My name is Joe Gagliardi and I probably draft more than you. That’s really all I can say that is not misleading in any way about myself.
I mean, sure, I had a money finish at a Team Pro Tour (Boston 2003), but I’ve really done nothing special in my years of gaming. However, I play Magic an awful lot, and I think I have a strong grasp on the current limited format, Mirrodin Draft.
So what am I here to do? Hopefully after reading this, you’ll understand a bit more about the different archetypes in Mirrodin Draft, what cards are better in which archetypes, and why. Plus I enjoy feedback and discussion, and I hope to inspire some of each.
Today I’ll start with what can be a very tricky, but powerful archetype: R/W. R/W is tricky in that the decks can sometimes look good and play poorly or vice versa, and card selection is key.
Before I begin, I think it should be assumed that obvious bombs should be taken first, such as Loxodon Warhammer or Solar Tide. No matter which specific deck we’re discussing, these cards are insane and should be treated as such. Also, just because some cards aren’t as good in a specific archetype, that does not mean you should pass them over on the first go around, because some of the lesser cards that I will tell you to look out for will go later. I’ll be very complete in my pick order, at least for now, because I want to discuss some of the lesser cards that might warrant inclusion into the deck at any given time.
People like lists, so here’s one with commentary:
R/W Common Pick Order
This is the best common in the format, especially in this deck. I mean, sure, there are a lot of artifact removal spells out there – but this does everything that I love. In a good tempo deck like R/W, this is completely ridiculous, impacting the board immediately for only two mana, and sticking around to create all sorts of problems later. This is the card that makes all the other top commons and uncommons insane, like the Auriok Bladewarden, the equip guys, and of course…
2. Spikeshot Goblin
Clearly an absurd card, he picks off Myr and the like without any sort of help, and obviously becomes more ridiculous with equipment, which you should be looking for in abundance in this archetype above all others.
The only reason that this ranks below Bonesplitter is because it takes a turn to get active and in the later stages of the game, you must have a way to pump this for it to be truly useful. Oh yeah, and it dies to each and every creature removal spell in the format.
The rule here is: If you already have some good equipment, take the Spikeshot for God’s sake!
These rankings are not absolute, but general guidelines. Be very wary about passing a Spikeshot if you expect to get any top-tier Red in pack two, however, as right now this card is overrated a bit and one of the clearest signals you can send.
3. Skyhunter Patrol
Guys in this format are amazing. Quality guys? Even more so – and this is a prime example of a quality guy. It needs nothing else to be really great, and if you have anything to put on it, it just gets better. The only thing that makes it prohibitive in the slightest is the double-White mana cost, and even that is nothing when you look at what you are getting for the mana cost.
2/3 for four mana is standard in this format, so add in evasion and a not-irrelevant ability in first strike, and you have a special common creature wrapped up in a sweet package. Three toughness is just too good, avoiding the common red removal spells. Plus there is no better tempo than putting a card that rules the common skies on the board on turn 3 or 4.
The Dark Banishing effect in this format is Red, and it’s great as always. I still would take a high-quality guy over this, but if you are looking for a great trick that goes into every deck playing Red, this is your card. Shatter will always be useful, usually resulting in a two-for-one or perhaps just getting rid of a pesky artifact keeping you from using the early tempo advantage to secure a victory. Its low mana cost and instant speed make it the best at what it does.
5. Leonin Scimitar
This is no Bonesplitter, but it is so key to this deck that it warrants a very high position on the list. In other decks, the Scimitar is nothing more than a quality card, but in this deck in particular, it shines, activating the equip guys and…
Oh, please. Just go back and read the Bonesplitter description. You’ll get the picture.
6. Skyhunter Cub
7. Leonin Den-Guard
I group these two together, with the Cub clearly being the stronger card. It says a lot about the format that even unequipped, these two are still decent, as a 1/3 for two mana or a 2/2 for three is actually on the good end of the scale. This is a prime example of why Skyhunter Patrol is rated so highly.
8. Electrostatic Bolt
One mana, kills tons of stuff, can target pro-artifact guys, what else can you ask for? Being one mana is especially key in a deck that wants to spend its mana each and every turn. This is superior to Pyrite Spellbomb in every way, as the cycling does very little – and the reduced mana cost along with the ability to deal four damage when necessary is very key in R/W.
