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!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Magic Origins Draft Set Analysis Part I: Overall Numbers

For a similar look at things which focuses a bit more on historical comparisons, I recommend Matthew Watkins's excellent Ars Arcanum

In this post, I want to look at the overall numbers which define this draft format. Questions like "How many creatures are there?" "How big are they?" and the like will be answered.

As for methodology, all of the count numbers I am giving here are based on a per draft basis. What this means is, the number I show will be the number you will expect to be opened in the entire draft for one 8-player draft (on average). For example, the number of 2-drops per draft is 38.6, which means that in the average draft, 38.6 creatures with a Converted Mana Cost (CMC) of exactly 2 will be opened by all the players at the table across the total 24 packs.

There were a number of judgment calls I had to make along the way. Is Harbinger of Tides a 2 CMC spell or 4? (I counted it as 2). What about X spells? (I counted them with X = 1). Obviously the rules view these a particular way, but here I am more concerned about how they actually play out - I tend to try to put everything as cheaper here, as you can cast the cards there, so that's where they start to make an impact. Furthermore, I tended to count all the variable-sized things as their smallest version (so renown is off), with the one noticeable exception of Revenant, which I labelled a 3/3. In all of this, there was some guesswork, but I tried to do my best to account for variability. I make this note here, though, so everyone is aware that this stuff will change things, though because these cards aren't very plentiful, it won't have a big effect on the overall format.

With that out of the way, let's start looking at things. We'll start with the mana curve of creatures. Here's a chart of the CMC of all creatures broken out by colour:

Here's the same chart, but without the overall count (so as to be easier to see color-by-color):

So we see a plurality of creatures in the set cost 3. G and W have the most cheap guys. U somehow has a glut of 4-drops.

Next, we'll take another pass at the creatures, but this time by power and toughness instead of by CMC:

Here we see that a big percentage of cards in the format have 2 power and/or toughness. The toughness curve is just to the right of the power curve, so the back-ends tend to be just a little bit higher than the fronts. We can see, though, that there are very few creatures with either power or toughness greater than 4. Given that there are 8 players in the draft, this works out to around 2 such creatures per player per draft, and given that some of these will go unplayed (due to ending up out-of-color or actually unplayable, as several of them actually are), most games you won't see one. If we extend this down to include 4 p/t critters as well, it comes to closer to 3 creatures per player by power, and 5 by toughness. This likely means just under one per game in terms of power, and a bit over one by toughness.

Now, let's break this down by color, with separate graphs for power and toughness:

Black has a higher-than-average percentage of the 3-power creatures, but the big news here is that blue is blowing the 3-toughness out-of-the-water, at 38% of the total.

Next, let's combine these results to look at the typical size of a creature for its cost:

These averages are, once again, weighted by their frequency in packs (i.e. commons count for more than rares). We can see that the slopes are generally pretty gradual (and most of the big spikes are because there are very few different cards and that color and CMC combination), and the biggest upward spike happens at 6 CMC - although you can definitely argue that 2-3 CMC creatures are more efficient in some absolute sense.

Last but not least for creatures, let's look at my favorite little image for checking out the vanilla stats in a format, the Eat/Bounce/Trade Chart:

The way to read this is that, if you have a creature of the size of one of the top two rows, it tells you how many creatures at a given CMC either eat that creature, bounce with it, or trade with it, from each of the three sections, respectively. For instance, if I have a 2/2, at a CMC of 2: 2.37 creatures per draft will eat it (from the top section), 4.752 creatures will bounce with it, and 22.525 creatures per draft will trade with it; at a CMC of 3, that shifts to 9.44 eating it, 10.59 bouncing with it, and 30.30 trading with it.

I do want to note that none of these charts take abilities like first strike or double strike into account, relying instead on pure size. In this format, you need to account for a shift of two commons, two uncommons, and a rare (all in white and red).

Anyway, the big takeaway here, to my eyes, is that there's very little that interacts favorably with a Bear. If you're on the play, the only card that would eat it at 2 mana or less actually ETB tapped (Shambling Ghoul), so you're actually down to Consul's Lieutenant and Knight of the White Orchid. Even moving up to CMC 3, you're only at about 2 cards per player per draft, and again, some of these are going to be stuck in sideboards as their drafters will shift to other colors. So it looks like the real way to deal with these things is to trade, which leads me to think it's going to be fairly important to have a pretty reasonable number of 2-drops in the format. I don't think you necessarily need to have a deck chock full of them, but you are really going to want at least a few - and there aren't all that many to go around.

Finally, let's take a quick look at the interactive spells en masse:

I don't know that this tells you all that much really, but the big glut at 4 CMC is interesting - basically every color but blue has a common removal spell, so there you go.