Dragons Maze, Limited Resources, and my review process

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me and I haven’t been able to update this blog as often as I would like. Hopefully I’ll have time to post some Dragon’s Maze stuff here over the next couple of days, but I thought I would throw up a short post about Dragon’s Maze and limited.

Marshall had me on the Limited Resources podcast this week as a guest commentator and I got to participate in the marathon Common and Uncommon set review. It was a blast to do and we got pretty deep into the set, but even with four hours of commentary there’s still a lot to be said about this limited environment and about how to evaluate cards in DGM. So, for your amusement/edification, I’ve listed some of the points that I didn’t get a chance to cover in the podcast below, disconnected shotgun bullet-point style. I’ve also included a link to my prep work/notes, right here, in case you want to get an idea of what I do to get ready for one of these shows.

  • I think this is a 3 color format, with 80% or more of the decks being an evenly distributed triple color. The format just rewards you so heavily for drafting gold cards that it’s hard to skip out on an entire pack of cards by going two colors. Simultaneously, having zero 5-color fixing in the first pack makes it harder to draft 5-color good stuff, although having Verdant Haven, Axebane Guardian, and Prophetic Prism in the second and third packs does help.
  • That said, I do think there are two color decks that are draftable. I’m sure straight Boros is draftable, given that there are fine low drop creatures and Dynacharge waiting in the Return to Ravnica pack. I also think that Azorius, Orzhov, and Gruul are probably draftable two color decks, given that none of them are particularly synergy driven and can just be traditional core-set style good stuff decks. Rakdos would normally fall into this category too, but I think it’s too hard to get solid, resilient creatures in red and black in the Dragon’s Maze and Gatecrash packs, where there are very few commons you would actually want.
  • I expect Selesnya and Populate to be much worse in full block draft, as it requires a critical mass of token producers, which are both expensive in DGM and GTC and are uncommon (Knight Watch and Sunspire Gatekeepers are not the token enablers you want).
  • The tokens you do populate will tend to be bigger, however, with Urbis Protector, Trostani’s Summoner, and Miming Slime giving you reasonable access to good 4/4s. So I think Selesnya will be a good complement to guilds that can slow down the early game.
  • I expect that WRB will be the best aggressive deck in the format. It has access to strong choices in the curve in all three packs, the mechanics all stand alone well, you get access to lots of removal, and none of the themes work at cross purposes.
  • A BUG control deck that focuses on the Defender and mill subthemes should probably be a thing. Given that Cipher is not a particularly good mechanic and that Evolve is unlikely to be good in this color combination, I expect that this is probably the dominant thing to do in this archetype.
  • The removal in this set continues the block’s theme of being lackluster and conditional, particularly at common. Your X/4s are usually safe, casting a bomb creature and riding it to victory, especially in sealed, is still a viable strategy.
  • Having only one pack of Cloudfin Raptors hurts the Evolve deck a lot. I think RUG will be the best Evolve deck, but the mechanic has gone down in strength.
  • In general I think Populate, Evolve, and Battalion have gotten worse. Scavenge and Cipher have both gotten marginally better, but are still in the bottom half of mechanics. Bloodrush, Extort, Detain, Overload, and Unleash have all stayed about the same, mainly because they’re generic good stuff mechanics that you don’t need to draft around to get the full utility from them.
  • My very rough ordering of the quality of the three color decks, from best to worst, is: WBR, Jund, RUG, Naya, Bant, Junk (WBG), UWR, Esper, BUG, Grixis. I am very prepared to be proven wrong on this ranking though.
  • I think you want to pick Guildgates very highly. They are the best fixing in the format outside of Prophetic Prism, the power level of the DGM cards is not so high that you are giving up a lot, and it will suck to go into the Return to Ravnica pack needing to pick up three color fixers, unless you’re a base Green mana ramp deck that is hoping to max out on Axebane Guardians and Gatecreeper Vines.
  • I think all of the token makers that produce multiple tokens are going to be good in the Junk deck.
  • Something like 20-25% of the commons in DGM are unplayable blanks. This is made up for somewhat by the land slot being very good instead of a blank, but, combined with people being color flexible, makes it important to make your early picks count, as you can count on the last 3-4 picks not going into your deck.
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Illustrating the comprehensive rules with a minimal set of cards

Jon Loucks presented me with an interesting question this weekend – what is the minimum number of cards you would need to be able to demonstrate every rule in the Magic Comprehensive Rulebook? I think my guess at the time was around 200 cards, but the more I think about it I feel like it’s probably a smaller number – there are lots of places where clever reuse of cards could potentially cut down on the number of cards you need.

