When Return to Ravnica came out, I was just as eager as everyone else to find the “best” guild for limited. There were powerful cards previewed in all of the city’s guilds, but only after careful playtesting could I really figure out the format.
After the first weekend I was of the opinion that Rakdos was by far the best. After all, it’s got the biggest creatures and the best removal. What more could you want?
However, since the start of the format, defender-based decks have been popular, making Rakdos less powerful than I had previously guessed. But what about the Izzet?
Blue/red: what Izzet trying to do?
At the pre-release, the one deck I didn’t understand at all was Izzet.
Every time I saw someone playing Izzet, they were getting crushed. Drafting blue/red just seemed like making a grindy deck that wanted to gain some advantage by playing defensive creatures and winning with direct damage spells. It played as many Cancels and Essence Backlashes as it could find and hoped to pick up a bomb such as Hypersonic Dragon or Mercurial Chemister along the way to finish the game off.
This doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, but the main issue is that most red creatures in Ravnica are aggressively-minded, and most blue creatures relied on flying. This combination doesn’t do well in a defensive deck! Additionally, the two burn spells, Annihilating Fire and Explosive Impact, don’t really remove creatures efficiently, especially faster Rakdos threats. In the end, most Izzet summons weren’t focused enough on keeping you alive, and though things like Lobber Crew and Voidwielder did fit the plan, they were the exception.
Ultimately, most people gave up on drafting Izzet.
A new hope? The other Izzet draft deck
Fortunately there is another way to draft Izzet decks. The idea came to me after I had drafted a typical Izzet deck but also included some seemingly worthless cards such as a Blustersquall (a card I had originally deemed to be a worse Downpour), Crosstown Courier, Cobblebrute, and Pursuit of Flight.
As I was drafting, I came to the conclusion that an aggressive, overload-based version of the Izzet deck is the way to go. Much like a Selesnya Populate deck, it relies on the combination of versatile creatures and support spells (in this case, burn and evasion) to whittle away at your opponent’s life. While neither category of cards is that good on its own, together they create a powerful, hard-to-stop offense.
After making my revisions, I went undefeated that draft, rekindling the dream of Izzet dominance. I have drafted it many times since, and this specific plan is the definitely the way to go if you’re a blue/red fan. Want to see proof? Check out my videos at the end of the article
Laying the foundation: Izzet Aggro Creatures
When it comes to blue and red, there aren’t very many creatures that are large for their size. Sure, Izzet is pretty deep on two drops with Frostburn Weird, Goblin Electromancer and Gore-House Chainwalker all at common (Crosstown Courier as a late-pick backup). But past two drops, you’re going to be very limited on what creatures are ideal.
Blue in Return to Ravnica is mostly comprised of creatures whose usefulness comes from abilities rather than power/toughness. That being said, Stealer of Secrets can work really well even if you aren’t getting in a ton of damage. Runewing and Tower Drake can also be useful as some alternate ways to get damage through rather than relying on instants and sorceries.
Either way, you still want to try to pick up as many Splatter Thugs and Cobblebrutes as you can possibly find. While these creatures aren’t ideal, they’ll work well enough for trying to squeeze maximum damage out of each attack. If you can draft enough two drops and get lucky by grabbing some Cobblebrutes, Splatter Thugs or even a Bloodfray Giant or Rakdos Cackler, then you’ll be in much better shape to get your offense out early.
Crossing the frontier: Izzet Aggro Spells
The other part of this aggro Izzet draft deck is the spells. Many Overload spells accomplish similar goals: the general idea is to make your opponent’s creatures unable to block. Teleportal, which makes all of your creatures unblockable, or Blustersquall, which taps all of your opponent’s creatures, completely evade any defense. Even a third options, Street Spasm, can be used to wipe out blockers if you have enough mana (or Electromancers).
Unfortunately, these are all uncommons and splashable so you may not see many copies throughout the draft. But don’t give up hope: Izzet Aggro has some replacements. Chemister’s Trick can often work well enough. An overloaded Trick will tap any creatures that can attack (and weaken them for easy elimination), but anything that’s a wall or has summoning sickness can still block. Regardless, when the game gets to the point where both players are topdecking, Chemister’s Trick can be the momentum-shifting card you need.
While not normally powerful, Pursuit of Flight is extremely well positioned in the Return to Ravnica draft format. No single common or uncommon flier in RTR can trade with even a 2/2 wearing Pursuit of Flight. Additionally, it is a pseudo-combo with Frostburn Weird, allowing it to pump all the way to an 8/1 creature. Puirsuit of Flight can allow Stealer of Secrets to fly in and draw cards, so it works extremely well with some of the commons in the deck. Finally, instant speed removal and removal in general is particularly weak in this set, making auras extra powerful. With these factors combined, Pursuit of Flight performs much better in actual use than one might think.
Inaction Injunction can do wonders if your opponent has one creature that’s holding off your 2/2 army by letting you get in, plus a free card draw. With an Electromancer on board the already cheap 1U becomes just a single blue mana allowing you to cast others spells. Traitorous Instinct really surprised me. Other than ruining my pre-release by losing my Golgari Decoy to it, I thought it would be average at best. But now it’s obvious you can generally craft the board in such a way that this card usually ends the game. When you do end up casting it to for lethal damage you are basically casting a hastey Flametongue Kavu; stealing the enemy’s creature is similar to dealing four damage outright, and the attacking body will be at least four power.
Sticking to the plan: Other Izzet Aggro Cards
Outside of the cards mentioned above, you must be wondering why I haven’t mentioned popular Izzet staples. Basically, I’ve only discussed the cards central to the functioning of the perfect Izzet Aggro deck, but you’ll certainly be drafting more than that. Cards like Thoughtflare or Inspiration are still important since many times you find you’ve drawn the aggressive creatures but not the spells need to send them through. Additionally, you’re going to be picking up as many Goblin Electromancers as you possibly can, which make both of the above cards incredible.
Another important card to take is Nivix Guildmage. He can actually help out in all facets of our plan. He can dig into your deck to find good spells, copy your instants or sorceries giving you greater effects, or even just provide beat down. Nivix Guildmage is amazing, and not many cards are more useful for the deck.
Lastly, creatures like Lobber Crew, Guttersnipe and Izzet Staticaster are all worthwhile and can definitely help in winning games. That said, sometimes you need to take an aggressive creature or a Pursuit of Flight over one of them just to make sure the deck will run properly. Overall, your goal is not to assemble the most powerful cards in Return to Ravnica; rather, make a combination of effects that, together, will be able to beat inherently more powerful cards.
Izzet Aggro Drafting: Wrapping Up
Very often when I play Magic, I try to find something fun and out of the ordinary, sticking with it purely out of originality, win or lose. This is not one of those circumstances. My win percentage with Izzet is now higher than any other guild and it has become the most fun to play. This deck is easy to create, fun to play and performs well. Even if you don’t want to force Izzet Aggro, if you open a Cyclonic Rift or a Teleportal I urge you to give it a try.
Curious exactly how to play Izzet Aggro in draft? Below are some videos I’ve recently uploaded from one of my first tries at this deck. Not all the plays are flawless, but at least you get the picture!
Round 1 gameplay
Round 2 gameplay
Round 3 gameplay