One of the first things I noticed after drafting OnslaughtTM cards a couple times in team drafts was that it wasn't sufficient to say, "I drafted white-black." In actuality, "I drafted clerics-zombies" had become a better way of describing your deck.
As I've drafted the set more and more, I've realized that the color combinations are in many ways just as important as they used to be, but the tribal mechanic still adds a whole new dimension to the way you have to draft. Cards have to be evaluated not only based upon the archetype (i.e., color combination) you're in, but also based upon the creature types that are finding their way into your pile.
Some archetypes, such as blue-red, barely rely upon being tribal at all, whereas other archetypes such as white-black gain nearly all of their strength from the synergy between the creature types. While there is still something to be said for taking the most powerful card in your colors out of each pack, occasionally drafting tribally can be the way to go. That being said, I'm going to go through the archetypes by colors, not tribes, but some specific mentions of particularly potent tribal combinations will be made.
When To Draft White
There are two possible reasons to draft a color in any given booster draft: a bomb card in that color, or the knowledge that the person (or people) to your right isn't drafting it. Certain cards, usually rares, are good enough that if you open them in the first pack, it becomes worth it to force a color to a much stronger degree than usual. Regardless of what the person to your right is doing, you draft the color, while trying to cut off cards from that color so that, if nothing else, you will at least get some cards in the second pack. Your second color can be picked according to signals from the right, so that you will end up with a solid deck that features your early bomb.
The bomb Onslaught white rares are: Akroma's Vengeance, Aurification, Aven Brigadier, Convalescent Care, Exalted Angel, Glarecaster, Gustcloak Savior, and Jareth, Leonine Titan. Catapult Master, Mobilization, and Shared Triumph can also be powerful, but only in very specific decks. Finally, Weathered Wayfarer can be strong when drawing first, especially if you have cycle lands or Daru Encampments in your deck.
White in Onslaught drafts can generally support three drafters, two that will probably be in soldiers and one that will be in clerics, although the picks will bleed over from time to time. While it's not easy to tell exactly how many other players at the table in a booster draft are taking white cards, you should be able to get a feel for it from the cards that are coming through.
The most basic signal to look for is a pack that has one of the two best white commons in it (namely, Pacifism or Gustcloak Harrier) with a common missing. If a rare or an uncommon is missing, it's much harder to know what is going on. But any time you see a pack with Pacifism or Harrier and at least one other common missing, you know that white is relatively safe.
White And What Else?
It is becoming common knowledge that to win in this format, you want to have either red cards or black cards in your deck. This is mainly due to the presence of two common creatures with possibly game-dominating activated abilities (Wellwisher
), but also results from the resurgence of the fear ability. Occasionally, however, it can be the right call to throw caution to the winds and draft one of the three scorned color combinations from this set, such as white-blue.
Over The Top With White-Blue
The goal of this archetype is, unsurprisingly, to stop up the ground and beat your opponent through the air. I've had some degree of success with it, but there is an element of luck in getting the right matchups. Due to a complete lack of cards such as Arrest
and Stupefying Touch
, turn two Sparksmith
is a nightmare that can only be stopped by you drawing a mountain and a splashed burn spell. Your only permanent answer in the colors is Artificial Evolution
, but even that allows the Sparksmith to ping for one a turn, as if you change his ability to look for Cephalids, Sparksmith will now be a Cephalid. How unlucky.
Key cards for this archetype include:
- Aven Brigadier--Opening this card in the first pack is pretty much the best reason to draft white-blue that I can think of. It turns Gustcloak Harriers and Dive Bombers into monstrous 4/4 fliers, Screaming Seahawks into replicating 3/3 fliers, and Daru Cavaliers practically into Lancers. The fun never stops with the Brigadier on the table. Also, note that it's not a Legend, so Clone it at first opportunity. It's sickeningly good.
- Crude Rampart--One of keys to this archetype is making sure nothing ever gets through on the ground. You want your opponent to work for damage while you race him or her through in the air. This card should usually be cast face up as the surprise factor is not worth the investment of an extra four mana. Once it hits the table, Rampart stops all the Barkhide Maulers and Spitting Gournas in the world as long as the ubiquitous Snarling Undorak isn't around (though this may be hoping for too much).
- Pacifism/Sandskin--Sandskin shines more in this archetype than any other, as it is usually a slightly more expensive Pacifism that accomplishes the same. Put these on Severed Legions, put them on Towering Baloths, put them on anything that might manage to hurt you. Draft as many as possible and put exactly that many in your maindeck.
