Limited Lessons — Drafting UB in Time Spiral

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Nick takes a break from his excellent Draft Situation series in order to bring us the lowdown on the fun and powerful U/B Control archetype in Time Spiral Draft. He takes us through the more powerful commons on offer for this archetype, and brings us a couple of interesting decklists that can be used as templates for success. Lorwyn is coming, and TPF is losing its shine… so if you’re looking at drafting something as little different, this is the article for you!

It’s around this time of year that most people are bored with the current Limited format, and are just waiting for the next set to come out in September. I’m of the opinion that TPF is still a relevant format for quite some time now if you happen to play the Online version of the game. It’s because of this that I decided to take a break from Draft Situations for a week to instead write about one of the more quirky archetypes in TPF: the Blue/Black deck.

Blue/Black control has been a staple archetype in almost every draft format that’s ever existed. Most of the tools for creating a successful deck, such as card drawing, removal, and an effective win condition, have been present in these past formats. In TPF, things are a bit different, since Black is weaker as a color, and you have to resort to some sketchy cards in order to produce the results you want.

I want to talk about important commons in all three sets, and also some things you should keep in mind if you find yourself drafting this archetype. I may also throw in the occasional uncommon or rare that is much better in UB than it is normally.

Time Spiral

It’s good that this pack comes first, as both of the colors are strong here and Mystical Teachings is a very good reason to move into this deck.

Corpulent Corpse
This guy is a solid finisher for a number of reasons. When you’re UB, you generally want to have some kind of countermagic such as Cancel, Dismal Failure, or Logic Knot. This is even more powerful if you also have Teachings, since you can establish board control and then have a counter ready for anything that could cause a real problem. The reason the Corpse is so strong in this deck is because you can suspend him for a mere one mana and not have to worry about actually casting a win condition and using all of your mana.

A UB build that continually keeps its mana open and is killing guys, drawing cards, or countering things is much more daunting than one that taps out every turn and plays creatures that likely aren’t that threatening. The Corpse is exactly what the UB archetype wants, as it’s a reasonable clock, cheap to get online, and has evasion.

Gorgon Recluse
Another aspect of UB that I haven’t even touched on yet is the ease with which you can abuse the Madness mechanic. Every color has lots of ways to discard cards in this format, but Blue is still the best at it and the Recluse is a great defense tool that makes it hard for your opponent’s normal guys to attack. It can also take out a much bigger guy that the rest of your removal couldn’t handle. It’s for this reason too that Dark Withering is amazing in UB.

This is a strong element of any Black deck, but even more so in UB. The reason is because your goal is to get the board stable and have your opponent living in topdeck mode while you have a threat and a grip full of answers. Mindstab gets your opponent that much closer to topdeck mode, and lets you know exactly what threats you’re going to need to deal with early in the game so that you can make your decisions more accurately. A turn 1 Mindstab is crippling when backed by removal and countermagic, as your opponent will most often be forced against the wall and have to show you everything he has early in the game. which you can then hopefully handle.

I used to hate this card back in TTT, but it has really gone up in value in full block draft. It kills lots of things that you may otherwise have trouble dealing with and at an affordable price, as long as you’re not too low on life to take a hit first.

Tendrils of Corruption
I honestly don’t even know why I’m wasting space mentioning this card. The only way you wouldn’t understand the benefits of Tendrils is if you’ve been living in a cave for the past year and haven’t seen it in virtually every control deck that could cast it. The life gain is the most important part for draft, as UB can be put on the back foot easily, and you want to be out of range of a burn spell when you do manage to stabilize the board.

Demonic Collusion
Some of my CMU friends make fun of me for my mild obsession with this card. It gets better with more Madness cards to abuse the buyback with, and it also tends to fit the UB mindset of wanting to have control of everything at every point in the game. This card will usually go very late, so I wouldn’t pick it early unless there was nothing else, or if you had multiple Dark Witherings… you can chain them with this and absolutely wreck someone.

Some people have said they like this card in UB because you can Madness and also usually not lose a guy of your own. I strongly disagree. Yes, you can do both of those things mentioned, but the fact remains that losing a land is too steep a cost for the UB deck to handle in most games. There are lots of token producers that can easily negate the effects of the Pox.

My opinion on this card is that you have to get very lucky for it to do anything relevant, and your best chance of doing so is in the early game, to kill something like a turn 3 Thallid Germinator. The problem is that you don’t want to be casting this card that early, as it will probably hurt you more than it will your opponent.

Dream Stalker
An excellent blocker that fills the Horned Turtle role in this format. More than that, he can be used to get another shot out of Fathom Seer, Shaper Parasite, or anything else with a comes into play effect. Finally, he kills pesky enchantments like Utopia Vow, Temporal Isolation, or Melancholy.

In short, he does it all, and you should be happy playing multiples.

