It’s been a while.
While I’m definitely anxious to start up the Drafting With series again for Shards of Alara, I’m even more excited today to share an unorthodox draft strategy I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. At the prerelease, most of the draft-oriented conversations were buzzing with GRW hype and also talk about the Artifact deck. BPM also did a draft walkthrough from my first live draft at CMU. I have to say that my view of the format overall has changed considerably since then, and it all started with a simple fact:
Most good players seem to think that Obelisks are bad, and therefore won’t be taking them very highly.
How did knowing this help to spawn an entire draft archetype? Simple… you just take the best card in every pack, with the solid reassurance that you will get somewhere from 4-6 Obelisks in the mid to late picks and also have all of the lands to help fix your mana. I know this doesn’t sound very difficult on the surface, but the archetype has plenty of nuances that take practice to fully understand. Thankfully for you guys, I’ve got somewhere between 40 and 50 drafts completed by now, and the overwhelming majority of those drafts were spent forcing this deck. The results have been very good so far, and the only real hiccups occur when you hit a draft where there just aren’t many good Rares and Uncommons opened. This seems silly to say, but since you can literally take any card out of any pack and then just “worry about your mana later,” the final builds often come out looking very different.
This type of strategy is certainly greedy, and it can also misfire if you force it and just don’t get shipped anything good. The plus side to all of this is that all of your spells are far more powerful than those belonging to your opponents. There are plenty of people out there who will say the format is far too fast for a deck like this to work, but I’ve been testing for weeks and crushing aggro deck after aggro deck, so I think this is at least worth another look.
Let’s start with the pieces that make up this deck, along with special mention for cards that truly stand out, and then get deeper into the theory department in terms of the format as a whole.
These are the main reason to attempt something like this. When you’re in this deck, you no longer have to open that pack 3 Broodmate Dragon that you just can’t splash and end up passing it. You can take every Charm, every three-mana bomb creature (Rhox War Monk comes to mind), and well… you get the idea. In this section, I want to go over some cards that I specifically look for when drafting this deck.
For those of you who aren’t doing tons of online drafts where you can keep forcing a deck to see how strong it is, the cards mentioned in this section could be good reasons to attempt to go into this strategy. Another way to look at the strategy is as an Audible plan. Things don’t seem to be working out? Good cards in all five colors after pack 1? Start picking up some Obelisks and just play everything. More on this later.
I believe these were huge role players in my initial decisions to try a drafting style such as this one. They remind me of Elder Dragon Legends, in that they cost a ton of colored mana but they also have really strong effects, and playing one is like “living the dream.”
Cruel Ultimatum is obviously the best of these, and I would almost always instantly move into this archetype if I opened it. It’s not really that hard to cast in a deck with five Obelisks, and it’s been game over every time for me. The times it wasn’t game over, I regrew it with Naya Charm and cast it again. You get the idea.
The only Ultimatum that I don’t really want in my deck is Clarion Ultimatum, and I could even find a reason to play it in a deck with lots of doubles or something like Flameblast Dragon so that searching up five lands was actually good. All of the other Ultimatums are awesome, and you should at least consider moving into this deck if you get passed one. One other note is that Titanic Ultimatum isn’t as great in this deck as in a deck like GRW, since you usually only have 8-10 creatures. You’ll still usually cast it with two guys out and end the game or just gain a ton of life, so it’s certainly worth playing.
Kiss of Amesha
If Ultimatums are reason to get into this deck, this is the engine which makes the deck tick.
Everyone is on the bandwagon of drafting aggro in this format, and Kiss is a backbreaker for almost any aggro deck. The idea of course is that you trade one for one with removal and guys for the first few turns, while also developing your mana with Obelisks. Then you play Kiss and go back up to 20, and it’s pretty hard to lose from there. While this may sound overly optimistic, Kiss goes late in drafts on the Beta, and I’ve had up to three in one deck before. In this archetype I am very comfortable taking Kiss over anything that isn’t a bomb Rare. The only Ultimatums I’d take over it are Cruel and Violent, for what it’s worth.
Believe it or not, these are all bombs with the exception of Esper Charm. They give you plenty of flexibility, which is exactly what you need in a deck like this. Esper Charm is also still very playable in this deck, as is Courier’s Capsule, simply for more card draw or in the occasions when you don’t get a fifth pick Kiss of Amesha.
