Monday, 30 June 2014

The Storm Trap

Last year Modern Masters was a real fan favourite for Magic players. If you haven't followed Magic in a while, this was a special set where they reprinted a lot of cards that are legal in the Modern format that were extremely difficult to get your hands on. Basically the point of this set was to put more Tarmogoyfs out there because they are necessary for a fair number of Modern decks but are extremely scarce.

The format was awesome, probably one of the best and the most skill testing draft formats ever. It was also specifically designed to allow all colour pairs to work - even if some worked better than others.

This year they are following that up with Vintage Masters, a set designed to allow players to play Vintage online. Of course in order to make the possible they have to put Black Lotus and Moxes in the set. That means there are no physical packs of Vintage Masters - it is online only.

Each pack has a little less than a one in fifty chance of having one of the "power nine' even though those are hardly the most powerful nine cards out there. Sure, moxes and lotus are insane but Timetwister just has no right being in that list. Complaints about an age-old definition of nine powerful cards aside, this set seems to be pretty great from the drafts I've watched. They took the same approach of trying to make every colour pair have a theme. This time, though, the themes were largely based around pro-tour winning and otherwise famous decks. So the blue/green deck is blue/green madness with Arrogant Wurm, Basking Rootwalla and Circular Logic all in the set with many supporting cards.

The blue/black deck, on the other hand, is supposedly storm.

It is quite possible to draft a blue/black deck without drafting storm. You can get removal and counters and some card draw and just build a control deck. But with Dark Ritual, High Tide, Frantic Search, Nightscape Familiar and other mana generation cards, who wouldn't want to play storm.

How does a storm deck win the game? In this set it wins with either Brain Freeze or Tendrils of Agony. Both are at uncommon, so it shouldn't be too hard to get one, right?

Not so much. There are 86 uncommon cards in the set and each pack has three. That means that any given pack has a 3/86 chance of having a Brain Freeze and a 3/86 chance of having a Tendrils. There's such a thing as uncommon runs and I'm not sure how they work out, so let's give these cards the benefit of the doubt and say that you can't even get both in one pack. That's a 6/86 chance of getting one or the other in a pack.

There are 24 packs in a draft. So the chance of zero Brain Freezes or Tendrils showing up is 80/86 to the power of 24. That's 17.6%. I'm not sure if that sounds like a lot to you, or not, but let's stop for a moment to put that into context. Say you open up your pack and there is a High Tide in it and you think, "I'd like to draft storm." Well, you've just seen one pack that does not have a Tendrils or Freeze in it. That means the chance of there being one somewhere in the draft just dropped from 82.4% to 81.1%.

When you open a pack and don't see a storm kill card, you should pretty much think to yourself that there is about a one in five chance that there will be none in the whole draft. And what if someone else at the table likes storm as well? Say they decide they will draft storm if they get a kill card from the first pack. That would lower your chance of actually seeing a kill card to under 75%. If someone was also trying to force storm without seeing a kill card then your chance to get one is 45%.

Storm is what they call a "trap." There is far too high a chance, even if you are the only storm drafter at the table, that you will never see a card to actually kill your opponent with.

This is actually pretty good
There is a light at the end of the tunnel for storm, though. Temporal Fissure is common. In many cases, bouncing all of your opponent's permanents is pretty good at making you win the game. What you have to know about playing storm, though, is that you have to actually take Temporal Fissue if you want to safety your deck, and that you need a way to kill your opponent in your deck. If you bounce all of their lands and creatures on turn six with only a Nightscape Familiar in play for pressure, they can probably rebuild and come back.

I've seen storm decks win, it isn't impossible. But I've also seen quite a few storm decks that never had a faint hope of winning. That's not a great strategy to approach a draft with.

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