It’s probably overly ambitious, but I kind of want to find out, and I figure it might make for a fun series of blog posts. So, over the next few months I’m going to try to go through the entire Comp Rules and build up a list of cards that can be used to illustrate them all. Feel free to follow along at home and provide suggestions on cards that will be useful examples for multiple rules.

Here are some cards that I’m looking forward to using:

Gatecrash Legacy Review

And I think that’s about it. Frown town.

Ok, ok, we’ll be a little more thorough, but unlike Return to Ravnica there are no format defining cards like Deathrite Shaman, staple cards like Abrupt Decay, or even powerful sideboard options like Rest in Peace. Instead we have a number of niche cards that are unlike to make the cut, the Nivmagus Elementals and Worldspine Wurms of this set. The potential Legacy cards in Gatecrash can roughly be divided into four categories: flexible cards that fit in existing archetypes, powerful cards that currently do not have a home, cards that only fit in a single archetype, and sideboard cards. Let’s walk through them:

Flexible currently playable cards

Dimir Charm is a lot like Izzet Charm – it kills a bunch of relevant creatures (Dark Confidant, unflipped Delvers, Deathrite Shaman, Elves, utility creatures), can counter relevant spells in all of the combo and most of the control decks, and has a marginal card filtering ability that can be used in a pinch. I think it’s a lot more likely to see play than Izzet Charm, however, because it is a better fit for the BUG decks than Izzet Charm was for RUG Delver and it shores up their weaknesses whereas Izzet Charm addressed issues that weren’t pressing for RUG Delver. Specifically, a 2cc reactive spell is much more palatable to BUG decks that run more lands, have Deathrite Shamans, and want to play a longer game than in the mana light RUG Delver decks. RUG decks didn’t need the flexibility of Izzet Charm because they use burn spells for removal, meaning that they don’t have to worry as much about their removal spells being dead in combo matchups, whereas BUG decks will appreciate having removal that doubles as a counterspell more. Additionally the disruption that Dimir Charm gives BUG decks is a better compliment to its existing suite of disruption, because it attacks from a different angle than the discard that BUG relies upon. I think that Dimir Charm has enough things going for it that it should see some maindeck usage in BUG decks.

Orzhov CharmOrzhov Charm could see some play in Junk decks if we ever move to a point in the format where a Maverick deck splashing black became a viable choice again. A deck would have to want the third mode to be significantly useful in order to choose to play Orzhov charm, since the first mode is mostly useless and the second mode has to compete with Swords to Plowshares. Realistically the only 1 drops I would be willing to pay 2 mana to reanimate are Deathrite Shaman, Mother of Runes, and Heritage Druid/Nettle Sentinel/Wirewood Symbiote/etc. I’d want at least eight creatures I could get back in order to run this card, so either I’m looking at a combo Elves deck or a Maverick deck to play this. Unfortunately Maverick is not playable in the current meta and I think trying to play a double splash non-creature card in Elves is pretty ambitious.

I’ve heard arguments that Simic Charm is a card that RUG Delver decks would want, but I’m skeptical. I’d argue that Vapor Snag is a better card than Simic Charm if you’re in the market for an Unsummon, as two mana is much more than one mana in the sort of tempo decks that want an Unsummon and bouncing your own creature is almost as good a defensive measure as giving your guy Hexproof. Simic charm has the nice upsides of countering an opponent’s Wasteland activation and winning Tarmogoyf wars, but you’ll rarely realize the former since you would be leaving up two mana and you already have burn spells to realize the latter. Simic Charm just doesn’t match up well to with RUG Delver’s plan of attack.