9. Blinding Beam
My favorite trick in the format, it’s especially potent at buying you needed turns or tapping down a key blocker. (Tel-Jilad Archers, I’m looking at you). In a creature race, (which every real game in this format is), this is two turns of tempo. Rarely useless even when it simply buys you a turn or two to draw something, this card is seriously underrated – but after [author name="Nick Eisel"]Nick Eisel[/author] and [author name="Tim Aten"]Tim Aten[/author] both extolled its virtues, maybe the secret is out.
The universal pick for”best white common,” and a card that I am simply not that big on, especially in R/W. For starters, it costs three mana, and the things you normally would be hoping to disable you should be able to race with evasion, or at least chump while a flyer toils away.
Don’t kid yourself, though; you’ll play every single one of these you have, and you’ll be glad you have them when the opposition drops a Tel-Jihad Archer, Spikeshot Goblin, or a Skyhunter Patrol. I mean, sure, this card is obviously very good; I’m just saying that there are some cards I would rather have taking up my valuable non-creature slots than Arrest, as equipment is at a premium and low-cost tricks are better than three mana permanents.
11. Goblin Replica
A solid, but unspectacular card. It looks great on the surface, and it’s very functional, but rarely will you get true card advantage with this card. The best you can usually hope for is a chump block or soaking up a blocker, and destroying an artifact with damage on the stack. Destroying an artifact for a total of seven mana is nothing to write home about. Be that as it may, this still kills the primary card type in the block and provides a Grey Ogre, which is fairly good to begin with. Just don’t be expecting too much from this simple, elegant card.
12. Auriok Transfixer
I am a huge fan of this little man. A 1/1 for one in most formats would require a good ability to be played, but simply being a non-artifact creature is good, and this one can come out early and cause all sorts of problems. Tapping Myr or Artifact Lands early can be a great way to gain tempo, and in the later game, tapping down a big bruiser of some sort can keep this guy relevant. Plus, he’s a quick creature and can get some beats in before the opponent wants to keep a blocker back to deal with him.
13. Pyrite Spellbomb
This is good but not great. It’s two damage to any target for two mana, and once in a blue moon it’ll be cycled in hopes of finding something better. I don’t think people cycle this card nearly enough, and the effect is not that strong for the mana cost. That said, it’s still removal, and when it’s not useful it theoretically can be sacrificed to draw a card. Take this and play it, of course, but don’t be prancing around talking about how good your deck is if you have three of these and not much else.
14. Vulshok Gauntlets
I have had mostly positive experiences with this card, but it is a little unwieldy and requires two creatures to be effective. However, it is an extremely powerful effect for not much mana if you can spare it. This is the kind of effect that is golden in R/W and I really do not mind spending my mana on equipment shenanigans, because it is so key to the deck.
And not to state the obvious, but this on a Den-Guard is just absurd.
15. Soldier Replica
A quality trick attached to a man. This card is extremely helpful, and you probably would love to have one in any deck with White in it. However, be leery of having too many one-power men, as that leads to a deck that cannot beat anything. Being a 1/3, this guy blocks the standard of the format (2/3) and can take down any common evasion creature sans equipment… Not to mention he can create some ugly blocks for the opposition later in the game.
16. Hematite Golem
Absolutely one of my favorite cards, this guy brings the ground to a screeching halt on defense, and at worst, will usually trade with a creature or two before dying. Not only that, but he becomes a must-block threat due to the concept that he could get very large, very quickly. He does not shine as much in R/W as in something like R/B, but he still is a quality guy with the capabilities of filling the ground stall and aggro roles well at the same time.
17. Ogre Leadfoot
Ah, pseudo-evasion – you have to love it. Actually, this guy is really average, but he’s tough for non-Green players to block, as few nonartifact creatures have enough power and toughness to fight this guy one on one. Still, he’s a 3/3 for five mana that can be chump blocked from here to eternity by Myrs and other useless stuff. He’s not the worst guy to have at the top of the curve, but you can certainly do better.
18. Titanium Golem
A good ability on a mediocre base creature. Would this really be too good if it simply had first strike for five mana? The answer is sadly, yes – but that does not make this guy an all-star by any means. He can make a solid offense/defense creature, playing both roles fairly well – but once again, hopefully you will not be sporting more than one of these in any R/W deck that you build.
