Friday 12 June 2015

Card Spotlight: Collected Company

Collected CompanyWhen I first saw this card I saw a lot of potential. Best case scenario you get card quality, card advantage and mana advantage, not to mention tempo and trickery. Everything basically. A pair of chosen three drops into play at instant speed for just four mana. You could even get great fixing from the card if you were brazen enough to find a Geralf's Messengers and a Mantis Rider. This best case scenario rather puts to shame the mighty Bloodbraid Elf but as we all know, it is very wrong to judge a card on its best case alone. Worst case with Collected Company is a double miss and as such you are 4 mana down and 1 card down for basically nothing. I have seen a number of Bloodbraids hit things they then can't use, and it is always hilarious. Rancor, countermagic, the wrong kind of removal. The funniest was one hitting an Ancestral Visions that would have decked him. Even so, you still have a 3/2 haste for your mana. Not a disaster but not great. Bloodbraid and Company are comparable in a number of ways but what we have shown here is that Company has a much broader range of results than Elf from the much much weaker to the more powerful. It is the sign of good card design and one of the reasons it is very hard to build and maintain a cube these days. There are so many extremely high powered cards that now exist that rather require you to milk the potential from them. If you do not build around those kinds of cards you might as well not play them at all and Collected Company is exactly such a card.

Bloodbraid Elf
I had high hopes for the card and wanted it to be good and have now had a chance to play it a bunch and see how it has performed. I knew it would be important to build around it but not to what extent that would be the case. I have now cut Company from my main cube as it was simply too narrow. It was incredibly restrictive on what you could put in your deck, by the time you had put in enough good targets that the Company was worth it you didn't have enough room left for the key non-creature spells most decks need to perform. Good cube cards should be able to fit into decks easily, Company does not. I mentioned good targets, 50% of your deck might be creatures that cost three or less but you are not exactly jumping for joy when you get a pair of one drop mana dorks as your bounty. Certainly these bonus targets reduce the low end performance of the card but they do nothing to improve the top end performance of the card. To get the top end performance looking good you end up with a deck with a disgusting mana curve that is weighty on three but goes little beyond that with far too few one drops for a deck that low to the ground. Sure, this makes your company good when you play it but it makes your deck pretty horrible otherwise. This is certainly more of a thing you can do in constructed where you can have 4 copies of the Company but in cube it is pretty bad. I have seen the company be fine in some decks and good in one but that isn't enough to hold onto a cube spot for a card so specific. Multi-colour Zoo style decks are pretty good with the Company but it still fails to outperform the Bloodbraid in such lists even when built with the Company in mind. Not knowing what you are getting is a little tedious, it typically means you are playing it main phase so as to not miss out on haste and things which loses all the instant utility of the card. Just knowing you get a 3/2 haste with Bloodbraid allows you to more reliably plan your plays.
It is the various creature based combo decks where company has a place in cube. The best deck I have used it in by a country mile was an Aluren based combo deck where you were using the card as a way to dig for the combo pieces you need. Obviously Aluren and Collected Company go pretty well hand in hand due to them both only working with CMC three or less dorks. By taking good advantage of the tutoring aspect of Collected Company you get a lot more out of the card and do not need to always be hitting two targets or high mana cost targets for it to do what you need. As such you do not need to distort your deck to accommodate the Company thus making it vastly less restrictive and damaging. Although tribal goblins is not defined as a combo deck it has far more combo elements than your typical creature based deck and as such I presume that would be another good home for Collected Company.

To confirm my experiences from testing I thought I would do some maths on the subject which mostly lead to remembering how bad I am at probability. Ultimately I had to seek help from a magical dutch maths doctor whom also loves to put numbers to the game. I wanted to see the the relationship between the % of Company targets in your deck and the odds you have on getting a dud company that gives at most one dork. Obviously the double wiff is much worse than a single wiff but both are usually sufficiently bad so as to make the Company a substantially below acceptable cube power levels. Assuming an infinite deck size for simplicity sake and exactly a 50% targets to non-targets ratio then you have about 11% chance to wiff your company, of which about 1.5% (1/64) are your odds on getting the double wiff. It does not take much to tweak a deck so that Bloodbraid cannot hit an unplayable spell, certainly a lot lot less than it does to get a list up to 50% company targets. That suddenly seems like a lot of effort when you can still do the equivalent of a Bloodbraid wiff over one in ten times and even risk the total do nothings.

Going to 52.5% threats Company hits reduces your chances of a wiff significantly being around an 8% chance to not hit two or more things. Take it all the way to 60% targets, the most I can conceivably imagine being in any sort of deck ever, and you wind up with a less than 3% chance to wiff. Slight changes make a big difference to the outcome and sadly you are typically going the other direction from the 50% mark. At 40% targets, which is still a fairly tall order and somewhat limiting on your build you have just under 5% chance to hit nothing and just under a 1 in 4 chance to not hit two things. All in all pretty weak.

Collected Company is a potentially very powerful spell however in order for it to be this way you need to have almost entirely optimal conditions for it. Either a stupendously high target count that somehow doesn't wreak your mana curve or a combo nature where you gain further value from the way in which the card works. Move away from these things even slightly and rather than an extremely powerful card you have a decidedly average cube card. Move away slightly some more and you have a pretty unplayable card. I love the card and I love the design but sadly for cube it is not something that you should be including and even in my extravagant everything cube for rotissarie I can't see it being used very often at all. Another one of those cool cards that slips by cube like Accumulated Knowledge and Squadron Hawk.

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