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Limitless – SD Skies

Mar 29, 2017

Howdy Hexers – Jeff Hoogland here. While I am no stranger to writing on HexTCG.com, many of you will note that this is not my normal “Deck Drilldown” column where I talk about different constructed decks that are popular. Today, I am going to be talking about one of my new TCG loves for the first time – Draft. Since the introduction of draft gauntlets I have been playing a lot more than just constructed. I hit cosmic in limited for the first time last season just from drafting, and this season I have been consistently ranked in the top 16 of the cosmic limited board while only having played a few sealed events that I had free entry for (yay account leveling!).

The 6-6-5 draft format that we currently have in HEX is amazingly deep. Even as I write this, I have played 50+ drafts and am currently sitting in a gauntlet that is 2-0 with an archetype that is brand new to me. That being said, for my first piece today I would like to break down one of my favorite archetypes in the current draft format that I have drafted countless times to much success: Sapphire-Diamond Skies.

For those who are unfamiliar, Sapphire-Diamond Skies, with Ada the Apparitionist, is likely the best control archetype of this limited format. While some builds of it can end up being fairly aggressive, my most successful lists tend to gum up the ground with high defense troops and then use Flight threats to attack in the air. The quality of removal and card advantage in Sapphire-Diamond lets you keep your opponent’s must answer threats in check while also staying ahead of them on cards most games.

Card Choices

Today I am going to break down all of the cards that I find myself playing most frequently in this archetype while drafting. I will not be talking about the rares in the format that are on shard because they are not consistent options for you to be playing. Any commons or uncommons not listed here I feel are not worth playing in the archetype and I only end up with them in my deck if I was short on more playable cards.

Finishers / Bombs

These are the most important cards in any draft. They are the ones that close the game out and are “must answers” for your opponent when you resolve them. In general I like to have somewhere between 4 and 6 bombs in my deck depending on which ones I get.

Mystic NaturalistPhoenix Guard Lancer

Naturalist is my favorite uncommon in the format—I do not think I have ever passed one in a draft. It is probably one of the most powerful uncommons in the set. The fact that she is a 2/4 lets her dodge a lot of the popular removal in the format, and since we want her for her Diligence trigger things like Shackling Strands also are not much use in stopping her.

Never pass a Mystic Naturalist if you are playing Sapphire, especially in this archetype.

Lancer is second only to Mystic Naturalist when it comes to bombs in this archetype. A 4/4 with Flight for essentially four resources is powerful enough on its own, but once you factor in Steadfast you get a truly powerful card. Once you are into pack two you will often see this card go late because you need to be in two specific thresholds to play it. That being said, I would still prioritize drafting Lancers because they are not likely to wheel I have found.

Vigilant DuskwingCloud Bounder

While Duskwing is a touch expensive at five resources, it advances our “stall the board” game plan as well as our “kill you with evasive threats” game plan. This is because the five defense that Duskwing has means many attackers cannot swing into it profitably, while the three attack means Duskwing can kill most smaller troops in combat.

Because Duskwing is common you generally do not have to pick them highly, but they are worth picking up a copy or two if you have the chance.

Cloud Bounder is a card that I feel does not get enough respect from people. I have pack 1 pick 1’d a Cloud Bounder on more than one occasion. Not only is Bounder a powerful turn three play, but it is a way to enable Diligence on boards where your troops cannot afford to attack. Occasionally I will pass one of these for premium removal, but generally I want as many of these as possible in my Sapphire-Diamond decks.

Guardian GralkMechanized Aerialist

Gralk is a bit on the expensive side in terms of resources, but it has a powerful impact on any board. Not only does a 4/4 evasive threat allow you to close games quickly, but Gralk has a relevant text box past its stats. Because we are playing Ada, we can generally afford to have some spare bodies around which effectively makes Gralk pseudo removal for as long as it remains in play. Gralk is also great at enabling Diligence for your troops on stalled boards.

I am happy to play a Gralk if I get one, but it is rarely the end of the world if I have to pass one to pick up a more efficient threat or a piece of quality removal.

Aerialist really shines in the builds of Sapphire-Diamond that have more of an aggressive slant. Any time you are able to play Aerialist out alongside another threat and two spirits on five, your opponent is going to have a hard time keeping up. Much like our other X/4s, Aerialist is also good at gumming up a board if it needs to.

Veiled LurkerGallant Spearcliff

Lurker is our only non-Flight troop in the bombs section. This is because it is better than Flight – it is Unblockable. Lurker is an ace against other Ada decks since even the skies tend to gum up in those matchups. It is not unreasonable to get to three Sapphire thresholds in longer games which allows lurker to close fairly quickly.

Spearcliff is one of our lower pick priorities, but I am rarely sad to get one late in a pack. Essentially, it is a 3/5 for five resources that gives me the option to spread the power out over multiple bodies. The Valor is useful for allowing our 4/4s to win fights with other similarly sized troops.

Windbourne Ascension

While Conscript cards are far from consistent, the average card quality of three cost Underworld troops is actually fairly high. Because the card you are getting will always have Flight, playing an Ascension or two is fine if you are light on other playable bombs in your deck.

Removal

Every good control deck needs to remove opposing threats from the table. My best Diamond-Sapphire decks tend to have between 4 and 6 pieces of quality removal in them.

Decree of BanishingChastise

Decree is the best Diamond removal in this format. There is not a lot of playable constant removal in the format, and the pieces that do exist are all Diamond and Wild. Decree is a reason to move into Diamond if you see it passed late, and it is often first-pickable if you are looking to move into a second shard.

Chastise is arguably the best common removal in Scars of War. It kills many of the threats that you care about in the format. I pick Chastise with a fairly high priority, generally only passing it for some bomb like a Naturalist or a Lancer.

Shackling StrandsLlamafy

This is one of the few cards that comes close to Chastise in terms of common removal quality. Any time I am playing Sapphire, Shackling Strands is a fairly high pick priority for me. It is essentially two cost removal with the only conditional being it cannot remove cards with Diligence.

Sapphire-Diamond is probably one of the better Llamafy decks in the format. Because Sapphire-Diamond is so good at gumming up the ground, a 2/2 is essentially negligible, meaning you can neutralize their best threat for just two resources regardless of what it is.

Bring To JusticeVanquish

Bring To Justice got a huge power boost in the move from 5-5-5 to 6-6-5 draft. Valor is no longer the most powerful archetype in the format, so Bring To Justice is essentially unconditional removal most of the time. Occasionally you run into someone playing Two Tomahawks and feel slightly bad, but that is what reserves are for. I am almost always happy to pick up the first copy of Bring To Justice, but playing multiple main deck is not unreasonable in this current format.

Vanquish is expensive for removal, but the fact that it has the upside of generating a Valor is not nothing. Often Vanquish can allow you to kill their one large threat while allowing you to attack through their second thanks to the Valor. Vanquish is a fairly low pick priority, so you will often see it late in most drafts. Playing the first copy main deck is reasonable, but starting more than that can be risky since it can be clunky when it does not have a target.

Diamond’s FavorBrood Net

Diamond’s Favor is a reasonable card that is a jack of all trades, while being a master of none. It is good at removing opposing cards like Vigilant Duskwing or smaller troops being buffed by a combat trick. Occasionally, Favor can remove annoying constants such as Dread Factory or shut down constant based champions like Bloodspinner Zorath. The final mode can often be a total blow out in combat—especially in the mirror when it looks like you are just offering to trade 1/1s and 2/2s for each other.

Brood Net, on the other hand, is generally just a worse Shackling Strands. It is still plenty playable, though. If I make it to pack three without much removal, I am happy to pick up a copy or two of Brood Net.

