By Ben Scoones
As some of you are probably aware, Urza’s Saga came out online about 2 weeks ago. I generally love older draft formats, regardless of quality, and to be honest just really enjoy playing with new cards, so I leapt at the chance to draft with such a powerful and iconic set. Having done about 20 drafts at this point, I feel in a good position to pass on my knowledge of how to draft Urza’s Saga, and how to profit from doing so.
White – Commons:
White has some pretty decent commons in this set. The top creatures are Pegasus Charger and Opal Gargoyle, as cards that are way above the curve for any set, and Sanctum Custodian, with the prevent two ability essentially halting any offence your opponent has. Even Monk Realist is solid in a set with such a high amount of enchantments. The removal is also fine, with Pacifism and Path of Peace. Interestingly, Path of Peace is actually the better removal spell, with a set so full of bounce and maindeck-able enchantment removal. However, what’s probably best about white are the Runes of Protection. If you manage to get a few of the key ones (black, red and green) then you’re going to have great trouble losing to those colours, just make sure you have a way to kill them.
The incredible hosers continue with Absolute Grace, Absolute Law, Angel of Grace and Angel of Law. However, whilst the two Angels are worth a high pick, the two enchantments will often go round very late, so don’t pick them high. The creatures are reasonable, with Opal Acrolith being near impossible to kill with his 0 ability and is therefore one of the best creatures for white. In addition to this, you get some more solid tricks in Humble; the old ovinize, and Waylay which can potentially wipe their whole board. But the best by far is Serra’s Embrace, if you can resolve this then more often than not that’s game, as massive, vigilance angels tend to be.
White’s rares are probably the main or only reason for going for the colour other than a very late Pacifism or Path of Peace. Elite Archers, Herald of Serra, Catastrophe, Glorious Anthem, Opal Archangel, Opal Titan and Worship all being bombs. The enchantments will not be as easy to activate due to their high mana cost, but are still well worth an early pick. One of the sleeper rares, which people greatly undervalue, is Soul Sculptor. This card is ridiculous, and can completely halt an opponent’s offence as well as blanking any non-mass removal spells they have in their hand, pick him very highly.
White probably has the best card in the set for limited, Catastrophe, but the quality of the creatures (more specifically their power) makes it hard to win games without a bomb. Because of this, white is never a main colour if you can help it, but a support colour for some reasonable removal and tricks.
Blue – Commons:
Pendrell Drake and Catalogue are the two best blue commons, the flier is pretty big in a set full of 2/2s and is also a decent win condition, Catalogue is pretty much the only ‘card advantage’ available, so pick them up when possible. Going down, Veiled Serpent and Rescind are also high picks, Rescind being very good in this set because of both echo and the high density of enchantments. To finish off blue there is Rewind, Power Sink and Wizard Mentor. I generally try to get around 2 counter spells when I’m playing blue, with Power Sink being just a little better than Rewind. The Mentor is surprisingly good, being able to protect your few win conditions from removal as well as be a (near) permanent blocker. It’s worth noting the Hermetic Study, Horseshoe Crab combo is all in blue, Horseshoe Crab is not very good by himself, whereas the Hermetic Study is. Pick the Study highly and you should very likely see Crabs later on.
Confiscate needs no explanation, you can steal a land to prevent them paying echo or manascrew them, steal their bomb, steal their blocker. It’s so versatile and the 6 mana price tag is really not that much in such a slow format. Fog Bank is a really good defender that allows you to reach your late game, pick him highly. Peregrine Drake, whilst he doesn’t have a huge body for his cost, being able to play him into say Pendrell Drake or leave up a counterspell is pretty huge. Zephid’s Embrace, like Serra’s Embrace, will win you the game if it’s resolved, and is pretty sweet on a Horseshoe Crab (especially if you get Hermetic Study as well ;). Sandbar Serpent is pretty good; he’s a massive beater for blue and can be cycled in a pinch if you’re looking for land. Veiled Apparition is not quite as good, it may only cost 1U, but you’ll rarely if ever cast it on turn 2, it’s a pretty good late game finisher though. Turnabout, like Exhaustion, is pretty marginal, and generally I wouldn’t play it, but in the right deck can be exactly what you need to win races.
Morphling, one of the iconic cards of the set, is probably the best creature in the format. Impossible to answer, apart from by the best rare in the format, he’s an emphatic first pick. Stroke of Genius is similar, ridiculously bomby and you can even mill your opponent if it comes to that. Drifting Djinn, Zephid and Great Whale are all finishers of sterling quality. Sunder, similarly to Upheaval, can just end games, you need to be ahead at first, but that should be too hard with the amount of control blue has. Somnophore is a fine guy, he only beats for 2 but keeping their best creature tapped down is very powerful. Lastly, Barrin, Master Wizard and Gilded Wrake are in for their combo potential. Barrin, Master Wizard + Launch or Despondency means bounce all their creatures for only 4 mana per creature. Gilded Drake + Wizard Mentor means you permanently steal their creature for 5 mana.
