Mirrodin Draft Archetypes: The Road Most Traveled

Mirrodin R/G is the rich, popular, athletic kid in school. It has everything anyone could ever want and more. Giant, high-quality monsters? Check. A preposterous amount of artifact removal? Check. A smattering of creature removal? Check. The best rare and common in the set? Check.

So why would anyone want to play anything other than R/G?

Mirrodin R/G is the rich, popular, athletic kid in school. It has everything anyone could ever want and more. Giant, high-quality monsters? Check. A preposterous amount of artifact removal? Check. A smattering of creature removal? Check. The best rare and common in the set? Check.

So why would anyone want to play anything other than R/G? Well, for one, the secret’s out. The better players have long realized the power of cards like Fangren Hunter and Tel-Jilad Archers in this format. Spikeshot Goblin has been the consensus choice for best common ever since the set was released. Removal is as valuable as it has always been. There are few underrated cards in either Red or Green among the top players. All of its top cards are high picks in each and every draft, therefore there will be very few drafts where Green or Red is underdrafted.

For example, in a three-on-three draft the other day, I was getting Consume Spirits as late as eleventh for my nearly mono-Black deck while, others in the draft scrambled to find enough playables for their Green-based decks. I played against multiple Lifespark Spellbombs, a couple Goblin Strikers, and even two Groffskithurs. The interesting part is that I was still unable to 3-0, as Red and Green’s cards are just that good. R/G is highly sought after right now, and deservedly so.

I generally have a distaste for R/G in any given draft format, and in Team Sealed I never played it, instead leaving those duties to Erik”Tall Indeed” Swanson. It simply feels like you are saying”please” a little too often when you play R/G. Not here in Mirrodin though, as R/G has all the tools to overpower any opposition. Honestly, I’ve probably played R/G less than any of the other archetypes I have covered in this series. Fortunately for all of us involved from writer to editor to reader, I draft so often that I have still played every single archetype many, many, times.

R/G is also easy to write about and form opinions on, because synergy gives way to raw power in drafting and deckbuilding. There is simply no need for cutesy combos and intricate card synergy when every card in the deck is a quality creature, removal spell, or way to accelerate into the truly powerful cards that make up the high end of the curve in R/G.

While synergy is taking a back seat this week, balance gets to have its time in the spotlight. With as many powerful cards as R/G has to offer, keeping a careful balance between quality creatures, removal spells, tricks, and mana sources is of utmost importance. R/G is not a one-trick pony kind of deck like the White Equipment deck. It is not single-minded, instead relying on its card quality to give it strength in multiple arenas.

Those of you looking for your chance to dissect my pick orders without my usual defense of”synergy over raw power” will get your day in the sun today. These rankings are a general guideline. As usual, these are listed in the order that I would most like to see them making my draft deck.

R/G Common Pick Order

1. Spikeshot Goblin

The Goblin is a bit overrated still, but even so, it is the best common in the set. Until it is dealt with, it creates dead draws for the opponent, especially in this Myr-heavy environment, and screws up all combat math. When impacting the board isn’t possible or necessary, this creates a slow but consistent clock aimed directly at the opposition’s nugget.

Spikeshot does not require any other cards to be a general nuisance and top card, but adding in some sort of permanent power augmentation through Equipment (or less likely, Battlegrowth) exponentially increases the power of this card. These facts are well known, so do not be expecting to see these later than third pick. This gets the nod as top common because it dominates the table like no other common card in the set, and fills a dead spot on the mana curve in this deck particularly well.

2. Tel-Jilad Archers

Every single time I write anything about Mirrodin Limited, I talk about how annoying these are to play against. Mike Turian took this to another level in putting it ahead of removal spells, and after examining my own personal opinion, I’ll do the same. This single-handedly shuts down some decks dependant on flying over for the win, and stalls the ground wonderfully against artifact creatures, preventing them from attacking into a virtual two points of free damage.

