It doesn’t seem long ago that we were saying goodbye to Wild Mongrel, Hallowed Healer, and Aven Windreader and hello to Sparksmith, Ascending Aven, and Krosan Tusker as Onslaught replaced Odyssey Block as the drafting format of choice. Now the final installment of Onslaught Block is upon us, and everyone is churning out articles listing all the cards in Scourge and how good they will be in Limited. This is not one of those articles.
What this article is concerned with is color combinations. If you play a two-color deck, you have ten choices of what two colors to play – some obviously better than others. This article is going to look at the Onslaught Block drafting format so far and discuss how each color combination has fared. I will then look ahead and try to predict which combinations will be the best and which will be avoided in OLS drafts.
The season opened with the introduction of Onslaught into the fray. Drafters everywhere were not quite sure what to make of the”tribal” set. Should they draft colors, or should they attempt to draft a particular tribe? Nobody was more confused than Gary Wise, who organised his famous Limited reviews by tribe and was then forced to scrap this and go back to sorting by colors. But by Pro Tour: Chicago, most of the top players were confident that they had the format sussed and they could go along, post a good record, and then lose to Kai. They had and they did. One of the most interesting things about OOO drafts was that there seemed to be five”good” archetypes and five”bad” ones due to everybody wanting either red or black for their removal.
For each Onslaught-based draft format, I will list all ten archetypes in my perceived order of power along with comments. Doubtless, lots of people will shout at me saying I have underestimated their favorite deck, especially for my rankings in the later formats where nearly all decks seem to have their band of followers. I have tried to take into account as many opinions and points as possible, but ultimately this all is just my opinion. Criticize away!
Kai described this as”easily the most powerful archetype in Onslaught-only Limited.” This was quite interesting, given that blue was considered to be the weakest color in the set. However, this deck had incredible power based on the synergy between Lavamancer’s Skill and Wizards (and also, to a lesser extent, Sparksmith and Mistform creatures). In a format of 2/2s with a shortage of burn, a turn 4″Skilled up” Mistform Wall was difficult to kill and almost impossible to work around.
There were problems with drafting this deck, however, which were twofold: First, it was pretty reliant on opening one or preferably more Skills. In 24 packs, you can expect an average of only two or three Skills to be opened. You have to hope that some of these get to you before they are drafted by another R/U player or hate drafted. The second problem, which is related to this, is that there just isn’t enough decent blue in Onslaught to support more than two blue drafters. If you found yourself as the third blue drafter (which was quite possible, given the strength of U/R) you could find yourself with a poor deck. However, if you read the signals correctly and found yourself in U/R, you could be confident that you were drafting the best deck there was.
With red and black being the most sought-after colors in the set, if one of the best decks was red, you could bet your life the other would be black. B/G, rather than being based on any combo (although Nantuko Husk plus Symbiotic Elf is pretty sick), was just good because of general synergy between the colors. You could combine the Zombies from black with either Elves or Beasts from green and end up with a pretty good mana curve – which, unlike most other decks, could start at 1cc with Festering Goblin and Birchlore Rangers. At the top end, they have the best selection of Beasts with which to take advantage of Wirewood Savage, a common that you should be able to get hold of at least one of. Insert a lot of excellent bombs in both colors, decent removal in black, and a solid finisher in Dirge of Dread, and you have the makings of a very solid deck.
This was the tempo deck of the format. Using the speed of soldiers followed by efficient flying threats backed up by burn, this deck was able to win before the slower decks could even get going. The Opening of turn 1 Goblin Sledder, turn 2 Glory Seeker, turn 3 Gustcloak Harrier, turn 4 Shock + Another three-drop was more than most decks could cope with – and these starts were common, as white was not heavily drafted in Onslaught. It was an excellent deck to wield against superior opposition because it relied on them finding answers, and quickly. On the minus side, it was pretty much dependent on picking up enough red burn to stave off any early threats your opponent was able to play – and with red being overdrafted, this could be somewhat dicey. Also this deck didn’t have much of a late game unless it managed to pick up a bomb or two.
