Onslaught is all about creature types. That’s the theme Wizards is currently trying to push. As a result, it has a lot of creatures of various types.
Actually, a lot of creatures, period. That does have an impact on drafting the set.
Typically, in assessing a set for drafting, you look at removal, size, evasion and tricks – especially the common and uncommon ones. I spend less time on the rares – if I open a bomb like Visara (the 5/5 flier for 4BB that taps to kill target creature) I am taking it and going black, but I am not going to base my analysis of the set for drafting on those rares. Based on past experience, I expect to open far more Risky Moves than Kamahls.
My first impression of this set is that it has a lot of high casting-cost creatures and effects. While there are a few smaller creatures, and while I have not done a mana breakdown on the whole set, I do think that it will be unlikely that you can draft a whole set of bears and win with speed the way you could in Invasion block. There are too few in any given color, and color fixers are much more limited. Green does have a nice color fixer in Explosive Vegetation… But it costs four mana and it is uncommon. You are not going to rush anyone with bears if you fix your mana on turn 4 and start dropping the off-color bears on turn 5. Especially since the big beasts start appearing at about the same time, and 2/2s do not beat down successfully in a world of 6/5s.
The two colors that look like they might allow a speed approach to work are red and black, with goblin and zombie decks, but I have not done the math there. I would be concerned that large numbers of small goblins could run into real problems with the white decks with lots of 1/x soldiers or clerics, and since the green mages will get fat down pretty quickly – and there is not enough burn floating around to ensure that a 1/1 and a Shock can kill all the fatties.
If pure speed is not enough, the next step is to look at evasion. Blue has a few unblockable dudes, and a common that can make other weenies unblockable (Crafty Pathmage 2U, Creature – Wizard, common, 1/1, T: Target creature with power 2 or less is unblockable this turn.) He is a combo with some other cards, especially rares – but he is not amazing alone. Fortunately, there are no Nantuko Shades in this set so far, so you don’t have to worry about unblockable creatures being pumped to 10/10, although there are a lot of effects that can pump a creature +2/+2 after blockers are declared. However, one creature in a set of 330 draftable (350 minus the 20 basic lands) cards is not going to appear often enough to worry about – although it will be good if you can get it.
The other major form of evasion is flying. Red has two decent fliers (a common 1/2 and a very good uncommon 2/2, plus a 2/3 with a serious drawback). Black has a 3/2 uncommon vulture and a common 2/2, but that’s it. The bulk of the fliers are in white and blue, as expected. Here’s a list:
- Aven Soulgazer – 3WW, 3/3 flier, uncommon
- Dive Bomber – 3W, 2/2 flier, tap/sac: deal 2 damage to TABC (target attacking or blocking creature)
- Gustcloak Harrier, – 1WW, 2/2 flier
- Gustcloak Skirmisher – 3W, 2/3 flier, uncommon
- Ascending Aven – 2UU, 3/2 flier
- Aven Fateshaper – 6U, 4/5 flier impulse, uncommon
- Fleeting Aven – 1UU, 2/2 flier, bounce on cycle
- Mistform Dreamer, -2U, 2/1 flier
- Mistform Shrieker – 3UU, 3/3 flier, uncommon
- Sage Aven – 3U, 1/3 flier
- Screaming Seahawk – 4U, 2/2 flier, search for another
An awful lot of the fliers have double-colored mana in the casting cost, so they are not splashes. Conceptually, a U/W deck with lots of fliers looks pretty strong – but it may be missing a component. White and blue don’t seem to have the walls or common 1/3s and 1/4s that could stall the ground while winning in the air. It is possible a clerics deck could do it if it got a lot of the damage prevention, but I think you will have to be very lucky to get both the damage prevention dudes and the fliers – unless you are the only blue/white mage in the draft.
