Posted tagged ‘dynamics’

Attempting an Actually Helpful Early Analysis of Amonkhet Draft

April 15, 2017

Stating the obvious: I have not played with this set yet, I just read the spoiler carefully a few times. However, I have an excellent track record of judging the dynamics of a new draft environment, so I trust that I will not be too far off in my assertions.

This is how I expect Amonkhet draft to shape up:

Speed: Slow

The fastest decks will be less fast than those in most other draft environments. However, the power level of midrange cards is high enough that Amonkhet draft will not be an extreme durdle format. You might not die on turn 4-5 too often, but you still need to prepare a solid defense if you do not want to die on turn 6-8.

Correlation between rarity and power level: Average

This correlation has been quite pronounced for quite a while now, and Amonkhet neither bucks this trend nor stands out as extreme.

Frequency of nearly impossible to beat bombs: Lower than average

“Can be beaten” does not mean “fair”, though. Amonkhet‘s bombs are still hard to beat, and a slow environment means that they will get to influence games more often.

Synergy rewards: Higher than average

This is certainly not an environment where you just take the generally strongest card, but it’s not as extreme as some others.

Manafixing: Slightly better than average

Evolving Wilds and a renamed Shimmering Grotto at common is twice the amount of non-green fixing many other sets get, and with Amonkhet being slow and not requiring double-colored mana too often, Painted Bluffs looks reasonable to me. (Note also the synergy with Naga Vitalist.) Green specifically offers a lot of fixing, and cycling really helps to smooth draws and find splashed lands. A not base-Green deck will probably still not want to go above two and a half colors, but should be able to do so with good consistency. For Green-based decks, however, I guess you can go up to five, although actually having to run a basic land of each type to fetch might not work out in your desired spell/land ratio overall, and if you mill yourself or get milled, you might lose access to a splash color that way.

Mana ratio: Average

Of course, cheap cycling cards generally allow you to cheat a little on the number of lands. On the other hand, though, you will often want to support more than two colors; you really want to get to 4 and 5 mana fast to not fall prey to the strong midrange cards of this format; and you have quite a lot to do with your mana. In the end, I think you will end up with a default of 17 lands just like in a generic draft environment.

Importance of generic two-drops: Low

The importance of two-drops, even if they were just the lowly Bronze Sable, is continously being underestimated by players, including pro level players. Amonkhet, however, looks to me – for the first time since Icannotremember – to be a set where generic 2-drops are actually really bad, being slow and not needing early creatures for synergies like comvoke or vehicles. But then again, there aren’t even many generic 2-drops in this set! It’s still important to acknowledge, though, that curving out in the early turns is less important than usual (although you should still at least be able to sideboard early plays in).

Importance of medium big creatures: Average

You mostly need them to keep up with your opponent’s medium big creatures, and to draw out removal from your opponent, but you definitely need them.

Importance of evasion creatures: Higher than average

Amonkhet has not much evasion, and the ground will tend to get stalled. Don’t go overboard, though – if your midgame creatures have evasion, and your opponent’s are big, you’re probably not winning. Better cut lower mana slots instead.

Importance of big finishers: Higher than average

It’s a slow format, so they have time to come online. Also, because the medium big creatures are dangerous enough to draw removal, your finishers have a better chance to stay in play. Oh, and since many expensive creatures have cycling, you can afford to play noticeably more of them than usually.

Quality of “small” removal: Average

There is some reasonably efficient removal for creatures with low toughness, but it suffers from being more situational than it would in other sets, since creatures tend to come back and/or be big. Magma Spray is obviously still very good, but you really should consider taking less efficient, but also less situational removal spells over it, because there will be big creatures that need killing.

Quality of “big” removal: Below average

Killing something big costs at least four mana in Amonkhet, probably five, and you will have to rely heavily on uncommons to do it.

Quality of combat tricks: Average

Note, however, that the value of combat tricks tends to go down rapidly in slower formats. I do not expect many combat tricks to be particularly high picks in Amonkhet.

Importance of artifact removal: Low

There are just not many artifacts around which need to be killed. On the other hand, there are no less than three common artifact destruction (or exiling) spells with cycling, so the cost of including one in your maindeck is also quite low. You don’t need to, though.

Importance of enchantment removal: Average

There are more enchantments than artifacts at all rarities, and they also tend to have more impact on the game. Unfortunately, there is very little enchantment removal to be had – essentially, you need to be white (at least as a splash). With games going long, the chance that an enchantment will have a strong impact on the game increases, but all in all this isn’t a dedicated enchantment set, and you might get by without enchantment removal. I still advise you to snag one if there is a good opportunity, though.

The preseeded draft archetypes:

WB – Zombie tribal.
WG – Exert midrange
WU – Embalm midrange
WR – Exert aggro
BG – Counterbased midrange
BU – Cycling-based control
BR – Discard-based aggro
GU – Resource accumulation control
GR – Fatty midrange
UR – Instery-based midrange

…and, of course, good stuff multicolor Green!

