Anatomy of an Archetype: Black-Red in Innistrad: Crimson Vow Draft

Bloodtithe Harvester Art by Lucas Graciano
Bloodtithe Harvester Art by Lucas Graciano

Welcome to the first of what I hope are many editions of Anatomy of an Archetype. I’ve been drafting for over twenty-five years and love to combine all of that experience with the current data craze to find creative new ways to win. From the very first pick I take, I am considering every archetype it could go into and how I have to adjust my picks for the rest of the draft to maximize my chances of taking home another one of those sweet trophies.

As much as I’d love to, it’s impossible to have enough time to say everything that’s going through my head during a draft. This article will give you insight into what’s going on in there through an in-depth breakdown of every part of an archetype giving you a cheat sheet you can pull up whenever you’re drafting.

I understand that it is still early, but I feel the majority of this information will be relevant for the remainder of the format. We will be starting off with one of my favorites from Innistrad: Crimson Vow, the Black-Red (BR, Rakdos) Blood deck.


What are you trying to do?

Looks at how you win

In short, destroy your opponent with cruel, brutal efficiency. This is one of the most mana efficient limited archetypes that I’ve ever seen. It keeps consistent pressure on your opponent through cheap threats and removal. Instead of running out of gas, it turns into a blood factory allowing you to filter out all of your extra lands and keep the beats coming.


Navigating the draft

What gets you into the archetype

This is one of the few archetypes that I don’t mind starting off with a gold uncommon as I will just slam Bloodtithe Harvester P1P1 unless there is a bomb rare. Harvester is also a great signal, if its past pick 3 it should be seen as a sign that while the people passing to you might be in black or red, they aren’t in black and red.

Another way to get drawn into this archetype is starting out with a couple removal spells like Bleed Dry and Abrade. Unlike recent sets, removal is both an early pick and a necessity so don’t be the one passing it for slightly above average creatures.

A sign that you should be moving into this archetype is if you start seeing some of the blood-centric commons after pick 6. These include Bloodcrazed Socialite, Blood Petal Celebrant, and Falkenrath Celebrants. Voldaren Epicure, while good, shouldn’t be taken as a sign to move into this deck as it is criminally underrated by some drafters.


Top 5 Commons

It’s important to not just look at the data for highest win rate for games in hand in that particular color combination, but to think through why they are performing well in that particular archetype.

Bleed Dry is straight up the best common in the set. It kills anything in the format at instant speed for only four mana. On top of that, it exiles in a format with disturb and commonly played recursion spells. This is the only common that I am happy about taking pack one, pick one because it cleanly answers almost every bomb in the format.

Flame-Blessed Bolt just does so much for one mana. You should feel dirty when you get to pick off a Spore Crawler or an Estwald Shieldbasher with bolt. Just a huge swing in tempo for the low, low cost of one red mana. It also invalidates Undying Malice, Wretched Throng, Doomed Dissenter, and many Disturb creatures.

Abrade functions as both another cheap removal spell and incidental coverage for artifacts like Dollhouse of Horrors. One habit you have to break is always killing the creature in response to equip because with this one, you can wait for them to attack and kill the equipment before eating their suddenly small creature. There’s no feeling quite like your opponent investing six mana into a spiked ripsaw attack only for you to get the full blowout for only two mana.

Falkenrath Celebrants sounds so much better when it’s explained as an Owlbear replacing trample with menace. The value of blood tokens has gone up to at least half a card meaning that this card basically replaces itself. The body also lines up well against the format with menace and cheap removal leading to either blowouts or being unblockable.

Bloodcrazed Socialite is fine in any black deck, but does a lot more work when you have a horde of blood tokens to keep the beats coming. While a hill giant doesn’t seem great if you are on the defensive, it at least comes with a blood token that you can cycle through to try to find an answer.


Top 3 Uncommons

Based off of the color pair specific data

Bloodtithe Harvester is the perfect embodiment of everything this deck does. It’s a cheap, efficient beater that doubles as removal when you need it to be. This card leads to a very complex decision tree which is exactly the type of card I enjoy playing with.

Parasitic Grasp wins races out of nowhere by removing a creature while gaining you three life. This is an effect usually seen at sorcery speed so opponents commonly forget to calculate it as a possibility during attacks.

Alluring Suitor is a very solid card that has some of the sickest high rolls in the format. If you go two drop, suitor, attack and play Olivia's Attendants (or any other 6 mana bomb) the game is over before it started. Important to note that Alluring Suitor just needs exactly two creatures attacking to flip, it doesn’t need to be one of them.


Top 3 Rares

We’re going to ignore Mythic Rares here because you’re less likely to get them. It’s also pretty obvious which ones are busted and should go in any deck that can make the mana work.

Anje, Maid of Dishonor is exactly what this deck wants as an above-rate creature that continues to generate value through blood. It even makes it impossible to race as the blood tokens and any other spare creatures drain your opponent out with a swiftness.

