Defeating the Enemy
How does a Mono Red player deal with all the constant printing of cards aimed at making the deck crumble? Should we just shelve the deck and wait until the Meta is better?
No. I say we fight back.
Like any deck, adjusting to the metagame and difficult cards require one to do some research and testing to find what mix of cards can increase that coveted win percentage.
Here’s my current decklist as of 6/10/2013:
Mono Red by Red Deck Winning 6/10/2013
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Ash Zealot
3 Rakdos Shredfreak
4 Pyreheart Wolf
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
3 Brimstone Volley
4 Mizzium Mortars
4 Boros Reckoner
3 Blasphemous Act
2 Traitorous Blood
Jund has a few weaknesses we can exploit. Here are some cards that can alter that matchup-
- Pyreheart Wolf – In this matchup, Pyreheart Wolf can only be successfully removed by Pillar of Flame, a card which is often a 2-of in Jund or only relegated to the sideboard. Usually, aside from a possible Huntmaster on turn 4 (which almost always eats a burn spell or blocks a guy against RDW), Thragtusk will be the only creature on the board when it lands (whether farseeked in on turn 4 or just cast normally on turn 5). If you can get one or two creatures on the board and a Pyreheart before Thragtusk lands, his presence won’t matter most of the time unless they have multiples. You can simply attack around him and direct all your burn straight to the face. If they have a removal spell the following turn they play Thragtusk, Brimstone Volley especially shines here to neutralize any lifegain they got off of him in the first place. Also, a Hellrider the turn after they play thragtusk in combination with your Pyreheart is usually the end of the game. Pyreheart’s ability to close these situations out and keep pushing incremental damage through from your whole team of guys is the reason I like him a lot better than Boros Reckoner in the midrange matchups. Reckoner is able to stop Thragtusk from attacking and is able to get in some free damage himself, but Pyreheart turns on the entire deck and often in a race situations it’s the one or two damage you need to be lethal. Both are actually decent cards here, but the nod definitely goes to Pyreheart in my opinion.
- Skullcrack – This card is very debatable in this matchup. Lets start with the positives. In that same scenario I just mentioned above, Skullcrack is also very good because negating that five life-gain means that your burn can typically close the deal on the opponent (or your creatures if they haven’t removed many of them). It’s often the critical turn and if you take away their strongest play it can be the difference. The problems however are multifold. First, they’re left with a large blocking body and you’ve used up a card in your hand that you had to hold mana up for. You also have a card in your hand that otherwise would have been a creature or something that could burn a creature, diluting the amount of threats your deck has. Furthermore, you have to DRAW Skullcrack, which means you have to run at least 3-4 of them (more likely 4) if you want to see it in this opening five turn scenario on a relatively consistent basis. Even running four, I found that I didn’t always have it on time, and then you’re in the absolutely terrible situation of drawing into later game Skullcracks which is not where you want to be in a dog fight like this. You also can have more openers in which you have multiple Skullcracks, much of the time a hand that you have to throw back depending on what’s in it. At this time, I’m not bringing in Skullcracks for the midrange matchups. This may be incorrect, but it’s largely a more reliable answer to cards like Sphinx’s Revelation than Thragtusk.
- Archwing Dragon – Jund has very few answers for a repeatable 4 damage at what equates to basically “instant speed”. Putrefy, the seldom played Ultimate Price, and a large Olivia are basically the only options for them and if they have a large Olivia out you’re dead already anyway. I wish it cost a little less to play, but this card has been good here plenty of times for me. Yes, you may already have Thundermaw, but he doesn’t dodge removal as well as Archwing, which to be honest can be the difference maker in this matchup.
- Traitorous Blood – Obviously, Traitorous Blood is just fantastic against Jund. Aside from Huntmaster, almost every other creature in their deck is a great target, allowing you to remove any outside chance of them getting back in the game. Stealing a Thragtusk on turn 4/5 is usually game over, or almost any creature when you have a Pyreheart Wolf out. It’s a fantastic topdeck in a game that’s gone on longer than it should have, and also one of the few outs to Sire of Insanity in that situation. I think Jund is probably the deck that Traitorous Blood is the best against of all the decks it’s good against because Jund plays less creatures than almost everyone else aside from the control decks.
