The Green Ones

Posted in Limited Information on December 30, 2008

By Steve Sadin

One drops, Magic's littlest creatures. What should you expect from them?

I've heard players say things like, "It's OK if your one drop doesn't do much—it only costs one."

If you are playing with cards that have little upside even when you draw them at the right time, then you're just asking for trouble. Fortunately, there's an easy solution to this problem. Just don't play any bad cards, even if they only cost one mana.

The other day I was doing a six-person draft with some of my friends where I first-picked a Scuttlemutt, second-picked a Boggart Ram-Gang, and third-picked a Tattermunge Duo. At this point I was pretty sure I was going to draft an aggressive mono-red deck. When I picked up a Giantbaiting and a Mudbrawler Raiders in my next two picks I was almost positive that I was going to have a mono-red deck.

Then a funny thing happened: I stopped seeing any red cards.

My next two picks were both Hungry Spriggans, and suddenly I saw an opportunity to draft an aggressive mono-green deck. When I picked up two Nurturer Initiates, who are pretty much only good in mono-green, I knew that I didn't have a choice but to draft mono-green. Normally I try to avoid drafting green in Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor / Eventide, but after getting a seventh-pick Hungry Spriggan, it just felt right.

In Pack 2 I opened up another Boggart Ram-Gang (passing a Godhead of Awe in the process), and got passed a Wilt-Leaf Cavalier and another Hungry Spriggan. Then I got passed the ultimate finisher for a mono-green deck, Howl of the Night Pack. I wound up with 20 playables after the second pack!

In the third pack I opened up a Wickerbough Elder and got passed an Aerie Ouphes, and then a Quillspike. I would have felt comfortable if I didn't get another card, but I was able to spend the rest of Eventide "upgrading" a number of cards in my deck.

This was the deck that I wound up playing:


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It pained me to leave my Pack 1, Pick 1 Scuttlemutt in my sideboard, but it just wasn't a good fit for my deck. It wasn't green, so it wouldn't turn on my Nurturer Initiates or my Safehold Duos (or my Talara's Battalion, but that's a very minor complaint), and I only had two five-or-more-drops in Aerie Ouphes and Howl of the Night Pack to accelerate to. As much as I'd like to play a turn-six Howl of the Night Pack for six, worse things have happened then needing to wait to play a seventh forest for a Howl of the Night Pack.

Nurturer Initiate
I was certainly ready to board in my Scuttlemutt if I saw any hybrid Auras or other color reliant cards popping out of my opponent's deck, but without that extra incentive, Scuttlemutt was bound to stay in my sideboard.

Cutting the third Safehold Duo pained me a bit, but it was clearly the worst card in my deck at that point. The only other card that I was considering cutting was the Woodlurker Mimic, but the Mimic was too good in my deck as a 2/1, and if I ever played a green-black spell and hit for 4 with it, the game would get significantly easier for me.

In my first round I played against Brandon Scheel. In Game 1, I mulliganed to 5 on the play and kept an opening hand of Forest, Nurturer Initiate, Hungry Spriggan, Hungry Spriggan, Boggart Ram-Gang. I was fortunately able to draw two straight lands and pummel Brandon—who was holding a grip full of Soul Reaps—with my three-mana 4/4s and 3/3s. In the second game I got off to a similarly fast start with a turn-one Nurturer Initiate, turn-three Hungry Spriggan, and turn-four Boggart Ram-Gang. Brandon, who was stuck on three lands, came close to stabilizing, but my Nurturer Initiate was able to keep him out of the game.

In my second round I played against Brian, who was wielding a very good blue-white deck with the Godhead of Awe that I passed. In Game 1 I got off to a quick start with a Nurturer Initiate a Woodlurker Mimic, a Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers and a Rendclaw Trow. Brian tried to buy enough time to play Godhead of Awe with a Trip Noose, but I had the Wickerbough Elder to put him out of the game.

In Game 2 I got off to yet another fast start with two Nurturer Initiates, a Woodlurker Mimic, a Hungry Spriggan, a Juvenile Gloomwidow, a Rendclaw Trow, a Tattermunge Duo, and a Quillspike. I was able to get a bunch of damage in early, but Brian came very close to stabilizing when he played a Fire at Will that killed my Hungry Spriggan, my Nurturer Initiate, and my Quillspike, then played a Godhead of Awe on the next turn. I had already gotten Brian down to 4 at this point, and I was able to kill him a few turns later, despite the Godhead of Awe, when I drew a Giantbaiting that made me a new 1/1 with haste, pumped up my Tattermunge Duo, and allowed me to use my Nurturer Initiate.

Hungry Spriggan
Howl of the Night Pack

In my third and final round I played against recently crowned Grand Prix–Denver champion Gerry Thompson. Gerry had drafted a very good blue-white deck with at least one Banishing Knack.

He got me in the first game with a rock-solid defense centering on Barrenton Medic and fliers, even though I was able to Howl of the Night Pack for 6. My Nurturer Initates and Hungry Spriggans let me get the next two games, and I was able to 3-0 with a deck that was very, very green.

The lesson?

Don't let your personal biases get in the way of drafting a very good deck. Even though I might not like drafting green, it was clear that I had a very good opportunity on my hands, and I'm glad that I didn't let it slip away by being too stubborn.

Every Card Counts

When you are building your Limited deck, you need to make sure that every card you play will have a very high chance of impacting the game when you play it and/or will have a huge effect if played at the right time.

Spark Elemental
This is why Spark Elemental isn't good.

