Drafting Fliers in Dominaria Draft

by Zen Takahashi on 28 June 2018, Thursday

Zen Takahashi


Drafting Fliers in Dominaria Draft

Hello everybody! 

In my previous article, I shared our team's draft testing results and our pick order list from Pro Tour Dominaria – which you can find hereToday, I will be going over in comprehensive detail my favorite archetype in this limited format – Black-White/Blue-White Fliers! 


My Strategy

As I have discussed in the past, my general strategy at the Pro Tour is to draft the “medium way”. a is a technique that involves learning two or three archetypes thoroughly, and then drafting whichever one of them is the most open in your seat at the time. These archetypes would generally be a combination of what you believe are the best archetypes in the format, and what you are most comfortable with.

For Dominaria, my strategy was to force Black-White/Blue-White Fliers. Blue-White Fliers was initially an archetype that Lee Shi Tian was hot on early in the format, but we quickly found that the archetype becomes harder to draft once people realized how good Time of Ice and Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive were. 

From there, I decided to try Black-White Fliers and immediately found success with it. In fact, leading up to the Pro Tour, I drafted the archetype eight times on Magic Online and had four 3-0s, one 2-1 (losing the finals to Jon Finkel) and three 0-1s – a total record of 14-4 for a 78% win rate. 


Mammoth Spider Cloudreader Sphinx

Flying creatures are great in this format, as the set is slower than usual, which makes evasive creatures better as there are fewer decks that are fast enough to out race you - while slower, beefy creatures cannot stop you. However, this format does also have a decent amount of bombs, and big reach and flying creatures such as Mammoth Spider and Cloudreader Sphinx – both of which are commons. Prioritize, there is also a decent amount of removal spells – especially compared to previous sets. 

The landscape of Dominaria limited, as portrayed just above, is what makes Black the perfect color to pair with White. Although White has some of the best flying creatures, notably Pegasus Courser, it lacks in ways to fight through big creatures and removal spells.

However, Black is great at dealing with these two issues, as Black has a lot of hard removal spells that can deal with anything, while Soul Salvage and Dark Bargain are both great sources of card advantage to fight through removal spells. In fact, I think Soul Salvage is one of the best Black commons in the set, and I would happily take it early, but most people underrate the card a lot, so I almost always manage to wheel it, and so I do not have to take it highly. 

Black deals with these two issues better than Blue does, as Blue's interaction is more tempo-orientated than hard answers, and its card advantage – notably Divination and Weight of Memory – are worse than the Black counterparts.


Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive Time of Ice In Bolas's Clutches

However, Blue does have a higher ceiling than Black, due to its three extremely powerful uncommons – Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive, Time of Ice and In Bolas's Clutches. If Blue is wide open in your draft and you can get multiple of these cards, then I would prefer to be in Blue-White Fliers. Generally though, I prefer to be in Black-White Fliers, as it is safer since most of its key cards are commons - so you end up with a better deck on average. 

If White is being cut, then I plan to move into Black-Red Control. This is an archetype that Jeremy Dezani caught our attention on, and the team had a decent amount of success with it.

I generally want to avoid Green at all costs, as I believe Green-White Tokens and Green-Black Saprolings are the only playable Green archetypes – and the former would not work if White is being cut, while the latter I think is fine but not nearly as good as people think it is. While Green-Black Saprolings is good against the removal heavy control decks, it is very weak to flying creatures, and I have beaten some great Green-Black Saprolings decks with just random fliers because the deck simply cannot deal with them. The only time I would consider being in Green is if I open Song of Freyalise or Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar.

Power Level Ranking List

The following is the ranking of all the playable cards at each mana cost for this archetype. Generally, the top three to five cards at each mana cost is reasonably defined, but beyond that, the exact ranking largely depends on what else is in your deck, e.g. Knight of New Benalia is better if you have multiple Pegasus Courser, while Jhoria's Familiar is worse if you do not have many historic spells. That being said, this ranking generally holds true in most cases, and you can likely determine when to deviate from it based on how your deck is looking at the time. 




Decklist Template

17 Lands or 16 Lands and 1 Skittering Surveyor 

  • 16-17 Creatures/Threats 
    • 5 One and Two Drops
    • 5 Three Drops
    • 4 Four Drops 
    • 3 Five and Six Drops

  • 6-7 Spells
    • XX Removal (as much as you can play)
    • 0-2 Auras/Equipment
    • 1-2 Card Advantage Spells
    • 0-1 Opt/Divest 
    • 0-2 Combat Tricks

Additional Deckbuilding Notes

  • The curve is significant for this deck. I think beyond the top tier cards at each mana cost, the cards are relatively interchangeable, and I prefer to have a good curve than play a card that is of a different mana cost that may be marginally stronger on power level. If possible, I try to follow as close as I can to the curve I outlined above. 

