Sunday, 27 November 2016

MTG Standard - Drawing 4 for 3 mana

A week or two ago, I ran across a player on Magic Online who cast a maindeck Lost Legacy. I scofed a bit to myself - the card does not seem very main-deckable, plus I didn't have many good targets even if they knew my decklist (and as you might guess, I was on a brew, and being early in the game, they didn't know what I was about almost at all).

They targeted themself.

And named.... Eternal Scourge

This combination is incredibly sweet. As long as the Scourges aren't in play or exile, you effectively "draw" four cards, since you get to cast the Scourges from Exile. Note that this isn't even messed up by drawing Scourges, since you get to "cycle" them in that case, putting them into exile (where you can still use them) and drawing a replacement card.

I am very intrigued by this combination, and set out to build a deck around it. Naturally you need the 4 Scourges, and if it's good, I think you want a pretty high number of Lost Legacy as well. The problem is that the remaining Lost Legacy in your deck are pretty bad. Of course, even if you draw two, you're still at a 3 mana draw three, which isn't the worst ever, but you do need to dock that Eternal Scourge isn't exactly the epitome of Constructed Power-level. Well, I could call it "Modern GP winning Eternal Scourge", maybe that would make me feel better. Point is, you want to be able to do something with excess copies, ideally. Fortunately, standard is full of discard themes, so it was just a matter of finding the right one(s).

Furthermore, the biggest weakness of Scourge is generally that it just trades in combat, and ok, that's fine, but it would be nice if we could do more. (Really the biggest weakness is that if there's a way to repeatably target it, you effectively can bounce it over and over - but fortunately there aren't too many of those in Standard). The card that really pops up as doing well in terms of interacting from the Graveyard  is of course Scrapheap Scrounger, which with Eternal Scourge, not only returns itself, but gets you access to the 3/3 again as well.

This let to a couple additional directions. First, I wanted to use Vehicles. Lost Legacy for Scourge is a bit slow, Scrounger doesn't block, so you need to survive, and Vehicles let Scrounger let you do that. Plus all this stuff has three  power, so it can be used for Crew 3 vehicles. Second, we go towards a Zombie shell. That lets us have discard outlets, which work well to get rid of excess Legacies, as well as playing pretty nicely with the Scroungers.

And that's the basic ideas of the deck. Let's look at the list:

I would have loved to have more Skysovereign, but it does cost 5, I think Pariah is generally a bit more important, and you can only have so many 5s in a deck with this kind of curve. Also note that if we can have more of these 23 lands be discard fodder, that's pretty desirable. Mindbenders are genearlly good, but also provide a nice way of getting stuff from play to the 'yard.

Amalgams are the only blue in the deck, but we are playing the full 8 duals. Maybe you can cut a few here, but they're not all that expensive to run (mana base is quite good), and if you think about what we have to get it in play, there's 8 discard outlets plus those 8 blue sources. Yeah, it looks like 12 discard outlets, but while Copter and Cryptbreaker work fine, Haunted Dead only gets you there if it's in the 'yard itself, which happens far more from having one of those other outlets in play at some point first, rather than naturally getting cast and then dying.

I'd like to make a few notes on the sideboard. First, Liliana as a one of here is kind of a joke - that card should almost certainly have a bigger role in the deck. Second, Shamble Back is probably even cheekier. When you have a scourge in the 'yard, it's a 1 mana 2/2 gain 2 draw a Trained Armodon - we're talking Legacy levels of efficiency there. When there's just some random creature, that rate is ok against aggro decks. Plus it's a bit of a mise on Graveyard hate.

In general, there are two ways you can lose - people go under and murder you too fast, or people go over the top. This is about the grindiest possible deck I can think of in the format, so I don't think going over the top in that sense is plausible, but it's possible of course to go taller, most notably with Emrakul. Marvel could be an issue. Fortunately enough, though, we have four main deck Lost Legacy that can help us with that issue. And we get access to a bit more help in the board.

Probably we should be a bit more concerned than we are with the aggro matchpus then - WRx is probably too fast for the way we're configured currently at least. I think we can hang with UW, but would be concerned that their cheap spells are simply more powerful than ours. Anyway, the deck is untested, but it's just the kind of mad scientist idea that I think really ought to be worth a test.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

More Standard Brews - with Panharmonicon

The first brew I'd like to look at today was inspired originally by one Benjamin Weitz on the latest episode of the 2/3 fantastic Podcast Allied Strategies ( The idea is, with a Panharmonicon out, Eldrazi Displacer plus Drowner of Hope (could be any card that makes multiple scions, but Drowner seems best) makes infinite Scions. Which also means infinite Mana, infinite taps, and, with Thought-Knot Seer, infinite milling. It was further devloped watching Kenji "Numot the Nummy" Egashira play a vaguely similar deck on his stream this week, though that one went into significantly more colors and was overall fancier I think, and a bit less focused on Eldrazi Displacer.

Given that I wanted to be Blue, White, and Colorless already, and with Eldrazi Displacer, I had to include my favorite Standard interaction, Eldrazi Displacer plus Spell Queller, which locks opponents out of casting cheap spells, once you have enough mana.

Speaking of mana, getting there is hard. Without painlands especially, fixing for this color combo is not great. Fortunately, Prophetic Prism helps us out. Plus Hedron Crawler is pretty nice in a deck that's looking to be pretty mana hungry anyway. I'm not sure that the current build is exactly where we need to be, but I think it's pretty close. We have a bit of an artifact theme built up, and so along with our ETB theme, Pilgrim's Eye made a lot of sense. with infinite mana, you can use the card to draw all the basics in your deck - along with Evolving Wilds, the Eye value makes you want to play a lot of basics, but I think it's worth it.

The deck is very raw and untuned. It likely doesn't have sufficient interaction right now, and the mix of creatures is probably not quite right. Crane Might also be not good enough to be a 4-of in the deck, though I think it's worth a try anyway.

The sideboard especially isn't very tuned. But it has some ideas, anyway.

The second deck I want to look at today is another Panharmonicon deck. This one is UR Colossus, which is reaosnably known. But my twist is to use Combustible Gearhulk for a bit more Oomph. It's another card with ETB triggers for Panharmonicon, a good emerge target for your EDF, your CMC are fairly high thanks to Colossus and EDF... this seems to be a pretty good deck for the card, and I'd like to see if we can make it work. Additionally, I'd like to note that the Sideboard plan goes in for big energy; some Whirler Virtuoso action, with the potential for infinite thopters - but even a lot of thopters is going to be nice. It's a nice way to diversify threats against control decks or Pick the Brain. There's a good chance you need more defense against the aggro decks, but I think this should be a fun starting point worth trying out.

MTG Standard: BR Control

The card that received perhaps the most hype when spoilers for Kaladesh were first being released was Chandra, Torch of Defiance. And yet, that card has seen not much play. Now largely it was overhyped, but I still think the card is good. This deck started out as a way to try to maximize the card. To that end, you want a deck that can play for enough time to accrue advantage from the 'walker, and you want to have enough cards that are fine to good to play at sorcery speed (which means probably not a counterspell deck).

This led me to looking for lots of removal. And there's lots of removal in red and black, so here we are. Obviously there's some more nuance than that, but things aren't rocket science here.

There's plenty of removal here to be able to handle most of the aggressive decks, and they are of high enough quality to still be quite useful against the midrange decks. Control decks can be somewhat problematic, but your six main-deck planeswalkers do significant work here. Still, the biggest problems I find are with decks going 'over the top', since this deck doesn't really have a great way of locking up that endgame. Thus, the two biggest cards I've had problems with are things like Fevered Visions and Metallurgic Summonings. There's no way of dealing with these cards once they hit, and the deck doesn't have enough of a proactive gameplan to be great there.

I've tried a number of sideboard configurations, and I haven't found one I really feel is particularly great yet. 6 Mana Chandra has been a nice find, but of course you can run into a problem of too many Chandras. Liliana is good in some of the grindier matchups (like delirium) as well as decks with lots of X/1s, but you aren't running super many creatures, and you have ot think about how many you have post-board in those matchups. Gideon is a tough card for the deck to deal with, and that's what the Skysovereign is about, but I am not really convinced by it, especially in this deck. Incendiary Flow vs Harnessed Lightning is interesting - I've mostly given the nod to Flow because it's better against go over the top decks, Scrapheap Scrounger, Prized Amalgam, and planeswalkers, and you have a lot of instant speed removal anyway. But it's a real cost against vehicles and creatures lands (plus the increased flexibility of multiple HL).

The worst matchup for the deck is probably Aetherworks Marvel. It's just incredibly hard to win any time they find Marvel, which they usually will. If that deck gets popular again, this one needs to shift dramatically.

