Reflecting Ruel – Discussing Draft #1: Esper, Grixis, and Jund in Shards of Alara

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Friday, April 24th – In the first of a four-part series on Shards Block Draft, Olivier Ruel and Manuel Bucher discuss the top common and uncommon picks in each set, for each archetype, helping us build the strongest decks we can. For part 1, Oli and Manu take us through their personal Top 20 lists in Esper, Grixis, and Jund. This excellent series is a must-read for anyone serious about forty-card play.

Manuel Bucher has just arrived at my place, where we will be playtesting together for a few weeks.

We had the idea to work together on a series of articles. As a result, we have been working together on this edition of my column, and my next article, and the next couple from Manuel, so we can share with you our thoughts on Alara Block draft.

We determined seven common archetypes that are worth drafting in Alara Block:

Naya, Jund, Esper, Grixis, Bant, Five – Color Control, and aggressive two – color base – White decks.

For each of these archetypes, we will share our personal Top 20 list of commons and uncommons, the cards we pick high in each expansion, and discuss the main difference between or choices. We’ll be starting today with Esper, Grixis and Jund in Shards of Alara, and moving onto the other archetypes and sets later on.



1 – Executioner’s Capsule
2 – Sanctum Gargoyle
3 – Agony Warp
4 – Tower Gargoyle
5 – Oblivion Ring
6 – Infest
7 – Esper Battlemage
8 – Arcane Sanctum
9 – Fatestitcher
10 – Tidehollow Strix
11 – Courier’s Capsule
12 – Kiss of the Amesha
13 – Crumbling Necropolis
14 – Seaside Citadel
15 – Esper Panorama
16 – Metallurgeon
17 – Tidehollow Sculler
18 – Puppet Conjurer
19 – Corpse Connoisseur
20 – Kathari Screecher


1 – Tower Gargoyle
2 – Executioner’s Capsule
3 – Sanctum Gargoyle
4 – Agony Warp
5 – Oblivion Ring
6 – Esper Battlemage
7 – Arcane Sanctum
8 – Courier’s Capsule
9 – Infest
10 – Tidehollow Sculler
11 – Fatestitcher
12 – Crumbling Necropolis
13 – Seaside Citadel
14 – Esper Panorama
15 – Tidehollow Strix
16 – Kiss of the Amesha
17 – Metallurgeon
18 – Puppet Conjurer
19 – Esper Charm
20 – Etherium Astrolabe

