Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Pile Lowering

In the game of Dominion, a question which often needs to be asked (admittedly, I don't see it getting asked all that much, part of why I want to write this article) is "When do I want to lower piles (or not)?" This is a bit of a tricky question to answer in the abstract sense, as every situation is different, but there are some general principles which can help you out - principles which I often see violated.

  1. If you have a forced win by emptying piles, take it.

    This one's pretty straightforward, though sometimes a bit hard to see. Knowing which piles are low, and your capability of scoring points while simultaneously emptying piles, can help. This is something to think about at the start of your turn. Awareness helps a lot.
  2. The player with the higher-quality deck wants the piles to be higher

    The reasoning here is fairly straightforward. The longer the game goes, the more the player with the better deck is able to enjoy the advantage offered to her by said better deck. A lot of people think that lowering piles helps the player who is ahead in points - this is generally true, but not hugely so. Usually better deck quality aligns with lower in points, but in the cases that isn't true, the player who is doubly behind usually likes lowering the piles, because there is a better chance of some fluke making the difference in a short game (one unlikely-but-possible dud hand, say).

    Perhaps more commonly, I see players start to lower some piles to "set up the win next turn" or two turns down the line, etc. This can be fine, and it's usually winning, but people are often in much more of a rush to do so than they should be, i.e. it increases their chance to lose.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


Duke is one of the most classic "alternate" victory point cards, dating all the way back to Intrigue. The complex of Duchy+Duke is also worth an enormous amount of points - potentially at least, the most possible on most of the boards upon which it appears, even more than the stack of Colonies. While there are occasionally some diverse applications for the card, the price point of $5 usually puts it out of range of rushes, and the sheer count of green cards you need for it to be effective usually disqualifies it from engines, meaning that by far its most common home is in a Slog style of deck. Let's dive in.

Duchy or Duke? Get the order right.

It doesn't take much math to figure out that, for a given number of 5-cost Victory cards, the number of points you have is maximized when Number of Duchies = Number of Dukes +3. This leads a lot of players early on to getting 3-4 Duchies and then alternating between Duchies and Dukes. This is almost always the wrong move. The reason for this is that you don't care about how many points you have right now, you care about how many points you are going to have when the game is over. And since Duchy is, on its own, a better card than Duke, you want to build up your Duchies first. If we assume we are against a Province-seeking opponent, we are looking to win the game by locking up more points than they can muster before they end it by piling out the provinces. 8 Provinces is 48 points, and to match that, we need 11 Duchy/Dukes - most optimally spaced at 7 Duchy + 4 Duke = 49 points. Thus, a rough rule of thumb is to get 7 Duchies before turning for Dukes. Not uncommonly, you'll actually go for all 8, since that is better still against an opponent that might snipe a Duchy from under you. Similarly, there are some cases where you flip for Duke a little sooner - for instance if the opponent can use Trash-for-Benefit cards to "Mill" Provinces out of the supply.

Also worth mentioning here is that, given that your opponent is playing for Provinces, you actually don't want to get Provinces of your own, even if you spike $8 for one. Just get the Duchy. It will probably be worth more points in the long run, but more importantly than that, it helps them reach their end-goal of ending the game on the Province pile much more than it advances your points lock.

Beating the Slog

There are a couple of main methods you have of trying to defeat a Duke slog.
Option one is to go over the top. A Duchy/Duke player is counting on their complex of those two cards to overpower anything else you might be doing by just being so hugely many points as to lock you out. If you can tap into a bigger wellspring, then this plan is suddenly going to look a lot less attractive to them - now they need to actually drain both piles as well as a third; you've taken inevitability away from them. Colonies are a big way to do this, nearly always invalidating the slog's plan. Jumping from $8 to $11, it turns out, is just not as big a deal as needing to go from 11 to 16 victory cards (all those extra junk cards really deteriorate the deck). While all the D/Ds would technically score more than all the Colonies, Colony player can take some Provinces or even just one duchy to flip that around. Another big way of going over the top is with VP Tokens. Golden decks score 4 points per turn in perpetuity, and with chewing provinces down a little, it can get there in a bit under 20 turns; Multi-Goons hands can easily score WAY more than any green card, and even single Goons or some Monuments, when combined with Provinces, can overcome the deficiencies of Provinces alone - though to be fair, those cards can work with Duke, too, if you can't build a deck to really capitalize on them by playing them more often. Finally, other Alt-VP cards are usually going to help a Province-seeking player against a Duke-seeking adversary. The reason for this is that the Duke player simply isn't going to have so much opportunity to buy them. If I am going for Duchy or Duke every time I hit 5, how often am I really going to be buying Gardens? While on the other hand, Gardens plus Province can, combined, go toe-to-toe with Duchies and Dukes - in short, more points just move the goal-posts, and that's not good for a player seeking to lock the opponent out on points.

The other main option is to be faster. This could mean a rush, but usually we're talking more about emptying the Provinces quickly, and the main way to do that is with a mega-turn strategy. All 8 Provinces at once is ideal, but over the course of 2-4 turns is still often going to be good enough, if you can do that reasonably quickly. Horn of Plenty is okay here, but you need very good draw for that, as you really need to empty ALL the provinces. Something like Bridges really hit the spot, though, letting you clamp down with a powerful air of finality.
"Normal" engines can get there, but they need to be pretty strong. The point here is that you need to get all the provinces, which means at some point you're going to be carrying 6 of those clunkers around in your deck. Typical engines are not built to be able to handle that. If you do want to go this route, you want to make sure you want to build "extra" before you start greening. If your engine is incredibly resilient (or if you're playing a super resilient Province-seeking Money deck, which is rare), you can even try to snipe some Duchies from your D&D opponent. It's very uncommon for this to come up, as it is going to be too much of a detriment for the engine almost always, but it does keep the D&D player "honest" - if they spend too long picking up money and neglect locking down their Duchies, you can start to give them problems.


A very large thing in the mirror match is winning the Duchy split. With more Duchies, you have more points already, each of your Dukes is worth more, and each of their Dukes is worth less. It's just absolutely vital. A 5-3 Duchy split means that even if Dukes go 3-5 the other way, you'll still have a 6 point lead. 6-2 and forget about it - even 1-7 on Dukes wouldn't make up the deficit. So in short, it's pretty important to not lose the split.

Having said that, you also need a plan for after the Duchies go. Sometimes, that's barreling into Dukes headlong ASAP. But usually it's a little bit more subtle. The thing is, in order to not lose the split, you probably greened pretty early, which means that when the last Duchy comes off the table, your deck is probably pretty terrible. Furthermore, being able to spike a province, or even a few provinces, is a big swing when the split was close. And if there isn't a third pile being depleted, there will almost surely be time for some provinces. Dragging out 8 estates is just really miserable (though occasionally correct). So unless there is a spammable or dropped third pile, usually the next thing to do after Duchies go is to spend a little time building - being opportunistic on price points, of course, as you generally should be when you're in the Money Density regime.


As is generally true of slogs, we're in the money density regime, which means that treasures are just good cards. We want to hit $5 a lot here, and because we need to worry about the split, we tend to green pretty fast, which means our Money Density is pretty consistently staying below $1/card. Silvers help to bolster that a lot, and of course Golds do tremendously, though usually you aren't going to have time for lots of golds (Hoard  and Soothsayer do say hello, though). And since the deck is so bad and constantly adding green cards, Copper tends to be good, too. However, I have said this quite a bit in the past, and people tend to make too much of it. Copper tends to be a good card in these decks, but it isn't great. Against discard attacks, you usually don't want it. If you are in the mode where you're going to be looking to spike Provinces, hold off. Woodcutter variants tend to be pretty good because they let you get these coppers, but that isn't the hugest deal. Horse Traders is better, since you often have green to discard, and usually your best two cards will get you the 2 you need to make 5. Feast can help, especially if you need a third pile, though it's not stellar. Any silver-gainers tend to be quite good. Duchess, as you might expect, helps as well. Trashing attacks tend to wreck you pretty hard - trashing just one Duchy does huge damage.

