Breaking Down the Decks of Avacyn Restored, Part Three

Posted in Limited Information on May 30, 2012

By Steve Sadin

At Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in Barcelona, most of the players I talked to about Avacyn Restored Booster Draft considered Red-White Humans to be the best deck in the format. And with good reason.

If the right pieces fall into place, you will end up with a deck that's capable of executing a lot of turn-five or six kills—even if your opponent has some resistance! And even when you don't get everything you're looking for, if you prioritize taking inexpensive creatures and removal spells, you should still end up with a very competitive deck.

    Synergy Matters

Some cards are just good regardless of context, while other cards can range from being completely unplayable to being the best card in your deck depending on the other thirty-nine you're shuffling up.

Pillar of Flame | Art by Karl Kopinski

So while Pillar of Flame is going to be good in just about any deck with Mountains, Thatcher Revolt is only going to make an impact in decks built to support it. But if your deck is built to support Thatcher Revolt, your opponents better watch out.

What does this mean for you? Well, for starters, it means you shouldn't play Thatcher Revolt in a deck that doesn't have any cards that combo with it (if you do, you'll be playing a three-mana sorcery that deals 2–3 damage to your opponent on a good day... which is far from the best thing you could be doing with your cards, or your mana).

But more importantly, it means that in order to draft truly great Red-White Humans decks (with any type of consistency), you're going to need to remember you're drafting a deck—not just a collection of abstractly good cards.

    Cards That Make Your Other Humans Better

Kruin Striker, Kessig Malcontents, Riot Ringleader, and of course Goldnight Commander are all absolute standouts in Red-White Humans decks (and they just so happen to play very nicely with Thatcher Revolt).

I won't hesitate to take any of these cards with my early picks, happily drafting them over non-synergistic cards like Moonlight Geist or even Seraph of Dawn.

Yes, Seraph of dawn is one of the best cards in the set—but in order for your aggressive Red-White Humans deck to be as strong as it possibly can be, you need to recognize that while some cards might not shine when isolated, when they have the right team around them they can become nearly unbeatable.

Goldnight Commander | Art by Chris Rahn

Keep in mind that if you don't have any copies of Riot Ringleader, Kessig Malcontents, or Vigilante Justice in your deck, you don't need to worry about drafting Human creatures. Because without the cards that directly benefit Humans, there's no functional difference between a Human, a Spirit, an Angel, or any other creature type.

But if you do have even a couple of Human-enhancing creatures (or it's early in the draft and you're planning to get some of them), then every Human you see becomes noticeably better than an otherwise comparable non-Human creature.

    Thatcher Revolt

If you're fortunate enough to get five or more cards that explicitly combo with Thatcher Revolt, the Human-generating sorcery becomes a first-pick-quality card. But if you don't, it very well might be in your best interest to leave your Thatcher Revolt(s) in your sideboard.

Because of its massive upside, I'm willing to take Thatcher Revolt first-pick overall without feeling any regrets. But if I don't have any cards that work with it midway through the second pack, I'll have no problem taking even a marginally playable red or white card over it.

    Tricks and Removal

When your deck comes together perfectly and you have a giant stack of Kruin Strikers, Riot Ringleaders, Kessig Malcontents, and Thatcher Revolts, you won't need to worry about cards like Righteous Blow or Zealous Strike.

Guise of Fire | Art by Dave Kendall

But if your deck is a bit short of perfection, then cheap tricks and removal spells are going to allow you to win a lot of games the old-fashioned way: by curving out, taking out key blockers, and wrapping up a quick victory before your opponent can even cast his or her most powerful spells.

During the first two packs I will typically take bombs and Kessig Malcontent-esque cards that excel in Human decks over every piece of removal aside from Pillar of Flame. And if I find I have a fantastic curve, including an abundance of Humans, I might even pass up the otherwise invaluable Pillar of Flame for a Riot Ringleader or a Kruin Striker.

And if I have a couple of cards that work with it, like Kessig Malcontents, I'll try to grab a Cloudshift or two for my deck—but Cloudshift simply isn't a card I am going to go out of my way to try and draft.

However, I will actively look for cards like Righteous Blow and Guise of Fire that can help me press my early advantages and deal with otherwise problematic creatures like Tandem Lookout and Falkenrath Exterminator.

Now I know that Guise of Fire doesn't look like much, and there will certainly be matchups where it is underwhelming, against the majority of the draft decks in this format it's a cheap, serviceable removal spell.

    Breaking Through

Fervent Cathar and Hanweir Lancer are both exceptionally strong cards in aggressive red decks. If you get off to an early lead and you have a Fervent Cathar on hand to punch through an extra chunk of 2, 4, or even more damage, you're going to leave your opponent reeling (or dead).

And while Hanweir Lancer might not be quite as explosive as Fervent Cathar, it can be even deadlier, making it impossible for your opponents to block profitably with any cheap creatures.

    Curve Considerations

The majority of the high-impact cards in Red-White Humans like Riot Ringleader, Kessig Malcontent, Thatcher Revolt, and Hanweir Lancer cost three mana. But in order to make the most out of your powerful three-drops, you're going to need a lot of 1–2-casting-cost creatures to jump out ahead of your opponents early.

