Everything Drake(s)

Rewind to a week before Grand Prix New Jersey. I’m helping my friend test Standard for GP Lille. I also have to test the format for the Pro Tour, but that’s three weeks from now and I don’t mind letting everyone else figure out the format while I draft.

I see this blue-red tempo, graveyard, cantrip, combo shenanigans deck. Yes indeed, nothing else screams “Pascal Maynard” more than that. Hold on, we’re going home.

I’m immediately hooked, play it for a few days, and decide to go to GP New Jersey last-minute. I convince my buddy to play the deck. In his defense, he even said, “This deck is everything you like in Magic—you’re probably biased.” He was definitely not wrong.

I let the deck get in my feelings as I went on a quest to make headlines with the archetype. It’s not just one dance, but it starts in New Jersey.

U/R Phoenix

11-4 at GP New Jersey

This is where I arrived after my first few days of experimenting with the archetype. I was at 11-2 at one point with this 75, but lost my last two rounds to finish 11-4.

It was a fairly stock list at the time. The only card that was not fully established yet was Maximize Velocity. Back then, even just one copy of Maximize Velocity made the black-green matchup so good that they played basically zero instant-speed removal.

I had two Lightning Strikes in the slot where most people had more Lava Coils. My reasoning was that I wanted a card that could answer Wildgrowth Walker, but was also versatile and could be cast proactively to return Arclight Phoenix.

My small sample size of games led me conclude that 22 lands and four Goblin Electromancer was a good number of mana sources. Oh boy was I in for a ride. My tournament could have been titled: “Pascal vs. Mana Flood.” Despite doing somewhat well every round, even those I was winning, I was flooding senselessly. It’s a very good example of when not to trust your sample size and do the damn math.

After the tournament I reflected on how I could fix the mana sources issue. Going down to 20 or 21 lands was mandatory, but then, I was also realizing that I didn’t want to draw more than exactly one Goblin Electromancer. It’s also only really good in the early turns. At that point, I thought playing fewer than four was probably crazy, so I turned to the Electromancer-less version with eight Drakes.

U/R God’s Plan

5-0 in a League

I scrambled a list together based on an eight Drakes lists I saw, and what I thought would fit with my findings for the other iterations. I immediately 5-0’d a League on the first try.

I had a resistance to such lists before going to New Jersey because it just seemed so much less versatile. You have exactly one plan and it’s just to attack with a big Drake. I felt like the Goblin Electromancer version had better versatility because it gave you the Arclight Phoenix nuts draws, which are a different angle of attack against people holding up removal. Discovery // Dispersal specifically made finding Phoenixes much more reliable and in a more efficient way.

Why not play them then? Sure, you don’t have Goblin Electromancer, but it’s still decent at 2 mana. So I did just that. I cut a few 1-mana red cantrips, a Tormenting Voice, and I added a land.

What about the deck being less versatile? While that was still true, I thought about it, and there weren’t any matchups where I didn’t want to accomplish my main plan like 90% of the time in pre-sideboarded games.

That’s also why you see Radical Idea in the sideboard. Post-board I wanted to be able grind games, especially against control. It’s much harder to plan a late game with bad cantrips like Tormenting Voice, Crash Through, and Warlord’s Fury. You want to be able to control your land count and not run out of spells to return those Arclight Phoenix and put counters on Firemind’s Research. The reason they can’t be main deck is because it’s just so bad in every other matchup. It’s too slow without Electromancer.

I was liking my list a lot, and was ready to register it for my next tournament—the Magic Online Championship Series Monthly.

Then I had an illuminating thought.

U/R God’s Plan, the Remix

7-1 at MOCS Monthly

I kept thinking about the good times I had with turn-2 Goblin Electromancer. What if I only played two? That sounds crazy, but it also makes sense. I only want it early. I never want to draw two, and by playing only two, that means if I draw it late it’s easier to loot away. That should also reduce my flooding somewhat significantly, because the Goblin was part of why I was flooding, and now I only want 20 lands since I play a few Crash Through and Warlord’s Fury.

Now I can start playing Radical Idea main deck too. I won’t play more than two, though, because it’s mediocre without the Goblin.

I cut two Enigma Drake. They fit the all-cantrip plan, but now I’m creating a less one-dimensional deck and cutting down to four red cantrips. You could say why not play four Crackling Drake, four Enigma Drake, four Arclight Phoenix, and two Goblin Electromancer? I just think that’s too many creatures in a deck that wants to play as many cheap instant/sorceries as possible. I don’t want my deck to be clunky.

