If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is superior in strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
– Sun Tzu, the Art of War
I could waste an entire article explaining how the above is a perfect paradigm for the ideal Magic mindset. Don’t worry I’ll spare you. Still, Sun Tzu is the f***in’ man.
This week I’d like to talk about a draft archetype that is near and dear to my heart: R/W jank. I was reading an article by Ken Krouner the other week and he said, “I have even heard rumors about Akki Avalanchers and Lava Spike making their way into highly aggressive decks built around Kami of Fire’s Roar,” while talking about red pick orders. Now if you’re anything like I was a few weeks back before Brian-David Marshall ushered in the era of the R/W jank deck here at Neutral Ground, you probably laughed whenever you saw someone play a Lava Spike without shocking something. That said, if you’ll give me a few minutes of your time, I’d like to introduce you to this deck, and maybe you too can whimsically debate around the draft table if there is any deck better than R/W jank.
Red and White are two of the most aggressive colors in the format, featuring efficient removal and ultra-aggressive creatures. With that in mind, the curve of the R/W jank deck is paramount, and it utilizes a very aggressive curve. If you read my article last week, which was basically a primer on the mana curve and its accompany theories, you know that the normal curve is shaped like a bell curve. However, for aggressive decks, the curve tends to skew the curve towards the left (or cheaper) spells and creatures, and the R/W jank deck is no exception. A typical R/W jank deck will have about 17 creatures, and the curve ends at four. Let me just repeat that in case you’re new to this deck – there is no card in this deck that costs more than four mana. That means no Earthshakers, no dragons. Of course you probably think I’m crazy here, and yes, you’ll most likely play a dragon if you open it in these colors, but in an ideal R/W jank deck you’ll want to run no more than 16 land, and with 16 land, it’s important to keep your curve to four-mana spells and below.
Basically I’ll breakdown some pick orders for this archetype and try to show you how to play this type of deck against the field.
1. Glacial Ray – This should be obvious, it’s the best removal spell in the set.
2. Yamabushi’s Flame – See above, except it’s #2.
3. Ronin Houndmaster – Red’s best creature.
4. Kami of the Fire’s Roar – Red’s second best creature, and the top of the curve for this deck.
5. Hearth Kami – Best Red bear. As an added bonus, the ability is occasionally relevant.
6. Uncontrollable Anger – Really good trick, allowing your lower power guys to trade with their higher toughness ones. Two notes. First – Don’t play more than two of these; they can clog up your hand and sometimes they’re awful (like, against Blue). Second, these get really good with a large amount of one and two-drops, which is another reason to overload on those drops in this deck.
7. Brutal Deceiver – Decent Gray Ogre.
8. Akki Avalancher – Ultra-aggressive one-drop, the pump is highly relevant.
9. Lava Spike – Three damage to the dome is highly relevant in this deck, plus it turns on Kami of the Fire’s Roar and splices Ray. All-around solid spell. [Stop laughing. He’s right. – Knut, who knows the pain of this archetype]
10. Battle-Mad Ronin – Another two-drop (there aren’t many) that is really difficult to block. He swings for five on average if you drop him on turn 2.
11. Unearthly Blizzard – Honorable mention. This card is in the Top 10, period. I’ve even heard of R/W jank decks that run 14 land and top out at three on the curve, using this as the kill rather than Kami of the Fire’s Roar…
1. Cage of Hands – Great tempo card and deals with whatever creature they wanted to stabilize with.
2. Kabuto Moth – Best common White creature, makes blocking insane for your opponent and turns off Red removal.
3. Kitsune Blademaster – Better than Ronin Houndmaster, which is Red’s best man. Take him nice and high. I’ve seen people take this guy over White Dragon in this deck, and win because of it.
4. Kami of Ancient Law – Best bear in your deck, highly relevant ability, a Spirit, and doesn’t die to x/1’s.
5. Indomitable Will – Cheap, efficient trick that allows your lower power guys to trade with your opponent’s. Due to the power pump, it’s better than Otherworldly Journey, plus it saves a bunch of your guys from Honden of Infinite Rage, a veritable house against you. Arguably your best trick.
