Quadrant Theory: How to Evaluate Cards

The quadrant theory is a way of evaluating cards that have little context. Since predicting the meta is a fool’s errand, this framework helps figure out the power level of cards independently of what decks are being played in. This is commonly used in Magic, especially to evaluate limited (Magic’s arena) cards. You can find an article here.

The four quadrants are: early game (turns 1-5), stalemated boards, playing while ahead and playing while behind. Obviously, not all quadrants are equally important and cards do not need to perform in multiple categories to be good.

Early game

Good early game cards are ones that help you win the board.

The best of the best have a strong tendency to go 2 for 1.

Tier 1: Fiery War Axe, Mad Scientist, Haunted Creeper, Acidic Swamp Ooze hitting a weapon, Piloted Shredder, Zombie Chow, Keeper of the Grove, SI:7 Agent

The next tier are either strong threats or cards that kill strong threats 1 for 1. Bonus points for mana efficiency.

Tier 2: Darkbomb, Knife Juggler, Ironbeak Owl, Backstab, Mechwarper

If you can’t get that just playing anything will do.

Tier 3: Acidic Swamp Ooze going hungry, Big Game Hunter with no beasts in his sight

Parity

You and your opponent have been fighting for the board, but all that’s left after throwing almost all of your cards at each other is two players staring at the top of their decks.

What makes you happiest here? Drawing a 2 for 1. Either because it says so on the card or because there is no way it will trade for a single card. Bonus points for being a 2 for 1 that affects the board.

Tier 1: Arcane Intellect, Azure Drake, Savannah Highmane, Death's Bite, Dr. Boom, Piloted Shredder, Ysera

What else makes you happy? A threat and hope they can’t answer it

Tier 2: Loatheb, Sludge Belcher, Shieldmaiden, Violet Teacher, Mountain Giant, Mal'Ganis

What is alright but not terrible? An answer to a threat that will be probably coming you way in a turn or 2.

Tier 3: Fireball, Eviscerate, Execute, Hunter's Mark

What’s going to make you rage? Situational or early game cards

Trash Tier: Ironbeak Owl, Zombie Chow, Haunted Creeper, Glaivezooka, Unleash the Hounds, Earthen Ring Farseer, Shielded Minibot.

Behind

The game isn’t looking good. That Dr. Boom is going to spell certain doom unless you do something now. And even if you do that azure drake will probably finish you off in 2 turns anyway. This category includes being slightly behind (Opponents one big threat vs your none) or very behind.

What’s your best draw? A winning one. This game is no stranger to 14+ damage combos.
Tier 1: Force of Nature + Savage Roar, Fireball, Tinker's Sharpsword Oil + Blade Flurry, Grommash Hellscream, Doomguard

Alright, suppose you can’t win, what do you want to draw? Board clears.

Tier 2: Flamestrike, Doomsayer, Lightbomb, Shadowflame, Unleash the Hounds, Equality, Dr. Boom, Sylvanas Windrunner, Big Game Hunter

We can’t always luck out but some cards give you another chance to luck out, either by giving you life or by introducing some crazy variance.

Tier 3: Sludge Belcher, Sunwalker, Antique Healbot, Alexstrasza, Lord Jaraxxus, Unstable Portal, Bane of Doom.

Ahead

The game is going well. You have a 2 to 3 turn clock with a healthy board. You put your opponent on 2 chances to draw something significant, but even if that happens it just sets you two to parity.

What do you want to see? Win now cards would be nice.

Tier 1: Force of Nature + Savage Roar, Fireball, Tinker's Sharpsword Oil + Blade Flurry, Grommash Hellscream, Doomguard

And if not that? Then something sticky to win through that Flamestrike/Molten Giant + Shadowflame/Blade Flurry/Lightbomb

Tier 2: Loatheb, Piloted Shredder, Savannah Highmane

What’s tier 3? Well, it is parity’s tier 1, because you might as well prepare for slim odds that your opponent claws back into the game.

Tier 3: Arcane Intellect, Azure Drake, Death's Bite, Dr. Boom, Ysera

Actual TGT card evaluations
I’m not going to go through the process above to evaluate Varian Wrynn, because it’s obvious he is a beast in a deck that wants the 10 drop to end all 10 drops. So let’s look at some of the cards that are less obvious.

Master of Ceremonies

Early: It should shine here, but a 4/2 is below rate. Its trades with everything except a lonely Cogmaster. How easily can you get spell power in the first 1-5 turns? Well the only cheap spell power minion seeing play is Bloodmage Thalnos, which with its scrawny butt makes this a 5 mana play. Also Bloodmage Thalnos is a legendary. The other cheap (viable) enablers are: Dalaran Aspirant (turn 5), Soot Spewer (turn 4 Master), Kobold Geomancer (turn 3).

So how good is a turn 4 or 5 6/4 Master of Ceremonies? Unfortunately, it matches up poorly with many common 4 mana plays like Piloted Shredder and Death's Bite.

Grade: Will be on par with a tempo Big Game Hunter most of the time unless some suspect cards infiltrate your deck.

Parity: A 6/4 is a threat to be reckoned with. If your opponent doesn’t have many options it can easily trade up with valuable minions like Loatheb, Emperor Thaurissan or Sludge Belcher. Master of Ceremonies enjoys the benefit of Azure Drake here, a bone fide good spell power minion, and going Azure Drake into Master of Ceremonies will really put you ahead.

