Are you still playing Wordle?
If you don’t enjoy the game, bear with me for a moment. Early on, there was a debate on Twitter about the best openers for the puzzle game where you guess a random five-letter word. Some prefer AUDIO and AISLE to knock out a few potential vowels for you. Others use STERN to give you most of the coveted R-S-T-L-N-E from Wheel of Fortune fame.
I still play Wordle, even if a reporter shamed me out of Tweeting my responses, but I’m switching it up more so that it doesn’t have to feel like a chore. When a random selection hits, it feels much better than the rote, optimized play that was safer. It’s the dopamine I crave from my free word games.
I’m trying to find the switch-up decks of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (NEO) Draft this week. In my search for the little joys that are outside the conventional decks we all thought the format wanted us to draft, I stumbled upon three archetypes that are not only playable but competitive.
Four-Color Network Terminal
I’m a huge fan of drafting all the best cards you see and jamming them into any deck that can cast them. I ran a deckbuilding challenge on Twitter where I’d give people up to $100 cash if I played their combination of 40 cards. My draft was kind of a mess, but one of the first (and top) replies was TaJoordan’s question:
While “Four-Color Network Terminal” is tongue-in-cheek, the mana rock has become a pet card of many because of the versatility it offers. Splashing always has a cost, but being able to tap another artifact to draw and discard can make it an easier pill to swallow. I’ve found that flooding is particularly painful in NEO because of the dearth of mana sinks in the format, so tossing lands or drawing to relevant plays in the late-game can help you steal wins. The only downside is that people are taking it much earlier: according to 17Lands, Network Terminal is going two full picks ahead of where it was a month ago.
In general, these decks are mostly green and can use Grafted Growth to fix your mana or Commune with Spirits to find the correct land. I prefer Terminal to either, but there’s no penalty for running multiple options. Era of Enlightenment is a key common in Selesnya-leaning builds, as the scry will set up your critical third turn while giving you some life and an eventual blocker. We’re also happy to play Bamboo Grove Archer as a card with tremendous defensive speed against aggressive decks that doubles as removal for an opposing flyer.
From there, it’s easy to stack your deck with a Turn 5 Imperial Oath or get a Colossal Skyturtle and Season of Renewal loop going to bring back any early trades that wound up in our graveyard. Barring a March of Swirling Mist blinking your battlefield or an opposing Farewell, it’s easy to stabilize without too much damage to your life total.
Finishers are easy to come by. We’re happy to windmill-slam bombs in any color in Packs 2 and 3, sometimes not even including a basic to represent it. This Selesnya deck is content to play three off-color mythic rares and not blink twice.
In terms of rares that we’re less interested in, they tend to be aggressive (Thundering Raiju, Eater of Virtue) or specific (Greasefang, Okiba Boss; Mechtitan Core) or aggressively specific, like Raiyuu, Storm’s Edge. Don’t stress too much about scoring big in this slot, though. A lot of the best cards in NEO arrive in your uncommon slot, where Blossom Prancer, Boseiju Reaches Skyward, and Kappa Tech-Wrecker all shine. Those are just the cards from our base color.
Here’s another example of a deck built around the inevitability of Tameshi, Reality Architect, and excellent graveyard value cards such as Gloomshrieker, Season of Renewal, and Spring-Leaf Avenger. What a slog.
Initially, it looked like Azorius was going to be the place for Pilots to hang out, but I’ve found it much more effective at playing a control game. These decks are buying time with Aura-based quasi-removal and then casting as many Imperial Oaths as it takes to get a “Good Game!” out of their opponents.
That doesn’t mean it’s time to retire the Prodigy’s Prototypes and Kitsune Aces of the world, though. Instead, I’ve been having more success with Esper Vehicles, as black has some real contributions. Usually, you’ll start in an Orzhov value shell if you’re as big a fan of Roadside Reliquary and Kami of Terrible Secrets as I am. Then, you’ll see a late Mobilizer Mech or Prototype and realize you can feed off the meat that Azorius players are leaving on the bone. Since our fixing isn’t as great as the green decks of the format, it’s key that we’re getting these “free” cards at the end of the draft, because we absolutely must prioritize dual lands when we see them.
Okiba Reckoner Raid is underrated in Vehicle builds, as the flip side does contain the following text: “Vehicles you control have menace.” This essentially renders your flyers unblockable and, if you have to play one, makes a Futurist Sentinel less chump-able.
I feel like people are down on Mukotai Soulripper in general. Here, it can chow down on the Pilot tokens you can wind up with an excess of or get a Spirited Companion into the graveyard to bring back with Imperial Recovery Unit. If you see a Greasefang, Okiba Boss, all the better.
With a steady supply of future-creature cards and all the best Pacifisms, we’re hitting a lot of requirements for our Orzhov enchantment and artifact themes. Think of your blue as the splash here usually, giving us the aforementioned Vehicles, access to cool Sagas, and highly synergistic cards like Replication Specialist. Here are a pair of trophies that capitalize on taking those rares someone might pass in favor of a popular uncommon like Life of Toshiro Umezawa, but that do solid work for us.
This isn’t an archetype I’m dying to get into, but I think it helps to be able to read your table and know when it’s available. If I start with a Greasefang, this is certainly the direction I want to head in, as I’m not sold on Orzhov alone as a solid base for your Transformers. Specific to Greasy, you’re happy to pick up the discard outlets from blue in The Modern Age and Skyswimmer Koi to create some ridiculous early turns. If I start in Dimir Ninjas, it’s rarely tempting to pivot into Esper Vehicles unless I’m getting every signal to get out of the colors and have the Reckoner Raids among my early selections.
Nothing like a fourteen-land deck to get your blood pumping, right?
The three worst archetypes (Boros, Izzet, and Gruul respectively) all feature red, so a lot of savvy drafters started avoiding it completely, leaving even savvier drafters to reap the rewards. As a result, I keep running into these lightning-fast red decks that laugh directly in the face of a Network Terminal. “You’re taking a turn off? Cute. Here’s ten damage.”
The core tenets of this deck are that damage is great, damage caused by artifacts is even better, and modifications come and go. Since you’re playing eight to twelve one-drops, you can cheat your land count fairly low, although the above example should only be attempted when you have the Magic Arena hand smoother on your side. Rabbit Battery and Simian Sling do take mana to reconfigure, kids.
I’m happy to see a copy of Ambitious Assault making both of the example decks here, as it’s an absolute beating with cards like Searchlight Companion and Akki Ember-Keeper that leave you the occasional 1/1 Spirit token. Drawing a card comes fairly easily, as Kumano Faces Kakkazan, Explosive Entry, and Iron Apprentice leave counters around willy-nilly. Then, Kami’s Flare or even Seismic Wave can do some face damage to finish off your opponent.
One card I’m down on is Experimental Synthesizer, as it doesn’t always generate the “hits” that I’m looking for. Too often, you sequence it at the top of your curve, but it just winds up making your turn clunky or telegraphing what you’re up to. This deck thrives on chaos and surprise. I’m happy to play one or two, but when I see a list with four or five, I get nervous.
Have a Draft deck that you’ve been toying around with? Do you think Shrines are where it’s at? Let me know with an email or a Tweet. I’ve been trying to make The Shattered States Era work in a Rakdos Sacrifice shell and can’t get it past 2-1 on Magic Online (MTGO), so bonus points if you’ve managed to trophy with it.