Today I’m going to be talking to you about an archetype that I drafted twice over the Prerelease weekend, that I enjoy playing, and that makes use of some unloved cards. So this is me, sharing the love. Can you feel it? All the love? It’s there, I promise you. As in the past, I’ll also be hoping to make you think a bit more about your own drafting habits, and even if you never end up drafting this particular archetype, I aim to impress upon you the value you can gain from being aware of, and open to experimenting with, niche archetypes in general.
Now, “researching” this article has been a peculiar process. I fired up MTGO for the first time in months last Friday night (as I believe that suffering for your art is important) with the intention of drafting until I found myself in the right position to draft the archetype I’m going to talk about today. A couple of days, four drafts, and 28 prize packs later, I was beginning to despair of drafting anything other than uninteresting ‘good stuff’ decks from the rich pickings that seem to be available in Scars of Mirrodin 8-4s, but tonight, Wednesday night, with a Friday night deadline, I finally found my chance. After a first-pick Oxidda Scrapmelter and second-pick Embersmith (with the rare missing), I scooped up a Sunspear Shikari, leaving Goblin Gaveleer in the pack, and started moving in, my confidence bolstered by the knowledge that even if it all went horribly, horribly wrong, the worst that could happen was that I might have to find a new topic to write about with 48 hours to the deadline. Hrm.
Of course, the Gaveleer tabled. Which, really, is why I want to talk about this archetype – R/W Equipment Aggro. While Sunspear Shikari (
) gets a decent amount of respect, the man they call Lil’ Gavels,
or just plain old
is the subject of no little scorn. Part of it is undoubtedly his fragility – he has but a single point of toughness, after all. He bites it to Instill Infection, Galvanic Blast, and Grasp of Darkness. But then again, he
a one-drop; how tough can he really be? He’s also a one-drop that, with one of a number of pieces of available equipment, turns into something of a raging monster. Sunspear Shikari isn’t such an offensive monster, but is fantastic at winning races against non-infect opposition, or straight-up stonewalling the smaller infect creatures. She’s also much more relevant without equipment, and it’s important that your deck not be
reliant on equipment in order to ever get damage through.
Now, turning back to Gaveleer, he goes late. He tables. The three Gaveleers in this particular deck were taken P1P6, P1P11, and P3P11. Reliable access to a normally unloved common is critical for a niche archetype, and Gaveleer certainly qualifies. Of the common equipment, he interacts fantastically well with Bladed Pinions and Accorder’s Shield, fine with Strider Harness (as it prevents 1-for-1 trades with Myr and tokens, while protecting him from Instill Infection), and merely okay with Sylvok Lifestaff (to the extent that attacking for four on turn 2
be merely “okay”). Shikari, meanwhile, gains two great abilities from being equipped with anything, and as such is mainly looking for extra points of power (in the common slot, from Lifestaff and Harness, but ideally one of the uncommons or rares) or evasion to get around larger blockers (usually from Pinions.)
Now – another point in the equipment deck’s favor. Unlike most of the other non-infect aggressive decks in the format, you care very little about metalcraft. Your creatures care about being equipped; they don’t care that you have two Myr and a Spellbomb sitting off to the side, and this means a few things. First, it means that the ‘is it an artifact?’ considerations of other decks are obviously ignored. While a U/W Metalcraft Aggro deck might reasonably pick Snapsail Glider over Kemba’s Skyguard, you’re happy snapping up the guaranteed flying and bonus two life. You can stick to a low curve and have no need for mana Myr. You are much,
more resilient to Tel-Jilad Fallen than the metalcraft decks.
Second is that, while you can still be left in awkward spots by removal on key cards, you aren’t as susceptible to instant speed, particularly
blowouts. While metalcraft can often be disrupted with either creature
artifact removal, only Shatter, Slice in Twain or, less frequently, Disperse, Tel-Jilad Defiance, or Fulgent Distraction, can pick off equipment during combat.
Now, let’s take a look at the deck I actually drafted:
1 Dispense Justice
1 Fulgent Distraction
1 Auriok Replica
1 Salvage Scout
1 Glint Hawk
1 Tel-Jilad Defiance
2 Whitesun’s Passage
1 Furnace Celebration
1 Tel-Jilad Fallen
1 Loxodon Wayfarer
1 Contagious Nim
1 Bellowing Tanglewurm
1 Echo Circlet
1 Razorfield Thresher
First things first – yes, four Shikaris is quite a lot. Three Gaveleers shouldn’t be particularly unusual, as no one else will be picking them as highly. The equipment distribution was slightly awkward, as I would’ve really, really liked a second Accorder’s Shield (because it’s generally fantastic) and either an Infiltration Lens or second Bladed Pinions (to blank opposing defensive creatures like Plated Seastrider). Grafted Exoskeleton was a monster with Shikaris, something I was glad to confirm in a real draft situation. The Shatter and Scrapmelter may look important to the deck, but I didn’t cast either all draft, and I triggered Embersmith a single, irrelevant time. Looking back now, I would probably have included the Fulgent Distraction over Seize the Initiative, and shifted the land mix to nine Plains, eight Mountains. Everything else I was basically happy with. And no, I wasn’t happy about leaving Glint Hawk in the sideboard, but it was unfortunately necessary. Dispense Justice I certainly considered, but I’d be unlikely to ever achieve metalcraft and would have to telegraph it quite awkwardly given that I would generally want to use my mana moving equipment after attacking, making it even easier than normal to play around.
