If you’re sitting to my left at Nationals, don’t expect many blue or white cards.
U/W was my favorite archetype in M11 draft. I drafted the U/W beatdown deck at every opportunity and rode my precious Silvercoat Lions to many a victory. Now, the opportunity is back! (Well, minus the Silvercoat Lions. A moment of silence, please.)
U/W is traditionally one of the most powerful color combinations you can play in any draft format, and this is exemplified in Core Set Limited. A well-defined curve full of evasion and backed up by a handful of tricks is always strong, and when you boil the heart of Magic down into a core set, you’ll find these elements of blue and white at their peak.
I wouldn’t go as far to say that I force U/W in every draft, as that’s just nonsense. Forcing is usually a recipe for disaster. There are plenty of cards you can open and signals I can be passed that can put me off a color.
However, if I ever see a glimmer of U/W open, I’ll hop right in. If I’m debating between picks, I’ll take the one that puts me better into these two colors. If you send me these signals, I’ll gladly receive them. It’s not forcing so much as it is looking to be in this combination whenever possible.
So, how exactly does this archetype work?
The basic idea is you have a low curve with plenty of 1-4 drops, with maybe a couple slower bombs or huge fliers to shore up the long game. Your spells are going to be either removal or scrappy tricks that will let you push more damage through when the game goes long.
The most important part is having enough early drops. Let me ask you a question: how many times have you won a game of Limited where your opponent cast an on-curve creature for the first four turns? What about three of the first four turns? Unless you did the same or the creatures were something like Pride Guardian into Alluring Siren, you were probably hard pressed to keep up the pace, especially if they had tricks to back everything up.
I usually want my decks to look something like this:
1-4 One drops
3-6 Two drops
4-5 Three drops
2-4 Four drops
0-2 Five+ drops
While that doesn’t always add up perfectly (if you take the low end of each of those you don’t end up with enough playablesâ€”but then again, at that rate you probably shouldn’t have been in the colors), it should hopefully give you a rough idea of what to look for.
I find the idea of a “pick order” really outdated. Cards are so contextual that having some nebulous overall pick order in an archetype can hinder you more than help. Instead, in a beatdown deck like this, I would rather break it down by mana cost, and then by spells.
The first layer of “pick order” is which drop you need the most. If you’re set on three drops, for example, you should take a weaker two-drop to help out your curve. If you already have a decent curve, you may want the combat trick instead. Once you’re past that layer, look at your available options within the drop category you need most and use these common/uncommon pick order lists as a rough guide.
We lost Infantry Veteran from M11, but fortunately there are a couple great one-drop replacements in M12.
The Lawkeeper is the number one here. It doesn’t have the most robust body, but it’s a tapper. It can even hit for a point or two if you’re curving out. At only a single mana you can play him off curve and, well, yeah. First pick him and be happy.
The Vanguard and the Bear are a little closer in the pick order. First off, be happy with either. A two-power guy for one mana is really nice in this kind of deck. Not only does two power hit hard, but it’s enough to trade with all non-Blood Ogre three-drops when you’re the one attacking. I put 1-4 of these as the ideal number above because that’s as many as I realistically thought you could get, but I would happily play as many as I had.
Side by side, it looks like you’re comparing the one toughness to the illusionary nature of the bear. However, there’s actually a larger question mark here: Armored Warhorse. Since many of my U/W decks will likely end up with a couple Horses, and sometimes you end up with a Guardian’s Pledge, I give the Vanguard the nod over the Bear.
Pride Guardian is on the list, but don’t be fooledâ€”it’s several leagues below the Bear. However, if your deck is really heavy on fliers, I like Horned Turtle-esque guys to buy you time. I often played a Palace Guard or two in M11, and since this format is even more aggressive, I could definitely see starting a Pride Guardian for similar reasons.
Yes, that’s right; I take Stormfront Pegasus over Azure Mage and Merfolk Looter. Don’t get me wrong; I love a Looter and pick it pretty high in general. However, in this kind of deck he is certainly not at his finest.