In every draft format, it seems that G/R is always there; the combination of big and efficient creatures and burn to clear a path for them and get rid of annoying evasion creatures is both reliable and handy. Triple-Onslaught drafts were no exception. Red and green were two of the stronger colors in Onslaught, and so throwing them together yielded naturally high card quality, and hence a decent deck despite no obvious combos or deep synergy (except for Beasts with Wirewood Savage). In fact, this deck would probably be higher on the list were it not for the fact that both colors have other strong compliments that are less heavily-drafted (black for green and blue or white for red). Also this was a combination often forced by weaker players (Timmy likes G/R!) so you were often fighting for cards.
The last of the”good” decks was also the closest to a proper tribal deck. The B/W clerics deck at this stage was missing a lot of the pieces it would find in later sets, but was still solid enough. Because white was not heavily drafted, quite often you would find yourself as one of only two white drafters at the table with the other drafting soldiers. This would put you in a very good position, effectively getting the best clerics from all twenty-four boosters (although a soldier player may still use Daunting Defender). The deck had some very strong”bread and butter” commons, including Daunting Defender, Shepherd of Rot, and Battlefield Medic but unfortunately often relied on picking up some of the marquee uncommons like Cabal Archon or Doubtless One in order to win. B/W was very strong against red, but was very vulnerable to black removal, which bypassed all of the Clerics’ healing effects.
U/B was one of the strongest decks in OTJ draft – but this had less to do with synergy and more to do with blue and black being two of the strongest colors in the block. In Onslaught, blue was the weakest color and black was only second or third, which meant that the deck didn’t have the same inherent power. What the deck did have was the lions’ share of the best evasion with Severed Legions, Mistform Dreamers, and Ascending Avens all providing solid efficient beats – especially when going first. Unfortunately, the top end of your mana curve was a bit shaky, with most of the colors larger creatures being woefully inefficient unless you were lucky enough to pull a Prowling Pangolin or a bomb rare. Also, because of the popularity of R/U, you were often not able to get the blue commons you needed to get the deck to work. All in all, the deck was a risky prospect.
Speaking of risky prospects, this combination was the ultimate example. Because everyone wanted to draft either black or red, drafting both meant that chances were you would be sharing a color with both of your neighbors – and this was never a good thing to be doing. If you did manage to draft this combination with some breathing space, it could be very potent, providing swift beats and all the removal you could ever want. It struggled a bit at the top of the mana curve, where most of its threats were inefficient, but hopefully the game would be all but over by that stage. If you were passed this combination, you could take it and win – but trying to force it or committing to it too early would normally lead to maindecked Fever Charms and Headhunters due to a lack of playables.
Remember this archetype from Odyssey Block? You gum up with the ground with Hallowed Healer, Angelic Wall, and Militant Monk, and then you win with flyers. Well when Onslaught came in, a number of people (myself included) tried to build the same deck with the new cards and failed. The efficient fliers were still there, albeit in shorter supply – but when you replace Hallowed Healer with Daru Healer, Angelic Wall with Mistform Wall, and Militant Monk with Battlefield Medic, the deck loses quite a lot. Eventually, people realized that they were going about it all wrong and should be building U/W as a soldier-based aggro deck. However, around this time they also realised that U/R players were stealing all the best fliers anyway and Sparksmith is, shall we say, quite good against this deck. I mean, Sparksmith is good anyway – but if you are facing U/W, it might as well have been a 5/5 Gorgon Legend for all the chance your opponent has. When two or three out of the eight people at the table will probably have a Sparksmith, this is bad news.
Another one to put under the heading of”great in Odyssey Block, bad in Onslaught.” This deck suffered firstly because neither color was particularly great, secondly because it had no removal, and thirdly because it had no synergy whatsoever unless you enjoyed spending your mana powering up Wellwisher with your Mistforms. And it also rolls over and dies to Sparksmith or Wellwisher. If you had strong blue and then opened a Silvos in pack two, then this was just about playable; otherwise it was best left alone.
The much-maligned”zero removal” archetype was often used as an example of the type of deck that bad players draft (“Game over,” I thought to myself as he followed up his turn one Plains with a Forest). This had even less removal than U/G (at least U/G had Essence Fracture) and cemented its position as the worst color combination by having worse evasion than U/G and no way to break a long-game stalemate, barring bombs. Don’t even get me started on what Sparksmith and Wellwisher do to you.
Then Along Came Legions
The all creature set came along and tinkered with the format in a few ways, some obvious, some unexpected. Firstly, players started drafting tricks more highly in Onslaught knowing that they could pick up more than enough creatures late on. Secondly, removal became even more highly sought-after due to the lack of it in Legions. Thirdly, the color balance was restored a little bit – red was unexciting, while blue and white were both fairly strong. As a result, the polarization between the good combinations and bad combinations became a lot more blurred. All five decks that were considered”bad” in triple-Onslaught became more playable, while a lot of the top decks fell off the pace as they lost a third of their key cards. In fact, I have made the final of a Magic Online draft with every single combination since the release of Legions. There are still combinations that are better than others, though, and this is how I see the rankings in the pre-Scourge environment.
With the excellent green in Legions, this has now become the deck to play. It has become obvious that Sparksmith and Timberwatch Elf are the two best commons in Onslaught Block thus far, and so a deck that can use both of them is a serious bit of hardware. Other than that, several small factors have pushed it over the edge. Krosan Vorine, while a reasonable card on its own, is insane when given pants or pumped with a Timberwatch Elf. Vorine + Crown of Fury has proven particularly nasty. You also have a plethora of good beasts in both red and green in Legions to go with any Wirewood Savages you may have picked up. The bottom of your mana curve has been improved, with Gempalm Strider and Stonewood Invoker providing you with much-needed Bears that can combat weenie rushes that this deck had trouble dealing with before. Although the deck is still weak against fliers, the loss of one pack of Spitting Gournas is more than compensated for by Needleshot Gourna.
What this deck lost was one-third of its Lavamancer’s Skills, Mistform Walls, and Sparksmiths. In fact, it lost more than that of Skills – because wizards in other colors in Legions and lack of removal overall are causing other players to speculatively pick up the Skills. Given how combo-based this deck was, this hurt quite a bit, but fortunately, the archetype made big gains in another area – namely, that the quality of blue in Legions is significantly better than in Onslaught. This was fortunate for the blue player, because if they saw a lot of blue coming in Onslaught, they could be fairly confident that even more would come in Legions. Blue flyers especially got a big boost with both Mistform Seaswift and Keeneye Aven being solid men in the common slot. Echo Tracer was also a big boost to this deck: Not only was it an excellent blue bounce spell that could really cock up combat math, destroy creature enchantments, and win the tempo race – but once it had been flipped, it provided a decent target for Lavamancer’s Skill. All in all, this deck probably lost a bit of power but was still one of the best around.
The clerics deck emerged as a real powerhouse after Legions, mainly due to two commons that filled the gaps from Onslaught. Aven Redeemer provided excellent protection for your creatures and was also an evasive finisher if necessary, while Vile Deacon provided mid-game aggro and late game smackdown. These more than made up for the loss of one-third of the Onslaught commons, none of which were really necessary on their own anyway. The deck is now capable of providing a real lock if Redeemer and Daunting Defender are down, although it will still struggle against black removal. The other main problem with this deck is that it is relying on Smokespew Invoker and Vile Deacon to break a late-game lock; by the time you know you are not going to get either of these cards, it is too late to go back.
Although this deck has moved down the rankings a couple of places, it has not lost an awful lot and is still a strong choice. Obviously the loss of one pack of Dirges, Husks, and Symbiotic Elves takes its toll – but even without these cards, the deck was pretty solid and so this is not as much of a concern as U/R losing its Skills. In terms of what it gained, Timberwatch Elf is obviously an excellent addition (although it helps B/G less than G/R, as the bottom of your mana curve with this deck is often taken up with Zombies and not Elves). The strong green Beasts in Legions also provide a boost to the deck and help fill out the top end of your mana curve if the first two packs left you slightly short of beef. If the ground gets gummed up, Smokespew Invoker and Sootfeather Flock both provide alternate win conditions which lessens your need for Dirge.
This deck is probably the one that has gained most from Legions. Wingbeat Warrior, Mistform Seaswift, and Keeneye Aven have added three more efficient fliers to the arsenal, while Deftblade Elite is a one drop that this deck can use for early offence and late defence. Add some uncommons that often come round late such as Cloudreach Cavalry, Aven Warhawk, and White Knight – and with a good draw, this deck can deal twenty damage so fast that your opponent may never have a chance to set up his Gourna-based defense. The Achilles’ Heel of this deck is still Sparksmith and other small utility creatures, though. Fortunately, the ‘Smith himself is one third less abundant in OOL – and in Echo Tracer and Deftblade Elite, U/W now has two common ways of dealing with him, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, this and the ability to stall the deck with early fliers prevent the deck from really being a powerhouse.