Finally, I'd like to note that the manabase isn't entirely clear - 18 black sources and 16 red is okay, but you have a reasonable number of tap-lands, you get no creature lands, and you could use a little more in terms of sources, and maybe even slightly more in terms of total land count.

Overall, I think the deck is pretty good and pretty well positioned, but it needs some tuning - slightly better proactive plan probably, and better plan against 'walkers like Gideon. Maybe some of the Unlicensed Disintegration should turn into Ruinous path? At which point maybe you switch some Flow back to Harnessed Lightning.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

A Real "Brew-y" Post-Kaladesh Brew

So far, I've heard some buzz around Paradoxical Outcome in two contexts: One is in an Aetherflux Reservoir combo deck, and the other is with Moxen in Vintage. Today, I'd like to take a look behind door number three:

The deck is cheap, both in that it's inexpensive and in that the average converted mana cost of cards in the deck is a lowly 1.1 despite having only 19 lands. The main concept is to use Reckless Fireweaver for some face damage, as well as pushing through more from fliers, all while using Jori En and Paradoxical Outcome to keep the cards flowing, with many many free or cheap creatures. Paradoxical Outcome also has some extra synergy with Enter the Battlefield abilities, like those on Glint-Nest Crane, Prophetic Prism, and Oath of Chandra (this is why we're playing Oath rather than Incendiary Flow, even with 0 Planeswalkers). Speaking of Planeswalkers, this deck might be a reasonable home for Saheeli Rai (though I'm not really convinced she has a home anywhere in the format).

The sideboard is more about different ways the deck could go than it is actual sideboard cards. Specifically, Salivating Gremlins can be a lot of burst damage (though it's quite bad against removal), and Crush of Tentacles can cost 5 and be surged pretty consistently here, AND it also re-triggers all the ETB stuff we wanted to Paradoxical Outcome anyway. A 'real' sideboard plan might have us board into an Aetherflux Reservoir combo deck, but it would almost certainly have more counterspells - particularly Dispels, but also Negates.

The deck could be made even more budget-friendly by taking out a number of Wandering Fumaroles (there's diminishing returns, and activating them is not part of the gameplan very often). Spirebluff Canal is likely the most expensive card in the deck, but it's going to be hard to get around having it - with so few lands, we have to make sure we have enough sources for everything, and with the low curve, we want our lands untapped. (Indeed, 4 taplands may be too many as is, but 14/13 sources is kind of light). If you have to cut sources, you might want to up the number of Prophetic Prisms.

I've also taken a look at adding white to the deck, because we are running so many equipment, and that color has cards that do well in that regard:

Stone Haven Outfitter is obviously incredible here, and is the real pull to this version. Toolcraft Examplar is good, but it's hard to fit many in.

The mana is the biggest drawback to this version, and to get everything to fit, while still having enough artifacts, etc. is a challenge. Probably you need to be pushing harder in some direction or another than what I'm doing here, but this is merely a Rough Draft.

Math on Treasure Chests, New Entry/Prize Structure, and EV

WotC recently announced a huge amount of changes coming for MTGO. I'm not going to touch here on Redemption changes (which basically seem to be straight negatives for the consumer - only silver lining is that online cards won't be cheaper; older cards having value suggests MTGO economy won't completely collapse, but more than that I can't really say). However there have been many other changes announced, dealing with Entry Fees, Prize Payouts, and the new "Treasure Chests". Let's use some analytical mindset, some math, and try to break it down.

I want to note before we begin that, I've spent a decent chunk of time (several hours) putting this together. I've gone through my methodology in a decent amount of detail. Having said that, it's very possible I'm wrong about one or more things here. And I expect, given my conclusions, that many people will want to shout that I am wrong, because they seem dead-set that my end conclusion is wrong. That's fine - if you think I am wrong, I actually actively want to know. But I don't want just a "You're wrong!" or especially a bunch of vitriol without explanation. I want you to point out, at what point am I going wrong? Which of my estimations or assumptions or methodology is wrong? And why? In short, tell me I'm wrong, but give me a reason. Thanks in advance.

Pack Prices:
The most obvious thing here that most people are jumping on is that non-pack entries to drafts/sealed events are lower now than before (while entry fees including packs haven't changed). The supposition is then that pack prices are going to decrease, which de facto will reduce the price of packs and therefore any prize support which includes packs. And this isn't nothing - improving the quality of options competing with using packs should make the packs less valuable to some extent.

Things, however, are not so cut-and-dried. If you look at current booster prices, they're well below 3.33 tickets per pack. The cut-off point is simply not a huge factor as to why they are priced where they are. So what does cause this? Supply and Demand, of course. More specifically in this case, the supply is determined by how many packs people buy from the store plus how many packs are being paid out as prizes. The demand is how many packs people want to crack plus how many they use in limited events.

I assume that far more boosters are being used for limited than just cracked. This is simply because cracking packs is really bad EV. Prices of cards is a factor in this, but that bottom cut-off, like the top cut-offs of buying from the store or being worse than equivalent entry using non-pack entry options, is far enough away from actual price points that it doesn't come into consideration.

I also assume far more packs get put into the system from prizes than are being bought from the store. Again, this assumption stems merely from the fact that it's far cheaper to get packs from other places than buying them from the store.

Given these sources of supply and demand, I'm actually expecting pack prices to increase (slightly, if we don't account for the Redemption Change anyway). This is because supply should be going down - the number of packs awarded in constructed events have been slashed fairly significantly, in favor of other prizes. In the meantime, the demand for packs should not change terribly much. Sure, lower price on the Play Point/ticket entries should change that somewhat, but because that option was and still will be more expensive in practice, this difference shouldn't be a large one. A more significant factor will be actually how many people want to play in those limited events - which has a lot to do with the quality of the format. Of course, being a totally different format is going to make a 'real' comparison somewhat difficult. But the important point here is that if you think the decrease in prizes from constructed events is relatively larger than the decrease in demand because people will enter for play points/tix, then pack prices should go up rather than down. I certainly believe this to be likely, but more importantly, I find it very unlikely that it's so far out of whack that pack prices will significantly drop.

Treasure Chest value:
Each treasure chest has 3 items in it. One of the 3 is guaranteed to be a random Rare/Mythic from a modern set OR a 'curated' card OR some number of Play Points. I'm going to call this a 'value' slot hereafter, even though a lot of the time, this slot will have virtually 0 value. The other two slots will usually be a common or uncommon from Standard, but there's a 1 in 4.5 chance that you'll get one additional 'value' slot and a 1 in 239 chance that all three slots will be 'value' slots. This means you expect 1.23 'value' slots per Chest, on average.

I'm going to assume standard-legal commons and uncommons have 0 value. This isn't strictly true, of course, but typically very few of them have significant value, and there are many many many commons and uncommons in standard, so this approximation is very likely to not be wrong by more than 1 cent or so, which is small compared the estimation errors we have to make from approximations.

So then we need to figure out what the EV of a 'value' slot is. This is hard, because there are a good number of unknowns. Let's start with the knowns though. I will note that for the following, I'm taking everything Pre-Kaladesh, since that set isn't online yet, and the economy for that set hasn't stabilized. Kaladesh will change the numbers a bit, but likely not by much (and probably slightly upward at first, given that most of the cards about to rotate out of Standard have lost most of their value already)

Random Rares/Mythics from Modern:
There are 3063 different rare printings in Modern sets (including Timeshifted cards, and each printing separately). There are 434 different Mythic Rare printings (again, counting each printing separately). In the chests, each rare appears twice as often as each mythic, so there is a (3063*2)/(3063*2+434) = 93.4% chance of hitting a rare, leaving 6.6% to hit a mythic.

I went through set lists and added the prices of each rare and mythic, rounding for convenience and generally ignoring cards less than about half a ticket. I realize that these prices are sell prices rather than buy prices, but I will try to account for that later on (if I knew of a source that had clean lists of buy prices, I would use that instead, as it would be more accurate. Please please let me know if you have seen someone do this analysis more precisely somewhere else). (I should also note that I think I used non-premium versions for everything, which is wrong for a few cases I believe). I came out with a total value of 2067 tickets (this looks more precise than it is; I expect I'm off by maybe 15 or 20 tickets one way or the other, wouldn't be surprised if it's a bit more). This gets to .675 tix per rare, on average, in modern (again, sell prices). I will note that most of the value here comes from the pre-mythic era, with another significant amount on Standard cards. Mythics come up to 1170 tickets (again, I expect to be off by 10-15 tickets in some direction or other), which gets us to 2.70 tickets per Mythic on average. When you combine all of this, you get to a weighted average of 0.81 tickets per Rare/Mythic from Modern. This is pretty closely in line with the number produced here, which I saw after doing my calculations.

