Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Magic Origins Draft Set Analysis Part II: Removal, Archetypes, and Assorted Notes

Part I

Let's pick up in the logical place where we left off last time: by taking a bit of a closer look at the removal in the set. Specifically, we want to look at what the removal actually kills. Let's start with the small and work our way up.

1 Toughness: Chandra's Fury and Eyeblight Assassin
The trickiest thing here is that you will often use these to 'finish something off' e.g. post-combat. And that gives them added value (ok, the other parts of the card do as well). But just on the face of things, how about these? They'll kill 37.3 creatures per draft, or about 19.7% of the format. However, this is including quite a number of unplayable cards. Manually taking out these, I am coming down to 27.8 creatures per draft, or 15.5% of the format. On the other hand, this also excludes Dragon Fodder and all the various thopters which get made, which, all-in-all bring things back up to 20.1%. Of course, in some of these cases (e.g. Aspiring AEronaut), you are only getting part of a card, so keep that in mind. Ultimately, whether you want these cards is going to come down to how much you want the rest of their effects, but the first one should usually be able to pick something off.

2 Toughness: Meteorite, Fiery Impulse, Eyeblight Massacre et al
In addition to the 20% of creatures we were getting for 1 toughness, we add in another 68.5 per draft, getting us up to a rarity-adjusted 56.2% of the format(!) Fiery Impulse is basically always going to be doing this efficiently, whilst Meteorite will usually be inefficient if you don't need the rest of it. Eyeblight Massacre will likely have a chance to kill multiple things, but note that Elves aren't a negligible percentage of the cards which would get killed here - actually 18% of the creatures which would be nabbed will be immune from the Massacre; hopefully if you're running the card, you'll have some of those.... It's worth knowing here as well that Blightcaster triggering really will be worth a card most of the time. I'll also note Weight of the Underworld here, as it kills all these things, but it also cripples everything that will get noted later when I talk about Reave Soul; certainly there's a lot of overlap between the two groups, but Weight will still take care of a big majority of creatures, if somewhat inefficiently.

3 Toughness: Lightning Javelin et al
Fiery Impulse fits here if Spell Mastery is turned on, but I don't think you can count on that (more on this later). Lightning Javelin is yet-another-4-drop-removal-spell, and the only common burn spell which can go to creature or face. How does it do? Well, in addition to the 56.2% we were getting before, we pick up an additional 43.7 creatures per draft, picking us up to 80.1% of creatures we'll expect to see. The key thing, of course, is that the 20% we're missing is... usually going to be the things we really want to kill most.

Edicts: Celestial Flare, Fleshbag Marauder
Not much to say here

Sweepers: Languish, Tragic Arrogance, Eyeblight Massacre
We already talked about Massacre. Languish kills really almost everything (93%). And Tragic Arrogance has been described as an easier-to-cast Duneblast which leaves them with their worst creature... pretty nuts. Fortunately these last two are only at rare.

Kills Most Anything: Swift Reckoning, Claustrophobia, Suppression Bond, Unholy Hunger, Cruel Revival
Swift Reckoning needs them to be attacking, but if they are is the clear most efficient removal in the set. Claustrophobia gets the biscuit for being top of the charts in unconditional removal (well, ok, Goblin Piledriver gets around it, you got me). Suppression Bond is very solid. And the black cards are instant speed ways to reach out and kill things, but they will almost always be doing so inefficiently. Yes, the world we live in makes these near the top, but you really don't actually want tons of them anyway, and you want to try to save them for bombs and/or 2-for-1 scenarios if you can. A note on Cruel Revival: it misses about 9.5% of creatures in the format (and of course gets back the exact same set).

Reave Soul:
How good is this card? Well, it kills 153.7 playable creatures per draft on average, or 85.7% (about 6/7) of the format. So it's quite good at 2 mana. 

One of the things Wizards' R&D has been doing for a while is give color pairs certain archetypal outline of what kind of deck they want to build, what goal they want to accomplish. A clear recent example I'd like to invoke here is Dragons of Tarkir's UB Exploit deck. While it was possible to draft a UB deck that was mostly just a 'good stuff' deck, you generally had at least some amount of getting value out of matching cards like Palace Familiar with cards like Gurmag Drowner. In Origins, the archetypes are highlighted in a loose cycle of uncommons - the only gold cards in the set. When looking at the archetypes, we want to look at both the support (your Palace Familiars in the exploit deck) and the and the pay-offs (your Gurmag Drowners in the exploit deck). You need a sufficient amount of both for a synergistic archetype to really come together.