Powerful cards without a home

Twitter’s been all aflutter with Boros Charm ever since it was spoiled, and with good reason – it’s a sweet card. Boros Charm is a great card for aggressive creature based decks that either have a few key creatures they want to protect or which exist in a format where Wrath effects are prevalent. Unfortunately there aren’t any viable decks in Legacy that would want Boros Charm and Boros Charm doesn’t match up well to the removal in the format. The first issue is that there aren’t any red white decks in Legacy anymore – ever since the demise of Zoo this color combination has been virtually non-existent as these two colors have been relegated, in creature decks, to splash colors that are both splashed primarily for removal (and thus are never splashed together). Neither of the two relevant red decks in the format, Burn and Goblins, would want to splash White for this card as only one of the modes is relevant to either deck (Burn is interested in dealing damage and Goblins is interested in indestructability) and splashing an additional color is a real cost for both decks. Maverick might have been interested in splashing Boros charm, but, as mentioned previously Maverick isn’t a deck currently, and if it were to become more viable it would be more interested in splashing black for disruption than red for Punishing Fire and Boros Charm. In addition to not having a deck that wants these abilities, Boros Charm simply doesn’t match-up well with the format right now. The third ability is only relevant in creature combat, as you’re rarely going to deal more than 4 additional damage to an opponent by giving a creature double strike, particularly in the fast aggressive decks that want the other abilities. Four damage for two mana is actually a pretty good deal, but the granting indestructibility to your permanents isn’t as relevant as we would like given that the only Wrath in the format is Terminus and that Swords to Plowshares and Liliana of the Veil are prevalent removal spells. It’s too bad Boros Charm was printed in the post Delver of Secrets world, as it would have been an awesome card in Zoo, but as it is it doesn’t have a home.

Domri Rade is another card that would have been sweet in the heyday of Zoo but doesn’t have a good home right now. I don’t think that the current Jund decks are creature dense enough to get card advantage with Domri and the format isn’t enough about board control for her -2 ability to be relevant right now, unlike two years ago when Zoo would have been interested in a card that helped you win the mirror and was good against Goblins and Merfolk. It’s possible that a Goblins deck splashing Green would be interested in Domri simply as a card advantage engine, but drawing cards is not something that deck really has a problem with, so I doubt it would be good enough to lower your Goblin count.

Crypt Ghast and Blind Obedience are both on the Legacy power curve but they don’t do things that make sense in the format right now. Crypt Ghast is somewhat in the Nic Fit wheelhouse of accelerating your mana in a significant way and then casting large threats, but so far that strategy has proven to be too slow and not disruptive enough to be successful in Legacy. Blind Obedience is the best Kismet ever printed, but I think we would need something more to make Stasis playable in the first place, and it’s been years since a prison style deck that didn’t interact on the stack was viable (the last one, mono-white Stax, wouldn’t benefit from playing Blind Obedience).

Niche cards

Cards that only go in one deck can still be powerful and format altering, but unfortunately most of the niche cards in Gatecrash are either less effective than existing cards, or are doing something that isn’t really relevant to the current Legacy metagame, and thus I don’t expect any of these cards to make waves.

Prime Speaker Zegana is the niche card that I think is most likely to see main-deck play in Legacy, as part of a Hypergenesis deck. Hypergenesis and Eureka are somewhat different from other cards that put multiple permanents in play at once in that they put cards in play in an order instead of simultaneously, which means that Prime Speaker Zegana can see the creatures you put down before her, and will get her +1/+1 counter bonus. So as long as you have another fatty the Speaker will also sport some muscle, and, more importantly, she will draw you a bunch of cards so you can either protect your goon squad or go off again.