Crookclaw Transmuter
I only mention this excellent flier because you can search him up with Teachings, and there are a few archetypes that will just fold to him when he’s backed by removal on your part.

Mystical Teachings
This is obviously the engine that makes most UB builds run in this format. It’s card selection, card advantage, and in some instances it’s game over (if you have a bomb like Draining Whelk or Teferi to search up).

Think Twice
Usually UB doesn’t do anything in the early game, and this also fits the plan of passing with mana open for potential countermagic or Cradle to Graves. Not a high pick, but again desirable in this color combination.

I didn’t mention lots of the really good commons available in these colors because I think doing so is of very little value at this point in the game. The format has been around long enough that if you don’t know how good Strangling Soot, Errant Ephemeron, or Fathom Seer are, you should be reading a different article. In the drafts I play in regularly, it seems that Mystical Teachings is often undervalued, and this leads me to draft UB more than I normally would otherwise.

I will say that Looter il-Kor is better than Fathom Seer if you know for a fact that you’re going to be in UB. If it’s first pick first pack, or you only have Blue cards up to that point, I think you should just take the better overall card in the Seer, as he is still very good in UB.

Planar Chaos

Going into the second set of packs, you should have a pretty strong foundation if you’ve decided on this archetype. The bad news is that you’re not going to get much help in the Black category from this set of packs, so you have to really look hard for playables sometimes.

Rathi Trapper
This or Shaper Parasite is what you’re hoping to open. This is the only top common in Black that you can hope to get in this set of boosters, so pray you open or get passed one.

Cradle to Grave
If you read my articles regularly, you’ll remember that I was very critical of this card when the set first came out. Over time I started to realize it certainly has its place, and it’s especially good in this color combo. It’s gotten even better with the addition of Future Sight, as you have more fatties like Sporoloth Ancient and Kavu Primarch to deal with, as well as the usual array of suspend guys. I’m very happy with multiples in most of my UB decks, and it is a common tutor target for Teachings.

Bog Serpent
I almost always table these as a late pick, and I think having one is pretty important. This is a man you’re not unhappy to tap out for, as he will be able to hold the ground while your fliers or other win conditions are doing their work. If the situation arises where he can actually attack, then that’s just gravy. This is a necessary tool for beating most Green decks.

Midnight Charm and Piracy Charm
I tend to favor Midnight Charm if given the choice, because gaining a life is nice, and sometimes you really need to tap down a creature to stay alive for another turn and lock down the board. First strike is also useful sometimes. The other two abilities on the Piracy Charm have not been particularly effective for me, with the exception of winning through Islandwalk once or twice. The only benefit to Piracy Charm is that it’s an answer to Mire Boa.

I will gladly play both of these cards, but in general you should favor the Black version.

I hate when I’m forced to play this card, but I guess you can say it gets a job done if you have no better options. Personally I’d much rather have Assassinate or any other removal available, as tying up a mana every turn is only okay in the late stages of the game. The card is also hosed by bounce or Cloudchaser Kestrel, or gating creatures like Whitemane Lion and Stormfront Riders.

If it did something extra special then it may be worth the risk of losing a card for nothing. As is stands, it isn’t even a great deal for what it does, and you run the risk of losing a card because it’s an enchantment.

Primal Plasma and Aquamorph Entity
I tend to prefer the Entity here, due to the flexibility of morph and the plan of passing with mana up on most turns in UB if possible. Both guys are very playable and can serve as walls as well as attackers, which is nice.

Erratic Mutation
This is excellent, but you have to be careful as your number of Piracy and Midnight Charms rises. I think the optimal number of Charms is probably two, but I may even cut down to one if I had multiple Mutations.

Planar Chaos is not a particularly fun pack for the UB mage, unless you bust something like Jodah’s Avenger or Enslave. Shaper Parasite is your main incentive, or possibly a couple of Rathi Trappers backed by Blightspeaker. The only good news for you is that if you were getting shipped Blue and Black in Time Spiral, they are both solid in Future Sight and you will likely be getting shipped good cards in pack three.

Future Sight

To round out the draft you should pick up a bunch of playables in this last set of boosters. Ichor Slick and Death Rattle are the major players you will be looking for, and the Rattle is searchable via Teachings, which is nice since it will only cost one mana in the late game. Should you open a Sprout Swarm and have a Teachings already, I would strongly consider taking it as a splash even if you only end up playing one Forest. If you have the Swarm in your deck you can focus on controlling the game and then eventually win by tutoring it up.

In my opinion this is the best draw available for this archetype, behind possibly Fathom Seer as he is reusable. Whatever the case, Foresee will gas you up and ensure that it is hard for your opponent to win if the board is stable or he is behind. The only downside is tapping out on your turn, but it’s not like this is Constructed where that would matter a lot more.

