Drafting and observing drafts as often as I do, I get to see many examples of various decks and color combinations. Blue and Black are the least popular colors in Mirrodin draft, and with good reason, as both colors are rather shallow and lack in truly powerful commons. However, a properly drafted U/B deck can be deceptively quick with wonderful staying power, utilizing solid ground artifact creatures in conjunction with high power-to-mana ratio flying creatures to great effect.
The first thing that is obvious after looking at a Mirrodin spoiler is that neither Blue nor Black can do anything about an artifact once it resolves. The second thing that is immediately obvious? Both colors play extremely well with artifacts in play, getting bonuses mostly centered around extra power (the Nim creatures) and cost reduction (Affinity-based creatures/spells). Blue and Black also have a high percentage of quality uncommons, something that can lead a drafter down a road into an ideal deck, if they are sharp enough to recognize what needs to be done to optimize the deck.
There are multiple approaches to a U/B deck, but I will only be discussing what I feel to be the strongest: an Affinity-based build. What I mean by that is not”take the Frogmite first pick” but rather, optimizing your interaction with artifacts and taking advantage of the few strengths these colors have between them.
I’ll be honest – I have not had all that much success with this archetype, even with ridiculous card quality in my U/B decks. I’ve had Crystal Shard/Skeleton Shard/Looming Hoverguard/Betrayal of Flesh times two and still lost because the opponent played an artifact that I could not deal with effectively. U/B has lots and lots of synergy available within the archetype’s cardpool, but the lack of any true removal for artifacts cripples the potential of the deck before it even begins.
Another major problem is that, while Black is the control color of the format, Blue is all about tempo. This makes the way you build and draft the deck an awkward and delicate balance of both. Our own Editor-in-Chief, Ted Knutson observed this and made the statement that”You have to win every game with U/B by outplaying your opponent.” In one respect, he’s right. U/B is extremely difficult to build and play properly, but the synergy and power brought out when the cards fall correctly is worth it. The key here is that you have to outplay your opponents in the draft and during construction. If these colors are underdrafted, U/B can be wonderful, but be prepared for random losses to cards that you have very few outs for, like good Equipment, powerful artifacts, or Black creatures.
One possibility is to shore up the deck with a small splash from Green or Red (for something like Shatter or Deconstruct), but be careful whenever splashing anything into a Black-based deck, as Consume Spirit is a vital weapon.
Without any further ado, here are the commons for U/B, in order of how much I want to see the card in my deck at the end of the draft. As always, these pick orders change based on deck needs and serve only as a general guideline based on my personal experiences and card evaluations.
U/B Common Pick Order
Funny how when the set came out people thought that Terror was no longer good. They could not have been more wrong, as Terror shines in this removal-light archetype even more than elsewhere. When you are planning on winning the game with evasion, two problems can come to light very quickly. A card such as Tel-Jilad Archers or Skyhunter Patrol can ruin the entire game, and large monsters can race or cause major headaches. Terror solves those problems with such a small investment.
2. Neurok Spy
While flyers are good, this card is great. Two points of no-questions-asked damage gives this the nod over the potentially more powerful flyers. Flyers can be blocked, while this is virtually Phantom Warrior. This can be a deceptively quick clock and coupled with some equipment or another evasion creature, it ends the game in a hurry.
3. Somber Hoverguard
This card, along with Neurok Spy, is the only real incentive for playing Blue in the common slots. This is a very efficient creature with only two artifacts in play, equaling the Blue standard flyer from last block, Ascending Aven. With more artifacts in play, this becomes ridiculous, allowing for multiple other plays on the turn you cast it, something that should not be overlooked. Add in the fact that it only costs one Blue mana to cast, and you have a wonderful evasion creature that is perfect for the archetype. The only thing keeping it down at number three is that there is not much more depressing than tapping six mana to cast this, and the fact that it does happen keeps this from taking top creature honors.
4. Consume Spirit
Since Blue is completely lacking in removal, this card moves much higher than in other Black-based decks. Being able to kill a creature as well as gain some vital life points back during a race makes this a wonderful card to have. That said, it is a little bit unwieldy and can reek havoc on the mana base. This is a card that you want many of, so that you can play mostly Swamps, which you should be doing anyway, as most of the Blue spells only require one Blue mana to cast.