Everyone loves gigantic, flashy spells, but the truth of the matter is that it is a lot harder to cheat in big Sorceries than it is to cheat in expensive permanents. Additionally, Enter the Infinite is not super exciting if you expend all of your resources to cast it and then don’t have enough resources left to cast the spells you just drew. I think a lot of the ways we have for cheating spells into play, like Fist of Suns, Mosswort Bridge, or Windbrisk Heights are just not viable as you can’t guarantee a win just by drawing your deck, so we have to look to a shell with Dream Halls, Omniscience, or High Tide to use Enter the Infinite. High Tide doesn’t need an expensive kill card once it gets it’s mana engine going – it’s perfectly able to win using Cunning Wish and the cards it uses to go off in the first place, and since Enter the Infinite can’t be wished for it would have to be in the main deck, clogging up our ability to go off in the first place. Omniscience seems like a good fit, but we already have a compact single card win with Burning Wish that we can use with Omniscience, and Burning Wish also helps us find the pieces to go off with Omniscience. Dream Halls also seems like a good fit – we have an enabler that lets us cheat out Enter the Infinite and it lets us cast the spells we draw off of Enter the Infinite. That said, casting Enter the Infinite off of Dream Halls seems like it’s just as good as casting Conflux off of Dream Halls. In both cases you win as soon as you assemble Dream Halls and the card in question, and your in deck kill condition is super compact. Given that Dream Halls has not been a winning archetype in the past year, I doubt that adding Enter the Infinite, either as a supplement to or a replacement of Conflux, is going to make Dream Halls a viable archetype.

Like every other Goblin card ever printed Legion Loyalist has been suggested as an addition to the Legacy Goblins list by dozens of forum posters. And while Legion Loyalist has a great rate for the effect it generates, this isn’t an effect you really want in your Goblin deck. Giving a bunch of 1 and 2 power guys trample isn’t super effective, nor is the first strike. We may see this guy as a one of sideboard card in Goblins, especially if Goblins swings back to a more aggressive posture in the metagame, but that’s the best I would expect of this card.

Hellkite Tyrant may see some play in the sideboards of Dredge and Reanimator should the Welder MUD deck have a resurgence. Both Dredge and Reanimator are able to benefit greatly from singleton reanimation targets in the sideboard, as witnessed by the use of Aura Thief a few years ago in Dredge sideboards when Enchantress was on the rise. As far as I can tell Hellkite Tyrant is the best “artifact deck” trump card printed for these types of strategies, and so it has a potential future walk on role.

Skullcrack is probably the second most likely card to see play among these niche players. Like Searing Blaze and Smash to Smithereens, it seems like a viable anti-strategy burn spell that will see sideboard and maybe even maindeck play in mono-red burn. I don’t think red decks have a need to fight lifegain right now, but it’s a good tool to know you have in your arsenal for when you want to sleeve up 21 mountains.

Giant Adephage looks like it might be a good fatty for a Sneak Attack/Natural Order deck, but Worldspine Wurm is miles better than this card and currently sees zero Legacy play.

The obscurely named Pact SI, a RGB storm deck that boasts a low land count, Summoner’s Pact, Diabolic Intent, and Culling the Weak already runs Wild Cantor and would probably welcome the ability to get your mana back and get a warm body to sacrifice to one of its black sorceries in the form of this Gruul Emissary.

Speaking of weird Storm decks, while Whispering Madness doesn’t seem to fit into any of the current Storm decks, a four mana Windfall is probably still strong enough to play in Legacy and therefore may end up turning into a building block of some new Storm combo deck.

Cloudpost decks have occasionally done well in the Star City Games circuit, but they’ve been held back from widespread adoption by the high price tag of Candelabra of Tawnos. The printing of Glimmerpost a couple years ago was a significant addition to this deck, but I’m somewhat skeptical that the clunkiness of Thespian’s Stage isn’t going to be a big enough barrier to adding it to this deck …

Sideboard cards

All three of these cards are highly situational and probably too narrow and underpowered to see play in Legacy, but they’re worth mentioning in passing.

  • Illness in the Ranks is a potential answer to both Lingering Souls and to Empty the Warrens, but it’s probably worth it to pay the extra two mana to get the versatility of an Engineered Plague.
  • Serene Remembrance is pretty low on the power spectrum for graveyard hate cards, but I can imagine there being some iteration of a grindy deck like 43 Lands that might want to maindeck a card like this to have graveyard hate in game 1.
  • Shattering Blow is a pretty excellent answer to Painter’s Servant/Grindstone decks (which run Goblin Welder) and to Sword of the Meek/Thopter Foundry decks (which run Academy Ruins). Being a hybrid Red/White spell means that virtually every deck in Legacy can cast it, and while the card lacks the versatility of a Disenchant, it does its job at the best rate available. Neither of these artifact based combos are prevalent in the current Legacy metagame, but if they become relevant in the future this is a valid way to attack them.