Augur of Skulls
While I will play one of these guys in my UB decks, I don’t think he is as effective as most people believe. The discard ability is fine for sure, but you don’t want to be caught in a position where you are having to save regeneration mana every turn in the middle of a game. Doing so will only keep you behind, and you should probably have taken a different course of action somewhere to avoid getting into this situation.

My other problem is that since you will be casting a lot of spells, he will be very vulnerable, so you have to asses him as either an early Mind Rot or a late game blocker when you will have excess mana laying around to regenerate.

Deepcavern Imp and Grave Scrabbler
The Imp combos with Madness as well as Blightspeaker, which most people tend to forget. He’s also a fine attacker.

Grave Scrabbler may or may not be playable, depending on how many outlets you have for him as well as how many creatures you have total. He’s a tricky card to evaluate since a lot of things need to be true in order for him to be a good addition to your deck. Just make sure you double check both of these counts, and then ask yourself if you really want him in your deck and if he helps to serve your larger game plan. In a couple of drafts I had enough Madness enablers and enough guys, and I still didn’t want the Scrabbler in my deck as he was going to be too inconsistent.

Infiltrator il-Kor
If Corpulent Corpse is a great finisher for UB, this guy is off the freakin’ charts. He’s sleeker, harder to block, and starts attacking much earlier than the Corpse. I would pick this very highly, and possibly even over Death Rattle in decks that already had enough removal. This is the win condition that UB is really looking for in TPF.

Aven Augur
While I will still play this creature in these colors, you have to understand that UB is not going for a tempo-oriented assault. Aven Augur is unreal in UG, but only okay in UB since your opponent is simply going to recast his guys on the following turn and you didn’t punish him enough while they weren’t in play. If you’re returning your own creatures with comes into play or unmorph abilities then I can see why you’d want the Augur, but don’t confuse his excellence in UG with a similar value in these colors.

Whip-Spine Drake
Well, I guess we’re casting this one face up except in dire circumstances. In my experience this is still fine, and he will serve as a nice finisher after you’ve dismantled your opponent’s board.

Leaden Fists
I like to use this in UB to create a huge ground blocker by putting it on my own Unblinking Bleb or Dream Stalker. This will usually kill a guy the first time around and keep my opponent from attacking for quite a while. This is good for the exact same reasons that Bog Serpent is good, except this time we can actually use this on the opponent’s creatures as well and stop some annoying utility creature or fatty.

That should give you a pretty basic understanding of the goals of a UB archetype in TPF. You get the core of your deck in Time Spiral, try to bolster where you can in Planar Chaos, and then pick up many more good cards in Future Sight. Try to have a vast suite of Teachings targets if you can (and if you get Teachings) so that you can get yourself out of some of the sticky situations that come up. It’s more important than ever to have countermagic too, with Sprout Swarm around, as you have literally no chance of beating it without some kind of discard or countermagic. UB generally doesn’t pack enough fliers to race a Swarm in the air, so be prepared to deal with it.

Here are a couple of UB decks I’ve drafted recently.

Aeon Chronicler
Aquamorph Entity
Coral Trickster
Corpulent Corpse
Cradle to Grave
Crookclaw Transmuter
Cryptic Annelid
Death Rattle
Dreamscape Artist
2 Erratic Mutation
Ichor Slick
Logic Knot
Mass of Ghouls
Mystical Teachings
Tendrils of Corruption
Trespasser il-Vec
Urborg Syphon-Mage
Muck Drubb
Phyrexian Totem
9 Island
8 Swamp

This deck wasn’t anything special and still managed to go 2-1. This should give you a decent idea of what a normal UB deck will look like, though this one has the extra counterspell, and the creature base is very unexciting.

The second deck I want to show is one that I thought was terrible on paper, and then ended up going 3-0.

2 Bog Serpent
Cryptic Annelid
Dismal Failure
Dream Stalker
Dunerider Outlaw
Erratic Mutation
Fathom Seer
Infiltrator il-Kor
Maelstrom Djinn
Midnight Charm
Piracy Charm
Premature Burial
Rathi Trapper
Riptide Pilferer
Shaper Parasite
Sudden Death
Unblinking Bleb
Urborg Syphon-Mage
Venser’s Diffusion
Viscerid Deepwalker
Whip-Spine Drake
Yixlid Jailer
9 Island
7 Swamp
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

The Dunerider Outlaw was only in my deck because this draft was a three-on-three and we knew our opponents were heavy in Green. Besides that the deck is pretty mediocre, and the only exciting aspect is double Bog Serpent backed by Urborg.

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas for the next time you find yourself in UB. The best advice I can give you is that UB is not a very creature-oriented deck in this format, and you want to make your picks with a control-oriented mindset. This means taking Cradle to Grave over that Primal Plasma even though you’re lacking creatures. It’s better to have a few solid win conditions and complete control than to have a bunch of crappy guys and a deck that is confused about which direction it’s going in.

See you next week, most likely with more draft situations.

Nick Eisel
Soooooo on MTGO
[email protected]