Ever since I saw Lucky Number Slevin as an impressionable youth, I’ve been obsessed with the Kansas City Shuffle. In the film, Bruce Willis explains the concept in the simplest of terms: “When they look left, you go right.”
In an actual con, it’s tricking the mark to think they know how they’re going to be conned, only to have a plan that does something different. I misunderstood it, thinking he meant when everyone is doing one thing, do the opposite. So that’s what it means to me, information be damned.
But that’s also true. We see this phenomenon everywhere in society.
When the alcohol world became obsessed with super hoppy IPAs, hard seltzer walked in and became the light, better-for-you alternative that changed beverages forever. If Harry Styles and Taylor Swift are two of the biggest pop stars in the world, be Billie Eilish and Trippie Redd. It’s supply and demand: the more of something there is, the less valuable that thing becomes.
This is what people mean when they say “Draft is self-correcting.”
That brings us to Rakdos, the early star of D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Draft. It’s currently posting an absolutely absurd win rate of 63.2% in tradiditional draft on Arena. It’s putting up Joey Chestnut numbers right now, and it’s still early in the format.
That’s why I keep finding myself in Selesnya.
Rakdos is so deep, there legitimately might be enough cards to support two drafters per pod. There definitely isn’t enough for four, which is how I keep picking up late Owlbears and Priest of Forgotten Lores while people slug it out for the more “powerful” deck.
Here’s everything you need to know about building a strong Selesnya deck that can gain you enough life to run with aggro decks, but still run out enough bodies to beat venture decks, too.
Life Isn’t A Highway
A quick note on lifegain before we dive in.
Going all-in on synergy in this format is like a set of Truck Nuts on Jeff Bezos’s spaceship: completely unnecessary to your mission. As I mentioned in my Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set review, the payoffs for lifegain simply aren’t there. In most cases, the few you have access to — Celestial Unicorn, Lurking Roper — are cards that you’d be playing regardless. Incidental lifegain only helps you in outracing your opponent, which you’ll be doing often.
Selesnya Aggro is fairly straightforward to draft and pilot, in fact. You’re looking to capitalize on green’s Pack tactics cards while picking up some tricks and early plays in white. Cast creatures, win combats, out-race your opponent.
I won’t be ranking rares here, as you’re happy with most all of them, but your true MVPs are the indefatigable Ranger Class and the double-trouble double striker Drizzt Do’Urden. Paladin Class is an auto-include, as it does great work with the number of bodies you’ll stack up. Teleportation Circle gets an honorary mention, as it’s not exactly on plan but more than makes up for it by netting you a card’s worth of value some turns. Other aggressive creatures at rare that slot in nicely: Froghemoth, Werewolf Pack Leader, and Ochre Jelly.
With venture cards like Varis, Silverymoon Ranger, I’d probably prefer a Priest of Ancient Lore. Wild, I know.
One-Drop Creature Rankings
Ranger’s Hawk plays more like one of Mike Tyson’s pigeons in this deck, as you’re averse to Equipment and venturing is a sign things have gone awry. Meanwhile, Monk of the Open Hand doesn’t accrue counters like you want, as this deck curves efficiently but rarely double-spells. Neverwinter Dryad is a never for the same reason: taking an early turn off to ramp hurts momentum.
Everything Else at One Mana
Portable Hole is truly premium removal for the price and I’ve yet to have one waste away in my hand. Rakdos is a matchup where it shines particularly well, as removing an early Sepulcher Ghoul or Hoard Robber can mess with their momentum.
What really interests me, however, is You’re Ambushed on the Road. It’s currently the top common in Selesnya decks in terms of win rate when maindecked according to 17Lands. I kid you not. It’s a small sample size (>1000 includes) but having a one-mana way to bounce something before it’s removed/stolen makes sense when you consider how many of these creatures have strong enters-the-battlefield effects. It’s also a slick combat trick if you need to keep something alive and has tested well thus far.