Two things to remember about Sandskin: it can be very good to put it on your own face up Ironfist Crusher, and it's not nearly as good as usual on the creatures of someone who has a Nantuko Husk. If a creature with Sandskin on it dies or is sacrificed after damage is on the stack but before damage resolves, the creature will still deal its full damage, as the Sandskin is not around to prevent it at the crucial moment.
- Airborne Aid/Seaside Haven--These are not key cards by any means, but if you ever want to make them work, this is the deck to do it in. The combination of lots of Birds plus the occasional Mistform means that both of these cards can become playable. They shouldn't always make the cut, but don't be afraid to give them a second glance.
- Dive Bomber--This card gets an honorable mention as an answer to Severed Legion. While usually you'll want to be swinging for two a turn, occasionally you'll need to stem the bleeding from enemy fear creatures or hold back to take out two attackers.
White-blue is one of the scarier archetypes to draft, but I've seen it pay off with a 3-0 record. Splashing red for cards like Solar Blast, Lavamancer's Skill, Lightning Rift, and Shock can pay off, although the lack of mana fixers makes your manabase rather shaky. Splashing for black is also an option, with Cruel Revival being an obvious pick and Crown of Suspicions for getting rid of the Sparksmiths and Wellwishers.
Evading The Enemy With White-Black
White-black aims to attack the opponent on a number of fronts, with both flying and fear at its disposal. Gustcloak Harrier
and Severed Legion
begin the assault with creatures like Dive Bomber
and Gluttonous Zombie
follow up. Glory Seeker
and Wretched Anurid
both fill the two-drop as ways to do some early damage or just start the tempo a little earlier. Alternatively, the deck can be drafted tribally with an eye towards clerics, as there any number of cards that shine in this deck.
Key cards for the aggressive deck:
- Screeching Buzzard--This is a card that I've grown to like more and more as time goes on. When not dealt with, it provides a fine clock through the air, and when your opponents decide to finally send it to the graveyard, they have to pitch an extra card.
- Crown of Suspicion--This crown serves as both an offensive and a defensive weapon. Not only can it destroy Sparksmiths and other annoying X/1s, but it can also be placed on a Severed Legion or Screeching Buzzard for an accelerated clock. With two Legions in play, the crown can be sacrificed at a crucial moment to deal eight points of damage. Finally, it can be placed on a Nantuko Husk and sacrificed to kill entire swarms of enemy insect tokens.
- Boneknitter--This is a very strong two drop that some decks just can't deal with. You'll rarely ever want to morph it unless it's the late game and you have eight mana and nothing else to spend it on. Boneknitter helps hold the ground against large beasts by regenerating the chump blockers until your evasion creatures do their job.
- Wretched Anurid/Glory Seeker--In a format where most decks start on turn three, having an aggressive two drop is much more powerful than normal. Opinions vary on the Anurid, but there's no denying that it can make for some explosive starts. Having a Swat handy to clear the way of annoying Riptide Biologists (and to savage your opponent if he or she double blocks) will make the Anurid a lot better.
- Righteous Cause--Again, not necessarily a key card, and certainly not an aggressive card, but the Cause is a lot better than you might think. Evasion creatures and Gustcloak creatures combo well with this card, which makes it almost impossible for your opponent to race you. White-black is the archetype that benefits most from being in a position where it will win any damage race.
And for the cleric deck:
- Doubtless One--This card is amazing in a dedicated cleric deck. It will rarely ever die to damage due to the protection afforded from the other clerics in play (whether they are Daunting Defenders or Battlefield Medics) and the life gain can turn the game around.
- Cabal Archon--A Gray Ogre with a strong ability that gets better and better with more clerics in the deck. Every cleric becomes, at worst, a chump blocker and then four point life swing, and many games will be ended by a stream of clerics being sent at your opponent's dome.
- Starlit Sanctum--A fine 18th land, the Sanctum is good at ending games that the normally defensive clerics might have trouble finishing off. Fallen Cleric becomes a lot better when it always hits for at least four. Recursion effects like Aphetto Dredging or Oversold Cemetery are great with either the Sanctum or the Archon.
The weekend of PT Boston I participated in my first Onslaught team booster draft, which involved Turian and Buehler amongst others. I drafted an aggressive white-black deck that I believe ended up with a 3-0 record. For the rest of the weekend I continued to draft that deck and continued having success with it, most notably in a game against Phil Freneau where I dropped Screeching Buzzards on turns 4-7. All he could do was look on in dismay at what it would cost him to deal with them.
In the next installment of this series I'll talk about the dreaded green-white and the versatile red-white combinations, as well as highlight some of the white cards that I feel are undervalued. Feel free to email me with questions, comments, and whatever else. Paul Sottosanti (firstname.lastname@example.org
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