Thursday, September 23, 2010

Same Colors, Different Decks

Last Saturday we had an 8-person cube draft and something interesting happened: a friend and I both drafted blue/black, but the decks ended up with two radically different strategies.
I had UB Fish, with plenty of evasion, aggressive buffs, and some card drawing, reanimation and counterspells. I had strong starts, usually dropping evaders equipped or enchanted. When the opponent had the situation under control, typically at a low life total, I would generate card advantage with my drawing/reanimating engines. I was frequently playing setting clocks to myself, however, since Plague Fractius, Phyrexian Arena and Vampire Lacerator dealt damage to myself and I had few blockers, since several of my creatures had shadow - besides Cloud Elemental. It was a very fun deck to play with, and quite complex too - playing tight to win by one turn was necessary often.

UB Fish
8 Island
7 Swamp
Gemstone Caverns

Drifter il-Dal
Nighteyes the Desecrator
Aether Adept
Vampire Lacerator
Wind Zendikon
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Plague Fractius
Dauthi Horror
Thalakos Scout
Cloud Elemental

Fact of Fiction
Vulshok Gauntlets
Mana Leak
Living Death
Night's Whisper
Unstable Mutation
Phyrexian Arena
Diabolic Servitude

My friend had a classic UB Control, featuring much more counterspells, removal, card drawing, bounce and big finishers. He would control the early game with his counters and removal, then drop must-remove threats (Meloku, Djinn of Wishes) and take the game. He had great card advantage (Opportunity, Kiku) and tempo advantage (Draining Whelk, Repulse) tools, while defending well with equipped blockers.

UB Control
10 Island
6 Swamp
Soldevi Excavations

Kiku, Night's Flower
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Djinn of Wishes
Drift of Phantasms
Conundrum Sphinx
Shadowmage Infiltrator
Draining Whelk
Dimir Guildmage
Surveilling Sprite

Sword of Light and Shadow
Remove Soul
Doom Blade
Crystal Ball
Legacy's Allure
Memory Lapse
Loxodon Warhammer

These decks are a great example of how a cube can offer variety in archetypes without forcing them. Several cards in both decks would do well in either, including all counterspells, removal, reanimation, card drawing and equipment. Some are even in the "wrong" deck, such as Dismiss, Sword of Light and Shadow and Dimir Guildmage. These cards are key to offering a variety of archetype options, since they will fit several of them.

An archetype, however, is not an archetype without the cards that characterize them. In the UB Fish deck, they are the evasion creatures - Drifter il-Dal, Dauthi Horror, Cloud Elemental, Wind Zendikon -, neither of which would fit well in the Control deck, since they accelerate the game and create clocks. In the UB Control deck, Kiku, Surveilling Sprite, Opportunity, Infest and Crystal Ball represent what it does different from the generic UB core: long term card quality and quantity, reusable removal and tempo control.

One of the principles I stick with is that each color should have tools to support aggro, midrange and control. If UB only supported one of them, our match would have been a boring UB mirror resembling Psychatog mirrors from 2002. This was, though, definitely not the case. We met when we were both 2-0 to decide 1st place. I ended up winning the match at 2-1 after three awesome and skill-intensive games - winning the first one with a fast draw and a lot of graveyard recursion, losing the second one after a Draining Whelk took my EOT Fact or Fiction and raced me successfully, and winning the third after almost being raced at by a Sphinx - I defended by killing his Drift of Phantasms and reanimating it just the turn before I would die. In this last game, since I had a turn 3 Arena when he tapped out, we had switched the beatdown/control roles.

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