For the actual Magical content, skip down a page or so. For some light-hearted content, don’t.
I didn’t go to States this year. Oddly enough, it feels like I say this same sentence every year, even though I’ve only skipped the past two years. I enjoy battling, especially in a new format far too many people have already written off as "Just Ramp" in the same way I write off their opinions as "Insipid." The problem for me came from two angles. The first being my friend Dave and the second being Sacramento. See Dave, is a guy who I used to play a lot of Magical cards with back in the day and was one of my favorite people to test Vintage with. Largely because he was a cynical dick who felt the compulsive need to mock everything and everyone around him, offset by his general misery and adeptness at being a slightly less miserable drinker.
Dave actually wanted to battle some Magic and hang out for the first time in roughly a year. Unfortunately unable to net himself a deck, we settled on drafting at Superstars (Home of everyone writing for this site except anyone named PV, Brad, Zaiem, and anyone named Ruel) which was holding all-day drafts for 10 dollars. Hanging out with someone who I actually enjoyed the company of and hadn’t seen in forever was a solid motivator, plus Scars is one of the best Limited formats I’ve played in quite some time, so it was hardly drafting Shards or anything miserable.
The second unfortunate part is Sacramento, which is home to two things. The first is stone nothing which makes for not only a boring two to two-and-a-half hour drive, but one of the most miserable post-tournament experiences imaginable. You can actually win something in Sac and still be miserable until you get home, because all the people you carpooled with are ready to curl into bed and die. The second thing in Sac-town is the actual establishment which is basically a crusty, dusty, cramped and very hot storage shed duck taped onto the side of a hobby store. Despite this impediment, I am likely going to PTQ there at least once this season. Hooray.
Combining these two factors led to me picking all-day drafts over States. At first I figured this would be a close decision, but after arriving and seeing a billion grinders at the store including Josh Utter-Leyton (U.S. National Champion) and Matt Nass (3-1’d a Prerelease once) I realized I wasn’t going to see all that many friends at States. In the end out of everyone I asked and confirmed was going to States, around two actually went. Whoops. What I did see was about 100 people taking part in drafts at the store, which was about as good as it gets outside of MODO queues filling every 30 seconds.
Now that the tangential introduction is complete, let’s move to the meat of the article, which is building archetypes in Scars draft. For the first time in quite a while, you’re actually being rewarded for going with a theme deck in a legitimate fashion. Even the words ‘theme deck’ doesn’t really explain what’s going on in the set, rather any deck with a significant amount of synergy is going to typically include a theme due to the nature of the format. However most of the time synergy was trumped by overpowered bombs and a mish-mash of good cards in draft formats like Zendikar, Rise, and the M sets. Scars is different though; you can still run a mash-up of good cards and win, but you need to build around a plan or you risk losing to decks that execute a coherent plan each game.
A good example of a deck building around more of a specific plan is B/R Aggro which Conley Woods wrote about in his last article. Note that while all the usual B/R suspects are there, there remains a perfectly valid strategy in the colors that have it based around Furnace Celebration and you can also have it go down an infect route with the right cards. While many of these strategies will value 70% of the cards the same, the remainder are variable depending on what version of the deck you want to bring to the table. Instead of having just one way to play a set of colors this format encourages creativity and taking advantage of what’s actually open in those colors.
I’ve seen a number of people on my Facebook complain about control decks not having great options and that strikes me as wrong. My favorite color combinations for control decks are UB and UG, largely because Plated Seastrider and Wall are amazing and go pretty late. Ok, ok, so that’s only half the reason, the rest is because Vedalken Certarch does a lot of work and so many non-infect cards in green and black work very well in control. The number of decks that have problems with a T-Rex (Alpha Tyrannax) is staggering to me, and if you ever slap a piece of equipment on him like Bladed Pinions the game gets out of hand as quickly as if you had played a bomb such as Steel Hellkite or Geth.