Play Cleric Class in the decks where you have won the lifegain lottery but I think it’s overrated right now. There’s so much mana you need to sink into it before you’re feeling like you’re ahead, and against the aggro decks in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, you’re not guaranteed to get time to make it work.
Two-Drop Creature Rankings
Uncommon: Prosperous Innkeeper; Trelassara, Moon Dancer; Intrepid Outlander; Dragon’s Disciple
You may be surprised to see Prosperous Innkeeper so high, but it’s one of the best uncommons in the set and gives you a way to ramp to a four-drop on Turn 3, something critical to winning races. Bonus points for incidental lifegain. If you’re lucky, you’ll wheel Trelasarra, Moon Dancer anyway. If you don’t, no biggie: Selesnya is stacked like a Jenga set at this slot.
Common: Gnoll Hunter, Steadfast Paladin, Dawnbringer Cleric, Underdark Basilisk, Dwarfhold Champion
I hate maindecking You Find a Cursed Idol and the early data isn’t a fan of it, either, so Dawnbringer Cleric gives you Olympic-level flexibility at a low cost. Ideally, you’re running six to eight two-drops so you’re almost never casting this on-curve. If you wind up with relevant Equipment, move Dwarfhold Champion ahead of Underdark Basilisk.
Everything Else at Two Mana
Your best spell here is You Hear Something on Watch, which truly serves double duty as Selesnya is a sneaky Alpha Strike deck. Consider that this, You Meet in a Tavern, and Devoted Paladin all reward you for having a lot of bodies. Oh, and killing almost every creature in the format with Set Off Traps is a tremendous failsafe.
The only other spell I consider here is Bull’s Strength, which gives you the trample you desperately crave in some matches while surprising an attacker on defense, too. I’m never looking for more than one, but this is infinitely better than Compelled Duel.
I avoid all of the Equipment here, as three-mana equip feels too slow and is printed on each one. Stick to fun combat tricks.
Druid Class and Potion of Healing feel like lifegain traps and are only included when every Trelly falls in my lap. Of the two, I’m higher on the former as it truly does not matter how much life you gain here.
Three-Drop Creature Rankings
Uncommon: Lurking Roper, Moon-Blessed Cleric
Note that this is not a Cloister Gargoyle deck, as dungeon completion is a hard task for this deck to complete. Blink Dog is also phased out here, as it’s too hard to meaningfully boost it over the long term, despite my best efforts. Moon-Blessed Cleric is only viable with premium enchantments like Ranger Class or Minimus Containment.
Common: Priest of Ancient Lore, Celestial Unicorn, Circle of the Moon Druid, Sylvan Shepherd
This seems very intuitive, but I want to stress how close the last two are. Circle of the Moon Druid plus an Arborea Pegasus is five damage your opponent never sees coming and is rarely equipped to deal with. It’s also stacked enough on defense that life becomes hard for Rakdos decks that want to dispatch it. Dire Wolf Prowler rates terribly, even in terms of win rate improvement when drawn (IWD). Considering it can give itself haste, that’s saying a lot.
Everything Else at Three Mana
Even without many Treasures, this deck thrives with Spoils of the Hunt as a cheap bite that’s more In-N-Out than White Castle. I surprisingly like it slightly better than Minimus Containment, as giving your opponents Treasures can be as terrible as I suspected. That said, you’re playing both happily.
Rally Maneuver outperforms here, as you’re well-stocked on bodies and usually have creative ways to use the stats. Gaining four with a Steadfast Paladin while saving an Elturgard Ranger that’s blocked by a two-drop wins games. Choose Your Weapon provides Archery to deal with pesky flyers and a wincon in Two-Weapon Fighting, so these are premium combat tricks.
Plate Armor is busted in other decks, but here, it plays like decaf coffee: you lose the best feature. Without a critical mass of Equipment, you’re paying full price (something I also hate doing with coffee).
Four-Drop Creature Rankings
Commons and Uncommons: Inspiring Bard, Arborea Pegasus, Wandering Troubadour
In a world where Vampire Spawn is an actual card that people feel good about playing, I could not have been more wrong about Inspiring Bard. Bardic Inspiration, in particular, does work by turning what would have been a trade into actual damage. Song of Rest can earn you a couple of triggers if you’re needing life and curved out correctly. Consider this an apology.