This got already longer as intended (as always…), so I’ll stop here. I hope I gave you a good starting point to explore this new environment. Good luck with your Amonkhet drafts!


A third look at Kaladesh

October 10, 2016

I concede that Zeromagic has seen times where I was more creative with my titles…

There has been a weekend with two limited Grand Prixs since I last talked about Kaladesh, and I also did a few drafts – with moderate success, going 2:1 thrice. Extrapolating from that experience and the information available online, I can now weigh in on the discussion about its dynamics, especially the speed of the format.

Players seem to be really divided on that topic, so here is my take: The format is a bit faster than I expected at first, but I wouldn’t quite call it “fast”. Let me explain my idea of how I categorize formats into fast, slow or medium fast: Essentially, it is about focussed aggressive decks being advantaged or disadvantaged, which translates into the number of aggressive decks supported by a table being higher or lower than the number of dedicated lategame decks.

The mere existence of aggressive decks doesn’t make a format fast – there were aggressive decks even in the notoriously glacial Magic 2014 – and neither does the average goldfish kill. Also, the necessity to run 2-drops doesn’t mean a format is fast (although the absence of that necessity certainly means it’s slow!), because almost every draft environment since at least a decade has been tempo-conscious.

The relevant question is how difficult it is to stop those aggressive decks! In Zendikar, that was nearly impossible – you were forced to race instead, since blocking just didn’t work. In Theros, blocking was also hard, because there was quite a lot cheap evasion, because heroic and bestow made creatures very big very fast, because combat tricks were strong and efficient, and because removal was expensive and inefficient. Those were fast formats. I would also count Shadows over Innistrad among the fast formats before Eldritch Moon was added to it.

Battle for Zendikar, on the other hand, was a slow format, because it wasn’t too hard to get into the lategame, and so was Khans of Tarkir. But where does Kaladesh fall?

Well, that set is sending a few conflicting messages. On one hand, the thriving creatures really want to attack; two of the three common vehicles are cheap, efficient beaters; and the combat tricks are very strong. On the other hand, there aren’t that many cheap evasive (like Welking Tern) or overpowering (like Steppe Lynx or Plated Geopede) creatures; the number of 2-drops is actually not that high (and some of them play more of a defensive role); the removal is comparably efficient; big, cheap creatures to brickwall weenies are plenty; fabricate gums up the ground with tokens; and while especially Red has a few ways to close out a game against a single big blocker, it has little burn that can go to the dome to finish off a player without combat damage.

Usually, people tend to underestimate the speed of a new draft format, so when several pros are now going on record saying that Kaladesh draft is fast, that gives me pause. But then again, other pros are saying exactly the opposite, and playtesting dynamics can sometimes give rather skewed results. I believe that the following might have been happening here: Too many people who thought the format to be slow (and slower than it actually is) drafted too durdly decks. That gave those players going for an aggressive approach two advantages: Firstly, their decks were stronger than they could expect if their archetypes weren’t underdrafted. Secondly, their opponents were easier prey than they would be if people were aware that they needed to add to the board early and consistently instead of fooling around with Puzzleknots and other spells without board impact. If the number of aggro decks per table increases, and everyone is aware that they need to field an early defense, things might even out a bit.

My current prediction is that Kaladesh draft will turn out to be medium fast, like Dragons of Tarkir was. In a slow format, you will usually get away with dropping your first creature on turn three on the draw, while in a really fast format, you need to get on the board as early as possible and cannot afford more than two or three cards that cost more than four mana. Medium fast formats are about maintaining board presence in all stages of the game, forcing you to both run a good number of cheap drops (or cheap removal) and a powerful lategame, ideally escalating from two-mana plays to five-mana plays without a hiccup, since taking a turn off might cause you to fall behind and not get a chance to come back. That was how Dragons of Tarkir played out, and so far, Kaladesh reminds me a lot of that environment. You can still draft quite aggressive decks, but you can also draft decks which are able to stop those.

This is my stance right now, but I am still in the process of absorbing and analyzing information.

For those who care, a few words on another topic: I have reconsidered some choices for my Limited Card Pool.



Saheeli’s Artistry will not make it – I like the card, but it is not too original or essential, and I just noticed that it would be the only creator of noncreature tokens in my pool. For that one card (which would also only show up every third draft in a cube, since it is certainly a rare), this extra complication isn’t worth it.



I am still sad that I had to remove Jayemdae Tome from my pool, but it just got never played, because it is so slow. I am afraid that the same is true for Whirlermaker, but then again costing one mana less is some help, and immediately adding board presence (albeit just a little) might just make the difference. I’ve seen the card crop up in a couple lists, and although I am still not convinced of its validity in Kaladesh, some of my cubes might create an even more favorable environment for it, so I’ll give it a whirl.



On the other end of the spectrum, Key to the City is a bit powerful for my taste, and it is also a bit close to the more elegant Jalum Tome, but it might still be a good option for a cube with an overall higher power level. I do have an opening for a low-cost rare artifact, and the Key might be a decent choice.