Positive EV – Draft Observations and Standard Snippets

The StarCityGames.com Open Series comes to St. Louis!
Thursday, June 24th – In today’s Positive EV, Manuel Bucher looks at Rise of the Eldrazi Draft and modern Jund sideboard options in Standard. With the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in St. Louis this Saturday, those folk planning on playing the RGB Menace should take note… and if you fail in the main event, Manu has tips for the side drafts too!

This week, I’ve played a lot more Magic Online than I have for a long time. I played nothing but 8-4 Rise of the Eldrazi drafts and Standard, where I mostly played Jund. I had a lot of success in the draft queues playing a very controlling strategy.

First, I will write about the Rise of the Eldrazi draft format, and later on I’ll talk about some interesting sideboard options for Jund in the current metagame.

The difference in power level between common creatures and rare creatures is so huge that you want to pick the good common removal over the good common creatures. The best creature the common slot has to offer is either a really slow Halimar Wavewatch, one of the Red or Green token-producing Hill Giants, or Ulamog’s Crusher. This is why I pick any good removal spell over any of those guys, including Staggershock or Last Kiss, where sometimes a case can be made to pick either Wavewatch or Ulamog’s Crusher over either. There is a fair amount of guys I pick over the mediocre removal like Guard Duty, Spawning Breath, or Deprive.

Narcolepsy is By Far the Best Common

In rare cases, you get screwed by Emerge Unscathed or you are unable to deal with an Enclave Cryptologist or similar, but Narcolepsy is the best answer to any non-utility creature in the format, no matter the size or if it is enchanted by an aura with totem armor. I receive the card scarily late, and I would splash it in any deck. The decks in which I wouldn’t splash in general are already Blue (in particular, UW Leveler).

Enclave Cryptologist, Domestication, and Brimstone Mage are Underrated, and are the Best Uncommons

I would pick these cards over any common early in the draft (usually late as well), and usually would splash Brimstone Mage if I am not in UW Levelers. Domestication and Brimstone Mage are likely to be the most underrated cards in the format. I can understand that you might expect Domestication to be worse than Mind Control was in M10, which it is, but it is still fantastic. The scenarios in which it doesn’t trade two-for-one are very rare, and every deck is running a lot of targets that are worth stealing, since you are able to steal almost any non-Green common or uncommon guy.

A turn 1 Enclave Cryptologist wins the game every single time it doesn’t get handled, and it doesn’t get worse later in the game, as your opponent still has to find a solution very fast. The format doesn’t feature a lot of card advantage, and Looting in a format where the difference between the best and worst card in the deck is so huge is just unreal.

Brimstone Mage might be the single most underrated card in the format. There is not a single non-rare card in the format I would pick over the Shaman early on in the draft; still, somehow I receive the card as late as pick 5 in the first pack. Later in the draft, I might pick a card that is both excellent and in-color over the Mage, like Beastbreaker of Bala Ged or Vendetta. The amount of games the Mage wins on his own is very high, and the card kills some of the popular archetypes with no questions asked. It is at its best against decks not featuring Black or Red. But if you look at the card pool of Red and Black creatures, you will see that the Shaman will give you an insane advantage against those decks too! With one single level counter, you will kill a guy almost every single turn, even if it is just Eldrazi Spawns or Gloomhunters.

Playing First is Important

The only times I’ve chosen to draw thus far were when I had nine or more really good removal spells. A scary number of players are choosing to draw against me by default, but creatures with level up are a lot better on the play than they are on the draw, and so is Staggershock. Not many of the decks run Walls and can force the game to stall, which means that it comes down to a race as usual, in which playing first is an obvious advantage. There are so many tempo cards that I wouldn’t miss on the opportunity to play first if able. Playing first is not as important as it was in Zendikar Limited, though (or as it was in most other formats).

Cadaver Imp is Overrated

I am not very happy if Cadaver Imp is in my deck. There are not a lot of guys worth returning with Cadaver Imp, and the cards that die to removal are often too slow if you return them, since they are levelers. The big guys rarely die to removal, since the only spells that put them into the graveyard are Vendetta and Corpsehatch (and in some cases Heat Ray or Induce Despair). The card gets a lot better in a deck built around Bloodthrone Vampire and mass Eldrazi Spawns, and it can almost be counted as a very good card in that archetype.

Totem-Guide Hartebeest, Mnemonic Wall, and Bala Ged Scorpion are Underrated

Sea Gate Oracle and Wall of Omens are not. Sure, both Totem-Guide Hartebeest and Mnemonic Wall are dependant on the targets you have in the deck, but they don’t get enough credit early in the draft. Both of those guys can easily turn into MVPs, and with their high toughness they almost ensure you can take advantage of the card advantage you get from them. Bala Ged Scorpion has targets in every deck you face. It is obviously good against Blue/White, but every other color has a lot of targets as well, even if it is only an Eldrazi Spawn. I receive these three guys often later than Sea Gate Oracle or Wall of Omens, which I can’t understand.

