M14 Red Set Review Part 1 (Rares)
M14 has plenty of goodies for the Mono Red archetype, and lots of possible format breakers once the hidden gems get discovered. I personally am really looking forward to this set for Red, I think that it’s a bit hard to tell this early on what is going to find a home, but the power level is apparent enough that I know quite a few cards will become staples. Without further ado, my set review of M14:
Red Deck Wins Card Evaluation
Awaken the Ancient
Awaken the Ancient has potential to be good, but at the moment I don’t think it’s going to make the cut in Red Deck Wins. Not having evasion is a big deal, especially for something that is essentially a 5cc spell. It’s bigger than anything Red Deck would normally play though and it requires instant speed removal, so these factors will probably push people to experiment. My biggest gripe is the turn it’s cast, which is usually the turn you should be killing them. Comparatively, the only thing that comes to mind is Elemental Appeal and that card was not only faster and better, but it saw limited play as well meaning it is going to be a big stretch for Awaken to ever wake up. Furthermore, I could never see this being better than Thundermaw Hellkite or Zealous Conscripts, so at the very least it will need to wait until rotation or be a narrow sideboard card.
This card has me excited as a potential immediate sideboard option. Manabarbs has been an extremely longtime staple of Red Deck Wins and in a world full of Shock and Buddy lands, Burning Earth is effectively the same. You have the drawback of them being able to use their basics, but those are few and far between these days for control and midrange, and this negative is offset by the fact that this clause doesn’t hurt you at all. Unlike Manabarbs which could occasionally backfire on you, the Mono Red player rarely has a nonbasic in sight, so playing this card gives you a lot of turns you otherwise wouldn’t have had with Manabarbs. I’ve been struggling to find cards that I truly want to “bring in” against UWR, and a card like this is a perfect option. Playing this following a Supreme Verdict on the other side of the table basically means any spell they play puts them in lethal burn or Hellrider range. This should be a very played card in the next few months for Mono Red, if not post-rotation as well. It has a lot of competition at the 4cc slot, but given the history of this style of card, I can’t imagine it won’t get used.
Chandra, Pyromaster is getting a lot of hype, and I think it’s deservedly so. I’ve done some brief playtesting with her in a few Mono Red builds and her presence on the board is very strong. She gives red a draw engine that it hasn’t had before, and her +1 ability is deceiving because not only can it pick off small creatures but it can also keep planeswalkers in check and prevent large bodies like Thragtusk and Loxodon Smiter from blocking. The turn she comes down is fair, and her loyalty is high, so I expect this to get played immediately. It reminded me of a 1st place StarCityGames list (here) from a few years ago that utilized Koth in much the same fashion, except I think Chandra’s synergies with her Phoenix and the burn spells of the current format could be even more powerful depending on how the final builds come out. Her “-0” ability has been especially strong in testing, from doing crazy things like helping you to hit your 5th/6th land drop to simply being a Dark Confidant every turn. The only thing that will take some getting used to is the fact that the card is exiled and not just put into your hands, somewhat similar to how players had to adjust to using the Miracle mechanic.
Take one scenario that I found interesting for example; Your opponent is playing Junk Aristocrats and they have a Sorin, Lord of Innistrad in play. You can +1 Chandra to kill their token and take Sorin down a loyalty, or you can kill the token and ping them to get your Phoenix back so that you can play it and attack. Lines like these are just fantastic, and one of the big reasons why I think she’ll get some action. She’s not a 4 of in any deck by any means, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her as a 3 of alongside some Hellriders. Koth might still be the best red planeswalker ever printed, but Chandra is borderline for proving that wrong. Personally, most of the games I’ve lost over the years with Mono Red were due to me running out of threats, and Chandra ensures that as long as she’s alive you’ll have plenty of gas coming your way.
This takes us right into our next card, Chandra’s Phoenix. This was a hallmark staple of Mono Red when it was legal in M12, and it personally helped me as I piloted the deck to 15th place out of 225 at the Wisconsin State Championship that year. Chandra’s Phoenix is a deceivingly powerful card and it’s another one that I expect to see play even though it also has a ton of competition at the moment between Boros Reckoner and Pyreheart Wolf. If “Control” becomes a popular deck again, this is their worst nightmare. The buyback ability on Phoenix gets used heavily in this style of deck, and the evasion + haste at this mana cost is a very good rate. One of the gripes I’ve had playing Mono Red in the last year has been the lack of a hasty three drop with any beef behind it. There are some fringe cards that have it like Fervent Cathar, but his ability like any of the rest are too narrow to be good. Chandra’s Phoenix will not only fly over most blockers in the format but it will probably come back at least once or twice in a long game and I’ve had quite a few games where it came back 4-5 times. And this is especially relevant when Supreme Verdict can be a back breaking card. Not only is there enough playable burn to support the Phoenix, but there’s also the new Chandra which is a fantastic followup on turn 4. The card might require Mono Red to change it’s list quite a bit, my current one for instance would have to really decide which three drop is best, so I’m going to have to do a lot of testing before I’m comfortable with how I put the final numbers. Not running Reckoner is a bit risky, but you could supplement it by having the value of Phoenix along with cards like Mutavault which is also strong against most of the common archetypes played.
