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Brewer's Minute: How Many?

Hey, everyone! It's time for another Brewer's Minute. A little while ago, someone sent me an email saying something like, "I understand why you'd play a card as a four-of and sometimes why you'd play a card as a one-of, but what about three-ofs and two-ofs?" So today, we are going to take a few minutes to talk about the reasons why you'd play a specific number of a specific card. While there are exceptions to every rule, generally speaking, the number of copies you play of a card says something fairly specific about what you think of that card in your deck, and for each number, a few common themes come up over and over again. How many should you play, and why? Let's break it down for this week's Brewer's Minute!

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Playing a card as a four-of says, "I want to draw this card every single game, and I don't mind drawing more than one copy." If you look at the numbers, when a card is played as a four-of, there's about a 40% chance you'll have a copy in your opening hand, and the odds are in favor of you finding at least one copy as the game progresses to Turns 4, 5, and 6. The odds also aren't bad that you'll find a second copy by Turn 5 (about one in every four games). Basically, four-ofs are the foundation cards of your deck—cards that you want to see early and often—so instead of discussing the types of cards you do want to play as four-ofs, it's probably easier to talk about exceptions.

  • Expensive Cards: If a card is five or more mana, it's less likely you'll play it as a four-of for two reasons. First, playing too many expensive cards leads to curve problems (imagine an opening hand with three five-drops). Second, even as a three-of, you're likely to find a copy by the time you can cast it anyway as you draw more cards from your deck.
  • Legends: Legendary cards are most often cards you don't want to draw in multiples, since you can only have one copy on the battlefield at a time. As a result, even if Rhonas the Indomitable is the best card in your deck, you might not play it as a four-of to avoid the clunkiness of drawing too many copies.
  • Planeswalkers: Planeswalkers are similar to legends, with the planeswalker-uniqueness rule keeping you from having more than one copy of the same planeswalker on the battlefield at the same time. As a result, you'll sometimes play fewer than four copies even if the planeswalker is very good. That said, there are exceptions depending on the planeswalker. For instance, Liliana of the Veil is often a four-of in older formats because she tends to kill herself very quickly and you can always discard additional copies to her +1. On the other hand, you'll almost never see Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh as a four-of because he tends to stick on the battlefield thanks to his insane amount of loyalty (plus, he's very expensive).


Playing a card as a three-of basically says, "I want to draw a copy of this card pretty much every game, but I don't usually want to draw multiples." Sometimes, these cards are just as good as four-ofs but have some sort of downside that keeps you from playing the full four copies. By the numbers, playing a card as a three-of drops the odds of having a copy in your opening hand to about 30%, although the odds shift in favor of you finding a copy as the game goes along to Turn 5 or 6. More importantly, the odds of drawing a second copy—even if the game goes on for a while—decrease significantly compared to a four-of. So, what types of cards often see play as three-ofs?

  • Legends: Three-of is often the Rhonas the Indomitable number—enough that you'll usually find a copy but not enough that you have the auto-mulligan of having two in your opening hand all that often.
  • Expensive Cards: By expensive, I don't necessarily mean seven or 10 mana. Even four- and five-mana cards can be expensive, depending on the number of lands in your deck. For instance, some builds of GB Energy only play three Bristling Hydras and three Verdurous Gearhulks, even though they are some of the most powerful cards in their deck, just so you don't end up with top-heavy opening hands.
  • Cards Where Just One Copy Wins the Game: Dusk // Dawn is one of the scariest cards in WU Monument, but it's usually played as a three-of. Why is this? Well, because you almost never need a second copy, since the first one wraths your opponent's board and often ends up drawing you a new hand of cards. While doing this again could be powerful, how often is your opponent going to get back into the game after the first Dusk // Dawn?