UW Fliers

The only real synergy card here is the uncommon itself, Thunderclap Wyvern, and that is a card which is perfectly fine to play by itself. With such little pay-off, it doesn't really make sense to run numbers on support cards (this is something that will come up in some of the other archetypes as well). Still, you can build a traditional UW fliers kind of deck, though in this set it may be a little more based on tempo plays than holding the grounds with big butts.

WB Enchantments
Pay-offs: Blightcaster, Auramancer, Blessed Spirits, Sigil of the Empty Throne, Starfield of Nyx, Totem-Guide Hartebeest, Blood-Cursed Knight, Helm of the Gods

First of all, that is a lot of pay-offs, but almost all are coming in at higher rarity, so you actually expect to only have 9.5 such cards be opened per draft. That's actually plenty to have an archetype on, but you don't really want to be fighting another player for them (especially since some are of questionable playability), and certainly you won't have a good time if you're fighting 2 other players - which is true of basically any synergistic archetype. Beyond this, the different cards here need slightly different kinds of support. 

Auramancer needs an enchantment in your graveyard - mostly this will be Weight of the Underworld, though there are a few beneficial Auras you might play as well - overall, this is pretty sketchy. 

Blightcaster needs you to play an enchantment after (and have a good target, though as we've seen, that will usually be the case). This starts being a good proposition after you have somewhere in the 3-4 range, which is probably about where you expect to be going into a draft (though this is a very rough estimate - it's hard to tell how much these will 'go around'). So early in pack 1, it can be a thing, but if you don't have any enchantments by the time pack 2 rolls around, I wouldn't waste a high pick on it.

Sigil of the Empty Throne needs you to play at least one enchantment after, and you start feeling really good once you hit two. You're going to be quite unlikely to hit two, unfortunately, but one... the problem here is, at 5 mana, you need to survive a while without casting your other enchantments, which are often going to be the removal spells you need. The card can come together, but most often, it won't.

Starfield of Nyx has very few targets to animate, as there just aren't many enchantments which aren't Auras to play. The best case scenario for this card is to recur Weight of the Underworld a lot, but I probably would not take this until I had at least 2 Weights in pack 1, or at least 3 after that.

Helm of the Gods wants you to just have a quantity of enchantments in play. It's quite good with 2 in play, but pretty mediocre if you only have 1. This card probably starts becoming playable around 4 enchantments in deck, but you aren't excited until you are closer to the 6-7 range - which will also probably be near the max you can fit in your deck, and unrealistic to get. It's worth noting that Weight of the Underworld often going to the bin fights you here.

Totem-Guide is probably close to playable once you have a single Aura you want to fetch, and pretty good with 2. Going into a draft, you can probably expect you will get a couple, so taking this pretty high in pack 1 seems fine. It's a bit iffier in pack 2 and certainly not recommended pack 3 if you don't have any targets yet.

Finally, Blessed Spirits and Blood-Cursed Knight are just fine cards on their own which start to really move up to being exceptional once you have a few enchantments.

Overall, this definitely feels like an archetype which a draft can support. The payoffs are pretty real, you can likely get a few of them, and in general, the support is going to rest on cards like Weight of the Underworld and Suppression Bonds that you will want to run anyway - this of course means they will be harder to get, but there should be enough to usually do something, as most of these bonuses don't ask for lots of enchantments.

WR... Aggro(?)
Our uncommon here is a 2/2 double strike for 3. Certainly that's a good card, but it's not particularly synergistic - and unlike in MM2015, it's the only double-strike card, so it's not like we're being pushed to draft a bunch of synergy here. I expect this combination to be plenty good as a 'good-stuff' aggressive deck, but synergy is not the name of the game.

WG Renown
Again, there aren't many pay-offs here: Enshrouding Mists gets slightly better, and then there is real benefit in Valeron Wardens. And that is nice, but it's just one uncommon. Also, how many games are you connecting with 5 Renown creatures and not winning anyway? Yeah. But the first card or two is very nice. Generally, being an aggressive creature deck with some tricks looks good, but I don't know that I would call it particularly synergistic.

