Who Says Red’s No Good in M10?

(This post has very little to do with the class. Just my observation from a night at FNM)

For about the first time since Kamigawa, I’ve been paying attention to drafting, mostly because I’m actually going to FNM, and, for the first time, I actually stand to benefit from knowing. One of the most commonly discussed topics is what colors are the best. Here’s what I heard:

  • White: It’s solid, and probably square in the middle. The opinion about white has been pretty stable. Obviously, both Serra Angel and Baneslayer Angel are amazing, and Safe Passage has been a good surprise. Minor soldier themes work out pretty well, and having both cheap creatures and big fliers mean that it can be flexibly played both as an aggro and control color.
  • Blue: Initially, everyone thought it sucked. Its removal looked weak (I lost an Ice Cage to a Jump, once), and its creatures are a little wimpy. Then everyone found out that blue is awesome. Its fliers are pretty solid, Sleep wins games, and card advantage has turned out to matter a lot. I think the biggest discovery with blue is that M10 is actually a fairly luck-dependent format. As such, you pretty much win if you get good bombs. And the only way to beat bombs is to have good counters. Right now, I would say that blue is considered the open secret in M10 limited.
  • Black: Black has been good, and continues to be good. About the only complaint is that the good black cards are very color hungry, so it has to be a main color. Mono-black is a great deck to have: it has removal, creatures, and card advantage. Probably is (and people know that it is) the strongest color.
  • Red: Red looked really sexy when it first came out. With Wizards moving towards creature-heavy games, they brought back Lightning Bolt and Ball Lightning. There are the bombs, and there’s repeated removal. What people noticed really quickly, though, is that beyond that, red is very shallow. Quickly, you’re looking at 4/1 hasties and 2/1 for 2 as the new hotness. Not so much. Thus, it has been relegated to splash status at best; like black, its color requirements are heavy, and people are going to draft the good cards to splash, so it really can’t be a maindeck color. This is well known.
  • Green: Green started out looking really good, and it is. It has fantastic creatures (I’ve only found 2 ways to kill cudgel troll in M10: polymorph and planar cleansing anyone know any others?), acceleration, a little removal (did you know that Deadly Recluse is just as good as a Serra Angel?), and the bombs to make the world go round. Howl of the Night Pack + Overrun is just disgusting. Actually, just Overrun is disgusting. Even so, I think the open secret right now is that it’s overrated. There are a lot of creatures with more toughness than power, and a lot of games end up in the mid-game stalemate with 5-6 creatures on both sides. At that point, green doesn’t have the evasion to win. Its best chance is overrun, and when people see it coming, they can deal with it. I would say the other open secret is that green isn’t that amazing. It’s good, but it’s not the automatic win.

So what does that mean the best color to play is? Well, 2 weeks ago, I would’ve said blue. LSV has been touting U/W skies as a legit deck, and it works. Blue isn’t the strongest color, but would seem to be the best metagame choice for balancing power level and popularity. Now? I think mono-red is worth a shot.

Note that above, I said that red isn’t great as a maindeck color. Which might be true. Go mono though, and it might go great. As far as popularity, yes, you’re not going to get passed a fireball or earthquake. That’s life. You’re not going to get passed bombs. That’s also to be expected. These aren’t game breakers. People might still pass you some very good color intensive creatures and removal. So availability of quality cards is high.

Card quality is also a lot better than you might think. 2 cards that I think have been great surprises are Viashino Spearhunter and Kindled Fury. First strike is huge. The creatures may not look beefy, but they’ll stand up in combat, and will do just fine. I think the important choice here, though, is that it works only really well in mono red. Firebreathing is absolutely insane in mono-red. You might think that it’s a 2-for-1, but if you play it on a sparkmage apprentice, you hopefully found one of the many good targets for the 1 damage, and you made a 1/1 something to pay attention to. They actually might need to expend removal on it. At worst, the block it, and you use your 8 mountains to kill a Kalonian Behemoth.

