oraymw's picture
By: oraymw, Oraymw
Sep 19 2014 12:00pm
Login to post comments


Welcome to Ars Arcanum, the MTGO stats-based limited column. I haven’t put out much content over the summer, simply because I’ve been putting in a lot more time playing Magic. I was able to crush some Vintage Masters drafts, including pulling a Black Lotus. I’ve drafted JBT a lot, and managed to pull Planeswalkers in five successive drafts. I also went to GPSLC, and managed to go 6-3 after no byes, and getting the third loss on a game where I drew thirteen lands, two of which were Evolving Wilds. I’ve already received tower clearance to go to GP Nashville (provided I find a team) and GP Baltimore, so if you want to stop in and say hello, feel free to come talk to me.

Khans of Tarkir is almost here, and it’s time to start digging into the spoiler. In past article, I’ve explained most of the major concepts that I use to drive my analyses. I’ll link you back to this article where you can find a more thorough explanation, but basically I follow three principles. First, I analyze the creature stats because they are the foundation of limited. Second, I like to focus more on analysis and exploration. I find it more useful to think about the format and raise questions, then to try and make accurate predictions about a format that no one has yet played. Third, the most important aspect of these articles is the concept of rarity weight, which means that I count cards depending on how often they will appear in a draft on average.

I should note that I have spent more time running the numbers on Khans of Tarkir than I have for any other spoiler analysis that I’ve done in the past. The spreadsheet in which I run the numbers currently has upwards of 40,000 calculations, where I normally have around 20,000. On top of that, all of this number crunching is based around the Morph mechanic. It’s a mechanic that has a dramatic impact on the format, and it’s incredibly difficult to model. I wanted to spend some time modeling the other mechanics, but luckily they are fairly straightforward, so I’ll just discuss their impact on the format in the latter section of the article.

Memory’s Journey

For my Journey into Nyx analysis, I introduced a new section of my articles, which allow me to make a kind of accounting for what I said the time before. If you’re not interested in this, feel free to skip to the next section. The idea is that this kind of self-reflection will make it easier to improve my methods over time. I’ve found that most people that look at upcoming formats tend to veer more towards making wild predictions in order to look smarter when they are correct, but knowing that they won’t get called out if they are wrong. The best way to improve this is to just look back at the things you’ve said, and see if you were right. I fully anticipate to be wrong in some of my predictions, but hopefully this will lead to better discourse in the future. Some people have suggested having other people do this section, but I prefer to keep this self-reflective, but give you the opportunity to voice your opinions on this section in the comments.

Let me address the Journey into Nyx predictions as I made them:

1. Journey into Nyx would cause a fundamental shift on how the format is drafted. I feel like I nailed this one. The loss of bestow had a huge impact on the format, and changed the evaluation of a lot of cards. Heroic cards that looked like they would be great in JBT, ended up being pretty mediocre simply because there weren’t enough Bestow cards to turn them on.

2. Signals would become more important especially regarding RW going into pack 2 and BG going into pack 3. After having drafted the format, this is another prediction that I nailed. The format kind of revolved around figuring out how to best maneuver through signals between these colors through packs 1 and 2.

3. Journey into Nyx would have an overall slowing effect on the format. Again, this one seems to have been mostly correct. The speed was a little bit slower, but by a pretty thin margin.

4. I said I was somewhat certain that white would be the strongest color. I was wrong. Some people will think otherwise because they really liked white, but after looking at the format a few weeks later, it became apparent that most of the white cards in Journey into Nyx were very weak. However, color predictions are one of my lowest priorities, and the modifier somewhat was specifically chosen to convey uncertainty, so I’m not surprised to have missed here. Furthermore, the cards I predicted could cause problems were exactly the ones that ended up weaker than expected. So, it’s a miss, but not a very big one, considering the qualifications that went with the prediction.

5. Green was very strong, especially with Golden Hind, Oakheart Dryads, and Ravenous Leucrocota. I predicted that green would be strong, and it definitely was.

