Friday, January 8, 2010

UW Fliers (Fish) in ZZZ Draft

People always claim that drafting UW is terrible. Pros HATE blue now, even more than green. (Read the 20 articles on drafting green that came out within the past couple weeks.) But when I see UW cards, I... just can't help it. I want to take them!

It's an unpopular archetype, but it's one I enjoy. Here is how I draft the archetype, what it is, and my top picks.

So, in general, the deck can either by heavy white, heavy blue, or just an in between mix of white and blue, but you always have to be very aware of which direction your deck is headed. Because turn one Kraken Hatchling does not work if you also want turn two Kor Aeronaut. But usually it isn't too big of an issue since blue cards are relatively easy to play with not too many Islands. White cards are very demanding, on the other hand, so it isn't surprising that this archetype typically plays more Plains.

The point of the deck is to play blockers on the ground that block well, like Kraken Hatchling or Makindi Shieldmate. And then have a bunch of small fliers to swing overhead and have generally nothing but creatures with evasion. Without enough fliers, this doesn't work.

I've drafted this archetype almost half the times I've drafted Zendikar, and it generally works for me. But in the grand scheme of things, it probably isn't that great. It's just an archetype I particularly have a taste for. I've known people that have tried to draft it and failed miserably. Perhaps they aren't valuing picks correctly? If the archetype doesn't just straight-up suck, that's gotta be it... Here are my orders for picks.

Pick order for commons:
1. Journey to Nowhere
2. Kor Skyfisher
3. Welkin Tern
4. Umara Raptor
5. Kor Hookmaster
6. Steppe Lynx
7. Adventuring Gear
8. Windrider Eel
9. Kraken Hatchling
10. Paralyzing Grasp

Into the Roil is one of those cards I want to fit in here somehow, but I still think you have to prioritize these. Into the Roil is generally one of those cards that point out "hey maybe blue is open" and you take it if it's the best blue or white card in the pack. While Kraken Hatchling and Grasp do not really indicate blue is open; they are just good cards in the deck to have. (In other words, sometimes it's correct to take Into the Roil over Hatchling or Grasp. It's easy to find these cards come by later.)

I rank uncommons something like this:

1. Trusty Machete
2. Shepherd of the Lost
3. Living Tsunami
4. Kazandu Blademaster
5. Merfolk Seastalkers
6. Windborne Charge
7. Pitfall Trap
8. Kor Aeronaut
9. Arrow Volley Trap
10. AEther Figment

A lot of the ordering depends on the cards you've already drafted. In general, I think Trusty Machete is far and away the best uncommon. It is hard to justify not taking it, even over something like Sphinx of Jwar Isle. I'm being totally serious. Machete is NUTS. The earlier a card is relevant in Zendikar Draft, the better it is. But because I'm greedy, sometimes I WILL just take Sphinx over a Machete. Besides it might send terrible signals to my neighbors.

The distance between Tsunami and Blademaster is quite large, I feel. Blademaster is better with other allies; on its own, it is also great, but will mostly stall ground guys. I still take Skyfisher over it. Kor Aeronaut is pretty low on my list, but it depends entirely on how many 2-drop fliers you have. If you need more, you need more. But I figure you should have enough without having to commit to WW for this guy, who is pretty underwhelming for such a steep cost. And his kicker cost is super-white demanding. Which has given me trouble. All your guys fly anyway; it shouldn't be too relevant.

Here's a recent draft I did of this archetype. I will go through some of the initial picks and decisions. Although it doesn't have all the basic needs of the deck, it was pretty okay.

Creatures (14)
2 Kor Skyfisher
1 Kor Aeronaut
3 Welkin Tern
1 Kazandu Blademaster
1 Makindi Shieldmate
1 Umara Raptor
1 Reckless Scholar
1 Kor Sanctifiers
1 Windrider Eel
1 Kor Cartographer
1 Shepherd of the Lost

Spells (9)
1 Trusty Machete
1 Brave the Elements
1 Whiplash Trap
1 Arrow Volley Trap
1 Narrow Escape
1 Windborne Charge
1 Conqueror's Pledge

Land (18)
1 Sejiri Refuge
10 Plains
7 Island

1 Explorer's Scope (I put this in sometimes depending on what I could take out)
3 Kor Outfitter (I hate these guys; I'm glad I didn't have to run any)
2 Kor Duelist (these went in and out but ultimately stayed out; better with Gear not Scope)
1 Windborne Charge (went in versus a deck where I wanted the extra reach)
1 Reckless Scholar (went in against a control deck)
1 Cliff Threader (went in versus Mountains)
1 Kor Cartographer (not enough landfall to justify a second one)
1 Quest for Ancient Secrets (went in versus Crab control)

P1P1: Shepherd of the Lost over a lot of green cards and a Steppe Lynx; there may have been one decent red or black card in here, but Shepherd is a house
P1P2: Kor Skyfisher
P1P3: Trusty Machete

I continue to take nothing but white cards. I took some mediocre picks in Kor Outfitter and Kor Duelist but am happy with Kor Aeronaut and Windborne Charge. By the end of pack one, I had 11 white playables. But in a funky turn of events, the person I'm passing to is taking white cards, too! I figured there was a chance of this happening because I passed a Steppe Lynx. Possibly two. There was one pick where I had to choose between Kor Skyfisher and Steppe Lynx. Kor Skyfisher fit with my plan better; fly over. If things turn badly, have a 2/3 that can block and live through most attacks. UW can end up taking the back heel sometimes since it isn't the fastest deck out there. So having something that lives through most 2-drops, as well as Disfigure and Burst Lightning and Marsh Casualties is pretty neat. It's just a really solid card. As much as I love Steppe Lynx, I couldn't pass it up.

So, pack two, this is where I have to decide a second color quickly. Green was pretty open, but I wasn't feeling GW. There aren't many good green cards you can just "splash" if you know what I mean. You want Timbermaw Larvas, Nissa's Chosen, Primal Bellow, Vines of Vastwood and such. But these cards would not go in my deck at all, which was heavy white.

I opened a Gigantiform. I've played with this card a thousand times it feels like. It's impressive sometimes. As far as Zendikards go, though, it's actually pretty good. But I didn't feel like going for this card that is situational and would put me in a color pair I hated. I went for the blue instead. And was rewarded with a bunch of Welkin Terns, my favorite blue common creature in the set. I appreciate it even more than Umara Raptor, since multiple Raptors are hard to find; in fact, even with multiple Raptors in a deck, you don't often get more than one per game. Whereas Welkin Tern is always an unbuffed Raptor but a tern earlier. (yay puns)

As good as having 3 Umara Raptors is, in a deck that's too slow to do anything before turn 3, that deck is surely going to be on the back heel as it is. A 2/2 makes a terrible blocker. So, I try to prioritize having as many Terns as possible in my blue decks. They speed things up a lot, which is what blue needs to do to fight alongside all the other much faster decks. Of course, this changes if I have a slightly different build with a lot of Kraken Hatchlings. Stalling first, then beating with huge fliers can work, too. I love Kraken Hatchling for this reason. I would run 2 in any blue deck I build. But this time I didn't get any.

Reckless Scholar is another one of those cards Pros seem to hate. As a Looter, it certainly pales in comparison to Merfolk Looter, which is the number one common in M2010 Draft. And Pros also complain that you want both lands and spells in Zendikar anyway because of landfall, thus there's little to loot away.

I've gotten to that point with the Scholar, too, where it outlives its usefulness. But then I just chump or attack with it. It has a body, after all. It makes a decent Windborne Charge target also... but before that point, if it gets online relatively early, it digs like a mofo. And wins me games! Sometimes, even late in the game, maybe I just want lands for my Windrider Eel; then I don't mind terribly throwing away a Welkin Tern that wouldn't get through anyway. Or sometimes I don't have any landfall guys out, and thus throwing away lands is great, too. It's just a fine dude to have in a blue deck. I don't mind having one in every blue deck I draft.

But I left the second one for the sideboard. It's not great in multiples. And I want to max out my fliers as much as possible. If it doesn't fly, it better block ground forces like a champion.

Pack 3, I was passed a P2 Conqueror's Pledge and a late gift in Kazandu Blademaster.

As nice as my creature base was however, my spells were seriously lacking. I had basically no removal whatsover. Which is probably why the deck wasn't as great as it could have been. But I didn't see any Journeys, and I saw a single early Grasp. That's the other problem with UW: not a lot of (good) removal available. Arrow Volley Trap is pseudo-removal at best. It's slower and very situational. Not good against green decks with big-assed creatures either. I am not a fan of lots of Paralyzing Grasps, but it gets the job done. I see them go pretty late but not this time!

My matches were kind of... weird. And honestly I cannot use them to say whether my deck was ultimately good or bad. This article is mainly to illustrate what a UW flier deck looks like, and what cards I like to run in it. I have had much better success with this archetype before. It works also in a UB variety actually. In that deck, Surrakar Marauder is a main piece. I've had success with blue many times. In fact I don't think I've ever lost with blue in my deck... I don't remember too well. I know the four major losses I have had in draft were due to running green. Probably because I suck at drafting green! It's not easy.

Green is so awkward to try to draft if there is even one other heavy green drafter. How do you know when to jump in it? After you pass the second Timbermaw Larva? Or the third Oran-Rief Survivalist? I hate risking green. It's just not going to happen with me.

There are a few other unusual things about UW you might want to know.

I am actually okay with running a Cancel or two in the deck. Generally, what's supposed to happen is you drop fliers turns two and three. And then onward, you try to stave off as much damage as possible while racing. Sometimes this involves playing a blocker or Grasping guys down. Once you have SOME board control, though, you really need to keep your fliers and blockers alive. Without their constant presence, you could roll over to anything. The best way to protect your guys is with counterspells. As crappy as Cancel is, it is playable.

Once THEY're the ones on the back heel, things like Cancel and Brave the Elements really shine. Because you gain a lot of tempo by countering their removal. Take a red deck or a typical bear deck where all they do is play bears. Their entire force is stopped by a single first-striker or 2/3. Your guys will get in regardless. So their only real answers are removal or fliers of their own. Which you can easily deal with using a Cancel. Or maybe even Summoner's Bane. I'm willing to play that card slightly less because of its heavy mana cost, but it's also playable.

The deck also really likes its artifacts. Explorer's Scope is pretty decent with some landfall dudes in Steppe Lynx or Windrider Eel. But I don't think they're entirely necessary to make the Scope good; fliers keep getting in, and when you can keep Scope active, the more likely it is to give you value. Obviously Gear or Machete are better options. They're REALLY great in this deck because they allow you to race draws with Geopede and such. Well, on the play. On the draw, you may be in trouble without something better. Hatchling is kind of nice against Geopede. But not a guaranteed answer.

I know I'm not the only one who likes drafting this archetype. So if you've had success with it, tell me your story! :)