Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gotta Catch Em All (SoM Archetypes) # 3 - "U/W Skies"

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Today we're going to continue with our multi-part series on deck archetypes in triple SoM drafts; "Gotta Catch Em All".  We started by talking about the near-ubiquitous "Frontrunners" in the format; B/G Infect and R/W Metalcraft.  This time I'd like to look at a deck that's only slightly less popular than those two and a perennial favorite in limited regardless of the format; U/W Skies.  To stretch our previous "Cola Wars" analogy to the very limit; if Infect is Coca-Cola and R/W Metalcraft is Pepsi than U/W Skies is probably 7UP or Sprite.

Description:  While I can't say for sure, I'm willing to bet that this deck-style was played in the very first 8 man booster drafts ever conducted on this planet; that's how old/battle-tested U/W Skies is as an archetype.  The basic concept is very simple; play cheap effective flyers, muck up the ground with "walls"/defensive cards and use spot removal and tempo effects to keep your opponent from getting back into the game.  While traditionally annoying to most "dirtfarming groundpounder" aggro decks this combination of fast/evasive aggro creatures and time wasting defensive strategies makes it almost impossible to outrace this kind of deck in Limited; even with a much cheaper curve!  The only real solution is to kill the opponent's flyer's and then drop a massive bomb to reclaim board control; which is exactly why most U/W Skies decks run a couple counterspells to ruin the late game comeback party.  While you will often draft enough artifacts to trigger Metalcraft in the late game this deck is primarily composed of colored cards with it's preferred artifacts being power-boosting Equipment cards.      

Key Cards: While I haven't drafted this deck very often in Scars I have played *against* it at least 30 times simply because it's so popular.  One of the best reasons to play this archetype here in SoM is because none of the key creatures are rated all that highly in other decks in the format; this allows you to load up on removal and equipment cards with your first few picks before filling out your deck from pick 5 and on.

The absolute best commons in this archetype are probably Arrest, Tumble Magnet, Revoke Existence and Stoic Rebuttal.  These cards form the core of U/W Skies control package and along with Sky-Eel School, Glint Hawk Idol and Slyvok Lifestaff represent the only commons you'll really have to compete for while drafting.  Pick these cards early and often; the rest of the deck is pretty interchangeable but these represent the very best options U/W Skies has in terms of commons.  Assuming you do managed to grab some equipment Sunspear Shikari works fine in this build and will also have to be drafted sometime around picks 4-6 if you want to get one.  Neurok Replica, Soliton and Wall of Tanglechord are also all excellent additions to this archetype in the common slot and likely can be had mid-pack quite easily.

The best uncommons for this archetype are powerful control cards like Volition Reins, Rust Tick, Dispense Justice (even if you're only killing 1 guy), Contagion Clasp or Trigon of Corruption.  Additionally any deck built around a significant number of flying creatures will want to prioritize power-boosting cards like Darksteel Axe, Trigon of Rage or Barbed Battlegear.  Assuming you manage to snag a few copies of Solition you'll also want to try and grab a copy of Heavy Arbalest; while both decent cards in their own right they form a game winning combo when combined.  The top two creatures in the uncommon slot for this deck are probably Razor Hippogriff and Darkslick Drake; not necessarily in that order.  Golem Artisan is also a fine "man" with the ability to turn himself or other artifact creatures into a Flyer with a 2 mana investment.  While not suitable for every U/W Skies decks it's also worth noting that the Glimmerpoint Stag is amazing in pretty much any deck with either 187 effects (cards that say "when X enters the battlefield) or counters of any kind (for example Tumble Magnet).        

In terms of rares this deck wants to steer away from Metalcraft or artifact specific cards like Tempered Steel and Grand Architect.  Don't mistake the forest for the trees however; a card like Argent Sphinx is going to be very strong in this deck-type even if you *never* reach Metalcraft.  In fact it's pretty much a given that if it's rare, on color/artifact and it flies you'll want it; Indomitable Archangel, Sunblast Angel and Steel Hellkite can all win you games in this format very easily.  Finally of course rare equipment cards that boost power are just as highly sought after as their uncommon/common counterparts.  Strata Scythe/Sword of Body and Mind are probably the best of the lot but there's no reason to pass Argentum Armor, Livewire Lash or Nim Deathmantle in this build.  Other excellent choices include Elspeth, Kemba Kha Regent (assuming some equipment), True Conviction, Quicksilver Gargantuan, Venser, Contagion Engine, Mimic Vat, Molten-Tail Masticore, Myr Battlesphere, Precursor Golem and everyone's favorite; Wurmcoil Engine.  If this seems like most of the non Proliferate/Metalcraft dependant on-color/artifact rares in the format that's because almost any such "gold" card will fit into this archetype; feel free to draft and play virtually any bombs you open!

Over-rated Options:  The key to remember is that this deck isn't really a Metalcraft deck; it can often achieve metalcraft by slamming a bunch of equipment and walls into play but it prioritizes drafting colored flyers and control cards too highly to consistently hit and maintain Metalcraft in the early game.  As a result all 3 of the available "flyers" that say Metalcraft should be avoided; Auriok Sunchaser, Lumengrid Drake and Snapsail Glider.  Ditto for Vedalkan Certarch, Chrome Steed, Myrsmith, Rusted Relic and Riddlesmith; all cards that want you to be playing artifacts early rather than later.  Fan-favorite Glint Hawk is also pretty questionable in this build unless you have a bunch of cheap equipment or some artifacts you really want to bounce back into play; Trigon of Rage and Tumble Magnet are both good examples.  In most cases the Hawk will simply end up being the worst Kemba Skyguard ever by costing you upwards of 3 mana to cast and then replay the artifact you bounced.  Unless you *do* end up with a number of cards that randomly say Metalcraft even on-color mana Myr are fairly irrelevant.  Yes then can help you cast 5CC flyers on turn 4 but if your Myr aren't feeding a late game artifact based strategy you really aren't getting fair value compared to when you'll have to pick them.  Alternately Trigon of Thought makes a decent "1 of" in slower versions of this archetype but don't get carried away with adding to many of them and certainly don't get caught picking the blue Trigon early when it can be had much later in most packs.  Both Flight and Origin Spellbomb will typically have poor synergy with this build; you don't really need the artifact creature and most of your deck *already* has flying.  Finally; I'm not really a huge fan of Bonds of Quicksilver, Neurok Invisimancer, Screeching Silcaw or Auriok Replica in this build despite the fact that my opponents frequently seem to include them.  While I feel each of these cards has a role in the deck's sideboard I just don't think any of them offer enough return value to make me want to play them maindeck.

How does it Win?:  This deck works in SoM booster draft because creatures tend to come in two basic types in this format; fast aggressive weenies or big expensive fatties.  U/W's unique combination of cheap flyers, high toughness "walls" and bounce/tempo effects make it almost impossible to over-run in the early game while still allowing it to outrun enemy fatties.  It's borderline impossible to attack through never-ending waves of Neurok Replicas, Wall of Tanglecords, Plated Seastriders and Solitons.  Even W can get in on the action providing you with 1/5 and 2/4 Elephants to clog up the ground game.  This usually makes games a question of establishing an early defense and dropping some flyers.  Once your opponent plays either something that can outrace you or something that can block/kill your flyers aggressively attack it with your removal/counters.  While many of these answers may be temporary in nature most of the time this deck archetype will have little trouble finishing it's opponent off before he "breaks through"; playing U/W Skies means winning a *lot* of games by a turn or 2.   

Back-Half All Stars:  One of the major reasons to play this archetype is the sheer amount of value it gets out of cards nobody else at the table wants.  Kemba's Skyguard may be the perfect example; it has very little value in a Metalcraft aggro deck because it's a colored cards and it's only 2 power.  In this build however it's pretty much ideal; it not only buys you time with 2 free life but it provides everything Sunsail Glider promises to be for the Metalcraft player but without all the fuss of waiting around for 3 artifacts.  Shockingly this card is often available around picks 7-10.  Plated Seastrider may be even worse; a 1/4 blocker for UU more than "playable" in this deck-type and yet you'll frequently see Seastriders passed as late as picks 12-14!  Considering it's overall power and versatility there's no way Disperse should be sitting in packs as long as has been either; let them roll by early and you're almost guaranteed to wheel 1 or 2 very late in a given pack (picks 10-12).   Remember folks, Disperse says "non-land permanent"; it's *way* more than just an expensive Unsummon in this format.  Finally due to the underwhelming nature of U as a whole in this draft format be on the lookout for weird "slides"; I've seen Neurok Replicas and Stoic Rebuttals going as late as picks 9 and 10.  This absolutely *is* a signal that you should be in Blue; those are great cards and when people treat them like chaff it's always a good idea to remind them of their mistake.      

Overall Rating:  While neither as fast as Metalcraft or as consistent as Infect this deck is in many ways more frustrating to play against than either.  It's *very* easy to drag games out in this format by combining solid flyers with high toughness speedbumps; a huge number of decks in the format simply have no answers whatsoever for this strategy.  Additionally because this build is comprised almost entirely of cards other decks don't value highly it's pretty easy to force this archetype at almost any Draft table in the entire world.  With that having been said however it lags slightly behind R/W Metalcraft and Infect in terms of raw power; it's not going to win many games *for* you and it requires at least reasonable playskill to win with.  In light of these factors, 7 out 10 seem seems pretty fair to me.

There you have it folks, a one page primer on probably the 3rd most popular decktype in the entire SoM draft format; U/W Skies.  With this article we've now covered the 3 most "basic" archetypes Scars has to offer.  Hopefully you've found this useful either in drafting or playing against these incredibly common decktypes but now the *real* fun begins.  Join me next time here on the Cardboard Witch when we take a closer look at one of my favorite rogue decks; G/R Dinosaurs and Wurms!

PS: Never let it be said that I don't check my facts; tonight I drafted triple SoM and purposely forced U/W Skies to make sure I hadn't missed anything in this review!  Check the comments section of this article for a decklist an a brief report.

1 comment:

  1. Okay so heres the deck I eventually built sorted by type (creature/spell/land/sideboard), title and casting cost:

    2x Sunspear Shikari
    1x Wall of Tanglecord
    1x Auriok Replica (ick!)
    2x Kemba, Kha Regent (I opened neither of these)
    1x Myr Galvanizer
    2x Neurok Replica
    1x Palladium Myr
    1x Trinket Mage
    2x Razor Hippogriff
    1x Quicksilver Gargantuan

    1x Accorder's Shield
    2x Origin Spellbomb
    1x Disperse
    1x Revoke Existence
    1x Arrest
    2x Barbed Battlegear
    1x Stoic Rebuttal

    7x Island
    10x Plains

    1x Glint Hawk
    1x Screeching Silcaw
    1x Loxodon Wayfarer
    1x Heavy Arbalest
    1x Scrapdiver Serpent

    I chose the Arbalest like 4th pick pack 1 because I thought I would eventually see a Soliton; I never did. My first 3 picks were Quicksilver Gargantuan, Kemba and Razor Hippogriff so I decided to force U/W Skies on the spot to "double check" my article. Early in pack 2 I was passed the 2nd Kemba and I began aggressively scouring for equipment to finish the deck's sub theme; eventually nailing 3 and a Trinket Mage that could fish the Accorder's Shield.

    Despite several close games I went 3-0 (6-0) and won the tournament. I played a R metalcraft deck with a splash of W and 2 B/G Infect decks that seemed to be splitting all the same cards.