The blue counterspells can substitute for the walls, to some extent. It might be possible to hold off the fatties with some bounce, some removal, and some counters, at least long enough to win through the air. Given the high casting cost of so much of the format, the new Mana Leak will probably nail something. The little Force Spike wizard is also okay – he at least slows the beasts down. Discombobulate, the new 4cc counterspell/deck stacker is okay – in most cases, the opponent won’t have lethal damage on the board by turn 4, so you can wait until turn 4 to counter. However, that is the only hard counter, and it is an uncommon, so don’t expect many of them. Still, a visible Force Spike, Mana Leak, Unsummon, and an uncommon 4cc counterspell is significant, but not a lot – especially not in a set of 330 draftable cards. An eight-man draft has 360 cards – so the odds of seeing even one Discombobulate is pretty low.
The reason I’m not sure that blue and white can hold the ground is because green, and to a lesser extent black and red, have some very serious beef. The green beasts, in particular, are very strong. Here’s a short list of green beasts you are likely to see every draft:
Green beasts (commons and uncommons only):
- 2G, Leary Fogbeast, 4/2, fog self
- 2GG, Snarling Undorak, 3/3, can pump
- 4G, Barkhide Mauler, 4/4, cycling
- 3GG, Spitting Gourna, 3/4, block fliers
- 4GG, Symbiotic Beast, 4/4, put 4 bugs into play when dies
- 5GG, Krosan Tusker, 6/5, cycle to pull land,
- 6GG, Venomspout Brackus, 5/5, spit, uncommon
- 4GGG, Krosan Grounshaker, 6/6, trample, uncommon
Obviously, anyone playing this set of creatures is going to be playing 18+ lands and some mana acceleration. However, green also has a list of elves, including a fair number that have some useful abilities, and it has some serious mana acceleration.
Elves List (common and uncommon only):
- G, Birchlore Rangers, 1/1, tap 2 elves, mana any color
- G, Elvish Pioneer, 1/1, 187 – land from hand to play, tapped
- G, Elvish Scrapper, 1/1, scavenger folk
- G, Taunting Elf, 0/1, lure dude
- 1G, Bloodline Shaman, T, chose creature type, reveal card – hand or graveyard
- 1G, Wellwisher, 1/1, tap 1 life for each elf
- 1G, Wirewood Elf, 1/1, T: G mana
- 1G: Wirewood Herald, 1/1, graveyard – search for an elf
- GG, Elvish Warrior, 2/3
- 2G, Everglove Courier, 2/1, target elf gets +2/+2 & trample
- 2G: Wirewood Savage, 2/2, when beast comes into play, draw a card.
- 3G, Heedless One, */*, +1/+1 for each elf in play
- 3G, Symbiotic Elf, 2/2, when dies, get 2 bugs
- 3G, Elvish Pathcutter, 2G: target elf gains forestwalk
- 3GG, Elven Riders, 3/3, block with walls or fliers only
Green mana acceleration and land fetchers:
- 2G, Elvish Guidance, enchant land, G for each elf, common
- 3G, Explosive Vegetation, search for 2 basic land, in play tapped, uncommon
Green has a reasonable ability to be dropping a 4/4 on turn 4, and larger creatures shortly thereafter. Now, in the past, fatties were strong, but there was plenty of removal around to even things up: The removal is not all that good this time around. The set does not have the common many-for-one cards like Aether Burst, Arc Lightning, or even Reckless Spite. In fact, there are very few cards that can get rid of a medium to large beats. There certainly is no Terminate or Slay.
Targeted Removal (common and uncommon):
- Unified Strike – W, remove attacking creature from game if power is > # soldiers, similar for Zombies, etc.
- Chain of Plasma – 1R, instant, 3 damage to target creature or player, chains, uncommon
- Embermage Goblin – 3R, creature, pings for 1
- Erratic Explosion – 2R, sorcery, does random damage to target creature or player
- Fever Charm – R, instant, 3 damage to target Wizard
- Pinpoint Avalanche, 3RR, instant, 4 damage to target creature, cannot be prevented
- Shock – R, instant
- Solar Blast, 3R, instant, 3 damage to target player or creature
- Words of War – 2R, enchantment, skip drawing, deal 2 damage
- Cruel Revival – 4B, instant, destroy target non-zombie creature, no regen
- Death Pulse – 2BB, instant, target creature gets -4/-4, uncommon
- Smother – 1B, instant, destroy target creature with casting cost 3 or less
- Swat – 1BB, instant, destroy target creature with power 2 or less
Summary: There is only one card that can remove a 6/5 beast – Cruel Revival. (Okay, there are two more… But only if you have five or more soldiers/zombies in play.) Cruel Revival is even splashable, so I would expect everyone to grab them early. The rest of the removal is situational or limited. As a result, I don’t see removal as the answers to fatties.
