The Best Deck You're Not Drafting
While I'd love to begin by going through a long story about why I haven't had time to write about Magic for a couple months now, I'm not going to for a number of reasons...
First off, it'd probably end up being boring as hell. Half of you already know that most of the reason I've been so busy is because of Poker, while the other half of you couldn't care less why I haven't been writing. For a while I also wasn't even playing enough Magic to feel confident enough in my ideas to put them down in an article, but as of the past month, I've started playing again on a pretty regular basis and feel like I have a lot to share.
So much for avoiding the boring stuff huh?
Anyway, in the past month of playing and doing at least a draft a day, I'm fairly certain that I've broken the MD5 draft format wide open with a single archetype. I basically go into every draft with the idea of forcing this deck in some shape or form, since the deck is extremely flexible and maximizes the power level you can obtain, while still keeping up with the tempo of the format.
The deck usually ends up being four- or five-color Blue, but can really take on any base color with a splash of tons of good removal. As you can guess, the general premise is to take the best card in most of the packs, with the idea of splashing off of the surprising number of manafixers that are available. The real foundation of the deck (though not completely necessary to be successful) is the combination of Trinket Mage with Artifact Lands (manafixing), and also powerful pieces of Equipment like Leonin Bola and Viridian Longbow. Trinket for Bola is usually game over, and the fact that he adds flexibility in other areas is just gravy.
This week alone I'm 10-0 in drafts with the archetype, and I honestly can't remember the last time I drafted a straight two-color deck in this format. The overall power level of the deck is usually so much higher because you end up splashing things like Echoing Decay, Essence Drain, Echoing Ruin, and whatever other removal slips through fourth pick or so that you'd have to just ship along if you weren't playing the 5c deck.
Anyway, instead of just glossing over all this stuff here, I think it's best to break it down into the three sets and I'll tell you what to look for when drafting and comment on some close picks.
The first set of the block has a lot of powerful removal, and most of it is very splash friendly to boot. First I'm gonna give a rough pick order for all of the good commons that the deck will want to pick early so that you can get an idea of what gets picked over what. I mean hey, it is a five color deck, some of the picks are more ambiguous since we're capable of playing anything. I'm not going to list everything here, but instead give a good idea of most of the important commons that you'll be looking for if you attempt to draft the archetype.
This is almost definitely the best common in the set in my opinion, and even more so, now that Trinket Mage has been printed. There are tons of 1/1s running around which will easily get picked off by an early Longbow, and once you reach six mana, let the machinegun begin. Obviously the Longbow wins all stalemates too, and it's colorless, so it doesn't constrain your mana.
Um yeah.. it kills stuff? Seriously though, E Bolt is probably the best common removal in the block and almost impossible to pass for anything other than a broken uncommon or rare.
I have had to make the pick of Longbow vs. Bolt before, and I have to say it's not an easy one. I ended up taking the Longbow simply because it's more flexible and has staying power, as well as the fact that Trinket Mage is severely underdrafted (though probably not after this article) on Magic Online.
The Bolt is the definition of efficiency, but the Bow wins out in my opinion because of the effect it generates in longer games.
Shatter and Neurok Spy
These two are really too close for comfort in power level. While I've yet to get them both in the same pack in the few weeks I've been forcing this archetype, I'd probably have to go with the Spy simply because I always want to be moderate-to-heavy Blue and there are plenty of other artifact kill spells in the block that I can afford to pass a Shatter and still get some. Spy is simply ridiculous, especially combined with power boosting Equipment. A real staple.
Good evasion creatures are really the backbone of the archetype, since the block sports so much splashable removal that you'll usually be able to get your hands on a good amount even if you pass some for Spy or Hoverguard. This guy also feeds off of the fact that the deck is usually fairly artifact heavy with all of the splash color Artifact Lands, as well as the Sunburst cards.
Everyone knows how good this card is by now so I'm not going to make a huge deal about it. What you should know though is that it's less powerful in this deck than in something like a dedicated W/R deck that can get a quick jump on the opponent and then finish them off with the Beam. The Beam is still a powerful piece of utility though and can help push through the team.
I almost put this guy above Hoverguard, but since I've never had to make the pick I'm really not sure which is better. I'd probably take the Somber still because it is evasion and is in our usual base color. I really can't say enough about the Archer though, as it is basically the stopping block for most of the creatures that will be in the opponent's deck. It combination of a 2/4 that can block flyers along with the Pro Artifacts is simply too good to ignore, even when on the splash. Take these high and multiples is definitely a plus.
Ditto, kills stuff. Obviously a good splash card.
