The Compleat U/R Drafter’s Guide, Part 2: The Onslaught Picks, In More Detail Than You Ever Dreamed

The Onslaught pack is where you build your foundation. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Lavamancer’s Skills were a dime a dozen, this is where you’d turn when you wanted to feed your U/R deck some gas. Well, the more things change, the more things stay the same; many of the most powerful cards in the U/R archetype are to be found here. Though Onslaught cards have been done to death with regards to pick orders and analysis, you’ll still want to pay close attention here. OLS is a strange new world, and the Onslaught pack is your doorway into it. You have to study up before it gets slammed in your face.

(Editor’s Note: The first part of Geordie’s immense drafting guide can be found here.)


The Onslaught pack is where you build your foundation. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Lavamancer’s Skills were a dime a dozen, this is where you’d turn when you wanted to feed your U/R deck some gas. Well, the more things change, the more things stay the same; many of the most powerful cards in the U/R archetype are to be found here, and your one and only exclusive tribal interaction (Lavamancer’s Skill) is still sniffing around like a stray, looking for a good home.

Though Onslaught cards have been done to death with regards to pick orders and analysis, you’ll still want to pay close attention here. OLS is a strange new world, and the Onslaught pack is your doorway into it. You have to study up before it gets slammed in your face.

U/R Commons Pick Order

1. Lavamancer’s Skill

2. Sparksmith

3. Shock

4. Solar Blast

5. Ascending Aven

6. Pinpoint Avalanche

7. Skirk Commando

8. Choking Tethers

9. Erratic Explosion

10. Mistform Dreamer

11. Mistform Wall

12. Battering Craghorn

13. Goblin Sledder

14. Charging Slateback

15. Sage Aven

16. Riptide Biologist

17. Forgotten Cave, Lonely Sandbar

18. Disruptive Pitmage

19. Imagecrafter

20. Mage’s Guile

21. Slipstream Eel

22. Goblin Taskmaster

23. Wave of Indifference

24. Crown Of Fury

25. Lay Waste

26. Backslide

27. Nosy Goblin

28. Mistform Mask

x. Screaming Seahawk

x. Spurred Wolverine

x. Skirk Prospector

x. Goblin Sky Raider

x. Break Open

x. Brightstone Ritual

x. Airborne Aid

x. Crafty Pathmage

x. Trickery Charm

x. Ixidor’s Will

x. Information Dealer

x. Sea’s Claim

x. Spy Network

Lavamancer’s Skill

If the dominance of U/R were an epidemic, Lavamancer’s Skill would be patient zero, the originator. Still ridiculous even without three packs to pull it from, the Skill is board control that stays on the table. As always, try to find a high-toughness wizard to put it on. My favorite targets are Raven Guild Initiate and Mistform Wall, but anything with greater than one toughness will do in a pinch.


The consensus”biggest design mistake in the format,” and still clinging to that one pack of life. More flexible than Lavamancer’s Skill if you take it first, it is nonetheless more fragile. Just like the Skill, though, it can single-handedly win games.

There isn’t much to say about Sparksmith that hasn’t already been said. It is rated below Lavamancer’s Skill here because it isn’t as good in U/R. In practice, you will probably only have to choose between the two in one instance – and that’s pick one, pack one. The Sparksmith is the safer choice, as it leaves your options open. That said, I like U/R so much (and it’s so underdrafted) that I usually still take the Skill.


I remember the days when people weren’t sure if Shock was better than Solar Blast. Well, I can assure you it is, and I learned it the same way that everyone else in the know did – by playing with them both. Frequently. Shock is better because you don’t have to waste a whole turn in the early game casting it. In R/x, plays the same role as Unsummon does in the U/G decks of today’s Standard: A quick, easy solution that barely causes a blip in the mana curve. You can’t say the same about Solar Blast.

Solar Blast

Look out, Ra is angry! Slower than Shock but still excellent. There is no great trick to using Solar Blast – and as such, there’s not much more to say. Take it high.

Ascending Aven

The Aven has a lot going for it. It’s probably the most efficient common flier in the format, and the morph option takes the sting off of the 2UU casting cost if you’re light on islands. The ability to take to the air and deal three damage wreaks havoc with opposing”race math,” and you’ll find that the Aven (and also Mistform Seaswift) is ideal for this purpose. Just stall the ground and beat down. Though the Soldier creature type isn’t as important in U/R as it is in U/W, make sure you remember that Ascending Aven is a Soldier if you suspect your enemy might cycle a Gempalm Avenger.

Pinpoint Avalanche

Red’s Cruel Revival, the Avalanche is great for getting rid of Daunting Defenders and annoying 4/4 late-game trash like Crowd Favorites, Goblin Dynamo, and Primoc Escapee. It clears Spitting Gourna out of the way, too.

Skirk Commando

Skirk Commando has seen its stock rise and rise as each exiting Onslaught pack has been replaced with fifteen cards from a set filled with morphs that you don’t want to block. Now, it makes Battering Craghorn – formerly a comparable card – look like a bitter, crusty old dean by comparison. The Skirk is a great addition to any red deck, don’t even think about taking Craghorn over it. Yes! Take that, Bitterman!