So a lot of that sounds speculative, and it is. Here’s what I managed to draft at FNM, though, with my deck being all the red stuff + the howling mines:

17 Mountains
Creatures (14)
1 Goblin Piker
1 Sparkmage Apprentice
2 Fiery Hellhound
1 Goblin Chieftain
2 Prodigal Pyromancer
2 Viashino Spearhunter
2 Canyon Minotaur
1 Dragon Whelp
1 Beserkers of Blood Ridge
1 Shivan Dragon
Other Spells (9)
1 Act of Treason
1 Kindled Fury
3 Lightning Bolt
2 Firebreathing
2 Howling Mine

1 Angel’s Mercy
1 Glorious Charge
1 Veteran Armorsmith
1 Convincing Mirage
1 Levitation
1 Telepathy
1 Mind Shatter
1 Sanguine Bond
1 Birds of Paradise (!)
1 Borderland Ranger
1 Bramble Creeper
1 Centaur Courser
1 Emerald Oryx
1 Fog
1 Lurking Predators
1 Mist Leopard
1 Oakenform
1 Rampant Growth
1 Regenerate

Maybe not too exceptional until I point out that I was actually rare-drafting here. Since I have to take the train home after FNM, I can never stay for the 3rd round, so the best I can ever do is to go 2-0 and get 1 pack for it. Instead, I find that it’s usually worth it rare-draft instead and take the money while I can. Here’s more context

  • My opening pack had a foil howling mine and an guardian seraph. I went with the money and took the howling mine, so I knew I wasn’t going to go white, and that the guy on my left probably would. I think I also shipped some good blue cards, so that was out as well
  • My 2nd pick had not a lot notable in it. All I know is that I rare drafted a Lurking Predators.
  • Going through the rest of my first pack, it looked like I would be going red/green. I took some fogs and mid-rangy green creatures. The quality of the cards wasn’t great, but such is life. I’m pretty confident that the reason why is because the guy on my right was also drafting red/green, and because I was rare-drafting, I had missed the signals. Oops. Apparently, he got quite a few lightning bolts.
  • My 2nd pack had a Birds of Paradise and a Fireball. As I said, I was money drafting. Had I known that I was going mono-red, I would’ve looked at the fireball for 1 more second, then taken the birds.
  • I think in picks 3-6 in the 2nd pack, I got 3 Lightning Bolts and had to pass in Goblin Artillery in one of those. This was a huge clue that red wasn’t being played around most of the table
  • My 3rd pack opened with a Shivan Dragon, I think. Or maybe it was the other howling mine. I can’t remember
  • So in theory, I was getting cut off from red again this round, yet I still ended up with some good stuff
  • By the time I was done drafting, I still didn’t know I was playing mono-red, so I had passed both Seismic Strikes and a Pyroclasm out of ignorance and greed

When I put my deck together, it was red/green. I was actually going to get lands when I counted my cards and realized I only had 6-7 green cards, and they actually weren’t amazing. At that point, I counted and saw I could make mono-red if I put the howling mines in. Gross. Even so, I had heard good things about playing mono colors. Fewer mana issues justify the slight loss in power, so I did it.

And it really worked. Round 1 was basically the story of me not having drafted Seismic Strike. I can’t deal with Serra Angel, and that was bad news. Even so, I got an amazing win in the 2nd game doing 5, then 7 damage with a Dragon Whelp. Lost that one 1-2. In the 2nd round, I lost the first game to a Baneslayer Angel. Game 2, the Dragon Whelp came again, and in game 3, double lightning bolt took out a Baneslayer Angel, and a Shivan Dragon for 9ish + another lightning bolt.

So 6 firebreathing cards was great. Having 17 lands causes a minor flood every game (since I really don’t need the high land count to fix colors, but having exactly 23 playable cards meant that I literally could not replace a mountain with another card), but that’s not bad news when you can firebreathe up to 10 damage. I mean, when you’re 1-2 lands from overcoming a righteousness, I think that’s good. Actually, 6 firebreathing cards is disgusting.

Granted, while I’m moaning about how my deck would’ve been better had I taken the fireball, pyroclasm, goblin artillery, lightning elemental, seismic strike, and other good creatures, my deck was still pretty good. 3 lightning bolts + shivan dragon and more is nothing to scoff.

Which is exactly my point! I was on the left of someone drafting my exact colors, and I wasn’t intending to build this deck, but simply picking half-decent cards netted me a good red deck. I think it’s an archetype that’s worth a shot if you notice you’ve picked up a couple good red cards.Of course, this is all based on a single draft, so I might be horribly wrong, but it’s worth considering. And remember: firebreathing is amazing, and love the fact that you can get it 13-14th pick.

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