My immediate thought when I saw this card was that it was unplayable, then I hesitated and thought that maybe it could see fringe play as a 1 or 2 of. And THEN, I noticed that it was a rare, which intrigued me a bit because while there are plenty of junk rares in Magic there’s usually at least a little theory on the part of Wizards as to why this would represent a higher power level. The obvious interaction you’d want with him is in addition to being another grizzly bear, you could use him to setup that turn 5/6/7 where you force them to attack with their big beasts so that you can plow your guys through for the last bit of damage. I think in an Eternal format he might actually be a bit more potent, as Goblins is a deck in both Legacy and Modern (very fringe) and you have a bit more tools to work with. In standard you’re basically just playing him as a trick, and he’s easily the worst of your two drops with what is currently available. I’m going to hold my breath on him for now until I have a chance to playtest a few sessions.
I don’t think any other red card in the set has me more confused as to what to do with it then this one. For starters, overall I like the card. That said, it seems that it’s just one of those ones that Wizards printed so that red could have a token response to some of the BS white and blue cards they are printing. For instance, Public Enemy Number 1 and Public Enemy Number 2. Granted, his abilities are good just on their own, nobody hates having a 3/2 first striker in red for three mana who also happens to dome your opponent for two when they try to Azorious Charm, Think Twice, Supreme Verdict, or Sphinx’s Revelation. He’ll probably see some sideboard play simply because of that and aside from the fact that white got a gigantic slew of upgrades that just lifegain the hell out of a red deck. But at the end of the day, it’s another three drop in a clogged rotation spot of guys all previously mentioned in this post. I would find it hard to maindeck this guy and the sideboard space is already so narrow. He’s likely to become a metagame call, but it’s definitely a card I wouldn’t want to not have when I’m packing up singles for a tournament. UW looks absolutely killer in M14, and if it takes off you will need a playset of this card.
I’ve heard Ogre Battledriver being dubbed the “post-rotation-Hellrider” but this card is a gigantic step down from Hellrider. I would be surprised if this card sees play. You already have Chandra at the four spot and this card is woefully behind Hellrider in what it gives you. It has to live a turn to be useful, you have to have another creature to gain value, that creature does not gain evasion, and he dies to any three damage burn spell. I’d have to see someone do something very clever with him to convince me he’s any good, for now count me out on this one. And I’m guessing Theros will have a little bit more mono-color focus then Ravnica (I mean how can it not), so I’d guess that somewhere in that block there will be a solid Mono Red four drop to oust this guy and slide in alongside Chandra.
Scourge of Valkas
DRAGONS, BRARRR RAGGGE. In all seriousness this guy is kind of cool, and it’s obvious that Wizards is pushing dragons with this set. I’d be less surprised though if he’s more of an EDH card (if even that) than a standard card. And if he does get play it will likely be in a bigger red deck which doesn’t seem to have the tools to exist at the moment. Maybe if Theros brings some dragons along with it this guy could shine, but they’d have to be Dragon Whelp 2.0 for me to see it happening.
MOAR DRAGONS!! No hate, Shivan is the man. He almost assuredly won’t see any constructed play, but this guy reeks of classic Magic the Gathering. I remember the good old days of bringing my unsleeved monstrosities of Revised cards to the local shop in town and being overjoyed when I got a chance to jam this guy out and then pump up the volume. How can you hate on this guy, he’s an iconic Mono Red playa. It’s just a shame they didn’t keep the original art, but alas it’s Wizards. If someone plays this in a Standard deck that is even remotely tier 2, I will give them massive props. He’s the equivalent of playing Nicol Bolas, he’s just awesome.
Not really much value for Mono Red, but this card should see heavy play in whatever Slivers deck arises. I think people are sleeping on Slivers. It was never quite Tier 1 the last time around, but it was very close and I had several friends that had excellent Slivers decks in Standard. They are a scary crew of monsters, and this time around they look like they have a lot of valuable tools to make them surprise some players. This guy is basically the Hellrider of the group, and at 5 mana he’s still very much the real deal. And who knows, maybe I’m completely off base and a semi-slivers Mono Red deck is out there, it’s just highly doubtful.
A fine reprint from Lorwyn, while it’s not really a constructed card this is a blast in EDH, and anyone who’s familiar with the format has probably had this cast on them or cast one against someone else. This would also be a pretty hilarious card against a deck like Jund, turning their Rakdos Return, Bonfires, and Spot Removal into a laughing stock. Could be a fringe 1-2 of in sideboards, but doubtful.
– Red Deck Winning