Example Logs
In this game, we've got a pretty classic match-up of slog vs engine. I have Count and Nomad Camp as enablers, he has Forager to trash down and indeed to try to contest Duchies, being able to trash them later. If he's able to do enough of this, then I will have to get a third pile empty beyond D&D, which is going to take me quite a while (either Nomad Camp or more likely Estate are the prime choices here). Indeed, he's able to get 3, which is kind of the key number here. The problem is, once he trashes all of those out, I can still overcome all the provinces with only 12 D&D - which means he needs to keep some around, but his deck can't afford that fast enough. In the end, he's probably better served by hauling towards all the provinces faster - indeed, even as was, he ends the game with 7 - though in balance, Count is a better enabler when it can straight-up gain Duchy.
Here, I focus on treasures to slog. Mandarin is a pretty nice enabler, providing a good chunk of money and control over your draw to try to hit 5-5-5-5 more often. My opponent largely follows suit, but picks up some Nobles, an Expand, and even (most egregiously) a Vagrant over a Silver. Nobles is a fine card to have, but you have to look at your alternatives - it could have been a Gold (and at some points, Duchies). Expand is also a fine card, but not great - your deck is largely full of coppers, silvers, D&D, none of which are really great Expand targets. So it's great if you can get it with your estates, but you're not hugely likely to do that reliably enough. And Vagrant is good, but even drawing 2 cards EVERY time wouldn't be much if any better than a silver, and of course the Vagrant will still miss often.
In this game, my opponent is able to get out to a lead in Silvers, which improves his longevity. I have to dive Duchy pretty fast to not lose the split, but where that leaves us is with his deck being quite a bit better than mine for the next phase. Crucially, as discussed above, he is able to get a couple Provinces, and this makes it so that me winning the Dukes doesn't really matter. Bureaucrat is a quite good card in these slogs, but it's not so huge to be able to overcoming such a big deficit. (No, I'm not sure how I could have played better, but probably I could have - the second BCrat is probably a mistake? And maybe I can look at building more, even risking losing the split??)

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Combo of the Day: Upgrade + Fortress

I'm posting this one because I've seen it a few times in the last month or two, and people seem to be unaware of it.

It's pretty simple, and very fast. You just want to trash down as thin as possible, as fast as possible, pick up some Upgrades, a couple Fortresses, and if you can, some draw. Then, having drawn your deck, Upgrade your Fortress into Upgrade repeatedly, until the pile is gone. From there, you can either cash in for 6s, or continue on to other 5s. The important thing is to be very aware of what your opponent can do, because usually you aren't going to be able to finish until a turn after the Upgrades run. Golds are about the worst payoff you might go for, and even here it's enough cash to be quite decent. More often, there will be some pile that empties, or another spammable 5. The plan, usually, is to pile out the Duchies in one fell swoop, scoring 18-24 points, emptying 3 piles, and winning the game.

It's kind of hard to play this perfectly (or maybe I'm just bad at it), and it's pretty hard to play around. Yes, you need to be aware of what your opponents are doing, but honestly, you just don't have tons of counterplay besides trying to be faster.


Friday, 30 October 2015

Dominion: Treasure Map

Treasure Map is one of the most misunderstood cards in all Dominion. Often cited as the prime example of a card which going for can sometimes bring a weaker player a luck-based win even when it's not the optimal strategy, it is actually a card which is fairly high-skill, and which by its presence will lead the better player to win more often.

The Level Zero Strategy

The most basic thing people do with Treasure Map is buy two as fast as they can, maybe get a third to help them collide, buy some treasures, and then use the golds off the collision to rumble in for Provinces.

This is a bad strategy. A really bad strategy.

In fact, the optimal play with Treasure Map and no other cards on board barely defeats not getting Maps at all. If this were all that was going on for a given board, then it really would come down to luck in if the Map player collides fast enough. (On the other hand, that's not really much different than straight Big Money, where it's all about how well that money clumps together).

Fortunately, there is almost always something better available on the board. And the big point here is that even when the Map player collides immediately, on the vast majority of boards, the other strategy is STILL going to beat this naive one. There is just so much else you can be doing, and four Golds is not really enough to finish the game out without support.

The Level One Strategy

The next step is to add in cards to help your Maps line up with consistency, greatly accelerating when they collide and give you the pay-off. The classical combos here are Haven, Warehouse, and Chapel (though to be fair, Chapel tends to help other things more). This is way stronger than the level zero strategy, and has enough raw power to be more or less correct on a non-trivial, if still small, number of boards.

Four golds probably still isn't enough, but a key point for this strategy is that the helper card helps you to smooth out later draws as well - this is the classical purpose of Haven, if you notice, and one of the main roles of sifters - at least in money-based or "good stuff" decks.

Still, this strategy tends to not be terribly strong, because though it has some punch, it isn't anything special - just a decent version of Big Money, and not even a great one.

The Best Usage

All this might lead you to think that Treasure Map just isn't a very good card and that you can pretty much ignore it. For the most part, you would be right. But there really are some cases in which it can be key. I am taking about cost-caring trash-for-benefit cards a la Salvager and most especially, Bishop. In this case, Maps are basically a way to use 2 buys and $8 to get 4 6-cost cards of value to trash.

In order for this to work, you need a very potent engine - you're gaining 4 golds with this every turn, and what's more, you're putting them on top of your deck. You need a lot of drawing power in order to break through all those stop cards. This tends to be pretty slow to set up. But if you can get it going, this really is a lot of fuel. For this reason, Bishop really is the best combination - the Golds provide you with a huge source of points to overcome even a big deficit of green cards, and the player who is trying to buy victory is probably going to stall, trying to grab them all.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Dominion: Embargo

I have long held that Embargo is the card which is probably most often misplayed. The reason for this is simple: it gives you the most options when you play it, as there are going to be 17+ places to put your token. Lots of choices mean that it's really hard to evaluate them all and pick the absolute best one, and there are some pretty weird, non-intuitive routes to consider. Let's dive in!

Where to put the counter

This is perhaps the most natural question with embargo, and the one for which it has the multitude of possibilities. The general consensus on this issue has long been to put it where you have the most advantage over your opponents, i.e. if you have 2 more of a key card than your opponent, stick it there. However, figuring out where you have this advantage isn't always so simple, and in general, things can be more nuanced than that.

For instance, let's say the best thing on the board looks like it's a minion deck, and you have a 3-1 advantage on Minions when you play your embargo - your opponent has gotten some bad luck and has silvers instead. Traditional wisdom may have you slam that embargo down on your Minions, as that's where you have your lead. In general, this is going to be a mistake. 3 Minions doesn't make a Minion deck, and by locking each of you out from Minions, what you're basically doing there is making your minions much closer to her silvers, and that actually reduces your advantage.

Instead, you need to look at where you can cut their strategy off without cutting off your own. Or, failing that (as you often will), figure out if cutting both of you off is more beneficial to you or them. And failing both those things, finding somewhere to stick the token that it does nothing. Generally, there's going to be *somewhere* in which you have an advantage, and you will try to maximize that. In the case that you're just behind everywhere, you can try to minimize it by making the game some kind of bizarre luckfest - this probably won't work, but you were probably losing anyway.


Engines are often super reliant on a particular card - if it's the only village, if it's the only draw card, if it's the only +buy (though on the last point, once they've gotten a couple, that's often enough). Stopping this up can be pretty devastating for many opponents if you can do it soon enough. On the other hand, engines are often the kinds of decks which can most use the card - they're most likely to have the spare $2 and a buy laying around, and to be able to get back to the bought Embargo quickly

Big Money

At first glance, you might think that big money is not super dependent on any card, and thus pretty immune to Embargo, since there's usually some different options you can go with, and going down to the next one down usually wouldn't be just tons worse. However, there are some cards which Big Money is absolutely reliant on: the treasures! It's not super uncommon for a well-timed Embargo on Silver or Gold (or especially Fool's Gold) to be pretty devastating.

Other cursing

The most distinctive case where Embargo plays differently than all others is when there is some other curse-giver on board which is worth going for. The key thing to note here is that when you choose to embargo something, it's a far more temporary thing than normal: the curses will eventually run out, at which point it won't matter. So you want to pick something to delay both players getting to, rather than to really stop up. Of course, the big thing is if you can get a curser and then slam the door on your opponent. In this case, they should bite the bullet and get it anyway - otherwise, they'll lose 10-0.


Trashing is somewhat similar to cursing. Players will want to get their deck size under control, get to basically drawing it, before they start adding cursed cards. The difference here is that they will be slowed down in having to continually take some time - and often a terminal action - to trash a curse.


Getting a gainer, then slamming down embargo tokens on the gainer pile, followed by another key pile, can be absolutely massive. This is especially true when the gainer IS the key card - such as with Horn of Plenty or most gainers with e.g. Highway present.

