BFZ: Deconstructing W/U skies

There’s been some hype about the W/U skies archetype. However, the fliers in this format are relatively inefficient compared to recent sets and there are no good 2-drop fliers for the deck. Let’s crunch some numbers to determine whether there are enough cards available to support this archetype in a typical 8-person draft, which of these cards you’re competing with other decks for, whether there’s a need to prioritize flyers/defense/removal, and whether we need to focus on any particular converted mana costs while drafting the deck.

Let’s start by looking at all the colorless, white, blue, and W/U cards that I think are good options for this deck. The cards are divided into 4 categories, each with it’s own table: flying/evasion, defense, removal/tempo, and other (primarily cards that help you win faster or survive longer). Within a category, cards are organized by rarity and converted mana cost. The highlight indicates the card’s color(s): gray is used for colorless/artifact cards, yellow is used for white cards, blue is used for blue cards, and light blue is used for W/U cards. Monocolored cards require only one colored mana of their color unless indicated otherwise, so you can determine the mana cost of a card based on its color and converted mana cost. Cards with awaken have both costs indicated but are usually listed in the column for their awaken cost; since they are all in the removal or other categories, they are rarely cast on curve anyway. A thick border indicates that a card is playable by all other archetypes that share this color, a thins border indicates that a card is playable by some but not all of those archetypes, and no border means that the card will usually only be played by W/U skies.

From the table, we see that an 8-person draft has an average of about 17 fliers (plus Angelic Gift and Coralhelm Guide), 19 defensive cards, 20 removal/tempo cards, and 14 other cards. Let’s assume that there are 3 people in each color but that no one else is drafting W/U skies. In that case, we can expect to get roughly a third of the cards with thick borders, roughly half of the cards with thin borders, and most of the cards with no border. Adding up the numbers gives us “E(in final pool)”, the rough number of cards we expect to end up with given our assumptions: 11 fliers (plus 2-3 copies each of Angelic Gift and Coralhelm Guide), 11 defensive creatures, 11 removal/tempo spells, and 7 other spells. So it is possible to draft enough cards for a W/U skies deck, possibly even if you’re competing with another W/U drafter.

There are many flyers and defensive cards that cost 5+ mana, so you should focus on 2-, 3-, and 4-drops when drafting, especially since you want to start casting spells for their awaken cost once you have 5-6 mana available. There are no good 2-mana flyers in this format, so you should try to pick up some defensive 2-drops or, in their absence, any other playable 2-drops.

Why is W/U skies a powerful deck in this format even though the fliers are not that efficient? I think it’s because the deck can take advantage of spells with awaken better than most of the other decks in the format. With an aggressive draw, it can cast them without awaken for tempo. If the games goes longer, the 3/3 or 4/4 bodies are not that impressive on offense, but can gum up the ground long enough for your flyers to finish the job.

M15: Convoke

Magic 2015 has 22 cards with convoke: 7 in green, 6 in white, 4 in black, 2 in red, 1 in blue, and 2 artifacts. Their quality varies considerably from exceptional (Devouring Light) to unplayable (Meditation Puzzle). There are also a few that remain to be evaluated: Seraph of the Masses, Feral Incarnation, and Overwhelm (which I’d initially evaluated, incorrectly, as a bomb). The quality of these cards depends largely on the number and quality of token producers in the set.

Magic 2015 has 17 cards that produce tokens. While the quality of these cards appears to be quite high at first glance (2 bombs, 7 exceptional, 4 good, 3 TBD, and only 1 unplayable), the expensive ones are less likely to be helpful in powering out expensive convoke spells early. Let’s just look at the ones that cost 4 mana or less:

  • 2cc: Raise the Alarm (excellent), Waste Not (unplayable since Black Cat and Mind Rot are the only non-rare ways to make your opponent discard cards), Spirit Bonds (rare), Necromancer’s Stockpile (generating a token requires discarding a creature, so you don’t actually have more creatures in play, at least in the short term)
  • 3cc: Coral Barrier (good), Hornet Nest (rare, and tokens are only produced when the creature dies), Chasm Skulker (rare, and tokens are only produced when the creature dies), Goblin Rabblemaster (rare)
  • 4cc: Brood Keeper (high setup cost), First Response (high setup cost)

Surprisingly, there are only 2 non-rare cards that produce tokens, cost 4cc or less, and don’t have a high setup cost: Raise the Alarm and Coral Barrier. The first card on the list confirms an intuition I’ve had for some time now: Raise the Alarm is the key enabler for convoke decks, not just because it enables some of the god draws, but because it’s one of the only cheap ways to get multiple creatures on the table. However, having Coral Barrier be the only other card on the list challenges my preconceived notion that, since 59% of the convoke cards are in green or white, the convoke deck should be G/W.

