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: Follow-up on Door of Destinies

While I had drafted Door of Destinies previously, I’d never had enough creatures of any given creature type to justify playing with it — until yesterday. I was drafting a W/B enchantments deck and opened Door of Destinies in pack 2. Normally, I would have taken the Sengir Vampire from that pack, but this was a very casual draft and I was in the right colors for a Humans deck, so I decided to give it a try, even though I only had 3 Humans at that point. (Only do this at home, kids!)

I ended up with 10 Humans: 4 Auramancers (to go with 3 Quag Sicknesses; yes, it was every bit as sick as it sounds), 3 Corpse Haulers, 2 Masters of Diversion, and 1 Blightcaster. I left a Dawnstrike Paladin and a Soulmender in the sideboard since they aren’t playable on their own merits; I wouldn’t want to draw either of them if I didn’t also have Door of Destinies. I also didn’t have any cards that cared about lifegain, and my card quality was ridiculously high besides; I had Corrupt, Wring Flesh, and Accursed Spirit sitting in my sideboard!

I went 4-1 over the course of the evening, losing only to a monoblack deck with Nightmare (and a Grim Return to get it back), Dark Prophecy, Rachet Bomb, and Corrupt, and a Diabolic Tutor to fetch the most relevant one. The Door of Destinies contributed to 2 game wins, although I might have won one of both of those games anyway. I was rarely unhappy to draw it since it would at least give my next Human +1/+1, and it usually did more. There was often a temptation to try to optimize the casting order (Door of Destinies, then Blightcaster, then Quag Sickness, and then Auramancer) to maximize the utility of the cards involved, but you have to withstand that temptation if your opponent has attackers that you can’t already block effectively; sometimes you have to play Auramancer on turn 3 with no Quag Sickness in the graveyard and a Door of Destinies in your hand.

One interesting combo that I noticed was that with a Corpse Hauler in your graveyard and another in play, you can sacrifice the one in play to get the other one back, and then play that one to add a counter to Door of Destinies. You can rinse and repeat as many times as your mana will allow, so you should probably draft Corpse Haulers a little higher if you’re drafting a W/B Humans deck with Door of Destinies. (Corpse Hauler also allows you to reuse Auramancers, which can be very powerful if you also have a Quag Sickness.) Door of Destinies also would have worked well with the Liliana’s Reaver in my deck if I had named Zombies, but I was never willing to do that since the Door would be useless if they dealt with the Reaver.

I want to emphasize again that this was a very casual draft. While none of the Humans in my deck are high picks (other than Blightcaster), you won’t usually be able to snag the 3 Quag Sicknesses and 3 Pacifisms that made my Auramancers so good. In other words, your mileage might vary. However, I think it is possible to use Door of Destinies in a W/B Humans deck as long as you prioritize picking Humans that are playable on their own merits. Also, Door of Destinies is not usually a good target for Diabolic Tutor since if you cast Diabolic Tutor on turn 4 and Door of Destinies on turn 5, you’re spending a lot of time doing nothing. Unless your opponent isn’t playing anything, save the Tutor for later to fetch a bomb or a removal spell.

M14: Reevaluating Sanguine Bond

In my post about the lifegain deck, I had evaluated Sanguine Bond as playable in the right deck. I had a great opportunity to test it out this weekend when I opened Sanguine Bond in pack 1 of 2 consecutive drafts and tried to build around it. I even drafted a late pick Congregate to go with it both times. Unfortunately, I lost in the first round of both drafts. Let’s try to figure out what went wrong, and whether we need to reevaluate Sanguine Bond.

The first draft was just terrible all around. The best cards in the second pack were Predatory Sliver, Manaweft Sliver, and Battle Sliver, with the best W/B card being a Divine Favor, so I took the Predatory Sliver, just in case Slivers ended up being open, and hoped that the Divine Favor would table (it didn’t). I got passed a Pacifism third pick, one of my favorite cards in W/B since it also triggers the cards that care about enchantments. Unfortunately, the person to my right was B/G and decided to switch to B/W after being passed a tenth-pick Celestial Flare. Blue was wide open, but I was trying to make the lifegain deck work, so I only picked up a late Time Ebb and a late Traumatize in the first 2 packs. While reviewing my picks at the end of pack 2, I realized that my deck was quite weak and had few win conditions, so I took the Jace Memory Adept I opened in pack 3, a Jace’s Mindseeker third pick (over Air Servant and Claustrophobia!), a Messenger Drake, a Millstone, and 2 Tome Scours, and passed the Angelic Accord I saw since I knew it was too late to make that deck work. The deck lacked early defense and sufficient playables, and rolled over to Predatory Slivers in 2 games.

