The past few weeks I’ve been spending more time on Magic than anything else. I’d say I’ve been doing an average of 15-20 drafts per week, and doing quite well in them I might add. I also played in two of the release events on Magic Online, winning a 4x prize event and making Top 8 in a 2x prize event. All of this practice has led me to many conclusions about the format, and while I didn’t do well at Grand Prix: New Jersey, I still feel like I have things figured out.
This week I want to present an idea that isn’t really something new, but something I’ve thought since the initial release of the set and hinted at in my Kobe report. That idea is that U/R is the best color combination for Time Spiral booster draft. This article will hopefully serve as a reference guide for anyone who wants to know how to draft the archetype correctly, since I have a ton of experience with it. My results have also shown that I do much better when I end up in U/R, B/R, or U/B than any other color combination.
Before I jump into anything, I want to give a basic idea of the type of strategy you should be looking for when drafting U/R. The game plan is to suspend cheap guys like Viscerid Deepwalker, Errant Ephemeron, and Keldon Halberdier on the early turns. The archetype also pushes the tempo advantage with the use of Coal Stoker and the many morphs that Blue has to offer. Another thing U/R does well is abuse Storm with the help of Suspend and Coal Stoker, making Grapeshot a high pick in the archetype. Finally, Fathom Seer is easily abused by Dream Stalker, Snapback, and Tolarian Sentinel to fuel Lightning Axe and keep the hand filled with gas.
The first thing I want to present in this strategy guide is a basic pick order for the top U/R commons, with some explanations on why things are in the order they are.
Anyone who tells you to take Rift Bolt over this simply hasn’t played the format enough. It’d be rare for me to make this pick in any archetype, and I can confidently say that I would never take Bolt over Axe in U/R. Axe can stop a Durkwood Baloth and costs only one mana, which is very relevant when the ideal plan is to be constantly flipping up Fathom Seer.
When I first saw this card on the spoiler, I laughed at the Suspend 1 since I felt that I’d never use it. Clearly I wasn’t thinking about Storm at this particular moment, or simply being able to suspend it early in order to let myself cast additional spells on the next turn. This card also plays nicely with the Fathom Seer plan and is just plain awesome all around.
Initially, I loved this card. In the week before the Pro Tour, however, I let Peebles convince me that it really wasn’t that great and that I should be taking Looter, Snapback, Spiketail, and Fathom Seer over it. Once I got to Kobe and talked to a few people, I decided that Ben was just wrong, though I did still feel that the card was overrated when people were mentioning it as one of the top three commons in the set. C’mon, clearly the top three commons are Strangling Soot, Lightning Axe, and Rift Bolt, in that order.
Getting back to the card itself, the Ephemeron fills an important role in the archetype as a finisher. Usually most of your creatures are either morphs or Coal Stokers, and the deck sorely needs a heavy hitter. The Ephemeron also fits nicely into the overall plan, as you will always want to suspend it early in the game if you draw it, and it is very cheap to do so.
Since I keep talking about how great this guy is in the archetype, he’d better damn well be high on my pick order, right? In all honesty though, I find it hard to lose games where I flip this guy multiple times (which isn’t hard to do). The deck needs cheap card drawing to help out with all of the tempo cards and ensure that it doesn’t run out of gas too early. Fathom Seer provides all of that and more, as it is also able to take out opposing 2/2s.
While I do pick Ephemeron over this, I still like this card more in the abstract.
Wait, isn’t this a U/R strategy guide? What the heck is a Black common doing in here, let alone this high in the pick order? Well, ladies and gentlemen, it turns out that it is very easy to splash Soot off of a single Swamp/Terramorphic Expanse or Prismatic Lens, and it even if can’t cast it regularly, you can discard it and flash it back. This isn’t to say you should play it without the possibility of casting it normally, just that there is added flexibility. I do take Fathom Seer over this in the deck though, simply because cheap card drawing is so amazing.
I’m sure plenty of you are wondering what I’m thinking to possibly put Fathom Seer over Looter. All I can say is that Looter often dies before even getting to activate, whereas Fathom Seer is usually (assuming you draw two Island) good for at least one activation and possibly more. Fathom Seer is also able to block and wreck early game creatures. In an archetype like U/B, where Madness is present, I definitely take the Looter, and probably even take it over Ephemeron. Here in U/R however, while it’s still a high pick, I’d suggest taking the Seer over it based on the enormous amount of drafts I’ve ended up in U/R and been happier with the Seer.
I’d say overall that the Crookclaw is the best card of the three and that’s considering that most people still don’t know how to use it correctly! The most common mistake I see is something like this. Say your opponent has Dream Stalker in play and you have a 2/2. I’ve seen countless players just pass the turn in this situation when the correct play is to attack, get two damage onto the Dream Stalker, and then play Crookclaw post combat and kill it without also killing your 2/2. Such a seemingly simple play is missed by plenty of players.
