Drafting UW Skies

I just got back from the Channelfireball 5k, but will refrain from writing a full report about it. I have it on good authority that we will be hearing more than enough about 5-Color Control (which is what I played) on this very site. I can't very well not mention the 5k, so a summarized version should suffice.

I went 5-1 in the Friday night flight, which qualified me for Sunday, beating some Jund decks, a Kithkin deck, and RB Aggro, while only losing to MonoRed Elementals/Burn. I was pretty happy with the deck, and might as well ship the decklist before someone inevitably asks for it (people seem to dislike when I mention decks I play without providing the list to go with the description):

5CC Baneslayer

Unfortunately, the Top 32 was pretty brief. I beat David Ochoa in the mirror, then lost to the eventual winner, Matt Nass, who was playing Combo Elves. I kept two hands with all the important cards (Fallout, Broken, Doom Blade) that needed to draw a land by Turn 4, and both times didn't get there. I guess that is probably justice, considering the sort of hands I love to keep in my draft videos.

Matt Nass went on to play two Kithkin decks in a row (sack) and then beat Jund with Ajani Vengeants in the finals. I guess Combo Elves is still a deck, despite fairly dismal performances at the last few Nationals. He ran me over after all, even though I killed five guys with a Volcanic Fallout on turn four in Game One.

I liked the list that I played quite a bit, but I said I wasn't going to focus on it, so let's move on.

I have provided a few pretty general articles on drafting M10 so far, but today I want to focus on a specific archetype: Blue-White Skies.

Blue-White is my favorite archetype, and it seems like the most consistent. All your cards are good, and you have all the important elements needed in M10 (or really any Limited format): Evasion, removal, card advantage, and good defensive creatures. UW is able to balance aggression and defense with the classic Horned Turtle or Palace Guard into Snapping Drake or Razorfoot Griffin. If you are really lucky, you will even have a Stormfront Pegasus on Turn Two, like I did five times or whatever in the last draft video I put up. It was sweet because you could see the whole draft, so you KNEW that I only had the one Pegasus.
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My goal when drafting Blue-White is to control the board and kill them with fliers. Revolutionary, I know. What that means is that I want to nullify their small to medium ground guys with a Horned Turtle or Siege Mastodon, deal with their better threats with one of my good removal spells or a Blinding Mage, and then kill them with fliers. Sadly, sometimes my fliers are so efficient that I look kind of like an aggro deck, which I find disturbing. Card advantage is pretty important too, since it is what makes trading 1 for 1 advantageous. Like I said before, this deck has access to everything that is good and necessary, including counterspells. Here are the categories of cards you want in each deck:

(To be clear, I am only talking about Commons, since most of your decisions will involve Commons)

Removal

These are the cards that well, remove your opponent's threats. Removal is always at a premium in Limited, so you will often have to pick the premium removal spells pretty highly.

Blinding Mage
Pacifism
Essence Scatter (removal as well as a counterspell)
Safe Passage (since you can just about always trade this for one or more creatures, it's removal)
Divine Verdict
Excommunicate (not really permanent removal, but it does a great job against Auras and blockers)
Ice Cage
Unsummon (I don't start Unsummon unless my deck is pretty aggressive or lacking playables)

Blinding Mage is as close to a bomb as you get in common, and absolutely dominates games. Do not pass him! The rest are high picks, but nowhere near as good as the Mage. Removal is particularly relevant in M10, for much the same reason that counterspells are sick. Most decks have a few absurd cards, so once you Pacify their Nightmare or Divine Verdict their Serra Angel, your guys should be able to mop up the rest of their unimpressive guys.

Counterspells

Counterspells take a little explanation, since they are usually not as good as they are in M10. Cancel is barely playable in Shards block, and remained in my sideboard probably 9 out of 10 times that I drafted it, while I have never benched Cancel in M10 draft. The main reason that counters are so good is that M10 has a number of ridiculous bombs, and stopping them is critical. I have talked enough about the lack of synergy in M10 compared to a normal set, but one of the results is that each deck ends up with a few insane cards (usually) and a bunch of decent ones. If you can stop their insane first-picks (Fireball, Master of the Wild Hunt, Earthquake, Mind Control, etc etc) with a simple Negate, Cancel, Essence Scatter or Flashfreeze, than you get a huge advantage. So yes, counterspells good.

Safe Passage
Essence Scatter
Negate
Cancel

I like Cancel less than Negate because you tap down low a lot, and being able to play a Snapping Drake on Turn Six and still Negate their Windstorm is really important. Safe Passage counts as a counter because it stops most of the spells you wish to counter, like Fireball, Earthquake, or Overrun. The fact that it is a sick combat trick too is a nice bonus.

