This article is an introduction to drafting the factions Uterra and Tempys – the faction pair called Umbruk. You can find the other faction primers here:
- Oratek – To be Released 9/28
- Esperian – To be Released 10/5
- Onyxium – To be Released 10/12
What is Umbruk? What can I expect from Tempys/Uterra?
While Umbruk has always been a viable option in previous draft formats, it has generally been relegated to hyper-aggressive strategies, utilizing large creatures like Tanglesprout, Storm Caller, and Swampmoss Ancient to apply a large amount of early pressure, along with mobility and burn from Tempys to help close out games. Naturally, this strategy does not lend itself to drawing games out – your opponents’ cards will likely quickly outscale yours the longer the game goes.
This is no longer the case in Set 6. Tempys is (for once) overflowing with good commons, many of which actually scale well into the late game. Traditionally, Tempys creatures do not scale evenly with ranks. In previous draft formats, this usually meant creatures that were either extremely weak early and amazing late (e.g. Stonefist Giant) or the opposite (e.g. Rimehorn Charger). While this paradigm is still very much the case, Tempys now has a critical mass of cards that collectively have power curves throughout the game.
The natural question that follows is what sets Umbruk apart from Byzerak and Oratek? In other words, what does Uterra bring to the table? Well, not only do Uterra’s creatures generally have a much more normalized power curve, but its plethora of common pump effects help shore up the weaker ranks of Tempys’ creatures. In practice, Umbruk will generally always have bigger and better creatures early game, while eventually outscaling or outracing other faction pairs with it’s large late game creatures and efficient sources of reach.
Umbruk’s greatest strength – the draft portion, is also one its weaknesses. Much like Dysian in the previous format, the card quality is high enough that card choices are often quite difficult. It’s critical to draft a cohesive deck, instead of picking the best card in a vacuum. The ideal Umbruk deck has threats and answers for all parts of the game, which gives the player the chance to capitalize on their opponents’ weaknesses.
All drafts start with a selection of six heroics. Heroics are listed in a rough order of priority – the ones I talk about first are valued more than the ones talked about last. I am not discussing every heroic in the faction pair, just the ones I feel are particularly valuable in Umbruk. Unlike other faction pairs, no heroics are “worse” in Umbruk. Some are just exceptional in other faction pairs (e.g. Shroudthorn Splicer in Esperian).
Stinging Invocation – Arguably the strongest heroic in the format, this card shines in Umbruk. Expect an article some time in the future all about utilizing this card (particularly in Umbruk), but in the meantime, it doesn’t take much experience to know how much this card warps the game around itself. It’s incredible in any faction pairing, but Umbruk already has an impressive array of removal spells to clear the way for Killer Bees, along with tools to prolong the game (generally in the form of large, efficient creatures).
Borean Windweaver – A constructed and draft staple for as long as its existed, I doubt this should come as a surprise to anyone.
Shroudthorn Splicer – While at its worst in Umbruk, this card still takes over games by itself. It’s Rank 3 version is nigh unstoppable if you have even a modest amount of Darkforged in your deck. And even if you don’t, this card puts a huge target over its head, as your opponent generally can’t afford to bank on the odds that you don’t have other Darkforged.
Snowdrift Alpha – This card saw its heyday during the dark days of Dysian in Set 5 even overtaking cards like Dysian Broodqueen for priority as a first pick. This is no longer the case, what with Broodqueen, Spring Dryad, and Spirit Leash, Infernal Visage, and Abyssal Brute no longer in circulation. It still does have strong synergies with Lifeblood Dryad, Deepbranch Ancient, Weirwood Patriarch, and Corpse Crawler, but all of those cards have also gotten significantly weaker in this format.
Don’t get me wrong, Snowdrift Alpha is still insane, and is perhaps even more relevant as a late game threat because games take longer than they used to, but it’s no longer the auto-pick that it used to be.
