Perilous Research #1: Back in Black(Blue) Value
Welcome to Perilous Research #1! I am your host, Jason Clark. I’m a spike player hailing from Delaware, USA. I’ve been playing on and off since Ice Age. With my latest return to the game I have the ability to dedicate the time and resources I need to Magic to actually advance my game and have a chance at winning a PTQ/Open/etc. These articles will be weekly, but each week I will be changing back and forth between Limited and Standard because I am madly in love with both and writing about only one would make my head explode.
For this first Perilous Research I’m going to talk about Limited with Scars Block Draft. I’ve been drafting a lot of New Phyrexia/Besieged/Scars lately just like everyone else. There are a bunch of articles out there on the general archetypes and strategies in this specific draft format. Instead of just creating another one of these articles I am going to go over a specific archetype that I find myself drafting more than any other; Black-Blue Value.
What is Black-Blue Value? At it’s core the archetype is a control deck in which all of the cards will always give you some form of value when you play them. Examples of these “value” cards from the block are Pith Driller, Parasitic Implant, Darkslick Drake, Impaler Shrike.
By putting all of these cards together into a deck you create one in which no matter what card you are playing, you are going to get something for it. You are creating incremental advantages that will at some point put you ahead of your opponent and then bury them. But how do you get there?
In this draft format the bombs are considered so good that while drafting you want to stay as open as possible so that as soon as you get one you can move in on it and pick up some support from that color. Because everyone is trying to do this it actually makes it easier for everyone to accomplish. People are picking up artifacts and phyrexian mana cards that may actually be on a slightly lower power level than the other cards in the pack simply because they are trying to stay open. This causes all of the valuable colored spells to get picked much later than you normally would see. If you pay attention you can take tremendous advantage of this.
A few picks in, about 3-4, if the packs still look like they are fairly evenly distributed in colors then it is a probability that everyone is attempting to stay open. It should actually be possible from this point to start picking cards in just one or two colors in an attempt to shut the person to your left off of those colors, in this case Black and Blue. However, while doing so you need to make sure you aren’t just picking any cards from those colors. You can only afford to be taking value cards or bombs from them. If it isn’t value or bomb or a flyer pass it on.
Speaking of flyers, we should talk about how you plan on winning with this deck. You are going to be limiting yourself to two colors early on. There is a chance you will open a bomb in another color. You have two choices as to what you can do. You can hate-draft it or pass it. To figure out what to do you need to know what you’ve drafted so far. Do you have enough outs against that bomb to be able to pass it? If so, pass and pick up another value card. If not, hate draft it.
Sometimes you will end up not getting any bombs. If you are the sort of player that relies on the variance of bombs to win you matches then you should probably stop reading this article and go back to luck-sacking your opponents. You can win without bombs. That’s right. You read that correctly. You can win without bombs. How so? Evasion. Your plan already is to bury your opponent under your incremental advantage. You’re also drafting two of the colors that have access to two thirds of the flying creatures in the format. Blue also has the added bonus of having a fair amount of unblockable creatures. Whispering Specter, Serum Raker, and Lumengrid Drake are all examples of flying creatures that go slightly later in the draft than they rightfully should. If you move in on these cards earlier you can push opponents out of the game with flyers.
I’ve had plenty of drafts that I’ve won with this deck archetype by hitting land drops, slowing my opponent down with my value cards, then laying a few flying beaters. Another reason to play these flyers is their ability to take out planeswalkers. Planeswalkers are immensely powerful in limited formats. The ability to fly in over your opponents ground defenses and take their ‘Walkers out of commission can be game-changing.
The other way to win without bombs is through Poison. If you notice that you’re picking up a lot of proliferate spells, especially the repeatable ones like Contagion Clasp and Viral Drake, alongside some early infect creatures like Blighted Agent or Plague Stinger, then poison becomes a perfectly viable win condition. This poison line also has the added bonus of putting a fair amount of pressure on your opponent. Being at 4-5 poison counters against the colors with ready access to proliferate is scary.
There is another benefit to gunning for this archetype early. By drafting two colors earlier on you’re going to end up with less artifacts than your opponents, particularly if a lot of them are trying to stay open. This can actually be quite good in this format. A lot of artifact hate is packed into the main 40 of draft decks because of the prevalence of artifacts. If you play less artifacts then you can actually turn of their removal for it and leave them with a dead card.
Similarly to its strengths the archetype also has it’s weaknesses like any other archetype. The first is that sometimes you can just simply lose to bombs. You’re going to be running at least 17 lands, if not 18 with the possibility of running a decent chunk of 3-4 drops.There will be times when you flood and won’t draw your outs. It doesn’t happen often, but enough to be wary of. But, variance is part of the game and you can shore up the amount of losses you have to bombs by just playing tighter and knowing when to actually use your value spells.
This brings us to the second weakness of the archetype, it can be very skill intensive. While playing you will have to make a lot of different decisions. Should you use your removal spell there or wait? Do you need to chump block that attack or can you take the 4 damage? The multitude of decisions gives greater chance for play mistakes, play mistakes which will lose you the game with the archetype.
You will end up being a little light on the creature side of spells and playing more land than most. At times opponents will just cough up dude after dude onto the board and it may be more than you can deal with. Again, this is another area where the variance of the game comes into play and you just have to take your beats where they are due.
Lastly, this archetype is also very dependent on you properly valuing your picks and reading the signals the other players are sending. If you misinterpret the signals and people aren’t trying to stay open then you run the gambit of being cut off from the cards you need from one of your colors. If you don’t properly value the cards in a pack when choosing what to take you also have the chance to be blown out by a card you should have taken over another. I’ve lost drafts where I’ve taken a Neurok Invisimancer or a Stoic Rebuttal over a Scrapdiver Serpent when I thought I wouldn’t have enough artifacts to turn on the Scrapdiver or that I’d have a removal spell to deal with it if I did.
This archetype is definitely not for new drafters. I would only suggest actually trying this if you’ve drafted a fair amount of Scars Block and think you know enough of the format and draft signals to properly draft it. If you’re a tight player and a tight drafter the benefits to drafting this archetype will almost always outweigh the variance you will sometimes face off against. It rewards play skill and knowledge. It is also extremely fun to play.
The m12 prerelease is in a few days and the full official spoiler should be put out by Wizards. Next week we’ll be switching gears to Standard and I’ll be discussing the impact m12 will have on what is already a “new” format. I’ll go over what cards to watch and which decks you should be prepared to battle against. Until then, happy battling!
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