Choking Tethers

A great Falter effect, plus the ability to dig you out of manascrew, and terrific at buying time on defense as well. Choking Tethers does a great many things, and all of them well. Cycle end of turn to tap a Timberwatch Elf, then Shock it. Opponent casts Wave of Indifference? Tap his stuff. Second-turn Wretched Anurid about to smash your face? Cycle turn 2 on the draw, spare yourself the pain, and draw that third land for Mistform Wall. And nothing disables a vital Needleshot Gourna quite like it. Great stuff, all for a few easy payments. Of mana. Order now and you’ll also get the complete Tappy Tibbons collection, including”Month of Fury.”

Erratic Explosion

Risky, but still easily worth it. There is a lot of Erratic Explosion paranoia going around – I saw it firsthand at a PTQ just last month, where my teammate Josh Rider was debating cutting it with a wary eye towards his three one-drops. It’s still a solid removal card, and one of the few burn spells that scares a face-down Zombie Cutthroat. Flip it or no? Do, and it could be a Lava Axe.

Mistform Dreamer

Dreamer is a team player. It beats down in the air and has that Mistform flexibility that we all know and love. He’s not the flashiest little guy in the game, but he’s always working hard to force through two more points. You have to respect that work ethic. Right, skip? You gotta have hustle. You play a 2/1 and start beating down on turn 4, it’s called playing the percentages. It’s what smart managers do to win ballgames.

Mistform Wall

The last time I saw something take this many different forms, it was chasing Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mistform Wall is a great goalie when you want to stop the beats in a hurry – and there’s seldom a better target for Lavamancer’s Skill. Cruel Revival? Nope! So sorry! The only commons that do the job unconditionally are Lingering Death and Pinpoint Avalanche.

Don’t be fooled by the docile nature of this defensive MVP – the only reason I take Mistform Dreamer over Mistform Wall is because the Wall is underrated and more likely to table (the Dreamer gets snatched up by U/W drafters). Powerwise, the Wall is probably the better card.

Battering Craghorn

Ken Krouner said it best when he espoused that”when you play a face-up Craghorn turn 4, the beats just stop.” Of course, that was before Scourge ushered in both Spark Spray and Scattershot. The Craghorn is nothing special in this strange new world of landcyclers and blue cards that aren’t awful, but it’s still solid. Its role has really changed, though; I dare you to win a game where you run this guy into Zombie Cutthroat.

Goblin Sledder

The Sledder is best known as”that annoying 1/1 guy who makes it impossible to attack into your morph.” This little goblin troublemaker is always hanging around waiting to make the save when 2/2s clash, and for that, he’s a godsend. Of course, drawn on turn 9 he doesn’t do a lot. Better in U/R than in any other color, due to Mistforms, Imagecrafter, and the like. To clear up a misconception that some newer players have – Goblin Taskmaster and Goblin Sledder are not roughly equal. Sledder is better by an order of magnitude.

Charging Slateback

The Heiss! Never one to run his mouth or feign injury to avoid duty, the Slateback simply goes out and gets you four damage a turn. If this were the NBA, he’s be one of those big white guys with no natural talent, but a great work ethic. Don’t be afraid to take Slateback – I used to hate the card, but it does beat down. Once you’ve cleared the board with Skill, Extra Arms, bounce and tricks, something has to hit the red zone… And Mistform Wall is a slow clock.

Sage Aven

The owl of concession. I heard Sage Owl was better than Impulse from some guy named Wakefield, so obviously this must be good. But actually, despite unfortunate similarities to Sage Owl, it’s not half-bad. A solid defender in the air that lets you set up your next few turns, the Aven is terrific with Raven Guild Initiate – it’s a combination that can essentially Fog several turns worth of attacks, while allowing you to stack your library twice. Of course, if you reveal four lands twice you’re probably still packing – but hey, it’s just Sage Aven. If you want miracles, try Pat Robertson.

Riptide Biologist

He’s not what he used to be, back when first-pick caliber Beasts were a dime a dozen… But he’s still quite the little trooper. Riptide Biologist just says “No!” to Mauler mashings, Undorak uglifications, Anurid asshammerings, Valesk violence, Lorian lambastings, and Gourna gonad grabbings. That’s a nice trick for 1U, and he’ll always find a home in your sideboard if nothing else.

Lonely Sandbar, Forgotten Cave

Time was, you’d want as many of these as possible so you could run eighteen land and not get flooded into oblivion. Now, you can just run seventeen land and a landcycler to accomplish the same thing. Though less important than they once were, cycling lands are still excellent cards for preventing landflood, and they should be taken as such. Of course, if you have a Lightning Rift in your pile, they move way up the list.

