In my last article, I proposed a new way to evaluate card power in Limited: by comparing the win rate of decks containing a given card in games when it was drawn and when it wasn’t. It’s a very telling measure of card strength because it quantifies, given a large enough sample, the impact a card has on deck performance, eliminating a lot of biases from this measure. But this method is not, by any means, flawless. One of the biggest failures of looking at a power of a card across multiple archetypes is cards are not equally powerful in each color combination.
Quite the contrary, some cards are strong specifically in a particular game plan, often reserved to only one of the color pairs present in the format, while weak in other plan. From content creators, you’ll often hear something along the lines of “this a card is green, but in reality, it’s a secret Gruul card,” meaning it does so much better in red-green than in the other color combinations that you really only want to play it there. This means that the card benefits from or contributes to synergies that make a Gruul deck in this format strong.
Understanding synergy in context of a set is a key element of becoming a successful Limited player. If you know which cards fit in an archetype, you will, more often than not, understand what is the optimal gameplay for each archetype, what is its underlying plan. I have struggled with many formats because my vision of what a deck should do was not correct in the context of the set. In fact, thanks to an inspiring article by Ben Werne AKA Mister Metronome, I spent a lot of time analyzing card combinations in each color pair to try find that elusive recipe for each archetype and, although I didn’t always succeed, my win rates and my confidence in navigating the draft greatly increased by doing so.
Analyzing Kaladesh Remastered
But can we use data in that process? Let’s hope so. Today I’m going to try to expand the evaluation technique from my previous article and try to capture more of the synergistic interactions between the cards and give context about them in Kaladesh Remastered environment. To do so I will use… exactly the same metric as last time, but this time each card will be evaluated not in the pool of all decks containing it, but only in two color combinations of colors.
Let’s look at a concrete example with Reckless Fireweaver – a card that requires artifact synergies in your deck. Instead of looking at how it performs in all decks that contain it, I will look at its performance in Boros, Rakdos, Gruul and Izzet separately and by doing so, we can get to more refined conclusions. Looking at it in context of all decks we could conclude that this is a middling card, but with the focused archetype specific look we can get much more information. Fireweaver is relatively bad in Gruul: if you draw it in your match your win rate drops by 4.5 percentage points (pps) compared to the games when you don’t draw it. The same card is middling in Boros and Rakdos (losing you 1 pp, which is within the realm of no real difference), but it does really good in Izzet – games when you draw it have 6 pps higher win rate than when you don’t.
With the knowledge of how I measure card quality, let’s look at all 10 color pairs in Kaladesh Remastered, ordered from the weakest color combination to strongest. Since KLR is splashing friendly, I did include decks with up to three cards in other colors. I only measured cards where at least 200 games were available and all the data comes from Best of One drafts. I will describe the character of each archetype as seen in the data, give top commons, top uncommon, archetype stars (cards that have very high pps gain only in this archetype, not in others) and selected cards that are bad, but not necessarily obvious. Then I will give a brief description of the findings.
Average win rate: 50.0%
Deck Characteristics: Artifacts, blocking on the ground, removal and evasive threats for the kill.
Archetype Stars: Workshop Assistant, Foundry Inspector (11.3 pps), Servo Schematic (11.2 pps), Leave in the Dust (11.2 pps), Prakhata Pillar-Bug (8.4 pps), Universal Solvent (7.6 pps), Live Fast (7.3 pps), Thriving Turtle (6.7 pps), Padeem, Consul of Innovation (6 pps), Aether Tradewinds (6 pps), Shrewd Negotiation (5.8 pps)
Dimir is one of the most unique archetypes when looking at the cards that are good in it. It’s very different from all the other color combinations, and that is why it has the highest number of Archetype Stars. It utilizes successfully cards that are meh-to-bad in other archetypes. Take Workshop Assistant for example. The card is not played in most archetypes, so we only have data from Dimir, Orzhov (+3 pps), Izzet (-9.7 pps) and Rakdos (a whooping -17.3 pps). It’s actively very bad in two of the other archetypes that play it and middling in one, while in Dimir it shines, making it into top five commons.