Also, I felt that having exactly six Drakes was enough for me to continue playing two Maximize Velocity, which was my favorite part of the deck.

Dan Fournier, a fellow pro player, wrote an article about my deck after I went 7-1 in the MOCS and appropriately note:, “Pascal’s list here looks like he fed every Izzet list from Magic Online into a machine-learning algorithm and out popped this monstrosity of 2-ofs.”

He’s not wrong, but in a deck with so many cantrips and so much card selection, it’s absolutely fine.

I tried Sarkhan, Fireblood as my dedicated slot for Jeskai Control, alongside Niv-Mizzet, Parun. It was excellent. In fact, I beat two Jeskai decks in the MOCS, where it was instrumental to winning.

Drakes Ft. Eminem

Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica

Started from the bottom, now we here.

This is the 75 I registered at the Pro Tour. I did not do well, but you can’t do well at every tournament, even if you always have the best deck. I certainly don’t claim to have registered the best deck, though. In fact, there were a few things I did wrong.

My testing for the week leading up to the Pro Tour revealed that White Weenie was pretty good, and I even thought it would be the most played deck (it ended up being the second-most played deck).

I didn’t like my current version against them. I was losing game 1 too often and post-board Fiery Cannonade was rarely good—they would adapt to it fairly easily. I tried Dual Shot as well. It was mediocre.
I decided to make my mirror match worse by cutting two Lava Coil and one Beacon Bolt in favor of three Deafening Clarion. Then I took out four Mountain and three Island for four Sacred Foundry and three Glacial Fortress.

The number of mana sources didn’t change and seven white sources with all of our cantrips was good enough. You do get a bit of awkwardness when you draw multiple Sulfur Falls and Glacial Fortress—I can’t deny that. But you can now catch up in games where you fall behind because of Clarion.

Splashing just for Deafening Clarion was actually smart. It’s a decent card in the deck. Even when you don’t play against White Weenie, the lifelink is awesome with Drakes.

You have Goblin Electromancer, which is a bit weird, but only a few, and you can always plan for it with all your card selection and looting.

Adding Blink of an Eye was a concession to Conclave Tribunal. I thought it was a great way to kill them by surprise later in the game. Early you play your Drake, they Tribunal it, you continue playing control, and then bam! End of turn you get it back and swing for lethal. It’s also pretty nice in the Maximize Velocity mirrors.

I went down to three Crackling Drake, and most importantly up to three Enigma Drake. While the 4-mana one is a better Magic card by a lot, the 3-mana price tag is much more efficient in the format. Being able to play a threat on 3 instead of 4 proved to be game changing very often. It seemed like every deck was tuning to be faster and it was imperative to impact the board as soon as possible.

Invoke the Divine is a nice 1-of I could now play with my white sources. It’s not huge or anything, but has nice implications in a few matchups: Experimental Frenzy, Conclave Tribunal, Baffling End, History of Benalia, Ixalan’s Binding, Search for Azcanta, and Azor’s Gateway.

I lost two matches at the Pro Tour, most likely because I decided to run Sarkhan, Fireblood and did not notice the fact that Jeskai Control lists were all evolving toward playing tons of Crackling Drakes. I should have run Murmuring Mystic instead. Sarkhan is pretty bad if they can attack it. Murmuring Mystic costs 1 more, so it’s harder to get under a counterspell, but it’s still way better there.

Going Forward

The White Weenie hype is starting to go away. This probably means that we don’t need to splash for Deafening Clarion anymore. I would still play a couple Shivan Fire in case—cheap interaction is important and it’s nice in the mirror match. It kills Goblin Electromancer, but also kills Drakes. If you expect a lot of U/R mirrors, definitely add Lava Coil back to the main deck.

I spent weeks playing multiple version of the deck and yet, I still haven’t explored the slower and more controlling versions. Pascal Vieren took his take on the archetype to a 10-0 at the Pro Tour and it seems like people are moving toward that one. It has its merits, and I will absolutely be trying it. It’s awesome to see that what seems to be the best deck has approximately five different ways to build it. You can really commit to the archetype, understand it, and tweak for the changing metagame.

Until then, if you want to talk about Drakes, you can always call the Hotline Bling.

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