D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR) Limited Set Review: Red
D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR)
It’s been quite the adventure, but the fourth Limited set review is now reddy! There are only two left after this before the full tier list is out, and I should have them done over the next couple of days. Keep an eye out and enjoy!
Who is rating?
I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began playing Magic a decade ago. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube, I’ve drafted dozens of sets. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited more than 50k gems with a winrate that is usually mid-70%s, and have made top 100 mythic many times. I’m an experienced Limited coach with testimonials from people who reached mythic with my help, check out details here if you’re interested!
- S: Ridiculous bomb: has a huge immediate impact on the game and threatens to dominate it if unanswered. Often hard to answer. (Professor Onyx, Kaya the Inexorable, Emeria’s Call)
- A: Bomb or one of the best cards in your deck, pulls you strongly into its colour. (A+: Tanazir Quandrix, A: Sparring Regimen, A-: Swords to Plowshares)
- B: Great playable: happy to pick early, pulls you into its colour or archetype. (B+: Igneous Inspiration, B: Returned Pastcaller B-: Frost Trickster)
- C+: Good playable that rarely gets cut, or very good in the right deck. (Pigment Storm, Karok Wrangler, Divide by Zero)
- C: Fine playable, sometimes gets cut. (Snow Day, Leech Fanatic, Fortifying Draught)
- C-: Mediocre playable or decent filler, gets cut around half the time. (Sudden Breakthrough, Arcane Subtraction, Vortex Runner)
- D: Medium to bad filler, gets cut a lot. (D+: Springmane Cervin, D: Hall Monitor, D-: Detention Vortex)
- F: Cards that are unplayable in the vast majority of decks. (Dragon’s Approach, Secret Rendezvous, Fracture since it’s a sideboard card in most sets)
Grades are based on maindeck power level; if a card is good in the sideboard, I will mention it in the review. Every grade can have a sub-grade within it, but the differences are most pronounced in the C-Category, so they have their own description. Beyond that, a B+ means it’s almost an A, but not quite.
Den of the Bugbear
This is another very powerful manland, and this one actually generates long-lasting value! In an Equipment-heavy set like this one, being able to keep the creatures flowing is a huge boon. It’s unfortunate that the Goblin comes in attacking, so it will often kill itself, but your opponent will certainly be too afraid to not leave back blockers if you have an Equipment or two in play.
This is a nice aggressive 2 drop, Menace being a great ability to grant to your buffed up creature. There are enough things that are good when equipped that it doesn’t massively stand out, but you won’t cut it too often either.
Remember that the existence of equipment in your deck in itself makes all your cheap creatures better, since you want to play them early and spend your later turns equipping, and it means they stay relevant to the game for far longer.
Red has a ton of dice roll effects, a full four reasonable commons, so this first level is much better than those of most other Class cards. Just making a bunch of cards in your deck slightly better, produce slightly more value more of the time, is very nice. It also makes you twice as likely to activate the powerful roll 20 abilities some cards have.
To get good use of the other two abilities, you have to be a beatdown deck but they’re cheap to use and represent a lot of damage as long as you’re rolling dice. Giving your stuff haste isn’t incredibly powerful for a final level, but it’ll make your topdecks a lot scarier, especially if they roll dice and can immediately get buffed up too.
Battle Cry Goblin
This is an excellent beatdown 2 drop, which makes your attacks in the mid game much more frightening. Giving both the token it creates and itself +1/+0 can lead to some pretty absurd alpha strikes where they’re forced to trade a real creature for the token or take a lot of damage, and if you happen to have other Goblins then it gets even better. You can even hold this card back and just send your Goblins in and whittle down their resources.
Boots of Speed
This particular equipment, I’m really not fond of. Remember that having too many Equipments can be a real problem for your deck, lowering its consistency by making your curve and topdecks much more awkward. Leave out weak ones like this that don’t have nearly enough of an effect, and play the handful of strong ones you’re happy to have.