6. I predicted that red would be weak, which was definitely true, but I also predicted that blue would be weak, which was just way off. I underrated Sigiled Starfish, which was arguably the best common in Journey into Nyx, as well as Pin to the Earth and Hubris, both of which were very strong in the format. So, I suppose this would be sort of a wash as a prediction, though missing by so much on blue kind of outweighs the correct prediction with red. Again, color predictions are much less important than the other predictions, so I don’t worry as much about this section.

7. I ordered the prerelease colors as Green, White, Black, Blue, and Red. This was a definite mistake. While green was the strongest and deepest color, I just didn’t really account for Dawnbringer Charioteers just being a million times better than the other promos. Those rankings should have been White…….. Green, Blue, Black, Red. I also had an embarrassing typo in that prediction, but I guess that doesn’t matter as much.

Overall, I think that the Journey into Nyx analysis was a huge success. I successfully predicted the most important factors in the format. I was off on some colors, but right on with other colors, but since that is the least serious portion of the predictions, I feel fine with that. These analyses aren’t about predicting the right colors; they are about figuring out what the dominant trends in the format will be, and those are the parts that I nailed.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Obviously this is a subjective evaluation, but I’m glad to hear how people think the last analysis stood up.

Modeling Morph

In Khans of Tarkir, there are 17 commons with Morph, 9 Uncommons, 7 Rares, and 2 Mythic Rares. This means that in a given draft of Khans of Tarkir, there will be around 52 morphs, or about 6.5 morphs per player. A staggering 31.16% of the creatures in the set have morph. It is by far the dominant mechanic in the set, having about as much of an impact on the play of the set as all the clan mechanics combined. Furthermore, since it is a mechanic that has a dramatic impact on the size and converted mana costs of creatures, it has an even more unusually strong impact on the format. There are two dominating factors in this format, which are Morph and Multicolor. I plan on talking about the second as we go through the information about Morph.

However, Morph is an incredibly difficult mechanic to model. Essentially, every morph gets played in some combination of three modes. Sometimes it stays a face down 2/2 for the entire game.  Sometimes you just play it face up for its normal CMC. And sometimes you play it face down, but then unmorph it later. All of these modes affect the format in drastically different ways, and make a dramatic change on what kinds of creatures and spells are going to be played in the format. It was an incredibly difficult job to figure out a way to model Morph in a manner that allows players to understand the format more deeply. As I mentioned earlier, I ended up with about 40,000 calculations for just this mechanic. I did find a model that I think will help us understand the format, but it requires a lot of mental effort to process, and it’s a little bit complicated to explain.

First, I made three models as the base, and a fourth model that looks at all three of those models at the same time.

The first model I call Morph. This model looks at every morph card as if it were a 3 mana 2/2 that would never turn face up in the course of the game. Obviously this isn’t how cards will be played in the format, but it is an important foundation for understanding what the format will look like. It gives us a much better picture of how the game will play out in the first five turns of the game, while people are still struggling to put together the mana to unmorph their creatures.

The second model I call Not Morph. This model looks at every morph card as if it were always cast face up for its full mana cost. Again, this model doesn’t accurately reflect what will happen in the game, but what it does do well is give us a sense of the size of the creatures in the format and what the format will look like in the later stages of the game.

The third model I call Unmorph. This model looks at every morph card as if it were played face down as a 2/2, but then turned face up for its morph cost later in the game. Again, this model doesn’t accurately reflect what will happen in the game, since many morphs will die, and in the late game you’ll often want to just play your morph face up. However, it gives us a very good idea of how the tempo of the game can shift dramatically because of morph in the midgame.

None of these three models are accurate, but by looking at all three of them at the same time, we can start to get an approximation of how the format will actually play out.

The final model attempts to do this. I call it KTK Model because it takes all three of the other models and balances them out. The purpose of this model is to give us an approximation of what the format will look when games transition between all three of these modes. While this is probably the most accurate of the three models, it is still not a very good representation by itself, but only gets its strongest meaning when we look at it in conjunction with the other models.

Finally, I encourage you to use these simply as tools to think about the format on your own. Drafting in general and morph in particular are dynamic systems, and slight differences and changes in behavior can have dramatic impacts on final results, so it is imperative that you use this information as merely a jumping off point for making your own thoughts on the format.

