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Rogue Report – The Zen of UW in Limited

 

I love Seattle more and more every year because it seems like I’m drafting more and more every year. I’ve drafted probably six times since my last article, and once this one is finished I’ll probably draft two more times. I love the feeling of improving at Limited, especially because I know that’s where my game needs work. I’m starting to see archetypes form, and the format is making a lot more sense.

One of the most fun archetypes I’ve drafted is GUx with five drops. It’s most fun when you’re ally-focused after picking an early Sea Gate Loremaster and going all in. I stand by my assertion that this format is really aggressive, so for a while I was having trouble finding the time to get a three-or-more-color deck going. Then I discovered that you can actually draft Kraken Hatchling on purpose, instead of randomly picking it up twelfth pick. Using Kraken Hatchling and Grazing Gladehart, the deck survives to the late game and starts outclassing the opponent’s spells. Sky Ruin Drake is the reason this deck works, and I’ve never seen the guy casting a second Sky Ruin Drake lose. I find that Reckless Scholar is really good here too, using the extra time you’ve found to dig for the right spells.

The best all-in aggressive deck seems to be black-red. Zektar Shrine Expedition has grown on me since somebody showed me that it can block, but when that 7/1 is meant for attacking, it’s brutal. The core of this deck are the random cheap dorks like Guul Draz Vampire, Vampire Lacerator, Goblin Shortcutter, Plated Geopede, and Surrakar Marauder. Bladetusk Boar is also a high priority because it’s nearly unblockable, and Shatterskull Giant gives the deck one of the most board-impacting four-drops. If this deck has a few Burst Lightning, Hideous End, or Disfigure, watch out.

The archetype I’ve been having the most success with, however, is UW aggro, and that’s the one I’ve chosen to write in depth about. White and blue each have aggressively-costed creatures with evasion, but what makes the deck tick is the large number of ways to explosively push damage through. If you curve out and then cast a spell like Whiplash Trap, it’s very hard to lose. I’m going to take you through the commons and uncommons I find important to this archetype, and try to give you a sense of what to look for when you want to attack with blue and white creatures.

Creatures

It’s very important to have one, two, and three-drops. There are good four drops you can pick up, like Windrider Eel, but the deck hinges on setting up board position in the first three turns.

When I say you want one-drops, I really mean you want Steppe Lynx. A deck with two Steppe Lynx is exponentially better than one without them. I’ve seen people play Kor Duelist, but I have yet to be impressed. There is a white equipment deck to be drafted, but that’s not what I’m trying to do here. Normally Steppe Lynx is ok, but there are a few key reasons why he is a steppe above in this deck, which I’ll get to later. Kraken Hatchling isn’t actually blank, and I’d happily snatch him up and side him in for the aggro mirror.

There is one creature that makes this whole deck work, and that’s Kor Skyfisher. You could say he’s the kor of the deck. He does so much in each matchup, and really has no drawback in this deck if you make sure to pick up enough one, two, and three drops. He’s the reason why this deck can beat black-red aggro, because he comes down on turn two or three and stops them from attacking. Three toughness is very good in this format. He keeps your landfall going for your Lynx and Eel, lets you reuse Kor Hookmasters, and most of all, he comes down early and attacks for two, avoiding Burst Lightning and Disfigure.

Welkin Tern is the other two-drop you’re really aiming for. From there you pick up what you can get with Kor Outfitter and Cliff Threader. I prefer the Cliff Threader because it’s much easier to cast, and when your two-drop happens to be unblockable it’s pretty good. You’ve got to have a lot of equipment for the Kor Outfitter to be better, and even then it’s not super impressive. What bugs me about the design of Kor Outfitter is that he doesn’t gain much of an advantage in this set. Most equipment costs one or two to equip, and then there are the times when you have no equipment. I’d rather have Glory Seeker most of the time. I have yet to see Tempest Owl get kicked, but sometimes you just need creatures. I don’t actually think he’s that bad, and in a matchup where they are trying to stabilize the board by blocking, he’s probably desirable.

There are a few decent uncommons you’d be happy to play, but they are still worse than Kor Skyfisher and Welkin Tern, mostly because of their casting cost. Kor Aeronaut is really good – like there was a problem with Leonin Skyhunter in the first place. Kazandu Blademaster is very good at blocking, and is another way you can put a stop to the RB beats while still getting ahead. He’s obviously much better with more allies, but there aren’t a lot of allies you care about. Aether Figment is pretty good and provides some welcome reach, but he’s really a five-drop in most instances.

The one ally you do care about is Umara Raptor – he’s one of your go-to three-drops. (And he’s still worse than your two best two-drops.) The more Umara Raptors you have the better, obviously, but there aren’t many other good ways to put counters on this guy in UW. I’ve had success with Makindi Shieldmate, but I’d rather he wasn’t in this deck. Kraken Hatchling would just be better in that slot, though if you’ve got enough allies you’ll play the Shieldmate instead. I’m not about to start playing Ondu Cleric, if that’s what you’re thinking. I love myself and Ondu Cleric, but not here.