If you play Looter on turn two, that means your two-drop isn’t attacking. If you didn’t have a one-drop, you’re way behind in the tempo game, which isn’t where this deck wants to be. This deck also typically doesn’t hold many cards in hand. Sure, you may have an excess land for the Looter, but it expends its other resources pretty fast. Where does the Looter come in then? When do you want to play it? How many times can you get uses out of it? The answer is not enough. I can even imagine taking Armored Warhorse over it in some decks.
In any case, the Pegasus is awesome because it’s a ton of damage in the air that comes down on turn two. My turn-two Pegasi easily hit for upwards of 8+ damage in some games, and that’s pretty much all I can ask for in a two-drop.
Azure Mage has been a little better than Looter so far just because of the aggressive body. When you run out of gas, its effect is kind of like a Looterâ€”better sometimes and worse othersâ€”but it will still dominate a board stall like a Looter will.
Warhorse is better than Alabaster Mage assuming you aren’t blue heavy and can consistently have WW (which you usually can), and Coral Merfolk is pretty much always worse than the other two.
Alluring Siren can be all right if you need a way to break through board stalls. Playing one can be all right, though not ideal.
The largest question mark on this list is Griffin Rider. I have him at the bottom in his 1/1 for 1W form, which is clearly not good enough. However, his stock rises very, very quickly if you have a lot of Griffins. Griffin Sentinel and Assault Griffin are the two you are most likely to have in this archetype, though a Peregrine Griffin isn’t out of the question.
I pick Assault Griffin pretty highly, and so if you have 3-4 of those the Rider becomes a lot better. If you slam down an Assault Griffin on turn four, the Rider serves in and does the same damage that a Pegasus would have done in that time span. If you slam down a Griffin Sentinel on three, the Rider can quickly steal a game.
The largest downside is mid-combat removal, as it’s easy for the Rider to fall out of the sky and lead to a two for one. However, if you have enough Griffins and don’t mind attacking without fear, don’t be afraid to embrace this strategy.
Three-DropsÂ Â Â
Adept versus Skywinder Drake is a lot closer than it looks. A curve of Pegasus into Skywinder Drake can just steal games away, and the Armored Warhorse factor can make casting Adept a little trickier.
However, I still give Adept the nod. The tempo it generates is phenomenal, and often casting two Adepts in this kind of deck is game over. Plus, there are even cards like phantoms running around to take further advantage of it in this format. I take Aether Adept highly, though it is still important you have a good curve to get maximum value on him.
Second is Skywinder Drake. Like with the Pegasus, he can just wind the game further and further away from your opponent.
Benalish Veteran is a 3/3 for three in a deck like this, which is basically what you want on your curve. He pounds in past a lot of relevant two-drops and is probably good for six damage most of the time.
Griffin Sentinel is a great card in your slower U/W decks, but in the more aggressive version, he is fairly average. His ability to serve double duty as a plinking flier and a Horned Turtle is certainly appreciated, but the other trifecta of three-drops is much more attractive. I would rather fill my deck with other options, but if none of those show up I’ll play a few Sentinels. And, of course, if you pass a couple of Griffin Riders early in the pack, be sure to scoop up Sentinels earlier than usual.
Auramancer is either a Grey Ogre if you’re into that kind of thing, or a little above average if you have the rare U/W deck filled with Mind Controls and Spirit Mantles. I never really want to play her, especially because she wants to be cast later in the game, but I’ll always play her turn three if I have to, but do not be above playing an Auramancer if absolutely necessary. That said, I certainly don’t recommend it in most decks.
The Dragon is at the top of this curve. You may occasionally fall prey to the Wring Flesh blowout, and after sideboarding he may get worse, but a 5/5 flier for four is still insane. In this kind of deck your opponent is usually going to be burning their cheap spells on your early guys anyway, allowing Phantasmal Dragon to come down for the knockout. Sideboard him out when necessary, but take him early and often.
