Thursday, 17 November 2016

Top 8 Drafting Cube Archetypes

I discuss cards relative to each other a lot and this is useful for understanding the merits of a card in a vacuum but it doesn't say much of use for a practical situation. Just because one card is better than another does not make it the right choice for a deck. What does seem like a practical and useful Top X list is how the various archetypes pan out relative to each other in the cube. I will be doing a second one of these that relates to the powered cube as the results are fairly different. This list is derived from my drafting cube but it would equally well apply to the MODO unpowered cube. The main difference between the two is that I have a lot more fixing and as such the two, three and more colour decks are that much stronger in mine.

Here in the drafting midrange cube lots more cards are viable and the ways to build decks are incredibly numerous but the actual number of distinct archetypes is fairly small. One of the things that makes the midrange cube so good is that there is not a huge degree of rock paper scissors going on. Generally these decks are all quite close to 50/50 in their various matchups. Although there are some good and bad matchups in the midrange cube there are enough options that you can build any deck in such a way that it is at least 50/50 with its "bad" matchups. Obviously this will make it weaker in other areas but those choices are what make magic so good. While this list suggests you should play the decks at the top of the list over the ones at the bottom that is not at all what I want people to take away from this. It is much more useful to understand why the archetypes fall this way relative to each other. All of them are good and all of them can win, you should draft the deck you are being given rather than try and force something higher up the list. The differences between these decks as an abstract is pretty minor and is pretty irrelevant when compared to card quality, deck design and player skill.

Celestial Colonnade8. UWX Midrange

Of the archetypes listed here this is by far the least well defined. You could call UWX decks three or more different archetypes but I have chosen to lump them in together. Bant, Esper and Jeskai midrange decks are all of a comparable power level and there is much overlap in the blue and white cards that such decks want despite each of the three final decks playing a little differently. Bant is most like Rock decks and uses green for a little bit of mana ramp and some early board development with value creatures. It is the most midrange of the three possible directions. Jeskai is the most tempo orientated and will be able to control the game or compete in a race but finds itself in stalemate situations least. The more heavily you go into red the more the deck resembles other archetypes. Jeskai is certainly one of the most dynamic colour combinations in that you can make a seemless range of viable decks from aggro all the way to control changing one card at a time. The Esper version is the most control option and typically has more removal and less permanents that the other options. It is very easy to wind up with a control list when going Esper but I find that the ones that make permanents for the most part with their 3+ CMC cards are the most successful these days.

Typically these all these decks win with flying creatures. Some of the best cards you commonly find in all three directions for the deck are Celestial Colonnade, Restoration Angel, Archangel Avacyn, Remand, Negate, Swords and Path, Spell Queller, Wall of Omens, Glen Elandra Archmage and of course various incarnations of Jace and Elspeth! The strength of UWX midrange decks comes from their late game. They have the most powerful and reliable finishes that close out games rather than just locking up the board. They also have some of the best scaling for their cheaper cards making them even more dangerous to face in the late game. They are typically weakest against extremely polar strategies such as mass tokens or burn. Despite having good answers to things they are a little more pushed to find the optimal answers on que. A pure control deck would contain several lifegain tools and Wrath effects while the midrange versions may well have none of those things. The blue gives you a lot more choices than most midrange decks both with the targets for countermagic and the choices with card quality. Due to this you can afford to cover more different things with less answers. A very good option for players who fancy themselves as good and want a deck that rewards play skill and doesn't have any dud matchups.

Stormchaser Mage7. UR(x) Delver

While one of the best archetypes when you get all the key cards it is more reliant on these specifc cards than most of the other archetypes here and as such is on average a tiny bit weaker than on paper. When you get all your key one drops and most of the good two drops you have one of the best and most capable decks in the format. It can beat anything and is far harder to counter than any other archetype. Consistency is king and so a good pure UR list is best however there are powerful and worthwhile options in all the colours. The core of the UR Delver deck is Brainstorm, Lightning Bolt, Devler of Secrets, Gitaxian Probe, Monastery Swiftspear. You also really want Snapcaster Mage, Goblin Guide, Looter il-Kor, Treasure Cruise, Grim Lavamancer, Fire / Ice, Stormchaser Mage and some more top quality burn as well. A lot of these cards are top picks for several archetpyes and have very little in the way of alternatives and this is why the archetype is not number one on the list. Yes, there is loads of general redundancy but if you are full of Satyr Firedrinker, Ponder and Firebolt backup and filler cards your deck is just of an average power level with lower consistency than the verious mono options.