Loses some of it's flair because we don't have many uses for the three Green mana it produces, but it's still artifact kill, and it can be used to power out colorless spells. It's always going to be making the cut in my decks.
Clearly important in any multicolored deck and also help accelerate and power out the Sunburst mechanic.
That covers the extremely important commons for the archetype, though I'm sure you can see that I left out quite a few. The Artifact Lands are clearly important and should be picked pretty highly, after any of the commons listed above. I also didn't note Myr Enforcer, Spikeshot Goblin, Chromatic Sphere, Wizard Replica, Goblin Replica, Cobalt Golem, and Clockwork Condor, even though they are all frequent additions to the deck.
I didn't mention the Spikeshot Goblin simply because I haven't had it that many times in the deck, and although I would willingly splash it, I'm not sure how happy I'd be with it because the only power boosting Equipment I usually play are Vulshok Morningstar, or possibly the occasional Bonesplitter or Opaline Bracers. I'm sure Spikey should be picked high though, probably somewhere around Shatter and Spy, though I haven't really had the chance to run him in the archetype enough yet.
As far as the Myr Enforcer, he's definitely solid, since you'll be aiming to get anywhere from one to four Artifact Lands in Mirrodin and most of the deck is usually artifacts anyway. Darksteel Citadel is rarely worth playing unless you have something like Somber, Enforcer, and Qumulox. The only other time I'd play it is if I was short on Trinket targets, or just wanted the ability to grab a land with him.
Your goal in Mirrodin is to pick up some solid evasion men like Spy, Archers and Hoverguard, and any of the good utility and removal spells that are available in all of the colors. The nice thing about the deck is that if you open a bomb, you can just take it since you know you'll be able to support it. Another thing to keep in mind if you end up with a base color other than Blue is to pick up a Journey of Discovery if you don't get enough Myr or offcolor Artifact Lands, since Journey is usually a fine addition.
The second set of the block is the best spot to pick up some quality splash removal. For some reason things like Echoing Decay and Essence Drain are always floating around late and you shouldn't hesitate to snap them up. One other thing to mention about Darksteel is that the Blue commons are really shallow, and you won't be picking up much of anything unless you have enough Artifacts to make Vedalken Engineer worthwhile or enough Spellbombs/Artifact Lands to pick up a few Quicksilver Behemoths. Let's look at a rough list:
I really can't say enough about this card. It's just such a powerful effect, and grossly undercosted for the impact it has on the game. Besides taking control of the board and giving you an automatic win if you have more creatures than the opponent, it's the best target for Trinket Mage and can lock the game up instantly. If you open it, it's certainly worthy of a Windmill Slam.
Another powerful Red burn spell that is almost on par with E Bolt. Multiples are more than welcome.
Mmmmmm... Shatter? Powerful for obvious reasons.
A close call between this and Echoing Ruin, and if you have a couple of artifact kill spells already I'd probably take this over it's Red brother. Nevertheless, it's a powerful kill spell and also serves as a nice combat trick by shrinking a blocker.
Somewhat clunky, but the nice thing about splashing the Drains is that you don't need to find the mana for them right away since they are more effective later in the game. The lifegain is also a nice bonus since sometimes you get off to a slow start with this archetype and once you stabilize it's nice to get back out of burn range and into a more comfortable life total.
I'm not always a huge fan of taking this card high when drafting this deck, but it is a solid piece of Equipment and if there isn't a good removal spell in the pack, I'll grab it. Sometimes I may even take a Spire Golem or something over it if I'm running a little light on creatures
That should be enough of an overview in terms of pick order, though like I said earlier the Engineer/Behemoth/Spire Golem picks should be more based on what you already have in your deck and which one of those creatures will best suit the rest of your cards. The other usual picks for the deck include the Arcbound guys like Worker, Stinger, and Bruiser, though I haven't been playing the Hybrid that much, as I really don't think it's as strong as the other three. The Stinger has really proved to be the best of the group, and after that it's a tossup between Bruiser and Worker, depending on the rest of your creatures and whether or not you need more late drops or if you have lots of good early targets for the Worker to transfer his counter to like a couple of Myr.
Another thing that I've done that worked out quite well was to"splash" a Razor Golem if I had a couple White cards on the splash (Arrest, Blinding Beam, Test of Faith, etc) and 2-3 Plains, as he's still fine even if he costs four or five. Also Darksteel Ingot isn't a bad manafixer if you can pick one up late, and Mirrodin's Core should be picked pretty early if you see one.