6. Mothrider Samurai – Really good flyer that’s a little expensive for this deck, but still a very solid evasion creature.
7. Blessed Breath – Cheap, efficient trick (noticing a trend?) that saves your best guy from their removal.
8. Lantern Kami – Great beater, gets in for a ton of early evasion damage (see why Lava Spike is so good in this deck?) Also trades with all those Blue flyers really well.
9. Devoted Retainer – One-drop that trades with a decent number of three drops, let alone two drops.
10. Kitsune Diviner – I actually pick this little one-drop higher in other decks, but here the aggressive one-drops are superior. That said, this little lady can handle your opponent’s best creature (which is almost always a spirit) and forces through damage like a champ.
How to Play this Deck
As the title says – B-E aggressive. You want to curve out every game, and a hand that doesn’t have at least a really strong three-drop and a removal spell has to be shipped. This deck mulligans fairly well because of the overloaded early curve, so don’t be afraid to ship a less than aggressive hand.
Because your curve ends at four, you can play some cards slightly differently than you would in other decks. First and foremost, you can actually use Akki Avalanchers if you have a small number of four-drops (which should be the case) to trade with their three-drops. Effective management of the damage race cannot be over-stressed, so feel free to absorb any amount of damage in order to crack back for an even amount. Obviously you have direct damage so any race should favor you.
Look out for mass removal – this basically is limited to Yamabushi’s Storm and Hideous Laughter. It’s difficult to play around a bomb like Laughter, but be aware of it. Storm is really good against you; Will is your best answer. Red Honden is a danger but can easily be overrun… be sure to have Quiet Purity in your board just in case. That said your matchup against a lot of decks in this format is really good.
U/B – Many of their creatures have trouble blocking effectively, and they don’t race as well as you. Scuttling Death can three-for-one, but even he’s slow. Overloading them with men is your best bet. Honorable mention – Your curve.
G/R – Unless they curve out, you can easily overload a deck playing such cards as Moss Kami and Matsu-Tribe Decoy. Kill the Sustainer if you think you can get away with it, but don’t get greedy and burn your only removal spell. Assuming you mised a Cage, you can usually race over these guys. Unearthly Blizzard and flyers like Lantern Kami shine here. Battle-Mad Ronin gets honorable mention as being almost unblockable against them.
U/G – Sort of like R/G but without the removal, their flyers can be difficult to race with the wrong draw. Yamabushi’s Storm out of your board is huge. Try not to get lured into a tempo battle with them, overloading their bounce with multiple creatures on turns 3+ is key. Lantern Kami gets honorable mention. U/W usually plays out the same, though they have Candles’ Glow as well. Again, an early avalanche of men is your best bet.
B/R Spirits – Your White tricks are really good here, Blessed Breath is the nut high. Also Blademaster is almost unblockable. Watch out for Devouring Greed and try not to get lured into an attrition battle, smart racing is your best way to win.
As Dave Price would say, there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers. This deck is so solid because it forces your opponent’s ever-diminishing amount of answers to meet an ever-increasing amount of threats. Every draw in your deck is a top-deck against decks like U/B that are seeking to answer every threat you can summon, and R/W is the best deck in the format to punish manascrew and flood.
I’d like to end with a sample deck list, just so you can get an idea of what this deck could look like. Have a look.
2 Akki Avalancher
1 Kitsune Blademaster
1 Konda’s Hotatamo
2 Kami of Ancient Law
1 Devoted Retainer
1 Ronin Houndmaster
1 Samurai of the Pale Curtain
1 Lantern Kami
1 Brutal Deceiver
2 Kami of Fire’s Roar
1 Kitsune Riftwalker
1 Kitsune Diviner
1 Akki Coalflinger
1 Lava Spike
1 Yamabushi’s Flame
1 Glacial Ray
1 Indomitable Will
1 Unearthly Blizzard
2 Blessed Breath
In short, this is one of the most powerful archetypes in the format, even if its looks quite lackluster on paper. I urge you to give it a try at your next booster draft and let me know how it goes. Just remember – keep that curve low!
‘Til next time,
Michael L. Clair
Michael dot Clair at Pfizer dot com