The Schizophrenic Archetype: U/w and W/u In Mirrodin Draft, And Why You Should Know The Difference

Drafting Mirrodin requires careful consideration to build the best deck. Though you should usually take the best card in your first pick in pack one, decisions get quite interesting from there. For example, there are two archetypes within the Blue and White color combination – both of them attempt to do the same thing, and yet they behave very differently. What are these two decks, and where do their strategies for the win diverge?

I’m a big fan of Mirrodin draft. Onslaught block was all about pinning down the underlying concepts of the format and then going to town on the cards that performed well within those concepts. Suffice it to say, I didn’t like a format where drafting involving picking one of two colors, a color to go with it, and then picking whatever cards were best for your deck. While it did improve as Legions and Scourge came out, one can never wash away the taste that Sparksmith left in your mouth. It never happens.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve drafted Mirrodin a ton. I would quite happily defer to other Limited writers on the subject, except that I feel like writing about something I’ve observed from drafting the set. I’ve had a fair amount of success thus far, so I figured I might as well comment on what I’ve learned.

Normally when draft archetypes are classified, players classify each archetype as a color combination, and then determine what each of those color combinations is good at doing. In Limited, an archetype helps define what cards are best to draft for your deck. There are always Sparksmiths and Spikeshot Goblins in a format, but some cards are highly dependent on the internal synergy of your Limited strategy, moving up and down in value for your deck based on how the cards you draft interact. Mirrodin is rife with such interactions, from the extremely obvious combination of”Cat Knight needs an Axe” or more complicated considerations like the strength of a Somber Hoverguard in a deck without any Myr or Talismans.

This is the kind of format I enjoy. I admit I probably preferred Odyssey block to Onslaught block, which is a bit shocking since as a player I advanced a huge amount during Onslaught block. I blame Tim Aten for making me a better player, but that’s just some sort of parasitic writer barning. Still, being relatively new to the concept of intelligent Limited play, I didn’t grasp Odyssey block to any degree. Wild Mongrel was a good card. Anything other than that, and I was probably wrong. But I enjoyed the format in Odyssey, while in truth, I hated Onslaught Limited and attempts to make me play it nowadays result in profuse, often hysterical, swearing.

My love for Mirrodin draft, however, continues to grow. The format is deep and requires careful consideration to build the best deck. Though you should usually take the best card in your first pick in pack one, decisions get quite interesting from then on.

For example, there are two archetypes within the Blue and White color combination. Both of them attempt to do the same thing, and yet they behave somewhat differently.

Blue/White is a color combination that has long been known for its effective damage prevention, bounce, and countermagic making for a defensive, long-term style of deck. On many of levels, that changed in Onslaught block, instead producing a deck that involved a lot of flying men, and Daru Stingers so large they could crush Green’s offerings in combat. You could use things like Aven Redeemer or Daru Healer to sit back and control the board, you just didn’t do a very good job of it.

In Mirrodin, it seems to me that Blue/White, in either form, is best played as an aggro deck. There is no common White damage-prevention-on-a-stick, and the Blue card drawing isn’t incredible. On the other hand, both colors have several flying or unblockable common beatsticks at their disposal, and Equipment can make flying extremely painful for your opponent.

The Archetypes

It’s somewhat silly calling them different archetypes, but there are two different molds that a Blue and White aggro deck in Mirrodin Limited can be built around. This is important because many cards that are highly functional in one build become less effective in the other build.

Ideally, however, you could have a deck that fits both molds perfectly, but this is unlikely. While few of the cards that separate the two molds are high picks to be taken one, two, or three, there are many middle-of-the-pack picks and you can’t assemble the deck without them.

Generally there are two builds you can assemble within these colors:

1) White-heavy, Blue splash with a large number of Equipment-friendly cards coupled with Equipment itself. (W/u)

2) Blue-heavy, White splash Affinity-friendly deck. (U/w)

The positioning of cards in the pick orders depends on which mold you’re trying to fill. This is problematic in that many cards picked for one of the two molds become functionally worse without access to the primary setup of the deck. This is why I divide them into different molds (otherwise known as builds), as they are simply not as good without the corresponding support cards to back them up.

I note this because at first I drafted Blue/White ignorantly, assessing cards without thought to their strength within each mold, and ended up picking suboptimal cards during the draft.

