Hello again folks, I hope you have been enjoying your time in the Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR). I must apologize for being about a week late on this guide. I have been in the process of moving into a new house and prepping for a new job, so this simply had to go on the backburner. I’ve still been sneaking in drafts though, and feel ready to share some insights on the set now that it is live in all formats.
If you are hoping for me to swoop in and advocate for a contrarian archetype like Azorius Venture or something, I am sorry to disappoint there as well. There is a reason why Black-Red is widely considered the best pairing in the format. Well, there are actually several reasons and I’d like to explore them a bit before we move on to some concrete recommendations for how to draft this set.
Why is AFR so Aggro?
I think most people would point at two-drops to explain this, but I actually don’t think they are all that powerful except for these guys:
Decks that can curve out around cards like this feel oppressive, but really what I think enables Aggro decks is the weakness of the alternatives. For example, value-based archetype do have some spells which look quite promising on paper:
Both of these present great value, but the reality is it is too easy for Aggro archetypes to get under creatures like this and/or remove them with the likes of Dragon’s Fire or Magic Missile. Additionally, the Venture mechanic is a bit too slow with the current dungeons. I think wizards wanted to be measured in introducing such a left-field mechanic, but they erred too much on the side of caution.
These factors have led players to prioritize two-drops regardless of the deck strategy. The thing is – if you are going to flood your deck with cheap spells you might as well be tooling your deck to be Aggro. A deck trying to use a bunch of cheap fodder in the hopes of playing some expensive stuff later is almost always going to lose to more streamlined attack-oriented decks.
So, if I am pulled into White I am generally passing on Planar Ally and am much more interested in drafting these guys:
Both of these trade favorably and gain life, helping you get to your higher mana-value stuff or simply going tit for tat with other Aggro decks (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?). While I do think White has some tools to support a good deck, I stand by my recommendation of biasing Red and Black from my pre-release articles. The average card quality is outstanding in those colors (especially Red), and the archetype can basically do everything. Let’s take a closer look:
Kalain is an insane card, and paints a nice picture what to expect from this archetype. Treasure is finally something to be feared, allowing decks to Ramp into more expensive spells or set up a big tempo turn. It is hard to understate how impactful incidental Ramp can be for an Aggro deck.
And Kalain itself demands removal, which is painful to give up on a 2-mana 1/2. I’ve had plenty of hands with my Black-Red decks which felt unbeatable on the play unless my opponent somehow drew 3+ removal spells. Look no further than the Uncommons to see why:
All of these Uncommons are great reasons to get into these colors, and strong signals that they may even be open. Quick Draft bots don’t seem to give the colors special preference as of yet, so I think it is going to be correct a lot of the time to be in one or both.
The combination of aggressive options, the best removal suite of any color pairing, abundant reach damage, and ramp potential make Black-Red too good to pass up in most draft pools.
Creatures like Skullport Merchant, Death-Priest, and Chaos Channeler to wonders in creating value if and when games get extended. I also love Reaper’s Talisman for this reason, as it allows you to win games as long as you don’t completely run out of creatures.
And there is plenty of support at common too:
Hobgoblin Captain is definitely the best creature here, but even the 3-mana 2/2’s overperform in this archetype. Plundering Barbarian in particular was a sleeper for most players, having lots of good targets and extra Treasure generation can be huge for some decks. I had one with 2 Kalain and an Adult Gold Dragon to splash:
Having the ability to splash stuff like this without running any extra colors of land is huge. Even if I didn’t have 5+ Treasure generators in the deck, I could have run 1x Plains with an Evolving Wilds to create two more sources rather easily.
On the removal side of things, Dragon’s Fire and Grim Bounty are clearly our best options at Common, but the 2 damage stuff overperforms as well. Most 2 and 3 drops have 2 toughness, setting up really advantageous situations to use Improvised Weaponry or Precipitous Drop.
Now, let’s talk a bit how to build this archetype in the current metagame.
Early on I was able to get away with greedier decks like this one:
On some level it is a testament to the power of Treasure and these colors that a midrange build like this was ever able to go 7-1, but I would not attempt this again in the current meta. In all honesty, I have only had a few 7-X decks with this set and my average is closer to 5-3 (winrate is just under 70%).
I think the main reason I am doing a little worse than normal with this set is the ubiquity of Aggro. It makes the format somewhat ‘coinflippy’ and shorter games tend to provide less opportunity to outplay your opponent. The other reason is there are a lot of Rares that can take over the game.
