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Collateral: Part 1


Collateral, directed by Michael Mann, came out in 2004. The film chronicled a night in the life of cab driver, Max, played by Jamie Foxx who picks up a hired killer, Vincent, played by Tom Cruise who has been hired to kill targets all over Los Angeles including a Justice Department prosecutor played by Jada Pinkett Smith. If you like crime movies and Michael Mann's nighttime aesthetic... I mean, you've probably already seen it, but in case you missed it, it's worth checking out. I bring this up because I got a little bit stumped trying to figure out how I was going to cave to the overwhelming demand I've seen voiced for another Heat Index article. What I came up with isn't quite a Heat Index piece because I don't know if I'm 100% happy with how subjective they were. The longer I do this, the harder I try to incorporate data where it's available, and I have some more data to contribute. Not all of it was easy to look at, because some of it contradicted some proclamations I made about how well received certain cards were but data doesn't lie, only liars do and sometimes they misuse data to do it. I'm not here to lead people astray, so let's look at some data and what it can tell us about the format. Just like how Collateral was a Michael Mann movie that came along after Heat and was very good for different reasons but wasn't quite the same as Heat, ultimately, this new way to look at the Heat Index will be different but good in its own way. I'm not going to call it the "Collateral Index" because I think we've wrung all of the juice out of the metaphor at this point and I'd have to write this paragraph or one like it every time I wrote a subsequent article in the future and I'm not that inclined to do that.

The "data" to which I refer is known to some but will be explained to all (who read this, which, while in the tens of millions of people, still isn't everyone) was compiled by EDHREC. We took a survey in 2019 and again in 2020 where we asked people to rate cards on a "salt" scale from 1-4 based on how salty the card made them to see across the table. The survey wasn't perfect - every Magic card ever was included because it was easier to just use a large batch file of every card than go through and pull stuff out and some people got bored rating Shinka Gatekeeper and Face of Fear before they got to juicy (or, I guess, salty, which is the opposite of "juicy") cards like Cyclonic Rift and Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger. Despite a few imperfections, the data doesn't seem suspect - the wisdom of the crowds typically prevails and we got quite a few responses both times. Despite having to wade through some draft chaff to discuss the real salty cards, people really liked being able to tell us just what made them upset to play against. It would be irresponsible not to incorporate this data into any Heat Index article I tried to write.

The first card we should discuss is Bribery. The first time I wrote about Bribery, in 2015, I gave it a 2/10. Later, having played against a larger pool of people, and especially people who didn't know me personally, I encountered a little more heat and upgraded Bribery to a 6/10 which some still feel is too low. People who know me personally don't mind me handling their cards as much as do strangers and people who have played against me before don't mind me knowing how their whole deck works as much as someone I never saw before and might never see again might. That all makes sense. However, how do we know if a score of 6/10 is too high or too low? Do we average those scores? I think if anything, we can throw out the low score because you shouldn't build a 75% deck for your playgroup, you should build a deck for your playgroup for your playgroup. 75% is unnecessary when you know what everyone is about. 75% decks are meant to be played with an unknown group and unknown groups are a little more hostile to a Bribery. Should we stop playing a card that is on the Mount Rushmore of 75% EDH? Nah, some of the heat Bribery gets is that it's a very good way to get the best card in someone's deck for five mana, like a Blue Tooth and Nail. However, we can stop kidding ourselves about whether or not the card is a 2/10 on the Heat Index when we have salt scores to look at.

Did Bribery make the Top 100 saltiest cards in 2019 or 2020? Well, yes, it not only made a list, it made both. Bribery was rated an aggregated 2.17 out of 4 in 2019 and 1.72 out of 4 in 2020 for an average saltiness score of 1.945. That may not seem high, but the saltiest card, Stasis, was rated an average of 3.11 between the two years (it was the saltiest card both times, which, yeah, it's Stasis). Bribery was the 55th ranked card in 2019 and 87th in 2020. A lot of the scores are fairly close - I wouldn't read too much into the declining score or slipping in the rankings. People aren't getting "used" to Bribery or finding cards they dislike more, the cards are either hot or not. If you're on the list, you're a problem for some people and that's worth knowing about.

Are there any other 75% staples on either Top 100 list? If so, it's worth discussing. Feel free to peruse both lists yourself and then join me back here for some analysis.

I decided it might be worth copying the old Heat Index format after all, but we're going to look more at categories of things rather than individual cards to try and figure out what's making people so salty. I think parsing this list can be very informative, so let's go digging!

