I’m back now. Let the party begin.
Before I get into the strategy today, I’d like to thank everyone who gave me constructive feedback, both good and bad, on my article last week. Also, I would like to clarify exactly what sort of drafting I do in any given week. Usually, I will draft eight to ten times in a week, six to eight of which will be team drafts, either two-on-two or three-on-three, while the other two drafts will be standard eight-man affairs. The way you draft a deck in the two different types of draft is very similar, but keeping track of the cards you see and pass is much more important in a team draft. The reason for this is during the build session right after the draft, you can get a fair idea of the important cards in the opponents’ decks and adjust your decks accordingly.
Another important distinction that needs to be made is how I create my”pick order.” I trust my readership enough to have a fair idea on the relative strength of cards without me saying,”Spikeshot Goblin is good.” So when I list a pick order, the order in which they are listed is in order of importance to a given deck and the synergy they provide with other cards in the archetype. Remember that pick orders in general in this format are very flexible, and should be reordered to fit the deck that is sitting in that little pile in front of you. My pick orders are not so much”pick X over Y” as”I’d rather have X than Y at the end of the draft if I’m this color combination.”
If you want strict, accurate card evaluation (shameless StarCity plug coming), go read Tim Aten, Nick Eisel, or one of the countless other writers out there. I am here to discuss a specific archetype, what you should be looking for when you draft it, and hopefully inspire some debate in the process.
R/B – An Overview
Okay, with all that administrative business out of the way, let me get into the reason you all clicked on that little link on the front page: R/B in Mirrodin Draft. R/B, as always, is a removal-heavy archetype. This means that you are getting a chance to select between the best removal spells in the format (with a few exceptions), while simultaneously searching for the right threats to kill your opponent.
So, on to the common pick order for R/B:
1. Spikeshot Goblin
Removal is the core of this deck. This guy is the best removal available in the common slot, and is a threat to the opponent’s life total as well. Combined with any equipment, this is ridiculous, but here it shines all on its own, disposing of Myr and lesser threats without the cost of a card. Add in the combat havoc this can play, and you have yourself the flagship Red card in the set and the best R/B common without a doubt.
The most versatile piece of removal in the R/B arsenal, this gets the nod over Electrostatic Bolt and Terror because it can take out troublesome bombs with the greatest ease. When an opponent plays something that is not a creature, but needs to be dealt with, Shatter can get the job done for two mana. It can also double as a combat trick when dealing with equipment, and kills 50% of the creatures in the set. That’s pretty much all that should be expected from such a simple card.
3. Electrostatic Bolt
In other decks, this card’s lower mana cost gives it the edge over Shatter. However, in R/B, the quantity of removal available allows for flexibility to be chosen over sheer power-to-mana ratio. This will kill most of the creatures Shatter will, and some that it will not, but due to the pairing with Black; colored creatures are not nearly as much of a concern as in other Red-based decks. Still, when all is said and done, you’ll be happy to have as many of these as you can get.
Strangely, Terror is the least flexible of the three best removal options. However, just because it is lower on the list does not mean that Terror does not shine. Especially valuable against Green’s monsters and White’s efficient flyers, Terror is something that, while not as good as the above removal, fills a very important niche.
R/B truly hates to face quality non-artifact creatures like Fangren Hunter, equipped Skyhunter Cubs and Leonin Den-Guards, and Rustmouth Ogre. Terror takes care of problems that Red removal spells simply cannot handle. Due to that, it should be picked above all but the very best creature.
5. Pewter Golem
Wow, this card is particularly great in this archetype. It provides a big body that can safely block many of Green’s large ground creatures and then becomes a resilient attacker in the late game. Against Red, this costs a virtual seven mana to cast, as the prevalence of artifact/creature removal that can deal with this immediately is astonishing. Other than that, however, the Pewter Golem is a wonderfully costed creature for a deck that desperately needs this type of quality creature.
6. Myr Enforcer
A big, reasonably-costed creature, the Myr Enforcer is difficult to deal with and hits the opponent’s life total hard. Not much more to say, other than it will cost the average R/B deck four to five mana to cast him, making him practically a bargain.
7. Goblin Replica
Creatures that double as effective removal are great, and this guy is no exception. Supplying R/B with a standard Grey Ogre body, the Replica also can deal with troublesome artifacts and acts as an extremely expensive Shatter. When paired with Black’s prodigious ability to return cards from the graveyard back to the hand (Moriok Scavenger, Skeleton Shard, Betrayal of Flesh), the possibility of serious abuse becomes reality. This moves up if you have the aforementioned Shard or a dearth of artifact removal spells.
