The Synergy Spectrum, and how to use it for Hour of Devastation
When you’re new to Magic, you may not have much of a reason for adding cards to your deck. When you’re an experienced player, every card you put in your deck is there because it’s powerful and/or synergistic with the strategy you’re going for.
In between, as a developing player, you start to notice synergistic cards and try to exploit that synergy. But without the experience, sometimes it can be difficult to decide when a card is good because of the synergy, or just a good card on its own.
I noticed this a fair bit during Kaladesh block. I heard developing players say things like “I put this (bad) artifact in my deck because I had Welding Sparks”, or “I can’t run this Tidy Conclusion, I don’t have enough artifacts”. Or “I don’t have any ways of making Energy, so I didn’t run this Thriving Grubs”. Or in Amonkhet draft: “I didn’t run Binding Mummy because I’m not a Zombie deck”.
It’s an easy trap to fall into
You’ve correctly identified the synergy pattern of “jump through hoop -> payoff”. That might be controlling artifacts, having energy or casting Zombies. But what you haven’t spotted is that the card will still be good for you even without the payoff. The added complexity of the card turns out to be a trap. In fact, if Welding Sparks simply read “2R, Instant, Welding Sparks deals 3 damage to target creature”, you might have built your deck better.
The Synergy Spectrum
When evaluating a synergy card, I think about where it falls along the following spectrum:
- What is the base level of strength for this card (Weak – Strong)?
- How good is the reward I get for building around this card? (Small reward – Large reward)
Here are some quick examples of cards at each end of the spectrum.
Weak base level, small reward – I will not put this card in my deck
Strong base level, small reward – I will run this card in almost any deck, and will not try to build my deck around it. I might use this card as a tie-breaker when choosing between cards of a similar power level later in a draft.
Weak base level, large reward – this is what is also known as a ‘build-around’ card. I will only run this card in my deck if I can build my deck around it, but if I have picked this card early in a draft I will attempt to do that.
Strong base level, large reward – it is unusual to have a build around card with a strong reward that’s good on its own outside of rare or mythic rare. Usually this type of card is good enough that I don’t have to worry too much about building around it, but will take the opportunity if it comes up.
But a cycle of cards in Hour of Devastation has made me reconsider
That cycle is the five uncommon cards with Aftermath, in ally colours.
These aren’t synergy cards
You don’t have to play a load of Zombies, or Artifacts, or anything like that. But we can still look at them on the spectrum. This time, instead synergy with other cards in our deck, the hoop we’d have to jump through to get the reward of the card is playing a second colour.
On the face of it, each of those three is a multi-coloured card. But look again at the ‘front’ side of those cards – their base level. Farm is just the same card as Kill Shot, a strong playable. It’s actually strictly better than Sandblast, which appears at common in Hour of Devastation! Consign is the same as Disperse, another playable card. And Struggle is an instant speed Ground Assault, albeit for one mana more. Effectively, what you have in Struggle is a red version of Murder. All three of these cards have a strong base level. It’s just that this time, the base level is the front side of the card!
Now, in the case of Farm//Market and Consign//Oblivion, the rewards you get are also pretty good. But since they fall into the strong base level part of the spectrum, we can run them in any deck that can cast them. The added complexity of these cards is, once again, a trap.
So don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be in White/Blue to play Farm//Market, or Red/Green to play Struggle//Survive. If you are, you get a small reward – in this case, you get to cast the second half of the card. But just like Welding Sparks, the cards are good enough on their own.
Thanks for reading,