Taking a closer look: Overrated cards
By Benjamin Ng on August 17th, 2005 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
I'm sick of it. People saying Jitte is the next Skullclamp. People putting Pithing Needle in every decklist. People posting stuff like
No card, no matter how powerful or effective, is ALWAYS an auto-include (not counting Vintage). Just because a card is powerful doesn't mean it is always a good fit for a deck (even if it's colorless!). There is a time and place for each powerful card, and for some popular ones it's a lot less common than a lot of people think. So in this article I'll be doing my best to clear up misconceptions about cards, and when to use (or not use) them.
Are they powerful? Yes. Do they belong in every deck? Definitely not. Consider the following:
1. Unless equipped to a 1st turn creature, neither piece of equipment is likely to have an effect before turn 4 or 5, especially since the Jitte needs to be charged first.
2. The larger a creature is, the less effective Jitte/SoFI is at increasing their kill speed.
3. Equipment can result in tempo loss. Examples:
Turn 1: Arcbound Worker
Turn 2: Umezawa's Jitte
Turn 3: Equip
Turn 3: SoFI
Turn 4: Ravenous Baloth
Turn 5: Equip
Youve just missed two crucial turns of creature-playing.
4. Decks with lots of removal can cause you to waste mana equipping creatures and you'll be left with nothing to equip. Even worse is if your creature or equipment is destroyed in response to the equip.
Conclusion: Equipment belongs in moderately fast creature-heavy decks that aren't usually able to kill their opponent in 4-5 turns. In these decks they are able to turn regular creatures into finishers when the deck begins to run out of steam as well as overpower faster decks.
That said, when should you play Jitte over SoFI, and vice versa? Although Jitte hits faster, its delayed effect cause both to tend to "go off" on the same turn in the early game. SoFI gives an immediate effect later in the game, but Jitte costs less. Thus, both are about the same in terms of speed. Lets examine what both do:
Both help your creature in combat, help kill your opponent and kill creatures.
After the first combat phase Jitte is better than SoFI in combat unless facing a red or blue creature with power 5+. Note that the presence of burn and tims could reduce this number to 3 or even 2. Advantage: Jitte in most circumstances.
Both pieces of equipment add 4 damage per attack to the opponent, but SoFI also draws you a card and is more likely to get through vs. red and blue decks. If you can get SoFI to connect even once it almost pays for itself ( for a Elvish Fury, Shock, and Whispers of the Muse). Advantage: SoFI.
Jitte can kill large creatures, multiple creatures, regenerating creatures and creatures your creature is in combat with. SoFI can only kill creatures if unblocked. Advantage: Jitte
Jitte seems overall more effective (especially since the lifegain effect hasnt been taken into account), so one has to consider in what situations SoFI is better. Jitte IS legendary, but drawing two is not common enough to make a significant difference. SoFI is notably better if:
1. You are facing blue removal; not that it's very common. (You can save counters on your Jitte for protection against a lot of burn; it's vulnerable for the first turn, but since SoFI is slower it wont protect your creature that turn anyways).
2. If your creature damages your opponent consistently, either because of trample, flying, burn, or a red/blue opponent. Of course, if you're attacking a red opponent you're probably doing well anyways.
3. You can't charge your Jitte without losing your only creature.
Conclusion: If your deck's creatures see a lot of combat, play Jitte. If your deck has many (8+) small fliers, large tramplers or removal spells, play SoFI.
If your deck fits both requirements you can mix and match; SoFI tends to be better against control decks, Jitte against aggro (especially because of the -1/-1).
Aside: Predicting a largely control game, the T8 White Weenie deck of US Nationals kept Jitte in the side because:
1. Glorious Anthem was faster, protected his creatures from mass removal and almost gave more of a buff due to the high volume of creatures in the deck.
2. Bad synergy with Damping Matrix, a key card in the deck.
3. More important 4-mana spells (Worship and Hokori). Hokori also interacts poorly with Jitte.
It's like a Cranial Extraction for 1 mana! Except your choices are far more limited. Also, Needle is completely vulnerable to an EOT Naturalize, meaning you can never be certain whether it's doing its job or not.
The point is: Pithing Needle's effectiveness is directly related to what card you name. About 1 in 15 of your opponent's cards is your named card, so the Needle will affect about 1 of his draws if the game goes 8 turns.