This sets the tone for how you want to play Dimir. You want to have cards that improve your artifacts: the best card in the whole archetype is Marionette Master (+22.3 pps), with Glint-Nest Crane, Foundry Inspector, Chief of the Foundry, Tezzeret’s Touch and Contraband Kingpin being very high. Your win plan should be either dropping an early large threat (Gearseeker Serpent, Tezzeret’s Touch, Untethered Express) or play a longer attrition game with a good ground defense (Aether Poisoner, Gifted Aetherborn, Prakhata Pillar-Bug or Thriving Turtle) and chip damage in with small flyers (Glint-Nest Crane, Aether Swooper, Hinterland Drake, or in a perfect world, Sky Skiff with Night Market Lookout to crew it).
Your plan relies on accruing small value. This is why tempo cards like Baral’s Expertise and Select for Inspection do poorly – they don’t gain you extra resources and your deck gives your opponent time to simply replay the bounced creatures. On the other hand, Leave in the Dust and Aether Tradewinds, which draw a card and help you reuse an ETB trigger, shine. Biggest pro of playing Dimir is gaining access to less desired cards that are powerful in your deck while the biggest drawback is that it’s very uncommon dependent, so you really need to make sure the pair is open as there is likely space for only one Dimir player at the pod.
Average win rate: 52.2%
Deck Characterstics: Five color good cards, energy synergies,
Archetype Stars: Minister of Inquiries (14 pps), Wildest Dreams* (13.4 pps), Dynavolt Tower* (12.3 pps), Aether Hub (11.2 pps), Appetite for the Unnatural, Select for Inspection, Reservoir Walker (5.0 pps)
You may have noticed that both the top common and the top uncommon for Simic are red cards, which is the most telling characteristic of this color combination. Simic is blue-green by name only and its real identity is energy five color good stuff, with energy being the key to its ability to splash. Looking at the ways of getting mana of all colors in this archetype, Aether Hub seems to be a clear winner. A plethora of ways to make energy combined with relative poverty of the ways to spend it make it almost a free five color land you should have no problem with drafting. Simic will also be quite happy with Attune with Aether, Prophetic Prism and even Servant of the Conduit to fulfil its desire to splash. Counterintuitively though, adding a Renegade Map or Unbridled Growth seems to reduce your performance.
Simic will try to collect all the UG staples, back it up with quality fixing and then prey on the underpicked multicolored cards from packs two and three to get quality high value drops from other archetypes. It’s not unbelievable to think that in pack three, if there is no UR or UW player in the pod, you can get a very late Cloudblazer, Maverick Thopterist or Whirler Virtuoso. In a set with 10 signpost uncommons, the possibilities to get some off-color value are abundant. It seems in a way similar to mono colored decks from Throne of Eldraine, which could benefit from playing all four of the hybrid mana uncommons from their color rather than only one available to a two color deck. Although there is not enough data for it, UG can surely opportunistically get some good rare/mythic bombs from later packs as well. With great cards in decks the ability to rebuy them is a good thing, so a card like Wildest Dreams gains in value (asterisked in the Archetype Stars section as it is the only color-pair where we got sufficient sample size).
Aside from splashing, you can run an energy plan as well. This can be just a Aether Swooper, Minister of Inquiries (which only performed great in this color pair), Whirler Virtuoso or a Dynavolt Tower. Efficient use and generation of energy is your way to out-resource the opponent, which why even a card that’s not great in any other archetype, like the Reservoir Walker, finds a home here.
The cons of Simic is the combination of colors is heavily contested, and you rely on powerful uncommons and rares. The pro is, as a potential five color deck, you have access to a card pool beyond your two main colors that you often should utilize.
Average win rate: 52.7%
Deck Characteristics: Large creatures supplemented with counter synergies.