8. Iron Myr/Leaden Myr
A deck like R/B has a difficult time finding threats with all the removal available. These innocuous little creatures pull double duty in accelerating the R/B deck to its better threats and removal, as well as attacking for a few points of damage here and there when the coast is clear. Overall, the mana Myr are great in this archetype, allowing for a turn 3 sizable threat or just flexibility in what can be done in any given turn.
9. Vulshok Berserker
Being able to attack whenever the coast is clear on command, the Vulshok Berserker finds a nice home in R/B. Three power for four mana is fine, and not having to wait to attack can be very big in a deck with as much removal as R/B. This card can be used for tempo here, and has a secondary use as simply an extra three points of unexpected damage on a defenseless opponent after removal clears a path.
10. Consume Spirit
Clearly, this card’s value changes drastically when you have more (or fewer) Swamps in your deck. If the deck is mostly Black, and this can be realistically cast for four with seven mana out, move it up the list directly after Terror.
Yes, in the late game, this can act as a finisher or at least stabilize the board a final time, however, this will do nothing in the first few turns of the game and no spell punishes a rough mana draw more. You can sometimes get these late, as smart drafters will not be picking this early unless they are heavily favoring Black. My experience says that you really do not want to be mostly Black in an all-Mirrodin draft, as the card pool is not very deep, so unless you have three or four of these, the B/r deck is definitely lesser than the R/b deck.
11. Hematite Golem
Hematite is the exact sort of large threat that R/B wants to play, as at worst it will trade one-for-one in combat, or backed with a quality removal spell it gets better still as it garners card advantage. Best of all, it will deal large amounts of damage after creatures have been dealt with via removal. An unchecked Hematite Golem often ends the game in two to three turns, and also has a use as a mana sink on turns where nothing more constructive can be done. In my opinion, it’s the last of the truly solid creatures that R/B has access to in Mirrodin Draft.
12. Pyrite Spellbomb
Ah, Pyrite Spellbomb – the removal straggler of Mirrodin Red. I stand by what I said about this card before, but in a deck that utilizes lots of removal, I like it a bit more. The removal half of this card looks much better when surrounded by stronger removal effects, and in turn, makes the cycling part of the card even better. More often than not, I will try to use this as my first removal spell, saving my true removal for more important creatures. Maximizing your removal is a concept that I will discuss below.
The controversial number one pick on my R/W list, this loses much of what makes it attractive here, due to its lack of synergy and overall importance to this deck. Picking Bonesplitter very early is still good, as it does not limit color choice and the like, but do not be afraid to pick something higher on this list over it once you are settled into R/B.
Making your creatures more threatening is good, but not great without the evasion or the equipment-related bonuses that other colors can provide. This card still provides an almost guaranteed extra two points of damage a turn, and that makes it better than the lesser creatures, but nowhere near as important as the top-tier removal.
14. Nim Shrieker
The amount of production received from this card is totally deck dependant. There have been times where this is a 4/1 on turn 3, ready to attack on turn four through the air, but for each time like that, there has been a time where I cast this as an 0/1 or 1/1 flyer for four mana. Perhaps most alarming is the frequency that this card gets caught in the crossfire of an unequipped Spikeshot Goblin or a simple Viridian Longbow. In general, Black has a huge weakness to those cards, and while this is the best of the Nim (and can be a very powerful win condition), my opinion of this card is fairly low.
This card is simply not that good, as all the other colors have access to easy solutions, including the aforementioned Longbow and the Wizard Replica, which is usually played no matter what the color combination.
15. Moriok Scavenger
R/B loves the mid-to-late game. Gravedigger effects are usually especially strong in R/B, and this card is solid, if a little disappointing. It looks great on paper. For four mana, you get the stock creature size of the format (2/3) and what appears to be a very strong ability tacked on. Unfortunately in practice, this only becomes really good if you have Replicas or multiple Golems/Myr Enforcers. Sure, this will still return a dead mana Myr and getting another use out of a spent card is great in R/B, but do not expect too much out of the Moriok Scavenger.
16. Clockwork Condor
I hate this card anywhere else except in R/B. R/B only has one common flyer, and due to its situational size, the Nim Shrieker simply is not suited for consistent defensive duty. Every single other color combination has at least two better common alternative flyers/pseudo-flyers, but R/B really depends on this to deal with Skyhunter Patrols and other flyers when a removal spell is not available. Add in the potential for abuse with Gravedigger effects and you have yourself a card that you should be able to pick up late, but one that I’m usually content to have filling out my creature base.