19. Vulshok Berserker
This guy is insane in some other decks… But the R/W deck, with its quality flyers and other threats, is not one of them. Also, the lack of reliance on Myr in R/W makes this less than desirable. Don’t feel bad about playing it, but I would not get excited either.
20. Iron Myr/Gold Myr
I love Myr in this format. However, this is not the deck where they really shine. Of course, they are fine additions to your arsenal, but a truly great R/W deck will eschew these in favor of more aggresive options. Take them and play them, by all means, and do not be ashamed if you find these kids, or even off-color Myr in your deck. Just know that this is really not where you want to be, as you’d rather be playing equipment or equipping your guys.
21. Krark-Clan Grunt
Another one of my pet cards that I’ve been defending in the forums. I really do not feel like typing it all out again, so here it is, copied and pasted:
“First and foremost, this is a great example of a ‘threat’ card. That is, this is a card who threatens to use a strong ability, and the threat is often enough to get him through for two damage a turn. Sure, there will be times where you have to sacrifice an artifact to get through a stupid Elf Replica (good call on that one, Nick), but other times the opponent will be unwilling to trade, again giving up tempo and damage (once again, tempo, in this format, is king). Even better, in the late game, it becomes a ‘block me or die’ if you have even something as small as two artifacts, and it can create great trades for you.
“On defense, it is a tough creature to attack into as its ability requires something more than the standard 2/3 of this format to get through unscathed.
“Add in the ability to protect your artifacts from harmful cards such as Domineer and Detonate, and you have yourself a winner wrapped up in a nice little package. He won’t always be spectacular, but he is really underrated and strong in most decks.”
All of that said, this is not a deck where this guy really shines. In other, more threat-light archetypes, he’s great – but here, he’s not spectacular. As I said, he’s solid, but don’t feel awful about cutting him if you have something really great going.
22. Raise the Alarm
Mediocre, but if you need dudes, you’ve come to the right place. Plus this will sometimes ambush a Myr, kill a Tel-Jihad Chosen, or create enough blockers to survive a key turn. Even with all of that going for it, making two puny creatures is not an especially powerful effect in general, and this is no exception.
23. Miscellaneous Equipment
Not all equipment based R/W decks are Bonesplitters and Scimitars with a cherry on top. Sometimes, you need to fill those last slots with equipment, and sometimes it has to be second-tier stuff (for this deck) like Viridian Longbow and Neurok Hoversail. Fine pieces if you need them, but better left on the sidelines if at all possible.
24. Goblin Striker
A special case scenario. This guy seems unplayable, and in most cases, he is unplayable. In the rare case that you drafted three or four quality pieces of power augmenting equipment, this goes from horrid to at least decent, and you can do a lot worse if you are short on creatures.
Razor Barrier (the first card I side in whenever I have something less than optimal, as it is a quality trick, but is generally not worth playing in your maindeck, Awe Strike, Incite War, and Sunbeam Spellbomb (can be useful against green as a Fog substitute while racing that can cycle)
Uncommons To Watch:
As far as white uncommons go, nothing beats the Leonin Skyhunter. On turn two, it often spells game over for many decks, and if equipped, it can end a game incredibly fast. The Auriok Bladewarden is obviously fresh if you have Bonesplitter or other power enhancing equipment, but surprisingly average without it, as +1/+1 really isn’t significant enough in this format. Slith Ascendant is great on turns 3 through 5, and will win many games on its own, but sometimes when you need a more significant threat, it is not a fast enough clock.
Taj-Nar Swordsmith is especially mighty in this archetype, as the deck really wants a Bonesplitter or Scimitar in play to function properly, and the 2/3 body is not insignificant. Altar’s Light is awkward and pricey, but a necessity and you’ll always play it. Roar of the Kha is a quality trick, but one that I would rather leave in the sideboard for more proactive noncreature spells. In my experience, it plays as a more erratic Predator’s Strike, saving a creature and allowing for a couple of extra points of damage.
Soul Nova is incredibly powerful, but fairly easy to see coming. If you can cast it successfully in a game, for the rest of the draft you can threaten it any time you can afford to have five mana open, which is a valuable bluff.
Rustmouth Ogre is an ideal way to top out the curve, as it has a useful ability and is enormous, leading the way for the Red uncommons. Atog is a beast in this format, but you will not find yourself with excess artifacts to be sacrificing in this archetype, so be wary of attacking or blocking unless you are sure that you want to use that ability.
