I finally got around to doing some Ultimate Masters Drafts, and I’ve really been liking it. As usual with Masters sets, the format is super deep, so there’s a lot of play to it and a lot of synergies that matter.
My usual method is to try drafting everything at the beginning. Sometimes you just open a great mythic or uncommon that only goes into one archetype and you want to try it. For example, in one of my Drafts I opened Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and I took it to see where it would take me. After drafting a bunch, I would not do it again—there doesn’t seem to be enough ramp support and you can’t count on opening Through the Breach to go with it. So it mostly seems like a sideboard card for slower matchups.
You can draft W/R Heroic or Green Madness every draft if that’s what you enjoy, but you master the format by trying new things. The more you draft, the more you start to understand which cards are key to certain archetypes, which cards you need to take highly, and which ones you can table. This includes knowing which cards are replaceable—whether as a slot in your archetype’s curve or if there are multiple cards that serve the same purpose.
I’m usually a big fan of aggressive strategies, but I have to say I was a little disappointed with the heroic decks, mainly Boros. Take a look at this deck:
After I drafted this, I thought my deck was pretty good. It was one of my first Drafts, and my colors seemed open. I was choosing from good playables in almost every pack. Then I went 1-2 and the matches I lost weren’t even close. Of course, I probably messed up some of my picks because I didn’t know the format, but I felt outclassed during the games, which is a result of the format having a lot of very powerful cards and synergies. Just to put things in perspective, Ancestral Recall (Treasure Cruise) is a common in this format. So are Gurmag Angler and Hooting Mandrills, and it’s really not hard to build your deck in a way where you are casting these cards for 1 mana. Meanwhile, you are playing small creatures with Auras and combat tricks—you really need things to go right. There are also a lot of high impact sideboard cards like Crushing Canopy, Golgari Charm, and Wickerbough Elder.
W/G and W/U are a little better than W/R, mostly because of Prey Upon and Shielding Plax, which you can find with Heliod’s Pilgrim. You also have access to Whirlwind Adept, which is bad against other aggro decks but can easily win you the game against control, especially in combination with something like Flight of Fancy.
Another example of a popular archetype in this format is multi-color Green—usually including some broken rares and mana hungry cards. The problem is that when you don’t have some bombs, you sometimes end up with a mediocre midrange deck that has a bad matchup against blue decks, especially because of Treasure Cruise.
Here are some decks that I had success with:
Green decks can be graveyard based or focus on ramping, but mostly you are focusing on bomb rares, removal, and then value and ramping. The graveyard-based deck can work without rares by having great synergy, but in ramp you really need to have good late game. It’s not very often that you end up in a 3-color deck without green. Terramorphic Expanse, Prismatic Lens, and the rare creaturelands can help you splash, but there are too many double-colored cards in the set for you to want to play 3 colors often. Terramorphic Expanse is also not the most reliable way to splash in this format because you mill yourself a lot with cards like Deranged Assistant, so you can easily end up without access to your third color because your one splashed basic land ended up getting milled early. If you are green, you have access to Satyr Wayfinder and Kodama’s Reach, which makes things much easier.
In my opinion the best color in this format is blue, mostly because of Treasure Cruise in the common slot. There is enough self-mill in the format and cards that help you trade 1-for-1 that it’s very easy to build your deck around it and you win purely by getting card advantage and overpowering or outgrinding your opponent. Just keep the aggressive decks in mind, and make sure you include enough early game to keep yourself alive.
I want to focus on my most favorite archetype so far: U/R. These are some of the decks I drafted. I made sure to include the sideboard to show the cards I chose not to play.
There are multiple ways you can draft U/R and the difference is usually your win conditions. Either you have a critical mass of creatures, Rise from the Tides, or Laboratory Maniac. For example, the last deck has two Rise from the Tides and Mystic Retrieval, which is how you are going to win all your games. This deck doesn’t want to play a random 2/2 for 2 that doesn’t play into this strategy.
Other than the obvious bomb rares, one of your highest picks is Fiery Temper. It’s good on its own, but it also synergizes with your discard effects. The next best cards are usually Fire // Ice, Young Pyromancer, Treasure Cruise, and good cheap cards like Dimir Guildmage, Just the Wind, Thermo-Alchemist, and Mad Prophet.
Usually your deck will have a lot of “air” like card draw and bounce spells, so it’s important to focus on having enough cards that actually do something so that you don’t just chain multiple card draw spells without actually drawing something that can affect the board. This also means that you will flood fairly often, so it’s not bad to play 16 lands sometimes. I’m more likely to play more than 17 if I have a lot of looting effects (Faithless Looting, Mad Prophet, Frantic Search) because I can get rid of extra lands that way.
I usually like Foil in this archetype because there are a lot of broken rares in this format and it’s easy to loot it away if you don’t need it. You also have so much card advantage that sometimes you don’t even mind 3-for-1’ing yourself to make sure that their important spell doesn’t resolve. It also triggers madness.
Stitched Drake is playable but not great because you don’t usually have too many creatures. I often try to have exactly one Molten Birth because it’s good against the aggressive red decks with cards like Akroan Crusader and Reckless Charge. You also often end up in spots where you have 1-2 big flyers and this can help you race your opponent.
I’m not a very big fan of Archaeomancer because you usually have enough card advantage already and I’d rather invest 4 mana into something that will help me stabilize. It’s still a fine card to have and it gets better the more removal and Rise from the Tides you have. I just don’t take it very highly.
Blast of Genius/Aethersnipe/Mahamoti Djinn—all of these cards are great but you need to make sure that you don’t have too many of them. Two is usually the right number. You can prioritize them lower if you are in the Rise of the Tides archetype because you will end up with too many 6-drops otherwise.
Random card draw spells like Think Twice, Faithless Looting, and Frantic Search are what glue the deck together, but similar to the 6-drops, they have diminishing returns. You can’t play too many of them because then your deck is just too much air, so you usually don’t pick them very highly and reevaluate later in the Draft if you need to start taking them more aggressively. As a general rule of thumb, a deck with too many action cards is going to be better than a deck with too many card draw spells.
Another archetype I have been enjoying drafting is R/B Madness.
The best part about it is that it is super deep and there are so many playables in both colors. Even if someone else is drafting it, you usually end up with a fine deck if you get some of the key cards. You can also usually build a great deck without the help of broken rares. It is important to prioritize the enablers (cheap discard outlets) like Faithless Looting, Olivia’s Dragoon, and Mad Prophet, but you need to make sure that you have the right amount of payoff cards like Reckless Wurm as well.
It is usually more important to focus on having the right mix of enablers/payoff than spending your picks on other effects or replaceable removal spells. Of course you still want removal in your deck, but you need to make sure that you can get the most out of your synergies. Let’s say I’m in the third pack and I don’t have a Faithless Looting or Olivia’s Dragoon. I’m absolutely going to take it over Unholy Hunger, for example, because otherwise my deck is just not going to function.
To wrap things up, here are my pick orders for top commons and uncommons in what I consider the best archetypes in the format:
(X)c Green Ramp
Good luck and come say hi if you are playing GP Vancouver or GP Prague!