Preparing for the Chicago TCG 5K

Thundermaw Hellkite

Preparing for the Chicago TCG 5K

Coming up on Saturday, August 3rd my magic team and I will be heading down to Chicago for the TCG Platinum $5,000 Cash Event.  We’ve been doing a lot of preparation, and at least two of us will be playing Mono Red, so I wanted to talk about some of the lists I’ve been testing and what ideas are coming from that process.

First, I want to go over a few of the results from the previous weekend, as I think these lists are important to take into perspective:

Adam Leforest GP Calgary 2013 Top 8 Decklist

Main Deck
60 cards

21  Mountain
4  Mutavault
25 lands

4  Boros Reckoner
4  Chandra’s Phoenix
4  Hellrider
4  Thundermaw Hellkite
16 creatures

4  Bonfire of the Damned
3  Brimstone Volley
4  Burning Earth
4  Pillar of Flame
4  Searing Spear
19 other spells

Sideboard
1  Blasphemous Act
3  Curse of the Pierced Heart
3  Mark of Mutiny
3  Skullcrack
3  Volcanic Strength
2  Wild Ricochet
15 sideboard cards

Mono-Red Midrange, Joseph Herrera, 11th Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 7/28/2013

Maindeck (60 Cards)

Creatures (16)
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Hellrider
4 Thundermaw Hellkite

Lands (25)
21 Mountain
4 Mutavault

Spells (19)
4 Burning Earth
3 Brimstone Volley
4 Searing Spear
4 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Pillar of Flame

Sideboard
4 Ratchet Bomb
3 Possibility Storm
3 Shock
2 Mizzium Mortars
3 Rolling Temblor

Both of these lists are of the “Big Red” variety heralded by Valeriy Shunkov and Andrew Shrout, which I’m starting to like more and more.  Both players also played the exact same sixty card maindeck, which focuses on removing early threats or burning to the face if the opponent doesn’t have any, followed up by huge plays in game 1 Burning Earth and Thundermaw Hellkite.  Considering that the meta is largely Jund, UWR, and Aristocrats, this strategy is pretty great at stealing a game 1 with an almost unbeatable card if your opponent isn’t prepared.  Now that the strategy is in the wild, they might be packing a few extra singletons to deal with it, but I could easily see a lot of Jund players just ignoring this deck and believing that it’s “fringe”.

The maindeck has some strange choices, Hellrider being quite awkward without a supporting cast, but he’s still 4 damage on an empty board and a threat that requires an answer from your opponent.  The deck’s curve is also a bit odd, with a huge chunk of it stuck at 3 and 4 mana.  I don’t mind this so much, as you have a lot of burn, but I think the deck is a bit shy on early burn and lacking of draw power to keep consistent.  Shunkov mentioned that he thought Chandra would help the latter, and I think having some early creatures or extra burn would help the former.  Both players lists above try to address this with their sideboards.  Leforest mostly ignores aggro with a misers blasphemous act which he was also bringing in against Jund at the GP (to combo with Reckoner), while Herrera goes “whole-hog” by including Rolling Temblor, Mortars, Shock and Ratchet Bomb.  It’s clear that the two players were focusing on beating different decks.  Supposedly Herrera lost twice to Jund (but played it six times), and Leforest lost twice in the swiss although what he lost to wasn’t published.  Leforest ultimately lost in the top 8 to UWR, but from the match report it sounds like he was mostly land screwed.  He won game 1 with a Burning Earth, and got stuck on 3 the last two games.

I think for anyone building this deck, the sideboard has to be adjusted.  Clearly the expected meta matters, but both of the above sideboards are too one-directional for my tastes.  I’m going to be working this week on what I want, but here are some basic thoughts-

