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Threshold Analysis: Conclusion

Zvi Mowshowitz

My first threshold article looked at the monowhite threshold creatures. One option is to have them go it alone and try to make a deck there. Another is to try and splash. In particular, one of the best threshold creatures is Mystic Enforcer, the missing Mystic. He's a 3/3 with protection from black for 2 ManaGreen ManaWhite Mana that with threshold becomes a 6/6 flyer. If threshold can be achieved, this is a four casting cost dragon. Green also allows some other good gold creatures like the Noble and Fleetfoot Panthers. The resulting deck is going to have a lot of power if it gets threshold, but it has a few problems. First, the deck is going to be weak early on without threshold. Second, it has no good way to get threshold quickly. Blue was designated the threshold-enabling color and that wasn't an accident. There are few quality cantrips for the deck, at most probably just Shelter. There are no good card drawers, and no good ways for the deck to mill itself. On top of the fact that the deck can't really function properly without blue, it has the additional problem that nothing the creatures become makes them anything other than attackers and blockers. They may be rather good ones, but they're still just undercosted dudes. It's very questionable how important that is later on, unless the players are under some kind of mana constraint.

On top of that, consider the competition. White's threshold creatures are respectable and get better. Green's threshold creatures have the potential to get much more dangerous. Krosan Beast is only 1/1 without threshold but it grows all the way to 8/8 for just 3 ManaGreen Mana. It even counts as a Squirrel. Metamorphic Wurm pays one extra mana to be a 3/3 before but only goes up to 7/7, the same as a Shivan Wurm. The problem is competition like Jade Leech and Shivan Wurm is going to make it hard to play anything else expensive. That's not to mention Beast Attack and Call of the Herd. The one threshold creature besides Mystic Enforcer that really seems to stand out would be Werebear, since it provides mana early on and then becomes a real fighter. It's sort of the controlling man's Llanowar Elf, or the beatdown man's mana creature overkill. The other colors have their threshold cards as well but they're truly awful in Constructed. That's just not what they were designed for.

At this point, the deck has to turn to ways to achieve threshold quickly. One card that immediately comes to mind is Fact or Fiction. It's a great card regardless of anything else, and it gets the deck five cards deeper. On average, three cards will hit the graveyard, often four. That's good, but it's not enough by itself. Luckily there's plenty of backup. Probe is next on deck, putting three cards in the grave. So does Careful Study, almost an unkicked Probe for people on a mana budget and in a hurry. Sleight of Hand and Opt are the perfect cantrips, and they might even be joined by Peek. If the deck can use it, Millikin can do a very good job, with the problem being that it makes the colored mana situation more difficult and will be difficult to keep alive and sometimes cumbersome to cast. Counters kind of count too, because they stall the game. Memory Lapse adds a card to the graveyard while the board position remains more or less the same. Counterspell is just a great card, as is Syncopate, especially since it counters flashback cards. All of these cards can be considered normally for almost all blue decks. This just encourages the numbers a little. Then there's stuff like Merfolk Looter that gets more specialized.

How many of these cards are needed? The best way to figure that out is to ask how many cards have to be drawn naturally before they put seven in the graveyard. There are exactly sixty cards in every decent constructed deck, so a ratio of cards drawn to cards in graveyard can be created on that basis. Suppose that threshold needs to be hit on average on turn six. Everyone chooses to go first, and it's doubtful this deck can choose not to, so that means the deck will have 12.5 cards. Rounding that down to account for mulligans, call it twelve. That's one card in five, meaning the deck will need to put a total of five times seven or forty-two cards in the graveyard. If Fact or Fiction counts as 3.5, four copies will get rid of 14 cards. Add in Probe for 3 cards each and the total gets to 26. Opt and Sleight of Hand can get that to 34. Assuming it can almost always be burned, Memory Lapse will get the deck to 38. That's twenty non-land, non-creature cards in a creature-based deck, which means this deck is already pushing the limit. Creatures die on occasion, so that should put the deck over the top. If it could cast all its spells, it would get threshold by turn five or six on average. In practice it would probably end up being somewhat slower than that, and if the opponent was fighting Fact or Fiction and Probe that could slow things down a lot.

