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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Sep 21 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Not much to say in my intro here, though most of it has to deal with the Masterpiece Series, and how it could apply to my designs. One thing I missed is that Masterpieces will not appear in packs on MTGO for some reason (either they tank pack value and/or aren’t valuable due to the amount of packs opened—and that will be even worse now that we have a new set with Draft Leagues), but we still don’t know how they will be distributed—could they be in the Conspiracy: Take the Crown/Commander 2016/reprint set thing? Probably not, but it would make it more popular (though Misdirection would be easier and make more sense). The other Masterpiece-related question I have is whether Modern Masters 2017 will have Masterpieces? Mark Rosewater’s introduction says Masterpieces will be “in all sets”, but the limited print run (in paper) of a Masters set might put the number of Masterpieces at an unsustainable number. Then again, I don’t know the exact numbers—how does the number of Expedition Stomping Groundmpare to the number of Taiga in paper? Enough theorizing about Masterpieces, let’s get to the war!
Mirrodin Besieged is where the war starts in earnest between the Mirrans and the Phyrexians. While Scars of Mirrodin was 80% Mirran and 20% Phyrexian (and the Phyrexians had to follow specific rules, like sacrificing creatures or using -1/-1 counters), Mirrodin Besieged is split 50/50, so much so that the prerelease could let you choose a side by getting packs that only contained your chosen faction. While most of the changes involve the Phyrexians gaining ground, each side ended up getting a new mechanic. Speaking of which, let's move on to the mechanics!
Kuldotha Ringleader Accorder Paladin Signal Pest
Battle Cry:
The new Mirran mechanic is very simple (just a pump effect), but it's used strangely in the set with only seven cards: two commons (both of which are five mana), three uncommons, and two mythics. Battle Cry is a good mechanic, especially on the aggressive cards, but even the five-mana cards aren't awful—Kuldotha Ringleader in particular is (sadly) an above-average red creature. It's functional (so much so that I put it in my Modern Masters 2017 design), but it's boring.
Flayer Husk Skinwing Strandwalker
Living Weapon:
In contrast, Living Weapon is a very interesting take on Equipment, even if it isn't pushed for Constructed much (yet)—you can understand why Mark Rosewater said they shouldn't have given the Phyrexians all the cool mechanics (Infect, Proliferate, and Living Weapon). There are only five cards here, but they're surprisingly strong, especially considering that they basically count as artifact creatures for your Metalcraft count.
Priests of Norn Corrupted Conscience Spread the Sickness
The main change with Infect in Mirrodin Besieged is that it moves into white, and while Tine Shrike is a typical Infect creature without a place, Priests of Norn is a good defensive creature I'd consider in non-Infect decks, especially ones with enough Equipment to turn it into a reasonable alternate win condition. Infect also technically moves into blue, but Corrupted Conscience is the definition of an Infect card that's good on its own—turns out Mind Control is even better when you give the creature Wither and double its power. Proliferate also moves into the traditional Infect colors of green and black, and while Plaguemaw Beast isn't great (as it's a non-Infect creature you would want in the Infect deck), Spread the Sickness is the template for the expensive unconditional removal spell with upside that will eventually become the standard in black.
Razorfield Rhino Concussive Bolt Mirran Mettle
Unfortunately, Metalcraft gets the short end of the stick in Mirrodin Besieged. Only six cards have the mechanic, and only Razorfield Rhino is an artifact. Ardent Recruit continues the trend of the swingy white aggro Metalcraft cards, and Concussive Bolt isn't an awful Lava Axe variant. The best Metalcraft card is probably Mirran Mettle, and that wants to go in the Infect decks as a decent Giant Growth variant. It isn't even like Imprint can pick up the slack, as it's only on two rares.
Now that we've covered the mechanics, we can move to the colors—just don't forget the divide between the Mirran side (Metalcraft decks) and the Phyrexian side (Infect decks), as they still can't really mix in most cases.
Choking Fumes Master's Call Divine Offering Leonin Relic-Warder
Along with the Infect creatures, -1/-1 counters move into white in earnest, and while Gore Vassal is just weird (and seems just like a much-worse Fume Spitter, Choking Fumes works well against the Battle Cry decks, as well as the weak Infect creatures. On the Metalcraft side, Master's Call is a great addition, letting you get Metalcraft at instant-speed. Of course, the best part of white is the removal, and both Divine Offering and Leonin Relic-Warder are very efficient.
Vedalken Anatomist Vedalken Infuser Steel Sabotage Serum Raker
While the Mind Control variant is always going to be a top pick, Vedalken Anatomist puts up a decent fight against Corrupted Conscience. It's very slow, but combining a tapper with a permanent pinger is a very potent combination. Next, Vedalken Infuser gives us the first concrete support for charge counters, beyond just Proliferate. Other than that, there isn't much to cover—Steel Sabotage is a fine removal spell, Serum Raker is a weird Snapping Drake variant (where the double-blue hurts again), and Oculus isn't an awful blocker.
Phyrexian Rager Flesh-Eater Imp Virulent Wound Morbid Plunder
