The Scourge Pack
The Scourge pack can be a disappointing one on occasion, but there are plenty of picks available that the U/R mage can be happy with. Rush of Knowledge is the big gun, but Zombie Cutthroat, Torrent of Fire, Chartooth Cougar and Shoreline Raider are all excellent first picks, to say nothing of the numerous powerful uncommons that you might find waiting for you. With cards like Dispersal Shield and Bonethorn Valesk floating around in the late stages of pack three, you sometimes get #23 at a bargain basement price.
The Scourge Pack
U/R Commons Pick Order
1. Rush of Knowledge
2. Zombie Cutthroat
3. Torrent of Fire
4. Shoreline Raider
5. Chartooth Cougar
6. Frozen Solid
7. Raven Guild Initiate
8. Spark Spray
10. Bonethorn Valesk
11. Dispersal Shield
12. Goblin Brigand
13. Scornful Egotist
14. Coast Watcher
15. Dragon Wings
16. Mercurial Kite
17. Rock Jockey
x. Goblin War Strike
x. Dragon Breath
x. Misguided Rage
x. Uncontrolled Infestation
x. Temporal Fissure
x. Hindering Touch
When I asked Josh”OMC” Bennett to help me figure out what card to take out of a booster with both Rush of Knowledge and Zombie Cutthroat, we quickly discovered that it was no easy task. With weeks already wasted poring over dusty tomes and ancient manuscripts in ruins scattered around the Middle East, we were no closer to uncovering the answer, and growing disillusioned with the very idea that one card might be better than the other.
“Zombie Cutthroat is fantastic in the early game!”I was heard to remark on one occasion, and OMC, his unkempt hair uncharacteristically tied back to facilitate our spelunking in the dark catacombs of Egypt, could only nod in agreement before offering his own rejoinder:
“A fine point,”he said, “but Rush of Knowledge is quite good in the late game!”
Of course I could only concede the point and continue on. A week later, after I’d been hospitalized following a scarab beetle attack, it was clear that we had to solve the dilemma before it killed the both of us.
I was at a loss, but the steel trap that is the mind of Josh Bennett was up to the challenge, and he was galvanized into action, producing an intricate chart seemingly from nowhere. To decide the appropriate choice, he said, we should commandeer two of the nations finest dirigibles and have a race around the world – with the Queen herself to drop the checkered flag. From Sao Paulo to Eskenderun, from the Arctic Circle to the Aussie Outback, we’d traverse the continental airways and then return home, our respective zeppelins loaded with worldly trinkets.
I was momentarily at a loss for words. Then, with some effort, I found my voice.
“To hell with it. Rush if probably just better.”
And so it was decided. I take the Rush and so should you. For the uninitiated, it works like this:
1. Stabilize the board.
2. Draw 6-8 cards.
This is comparable in power to Wall of Deceit, and that’s saying something about both cards. Better on offense and defense, it is less versatile than the Wall but still a powerful addition to any deck. The freedom to use early mana putting out threats while still turning up a big morph is a precious commodity, and this card provides that freedom in spades. Be aware, however, that savvy opponents can get an unfair read on this card under certain circumstances if you’re playing Magic Online.
The Torrent isn’t as good in U/R as it is in R/G, where big monsters abound (and sometimes they appear quite quickly!) but it remains a strong card, and a good way to get rid of those pesky Daru Stingers that so often exceed three toughness. The Torrent would still be almost strictly worse than Pinpoint Avalanche except for the simple fact that you can launch it at your opponent’s grille. When you do use Torrent of Fire, make sure that your highest mana cost permanent is likely to stick around until the spell resolves – I’ve had an Echo Tracer ruin my day, despite my best efforts to play around it.
Comparable in power level to the Chartooth Cougar, this 3/4 flier is usually the better pick as it has evasion and can take advantage of Raven Guild Initiate rescues. Both are excellent Rush enablers, and I’ve won many games simply by laying out my entire hand, ending with this guy on turn 6, and casting Rush of Knowledge on turn 7. The best part about drafting a landcycler is that you can play seventeen land, no questions asked. That means that you have a better chance of the sort of threat-heavy draw you need to win a game of Limited Magic, and you’ve given yourself that chance without increasing the chance of landscrew – if you need an island, you can cycle the Raider early and get one!
My U/R decks are always happy to see the Cougar, a big beater very close in power level to the Torrent of Fire and Shoreline Raider listed above. Like Skittish Valesk, Frenetic Raptor, and others, the Cougar will be your workhorse once it comes time to press the advantage and actually do some damage. The Firebreathing ability allows you to trade with pretty much anything – and if you happen to be playing Dragon Wings (you could do worse), this guy makes a fine target for either the initial casting or on the way back from the graveyard.
U/R decks have precious few ways to incapacitate or remove truly large creatures – beasties along the lines of Exalted Angel or Rorix Bladewing. Frozen Solid is one of those ways. A somewhat recent Kai Budde article had a pick order for blue that put this below Raven Guild Initiate, and having played both of them I totally understand the reasoning behind that – the Initiate is a card with far more finesse. That said, Frozen Solid is at a higher base power level. When faced with an opponent you can’t simply outplay (this happens at a high level of competition), you need the tools to win, and the base power level of your cards becomes more important. For that reason, after a brief dalliance with Kai’s order for these two commons, I’ve gone back to taking Frozen Solid over Raven Guild Initiate in U/R.
Mistform Wall remains a strong tempo-stopper, and the Raven Guild Initiate, another 1/4 for 2U, fills a similar role in your U/R deck. Though you’ll want to put this Wizard into play facedown when you’re not under heavy pressure, sometimes the right play is to just rawdog the 1/4 and start setting up some semblance of a defense. In addition to the defensive applications, Raven Guild Initiate’s morph cost interacts very well with cards like Keeneye Aven and Sage Aven, and with Imagecrafter on the table, you can”rescue” any creature that needs it. Probably the best possible target for Lavamancer’s Skill.
Zzzzt! There are plenty of creatures out there that fold to this”Little Burn Spell That Could”: Mistform Seaswift, Deftblade Elite, Sparksmith, Wellwisher, Crested Craghorn, Spined Basher, Battering Craghorn, they all fold’em and sit a few hands. Potential tempo stealers like Carrion Feeder, Goblin Turncoat, and Skirk Drill Sergeant are likewise sent home to mommy. Plus it cycles. Spark Spray will make your maindeck more often than not, unless you find yourself with a very, very solid removal base.
The Leery Fogbeast of direct damage spells, Scattershot’s job is to trade with a morph as soon as possible. It can do other things too, but for me it mostly kills a morph. That isn’t to say that sometimes it can’t be great – I’ve unloaded some pretty backbreaking Scattershots in my day (I’ll deal one to your morph, one to your other morph, one to your Death’s-Head Buzzard?) and Scattershot works very well when all you want to do is get rid of that godforsaken Deftblade Elite, Wellwisher or Sparksmith. Whatever you do, don’t sit there on your third turn with Scattershot mana up if you can possibly avoid it – laying a morph and getting your offense in gear is almost always better.
What a beating! No one gives the Bonethorn much of a chance, but I can tell you that the effect it provides will leave you with a mighty advantage. With Wall of Deceit, you get one damage for every 3U you spend. With Master of the Veil, that cost drops to 2U. Bonethorn Valesk is, really, a sort of enchantment in creature form. The 4/2 body is nice if the coast is clear and you need to beat down, but mostly you just care about the text on the card. It does trade with a morph, which is bad, but it also trades with Chartooth Cougar, Barkhide Mauler, and Treespring Lorian – and that’s good!
You’ll never need to take one early, so don’t. Let the Valesks come to you. Once you’re machine-gunning people, you’ll be glad you did!
Sometimes maindeck, sometimes boarded in to counter an enemy morph while going second, Dispersal Shield can range from terrific to awful depending on the situation. Countering a morph on the draw, or acting as insurance against a breaker while the game is stalemated, you’ll love how this card operates. Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll be waiting to counter a morph and your opponent will play Severed Legion or Timberwatch Elf. Say”bye bye” to your second-turn window. If you hold back again on turn 3 to try and counter, you’re missing a chance to lay a morph. If you lay the morph, you can’t counter the turn 4 play.
Because I’m never sure if I’ll be able to use Dispersal Shield later in the game, I usually just fire it off as soon as possible – trading this 10th-14th pick with an opposing Skirk Marauder or Echo Tracer is a good deal.
I’ve had this guy hit for eight damage, and I’ve had him run straight into an Elvish Warrior. At this point, neither one surprises me. As a twenty-third card, you could do a lot worse. Very close in power level to the Dispersal Shield, it also shares some characteristics with the counterspell – it’s great early against morphs, but sometimes you can’t find a use for it later on.
Despite what you might think, giving Scornful Egotist the nod as your twenty-third card when you have numerous copies of Torrent of Fire or Rush of Knowledge is the smart move. What was originally thought by some to be a gimmicky interaction can turn into a powerful game winner if given the chance. At worst, he’s a 2/2 that can shrink and do Skill duty in a tight pinch.
Another goalie. Almost never a maindeck card (if he’s a first-stringer, you’re in trouble), Coast Watcher comes in off the bench to stop that Enormous Baloth from hitting you for seven a turn. Alongside Riptide Biologist, this guy can give you quite a defensive presence against big, dumb green decks.
A twenty-third card that fluctuates in value according to your probable targets, it’s important to remember what you’ve already drafted when you get the choice between this and, say, Dispersal Shield. If my deck has a Skirk Commando or Snapping Thragg, I’ll usually take the Wings. The choice is made even easier if you have numerous 6CC beaters to take advantage of the”return from grave” trigger – two good examples are Chartooth Cougar and Frenetic Raptor. Rockshard Elemental is probably my favorite.
About as mediocre as possible, this is a bottom-of-the-barrel twenty-third card that you might run if you’ve had a weak draft that nonetheless features multiple Raven Guild Initiates.
If you’re landscrewed on turn 4, there’s no card you’d rather lay on the table. Except maybe a land. It seems that people consider Rock Jockey a lot more playable than I do – I don’t like him much at all. A 3/3 body is okay, but he requires you to miss a land drop. Playing U/R, I never want to do that. I have morphs to flip and Rush of Knowledges to cast. I want eight mana so I can cast a morph and leave enough open to flip Echo Tracer and Willbender. I have never played the Jockey, but there are doubtless U/R players who do, and they likely take him over Mercurial Kite. I wouldn’t.
U/R Uncommons Pick Order
1. Carbonize (1.5)
2. Extra Arms (1.6)
3. Skirk Volcanist (1.7)
4. Pemmin’s Aura (2.5)
5. Aphetto Runecaster (3.5)
6. Riptide Survivor (6.5)
7. Mistform Warchief (9.5)
8. Goblin Warchief (11.5)
9. Temple of the False God (15.5)
10. Thundercloud Elemental (15.5)
11. Enrage (15.5)
x. Dragonspeaker Shaman
x. Pyrostatic Pillar
x. Goblin Psychopath
x. Brain Freeze
x. Long-Term Plans
Mmm… Toasty. Carbonize, Extra Arms and Skirk Volcanist are all excellent cards (and generally better for a U/R deck than the number one”red” common, Zombie Cutthroat), but Carbonize takes the top spot because it is so versatile. Damage is pretty much always good. You don’t need a creature to enchant, there’s no need to sacrifice two mountains… You just burn baby burn, and the flames get higher. Not unlike a disco inferno.
Throwing this on your creature gives it a set of extra arms, sorta like Vishnu, the Hindu deity. Extra Arms does share some characteristics with Vishnu – namely, the fact that it is an all-powerful, omnipotent force venerated by millions. Like Lavamancer’s Skill, Extra Arms can create tremendous virtual card advantage – your opponent dare not play any low-toughness creature with this enchantment ready to pounce. Unlike Lavamancer’s Skill, this can go on any creature, and it can send two damage to the dome while you’re waiting for more targets to appear.
A tremendous card overall, but not on par with the Skill because of the greater cost and the fact that you have to risk the enchanted creature in combat each turn. Don’t forget that in an emergency, you can play this on an opposing creature to discourage it from attacking.
It doesn’t matter how bad you think the drawback is – this card is still very good, allowing you to do three damage for free at instant speed, something no other card in the environment can boast. I have to admit that I was skeptical about the Volcanist at first – would I be able to use his ability when I needed it most? Would the loss of two mountains cripple me in a world of Invokers and expensive beaters? I needn’t have worried – two mountains is a small price to pay for the ability to potentially trade with four creatures. Take it and play it – no red common comes close, and only Rush of Knowledge is better amongst all Scourge commons.
Any creature enchanted with Pemmin’s Aura ends up working triple overtime – serving for damage in the air and untapping to ward off any attack. If you’ve got a lot of mana, you’re golden (and indeed, Pemmin’s Aura on a mid-size to large creature in the late-game is usually induces the scoop) but early on, having to keep Aura mana open can really stunt your growth. Of course, it’s removal if nothing else, since you can just cast it and reduce an enemy creature’s toughness to zero. The choice between this and the Volcanist is a very tough one, and with a Lavamancer’s Skill (or Embermage Goblin) I’d probably take the Aura (DISCO MACHINEGUN!), but otherwise the Volcanist gets the nod.
Heck, I just hope to get both. A guy can dream, can’t he?
The new Wirewood Savage, Aphetto Runecaster is about as powerful as the Onslaught common and should be taken as such. In conjunction with Master of the Veil or Wall of Deceit things get ridiculously corrupt as a matter of course, but even without flashy interactions, the Runecaster is worth his weight in gold, usually drawing multiple cards over the course of a game. I’ve found that blocking an attacking morph with your turn 4 Runecaster is sometimes a savvy play, since the 2/3 Wizard will just replace itself while your opponent wastes valuable tempo turning his morph face-up. If you don’t believe that the Runecaster is as good as Wirewood Savage, wait until you start cantripping your Echo Tracers, Willbenders and Skirk Marauders – then you’ll be singing a different tune.
A poor man’s Rush of Knowledge, the Survivor pays big dividends if you expend every resource en route to popping him for three cards in the mid-game. Spend your removal, trade your creatures, get your land on the table, and then for 1UU you’re up three cards and off to the races. Especially nice if you can also trade him for an opposing morph after he does the duty.
This unassuming Warchief doesn’t bestow haste, regeneration, or the ability to ignore the FBI warning on copyrighted media, but despite these shortcomings it can be a useful addition to your U/R deck. This guy is sorta like a big, blue Wirewood Elf. Turn 5 Chartooth Cougars, turn 4 Crested Craghorns and turn 6 Aven Fateshapers are within your grasp when the Mistform Warchief hits the table – and he does a fine job of blocking morphs when not on cost-reduction duty.
Sometimes a completely mediocre card, this can be nuts in the right deck – usually the same type of deck that can run Clickslither without batting an eyelash. It’s the color-greedy casting cost that makes this card a less-than-optimal pick for some U/R decks, but a turn 6 hasted Goblin Dynamo can make you forget those color-spread qualms in an awful hurry. Remember what you’ve drafted, and if the circumstances are right, add the Warchief to your pile.
The Temple will never blow your socks off in limited, but if you find yourself in a situation where you’re going to be running eighteen land, you should consider the Temple for a job as one of those eighteen. Most often, the deck that runs the Temple will be one with few color requirements but plenty of high-end power, along with Invokers and other late-game effects.
This card is damn slow, and only makes my deck over other, faster twenty-third cards if I have a Riptide Shapeshifter. Of course, a weak draft means that anything is possible – and lacking any sort of coherent late-game, I wouldn’t be ashamed to throw in this controllish 3/4. Just don’t play it over better high-curve options like Macetail Hystrodon, Primoc Escapee, Aven Fateshaper, or Goblin Dynamo.
Never a high pick, Enrage can steal wins the same way that Wave of Indifference and related cards can, and as such it may find a place in your deck if you’re on the hunt for something robust to fill that 23rd slot. Ideally, you want your draft to go well enough that you’re able to leave this card in the sideboard. Good with Ridgetop Raptor and Rockshard Elemental if you ever get the chance to try it out.
U/R Rares Categorized
TIER 1 ANCHOR CARDS
Form of the Dragon
Day of the Dragons
TIER 2 ANCHOR CARDS
Raven Guild Master (11.5)
Decree of Annihilation
Grip of Chaos
Decree of Silence
Faces of the Past
A stupidly powerful card that can single-handedly beat certain archetypes (heavy G/x and monoblack Zombies are the two most helpless genres against this beast), trying to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of Form is tantamount to cataloguing the ups and downs of the 1927 Yankees’ batting order. It’s pretty much insane against anything.
Though playing the Form versus certain decks is a definite risk – you wouldn’t want to fire it out across from a Torrent-toting R/G deck with several cards in hand, for example – if you use your best judgement, it will rarely backfire in your face. Most of the time, your opponent will be putting his cards in a pile and leaving the table.
This card only trades for three or four of your opponent’s cards over the course of a couple of turns. That’s all. JUST the three or four opposing cards, mind you. A MERE three or four. A PALTRY three or four. Dumb. A first pick.
Sadly enough for bomb-lamenting Limited players everywhere, this is possibly even better than Form of the Dragon. Though it won’t save you if your creatures are getting removed consistently, it will win you the game outright the other 90% of the time. Makes Dragon Roost look like garbage by comparison.
Similar to (but slightly better than) Kilnmouth Dragon, Dragon Mage isn’t as powerful as top-tier commons like Rush of Knowledge but nonetheless belongs in your deck if you’re the U/R drafter. Assuming you don’t tap out before attacking, you always get to use your cards first, and that’s usually enough to nullify any bad things that might happen as a result of shelling out a new mitt to your opponent. If you have Torrent of Fire, this guy is going to draw you right into it. To the dome!
