Reading the Sealed Contest entries over the past week has really given me some insight into people’s card evaluating skills. I noticed some interesting trends and some that are a little more detrimental when it comes to properly rating cards and building decks. Today I want to take a look at a couple of the trends and traps I noticed. Before getting into that though, I want to quickly cover some cards that I misevaluated initially.
Fog Bank: Card that I thought would be fine is an actual all-star in the format and one of the best defensive cards around.
Chandra’s Fury: A card which I assumed was effectively Lava Axe with a potential removal bonus was instead a very reasonable removal spell with a Lava Axe bonus. I didn’t take into account how many tokens were in the format or how easy it was to set-up unfavorable blocks for the opponent by having this card around.
Mark of Mutiny: Only now that I realize how good R/B and R/G is do I finally see the full power of this card. Many decks rely on one critical blocker to win races or hold off otherwise tough to handle creatures. It’s gone from being a decent card that can be amazing to a card that I’m almost always happy to see, especially in R/G where I can get more value out of Prey Upon.
Captain’s Call: This card was one of my favorites early in the format, but the longer I play the format the lower it falls on my draft list. This is due to Chandra’s Fury being better than I gave it credit, and just the general number of defensive creatures in the format. The Call isn’t bad by any stretch, but it doesn’t excel in what I want my white decks to be doing.
Welkin Tern and Sleep: Both cards are worse in the blue decks that succeed in this format versus former core sets. Most of your creatures are already evasive and almost all the blue decks can’t take advantage of the multiple turns Sleep buys you. In most cases I’d rather have Unsummon or Safe Passage for the amount of tempo or potential blowout I can get out of them.
Now for some trends I noticed in the Sealed Contest:
Most utilized color: Black Most ignored color: Blue Three-Color Decks: 74 of 100 Number of Lands Used: 16—19 17—67 18—14
What surprised me most by far is how many people saw this amazing pool of cards and snap threw in every power card and piece of removal they could, without considering any other aspect of the deck. There were far too many entries with major gaffes in mana, curve, or just overall deck strength. Look at the number of three-colored decks and consider that you could easily make a very good two-color deck with the pool presented.
This irks me because one of the main ways to lose with such powerful shells is to get mana or color-screwed, and yet that’s exactly what the majority of people did. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand a splash off an Evolving Wilds and Plains for two Pacifism or something of that nature. What I can’t understand is in a pool with a preponderance of removal options, people go out of their way to ship decks with double-colored costs across three colors.
Here are a few sample hands to illustrate what I mean:
Long story short, you should be trying to lower the odds of your own deck falling apart, instead of trying to purely maximize how many sweet (uncastable) cards you can fit into a single deck. One of my friends joked that the great equalizer at Sealed GPs and PTQs is that the majority of players who get amazing pools kneecap themselves out of the gate.
What was the best card M13 brought to the table for Standard?
Elvish Visionary was arguably the biggest impact card from M13 and I think the entire metagame would be different if it hadn’t been reprinted. The Invitational card from Matt Nass gave Birthing Pod strategies a quality non-mana intensive two-drop they were sorely lacking. You could talk about Strangleroot Geist in Pod all you want, but look at how many Pod decks dropped Geist the second Visionary was legal. Not only was it a great addition for a mainstream tier one strategy, but it also made niche decks like Elves a viable option.
Role players can be more important than people realize, and I think all too often the flagship and build-around-me cards are the only ones that get the spotlight. I have the same blind spot with new sets and it’s something I need to work on. Borderland Ranger was a huge game and was quickly adopted into Pod decks, but how many times has a similar card been overlooked since it was surrounded by power cards? Oftentimes I can figure out the value of the role players, but not take the next step to identify the impact that will have on the format as a whole.
Look at how Tim’s deck (mostly Caleb’s Pod deck) has become largely beatdown oriented, and even there Elvish Visionary and Borderland Ranger are far better creatures than more aggressive choices. Just because a deck is good in a particular archetypical role doesn’t mean that every card has to cater toward it. Sometimes a deck is better suited by cards that simply help the flow or control of a deck instead of everything rushing toward eliminating the opponent.