When Mirrodin was first released, I actually was picking this over Terror. Countless drafts have shown me the error of my ways, and now I see this for what it is: A situational removal spell that is too inconsistent too ever to take out anything truly significant.
That being said, this still has value as a combat trick and can be very nice against regenerating creatures. Supplementary removal has more value in R/B than any other deck, so I’ll usually be happy to play this, but I will cut it if room needs to be made for creatures or better removal.
18. Viridian Longbow
All the way down at number eighteen, we finally come to the end of what I consider removal. I was very tempted to put this ahead of Irradiate and Consume Spirit, as it always gets its job done (taking out small creatures), and reusable effects are – well, I think you know by now. (Ah, he does assume you’re intelligent – The Ferrett)
The main reason why I did not is that this has to be on the board to make an impact, and it costs you four mana before it does anything. So do Spikeshot Goblin and Granite Shard (and Uncommon), and I’ve already said that they are great cards in this deck, so what is the difference? Well, the Longbow needs another card to make it good, and even though the only other thing required is a creature, having that creature removed in response to the equip cost being paid is extremely annoying. Paying three mana to do nothing is not the way to win games, so the Longbow stays where it is, at least for now.
19. Vulshok Gauntlets
This would rate so much higher if only R/B had more mana to spare in the late game. This card is wonderful in a deck that utilizes as much removal as R/B does. Unfortunately, R/B is just coming into its own in the mid-to-late game and starts utilizing all of its mana each and every turn in a typical game. The expensive equip cost and need to keep two creatures on the board make this a risky-but-often-worthwhile addition to the deck, and gives it some extra power for its often anemic creatures.
20. Krark-Clan Grunt
A fine creature which provides some early beats or insurance against a quick start from a White or Green-based deck. Solid, but nothing special, I usually find room for the Grunt in most R/B decks.
The best decks will be cutting this guy, because they have cards that promote better synergy inside the deck. In other archetypes, this would be much better because on its own, it is a very strong card. Here, it simply doesn’t have a guaranteed home because of the lack of coherence with the rest of the deck. If you have multiple artifact lands, consider this guy a little higher up on the list.
21. Leonin Scimitar
After how highly I touted this in my R/W article, this may surprise some people. Simply put, the effect is fairly insignificant and the low cost is mostly irrelevant. The best creatures in R/B do not gain very much from a simple +1/+1 bonus, and I would much rather have additional threats or removal taking up the slots in my deck than something virtually harmless.
22. Nim Replica
I hate this card. One toughness and no evasion means that this will often times be trading with a mana Myr that has already done its job. Despite that, this can sometimes be perfectly fine, as it does attack for three and this deck is more adept than any other at killing all of the opponent’s creatures. With the possibility for abuse and fine synergy with other cards in this combination, the Nim Replica reluctantly will be seen on my side of the table when I play R/B.
23. Off-Color Myr
Why are these so low while the in-color myr are rated so highly? It is very simple, really. This deck more so than others, will need a high concentration of colored mana to make use of its best spells each and every turn. While the Myr here provide acceleration, they tend to create some awkward situations during a game. Pick and play these accordingly, as some R/B decks will be more apt to fit these in than others, and if it does not harm the mana base, these can be moved much further up the list.
24. Disciple of the Vault
The Rodney Dangerfield of R/B, this card gets no respect. And maybe it doesn’t deserve respect – but I have seen multiple R/B decks really make stellar use out of this card. In R/B, creatures and artifacts are dying left and right, and that’s not even including creature trades and synergy with things like the Krark-Clan Grunt and Atog. With half of the creatures in the format bearing the tag”Artifact,” there are many artifacts going to the graveyard from play. This will, on average, deal an additional four to six points of damage in a game if played on turn 1. Later, this can be useful for forcing through the last points of damage or to at least create awkward blocking situations for an opponent.
25. Wail of the Nim
A combat trick more than removal, the main problem with this card is the lack of synergy with many of Black’s own creatures, necessitating the entwine cost to be paid each and every time. Mass removal is nothing to sneeze at, no matter how small the form, and its versatility makes this fine as a twenty-third card for your deck. Once again, do not expect miracles, but you can often times squeeze card advantage or at least one-for-one trades with this card.
26. Ogre Leadfoot
A 3/3 for five is nothing spectacular, especially when the ability on this card is so narrow. Any creature that can survive combat with this is a problem for the R/B deck anyway, so this will not help you there. Incredibly mediocre in this deck and pretty much anywhere else, if the deck is good, the Leadfoot is not in it.