Now, as I mentioned before, this is using sell prices, whereas to actually determine the value to most people opening the chest (i.e. people who wouldn't be buying the card), you need a buy price. Doing spot checks on the differences between these, they seem to, for the most part, be a little bit below 90% of the sell price. So I am going to be a little conservative here and estimate a 15% reduction in the sell price to get an estimated buy price of (after artificially rounding down) 0.68 tickets per Rare/Mythic in a Treasure Chest.

Curated Slots
The list of curated cards can be found here: I've seen the (unweighted) average of prices of the list as anywhere from 5 to 7 tickets. The best analysis I've seen is here: and it suggests slightly over 5 tickets per card, not including any value from the Gearhulks (which will probably bump the average between .1 and .2). It's very hard to know the actual value of what these will be, because the frequency of the different cards are different. I haven't seen anyone who thinks the opened average will be anything besides less than the unweighted average (generally they are going to want to keep the rarer cards rarer); it's just a question of how much less. My guess is that it will probably between the 3-4 range, closer to 4. I've seen other people estimate on the order of 2.23. When I calculate different potential EVs for a chest, I'll present a number of different options.

Play Points
I'm going to use a conversion of 10 Play Points = 1 ticket. This holds for entry into events. Tickets are obviously more liquid assets, and thus more valuable. But the loss in value really only comes in in one of two places: First, if you're winning enough that you're always running a surplus of Play Points. In this case, you end up with excess play points, rather than other assets, and because you can't transform them into other assets, it's merely a waste. Second, if you want to sell all the assets out of your account, you can't get any value out of the play points. However, there are very few people in the first scenario (plus they are very profitable already, just less so than they otherwise would be). And my assumption is that people will typically play in more events at a far higher rate than they will sell out of their account. So all in all, yes, I would definitely rather have 1 ticket than 10 play points. But over the large scale, the differences are so small that I'm using the conversion. Take that for what you will.

I will add for a moment that these changes, because they increase the number of play points going out as prizes, necessarily will make more people fall into category one, where they are left with mounds of play points that just go up and up and up over time - particularly players who are pretty good at constructed but rarely if ever draft. That's a serious negative for that group.

In terms of how many Play Points you can expect from Treasure Chests, in the video where Lee Sharpe demonstrates the chests, we see him open 10 total chests. By counting the number of cards contained (26), and subtracting that from the total number of slots (30), we can see that 4 of the slots must have been devoted to Play Points. We also see that he opened a total of 50 Play Points, which gets us to a displayed average of 12.5 Play Points per Play Point payout. Obviously this average is based on a very small sample, so it could be off by a reasonable amount. My guess is that this was 3 sets of 10 Play Points and 1 set of 20 Play Points. So I'm guessing there's some distribution for Play Points which is unknown, but most likely 10 is the lowest and most common payout, sometimes you get 20, maybe sometimes you get more.

Adding it all up
If we look at the same video, we can see that Lee opened, from his 10 Chests, 12 'value' slots, which is close to the average we'd expect based on the reported numbers (in fact, it's the most likely number; DEFINITELY within normal variation). Of these 12 'value' slots, as I said 4 were Play Point bundles. Two were curated cards (Remand and Force of Will). This leaves the remaining 6 as being random rares/mythics from Modern (unless I've missed somewhere that one of those was curate - please let me know if that's the case).

This gets us to seen averages of 1/6 Curated Cards, 1/3 Play Points, and 1/2 random rare/mythic from Modern. Again, this is small sample size, and there's a very good chance it's off a little bit in some direction or the other, but it also seems quite plausible that this is the distribution.

If we take the seen averages as real averages, then if we take average curated card at 3.5 tickets, we end up with 'Value Slot' EV of:
(1/6 chance of curated)*3.5 Tickets + (1/3 chance of play points)*1.25 tickets + (1/2 chance of Rare/Mythic) *.68 Tickets = 1.34 Tickets. This leads to a Chest EV of 1.65 Tickets.
If we shift Curated average to 3 tickets, we fall to 'value slot' EV of 1.26 Tickets and Chest EV of 1.55 Tickets.
At Curated = 2.5, 'value slot' = 1.17, Chest = 1.44. And at Curated = 2.0, 'value slot' = 1.09, Chest = 1.34.

Other values, you can do the Math yourself (or if you ask nicely, I will probably get back to you).

In terms of the bottom line on restructuring of Prizes and Entries:
This post  has the best breakdown I have seen so far. If we apply current pack prices and make our 10 play points to 1 ticket equivalency, then Competitive Leagues need Treasure Chest value to be .733 Tickets/Chest in order to be equal overall (weighted average of all records). As you can see, even the most conservative calculations above are showing Chest values to be will in excess of this figure, which means effectively that prize payouts in these leagues have increased (though not necessarily that they've increased by a large amount).

In Friendly leagues, if we also ignore QPs being gone, then Chests need to have an EV of 1.46 tickets in order to break even overall before compared to now. The pessimistic view would then show these leagues as now paying out less. However the more optimistic or average-case-best-guess estimates show an increase in payouts for friendly leagues, too.

Bottom Line: Payouts are increasing for Competitive Leagues almost certainly, and there's a good chance (but less sure) they're going up for Friendly Leagues as well.

Caveats and Downsides:
It's not all good.

Of course, we don't actually know the distribution of things. I think you'd have to be quite cynical to think that they've rigged what Lee showed in the video to be unrepresentative of average in a big way, but it's of course possible he got slightly luckier than average on categories. The big question, though, remains in the Curated Cards. If they weight it such that the expensive cards are WAY less likely than the Atogs of the world, EV will plummet. At the worst case of Curated Card EV = 0, Chest EV goes all the way to .93 Tickets per chest, which means Competitive Leagues would STILL go up, but if you factor in that Play Point and other distribution might be different, it could be a little worse.

Furthermore, WotC's lack of transparency on these points is troubling. I certainly don't expect them to tell us the EV of a chest, since that will be in Flux, and they want to avoid appearances of paying a set rate of $$ so as to not look like gambling. However, I see little reason why they can't give us more information about the distribution of the Curated cards (or their methodology here) and especially why we can't know how often you get Play Points vs Curated vs random Rare/Mythic. It's also somewhat bothersome that they have given us no information about the distribution of the different sized bundles Play Points come in - or even that there are bundles of different sizes.

Also, this prize situation creates an enormous Variance in prize payouts beyond what existed before. So even though on average things work out ok, in the short run, there's a big chance that you are worse off than before, because many curated cards and most random rares/mythics are worth very little (and also somewhat harder to trade than packs, because they all have different names). People want to have stable prizes. They also want to make sure that a 5-0 will get them a bigger prize than a 4-1, which will be bigger than a 3-2, which is no longer the case. Yes, we were getting more packs before, and those could be opened which also has big variance. But WotC knows, just as the community knows, that people weren't, for the most part, using these packs to open them; they are either entering limited events with them or trading them away - neither of which are things that Treasure Chests can do. Making the Chests themselves tradeable would go a long way to solving the variance problems, but of course it's not a panacea.

As I mentioned above with play points, the prizes now are less liquid than before. And more players will be stuck with playpoints they aren't using (at which point those play points become valueless). This has its definite negatives, and... no real positives for the consumer.

Card prices for a lot of the curated cards (as well as the random rares/mythics from Modern) will also likely fall to some extent following this, which will eat into the EV. It's really hard to know exactly the size of this effect, and it probably won't be much, but that is something which can definitely be a negative as well. Actually let me expand on this a little bit. For any given Modern rare, the chance you get one from any slot is 1/2 of 2 in 6560, so for any chest it's about 1 in 5330. The average league run hands out 1.03 chests. So 1 in 5170 leagues will add an Engineered Explosives to the system (for example). A given Mythic is half as common. 1000 leagues per day (very rough guess) means 1.3 to 1.4 of any given Rare, and somewhat less than 1 of any given mythic, are entering the system per week. The numbers for Curated cards are going to be likely on the same order of magnitude - there is less of a chance to get a curated card, but there are fewer of them as well, and we again don't know the weighting between the different cards. In any event, it seems very clear that the influx rate is significantly lower than we're getting from the Flashback drafts. This is a continual increase in supply of course though, and would need to be offset by a sustained increase in demand over time to keep prices from falling; however, the rate of a few per week entering the system means that not that much net increase in game play (of that specific card) has to occur for prices to remain fairly stable. Therefore, I expect prices to drop on cards which are expensive mostly because they've been stupendously rare (e.g. Rishadan Port), while remaining reasonably steady (not bigger changes than normal variations we've seen in the past) for cards which are expensive because they see gobs of play (e.g. Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil).

