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.

M15: U/R artifacts

The playability of Aeronaut Tinkerer, Chief Engineer, Ensoul Artifact, Scrapyard Mongrel, and Shrapnel Blast all depend, at least in part, on the number and quality of artifacts in M15. The set has 29 artifacts, including Darksteel Citadel (which I’ve downgraded from good to conditional). Here’s a breakdown by rarity and quality (based on their own merits, not their interactions with other cards in M15).

Quality
Rarity Bomb Excep-
tional
Good Filler/
Conditional
Side-
board
Unplay-
able
TBD TOTAL
Common 2 1 1 4
Uncommon 4 2 1 7 1 15
Rare 2 1 3 1 7
Mythic 1 1 1 3
TOTAL 1 3 5 7 2 9 2 29

Let’s ignore the 9 unplayable and 2 sideboard cards. There are only 2 TBD cards, 1 each at uncommon and rare; they won’t have much impact on the results, so I will ignore them too. That leaves us:

  • Common: 2 filler/conditional cards
  • Uncommon: 4 good and 2 filler/conditional
  • Rare: 2 exceptional, 1 good, and 3 filler/conditional
  • Mythic: 1 bomb and 1 exceptional
    • In an 8-person draft, there will be an average of 0.2 bombs, 1 exceptional card, 4 good cards, and 7.8 filler/conditional cards, for a total of 13 cards. Any player can play an artifact card, so if they are shared evenly, we can only expect to end up with 1.6 on average. However, if we already have some cards that benefit from the presence of artifacts, we can draft artifacts a bit higher. In particular, the filler/conditional cards are likely to come around mid to late pick. Let’s assume that the bomb and exceptional cards are shared evenly among players, that we draft about twice the average share of good cards, and that we draft half the filler cards at the table (the other half might be lost to another player drafting a similar deck, or they might be a better pick in the pack). That would give us 5 artifacts, 4 of which would be filler. Consequently, we would expect to have 1 artifact in our opening hand and draw another one over the course of the game.

      Given that, here’s my evaluation of the cards listed above:

      • Aeronaut Tinkerer (/): It will usually have flying as long as your opponent does not destroy the artifact from your opening hand. Even if they do, you are left with a 2/3 that might regain flying later.
      • Chief Engineer (~): Since we only expect to see 2 artifacts over the course of the game, this will mostly function as a 1/3 blocker.
      • Ensoul Artifact (/): The dream is to play this on turn 2 on a 0/1cc artifact (ideally an Ornithopter) and attack for 5 on turn 2, or play it on a Darksteel Citadel and attack on turn 3 with a 5/5 indestructible creature. However, both those cards are uncommons so a draft will only have about 1 of each, on average. Even if you manage to draft them, there’s no guarantee you’ll start the game with them. Instead, they’re more likely to go on a random artifact and trade for 2 of your opponent’s creatures, resulting in no card advantage. Consequently, this is likely to be better as a late game play on a Darksteel Citadel, Ornithopter, or Gargoyle Sentinel. (Note that Ornithopter is not playable unless you have multiple cards that benefit from artifacts.)
      • Scrapyard Mongrel (/): A 4-mana 3/3 is filler, but this will often be a 5/3 trampler.
      • Shrapnel Blast (/): 5 damage is a lot, but if you have other blue/red cards that benefit from artifacts, then you won’t want to sacrifice your artifact unless you’re killing a particularly troublesome creature or your opponent.
        • Aeronaut Tinkerer and Scrapyard Mongrel are both commons, and ones that other blue and/or red players probably won’t value highly, so U/R artifacts is probably a reasonable archetype in M15 draft.

THS: U/R spells

Earlier this week, I had a chance to draft the U/R spells/scry deck that I’d theorized about in previous posts but that I hadn’t drafted yet. Here was my deck:

1 Omenspeaker
3 Crackling Triton
1 Spellheart Chimera
1 Spearpoint Oread
1 Borderland Minotaur
1 Ill-Tempered Cyclops
1 Purphoros’s Emissary
1 Prescient Chimera
1 Stoneshock Giant
3 Magma Jet
2 Lightning Strike
1 Voyage’s End
1 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Griptide
1 Steam Augury
1 Rage of Purphoros

9 Mountains
8 Islands

Sideboard:
1 Fleetfeather Sandals
2 Akroan Crusader
1 Satyr Rambler
1 Deathbellow Raider
1 Fanatic of Mogis
1 Wild Celebrants
1 Titan’s Strength
1 Spark Jolt
2 Boulderfall
1 Sealock Monster
1 Mnemonic Wall
2 Fate Foretold
2 Stymied Hopes
1 Reaper of the Wilds
1 Fleshmad Steed

This was an extremely casual draft and only one other drafter at the table was in red, which is how I ended up with 10 removal/bounce spells. The first pack I opened was weak and I took Griptide over a Steam Augury that I thought might table (it didn’t). I then took a Lightning Strike over a Vaporkin, and then a Magma Jet, followed by a second one later in the pack. I also picked up a Steam Augury (not the one I opened) and a Spellheart Chimera (over a Flamespeaker Adept) later in the pack, both cards that I would have usually ignored if I hadn’t previously thought through what a U/R deck might look like. I opened Hammer of Purphoros in the second pack and obviously took it. (I learned later that another Hammer of Purphoros was dedrafted fourth pick by the person next to me; red was wide open.) The rest of the draft was more removal and whatever creatures I could pick up, including a couple of late Crackling Tritons.