5. Myr Enforcer
A 4/4 for five mana would not be all that exciting. However, this is rarely going to cost that much, often coming down for three or even two mana, and at that price, this card becomes insane. A large ground creature is a valuable commodity outside of Green, and for such a low mana cost (due to the idea of maximizing artifacts in the deck), this fills an irreplaceable role in the U/B arsenal.
Just as ridiculous here as anywhere else, between flyers and Neurok Spy, this is usually going to have a home on something with evasion. Typically Splitter will net you a couple of extra points of damage per turn, and then get moved to something holding down the fort on defense. The axe also works well with Yotian Soldier, and although that might seem like a minor point, non-evasion creatures with large toughness are great at stalling the ground in U/B, while the flyers win the game.
Let the controversy begin! Honestly, this card is so vital to this archetype that if I had four of them, I’d probably play them all. Once an artifact hits play, there is nothing you can do about it, and the only common way to counteract that problem is Annul. Annul is a card that is best used when you have the time to use it, and the best way to ensure that in this archetype (I’ve cut Annul many times in other decktypes), is to have multiple Annuls.
You really want to be able to counter that early Talisman or Myr to get to the late game, but at the same time, you want to have the capability to stop that late Loxodon Warhammer or Pentavus. Annul is not the best card in the world, but it is certainly a necessary evil in the U/B deck.
This is not R/B. You need removal, and you need to prioritize taking removal for your deck. There isn’t much removal to choose from here. Irradiate is conditional (which can be extremely annoying), but if the U/B deck that you are piloting cannot make good or great use out of Irradiate, something is very wrong. This should function as a virtual Death Pulse in this deck, as the reliance on the interaction between the colored cards and artifacts is very high, and hence you should be stocked on artifacts and artifact lands.
9. Pewter Golem
As sturdy as they come, Pewter Golem is a welcome addition to any deck packing Swamps. This provides great defense in a deck that has little to offer. The mark of a good card is one that the opponent hates to see on the other side of the board. Not many decks look across the board at a freshly summoned Pewter Golem and feel that they have things as well under control as they did just seconds before.
10. Nim Shrieker
This is often going to be a 5/1 or 6/1 flyer for four mana. My major problem with this card is that it is so vulnerable to removal and other combat tricks and trades or worse with Tel-Jihad Archers, Wizard Replica, or Skyhunter Patrol in combat. Despite its shortcomings, this can end a game blazingly fast, and a deck caught without an answer will quickly be looking to the sideboard for a solution. Also of note: As depressing as casting Somber Hoverguard is for six mana, nothing, and I mean nothing, is worse than paying four mana for a 0/1 or 1/1 flyer. It actually demoralizes you to the point where there is no way that you are winning that game.
11. Silver Myr/Leaden Myr
Blue and Black”do niiiice” with artifacts. Incredibly vital to the deck’s overall strategy, they justify their high position through versatility and synergy. These are artifacts that help you get to the late game first, where U/B shines, and allow for early, powerful flyers. In the late game, they can act as a chump blocker or simply power up a game-ending Consume Spirit. Take these early and often, as current strategy has Myr rated incredibly highly and you will not see them later than seventh or eighth pick.
12. Wizard Replica
This card is incredibly annoying. I believe that this is the best of the Replicas, as even one power of evasion is good in this format, and the limited countering ability accomplishes a lot of what U/B is looking to do. Add in the potential for abuse with Black’s recursion, and this card becomes a true game-winner. The low cost of the ability makes this very attractive to the U/B player trying to survive while simultaneously putting out more threats. Overall very solid, but look out for other people scooping these up and playing them as simple 1/3 flyers for three mana.
13. Cobalt Golem
This card is so very average. It is the perfect example of the standard creature of the format. A 2/3 for four mana with a marginal (in this case activated) ability. Unfortunately, when it comes to creatures in U/B, average is pretty good. This will do just fine, as it is an artifact that can be brought back from the dead and has flying when necessary.