Golgari seems to want to curve out into large creatures and make them even bigger with +1/+1 counter synergy while getting rid of annoying blockers in the late game. This deck seems to be a very good place for vehicles, with Bomat Bazaar Barge, Untethered Express, Sky Skiff and Daredevil Dragster posting good numbers. Irontread Crusher and Ballista Charger showed very promising results as well, even though they did not pass the game limit I set to be included in the data. Importantly, there seem to be threes types of decks in terms of vehicles – ones that don’t want them, ones that want only vehicles that crew for 1 and ones that want any vehicles, with GB falling firmly into this last category.
Peema Aether-Seer is a card that doesn’t get picked aggressively but does a fine job here, so you might want to be on the lookout for late picks if you’re in GB. Being bigger on board and picking off blockers lets you subvert the biggest problem of the deck – running out of steam. This might be the reason for such large impact Bomat Bazaar Barge has in this archetype. Another card that looks good in GB is the Aetherborn Marauder – a card that can soak up incidental +1/+1 counters you accrued over the game and turning them into a fast clock.
Golgari’s pros are that it’s just bigger than other decks and using a combination of cheap removal and combat tricks can let you race your opponent effectively, even when they had a faster start off the blocks. The cons seem to be lack of ability to draw cards later in the game, making resource management an important aspect.
Average win rate – 53.2%
Deck Characteristics: Value package exploiting Revolt mechanic and artifact synergies
Archetype Stars: Sram, Senior Edificer (16.2 pps), Fumigate (13.9 pps), Alley Evasion (7.8 pps), Conviction (6.9 pps), Renegade Map (6.6 pps), Maulfist Squad (5.9 pps), Night Market Aeronaut (5.7 pps),
Bad Cards: Barricade Breaker (-14.0 pps), Live Fast (-8.7 pps), Mobile Garrison (-7.9 pps), Embraal Bruiser (-5.5 pps), Fragmentize (-5.3 pps), Filigree Familiar (-4.6 pps), Prakhata Pillar-Bug (-4.1 pps)
Orzhov is true to its mechanic in the set, looking to trigger revolt. All the revolt on color-cards in the set have positive impact on the deck, with some like Vengeful Rebel posting over 10 pps increases in win rate and others, like Night Market Aeronaut, being good only in this color combination. More importantly, the cheap ways of activating revolt without the need of a benevolent opponent blocking a suspiciously suicidal Servo token are also essential. Alley Evasion and Conviction turn revolt on for a single white mana, with Alley Evasion letting you also reuse cards like Vengeful Rebel. For one extra mana you can do the same while gaining a 2/2 body with Aviary Mechanic, which is also at its best in Orzhov. WB is also the only color combination where Renegade Map has a positive win rate impact (6.6 pps) as well. Mind that since the Map usually replaces a land, even low results in other combination do not mean it’s a bad card, but certainly it being actively good in WB means you better stock up on it when you draft Orzhov.
In yet another combination, getting several Self-Assemblers is backbreaking for the opponent, especially when it fills a niche the color combination has issues with (large creatures and card draw). Apart from that we’re looking at some sort of grindy aggro, with your creatures blocking on the ground and damage being dealt via crewing vehicles with the Night Market Lookouts (WB wants most vehicles) or in the air with quality fliers like Aetherborn Marauder, Night Market Aeronaut, Aerial Responder or Airdrop Aeronauts.
Orzhov has also some overlap with Dimir artifact archetype, being the only combination where Fen Hauler looks promising. Even though it is not powerful in terms of card draw, with Hidden Stockpile it can outgrind opponent with card selection or, since you want to play as many Maps as you can, you can borrow some quality card draw from neighboring colors (I’m looking at you Cloudblazer). The deck rounds itself out with a plethora of quality removal spells.
Pros of Orzhov is that you should have little problems with getting revolt enablers and at least some payoff should be easy to get. The deck can use a wide range of lower priority commons so you should be able to draft a good skeleton of the deck quite reliably. The cons are that you’re dependent on the higher rarity payoffs like Vengeful Rebel or Hidden Stockpile, so you need to make sure you already have some of those when you decide to go all in on WB strategy. Maybe some decent cards in the early draft paired with a late pack one signpost uncommon should be strong stimuli to decide on Orzhov.