AFR is essentially a core set, and its lower power level creates a large discrepancy between its average spell and its strong Rares. I would not go as far to say this ruins the format or even makes it unfun, but it is still a key feature of the format and provides yet another reason to run Aggro. Preventing your opponent from drawing through their deck helps decrease the chances of them finding their bombs.
So I’ve been advocating Aggro a lot and talking about ‘getting under’ your opponents, but what does this actually look like?
Here is my ideal composition for AFR:
- 17 Creatures
- 6-7 Noncreatures (4-5 removal spells)
- 16-17 Land
- 1-Drops: 0-2
- 2-Drops: 6-8
- 3-Drops: 5-7
- 4+: 4
- Off-Curve Spells: 6
- Land: 16
Having a composition like this will maximize your chances of curving out and overwhelming your opponent. It is important to classify your draft picks in a couple ways in order to accomplish this. Most importantly, separate the spells you are likely to play off-curve. Dragon’s Fire for example would not be considered a 2-drop, even though you could play it on second turn. This is because it would usually make sense to play a creature on turn 2 and use your spot removal later on. Some cards are trickier, such as You See a Pair of Goblins:
This can get more subjective, but in my view this card is both a Creature and a 3-drop. This is because I would rather cast this as Creatures most of the time, and would generally do that third turn rather than waiting on it. Having the other mode is great, and I’ve blown some people out with it, but when considering deck composition I am happy to think of this as a Creature/3-drop. For further discussion on this topic I would recommend checking out one of my most popular articles, there is a lot of general strategy in there that is more relevant than ever in AFR.
One thing you may have noticed in my sample curve is only four more expensive spells. This number can certainly fluctuate depending on Treasure and land count, but for a 16 land deck you need to keep it pretty tight. With 17 lands and some Ramp stuff you could go higher, but I don’t advise going anywhere close to the greed of the Black-Red deck above. That was very early in the format and players have largely adapted to the snappier metagame these days.
Ultimately, I recommend prioritizing your 2-and-3 drops. This will often mean taking a ‘worse’ lower mana value spell at the expense of passing a 4+ mana spell, and that is okay. There are plenty of decent spells like Swarming Goblins and Zombie Ogre to top your curve with, and you can usually get them late.
What about Blue and Green?
While I am advocating a bias toward Black and Red in this article, that doesn’t mean you can completely ignore signals. It will still sometimes be correct to find yourself in other archetypes, so let’s talk about that.
In this draft which ended up 7-2, I got pulled into Blue by a couple strong Rares:
And I got pulled into Green by some signals:
Seeing these spells later in a pack (and there are more I didn’t see such as Purple Worm and Hunter’s Mark) signal that Green is open. An open color in AFR will often bring it at least to parity with Black/Red. Owlbear in particular is an amazing card and does a great job locking down the board and giving you a leg up against Aggro. It is probably my favorite non-removal option for shutting down pesky Hobgoblin Captains with first strike.
Do note that I built this deck with similar parameters to what I outlined for Aggro. You really can’t fall behind in this format, and running sufficient creatures is imperative (especially when some of your removal is dependent on you having them).
Here is another Blue-Red example:
You can see from the extra cards I was building into Green-Red, but I kept getting passed d20 synergy stuff and pivoted. While Blue is definitely one of the weaker colors in the set, this deck was packing plenty of removal to support it and benefit from the card advantage. Having Battle-Cry Goblin and Hobgoblin Bandit Lord in the same deck with several other goblins didn’t hurt things either. Red can be an absolute house in this set when it is available, to the point where you could pair almost anything with it and be successful.
I hope you found my tips in here useful for your future drafts. It will be interesting to see if the bots get tweaked to gobble up Red and Black more in Quick Draft. In player drafts I have been seeing the colors get crowded sometimes, so be prepared to pivot and read the signals in those formats. Still, coming in with a bias toward Black-Red will often push the players to your left elsewhere in pack 1 and keep the goodies flowing in pack 2. I will usually try for that and if pack 2 feels super dry I look to get into the open archetype.
Overall I have been enjoying the set and hope you have been as well. It seems fairly polarized, with some players really digging it and others being really turned off when they are blown out by Rares or having Aggro decks eating their lunch. I still think there is time for the meta to evolve again, and if players can find ways to disrupt Aggro efficiently, we may end up with a healthier metagame in August. I am excited to have Innistrad right around the corner in mid-September as well. See you on the ladder!