14. Aether Spellbomb
This card is on my list of”cards I despise because it is always good for my opponents and terrible for me.” The benefits to this card are few. The Spellbomb helps with Affinity, draws a card in a pinch, and does bounce a creature. However, it is an extremely awkward bounce spell, either played as a 1U sorcery if you want to gain any sort of surprise or it sits on the board where the opposition can play around it. It also cannot bounce one of Blue’s true problem cards, the Tel-Jihad Archers. Normally I side with Ken Krouner on the Regress/Spellbomb debate, but due to its synergy here, I’d rather see the Spellbomb in my”playable” pile.
15. Seat of Synod/Vault of Whispers
These are so important to making this deck hum that they are listed on the pick order ahead of plenty of cards that are playable. If you are Blue or Black in Mirrodin draft, the reward for playing the artifact lands far outweighs the risk of having mana problems after an opponent destroys a land with an artifact removal spell. The uses for these are too many to make mention, but just look at the card list and see how many Blue and Black spells are dependent on artifacts in play. These are free and usually will not be the target of a wise opponent’s removal.
The only problem with these guys is that they do not count towards the number of playable cards in the pile, and sometimes you will have to take another marginal card to fill out the deck instead of an artifact land that would up the efficiency of the deck. My rule is that, if the card being chosen over the land is only marginal, I would rather run a Necrogen Spellbomb or something equally inoffensive in order to maximize the other cards in my deck with the power of the Artifact Land.
16. Off Color Myr
These are just as good as you would imagine in a deck full of things that benefit from artifacts in play. Plus they get you to the late game and can block in a pinch. Basically, go read what I said about the on-color Myr, and just remember that Black likes to have plenty of Black mana available for Consume Spirit.
17. Vulshok Gauntlets
Now this is equipment that I feel is worth getting excited over. It makes any of your flying creatures hit four points harder, while at the same time making them less vulnerable to combat with the aforementioned Patrol or Archers. Something obvious worth mentioning (because even experienced players make mistakes), is the idea that you should not remove this if the creature’s toughness will now be less than or equal to the amount of damage it has taken this turn. Be careful when using this card, but generally, it is a very solid addition to U/B’s arsenal.
18. Neurok Familiar
If this card was a 1/1 flyer for two mana that said”draw a card when this comes into play” on it, you would play it in a heartbeat. Well, in U/B, it usually does, and when it does not, it is milling away a basic land most of the time. Plus, as I said above in the recap of Wizard Replica, one point of evasion is actually pretty good in this format, and the opponent will be hesitant to trade Tel-Jihad Chosen with it, so on defense it can put a stop to early beats.
19. Wail of the Nim
Sigh, we’re already getting into the”one per deck” zone of commons. If the deck being played has more than one Wail of the Nim, it is not a high quality draft deck. Even so, the Wail is extremely underrated and a good card to have available either maindeck or sideboard. It kills Myr, Nims, and the combat trick aspect of the card can be quite nasty if set up correctly. In the Black-on-Black mirror, this card has extra use and should almost always be sided in.
20. Nim Replica
Bleh. I despise this card with all of my being, but its worth playing and any trickery is appreciated in U/B. [Anybody notice that Joe really doesn’t like this archetype? – Knut]
This card is very sneaky. It has a tendency to be worthless a little too often for my tastes, but the times when it is good, it’s really good. Read [author name="Ken Krouner"]Ken Krouner’s[/author] dilemma if you have doubts, as he makes a number of valid points that I do not feel the need to repeat here.
22. Moriok Scavenger
This is so unexciting in this deck. I mean sure, there will be times where you’ll recurse a dead Pewter Golem or a Wizard Replica, but most of the time, this is a 2/3 for four mana with a very insignificant effect. The creatures here are just too awful and the good ones are not artifacts. In fact, as I wrote this originally, Moriok Scavenger was number sixteen on my list, but after further review it ended up here.
23. Viridian Longbow
This card can singlehandedly destroy U/B decks. Be very wary about passing these late, as they kill many of the vital creatures in the deck with very little effort, and a double equip will kill pretty much all of the good creatures the archetype has to offer. The good news is that it doubles as a fine maindeck/sideboard card for the U/B deck.
