Superior Numbers – Taking Your Deck from Alpha to Revised

Brainstorming

Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I try to do numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using a little bit of math.

We talk a lot about deck brewing in the content creation community. Entire articles, podcasts, YouTube channels, and Twitch streams might do nothing else but brew up a new list for the entire episode. They might also talk about making swaps for whatever new piece of hot cardboard gets released in the current biweekly expansion. X card is an upgrade over Y, etc.

What doesn’t really get talked about as much is what happens once you play that new brew. That spot where the deck is technically working, but not quite to the point of stability, where you’d struggle to find room for that newest card. Those formative weeks when you sand down the rough edges are really important, transforming a deck from something that feels good in theory to something that works right in reality.

So, to analyze this a little more, I decided to log those formative weeks.

I’ve been tinkering with building an Equipment deck for years, ever since I tried a Kemba, Kha Regent list back during the time of the original Theros block. I didn’t keep the deck together, but I kept the parts, like the Swords of Kick and Butt, the Stoneforge Mystic, and the Puresteel Paladin. A few years back, I briefly gave Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts a try, since her protection made her quite potent at holding weapons, but even just recasting her once was miserable, so I dismantled the deck.

The itch was still there, though.

The recent deluge of Boros Equipment commanders rekindled my spark to brew an Equipment list, though I knew I didn’t want to do it in Boros colors. After messing around a bit, I settled on trying Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist and Esior, Wardwing Familar. Ardenn was an obvious choice in the zone, always providing a way to bypass Equip costs, because rebuilding after a setback – especially reattaching Equipment – is one of the most brutal parts of an Equipment deck. Finding a Partner was trickier. I eventually settled on Esior. Evasion and the low mana cost made abilities like haste and trample less necessary when suited up, and the pseudo-Ward ability protected both the owl and Ardenn early on, making things like Lighting Greaves almost unnecessary.


Limited Edition Alpha

With the commanders chosen, here’s where the list began:

Ardenn/Esior: Suit Up Alpha Edition

Commander (2)
Creatures (13)
Artifacts (28)
Instants (11)
Sorceries (7)
Enchantments (3)
Lands (36)

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Game 1 Observations

  • I want more card draw. I mean, I generally always want more draw, but here, I not only wanted it, but also felt like I needed it. Dropping a Puresteel Paladin helped, but that only draws off Equipment, which means it only generates a draw trigger off 17 cards in the deck, and that’s why I pulled Sram, Senior Edificer during brewing. The question becomes, do I try to play this like an Enchantress deck, or just run a typical suite of draw spells?
  • The timing on Echo Storm wasn’t quite right, but I can see how it’s going to be a bomb in a lot of situations. It just accidentally makes three copies of stuff like Sword of War and Peace.
  • I already knew Sevinne’s Reclamation was good, but the ability to bring back every Equipment but Batterskull and Hammer of Nazahn is really helpful, and it also returns a handful of useful creatures. Hammer probably isn’t sticking around long-term, either.

Changelog

  • Added Shimmer Dragon, removed Heavenly Blademaster: I’m losing one more way to Equip a win-con for free, and double strike and evasion is nice, but I have a handful of other ways to Equip for no mana, including one in the zone that’s cheap to recast. Shimmer Dragon doesn’t Equip for free, but it does have evasion and protection if I need to suit it up, and the ability to tap any Equipment or mana rocks to draw cards feels pretty beneficial.
  • Added Vedalken Archmage, removed Taj-Nar Swordsmith: Swordsmith really isn’t worth casting unless it can tutor, which means seven mana for a Sword. Yeah, I can spend five mana to get Colossus Hammer, but long term, I think drawing off of 1/3 of my spells has more upside. And honestly, tutors are boring for me anyway.
  • Added Sword of Fire and Ice, removed Hammer of Nazahn: The free Equip isn’t a big deal, and ‘protection from X and Y’ makes the Equipped creature semi-indestructible anyway if it prevents a removal spell from being cast in the first place. Plus, it adds evasion. Most importantly, there’s baked-in draw here. Not sure why I wasn’t running it previously, if I’m honest. I think it was just an oversight.
  • Added Reverse Engineer, removed Teferi’s Veil: This one was the hardest. Teferi’s Veil phases out the attacking creature and everything attached to it, which protects them from removal. Protecting half a dozen pieces of Equipment seems useful in theory, but since I never got to use it, I’m not sure if that’s true. Plus, I do have things like Padeem, Consul of Innovation and Bronze Guardian for protection. It feels like the least useful piece though, and Reverse Engineer is really good in a deck where I can tap Equipment, making it just UU to draw three cards.