If you find yourself on a path with Nadaar, Selfless Paladin and Varis, Silverymoon Ranger, then upgrade Wandering Troubadour, but that’s an entirely different deck. Please see yourself out of my column; it is no longer for you.
Everything Else at Four Mana
Regardless of how much blue your opponent is playing (and hopefully the answer is “a lot” as it’s garbage in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms), there’s no excuse for skipping Hunter’s Mark, the second-highest IWD of Selesnya’s uncommons. The ability to generate two-for-ones in combat is worth every mana.
I’m also higher on You Meet in a Tavern than is supported by the data, mainly because I feel like most players are likely using it to build a battlefield by selecting Form a Party. The only proper mode is making all of your Priest of Ancient Lores into actual threats and winning the game on the spot.
Five-Plus-Drop Creature Rankings
Uncommon: White Dragon, Purple Worm, Loathsome Troll
Setting up a Purple Worm seems more challenging than I thought it would be initially. I’m not sure I’ve even connected for damage with one, now that I think about it. But, on the other hand, you’re always happy to cast White Dragon and neutralize their best blocker or largest threat.
While we’re here, do not play Green Dragon. Drawing it has a negative 7.3% IWD, a stat that usually rewards cards that are bad in your opening hand but great off the top of your deck.
Common: Owlbear, Elturgard Ranger, Hill Giant Herdgorger, Devoted Paladin, Planar Ally
Elturgard Ranger has been putting in so many hours for me, I’m probably violating labor laws by not paying her overtime. One of the few ways to generate multiple bodies here, she can deal with pesky flyers in a pinch while throwing a wolf at something annoying to deal with, like a Yuan-Ti Fang-Blade. Ideally, you’re finding a way to go on the offense, but that’s why I think this is such a foundational card: flexibility.
Hill Giant Herdgorger feels very medium to me initially, as there’s a lot of deathtouch floating around. Sometimes, you’ll win the game on the spot if you’ve been holding on to Level 3 of your Cleric Class, though, so I don’t mind one. However, six mana is a lot in this format without any way to accelerate your plan, and ramp isn’t what this deck is trying to do. There’s also the fact that Price of Loyalty exists, part of the reason I love Selesnya Aggro and its low curve.
When looking through trophy decks, you know what I’m not seeing a lot of? Selesnya Venture. Gloom Stalker isn’t enough of a payoff, yet it’s one of the only cards you can expect to consistently draft. At that point, you’re left hoping that Varis can get you a 2/2 Wolf. If that’s the pot at the end of the rainbow you’re excited about, you probably had too much pot on your way to the end of the rainbow.
Splashing also feels awful in these colors, as you have an incredibly difficult time generating Treasure (zero ways in white) and would rather invest it in accelerating your plays when you get some. Stick to keeping your plays consistent and not complicating things with unnecessary risks.
This 7-0 is so incredibly focused on being aggressive, they’ve left three Elturgard Rangers in the sideboard. This is as low as you go without making the mistake of playing meandering one-drops. The key signal was a Trelassara at Pack 1, Pick 7, and then seeing that five red and black commons were missing from their pack.
Here, we’re looking at a more traditional curve that plays a Ranger over an Owlbear! Wild, I know! This isn’t stacked with rares, just efficient beaters and combat tricks. This went 7-1.
Another 7-1 that rides the Pegasus to victory instead of going as hard with the Bard. I’m not wild about all of the Shepherds in here and would love a Bull’s Strength or two. Combined with Circle of the Moon Druid, Drizzt, or the Worm, it’s a strong way to push through a boatload of damage.
Is Selesnya Aggro the best deck in the format? Not in a vacuum, no. But sometimes, the best deck is the deck that’s available, and Selesnya seems to be the best bet if everyone rightfully flocks to Rakdos. It’s a simple enough deck to run for new players and benefits from having Art Deco-esque clear lines.