Oli: So, Tower Gargoyle in 4th place. Do you really like a removal spell better than a four-mana 4/4 flyer?
Manu: Yeah. It might be a more powerful card than Executioner’s Capsule, Sanctum Gargoyle, or Agony Warp, but my Esper Decks have a Blue/Black core very often, and I want a very solid manabase, being able to compete with my opponent even though I am not drawing my perfect three lands.
Oli: I understand that, but we’re talking about a four-mana game breaker, which is not a very common thing…
Manu: Which gets a bit worse after sideboarding – where Sanctum Gargoyle gets better because they sideboard cards like Volcanic Submersion, Molten Frame, Naturalize, and Filigree Fracture.
Oli: That’s definitely true, but in the end Sanctum Gargoyle is amazing when you have Capsules in your deck. If you don’t it’s just a flying Gravedigger; which is still fine (obviously), but I don’t think I’d pick any non-rare card over the Gargoyle in the format.
Manu: But your deck has to compete with early five-power guys as well, and I’d rather play an Agony Warp on it (or Execute it) than try to block with my Tower Gargoyle.
Oli: Well, if you play it on turn 4 (which you won’t always be able to do, even though you have it in opening hand), you’re more into attacking than into blocking anyway.
Manu: To conclude, I like removal spells and Sanctum Gargoyle more because I see the deck more like a control deck than an aggro one, and for me this is the core.
Oli: And for me, there can’t be a better core for a deck than a four-mana game-breaker. Let’s move on to next major difference in our lists: Infest.
Manu: I think my conclusions on Agony Warp above explain why I pick Infest higher than you do. I expect myself to be the control player more often than not, and if you are control, Infest is a really good card.
Oli: I only half agree with that. Yes, Esper is, most of the time, a control deck, but it’s a control deck with creatures that are often one or two toughness (both Strixes, Conjurer, Metallurgeon etc). Infest is a card that’s fantastic in some matchups, but sometimes you won’t even want to cast it for a whole game.
Manu: Yes, it is a bad card against some decks, and you sideboard it out against those,
but aren’t those decks the decks you want to play against?
Oli: It is true that super-aggro Exalted decks are what you want to play against the least, and facing them sees Infest as the best non-rare card you can have, but to me, we’re talking about 5 to 10% of the metagame. In those matchups, of course it’s a good card, but I like Capsule and Sanctum better as they fix the mana too.
Manu: You think Infest is only amazing against 5 – 10% of the metagame?
Oli: No, it’s amazing against 20 – 25%, I think, but most of those decks you can beat without it.
Manu: I think it is amazing against Jund, Grixis, and any deck using the Exalted mechanic.
Oli: Esper Battlemage is fantastic against the same decks as Infest. Yes, it may lose a little ground against super-aggro, but it’s good against everything else as well.
Manu: I think Courier’s Capsule is mostly too slow against the decks against which Infest is amazing, and as you want to go 3-0 in a draft, I expect to face a deck which gets killed by infest but gives you a real hard time if you don’t have one. And you have so many card advantage cards in Esper that I don’t rate Courier’s Capsule that highly.
Oli: It is the only card that gives you card advantage and help you fix your mana, and when you don’t have UWB on the board after four turns you’re usually in very big trouble with this archetype.
Manu: What about Armillary Sphere?
Oli: Good point, sir… I may overvalue Capsule a little, but I would still pick the Battlemage over Infest.
Manu: Maybe I should pick Battlemage over Infest because it is a more “balanced” card, but I don’t see me picking Capsule over Infest.
Oli: Agreed on that, except when we’re P1P2 and P1P1 was Sanctum Gargoyle. And finally, what about Strix and Sculler? You seem to value the Strix a lot.
Manu: I didn’t like Strix that much in AAA, but I think Conflux added so much value to the card. Being both a Black and a Blue card on your second turn adds a lot of value to Sedraxis Alchemist and Parasitic Strix
Oli: That’s true, and there are far fewer pingers/Beetles in ACR than in AAA. These two cards are really good, but you often end up missing good early drops to play them.
Manu: Yeah. While Strix is a good card on its own, it adds some value to the best three drops in Conflux.
Oli: Also, for a two-drop, it’s really good no matter when you draw it, while Sculler is pretty bad in the late game. But in the early and middle game, I like the card so much…
Manu: Sculler is a fantastic card on the second turn, but it is so hard to cast in the early game.
Oli: Agreed. It’s usually not a turn 2 play if you’re based in U/B. But even from turn 3 to 5 it’s really good, as your opponent always has a removal spell / bomb / big guy.
Manu: But if you play a mana fixer that needs two turns to work on your second and third turn (like Capsule or Sphere), I’d rather play a four-drop that has more impact on the board, and with which I can actually block, than play a Sculler.
Oli: Also, when you play Esper, you often don’t know exactly whether you should attack or block. When you know your opponent’s hand, you can instantly choose the right game plan.
Manu: Isn’t it a bit of a paradox to pick it over the manafixing lands, though?
Oli: I think it is pretty close, but you’re right. It may be better than Strix, but it’s also harder to cast. Also, you don’t want to jeopardize your draws because you pick a White early drop. So if I don’t have any fixers yet, I’d pick it after the fixers and maybe even after Strix
Manu: Sculler is a more powerful card than Strix, mainly because it is less vulnerable, but I think the casting cost and the synergy with Parasitic Strix and Alchemist more than make up for it
Oli: One last question before moving to Grixis. What the hell is Corpse Connoisseur doing in your top 20? I mean, if you have Salvage Titan or a pair of Sanctum Gargoyles, why not, but otherwise?
Manu: Well, I often end up with some unearth cards like Dregscape Zombie or Kathari Screecher, which you end up playing even though you don’t want them. This makes Corpse Connoisseur a really good card to both stabilize the board and gain some tempo. Also it’s good with the Titan, Gargoyle, and Bone Splinters, and if I do have a Gargoyle, I think that Connoisseur is better than Esper Charm or Astrolabe.
Oli: Nice combo, but I can’t agree with that, Astrolabe is good on its own, and amazing when you have Puppet Conjurer. I never leave it in my sideboard. However, we seem to be drafting Esper a bit differently, as I rarely end up with non-artifact guys.
Manu: Don’t get me wrong, I like Astrolabe as well, but yes, maybe I should pick Astrolabe over Connoisseur in Esper – but it was just so good in the Shaarum/Magister Sphinx deck.



