Iconic Masters is another Masters set, and another great Draft format. Today, I’m going to take a look at the different archetypes within the format, and what’s important when you draft them. I will identify the rares, uncommons, and commons that rise in value and that you should look out for when you draft each archetype. Cards such as Swords to Plowshares or Consecrated Sphinx are all high picks regardless of archetype, so I won’t be including those since their values stay the same regardless.
A quick note about the format:
Iconic Masters is a bit all over the place. It’s not really a fast format, but you can definitely draft aggro decks. There are a lot of powerful cards in the format, but synergy is important. This means that you don’t have to rate any kind of mana cost or specific type of card, such as removal, higher or lower than normal.
Think about what each different archetype contains, and once you’ve come up with a plan of what to draft, you need to draft according to your role and know which cards you need. For example, when you’re trying to be aggressive or more controlling. Slower decks rely on Walls like Doorkeeper, Wall of Roots, Dragon Egg, or Mnemonic Wall. This means that flyers and equipment like Darksteel Axe are important when you’re trying to attack.
With that in mind, let’s jump to the different archetypes!
U/W Aggro Control
U/W Tempo or control is as iconic as it has ever been in this format. It’s one of the few color combinations that doesn’t revolve around synergy in any shape or form except perhaps some prowess triggers with Guided Strike. U/W can take pretty much either form, whether it’s control or aggro.
What’s important in the control version is the rares and uncommons you need to finish off the game. The same goes for any slower deck, whether you’re drafting or playing Constructed, which is that you need a better late game than your opponent. This might be more difficult for U/W, since their removal is naturally worse than the control decks revolving around black or red and therefore it’s harder to take control over the game, even when you reach the later stages. But when the stars align in your favor and the archetype is open, don’t be afraid to go there.
The tempo version of U/W is a lot easier to get your hands on since it doesn’t rely as much on bombs as the slower version. The main strategy is to have cards that can both play defense as well as offense, especially earlier on your curve, since you usually want to finish the game with flyers racing your opponent. Since they naturally have worse stats than creatures on the ground, your early creatures need to be able to block or trade well. It’s Magic ABCs. But remember that if your early creatures are only defensive, you can have a hard time applying pressure against decks that are more controlling, meaning that they can keep their removal for your later creatures, easily grinding you out.
What U/W has going for it is flexibility. If the colors are open, it’s easy to sculpt your deck based on your needs between games, whether you board in a bunch of Doorkeepers, early aggressive creatures, or Emerge Unscathed, depending on matchup. U/W also has my favorite interaction, which is between Guided Strike and Jhessian Thief, working similar to Crash the Ramparts and Emperor’s Vanguard. Jhessian Thief pretty much forces your opponent to block it, meaning that Guided Strike combined with Jhessian Thief prowess makes for an easy 2-for-1.
What U/W lacks is its ability to actually kill a creature. Sure, you can bounce it, tap it down for infinite time, or remove its ability to attack, but killing something is a lot harder, and you need high-end picks to do so, such as Swords to Plowshares or Supreme Verdict. Watch out for cards like Charmbreaker Devils, Vizkopa Guildmage, or Battle-Rattle Shaman that don’t need to attack or tap to be effective on the board.
W/B Life Gain
W/B Life Gain is a synergistic deck. There are tons of cards that can be potent in the right W/B Life Gain deck that aren’t great in any other deck. What’s important if you’re drafting the synergistic version is that you need to make the payoff high. Gaining a ton of life isn’t usually a winning strategy, but when your Butcher’s Glee makes a 4/4 Angel or your 1-drop is a 6/6 flying lifelink, now we’re talking. This is one of the most potent decks in the format because once it gets rolling, it’s hard to stop. It’s also incredibly hard to race since you naturally gain so much life. But if your opponent has tons of removal for your payoff or synergy cards, or you don’t have that many of them, it’s easy to flood or for them to grind you out since your cards are underpowered, and W/B doesn’t really offer ways of getting ahead on card advantage.
The best payoff cards to look for, in order, are:
The back-up plan in W/B is just to be aggressive. Any white deck can be a regular aggro deck featuring 2-3 Darksteel Axes and go ham. Within this “archetype” or back-up plan, you rate cards like Darksteel Axe, Doomed Traveler, Guided Strike and such higher, not drafting narrow synergistic cards like Sanguine Bond or Angelic Accord at all.