With the exception of the Green one, these are all excellent in this archetype. Yes, even the Black one. These are yet another way, along with all of the gold cards, to really get greedy and take advantage of the fact that it’s easy to get any colors of mana and also easy to get to eight sources long before actual turn 8.
There were a few days where I experimented with taking Silence over Thunder and decided I didn’t like it. That being said, Silence is still very strong in this deck and multiples are definitely welcome, since getting to eight mana is not really that hard and they can’t even counter it when you cycle. Remember too, you’re not going to be doing much on board so they really have little choice but to attack at least one guy into it. Discarding two at random is also good against other control decks, and bouncing two permanents is always going to be strong.
There are tons of these. I’m not exaggerating, and drafting this deck is a simple way to not pass any of them. It doesn’t matter what they cost, if they’re huge and rare, they’re probably a perfect fit for a deck full of fixing and acceleration. My favorite Rare creature by far would have to be Hellkite Overlord, though I’ve probably won the most games with Sphinx Sovereign. Real important, I know. [I’ve also won a draft by swinging with an 8/8 Prince of Thralls backed by Rafiq of the Many… — Craig, who thinks this strategy is AWESOME.]
These are all insane in the archetype and well worth first picking. Tezzeret requires some work to actually run at full capacity, but if you get him in pack 1 it’s not too hard to find something to abuse with him. If nothing else, he makes two extra mana every turn if you have some Obelisks out.
If bombs are the reason for drafting this deck, being able to take and play any piece of removal is a very nice bonus.
This isn’t anything exciting really, but I do want to comment on a couple of things. First, it’s as cheap as they come and also stops annoying Unearth or other graveyard tricks. Second, it helps to keep you alive for the long game. Last, but most importantly, the fact that it exists should make you take Obelisks that produce Red slightly higher, so that if you get a Spray you can cast it off of an Obelisk on turn 3 without losing any tempo or taking extra damage. I know this is a very minimal and rare case, but it’s just something I’ve noticed in the many drafts where I’ve forced this archetype.
Resounding Thunder versus Branching Bolt
This is something I’ve been testing and struggling with for at least a week now. Initially I assumed Thunder was the better of the two, since you should be able to cycle it in most games. After playing more with Branching Bolt in this archetype, I believe I actually prefer it over the Thunder because it will kill two guys a decent amount of the time.
The key in solving this otherwise tough pick for the archetype is to put yourself in the opponent’s shoes. You could literally have any card in the entire format in your deck. He can’t possibly play around all of them, especially with all of the Charms and Resounding cards floating around. Because of this, he will certainly be forced to play into Branching Bolt more often than he would against a simple GRW opponent. I’m also almost at the point where I want to take Bolt over Oblivion Ring, but that’s a topic for another day.
I’m obviously not going to go over every piece of removal and explain why it’s good. You should know that if you have Kresh, the Bloodbraided in your pile, you should probably be picking Bloodpyre Elemental over Magma Spray or Resounding Thunder. You should also know how awesome Oblivion Ring is by now, and that Agony Warp is a very high pick even in a five-color deck. I’ll answer other questions about specific removal in the forums for sure, so don’t hesitate to post if you are wondering about how something would perform in this deck.
To cast all of these different colored cards, we’re gonna need some help.
Help isn’t far away, and this is probably the best format for a strategy like this. Believe me when I say that I’ve tried doing things like this in formats like LLM, and I’ve been much more successful this time around.
These are the best of the fixing since they aren’t as slow as the Panoramas in the later stages of the game, and this deck doesn’t do anything on turns 1 or 2 anyway. I pick these pretty highly in the early stages of the draft, but always take bombs and removal over them unless it’s pack 3 and I already have lots of playables. The key is knowing when to take the fixing and when to take a piece of removal like Skeletonize. Early in the draft you should favor good removal, and later in the draft you should check out your fixing situation and make sure you have enough Lands/Obelisks to support what you’re doing.
These could easily become the top of the triangle and pass up the Tri-Lands after this article. The reason I’m saying this is that more players will likely experiment with this archetype and therefore start taking Obelisks higher, which will increase the demand. Generally you want 4-6 of these depending on what your top end looks like, how many Resounding cards, etc etc. The beauty of this is that it actually doesn’t matter much which Obelisks you have in relation to which spells you have. Just plan on figuring out the mana during deckbuilding and take what you can get during the draft.