The three drop you’re really aiming for is Kor Hookmaster. Now we’re getting to the methods you use to get blockers out of the way. This is one of the best responses to a Sky Ruin Drake or opposing Kor Skyfisher. He’s also really good at flipping the tempo in your favor if you’re being attacked. The more Skyfishers you have, the better Kor Hookmaster is, but it’s rare you’ll pass him up anyway. The other three drop you want is Kor Sanctifiers. I’ve talked before about how good this guy was in a format of equipment and quests, but I don’t think I stressed the relevance of the 2/3 body enough. When you do kick it, it’s a kick in the pants. Otherwise, he’s really solid.

Reckless Scholar is a good card and isn’t that bad at attacking, but you’ll usually only include him if you have to. He does work with the deck, helping you dig for landfall triggers or your spells to push through, but ideally you’d have one of the creatures I’ve already mentioned. The verdict is still out on Gomazoa. I think he’s great, but not what this deck is looking for. I probably run him if I have him, but I’m not going to cut one of my good spells for it. In a more mid-range blue deck, I play him every time. Merfolk Wayfinder is another sketchy card, and I haven’t seen it cast yet. I’m not a big fan, especially in this deck.

Once you get to four-or-more-drops, things get less important. Sure, you want Windrider Eel, and you would love a Living Tsunami or Merfolk Seastalkers, but the three-or-less drops are what’s really important for the deck’s success. Windrider Eel is still a very high pick, and having them is very helpful, but it’s hard to make the deck work without something cheaper. Kor Cartographer is also pretty good if you’ve got lots of landfall triggers, but is otherwise unimpressive. Being able to pump your landfall guys twice in one turn is very useful. Rounding out the top of your deck, you wouldn’t be unhappy to play Sky Ruin Drake, Shepherd of the Lost, and even Shoal Serpent, but again, you would rather have something cheaper.

Spells

Time for the spice. So far we’re just a deck full of dorks, with Hookmaster and built-in evasion as our only real way to push through. Again, let’s take a look at the commons and uncommons by converted mana cost.

At one mana you’ve got three semi-useful spells: Shieldmate’s Blessing, Spell Pierce, and Brave the Elements, but most of the time you won’t play any of them. Shieldmate’s Blessing is the most likely to make the cut, and I at least side it in against red decks. If you find that the vast majority of your creatures are white, Brave the Elements is actually a great pick, but it’s so bad when you control non-white creatures. Spell Pierce is most likely a sideboard card. I’m not entirely sure what for, but I would probably play it against Whiplash Trap or something.

Two mana has two very desirable spells. Journey to Nowhere is on everybody’s wish list, so you’ve got to take it high. Just like every other white player, there’s no common you want more than Journey to Nowhere. The other card you want is Into the Roil. This card is great kicked or unkicked, and is one of two reasons why you love for your opponent to have five-drops. (The other one is coming up.) Into the Roil is the way a bounce spell should be – you’ll never miss stacking damage after you kick this.

Ior Ruin Expedition is a playable card, but let’s be honest – it’s much worse than Divination. I’ll play it about 70% of the time, but I’d rather just have a good creature here. The more midrange you are (usually meaning the more Windrider Eels and Sky Ruin Drakes you have) the better this card is. I can’t bring myself to play Nimbus Wings, but it’s probably not that bad on a Steppe Lynx. There are matchups where I think Nimbus Wings is right, but I’m usually afraid. You’ve also got Trapfinder’s Trick and Trapmaker’s Snare at two mana. The Trick is a decent sideboard card if you see a lot of traps (or just a Whiplash Trap), and the Snare is good if you have two good targets like Pitfall Trap or Whiplash Trap.

Just like our creatures, the three-mana spells that we have available are worse than our two-mana options. Paralyzing Grasp and Pitfall Trap are decent removal spells, but they aren’t really in line with the deck’s strategy. Still, Pitfall Trap is actually pretty good, and helps you race a lot of the times. Windrider Eel needs a little time to get online, so having a Pitfall Trap in the early turns puts you way ahead when you’re racing. It’s not very good in the matchups where they aren’t attacking you until later in the game, because that’s usually when you’ve lost. It’s rare that I would play Paralyzing Grasp in this deck’s main, but I’ll certainly side it in.

The other common three mana spells are all playable on some level, but not entirely desirable. I’ve often wished I had a Cancel in my sideboard, so picking one up isn’t that bad. It’s probably maindeckable on the play in any matchup, but I don’t want it clogging up my maindeck games on the draw, and I would never cut a good creature from my maindeck for it. Bold Defense costs infinite mana to kick, but I like having one in my deck. It’s another way the deck can force through damage, and when you’re attacking them and forcing them to block, even the three-mana version is a blowout waiting to happen. I’ve actually grown to not hate Narrow Escape, but it’s not for this deck.