The second draft went a little better. I drafted 2 Blightcasters to go with 6 enchantments. Unfortunately, at the end of the draft, my only lifegain was the aforementioned Congregate, a Divine Favor, and 2 Dawnstrike Paladins, and I really didn’t want to play the Dawnstrike Paladins. I did consider playing just the Sanguine Bond/Congregate combo since I had a Diabolic Tutor to fetch the missing half of the combo, but decided I would be very unhappy if I drew only 1 of those 3 cards. I was tempted by the fact the Sanguine Bond triggers the Blightcasters and that Congregate can swing some game, but decided that they weren’t good enough to merit inclusion, so I left them out and focused on building a W/B enchantments deck with a good mana curve. I lost round 1 again, but at least I got to win a game this time.

I still think Sanguine Bond is playable in the right deck, but I think you need to be very committed to making it work if you decide to go down that route. The only common lifegain cards in white and black that are good enough to play on their own merits are Divine Favor, Child of Night, and especially Mark of the Vampire, so you need to draft these cards highly, sometimes over better cards, even before you know whether you will be passed any of the other uncommons/rares/mythics that care about lifegain. Diabolic Tutor also goes up in value in this deck as it allows you to tutor for Sanguine Bond if you don’t draw it, or for Congregate or Corrupt if you do.

M14: The enchantments deck

Okay, now that we know how to value Angelic Accord and Path of Bravery, it’s time to get to a post I’ve been wanting to write since I first read the spoiler. White and black have 3 cards that get better if your deck has more enchantments: Auramancer (white common), Blightcaster (black uncommon), and Ajani’s Chosen (white rare). How early should you take these cards?

I believe that white and black also have the best common and uncommon enchantments, such as Pacifism and Quag Sickness, so I will only look at these colors when determining how viable the enchantments deck is. I will evaluate enchantments of other colors in another post in the near future, primarily to determine whether Solemn Offering and Naturalize are worth maindecking. It is worth noting that Auramancer works best with enchantments that are likely to end up in the graveyard (such as Quag Sickness) and Ajani’s Chosen works especially well with Auras that enhance your creatures (but not with removal Auras like Pacifism and Quag Sickness or non-creature Auras like Awaken the Ancient and Verdant Haven), so we will treat each of them a little differently.

This spreadsheet lists all enchantments in M14. Note that I have changed some of my evaluations since I first posted the list:

  • Angelic Accord and Sanguine Bond were TBD. After my last post, I now consider them conditional, since they are playable in the right deck.
  • Blessing: I’d initially evaluated this card as filler, but it’s actually dropped in my estimation since I feel that W/B decks in this format tend to run more swamps than plains, in order to maximize Quag Sickness and Corrupt. Also, it doesn’t confer evasion like Shiv’s Embrace or change the race like Mark of the Vampire can.
  • Quag Sickness: I’d initially evaluated this card as playable, but it’s risen in my estimate, partly since most black decks I’ve seen are W/B with more swamps than plains. This means that Quag Sickness can kill larger creatures than I’d expected, and can be retrieved by Auramancers.

The other table in the spreadsheet shows the enchantments pivoted by color, rarity, and my updated evaluation. Let’s consider the white and black enchantments that are not unplayable (minus Indestructibility, which you’ll only rarely sideboard) to see how well they work with each of the enchantments-matter cards:

  • Divine Favor (white common, playable): enhancing Aura
  • Pacifism (white common, exceptional): somewhat likely to end up in graveyard due to enchantment removal, bounce, or sacrifice effects
  • Angelic Accord (white uncommon, conditional): potentially playable since the lifegain deck is also usually W/B
  • Path of Bravery (white rare, exceptional)
  • Dark Favor (black common, playable): enhancing Aura, but I’d rather put it on a creature with evasion
  • Mark of the Vampire (black common, playable): enhancing Aura, but I’d rather put it on a creature with evasion
  • Quag Sickness (black common, exceptional): likely to end up in graveyard
  • Dark Prophecy (black rare, exceptional)
  • Sanguine Bond (black rare, conditional): potentially playable since the lifegain deck is also usually W/B

So there are 5 common, 1 uncommon, and 3 rare enchantments in W/B that are exceptional/playable/conditional, meaning that an average draft will have about 14 of them. All work well with Blightcaster and Ajani’s Chosen, but Divine Favor works especially well with Ajani’s Chosen (I’m likely to want the other enhancing Auras listed above on creatures with evasion rather than a vanilla 2/2). Auramancer mostly combos with Quag Sickness but can also return Pacifism or one of the 3 enhancing Auras if the enchanted creature dies. All 5 of these are common, so an average draft will have 12 of these cards.