This has a very poor attacking statline, but can threaten to whittle away at your opponent’s life total and potentially deal 4 or 5 damage over the course of the game, if your deck is well set up for it. Nevertheless, you have to draw it early for that and often creatures that attack well will do a similar amount..
Two mana Shock is still an okay rate, and if you play against Green then this card is insane. It’s rare for Red specifically not to have a weakness to Green creatures, so you might want to take this even higher if your other colour isn’t providing removal options against big stuff (like Green itself!).
This card is really good, boasting a reasonable statline and the potential to net you a ton of card advantage. Exiling two cards will almost always mean you hit something good, equipping this is amazing. The average case for it is that your opponent will kill it or you’ll get a 2 or 3 for 1, not even factoring in the potential for it to attack more than once…
This is a mediocre trick, with the usual weaknesses – it requires a very specific situation, it’s very bad when you’re behind, you have to play into instant speed removal, and the ceiling is never very high. Sure, sometimes you can kill them if they don’t block but that’s the only case where it’s better than a 1 for 1, and it’s a pretty winmore circumstance since you either need a really big creature or to have dealt them a ton of damage.
I don’t think the possibility of being able to return and reuse it really adds much to the card for me – even in a dedicated deck where you have lots of roll cards and one of the cards that lets you roll more than one die, it’ll take you a whole bunch of rolls to get this card back, and it doesn’t scale into the late game well at all.
Addendum: this is a pretty bad set for tricks, because they compound your weakness to removal – if you have a bunch of Equipment and tricks in your deck, you’re that much less likely to curve out properly with creatures. Both of them are reliant on creatures to do anything, so if you don’t have enough then you’ll just end up passing the turn back with several cards in hand. At least in that circumstance, a removal or utility spell would still do something. Equipment are better so you only want to play tricks if they’re very good.
Delina, Wild Mage
Delina is an incredibly strong card for attacking purposes, giving you at least one free copy of your best creature this turn. If you copy any expensive creature or anything with an enter the battlefield ability, you’re really just savaging your opponent. Consider how ridiculous Air-Cult Elemental specifically is with this card… you might need to take a shower after you do that to somebody.
She does take some work in that you have to have ways to push her through and a creature to copy, but you can just target her if you have nothing else (no, you won’t get to roll for the copy), and she’s pretty much the best Equipment target you can get.
This is solid efficient removal, whether you have dragons or not. Most decks won’t have many so it’s not worth a grade increase, but if you do get them, then sure you can blow away some 5 toughness creatures or whatever in the late game.
This is a pretty medium Equipment in most decks, since it’s extremely expensive after the first equip and the buff is just okay. Sometimes you’ll be able to use it as a trick to trade up with something, but that’s really not exciting when you then have to pay 4 mana and there aren’t a lot of common first strike creatures to combo with it.
It’s decent with Dwarfhold Champion and Armory Veteran specifically, and okay on small fliers, but that’s still spending two cards on something that doesn’t interact very well against removal since you get really far behind on tempo. You mostly want to stick to higher impact Equipment, for reasons I gave before and again in the tips section at the bottom.
This is a pretty medium 6 drop even if you have Goblin tokens and other easy things to sacrifice, because your opponent may well have disposable stuff of their own or not need a land or treasure token that much by turn 6. Still 6 mana 6/6 isn’t too bad a rate, and sometimes you can really get them.
You really don’t want vanilla 6-drops with meagre abilities and no keywords, especially in an Equipment set and within the most aggressive colour, so I don’t foresee most decks having the room or inclination for this. Still, it’s not terrible with trample and other evasive equipment, like Goblin Morningstar.
5 mana for 5 damage at instant speed makes this a fine removal spell, but it’s awkward that it has a 50% chance of hurting you. If you’re a slower deck, that might well be a huge problem. As such, it’s a good deal better in beatdown decks, but still the ceiling is nothing super exciting. Some decks will want to cut it and rely on the cheaper Red spells or their other colour, but the first copy is pretty much always okay.
