Oath of the Gatewatch Draft Archetypes: UB and BR

Last time I talked about GW and UW. Let’s dive right into today’s archetypes and see what’s changed with Oath of the Gatewatch!

Blue/Black

Previous archetype: Ingest and processing

Now: Colorless mana with a splash of processing

Key cards:

UB was always the slowest of the three Eldrazi archetypes of Battle for Zendikar (UB, RB, and UR), and it maximized its power through ingest and processing synergies. It had the most common ways to exile cards repeatedly and was one of the few decks that was actually interested in Mist Intruder, which tells you how dedicated it could be (Storm Crow isn’t exactly the king of Limited ratings).

The real question before was whether the Processors actually paid off enough, and the answer was a clear yes. Those Processors are still present in pack 3, but OGW shifted entirely to colorless cards/activations for its Eldrazi theme. What this means is that you’ll have two very different goals when drafting your OGW packs versus your BFZ pack, but conveniently, you’ll know how much you are able to prioritize processing once you get to BFZ since that can range anywhere from complete disinterest to a high priority.

You’ll almost always be interested in colorless mana while drafting UB in the new format. Many cards have colorless activations, and even with a few colorless lands you’ll be able to cast expensive colorless cards as you head into the mid-late game. UB’s more controlling plan aligns perfectly with that vision and allows you to pick Blinding Drone higher than in other archetypes like UW where it’s unclear whether colorless is even worth working toward. Both Kozilek’s Translator and Cultivator Drone can ramp into expensive cards and yet still trigger colorless costs you care about. If you’re fortunate enough to open an Endbringer and pair it with Kozilek’s Translator, you’ll easily have a full suite of options that combine into an unbeatable threat.

Lastly, there are incidental ways to turn on processing for the BFZ cards. Thought Harvester plays an interesting role as both a good blocker and threat that enables synergies from time to time. Cards that operate on that many levels end up being very good, and this will be a card high on many blue decks’ list of priorities. Clearly, every black deck is interested in Oblivion Strike, but exile is a big bonus, and if you are lucky enough to get two of these stellar OGW commons, then congratulations—you also are on your way to enabling BFZ cards!

Most Improved from Battle for Zendikar:

With fewer cards exiled, processing just isn’t a reliable strategy draft in and draft out. That being said, you’ll still often have the odd card or two in your opponent’s exile, and that’s where the Reclaimer and Oracle come in. 5 toughness is considerably better now, because they can stop a wider array of opposing creatures due to fewer enormous Eldrazi running around at common and uncommon.

Grave Birthing always felt like a 23rd/24th card that just didn’t end up making it into final builds before, but exiling will be needed more to turn on your few Processors, and ramping from 3 to 5 got better due to important 5-drops.

Biggest Losers from Battle for Zendikar:

Poor Sludge Crawler. This little guy had a rough start, but everyone came around and learned to love him. I think his days in the spotlight are over now, though. Sludge Crawler will still be good, but UB is much less interested in ingesting regularly, and B on turn 1 is going to be harder to pull off with an emphasis on colorless. Cryptic Cruiser and the Nullifier both require more exiling than other Processors and as a result, are going to be less impressive than they were moving forward.

Black/Red

Previous archetype: Devoid aggro

Now: Aggro with devoid and Ally subthemes

Key cards:

BR was all about attacking before, and that hasn’t changed much except now. The Eldrazi presence was strong during triple-BFZ, despite this color pair focusing less on processing and more on whether a creature was colorless. On top of that, these colors cared about raw efficiency and combined that into a synergistic package perfectly encapsulated by Forerunner of Slaughter. That trend continues now, but the Eldrazi theme is far less of a focus. There are some colorless mana payoffs, but they aren’t essential to the archetype and if you’re hitting your curve while also hitting your opponent, you’ll do just fine.

Interestingly, BR gains access to some Ally synergies through some efficient creatures like Zada’s Commando. If your opponent is able to stabilize, the Commando can continue to pick away at their life reserves while your beefier creatures like Maw of Kozilek continue to rumble. Zulaport Chainmage fills a similar role, but its small body for the cost might make it a poor fit for this deck. On the other hand, 2 unblockable damage every turn is a pretty large upside in a deck capable of getting an opponent to a single-digit life total quickly. For this reason, Visions of Brutality shines here and essentially becomes Pacifism. The creature enchanted causes life loss for every damage dealt, and not just in combat, so Visions can shut down opposing Zada’s Commandos or Nettle Drones if you happen to be ahead in a race.

Finally, look to draft a deck that takes advantage of cheap threats. Surge may actually find its best home in this deck, which is why I included Boulder Salvo in the key cards. When your hand has enough 2- and 3-drops in it, you won’t be able to cast all of them on curve, and those are the times when surging becomes most impressive. Casting a 2-drop followed by a 3-drop into two 2-drops is quite the impressive start and you may be able to get far enough ahead with this type of sequencing that it doesn’t much matter how your opponent responds.

Most Improved from Battle for Zendikar:

Skitterskin was always a great attacker, but there were often Fortified Ramparts and an abundance of Eldrazi Scions holding it back from true greatness. It helps that many of the large defensive creatures from OGW top out at 4 toughness (except the odd Ancient Crab), so Skitterskin is able to rumble effectively even later in the game. Valakut Predator benefits from many of these same aspects, and also works better when decks are less focused on collecting as many devoid cards as possible. Firemantle Mage was never a very explored option in this archetype before, but that’s because his effectiveness scales with the number of rally triggers you can expect. Perhaps now there’s enough support to make him worth the slot in RB decks.

Biggest Losers from Battle for Zendikar:

Kozilek’s Sentinel was always borderline in BR as an attacker but was serviceable enough because it was consistently an early 2-power attacker. I’m less sure that will be the case now, and outside of aggressive mirrors, its effectiveness has definitely waned. Dominator Drone follows a similar course and trades down too often for my liking now that its trigger is of questionable reliability. Lastly, Demon’s Grasp was the expensive removal that you never wanted to play but often had to. I think there are now enough efficient ways to punch through in BR that you won’t have to resort to such a clunky card quite so often.

That’s it for today. See you next time when I cover RG and WR!

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