Blue is the second best colour in the set, losing out only to black. The cards are not necessarily of the highest power, but with some very synergistic commons, decent card advantage, evasion and of course some of the best finishers; it’s definitely a colour you want to be in if at all possible.
Black – Commons:
Black has by far the best selection of commons. It has spot removal, mass removal, evasion and power with almost every common being at least playable. Pestilence, Corrupt, Expunge, Despondency and Befoul are the removal suite. Pestilence is of course a bomb, capable of winning the game by itself, literally burning the opponent out on many occasions. The others are all obvious in quality, but Despondency is a card I see underrated an awful lot. This set has so few 3 or greater power creatures, so it’s basically a removal spell at worst. Add to this the fact that it returns to your hand once the creature is gone for whatever reason, and it’s an easy first pick. The creatures black has are also among the best in the set. Ravenous Skirge is ridiculous for a 3 drop, Hollow Dogs is a massive beater and Looming Shade is, once again, very powerful. Even the lower end creatures are still good, you have the Drudge Skeletons alternative, Unworthy Dead, Bog Raiders and Skittering Skirge. Skittering Skirge may look awful, but having played with it a few times, it’s certainly not. You can control the game whilst beating down for 3 each turn and force them to deal with it, or just wait to cast it until later on in the game. A last mention is Unnerve and Duress. This format is very slow with lots of powerful non-creature spells, making Duress at least a 1 of if you have it. Unnerve is similar, a great source of card advantage in a colour already swimming in it and a good way to knock the bombs out of their hand.
Unfortunately, black is a little let down by its uncommons. Order of Yawgmoth is extremely powerful, along with Vile Requiem and Diabolic Servitude, all of which will easily win you the long game. After this the quality drops off a little (in comparison to the rest of the black at least). Crazed Skirge, Sanguine Guard, Skirge Familiar and Priest of Gix are the playable creatures, all fine, but nothing amazing. These guys may look impressive, but when there are things at commons that pretty happily block them all, all day long, then they become a lot less powerful. They would still always make your deck, but they’re not as good as in another set. Lastly, Victimize and Vampiric Embrace are two interesting cards. Victimize is clearly very powerful, but not always playable, especially in control where you only really have one or two good creatures. Vampiric Embrace is good in aggro, but generally unplayable in control. The +2/+2 and flying is good, but the ability is usually irrelevant, so unless you really need a finisher for control, it’s best left on the bench.
Persecute is the best rare black card by far, it just wins the game on the spot assuming you have anything to follow up with. Destroying their hand of everything but their lands is clearly a powerful effect, and I’d pick this over anything. Dark Hatchling and Abyssal Horror provide the flying beef, with Hatchling being Angel of Despair–esque and Abyssal Horror providing some reasonable card advantage. Next up is Reprocess, it may not seem very powerful, but given how long the games tend to go in this format, sacrificing lands 7 – 11 and a Blood Vassal should win the game. Black rounds itself out with some large sized creatures with Witch Engine and the two Paladins, the Paladins also happening to be some more ridiculous hosers in the set.
Black has a similar amount of bombs to the other colours, but given that a lot of these bombs are actually found in the common slot as opposed to the rare means that it’s by far the best colour to be drafting in this format. Not close.
Red – Commons:
The commons in red are extremely lacklustre. Barring Heat Ray and Arc Lightning, both of which are premium removal spells, the commons are entirely mediocre creatures. Viashino Outrider is the best of these, a 4/3 echo for 2R is pretty strong, unfortunately, seen as your other creatures are all so bad he’s going to get killed and you’ll be left with a sub par army. Probably the only other creature of relevance is Viashino Runner, a reasonable card, but again, he dies very easily whilst your other creatures will be held off by something as basic as a Horseshoe Crab.
Red starts to improve going up to uncommon. Steam Blast and Jagged Lightning are extremely powerful forms of mass removal. The only downside is that because you’re red you’ll often be steam blasting away your own board. The creatures are also far better here, Vug Lizard, Shivan Raptor and Thundering Giant are not only hasty (other than the Lizard) but also have huge bodies that can bash through pretty much anything. Shiv’s Embrace, another member of the powerful 2CC cycle of enchantments does not disappoint. Turning your guy into an actual dragon tends to win games, and will do some in a speedy fashion. Lastly, Outmanoeuvre is potentially a very powerful card, it turns your useless dorks into 10 or so points of direct damage, be on the lookout for these if you’re unfortunate enough to be red.
