Reflecting Ruel – Discussing Draft #3: Esper, Grixis, Jund, and Naya in Conflux

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Friday, May 1st – Oli and Manu continue their excellent discussion on the major archetypes in Shards of Alara draft. Today is the turn of Esper, Grixis, Jund, and Naya in Conflux. The guys present their top picks, and discuss how and why their choices differ. Next week, they complete their Conflux analysis, before moving onto Alara Reborn!

Last week, as we reviewed Shards of Alara cards, Manu and I decided to make our lists Top 20 counts, as it seemed to be pretty much the number of relevant cards in each archetype. With Conflux having fewer cards than Shards, there are fewer cards to discuss, which made us decide to present our Top 15 lists this time.

This time out, we’re starting our Conflux examination with Esper, Grixis, Jund, and Naya.




1 – Sludge Strider
2 – Faerie Mechanist
3 – Parasitic Strix
4 – Esper Cormorants
5 – Rupture Spire
6 – Drag Down
7 – Ancient Ziggurat
8 – Sedraxis Alchemist
9 – Armillary Sphere
10 – Path to Exile
11 – Esperzoa
12 – Grixis Slavedriver
13 – Cumber Stone
14 – Zombie Outlander
15 – Traumatic Visions


1 – Sludge Strider
2 – Faerie Mechanist
3 – Parasitic Strix
4 – Zombie Outlander
5 – Grixis Slavedriver
6 – Sedraxis Alchemist
7 – Esper Cormorants
8 – Armillary Sphere
9 – Rupture Spire
10 – Drag Down
11 – Path to Exile
12 – Wretched Banquet
13 – Celestial Purge
14 – Cumber Stone
15 – Esperzoa

Manu: We agree on the Top 3. I didn’t expect we’d agree on Sludge Strider!
Oli: Well, if I’ve no fixers, I’ll pick Mechanist over it, but the card is so powerful that it globally deserves the higher spot.
Manu: If I have no fixers, I see myself picking Armillary Sphere and Rupture Spire over Sludge Strider.
Oli: We have the same podium places, but you have the Zombie Outlander in fourth place, when it is only “a pretty good sideboard card” to me. I feel like you’re going to lecture me (just like last week) on how good it is with Alchemist and Strix!
Manu: Not only that, I feel like it is one of the best commons in the set. It is even better now with Alara Reborn, and I could imagine picking the card over Parasitic Strix!
Oli: Wow, so you do like it a lot. I tend to make the mistake of drafting almost only artifacts in my Esper deck, and to build decks that lose to Nacatl Savage. I must say I can’t think of a better answer to the 2/1 than the pro-Green guy… I’ll try and pick it higher from now on.
Manu: It has always been great to me. And it is one of the few two-drops that Esper offers me. Not counting Darklit Gargoyle and Sculler, because they are kind of “off-color”. At first I had Esper Cormorants over it, until I realized that I would only very rarely pick it over Zombie Outlander, even though it is the better card in theory.
Oli: I can understand the point, but I think I’ll only do the same if I already have a very strong deck. It is so important to have a good manabase, but game breakers are very important as well, even if playing them means your mana will be a little less stable.
Manu: I wanted to say that my Armillary Sphere and Rupture Spire rating is totally dependent on the deck you’ve drafted thus far, and they could be somewhere between Position 2 and Position 17.
