Drafting Control in RRG
Anyone who's drafted a reasonable amount of RRG Draft will tell you that it is one of the most diverse Limited formats we've seen in quite some time. This is great news for the better players who put in the time mastering all of the archetypes, because they will then know which cards are better in which situations, and consistently out-draft the other players. While this may all seem rather obvious, what isn't as apparent is that even though it is a diverse format, there is still one deck that dominates all of the rest.
Back in triple Ravnica, it was clear that Dimir was by far the dominant guild. I remember plenty of times where I had drafted a good mill deck and wished that I could include cards like Benevolent Ancestor to help with defense — but I didn't want to wreck my mana by doing so. Enter Guildpact and the Orzhov, and now this is a very real possibility. So far, my drafting has shown UBW control to be the best archetype in this format because a lot of the cards that will go late are spectacular in the deck. I still think that Izzet is by far the overall best guild in Guildpact, but the combination of Dimir and Orzhov has just been better. Granted, if you get multiple Ogre Savants and Steamcore Weirds you could end up with a better UBR combination, but this week I want to write about the intricacies of UBW.
The first thing I want to emphasize about this deck is that, besides Vedalken Entrancer, you should usually be looking for Defense, Removal, and Card Drawing before you start drafting win conditions. Winning will take care of itself if you are able to set up an adequate defense, and significantly outdraw your opponent over the course of the game.
The Art of Defense
My main concern when drafting this archetype is to pick up a lot of the good defensive creatures that are available in these colors. Granted, you need a mix of card drawing and removal as well, and you won't get too far by just casting Drifts, Junktrollers, and Ancestors, but these guys are still the backbone of the deck.
Drift of Phantasms
I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is my second favorite card in the entire format, right behind Compulsive Research. I will take this guy over Brainspoil and Disembowel quite happily, if I'm reasonably sure I can get into this archetype. The main reason, of course, is that I'd rather be in a color combination involving Blue than Black, and also because if I pass the Black stuff I can simply plan to pick up some Black cards to splash, or maybe even dip into URW. In essence, this archetype is a UW control deck that splashes Black for some of the Dimir mill cards, as well as removal and Blind Hunter.
This guy is a very high pick in any Blue deck, and this deck is really no exception. If you'd like some more reasons why many of you still aren't taking this card high enough, please refer to, well, anything I've written on this format, and I'm sure you'll find some references to the Drift.
In many ways, this guy can be better than the Drift. If you don't have access to good Transmute targets, then the prevention ability can end up being more useful than flying. Not that I'd ever pick Ancestor over Drift, but they both perform specific functions while being almost the same card. Don't forget that this card is also excellent with Tidewater Minion.
Yeah, this guy looks pretty awful, I admit. I also admit that I've written about him before, and it may sound like I'm beating a dead horse here. The truth is that this guy is awesome in the archetype, even if only because nobody ever picks him!
I routinely pick up a “Llama” tenth pick or later, and I am very willing to play multiple copies of him in this deck if my five slot isn't overloaded. Another card that many people don't like is Flight of Fancy, and the Flight is excellent on our friend the Llama - or even just on a Benevolent Ancestor, if you want to create the poor man's Drift of Phantasms.
My main point is that you don't have to listen to me, but I strongly recommend trying this guy out. He looks like junk, but he is a great blocker, and you won't have to waste an early pick on him.
This guy is good enough just being a 4/4 wall that can untap your bounce lands to power up a massive Train of Thought. Fortunately, he also does much more, and can duplicate any kind of tap ability you have in play, whether it be Lurking Informant, Benevolent Ancestor, or Vedalken Entrancer. I wouldn't pick this card as highly in this deck, as it was much better in the Dimir mill archetype where you wanted to fire off your Entrancers as quickly as possible. The five slot is packed, now that we can play the Llama and some of the Guildpact stuff like Agent of Masks as an alternate win condition.
Adam Prosak did a great review on why this guy is so good in his “Book on Dimir” article from triple Ravnica. This guy is slightly less valuable in the new archetype, since you will usually not be as based in Black, but he is still very playable and I like having one in my deck.
Simply excellent. The best deck for this guy is one that is splashing Black and has lots of basic Plains in the deck to ensure that you can use the ability without taking manaburn from a bounce land or Signet. It helps too that you will usually be casting a wall on turn 3, and that will give this guy plenty of time to get online and effectively shut down their best creature every turn.
Some other defense cards would be Junktroller, and possibly Absolver Thrull who is very strong in this deck as he can block and also answers annoying cards like Faith's Fetters, Pillory of the Sleepless, or a Magemark. A tech card for the deck that I have used on multiple occasions is Chant of Vitu-Ghazi against an aggressive deck. The game will easily go on long enough for you to cast Chant, and it will gain you at least twenty life at that point, usually nullifying any chance your opponent had of winning. Again, another card that you will get late because nobody else wants it. Mr. Prosak also did a great job in his article detailing all of the cool things you can do with Junktroller, and if you happen to get one I would pick Tunnel Vision very highly as it's a perfect win condition for this archetype. People are also aware of the combo now, and will hate draft it, since it is no longer considered to be an absolute “junk” rare.
