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Gaining Control In ZZW Draft

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 38 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Two times Czech Nationals Top 8

Hello and welcome to my latest article.

Today, I’m going to tackle a Limited-only topic – one that’s fairly important in my opinion. The triple-Zendikar format was one of the fastest Limited environments in recent history and when reading various reviews of cards from Zendikar, you could often find phrases like „usually this card would be good, but not in Zendikar draft“. People had to adjust their mindsets, and learn to see Limited with different eyes. However, Worldwake pushed things in a slightly different direction again – it not only brought a bunch of new cards to the mix, but affected the whole format itself, so when drafting ZZW, the Zendikar cards work often a little bit different than in Zendikar-only draft. While it is still entirely possible to draft a blazing fast aggro deck, there are now also some tools to go for a more controlling approach – and that’s what I‘d like to talk about today.

From ZZZ To ZZW

From ZZZ To ZZW

Triple Zendikar was quite a hostile environment for control. While drafting slower decks was not entirely impossible, you couldn’t realistically go and sit down at your drafting table with the control approach in your mind. Every now and then, there would be good control decks, most often Blue-White or Blue-Black with some good defenders and some big finishers (Lorthos, the Tidemaker comes to mind) or Green-Black decks with some mana acceleration and multiple cards like Heartstabber Mosquito, Mold Shambler and Soul Stair Expedition (this particular deck, while not even that good, was probably my favorite pre-Worldwake control archetype, one that I found incredibly fun to play). But you couldn’t reliably go for the „control route“ in draft, as the risk of your deck ending up too clunky and underpowered was just too big. After the addition of Worldwake, trying to draft a control deck starting with pack 1, pick 1 suddenly becomes viable. The reason for this change is twofold:

  1. The environment slowed down a little, with one less pack of Plated Geopedes, Steppe Lynxes, Vampire Lacerators and Welkin Terns
  2. Worldwake brought some tools that make the controlling decks possible. And since most of those „tools“ are blue, the best control strategies post-Worldwake are, in my opinion, Blue-White and – in particular – Blue-Black.

Control In ZZW

Let’s take a look at some of the blue-black cards that make the control strategy possible. The card that has the biggest impact on the viability of the control route post-Worldwake is Mysteries of the Deep. Before WWK, there wasn’t really any reliable common card advantage spell in Blue, so you were basically left with trading cards one for one more often than not. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since with the higher curve that control decks usually possess, this should lead to a superior board position sooner or later, but a card that lets you draw three once you’ve stabilized is golden in an archetype that aims for the lategame. Of course not all the control decks will have Mysteries of the Deep at hand and having the card is by no means requisite for playing control, but since the card is relatively weak in most other decks, it should come fairly late, even tabling sometimes, and having the card in your control deck definitely makes for a good feeling, as long as you can make sure to survive the early game.

Mysteries of the Deep
Versions:
Worldwake (Foil)

Halimar Excavator is the new Kraken Hatchling. I don‘t see him primarily as an Ally, but as a two-drop that can stop most of the opposing two-drops and even some three-drops. In the majority of slow blue-black decks, he will be better than most other two drops like Ruthless Cullblade. Also note that he increases the value of cards like Soul Stair Expedition and – in particular – Grim Discovery. Even if you don‘t have those cards, nor any further mill-subtheme, it‘s usually better to mill yourself as some opposing decks can make use of cards in their graveyard, especially if those decks are black.

Another excellent blocker Blue has to offer is Calcite Snapper. Along with the Halimar Excavators, the Calcite Snappers often form the backbone of your defense, as they take care of most of the ground creatures. One of the prime reasons slow blue decks got better with Worldwake.

Among the „fringe cards“, Brink of Disaster is one that gets often overlooked but can have its place in the right blue-black deck, where it can act as a removal spell. Against a deck with a lot of big ground creatures, Brink of Disaster can be ok, because you’re probably planning to kill your opponent through the air anyway, so you don’t care about creating a ground blocker. I wouldn‘t like to maindeck it though, unless I have multiple Tideforce Elementals to tap the enchanted creature down and kill it immediately.

Honorable mention goes to Quicksand, a card that fits the control deck very well, since it can help you get rid of hard-to-block creatures like Bladetusk Boar or Timbermaw Larva (with the trigger on the stack). Aggressive decks often eschew playing the colorless land to avoid mana troubles that would prevent them from casting their spells (and who cares in Boros about defense anyway?), but if your manabase is solid enough, feel free to pick Quicksand and play it.

As for Zendikar cards worth mentioning, Giant Scorpion becomes even better than before and I rarely draft it over Surrakar Marauder nowadays, especially since Surrakar Marauder found a worthy adversary in Pilgrim's Eye in Worldwake. It might not seem that important, but the situations where Pilgrim's Eye holds back a Surrakar Marauder (or even trades with it) are definitely more common than you might think and the slower non-black decks gained an excellent weapon to fight Surrakar Marauder. And speaking of Pilgrim's Eye, this card is a gem in control decks – it helps you reach enough mana for your expensive spells and there are plenty of creatures it can trade with, apart from the aforementioned Surrakar Marauder, for example cards like Welkin Tern or any of the two mana 2/1 creatures that you find in the common slot.

