Another Thursday, another draft. Standard and Modern are getting a lot attention right now since after the Pro Tour the frequency of Limited events tends to wane. This wasn't always the case, and as Limited has taken a backseat in the world of competitive Magic, the skill level of most players has declined, myself very much included. So let's get back to the good old days where we drafted all day, every day! Or at least all day, every Thursday.
Removal is always at a premium in Draft, and Underhanded Designs can be much more than a versatile removal spell in an artifact-centric deck. Getting a few points of life drain for what would otherwise be wasted mana is more effective than you might think in the abstract, since that extra pressure and extra life is naturally going to give you more options during the game, and conversely, limit your opponent's options.
Those life points in either direction change the complexion of combat. Suddenly your flier kills them a turn earlier or you have the time to resolve a key card-draw spell without falling too far behind on the battlefield. Optionality is key to winning games, and in the right shell, Underhanded Designs can dominate that battle.
But the operative phrase is "in the right shell." Underhanded Designs needs to be in a very specific deck to work, which is a strong commitment to make in your first pick. Visionary Augmenter is a quality body (or three) at an efficient rate, and while it will be most effective in an artifact-centric deck, it can also just be a solid body on the curve or a great addition to a swarming aggressive deck with an Inspired Charge or two. To maintain optionality in the draft, I'm going with the white card here.
Some great follow-up picks have led us to another weak pack where we have a decision to make. Do we stay on course with the mediocre Cogworker's Puzzleknot or branch out for Gearseeker Serpent or Riparian Tiger?
The colored cards are certainly more powerful, but Riparian Tiger really needs energy to fuel it, and G/W is not the best combination for that mechanic. The previous picks don't offer any help either. Gearseeker Serpent fits nicely into an artifact deck, but late game threats are the most replaceable cards.
It looks like we have the makings of an aggressive, white-based artifact deck, and while Cogworker's Puzzleknot is not a great card, it fits well into that shell and offers something to do in the early game. I wouldn't fault anyone for branching out here, but I like to be more conservative and keep my options open for a stronger signal.