For better or worse, I am now a part of Anthony Alongi infamous multiplayer group and it is my duty to host this week. My upbringing has taught me that a good hostess will always have an ample supply of food, drinks and booster packs. With a Sam’s Club right down the street, food and drinks are never an issue. A steady stream of inexpensive booster packs, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. I went upstairs to take stock of my Champions of Kamigawa booster packs only to find my ample supply had dwindled down to twelve.
Twelve?! It wasn’t even three months ago that I was drooling over more than four full boxes – that’s 144 packs, forty-eight people’s worth of drafts! I’ve made good on my resolution and staid my hand from shredding any packs out of sheer pleasure. I haven’t played in a normal eight-player booster draft since the release of Kamigawa, not even online. Every Thursday, though, I come home with a few more dollars in my pocket and several less booster packs. I think our group has been bit by the Emperor Draft bug.
My first introduction to Emperor Draft was during the Darksteel era, when I moved back to Minnesota and first became embroiled with Alongi and company. Back then, it was mostly a once-a-month kind of activity, when the stars were just right and we wound up with a perfect group of six or nine for three-way emperor. A few of the more infatuated players would insist on a draft early in the evening before us hardworking latecomers arrived, but they were not the majority. With the introduction of Champions of Kamigawa, an occasional draft night turned into a full-fledged addiction. Six, eight, and nine people all made perfect numbers to get a draft going. On the dread seven-player nights, someone was always calling a no-show, seeing if we couldn’t turn it into a four-player team emperor draft night. Even ten turned into the perfect number to draft. Four people could play Two-Headed Giant on their own while the other six could draft. Since no one wanted to be casually tossed aside from an opportunity to play in Emperor draft, we picked randomly, with the promise to do another draft later in the evening for those whose stars did not align the first time.
We have Champions of Kamigawa to thank for such an unhealthy desire. Whether or not intentional on Wizards behalf, the synergies of this set make it exciting for Emperor Draft play. Any casual player worth her salt will tell you that performing a caboodle of annoying tricks all at once is the pinnacle of gaming pleasure. Imagine casting a Consuming Vortex, splicing Glacial Ray, tapping an opponent’s creature with the Teller of Tales’ triggered ability, drawing a card from Sire of the Storm, and then giving your general’s 5/5 Moss Kami flying with Guardian of Solitude’s triggered ability all before your general declared an attack. How about sacrificing an Ember-Fist Zubera, Silent-Chant Zubera and 2 Dripping-Tongue Zuberas to cast Devouring Rage so your general’s measly unblocked Devoted Retainer is a 16/1 monstrosity? Just don’t forget to assign four damage, gain eight life, and put eight spirits into play. Ridiculous? Yes. Fun to play? Absolutely.
Since I just happen to be on the subject of Zubera and Arcane, I’d like to share some of the deck archetypes we’ve found particularly enjoyable to draft while in the emperor seat. There are two types of decks I will discuss, one focuses on exploiting Zuberas and the other focuses on exploiting Splice onto Arcane – if this wasn’t already obvious.
The Zubera synergy was first abused by a player in our group I will call Todd, because that just so happens to be his name. The Zubera archetype is a 5-color emperor deck based around a single concept: play as many Zubera as you can, and slaughter opposing emperors and generals by sacrificing all your Zuberas to Devouring Rage or Devouring Greed. After gaining ten life, creating five spirits, doing five damage, making people discard five cards, and drawing five cards (or some combination of the above), you will either have a new horde of spirits from the Dripping-Tongue Zubera or drawn enough new Zuberas that you can cast another Devouring Rage or Devouring Greed. With a couple of soul-shifters to get back the sacrificial Zubera, you can even perform the trick one more time for good measure. Not that you would have much of a need by this point.
When it comes to drafting this archetype, the key cards to build the foundation of your deck are Ashen-Skin Zubera, Floating-Dream Zubera, Dripping-Tongue Zubera, Ember Fist-Zubera, Silent-Chant Zubera, Kodama’s Reach, Devouring Greed and Devouring Rage. The Zubera and the Devouring cards have already been discussed; Kodama’s Reach, on the other hand, needs a little explanation. In case the color situation slipped by in the excitement, this is just a friendly neighborhood reminder that you are playing all five colors. If you manage to find yourself with only Devouring Greeds, you have to support a double-based black spell. Even though you will be drafting all five colors of Zubera, your additional support cards should be focused on only one or two colors, one of which should be green to support any available mana-fixers you manage to draft. As such, finding the third, fourth and fifth colors to cast Zubera can sometimes be a challenge. Kodama’s Reach gets you two of the three remaining colors for the low cost of 2G, thus making a highly-valued bargain for this deck.