Transgression: Stripping their Cards of Characteristics

Blood Moon
Overwhelming Splendor

How That Will Be Interpreted: I'll tap Gaea's Cradle for.... 1 Red. You'll rue this day

Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10

Notes: Humility, Blood Moon, Overwhelming Splendor, Oko - it isn't obvious what unifies these cards at first but when you realize they all stop people from playing their cards the way they want to play them, you realize how tilting it can be. The Enchantments are obviously the worst offenders because they nerf past, present, and future plays. People are more upset about Blood Moon and Oko than they are Gaddock Teeg and Ruination. That should tell you something!

Transgression: Playing Their Cards

Sen Triplets

How That Will Be Interpreted: Get your own cards!

Commander Heat Index Score: 6/10

Notes: It's a 75% thing to do, certainly, but it's not always looked at fondly. Repeatable effects seem to be more transgressive - Sen Triplets made the Top 100 both times and that deck isn't even built that much anymore. Mindslaver also pops up. People really aren't too keen on you playing their cards for them. I still think they're fine and people get salty sometimes no matter what, but I'm not going to make future Heat Index articles that ignore these findings.

Transgression: cHaOs

Thieves' Auction
Warp World

How That Will Be Interpreted: You don't care who wins as long as we're all miserable

Commander Heat Index Score: 7/10

Notes: Both times Scrambleverse, Thieves' Auction, and Warp World all made the list. Confusion in the Ranks and Grip of Chaos are in the mix, also. Red shows up quite a bit here. For being called the weakest color in Commander, Red sure has a lot of ways to make people pretty upset. Messing with lands by destroying them or messing with lands by shuffling them into the deck or giving them to someone else, Red doesn't care how it messes with lands. Chaos is fun but it can also make the game take way longer and that's a problem for some people. I'm sympathetic but I'm not going to stop casting Warp World in my Prossh deck.

Transgression: Taking Extra Extra Turns

Time Stretch

How That Will Be Interpreted: If I ever get to untap, you're dead

Commander Heat Index Score: 8/10

Notes: In the top 25 for both surveys, Time Stretch and Expropriate both make an appearance and Mindslaver, a card that does quite a bit more than give you an extra turn, also graces the Top 30. These cards can make people pretty upset because watching someone take a long turn can feel boring but watching them take 3 is interminable. Expropriate steals creatures, true, but no other spell that takes creatures from the board made the Top 100 and Bribery is much farther down, likely on there because you handle their deck and see all of their cards as well as tutoring for their best creature, potentially one of their outs. Nexus of Fate makes the Top 25, but who knows whether that's residual salt from its launch where you could only get a copy by supporting your LGS (the horror!). Time Warp et al. don't rate here, so it seems like people are OK with watching you untap and dither some more, but if the number of turns you take ends the game, prepare for some salt.

Transgression: Making the Game Take Longer


How That Will Be Interpreted: Oh, you can't win so no one else gets to?

Commander Heat Index Score: 9/10

Notes: The absolute saltiest cards all have this in common. Both times we ran this survey, Armageddon, Winter Orb, Static Orb, Stasis, Cyclonic Rift, Jokulhaups, and Decree of Annihilation were in the Top 15. Sunder and Ravages of War are only a little farther down, still in the Top 25. Those cards all play very differently, but the one thing they all do is make the game take longer. Unless you can just win, casting Armageddon or kicking a Cyc Rift just tacks a half hour onto the game. There are no cards that just blow up creatures in the Top 100 saltiest cards - board wipes that deal with creatures are ubiquitous and usually welcome. Even if I lose a few creatures, I've breathed a sigh of relief on many occasions when the token player lost their whole board a turn before they annihilated everyone. Cards that kill creatures in the Top 100 include Catastrophe, Cataclysm, and Devastation - all spells that mess with lands. I've said in the past that I don't think Armageddon effects were very 75% and they mostly just annoy people.

There's more to dig into here, enough for a separate discussion. Should we stop playing Helm of Possession? Strip Mine? Should we ignore what people hate and let the salt flow? Next week I'll highlight some of the lesser but still salinating offenses and highlight a deck which I think embodies the spirit of 75% but avoids some of the truly tilting cards highlighted in the lists. You won't want to miss it. In the intervening week, feel free to drop your saltiest cards in the comments section and let me know what you think people should really think twice about including in their decks. Thanks for reading, stay safe, make like Estrid and mask up, and remember too much salt is bad for your blood pressure. Until next time!

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