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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Magi's Guide to Repack Drafting pt2: Removal

Morning folks, and welcome back to our discussion on repack drafting. In our last installment, we discussed the creature aspect of the draft in some details. I promised to next discuss the concepts of interacting with your opponent, and in this format that means removal. I briefly touched on the fact that this format tends to be very removal lite. The reasons for this tend to become clear, when you examine the common level removal across popular formats. The simple fact is there is not a lot of removal at the common level, and what there is tends to be very good, and often "chase" level cards. To illustrate this point lets take a look at the common removal in M10. Red and black tend to be the best options for removal, and here we find the following.

Assassinate- conditional, spot
Doom Blade- conditional, spot, chase
Tendrils of Corruption- spot, dedicated
Lightning Bolt- spot, chase
Seismic Strike- spot, dedicated

So these five, good removal options account for about 5% of all the commons in M10. When you factor in that 2 of these are chase cards, and unlikely to be found in repack pools, this drops to 3%. One conditional, and two that require real dedication to the color. Now you expand these sorts of percentages across the Magic history card pool (which is generous, since many older sets were not built with limited in mind, and had even less common level removal), and you can statistically estimate how much removal should be opened. In an 8 man pod, that comes down to roughly 7 potential removal spells, or put another way, less then per player. In short don't pass good removal, either take it for you own use, or grab it as a defensive pick. It also means that the only good removal you are likely to see, is in the packs you open. It would be very unexpected to see removal passed to you, particularly after say picks three. These few instances would really have to be attributed to poor draft choices up stream.

Just like with our creature discussion, it becomes critical to recognize the potential of cards which are coming around. Seeing what others didn't is what will make a winning deck. This will never be more true then in the case of removal. What you really have to be on the look out for is what many people call semi-removal. Again lets look at M10 for examples of common cards that can be removal options. One of my favorite white cards in this group is Excommunicate. Technically a tempo card, this sorcery allows you a virtual free turn, to build you forces, while rewinding your opponents development, and denying them a fresh card draw. Another often seen card, this time from blue, is Unsummon. Not only is this spell cheaper to cast, but is also instant speed, and can be timed correctly to provide a 2 turn advantage in some cases. On the down side, it returns the card simply to the hand, which could be recast asap, and does not deny card draw in the same way excommunicate does. Green by contrast tends to pick up it's removal through common combat tricks like Giant Growth, but recently has been getting more Pacifism type removal in the form of Entangling Vines. These cards may not be true removal, but by keeping your eyes and options open, you can easily double the amount of effective removal in your deck, and since these are harder to spot, they will be passed more often an later then main stream removal.

Now in the same vein, let me caution you from over reaching for removal, because a lot of things may start to look like removal, that in most cases are just bad. Cards like black's Weakness, and red's Sparkmage Apprentice are really very situation. We have already uncovered that only about 1/3 of all the common creatures will have a toughness of one, making these more combo peaces then removal. I won't say these will never serve the purpose, but the odds are against you. Are these really the best card in the pack? I'm not saying that cards like these don't serve their purpose, just that it's not removal. How many X/1 creatures really have to eliminated? They certainly don't serve much of a combat threat unless in large quantities, in those case taking out one isn't likely to help. In fact only 65 common creatures exist with a relevant power, and a toughness on one, that is less then .65% of all printed cards. Of those 65, 13 have evasion, 7 Haste, 6 Trample, and 4 Firststrike. If you have not passed one of these down stream, I wouldn't be too worried about removal this narrow.

Now that we have talked at length about common level removal, allow me to touch on higher level removal. Once you get into the world of uncommons and rares, two things happens. First these are exponentially less likely to be seen for all the same reason we talked about when it come to commons. Secondly, and most importantly, removal tends to go from simply spot removal, to mass removal. The difference is critical, instead of using one or more cards to deal with a single card, now the tables turn. Now your one mass removal card, deals with multiple cards at one.

Now please allow me to talk about he repack deck I drafted on 08/08/2009, that illustrates many of the points I've talked about thus far. This deck was unique, in that I was passed a rare level mass removal spell, Solar Tide. I literally rode this card to victory, casting it not only every match, but nearly every game. This deck ended up being GWr, in addition to the 17 lands, and 19 creatures will a relevant power and/or toughness (10 had both), I ran only 4 non-creature cards.

Excommunicate (see above)
Solar Tide- mass removal
Moral- mass combat trick
Recollect (I have a weakness for graveyard recursion)

Creatures were equally impressive. Wall of Spears (pack 2, pick one) held the ground once again, if you don't get this card, go back and read my July 2009 Repack Draft article. Of the remaining creatures, the following can be said Trample x2, Flying/Reach x5, Wither, First Strike, Regeneration, Card Draw x2, Card Advantage x2, Vigilance. Only four of the creatures, aside from being relevantly large in one way or another, were otherwise vanilla. I really could not have been more pleased with this deck, and I think it illustrates the concepts of a creature centric format, along with quality removal.

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