This still has the same strengths and weaknesses as it did in triple-Onslaught but now has some new cards to play with. Sootfeather Flock, Covert Operative, and Mistform Seaswift go incredibly nicely in this deck, while Crypt Sliver and Wall of Deceit (if you can get one) can give you the time you need to win with your evasion creatures while filling the 2cc slot. All in all, this deck has improved enough that you shouldn’t be unhappy if these are the two colors that are being fed. It will tend to struggle, though, if your opponent’s deck can shut down your evasion with black creatures and/or flyers.
This is the deck I had most trouble positioning. It was probably the deck I drafted most often in OOO – and yet somehow in OOL, I seem to draft it a lot less, and I have less success when I do. Therefore it was clear that the deck would move down the list but how far was a problem. When looking at what the deck gains there are a couple of useful additions. Skirk Marauder and Deftblade Elite are two excellent cards for the deck and if you chance upon a White Knight, all the better (although the WW casting cost can be a bit of a problem in a deck that tends to play less land). Cloudreach Cavalry and Aven Warhawk can also be a beating if they get going. The deck loses a third of the cards that originally made it tick – such as Shock, Glory Seeker, and Gustcloak Harrier – but all in all, it doesn’t appear to be in bad shape.
The problem is, however, not the cards it loses, but the cards other decks have gained. The deck relies on tempo to win and has little chance in the long game. What you hate seeing when playing R/W is a creature on turns 1 and/or 2 on the opposing side of the board. In Legions, the 2cc category has been populated with such annoyances as Stonewood Invoker, Gempalm Strider, Crypt Sliver, Goblin Turncoat, and Starlight Invoker in the common slot. Any one of these will normally be enough to inhibit your offense until they can get their bigger creatures out. As the R/W deck doesn’t have a lot of late game, this will normally mean defeat.
Make no mistake: This deck has gotten better. Although it hasn’t gained that much in terms of cards, the simple fact that more people are drafting decks that contain neither red or black means that you are more likely to get a good hook-up from at least one direction. In fact, if your daddy is playing U/W, that is practically an invitation to play B/R. On the occasions I have received good signals to go into both of these colors, I have normally done well as a result.
However, the deck still has big problems: You can never decide to draft it until you are certain that you are being passed both colors, by which time much of the advantage may be gone. You are also prone to having your daddy pilfer your cards by splashing either red or black for removal even though those are not their primary colors. In addition, you have few efficient creatures at the top end of your curve, so your deck has to be hyper-aggressive. In short there is plenty of power here but it is difficult to harness it.
This deck has also gotten significantly better after Legions, despite not actually going up the rankings at all. This is indicative of what I previously stated: The gap between the good and bad color combinations has narrowed considerably. This deck has not lost any key cards (then again, it didn’t really have any), and has gained power through the better overall quality of blue and the synergy between Timberwatch Elf, Mistform, and Evasion. It even has a reasonable win condition in gumming up the ground before winning with flyers. This is still a sub-optimal color combination and will probably only work well if you manage to draft at least one Timberwatch Elf – however, you no longer need to be so wary of drafting this deck if you have a good hook-up.
Still the worst color combination, although it’s not as bad as it once was – the reason being, you now have some quasi-removal in the form of Provoke creatures. The problem is, Provoke will only work on tapping creatures if you can provoke them while they still have summoning sickness. Therefore, if you play this deck, it is vital that you have Deftblade Elite (preferably in multiples), as this is the only creature you can guarantee will be able remove a Sparksmith and Wellwisher on turn 2. If it’s larger creatures you need to remove, then Krosan Vorine (with pants if possible) and Brontotherium will be necessary. If you can handle the small tappers though then you have a chance as by the laws of the color wheel you already have the most efficient creatures at both weenie and fatty level so it’s just a case of beating your opponent through superior creature quality. I would still probably need multiple bombs to play these colors though.