At any rate, all of these cards are pretty close in value, though I’d usually take Stoker over Grapeshot unless I either had a lot of Suspend already or was just lacking in the removal department. Crookclaw versus Stoker will again depend on your deck, and if you’re not sure, you probably can’t go wrong taking Crookclaw.
Let me be the first to say that I love this card and I’m sad to see that it’s this low on the list. One of the things about the U/R archetype is that even if your deck is only medium strength overall, as long as you have some bounce/removal and guys, you’re still usually going to be able to at least 2-1. One of the main reasons for this is that there are so many good tempo cards and Snapback is definitely the best option in the bounce department.
I’d also be happy playing multiples of these and picking them rather when there seem to be better options in other colors in pack 1.
Spiketail Drakeling versus Viscerid Deepwalker
Maybe I should’ve wrote a Dilemma article on this one. On second thought, I’m sure nobody else but Raphael Levy would ever think that these two cards were close in value. The Deepwalker has just been moving up my pick order constantly, and recently I was wondering if I should be taking it over Drakeling since there are so many other things to do on turn 3 (like play a morph or Rift Bolt something). Doing something on turn 1, however, is a valuable commodity.
I suppose this will just remain something to think about, and in some cases I may take the Deepwalker here. Spiketail is very strong though, and I can’t fault you if you aren’t willing to step out on a limb with me.
This one is tricky since I like it in G/R and W/R where there is a general lack of other removal. In U/R I’ve found that it is fine to have one of these in your deck, but I’d never want more since you’re usually starting off the games behind and trying to catch up. Dealing three to yourself isn’t exactly the best idea in this situation. The other thing is that you also have bounce spells to fall back on as well as other removal, so I often find myself taking a good creature over this card.
There are plenty of other playable commons as well, and these are just the top notch ones. It shouldn’t be too hard to evaluate the other cards, though as you may have gathered, I usually like at least one Dream Stalker in my deck, and more if I have multiple things to abuse with them.
Notable Uncommons and Rares
While I think it’s pointless to go over all of the rares and uncommons, some are more valuable in this archetype and worth pointing out.
This one is basically a no-brainer, but that’s not the reason I’m mentioning it.
The reason I’m bringing up the latest incarnation of Flametongue Kavu is because it is the card I want to open when I’m in U/R. That’s right, step aside Jaya Ballard, Disintegrate, and Sulfurous Blast, I’m taking Firemaw over all of you! This may sound crazy, but with Tolarian Sentinel, Snapback, and Dream Stalker all in the common slot, drawing your Firemaw Kavu should almost always just be game over. While the other cards I just mentioned are also game breakers, they just aren’t as good as a Firemaw Kavu in U/R. Some people may still argue for Disintegrate, but I’m holding my ground on this one as I’ve abused too many people by bouncing it. If you’re not 100% that you’re in U/R, then maybe picking one of the other cards could be better.
The way I attack this question is by looking at all sides. The suspend is one cheaper on Cloudskate, which is just huge. Sure, it’s only 2/2, but the ability is probably worth at least two points of power if you’re able to reuse it (which, as I just said, with Firemaw is pretty easy to do). The real decider for me is that Cloudskate is awesome whether you suspend it or hard-cast it (much better than Ogre Savant could ever hope to be), whereas the Ephemeron is very slow if you plan to hard-cast it. So when we add it all up, the Cloudskate is more flexible, faster, and abusable with Tolarian Sentinel. These things make this an easy pick in my mind in favor of Cloudskate.
When I first started drafting this format a lot, I was unsure where to rank this card in comparison to a lot of the Red commons. In most archetypes it seemed rather cumbersome and hard to really exploit.
Then I fell in love with Fathom Seer.
This card is an unmitigated bomb in U/R since you should be able to abuse the Flashback very well. What usually happens is that I’ll cast it for one on some guy, and then Flashback killing their whole side after returning lands to my hand or something. Here’s a deck from a money draft in New Jersey that broke Conflagrate wide open.
- 1 Ovinomancer
- 1 Aetherflame Wall
- 1 Coral Trickster
- 1 Crookclaw Transmuter
- 1 Dream Stalker
- 1 Errant Ephemeron
- 1 Fathom Seer
- 1 Flowstone Channeler
- 1 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 1 Slipstream Serpent
- 2 Spiketail Drakeling
- 1 Subterranean Shambler
- 1 Tolarian Sentinel
- 1 Viscerid Deepwalker
Ovinomancer is not something I want in any normal deck, but in this build it was just ridiculous. The mid-game would always lead to me returning a bunch of lands and then flashing back Conflagrate to kill their side.
Brine Elemental & Fledgling Mawcor
I love both of these cards. Crazy as it may seem, however, I take Mawcor over Fathom Seer while I take the Seer over the Brine Elemental. Brine has been known to win some games, but usually I don’t have that many lands in play in my good U/R decks.
This guy is important if only for the fact that he holds off Corpulent Corpses which can otherwise prove to be very annoying. I wouldn’t pick this highly, though usually you don’t have to, and it would almost always make my deck. You can get sneaky with Coral Trickster sometimes too, which is a nice bonus.
