Grand Prix Toronto was a bust. My cardpool in the main event was quite shallow and forced me into four colors without a great manabase, and literally no other options in the sideboard. I guess there’s not much you can do about that though, and I still had a chance to do well if it weren’t for some unlucky breaks in the actual games.
I’ve received a lot of emails and instant messages from people over the last couple weeks as to what they should draft in RGD since Dissension is now on MTGO. Most of the emails were from players who hadn’t had much chance to draft with Dissension in paper Magic, and were therefore stumbling into the format almost blind, just as most of us did right after the prerelease. Since I’ve now finished my articles on the new guilds and some of the impacts they have on the format, I want to talk this week about some strategies you can use to combat the standard three-color builds that are customary in RGD. I wrote some about BR aggro in my last column on Rakdos, but that is probably only the fourth best two–color combination you can draft right now.
Before I go any further, I do want to say that while I won’t be writing about any Standard decks or tech before US Nationals, I have no intention of withholding any information I’ve got on the draft format. This may seem odd, but I feel it is my job to give you guys the best Limited advice I can, whether I’m qualified for Nationals or not. Since I don’t normally write about Constructed anyway, you’ll just have to wait until after the tournament for that.
Getting back to the topic of the week, I want to discuss some excellent alternatives to drafting the usual three- or four-color builds. Not only are these archetypes on par with most three-color decks in my mind, but they can actually be better if they are drafted properly. Your overall power level will almost always be lower, but you can compensate for this by playing lots of small, aggressive creatures, and also having a much more consistent manabase. Now that everyone is fixated on bouncelands (and rightfully so), the best strategy is to attack them early and punish their slow development.
Let’s take a look at a couple of my favorite archetypes in RGD, and some tips on how to draft them.
I know this is possibly a no-brainer to those of you who have drafted the format a lot.
What you might not know is that you are probably making some sub-optimal picks due to the fact that you are preparing to enter a third color when you really should just be taking that Bloodscale Prowler or Burning-Tree Bloodscale. Usually someone will enter this archetype with the right idea, and then go astray with a few picks when they take a power card like Izzet Chronarch over a Scab-Clan Mauler. These picks are crucial and you’re better off just going for the blistering start followed by removal and possibly a splash, though I really prefer not to have it. Take a look at some cards that are great tools in the archetype that you may be overlooking.
This is a big one, and you’ll get it very late.
I like to have at least one of these in my RG builds, and possibly two if I’m otherwise lacking on combat tricks. Don’t forget to take into account how the Radiance will affect the board, as you can just cast it on your own guy if they have a sacrifice outlet. This may seem like common sense, but I’ve seen plenty of games thrown away by someone casting Incite on the wrong creature. If you take your time and consider their potential plays you should be fine here, as speedy play is usually what causes an error with these types of cards to begin with.
This guy has gone down a bit in value because there are a much larger number of five-drops available now. I’d always take Civic Wayfinder over this, and usually even Elves of Deep Shadow if you were trying to draft this deck. I know I advised against splashing earlier, but splashing a Rotwurm and Seal of Doom is quite good when you have Elves along with bouncelands or Signets. Bramble is still fine, but you may want to choose a more aggressive creature over him.
I was pretty sure that everyone knew how good this card was. That was until I saw Ervin Tormos take Farseek over it in a three-on-three at GP Toronto last weekend, and then argue with pretty much everyone that Farseek was better. The only reason I bring this up is that Ervin is a solid drafter and if he can make this mistake, then I’m guessing a lot of people can.
Nullmage is just amazing in this format, with Pillories, Plumes, Signets, and Ocular Halos everywhere. It’s not hard to get the ability online, and this is something I’m not completely unhappy taking as a first pick. While it does go against the aggressive nature of this archetype, it gives you a midgame answer to some of the more powerful spells your opponent may play if the board should stall out. I would happily take this guy over Bramble Elemental and Scatter the Seeds, and possibly over Civic Wayfinder depending on what point of the draft it was.
