OGW: Allies

http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/allies-in-oath-of-the-gatewatch-draft examines how Allies archetypes have changed with the addition of Oath of the Gatewatch, and looks at whether Malakir Soothsayer might be less playable than it seems.

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BFZ: Deconstructing W/U skies

There’s been some hype about the W/U skies archetype. However, the fliers in this format are relatively inefficient compared to recent sets and there are no good 2-drop fliers for the deck. Let’s crunch some numbers to determine whether there are enough cards available to support this archetype in a typical 8-person draft, which of these cards you’re competing with other decks for, whether there’s a need to prioritize flyers/defense/removal, and whether we need to focus on any particular converted mana costs while drafting the deck.

Let’s start by looking at all the colorless, white, blue, and W/U cards that I think are good options for this deck. The cards are divided into 4 categories, each with it’s own table: flying/evasion, defense, removal/tempo, and other (primarily cards that help you win faster or survive longer). Within a category, cards are organized by rarity and converted mana cost. The highlight indicates the card’s color(s): gray is used for colorless/artifact cards, yellow is used for white cards, blue is used for blue cards, and light blue is used for W/U cards. Monocolored cards require only one colored mana of their color unless indicated otherwise, so you can determine the mana cost of a card based on its color and converted mana cost. Cards with awaken have both costs indicated but are usually listed in the column for their awaken cost; since they are all in the removal or other categories, they are rarely cast on curve anyway. A thick border indicates that a card is playable by all other archetypes that share this color, a thins border indicates that a card is playable by some but not all of those archetypes, and no border means that the card will usually only be played by W/U skies.


From the table, we see that an 8-person draft has an average of about 17 fliers (plus Angelic Gift and Coralhelm Guide), 19 defensive cards, 20 removal/tempo cards, and 14 other cards. Let’s assume that there are 3 people in each color but that no one else is drafting W/U skies. In that case, we can expect to get roughly a third of the cards with thick borders, roughly half of the cards with thin borders, and most of the cards with no border. Adding up the numbers gives us “E(in final pool)”, the rough number of cards we expect to end up with given our assumptions: 11 fliers (plus 2-3 copies each of Angelic Gift and Coralhelm Guide), 11 defensive creatures, 11 removal/tempo spells, and 7 other spells. So it is possible to draft enough cards for a W/U skies deck, possibly even if you’re competing with another W/U drafter.

There are many flyers and defensive cards that cost 5+ mana, so you should focus on 2-, 3-, and 4-drops when drafting, especially since you want to start casting spells for their awaken cost once you have 5-6 mana available. There are no good 2-mana flyers in this format, so you should try to pick up some defensive 2-drops or, in their absence, any other playable 2-drops.

Why is W/U skies a powerful deck in this format even though the fliers are not that efficient? I think it’s because the deck can take advantage of spells with awaken better than most of the other decks in the format. With an aggressive draw, it can cast them without awaken for tempo. If the games goes longer, the 3/3 or 4/4 bodies are not that impressive on offense, but can gum up the ground long enough for your flyers to finish the job.

BFZ: W/B lifegain vs. W/B Allies

Battle for Zendikar has a number of lifegain cards, as well as cards that get better if you have lifegain, primarily in white and in black. Are there enough such cards for a lifegain archetype in this format? To what extent does the archetype overlap with W/B Allies? And is W/B the only possible color combination for the archetype?

Let’s start by listing the lifegain cards in the set, as well as those that get better with lifegain. Cards in yellow highlight are Allies and cards in bold provide repeatable lifegain. Each card is preceded by its cost and followed by the cost/description of the effect (no cost means the effect occurs when the card is cast).


All the lifegain in the set is either incidental (i.e., it does something besides gain you life) or repeatable. All cards that care about lifegain are creatures, most of which get bigger or gain an ability when you gain life. Kalastria Nightwatch is perhaps the most powerful non-rare among these since it’s essentially a Dragon if you have enough lifegain effects, while Nirkana Assassin is the worst since its lifegain trigger is unimpressive. Felidar Sovereign is the only one that cares about the amount of life gained.

