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Drafting B/R Control in JBT


Welcome back to Very Limited. This week, we’ll be looking at a Draft archetype that has improved significantly with Journey into Nyx: B/R. The B/R deck isn’t an archetype many players feel comfortable drafting, but when drafted properly, it has the potential to give us easy 3–0 finishes. We’ll discuss why B/R has improved, the pitfalls of the archetype, and pick orders.

Why Is Nobody Drafting B/R Control? Why Should We?

When we drafted three packs of Theros, there seemed to be little in the way of effective removal. Most removal spells were overcosted in relation to the creatures, and decks wanted to be mostly creatures to take advantage of the devotion cards. Adding a pack of Born of the Gods into the mix helped; Bolt of Keranos, Fall of the Hammer, and Asphyxiate all provided solid removal for not a lot of mana. Now we only have one pack of Theros, where the creatures are most powerful, and we have two packs that are packed with utility and reasonably efficient removal. This puts B/R in a much better spot than it might have been in the past.

Bolt of Keranos
Fall of the Hammer

People don’t draft B/R in this block. Throughout Magic’s history, it seemed we could jump into a Draft of an unknown format, take decent B/R removal and creatures, and usually do well. This hasn’t been the case in this block, mostly because black and red were the worst colors in the first set of the block. Black and red aren’t the worst in Born of the Gods or Journey into Nyx, but players have trained themselves to avoid the combination. This means that B/R is among the better decks to force because you’ll very rarely be sharing more than one color with any player at the table, often allowing us to pick up some really nice uncommons and rares pretty late in the third pack.

That’s the thing! The black and red uncommons and rares are awesome in the third pack. We should have our meat and potatoes after two packs, but the third pack is basically like being on Oprah: “Sixth-pick Keepsake Gorgon; thanks!”

“Sixth-pick Hammer of Purphoros; how lovely!”

“Fifth-pick Abhorrent Overlord; that seems reasonable!”

Keepsake Gorgon
Hammer of Purphoros
Abhorrent Overlord

All of these things happened to me today when drafting B/R. I didn’t break the backboard or anything. I won two 8–4s and lost two others in the first round. None of my decks seemed insane, but the deck came together as planned every time.

Everyone wants to be aggressive right now. It’s not unusual to see decks with five or six 2/2s or 2/1s for 2 mana. By being the dude who grabs all the late Felhide and Pensive Minotaurs, we can effectively blank huge portions of opposing decks by being the eighteen-land toughness deck.

What Should We Be Avoiding When Drafting the B/R Deck?

We’re not forcing Minotaurs! If we happen to have a few Minotaurs after the first pack, we can take a random Minotaur over a creature that might be slightly better in hopes of calling the cows to war Kragma-style in the third pack, but we should not be taking the random Minotaur over actual good cards.

We don’t need to struggle for a high creature count with our B/R deck. We want some cheap, fat-assed stuff that cost 3 or less. Toughness is generally quite good when we’re planning on taking a lot of removal. Having a beefy Rotted Hulk in play means that we can just straight-up ignore the majority of our opponent’s creatures. Oh, did he use a pump spell on his guy? Good thing we are able to two-for-one him. Don’t block if you’re tapped out and have a healthy life total—there’s no reason to give an opponent value on his pump spell when your deck is so good at punishing those.

Felhide Minotaur
Rotted Hulk
Pensive Minotaur

What Cards Should We Be Taking?

This our pick order for the B/R deck. We’ll discuss the cards in descending order, starting with the best and ending with the barely playable. Remember that we’re usually not going to be super-aggressive—unless the Draft dictates it. Generally speaking, we want to be playing a lot of toughness with two or three cards that cost 6 or more that are ready to close a game at a moment’s notice.

Journey into Nyx

Silence the Believers


Best rares:

Prophetic Flamespeaker

The rare slot is super-deep for B/R in Journey into Nyx.

Silence the Believers is absolutely absurd. This card is rarely worse than a two-for-one, and it’s often much better. It’s very hard to lose the game when we cast this for 7 mana.

Prophetic Flamespeaker is great on defense and offense, and in the B/R deck, it’s quite good at revealing removal spells.

Dictate of Erebos makes the game a nightmare for our opponents. Every trade goes our way, and opposing tricks become terrible once this hits the board. We can usually flash it in and decimate the opponent’s board, even when we’re way behind.

Doomwake Giant is a beating! We can cast our enchantments post-combat for a lot of value. This often comes down and kills more than one of our opponent’s guys if we time it correctly. Let’s bash that 3/3 into our opponent’s 4/4!

Harness by Force ends games. The card is especially powerful in a bestow-centric format.

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed is usually decent, but it becomes a lot better in a deck with a lot of removal that can clear the way for him.

Best uncommons:

Forgeborn Oreads

Forgeborn Oreads usually kills something or allows us to trade up the turn we play it. Then, we have a nice 4-power guy for 4 mana to boot!

Felhide Petrifier gives us a nice body that can trade with anything. The card is obviously very strong in B/R, where a lot of our creatures just happen to be Minotaurs.

Best commons:

Magma Spray is a great, inexpensive removal spell.

Bloodcrazed Hoplite is good against opposing heroic decks, can get out of hand with the right draw, and secures our signal in that we don’t pass the best black common in the set.

Feast of Dreams is a great cheap removal spell that almost always kills something that costs more mana.

Born of the Gods


Oracle of Bones

Reckless Reveler

Best rares:

Gild is an unconditional removal spell that helps us ramp into our top end. It’s pretty much everything a deck like defensive B/R could ask for.

Herald of Torment is just too good to pass up. We either have a 3/3 flyer for 3 or just win the game for 5 mana if the opponent doesn’t have pressure or an answer to a massive flyer.

Forgestoker Dragon is exactly the kind of top end a deck like this is looking for.

Best uncommons:

Bile Blight

Removal, removal . . .

Best commons:

. . . removal, and removal.


Stormbreath Dragon

Mogis's Marauder

Arena Athlete

Best rares:

Agent of the Fates

Stormbreath Dragon comes down and takes over the game. It’s a perfect top end, plays super-awesome defense when it needs to, and ends games very quickly, especially when we can make it monstrous.

Abhorrent Overlord is another perfect top end. It gives us a clock (giant flyer and a bunch of blockers) that’s damn-near impossible for opponents to race.

Agent of the Fates can die to a lot of stuff these days, but if the card sticks around and we are able to target it for value—even once—the game is usually pretty easy.

Hythonia the Cruel is another great top end for our control deck. I may be saying that a lot of things are awesome on the top, but the best top ends are rares, so it’s not as though our deck is gonna cost a trillion mana.

Best uncommons:

Erebos's Emissary

It’s pretty hard to get better than Keepsake Gorgon. It dominates the ground when it comes down, and the monstrosity ability gives us a free removal spell and makes it super-resistant to enemy tricks such as Griptide, Voyage's End, Hubris, or Retraction Helix—unless our life total is super-low.

Erebos's Emissary is super-efficient on offense or defense and will often prevent attacks and blocks simply based on the chance that we might have a creature in hand. Guess what—we don’t!

Best commons:

Gray Merchant of Asphodel brings us to a safe life total after we’ve spent the first four or five turns of the game trying to stabilize. Card wins races.


The defensive B/R deck approaches JBT from a much different angle than most Draft strategies do. As a result, we always end up with a reasonably strong deck. Remember that if we don’t use removal on creatures that are already trumped by a creature we have in play, we’ll be rewarded for our frugality.

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