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.