Not the best attackers in the world, the Archers will still do in a pinch, as they are unblockable by a large quantity of the creatures in the set and only die to Black-based removal. I like these over Fangren Hunter simply because they bring any race to a screeching halt and fill a role that no other card can replicate. I’m sure I’ll take plenty of heat for putting Archers here, but in my personal, extensive experience, the Archers control the board like no other card, and there is no substitute in that role.

3. Fangren Hunter

If you’re looking for large Green common monsters, you’ve found the best one right here. Fangren Hunter is efficient all on its own in a set full of conditional cards. As I mentioned earlier, R/G is all about raw power and this is a very powerful creature in a format full of mana Myr and 2/3s. This is Green’s primary means of racing, as it cannot be stopped effectively through chump blocking, and a carefully crafted double block can turn into a slaughter with one of the instant speed tricks available to Green and Red.

4. Electrostatic Bolt

The trendy pick over Shatter right now, I agree with it, especially here. R/G simply has more ways to deal with Artifacts than it does with small non-artifact creatures. Losing to a Somber Hoverguard, Neurok Spy, or Spikeshot Goblin is annoying, but avoidable if you make the correct pick and take the Bolt. Versatility and tempo all rolled into an efficient package, the Bolt is Red’s top removal spell. The Bolt will always be useful, making it the correct pick over the less versatile/powerful Shatter and Deconstruct.

5. Shatter

Shatter is completely insane. Two mana, kills all the bombs in the format, doubles as a great combat trick and washes your windows. It is a testament to the power of both Green and Red to see such a great card barely in the top five commons. Instant speed is really great with all the Equipment and combat tricks lurking around, so in most cases, Shatter will generate a two-for-one, or get rid of something fairly meaningful. Simply put, the reason why I put this card over Deconstruct is that you get all of the power without any of the late game awkwardness of Deconstruct. In the late game, Shatter is simply better, being instant speed and never causing mana burn.

6. Deconstruct

In the first few turns of the game, Deconstruct is definitely better than Shatter or Electrostatic Bolt. Virtually free, Deconstruct is great at killing early artifacts while both players are getting set up or killing a key piece of Equipment to stop an insane draw from a white deck. Being sorcery speed really hurts this card in the late game, as you will not always have something useful to do with the mana you get back.

In the late game, that very same White deck can play and equip deadly pieces of Equipment all in one turn, and Deconstruct will not help in that situation. Yes, it still kills artifacts, and that makes it very worthwhile to have in any R/G deck. Sometimes it will provide devastating tempo, pumping out a large creature on the same turn as you kill their early strong artifact plays. Even so, I prefer the consistency and slightly higher power level of Shatter over Deconstruct.

7. Predator’s Strike

If there is an underrated Green card, this is it. One of the main ways that decks try to beat Green-based decks is through racing. Play out an evasion creature and hope that your defenses and chump blockers hold long enough for the evasion creature to win the game. Use of Myr and other insignificant creatures as blockers is common and required most of the time. Predator’s Strike takes that hope of racing and crushes it.

It creates bad situations for the defender, either by crushing a double block or pushing a chumped Hematite Golem over the top for large quantities of damage. If you ask me which card I live in fear of the most while playing against Green, this is the one I’ll say. Being a surprise, playing around it is very difficult, and a skilled player can bluff this card to great advantage.

8. Pyrite Spellbomb

The bastard child of removal spells in Red, this card still has strong value as it is a versatile option for killing small utility and evasion creatures such as Neurok Spy and Spikeshot Goblin. Generally, you will not be generating any surprise with this card, but even as a sorcery speed removal spell this is acceptable. I’m never that excited about putting it into my pile, but I know it will be making the deck without question.

9. Goblin Replica

A seven-mana Shatter, the Goblin Replica is rated low because it simply has no synergy within the archetype, while at the same time providing something that the card pool has in spades. Paying that much mana for that effect is not that powerful, and power is what R/G is built on. That being said, it is still an artifact removal spell that gets the job done, no questions asked. Don’t expect to get many two-for-one situations out of this, as the 2/2 body is nice but more nice than useful.

10. Tel-Jilad Chosen

Before I start gushing about how much I love this card, let me tell you that there will be times where it is picked off harmlessly by a Spikeshot Goblin or Viridian Longbow and it will do nothing. However, in my experience, it will deal four to six damage before taking a permanent role as a tough-to-remove blocker. Not only that, but it will take on much larger Artifact creatures without batting an eyelash. Add in the fact that you can sneak a few points of damage in later in the game and you have a real winner. Plus, as far as two-drops go, this format is extremely limited in its choices, and this is pretty much the best you can do in the common slot.

11. Bonesplitter

This is the fourth time I’ve written about Bonesplitter. Guess what? All the things I said in the other articles I’ve written still hold true in R/G. Bonesplitter stands on its own merits here, and really has no synergy with the creatures in the archetype (excepting Fangren Hunter and Spikeshot), but it still is a virtual Rancor, and that’s plenty good enough to draft/play each and every time.

12. Copper Myr/Iron Myr

The two best Green common creatures cost five mana to cast and can be backbreaking when they hit the table. Why not get there a turn quicker? Not only that, but with the amount of trickery available to R/G, mana will rarely go to waste. You can tell this is truly a deep archetype when a card so perfect for the deck’s integral strategy falls all the way to twelfth place in the rankings.

13. Myr Enforcer

A substitute Fangren Hunter, this card falls lower in my personal rankings because G/R relies less on Artifacts than any other archetype. Generally this is going to cost at least five mana, and there are better alternatives at that cost due to the comparative vulnerability of the Enforcer. However, this still attacks for four and in the right R/G deck can be a masterful addition.

14. Hematite Golem

While I write this, I look up and see Myr Enforcer above this and keep doubting whether or not it is correct. Hematite Golem is a superb card in the R/G deck, as it stalls the ground and provides a very sizable threat equally well. The Golem is must block in the late game and gives decks relying on Black removal a very difficult time. It is very difficult to gang block the Golem, as it usually will take out all blockers provided the deck can support enough Red mana. That very need to support more Red mana leaves this just short of the less powerful, but more consistent Enforcer.

15. Vulshok Berserker

The best deck for this card by far, R/G makes nice use of the tempo it provides. Haste is very good in this format, unfortunately, this card is shut down or at best trades with many of the common creatures in the format for the same or lower mana cost. It occupies the four slot on the mana curve nicely, and goes up in value with the number of Myr/Talismen in any given deck.

16. Tel-Jilad Exile

This card has gone through a roller coaster of evaluations during the short amount of time Mirrodin has been released. At first, it seemed really good, but after playing it a few times it seemed very average. Upon further review, it is a very solid to any Green deck, gumming up the ground very nicely while providing a great target for Equipment.

Regeneration, as always, is a strong Limited ability, and this card stops most productive attacks on your life total. Despite all of its good qualities, it still remains a 2/3 for four mana with a two-mana activated ability, so please do not go crazy if you have multiples of this.

17. Krark-Clan Grunt

Definitely a pet card of mine, the Grunt always makes my decks. I wrote a ton about this card in my R/W review, so I’ll keep it relatively short here by saying that this is the best deck for this card as it provides a nice threat at a lower spot on the mana curve than most of the rest of the cards in this archetype. Efficient and difficult to stop, the Grunt creates difficult combat steps both on offense and defense and in practice has proven to be much better than it looks.

18. Vulshok Gauntlets

This card has always been good to me. As long as there is more than one creature in play, the Gauntlets provides a sizable advantage while attacking and blocking. Yes, they can be unwieldy, but they are definitely powerful, and power is what I’m looking for when I draft R/G.

19. Off Color Myr

See”Copper Myr/Iron Myr”

20. Leonin Scimitar

In every non-White archetype, this card is good, but not great. Chances are, the guys playing White at any given draft table are going to value this extremely highly, and as the R/G player, you probably shouldn’t. If you pick one of these up early, great, and if there is nothing else in the pack, sure take it, but do not actively seek this out. It will be a fine addition to the deck but most of the time nothing special.