Usual Sideboarding against Jund-
On the Play: -3 Brimstone Volley, -2 Thundermaw, -1 Stonewright; +2 Traitorous Blood, +4 Boros Reckoner (stay fast, make sure you have the troublesome cards onboard)
On the Draw: Same
This deck is new on the scene, but it has quickly established itself as both popular and a major player in the standard format. It’s a tough matchup, but there are ways to increase your percentages.
For starters, you have to play correctly against it. Cartel Aristocrat, Blood Artist, Varolz, Skirsdag High-Priest and Voice of Resurgence are your biggest enemies. Save your Pillars for Voice if you can, and if not kill one of those others. Don’t waste it on a Young Wolf or Doomed Traveler. Thundermaw is your best maindeck card for his ability to fly over their team and kill their Lingering Souls nut draws. Pyreheart Wolf’s trigger is fairly relevant against them as they usually swarm you and he either helps you on the defensive or helps you squeak past enough damage to burn them out. Use your Ash Zealots defensively when you can, as you need their graveyard protection in this match and they kill almost all of the creatures that Junk Aristocrats plays.
The board though is where it gets interesting:
- Boros Reckoner + Blasphemous Act: Aristocrats Act 2 was playing this combination and I was trying to figure out better ways to combat the Junk deck when I realized this would just be awesome here too. So far I’ve played in two local tournaments with it, facing the Junk Aristocrats deck twice, and it was an absolute all-star. It also helps out against almost any aggro matchup since you’re already bringing in Boros Reckoners (to stop-gap attacks and ensure free damage swings) and because you run more burn than 90% of the decks out there including most mirror matches so you can typically get them low enough to use it. I even boarded it in against regular aristocrats and it was helpful there too because despite the fact that they have the combo you can make sure you play around it if you’re careful (and again because you have more burn).
- Mizzium Mortars: You’re probably not bringing in the full suite of them here, but it doesn’t hurt to bring in a couple. Post-Board, Junk Aristocrats has Unflinching Courage and possibly Loxodon Smiter, both of which have to be dealt with fairly quickly or you will lose. It also never hurts to have more removal against them as long as you don’t use too much on their undying guys (pick off the other ones). Furthermore, a random overloaded mortars typically sets them pretty far back, even with all the undying and spirit replacers.
- Thundermaw Hellkite (MOAR): If you’re brave enough, you can keep a mountain and a few more Thundermaws in your board. It really shines in this matchup and quite a few others, but you may not have the sideboard room since at least with my list you typically need every card for something or another.
Usual Sideboarding against Junk Aristocrats-
On the Play: -3 Rakdos Shredfreak, -4 Pyreheart Wolf, -2 Stonewright; +3 Blasphemous Act, +4 Boros Reckoner, +2 Mizzium Mortars (Carefully use your removal, point most of your burn at their face, and hope to combo off, race them, or Thundermaw over the top. Feel free on the play to cut a few Cacklers for Pyrehearts, although I like keeping some element of speed against them. Hellrider is also OK here, but not as wild as he usually is.)
On the Draw: Same
Most of the time you’re favored here, but this matchup is aggressive and no joke. There are plays they have that can completely shut you out of the game, such as a third turn Geist suited up with many of the enchantments at their disposal. Unflinching Courage, Ethereal Armor, both straight nasty. Also, the builds that play Loxodon Smiter over Fencing Ace are much worse for you, but thankfully the pilots of this deck seem really torn on which is better.
Some cards that are good against them:
- Electrickery: Believe it or not, this card can be an all-star against Bant Auras. It kills Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Invisible Stalker (overloaded), fencing ace, and it’s an instant so it can be used in response to them playing an Aura to get a two-for-one. I hate only playing two copies in my current list because this card is very effective, and in several matches like this one you’d love to max out with 4. It might not seem like much, but it buys you a turn which is exactly what you need in this race to the finish.
- Boros Reckoner + Blasphemous Act: Again, the combo is strong here. Reckoner can block Geist most of the time and not worry if they have a Simic Charm to pump him up, and the combo kills out of nowhere with little ability from your opponent to be able to interact since they play virtually no removal aside from a few unsummon effects.