Disruptive Pitmage


I already told the”Gotcha!” story in that age-old set review I did, so I can’t repeat it here without feeling a bit guilty. Instead, I’ll just use this space to let you know that Disruptive Pitmage is very underrated and makes my deck probably 90% of the time that I draft it. Heck, it’s even better now – people all over MODO are playing Zombie Cutthroat on turn 4 with one mana untapped to beat the Cutthroat tell. Back in OOO, a non-attacking morph and one blue untapped meant Pitmage. Now, it could mean Cutthroat, Wall of Deceit, or just an ugly mana curve and general stupidity. What I’m trying to say is that people walk into Pitmage a lot more these days.


Like lumber, Imagecrafter has a million uses. Back in Invasion Block, there was a guy named Tidal Visionary who played havoc with most every card interaction in three sets. Well, Imagecrafter is the Tidal Visionary of OLS, and he lets you outplay people just as badly as the Tidal Visionary did. If you’re on your toes, Imagecrafter can reduce the damage you take from Vengeful Dead, turn Blade Sliver into a surgical tool, fizzle Cruel Revivals, diminish Timberwatch Elf and Wellwisher activations, stuff a bag over the head of a cycled Gempalm Avenger, tap to kill something enchanted with Clutch of Undeath

Well, you get the idea. And yet it’s just a 1/1. This card usually makes my deck, but if you’re packing more powerful cardboard, feel free to sit him on the bench.

Mage’s Guile

Basically the same as Willbender, except it doesn’t beat down for two while waiting to be used, and fizzles the spell or ability instead of redirecting it. And it and also doesn’t work on players.

Hmm. Well, strike that. It’s nothing like Willbender. It’s more like… A mule with a spinning wheel. I used to take this card pretty low, but listen to me when I say it’s often a fine inclusion. And heck, I’ve given drafting advice to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, and by gum it put them on the map!

Don’t forget that you can use this on enemy creatures to counter Dragon Scales and Lavamancer’s Skill, or even simple combat tricks like Patron of the Wild or Wingbeat Warrior turning face-up.

Slipstream Eel

Do you hear that, highness? Those are the Slipstream Eels! They always grow louder when it’s time to pick a twenty-third card!

Nothing fancy – the Slipstream Eel is a good blocker, cycles early, and hits the red zone if the guy across the table is running the blue spells also. Inconceivable!

Goblin Taskmaster

I used to overrate this card big time; now I see that it’s definitely not all that and the bag of proverbial potato chips. It does not have the skills to pay certain bills. More playable in U/R than elsewhere because it can pump flying Mistforms, it’s not something you want to have in your deck on a regular basis. The Goblin Taskmaster is quick, like elevator sex, but in the end it just doesn’t do enough.

Wave Of Indifference

Best in any color combination that isn’t this one, you can still run it when you need a cheap way to win. Hope to get Choking Tethers instead, as it’s about a hundred times better.

Crown Of Fury

I took this over Smother once. Let’s never speak of it again.

The Crown has gone down in value about eleventy-hojillion percent since Scourge ushered in Dragon Scales – and it was only really good in W/R anyway. Play it if you’re hurting for a 23rd card (it’s actually quite good on things like Chartooth Cougar, Spitfire Handler, Skirk Commando, and the like) but don’t take it high or anything. Like, say, over a Smother.

Lay Waste

It cycles. The best part about having Lay Waste is that you have outs against stuff like Contested Cliffs and Unholy Grotto/Skinthinner recursion. That doesn’t happen too often in limited, of course, but it can’t hurt to be prepared. Maindeck-worthy, like the Nosy Goblin, if you’re hurting for playables.


Playable if you have Chromeshell Crab and/or multiple Echo Tracers and Skirk Marauders in an otherwise weak deck. Also playable if you have Lightning Rift. Otherwise, Mage’s Guile and other similar”cheap” cyclers are better. Master of the Veil, from Legions, offers the same functionality and is a vast improvement.

Nosy Goblin

Kill the first morph you see as long as you can be reasonably sure it’s not Zombie Cutthroat. With a card this weak, there’s no time to get fancy. I’m never happy to run him, and truth be told I seldom do (almost any morph is better) – but like the old saying goes, sometimes you just need twenty-three.

Mistform Mask

I try to avoid this card because I personally hate it, but sometimes you have to stop Akroma, Angel of Wrath from killing you, and making her a Wall is as good a method as any. If your deck needs a really, really bad Pacifism, feel free. Like Trickery Charm, this deals with a Clutch of Undeath target in a hurry, so board it in if you see someone sporting multiples and you need to get rid of a useless Biologist or something from your maindeck.