The win rate fallacy and 4-3-2-2s

Many people have pointed out that, from a pure expected value standpoint, drafting in the 4-3-2-2 queues on Magic Online is a misplay because it pays out 11 packs, compared to the 12 packs that the swiss and 8-4 queues pay out. A common response is that I win more matches in 4-3-2-2s than I do in 8-4s and so I’ll end up winning more packs in 4-3-2-2s and thus they are better value. I’ve heard this response a number of times, but I’ve never actually seen anyone include their win percentages, so I decided that to dig in and find out whether there are win percentages that make 4-3-2-2s a better choice.

Let’s start out by looking at some data. I don’t draft a great deal online, so I don’t have a nice MtGO dataset of my own. But I do have my real life limited data that we can use to approximate my expected MtGO win rates. I went to the Planeswalker Points website and aggregated all of my limited match records. I grouped these data into three categories – matches in prereleases and release events; matches in PTQs, GPs, and Pro Tours; and all of the rest of my matches. Let’s map these three data categories to swiss, 8-4, and 4-3-2-2 queues respectively. This seems like a decent first approximation, although I’d imagine that my win percentage in actual 8-4s would be better than my PTQ/GP/Pro Tour win percentage. This data includes both sealed and draft data as otherwise I’d have very few data points for the top and bottom categories. So, mapping my results to the queue payouts, here’s how I did:

Queue Record Win Percentage Expected Value
8-4 80 wins, 51 losses 61% 2.4 packs/draft
4-3-2-2 192 wins, 78 losses 71% 2.29 packs/draft
Swiss 61 wins, 18 losses 77% 2.32 packs/draft

As we would expect I have a higher win rate in swiss than I do in 4-3-2-2s and I have a higher win rate in 4-3-2-2s than I do in 8-4s. But even though my win rate is 10% lower at 8-4s than 4-3-2-2s, I still have a higher EV in the 8-4 queue. This is partially due to the structure of the tournament (8-4s reward higher win percentages more than 4-3-2-2s), but it is also because there is a pack missing from the prize pool (if it was a 5-3-2-2 my EV would be 2.65). You’ll notice that I also have a higher EV in swiss than in 4-3-2-2. When people make the “my win percentage is better in 4-3-2-2s than 8-4s” argument they frequently don’t take into account that they probably have an even higher win rate in swiss.

Let’s look at some more data. My friend Daniel Duterte kindly let me publish his MtGO draft numbers from the last year:

Queue Record Win Percentage Expected Value
8-4 85 wins, 72 losses 54.1% 1.8 packs/draft
4-3-2-2 13 wins, 7 losses 65% 2.0 packs/draft
Swiss 13 wins, 2 losses 86.7% 2.6 packs/draft

OK, small sample size on 4-3-2-2s and swiss queues, but this is an example of how just crushing swiss queues gives you a huge edge on 4-3-2-2s. The whole “my win percentage is higher in 4-3-2-2s than 8-4s” argument is a double edged sword.

One more set of data, Limited Resources listener Vis posted his win percentages in the comments of one of the latest LR podcasts:

Queue Number of events Win Percentage Expected Value
8-4 35 events 61.9% 2.48 packs/draft
4-3-2-2 127 events 63.35% 1.92 packs/draft
Swiss 82 events 67.9% 2.04 packs/draft

Well, we keep having pretty bad EV with 4-3-2-2s. We’ve got a decent sample size here and see that 4-3-2-2 is wildly less profitable than 8-4 when there’s a small difference in win percentages and we’re a solidly winning player. And, again, swiss manages to edge out 4-3-2-2s, even though the win percentages aren’t as dramatic as they were in Daniel’s case.