What about when to get Embargo?

As it turns out, this is way more important to how the card plays than where to put it, although obviously the two things are related. In general, the big problem with Embargo is that it slows you down too much to buy it and play it. In other words, opportunity cost. The simplest explanation is, if you're wasting time buying a 2 cost, then drawing and playing that terminal action, your opponent is going to be getting good cards for their deck. You need to have your 1-shot $2 of economy be worth MORE than what they have done in the mean-time, and even if you shut down some strategy, chances are they can just audible into yours, and because you wasted time doing the Embargo thing, there's a very good chance they'll be ahead of you, even if their buys weren't optimal for what you were planning. I would be remiss if I didn't note that part of the problem is that usually when you buy the card, you can't count on having any particular advantage by the time you draw it, or if you wait until you're drawing your deck, the curses are less likely to be so impactful.

There are lots of exceptions, of course. The #1 case is, of course, on one of the first two turns of the game, when there aren't any other decent 2s - i.e. the opportunity cost is getting nothing. Beyond this, there are a number of times where you might have the terminal space (and card space) and a spare $2 and a buy, but it doesn't come up much - and pretty often, there are other, better 2s anyway. But when it does come up, it will most often be in an engine.

There are also a number of roads the opponent can go down which commit them to needing lot so fa particular card to have any success. Foremost here are potion-cost cards. You can make a move to bet your embargo as soon as they get their potion, and that means they're going, on average, to probably get just under one of their intended target before you can get the token down (obviously it depends a bit on the shuffles). Depending on which card this is, this can be very profitable. It seems like you could make a similar play on Treasure Map, but the problem there is, if Map is good, it's probably either for Trash for Benefit and/or they'll be able to trigger pretty reliably with exceptional sifting - which means that your embargo will probably be either too late or ineffectual. The same kind of thing is true for Fool's Gold - they will get 3-4 by the time you get your token down, and that is usually going to be enough that you won't be much up. It's actually pretty disastrous for you if you're missing a shuffle or they have extra gains - if they can get to something like 5 Fool's Golds, the game is probably reasonably close to being over...

Examples (certainly not comprehensive, as the most common thing is that you should just not buy the card)
Probably my favorite trick with Embargo is to stick the token on curses and use that as a way to pile out fast. This is actually a tactical little trick to keep an eye out for, though obviously it requires a big lead. In this game, my opponent does half the work for me :)
In this game, my opponent gets a token down on Gardens. I shrug this off pretty easily, as my deck doesn't really want to hit tons of money anyway, playing a slog. The second token, though, is on Copper! And this is surprisingly more effectual, as quite a bit of my plan was to buy a zillion coppers per turn, and carrying a curse is too steep a price for that. I do have to look at some point, once again, for piling out curses, but the bigger saving grace for me is that A) coppers weren't tainted earlier, and B) gaining silver is also very good for the slog.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Dominion: Plotting a Road to Victory

There isn't a ton going on here from a big picture strategic view. Some form of engine is going to clearly take the game down, with Horn of Plenty as a payload really shoring things up. There is definitely a question of which engine to go for (or perhaps you prefer the phrasing of how to build the engine), but the general principles will be the same.

As the game turns out, my opponent gets one Envoy and then sticks mostly to Hunting Parties with a few Stables, whereas I focus on getting lots of Envoys and supplementing them with Inn, fueling this strategy with a Workshop to up the number of Envoys. The question of when to go for Counterfeit and HoP amongst the 5s you want is a quite interesting one. My gut reaction, looking at things now, is that I would like to build the draw based on Stables, with a few HP sprinkled in. There are a few concerns with this plan, though - first of all, you are trashing treasures out from under yourself, which hurts Stables, and second, Stables, HP, Copper, Silver, Gold, Counterfeit, and Horn of Plenty only bring you up to a total of 7 unique cards. So things are a bit tricky - however, I don't think this is too much of a concern, and I believe that a Workshop to gobble up more silvers once the deck is getting closer to being under control can actually provide a solution to both problems.

Regardless of this, that's not the real reason I want to talk about this game. Instead, I want to jump to my eleventh turn . I dud out here, which is pretty unlikely, but not crazily so, and this plus my opponent's first-player advantage allows him to go up to six Horns of Plenty on his twelfth turn. We reach a first interesting positioning question here: should he have taken the seventh Horn? The main factor for is actually a denial plan - with only three, I can't fire off to end the game all that easily. The main call against are that getting another component makes his own deck far more reliable. In general, I am not a big fan of denial plans, but in this case, I think it was the right way to go. It was, however, a reasonably close call, and on an axis which can be difficult to see during the midst of the game - and I am not even certain which way is correct now - so this decision cannot be hugely faulted.

On my opponent's turn 13, he duds out. This helps me a lot. Still, on my own 13th turn, I am in a weird spot. Despite having picked up the 4th horn... 4 simply aren't enough. If I Counterfeit a Horn, I will have $7, can gain 5 Provinces, and... really not be able to quite put the game away. It's very tempting to go for this in a situation like this, because it looks really hard for my opponent to overtake and win in his next turn. He can't draw everything, and even if he could, he has 7 gains plus $10 and 2 buys, which is only enough to tie. On the other hand, if he just chooses to not go for it - as a good player should - then I am not doing much in the mean-time, and he would be able to pick up a bit more draw and another counterfeit or two and have his turn get quite a bit bigger. It's not entirely hopeless for me, but if he is merely patient, I'm going to need very good luck. So I build up my draw and bide my time. Almost certainly, this is a  mistake from me, in the very least by not picking up another Counterfeit for more pile control. And probably I should actually have gone for it at this point, anyways, because I have some chances of stringing together enough to try to limp over the finish line, whereas this way, once again, with correct play I am probably lost.

Then we come to the pivotal turn, turn 14. My opponent draws his deck, sans a Horn of Plenty I am able to deny on the last Envoy play, and he goes for it. He cashes all of his Horns of Plenty in for provinces, buys another province, and an estate to top it off. It's actually a pretty clear mistake for him to not counterfeit Horn, though I had kept in mind that he couldn't double-gain Province that way, as the Horn was his 8th unique card. Still, the extra Duchy would have been pretty good for him. Of course, the big weakness of this plan is that his deck becomes substantially worse, particularly in his ability to control the game. And the biggest problem is that he just doesn't need to do this - since I didn't pick up any more economic components, my best possible next turn is going to be more or less the same as last turn, and that's probably not enough. In the mean-time, he can continue to grab more draw, along with another counterfeit or two, and an Inn, which will not only let him kick off his next turn reliably, but also lets him counterfeit HoP for 2 provinces. This would essentially guarantee him the ability to get 8 provinces his next turn, forcing me to go for it. And then he would have a relatively sure thing of mopping up afterwards.

Certainly, on my own 14th turn, I can't come back - it's just WAY too many points. But I do know that I don't have just tons of time - he has enough decent treasures that he will lock me out within the next few turns, at least. But there is no point in cashing the Horns in until the last possible moment, and so I continue to build, while gaining points where I need to - most notably, Silk Road off of Workshops.

On Turn 15, my opponent can even pick up Province number 7 as well as a duchy. But Silk Roads are not to be underestimated! I draw my deck, do some calculations... and win rather cleanly. Certainly it was good to be able to win then, as with a good draw, my opponent could have grabbed Counterfeit+Gold+either of his other treasures, and finished off the provinces, though as things fell, I could have had another turn.

The thing I want to highlight here is not panicking. I got behind by a HUGE amount, but I didn't turn in for points. So often, I see people do this - they get behind, they feel pressure, and the knee-jerk reaction is to catch up ASAP, feeling that the opponent is likely to close out the game if they don't. The problem is, you actually need to have a plan to win the game. If you massively close the gap, but you're still behind, then where did you get yourself? Generally, you want to wait more or less as long as you can to pull the trigger on your mega-turn. If your opponent is liable to go off, in a way that will lock you out, then you have to think about going for it. But if they're going to be able to win the long game after by being patient themselves... you pretty much need to hope for them to have a dud. And when behind, going for it in a way that won't bring you the lead does no good. Either way, you need to have a plan for being able to finish the game out, and think in terms of "What gives me the best chance to win by the time the game ends?" rather than "What gets me the best points gap?"