The best strategy for drafting the Zubera archetype is to first-pick almost every single Zubera, the lone exception being the Silent-Chant Zubera. While many people in the draft will drool over the prospect of rounding out their deck with a handy Zubera, the Silent-Chant will usually get snubbed over its inability to generate card advantage. If there is something much more enticing than Silent-Chant Zubera, take that card first and silently chant for that Zubera to come back around.
Drafting measly 1/2s over a Pain Kami? It really does seem to grind against one’s better sensibilities. In order to build this deck, though, you will need about 10-12 Zubera among an available pool of 18 boosters. Also, since Zubera are versatile and useful in both general and emperor decks, other people will start to pick these on the second pass. In short, you need to get your hands on all the Zubera you can and establish your Zubera dominance early. This same logic applies to picking Kodama’s Reach – you better pick it first if you want it. There will be instances where you’ll have to choose between a Zubera and the Reach. For these cases, you should often take the Reach first, but consider the quantity of Zubera you’ve drafted and the quality of the Zubera you are about to give up. For example, a Silent-Chant Zubera will be easy to pass and obtain on the next pass, whereas you might strongly consider picking an Ember-Fist Zubera over Kodama’s Reach.
Three is the magical number when it comes to drafting Devouring Rage and Devouring Greed. For some inexplicable reason, both of these cards seem to make the rounds quite often before being drafted in our group. You have the luxury of picking these up quite late, so you can be a little lazy when deciding whether or not to pick a Devouring card. This strategy should suit you just fine until the rest of your emperor-drafting group decides to have other ideas.
There are several other cards that can be easily substituted as poor-man’s versions of the above cards as well: Orochi Leafcaller for the mana-fixing ability of Kodama’s Reach; Blood Rites for the damage-dealing aspect of Devouring Greed; Honden of Life’s Web as a spirit-generator if you are short on Zuberas.
I offer one more card to consider, mostly because it has been such a maligned card in our group: Hankyu. Affectionately dubbed, “No, Hankyu,” a more adventurous spirit (pun accidentally intended) found it to be a slow but effective form of reusable removal that gave a bunch of loitering Zuberas something to do. You can build up multiple counters on Hankyu by equipping one Zubera, tapping it to put a counter on Hankyu, equipping the next Zubera, tapping it for another counter, and so on until you are out of mana or have enough counters to destroy the intended target. Sitting comfortably behind the shield of a general and making use of Kodama’s Reach, the emperor can typically have four Zubera in play with twelve mana available to start blasting away three-toughness creatures every turn.
Beware the two nemeses that seek to nip your dastardly Zubera madness in the bud: Samurai of the Pale Curtain and Nine-Ringed Bo. If there are no prime candidates for your deck in the pack from which you are choosing, take these two cards out of the hands of your enemies. Otherwise, you’re just going to have a bunch of 1/2 creatures that will serve as handy target practice.
Now that I’ve gotten the Zubera archetype out of the way, we can focus on the Splice onto Arcane decks I have a personal affection for. My philosophy on the role of a good emperor is to provide support for your troops to get the job done, not do the job yourself. The Splice onto Arcane spells and creature abilities that trigger upon casting Arcane provide a solid core for assisting your generals. The primary goal of the deck is to get at least three or four uses out of such top-notch splice cards as Consuming Vortex, Glacial Ray and Kodama’s Might while getting a few bonus tapped creatures with assistance from cards like Teller of Tales and Innocence Kami.
The Splice archetype isn’t as focused on a set strategy as the Zubera archetype, since Splice onto Arcane and Arcane-triggered creature abilities stretch across several colors. However, I’ve declared blue as a must-have color since it has the most depth in regards to splicing cards. Consuming Vortex, Psychic Puppetry, Lifted by Clouds, even Dampen Thought can be used several times. Unlike Innocence Kami, Teller of Tales is a common that can easily be drafted in multiples.
All five colors can serve as support for Blue. I’ve ranked them in preference order:
Splice shmice. Kabuto Moth and Cage of Hands are such powerful Emperor cards that I’ll play White merely to get my mitts on these puppies. On the other hand, Innocence Kami and Candle’s Glow are two cards that really support Blue in its quest for splicing superiority. Even though Blessed Breath is a cheap and effective splicer, the limitation of defending your own creatures makes it too narrow to be a top pick.
