Anyone else feeling good?
Anyone else feeling really good?
Everyone, come and see how good we feel!
That’s how good drafting this format makes me feel. Plus, it’s sunny outside!
In the three days I’ve had off free before I start my new job (back in London!), I have drafted twelve times. I started off running hot, making the final in eight of the first nine and winning four – I even opened Gideon Jura twice! I was beginning to know how LSV must feel, but then I lost in the first round three times to finish the session. I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that Gideon Jura is good, and other such vital pieces of information. I know that my ‘get big’ theory is on the money.
Limited is starting to feel like Limited again, after the comparative crap of Zendikar. Do you know how I know this? Because Blue is the best color again! Yup, you heard it here first. It even has the best common. Yup, you heard me. I think that Narcolepsy is better in this format than Staggershock. I think it’s close with Vendetta, which might even be better given the incredible strength of instants in RoE, but because Blue is the better color and because Narcolepsy combos so well with Aura Gnarlid and Totem-Guide Hartebeest, I give it the nod.
It even has the best common creature – Halimar Wavewatch. That 0/3 might still look deceptive to some, but it’s the real deal. As a 0/6, it dodges almost all the removal, it’s cheap to level, and it closes out games quickly when at full strength. Not to mention that it’s at its best when playing against the best color. Oli recently said that he thinks it’s Blue’s best common; whilst I dig his love for this great card, I think that you can never pick it over Narcolepsy.
Blue! Blue! Blue! Bluuuuuuuuuuuueeeeeeeeee!
You’re my boy, Blue!
I even feel confident in my grasp of the format to start entertaining pick orders. I’m not up to a Frank-esque List of the entire format yet, but I’ll divulge some nonetheless.
Hada Spy Patrol
Sea Gate Oracle
Venerated Teacher, Mnemonic Wall, Champion’s Drake, and Distortion Strike are all obviously great, but only in the correct archetypes. I tend to pick the Teacher after Wavewatch unless he is going to be completely nutterlybutterly, and I snap up the Drakes whenever I see them late; Adept also climbs up above the instants once I know I’m levelers. In UR/UB, I pick the Wall around the Deprive mark. Distortion Strike is generally a late pick and will often wheel. The Crusher is also highly variable, but I’ll talk more about him when I look at color combinations.
It might surprise a lot of you see that I pick the common enchantment over its Domestication brethren. This is pretty radical, and I’m not locked in on this yet, but it feels right to me. Domestication is a fantastic card, but it doesn’t answer a lot of the cards I want it to, and Narcolepsy does. Sure, the common isn’t phenomenal on a Brimstone Mage or a Kazandu Tuskcaller, but it stops almost every other card you actually care about, especially Wavewatches!
We know by now how good Deprive is in this format. The game’s vanilla guys all get tied up quite quickly, and it’s all about stopping them from getting big, or to protect you when you go for it. I’ve found myself running Lay Bare more and more often, normally only one main, and boarding in as many as I have against lots of non-Leveler decks, especially Eldrazi.
There are a few cute tricks. Remember to board in Distortion Strikes if your opponent is playing Valakut Fireboar. Training Grounds is the real deal if you’re playing levelers. Recurring Insight is still one of the trickier cards for me to evaluate, as I still don’t know how highly to pick it – it is very good most of the time. Crab Umbra can be some techy sideboard option against Narcolepsies.
It was pointed out to me recently that Reality Spasm has more uses than just being a Falter for a Kiln Fiend. It is useful in WU/UG for fighting Dawnglare Invoker; you can either tap down their mana, or use it on your turn to untap your guys. However, the best use I’ve seen for Spasm is to go infinite with a leveled up Echo Mage. You Spasm, targeting three land and the Mage, copy it, let the first the first copy resolve and then Mage the original Spasm again. Each loop nets you a mana as well as plenty of other cute things – one Spasm can leave them tapped out, and if you have Brimstone Mage or Cryptologist in play, things get even more retarded. Just don’t time out if you do it online!
This color combination always ends up one of two ways. One is probably the first deck everybody tried to draft: Levelers. I find it better to pick the levelers first and the dependent cards like Time of Heroes, Training Grounds, Venerated Teachers, and Champion’s Drakes later, until pack three when you know exactly how good they are going to be. However, Time of Heroes is worth taking when you can because it’s just so powerful. This deck is very aggressive and normally plays 18 lands. It’s surprising how many games are won by casting an early Caravan Escort or Wavewatch and then getting big as quickly as possible.
Counters aren’t at their best here, as you tend to tap out each turn, but Deprive is still good. Levelers have a very interesting affect on the game. If the leveler player doesn’t tap out to level, then it is obvious he has a trick; likewise, if his opponent doesn’t tap his mana, it’s usual for him to have some instant removal waiting to sandbag any greedy leveling. I find it best to not level against untapped mana if you can help it, but to develop your board elsewhere, meaning they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
I tend not to play Evolving Wilds in two color decks, as I think entering the battlefield tapped is too crucial. This is especially true in a leveler deck, which wants to utilize its mana at every available opportunity, so I wouldn’t bother wasting a pick on Wilds or a Prism as you will almost never splash within this archetype.
The other deck is a slow control deck. Cards like Wall of Omens, Guard Gomazoa, and Sea Gate Oracle quickly gum up the ground, as does the often played Totem-Guide Hartebeest which finds the deck’s signature card – Guard Duty. These cards provide enough defense and card advantage to ensure that you can sit behind your much needed Deprives to make sure nothing untowards happens. You will normally win the game with what levelers you do wind up with, a couple of Ulamog’s Crushers, or something cool like a Keening Stone. I’m a fan of drafting this deck if you open an early Kor Spiritdancer.
