SOI: Madness and discard outlets

An analysis of cards with madness and the discard outlets that enable them in Shadows over Innistrad is available at http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/madness-and-discard-outlets-in-shadows-over-innistrad-draft.

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BFZ: Converted mana costs of colorless cards

A U/B exile/process deck I recently drafted had more 5-drops than I would have liked, so I’d like to determine whether there’s a glut of good 5-drops for that deck. Almost all my cards in that deck were colorless, so we’ll just look at colorless cards for the purpose of this analysis. Since there are also 2 other archetypes that rely on colorless cards (U/R devoid and B/R aggro), we will also examine those.

The 3 tables below list the most important cards for each of these 3 archetype by converted mana cost and rarity, with bold indicating that a card is particularly strong in the archetype. I’m more concerned about the first few turns of the game, so the lists do not include splash cards and finishers. I’m hoping this analysis will help me decide which converted mana costs I need to focus on for each of these 3 archetypes in order to end up with a good creature curve.


Some observations:

  • U/B exile/process does not have an unusually high number of colorless 5-drops, it was my deck that was unusual (it had 2 Oracle of Dust and an Ulamog’s Reclaimer, plus a Windrider Patrol).
  • In addition to Mist Intruder and Culling Drone, U/B exile/process decks also have access to 2 uncommon 2-mana non-creature spells that can exile cards (Horribly Awry and Transgress the Mind). Similarly, it has access to Complete Disregard, Grave Birthing, and Spell Shrivel (all commons) at 3 mana. Unlike ingest creatures, these only exile a single card, but they can nevertheless get your first processor online.
  • All 3 archetypes have 4+ playable 3-drops at common, so you should prioritize 2-drops when drafting. This is especially true for U/R, which has another 4 playable 3-drops at uncommon, especially since a number of its common and uncommon 3-drops are particularly strong.
  • All 3 archetypes also have a number of strong mythics and rares that cost 6+ mana that you will rarely pass. However, U/B has a number of strong uncommons at that mana cost, so you probably shouldn’t prioritize those cards unless you really need a win condition.
  • Sludge Crawler is the only playable colorless 1-drop (Salvage Drone is unplayable, and Endless One will rarely be played as a 1/1). It fits in both the B/X archetypes that want colorless creatures, but I don’t have enough experience with it yet to determine how playable it is.

BFZ: The exile/process deck

I recently drafted a U/B exile/process deck with 6 ingest creatures, no other exile effects, and 7 processors. Here’s the decklist:

Creatures (18):
– 2cc: Fathom Feeder, 3 Culling Drone
– 3cc: 2 Benthic Infiltrator, Eldrazi Skyspawner, Hagra Sharpshooter
– 4cc: 3 Murk Strider, Mind Raker, Silent Skimmer
– 5cc: Ulamog’s Reclaimer, 2 Oracle of Dust, Endless One, Windrider Patrol

Non-creatures (4):
– 1cc: Clutch of Currents
– 2cc: –
– 3cc: Swarm Surge
– 4cc: Dampening Pulse
– 5cc: Demon’s Grasp

Land (18): 9 Islands, 8 Swamps, 1 Blighted Fen

I thought the deck looked strong, but I had several opening hands with no ingest creatures. Other times, my opponents would prevent me from getting my processors online by trading with or killing my Culling Drone. I still managed to go 4-1 with the deck, but only because many opponents had slow starts, which allowed me to stall the game using my X/5’s and then use Fathom Feeder, Oracle of Dust, Hagra Sharpshooter, and/or Windrider Patrol to win the long game. I also managed to curve out in a couple of games and then cast Swarm Surge for the win.

I realized that 6 exile effects is insufficient for this archetype. While the expected number of exile effects in my opening hand is 1, there’s a 29% chance of having none. Here’s a table showing the probability of having 1+ and 2+ exile effects in a 7-card hand (assuming a 40-card deck).

# exile effects in deck 1+ exile effects in hand 2+ exile effects in hand
4 55.22% 13.43%
5 63.93% 20.40%
6 71.14% 27.86%
7 77.09% 35.50%
8 81.95% 43.06%
9 85.90% 50.35%
10 89.08% 57.23%
11 91.63% 63.60%
12 93.65% 69.40%
13 95.24% 74.60%
14 96.47% 79.18%

Given these numbers, and given that opponents may be able to kill my ingest creatures, I’d like to have 9+ exile effects the next time I draft this archetype. Let’s take a look at the playable exile effects in the format to determine whether this is a reasonable expectation. The table below categorizes them, as well as process effects, by rarity and whether the effect is reusable. Within each category, cards are sorted by color and then mana cost. Exile effects with a strikethough are ones I believe can’t be relied on to exile a card; for one-time exile effects, they also need be able to exile a card on curve (i.e., once you have the mana needed to cast the card).


