I’m actually stuck. In 90% of my Scars drafts, I end up Blue-X, and have routinely third-picked such hits as Stoic Rebuttal, Disperse, and even Plated Seastrider. While that may sound ridiculous, there is a method to my madness, and the main reason I keep drafting Blue is that it is always open. The deck I want to draft uses a different set of cards than most decks, and as such is always there for the picking. I suppose I should start by explaining the deck, since 3rd pick Stoic Rebuttal might sound a little odd (just a little).
It may come as no surprise that I love drafting control decks, and that same impulse was my downfall in Zendikar block. However, I’ve found a pretty awesome way of drafting Scars, one which exploits many of the basic tenets of the format. The basic idea here isn’t anything new: removal, card draw, and late game is the name of the game, much like every control deck since Alpha. Removal is the scarce resource, as usual, since everyone wants it, but the card draw and finishers are what go late enough to make the deck awesome. Sky-Eel School is the perfect example; it routinely goes 5th-7th pick, if not later, and it is an incredibly high-quality card. In a “normal” format, a 3/3 flier for 5 that almost draws you a card would be an easy first pick, and I don’t think that should be different here. Other gems that go really late are Trigon of Thought, Stoic Rebuttal, Heavy Arbalest (though people are starting to catch on) and various defensive bodies. It isn’t difficult to get a good mix of the necessary components, and once you do you are able to answer the threats most typical decks will present.
There are a few reasons that this deck is both particularly effective and basically always open.
The first is that it doesn’t rely on artifact synergies much at all. Sure, sometimes you end up metalcraft, but the vast majority of my decks have between 6-10 artifacts, which frees you from having to fight for metalcraft enablers and the metalcraft cards themselves. While other people are third-picking Chrome Steeds and Rusted Relics, you can snap up removal spells, Sky-Eel Schools, and other quality cards. This deck is never in the position of having to take a cheap artifact over a better colored card in order for its cards to function; they do so naturally. This also helps during the games themselves. You have very few situational cards, which leads to a better threat density. A well-timed Stoic Rebuttal, Shatter, or Turn to Slag can reduce opposing Vedalken Certarchs and Chrome Steeds to vanilla 1/1’s and 2/2’s, while your Schools, Solitons, and Darkslick Drakes are all fine on their own. While they are cycling Spellbombs into more land, you have actual good spells in your deck (though you end up with a higher land count than most metalcraft decks). Even opposing Shatter effects aren’t at their best, though you usually have a few targets.
Another reason this is a viable archetype is the abundance of awesome defensive creatures. You generally want 4-5 purely defensive guys, though I’ve played more than that. The defensive guys are (in order of value):
Have you ever tried to kill someone through three of the above creatures? It’s basically impossible. Once I hit 2-3 Wall of Tanglecords, I usually include a couple Forests, and prioritize picking up Copper Myr. If you splash white, Loxodon Wayfarer is a solid addition, though white is not as common as red or black in the deck. Once you get past Necropede on that list, you aren’t talking about high picks, either. People are starting to realize that Wall is awesome, but Seastrider is basically free, and even Neurok Replica goes fairly late. Stopping Chrome Steeds, Cystbearers, even Plague Stingers is all within reach with these guys, and they are almost uniformly lower picks than the cards they end up stopping. When your 5th-10th picks stop their 1st-5th picks, you get a significant advantage.
Lastly, this deck is sweet because it plays a different game than most of the decks in the format. This is a natural conclusion to the first two points, but it is worth mentioning. By playing defensive cards and cards that stand on their own, you can maneuver the game into a place where your deck easily outmatches theirs. Most decks don’t have any cards like Trigon of Thought, Sky-Eel School, or even Heavy Arbalest. By using your cheap defensive cards and removal spells to prolong the game, your awesome lategame cards can give you a huge advantage. The “good” poison or metalcraft decks just don’t have room for clunkers like Trigon, School, or Scrapdiver Serpent, since they need to focus on beatdowns, but you are under no such restrictions. This is also one of the reasons Stoic Rebuttal is so important, and why I always want two. You need a way to handle their bombs, and Rebuttal is the perfect answer. You also often end up a low life total/high poison count before you stabilize, and in those situations there is nothing better than having the counter for their lethal burn spell.
