Blue-Black, Blue-Green, And Blue-Red
Drafting Blue In Onslaught
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
The days of blue's dominance are all but over. Fact or Fiction has been replaced by Airborne Aid. Exclude is now Discombobulate. And Repulse? Have an Essence Fracture.
It's all part of R&D's plan to reshape the color wheel and even the power level of all five Magic colors. We've been hearing about it for a while now, but nowhere has it been felt more strongly than in the blue cards of the Onslaught™ set. Card drawing is no longer usually at instant speed, countermagic isn't cheap, and good bounce is hard to find. Blue's glory days seem to be fading.
This also means that it is difficult to draft a traditional blue control deck with Onslaught cards. Blue-red is the only true control archetype, whereas blue-white and blue-black both tend to be quite aggressive and blue-green is a sort of strange hybrid.
Personally, I like to take advantage of the fact that many people on Magic Online are scared to draft blue, as evidenced by seven of my top ten most drafted spells being of that color. It does have all the tools it needs to win, it just doesn't have many of them.
When To Draft Blue
The key to drafting blue is doing it when there is only one other blue drafter at the table, as the color is very shallow and can't usually support three drafters well. For this reason, a second pick Ascending Aven
isn't necessarily a signal that you should be in blue, although it's acceptable to run a bit of a risk and take it, hoping that others across the table don't like blue (like most players). Something like a fourth or fifth pick Aven, on the other hand, is a great signal that the color is fairly open. Late copies of Mistform Wall
, Riptide Biologist
, and Choking Tethers
are also good signs.
If I open or get passed a bomb blue rare in pack one, I will almost always take it and run the "blue gambit," as I sometimes call it, hoping that the cards will keep coming even though I don't yet know the situation on the other side of the table. The bomb Onslaught blue rares are: Arcanis the Omnipotent, Callous Oppressor, Future Sight, Mistform Skyreaver, and Quicksilver Dragon. Peer Pressure can also be a bomb but it requires a Mistform-heavy deck to work at its full potential. Blatant Thievery, Clone, and Read the Runes are all also strong rares, although not quite at the same level.
Underrated Blue Cards
There actually aren't very many underrated blue cards, mainly because the color is shallow enough that the good cards are easy to spot. It's also difficult for me to tell which are being undervalued because there are so few blue drafters that you get good cards as late picks regardless. But here are a few that might be more useful than people realize:
Artificial Evolution/Standardize--These cards are rarely fit for the main deck, but they both have quite a few applications. Artificial Evolution has numerous interactions with cards from the Onslaught set and can be a good sideboard answer to Avatars or even an enhancer for your own Rotlung Reanimator (hint: change cleric to zombie for infinite zombie fun). Standardize can deal large amounts of damage to an opponent using a Sparksmith or can destroy Avatars outright. It's also insane with cards like Peer Pressure that rely on many creatures of the same type being in play.
--I'm not honestly sure if the Oppressor is undervalued, but I have seen it passed a fair amount. This card is insane on its own, and is positively dominating when backed up by Imagecrafter. Something that allows you to sacrifice creatures (Nantuko Husk, Ravenous Baloth, Voidmage Prodigy) makes the whole thing even sillier. I will always draft blue if I can get this creature in my pile early enough.
Chain of Vapor
--This card has a number of applications, but it's main strength lies in the fact that it only costs one mana. Bouncing blockers to try and win a tempo race is not an option, as you'll just find your creatures bounced as well. But bouncing creatures with enchantments such as Lavamancer's Skill or Mythic Proportions works well. It can also be used to rescue your own creatures from things like Pacifism, combat damage, or a removal spell, while denying your opponent the chance to chain the spell. Remember that if you target one of your creatures, you can sacrifice a land and chain it to target another one of your creatures, so it can also save multiple creatures at once from a spell like Slice and Dice or Akroma's Vengeance. That's a lot of versatility for a cheap spell like this.
--Think of it this way: if this card even steals one opposing creature, you've just cast an improved Control Magic (since it doesn't stick around and therefore can't be reversed by enchantment removal). While it's rare that you'll be able to steal your opponent's main tribe, it can be used to steal anything from Silvos, Rogue Elemental to Silent Specter with the proper use of Mistforms and Imagecrafters. It's a nice answer to a lot of problem creatures, with the unfortunate drawback of requiring several circumstances to be in place at once.
--A large blue creature that can instantly replace itself with almost any of the creatures in your deck? Sign me up. Remember that you can put damage on the stack and then use its ability, or you can just do it after your opponent has declared an attack but before the declare blockers step. This card should be picked higher than it is.
Refer to my previous article
for thoughts on this archetype.
Blue-Black There are really two different ways to build a successful blue-black deck in this format, although I think the aggressive one is more consistent. That version uses efficient creatures to force through early damage and then various finishers to eventually go for the win. This is a deck that I used to draft all the time on Magic Online to a great degree of success. The second deck uses more defensive cards like Mistform Wall and Sage Aven to hold the fort while you attack simultaneously on both evasion fronts: flying and fear.
Key cards for this archetype include:
- Wretched Anurid--It's no secret that this is the most aggressive way to start a game. There's nothing better for putting your opponent under a lot of pressure. Hopefully, you will beat your opponent before the life loss begins to matter.
- Severed Legion/Mistform Dreamer--These are the three-mana evasion creatures that you're looking for to keep the pressure on your opponent.