U/R Uncommons Pick Order

1. Slice and Dice (top)

2. Lightning Rift (top)

3. Chain Of Plasma (3.5)

4. Riptide Shapeshifter (4.5)

5. Thoughtbound Primoc (5.5)

6. Mistform Shrieker (6.5)

7. Threaten (7.5)

8. Aven Fateshaper (8.5)

9. Snapping Thragg (10.5)

10. Chain of Vapor (10.5)

11. Essence Fracture (11.5)

12. Searing Flesh (11.6)

13. Complicate (11.7)

14. Avarax (11.8)

15. Skittish Valesk (13.5)

16. Goblin Machinist (13.6)

17. Embermage Goblin (13.7)

18. Aphetto Alchemist (17.5)

19. Discombobulate (20.5)

20. Airdrop Condor (20.6)

21. Spitfire Handler (22.5)

22. Meddle (23.5)

23. Ghosthelm Courier (23.6)

24. Flamestick Courier (23.7)

25. Mistform Stalker (26.5)

26. Custody Battle (26.6)

27. Aphetto Grifter (28.5)

x. Shaleskin Bruiser

x. Goblin Burrows

x. Thunder Of Hooves

x. Aether Charge

x. Dwarven Blastminer

x. Reckless One

x. Dispersing Orb

x. Graxiplon

x. Mistform Mutant

x. Nameless One

x. Reminisce

x. Riptide Chronologist

x. Rummaging Wizard

Slice and Dice

The most influential uncommon in the format. Slice and Dice is usually a Wrath of God, and salvages unwinnable games and turns them into a complete beating. Cycled, it can wipe out a board of utility creatures and one-toughness beaters like they were ants in the path of a tornado. Hard-cast, it cleans house and lets you get back in the game while the enemy tries to rebuild from disaster. There is no non-rare red or blue card you take over this – Lavamancer’s Skill and Sparksmith are both far less powerful. Cross your fingers as the first pack is busted out. Did you open Slice or no? How lucky!

Lightning Rift

Now available only in pack 1, Lightning Rift is right at home there, since opening a pack 3 Rift was often futile anyhow. I’ve heard it said about a few cards (I think by Gary Wise first, about Aven Brigadier, about which it was certainly true) that”this card is a deck.”

Well, Lightning Rift is a deck. I remember playing against French Pro Tour champ Farid Meraghni in a draft where his deck was Lightning Rift and twenty-three average cards, twelve or so with cycling. He annihilated me both games he got the turn 2 Rift, and you will annihilate opponents in a similar way if you take a Rift early and shift your pick order slightly to add extra weight to cycling cards.

It isn’t too difficult to make the adjustment – you draft cycling lands higher, Slipstream Eel moves up, Dragon Wings moves up, landcyclers move up, cycling lands are much more valuable, and don’t forget that Lay Waste is your friend.

Finally, if you have a Lightning Rift, don’t make the mistake of still playing eighteen land. Even with one cycling land (probably all you will get with only one Onslaught pack) you will get landflooded right into hell and back as you constantly cycle your spells. A Rift deck runs seventeen land.

Chain of Plasma

What drawback? Stop leaving this in your sideboards or passing it – some people still do this and it makes me want to burst into flames. We all found out together that Shock was better than Solar Blast because of the speed and ease of use. Well, guess what? Chain of Plasma is also better than Solar Blast. It even does some things that Shock can’t do. Turn 2 Wretched Anurid in your face when you’re on the draw? KABLAM!

Riptide Shapeshifter

Riptide Shapeshifter – he’s everyone you want to be! The Shapeshifter is a very powerful uncommon with great applications all around. Not only can you”splash” cards like Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Visara the Dreadful, but you can go get easier to obtain beaters like Goblin Dynamo, Aven Fateshaper, and Primoc Escapee. Naming”Beast” will usually net you something large to block with, while naming”Bird” will score you an attacker. And don’t forget that the Shapeshifter beats down for three. Whether you’re attacking or trading on defense and bringing in reinforcements as a final, defiant breath, this guy is pure gold.

Thoughtbound Primoc

“Ey Pepe, go for da’ face!”

Efficient enough to see Block Constructed play, this flying monkey is more than good enough to make your deck. The drawback will never effect a U/R deck, and when I say”never,” I’m not joking – I’ve had it stolen zero times in a hundred drafts playing U/R. I heard a story of an unsubstantiated report of an anecdote or a yarn of a tale of a fable of a legend about an ancient scroll that held an account of one being stolen, but that might just be hearsay.

Mistform Shrieker

A 3/3 flier for 3UU with morph and the Mistform ability? Well, it’s not the flashiest of cards, but when you’re trying to put together an offense, you can count on the Shrieker to be solid like Antarctic toilet water. Nothing that beats in the air for three can be that bad. Unless it’s, like, Thundercloud Elemental.


Speaking of block play, here’s another card that showed up in Onslaught Block Constructed. If you’ve got a bunch of block-playable cards in your draft deck, that usually bodes well for you – and Threaten certainly lives up to the hype, delivering a crucial swing in the life race or removing a utility creature from consideration. My favorite use for this card is to kill Sparksmith or run a Dragon-Scaled Deftblade Elite into something large (I’ll decline to use the prevention ability, thanks) but there are countless others. I once used it to steal a summoning-sick Goblin Sharpshooter, which proceeded to kill an enemy Mistform Dreamer, untapped, iced a Mistform Seaswift, untapped again, and then ended its own life. That’s saucy like grandma’s cooking, hot and fresh from the oven.