Looking Ahead to Scourge
For those of you who skipped straight ahead to this section in order to get their daily fix of Limited Scourge tech, welcome to my very short article. For everyone else, this is somewhat of an epilogue. This is how I predict the ten different archetypes will fare once drafts switch to OLS. Obviously, this includes a fair amount of speculation, so feel free to disagree – however, I have tried to factor in the impact of both individual cards and overall card strength for each color.
You may consider this as a bit of an odd choice for the best overall deck given that there are only four non-rare clerics in Scourge, but let us consider the facts: Firstly, of these four clerics, none can be described as bad – although Daru Spiritualist probably deserves the title”average.” Karona’s Zealot, Noble Templar, and Zealous Inquisitor are all houses! They are all extremely difficult to kill and fit superbly into the current Clerics deck. Also, two of them are common and should be available with 4th-6th picks, even with two other white drafters at the table. Black provides nothing in the clerics department but does provide superb card quality overall – including an alternative win condition in Twisted Abomination. In short, the deck gains a lot and loses only a few non-essential cards from Onslaught… And this is in a format where Brian Kibler is already first-picking Battlefield Medic. When people saw the Scourge spoiler, it was not so much”Which color is best,” but more”What color should we pair black with”? It may be that the card you now really want to see in the common slot when you open your first booster is Pacifism.
This is the deck you can’t seem to keep down. After Scourge replaces that third Onslaught booster, Lavamancer’s Skill and Sparksmith will be more of a luxury item than something that you can rely on. However, blue does very well in Scourge, making this deck able to play the role of a classic limited control deck. Frozen Solid is excellent Removal able to take out anything that your ground defenses can’t handle, while Shoreline Ranger is a house in the air at 3/4 and an excellent win condition as well as a mana fixer. When going first, Dispersal Shield on their first Morph will be deadly in the tempo race while in the long game Rush of Knowledge can end the game in one swoop. Although red adds less to the mix, Chartooth Cougar and Torrent of Fire will be useful additions in the common slot. This isn’t going to be your classic U/R deck as seen in November, but it will be deadly all the same.
Looking at the green commons in Scourge, I am decidedly unimpressed. There are none that I would be happy taking in the first couple of picks except for Fierce Empath if I had a bomb – and that is a bad sign. On the other hand, black has the best commons in the set; therefore, this deck is going to need some savvy drafting strategy. You are not going to want to draft this if you are not being fed black in Onslaught because that means you will get none in Scourge either. However, if the black does flow in Onslaught, then savagely cutting green could mean you get a good hook-up for both of the later packs as green is probably the best color in Legions.
With regards to the deck itself, you will have good creatures all the way down your mana curve. Carrion Feeder and Festering Goblin is probably the best one-two punch of one drops you are likely to see – and if you can follow that up with Elvish Warrior, Withered Wretch, or any other bear, you can easily win the tempo race. However, you also have a good late game with large green beasts and Twisted Abomination. In terms of quality drops at every point in the mana curve, this is probably the best color combination of them all. You also have excellent common removal in Cruel Revival, Skinthinner, and Lingering Death, which can stop nearly anything in the way of your fatties.
This deck now has all the tools to be good and should be a major player in the format. Frozen Solid and Guilty Conscience are two ways of dealing with Sparksmiths – which will now be only half as common, anyway. Although not a lot has been added to the fast flying arsenal, Aven Liberator will fit very well in this deck with the possibility of killing a Morph, saving another of your creatures, and leaving a 2/3 flyer all in one go. In a deck where tempo is everything, Dragon Scales could also be a major weapon. An Ascending Aven enchanted with the scales is a Serra Angel that can attack on turn 5! Rush of Knowledge and Coast Watcher may be a little slow for this deck, although they will provide a late game if you are not confident about your fast start. You are still disadvantaged if the game goes that far though.
The reason this deck has dropped so dramatically is that green and red probably have the worst commons in Scourge on the whole. I have already complained about green in this respect, and red is a little better – although not spectacular. Red will always be judged by the strength of its direct damage, and this seems to be unexciting. Scattershot is very difficult to use effectively and Spark Spray is okay and never a dead card… But unexciting. Even the uncommon Carbonize is overpriced (although still solid). Other than that, Goblin Brigand is a good weapon in the tempo race but nothing to really support the big green beasts. If you draft this combination you won’t be in bad stead, but you had better hope the majority of your deck is in place by the time you finish Legions.
