Reflecting Ruel – UBR Control in Rise of the Eldrazi Draft

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Tuesday, July 13th – Rise of the Eldrazi draft continues to excite players around the world, and Olivier Ruel is no exception. Today, he breaks down his favorite archetype in the format: UBR (Grixis) Control. He provides archetype analysis, strategic advice, and comprehensive common and uncommon pick orders. And he forces the archetype in the next edition of Drafting With Oli!

Today, I’m going to tell you about my favorite archetype in Rise of the Eldrazi draft: UBR Control. The archetype is rather unusual, as it is not based on such obvious strategies as “Spawn plus big guys” or “Level Up plus Venerated Teacher,” and that is what actually makes it strong. When people fight for Green, as they usually do, you’ll have an open field to build up a solid Blue base and surround it with all the Red and Black removal spells you’ll find.

The Mana

In order to make it stable, you need two things. First, there’s fixers (of course). Prophetic Prism and Evolving Wilds, and also cards like See Beyond and Sea Gate Oracle, all here to help you find your three colors. Next, it is better if you can make one color a splash, so it doesn’t hurt too much if you draw bad mana. For instance, if you splash Red for three or four cards, a 7 Island / 7 Swamp / 3 Mountain / 1 Evolving Wilds plus 1 Prophetic Prism manabase should be more than enough to have good mana draws most of the time. I’ve talked about the deck with Antoine, and he is more of a fan of a heavy Blue deck using only six or seven cards of each color, for an 8-5-5 manabase or similar, in which case you need Prophetic Prism and Evolving Wilds, while I usually consider Red a splash.

The Early Blockers

Guard Gomazoa is better in this deck over any other, and it is actually almost worth a removal spell. Things are better if early blockers can do something beside blocking, such as Halimar Wavewatch, which is both a great blocker from turn 3 and a win condition later in the game, or Sea Gate Oracle, which helps your draw.

But you can have a few more expensive defensive cards too, as long as they have a strong effect, such as Bala Ged Scorpion or the excellent Mnemonic Wall. The wall shines in a deck destined to pack many removal options. Concerning the Scorpion: again, it is stronger in this deck over any other, for two reasons. First, you are expecting to have many removal spells to kill the big guys, so it has more impact here than in any deck which would not really care about killing a small guy if there is still a big guy around. Next, when your opponent sees a combination of Blue, Black, and Red lands, he won’t be in a hurry to Level Up his guys, and will play other spells rather than risk giving up tempo, as a result of which you will often be able to shoot a Blue or White guy on turn 4.

The Removal Spells

This is the reason you want to play this archetype. I suppose there’s no need for me to tell you to pick as many as you, but you need to keep in mind two of the key cards of this archetype: Mnemonic Wall and Surreal Memoir. You’ll see a bit further in this article a rating of both my and Antoine’s favorite commons and uncommons in the archetype, and I may have put Narcolepsy and Domestication a little too high. Don’t misunderstand me, both cards are excellent, but they also happen to be the only two removal spells you can’t regrow in this format. That is the reason why, when two cards have the same level, you’ll pick the instant over the sorcery, and the sorcery over the other cards types.

Surreal Memoir is a particularly tricky case. In half your matches it will remain in your sideboard, or you’ll pass it because it is not good enough, but in the other 50% of matches it will win games on its own. You should play it if you have at least three copies of Vendetta, Heat Ray, Staggershock, Induce Despair, and Last Kiss, and it gets broken if you have five or more.

Furthermore, Grixis is the only archetype in which Last Kiss happens to be the pretty good card it seems to be at first glance. Just like Bala Ged Scorpion, the deck is one of the few archetypes, if not the only archetype, which has more problems dealing with early threats than late ones. Also, as you are not into racing, and as you often play Vendetta (if not Vendetta + Mnemonic Wall), the possibility to gain a little life is rather interesting.

In this archetype, counterspells are almost as good as removal spells. If you are able to stop your opponent’s first wave, Deprive and Lay Bare will work as complementary removal options. Both cards are good in the format anyway, as it is rather slow, but they are definitely stronger here. Indeed, your deck is designed in a way that your opponent is going to draw 20 cards each game, giving him a pretty good chance to find his bombs. Also, when you play so many instants and don’t have many Level Up guys on the table, the cards are not nearly as easy to see coming as they would be in UW, for instance. A single Prophetic Prism makes Deprive almost invisible. No matter how obvious it is when you think of it, when your opponent has a Prophetic Prism (which looks anonymous in the middle of ten permanents) with Mountain and Island untapped, you don’t think as naturally of Deprive as you do when they pass with UU open.