Some observations:

  • The best exile and process effects are both in blue. While most exile/process decks will usually be U/B or U/b, a U/r deck is possible if you get multiple copies of Touch of the Void, Vile Aggregate, and Processor Assault. A monoblue deck may even be possible on occasion since 8-person drafts have an average of 13 exile and 10 process effects that are blue or colorless.
  • I was not impressed with Culling Drone in this deck, so I would prefer to have Mist Intruder instead when I draft this archetype next, even though it is less playable in the absence of process effects. Since U/B exile/process decks should be heavier blue, this should also reduce the likelihood of having a 2-drop ingest creature that you cannot cast because you don’t have the right color of mana.
  • An 8-person draft has 6.5 reusable and 11.6 one-time exile effects that are playable in U/B. If you want to have 9 exile effects in a U/B exile/process deck, you have to play either some reusable exile effects that are unreliable and/or some one-time exile effects.
  • Most process effects are one-time, and the reusable ones are less impressive, so it should be okay to run a number of one-time exile effects. (Reusable exile effects are still better, since a single one can enable multiple one-time process cards.)
  • There are fewer process effects than exile effects (14 vs. 18 playable ones for U/B). While it makes sense to draft exile effects before process effects, you should not usually draft exile cards over powerful processors like Murk Strider with the expectation that you will be able to pick up the processors later.

JOU/BNG/THS: The mill deck

Theros and Born of the Gods had a smattering of mill cards, but no particularly effective ones at common or uncommon other than Evanescent Intellect, which gave your opponent an opportunity to 2-for-1 you. Journey into Nyx brings Thassa’s Devourer and Countermand to the table. Does this give us a critical mass of mill cards in a block draft?

Let’s start by looking at all the cards in the format that help you get cards out of your opponent’s library, organized by set, rarity, and color. The number after the color indicates how many cards it mills. N / X means it is a reusable effect that mills N cards each time X occurs, whether that be a mana cost or an ability trigger.

Journey into Nyx Born of the Gods Theros
Common Countermand (blue, 4) Evanescent Intellect (blue, 3 / 1U+{T}) Thassa’s Bounty (blue, 3)
Thassa’s Devourer (blue, 2 / constellation) Forsaken Drifters (black, 4) Returned Centaur (black, 4)
Returned Reveler (black, 3)
Uncommon Dakra Mystic (blue, 1 / U+{T}) Siren of the Silent Song (U/B, 1 / inspired)
Rare Mindreaver (blue, 3 / heroic) Pyxis of Pandemonium (artifact, 1 / {T})
Daxos of Meletis (W/U, 1 / dealing combat dmg to opp)
Mythic Phenax, God of Deception (U/B, T / creature) Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver (U/B, 3 / turn)

Thassa’s Devourer is the strongest of the mill effects at common since it has a reusable effect with a reasonable trigger condition, and provides a strong defence that buys you time to mill out your opponent. None of the other common or uncommon mill effects in Journey into Nyx are worth building a deck around, and an 8-person draft will only have 1.3 copies of Thassa’s Devourer, so a mill deck is only possible in a draft with an unsually high number of copies of the card or in a casual draft with more than 8 people. If you’re already in blue and see a couple of copies going around, you can plan to take them if they lap the table. (If someone else takes them, you don’t want to be drafting a mill deck anyway, since the format does not have enough mill cards to support 2 drafters.) If you don’t end up drafting a mill deck, they can still be a good sideboard plan against control decks. Since you have to draw at least 1 Thassa’s Devourer for the deck to get going, you’re not likely to have a strong mill deck unless you draft at least 3+ copies of the card, especially since the format has a fair bit of enchantment removal.

Once you have decided to draft a mill deck, it is probably worth picking up Evanescent Intellect in Born of the Gods. While playing it still involves a certain amount of risk, I believe Journey into Nyx makes the card more playable since it triggers Thassa’s Devourer (and so can mill 5 cards on the turn it comes into play) and Countermand can protect the enchanted creature from removal. Like Thassa’s Devourer, Evanescent Intellect is likely to lap the table, so you don’t need to take them the first time around.

If you’re building towards a mill deck but are not yet in black when you get to Born of the Gods, you can also consider white as your second color. The color provides Dawn to Dusk and Griffin Dreamfinder as ways to get Thassa’s Devourer back if it is killed. It also provides access to Daxos of Meletis and Gods Willing in the Theros pack, although those are not passed quite as often as Returned Centaur. If you’re drafting this deck, you should also prioritize Griptide higher since it allows you to mill away your opponent’s best creature after putting it back on top of their library.

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: W/B control and Triad of Fates

I hadn’t had much success with control deck in Theros until recently when I did reasonably well with a couple of B/X control decks (2 W/B and a U/B/w deck). Each had at least one Gray Merchant of Asphodel and would have been a monoblack deck in the early days of Theros when it was still possible to draft multiple Gray Merchants of Asphodel. However, white and blue both offer cards that work well in a B/X control deck.

