Blue/Red Tempo is one of the more aggressive archetypes in Oath of the Gatewatch Draft, and is typically one of the tougher decks to end up in and is certainly one of the lesser represented archetypes.
Blue is a rather shallow color, and a few of the better blue commons require colorless mana which create problems in draft. In addition, the core cards with of the Surge mechanic fit into any Blue and Red deck, not just surge. A card like Vampire Envoy for instance, is a staple common but requires synergy to be most effective, but most of the UR staples can fit into any deck. There are few cards that will specifically put you into Blue/Red, so when you often need to be in the proper draft position to make it work. The strongest versions of the UR deck utilize a lean curve and either surge or powerful spells or tricks to get ahead on board. Not only can the UR decks get ahead, to properly utilize the strengths of UR, you need to be able to stay ahead and close the door with evasive threats and all around efficient spells.
OGW is an aggressive format, combat tricks and efficient cards are stronger than usual. Blue and Red creatures historically don’t fight other creatures in combat very well. So, a well drafted UR deck needs to use evasion, tempo, and “mana” gained off of efficient Surge cards, and tempo spells to get ahead. In order to achieve this you want to draft a strong curve. Having a reasonable curve will make our spells better and of course having good spells makes having a good curve more effective. This is a pretty classic play for UR in any format, and it’s not that much different in OGW, other than the fact that this archetype is “built into” the format more than usual.
Oath of the Gatewatch UR decks aren’t trying to win through synergy or by overpowering people. The goal is to draft a deck that can get ahead early and maintain that momentum throughout the game. This is different from most of the decks in this format, which are looking to be able to steamroll their opponents, or break through the many board stalls that are presented. I have found that the best UR decks tend to win with tempo. Try to gain early game pressure throughs creatures that are tough to block, Stormchaser Mage, Umara Entangler, Zada’s Commando, Valakut Predator, Eldrazi Skyspawner. The idea is the farther you are ahead, the more backbreaking your Surge turns will become. You can still of course draft a more controlling deck that is UR, but the wins will still mostly come from efficiency since there are few sources of card advantage in the format. The ones that do exist are usually too slow and clunky. Your creatures are often rather dorky, which is why you want to emphasize speed and efficiency to not allow a reprieve for your opponent to outclass you.
First off let’s go over the surge commons, these are important for any UR deck in order to accumulate mana advantages which can translate into tempo. These of course are: Goblin Freerunner, Boulder Salvo, and Jwar Isle Avenger, all are heavily sought after. They fit in any deck, look to take them particularly highly once you think UR is open. I start many drafts on early Boulder Salvos and Goblin Freerunner, there aren’t that many incentives for being blue, but midpack Jwar Isle Avengers can often be signals to move in. Containment Membrane is the other common surge spell, but is generally not that great in spite its good rate since we are trying to be the beatdown. Remember that they become significantly better if you have Blinding Drones or Grip of the Roil. There are many fringy blue cards that will go late pack one since nobody wants to commit, Sweep Aways and Gravity Negators are actually quite good and routinely table, the stigma of blue being weak creates opportunities to capitalize.
Stay away from the Surge enablers of the set, as they are all quite weaker than they appear. Bone Saw, Expedite, Slip Through Space, Anticipate and most similar cards consistently underperform. Part of the problem is when you Surge a spell, you are only gaining a mana advantage if your first spell has affected the board. For example, if you casting an Expedite to Boulder Salvo on turn 4 for instance, you aren’t particularly getting that much out of the deal. Essentially you are trading your turn for theirs, whereas you would rather be casting a creature and then surging a salvo, that way you can snowball into a win. Now, these enablers aren’t unplayable, just be wary of overvaluing them. Remember, there is an opportunity cost for having these cyclers in your deck, as they can rot in your hand and give you clunky draws.
Surge is strong, and while obtaining some is a priority, it is paramount to draft to maintain a solid curve. You don’t need necessarily need any Surge cards to have a good UR deck, but they are certainly nice to have. The idea of being a tempo deck is important enough, and Wizards seemed to employ plenty of reasonable curve options for Blue/Red that aren’t all Surge spells. We want maximize the value of our spells, so ensure we can do so with a strong curve. Creatures are much easier to obtain than the spells we want are, so you will have enough options in the draft to maintain pressure in our games.
