Red in Zendikar Rising Draft has greatly exceeded expectations, as the depth of the color at common is truly impressive. Roil Eruption is clearly the best of the bunch and is often the best pick out of most packs it’s in. However, Pyroclastic Hellion, Grotag Bug-Catcher, and Ardent Electromancer are cards I am quite happy to take in the earlier parts of Pack 1. And that’s only the commons. Reds uncommons are disproportionately impressive with respect to the other colors and almost every red uncommon is first-pickable; the only one that isn’t is Fireblade Charger.
The general populace has not caught on to this evaluation. Most now understand that blue is a top contender, but red competes for the top slot too. Grotag Bug-Catcher, Ardent Electromancer, and Pyroclastic Hellion wheel in a surprising number of drafts. This has pushed me into red in quite a few drafts of late and I have reaped the rewards.
I currently believe that the best deck in the entire format is mono-red. Not every table can support this deck because it requires the color to be a bit underdrafted. Luckily, I believe many currently underdraft red and hence drafting the best deck is more feasible right now.
There is quite a bit of reach in red. Roil Eruption targeting the opponent for direct damage can end a surprising amount of games. But there’s so much more reach than just Roil Eruption. Some of the DFCs, such as Song-Mad Treachery and Kazuul’s Fury, can end games in which the opponent is at a relatively safe life total. Pyroclastic Hellion and Synchronized Spellcraft as top-end help add to the density of direct damage. But all of these cards are, for lack of a better word, obvious. They clearly say “this deals direct damage to an opponent”. Sneaking Guide and Cliffhaven Kitesail reliably wheel, and provide the same effect. I slept on these pieces early in the format, but I won’t make that mistake again. Pushing through those last points of damage through evasion adds a wonderful dynamic to these red decks.
The weakness of aggressive strategies is often that, if the game goes long, they will lose. However, access to a density of reach means that aggressive red decks don’t need to deal the full twenty damage so early. They can get away with dealing only fifteen damage because, if the game goes long, they will draw cards that can deal those last points of damage. And getting that necessary early damage with the suite of red commons is easier than I expected. Ardent Electromancer enables extremely explosive draws. All it takes is a non-Wizard two-drop for Electromancer to yield a double-spell on Turn 3, which is almost an auto-win on the play!
With all of this in mind, let’s jump into a draft! Will I be able to start off red? Do I get pushed into red by wheeling key components?
Pack 1, Pick 2
The Picks So Far:
Archon of Emeria is fine but that’s it. I know it can be enticing to see a rare, but this isn’t one of the good ones. White decks are often aggressive, and hence want to double-spell early. As a result, the text on Archon of Emeria is more of a downside than an upside. And while a 2/3 flyer for three is above rate, it’s not such an excellent rate to justify taking early.
Bubble Snare is the second-best blue common and one of the Top 10 commons in the entire format. The fact that it can be a hard removal spell for just one mana cannot be overstated. It’s best in Simic Kicker which would be a very nice follow-up to Bala Ged Recovery, but I don’t believe Bubble Snare is the correct pick out of this pack.
Spikefield Hazard might be the most underrated card in the entire format, and is my pick out of this pack by a significant margin. I have wheeled this card way too many times and I very often have the opportunity to take the Hazard in the middle of Pack 1. But let me make this as clear as possible — I believe Spikefield Hazard is competitive with Roil Eruption Pack 1, Pick 1. Maybe Roil Eruption is better, but if so, it’s not by much.
This format has a very high density of one-toughness creatures and having access to a one-mana removal spell for those threats that isn’t dead in any matchup because it can be played as a land is incredibly powerful. Also, while it’s only one damage, it does add to the density of reach that’s so key to success with red in this format. Lastly, to take this pick home, Spikefield Hazard is optimized in Gruul because that archetype wants DFCs more than any other, as landfall and commons that pick up lands are premium in the archetype.
Pack 1, Pick 5
The Picks So Far:
With a fourth-pick Emeria Captain and a Goma Fada Vanguard in the pool, I am strongly biasing towards Boros Warriors as my potential archetype. I will still be open to other archetypes, but will lean towards the best pick for Boros out of most packs.
Even though Boros is a deck built around the Warrior tribal synergy, Scorch Rider is not a justifiable pick. It’s pretty easy to get enough four-drops, especially with one already in my pool. Stonework Packbeast is a better Warrior thanks to the mana-cost and maximizing additional party synergies. But Packbeast isn’t the pick.
This pack has quite a lot of options and context matters a lot.
Vastwood Fortification is better than almost every common, but seeing it this late is not necessarily a signal. I think the majority of players take Rabid Bite over Vastwood Fortification. Personally, I believe Fortification is significantly better than Rabid Bite so I value it higher than the rest of the world. To me, this looks like an incredible green signal. However, I need to adjust to what I know about most players, and within that context, it doesn’t imply that green is open. Because of that, I don’t think speculating on green is the correct pick here.
All the other options in this pack have gone up with respect to my original pick order. In fact, I think at the beginning of this format, I wouldn’t have started most of these cards. Now, they make my maindeck a significant amount of the time.
The question to ask yourself for this pick is, “How much do I care about party?”
If the answer is “so much so that I won’t play cards that don’t contribute to that plan,” this pick is between Practiced Tactics and Sneaking Guide. However, I don’t believe Boros is often all in on party the same way Azorius and Rakdos are. So I believe the pick is between Molten Blast and Tazeem Raptor. Given that I believe Tazeem Raptor is also just the best card in the pack in the context of this format, that is what I took.
Pack 2, Pick 4
The Picks So Far:
Shepherd of Heroes is a better card than Ardent Electromancer. At this point in the draft, a party subtheme to a Boros Warriors deck seems reasonable. I figured it was best to simply take the “better card,” but upon reflection this is incorrect and I regret my pick of Shepherd of Heroes.
Electromancer provides so much more to the explosiveness of this deck, which is incredibly important for an aggressive strategy. Shepherd is a flyer that provides value, but that value is in prolonging the game. It’s still a fine card in Boros, but it contributes less to winning than other top-end like Pyroclastic Hellion. With that understanding, the pick is clearly Ardent Electromancer. I know in my gut that I would take Ardent Electromancer over Pyroclastic Hellion from this spot, and if I believe Hellion is likely better for my deck than Shepherd, that answers the question.