Limited Edition Beta

July 19

Game 2 Observations

In both this game and the previous one, I found myself in a late-game position where, after a board wipe, I could cast Ardenn, Equip something for free, and swing for lethal… but I didn’t have any haste enablers. I think the work-around here might be creature lands. Drop them early, then later on when I need to one-shot someone after a board wipe, I can just activate a Celestial Colonade or Inkmoth Nexus, load it up with Equipment for free with Ardenn or another of the free Equip enablers, and swing for the game.

Changelog

  • Added Celestial Colonnade, removed Kor Haven: I needed to cut something, and this doesn’t feel like a slow, defensive deck that would use Kor Haven.
  • Added Inkmoth Nexus, removed Ghost Quarter: I still have two land removal lands, plus a Generous Gift to deal with problematic real estate. I’d prefer having three, but I’ll survive.
  • Added Blinkmoth Nexus, removed Island: When in doubt, cut a basic. Not really, but that’s what I’m doing anyway.
  • Added Faerie Conclave, removed Plains: See above.
  • Added Cave of the Frost Dragon, removed Buried Ruin: Cave, along with Colonnade, are the ones I’m least sold on. Both ETB tapped and cost a good bit of mana to activate, which doesn’t leave much room to also recast Ardenn in the same turn. I can see myself cutting these eventually, but I want to test them.

July 21

Game 3 Observations

The creature lands idea worked quite nicely. I suited up both a Faerie Conclave and Blinkmoth Nexus at varying times to good success. However, I remain convinced that the activation cost on Celestial Colonnade and Cave of the Frost Dragon prevents them from playing the way I would have liked.

Shimmer Dragon felt good, even when I had it out at fairly lousy times, with only two pieces of Equipment. It will shine in the right situation. That said, I still felt like I needed more draw sources. I have Chart a Course, Reverse Engineer, Thought Monitor, Thoughtcast, and Winged Words for straight spell-based draw effects; Armored Skyhunter, Emry, Lurker of the Loch and Sevinne’s Reclamation as bonus card advantage; Mask of Memory and Sword of Fire and Ice for Equipment-based draw triggers; and Padeem, Consul of Innovation, Puresteel Paladin, Shimmer Dragon, and Vedalken Archmage as triggered draw. Plus there’s a War Room for quick draw on a land. That should be enough, but I still just felt starved.

Echo Storm continues to be a bomb. I made three copies of Batterskull in one game, and three copies of an opponent’s Angel of the Ruins in another. I’m now strongly considering adding Masterful Replication to transform all my stuff into the best Equipment in play before suiting up for an alpha strike.

Changelog

  • Added Leonin Abunas, removed Danitha Capashen: Protecting Equipment seems more useful than having one more way to make them cheaper. Danitha is a great attacker, though, in addition to making things cheaper to cast, so I could see her rotating back into the deck at some point.
  • Added Sword of Vengeance, removed Soul-Guide Lantern: Ugh, this feels bad. I love Lantern, and hate to have my only source of graveyard hate be a lone Scavenger Grounds. Still, with trample and haste and a gazillion other keywords, Sword just helps kill people.
  • Added Conqueror’s Flail, removed Shadowspear: Shadowspear is a great card that never felt impactful.
  • Added Counterspell, removed Arcane Denial: I run Denial in two other decks where it’s challenging to spend blue mana on my turn while also needing to keep up two blue mana for a Counterspell, so I just defaulted to using Denial here as well. In this deck, however, keeping up blue mana doesn’t seem to be a problem in my games so far, so I’m trying the OG.