UB... Graveyard Zombies?
There are a few cards which care about the graveyard here - Possessed Skaab, Cruel Revival, Skaab Goliath, plus Spell Mastery cards. This gives a minor theme, and Cruel Revival in particular will also help you out on the zombie front. Screeching Skaab and Returned Centaur can jump up to being reasonably playable if you have enough payoffs, but in general, I don't think you should go very far out of your way (an it's worth noting that those cards are at least mediocre anyway).

UR Artifacts
Here we come to the next pair which really has some strong synergies. Pay-offs include: Artificer's Epiphany, Thopter Spy Network, Whirler Rogue, Ghirapur AEther Grid, Thopter Engineer, Reclusive Artificer, Chief of the Foundry, and Ramroller.

Most of these cards care about you having at least one artifact (or other artifact) in play. Again, 3-4 such cards gets you a reasonable chance of getting there, and 5-6 give you quite good chances. Including the Thopter-makers, you expect to have about 32 artifacts opened per draft. Unfortunately, some of these are cards like Jayemdae Tome or Brawler's Plate which can be pretty close to unplayable, or Helm of the Gods which aren't for your deck. And many of the others are going to be cards that everyone else wants, too. Still, if you're in this archetype, I certainly expect you to get there often enough for most of these cards to be enabled. Some of these want two artifacts to make these work, and for that you are going to need really at least 7 in your deck (but definitely prefer more, especially for those cards that want even more artifacts). I don't imagine this is going to be super common, so I wouldn't want to take those cards very highly!

Overall, the synergy of this archetype seems moderate. The really exciting pay-offs are at higher rarities, and otherwise, we are getting nice but not spectacular bonuses. Of course, the artifacts themselves tend to be on pretty good cards, so that is a bonus. I will note that this deck 'goes wide' probably more than any other in the format, but most of the benefits for such are in other colors. War Horn has its home here way more than any other deck, though.

UG... ???
I really can't find synergy cards here at all. Bounding Krasis is basically just an efficient card. I guess you are combining blue tempo elements with big green dudes? Anyway, not a synergy deck.

BR Sacrifice
The problem in this deck is that there are very few payoffs. Act of Treason is a real thing, to be sure, and Enthralling Victor is nice here, too. Beyond that, there is Dragon Fodder and some Thopter Makers to give you some fuel. Nantuko Husk is the the main enabler here, but Fiery Conclusion is playable and Blazing Hellhound is very nice if you can get it. And if you're extremely lucky, there's also Liliana.

BG Elves
Here we have the other big synergy deck of the format. Dwynen, Dwynen's Elite, Eyeblight Massacre, Gnarlroot Trapper, Shaman of the Pack, and Sylvan Messenger are your payoffs. For the most part, these cards want you to have some elves, or as many elves possible. And in terms of support, you expect just over 21 elves to be opened per draft. On the downside, some of these, like Deadbridge Shaman and Leaf Gilder, are going to be taken fairly highly even without the synergy, and won't make it around to you if you don't get them early yourself. We're left with definitely enough cards for a deck, but probably not enough for two.

How big are the payoffs? This is my real concern. Shaman of the pack dealing a few damage is nice, and pretty free, but it's not spectacular. Dwynen's Elite giving you a 1/1 is again nice, but not huge if you don't have other synergies. Gnarlroot trapper moves up to being playable, but not often spectacular. And Sylvan Messenger is going to be hard to get to the point where you're expecting to draw more than 1 card off it, which just makes it ok. Dwynen herself is big game, and Eyeblight Massacre as pseudo-Plague Wind is quite nice, but even there, you were probably getting most of that value anyway. 

Overall, there's definitely some synergy here, but I don't think you want to go much out of your way for it unless you open, say, a Dwynen.

RG Lands
Here, our pay-offs are Zendikar Incarnate, Zendikar's Roil, Nissa, and maybe Ravaging Blaze or Animists Awakening. There's also not much to enable - Nissa's Pilgrimage being the big one. Okay, just play a bread-and-butter creatures-and-removal deck, maybe with a couple tricks thrown in. It's what these colors are good at anyway.