So, Needle is often a 1-for-1 trade; except that often your opponent hasn't paid for the card yet and it's not a complete trade if the card has aspects other than activated abilities (like the ability to attack).
When you think about cards to name, consider how much card advantage that card's activated ability will give to its controller. You have spent 1 card to nullify that ability.
If you can nullify abilities that would consistently give your opponent 2-1 card advantage against your deck (or allow them to stop your 2-1 card advantage), Needle can be a good delaying card. So you have to look at your metagame and see how often you will encounter decks where you have this opportunity.
Conclusion: Due to its transitory nature (being an artifact), Pithing Needle favors quick decks who can end the game before an answer to the Needle can be found. If Pithing Needle can consistently deny or significantly delay card advantage in your metagame, it's worth maindecking. If it can consistently deny or significantly delay card advantage against a few decks, its worth sideboarding.
What's the difference between Hymn to Tourach and Flay? About the same as the difference between old Hyppie and New Hyppie.
Turn 4 is usually the turning point for most decks; either they are preparing for a finishing blow or preparing to set off a game-changing spell (like Wrath of God or Yukora the Prisoner). A random discard and 2 damage is not effective at finishing an opponent or dealing with their game-ender (especially since they see Hippie coming), and when going second the Hippie doesnt even get in one attack before the spell hits.
Conclusion: If Hippie could come out consistently on turn 2, the double-random discard might be enough to knock out the game-enders of combo and control and do some damage. However, Hippie does not guarantee removing key cards and he would still be very weak going second. If I want to remove game-enders I'll take Distress or Extraction, and if I want evasion damage I'll take Ogre Marauder who can be equipped with O-Naginata. It's better to be good at one thing than unreliable at two.
Player-only burn spells (like Lava Spike and Browbeat) are generally bad because:
1. Player-only burn doesn't help any of your other cards and does nothing to inhibit your opponent.
2. Creatures can generally outdamage any burn spell with the same CMC in one or two attacks. Player-only burn spells cannot remove these creatures, nor can they race them.
3. Until you kill your opponent, player-only burn spells essentially do nothing. So unless you kill your opponent extremely fast, your burn spells will spend many (potentially fatal) turns doing "nothing."
Conclusion: Because they become inefficient quickly, interact poorly with regular spells and red already has great lategame finishers like Rorix Bladewing and Rathi Dragon, face-burn spells should generally only be played in suicidally fast burn deck.
Lets start by going over what AEther Vial does.
1. Allows you to play creatures whenever you could play instants.
2. Allows your creatures to be counterspell-immune.
3. Allows you to play creatures for free, but
one turn later than normal.
A turn 4 Vial is unlikely to ever have a significant effect on the game. For decks lacking draw, a lategame Vial is as crippling as any land.
AEther Vial used correctly results in you playing 2-3 cards a turn (spell + vialed creature + maybe land). Unless you have a way to replenish your hand it will quickly become useless as an accelerant and become just a way to lose all your creatures to mass removal quickly.
But doesn't Vial speed up horde decks that have no lategame? Sorta.
Let's assume you have a perfect curve and the power of your creatures are equal to their costs.
T1: Land, 1CC creature (5 cards)
T2: Land, 2CC creature (4 cards) attack for 1.
T3: Land, 3CC creature (3 cards) attack for 3 (4 total).
T4: Land, 4CC creature (2 cards) attack for 6 (10 total).
T1: Land, Elf (5 cards)
T2: Land, 3CC creature (4 cards)
T3: Land, 4CC creature (3 cards) attack for 3.
T4: Land, 1CC creature + 4CC creature (1 card) attack for 7 (10 total).
T1: Land, Vial (5 cards)
T2: Land, 2CC creature, 1CC creature (3 cards)
T3: Land, 3CC creature, 2CC creature (1 card) attack for 3.
T4: Land, 4CC creature (0 cards) attack for 8 (11 total).
T1: Land, Mox, 2CC creature (3 cards)
T2: Land, 3CC creature (3 cards) attack for 2.
T3: Land, 4CC creature (2 cards) attack for 5 (7 total).
T4: Land, 2CC creature and 3CC creature (0 cards) attack for 9 (16 total).
As you can see, Vial strongly encourages a low mana curve but gives very little speed increase. This means a slightly faster early game in exchange for a horrendous late game unless you can get a lot more little creatures quickly (or your creatures are worth much more than their casting cost. See Arcbound Ravager).