Uranti Warlord – Though this card has been a draft staple for longer than the previous two cards have been, it’s worth a mention here. I can’t make the claim that it’s “better” or “worse” than it was in previous formats, mostly because it’s so good that not drafting it is generally out of the question. However, it’s important to note that while there are hardly any yetis in the format (Frostspeaker Shaman at Heroic, and Umbraskin Yeti and Wallbreaker Yeti at rare), Uranti Warlord is one of the easiest ways to trigger your Blood spells. Using Warlord to clear up a creature then pumping an unblocked creature is a very typical play in PL1, and extremely difficult to answer.
Ferocious Roar – While perhaps at its best in Esperian, it’s no slouch in Umbruk, particularly if you prioritize drafting and playing creatures that have sticking power (or cards like Brighttusk Sower).
Frostspeaker Shaman – It’s difficult to appreciate how good this card is until you play with it, or against it. Obviously it’s a yeti, so it synergizes well with Uranti Warlord, but even without the Warlord, this card is extremely difficult to beat. Its power lies in the quality of the other creatures in Umbruk. Most creatures require at least 1 card for your opponent to deal with. Frostspeaker Shaman evades most single target removal spells (and doesn’t care if it gets shrunken). In practice, what this means is that if you have a slightly advantageous board
presence, Frostspeaker Shaman is more or less free to hit your opponent’s creatures every turn provided you’re playing two creatures a turn.
It’s even good from behind, allowing you to clean up combat from blocking with underleveled creatures. And of course, it’s a complete house at Rank 3, giving you a free Burnout every turn.
Master of Elements – Master of Elements provides both a moderately sized threat (or an enormous one at Rank 3), along with free spells, and thus, more consistent draws at future player levels. What makes it stand out in Umbruk are its interactions with the removal and pump spell suite that you would normally be drafting in Umbruk anyway. Having an additional free spell makes kicking your Blood spells that much easier, and it has extremely good synergy with Ursine Strength and Flame Jet, which reward you for playing them underleveled anyway.
Tremorsaur – This card is good in Umbruk for much the same reason that Frostspeaker Shaman is good, but rather than controlling the board, Tremorsaur (at any rank) represents a serious threat to your opponent’s life total. Because Umbruk’s creatures are on average larger than the other factions’, it’s very easy to put creatures in empty lanes and force your opponent to decide whether to deal with the Tremorsaur or the other creatures that you played.
It’s a good underdrop, but it’s exceptional on level as well. It’s almost impossible to kill with a single creature or spell, and its ability nearly guarantees it’ll trade with at least two creatures or spells.
Take note though that you need to be pretty conservative with your life total when playing Tremorsaur. It’s nice to play it early and aggressively to establish board control, but be careful that you’re not putting a useless card back into your deck if expect the game to last that long.
Tuskin Sporelord – While at its worst in Umbruk, this card is still very good. Toorgmai Mender already works well with Umbruk’s intrinsically large creatures, along with any pumped creatures. There is no Tanglesprout, but the nerfed Dendrify becomes very attractive as an aggressive spell if you can suddenly create two 7/7s with it. This is an incredibly strong play that not only goes a long way to winning the early or mid game, but allows you to put leveled Dendrifies into your deck (which is invaluable late game).
Moreso than any other faction pair, Umbruk has the flexibility to draft with all parts of the game in mind. Most decks in other faction pairs have to choose whether they intend to be early, mid or late-game-centric, but Umbruk can do it all – and effectively.
Thranik Ambusher and Swampmoss Ancient are your heavy hitters. They have almost no downside when played aggressively, and become progressively more difficult to deal with in higher ranks. Swampmoss Ancient’s downside should certainly be kept in mind, but is generally negligible when compared to how effective it is in earlier player levels.
Kadrasian Stoneback is a baby Brightsteel Gargoyle. He’s very aggressively sized at all ranks, and is infuriating to kill. It’s interesting to note that Flamerift Instigator is good both with and against Kadrasian Stoneback, allowing you to either block it or allow it to attack each turn (or without moving first).
Aethertap Shaman is interesting in that it really only functions well in Umbruk, because of Uterra’s pump spells. That’s because its Rank 2 isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, either. Pump spells in conjunction with its ability to gain temporary mobility when you cast a spell give him plenty of uses in the mid-game. Late-game, he’s exceptionally difficult to deal with.
