Instead of the usual Drafting Digest today, I want to address the B/R archetype in Rivals of Ixalan. I feel like the majority of the world has missed the mark; B/R is not best suited as a Pirate aggro deck (although that deck exists). The most consistent and powerful version of B/R is actually a midrange deck. As an anecdote, I am 31-3 across twelve drafts with the archetype and have spent time theory-crafting and tuning my building approach and pick order. I'm not saying that this archetype is superior to the rest; however I do believe it is quite good when approached properly.
This article will describe what I've learned, what I prioritize, and some tips on how to pilot the deck throughout.
Every deck needs a plan. Sometimes these plans are linear and focused, and other times decks adapt to each game and can play multiple roles. In Rivals of Ixalan, I've found the latter to yield more success. There are a variety of cards that invalidate certain strategies, and if your deck is linear in that regard, you just get crushed --- which is one of the reasons I think the aggressive decks don't have as much stock in this format as appeared on first glance.
My successful B/R decks are a combination of three things (in no particular order):
A reasonable amount of interaction/removal.
In practice, I have observed that this yields the following plan: exhaust your opponent's resources. Trade aggressively, whether in combat or with removal. The other grindy decks win slowly once they've planted their advantage; however, this one wins quickly given the hard-hitting threats. Whittle down resources over time and attempt to create a window where you can turn the corner. This often is done with a timely Recover.
It's also important to note that this deck doesn't entirely ignore the pirate creature-type. Given how important cards like Recover are, March of the Drowned can be quite good in the deck as well. But that's not it when it comes to tribal cards.
Since some of the creatures that end up in the deck are Pirates, Dire Fleet Neckbreaker and Buccaneer's Bravado can still be potent cards. In fact, having access to these potentially aggressive cards allows B/R midrange decks to be flexible. I'm almost never trying to slant the curve towards an aggressive deck, but you can still curve out and hit hard, even if that isn't plan A.
With all this in mind, before I get into how to draft the deck, take a look at two decks that resulted in trophies to get a good idea what a good version looks like:
- 1 Charging Tuskodon
- 1 Deadeye Tormentor
- 1 Dinosaur Hunter
- 1 Dire Fleet Interloper
- 1 Dusk Charger
- 1 Dusk Legion Zealot
- 1 Fanatical Firebrand
- 1 Fathom Fleet Firebrand
- 1 Forerunner of the Empire
- 1 Mausoleum Harpy
- 1 Raptor Hatchling
- 1 Rummaging Goblin
- 1 Storm Fleet Pyromancer
- 1 Sun-Crowned Hunters
- 1 Swaggering Corsair
- 1 Captivating Crew
- 2 Dinosaur Hunter
- 2 Dusk Legion Zealot
- 1 Fathom Fleet Cutthroat
- 1 Frenzied Raptor
- 1 Mausoleum Harpy
- 1 Rekindling Phoenix
- 1 Skittering Heartstopper
- 1 Storm Fleet Pyromancer
- 1 Sun-Collared Raptor
- 1 Sun-Crested Pterodon
- 1 Sun-Crowned Hunters
- 1 Captain Lannery Storm
While there is certainly a shell for this midrange deck at common, one of the best things about B/R is the amount of powerful uncommons you have access to such as Ravenous Chupacabra and Reckless Rage. Starting off the draft with either powerful cards, or the good common removal, and following through with one of the colors being open is generally how to end up in the deck. But it's not as commonly drafted because people have an aversion to the color combination. Consider a draft that started with Forerunner of the Empire into Bombard.
Plenty of players would rather follow that up with Hunt the Weak than Impale. This is not only because players view B/R as an inferior archetype but also believe that Forerunner of the Empire is optimized in R/G and not B/R. Forerunner of the Empire is surprisingly great in B/R. It helps search for one of your threats, and clearing up little bodies is very useful if you're trying to trade resources, as there are a good number of creatures in this format (e.g. Jungleborn Pioneer, Paladin of the Bloodstained) that come with pesky little tokens. Personally, I would take Impale in this situation, but both are completely justifiable.
But the more important question is: Once I'm B/R, what do I prioritize?
The deck must be cohesive. This means, first and foremost, that you need to prioritize components based on scarcity (which is a good way of thinking about drafting plenty of decks). Threats are the most replaceable, so while Charging Tuskadon is a great way to end the game quickly, I'm not snapping it up over a removal spell.
This decision gets more complicated when it comes to the flood-protection cards. Charging Tuskadon is not only a better card (in a vacuum that is) than both Recover and Pirate's Pillage, but these spells can, and do, wheel. This sort-of pick often depends on what you already have access to. Do you have some Dusk Chargers already but no Recovers? How about the other way around. Drafting this deck is about balancing what you need to properly grind out the game and then turn the corner.
The last priority to be aware of when drafting this deck is the low-end of your curve. How highly should you value two-drops, and which ones? Personally, I'm of the opinion that you don't want too many two-drops in your Rivals of Ixalan decks. They get outclassed quickly, and I want to maximize the number of relevant cards per matchup. Nevertheless, it's important to not be cold on the draw to your opponent curving out. I don't particularly love Goblin Trailblazer, so my two-drops often consist of Dinosaur Hunter and Dusk Legion Zealot. And I'm usually looking to have four or five two-drops.
Dinosaur Hunter plays an important role. Not only can it trade with some early aggression such that you can save removal spells for better threats, but it can keep threats at bay that cards like Bombard can't handle. It also enables an aggressive role when you curve out since it attacks much better than a card like Dusk Legion Zealot.
This doesn't mean the Hunter is more important than the Zealot though. In fact, I take Dusk Legion Zealot over Dinosaur Hunter. This is because there aren't many cards that fill the same role as the Zealot. It lets you mulligan well, provides a nice speed bump, and helps towards ascend. It even can improve the stock of cards like Sadistic Skymarcher. All of these little things add up to a card I'm happy to include in multiples.
Cards and Combos
Outside of the general philosophy of drafting the deck, there are specific combinations of cards to look out for. There are obviously powerful ones, such as Needletooth Raptor and Forerunner of the Empire, but there are also less intuitive/powerful ones. Here are examples of cards that have value in this archetype that you may not have thought about. The list isn't exhaustive, of course, but hopefully it'll get you thinking the right way about innovation within the archetype.
This may be my favorite combination of cards for this deck because you can get both pretty late in the draft. The concept is as follows: Sun-Collared Raptor is pretty much only good in the late game. So trade off with it if you can; maybe discard it to a Rummaging Goblin. Once each player has exhausted their resources, getting back the Raptor with Recover ends the game quickly because you should have plenty of lands.
I've won a lot of games off the back of these two cards together, and you don't even need to waste a pick. You'll get Sun-Collared Raptor with three cards left in the pack. It sounds odd at first, but I promise it's the real deal!
This deck actively wants the card Shake the Foundation for a similar reason to that of Forerunner of the Empire. And once you have a couple of cards with the ability to ping, Fanatical Firebrand becomes a good resource. Cheap cards that can handle one-toughness creatures are good to have access to, and helping cards like Forerunner of the Empire, Shake the Foundation, Golden Demise, Dual Shot, and so on pick off higher-toughness threats is relevant. Plus, if you have Dire Fleet Neckbreaker, the little Firebrand can be an actual threat.
Makeshift Munitions is another interesting pinger for these kinds of decks. While it doesn't always fit, it combines with cards like Needletooth Raptor and Tilonalli's Summoner to put a game completely out of reach. Combine it with some other pinging effects and cards like Recover to help mitigate the downside and it can be a solid inclusion.
This is a card that I'm often on the lookout for going into pack three with these decks. Sending Dusk Charger to the air is nothing to scoff at. Honestly, it's not much more than that, but just a reminder that this card is irreplaceable and often good. Take it higher than you do.
Orazca Relic provides B/R with an effect it doesn't get access to. It almost feels like a U/G card in your B/R deck. While it's not a card I prioritize, it is a card I play more often than I expected. Given that the deck is often top-heavy, the ramp does matter, and the life gain and card can be enough to eek out above your opponent on resources.
Plus, combining it with a card like Forerunner of the Empire can be pretty awesome. One of the downsides of Forerunner is that your opponent can see it coming. But if you have a cheap dino, say Raptor Hatchling, you can search for the dinosaur and pop the Relic immediately for a good old Pyroclasm!
Now, this card is quite controversial. I will start by saying that this card does not belong in every version (or even most versions) of this deck. But it lets you play with your life total in a way no other card does. And it fits quite well with the plan of exhausting resources and turning the corner quickly. There are situations that this deck gets into where this card puts a game that looked close completely out of reach. And the lifegain stabilizes in a very relevant way.
I will note that, when I play this card, I usually want multiple cards that gain life such as Orazca Relic, Moment of Craving, Mark of the Vampire, or even a splashed copy of Squire's Devotion. Combining life gain with Form of the Dinosaur is pretty much game over.
So next time you fire up a draft, remember that B/R is a solid archetype without as much of a Pirate focus as you would think. Take good cards and grind your opponents to dust!