Ixalan: Playing To Your Weaknesses – Red
NOTE: “Playing to your Weaknesses” is a series of articles I have been doing on my own blog since Avacyn Restored that cover all of the uncommons and commons in a new expansion and which ones I would choose to use as one of the 23 cards in a 40 card limited deck. For those of you uninitiated to limited, it simply means sealed and booster draft, where you open packs and then proceed to make a deck out of them. I’ve purposely left out the rare cards because it is much more likely that you’ll see multiples of uncommon and commons in your packs/pools.)
As for my rating system, after a lot of feedback I’ve decided to abandon my 3 tier scoring system of Low-Medium-High and I will instead be moving onto a 5 star ranking system. The system is as follows:
- 1 star = a card that is barely playable, even as filler for your deck
- 2 stars = this card could be a strong sideboard card, but is highly conditional and not always effective
- 3 stars = a 3 star card is a solid role-player. These cards could be less than amazing removal effects, or a creature that is a glass cannon (high power, low defense). They could be good except for a few flaws.
- 4 stars = Here’s where we get into the powerhouses. 4 Stars could be good finishers, or cards that can end a game if left unchecked. They also have multiple effects, and are all around good value for you. The only thing holding them back is restrictive costs or some small drawback.
- 5 stars = you won’t see a lot of these at common and uncommon. These will usually be your rares and mythics because they are incredibly bonkers. Planeswalkers, massive creatures, etc., these are the cards you could build a deck around.
Today’s article brings us the rest of the pirates, as well as a large amount of ferocious dinosaurs to add to white’s limited menagerie of terrible lizards. If you’ve been anxiously wondering if the dinos would be a viable strategy in limited, then wait no longer. I think you’ll be more than convinced after this article that these pre-historic monsters will become a force to be reckoned with.
I thought it would be a good idea to start out with the final members of our pirate crews. These swashbuckling knaves aren’t overtly powerful, but each of them do a very good job of helping the synergy of pirate decks, namely their raid triggers. Fathom Fleet Firebrand is one of the better “bears” in this set thanks to its firebreathing ability. On an empty battlefield, both early in the match and late, it can be rather dangerous. One of the better 2 drops, and not something I would be afraid to take as my 4th-5th pick in draft.
Headstrong Brute doesn’t necessarily have to be in a pirate deck to be a sturdy choice to fill up your curve at the 3 mana slot, but it sure does help. Having a 3/3 menace creature will be tough to deal with, and if you have a few combat tricks to throw in he gets a lot stronger.
I haven’t been overly impressed with the explore creatures yet, but at least the Brazen Buccaneers are borderline playable. I’d take a 2/2 haste for 4 mana to fill in my curve of an aggressive deck, and while you might not always get that +1/+1 counter, their pirate typing does help in a variety of instances (such as if you have a Pirate Cutlass or Fell Flagship). Passable creature in a red beatdown deck, but a limited roleplayer in a pirate-themed one.
Fathom Fleet Firebrand – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Headstrong Brute – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Brazen Buccaneers – RATING: 2.5 Stars
The red pirate raiders are definitely better than their blue counterparts, and they give the black ones a run for their money. The big difference is in their casting cost. Both Storm Fleet Pyromancer and Storm Fleet Arsonist cost 5 mana, which means they’ll be near the top of you curve, but both of their raid triggers are play worthy. The Pyromancer is good if you’re looking to save your removal for when you really need it, since it can finish off a creature that blocked one of your smaller attackers during combat. It can also be used as an Enrage enabler on a dinosaur like Bellowing Aegisaur to buff your army for the following turn. I find it to be rather versatile in this limited environment, so I’ll be looking to draft it highly if I’m working on either type of deck.
Storm Fleet Arsonist can be rather hit or miss, depending on when you play him. On curve, the raid trigger could be pretty damaging, forcing an opponent to get rid of their 4th/5th land or a creature that they can’t spare. Later in the game it’s not as bad, since players will usually have more than enough lands to sacrifice to satisfy the trigger. I’d personally play him in a UR build that has ways to bounce him or play him again and again, but RB with some graveyard recursion isn’t bad either.