This is another bomb that I take over anything but Lightning Axe and Rift Bolt. People are starting to realize how good it is though, so I no longer get it fifth pick (which is unfortunate). The card essentially functions as a Wrath of God, but sometimes will be much more when you are able to flip up Fathom Seer or Trickster again for the double whammy.
Deep-Sea Kraken and Greater Gargadon
Both of these guys are underrated, though I like the Gargadon much more than the Kraken. I take Gargadon very highly and may even take it over Rift Bolt depending on what my deck looks like at that point in the draft.
I don’t know why people started saying that this guy wasn’t very good, because it just isn’t true. Look at it this way, if it did nothing else, you could still Morph it after a Coal Stoker. The fact of the matter is that it does so much in U/R. First off, it has the advantage of being camouflaged by all of the other random Morphs in your deck. When you’re G/R or B/R and play a Morph, they know it’s your Thief unless you’ve played others during the match. Second, I’ve had some people just scoop to this card if they’re in G/W, or maybe U/W with no bounce. I wouldn’t pick this very highly, but usually it will come late anyway and I wouldn’t ever cut it from my deck.
This card is so underwhelming I don’t even know where to start. It’s essentially a vanilla 2/2 Flying for three and should be evaluated as such. However, since it’s a rare, some people assume this must mean something special and I’ve seen people take it over Spiketail Drakeling, Fathom Seer, and plenty of other cards that are leagues better. Don’t fall into the “it’s a rare, so it must be better” trap.
Don’t let the Split Second fool you, this is still just worse than Snapback because of the extra mana. You can’t alternate cost it either. The whole card is a big letdown, but I’ll play it in the absence of better options.
I rank this higher than Fathom Seer, but usually lower than Ephemeron. The card digs really deep and should help you find your better cards. Not much else to say here except that you should pick it high.
There are plenty of other insane cards for the archetype in the Rare and Uncommon slot. Ancestral Visions is also amazing in Limited if you haven’t had the chance to play with it yet. Some other bombs include Teferi, Shapeshifter, Bogardan Hellkite, Jaya, both Magi, Pardic Dragon, Disintegrate… the list just goes on.
Lower Tier Commons
This last section is for commons that aren’t in the top group.
Sage of Epityr
Lots of people advocate this guy and say that he’s much better than he looks. What I’ve found though is that he is very mediocre and rarely makes the cut in my deck. Even in the double Dream Stalker decks, I’d much rather play something else (or suspend Deepwalker) on turn 1.
I love this card. I always want one copy maindeck and have been known to play more. It helps smooth draws in the early game and gives you something to do when you run out of gas. This is top notch in my book, even if it isn’t a top tier common.
I hate this card. Every time someone has played it against me, it’s drawn one or no cards and then the creature has died immediately on the following turn. I’ve had some weak U/R decks before and even then this has failed to make the cut.
Blazing Blade Askari
In a deck full of Morphs, this guy isn’t very impressive. His primary role is to fill out a mana curve, and U/R just doesn’t have that problem. If there’s a problem at all, it’s that there are too many three-drops available. I will still play this guy but I won’t be excited about it.
Solid if only for the lack of better late-game options. Chris Fennell certainly likes this guy, as he had a deck with four of them in it while on my team in a three-on-three draft. Surprisingly he still won two matches with said deck.
This guy is definitely at the top end of the lower tier commons, but I’d also rather have Deepwalker almost all of the time. Don’t be fooled by the fact that I put this guy all the way down here, as he is still a very solid addition to any U/R deck.
I’ve already written that I don’t like this guy much. I’ll run one in a medium strength U/R deck, or side him in against Green, but otherwise I think the card is very poor because of how slow it is when you have to pay echo. B/R is the only home for this guy.
I’m in the middle on this one. Most of the time I really don’t like it because it can’t block, but there are certainly times I’d want it in my deck if I was lacking in evasion or had many Coal Stokers. As a general rule, the card sucks in U/R.
Empty the Warrens
Sometimes I will play this if I have lots of early suspend guys, but where it really belongs is in the G/R deck with Strength in Numbers. Definitely don’t count this one out, but one thing you have to decide during the draft is if you’re going to go the Halberdier/Empty route, or if you want to abuse Subterranean Shambler (Pyroclasm) with Tolarian Sentinel. Combining these routes is certainly a bad idea.
I realize some of my comments on cards were brief, but there are just a lot of cards to cover and most of the stuff should be self-explanatory anyway. The fact remains that U/R is the best archetype by quite a margin, due to the depth and synergy in the cards.
My suggestion is to try to draft some combination of Blue, Black, and Red in Time Spiral. Just remember that Penumbra Spider will be the best card ever against you, and have a way to get around it (Ixidron works wonders). Hopefully this guide has answered any questions you had about the archetype, and if I forgot something, please do not hesitate to ask in the forums.