When you get all the the cards you want the deck is incredibly rewarding. Lots of options, lots of choices and a huge degree of control over the flow of the game. The strength of the archetype is that it is so low to the ground yet has no real weakness. Wih a mountain and an island you can cast the vast majortiy of the cards in the deck. Almost every other deck that is as cheap is also very linear, perhaps it is a burn deck, a weenie deck or a combo deck, it has one path to victory and incredibly limited options outside of that. UR(x) delver decks can win in so many ways as any matchup or gamestate requires. You can go wide with cards like Young Pyromancer, you can stall while nibbling them down with evasive creatures, you can sit back on defense with your team and use direct damage to close the game, you can even win with planeswalker ultimates if you have ones other than Dack Fayden! The most common route to victory is just casting your spells and doing way too much before you opponent does much at all. You should expect your one drops to do a lot more work in UR Devler than other aggressive decks. Ten damage plus from your turn one play is not that uncommon if it is one of the good ones.

Deathrite Shaman6. GB(x) Midrange

Generally I call this the Rock. It is the most diverse deck in cube simply because it has so many viable builds and cards you can put in it. You can be very aggressive, super control, high power midrange or even mess around with some combo style inclusions. Most lists contain green fixing, ramp and good value creatures and they contain black discard and removal. Recurring Nightmare is almost always good in the Rock lists.

A blue splash gives you some nice value dorks and a little more card quality/advantage. White makes you more midrange giving you loads of great value gold creatures and a pile of extra removal options. Red tends to make the deck more streamlined and robust in the early game but also more linear. I am tempted to consider Jund decks an archetype in their own right because they tend to be quite similar. Two BG decks can be viable and share no cards beyond the lands. Two viable Jund decks will incredibly close in cards used, curve and ratios of effects. Green and black complement each other and provide a very solid base for rounded midrange decks in much the same way that blue and white do. One provides for solid removal and creatures, the other provides protection against non-permanent spells and generally offers utility, card quality and much of the draw. With the archetype being so redundant there are no staple cards but I do still associate a load of things with the deck such as Thragtusk, Lilana of the Veil, Pernicious Deed, Abrupt Decay, Shreikmaw and Scavenging Ooze.

GB midrange decks have all the same perks of other midrange decks being robust and rounded but the addition of green greatly reduces any inconsistencies or clunkyness. Decent midrange decks can typically win any matchup and expect a near 50/50 win ratio but they are vulnerable to draws with not enough early game. They are highly vulnerable to getting a key early on curve play disrupted in some way. Green greatly solves this issue with an abundance of worthwhile early plays most of which ramp. A bit of extra mana goes a very long way in a midrange deck and when you havn't had to forgo casting something else relevant to do so it is a big win (there are few useful proactive tempo midrange cards that cost one mana). Green also now has card quality as well further increasing your consistency.

GB midrange decks are notoriously well rounded and have no real weaknesses. This is certainly true if you know what you are facing. You have such a deep pool of options you can always find things to plug any holes you might have in the build. In reality I find that the lists built blind have a mild weakness to fliers and struggle a little with cards that really need to be interacted with at instant speed. Both Smuggler's Copter and Celestial Colonnade are royal pains for GB decks for example. The BG playter will almost always have some answers in the deck but not enough and rarely on time. White helps a lot against the fliers with strong ones of its own to offer. Blue helps more to have instant speed interactions. Red just helps put them on the back foot so you don't care quite as much about their manlands and fliers. One of the most capable decks on offer but also one of the most subtle and skill intense. If you draft a BG deck you better build it perfectly for the meta and play it like a boss else you will struggle to even obtain the 50/50 expectation. Winning an event with a rock deck is one of the most satisfying things as it is never easy, you really have to work for it with most games being close ones. Rock decks don't have any matchups that are close to free win like some other decks on this list.

Reanimate5. Bx(y) Reanimate

Although I have called this Reanimate I actually mean any of the cheat big stuff into play mechanisms which is something all the colours can do to some degree in one form or another. Black is almost always the base colour in an unpowered drafting cube as it has the most redundancy its its Reanimate effects as well as all the good tutors. Adding red gives a lot of good discard outlets for the black stuff, ways to recur artifacts and Sneak Attack. Adding blue gives great card quality/advantage, protection and some really high power discard outlets. Blue also has Shelldock Isle, Tinker and Show and Tell as ways it can cheat things into play. Green offers good creature tutor effects with some discard, Oath of Druids or occasionally Natural Order. White only really has Unburial Rites which is more of a control card in my books and is the colour least used in this archetype. Despite this, white cards still frequently show up in these lists - just not with the intention of being cast (at least not for mana).

