Is Ancestral Vision Stronger than Treasure Cruise in Modern?

In this article, guest writer Josh Schneider analyzes two classic draw-threes to see which one comes out on top in the Modern format. Is suspend more powerful than delve for drawing three cards? Read and find out!

Every Modern player is eagerly awaiting the upcoming banned list announcement scheduled for January 19th, and there has been a substantial amount of discussion about what changes there may be to the format just before Pro Tour Fate Reforged in Washington, DC. The impetus for all the discussion, debate, and speculation is the shakeup of the format following the release of Khans of Tarkir, especially with the printing of Treasure Cruise.

One idea that often comes up when discussing possible changes to Modern is that Ancestral Vision, currently banned, is weaker than Treasure Cruise. If true, this could be used as justification for either banning Treasure Cruise or unbanning Ancestral Vision. My goal in this article is to address the following question:

Is Ancestral Vision stronger or weaker than Treasure Cruise?

Prevailing wisdom says that Treasure Cruise is the stronger Magic card. I am skeptical of this assertion and would like to share why.

To answer the above question, I must specify the metrics used to say one card is stronger than another. The first metric is effect versus cost, which is an objective measure of the strength of a card. A second metric is the position in Modern, where I examine how each card matches up against the Modern cardpool. The last metric is the deckbuilding costs associated with both Ancestral Vision and Treasure Cruise. Which card is stronger in each metric?

Metric 1: Effect versus Cost

Targeting aside, both Ancestral Vision and Treasure Cruise draw three cards. The primary difference to consider under this metric is cost. Ancestral Vision cannot be cast in the same way as most Magic cards, but instead has a down payment of a single blue mana and may be cast for free four turns later via suspend. Treasure Cruise has a converted mana cost of eight but has delve, which allows its caster to exile cards from their graveyard as payment for the colorless portion of its mana cost. If there are seven or more cards in their graveyard, a player may cast Treasure Cruise by paying a single blue mana.

An important question to address when comparing costs is whether four turns is a steeper cost than seven cards in a graveyard. This is a challenging question to answer because the two resources are not at all the same. Most people will say that cards in graveyard are a more readily available resource than extra turns since cards naturally end up in the graveyard through the progression of a game. Another factor to take into account is that fewer than seven cards may be exiled to cast Treasure Cruise, but four turns are essentially always required for Ancestral Vision to come off suspend, making Treasure Cruise more "castable." Furthermore, any copy of Ancestral Vision drawn within the last few turns of the game is basically textless, whereas Treasure Cruise ranges from an overcosted Concentrate to the best possible topdeck.

Being easier to cast on average and a better late-game topdeck, Treasure Cruise is a stronger card than Ancestral Vision using the effect versus cost metric. Since Magic players tend to prefer objective metrics, I believe this reasoning guides common opinion.

Metric 2: Position in Modern

Assessing the relative strength of cards in a vacuum is an important skill, especially when two cards are as similar as Ancestral Vision and Treasure Cruise. However, even subtle differences can be exacerbated when outside influences are considered. To assess the position of each card in relation to the thousands of cards legal in Modern, I will examine the fundamental means of interacting with the two card draw spells.

Since they share the sorcery card type, Ancestral Vision and Treasure Cruise can be interacted with primarily while in hand or on the stack. On the play, a hand disruption spell like Duress or Thoughtseize can force an opponent to discard Ancestral Vision, but on the draw those tools are almost completely ineffective answers. In contrast, the window for Thoughtseize to hit Treasure Cruise is at least a few turns, making it weaker to discard. While on the stack, both Ancestral Vision and Treasure Cruise may be countered very effectively by Remand, for example, but taxing counters like Mana Leak and Spell Pierce are often poor tools against them. One relevant difference comes up in situations where Treasure Cruise is cast for more than just a single blue mana, making the soft counters slightly better against it.

Another way to interact with Ancestral Vision or Treasure Cruise is to attack the suspend or delve mechanics directly. There are cards like Riftsweeper, Pull from Eternity, and Clockspinning that can interact with a suspended card, but in general these types of cards have very limited applications and are too narrow for a format like Modern. To interact with delve meaningfully, a player must be able to reduce the number of cards in their opponent’s graveyard. Modern has some very effective tools for such a task such as Relic of Progenitus, Rest in Peace, and Scavenging Ooze. While cards in graveyard or exile can be difficult to interact with, there are better options to interact with cards in graveyard, and they have wider applicability.

Among the different ways to attack Ancestral Vision or Treasure Cruise, Ancestral Vision is the more difficult of the two to interact with, making it the stronger card under the second metric.