In short, this is what a serious threshold deck would have to look like. Since that's far too many cards and too much color commitment for a deck of small white creatures, the deck is stuck in blue-green. If it works, it will end up containing a mix of control cards and big creatures. These creatures cost less than they should, but do they cost enough less to compete with Beast Attack and Call of the Herd, which work against threshold and work very well with Opposition?

No.

With only Odyssey cards to work with, threshold doesn't offer enough to the Constructed player to make it the focus of a deck. For now, its usefulness is limited to a few individual cards. Barbarian Ring, possibly Cabal Pit, perhaps Werebear or Mystic Enforcer. It's interesting, and threshold is achievable for decks that want it badly enough, but there are just more powerful options. This is a situation that's come up many times before. A new set contains some interesting cards that seem like they could work together, but clearly the deck doesn't come together. What happens then is that the cards get filed under an idea to consider if it gets more help. In this case, the deck is in even more trouble than that. While the half that fills the graveyard is fine, the half that takes advantage doesn't fit it and there will likely be no blue threshold cards. What would make the deck worthwhile?

There are three options, but there won't be blue threshold cards, so that only leaves the other two. The first is that the mechanic becomes interesting if there were a painless, reliable way to get threshold without blue and without just waiting around. That effectively means multiple cards that set up threshold by themselves without costing either a card or any significant amount of time. Millikin is a good start, but it's not exactly painless and can't do it alone. Discarding to put cards in the graveyard is fine in emergencies and nice as a threat, but can't be counted on. Any deck that can afford to discard that many cards on a whim needs to change some of its cards. The one way I've seen this tried is with Phyrexian Arena, but black's threshold cards basically aren't worth playing even with their bonuses and if a deck can keep the Arena in play it shouldn't need any help.

The other possibility is to have threshold cards of sufficient power to make it all worth it, and have them be of the right type. A combo deck would be ideal, since that kind of deck goes desperately searching from the start anyway, but that's very unlikely. What's worth hoping for are control cards. Kirtar's Wrath is an example of the type of card this deck is looking for, except at a higher power level. Kirtar's Desire may not be so bad either, although all that does is provide additional copies of Pacifism which no one used anyway. I think that Pacifism may be worth another look. One nice thing would be cards that use both new mechanics, having threshold that gives them flashback. In general, for this to be worth it the cards are going to have to be seriously sick once threshold hits. The mechanic should be thought of in this context not as an opportunity to get new abilities but as an additional requirement before cards can get played for their full effect. It's a bug, not a feature, and that makes it hard to make top level cards.

Finally, a follow-up on the flashback cards. I've actually gotten an unexpected chance to try Beast Attack out, and my conclusion is: Wow. I didn't have access to more than one Call of the Herd, but I did have it played against me and it was very good as well. The token generators seemed downright unfair, and I was far from unhappy with them even facing down decks containing maindeck Rushing Rivers, and although Repulse was slightly more annoying, I would never have thought of sideboarding any of them out. I didn't get a shot at a surprise block with it because I was playing a very aggressive green deck. That would have been icing on the cake. I wasn't exactly unhappy with Shivan Wurm, and when I was engaging in Flametongue Kavu madness it was even better than making tokens. The downside of course is that against the wrong deck those cards become quite bad, whereas I've yet to see anywhere I wouldn't want to make the tokens. Luckily there was room for both.

While I was trying that stuff out, I also got the chance to try out Diligent Farmhand and even Wild Growth. At first, I thought Farmhand was good, but it's definitely nowhere near as good as old fashioned Birds and Elves. On the other hand, I'm starting to see the advantages of having more than eight ways to accelerate mana. I've always had a disproportional fear of getting hit by Wrath of God and other mass removal spells, but they don't seem to be all that popular right now. Rishadan Port is out of the picture, meaning both four less threats to every deck's mana and four less colorless lands. Those slots could easily become more fast mana. It makes the green creature swarm basically impossible to stop together with the instant speed Beast Attack. The creatures can only be stopped or killed. Compared to the chance to trounce opponents right out of the gate, going straight for threshold seems rather unwieldy right now.



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