Dreadfeast Demon requires an instant speed answer the turn it comes down or a wrath effect. That concludes my TED talk on how to beat Dreadfast Demon. 

Voldaren Bloodcaster is another creature that was designed to be played here. It would make the cut just on stats alone, but it also puts in work turning all of your dying creatures into blood tokens. Getting the five blood tokens to flip Bloodcaster is a lot easier than you think and then your two drop starts pumping out 2/2 hasty flyers every turn.


Curve considerations

Is there a part of the curve with a glut of playables (i.e the four drop slot in blue in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt)?

There is some tension around the four and five slot because you are so efficient and want to be cycling through blood tokens while you also want to be thumping Falkenrath Celebrants to finish the game.


Adjusting card grades

It’s important to think about what cards are going to perform differently in the archetype you’re drafting so you can take advantage of picking them up later. It’s also key to find cards that provide a lesser, but similar effect to other cards that you haven’t been able to pick up.

Bump Up

Ragged Recluse can be part of a sick curve out in a heavy blood deck while being close to unplayable in a deck without blood. This lets you pick up a couple of these pretty easily as long as you’re not fighting over Rakdos with multiple people at the table.

Restless Bloodseeker is going to be a lot more valuable to the blood deck than any other deck besides Orzhov. It goes up a bit if you already have a Gluttonous Guest to keep triggering the blood loop.

Voldaren Epicure isn’t quite an Elvish Visionary, but in some decks it’s close. It is another card that’s value is inversely proportional to the number of blood tokens the rest of your deck produces. I still like to have at least one of these to kick off the bloody festivities.

Wedding Invitation is another card that you can pick up late because no other deck wants it. It can be a real difference maker for minimal investment both in the draft and in game.

Bump Down

Ceremonial Knife is a fine card in this deck, but not as necessary as it is in decks that can’t produce blood on their own. In general, the more blood you have, the less valuable each individual blood you have is since it is less likely to trade a land for a new card. You can also bump this up if you have a lot of blood payoffs.

Diregraf Scavenger is a great card that I’m happy to play in any black deck. It does go down a little compared to other archetypes because it doesn’t really synergize with what you are doing. You should still take this based on rate, but maybe a pick or two later than you would in a deck like Orzhov.

Reckless Impulse is just a two mana red Divination as long as it’s played correctly. I am happy playing these in any red deck, but I would bump them down a bit if you have lots of blood sources.

Replacement

Edgar's Awakening is a card that I would happily play in this deck, but I move it up my pick order a bit if I haven’t been able to pick up any Blood Fountain.

Grisly Ritual is a very medium removal spell that may or may not make the cut. If you don’t have a hard way to remove something like Bleed Dry or Hero's Downfall, I would recommend that you pick one of these up to deal with some of the bombs that are out of range of Abrade and Flame-Blessed Bolt.


Card advantage

What sources are available and how much do they matter to the archetype?

Reckless Impulse and Pointed Discussion both have a home here, but they are not really necessary because of the natural card flow of the blood mechanic.


Combos and Synergies

Bloodtithe Harvester and Undying Malice is a great combo as it can turn your one mana spell into kill their best creature, put a +1/+1 counter on this, and make a Blood Token. 

Bloody Betrayal and Mindleech Ghoul gives you those AFR flashbacks. While I don’t really want to play either of these cards in my Rakdos deck, if I pick up a few of each as late picks I’m willing to combo them up.


Splashing

Is it supported in this archetype and how much should you look to do it?

If you happen to have a single pip bomb, it’s fine to toss it in because you can pitch to blood. Just don’t get too far into the “I can just pitch it to blood” camp because that is still a real card you are pitching instead of a land.


Deep vs shallow

Can the table support multiple drafters?

Very deep roster with plenty of replaceable cards. VOW Rakdos can typically support 2.5 drafters per table.


Sideboard

Obviously ignore this in Bo1 land, but be on the lookout for these cards late in Bo3.

End the Festivities can wreck certain decks as a one mana three for one will crush your opponents will to continue playing the game.

Aim For the Head is a versatile sideboard card acting as a removal spell against zombies or exiling the last two cards in their hand.


Wrap up

Well, that brings us to the end of the first edition of Anatomy of an Archetype. Thanks for reading and I hope you will find this deep dive into VOW Rakdos helpful on your adventures. If you want to learn more, be sure to check out our latest Draft Lab episode on an introduction to the ten archetypes of Crimson Vow and our first impressions of the format.

I’m always open to feedback, let me know in the comments what you loved, what you hated, or what you would like added to the next edition.

j2sjosh

Josh is a member of the elite limited team The Draft Lab as well as the host of The Draft Lab Podcast. He was qualifying for Pro Tours, Nationals, and Worlds literally before some of you were born. After a Magic hiatus to play poker and go to medical school, he has been dominating Arena with over an 80% win percentage in Bo3 as well as making #1 rank in Mythic.