While I’ve been on a bit of a Magic hiatus this summer, I’ve continued my journey exploring LOTR Limited and cracking MTGO packs in search of The One Ring. I haven’t yet had the experience of playing with it that I crave, but I’ve gotten some more reps in and have an idea of how I like to approach the Limited format.
This set is very nuts and bolts. You want to find the open late and reap the rewards of doing so.
However, some color combinations are better than others, and I’d like to take a minute to go through how I would rank them, which ones I'd like to play, and which ones I hope to avoid.
Let’s start from the bottom.
While I’m sure Gruul can be serviceable, it’s hard to find a draw to the color combination. Green is well-known to be the worst color in the format. Even though red is hardly the second worst color, it’s challenging to get drawn into this color combination without seeing early gold cards after taking red cards. It’s rare I take a green card early, as I don’t think many are strong enough to take pick-one-pack-one. I generally try to avoid green early in drafts and settle into it later.
Gruul lacks synergy payoffs since it wants big creatures, removal, and/or combat tricks. Without some payoff for going into the color combination, you want your cards to help each other in this format, and Gruul’s best synergy is big creature and a fight spell, which is hardly a good reason to move into Gruul.
Despite not actively trying to avoid Gruul, I just never seem to end up here.
Weirdly, this color combination has two solid gold uncommons that are decent draws to the combination and also has one of the best rares in the set in Faramir, Prince of Ithilien.
There aren't too many synergies at common to go with the “draw an extra card this turn” theme. The common payoffs are lackluster in Knights of Dol Amroth and Stalwarts of Osgiliath. This is a big issue and perhaps the biggest with the color pair. We don’t want to do the thing it wants us to with the commons it provides.
Another big flaw with this archetype is that the two-drops in both colors are all bad. Blue has some good synergistic two-drops in Nimrodel Watcher and Pelargir Survivor, and neither play well in this deck. White has a lot of two-drops, none of which that are supported well by what Azorious is doing. They tend to play as vanilla creatures.
Azorious has a difficult time being tempted by the Ring, which is what the color's payoffs want you to do. Getting tempted twice would make it easy to trigger the draw-and-extra-card clause, but the payoffs for doing so and the easiest way in the format to get there can be a challenge that’s not worth pursuing.
In general, I’m not ending up in Azorious often.
Simic is a color combination that makes sense landing in. You start with a good blue card or two, then get passed a Simic gold card like Galadriel, Elrond, or Arwen, and then you roll with it. You look for your scry payoffs and go from there.
Simic's issue is it’s easy to disrupt what it's doing. A cheap removal spell or two early in the game prevents you from getting the ball rolling, and your synergies fall apart while you get beat up by more efficient creatures and spells. The combination is tied to its gold cards and one of the gold uncommons, Legolas, Counter of Kills, doesn’t fit into the combination. It’s a playable card, but it’s about, if not below, at rate with a common four-drop.
The color combination always lacks removal, and this format is no different. If you don’t have a roaring start, Simic doesn’t have the staying power to compete. This is an archetype I try to avoid unless I have a lot of gold payoffs early, in which case I draft it reluctantly.
This color combination looked cool and promising, but it often hasn’t come together for me. I’m not swearing it off, though. Hobbit’s Sting is an awesome late pick-up for a deck focused on putting creatures and food in play, and the creatures aren’t inefficient.
An issue with this deck is the cards you want for it are unique to it and don’t play well elsewhere. For instance, Hobbit’s Sting is not a particularly great card, but it's amazing in this archetype. Eastfarthing Farmer is a late pick-up card that can play well in this archetype, but you don’t want it elsewhere.
Since the food synergies only spill over into Golgari, you end up not taking many of the cards you want for this deck early enough. Since a lot of the cards you want are uncommons, the packs dry up quickly, and your deck is not completely focused.
That said, I’m not unhappy to end up in GW if it comes. There’s an available playable deck in this archetype, but it's on the bottom of my list.
This may seem low on the list, but now we’re starting to get into the archetype I actually like. Golgari is solid and heavily fixed by how good black is as a color.
The biggest draw to Golgari is that it has great gold uncommons. Both Rise of the Witch-King and Old Man Willow are strong cards and big draws to the color combination. You take a few great black cards early, pick three or four, and now you have a reason to be in Golgari.
Golgari is one of the better color combos to splash in because it plays like a midrange deck and green’s fixing with Many Partings and Wose Pathfinder play nicely in the combination. There’s some minor food synergy going on, but mostly this is just a “play the good cards" archetype.
It’s not my favorite color combination, but it's solid and I'm not unhappy to end up here.
Orzhov is good at a few things, including putting a lot of creatures into play with various token makers and being tempted by the Ring due to the black cards.
This deck can go wide and black, which gives it the best removal in the format. Between cards that give you value when they die and various token makers, it’s easy to make cards like Nasty End and Lash of the Balrog.
White and black both have a good curve of creatures, and black’s removal makes this deck play out nicely.
The easiest way to end up here, much like most color combinations, is by picking up a gold card in the middle of pack one. It’s easy to end up in black early and harder to branch into white, but the gold cards are strong enough to want to move in that direction.
I’m fairly happy to end up in Orzhov.
