Tuesday, 23 April 2019

WAR Limited Analysis: Part II

Unfortunately, I've been sick most of the past week, so this analysis may not be quite as detailed as I'd hoped. Nevertheless, we move forward!

Also, a special shout-out to Scryfall (https://scryfall.com/), which has been immensely helpful in putting this analysis together.

Final numbers for Amass, +1/+1 counters, and Proliferate

Per draft of WAR, you can expect 32.5 Amass cards to be opened; 11.7 of these are mono blue, 9.3 mono black, 8.0 mono red, and the rest multicolored. So if you have an opponent in two of these colors, you should expect them to likely have several Amass cards. But if they're in only one of those colors, they'll probably only have a few. It's also good to note that almost all of these cards are Amass 1 or Amass 2.

In terms of non-amass cards that produce +1/+1 counters, you can expect 12.8 of those to be opened per draft in White, 8.4 in Blue, 0.9 in Black, 6.0 in Red, and 12.1 in Green. So in the proliferate colors, there's lots of cards that are going to enable proliferation (note that blue also gets to count the Amass cards as noted above, so they're actually in first here). On the other hand, this is not so many cards that you can expect to have just tons of different permanents to proliferate onto at any point - one target will happen, two will be common, and you'll be quite happy to manage getting three.

Speaking of Proliferate, it ends up on 5.7 cards per draft in both White and Blue, and 8.4 in Green. So, don't expect to be able to build a deck around proliferating over and over again - unless you get one of the cards which singlehandedly pumps trigger after trigger out, you're more likely to get one, or maybe two over the course of a game, even in these colors.

Is spellslinger a real strategy?
As is so often the case in these sets, Blue/Red's theme seems to be "spellslinger", i.e. it wants you to play lots of instants and sorceries. Slightly confusingly, in this set in particular, some of the cards in this direction point you towards those particular types, but some care about noncreature spells more generally. And I expect most decks in this format to have a few noncreatures which aren't in these types (mainly planeswalkers, though there's some playable enchantment-based removal as well).

So what are the numbers? Well, on the non-creature side, there's 5.1 monored, 4.2 monoblue, and .9 hybrit Izzet cards per draft. And on the Instant/Sorcery side, we're at 4.4 blue, 1.5 red, and 1.3 Izzet gold cards. Overall, if you're completely alone in your lane, you might be able to scrape together a deck based around these.... but I wouldn't really bank on it. I think the biggest way to get into this deck is to open a good rare that's on theme and then pick up another couple early - but don't be trying to get payoffs later, it's just not likely enough to happen.

Of note, the red cards here also work with the red-white (even less supported) subtheme of pumping your own stuff - I don't think both of those decks can exist at the same table, though obviously you can build decks in these colors that don't exactly follow those themes.

Mana Fixing, or lack thereof
There are 10.4 pieces of mana fixing per draft which are colorless (i.e., lands or artifacts); you get access to an additional 6.6 if you are base green. This is actually a reasonable amount of fixing... but it's a LOT less than we've seen in the last couple of sets set on Ravnica (or actually, any of the Ravnica sets). So five color decks will be nigh impossible to make... three color decks are even going to be very ambitious. Especially if you aren't green, you'd need basically all the fixing at the table. Plus, since most of the fixing isn't in lands, you would end up with like half your spells just being dedicated to fixing, and I just don't see the payoff being worth it. (Sorry, Niv-Mizzet).

Having said that, splashing seems very plausible. It's definitely not to the point where you would say that splashing some spells from a third color is free, by any stretch - you still have to work a bit to get your mana to get there, like normal - but if you have a reason, you should be able to find something to get you there most of the time (provided it's not like, halfway through pack three already or something).

Creature Sizing
How big are the creatures in the format? Obviously it's a little bit tough to tell just by looking at a list of cards, since there are questions of playability, plus a lot of +1/+1 counters running around and affecting the sizing.

But if we look at everything, just on the base stats, then in terms of power, there's a massive hump at 2 power. There are nearly as many creatures with exactly 2 power (58.1 per draft) as there are with greater than 2 power. Moving from 3 power (28.2 creatures per draft) to 4 (21.1 creatures per draft), there's not nearly as big of a drop off. Per normal, not many creature get to the 5+ power range (12.4), so don't be super surprised if your opponent has one of those, but it won't be often they have multiples.