Detonate is good, but not as good as Shatter, and should be drafted accordingly. It is nice to be able to get through those last couple points of damage, but Detonate is slow and awkward in many cases, where Shatter instantly gets the job done and comes in at the bargain cost two mana. Forge[/author] Armor”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Armor can be decent, especially here, but finding worthwhile targets to sacrifice can sometimes be a problem.
Grab the Reins is clearly ridiculous, moreso in R/W than anywhere else, as you can put early pressure on and finish them with either a simple Fling or the more devastating entwine, removing their key blocker and dealing some extra damage. Shrapnel Blast is a first pick in any deck, as five damage is such an upgrade from two, particularly in this format since 2/3 is the standard creature size, and this also deals with problem cards such as Tel-Jilad Archers and the hefty Fangren Hunter.
Slith Firewalker is another great card for this deck on turn 2, but the need to draft quality guys over removal in some situations may hurt his ability to get through. Later in the game, you draw him and it feels just like when people spin the wheel on The Price Is Right and they get five cents. Bob Barker says”a nickel” in that sorta mocking voice, and the person nearly throws up on the spot.
Building A R/W Deck
I think that’s enough detail on card evaluation for today, so let’s move forward and discuss deckbuilding and problem cards. This deck is meant to be very aggressive by utilizing evasion to maximum efficiency and backing it with a smattering of removal. Equipment provides support and helps to quicken the clock on the opponent and the game in general. If the game goes more than eight to ten turns, you probably are going to be in trouble, as the R/W deck will only have a scant few late game breakers in addition to any bombs that you happen to draft.
You want to have things to play in the early spots in the curve, and not just equipment. Some decks in this format will not get started until turn 4, or may only have a Myr or Talisman and some equipment before they start playing real guys on turn 4 and beyond. This is not one of those decks, as you want to be putting real threats into play as soon as possible. Try to create a deck where you can use all of your mana for each of the first five turns of the game.
The best way to do this is to draft a base White deck with Red as more of an augmentation or splash color. All of the best tempo creatures are in White, and Red brings a bit of removal along with some trickery and the ubiquitous Spikeshot Goblin. Other than the tricks/removal though, I’d prefer the majority of my deck be White, both to take advantage of the superior creatures, but also to make sure that I can cast some of my double white spells on the turn they were meant to be cast.
Green decks can present a problem for you. They have two very good tools with which to seize back your hard-earned tempo: Deconstruct and Tel-Jihad Archers. Deconstruct can be devastating because you will not have much quality equipment, (everyone wants it), and with a virtual mana cost of zero, they can put a large monster into play on the same turn that they destroy your Bonesplitter or Scimitar. This is very dangerous for the R/W deck, as it makes it much more difficult to race or even trade creatures with a deck that churns out 4/4 tramplers and the like once the game goes long.
The Archers can bring your attacks to a screeching halt, and they are tough for R/W to deal with. You will often have to two-for-one yourself in order to get through the nasssty Archersss. We hatesss them! (And that’s the second Gollumn voice for today – The Ferrett) They are the one creature that makes me regret passing on any Arrests that I could have had during the draft, although Blinding Beam is an especially happy day when you get to tap down the Archers to finish your opponent off.
The only other card in the common slot that is more effective against R/W than other archetypes is Terror. Terror has been maligned by some people as”not good.” This is just wrong, as Terror is still very strong, and in a deck where you rely on non-artifact creatures to fly over and deal damage, Terror can be a real nuisance, especially if you are evasion or threat light. The only way to minimize Terror’s effect on the game is to make sure to spread your equipment around against Black decks, making multiple threats rather than just one uber-threat.
Remember, this is a tempo deck at heart. You are trying to stay aggressive and deal damage each and every turn. When a deck such as R/W is asked to play defensively, it embarks on the long road towards losing. If a Green-based deck can slow you down, you could be in trouble, so remember while you are drafting to maximize the aggression in your creature base.
If drafted properly, R/W is an incredibly potent archetype. Unfortunately, you’ll be fighting many other players at the draft table right now for Red, as it is universally considered the best color in Mirrodin draft. If the cards are there, this is a good place to be, so keep your eyes open, especially for the sleeper cards of the moment.