This card is worse than it looks, because if your opponent is racing you then they just won’t care about it since it can’t block. Being unable to block is a massive issue that people often overlook, but the fact is that even dedicated beatdown decks often end up behind in Draft – it’s not hard to have an awkward curve-out on the draw, and it’s very important for decks to be dynamic and adaptive as a result. There are also more big fliers this set than most, especially since you can Equip smaller ones. Much of the removal in the set is aura-based, which stops this in its tracks completely.
Nonetheless, if you’re facing off against a slow deck then it’s insane and some decks straight up won’t be able to deal with it coming back over and over. It’s a card you might want to side out in some matchups and cut completely in the occasional slow deck that’s trying to go over the top, but most decks will be very happy to have it.
Some fast decks might want 1 drops badly enough to put up with this card, since it does attack into 2 drops and hold Equipment, but it’s never going to be very exciting or impactful. When Equip costs are so expensive, You’d rather just put them on better creatures, and you’re not really going wide so much as tall this set. Still, it is nice that it’s not a terrible topdeck sometimes since you can immediately equip it and get in there.
This is one where I really debated between D and D+, but I do think Red, being the most aggressive colour, is much more in the market for this than say Blue is for Silver Raven.
Well I just spent a bunch of time talking about how you don’t want too many Equipment, but this card is the one exception to that rule! When Equipment comes with creatures, it’s pretty exciting since you don’t have to sacrifice curveout potential or leave yourself as vulnerable to removal. Trample is an ability that remains impactful throughout the game, even if the stats buff on this is pretty meagre.
This still isn’t the most impactful or efficient card early, especially when you lose the 45-55, so don’t go too nuts and play more than a couple and don’t shave too many 2 drops because you have these.
Making a treasure is decent value and means that this can help out your splashes/ramp into 6 drops immediately. This is also a repeatable source of rolling for cards like Bronze Dwarf. Still, the Ogre has poor stats and the treasure tokens might not do that much if you have a land-heavy hand.
I like it more in Rakdos where there’s a bunch of synergies surrounding treasure and ways to sacrifice it for value.
Hobgoblin Bandit Lord
Most Red decks will have a few Goblins kicking around, and this is a great rate even if it only gets a ping or two in and buffs a creature or two. Once you factor in stuff like Swarming Goblins and Battle Cry Goblin, this combination of effects starts to really get out of hand!
This is an excellent beatdown 2 drop, staying relevant and threatening in the mid and late game. It’s not much to ask to have 3 other power worth of creatures attacking in most beatdown decks, and your opponents will be forced to uncomfortably remove this frequently, especially if you get to slap an Equipment on it.
The Bugbear is hard to cast but haste is a strong ability with Equipment, and the card is efficient enough to be worth the risk. Go out of your way to take Evolving Wilds and Temple of the Dragon Queen highly as I’ve recommended, and cards like this become a lot more palatable!
3 mana for 2 damage at sorcery speed is a really mediocre rate, but this does refund 1 of the mana instantly if you need it to and enable your splashes/ramps you to a 5 next turn. It’s still not a card I’d really prioritise or want to play more than 1 of.
Inferno of the Star Mounts
This dragon bomb immediately does a bunch of damage, and then threatens way more the turn after – it’s hard to imagine 9 or so damage not presenting lethal if they don’t immediately kill it, and it’s not easy to do that since it dodges lots of the set’s removal.
It’s a real achievement to even have enough red sources to win with the 20 damage ability, if you were to draw your entire deck!
I don’t think Treasure tokens are so plentiful that this won’t usually be a 4 mana 4/3, but it’s pretty good when you do have access to them and it becomes a much better topdeck in the late game as a result. Still, it’s nothing too exciting and you’ll certainly want to stay away if you don’t have at least four or five ways to create Treasures or to venture (remember that the second path of Lost Mine of Phandelver makes a Treasure token).
Kick in the Door
I don’t think this is worth a card in the vast majority of decks. A 1/1 counter and haste just isn’t worth that much. Venturing is at its best only when you have a bunch of other ways to do it, and ironically if you do then you don’t need mediocre ways like this as much. Still, if it’s important to complete a Dungeon quickly for some of your payoffs, then this can be a fine card to include.