Finally, and this one hasn't been talked about much, contents of the chests are set on opening, rather than on obtaining the chest. This is not surprising given that it would be a bit of a disaster to try to show "this is the chest you got on date X, this is the one you got on date Y", etc. But the important thing is, it encourages you in many ways to hold your chests until they change the curated card list/distribution to be more monetarily favorable. In fact, there's a decent chance that this is the reason they aren't telling us the curated frequencies. But if that's the case, it's a poor remedy, a medicine that is likely worse than the disease. What would be far preferable would be a way to solve the original problem, to remove the incentive for sitting on chests (by not allowing that to be possible/plausible).

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Post-Kaladesh Standard Brews: Ghirapur Orrery, Key to the City + Robowolf, Artifact Aggro

Kaladesh, a new set, meant for inventing. And my brewing brain is really going off, so let's dig into some more.

The first card from Kaladesh that really jumped out at me as being one I wanted to build around was Ghirapur Orrery. There are two halves of the card, and I suppose it's the third different play-an-extra-land effect in Standard nwo, but really the thing that interested me here was the ability to draw three extra cards fairly consistently. You need to do it once (once more than your opponent, to be more precise) to get to a 4 mana draw 3, which is a good but not outstanding rate in Standard. Getting there twice is an enormous advantage - game-winning.

Obviously the card wants you to play your stuff out. This suggests to me you want to be proactive, and for the most part, reasonably aggressive. My first thought, then, was for a RG aggressive deck, leveraging Noose Constrictor's ability to empty your hand out. The esteemed Dr. Frank Karsten had a similar idea as deck #17 in his list of Kaladesh brews on Here's my version:

One card I want to highlight here which I think is very good, but is missing from the above-mentioned list from Frank Karsten, is Key to the City. It discards things for benefit to help you keep handsize down when you want it, loots through to find important cards when you need that, is a discard outlet for Fiery Temper (and the miser's Stromkirk Occultist), and of course pushes through damage. It's good here with Noose Constrictor, letting you 6 them or something out of nowhere, and it's also very good with the RoboWolf itself.

A couple other notes on this list: I have a Ravenous Bloodseeker as a 5th way to empty your hand at any point (yes, it will kill itself in that process, but you can do it - make sure you hold priority and respond to the ability's activation). I'm pretty unsure of exactly what the right suite of Burn spells is, but I like the aggro creatures, the hand emptying, and having a lot of burn in this kind of deck.

My next take on Orrery was built around some ideas I first saw in Neal Oliver's excellent stream ( - from Neal himself, as well as fellow viewers Blm4l and wujo444. It takes a GB spin on things:

I'm pretty dubious of this one in many ways, but it does have some sweet things going for it. In some ways it's very similar to the GB Delirium decks we've seen. And we have Olivia's Dragoon in the party to help us empty our hands out. But we've also got The Gitrog Monster as a payoff, and that gets us a few things going on. It turns our Noose Constrictor to turn all lands into spells (by repeatedly discarding - Gitrog draws you a card). There's some definite synergy in that fashion.

Finally, we get to the Orrery deck I expect to be the best of them all.... Vampires?!

Obviously, the deck needs a much better name (I'm taking suggestions!). Who would have guessed that it was the set AFTER Innistrad block, in which there are 0 Vampires, that we would see the vampire deck finally succeed? I guess it's me, because I really think this can be a player. We have Olivia's Dragoon as a way to get insta-hellbent. We have Stromkirk Condemned, Heir of Falkenrath, and Key to the City (and to some extent, Olivia, Mobilized for War) to fuel discard synergies/madness and help us to get to that hellbent status. We have lots of Madness effects to get value from those discards at all times. Plus we have other synergies, besides Orrery, that care about us being hellbent - from the Wolf to Bloodhall Priest to the Miser's Asylum Visitor. I definitely expect the exact numbers to be wrong here, but I really like the general look of this deck - lots of evasive threats, lots of burn, and some efficient, big creatures that can hold the board a little bit, too.

This takes me to the second half of the post. It also looks to me like there is another powerful Black/Red Aggressive deck in the format. There are certainly some overlaps between the two, and it's possible that the best build is somewhere in the middle, but for now, let's look at the straight-up Red/Black Artifact Aggro deck:

Obviously here we have some of the same synergies we saw before, with Madness (now also enabled by Smuggler's Copter), but we also have some nice aggressive artifact and artifact-related cards. The Copter itself is almost certainly the best of these. Nerd Ape and the Lookout chip in as early attackers for 2. Lookout is also particularly good with vehicles of course. I'm not sure how good Bomat Courier is - I am skeptical, but reports I've heard say it's good...... This is probably near the best area for Unlicensed Disintegration. I think I'm much lower on Pia Nalaar than most other people, and a big part of me wants to lower the curve even more and cut some lands, but it's a bit difficult to know how right that is.

On this one, we've swapped out the black for white. This gets us access to a couple good 1 drops (most notably Toolcraft Exemplar), along with cards like Depala. It also gets us Fragmentize in the sideboard, along with the potential for Gideon. I think this deck is not quite there, but wouldn't at all be surprised to something along these lines doing well. Also notice the Built to Smash which are present here - I think they might be important for a deck like this having success.

This is obviously a spin off of the previous deck, but more on the equipment theme. Inventor's Goggles get you another cheap equipment (12 creatures in the deck it equips free to). Weapons Trainer gives us a nice bonus, and between it and bushwhacker, reason to go wide. My number balance is probably not correct here - needs more equipment perhaps, or to focus more or less on the wide theme. Maybe you cut some Smuggler's Copters even. But I do think this is another interesting direction to explore.

Finally, when you try to mash the Boros and Rakdos versions of the artifact aggro decks together, you get this disgusting monstrosity. I can't say I really recommend this one - the manabase is really bad, and the payoffs aren't much higher than the 2 color versions. But it's there to try, if you're ambitious.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Kaladesh Limited Numbers

This set, I've done something a bit different. Mostly this is down to not having as much time. Instead of making a comprehensive spreadsheet with every card in it, I've gone through the specific traits I cared about, and counted up the number of cards at each rarity which fit the bill. End result should be the same, but in all likelihood I've been a bit less comprehensive.

Again, the numbers I give here are all going to be on a per-draft basis, i.e. the average number you expect to be opened over 24 packs. I'm excluding foils, as always, as well as the new entry into the Masterpiece series, Kaladesh Inventions. And again, this is all the cards in the set - I'm not making any judgments here based on "what's playable" (I leave that up to you, the reader).

Kaladesh is an artifact set, so let's start there. There are 68.9 Artifacts per draft, plus 18.8 Fabricate cards and 4.5 other cards that make artifacts, for a grand total of 92.3 cards in each draft that either are or make an artifact. Obviously a lot of these cards are mediocre to bad, but the point here is that if you want to have enough artifacts to make sure you have one in play when you want to, you can do that - an average of over 11 per drafter is plenty, and even discounting the bad ones, if you put a bit of emphasis on getting them, this shouldn't be a problem.

On the flip side, how many cards care about you having artifacts? 9.5 per draft care about you having a certain number (on most of those, the threshold is one, but in a few it's higher). Beyond that, 22.1 want you to have effectively as many as possible (either buffing them, cheapening them, triggering off them entering the battlefield, etc). So in total, that's 31.7 cards per draft for which you actively want artifacts.

I would love to go deep on energy, but likely won't for a couple reasons. First, it would take a long time to do the justice I want to. And second, good analyses already exist. I recommend checking those links out if you're interested. I will give some perfunctory numbers - 58.6 cards per draft generate energy, of which 45.8 cards per draft use it.

I've already done some analysis of the mechanic, so here I'll just add that the cards are, as a whole, strong. Also, some numbers - only 12.1 Vehicles per draft, which is a lot fewer than I think most people are imagining. Definitely enough that they're around, but I think you'd kind of need to go out of your way to get too many - as most decks should be able to hold two without much problem, and three pretty reasonably as well. You do still want to not draft too many of them, but as long as you keep creature balance in mind, I think you'll be fine.

I will also note that 8.75 cards per draft care about Vehicles, either by explicitly referring to them (some of the pilots, Start Your Engines), or by giving you some bonus when they become tapped.

There are 13.2 Enchantments per draft in the set. I basically just bring this up for use when you're trying to figure out how main-deckable your Naturalize effects are.

+1/+1 Counters
One half of Fabricate is artifacts, and how many cards care about those; the other half is +1/+1 counters. 28.75 cards per draft do this beyond the Fabricate critters, which gets you to a total of 47.6 cards per draft when you include the Fabricators as well.