The White-heavy deck does best when utilizing its Equipment to smash face. White in Mirrodin, when left undisrupted by your opponent, is fast. Brutally fast. The best Equipment cards are put on the best weenies in the set, and you just floor your opponent with them. The deck suffers, however, because Equipment is something of a hybrid between spell and creature. While it’s true a Bonesplitter or Vulshok Battlegear will equip and enhance any of your kids, you need a kid to make it into anything. In this sense, the cards take up spell slots without usually granting anything outside of melee combat.

The Blue-heavy deck, on the other hand, has all the proper powers of an Affinity deck. It drops early Somber Hoverguards and Myr Enforcers, and while it benefits from low-end Equipment, it can find the higher-end gear stifling. The deck has a tendency to make Thoughtcast, Teeth and Scales of Chiss-Goria, and other suboptimal cards into workhorses that power the deck. On the other hand, it lacks the deep-seated power of equipped White dudes, since its Equipment slots are eaten up by cards like Thoughtcast, Thirst for Knowledge, and so forth. The deck has more late-game power, but can not match the Whiter deck’s heavy hitters pound-for-pound in the early game. It does more, but it doesn’t do it as well.

In theory, the White deck has no real separation from the Blue deck, but in reality there’s a world of difference. If you’re running the W/u deck, you need to pick up Equipment almost desperately – meaning that you don’t have time to spare grabbing Thoughtcasts or artifact lands. Now sure, if people pass you 15th pick Seats of the Synod, you’ll certainly put them in your deck. But that usually doesn’t happen. The W/u deck also makes much worse overall usage of Affinity simply because you’re less inclined to run as many myr/talismans, and your artifact count is usually lower.

Cards That Are Good In Both Molds

First and foremost is the realization that low-end Equipment, of the better sort, is good in both decks. There’s no changing the fact that Bonesplitter is a good card whether or not it’s being attached to a Skyhunter Cub, a Titanium Golem, or being used to drop a Somber Hoverguard a turn earlier. Bonesplitter, Leonin Scimitar (and to a much lesser extent, Slagwurm Armor) are almost always going to be playable in a U/w deck. The axe and sword are high picks.

Obviously, Loxodon Warhammer is insane and as with all insane cards, you should take it the minute you see it. I’m fairly certain this is a card I would take over any card in the set, though I suppose if I’d already taken a Solar Tide for pick 1, I might take a Solar Tide over it for pick 2. Fortunately that will never, ever happen, so basically this card is absurd.

Skyhunter Patrol is good in both decks. The debate between Skyhunter Cub and Leonin Den-Guard reminds me of the “Shampoo is better! Conditioner is better!” bathtub argument in Billy Madison. They’re both great cards that require Equipment; they both suck if you don’t get it. Cub is better in U/w decks, while Den-Guard is better in G/W.

Skyhunter Patrol, however, is generally the better card in the Blue-heavy deck – but it’s good no matter what.

Neurok Spy is, like Skyhunter Patrol, a completely ridiculous card for the format. It’s unblockable about 95% of the time, and decks without artifacts are likely very sucky or based around having triple Molder Slug. I have yet to see the triple-Molder Slug deck, but the zero-artifacts decks are bad. Without artifacts your opponent isn’t running Myr, Equipment or anything that relates to artifacts. Which is like… um… bad R/G? Yay bad R/G!

Spy is slightly better in the Whiter version of the deck, but is generally just great. Draft him. Draft him high!

Arrest is the crux of White’s removal. That’s because it’s pretty much White’s only removal. Arrest isn’t that great a card, and while it is better than Pacifism was, you usually take it because you need it to take down marauding Spikeshot Goblins or whatever. Much like Shatter or Terror, the card’s usefulness is defined by its near universal need to be cast at some point in a game. In a perfect gumdrop, lollipop-world I would never, ever have to cast an Arrest. I’m eating salad so I assume I’m not in gumdrop, fairy tale, wonder-world. Altar’s Light falls into the same category as Arrest. You take it high because you need it, and that’s about it.

Last, Thirst for Knowledge works better in the more artifact-inclined builds, but the card is ridiculous as long as you have any artifact to discard to it. Catalog and Inspiration aren’t great cards in Limited. Concentrate is slow. Thirst for Knowledge is as cheap as it gets, and it does contain the phrase”draw three cards” and is usable at instant speed. Whether you’re looking to find your bombs, digging out of a land clump or just drawing more threats, damn it, take it high.

Cards That Are Decent In Both Molds

Some cards aren’t high picks, but aren’t defined by the mold you’re aiming for, so much as just being decent cards. The backbone of your deck isn’t the lesser cards… To be honest, these are mostly filler. Playables are playables, though, and they do end up in your deck.

Auriok Transfixer is easy for people to underrate. After all, it’s a one-power, one-toughness, one-man dude. All it does it tap artifacts. Who plays with those?

On the other hand, he’s easy to overrate, too. Ideally, you want Transfixer to either be a pseudo-Whipcorder, or to be disrupting your opponent’s mana by tapping down myr, talismans, or artifact lands during their upkeep. If he’s not doing that (and sometimes he isn’t), then he’s not that great a card. I don’t take Transfixer high, but I do adore him when he’s doing his job.

Inertia Bubble and Annul are opposite sides of a coin. Annul is cheaper and affects everything but artifact lands. Inertia Bubble is capable of shutting down cards already in play that you missed. To be honest, Inertia Bubble shouldn’t be taken too highly and neither should Annul, but they do provide necessary artifact hate if your deck is so inclined.

It’s easy to overrate Annul… Most people see countermagic in Limited as much better than it is. I generally find that Annul is potentially the better card, while in practice Inertia Bubble is consistently the better card. Take that as you will.

Blinding Beam is on the very edge of being a high pick, but it shouldn’t be advertised as such. It’s not the easiest card to set up and use – and while it will win you games often enough, like Choking Tethers, Wave of Indifference, or Dirge of Dread, it’s still a Falter effect. Actually, it’s something like a limited Falter effect mixed with a limited Fog effect, which at times makes it better, worse, or insanely better than any Falter or Fog before it. I wouldn’t want more than two in my deck, but I would probably want to have at least one in any White deck.

White and Blue made out well in the replica races, receiving the”sometimes stellar yet always playable” Soldier Replica and Wizard Replica. Both of them are good cards, but they aren’t high picks by any means. You would think that their role as artifact creatures would make them better in Affinity-loving Blue molds, but in reality they are equally solid in both. Both creatures have highly reactive abilities that can slow an opponent down, but neither should be considered a true counterspell or a true removal spell. Generally they function more as a hint of threat for counters or removal, which is good, but not incredible.

Cards That Are Best In The Equipment-Style W/u

Some of this is going to come off as extremely obvious. Some of it is not. Unfortunately, if I don’t say the obvious stuff, people will come back to me and point out I didn’t point out that, you know, Skyhunter Cub is good. Woe be it if a poor, innocent newbie were to decide to read my article and not notice that I didn’t say Skyhunter Cub is good and then relegate it to tenth-pick status.

Really. I’m sure that’s going to happen. But I’ll say it anyway.

Skyhunter Cub and Leonin Den-Guard both move up dramatically when you’ve already drafted three or four pieces of solid Equipment. I’m not sure where they’re moving up to, precisely, but they clearly get better. That being said, these are way better in Equipment heavy decks. Hurray for Captain Obvious.

If I reached pack three and spied a Cub, a Hoverguard and Den-Guard in my pack, and had only two pieces of decent Equipment, I admit I’d probably either take the Hoverguard or cry because my deck sucked. No Affinity and no Equipment means your U/w deck sucks! Hurray! (Or it has three Neurok Spies and three Skyhunter Patrols mixed with three Arrests and a Solar Tide.) Loxodon Punisher fits into this category, of course; however, while Guard and Cub are respectable in U/w, Punisher kinda… Sucks.

Auriok Bladewarden is a little less obvious as an Equipment-loving rascal, but the long and the short of it is he does, in fact, love Equipment. Deeply. You could say he has a fetish for it. Just because it doesn’t say on the card”put a Bonesplitter on me for a reusable Giant Growth effect” doesn’t mean he doesn’t do it. Auriok Bladewarden is White’s Timberwatch Elf; and Equipment is his little elven brethren. Turn 1 Bonesplitter, turn 2 Bladewarden, turn 3 Skyhunter Cub, turn 4 attack for eight in the air is about as ridiculous as you’ll ever get without using rares.

Vulshok Gauntlets (and by connection, Goblin War Wagon and Goblin Dirigible) move up in W/u. Gauntlets is a solid card. Period. It has a drawback, but that drawback can be gotten around. In W/u, though, it often ends up going on Den-Guards, which create this massive, nigh-unstoppable Kitten of Destruction. Not a lot of decks want to see you play a turn 4 6/6 that doesn’t tap to attack. War Wagon and Dirigible are both playable-to-good by themselves, but the Gauntlets allow them to let out their inner ridiculousness. It is possible to be swinging with an eight-power War Wagon on turn 4. That’s pretty scary. The point to remember here is that the Gauntlets make them ridiculous. You’ll probably end up taking the Dirigible when it shows up regardless.

Any and all Equipment are slightly better in W/u, pardoning Dead-Iron Sledge and the unplayable Worldslayer. This desire to take Equipment much higher than usual moves Raise the Alarm up in the list. Raise the Alarm is okay when you don’t have Equipment, but having them put on various weapons of destruction and head into the fray as better than 1/1s is solid.

By the same logic, Psychic Membrane and Slith Strider – both of which are low picks by themselves – get better. Slith Strider may very well be the nut low of Sliths everywhere (or maybe it’s better than Slith Predator), but when you put Equipment on it that makes it hard to block, it will either become an increasingly larger problem or draw you cards, either of which is fine.

It’s nutty with Slagwurm Armor, but that’s a card you’ll very rarely have more than one copy of in your deck. Taj-Nar Swordsmith is covered under this clause as well. Generally, you would say,”I want to get my Bonesplitter,” but sometimes you’ve already drawn the first Bonesplitter. When Swordsmith has multiple low-cost or decent Equipment pieces to tutor up, he’s quite a bit better.

Pick orders are hard to really go over in this deck, but generally, your top five commons are Arrest, Bonesplitter, Skyhunter Cub, Neurok Spy, and Leonin Scimitar. You badly need the low-end Equipment either way and in the end it ends up pretty solid in either form of the deck.

Cards That Are Best In The Affinity-Style U/w

Now, the major split between W/u and U/w is that U/w is based off cards which are probably lower-pick cards than Cubs and Bonesplitter. Honestly, the U/w deck isn’t made up of worse cards because these cards are excellent within U/w – but they absolutely suck in a very Equipment-focused deck.

Let’s get this straight: Thoughtcast is nothing good unless it’s 2U or less mana, and Frogmite stinks unless he’s free.

W/u is based around Equipment. U/w is based around two forms of mana acceleration. Any cheap artifact accelerates your development, to steal [author name="Geordie Tait"]Geordie Tait’s[/author] point about artifact lands, they function like Ancient Tombs, only better. Quite ridiculous, really. The fact that your land picks have such influence over your in game play is extremely unusual. Sure you could use the sacrificial common lands in Odyssey to hit threshold or cycle away lands for another relevant card in Onslaught, but here, the artifact lands have a huge effect on your tempo. This drastically modifies the value of both low-end artifacts, Manakins and the Affinity cards themselves.

Somber Hoverguard and Thoughtcast are the bread and butter of this archetype. Hoverguard is”okay” if he costs 4U to cast and is quite fine at 3U. Thoughtcast is very much affected by its casting cost. At full cost (or at one mana less than full cost), the card sucks. Don’t fool yourself.

But this card is incredible when you draw two cards and you didn’t use up a full turn of mana to do it. When it’s U for two cards, it’s downright ridiculous, since you get away from the flaw in most sorcery-speed card drawing. If your turn includes untap, draw, cast for U, play an Enforcer for two, and then drop a Hoverguard for U, your deck is probably doing pretty well, right? There’s a lot of tempo gain possible in Affinity, and in Thoughtcast’s case, it allows you to mix card drawing with tempo. It’s a nice card… In this archetype. Not necessarily in others.

They tend to come back around anyway.

Myr Enforcer is a solid enough card in almost any deck, but here, he can be the nut high. A 4/4 for five mana is okay – Fangren Hunter is really made oh so good by his trample, which is a highly relevant ability. A 4/4 for four mana on turn 3 or 4 is, on the other hand, pretty silly. If Enforcer is extremely cheap, it leaves your mana open to utilize cards like Crystal Shard or Override.

Speaking of which, I would never consider running Override in W/u since you prefer to tap out, move stuff around, untap Goblin artifacts, and so on. But in U/w, you have a tendency to empty your hand, and being able to sit back on an Override with six artifacts on the board is a good feeling. Assert Authority is basically the same card – overall, it’s a little worse unless your artifact count is completely through the roof.