The actual draft games were a bit of a mixed bag.
Round 1 I faced off against a B/W/r deck with greedy mana to support Kemba, Kha Regent, at least a pair of Grasps of Darkness, and assorted red cards including an Embersmith. Game 1 the Embersmith wearing an Accorder’s Shield (and later a Skyguard wearing the same Shield) slowed me down until Kemba could suit up with Barbed Battlegear and Accorder’s Shield. A string of land from the top of my deck, and we were off to game 2, which went much closer to plan – an aggressive curve of creatures and equipment ended the game before any legendary Cat Clerics could interfere. Game 3 was a testament to the power of Grafted Exoskeleton in the archetype. The first Shikari hit him for four poison. A second Shikari arrived. Both died to Grasp of Darkness. Then Golem Artisan arrived, shrugged, and one-shot my opponent in the air.
Round 2 was quite eye-opening, and if it had been my deck, I might just have written about it… My opponent mulliganed to five in the first game, then rolled out the following sequence of plays:
Turn 3 – Silver Myr
Turn 4 – Palladium Myr
Turn 6 – Inexorable Tide
Turn 7 – Thrummingbird, put counters on both Magnets
Thankfully, my deck was well set up to push damage through his infinite Magnets (how
they work?), deploying a third, then a fourth threat. A combination of threatening to attack and leaving a guy equipped with Pinions ready to hold off the Thrummingbird eventually depleted the first Magnet entirely, after which the end was in sight. Game 2 was disappointing, as he stalled on two mana in the face of Gaveleer and Shikari.
Round 3… was frustrating. Game 1 I mulliganed into a hand with two Plains, a Sunspear Shikari, Bladed Pinions, Kemba’s Skyguard, and another less relevant card. I drew another Shikari, but couldn’t find a third land for Skyguard until turn 4 or 5, and never drew a Mountain. I died having had the opportunity to attack my opponent down to one life, with a hand of four red cards. Game 2, my deck found itself unable to find an appropriate response to Ezuri’s Brigade attacking for eight on turn 4. If it hadn’t been accelerated out by a Myr and hit metalcraft immediately, I could’ve raced it, but what can you do? Sometimes you’re the truck, sometimes you’re the startled road kill.
Now, I’m not a great believer in pick orders for archetypes like this, as you have a situation where cards are quite important, but you still don’t necessarily take them early. For example, you’re unlikely to first-pick a Goblin Gaveleer, even if it’s more important to a deck of this archetype than the card you take over it. You could almost say that the whole point is
to first-pick Goblin Gaveleer. In fact, a reasonably strong first pack containing a Gaveleer is a good way to check whether you’re ‘open’ – take a more conventional card first-pick (say, a Shatter), perhaps push your draft towards R/W aggro in general, then if the Gaveleer makes the lap, move in on the equipment archetype. Rather than present a pick order, I’m just going to talk about some of the cards and factors in Scars of Mirrodin draft that are important to the archetype, both within it and against it.
Goblin Gaveleer – I’ve said plenty about Gaveleer already, but the thing I really want to emphasize here is that Gaveleer is not ‘just’ a one-drop. He’s often the card you find yourself wanting to draw at every stage of the game, from coming down turn 1 to start the beats, to dropping off the top of your deck ready for some seven-point, flying, first striking, trampling attacks. Even arriving on relatively stalled boards, Gaveleer is often functionally unblockable, bashing in solo and leaving the rest of your team able to play defense if needed (for which Shikari is well suited).
Sunspear Shikari – Your workhorse. Shikari is the bread and butter of your deck, is the creature most capable of switching roles when needed, and is perfectly respectable even unequipped as a Grizzly Bear in a format full of Myr and Gray Ogres.
Kemba’s Skyguard – One of the perks of drafting this deck rather than metalcraft is that you get to scoop up these guys later than they would go in other formats. The life gain is relevant, the evasion is welcome, and you can pick them up as late as Gaveleers.
Vulshok Heartstoker – Yes, really. Although he isn’t a high priority by any means, this is one of the two decks in which Heartstoker can be considered somewhat playable (the other being R/B infect, although ‘decks with Bloodshot Trainee’ could also make an argument for him). His ability works well with Gaveleer’s trample, Shikari’s lifelink and Skyguard’s flying, and he can carry equipment in a pinch.
