While I don’t love small sets as much as I love big sets, I do love covering the Draft archetypes for these new add-ons. There’s not a whole new world to pick apart, but it’s a lot of fun to see what changes completely and what has merely shifted. Big sets are akin to connecting the border of a puzzle while small sets are the satisfaction of putting in the last few pieces. Sure, you know what the final picture will look like, but that sense of completion isn’t any less satisfying.
Today I’ll go over the Allied colors and next week I’ll cover the enemy colors. Let’s go!
Now: Same, but less focused
I pretty much always start with U/W, so today I’m saving U/W for the end just for a change of pace. U/B Cycling is up first!
Cycling was at the very core of U/B’s plan in triple-AKH Draft, but even more important was accumulated value through strong removal spells and card draw or filtering. Seeker of Insight was pivotal in this role, and losing two packs of it will really hurt U/B overall. But that’s only true if U/B keeps a focus on cycling and discard triggers. I think cycling is still U/B’s plan now, but it isn’t as important as it was before. If you look at these payoffs, they just aren’t all that impressive.
Vile Manifestation is nice in theory because it doesn’t demand a bunch of spells to work like Seeker does. However, you need to cycle a lot before it’s impressive, and even then it doesn’t function as a finisher, but rather an efficient creature. Compare this to Enigma Drake, which really took off and won games when it worked. Similarly, Cunning Survivor is another go-to payoff in the archetype, but it just converts a low rate of damage to cycling or discard to the point that it could be a role-player, but won’t define the archetype.
My hopes lie with Grisly Survivor, but it’s more of a fireball than value creature off cycling. You can channel all your cycling into it for massive damage, but that will be difficult because it’s a 3-drop that trades with everything. Hekma Sentinels could always attack into a 3/3 and would never get blocked, but this gets blocked every time. What I am excited about is finding ways to punch through with a Survivor, then cycle a handful of times for victory. Easy ways to do this are Cartouche of Knowledge (if you’re that lucky) or cheap removal spells. Splendid Agony seems particularly nice because it will win a combat and provide extra value. Seeker of Insight also works fantastically here… take the Amonkhet pack and run.
If you find yourself with a bunch of cyclers and nothing to do with them, don’t freak out. U/B still has a solid midrange plan that has nothing to do with cycling. Striped Riverwinder is a fantastic finisher, and you have a plethora of bounce and removal spells to get you to that point. Ruin Rat also helps, and while it only has 1 toughness, I’m less concerned than I would have been before. AKH has a few different ways to put -1/-1 counters on opposing creatures, but that’s less prevalent now. It’s really an interesting shift, adding a bunch of X/1s but then removing the ways to kill them. Though if Cartouche of Ambition was picked highly beforehand, I can only imagine that it’ll practically be a “mythic common” now.
Now: Aggressive midrange
R/B never had much of an identity before and it continues that trend. In a way, that made the archetype refreshing. Sometimes you cared about Minotaurs or Zombies, and other times you only cared that you had 5+ removal spells. Then the next R/B deck might be an all-in aggro deck. That was a pretty neat aspect, but the lack of cohesion also made the color combo murky.
Things don’t get a whole lot clearer, but I will say the extremes have softened. There are efficient creatures and removal. This means you can get on board quickly, but the creatures themselves aren’t so massive that you’ll just win on turn 5. Instead you have cards like Khenra Scrapper or Puncturing Blow. They’re good cards that add up key incidental damage. Afflict is centered in R/B, which means all that adds up.
I actually picked Lurching Rotbeast as an R/B style card because you can find ways to clear the board for it and hit for chunks of 4 damage at a time. Additionally, it can trade up when it can’t attack into opposing 2/2s. This plays well into black’s Raise Dead plan from AKH, which is clearly less important now, but will still exist.
Before: Exert or aggressive midrange
Now: Midrange with Desert subtheme
R/G was essentially summarized by Initiate’s Companion plus Ahn-Crop Crasher, a.k.a. The Dream. Exert is on a smaller percentage of cards now and is also just less pushed. That said, Rhonas’s Stalwart still packs a punch. Instead of an exert plus untap theme, we now have a Desert subtheme.
The Desert payoff cards are actually in every color, but I think they shine in R/G. As I mentioned in my mechanics article, Desert payoff cards want you to draft more Deserts, which then incentivizes you to draft more payoffs, and so on. This only matters if there’s a high enough power level on these cards to even care, though. Gilded Cerodon and Sand Strangler are low floor/high ceiling cards, which is exactly what you want when drafting around synergies. This ensures that you get paid off for actually putting in the work to enable them. Sidewinder Naga is more the middling card that gets a bit better when you add a Desert, but when you’re working hard to turn on your Sand Stranglers, you’ll consistently have a 4/2 trample for 3, which is quite nice. Green actually pays you off at higher rarities, and I have to imagine Ramunap Hydra is one of the best cards you can get in this archetype.