Furthermore, many of these cards are not always high picks so you are likely to be able to get your hands on a fair number of them (Quag Sickness requires heavier black, Angelic Accord/Sanguine Bond are only playable in the W/B lifegain deck, and the enhancing Auras are not usually early picks). This means that it’s possible to pick up the enchantments-matter cards early since you are likely to be able to get enough enchantments to go with them over the course of the draft. Sometimes, of course, this won’t work out. In my most recent draft, I took a Blightcaster pack 1, pick 1, over a Battle Sliver. My final deck also had an Auramancer, but I only had 3 enchantments in my deck: a Quag Sickness, a Mark of the Vampire, and a Dark Favor. (I did see a second Quag Sickness but took a Shadowborn Demon over it, and I passed a Pacifism for a Imposing Sovereign.)

It’s much more difficult to do the opposite, since an average draft will have only about 4 cards that care about enchantments. However, most of the white and black enchantments are playable on their own merits, and if you already have a few of them, you can value the enchantments-matter cards more higher if you see them later in the draft.

M14: The lifegain deck

I tend to place fairly low value on cards that gain me life. Even if a card provides incidental lifegain, I won’t usually play it unless I would also play it if it didn’t have lifegain. However, M14 has a number of white, black, and green cards that benefit from lifegain. Are those cards powerful enough that they are worth playing? If so, what lifegain cards should you play to go with them?

M14 has 6 cards that benefit from lifegain: 4 in white, and 1 each in black and green:

  • Ajani Caller of the Pride (mythic): This is a bomb even if you don’t have any lifegain in your deck.
  • Angelic Accord (uncommon): Requires evaluation.
  • Archangel of Thune (mythic): This is a bomb even if you don’t have any lifegain in your deck.
  • Path of Bravery (rare): This seems very playable to me in aggressive decks. It forces your opponent to decide whether to attack you to reduce your life total so you don’t get the bonus, but that opens them up to a return strike that also gains you life. If they hold back, they have to block creatures with +1/+1, either immediately or when you have enough creatures and are ready to alpha strike. It seems less impressive in defensive decks, which are often willing to take hits early until they’re able to stabilize the board, and which win with fliers or large bombs and care less about Crusade effects.
  • Sanguine Bond (rare): Requires evaluation.
  • Voracious Wurm (uncommon): This is always at least a 2/2 for 2, so it’s definitely playable and probably exceptional since it can get very large if you have any lifegain to go with it.

Note that none of these cards are common, so if you’re building a deck that cares about lifegain, it’s because you already have one or more of these cards and not because you get passed Congregate. There are 2 cards each at uncommon, rare, and mythic, so the average draft will have 3.6 cards that care about lifegain.

Now let’s look at the cards that gain you life. This spreadsheet lists all the cards that allow you to gain life (including creatures with lifelink) and care about lifegain. The Cares About Lifegain column indicates whether the card cares about lifegain; if it contains a specific condition, then the card cares about how much life you gain or your life total, otherwise you get some effect regardless of your life total. The Lifegain column indicates how much life the cards allows you to gain; usually that’s a fixed number, but sometimes it depends on some other variable such as the number of creatures (#C) or the power of an enchanted creature (P+2). (The abbreviations used here are the same as the ones I used in my post on instant-speed tricks.) Highlighted cells indicate recurring lifegain: green highlight means there is no cost other than perhaps tapping the card, yellow highlight means a creature needs to attack (usually indicating lifelink), orange highlight means you need to put in a small effort (usually a mana cost, sometimes in addition to attacking), and red highlight means you need to sacrifice a creature or discard a card.

Pivoting by color, rarity, and quality, and looking at all common and uncommons that are not marked as sideboard/unplayable shows that black has the best lifegain cards, followed by white and then green:

  • Black: Child of Night and Mark of the Vampire at common are both playable. At uncommon, Corrupt is very playable in a heavy black deck but is a one-time effect and Gnawing Zombie is also quite good but not a reliable source of lifegain since you don’t usually want to sacrifice creatures just to trigger the cards above.
  • White: At common, Divine Favor is playable, but Soulmender and Dawnstrike Paladin are less exciting. At uncommon, we have Stonehorn Chanter and Congregate. White Stonehorn Chanter is occasionally playable just because it’s a 4/4 for 6 mana, I don’t really consider it a lifegain card because you have to pay an additional 6 mana to give it lifelink, which doesn’t usually make sense if you have any other options. Congregate doesn’t excite me either since it doesn’t affect the board, even though it has the potential to gain a lot of life. However, it will almost certainly trigger Angelic Accord, bring you above your starting life total for Path of Bravery, can result in huge Voracious Wurms, and is likely to kill your opponent if you have Sanguine Bond in play, so it might be playable if you have enough cards that care about lifegain.
  • Green: Verdant Haven is playable and Brindle Boar is filler.
  • Artifact: None. However, Bubbling Cauldron and Elixir of Immortality may be playable if you have enough cards that care about lifegain since both of them gain you enough life to trigger Angelic Accord.

