But not really. Well some of the time—some of the time. For my very first draft ever in Gatecrash, I ended up Gruul. Everything a Gruul player could love made its way into my deck. [card]Sylvan Primordial[/card], [card]Molten Primordial[/card], [card]Ruination Wurm[/card]s, and [card]Verdant Havens[/card], even a [card]Gruul Ragebeast[/card]! The deck was stacked. Giant, unbeatable creatures backed by some acceleration and removal. GRUUL!!!!
I quickly 0-3’d that draft, losing to any and everything the rest of the team had. Even against Orzhov, where my topdecks were crazy good and I went over the top of every one of his creatures, was an easy win for my opponent. The deck was bad, but maybe I was just approaching Gruul the wrong way.
The next day I once again dipped my toes into the red/green Gruul pool, but this time [card]Verdant Haven[/card] was the last thing on my mind. I stuck to the [card]Ember Beast[/card]s and [card]Skinbrand Goblin[/card]s. Some solid 4- and 5-drops, and some tricks like [card]Mark for Death[/card]. While the deck looked amazing laid out, I still ended up losing. Something was not going right, and Gruul couldn’t hold my interest. I focused on learning the other guilds and would just avoid Gruul if possible, since it seemed to just not work.
Flash forward a few weeks as I sit down for my first draft of Pro Tour Gatecrash. P1p1 I take a [card]Hellkite Tyrant[/card] out of a pack with very few options. A pick 2 [card]Homing Lightning[/card] had me excited for the Boros I was about to receive. But then I just kept getting Gruul stuff. I may have disliked the guild, but I was not going to pass up the signals I was getting.
The packs ran thin for just about everyone in pack 2 and 3, forcing me to play a few loose ones in an otherwise decent looking deck. Most notably, I had a copy of [card]Hindervines[/card] in my deck and a copy of [card]Spire Tracer[/card]…
The deck played out fine, securing a 2-1 finish, but I noticed a few things. Games in which I flooded out were much more difficult to win than the ones I was tight on mana, and the power of the fast Gruul cards was so much more impressive than the slow ones.
Sure, [card]Hellkite Tyrant[/card] was fine when he hit play, but half of the time I didn’t even have time for that! Oh, and [card]Hindervines[/card] did manage to win a game 1 situation, purely because my opponent never thought to factor it in, but it was not stellar any other time.
In my very next draft, I found myself in a similar position. After I opened a [card]Wrecking Ogre[/card], I was passed a [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card]. While I was not thrilled at the thought of drafting GR again, these were both strong picks and I could still end up Boros or something like that.
A few picks later, it was pretty obvious Gruul was wide open. I thought back to a conversation a friend and I had had while testing for the Pro Tour. We were discussing the idea of 16-land Gruul because all of your expensive cards have alternate casting costs due to bloodrush and you were an aggro deck at heart. I decided to employ that philosophy this draft.
I came out of it with more “unplayable” cards this time around. Two copies of [card]Spire Tracer[/card] found their way into my deck this time, to go along with two copies of [card]Madcap Skills[/card]. Beyond that, just imagine an RG aggro deck with 6 to 7 two-drops, 4-5 threes, and then a few of the more expensive bloodrush options, and that was my deck. I had no rares beyond that Ogre and my all-star was [card]Disciple of the Old Ways[/card]. It wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done time and time again.
My favorite moment was watching my opponent [card]Aurelia’s Fury[/card] my [card]Spire Tracer[/card] wearing a [card]Madcap Skills[/card] on turn 4. Sure, he got a 2-for-1, but I had gotten 8 damage and ate his mythic rare. I managed to 3-0 pretty easily and was shocked. On the surface, my deck was worse than my first draft, with significantly less raw power, but it got the job done, fast and consistently.
After the Pro Tour, I decided to start working on the archetype a little more. I actually hosted a fundraiser stream in which I drafted the deck, featuring 2 copies of [card]Razortip Whip[/card], and still managed to 3-0. I also have a video that should be posted shortly on this site in which I walk through the deck, so check that out soon.
The basic premise is to draft an explosive, low-curve deck that punishes opponents for bad draws, slow decks, or even just lack of access to early removal. The deck is a total backdoor deck, meaning it centers around low-pick cards that you can collect at the end of packs. This means it is OK to audible to it midway through pack 1, because you likely have not missed out on too many of the important cards and will get extra come pack 2 and 3.
Forcing the deck is also possible, as Harry Corvese did for Grand Prix Pittsburgh, going 4-1-1 (I.D.) I believe. Up until this point, forcing it has been relatively easy and profitable, but I would hesitate to do so right now. With some videos going live featuring the deck, social media talking about it, and things like this article, it might be in higher demand than it should be for a while. I would suggest backdooring the deck for the first few days and then later on, when the smoke clears, do as you see fit.