This deck seems to be the perennial 6th place finisher. However, despite the fact it is quite a way down the list, I quite like this deck. It has a lot of removal and multiple win conditions. It can win with fliers, fear, or even beatdown with Scourge black featuring Clutch of Undeath and Twisted Abomination (yes, I know I keep mentioning this card – but it’s good!). Unfortunately, although multiple three-power evasion creatures are good, the deck just seems a bit aimless sometimes. This is one of those decks that I normally draft when I get cut from my original color or land early bombs in both; you normally end up with a pile of decent cards that lack synergy. Fortunately, a pile of decent cards that lack synergy is still a pile of decent cards – and given the strength of both colors in Scourge, this can still make for a very playable deck. However, there are better alternatives to partner both colors.
I was unsure whether this deserved to drop all the way to 7th in the OOL charts, but I am far more certain it belongs here in OLS. Although Rock Jockey and Goblin Brigand provide help in the tempo race, this deck just dies to Zombie Cutthroat. Zombie Cutthroat does to this deck what Sparksmith did to U/W in triple Onslaught: It takes two burn spells (or Pinpoint Avalanche) to take it out and it can block your ground weenies all day as you will typically not have much with a power over three. This puts a lot of pressure on your fliers to win the game. Given every deck can use Cutthroat, there is no good matchup for this deck. Also, the deck suffers from losing a pack of Shocks (now making it difficult to get even one) and other staples like Glory Seeker and Gustcloak Harrier. Don’t get me wrong; this deck is still more than viable and one Daru Warchief can make life very unpleasant for your opponent indeed. Just bear in mind it doesn’t give you the auto-wins like it used to.
This deck will be a lot better after Scourge and may even be an archetype worth looking for. Although the deck could always win through the air, one problem creature like Spitting Gourna would spell the end of the game. The situation improved slightly with Legions due to Timberwatch Elf, but relying on a bomb common that you didn’t know you were going to get until pack 3 is a very risky draft strategy. Although Gournas are still a problem, this deck is now more equipped to win the long game due to Rush of Knowledge, which is insane in this deck and will normally net you six in the late game, and Frozen Solid, which can take out problem ground creatures. A good bit of tech is to cycle Choking Tethers in your opponents end step, tapping the problem creature, and then play Frozen Solid on your turn. It’s still not a great color combination, but it has enough synergies to give you a decent deck if this combination falls into your lap.
Read what I have written for B/R in both of the other formats; very playable if it falls into your lap, but very hard to draft otherwise. Although the proliferation of U/W will cause the number of possible B/R seats to increase, the high quality of black in Scourge will cause a lot of people to try and force that color early. Not a lot else you can say about this deck really; if you can draft it, play it – if in doubt, leave it alone.
This still has no removal other than provoke creatures, still lacks enough evasion given this fact and still the worst color combination. It may be far more viable to play this deck if you have some mana fixing and so can afford to splash either black or red for removal, but for the most part you will need astonishing creature quality or a couple of bombs to get this to work. As a side note, if you are really anal, you can win with this deck on Magic Online by building a deck of big and defensive creatures and then playing quickly and going for the timeout win. I wouldn’t recommend trying it unless you are really bored, though.
This pretty much wraps the article up except for:
A Note On Four-Color Green
This deck type was advocated by [author name="Nick Eisel"]Nick Eisel[/author] here at StarCityGames and more recently by Jeff Cunningham on The Sideboard. It is certainly an interesting archetype and worthy of consideration, although I am yet to have enough experience with it to make a solid judgement. It is reliant on picking up mana fixers and accelerators and will benefit from Sprouting Vines and Fierce Empath (which, as Jeff correctly points out, can fetch any Landcycler). On the other hand, with only one pack of Onslaught, your chance of pulling an Explosive Vegetation are slim and even Wirewood Elf will be a luxury. I’m not sure where this deck fits in on any of the above tables – although in OLS, I suspect it will be around number 6.
I hope all who have bothered to read this far have found this article entertaining and/or useful and I am looking forward to seeing how much of this speculation turns out to be correct.
Until next time…