On the flip side of the mechanic, just below 5 cards per draft actually care about +1/+1 counters, definitely focused more in Green than anywhere else.

75.6 Creatures per draft have some kind of enter-the-battlefield effect. Of these, 34.8 are providing energy, 18.8 are Fabricate, and the remaining 21.9 are "something else". To compliment that, the number of blink or flicker or self-bounce cards per draft is 12.7 per draft - not tons, but in fairness, more than the number of Vehicles. Of course, some of those aren't great, and more are generally going to be targeting your opponent's stuff. But you can notice this, anyway.

There are 40 pieces of removal per draft, or 5 per player. This is very marginally less than EMN (41) and OGW (42), and marginally more than SOI (38). I will note, though, that there are more-than-average sweepers - black, black/green, and red all have uncommons that care about toughness (along with a Black Mythic which does as well), and White has a rare and a mythic (both of which don't). That gets us to a total of 3.5 Sweepers per draft, which is still small but, way way higher than we normally get. This in turn means we've got very slightly less spot removal than we typically do, but I don't think this will be noticeable.

Please let me know if there's anything else you'd like me to run the numbers on here - I will try to do so if I can find time. I'll try to give some impressions of cards to give 'hot takes' or opinions on, but we'll see if I get the time. I do have some more constructed deck sketches I am working on for sure.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Post-Rotation Standard Deck Idea: 4 Color Jolly Green Giants

This is a rough sketch or outline of a deck I think could be strong in a post-rotation metagame. The idea is very straightforward: play the biggest, best creatures, be able to block any small stuff, and smash face. We get to play a lot of colors because of Aether Hub, basic-land-searchers (Attune with Aether, Traverse the Ulvenwald, Evolving Wilds), and the new Servant of the Conduit. We want to play a lot of colors mostly for Woodland Wanderer.

Tamiyo is tremendous with both the aforementioned Woodland Wanderer as well as Sylvan Advocate. It's also just a straight-up good card, of course. Verdurous Gearhulk makes sure that we have the biggest creatures around and can push through big damage.

There are a lot of things I'm a bit less sure on with the deck. What should the 4th color be? Red gives us access to Radiant Flames, plus a few other cards. Should we go up to the 4th Tamiyo? How good is the new Nissa here? How many 2 drops do we want - Servant of the Conduit and Sylvan Advocate seem like locks, and here I've supplemented 2 Lambholt Pacifist, but this probably isn't the best Lambholt deck ever - we're all sorcery speed, which makes it hard to flip, for instance. It's possible we want more or less, or we might want Selfless Spirits instead - one of our biggest weaknesses is to Wraths (which really look to be white now).

The 3 drop slot is another big question - there are a lot of options here, between Kambal, Tracker, Fairgrounds Warden, Spell Queller, Thalia, Reflector Mage... and that's only the creatures. Maybe some removal, card draw, planeswalkers also could fit in that slot.

So there are a lot of ways the deck can go. But one thing I want to touch on is of course the mana base. If we count Aether Hub as a source of all colors (which is a little bit precipitous), then our lands give us 18 sources of green (13 of which are untapped), with 10 land-based sources of each other color. On top of that, we have the 6 spell-based basic-searchers, which gets us to 16 sources of each of those colors contingent on having a Green mana, plus the 4 Servants of the Conduit. This looks like a lot - 20 sources for the splash colors certainly is - but of course in reality we're counting all the land searchers and Aether Hub can't reliably be sources of 4 different colors. I think this should be sufficient to be ok, but I'd definitely want to do some testing (or at least simulation) to make sure we're actually hitting our mana reasonably, and that we aren't over-fixing. If we could trim a land-searcher or two, that would be tremendous, especially because A) we're currently sitting on 32 mana sources (counting the 1 CMC searchers and the mana dorks), and B) counting the searchers as tap-lands, we have fully 12 of those. I would be remiss if I didn't note that while we can definitely tweak the mana a bit, it's pretty hard to get to double of any non-green color reliably (I think), though you probably could if you really wanted to (though it would mean some sacrifices).

In terms of the sideboard, this is really thrown together quickly. Selfless Spirits are protection against sweepers (reasonable against other ground decks). Kambal seems good against burn, as does the Stomper. Negate is good against control and burn. And there are a handful of other cards against control. Frankly the sideboard is probably really bad, and I at least want to consider some Naturalize effects, but mostly you need to have some expectation of a metagame before you can properly build a 'board.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Vehicles: Analogy and Analysis

One of the two hot new mechanics from the upcoming Magic: the Gathering set, Kaladesh, is Vehicles. There's a lot of hype, a lot of discussion, a lot of comparisons being made. In the end, it's pretty hard to grok quite how they'll play - we don't have experience with them at all. But let's try to start breaking them down.

Comparison One: Equipment
The thing I have seen Vehicles compared to most often are Equipment. I think this is largely from a conceptual level - both are artifacts, both require creatures to do anything, both take two cards to make one larger creature, both represent tools which augment a person/creature's ability to perform tasks, especially from a real-world perspective. But while there are a number of parallels, there are also a number places where the comparison doesn't really work. The most obvious is probably that, once you cast the Vehicle, it doesn't require more mana to do its thing, rather a creature. Also, with a vehicle, the only attribute of the 'base', small creature that matters is its power.

But the biggest difference comes when an opponent kills the combined giant monster. With equipment, you just move it over, and presto change-o, you have a new giant monster. Or, at least you did back when they would print substantial buffs on equipment, from cards like Vulshok Battlegear or Vulshok Morningstar. Because that was such a huge advantage, so hard to beat, they've generally stopped doing that - equipment tends to be much weaker nowadays. (Similarly, you used to be able to move equipment to have effect on both attack and defense, but that's dampened by weaker equipment and higher equip costs).

You can't do this with vehicles; kill the vehicle, you're left with [a] smaller creature[s]. And that's it - there's no way to go big again. So of course, this makes vehicles in some way inherently 'worse' than equipment... except that R&D understands all of this, so the development team has thus balanced the cards... accordingly? It remains to be seen if they're actually stronger or weaker in practice, I suppose, but the point is that you actually need to look at the rates on the cards to know for sure. Gaining Life is 'inherently weaker' than doing damage, but W for gain a billion would be stronger than Shock.

Comparison Two: Bestow
So bestow also has many similarities to vehicles - again, you're using 2 cards to make one bigger creature, investing a reasonable amount of mana to get this, but in two chunks. And in this case, if you kill the big creature, you're left with a small one, just like is the case with vehicles. This analogy still has the smaller creatures total attributes mattering though, which is still different from how vehicles work. 

Comparison Three: Emerge
The last comparison I'd like to draw is with Emerge creatures. We just saw these, of course, so they're fresh in everyone's mind. And once again, we're using two creatures, and a requisite amount of mana split into two chunks, to get one large creature in the end. Emerge is a better analogue to vehicles in the sense that, in the end, your big creature is just what's printed on that big card. But vehicles lack the on-cast triggers of emerge cards, and Emerge creatures,  when killed, leave nothing behind. They do, though, point out nicely that how the cards are balanced by the development has the biggest impact on the cards' strength, and not just the inherent mechanic. If the emerge creatures didn't get you card advantage from their cast triggers, just putting two cards in for one big body would be pretty bad. But they did give us these effects, and the cards turned out strong.

So I think all three of these provide decent analogies for Vehicles, but as I said at the top, none are perfect, and you really need some independent analysis to go on. I'm going to try my hand at this, but I do want to note that I'm going to be talking about general/generic case here, which applies more to limited than anything else - in constructed, you're obviously only aiming for good case scenarios.

The first thing I want to note here is what I'm calling "Effective Power" - on a board where your opponent has no creatures, your vehicle is hitting them with only their power minus their crew cost, since you have to sacrifice attacking with that much power in order to animate your vehicle (best case - sometimes, you sacrifice more). When you do this subtraction, their at-first-gaudy numbers start to look significantly worse.

On the flip side, of course, when you're squaring your vehicles off against opposing creatures, they still trade with the full force as printed on the card. In this case, they're an excellent deal. Thus, we get to a simple conclusion/motto: with vehicles, trading is good, racing is bad. (No, the irony that vehicles don't want to race is not at all lost on me).

Still, this isn't exactly a huge secret, so of course when you're playing against vehicles, you'll be working cross-purposes to that. When someone activates a vehicle and attacks, the best response is generally going to be not to trade with it, but either take the damage, or chump block. Attacking with a vehicle is going to open up a weakness - you're tapping what's probably a significant portion of your board presence, leaving yourself open to a crack-back; this kind of play leads to, you guessed it, racing (so the flavor isn't all lost, I guess?)