  • The Esper colors have fewer Kicker cards than Red and Green, which means you have fewer mana sinks. Generally, if I do not have much mana sinks, I want to lower my land count, but you cannot afford to do that in this deck because curving out is important. Therefore, I highly prioritise the Memorial lands – especially since all the Esper color ones are good. Ideally, you want two Memorial lands in your deck. 

  • As explained above, beyond the top three to five cards at each mana cost, the exact ranking of the cards largely depends on what the rest of your deck looks like. This is especially the case for two drops, as you have cards such as Mesa Unicorn and Knight of New Benalia which become much better if you have multiple Pegasus Courser, while you also have two drops such as Relic Runner and Serra Disciple which rely on historic. Generally, try to build towards one of these two plans, and try to avoid having to play vanilla two drops like Benalish Honor Guard and Cabal Evangel

  • While drafting this archetype, you have to highly prioritise three drops – as there are not that many of them. If you look at the rankings above, you will see that there are only about eight playable three drops – compared to two and four drops which are much more abundant. Therefore, pick three drops highly – especially premium ones such as Pegasus Courser, which I take above almost everything. 

  • On the other hand, there are a lot of four drops, and they are mostly interchangeable. You do not need to prioritise them, as you only want about four of them in your deck and you will most likely end up with more than you need. 

  • Ideally, you do not want to play any six drops beyond the most premium ones. I would be happy to play In Bolas's Clutches and Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp – but beyond those, I would prefer to just have more five drops. However, if you can assemble Cold-Water Snapper and On Serra's Wings, that is a potent combo. 

  • You want to play as many removal spells as you can get your hands on, as the main issue for this deck is bombs and big reach and flying creatures that can block your fliers. Therefore, prioritise unconditional removal spells highly, and be happy to keep taking them as long as your creatures are adequate – though it is unlikely you will get a lot of them as removal spells are highly sought after by everybody. 

  • I do not mind having a few Equipments in my deck, but I do not want to play any ranked below Jousting Lance in the list above. As for Auras, the only one I want in my deck is On Serra's Wings – as Auras is a big liability in this format due to the large number of removal spells.

  • Card advantage is important in this archetype as I mentioned before, and Soul Salvage is the best one. I would also be happy to play Divination and Dark Bargain in my deck, but Weight of Memory is slightly too expensive for me to want to play it in the maindeck. Generally, I would only play one or two card advantage spells in the main deck, but I would be happy to sideboard up to as many as four or five of them against control decks. 

  • Divest and Opt are both fine one-offs, but I would not play them unless I was short on playables. 

  • Ideally, I do not want to play any combat tricks other than Adamant Will, but Charge is playable if you have some token producers. 

Example Decklists

Here are some of the decks I managed to 3-0 with on Magic Online, as well as the deck Andrea Mengucci 3-0'd with in his first draft at Pro Tour Dominaria. 






Feature Match Video



Watch Grand Prix Washington DC 2018 (Team Limited) Round 4 from Magic on www.twitch.tv

This was my feature match against Noah Walker from Round 4 of GP Washington DC a few weeks ago. Although this was Team Sealed and not draft, the Black-White deck I had very much looked like the type of deck I usually try to draft – though I did not have any Pegasus Courser

It is interesting that from the beginning of the match, the commentators are confused about why Sparring Construct is in my deck and they think it is a mistake, but I think the card is solid in this archetype as it gets in for some early damage, and then can help swing the race later on in the game by being a crucial chump blocker and making your flying creature bigger. 

In the first game, Noah had a pretty good draw from his Green-Black Saprolings deck and the commentators expressed early in the game that it seemed clear that Noah would win. However, as I mentioned before, you can often just beat this archetype with random fliers even if they have a good draw – and that is exactly what happened in this game as I had a removal for his Rite of Belzenlock token and then just beat him down with an Aven Sentry and Aesthir Glider to Take Down the game. 

In the second and third game, his draws lined up better against mine, and I played quite poorly. I think had I played better, I could have won the match. In the second game, you can also see how big of an impact Mammoth Spider made, as it single-handedly won him the game.

Unfortunately, I did not have a removal spell to deal with it, but that demonstrates why I believe Black is better than Blue – if I had an Eviscerate or Settle the Score to deal with the Spider, I would have almost certainly won that game, but had it been a Blink of an Eye instead, he would have merely recast it and I would have been roadblocked again. 

I hope you enjoyed this article as I covered in comprehensive detail my favorite archetype in Dominaria draft – Black-White/Blue-White Fliers! Dominaria has been a great Limited format, and I am stoked that Wizards was able to bring back so many iconic figures from Magic's history. In the meantime, I am excited for the release of Core Set 2019, as core sets have always been some of my favorite sets in Magic! 

Until next time!

Zen Takahashi
@mtgzen on Twitter 

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