Grade: Alright, in a deck with many spell power minions you have a reasonable chance of seeing this buffed.

Behind: Nothing. No taunt, no healing, doesn’t kill things.

Ahead: This does little when you are ahead. Maybe make the clock 1 turn faster but all minions do that.

Verdict: Don’t fool yourself, this 3 drop is not an early play. It pressures empty boards fine but here are plenty of other, better minions that do the same.

Savage Combatant

Early: Its 4 butt is a liability on turn 4 because of what is stated above, Piloted Shredders and Death's Bite, but with 6 ramp spells odds are you can get him out early. And here is where he truly shines. A turn 2 or 3 Savage Combatant turns your hero power into a Fiery War Axe swing. It evens trades profitably with a Piloted Shredder (most of the time). It also plays into one of the weakness druid has early. It’s common to innervate a shredder turn 2 then hero power for 2 turns in a row because the rest of your hand is 5+ mana.

Grade: Serviceable most of the time, an all star with ramp

Parity: Dropping this and hero powering on same turn is a likely 2 for 1, so its good at parity. Again, if not dealt with it can run away with the game.

Grade: Good, bordering on great

Ahead: Adds pressure and if you were 2 off lethal it wins the game, but nothing spectacular

Behind: If you are a little behind it could let you finish off a wounded giant, but if you are significantly behind this won’t do it for you.

Verdict: It’s a solid tempo minion with a high power level ceiling. What remains to be seen is whether it will find a home in a deck.

Holy Champion

Early: Its stats match up remarkably well against the field as it contests practically all drops that come the turn before it or after it. There are a plethora of new 3/4 and 4/3 for three, which this can contest. It survives the most popular other four drops as well (Piloted Shredder, Death's Bite, various 3/5). Not only that, but after hero powering once it also contests Loatheb, Sludge Belcher and basically all the other 5 drops! The threat of 5 attack next turn is almost as good actually having it on turn 4.

This assessment only considers healing from the hero power. With other sources added into the mix the ceiling of this card increases.

Grade: Not quite all star, but very solid.

Parity: A 5/5 is a threat of its own and, although paying 6 for it is a bit steep, it’s not too far behind shieldmaiden, a card that sees play.

Grade: Solid. Flexible role filler

Ahead: Just a minion. Might speed up the clock a turn. If its on the board it can put up huge damage with a holy nova or a circle of healing.

Behind: You are likely going to heal anyway so its an above average 4 drop in this department, but it’s not going to get you out of a serious pickle.

Verdict: Strong midrange card that matches up well with other cards that see play. Its class is what’s likely to hold it back.

Mulch

Early: Not great, but can be occasionally used in a bind. At 3 mana it can still be a small tempo gain but killing anything less than a 5 drop with mulch is likely to upgrade the minion. How much this matters depends on how aggressive your druid build is.

Parity: It answers anything no questions asked, which is a lot more than druid cards that see play will say. Taking a gamble on a minion is not a big deal compared to the Ragnaros the Firelord/Mountain Giant/Emperor Thaurissan they are likely to play in the coming turns. Also, it’s cheap enough to play with another midrange minion to establish board presence. Mulch shines in this stage of the game

Ahead: Anything that affects the board immediately gets some points here. This can kill a taunt to go for lethal or it can make sure your 2 turn clock stays a 2 turn clock by killing their next move. The variance is at its worst here because as the winning player you want to reduce variance. A surprise Deathwing/Varian Wrynn/Tirion Fordring can make you very sad.

Since it does provide a way to get around the variance by winning on the turn you use it mulch is on par with Ironbeak Owl when ahead. Not a bad place to be.

Behind: Variance here is at its best. You need a big swing and spell probably looks like a 3 mana Polymorph + Sap to you. It does not clear the board, but it kills the biggest threat and leaves you a bunch of mana to play with. When you are behind it is almost a 3 mana Assassinate, in druid no less!

Verdict: It’s a great removal spell that would be played in any class (except shaman?) but it has landed in the lap of the class where it was needed to most. I expect it to see a lot of play.

How to Understand the Quadrant

Scoring well in the quadrants is not a surefire ticket to ladder play. Sometimes the power level for a card is there but the deck isn’t. Tirion Fordring has always been an amazing card but slower paladins are not always viable. Lastly this theory does not deal all that well with synergy, as it tries to evaluate cards ‘in a vacuum’. Please feel free to use this framework on your favourite cards below!

3 thoughts on “Quadrant Theory: How to Evaluate Cards

  1. So I am a druid player and when I was evaluating cards I saw mulch and got very excited. Sure it isn’t as good as a card like hex from shaman but I felt that a huge weakness to druid was not having any removal and this finally gave druid removal and a chance to get back into the game instead of having to combo to kill a big minion like a ragnaros when behind. I expected mulch to receive lots of play and even started running it in my decks and liked it a lot in place of a bgh but no one has played since it came out so I’m now curious. Why isn’t it seeing play as much as we thought it would?

    1. The major reason is that Druid wouldn’t even play sap if it had it. Midrange druid is all about answering things by dumping more stats on the board with the fast mana. Mulch doesn’t work with that gameplan. Also, BGH is just so much better at the moment when many of the top decks multiple targets (Boom, Challenger…). If BGH is ever not playable Mulch can get its place in a list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *