Last week, I tried a new type of archetype guide. I started with the best archetype, R/W, and this week I’m diving into the opposite direction with U/B. At times I’ve called U/B the worst 2-color pair in AKH Limited. While I still don’t think it’s one of the best, it can be successful when drafted and piloted well. Over time I’ve learned these lessons and while I’m not looking for a U/B deck if given the choice, I don’t mind being in the color pair if it is open in my seat.
I’m only going to go through the commons and uncommons like last time, but I will mention that U/B is an archetype composed of high rarity payoffs. Drake Haven and Archfiend of Ifnir are even more absurd here than they are elsewhere, but you can’t exactly expect to get one of these. A good U/B cycling deck with two copies of Faith of the Devoted is going to play out far differently than one relying on Pitiless Viziers to get the job done.
Additionally, I realized after writing the R/W guide that there is an abundance of unplayables for any given archetype. I’ll still list those out, but I’m only going to discuss the unplayable cards that are overvalued (still played). That leaves me more room to discuss the nuances of cards that will actually make your deck!
This card just goes off in a U/B cycling deck. Combat becomes a nightmare for your opponent any time the Sniper sits in play, and over time you’ll just shoot down creatures outside of combat altogether. This is another good example of a higher rarity card giving your U/B a huge power boost.
One traditional problem with 1-drops is that they’re terrible draws later in the game. That can be true of Ruthless Sniper, but rarely. Because you have so much cycling and discard in U/B decks that it will still get enabled very quickly and sometimes you’ll even still have a cycling card or two in hand to start chaining. I’m happy to first pick this card when I’m in U/B, and it strongly pulls me toward a cycling deck otherwise.
Ruthless Sniper is a lot worse in the other type of U/B deck, which is just U/B good stuff. I don’t think that deck is as consistently successful as the more cycling-heavy version, but it can work. Essentially, when strong payoff cards aren’t available, like the higher rarity cards I’ve been mentioning, you can sculpt U/B into a traditional midrange deck with controlling elements. But picking Sniper leads you closer to a cycling shell, so this only matters from pack 3 onward.
A big drop-off for this archetype, and it highlights how cheap cards aren’t quite as important in slower decks.
Scarab Feast is the best of the bunch here, and actually move up to “good” if you have enough payoffs. The reason I didn’t include it higher is that you don’t want to take the card early since its effect is so minimal. The more Ruthless-Sniper-type cards you have, the higher you should just take any card you can cycle.
Festering Mummy is fine filler and a strong sideboard card. Without any real synergies you probably won’t end up with many in U/B since other decks like W/B will be taking them higher. Supernatural Stamina has its place, and is even a good combat trick, but you won’t get as much value here as in other archetypes, and you want your few actual spells to affect the board unconditionally.
I’ll discuss the Blade another day but just note that U/B is not the home.
The Best: None
This is a big problem as to why U/B has underperformed for me. It has a wide array of options at 2 mana, but looking at the list of cards, I don’t think any are powerful enough to make this list.
At least this is a decently long list. Labyrinth Guardian and Trial of Ambition are good generally, and you’ll take them about where you’d expect to normally. Trial of Ambition is one of the weakest Trials the first time it lands, but is one of the strongest on the 2nd and 3rd go-around. That variable rating means I like speculating on it early, but I’m more willing to give up on it if I open it in pack 3 without any Cartouches yet.
Speaking of Cartouches, the blue one is hit or miss in U/B. I love that it jumps some of your creatures with lots of power like Pitiless Vizier or River Serpent, but U/B isn’t often an aggressive creature deck that would really want the Cartouche. This makes it a reasonable pickup at any point, but not as much of a windmill slam as it is in U/G beatdown.
Shadowstorm Vizier is a nice payoff, but isn’t really one of the “higher rarity payoffs” I’ve been touting for this archetype. It plays a role, and you’ll even get multiples from time to time since no one else wants them. I like to think of the card as a way to net some damage early or hold off a board of x/2s when you have mana up rather than a kill condition, though you can still get in for 4+ damage on the final turn.
Last up we have Seeker of Insight. I almost included it in “The Best” because it does help accelerate U/B’s plan, but it also isn’t the end of the world if you don’t get them. That said, it’s likely the best 2-drop you can have, especially in spell-laden decks with discard/cycling payoffs. That definition places it firmly within both U/B shells, and essentially turns your lands into triggers since that’s what you’ll often be discarding. That sounds good, but it’s actually even better than that since you’ll almost always have a glut of lands in your hand. Because you cycle so often you’ll just naturally draw into more land even if you only run 15-16 of them. Thus, U/B is very consistent in what it does—cycle a lot, and flood. Seeker turns that into an advantage by removing the bad half of the equation.
This group boils down to cyclers and defense. Both are important components of your U/B deck, but there are enough options here that they’re reasonably interchangeable. Be aware that cards like Dune Beetle and Ancient Crab really move up and down in value based on your opponent’s creatures, and you’ll sometimes need to board them out. Deathtouch creatures and big midrange threats both laugh at the card and require you to change your plan against them. Usually that plan is to board in a different 2-drop or go over the top.
The card in question here is Miasmic Mummy. My main problem with it in U/B is that early on, this discard hurts you a good amount since you want all your resources, and that the discard isn’t fueling your payoffs. It’s mostly just a 2-drop on turn 2 with a minor downside that has minor upside later in the game if you happen to draw it. By that description, it’s still playable, but you can do better.
I forgot to mention Edifice last week, but the card will pretty much always be in this category because it’s colorless removal. Faith of the Devoted is a legitimate win condition and helps you get out of burn range once you’ve stabilized. It is mana-intensive, but you should have plenty of lands at your disposal when playing U/B.
Splendid Agony overperforms in U/B because it’s an early way to catch up and shrinks flying creatures later, which can be problematic. In those games, you usually have the ground clogged up and just need enough time for your Pitiless Vizier to grind through the ground or Faith of the Devoted to do its thing. Additionally, Agony combines well with Seeker of Insight because you’re buying time while also gaining advantage over a longer game, and I’ve seen some excellent U/B decks that have managed to grab 3 copies of both cards.
I’m not always a fan of Wasteland Scorpion, but it gets the job done here and has cycling to boot. Most of your interaction with green creatures is in the form of Final Reward, so it’s nice to have a cheaper way to deter 5+ power creatures from killing you. I also like how all the cycling creatures pair with Wander in Death as a build-your-own Divination, or as an insurance policy for cycling a good creature early.
I like Cartouche of Ambition more than Cartouche of Knowledge because U/B does fall behind early. Cartouche helps you race, but also pairs well with some of your harder-to-deal-with threats. The obvious pairing is with Pitiless Vizier, which is a 5/3 lifelink indestructible most of the tim—build your own Groundslayer Angel.
I like Hekma Sentinels, but as you can see, U/B has a surplus of 3s and it’s easy to get clogged on this part of the curve. Hekma Sentinels does have some good threat of activation, and is hard to attack into, but just isn’t worth taking early. Baleful Ammit does some crazy good things, but you just aren’t going to have a 2-drop every time, and that makes the card a lot worse. On top of that, one of your 2s is Tah-Crop Skirmisher, a card you really don’t want a counter on. Sometimes you’ll have a few Doomed Dissenters and Seeker of Insights and then this does go up in value.
Unburden is fine, but I’ve found you don’t actually cast it very often in U/B unless you’re playing a psuedo mirror. This means it’s replaceable and you want it mostly because it has cycling 2.
Illusory Wrappings is just a bad card, sadly. If it removed activated abilities I’d be on board, but as it stands it just doesn’t do enough. It’s also particularly bad versus exert creatures because they can still get in for a point of damage here and there. You want to take Splendid Agony highly so that you don’t have to play this.
I debated for a while over whether to put Trial in The Best or The Good, but it really propels your late game and the discard is often upside. It doesn’t affect the board, which is a pretty big problem since U/B already spins its wheels a lot, but this durdle is just so good that I’m still happy first picking this card. Bone Picker and Gravedigger are just generically fantastic and don’t need much of an explanation.