Average win rate – 53.3%
Deck Characteristics: Big fliers supported with artifacts; removal bad in other decks gives you the key tempo advantage
Archetype Stars: Wispweaver Angel, Aeronaut Admiral (10 pps), Era of Innovation (9.3 pps), Airdrop Aeronauts (8.2 pps), Countless Gears Renegade (6.5 pps), Impeccable Timing (6.4 pps), Malfunction (5.2 pps), Consulate Skygate (4.2 pps)
A good Azorius deck seems to be yet another fliers and artifacts deck. Unlike its grindy UB counterpart though, this one wants to race and seal the game quicker. Key cards are flying creatures – Aerial Responder, Wispweaver Angel, Dawnfeather Eagle, Airdrop Aeronouts and Aether Swooper all let you attack in the air while gaining some sort of tempo advantage, either by gaining life or by leaving some blockers back. Worth noting is that it’s the only deck where Aeronaut Admiral is good and the only deck where Mobile Garrison is not actively bad. Generally, your game plan is to build an air force while clogging the ground with chump blockers.
Some cards that do bad in this archetype are surprising: Pacification Array most likely doesn’t do well here because your four to six mana flyers do not leave enough mana behind to use it effectively and Untethered Express doing poorly is a testament to the game plan of attacking in the air. You want to make sure you’re not dying to a fast opponent, so early defensive drops like Fairgrounds Warden and even Eager Construct with cheap removal like Impeccable Timing do well while easy-to-draft enchantments like Malfunction and Revoke Privileges deal with larger threats. Enchantment removal is way better here as you plan to close the game faster than, for example, Dimir, which makes their drawbacks less punishing.
Pros of UW include the wide range of evasive creatures able to fill your curve, ranging from two drops like the Aether Swooper and Skyship Plunderer up to curve-topping cards like Wispweaver Angel. The biggest drawback is that if you want to make a successful Azorius deck, you need to make sure you get a streamlined version that’s dedicated to the tempo race plan. Cards that do not fit the plan will lower your win rate significantly
Average win rate – 54.2%
Deck Characteristics: Go tall or go wide, depending on the pool, draining resources by forcing unfavorable blocks
Archetype Stars: Thopter Arrest (11pps), Armorcraft Judge (10.9 pps), Maulfist Revolutionary (9.6 pps), Aether Inspector, Master Trinketeer (7.9 pps), Riparian Tiger, Kujar Seedsculptor (5.4 pps), Wild Wanderer (5.3 pps), Herald of the Fair (5.2 pps), Hunt the Weak (4.6 pps)
Bad Cards: Restoration Specialist (-16.9 pps), Mobile Garrison (-15.8 pps), Peema Aether-Seer (-10.4 pps), Aeronaut Admiral (-9.8 pps), Irontread Crusher (-8.4 pps), Narnam Cobra (-8.4 pps), Aviary Mechanic (-7.8 pps), Revoke Privileges (-6 pps) Monstrous Onslaught (-5.1 pps)
Selesnya is the dual nature deck: you can either go with big creatures or go wide and with some +1/+1 counter synergies. Large aggressive threats excel here: bring in your Riparian Tigers, Ridgescale Tuskers, Untethered Expresses, even a Bastion Mastodon will find a friendly home here, although they’re often unable to close the game by themselves. Maulfist Revolutionary, Kujar Seedsculptor, Hunt the Weak and Tusker will give your team a boost while Engineered Might either turns one of your threats into a much bigger, trampling one or makes sure your whole team gets bigger if you have a wider board. Even Highspire Infusion does really well here.
Looking at the best performing cards, one key factor that makes a good Selesnya deck is card draw. It can’t be a coincidence that Self-Assembler, Daredevil Dragster, Cloudblazer and Armorcraft Judge are so high. Selesnya can run out of resources and these cards ensure it doesn’t. As usual, splashing in green is relatively easy so feel free to do so, especially that given some revolt synergies, like Unbridled Growth, fix your mana as well. Sacrificing Unbridled Growth for a card and to get extra value from your Lifecraft Cavalry or an extra card from Renegade Rallier are nice ways to make it work, while costing one mana doesn’t disrupt your tempo as much as Prophetic Prism does. It’s also a good place to run Wild Wanderer, setting you up for a splash or to double spell on turn five.