Reviewing the list of convoke spells, it seems that all the exceptional spells are white or artifact anyway, so perhaps W/U can utilize convoke most effectively, perhaps in the form of a skies deck that uses Raise the Alarm and Coral Barrier to hold down the fort. Military Intelligence is likely to be quite good in a deck with fliers and tokens, and Seraph of the Masses is likely to be an excellent finisher.

Note that this does not mean that Siege Wurm is not good, just that you cannot expect to reliably play it on turn 4, even in a G/W deck. It also means that Overwhelm and Feral Incarnation are likely unplayable given the speed of the format.

M14: W/U skies

Yesterday, I drafted a W/U skies deck for the first time in M14. It had only 11 creatures (including 8 flyers and an Angelic Wall), but I still went 3-1, at least in part because Path of Bravery swung some races in my favor. The deck is not that different from W/U skies decks in other draft formats and relies on having some good defensive creatures and then winning in the air with flyers. This post will do an overview of the cards that go in this archetype.

Most of the defensive creatures are 2-3 mana. Some of them have flying and can double as attackers in the late game.

  • common: Angelic Wall (converted mana cost = 2), Seacoast Drake (2), Griffin Sentinel (3). Coral Merfolk (2) and Scroll Thief (3) are reasonable, especially if you have Trained Condors, and Scroll Thief often keeps 2 of your opponent’s creatures at bay since people are more scared of it than they probably should be. Capashen Knight (2) is great against X/1’s but should usually start out in your sideboard.
  • uncommon: Wall of Frost (3), Wall of Swords (4)

There are a lot of good evasion creatures in white and blue, but most cost 3-5 mana, so you should prioritize defensive creatures that cost 2 mana. Seraph of the Sword is also excellent on defense against large creatures, lifelink, and deathtouch.

  • common: Suntail Hawk (1), Trained Condor (3), Charging Griffin (4), Nephalia Seakite (4), Messenger Drake (5)
  • uncommon: Warden of Evos Isle (3), Phantom Warrior (3), Air Servant (5), Serra Angel (5)
  • rare: Galerider Sliver (1), Seraph of the Sword (4), Jace’s Mindseeker (6)
  • mythic: Windreader Sphinx (7)

Much of the permanent removal is in the form of enchantments, so I ran an Auramancer maindeck, but moved it to the sideboard after a couple of games since most of my Auras remained on the creatures they were enchanting. The temporary removal and counterspells work well with Archaeomancer, but its higher casting cost (which includes double blue) and smaller body make the interaction less exciting.

  • common: Claustrophobia, Pacifism, Sensory Deprivation (best against ground creatures that your defensive creatures can’t handle, or against Deadly Recluse and Deathgaze Cockatrice), Disperse, Time Ebb, Frost Breath, countermagic
  • uncommon: Rod of Ruin, Spell Blast
  • rare: Planar Cleansing, Rachet Bomb, Domestication

Of the creature enhancements, Divine Favor and Accorder’s Shield were both very good. Path of Bravery was amazing, giving my creatures +1/+1 if I’d managed to set up an early defense; even when I didn’t, the lifegain still shifted races in my favor whenever the board state allowed me to attack with multiple flyers. Illusionary Armor seems like it could be quite powerful since it takes the opponent out of the game very quickly if they don’t have an answer. It can usually be put on your smallest flyer, which can force your opponent to direct their removal at it instead of another threat, and it gets better if you have an Auramancer. Although I didn’t get to try it out, Fortify seems like it has a lot of potential in this deck since most of your attackers are likely to go unblocked. Furthermore, Fortify allows your Seacoast Drakes and Griffin Sentinel to switch from defense to offense for an alpha strike.

  • common: Divine Favor, Show of Valor, Fortify
  • uncommon: Accorder’s Shield, Fireshrieker, Illusionary Armor
  • rare: Haunted Plate Mail, Path of Bravery

My deck also had 2 Divinations and 2 Opportunities. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the former since they were at the same mana cost as a lot of my 3-drops. Opportunity was better and let me refuel my hand in the late game, but would probably have been better as a singleton.