Shivan Hellkite, Fault Line, Crater Hellion, Wildfire, Lightning Dragon, Rumbling Crescendo. Red has more than its fair share of game winning bombs. All of them are obviously powerful aside from Rumbling Crescendo. It may look slow and quite bad, but after 6 or so turns completely locking your opponent out of the game generally leads to a win.
There really aren’t that many compelling reasons to be red other than the bomb rares. If you happen to open one then I can see trying to go into red as a main colour. However, it’s not deep enough and you can’t get a high enough concentration of the better cards in the colour to be mono or even have it as your main colour.
Green – Commons:
Green is probably the 3rd best colour, it has creatures that are big, above the curve and a high density of them. Winding Wurm and Blanchwood Treefolk are the biggest guys in the set at common, pretty much crushing everything in their path. Acridian, Argothian Swine, Treetop Rangers and Gorilla Warrior are all strong creatures above the curve for their costs in this format. There are even some cards to accelerate you into these expensive beasts in Priest of Titania and Fertile Ground. There’s also the only trick in the entire format in Symbiosis, a very powerful pump spell that can also provide the final blow if necessary.
Cradle Guard and Albino Troll are, ratio-wise, the best creatures in the format. If you manage to pay the echo cost, then it should be pretty simple from there to finish the game. Anaconda and Bull Hippo are also very powerful creatures, especially as most of your opponents will probably be playing either black or blue. There are some more random dorks to finish with the uncommons, but the real power is in the enchantments. There are several hidden enchantments like Hidden Guerrillas in green. Of them all, the only real playable uncommon one is Hidden Ancients, so steer clear of the others, just be aware of them for potential sideboard cards. As per usual, the enchantments are extremely powerful. Though they just tend to make one of your formidable creatures more formidable in green, they are still powerful and worthy of a high pick.
Very little to say here, there are some fatties which are, once again, very good. Abundance however is an absolute bomb, if this stays in play for any reasonable amount of time you should have the game locked up. Midsummer Revel is another powerful enchantment that, eventually, will just win. Either of these two cards would probably be enough to move me into green.
Unfortunately, there’s not too much you can really say about green. The creatures in the colour are far bigger than any of the other colours, so having a good curve can probably just get there. It has a couple of big weaknesses, as there’s only one trick and it gets completely destroyed by pestilence, but otherwise it’s a fine colour to have as either your dominant colour or simply mono.
Artifacts – Uncommons:
There are no common artifacts in the set so we’re starting at uncommon this time. The Artifact cards are of very good quality in this set. Cathodian is a huge beater whose ability is now only upside, easily of 2nd or 3rd pick quality. Mobile Fort is similarly good, though not quite such a high pick due to the mana investment and the additional mana needed to cast him. Pit Trap is clearly a good removal spell of 3rd or 4th pick quality but its use varies depending on what colours you are and what type of deck you’re drafting. Worn Powerstone is definitely good, more so in control than aggro, but in either green, black or blue it’s a high pick, sometimes even worthy of a 1st pick. The last card, Urza’s Armour, has been a real surprise for me. When I first started drafting, I thought it was too expensive for a small effect, and close to unplayable. Having drafted the format more since then, it’s actually an extremely powerful card which you can potentially get quite late as it’s heavily underrated. Preventing 1 from all of your opponent’s attackers is huge, and you should always have enough time to cast it. Blanking a Pestilence is just gravy.
Firstly, the bombs. Phyrexian Processor, Karn, Silver Golem, Chimeric Staff, Mishra’s Helix, Temporal Aperture, in that order, are good in any deck and all worthy of a first pick. All apart from Karn, Silver Golem, just dominate the game and even Karn is an impenetrable wall that is capable of smashing face. Smokestack is a powerful effect, and in an aggro deck, particularly green, it’s incredible. Just getting it down against a slow control deck will usually lock them out, and you can even start ramping it if you’re that far ahead. Grafted Skullcap is a card which goes very late, but in the late game, or in an aggro deck, drawing an extra card per turn is a very powerful effect, juts don’t put it in a control deck. Citanul Flute and Metrognome, whilst slow, are powerful sources of card advantage and should own any long game. Last but not least is Barrin’s Codex. It’s a very slow source of card advantage which you cannot access immediately. This makes it slightly more marginal than some of the other artifacts like Citanul Flute, but it shouldn’t be too hard to wait for 4 or 5 turns before activating it, and if you can afford to wait that long then the game should be in your hands.
The artifacts in the set are all really good, as is the norm for any set. They tend to get underrated a little and come around later than they should, but by no means does this mean they’re bad. Just be glad people don’t know how good they are and snap them up for your mono brown deck.
Personally, I have a heavy preference towards black and blue, having drafted black 100% of the time and blue every time but twice. These two colours really are the best, they have the best overall quality and black simply has ridiculous bombs, at common no less. So, now that you know what colours to steer clear from and what to really go for i.e. black, go draft some Urza’s Saga!