24. Slagwurm Armor
Ok, this is not a good card. However, in this archetype, you will find more uses for it than in any other. It makes your creatures tougher (pun intended), and in a deck with as many X/1 and X/2 creatures, this can turn an easily removed Nim Shrieker into a major threat. This may sound odd, but think about it; if you have a Shrieker and two other artifacts in play, and equip it with the armor, you get a 3/7 flyer. None of the common removal spells deal with that sized creature on their own.
Using a precious artifact removal spell to get rid of a pesky Slagwurm Armor is extremely frustrating and can often be very costly in the long run. Again, you really do not want more than one of these in a deck, as it is a horrible tempo play but one can turn a very inconsistent, fragile deck into something more formidable.
25. Leonin Scimitar
This really is not all that exciting here, as most of the powerful fragile creatures do not gain very much from one additional power (which they have in spades) or one additional toughness (this still does not take X/1 creatures out of Electrostatic Bolt range). I am positive that I will read in the forums how wrong I am and all that jazz, but remember, my pick orders are listed in relative importance to an archetype. I know you will never take Slagwurm Armor over the Scimitar at any point while drafting, but if you have to make a cut and it is between the two, I honestly believe that you must keep the Armor if the deck is the typical Black deck featuring multiple Nim.
26. Goblin War Wagon
This is actually pretty good in this deck, but I have major qualms about the drawback in this particular deck. Black, as I have said seemingly 3247239074 times (actually around thirty), is a late game color in this format. In the late game, you want to be spending your mana doing the spectacular late game stuff that Black is capable of doing. Despite that, this is a solid creature and you will not always have something better to do, and at the very least, it trades with larger attackers.
27. Yotian Soldier
This is actually really good in this deck, as a high toughness defender is a necessity that no other card in Blue or Black can provide at an efficient cost. That being said, there really should be no more than two of these in any given deck, and they should not be picked highly, as filling out the”good” card slots in the deck is a lot more relevant than selecting something that is more or less a luxury.
28. Wanderguard Sentry
A 3/3 for five mana is hardly spectacular, and with such a marginal ability, this would be considered unplayable in most other formats. Welcome to the world of Mirrodin, where if you are not an artifact and you have greater than two toughness, you are difficult to remove. This card is a little bit underrated and is probably fine if it makes your deck. Do not be excited to be playing it, however, as I witnessed just last night.
I was about to call this a giant waste of time, but in this format, and especially in this deck, this can fairly reliably be cast for one mana in the mid/late game. Being able to do other things with mana while simultaneously recouping cards spent making one-for-one trades is definitely alright in certain builds of U/B. Nothing to write home about, but if you need a 23rd card, you could do much worse.
30. Chromatic Sphere
Does anyone care what I have to say about Chromatic Sphere? It is an inoffensive artifact that powers Affinity and Nims and once in a while fixes mana. Other times, you will have to mana burn, which can be extremely annoying.
31. Inertia Bubble
Underrated in an extreme sense, you’ll see these as late as fifteenth pick on a fairly regular basis. Sure, it does not deal with bomb equipment, and it can be useless at times, but as far as effective sideboard cards go in this archetype, this is one of the absolute best. No longer be plagued by opposing Icy Manipulators or Shards! Stop that annoying Pewter Golem in its tracks! Ok, this is not all that special, but it deserves more respect than it has received thus far.
32. Clockwork Condor
Hopefully, the U/B deck in front of you will have better options than this card. If you have multiple Moriok Scavengers or a Skeleton/Crystal Shard, you could do much worse, so keep that in mind if you start seeing these late. Plus, this is extremely annoying to play against, as you cannot kill it and at the same time, it trades with many of your own flying men.
33. Nim Lasher
Spined Basher, meet Nim Lasher. Spined Basher was sorta okay in Onslaught Limited, but mostly because it was a morph and traded with other morphs. Unfortunately, getting even mana investment trades out of the Lasher can be very difficult, as mana Myr are everywhere and people are even warming up to the idea of Disciple of the Vault and his brethren when building decks. However, in the Slagwurm Armor anchored archetype of U/B, this is usually just fine, providing a large power/cost ratio while the Armor keeps it safe from unfortunate trades.
