D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR) Limited Guide: Part 2 – Best Common and Uncommon Spells, Themes, and Archetypes
D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR)
Welcome to Part 2 of my Forgotten Realms guide. I need to cut to the chase here because I know I am going to miss release this time around and it is always my goal to get these out in advance. I won’t be rushing things though, so if you are (likely) reading this a bit post-release, sorry I missed the deadline! It is important to me that I take enough time to do it right though, so hopefully all is forgiven.
This will be the final piece of “pre”-release content, but I will follow up with a proper Draft Guide once I complete a bunch of runs and get a proper feel for the set. But for now I think this article will provide a strong framework for understanding the different types of decks best supported by the format as well as a discussion on the strongest Common and Uncommon spells within each color.
Although I always prioritize Common and Uncommon cards, one thing I have found striking is there really aren’t too many decent Rares in AFR. They tend to fall into two camps, one being borderline or full on Bombs and the other being Garbage. Usually sets have lots of B or C Rares, but in AFR the majority of them seem to be S/A or D/F. I have a feeling this is going to be a key disrupter of the format, creating quite a large gulf between Draft decks based on what was opened in the first couple picks of each pack. This can still be overcome by making intelligent picks and following the signals of course, which makes it all the more important to identify the key cards within each color. So let’s get into those first!
White is a bit of a jack of all trades (and master of none) in AFR. It supports a few different themes but unless you are hardline Artifacts or Lifelink, I doubt you are going to have more Plains than your second land type.
Venture into the Dungeon, Artifacts, Equipment, and Lifegain
Get used to seeing the ‘Class’ Enchantments in this section, as most of them are quite good! White doesn’t have anything too pushed, but all of these cards are solid. Ingenious Smith may seem like an odd choice, but there are a lot of playable Artifacts in this set, and many of them are White. Three of them made the list just in this section! Plus, it gets powered up by Treasure tokens which are fairly abundant in this set (2/3 Dungeons pop them out, even). Of those Artifacts here, I really like Plate Armor. It is expensive to play and equip, but a +3/+3 bonus for any of your creatures is enormous. Portable Hole and Cloister Gargoyle are a bit more situational, but each of them should prove their worth. Cloister Gargoyle blocks early and is a nice threat late, while Portable Hole is sort of the inverse but importantly hits the ‘Class’ Enchantments.
This section was pretty tough. I almost always cut to six and it isn’t that White is stacked at Common or anything, everything just looks kind of similar in power. You Hear Something on Watch is superior to Minimus Containment, but both are important since White is really light on quality removal in this set. Containment has the potential to backfire on you, but as long as you are careful to save it until late game you should be okay. It needs to be reserved for Bombs, or at least until you have to play it. I think some decks will be splashing using Treasure though, so you always run the risk of hooking your opponent up with a color they need, not only Ramping them.
The mace is solid and the creatures are okay, but nothing here really blows me away. Devoted Paladin is a worse version of Angel of the Dawn, and I am not sure White even wants to go wide most of the time. I thought about putting Dwarfhold Champion in here, because maybe White will end up supporting a Creature/Equipment beatdown archetype. Steadfast Paladin and Celestial Unicorn seemed acceptable to feature as well, but I fear the Lifegain archetype coming together is unlikely, despite the life to be gained in the Dungeons.
Ultimately I think White looks fine at common. Let’s explore some more colors to see where it stacks up before I dabble at any rankings, though.
Blue is packing its classic one-two punch of Flying and card advantage, as well as some strong support for the d20 and Venture into the Dungeon mechanics.
d20 Rolling, Venture into the Dungeon
The Class spells once again makes the cut, but the real star here is Eccentric Apprentice, and potentially Fly and/or Feywild Trickster. Fly is a risky proposition, but there is not a ton of Removal or Flying in this format. Venture is worse than drawing cards but if you are able to get a few extra triggers it will likely net you the game. Feywild Trickster on the other hand is a slow burn, but there are a lot of d20’s to be rolled in this format and once again there are just not a lot of flyers.
Power of Persuasion helps the d20 theme, but otherwise is probably worse than a straight Unsummon. It is card neutral over half the time if you roll well, but I think the Sorcery speed really hurts it. Displacer Beast can do its thing at Instant speed, which is pretty cool. I don’t love 3 mana 3/2’s as a rule, but this one can happily trade with their 3 drop and come out ahead, or serve as a decent mana sink later on.
Djinni Windseer should be your highest priority Blue common as it is going to be a staple threat and presents good value. Pixie guide also looks like an overperformer to me. The ability is deceptively good, giving you a very high probability of hitting your 10+ roll effects. I’ve run two mana 1/3 flyers with way worse abilities, and this is a weaker creature format without much flying outside of Blue and Dragons. Clever Conjurer is only okay, but giving Blue some Ramp potential in a set with lots of expensive/powerful spells is interesting so I included him.