In the rest of the article, I’m going to be looking at specific aspects of the format, but I’m going to do so through the lenses of all four models at the same time. For example, the first section will be converted mana cost, and I’ll be showing you four graphs, which represent all four of these models. By necessity, this article will feature an even greater number of charts, since we’ll be comparing four models each time. Then I’ll be discussing what those graphs tell us. I’ll also talk about the other mechanics, especially the multicolor aspect, as we go through this information about Morph.

This article has started off with so much talking. Let’s get into the data!

Converted Mana Cost

Creature Converted Mana Cost Comparison with THS – MORPH

Creature Converted Mana Cost Comparison with THS – NOT MORPH

Creature Converted Mana Cost Comparison with THS – UNMORPH

Creature Converted Mana Cost Comparison with THS – KTK MODEL

Four Models Comparison

That is a lot of charts. I apologize for having to use so many in this article, but it really is the best way to look at this data. In the above charts, I show each model as compared with Theros, in order to give some context on what the numbers mean. I then put all the models into the same graph in order to give you some idea of how the cards relate to each other within the set.

One of the things that I’ll come back to over and over again over the course of this article is the common cycle of multicolor morph cards. In many ways, these are the most defining cards in the set (with the exception of the common dual lands). Those cards are Abomination of Gudul, Abzan Guide, Efreet Weaponmaster, Ponyback Brigade, and Snowhorn Rider. Each of these creatures has morph, they all have a 5 mana unmorph cost that includes all three of the clan colors, and they each cost six mana to play face up using all three of the clan colors. Also, they are all very powerful. For their face up cost, they all seem like fairly powerful common cards. But for each of them the unmorph cost represents a creature that is far more powerful than we would normally expect from a common. For example, Abzan Guide unmorphs for 5 mana and becomes a 4/4 lifelinker. A 5 mana 4/4 lifelinker is the kind of card that would be powerful if it was printed at uncommon, and would not be that surprising to see at rare. Instead, you get that effect when you unmorph the card. These cards are very powerful, they push you into drafting three color decks more than just about any card, and they all have morph. If you take a close look at these graphs, you will see what a pressure each of these cards puts on the format.

For the first graph, we can clearly see that morph is going to have a huge impact on the game. If we just played all the cards as facedown morphs, their basic value, the format has an incredible amount of cards at three mana. This is a fantastic representation of what the early game will look like. Nearly half the creatures in the set cost three mana, and nearly every game of Khans of Tarkir is going to feature morphs from each player on turn 3. This has a few major implications for the format. First, I very much recommend players to play 18 lands in this format. Since so many people are going to be playing 2/2s for 3 on turn 3, it will be a very mana intensive format. You just cannot afford to miss that third land drop, because the tempo cost and morph initiative is just tremendous.

In the second chart, we see what the set looks like if you don’t unmorph your cards. This is a good model of the late game; creatures with 4, 5, and 6 mana costs dominate this chart. There are a lot of things to do in this format once you hit five and six mana, even at common. Again, this strongly supports the idea of playing 18 lands, because there are both a lot of things to do at 3 mana, and a lot of things to do with your mana late in the game. The clan multicolor morphs at common are a great example of this; they are powerful creatures, and when you can just start paying six mana to play them face up, they are still going to have a big impact on the game.

In the third chart, we see a huge spike at five mana. In fact, 51.4% of the morphs in the set have an unmorph cost of 5 mana. That is a very important statistic. A little more than half the morphs in the set only unmorph for 5 mana. One of the things that WotC has been very clear about is that no morphs can unmorph to eat other 2/2s for less than five mana. However, since 51.4% of the morphs have a 5 cmc cost to turn face up, you can go in knowing that most morphs are going to eat something once you get to five mana. In many ways, we have 4 dominant CMC slots in the format. Obviously 3 is important because of morph, 2 is important because it lets you get initiative on the game, but five is critical because it is when you can start flipping morphs for card advantage, and six is when you can start playing the clan morphs face up. Again, this supports the idea of a very mana intensive set.

