U/R looks to curve out prowess creatures and then back them up with a flurry of spells. In many formats, U/R plays as a more midrange or controlling deck, but that isn’t the case this time. Here you want to put your opponent on the back foot and kick them when they’re down.
There are other versions of U/R, but they come up less frequently. I’ve had U/R decks that care more about cycling, and ones that look more controlling and take over the game later. One was even Sphinx tribal, containing 2 copies of Ominous Sphinx and an Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign. While that was sweet, it was the exception not the rule. The guidelines I lay out today will be for the usual U/R Spells deck, but as always, look for exceptions. I’ll lay out the deck by curve, focusing on Hour of Devastation cards but mixing in relevant Amonkhet cards you want to look for—because you open HOU cards first, they matter much more in determining the deck’s structure than AKH.
Cheap spells are great in general because they let you cast multiple spells a turn. When they’re also premium on their own, these turns become backbreaking. Finally, add prowess into the mix and you have some real killers on your hand. U/R looks to Unsummon and Magma Spray as the high octane gas that puts you far ahead on turns 4 or 5 after you’ve already built out your board. You usually want 1-2 Unsummons, but this is the one deck where 3 copies is okay so long as you have enough payoffs.
Good: Cartouche of Zeal
This card functions similarly to the previous cards, but it’s a little worse since there are a few cards that care about instants/sorceries specifically. Of course this all depends on the exact cards you’ve drafted and sometimes this will be in the Unsummon tier (and can be even better in some spots). The beauty of Draft is that it’s contextual, and that’s certainly the case here. Cartouche/Trial interactions are rare these days, but you aren’t exactly trying to use this for good value. You're more interested in the damage output. That said, if you do see a Trial of Zeal there’s a chance you can prioritize the Cartouches since both are quite good in this deck.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Slither Blade was really an archetype unto itself, but it requires a singular focus and as many as you can get. With just one Amonkhet pack, you can’t do that. It still can do work in U/R, but you really want all your creatures to benefit from your spells and the Blade doesn’t. Similarly, Flameblade Adept was a premium card before but U/R has moved away from a cycling focus. 1-mana creatures have passed on their crown to 1-mana spells. Speaking of which, Crash Through can be quite good but you need a critical mass of Spellweaver Eternals or similar creatures. It’s one of those cards that makes your great decks better but can be cut when you have a more average U/R deck. It’s hard for the card to ever be truly bad though since it does just cycle.
Kindled Fury is the type of card I like having one copy of. It’s potent when it works, but can be easy to play around and is clunky in multiples. It’s also extra powerful on turns where you cast multiple instants and sorceries, since those spells make your creatures bigger for the Kindled Fury blowout.
Bad: Proven Combatant
Not really meant for this archetype. I like it as a cheap roadblock in decks like U/W, but in this archetype, your opponents are looking to slow you down, not the other way around.
Abrade will kill much of what matters and you have access to other cards like Unsummon or Puncturing Blow to take care of truly scary threats. Instant-speed removal lets you do tricky things like block with Riddleform or bigger prowess creatures. Riddleform is especially cool here since if your opponent holds back you can instead put that mana toward a scry. Burning-Fist Minotaur is just an incredible rate 2-drop and goes unblockable until your opponent has to respect the Fireball nature of the card. First strike is so scary when combined with threat of activation!
Spellweaver Eternal is the linchpin of the deck. At common, it’s a card you can rely on drafting, and it really shines here while it's merely fine in the other blue archetypes. This means you can actually get these a little later than normal when you’re U/R, though the card is good enough that trying to wheel them is often a mistake. Once you have a board with 3+ prowess-type creatures, any removal spell or trick becomes truly devastating. Critical mass is the name of the game here.
Unquenchable Thirst is obviously great, but the Desert clause matters much more when you want to attack. Thankfully, cycling Deserts are great in U/R because your low curve deck packed with spells will flood out from time to time otherwise. But too many is definitely bad because you’ll have to play tap lands in spots where you really need to commit more to the board. Aim for 3-4 Deserts but don’t fret too much if you don’t get them. Spells matter way more than Deserts do (and ditch the Thirst if you don’t get them).