27. Goblin War Wagon
A standard-issue Hill Giant would be great for this deck. This is not a Hill Giant. The drawback comes into play in this deck especially, as you should be using your mana in the mid-late game on spells and quality creatures rather than on untapping this guy.
28. Yotian Soldier
So boring and so useless in this deck. The only reason why I even mention Yotian Soldier is that it can be annoying to play against due to R/B’s lack of evasion and reluctance to use removal on such a mediocre creature. If one is making the rounds late, scoop it up so that a late pick doesn’t cause trouble.
Pick these up after any other relevant cards, as they interact well with many of the creatures in the archetype.
R/B Signals and Signature Uncommons
Black has a number of high-quality uncommons that yield special synergy in the R/B deck. Residing among the Black uncommons are two more high quality removal spells. Barter in Blood continues the tradition set forth by Innocent Blood. Barter is a great card for R/B, as it can always be set up to generate a two-for-one or at least a one-for-one. It will usually play cleanup for the other removal you have, dealing with the problematic creatures that can sometimes plague R/B. It also is great against White, providing a use for Arrested creatures, as Black and Red have no way of dealing with Arrest profitably.
The other removal spell in Black’s uncommon cache is Betrayal of Flesh. As a six-mana Terminate, Betrayal would be powerful enough to play. However, with the secondary option of instant-speed reanimation, the possibility for ridiculous card advantage exists. This is exactly the sort of powerful card that I talk about when I say that R/B has the best late game in the format.
Other nice Black uncommons include Relic Bane, Flayed Nim, Slith Bloodletter, and Woebearer. Relic Bane provides a consistent clock, similar in function to Neurok Spy. It can be very difficult to deal with, and in conjunction with other damage sources, ends the game very quickly.
Flayed Nim is a perfect creature for R/B, once again providing an unstoppable damage source while also providing a regenerating body to hold off large monsters or equipped guys. In the late game, he represents inevitability, dealing his damage no matter what, blocked or unblocked.
Slith Bloodletter gives the R/B deck a quality early play that both helps it survive into the late game, and can also get out of control against a slow start from another deck. Coupled with removal, the Bloodletter can get through once or twice and becomes a difficult to deal with very quickly.
Woebearer seems like it should be horrible in this format, but in actual game situations it has been wonderful. It can change the way the opponent plays the game, allowing the R/B deck to reuse a Replica, Golem, or Myr can be very rough. Yet another reusable effect that also has the added bonus of being out of range of Red’s common removal.
Red’s uncommons also provide more removal and a few more quality creatures for the R/B deck. Detonate is a welcome addition to the removal stable. Shrapnel Blast acts as an effective finisher and also can be a Terror substitute. The versatility of the Blast makes it the most potent of the Red removal spells in R/B. Grab the Reins is another great late game card in the R/B arsenal, providing an almost sure two-for-one or outright killing your opponent.
Slith Firewalker shines here, as all the removal in your deck combined with his haste makes finding an opportune time to get him through defenses is easy. And of course, Rustmouth Ogre is great here as usual, and an unsuspecting opponent can be caught with only one creature back to block and get a nasty surprise when the blocker is removed and the Ogre starts destroying artifacts.
Building and Playing R/B:
Drafting R/B, as always, is a gamble. You can end up with some of the best decks possible in the format, with a good creature base and plenty of varied removal, or the cards might not be there and the pile in front of you contains multiple Necrogen Spellbombs and other filler. More commonly, an improperly-drafted R/B deck will end up with plenty of removal and no creatures – or, less frequently, plenty of bad creatures and little or no removal. Maintaining a balance between drafting removal first and making sure that you have enough threats can be very tricky.
This deck’s core principle is maximize your removal. You will have removal (and plenty of it) if your deck is remotely good. The key to drafting, building, and playing this archetype is getting the most out of each removal spell. What I mean by that is simple: You need to know exactly which removal spells you have available in the deck and use the least flexible one to take care of problems that pop up.
If you have the choice between Shattering a problematic creature like Hematite Golem or Electrostatic Bolting it, choose the Bolt, as you never know when you’ll need that Shatter to take care of something like Loxodon Warhammer or Pentavus. Again, if you are playing against R/G, don’t Terror a Spikeshot Goblin right away if you have Pyrite Spellbomb, Consume Spirit, or Electrostatic Bolt in the deck, as you will almost assuredly need the Terror for a Fangren Hunter or Tel-Jihad Archer. Knowing the right time to deal with a certain creature and which removal spell to use is the key to winning with R/B.