Based on this, it looks like any lifegain deck would have to be W/B, since white has the cards that care about lifegain and black has the best lifegain cards. A W/G or B/G deck might be possible if you get the right mix of cards, but it seems unlikely. Also, Verdant Haven, Brindle Boar, and Scavenging Ooze (a rare) are not cards you usually want to splash, but you might be able to splash Voracious Wurm or Primeval Bounty (a mythic). If you’re not building a lifegain deck, you can still play the better green lifegain cards on their own merits in a G/X deck and just treat your occasional 4/4 Voracious Wurm as gravy. (Mmm, wurm gravy. :))

Now let’s consider whether Angelic Accord is playable. Here are the commons and uncommons that allow you to gain 4+ life on their own:

  • White: Solemn Offering (common), Congregate (uncommon), Stonehorn Chanter (uncommon, recurring)
  • Black: Mark of the Vampire (common, recurring), Corrupt (uncommon)
  • Green: Brindle Boar (common)
  • Artifact: Bubbling Cauldron (uncommon, recurring), Elixir of Immortality (uncommon)

Of these, Mark of the Vampire and Corrupt and the only ones I’d be happy to have in my maindeck. (I’ll do another analysis later to determine whether Solemn Offering is maindeckable, but I’m going to assume it’s not for now.) I’d only play the others if I had at least 4 cards that care about lifegain, and that seems unlikely since we’ve already determined that an average draft will contain 3.6 of these cards. So, having an Angelic Accord or two won’t cause me to value the other lifegain cards any more than I usually would, because I don’t want to draw them if I don’t draw any cards that care about lifegain.

Finally, let’s talk about Sanguine Bond. It can be pretty insane with either Corrupt or Congregate, which both become win-the-game spells in many cases if Sanguine Bond stays on the table. Also, there are only 2 enchantment removal spells in the set, Solemn Offering and Naturalize, and neither of them are incidental (like Kami of Ancient Law), so people are unlikely to maindeck them unless the enchantments in the format are particularly scary. If I draft a Sanguine Bond early, I would start looking to pick up Congregate, Bubbling Cauldron, and Elixir of Immortality in the second half of the pack, but never over cards that care about lifegain and only rarely above other good cards.

To summarize, focused lifegain decks will usually be W/B, possibly splashing Voracious Wurm or Primeval Bounty. You want to go in that direction only if you are being passed the cards that care about lifegain, not because you’re being passed good lifegain cards (although you can still draft and play ones that are playable on their own merits), since there are fewer cards that care about lifegain. If you manage to get 4+ cards that care about lifegain, you can start picking up cards like Congregate, Bubbling Cauldron, Elixir of Immortality, and Trading Post which you would not normally want to play. (And, of course, you can pick some of them up if it’s early in the draft and you already have 2-3 of these cards.)

M14: Humans

Humans are interesting as a tribe in M14 for 2 reasons: Door of Destinies (dicussed in my last post) and Xathrid Necromancer. While both cards are rare, you want to know if they’re sufficiently powerful in the right deck that they’re worth drafting early as a speculative pick.

Gatherer shows that most of the Humans in M14 are in white and black. Blue and red each have only one Human at common and another at uncommon/rare, and there are no green or artifact Humans. (Before you laugh, Magic actually has 16 artifact Humans, all but one from the Shards of Alara block.)

Of white’s 8 Humans, 5 are common, 1 is uncommon, and 2 are rare. Of black’s 5 Humans, 2 are common, 1 is uncommon, and 2 are rare. This spreadsheet sorts them by mana cost and lists my prior evaluation of them (I’ve changed my evaluation of Capashen Knight from unplayable to filler). Unfortunately, we have yet to determine how good several of the cards are because we have yet to determine how good enchantments and lifegain effects in M14 are. I will get to that in my next few posts. Meanwhile, I’m going to assume that Soulmender and Dawnstrike Paladin are filler, that Auramancer is playable (it works especially well with Quag Sickness, also a common), and that Blightcaster is exceptional (most colors have several good common/uncommon enchantments).

We can see that the common white and black Humans are either playable or filler, with only Shadowborn Apostle being completely unplayable. While you wouldn’t be excited if those were the only creatures in your deck, you’d probably do quite well if you had a couple of the uncommon/rare Humans and some removal. So I believe Xathrid Necromancer is quite playable and worth spending an early pick on. However, I would probably take most white or black removal spells over it since those would be exceptional in any W/B deck and not just a W/B Humans deck. Also, a sizeable amount of the removal in this set is in the form of enchantments, which makes any future Blightcasters, Auramancers, and Ajani’s Chosens you draft better.