Tap and Bounce (common and uncommon):
- Crowd Favorites – 6W, 4/4, 3W: tap target creature
- Whipcorder – WW, 2/2, W, tap: tap target creature
- Chain of Vapor – U, bounce target nonland permanent, can be chained
- Dispersing Orb – enchantment, sac a permanent, pay 3U, bounce target permanent.
- Essence Fracture – 3 UU sorcery, bounce 2 creatures, uncommon
In the early game, when people do not have a ton of mana, there are only two cards that can bounce or tap an attacker. Later on, once someone gets to eight or twelve mana, Crowd Favorites could tap multiple creatures – but how likely will it be that a white deck gets to eight to twelve mana? If white is sparsely drafted, and gets lots of prevention and walls, maybe. If it is split among drafters, I doubt the resulting decks can hold off big beats long enough. (Of course, if five players battle for green, they are also going to have bad decks.)
Combat trick removal (common and uncommons):
- Catapult Squad – tap, 2 damage to TABC (target attacking or blocking creature)
- Dive Bomber – sac, 2 damage to TABC
- Inspirit (inspire?) – 2W, untap target creature, gets +2/+4
- Commando Raid – instant, 2R, when target creature you control deals damage to player, have it do damage to a target creature, as well, uncommon
- Primal Boost – 2G, instant, target creature gets +4/+4, uncommon
- Tribal Unity – X2G, instant, creatures of chosen type get +X/+X, uncommon
It looks like there are only three combat tricks that could come as a complete surprise in combat: Inspire, Primal Boost and Tribal Unity. Two are green. The other tricks are white creatures – and you will see those in play before they hit.
In short, a lot of Onslaught drafts are going to see a lot of creatures, and not a lot of removal. In Masques Block, where nearly all the creatures were 2/2s or 3/3s, this meant creature stalls. In this set, with common 6/5s and creatures running up to 9/9, I don’t see stalls as all that common. Moreover, Wizards has thrown in a kicker, with a lot of benefits coming from various rares and from creatures types. It’s probably not that important to draft a theme deck, but it might help. Here’s what will be running around at any Onslaught Sealed event- broken down by rarity and color:
9: (8W, 1U, )
6: (2W, 3U, 1B)
5: (2W, 1B, 2R)
9: (6W, 3B)
10: (5W, 5B)
7: (4W, 3B)
2: (1W, 1G)
10: (1W, 8U, 1R)
6: (5U, 1R)
11: (1U, 2B, 2R, 6G)
14: (1U, 2B, 7R, 4G)
4: (1R, 3G)
9: (1B, 8R)
2+: (1U, 1R*)
3: (1W, 1B, 1R)
2: (1W, 1B)
(one each color)
(one each color)
Another thought about the set: Invasion taught everyone to draft multi-colored decks. Odyssey wasn’t as strongly designed to be multicolored, but it had a set of common lands that could sacrifice for any color, and many cards with just a single colored mana in the casting cost. Onslaught doesn’t look like that – Onslaught has a lot of double colors in the casting cost and no mana fixers in any color other than green. With multiple colored mana in many casting costs, and no common multicolored lands, drafting two colors and splashing a third, or even drafting an even split of two colors, will be less successful. Only base green decks will probably be able to get away with that – and only if they get a number of the scarce mana fixers. Other colors will have to settle for one main color and one splash color. Now, if Wizards keeps the number of cards of each color relatively constant in each pack, we can even begin sending signals again. Old-school drafting for sure.
In drafting Onslaught, however, people will hate draft all the bombs and good cards in any color, if those cards have Morph. Even if you will never have the colors to flip it over, a Morph card can always be a 2/2 for 3. That makes it a reasonable – albeit marginal – creature, and definitely better than having an opponent play the creature to its full power. Usually, hate drafting is bad, but it is going to be a lot more common in this set.