Levelling Up – Drafting the Rogier Special

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Time Spiral Draft is dead in the water, pretty much. We’re all keen for Lorwyn, and the excitement of those fresh new-car-smell goodies. Of course, with a little diligence, there are still TPF gems to be mined… one just has to dig a little deeper than usual. Inspired by a Drafting With Kenji aside, and created by Rogier Maaten, Tiago takes us through one of the more peculiar archetypes the field of TPF draft has to offer: the Rogier Special.

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Not so long ago, I was checking the new “Drafting with Kenji” feature [which should hopefully return some time next week! — Craig]. In the particular draft I was reading, Kenji admitted after the draft that he’d tried drafting the “Rogier Special”. Kenji tried this despite knowing the concept… since everyone close to Rogier has already seen, heard and played against Rogier’s brand of draft madness. Usually they’re seen as crazy draft strategies that are only useful for casual side drafts, as no one except for Rogier Maaten dares to try and force such strategies at the highest competitive levels. As the summer is ending and we wait for Lorwyn to come, competitive formats are becoming uninteresting, and the idea of drafting a Rogier deck made me want to draft again… something I’ve not done online in over a month.

So what exactly is the Rogier Special draft?

If you’re a regular reader of my column, or you happened to read one of my previous articles where I talked about Limited, you’ll be no stranger to the concept of metagames in draft. Roel Van Heesjwik has a theory that states a slightly more controlling draft deck should have an advantage over a more aggressive build… but when the controlling deck is too controlling, it loses.

Such a theory usually works the same way in Constructed. Take, for example, a sample beatdown deck with a balanced ratio of lands, creatures, and burn spells, not tuned to beat anything in particular. This deck should have a hard time against a slightly more controlling deck like Angelfire. In the same line of thought, the same Angelfire should have trouble playing against a pure control deck featuring ten or more pieces of countermagic, plus card drawing and removal, that uses a select few creatures for the win. But simply packing your Angelfire deck with more controlling elements is not a good thing, since it makes the deck vulnerable to quick beatdown decks… the additional control elements can’t cope with the weenie rush, and thus the plan backfires. It is factors like these, all be they simplified here, that keep metagames healthy and balanced.

In a typical Limited metagame, let’s imagine aggro decks play decently costed creatures, or guys with higher power than toughness. We’ll ignore activated abilities at this time. For example, they aggro deck packs two mana 2/2s and 2/1s, three mana 3/1s or 3/2s, and four mana 3/3s and 4/2s.

A slightly more controlling deck features creatures such as three mana 2/3s, four mana 3/3s or 2/4s. A single 2/4 creature can hold most of the initial threats an aggro deck presents, and even kill them (since the player who makes the blocks can choose to assign multiple creatures on one blocker).

An even more controlling deck might have fewer creatures that are less prone to enter combat. They usually serve as “Walls,” or have some form of evasion so the combat math is simplified. These defenses might face trouble against multiple offensive creatures, but should last long enough to hold off the more defensive creatures (the 2/3s and 2/4s).

Rogier Special draft decks take this concept to the extreme, based on these ideals:

Even Fewer Creatures Than Normal

Rogier draft decks play with a single-digit selection of creatures. They’re usually split: one third are defensive creatures or walls, with an unexciting or irrelevant attack power; and a second third is usually made of utility creatures, which will never attack or block, but provide a good effect (that, most of the time, is reusable). As a result, the deck usually relies on the final third to win, a couple of real finishers to kill the opponent. These finishers usually have some combination of the following: They’re big, they’re hard to kill, or they’re evasive. In these decks there is absolutely no room for small “vanilla” creatures, simple dorks with no other job but to provide a tempo game and an initial rush.

More Spells

The more I play Magic, the more I dislike creatures and having to play with them, and that’s why I feel so attracted to Rogier Special and other creatureless draft archetypes of the past (like Blue/Black mill in triple Ravnica, or the Splice into Arcane decks from Champions of Kamigawa). Creatures are vulnerable to removal, something everyone picks highly and plays. A spell will do what I want, when I want. Mystical Teachings helps make these words ring true.

Card Advantage

While most draft decks worry about tempo, board position, and mounting an offensive, this strategy cares about survival and obtaining inevitability. It obtains card advantage through many classical approaches: card drawing spells (Fathom Seer, Foresee), discard spells (Mindstab, Haunting Hymn), two-for-one spells (a cycled Ichor Slick). Usually, these spells are expensive and don’t change the board position too much. That is the reason you may lose if you fall too far behind. Another way to generate card advantage is by making your opponent’s cards useless. For example, Dead/Gone might be stuck in the opponent’s hand for a while, and guys like Aether Membrane are simply a waste of a card and mana against this strategy.