On the Toughness side of the equation, things are more spread out. 31.4 creature per draft have 1 toughness, so most of your opponents will have a target for your ping effect to hit (although in many of these cases, you would need to time it precisely, as a few of these creatures grow from an ETB counter, and some others are unplayable... so be ready to sideboard around this situation one way or another, which ia fairly common problem if we're honest). 50.2 creatures opened have 2 toughness, and 43.4 have 3. This is the point where the biggest drop-off is, with only 20.4 creatures per draft having 4 toughness, with an additional 16.5 at 5 toughness, and 7.9 at 6.

In the hopes of finding a "magic toughness" or sizing in general, it's also important to look at the toughness-based removal the set provides (damage or -N toughness). 6.4 such cards per draft punish 1 toughness, 8.2 on 2 toughness, 4.6 on 3 toughness, 5.1 take care of creatures with 4 toughness, and 2.3 (1 common) deal with creatures having 5 toughness or less.

Based on looking at this, I doubt that there really well be any "magic size" for creatures in the set, though I guess that most things with 5 toughness will be fairly hard to take out using a single card, especially if that card isn't one of the few premium removal spells in white or black that don't care about size at all (or the fight-like spells in green which are pretty close)

Final thoughts

Overall, The biggest thing about this set is that it looks much closer to a 'normal set' to me than we've had in a while. Well, except for having a couple of planeswalkers per deck, which is, I guess, a pretty significant difference. But the fixing numbers, creature sizing, and for the most part lack of cohesive on-rails plan for each color combination makes things mostly more block-and-tackle. Or more, uh... I feel like there should be a better metaphor which doesn't draw a parallel to a sport which is virtually exclusively played in a single country. Anyway, I digress.

Take good cards, probably don't splash, realize your opponent will have a couple planeswalkers, but also realize they won't be the be-all and end-all. Try to have board presence. And most of all, have fun! It's a new set, that's what they're for.

Hopefully I'll have time to get a moxiously early pick-order list generated before the end of the week, with some notes about specific cards, but we'll see...

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

WAR of the Spark Limited Analysis: Part I

War of the Spark previews have started, and in between brewing new Standard (and Modern... and Vintage...) decks, I'm also thinking about my favorite format - booster draft. And one of the fun things come this set is that the Mythic Championship for the set (these things used to be called Pro Tours) will effectively be a pre-release, meaning that going into it, nobody will have been able to play a sanctioned tournament. This makes preparation, prognostication, and full-set evaluation even more important than normal. (Obviously, it's possible to proxy some of these up for playtesting and do mock drafts and such, if you have the resources - mostly time and friends - for that, and I would recommend this if you're actually playing in the tournament). Anyway, I doubt (m?)any pros are going to read this, but on the off chance (and because it will help me and readers in our own low-stakes events), I figured I'd jump back in to the limited analysis game after a good period off.

A quick disclaimer - of course, not all of the cards are out yet, so some of this can still change slightly.



Planeswalkers are an apparent theme of the set (kind of), with many more than we've ever seen before. However, there are some twists, which mean that evaluating them is going to be different from normal - which is a bit problematic, given that they're already often on the harder end to evaluate. However, in limited, almost all prior planeswalkers were designed in a way such that they were very, very good, so evaluation didn't matter that much. The changes of this set mean that's no longer the case.

What do we know?
There are going to be 36 Planeswalker cards in the set, 20 at uncommon, 13 at rare, and 3 at mythic. (There is an additional Mythic as the Buy-a-Box Promo, but it's not in any packs and so doesn't change limited). Moreover, barring foils, there is going to be exactly one Planeswalker in every pack. And while we don't know exactly the process they're using to ensure that, or how that affects the collation, I think it's a fairly safe bet to assume that the Uncommon:Rare:Mythic ratios will be about the same as on normal cards, which leaves me thinking that at a normal 8-player booster draft, you'll expect to have opened about 18 Uncommon 'walkers, a bit more than 5 Rares, and just over 1/2 of a Mythic. We should also note that exactly 1 per pack means each player on average will draft 3, and because we should expect some of unplayed, I think we can expect that most decks will have about 2 Planeswalkers on average (possibly a little more), though with some significant variation.