I'd also like to mention Mourning Thrull in this section, since I almost always have one in my deck and I consider it to be more of a defense card than an aggro one since the lifegain is far more important than the damage it will deal.
Removal & Bounce
Normally removal is the top of the ladder in most control decks. This is still sometimes the case in this archetype, depending on what you already have drafted, but the majority of the time I will take Vedalken Entrancer or Drift of Phantasms over anything that isn't Last Gasp or Faith's Fetters in the common slot. Some of you may think this is awful, but it's been working out very well for me.
I'm not a huge fan of this one. It costs double Black and is clunky in a three-color deck. I will always take it if there are no better options, and usually end up playing it, but it isn't anywhere near the top of the list of cards that I want in my deck.
This is something to be excited about, and the best common you can open for the deck in Ravnica. Both Last Gasp and Compulsive Research are close in power level to this catchall solution, but unless I have some very specific reason, Fetters will usually win out if there is a choice between two of the three top commons. What really puts this over the top is the lifegain attached to it. This deck isn't particularly speedy and will usually get beaten down early, and Fetters is exactly what you need to stay at a reasonable life total until you get things under control.
Douse in Gloom
This card is fine, even if it is a bit overrated by the average Magic player. The lifegain again is nice for this deck, but the problem is that it just doesn't kill enough, and you are usually not that happy to topdeck it in the mid-late game.
By all means take it and play it, but it's not an All-Star. [And thus, it won't be played at the Invitational. — Craig]
Pillory of the Sleepless
This is good for the same reasons as Fetters, except that it can't stop the activated abilities that are sometimes problematic for this deck. In exchange, you get a potential win condition if you plan on using evasion as your kill method. Pillory is a valuable commodity in this deck, and by far the best Guildpact common for the archetype.
I'm not a huge fan of this card, but it is better in this archetype than in any of the others I've played it in. The reason of course is because this deck has an easier time controlling the board, and more time to develop its mana, which will make Repeal more effective.
This card has been insane for me in UBR, but somehow it is actually not good at all in this deck. Think of it this way: if you have a bunch of Walls out and you bounce your opponent's entire side, what does that get you? The answer is pretty much nothing, since you can't take advantage of the tempo, you can't get in one big swing with your team since most of them can't attack, and you certainly can't start a loop with Izzet Chronarch unless you are the four-color special. Don't pick this card highly, and only play it if you have to in this deck. I'd take Train of Thought over it almost every time in these colors.
I realize I didn't cover all of the bounce and removal available in this section, but I simply wanted to hint on some of the ones that really matter in the archetype (or those that should be avoided). Vedalken Dismisser is another card that doesn't do a whole lot in this archetype, since you can't use it for tempo advantage. As a general rule I'd also take Darkblast over Disembowel, if anyone were wondering. Finally, I felt no real need to mention Last Gasp here, even though it is the best removal behind Fetters because c'mon... the card is pretty self-explanatory.
The main reason I like casting Walls (or Defenders, I should say) is because then I can sit behind them and draw cards until my opponent has no real outs to the board situation. Certain drawers are also much better than others in this deck.
Flight of Fancy
I've heard that a lot of people don't like this card, because it is too easy to just kill the creature in response. Well guess what: this deck really doesn't have too much of a problem there, since almost all of the creatures you would be putting Flight onto have at least four toughness.
Didn't manage to get any Drift of Phantasms? No problem, just suit up a Llama with some wings and you're good to go.
This card is probably only going to get better once UG comes out in Dissention, so I'd advise that you start liking it now since you're probably going to want your big Green men to be able to fly and the cost is very cheap here with the draw two attached. I love this card in the archetype, and will happily play two.
The best card drawing spell in the format, bar none. To reiterate an earlier statement, I wouldn't take any commons over this except Fetters or Gasp and I am always happy with multiples of this in my deck.
Train of Thought
So you're telling me I get to cast walls and then ramp my mana and fire this off for three or four cards?
I always want at least one of these in my deck and depending on what other card drawing I have, two is always fine by me. Tidewater Minion helps here too, and so do bounce lands.
Consult the Necrosages
I've never liked this card that much and always felt it was overrated, and this deck really accentuates that line of thinking. I wouldn't pick it if you could help it and I would certainly try to avoid playing it with so many better options out there, like Train, Flight, and Research. I do, however, think this is a fine sideboard option against another control deck if you are planning to use the discard option.