1 – Agony Warp
2 – Corpse Connoisseur
3 – Bone Splinters
4 – Executioner’s Capsule
5 – Infest
6 – Skeletonize
7 – Esper Battlemage
8 – Magma Spray
9 – Fatestitcher
10 – Resounding Thunder
11 – Crumbling Necropolis
12 – Vithian Stinger
13 – Grixis Charm
14 – Viscera Dragger
15 – Savage Lands
16 – Grixis Panorama
17 – Arcane Sanctum
18 – Kathari Screecher
19 – Fleshbag Marauder
20 – Dregscape Zombie

Oli :

1 – Skeletonize
2 – Corpse Connoisseur
3 – Bone Splinters
4 – Fatestitcher
5 – Vithian Stinger
6 – Agony Warp
7 – Executioner’s Capsule
8 – Resounding Thunder
9 – Infest
10 – Grixis Charm
11 – Crumbling Necropolis
12 – Fire-Field Ogre
13 – Magma Spray
14 – Viscera Dragger
15 – Blood Cultist
16 – Bloodpyre Elemental
17 – Savage Lands
18 – Arcane Sanctum
19 – Grixis Panorama
20 – Dregscape Zombie

Oli: This time, our rankings are totally different. I have lots of Red cards while you have lots of Blue cards, which probably means we disagree on what a Grixis deck should be.
Manu: I usually draft UB with a Red splash
Oli: While I usually draft RB with a Blue splash, which makes things a lot different. In my opinion, Red removal always makes better splash cards, but you have more Red playables, and you always end up with Red early drops such as Goblin Deathraiders and Dragon Fodder.
Manu: I think the best cards in Red are cards that you can easily splash (Skeletonize, Thunder, Spray, Temper), and I appreciate Zombie Outlander a lot.
Oli: I understand you value Agony Warp a lot, but for me it isn’t easy to cast, and the two-for-one is just science fiction.
Manu: But then again, even though your decks are based in RB, you have Fatestitcher far higher than I do, and you pick it over Agony Warp. Do I undervalue the card?
Oli: I may overvalue it as well, but I think it’s better than what you say. Of course, a four-mana two-toughness guy is expensive, but it can do so much. It’s not just another tapper, it taps lands, untaps lands, and untaps guys all the time. You can untap pingers, fetch then use the land you’ve just fetched, reanimate it and Devour it, or sacrifice it to Bone Splinters….
Manu: Maybe I undervalue the card in this archetype, and I will pick it higher to get a better image. But I am disappointed by your Infest rating. Isn’t Infest in Grixis better than it is in Esper, because you are able to deal with 5/3s thanks to your pingers?
Oli: Yes and no. Of course, with a pinger / Yoke of the Damned / Blister Beetle it is great, but when Esper has several three-toughness guys (Gargoyles, Cormorants), all the guys Grixis plays in the first five turns die to -2/-2. So I think it’s about as good in both decks. Also, you should have a lot more ways to deal with guys than in Esper.
Manu: But the guys you have that die come back with Unearth, while in Esper your Metallurgeon or Puppet Conjurer stays in the yard. Unless you want to Sanctum Gargoyle them.
Oli: I think the point is not about Infest in Grixis, but about Infest in general. I’ve played the card countless times, and I change my mind about it very often. At the moment it’s great, not to say necessary, in five-color control, and merely good in other archetypes.
Manu: Fair enough.
Oli: What do we have next? I would rate Esper Battlemage a lot higher if I was UB splash Red, and I suppose you would do the same with Stinger if you were BR splash Blue.
Manu: I do rate Stinger and Skeletonize much higher if I am base-Red, yes.
Oli: So we don’t really disagree on those, but what about Fire-Field Ogre? The card is often a seven-to-tenth pick, as it doesn’t fit many decks, but whatever I play it’s a card I absolutely don’t want to face. And even though it’s not easy to cast, it wins me a lot of games when I play it, which is pretty good for a four-mana spell.
Manu: I try to keep my manabase as solid as possible. While I am fine with casting a removal spell on my turn 8 because I’ve found my mana, I want to be sure I am able to cast my guys. And it is very fragile to me; most Green decks have pump spells they can use to get around it, and it makes cards like Angelic Benediction suddenly really good against you, while Esper has a lot of evasion. I like it as an aggressive creature, but it’s a bit too hard to cast for me for that purpose. Obviously I like the card, but Grixis has so many great commons that even Dregscape Zombie, a card you always want in Grixis, barely made it in the Top 20.
Oli: Yeah, Dregscape is paradoxically not even one of the best 20 cards, but you’ll pick it over many of the 12 to 20 in the list depending on how the draft is going, as you always want a “one-mana to unearth” guy. The last big difference is Magma Spray. Not that there is a huge difference between and 8th and an 11th place, but you consider Red a splash while it’s a main color for me, meaning you have a much higher opinion on the card than I do. To be honest, I’m fully aware it is the common I underestimate the most in the format…
Manu: I even have it over Resounding Thunder. I just like the fact that when you play it, you don’t lose your turn.
Oli: I’ve heard it so many times from you, my bro, and the readers of my draft column on the forums… I must try and pick it higher.
Manu: The remove-from-the-game aspect can be very relevant against both Grixis and Esper – sometimes even against Jund
Oli: But I like burning people! And actually I’d say the “remove from the game” is a disadvantage.
Manu: Only if you have Necrogenesis in your deck.
Oli: If you are playing Unearth, it means no more than one player out of seven should be drafting the same archetype, and I often end up with Hissing Iguanar, Scavenger Drake, or Rockslide Elemental.
Manu: Well, that might be a reason why the card is a little worse if you are Red based, as I rarely have Iguanar or Rockslide. But still, I think you should pick the card over a card like Grixis Charm, which is so hard to cast for a mostly similar effect.
Oli: Yes, that makes sense, as most decks can’t properly use the non -4/-4 abilities. I’ll try and pick Magma Spray a little higher from now on.