34. Lumengrid Warden
This card is obviously not very good, but sometimes you will have to play it, and it should be at least functional as a reasonably sized defender in the early game. Of course, when you draw it late, you reach for the trash can, but that is a risk you always take when you play with conditional cards that are just fair to begin with.
2/2s with no abilities are not very good in this format. Elf Replica, while situational at best, has an ability that gets around some very powerful cards. Plus, it always costs three mana, so what you see is what you get. On the other hand, Frogmite does nothing but provide a warm body. Sometimes, you will need the creature, but on those occasions you are probably in trouble anyway. The problem with Frogmite in Limited is simple. Even if you could cast this reliably on turn 2 every game, it still does not do anything worth getting excited over. I get annoyed when I see Frogmite played because usually someone is trying to be a little cutesy with their deck construction at the expense of the power of their deck.
36. Steel Wall
Worth mention as a solid blocker and speedbump versus Green decks, plus it can help enable many of the more powerful cards in the deck. This is hopefully not in the maindeck, but can and should see play as a fine sideboard option.
An awful counterspell, but sometimes worth mentioning as a sideboard option against bombs. Not much else to say about this, so moving on…
During this series, my goal has been to explore archetypes in Mirrodin Draft. Color combinations and archetypes are two related-but-different ideas. I define an archetype as: The synergistic interaction of cards within the color combination in order to achieve maximum efficiency.
The color combination itself is simply the two colors represented. Some color combinations do not have archetypes, such as G/B or B/W, relying more on a”good stuff” theory of taking the best cards available in the two colors and throwing them together to make a deck. I have not and will not be focusing on those sorts of combinations, instead deciding to discuss only the decks that, when properly drafted, gain extra power from the fact that they represent an archetype.
So why did I just spend a paragraph explaining that? Well, U/B is by far the deck most reliant on synergy and focus in order to achieve success. The header on this article”Don’t Play This if You Want to Win” is intentionally misleading. A well-built U/B deck can not only win, but perform smoothly each and every game. The reason why I consider U/B a difficult choice while drafting is that U/B does not have much”good stuff” inside of its color combination. It depends on being drafted and played as an archetype. The delicate balance between the cards in the deck and the relation with one another makes U/B a tough option to explore.
One of the major problems with drafting and building U/B is the fact that none of the cards are all that great. I mean, even what I consider to be the best common, Terror, is something that I really would not want more than three or four of in an ideal U/B deck. There are no ideal creatures. All of the common removal spells are great against U/B, as a huge dependence on artifacts combined with low toughness creatures means that no matter which brand of removal an opponent has, it will probably be good in any given situation. There is also an incredible dearth of tricks for an archetype that usually has a plethora of good ones at its disposal.
So what do you do? The primary principle of an optimal U/B build is make it the late game before they do. This deck wants to be in the late game, but it wants to be there faster than the other late game decks of the format. There is no way that you can compete with a properly built R/B or R/W deck if you do not push your deck into the late game stages as fast as humanly possible. This is done by abusing the wonderful synergy between artifact lands, Talismans, mana Myr and the Affinity mechanic. Other decks will be trying to do this as well, but no other archetype has the tools to do so as effectively and consistently as U/B. Once again, abuse of tempo is key, although in this case, a different kind of temporal abuse is taking place.
The card that best typifies this principle is Looming Hoverguard, my absolute favorite card from this set. In a proper setting and build, the Hoverguard will provide the final devastating blow to an already on the ropes opponent. I’ll say it again: Make it the late game before they do. Put them on an evasive clock and then deal the killing blow. A proper finish for a U/B deck is the aforementioned Hoverguard or something as simple as Terroring a Tel-Jihad Archers out of the way so that flyers can finish the job or Consume Spiriting the dome for the final four points of damage.
Depend on your power cards to finish the job, but get those evasion creatures dealing damage as soon as possible. The traditional stall-until-the-late-game role of U/B is simply not effective in this brave new world, especially without any form of artifact removal. Accelerating into evasive beatings is the key.