What’s more is that the cycling Deserts seem particularly awesome in midrange decks. They allow you to hit key land drops still, so you can cast your 6+ mana finishers, but help prevent flood in decks that traditionally lose when they flood out. On top of all that, when you do actually cycle, you’re that much closer to finding your payoff cards. For this reason I’m going to be picking the red and green cycling lands higher than the other colors if everything goes as planned. Green is the most flood-prone color, and red is the best Deserts-matter color.
Now: Exert/go wide with combat tricks
I hated G/W before because it had all the strengths of R/G exert but with a bunch of added weaknesses. Your removal was worse and the deck was one-dimensional. If your exert-plus-untapper plan failed, then you just lost the game. HOU actually pushes away from that one-dimensional approach with a less all-in plan. Exert is worse now and there are fewer untappers. But G/W will still be the most exert-centric archetype because it gets the best aggressive exert commons in Rhonas’s Stalwart and Oketra’s Avenger.
What new plans are in store for G/W? Mostly Overruns. Well… that’s a good plan to win games of Limited! Overcome is just a high pick in any green deck but I think it will be best in G/W. The creatures are beefy, but there’s also just a bunch of them. Sometimes you’ll even be lucky enough to pair your Overrun with an Oketra’s Monument. Appeal // Authority didn’t look particularly good to me at first, but it deals a lot of damage and tapping two creatures is a lot. It’s hard to ever block that turn and your really big creature has trample, so good luck anyway. Another neat thing is that the card does so much more when you cast both halves on the same turn, yet it’s cheap enough to enable a good double-spell turn before you aftermath it. There’s some tension there in the end, though it’s not that vexing because you’ll just cast both halves and win.
When you do have access to a copy or two of these board pumping spells, make sure you play accordingly. Trade as little as possible and build out a board. Thankfully, your creatures will naturally be big enough or have exert to help attack past any blockers. If they don’t, be sure to come prepared with some extra combat tricks so you don’t run into the classic “no attacks, no blocks” problem—i.e., losing.
Before: Embalm and flyers
Now: Same, with eternalize
U/W was in an awkward spot in triple-AKH. White was an extremely aggressive color and blue was a slower value-based color that won through cycling or flyers. Only half of those blue cards were even good in U/W for that reason. U/W was still very good when it came together though, but that was a pretty rare occurrence. The deck ended up as more of a mono-white deck that splashed a few good blue cards, notably Aven Wind Guide and Winds of Rebuke. Winds was particularly good because it was a cheap way to get ahead but also fueled your graveyard with embalm shenanigans. Now it will continue to do so alongside the U/W Eternalize.
As I noted before, there are actually only 4 eternalize creatures at common and uncommon, but they are all in U/W. This means that U/W is the place for an actual eternalize deck, if such a thing exists. A lot of this will ride on whether the commons Proven Combatant and Steadfast Sentinel are actually good. Unfortunately, Proven Combatant looks a lot like Sacred Cat to me, but obviously you get a bigger reward later on. Sacred Cat looked nice but ended up quite poor because it just didn’t provide enough of a road block. It was sometimes good enough in U/W though, especially when you had Aven Wind Guide. It enabled a way to cheaply use your mana in an otherwise mana-hungry deck. My concern with Proven Combatant is that it goes the opposite direction. Now you have even more ways to spend a ton of mana, and too much of this means you’ll always have things to do with your mana, but because they’re all overcosted you’ll just get run over. If the card ends up good it’s because a 1/1 actually trades with a lot. Thankfully that could be more true in this set than with triple-AKH.
Embalm and eternalize both encourage you to trade and then rebuy your creatures every turn starting on turn 5 or so until you ultimately claim victory. For this reason I find Farm // Market quite out of place. In theory, Farm is great in a flyer style deck, but that isn’t true if you have a lot of embalm/eternalize. Moreover, if you don’t use your mana, then your opponent will recognize you have a trick up your sleeve. Of course, you could just be bluffing, which is actually a good play if you’re far enough behind, but that won’t often work because you are so mana inefficient if your opponent holds back that you’ll lose because you didn’t spend 5+ mana multiple turns in a row while your opponent did.
I don’t really think there will be a flyer deck or an eternalize deck but rather a mishmash of the two. There isn’t enough support for two radically different U/W decks, though I’d love to be proven wrong because that depth is what leads to truly great formats.
That’s all for me this week. Join me next time for the enemy color pairs!