1 – Branching Bolt
2 – Sprouting Thrinax
3 – Skeletonize
4 – Necrogenesis
5 – Resounding Thunder
6 – Savage Lands
7 – Algae Gharial
8 – Executioner’s Capsule
9 – Vithian Stinger
10 – Magma Spray
11 – Jund Charm
12 – Blood Cultist
13 – Infest
14 – Jund Panorama
15 – Jungle Shrine
16 – Crumbling Necropolis
17 – Bone Splinters
18 – Scavenger Drake
19 – Rockslide Elemental
20 – Bloodpyre Elemental


1 – Sprouting Thrinax
2 – Branching Bolt
3 – Resounding Thunder
4 – Jund Charm
5 – Skeletonize
6 – Savage Lands
7 – Necrogenesis
8 – Algae Gharial
9 – Executioner’s Capsule
10 – Infest
11 – Magma Spray
12 – Jund Panorama
13 – Jungle Shrine
14 – Crumbling Necropolis
15 – Vithian Stinger
16 – Scavenger Drake
17 – Blood Cultist
18 – Bloodpyre Elemental
19 – Bone Splinters
20 – Topan Ascetic

Oli: Well well… we seem to agree more on these lists than on the previous Shards. However, you don’t seem to value Jund Charm really high… it surprises me, considering how high you valued Infest in the other archetypes.
Manu: I seem to like three-color cards much less than you – I have a real hard time casting the card, and in the end it is “only” a combination of Infest and Giant Growth. So I like easier to cast stuff, like mono colored removal, over the Charm.
Oli: I understand that, but to me, Jund is the only archetype in the format in which you have to have your three colors no matter what. Meaning you have to pick the fixers higher, and we must agree on that as we both have the triple land in sixth place… therefore, I feel like playing the strongest cards regardless what color they are.
Manu: Only because you have to have the three colors… it doesn’t mean you have to overload your deck with them. in the end, I’d still rather have the 765 manabase than the 666.
Oli: Of course, but I suppose I’m never playing a manabase with only basics. Can you see yourself winning a game with Jund if you don’t have RGB on turn 4 anyway? Except if you have Jund Charm of course, then you still have a chance to come back…
Manu: You need to grow your dudes (your Algae Gharial style creatures) before you can play the Charm for its best effect, so I pick the cards that do that for me a touch higher than Jund Charm. And I think the ten cards I have over Jund Charm are all pretty nice first picks. Do you think the effect of the Charm is better than Skeletonize?
Oli: Most of the time it’s a little worse, but sometimes it’s a lot better. The two cards are definitely very close. And how about Resounding Thunder ? I almost put it in second place, not to say in first.
Manu: Most of the time I burn creatures, and Skeletonize and Branching Bolt seem to do a better job at that. I just don’t feel like burning people.
Oli: Your mom will be proud when she reads this line, no doubt…
Manu: Hi mom!
Oli: … but I still feel that whenever you have a deck in which you’re able to cycle it, it is fantastic. And in a Jund deck, you should be able to do that.
Manu: Yeah, but I have Necrogenesis over Resounding Thunder, just because I think that at the time you can cycle a Thunder, Necrogenesis always wins the game. And as some decks (like Five-Color Control, Grixis, or slow Esper) just can’t beat a Necrogenesis at all…
Oli: We agree that you need fixers very much, as you must have RGB, which is why I usually end up playing something like 18 lands and an Obelisk in Jund, when the curve would suggest that I play less. That’s why I like to have cards that can compensate the flood, but the Necrogenesis point definitely makes sense. It is also a great card when you have too many lands.
Manu: One last thing: you say Branching Bolt and Resounding Thunder are close, but if Branching Bolt does make the two-for-one trade, the card and tempo advantage is huge, and makes it much better than Thunder.

Next time out… Naya, Bant, Five-Color Control, and White aggro decks in Shards of Alara. See you then!

Oli and Manu