The biggest pro of GW is the creature size (see the pun there?). When it comes together, Selesnya can spit out an onslaught of large creatures, forcing your opponent to double spell and waste resources on dealing with your threats rather than killing you. You can have chunky ground creatures but white gives you also some potent flyers to finish the game. The cons are relatively poor multicolor cards in this pair (on positive note, they’re likely to wheel) and problems with removal and card draw. This deck will also struggle with mana screw more than some other decks, so be sure to design a generous mana base.
Average win rate – 54.6%
Deck Characteristics: Hyper aggressive deck with no plan B
Bad Cards: Workshop Assistant (-17.3 pps), Midnight Oil (-16.5 pps), Marionette Master (-14.1 pps), Embraal Bruiser (-13 pps), Self-Assembler (-11.3 pps), Bomat Bazaar Barge (-8.9 pps), Enraged Giant (-5.8 pps)
As you may have noticed, I ordered the archetypes from the lowest win rate to highest. This is the seventh one and the first one that has red. Red being a part of all of the top four archetypes is a delicate hint on what should you be trying to draft in KLR Best of One in general. This is not necessarily caused by red being the most powerful color in KLR in general, but rather the color being best aligned with the Best of One gameplay. You can see it in Rakdos, an archetype that wants to be really aggressive. The top commons are aggressive creatures and cards that help you stay ahead in the mid game or help close up the game. This is the color combination that looks like a predator of slow starts. You can easily curve out from turn one and ruthlessly burn all the blockers trying to get opponents as low on life as possible as early as possible, limiting their options in the late game.
The deck gains advantage from cards that can stretch your mana to get in those last few points of damage as you start running out of steam, with Ovalchase Dragster, Aethertorch Renegade and Hijack springing to mind. Think of it like the Limited equivalent of mono red in Standard. In fact, the top cards in this archetype are the staples of Kaladesh-era Standard mono red: Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, Pia Nalaar and Bomat Courier all excel, if you’re lucky enough to get those.
The pros of this deck is that cards that are key to your plan are plentiful because since you’re in black and red, you should be able to get a decent amount of removal. The con is the low count of very good aggressive creatures, which you’ll need to prioritize if you want to draft a successful version. Silver lining there is that any 2/2 two drop will do if you can remove the key blockers.
Average win rate – 55.8%
Deck Characteristics: Go wide with Thopters and Servos, a grindier strategy benefiting from improvise synergies
Izzet in KLR is far off the usual spells-matter theme. This time we’re looking at going wide with small artifact creatures backed up with a larger improvise theme. You can see a clear pattern of best cards: Aether Swooper and Chaser, Cogworker’s Puzzleknot (which is good even if it’s off-color), Thopterist, Virtuoso and Whirlermaker all create small artifact creatures. These combine with payoffs like Reckless Fireweaver, which can deal substantial amounts of damage, Merchant’s Dockhand, which can provide card selection and Enraged Giant and Gearseeker Serpent for larger bodies and explosive turns.
What seems to be bad in the deck are bounce spells. Since you’re on the slower side and your creatures, due to their size, will rarely be double blocked, you gain little from bouncing your opponent’s creatures. On the other hand, most Vehicles are good, providing you with sizable blockers that can turn sideways and help with the artifact synergies.
This deck needs a very open lane to be successful, but when it does it looks quite formidable. Going wide in the air is something few decks can realistically cope with. The presence of good card draw makes sure you rarely run out of steam and there are several good mana sinks you can start using when you draw multiple lands. The cons are problems dealing with large trampling threats – your army of 1/1’s are great chump blockers but a 6/6 with trample can wreak havoc, and generally you don’t have great removal for it unless you went wide enough and Welding Sparks turns into unconditional removal. Another con is the spashability of your uncommons, meaning you might you may have problems wheeling them even if you’re the only UR player in the pod.
Average win rate – 57.0%
Deck Characteristics: SMASH!