A solid body with an ability that is occasionally ridiculous, the Quanar will always make your deck if you’re U/R. I’ve only had one or two chances to play with it, but my experiences thus far have been excellent. Fork opposing removal or your own, grab yourself a personal Explosive Vegetation copy straight from the stack, send a double Torrent to the dizzome – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Why not? It’s a morph and can be played as such if you’re looking for a warm body. And, gee, that’s quite the nasty little triggered ability – three hits and you’re toast in Limited! Now, if only Wizards would get rid of that pesky”declare blockers” step.
Stifle will very seldom do more than trade one-for-one, but you can say the same about Pacifism and it’s very playable. Stifle has made my maindeck on several occasions and in each case it was useful. I’m sure you’ve all got your own dream Stifle scenarios, but some examples from my play in reality include saying “No!” to Skinthinner and Frontline Strategist activations, and Stifling a Festering Goblin graveyard trigger that was trying to do finish off one of my face-down creatures. In each case, it was certainly no worse than the alternative choice for my deck, which would have been a mediocre twenty-third card of some other type.
SECTION VII – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER WITH LAND
So you’ve got forty-five cards. Some are bombs, some are solid, some are last-pick garbage. Now, what do you do to put them together? My advice is to make it so that your deck always has either twenty-two or twenty-three cards. To get yourself the information you will need to decide how many (and what type of!) land to run, you need to go over a quick checklist of questions.
1. How many blue spells do you have with UU or UUU in the casting or morph costs? You don’t need many islands to reliably cast Shoreline Raider (5U), but what about Arcanis The Omnipotent (3UUU) or Future Sight (2UUU)? It’s easy to morph Chromeshell Crab (4U), but what about Riptide Entrancer (UU)?
2. How many red spells do you have with RR or RRR in the casting or morph costs? Have you got multiple Battering Craghorns, a Rorix, and a Gratuitous Violence? Are you going to want to reliably cycle your Solar Blast for 1RR?
3. Do you have any cycling lands? The presence of cycling land means you can run 18 with a clear conscience – no land flood for you. Run 18 only when you have no landcyclers – see below.
4. Do you have landcyclers like Chartooth Cougar or Shoreline Raider? If you do, you can run seventeen land with no problems. They will prevent landscrew by cycling early on, and in the late game, instead of flooding you, they’ll step in to beat down!
5. Do you have any other nonbasic lands to run? Temple of the False God, Grand Coliseum, and Riptide Laboratory are good examples. Each one has different effects on your mana base.
With the answers to these questions firmly in hand, it’s easy to figure out how much land to run, and of what type. First, count your colored mana symbols. The ratio of blue-to-red colored mana symbols in all your spells and morph costs (use only the most appropriate cost from each card – there’s no need to count Skirk Commando as a 1RR creature) should correspond roughly to the ratio of islands to mountains in your deck, but the land ratio should, as a rule never tilt below 11:6. In hundreds of drafts with U/R, I’ve almost never used a ratio any more extreme than 11:6. The first R and the first U are the most important, and you want to be sure you have both.
I’m sure you can see how to apply the information you’ve gathered through these questions to the process of building your deck. For example, if your deck has Rorix, 2x Battering Craghorn and 2x Torrent of Fire, with fourteen red cards and nine blue cards, none of which has a UU requirement, then your land ratio should be eleven mountains to seven islands. Throw a Shoreline Raider into the mix and you have the rare 11:6 split, with the Raider replacing an island (which it can be cycled to fetch). It’s simple, and after a bit of practice you’ll be able to figure out a perfect manabase for any U/R deck you draft.
As far as overall landcount goes, here are the guidelines that I personally use. They work very well for me and I think they will work well for you too.
- If you have one or more cycling land and no landcyclers, you play eighteen land.
- If you have one or more landcyclers, you play seventeen land.
- If you have a nonbasic land that is essentially a spell (Riptide Laboratory), run eighteen land.
- If you have Temple of the False God, run eighteen land. (Temple, however, doesn’t usually make my deck.)
- In the uncommon case that you have no landcyclers and no cycling land, count your cycling cards and check your mana curve. If you have a low curve, and many cards that can be cycled early to dig for land, it’s fine to run seventeen. Otherwise, you should go with eighteen to make sure you can ramp up to your powerful spells. Manascrew is death in OLS.
SECTION VIII – CONCLUSION
Thank you for reading the Onslaught Block U/R Drafter’s Guide. I hope you enjoyed reading it, for writing it was certainly an experience – sometimes joyful, sometimes frustrating, always surprising. If you have any thoughts on the contents of this guide, or ideas of your own about drafting U/R in OLS, don’t hesitate to chime in on the forums. And hey, if you just want to say”Hi!” that’s fine, too – I’m always lurking somewhere around.
SECTION VIII – CONCLUSION
Until next time, keep it tight.
FP_GLyM on MODO