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Drafting Blue/Black in Born of the Gods

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Welcome back to Very Limited. Last week, we discussed overarching Sealed Deck strategy in preparation for Pro Tour Qualifiers. Sealed Deck is one of the most skill-testing competitive formats, a place where our knowledge of synergy, card power level, and deck-building is put to the test. Blue/Black was widely considered the most powerful color combination in triple-Theros Draft, but the deck has waned in popularity since the release of Born of the Gods. It’s odd, though, as the deck still seems to play all the angles better than any other strategy. Today, we’ll be discussing U/B, my current favorite Draft archetype.

Herald of Torment
Let’s start by discussing our pick orders in the first pack. Born of the Gods is a fairly weak set outside of red and white. As a result, a lot of players at the table can end up in those two colors if they’re committing to a deck right away. It’s wise to remain open in the first pack, but given the opportunity, carving out a place as the U/B drafter can yield a wealth of strong picks in the second and third packs. What do we want to be picking in Born of the Gods?

We’ll be looking at the cards in descending order of when we should be trying to pick them. Let’s take a look at the best cards for U/B in Born of the Gods.

Herald of Torment is one of the best cards in the set. In fact, for pick one pack one, we should be taking Herald of Torment over everything except Eidolon of Countless Battles and Brimaz, King of Oreskos. In the U/B deck, Herald of Torment gives us a brutally efficient flyer that’s capable of taking a game over by itself, especially when we’re able to cast it with bestow.

Next up is Gild. For 4 mana, we are able to exile any creature on the battlefield, which is a far better deal than any other unconditional hard removal spell in the format. Additionally, our mana token provides a tempo advantage that can often break serve in a format with bestow and monstrosity.

Then we come to Arbiter of the Ideal. We’ve been seeing a lot of these going as late as third or fourth pick on Magic Online recently, which is mind-blowing. It’s a dragon that puts cards directly into play off the top of our deck once we’re able to start attacking with it. Yes please!

Arbiter of the Ideal
Fate Unraveler may not seem to be worthy of a first pick, but it’s actually absurd in this Limited format, where 3 power or toughness is usually the best that can be done for 4 mana or less. The 3/4 body is great, and the trigger that goes off right when we pass the turn puts our opponent in a position from which he or she needs to have a removal spell or a fast clock if he or she wants to win a race.

Bile Blight is a brutally efficient spot removal spell. It’s surprising how often we take out doubles with this. Instant-speed removal, especially this inexpensive, is a rarity in this block. We’re happy to pick this up as early as first pick.

Siren of the Silent Song is a commitment. Picking this up early may end up being a wasted pick if we’re not exactly U/B, but the payoff is pretty huge. Specters are extremely powerful in Limited, and a few hits from this Siren will usually be enough to clinch a game that’s not a blowout already.

Spiteful Returned can run away with a game, especially when we bestow it onto a flyer, which isn’t an uncommon occurrence when we’re playing the U/B deck.

Siren of the Fanged Coast
Siren of the Fanged Coast is only a Control Magic when that wouldn’t be as good as Air Elemental. Nevertheless, the card is still very powerful, and we should be happy to snap it up when given the chance.

Nyxborn Triton comes next for me. Many players would take Sudden Storm or Retraction Helix over this, but it feels as though there’s a strong correlation between the number of bestow creatures in our deck and how often we actually win our Draft. This is a format in which we want our deck to have at least fifteen creatures, and we’re usually hoping for sixteen or seventeen. Being in a color combination with a lot of enticing spells, it seems better to pick this than the other blue commons.

Aerie Worshippers gives us a very strong body and threatens to take the game over by itself when it’s able to attack or be tapped with something like Retraction Helix. Again, a lot of players would opt for Retraction Helix over this, but we’re trying to pad our creature count early when drafting the U/B deck.

Retraction Helix is great. There’s a lot of heroic and inspired to abuse with this, and as we’ve learned from Voyage's End, a simple Unsummon is very strong in this Limited environment.

Sudden Storm is strong, and it becomes progressively more powerful as our deck becomes more aggressive and/or creature-heavy. Like Sea God's Revenge, we want to be using this spell offensively if we’re looking to extract maximum value.

Asphyxiate
Asphyxiate is a somewhat narrow removal spell, but it becomes unconditional removal once it’s in our hand and we have the mana to cast it. We’ve discussed the nature of unconditional removal in this format, and it’s nice to pick up an extra piece here.

Archetype of Imagination essentially makes all of our creatures unblockable while providing us with a 3-power body. It’s a bit lower on the totem pole than normal when drafting U/B because we already have a lot of evasion. It’s still pretty good though.

Meletis Astronomer is a great bestow target, and it’s quickly becoming one of our favorite cards in Born of the Gods to play with. There’s a lot to be said for the card advantage this provides, and at only 2 mana, it does a good job of holding off early aggression with its 3 toughness.

