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Monday, June 9, 2014

don't pass conspiracies in cube

It’s pretty common that I’ll disagree with people about how good certain things are. It’s pretty rare that I’ll know for a fact that I’m right, and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. Conspiracy-type cards in cube are unbelievably powerful, and the only reason people would disagree is not playing with or thinking about them enough.

I know that not everyone is on the same page as me, because I’ve seen discussions pop up: “how high do you take Backup Plan?” First, obviously. “Well, there are a few conspiracies that seem good enough, but the Hidden Agenda ones don’t seem powerful enough for my cube.” The Hidden Agenda cards will immediately be among the best cards in your cube, and it doesn’t matter what kind of cube you have.

First, let’s categorize them. There are four good non-Hidden Agenda conspiracies:

Backup Plan
Power Play
Advantageous Proclamation
Worldknit (this one is a bit weirder; I’ll get to it)

There are six good Hidden Agenda Conspiracies:

Iterative Analysis
Unexpected Potential
Brago’s Favor
Double Stroke
Muzzio’s Preparations
Secrets of Paradise

Here’s what all conspiracies have in common: they don’t go in your deck. Normal drafts, where you’re struggling for 23 playables, are a bit different than cube, where you might have 5-15 cards you don’t want in your deck. Every card you pick is forcing out another card, and chances are, there are good reasons for the card leaving your deck to go in; there’s even a decent chance you picked it highly and were pretty excited to play with it. Drafting a card that doesn’t take up space in your deck is a very big deal. This already puts conspiracies in a good place.

Then, you get to actually looking at the global conspiracies, and holy god are they good. Backup Plan is more powerful than any card in a Modern, Legacy, or otherwise non-powered cube, and the only question is whether it should get picked over Sol Ring, Black Lotus, and other cards at the peak of powered cube. As long as you have one card of that power level, you should absolutely take Backup Plan: you have twice as good a chance of having that Ring or Lotus in your opening hand. (Actually, slightly more than that: as your deck gets smaller, you are more and more likely to draw it.) Cards like Preordain are in Cube—and actually quality cards—because they make our initial draws better. Backup Plan does about ten times as good a job of that. Your hand is better half the time, and you practically never mulligan, and the best cards in your deck are far, far easier to find.

Power Play is the other easy one. If we assume that playing first in cube gives the player about a 55% win rate (I don’t have the data, but I think it’s around that), a 5% increase in win rate per game is monstrous, and very difficult for even the best cards in any deck to do that by themselves. It won’t visibly win the game by itself like a lot of powerful cards do, but again, you get it every game. Slight advantages every other game add up to a similar effect as a windmill first-pick powerful spell.

Advantageous Proclamation is very straightforwardly useful. I don’t think it’s nearly as good as the above two, because it’s a fairly marginal benefit: you cut the worst three spells in your deck (not easy), so your other cards get drawn marginally more often. I don’t think it results in too much net increase in power level, but it’s still noticeable.

Worldknit is the real oddball. It’s not good, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to make it work. I can’t remember ever being as happy during the drafting portion as I was making a Worldknit cube deck: started mono-blue, then Worldknit, into Mutavault (!!!) then every good spell in GWUB, including a very late Chained to the Rocks. 40 spells, 21 Mountains, 5 nonbasics. My deck wasn’t close to as good as the people who had drafted actually powerful conspiracies, but sometimes that’s not what it’s about. If you’re actually trying to win a draft with conspiracies in it, I wouldn’t recommend being the Worldknit deck. However, if you pass Worldknit, you will be immediately be branded as The Worldknit Passer and correctly mocked the rest of your life for it. Look at all the fun you passed up. Look at it.

Now, to the real meat of the disagreement: how good are Hidden Agendas? The immediate reaction people have is that they’re not very good in cube, because you only have one of every card! You actually have to draw the card! Draw a card that you drafted!

Shockingly, it’s not that difficult to draw a card that’s in your deck. Believe me, I checked: every game, you draw seven cards in your opening hand, and hopefully, some of those are ones that you drafted. It does happen. Not even the most obnoxious of variance-induced-tilters, or black-turtleneck-clad of fatalists, will claim that drafting Jace is pointless because you have to draw it.

Say you’re drafting blue, and 12th pick, you get a Divination. Why is Divination in the cube? Whatever. Then, next pack, you get a Thirst for Knowledge. Hell yeah! That card is so good! So, you build your deck, and Thirst makes it, but Divination doesn’t. That makes sense.