These are almost as good as Tri-Lands, but at the same time it really sucks when you don’t have time to activate one because you’re tapping out for removal and then you get too far behind because you don’t have a certain color on a key turn. I would still play as many of these as I could get for the most part as that number usually isn’t higher than 4-5.
Other sources of mana include things like Druid of the Anima, or the cycle of guys that do things if you have a creature with power 5 or greater out and also add mana. As a general rule I don’t like having creature mana in my deck because they will just instantly kill it. It also gives them targets for cards like Magma Spray, which are otherwise dead draws against my huge creatures. Playing one of these guys isn’t the end of the world, but you’re better off avoiding it.
Building the mana for these decks usually isn’t easy, but my common methods for figuring it out involve using the Stats button on Magic Online, or separating by color and figuring out how many sources I need for each.
Playing all of this multicolored stuff is great and all, but how does this deck actually plan to win? A huge guy will usually do the trick, just like the control decks that win with Oona or Meloku in Constructed. Usually you end up with anywhere from 7-11 creatures, and the most I’ve had was 13 (which was an odd case where I was shipped bomb rare after bomb rare). [I like having ten creatures in my deck, personally. — Craig, chiming in.]
These guys are all acceptable win conditions, and pretty easy to cast in a deck like this. Jungle Weaver is by far the best for obvious reasons, and I’ve played up to 3 Weavers in the same deck before with good results. Cavern Thoctar also fits into this group as a big dumb ground guy that will get the job done.
This deck usually has a Courier’s or Dispeller’s Capsule in there, or a bomb artifact rare like Sharuum the Hegemon or Sovereign Sphinx. The Gargoyle is awesome for getting one of those back, and also a solid flyer himself. The real thing to mention here is that often you’ll get two Gargoyles, and they are excellent win conditions since one recurs the other and you can kill everything that gets in the way.
Besides Hellkite Overlord, this is by far my favorite win condition for the deck. This guy reminds me of Rorix, only that this time he can actually block as well. The fact that he doesn’t have Flying doesn’t seem to matter much since I tend to kill most of the stuff my opponent plays anyway.
This card seems as if it were built for this particular archetype. With Kiss of Amesha as the archetype’s centerpiece, you can actually just burn someone out with this guy. Obviously this isn’t the standard use, and in most normal games he will be the nail in the coffin after a couple of removal spells locking down both the ground and the air at the same time.
Taking a page from Chapin’s Constructed deck, this guy is awesome in the Greedy archetype. If they kill it, you get to chump block for a while… what more could you ask for?
I’m just scratching the surface here, and really there are tons of great creatures for this archetype. Feel free to ask about anything not mentioned here, but I really don’t want to waste space going over every bomb Rare in the set and why it is awesome for this deck.
Before this article, I pretty much had the freedom to force this deck in any draft with a very high degree of success.
Now that it’s out there, things will certainly be different. I really can’t imagine two people in the same pod being able to assemble decks like this, as there simply aren’t enough Obelisks and Lands going around in the average draft to support more than that. You can also just fail, and not get any bombs or enough good removal (this is a rare thing, but it does happen and will happen more if multiple people are trying to use this strategy).
I’m definitely interested to see how the format progresses now that this information is available for any serious drafter to read. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to go back to drafting normal decks, and simply going into this deck when I open or get passed a reason to do so, or as an Audible plan like I mentioned earlier, when the draft isn’t looking so hot or I’m already in five colors.
As per usual, here’s a sample decklist from a draft on the Beta server. I also have lots of these if anyone is interested, though most of them end up looking similar.
1 Cruel Ultimatum
1 Resounding Silence
1 Magma Spray
1 Bant Charm
1 Grixis Charm
1 Naya Charm
1 Kiss of the Amesha
1 Agony Warp
1 Resounding Thunder
1 Branching Bolt
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Hellkite Overlord
1 Bull Cerodon
1 Sprouting Thrinax
1 Rockcaster Platoon
1 Jungle Weaver
1 Tower Gargoyle
2 Obelisk of Jund
1 Obelisk of Grixis
1 Obelisk of Naya
1 Obelisk of Esper
1 Jungle Shrine
1 Arcane Sanctum
1 Crumbling Necropolis
1 Bant Panorama
1 Jund Panorama
I’m interested to see the response this gets, and also whether anyone else has been trying out anything like this on their own. See you guys in the forums!