As far as other options go, Dimir Guildmage is obviously pretty awesome in the deck, and I really haven't been playing Flow of Ideas that much since my manabase usually includes at least three bounce lands and I'm also running three colors. Between Train, Flight, and Research, you should be fine on card drawing options, and shouldn't have a problem grabbing a few copies of whichever is available.
Finally, Crystal Seer is pretty strong in this deck as you usually have plenty of time to use his ability, and even bounce him to good effect in order to help out your draws in the mid-game.
So now that we've got a full hand and the board has been locked down by removal and big-butt creatures... how exactly does this deck win the game?
This is the traditional method, and anything in the Dimir category works well here. Entrancer is obviously the best, and Lurking Informant is also easy on the mana. I would also still pick Psychic Drain or Glimpse highly, as they are very nice in this deck and go up in value if you can get Junktroller to Transmute them back up for a second casting.
I don't feel any huge need to go on more about this type of kill, as it is very strong and most of you probably have some experience from the Dimir archetype before and should be able to transfer that knowledge over successfully. One word of warning is that Induce Paranoia isn't as great in this deck, because you will be tapping out a lot more and also want to cast Train of Thought on the turns you would usually leave up mana for Induce. I will usually still play at least one if I can get it as a mid-late pick, but I don't actively go looking for them. Convolute is also awesome in this deck, as it's easy on the mana and buys you time to get set up.
This is pretty obvious as well, though there are some nice new additions to the flying armada in the form of Blind Hunter and Mourning Thrull. Both also gain life, which is nice. My advice is to pick fliers when you can, but don't be taking them over important defensive elements or removal. That's right, don't let me catch you taking Snapping Drake over Drift of Phantasms just because you already have one Drift. You should be happily taking the second one and looking for some Transmute targets for them!
When all else fails, you can just drain someone out if you have multiple Agents or Pillories. Most players have yet to figure out that Agent of Masks is a great card and you should have little problem getting them. Pillory, on the other hand, is tougher, but this plan is mainly a nice boost to the evasion plan anyway, and I would try to avoid relying on only this as your win condition.
Yep, it gets its own paragraph.
Not only is this card very playable in almost any deck that can cast it, it's a downright bomb in this archetype. I'd go as far as to say that if you cast it you will win the game, because the board should be more than stabilized at that point and you have plenty of lifegain to ensure at least ten tokens and a two turn clock. If you are drafting with people who don't know what this does, I'd try to table it once... but if they have a clue you better just pick it high.
Ghosts of the Innocent
I probably sound like a broken record at this point, constantly talking about this card and Dromad Purebred, but the Ghosts really has found a home in this deck. I've drafted three separate decks that had this guy, and I've never lost a game where it wasn't immediately Brainspoiled or Disemboweled. When this guy is in play it's like sitting around watching paint dry, and that's exactly how I like it! After that happens, you should have absolutely no problem milling your opponent out, or draining him to death. Remember too that this guy completely hoses token strategies and is essentially unkillable by damage.
Now that I've gone through all of the areas of this deck individually, my basic strategic overview is as follows. Your first goal should be to get some guys down to slow down your opponent. You usually won't have a whole lot of removal, so try to use it sparingly and deal with annoying Screeching Griffins, Fangtails, or whatever else they throw at you. Don't just go blowing Last Gasps to save a few damage if one of your Walls will come down in a turn or so to handle the situation. This deck is very big on resource management and overpowering people, so use your removal wisely. After that, keep the game locked and eventually find some way to win. It's really that simple.
- 1 Junktroller
- 2 Benevolent Ancestor
- 1 Blind Hunter
- 1 Drift of Phantasms
- 2 Dromad Purebred
- 1 Ghosts of the Innocent
- 1 Lurking Informant
- 1 Mourning Thrull
- 1 Ostiary Thrull
- 1 Shrieking Grotesque
- 1 Snapping Drake
- 1 Tattered Drake
- 1 Vedalken Entrancer
This is a more aggressive version of the deck than I'm used to playing. As you can see, this build barely has any Black in it at all, and is essentially UW control. Clearly the main win condition is fliers, though the lone Entrancer and Informant can also steal a game.
- 1 Agent of Masks
- 1 Dimir House Guard
- 1 Drift of Phantasms
- 2 Dromad Purebred
- 1 Droning Bureaucrats
- 2 Lurking Informant
- 1 Roofstalker Wight
- 1 Stinkweed Imp
- 1 Tidewater Minion
- 1 Vedalken Entrancer
- 1 Szadek, Lord of Secrets
This deck is almost the polar opposite of the first deck, since it is based more in Dimir and is splashing for Pillory and the other good White cards.
Hopefully this article has given you a good idea how to draft a controlling archetype in RRG, and helped with some card evaluations as well.
See ya later.
Soooooo on MTGO