This sort of occupies the same slot as a trick, where it doesn’t do anything without a creature, and I’m hesitant to play cards like that alongside Equipment.
3 damage split as you choose is great, often letting you kill two creatures. Oftentimes you can do stuff like attack and use the spare 1 damage to set up a trade alongside killing an x/2, and it’s nice that this is one of the few burn spells in the set that can go face.
This card does a very good one-sided wrath impression if you cast it for x=3 or so.
Minion of the Mighty
Eww, no. By the time you get to 6 power with absolutely zero help from this, you can just cast the darn dragon! (well, soon enough)
Orb of Dragonkind
You’re really just not going to have enough Dragons, let’s be real. In the very rare case where you do have 4 or 5 of them, well it’s a pretty medium source of ramp and a really slow way to search one up…
There are enough good artifacts to kill that I’m happy to take the first copy of this pretty highly. The failcase of it fixing your splashes, providing Treasure for your synergies, or sacrifice fodder for your Rakdos deck isn’t too bad either.
Price of Loyalty
This is mainly a synergy card, and the place where I’m happy to play it is in the Rakdos sacrifice deck, where you can get rid of the creature for value once you’re done with it. However I’m somewhat interested in it in general beatdown decks too, since decks in this format are going tall with Equipment a lot so this has enough one-shot potential that I’ll be maindecking it a good deal more than in other sets.
4 is a lot of damage, and this is a decently efficient body. I suspect pretty much every beatdown deck will be happy to have this card, despite their wanting 6 drops less than other strategies.
I don’t like it that much in slower decks and think you can do better there a lot of the time, but it’s never going to be all that bad.
While I don’t think treasure tokens are going to be so plentiful that you’ll just go around one-shotting people with this ability, threat of activation makes this really hard to block and first strike is a very high demand ability in an Equipment set. It’s hard to get disposable artifacts outside of treasure tokens, and I don’t really want to play stuff like Potion of Healing unless I have several of these, an uncommon, so it’s a low C+.
Remember when playing this sort of card, that sometimes it’s not worth trading your artifacts off for their creatures – if they block with a vanilla 1/3 or something, maybe you want the Treasure token more, and it’s not like you really want to be trading Equipment or other real artifacts for their creatures unless you have to. Beware your opponent’s open mana too – with this sort of card, I’m always looking to make blocks, wait for my opponent to use it a bunch, and then blow them out with a removal spell.
I’m starting this card pretty high, but it kind of does exactly what Red wants. Multiple bodies are great for giving your Equipment longevity, this is great with cards like You See a Pair of Goblins or Battle Cry Goblin and with black sacrifice synergies, and it’s not really even that understatted. 55% to get at least 6/5 worth of stats and 45% to get 5/4 is pretty reasonable in my book, and the 4/3 can still attack reasonably. This is also a great way to get value off the second dice roll enablers, since getting two Goblins is so much better than one.
I debated between C and low C+ here. As usual, you don’t want too many 5 drops and I could see moving this down just on the basis of there being better competition. Ultimately though this is enough value and has enough synergy that I don’t plan to cut it too much for the moment.
Dealing damage equal to the sacrificed creature’s power kills this card a bit – at that point, you’re just not getting that exciting value. Trading a Goblin token for a high value x/1 or throwing your bigger creature into their bomb, these are the best case scenarios, but a lot of the time it just won’t do much. This statline is pretty bad and I think you can mostly do better on 5s.
I don’t generally tend to like looting effects like Thrill of Possibility that much in Limited, but this is enough value that I’m more interested. Still, no Red beatdown deck really wants to play this – you need to be a slower deck and be splashing, have good treasure token synergies, or some big dragons to play, and that’s limited enough demand that I won’t want to take this highly.
This can be a really powerful combat trick with Rust Monster, but it’s very hard to get multiples of a specific uncommon. Still, that synergy is certainly reason to play it more often.
This is understatted, but this is a solid beatdown ability. It’s a good way to enable an attack into a bigger creature or to apply additional pressure alongside evasive units. I’d be a lot more excited about this card if it were a 3/2 and were good in a brawl itself, but I don’t foresee cutting it all that much in my Red beatdown decks either.
