Ah, Boros. The Forgotten Guild.
It amazes me that there has been so little written on this archetype. While I can understand this being no-one’s favorite guild, I’d be legitimately shocked if anyone called it unplayable. Anyone with this philosophy simply doesn’t understand the role of beatdown in Limited. Personally, I feel that Boros is the best guild, at least right now. I fear that if everyone knew how to draft it, it couldn’t support three people at a table. As it stands now, if you are drafting it properly, and others do not, you should always wind up with the best deck.
It strikes me as odd that the Premium portion of this site is inundated with articles about Dimir, but devoid of any articles — quality or not — of this very powerful Boros guild.
For a better idea of how this guild ticks, let me take you back to late February 1999. You’d be hard-pressed to argue that this wasn’t one of the best Pro Tour Top 8’s in the history of the game. The format of this Pro Tour was triple Urza’s Saga Rochester Draft. In the New York/New Jersey area they developed a strategy to combat the ridiculously powerful Black Draft decks. They called it the “4×4 Deck.” It was a Red/Green Draft deck that sought to have four one-mana guys, four two-mana guys, four three-mana guys, and four four-mana guys. The rest of the deck is filled in with removal, finishers, and bombs. At the time, you have to realize that Black was so dominant in Limited that there would often be six Black decks at an eight-man Draft table, and they would still be the best decks there. The aggressive Red/Green builds could run over the Black decks before they could get their feet on the ground.
While the eventual winner of this tournament, Steven O’Mahoney-Schwartz, drafted Mono-Black at the final table, he was the one of the founders of the 4×4 Deck, and drafted it throughout the tournament. The other members of the Top 8 to employ this strategy were Jon Finkel and Worth Wollpert, the second and third place finishers respectively. This strategy was clearly sound.
So how does this relate to Boros? Despite a drop in quality of the creatures since Urza’s Saga, I set out to try to replicate the success of the 4×4 Deck in the modern format. I wasn’t able to win with Boros, but I saw the inherent power of the deck, and I wanted to get it to work, especially considering that the guild was under-drafted.
I went from thinking it was the worst guild, to creating a rule that I would never pass a third pick Skyknight Legionnaire.
When I first began drafting with this strategy, I wasn’t steadfast to it. I felt that if I could still obtain powerful cards, my curve was not as critical. I soon learned that this was simply not the case. If you have fulfilled your four-mana guys and you are light on two-mana guys, you must be prepared to take Sell-Sword Brute over Viashino Fangtail if the draft is nearing its end.
The utility Red cards like Viashino Fangtail, Thundersong Trumpeter, and Wojek Embermage will no doubt be extremely powerful in the coming Izzet/Boros hybrid, but right now — and on Magic Online for a month at least — you should focus on pure aggressive cards in a Boros deck. The Fangtail and Trumpeter have the unique ability to be both aggressive and defensive cards, and are without doubt boons to any deck, but they are not as good as people think and should not be put above your curve in importance. Trumpeter, on the surface, seems absurd. A great ability on a two-power, two-mana creature. However, I believe that this card is worse in a properly drafted Boros deck than Veteran Armorer. The Armorer is more resilient and easier on the mana, and he improves all your other cards.
I’m going to start out by talking about the most critical cards to the deck — the creatures that fill in the curve — then I’ll discuss some of the other cards you will want in there.
The Kings: Frenzied Goblin — This card is one that I am fairly sure is close to Galvanic Arc in power. I don’t think that I could ever pull the trigger and draft it over the Arc (especially since this guy seems to table way more often than he should), but this guy is no joke.
The Good Ones: War-Torch Goblin — This one is one of those psychologically powerful cards. No one ever want to trade for this card, and just having the Red mana available often leaves your opponent flustered and unwilling to block. You’ll notice that this card is far worse against good players who have no reservations in trading it for an apparently higher quality creature.
The Playables: Caregiver, Boros Recruit — Not much to say about Boros Recruit. Caregiver looks bad on the surface, if only because we compare him to healers of the past. The fact is, his ability can throw off combat math, and it’s never a bad thing to have a sacrifice outlet available. Faith’s Fetters, Flash Conscriptions, Dream Leash, and Followed Footsteps (among others) all reward you for sacrificing their targets in response.
The Last Resorts: Votary of the Conclave — In this deck, this card is a vanilla 1/1. That being said, I think this deck needs four one-mana guys. If you have to play him, you have to play him.
The Unplayables: Torpid Morloch — This deck needs one-mana guys that attack.
