The U/G/R Gambit Part 2: The Saga Continues

Terry is offically in love with the Red/Blue/Green draft strategy in Ravnica Block… so much so that he’s not played a sanctioned Limited match without forcing everyone’s favorite archetype. Today, he runs through some sample drafts – those he faced while making his most recent Grand Prix Top 8 – and mentions some interesting cards that have raised or lowered in value.

After PT Prague, there were a dozen articles on Limited flying around. If you read each of them carefully, there was an obvious pattern. Most, if not all, advised you to draft RUG, suggesting you draft RUG every time. Before Pro Tour Prague, no one even mentioned the possibility of drafting RUG, and there was talk of a five-color spectrum that established the three-color combinations you should draft. But those that suggest that… are they really sure that is the right way to go? I mean, everyone can try to draft RUG, because it’s the best archetype and takes the best Guilds from Guildpact and Dissension, but do you really know what you are doing? Today, after finishing 11th place at PT Prague, followed by another GP Top 8, without failing to draft RUG in each sanctioned draft – yes, I did it… eight consecutive times – I’ll show you the path.

The Sealed Portion

Do you like getting nailed by the King?

There is nothing interesting to say about my Sealed Deck, as you will never get to open the same cards I did. I’ll just mention a highlight or two. There were no decent rares except for a Birds of Paradise, which turned out to be great. I tried to fit in as many signets as possible, and I’d advise you to do the same, and play all the bouncelands that you have — yes, all — regardless of their type. Sealed is always a slow format, and right now it’s slower than usual as everyone struggles to build their mana in the early turns. There are just not enough good early critters in the format to reasonably build your sealed towards aggression (rather than raw power through exploring more colors). Because of this, the bounceland is king. You always want to draw one, and they give you much more flexibility to mulligan simply because you know your deck has one. It will compensate your loss of one card from the mulligan. In Sealed Deck, many players make a mistake by a keeping bad hand just because it has spells and lands, but that’s not the way to go. I would say knowing when to mulligan is essential, because you can just lose the game without any action in this multicolored format. Therefore, you must play all your bouncelands to give yourself more flexibility when mulliganing.

My Sealed pool had one Birds of Paradise, two Signets, one Spectral Searchlight, and two bouncelands, so I opted to play only fifteen lands. This turned out okay for me. One more thing: Utopia Sprawl is not very good in Sealed, unless you have more than six Forests. Chances are you can only cast it half of the time, so always use the slot for a Signet if you have the choice.

In the end, I went 6-1-1 on day 1, thanks to the system of blatant cheatery known as “having three byes.”

Draft 1

Before the draft, I talked to the Fujitas, Ruud and Quentin. They all respectively have their own preference in draft style. The Japanese want to draft R/G/B, Ruud wants to go R/B aggression (no, it’s just a joke from our practice draft), and Quentin just wants to pick up first pick quality card or bounceland in the booster and (of course) U/R in the second pack. I was pretty skeptical about drafting R/U/G, because by now so many people had discovered the archetype’s power. But the problem was that was the only deck that I know how to draft! If you gave me an Hour of Reckoning in pack 1, I would probably go 0-3 because I have no idea how to draft an ideal White deck. I came to a conclusion: I’m was just going to draft U/R/G regardless.

The first pack has a few tough choices: Brainspoil, Moroii, Woebringer Demon, and Compulsive Research. Well, not a difficult one for me, because I’m drafting R/U/G. Naturally, I took the Research. Then I followed it up with a Flight of Fancy 2nd and another Compulsive Research 3rd. At this point I’m still trying to draft R/U/G, but at the same time I’m remaining flexible with just mono-Blue cards, should any late Faith’s Fetters or Oathsworn Giants comes around, but I got a few Green cards later on in the pack and it’s going to be the same old boring colors again. In pack 2 I reap the rewards, as I managed to get 2 Electrolyze and 1 Ogre Savant as the highlights. I actually regretted picking a 2nd pick Gruul Turf over a Torch Drake. Actually, there is nothing wrong with the pick, since Touch Drake is nowhere near the bounceland, but thing is, it is a Grand Prix and not a Pro Tour. I ended up drafting five bouncelands, and they were all in colors as I decided to splash White for two additional fliers. I was tempted to play all five, but I think the possibility to draw two in my opening without a basic land is too high. In the end, I only played four king pieces. Here’s the list I drafted:

