Red is my least favorite color in limited. Eldritch Moon has some amazing red cards, though. It might be te best color in the new draft format. Coming out of Shadows, that is a big deal.

Most draft formats slot red into the fast-but-fragile strategic box, which is not where I want to be when most limited decks are midrange. Even if you can surprise opponents game one, they will know your linear strategy and sideboard to best combat it. You can sideboard in anticipation of this, but you are still starting off with a deck employing a likely suboptimal strategy. Limited is all about maximizing the tools available to you from draft to draft, and sometimes those will be red. But I rarely go into a draft hoping to be red.

Red was weaker even than usual in Shadows Over Innistrad. That was a slow format with fragile red cards: weak removal, underwhelming werewolves. [casthaven]Convicted Killer[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Village Messenger[/casthaven] are garbage. [casthaven]Reduce to Ashes[/casthaven] is as mediocre as removal gets. Yes, there are better red removal spells and werewolves in Shadows than the ones I listed.  [casthaven]Fiery Temper[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Lightning Axe[/casthaven] are premium picks, as are [casthaven]Breakneck Rider[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Kessig Forgemaster[/casthaven], but three of those four are uncommon. Focus on the red Shadows commons. [casthaven]Fiery Temper[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Voldaren Duelist[/casthaven] are the best. [casthaven]Howlpack Wolf[/casthaven], [casthaven]Dual Shot[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Rush of Adrenaline[/casthaven] are pretty good. The rest are meh.

Eldritch Moon changes everything. Red is now the strong and deep. It has four premium commons: [casthaven]Galvanic Bombardment[/casthaven], [casthaven]Thermo-Alchemist[/casthaven], [casthaven]Brazen Wolves[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Vildin-Pack Outcast[/casthaven]. [casthaven]Alchemist’s Greeting[/casthaven], [casthaven]Borrowed Hostility[/casthaven], [casthaven]Otherworldly Outburst[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Stensia Innkeeper[/casthaven] are interesting as well. Any of them could end up being top tier as well. [casthaven]Falkenrath Reaver[/casthaven] is nothing flashy, but it’s the first-ever red bear with no downside and a welcome curve filler with a relevant creature type.

Red has so many great or good commons, you will get some late. However, others will take some, especially the uncommons. Draft metagames are self-correcting, and strong colors invite more drafters to take those cards. This means it will be hard to get specific synergies. But you can combine various good cards into a powerful deck that applies pressure but isn’t a fragile count-to-twenty-or-lose roller coaster. Red is so versatile now that you can pair it with any other color. This gives you flexibility to take whatever great red cards you can and pair them with whichever other color is open in your seat.

An Example Deck

Here’s a draft where I did this. I started the draft with [casthaven]Kessig Wolf[/casthaven], but then [casthaven]Savage Alliance[/casthaven] and more good red spells. When I saw [casthaven]Boon of Emrakul[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Midnight Scavengers[/casthaven] late in pack one, I scooped them up. This deck doesn’t do anything specifically well, but it presents a lot of strong threats and removal to ensure victory.

All Are Welcome

Creatures (15)
Falkenrath Gorger
Indulgent Aristocrat
Sanitarium Skeleton
Furyblade Vampire
Graf Rats
Olivia’s Dragoon
Brazen Wolves
Hanweir Garrison
Skirsdag Supplicant
Voldaren Duelist
Midnight Scavengers
Vildin-Pack Outcast

Spells (8)
Boon of Emrakul
Galvanic Bombardment
Lightning Axe
Dead Weight
Borrowed Hostility
Savage Alliance
Macabre Waltz
Lands (17)
Foreboding Ruins

Sideboard (19)
Pick the Brain
Cemetary Recruitment
Shreds of Sanity
Prophetic Ravings
Harmless Offering
Skeleton Key
Mockery of Nature
Kessig Prowler
Backwoods Survivalist
Prey Upon
Howlpack Resurgence
Woodland Patrol
Waxing Moon
Cryptolith Rite
Turn Aside
Contingency Plan
Inquisitor’s Ox
Chaplain’s Blessing

Look at this pile. It’s basically just twenty-three good red and black cards. You’d think curving [casthaven]Thermo-Alchemist[/casthaven] into [casthaven]Brazen Wolves[/casthaven] would be an incoherent mess. It is not. I did that in many games and won them all, taking this deck to a comfortable 3-0 victory in an online 8-4 draft. Both cards are premium commons that go in every red deck. Here’s the plan: attack when possible, remove when necesary, and close the game with alchemists and supplicants. This is a good plan.

Why You Should Play 1/2 Creatures

[casthaven]Furyblade Vampire[/casthaven] has really impressed me. It looks like an all-in madness enabler. True enough, but that’s not all it does. It’s a reasonable two drop in any red deck. You don’t have to discard to pump it. Your opponent has to hold something back, or kill it, out of fear of taking four while you toss a land or enable madness. If they ever do leave themselves exposed, feel free to toss away a card for a [casthaven]Lava Spike[/casthaven]. Even in a control deck, it can be a finisher in this way, turning your useless late game cards into four trample damage a turn. That’s a solid clock once you get to the topdecking portion of the game, and especially so if you sandbag a couple extra lands in preparation.

The hidden strength of [casthaven]Furyblade Vampire[/casthaven] is true of the format in general: it is a 1/2. Shadows/Eldritch Moon limited might be the first format in years where 1/2 is a useful defensive body. Skulk makes it so. I beat a strong Temur deck in the finals of my draft because [casthaven]Furyblade Vampire[/casthaven] held back [casthaven]Wharf Infiltrator[/casthaven]. Being pecked to death by skulk creatures is one of the weaknesses of red in the format, because red tends to have higher-powered creatures. [casthaven]Thermo-Alchemist[/casthaven] can also do this, but a 1/2 is a little more threatening on defense than an 0/3.

Basically every cheap 1/2 in the format is playable. Obviously [casthaven]Thraben Inspector[/casthaven] is the big one, but it’s not just the clue that makes it good! There are ten 1/2s in the EMN/SOI: [casthaven]Bold Impaler[/casthaven], [casthaven]Crossroads Consecrator[/casthaven], [casthaven]Desperate Sentry[/casthaven], [casthaven]Ember-Eye Wolf[/casthaven], [casthaven]Furyblade Vampire[/casthaven], [casthaven]Loam Dryad[/casthaven], [casthaven]Sanitarium Skeleton[/casthaven], [casthaven]Sigardian Priest[/casthaven], [casthaven]Thraben Inspector[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Ulvenwald Captive[/casthaven]. That’s a strong list. The worst one, [casthaven]Bold Impaler[/casthaven], is bad, but is a vampire at least. All of the rest are good or great. You may have overlooked [casthaven]Crossroads Consecrator[/casthaven] or [casthaven]Loam Dryad[/casthaven], but you should stop doing that.

Here is one of the fundamental ways to get better at draft: find ways to defend all the strategies of the metagame through incidental effects on cards you already want in your deck. Playing 1/2s in a skulk format is one way to do this. Modal cards like charms or escalate cards do this too. Any time a card gives you options you don’t think you will want, be aware of when you actually will want them. If it does enough generally useful stuff as well, put it in your main deck, and keep it in mind when thinking of your outs to weird situations.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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