The non-Infect black creatures continue to be lackluster, though Phyrexian Rager is fine (and isn't awful in Infect as a cantrip blocker). The Infect creatures aren't awful either (Scourge Servant is very durable for a black Infect creature), but the real star is Flesh-Eater Imp, which is fine on its own, but the pump ability lets it be a finisher. The removal is also good, including Virulent Wound, which is a decent way to put a poison counter on an opponent without combat. Morbid Plunder is another card worth mentioning, as it's a very efficient Disentomb effect, and while the double-black hurts, it's a late-game card and should be fine.
Burn the Impure Into the Core Kuldotha Flamefiend Metallic Mastery
Red is a strange color combination in Mirrodin Besieged. On one hand the commons are mostly generic creatures and bad non-creature spells (with the exception of premium removal spell Burn the Impure), and a Koth's Courier or Ogre Resister doesn't fit well in the artifact environment. On the other hand, at uncommon both Into the Core and Kuldotha Flamefiend are crazy bombs. Metallic Mastery is also interesting, considering all the artifact sacrifice in red.
Fangren Marauder Blightwidow Viridian Corrupter Unnatural Predation
Green continues to get all the good cards in Scars of Mirrodin block, as it gets both playable Infect and non-Infect cards. On the non-Infect side, Fangren Marauder gives you a win against all non-Infect decks if you can trigger it once or twice, while Viridian Emissary gives you a two-drop that ramps you to those expensive creatures. As for Infect, Blightwidow is an upgrade on the already-decent Giant Spider, Rot Wolf is very aggressive, letting you continue the cardflow, and Viridian Corrupter is just great in any deck. You also have more good pump spells, as Mirran Mettle is basic, while Unnatural Predation's trample is useful.
Common Uncommon
Overall, the artifacts feel like they're at a more-consistent high power level than in Scars of Mirrodin. The one cycle is a cycle of artifact creatures with colored activations, but while the ones in Scars of Mirrodin were lackluster, these are all good (mostly because they're cheaper overall), with cards like Gust-Skimmer and Bladed Sentinel being comparable to their non-artifact counterparts. The other main change is that the artifact sacrifice theme gets more artifact support, as Rusted Slasher and Piston Sledge are both reasonable enablers, while Ichor Wellspring and Myr Sire are artifacts that actively want to be sacrificed. Infect also gets a boost at uncommon, but other archetypes want your cards: Plague Myr is still a mana Myr, Core Prowler is fine in the sacrifice decks and as a blocker, and Phyrexian Juggernaut is a big enough threat it can be run as your only Infect creature. The Equipment is also good beyond the Living Weapons: Copper Carapace is a big boost for a common, Silverskin Armor is another Metalcraft enabler (though exposing your creature to Shatter effects is much more risky than the land you'd typically transform with Liquimetal Coating), and Viridian Claw is just cheap and meaningful. Speaking of Equipment, the Equipment sub-theme that was in white in Scars of Mirrodin has moved to artifacts, but I think I want another pack of Living Weapons to get the Equipment density necessary to run Training Drone.
Before I get to the archetypes, there is one important change to cover. Mirrodin Besieged is the first small set to be drafted first in the draft format, like is done now. This means that the Mirrodin Besieged cards get to define the draft, rather than being dictated by the themes in the large set. This is important as we get to the more synergy-focused sets, but keep it in mind as we discuss the archetypes.
Infect: (GB, GBu, GBw)
As I mentioned above, the major change with Infect is that white has Infect creatures, but in most scenarios having one pack with two commons isn't enough to make white a main color. Instead, your Infect drafts should be starting with the bombs (Flesh-Eater Imp, Viridian Corrupter) early, picking up pump spells and average Infect creatures later in the pack, while focusing on rank-and-file Infect creatures (Cystbearer, Plague Stinger) in the Scars of Mirrodin packs. The bigger change is that while the best creatures are better, there's a bit less reach as there's less Proliferate, though that Proliferate is made better due to cards like Pistus Strike and Virulent Wound.
Metalcraft: (WR, WU, others)
The main change with Metalcraft decks is that the artifacts are better, but there are fewer payoffs in the Mirrodin Besieged packs. This means that it is easier to meet the artifact quota for a reliable deck, and you have fewer colored Metalcraft payoffs competing for a small number of slots. The one minor downside is that the best builds will be slightly less explosive, as there are slightly fewer good cheap artifacts (with one less pack of mana Myrs and Spellbombs), but that's a small price to pay. One related archetype is the Equipment sub-theme in white, as Living Weapon means you can have more equipment in a deck overall without possibly running out of creatures to equip them to, making cards like Sunspear Shikari better.
Artifact Sacrifice/Removal: (RG)
The two facets of this archetype change in different ways. On one hand, cards like Kuldotha Flamefiend and Piston Sledge are much better sacrifice outlets than most of the ones in Scars of Mirrodin, Ichor Wellspring and Myr Sire are fuel that actually wants to be sacrificed to outside sources, and Fangren Marauder just makes the process that much more meaningful. On the other hand, the Viridian Revel side of the plan gets slightly weaker, as Crush is the only common Shatter effect in these colors (and is mostly a sideboard card), and Into the Core doesn't even trigger it. Overall the sacrifice side is a much more important part of the archetype, so it's overall a net plus.
Another article done, and the war is in full swing. Find out who wins next time as we cover the final set in the block, New Phyrexia—spoilers?