Of course I don’t mean to sell infect short and you can most certainly make a control deck where infect is still the main win condition. See the key is that it only takes a handful of infect cards to get the job done; Trigon of Infestation is a great example of a card that will win you the game given enough time. Same goes with Tangle Angler and even Ichor Rats backed by proliferate. Being able to force your infect guys through and leveraging the rest of your deck in a fashion that isn’t stopped by a few timely blockers or removal spells is a stark contrast to many of the all-in BG infect decks I see.
Archetypes in general include:
Metalcraft decks: blue, white, W/R, W/G, W/U, G/R, G/U, U/B
Infect decks: green, black, B/G, B/R, G/R, B/U, G/U
Proliferate: G/U, B/U, G/B/U
Aggro: red, white, R/B, G/R, W/B,
Control: blue, U/G, U/B, U/R, B/R, G/B/x
Other trick decks: Furnace Celebration, Kudotha Rebirth, Myr
You’ll note that a number of color combos overlap in some categories and that others have been left off. I’m only going off what I’ve seen and feedback about what works in terms of solid color combos. As you can see, every color combo can have a viable mono-color deck, though more often than not they’ll have a splash for one or two cards or simply the activated abilities of a Spellbomb or Replica. It’s basically free, so why not run with it if you’re going mono color?
Also note that many of the metalcraft and infect decks can be built both ways depending on what was available in the draft and preference of the drafter. I’m seen aggressive metalcraft B/U decks where Blistergrub, Moriok Reaver, Necrogen Scudder and Lumengrid Drake were the name of the game. Essentially the deck would abuse metalcraft just for cards like the Drake, Vedalken Certarch and a few uncommons like Rusted Relic and Riddlesmith. While the aggressive versions would be buying tempo with the Metalcraft cards and pursuing a beatdown plan, other variations would be built around the same type of metalcraft cards, but focused more on defense with a greater emphasis on snagging a few proliferate cards and defenders like Neurok Replica, Wall of Tanglecord and Plated Seastrider to hold down the fort until bombs came online.
The key to building a successful archetype is to read the signals early, plotting out a plan for the deck and forcing it without reservation. People who end up with half and half decks are not going to be very successful in this format unless their average card quality is very high. In one team draft I did, I was terribly disappointed to see that my teammates had drafted half an infect deck and half of red aggro deck with slow defensive blue cards attached. Seeing Neurok Replica and Oxidda Daredevil on the same curve didn’t fill me with joy. When we ended up with a total of three match wins, two coming from me and one coming from Skittles (Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon) it helped inspire writing out the article.
Speaking of infect cards, here’s my general ranking after a bunch of drafts:
Obviously: Skittles, Hand of the Praetors and Grafted Exoskeleton (Unfocused infect build)
Great: Tangle Angler, Ichor Rats, Grafted Exoskeleton (infect done right), Putrefax
Good: Corpse Cur, Plague Stinger, Ichorclaw Myr, Necropede
Eh: Cystbearer, Tel-Jilad Fallen, Blight Mamba, Contagious Nim, Trigon of Infestation
Poop: Carrion Call, Blackcleave Goblin, Vector Asp
The reason for the double rank on Grafted Exoskeleton is if you have a really good infect deck, it’ll largely consist of 10-12 infect guys, either pump or proliferate and ways to force your attacks through and almost any non-infect guys will be utility or Myr. If you have a more mediocre one, then you’ll have some ‘real’ creatures and if you attach an Exoskeleton onto them, well then you may have the best non-Mythic infect creature in the set. My personal favorite is seeing Exoskeleton on Neurok Invisimancer and there are fun times and hilarious deaths to be had from using Exoskeleton.
Also note that while I don’t like playing anything in the bottom category, I will since there are only so many infect cards to be had. The only card I straight up will not play in an infect deck is Blackcleave Goblin, which may need its own tier. I hate playing with Vector Asp with a passion, but others have told me to give it more of a chance. Carrion Call is almost more of a combat trick than legitimate infect card and Contagious Nim is the bubble-boy on the tiers, just out of the bottom as a Grey Ogre with a little upside.