A quick note on Pitfall Trap – there’s a trick you can do where you cast the trap after damage has resolved. Let’s say they are attacking with three creatures, and you only have W open. You can block two of their creatures and trade, take the damage from the third, and then Pitfall Trap their remaining creature. The trap only cares if one creature is attacking, and a creature is considered attacking throughout the whole combat phase, even after damage has resolved. It’s especially cool when first strike is involved.

Windborne Charge is exactly what this deck wants, and I prioritize it very highly. I’m starting to think the key to this deck is making your Steppe Lynxes relevant on turn five, and this is one of the best ways to do that. A lot of this deck’s creatures fly already, but when you overload the sky by throwing your Kor Hookmaster, Kor Sanctifier, or other random guy into the air, it’s deadly. Summoner’s Bane is a card that I’m a fan of, but I’ll only maindeck it in this deck if I have enough bounce. Otherwise it’s pretty good on the play, so I’ll side it in for a lot of matchups if I’m going first. Overall, Cancel is probably better, but when this spell is good, it’s good. I feel much better against the green decks and their Territorial Baloths when I have things like Summoner’s Bane.

Saving the best for last, Into the Roil and Whiplash Trap form the double-dream-team, pushing this deck over the top. Have you seen Whiplash Trap do its thing? It’s unbelievable. There are a lot of spells this deck can cast on turn five to push through – Kor Hookmaster, Windborn Charge, Into the Roil – but the best one is easily Whiplash Trap. Usually you see it in your hand and set up to end-of-turn trap them into a win, or just sorcery-speed it for lethal. When your opponent is casting five-drops (like the green deck), this is where you want to be. Even if they aren’t, Whiplash Trap puts you so far ahead just by bouncing two-drops even. Sure, Journey to Nowhere is probably better, but it’s hard to pass this card. Heck, it even bounces your own creatures. Kor Hookmaster, come back! All this gushing, and I’ve never even seen it cast for its trap cost. It’s that good.

Artifacts & Lands

There aren’t a lot of artifacts that you want – especially not the creatures. I’ve certainly played Hedron Scrabbler and Stonework Puma. Sometimes you do need to fill out a curve, but they are less than ideal. There are a few decent equipment, the star being Trusty Machete. The only better uncommon is Living Tsunami, but that’s still debatable. I’m still not sure what I take, this or Journey to Nowhere.

I haven’t had a lot of experience with Adventuring Gear, but after seeing it in action I’m pretty sure it’s the real deal. I think I want one of these in each of my decks – no more, no less. Explorer’s Scope is ok, but I wouldn’t play it unless I had a few Steppe Lynx or Windrider Eels. I’d also play the Scope if I had two or three Kor Skyfishers because the synergy there is pretty good. The three one-mana equipment listed above are great with Skyfisher because they give you something to bounce on turn two that isn’t a land. Blazing Torch is another welcome addition, especially because it hit players. The rest of the artifacts are too clunky for my taste.

I usually run 18 lands in this deck because of how important it is to 1) have both of your colors early, often times needing WW or turn two, 2) hit your landfall triggers on Steppe Lynx and Windrider Eel each turn, and 3) make your first five land drops so you can Whiplash Trap on turn five. This is also why I like picking up one Bold Defense, because it gives you a good place to sink seven mana when you’re a little flooded.

Basic lands are very good for this deck, and I’m weary of having too many enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands. I’ll play any number of Sejiri Refuge, that’s no problem. Hitting your colors is so important, especially when you often need WW and UU early, that I don’t think I would ever “splash” a Teetering Peaks or other off-color land. Soaring Seacliff usually depends on how many Steppe Lynx you have, because it sucks when you topdeck your fifth land and can’t cast your five-mana spell. If you’ve got enough ground creatures, you run Soaring Seacliff easy, but it’s not necessarily a given that it will make your deck. The same is true for Kabira Crossroads. I love that land to death, but I don’t auto-include it in this archetype. It’s pretty good when you’re bouncing it with Skyfishers, so I’ll often include it maindeck for that reason, but be sure to look for matchups where you would rather switch it with a plains for game two. I also like to run the gain 1 life lands even if I’m only using one of the colors, but not in this deck.

It’s very hard to create a pick order list for a deck like this because of how important it is to be well-rounded. You want a good curve, good removal and bounce, and a few ways to make your creatures scarier. The important decisions it takes to make this deck work are realizing when you can’t take the Windrider Eel because you need the two-drop, or that you need to take a Whiplash Trap over any other card.

Happy Drafting!

So that’s my take on the UW archetype. It’s the archetype I’ve had the most success with, so I thought I would share it. UW is by no means the only way to go, but it’s hard to go wrong with Kor Skyfisher. Like I said in the beginning, if you’re looking for fun try GUx. The deck I’ve seen other people win with the most is BR aggo. But for me, I like Kor Hookmaster too much.

Well, it’s time to go draft again. Literally, I’m saving this document, and then opening a pack of Zendikar – wish me luck!

Thanks for reading,

Jonathon Loucks
Loucksj at gmail
JonLoucks on twitter

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