W/R Prowess Aggro
The W/R deck always wants to be aggressive and as the name suggests, utilizes prowess. The deck tries to combine the aggressive elements of white and red early drops, the best of which happen to have prowess. The rebound mechanic, which can be found in all colors, is best in white, blue, and red. It’s a great tool to get several triggers out of prowess and increase the value of each card. Whenever you use Emerge Unscathed to save a creature from a removal spell or win a combat, it also comes back to add extra damage, triggering cards such as Guttersnipe, Kiln Fiend, or the prowess creatures.
Hammerhand in particular can get your opponent dead out of nowhere with a prowess creature and Kiln Fiend in. A Kiln Fiend into Hammerhand and say a Pillar of Flame is 12 damage even through a blocker!
Since the deck revolves around early creatures with prowess as well as the rebound cards and tricks, you empty your hand pretty quickly, it’s important to stay aggressive—so a card like Darksteel Axe is great. It makes it so that every small creature, even Doomed Traveler, retains value later in the game when you are trying to get that additional point of damage.
W/G Counters is all about the counters. With the old Abzan creatures from Khans of Tarkir Limited and the combination of old and new counter-based creatures, you assemble these “counters” lords to win combat easily. When your creatures have flying from Abzan Falconer, lifelink from Abzan Battle Priest, and first strike from Ainok Bond-Kin, it’s pretty hard to lose. It’s somewhat of a build-your-own mythic toolkit. Well, multiple mythics, that is.
What’s important when you draft this strategy is to pick the “counters lords” high and that means Abzan Falconer, Abzan Battle Priest, and Ainok Bond-Kin. When you have a ton of them, cards like Phantom Tiger or Inspiring Call get absurd. What this deck really has going for it is that a lot of its creatures are relevant very late in the game because of the outlast mechanic, meaning that merely stopping it with walls is a difficult prospect. But the outlast mechanic is slow and can be broken up by a well-timed removal spell, or by trying to aggro the deck down before it gets to add counters.
But you don’t get all of these synergies every time, and that means it can sometimes be hard to close out the games. One card I wasn’t expecting to perform well in this strategy, since you do have limited removal in W/G, is Lure. Lure forces a ton of attackers through, but only doing that wouldn’t be a good enough card on its own. But it’s great with, for example, Phantom Tiger to get to attack twice, or Greater Basilisk to kill off several blockers in a big attack.
U/B Mill can go in different directions depending on how controlling or proactive it wants to be. Sometimes, you get a U/B control deck with a few Grisly Spectacles and Glimpse the Unthinkable to pair with Mnemonic Wall to close out the game, and sometimes you go nuts with Jace’s Phantasm, Wight of Precinct Six, and Shriekgeist. But it’s important to know which role you take, and it’s all in the payoff and the amount of mill.
It basically comes down to one of two things: How many Jace’s Phantasm and Wight of Precinct Six you have or how many actual mill cards you have. If you have a few Jace’s Phantasm and Wight of Precinct Six, you can take the narrow mill cards such as Shriekgeist or Glimpse the Unthinkable a lot higher. But you can also take those cards higher if you have a ton of mill cards! It sounds weird, because you usually talk about bread and butter when it comes to enablers and payoff in Magic. When it comes to mill, sometimes enablers and enablers work too, meaning if you have enough mill, you can just play it as a burn deck backed by a few defensive cards and tons of card draw. The other way to build the mill deck is with the two creatures, where you try to get as many of them as possible, have a few mill cards to enable them, and try to attack your opponent with your large undercosted creatures.
Control is another great way to go with U/B. Instead of trying to mill your opponent, you try to grind your opponent out with the plethora of options U/B has available. Amass the Components and Mnemonic Wall usually get that job done pretty well, and with that, you just need ways to stay alive and win conditions. U/B Control is one of the control decks that can win without rares since its reactive spells and card draw are so good. It only takes one or two big flyers to finish the game and it doesn’t even have to be Mahamoti Djinn, but Riverwheel Aerialists does a good job as a creature that has great stats to battle other flying creatures in the format. This is one of the most solid and most easy to get archetypes in Iconic Masters Draft.
There’s not really much to specify in this archetype since it’s as classic and iconic as U/B Control gets. Make sure you have a few mill cards for the sideboard in case you play the W/B Life Gain deck, since you often don’t have enough ways to close out the game when they have ~80 life.
U/R Prowess is pretty much the same as W/R Prowess, with the main difference that it’s more all in, especially on Kiln Fiend. The reason for that is that the white creatures are a lot more solid than the blue ones, but the blue spells are better, leading you to play more spells and fewer creatures. If you compare them to two Constructed decks, U/R would be Infect and W/R would be Heroic. One is explosive, and the other plays around your opponent and gains value as it goes.
