Let’s just start off by stating that SOI Draft is sweet. I mean really sweet. Zombie hordes flood the battlefield, Humans fight on for dear life against a myriad of horrors, build-arounds abound and to some extent define the format. I love how the synergies within the format push toward extreme drafting. Sometimes you’ll want to take a Sanitarium Skeleton over a Throttle because you have a ton of ways to abuse an expensive engine. In that way, when drafting, SOI often feels a lot closer to Cube than a normal set, and you’re incentivized to try and draft a Constructed-like deck at times. Today’s archetype is all about doing wacky and crazy things. Today I’ll dig deep into the UR spells deck.
The deck usually functions as a spell-based prowess deck with 10-12 creatures, but can also run far fewer creatures when everything is going right. In those circumstances, you’ll usually have 4-7 creatures and a bunch of build-around uncommons and rares, which really push the power level of the deck over the top.
It’s weird to list a rare as a key card but the UR deck is often powered by higher rarities. A UR deck with 2 Thing in the Ice is night and day compared to one with 0. The cool thing though is that if you open a Thing in the Ice pack 1 pick 1 and take it, you’ll likely get other copies opened in later packs since it’s such a niche card that your fellow drafters won’t want it. I’m not saying this will happen all that often since it is of course a rare, but I’ve been lucky enough to have it happen once already, and almost secured 2 Things in the UR spells deck I drafted at Grand Prix Albuquerque. When Thing in the Ice does flip you’ll essentially win the game. Luckily, that’s not too hard to achieve in UR.
This card is really bad in any normal Limited deck, but it’s absurdly good in a well crafted UR spells deck. In a good UR deck you might run as few as 4-5 creatures and that’s where Engulf the Shore really shines. It gives you time to play your best cards, and again is a card no one else will want at the table. Unlike Thing in the Ice, Engulf doesn’t just win the game, so I don’t recommend just slamming it p1p1 and trying to make it work (in fact, I did this on stream for science and the results weren’t pretty). Rather, it’s a card that is interesting to open and try to wheel in UR spells as it does dramatically improve your deck when you can dig to a “sweeper.”
I can’t list all rares as key cards and I also can’t think of a better non-rare that exemplifies what UR is trying to achieve. Your opponent will see you cast a creature or two, some draw spells, maybe a bounce spell or two and then all of a sudden BAM! 13 Zombies enter the battlefield and the game ends on the spot. Just be careful though, because sometimes the game still ends on the spot—with the Rise player dying to an alpha strike since the Zombies come into play tapped. This card promises a ton of power but is a lot of work to set up. That’s the fun of the UR deck.
I mention this card because it’s extremely controversial. In a lot of ways it’s just a horrible Magic card, but at times, the stars align and it will be one of your very best cards in UR. You really want around 16-18 hits in your deck to make sure this card is doing what it says. I’ve tried it in the 10-creature version of UR and it’s been mediocre to bad, so be warned. What Pieces does best is dig to Rise from the Tides. If you have 2 Rises, you want to play as many Pieces as you can get so you can rip through your deck to find your win condition. Ideally, you can combine that plan with a bunch of cheap bounce so you don’t get completely overrun while you do a bunch of fun durdling drawing cards.
Normally I like to talk about a deck’s game plan and then show some examples, but I’ve alluded to various versions of UR so I’m just going to jump into my examples and explain what makes them work (or not work) and give them a grade using my normal Draft Guide scale:
A: Hits every mark of the archetype and has some extra power outside of the archetype itself (usually from strong rares and uncommons).
B: Reaches all the goals of the archetype and has a strong game plan that will lead to many wins. You should aim for this level when drafting (and hope that an A results).
C: There are some elements of the archetype in place, but there are holes in the deck and it won’t be as streamlined accordingly.
D: The deck is more a pile of reasonable cards within its colors but doesn’t have a cohesive strategy.
F: Often labeled a “train-wreck,” the deck just doesn’t work on a fundamental level.
This deck gets a lot of elements of the UR tempo spells deck right. Notice how each card is trying to keep the opponent off balance and make the game awkward for them. Fevered Visions isn’t necessarily a key card but works well in this style of deck since you can play cheap threats and trade your mana more efficiently than your opponent and all the while they’re slowly racking up damage from the Visions. Ideally, you’d have a bunch of bounce to coincide with that plan, but this particular draft was very dry in that department.
To push this deck up into the B category I’d want a few more prowess creatures, namely Niblis of Dusk. It’s not difficult for that card to consistently attack for 3 in the air, which is clearly a good rate, and sometimes it can do even more. Another key point is how bad Pieces of the Puzzle would be in this deck. Not only are there 12 total noncreatures here, but some are even enchantments! Keep your eye on how many Sleep Paralysis you’re running since that will also diminish the effectiveness of Pieces in these UR decks.
Dual shot may look odd, but I’ve had it play out very well. Between all the bounce and ways to remove big creatures in UR (Lightning Axe, Reduce to Ashes, Inner Struggle), I’ve found that it’s an important to take out small creatures since you don’t have a ton of small creatures of your own. Some X/1s like Devilthorn Fox or Bloodmad Vampire are actually quite large, and Dual Shot’s job is to take one of those out on the cheap, but it also occasionally snipes 2 Spirits, gets a 2-for-1, or helps your creatures trade up in combat.
Here you have another typical example of UR, but more pushed in the all-in spells direction. Notably the deck is missing a Rise From the Tides, but I think this shows off where Pieces of the Puzzle can be good. Here it’s at the bare minimum to be playable but if you were able to swap out the Bloodmad Vampires or Convicted Killers for a pair of Rise from the Tides, you can see how good it can be. It does dig to the various tricks in the deck so that the Bloodmad Vampires and Pyre Hound can be more effective. Additionally, each premium spell you have access to such as Welcome to Fold will make Pieces that much better.
Notably, I left out the Sleep Paralysis from this deck, which I think may be a mistake but was done after a lot of thought as to how the deck would play out. If you look, you’ll see that I have 4 bounce spells and 3 other ways to kill or steal big creatures. Additionally, Sleep Paralysis takes a spell slot, at which point I’d have to cut both Pieces, which is a really close call with this exact 40. The idea here is that it’s important to think about the balance between creatures, card draw, and interactive spells since each UR deck will have a slightly different focus based on its exact composition.
I briefly want to discuss Bloodmad Vampire’s and Convicted Killer’s roles within the archetype. Bloodmad works well alongside Insolent Neonate, which is sometimes playable in more aggressive shells and the other discard outlets like Catalog, but more importantly is just huge and takes over a game very quickly. Your opponent will have to leave back multiple blockers any time it’s in play since UR can so easily remove a blocker and then attack for a huge chunk of damage. This forces your opponent to play more cautiously, which sets up more time for the bigger Rise from the Tides end game your UR deck hopefully has.
As for Convicted Killer, I would argue that UR is where the card is most playable. In RG Werewolves, you can find much better cards for 3 mana, and that is usually true in UR until you factor in that it will usually be a flipped 4/4. UR will often have upwards of 10 instants in the deck, which means the deck can pass on turn 4 a good portion of the time to flip a Killer without losing much tempo. Then that 4/4 is able to take over the game since it will be bigger than anything else.
Speaking of taking over the game, if you think about all the key cards I’ve been mentioning for UR, each is designed to be a card that snowballs advantage while your opponent struggles to execute their game plan. The idea is to simply land a threat and then use that and make it matter more than the rest of the board combined. Pyre Hound is another great example of this idea at common for the UR deck.
UR spells is an intricate and deep archetype. It offers replay value and the opportunity for mastery. While the format is still young, I’ve found myself gravitating to this deck often because it is more often open than not since it’s so hard to draft it and get it right. Players will draft random creatures and pump spells and that means it’s the perfect time to be drafting UR. I hope you’ll find the challenge worthwhile and fun. Once you do get down the right mix of spells to creatures and ways to snowball an on-board advantage I think you’ll be touting the strengths of UR. I know that I’m not going to stop trying to put the pieces together on this very fun puzzle. It’s basically Spider Spawning 2.0, but luckily the deck isn’t overdrafted by every Magic player wanting to get in on the fun.
Well, not yet anyway.