Oracle's Insight can win a game by itself if it goes unchecked. This card is a lot better in a deck with a lot of deathtouch or inexpensive removal, but it’s almost always good enough to make the cut even if our deck is just guys and combat tricks.

Servant of Tymaret is a great bestow target, and it’s quite good at dominating a board against an opponent without the necessary tools to break through it. We can watch our opponent do a lot of work on his or her Centaur Battlemaster and be blanked by our regenerator.

Shrike Harpy
Shrike Harpy isn’t what we thought upon first glance. Sure, the opportunity for a Sengir Vampire is nice, but there are enough blanked bodies running around when we have all this toughness that it’s usually just a Wind Drake for 4 mana that takes something inconsequential off our opponent’s side of the table.

Ashiok's Adept goes very late for some reason. This is a card that’s steadily risen in our pick order over time. We’re valuing everything with bestow very highly, and the ability to tear apart an opponent’s hand with Ashiok's Adept shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s similar to a Triton Fortune Hunter in a lot of ways, but it proactively affects our opponent’s game plan and is among the best early bestow targets available.

Nyxborn Eidolon has bestow. There’s not much more to say about it except that it’s fine and that we’re basically always going to play it as something that can trade early or bestow later.

Chorus of the Tides is an efficient flyer with a nice little who-cares bestow trigger.

Vortex Elemental is better than we initially thought, but it’s still not as good as most people are assuming. It’s not entirely reliable as an answer, and our opponent can often set up turns during which he or she will deal with the Vortex Elemental we’re leaning on and kill us.

Archetype of Finality is great in the U/B deck, especially if we have a high creature count with a lot of inexpensive stuff and some card-draw. The card can dominate a board, but the expensive and fragile nature of the Archetype means that it’s often not the controlling element we expect it to be.

Odunos River Trawler
Odunos River Trawler can be a nice Gravedigger in the midgame, but it’s surprisingly weak in this format unless we’re able to draft the mono-bestow deck, in which case it’s actually very strong. It’s nice to pick this up when the packs are drying up because there’s a decent chance it’ll make our final deck, and it could be very strong if we end up W/B or with a ton of bestow.

Drown in Sorrow would normally be a great first pick, but this format doesn’t really feature a lot of players flooding the table with cheap creatures. It’s still very playable, but we shouldn’t be tempted to be the black drafter even if we see this around fifth or sixth pick.

We’ve all heard the praise of Perplexing Chimera, but the format is still very fast, and games have to hit a particular sweet spot between not very fast and not very slow for this card to be at its best. When it’s good, it’s very good, but stronger opponents will know how to play against the card and force bad steals or run us over. If we steal something very good, our opponent definitely has a way to deal with it and then has the chance to steal our next haymaker.

Fated Return is often a blowout, but it’s also a 7-mana spell that we can’t expect to be casting in every game.

Deepwater Hypnotist is a nice way to fill out our early curve. The card can be quite strong on offense, especially when backed up by some trickery such as Boon of Erebos.

Nullify is very good at countering the cards that matter in this format.

Divination
Divination is fine. It does what it says and is perfectly defendable as a main-decked inclusion, but the current Draft format is very tempo-centric, and spending an early turn on Divination can often be an issue. The card becomes a lot better when we have a few Baleful Eidolons or Asphyxiates.

We’d rather not play any of the other cards in Born of the Gods. We might be forced to include a Stratus Walk or something like it, but generally speaking, that’s not where we want to be with the U/B deck.




Let’s talk about our Theros pick orders in descending order of awesomeness!

Agent of the Fates is the best card we can open for U/B in Theros. We should be valuing bestow very highly, and this gentleman lets us turn every bestow creature into a Flametongue Kavu. It’s absolutely unfair.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
It’s incredibly difficult to beat Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver on the third turn, especially when it’s backed up by some reasonable bodies.

Prognostic Sphinx is beating. It’s hard enough to beat a 3/5 flying in this format, but the hexproof option and scy 3 every turn makes this especially absurd.

Keepsake Gorgon is the best uncommon in Theros, the card is amazing when we’re ahead or behind, and it makes it very difficult for an opponent to get back in a game because of its monstrosity.

Thassa's Emissary is the next-best uncommon. It’s a brutally efficient bestow creature that keeps our hand full while advancing our board state and triggering heroic.

Abhorrent Overlord is bombtastic and almost always wins the game by itself when we cast it with at least one other black permanent in play.

Sea God's Revenge is another bomb uncommon. This is among the reasons we value creatures so highly when drafting U/B. We want to make sure that we’re actually being rewarded when we’re able to pick up a card like Sea God's Revenge. The card is fine when we’re behind, but it has the ability to win a game on its own when we’re ahead.

Shipbreaker Kraken breaks ships, beats face, and wins the game when we’re able to activate the monstrosity.

Hythonia the Cruel
Hythonia the Cruel is very hard for non-W/U decks to beat once it’s on the table, and the monstrous ability makes it a great card for any sticky situation. It’s also not too bad to jam a 4/6 deathtouch when we’re ahead.