So in order to get advantage with vehicles, you have a few options:
  1. Be so far ahead that they HAVE to trade/can't race
  2. Have the board so clogged that they can't crack back
  3. Use them on defense more than offense
To expound on the last point a bit, having the vehicle back on defense means you just have a big creature threatening to eat anything small, which means they can only attack with very large things themselves, which mitigates the fact that your effective creature count on board is lower than if the vehicle were just a creature. Or, they go really wide and just accept losing some creatures, at which point they have to flunge with a LOT of stuff, at which point you get to milk the natural defender's advantage for all it's worth. You might have an objection that one of the advantages of vehicles is that when you attack with them, you get to dodge sorcery-speed removal, and by blocking, you give that up. This is somewhat true, but in order to get you to yield that, they have to be attacking with something large enough that your other creatures can't handle it. So for the privileged of using that sorcery-speed removal, they have to 2-for-1 themselves, with a pretty good creature as one of those two, to boot. It is worth noting, though, that this is a pretty real downside of activating just to have your vehicle "bounce", so you might want to avoid that where possible.

Of course, I would be remiss to not note that the Development team has understood this play pattern, where vehicles tend to inherently be better on defense. They have compensated for this by giving very many of them offensive-minded abilities. Trample, Menace, Haste, Attack triggers, blocking restrictions on opposing creatures... even flying is generally more useful on offense than defense. Look at the vehicles in the set, and you'll see that a huge percentage of them have something like this, and you'll see it's pretty clear that there is this inherent defensive nature to the subtype. These inducements will probably make it right to attack a lot of the time, but they of course won't always. And it's extra worth noting that, on the few vehicles which don't have these kinds of incentives, blocking is going to be the go-to way to be.

To learn more, you really need to look at individual cards... but that's a separate post.

Monday, 11 July 2016

EMN Limited Set Review Part II: Card Highlights

This is the segment of the set review where I just go through some individual cards that either have some math analysis on how good they are, which I think are interesting, or that I think are being significantly misunderstood or mis-evaluated. Last time I did this, I definitely had some misses. But I don't think you go into the set review business expecting to get them all right. Actually, I don't think you go into the set review business at all.... in any case, let's get back on the horse (and hope it doesn't eldrazi-fy in the meantime)!

How often are you going to hit with this? Well, a hypergeometric calculator gives us this table (which I expect to see in an article from the wonderful Dr. Frank Karsten soon):
The big point is that 3/4 for 4 is already pretty serviceable, so drawing the card is gravy on the cake. That's the right expression, right? Well, it's a baguette at any rate. Anyway, about half of white's creatures are humans, and a big chunk of greens, with a smattering in other colors. If you just stay true to average (and I probably wouldn't go far out of my way to play humans for this card), then in GW you will probably have roughly 7-8 other humans (roughly 60% hit rate), whereas if you're pairing white with another color, it will be closer to 5-6 (slightly less than 50%). In the cases you miss, you're probably getting a tiny bit of value by digging towards humans, but that's pretty slight.

So on the whole, you're getting about half a card. Seems pretty darn good, but not broken.

The card is going to be swingy, no question about it. Instant speed removal can really blow you out badly, especially if it's giving your opponent a surprise blocker. Knowing what's in the format will help you play around that in many cases. Most such removal is sitting at the Uncommon level. But I actually think there's going to be a lot of play in this card as well - when do you cast it on a big creature, which will be more secure, and when on a small one, to avoid all your eggs going in one basket? In general, I think the card will be pretty darn good, but of course, it's not without its risks.

This is my early pick for best blue common. Between your own ETB effects, opposing werewolf transforms for a zillion mana, Emerge creatures, and the occasional permanent buff (creatures that get counters from when other stuff dies or is sacrificed, or might I suggest the card right above this one), there's going to be quite a bit of value to be had, I think, when you get an extra card to boot. But even in a bad case, bouncing any creature with CMC of 4 or more is a tempo-positive cantrip, 3 is tempo-even, and even bouncing an opposing 2-drop is a 1-mana-down cantrip, which isn't the worst thing ever.

Casting one of this is obviously bad. Casting the second is obviously good. Does getting to cast the second make up for having to cast the first? I think so, but it isn't fantastic - 4 mana for +1 card is below rate, but you do get to split it up, and I expect this to be a bit of a slow format. Compare to Courrier's Capsule. It's worth pointing out that Mill/Looting and to some extent discard can help you out here. But I still don't think I would run these almost ever with less than 3 in my deck. You won't get 3 very often (on average, only 2 will be opened in a draft), so I wouldn't pick it high, but you can spend a mid-pack pick on one if you tihnk another will wheel. If you ever get to cast 3 in a game, you've obviously done it, with a split-cost Opportunity.

It's worth noting that this is really the best chance you have in this set of reliably getting an enchantment in your graveyard (at common, since SOI commons are now rarer than EMN uncommons), which is fairly important for Delirium. It also kills 80% of the format (or more, if you include tokens). Not only is this going to be the best Black Common, it won't be all that close. I'm fairly confident there's a bigger gap here than in any other color.

I think I've learned my lesson from Angelic Purge and Sinister Concoction: This card will be good. Now, it is worth noting that between costing 5, there being less madness overall and in black in particular, and actually wanting your lands in play because of additional mana sinks, you're going to get to mitigate that discard cost much much less than you did with the Concoction. This is also worse for Delirium. On the flipside, though, the "sacrifice a creature" part is actually less painful now - we have a lot more fodder now, probably largely because they needed to make Emerge work. You can't load yourself up on too many sac effects without enough fodder, but I think you can make this work.

It's also worth noting that you need them to have two creatures for this to be not bad - there's no 'up to' clause. Still, that's not uncommon, and 3-for-2ing yourself when the 2 are their two best creatures, has got to be worth it, in general. So I expect this to be one of the better black uncommons, while still far far below the top dog (Murder).

I am not a fan of playing Hill Giant, and the tribal benefits are pretty minor here. But Madness is a real thing, especially because it's the only black madness card in the set, and you're reasonably likely to have a discard outlet lying around somewhere. If you can ever flash this in to effect, for only 3 mana, it's a pretty big game. Hill Giant isn't that far below the curve, so I expect to be playing it fairly often even if I only have a couple cheap outlets - maybe half the time overall, maybe a little more.

I think a good comparison here is Fireshrieker. That card was pretty good, but not absolutely amazing. You could pay its cost in installments, but once you were going to the second creature, it cost more overall. It was colorless, though, and importantly, it worked on defense. So it's hard for me to think this will be a good card, but with the number of boardstalls that seem likely, it will probably be at least playable.

As I noted in my mathy review, this kills about 20% of the creatures in the format. My guess is that that's enough to make it begrudgingly main-deck-able, or more likely, a card I'd like to have in my sideboard. Worth noting that I think it would be pretty playable as an instant (where it can block and kill an x/3, with some options for upside), or as a 1 mana card. Also, this does have some applications in "finish a creature off, get a devil", but.... a devil for 3 mana is too bad to help you on such a minor trade-up, I think.

This card is very good. 3 mana shock is a bit below rate, but would get played reasonably often anyway. 4 mana to deal 3 to a single creature is in a similar reasonable-not-good territory. The option between the two is already getting to be a fine inclusion. This also has the board-sweep option, which is a nice little plus. Four mana is going to be very common - killing one thing, and trading up with one or more others (and picking off X/1s). People are going to learn to expect this and play around it - that'll be a key skill in the format. Problem is, it's going to be pretty touch to play around most of the time.

The big thing I want to point out, though, is that the fully escalated version is actually an overrun variant. 5 mana, probably kill a thing, all your stuff gets trample, and hits in for 1 more because you pinged their stuff. Not as big pump for sure, and scales off their blockers rather than your attackers. But one cheaper, instant speed, and probably most important, with lots of flexibility.

There's enough sacrifice that I expect this to make the cut... probably a bit more than half the time. Friendly reminder that clues count.

The nice thing about this is that you can just "raw dog" it on turn 2, and you'll almost never miss. With very few Vessels of Nascency anymore, this is going to be one of the better ways to get to Delirium, which is quite a bit harder now. The more important this is for you, the better this card is.

I think this card might actually be reasonable. Transform costs are a lot more than this, and flipping is very much like a combat trick much of the time. The thing I really want to note, though, is that this is the only way to get the new eldrazi werewolves back to the front side.... though you'd almost never want to. I guess someone somewhere will at some point use this to get around a Humble the Brute or something, and I will be happy then.

