Reach into your Magic-playing memory and think back to drafting Battle for Zendikar a little over a year ago. Remember the sweet, all-in Awaken deck in that format? Neither do I. That’s because Awaken wasn’t designed as a mechanic to “go deep” on; having a few of them often made for some sweet value, especially if you managed to grab a Halimar Tidecaller, but you would never say you went deep on Awaken.
Now fast forward six months to Shadows over Innistrad. One of the first decks you ever drafted in that format was Black-Green Delirium, and boy was it sweet. Getting enough copies of Vessel of Nascency paired with lots of different card types rewarded you with powerful synergies and plays that were difficult to match when they came together. Even though plenty of Delirium cards were playable in their own right, the mechanic truly let you go deep.
Knowing whether a mechanic is worth going all-in on can be essential to evaluating its place in a format, and making the right drafting and deckbuilding choices. For example, are the enablers early picks or do they wind up in the dregs of the pack? When we draft Aether Revolt for the first few times in the coming weeks, we’ll be asking ourselves questions exactly like this about the set’s two new mechanics; Improvise and Revolt. If we think about what makes a mechanic worth going deep on in a general sense, we might be able to start answering those questions before we even play any games.
Signs that a Mechanic is Asking You to Go Deep
In general, when you’re going deep on a mechanic, you want to be able to commit a high volume of that mechanic to your main deck to produce something sweet. As a result, the following heuristics can help you guess whether a mechanic is a go-deep mechanic:
1. Cards with the mechanic get better when played together.
Cohort from Oath of the Gatewatch is a great example of this. What do cards with Cohort have in common? They’re Allies. What do cards with Cohort ask you to have? More Allies. You could draft a deck with a single Zada’s Commando with a single Makindi Aeronaut to enable it, and it would be fine, but it was much tastier to slam together a bunch of allies that all helped each other out.
You can clearly see the difference between Cohort and a mechanic like Renown. In Magic: Origins, there wasn’t too much incentive to play Renown cards together, other than the fact that they all were at their best in aggressive decks. But then, you’re Green-White Beatdown, not Green-White Renown.
2. Cards with the mechanic want the same support cards.
If you pick up an early Lashweed Lurker in an Eldritch Moon draft, you’ll be happy to follow it up with an Exultant Cultist down the line for an extremely powerful curve. Next pack, Wretched Gryff joins the team as another Emerge card that goes extremely well with the Cultist, not to mention the Byway Courier you end up grabbing in Pack 3. The fact that Emerge cards are all at their strongest when paired with the same enablers makes it really easy to build an Emerge deck.
3. The mechanic has sufficient presence in at least two colors.
Limited decks are generally two colors, so any mechanic that wants you to go deep needs to be available in sufficient numbers in at least one color pair. In an alternate universe, there could have been a sweet Spell Mastery deck in Magic: Origins, but there wasn’t. One of the reasons for that was that the already underrepresented mechanic was spread out across all five colors, with only one common and one uncommon in each color donning the mechanic. If Spell Mastery were focused into a smaller portion of the color pie, like Ravnica’s guild mechanics, or even just given more presence in each color like Energy in Kaladesh, it would have stood a better chance at having dedicated limited decks built around it.
Going Deep on Improvise
Does Improvise have what it takes to be a go-deep mechanic? Let’s take a look.
1. Do cards with Improvise get better when played together?
Not really, outside of the few Improvise cards that are artifacts themselves, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where you have a few Foundry Assembler discounting each other by any meaningful amount of mana.
2. Do cards with Improvise want the same support cards?
You bet they do! I discussed in my article last week that Aether Revolt has a lot of cheap artifacts that are really good at making Improvise cards cheaper. It’s not too difficult to go multiple turns in a row slamming Improvise threats at a discount thanks to a bevy of servos and Puzzleknots in the format.
3. Does Improvise have sufficient presence in at least two colors?
Improvise is featured mostly in blue, then black and red. Each of those colors, plus colorless, features multiple playable Improvise cards below rare, so it is very possible to assemble a sizable squad in blue-black or blue-red.
Most cards with Improvise are playable-to-good on their own, so you don’t need to go deep on the mechanic. But when you do and everything works out, you’ve got a powerful deck on your hands.
Going Deep on Revolt
Should you try to go deep on Revolt, or is it strictly a value mechanic? Let’s find out, shall we?
1. Do cards with Revolt get better when played together?
Once Revolt is triggered, you don’t need to play another card with Revolt to trigger it again. As a result, just like Improvise, there’s not much direct synergy in this department. Leave that to the flagship mechanic of the block, Energy, because you can never have enough Energy sources.
2. Do cards with Revolt want the same support cards?
Between Implements, sacrifice outlets, flicker effects, go-wide cards, and bounce spells, I’d say the answer is a resounding yes.
3. Does Revolt have sufficient presence in at least two colors?
Revolt appears mostly in white and green, with a touch in black. It looks like there will be two kinds of Revolt decks in this format. White-Green will bring the beats, while White-Black is prepared to grind out the long game. Both archetypes appear to have some excellent Revolt cards to reward their leaves-the-battlefield efforts, and it looks like each of them will allow you to go deep on the mechanic. White-Black Revolt, as the slower deck, will likely present more opportunities for tasty synergies than its beefier brother.
Both Improvise and Revolt are sweet mechanics. I had a lot of fun with them at the prerelease, and I can’t wait to explore them more. Which mechanic are you more excited to go deep on?
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