So, we’ve got some real world data sets in which 4-3-2-2s seem to be a losing proposition, in terms of EV opportunity cost. Let’s take a look at the actual EV numbers for particular win rates and see if we can draw some conclusions. Here’s the relevant info:

Win % 8-4 EV 4-3-2-2 EV Swiss EV
5% 0.01 0.10 0.15
10% 0.04 0.21 0.30
15% 0.10 0.33 0.45
20% 0.19 0.45 0.60
25% 0.31 0.58 0.75
30% 0.47 0.72 0.90
35% 0.66 0.87 1.05
40% 0.90 1.02 1.20
45% 1.17 1.19 1.35
50% 1.50 1.38 1.50
55% 1.88 1.57 1.65
60% 2.30 1.78 1.80
65% 2.79 2.00 1.95
70% 3.33 2.23 2.10
75% 3.94 2.48 2.25
80% 4.61 2.75 2.40
85% 5.35 3.04 2.55
90% 6.16 3.34 2.70
95% 7.04 3.66 2.85
100% 8.00 4.00 3.00

That’s useful reference data, but it’s a bit hard to interpret. Let’s visualize this by looking at equivalent win percentages for 8-4s and swiss compared to the 4-3-2-2 queue:

4-3-2-2 Win percentage Swiss 8-4
5% 3% 15%
10% 7% 21%
15% 11% 26%
20% 15% 29%
25% 19% 32%
30% 24% 36%
35% 29% 39%
40% 34% 42%
45% 40% 45%
50% 46% 48%
55% 52% 51%
60% 59% 54%
65% 67% 57%
70% 74% 59%
75% 83% 62%
80% 92% 65%
85% N/A 67%
90% N/A 70%
95% N/A 73%
100% N/A 75%

Here’s how you read this chart: let’s say you have a 40% win percentage in 4-3-2-2s, so you look at the 40% line under “4-3-2-2 Win Percentage,” then look at the percentages for swiss and 8-4, which are 34% and 42%. This means that a 40% win rate in 4-3-2-2s is equivalent to a 34% win rate in swiss or 42% in 8-4.

Looking at the chart, it’s pretty obvious that if your win rate is 60% or less in 4-3-2-2s then you would do better by simply playing swiss queues, since you’ll have the same or better win percentages and a higher EV (actually the break-even point is at a 61.9% win rate). If you have a greater than 60% win rate in 4-3-2-2s there needs to be a pretty large difference in your win rates between 4-3-2-2 and 8-4 queues AND there has to be a small difference in win rates between 4-3-2-2 and swiss queues for 4-3-2-2s to be correct. The win rate differences between 4-3-2-2s and 8-4s are so big, however, that this isn’t really plausible. If you win 70% of your 4-3-2-2 matches then you should be able to win either 60% of your 8-4 matches or 75% of your swiss matches (or both!).

It turns out that the “I win more matches in 4-3-2-2s than I do in 8-4s, so I’ll win more packs by playing 4-3-2-2s” argument just doesn’t hold any water. First off, you have to consider swiss queues as well, and if you assume that your win rate is higher in 4-3-2-2s than 8-4s, you also need to assume that your swiss win percentage will be higher than either of the others. Given that, you now need to be an excellent drafter with a greater than 61.9% win rate for 4-3-2-2s to possibly be better than swiss queues. And you need to be doing much worse in 8-4s than you are in 4-3-2-2s, like 10% worse or more, to not move up to 8-4s. These circumstances just aren’t going to occur for the vast, vast majority of drafters.

The best way to figure out which queue to play in is to keep track of your results, determine your win percentage, and then figure out which queue offers the best value. If you want to challenge yourself and play against the best, or if you are a very winning player, you should draft 8-4s. If you’re just want to play some magic, or if you’re still learning and are not yet a strong drafter you should draft in the swiss queue. But please, do not ever draft in 4-3-2-2 queues – they’re a terrible deal that you always come out behind on.

Cheers,

Joe

Postscript:

For the mathy completionists out there, here are the equations I use to calculate pack EV:

  • Swiss: EV = 3 * Win%
  • 4-3-2-2: EV = Win% * (Win % * (4 * Win% + 3 * (1 – Win%)) + 2 * (1 – Win%))
  • 8-4:: EV = Win% * Win% * (8 * Win% + 4 * (1 – Win%))

Is Elixir of Immortality right for my (limited) deck?