Guppy Gloves

If I am registering a Guppy Gloves, it is a sure sign that I did not draft enough other playable removal. That being said, Guppy Gloves is better than having little or no removal, so do not be ashamed to play it if you need a third or fourth piece of removal to round out your main deck.

Card Advantage

Your card advantage is the glue that holds any good control deck together. Because our control decks tend to play a lot of resources, having enough quality card advantage helps us keep our action density high while still making our shard drops. In general, I like my Sapphire-Diamond decks to have at least three pieces of quality card advantage, but they can be difficult to pick up at times since the best pieces are uncommon.

Consult the TalonAstral Sight

Consult the Talon is one of the best cards for this archetype. The fact that our champion makes two troops on turn five means we can often just play this for a single resource on that turn. The only time I have ever passed a Consult the Talon in a draft while in Sapphire was because there was a Mystic Naturalist in the same pack. This card should be an extremely high pick priority for you.

While Astral Sight looks clunky on the surface, it is an extremely powerful card in the Ada deck. Not only does it draw you three cards, but gaining three charges is most of the way towards generating two more Phantoms to allow you to apply more pressure to your opponent. I think I would rank Astral Sight above Consult the Talon in power level if it was easier to play, but the triple Sapphire threshold will be clunky for you on occasion.

Skyspire ScholarBattle Agenda

Draft more Skyspire Scholars. After bombs and removal, this is one of my highest pick priorities in Sapphire-Diamond. Not only does a 0/6 gum up the ground well, but in the end game it also generates card advantage for you. Scholar also allows you to turn any reversion effects you have into “draw two cards.”

If I end up playing Battle Agenda in my deck, that generally means I was short on getting other playable card advantage. A four cost draw two is better than not being able to draw at all, but this is definitely worse than the previous three options.

Support – Gummies

The last thing my most successful Sapphire-Diamond decks have is a number of troops that allow you to gum up the ground. These troops allow you to have early plays and hold down the fort while your Phantoms and bombs win the game in the sky. In general, you want to have 6+ cards from this section in a successful deck. It is especially important to make sure you have a lot of cards from this section if you have picked up Cloud Bounders and Lancers that need early troops to Mobilize off of.

Cerulean SageWebscribe

Sage is a fantastic card to pick up in this section. Not only does it stop your opponent from applying early pressure, but once the game is stabilized a bit Sage can take to the air and start applying pressure itself.

After Sage, Webscribe is probably the best defensive troop you can play in the early game. Because we are generally playing enough resources to make our first few shard drops, Webscribe can hold down up to a four power troop or lock down a pair of two power troops by combining favorable blocks with its triggered power.

Skittering CultivatorWarpsteel Shardsworn

Skittering Cultivator is good at blocking thanks to its four defense, but it also generates a reasonable offensive threat with its Dreadling creation. This card is exceptionally good when you have copies of Consult the Talon in your deck since Cultivator can create three bodies to Mobilize with on the fourth turn of the game all on its own.

Shardsworn is another card that is good with Consult since it generates two bodies in one card. Generally, you want to start with the Minor Diamond of Protection in Warpsteel Shardsworn so it can block two attack troops profitably.

Leyline Purifier

The last card I am happy to play that gums up the ground is Purifier. A 1/3 for two is not too shabby on its own, and Leyline Purifier can single-handedly win games when it shows up against constant based champions.

Support – Tricks

While my most successful Sapphire-Diamond decks are primarily control decks, playing a trick or two can generally win you a few games. These cards are by no means required for a successful Sapphire-Diamond deck, but I am not unhappy to be playing a few of them. Because these cards do not always effect the board, I generally do not like to play more than a couple copies of them in some combination.

Reversion

This is a card that was hard for me to evaluate at the start of the format, but it has really grown on me the more I have played with it. Think of Reversion as a one cost quick action that can read:

  • Counter Target Combat Trick
  • Counter Shackling Strands / Dingle
  • Undo Grandfather Elk / Marzul’s champion activation

Most decks in the format are doing one of these things at some point, so this is pretty powerful. In general, I like to main deck the first copy of Revision and reserve in a second copy as needed.

