Today I want to talk about U/R Emerge as an archetype. U/R Emerge occupies a very odd space in the magic universe. As a player who’s been around for some time, this is one of the more unique decks I’ve come across. To be honest, it’s virtually three different decks in one, depending on how each match plays out. Sometimes it’s a tempo deck leveraging early zombies into Elder Deep-Fiend, and at other times it’s a resilient midrange deck that chips away at the board and life totals until finishing your opponent off with some evasive beats. But sometimes it even gets to be a control deck, wrathing the board multiple times and winning with the leftovers.
Typically we would think of these inconsistencies as a symptom of poor deckbuilding, yet all of these distinct strategies fit U/R Emerge perfectly and allow it to all come together in some sort of weird harmony. (speaking of harmonies, you should check out my Death & Metal article)
I’ve always felt that U/R Emerge was underplayed, even at the height of the two deck format last season. Perhaps it’s because the deck isn’t the most intuitive to pilot, or maybe that it’s soft to Gideon + removal spells, but I’ve always felt that it’s average to good hands could beat any deck in the format.
And it’s only getting better with the release of Amonkhet.
Max Magnuson – U/R Emerge – Amonkhet RPTQ (Burnsville)
This was the highest placing list I could find pre-Amonkhet. When looking at exactly where this archetype struggles, I don’t think we need to look a whole lot further than the three main deck Fevered Visions.
Now dont get me wrong, Fevered Visions is very good at what it does, but in too many matchups it is either low impact or actively bad. Especially if you tap out on turn 3 to play this, and then your opponent slams the turn 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, who then proceeds to gas their hand back up. Then we lose. Another knock against the deck is that most of our creatures are going to enter play tapped, making it the worst blocking deck in the format. But let’s take a look and see what we can work with.
On the other hand, the discard suite of Tormenting Voice, Lightning Axe, and Cathartic Reuinion) is merely OK in my opinion. This deck wants atleast 10 of these effects but the numbers are flexible, and more options would be welcome. Cathartic Reunion is the most powerful of the bunch and the only one that I consider mandatory.
The Eldrazi portion consists of Elder Deep Fiend, Kozilek’s Return, and Wretched Gryff – while this might sound a little controversial, I don’t believe the Eldrazi package is the only way to abuse the graveyard in this deck. I definitely think it’s currently the best way to do that, but I’m looking into some builds right now that are much more aggressive and less about emerging. I believe there could be a more traditional tempo deck hiding here that we haven’t yet seen. Also, Wretched Gryff is poor card and improving general card quality would go a long way.
Fiery Temper has a lot of range, but tends to add to the inconsistency of the deck. It is one of the weakest cards in this list and seems to be included more on the principle of it being a madness card than it actually doing something that the deck needs. I’d like to see more cards that get on the board and can have a presence, but Fevered Visions still belongs in the sideboard.
That about covers the current flavor of U/R Emerge. Let’s look at some new possible additions from Amonkhet!
Hazoret the Fervent has a lot of things this deck wants, although he forces you to lean it heavily towards an aggressive build. I’ve stretched this theoretical build to it’s extremes and although I’ve had mixed results I’m starting to see that there are many different ways to build this archetype.
Flameblade Adept seems right at home in this hypothetical aggro build, as this creature is perfect for enabling that sort of game plan. The ideal curve I have in mind is Flameblade Adept > Cathartic Reunion or Bloodrage Brawler > Zombie Activation > Hazoret the Fervent. The argument against the adept is that it’s a poor top deck and makes the deck too linear. We’d almost have to just treat it as a mono-red deck splashing zombies, which I’m crazy enough to try anyway.
Bloodrage Brawler is the most important card gained for U/R Emerge. Traditionally, emerge decks have struggled in the early game to have anything resembling a board presence. Brawler offers to be the best threat on the table for multiple turns and the “downside” of discarding a card is something we actively want in our deck anyway. Again, we have a card that wants us to build more aggressively.
Reduce / Rubble in a tempo variant of U/R Emerge, this card can serve as both a counterspell and a pseudo time-walk against certain decks. It helps that you can just discard this and once you have a boardstate, tap your opponent low. In actual testing it’s been all over the place for me, and I’m not sure if it’s good enough here. Generally if an opponent is tapping out for something, it’s for a threat that you should deal with instead of worrying about their land situation. Very rarely will an opponent tap out for a card that doesn’t matter these days. Still, as a sideboard card I’ve found it pretty effective, in particular against the Drake Haven decks.
Insult / Injury is another card that we don’t mind pitching. The backside is a worse Hungry Flames but the flashback is huge and a little extra reach never hurt anyone. Again, this is most likely best in an aggressive shell.