People seem to think this card will be very good. I look at the font side and see... well, 3 mana for an 0/3 and a 3/2 is fine, but not worth sacrificing a permanent, unless you're getting big value from that. We see lots of fodder in this set, but I'm still rather skeptical. It's certainly not a turn 3 play. But I think that, in general, to be good enough, you have to have a reasonable chance of turning on Delirium. I am thinking that's going to be a good bit harder now than it was before, which makes me think that this card is middling. If you can get it fairly reliably, then the card becomes quite good.

I think this is getting slept on significantly. 3 mana 2/3 is only slightly under where we want to be. Tap to mill for 2 is fairly powerful in the format. If you can ever flip it, the back half is really game-winning if you aren't massively behind - and even if you are, paying 3 mana for a 4/6 is more or less better than you can hope for. Hard to imagine the card can be too great, since it will be a bit tricky getting enough colorless creatures to make this reliable (remember, you only count front faces). That brings the average number of colorless creatures per draft to 11.6. I expect you can get a disproportionate number of those, so let's say 3 on average. That means you'll usually draw or mill one within a couple turns of this being out, which makes it such that you're reasonably likely to flip it by the time you'd be flipping a wolf (assuming it isn't too hard to trade a critter off) - but with no additional mana cost.

I'm actually going to go ahead and predict this will be the best green common, over Prey Upon. I wouldn't be surprised to be wrong on that, but they're at least in the same ballpark. Mana dorks are typically good anyway, and this format has tons of mana sink. This has the extra bonus of being quite relevant in the late game, too. It's just a win/win/win.

People seem to think this card won't be good. I don't think it will be amazing - 3 is kind of a lot to equip - but +2/+2 is a big bonus, and if it's slow and board-stall-y, as I expect, this one will be above average.

People are really scared of the rider here. Obviously, that's not a good thing for you. But you can plan for it, and this creature is just sooo big. Artifact creature also helps delirium. You have to be wary of enchantment-based removal here, which probably makes this a tiny better if you have sac effects to get out from under it, but I think that just by itself, it's already something I'm never cutting form my deck, and usually pretty happy to have.

And the last card is one I think is pretty overrated. Yes, gravedigger is usually pretty good. Adding a mana, power, and toughness.... you can debate if that's good or not - I think it's a weakening. But being limited to CMC 3 or less is a real cost, and one I think is being underestimated. There are a couple things it stops you from doing; first of all, you can't loop this thing. So your endless loop of value has been cut off. Possibly more importantly, you can't get actually good creatures back with this very often. Finally, you're going to have 0 legal targets for this, which is a molten disaster, way more often than with normal Gravedigger. So I expect this to be a mid-late pick (6th-10th ish), and while totally playable, also definitely cuttable.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

EMN Limited Set Review Part I: Gory Numbers and Differences from SOI

The set is fully spoiled, and I've been chugging some math - the numbers are in! In this first part of the set review, I'm going to go through the major themes and mechanics, and see how much support they have now that EMN is around. Importantly, because this is the second set of the block, I am going to use heavy comparisons between this format and the previous one. Because EMN is a small set, and because it's 2/3 of packs now, things can potentially have changed a lot. On the other hand, for many of the themes, the fine folks in WotC R&D have re-supported what was there before, at least to some extent.

A quick note before we begin, just like in SOI, I have done a tiny bit of guesswork on the numbers. I'm assuming every pack has one common/uncommon DFC (in place of a common), and 1/8 packs also have a Rare/Mythic DFC (in place of another common). I haven't seen this confirmed, but I'd be very surprised if it weren't correct. Also, there was a little bit of guesswork on how the print sheets worked to get the ratios right (particularly for DFC). However, it's worked out such that for Uncommons, Rares, and Mythics, the number you expect to open doesn't care if the card is DFC or not, and for Commons, you are getting about 1% more of the non-DFCs - not enough for the vast majority of people to notice over the course of the format, particularly given that card-to-card variation is going to swamp that for at least several hundred packs.

And just like in BFZ/OGW, you want to realize that the old cards are much rarer now: in fact, you're slightly more likely to open a particular card of one rarity higher from EMN than you are from one a single rarity lower in SOI. To give an example there, I'm slightly more likely to open Hamlet Captain than Byway Courier in any given draft, slightly more likely to open Bedlam Reveler than Rise From the Tides, and slightly more likely to open Tamiyo than her Journal. You don't want to know what your chances of opening Avacyn are now (but I'm going to tell you anyway: one out of 120 drafts; on the plus side someone at the table will open one only one out of 15 drafts now, so you get wrecked less often).

Without further ado, onto the analysis!

Returning Mechanics

Madness is significantly down in this format. Madness cards themselves are down 26.5%, and discard outlets are down 15.5%. Note that this is also a significant shift in the ratio of Enablers to Payoffs - before, we had about 1.3 enablers for every madness card, now that ratio is up to 1.45. What that means is that the simple ability to have a discard outlet should be somewhat less valuable (both because there are fewer payoffs overall, and also because it is proportionally more likely to be redundant). But the actual effect of Madness itself might be better - if you really want to use those activations, you are going to want to be getting value, and there's just fewer options for that now. It's unclear how that will trade off against slightly fewer enablers existing.

Delirium is also less prevalent (maybe Emrakul doesn't have people crazy so mcuh now as completely gone, crazy Eldrazi?), down about 10% from last format. More importantly, though, it's going to be harder to turn on. We have a 9% drop in, for example, enchantments that go to the graveyard through play, but that's including Crop Sigil, which only goes if you already have delirium, Spontaneous Mutation, which likely only gets there if you use it as a trick to win a combat you would otherwise have been trading, and Choking Restraints, which you need to activate for potentially little value to get there. If we take those out, we'd be down over 60%. Of course, that's not entirely fair, because there were more unplayable Vessels than questionable Lunar Forces we have now, and sometimes you will get those things to happen, but the point stands that it's significantly harder. Enchantment was a fairly easy type before, if you wanted it; now your only really good bet is Boon of Emrakul (which should make that effect a bit better).

In terms of other types, there's about 5% more instants now, while sorceries remain within 1% of where they were before. These aren't huge issues, since those cards were already disproportionately being cut in order to keep creature counts high. Milling was very important though, since it tends to be your best bet at lands (and even more so now with fewer Forks in the Road and Warped Landscapes). That, too, is down about 5% from where it was previously.

So it's not a massive change, but it's a little less important than before, and a bit harder to get turned on.

Skulk is down 39%. It wasn't all that important before (a little more than the flavor text it was oft joked to be, but not tons), and I don't expect it to be now - there are a couple rares which try to use it to effect, but well, ok, that's rares for you.

Investigate is not present in Eldritch Moon, so naturally it's exactly 1/3 as present in this format as it was in the previous. The implications of this are that cards which care about investigating or having lots of clues (Graf Mole, Erdwal Illuminator) will get significantly worse. On the other hand, the actual act of investigating will probably get better, since you're less likely to get to the point where you have too many clues and not enough time to crack them all.


All the same tribes are back, though maybe not all at the same level of importance.

There are about 4% fewer humans than before, along with about 5.3% fewer cards that care about them. About 35% are now in white, and 31% in green, with the rest spread over the other colors, which is within a couple percent of where they were before. Of note, the green cards that care about the type are a bit more aggressive than the white ones.
The number of spirits is down about 6%; the number of cards for which the type matters is down from the already paltry 4.7 per draft by an additional 43%, all the way to 2.7 per draft. This tribe continues to not be an important factor in terms of typeline in limited, being more impactful here in terms of flying.

The number of zombies is steady from last format to this, but the number of payoffs or cards that care about them is up by over 14%... but still only at about 5 and 1/6 per draft. That's enough to do something with in certain cases, but not something you should expect to see on a draft-by-draft basis.

The count of vampires are up about 3%, but the number of payoffs is down 18%. Again, this wasn't a huge number before, but the only non-rare card (out of 2 total) that does something in this set is a cantripping lava spike that cares about the number of vampires (which is probably unplayable unless you get very all-in somehow).

Wolves and Werewolves
More of these now care explicitly about Werewolves, whereas before it was almost always either or. Furthermore, the total number of these is down about 11% now, and the payoffs are down by 26%. This is one of the tribes that had some cohesiveness before, with cards like Howlpack Resurgence, Moonlight Hunt, Howlpack Wolf all seeing pretty serious play, but now there's far less reason, which in turn probably makes all of those cards worse. Also, they used to have mechanical cohesion with their flip triggers playing well together, but that's more or less out the window now - all but a mythic from the new set are based on pouring mana in (more on that later), which really function pretty independently.

