Sunday 5 May 2019

Snappy, Bob or Goyf?

Baneslayer AngelThe statement "every creature is a Baneslayer or a Mulldrifter" is one I have heard a bunch. I believe it was pioneers by Patrick Chapin who does have an exceptional understanding of the game at a deep level. It is a mildly useful way of looking at things but it is rather off the mark in reality. Certainly Baneslayer dorks and Mulldrifter dorks are at the two opposite ends of the dork spectrum (in style) but the statement skips out all the relevant steps in the middle. I think there are more like four distinct types of dork for this kind of analysis. I would also say that most dorks are made up of elements of more that one category in a lot of cases. Even in Chapin's original dorks choices the lifelink of the Baneslayer makes it a bit of a Mulldrifter and the two evasive power of the Mulldrifter makes it a bit of a Baneslayer. I guess Chapin only ever evokes his Mulldrifters! Wall of Blossoms/Omens are about as close to a pure Mulldrifter as you can get what with them offering almost no chance of beating down. Even those walls are still primarily played for their body rather than the effect. There are plenty of 2 mana cantrip cards so you play the walls when you also want a bit of a wall.

MulldrifterSo what are these in between stages a creature can be? Obviously my title eludes to this. I think Tarmogoyf is the best current example of a pure beater. All it does is bring stats and all it does with those is attack and block. There is no card advantage or anything else, you just get a body. I have chosen Snapcaster Mage as the Mulldrifter. It has an immediate one off value effect like a spell and leaves you with one of the lowest relevance bodies possible. A 2/1 will still trade with things, threaten planeswalker or provide a clock on an empty board so even that has some Baneslayer/Goyf elements to it, and indeed is why Snapcaster is so much better than a card like Regrowth. There are no true "Mulldrifters" as it were as they are just spells without any power and toughness stats.

The middle stages are the Dark Confidents (or Bobs) of the game. They do not guarantee the value they offer as the EtB or on cast trigger creatures do but they do offer value and usually more so than they offer a significant attacking threat. Dark Confidant is a great example because it would likely be better as an enchantment for the same cost with no ability to attack or block. These kinds of cards are higher risk and higher reward. If your Bob is killed on sight you are probably worse off than before and unlikely to be better off. This compares poorly to a Snapcaster Mage or Elvish Visionary which you rarely care about getting killed off. On the flip side, the longer the Confidant is in play the more value it is able to generate.

Snapcaster MageThere is then yet another group I have not even tried to represent with an example that lies between Snapcasters and Confidants. These are your "deathrattle" or otherwise delayed value cards. You could consider a Flesh Carver or Thing in the Ice to be such things. You get no added value from them staying in play a long time nor any value when you play them. The extra value comes when they leave play or fulfill some kind of condition. I believe Chapin would roll all these types of card along with all the Dark Confidant style of cards into the Mulldrifter camp but I find doing that to be less useful in my deck building and card analysis. As we have already established, all dorks have some Tarmogoyf attributes to them with the infrequent exceptions of cards like Norrin the Wary. Now, almost all good creatures these days also have some Mulldrifter elements to them. The number of pure beaters I have in cube is tiny once you move past the one mana slot. Most of the good threats also do other things for you that provide some form of extra value. By breaking down the simple version of Baneslayer or Mulldrifter into more parts you get a more useful understanding of what your creauture is about.

Tireless TrackerSo why is this relevant? What do we gain from categorizing cards? Really just understanding, it is a great learning and evaluating tool. You should only use it to better understand cards, being too hard and fast about classifications can lead you astray and victim to poor assumptions. Categories are meaningless arbitrary things. If we are blindly following them they are useless, if we use them as the tools they are then they can be helpful. Really these classifications are just a middle man between how you understand a card and the card itself. Magic is complicated and it can be hard to unwrap a creature and see where it fits in. If you look at a creature in the terms of Snappy, Bob and Goyf it all starts to become a bit clearer. Even when a card is multiple things you can work out which bits correspond to which types of creature and how powerful those components are. That in turn lets you know the primary role of a card. This informs you on where you can use the card effectively and what sort of things it will be able to bring to a list.

Dark Confidant
An example of this is Tireless Tracker. The card has a bit of all three types in it. It is a 3/2 for 3 that grows in size making it a reasonable beater. It is able to generate a clue the turn you make it without disruption and it also provides an ongoing source of value with further clue generation subject to still being in play. So what it this card for? That should really be what is this card best suited for as being a powerful card with so many attributes you can play it anywhere and it will be decent. To see where it will best realize its potential we need to look at the relative powers of each of the three elements in turn. How good is a 3/2 that can grow as a beater? Given the cost is having and saccing a clue it is just fine. It is expensive and thus never great tempo. It is a whole lot better than a vanilla dork but it isn't in the same league as a much more aggressive three drop like Brimaz or Legion Warboss. Next up, how good is a 3/2 for 3 that gives you a clue if you immediately make a land? This is the Snapcaster mode and the answer is not very good. You have to consider it as a conditional four drop if you are assuring the value. Odds on you are then paying a total of 6 mana for your 3/2 and your card. It is more convenient than that but it is still a lot closer to Kavu Climber than it is to Rogue Refiner. All told I think Tireless Tracker is a better Goyf than it is a Snappy. Lastly we have the ongoing landfall clue generation mechanic that is the Dark Confidant element of the card. This is fairly clearly the best of the three aspects of the card. You might well consider playing a 3 mana enchantment with that effect. This tells you that this card is mostly a Dark Confidant and will be best in midrange decks. It also tells you that when you are playing him in an aggro deck it is very much as a value card.