Oli: Yes. Concerning your last point, we stated last week in our Shards analysis than the best Esper deck would be a Blue/Black splash White deck. This is connected to the reason why I have Ziggurat so highly. If the perfect deck is basically U/B splashing Ring/Gargoyles (Tower and Sanctum, not the 1/2), I actually often have trouble getting passed enough good cards to get that U/B basis. And when the draft goes wrong, you always know you’ll receive several copies of Court Homunculus and Darklit Gargoyle in the last pack, which make the deck good but highly unstable. In this case, I actually think Ziggurat is better than Sphere or Spire.
Manu: If I don’t get the good U/B basis, I usually end up with a mediocre deck, picking cards like Brackwater Elemental and Scornful Aether-Lich over the White cards. Or even Frontline Sage
Oli: Please, there are innocent and sensitive people reading this! You can’t mention Frontline Sage like that!
Manu: Parental Advisory Explicit Article
Oli: Thanks, that’s better. But yes, I do definitely agree that the fixers’ value totally depends on what you’ve already got. Then either you want the crap-but-stable cards or the better-but-unstable ones, defining how highly you must pick Ziggurat.
Manu: Anyway, I also don’t like that the Ziggurat is only supporting about half of the White spells you want to play. If all my White spells are creatures, I would definitely pick the card higher, but not over Armillary Sphere… I love that card.
Oli: To me, a White splash equals Oblivion Ring plus Tower Gargoyle plus Sanctum Gargoyle plus Sludge Strider.
Manu: And being both a fixer and an artifact seems very valuable in Esper to me. Then if my White is Ring, Path, and two guys, the card is not very good. The last major disagreement we have concerns Grixis Slavedriver. I like the card and play it when I have it, but is it really that good?
Manu: It just seems like such a huge tempo and card advantage ‘engine.’ He stalls the ground for several turns and can win on his own. I feel the card is very strong, but it has absolutely no synergy with Esper. That’s why I can understand you that you don’t pick the card that highly.
Oli: The thing is, I focus on synergy a lot, as good cards running together don’t necessarily make good decks. However, it is true that one or two good cards that don’t seem made for the deck can fit in without hurting the global synergy too much. One last thing: even though we don’t have enough experience with Alara Reborn yet to write a full ACR draft analysis, it is pretty clear Celestial Purge is about to become a lot better.
Manu: I am not sure yet which card I would pick, Celestial Purge or Drag Down. When I had Celestial Purge in my last ACR draft, it was almost a Terminate! But in the few next drafts I will definitely pick it higher than Path to Exile.
Oli: Anything you’d like to add before we move on?
Manu: Well, my Esper decks often end up being only two colors. That’s why I end up picking the synergistic cards slightly lower than you, and pick power cards like Grixis Slavedriver higher. In the end, I prefer a consistent deck over a synergistic one. In online drafts, the synergistic deck might pull out more victories, but I feel that in Grand Prix or Pro Tour drafts, the consistent deck should post better results on average.