21. Ogre Leadfoot

Rather than write again about this card, I think I’ll share an anecdote involving one Dan Rodemann, a local player famous for being extremely lucky with his mana and playing bad cards to great success. His opponent’s board consisted of a Myr Enforcer, Hematite Golem, and another fine artifact creature. Dan had but a single Ogre Leadfoot and no cards in hand. What card did he draw during his draw step? The much-maligned Bloodscent, of course. He quickly casts it and deposits all of his opponent’s creatures into the graveyard. He won that game.

22. Wurmskin Forger

On first glance, this seemed like the worst card of all time. It costs seven mana, which gives it a huge strike in my book, and its effect seems so limited. Someone tried this out against me in multiples and it was (surprisingly) really good. After playing with it a few times myself, I have found this card to be extremely useful and it has been climbing the rankings steadily. The perfect card to top off the curve, even as a 5/5 for seven, the Forger will always be good if you can get the mana to cast it.

23. Goblin War Wagon

Hill Giant, or at least a reasonable facsimile of Hill Giant, the War Wagon is very average for this deck. We’re already down at number twenty-three on the list, and still in cards that are easily playable. I would not be happy to have more than one of these in any given deck, but one would not upset me at all.

24. Elf Replica

Morph! A generic 2/2 for three mana, the Elf Replica harkens back to the days of OLS. It has proven to be a fine addition to the Green decks I play, and shines here as a way to remove Arrest from the large men that R/G has to offer. Most of the time it will simply be a 2/2 with no ability, but the games in which you use the ability will be happy times.

25. Viridian Joiner

This might be a little surprising to some of you out there, but the Joiner can be a very good man in the right deck. With the best creatures costing five, the Joiner will speed the deck up by an entire turn in many cases, just like a Myr. Now of course, I would not be playing more than one of these optimally, but there are many worse cards to fill out a deck than a non-artifact mana accelerator that does not die to Wail of the Nim.

26. Clockwork Condor

This card’s value is completely dependent on whether or not you managed to get any Tel-Jilad Archers. If not, you probably should have one or more of these, as defense against the inevitable flyers you will face. I’m never thrilled to have the Condor in a non-Black deck, but it is a necessary evil here due to lack of alternatives. This is why I value the Archers so highly, as it is so superior to the next best alternative that you really want to have them.

27. Viridian Longbow

Fills a niche removal spot, blah blah blah I’ve said this four times.

28. Neurok Hoversail

Here’s something I haven’t really written about before, and as I write this I’m still bitter over losing a match to a Hoversailed Malachite Golem. The Hoversail is a very interesting R/G card, as it turns sub-optimal things like the Malachite Golem into monsters, while making good cards even better (like Hematite Golem or Fangren Hunter). That being said, the Hoversail’s usefulness is deck dependant, and the best R/G decks will not be playing it. Be on the lookout for these late and pick them up, as you could do much worse as a 23rd card.

29. Turn to Dust

One of the best sideboard cards in the environment, Turn to Dust hopefully will not be played maindeck. Against some decks this will sit impotently in hand as Fangren Hunter or Neurok Spy beats you senseless. Other games, this will surprise Skyhunter Cub mid-combat and administer a swift beating. Best of all, it provides a backup answer to Loxodon Warhammer or Empyrial Plate at a very low cost. Another card to be drafted late, Turn to Dust will rarely disappoint when it is sided in.

30. Battlegrowth

The quintessential 24th card, Battlegrowth will sometimes make your decks, sometimes be very good, but most of the time will do practically nothing except deal an extra point of damage. Extremely situational cards like this are fine if you must play them, but hopefully you can do much better maindeck than Battlegrowth.

If you’re lucky enough to have multiple Spikeshot Goblins, this obviously becomes much better. Something worth mentioning: Turn to Dust gets ranked above this despite being the weaker maindeck card. The reason for this is that Battlegrowth will always be marginally useful while Turn to Dust will generally be very good when you call upon it to do its job.

