Today I want to talk in pretty general terms about the natural synergies that exist between colours in limited.
Natural Synergies in M13 (Magic 2013) with Tom Harle
So the Standard PTQ season is over and with it all the constructed Magic that matters for the time being. Sadly I didnt managed to qualify for the Modern PT and won’t be attending any GP’s so for the next few weeks so its limited time!
Today I want to talk in pretty general terms about the natural synergies that exist between colours in limited. Magic 2013 (M13) is obviously a base set and, although pretty good for limited play, relatively basic, so the natural synergies are probably more obvious and useful than say a more advanced and intricate set like Innistrad. That said they still exist in most sets and are a pretty good starting point of evaluating for any limited format.
I’m just going to be talking about 2 colour decks really as it’s quite an unusual limited format that encourages 3+ (although has been done with Shards of Alara pretty successfully) but I will touch on mono colour decks later. I’m more interested here in the overall tone of the colours in the deck so if you have a nice off colour removal spell or bomb rare then splash it if you feel the mana can support it but i’m more interested in how the 2 main colours play together.
Allied colours usually get some sort of benefit (they are allied after all) and M13 is no exception. The cycle of pcard]Kird Ape[/card] style monsters are well above the curve, power level wise, and I’m usually looking to move into a 2 colour allied pair early when I see one in the first few picks. Note picks 3-6 onwards are much more important for signaling than picks 1-2 in my opinion.
It’s very easy to open a good uncommon such as Harbor Bandit but take a more powerful card such as Murder over it so a 2nd pick Bandit doesnt necessarily mean that Black is open. A 3rd -5th pick Bandit has to have been rejected by a lot more players so is a much bigger sign that UB is open.
One of the ways to get ahead in draft is positioning yourself so that your later picks end up more powerful than your opponents and by getting into an underdrafted allied pair you’re more likely to pick up a nice late Arctic Aven etc. since it’s pretty underwhelming in any other Ux deck.
A lesser point but still worth mentioning is the Allied duals which will be much less common than the Uncommons of course but still a nice boost to a deck when you get them. Limited mana bases are often ignored since it seems there’s not much you can do to improve them but things like Rare on colour duals do exist and wont be high picks for most people.
The classic UW flyers deck has been a staple of Magic for years and M13 is no exception. Both colours usually get the lions share of good flying creatures and have ground creatures with more toughness than power – good for defence while your flying monsters finish them off.
White provides a few removal spells and things that prevent monsters dealing damage but not blocking (Curse of the Skifskag, Sensory Deprivation, Defang etc.) are usually much better in UW decks since you can just fly over the top of the creature you’ve incapacitated.
Counterspells also go up in value in UW I think since you often have one big flying monster and a few ground monsters and being able to counter their Murder on your important guy is pretty important.
White green is generally the colour combination with the best creatures – best flyers in White (at least in modern Magic) and best ground monsters in Green. Because of that cards that impact combat have some extra synergy since you’ll be getting into more fights and have to make up for the colour combinations natural lack of removal. Pacifisms and Prey Upons do help mitigate that in M13 somewhat but they’re still high picks for both colours so you shouldnt be getting too many of them. Cards like Battleflight Eagle are much better here since the creatures you have available to fly are generally big green things.
Red Green is often the baseline aggro deck of a format with green providing powerful monsters and red giving you burn to remove blockers and finish them off. Although Arbor Elf is still good in RG you often have a higher spells to creatures ratio (due to the power level of burn vs pump and the amount of good spells in red vs white) so you want your creatures to have a higher impact.
Burning their 3 drop with your Searing Spear and attacking for 1 isnt all that exciting. I’d still play 1, maybe 2 but not the 3 i’ve ran in GW before where the size of the creatures you’re accelerating out makes up for the lack of late game power when you draw your 2nd or 3rd elf.
RB decks usually go one of 2 ways – all the removal spells you can get and then what ever big monster you can find to finish them off with; or a super fast aggressive curve with a few removal spells to clear the way. Cards like Duty Bound Dead is much better in the fast aggro deck whilst Ravenous Rats are better when you’re trying to kill everything that moves. Similarly in Red Mogg Flunkies is one of the best 2 drops in an aggressive deck but really not what you want when you’re only playing 10-13 creatures.
In my opinion RB is one of the weaker colour combinations due the the similarity of the colours and the pairs natural weakness to enchantments. Generally I find RB aggro decks are too easily stopped by a large early monster that you dont have the right removal for and the RB removal decks have to be very careful to use the right removal at the right time. Not all creatures are created equal and if you’re forced to Murder their 3/3 then draw a Searing Spear when they have a 4/4 you can be in a lot of trouble. That’s not to mention hexproof which is a relatively popular keyword mechanic these days.
Lastly UB can be pretty similar to both UW flyers and RB removal depending on the cards you get. Black generally has less good flyers than white but Vampire Nighthawk and Bloodhunter Bat are both fine for flying over while you stall the ground. In the UB control deck you generally have less actual removal spells but make up for it with either card drawing or counterspells in blue, possibly with a touch of bounce. These are both generally deck types that are more likely to go long so I’d be much happier playing things like Divination and Archaeomancer in UB than UW.