Aven Fateshaper

Word on the street is that Aven Fateshaper is quite the late-game gangsta. Up and coming thugs have to beat through five toughness if they want to rule the neighborhood, and the this stone-cold G always keeps you on top of the latest rackets for the reasonable payment of 4U. If you really need a spell, feel free to pay during your upkeep – there’s no shame in shuffling that land further towards the bottom. The Fateshaper is the best friend of Erratic Explosion, not only letting you see the probable results but showing up occasionally himself to deal seven. And, of course, there’s the whole”attack for four in the air” thing. He’s a bird, so you can save him with Raven Guild Initiate should things get too dicey.

Snapping Thragg

A great turn 5 play when you have early pressure (not so good when you’re getting hammered yourself, however) the Thragg can force some abysmal blocking situations on your hapless foe. It’s especially fun if Dragon Wings happened to make the cut (which it should if you have a Thragg and/or Commandos and no better choice for a twenty-third card), this guy is a good beater that chuckles when an enemy Berserk Murlodont shows up. Choking Tethers clears the way nicely as well.

Chain of Vapor

Were it not a crime of some sort, Chain of Vapor and I would be legally married right now – that’s how much I love this card. Our children wouldn’t be much to look at, true – but they would be great at returning permanents.

For just one paltry blue mana, you can return your own creature that is about to die, and then sacrifice a land to bounce something else. I once attacked with a Chartooth Cougar and a Mistform Ultimus, and both were double-blocked by 2/2 and 2/3 creatures. Thanks to Chain of Vapor, I saved them both once damage was on the stack, and even replayed the Cougar after combat. And it’s quick on the draw with enemy permanents, too! Nothing in blue is better for stopping those pesky”Deftblade Elite, Dragon Scales” openings that so often autowin.

Essence Fracture

Tempo incarnate, Essence Fracture isn’t much like Chain of Vapor – it’s more of an offensive card. The Fracture makes racing impossible – one minute you’re going back and forth with Mistform Dreamer and Ascending Aven vs. Snarling Undorak and a morph, and the next minute, pow! The coast is clear, and the green player is hopelessly behind. Essence Fracture is also terrific for breaking through for the win, removing Needleshot Gournas and other nuisances with an ease that’s the envy of every other spell on the block. The reprieve is a short one, sure – but if you play it right, it’s usually enough to chalk up the W.

Searing Flesh

To the dome! Searing Flesh lets you play like your enemy is at thirteen…But he doesn’t know it.”Sure,” he says,”Why not drop to seven? I’ve got this game.”

*insert roasting noises*

The card has won me more games than almost any other uncommon, and people expect it less now with only one Onslaught pack.


Complicate circles the table surprisingly often, and as a blue drafter, you’re going to be the one who benefits. I’ve countered so many fun things with Complicate (often drawing a card in the process) that I’m hard-pressed to remember them all. Having to pay one more for that Visara really is a backbreaker, though, isn’t it? Back in the day, leaving three mana open on turn 3 was a stone-cold tell that Complicate was coming, but with two fewer Onslaught packs and numerous new reasons to leave mana open on turn 3 (Scattershot being the most prevalent), people play around Complicate a lot less often.

I find that Complicate is especially good against those white decks that don’t playing anything until turn 4 so they can have a massive Daru Stinger. Surprise! No Stinger for you.


He’s finally hit rock-bottom, with only one Onslaught pack… And he’s still not half bad. He’s an efficient creature that beats down well, can trade for something larger, and you can shuffle your deck if you know there’s garbage on top of it (Sage Aven is often the bearer of such loathsome news). The king of the jungle in OOO is now a poor man’s Chartooth Cougar.

Skittish Valesk

It’s Charging Slateback, but better. Something has to do the damage, right? You might totally outplay your opponent with more tricks than Copperfield on crack – but after the dust settles, you can’t depend on Willbender for the coup de grace. A nice surprise for blockers who pigeonhole U/R as the color combo with morphs that couldn’t dent a tin can. You have to show them that not everything is a 1/2.

Goblin Machinist

There is the potential for a lot of beats here, but with that potential comes a ponderous, plodding slowness. If it’s a race, with both players dropping permanents as fast as humanly possible, taking time to activate the Machinist will leave you behind. If you’re both landflooded, though… Ouch. With nine land on a stalemated board, the Machinist busts out of his shirt and goes Bruce Banner all up in your grille. A finisher like the Valesk.

Embermage Goblin

EOT…ping! EOT…ping! EOT…ping! EOT…ping! Not nearly as good a pick as it was when multiples were the rule rather than the exception, but still playable when the chips are down.

Aphetto Alchemist

If you have a Lavamancer’s Skill or Sparksmith, there’s no other guy you’d rather have on the table. The Alchemist is a tricky fellow, often times hiding in morph form before springing a nice untapping surprise on the unsuspecting foe. Also, as perhaps befitting an Alchemist, he mixes a great Manhattan.