Metric 3: Deckbuilding Costs

The first two metrics were focused on individual cards and placement within the Modern card pool. The final metric widens the focus even further to entire decks. If either of Ancestral Vision or Treasure Cruise can fit into more decks because it has a lower deckbuilding cost, that is an obvious strength. What types of decks do each fit into?

First, because of the suspend mechanic, Ancestral Vision is most playable in decks with a high number of blue mana sources and which do not typically expect games to be shorter than five turns. It is at its absolute best in decks which attempt to prolong the game. For example, games lasting until turn nine, ten, or later can see multiple copies of Ancestral Vision drawn throughout the game which can be cast off suspend. Since it is not currently legal, it is not completely fair to use the current Modern format to directly determine how many decks could use Ancestral Vision, but if its presence in Modern were not too warping, then almost all of the blue-based decks in Modern could use it in theory because the deckbuilding constraints are so low. If there are any Modern blue decks that might not consider Ancestral Vision, they would be aggressive decks like Delver or combination decks which look to end the game as soon as possible, e.g. Storm.

Treasure Cruise, on the other hand, is most playable in decks with proactive game plans. The delve mechanic is best exploited in decks which involve a lot of cards going to the graveyard, whether those are Lightning Bolts, cantrips, rituals, or dead Insectile Aberrations. Creature-based decks or reactive strategies like blue-based control, lacking velocity of cards going to the graveyard, do not support Treasure Cruise well. In contrast with Ancestral Vision, Treasure Cruise is at home in a more narrow class of blue decks in Modern.

Without any data to assess the number of decks which would actually play Ancestral Vision if it were legal, it is hard to come to a definitive conclusion on which card has a higher deckbuilding cost. From the above analysis, Ancestral Vision has a lower deckbuilding cost than Treasure Cruise, and thus is a stronger card under the third metric.

The Spirit of Modern

Using a variety of metrics, I have assessed the relative strength of two potentially format defining blue spells. The results so far suggest a two-to-one split in favor of Ancestral Vision. To end the article here, however, might be misleading because all of these metrics are not equal. The best metrics are the ones which take the context of Modern into account, especially considering the unique approach Wizards takes to shaping it newest constructed format.

Since the format's inception, Wizards of the Coast has had a vision for Modern which they maintain primarily through the banned list, and secondarily through the influence of modern-day card design philosophy. It is no secret that Wizards uses the Modern banned list to curb fast combo, remove cards which invalidate aggro strategies, and keep the length of games in check. Additionally, based on the trajectory of card design over the last several years and the kinds of standard environments Wizards R&D has cultivated in that time, it seems that makers of the game believe interactive, creature-centered games are better for Magic. There is a clear preference for creature-focused aggressive and midrange strategies, especially over non-interactive combo and permission-based control strategies like the ones more prevalent in the early years of Magic.

When explaining its place on the Modern banned list, Wizards specifically stated concerns that, if legal, Ancestral Vision would contribute to control strategies as it had in previous formats. Treasure Cruise promotes a style of gameplay which is more desirable than the style promoted by Ancestral Vision because it is proactive rather than reactive, and it tends to encourage more interaction on the battlefield since creatures are involved. That is not to say that Treasure Cruise does not help less interactive or more reactive strategies. For example, look at the Storm combo and Jeskai Ascendancy combo decks from this past Magic World Championships. Overall the best Ancestral Vision decks tend to be "less fun" by Wizards' standards than Treasure Cruise decks in terms of gameplay. All of this speaks to what I call "the spirit of the format."

Which of the above metrics best address the spirit of Modern? The first metric mainly assesses raw card power, which is obviously important to Wizards, but not always a major focus when determining legality. Many cards in Modern and Standard are similarly powerful. The second metric takes into account the means through which cards may be interacted with, a major consideration when crafting an interactive game. The third metric focuses on deckbuilding costs and the types of decks cards incentivize. I believe the latter two metrics, since they take critical facets of the format into account, are more important to Wizards when deciding whether to ban or unban a card in Modern, and as such carry more weight.

The Banhammer

Is Ancestral Vision stronger or weaker than Treasure Cruise? In contrast to common opinion, I argue that Ancestral Vision is the stronger Magic card. I've analyzed each card under three different lenses, and concluded that Ancestral Vision is stronger in two of the three cases. The metric that favors Treasure Cruise is arguably the most objective and is likely the most common metric considered by competitive Magic players. This contributes to the perception that Treasure Cruise is stronger than Ancestral Vision. However, by listening to cues from Wizards and taking the spirit of Modern into account, the more important metrics when considering possible changes to the format are those which suggest Ancestral Vision is actually the stronger Magic card.

Based on this conclusion, the most likely result is that either Treasure Cruise remains legal and Ancestral Vision remains banned, or that both will reside on Modern's banned list.

-Josh Schneider (@naurion9er)


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