You spent a pick to upgrade your Divination to Thirst for Knowledge. That’s what Hidden Agendas do, except that some of them do it a lot better.

You can probably get a Preordain in the middle of a pack. But what if you have Double Stroke? Scry 2, draw a card, then Scry 2, draw a card… that’s power nine-level. Mana Leak for U is absolutely unbelievable. Even with something as dinky as Miscalculation that you can get fairly late, you now have a super-Force Spike, and Force Spike was already a first pick-caliber card. Lingering Souls that draws a card on both ends is disgusting. A one-mana creature that’s already good enough to play, but now it taps for mana, is quite a bit better than Birds of Paradise, which again: already a first-pick.

What Hidden Agendas do is allow you to build your own top-tier cards, either by making your best cards practically unbeatable, or making your 23rd card as good as your first.

Overall, I’d rank them like this:

Backup Plan
Power Play
Double Stroke
(Extremely good cards go here: power, etc)
Iterative Analysis
Brago’s Favor
(Other classic first-picks go here: Karn, Jace, Swords, etc)
Secrets of Paradise
Muzzio’s Preparations
Advantageous Proclamation
Unexpected Potential
(NOW ENTERING THE --->FUN ZONE<--- br=""> Worldknit

The one that people might overrate a bit is Unexpected Potential. Unlike the other cards on the list, it requires you to have an off-color card that otherwise could not make your deck. The only exception is if you just make an already-playable card easier to cast, in which case you deserve a medal for being the world’s most boring person. The medal is brown.

This requirement means that it’s forcing a card that would otherwise make your deck out, and you might have to pick that good off-color card over something that might make your deck better already. This probably isn’t a good way to play Jace in your green-red deck, because you’re passing some good cards to get it. A better use is playing something that goes around late because of color requirements, like Cruel Ultimatum, Sphinx’s Revelation, or a multicolored planeswalker. The best use I’ve seen is Qasali Pridemage in a mono-red deck. Unexpected Potential certainly has its place, and rewards creativity, but I wouldn’t pick it over the best spells like I would the better conspiracies.

Hopefully, everyone reading is on board with The Truth that conspiracies are incredibly powerful. So… should they go in your cube? The answer is probably not, at least not long-term.

After some drafts with them, they change things a lot. The normal rules of what cards cost what, and have what effect, go out the window. The first draft I did with conspiracies, my first-round opponent led with turn one Plains, Stoneforge Mystic, search up Batterskull, go. My turn one was not quite as exciting.

It’s a similar experience to powered cube: lots of incredibly powerful things happening, laughing and calling over friends to watch what happens, huge blowout games that start with things like one-mana Farseek that gets copied.

It’s a very different, and fun, experience once in a while, and I encourage everyone who wants to spice up their drafting to give them a shot a couple times, but if you have a lower-powered deck through no fault of your own, it can get rather exhausting. Some matches feel completely out of hand before they even start because of the power level you’re looking down, which isn’t a good experience. It’s definitely a time where the peak of the fun happens in the first or second game, but after a match or two, I wanted to shuffle up and try another draft.

The exception to this is Worldknit. While I think it would get a bit boring to see someone with a huge Worldknit pile every single draft (especially since they probably will not win most of their matches), drafting it is really, really fun, and any open-minded cube designer should throw it in if not permanently, then once in a while. I specifically recommend putting it in when the other conspiracies aren’t in, and not running Worldknit when they are. A 66-card concoction isn’t going to stand much of a chance against the better Backup Plan or Double Stroke decks, but free from their oppression, it might do pretty well as the only conspiracy in the draft. It might trainwreck the draft of the person to their left due to the incredibly confusing “signals;” whether this is a disadvantage or a hilarious bonus is up to the reader.

I probably wouldn’t put Advantageous Proclamation in a cube, because it’s just not a very interesting card to draft. Yes, the deck that has it gets a bit more consistent. But there’s no interesting impact it has; it’s just an across-the-board slight increase in everything. It’s more of a modifier on a spreadsheet than a Magic card. No one is having a better time because they have Advantageous Proclamation under almost any circumstances.

If you’re drafting with Conspiracies, just take them. If you’re building a cube, consider them carefully, but know that your Magic drafts might not resemble Magic as you know it.

1 comments:

gazevans said...

I'm planning to implement conspiracies by just keeping them separate and switching them in when wanted.

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