It also means that turns three and four are going to often be critical for figuring out if you want to trade cards for morphs. A card like Debilitating Injury is incredibly good in this format because it can kill a morph for only two mana, which is particularly strong if you started first and can play a morph plus Injury on turn five. On top of that, more than half the time that Injury is going to kill something that will eventually turn face up to become a much more threatening card if your opponent hits five mana.

The fourth chart gives us the best comparison with past formats. We see that KTK follows roughly the same model as Theros, though it is weighted a little less heavily towards the early game, and a little more towards the late game. With that said, the Morph mechanic means that you are going to see something come out on turn 3 much more often than you did even in Theros. Overall, this is an indicator that seems to predict a slightly slower format. There are plenty of ways to add to the board in the early game, and plenty of ways to use your mana in the late game, so most players will be rewarded simply for playing things that can trade off early and then just using their mana to power out strong multicolor cards in the late game.

Power and Toughness

Power and Toughness Comparison – MORPH

Power and Toughness Comparison – NOT MORPH and UNMORPH

Power and Toughness Comparison – KTK MODEL

KTK Creatures


Not Morph


KTK Model
















P/T Differ






One of my major goals in any spoiler analysis is to figure out the approximate speed of the format. There are a lot of tools that I use to do this because any one tool doesn’t perfectly model the format’s speed. However, none of those tools are quite as useful as the creature P/T differential. Over the past couple of years it has been the most reliable method for predicting the speed of the format. P/T Differential represents the difference between the power and the toughness of the creatures in the set. Toughness is usually larger than power, so numbers that are between -0.1 and .1 tend to be the fastest formats. Formats with a differential between -0.3 and -0.1 tend to be medium speed formats, and formats with larger negative differentials tend to be slow. There are many other factors, and Theros wound up being the biggest exception for this rule, but it’s still a great indicator for format speed.

For Khans of Tarkir, it’s hard to pinpoint the P/T differential precisely. When you put a huge number of 2/2s for 3 in the set, you’re going to drive your P/t differential closer to zero. Even then, Khans of Tarkir has one of the slowest P/T differentials that we’ve seen in a long time. Using the Morph model, we see a fairly slow format, but the other models show the greatest negative P/T differential of any format that I’ve analyzed on Ars Arcanum. There are a lot of creatures that block well in this format; there are a surprising amount of 2/3s for 3, there’s a 4 or greater toughness theme, and there seems to be a lot of defenders. It seems like WotC tried to put in tool to slow down the format in order to make it more feasible to play three color decks.

These charts also show us the huge difference that Morph makes on the format. In the first chart, we see a definite glut of creatures at 2 power and 2 toughness. It seems clear that the difference between two and three toughness is going to be tremendous in this set. It means the difference between trading and eating the vast majority of creatures in the set before turn five. Debilitating Injury is significantly better than it looks because it eats a morph that could turn up to become something scary later on.

In the other two charts, we see a little bit different picture. While the early game is going to be dominated by 2/2s, the mid and late games are going to see a lot of creatures come down with three, four, and five toughness. Even with morph creatures counted as only being played faceup, we still see that two is the most common power, though three becomes the most common toughness. These creatures are geared up for defense, and it’s going to be difficult to build a large number of decks that can consistently punch through for 20 damage before the more controlling decks can set up their game plan.

It’s also worth mentioning that this set has a very low return on power compared with the converted mana cost investment, and this is due almost entirely to morph. Three mana for a 2/2 is not an exciting price in today’s limited world, so we are not used to seeing such a low average power per creature relative to the mana costs. Khans of Tarkir is going to be something of a shock to players that started playing Magic in the years since Zendikar.


Average P/T per CMC - MORPH

Average Greatest P/T per CMC – MORPH

Average P/T per CMC – NOT MORPH

Average Greatest P/T per CMC – NOT MORPH

Average P/T per CMC – UNMORPH

Average Greatest P/T per CMC – UNMORPH

Average P/T per CMC – KTK MODEL

Average Greatest P/T per CMC – KTK MODEL

I’m going to apologize one more time for the sheer number of charts in this article. Some people really love these charts, some people just like to see more analysis. There’s just so much to look at with this set. These charts come in sets of two for each of the models. For each model, the first chart shows the average power and toughness for creatures with that CMC. The second chart shows the average greatest power and toughness of creatures on the board. These charts are important because they give us a much better view of how the game will play out over the course of about 10-12 turns.