Reinforced Bulwark is Underrated

The vast majority of the draft decks with which I either won or made the finals run multiple copies of this card. If I have a focused UW Leveler deck, or a Bloodthrone Vampire strategy, I don’t want to run the card. In any other archetype, I am usually running as many of them as I get. They ensure you have so much time to cast your bombs and draw the colors to cast your splashed cards (I splash a lot)… I started loving the Wall. Sure, I don’t pick the card high at any point in the draft, but I receive it with three cards left in the pack from time to time, and it usually makes my deck no matter what colors I am.

Evolving Wilds is Overrated

And it is very annoying that it is. When I play a four-color (or even five-color) deck and don’t receive the fetch land, but face two-color opponents in the quarters and semis that run the Evolving Wilds, I get very confused. I wouldn’t play the Wilds in a two-color deck if I end up drafting it, since there is simply no point in doing so.

Splinter Twin is the only rare I am going to talk about.

The card is picked later than it deserves. There are a lot of guys in every single deck on which you would like to cast the Twin, even if it is only Overgrown Battlement to produce 5 more mana every second turn if you don’t have another defender. The card is good enchanting any guy with an enters-the-battlefield effect, and some other cards such as Battle-Rattle Shaman, to make it trigger up to three times a turn, or even a lowly Soul’s Attendant. The only cards you don’t want to enchant are either Bombs (Guess what? You won anyway), Levelers, Invokers, and vanilla guys. And as for vanilla guys, you don’t want to run them anyway.

There are some other cards I feel like talking about, but since I don’t have enough experience with them, I don’t want to write something which I might take back within a week.

Next, I want to talk about some sideboard options in Jund. The metagame has evolved a lot with Rise of the Eldrazi, especially for Jund. The mirror match is decided by the “I win the mirror card” Sarkhan the Mad, and Vengevine is problematic for the deck. Creatures attacking you are not particularly White anymore, which makes cards like Malakir Bloodwitch and Deathmark worse.

Relic of Progenitus and Necrogenesis

These are both decent solutions to Vengevine, and they can be used in some other match-ups as well, such as Open the Vaults. After playing both options, and being satisfied with both, I realized that I like the Relic a little more. There are more uses for the card than there are for Necrogenesis, and the amount of mana you have to invest in the card is a lot lower. The saprolings produced by Necrogenesis don’t have enough impact on the board for their price once you’ve dealt with the more-than-annoying Vengevine.

Slave of Bolas is the Best Sideboard Card for the Mirror

I got very annoyed when my opponent just dropped Sarkhan in the mirror and I would die. Slave of Bolas deals with Sarkhan the only comfortable way there is, and you even generate card advantage. Since Sarkhan started seeing play in the Jund decks, I don’t want to board out Lightning Bolts anymore, since it gives me an opportunity to kill the targeted guy before it turns into a dragon.

A Side Note to Sarkhan: I still don’t think the card is very good in the Jund decks, but playing it on turn 5 in the mirror just wins, and that is the reason I would run it. Against any other deck, I am still convinced that the card is only mediocre, and would even decide to not run the card at all if the metagame evolved in such a direction.

Goblin Ruinblaster is No Longer Strong

The Jund and UW Tap Out decks got a lot cheaper to fight all the mid range decks that see a lot of play right now. If its goal is to keep your opponent from casting Broodmate Dragon in the mirror or huge X spells against control, Goblin Ruinblaster is a lot worse if they run half as many copies as they did before Rise of the Eldrazi was printed. I was convinced that the card was a good four-of in any Jund sideboard before Rise of the Eldrazi, but nowadays I’d rather not touch them at all.

Chandra Nalaar is Bad

I absolutely loved the card before Rise of the Eldrazi. But with the Green White decks now running Vengevine as their major threat, casting a Planeswalker to kill a guy is not as sexy anymore, as it just dies to the four-power haster. A lot of match-ups in which the card was shining don’t see play anymore (like Naya Allies), and the cards that Chandra Nalaar is good against have been replaced by Vengevine.

Lavaclaw Reaches is Mediocre

I liked the list I played against Antoine, but with more experience I don’t like the four-of Lavaclaw Reaches as much, and I’d rather have lands that enter the battlefield untapped. Against all the Bant decks, it’s very rare that you have time to activate manlands, and if you are, you’d rather activate Raging Ravine. Also, cheapening up the deck and then not being able to cast the cards because your lands enter the battlefield tapped doesn’t seem very productive.

This article has been a collection of observations and statements on the relevant formats. I hope you like this style, as I might write some of them from time to time!

Thanks for reading… I hope to see a fair amount of feedback in the forums about both the form of the article and the observations included within.

Manu B