31. Journey of Discovery

My friend Adam Loring plays this card more than anyone else. It seems great on the surface, generating card advantage for only three mana. Unfortunately it does nothing to impact the board and the entwine ability is largely irrelevant. If you are playing more than two colors, this can help to facilitate the splash, so by all means play it, but realize that this card is still very average even in the best case scenario.

32. Malachite Golem

The definition of a turd, this card deserves all the mocking it has received. [Uh oh, I can see the forums filling up with”This turd smells like roses!” responses already. – Knut] Paying six mana for an easily dealt with 5/3 with a mediocre ability is not the way to win games. Of course, I’ve probably lost more to this card than anyone should ever have to endure, so maybe I’m a little biased in my hatred for it. Play it if you must, but don’t be happy about it at all, and if you are smug, expect to get punched.

33. Lifespark Spellbomb

Cycles and sometimes provides a decent incentive not to attack. Generally not going to stick around the board to do so unless absolutely necessary, this can act as a Stalking Stones on occasion and surprise the opponent with three damage they otherwise would not be facing. Hopefully this is not in the deck in front of you at any given time.

34. Incite War

This can be a decent trick and is very good at ending creature stalemates, however Incite War’s usage is limited by the sheer percentage of games that never reach a creature stalemate. With defensive creatures few and far between, forcing an attack is generally not that useful, and first strike, while good, is not worth paying three mana for unless combat is really complicated to begin with. It’s just barely sideboard material, but sometimes useful enough to warrant bringing in.

35. Fists of the Anvil


36. Groffskithur

It’s gizz-url!

Artifact Lands

Nothing special here, pick these if there is nothing marginally useful in the pack. Unless you’re packing multiple Krark-Clan Grunts and Atogs led by Megan herself.

R/G Uncommons

I think we all know the power uncommons by now. Therefore I will simply mention the cards that I think either are underrated or gain special value in R/G. The much-maligned Slith Predator has won more games than it has any right to, and perhaps is better than originally thought. If the R/G in front of you has a large quantity of removal or Predator’s Strikes, give it a shot and it might surprise you. Creeping Mold loses a bit of value here compared with other Green decks, as it has competition for its job as artifact removal and it doesn’t measure up. One Dozen Eyes is obviously very good, as are the Trolls of Tel-Jilad. Viridian Shaman is the nuts, and should be taken over any other artifact removal.

Red brings some other nice cards to the table. Atog is a fine card and underrated at press time, as I have seen it go as late as eleventh on Magic Online and eighth in real life drafting. It is extremely difficult to deal with if you have any quantity of artifacts at all. Detonate has Creeping Mold syndrome, although it still should be picked highly as the damage aspect and no regeneration should not be overlooked. Rustmouth Ogre is still good, but not great, as there are substitute large bodies. Slith Firewalker is always horrible for me but great for my opponents, so value this one based on your own personal experiences.

In the colorful world of artifacts, the uncommons are an interesting lot. I love Granite Shard and it is a reusable effect which is (say it with me)”a good thing.” Goblin Dirigible is especially good in R/G, filling a large hole in the deck as a large evasion creature. Mirror Golem does something very similar, breaking any ground stall wide open. Sun Droplet can be effective (especially in decks missing Tel-Jilad Archers), as a way to win races against evasion. Of course, most of the uncommon Equipment is just as good here as anywhere, with special mention for Fireshrieker due to its ridiculous synergy with large monsters, especially Fangren Hunter.

Drafting R/G

As I mentioned in the introduction, R/G is a deck full of raw power possibilities. R/G has a large quantity of versatile removal backed up with the best standard creatures the format has to offer. Synergy, while still important, can be overlooked somewhat in favor of taking the most powerful card in any given pick situation. This makes drafting R/G seem easier than drafting other archetypes. Even with the deep card pool and the high power level of the cards, there is still a marked difference between a solid R/G deck and something truly special. That difference is balance.