In the first model, we see that the power and toughness for creatures at 2 and 3 mana are incredibly close together, as a result of morph. It’s not hard to figure out what this means. In the early turns of Khans of Tarkir, you are going to see 2/2s facing each other. I know I’ve said this a lot, but it’s important to understand this because it is the most important and defining feature of Khans of Tarkir limited. For example, Highland Game would be a mediocre card in most limited formats. You would rarely cut it from your deck, but you certainly wouldn’t be excited. However, in Khans of Tarkir, this card is actually very strong. In a format with this many morph creatures, you get a great benefit from having morph initiative. If you can start attacking into your opponent’s morphs with open mana sooner, you are at a huge advantage. Highland Game effectively lets you do this a full turn sooner. If you are on the play, this advantage will be tremendously difficult to overcome, and it might get in for a full 8 damage before your opponent can deal with it without spending a more expensive card. If you’re on the draw, Highland Game actually lets you get ahead in the race, rather than being merely stuck behind, and if it goes on defense, it’s often going to hold off several morphs all by itself, since players are going to be hesitant to trade three mana and a powerful late game card for a 2 mana 2/1.

In the second model, we see something else that is fascinating, which is that toughness is a little bit ahead on every step of the mana curve. This is not typical in Magic formats. Usually we’ll see a couple of inflection points where power is higher than toughness, but in Khans of Tarkir you can find a better deal on Toughness than on Power at every step of the mana curve. It will be very typical for players to put out creatures that can stonewall an opponent’s team at just about any stage of the game. This is true of the other two models as well. Furthermore, the Greatest P/T per CMC chart shows us a substantial gap at each step of the game, with Toughness just being a fair pace higher.

The creature stats in Khans of Tarkir have given us a multitude of indicators that the format is going to be a slow format with a lot of trading in the early game and a lot of midgame stalls, with sudden swings in the late game on account of morph surprises. This looks to be the slowest expert level format that we’ve seen since Rise of the Eldrazi, though it probably won’t be quite as slow. However, tempo will still be a key element of the set, since morph initiative is such an important factor.

This leads me to two major recommendations for the set. First, I recommend playing 18 lands. Consistently hitting your mana from turns 1 through 5 is very important in this set. Hitting three is essential since you absolutely need to add something that is at least as good as a morph on turn three. Hitting five mana is essential because it is where the game starts to inflect around creatures unmorphing. If you can hit these numbers consistently while your opponents do not, then you are going to outperform your opponents. Second, I recommend playing first. People often like to draw first in slow formats, and for good reason; that extra card can make a huge difference in the late game. But morph initiative is so important that getting to play your 2 power creatures sooner than your opponent will put you firmly in the driver’s seat for the game, and you just can’t afford to give away that advantage.


Now that I’ve talked about the numbers for the set, I’m going to just take a few paragraphs to talk about the various mechanics of the set, and the kind of impact that they’ll have on the format. Basically, this is theoretical talk that is based on the numbers that we’ve already seen. I’m going to start by talking about the multicolor nature of the set.


The term Shards was coined with the release of Shards of Alara and refers to a color and its two allies. A wedge refers to a color and its two enemies. Wedges are fascinating because they explore the contradictions between enemy colors. Khans of Tarkir has a multicolor theme, and this is the second most important factor of the set. Multicolor sets always create unique strains on a format, especially when we deal with three color multicolor formats. In Shards of Alara, it was just generally accepted that people would spend their first two turns fixing their mana, and then they would throw haymakers for the rest of the game.

Khans of Tarkir is a little different. For one thing, only about 16% of the creatures in the set are Gold. This is a dramatic change from something like Return to Ravnica block where closer to 1/3rd of your creatures were Gold. On top of that, 31.16% of your creatures in Khans of Tarkir have morph, which means that they can be played for colorless mana. That is a dramatic change from most multicolor formats, because you can add presence to the board for a few turns even if you don’t find all of your colors of mana. Finally, Khans of Tarkir has a surprisingly high level of fixing. There are 10 duals lands at common and 5 banners. There is a full cycle of tri lands at uncommon. There is the cycle of fetch lands at rare. Overall, about 14.46% of the cards in any given draft are going to be fixers (just shy of 50 cards per draft). This means that the average player is going to have about 6 fixers per draft. That is a lot of fixing. So we have fewer gold cards, a whole bunch of colorless cards, and abundant fixing.

