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Red/White in the New Limited
Sean McKeown

This past weekend's Grand Prix in New Jersey didn't see my team, Scarecrow, taking home any big prizes or even making the second day of the event, but it did give me a good chance to test my pet theories. Teaming with Seth Burn and Kevin An led to us finishing 21st in the event, and dropping out at 3-0 at the PTQ the next day to see if we have in fact just qualified off of rating... and it also saw me taking the less-appreciated and certainly less powerful deck for our seven-round winning streak, which started on Saturday and rolled over to Sunday.

That less-appreciated, less-powerful deck is my pet theory: that Red/White is not merely an archetype to be avoided, but is instead a potent aggressive combination. It is my belief that Red/White in the three sets we have to work with is very similar to Tempest block: good at presenting a fast aggressive start and keeping up pressure no matter what your opponent does.

Much like Tempest-era Jank, you have a large number of efficient early-game creatures and the ability to keep mounting tempo by aggressively pushing the offensive and letting tricks and removal mount the pressure. Of course, some of the best White cards are highly defensive, and many of them just won't apply to the deck we are looking to construct. Famous for its minimal-power, high-toughness defenders like the Disciples, Teroh's Faithful, Blessed Orator and Angelic Wall, there are plenty of White cards that we just don't want to have to play with, as good as they are in more traditional White-based decks. Defensive White like Cagemail and Kirtar's Desire are likewise undesirable, and even Hallowed Healer doesn't look so good anymore when you could have the beatdown-active but less-powerful Militant Monk on your team.

In short, the key to making White-Red work is to make the White as un-White as possible. You're trying to play monored, but willing to pay two colors of mana for your Red spells. Some defense is definitely to be allowed, since no matter how much I grumble I'm never going to have Hallowed Healer not make the deck. White and Red pair well together since both have excellent weenies, but Red has very little to do with two mana and even three mana can be a difficulty for reasonable creatures in some card pools for both draft and Sealed. And when you're playing Sligh, which is what you are trying to do here, it's important to respect the mana curve.

To give some samples of the type of deck I am looking for, I present the two White/Red decks I played this past weekend at the Grand Prix, with the third deck being an ill-fated Red-Green deck that landed 0-2 and made us very happy that we had Byes to go with our mediocre decks.

Grand Prix New Jersey Rounds 5-8: 4-0
8x Plains
8x Mountains
Benevolent Bodyguard
Mad Dog
Mystic Visionary
Phantom Nomad
2x Patrol Hound
Hallowed Healer
Militant Monk
Shieldmage Advocate
Mystic Zealot
Aven Cloudchaser
Pardic Lancer
Reckless Charge
Flame Burst
Strength of Isolation
Guided Strike
2x Scorching Missile

Flash of Defiance
Pay No Heed
Lots of other junk

Grand Prix New Jersey PTQ: 3-0
9x Plains
8x Mountains
Benevolent Bodyguard
2x Mystic Visionary
Mystic Familiar
Beloved Chaplain
Barbarian Lunatic
Nomad Mythmaker
Reborn Hero
Battle Screech
Mystic Zealot
Aven Cloudchaser
Battlewise Aven
Pardic Lancer
Rites of Initiation
Flame Burst
Strength of Isolation
Aven Warcraft
Arcane Teachings
Fiery Temper
Scorching Missile
Thermal Blast

Firecat Blitz
Flash of Defiance
Earth Rift
Infectious Rage
2x Halberdier
Border Patrol
Goretusk Firebeast
Lots of other junk

No, they don't look good on paper, but that's why it's Jank. The key is in the balance between creatures and 'tricks', having an effective and aggressive mana curve with reasonable creatures and just enough early spells to keep coming up ahead in combat. The creatures you can fit in here are ripe with special abilities, such as Haste, Flying and First Strike, while others have characteristic bonus abilities, of which Barbarian Bully and Benevolent Bodyguard are probably the best, and Chainflinger also makes it very high up on the list of exceptional abilities. Low-mana, high-quality tricks such as Guided Strike, Shelter, and Pay No Heed make it easy to come ahead in combat, and truly powerful cards like Arcane Teachings and Prismatic Strands can turn a good aggressive deck into a veritable nightmare.

Throw in Scorching Missile, Rites of Initiation, and Reckless Charge to turn up your damage potential and you can see how it is that even conventionally bad situations can be circumvented. Problematic, perhaps, is the fact that the best White removal spells (Chastise and Second Thoughts) become nearly unplayable in a deck of this variety, as both keeping mana open and defending against attacks are things you don't want to be concentrating on with any of your cards.

Common theory is that Limited is a slow format right now, and in many ways this is true, but the solution to a slow format is inevitably a fast deck. When we had just Odyssey to draft with, the counter-strategy to Blue-White and Blue-Black control decks and Blue-Green tempo decks was Red-Green. Focusing on 'bad' creatures like Chatter of the Squirrel and early aggression, finished off with Rites of Ititiation, you made good use of relatively unimportant picks by applying aggressive strategy to its fullest.