One final word concerning Regress. I don’t pick the card so high in this archetype, as I like removal and fixers more, but I still try to get one, and I always run the bounce spell when I have it. Indeed, one of the deck’s few flaws is its vulnerability to totem armor, which is also the reason why I placed Narcolepsy so high in my rating. And anyway, with Mnemonic Wall in the deck, as well as the options to bounce a land on turn 3 when you’re on the play, or a level up guy (in which case the card disadvantage will be compensated by a gain of tempo), the card is rarely useless.

The Win Conditions

In order to play this kind of deck, you need to be able to survive. Good mana, blockers, and removal help you with, but you also must be able to finish off your opponent. You don’t need many kill conditions, as long as you can rely on them. For instance, Artisan of Kozilek almost can’t be killed by any removal spell, and even so less in combat. More generally, any Eldrazi will do, and if you get passed Ulamog’s Crusher, you should pick it right away. Not only are they big and hard to kill, they also make Induce Despair a lot better.

Then, of course, the rares are usually the best win conditions, but a combination of a few Level Up guys (Halimar Wavewatch, Nirkana Cutthroat, Brimstone Mage), Cadaver Imp and one or two Eldrazi (Artisan of Kozilek, Ulamog’s Crusher) should definitely be enough, particularly if you can protect them with counters. I am not a huge fan of Bloodrite Invoker, but it is a good filler in the deck. Indeed, I may not like fragile guys in this style of deck, as they are one of your few targets for cheap removal, but the guy still is a decent blocker, a life-gainer, and possibly a kill in the late game.

I should mention some rares here, as even though they should not appear very often, you will see the following a lot as are they are not so popular:

Keening Stone: A card which can help you win quickly and, more importantly, the card you want to face the least in this archetype.

Sphinx-Bone Wand: Useless in 90% of decks, barely playable in 5% of decks, and MVP in your deck.

Splinter Twin: Not so easy to cast, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem as you are not in a hurry to cast it. The combo with Mnemonic Wall wins pretty much instantly, while Sea Gate Oracle is already excellent with this. As you rarely get less than three of those two cards combined, and as you usually have one or two more combos with the Splinter Twin (Emrakul’s Hatcher, Dread Drone, Bala Ged Scorpion), the card is a very interesting option.

The Sideboard Options

Shrivel is not a card you’ll run main deck, as it is weak against most strategies. Indeed, as you don’t really mind a Green deck’s tokens (they don’t block as you don’t attack anyway, and you just kill/counter the big guys that they accelerate into). But Shrivel is still excellent against any White- or Black-based decks.

Also, you don’t necessarily have to stick to three colors. When it comes to the later picks in the draft, think of picking Leaf Arrows and Naturalizes. Both cards could end up being pretty useful if you have at least two (or three, if possible) copies of Prophetic Prism and/or Evolving Wilds. The same applies to Guard Duty, which you won’t risk in the main deck, but you will be glad to bring it in against big guys for which your other removal often won’t be enough (Eldrazi, Pelakka Wurms, Totem Armor).

Top 25 Commons and Uncommons

Here’s my rating of the non rare cards in this archetype.