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Because it's me, when I read by xger at Wed, 09/21/2016 - 15:28
xger's picture

Because it's me, when I read your question about Stomping Ground expeditions versus Taigas, I instantly thought you can get a reasonable answer to that question. We actually can calculate the number of Taigas in existence reasonably well. Here are the print run totals for sets with Taiga:
Alpha - 2.6 million
Beta - 7.8 million
Unlimited - 40 million
Revised - 600 million
Take Alpha--is has 74 commons, 95 uncommons and 116 rares. For simplicity, assume it was only in 15 card boosters, 11 common, 3 uncommon, 1 rare. So rares make up 1/15 of 2.6 million, and Taiga makes up 1/116 of that. Meaning, there are about 1500 Alpha Taigas that exist. Roughly 4500 Beta Taigas. Roughly 23,000 Unlimited Taigas. Roughly 331,000 Revised Taigas. Grand total: 360,000 Taigas.

Now, calculating the Stomping Ground Expedition is a completely different issue. Wizards hasn't released print run sizes since the Dark days (pun always intended). However, we know that at least since Mirrodin, MTG has continued high growth. We also know that sets continued to get bigger until Chronicles was vastly overprinted. We know that a Stomping Ground is 1 in 54000 BfZ cards (1 in 144 packs, 1 in 25 expeditions,1 slot per pack). So the question is, was the BFZ print run more than 20 billion, or 1.3 billion packs? That would be around $2 billion in sales (assuming $2/pack wholesale), which if normal business rules apply would mean about $200 million in profit. Hasbro's quarterly report showed their games section, of which Magic is the anchor brand, was $235 million. One estimate had Magic's revenue at $250 million for 2013. About 1/3 of that is MTGO. Given growth since 2013, and a severe lack of specific numbers, it is entirely reasonable that there are about the same number of Stomping Ground Expeditions as there are Taigas. Just a reminder, I used a lot of guessimations here.

Thanks for the by Cheater Hater at Wed, 09/21/2016 - 16:35
Cheater Hater's picture

Thanks for the calculations--I knew you could estimate the number of Taigas, but I just didn't want to do the legwork :p