Static and Triggered abilities
Something new to this set is that all the Planeswalkers have a static and/or triggered ability, in addition to one or more traditional loyalty abilities. (And yes, I know, there have been some commander PWs that had things like "Can be your commander" as static abilities, but whatever). The value of these abilities appear to differ pretty significantly, and can change the value of the planeswalker to being mostly an attackable/burnable enchantment, if it's most of the power. Sometimes, though, it looks like it will be mostly an afterthought.

In general, in evaluating these cards, there's a few cases I think are worth keeping in mind.
  1. How good is this card if I'm behind on board, and it more or less dies right away?
  2. How good is this card if I'm ahead on board or in a stalled board state?
These two scenarios help define floor and ceiling for the card.

We know that the 20 uncommon planeswalkers in the set all have only their static/triggered ability and a single loyalty ability, which removes loyalty. The big thing to note here is that, unlike previous Planeswalkers, these cards aren't going to be able to chunk out huge amounts of card advantage by activating their loyalty abilities turn after turn, if left unchecked. The exception, of course, is if the static ability is particularly strong.

These have two loyalty abilities (one plus and one minus) along with the static ability. Sometimes, there's an ultimate, sometimes not, but in general, all of these are going to generate significant card advantage for you if they get to stick around, so it's really all a question of how well they protect themselves, and/or how good they are if you can't protect them.

These appear to be pretty close to the more traditional, yeah-they're-just-busted designs we're used to.  


Amass is a new keyword ability, such that if a card has Amass N, you put N +1/+1 counters on an Army you control; if you don't control any armies, then you make a 0/0 black Zombie Army creature token first. Note here that you can almost never have more than one army at a time (the only way which looks to be possible is gaining control of your opponent's army while already having one yourself).

If you evaluate these cards in a vacuum, they're going to look better, probably than they will be in practice. This is because if you have lots of amass cards, you aren't getting extra bodies every time, but more often just getting them only once. And in general, it's better to get your N stats on a new, extra body, than it is to add them to an existing one without choice. But that comparison deserves some further analysis.

If you're putting counters on an existing army, it's very much like a basic aura that pumps your dude. This has the distinct advantage of giving those stats effective haste, but is significantly worse against unconditional removal and bounce. Most importantly, of course, is the impact on creature sizing. But this is hard to work out in the abstract - is a 4/4 better than a pair of 2/2s? Depends on both boards. In general, there is, though, value in simply having the largest creature around, particularly defensively, as it greatly discourages attacks. So in general, the biggest drawback of having to put your eggs all in one basket is down to these interactive spells which don't care about the size of a creature.

Something that's very important to note is that Amass is localized to only the Grixis colours (blue, black, and red). So if your opponent is two of these colors, they're likely to have a lot more amass than if they are one, and if they're GW, they probably won't have any. Because for the most part Amass seems better to me if you have some, but not too much (a la Delve), I suspect that this would make you slightly prefer to be exactly one of these colors.


Proliferate is a really hard mechanic to judge. For the most part, we're dealing with two kinds of counters, +1/+1 and Loyalty (there's at least one card with a Charge Counter, but it looks at this point as thought it might be only one, and it's a rare). Loyalty counters' value varies a great deal - it might get you a whole extra use of one of your uncommon planeswalkers, let it survive an extra attack, or do basically nothing. Extra +1/+1 counters are nice, but for the most part aren't worth a card until you start to get 3-4 or so of them. Now, there are lots of cards with +1/+1 counters in this set, and every Amass card also counts to some extent (though having 8 amass cards isn't going to help you much in getting multiple proliferate targets), but I imagine that unless the format ends up leading to lots of board stalls, that simply being able to proliferate isn't going to be worth a full card very often. Fortunately, it looks like for at least most of the cards in the set, Proliferate isn't the main point of the card, but an extra bonus. And getting even 1-2 counters as a bonus on top of an already close to playable card seems like a good deal.

Note that proliferate is localized to the Bant colours (green, white, and blue, plus one rare land), which means, just like in the case of Amass, you should expect much more of it from players in these colors, and none at all from BR players. Note that blue is the only color which overlaps both of these here, so that's going to be more likely for you to proliferate onto your Armies. Overall, this isn't really a huge thing, but a small adjustment to keep in mind both in the draft as well as in gameplay.

Please join me again soon where I will break down some of the numbers more precisely, to see if we can find out things like critical creature sizing and sub-theme prevalence. And eventually, evaluations of specific cards.