In my last article I talked about drafting white-blue and white-black. Here are the rest of the color combinations involving white along with some extra tidbits.
Underrated White Cards
Listed below are some of the cards that I've seen consistently go far later than they should, both in Magic Online
and real life drafts:
- Convalescent Care--This card is a bomb in limited mainly because it has the words "At the beginning of your upkeep...draw a card" written on it. Mana burning during your opponent's end step is not just a cute trick, it's essential in order to get this card working for you as soon as possible. The life gain is just icing on the cake, but don't ignore it as it allows you to shrug off evasion creatures that are pecking away at your life total. This card won't save you from Dirge of Dread or Wave of Indifference, but don't let that fool you. Once this is on the table, look for a way to stall the game and stabilize your life total, then overwhelm your opponent with the card advantage.
- Daru Encampment--People underestimate how good a land like this can be. It functions as both an 18th land and a 23rd spell, while the threat of the activation greatly increases the effectiveness of all your soldiers. I once ran three of these in one deck; although everyone else at the table thought I was crazy, I always had at least one active, and my deck 3-0'd the draft. The key is that it gives both power and toughness, so it's useful in many situations.
- Glory Seeker--Others have said this before me, but people still don't understand. In a world of three-mana 2/2s, starting a turn early has a huge effect on the tempo of the game. Playing first, then dropping one of these on turn two and a morph on turn three guarantees that your opponent will be backpedaling for the entire game. These cards are high picks in CMU drafts, for good reason.
- Harsh Mercy--This card is situational, but the idea of a morph wrath is strong regardless. Maindeck it in decks that are very tribal and side it in against decks that tend to drop a lot of morph creatures.
- Piety Charm--Not only is this a cheap Giant Growth effect for your soldiers, but it removes troublesome enchantments like Pacifism and Lavamancer's Skill at instant speed. Remember that you can ambush your opponent's creatures by removing the Pacifism on a blocker after attackers have been declared. In a deck with a fair number of soldiers, this will almost never be a dead card, and in one with a lot of them, it's a pretty high pick.
- Righteous Cause--I dislike life gain as much as anyone, but refer to the white-black section of the first article of this series for why I like this card. A week or two after I started hyping this card around the house, Turian came home from Grand Prix-Los Angeles and told me that siding it in had won him a match he couldn't have otherwise won.
Struggling With Green-White
I've drafted this archetype only sparingly because I haven't been terribly pleased. Even green-white decks that look amazingly good on paper rarely win all their matches, as there are simply too many opposing problem cards. Wellwisher
s relentlessly gain your opponent huge chunks of life every turn, especially since they feed off of your own elves. A single Sparksmith
can decimate your entire army. Riptide Biologist
stops your biggest creatures while evasion creatures sneak through your defenses unblocked. You don't even have much evasion of your own to race with, like white-blue does. Every time I see a white-green deck, the words "uphill battle" come to mind. This archetype desperately needs cards like Arrest
or fast aggressive green creatures like Wild Mongrel
, none of which exist here.
Key cards for this archetype include:
- Pacifism--This card is a must for both nullifying evasion creatures and helping to force damage through on the ground. It can remove both big blockers and the ever-troublesome Riptide Biologists. Unfortunately, Sandskin is not nearly as good in green-white because it creates a defensive wall that quickly becomes a big problem.
- Grassland Crusader--I hate to call this a key card, but if the Crusader ever has a place, it's here. It can pump almost any creature in the deck, including itself, for no cost other than tapping. If only it wasn't a ridiculous six mana to play...
- Whipcorder--This card shines in green-white, not because it becomes better, but because it's needed so desperately. Whipcorder is a more flexible Pacifism, shutting down evasion creatures when needed but also tapping key blockers on demand. On top of all this, it fills in the all-important two-mana slot and has morph for a late game surprise.
- Wirewood Elf/Birchlore Rangers--Your best chance for winning is accelerating out beasts that will overwhelm your opponent before he or she can beat you with activated abilities. Birchlore Rangers has the additional benefit of allowing you to play splashed removal cards, although it forces you to have a higher concentration of elves.
I've painted a grim picture but I think it's well deserved. This is easily the worst archetype in the format in my opinion. I know that Zvi likes this combination enough to draft it a Grand Prix--not once, but twice--but I would never draft these colors together at a high-level event.
The Versatile Morphs Of Red-White
I've been a fan of red-white ever since OdysseyTM
block where the versatility of that combination was pretty much unparalleled. That isn't true in the larger sense in the Onslaught
set, but it still shows when you look at the available morphs. With just
available, a morph creature could be any of the following: Daru Healer
, Gravel Slinger
, Ironfist Crusher
, Daru Lancer
, Battering Craghorn
, or Skirk Commando
. With just one more mana it could be Crude Rampart
or Charging Slateback
. red-white is a fairly aggressive deck in this format, and it's happy to just keep dropping face-down creatures and attacking with them until blocked, when they will generally morph into something better. It also seems to be the best archetype for drafting a tribal soldier deck.
Key cards for this archetype include:Whipcorder/Catapult Squad/Glory Seeker--Aggressive decks need to start on turn two if at all possible. All three of these satisfy that basic requirement, with the Whipcorder and the Squad also providing immensely useful abilities. I learned recently that Gustcloak creatures combo favorably with the Squad. Once a creature is declared a blocker, it remains a blocker for the entire combat phase--even if the creature it was blocking is removed from combat. Gustcloak Harrier--I love this little guy. You rarely see a three-mana 2/2 flier with a beneficial ability at the common level, but here it is. This is what you want to drop on the third turn if at all possible. Improvised Armor--When I first saw this I didn't think it would be that good, but little did I know how wrong I was. With only one-and-a-half banish effects (Cruel Revival and Smother) and one bounce spell (Essence Fracture) in the format, this card will often dominate games. Just don't play it when the creature could be Swatted or Solar Blasted in response. Piety Charm--This charm is mainly used to allow your soldiers to pound through larger enemies, but occasionally it will save you from a troublesome Lavamancer's Skill. Keep that in mind when playing against a blue-red deck and hold the Charm back, as that is the main way of defeating you. Astral Slide--The Slide has gained in popularity now that it is prominently featured in a winning Standard deck. It's an immensely versatile tool that can be used to remove creature enchantments, save your creatures after damage, slide out enemy blockers, and even keep creatures under permanent summoning sickness. If your opponent has an Arcanis the Omnipotent that is threatening to activate, slide it out on your own end step. It won't come back until your opponent's end step and won't be able to activate. You can repeat this for as long as necessary or until you run out of cycling cards. Sliding creatures out on your opponent's end step will keep them removed from the game for the duration of your turn, allowing you to ignore them during your attack phase. Knowledge of all these interactions makes this quite a powerful card. Crown of Fury--Not a terribly powerful card, but a very aggressive one. A 3/2 first-striker is infinitely harder to deal with than a vanilla 2/2, but a single burn spell can deal with both of the cards you've invested, so it's strongest against decks light in removal.
There's not much else to say about red-white, other than draft it and win with it. It's one of the most aggressive archetypes in Onslaught draft, which is another reason I like it. Essentially you present your opponent with a quick and ugly choice: either don't block my creatures and die, or block and walk right into one of my (usually morph-based) tricks.
The Benefit of Cycle Lands
Good players love cycle lands. We love them so much, in fact, that we draft them more than almost any other card. My most drafted card on Magic Online
is Lonely Sandbar
; three of the other cycle lands are in the overall top ten. Tranquil Thicket
misses the cut only because I rarely draft green online (as always, I find it to be overdrafted). A recent article by Gary Wise
showed that most other pros have similar numbers.
Why do we love them? Surprisingly often, they give you a chance to win games that would otherwise never be won. In terms of mana utilization, there are two phases to a Magic game. The first is one of mana development, where both players are racing to get enough mana on the table to play all of their spells. The second, if it is reached, consists of lands sitting unused turn after turn while each player hopes to draw more spells. Drawing a land during this phase of this game is almost as bad as skipping your draw phase entirely. This is especially true in Onslaught block, where there are no abilities that produce effects from the discarding of a card. Given a stable board position, the player who draws more spells during this phase will usually win the game. Getting into this phase too early and continuing to draw lands produces unwinnable games and complaints of "manaflood".
But everything changes once cycle lands enter the picture. Drawing a cycle land still isn't good, but it isn't bad either, because now you've got a second chance. If you cycle the land and draw a spell, all of a sudden you're back in the game. Having cycle lands also allows you to realistically run eighteen or nineteen lands and not worry about the increased risk of manaflood, while benefiting from the smoother starts a higher land count ensures. Missing your third land drop is suicide in this format, so anything that lowers the chances of that is a good thing.
A side benefit of the cycle lands is their incredible interaction with Astral Slide, Lightning Rift, and Invigorating Boon. Having another chance to draw a spell and getting a strong effect feels much like cheating, plus the lands increase the cycling count of your deck without the usual problem of crowding out more powerful spells.
Next time: how to draft blue, which, while admittedly the worst Onslaught
color, is not nearly as bad as people think.
Paul Sottosanti (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Yegg on Magic Online