On the noncreature side Charmed Sleep is going to be the go-to removal spell for Blue, while Contact Other Plane will be the go-to draw spell. You Find the Villains’ Lair does a bit of both, and I think it will be a good test of whether the ‘You Choose’ spells are better than just going with a more powerful dedicated spell and foregoing the utility. The fact that you can hold it up as a counter and if no good targets present themselves use the draw mode does make this one appealing though.
Blue is looking like a really good support color to me. There aren’t many good threats outside of Djinni Windseer, but the card draw and support for both d20 and Venture mechanics are going to be happily welcomed by a lot of decks. As long as I have a plan for getting sufficient creatures on the board I will be pleased to be running Islands in this set.
Black is looking like a force to be reckoned with in AFR. It has tons of access to Venture, and Treasure looks to finally have its time to shine.
Venture into the Dungeon, Treasure, Death (touch and otherwise)
Wow, Black is completely stacked at Uncommon. All of these spells are good individually but also synergize well. Black stands to benefit from things dying and is really good at forcing the issue. Reaper’s Talisman is probably the most clear example, forcing your opponent into constant 1-for-1 trades while providing an advantage. Even if you run into a combat trick or removal, cards like Grim Wanderer and Death-Priest of Myrkul can provide a sweet bonus for anything dying.
Skullport Merchant might end up being the best creature of the bunch though, providing insane value in extended games. If matches do go long enough to cast Black Dragon it should be very impactful, and all of the Treasure will be helpful in reaching seven mana.
I am a little less impressed with Black at Common, but there is still enough support to be found. You can definitely see the Venture and Treasure themes coming through here. Deadly Dispute looks pretty amazing to me in the right deck. I don’t think Treasure is going to be hard to come by in Black decks, and turning it into two cards and another Treasure feels unfair in a core set. Similar to Blue, I am a bit concerned about the lack of threats, but with the Deathtouch (or even unblockable with Thieves’ Tools) theme it may not matter.
Overall Black is looking like a powerhouse to me and I am really interested in drafting it. It seems to have an uncharacteristic amount of card draw as well as Ramp/Fixing via Treasure. This opens up the possibility of a Black deck that splashes a bunch of good stuff from any and all colors, which is a frightening prospect. The ceiling is very high here!
Red strikes a great balance in this set. Efficient creatures and removal provide a nice foundation, and it offers key cards for all of its supported themes.
d20 Rolling, Pack Tactics, Treasure, Equipment
These cards have me really excited about Red, and there were some others like Red Dragon and Rust Monster which were tough to cut. My favorites are Chaos Channeler and Magic Missile, both of which I would take really early. Magic Missile is going to 2-for-1 a lot of the time, and while Chaos Channeler will get frustrated by the 3/1 2-drops in AFR, its value is still huge. Barbarian Class pairs really well with Chaos Channeler, and will be a coveted card in the right deck.
The other three spells produce Goblins which are my favorite creature type, but that isn’t the only reason they made the cut! Hulking Bugbear is exactly the type of creature I want in an Aggro deck to put pressure on Venture archetypes, while Goblin Morningstar looks deceptively good especially in Red-White Equipment or Red-Green decks with big creatures in need of a Trample hookup. You See a Pair of Goblins seems like a great way to surprise those 3/1 2-drops I spoke of or buff your team if you draw it late.
At Common, Red gets some quality removal and threats. Of all of the colors so far, Red has the most impressive Creatures at lower rarities. Valor Singer may seem like a three mana 3/3, but Combat Professor in Strixhaven demonstrated how often an extra Power someplace can enable attacks and generally annoy combat math so I am interested. Dueling Rapier is another great tool for swinging combats, while Hobgoblin Captain looks like a fine beater even if you will need to wait a turn to set up Pack Tactics sometimes. One of my goals for AFR is to win the game with a 10+ Roll on Farideh’s Fireball while having 1-2 life.
I am feeling pretty high on Red overall and am going to be biased toward it early in the format. I think a lot of players will be drawn to the more durdly mechanics and big creatures, and Red is positioned really well to punish that.
Green brings the Creatures and Ramp as you might expect, but doesn’t feel particularly tied to its themes. There are some strong individual spells, but if synergy is the way of AFR, Green may be left behind.
Pack Tactics, Venture into the Dungeon, Lifegain
There are some really good cards here but I am not totally sure how well they will mesh. Lurking Roper is going to be worth it in any deck, but obviously Life gain is where it wants to be. You can derive some Life gain from Venturing, but Green only dabbles in that. White can gain you life, but there really aren’t many payoffs besides Celestial Unicorn and Lurking Roper. I still think it could work, but there are likely better decks to be made. Roper still has amazing flavor text though. I do like both of the Choice spells and all four of the effects between them are reasonable options. Hunter’s Mark is always a welcome effect, and even though it is great without the condition I think Blue is going to be quite popular in the set.