Many players feel obligated to try to go too deep with their UR Surge decks. The enablers are bad, cards like Pyromancers Assault and Comparative Analysis just don’t affect the board enough to be playable in this format. If you take a turn off to cast those cards, there is little to no chance a UR deck can catch back up. You are better off utilizing Surge cards as a payoff for a lean aggro deck that utilizes Surge to create tempo.
There are some spells that fit perfectly into UR Tempo/Surge. These are cards that provide tempo, and also potentially let us cast our surge spells. Efficiency and pressure are key as not only do we want to maintain initiative in our games, but we need to at some point create windows where we can end the game. You can curve out with creatures all you want, but winning games will be difficult if you never take over these games by eventually casting something that will have immediate impact on your opponent’s blockers. These cards include: Roiling Waters, Clutch of Currents/Rush of Ice, Outnumber, Touch of the Void, Brute Strength/Sure Strike, etc.. These type of cards give us those the swings we need to get ahead and sometimes end games. Curving out should create situations where these spells will give us a huge lead, so it’s important to have them when you need them.
Always remember that putting your opponent on their back foot is strong, since UR has such tempo-swingy cards, it’s often hard for your opponent to attack you at all. This should buy you more time to draw into evasive creatures, bombs, or potentially any board stall breakers you have (think Valakut Invoker, Eldrazi Immobilizer, Coralhelm Guide, any Bombs, or any Burn.) Your opponent’s creatures are usually going to be higher quality, and they will often be better in combat. With a proper UR deck, we want to be able to lock our opponents creatures out of being effective in combat. We can use tricks, removal, or aggression to keep their better threats from being able to attacking or blocking well. If you can maintain a good curve, that allows our spells to shine. Pump spells can often become removal, and our bounce spells can often be pseudo Doom Blades when we are just killing our opponent within a turn or two of casting them. None of that is possible without getting underneath or at least trying to keep with our opponents early.
Be careful with any colorless splashes in Blue/Red tempo. Most of the time this deck will be a completely different deck, but sometimes a colorless splash is unavoidable as many of these cards come late in the draft and are quite powerful. You can’t afford to fall behind in games due to bad mana when you are Blue/Red in this format. If you find the powerful colorless cards, of course feel free to take them. You can play a touch of U/R devoid in the more these more aggressive style decks-but in general I try to avoid it unless the payoff is large. Unfortunately the devoid options in BFZ are now much weaker, since you often don’t need Processor enablers, or the Processors themselves since you really only can get them from pack three. My draft provides a good example of this potential splash. I’m quite careful not to take too many colorless cards early, and I don’t go out of my way to get the lands unless they come late. This is where your ability to read the table comes into play, cards like Blinding Drone and Maw of Kozilek are often signals that a Blue or Red colorless deck is open-keep your eyes out.
The last thing to note is that often you will need a few repeatable sources of damage. In my draft, I fall quite short on these kind of cards. When you have the bounce, removal, and pump spells, you are not utilizing them to the full effect if it only allows you to damage your opponent with a few Goblin Pikers. Some of the more underrated options here that are often easy to pick up are Vestige of Emrakul, Cinder Hellion, Gravity Negator, and Cloud Manta. Essentially,many other decks need synergistic creatures where UR doesn’t. You can often pick up some of these more generic creatures quite easily and they can potentially do major heavy lifting for how late you can get them. While you might think these cards don’t look particularly great, they are relatively tough to kill or block, take combat tricks well and give you a bit of staying power compared to your more dorky creatures. You have to get a bit scrappy sometimes since it’s important to use your early picks on powerful spells if you can.
-The Surge cards are great, but always prioritize a curve. The Surge mechanic itself as well as the mana advantage it can provide gets better with a lean curve, since we will have more things in play, and more cheap cards that will let you surge.
-Enablers aren’t unplayable, but they are rather weak as they “gum” up your deck. They bring the power level down, and don’t help you push ahead of your opponent.
-Powerful swingy spells are important, since most of our creatures are bad and we are trying to win through our curve into spells as opposed to creatures alone.
-Know which normally “bad creatures” fit best in your deck.
-Be extremely careful if you need to splash colorless. Is it worth it? Should you just be straight devoid instead?
-Look for late signals that the archetype is open before fully committing. Surge cards themselves are usually good signals, late Sweep Aways, Gravity Negator, and Umara Entanglers all can come criminally late. Remember, if you open a Crush of Tentacles or a Fall of the Titans, you don’t have to force Surge, as those cards are good in any deck and the best “Surge” decks are often just good aggressive decks that aren’t interested in many enablers.