It’s just 20 minutes into a round, but you are done. A sweatless 0-2. Your throat feels dry. Other players still sit at their tables. They still play Magic. A UW player resolves his first Sphinx’s Revelation. But you are done.
No more. Here are tips to improve your frame of mind and your deck. You may still lose, but a loss on turn 8 or turn 10 feels different than on turn 4. You’ve put up a good fight. That’s admirable.
I’ve built two test decks (WG, WU) to find out effective ways of going beyond turn 4. WG was a mix of white detaining/banishing and green pumping tricks. With WU I went full steam ahead with detaining and bouncing, spiced up by a little touch of extort. Following tips can be applicable to any deck, but specific cards I use as examples come from White, Blue, Green.
Here is a general scenario you want to avoid:
Turn 1 – a Rabble Red opponent plays one drop creature (Firedrinker Satyr or Foundry Street Denizen)
Turn 2 – one-to-three creatures (a wide choice from: Burning-Tree Emissary, Ash Zealot, Firedrinker Satyr, Foundry Street Denizen), attack for 4 to 6 damage
Turn 3 – Goblin Rabblemaster, or Legion Loyalist plus Rubblebelt Maaka crouching in hand to make sure the legionnaire Goblin survives combat, attack for 6 to 10 damage
Turn 4 or 5 – Goblin Rabblemaster continue to produce Goblin tokens, attack with four to six creatures for 12 to 16 damage. Game over.
I’ve found seven things that helped me stay alive during turn 4.
Tip 1: Play a creature* on every turn
By creature* I mean a creature or another permanent that significantly affects the opponent’s board. Examples of such creatures* are creatures that mess with the opponent’s creatures or spells (Azorius Arrester, Lyev Skyknight, Imposing Sovereign, Judge’s Familiar), as well as enchantments with a similar feature like Blind Obedience on turn 2 (after a turn 1 normal creature), and Banishing Light on turn 3 targeting Legion Loyalist or Goblin Rabblemaster. A timely-placed sorcery or instant also do count, like Time Ebb or Griptide.
If you play a creature* on every turn, then the Rabble Red pilot needs to do some thinking. An all-out attack is not automatic anymore, because you will block every time possible. Every creature killed in combat before turn 4 improves your chance to play a longer game. With just one other creature Legion Loyalist‘s battalion doesn’t trigger. Every Maaka played on a non-trample creature equals three points of damage you don’t get in a face. Every Goblin token killed means Goblin Rabblemaster bears one point less of power in a big attack. So maybe it is a good line of play not to attack this turn – Rabbled Red pilot thinks. That also nets you a peaceful turn.
If you present some blockers with at least two power or other serious roadblocks like Blind Obedience on first three turns, you’ll probably earn two or three additional turns of the game. Who knows what will you draw then? Maybe something nice? It’s a better chance to find something to stabilize your board in two or three draws, than to have to topdeck the perfect answer at the only shot you have. You may lose, but it definitely takes longer than 20 minutes.
How about life gain, you ask. Doesn’t life gain earn additional turns? Sure it does. However, life gain in itself doesn’t develop your board. If it happens as a sweet bonus to a normal gameplay, it’s fine. A few taps of turn 1’s Soulmender. A few upkeep points from turn 2’s Nyx-Fleece Ram. Turn 3’s Centaur Healer, granting 3 life points in one dose. Convoked Meditation Puzzle for 8 life during combat on turn 4 is probably the last acceptable trick.
Here are some of play chains in games when I survived turn 4 and 5 (and won, in the end):
* Dryad Militant > Azorius Arrester > Dryad Militant number 2 > Banishing Light on Goblin Rabblemaster, Judge’s Familiar > Dryad Militant number 3 > Azorius Arrester
* Dryad Militant > Blind Obedience > extorted Imposing Sovereign > Lyev Skyknight > extorted Lyev Skyknight > extorted Azorius Arrester
* Judge’s Familiar > Blind Obedience > extorted Azorius Arrester > Banishing Light on Legion Loyalist > extorted Dryad Militant, Judge’s Familiar > extorted Dryad Militant number 2, Dryad Militant number 3
* Judge’s Familiar > Witchstalker > no play on my turn, but on the opponent’s turn during combat I played Giant Growth and Titanic Growth on Witchstalker, killing Maaka’d Goblin Rabblemaster
* Dryad Militant > Blind Obedience > Banishing Light on Legion Loyalist > extorted Witchstalker > Imposing Sovereign, extorted Judge’s Familiar > extorted Selesnya Charm producing Knight token
Cheap creatures* for the win!
Tip 2: In top deck mode, there is a 50/50 your opponent doesn’t draw creatures
Rabble Red pilot empties his/her hand quickly. By the final attack on turn 4, 5, or 6, that player holds one or two cards, usually spare lands or Stoke the Flames. If you still live after the attack, the game continues. The Rabble Red pilot draws a card. One per turn. (Until Aggressive Mining will be re-discovered). If this draw is a land, you’ve effectively cast Time Walk for zero mana. Then you draw a card. Is it a creature*? Great, you’ve started to get ahead in this game. A solid three drop like [/card]Witchstalker
Tip 3: Stabilize your board by using resources correctly
Even a single one-mana creature ([card]Elvish Mystic"> or most of four drops will place you on a path to victory.
Tip 3: Stabilize your board by using resources correctly
Even a single one-mana creature ([card]Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix) opens a possibility of getting five mana on turn 4. It is just enough to play AEtherspouts during the crucial combat phase, be it turn 4, 5, or 6. If you have AEtherspouts, don’t block at all during early turns. Patiently wait for the mana. Every attacking creature that returns on top of library earns you an extra turn to draw something good. Also you can start to attack. This way, when all AEtherspouted Legion Loyalists, Firedrinker Satyrs, and Goblin Rabblemasters return to the game, they will be needed for blocks.
Stabilizing also means to be over 8 life, preferably all the time, and increasing. In one game I had 11 life and lost, because the opponent played two Stoke the Flames and one [/card]Lightning Strike, while I was seeking even a single point life gain. This is why [card]Blind Obedience enabling extort (usually unanswerable by Rabble Red) is much better then Imposing Sovereign (still good, though). I won games on turn 10, turn 11, turn 13, extorting my one and two drops turn after turn, crowding the battlefield as much as possible.
Tip 4: Find a way to destroy the opponent’s creatures without losing your own creatures*
I tested three options (there may be more). First: use tricks to directly destroy attacking creatures. In Return to Ravnica block the best one is Smite. Second: bring a deathtouch defense. Wasteland Viper, Vial of Poison, Sedge Scorpion, [/card]Deadly Recluse, [card]Typhoid Rats, Pharika, God of Affliction, Hornet Nest, Hornet Queen even (with heavy mana acceleration and some luck): a choice is wide open. Third: use tricks to pump creatures enough to survive combat. Swift Justice, Giant Growth, Gather Courage (especially convoked), Savage Surge (surprise, surprise, my dear opponent), and my favourite Tower Defense, are great for this type of play.
Tower Defense is fantastic, because it affects ALL your blockers. In one game, during combat, Hall of Triumphed 4/3 Rabblemaster was blocked by Judge’s Familiar and Azorius Arrester, and Goblin token was blocked by Imposing Sovereign. Before Tower Defense all my creatures* would die at the end of combat. After Tower Defense all attacking creatures died, all mine survived. Two mana for such blowout is a low price.
Tip 5: Race in the air
As powerful as it is, Rabble Red doesn’t address flying creatures well. Lightning Strike is the only option in most builds. It costs one full turn to play, either on turn 2 or on turn 3 (thanks to Judge’s Familiar), so no new creature shows up to harm you. I won one game this way, after casting two Enlarges in a row on Judge’s Familiar. It’s rare situation, if your deck doesn’t have many flyers, but it happens sometimes. Four copies of Judge’s Familiar and four of Concordia Pegasus serve as a nice second-rate plan to stabilize the board.
Tip 6: Choose wisely what you do on turn 3
When facing a deck as fast as Rabble Red, your play on turn 3 is very important. A creature* may slow the opponent down for a turn, like Imposing Sovereign, Blind Obedience, Centaur Healer, Lyev Skyknight, Detention Sphere. It may hold assault at bay for a few turns, like Banishing Light on Legion Loyalist or on Goblin Rabblemaster. It may do both, like Witchstalker or Boros Reckoner. For three mana you can also blow the attack to smithereens with a combination of Giant Growth and Titanic Growth, Smite and Tower Defense, Smite and Azorius Charm.
TIP 7: You’re playing a defensive deck
This last one tip means you need to sideboard all cards (even good cards) that don’t add to your defense. Selesnya Charm is a great trample enabler, but should make room for Tower Defense. Sunblade Elf is nice, but Wasteland Viper scares Rabble Red pilot more. Giant Growth is weaker than Titanic Growth, but it costs one mana less, thus opening also Tower Defense on turn 3. It also means creatures with vigilance, with higher toughness than power, token creating effects, change from Limited fillers into strong creatures*.