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By: a small child, Ralph Wiggum
Sep 30 2010 6:28am
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It seems to me that there are two obvious major mechanics in the Scars of Mirrodin set: Metalcraft and Infect. I don't think proliferate is really a major mechanic yet, and can rather be seen as a support mechanic for Infect. Today I'll begin analyzing the Metalcraft mechanic. I suppose that's a little bit of a misnomer as I'm really going to broaden it and look at all the cards that have an "artifacts matter" theme. Metalcraft makes up a large chunk of those cards, granted.

I have a couple of goals for this analysis. First of all, I want to break these cards down into categories and subcategories. Then I want to get a sense for where the tensions and synergies between cards lie and how these cards are distributed by color. Answering those questions will allow us to get a feel for what some of the sub-archetypes of "artifacts matter" might be and how those decks should be constructed. In this article, I plan on introducing some systems of categorization that will allow us to analyze the set in smaller chunks and then describe how we will use that information to our advantage. Then, I'll take a look at these cards color by color and look for patterns both within and between colors, starting with White. In the second part of this article, I'll analyze the other four colors and Artifacts and draw some firmer conclusions about what the format is likely to look at based upon what we have learned. First things first though, we have to break it down:

 

Categories and Sub-Categories

 

I think there are a few obvious ways of breaking the set down into categories of cards that rely on the artifact theme. One is to draw a distinction between Metalcraft cards and everything else. Let's set aside the Metalcraft cards for a moment and just focus on the broader category of "everything else." Within this category I can see several clear sub-categories of cards. One sub-category involves cards that want you to play as many artifacts as possible. Good examples of this kind of card are Embersmith and the rest of his cycle. These guys just want you to be casting artifacts as much as you can so that you can trigger their abilities. Another sub-category involves cards that benefit from equipment. Obviously just about all creatures benefit from equipment, but what I mean here are cards that explicitly have an ability that gets triggered by equipment. Another good category is comprised of the cards that use up artifacts as a resource. Any card that asks you to sacrifice artifacts or triggers when artifacts are sacrificed goes into this category. Finally, we have a category of cards that want to have some sort of artifact available for an ability but don't really need there to be more than one. A card that returns an artifact from your graveyard to your hand, for example, fits this description quite well.

The Metalcraft cards can likewise be broken down into two categories: cards that derive a persistent benefit from Metalcraft and cards that only care about Metalcraft at a specific moment in time (such as when they come into play). Those categories are pretty simple, really. Lets call the first one Persistent Metalcraft and the second One-Shot Metalcraft

So lets review:

Additionally, I'd like to suggest a further scale which we can use to differentiate and classify cards into categories: how dependent the card is on having its artifact-related requirements met. Let's call it "Dependency." I propose a three point scale as follows:

  1. A card with a rating of 1 in Dependency is almost independent of its artifact related abilities. Either the card is very strong on its own merits OR the benefit gained from artifacts is extremely minor. (Example: Stoic Rebuttal)
  2. A card with a rating of 2 in Dependency is moderately independent of its artifact related abilities. The card derives some significant portion of its value from the artifact ability, but also derives a significant portion from its base abilities. (Example: Carapace Forger)
  3. A card with a rating of 3 in Dependency is highly dependent on its artifact related abilities. Such a card has little to no value unless its artifact conditions are met. (Example: Kuldotha Rebirth)

This information is really important when we start to consider the context into which we want to insert particular cards. If a card is fine on its own but better with a bunch of artifacts then we need to treat it quite differently than a card that is terrible on its own but needs exactly one artifact to be good. I think many of the archetypes in this format are going to have some sort of artifact "overhead" that they need to function. By looking at how dependent the bread and butter commons and uncommons are (and what the precise dependencies are), we can make inferences about what kind of overhead a particular archetype might require. From there we can paint a clearer picture of how to draft that archetype as we'll have a general idea of the ratio of artifacts to non artifacts that will be needed along with the target cost of those artifacts. By then comparing that information to the list of available artifacts, we can then develop an idea of how aggressively we will need to draft the artifacts in comparison to the colored spells.

Perhaps more importantly, once we get a sense of the breadth of the archetypes in the format we can start to look at how to classify cards based on the "forks and cornerstones" idea that I developed in my series on Rise draft. Artifacts seem like fork cards by nature as they are castable by all decks. In reality, some are forks, others are cornerstones and some are filler. By identifying what each archetype needs we can figure out which artifacts "belong" to a single archetype and which are desired by multiple archetypes. This supply and demand must inform our pick orders. That said, there is a sociological element to pick orders as well. Some people will be inclined to draft powerful non-artifacts first and then try to pick up the artifacts that they need to support them. Others will take the opposite approach, snapping up the support cards first and then drafting the non-artifacts. A deep understanding of these approaches will be important for success in this format.

I say this because if artifacts are as broadly sought after as they initially seem it may be very difficult to read signals early in packs. Knowledge of print runs may help you discern what the person to your right took, but even with perfect information in that regard it will take some skill to figure out what to do with this knowledge. First one will have to determine if the person is drafting backwards or forwards -- are they drafting the support artifacts first or the colored cards first? If the former, it will be difficult to anticipate what colors they are in as they will likely be taking artifacts early. That said, if you have a solid understanding of what archetypes specific artifacts lead into, then you can make much better guesses even before your neighbor starts to take colored cards. Now this all assumes that you know the print runs, which is pretty advanced already. Even without knowledge of the print runs, however, elite drafters will attempt to gather information in their local metagame about how their neighbors like to draft this set not just in terms of preferred archetypes but also in terms how how they prioritize whole categories of cards. Unfortunately this kind of information gathering is almost impossible to do on MTGO -- but for those of you that also draft in real life with a relatively static group of people, I think that doing your research will really pay dividends in the long run much more so in this format than in your average one.

That was a rather long digression! Anyway, I'm going to stop justifying my analysis now and get back to the task at hand:

 

Sorting the Set by Categories

 

Now that we have our categories set, let's sort all the commons and uncommons out. I'm not going to worry about rares and mythics for now because those cards are rarely the keys to an archetype. They are often very powerful, yes, but it's quite atypical to have an archetype that NEEDS a particular rare or mythic to work.

 

Cards That Want As Many Artifacts As Possible:

 

Abuna AcolyteEmbersmithGlint Hawk IdolGolem ArtisanGolem FoundryGolem's HeartLifesmithMyr GalvanizerMyrsmithPainsmithRiddlesmith

 

Cards That Gain A Special Benefit From Equipment:

 

Bloodshot TraineeGoblin GaveleerSunspear Shikari

 

Cards That Use Up Artifacts As A Resource:

 

Barrage OgreFerrovoreFurnace CelebrationKuldotha Rebirth Molder Beast Oxidda DaredevilThrone of Geth

 

Cards That Rely On At Least One Artifact To Get The Full Benefit:

 

Glint HawkRazor HippogriffSalvage ScoutTrinket Mage

 

Persistent Metalcraft:

 

Auriok EdgewrightAuriok SunchaserCarapace ForgerChrome SteedGhalma's WardenRusted RelicScreeching SilcawSnapsail GliderVedalken Certarch

 

One-Shot Metalcraft:

 

(tmb=Blade-Tribe Beserkers)Bleak Coven VampiresDispense JusticeGalvanic BlastLumengrid DrakeStoic Rebuttal

 

Color By Color Analysis

 

Lets break it down by color. My goals here are to analyze how each color relates to artifacts. The ultimate question is how many and what kind of artifacts does each color want to be running, but in order to get to that question we have to look at the individual cards first and examine them on a number of levels. Their categories above are important as are their levels of Dependency. Additionally, it's important to consider how difficult their requirements are to meet. Not all (Metalcraft) cards are created equal when it comes to this even though they all appear to have the same requirement. One has to analyze the different modes of the card and figure out when each mode is relevant and when each mode loses its relevancy. Using the point at which the non-Metalcraft mode becomes irrelevant as one endpoint and the point at which the Metalcraft mode starts to become irrelevant as the other, one can get an idea of the window in which a player needs to keep Metalcraft active. Obviously the time window changes in matchup to matchup rather dramatically, but I think we can make some generalizations now and refine the numbers later once we know more about the matchups in this format.

 

White:

Abuna AcolyteMyrsmithSunspear ShikariGlint HawkRazor HippogriffSalvage ScoutAuriok EdgewrightAuriok SunchaserGhalma's WardenDispense Justice

Abuna Acolyte is a tough card to categorize as it does get "full value" with only one artifact creature to prevent damage on. That said, he clearly benefits if more of your team is made up of artifact creatures. I'd rate him as a 1.5 or so on the Dependency scale as preventing one damage is reasonably strong in its own right.

Myrsmith on the other hand clearly wants you to be playing plenty of artifacts so that you can trigger his ability early and often. I'm initially inclined to rate his Dependency as a 2 as a 2/1 body for two mana is decent enough on its own, but frankly the power level of the ability is quite high so the card derives more of it's value from the ability than the reasonably costed body. 2.5.

Sunspear Shikari on the other had is a pretty clear 2 on the Dependency scale. Bears are fine, but the ability is also quite strong.

Glint Hawk is a just as clear 3. You simply cannot do much at all with him unless you have an artifact to bounce.

Razor Hippogriff seems like another 2 to me. A 3/3 flier for 5 is generally strong, but his ability is also very strong, which tips him away from 1.5 and back toward 2.

Salvage Scout a 1/1 non-artifact for 1 mana has next to no value in this set on its own. If this card is worth playing (which I am somewhat doubtful of except perhaps out of the sideboard), it will be entirely because of his ability. 3.

Auriok Edgewright is basically the same as Sunspear Shikari. The ability can be a bit more swingy, but it's not enough of a difference for me to tilt the rating away from 2.

Auriok Sunchaser on the other hand is a 3. A 1/1 non-artifact for two mana is garbage, whereas a 3/3 flier for two mana is pretty amazing.

Ghalma's Warden is another 2, I'd say. The base stats aren't that great but, depending on how the format shakes out, could be serviceable. A 4/6 for four is pretty beefy, but the +2/+2 matters quite a bit less here than it does on, say, the Sunchaser.

Dispense Justice is a 2.5 or so. The base effect is reasonable but not incredible, but doubling it makes it much stronger as it's quite a bit harder to find two extra guys to attack with to play around this card.

 

Overall White has a large number of cards that care about artifacts, second only to Red. They are spread out across Dependency levels and across the different categories. Lets focus in on the cards that I think have the highest likelihood of having a significant impact on the format: Auriok Sunchaser, Auriok Edgewright, Razor Hippogriff, Glint Hawk, Sunspear Shikari, and Myrsmith. Three of these cards are common and three are uncommon. Of the three commons, the two with the most upside are the fliers and both are among the most dependent cards that white has to offer. Both are absolutely worthless if you can't meet their requirements but potentially quite epic if you can. The shikari is a bit more even, but it can be pretty swingy as well. Among the uncommons, the Edgewright is a bit like the Shikari while the Hippogriff and Myrsmith are both pretty awesome. Let's take a look at when these cards need their requirements met and how difficult those requirements are.

Auriok Edgewright and Sunspear Shikari are pretty similar. Bears are typically relevant on turns 2-4 and fade pretty quickly after that unless they are aggressively supported by removal. If the Shikari gets strapped up with a piece of equipment that boosts its power by a point or two it can stay relevant for quite a while as a 3 or 4 power first striking  lifelink creature is pretty strong. So Shikari wants you to be able to equip her by turn 5 or so if possible. That's a pretty easy hurdle to clear. I think it's safe to say that Edgewright has similar requirements but also needs metalcraft in addition to being equipped with something that boosts his power (a 2/2 doublestrike isn't that impressive on turn 5). That's significantly more difficult than just the equipment.

Glint Hawk's requirements seem easy but are a bit deceptive. You get peak value from him on turn 1 or 2, but I think he's fine on turn 3 or 4 as well. That said, the more expensive the artifact you bounce the bigger a tempo hit you suffer from the hawk, which really counterbalances the strengths of the card (which is very much an aggressive tempo play). I think it's safe to say that the hawk really pushes you to play quite a few 0-1 mana artifacts to both maximize the possibility of playing it on turn 1 or 2 and minimize the tempo hit from returning the artifact.

Auriok Sunchaser is basically never relevant if you don't get the metalcraft bonus. If you do have metalcraft then a 3/3 flier is never really irrelevant... but you're only really getting peak value out of it if you can get it going on turns 2-4. A "5 mana" 3/3 is fine but nothing to get too excited about. So much like the Hawk, Sunchaser really wants you to get its requirements met quickly, which inevitably means playing large numbers of cheap artifacts. Not only do you need to get three artifacts in play, but you really want to do it early in the game. Getting three artifacts in play plus a two mana non-artifact by turn 4 is not exactly easy to do unless you really build your deck with this goal in mind.

It seems like the two spiciest commons really push you to play not just a lot of artifacts but a lot of cheap artifacts. The same can be said of Auriok Edgewright and, to a lesser extent, Myrsmith. This leads me to believe that any White artifact strategy is going to really revolve on aggressively drafting 0-1 cost artifacts. Luckily, the White spellbomb, Origin Spellbomb, facilitates this strategy well as it's a cheap artifact that replaces itself both on the board and in your hand, and it's also resistant to removal. Sunspear Shikari is a bit more lax in its requirements and can be quite strong in a less artifact heavy deck. I can see this card being a good fallback plan for a more aggressive White artifact strategy that fails to pick up enough artifacts.

 

In part two of the article, I'll analyze the rest of the colors and start drawing some more solid conclusions about the format as a whole!

6 Comments

Good Ideas.... by NO_Peace at Thu, 09/30/2010 - 07:28
NO_Peace's picture

Nice Analysis mate - the formatting of the page makes we want to poke my eyes out though. Ouch.

Yeah.... believe me it will by a small child at Thu, 09/30/2010 - 14:08
a small child's picture

Yeah.... believe me it will look a LOT better once PureMTGO gets Scars into its database. All of the (tmb=xyz) tags will create images and the (cardname) tags will create links to the cards.

When does Pure usually add by RoninX at Thu, 09/30/2010 - 15:29
RoninX's picture

When does Pure usually add card images? If the cards aren't up yet then then your editor (or someone from the site) should tell you to drop the formatting. This is especially it they don't get the cards up until the set is released online.

I put a note to the editor by a small child at Thu, 09/30/2010 - 16:55
a small child's picture

I put a note to the editor that he might want to wait to publish the article until the images are uploaded, but I guess he disagreed! I will defer to him on the matter.

You could have waited to by Paul Leicht at Thu, 09/30/2010 - 17:12
Paul Leicht's picture

You could have waited to submit it until he responded... :)

I for 1 am glad to have the by tdoggy1 at Thu, 09/30/2010 - 22:15
tdoggy1's picture
5

I for 1 am glad to have the analysis now. there are more paper events this weekend. And if you could have part 2 up before then??

thanks and keep up the good work.