Bloodrage Brawler and Cartouche of Knowledge both pack a punch and are good pickups from AKH. The Brawler trigger will sometimes matter if you have a cycling subtheme, and I’ve certainly pumped my Cunning Survivors to get in some damage later in the game. Again, this isn’t the main facet of U/R but can come up.
Average: Firebrand Archer, Blur of Blades, Consign // Oblivion, Cunning Survivor, Defiant Khenra, Strategic Planning, Nimble-Blade Khenra, Seeker of Insight, Dagger of the Worthy, Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs, Sunset Pyramid
U/R gets a good mix of passable 2-drops in case you don’t get enough premium ones, which is usually the case. Firebrand Archer is the most synergistic of the bunch here, but is a step down from the best options. Nimble-Blade Khenra and Seeker of Insight both get a boost from triple-AKH, but neither are essential to the archetype. Seeker isn’t very aggressive, and the discard doesn’t trigger a ton of effects anymore. That said, it still loots, which makes it a decent pick up mid-pack.
Blur of Blades is similar to Kindled Fury in that I always want one. The damage and shrinking add up to a good card but one that gets clunky in multiples. I say "usually" because I always want extra copies in my board. In some matchups the card is incredible and at its best in the mirror. U/R has a shocking number of X/1s and one of the best cards against the deck is Blazing Volley.
Bad: Fortunately, there aren’t horrible 2-drops. Anything with power and toughness is really fine because you just want to get on board.
Once again we see premium removal topping the list here. It’s better than usual because it also pumps your team. I sound like a broken record but remember that taking these premium spells will lead to an unbroken record when you 3-0 your Draft!
Eternal of Harsh Truths has been disappointing except in U/R. You can actually get it through in combat here and the life loss from afflict is relevant. The card snowballs like it wants to more often because of this, so take it highly. It’s less impressive in other decks, because the board clogs and a 2-damage chump attacker just doesn’t do very much.
Both the gold cards excel here and you should pick them very early, though it’s often right to take other premium cards over them out of strong packs because they will occasionally wheel.
Here are your bread-and-butter 3-drops. They all are great at attacking and much worse at blocking. U/R really doesn’t want to be on defense, and these cards are all good examples of why. Thorned Moloch is incredibly hard to block, but is also nice because it only really fits into U/R. This means you’ll get them pretty late and makes 3-drops less of a priority overall. This concept is awkward though, because you have so many premium 3s you want to take for the deck. But if you ever have the option between a premium cheaper card or a more expensive card, take the cheaper one because your curve will fill up and you’ll have fewer of those explosive turns where you cast multiple spells.
Thresher Lizard almost bumped into the "good" category for me. It’s pretty easy to activate since your deck is full of cheap cards, but you can decide whether you need it when it comes to you in pack 3. Supreme Will is a better-than-average card, but I find that counters are a lot worse here since you’re always tapping out and using mana aggressively in the deck. It’s clearly a fine card, but I usually don’t take it if I see a more proactive card that’s remotely as powerful.
Fervent Paincaster has consistently disappointed. It can’t really ever enter combat without dying and the pinging is nice but ends up too slow to matter a lot of the time. Some decks can’t really beat pinging a creature every other turn, but others don’t care at all. All this adds up to a card that looks premium but is instead just okay.
Again, counters are a lot worse here than in slower blue decks. I wanted to include Galestrike here because while it's a spell that removes a creature, you want your spells to help you attack. This is the same reason why it was so important to have Deserts to activate your Unquenchable Thirsts. I’m unhappy if I end up with any Galestrikes in my U/R decks.
Often you curve into a premium removal spell turn 4 and your opponent just can’t do anything to catch up. Both Puncturing Blow and Electrify make this happen. The Javelineer serves a different purpose but does more later on. Flametongue Kavu is still ridiculous even when it’s a bad Flametongue Kavu.
These are your premium threats. When you don’t have a removal spell to clear the way you can instead land a big creature and just count on that to do the heavy lifting. Originally I was unsure how good Magmaroth would be. It looks like the type of card that might promise grandeur but instead die off 5 turns after it hits the board. As it turns out, it’s just a 4-mana 5/5 most of the time and that’s just a great rate. Your opponent also will hope it shrinks down over time and decline to kill it. Meanwhile you can just keep pumping it back up and turn this downside into an upside through opponent misplays.