Most of the lifegain cards in the set are white, and most of the cards that care about lifegain are black, so the deck will almost always be W/B. (Green has 3 lifegain cards but none of them are common.) If you draft a powerful white card from the list above, you may want to take a black card over a similarly powered card in another color, and if you draft a powerful black card from the list, you may want to lean towards drafting white as your second color. In a typical draft, white and black will each provide access to about 12 cards across the 2 categories, so the deck is likely to be balanced between the 2 colors and can include cards with WW or BB in their mana cost.

A W/B drafter at an 8-person draft has access to an average of 19.5 lifegain cards and 8.3 cards that care about lifegain. If you exclude the unimpressive Nirkana Assassin, the latter category has only 5.9 cards, making it difficult to reliably draft this deck, so you should only enter this archetype if you already have a couple of cards that care about lifegain, and you should prioritize them when drafting the archetype.

In a typical draft, 28% of lifegain cards and 80% of cards that care about lifegain are Allies, so even if a lifegain deck does not have any rally effects, it will almost certainly have a number of Allies. Conversely, 23% of W/B Allies have lifegain effects and 28% of them get better with lifegain, so a W/B Allies deck will likely have some cards from the list above, even if there are no synergies around lifegain. This means that if you’re drafting either W/B lifegain or W/B Allies, you can take cards for the other deck since you’re likely to have enough support for them. Looking beyond the numbers, Kalastria Healer, Drana’s Emissary, and Zulaport Cutthroat are quite powerful in both decks, so it’s clear that there is a significant overlap between the 2 decks.

Given the small number of cards that get better with lifegain, these cards are more likely to be drafted as a subtheme in a W/B Allies deck rather than as a separate archetype. When a draft has enough cards to support a dedicated lifegain deck, it is likely to look like a Skies deck, with Drana’s Emissary, Malakir Familiar, and Courier Griffin attacking in the air while Stone Haven Medic stalls the ground, and Kalastria Nightwatch switching between these roles as necessary. In that deck, lifegain can also buy you time, while life drain effects provide reach if your opponent manages to neutralize your fliers.

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.

ORI: G/W renown vs. R/W renown

The renown archetype in Magic Origins is usually thought of as G/W, but I’ve often felt that R/W is a better color pair for renown because red has more ways to get the renown creatures through, e.g., Subterranean Scout, Enthralling Victor, and Seismic Elemental. The only renown deck I’ve drafted so far was monowhite so I don’t have experience with either G/W or R/W renown, but let’s see if the numbers agree with my intuition.

The table below lists the white, red, and green cards in the set that either have renown (highlighted) or that can help renown creatures deal combat damage to your opponent, along with their cost and quality.

All 3 colors have similar numbers of renown creatures: 2-3 commons, 2 uncommons, and 1-2 rares. If we exclude unplayable (x), filler (~), sideboard (S), and TBD (?) cards, we get the following numbers:

  • White: 8 commons + 6 uncommons + 2 rares + 1 mythic = average of 25.6 cards in an 8-person draft, 7.4 of which are renown creatures
  • Red: 4 commons + 3 uncommons + 3 rares = average of 13.5 cards, 1.3 of which are renown creatures
  • Green: 5 commons + 3 uncommons + 1 rare = average of 15.1 cads, 7.0 of which are renown creatures

Based on these numbers, it appears my intuition was incorrect. G/W is a better color combination than R/W for a renown deck (and R/G is not feasible at all) for multiple reasons:

  • Green has far more playable renown creatures than red. This is especially important because there are only about 16 good renown creatures in a typical 8-person draft. Many of these are playable in other archetypes, and you may also be competing with another renown drafter, so this is the scarcest resource for the deck.
  • Green has the only 2-drop with renown other than Topan Freeblade. (It is an uncommon, however, so there are an average of only 0.9 copies of it in an 8-person draft, and it is not likely to be passed by other green drafters.)
  • Green has fewer support cards than red, but that is not the limiting factor in a renown deck since each color has more support cards than it has renown creatures. Also, white has as many support cards as red and green combined, so you should rarely lack support cards.