Unlimited Edition

July 23

Game 4 Observations

I know Stoneforge Mystic is a great card in other formats, but it’s been super medium here. Tutors are boring, but the problem is that it doesn’t do much beyond tutoring. Yeah, I can save 1-2 mana by using its ability to cheat Equipment into play, but a lot of the Equipment is really cheap already, and the pseudo-flash portion of that effect is way less useful when you just want to slam things into play for Ardenn to auto-attach. Short of tutoring with the Mystic and then blinking it with Sword of Hearth and Home, it’s kinda functioned like a bad Steelshaper’s Gift. The interaction with Sword of Hearth and Home is great, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel particularly interesting. It’s staying in for now, I’ve just got my eye on it.

Echo Storm worked well again, so much so that I definitely want to test Masterful Replication now.

At four mana, I find that I don’t really cast Crush Contraband as an instant very often in any deck, but especially here. Dismantling Wave removes one more thing for one less mana. I lose the possibility of instant speed, and lose exile, but I’m hoping the added value makes up for it.

Changelog

  • Added Dismantling Wave, removed Crush Contraband: I can’t imagine I’ll ever be Cycling this, but if I almost never cast Crush as an instant anyway, then Wave is cheaper and hits more stuff.
  • Added Masterful Replication, removed Armored Skyhunter: I know I said I wanted more draw, but I also want ways to end games.
  • Added Liquimetal Torque, removed Everflowing Chalice: I’m wondering if the ability to occasionally turn something into an artifact to help pump up a Nettlecyst is worth swapping out Everflowing Chalice, which I usually play as a two-mana rock, but can also sometimes be cast for six mana late game. Tough toss-up, but Torque piques interest because in a pinch, I can also use it to turn my commanders into artifacts, which will protect them if I have cards like Leonin Abunas in play.

Revised Edition

July 27

Game 5 and 6 Observations

Ugh, Shimmer Dragon is disgusting. Just disgusting. It felt like cheating when I was just tapping swords to draw cards, but tapping Treasures too? This card is bonkers.

Masterful Replication is equally nasty. I turned a dozen Treasures and another half-dozen artifact lands and mana rocks into copies of Sword of Fire and Ice, which I then Equipped with Ardenn for free, letting me blow someone apart with the swing while also doming a second player with all the Sword’s damage triggers, and drawing 18 cards.

Still haven’t seen Leonin Abunas or Padeem, Consul of Innovation yet, but Indomitable Archangel has twice kept my board safe, while also serving as a backup Equipment carrier.

The vigilance granted by Sword of Vengeance was welcome since it leaves a blocker up that almost always has protection from a couple of colors. Batterskull also adds vigilance, as does a flipped Halvar, God of Battle. It’s really nice whenever I hit one of those, but that’s probably enough vigilance sources.

Celestial Colonnade and Cave of the Frost Dragon continue to feel too expensive to activate and use the way I want, enough so that they’re coming out.

I’m going to give Vanish into Memory a go here. Vanish’s draw effect tracks the creature’s last known power on the battlefield, so I could net a lot of cards when exiling an Equipped creature, without prompting tons of discard when it returns to play. There are enough times late game where it doesn’t really matter who is wearing the swords, so blinking out a 12-power Esior to draw 12 cards, then just letting Ardenn Equip something else, seems pretty great. Plus, on occasion, Vanish can draw a pile of cards off of an enemy creature that’s covered in +1/+1 counters or Auras.

Changelog


August 3

Game 7 and 8 Observations

“Before the end of your turn, Vanish into Memory, draw 16?” was a phrase I got to utter, so that card’s staying in. For the first time, I don’t have any changes. I think we’ve reached the Revised Edition.

Liquimetal Torque did exactly what I had hoped, letting me give Esior hexproof with Padeem, Consul of Innovation in play. Glad I made that swap.

Changelog

  • Nothing!

Lock It In

So that’s the saga of the first 2-3 weeks of tinkering and tweaking a new deck. That’s pretty much how the process goes with anything I’ve put together in recent years. Play, evaluate, swap, play, repeat.

I’d be interested in hearing how you out there spend the first couple weeks with a deck, and what your process looks like. Do you like to keep things in stasis for a couple of weeks, or do you start shifting pieces around immediately, like me? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading, and as always, may your numbers be superior.

Ardenn/Esior: Suit Up

Commander (2)
Creatures (12)
Artifacts (27)
Instants (12)
Sorceries (9)
Enchantments (2)
Lands (36)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.