Eldritch Moon draft is passing the quality test—the more I draft it, the more I want to jump in another queue! I’m constantly intrigued by the depth of card interactions and the broad archetypes. Most color combinations have the ability to be aggressive or controlling since there are low-to-the-ground creatures all the way up to big expensive bombs in each color, plus accessible removal at different points in the curve across colors. This makes for a diversified experience within each color combination, yet the designers and developers did a great job making the various color pairs play differently. Today I’ll look at RW, as it’s one of the archetypes I’ve drafted most early on.
Part of what impresses me most about EMN is that RW is the classic aggressive archetype, established by solid creatures backed by combat tricks and removal spells. Yet after drafting several times, I found that it can be a streamlined 16-land deck or a 17-land midrange deck that wins with bigger creatures like Vildin-Pack Outcast.
Either way, the deck leans more aggressively than other color combinations. Maintaining a focus on curve will net many of your wins, and picking the right spots to try to win combats is of the utmost importance to the success of the archetype. Usually this means firing off combat tricks whenever possible, since staying ahead on board presence and tempo while forgoing the late game is the most common path to victory. But that’s not always the case. RW has access to both Borrowed Grace and Subjugator Angel as ways to break board stalls, so at times it might be tempting to use a ton of resources to deal a few points of damage, but that will always depend on exactly what you’ve drafted. Because board stalls do happen, especially when the game isn’t going exactly how the RW deck wants it to, I like to try and make sure I’ve picked up at least 1 Borrowed Grace.
What makes RW a more compelling aggressive strategy than some of the other color combinations? Combat tricks. Green’s tricks are very poor now, and I’ve had to begrudgingly play Woodcutter’s Grit on more than one occasion. RW doesn’t have that problem, with access to more cheap tricks than any other color combination. Pack 3 is also very rewarding in this department since Strength of Arms is one of the best tricks you can have, and offers up True-Faith Censer and Spiteful Motives as fantastic ways for your creatures to break through as your opponent tries to stabilize. As a side note, Auras like Spiteful Motives have gotten even better thanks to Ironclad Slayer, and every once in a while it’s possible to recur Skin Invasion for additional value after you’re able to trade off your Skin Shredder.
In addition to combat tricks, RW also has access to really cheap answers like Galvanic Bombardment and Choking Restraints which can both be used early to apply pressure. Restraints requires more of a judgment call since you’ll usually want to save it for a bigger creature, but remember that your opponent will usually have a stream of heavy-hitters in the late game that you simply won’t have access to as the RW player. This means you should be a little more liberal with your use of Choking Restraints to simply deal damage than you might in a midrange or controlling strategy. Of course, as I mentioned, some RW decks can be slower and more midrange-y, in which case saving your Restraints is better, and the number of Ironclad Slayers you pick up should also help inform how early you should use it.
Thanks to the tricks and removal, you’ll be able to consistently put your opponent on the back foot. That’s when cards like Fiend Binder and Voldaren Duelist truly shine. Other archetypes aren’t even interested in Fiend Binder because it’s the type of card that’s only really good at doing one thing, but that singular focus is good in RW. Holding back 2 creatures often won’t be good enough against RW because the Binder will be backed up by a trick, removal spell, or maybe even just a temporary pump by a Guardian of Pilgrims to force ineffective blocks. Once I’m in the archetype, I like picking up Fiend Binder aggressively for this reason.
How do I end up in RW?
Other than opening up a bomb in RW, the most common ways I find myself getting into the deck are the red and white removal spells, and to a lesser extent, an early Brazen Wolves. The reason the Wolves lead toward red/white is because they are so much better in an aggressive strategy, and while they fit in RB well, they aren’t Vampires, and they certainly work in RG, but that deck ends up leaning more midrange. UR can use the Wolves but has better 3s, such as Ingenious Skaab and Weaver of Lightning.
Beyond those few starting cards, I find I end up in RW when the 2 colors are more open than others. The color pair is not entirely dependent on key synergies and for that reason it’s a reliable strategy any time the colors are open in your seat. Sure, you’d prefer to have Fiend Binders and Brazen Wolves in your deck, but if red and white are open and those specific cards just aren’t opened, you’ll still end up with a good RW deck. EMN truly rewards flexible drafting since I think the 10 color pairs are extremely close in power level compared to some other recent formats. After 30+ drafts early in the format, I can say confidently I’ve seen each color pair work out great, and I try to just follow the packs as I draft. This leads me to going all-in on some deck like UR spells or UG emerge less than I would in a draft format where I felt jumping in early for a big payoff was worth the risk. Perhaps that’s why I’ve drafted more straightforward decks, though stay tuned for future draft guides as I’m sure I’ll be exploring more of those niches moving forward.
What are RW’s weaknesses?
RW can beat anything given its strong curve potential, but that same strength is also the deck’s weakness. When RW doesn’t curve out properly or maintain enough pressure to cross the finish line quickly, its strengths can peter out. The deck wants to function as a sprinter and at times does well at running a mile, but don’t ever pretend that RW is a marathon runner.
In addition, the deck is particularly weak to re-tricks. Luckily for RW decks, that’s generally difficult to achieve in EMN Limited, but I’ve found that I needed my trick to go right on turn 6 or 7 often enough and been blown out a few times by an opposing combat trick that I have a healthy respect for open mana. That said, I haven’t been punished nearly enough in these situations, so I generally just say go for it. Due to the pressure the deck presents, your opponent won’t have the necessary reactive cards or key critical mana open on the turns where you need to use your combat tricks.
- Lupine Prototype is bad in RW. Trust me, I’ve tried. But Wolf robots are still sweet and you can’t convince me otherwise.
- Uncaged Fury is still the bee’s knees.
- Mana sinks are a highly sought after commodity for RW since they shore up the deck’s main weakness.
- Galvanic Bombardment is great. But it’s even better when you have 3 copies.
- Don’t worry about madnessing stuff since white won’t help you with that very much. But Bloodmad Vampire is stellar in the archetype since it’s so easy to connect in combat given RW’s tricks, removal, and Fiend Binders.
Good luck in the draft queues and enjoy nuance in an otherwise straightforward archetype!