Limited Lessons – Aggro Black/Red in Shards of Alara Draft

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Wednesday, October 22nd – With Shards of Alara Draft going live online this coming Friday, Nick Eisel brings us a breakdown of one of the fastest archetypes in the format: Aggro Black/Red. Drafting With Nick, and Drafting With Rich, returns this coming Monday, when Nick will be putting all this theory into practice!

I believe the plan is to start up the “Drafting With…” series next week! [Correct! Drafting With both Rich and Nick returns on Monday, MTGO vagaries notwithstanding — Craig]

I decided to use this week to discuss one of the more interesting decks in the format that isn’t getting the hype it deserves. Everyone is crazy about Bant, but what about simple Black/Red with a splash? The synergies are definitely there to make the archetype explosive, and today I’m going to show you how to do just that.

The Black/Red archetype as a whole revolves around abusing Unearth, and also just burning people out with the many options available in the two colors. Instead of dividing this into sections like I usually do, I’m instead going to discuss all of the relevant cards and hopefully paint a better overall picture of the archetype through those.

Before I get started, I want to issue a word of caution on splashing. It’s certainly fine to splash a bomb or two (especially if you have fixing), but I wouldn’t really go any further than that. Going further means you are going into another archetype altogether. The main goal of Black/Red is to punish slower decks and decks with bad mana, and also just to burn out anyone who thinks the game is going to go long. When you start trying to splash too many things, you make your own deck slow and remove the ability to punish everyone else. In most of my drafts I end up straight Black/Red, or possibly Black/Red splashing a card or two.

Bone Splinters
I remember laughing about this card on the spoiler with my rooommate. It just so happens that this card is an absolute bomb in Black/Red thanks to Unearth. You’ll also end up having a random Blister Beetle around to sacrifice if somehow you haven’t drawn an Unearth guy. The synergies go farther than what’s on the surface. I won a game last week by topdecking this card when dead on board with only a Vithian Stinger in play. I pinged my opponent, sacrificed Stinger, and then Unearthed to ping again for the win, since he was at two life. I’ve also seen some crazy things happen with this card and Scourge Devil.

This card was the reason that I started experimenting more with this color combination in between drafting the Five-Color Obelisk strategy. It only makes sense, since Blightning was the best card against Obelisks, and also good against anyone trying to splash too many cards. There are tons of burn spells in these colors, and the fact that your discard spell is also a Bolt makes it much easier for you to plan on burning someone out after some early guys. The Unearth mechanic is also essentially a burn spell, when you really think about it.

Dragon Fodder
This combos well with any of the Devour guys, Hissing Iguanar, Bone Splinters, Fleshbag Marauder… the list goes on and on. More importantly, it is a cheap way to deal some damage before the ground gets locked up. You don’t have to plan on picking this highly, but it doesn’t hurt to pick these up if there’s nothing better in the pack.

Goblin Deathraiders
If the plan is to burn out the opponent, this guy on turn 2 is going to be a nightmare for whoever is across the table from it. The best part is that it will get that extra point or two in whenever it trades as well, and every point goes a long way in this deck.

Vithian Stinger
Pinger? Check. Unearth? Check.

I’m not sure where else to go with this, except to move on to the next card so you can see the comparison.

Onyx Goblet
This card is very playable in the archetype. In fact, I’ve run two copies on multiple occasions, and been happy with it. Vithian Stinger is also miles better than this card, so hopefully you can see just how awesome the Stinger is in this archetype. The Goblet is only better when the opponent is at 5-6 life or less, because it’s much tougher to kill than a Stinger.

Hissing Iguanar
Are you noticing a theme yet?

Most of the creatures in this deck have Unearth, so you won’t care too much when they die the first time anyway, and if you have Iguanar out, your opponent is probably in a lot of trouble. He also combos very well with Devour and sacrifice effects. All of this is without mentioning that he’s a great follow-up to a turn 2 Dragon Fodder.

Thunder-Thrash Elder
Speaking of Dragon Fodder

If you get the turn 2 Fodder, turn 3 Elder, you’ll randomly just win some games when they don’t have bounce or Oblivion Ring at the ready.

This guy is just fine sacrificing a single Dregscape Zombie, and quite annoying as a 4/4 on turn 3. The deck also doesn’t have many options in terms of fatties, so this is a good place to turn.

Skeletal Kathari
I like to have one of these in my Black/Red decks, as it provides some nice end-game reach as a flier once the ground is locked up. More importantly than that is the fact that you can go all in with Iguanar out and burn someone out from single digit life totals. I probably wouldn’t play more than two of these unless I had no other top-end whatsoever, but they tend to go late so don’t prioritize them too much.

Dregscape Zombie and Viscera Dragger
I don’t have a ton to say here except that these guys are the cream of the vanilla crop in terms of vanilla or near vanilla Unearth guys. I rarely find myself cycling the Dragger in this deck, unless I really need land, as a Hill Giant is pretty good in this format.

Corpse Connoisseur and Scourge Devil
These are both Uncommon and near bombs for the archetype. It’s nice too that few other decks will really want them, except for the possibility of someone in GRW taking a Devil from you. Devil goes really well with other Unearth guys, and you can create a pretty sick turn with a few men in the graveyard. Connoisseur usually searches up Vithian Stinger or a random guy to attack with. Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to pull something broken that also has Unearth.

Fatestitcher and Kathari Screecher
The temptation is there in a lot of drafts to splash some Screechers, and I’m not sure it’s entirely wrong to do so. If you can get some good UBR lands, then go ahead and do it. Personally I like to stick to straight Black/Red if there are other options, and save my splashes for bombs like Broodmate Dragon or similar, which are going to win the game for me instead of just being a 2/2 Unearth Flyer.

Rockslide Elemental and Scavenger Drake
The Rockslide is by far the better of these two, as it’s cheaper. That being said, they are both amazing in a deck that wants to trade off guys and then Unearth them and also sacrifice stuff. If you have one of these out and Iguanar, then killing your guys starts to sound pretty unattractive.

Fleshbag Marauder
Obvious synergy with Dragon Fodder and Unearth, this also wrecks decks that plan on playing one large man.

Grixis Battlemage
I’m mentioning this guy because the first time I drafted this deck I was somewhat annoyed to have it make the cut in straight Black/Red. The fact of the matter is that the “can’t block” ability is just insane, and this should not only always make it but it should also be high on your pick order. If you pick up a lucky Crumbling Necropolis you can also randomly win some longer games by looting into better spell quality.

Death Baron
I’m not big on talking about rares in these strategy guides, especially when many of them are splashable and would have to be mentioned over and over again. This guy, however, is terrible in other decks and absolutely insane in Black/Red. I usually take it high just because I’m afraid someone else might randomly pick it and move into Black/Red.

Here’s a sample Black/Red deck I built in a recent draft…

2 Blightning
Onyx Goblet
2 Bone Splinters
Grixis Battlemage
Rockslide Elemental
Death Baron
Scourge Devil
2 Dregscape Zombie
Viscera Dragger
Goblin Deathraiders
Hissing Iguanar
Resounding Thunder
Magma Spray
Vithian Stinger
Dragon Fodder
Undead Leotau
Caldera Hellion
Hell’s Thunder
Incurable Ogre
9 Mountain
8 Swamp

This is pretty close to the nuts in terms of what you can hope for. I got Hell’s Thunder late in pack 1, and decided to totally move in and give up a few other picks.

Drafting With Nick returns on Monday… see you then!

Nick Eisel
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