In general, this seems more like a straight-up good-stuff format with a few nice interactions seeded in than one that's really based on those synergies - basically the anti-cube. And as it is still a core set, that makes a lot of sense and is probably a good thing.

Finally, we come to a miscellaneous section where I've smashed in everything that didn't neatly fit anywhere else.

Spell Mastery
This is not so easy to turn on! Most limited decks are going to have 8 instants and/or sorceries at most. Remember that, unlike most other recent sets, there is only one card here to double count in our creature count AND spell count (Dragon Fodder). With 8 spells, you expect to draw to your third one (and remember, it won't turn on until that third spell cast) until you're 15 cards into your deck. If you're only on the natural draw step plan, that's going to be very near the end of the game. There's no guarantee that this third spell is going to have Spell Mastery or a useful one. And in many decks, some of those 8 non-creature slots will be taken by artifacts or enchantments (or really, more creatures). But okay, it is possible to build a control deck, perhaps, with up to let's say 12 spells. In such a deck, you'll be able to turn Spell Mastery on pretty quickly with good reliability. Including some of the graveyard spillers will help, too. Because there usually isn't much bonus for hitting Spell Mastery, I wouldn't recommend jumping through those hoops very often - but I do look forward to some videos where LSV goes off. Certainly some of how enabled this mechanic will be will be directly tied to the speed of the format, but I wouldn't count on any of your spells having Spell Mastery on, even "by the time you want to cast" them.

Card Draw
There's next to zero card draw in the whole format. No, seriously. The only really solid, stand-on-its-own card draw spell in the entire set is Read the Bones. That's it - it's the only one. Blue only has Bone to Ash and Artificer's Epiphany at common, with a couple situational uncommons. Green actually has almost as much, though per normal it's all tied-in to creatures. So card advantage really needs to come from putting in some work to get your cards in at very impactful spots.

Mana Sinks
Compounding the dearth of card drawing is a lack of mana sinks. At spells below rare, there's Fetid Imp, Shadows of the Past, Volcanic Rambler, Somberwald Alpha, Blazing Hellhound, and a few unplayables. Finding a way to mitigate a lack of having things to do is going to be pretty big for this format, whether that's finding these kinds of cards or killing the opponent before that matters. This does indicate that looting effects will be a bit better though. And the lands - Foundry of the Consuls and Rogue's Passage - look to be pretty darn good indeed.

Mana Fixing
There's very very little fixing in the set. You have Evolving Wilds at Common, Meteorite at Uncommon, and the Painlands and Sword of the Animist at rare. Notwithstanding that I don't think Meteorite is very good at all in the set, this is less fixing than we've seen in... I can't even remember how long. Three or more colors is really out of the question, and even splashing is going to be a bit tricky. Do so sparingly.

Individual Cards

Knightly Valor: If you slap this on a bear, it's basically a 4/4 vigilance haste. And it scales up. Need to pick your spots, but definitely strong.

Yoked Ox: I expect this card to be fringe main-deckable, as it blocks a big chunk of the format, while getting in the way of renown. Biggest problem is that most white decks want to be aggressive themselves - which is why this will usually be a board card. But a consideration in a fliers deck.

Jace's Sanctum: To break even on mana, you need to cast 4 spells after this. That also gets you 4 scrys, which comes close to getting you your card back... but this seems very unrealistic for a draft deck, especially because you're not gaining anything until you are casting even more spells. Card is basically unplayable.

Shadows of the Past: I don't think this card is playable. You need several scrys before you make up for your card disadvantage, and paying 5 to drain 2 is not all that hot. It is a mana-sink, but I'd rather have a 2/2 lifelink I only need to pay for once - and that would be horribly overcosted at 5 CMC.

Undead Servant: I already talked about this card, but it's been getting some hype, so I want to reiterate: you need several copies before this will trigger very reliably, and that's unrealistic, so you really don't want to spend any kind of high pick on it.

Boggart Brute: This card seems very good to me. I think people are underrating Menace a  bit, in general.

Elemental Bond: There are just over 65 3-power creatures per draft on average, but surprisingly, only 8.8 are mono-Green. Given that you need to cast this first, and then get at least two such creatures actually down, and at that point it's still only Divination... this card is basically unplayable. Renown really hurts here.

Join me in my next installment soon, where I'll post a wildly premature pick order!

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