Conclusion: Decks with fairly low (2-3) creature mana curves that can keep their hand full can use AEther Vial to "generate" mana at a faster rate than additional lands would. Decks who also need to protect their creatures from sorcery-speed removal and counterspells will benefit even more from the Vial.
Im not talking about Legacy, so dont even start.
What a surprising amount of people fail to realize is that Standstill is not a card to play unless people not playing spells is to your advantage. Too often do people see the 3 cards as a foregone conclusion and disregard the weaknesses of Standstill. Here they are:
1. Turn 1 creatures, Manlands, AEther Vial.
2. Tapping out for a Standstill can result in dangerous spells even 3 cards wont save you from, like Choke or Cranial Extraction.
3. If you can play Standstill on an empty field with counterspell backup, you were already doing well. That or your opponent can play the waiting game too. Generally, "win-more" cards are not good for decks.
Conclusion: If you want to play Standstill, you had better be damn sure your deck is the fastest one out there and can make immediate use of the cards.
I know most of you know Top is lame without shuffle effects, so I'm going to save you the trouble of having to read through it. Suffice it to say that a few turns after being played, Top without shufflers is roughly as good as removing the top 2 land cards from your library in exchange for sacrificing a land and discarding a card.
My main annoyance with Top is how people think they can use it effectively only running 6 fetchlands or 4 Sakura-Tribe Elders. They are wrong. But I'll fully deconstruct Top just for fun.
Top is usually used for one of two things:
1. Finding mana in the early game.
2. Finding game-breakers in the late game.
Oh, just one more, PLEASE.Finding mana in the early game:
Let's say you are on the play with 24 land, and open up a 1 land, 1 top hand. You keep it, assuming your top will find you land #2 in short order. You play your land and the top.
If you do nothing, 44% of the time you will have 2 land on turn 2 and 68% of the time by turn 3.
20% of the time you'll get you 3rd land by turn 3.
If you tap the top, 68% of the time you will have 2 mana on turn 2 and 68% of the time by turn 3.
24% of the time you'll get your 3rd land on turn 4, or 38% if you spin on turn 3, or 61% if you spin and tap on turn 4.
If you spin the top, 91% of the time youll get your 2nd land by turn 2 and 95% of the time by turn 3.
38% of the time youll get your 3rd land on turn 3, or 55% if you spin on turn 3.
If you mulligan, 78% of the time you will have 2 mana on turn 2 and 92% of the time by turn 3.
62% of the time youll get your 3rd land by turn 3.
It looks like mulliganing is your best and cheapest chance for a normal curve, even though theres a small (4%) chance you'll draw way too many lands. Yes, you sacrifice a card, but the top isn't doing anything besides digging for land anyways.
Want even more? The odds of drawing a 1 top, 1 land hand is 6%. The chance of drawing that and missing land on your next draw is 3.5%.
Conclusion: In terms of getting a stable mana base, mulliganing is a better idea than depending on the Top. If you draw a hand with two land, I'd hope you'd have better things to do than spin the Top looking for mana.
2. Finding game-breakers in the late game.
Here's my "proof" that Top needs a refreshed library every 1-2 turns to stay effective at all. If you want to take my word on it, go down to Temporary Solution: Shufflers!
Let's assume that since this is the later game you have all the land you need, and if you reveal 2 land the library needs a shuffle badly.
Depending on your land count, there is about a 33% chance of you revealing 2 land, and about a 30% chance of revealing no land. Lets focus on the other 47% for now, 2 cards and 1 land.
Volatile li'l bugger.A "1" denotes the card you want most.
A "2" denotes the card you want less than 1.
An "L" denotes land, something you don't want.
Possible initial orders for the 3 top cards of your library:
1-2-L: Top has no use (already arranged the way you want).
1-L-2: Top has limited use (see below).
2-1-L: Top is fairly useful.
2-L-1: Top is useful.
L-2-1: Top is useful.
L-1-2: Top is useful.
Next turn, you draw and top again.
Possible orders on top of library:
2-L-L: Game over.
2-L-3: This is a repeat of 1 L 2. The top didnt help you then, and if you spin next turn this spin wont help you either. You are also getting consistently worse cards.
2-L-1: Top is useful. Note that the better your 2 card is, the less likely this will happen, so drawing good cards actually makes top worse.
But what if we wait a turn before spinning again? Then there's a 66% chance that one of your two "new" cards will be a land. Top falls apart without consistent shuffling.