Patrick Chapin once wrote, “When evaluating a Magic card, it’s important to recognize the role it fills.” It’s one of the most important takeaways when discussing card evaluation.
PV once wrote, “Overall, a card we cannot rate without knowing the format. My guess is that he will not be very good, but I might be wrong. ” Re – Goblin Guide. Look how many hedges are in that! I’ve missed on plenty of cards and I’ll miss more in the future. The key is to have the self-awareness to re-evaluate based on new evidence and not get pigeon-holed into a viewpoint. People argued Jace, the Mind Sculptor wasn’t great. People wrote off Squadron Hawk as a 1/1 do-nothing.
Even if a card is a quality addition to Magic as a whole, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has any place in the current metagame. Cards like Strangleroot Geist and Lingering Souls have largely been sidelined due to the metagame concerns. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad had plenty of hype when he first released, and the occasional spur when B/W Tokens was popular and I thought he’d honestly break through. In the end that never happened outside of Block and people’s evaluations shifted.
A good example was Azure Mage from the last Standard season, a card I had written off as not worth the time or mana to use. Then I actually mapped it out with a specific role, some instant speed draw against Splinter Twin and the Caw mirror, and was thoroughly impressed at how well it did. I was thinking about it purely in a context where it competed with Preordain and Jace Beleren, and not the specific aspect it brought to the table. Once I fully appreciated that, it completely changed my thoughts on the card.
Some cards are more flexible and it merely becomes a journey of finding the best deck and role to put them in. When I originally added Restoration Angel to Delver I got a fair amount of feedback arguing that the card didn’t have a real place in the deck, and was better suited to Pod.
As it turned out, a 3/4 flying flash with potential upside was good enough even though it cost four mana. You would reach that conclusion a hell of a lot sooner if you looked at the recent history of powerful flash creatures and format as a whole for what four toughness brought to the table. My friend Chas Andres had a similar set of parameters in place to help him evaluate cards. Having a general set of references can help modify your snap judgments.
For example, my snap judgment on Trading Post was that the card simply didn’t do anything relevant. A month in, I found out that Trading Post was even worse than I had imagined because of the time constraints in Magic.
Allow me to unpack this a bit. I’m an L1 judge and I work as a judge/employee at the CF retail store. As a result I judge about eight to ten tournaments a week on average and sometimes upwards of twelve.
Trading Post in Standard was the equivalent of Sensei’s Divining Top being legal with fetchlands. Nearly every single round in Standard, tournaments go to time because of this card and strategy. Since we have so many people, I can’t babysit the Trading Post players to play at an acceptable pace. Here’s what the card actually reads to me:
(Watch Tom Ma stream here: http://www.twitch.tv/tommmmmmaaaaa)
So not only do they have to pick from four choices, but all of them effectively prolong the game. Wonderful. I love Magic 2013 and I think it’s the best core of all time, but I really hate Trading Post over any other card printed in the past three years.
So instead of focusing on the negative, let’s have some fun with the last month and a half of Standard we have. I’ve gotten some solid feedback on Elves since I posted my list, and since then I’ve updated it.
The increase in Wolfir Silverheart and Primeval Titan comes from a lack of Birthing Pod decks to kick around online. They still get played in decent numbers, but the amount of Zombies running around makes it hard to justify multiple 8-drop spells, and the number of Gut Shot and Mental Missteps keep going up. Silverheart and P. Titan at least give you multiple threats for the cost of only one card. Ezuri’s Archers also earned its keep many times over by effectively blocking with Delver of Secrets and Restoration Angel all day.
Outside of Geist they really can’t plowerhouse their way in with flyers if you have one of these on the table, and I’ll gladly take the trade nine times out of ten. You mostly lose these games to one or two flyers pressuring you while your Elves keep getting Shot or Snagged, so stalling that plan will typically leave you ahead or even. Even if you can’t combo off, beating them up with anemic 1/1s can still get the job done and ripping a Bonfire or Wolf Run is effectively game over in the close games.
If you don’t like the Bonfire version, then I highly recommend Travis Woo’s version of Green Summer. His final list is very impressive and one of the fun decks to play in the format.
That’s it for now, later this week I’ll have the winning contest entries going up so watch for that!