Sunday 26 November 2017
How Much Disenchant?
Sorry for bad title, couldn't think of a concise way to phrase the aim of this article. I was asked how much in the way of Disenchant effects one should look to run in a cube. Obviously with this being Magic there is rarely a short answer. For starters the question really needs breaking up into four parts. Specifically how much enchantment removal and how much artifact removal, both for powered and unpowered cubes?
Typically you find enchantment counts around the 5-6% mark for both powered and unpowered cubes. Artifacts are typically a higher count and also jump to a higher percentage makeup of cubes when they are powerd. An unpowered cube is typically 8-10% artifacts and a powered cube is going to be about half again on top of that, so a 12-15% artifact makeup. This gives some indication of how many targets there are out there for your Disenchant effects. As Disenchant hits both we can add these percentages together and get a range of 13% to 21% potential targets. This might sound like a healthy number but it is under half the range of targets a Terminate will hit in a cube. Creatures sit nearer the 40% mark in most cubes and I wasn't including man lands, token generators, vehicles or other non-creature cards that will ultimately provide targets for creature only removal.
It is not just the low density of targets that is the issue for Disenchant effects but also the even lower frequency of high value targets. Artifact especially have a pretty low occurrence of things you can and want to hit with spot removal. Mostly it is Vedalken Shackles and Umezawa's Jitte. Those two cards are the main reason I want artifact removal in many archetypes. There are others that it is nice to be able to kill but none that are so hard to beat. When actually looking at the common cards in cube it turned out that enchantments are typically more dangerous and relevant. Despite the lower numbers there are just more enchantments you can usefully deal with using removal and which get you a lot of value from doing so. There are those oppressive enchantments like Opposition and Sulfuric Vortex that are hard to beat when you don't have the removal for them as with Jitte and Shackles in the artifacts camp. There are also lots of things like Treachery and Cast Out that are great to kill which is not really the case for the artifacts.
These game defining power plays, the Oppositions and Vedalken Shackles, are one of the few things that make Disenchant effects more valuable rather than less. The swing in win percentage is so huge when you are able to answer those key cards that despite all the "you having it and them not or you not while they do" aspects, it is still worth running answers to such cards.
With creature removal you are looking for efficiency and that is pretty much it. Obviously there are several things that factor into efficiency but cost is the main one. You know you are going to have relevant targets in the vast majority of cases so you just want your creature removal to be the best it can be at being removal. This is similar to the principle of card draw or burn, you just want the most efficient card because that plan is always a good one. As you move away from these reliable effects that always do good things you find that the inverse quickly becomes the case. Instead of wanting efficiency you want flexibility. Effects like Disenchant and something like lifegain are not always useful and as such you want them as an option or a free tack on effect on an otherwise useful (Lightning Helix, Kolghans' Command etc) card so as to limit inconsistency.
The most efficient Disenchant effects are Erase, Nature's Claim, Oxidize with a deep and broad range of very strong two drop options as well such as Aura Blast. If these cards replaced artifact or enchantment with creature in the text then they would be the best creature removal spells in the game. These are not even that common to see in sideboards and such and this is all just down to being narrow. Doubly narrow in fact. They are super narrow main as they might not even have relevant targets and they are still polar as sideboard cards as you need to draw them as and when your opponent draws the things you want to kill with them.
In cube all the good artifact and enchantment removal is on the back of some broader utility card. A card that can destroy artifacts or enchantments as an option on part of the card then it gains a decent amount of value in cube. Abrade, Kolghan's Command, Dromoka's Command, Fiery Confluence, Nahiri. Vraska, Vindicate, Dack Fayden, Unexpectedly Absent etc. are the best forms of cube Disenchants because they are all still great cards when there are no Disenchant targets in play.
I have only three cards that only hit artifacts and enchantments, two of those cycle and so basically do have alternate functionality. They at least are incredibly painless inclusions in a list when you don't face relevant targets. Sundering Growth is the only pure card I have in cube presently and it is a recent re-addition (based on a readers cube list, cheers for that Roland!). It works brilliantly with all the recent high powered token generators (Scarab God, embalm, eternalize, Fractured Identity, etc) and is playable in two colours. These two factors make it seem powerful enough to test out again now.
In an unpowered cube the answer to the question how much artifact and enchantment removal to play is that you run is as much as you can that fits the bill of not being a bad card when not able to Disenchant stuff. That excludes things like Reclamation Sage these days as a 3 mana 2/1 is far from useful or good being worth neither the card nor the mana. In an unpowered cube enchantment removal actually feels better too.
In a powered cube not only is there more artifacts floating around but there are more relevant targets. Due to cards like Tolarian Academy and Mishra's Workshop you find more big stuff like Lodestone Golem as well as all the cheaper Mox. I have found it to be pretty safe and effective to pack some more dedicated artifact removal in powered cube. Gorilla Shaman has always been a top notch powered cube tool for example. Even stuff like Hearth Kami and Torch Fiend can be worth it in powered cubes. Being cheap and often on theme is what makes them more suitable extras in the manic powered setting. I would still only have a smattering of such cards however.
