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Sometimes I've noticed myself building decks that have no spells that cost 0 or 1 mana, and instead have extra spells that cost 2 mana to make sure I don't get crushed in the early game. 1-drops only really shine on turn 1 or when you squeeze them in on later turns, so switching them all out for 2-drops seems like it could potentially be advantageous. Am I making a big mistake by doing this?

I understand that this is highly situational in terms of deck-type and the cards in question. I would think an Aggro deck would want to run 1-drops just to get swinging by turn 2, even if they could've waited and got a more powerful creature later on. There are also some 1-mana spells that are good enough to be competitive with 2-drops anyway. But in general, what are the costs and benefits of running a deck with all the 1-mana cards shifted up to more powerful 2-mana cards?

(I primarily play limited formats, but I don't think constructed vs. limited would matter much in the context of this question)

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I think it's a too broad question. Depending on format and deck strategy there are lots of answers to this question. –  AndSoYouCode Nov 30 '12 at 15:43

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

When I'm playing standard, the game is typically decided in the first 5 or 6 turns. Consider how devistating a Titan was, and the number of extremely powerful 6 drops compared to extremely powerful 5 drops. Now in the current set, development actively tried to extend the game further out, but still in many cases the game is set in stone (barring a true bomb, of course) by turn 6. If you don't have a solid 1 drop in a standard game, you aren't so doomed that you scoop right away, but you are at a significant disadvantage because you lost the ability to play on one of the 5 game defining turns.

When I'm playing draft, assuming the opponent doesn't get mana screwed, mana flooded, color screwed, or some other 'lame' win, I expect the game to really not be decided until turn 8 or 9. And due to the sporadic nature of bombs in your draft decks, can completely turn around at any time. So missing out on a first turn creature and falling a little behind isn't a big deal. It's still not good to start at a disadvantage, but you're much more likely to come back from this in draft than in standard.

Now in something like Commander, when you have 40 life, a 1 mana creature doesn't do much at all. In fact, I only have 4 one mana spells at all (which, drawing 7 cards out of 100, means I have a about a 1/3 chance of getting one - not very high) in my main Commander deck, and none of them are creatures. They are all highly utility too: Sol Ring, which i consider more like a land than a spell, Shrieking Affliction, which isn't much of a turn 1 spell, but does a lot of damage over the course of the game, Virulent Swipe just because death touch is very important to the deck, and Quest for the Gravelord to profit from people fighting eachother. So really, only one of those cards is intended to be played on turn 1, and is still viable at any time in the game. (5/5s are always welcome!)

So, it's important to know what the tempo of the game is. I have control decks that don't mind not having a 1-drop. Multiplayer doesn't normally need one. It's all about knowing your deck, the tempo, and even your opponents. Like so many things... playtest, playtest, playtest!!

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Note that the 6-drop Titans aren't really turn-6 cards in the formats where they were played competitively They're turn-4 cards in a ramp deck. Or turn-7 cards in a control deck (because "Six mana is way more than five... maybe two mana more."). –  Alex P Dec 1 '12 at 18:50
    
Great point on the speed of the format; zero and one drops are even more important in Vintage where games are often decided by turn 4. –  Gordon Gustafson Jan 22 '13 at 15:39

Actually, constructed vs. limited does make a major difference here, simply in the quality of the one-drops that are likely to be available. As a for-instance, a card like Deathrite Shaman is going to be nearly as fine in a well-built draft deck as he will be in a constructed deck, but you can't exactly say 'today I think I'll draft a Golgari deck and open Deathrite Shaman'! (Besides, you would clearly say '...and open Pack Rat' instead...)

For limited, it's not only just fine to have a deck without any one-drops, I would say it's more common than not. The problem is that most one-drops are just too quickly outclassed and can't get enough damage through in time to be worth the burden of top-decking them in the midgame when you need something that can actually punch through. There are certainly exceptions (an aggressive Rakdos deck would benefit from a multiplicity of Rakdos Cacklers, for instance) and many decks can be enhanced by the 'right' one-drop — but I wouldn't consider a lack of one-drops a detriment for any but the most agressive of limited decks.

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One drops are nearly useless in multiplayer, since they represent an even smaller fraction of the damage that you need to do over the course of a game. A 2/1 for one mana can deal one tenth the necessary damage to win a duel, but with 4+ opponents it is only dealing one fortyith that damage.

If the card doesn't provide mana (Birds of Paradise), make everyone sacrifice a creature (Innocent Blood), tutor (Vampiric Tutor), or draw lots of cards (Land Tax) then it probably isn't worth playing. There are of course exceptions, cards that do scale well (Soul Warden) in multiplayer, but in general most cards below 4 CMC don't do much in multiplayer, creatures especially. You are almost always going to be able to out class your opponents decks if you play with zero 1-drops, so that when the mid/late game hits you are drawing higher quality spells.

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In Limited, you may well want to avoid 0 and 1 drops. The advantage of 1 drops is that they're quite marginal cards... which can come out on turn 1, and generate quite a lot of early pressure if they do. (I'm obviously talking about "true" 1 drops, and not things like Giant Growth which you never play on turn 1.)

In an aggro Constructed deck, your game plan is to generate as much pressure as quickly as possible, and 2-power one drops will very likely be a big part of this plan. In Limited, though, unless things have gone very well for you, or you're drafting Zendikar, you probably aren't planning to swarm and kill your opponent inside the first five turns. As such, having cards in your deck which are good on turn 1 but pretty much dead draws after turn 5 doesn't seem like maximising your win chances.

Don't get me wrong, you should always try to gauge the speed of the format you're playing in, and make sure your deck allows you to make plenty of relevant plays before your opponent creates so much tempo advantage for himself that it will be difficult for you to make a comeback. It's just that, outside of Constructed, it's not usually the case that missing a turn 1 play will make that difference. So you will probably be better off concentrating on card power instead of card velocity (to coin a phrase). Just remember that filling your deck chock full of powerful 7-drops isn't likely to work out for you either, at the other end of the scale!

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Agressive Rakdos and Gruul-style decks in RTR are also happy to play all the two-power one-drops they can get their hands on; Rakdos Cackler is excellent and Dryad Militant quite viable in that kind of deck, and I've even seen (as Steve Sadin points out) some excellent white aggro decks using Trained Caracal/Judge's Familiar and Ethereal Armor. It's not every draft format where a true aggro style is viable, but Wizards has apparently been making it more and more of an option the last few years. –  Steven Stadnicki Dec 3 '12 at 19:46

Cheap spells often give you a small benefit for the cost of a card. Expensive spells often gives you a bigger benefit and still only costing you a card. This means that you get more out of each card with more expensive spells. So, why don't you only play the expensive spells to maximize your output from your cards? Well, obviously, if you only play 8-drops you're going to end up losing a lot of games. Sure, Incinerate is a stronger card than Shock but it can't kill a Raging Goblin until you have 2 mana. Can you afford to take that extra hit?

It's really that simple, expensive cards give you a greater effect but later on (or maybe not at all). What suits you best is all about what your game plan is and what you're up against.

I think you should have a look at so called 'cantrips'. They are cheap spells with a small positive effect and also draws you a card. So if you don't want to play anything that costs you a card at turn 1 a cantrip is perfect. Examples: Brainstorm, Ponder, Sleight of Hand, Peek, Gitaxian Probe.

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