  • G/R Aggro has to be addressed.  The best cards against them in my opinion are Mizzium Mortars, Rolling Temblor, and Volcanic Strength in that order.  Mortars kills every one of their creatures and acts as Searing Spears 5-8.  It’s fine against any Aristocrat deck at just killing a two-drop, and it can overload for extreme value in this deck.  Rolling Temblor risks missing some guys like Flinthoof, can penalize you if they have a Reckoner out, and misses Lingering Souls, but otherwise it’s almost always at least a 2-for-1 if not something crazy like a 5-for-1.  Volcanic Strength on any guy in your deck is basically unbeatable, it’s just a matter of whether or not you’ll be in a favorable board position to use it.  It’s certainly better games 2 and 3 than Burning Earth against aggro.
  • B/W Tokens / Aristocrats is a very tough deck that is resilient to sweepers, so that needs attention too.  I like Ratchet Bomb for this, although I don’t know what number.  Electrickery is also nice as a 5th or 6th Bonfire.  The biggest problem is you can’t just play a sweeper and win against this deck.  You need to have X number of one and two drop burn spells to back it up.  Since these Big Red decks run 25 lands a lot of times you’ll flood and the games can be high variance.  I believe something needs to be done to address that issue along with having a better game against aggro.
  • Despite the 60 card maindeck being dedicated to beating Jund, UWR, and possibly Naya, the games still aren’t a shoe-in by any means.  Leforest has Curse of the Pierced Heart, Mark of Mutiny, Skullcrack, and Wild Ricochet, while Herrera has Possibility Storm.  Personally, I like Mark of Mutiny and Skullcrack against Jund, and Curse / Ricochet against UWR, although I prefer Traitorous Blood to Mark.  The 1 point of damage is not nearly as significant as the trample, and too many players value those “situations” where you need to play a burn spell alongside of your threaten effect.  Trample is SO important in a lot more board states than the extra damage is.  Skullcrack is not a card that many players like bringing in heavily against Jund, however I think it is fairly good here because it acts like Burning Earth 5, 6, 7.  Essentially you just want to see one of those cards hit the table prior to their Thragtusk or Sphinx’s Revelation, because most of the time that should be enough to swing a close match.  Curse of the Pierced Heart is often laughed at, but this card was huge on MTGO in Red Deck Wins sideboards and is a great clock against decks that don’t do anything for their first few turns, especially when backed up in the later game by heavy burn and sweepers.  If they can’t kill you, they will be getting killed for sure by this card.
  • Other ideas I’ve had are Archwing Dragon (possibly just better than Hellrider despite the presence of Lingering Souls), and Ash Zealot who I think is fine at anypoint in the game as a hasty attacker or an efficient blocker not to mention giving you some added pressure against decks like Junk Rites and Aristocrats with Lingering Souls.  Young Pyromancer also might be a consideration for this deck just to provide blockers and another must kill threat, but I’m not sure.  He does lower the curve a bit, which is something I think this deck is screaming to have done.

True Red Aggro

These are some of the lists that caught my attention with regards to a more traditional Red Deck Wins arechetype:

Mono Red Aggro – by Patrick Sullivan at the Starcitygames.com Invitational

Maindeck (60 Cards)

4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Foundry-Street Denizen
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Mogg Flunkies
4 Hellrider

4 Searing Spear
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Shock

18 Mountain
4 Mutavault

Sideboard
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Volcanic Strength
3 Skullcrack
2 Mark of Mutiny
2 Burning Earth

Sullivan is the master of all things Red, and his current list packs a lot of firepower.  For a more in-depth deck tech, I’ve included his video on my site here.  His list aims to blitz them like previous iterations, but I like that he’s included extra burn to make sure that his guys punch through as well as cutting the three-drop slot to maximize his early damage.  The one fallacy in my mind, and something he alludes to in the deck tech, is that this deck looks very soft to control and potentially struggles against a good Jund hand.  Even after sideboard, the deck is fragile.  It doesn’t have the resilient creatures that the Aristocrat decks do, and other than Mutavault, it really gets hosed by a Supreme Verdict or Bonfire.  That said, it’s incredibly fast with 12 one drops, and it can turn on Battalion pretty easily thanks again in part from Mutavault.  He splits Mark of Mutiny and Burning Earth in the board, largely as he said due to Burning Earth not being great once the board position has developed, and I completely understand this logic.  In a blitzy deck, you can’t afford to play too many four drops, and it’s very rare that a Hellrider is something you want to take out of your 60.  Still, I think I’d want at least three Burning Earth, as the card is just too good most of the time against the decks that are hurt by it.  Legion Loyalist is a nice substitute for the Denizen against tokens, but I think I still would want some number of Electrickery.