An improperly drafted R/G deck can and will win games. Balance is very hard to notice while playing the deck, in fact, it is more of a general feel than anything else. With other more synergy-dependant archetypes, the clunkiness that occurs when the deck is drafted poorly is readily apparent in the way the deck plays out and the losses incurred as a result. R/G simply does not have this problem. What you will lose to is picking the wrong card during the draft to balance out what the deck sitting in front of you has at its disposal.

What I mean by this is simple – if there is a pack with both Shatter and Fangren Hunter in it, if you already have three Hunters and a Trolls of Tel-Jihad, you must take the Shatter, even though the consensus is that Hunter is the better card. This may seem obvious, and you will not lose that many games even if you make the wrong pick because both cards are strong, but this sort of thing forms the important differential between an easy 3-0 deck and a 2-1.

Another balancing issue is to vary the tricks that you have in your arsenal. Shatter is the better of the two common artifact removal spells, but there will be times where Deconstruct will be better, or at least equal. I would say that taking a first Deconstruct over a third Shatter is probably right 90% of the time. The versatility of having the insane tempo spell in the deck is worth taking the (debatably) worse card. If you have a Detonate, two Shatters, and a Deconstruct, strongly consider taking Pyrite Spellbomb over a second Deconstruct. Having an answer to Spikeshot Goblin or Neurok Spy is certainly worth having a lesser card in the deck. Cards like Predator’s Strike and Bonesplitter make the opponent have even more answers and should be valued higher if the deck is lacking in any form of trickery.

All I am saying is make sure that you fill in all the blanks when drafting R/G. It is one the only archetype with every base covered in the common slot, so make sure that you do so when picking your cards. Pick up some varied removal, some quality creatures, and a couple nice tricks and the deck will do the rest.

Problems for R/G

R/G is the five hundred-pound gorilla of this block for a reason. A truly strong R/G deck is going to overwhelm almost anything it plays through sheer power and card quality. However, a couple of problems can thwart even the best R/G deck.

Black-based removal is especially good against R/G, as most of the high-quality creatures are non-artifact, meaning Terror has additional value. Consume Spirit, assuming you survive long enough to cast it, also will kill many of the top creatures no questions asked. Black also provides Nim Shrieker, the only common flyer with the capability of trading straight up with Tel-Jilad Archers. Add in Gravedigging capabilities and some solid regeneration and you get a real problem. A constant stream of trades or gang blocks adds up to a very difficult game to win for the R/G player.

Another problem for R/G is that, due to its lack of synergy and reliance on card power, R/G does not have a”nut draw” like other decks do. White Equipment-based decks can provide a much quicker draw than the consistent, powerful, but not explosive R/G deck can handle. U/B Affinity builds can generate turn three Myr Enforcers and Somber Hoverguards. If the opposition gets the optimal draw for his/her deck, R/G can fall too far behind to create a winning situation. Tel-Jilad Archers are key to putting the brakes on a quick flying assault.

The final concern for R/G is the very thing that it has in spades, large non-artifact creatures. With only damage-based removal for these creatures, R/G has a difficult time killing large creatures outside of combat. The key to winning these wars is combat tricks. Tricks such as Battlegrowth and Predator’s Strike gain special value in the mirror, as do cards like Leonin Scimitar and Vulshok Gauntlets. Anything that can cause advantageous trades when big monsters collide is very good when facing another Green deck.

Finally today I’d like to put out a call for feedback on what else you would like to see me explore in my writing. Inside the realm of Limited strategy, is there anything that you feel is not covered very well or needs more discussion? I’ve been looking for something original to do, as covering a draft pick-by-pick or doing an”underrated/overrated” list has been done before. If there is a call for me to do either of those things, I will gladly do them, so let me know what you would like to see in this very space in the weeks to come. Let me know in the forums or at [email protected]

Joe”Joey Bags” Gagliardi

P.S. Attention gamers in Northeastern Ohio and surrounding areas: If you want to come draft with JoeyBags, Featured Writer Tim Aten, and other luminaries such as Brian Brockway, come to Compendium Collectibles on Tuesday or Thursday nights for all-night drafting. Call the store at (440) 895-1224 and we can give you directions on how to get there.