So while Moorland Inquisitor and Thraben Valiant might not be as good as Kruin Striker or Lightning Mauler, you will often need to take them early so you can reach that critical density of five or more two-drops you need for your deck to function properly.

    Cards to Avoid

Defensive-minded cards like Defang, Angelic Wall, and Haunted Guardian might be crucial pieces in White-Blue Angels decks and slower Green-White Soulbond decks, but in an aggressive red-white deck they just don't belong.

Voice of the Provinces | Art by Igor Kieryluk

And if your deck actually is aggressive, you want to make sure you don't have that many spells with casting costs of five or higher.

Sure, you might want to top off your curve with a Voice of the Provinces and an Archangel, but if you're intent on playing more than a couple of extremely expensive spells you might need to come to terms with the fact that your deck isn't actually all that aggressive.

    Blue-Red Beatdown

While it (typically) isn't as explosive as Red-White Humans, and it's far more reliant on Kruin Striker than any other deck in the format (there's a distinct shortage of good two-drops in red or blue) Blue-Red Beatdown is far and away my favorite deck to draft in Avacyn Restored.

The ability to combine aggressive red creatures with blue's top-notch bounce spells and Wingcrafter is just too much for me to pass up.

    To the Air!

Any time you start a game with a Wingcrafter followed by a Kruin Striker, a Falkenrath Exterminator, or even "just" a Riot Ringleaders, your opponent is going to need to come up with an answer almost immediately or else die to your flying army.

Aside from Mist Raven (which I will take over just about anything short of a Burn at the Stake or a Bonfire of the Damned), Wingcrafter is the most important common in the Blue-Red Beatdown decks I like to draft. So even though Wingcrafter is borderline unplayable in most White-Blue Angel decks, I won't hesitate to first-pick a Wingcrafter if I'm looking to draft blue-red.

    Mind Your Curve

While it's of utmost importance to end up with a lot of 2-power two-drops in aggressive red-white decks, you will often get passed late Thraben Valiants and Moorland Inquisitors, making your life easy and allowing you to spend your earliest picks on Pillar of Flames and Riot Ringleaders.

But if you're drafting blue-red, you don't have the luxury of being able to pick up 2-power two-drops late in the draft. In fact, Kruin Striker is literally the only common 2-power two-drop in either of these colors!

What this means is that you're going to need to prioritize Stonewright, Kruin Striker, Lightning Mauler, and Falkenrath Exterminator over just about everything else you see. Because if you don't, your curve is (usually) going to start at three and your aggressive draws will be few and far between.

    A Good Play on Turn Three

Between Scrapskin Drake, Fervent Cathar, Hanweir Lancer, Riot Ringleaders, Latch Seeker, Tandem Lookout, Fettergeist, and Kessig Malcontents, it really isn't that difficult to find a good creature to play on turn three.

Tandem Lookout | Art by Kev Walker

This means you will be able to take choice removal spells, Wingcrafters, Kruin Strikers, and bounce spells over even the strongest three-drops without feeling guilty about your picks.

But even though good three-drops are relatively easy to come by when you're drafting blue-red, you're still going to need to break down and start drafting them at some point—and that point might come sooner rather than later if you're able to pick up a choice card like Tandem Lookout.

    Mass Appeal

Sometimes, my Blue-Red Beatdown decks will end up with a ton of Humans in them. And when that happens, cards like Riot Ringleaders, Kessig Malcontents, Thatcher Revolt, and Mass Appeal all shoot up in value for me.

And if you're patient enough, you just might be able to cast a Thatcher Revolt and Mass Appeal all in one turn, giving yourself all the tools you need to close out the game in short order.

    Killing and Bouncing

Removal spells like Pillar of Flame, Guise of Fire, and Thunderbolt are as strong in blue-red as they are in any other deck—but bounce spells like Into the Void and Peel from Reality can be quite a bit stronger here than they are anywhere else.

The ability to get another use out of your Kessig Malcontents or your Mist Raven makes Peel from Reality significantly stronger than it would be in a white-blue deck that doesn't have any creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities. And Into the Void can make your aggressive starts (particularly those that include Fervent Cathar) borderline unbeatable.

    Combos to Keep an Eye Out For

Another thing I like about blue-red is that you get access to a ton of exciting two-card combos.

If you have a Kessig Malcontents along with Ghostly Flicker, Peel from Reality, or Nephalia Smuggler, your opponent is going to be taking huge chunks of damage at a time.

If you pair your Tandem Lookout (which triggers any time a paired creature deals damage, not just combat damage) with a Scalding Devil, you can turn three mana into a card and a point of damage.

Wingcrafter allows Falkenrath Exterminator to get through for damage with ease and a Stonewright with any evasion creature allows you to finish off your opponents just as easily.

    Make Sure Your Cards Work Together

If you have a good curve, some good removal, and a clear way to close out games, you should be able to find a lot of success with your aggressive red decks. But if you don't have enough two-drops or a way to finish off games where your opponent has stabilized (or gotten off to an early lead), you're going to be in a lot of trouble.

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