How To Draft It

So what’s the correct approach to drafting a control deck with the new tools available? As Blue got a lot better in Worldwake, it can be a dominant color now. It‘s not so risky to commit to Blue early in the draft, because there‘s always the third booster to save your day. Sky Ruin Drake, Paralyzing Grasp – all those cards that felt a bit awkward in your pre-WWK aggro deck suddenly are a lot better in a blue deck. Blue can still be a fairly aggressive color, especially when paired with White or Red, but some decks will now want an Into the Roil more than a Welkin Tern and Cancel more than Vampire Lacerator. An interesting strategy is the one Simon Görtzen has been a huge advocate of in San Diego: Upping the land count in your blue-based deck to 19 and finding room for Walking Atlas to speed you up a little. While I think that sometimes the Atlas is a bit clunky and unreliable (not a good topdeck in the lategame), I must admit that this strategy definitely has something going for it and picking a couple of Atlases late is never a bad idea in a control deck, since they’re a good sideboard option for the games where you’re on the draw.

When drafting Blue-Black, look out for some of the cards that fit well together, like bounce and Bloodhusk Ritualist, etc. A nice combination you can take advantage of is Spreading Seas and Enclave Elite, the „build your own unblockable creature“ kit.

Example Decks

Here‘s an example of what an average blue-black control deck looks like – a 3-0 deck from my second draft in San Diego:

Sample UB Draft 1 by Adam Koska

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Blue
Black

A 3-0 draft deck from PT San Diego. The deck forms part of my feature article:

Gaining Control In ZZW Draft

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There are a couple of cards that don‘t really fit the overall „controlling“ deck theme, primarily the two equipment cards, but 90% of all decks don’t fit the „aggro“ or „control“ bracket completely and there will always be some overlap. Judging by how my games went, even the so called „control“ decks like this one can have some pretty aggressive draws, mostly with the flyers, where the Adventuring Gear helps speed up the clock.

Here is another blue-black controlling deck I happened to draft recently:

Sample UB Draft 2 by Adam Koska

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Blue
Black

A 2-1 draft deck from a local store draft. The deck forms part of my feature article:

Gaining Control In ZZW Draft

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Walking Atlas
Versions:
Worldwake (Foil)

While this deck has several issues, mainly a wacky curve with not enough two-drops (which was the reason for my single loss with it), it’s a fine example of a deck where the Walking Atlas really shines – and I would happily play two if I had them. It accelerates you into the expensive spells you have and does a couple of cute tricks, like making your Calcite Snapper a 4/1 blocker when necessary or killing an opposing X/2 creature with Caustic Crawler. And you can even untap it with Twitch to provide an extra landdrop! Yay!

Speaking of Twitch, everybody seems to hate this card, but I think it‘s a nice utility trick that can blow people out of the water every now and then. I don‘t play it in every deck and it‘s not even particularly good in this one, but you would be surprised how many people are caught off guard by an untapped and ready-to-block Giant Scorpion that attacked on your previous turn.

Paralyzing Grasp got a bit better with Worldwake, partly because of the presence of Zendikons, against which it can create a nice 2 for 1 trade, partly because with one less Zendikar pack, there aren’t so many Kor Sanctifiers around.

Aether Tradewinds, a card I usually like a lot, is not at its full potential here, but it’s still fine. The two things you can „abuse“ it for are bouncing a Bloodhusk Ritualist and making them discard their creature and also returning your Heartstabber Mosquito for further use. Apart from that, it can bounce Zendikons all day long, so it’s still a useful and reliable card.

I was tempted to play 19 lands in this deck and I probably would have if I had a single Quicksand or a card like the U/B manland, but with two cheap spells that draw a card – Spreading Seas and Twitch – it’s almost like playing 18,5 lands, which is fine.

Blue-based control is obviously not the only possible control deck in the ZZW format. Another option to draft control, for example, is to focus on multicolor Allies. However, I don’t really like this route, as in my opinion, Allies are too clunky and somewhat overrated. Either you just take those that are good on their own (Graypelt Hunter etc.) or create a small subtheme with a couple of them, but unless you have more than 6-7 Allies, you can‘t really run the „Ally deck only“ creatures like Ondu Cleric or Jwari Shapeshifter. Drawing these in the wrong situations outweighs the benefits you gain when you draw the whole „Ally package“. Of course you can try to build your deck around the Ally theme, taking more or less every single one that you see, but that is such a risk in my opinion that it‘s almost never worth it. What happens usually, is that you damage your mana consistency as a tradeoff for some ridiculous draws your deck can provide, but the thing is, if they kill your pivotal Allies (or you don’t draw that many), your engine usually just falls apart and cards like Join the Ranks suddenly don’t do that much. And that’s assuming that several copies of Join the Ranks get opened and you get shipped some – which is not guaranteed with just one Worldwake booster in the mix.

That’s all from me for today, if you’re a regular drafter, make sure to try the control route in ZZW draft (if you haven’t already), some of the biggest names of Magic were really advocating this strategy in San Diego and it also feels like a breath of fresh air not to aim at your opponent’s throat from the first turn on, but to try to craft your gameplan in a more sophisticated way. It almost feels like drafting a normal set again. :)

Thanks for reading and if you have something article-related on your mind, make sure to leave a comment!

Adam

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