BlindsideSweep AwayOutflank

Blindside is one of the more aptly named cards in this limited format. This is a card that your opponent almost always has to walk into at some point. If you make an attack that represents a Blindside and your opponent does not call, they also will not be able to attack profitably into your exhausted troop the following turn because Blindside will ready it and allow it to blow them out. Blindside is also great at pushing those last three points of damage through and swing tight races in your favor.

Sweep Away can counter combat tricks and put your opponent off tempo, while simultaneously adding pressure to your board. Sweep Away can also be used to protect your own threats from removal in a pinch.

Outflank is a card that is good at letting your ground troops trade up when your opponent makes an attack that otherwise looks “free,” such as attacking a 2/2 into your 1/3 or 1/4.

Support – Pressure

The troops listed here are supplemental pressure to help your bombs to close out games. If you end up drafting a more aggressive Sapphire-Diamond shell, generally you will have more than a few troops from this section in your deck. These troops are not high pick priorities for me when drafting Sapphire-Diamond, but I am also not generally unhappy to end up playing some amount of them.

Cloud RunnerJet Cadet

These two are the best “quick pressure” you can get that is also evasive in Sapphire-Diamond. My most aggressive SD builds involve a few copies of these two. You will generally be hard pressed to lose a game where you play two attack Flight troops on turns 2, 3, 4, and then make Phantoms on five.

Storm RiderGrim Skull TacticianWinter Brave

These cards are all three cost threats with Flight that allow you to have a more aggressive curve. Storm Rider provides some great utility with its one-shot ability to revert a card. Rider is especially powerful in conjunction with Skyspire Scholar since you can revert Scholar to draw two more cards. Grim Skull and Winter Brave should both be slotted with Minor Diamond of Wind by default when playing them in Sapphire-Diamond Skies. They can also be pivoted to playing the Minor Diamond of Protection if you end up needing more troops to gum up the ground though.

Webborn Apostate

While Apostate might seem like an odd card in the Skies deck, it consistently impresses me. The best champions in this format are often the ones with high cost charge powers, and Apostate helps us get to our Phantoms early while also delaying their activation for a turn. The 2/1 body is not especially impressive, but it can generally trade for another troop on the ground while generating some tempo for us in the midgame.

Putting it all Together

Before we call it a day, let’s take a look at what drafting a Sapphire-Diamond deck looks like:

Champion: Ada the Apparitionist


This deck ended up going 3-0. You can see the matchups it played against here.

Looking at the final decklist, you can see it has most of the key pieces we talked about above. There are five pieces of removal, three pieces of card advantage, and plenty of ways to reset the Skyspire Scholars. While we did not get any of the most powerful bombs in Sapphire-Diamond, we did end up with four reasonably powerful pieces of top end. We are also a touch shy on gummies, but the two copies of Webborn Apostate more than help make up for this.

Wrapping Up

One of the most important things to keep track of when drafting this archetype is making sure you have a good balance of all the pieces you need. It is very easy to end up with too much of one thing and not enough of another when you are trying to strike a balance between bombs, removal, card advantage, and cards that can gum up the board.

Also keep in mind that you do not want to go into any draft with the idea of forcing a particular archetype. Ideally, you should be flexible as to what exactly you are drafting until halfway through the first pack or more whenever possible. That being said, the Sapphire-Diamond Skies archetype has most of its key pieces at common, so in general it is not too difficult for someone in each draft to end up with a reasonable version of it.

Hopefully, today’s Limitless piece was helpful to you in stepping up your limited game. If you have any questions about this specific archetype or drafting in general feel free to leave me a comment in the forum link below.

Thanks for reading,
~Jeff Hoogland

Jeff is a professional gamer who enjoys the competitive aspects of HEX: Shards of Fate. Constructed is his preferred format and he is always looking for that new piece of technology to give him a leg up on the competition.

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