Wednesday, January 30, 2019

What's the Deal with Ill-Gotten Inheritance

From my set review - F , "NOPE"

I might have been a little off on this one. People have certainly figured out Ill-Gotten Inheritance is an actual card in Ravnica Allegiance draft.

At the same time, we probably have some over adjustment to it not being a complete dud. Listening to Allied Strategies, the pinnacle Magic: the Gathering nonsense-strategy hybrid podcast, talk about Rakdos last week all three cohosts agreed they felt the card was overrated. At least one of them has a track record of being reasonably correct, and I'll add a fourth voice to the pile.

Ill-Gotten Inheritance is a good card, but it is much more situational than people currently believe. Let's walk through it all so you can understand when and why Ill-Gotten Inheritance is good.

Why is this Good?

On the surface, Ill-Gotten Inheritance looks like a bunch of cards that have never really been that good in Limited. 

The whole "winning at 1 life is still winning" is probably most true in Limited. Unlike Constructed, there isn't a surplus of ways to convert your cards directly to damage, so you have to go through creature combat which automatically brings you into the card counting, mana efficiency style stuff that makes up normal draft.

So, when you just have one effect like Soul Feast in your deck, it is only good if you can deal the first bulk amount of damage with your normal cards. The life gain shouldn't matter, as often if your opponent had the creatures to deal the first nineteen they can deal the next four. The reverse is also true: if you could deal sixteen couldn't another random card deal the last four that also has applications in the midgame creature battles?

We have also seen low damage, repeated ping effects a bunch. Again, they fail the creature comparison. A creature for the same cost does more damage, can battle defensively when you fall behind, and more. They also have an issue where if you draw them later on you almost surely aren't getting a full card of damage out of them as someone is probably ending the game before that point.

Back to Ill-Gotten Inheritance, and working backwards along these issues.

If you draw Ill-Gotten Inheritance late, it can almost immediately be used for the large drain effect. Holding out one more turn in most cases isn't a huge deal. So unlike Curse of the Pierced Heart, you will almost always cash this in for a real amount of life loss.

If you draw Ill-Gotten Inheritance early, it pays dividends unlike a Soul Feast. It has some incremental impact on the game, which is a big saving point compared to a true dead until you cast it card.

I talked about how if you could deal sixteen you should be able to deal another four, but often Ill-Gotten Inheritance can often deal much larger amounts of damage. If you have played aggressive Draft decks, it is really easy to imagine a scenario where you get to push in six or seven damage early, your opponent starts playing five drops, and your last attacks push in a few more damage. That's well within Ill-Gotten Inheritance range to close out. It's more like drawing two Soul Feasts, at which point you are much closer to a game where you can afford to directly convert cards to damage and add up to 20.

If you want a more holistic view, think about the front half of it as Healer's Hawk. Then imagine that Healer's Hawk has a cantrip built in to draw exactly a Soul Feast. If you consider that it costs about two mana to add a cantrip to a card (especially if it always draws a spell) and that Return to Ravnica had a two mana Healer's Hawk that was still good, four mana for Ill-gotten Inheritance makes sense for playability.

But wait, didn't both Healer's Hawk and Daggerdrome Imp have synergy boosting them? Where's the Mentor or Scavenge here amplifying Ill-Gotten Inheritance?

The obvious one is Spectacle. I think by now everyone has gotten the memo that Spectacle isn't quite a cascading, run away game mechanic that promotes one drops all over. The best Spectacle cards are things like Blade Juggler that just promote card advantage at a good rate.

Ill-Gotten Inheritance always enabling Spectacle means a lot for these exact cards. The mana refund in the future often opens up turns where you play multiple spells, often just recouping the tempo loss from playing the Ill-Gotten Inheritance. The card advantage does more of the same, making the fact you are "down a card" on an enchantment that can't block matter less.

But Dead Revels in particular deserves a look. Like I said, Ill-Gotten Inheritance is at its best when you have done the first twelve or so damage to them. One of the ways to do this is just throw creatures into combat and keep doing it. Some will trade, some will just die, but as long as you started ahead and keep playing more often you can milk a few extra damage and close the gap to zero. Dead Revels at its Spectacle costs makes it easy to keep chaining bodies onto the battlefield, and Ill-Gotten Inheritance assures you can rebuild this way even if an attack goes bad and you face a turn of being brick walled.