It’s granted that you will struggle for a while in the beginning, doing your best to control the initial creatures. If you manage to achieve that, the game will turn into your favor as your more expensive spells will probably give you an edge. But you can still lose, as Limited decks aren’t so selective about their contents. For example, a Constructed aggro deck will have roughly 35% lands, 35% creatures and 30% removal or burn. A Limited deck isn’t restricted to the cards that fit into the aggro deck by definition; most of the time they happen to pack random good cards that add some late game power. What you should be aiming for is inevitability. You should strive to lead the game to a point where you are sure to win.

Say you’ve nullified all his main threats and all that he’s left is harmless creatures. If you have an Urza’s Factory or Sprout Swarm, you have inevitability. Or an example given by Rogier Maaten himself: if you manage to draft two Deadwood Treefolk (he’s a very high pick), you won’t be losing the late game once you’re abusing Treefolk recursion. If, by any chance, you lose the inevitability — say, for example, your opponent casts a Pyrohemia to which you have no answer, and your life total is lower that his – then you either lose or have to change plans radically.

It has already been pointed that when you draft Rogier Special decks, spells gain extra importance during the draft selection… but exactly what makeup of spells are you looking for? Here’s a standard recipe.


Take all the removal spells you can grab during the draft. Exceptions may happen in the early picks where you might find a better card that fits the deck, like Careful Consideration (or even Errant Ephemeron). You should try to get some variety in removal, in order to be able to kill all kinds of creatures at different stages of the game. Situational removal is still removal, like Cradle to Grave, and Piracy or Midnight Charm.

Discard Spells

You’ll probably don’t want more than two discard spells in your deck. Mindstab is a bargain if it can be suspend on turn 1. Haunting Hymn is quite good against a slightly faster deck (but not totally aggro), as they will have some cards in hand and they’ll give you time to set up a turn where you force the discard of their entire hand. Augur of Skulls is also a discard spell, which provides the least card advantage. It also has the disadvantages of being a creature and the advantages of being a good blocker if you have plenty of mana.


Since counterspells aren’t picked very high in Limited, you’ll pick up some form of countermagic card every time… mostly when the packs are jammed with do-nothing guys for your strategy. You want at least one or two pieces of countermagic. I think you’ll play with all you can get, but don’t go overboard. Logic Knot is golden, because it can easily be fetched with Teachings and played in the same turn, Cancel, Logic Knot, and Spell Burst are all fine options.

Card Drawing

Card draw spells like Foresee, Careful Consideration, Fathom Seer, or Citanul Woodreaders are all good picks. You want them, but they should be picked according to necessity. These Blue cards are all very high picks, while Think Twice is not, despite being almost always played.

Your pick order should follow something like this:

Good card drawing spells
Good removal spells
Countermagic / discard / weaker or situational removal
Weaker card drawing spells

I’ll give you two examples of Rogier decks, one drafted by Rogier himself, the other from me.

Draft 1
Rogier Maaten

4 Mountain
1 Dreadship Reef
1 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Swamp
7 Island

1 Viscerid Deepwalker
1 Dreamscape Artist
1 Veiling Oddity
1 Dream Stalker
1 Fathom Seer
1 Shaper Parasite
1 Cryptic Annelid
1 Mana Skimmer
1 Subterranean Shambler

1 Midnight Charm
1 Mindstab
1 Cradle to Grave
1 Flowstone Embrace
1 Erratic Mutation
1 Ghostfire
1 Ichor Slick
1 Leaden Fists
1 Phyrexian Totem
1 Second Wind
1 Logic Knot
1 Mystical Teachings
1 Riddle of Lightning
1 Spell Burst

In this draft, Rogier had the option to first pick Temporal Isolation or Crookclaw Transmuter as the only good cards from the pack. The conventional pick is the Temporal Isolation, but White, with it’s many small creatures, is not good for a total control plan. Therefore he went with the much weaker Terramorphic Expanse as his first pick, as it’s a card he knew he would play for sure. It’s also a welcoming addition to the strategy, as these control decks usually spread themselves over three colors.

Nine creatures may seem a little too many, considering what I’ve written so far, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see that Subterranean Shambler and Shaper Parasite act as removal, Fathom Seer acts as card drawing, Dream Stalker and Cryptic Annelid act as walls, and Dreamscape Artist is a utility with near to no value when it comes to attacking or blocking. In this deck, Rogier’s combat creatures are Mana Skimmer, Viscerid Deepwalker, Veiling Oddity, and the occasional swing from a Phyrexian Totem. The deck definitely lacks finishers.

On the other hand, it has a wide variety of removal, two pieces of countermagic and one discard spell, plus Mystical Teachings for some utility. There is almost nothing this deck can’t stop, given the cards and the mana. Rogier split the finals, having won in the first two rounds against two other Blue decks, where his more controlling cards carried him to victory.