Elvish Skysweeper and Elves of Deep Shadow
Both of these cards are great in their own right, but they demand special recognition in this archetype as you will be playing some one drops no matter what, to possibly kick up a turn 2 Scab-Clan Mauler, and these just happen to be some of the better ones available. Otherwise you just may be stuck playing that Pit-Skulk or Wild Cantor.
Overall you should tend to skimp on these, or even avoid them if you are playing the hyper-aggressive build. I would usually run one at most, and if it weren’t specifically Gruul Signet I’d probably want a splash in the relevant color that the Signet provided to make it truly worthwhile. They will, of course, be better in a mid-range build of RG, but you have to remember that the slower you make your deck, the worse it is going to perform against other players piloting three-color builds with higher overall spell quality. The goal here is to kick them while they’re down, and make it very hard for things to come together for them before they are already very close to dead.
I don’t end up with Ledgewalker a whole lot, since most people tend to pick them too highly and I’m busy taking Maulers over them. While Ledgewalker is obviously the preferable Bloodthirst enabler, the Scalper doesn’t fall too far behind as you’ll see once you start Grafting onto him or using Thrive to make him hard to stop. Remember, most fliers in this format are 2/x and therefore have trouble with a 2/3, especially early in the game. Of course, the main goal isn’t to pump up “Sir Fights a Lot” (Scalper); it is to use him to get Bloodthirst online anyway.
This guy is a large part of why this archetype is so good, as you can also get them late when nobody else is able to cast them early. Sometimes the pesky RUG mage will take them from you thinking that he can cast them, but usually you can get them in the middle and later picks. I don’t know what else to say about him, besides the fact that you should play as many copies of him as possible, and one-drops or Sir Fights a Lot to get him kicked up as soon as possible.
This card is highly annoying to play against, since it will almost always come down as 3/3 in an aggressive deck. 3/3 is just big enough for the Lure ability to become a royal pain in the ass. I’d take this guy over Gruul Scrapper most of the time, though it’s nice to have a mix of them as the Scrapper makes your opponent worry about getting too far behind because of the Haste.
Well, I was ranting about Caustic Rain last time, and this spell is about ten times better than the Black version. Killing artifacts can actually be a big deal when something like Junktroller gets in your way, but of course the main purpose here is to kill those bouncelands or punish someone with a weak manabase.
I really feel like I shouldn’t have to mention this card because it is obvious how insane it is, but I keep seeing people take things like Streetbreaker Wurm over it when they can easily cast it. The fact of the matter is that if you don’t have a problem getting it into play then you should just take it. There are other five drops you can play, and while they might not be as good as Streetbreaker Wurm, you have to give yourself some assurance in case your initial attacks get halted and the game goes longer than you intended to. In those instances you’ll be much happier that you took the Skybreaker, as it should win the game every time you cast it.
Dissension as a whole doesn’t bring a ton to this archetype, though Aquastrand Spider is excellent and Sporeback Troll has great synergy with the Graft dudes. Psychotic Fury will either be huge or unplayable, depending on how many good targets you have for it, and if you have a few Maulers, a Centaur Safeguard, and a Streetbreaker Wurm it will probably be amazing for you. Finally, Seal of Fire and Cackling Flames are great additions to the removal arsenal. As usual, I have a sample decklist so you can see how this looks when it all comes together.
- 1 Centaur Safeguard
- 1 Civic Wayfinder
- 1 Elvish Skysweeper
- 1 Greater Forgeling
- 1 Sell-Sword Brute
- 1 Viashino Fangtail
- 1 Bloodscale Prowler
- 2 Burning-Tree Bloodscale
- 1 Gruul Scrapper
- 2 Scab-Clan Mauler
- 1 Scorched Rusalka
- 1 Streetbreaker Wurm
- 1 Tin Street Hooligan
- 1 Aquastrand Spider
- 1 Sporeback Troll
- 1 Utvara Scalper
This list is nothing spectacular, though it is definitely solid and has all of the things you want in a good RG deck. You can expect to get lists that are close to this one in power level if you find yourself in a good position to draft the archetype.
