There’s almost always a best deck in Standard. Occasionally you’ll see a two-deck format, like we had before the Felidar Guardian banning, but even there you’d have strong Mardu or 4-color Saheeli partisans. Things are different when it comes to drafting. Most Draft formats won’t have a “best deck,” because the best deck you can draft will be the one most open in your seat. This principle is still true in Amonkhet Limited, and yet, when I sit down to the draft table, the deck I most hope is open is R/W.
Why R/W? Frankly, it is the most powerful, most consistent archetype, that will most frequently lead to winning that particular Draft. This isn’t to say you can’t win with other decks. But if you could pick any archetype to be open in your seat, you would choose R/W.
I’ve noticed some common pitfalls in drafting other color pairs in the format. In my article about G/B counters, I mentioned U/G ramp and how awesome of a deck it is, but also the caveat that a lot has to go right to pull off a great version. It needs enough early game to survive, you have to have enough bombs that the deck is actually worth drafting, and you need the right support cards to merit ramping into those bombs while falling behind on board. Can this succeed? Absolutely! Will it succeed frequently? Absolutely not.
What needs to go right for R/W? You need to draft red and white cards. That may sound like a facetious answer, but ultimately I believe red and white are deep enough and naturally build an aggressive deck that more often than not you’ll have a reasonable deck by assembling one filled with red and white cards. You can get into the deck by opening an on-color bomb, but also due to the average strength of the color pair’s cards. If I brick on a bomb but pick 1 pack 1 an Electrify, Magma Spray, Gust Walker, or even an Emberhorn Minotaur, I’m not going to be that upset. Compare this to some of the other colors like blue where you don’t have true standout commons but instead a long list of role-player commons that eventually make up the deck.
Okay, you get it. I think R/W is a great archetype and so should you. Let’s look at the cards and how they can go in varying types of R/W. I believe R/W functions best as a hyper all-in aggressive deck, but when that doesn’t come together a midrange R/W deck that leans aggressive still works. I’ll clarify these differences on the card breakdowns. Note that I’ll only be discussing commons and uncommons, since rares are nice but won’t govern the overall shape of your Draft much past the first pick.
Magma Spray gives you a huge tempo advantage and lets you attack without giving your opponent a chance to catch up. It’s quite bad later in the game, but you aren’t looking to get to that point. I’ve had decks with 3 Magma Sprays and feared that would be too much, but then every time I’d draw one it would be excellent. This is my number 1 go-to common in the archetype because it isn’t a replaceable effect.
Fan Bearer is awesome and I like having 1-2 of them in R/W. It doesn’t attack all that well, but even in the 1- land all-in versions you’ll still eventually find extra mana to use with Fan Bearer. My favorite part of the card is that it often neutralizes two blockers on a key turn by tapping on your opponent’s turn and then your own. Usually this is enough of a window to claim victory.
The Inciter has been described as “the red Elvish Mystic.” Elvish Mystic can ramp out a 3-drop on turn 2, and lets you attack with that 3-drop on turn 3. Inciter hastes your 3-drop on turn 3 and lets you attack with it right away. Elvish Mystic allows your creature to come down a turn earlier to block, but the Inciter is actually better in red decks even without this advantage. The fact that your opponent doesn’t know what creature will be hasted will lead to a lot of uncertainty for them on which creatures to attack with and which to hold back. Maybe they play conservatively and you didn’t even have a good creature. Or they’re too aggressive and you get to haste a really powerful threat like a Combat Celebrant your opponent wasn’t accounting for. That can be the game right there. I like having 1 Inciter in my more midrange R/W decks and 2 in the all-in ones.
Cartouche gets better the more Trials you have and the fewer Inciters you’ve picked up. I like that it packs an extra punch in a deck full of exert creatures, and is incredibly difficult to plan for. I don’t like taking it early though, and prefer to pick it up on a need-be basis as the Draft goes on.
Flameblade Adept ranges from the best card in your deck to unplayable depending on your specific plan. Some R/W decks will have ways to trigger the Adept multiple times with a multitude of cyclers. Importantly, you need to really want damage, because the body itself gets outclassed pretty quickly otherwise. In a go-wide plan though, this creature is effectively unblocked damage every turn. When I happen to pick up 2 copies, the first Honed Khopesh goes up in value a little and becomes a card I don’t mind running to boost my evasive creatures.
Cartouche just doesn’t make your creatures big enough. Djeru’s Resolve is a fine trick but nothing special, because again your creatures aren’t all that big. The more exert you have, the better it gets. Additionally, cycling cards just aren’t as good in R/W. You want to spend your mana attacking, not spinning your wheels. Consuming Fervor can be okay, but I want some payoffs for it. It’s nice with Pathmaker Initiate because you can often hit for 5 unblockable on the first turn, and it also pairs well with Brute Strength or Fling for massive damage. If you don’t have any of these cards in your deck, it’s better to sideline this card.
Sacred Cat just doesn’t advance your plan. It only has 1 power, no evasion, and the lifelink is mostly irrelevant. You have better options. Clearly the other two cards are off-theme/strictly sideboard material.
Gust Walker is just the best 2-drop and even competes with removal in the Draft—it’s just that good. I’ll decide whether or not I want Gust Walker given what I already have. If I need a 2-drop vs. removal, it makes the choice a lot easier. Early on, I like Magma Spray -> Gust Walker -> other commons and uncommons. The ability to deal 6 evasive damage over the last few turns of the game is unparalleled except in higher rarity cards.
R/W wants to go wide, which means the Crop-Captain will always be outstanding. It’s still a gold card, so be careful about picking it too early, but once you’re in R/W the card is quite strong. Between haste granters, tappers, and means of granting evasion you can often find ways to cheat in extra hits with the Captain when you would normally have to trade with a 2-power creature. My favorite play though is to combine her with Manticore of the Gauntlet and Pathmaker Initiate for unblockable pumps, though sadly you won’t get to do this too many times because your opponent will have already lost.
I’ll admit I’m kind of down on Compulsory Rest, but it’s still a decent Pacifism. There’s always a tension between using the card to push through damage or to save it for a truly big creature. I always make that decision based on my board presence. The bigger the board, the more willing I am to just kill something small and keep attacking. If your opponent finds a convenient window to sacrifice that small creature, it probably means you used your card incorrectly. They should be using their mana to try to stabilize.
While Bloodrage Brawler is a bit all-in, that’s exactly what you want in R/W. There aren’t that many ways to just punish playing the Brawler, and hasting it on turn 2 off an Inciter is one of the scariest starts in the entire format. The midrange R/W decks are less interested in this effect because the card disadvantage will matter more, and your opponent will also have more time to set up profitable trades. The more red Cartouches, pump spells, and Inciters in your deck, the more the Brawler will prevail.
This list is the most telling reason the deck is so good. Just look how long that list is. More importantly, many of these cards are interchangeable. I want 1-2 2-mana pump spells in my R/W decks, but I don’t care too much whether it’s Mighty Leap or Brute Strength. I want about 6-8 2-drop creatures, but outside of the great ones, the rest are all within striking distance of each other. You might be a bit surprised to see Trueheart Duelist here, but the blocking text isn’t that relevant, and while the creature has embalm, a bear coming back isn’t all that exciting.
Nef-Crop Entangler and Pathmaker Initiate are both better than Nimble-Blade Khenra, but I like alternating them since they shine under different circumstances. I’ll take my first Entangler over my second Initiate most of the time.
The Priest is like Sacred Cat—just not what R/W wants. I’ll be bold and declare Impeccable Timing a bad card in R/W. It’s just not good when your opponent gets to block first. I’ll play the card if and only if I have no other removal, just to have some interaction. Tormenting Voice is too durdle-y for R/W, and In Oketra’s Name helps the go-wide plan but just doesn’t pump enough to warrant inclusion.
These are all reasons to go into R/W. The Monument takes over any long game, something that R/W can struggle with. The white Trial functions similarly, as does the red Trial when paired with Cartouches, though both are stellar on their own regardless. Ahn-Crop Crasher is the last premium 3, but the only card here I wouldn’t take over Magma Spray. The card is very good, but can still be replicated in part via red Cartouche paired with efficient creatures.
The Crop-Mate plays well into R/W’s plan. Your opponent will want to trade whenever possible and this punishes that. The Initiate and Lizard are both good efficient creatures and the Lizard is a higher pick in low-to-the-ground R/W while Initiate provides more utility to higher curve 16-land R/W builds.
These all play different roles, but you should be fine playing any of them. Those Who Serve looks pretty bad, but actually attacks decently because only giant creatures effectively block it. I’m not as high on the Spearmaster as some other exert creatures, mostly because you have to exert it to attack at all. At that point your opponent takes 4 or throws a bad creature under the bus. The card is still fine overall though.
Minotaur Sureshot probably gets the bump up in midrange builds. For the aggro decks, you often won’t have enough mana to really take advantage of the pump, though the combination with Pathmaker Initiate is not to be undervalued. Lastly, Vizier of Deferment might be listed a bit low to some, but a 3-mana 2/2 just isn’t very large. The card gets better with a bunch of exert creatures because you can get extra attacks in, but I’m much more in favor of the card in midrange white color pairs.
Nice, a short list. R/W is great!
You don’t want many 4s in R/W, but both of these are worth running even in extremely aggressive decks. 15-land R/W decks can still afford to run 3-5 4-drops if they’re high enough quality, and these pass that bar. Electrify does get clunky in multiples, so be aware. The Minotaur just has absurd stats and does the heavy lifting of closing games similar to what some uncommons would. It’s also part of the reason why Bloodlust Inciter is so good. Hasting this thing is no joke.
I’ve had a deck with 4 of these in a rare mono-white deck, and I just Overran my opponent every game. As for R/W, I think you have better options, but this is a key card to winning board stalls should they come up, while also finishing games with a go-wide focus. Unlike In Oketra’s Name you gain access to repeatable pump and an okay flier, which all wraps up into a nice card. I like having 0-1 of these in my all-in aggressive decks and 1-2 in the more midrange versions.
Limits can actually steal a lot of games, but I have it listed here because I don’t place a huge priority on it while drafting. There are plenty of other ways to maintain pressure that this card isn’t as necessary in R/W as it might be in other sets. Pursue Glory functions similarly for me, though the card is a bit better if you don’t have any Tah-Crop Elite or Trial of Solidarity as you do usually want a mass pump effect at your disposal. Sparring Mummy is fine, and obviously good with exert, but just isn’t important.
Javelineer seems awesome until you realize you’re only playing 4 instants or sorceries in your decks. If you’re in U/R, go nuts, but now’s not the time. Playing a Hyena Pack usually means R/W wasn’t open in your seat and tends to indicate larger structural problems with your deck, namely a reliance on underpowered 4-drops.
Just an all-around great card. Not too much to say about this one other than take it.
I’d rank these higher but the truth is you usually only want 1-2 5-drops in your R/W decks and are fine if you play 0. Clearly both of these are very powerful though and can help close games. Oketra’s Attendant is a cycling card that turns into a 3/3 flyer in most decks, but usually functions as a 3/3 twice in R/W in my experience since you’re typically curving into it rather than cycling on early turns.
I like Manticore more between these two, though Winged Shepherd is fine and can be cycled in a pinch. My main problem with the Shepherd is that 6 is just so much mana for R/W. Manticore plays well into the all-in plan and sometimes a Lava Spike is enough to win by itself. It also combos well with exert if you need the 5/4 body since you can put the counter wherever it will hurt you the least.
I’m often the one defending Supply Caravan because the card is actually decent. Unfortunately, it is awful in R/W. I don’t think I’ve ever cast Desert Cerodon in R/W, despite having it in multiple decks, and think it’s almost a trap card in this color combination. Seraph of the Suns once again gets the “too expensive” ruling. Also, the card just isn’t that good, though I’ll give it a pass as a Sealed playable.
Now you know all about R/W! Try to focus on 15- to 16-land builds and aggression. Curve is the most important part of the deck, but thankfully your most powerful cards all happen to be cheap, so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Lastly, I know this was a different format for an archetype breakdown. My idea was to incorporate a lessons learned approach and share my constant reevaluation of cards within the context of a Draft color pair. If you liked or disliked this approach, let me know in the comments!