Broodstar is obviously the king of Affinity cards – even more for the fact that, in reality, he’s garbage in decks without a high artifact count. In U/w he is completely ridiculous, an utter bomb, so on. In W/u he can end up as the dreaded 3/3 for seven mana, which trust me, is nowhere even approaching good. I don’t need to talk about him anymore, do I? Good.

Frogmite and the pieces of Chiss-Goria (Tooth and Scale) are low-end, low-power Affinity cards. Generally Frogmite is nothing special, but he is cheap and that alone helps you to accelerate forward in your Affinity quest. Scales is my choice of the two pieces – it usually saves a Myr Enforcer or Neurok Spy from removal, which is a very relevant ability. The extra damage off Tooth is nice, but not worth a card. Both should never, ever be played over decent Equipment though.

Now that I’ve talked about the Affinity cards, I’ll talk about Myr and Talismans a little more. In Affinity, Myr are incredible. They allow you to do ridiculous things like cast turn 3 Hoverguards or Enforcers – but in W/u, they aren’t so hot. I know I’ll take flak from some people over this, but a streamlined W/u deck shouldn’t be accelerating out high-end stuff. Your best cards are the amazing weenies and fliers that White grants you, and the Myr are often quite pointless unless they’re pushing out very early Skyhunter Patrols and Hoverguards. I will say it’s possible to straddle the fence and yes, you will do it sometimes – but generally, you only have so many high picks.

Somber Hoverguard, Myr Enforcer, Skyhunter Cub and Leonin Den-guard are all high-to-mid picks. You aren’t going to get three of each very often. Myr tend to favor the former group of cards, and disfavor the latter group. This is partially about needing the mana for the weenies in the early game and inversely, Affinity acceleration. The trick is deciding which form you’re rolling towards and taking just enough Myr on the fly.

For these reasons, the following things become relevant:

Looming Hoverguard is a lot better in U/w decks than in W/u. In W/u, he’s a passable 3/3 flier that will generally hit no earlier than turn 6. He does have an incredible ability, but that ability gets even better the earlier you play it against a full turn worth of mana artifact. In U/w you will almost always have at least three myr or talismans, which puts your odds of dropping him turn 5 a lot higher.

Also better is Titanium Golem, who is somewhat obsolete if there’s a high-end Equipment on a Den-guard in play on your side. You need to choke the ground from time to time, He tends to come out a lot earlier in U/w and the mana to pay his ability is usually around. This isn’t quite as true in W/u, and you don’t really care about a 3/3 artifact creature in W/u. This establishes him as more a U/w card, though he’s playable in either. He’s just not the good sort of playable in W/u.

I don’t even need to talk about how good Vedalken Archmage is in a deck with twelve or more artifacts, do I? I hope not.

As pick orders go, Arrest still remains at the top of my list. Next up is Somber Hoverguard, who is sort of tied with Myr Enforcer – they’re both excellent, though evasion probably remains more important to the deck. Bonesplitter is a bit weaker here, though it’s still very good, and Neurok Spy is still amazing (though Hoverguard is usually better if he also comes out on turn 3)

Why This Is Relevant

Maybe I should have put this first, but it makes for a decent conclusion to the whole article. I’ve noticed while drafting a seemingly identical archetypes, that some cards were amazing in one deck, and not-so-great in another. This is how I realized that there was, in fact, a partial divide between the two forms of Blue/White Aggro decks in Mirrodin Limited.

You will usually end up taking the White first, which is why I felt so negative about making a pick order. You just don’t take a Somber Hoverguard over a Skyhunter Cub or a Looming Hoverguard over a Slith Ascendant. Of course, the reverse is true sometimes, where you end up with heavy Blue and a small contingent of White cards to finish off your deck.

The important point here is to realize that while Somber Hoverguard may very well have been amazing in your last draft deck, his usefulness is mostly determined by the contents of your deck. As you pile up cards, you have to consider where you’re going with them and make your picks accordingly. The internal synergy of Blue/White decks is so important that the difference is very acute in draft and in deckbuilding, and it completely alters the strength of some of your cards.

Hopefully, as a reader, you’ll pick up on when you’re drafting one or the other archetype, and then fine tune the rest of your draft to end up with the best deck possible. The line is very fine, but the effects are not. Tuning to hit the proper end of the archetype is the best way to maximize your potential of winning.

Iain Telfer

Taeme on IRC, Misetings, and other places where he cries at how stupid people are.