TarmogoyfThis is all helpful when you are building decks and have a good number of options before you. It is when just considering things like mana curve and card power level within your pool isn't going to create the best deck. Thinking of creatures in this Snappy, Bob or Goyf way will help you to find the most suitable cards for what your deck is trying to do and what your deck needs without playing off theme cards. It can often mean playing a slightly weaker card over a slightly more powerful one. It does however require a decent knowledge of the rest of the game! It is very much a scaling tool that gets better the more depth your total understanding of the game has. Knowing how much risk you want to be exposed to, how much tempo you can afford to shave off, all these kinds of questions are super complicated and require much experience of the game, the format, the cards and so forth. This is why it is proving difficult to precisely explain the purpose of having these categories. Just consider them a bit and you will find it gradually proving more and more helpful but also more natural and intuitive.


  1. Sorry to hijack comments but I can't see a way to email you. You liked my first cube; thought I might share the new one I'm working on.. (Note: I'm planning on letting Boreal Druids will produce <><> instead of <>.) Still making minor adjustments but it's very close to ready, I think. Inputs welcome.

    Love theory articles like this. Well done and thanks for writing it. I agree with your additions to the system too.

  2. I love this cube! I loved it the moment I saw Master Trinketeer in it and from there on it continued to improve and impress. Nicely thought out and executed. I might well build this up myself and have a play at some point. I could give some more useful feedback then too! As for now I only have two questions and at rather opposite ends of the power spectrum. How come you didn't run Tolarian Academy? I have always paired it up mentally with Workshop and would lean on both or neither. The second question is no Gearsmith Prodigy? I would have thought it was a nice way to round out your one drop triple cycles and even if you think it is too weak for that you can buff it as per Boreal Druid or you can just run the one. As an aside I am a little scared that Izzet Welder decks seem a little on the powerful side with so much redundancy in early Welders and discard effects combined with relative scarcity in removal. A turn two Wurmcoil or Battlesphere is winning most games and is fairly easy to pull off. Replacing Riddlesmith's 2nd and 3rd copies with Gearsmith Prodigies would solve that problem. Keep me updated with your new cube if possible, I am interested to see how it develops.

  3. Thank you. Thank you Thank you. :) I'm really proud of this.

    Academy (and same on Tinker) aren't here just because I read elsewhere that they are just irredeemably broken in practice. (Which led me to think that whoever gets them would just *win*.) However, maybe that is a bit knee-jerk and I ought to see what they actually DO before excluding them offhand. I will put them back in. :) (Lol, but I thought Workshop would just fine, right..)

    Gearsmith Prodigy is...something I completely overlooked. Wow. I need to think about this. My only regret is that his ceiling is a bit low. (compared to Riddlesmith and the other guys). Now, I did consider Etherium Sculptor (!!) before I settled on Riddlesmith. (Some obv power level/color imbalance issues there, but if you think it's on par with Welder, I might consider it over Riddlewmith..for pretty much exactly the same Izzet concerns. Riddlesmith + Welder is a very nice little combo.. Also considered Serum Visions here. I just thought Riddlesmith offers a lot more ceiling.

    Now, the other option here would be Reckless Fireweaver instead of Welder. That was my original choice before I thought about Welder. I worry about Fireweaver + tokens being a bit oppressive and (frankly) Welder just offers a much more interesting card overall. We also play a fair amount of multiplayer and this just makes the argument much stronger for/against Welder/Fireweaver imo. Welder is more interesting and Fireweaver gets a lot more oppressive. Fireweaver also feels a bit too similar to Disciple..and not to mention, Rakdos would be a straight-up NIGHTMARE at that point, eh?) It's a tough call all around.

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  7. +1 Tolarian Academy
    +1 Gearsmith Prodigy (thanks again)

    re: Welder..
    +1 Grafdigger's Cage
    +1 Conversion Chamber
    +1 Ultimate Price

    (+1 Containment Priest if I need to.)

    We'll see how it goes. If you manage any test drafts, I'd love to hear how it goes. (I'm probably a few weeks away from having all cards in physical form.) Thanks for the feedback above--this will play a little better now.

    1. Sorry I didn't get round to replying sooner. I am not 100% sure Academy will make it play better! The card is dangerous, it is just on a comparable power level to some other dangerous cards. It is certainly thematically apt. I also agree that Welder is more interesting than Fireweaver. Direct damage is a bit linear and uninteractive although there are some more gentle counters to it in the artifact group ranging from Fountain of Renewal to Zuran Orb and plenty in between. The counters to Welder are a little more abrupt and lead to some more polar games. It will likely end up just being a personal choice as to which ways you chose to go. You seem very well adept at building in balance to your cubes with any card and theme choices.

      Ultimately you can theorize and plan indefinitely and it is all good and fun but nothing really compares to good old testing. Get a bunch of sessions in with your cube, discuss it with people, both other cube enthusiasts like this and the people you play it with. Take all that on board and fine tune from there. I will report back in when I have had a play around with your cube. I hope to hear back from you on the matter sooner!

      More than happy to continue conversations in comments sections or happy to conduct in private messages as you prefer. I am afraid I did not jot down your details previously (meaning if you took them down due to a contact it wasn't from me!).