Surprisingly, Red doesn’t really have that many good 3s in the format. The 2 drop slot has gotten a lot more attention this set than in previous ones (which is why I’m a lot more excited about beatdown decks, and which makes Equipment better), so you might want to take 3 drops a little higher on that basis – the good Equipment is generally pretty expensive, not something you can just run out and get value on turn 3.
Wish is sadly pretty terrible in Draft. You’re picking from among the cards in your sideboard that didn’t make your maindeck, and well those cards didn’t make it for a reason – if you add 3 mana to their cost, that doesn’t really help!
I had a friend play Wish in a deck where they were producing a bunch of Treasure tokens and intended to get Tiamat (a 5-colour card) from their sideboard in the rare situations where they could make enough, and that’s a very creative way to do things and potentially powerfuI, but it’s a very rare insanely late game proposition and Wish would be bad every other time. If you have a ton of situational cards that are good in certain matchups, then Wish can be decent in that scenario too, but 3 mana is usually just too much to pay. I think it’s potentially a fun thing to play, rather than something that actually increases your winrate, and this D- grade is honestly pretty generous from me…
Treasure tokens do tend to fall off in the later game, and oftentimes one is enough for your splashes or whatever, but there’s enough synergy that I’m reasonably excited for this card. Having that extra ammo for Rust Monster or Black sacrifice synergies can be great, and there are some cards like Ingenious Smith that this is very good with.
Still, I just don’t think there’s quite enough enablers or payoffs for this card to get a higher grade -you need to be making Treasures already and then have ways to make them maintain their relevance. Sometimes just mana sinks can help, since you can always just get an extra activation, but that’s not really that exciting.
You Come to the Gnoll Camp
I’m not very fond of this card – +3/+1 is very poor stats for a trick since you have to 2 for 1 yourself to kill most things, and preventing blocks for a turn is an effect that has been historically overrated in my opinion. The problem is that you have to already have a bunch of creatures and be in very specific situations for that first effect to be good – it’s often very winmore since they have to be on a pretty low life total or you have to have lots more creatures than they do. This one still lets them block which makes it much harder to push through lethal – they’re probably going to have chump blockers especially since Venture produces fodder tokens.
Ultimately, the pick of two bad options isn’t a card I’m going to take at all highly, but it’s okay filler in some decks, and better the more dedicated an aggressive deck you are.
You Find Some Prisoners
This is another modal card that is mostly the pick of pretty two situational options. There are some really good artifacts to destroy this set, and you can always just cantrip this if you need to, but the problem is that your opponent’s deck is not going to have synergy with yours – your cards will generally be better for you than theirs are, unless you get really lucky and spike a bomb or whatever. Three cards isn’t a lot to look at, you sometimes won’t have enough mana to cast say a 6 drop if you play this on turn 4 (which yeah, you want to double spell 2 drops!), and often you’ll just have to make do with a land.
Still, this isn’t a horrible card – it’s medium filler that you can maindeck in a slower deck and not be too unhappy. I would avoid this in my beatdown decks – it’s just too inefficient and situational, and it’s better just to play a unit than try to spike a unit with it.
You See a Pair of Goblins
This is a much better modal card, because it has a consistent decent option and a powerful situational mode that can often win you some games. Even if you have to use the Goblins mode 9 times out of 10, you’re getting a fine deal with all the Equipment running around, and two Goblins at instant speed can be pretty good for ambushing x/1s/with the couple of Goblin synergies out there.
Multiples of these aren’t even too bad, since these effects have synergy with one another. The card is still kind of low impact mostly, but plenty of my beatdown decks will be happy to have it.
Zalto, Fire Giant Duke
Spending 5 mana on a creature that trades with 3/xs isn’t too exciting, but once again Equipment helps this a lot – being suddenly able to bash for 10 can be pretty incredible. This is a must answer card with Equipment, and you can get some value off it trading, so I’m not going to give it a horrible grade.