— Ari Lax (@armlx) April 4, 2013
Alright, so I am sure some of you are still wondering what makes this deck worth writing about. It is just a Gruul deck after all, so if I just pick aggressive green and red cards, all will be well! Well, sort of. That will likely work, because even a mediocre G/R aggro deck is going to be different. But, there are certainly some cards you actively want in this deck that you may have never prioritized before:
[card]Spire Tracer[/card]- This is really the lifeblood of the deck. Much like [card]Silhana Ledgewalker[/card] in the original Ravnica, this is your workhorse and will lead to your most explosive starts. You will win a ton of games off of just Tracer into [card]Forced Adaptation[/card] on turn 2 without the aid of anything else.
[card]Forced Adaptation[/card]- One of the surprising all-stars in the deck. Being able to turn any of your cheap, unimpressive creatures into a threat that applies more and more pressure over time is remarkable. You very quickly get out of range of the toughness-based removal, and cards like [card]Angelic Edict[/card] and [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card] are slow. While they will always take a turn 4 Spectacle, that means they have taken at least 6 damage by that point, which could add up.
[card]Armored Transport[/card]- You have probably played this in Boros before where it is solid, but it can be a real game-changer here. Because you put an emphasis on [card]Madcap Skills[/card] and [card]Forced Adaptation[/card], this turns into an actual wrecking ball, getting in turn after turn unafraid of whatever is waiting on the other end of combat.
[card]Madcap Skills[/card]- This is probably the most popular card on this list, but it is worth mentioning because of how important it is in this deck. A turn 1 Tracer into this is insane, as is a [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] into this on turn 2. Your opponent can likely block within a few turns, but getting in 10 damage and then 2-for-2ing is all this deck wants to do. Take these highly because they will not wheel.
[card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]- Emissary is powerful, but it can be a real awkward draw in both Simic and Boros due to a difficult casting cost and not always being able to follow it up with a spell. If you are on Emissary and [card]Daring Skyjek[/card], that doesn’t work out so well. In Gruul, you can basically play every followup off of GR mana, making this much more smooth in the deck and a relatively high pick.
While we will discuss individual cards shortly, I wanted to first talk about some of the general points I try to hit when drafting this deck.
Aim for 15-16 lands
Ultimately, because you will be drafting a hyper aggressive strategy, being light on lands is a manageable position, while flooding out will usually lead to a loss. Your individual cards are not impressive, so topdeck capability drops dramatically as the turns pass. You really want to take advantage of the early turns that most people spend building up for later. Not hitting your 3rd land drop might not be optimal, but you will have plays to make and more gas in hand as a result. If you are playing land 7 though, you cannot really claim the same.
Draft a Deck, Not Cards
This is advice that should apply to just about every deck you draft, but this deck requires it even more. You will at times take cards like [card]Spire Tracer[/card] over [card]Gruul Ragebeast[/card]. This format is fast and this deck is faster. Building up a critical mass of tools that set up explosive early game starts is ultimately more important. You are trying to win the game before half of the opponent’s cards even become castable, so keep that in mind. NO 7-DROPS!
When in Doubt, Explode
When you first begin drafting this deck, there will be some interesting picks that you are not too sure of but are not essential pieces of the deck, meaning we won’t talk about the individual pick. For example, you are often presented with this pick:
[card]Crocanura[/card] vs. [card]Warmind Infantry[/card]
Both are 3-drops and both are outstanding in their respective guilds, but what about here? Well, you will play either in your deck, but the Infantry attacks for 4, making it the more explosive of the two. Factor in that you won’t be able to get Croc up much higher than 2 power and the pick gets much easier. If you are ever stuck on a pick, pick the more explosive of the two.
Playing the Deck
When you eventually play the deck, you will find that it requires the same mindset as when you draft it. You need to think aggression and explosion first. This can come up in a few key scenarios where it might not feel right, but it ultimately is. In the early game, if you are debating between moving in with some aura or not, it is usually going to be correct to go for it. Sure, if they have the removal spell it is bad for you, but if you just wait, they don’t even need a removal spell for it to be bad for you. Put the pressure on the opponent to answer you.
If you ever find yourself falling behind in the late mid-game or late game, you need to be setting up some sort of combo. Get your evasive creatures down and build up as much bloodrush/auras on it as possible. Don’t worry about trading and hoping to pull out a game of attrition, because you won’t. Instead, protect your running back and set up for one big play. The deck has enough raw power in an all-in situation that you would be surprised how many times this actually will win you the game.
So that’s that! I was waiting to write about this deck until I understood it well enough to talk about it in detail, so hopefully people give it a shot and are impressed. This deck can usually get away with playing any card so long as it is aggressive. If I can win with [card]Razortip Whip[/card]s after all…
Be sure to pick your spots when you move in on this deck for the meantime though. I do not think the archetype can support more than 1 player consistently, with a max of two players if enough of the important cards are opened. But if you begin wheeling key cards for the archetype, have fun! Thanks for reading!