1 – Corpsehatch
2 – Narcolepsy
3 – Heat Ray – You absolutely need removal spells which can kill anything. Without them, the deck just cannot work. Then, depending on how many Mnemonic Walls / Surreal Memoirs I already have, Heat Ray can go up to first place in the middle of the draft.
4 – Flame Slash
5 – Domestication
6 – Vendetta
7 — StaggershockVendetta is a double-edged sword. It is the deck’s best removal spell when you can easily contain your opponent’s first wave, but if you’re in trouble in the early game, the loss of life will hurt a lot. Domestication is worse here than it is in a classic deck, as the stolen guy has almost no beatdown use, but it is still a two-for-one card.
8 – Artisan of Kozilek – I’ll definitely pick the 10/9 higher in the third pack if I’m not confident in my ability to win the game, probably around fifth place. Also, Artisan of Kozilek is one of the worst cards that Grixis can face.
9 – Halimar Wavewatch – Early blocker plus win condition plus dangerous card to face. A very high pick.
10 – Enclave Chronologist – The card may be the best card for this archetype on paper, and it wins games by itself, but your opponent will often be glad to have a target for his cheap removal. When most decks can produce scapegoats to attract the early removal and then play their key guys, this deck can’t.
11 – Induce Despair – The more Mnemonic Walls, Surreal Memoirs, and Eldrazi you get, the higher you should pick Induce Despair.
12 – Sea Gate Oracle
13 – Mnemonic Wall
14 – Deprive
15 – Prophetic Prism – The deck can live with no fixers as long as long as it is two-color-based, but they are still pretty useful. If you couldn’t get a fixer and it is pack 3, or if you have so many Red and Black cards that you can’t really see a splash in your deck, the Prism should be taken around eleventh or twelfth.
16 – Guard Gomazoa
17 – See Beyond
18 – Last Kiss
19 – Surreal Memoir – I don’t pick the card highly, as it should usually wheel. However, if I already have three good targets for it, I won’t take the chance of losing it, and I’ll pick it pretty highly, about eighth in this ranking.
20 – Lay Bare
21 – Evolving Wilds
22 – Forked Bolt – The card may not be great, and often it’ll be a splash, but this deck often has more problems with the early threats than with the big guys, and a one-mana removal is great as far as tempo is concerned.
23 – Dreamstone Hedron – If you have Prophetic Prism in play, you may not suffer at all from a loss of tempo on the turn you play it. Also, it helps with all the Mnemonic Wall combos, Level Up, and casting big guys, until you have threats to deal with or just no more use for those three mana… in which case, three brand new cards are waiting for you.
24 – Ulamog’s Crusher
25 – Bala Ged Scorpion

Here are a few cards that didn’t make it to my Top 25, but they are still worth mentioning:

Regress was definitely my 26th card, and, depending on the configuration of the draft (how many Mnemonic Walls and answers I have to Totem Armor, basically) it can rise into the Top 20. Another card which would be worth a Top 25 spot is Cadaver Imp. The card is a little different here, compared to its use in a normal deck. It is not meant to regrow the first guy that dies in combat, but to come much later and rescue a big monster or a Mnemonic Wall. This means the card will be useless most of the time, but it will often end up being decisive.

Brimstone Mage is useless in the early game, but it is still an excellent finisher. Emrakul’s Hatcher has a whole new purpose in this deck. The tokens are not here to cast a big monster but to block, and the Hatcher is already pretty good. Nirkana Cutthroat is a bit fragile at the beginning of the game, and you have better things to do than pump it, but the card wins games on its own.

I’ve also asked Antoine to give me his thoughts on this archetype, and here is his personal Top 25 list:

1 – Heat Ray
2 – Vendetta
3 – Flame Slash
4 – Staggershock
5 – Domestication
6 – Narcolepsy
7 – Corpsehatch
8 – Enclave Cryptologist
9 – Halimar Wavewatch
10 – Artisan of Kozilek
11 – Deprive
12 – Surreal Memoir / Mnemonic Wall
14 – Guard Gomazoa
15 – Induce Despair
16 – Sea Gate Oracle
17 – See Beyond
18 – Prophetic Prism
19 – Last Kiss
20 – Regress
21 – Lay Bare
22 – Brimstone Mage
23 – Rapacious One
24 – Ulamog’s Crusher
25 – Evolving Wilds

The differences between Antoine’s Top 25 and my Top 25 reflect our perceptions of the archetype, and they are a little different. Where I see a 7 or 8 Swamp and 3 or 4 Mountain deck, Antoine sees 5-5 or 6-4 either way. As a result, Corpsehatch is clearly worse, while Red cards are globally a little better. Where I think it would be good if Surreal Memoir could work in the deck, Antoine thinks it needs it for the deck to show its true potential. I have to agree with him as he has Regress in twentieth place… I should also have placed the card a little higher.

A Difficult Balance to Keep

The trickiest thing about this archetype is that the card’s values depend essentially on what you have already been drafting. For the first few picks, you just pick the best card no matter what, but then things get messier. You have to worry about the build from the first pick, and not simply between packs or at the moment you start building. If you want to play at least five cards of each color, you must take the fixers highly. You must pick Mnemonic Wall in the early draft, because you know you’ll have removal spells, even if you’re short of them at that time.

All you have to do is anticipate what you expect to happen, and try and get removal, blocker, fixers, and finishers without missing aspect of this. If you break the balance, the deck just won’t work.

In my latest draft, I tried to force UBR to give you a good example of this archetype. I hope it helps!

Until next time, have a great week!