It’s probably worth mentioning that the 3 colour combination that does work best in a base limited set is UBR control/removal. Having both removal colours and the card draw from blue helps to both smooth out your mana and provide inevitability through card advantage in the long game. Although it’s annoying that you cant Searing Spear that Vampire Nighthawk on turn 3 cos you havent drawn your red mana, it’s much less likely to cost you the game than say if you were playing an aggressive Naya GWR deck.
Enemy Colours usually dont have as many natural benefits such at the Kird Ape cycle or on colour dual lands, but that doesnt mean that there’s no some natural synergy between the colours.
Blue-Green (UG) is usually a tempo deck with neither colour having much in the way of removal so bounce and pump have to fill in. Cards like Aether Adept and Mist Raven really shine here as ways of getting your big green dude through while also increasing your board presence. Big green 4/4’s are much more likely to be double blocked than smaller creatures at which point even a simple Unsummon becomes a powerful removal spell and tempo gain. Similarly blue’s occasional ability to tap blockers or grant things unblockability, such as Sleep and Tricks of the Trade in M13, obviously are more powerful with bigger creatures.
Green-Black (GB) is in a similar boat to RG usually in that it just has powerful creatures and good removal spells. Blacks creature recursion is slightly better than with other colours since green monsters are more likely to be above the curve power wise. Green also gets more deathtouch than other colours and just Disemtombing a Deadly Recluse can be almost as good as a Pacifism in some matchups.
Similarly Blue-Red (UR) often plays the same as UB with just a different colour providing the removal. Red is usually less good in this role as burn spells struggle with large monsters and you really need to at least have the option of killing large creatures in limited. Also UR’s monsters are often quite small and easily outclassed. I’m not saying it cant work of course but UR is something I would tend to shy away from, especially in M13.
White-Red (WR) is a pretty staple aggro deck with both colours providing cheap monsters and burn for removal and finishing. WR often has a token/many creatures and pump subtheme as seen in M13 with Krenko’s Command, Captain’s Call and Trumpet Blast, and in Innistrad with Rally the Peasants. I’m not a huge fan of this strategy myself as it’s pretty linear and Trumpet Blast is pretty bad when it isn’t killing them. A well timed Cower in Fear or Chandra’s Fury can really spoil your day too.
Finally Black-White (BW) is usually not a great combination due to mana requirements. Lots of White early drops are double white (Ajani’s Sunstriker, Chapel Geist etc.) and black usually has similar requirements (Murder, Vampire Nighthawk, Liliana’s Shade, etc.) That said the mana costs in M13 arent too restrictive and the natural synergy of Exalted guys with more exalted guys makes BW one of the more powerful 2 colour combinations in my opinion.
Mono colour decks arent usually a great choice in limited as you really reduce your options during the draft. That said sometimes the pay off can be worth is as you’re picking up relatively more powerful cards later on by maximising the card by being mono colour. Obviously the cards that scale up well have to be available to make a mono colour deck worth it and M13 has a few options. Dragon Hatchling, Furnace Whelp and Battle Jester all benefit greatly from being mono red and luckily the colour is deep enough that mono red decks are a reasonably common sight.
I’ve had a few drafts where I’ve started Rx and been aware that I might end up mono red and so err’d on the side of the red card when making close picks. Even if you end up with a small splash you’ve still maximised the power of your firebreathers etc. Liliana’s Shade doesnt seem quite enough to push mono black but in the days of M12 Consume Spirit and a shade was enough to make mono black an occasional powerful deck. Turning your Essence Drains into Fireballs is a pretty powerful upside and it wasnt uncommon to pick up 2-3 Consume Spirits since they were such low picks for the Bx decks.
Specific Linear Strategies
The last thing I want to talk about is specific linear strategies such as the Mind Sculpt deck. Personally I’m never a fan of mill in limited since, although it can be powerful, it’s usually too easy to just board into a 50+ card deck and make it so much harder to kill you. Obviously it very much depends on the cards in the format but it can be very powerful and rewarding since, again, you’re making your late picks so much more powerful relatively to your opponents.
A similar strategy that I think really does work in M13 is the War Falcon decks. A couple of times I’ve had 3 or 4 of the little birds and even with only 5-6 enablers they’ve been very good. Obviously the 2 drop exalted guys make your Falcon into a 1 mana 3 power guy, which has been good enough to get banned in Modern and dominated Standard for the last year and a half, but the real keys to the Falcon decks are Guardians of Akrasa, Attended Knight and Captains Call.
Guardians is a card that doesnt get dealt with by Pacifism or Searing Spear and again makes your Falcon into a 3/2 attacker. No one really wants to waste a proper removal spell on your wall and there’s always a chance you’ll just draw another soldier anyway so he usually sticks around and gums up the ground while your bird gets in in the air.
Similarly the Knight and Call both make multiple soldiers which makes it much harder for your opponent to deal with all your enablers. Having picked up Falcons as late as 12th-13th pick and have them be basically 2 power 1 drop flyers with no drawbacks really pushes the power level of your deck when you get it.
So that’s enough for limited talking for now I think – hopefully you’ve learnt something and next time you do a draft think about the type of deck you’re drafting and whether a less powerful but more synergistic cards wouldnt make your deck better overall!
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.