World-renowned for its removal, Champions of Kamigawa kicked it up a notch by making more than half the removal Arcane. Black loses face to White because its synergistic cards are less versatile. Soulless Revival suffers the same drawback as Blessed Breath and shouldn’t see much play. The fear ability granted by Kami of the Waning Moon only assists on offense. Hideous Laughter costs five to splice, which on its own is particularly expensive. Add to it the fact that you will be itching to cast it to stave off early attackers, and it quickly reduces to a removal spell. Nonetheless, an emperor with removal is a mighty emperor indeed. Pick up every removal spell: Befoul, Rend Flesh, Rend Spirit, Hideous Laughter, Pull Under and Swallowing Plague. To assist with Arcane, Thief of Hope and Kami of the Waning Moon are good choices.
A cruel mistress that tempts you with a Glacial Ray and then offers nothing else usable. Desperate Ritual? Only if you are desperate. Strange Inversion has suckered a few of us in out of mild curiosity. Each of us in turn soon discovers how few Kamigawa creatures have a large enough difference in power/toughness to matter. I snicker when I see someone else try the same experiment. Kami of Fire’s Roar is even less effective than Kami of the Waning Moon – you would need several triggers to allow your generals to attack against a standing army. Your best bet with red is to hope the cards fall your way so you can latch on to a couple of Glacial Rays and Souls of Magma. Blind with Anger also serves this deck quite well.
To be honest, I have yet to travel down the lush trail of Kodama’s Might, Wear Away and Hana Kami. If you happen upon cards like Strength of Cedars and Kodama’s Reach, Green becomes a very viable option. I don’t want to take all the fun away, so you can experiment with this one yourself.
Drafting the splice archetype is more a function of personal preference than specific card order. However, to make this deck reach its maximum potential, specific cards that should be drafted fall into three categories: high picks, support cards, and last of the bunch.
High picks are the must-have cards in order to make your deck function. These picks will guide your color choices and will determine the quality of your deck. Essentially, the more of these you have, the better your deck will be. There will be several situations where you will have to make a choice between two top picks. If Blue happens to be one of the two selections, keep in mind that blue is less likely to be drafted by a majority of the generals. You want to take the most-desired card out of the hands of your enemy and hope your preferred card is still available when the pack comes around a second time. Translation: don’t take the blue card. Since I want to focus on selecting the cards required for building a Splice deck, I am going to ignore cards you’d obviously want to draft as Emperor, like Cage of Hands or Befoul. The same goes for Arcane cards. You want to draft the good ones when you can, but you need to make sure to get a hold of splicers first.
My choices for top splicing cards to support the Splice archetype are as follows:
Sire of the Storm
Teller of Tales
Thief of Hope
The medium realm of splicing picks are the cards that you are going to need to give your deck a little more strength to make use of Splice onto Arcane. These cards need some attention during the middle picks, since they will get snatched by other drafters if ignored just a little bit too long:
Kami of the Waning Moon
Soul of Magma
Lastly, and my favorite aspect of Splicing decks, is that there will be several Arcane spells and splice spells left to pick up towards the end of the draft, many of which are quite functional in this deck. The cards that I think deserve a slot are:
Eye of Nowhere
Lifted by Clouds
Reach Through Mists
You might be tempted to force yourself into red and play all the Lava Spikes that are running around, but I would recommend against it. Sorceries have little place in the deck, severely limiting when you can splice your cards. I would normally offer the same advice for Eye of Nowhere, except for the fact that it can bounce lands. Bouncing a few of an opponent’s lands in the early game can be quite devastating.
Just like the Zubera deck, the Splice deck has its own nemesis to guard against. In this case, the Zubera deck serves as that nemesis. Nine-Ringed Bos are useless since you can’t reach the Zubera emperor until a general has been disposed of. By this time, the Zubera emperor will have already done most of its damage. Some better cards to pick up are Hisoka’s Defiance, Thoughtbind and Sideswipe. Even though a general will have to be dispersed before you can counter the Zubera emperor’s Devouring Greed, it is your only hope to stop him from resolving a win.
Don’t worry, you generals. I have not forgotten your importance to the cause. We’ll talk about your role next issue.
In the meantime, don’t be the subject of ridicule for weeks on end. Always pick a dragon first.