Marshall_LR is quick to dismiss cards like Elixir of Immortality. And with good reason – the effect Elixir has on the game is not worth the card you expend. The co-host of Limited Resources advocates a straightforward, value-based approach to card evaluation well suited to his audience and rejects cards that aren’t playable in most decks. The real life Marshall, however, is definitely interested in digging deeper and understanding when the normal case doesn’t hold. A couple of days ago, at our weekly poker game, Marshall posed the question “what kind of deck should run Elixir of Immortality?”

It’s an interesting question.

Let’s talk about what Elixir of Immortality does for you:

  • It gains you five life
  • It improves your future draw steps
  • It lets you recycle specific cards
  • It gives you inevitability
  • It protects you from decking

It looks like Elixir of Immortality does a lot of things! Unfortunately, the things it does are irrelevant or marginal for most decks. Specifically, recycling specific cards, gaining inevitability, and gaining (some) protection from decking are simply irrelevant to most decks. Recycling specific cards is only relevant if you are subsequently tutoring for those cards – if your plan is to go long with Diabolic Revelation then Elixir makes sense as a way to cast your removal spells and Archaeomancers over and over again, but it’s only relevant if that specifically is what you are doing. There aren’t many decks that want Elixir to provide inevitability, simply because there aren’t that many decks that can beat every card in their opponent’s deck but don’t have a way to actually win the game. And unless you have a ridiculous amount of card draw AND plan to go super long you simply don’t need a card in the main to protect yourself from decking. There are definitely decks that want Elixir for these purposes, Brian DeMars’s GP Boston winning deck was a UR Control list that needed Elixir to balance out his tremendous card draw and slow threats, for example, but the decks that want Elixir for one of these three effects are both very rare and easy to identify.

So what about all the other decks out there – do any of them want Elixir of Immortality?

In the rest of our decks Elixir of Immortality reads “Gain 5 life. Improve your future draw steps.” Is this effect worth a card to us? Well, that depends on how much we’re improving our future draw steps. I wouldn’t play a three mana spell that gained me five life and drew me half a card. There are some decks that might play that life gain spell if it drew a full card, but Renewed Faith was never exciting and I expect this wouldn’t be either. I would be excited to play Elixir if it drew me two cards, but does that ever happen? Let’s find out:

Let’s say it is turn eight and we have 25 cards left in our library. We’ve drawn all the lands we need for the game, so any future lands we draw are dead cards. Our deck started with 17 lands and 23 spells, all of our spells are reasonable draws, and we’ve drawn spells and lands in proportion to our deck, so our deck now contains 15 spells and 10 lands.  If we shuffle eight cards into our library with Elixir we’ll increase our spell percentage from 60% to 70%, which means we’ll draw one more spell than expectation after ten turns. That’s a long time to wait to get our one card back from the Elixir. If we want to get a card back from Elixir after only five turns of waiting we’ll need to shuffle 25 cards back into our library, more spells than were in our deck to start the game!

In order to actually be up a whole card on the deal (i.e. replace Elixir and draw an additional card) we have to jump through some pretty big hoops. If we wait until there are only 15 cards left in our library and we shuffle 15 spells from our graveyard into our library we’ll be up a card after ten additional draw steps.

Limited games just don’t go this long with any routine frequency. Most limited games are over in less than ten turns, so expecting to live ten turns after you use Elixir, and getting a large number of spells into your graveyard before using Elixir is just something that realistically won’t happen. There are some decks that can use Elixir of Immortality, but those decks want it because of specific properties with recycling cards or needing to not deck yourself. Elixir simply is not a viable value card – you’ll never get a full card out of it by using it fairly.

Cheers,

Joe

Post Script:

If you’re interested, here’s the formula I used to calculate how many turns it takes to “draw” a single card after using Elixir:

You can calculate how long it takes to draw X cards by changing the 1 in the numerator to X for whatever value of X you want.

Also, here are some sweet quotes from the LR guys about Elixir of Immortality:

  • “Everyone thinks it’s a freeroll, and it’s a complete blank.”
  • “You’re increasing your chance of drawing a spell by a small percentage, which is not card advantage.”
  • “This will be the most played F.”