Big Plans

Posted in Limited Information on December 10, 2014

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

It's that time of the format. Every format is like this. You've drafted it just enough to have tried out most of the major strategies, and maybe even some of the less common ones. If you are like me, you've drafted it enough times to explore most of the niche strategies fairly well.

And I've done that. As a service to you, the reader, I have burned many a booster pack worth of value in pursuit of this knowledge. The good news is that I've found it (for the most part).

After sliding many goblins, quietly contemplating, and making a lot of secret plans, I've come to some conclusions.

First, I'm not a big fan of the Goblinslide/Quiet Contemplation strategy. I don't believe that it's worth going after in the draft portion as the payoff isn't there with the deck.

Risk Versus Reward Spectrum

Drafting a deck like this falls on the same spectrum you should be putting most strategic Magic-related decisions on: the Risk Versus Reward Spectrum. Perhaps the name is a bit grandiose, but it stands to reason that if you are going to take a significant risk with something, the reward has to be equivalently valuable.

As an example: maybe you and I have a cookie, and we'd like to split it up fairly. Most people are comfortable with flipping a coin, and letting the outcome be dictated by that coin. The chances are 50% on either side, so it's fair in their mind.

But if we change the coin to say, a four-sided die, the equation changes. Now we only win one out of four rolls, which is no longer 50%, it's 25% instead. This doesn't feel right, and for good reason. The adjustment that needs to be made if this roll is to be considered fair is that we win more of the cookie when we do roll our number. We only win one in four rolls of the die, but when we do win, we get rewarded accordingly.

In drafting, we have to make a similar calculation. By going after a niche archetype that needs certain cards to be opened and for them to reach us in the draft, we are taking on significant risk. Does the reward justify the risk?

Briber's Purse | Art by Steve Argyle

Say, one in three drafts we actually get the cards we need for the deck. This means that the times when the deck does come to us, it has to be fantastic. It must be significantly better than the average deck to justify taking the risk of getting it.

Which brings us back to our Goblinslide/Quiet Contemplation scenario. We know we are taking on extra risk in the draft portion by going for a deck like this. How much risk? That kind of depends, but it's not an insignificant amount. And from my experience, the deck isn't that much better than an average draft deck to justify it.

And that's the core of how I figure out if a deck like this is worth going after or not.

If I have the best Goblinslide deck I've ever had, how well do I expect it to perform? How well does an average Abzan deck perform? What about a five-color build?

It's difficult to come up with actual, meaningful numbers around this, so we have to use a combination of our own experience and also just applying logic.

Applying this to the Goblinslide/Quiet Contemplation deck revealed that no, it isn't that much better (if it's better at all) than the established archetypes in Khans of Tarkir.

The main reason for this probably lies with the fact that in order to build this type of deck, you need an inordinate number of noncreature spells. This runs counter to what Limited is ultimately all about: creatures. It's not impossible to pull off a deck like this; it's just not worth it, generally.

Sad, I know. But there is good news. Secret good news.

Big Plans

After exhaustive research by both Brian David-Marshall and myself, we have concluded that the Secret Plans deck is sweet.

It took me a while to come around fully on the card, and the archetype, but I'm fully hooked now. This archetype is actually worth the risk you take to get it. It has much stronger late game and inevitably than the established archetypes thanks to continuous card draw from Secret Plans and morphs. The deck is beatable, but if built correctly I have found it significantly stronger than the average deck.

Here are some of the key cards to look out for when attempting this strategy.

The namesake card is of course the most important card in the deck. It's an enchantment, making it essentially the most difficult-to-remove type of nonland permanent in the set. It's also cheap at just 2 converted mana cost. It has a very useful static ability, combined with an alarmingly powerful triggered ability.

The basic plan with the deck is to pick up two of these (three is OK too), and then build around them. I have vastly preferred Sultai for this archetype, although it's possible to build Temur or even five-color (which I have also done many times).

The ideal course of the game goes something like:

  • Play a Secret Plans on turn two.
  • Play a morph on turn three. Your morph blocks other morphs and most two-mana creatures.
  • Play more morphs while hitting land drops.
  • Start flipping morphs face up, drawing cards, and chaining one morph into the next.

That's the thing that doesn't stand out with this card at first. You draw your card off the triggered ability, and of course your card for your draw step. If you have enough morphs in the deck (I try for at least ten; more is better, fewer can be OK but is riskier) you'll often find another morph with these draw steps, and the chain continues.

It's glorious. You win the game eventually through the power of sheer card advantage.

One consideration is which morphs to play in this deck. While you need some number of powerful game-ending morph creatures, it's actually a different class of morphs that works best in this deck: morphs that are cheap to flip face up.

You have to view your morphs under a different light in this deck. You've got to play some of the cards you wouldn't normally play with, because they fit what this deck is trying to do.

Monastery Flock is a great example. Let's face it, the card doesn't really do much at all. It's purely defensive in nature, and it just isn't that powerful of a Magic card in general.

So why is it on my list here?

Because it only costs one blue mana to flip face up! Not only that, but it's an excellent blocker and can even block most of the flying creatures in the set. It sets you up for the long game, which is exactly where you want to be headed when you find your Secret Plans. I'll play multiples of this card in my Secret Plans decks.

The morphs that are "free" to flip up are also very strong, for the same reason. Dragon's Eye Savants, Ruthless Ripper, and friends. These cards are high picks and always feel a little unfair when you have your Secret Plans out.

But what about Sidisi's Pet and Kin-Tree Warden? These are the kind of cards that rarely make the main deck in more conventional archetypes in this format. The reasoning is sound, too: they aren't very good. But in this deck, they do just fine: They slow down the opponent and flip up very cheaply.

Seeing a trend here? Good! This is the name of the game. You'll play all of the Icefeather Avens and [autocard]Abomination of Guduls[autocard] you can get your hands on as well. They will often finish the game for you after all the dust has settled. But what finishes the game kind of doesn't matter anyway. It's all about the card advantage.

One interesting thing about these decks is that you don't need to run actual card-draw spells in them. You may throw in a Bitter Revelation, but for the most part, once you have two Secret Plans in your list you can set the Treasure Cruises and such aside. Remember, you don't want too many "do nothing" spells in any one deck. (Do nothing spells are spells that don't directly impact the board the turn you cast them.)

Removal is as key as ever here, although the deck is generally good at clogging up the ground, so the removal needs are a bit more narrow. Death Frenzy can go a long way toward cleaning up the board when your opponent tries to go wide with tokens.

Looking Back

I think that when I look back on this set, and return to draft it in the future, I'll probably gravitate toward Secret Plans whenever I open one.

Until next week!


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