I do want to reiterate that one of the driving forces behind what makes this deck good is that you are trying to put a lot of pressure on your opponent early in the game when his manabase may be shaky. If you can get him low enough, you should be able to swarm through or burn him out before his better spells get online and gain control.
This deck is a completely different animal than RG. Your main objective in these colors is to play lots of fliers and also “bleed” your opponent to death, while holding the ground with Benevolent Ancestor or Soulsworn Jury. All of the dorky fliers like Courier Hawk, Mourning Thrull, and Beacon Hawk are amazing in this archetype, and most people undervalue them.
One of the strengths of just playing two colors is that you should be able to cast this card consistently on turn 2, as well as get multiple copies of it, since most other players won’t be able to do so reliably and should be picking other cards over it. Obviously this card is top notch when you can cast it early, as it has also shown its strength in Constructed in Ghost Husk and other decks.
Shred Memory and Dimir Machinations
These are both excellent additions to BW, as there are plenty of good targets you can get to search for. I regularly get Shred Memory 10th pick, and it almost always makes my deck. The reason these are especially good in BW is that you will have the double Black mana early enough in the game to use the Transmute, whereas you may not play these in a three-color build because you couldn’t guarantee the double Black. In those types of decks I’d like to recommend Perplex, as that card has also gone up a lot in value.
Oh, and don’t forget that you can actually cast either Machinations or Shred. I’ve personally cast Machinations six times now, and it has sealed the game every time by making sure my opponent couldn’t draw out of being dead on board. You can also Machinate yourself to get out of manascrew or flood.
Here’s a great five-drop for the BW deck. Since you’re usually deploying lots of cheap fliers, dropping the Ogre will put your opponent on an even faster clock and make it hard for him to drop a bunch of guys and race you back. I almost always have one of these in my BW decks.
I could mention a bunch of other cards, but most of them seem pretty self-explanatory. The deck plays like a quick UW flying deck, though you also get to play Black removal spells and possibly some hand disruption.
- 1 Benevolent Ancestor
- 1 Caregiver
- 1 Screeching Griffin
- 1 Sewerdreg
- 1 Stinkweed Imp
- 1 Blind Hunter
- 1 Ghost Warden
- 1 Mourning Thrull
- 1 Ostiary Thrull
- 1 Poisonbelly Ogre
- 2 Shrieking Grotesque
- 2 Beacon Hawk
- 1 Demon's Jester
- 1 Minister of Impediments
- 1 Ratcatcher
Caregiver is another card that I really like in this deck and it becomes better with the more Haunt cards you get. Of course, one-drops are nice with a bounce land on the draw as well, or to protect a flier from something like Steamcore Weird. Steeling Stance is also excellent and goes far too late, but I would snap it up if I were in this archetype, as you get to essentially mini-Overrun with all of your fliers.
The main reason I advocate this archetype is that in a majority of drafts, Orzhov is the guild that is being underdrafted. This is great if you know to get into it, because the cards are almost as powerful as some of the other guilds that are being overdrafted and if you manage to get into straight two colors with it, you should have a much more consistent deck that is also able to compete with the three-color builds, thanks to the help of Shrieking Grotesque. I do sometimes end up splashing in this archetype, and it is usually Red for some removal or a Rakdos Ickspitter or two.
So, while it is true that Blue is probably the best color in the format, these are probably my two favorite archetypes to draft in RGD… and neither of them contains a drop of Blue mana. I suggest you give either of them, or perhaps both of them, a try before you condemn yourself to drafting three colors or more and only that. Taking an aggressive stance in a format bogged down by bad manabases and bouncelands just may be the best way to go.