Idle Thoughts

Posted in Feature on August 26, 2008

By Steve Sadin

My friend and former Pro Tour–Atlanta and Pro Tour–Charleston teammate Paul Jordan sent me his statistical analysis of the drafts at U.S. Nationals, and let me tell you, the amount of data here is simply overwhelming.

If you've seen his analysis of Pro Tour–Hollywood or more recently, his analysis of the Constructed portion of U.S. Nationals, then you already know a little bit of what he's capable of, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. PJ's ability and willingness to mine tournament results for data is completely unparalleled, and I look forward to seeing what he is able to do for Berlin and Worlds.

While I don't have enough time this week to really dive into the massive Excel file that he sent me, there are a few interesting things that I want to call to attention.

Players in the first draft pod of U.S. Nationals (the four-round pod) who played Quillspike went a combined 12-23, while players who played at least one maindeck Kithkin Zealot went a combined 15-4.

Weird, right?

Not really.

While Quillspike is clearly a very good card, it seems that players at U.S. Nationals were either trying too hard to build their decks around the potential infinite combo enabler, or players were taking him highest in decks that were quite poor to begin with. Sure, almost any self-respecting green or black drafter will have good uses for Quillspike, but if their deck is already good, then there are a lot of cards that they might prioritize over it, leaving Quillspike as a prime card for players with bad decks to jump on.

Kithkin Zealot

While playing Quillspike is a potential indication of a bad deck, playing Kithkin Zealot is generally an indication of a very good deck that wants a little bit more oomph against aggressive red decks.

So yes, it's actually reasonable to be more afraid of someone playing with Kithkin Zealot, a 1/3 that might gain you some life, than it is to be afraid of someone playing Quillspike, a very powerful three-drop that is capable of pulling off an infinite combo and will often attack for 4 while making your persist creatures come back again.

One thing that surprised me was that players playing Resplendent Mentor had a combined record of 6-2 in the first pod. I wasn't surprised that the players playing Resplendent Mentor were able to put together such an impressive record—I was surprised that more people haven't caught on to how good this creature is yet. Seriously, only two out of the thirteen Resplendent Mentors that were opened in the first pod were played.

That just isn't right.

Next time you are drafting white, you should seriously be on the lookout for Resplendent Mentor. It's really good.

Red and Butter

Crag Puca
Players playing Crag Puca went a combined 20-10. While this has something to do with the strength of Crag Puca, it has a lot to do with the strength of the aggressive mono-red decks that I talked about a couple of weeks ago.

Players playing Giantbaiting went a combined 30-21. Players playing Jaws of Stone went a combined 33-18. Players playing Burn Trail went a combined 66-47. Players playing Intimidator Initiate went a combined 36-30.

These numbers suggest that players playing aggressive red decks won somewhere around 60% of their matches, clearly a very impressive number.

I was surprised to find that Giantbaiting performed noticeably better than Intimidator Initiate. Does this mean that Giantbaiting should be taken over Intimidator Initiate in a mono red deck?

Not necessarily. Players with two or more Intimidator Initiates went a combined 11-6, whereas players with two or more Giantbaitings only went 8-6.

While this information is derived from a very small sample size, there are a lot of interesting things to learn from PJ's findings. I'll have more on this in the coming weeks.


Mimics are good.

Mimics are good.

Stop that.

Stop that.

Now I'm sure that a lot of you are already aware of this, but the Eventide Mimics are really good. If you are ever able to attack for 4 or 5 with a Mimic, then you are probably going to be in very good shape. If you ever pump it and attack successfully a second time, then you are going to have a hard time losing any game that comes down to a race situation.

So don't be afraid to take a Mimic first pick! You're only fooling yourself if you think you are going to get that Mimic the second time around. If you get a couple of Mimics early, then you can spent your Eventide pack drafting cards that will supplement them, making them that much better.

While the Mimics won't come back, there are a lot of times when you will see a hybrid Aura or two the second time around. And, if you've been picking up the appropriately colored hybrid cards throughout the pack, then you are even more likely to see the hybrid Auras the second time around then you would have otherwise.

The best time to go for the enemy hybrid gambit is if you're deck isn't looking very good going into the third pack.

Let's say that you are drafting an okay white-based beatdown deck (that needs a lot of Plains) with a couple of red cards such as Puncture Bolt and Power of Fire. You open your Eventide pack and see a Snakeform and a Nightsky Mimic as reasonable picks.

Nightsky Mimic

Sure, Snakeform is a considerably better card than Nightsky Mimic, but since you would have to stretch your mana to play it, then it probably isn't worth taking over the 2/1 that could potentially become the new cornerstone for your deck.

The other time that it's easy to position yourself for the enemy-hybrid gambit is if you open a weak pack and a Mimic is actually the best card in the pack. Sure, that might sound like a no-brainer, but there's a big difference between looking to avoid taking a hybrid Mimic first unless you think that your deck absolutely needs some new synergy to win, and being open to the idea of picking up a two-drop that can easily get in for between 6 and 10 extra damage if you play even two other appropriately colored spells.