Red’s main advantage is that its support cards allow your creatures to get through instead of just winning combat, but that’s irrelevant if you don’t have enough good renown creatures. And if you don’t, some of the red support cards are considerably less impressive, while green’s solid creatures and combat tricks are more likely to leave you with a playable deck.

ORI: Follow-up on the enchantments deck

Shortly after concluding that an 8-person ORI/ORI/ORI draft cannot support an enchantments deck, I ended up drafting an Esper control deck with a minor enchantment subtheme.

Creatures (16):
– 2cc: 2 Screeching Skaab
– 3cc: 2 Scrapskin Drake, 2 Deadbridge Shaman, 2 Auramancer
– 4cc: 2 Separatist Voidmage, Tower Geist, Returned Centaur
– 5cc: Priest of the Blood Rite, Ringwarden Owl, Totem-Guide Hartebeest
– 6cc: Skaab Goliath

Non-creatures (6):
– 2cc: Swift Reckoning
– 3cc: Claustrophobia
– 4cc: Suppression Bonds, 2 Weight of the Underworld, Consecrated by Blood

Lands (18): 2 Evolving Wilds, 7 Islands, 6 Swamps, 3 Plains

Sideboard (18):
– Artifact: Alchemist’s Vial
– White: Healing Hands, 2 Yoked Ox
– Blue: Artificer’s Epiphany, Bone to Ash, Calculated Dismissal, Faerie Miscreant, Hydrolash, Nivix Barrier
– Black: Infinite Obliteration, Nightsnare, Rabid Bloodsucker
– Green: Dwynen Gilt-Leaf Daen, Llanowar Empath, Orchard Spirit, Might of the Masses, Sylvan Messenger

I first picked Priest of the Blood Rite over Whirler Rogue, followed by Swift Reckoning over Anchor to the AEther, and then Suppression Bonds over Separatist Voidmage. All of these were close calls that I expect others might disagree with. Unsurprisingly, the person to my left went blue after being passed 3 strong blue cards. When I saw a 4th pick Tower Geist, I decided I needed to be in blue, even though I realized that I’d probably already put the person to my left into blue. Unfortunately, he also went into black after opening Liliana, Heretical Healer in pack 2, so I didn’t get many good cards in either of my primary colors in that pack.

I ended up going 1-2 in matches with this deck (it was a casual draft where you can continue to play after you lose). Some of it was because I was in the same colors as the person to my left, some of it was due to the color issues associated with playing a 3-color deck, and some of it was because the deck couldn’t handle fast starts backed up by 1-2 removal spells, but some of it was also due to bad luck (multiple mulligans and multiple opponents with Gilt-Leaf Winnower). With better luck, this deck is probably capable of going 2-1.

Some lessons from the draft:

  • U/B/w is a good color combination for an enchantments deck. While W/B may seem like the natural color combination for this archetype, blue provides Claustrophobia and Separatist Voidmage, and most of the white cards in the deck (Totem-Guide Hartebeest, Suppression Bonds, Auramancer) work well even if they are in the splash color.
  • Totem-Guide Hartebeest is even better than I’d expected. Not only does it find you a removal spell, the 2/5 body is so relevant that I began to wonder if Catacomb Slug might be playable in this format. When I also had an Auramancer in hand, I would usually get Weight of the Underworld so I could kill multiple creatures.
  • Returned Centaur was also surprisingly good. It can block the numerous 2/2’s and 3/3’s in the format and can’t be killed by most of the removal in the format. And with 5 enchantments in the deck, there’s a 36% probabiility that this will put an enchantment in the graveyard for Auramancer to retrieve. (Obviously, the probability goes down if you draw a higher than average number of enchantments before playing it, and goes up if you draw a lower than average number.)
  • Screeching Skaab provides a much-needed 2-drop for the deck and has a 22% chance of putting an enchantment in the graveyard.
  • Consecrated by Blood was very weak in this deck and was sided out every match. I’d thought it might be a good finisher, but it doesn’t belong in a control deck.