Usual Sideboarding against Bant Auras-
On the Play: -4 Pyreheart Wolf, -2 Thundermaw Hellkite, -3 Brimstone Volley; +4 Boros Reckoner, +3 Blasphemous Act, +2 Electrickery (remember, you’re racing here. Brimstone can be really good, but you need to fit in the cards your bringing in as they are absolutely better. If you have seen Smiter, then you can cut some Spears for some Mortars, or some Shred-freaks. I don’t like cutting too much burn or two drop creatures though as you need consistency (although an unchecked Stromkirk can cause havoc here, along with a Stonewright-bonded Ash zealot)
On the Draw: I’d almost for sure bring in the mortars over the Shredfreaks here as you’re not racing as much as you are needing to kill everything in site before you combo off or out-aggro them.
RG Aggro and Mirror
The mirror is a deadly game of luck that can go anyone’s way, but you need to make sure you take advantage of every incremental play you can. Burn is extremely relevant in the games that don’t boil down to the nut draw or who went first. Being able to control who’s on the battlefield is the most important aspect of this match. When I was in high school, the three-time-state-championship team that I was on was coached by a very smart guy, and board presence was always something he stressed as a crucial element to winning. The same goes for magic and this matchup.
- Boros Reckoner: Pyreheart is no slouch in the mirror, but Reckoner is just better. He can block infinitely, he can swing infinitely. He’s a 2-for-1 if not a 3-for-1 most of the time and a lot of opponents play poorly when he’s in play. If you’re going against one, I strongly suggest just burning him out as soon as you see him if that’s an option. You might lose a guy in the process, but it’s much worse if he goes unchecked or becomes involved in combat. Especially in RG where they can play Domri and have a field day with his fight mechanic.
- Mizzium Mortars: There’s a reason I play the full playset out of the sideboard, and this matchup is why (not just Loxodon Smiter decks). This card is efficient, it kills every card in their deck outside of a stray five-drop, it kills volcanic strengthed guys which often otherwise decide the game, and it can occasionally overload a stalled board to completely blow your opponent out.
- Burning-Tree Emissary: I’m not gonna lie, having burning-tree gives you access to some very explosive starts, and it’s a shame when your build doesn’t run him here. However, he’s a terrible late-game top-deck against the mirror, so if you don’t get the nuts your most likely going home packing.
- Volcanic Strength: Mirrors are often decided by this card, putting a 2/2 creature out of Searing Spear/Pillar range and mountain-walking into victory. That said, you have to play around Spear which you don’t always have an option to do, and much of the time in the mirror you just want burn to deal with the guys in your way or catch up. If you’re trying to catch up, a Volcanic Strength generally doesn’t help at all. I don’t like getting 2-for-1’d in the mirror, I’d rather just play the cards that can hate this out and everything else in your opponent’s deck. It’s more acceptable in the blitzy versions of Mono Red because you’re hoping to get a crazy draw of playing it off of a Burning-tree (and the fact that you have a higher creature count).
Usual Sideboarding against the Mirror-
On the Play: -4 Pyreheart Wolf, -2 Stonewright, -2 Rakdos Cackler; +4 Boros Reckoner, +4 Mizzium Mortars (if you have the beatdown angle, play it, make sure to pay very close attention to life totals to determine whether or not to throw burn at their guys in the early turns or just race and give them false confidence. Thundermaw and Burn are gamebreaking in this matchup if you need to play the control role. Note, don’t bring in Electrickery. In a lot of mirror matches many of the one-drops are sided out and they aren’t the relevant cards anyway since you can kill them easily with your existing burn package. There’s more X/2’s than X/1’s in the RG and Mono Red Mirror than there are in other matchups such as Naya Blitz where you have mostly the same game plan but absolutely want to bring in Electrickery to get major value against their violent openers.
On the Draw: -3 Rakdos Shred-Freak instead of the 2 Cackler and 1 Stonewright. You need to stay fast or have chump blockers.