This deck might look like a mess, but it is a control deck at heart. It has plenty of mana advantage, card advantage, and good flying creatures to finish the game. It is a control variant of the U/G/R/w control because I recognized the control path once I managed to grab 2 Compulsive Research and 1 Flight of Fancy early. As I have so many bouncelands and card drawing spells, I decided that splashing White for more power is not a problem, as I will cast my card drawing and defend the game early, and cast the White spells later. Or, if I get lucky, I might able to draw the White mana early enough to play the turn 3 Legionnaire. The Eidolons are really good, though unfortunately I can’t get the stand-out green Eidolon, so I had to play the Blue one for more card advantage and to win out the attrition war. As I’m in the control role, I would have more flexibility to hold on to my multicolored cards to fully utilize the Eidolon.

I managed to go 2-1 in this pod, winning the both the Green matchups and losing to a White deck. I tend to find that R/U/G often loses to the White deck, because if the White deck was drafted appropriately with only fliers and defenders, R/U/G can’t possibly win. The Green deck was a walkover, as they tend to be slower and you have the time to play your card advantage spells – you don’t have that privilege against the White deck.

At this point I was 8-2-1, and my only chance to make Top 8 involves me going 3-0 in my next pod, which is a pretty hard task. Remember what I said in my previous article? If you’re looking for a 0-3 deck or a 3-0 deck, just draft a pile of U/R/G cards!

Draft 2

I started off the draft by taking a Tolsimir Wolfblood, as U/G/R can always be flexible and splash a card here and there, passing Disembowel to my left as an obvious signal for him to dive into Black. The next pick was a little harder: Vedalken Dismisser or Viashino Fangtail. I decided to take the Dismisser, because of the light commitment and thus a better chance to cast it compared to Fangtail. Then I got a Golgari Guildmage and a Carven Caryatid. With drafting U/R/G in mind my deck was basically five colors, and I needed to figure out a plan. I planned to play the Guildmage regardless, since the pump ability is still good, and if I’m able to pick up a Signet or bounceland with Black, I would be able to use the Black side without having to play any Swamps, and the same strategy with the Wolfblood. Unfortunately, only two Dimir Aqueducts came along the way, and it’s really hard to splash the Wolfblood now since the W/G Signet and bounceland is really important to this strategy.

I started the second pack with the bad boy Stratozeppelid, Streetbreaker Wurm, Ghor-Clan Savage, and there are no good U/R cards as the Fangtail had probably hooked Shu Kumuro (on my left) into Izzet. This time I’m in trouble, as my deck is in a mess and I know the best thing I can do is fix my mana so I can fit in all the good cards and play with whatever I can grab.

The first Dissension pack offered no good Simic cards at all. It had a Twinstrike though, and I grabbed it since I’d picked two Dimir Aqueducts and a Orzhov Signet earlier. I managed to get an Assault Zeppelid and a fourth pick Cytoplast Manipulator, and basically that’s my whole deck.

Here’s the list:

This time, I picked the bounceland slightly lower, since people at the GP don’t rate it that highly anyway, and I ended up with four king pieces without having to waste any picks. As you can see, my deck is made up of seven good cards plus a bunch of crap. To be honest, this deck sucks. But wait… if you observe carefully, this deck has a solid manabase because it is 95% lands, Blue cards, and Green cards. Only two have Red and Black symbols. I can keep more hands compared to the typical three-color deck that everyone is drafting, and I have four bouncelands to keep up my advantage. Still, it’s not the deck to go 3-0… but I have to take my chance anyway.

I was paired against Shu Kumoro in the first match, and I won easily due to him being manascrewed in the first game, and not having access to his third color in the second.

In the next round, I played a friend Felix Leong from Singapore. We had talked a little about the draft, and we knew each other’s list as we played some friendly games. His deck is a four-color Green build, and as usual I have no problem dispatching slow Green decks. I’m only afraid of small flying White men.

At this point I’m 2-0, and suddenly I’ve got a hope to make Top 8. Imagine… I had four more rounds to go and I needed to win out all of them in order to make Top 8, and now I’m only a match away! How exciting!