Limits of Solidarity is worth mentioning because it almost always ends the game. In triple-AKH, the card was good, but I think it has improved quite a bit. There are more big creatures to steal now, and people are also curving out less often. This means there are fewer small creatures just sitting around waiting to block and thus the swings Limits of Solidarity produces are much larger.
I mentioned how good the Javelineer is, but Sand Strangler will often be much worse as the setup cost is higher in U/R. It does combine nicely with Unquenchable Thirst though, since both push you farther in the Desert direction.
I almost included the Devastator in the "good" section, but it is worse than the other cards. Still, it does a fine job as a 4-drop and I’m perfectly happy if that’s the card filling out my curve. All the abilities line up nicely to stay aggressive, and it does contribute to the mass afflict plan where you just get your opponent low enough early that they have to kill off any afflict creature you play.
Card draw is okay, but you really want your spells to be high impact. This isn’t a midrange deck where you trade off resources then draw cards for a bit and eventually win. That said, Illumination and Trial are good back-up plans when things aren’t going well, and also still trigger prowess. Illumination is also one of the few good spells to cast when you attack a Thorned Moloch into a single creature. In that spot as the opponent, I’ll block, because any pump spell or removal spell would get me anyway and I’m avoiding a potential 2-for-1 down the line. Illumination beats that logic and turns what would-be a 1-for-1 into a 3-for-1. Not bad!
Lastly, Decision Paralysis is worth mentioning because it’s actually playable. I would never want to play the card before, but now it’s decent because it will almost always win a race, which is exactly what U/R wants. If you have really premium creatures but are lacking in spells, this is a card you can bank on in pack 3 since you’ll have access to any that are opened.
I’m pretty sad when I view a 2/3 flying flash for 4 as bad, but here we are. Times have changed for creatures, and that’s just not as big as it used to be. In addition, you can see that the 4-drop slot is pretty cramped, which means there’s really no room for this Aven. I do like it in the sideboard though. It’s the natural predator of opposing Aerial Guides.
Imaginary Threats is a bit too defensive for my liking. It can be a proactive card, but it’s worse in that role and I’d rather save it for my U/G board stall decks.
One of the most important things you can keep in mind is that you really only want 3-4 4-drops in your deck. I’ve listed a ton of cards here and that means that even good ones are replaceable because you have so many opportunities to fill these slots with decent cards. Mana efficiency is so important in this archetype. That’s why Spellweaver Eternal is so good. You can’t have too many!
These all put you way ahead and are also some of the few cards that can catch you up from behind. You do want good finishers, but if you don’t get these don’t worry. There are a lot of 5+ mana cards, and you only want 2-3 max.
There’s a good mix of fat, burn, and board swings here, yet all of these cards perform similar roles of putting the nail in the coffin. Some like Floodwaters and Inferno Jet are really only good when you’re ahead, but they have cycling and really just win on the spot most of the time you cast them. Lay Claim is similarly excellent, but 7 is a lot of mana.
I like both the Manticore and Serpent, but for different reasons. Manticore helps you set up boards where you just turn everything sideways and burn out your opponent despite losing most of your board. This is why cards like Blur of Blades are good in U/R when they would normally be mediocre. The Serpent should cost anywhere from 2-5 mana when you cast it, and it should be pretty easy to cast another spell alongside it. Next turn, cast a removal spell or two and voila! You win!
If you need a finisher and haven’t found any better ones, these will do. Gilded Cerodon is pretty absurd when it makes something unable to block, so if you do draft it as your finisher, make sure it consistently does that and isn’t just a Fomori Nomad.
Bad: Striped Riverwinder
The Riverwinder is just too expensive. It’s actually a good card but really not what you want. It’s not the end of the world if you have to play one because it can always cycle, but you can hopefully find better finishers.
U/R is totally awesome and Unsummon is king. 1- and 2-mana spells are the most important considerations when you’re in U/R, then just fill out the rest of your deck with aggressive creatures and spells. Add this all up and you’ll be in great shape.
Remember that sometimes your deck will be more midrange, cycling focused, or even controlling, and that’s okay! Try to focus on those opportunities to draft variations, and then the rest of the time when you can draft a more aggressive U/R deck, you’ll have the tools to do so. See you next time. As for me, I think I have some packs to crack and… ding! A Bloodwater Entity!