Master of Waves grows stronger depending on how blue-centric our deck is; it’s always ridiculous, but it has the potential to win the turn we untap with it.

Hero's Downfall is an efficient instant-speed spot removal spell in a world where that is very difficult to find.

Nighthowler is insane, especially if we’re the more controlling/hoping-to-trade version of the U/B deck.

Bident of Thassa is lackluster when we’re behind, but the card is so absurd when we’re ahead or at parity that it’s worth a very early pick.

Whip of Erebos makes racing a nightmare for the opponent and has a lot of added value if we’re able to pick up some nice 187 creatures like Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

Erebos's Emissary is a very strong bestow creature that allows us to use hidden information to our advantage.

Shipwreck Singer makes combat a nightmare for the opponent and can often be picked up later than expected because of the color requirements. This card is huge in this archetype, and it’s dangerous to pass it because it might encourage others to encroach on the U/B goodies.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel goes a lot later than it used to, but it’s still the same ridiculously powerful effect.

Nimbus Naiad
Nimbus Naiad is the best bestow common in the set.

Griptide gives us a great piece of interaction at a reasonable cost. I prefer Griptide over Voyage's End in the U/B deck, but it’s definitely a discussion worth having, and I wouldn’t fault someone for disagreeing.

Voyage's End is an awesome trick that can sway combat math in our favor or punish an opponent for activating monstrosity.

Triton Tactics is among the best cheap tricks available to the U/B deck.

Insatiable Harpy is the cornerstone of one of the best strategies in Theros Limited. Building a Baneslayer Angel isn’t impossible, and picking up a few of these to go with all our bestow creatures can put us in a position to win a lot of free games.

Artisan of Forms may seem cute, but it’s actually very strong in the U/B deck—using this card alongside combat tricks will almost always result in a big tempo swing in our advantage.

Ordeal of Thassa is the best Ordeal, and these are some brutal Auras. This card is awesome when we’re able to stick it early on a flyer or something with a lot of toughness.

Ordeal of Erebos is, in my opinion, the third-best Ordeal, behind Thassa’s and Purphorous’s.

Mogis's Marauder
Mogis's Marauder can kill people out of nowhere. It’s a fast and efficient assassin that’s ridiculous when we’re ahead.

Vaporkin is a great, aggressive start. We’ve noticed that a lot of the cards in this format are much better when we’re ahead, which means that pulling ahead early is very important, and jumping on the table fast with a 2/1 flyers increases the value of Ordeals and puts pressure on right away.

Baleful Eidolon is awesome here. It lets us catch up from behind and makes all of our card advantage a lot better, especially against decks without a lot of evasion.

Horizon Scholar is a gentleman and a scholar.

Thoughtseize is surprisingly good in this Limited format. We don’t need to use it right away—some extra knowledge and a card from the opponent’s hand can be very useful when planning an important attack step.

Wavecrash Triton is awesome at invalidating the bestow Voltron on the other side of the table. We should be very happy to snap these up early and often.

Triton Fortune Hunter
Triton Fortune Hunter keeps the gas coming and usually forces the opponent to use a removal spell instead of advancing his or her board if it’s a possibility. This card can take over the game if things go long.

Pharika's Cure is a fine spot-removal spell that can be difficult to cast in a lot of spots.

Prescient Chimera used to be one of our favorite commons in the set, but the more we draft this format, the further it drops down our list. It’s still very strong and early-pickable, but not what it used to be.

Boon of Erebos has become a lot stronger with the introduction of cards like Ashiok's Adept and Meletis Astronomer.

Omenspeaker does a very good job of setting up a nice curve-out while also being among the best at carrying Ordeals.

Sip of Hemlock may be a bit expensive, but the versatile removal is nice and worth the pick.

Blood-Toll Harpy is a fine body that encourages a race.

Meletis Charlatan is hard to activate, but the 2/3 body is okay by itself, and the games in which it produces extra value are very nice.

Read the Bones
Read the Bones is a lot better than Divination. It digs us very deep if we’re looking for something specific, and it’s pretty nice to bottom a couple lands in the mid- or late game when we’re a bit flooded.

Lash of the Whip is just so bad. It’s definitely playable, but it won’t make the cut a lot of the time.

Sealock Monster is an Octopus.

Disciple of Phenax does a good job of plucking the most important spell out of an opponent’s hand in the midgame while also giving us a reasonable body against early aggression and some extra devotion for our Gray Merchants.

Fate Foretold is a great heroic enabler that encourages us to make trades.

Scourgemark is another heroic enabler that can actually do some work when we put it on one of our evasive bodies.

Felhide Minotaur—its hide is made of fel.

Returned Centaur is a body when we need one. Don’t bother picking it early; it’ll return later.




U/B remains among the strongest archetypes in Theros Limited. When given the lion’s share, this deck has a much better chance of winning the Draft than any other color combination in my experience. It’s not wise to force anything when drafting the new format, but this is definitely a nice place to end up if the cards are available.


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