Magic decks are jelly beans. Just because two of them have the same color, that doesn’t mean they necessarily have the same flavor. A few weeks ago, we discussed the various kinds of decks that exist in Amonkhet draft when you’re sleeving up swamps and forests. It turned out that for that particular color pair, there were a few different strategies that all worked pretty well. And we noted the importance of figuring out which strategy you are in a timely manner. Once you’ve decided, you get to start prioritizing cards that are particularly good in that strategy. In Amonkhet draft, U/W is similar to G/B in that there are a few different ways to approach the color pair, except here they vary even more drastically. In fact, U/W can do a pretty good job at any of the trifecta of aggro, midrange, and control.
Let’s talk about aggressive decks first. In Amonkhet, aggression means lots of two- and even one- drops starting off your curve. That’s no different in aggressive U/W decks, and luckily we’ve got some good options here. In case you’re worried about one-drops, Slither Blade, Fan Bearer, and Sacred Cat are all pretty great in this format when you’re aggressive enough, and the latter two go especially well with Binding Mummy.
Cards like Labyrinth Guardian and Gust Walker are extremely efficient early plays, and this set has an abnormally high number of small efficient creatures due to the nature of exert and embalm. You’ll also play a few three-drops (hopefully including a good number of Unwavering Initiate) and maybe one or two fours, but five mana is probably enough to push you into the midrange category. Remember, Amonkhet is a format where you get to cheat on lands a lot of the time, and it isn’t rare that your deck is so aggressive that you only want to play fifteen lands.
Most aggressive U/W decks want to take advantage of tempo to win the game before the opponent can stick enough stuff onto the board. This means that Winds of Rebuke, an unassuming bounce spell, is actually excellent in this style of deck. Compulsory Rest is cheap enough that it also works well in this role, and I try to nab as many as I can. Hell, Decision Paralysis is just a strictly worse Frost Breath, and that card fits into this strategy so well that I always try to find one for my deck if I’m aggressive enough.
You can see how effective the tempo plan is when you play some games- a common sequence is that you play a Tah-Crop Skirmisher or something similarly sized on turn 2, opponent passes, you play a three-drop, opponent plays a three-drop, you bounce your opponent’s three-drop, they replay in on their turn and are forced to trade it for your Tah-Crop Skirmisher because you’ve hit their life total so low. This scenario also illustrates the oomph that embalm adds to aggressive U/W decks: it gives all these two mana dorks the resilience to get in some damage, trade for a card, then get in more damage, which can be very difficult for your opponent to overcome.
Moving up the scale we have midrange decks, and Amonkhet sees U/W returning to one of its oldest midrange styles after a brief hiatus: skies. While they don’t get talked about much, I’ve seen some good blue and white fliers come together in a limited deck to pack a powerful punch. Important role-players are cards that gum up the ground. Labyrinth Guardian is good here too, but for a very different reason from why it’s good in aggro, and it’s joined by Ancient Crab and Naga Oracle further up the curve. (The card selection on Naga Oracle is nuts, by the way! Take advantage of it if your deck can afford it!) Unwavering Initiate, as always, is extremely good as well, as it’s difficult to block and difficult to attack through at the same time.
Anything your ground force can’t deal with will have to get picked off by removal. In terms of flying creatures, we’ve got some good options in that category as well. Oketra’s Attendant, if you can get one, is great because when you draw it in the early game, you get to cycle it for something more relevant on turn 2, then get a free flier later on, and when you draw it in the late game, you have the option to get two fliers for the price of one card. Other great creatures to beat your opponent with in the air are Aven Initiate, Shimmerscale Drake, and Angler Drake. Not only are all of these fliers relatively beefy, they also all come with some other ability that makes them extra flexible or resilient.
I’ve only gotten a chance to draft U/W Control once or twice this format, but I’ve had a blast doing it. This strategy can be especially fun if you open a powerful rare finisher like Drake Haven or Approach of the Second Sun, but any old giant flier such as Angler Drake will get the job done just fine. The control decks I have in mind have a lot of cards in common with the midrange decks, but there’s a much lower density of threats, or of creatures in general, for that matter. In an ideal control deck, you want two to four cards that are there to win the game. The rest of your deck is answers (i.e., removal and other ways to slow down your opponent’s plan) and card selection to find the things you need.
One of the reasons Shimmerscale Drake is good in control is because it can be a finisher, an answer, or card selection, depending on what you need it to be. The same goes for Oketra’s Attendant and several other cycling cards. What about removal? Compulsory Rest, Impeccable Timing, and Cast Out will all find homes here as general purpose answers to creatures.
On the blue side of things, I like to have some mix of Essence Scatter, Censor, and Cancel to deal with threats before they happen. Outside of removal spells, you’ve got Naga Oracle as a great blocker for two-drops and one that also finds you the cards you need. You’ve also got Hieroglyphic Illumination, which can cycle in the early game or in an emergency, or can net you an extra card as a reward for lasting long enough to comfortably cast it. Trial of Knowledge is a better card drawing spell with less flexibility.
What’s your Flavor?
It’s amazing to me that Wizards of the Coast can craft a limited format where a single color pair has so much diversity in terms of what it can do, and on top of that, each strategy is powerful but not broken. I hope you appreciate that as much as I do, and even if you don’t, you can still think about this article next time you’re drafting U/W and maybe focus your game plan sooner because of it. At the very least, you might be able to try a flavor of U/W you didn’t even know existed!
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