- Ascending Aven/Screeching Buzzard--And, of course, the four-mana fliers finish up the early part of your curve. The extra point of power on the Aven is better, but the discard effect of the Screeching Buzzard is nice as well.
- Choking Tethers/Dirge of Dread--These can be cycled for a few early points of damage or used at full strength in the midgame for an alpha-strike finish. Due to the lack of Fog effects in the set, they're much more powerful than they would otherwise be.
- Endemic Plague--This card finds its home in blue-black where Mistform creatures allow you to destroy any creature type you wish. Clearing the board of a creature type will often decimate opponents who have managed to draft heavily tribal decks.
I've also had some degree of success splashing Lightning Rift into blue-black decks due to the high number of cycling cards found in the two colors. Regardless, blue-black is far from the control deck that it was in Odyssey™ block. It just wants to do twenty damage as fast as possible.
Blue-Green To be honest, this is not an archetype I draft very often. In fact, I don't know if I've ever drafted blue-green, but I have talked to people about drafting these colors and seen people play them. Essentially you need a fast, beefy attack on the ground backed by fliers in the air. Unfortunately there is a little bounce and very little in the way of aggressive green ground creatures, but you have to make do.
Key cards for this archetype include:
- Wirewood Elf--Archetypes that can't remove their opponent's creatures need to deploy their own creatures as fast as possible. This archetype's best hope is probably a turn three Snarling Undorak, which Wirewood Elf makes possible.
- Snarling Undorak--The Undorak is the most aggressive green creature printed in the Onslaught set. While it's no Wild Mongrel, it manages to put early pressure on and then follow up with the threat of pumping as more mana becomes available. Imagecrafter and Mistforms allow you to pump almost any creature on your entire side, so this beast needs to be on the table as much as possible.
- Wellwisher--Buys you time against evasion creatures and can gain a lot of life when assisted by Mistform creatures.
- Imagecrafter--This creature is good for the same reason it always is. It gets in a couple points of damage and then sits back to fizzle Cruel Revivals and help out whenever necessary.
- Essence Fracture--This tempo card maybe finds its home in blue-green, where it can clear the way for the beasts and set back an opponent's development past the point of recovery.
- Choking Tethers--"On your end step, tap your team?" Untap, attack for the match.
- Crown of Ascension--I don't know if this card is ever playable, but if it is, it would be here. Put it on a beast (maybe even Leery Fogbeast) and start sending for damage. Eventually, you can send a massive alpha strike through the air.
Good luck if you decide to try this out. You'll probably need it.
Blue-Red Arguably the best archetype in Onslaught draft, blue-red in many cases manages to fit the definitions of a control deck by loading the board with little creatures and using them to gun down everything on the opposing side. Ascending Aven, Mistform Dreamer, and even Screaming Seahawk can beat down in the air while Mistform Wall and Riptide Biologist play defense. The main problem with this archetype is its dependence on one certain card to make it work at a level where it can win drafts. Thankfully, that card is common.
Key cards for this archetype include:
- Lavamancer's Skill--Ahh, the Skill. You can determine the worth of most blue-red decks just by asking one simple question, "How many Skills do you have?" That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Make sure to have enough wizards and Mistforms that you always have a good target for it.
- Embermage Goblin--Another pinging effect that is insane in multiples but fine by itself. Blue-red is easily capable of stalling the game to the point where you can afford to cast a four mana 1/1 creature.
- Sparksmith--Always insane, but even better with Mistforms who can increase its power when necessary and leave it toned down at other times.
- Aphetto Alchemist--Gives a shotgun effect to the above three cards and can be played face down when they haven't been drawn yet. The best possible draw in blue-red is Alchemist on turn two, followed by Mistform Wall on turn three, followed by Lavamancer's Skill on the wall on turn four. The Alchemist can also be used to untap creatures that attacked so that they can also block, but I've found that to come up rarely in blue-red.
- Mistform Wall--It blocks face-down creatures all day long, has the useful Mistform ability, and is the best Lavamancer's Skill target in the game as the only common removal spells it's really vulnerable to are Swat and Pinpoint Avalanche. Cruel Revival can be fizzled by turning into a zombie, so when there's a Skill on it, try to leave one mana available against players with black decks and five mana available. Blue-red thrives on the combination of Wall and Skill, which is great because they are both commons.
- Riptide Biologist--The Biologist is your best answer to green's beasts once they start hitting the table. The only problem is that many of them can morph. Usually you can force your opponent to flip them up by blocking with something else first, then the Biologist can take over.
- Imagecrafter--A fine one drop and a wizard as well, although a fragile one. One good use is turning opposing creatures into beasts after they've been blocked by Riptide Biologists, but there are numerous others as well.
- Mage's Guile--I always used to cycle this as soon as I drew it, looking for more threats. Recently I've realized that it's often worth keeping in hand. It's best use is protecting a creature with Lavamancer's Skill on it, but it can also be used to fizzle your opponent's enchantments or growth spells. Never cycle this if you have a wizard or Mistform with a Skill on it, unless you absolutely must due to imminent loss.
Blue-red has recently been winning a lot of drafts, and for good reason. As people learn how to draft it better, other color combinations have more trouble with it. The only thing it fears is board clearers like Infest or Slice and Dice, as it has answers to almost everything else.
Next time I'll talk about drafting everyone's favorite color of death and decay, black, as well as the archetypes of black-green and black-red.