Still, it’s nothing too exciting either – I want my 5 drops to stand on their own merits, and often this will trade down on mana and deal a little damage or just get removed for no value.
Zariel, Archduke of Avernus
This card might look a little underwhelming to some of you, but trust me it’s fantastic. Tibalt, Rakish Instigator was a great card in War of the Spark Limited – these little Devil tokens make it really hard for your opponent to attack into you and often trade up for real stuff, and this card can make any number while Tibalt could only make two. The Devils are guaranteed damage since you can always just attack with them and deal 1 damage regardless of your opponent does so every turn they leave this in play, the board becomes scarier and scarier. It’s really hard to pressure planeswalkers in Limited, and your opponent will need fliers to break through this so just save your removal spells for those or find some way to sacrifice the Devils and take them down.
Eventually making the Devils into big threats with the first ability or just letting you attack for more damage is nice too, but I expect that for the most part you just want to spit out Devils until you can make a really big alpha strike. This ultimate ability is kind of whatever, and seems usually worse to go for it than to make Devils.
AFR Tips from this article:
- The format seems to have more good 2s than 3s, so you want to take good 3s a little higher than you would normally. It’s very important to curve out in your beatdown decks early, and 3 drops are a big part of that – Equip costs are too expensive for you to rely on those to fill that gap mostly. This goes for Red most of all, but I think other colours have less good 3s than usual too.
- Black is the obvious pairing for Red, with the best synergy. White is a strong aggro pair, Blue has some antisynergy but a strong spells core, and Red Green doesn’t really have much synergy but it’s historically been one of the best pairings, just because Green struggles with removal and Red has lots, and Red doesn’t have beefy creatures to beat down with. I don’t think Red Green is great in this set though – Red can just use Equipment to make beefy creatures, and the removal is better in Black than Red so you’d rather go in that direction. Perhaps that’ll change after I review Green though, I may revisit and rethink this conclusion after that!
- If you’re making Treasure tokens by turn 3, 5 drops get a little better in your deck and you end up needing 4 drops less. Obviously this goes for other ramp too – Green decks with 2 mana ramp will want to prioritise 4s a bit more and can cut 3s a bit more aggressively, and if you’re making the Treasure tokens on turn 2 then 4 mana is the sweet spot. However, I’ve noticed in this set (and maybe this is a little bias from having just done Red) that the 5 drop plays are where things start to get really powerful so one-shots like Treasure tokens, I’m more looking to save for that point.
- Red is the single best fixing colour this set, with a significant lead over Black. What that means is that you can afford to take splash cards higher in Red. Treasure tokens are a bit awkward for this purpose though, since they’re not a full source – they’re a one-shot and you want to be able to use them on other things/for your synergies
The source count I would aim for if you’re relying on Treasure tokens only is about 4-5 for a two-card splash. If you have to, you can do one card with three but it means you can’t use the first Treasure token for any other purpose – you need to just leave it in play and hope for the best. I wouldn’t do two cards with three – that’s going to mess you up way too much. Remember that Evolving Wilds and Temple of the Dragon Queen will help with this a lot, and they can make your whole situation much more comfortable.
You can sometimes splash by using two Venture triggers to fix by going down Lost Mine of Phandelver and making a Treasure, but I’d make sure they were reliable sources of Venture e.g. enter the battlefield effects, and that you had plenty of them – two triggers isn’t always that easy to get.
- Equipment, combat tricks, and utility spells that require/buff creatures kind of all occupy the same deckbuilding space. The more you put in, the more vulnerable you are to removal-heavy decks and to inconsistent draws. That means you want to be aiming to pick up the truly good Equipment and the truly good tricks – you want to ignore the weaker stuff in packs a lot and cut it when building. Now that I’ve written that, it sounds like a really obvious statement, but what it means for the environment is that these weaker cards will constantly be wheeling – if your decks really need them, you still don’t really have to go out of your way in the draft. You can just let the mediocre combat tricks and equipment come to you if you don’t have many others or your deck is exceptionally good for them.
See Blue and Introduction for tips from previous articles. Stay tuned for Green next!