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Shards of Alara & Conflux Critique March 10, 2009

Posted by James in : all, random, theory, design , trackback

Shards of Alara has a clunky design for playing in limited tournament events (draft and sealed deck). Consider the different themes and how they interact:

Naya

Naya’s 5 power theme is almost unplayable in limited. You have to play with at least 6 creatures with 5 power or greater to get it to work, which is hard to pull off. You have to have mana acceleration in order to play several big creatures in a deck, and there’s not a lot of that either. Conflux has no mana acceleration worth mentioning.

Naya’s 5 power theme can theoretically work well with cards made for the Jund (devour) and Bant (exalted) theme. Creatures with devour can often get 5 power or greater, and creatures that get bigger from exalted can get 5 power or greater.

What is more important is that Naya’s real theme is “these cards are good!” That theme works perfectly well with many cards from the Jund and Bant theme. You might not want to devour many creatures from the Naya theme, but the Jund theme also provides Naya with creatures worth devouring, which tend to be good cards, such as Dragon Fodder.

Does Naya work with Grixis or Esper? Who cares, they are in completely the wrong colors.

Bant

Bant’s theme is exalted. Creatures that attack alone get big. This theme works best with evasion, such as flying or unblockablity. It tends to be too difficult to get a lot of exalted in a draft, but it works sometimes. Exalted is also a good ability that doesn’t require combos to be worth playing. Like Naya, Bant’s main theme is “these cards are good.” This is usually a good reason to play cards from both the Bant and Naya theme together.

On the other hand, Bant doesn’t work that great with cards from Esper (the artifact theme). Almost no esper cards are worth playing in a Bant deck. However, this is the case with every theme: None of them work well with Esper. The fact that Bant decks shouldn’t use cards for the esper theme gives it a disadvantage.

Esper

Esper is the artifact theme. It is difficult to make a good esper deck without getting enough artifacts. It is very difficult to make a good esper deck in draft, but it can happen.
No other theme has artifacts, so it doesn’t work well with any other theme. Esper tends not to be based on the idea “these cards are good!” Instead, esper cards tend to only be good in artifact decks. Master of Etherium, for example, gives all artifacts +1/+1 and his power and toughness are equal to the number of artifacts you control. Great card. Not great in a deck without artifacts.

The fact that Esper doesn’t work well with any other theme gives it the largest disadvantage.

Grixis

Grixis’s theme is unearth. This ability by itself can be a great theme in constructed, but in limited it is difficult to get enough cards with unearth to consider it to be a theme in and of itself. Usually the theme is not just unearth, but to sacrifice creatures with unearth. Bone Splinters comes to mind.

Unearth by itself is a good ability, but the sacrifice theme is actually pretty easy to pull off in a draft. It should be noted that devour is a sacrifice ability, so the Jund theme works perfectly with Grixis. In fact, Grixis and Jund have the same theme in limited: Sacrifice creatures. This gives Jund and Grixis an unfair advantage.

Grixis, however, shouldn’t use cards from the Esper theme, which gives it a disadvantage.

Jund

As noted before, the Jund theme is devour, a sacrifice theme. You play creatures that sacrifices other creatures to make the creature you just played bigger. This theme is often considered bad because you can devour a bunch of creatures to get one big creature, then the opponent can just destroy that big creature and you lose everything. However, there are many creatures in the Jund theme that you might not miss, such as Elvish Visionary and Dragon Fodder tokens. Not to mention you should get some unearth creatures to devour, which you really won’t miss. Therefore, it is quite possible to pull off a devour themed deck in draft. It isn’t very easy, but it can be done.

I have already noted that Grixis and Naya have an advantage since they have the same theme, but Jund also works well with Naya.Jund lacks big scary creatures, so creatures from the Naya theme can complitment a Jund deck very well. Not to mention Naya’s theme of “these are good cards” seems to work well with just about any other theme.

What’s the Point?

The point is that Shards of Alara and Conflux are clunky in draft. We were promised five themes, but two of them are really the same. One theme doesn’t play well with others. Jund and Naya tend to play too well with others. Some themes work very well, such as Esper’s artifact theme, but some themes do nothing are too hard to get to work, such as Naya’s 5 power theme. This is what I see as very messy design that does not work well in draft or sealed.

Actually, this works better in draft than in sealed. It’s possible to try to get these themes to work in Sealed, but they are not so possible in Sealed events, where almost everyone plays Naya. I have seen some Jund or 5 color decks in Shards of Alara sealed tournaments, but those are uncommon.

I heard that different design team made the cards for each shard. How long did it take them before they realized that Jund and Grixis had the same theme? And before they figured out that Esper would become too difficult to draft? It appears that there was a severe lack of communication.

How does Conflux change things?

In one way worth mentioning at this time: Conflux introduced some great cards for some themes and basically no cards for other themes. There were some great cards with exalted and unearth, but no great cards with devour. The artifact theme wasn’t improved much, but there are some decent artifact-friendly cards. The 5 power theme was greatly ignored and has become even less possible in draft.

Conflux also changed things in one way that I will discuss later: It started a new theme.

My next article will be posted on Friday 3-13-09.

Comments»

1. Gregtron - March 10, 2009

I’ve been absolutely dominating draft since Conflux came out by playing Naya, so I have to disagree with a good deal of your assessment. I’ve seen very few games in which I can’t get at least four 5/5 or bigger beasts on the board, which works even better when I’ve been picking Rockcaster Platoons, or the handful of cards that allow you to give big guys vigilance or first strike or whatever. Furthermore, the mana acceleration and fixing for RGW is the best in either set, so you don’t have to worry about drawing lands late-game. Not to mention that Naya has unparalleled removal power.

2. James - March 10, 2009

Gregtron,

Thank you for your comments.

Yes, the 5 power theme is possible to pull off but I think it is much harder to pull off than you are saying. It might just be the group you are in that makes it work. I’ve played in around three drafts every week and Shards of Alara is very unpredictable. I am undefeated with an awesome deck one day, then I get a terrible deck the next day. The same thing happens to many of my friends that are very good at draft.

I have a hard time believing you constantly get four 5/5 creatures in play at the same time. Of course, this is almost necessary to get the 5 power theme to work because it tends to be creatures with 5 power that give other 5 power creatures a bonus.

But how many creatures this big can you play with? It can be difficult to get 6 for a deck. Four of them would be getting at least half your big guys in play simultaneously. If you play with too many big creatures, chances are that you won’t draw acceleration and will have too slow of a hand.

Yes, the mana acceleration in Naya is the best in both sets. It’s great in Shards of Alara. What about Conflux? There is no mana acceleration in Conflux except for two cards that aren’t worth mentioning. A creature that costs RWG, which probably can’t be played until the fourth turn or after, and that RG sorcery that deals domain damage that also can’t be played until the fourth turn. The fourth turn is not timing for mana acceleration.

If this has nothing to do with the group you are in, then I would be forced to conclude that you are either a champion or that you’ve got lucky.

3. Lawrence - March 12, 2009

I have to agree with James here. I have had absolute dominate decks that should run the table and go 3-0 that for some reason seem to lose. I think that is due to the fact that you have to kind of lock yourself into certain shards that do not work well with certain colors. But I do agree with Gregtron on one point, the set is not very clunky just hard to pinpont and figure out.

4. James - March 12, 2009

Lawrence,

I personally think that the design is flawed for the fact that (a) some shards have advantages (work well with other shards), and (b) some shard abilities are too hard to get to work. You might not like my word “clunky,” but do you agree with either of these points?

5. Lawrence - March 12, 2009

I agree with your points, I just wouldn’t call the set “clunky”.