Turn to Slag – Turn to Slag is probably the greatest threat to this deck in the format. It’s not quite Murderous Spoils, but it’s still an enormous kick in the teeth and will, if not interrupted, always at least two-for-one you. As for interrupting it, you have a few options – kill or sacrifice your own creature in response, or use Fulgent Distraction to minimize the damage while also tapping one of your opponent’s creatures to set up an attack. There are steps you can take during the draft and in sideboarding to help minimize the danger posed by Turn to Slag – picking up Replicas that can wear the equipment during your opponent’s turn, allowing them to be sacrificed in response; maybe picking up a Culling Dais; picking up a copy or two of Fulgent Distraction, both for use against other decks with equipment, decks with a large number of defensive creatures, and to neuter Turn to Slag.
Fat Bottomed Girls
(with apologies to Queen) – Plated Seastrider. Loxodon Wayfarer. Neurok Replica. Wall of
Tanglecord. You need to be prepared to deal with these cards. For the first three (and Wall in non-green decks), Bladed Pinions will do everything you need. Grafted Exoskeleton and Infiltration Lens are also great at helping you get through. Multiple equipment on a Gaveleer will always at least set up a trade with Wayfarer or Seastrider, and in most cases will relegate them to chump-blocking duty. In general, the popularity of these defensive creatures means that you should pay particular attention to the equipment that will let you punch through defensive boards. Sylvok Lifestaff is nice, for example, but it doesn’t give Gaveleer a critical evasion ability, second point of toughness, or first strike, and it doesn’t provide enough of a bonus to let a Shikari punch through a Seastrider or Replica. You still absolutely want a Lifestaff or two, but you need to be sure to not get tunnel vision looking at power bonuses when other considerations can be just as important.
Accorder’s Shield – Straight-up fantastic. Shield turns Gaveleer into a trampling Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers and makes Shikari hard to block and nigh-on impossible to attack into profitably. Although you won’t usually be able to take advantage of its metalcraft-enabling properties, it can still help you get extra value out of Smiths and Glint Hawks.
Bladed Pinions – I’ve talked about it quite a lot elsewhere in the article, but I’m firmly of the opinion (herf derf) that Bladed Pinions still isn’t getting the respect it deserves in general, while being hugely important to this specific archetype. This is one of the best formats in which to have first strike in recent memory, and flying is always good times, so what’s the problem? Great in infect (shrinking creatures before they can deal damage back), great against infect (preventing your bigger creatures from being whittled down by tokens, Mambas, or other awkwardness), and strong on offense or defense.
Tel-Jilad Defiance – I almost don’t want to mention this here so that people don’t start doing it to me, but the Tel-Jilad Defiance that the infect deck is frowning at in the face of your board of colored creatures is actually an effective combat trick against this deck, stripping a Gaveleer or Shikari of its equipment during combat, and drawing a card into the bargain.
Assault Strobe – I haven’t tried this yet, but I could be persuaded to try it out in a deck with enough Gaveleers and cheap equipment…
Infect – Infect is, of course, the bogeyman of the Scars of Mirrodin Draft format. If I might be so bold as to say so, I’d suggest that the R/W equipment archetype has some strategic advantages over infect that other decks would
for. It’s aggressive enough to race, for a start. It’s heavy on first strike, flying, and things that end up with both, a huge problem for the generally diminutive and grounded infect hordes. It has access to a lot of problematic cards for infect post-board, from Kuldotha Rebirth to Soul Parry and Auriok Replica. It can almost completely ignore Tel-Jilad Fallen’s protection, often a significant problem for metalcraft aggro.
Before closing, I also want to talk about when you might want to draft this particular archetype (and similar niche archetypes). As a general rule, the ‘softer’ or less competitive the draft that you’re in is, the less need you’ll have for archetypes like this. If you’re getting the ‘good’ (in a general sense) cards late, there’s less need to eke out more value from synergy-focused late picks.
The tougher the draft environment you’re in and the better the understanding of card values of the other players in the draft, the more you can gain by finding draft archetypes that exploit that conventional wisdom. Ideally, as a format develops, you’ll experiment with, or be made aware of, a range of niche archetypes that each makes use of some unloved group of cards, letting you obtain real value deeper into individual packs than more conventional strategies. Often these niche strategies can take the form of variants of mainstream strategies, or at least have enough crossover to make the audible into (or out of) the niche strategy fairly straightforward. Building up a mental library of both archetypes and more minor ‘tricks’ and synergies is hugely valuable, and becomes more so the tougher your competition. If everything you want is coming for a more conventional deck, that’s great, but fallback plans are nice to have when the Shatters and Plague Stingers aren’t sailing gracefully around the table.
So, have you had any experience with The Judge, or with this archetype specifically? Have you drafted anything as weird as mono-blue Inexorable Tide combo in Scars of Mirrodin so far? Any unusual tips or tricks to share? Comments, questions, and discussion are all welcome in the forums, and I hope to see you there!