1 – Shambling Remains
2 – Grixis Slavedriver
3 – Volcanic Fallout
4 – Dark Temper
5 – Rupture Spire
6 – Drag Down
7 – Goblin Outlander
8 – Fiery Fall
9 – Armillary Sphere
10 – Parasitic Strix
11 – Absorb Vis
12 – Dreadwing
13 – Yoke of the Damned
14 – Wretched Banquet
15 – Ignite Disorder


1 – Grixis Slavedriver
2 – Zombie Outlander
3 – Sedraxis Alchemist
4 – Parasitic Strix
5 – Armillary Sphere
6 – Rupture Spire
7 – Drag Down
8 – Wretched Banquet
9 – Faerie Mechanist
10 – Dark Temper
11 – Yoke of the Damned
12 – Brackwater Elemental
13 – Dreadwing
14 – Fiery Fall
15 – Pestilent Kathari

Manu: Well, what can I say? Obviously, the mana fixing depends again on how the deck looks already.
Oli: Well well… it seems like we could write a book on how different our Top 15 are this time. Let’s start with what our decks have in common: Black cards and mana fixers. I’ve noticed you seem to like Armillary Sphere a lot, while to me it is good but a little slow to be a high pick in a non five-color deck.
Manu: My Blue/Black decks are very often midrange decks, moving into the card advantage/control side. This makes Armillary Sphere not only a mana fixer but also a source of card advantage that can be hunted out with Faerie Mechanist. And it makes sure I can cast both my splash colors and my high-end cards. And often I use it as a turn 4 play, and not as a turns 2 and 3 play, as I should be able to work with my main colors in the first few turns. If you are Black/Red based, the card should be worse than Rupture Spire, as you should be far more aggressive.
Oli: I try and go a little more aggressive in the first turns, and I can’t use any Mechanist synergy. Also, as you said, I am a lot more aggressive, which is why I put Shambling Remains in the top spot.
Manu: Shambling Remains is very high for me if I have a Red base too; the card is just one of the best three-drops in the format… even though I like blocking a lot.
Oli: Indeed, it is probably the best two-color three-drop, and the best of those you can consistently cast on turn 3! It is pretty normal to find Banquet that high in your rating. I guess you don’t have lots of removal, while in my archetype it is as good as Yoke of the Damned (which gets a lot better in a deck containing many many removal spells).
Manu: Well, we are drafting two very different Grixis decks, and I like watching Oli’s draft a lot to broaden my horizons. I wanted to mention that, in my archetype, bouncing Brackwater Elemental and Grixis Slavedriver with Sedraxis Alchemist is usually a very nice move (or even bouncing Faerie Mechanist or Parasitic Strix).
Oli: That sounds pretty cool indeed! But I have the feeling your archetype is based on cards from the third pack, and that it will be pretty bad if they don’t come, while mine may not be as flashy, but it will always get the Yoke/Banquet type of card in Conflux. Your deck seems better when pack 3 goes right, but mine seem a little more consistent. I’d like to try yours out a little more to see which one is the strongest.
Manu: My deck is a lot related to Esper, so pack 1 is usually about the same unless I get a sign telling me which color I should splash. That’s also why cards like Faerie Mechanist made it that high in my rating, because I should have some artifacts.
Oli: It reminds me of the discussion we had last week, when Antoine was explaining to us that he often ended up in U/W Aggro decks that start out as Esper. To me, an Esper draft means either Esper or five-color, while to you it seems like Esper can change into Grixis, and it makes me see the whole format differently. If there are actually that many coherent options when picking the artifacts, Esper might be the best archetype to draft.
Manu: Well, unless I start with a very nice White or aggressive start, I want to start Blue / Black.
Oli: I know, but still… the archetype seems to offer so many possibilities to switch without wasting the first few picks. I’ll try to keep that in mind the next time my first two picks are Esper.
Manu: True.
Oli: Back to Grixis now… I wanted to mention Ignite Disorder.
Manu: Another card that gets better with Alara Reborn.
Oli: It is great when being ran main deck, but it is a fine sideboard cards versus Esper, and a great one versus any Exalted deck!
Manu: …The dog is distracting me, heh.
Oli: Anything else to add on Grixis?
Manu: I’d definitely like to watch some more of your drafts and see how they work out. The main reasons for this are your Grixis deck decisions!



1 – Shambling Remains
2 – Scarland Thrinax
3 – Volcanic Fallout
4 – Dark Temper
5 – Rupture Spire
6 – Grixis Slavedriver
7 – Wild Leotau
8 – Fiery Fall
9 – Drag Down
10 – Armillary Sphere
11 – Ember Weaver
12 – Gluttonous Slime
13 – Viashino Slaughtermaster
14 – Yoke of the Damned
15 – Goblin Outlander


1 – Shambling Remains
2 – Grixis Slavedriver
3 – Volcanic Fallout
4 – Rupture Spire
5 – Fiery Fall
6 – Drag Down
7 – Armillary Sphere
8 – Dark Temper
9 – Wild Leotau
10 – Scarland Thrinax
11 – Yoke of the Damned
12 – Ember Weaver
13 – Viashino Slaughtermaster
14 – Goblin Outlander
15 – Wretched Banquet