White offers some excellent defensive creatures (Scholar of Athreos, which also serves as lifegain and a win condition), removal (Divine Verdict, Last Breath), lifegain (Hopeful Eidolon, Lagonna-Band Elder), and win conditions (Evangel of Heloid, Sentry of the Underworld), and lets you run Gods Willing alongside Boon of Erebos. I’ve also found Triad of Fates to be seriously undervalued and have often been passed it late by players who see it as too slow. While it is certainly subpar in an aggressive W/B deck, it can be very powerful in control decks that are able to survive long enough to use its white ability to “blink” an Evangel of Heliod, Disciple of Phenax, or Gray Merchant of Asphodel. (Abhorrent Overlord and Ashen Rider are also excellent targets for the white ability, but if you manage to cast either of those, you’re probably already winning the game.) The deck tends to be heavier black than white, so you might end up picking Pharika’s Cure over Wingsteed Rider, especially since you are likely to have fewer targeting effects than an aggressive W/B deck.

Blue also offers excellent defensive creatures (Omenspeaker, Wavecrash Triton, and Coastline Chimera, which is playable even without white in a control deck), removal (Shipwreck Singer, Griptide, Sea God’s Revenge, Voyage’s End), counterspells (Annul, Dissolve), and win conditions (Horizon Scholar, Nimbus Naiad). As with white, it is the multicolor Shipwreck Singer that makes this a powerful color combination and, as we’ve seen previously, it is powerful multicolor cards like these that can make it worth delaying selection of a second color if you start out in either blue or black. (Also, remember to keep an eye out for Triton Tactics once you’ve drafted Shipwreck Singer.)

I tend to prefer W/B over U/B because Scholar of Athreos, Sentry of the Underworld, and Triad of Fates are all powerful cards that fill multiple roles, helping you stabilize and then serving as win conditions once you’ve locked down the board. In fact, a U/B control deck I drafted recently splashed white for Scholar of Athreos and Sentry of the Underworld when I found myself short a couple of cards after switching from W/B to U/B in pack 2 of the draft. Triad of Fates is a riskier splash in such cases because it doesn’t immediately impact the board when played, but it still does provide the ability to retrigger some strong enters-the-battlefield abilities on blue creatures (Horizon Scholar, Omenspeaker, and Mnemonic Wall).

M14: Archaeomancer

To date, I’ve mentioned Archaeomancer in the context of a few different archetypes: U/R control, U/G control, U/G mill, and W/U skies. And intuitively, it would seem that U/R or U/B are the best color pairs for Archaeomancer since you can regrow instant/sorcery removal in those decks. (Much of the removal in white and blue is in the form of enchantments, and the removal in green is largely conditional, hitting flyers and non-creature permanents.) However, I always prefer hard numbers (hence this blog), so let’s get crunching.

M14 has 61 instants and sorceries. This spreadsheet breaks them down by color, rarity, and quality. It’s clear that red and black have the most number of exceptional instants/sorceries per player in an average M14 draft (0.6 and 0.4 respectively). If you combine bomb, exceptional, and playable instants/sorceries, red and green have the most (1.4 and 1.2 respectively). This corroborates some of my intuition above, and seems to reinforce U/R control as the best home for Archaeomancer.

However, this also include spells that are better in aggro decks (e.g., Act of Treason and most combat tricks) or spells that usually win you the game when cast (e.g., Devout Invocation and Planar Cleansing). Let’s take a slightly different look at this; let’s look at which instants/sorceries we’d most want to recast:

  • White: Celestial Flare
  • Blue: Cancel, Divination, Essence Scatter, Frost Breath, Negate, Time Ebb, Tome Scour, Opportunity (uncommon); you won’t usually want to recur Traumatize since the second casting will typically mill about as many cards as a Tome Scour
  • Black: Altar’s Reap, Liturgy of Blood, Wring Flesh, Corrupt (uncommon), Doom Blade (uncommon)
  • Red: Chandra’s Outrage, Shock, Flames of the Firebrand (uncommon), Molten Birth (uncommon), Volcanic Geyser (uncommon)
  • Green: Fog, Hunt the Weak, Plummet, Howl of the Night Pack (uncommon), Windstorm (uncommon)

Blue itself has the most number of instants and sorceries we’d want to regrow with Archaeomancer, and white has the least. Black, red, and green have similar numbers of them, but red has the most number of good removal spells, followed by black. The green instants and sorceries have very specific purposes, with Plummet and Windstorm only being useful against flyers, and Fog usually only useful if you’re playing a mill deck or if your opponent has falter effects.

Conclusion: Archaeomancer is at its best in U/R control where it can recur removal and blue card draw and counterspells, and in G/U mill where it can recur mill spells and cards like Fog and Frost Breath that can buy you time to mill your opponent out. It may also be playable in U/G control and U/B. That is a fairly limited set of archetypes and Archaeomancer only leaves a 1/2 body behind, so I would consider it only conditionally playable.