It’s time again to look at draft archetypes! As I’ve done for the last couple of blocks, I’ll talk about what each color pair was trying to do in the previous set, and how it’s changed now. I also used to show “key cards” of an archetype, but realized this was the wrong terminology that confused some readers, and I’ve since updated that to “representative cards.” These are the cards that demonstrate the goals of the archetype I’ll be discussing and serve as mini-goal posts for you when drafting. They aren’t necessarily the most powerful, but are the cards that can lead you to a cohesive deck within a specific color pair.
The U/W archetype was always loosely defined as "blink," but it was rather difficult to get a deck that fully revolved around blink value. That’s because the real payoffs like Cloudblazer and Experimental Aviator existed at uncommon and higher rarities. In addition, Wispweaver Angel and Aviary Mechanic were the main ways to blink—outside of that you only had access to Acrobatic Maneuver, Aether Tradewinds, and Disappearing Act, all of which were role players you weren’t going to run more than 1-of under most circumstances. Wispweaver Angel also was a first-through-third pick, which meant it was difficult to get them plus early pick Cloudblazers, all of which pointed to an archetype that sometimes gave you value but was more of a nice thought than an actuality from Draft to Draft.
When you include Aether Revolt, the only revolt cards added are Airdrop Aeronauts, Call for Unity, Countless Gears Renegade, Deadeye Harpooner, and Solemn Recruit. There are actually fewer good ways to self-bounce and blink now, and about as many good reasons with Airdrop Aeronauts and Deadeye Harpooner (and the rares of course). What this means to me is that U/W will be even less blink focused, though the cards that you do end up with will work toward that goal and give you incidental value, as you can see in Spire Patrol.
This means you should focus on a normal curve and beatdown plan. U/W has quite a lot of evasion and a few spells to keep your opponent off stable footing. Blink and revolt value should be a nice subtheme to the aggressive flying plan at the core of U/W. The good news is that you’ll know how much you want the role players like Acrobatic Maneuver because you’ll already have as many revolt cards as you’re going to get, as well as any pack 3 Cloudblazers. Don’t get too fancy with U/W—just fly in for the win!
G/W looks a bit like U/W in the archetype analysis, but I think that mostly has to do with white’s mix of cards in this block. They are somewhat aggressive, but then have a smattering of the themes from the block and are mostly trying to do too much. Eddytrail Hawk and Thriving Ibex constituted a mini energy package in Kaladesh, and Aether Inspector pulls off a nice imitation here, though it looks even more unplayable than Thriving Ibex, which is not a good sign. Before, you also had fabricate to help go wide with an Inspired-Charge-backed game plan, or just good old beatdown with large creatures. This mix-and-match, ragtag strategy often worked but felt bad in a world of synergy-driven archetypes that could just go over the top of whatever you were doing.
Things get a little better with Aether Revolt because there are enough revolt cards and enablers in G/W that you can assemble a more synergistic approach. Audacious Infiltrator is a high-power, cheap threat that will likely trade off and help trigger revolt. Curving it into a trade on turn 3 with either Renegade Rallier or Silkweaver Elite is a great way to start the game. There are also enabler cards like Implement of Ferocity or Scrounging Bandar that can help turn on revolt when your opponent is racing instead of trading.
Scrounging Bandar specifically is an interesting card, because while it’s definitely a step down from Kujar Seedsculptor, it is still a respectable 2-drop. If you get 3 or more Scrounging Bandars, then I think bad 1-drops become more playable in G/W because you can sacrifice the Scrounging Bandar turn 3, get a revolt trigger, and also have a much bigger threat. Sadly, the only good 1-drop is Narnam Renegade, but I think Wily Bandar might be playable under these conditions despite its status as an awful Magic card. I’ve been crushed by Wily Bandar into Giant Spectacle and while I was never brave enough to play those cards, I can say that a 3-power creature that can gain indestructible is quite nice. Now you even get turn-3 payoffs for your trouble.
Beyond the revolt synergies, there’s still your usual assortment of combat tricks, flyers, and fight spells, but G/W has smaller creatures than we’ve been used to over the last few sets. Green only offers Ridgescale Tusker, an absurd uncommon bomb, and Lifecraft Cavalry as big creature options, which makes Prey Upon worse than it looks on first inspection. This means Lifecraft Cavalry is a much higher pick than Riparian Tiger was, both due to its synergies and because you can’t just easily pick up a Cowl Prowler, though those might come around in pack 3 still. Gone are the days of Thriving Rhino into Peema Outrider into Riparian Tiger, though I’m not particularly sad about this since "never blocking" wasn’t a particularly exciting play pattern.
G/W is more about accumulated value now—make sure you adjust to the changing times. This also means you’ll need a plan for longer games with G/W, and more defensive-oriented cards like Highspire Artisan from KLD go up in value.
G/R is all about efficiency. It’s a no-frills, all-business strategy. There is a little bit of variation, of course. Sometimes you’ll be more energy focused, and other times you’ll have a little more artifact and improvise synergy, but for the most part you should just look at a card’s mana cost and see how much it impacts the board. Outland Boar is a nice example of a directing gold card. It really doesn’t tell you to do much at all other than turn it sideways.
Note how this is similar to Voltaic Brawler from Kaladesh, but even more one-dimensional. Before there was often an energy component to R/G and that was clearly reflected in the cards. I think that trend still might continue thanks to the strength of Aetherstream Leopard in the right build, but energy as a whole is not an R/G theme. I wouldn’t go in too far on a synergistic approach, because doing so may cause you to play weaker individual cards when really you just want any big creature possible, even ones with downside like Frontline Rebel. In reality, those downsides are mitigated by the fact that your opponent’s life total will soon be zero.
Highspire Infusion is particularly nice in this strategy because it helps provide the small burst of energy the few cards in your deck might care about to punch through the last few turns. It also buffs the high density of R/G creatures with combat abilities.
This is a shift in strategy from R/G in Kaladesh where you just wanted the biggest, baddest monster. Now you have slightly smaller creatures, but a large number of them have evasion or first strike. Just looking at commons and uncommons there’s Maulfist Revolutionary, Lifecraft Cavalry, Aetherstream Leopard, Sweatworks Brawler, Scrapper Champion, Reckless Racer, Enraged Giant, and Aether Chaser. Compare this to KLD, which only had 5 of these keyworded creatures across a larger set, though a couple of cards like Maulfist Doorbuster still helped in combat in big ways.
Overall, with more of these creatures available in a smaller set, you’ll see that combat becomes a nightmare for the opponent any time it’s backed up by a combat trick. Note that Precise Strike is a little less effective than it would be otherwise thanks to both smaller creatures and more creatures with first strike. Big pump is what you want, so Highspire Infusion should be your go-to card.
Before: Artifacts matter/Night Market Lookout, and Spireside Infiltrator
Now: Artifacts matter/improvise
Representative Cards: Servo Schematic, Embraal Gear-Smasher, Sly Requisitioner, Defiant Salvager
R/B has historically been a removal archetype with weak creatures, but that isn’t entirely the case here. Instead, R/B focuses on a synergy midrange plan that shifted from a synergy aggro plan in Kaladesh. The main plan before was early aggressive creatures and Vehicles, which naturally led to a Night-Market-Lookout-based deck, filled with ways to push through the final points of damage.
Now the deck aims to play early artifacts to fuel cheaper improvise spells and then has utility creatures, which can convert weaker artifacts into more tangible benefits. For example, Implement of Combustion is a good cheap artifact to help fuel improvise but it is reasonably embarrassing on its own. Sure, it cycles, but without context, no one would ever play this. In context though, the card becomes quite playable. Imagine playing it and then deploying a Sweatworks Brawler on turn 3. On turn 4 you then play Defiant Salvager, sacrifice the Implement for a counter, and Fatal Push your opponent’s 4-drop! The fact that the Implements serve a dual role as improvise fuel and then later revolt is quite nice, and pairing them with sacrifice creatures like Defiant Salvager allows you to take advantage of the cycling while bypassing its less-than-stellar activation cost.
While artifacts help fuel this entire strategy, the artifacts of AER look rather lackluster. The good news is that each artifact overperforms, thanks to its synergistic contributions. I’ve already discussed how the Implements will be better than they look, and for another example of an underwhelming card that will overperform, take a look at Augmenting Automaton. I think it will play a nice Sludge Crawler imitation in that it provides an early effect with improvise cards and then becomes a relevant threat later. I don’t think it will be as good since games won’t frequently go until both players have 8 lands in play, but you should evaluate artifacts with improvise in mind, and give them an extra boost for that implied value.
Much of what I said about R/B applies to U/B, except that U/B goes bigger with large blue improvise creatures. You want to prioritize cheap artifacts similarly, but they’re even more important here because U/B can easily clog up with too many expensive cards while R/B can simply default to a more traditional non-improvise build if it needs to. U/B shifts in a big way from its loosely-defined Gearseeker Serpent strategy and is now more of a focused combo deck trying to go bigger than anything else in the format.
One thing I didn’t note in R/B is that the Aether Swooper cycle features all 2-drop creatures in the Grixis colors. The green and white ones both cost 4 for comparison, which I guarantee you is no mistake. That’s because these small creatures help you get on board to improvise out threats sooner, and the black deathtouch creature doubles as the perfect enabler for revolt since it always trades. The Aether cycle is a perfect place to dump any energy with any producers you happen to pick up, and while energy will still be a prevalent mechanic, I think it will play a far less defining role than it did in KLD.
That’s it for today. Join me next time for the enemy color pairs!