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.