Gruul, unsurprisingly, wants to smash. First important conclusion from the data is that there are not a lot of cards that significantly overperform. This means that RG is a pretty balanced combination and cards that underperform will tell you more than the overperformers. That being said, the best cards in the archetype are chunky creatures and cheap tricks that let them survive in combat, a typical trait for Gruul in recent sets. Even an early drop, like Kujar Seedsculptor, can make your large threats just a bit harder to kill later in the game.
But what seems to work bad in RG? Surprisingly to me, the cheap red improvise/artifact synergy package looks relatively poor. Inventor’s Apprentice, Kari Zev, even Sweatworks Brawler look slightly subpar. The energy cards also look relatively bad. Take Attune with Aether, which is good in most green decks but here underperforms here. It may be because Gruul wants to tap out every turn, and as great as Attune is on turn one, later in the game it can slow you down if you need to play it as a tapped land. The only good energy cards are Aether Chaser, Servant of the Conduit and Voltaic Brawler, which are good aggressive early drops, and Scrapper Champion, which is a potent chunky threat that, if timed well, can quickly run away with the game. Most Vehicles are also subpar, as you have large enough creatures without the need to crew and few small enough creatures to advantageously crew your Vehicles.
The advantage Gruul has over other archetypes so far seems like, as long as you draft solid cards, you should be okay. The archetype is intrinsically strong in Best of One and there are few cards that underperform but that may be down to how you build your decks. The cons? Main elements of RG plan are green and green is pretty heavily contested on Arena.
Average win rate – 57.2%
Deck Characteristics: Go wide aggro with mass pump effects to generate explosive turns
Time flies when you read numeric analysis of Magic cards, but here we are – the highest win rate archetype in KLR Best of One, Boros. It’s not easy to improve the win rate of Boros decks, as it’s already high, but some cards manage. Unfortunately, most of the impressive ones are rares, like Aethersphere Harvester or Quicksmith Rebel. There are some lower rarity cards that do well, like Chief of the Foundry. Since Metallic Mimic and Sram’s Expertise also do pretty well, it looks like red wants to go wide with Servos and convert them into valid threat. You can supplement your Servo strategy with some Cogworker’s Puzzleknots, Aether Chargers and boost them with Dawnfeather Eagles and Inspired Charges. Such setup makes RW a natural home for crew 1 Vehicles, but bigger, crew 3 ones also do really well. Servo generators like Propeller Pioneer and Glint-Sleeve Artisan are excellent common ways to go wide in this archetype as well. Another interesting card synergising with the Servos is Ravenous Intruder. In the late game, it can threaten lethal damage and turn Servos into removal, even if your opponent has a developed board that makes 1/1’s less useful.
Since you frequently want to win by one big attack with Eagle or Charge, removing small blockers is key. That’s why Furious Reprisal does well here. Other cards that deal with smaller creatures favorably also work well, with Chandra’s Pyrohelix and Ballista Charger being the prime examples of that. A small surprise to me was the high position of Precise Strike. In a color combination with Built to Last and Built to Smash (both which are perfectly serviceable), I expected them to do better, but it turns out the flexibility of the Strike can work wonders. It does a particularly good job at dealing with the first strike creatures and this may be the reason of its success.
Boros’s biggest pro is the streamlined nature of white in KLR. Most cards fit the deck plan which fits the more aggressive nature of Best of One games. The drawbacks are few and far between, but you have to keep in mind that if you’re not aggressive enough, large creatures can just sweep through your board of 1/1’s with relative ease. Mass pump effects ameliorate this issue as the opponent will better play around those if they don’t want to die from a carefully positioned Eagle or Charge.
This concludes the archetype summary. Remember that data-driven Magic is still very much in its infancy and the measures proposed here are not foolproof. For example, the synergies I mentioned may be split across multiple decks with slightly different plans. The artifact version of UB may be a totally different deck from the one that relies on fliers. But nonetheless, by looking at plans available and their success you can position yourself better in your drafts and maybe pick on some of the underdrafted cards that you would normally not think of playing.
The curated data used in this analysis can be found on here, so you can explore the results beyond the summary found in this article.