As for cards that get better with infect guys, obviously equipment and pump get boosts, but Heavy Arbalest and Bladed Pinions in particular get huge bumps. The Arbalest is simply too slow and clunky for the majority of decks, but the ability to dish out two Poison counters per activation without attacking just gives any infect deck a ton of reach. Bladed Pinions makes any of the x/2 infect creatures difficult to deal with in actual combat scenarios, especially with the threat of Untamed Might and Withstand Death.
Infiltration Lens is probably the most common equipment you’ll see on infect guys, but I find the more comfortable you get around having poison as a life total, the more often people are willing to block. Crushing one of their infect creatures in combat somewhat offsets the draw two and even in good infect decks it can be a struggle to get enough infect guys into the red zone to win the game. Throne of Geth on the other hand, is the bee’s knees in an infect deck and a card that I think gets underrated a lot. There are plenty of artifacts you won’t mind sacking down the line and proliferate is the best way to kill people with poison when you fall behind on the board.
Moving on from one of the main themes in the set,
Underutilized / Underrated Cards:
Some of these may seem silly to you, Volition Reins? Hah. Everyone knows that card is a bomb and there’s no way it should be considered underrated. My listing of the card has nothing to do with people not recognizing its power; rather the inclusion has to do with how people treat the card in terms of colors. A number of people I find won’t go in on Reins due to the UUU cost, even if they haven’t settled on a secondary color yet simply due to the high-end color cost. What I believe is happening is that some aren’t used to having so much flexibility in their color choices up to late in the draft and people stick with what they went cards they took early on.
Wall of Tanglecord is another card people know is solid, but I see it around so late and wonder if people value defense high enough. Not only does a 0/6 stop just about everything short of a T-Rex in this format, but reach means it turns off the main strategy in many white and blue decks and outright stops a number of bombs. Even against the infect deck, six toughness means that it can block the ground guys for a long time if you just need to buy some time for removal or creatures with better P/T ratios.
Then we have a card like Plated Seastrider which is Horned Turtle, but for one less mana. There’s a notable amount of creatures in the format with butts of one toughness and it does an excellent job of holding back hordes from attacking. Sure it isn’t that impressive on its own later in the game, but combined with a Neurok Replica or other high toughness creature it becomes easy enough to eat a guy on any attack step. A creature that you can see really late and is never going to be a sexy pick, but you’ll see people board these in against aggressive red and Metalcraft decks and watch as their non-flyers grind to a halt.
Trigon of Infestation may be the most underrated infect card in the whole bunch. I get it, it doesn’t fit all that well in the aggro BG, infect Trigon isn’t fast and usually doesn’t end the game without some help. The key is that it’s one of the few pieces of guaranteed card advantage and creature generators rolled up into one card and is relatively mana-efficient. The little buggers it makes can become real threats with any equipment and even if you don’t run green, if you have a couple of proliferate cards in your deck you can get plenty of value from the card. In the more controlling infect deck the card is a legitimate win condition and at worst a great way of generating blockers that opposing armies weaker whenever they swing in.
On the other hand, cards like Alpha Tyrannax and Flameborn Hellion are pretty sweet because they’re quite difficult to kill. Thanks to the nature of the format, the number of cards that kill large non-artifact creatures are basically non-existent. Throw in some equipment or a single combat trick and the ability to beat these guys in any sort of a close board position becomes the entire focus of the game for your poor opponent. Moving onto good cards that are
Pretty self-explanatory on the Myr and Spellbombs I’d imagine. People underrate Myr because they don’t see how great mana accel is and the fact that it pumps Metalcraft is a sweet bonus. Same goes with the on-color spellbombs, where getting an actual effect and cantrip from one card is pretty absurd value-wise. Once Scars hits Magic Online, I suspect my days of seeing 6th and 8th pick Panic and Horizon Spellbombs will be short-lived.
That’s it for me, thus far my favorite decks in the format are UG control, white metalcraft and red or W/R aggro focused around Ferrovore and Blade-Tribe Berserkers. I’ve played a different archetype almost every time I’ve gotten to draft Scars, with the exceptions being the aforementioned and been pretty happy with a lot of decks I end up with. Again, the key is to have a plan and draft around said plan to create synergy and fulfill a goal. Have fun with Scars Drafting!