Blizzard Shaman should probably be considered a utility creature, if it weren’t so big for no good reason. 10/11 at Rank 2 is monstrous considering the lack of a downside, and while it is only a 14/15 at Rank 3, its ability is insanely good at that phase of the game.
Mosstodon deserves a special mention because of its interaction with Swampmoss Ancient. The best thing about this card though is that you can (and probably should) draft it just as a good creature, ignoring its utility completely.
The Creatures – Utility
It probably shouldn’t be the case that one faction pair gets the best vanilla and utility creatures, but it is in this format. It’s particularly important to note with utility creatures that these cards aren’t ordered in any particular way – their value will vary wildly with the current state of your deck.
Borean Stormweaver is definitely the star of the common utility creatures. Reasonably sized during its early ranks, and absolutely monstrous at Rank 3, with a highly impactful ability that doesn’t scale quite as dramatically as its stats, but nevertheless remains useful at every point in the game.
Weirwood Ranger may not seem like much, but he makes the already large creatures in Umbruk a little larger, and a lot larger at his later ranks. Most importantly, he’s always reasonably sized himself – you’ll never feel bad for leveling him up.
Nargath Bruiser and Toorgmai Mender have similar abilities, where Mender trades stat efficiency for a much stronger enters the battlefield trigger. Whereas Mender is generally used to create a single large threat, Bruiser is better left to forcing your opponent to spend another card to get rid of a creature while also presenting a moderate threat in itself.
Wildwood Sower is surprisingly good in Umbruk. While not remarkably large itself, it is quite a good recipient for pump effects, while simultaneously providing a small amount of pressure in other lanes.
Toorgmai Guardian doesn’t explicitly provide any form of utility other than being extremely large when kicked, but it does exile plants from your discard pile, which is great, because lacking Tanglesprout, plants are awful underdrops. And you can just exile itself at any point when you feel like you need the larger version.
Cavern Serpent has steadily grown in my estimation over time. Its Rank 1 is pretty bad, but it does so much damage in its later ranks that it’s almost assuredly worth playing if you can get some value out of it early. Just having leveled Cavern Serpents in your deck forces your opponent to play more aggressively, because it makes it much more unlikely for them to be able to grind you out.
The Creatures – The “Bad Creatures”
Another unique quality Umbruk has versus the other faction pairs is the general shortage of “unplayable” cards. Alloyin and Nekrium certainly have no shortage of those, which makes drafting them relatively volatile. At the same time, having a choice means that it’s easier to make the wrong ones, and while it’s easy to dismiss “bad” cards, sometimes they may exactly what you need.
Kadras Colossus is, for all intents and purposes a bad version of Swampmoss Ancient. Which is to say that it’s fine. It doesn’t have a useful creature type, and it gets a little bigger than Swampmoss Ancient in Rank 3.
Flowstone Primordial has a unique curve, not really getting better in Rank 2 but growing to a respectable threat in Rank 3. It’s mostly useful for winning combat against the near infinite number of 6-power creatures in the format.
Spiritbloom Dryad is also a 6/7, but also gains a modest amount of life. She’s currently the most aggressive life gain card in the format, and while she’s not a monster at Rank 3, she’s fine, especially if you’re using her to get out of Shatterbolt range.
Deepbranch Prowler never really gets any better when you play it, but it always has breakthrough, and is a fine underdrop in a pinch. It’s at its best late game, with a Rank 3 pump spell attached to it, or early game, with a kicked Blood Boon.
Pump & Removal
Besides the creatures, Umbruk in this format is notable for its varied suite of possible pump and removal spells. It’s extremely common that you’ll have to pick from between multiple pump and removal spells, and prioritizing between them can be an exercise in judgement and forethought.
Blood Boon and Ursine Strength are the primary pump spells in Uterra. Blood Boon in particular is extremely good in Umbruk because of the huge variety of ways to efficiently trigger it pre-combat (e.g. Borean Stormweaver, Frostshatter Strike, poison). Ursine Strength is good in every faction pair. It’s worth noting that Blood Boon doesn’t actually get that much better in Rank 2, but scales very hard in Rank 3.
