Friday, December 3, 2010

Gotta Catch Em All (SoM Deck Archetypes) # 5 - "U/R Metalcraft"

Hello everyone out there reading along in Internetlands; welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  For those of you just joining us, recently this blog has featured a multi-part series on deck archetypes in triple SoM booster drafts; "Gotta Catch Em All".  After taking a day off to recharge my batteries I'm pretty excited to get right back at it!  Lets dive in and look at our 5th deck archetype and yet another deck that appears in almost every SoM 8 man booster draft at least once; U/R Metalcraft.

Description:  While there is a certain tendency to assume that all Metalcraft decks are pretty much the same, careful observation over a number of drafts prove this statement blatantly untrue.  Just because we all share the same pool of artifacts to draw from doesn't mean that each functional color combination wants to use them in the same way.  While W/R and W/B versions of this deck will generally try to swarm you quickly with hordes of aggressive artifact creatures, U/R Metalcraft on the other hand is very much a control deck at heart.  Using a combination of Red's cheap removal, Blue's walls/defensive cards and powerful artifact creatures this deck stalls the game out early before clubbing you to death with Metalcraft enhanced effects/artifact creatures in the mid-late game.  Obviously like any Metalcraft based deck in the format this archetype is heavily dependent on playing artifacts, generally meaning it will have room for 8-10 on-color cards at most and these will often be some form of removal. 

Key Cards: Unfortunately part of the trade-off you make when you build a deck around the Metalcraft trait is having to pick artifacts higher than you otherwise would.  That isn't to say you should be passing a lot of Red removal to 1st or 2nd pick a Chrome Steed but ultimately you're going to need about 14-16 artifacts to make this deck work and you won't have them if you spend all of your early picks on colored cards.  Thankfully most of the Blue removal in the format can be had with later picks; you should therefore prioritize Red removal cards, Volition Reins and powerful artifact creatures more highly and use later picks to fill out the deck's Blue cards.

In terms of commons this deck archetype is actually quite strong; Galvanic Blast and Shatter are probably the absolute best although Neurok Replica gives them a good run for their money.  Depending on your draft table you may not even have to pick the Replica all that highly; many people simply haven't figured out how powerful it is in this format.  Sitting just behind those 3 cards are Turn to Slag, Vulshok Replica, Tumble Magnet, Perilous Myr, Sylvok Lifestaff, Sky-Eel School (be mindful of your # of colored cards though), Chrome Steed and both of the on-color mana Myr.  These cards will all be high picks in other archetypes as well so it's important that you make a concerted effort to load up on them early since you likely won't see additional copies later in a pack.  Thankfully U/R Metalcraft is one of the best archetypes at squeezing maximum value out of cards other decks won't value highly; we'll talk more about some of these cards later on in this article but for now keep cards like Stoic Rebuttal, Accorder's Shield, Solition, Snapsail Glider, Lumengrid Drake, Disperse, Strider Harness and Wall of Tanglecord in mind as late pack common options in this archetype.

One of the major pitfalls of playing U/R Metalcraft is properly ranking the amazing uncommons available to this archetype.  It's very easy to fall in love with SoM's many broken uncommon artifact creatures and forget all about the 3 best cards available; Arc Trail, Volition Reins and Oxidda Scrapmeleter.  The only uncommon artifact creature that's even close to "on-par" with these cards is Golem Artisan; regardless all four cards will certainly be highly sought after by numerous people at your draft table and you *will* be forced to pick them early.  Assuming you have enough cheap artifacts Embersmith is also literally "off the chain" and should be picked early; don't bother if all of your artifacts cost 4-5 however as he works much better as an early game Myr assassin.  Other excellent options include Contagion Clasp, Darkslick Drake, Rust Tick, a Barrage Ogre (but not more than 1 usually), Palladium Myr, Necropede, Trigon of Corruption and Rusted Relic.  While I'm not a huge fan of the various uncommon power boosting artifacts I've seen Darksteel Axe, Trigon of Rage and even Barbed Battlegear perform reasonably well in this design.  The same thing can be said for Riddlesmith although I like the card way less than most people; I rarely have room for "extra" land and every time I've used this card I find myself  constantly discarding cards I need later.  Finally depending on how many Solitons you've drafted (2 being ideal) it may be worth aggressively drafting a Heavy Arbalest or two.  Machine-gunning your opponent or his creatures for 2 Damage a turn for each Island you have in play is both ridiculously fun and frighteningly effective.  

Like most decks in this format the number of good rares you can play in U/R Metalcraft vastly exceeds the number of rares you shouldn't play.  Particular favorites of mine include Precursor Golem, Grand Architect and Mimic Vat (imprinting a dead artifact creature).  Other "broken" options include recursive or regenerating cards like Argent Sphinx, Molten-Tail Masticore and Kuldotha Phoenix.  Finally the general defensive/control-ish nature of U/R Metalcraft make mass board-sweeping cards like Cerebral Erruption and Contagion Engine more effective; albeit only slightly in terms of the already awesome Engine.  Otherwise the general policy should be to "smoke em if you've got em"; virtually any of the good rares here in SoM work well in this archetype completely regardless of their interaction with Artifacts.  Even a giant fat monster like Quicksilver Gargantuan can always just copy your best artifact creature in play! 