The hybrid cards in Eventide have a number of tensions built into them. You want to wait to take them, but if you wait, then they won't be as good as they would have been if you had taken them earlier.

While the hybrid Auras need about four appropriate targets to be really good, the hybrid Mimics only need about two other on-color cards to warrant playing them over a different 2/1 or 2/2 with a marginal ability (think Fang Skulkin in a deck with very few black creatures). So even if you don't get full value out of your Mimics, they are still likely to be an asset to your deck.

In other words, while it's generally harder to get full value out of your hybrid creatures and Auras if you start taking them later in the pack, that shouldn't stop you from taking them.

Of the Mimics, I think that I would be most likely to make a move if I saw a Nightsky Mimic, both because I think it's the best mimic and because I think that Edge of Divinity is the best of the Eventide hybrid Auras. (If you've ever seen an Edge of Divinity on a Nip Gwyllion or a Nightsky Mimic then you already know how good it is.)

But I'd be almost as likely to go for a Shorecrasher Mimic or a Riverfall Mimic. Pretty much the only mimics that I wouldn't make a move for are Woodlurker Mimic and Battlegate Mimic. This is because the support cards for Mimic-based black-green and red-white just aren't good enough.

There Are Some "Sideboard Cards..."

...that are good against entire archetypes.

Kithkin Zealot is a metagame card. If there were no aggressive mono-red deck in the format, then Kithkin Zealot would spend most of his days living in people's sideboards, occasionally seeing the light of day in particularly slow decks or if the opponent has a bunch of 2/1 creatures.

But the existence and consistent success of mono-red makes this little Kithkin an easy maindeck inclusion in lots of decks that have Plains.

Chaotic Backlash
Whenever I'm drafting an aggressive white deck, I look to pick up Kithkin Zealot(s) for my sideboard so I'll be able to win races against the red deck. Whenever I'm drafting a mid-range or slow white deck (I'm often blue-white), I look to pick these up pretty early so I'll actually have a shot at beating the red decks. Whatever type of white deck I may be drafting, this is likely to be a card that is very important to me.

Unlike Disenchant effects, which are good whenever the opponent has some good to great artifacts or enchantments, Kithkin Zealot is a "sideboard card" that is good against an entire archetype.

Similarly, Chaotic Backlash is an awesome card to pick up in a red deck. While Chaotic Backlash might not be as maindeckable as Kithkin Zealot is, it makes up for this by being absolutely devastating when it's good.

Whenever I see a player playing the red deck, they are usually able to get in a decent amount of damage early, putting the opponent on the defensive for much of the rest of the game. If you have your opponent on the defensive there are usually a few different ways that you can play the game:

  1. Set up favorable trades.
  2. Trade your cards for damage.
  3. Blow your opponent out.
  4. Let the game stall out while you wait to draw or set up your game-breaker.

There are some other ways you can make the game go, but I'm not going to get into them right now (though I am excited enough about this topic that I will definitely come back to it soon.)

So, if you are playing the red deck and you get ahead early, if you have Chaotic Backlash, and you play defense to let the game stall out, then your opponent will probably be absolutely helpless when you hit them for 6-10 damage right as they are beginning to take chunks out of your life total.

Some "sideboard cards" are actually quite good even if they aren't at their best. Aerie Ouphes is one of the best examples that I've seen of this type of card in a while.

Against decks without fliers, Aerie Ouphes is a Gravelgill Axeshark. This is a good card, sure, but not a first-pick candidate like Aerie Ouphes is. The thing is, if you're playing against a blue deck with a bunch of fliers, then Aerie Ouphes might as well be Incremental Blight (or "Incremental Blue(t)").

Aerie Ouphes

Don't be afraid to take cards that are at their best against certain opponents. If you are already putting together a good deck, then you generally want cards that are going to be great sometimes and okay the rest of the time instead of cards that are going to be good almost all of the time.

Ideal Thoughts on Idle Thoughts

At Grand Prix–Madrid, I opened up a very poor Sealed pool. Very early in building I realized that I was going to be playing a blue-green with very little oomph. I had a Biting Tether, a couple of decent creatures, and not much else.

I had a reasonable early game, but I was agonizing over how I was going to win drawn-out games.

I flipped through my sideboard.


I flipped through it again.

And I saw something.

Idle Thoughts

Idle Thoughts!

Normally I would shy away from this card, but in this deck it was exactly what I needed to have a shot at winning long games.

Idle Thoughts actually turned out to be one of the most important cards in my deck, single-handedly winning me two matches that would have been completely lost otherwise.

If you have a deck that empties its hand early, and doesn't have too many tricks, then this could be an absolute gem. While this might not be Future Sight (the card, not the set), the ability to play an extra one to three cards a turn can get out of hand fast.

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