I won’t go too much in depth here because the gameplan is similar to that against Jund, Bant, etc. Any of the big midrange decks you want to apply as much pressure early as possible. Notable differences are the mana dorks here; you need to kill these on sight, and the fact that they can sometimes get a turn 4 Unburial into Angel of Serenity and it can look very bad for you. I’ve pulled out these situations too though, so don’t give up to easily as you have a lot of reach. Pyreheart is AMAZING in this matchup and something a lot of Red players overlook when building their deck in a format where this archetype is still very much a big dog. A lot of people think Red just “beats” Rites, but that’s far from the truth. Red might be more consistent and very fast, but Rites can crush it with the correct list and some semi-optimal draws.
- Electrickery: Having more ways to kill mana dorks and Lingering Souls tokens is always a fantastic thing in this match and this strategy has worked well for me. You want to try and get them below 10 life by turn 4 or curve out 1, 2, 3 into a Pyreheart before they get “started”, and getting rid of any early blockers is critical.
- Traitorous Blood: Typically their only way to kill you successfully is the turn 4 or 5 heavy creature. Steal it and take the game back.
- Mizzium Mortars: Don’t bring this in unless you see Smiter. In that case it’s typically an OK trade for Spear or Brimstone.
Usual Sideboarding against Junk Rites-
On the Play: -2 Thundermaw Hellkite, -2 Brimstone Volley; +2 Traitorous Blood, +2 Electrickery
(feel free to keep in either of those cards and instead pull Shredfreaks. He’s OK here as a speed guy but otherwise he can get chumped up or Slip’d pretty easily)
On the Draw: Same, even more likely to sideboard out higher CC cards. You still want your Hellriders, as the curve out hand even being a turn behind still usually kills them.
Other Notes: If they’re light on removal Stonewright is really good here, and make sure to kill any Centaur Healers that come down so they can’t Resto it or block any of your initial 4 turns worth of damage.
This is one of the most difficult matchups if the other person has the good cards in their list. Cards you don’t want to see are Feeling of Dread, Warleader’s Helix, Boros Reckoner, Geist of Saint Traft, Ral Zarek, Turn // Burn, and Far // Away. These cards all make life very difficult. Most people think that Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation are the problem, but honestly it’s the early stuff that slows down your nut draw that ends up winning them the game. The builds vary so wildly though, the more controllish versions are usually worse against you as you just have too many threats for them to handle and they have to rely on drawing enough removal + one of their few finishers to get you. On the flipside, the versions running Aurelia, or Thundermaw, or both, + Reckoner and copious amounts of early removal are an uphill battle almost every time. The keys here; keep your deck aggressive, be wary of Supreme Verdict (Pyreheart helps), hold your 4/5 drops until you know they’ll get through or you have no choice, and use Stonewright early as much as possible.
- Skullcrack: I’m not running it, but it’s one of the better spells here. Again, depends on version, with this being better against the controllish one, but it’s still very good all around. It can burn out a planeswalker, it can negate a Sphinx’s Rev or Warleader’s Helix, and it can stop creatures like Lavinia from preventing damage with protection.
- Traitorous Blood: Usually UWR only has one threat on the board at a time, or at least even if they have 2-3 you can steal one of them to force their hand. And almost every threat outside of Augur of Bolas is worth stealing for a potential game-ending attack.
- Curse of the Pierced Heart: Only good against the control versions, but against them it’s actually a really good card. If you ever get Multiples out there’s not much they can do.
- Archwing Dragon: Depends on build, but this can often be very difficult for them to deal with, it’s pretty much as good as a Hellrider in this matchup and can sometimes be better if they have a Reckoner stopping you in your tracks.
Notes: Assemble the Legion can also be very bad for you.
Usual Sideboarding against UWR-
On the Play: -4 Pillar of Flame, +4 Boros Reckoner (Pillar is fairly useless). Also you can sometimes -2 Brimstone for +2 Traitorous Blood, but that’s not always the plan. Depends on what you see.
On the Draw: Same
I know there’s a lot of other matchups out there worth writing about, but hopefully this gives you all some food for thought. Please let me know YOUR thoughts, as I’m curious to hear how others approach the field and what has worked for them. I put in so many playtest hours that sometimes I forget to account for variance or have results that blend together and get muddy as to whether or not certain cards are actually effective. Always helps to get some reinforcement or constructive feedback. Thanks again!
– Red Deck Winning