Soulstinger is fantastic and stops any ground assault. It’s a lot like Wasteland Scorpion in that sense, except it’s much better versus a go-wide strategy. You don’t need -1/-1 counter shenanigans for the card to overperform. Pitiless Vizier is your endgame when you don’t have great uncommons and rares, and can punch past a whole row of blockers given enough cycling. Aven Initiate is worse here than in some blue decks, but in the games that become a ground stall it is still an excellent finisher. Perhaps more important is its ability to trade with opposing flyers.
If there were fewer competing 4-drops, Hieroglyphic Illumination would get a bump, but as is I like it here. It also doesn’t affect the board and you just can’t have too much of that effect in your deck before you get run over. Without the level of unfairness in Trial of Knowledge, I like just waiting on Illuminations while drafting. You can usually get them about 5th-9th in my experience and that seems like an appropriate place to pick them up.
Naga Oracle is okay, but is really filler in U/B. Every once in a while you’ll have a pair of Cryptic Serpents, which does make the card a lot better. Sacred Excavation ranges from good to unplayable and you should know when you want it, but you do need good cards with cycling. As a pure card advantage spell it’s too clunky. Once you have some Curator of Mysteries and Lay Claim type cyclers and a critical mass, consider putting this in your deck.
I have boarded in Decision Paralysis, but I won’t claim that it is a good card. Grim Strider is particularly bad in U/B because you almost always have cards in hand. Zenith Seeker looks like it was printed 10 years ago. It is really small and has text that makes sense within the color pie generally but has horrible game play. Your creatures already all have flying! Compare the card to Bone Picker and I can’t understand why R&D made it so bad. To be fair though, if it were a good card it would probably be obnoxious to play against (I shudder at the thought of this as a 4/4 for 4 at rare!).
Final Reward is a card you always want 1-2 of, so pick it highly at first, but know the diminishing returns of expensive unconditional removal. Stir the Sands, Horror of the Broken Lands, and Shimmerscale Drake all serve similar roles with Stir>Drake>Horror. These are the cyclers you don’t cycle as often because they are so good to cast, but are okay to cycle when the payoff on board is high enough. The Drake and Horror are excellent Cartouche of Ambition targets as well, and serve as reasonable finishers.
Cryptic Serpent can be pretty hit or miss, but most U/B decks will already run Compelling Arguments and Scarab Feast, which go hand in hand with the Serpent. If you can get that all going you’ll have a really fantastic card because, while River Serpent is playable, it’s nowhere near as good as the Serpent, and there aren’t actually that many huge creatures in Amonkhet, which makes it a very nice addition.
U/B has ample fantastic late game cards and this is really where the archetype shines. Keep in mind that there are also lower curve cards that really start to work in these late turns. You’re giving your Pitiless Viziers indestructible, looting and casting spells with Seekers, and draining with Faith of the Devoted. All your early setup is starting to pay off now, and all these haymakers are the icing on that cake.
Both fine cards—both cycle. You want as many River Serpents as you can get without spending early picks on them. Floodwaters is sometimes nice to cast, but you really want to be attacking. That makes it only okay in U/B, and pretty situational most of the time. As we know, situational cyclers are still good though and any U/B deck will welcome the first copy of Floodwaters.
I wish this card were good, because it does some pretty cool things, but those things are just so completely opposite to one another, and the rate on the card is pretty bad. There are decks that can play this card, but stay away from it in U/B. It’s definitely not the finisher you want.
Whether you’re playing the more traditional U/B control deck or the AKH specific cycling deck, U/B is a tricky beast to draft. I’ve had to fail a lot before succeeding but hopefully you have a sense of what’s important now. There’s a careful balance between building a board and setting up sweet things, and the wins come from hitting that sweet spot. They also come from playing Glyph Keeper and Archfiend of Ifnir. These types of cards can pull you into more controlling shells anyway, and so they actually go hand in hand with U/B’s style.
That’s all I have for you this week. Keep on drafting, having fun, and cycling the day away!