As I said, you will have plenty of removal, so do not be afraid to take out early Myr with lesser removal spells, or Shatter that early Bonesplitter. Chances are you will draw more removal or have more in hand, and there is nothing more frustrating than ending a game that you lose with removal left in your hand because it was not used in a timely fashion (or even worse, because it was misused).
Reusable removal is golden in this format and is especially wonderful here. From Spikeshot Goblin and Granite Shard, to things like Moriok Scavenger and Skeleton Shard recursing a Goblin Replica, these sorts of effects change the way an opponent is forced to play the game. In the case of the Goblin and the Red Shard, they also double as a win condition.
Removal is only half the battle (G.I. Joe!) when drafting R/B. R/B has never been known for its stellar creature set – and aside from a few standouts, this set is no different. Understanding the best threats when building this deck is nearly as important as maximizing removal. This may seem obvious, but I’m going to state it anyway.
When you build a deck with as much removal as R/B generally has, threats with high power-to-cost ratios are optimal.
This includes not-so-wonderful cards like Nim Replica, which attacks for three and doubles as a creature removal spell. This archetype also maximizes the efficiency of certain other cards. I find Pewter Golem to especially shine in this deck, as it holds off most creatures that you may not be able to remove, while providing a near impossible-to-stop four-power body once the riff-raff is cleared away. R/B has practically no evasion, so what you do is make your own evasion. Killing all of the opponent’s threats is a form of evasion all to itself.
Equipment’s role in this deck is very interesting. Yes, it can pump up a Spikeshot, and cards like Bonesplitter are always good regardless. However, I find this deck to be very tight, and when building an optimal R/B deck, I will only play one or two pieces of equipment if possible, as the rest of the slots in the deck are best suited for removal, threats, and ways to reuse both. Besides the big pieces of equipment (Bonesplitter and the uncommons/rares), the only other piece that really finds a home here is Viridian Longbow. It is a reusable effect and comes in very handy when dealing with other Black decks or simply to take out Myrs and the like without the cost of a card. I have become very high on the Longbow lately, and if it has been sitting in your sideboard, I recommend you give it a chance.
As I said earlier, R/B is not an early-game deck. The goal when playing R/B is to make one-for-one trades early on in order to get to the late game where the R/B deck’s more powerful spells can take over the game. R/B has the most powerful late game of any deck in the format, utilizing recursion and powerful effects (Consume Spirit), as well as its capability to deal with anything. Getting there can often be a problem, so once again, maximizing removal is the key.
When drafting and playing R/B, the key things to remember are:
1. Maximize and vary your removal
2. Look for threats with high power-to-cost ratios
3. Equipment is good, but not great
4. Make early one-for-one trades in order to survive into the late game
Problems for R/B:
In Mirrodin Draft, there is plenty of Red removal. The problem with Red removal is that it cannot deal with large toughness, non-artifact creatures. This is where Terror becomes crucial; a steady stream of Fangren Hunters or other greater-than-three toughness creatures means sure doom for R/B, which cannot race via evasion and only has Terror (or perhaps a large Consume Spirit) in the common slot to deal with them. A variation of this problem stems from equipment that enhances toughness. Sure, you can kill the equipment itself, but R/B would much rather not have to use a Shatter on a troublesome Slagwurm Armor.
Regenerating creatures are another problem, as all of the removal besides Terror is shaken off by a simple Tel-Jihad Exile. This creates an interesting dilemma when drafting this deck: You need Terror to deal with the problem cards, but the limited flexibility that Terror has means that it is not the best card in some pick situations. There will be times later in a draft where you simply must take Terror over Shatter or Electrostatic Bolt, because you do not want a single regenerator or large creature to ruin the day.
The final potential problem for R/B is an onslaught of evasion cards. Flying creatures are a major problem for R/B, and without sufficient pressure from the R/B deck, a slew of flyers, even if removed, will eventually end the game. Due to the overall shady quality of the creatures in R/B and the complete lack of evasive creatures, the R/B deck can be forced to spend all of its removal dealing with each and every flyer in the opposing deck. A fast tempo start backed with flyers signals a very short game against R/B, as you cannot expect to deal with each flyer before it deals damage.
Here’s hoping that you enjoyed my exhaustive guide to R/B, A special thanks this week to Tim Aten for helping out with the actual gameplay used in this article and for the multitude of boring theory discussions that I’m always forcing him to participate in.
Feedback, questions, etc, welcome in the StarCity Forums or email me at