The deck didn’t end up being quite the U/R spells deck I’d envisioned. It didn’t have any Flamespeaker Adepts (I saw 2 but took removal over one and a Spellheart Chimera over the other) and I would have preferred more Spellheart and Prescient Chimeras. However, the plethora of removal made it really strong and I ended up going 5-1 (10-2 in games) over the course of the evening.

Some things I learned:

  • Make sure to pick up an Annul or 2 for your sideboard because this deck has no other ways to deal with enchantments. Similarly, it’s a good idea to have a Wild Celebrants or 2 for your sideboard or even your maindeck, in case your opponents have a weapon of the gods or an aggressive start followed by a Prowler’s Helm.
  • All but one of the creatures in my deck had toughness >= 3 which largely invalidated any Pharika’s Cures and Magma Jets that my opponents were running. There are only a few blue or red creatures with toughness <= 2 that you really want to run anyway (Master of Waves, Nimbus Naiad, Vaporkin, Labyrinth Champion, and potentially Fanatic of Mogis), so it doesn't make sense to run cards like Spearpoint Oread since those provide targets for these removal spells.
  • In the summary of archetypes in THS/THS/THS, I’d theorized which cards would work well in this deck. I was wrong about a couple of them. There are many 5cc spells you’d prefer to run over Mnemonic Wall, like Prescient Chimera, Rage of Purphoros, and Wild Celebrants. Triton Fortune Hunter and Wavecrash Triton also don’t work well in this deck as it has a relatively low creature count, so you don’t want many spells that target your own creatures. Bestow creatures are often a good way to add targeting effects to your deck without increasing your spell count, but all the common bestow creatures have a toughness of 2, which is suboptimal for the reasons described above. Finally, there are many other creatures at 3cc that you’d rather run in this deck — Spellheart Chimera, Flamespeaker Adept, Crackling Triton, and Meletis Charlatan — all of which have a toughness of 3.

THS: Flamespeaker Adept

I’d evaluated Flamespeaker Adept as exceptional in both my original and updated evaluations. However, it’s never actually been stellar for me in practice because I’ve never had enough scry effects to go with it. I’ve wondered whether this is because I haven’t been valuing scry effects highly enough, whether I haven’t been in the right color pairs to make best use of the card, or whether it is unavoidable because Limited deck cannot run enough instants/sorceries to make good use of the card.

Here are the scry effects in Theros by color. They’re common instants with one-time effects unless otherwise noted:

  • White (2 commons + 1 uncommon): Battlewise Valor, Gods Willing, Vanquish the Foul (uncommon sorcery)
  • Blue (6 + 3 + 1 rare + 1 mythic): Aqueous Form (enchantment/recurring), Lost in Labyrinth, Omenspeaker (creature), Prescient Chimera (creature/recurring), Stymied Hopes, Voyage’s End, Dissolve (uncommon), Horizon Scholar (uncommon creature), Sea God’s Revenge (uncommon sorcery), Prognostic Sphinx (rare creature/recurring), Thassa God of the Sea (mythic enchantment creature/recurring)
  • Black (1): Read the Bones (sorcery)
  • Red (4 + 1): Portent of Betrayal (sorcery), Rage of Purphoros (sorcery), Spark Jolt, Titan’s Strength, Magma Jet (uncommon)
  • Green (0 + 1): Artisan’s Sorrow (uncommon)
  • Multicolor (0 + 1 + 1): Battlewise Hoplite (uncommon creature/recurring), Reaper of the Wilds (rare creature/recurring)
  • Artifact (0 + 1): Witches’ Eye (uncommon artifact/recurring)
  • Land (0 + 0 + 5): 5 Temples (rare lands)

I’m usually not excited to be playing Vanquish the Foul, Lost in Labyrinth, Stymied Hopes, Rage of Purphoros, Spark Jolt, or Witches’ Eye maindeck. Excluding those cards, blue has the most scry effects by far (13.7 in the average draft), followed by red (6) and white (4.8). Blue also has 5 of the 7 recurring scry effects in Theros: Aqueous Form, Prescient Chimera, Prognostic Sphinx, Thassa God of the Sea, and the multicolor Battlewise Hoplite. Perhaps most importantly, blue has all but 1 of the creatures with scry effects and it is these creatures that allow you to get a critical mass of scry effects while still running enough creatures.

It might be possible to draft an occasional R/W deck that makes good use of Flamespeaker Adept, but it seems that the best color pair for it is U/R, perhaps in a deck that also runs Spellheart Chimera, Mnemonic Wall, and Meletis Charlatan to take advantage of the higher than usual number of instants and sorceries in the deck. If you’re drafting that deck, keep an eye out for Aqueous Form and Prescient Chimera once you have a couple of Flamespeaker Adepts. (Aqueous Form turns Flamespeaker Adepts into an unblockable 4/3 that scrys on each attack, which seems strong in a format that has relatively little removal.) However, this deck is specific enough that Flamespeaker Adept probably just merits a rating of good rather than exceptional.

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: Rod of Ruin and Shrivel

I’ve never been quite sure how highly to take Rod of Ruin in M14 drafts. While it is reusable removal, it is also quite expensive. In my post on the B/R sacrifice deck, I’d determined that “27% of the must-kill creatures” and “23% of the flyers” in an average draft have 1 toughness. There is a bit of an overlap here, since both numbers include must-kill flyers, but it means that Rod of Ruin can kill about a quarter of the must-kill/flying creatures your opponent plays. M14 draft decks usually run about 12-16 creatures, so a typical deck will have 3-4 1-toughness creatures. Furthermore, the threat of activation is often sufficient to let you get creatures past blockers or to strand 1-toughness creatures in your opponent’s hand, and it can slowly ping away at your opponent if the board is stalled.

(Note: must-kill differs from my usual evaluation scale of bomb through unplayable. It means the creature can create problematic board states if it remains on the table. A creature like Goblin Shortcutter with a great enters-the-battlefield ability can be very playable but still not must-kill. Other less playable creatures like Striking Sliver and Nightwing Shade are must-kill because you can end up losing the game if you’re not able to deal with them in a timely manner. If your deck is sufficiently aggressive, you may be able to kill your opponent before these creatures become a problem, and so may need less removal. Note also that large flyers are not classified as must-kill unless they also possess problematic abilities, e.g., Archangel of Thune, since they can be gang blocked in theory. In practice, you usually either need a removal spell or a Deadly Recluse.)

I also want to know if Rod of Ruin is more likely to be effective against certain color pairs, so I know whether to side it in/out against certain decks, regardless of what I’ve seen them play so far. Partly, this is because of a recent game I played against a U/R deck. I didn’t see any 1-toughness creatures in game 1, so I reluctantly sided out the Rod of Ruin out for a Naturalize, and then found myself staring down 2 Academy Rectors and a Trained Condor.

Here’s an updated version of the spreadsheet I’d created for that post. This version also computes how many creatures you can expect to see of each type in a typical 8-person draft. It also includes additional columns that sum up the number of must-kill, not must-kill, flyers, non-flyers, and all creatures. Looking at the number of must-kill creatures by color, we see that red has the most by far (6.3) because of Academy Raider, Striking Sliver, Young Pyromancer, and Goblin Diplomat. Each color is typically shared by 3 players, so an average R/X deck will have 2.1 must-kill red creatures with a toughness of 1. That’s not a large number, but it still means you might want to consider keeping Rod of Ruin in against R/X decks, even if you haven’t seen a lot of problematic creatures. Red also has the highest total number of creatures with 1-toughness in an average 8-person draft (14.7), followed by black (11.1), white (9.9), blue (7.9), and green (6.0).

Shrivel also kills 1-toughness creatures, but on both sides of the table. Consequently, it ends up going very late and often languishes in sideboards. However, I think it is actually a reasonable sideboard against R/X decks, and especially against U/R tempo decks since it kills Goblin Shortcutter, Coral Merfolk, and Trained Condor. Shrivel is also a reasonable card to side in against Young Pyromancer or Sporemound, since it can kill the tokens they produce. However, you need to ensure that your deck doesn’t have too many 1-toughness creatures yourself, or that you delay playing some of them if you haven’t yet cast the Shrivel.

Why are we not also talking about Barrage of Expendables, Thorncaster Sliver, Festering Newt, and Wring Flesh, even though they also kill 1-toughness creatuers? I already talked about Barrage of Expendables previously, and part of the benefit of the card is that it lets you sacrifice creatures, not just that it does a point of damage. Thorncaster Sliver is usually surrounded by other Slivers and so will usually do more than 1 point of damage. Festering Newt trades with 2/2’s. And Wring Flesh is an excellent combat trick that I’ve heard compared to Giant Growth; while it can’t save a creature from Shock or do the last 3 points of damage to an opponent, instead it sometimes kill a 1-toughness creature.