I mean, I’m no apothecary or anything, so maybe I’m wrong, but I think the Alchemist will be a good fit for your deck if you have Embermage Goblin, Disruptive Pitmage, and other tap-happy dudes. At worst, he’s a 2/2 for three.


Another twenty-third card, this can be a godsend – or, alternatively, a sucking black hole of uselessness from which there is no escape. If you’ve got board advantage and you’re holding out to stop that key opposing spell that will wreck you (Silklash Spider, Akroma’s Vengeance, Rorix; the list goes on), there’s nothing you’d rather have. If you’re getting pounded by a Carrion Feeder and Wretched Anurid, though…

Airdrop Condor

Whenever I have to play this guy, I feel like an NFL head coach who has had his first and second string quarterbacks waylaid by food poisoning, and now he has to send in the third-stringer for the big game. According to Hollywood, sometimes those third-stringers can really pull off great things. According to MODO, though, films have lied to me. The Condor will complete the rare Hail Mary, but usually you’ll get sacked.

Spitfire Handler

Blech. You probably don’t want him in your deck – but as I’ve already said many times, desperate times call for desperate measures. The Handler is good in that he’ll probably trade for something much larger than himself, but that’s about all he has going for him – if you spend your early turns pumping this guy, you’ll spend your last few turns putting your cards in a pile and leaving the table.

Ghosthelm Courier

I’ll be honest – you need a Courier in your deck like you need an alkaline battery fluid cocktail with cyanide chaser. Still, sometimes you don’t get enough playables and the Courier has to go in. He can pump up those Mistforms (though as I mentioned before, Scattershot is an unbelievable wrecking ball against Courier/Seaswift) and has a good time with Covert Operative, so this guy isn’t a total loss. Also don’t forget that you can leave three mana open in the late game and”counter” removal spells aimed at your Wizards. He’ll never be great – but sometimes, if the moon and stars are aligned right, he’ll be good, and that’s all you can ask.

Flamestick Courier

Me”di*o’cre, a. [F. m[‘e]diocre, L. mediocris, fr. medius middle.] Of a middle quality; of but a moderate or low degree of excellence; indifferent; ordinary.”A very mediocre creature.”

Mistform Stalker

A slightly better version of Glintwing Invoker, a card from Legions which is also nearly unplayable. Run this at your own risk. I’ve had him come off the bench before and perform fairly well, but more often than not you draw this guy and let out a little groan of resignation.

Custody Battle

Custody Battle is never great, but consider running it if your draft didn’t go well and you need a twenty-third card. Poor players often make poor decisions with a Battle on the table, and that helps a good player (like you!) get ahead. Works well in preventing players from getting Invoker or massive bomb (Insurrection, Akroma) mana. If you have some way of sacrificing the men on your side, even better! Sometimes a better Pacifism (people are loathe to attack into their own stolen guy), sometimes it does nothing at all.

Aphetto Grifter

A sideboard card against removal-light decks if you have numerous Wizards. I’ve found him to be especially effective against G/x decks, especially in conjunction with Coast Watchers and Riptide Biologists.

U/R Rares Categorized


Rorix Bladewing


Callous Oppressor

Future Sight

Quicksilver Dragon


Goblin Sharpshooter

Butcher Orgg

Menacing Ogre



Gratuitous Violence

Arcanis The Omnipotent

Mistform Skyreaver


Words Of War (11.5)

Blistering Firecat (4.5)

Blatant Thievery (8.5)

Clone (4.5)

Ixidor, Reality Sculptor (13.5)

Peer Pressure (13.5)

Read The Runes (7.5)

Riptide Entrancer (4.5)

Voidmage Prodigy (11.5)

[Slate of Ancestry] (11.5)

[Riptide Replicator] (13.5)

[Tribal Golem] (4.5)

[Riptide Laboratory] (11.5)


Aggravated Assault

Goblin Piledriver

Goblin Pyromancer

Grand Melee

Risky Move

Skirk Fire Marshal

Artificial Evolution

Psychic Trance


Supreme Inquisitor

Trade Secrets

Wheel and Deal

Words of Wind

[Dream Chisel]

Rorix Bladewing

There isn’t much to say about Rorix except that he is unfair and has allowed undeserving clods to beat me more times than I care to remember. I am now wishing a pox on them, or something else with a high mortality rate. There is no card you take over this. At the Scourge Prerelease, I had to try to kill Rorix with Lingering Death. It worked about as well as you’d imagine.


Probably the best card in the set for the purposes of Limited play, Starstorm makes Bane of the Living look bad. Do you know how good a card has to be in Limited to make Bane of the Living look bad? I opened one of these once and actually ran outside and took a lap around the block, pumping the fist the whole way. It seemed like the classy thing to do.

Callous Oppressor

The hook! Though decks have been getting increasingly tribal with the advent of Scourge, this guy remains a table-dominating force. Any morph is instantly yours – and as long as the Oppressor lives, your opponent is restricted to trying to win with one creature type. Very few decks can do this – only monoblack Zombies and U/W Soldiers have even a reasonable shot at it. Any other deck is toast unless”The Hook” hits the bin.