Now we’re getting into the territory of combos where I actively want to be. Izzet is the worst of the Grixis color combinations because it doesn’t play black cards, but it has strong gold uncommons.
Gandalf’s Sanction is strong and can be an archetype in and of itself if you get a couple of them and enough amass cards acting as creatures.
Bilbo, Retired Burglar has been nothing short of one of the best uncommons in the set. It’s basically an uncommon Fable of the Mirror Breaker. It immediately tempts itself by the Ring, and you will be tempted again if it dies. If not, you’re making free mana every turn.
The color combination has removal, a good curve, and ways to provide raw card advantage. There’s not much to dislike about the archetype, but my biggest critique is that it doesn’t efficiently handle big creatures that have resolved. Also, people tend to take the good gold cards early and actively pursue this archetype, so there’s often someone fighting you for the archetype or taking cards like Gandalf’s Sanctions to splash in another deck.
I love Izzet in this format and am happy when I end up here.
It may be surprising, but this is my favorite non-Grixis color combination.
Boros is powerful and generally has a human sub-theme. The gold cards in Boros are all incredibly strong, which is a big reason this archetype is top notch. Shadowfax, Lord of Horses is almost in broken-rare territory. It’s able to put so much power on the battlefield in a single turn, and I’m almost always putting an Eagles of the North into play with it. Theoden, King of Rohan is also one of the stronger gold uncommons. It plays into the archetype perfectly and pays you for drafting your deck full of low-curve-high-powered creatures like Westfold Rider.
I like using Dunedain Blade and combat tricks to fight through big creatures. While Boros lacks true strong removal, it can make do with Fog on the Barrow-Downs for problematic big creatures, and its fast clock can handle everything else.
One of the great things about Boros is that the two-drops are solid. You use tricks and equipment to push them through early, then usually win with an alpha strike later in the game or by grinding down your opponent with looting from the Ring. It's easy enough to get to stage two with dies triggers from Rohirrim Lancer and Took Reaper, which almost always end up trading off at some point.
Aggro decks benefit the most from being tempted by the Ring. Aggro decks take the most advantage of the Ringbearer being unblockable by dealing damage in clogged board states. Aggressive decks can function off lower land counts than other decks making the looting the strongest here. Of course the last “room” of the Ring provides the ability to deal extra damage to close the game out entirely.
Boros is the best aggro archetype in the format, no questions asked. While it's no secret drafting aggro isn’t my favorite, I do it when necessary, and if I pick up a Shadowfax, Theoden or Eowyn, Fearless Knight early, then I’m happy to go down this path.
Dimir has likely been my most successful archetype in the format.
The Mouth of Sauron is an excellent uncommon. It's not at the same level as Shadowfax, but it’s strong and fits into what Dimir is trying to do. It can stabilize the game and provides card advantage with a little mill on top as a treat. Dimir wants to control the game with its removal and countermagic and use card advantage to bury and out-resource the opponent. The Mouth of Sauron plays well with that.
The other Dimir uncommon, Ringsight, isn’t good and is rarely playable, so what makes Dimir so strong? The first is depth. Blue and black are both deep colors and consistently do the same thing, which is kill and counter creatures, draw cards, and win with anything. I’ve often used Surrounded by Orcs as my win condition by milling out the opponent and amassing a huge creature and beating down the opponents.
The second reason is it’s easy to be tempted by the Ring. Between Birthday Escape and Uruk-Hai Berserker, it’s easy to get added value out of your cards.
Dimir is a color combination I’m actively looking to get into, and I bias my picks somewhat to end up either here or in the best color combination.
Rakdos has solid gold uncommons, but they aren’t in the same league as some of the better ones in the set. Ugluk of the White hand is fine. I play it, but it's not that much better than other four-drops, and Manuhur, Uruk-Hai Captain is an excellent two-drop, but it's not carrying games like other gold uncommons from the set. So what makes Rakdos so good?
Removal! The best removal in the format is in black and red. This is a format about creatures, and Rakdos answers creatures efficiently and reliably while providing its own synergies with amass cards like Foray of Orcs and March from the Black Gate.
Rakdos is consistent, deep, and flexible. You can play Rakdos as a control, aggro, or midrange deck.
While many color combinations are being held together by the strength of their gold uncommons, because their commons are lacking, Rakdos and Dimir, are held together by their ability to answer opponents' strong creatures, break up synergies, and take advantage of the premiere mechanic of the format in being tempted by the Ring.
This is my current power ranking of the archetypes of the format. While I think Rakdos is likely the best archetype, it's mostly held together by its depth and consistency. That does not mean you should actively avoid other archetypes and force Dimir and Rakdos.
This is something we see more and more of in the 17lands era of Limited Magic. What people don’t realize is Limited is not Constructed. If you’re in the “worst colors” you’re not playing “the bad deck” like if you decide to play Elves in Pioneer. You don’t have control over what’s open. You can have the best deck in the room with any of these archetypes if you pick up the signals fast enough and move into the open archetype early enough. If everyone is drafting Grixis at your table, you should be thrilled to be the Selesnya drafter. Yes, there are some formats where some colors or color pairs are unplayable, and while green is pretty bad in this format, it's not quite there.