Honestly, I don’t know how this is going to change the valuation of fixing and gold cards. I’m not sure if the abundance of ways to fix your mana means the lands get valued later and you just take gold cards. Alternatively, you might take the lands higher since you’re going to be able to fill out the playables in your deck with morphs anyway, and having more fixers means that you can splash an off color morph fairly easily. It could really go either way. I suspect that the enemy color lands are going to be high picks, since they can go in two clans, but I don’t know what to expect besides that. I would recommend just not playing the Banner cycle. Not only do you probably don’t need the fixing that badly for them, but they also compete for your 3 drop slot with morphs. If you play a banner and your opponent makes a 2/2, you’re going to feel behind for the entire game.


Each clan has its own mechanic, and the Abzan get Outlast. This mechanic allows you to pay a cost and tap your creature at sorcery speed and then put a +1/+1 counter on your creature. This mechanic is fascinating because it creates tension between leaving up your creature to block, using it to attack, or putting a counter on it for outlast. I think the ability is strong; not inherently, because you normally lose so much tempo, but because of how much the mechanic is pushed.

The thing to keep in mind with Outlast is that the average game of Magic just doesn’t go on for that long. Even slow formats often end around turns 9 or 10, while fast formats usually end even sooner. Taking an entire turn off with your creature just to put on a +1/+1 counter is a difficult thing to do. However, I think that Outlast is going to be a strong ability because of the creatures that have that ability. For example, white gets Ainok Bond-Kin, a 2/1 for 2 with Outlast 1W at common that gives creatures first strike if they have +1/+1 counters. We’ve already established that a 2/1 for 2 is very strong in this format because of the initiative that it gives you against morph. This creature would be a high pick in the format if it didn’t even have Outlast. There is also Abzan Falconer at uncommon that is a 2/3 for 3 with Outlasta W that grants flying. That card is absurdly strong. A 2/3 for 3 in this format is already going to be one of the best cards in your deck. But with the Falconer, you can play it, hold back a morph, and then play another three drop the next turn and put a counter on the creature. When you are finished, you have a 3/4 flyer that may grant other abilities to your team. These creatures are strong, and in almost every case the outlast ability is just gravy. It’s also a special ability because it allows you to use extra mana and just stay ahead on value against your opponents.

It seems obvious that Outlast has a slowing effect on the format. You want to block early and often, stall out your board, and then start building up your threats for a dominating long game. However, since these creatures are so aggressively costed, it feels like most of them can really just go in any deck, and function as a way to break through creature stalls.


The Jeskai clan gets the Prowess ability. This grants creatures +1/+1 whenever you play a non-creature spell. The Jeskai are an interesting clan. It feels aggressive, since you want to land creatures early and start pumping out non-creature spells in order to keep getting damage through against your opponents. But Prowess has some deep inherent problems in limited.

First, limited is based around creatures. I always urge people to play more creatures, because creatures are always decent draws, and they always have an impact on the board, whereas non-creature spells can sometimes just be dead draws. You usually want around 15-17 creatures in a given limited deck. The problem for Jeskai is that you need these non-creature spells in order to get your creatures through your opponent’s defenses. In the early game you’ll often get off to a great start, but it’s very easy to just run out of gas if you aren’t adding creatures to the board. Secondly, aggressive decks really just want to be adding threats to the table each turn. Over the past two years, I’ve gained a lot of advantage against aggressive decks in limited because of the Bloodrush mechanic and Theros’s focus on combat tricks. One of the things I’ve learned is that you just want to block those creatures early on. If you trade for a trick, you aren’t down a card, and your opponent hasn’t added anything else to the board that turn, which means they’ll be in the same position next turn, but you will likely be able to add something else to the board on your turn. I often had moments where people would just attack their creatures into my in Gatecrash, expecting me not to block, and then I would throw my 2/2 in the way of their creature. They would stop, and think for quite a long time, trying to decide whether to use Bloodrush, and both options left them in a pretty awkward place.