Defense

Safe Passage (it stops pretty much everything; sounds like defense to me)
Siege Mastodon
Griffin Sentinel
Veteran Armorsmith
Soul Warden
Palace Guard
Horned Turtle
Wall of Faith

This isn't the most exciting of categories, but the idea behind these guys is that they deal with your opponent's Centaur Coursers, Warpath Ghouls, and Runeclaw Bears so you don't have to spend your good cards on them. Combat always favors the defender, so being able to stop most of their offense with your mid to late picks is one of the reasons this deck is so awesome.

Card Advantage

Merfolk Looter
Safe Passage (when doesn't this provide card advantage?)
Divination

Looter isn't strictly card advantage, but once you have a few games where you essentially stop drawing lands at five or six you will be sold. Almost every single game where one player has a Looter and the other doesn't is eventually won by the Looter, assuming no ridiculous bombs run rampant. This deck even features answers to almost every bomb in the format, although passive guys like Master of the Wild Hunt or Cemetary Reaper can be problematic. I still like Looter over every Blue common, as you will see in the list a little later.

Finishers

Stormfront Pegasus
Snapping Drake
Safe Passage (I have seen plenty of games where [card]Safe Passage[/card] is the last spell cast – finisher, anyone?)
Wind Drake
Razorfoot Griffin
Illusionary Servant

The list of finishers may look a little light here, but that is because ideally you have a few good rare or uncommon cards to finish them with. Air Elemental, Djinn of Wishes, Mind Control, Guardian Seraph, Baneslayer Angel, Serra Angel, that sort of thing. You certainly can kill them with commons, but it is so much easier just to hit them with some enormous rare. Having at least one huge uncommon or rare flier is pretty important, although it doesn't have to happen to have a good deck. Nothing is better than tapping five for a four power flier and countering / removing their attempts to stop it.

There isn't a set number of each group of cards that I want when I draft UW, but I definitely want a mix. I would love to overload on Pacifisms and Blinding Mages, but that isn't likely. As long as you don't go overboard on the counterspells or defensive cards, you should be ok. Having "too many" finishers or aggressive fliers or removal spells is perfectly acceptable. I tend to like drawing a lot of cards, but I suppose there is also an upper limit to the number of Looters and Divinations you should be playing. Luckily, I have never hit that limit (at least as far as I'm concerned!).

The above lists are the rankings within each group, but I would be remiss if I didn't provide a list of relative values. Here is the part where I lecture about pick orders again – feel free to skip it if you have heard it from me already.

Pick orders are useful until the draft gets underway, much like it is said about battle plans in war. Once you have cards in your stack, your deck's needs begin to vary wildly, so don't treat pick orders like commandments. While you might never take Air Elemental over Mind Control (I know I wouldn't), Snapping Drake can easily rise above Merfolk Looter if you need more finishers, and tricks like Safe Passage drop in value rapidly once you have a few of them. With that out of the way, it is definitely worth ranking cards relative to each other, so lists can be useful.

UW Common List

Once you get past Coral Merfolk, the rest are almost exclusively sideboard cards. I do like to pick up a Holy Strength, which should be possible just about every draft. Having an awesome sideboard card against Illusionary Servants and Ice Cages is good. Holy Strength'ing a guy with an Ice Cage on it is pretty absurd, and I have won a few games based on that.

There are cards on here which don't fit into any of my categories but are still playables:

Durdles

Veteran Swordsmith
Glorious Charge
Ponder
Silvercoat Lion

All of these are cards that make the cut once I have added all the cards that fit into my neat little categories but haven't got to 23 playables yet.

Swordsmith requires the most explanation, since it looks like a sick card. The problem is that it doesn't DO anything, which is why it isn't in any of the important groupings. It is a fine card, but doesn't play great defense, and I try not to draft that many Soldiers, since they are pretty blah. The Armorsmith blocks well, but the Swordsmith usually just trades, and that doesn't help much.

Glorious Charge is ok as well, but worse than the other spells in common, so I almost never have room for it. You can't go overboard on spells, and this one gets worse and worse the more creatures you cut.

Ponder is fine, but I don't like cutting real spells for it, so I only play it if I don't have enough. If you have some Terramorphic Expanses it does get a lot better, since you can cherry-pick the best card and shuffle the crap away.

Silvercoat is the definition of filler, and is the kind of card you try and punish your opponent for playing. Still, it has power and toughness, so sometimes ya gotta let the cat out of the bag.

One of my friends, Erik (who some may remember from my article on BW Persist) has been tracking all of his draft results in a very detailed fashion (watching all the replays in the draft, keeping the draft pick log, and seeing how each color combination performs) and UW is by far the best. We disagree a little on the pick order, but we both independently came to the conclusion that UW is the place to be.

Have fun drafting, and try to open [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]. I did last night, and it sure made the draft easier!

LSV