Rigging Runner isn’t going to deal that much damage to your opponent, but its typing secures its place in pirate decks that have anthem effects like Fell Flagship, or the Pirate’s Cutlass. Draft him, along with a bunch of low CMC pirates and a few Cutlass, and you’ll have a rather rowdy bunch of swashbucklers.
Storm Fleet Pyromancer – RATING: 3 Stars
Storm Fleet Arsonists – RATING: 3 Stars
Rigging Runner – RATING: 2.5 Stars
I wasn’t quite sure I was going to go over these cards in my article, but the more I thought about them the better I thought they would be in this format. Take Fiery Cannonade for example. It’s great removal in a pirate based deck, killing all of your opponents 2 toughness creatures or finishing them off after an attack phase, but it’s also an amazing card to have in a multi-enrage deck. Imagine you have 3-4 dinosaurs with enrage, and then you cast Cannonade to active their triggers all at the same time. Dear god things could get incredibly bad for your opponent VERY quick. Instant speed, 3 mana, multiple uses . . . I would take this card very high in draft.
I know I put One with the Wind in the “other” cards for blue, but I think Swashbuckling is slightly better due to the haste effect. We all know that most of the removal can’t take out a huge dinosaur at instant speed most of the time, so Swashbuckling becomes a pretty good effect in those types of strategies. I think it will find its way into a number of beatdown strategies, both pirates and dinos. I also debated featuring sure strike, but seeing as most fast decks want to have these sort of combat tricks, I gave it a pass. Good card for UR, Grixis, or BR pirates.
Fiery Cannonade – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Swashbuckling – RATING: 2 Stars
Sure Strike – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Speaking of enrage cards, red has some pretty good ones. Sun-Crowned Hunters is not something you want to chump block turn after turn. Its ability almost as scary as Afflict was in AKH/HOU limited, but this time it’s much more dangerous. For starters, you can use your own effects to ping/damage your dinosaurs to create the trigger. As I stated above, something like Cannonade can trigger them all at once, and something like Makeshift Munitions and trigger them over and over again. They also get activated when blocking, which means your opponent won’t want to attack into multiple enrage effects, and of course if the other player blocks the creature they are also in for a surprise. This triple threat will make dinosaur creatures very hard to get rid of, and in my book that means I’m going to rate them very highly in limited.
Raptor Hatchling isn’t great as a 1/1, but if you have a way to boost its defense, say with an enchantment or equipment, it becomes a great source of strong attackers. Raise it’s defense, hit it with Makeshift Munitions each turn, and have an overwhelming pack of dinosaurs after a few turns. A little bit harder to play with, but a great pay off. Worse case scenario, you get 2 creatures for the price of 2 mana.
Sun-Crowned Hunters – RATING: 3 Stars
Raptor Hatchling – RATING: 2.5 Stars
While the next batch of dinos lack the Enrage mechanic, they do work very well in just about any red deck. Thrash of Raptors needs more slots devoted to dinosaurs in your deck to be playable, but I think you’d have no problem using the others. Nest Robber is an ok attacker thanks to haste and playable with a decent number of combat tricks in an aggro deck along with pirates. It really depends what you want for your deck. If you’re looking to lower your curve, go with the haste lizard, otherwise Thrash of Raptors is a serviceable 3/3 for 4 mana until you play another dino.
Bonded Horncrest is a little bit harder to play with due to it’s limitations, but if you’re looking for something to throw in front of those threatening creatures with enrage you won’t find anything better. I think I would much rather be playing it with attacking in mind, since you can play it on curve and force your opponent to deal with it or take lethal damage. The best of these is definitely Charging Monstrosaur though, and the most splashable creature in red at uncommon/common as well. If you’re playing a large GW dino deck, splash for it. If you’re playing a UB pirate deck, splash for this (and maybe some red pirates as well). Whatever you’re playing, splash it in. I think it’s a first pick in draft, so don’t let it go around no matter what.