This is how Jeskai feels to me. If you play something with prowess early, you’ll have problems attacking in the middle turns because you need to add something to the board. Your opponents are going to have a steady stream of 2/2s for the first few turns, and if you are just using tricks to trade for them, they are going to dump something bigger and better on turn five or six, and your entire game plan will be dead.

This doesn’t mean Jeskai won’t occasionally be strong. A strong Jeskai start will be nigh unbeatable. It’s just that it feels like the kind of deck that people will gravitate towards because it has some powerful draws, but not enough effective draws.


The Sultai clan gets the Delve mechanic. It allows you to exile cards from your graveyard in order to pay the colorless portion of card’s mana cost. This is a mechanic that fascinates me. It’s been in existence since Future Sight, but this is really the debut set for the mechanic. Delve is strong. I’ve been hearing a lot of people complaining about Delve cards, but this is because they simply don’t understand the mechanic very well. Almost every card with Delve is going to be very good in the right decks, though some are even better than others.

Delve is a tricky mechanic. The problem is that Delve cards actually don’t play very well together. Putting three copies of Treasure Cruise in your deck is just going to be a disaster. Once you’ve exiled cards from your graveyard, you can’t use them to power out other delve cards, so each Delve card is competing with the others for your resources. However, if your deck has only one Treasure Cruise, it is going to be one of the best cards in your deck. In the late game, you’ll often be able to exile four, five, or even seven cards to emulate Concentrate, Thirst for Knowledge, or even Ancestral Recall.

I have two main pieces of advice for Delve. First, don’t play too many delve cards. You can support a handful of delve cards with a few enablers, but as soon as you have 6 or 7 cards with delve, you’re going to have a hard time casting your spells on time. Second, value cards with delve very highly if they are effective with only a one or two mana reduction. The poster child for this is Hooting Mandrills. Six mana for a 4/4 trampler isn’t great, but you can live with it, while five mana is perfectly fine, and will probably be the normal cost for this spell. But when you power it out for two to four mana, it’s going to be insanely powerful.


The Mardu clan gets the Raid mechanic. It gives you a threshold ability if you’ve attacked during the turn, which powers up certain spells. Raid is another mechanic with a lot of tension. It seems straightforward and simple, and it seems like it’s very aggressive, but it’s problematic. Basically, it’s a mechanic that rewards you for attacking, but it doesn’t actually help you attack. The problem is that aggressive decks don’t need rewards for attacking; they already get the reward of killing their opponent before they can react. What aggressive decks need to be successful is ways to make it easier to attack, and Raid doesn’t do that.

Early on in the format, it’s going to seem like Mardu is very strong. People are going to be very hesitant to trade off their morphs, and so you’ll be able to get in free attacks with your own morphs and trigger a raid ability, and stay ahead of your opponent. But later in the format, people are going to figure out that you can just trade your early morphs, especially against Mardu. I honestly can’t figure out how the Mardu clan consistently wins games if their opponents just keep blocking.

That doesn’t mean a strong Mardu clan doesn’t exist. There is a lot of removal in the clan, and it has a powerful combination of abilities from the other clans. I just think it’s important to realize that this aggressive clan doesn’t get a lot of help from its mechanic, and it is facing a lot of pressure in every other aspect of the set to slow things down. The key thing with Mardu is going to be focusing your deck around just a couple of colors with a splash, and then preying on all the people that are playing three colors and 3 mana 2/2s. If you can just get down aggressive creatures early in the game, you’ll be able to win while other people are just setting up your plans, and that is the real reward for playing Mardu.


The Temur clan gets the Ferocious mechanic. It is another threshold ability that rewards you for having a 4 power creature in play. I expected there to be a lot of ways to build around this mechanic in the set, but it turns out that the cards with Ferocious are just valuable cards that happen to get even better if you have 4 power in play. Take Savage Punch, for example. In a set that is even more creature oriented than normal, Prey Upon is already a very strong card, even at two mana, and would likely be the best green common. The value of ferocious doesn’t change Savage Punch that much, except that if you have four power, you’re going to crush your opponent’s face a little bit harder.