Mono-Red Blitz by Drew Levin 88th Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 7/21/2013

Maindeck (60 Cards)

Creatures (27)
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Foundry Street Denizen
3 Hellrider
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Young Pyromancer

Lands (20)
18 Mountain
2 Mutavault

Spells (13)
4 Dynacharge
1 Weapon Surge
4 Krenko’s Command
4 Pillar of Flame

Sideboard
4 Burning Earth
3 Electrickery
3 Skullcrack
1 Mark of Mutiny
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Mutavault

Drew’s list is very interesting.  He has a similar plan to Sullivan, except he substitutes Flunkies for Young Pyromancer, which in my opinion is fine either way.  Flunkies gives you some pressure against decks that are expecting to Pillar and Bonfire away all your early drops, whereas Pyromancer demands an answer before he gets out of control.  Levin also adds Dynacharge and Krenko’s Command to truly flood the board and add an even bigger “nut draw” to this archetype’s potential.  I could just see some openers where you roll out one drop into Burning-Tree into Krenko’s Command, into Dynacharge and just completely blow out your opponent.  I think any red player would smile seeing something like this.

But where Sullivan’s list has some suicidal tendencies, Levin’s list suffers from them even more.  Young Pyromancer and his team of minions are hit hard by Bonfire / Verdict, and Dynacharge is often a terrible draw late if you get behind.  This list is so close to a block deck, and I think Drew’s experience there is actually hampering him as sometimes the extra standard cards you have access to can help you push through against decks with extremely powerful mid games.  I like to have some gas in the tank left when playing against Jund, because sometimes they’ll just turn 3 Huntmaster into turn four Thragtusk, and I don’t like those games to be completely unwinnable.  I do like his sideboard better than Sullivan’s though, as he has just about every card needed to address what’s currently popular in the metagame.  In fact, his sideboard is practically perfect in my eyes, so I’d keep that in mind when designing the next build of red at home.

My Lists

I currently have two lists that I’m testing independently of the ones above (all of which I’m still focused on).  For the 5K I believe my list will be very close to the Big Red mold, but I’m trying a couple things out just to make sure I’m not missing some value.

Big Red by Red Deck Winning 7/30/2013

Maindeck (60 Cards)

4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Hellrider
4 Thundermaw Hellkite

4 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Searing Spear
4 Pillar of Flame

20 Mountain
4 Mutavault

Sideboard
4 Burning Earth
4 Mizzium Mortars
4 Skullcrack
2 Traitorous Blood
1 Electrickery

What this list aims to change over the more popular Big Red builds is the presentation of a clock.  While having smaller creatures is a risk against a field that has heavy removal, part of the strength of a more traditional aggro deck is that they put pressure on your opponent.  Their biggest issue is finishing the job if your opponent is able to stabilize.  This list presents the best of both worlds.  A high majority of the time in testing this list comes out the gate just like a normal Mono Red Aggro deck.  BUT, it has enough lands that it can support big Bonfires and Thundermaws, which help you get past roadblocks and win games that you otherwise don’t belong in.  So far I really like this list in testing, it’s been very strong with only a few games where it stumbled due to mana trouble or not enough burn.  You certainly trade off some things by going with less burn, no Reckoner, and one less land, but I think you gain serious ground by making your opponent have to do something proactive during the first three turns.  I’m going to be testing my list again heavily tonight, so look to my twitter feed this week for updates.  If I could change anything at the moment, it might be to move Burning Earth to the main and add a few more sweepers and threaten effects to the board.  But that’s undecided at the moment.

Mono Red Aggro by Red Deck Winning 7/30/2013

Maindeck (60 Cards)

4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Stonewright
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Mogg Flunkies
2 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Hellrider

4 Searing Spear
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Shock

18 Mountain
4 Mutavault

Sideboard
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Volcanic Strength
2 Skullcrack
1 Mark of Mutiny
3 Burning Earth

This is 70 of the 75 cards that Sullivan played, but basically I just wanted to get an extra Burning Earth in the board and some extra game against control.

Enjoy!

– Red Deck Winning

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2 thoughts on “Preparing for the Chicago TCG 5K

  1. I still think Sullivan has the right concept. That interview was great because he still believes you have to hit hard and fast. Keeping pressure and trying to go toe to toe in rounds 5 and up with some of these decks is just too hard. He still runs Hellrider of course but doesn’t even have a three drop. I like it because with mutatvault it seems like it can run more consistantly fast vs. traditional rdw. Love the site. Keep up the great work.

  2. Thanks for the good words Shawn, I intend to!

    Yeah PSully is the master, I’m really glad to see he’s still playing Red and dishing out good content even if he won’t do an M14 set review for the color 🙂

    I like that aggro is about as aggressive as it can be, but I think that Big Red is positioned better against the more popular decks at the moment. If the upcoming tournaments reflect any of what was seen at Worlds, Big Red might be better suited for that metagame. Of course, as a longtime RDW player, I know that it will always be competitive in the right hands and always capable of punishing unprepared opponents or bad draws.

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