The Kings: Boros Guildmage — This card is an unmitigated bomb. Personally, I take this card over Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran. I am a big fan of effects that impact on the game without ever being activated. This is one of them. This card can create situations in which no matter what your opponent does, he will lose the game.
Selesnya Guildmage — This is one of the best cards in the set. If you find yourself with this guy in your Boros deck, you have found one of the few scenarios in which it is ok to put off color mana in your deck. Not as good as the Boros Guildmage in this deck, but still a superior card.
The Good Ones: Veteran Armorer, Thundersong Trumpeter, Boros Swiftblade, Sparkmage Apprentice, Sell-Sword Brute — Sparkmage Apprentice probably seems a bit out of place on this list, but he does his job very well. There are almost always one-toughness creatures across the table from you, and if you have to do one final point of damage… this guy can do it. I have also encountered many occasions (albeit suboptimal ones) where I’d run him out on turn 2 with no creatures as targets, just to keep the curve smooth. The rest of the creatures here are just good beats. Trumpeter is also utility, but I prefer attacking with him. None of these cards should ever be cut from your deck unless you are the only Boros drafter at your table, or you’ve made some drafting errors along the way providing you with a surplus of two-mana guys.
The Playables: Courier Hawk — Not much going on with this card. He can make the deck, but you shouldn’t be too thrilled about it. Selesnya should be drafting this card too highly for you to wind up with any. That being said, playing this card is better than shorting yourself on two-mana guys.
The Last Resorts: Viashino Slasher — There are no unplayable two-mana guys in Boros. This guy should also be played if you are short on two-mana guys, but there’s nothing that exciting about him. If you find yourself with three Veteran Armorers and/or Oathsworn Giant, or you somehow have to run multiple Conclave’s Blessings, then this guy should automatically make the cut. Generally speaking, he’s the bottom of the barrel.
The Kings: Skyknight Legionnaire — This is the big hole in this deck. There just aren’t that many three-mana guys available. Luckily, Boros has arguably the best common in the set, and it costs three mana. This isn’t an intricate card, so there isn’t much to be said, but intricate cards are not what win games for the Boros Guild.
The Good Ones: Centaur Safeguard, Nightguard Patrol — These guys are marginal in Green decks, but they are great in Boros. In a perfect world, your three-drop slot would consist of nothing besides the three cards named thus far. But this is not a perfect world…
The Playables: Sabertooth Alley Cat, Twilight Drover — The Drover is a bomb in Selesnya, but in Boros it leaves much to be desired. You just won’t be using his abilities all that much, and a 1/1 for three needs to be pretty impressive. The Cat is one of those cards that are either put directly into the graveyard, or help win you the game. I think the former scenario is the more likely one. More likely than not, you’ll end up with one or two of these in your deck. The three-mana guys are critical…
The Last Resorts: Goblin Spelunker — They are so critical that these guys will often make the cut. They aren’t very flashy, and aren’t nearly as good as they will be when the two new Red guilds are added, but you can play them.
The Unplayables: Benevolent Ancestor, Stoneshaker Shaman, Gate Hound — The Ancestor is definitely a good card in a vacuum. Sadly, you can’t afford to play it in Boros. On turn 3 you need an attacking creature, and in the late game the Ancestor will do nothing for you. The other two cards are simply terrible.
The Kings: Viashino Fangtail — This is one of the most powerful commons in the set, and is everything a Boros deck wants. It’s a large body for its cost, and it also has the capability of breaking stalemates and taking back a board once you’ve lost control. It also keeps the token generators in check.
Loxodon Gatekeeper — Holy cow, I can’t say enough about this guy. He’s simply fantastic. If your deck is firing on all eight cylinders, then this guy will seal the deal for you. This tempo swing is usually too much for your opponent to bear.
Indentured Oaf — A big body for his cost. This guy is going to drop in value as more Red guilds are released, but right now he’s a card you always want in your deck.
Hunted Lammasu — The best of his breed, this card is incredibly powerful for what you are paying. It should be no trouble to outrace the token you create with this 5/5 flying beatstick.
Flame-Kin Zealot — While this looks like more of a finisher than a four-drop, it functions quite well in both capacities.
The Good Ones: Sunhome Enforcer, Ordruun Commando, Wojek Embermage, Screeching Griffin — There a decent chance that I am rating the Enforcer too low. I don’t think I draft it as high as most people, so I don’t often find it in my decks. I know I’d rather have any other “King” in my deck over him, but he is better than any card listed in any other category. Some regard the Wojek Embermage as a bomb, but I don’t think that’s true in this deck. He certainly impacts the game, but again, I need to stress the importance of staying aggressive with this deck.