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Battle for Zendikar Limited Review

It's been a busy time for me, but I should be back to posting at least somewhat regularly. A new set is coming out for Magic, and with it a new draft format. I haven't had just tons of time to do this, so it might be a little more sparse than I'd like, especially in terms of surrounding prose. Still, I hope this can be useful.

As a note, just as before, these numbers are all based on the full set, not trying to discount for playability (that will come a little later, if there's time - but it may well be that people will just have drafted a bunch by then). And in every case, what I am presenting is the per-draft number, i.e. the average number of cards fitting a given description which you would find total in the 24 booster packs opened in any given draft, adjusted for rarity.

First up, let's look at the Eat-Bounce-Trade Chart, the concept of which I described in my last set review, here.

In Origins, this kind of analysis showed us that 2 drops were going to be good: there just weren't very many creatures that ate them until you hit LOTS of mana - basically nothing was there for 3 mana, and not much for 4, either. There just weren't good defensive creatures - you had to settle for playing other creatures to trade, at which point... well, you needed 2 drops. Of course, throw in renown, and few benefits for going big, and the writing was on the wall.

Here, things are much less clear. There isn't any clear spot like that: things just keep getting bigger and bigger. There's also a decent number of cheap high-toughness creatures, from a 2 mana 1/4 to a */5 to an 0/6... just playing 2-drops is going to not be so hot. By 4 CMC, you're going to have 46 cards per draft (or almost 6 cards per player per draft, on average) which can eat bears. This is enough that it will be pretty reliable to shut down the aggro player. Which means that the aggro decks are going to need to be a bit more sophisticated in order to work.

This brings me to the biggest thing I see about this format: for quite a while in limited, and this was especially true in Origins, it's been quite a good strategy to navigate picking the best card available in your colors, with some nuance in staying open enough to get into the right colors and for e.g. curve considerations. But more or less, you're just taking the best overall card. In this set, I don't think that's going to be the case. You really need to be building a deck. There will be lots of cards which are quite good in the right deck while being totally unplayable in others - even in the same colors. With this in mind, let's go to:



For everyone's favorite returning mechanic from the original Zendikar (I say this tongue-in-cheek, because it made for super fast, aggressive games, but apparently WotC's market research showed that it was actually the most popular mechanic; in this format, it is probably going to be tempered a bit more than in original Zendikar) is back with... well, not with Ajani Vengeant, but it's back. How much of a thing is it? 41 Cards per draft (5 per player on average, but I will note that with everyone going for their own deck, if you want the 'landfall deck', you can get more). Enablers? Just over 8 per draft - which is only one per player (and some of them are bad), but on the other hand, you are naturally going to have enablers in just having lands. This tends to be aggressive and beatdownish again. I don't think there's really going to be a landfall deck, but your more generic aggressive decks will like these cards, and if you have enough, the enablers do start to go up.


Allies again tend to be on an attacking plan. They have a similar trigger, on EtB of something you can do normally at sorcery speed, which wants the action to be on your turn. In terms of numbers, there are 50 of these per draft - a bit more than landfall - and 22.5 which care about allies. You probably want at least 4 or so of those enablers before you consider yourself an 'ally deck', and of course some of these are better than others - vigilance is fine but not great, but pumping your team or giving them Menace or Double Strike is pretty fantastic, especially given that these decks tend to want to fill the board with creatures. Given the number of allies around, and that you're largely wanting to go for 'your deck', you can probably get quite the critical mass of the allies - it's less clear that you can get the key bonuses, but there are enough that most tables should support 2-3 "ally" decks, it seems. A note on colors: white has no eldrazi/colorless, and thus an overload of allies. Blue has very few. Just something to keep in mind...


The Eldrazi are colorless, and that is a theme of the set. There are a number of cards which care about colorlessness. How prevalent is it? There are 99 colorless cards per draft, including 66 colorless creatures. That is a LOT, especially when you consider that white has none, and some of the more aggressive decks will be interested in few colorless guys, if any. 8 creatures as a part of a total 12 spells is a good average rate, and if we assume two players don't want any... that takes us to 11 creatures and 16 total spells, which means if you have those colorless matters cares, you can really, really be in business to enable them. There are only about 15 cards per draft which care about colorlessness, but they're well-supported.


There are 19 cards per draft which make Scions, which make a total of 28.4 Scions. These largely overlap with the previous section, but these are something to keep in mind.


There are 18 processors per draft. They are supported by 28 exile cards per draft, plus 16 Ingest creatures, for a total of ~45 potential enablers. Some of these aren't very good, but, similar to the Exploit deck from Dragons, there definitely seems to be support here, if you are looking for it. In fact, this shows up a good bit more than that exploit theme. At the same time, the ordering needs to work out (exile before process) in order to get it going, so you definitely don't just want to pick tons and tons of processors - there is a limit, kind of like there was with Delve. In any case, especially with the more expensive such cards, you can support this if you want to, but keep an eye out that you're picking your spots.

Life Gain

This sub-theme is based on BW. We have 10.2 cards per draft which care about this, with 17.7 ways to gain life, including 10.1 ways to do so repeatedly (none of this is counting lifelink). This isn't really enough to be a major thing you can count on every time. Some drafts will certainly not have this kind of player, and definitely don't expect more than one per table - indeed, an actual life-gain based deck will, I think, be pretty rare (though not unheard of). Instead, a few of the good cards as a mini-synergistic package which doesn't cost much is the way to go on this one.


This mechanic isn't terribly self-synergistic, as if you have lots of Awaken cards, it's going to be hard for you to play them all "for value", as that will end up being quite the high curve. On the other hand, there are only about 17 of these per draft, and about everyone will like them, so I don't actually expect it to be a deck, but everyone should get a pretty good number. They're pretty evenly split between 3/3s and 4/4s (slightly more 3/3s) with an uncommon that makes a 2/2 and a mythic that makes a 6/6. These are, for the most part, ranging from 5 to 7 mana, so keep that in mind when you're looking at your creature size chart. The haste aspect is also something to think about in the late game.


Converge, and to some extent allies, asks you to make lots of colors. How realistic is this? There are about 15 fixers per draft, which is just under 2 per drafter. Given that lots of decks will want to be 2 colors, and that most of the fixing is centred in green.... you can pull off multi-color decks, but you really need to do work in prioritizing to get there, especially as those rare lands are not just whatever colors you want. Keep in mind that Evolving Wilds will be sought by landfall decks too, so don't expect to go too hard. A splash should be a lot more possible here than in Origins.

I might also talk about Expeditions here. I didn't calculate them, or any foils, in any of my calculations, as I can't get solid numbers on what frequency they appear. If anyone can point me to somewhere that has this, I could incorporate it in the future. At any rate, it shouldn't make a huge difference.

General Format Thoughts

Mana Sinks

Unlike Origins, there are lots of mana sinks in this set - by my count, about 33 per draft. That is enough that you can pretty much have one if you want. I think this is good, as it lets you smooth some things out. Obviously, some of these sinks aren't good, but I expect most decks to have a couple.


Between huge Eldrazi, Awaken, landfall, mana sinks, and spell-lands (and extra colors), I think you're going to want to run 18 or even 19 lands most of the time. On the other hand, the aggressive ally decks may really want to lower that curve and run 17 or even occasionally 16. Don't be afraid to play lots of lands, but definitely you need to be attuned to what your deck wants.


I have already alluded to this a little, but I expect this format to be a LOT slower than Origins, and indeed, below-average on speed. Aggressive decks will exist, but you really need the enablers for them - the finishers, mostly. The defensive decks... you don't really need lots of  2 drops, but 0-2 would be nice. Definitely you can't take all day, or you will get run over. But in general, I think I would rather be the ramp deck here than the

Finally, in general, with more specific decks and archetypes, even within and across colors, this set will, I think, play more like cube. That means you want to focus on making a good deck more than good cards, and sideboarding is going to be a really big deal, as you want to tailor your deck for the matchup you're in.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

MTG: My GP Dallas Sealed Build

Link to deck and pool

(If anyone knows a good way to show the pool in a more organized manner, so it's easier for readers to step through the process along with me, please let me know).

After verifying that everything was registered correctly, my initial impulse was to try a UW build - this was probably motivated by the Thunderclap Wyvern, particularly with the triple Aspiring Aeronaut. However, I've been listening to advice on how to build sealed pools for a while now, and they almost universally talk about weeding out your unplayables first. So I was disciplined and did this.

My next order of business was to try to figure out what color(s) I was certainly not playing, so I could spend the rest of my time more efficiently. This was not as easy as I had hoped - and certainly more difficult than when online, surprisingly because it's not as easy as you'd think to lay all the cards out, particularly in your limited amount of space. Still, it only took a minute or two to throw out red. Red definitely has some very good cards in it - Avaricious Dragon, Acolyte of the Inferno, Akroan Sergeant - but it wasn't too long before I realized the depth simply wasn't there, particularly as none of my other colors really stood out as being particularly deep.

Then I started laying out different potential builds. I remember I looked at UB briefly, because I realized the curve there was REALLY terrible - there were like two cards with CMC<3, and I don't think you can get away with that in this format. I definitely looked at the UW I was interested in. This definitely had more early presence, from the white 2-drops. But ultimately, I felt that the curve was still too wonky. If you lay it out, you see a HUGE glut in the 4-drop slot: 2 Ampryn Tactician, Tower Geist, 2 Suppression Bonds, Separatist Voidmage, 3 Aeronaut, Charging Griffin, and the Wyvern is fully 11 cards! And there are a few which are more expensive still. Importantly, I felt like I needed to play really all of these, as that was the power/reason to play the color combination, and I wasn't too high on other playables. And while Tactician combos with the Aeronauts, and Wyvern with half the deck, I still felt like this wasn't going to be enough.

So I basically realized that Blue wasn't going to be a playable color either, really, because it was too high on curve, but it took me a good chunk of time to get there. This left Green, White, and Black. I was drawn to all of these colors, and I laid out each of the three decks for quite a while. I knew I wanted to play both Foundry of the Consuls and Rogue's Passage, since I had written already about the lack of mana sinks in the format, which led me to think I probably also wanted 18 lands. Of the three, GW looked fine, but not at all exciting to me. I spend the most time considering BW and BG.

The advantages of BW were that it had, I think, a little bit more power, and most importantly, more removal. Double Suppression Bonds with double Unholy Hunger means there would often be a spell to take care of a key opposing threat. Ultimately, I didn't go for it, mainly because I thought I would have problems with the mana. Both Knight of the White Orchid, and especially Consul's Lieutenant want you to have WW by turn 2, and for that you want at least 9, and more preferably 10 or really 11 sources. But Unholy Hunger and Kothophed both want me to have double black, and with that many white sources, I would be pinched there. I think this still may have been the right build, probably pitching the Rogue's Passage, and going with 9 Plains and 8 Swamps.

The build I ultimately went with is pretty close, though. Leaf Gilder is a pretty nice 2-drop itself. Outland Colossus is pretty well a bomb, definitely capable of winning games on its own. Undercity Troll is pretty close to being as good as the white two drops, maybe even better - it's VERY good. Didn't have tons of removal, but a decent amount. And this build definitely had the most Card Advantage, between Read the Bones, Macabre Waltz, Llanowar Empath, Valeron Wardens. Ultimately, the deck is a bit weak to fliers, and the bottom few cards are less than stellar, but I think it's fairly solid.

Let me know what you think. Should I have gone with White? Did I build my mana correctly (I kind of wonder whether I should have one more swamp and one fewer forest)? Should Yeva's Forcemage or some number of Alchemist's Vials be in the deck? I'm really unsure still, and would like your input.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Dominion: The Good-Stuff Deck

I've written a lot about various different kinds of deck, generally lumping them into one of the following categories: Big Money, Engine, Combo, Rush, and Slog. These can in general be useful, though there are some serious limitations as well. As has been pointed out, Big Money and Slog often bleed together. Rush and slog can often do the same. Combo has never been terribly well-defined.

The subject I want to talk about today is very old, and one of my favorites. Generally I would classify it as Big Money, but it's not like the Terminal Draw-based decks which people usually think of with that term. Instead, these decks tend to pick up several terminals, and usually not much draw. They're even interested in Villages sometimes.

You might call this a "Good Stuff deck". In general, in this kind of deck, in your turn, you buy the card which most helps your deck. This is true in almost every deck, to some extent, but here, it's true in a much more straightforward, naive way. Essentially, you're looking to pick up the card which most helps your deck on your very next turn. There are few exceptions - most notably, of course, is that at some point you green, followed by considerations for shuffle timing.

Indeed, being able to anticipate what the rest of your shuffle will net you, in order to know whether to forgo a slightly better, cheaper card for a more expensive one, banking on picking the cheaper one up later, is probably the key subtle skill of playing this kind of deck.

The more straightforward strategy of this kind of deck consists of figuring out which terminals are best for your deck. Then you want to buy those, along with treasures, and you're good to go. Treasures are always good in this kind of deck (well, copper isn't, but I mean Silver+). Cantrips, including Peddler and Lab variants, are also nice in this kind of deck. Terminal draw is NOT good in these decks, as you will generally have a pretty high number of actions to draw dead, and you are going to get more mileage out of your other terminal effects. Indeed, I've toyed with calling this kind of deck a "drawless" deck, though that would probably be somewhat misleading, as you are still going to snap up Lab effects.

The question still remains, though: when do you want to go for this kind of deck? In general, this is based more on a lack of other options than it is on this deck being actively great itself. In particular, you want an engine to not be viable for some reason. Generally this means that it's not practical to build up enough draw for an engine to work - either because there aren't villages to pair with the smithies, there isn't enough trashing to get yourself thin, or sometimes just a combination of wonkiness - no +buy does a lot here, but it's not necessarily a dealbreaker.

On the other hand, this needs to be better than Big Money with Draw as well. And when the thing which holds the engine back is lack of draw, this is easy. But there are other cases where this beats that out as well - most often, when there are a good smattering of actions, especially cantrips, that you would like to play in your deck. These work well in this kind of strategy, but they don't play nicely with draw cards. In particular, non-drawing Villages, like Festival, and indeed most terminal Silvers feel most at home in this kind of deck, as they aren't very good to build an engine around, and they don't pair at all nicely with terminal draw. Junking attacks tend towards this kind of game as well (at least in the absence of strong trashing), but discard attacks do not (much preferring to be played in engines).

Example Games:
In this game, an engine is technically possible, with Villages and Hunting Grounds. However, there is no trashing whatsoever, which makes it pretty hard for the engine to get off the ground. Merchant Ship and Jester are both good for the Good-Stuff deck, but in particular Jester is very good against someone going for an engine without trashing.
Butcher and Lab are both good here, as in many such decks. Coin Tokens really excel in these kinds of decks which are all about hitting your price points at such times. In terms of the particular game, Butcher actually counters Possession reasonably well - you think it would be the other way around, because Possession hits both tokens and Trash For Benefit well, but Butcher just makes the game end so fast...
This is a very nice example of signs which point you to playing Good Stuff over an Engine. The draw here is Jack and Journeyman, and the village (Squire) doesn't draw - it's going to be way too difficult to maintain everything, especially with Mountebank pouring junk in on you. So it's better to just ignore it, at which point all these actions go very nicely together for a pretty smooth good-stuff deck. You're not expecting to get big turns, just fairly consistently decent ones.
Marauder is another card which excels in this kind of deck. The ruins clog them up, and the spoils stop you from being able to draw super well, though they do give you a pretty solid economic backbone, as well as now-or-later flexibility, which this deck is often looking for.
Doctor helps thin you down, which is nice, but it doesn't do a great job of keeping you clean against junk. There isn't much draw here. Ironmonger is always good, but most excels in good-stuff decks (where it's less often just a village). These are also definitely Harem's primary home.
Soothsayer is definitely most home in a good-stuff deck: gaining high-quality treasures is a definite boon, and the junk will really hamper them if they don't respond in kind here.
Again, here the only draw is Oracle, and Border Village + Oracle is pretty miserable without strong trashing and quite good payloads. On the other hand, Cartographer gives you nice selection without increasing handsize - basically the epitome of Good Stuff.
Another classic combination of simply good cards - in this case Butcher and Ironmonger - can lead to some VERY fast games...

Thursday, 23 July 2015

LSV's Free Throws

Earlier today, LSV posted a tweet which I found quite intriguing:

It's an interesting stats kind of question, and unsurprisingly a follower quickly tweeted a correct response along with an explanation, which can be found (with some formality) here. The answer, by the way, is ~18.68 free throws (expected value)

Further conversation with Patrick Chapin,however, brings up some more interesting points and topics. In lots of cases, probably most cases really, expected value just isn't that useful of a concept. There's lots of reasons for this, but the biggest one is probably diminishing returns. At a certain point, you are going to die before you can use all the benefits of your winnings; or conversely, the penalties may kill you (or stop you from continuing the game) after a certain point. In short, the abstraction of the scenario breaks down after a while. In any event, there are definitely lots of reasons why you might be interested in knowing when the threshold of success or failure is met in terms of precise probabilities rather than just a smoothed-out average.

To that end, let's go through this toy scenario, figuring out the chance you'll be done after any given shot. Trivially, you can't get there before 10 shots (so the probability on 0-9 is 0). And on the 10th shot, the chance is p^10. On the 11th shot, you necessarily need the 1st shot to have been a miss (else we would have ended with 10 successes on shot 10), and then getting 10 consecutive hits. So this is p^10*(1-p).

An interesting thing happens on shot 12, when you need the second shot to have been a miss (this is, once again, the only way that shot 12 will be precisely the 10th hit in a row), as well as 3-12 all being makes, but you don't care at all what happened on shot 1. Either way, 12 will be the final shot. So you get the exact same p^10*(1-p). And this trend continues for 13, 14, 15, etc.

But not all the way ad infinitum. The pattern shifts again once we get to shot 21. Now, not only do we need 12-21 to all be hits, and 11 to be a miss, but we need at least one of 1-10 to be a miss as well, or we would have stopped on shot 10. This could look like a daunting calculation at first, but thankfully, recursion gives us a helpful shortcut: we already calculated the chance of one of shots 1-10 being a miss - or more precisely, we calculated its compliment when we checked the chance of it being the final shot.

So for shot 21 to be the last one, we get the following: p^10*(1-p)*(Chance the game wasn't over by shot 10 or earlier). And we can extend this formula on ad infinitum, so long as we keep a running count for each number of the chance that the game would have ended at that point or earlier.

You're left with the following:

If you're interested, you cross 95% after 42 shots, 99% on your 60th shot, and 99.9% on your 87th shot.

Anyway, I hope you found this interesting - I know I did.

Magic Origins Draft Set Analysis Part III: The Moxiously Early Pick Order

Part I
Part II

Below, I will present a pick order for Magic Origins. It is an incorrect pick order. First of all, a perfect one is really hard, and second, I haven't even played with any of the cards yet! Still, you can do a lot on theory, and most importantly, it's meant to be a springboard to discussion.

The last thing I want to point out before giving a stupidly long list of card names is that this is meant to be a P1P1 for a draft, NOT the same thing as card strength. The big difference is openness - the gold cards take a hit for this, and colorless cards get a boost. So I don't think that Hangarback Walker is actually the best card for draft in the set, but I have it at #1 because it's reasonably close and will go in EVERY deck. Without further ado, the list:

Hangarback Walker
Tragic Arrogance
Archangel of Tithes
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Thopter Spy Network
Managorger Hydra
Kytheon's Irregulars
Kothophed, Soul Hoarder
Sentinel of the Eternal Watch
Woodland Bellower
Outland Colossus
Graveblade Marauder
Chandra's Ignition
Nissa, Vastwood Seer/Nissa, Sage Animist
Gilt-Leaf Winnower
Whirler Rogue
Priest of the Blood Rite
War Oracle
Kytheon, Hero of Akros/Gideon, Battle-Forged
Skysnare Spider
Undercity Troll
Consul's Lieutenant
Embermaw Hellion
Exquisite Firecraft
Hixus, Prison Warden
Harbinger of the Tides
Eyeblight Massacre
Foundry of the Consuls
Disciple of the Ring
Acolyte of the Inferno
Soulblade Djinn
Patron of the Valiant
Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen
Swift Reckoning
Molten Vortex
Liliana, Heretical Healer/Liliana, Defiant Necromancer
Fiery Impulse
Reave Soul
Cruel Revival
Anchor to the AEther
Joraga Invocation
Deadbridge Shaman
Suppression Bond
Erebos's Titan
Sigiled Starfish
Rhox Maulers
Seismic Elemental
Avaricious Dragon
Somberwald Alpha
Skyraker Giant
Abbot of Keral Keep
Blessed Spirits
Topan Freeblade
Jhessian Thief
Leaf Gilder
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy/Jace, Telepath Unbound
Stalwart Aven
Anointer of Champions
Valeron Wardens
Unholy Hunger
Tower Geist
Relic Seeker
Boggart Brute
Celestial Flare
Wild Instincts
Thopter Engineer
Ghirapur Gearcrafter
Ravaging Blaze
Dark Dabbling
Separatist Voidmage
Knightly Valor
Knight of the White Orchid
Totem-Guide Hartebeast
Read the Bones
Dwynen's Elite
Despoiler of Souls
Cleric of the Forward Order
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh/Chandra, Roaring Flame
Shambling Ghoul
Timberpack Wolf
Skaab Goliath
Clash of Wills
Yeva's Forcemage
Throwing Knife
Lightning Javelin
Ringwarden Owl
Sword of the Animist
Zendikar Incarnate
Citadel Castellan
Blood-Cursed Knight
Iroas's Champion
Rogue's Passage
Llanowar Empath
Fetid Imp
Evolutionary Leap
Weight of the Underworld
Nantuko Husk
Pharika's Disciple
Consecrated by Blood
Charging Griffin
Angel's Tomb
Mage-Ring Responder
Conclave Naturalists
Herald of the Pantheon
Subterranean Scout
Gideon's Phalanx
Alhammaret, High Arbiter
Dragon Fodder
Macabre Waltz
Zendikar's Roil
Gaea's Revenge
Akroan Sergeant
Knight of the Pilgrim's Road
Might of the Masses
Blazing Hellhound
Bounding Krasis
Scab-Clan Berserker
Mizzium Meddler
Enshrouding Mist
Titanic Growth
Chief of the Foundry
Fleshbag Marauder
Infectious Bloodlust
Stratus Walk
Ampryn Tactician
Thunderclap Wyvern
Aspiring Aeronaut
Scrapskin Drake
Possessed Skaab
Eyeblight Assassin
Runed Servitor
Sigil of Valor
Screeching Skaab
Mighty Leap
Sigil of the Empty Throne
Firefiend Elemental
Hitchclaw Recluse
Magmatic Insight
Guardian Automoton
Returned Centaur
Turn to Frog
Titan's Strength
Gold-Forged Sentinel
Elvish Visionary
Nissa's Revelation
Sylvan Messenger
Alchemist's Vial
Call of the Full Moon
Artificer's Epiphany
Vryn Wingmare
Orchard Spirit
Calculated Dismissal
Bone to Ash
Vastwood Gorger
Volcanic Rambler
Enthralling Victor
Fiery Conclusion
Flameshadow Conjuring
Kytheon's Tactics
Rabid Bloodsucker
Grasp of the Hieromancer
Shaman of the Pack
Act of Treason
Evolving Wilds
Deep-Sea Terror
Maritime Guard
Catacomb Slug
Aven Battle Priest
Hallowed Moonlight
Healing Hands
Send to Sleep
Gnarlroot Trapper
Chandra's Fury
Mage-Ring Bully
Undead Servant
Yoked Ox
Guardians of Meletis
Helm of the Gods
Malakir Cullblade
Demonic Pact
Displacement Wave
Nissa's Pilgrimage
Bonded Construct
Sphinx's Tutelage
Nivix Barrier
Valor in Akros
Heavy Infantry
Aerial Volley
War Horn
Gather the Pack
Caustic Caterpillar
Enlightened Ascetic
Akroan Jailer
Necromantic Summons
Reclusive Artificer
Battlefield Forge
Caves of Koilos
Shivan Reef
Yavimaya Coast
Llanowar Wastes
Veteran's Sidearm
Smash to Smithereens
Infernal Scarring
Touch of Moonglove
Dark Petition
Elemental Bond
Starfield of Nyx
Talent of the Telepath
Goblin Glory Chaser
Ghirapur AEther Grid
Orbs of Warding
Honored Hierarch
Mantle of Webs
Goblin Piledriver
Shadows of the Past
Thornbow Archer
Jayemdae Tome
Brawler's Plate
Bellows Lizard
Faerie Miscreants
Psychic Rebuttal
Pyromancer's Goggles
Mage-Ring Network
Murder Investigation
The Great Aurora
Vine Snare
Day's Undoing
Animist's Awakening
Alhammaret's Archive
Tormented Thoughts
Prism Ring
Infinite Obliteration
Tainted Remedy
Jace's Sanctum

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Magic Origins Draft Set Analysis Part II: Removal, Archetypes, and Assorted Notes

Part I

Let's pick up in the logical place where we left off last time: by taking a bit of a closer look at the removal in the set. Specifically, we want to look at what the removal actually kills. Let's start with the small and work our way up.