Over-rated Options: Without putting too fine a point on it the fact is that artifact cards are what make Metalcraft decks work; if a card has a colored border it had better be VERY good or it's not going to make the final cut.  In Blue this probably means leaving cards like Bonds of Quicksilver, Neurok Invisimancer, Plated Seastrider, Thrummingbird and any more than one copy of Halt Order in your sideboard.  Even a card like Trinket Mage is unlikely to be *that* good for you unless your deck is more aggro orientated than the usual U/R Metalcraft build.  Fishing out a Flight or Panic Spellbomb isn't exactly bad but neither of those cards are overtly good in this build either; mostly serving as placeholders for Metalcraft before letting you draw a card in the mid-late game once you have better artifacts in play.  As far as Blue rares go I think it's pretty safe to say that Dissipation Field, Inexorable Tide and Shape Anew have absolutely no place in this archetype. Alternately Red provides potential trap cards like Blade-Tribe Berserkers (bad in a control deck typically), Barrage Ogre (1 is good, 2 is a way to lose Metalcraft quickly) and a whole pile of colored creatures that don't say artifact anywhere on them.  As far as unplayable rares Molten Psyche and Tunnel Ignus both qualify for this distinction.  Aside from the previously mentioned Spellbombs there are several artifacts that look much better in this build than they perform.  Clone Shell and Darksteel Sentinel are both fairly overpriced for what they do for example; although in a deck short on bombs a single Darktseel Sentinel can serve as a reasonable facsimile.  I'm also not overtly fond of Lux Cannon, Mindslaver, Tower of Calamities and Platinum Emperion for the same reason.  Memnite is also typically overdrafted; you should only be included them out of desperation or in a VERY aggro based version of this deck (think multiple Crome Steeds/Rusted Relics).  Finally I don't consider rares like Grindclock, Myr Propogator, Semblance Anvil and Vensers Journal to be even playable in this build no matter how desperate you are for artifacts.

How Does it Win:  Like most good control decks U/R Metalcraft will spend the early game trying to tie it's opponent up and establish some sense of board control while spilling artifacts onto the table.  This works because Red's access to cheap removal and Blue's defensive card base make a strong pairing while both colors work well with artifact-based strategies.  This "durability" allows the U/R player to take his time and focus on playing *good* artifacts rather than simply cheap ones; cards like Chrome Steed and Rusted Relic for example.  Once a critical mass of artifacts have been achieved the U/R player uses Metalcraft enhanced Monsters to "Alpha-Strike" his opponent to death in a few short turns.  While ultimately it may take this type of a deck 9-10 turns to establish board control and activate Metalcraft the game is typically over very quickly once it does.

Back-Half All Stars:  In terms of getting great value off cards that nobody else really wants Blue decks are typically "king"; Disperse and Stoic Rebuttal in particular offer insane value for where they can be picked (6-9th and 10th-12th respectively).  Things get even better when the Blue deck in question features a pile of artifacts because in the right deck both Lumengrid Drake and Veldaken Certarch are borderline broken.  Nobody else is going to want these cards because they represent the kind of "high varience" Metalcraft card that aggro decks are trying to avoid (ie great with but worthless without active Metalcraft).  I've seriously picked both cards anywhere from 9th-13th in the past.  The key is to avoid drafting too many of these guys; remember you only have room for 9-10 colored cards in total and you're going to want to spend several of these slots on choice removal.  Finally keep an eye out of mid-late pack Solitons; I'm not entirely sure why but for some reason people don't like this card very much.  While it's true that 5 mana for a 3 power beater is a little bit pricey the fact that he's both 4 toughness and an artifact creature more than makes up for it imho.  Throw in his ability to "stand up" whenever you have a spare Blue mana lying around and you end up with a pretty solid value.  Obviously this card moves from "solid" into the "oh my gosh it can do WHAT?" zone the moment you add a Heavy Arbalest to the equation!

Overall Rating:  After drafting this deck a couple of times and then playing against it another 10-12 matches I've come to two basic conclusions:

A) The "perfect" version of this deck archetype would be one of the most powerful decks in the entire format.
B) It's almost impossible to draft the "perfect" version of this deck simply because it's so dependent on specific rares and uncommons.

With cards like Grand Architect, Kuldotha Phoenix, Argent Sphinx or even a couple of copies of Golem Artisan this deck is downright broken.  Without them however it becomes just another slow/mana intensive control deck in a format with several other decks that match that description.  This lack of consistency makes drafting this deck an exercise in keeping calm and refusing to fight the packs; in my experience forcing this decktype when it's simply "not there" is a good way to 1-2 more often than not.  Once again the sheer "variance" between a good version of this deck and a "forced" version prevents me from rating it as high as the very best decks in the format.  6 out 10 seems about right although again when a U/R Metalcraft drafter hits "tha nutz" this rating could quite easily shoot up to 8.
Well gang that pretty much wraps up our short primer on U/R Metalcraft in SoM booster draft.  Hopefully these archetype reviews have been helpful to those of you out there drafting; I know for example that someone I played against tonight was absolutely playing a version of U/W Skies tonight after reading the 3rd article.  If nothing else these reviews should make it easier to spot what your *opponents* might be doing in the format; recognizing archetypes is a very important skill here in SoM booster draft.  Until next time folks remember that a Metalcraft enhanced Galvanic Blast to the 'dome is worth of a full 20% of your opponent's life and always keep it weird.



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