In the complete Odyssey block you can see much the same thing, except that Green doesn't have enough tricks at its disposal to build a consistent beatdown deck able to punish the opponent for blocking. White, however, has the ability to make combat favorable with enough high-quality tricks, and a relatively equal number of good aggressive early plays. I noticed this pretty early on and got a gruesome taste of how very ridiculous this could be at the Prerelease draft, where my 3x Judgment decks, on average, looked like this:

3x Arcane Teachings
2x Prismatic Strands
2x Lava Dart
2x Guided Strike
2x Benevolent Bodyguard
1x Dwarven Scorcher
1x Suntail Hawk
3x Phantom Nomad
3x Barbarian Bully
2x Shieldmage Advocate
1x Vigilant Sentry
2x Battlewise Aven
8x Mountain
8x Plains

You should never have to make the choice between the fourth Arcane Teachings and the third Prismatic Strands, then take Barbarian Bully. Triple-Judgment is, obviously, one of the more ridiculous single-set draft formats you could ever see, with only triple-Apocalypse topping it for stupidity outright because of how many draft decklists I saw starting with "5x Jilt".

What makes the aggressive power of Red-White work? As good as the spells are, I'd have to say it's all about the creatures and the ability to just pour on damage as early as possible. There's added synergy to the rest of your cards, like Arcane Teachings on a Phantom Nomad or using Patrol Hound to turn Strength of Isolation into a true combat trick (which I never got to do until this past Saturday). There's also non-synergy, like that same Arcane Teachings going on a Mad Dog... just think of what happens to the Dog the first time it tries to tap for its ability.

Turning White's defensive nature into an aggressive tool, rather than a defensive tool as has previously been the case, isn't the easiest thing to do, but it greatly accomodates Red's intentional lack of good early plays. Just look at the cards you can take that fit the mana curve that are worth playing, without adding into account Artifacts, or Rares that should be unlikely to see:

1cc Creatures:
Benevolent Bodyguard, Suntail Hawk, Dwarven Scorcher

1cc Spells:
Pay No Heed, Lava Dart, Engulfing Flames, Firebolt, Sonic Seizure, Blazing Salvo, Crackling Club, Reckless Charge, Rites of Initiation

2cc Creatures:
Mad Dog, Minotaur Explorer, Patrol Hound, Mystic Visionary, Mystic Familiar, Soulcatcher, Beloved Chaplain, Phantom Nomad

2cc Spells:
Flame Burst, Guided Strike, Shelter, Strength of Isolation, Hypochondria

3cc Creatures:
Ember Beast, Longhorn Firebeast, Barbarian Bully, Barbarian Lunatic, Dwarven Recruiter, Militant Monk, Hallowed Healer, Shieldmage Advocate, Auramancer, Stern Judge, Nomad Decoy, Vigilant Sentry

3cc Spells:
Fiery Temper, Demoralize, Aven Warcraft, Embolden, Prismatic Strands, Arcane Teachings, Tattoo Ward, Floating Shield, Unquestioned Authority, Pyromania, Browbeat

4cc Creatures:
Aven Cloudchaser, Battlewise Aven, Mystic Zealot, Valor, Chainflinger, Dwarven Driller, Anger, Pardic Firecat, Pardic Arsonist, Halberdier, Petravark, Teroh's Vanguard, Resilient Wanderer

4cc Spells:
Violent Eruption, Scorching Missile, Battle Screech, Swelter, Temporary Insanity

5cc Creatures:
Aven Flock, Phantom Flock, Pardic Lancer, Dwarven Strike Force, Frenetic Ogre

5cc Spells:
Shower of Coals, Thermal Blast

And if it costs more than that, it's probably something you should think heavily before playing... though admittedly there is an X-spell that remains unlisted by this classification, Flaming Gambit, which can actually be a very savage beating. The idea here is that you can certainly get enough cards to build a deck, be it Sealed, Draft, or Team Limited, despite the fact that you want to ignore approximately a third of the white cards (and some of the conventionally better ones, like Kirtar's Desire and Second Thoughts). It's worth looking for in your average Sealed Deck, not that anyone looks at that particular Limited format at the moment, and is an archetype worth looking for in Team Limited because it allows you to split your other colors in a reasonably good fashion, especially since it still leaves the defensive White cards at the disposal of another deck, and can compromise very reasonably on the power White cards like Prismatic Strands.

I thought I was kidding myself about this, since while I had been drafting it pretty exclusively in non-Team drafts to very good success, everyone else's doubts about the viability of this color combination as an archetype gave me cause for wonder. However, after going undefeated against what seemed to be conventionally superior decks, I was impressed... especially since that included winning a Game Three against a solid Blue-Green deck where I double-Mulliganed and they led with Wild Mongrel, Standstill to my Mystic Visionary. One Battle Screech and some aggressive tempo and tactical chumpblocking of ridiculously large Green creatures later, my opponent saw an apparent victory turned into a taste of a Scorching Missile, with six cards left in his hand.

The implications of this archetype for Team Rochester Draft remain interesting, as another viable archetype to test against the 'standard' color splits and consider as an alternative as the colors show themselves should shake things up in an interesting fashion... since this weekend's Grand Prix seemed to reinforce that two-tiered system with only a slight change in the finals, where the Black deck of one team wanted the Green, so the center seat was Blue-White rather than Blue-Green, and the A-seat was Black-Green instead of the more traditional Black-White you want to put against Red-Black. With the ability to go Red-White, Blue-Green, Black-X, you have a very interesting third choice... but only if you believe that Red-White can be good, which I do but certain others don't. Apparently the professionals think that Wild Mongrel is better than Overrun, as well, which makes sense only on certain levels to me... so there's nothing saying that every 'professional' is always right.

- Sean McKeown

"I just don't care anymore; I've reached the end of my tether
I've torn all your letters up; I just don't care anymore
Won't cry these tears anymore; I just don't care anymore
I've reached the end of my rope; And it's time that I told you so
I just don't care anymore; Won't cry these tears anymore..."
--Garbage, "Won't Cry These Tears"


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