This deck is pretty hard to get and it mostly goes in one direction. It leans on pretty much one common, but can be powerful. Also, it’s usually hard to have a back-up plan for the deck, given how narrow some of the cards working with Kiln Fiend can be, but you can steer into a Grixis control deck if you started with mostly spells but little payoff. If one thing is for sure, it’s one of the most fun decks to play!
Most of my decks end up in Temur Defenders since it’s a good place to go after taking powerful cards and removal early. It’s defenders—they block, gain you time, and help you ramp into powerful spells. The defender deck also has powerful synergy between Overgrown Battlement, Doorkeeper, and Vent Sentinel. Sometimes you can have as many as 4 defenders on turn 4 with 2 Vent Sentinels, and can deal 8 damage a turn without even having to attack! It’s important not to rely solely on the synergy between the defenders. If you lose your payoff cards, such as Doorkeeper or Vent Sentinel, they don’t do a whole lot. But this fact ceases to exist if you have 2 Assault Formations in your deck, since all of a sudden, that stalled board behind your defenders isn’t a stalemate anymore when Wall of Roots and Jungle Barrier attack for 5 and 6 damage!
Temur Defenders is potent, because even if you don’t get all of the pieces, the deck naturally gets you to a late game where the color combination has a ton of powerful creatures as well as X-spells to finish the game. Fireball, Genesis Hydra, and even Genesis Wave are excellent ways to do so.
If you’re drafting Temur Defenders, you are weak to flyers, so try to pick up a few Aerial Predations for the sideboard and even in some cases it’s fine to main deck 1 if you don’t have enough removal.
B/R Dragons is what I consider to be the most powerful archetype of them all. When you get the good uncommons, which are the best in the format like Bladewing the Risen and Bladewing’s Thrall, the deck can be extremely potent and it has led me to some of my easiest 3-0s ever. The easiest curve to set up is Tormenting Voice pitching Bladewing’s Thrall into a turn-3 Dragon Egg, returning the Thrall. You now have a Dragon Egg, a recurring 3/3 flying on turn 3, and cast a Night’s Whisper without paying life for it. Not only that—the Dragon Egg, which they don’t want to kill in the first place, lets the Bladewing’s Thrall attack and race. If they kill the Bladewing’s Thrall, then they really don’t want to crack the Dragon Egg because it will return the Thrall. This interaction is what Limited dreams are made off.
To add to the story, not only are these uncommons extremely powerful, but they also are narrow and mana intensive, meaning that if B/R Dragons is open, it’s not uncommon to get a late Bladewing the Risen in pack 2 or 3. The same goes for Foul-Tongue Invocation, Bladewing’s Thrall, or Furnace Whelp, which aren’t at their best rate in other decks.
B/R Dragons is even in the right place in the format because tons of the other decks rely on defenders to stop your attackers, where B/R Dragons consists of big, high-powered flying threats. It’s even got the best removal suite in the format, as well as Thrill-Kill Assassin and Dragonlord’s Servant as 2-drops that play a proactive and reactive role, depending on matchup. Mind Stone and Tormenting Voice backed by bouncelands are the perfect way to avoid flood.
I’m high on B/R Dragons in Iconic Masters Draft, and if you get it, you feel pretty unstoppable.
B/G Counters is similar to W/G Counters, as the name suggests, but it’s based on less synergy between the “counter lords” and more on Corpsejack Menace. Corpsejack Menace is what makes B/G Counters a deck, and is extremely powerful. It literally doubles the size of Ivy Elemental, Phantom Tiger, and Heroes’ Bane. There’s a reason why Corpsejack Menace was a rare in Return to Ravnica, and don’t forget that it’s also a 4/4 for 4 mana!
Without it, there’s not much more synergy with counters in this archetype other than Inspiring Call and Mer-Ek Nightblade, which are underpowered. But that’s less of an issue, since black packs way more removal than W/G Counters, meaning that it plays more of a midrange deck that sometimes gets out of hand, but doesn’t need it to win games. Remember to try to pick removal and some kind of card advantage such as Phyrexian Rager, Sandstone Oracle, or Haunting Hymn higher than usual, since your explosive synergy revolves around an uncommon.
The rating is based on which archetype I think is the most powerful in the format and metagame, as well as how easy it is to get there.
1. B/R Dragons
2. Temur Defenders
3. W/B Life Gain
4. U/B Control
5. U/W Tempo
6. W/R Prowess
7. B/G Counters
8. U/B Mill
9. W/G Counters
10. U/R Prowess
With this, I hope you’re enjoying Iconic Masters as much as I am! Which archetype do you like the best? Maybe even one I haven’t listed here? Let me know in the comments below!