Generally these decks end up three colours although two and even four are not uncommon to see. These decks can outpace the aggro decks and out power the midrange decks. You can also build them to be robust against control decks. Good draws from these kinds of deck are the hardest to beat compared to most other decks good draws. The reason these decks are not number one on the list is consistency. While you can consistently draft these decks there are issues. Cards you want or have work really well with some cards and somewhat on the clunky side with others. If you get a great deck then it will be a nice smooth engine like combo deck, if not you will get a janky pile of cards that don't work optimally with each other. You might have a disacrd outlet, a big dork and a cheat spell in hand but still have none of them do quite the right thing to do what you need to do. You can have a mix of creatures that don't stay in the graveyard (bad with sorcery recursion), creatures that are not artifacts(bad for Tinker), not legends (bad for Goyro's Vengeance), that don't do very much with a single hit (bad for Sneak Attack/Shallow Grave etc) and so on. Almost all versions of these decks have some non-optimal interactions  but the good ones keep it to an absolute minimum. Not only are there some synergy inconsistencies in the cards there is also the issue of mana base for this archetype as well which adds further strain on the draft. There are lots of reasons to play these cheat things in archetypes. They offer the most possible power in the early game, they are proactive, they typically have draws or specific cards that are unbeatable for a decent chunk of the meta and they have a lot going on in terms of choices. Lots of fun, lots of power and some free wins!

Bloodbraid Elf4. GR(X) Stompy Zoo

This is the kind of aggro deck where you curve out making the fattest, scariest, highest tempo threat possible each turn. Generally this ends up being 3/3s and 3/3s with haste. All the colours have something to offer this list. The more colours you add the lighter you want to be in the red. White is the most common addition either as a light splash to power up Wild Nacatl or as a more even addition for the various gold cards of super high power level. If it were not for a high dependance on good mana this deck would be top two on this list. Even in just a RG version of the deck you want every single dual that comes in untapped (and Raging Ravine of course!). When you go three or more colors you start to want quite specific dual lands and no more than two basic land. If your mana base is all Temples and battle lands you might as well gives all your opponents a free Time Walk at the start of the game.

The reason the deck is so good is that it is the only deck that can just end things as if it were goldfishing right through other decks curving out well. It has some of the fastest games and creates some of the most unmanageable boards. Not only does it have access to the best tempo creatures in the game it has access to some of the most durable and high value threats as well. Bloodbraid Elf is a two for one and immense tempo. Voice of Resurgence, Kitchen Finks, Vengevine and Strangleroot Geist all pack a good punch for their cost and are all really hard to stop. The number of times this deck eats an on curve Wrath of God and still ends the game the following turn is silly. Stong man lands help with this robustness as well. The archetype rarely runs disruption and has limited removal at best and so can come unstuck to something like a super quick Sphinx of the Steel Wind or Ensaring Bridge. While it might suffer some colour issues if the mana base is weak it makes up for this fairly well by having such heavy threats relative to their cost compared to other aggressive decks, and the midrange ones too. You can very easily keep a five land hand and have enough to do. Four land and three spells is probably your best opener. Eating a bit of removal or discard, flooding and mulligans hurt zoo a lot less than most other aggressive decks. It can quite happily win with just one or two action cards.

Joraga Treespeaker3. G(r) Ramp

If you want to make big things and are happy to trade some speed for some consistency then green ramp is the way to go. It is one of the simpler decks to build, draft and play. You want half to two thirds of your deck as ramp and the rest as heavy threats. You can sneak a bit of card quality and draw into the mix too these days. Some middleground utility dorks also form a nice bridge between the threats and the ramp. While a little more vulnerable to disruption than many of the other archetypes on this list green ramp lists greatly make up for that by being one of the most consistent and most powerful on a turn by turn basis. By that I mean, your turn one will usually not be as good as the Elf they make and evry turn there after they will tend to do better stuff than you on thier turn. A midrange deck without a strong intereactive draw will just fold to an average curve draw from a ramp deck. The average draw of the ramp deck isn't even that much slower than the good draws from the Reanimate decks. Being that much more threat dense and consistent without being that much slower the ramp decks do tend to beat the Reanimate decks.

You can splash easily into ramp decks but the only colour I find I ever want to bring in is red and that is mostly just for Kessig Wolf Run. Dragonlord Atarka is pretty nice too! Wolf Run gives you a very powerful finishing tool that is incredibly hard to answer and greatly improves the lategame of the deck. Creature based ramp is quicker and has more kill potential however it is also more vulnerable to various kinds of removal. If you fear lots of Wrath effects then try and ramp more with lands and less with creatures. The archetype is only really weak to lots of cheap efficient removal on its early plays or to huge card advantage swings. A well timed Mind Twist is usually game over for a ramp deck. A turn two Arc Trail can often be game over too. This is annoying as it feels a little outside of your control but it isn't super common either. For those somewhat minor weaknesses you get a fast, consistent and very powerful deck. Typically it crushes anything trying to just make creatures and win that way.

Soldier of the Pantheon2. White Weenie

The dullest deck the cube has to offer but being fun to play in my opinion has absolutely no bearing on how good the deck is. White weenie is very good, it is the punisher deck. It will beat anything that isn't a proper archetype. It will beat anything that floods or screws. White weenie is the ultimate in consistency. It has loads of support in almost every kind of cube, it isn't super contested either (both for being underrated and for being dull!). It has cheap redundant cards and is happy to play nothing but basic Plains giving you great curving consistency on top of your drafing consistency. While most of what you want your deck to be is one mana 2/1s and two mana dorks that offer a bit more there is room for some spice in the deck allowing you to go in a number of directions and cover yourself pretty well. White has good removal options, it has a little bit of generic disruption (Mother of Runes, Mana Tithe and potential combat trick style things) and some serious potential mana disruption mostly via Armageddon. White weenie has some reasonable reach courtesy of evasive dorks or going super wide with global pump effects.

White weenie is a very fair deck all told. The best version of the deck is easily the weakest of the lot when compared to the best decks possible from the other archetypes on this list. The reason it is number two is that it is almost as good when a pretty weak version of the deck while all the other archetypes fall away in potency that much more sharply. Not only does white have about twice as many viable one drops as any other colour but they are all fairly comparable. You are rarely winning or losing because you had Elite Vanguard rather than Kytheon. The contrast between a Jackal Pup and a Goblin Guide or Swiftspear however is far more stark! White weenie tends to need grinding out if you plan to play the same sort of game. You might have better threats and more card advantage but it will be a long time before you can start to move the game in a winning direction simply because the white weenie player will so consistently dominate the early game. The best way to defeat a white weenie deck is to play a different game all together and just combo kill them or take infinite turns against them, perhaps just build a deck that can play cards two or three times more CMC each turn than them. Try and go one for one with the white weenie player and you will fall further and further behind. There are three important things to remember when drafting white weenie. One, aim to get two thirds of your spells as one and two mana tempo creatures.Two, try and have some forms of reach, typically evasive creatures, so that you can close out a game that has stagnated due to a dork you can't attack into sensibly. Lastly, try and get a bit of threat diversity into the deck so that you are not cold to certain types of card. Wrath of God is pretty ruinous if you are purely running dorks however a smattering of things like planeswalkers, vehicles, equipment, man lands and so on all give your opponent a little bit more trouble.

Sulfuric Vortex1. Red Deck Wins

No surprises here I hope. While not quite as consistent as white weenie it is in the same league of top tier consistency. It is all cheap cards and all red cards. The main two differences are that more people might pick some of your stuff as a RDW player and you will have a more even mix of burn and dorks while white weenie is almost all dorks. It is not uncommon for a RDW player to miss making a proactive play on both turns one and two. This is awkward against slower decks but often fine against decks making plays as you can aim burn at their stuff and maintain the tempo that way. The trade off for being less consistent in your early tempo than a white weenie deck is that you have a much much better deck for the task at hand. Burn is both reach and removal and as such gives you huge control and options. You chose when it is time to go all face and ignore the board. A RDW player is only ever out of the game when you kill them or when you gain a vast amount of life while a white weenie player can simply lose to a couple of the wrong shaped dorks. Most decks, especially the aggressive ones can be drawing dead into stuff or have a huge number of dead draws while RDW continues to draw dangerous and threatening stuff regardless of how stable you may have made the board. RDW goldfishes quickly and reliably, it interacts very well with midrange and aggro decks in the early game and it has fantastic inevitability going into the mid and late game. Aggressive red decks need to be respected, if you are packing a slow deck and you have no lifegain you should expect to lose to the mono red player at the table.

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