Drake Haven seems like a natural fit. It does things our deck naturally wants to do. But /u/gereffi via Reddit brings up a good point:
“Drake Haven is a great way to make a bunch of Drakes in a long game. Emerge just isn’t looking for a long game; they would rather just tempo you out. Playing a three mana enchantment that doesn’t do anything on the turn it enters and would force you to spend all of turn 4 not affecting the board just to get a Drake just isn’t what this deck is interested in.”
This isn’t to say that this won’t, or can’t have a place in these lists, but it requires a bit more build around than I would like. If you wanted to build a version with Drake Haven, I would play Censor in the flex slot and maybe another cycling card (Sweltering Suns, perhaps?).
Glorybringer is one I’ve seen tossed around a bit and I’m really intrigued. This might just be powerful enough to play in decks that wouldn’t traditionally want a 4/4 flying haster. My biggest issue is that it’s 5 mana, and some games don’t involve you getting there because you’re forced to pitch so much to the greedy zombie package. Still, it’s worth considering over something like a Wretched Gryff.
So that’s quite a few tools from this new set! My initial impression was to build a much more aggressive deck that focused more on beating down and less on the fancy stuff like chaining Deep-Fiends. Here’s what I came up with:
UR Zombie Aggro – Nick Peternell
Essentially, this gives up the Eldrazi package for a more straightforward beatdown plan. We have creatures that are great on curve backed up by some resiliency and some burn. One of the problems I’ve had with Hazoret is that it takes a special kind of deck to want the ability to empty it’s hand. This deck does just that and at a better pace than other decks playing Hazoret.
In testing I had some mixed results and I was reminded why I typically shy away from linear aggro decks. Flameblade Adept likes to hang out at the top of my deck too often for my liking. But games where I lead on Adept it would typically get in at least 5 damage before my opponent did anything about it, and I like that it rewards you for doing things you already wanted to be doing anyway. I think this build has legs but it wasn’t winning quite as much as I’d like. I was playing against a lot of control decks with cheap removal and exile effects though so perhaps that’s why I struggled.
So after my experimenting with an aggro version, I turned my sights towards tuning a more traditional variant. I took some of the things I learned from playing the aggressive version and applied the best parts of those into U/R Emerge and ended up here:
U/R Emerge – Nick Peternell
- 1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
- 2 Dispel
- 1 Glorybringer
- 2 Reduce//Rubble
- 4 Fevered Visions
- 1 Lightning Axe
- 2 Magma Spray
- 2 Negate
This labor of love is a best-of from my testing with the archetype. It tends to be more aggressive than old versions of U/R but mostly that’s because it has better board presence because of Brawler and Hazoret.
I’ve moved the Fevered Visions to the sideboard, where they are hugely impactful in slower matchups. Glorybringer and Reduce//Rubble also hang out with Fevered Visions in the side, which are great against the tap out creature decks.
I’m going to go over some of the matchups but keep in mind that a lot could change based on bans/unbans.
GR Gods – This matchup is fairly even but GR Gods is slightly favored because their creatures are so big. If both Gods show up we basically can’t win but we can beat a lone Rhonas, the Indomitable without too much difficulty. Post board we want as much removal as we can get. Make sure you’re the control deck in the matchup.
4 Color Saheeli – This matchup is also fairly close but we can definitely get rolled by a strong curve into Glorybringer. It often comes down to Elder Deep-Fiend and K-Return. Post board we want Fevered Visions and counterspells, especially Reduce / Rubble, where it’s at it’s best.
Mardu Vehicles – I’ve heard this matchup is rough but I think it gets a lot better with the additions from Amonkhet. Bloodrage Brawler attacks Gideon really well and Hazoret can hold the ground against any of their creatures. I haven’t tested this matchup as much as I would have liked to because everyone is sick of casting Gideons, so I’m interested to see how this plays out.
RW Exert – This deck is fast and big but we have plenty of tools in the matchup. K-Return and Lighting Axe slow them down a ton and our late game is significantly better. Even just a Brawler can hold the fort for quite a while. Post board we get even more cheap removal.
I’d go a bit more in depth, but like I said, I expect the banning announcement to shake things up considerably. If they ban Ally of Zendikar and/or Felidar Guardian it will be like 3 blocks just rotated into standard for the first time so who knows.
Let me know which of these decks, or decks from my reddit post you’d like to see expanded upon or perhaps another round of videos on. As always, thanks for reading, and we enjoy hearing feedback if you’ve got any to give!
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Nick has been playing Magic since the 2013 Core Set was released, and grinding since Return to Ravnica. He’s played on the Pro Tour and has multiple high finishes at both the Star City Tour and Grand Prix levels. He’s a brewer at heart and excels most in the beginning and middle stages of a format. Finding weaknesses in the metagame and exploiting underplayed cards is just another day in the office for him.