The goal in the Darksteel pack is usually to solidify the removal base and hopefully pick up a Bola or some other Uncommon or Rare bombs since the set is filled with them. Don't hesitate to grab Pristine Angel, Pulse of the Forge, or Savage Beating and splash em.
Finally we've come to the real source of the archetype's power, Fifth Dawn. The Sunburst mechanic is just sick in the archetype, and there a number of manafixers in the common slot to smooth out the colors.
This is the best common in the set, and possibly the best common in the entire block save Leonin Bola. Anyone who makes a strong case for Vulshok Sorcerer really has no clue what they're talking about, as this guy is the nut high if you prepare your deck for him. I even take it over most of the uncommons, and have picked it over Magma Jet and Tel-Jilad Justice before, knowing both times that it wasn't even that close of a pick when combined with the targets I could search for. This guy is the main reason that I started drafting the deck to begin with (though the deck is still good without Trinket/Bola, it's clearly more effective if you have the combo).
I love this guy, he's almost always a 4/4 and quite often a 5/5 in the archetype, as it's very easy to get full Sunburst when playing offcolor Myr and Artifact Lands as well as the usual fixers like Wayfarer's Bauble and Ingot. If your opponent can't answer it right away he'll find himself on a very quick clock.
Okay, okay, I know some of you are wondering what I'm smoking to be picking both Trinket and Manta over the powerful Plating. Trust me, in this archetype it's almost always the right order. There are times when you pick up four Artifact Lands and have a ton of cheap guys like Arcbound Worker where you may want to take this over Manta, but Trinket is almost always getting the nod over the Equipment. I'm pretty sure I don't have to explain why this card is nuts and why you should be picking it highly either.
The best manafixer in the block, it doubles as a Trinket Mage target and accelerates your land base in addition to fixing colors. Make sure you pick these high because they don't come late and it's nice to have at least one in every deck.
Thought Courier and Condescend
Again, this pick should be based more on what other cards you've already drafted and how your deck is likely to curve out. If you are going to have open mana for Condescend early then it becomes a better pick, whereas the Courier can help if you have a higher manacurve by digging for lands or spells if you happen to stall. One interesting thing I've discovered about the Courier is that it's nowhere near as good as Merfolk Looter or Cephalid Looter were in their respective formats.
What a powerful package for just one Blue mana. Multiples of these allow you to go down to fifteen land if you have some other fixers like Bauble and Myr, as casting this on turn 1 will put you in a very good position to get maximum effectiveness out of your early turns. The great thing about the card is that it's good no matter when you draw it, and it does much more than the one mana cantrips of the past like Obsessive Search or Opt.
Again, I'm going to make the list a bit brief and just comment on some of the other things going on in the last set of the block. Sometimes I end up splashing a Leonin Squire or two if I end up with enough Baubles/Spellbombs that I can abuse the Squires with. I rarely have enough Red in my deck to support something like Vulshok Sorcerer, but it's not totally out of the question. Pentad Prism is excellent if you get multiple Skyreach Mantas or a Bringer. However, if you have other fixers it's generally not that powerful unless you have a lot of heavy casting cost creatures that you can also accelerate to.
As I said earlier with Journey of Discovery, both Sylvok Explorer and Dawn's Reflection are great if you end up taking a more U/G based approach instead of just base Blue. Don't just splash the Explorer if you can help it, because splashing for a manafixer never did anybody any good. Suntouched Myr and Sawtooth Thresher are both also fine additions if you need more guys. Oh and before I forget, Clearwater Goblet is probably the best rare in the set for this type of deck and there's absolutely nothing I would take over it. A Goblet with four or five counters on it is almost impossible to race if they can't remove it, and your deck will be capable of powering it out early and at full strength quite easily.
Hopefully this will serve as a good base of information regarding the archetype so that you can try drafting it yourself. I honestly can't imagine drafting a solid two-color deck again after playing this deck draft after draft with constant success. One thing to remember is that the core color of the deck doesn't always have to be Blue. I've tried all of the colors and they all work fine, I've just found Blue to be the most successful.
Next week I plan on doing coverage of a draft where I'll show you firsthand how to put together the archetype.
Until then have fun trying out it out for yourself.
ThatsGameBoys and Soooooo on MODO
"A man raised in the small blind and I was in the big blind with AK. He made a decent raise, but I moved in on him anyway. He did not hesitate to call me. He went into the pot with a 6-3 offsuit and won with a pair of sixes. When the hand was over, he said,"I knew you didn't have anything." That was probably the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard in my life - he knew that I didn't have anything, but he had a six-high! I didn't mind losing the pot as much as I did hearing that statement."