My final round, and the deciding match to battle into the Top 8, was with Tomohide Sasagawa. I played him three times in total this weekend, picking up a loss and a draw thus far, and he’d always been playing with White flying men. This time, he also played with White, and it looked like a hard time for me to win out. We split the first two games, with me winning the second with a timely Remand on his Seize the Soul to buy another five points of damage from my Ghor-Clan Savage. The third game was interesting, as the board was stalled although I clearly had the advantage (albeit without the ability to get through). To make things worse, there were only a few minutes left in the clock and Sasagawa was taking his sweet time to consider each decision. As time was called, I managed to kill him on the last active turn as I topdecked a Vedalken Dismisser.

I felt extremely happy, as I was the only Malaysian that made it to Top 8, to defend my own country’s Grand Prix. Over the years, foreigners had been winning and we couldn’t even put up a decent fight. Now I want to prove to the world that it’s not that easy, and despite traveling all the way from another continent, you wouldn’t be assured a Top 8 berth in Malaysia. Everyone cheered for me a little, and I proceeded to the draft with the same old stubborn yet boring strategy: R/U/G

The first pick was an easy choice, as Galvanic Arc is the best card in the pack. I followed it up with a Bramble Elemental second, Snapping Drake third and Carven Caryatid fourth. It was time for look for Mountains, Forests and Islands again. In pack 2 I was rewarded with a Stratozeppelid and two Steamcore Weird. I faced a little difficulty when I had to make a choice between Silhana Starfletcher and Repeal, but I took the mana guy in the end because I wanted to be more consistent in my manabase. One of the biggest mispicks I’ve ever made was picking Seal of Fire twice instead of Helium Squirter. At that point, my deck already had five removal spells (one Galvanic Arc, two Fiery Conclusion, two Steamcore Weird), and I’m lacking good beatdown creatures… but I’m still stubborn that removal always comes first. Don’t get me wrong, the Seal of Fire is actually very good against White decks because of the low toughness fliers that will kill you, but it is just mediocre against fat Green wurms. Squirter is equally good against both decks, and therefore, I should have thought further instead of simply taking the removal. Anyway, here’s the list:

I always draft bouncelands, regardless. I managed to get 3 of them in the Top 8, despite only having one that fixed my mana. Still, it’s always like drawing an additional card when you draw a bounceland.

I lost in the quarters to Osamu Fujita, because I can’t handle his fat wurms with my Seal of Fire. Had they been a 3/3 that could give my entire team flying, it would have been different.

Overall, I felt pretty good about my results and the “forcing color” thing in this format. I’ve been told it’s impossible, but I’m here to prove it’s very possible.

To finish, here are a few cards that have gone up in value:

Fiery Conclusion
This card is much better removal now, especially in R/U/G. There are plenty of redundant creatures you would like to sac (Fists and Scattered Seed tokens, Coiling Oracle, Vigean Hydropon, a 1/1 grafter that has moved most of its counters to your team). It is pretty solid because you’re almost guaranteed to destroy any creature with it. So watch out for this card when it comes to you.

I know, it is boring… you’ve heard it a million times, but I still have to emphasize its importance. To make it simple, here’s Quentin Martin quote:

“You either take a first pick card in the pack, or you take the bounceland. That simple. Period.”

Vedalken Dismisser
I’ve thought long and hard before rating this card. I would definitely take Dismisser over any common in Ravnica. Yes, that includes Last Gasp, Faith’s Fetters, and Galvanic Arc. I would declare that Vedalken Dismisser is the best common in Ravnica right now.

Warning: Not Actual Size

First, it is a Blue card, which will make you play the best color in the set. Second, during matches where the board position is pretty much equal, you will be amazed how a single card can change the whole game. If you’re in a favorable position and you get to cast it, there is almost no way your opponent can get back into the game. Believe me, it is that amazing! Besides the tremendous tempo swing, you earn a card in the process. Most of my games were decided when either my opponent or I played a Dismisser. Once it resolved, we pretty much knew who is the winner.

There are a million ways draft R/U/G. You can focus on two main colors, or option to splash; you have an equal U/G/R manabase deck, or a four-color G/U/x/x deck. No matter how you draft, you will always have an out if you know your path.

Until next time, happy first-picking your Vedalken Dismisser!

Terry S