Future Sight

Match opponent creature for creature, play turn 5, win. Actually, play any time, win. Future Sight’s heyday was OOL, when people weren’t maindecking their Vigilantes, but it’s still insane – there’s no card I’d rather have to anchor me in Blue. I remember one draft where I was running a great G/B Death Match deck with all the trimmings. I played Death Match turn 4, my opponent played this turn 5. I just about filled my jockeys. (Yeah, I lost that one.)

Quicksilver Dragon

What an unmitigated, unequivocated beating. 5/5 for 4UU? Flying? Shrugs off removal like nothing? Morph on turn 5? This thing is tasty like steamed hams.

You’ve heard of steamed hams, right? It’s an Albany expression.

Goblin Sharpshooter

This just missed being a Tier 1 card by the smallest of margins. In contrast to real life, where bad players run Sharpshooter all the time and proceed to forget all the triggers and generally lodge their heads in their asses, MODO makes sure that every possible Sharpshooter trigger is brought to everyone’s attention. Thanks a lot. This guy was the main reason for my loss to Earthblighter, and I won’t soon forget it.

I wear Oakley shades, yes I do. I take this over Sparksmith, and so should you.

Butcher Orgg

Big, deadly, ugly, and mean… But enough about your mom. Butcher Orgg is almost as much of a beating, at least the equal of the missus in terms of durability, fragrance, and temperament.


Yet another dominating turn 5 play in the red rare slot. This one is a menace in combat – guaranteed to take down whatever it tries to go up against. It’s not better than Sparksmith (at least in U/R), but it makes you think twice. Remember how I said that”something has to do the damage once you’re in control”? Well, usually you give the job to Charging Slateback or Frenetic Raptor, but if you’re able to send Tephraderm out to mop things up instead, more power to you!


Has an unwieldy casting cost, as befits a card with the name of a bad Star Trek movie. This mammoth sorcery probably holds the record for letting bad players defeat good ones in booster draft. Luckily, it also helps good players defeat bad ones. With so many players out there subscribing to the”tempo-is-everything” school of Limited Magic, you’ve probably heard about how Insurrection is slow like a hamstrung hippopotamus. Well, let me tell you – some of those hippos are hungry, and when hippos get hungry, white marbles pay. And by white marbles, I mean your opponent. Set your nerves aside – this might not tear it up on turn 3, but it should always make your deck.

Menacing Ogre

A huge beater if you can shoehorn those two +1/+1 counters on there somehow. Make sure to think a while before you guess the life total. Put yourself in enemy shoes. I qualified for a Pro Tour in part because of my ability to guess, which is simultaneously really cool and somewhat sad.

Gratuitous Violence

If you locked a typical U/R deck in a room all by itself and came back on turn 20, odds are it still wouldn’t have the correct mana to cast this. That said, if the Violence gets on the table when the board is stable, you have to work pretty hard to lose. Luckily, I’m a hardworking sorta guy. Salt of the earth, you know.

I once had to play against a guy with both this and Skirk Volcanist – it wasn’t pretty. With this on the table, even Nosy Goblin is a clock.

Arcanis The Omnipotent

Like Future Sight, if you untap with Arcanis in play, you’re probably winning. Unlike Future Sight, Arcanis dies to Pinpoint Avalanche, Cruel Revival, Skinthinner, and numerous other removal spells.

I once heard a story about some guy who, playing U/R, cast Threaten on an opposing (and summoning sick!) Arcanis, tapped it to draw three, tapped Aphetto Alchemist to untap it, tapped it to draw another three, then paid 2UU to return it to his opponent’s hand. Future Sight doesn’t go in for those sorts of shenanigans!

Mistform Skyreaver


Seriously, this is big. Very big. You want it in your deck, as opposed to anyone else’s. Not only does it swing for five, but it can be any creature type, up to and including Archie Bell and also the Drells.

Words of War

Words of War is a little like Lightning Rift, but it’s much worse in practice. When you’re winning, you can afford to win more. When you’re losing, you can’t afford to use the ability, because you need to draw cards. Would you trade some tempo and mana for the ability to draw Shock every turn? Sometimes. If you do draft a Words of War (it’s about as good as, say, Pinpoint Avalanche, and you could go either way) use it wisely. Skipping draws is not for the faint of heart.

Blistering Firecat

The Firecat is usually like a better version of Searing Flesh, and Searing Flesh is pretty good, so you can expect this hellkitten to perform when the time comes. As a nice bonus, it’s still worth a spot of cash. Especially fun when it runs into a Zombie Cutthroat, morphed before damage. Eight to the face and Cuts hits the bin!

Blatant Thievery

Yoink! Not the fastest card out of the gate, it’s still backbreakingly powerful in many situations. I’ve seen a couple of people make the mistake of considering this”too slow” and leaving it out of their U/R decks. That’s wrong, no question. You want the Thievery in your deck. Like numerous other rare cards, it has functionality you don’t see outside of the golden symbol club, and that functionality can bail your hatless butt out of some pretty tough jams.