So, what does a successful Sky-Eel School deck look like?
If you are lucky enough to open them, go nuts. One advantage this deck has is its flexibility. Since you are almost always heavy blue, if you open Sunblast Angel or Carnifex Demon pack three, you can often abandon whatever your other color was and just slam the bomb, or slam it and splash 2 Galvanic Blasts anyway. Opening a powerful slow card is a good reason to draft this deck, since it plays very well with cards like Angel, Demon, Wurmcoil, or Steel Hellkite. Yes, I understand those cards are awesome regardless, but this deck certainly makes better use of them than a fast metalcraft deck or a poison deck, neither of which are usually that interested in expensive slow cards.
You obviously want as much removal as possible, and will spend most of your early picks on removal spells or bombs. The removal pick order doesn’t really change from normal decks, though I suppose I’ll go over the general order just for reference.
I haven’t ranted about pick orders much recently, so this seems like good a time as any. Pick orders are only guidelines, and the beauty of draft is that your decks needs are dynamic. The cards you have dictate the cards you need, and any static pick order list is pretty much bound to fail. That being said, the above list is a good pick one pack one reference, though past that there are definite changes that can happen. The most common color combinations are UR and UB, in that order. Black and red just offer the most removal, especially since white’s removal tends to get snapped up extremely quickly. In fact, white itself always seems overdrafted, and white’s non-removal cards aren’t very interesting for this deck. Kemba’s Skyguard and Leonin Shikari are just not what you want to be casting. When I draft this deck, I would say I go UR about 60% of the time, UB about 30%, UW 10% (and UG never). I often splash green for Sylvok Replica and Wall of Tanglecord, but I’ve never managed to actually go base UG.
I listed the defensive cards earlier, though they really are just lower-priority removal. Their only purpose is stopping the opponent’s guys, so they don’t really differ from actual removal. You do want some guys regardless, since you can’t just be all spells, but these are the creatures you pick up after removal runs dry.
Myrs are nice, but aren’t a huge priority. I would say my most common setup is 17 lands and 2 Myrs, though 18 lands and 0-1 Myr happens as well. 16 land and 3-4 Myr isn’t ideal, since this deck tends to have a pretty high curve, and you don’t want to be completely screwed if they decide to go after your Myrs. Plus, I routinely take Sky-Eel School and the like over Myrs, so the other drafters usually end up with most of the Myrs.
If you aren’t lucky enough to see much in the way of bombs, you will need to turn to other means of winning the game. These are the cards that actually seal the deal, though mostly by stabilizing the game and letting your better cards take over.
In rough order (though this changes the most since you are almost never p1p1’ing these, and more using them to fill out your deck):
Soliton/Heavy Arbalest obviously both get better in the presence of the other, though Arbalest is pretty awesome regardless. Golem Artisan is a near-bomb, so it won’t go late, but the rest of the cards you can easily pick up from 5th to 13th, depending. I’ve never seen a Scrapdiver or Hellion not wheel, and Soliton isn’t far behind.
Using this School of Thought
As much as I love me a Sky-Eel School and a Stoic Rebuttal, this draft strategy is perfectly viable without the blue. I find the blue complements the plan the best, and has the most undervalued cards, but there is no reason you couldn’t substitute any other color, even green, and use the same philosophy. Once you stop trying to use metalcraft or any other theme, and just focus on inherent card quality, you can get much better value out of your late picks than the other drafters. Alpha Tyrranax and Molder Beast are respectable guys, and pairing them with removal can be quite effective. At first, I thought this was a two-deck format (metalcraft and infect), but I soon realized that there are a ton of ways to successfully draft Scars. Both those decks are good, and people realize that, but the next step is finding ways to utilize undervalued cards and making the most out of your picks. I feel the Sky-Eel School deck does that, and I’m sure there are more ways to draft it than what I recommend here (though I think this is a good way).
Feel free to share your experiences with off-beat archetypes, and good luck to those who choose to enroll in the School!