Two-ofs are—by far—the most confusing number, and it's actually sort of hard to rationalize playing most cards as a two-of. It often comes across as being lukewarm on a card, which leads to the question, "If you don't want to draw this card very often, why are you playing it in your deck to begin with?" If the card is good, you probably want more copies, and if the card is bad, maybe you shouldn't be playing it at all. The problem is founded in math. As a two-of, you'll only have the card in your opening hand about once in every five games, and  you'll only find a copy by Turn 5 about one in every three games. Even if we go all the way to Turn 10, odds are not in favor of you drawing a copy. As such, two-ofs seems like the number at which you play a card that you don't really want to draw, and if you don't want to draw the card, why is it in your deck to begin with? That said, I did find a few legitimate reasons to play a card as a two-of.

  • Curve Considerations: Take, for example, GB Energy. The deck wants 14 two-drops, so you play three different two-drops as four-ofs (bringing the total to 12), which leaves two slots left over. You either have to change the total number of two-drops in your deck or play a fourth two-drop (in the case of the above deck, Sylvan Advocate) as a two-of. Along the same lines, a deck like WU Monument might have two total slots for removal spells, which by default means something like Stasis Snare or Cast Out ends up being played as a two-of. The basic idea here is that the number of the specific card isn't so much about the card itself but bigger deck-building concerns that end up dictating the weird number.
  • Additional Copies of a Key Card: In Modern, Titan Breach Scapeshift decks really, really want Primeval Titan, but they can only play four copies because of pesky Magic rules. As a result, they often play two copies of Summoner's Pact as Primeval Titans numbers five and six. This is mostly a math thing. As we talked about earlier, the odds of having a four-of in your opening hand is about 40%, but as a six-of, the odds of having a copy of a card in your opening hand jump all the way up to 54%, so you'll have one in your opening seven more often than not.
  • You're Lukewarm on a Card, or It's Very Situational: Personally, I'm not a big fan of this logic, but some people seem to play cards they are on the fence about as two-ofs, so they don't draw them often but will draw them every once in a while. The problem is that you can't control when you draw a certain card, so there's just as good of a chance you draw your two-of when it's bad as when it's good. This being said, there's also a high-level (and much more justifiable) reason for playing a card as a two-of. Some pros talk about building 75-card decks rather than 60-card decks with a 15-card sideboard, and if this is your theory of deck building, it makes sense that, at least on some occasions, a two-of sideboard card ends up in the main deck (giving you more room in the sideboard).


One-ofs say one of two things: either "I don't really care about drawing this card" or "I have a way of finding this card when I need it." As for the "I don't really care" reason, this mostly relates back to the "building a 75-card deck" thing we talked about a moment ago. One classic example of this is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. It's a good card to have access to, so you can either put a copy in your main deck or in your sideboard, and sometimes it ends up in the main deck as a sort of pre-sideboarded one-of. The second reason includes a bunch of different things.

  • Tutors: It's a lot easier to play a bunch of one-ofs if your deck has the ability to tutor for whatever card you need in a given situation. In Modern, this can include things like Collected Company or Chord of Calling, while in Standard, we often see GB Delirium decks play some one-ofs thanks to Traverse the Ulvenwald.
  • It's a late-game finisher: Cards like Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh often end up as one-of finishers in control decks. It's not really a card you want in your opening hand, but you want to find your copy sooner or later. While decks like Grixis Control can't directly tutor up Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, they have a ton of card draw and are good at making the game go long, which means they will often find their one-ofs eventually, thanks to brute-force card advantage. 
  • Splits: Finally, you sometimes see people play weird splits like three copies of Fatal Push and one copy of Abrade. Once again, this is often because the deck only has four slots for early-game removal and chooses to use one of those slots on a less-consistent but higher-upside option.


Anyway, that's all for today. Hopefully, these numbers make sense and are helpful when it comes time to build your next deck! For me personally, I almost never play cards as two-ofs—that number just drives me crazy—although maybe I'm missing some other justifications for the number. When it comes right down to it, the number of a specific card you put in your deck is mostly about how often you want to draw the card, so if you get bored sometime, mess around with various numbers in the hypergeometic calculator. The results are pretty interesting and enlightening!

Anyway, that's all for today. What numbers do you find yourself putting into your decks, and what's your reasoning behind the numbers? Let me know in the comments, and as always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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