New Mechanics and Themes

The fist thing I want to note about emerge is that all of the Emerge costs total 1 less than the creature's normal CMC - so even if you're sacrificing a token, you are getting a discount. Next, strictly speaking, they're colorless, but they're expensive enough that I imagine that you aren't gong to be playing them in very many decks at all where you can't at least pay that color of mana to Emerge them out some of the time. (Note that sacrificing even an on-color creature can never reduce the colored mana portion of the emerge cost). Some of the cheaper ones might be good to keep in mind as sideboard options even when out-of-color in the durdliest of matchups, though. That they are, by themselves, very expensive, can potentially make them more susceptible to bounce (though once you have the mana to hardcast them, that flips around). It's also worth noting, though, that you are going in on one big creature, which makes you a bit more susceptible, at least potentially, to go-wide strategies, and potentially removal.

There aren't all that many Emerge cards in the set, to be perfectly honest, coming in at just under 9 opened per draft. That they are centered in one three color wedge (Sultai) will help you see more if you're in those colors, to be totally fair. And almost all of them seem at least reasonable to think about playing, so that helps, too. It's a bit hard to tell how much worse this mechanic will make enchantment-based removal, like Sleep Paralysis and Choking Restraints, but my best basis of comparison is the similar Exploit mechanic from Dragons of Tarkir - in both cases, you tend to be getting a spell-like effect worth roughly the cost of a card, then when you exploited and now just when you cast.

This comparison to exploit leads me to needing fodder to sacrifice, which more generally gets me to:

Sacrifice more broadly
We still have 6 and 3/4 other sac outlets besides emerge cards in the format (depending slightly on how you define a sac outlet), for a total that's 79% higher than we had in triple SOI. On top of that, we go from 11.8 cards per draft with death or sacrifice triggers all the way up to 18.9 (again, there's some slightly different ways you can define this, but the underlying point remains the same), getting us a massive 61% increase. Worth noting is that msot of these trigger on their own deaths, but a few care about other things dying.

On top of this, for more fodder, we are up to 40.3 Enter the Battlefield triggers per draft from 39.1 before. This is only about a 3% increase, but in my estimation, a bit higher percentage of the triggers now give you the value of a card (a la Enlightened Maniac), as opposed to being a nice tack-on bonus (see Gibbering Fiend).

This last point on ETB effects makes bounce spells on their creatures potentially a little worse, but bounce on your own creatures much better, and obviously blink and flicker effects quite a bit better. With the addition of EMN, the format comes up to 8.3 of these per draft from 7, an increase of 19%.

Mana Sinks
The way most werewolves transform is now a pretty simple mana activation. This has some things in common with Morph from KTK and especially, as several others have pointed out, Monstrosity from Theros block. There are more of these cards with low CMCs than there were with morph or especially monstrous, which is a bit different, but on the whole, I expect similar play patterns - they reward you and help you hold mana up at instant speed, as well as providing early plays which let you continue to use mana and have good plays later on in the game. Thraben Gargoyle is the one example of this kind of card in the last set - it was pretty good, and I expect basically all of these cards to be pretty good as well.

Beyond that, we also have Escalate, which is another mechanic that gives a lot of flexibility, and can also serve as a mana sink of sorts. These cards also seems to generally be good to me. And then we have just traditional mana sinks as well. When you combine all three of these effects, the number of mana sinks in the format jumps a blistering 125% (not to 25% more than it was, but 125% MORE, or 225% of the original SOI number). We do lose out on a lot of clues, which helped to be mana before, but even accounting for that, we remain at a 72% increase.

Because of all that, I expect EMN EMN SOI to be a format where you will usually be wanting to play with 18 land.
There are going to be about 3 more flash spells per draft now than there were before, a 55% increase over the previous format. This works well with the hold-mana-up-for-sinks plans, as well as other instants in general. So it makes a card like Silverstrike better, but on top of this, it's just something to be aware of in order for you to be able to play around it effectively.

I mentioned Mill before, but something important to add is that the number of cards with activated abilities in graveyards is sharply down, by about 53%. We're mostly left with a couple new zombies with similar return-to-play abilities as some we've seen before, plus all the old stuff.



I mentioned I think it's going to largely be an 18 land format already, but it's worth noting that there's also very little fixing in this set. You have Terrarion, a green 2 mana 0/3 common that needs to die to Rampant Growth you, and a very strange 3 mana rock. Then there's the smattering of duals and fixing you had from last pack (Fork in the Road, duals, Wild-Field Scarecrow), but that is much diminished now. Even if you assume you can always kill Primal Druid to get the effect, fixing is down 35%, to less than 10 pieces opened per draft now. In fact, you're more likely than not to see more fixing in the last pack than in the first two combined. Worse still, a lot of that is tied up in uncommon duals from SOI, which will be very unreliable to be your colors. Almost all the rest is green. So 3 colors is a very strong no-go, and you really don't want to splash unless you have a massive incentive - I'm talking Tamiyo here.

As a side note, there are way fewer lands in this set as well, such that the number is down nearly 60%, and almost all of those are in pack 3. That does mean that you'll see more spells, which in turn means that you'll likely be taking from a slightly higher quality cut of cards, in terms of what you actually play - though this effect will be minor.


As a note here, I am not including combat tricks or bounce spells as removal; there are some other cards which I had to choose one way or the other, as they aren't hard removal per se, but but often incapacitate a creature; I tend to include these as removal, but it's a bit of a judgment call - certainly all the numbers here are within a margin that, depending on what's good or bad in the format, it could 'go either way'.

More about specific kinds of removal when I get to creature size in a moment. For now, I'm going to say that there's about 7% more removal overall now compared to before. At instant speed, though, it's about 6.7% less; when you look at interactive spells at instant speed (including bounce and flicker), we're about the same, and when you add in the flash creatures, the current format is again in that same 7% range lower than we were before.

Creature Size

Overall, creatures are slightly more expensive than they were in triple SOI - an increase of about 1 CMC, which is about 3.4%. However, this doesn't take into account things like Emerge, and in any case this is well within the margin of "but how good are the cards" changing the conclusions there.

The average toughness of a creature now is 2.70, compared to 2.74 previously, and the average power is down to 2.39 from 2.57. Again, there are playability issues here, but there is something significant in terms of the shift to a lower Power:Toughness ratio. That means the format will likely be a little slower, with more groundstalls. More groundstalls make evasion better, but the rate of flying is also down by about 13%, so those cards probably go up in value ever so slightly.

I would be remiss to not note that these figures don't take into account the 2/2 zombies and 1/1 flying spirits which still litter the plane, nor do they account for the now fairly common 3/2 Eldrazi Horrors.

When you look at actual distributions, 2 is the most common power for a creature, followed closely by 3, and a bit further behind by 1. Only 9 or so creatures per draft have power greater than 3, at least without looking at the back half of DFC. On toughness, 3 edges out 2, with 1 still being ahead of 4.

More concretely, when you're looking at creature combat, defensively, a 2/4 is where you start to get a very stable body. It stops the tokens, eats most of the 2s and 3s, and bounces off of most things until a few 4 drops and a decent number of 5s can rumble through. Moving up to 3/4 allows you to eat almost all 2s and 3s, and most of the 4s, and 4/4s are bigger than just about everything below 5 mana, and not smaller than much even then. The 5th point of toughness lets you live to block to the vast, vast majority of attackers.

Offensively, the 2nd point of power is as important as ever, to provide a threat and be at least able to trade with basically any playable creature. The 3rd point gets you to where you at least trade with cards up to 4 and 5 drops (and even with some of those). The 4th point of power means very little is going to straight-up eat your creature, and very little will bounce with it as well. There are a few X/5s in the format, but for the most part, 4 power will be able to attack more or less freely. The third toughness is important, as usual, to be able to get through 2/Xs, but the 4th is pretty important, here, too, with a healthy number of 3/2s, 3/3s, and even some 3/4s, plus all the Eldrazi Horror 3/2 tokens.

In short, the creature sizes vary pretty typically for a modern limited format. It's not the world were Bears rule the roost and Pikers are fine to hold off the bears, as Origins was, nor is it the one with lots of giant monsters all around, as BFZ was - though it's a lot closer to the latter than the former.

In terms of how the creature sizing interacts with toughness-based removal:
1 or less toughness = 19.5% of creatures
2 or less toughness = 48.6% of creatures
3 or less toughness = 79.6% of creatures
4 or less toughness = 92.7% of creatures
5 or less toughness = 97.6% of creatures
6 or less toughness = 99.0% of creatures
7 or less toughness = 99.96% of creatures
13 or less toughness = 100% of creatures (base stats)

Again, these numbers don't take into account tokens, which typically have 2 or sometimes 1 toughness.