Here’s the thing. Four power creatures are good. They are even better in a format full of 4/4s. You don’t really need that much incentive to play four power creatures. What you do get in Temur is a bunch of tempo spells that allow you to put those big creatures to big use while throwing your opponent off balance. I don’t have much advice on how to use Ferocious, except to build a deck around big creatures and tempo spells to keep those creatures getting in. Honestly, that’s my favorite way to play Magic, so I can’t imagine that I won’t love playing cards with Ferocious.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Thanks again for reading. I’m very excited for Khans of Tarkir, and it feels like the set has a lot of fascinating problems for limited junkies. I want to remind you that I like to focus my articles on thinking about the set and exploring themes, and that the goal is to help you do your own thinking about the format. While I like to make predictions, I think it is silly to make random and/or wild predictions with the knowledge that you’ll never be taken to task for those predictions. Instead, I want you to focus on all of this information and synthesize it in the effort to come to your own understanding of what these things mean for the format. However, predictions are fun, so I’ll make some, tied in with some recommendations, and we’ll see how well I perform as we get to know the set better.

1. This should not be a surprise, but my biggest prediction is that the format is going to be fairly slow. We’ve had a lot of fast expert level expansions in a row, and all the indicators suggest that Khans of Tarkir is going to be dialing back that speed a little bit. I expect a lot of trading at lower CMCs, and stalled board in the mid game, followed by haymakers in the late game. This set has a lot of powerful spells once you get your plan together, and it feels like the set is going to have a lot of play even in to the late turns.

2. It is very likely that 18 lands will be the norm. Khans of Tarkir is going to be a particularly mana intensive set. Morphs are a little expensive as 2/2s, and you dump even more mana into them when they unmorph. Hitting your third and fifth land drops are particularly important, and getting another land slot to get another color source is going to be very valuable.

3. I am reasonably certain that Khans of Tarkir is a format that you want to play first. Getting the initiative for morph on morph combat pays enormous dividends over the course of a game, even though it seems like a small thing in the early turns.

4. I’m very certain that 2 power 2 drops are going to have particular importance in this set, and that you should draft them highly. In a world of 3 mana 2/2s, getting that extra turn is a tremendous game changer. Many games of Khans of Tarkir are going to be won by a turn 2 Highland Game, even though it will officially end 10 turns later.

5. I’m fairly certain that the enemy colored common duals are going to be high picks, while the allied color duals will go a little later, and the banners will be almost unplayable. There is so much fixing in this set that you should be able to pick up the cards you need. However, the enemy duals are especially valuable because they allow you to be flexible in your picks and draft the best deck for your seat.

6. I’m fairly certain that the best color combinations are going to be BG and WG. The other colors all have powerful cards, but these two color combinations have a glut of aggressively costed creatures that are efficient at every stage in the game, cheap and flexible removal that functions well against 2/2s, and a built in late game plan that can break through stalled boards. The other colors have a lot of play to them, and can definitely do well in the format, but my early predictions are for Abzan and Sultai to be the best clans. This prediction could prove wrong if Mardu is particularly well positioned against a format that is trying to be very slow, or if Temur creatures are just too difficult to deal with.

As always, thanks for sticking through, and I hope that this analysis helps you out in the first few weeks of Journey into Nyx. Remember that the goal of this analysis is to help you do your own thinking about the format, and come to your own conclusions. If you have any questions or additional thoughts, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or let me know on twitter. You can follow me on twitter @oraymw for updates about articles. I’ve also put up a Tumblr account at http://oraymw.tumblr.com/where I post links to my articles. You can go there and subscribe to the RSS feed, and then you’ll be able to get updates whenever a new article goes live.

Finally, I encourage you to check out the podcast that I do with my buddy Zach Orts, which is called All in the Telling. In it, we look at stories from a professional standpoint in order to get a better understanding of why they are important to the human experience. But mostly, we just talk about what makes awesome stories awesome.

Ars Arcanum Archive