1 Toughness: Chandra's Fury and Eyeblight Assassin
The trickiest thing here is that you will often use these to 'finish something off' e.g. post-combat. And that gives them added value (ok, the other parts of the card do as well). But just on the face of things, how about these? They'll kill 37.3 creatures per draft, or about 19.7% of the format. However, this is including quite a number of unplayable cards. Manually taking out these, I am coming down to 27.8 creatures per draft, or 15.5% of the format. On the other hand, this also excludes Dragon Fodder and all the various thopters which get made, which, all-in-all bring things back up to 20.1%. Of course, in some of these cases (e.g. Aspiring AEronaut), you are only getting part of a card, so keep that in mind. Ultimately, whether you want these cards is going to come down to how much you want the rest of their effects, but the first one should usually be able to pick something off.

2 Toughness: Meteorite, Fiery Impulse, Eyeblight Massacre et al
In addition to the 20% of creatures we were getting for 1 toughness, we add in another 68.5 per draft, getting us up to a rarity-adjusted 56.2% of the format(!) Fiery Impulse is basically always going to be doing this efficiently, whilst Meteorite will usually be inefficient if you don't need the rest of it. Eyeblight Massacre will likely have a chance to kill multiple things, but note that Elves aren't a negligible percentage of the cards which would get killed here - actually 18% of the creatures which would be nabbed will be immune from the Massacre; hopefully if you're running the card, you'll have some of those.... It's worth knowing here as well that Blightcaster triggering really will be worth a card most of the time. I'll also note Weight of the Underworld here, as it kills all these things, but it also cripples everything that will get noted later when I talk about Reave Soul; certainly there's a lot of overlap between the two groups, but Weight will still take care of a big majority of creatures, if somewhat inefficiently.

3 Toughness: Lightning Javelin et al
Fiery Impulse fits here if Spell Mastery is turned on, but I don't think you can count on that (more on this later). Lightning Javelin is yet-another-4-drop-removal-spell, and the only common burn spell which can go to creature or face. How does it do? Well, in addition to the 56.2% we were getting before, we pick up an additional 43.7 creatures per draft, picking us up to 80.1% of creatures we'll expect to see. The key thing, of course, is that the 20% we're missing is... usually going to be the things we really want to kill most.

Edicts: Celestial Flare, Fleshbag Marauder
Not much to say here

Sweepers: Languish, Tragic Arrogance, Eyeblight Massacre
We already talked about Massacre. Languish kills really almost everything (93%). And Tragic Arrogance has been described as an easier-to-cast Duneblast which leaves them with their worst creature... pretty nuts. Fortunately these last two are only at rare.

Kills Most Anything: Swift Reckoning, Claustrophobia, Suppression Bond, Unholy Hunger, Cruel Revival
Swift Reckoning needs them to be attacking, but if they are is the clear most efficient removal in the set. Claustrophobia gets the biscuit for being top of the charts in unconditional removal (well, ok, Goblin Piledriver gets around it, you got me). Suppression Bond is very solid. And the black cards are instant speed ways to reach out and kill things, but they will almost always be doing so inefficiently. Yes, the world we live in makes these near the top, but you really don't actually want tons of them anyway, and you want to try to save them for bombs and/or 2-for-1 scenarios if you can. A note on Cruel Revival: it misses about 9.5% of creatures in the format (and of course gets back the exact same set).

Reave Soul:
How good is this card? Well, it kills 153.7 playable creatures per draft on average, or 85.7% (about 6/7) of the format. So it's quite good at 2 mana. 

One of the things Wizards' R&D has been doing for a while is give color pairs certain archetypal outline of what kind of deck they want to build, what goal they want to accomplish. A clear recent example I'd like to invoke here is Dragons of Tarkir's UB Exploit deck. While it was possible to draft a UB deck that was mostly just a 'good stuff' deck, you generally had at least some amount of getting value out of matching cards like Palace Familiar with cards like Gurmag Drowner. In Origins, the archetypes are highlighted in a loose cycle of uncommons - the only gold cards in the set. When looking at the archetypes, we want to look at both the support (your Palace Familiars in the exploit deck) and the and the pay-offs (your Gurmag Drowners in the exploit deck). You need a sufficient amount of both for a synergistic archetype to really come together.

UW Fliers

The only real synergy card here is the uncommon itself, Thunderclap Wyvern, and that is a card which is perfectly fine to play by itself. With such little pay-off, it doesn't really make sense to run numbers on support cards (this is something that will come up in some of the other archetypes as well). Still, you can build a traditional UW fliers kind of deck, though in this set it may be a little more based on tempo plays than holding the grounds with big butts.

WB Enchantments
Pay-offs: Blightcaster, Auramancer, Blessed Spirits, Sigil of the Empty Throne, Starfield of Nyx, Totem-Guide Hartebeest, Blood-Cursed Knight, Helm of the Gods

First of all, that is a lot of pay-offs, but almost all are coming in at higher rarity, so you actually expect to only have 9.5 such cards be opened per draft. That's actually plenty to have an archetype on, but you don't really want to be fighting another player for them (especially since some are of questionable playability), and certainly you won't have a good time if you're fighting 2 other players - which is true of basically any synergistic archetype. Beyond this, the different cards here need slightly different kinds of support. 

Auramancer needs an enchantment in your graveyard - mostly this will be Weight of the Underworld, though there are a few beneficial Auras you might play as well - overall, this is pretty sketchy. 

Blightcaster needs you to play an enchantment after (and have a good target, though as we've seen, that will usually be the case). This starts being a good proposition after you have somewhere in the 3-4 range, which is probably about where you expect to be going into a draft (though this is a very rough estimate - it's hard to tell how much these will 'go around'). So early in pack 1, it can be a thing, but if you don't have any enchantments by the time pack 2 rolls around, I wouldn't waste a high pick on it.

Sigil of the Empty Throne needs you to play at least one enchantment after, and you start feeling really good once you hit two. You're going to be quite unlikely to hit two, unfortunately, but one... the problem here is, at 5 mana, you need to survive a while without casting your other enchantments, which are often going to be the removal spells you need. The card can come together, but most often, it won't.

Starfield of Nyx has very few targets to animate, as there just aren't many enchantments which aren't Auras to play. The best case scenario for this card is to recur Weight of the Underworld a lot, but I probably would not take this until I had at least 2 Weights in pack 1, or at least 3 after that.

Helm of the Gods wants you to just have a quantity of enchantments in play. It's quite good with 2 in play, but pretty mediocre if you only have 1. This card probably starts becoming playable around 4 enchantments in deck, but you aren't excited until you are closer to the 6-7 range - which will also probably be near the max you can fit in your deck, and unrealistic to get. It's worth noting that Weight of the Underworld often going to the bin fights you here.

Totem-Guide is probably close to playable once you have a single Aura you want to fetch, and pretty good with 2. Going into a draft, you can probably expect you will get a couple, so taking this pretty high in pack 1 seems fine. It's a bit iffier in pack 2 and certainly not recommended pack 3 if you don't have any targets yet.

Finally, Blessed Spirits and Blood-Cursed Knight are just fine cards on their own which start to really move up to being exceptional once you have a few enchantments.

Overall, this definitely feels like an archetype which a draft can support. The payoffs are pretty real, you can likely get a few of them, and in general, the support is going to rest on cards like Weight of the Underworld and Suppression Bonds that you will want to run anyway - this of course means they will be harder to get, but there should be enough to usually do something, as most of these bonuses don't ask for lots of enchantments.

WR... Aggro(?)
Our uncommon here is a 2/2 double strike for 3. Certainly that's a good card, but it's not particularly synergistic - and unlike in MM2015, it's the only double-strike card, so it's not like we're being pushed to draft a bunch of synergy here. I expect this combination to be plenty good as a 'good-stuff' aggressive deck, but synergy is not the name of the game.

WG Renown
Again, there aren't many pay-offs here: Enshrouding Mists gets slightly better, and then there is real benefit in Valeron Wardens. And that is nice, but it's just one uncommon. Also, how many games are you connecting with 5 Renown creatures and not winning anyway? Yeah. But the first card or two is very nice. Generally, being an aggressive creature deck with some tricks looks good, but I don't know that I would call it particularly synergistic.