Why is that, Steve? Spark Elemental can be worth 3 damage.You're saying it's unplayable. Yet cards like Scorching Missile and Lava Axe tend to be quite playable despite costing much more mana than the hasty one-drop. So, if it's okay to spend 4 mana for 4 damage (as is the case with Scorching Missile), why wouldn't Spark Elemental be playable?

The reason is actually very simple. Spark Elemental will only be able to reliably deal damage to your opponent if you play it on one of the first couple of turns. If you play it later, there is a very reasonable chance that your opponent will either have a creature with 4+ toughness that would be able to block it without dying in the process, have enough life that they can take the 3 without worrying, or block with one of their "real creatures" to stay at a healthy life total.

Even if you do draw your Spark Elemental early and you are able to connect with it, it's entirely possible that the 3 damage just won't matter as the game progresses. One of the reasons why cards like Lava Axe are good in Limited is that they are able to take a huge chunk away from your opponent's life total when they aren't expecting it. If a player started the game on 15, he or she would be able to play accordingly. If that same player started the game on 20 (which he or she no doubt did) but was actually on a virtual 15 because you are holding a Lava Axe, then they are at least reasonable likely to play in such a way that they would fall down to 5 life points if they don't suspect that you have the Lava Axe. (Note that this is also the reason why you usually want to hold your burn spells that you plan on sending at your opponent until the last moment possible.)

In most cases, Spark Elemental is actually worse than a vanilla 1/1 for one. If you draw a vanilla 1/1 on turn 1, then you will probably be able to connect for at least 2-3 damage over the course of the game, and you'll still have the ability to chump block or trade with it later.

At its best, Spark Elemental is worth 3 damage, whereas a vanilla one-drop when it's performing at peak capacity is worth about 2-3 damage and 3-5 life for yourself. And that isn't that bad.

The problem that vanilla one-drops face is that they often just won't matter. If you draw a one-mana 1/1 on even the second turn, it might be too late for it to make a difference. If I were allowed to start the game with 6 cards and a 1/1 in play, then I would seriously consider doing it, but there just isn't enough upside to risk drawing a worthless card late to play a vanilla 1/1.

What Makes a Good One-Drop?

In my mind, Suntail Hawk is the poster child for cheap creatures who can deal a lot of damage. When it was released in Judgment, people would often add the one-mana 1/1 flier to their deck, affectionately calling it "Lava Axe" because it would so often be able to get in for 5 or more damage.

Suntail Hawk
Even if you don't draw Suntail Hawk in your opening hand, it has a very reasonable chance to impact the game later. Whether it's getting in for a point a turn or trading with a 2/1 or 3/1 flier, Suntail Hawk has the potential to do a lot for you.

When you are looking at a one-drop creature and trying to determine whether or not it's playable, you first have to look at how big an effect it has on turn one. Then you have to look at how big an effect it has on turn five. If it doesn't have a significant effect on the game if you draw it on turn five, then it had better be amazing if you draw it on turn one.

Lets take a look at some of the one-mana creatures from Shadowmoor and Eventide and see how well they hold up to this standard.

In a mono-red beatdown deck, Intimidator Initiate is absurd. In a mono-green beatdown deck, Nurturer Initiate is very good, and in a mono-black beatdown deck Smolder Initiate is quite good. The red, green, and black Initiates might seem a bit underwhelming at first glance, but they each tend to be worth a ton of damage if you draw them early, and still have a reasonable chance to affect the game if you draw them later on.

Apothecary Initiate and Drowner Initiate, on the other hand, are both underwhelming. Apothecary Initiate is virtually unplayable, and Drowner Initiate is pretty much only playable as a sideboard card in slow, grinding matchups and in rarely seen mill decks that revolve around it and Memory Sluice.

Scuzzback Scrapper is good enough to play in the aggressive mono-red or mono-green decks that are hungry for cheap creatures. It is also fine in slow decks that desperately need something early in their curve. But it generally isn't good enough to play main-deck in less extreme strategies.

Twinblade Slasher and Nettle Sentinels are obviously very good, but Tattermunge Maniac doesn't usually cut the mustard. Tattermunge Maniac is usually worth about 4 damage if you play it on the first turn (or considerably more if you have a couple of cheap removal spells). But if you play it on the second turn, your opponent will probably only take 2 damage before he or she is able to play a creature that is big enough to block and kill the maniac without dying itself.

Oona's Gatewarden is a card that I think is painfully undervalued. I see a lot of people playing decks with sluggish early games and Oona's Gatewardens in the sideboard. Not only can Oona's Gatewarden trade with a lot of two- and three-drops, it can also make a significant dent in most four- and five-drops. Oona's Gatewarden is particularly good in decks with a lot of evasion, allowing you to get a huge boost in any race that you are involved in.

Manaforge Cinder is often quite important in mono-red decks, allowing players to splash a black spell or two, but it's usually just another vanilla one-drop that isn't worth playing.

Elvish Hexhunter is a decent card to play main-deck, but there are too many games where it will simply be a one-mana 1/1 to consider it a staple card. If you see that your opponent has a couple of good, or even marginal, enchantments, then I would almost always sideboard this little guy in.

Nip Gwyllion is good enough to play if you have at least three (or in some cases two) cards that it combos very well with. So, if you have some Nightsky Mimics and Edge of the Divinitys, your opponent better watch out. Same thing applies to Slippery Bogle and Stream Hopper. While these cards aren't quite good enough on their own, it only takes a little push to make them quite good.

Duergar Assailant is very good. It is worth a lot of damage if you draw it early, and it will still be able to trade with something when you draw it late. If you want to tell someone what they should be looking for in a one-drop, then you could do much worse than showing them a Duergar Assailant.

Duergar Assailant

Happy curving,
Steve Sadin

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