UW has few answers to a resolved Brimstone Mage, Enclave Cryptologist, or Dawnglare Invoker, so it’s very important to know exactly how many outs you have to it and to try and save them if you can. This makes Regress a premium. Try and pick up as many outs to these cards for your sideboard, because you will often need them – the same goes for UG combinations.
This combination is probably Aura Gnarlid’s natural home, and can often be found splashing White for Totem-Guide Hartebeest. I always try to get at least two Snake Umbras into the deck and as many Regress as you can get your hands on. Joraga Treespeaker is very powerful here, especially at powering out a turn 3 Stomper Cub to Umbra up. You have to draft bearing in mind that it is a very tempo orientated archetype, which is very unforgiving should you fall behind. Hada Spy Patrol is great here too. The other route to take is getting big and dropping Crushers, leveling up guys, and smashing with Wildheart Invokers and Pelakka Wurms. Between Growth Spasms, Ondu Giants, Evolving Wilds, and Prophetic Prisms, you will often splash a couple of removal spells too, so keep an eye out for the fixers in light packs.
I seldom actually end up with a dedicated Leveler deck in this combination, but I pick them up whenever I can get my hands on them. The Black levelers cost more to upgrade which means you get more value out of Venerated Teacher. This archetype is all about incidental card advantage. Between Sea-Gate Oracle, Bala Ged Scorpion, and Cadaver Imp, you lock up all the little guys and draw ahead on cards – when you through Mnemonic Wall into the mix, you start to get really tricky. With all the great spells this archetype plays (Deprive, Repress, Vendetta, Corpsehatch, Induce Despair, Last Kiss, Narcolepsy, etc), you have to actually win somehow. This is another reason why I love the levelers in this deck. Zulaport Enforcer and Null Champion both finish the game off quickly when they max up.
As with most decks in this format, I don’t rate cards like Last Kiss – or the often underpowered Induce Despair – very highly as they only really kill those creatures that the rest of your deck normally ties up incidentally.
If I start the draft with a couple of Corpsehatches, I keep an eye out for Dread Drones, to speed up any Crushers you pick up. They are especially powerful as you often have Imps to get them back if they are dealt with. Escaped Nulls find their home here as they gain you back enough life to keep casting your many recurred Vendettas.
This is a really fun combination to draft. This is the deck that Staggershock fits the best, and is what I am immediately on the lookout for if I first pick the card. The most common way to do it is to pick up as many Kiln Fiends and Valakut Fireboars as possible, a Wrap in Flames, and a couple of Distortion Strikes. You can go overboard and play a Goblin Tunneler too, but I think that only really works out if you have loads of Fiends and a few Battle-Rattle Shamans, otherwise he’s just a poor two-drop. If you do manage to go all-in, Reality Spasm really shines, and Drake Umbra is probably the best of the bunch.
I almost never pick the Falter effects highly though, as there are so many of them and are dependent on the number of 1/Xs you pick. It’s normally pretty obvious to tell how high you have to pick the two parts of the deck if they stop tabling; then it means you are not the only UR drafter on the table (not a good sign).
Flame Slash and Staggershock are both fantastic cards, but they don’t kill big guys, which means you have to really focus on picking up those Narcolepsies, Deprives, and Regresses. All these great instants means that Mnemonic Wall is at its best here, as is Surreal Memoir and, consequently, Splinter Twin. I like running Eel Umbra and Fleeting Distractions (now it reads +3/+1, draw a card) in UR, to maximize on the chance of your Kiln Fiends ‘tricking’ your opponents, but mainly just to keep them alive.
Lust for War is phenomenal in this archetype, as well as still being a very undervalued card in general. It’s almost impossible to race when combined with all of UR’s evasion and finishers. This color combination doesn’t naturally defend as well as others, so Sea-Gate Oracle is at its best. Don’t let this deceive you and make you think that Vent Sentinel might finally be good! Blue still gives you a 0/3, a 0/4, and a couple of 1/3s.
This deck tries to get its damage in whenever it can to maximize the effect of the Falter cards. Subsequently, if you’re playing against it, kill their Kiln Fiends on sight and trade guys whenever you can rather than letting the game stagnate into a creature stall. It also really helps to have something at instant speed to stop the Distortion Strikes so they don’t rebound.
Hmm, I hadn’t intended for this article to be all about Blue, but it’s wound up that way. Before I go, let me mention a few more cards that I’m either still having a hard time evaluating or still think are under/overvalued.
Survival Cache: This card has yet to fail to impress me. It almost always reads “2W, gain 4 life, draw 2 cards.” In a slow format that is a little lacking in card advantage, this is a gem. I would say pick it very highly in UW, but I still get passed it 13th!
Spider and Hyena Umbra: These cards are very good at protecting whatever creature is vital to your success, and they do so cheaply. The abilities they grant can also effect combat enough that they prove worthwhile anyway. In lots of games, one player will often cast a Crusher and then the other will follow suit – it’s almost impossible to lose the games where yours becomes a 9/9 (if getting the first Annihilator hit in wasn’t enough).
Last Kiss, Forked Bolt, Induce Despair, Angelheart Vial, Zof Shade: All of these cards I have found underwhelming. Induce Despair is still good, but not as good as I first thought, whilst I have left both Last Kiss and Forked Bolt in my sideboard before.
Bramblesnap and Broodwarden: In my last article, I listed Broodwarden as one of the set’s best non-rares. It is good, but I was wrong in thinking it was quite this good. Some decks are going to slam him. If you pick him early, you can draft a really fun RG or GB deck around him. On the other hand, Bramblesnap continues to go up in my books. I think he’s a pretty high pick, and he gets even better when you Snake Umbra him. The fact that he combos fantastically with Might of the Masses is just a feather in his cap.
Time for me to sign off.