In any kind of cube I have found the most effective Disenchant effects are typically the removal with broad range. Your Maelstrom Pulse, Abrupt Decay, Anguished Unmaking, Council's Judgement, Karn Liberated and so on. These cards are rarely great removal cards, they go 1 for 1 if that and often don't get you a tempo advantage either. What makes them good is that they deal with most of the problems you might face, be that a Baneslayer Angel, a Sword of Fire and Ice or a Moat (well, not Abrupt Decay but you get the point). They are space efficient in your deck as they perform a lot of roles and they make you a lot more consistent. Such cards are far better in cube than in constructed formats where you know what the few problem cards you will need to deal with are and can appropriately select the most suitable removal for the meta. Cube metas are so varied that the clunky slower removal with a nice broad range has a high premium. In a pick order list from best to worst that focused only on removal cards I would have most of these broad removal cards directly following the premium creature removal. Path, Plow, Bolt and Fatal Push are super efficient all round great removal cards and would take the top four slots, Dismember and Arc Trail probably takes the next two but after that it is all about the Pulses, Vindicates and Judgements. Although these are not considered modal cards they might as well be. If you class things like Maelstrom Pulse as a modal card that just has four modes on a type of permanent to destroy, and the same for the cycling Disenchants as they have a draw card mode then basically all the good Disenchants for cube use are modal. After the commonly agreed modal cards like Charms, Confluences and Commands you have the broad range removal and the narrower removal with cycling.
The only cards that have been a strong Disenchant effects in the cube that don't count as much as modal cards are a few dorks. Qasali Pridemage and Acidic Slime being the two best examples. Pridemade is just good tempo as a two drop 2/2 with exalted. I have even seen it used to kill its own stuff so as to instantly sac itself. Slime being one of few cards able to hit lands combined with being a 2/2 deathtouch ensure it is always relevant. While both cards still get a reasonable amount of play they are certainly now towards to lower end of my cube in terms of the play they get. Both are very fair cards. They are a lot better than Reclamation Sage because they are fine cards when they are not being Disenchants and that is the key message here.
When I build a deck I will typically try and have a balance of removal. Say I have four slots or so for dedicated removal spells then I would look to have a couple of cheap creature only cards and a couple of pricier cover all cards. Super top end cards like Karn I tend to think of more as half a removal spell as they come so late they do not always help with the things you need them for. In a fairly aggressive white deck I would love to have Path, Plow, Judgement and then either Unexpectedly Absent or Cast Out rounding out my four slots.
The amount of removal I want in a deck is dictated by two things. The speed of my deck and the depth and quality of my removal. The quicker and more proactive you are the less you will have to worry about things as you will just kill people before they can draw and play the real problem cards. You still want some removal but mostly it will be to gain tempo and so it will be much more focused on creature removal that it cheap and efficient. As you move towards slower decks you will need more removal that is also able to deal with different types of thing. You still need some cheap efficient removal so as to fight the tempo war but you also need broader removal so you don't get caught out by random things. While I might want four removal cards for a given deck I may play more or less depending on what I have. I would rather play the best or most suitable cards for my deck where possible. If I have great removal options and weaker threats then I might as well replace the worst threat with an extra removal card. How much total removal you want is another topic that is unlikely to be small and so we will not venture down that path here.
Suffice it to say most decks want some removal and most of those decks want a reasonably healthy quantity well over 10% (four cards) of the deck. This means anything other than the most aggressive or streamlined combo will want a couple of Disenchant effects if possible and perhaps more. I never feel bad when I have three ways to deal with an artifact in a cube deck as all the ways I have to do that are great cards when not Shattering (or Stealing in the case of Dack Fayden). The answer to the question of how much Disenchant to run is as much as you can provided it doesn't hurt your consistency or tempo in a significant way. Much as you want as much of the "free" stuff as you can get you rarely want the dedicated options. I would usually rather have no Disenchant effect in my deck at all than run actual Disenchant and risk it being dead.
Obviously not all colours have access to such things. Black and blue have no way to directly remove artifacts and enchantments and red can only do the former. Typically you cover yourself with hand disruption, countermagic, bounce, and splashes so as to give you some means of handling problems in the more awkward colours when you need to. Hand disruption and in particular bounce effects are a little more valuable in cube than elsewhere due to the way they act as an indirect answer for a Disenchant target. The value of a Disenchant effect is slightly reduced in a deck with a number of the indirect answers for such things.
Sadly there is no clear answer to how much Disenchant you want. It depends on the cube you are playing, the deck you are playing, the colours it is, all the other cards in the deck, the options in your pool, the nominal power of those cards and so on and so forth. The best you can do is understand the factors involved and make a judgement based on your options. You want some if you can but you really don't want to have to pay for it either by having a bad card or a dead card. You want it but you don't always need it, you can just go quicker or solve problems more indirectly. Having it makes life easier but it is all about risk and reward. A splash makes you more inconsistent, replacing Doom Blade with Mortify makes you slower. Weighing up all these little factors is the best way to arrive at the right mix of things for your deck.