Most of the Green spells seem to be having an identity crisis though. Wandering Troubadour for example looks like it wants to join a Venture deck, but Green is so thin on the mechanic I am not sure that is going to come together enough. Plus, some of the Ramp stuff is Treasure-oriented which limits your triggers. Purple Worm looks like it wants to join a Black deck where things are dying, but really it doesn’t really matter what kind of deck it goes in. You are very likely to get to play it for 5 post-combat in any deck. I do like that they pulled so many cool monsters straight out of DND, but Purple Worm is an example of one that just feels a bit out of place.
And it is much the same at Common. Find the Path and You Find a Cursed Idol are crucial cards if you are trying to Venture with Green. Both Ramp you and I like how Cursed Idol fixes your mana. I can definitely imagine ‘good stuff’ decks using Treasure to splash everything. Why you would cash in any Treasure on spoils of the hunt I have no idea, but it is a good card nonetheless. The best thing here though is Owlbear, and I have a feeling I am going to get pulled into Green quite a bit when I feel like Owlbears are going too late. It is such a ‘pushed’ common, and 4/4’s are in a good place in AFR. Elturgard Ranger does frustrate 4/4’s though, especially Dragons, and that is why I like it as a 1-of.
Okay, so how do all these colors stack up in my view? Well, I like Black and Red the most on paper. Blue in the middle, and Green and White at the bottom of the pack. We shall see how it plays out though!
Usually I would have a section where I pulled together multicolor ‘signpost’ cards and explained how all of the different 2-color pairs operated. AFR complicates this a bit though, since the synergy in the set is largely based on the themes rather than specific archetypes. If you pay attention to where there is theme overlap between the colors, what follows are some distinct types of decks:
Venture into the Dungeon – Control
White, Blue, and Black are your key Venture into the Dungeon colors in the set. These decks will look to manage the board and obtain advantages over time via Dungeoneering. I see these as being Control archetypes for this reason, but they won’t always play out that way. White-Black for example could easily be an Aggressive archetype using things like Deathtouch and Equipment to push through larger Creatures. Still, I think dedicated Venture decks will be a thing and they will be looking to grind out advantages over a longer game.
Pack Tactics / Equipment / Lifelink – Creatures
Creature decks will always be a thing in Limited, and these three archetypes (GR, RW, and GW) look the most aggressive to me. Red-Green looks to leverage its larger creatures with the Pack Tactics Mechanic, and I am into it. Targ Nar itself doesn’t seem great to me (C+), but I think these colors have plenty of good creatures and removal to choose from. Red-White packs an Equipment sub-theme and it’ll be interesting to see how well it does. Finding a healthy balance of creatures-removal-equipment may provide a significant challenge to many players. Make the wrong cuts and you may end up with a board full of Equipment and nothing to attach it to. 15 creatures would be the minimum in my view in case you are wondering.
I am lowest on Green-White because I am not sold on the gain life theme. There are pieces to find for it and if the archetype comes together well I think it could be quite good. Ideally you want to find all of the payoffs, a few 2/2 Lifelinkers for your 2-drops, and Venture effects (although you only gain life at most 1 out of 4 Ventures via the Lost Mine). I am not going to be looking to draft this but if it lands in my lap or I get run over by it a few times we shall see.
Treasure / d20 Rolling – Combo
These last two (BR and UR) are the most synergy-oriented. They aren’t exactly ‘combo’ decks, but will likely revolve around their themes more often than not. Black-Red for example has a healthy amount of Treasure generators and payoffs. The thing is, I am not sure pairing them is actually going to be the best strategy unless Red is super open. Instead of pushing the 2-color archetype, to me the true value of Treasure in this set comes from the Ramp/Splash potential. There aren’t any common dual lands (besides Evolving Wilds which should be prioritized more than usual), so I think AFR is going to finally realize the potential of those inconspicuous Treasure tokens. I am really intrigued by the good-stuff Treasure archetype and am excited to experiment with it.
Blue-Red on the other hand looks like an awesome 2-color match! There is plenty of support for d20 cards, both in quality cards that allow you to roll the dice and cards that help or benefit from your rolls. Additionally, Red and Blue are looking like two of the most powerful colors in the set (in a vacuum), so watch out for this pairing! As a player that loves the UR archetype through good times and bad, AFR is looking nice at this point. I should acknowledge that there is also an evasion subtheme with Black and Blue where they benefit from creatures dealing damage to a player, as well as a Blue and Green Ramp/Copy creature theme. While I do think decks will come together in these colors, the subthemes shouldn’t make or break them.
And that about does it for the AFR Archetypes, as well as this guide.
I look forward to battling you all on Arena in the coming weeks and hopefully months. The set has interesting mechanics and is sure to hold some hidden treasures to unlock and find an edge until the metagame catches up. I will be back with an AFR Draft Guide when the time is right and feel like I have things figured. Historically that is right before Quick Draft goes live, which is July 23rd this time around. So be on the lookout around then, and I am finally feeling determined to stream again this summer, so you may just find me live on Twitch for the first time in almost 2 years (woah, time flies)!