When you play with Clone, it’s like stumbling into a room filled with gorgeous, drunken co-eds. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but odds are it’ll be good. Just don’t Clone your own Rorix. That sort of”win-more” attitude makes me not like the cut of your gib.

Ixidor, Reality Sculptor

A 3/4 for 3UU with the ability to turn over your expensive morphs for 2U, Ixidor is fairly playable. On occasion, he even makes a big difference in a game, though those times are few and far between. A good player can get a little bit of mileage out of his special ability, though – you can flip late-game Cutthroats without paying life, Volcanists without blowing two mountains, red morphs without paying mana, and even enemy morphs that could ruin your plans, like Patron of the Wild.

Peer Pressure

I didn’t want to play this card – but all my friends said that it was cool!

Seriously, though, Peer Pressure is playable provided you have an Imagecrafter (very important) and a couple of Mistform creatures. You could try it without Imagecrafter if you have something like five Mistforms, but I wouldn’t recommend it – the Imagecrafter is the most important piece of the puzzle. Once the conditions are right, just change a few creature types and steal whatever you want.

Mike Turian wrote an article a while back where he mentioned that learning to play with rares in Limited can help your game a lot, and knowing when it’s appropriate to play Peer Pressure, a card that is useless in certain decks and extremely strong in others, is a good example of what he was talking about.

Read The Runes

Read The Runes is a good addition to your deck – and up until the appearance of Rush of Knowledge, there really wasn’t a comparable card in OLS draft. Not only can a mid-game Runes dig through mountains of land and useless cards to set you up with an ideal hand, but if you time it right, you can avoid discarding during the resolution of the spell by simply sacrificing extra land or, my favorite choice, creatures that are headed to the bin anyhow. I once cast Read The Runes for five in response to a Slice and Dice that was about to destroy five members of my team, and my reward was enough gas to recover from the board sweeper in seconds. If the board is near-empty and both players are drawing for a threat, there’s no card you’d rather have fall into your greedy hands than Read the Runes.

Riptide Entrancer

The Sneak! The Entrancer is like Skirk Commando on coke and acid. No one ever blocks a morph anymore if it’s even slightly inconvenient – and because of that change in defensive philosophy, the Entrancer cleans up! Since the appearance of the Commando in Onslaught, the subsequent sets have provided players with a slew of morphs that turn you into an Oscar Meyer sausage receptacle if you dare to block on turn 4 (Cutthroat, Wall of Deceit, Putrid Raptor, Skirk Marauder for the two-for-one, and pretty much every white morph known to man) while the only other”no block” punishers are Haunted Cadaver and… This rare.

Riptide Entrancer is the best of a rare breed, generating a massive game swing if it gets through. Just three days ago, I got this twelfth pick during a 9-5 draft in the 1800 room. Give me a break.

Voidmage Prodigy

No one knows where to take this unless they’ve drafted it a few times, and that doesn’t happen unless you draft five times a day for a few months…Like me.

It’s not obviously powerful like other bomb rares, but the Prodigy is very playable, and given the choice between it and something like Riptide Biologist, I’ll take the jolly German every time. The rules are simple: If you’d be happy making the trade in combat, you use the wizard to counter the spell. Opponent casting a morph? Sage Aven takes it for the team. Attempted Shock on your Mistform Dreamer? Disruptive Pitmage does the duty. Treespring Lorian about to hit the board? Then it’s time for Kai himself to hit the bin and counter that beast as his last great act of defiance.

Of course, if you happen to know that your opponent has a Visara in his deck, you might want to keep him around.

Riptide Replicator

Obviously extremely powerful once it gets going, Riptide Replicator can be likened to a slightly different version of Hunting Pack, and it should be drafted as such. The card is, overall, extremely overrated – it tends to get picked much higher than it should. That, combined with the fact that it can go in any deck, means I’ve had very few chances to see it in action. What I have seen, though, has shown me that it’s nothing to get excited about. If your draft went well enough and you’ve got more robust, faster late-game solutions, you might even leave it in your sideboard.

Slate of Ancestry

Slate of Ancestry is a card-drawing machine if the conditions are right, but it’s no Rush of Knowledge. That said, it will definitely win you the game if you can lock up the board for a few turns, and that’s a rare thing to find in a card. Play it if you get it, but don’t take it too early – it really is quite slow.

Tribal Golem

In your deck, it will probably be a 4/4 flier with haste a good percentage of the time. That’s a good deal for six colorless mana! Don’t forget that you can give it trample or first strike with Mistforms.

Riptide Laboratory

You’ll get this sleeper late, and you shouldn’t be afraid to run it. Though it’s not much use in the early game, later on it can save your Wizards and Mistforms from destruction, and turn serious tricks when combined with an Echo Tracer or Willbender. The possibility of that sort of power is usually worth the slight trouble it might cause your mana base. It’s also excellent with Riptide Survivor.