This week, I will continue with my evaluation of each color’s top commons in Avacyn Restored Draft, this time taking a look at red. Red is probably the second most aggressive color in the set, which sounds enticing, but the fact of the matter is that there is no middle ground for this color. You need to be aggressive or your cards just aren’t as good, it’s that simple. When I draft red, I like to pair it with green or white, as those lead to the most curve-conscious decks. Red is horrible with blue, something I have changed my opinion on as of late—and is only OK with black under certain circumstances.
Kruin Striker is, in my estimation, the best red common. When we were preparing for the Pro Tour I believed Pillar of Flame was the hands-down best choice. When you realize that the problematic aggressive starts don’t really involve many small creatures, and instead involve hands like Gloomwidow into Nettle Swine, or Fettergeist and Trusted Forcemage, then it’s easy to see why Pillar is a bit weaker.
Kruin Striker is basically exactly what you want in a red deck: it’s a two casting-cost creature that works well with all the cards you would already want to be playing. It does a ton of extra damage with cards like Riot Ringleader, Fervent Cathar, and Thatcher Revolt. Not to mention how sick it is to curve Kruin Striker into Hanweir Lancer, a three-power first strike creature is really hard to deal with in this format. Overall, it’s the most natural fit in every red deck, which is why it claims the top spot.
Pillar of Flame is obviously a great card. It does what few other cards in the format can do for its cost, and so should be picked highly. I like that it can deal with cards like Gryff Vanguard and Undead Executioner without leaving a sour taste in your mouth.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like that Pillar of Flame doesn’t kill the creatures that cause you the most trouble, like Trusted Forcemage, Demonic Taskmaster, and Fettergeist—you know, the creatures that are undercosted and overpowered. But it does do some things that are awesome, like killing Mad Prophet and Wandering Wolf, and just in general removing blockers so you can keep up the pressure like red loves to do. It is awesome against Butcher Ghoul as well, which can be incredibly problematic.
I have grown to appreciate Mad Prophet. It sucks that it’s a four-mana card that doesn’t affect the board similar to Amass the Components, but it can generate card advantage—unlike basically every other card in the set. Oddly Mad Prophet seems to do more attacking for me than he does looting, since every red card is just really good at doing damage. If you have a chance to attack with him and not lose him in combat, then you usually take it. A 2/2 haste isn’t ideal, of course—but if you can do some damage, then use the later turns to loot then you are still getting quite a bit out of the card?
Another aspect of Mad Prophet that I love is that he lets you justify playing more lands than you would usually. I had a deck at the Grand Prix in which I would have snap-played 16 lands—but I had 2 Mad Prophets, which meant I wouldn’t flood often, and 2 Stonewrights so if I did have excess lands then I could make good use of them, which made my decision to play 17 much easier. This is much less relevant than it seems, but I also enjoy how Mad Prophet works with miracles. You can really extract value from every draw step, as long as you aren’t under pressure and play carefully.
Riot Ringleader is a deceptively powerful card. Not only do people typically want to trade off with it ASAP because of the nasty things it does with Fervent Cathar and Thatcher Revolt, it makes many of your other creatures harder to interact with, and more powerful when they do go unblocked.
Riot Ringleader can range from at worst a 3/2 for three (which is totally reasonable), to something that you play out and invest in. When every turn you’re adding more humans to the board, it makes your opponent afraid to even consider attacking. Out of nowhere you can have extra attackers, or they could have fewer blockers—often both. I like to pick this card highly, because if they don’t respect its ability then they can just die to it out of nowhere. It’s just gravy that every good red common creature is a Human to boot.
Hanweir Lancer is excellent. It made me sad to rank him this low overall, but I guess red’s commons are closely matched in terms of power. If Kruin Striker is an 8/10, and Pillar and Mad Prophet are each a 7, then Hanweir Lancer can’t be much worse than a 6.5 or a 6. Red’s cards are all fine, but none of them are incredibly powerful—all just reasonable and solid.
I like Hanweir Lancer the best in red-green. It can power up Flowering Lumberknot and just make beefy green creatures harder to defend against in general. The best green creatures often just get double-blocked and trade off, which isn’t bad, but when you have something like a Hanweir Lancer—which is a good card that you would like to pick highly and play anyways AND you get the benefit of just bulldozing past smaller creatures with a first striking Pathbreaker Wurm, you feel pretty awesome about it. I’ve already mentioned that he is a Human and the what that does for you, in the form of Riot Ringleader and Vigilante Justice.
Fervent Cathar is up next. He may seem like he is ranked a bit too low, but I have found that very few decks want a card like this. So, you can typically pick them up later—and as I have mentioned in previous articles, your evaluation of a card like this can skew drastically based on your deck.
Let’s say I’m red-green with 3 Kruin Strikers and 2 [card wandering wolf]Wandering Wolves[/card]—then I would almost certainly pick Fervent Cathar over Mad Prophet, even though I have Mad Prophet ranked third and Fervent Cathar ranked sixth. These lists are based purely on the power-level of the card alone, and not together with the cards you have drafted. Cloudshift or Peel from Reality can easily make Fervent Cathar a more sought-after effect, for example. I know this isn’t relevant, but Fervent Cathar is probably one of the cards I have lost to the most, and has been the largest source of frustration for me. It just punishes people harder than other cards for being overly aggressive, or for not playing around it.
After my local prerelease I was a big fan of Heirs of Stromkirk. I had some really positive experiences with the card, and it’s nice that it basically never dies to removal—the only good ways to handle it are Peel from Reality and Mist Raven. Sure Pillar of Flame and Death Wind kill it, but red has really juicy targets for those on earlier turns, so it’s often the case that they are out of removal by the time you can cast the Vampire.
Maybe I liked it a lot more in Sealed because it’s hard to find enough playable red cards to run, so the intimidate matters more there. Since then I have liked this card less and less—four mana is a steep price to pay in the format, and it’s absolutely dreadful on defense. I’ll give the Heirs credit for being awesome in a stalemate, and for its ability to win a game all by itself. Overall, I still feel you need a good reason to play it on turn 4, and many things need to be going well for you.
Thunderbolt is a card that I basically always maindeck and tend to sideboard out sometimes. It’s not exactly a great card, but when you kill something with it then it’s just outstanding. It is in a color that generally has no removal, so when you can take a late-pick common and shoot down from the skies something as powerful as Demonic Taskmaster, Seraph of Dawn, or Fettergeist then you have gone a long way toward influencing the potential outcome of an otherwise tough game.
The range of uses for a Thunderbolt is actually pretty sweet. If you can kill a flying creature and remove a blocker then it’s clearly powerful as a two-casting cost instant; while against a deck with no flying creatures it’s not completely dead. You still put on pressure dealing three damage to the face which can be pretty nice as well—not ideal—but still useful and that gets it over the threshold of maindeckability. On top of that, you can sometimes just pitch it to Mad Prophet and then sideboard it out—reducing the times where a super situational card is just stone dead is really important in Avacyn Restored, because often the 22nd-23rd cards that you add to your deck do so little in a given game that drawing multiple ineffective cards can just kill you.
Thatcher Revolt is really only playable if you have a compelling reason to play it. These reasons include: Riot Ringleader, Kruin Striker, Vigilante Justice, GOLDNIGHT COMMANDER, Cathars’ Crusade, and sometimes Bone Splinters. I listed Goldnight Commander in caps because it’s by far the most broken interaction you can have with the Thatcher Revolt, besides Cathars’ Crusade which is rare.
If I somehow managed to end up with two copies of Goldnight Commander, than I would take Thatcher Revolt over just about any red common. Some decks have way too few ways to remove the Commander and will just die to this combo. It’s one of the reasons I dislike this format, if you are red-green there exists zero outs to a Druid’s Familiar, and if you are something like green-white or green-blue, outside Peel from Reality, you have zero outs to Goldnight Commander—besides holding on to your seat and praying they don’t draw Thatcher Revolt. This isn’t a card I really put a high priority on, but it’s pretty nice to have when you have the synergy going with it. My advice is to pick them up late if you can, and if not I wouldn’t worry about it.
Last but not least is Scalding Devil. This card is kind of stinky but I find myself playing it more often than not. Red two-drops just don’t exist, and it’s for that reason I put a such high priority on Kruin Striker. Scalding Devil can be reasonable since he is a mana sink and a form of direct damage. It’s nice that some games end up with you dealing a bunch of damage early with bad creatures and a Fervent Cathar, allowing you to finish them off with a Scalding Devil or some Thunderbolts. Red always has a way of being able to end games that look hopeless.
The Devil works best in 18-land decks that are short on two-drops—I find myself playing him in green decks sometimes since he is nice with Triumph of Ferocity and Trusted Forcemage. He gains value if you end up with multiple Mad Prophets as well.
Well, that about does it for red. I’m pretty confident in this pick order, and the only exception really is the ranking of Hanweir Lancer and Fervent Cathar. Those two cards are really similar and both quite nice. Next week I intend to do black and wrap up this series which I’ve enjoyed quite a bit so far, and I hope you have too.
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