Twinstrength is very reasonable in Umbruk (though maybe not as a good as it is in Esperian). While Umbruk doesn’t have a huge number of ways to produce free creatures, its creatures are often very sticky, so having targets for Twinstrength should never really be an issue.
Toorgmai Mender, and to a much lesser extent Verdant Sphere, Verdant Grace, and Darkroot Shambler are noteworthy mentions if you have a large number of other pump spells in your deck. You definitely don’t want a ton of these in your deck, but they do have their uses.
Dendrify is much less of an effective removal spell in the early game than it used to be prior to its nerf, but it’s excellent at creating unconventional threats (particularly in tandem with Tuskin Sporelord). It’s still almost always worth picking one up because it deals with everything – not something that can be said about most removal spells in this format.
Frostshatter Strike, as it generally is, is the premier removal spell in Tempys. It affects multiple lanes, can be used to push damage, kick Blood Spells efficiently, and let small creatures kill creatures way outsize of their pay grade.
Blood Boil, Flame Jet, Shatterbolt, and Flame Lance are the other generic burn options. Logically, the more effective the spell is at killing creatures, the less it should do so for players. Blood Boil in particular is interesting because (similar to Blood Boon), it’s insane at Rank 1 (potentially doing 10 damage!) but doesn’t get much better until Rank 3, where it’s insane again.
Darkforged in Umbruk
It’s riskier to draft a concentrated Darkforged deck in Umbruk than in other factions, primarily because of the opportunity cost – what else could you draft if you didn’t pick the Darkforged? Other faction pairs, Esperian in particular, almost rely on accumulating a critical mass of Darkforged to be competitive, but Umbruk’s average card quality is exceptionally high.
Furthermore, Tempys’ premier Darkforged, Umbraskin Yeti, has a very underwhelming body by itself (though it does have exceptionally good interaction with Uranti Warlord). Almost all of the Umbruk Darkforged have relatively unimpressive bodies.
Shroudthorn Splicer (in conjunction with one of the rare Darkforged) should be the only reason you attempt to go full Darkforged in Umbruk. Just keep in mind that it’s perfectly good by itself, and is certainly not enough of a reason to take Darkroot Shamblers over good cards (which is generally correct in, say, Esperian).
Dusk Hammer is a moderately sized creature with breakthrough. And that is specifically how you should treat this card. I cannot stress enough how it’s not worth forcing Darkforged in Umbruk. Any boost it gets from Shamblers is a bonus. Most likely, you’re going to be using it much the same way you’d use a Deepbranch Prowler: as a receptacle in which you put your leveled Ursine Strengths.
Darkroot Shambler is generally just a less impactful Toorgmai Mender. The upside is that it has a surprisingly significant body at Rank 2, but it doesn’t actually get much better in Rank 3, and it’s ability never really changes that much. It’s extremely good in a Darkforged-centric deck, and it’s worth picking a little higher if you have a Sporelord, but that’s about it.
Umbraskin Yeti is very small without support. It’s only worth mentioning because its relative value goes up significantly if you already have an Uranti Warlord.
Darkstone Asir has a very atypical power curve. It’s either awful or spectacular, and that is entirely dependent on how many other Darkforged you have (particularly other Darkstone Asirs). It has a completely nonexistent body in its early ranks, but is definitely respectable at Rank 3.
In a pinch, it has the potential to kick Blood spells pre-combat, but it usually just ends up being a significantly worse Borean Stormweaver.
Umbruk’s card quality gives the drafter a lot of room to both express their own play style and adapt to situations. Thus, I firmly believe that there are no hard and fast “right” choices when drafting Umbruk – you have to think through each pick and work towards a goal. The comparatively limited card pools of the other factions are a blessing in disguise – you most likely have a plan in mind right from the second you lock in the faction pair, and you either “get there” or you don’t. Umbruk usually doesn’t have that luxury.
That being said, what it does have are big creatures and boat loads of efficient pump and removal. Isn’t that what really matters?
Other Faction Pair Primers: