Dragons of Tarkir Draft Guide – Black/Red

In today’s Draft Guide we’ll examine Dragons of Tarkir’s RB archetype. I agree with many pros that red and black are the two best colors in DTK. I also think that RB is the best color combination you can draft if all color combinations were equally open in your seat. The commons are very powerful and synergistic, and you can succeed with aggressive, midrange, or controlling RB decks.


Dash is the key mechanic in RB and plays no small part in how the decks play. Early aggression plays into RB’s primary plan, and dash helps prevent flooding by providing more relevant topdecks and helping to maintain pressure on the opponent well into the late game. This plan also matches the fast pace of the format, which makes the deck even more powerful. Simply putting the opponent on the back foot and continuing to apply pressure with cards like Blood-Chin Rager will help win many games.

It’s pretty rare that you’ll ever get a full-on dash deck, since the mechanic is somewhat anti-synergistic the more dash creatures you get. You’ll often have too much to do with your mana when you have 3 dash creatures in hand so getting a deck with a ton of dash creatures isn’t all that useful.

There are two exceptions: First, if you have a low enough curve, you’re incentivized to grab as many dash creatures as possible, since after you develop your board you’ll have less to do with your mana and will want to simply dash every creature you can in the late game. Second, if you have 1 or 2 Ambuscade Shamans or Warbringers, you’ll want more dash creatures in your deck.

Ambuscade Shaman plays out very differently depending on how many dash creatures you have. If you have fewer, you’ll often just use him for his dash cost later as a 4/4 haste each turn that your opponent needs to deal with. Once you have 4 or 5 dash creatures though he will act more as an engine for those other creatures and can help them become more relevant. For instance, your dashed Reckless Imp can now attack into any of the many 4/4 Dragons in the format. Therefore Ambuscade Shaman becomes a much higher priority in a deck already containing a few dash creatures, but is a weaker Sprinting Warbrute the rest of the time.

Warbringer helps solve the issue of having enough mana to dash all your creatures out at once. Unfortunately, Warbinger is very mediocre on his own, having the exact same stats as Alesha’s Vanguard when you don’t have other dash creatures. Therefore, I like to hold off on picking up Warbringer until later in the pack to see if my deck is more dedicated to dashing a bunch of creatures, or if I have a more average midrange RB deck that isn’t particularly interested in Warbringer. Additionally, RB has access to great first-pickable removal spells, so taking an early Warbringer often has a cost.

Depth and Signaling

Speaking of removal, there are over 10 removal spells at common or uncommon in red and black, which leads most drafts to start out with a red or black card when a pack is missing a bomb rare. Being aware of this situation is important since you may end up unknowingly drafting RB under another RB drafter due to the depth of red and black cards in most packs. If a pack contains Flatten, Tail Slash, Twin Bolt, and Sabertooth Outrider, there will be a plethora of red drafters near each other which will substantially weaken each red deck. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be drafting these powerful cards when you see them, but be aware of this when you see a strong red or black card 4th or 5th pick, because there may have just been better cards of the same color taken over it. Instead you should pay attention to signaling closer to the 7th-10th picks in formats with abundant playables because that’s when you can see powerful cards like Tail Slash that should be long gone from the pack.

Besides dash-heavy aggressive decks, RB decks can also be more controlling packed with lots of removal and high-end threats to close out games. These decks come about from an abundance of removal in packs 1 and 2 followed by more defensive creatures like Typhoid Rats and Sultai Emissary in pack 3.

Best Commons and Uncommons for Red/Black

Best Rares and Mythics

(That I rate above Ultimate Price pack 1 pick 1.)

Lesser Commons and Uncommons for the Archetype

Finally, here are the common/uncommon cards RB cares less about than other archetypes playing red or black cards:

Let’s take a look at some example decks using our Draft Guide ratings:

A: Hits every mark of the archetype and has some extra power outside of the archetype itself (usually from strong rares and uncommons).
B: Reaches all the goals of the archetype and has a strong game plan that will lead to many wins. You should aim for this level when drafting (and hope that an A results).
C: There are some elements of the archetype in place, but there are some holes in the deck and it won’t be as streamlined accordingly.
D: The deck is more a pile of reasonable cards within its colors but doesn’t have a cohesive strategy.
F: Often labeled a “train-wreck”, the deck just doesn’t work on base fundamental levels.

Deck #1

RB 3-0 RB article deck 1

Deck rating: C-

This deck has a lot going for it, mostly the abundance of dash creatures, and clearly would be stronger with a Warbringer or Ambuscade Shaman. The big concern is the lack of 2-drops to start the aggression. Marang River Skeleton is also at its worst in an aggressive deck which further slows down the deck.

Dashing a Reckless Imp on 2 at least gets some damage on the board but that is almost always worse than permanently developing your position. Once the deck gets enough mana, though, it can start dashing 2 or even 3 creatures at a time and never let up on the gas pedal. The deck is a great example of a deck that wants Seismic Rupture, and Ugin’s Construct really shines in a deck with a ton of dash creatures. Pitiless Horde is an interesting card that should almost always be dashed, especially against white opponents who can punish it hard with Pacifism.

All in all the deck has a game plan but there are many better cards that could be included to get this deck into the B range.

Deck #2

RB 3-0 (3) RB article deck 2

Deck rating: C-

This deck has a ton of power but not a lot of synergy and falls more into the RB midrange good-stuff deck. Luckily, red and black both have a ton of good stuff, and this deck can still compete with some of the better decks from other archetypes. Sprinting Warbrute has continued to impress me and is great either dashed or cast.

Qal Sisma Behemoth has been very good or bad depending on the deck, and this deck is a great example of where it is good. There are enough 2-mana plays that you can attack with the Behemoth and then develop the board more, and it doesn’t take too many hits from a 5/5 to make its inclusion worth it. On 6 mana this deck can also just dash a Sprinting Warbrute and attack with the Behemoth to close most games.

Lastly, Sarkhan’s Rage is quite good here and is much better in RB than GR because RB wants more reach and has a lower curve to support the hefty 5-mana casting cost. As far as unfocused decks go, this deck at least has enough power to get the job done most of the time.

Deck #3

RB 1-1 (2) RB article deck 3

Deck rating: B+

This deck moves more to the controlling end of the spectrum but supports that plan very well. Butcher’s Glee is an all-star here and provides extra life to reach the late game, while also supporting an attacking plan. Swift Warkite is the real engine here which supports early trading, not to mention the strong combos with Silumgar Assassin and Hooded Assassin to take down extra creatures. Tail Slash works well with all the deathtouch and high-power creatures. Atarka Efreet can help develop or close a game and really should be an honorable mention just outside the top 10 best RB commons. There aren’t any tricks with the Efreet in this deck, but it works quite nicely when combined with either Coat with Venom or Deadly Wanderings. Rounding it all out, Orc Sureshot got even better with DTK, since it now faces smaller creatures on average, alongside the combo with dash. This deck really fires on all cylinders and is just missing a couple bombs to keep it out of the A range.

Deck #4

RB 3-0 (2) RB article deck 4

Deck rating: A

I certainly had the most fun playing RB with this deck because it just has so much going on. First, it pushes super hard to the control route with all its removal which helps set up its two payoff cards, Deadly Wanderings and Volcanic Vision. Vision gets passed way more than it should, and while it takes some work to set up, it just wins most games it resolves in and I pretty much never pass it if I’m in red for that very reason. The low creature count is great with Deadly Wanderings, and Kolaghan Monument works especially well with it since the Monument can act as your only creature when you need it to or let you play another creature for Wanderings. With all the removal, the deck can handle virtually any situation, and yet has many ways to apply early pressure. Even though the main plan isn’t to beat down, the deck can simply win off a couple 2-drops followed by a stream of kill spells, and the flexibility to still go big in the late game pushes it into the A territory.

Let me know in the comments if you think I missed any key points about Dragons of Tarkir‘s red/black archetype. I also stream most weekdays at http://www.twitch.tv/nealoliver88. I hope to see you there!

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