The Playables: Sandsower, Molten Sentry — Sandsower is a Selesnya bomb, but merely decent in Boros. You won’t want to have three creatures untapped to use his ability. Molten Sentry is risky; you almost never want it to be a Wall.
The Unplayables: Goblin Fire-Fiend, Wojek Apothecary — garbage.
You want your curve to end there… most of the time. Of course, there are exceptions. Agrus Kos is a bomb, and should always make the deck. Hunted Dragon should always be in your main deck, but unlike the Zealot, this doesn’t double as a five-drop. The Dragon card is strictly a finisher. Conclave Equenaut should always be in the deck. Oathsworn Giant brings a lot of game with him, but is usually left on the bench. Some decks will play him; others will leave him in the sideboard. Conclave Phalanx can make the cut if you are short on cards, but it doesn’t fit too well. He is, however, an amazing card to side in for the mirror match. Divebomber Griffin will also normally make the cut, but he’s not really the stuff that good Boros decks are made of. Firemane Angel will obviously always make the cut, but you will be surprised at how bulky a six-mana guy will feel.
The spells are trickier. Did you know that Incite Hysteria is better in this deck than Rally the Righteous? I bet you didn’t. I still see this card going late — really late, sometimes fifteenth pick. You’ll always want one copy in your deck. Rally is often nice, and I usually play it, but if I had to choose between them then Incite Hysteria would get the easy nod. The card that can supplant Incite is Master Warcraft. This is one of the best spells available to you, mostly for the Falter effect… but every now and then you’ll force your opponents to make a disastrous attack. Bathe in Light is another juicy card that can be used as either utility or a Falter effect. My favorite part of Bathe is that it can target opposing creatures. I have always lamented the departure of that aspect of the “protection instants.” Sunforger is great on your fliers, and should always have targets to fetch from your deck. Flame Fusillade is about the best card you can open for this deck, whether it’s used as a Wrath of God effect or a simple finisher.
As great as all those cards are, I’d have to say that the most powerful rare in the deck — a card that only Boros Guildmage approaches in strength — is Bottled Cloister. The biggest problem with the Boros deck is running out of gas. Cloister prevents this from happening. It fills in the biggest hole in your deck, and is generally extremely powerful. There’s nothing you should be taking over this card.
Faith’s Fetters and Galvanic Arc are both incredible additions to this deck, which is obvious. You should look at both as first picks. Fiery Conclusion will rarely find a better home than here in a well-tuned Boros deck. Char, Lightning Helix, Devouring Light, Mindmoil… these cards are all Boros bombs.
Cards like Brightflame, Hour of Reckoning, and Razia are all too expensive. The two Wrath of God effects should make the cut often, but you shouldn’t be drafting them high enough to have the option. Razia is essentially worthless. I don’t believe I have ever had eight mana available… I am always dead, or killing my opponent, before I could even consider playing an eighth land.
I won’t even mention Blazing Archon.
There are a number of narrow spells that I often find myself including in my Boros builds. Cards like Dogpile, Wojek Siren, and Boros Fury-Shield all have niche jobs, which they accomplish well. If you find yourself playing one or more of these cards, there’s no need to fret. Boros exploits their power. Don’t take them early, but don’t be afraid of playing them.
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion is a fantastic card. It’s a land, so it doesn’t affect your spell count, and it can have a tremendous impact on the game. As for mana acceleration and bouncelands, I’d avoid playing Boros Garrison or Boros Signet in this style of deck.
While I try to avoid splashing another color in Boros, there are cards that simply demand it. Glare of Subdual, Moldervine Cloak, Loxodon Hierarch, and Selesnya Guildmage are the only cards you should splash in a dedicated Boros deck.
I have heard people discussing both controlling and mid-range Boros archetypes. In my opinion, the cards do not exist to support them. The more controlling Boros cards will definitely shine as the format changes, but right now I’d stick to beatdown.
I realize there isn’t much time left in the triple Ravnica format, but there’s about a month’s drafting on Magic Online… you’d do well to include this archetype in your arsenal.
I don’t have a lot of faith in the Boros guild once Guildpact hits the streets. As new sets come out, staying in two colors will be difficult. Your mana diversifies, and beatdown becomes less viable. Plus, by looking at the Gruul guild, it seems Boros has met its match in the beatdown department. If somehow the mana works out, an aggressive deck involving those Boros, Gruul, and Selesnya might be powerful. I’d look more towards Izzet, teaming up with some of the more expensive Boros cards that don’t make the cut in our beatdown strategy.
I hope this Boros breakdown helps you out, and I hope I’ve done a sufficient job in covering the guild that got almost no Limited discussion at all!