Oli: Once again, I have a three-color card in the higher spots when you seem to appreciate stability better. However, Scarland Thrinax is, in my opinion, one of the best cards that the archetype can offer. The synergy it has with tokens/unearth guys/trigger guys (Gharial, Iguanar) – basically with most of your deck – is just amazing. I nearly put him in the first place here.
Manu: I have to admit I haven’t had many Jund deck since Conflux came out. But first, Thrinax seems like a three-colored Gray Ogre that doesn’t impact the board too much if you are lucky enough to cast him on the third turn. Maybe I see the card from the wrong point of view, and I should see it more like a late-game card than a three-drop. I think it is worse the other Thrinax. That may be a little worse on turn 3, but it is extremely good in the middle/late game, for a three-mana creature. Then, concerning the removal, I have Dark Temper a lot higher than you do, and Fiery Fall and Drag Down lower.
Manu: I appreciate Fiery Fall here a lot, as I often end up with three main colors. I respect the color-fixing of the card, and I rate it higher even though it is clunky. Then I have Drag Down over the Temper because I end up with three main colors, and should always be able to deal with 5/3 creatures, for which Temper needs a Black permanent.
Oli: I totally agree with that. Five-color and Jund are the only archetypes in which I would pick Fall high, as both the mana fixing and the removal ability are very useful.
Manu: And as the whole deck is petty clunky, it doesn’t really matter if you get another clunky card.
Oli: Also, Yoke of the Damned is pretty good with Dark Temper, and you know you’ll get at least one if you really want to.
Manu: That’s true, but I want to be sure I can deal with a 5/3 immediately, even though I appreciate that synergy a lot. Most of the time, a Yoke with a Drag Down has the same effect though.
Oli: Well, a 5/3 is not something you meet all the time, and when you do, the guy is Green anyway, so Dark Temper can kill the bigger guys you will have to face eventually.
Manu: Next time I am Jund I’ll give Temper a shot over Drag Down. It just seems a bit weaker to me.
Oli: Once again you have Slavedriver much higher than me. But when you look closely, it’s mainly Fallout and Temper I have above him.
Manu: I just love that guy.
Oli: I’ve noticed that! If I do have a lot of removal, I definitely pick the 4/4 over these two, but this is one of the very few matchups in which a Pyroclasm won’t kill most of your guys.
Manu: But then again, the Slavedriver is always good, while Pyroclasm might be great or very weak. Depending on the deck, I could see myself picking Fallout over Slavedriver, but I think I pick Slavedriver usually a bit higher.
Oli: Yeah, once again that’s the Pyroclasm versus the “always good” card… problematic.
Manu: I am used to being on the Pyroclasm side of things.
Oli: It totally depends on how much removal/fixers/three-toughness or more guys you have.
Manu: Yep.
Oli: Depending on the deck, I can definitely pick it much lower. Jund is a very dangerous deck to draft, because it has about as many Red, Black, and Green playable cards, and because it has a lot of great early drops that are not easy to cast (Jund Charm, Infest, Volcanic Fallout, both Thrinaxes etc).
Manu: Yeah, If possible I try to avoid Jund and Bant
Oli: I actually think Jund is dangerous but good, while Bant is dangerous and bad.
Manu: Well, it’s good if you draw your colors.
Oli: When you draw them, you play removal spells and great dudes, while Bant rarely plays anything better then a 2/4 flyer.



1 – Aven Squire
2 – Wild Leotau
3 – Path to Exile
4 – Valeron Outlander
5 – Rupture Spire
6 – Nacatl Hunt-Pride
7 – Ancient Ziggurat
8 – Aven Trailblazer
9 – Gleam of Resistance
10 – Ember Weaver
11 – Armillary Sphere
12 – Rhox Bodyguard
13 – Gluttonous Slime
14 – Rhox Meditant
15 – Celestial Purge


1 – Wild Leotau
2 – Path to Exile
3 – Rupture Spire
4 – Rhox Meditant
5 – Aven Squire
6 – Aven Trailblazer
7 – Celestial Purge
8 – Valeron Outlander
9 – Ember Weaver
10 – Armillary Sphere
11 – Kranioceros
12 – Macta Rioters
13 – Sacellum Archers
14 – Gleam of Resistance
15 – Knotvine Mystic

Manu: The soup is ready!
Oli: Wow! One sec…
Manu: Wanna do Naya after dinner?
Oli: Yes.
Manu: I like!

(One soup, home-made french fries, and beef dish later…)

Manu: So, Aven Squire is your number one, even though the deck is usually very resistant to pingers. Why is that?
Oli: There are two ways to consider building a Naya deck. It’s either a fat-guy deck, or a fast aggro deck with a few big dudes. The one I like the most (even though things may change with Reborn) is the latter. And in there, the best cards are the early aggressive drops such as Wild Nacatl, Akrasan Squire, and, of course, Aven Squire. I love Wild Leotau because it fits perfectly both builds, so I understand why you have him in the higher spot, but I’m not sure I understand what Rhox Meditant is doing that high in your rating.
Manu: Usually, the deck has a lack of four-drops. This is a four-drop perfect for stalling the ground, and it is sort of free, what with the extra card you get. And, as I mentioned in the Shards of Alara article about Naya, usually my decks are G/W/r midrange, where this card fits perfectly.
Oli: Makes sense… in my slightly more aggressive decks, I’d rather pick an early drop or a flyer.
Manu: So you have Nacatl Hunt-Pride in your 6th spot, where he doesn’t appear on my list, even though you are more aggressive? Really?
Oli: I do. Next question?
Manu : Why is that?
Oli : Okay, okay…
Manu: Nice try, though!
Oli: Usually I have a pretty low curve (mostly two- and three-drops), so it’s not a big deal to have a six-drop in the “three to five four-drops and higher” end of the deck. Also, it is a card capable of winning games on its own, and I’ve had a pretty good experience playing (and bad ones facing) the 5/4. It’s what we said about Slavedriver earlier on. There is nothing wrong in playing a non-synergic guy if it’s an exception, and if you think it can win games on its own. Of course, Slavedriver is kind of removal-proof, but in my Naya deck, I expect to put enough pressure on my opponent to make him play his removal spells in the early game.
Manu: They don’t have to play a removal spell on my Rhox Meditant. But this guy should probably make my Top 15, even if not in sixth place.
Oli: They have different purposes. You want Meditant to improve your tempo, while you ask Nacatl to end the game. And I must admit I was a little harsh myself with the 2/4. Do you actually like Celestial Purge that much? I mean, it surely is a great sideboard card, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with picking it over so many playables.
Manu: Against every non-Green/White based deck (or Antoine’s Blue/White archetype) it is a good removal spell, and more importantly, it deals with Zombie Outlander! And even against the other decks, you sometimes deal with a Tower Gargoyle or Rakeclaw Gargantuan.
Oli: Would you run it maindeck, or is it “only” a great sideboard card?
Manu: I would run it maindeck almost always, unless my deck is very good. Especially with Alara Reborn, as the card got a lot better.
Oli: That’s very true.
Manu: So, you have Ancient Ziggurat very high again… aren’t most of the Red cards you play removal spells?
Oli: Basically, your draft can go three different ways:
A — good, with removal as a splash.
B — good, with one or fewer removal spells in your splash color.
C — bad, and/or with unstable mana.
Manu: I usually draft the first type of deck! I’m kidding, I have to admit… it makes a lot of sense in cases B and C.
Oli: In the first case, the card is not worth a Top 15 spot. But I think it is one of these cards that can make bad decks better all of a sudden. Last week, I had a pretty bad Naya draft, and I received two Ziggurats in the last pack, making the deck good.
Manu: Yes, I remember that deck.
Oli: I definitely understand why the card is not in your Top 15, but it’s also important to consider that drafts don’t always go the way you want them to go.
Manu: Sadly, that is true.
Oli: And finally, many of our readers could be surprised by this, but none of us has Volcanic Fallout in there…
Manu: I just can’t cast the card, and if I can, it kills more of my guys than his…
Oli: Same here. Even though the card may be the best RGW card in Conflux, it just doesn’t fit the archetype.
Manu: I could see me playing the card in a RG based Naya Big guys, but in the average Naya deck, it doesn’t have a place.
Oli: Thanks Manu! We’ll finish the Conflux archetype analysis later on this week in your column.
Manu: Thank you Oli, and thanks to everybody for reading!
Oli: Man! I know your last sentence should end this article, but I should thank people for reading too. Do you think it’s okay if I do it now, or will it sound unnatural?
Manu: It is never too late for a warm and kind “thank you!”
Oli: Cool! Thanks a lot for reading us, and for giving us your feedback! It feels very good to know you’ve liked our combined articles so far. I hope you enjoyed this one, and will enjoy the articles yet to come!

Manu and Oli