The next few are closer together. Assault Griffin is generally the four-drop I want the most, especially because if I can slam a lot of them then Griffin Rider might actually because a realistically possibly. (And, if not, I have a lot of Assault Griffinsâ€”it’s a winning situation either way.) Aven Fleetwing is certainly good, but the extra point of power from the Griffin plus Griffin synergies pushes it a little ahead for me. However, if you already have an Aura like Spirit Mantle, definitely take the Fleetwing higher.
Arbalest Elite is a very powerful card, but it has a high mana investment without doing anything else first. For the cost of your four-drop and half of a turn, he turns into an onboard trick versus their blockers.
Now don’t get me wrong: Arbalest Elite is very powerful. However, the easy trap to fall into with these kinds of decks is to take the traditional higher power, long game U/W card instead of the more aggressive card that better fits your strategy. You see the same kind of tension with Merfolk Looter as discussed above.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a more controlling U/W deck if that’s what you end up drafting, but don’t get the two confused. You don’t always want to play a bunch of control cards alongside Coral Merfolk.
With all of that said, I will still happily take and play the Elite in my decks. Despite the time he takes to set up, if you have a decent board position, it makes blocking your creatures impossible. But when it’s a call between the good aggressive flier and this guy, I prefer the flier.
After the Arbalest, you end up with some ground guys. Amphin Cutthroat and Stonehorn Dignitary are fairly comparable. I give the edge to the Dignitary, as having your opponent skip their combat step can be tempo-changing when you’re serving over with fliers. Still, while I like Horned Turtles for three, for four they’re a lot less exciting, and I can’t say I really want more than one of these guys in my deck.
You really don’t want many five-drops in this deck for speed concerns. I’ll run all of the Serra Angels I can draft, but you have to start carefully evaluating everything else.
After Serra, I have Chasm Drake above Belltower Sphinx. In most other archetypes I would put the Sphinx higherâ€”a 2/5 is insane in this formatâ€”but the ability of the Drake to ensure one of your outmoded ground guys gets through can be game breaking. Where in some decks the Drake will just trade for a Hill Giant, you are usually the one applying the beatdown in this archetype. Suddenly he turns into five or six points of damage or a turn, which is what I can ask for out of a five-mana flier.
Belltower is better than Peregrine due to the extra toughness. After that, Siege Mastodon is not a card I want to play if I can help it (though I definitely played my fair share in M11), and Harbor Serpent is too expensive and not even always reliable. Sideboarding one can be passable if you expect a game to go long against a blue deck, but that’s it.
A lot of people like the Colossus as a wall that can serve when necessary, but I’m not a big fan here. I suppose I’ll play it over Harbor Serpent if I’m looking for a blocker that can maybe attack, but I don’t really want a one-shot attacker in my deck. This archetype plays by the theory of consistent sources of damage, not the Ball Lightning one-shot damage line of play.
If you have 3+ auras in your deck, start taking a look at Thran Golem. However, considering the only not-rare aura I really want in this deck is Spirit Mantle, that’s unlikely to happen. Don’t start grabbing all of those Divine Favors trying to make this guy work either.
Rating spells is a little trickier since you have to know when to take them over creatures. I’ve definitely had U/W drafts with a ton of spells that I lean on, and I’ve had U/W drafts with only two or three spells. I recommend taking them when the fit into your pick order. How does the pick order for spells work? Good question!
Here is how I break them down:
Spells you take over creatures (Even Phantasmal Dragon and Serra Angel)
Spells you take over strong creatures (Assault Griffin, Fleetwing Aven, Stormfront Pegasus)
Spells you take late
Some of these areas can be pretty nebulous, most specifically the spells you take over mediocre/expensive creatures part. There’s a ton in there, and they mostly consist of tricks you have to mix and match. I’ll try and make it a little clearer.
Hopefully the first three cardsâ€”Mind Control, Oblivion Ring, and Pacifismâ€”are clear. I’ll take these over almost anything. Removal is hard to come by in U/W, and dealing with one of their blockers is so worthwhile that I’d rather have that effect than a 4/4 flier. The removal spell is more likely to be better for you in a larger percentage of your games since it will push your scrappy guys through.
After that, but behind Serra and Dragon, is Frost Breath. This card is good for similar reasons, and is extremely powerful. I’m not sure people have warmed up to how good freezing is. This card is comparable to a common, instant Sleep. Take it and play all of the copies you canâ€”it’s one of the best new cards for this archetype.
The next area, as I mentioned, is a little trickier to navigate. Ice Cage is on top, and I think the Cage is consistently one of the more underrated core set cards. Yes, some decks have ways to break it, and it’s easier than ever with the Mage cycle around, but in a lot of situations this is just Pacifism. In this kind of deck, often you just need a single turn of tempo to put your opponent on the back foot, and using the Cage as a Stun is totally reasonable in many situations.
Spirit Mantle has been great for me so far. Hold it until about turn five or so when the game should be taking shape and they are likely to have used their removal spells and then cast it. If things have gone reasonable at all, your creature should be able to lock up the last bit of damage you need.
I always want at least one counterspell in this archetype, preferably Mana Leak. I want to play a couple early guys, and then have Mana Leak for their four- or five-drop to completely turn the game in my favor. Negate is good, but since you can’t hit creatures with it, it’s a little less appealing in this archetype. It’s a lot easier to leave up two mana than three, making Cancel less attractive as well.
Equipment is slow, but strong. Greatsword is a pretty good card for the later game that ensures everything can trade profitablyâ€”or that your flier can just steal the game.
Tricks like Mighty Leap, Stave Off, and Turn to Frog are all good. You want at least a couple of these. I like the Leap most of all because it pumps and can send a guy to the skies if need be, but the other two are also fine for attacking favorably.
Unsummon is also very good in this archetype as a pseudo-trick to get blockers out of the way and buy tempo, and I would definitely try to have access to at least one.
Celestial Purge is a card I have certainly maindecked before, and at worst is a very, very good sideboard card. I never mind taking this in the middle of the pack, as it is extraordinary in the matchups it’s good against.
Guardian’s Pledge can rank anywhere from bad to awesome depending on how heavy on white creatures your deck is. Feel free to move it up and down accordingly with your draft.
In general though, you’re seldom going to have to choose between these cards without some context of what’s going on. When you see two of the large range of cards in this section in the same pack and it’s right to take one of them, try to figure out what the best call is in regard to the rest of your deck and what you already have. So many of them are interchangeable that it can be hard to tell, but when in doubt mana efficiency is the primary item I would look at.Â
As far as the last category, I’ll play these cards, but I won’t take them too high. Ponder is a card I never really want to take high, but will usually play it if the deck has room and I don’t have a ton of one-drops.
Divination, on the other hand, isn’t really for this kind of deck. Tapping three mana to not add anything to the board isn’t what the aggressive U/W deck wants to do most of the time. I can see playing it, but you don’t really want to. Flashfreeze is an okay sideboard card, and Scepter of Empires is a card you can play if you’re really desperate for reach.
While the archetype has changed a little bit with M12, I think it’s just as good as before, especially with a couple of cards like Frost Breath, which can really put it over the top. If you ever find yourself at an impasse, I recommend just keeping your curve in mind.
Hitting your early drops is the most important thing with this kind of deck. Plus, the more cheap drops you have, the easier it is to play off-curve when necessaryâ€”plus you can always do something insane like a triple Elite Vanguard/Phantasmal Bear start!
Hopefully this guide to drafting has helped you out a little bit in regards to the archetype. It’s one of my favorite decks to draft, and I think you’ll find a lot of success with itâ€”just as long as you’re not sitting next to me.
If you have any questions about the archetype or want to argue with me about pick orders, please post below, send me a tweet, or e-mail me at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com! I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ll also be around Nationals at Gen Con this week, so feel free to come up and say hi if you’d like to talk about this deck, or anything else!
Continue to have fun exploring M12!
Rabon on Magic Online, @GavinVerhey on Twitter