Thrash of Raptors – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Nest Robber – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Bonded Horncrest – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Charging Monstrosaur – RATING: 4 Stars
I’ve talked at length about how to take advantage of dinosaurs, especially their enrage abilities, so it only makes sense to go over these enablers. Otepec Huntmaster is incredibly useful in a dinosaur based deck, be it GR, GW, or Naya, and would work great in multiples. Not only does it get cards like Monstrosaur out on turn 4, but it also gives you the option to attack with your Burning Sun’s Avatar or Ancient Brontodon the turn it comes into play. If I could, I’d grab 2 in draft, but any more than that and I think you’d dilute your threats.
Rile is a MUST have if you’re playing enrage creatures. Being able to activate a dinosaur’s ability with minimal risk to them, while also giving them trample and drawing you a card is hard to pass up. Great card for those decks with a number of large creatures.
But by far the most versatile card in red is Makeshift Munitions. We all know that this set is full of effects that create artifact treasure tokens, so the first use is to obviously build up a large amount of them and use them to ping your opponent or to take out creatures. This might be hard to do though, so the next use is to activate enrage triggers. Again, you’ll need some source of treasures or cheap creatures, but in return you’ll be able to enrage your dinosaurs again and again. Hitting your opponent for 3 damage each turn with Sun-Crowned Hunters, or drawing a card each turn Ripjaw Raptor only scratch the surface of its uses. This card is highly recommended for both dinosaur and pirate/treasure decks alike.
Otepec Huntmaster – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Rile – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Makeshift Munitions – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Of course the article wouldn’t be complete without talking about the removal in red. The big news, of course, is that Lightning Strike is back. No longer do we have to choose between playing a card that hits a player or a creature for 2 mana. Once again we can do both. An all around good card, the only problem with it is that it’s not an uncommon instead of common so you’ll be seeing a lot less of it. As there are a good amount of 3 toughness creatures (mostly non-dinosaur), I’d suggest taking it early in draft if you’re in red.
Unfriendly Fire is a surprise, as we not only get another piece of instead speed removal, but also one that gives us the choice between a creature or player. That 5 mana is a bit much, but I think most people in red would be happy to play it as their removal, especially if they were in anything other than black or white. Firecannon Blast gives you a little more “bang for your buck” than Unfriendly Fire does , but sometimes in order to really take advantage of it you need to sacrifice a creature in battle. The bottom line is that any one of these cards would support your strategy well.
Unfriendly Fire – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Lightning Strike – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Firecannon Blast – RATING: 3 Stars
Other Cards that Will See Play
- Dinosaur Stampede – should show up in a decent amount of attack oriented dino decks. Most likely GR.
- Dual Shot – Another great card for enrage decks. Can be used as removal too, but there are much better options.
- Frenzied Raptor – vanilla dino with a good power level.
- Tilonalli’s Knight – Fits into dino decks, but most likely filler.
- Trove of Temptation – perfect card for Makeshift munitions. Make sure your creatures are bigger than your opponent’s though.
Coming Up Next
Pacing still seems good, and I just found out I won’t be able to attend FNM this Friday because of work, so all of the colors should be up and ready to read before the pre-release this weekend. Red seems similar to black as in it can do rather well by itself as a main color with limited help from another. At this point, if I were going to base a deck on a color to build around it, it would be either red or black. It’s looking like green could possibly be another base color too, but it’s too early to tell.
With the introduction of red into the mix, I feel like dinosaurs strategies have a leg up (and ready to stomp) on the competition. They are powerful, fast, and dangerous. That being said, I also believe that pirates have a good chance of dealing with them thanks to their various raid triggers throughout blue, red, and black, as well as their speed and synergy boosters like the Pirate’s Cutlass. If you arm the scallywags well enough, they should be able to get themselves out of a pinch. I apologize if some of my evaluations seem repetitive at this point. Due to the urgency of these articles to get done before the weekend, I’m not taking as long as I should to write them. Also, if I missed something or if you have something to add, please feel free to do so down below. Look for Green on Thursday night hopefully! Thanks for reading!
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