ORI: The enchantments deck

Magic Origins has a number of cards that get better if your deck has enchantments/auras. Other than Helm of the Gods and Herald of the Pantheon, all these cards are white and/or black.

  • Helm of the Gods, Blessed Spirits, Sigil of the Empty Throne, Blightcaster, Herald of the Pantheon, and Blood-Cursed Knight get better if you’re playing more enchantments.
  • Totem-Guide Hartebeest gets better if you’re playing more auras.
  • Auramancer and Starfield of Nyx get better if you’re playing more enchantments that are likely to end up in your graveyard (usually black removal auras).

Next, let’s look at all the enchantments that are might be playable. The usual evaluation key applies: B means bomb, + means exceptional, / means playable, ~ means filler/conditional, ? means I don’t know yet, and I’ve left out sideboard/unplayable cards. Cards are commons unless specified otherwise, and underlined cards are auras.

  • White: Grasp of the Hieromancer (?), Suppression Bonds (/), Knightly Valor (+, uncommon), Sigil of the Empty Throne (?, rare)
  • Blue: Claustrophobia (/), Stratus Walk (/), Sphinx’s Tutelage (?, uncommon), Thopter Spy Network (R, bomb)
  • Black: Infernal Scarring (~), Weight of the Underworld (~), Consecrated by Blood (~, uncommon)
  • Red: Molten Vortex (B, rare)
  • Green: – (all green enchantments are unplayable)

Things don’t look promising: green has no playable enchantments, red has 1 at rare, and black has 3 but they’re all filler (although I did lose to Consecrated by Blood last week, so maybe I’m undervaluing it). White has 1 common and 1 uncommon, for an average of 3.3 playable enchantments in an 8-person draft. Blue has 2 commons and 1 rare, for an average of 5.2 playable enchantments. Other than Stratus Walk, the playables are not likely to be passed by drafters in those colors. If we assume 3 drafters at the table are in each color, then you can expect to get passed 1.1 playable white enchantments and 3.3 playable blue enchantments. Even if we’re W/U and draft all 4.4 playable enchantments in our colors, we can only expect to draw 1 enchantment most games.

Based on this computation, the enchantments theme appears to be a trap. Helm of the Gods, Sigil of the Empty Throne, and Blightcaster are unplayable. Blessed Spirits, Herald of the Pantheon, and Blood-Cursed Knight are playable on their own merits, but if you’re playing Herald of the Pantheon or Blood-Cursed Knight, you’re probably not W/U and so you’re likely to have even fewer enchantments. Most of the playable enchantments are auras, so Totem-Guide Hartebeest is a reasonable draft pick if you have some auras in your deck, especially the removal auras. However, the only enchantment likely to end up in your graveyard regularly is Weight of the Underworld, so Auramancer and Starfield of Nyx are not worth drafting either.

If we assume that Grasp of the Hieromancer, Sigil of the Empty Throne, and Sphinx’s Tutelage are also playable but not valued outside this archetype, then you can expect to get passed 3.9 playable white enchantments and 4.2 playable blue enchantments. However, even if you’re in W/U and draft all 8 of these cards, you only end up with 3 enchantments, so my conclusions above don’t change.

In short, you’re unlikely to be able to draft enough enchantments to build this archetype in an 8-person ORI/ORI/ORI draft. However, Blessed Spirits and Totem-Guide Hartebeest are still playable, especially if you’re W/U.