage triggers but aren’t able to draft a monoblue deck, what is the best color to pair it with? Red seems like it would go well in this deck since it provides a few ways to give creatures evasion, multiple removal spells that allow creatures to get through, as well some creatures that can get through for a lot of damage if unblocked. In particular, Nimbus Naiad on a Two-Headed Cerberus can make short work of an opponent. And you can splash green for Warriors’ Lesson, Polis Crusher, Horizon Chimera, and perhaps Agent of Horizons.

The other possibility is W/U, either a flyers deck or a heroic deck. Since the deck runs several creatures with evasion anyway and has ways to give more creatures evasion, killing your opponent with flyers is a great plan B (or even plan A) for this deck. A heroic deck also has potential since some of the effects that grant evasion also trigger heroic. White also gives you access to Daxos of Meletis and has Gods Willing to protect your creatures once they have been given evasion or a combat damage trigger. As above, you can also splash green for Warriors’ Lesson, Horizon Chimera, and perhaps Agent of Horizons.

* This was my first time playing Fate Foretold and I was not impressed. However, that may have been because I only had a couple of heroic creatures and/or because I played against a lot of blue decks with bounce + Griptides.

** Note that Theros has only 1 Wall, so Prowler’s Helm essentially makes your creature unblockable. It’s very similar to Fleetfeather Sandals, except that it gives up haste in exchange for a near guarantee that the creature will be unblockable.

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.