Drafting Aggressive Gruul in Gatecrash – Shared Discovery by Rob Wagner

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Drafting Aggressive Gruul in Gatecrash – Shared Discovery by Rob Wagner

Hi all, as I’m writing this I’m waiting for day 2 of Pro Tour Gatecrash to begin. I’ve 8 drafts of Gatecrash under my wing and am 20-4 in matches with only one of my losses being something other than mulls to 4 and drawing 2 or infinite lands (though I’m sure some of my wins were similar). I’ve drafted each guild at least once and feel confident in telling you my thoughts on the format.

Generally I don’t like Dimir as I think Blue and Black are the shallowest colours (they don’t have as many playables as the other colours) and whereas in most strategies you can “borrow” cards from others – e.g.Bomber Corps in Gruul – at a pinch, you can’t do this as well in Dimir. Its own cards don’t even work well together – Hands of Binding and Paranoid Delusions aren’t the best of strategic friends very often.

Draft Strategy

Dimir GuildgateDue to my dislike of Dimir I want to start as “far away” from Dimir as I can. What I mean by this is, here’s a strategy for drafting Gatecrash:

  • Start off taking cards from one colour, which has two guilds associated with it (e.g. Blue has Dimir and Simic).
  • Note that one of the two guilds is being picked up by drafters to your right, begin drafting the other guild your colour is in.
  • Getting cut in your original colour? Salvage a splash if you can and go three colour centred on your other colour from step 2. Note that by a third colour I mean the complementary guild to the one you’ve started with. For example, if you begin Blue and move into Dimir but get forced out of Blue you move into Orzhov as the other black guild. This will result in an Esper deck for those from Shards of Alara.

Now, with this as a plan (one I apply to some drafting success), if you begin Red you will be as far from Dimir as you can possibly be. Cyclically the colours go:

Blue -> Black -> White -> Red -> Green (-> Blue)

which obviously varies slightly from the regular allied colour order. The guild order is:

Dimir -> Orzhov -> Boros -> Gruul -> Simic (-> Dimir)

It should now seem apparent what “far away” from Dimir means now -> I want to only get forced into Dimir if everything else is overdrafted and I can’t salvage a splash. Of course, if you are the only Dimir drafter at the table then you could get a playable deck so the worst case scenario for this plan is not that bad.

I think that the two Red guilds are among the strongest anyway, along with Orzhov. However, Red->Boros->Orzhov is very possible with this draft strategy.

An Example

I did a draft this morning to try to demonstrate this in practice but Magic Online failed to record my picks this time around for some reason :(. It does raise some interesting points though, and I’ll show you the deck before moving on:

Red Gruul Draft Rob

I’m not sure if the Gruul Charm should be main deck to help me alpha strike but I don’t exactly know what I should be playing it over. I brought it in against Simic and Orzhov as a Plague Wind and a Falter respectively.

What can we learn?

foundry street denizenI think the two main points to discuss are as follows: I am playing 16 lands with a low curve; I am not playing the Ivy Lane Denizens.

Regarding the Ivy Lane Denizens, I do think the card is good but it requires a different deck from the way mine shaped up. As mentioned several times by Wizards of the Coast (on their website and during the Pro Tour coverage) they have given each guild two modes of operation.

For Gruul this is early aggression or the “dinosaurs” strategy of making big monsters. The latter strategy loves its Ivy Lane Denizens and uses Greenside Watcher plus Verdant Haven to power out more expensive creatures (see the Ruination Wurm in my sideboard).

The former is much more interested in the Foundry Street Denizen and a curve full of creatures which are Red so that you are starting off with a Savannah Lions or better. In this style you want to maximise your red creature count and that makes all but the most multicolour-packed deck not want to touch the Green denizens.

I really love 1-drops (aka 1 mana creatures) in this format, and always have 2-3 of them.


The above is a conversation from Twitter including a “problem” that many have had with this format – not getting enough cheap creatures (“problem” because having lots of removal is still sweet”). Charlie made day 2 of GP London the other weekend and his first draft was a bit top-heavy. We chatted about things and concluded that he should prioritise cheaper creatures during the second draft as they get picked up early by strong drafters and should be fought over. His second draft was beautiful with a great curve full of terrific cards – problem solved!

So, the second thing I wanted to talk about was that I was playing 16 lands. Look again at my curve, how many of my cards aren’t usable until I hit 4 mana? The answer is 1 – Rubblebelt Raiders. Being stuck on 3 lands and only having one card that can rot in my hand means that I can easily afford to play only 16 lands and nearly always be fine for my mana. 14 of my 24 cards can be used on only 2 mana so I can keep nearly any 2-land opener with a Mountain in it. (down to 10 cards with double Mountain).

Verdant HavenFor me Gatecrash is a 17 land format if you have a good curve but if it’s a bit clunky then you have to play 18 lands because missing a creature drop is suicide. If your first creature is turn 4 you are extremely likely to lose. I’ve seen people on Facebook boasting about making turn 3 Verdant Havenand turn 4 5-drop then winning, but they really need to acknowledge that this was outside the norm – don’t make this mistake!

The format is fast. In Orzhov I nearly always want 18 lands and sometimes 19, depending on how many Extort spells you have. Extort is a strong mechanic when you can pay for it basically every time, as it adds up to 2-4 “free” Lightning Helixes to the face over the course of the game. You know how you can make sure you Extort a lot? Play more Extort cards and play more lands.


  • Red is the best way to start a draft if you want to avoid the dreaded Dimir.
  • Gruul has two modes – Ivy Lane Denizen ramp and Foundry Street Denizen aggro.
  • If you can curve out well you won’t easily lose.
  • Play 16 lands if you only need 3 in play, play up to 19 lands if you have lots of use for lots of mana (i,e, Extort.dec).

What’s your take on it, do you have a different style?

Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.


@DrRobWagner on Twitter



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