Temporary Solution: Shufflers!
The effectiveness of a Top on a fresh library is about 69% and gets severely worse after that. You could say that the only time Top is really worth using is on a fresh library.
So you need shufflers or something that manipulates your library, like Scry cards or Arc-Slogger. It is a good idea to save your shuffling spells for times of need if you do not immediately need their effects.
However, not all shufflers work. Situational or expensive shufflers (like Vampiric Tutor or Tooth and Nail) don't really work because playing them can be a bad move or impossible [though Vamp Tutor + tap Top is a good way to get that card instantly - Ed]
Guess what also doesn't work? Fetchlands. If you spin the Top to draw fetchlands youre doing exactly what you were supposed to be preventing (drawing land). By turn 4, you should have played all the land in your hand, and if you were holding onto your fetchlands you entirely missed the point of multilands. Popping a fetchland can shuffle away good spells, and good spells can hold back your mana development.
Now that we know what counts as a shuffler and what doesnt, how many shufflers do you want?
Many users forget that Top has no effect on the board position and can end up being a bad or even useless draw if not supported enough, just like any other draw spell. If you can't spin into a shuffler by turn 3, your spins past the first are pretty worthless because you could have had a fresh library by then by simply drawing. You have essentially spent on nothing, or on an Index that takes 3 turns.
Moral: If you want Top not to be a waste, you want to be able to spin in 3 turns as often as possible.
Chances of being able stack your library in a certain way over 3 turns:
# of non-land shufflers 1-Shuffler 1-2-Shuffler
15 68.4% 75.3% (24.7% chance of failure)
14 65.6% 73.7% (26.3% chance of failure)
13 62.4% 70.6% (29.4% chance of failure)
12 59.0% 67.2% (32.8% chance of failure)
11 55.7% 63.8% (36.2% chance of failure)
10 51.9% 59.9% (40.1% chance of failure)
9 47.8% 55.6% (44.4% chance of failure)
8 43.8% 51.3% (48.7% chance of failure)
5 of the T8 decks at US Nationals played Top. They averaged 3.4 Tops and 11.4 shufflers, or 3.3 shufflers per Top.
Shufflers. Y'need 'em.Conclusion:
Top demands a few things of its users:
1. Top's effect is subtle and gradual due to its reusability, and is of primary use during the late game. If you don't plan to go to lategame, don't play Top. Generally the only decks looking towards the lategame are Control.
2. Top is pretty inefficient without at least 8 non-land library refreshers.
3. Card draw and Top don't mix well, because you end up drawing your bad cards. Continuous card draw also tends to trump Top, because the top 2 cards of a library are usually better than the best of the top 3 and library refreshing isn't required.
That said, control decks who run at least 8 (I suggest 10+) non-land shufflers and don't go too heavy on card draw can effectively use Top.
Aside: Proteus Belcher from US Nationals, despite running 17 library refreshers, did not play Top because:
1. Belcher was a combo deck and intended to end the game asap.
2. Fabricate and Proteus Staff/Darksteel Colossus trumped Top in terms of searching ability.
Another Aside: Some people say SDT without shufflers can work in a burn deck to find that last burn spell. My question is; why not just play another burn spell? Top charges you to spin; even a pretty ineffeicient burn spell would save you mana. And of course, Top without shufflers is good only once or twice.
Whew! My rant is over. Hopefully I've opened some eyes concerning these specific cards, but it would be even better if you guys get the general statement:
Blindly trusting the experts decklists and card choices is not a good idea, because
a) you don't fully understand why cards are there, meaning you only have limited understanding of the deck's synergy; perhaps the card is only good in that version of the deck
b) you don't know what other cards they considered (perhaps card X was a metagame choice)
c) you don't grow as a player. You're also unlikely to become very good because you can't understand/outwit the metagame.
When you see a card, don't follow the crowd's reaction; instead consider when that card could be good and when it wouldn't be good. A lot of "sucky" cards have become the cores of powerful combo decks, and a lot of underrated cards have become mainstays.
Understanding instead of accepting = tech.
Thanks to Goblinboy for editing, banner, and pics!
By Benjamin Ng on August 17th, 2005 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
About Benjamin Ng
Benjamin Ng is a Freeshman at University of California Santa Cruz, and has played MtG for 10 years. He'd always be up for a game of Apprentice extended if the campus firewalls weren't Nazis about AIM