Afterlife promotes similar plans. Your creature attacks, maybe it dies, but in the process it leaves around more and harder to block attackers. The blocker churn of afterlife also makes extending the game once things gum down too much to chip in damage easier, allowing Ill-Gotten Inheritance to slowly finish the job.

What's the Catch?

Almost everything that goes wrong with Ill-Gotten Inheritance comes from the fact that while it is very good at dealing seven or eight damage, it is really bad at dealing seventeen or eighteen damage. 

You can think of this as a rate over time issue. The closer it rounds to the one damage a turn even after the Soul Feast is added in, the worse Ill-Gotten Inheritance is. If it's dealing eight total damage that's a two point drain a turn. If it's dealing eighteen that's barely over 1.25 damage a turn. 

The rest of the issues are related to people outpacing the one damage a turn drain. You are making an assumption playing the card that the pre-Soul Feast effect is adding significant value, and sometimes there isn't time for that.

The general statement "Ill-Gotten Inheritance is bad against large aggressive creatures" is often repeated. It's not wrong, but here's why.

The obvious issue is just the raw sizing outpacing one damage a turn. If you are taking eight from two Frenzied Arynx, you are just going to die before your damage dealing accumulates.

The secondary issue is the effective "defensive speed" of some of these cards. Earlier in talking about throwing away attackers for damage I mentioned the idea of a five drop starting to obsolete some of your early creatures. When instead of it being a five drop it's a four drop, the amount of damage you are dealing massively drops. 

Imagine a game where you lead on a two drop like Plague Wight, they don't match it, then you pair drops that trade up the curve. If turn five is the first point they have something like Azorius Knight-Arbiter that just eats an attacker, they have taken six extra damage from the Plague Wight before reestablishing creature parity. If it's a four drop, that's damage saved but also the stall hitting a turn before a reasonable two spell turn for the aggressive deck would kick in. We see similar effects with Standard aggro decks falling apart when they are faced with an effective blocker early as opposed to something that just trades.

The other issue is that there is a TON of white life gain in Ravnica Allegiance. I've played games of Azorius versus Rakdos where I've started from near dead to Ill-Gotten Inheritance, then recovered all the way back to worrying more about decking than damage. 

This is just forcing the game to come closer to their Ill-Gotten Inheritance needing to deal twenty damage scenario where it just isn't good. Grasping Thrull might be the pinnacle of both main issues, extending the amount of time it takes for Ill-Gotten Inheritance to kill you while also really reducing the amount of time the Ill-Gotten Inheritance player has to live to extract value from it.

Parting Examples

Not to be obvious, but this deck really wanted an Ill-Gotten Inheritance. Constantly enabling Spectacle would allow for massive card advantage chains off all seven(!) cards I have that are Spectacle two-for-ones. The life gain helps offset the Blade Juggler life loss, a ton of cards are adding up chip shot damage to let Inheritance close out the game, and the deck has a number of ways to cover large on defense. Honestly, you are fine throwing two things under the Frenzied Arynx bus to trade here because long term you are going to grind yourself right back out of the hole. I'm currently 2-0 with this deck, but one match was partially won by figuring out how I would time Theater of Horrors to maximize damage before I deck. I'm sure another long term burn spell would have made that whole nonsense much easier.
When showing people my Sealed deck from Grand Prix New Jersey, I got a lot of comments that I should play Ill-Gotten Inheritance. This is exactly the kind of deck that shouldn't play the card.

I'm never dealing the first twelve points of damage with this deck unless I'm in a position to deal all of the damage. Ill-Gotten Inheritance is spending a card and a bunch of mana to slowly gain life. I sideboarded it in once or twice where that was good against opponents, namely against Electrodominance or their own Ill-Gotten Inheritance, but it wasn't close to good enough to start.

Ill-Gotten Inheritance serves an important role as finisher and enabler. Just don't throw it in every deck you play, and understand how having it impacts how you want to be playing the games and building your deck.

My current regrade:

C+, powerful tool to close out aggressive starts but all the obvious issues with the card still exist.

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