Problems For U/B
The danger in playing U/B is being simply outpowered. U/B relies heavily on synergy between its cards, but sometimes all the synergy in the world will not stop a rampaging double Fangren Hunter or Hematite Golem. The other colors have more powerful individual options, meaning if U/B stumbles in its goal of getting to the point in the game where it is at its best, one or two powerful cards can spell major trouble.
Equipment is a problem as well. U/B has creature removal, and although it is limited, it is creature removal nonetheless. Something like an opposing Bonesplitter or Fireshrieker makes all of that removal so much less effective because the deck has no way to ever dispose of the equipment and cannot afford to try and kill all of the creatures that the opponent plays. A Myr charging into the Red zone with a Bonesplitter will outrace a Neurok Spy, but killing the Myr will probably not solve the problem.
Finally (and this is more of a play style problem rather than a card quality problem), you have to aggressively mulligan with U/B more so than with any other deck. Simply put, you cannot afford to be casting 0/1 Nim Shriekers or paying five mana for Somber Hoverguard. Mulligan slow, awkward hands here because you will not be drawing out of it very often, even if the lands/spells mix is fine.
There is no better place to start with actual numbers than the mana base. I would say an optimal build in U/B has as many Myr and Talismen as you can possibly draft. I’m sure that you all either know this or get the point by now but once again: Myr Are Good, Draft And Play As Many As You Can. These cards perform double duty as enablers and acceleration, lowering the cost on Somber Hoverguards and Myr Enforcers by a virtual two mana while allowing for earlier and more powerful Nim Shriekers as well. Another strong consideration is that Consume Spirit is a mighty weapon in the U/B archetype and finding more mana sources never hurts there, either. Overall, I would hope for at least three to four Myr, both on and off-color, two to three artifact lands (if you do not have Consume Spirit or other heavy mana commitments, consider the impact of an off-color artifact land), and fill in up to sixteen land. Sixteen land has proven to be the jumping off point in this format, and with this deck’s balancing act of expensive late game spells and the need to get there, even with three or four Myr, I believe sixteen is the right number.
In the creature slots, outside of the three Myr we’ll say we have, you want at least ten to twelve other actual threats that can reliably deal damage or at least hold the ground. A combination of evasive creatures mixed with a few high-toughness ground bodies should suffice just fine without any sort of bombs.
In the trickery department, the deck is hoping to play at least four removal spells, three or four”tricks” (i.e. Wail of the Nim), and three other/filler (i.e. Chromatic Sphere).
Here’s a sample decklist:
1 Somber Hoverguard
1 Myr Enforcer
2 Leaden Myr
1 Copper Myr
1 Crystal Shard
2 Neurok Spy
1 Looming Hoverguard
2 Consume Spirit
1 Wizard Replica
1 Nim Shrieker
1 Slith Bloodletter
1 Neurok Familiar
1 Cobalt Golem
1 Yotian Soldier
1 Flayed Nim
2 Seat of the Synod
1 Vault of Whispers
Ok, so this is an absurd deck. I really would have liked to present a more challenging build, but this is an actual deck from an actual draft over this past weekend. I picked Bonesplitter first overall, then was passed Crystal Shard second. Neurok Spy was third, followed by Terror, starting me into U/B. Pack two I opened a bad pack and took Neurok Spy. Pack three is where this deck went from just good to insane. When I flipped through the pack I was elated to see a Looming Hoverguard staring back at me, giving me another ridiculous card in addition to its obvious combo applications with Crystal Shard.
Fortune smiled upon me again, as the same guy who passed me Crystal Shard (he took Bosh, which is wrong but understandable), took Grab the Reins(as I found out later), leaving me with Duplicant! Unfortunately, this was a team draft, and when you’re drafting for any sort of stakes, you really should not pass opponents things that simply win games like Crystal Shard/Duplicant.
Honestly, I do not know what else to say about this deck, but people have been emailing me and asking for a sample decklist and a few picks, so I figured I would include one. Next week, I will be taking a break from archetypes and taking a look at an actual draft. I know this has been done before by both Nick Eisel and Tim Aten to great effect, but I think I can offer a unique perspective on drafting Mirrodin.
Feedback/Suggestions are always welcome in the forums, or you can reach me at [email protected]