Draft 2
Tiago Chan

1 Riftwing Cloudskate
1 Mystical Teachings
1 Shaper Parasite
1 Dream Stalker
2 Bonded Fetch
1 Logic Knot
1 Primal Plasma
1 Spin into Myth

1 Strangling Soot
1 Dark Withering
1 Phyrexian Totem
1 Midnight Charm
2 Ichor Slick
1 Mindstab
1 Haunting Hymn
1 Treacherous Urge
1 Grave Peril

1 Vorosh, the Hunter
1 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Whetwheel

1 Zoetic Cavern
7 Swamp
7 Island
3 Forest

I started this draft with a first pick Riftwing Cloudskate, a very strong card but not particularly awesome in a Rogier Special deck. Eventually the packs led me into this strategy, and while I still played the Cloudskate, it was the weakest card in my deck. Of the eight creatures I’m playing, the two Bonded Fetch won’t enter combat and Primal Plasma and Dream Stalkers act as walls. Shaper Parasite is removal, and Riftwing Cloudskate is bounce, but since it has evasion I’ll consider him as a finisher. That leaves him, the Dragon, and Deadwood Treefolk as my money guys.

The spells include one piece of countermagic, two big discard spells capable of putting the opponent to zero cards (with one being a Teachings target), and once again there’s a large selection of removal spells also to be fetched up with Teachings. Some of them have alternate madness costs, and I made some sick plays, such as:

Turn 3 Bonded Fetch and activate him.
Turn 4 activate him and madness out Ichor Slick.
Turn 5 play Mystical Teachings for Dark Withering, activate Bonded Fetch and madness the Dark Withering.

Treacherous Urge was also better in this deck than in regular drafts, since most of your stuff is instant speed. If your opponent attacks you’ll most likely have five mana open, and Treacherous Urge can be good. Hell, it can be really amazing, although one time I missed… but even that was a good sign, as I then knew he was out of gas.

I finished 2-1 in a live draft with this deck, winning against a Black/White Rebels deck (the key being killing the searchers), and against a Blue/Green deck. I lost the final round against a fast G/W deck with many spells to protect the creatures from my removal.

Of course, not everything about the Rogier Special draft decks is good news… there are weaknesses that can be exploited.

Fast Creature Assaults

The most common way you’ll lose when playing with total control decks is against an aggressive deck with a good curve, full of two-mana 2/2s and three-mana 3/1s. If you don’t have the correct cards to deal with them, and quickly, they can end the game before you can breathe.

Direct Damage

Sometimes you’ll manage to gain total control of the game. Your opponent’s board is empty or neutralized, and you’re holding three removal spells, but your life total is really low. From the bombs of Disintegrate and Pyrohemia, to the more common Rift Bolts and Ghostfires, there are ways to deal damage without involving the attack phase. Once, my opponent started with double Keldon Marauders, so my starting life was ten lowly points. I did manage to control all his creatures after a while, but I still took some damage from them. This left me vulnerable to any burn cards, and sure enough… bam.

Protection Tricks

If your only defenses against attacking creatures at a given stage in a game, you might have some trouble killing stuff against certain decks and cards. Thrill of the Hunt protects against the major damage-based removal, and also against some others like Ichor Slick and Strangling Soot. Rebuff the Wicked will be sideboarded in against you, and Whitemane Lion not only saves the targeted creature, but also puts another attacker on the board.

Inevitability From The Opponent

While cards like Sprout Swarm and Urza’s Factory are most welcome on your side, they are a true nightmare against this deck. When facing them, they force you to change plans. If your Swarm is countered or discarded, there is virtually nothing you can do against an Urza’s Factory. At one Pro Tour, I drafted several times against Rogier’s team. Rogier drafted his Special deck every time, and I believe I had Urza’s Factory in three out of four drafts, which granted me the win. I clearly remember when I played a Red/Green Aggro deck against him, and Rogier killed all of my guys with ease. But later in the game I dropped an Urza’s Factory, and had a growing army of 2/2s as the game was dragging on.

While I still have Portuguese Nationals as a tournament featuring TPF Booster Draft (I hope), I was feeling like packing in the TPF drafts as all avenues felt stale and explored, as they do at this time every year. However, this strategy perked me up, and I’m interested in the format once more.

Rogier Special drafting is just a twist on the usual Blue/Black control deck archetype, but taken to a much more extreme level. This makes drafting and deckbuilding different, and the games are packed with tricky and fun decisions. Surprisingly, while writing this article, I suddenly felt the need to draft once more, which might be tempting as I’m currently busy testing Constructed formats.

I ask everyone reading this to do me a couple of favors… First, go and draft a Rogier Special deck, at least once! And second… enjoy yourselves while doing it!

Thank you for reading,


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