I’ve gotten to draft Hour of Devastation a decent number of times now thanks to the continued early releases on Magic Online, and I have to say, it’s a blast so far. The archetypes I’ve gotten to play all feel different from one another and I’m hopeful for this format moving forward. Last week, I talked about the Allied color pairs, and this week I’ll cover the enemy ones. There are some really sweet ones today!
Before: Spells – Cycling
Now: Spells – Prowess
I’ve already drafted this archetype and can confidently say that I love it. The cycling deck from Amonkhet relied on a group of payoff uncommons to get there, and while that is still true, the burden on higher rarity cards has lessened. Both Spellweaver Eternal and Firebrand Archer present a game plan on their own. Each piece looks unassuming, but they all scale well together. A lonely Spellweaver Eternal doesn’t threaten that much, but get 2 or 3 of these spells-matter critters together and you’ve got a real board. Recently, I played a turn-4 Strategic Planning into a Magma Spray and bashed with 2 Spellweaver Eternals for 8 damage. Not a bad way to get ahead early!
U/R has more inevitability than a normal spell-based strategy might. Riddleform scrys, afflict means your opponent can’t take early damage freely, and Firebrand Archer can just flat-out win outside of combat. Combine this with the fact that your removal spells turn into burn spells thanks to prowess and prowess-like effects, and you’ve got yourself a real winner of an archetype. One thing to note is that all this incremental damage makes cards like Inferno Jet very interesting. Dealing 6 is powerful in a deck that can have big turns and get opponents down to single-digit life quickly, but you also really want your spells to clear out blockers so your creatures can punch through. In the end, it’s still Limited Magic and you’ll usually end up with a mix of both. I think U/R decks that are all removal or a mix of removal and burn are good, but a deck full of Flings and Inferno Jets will underperform since they don’t help your board at all.
If you’ve ever played Jeskai in Khans of Tarkir or U/R in Eldritch Moon you’ll be very familiar with this archetype. It plays out in similar fashion, but has the added benefit of the low-curve environment AKH supports. There’s more incidental damage here than either of those decks had thanks to broken cards like Slither Blade. The various cyclers in the format also help the deck run smoothly. The blue and red cycling Deserts are very good because your curve is going to be quite low most of the time, and occasionally you’ll have a couple Desert payoffs to boot. I think Unquenchable Thirst is one of the best cards for U/R when you have 4+ Deserts and quite bad with 0-2. You absolutely must ensure that your cards impact the board and in this case you need the Thirst to tap each time.
The balance between spells, creatures, Deserts, and payoffs is a lot to get right from Draft to Draft. All that nuance means U/R is a tough nut to crack but will also be a blast every time. I’m looking forward to the next time I get to draft it.
Before: Exert Aggro
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
Oh wait, you already won, it’s turn 6.
Well, some archetypes are just the same thing as before with slightly different cards and that’s what we see with R/W. There’s less emphasis on aggressive attacking exert creatures than before simply because there are fewer of them, but that doesn’t mean that Oketra’s Avenger and Khenra Scrapper aren’t ready to pick up the slack. There are also some exert creatures that don’t attack like Fervent Paincaster, which gives R/W a slightly different angle of attack. These creatures can help you win a longer game when your other exert creatures can’t, though let’s be honest—that doesn’t happen very often. Your opponent needs an X/4 before they can ever really block Oketra’s Avenger, which means it’s virtually a 3-power unblockable creature every other turn until the later points in the game. Ka-pow!
Fervent Paincaster and Steward of Solidarity also let you enact exert shenanigans outside of your declare attackers step. What do I mean? Check out Trueheart Twins. Before the Twins only worked during your attacks, but now you can use them defensively if you want to. Additionally, you get the option to threaten an exert without actually pulling the trigger. Imagine you have a 2/2 attacking into your opponent’s 4/4 with a Twins and Paincaster in play. If they block you can ping the 4/4 and grow to a 3/3. If they don’t block you can just let 2 damage through and do the same thing next turn. Threat of activation is great!
Other than those couple new tricks, R/W is all about the beatdown. Focus on your curve like before and you’ll do just great. This is one of the color combinations that cares the least about Deserts, though both the uncommon Deserts are fantastic here, providing reach in the form of a land. What’s less good are the cycling lands. There’s a real cost to tap lands in aggro decks. But one or two still give you flood protection and can combine with Shefet Dunes or Ramunap Ruins for extra activations.
Clearly Zombies were going to matter still. Nicol Bolas wasn’t just going to let his machinations turn all the denizens of Amonkhet into unicorns and happy rainbows. W/B is much the same as it was before, but shifts a bit in how it actually gets drafted. I’d argue that the average Zombie deck will be worse than it was, but the open seat Zombie deck that gets everything it wants will be even better. That’s because there are even more payoffs now, but they’re mostly at uncommon and you lose two packs of Binding Mummy, which is a huge loss. That goes for Fan Bearer too.
The direct replacement for the Binding Mummy is Mummy Paramount, which is a better card on turns 3 and 4, and gets much worse later on. Binding Mummy forced your opponent to hold back multiple blockers when they couldn’t win the race. That put you even further ahead and gave you time to simply draw into more Zombies for more tapping. Mummy Paramount does get to attack as a 3/3 often but that becomes less impressive as soon as your opponent has any way to interact with that size or when you are in topdeck mode. Additionally, you have to sink your mana into your Zombies precombat, which makes your pump far worse. Before you didn’t care that you tapped out because you were also tapping down all your opponent’s creatures with Binding Mummy.
Despite the Paramount downgrade, you do gain access to a nice handful of powerful Zombie uncommons. Accursed Horde and Unraveling Mummy both serve as nice replacements for Binding Mummy since they make blocking a nightmare proposition for the opponent. The Horde is pretty straightforward in how it plays, though I will note that it really incentivizes maximizing Zombies. The idea is you can just turn your whole team sideways and indestructible anything that would die. Every non-Zombie you have on board goes against that plan since your opponent now gets good blocks on a few select non-Zombie creatures. You, of course, still have the advantage of attacking with any large enough Zombie, but they aren’t exactly known for having high power and toughness. Unraveling Mummy functions similarly but doesn’t punish you as badly for non-Zombies since you can hold those back and still have good attacks with your small Zombies, given enough mana.
Lastly, Unconventional Tactics is a card I’m very excited for in W/B. It’s a truly great payoff that can win games after your opponent has stabilized but I also just love the design. The card is narrow but powerful, which means the Zombie drafter should usually get the card, since no one else wants it. It plays well with the subtheme of discard in Zombies and can even fuel cards like Merciless Eternal when you’re on defense because you can just keep discarding it and rebuying it (I assume you’re just casting it if you’re attacking). Go, go Zombies!
Before: -1/-1 Counters
Now: Midrange with light -1/-1 counter theme
-1/-1 counters mattered a whole lot before, and I was surprised when I first looked at HOU that they were largely gone. There’s still a few here or there in G/B, but the focus has shifted away from a -1/-1 counter theme to a more classic G/B midrange creature/kill stuff combination. Obelisk Spider still ties into the old plan and encourages you to draft around -1/-1 counters when you can, but outside of that your major payoffs will come from Amonkhet. There is Tenacious Hunter, but you don’t have to go very deep to turn the card on, it’s already just a giant monster as is.
G/B is historically a color combination that falls behind in the early game because it’s focused on big creatures and removal spells. That’s one reason I’m excited for Scrounger of Souls in this archetype. G/B is a nice place for the card, because it works well with pump spells or removal spells to break up double blocks. Lifelink is a criminally underrated mechanic because life gain in general is seen as a beginner’s trap. But don’t be fooled here. Lifelink on a medium-to-big creature always dominates a game of Limited, because it means you’ll always win the race.
When I played G/B in AKH I was always worried about opposing flying creatures because that was the typical way I would lose. Your ground creatures were huge, or were Soulstinger type cards that completely halted opposing aggression. It was nice such a strategy existed in a world dominated by exert and the complete inability to block ever. Giant Spider was a big part in staying alive and its loss would feel quite bad except you get a huge upgrade in both Obelisk Spider and Bitterbow Sharpshooters.
At the end of the day, draft a curve and have a plan to beat bombs. Slower decks will play slower games, which means bombs have a higher chance of showing up. As long as you don’t die in G/B you should have inevitability. Have fun grinding out your Draft wins!
U/G in AKH was exactly what it sounded like—ugh. The main problem was that it was a ramp deck in a color combination that wasn’t all-in on ramp. There were ramp cards to be sure, but then a bunch of aggressive cards like Initiate’s Companion. Blue also had the problem that it was an evasive color but didn’t work particularly well with ramp cards because you weren’t paid off for ramping into them. Shimmerscale Drake and Lay Claim were the main exceptions, but those just don’t cut it in a world of Emberhorn Minotaurs and a million 1-drops you didn’t want to steal.
Now green still has some ramp but it’s clearly less of a focus. You can see this pretty clearly with the shift from Weaver of Currents to River Hoopoe. Instead, you have a midrange combination that can slant aggressive, controlling, or be about as bread-and-butter midrange as any Limited deck ever. That’s nice because there’s flexibility in the colors based on what’s in the packs when U/G is open. If you see Aerial Guides and Rhonas’s Stalwarts, great. Go beatdown! If instead you get passed slower ramp based cards like Oasis Ritualist and Rampaging Hippo, you can head for more of a go-big deck. This is different than the ramp problem before because less of the set is dedicated to that idea. Having different types of cards is only a problem when that archetype’s focus pulls away from those different ideas. The best example of this I can think of is with Scar of Mirrodin. Technically you could draft G/B Metalcraft, but Infect pulled so much focus that drafting other cards ended in disaster, which is why that deck was sometimes great and a trainwreck at other times.
In the end I’m just excited to play my creatures, Unsummons, and Ambuscades. That’s good, clean Magic, just as Garfield intended. I hope you all enjoyed another round of initial archetype breakdowns. I had fun diving in, and am ready to go draft some more U/R spells. Which archetypes excite you the most?