UB... Graveyard Zombies?
There are a few cards which care about the graveyard here - Possessed Skaab, Cruel Revival, Skaab Goliath, plus Spell Mastery cards. This gives a minor theme, and Cruel Revival in particular will also help you out on the zombie front. Screeching Skaab and Returned Centaur can jump up to being reasonably playable if you have enough payoffs, but in general, I don't think you should go very far out of your way (an it's worth noting that those cards are at least mediocre anyway).

UR Artifacts
Here we come to the next pair which really has some strong synergies. Pay-offs include: Artificer's Epiphany, Thopter Spy Network, Whirler Rogue, Ghirapur AEther Grid, Thopter Engineer, Reclusive Artificer, Chief of the Foundry, and Ramroller.

Most of these cards care about you having at least one artifact (or other artifact) in play. Again, 3-4 such cards gets you a reasonable chance of getting there, and 5-6 give you quite good chances. Including the Thopter-makers, you expect to have about 32 artifacts opened per draft. Unfortunately, some of these are cards like Jayemdae Tome or Brawler's Plate which can be pretty close to unplayable, or Helm of the Gods which aren't for your deck. And many of the others are going to be cards that everyone else wants, too. Still, if you're in this archetype, I certainly expect you to get there often enough for most of these cards to be enabled. Some of these want two artifacts to make these work, and for that you are going to need really at least 7 in your deck (but definitely prefer more, especially for those cards that want even more artifacts). I don't imagine this is going to be super common, so I wouldn't want to take those cards very highly!

Overall, the synergy of this archetype seems moderate. The really exciting pay-offs are at higher rarities, and otherwise, we are getting nice but not spectacular bonuses. Of course, the artifacts themselves tend to be on pretty good cards, so that is a bonus. I will note that this deck 'goes wide' probably more than any other in the format, but most of the benefits for such are in other colors. War Horn has its home here way more than any other deck, though.

UG... ???
I really can't find synergy cards here at all. Bounding Krasis is basically just an efficient card. I guess you are combining blue tempo elements with big green dudes? Anyway, not a synergy deck.

BR Sacrifice
The problem in this deck is that there are very few payoffs. Act of Treason is a real thing, to be sure, and Enthralling Victor is nice here, too. Beyond that, there is Dragon Fodder and some Thopter Makers to give you some fuel. Nantuko Husk is the the main enabler here, but Fiery Conclusion is playable and Blazing Hellhound is very nice if you can get it. And if you're extremely lucky, there's also Liliana.

BG Elves
Here we have the other big synergy deck of the format. Dwynen, Dwynen's Elite, Eyeblight Massacre, Gnarlroot Trapper, Shaman of the Pack, and Sylvan Messenger are your payoffs. For the most part, these cards want you to have some elves, or as many elves possible. And in terms of support, you expect just over 21 elves to be opened per draft. On the downside, some of these, like Deadbridge Shaman and Leaf Gilder, are going to be taken fairly highly even without the synergy, and won't make it around to you if you don't get them early yourself. We're left with definitely enough cards for a deck, but probably not enough for two.

How big are the payoffs? This is my real concern. Shaman of the pack dealing a few damage is nice, and pretty free, but it's not spectacular. Dwynen's Elite giving you a 1/1 is again nice, but not huge if you don't have other synergies. Gnarlroot trapper moves up to being playable, but not often spectacular. And Sylvan Messenger is going to be hard to get to the point where you're expecting to draw more than 1 card off it, which just makes it ok. Dwynen herself is big game, and Eyeblight Massacre as pseudo-Plague Wind is quite nice, but even there, you were probably getting most of that value anyway. 

Overall, there's definitely some synergy here, but I don't think you want to go much out of your way for it unless you open, say, a Dwynen.

RG Lands
Here, our pay-offs are Zendikar Incarnate, Zendikar's Roil, Nissa, and maybe Ravaging Blaze or Animists Awakening. There's also not much to enable - Nissa's Pilgrimage being the big one. Okay, just play a bread-and-butter creatures-and-removal deck, maybe with a couple tricks thrown in. It's what these colors are good at anyway.

In general, this seems more like a straight-up good-stuff format with a few nice interactions seeded in than one that's really based on those synergies - basically the anti-cube. And as it is still a core set, that makes a lot of sense and is probably a good thing.

Finally, we come to a miscellaneous section where I've smashed in everything that didn't neatly fit anywhere else.

Spell Mastery
This is not so easy to turn on! Most limited decks are going to have 8 instants and/or sorceries at most. Remember that, unlike most other recent sets, there is only one card here to double count in our creature count AND spell count (Dragon Fodder). With 8 spells, you expect to draw to your third one (and remember, it won't turn on until that third spell cast) until you're 15 cards into your deck. If you're only on the natural draw step plan, that's going to be very near the end of the game. There's no guarantee that this third spell is going to have Spell Mastery or a useful one. And in many decks, some of those 8 non-creature slots will be taken by artifacts or enchantments (or really, more creatures). But okay, it is possible to build a control deck, perhaps, with up to let's say 12 spells. In such a deck, you'll be able to turn Spell Mastery on pretty quickly with good reliability. Including some of the graveyard spillers will help, too. Because there usually isn't much bonus for hitting Spell Mastery, I wouldn't recommend jumping through those hoops very often - but I do look forward to some videos where LSV goes off. Certainly some of how enabled this mechanic will be will be directly tied to the speed of the format, but I wouldn't count on any of your spells having Spell Mastery on, even "by the time you want to cast" them.

Card Draw
There's next to zero card draw in the whole format. No, seriously. The only really solid, stand-on-its-own card draw spell in the entire set is Read the Bones. That's it - it's the only one. Blue only has Bone to Ash and Artificer's Epiphany at common, with a couple situational uncommons. Green actually has almost as much, though per normal it's all tied-in to creatures. So card advantage really needs to come from putting in some work to get your cards in at very impactful spots.

Mana Sinks
Compounding the dearth of card drawing is a lack of mana sinks. At spells below rare, there's Fetid Imp, Shadows of the Past, Volcanic Rambler, Somberwald Alpha, Blazing Hellhound, and a few unplayables. Finding a way to mitigate a lack of having things to do is going to be pretty big for this format, whether that's finding these kinds of cards or killing the opponent before that matters. This does indicate that looting effects will be a bit better though. And the lands - Foundry of the Consuls and Rogue's Passage - look to be pretty darn good indeed.

Mana Fixing
There's very very little fixing in the set. You have Evolving Wilds at Common, Meteorite at Uncommon, and the Painlands and Sword of the Animist at rare. Notwithstanding that I don't think Meteorite is very good at all in the set, this is less fixing than we've seen in... I can't even remember how long. Three or more colors is really out of the question, and even splashing is going to be a bit tricky. Do so sparingly.

Individual Cards

Knightly Valor: If you slap this on a bear, it's basically a 4/4 vigilance haste. And it scales up. Need to pick your spots, but definitely strong.

Yoked Ox: I expect this card to be fringe main-deckable, as it blocks a big chunk of the format, while getting in the way of renown. Biggest problem is that most white decks want to be aggressive themselves - which is why this will usually be a board card. But a consideration in a fliers deck.

Jace's Sanctum: To break even on mana, you need to cast 4 spells after this. That also gets you 4 scrys, which comes close to getting you your card back... but this seems very unrealistic for a draft deck, especially because you're not gaining anything until you are casting even more spells. Card is basically unplayable.

Shadows of the Past: I don't think this card is playable. You need several scrys before you make up for your card disadvantage, and paying 5 to drain 2 is not all that hot. It is a mana-sink, but I'd rather have a 2/2 lifelink I only need to pay for once - and that would be horribly overcosted at 5 CMC.

Undead Servant: I already talked about this card, but it's been getting some hype, so I want to reiterate: you need several copies before this will trigger very reliably, and that's unrealistic, so you really don't want to spend any kind of high pick on it.

Boggart Brute: This card seems very good to me. I think people are underrating Menace a  bit, in general.

Elemental Bond: There are just over 65 3-power creatures per draft on average, but surprisingly, only 8.8 are mono-Green. Given that you need to cast this first, and then get at least two such creatures actually down, and at that point it's still only Divination... this card is basically unplayable. Renown really hurts here.

Join me in my next installment soon, where I'll post a wildly premature pick order!