Pro Tour Qualifer Born of the Gods *4th* and Big Red’s Evolution

Chandra's Outrage

Pro Tour Qualifier Born of the Gods *4th* and Big Red’s Evolution

This past weekend I played in an M14 Sealed Deck Pro Tour Qualifier in Madison, WI.  My previous experience with the format was three prereleases, a local store’s sealed tournament, and a brainstorm practice session of sealed pools with a few friends.  The format was interesting for a core set because even though it contained the usual ho-hum simple strategies revolving around basic creatures and bombs, there is some variance created by the ability to find combos and the power level of some of the commons.

That all said, I wasn’t looking forward to a Sealed PTQ season.  It always seems like such a crapshoot depending on your pool, and it really tests your building skills.  It’s so easy to misbuild your deck and lose enough game 1s to make it matter, not to mention the superior deckbuilding skills that a lot of pro players have.  But to not compete is to not have a chance, so I rolled the dice and it paid off.  I finished 4th in the qualifier, losing in the semi-finals of the top 8 and getting very close to a free trip to Spain to play on the Pro Tour.  It was my best tournament magic finish and I’d like to cover some of my thoughts on the format as well as ending with notes on where I’m at with Big Red.

I can’t remember my exact pool, but Green, Red, and White were the strongest colors.  Since White is usually the weakest color according to most pros and my only real reason to play it was Devout Invocation (which by the way is an auto-win in Sealed), I chose to stay focused on Green/Red.  Being a big Mono Red Aggro player I’m familiar with the archetype both in Constructed and Limited, and I had already taken a similar pool to 4-0 at the first prerelease I attended.  Everyone around me, including the various Pros in the room (Adrian Sullivan, Matthias Hunt, Matthew Severa, Greg Ogreenc, Bob Allbright, Brian Kowal, etc, etc) were hyping up Blue and Black, so I knew that I might be able to gain a slight advantage on those decks by playing underneath them and ensuring that my last spell or two in hand be a trump for whatever they had in mind to slow me down.  It also helped that my pool was just insane for Green/Red, as soon as I opened it I smiled a bit because naturally the Mono Red player would get pure red goodies.  Here is my final deck and a few of the commonly used sideboard cards:

Sealed Deck

Maindeck
8 Forest
8 Mountain
1 Shimmering Grotto

1 Elvish Mystic
2 Voracious Wurm
1 Predatory Sliver
1 Deadly Recluse
1 Goblin Shortcutter
1 Young Pyromancer
2 Rootwalla
1 Witchstalker
1 Rumbling Baloth
1 Canyon Minotaur
1 Maurading Maulhorn
1 Pitchburn Devils

2 Giant Growth
2 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Chandra’s Outrage
1 Thunder Strike
1 Act of Treason
1 Fireshrieker

Sideboard
1 Rootwalla
2 Academy Raider
2 Trollhide
1 Dragon Egg
1 Megantic Sliver

Yeah, this was no joke.  As soon as I saw four burn spells and two Giant Growths, I knew that this pool had potential to go very far.  My biggest worry was that this was a format cluttered with 1/3s, really good blue five drops, and some terribly scary bombs that could dismantle most of the little bears of the deck.  To combat some of that, I ran most of the 2/2s I could and cut a few 2/1s (to try and make Wring Flesh not quite as awful), keeping only the essential ones such as Goblin Shortcutter and Young Pyromancer.  I made sure to play my Act of Treason just incase anything crazy came down (which happened many times) and because it’s an excellent card in general.  The real hard part came with the sideboard, and as it turns out I used most of the cards listed there on a regular basis in games 2 and 3.  I often sided out Elvish Mystic, Fireshrieker, and Canyon Minataur, because while they all serve great purposes in the deck, this allowed me to fit in faster cards against the slower decks.  Trollhide comes down quicker with a bigger impact on the game than Fireshrieker (despite Fireshrieker being absolutely insane at times), and Academy Raider is not only hard to block but can give enough gas to make sure the guys never stop hitting the board.  I’m a big believer in board presence; one of the things my state championship chess coach used to always stress was to establish control of the board in order to have the rest fall in place.  In the case of chess, that meant controlling the middle of the board, and advancing your push.  If you can do this, it’s very difficult for an opponent to overcome you even if he’s the better player or thinks of a few good moves.  I’m sure a lot of people will think I’m out of my mind for not playing Trollhide and Megantic Sliver in my maindeck, but I can’t tell you how many times Trollhide would have been blown out by a combat trick (versus Giant Growth or having additional bodies in the main) and how many games ended before Megantic Sliver would have been able to get online (let alone not being able to play another crucial spell that turn).

One card in particular (besides the burn) put in a lot of work this weekend-

Rootwalla

This guy is the freaking MAN.  He’s so deceptive as a three mana 2/2.  There’s so many times in this deck where you can play him on turn 3 after already playing a two drop, and then follow it up on turn 4 with another two drop plus pump or two more two drops.  Thankfully I played Tempest limited (yes I’m old) so I remembered just how stupid he could be.  Four damage a turn is a lot, especially against opponents casting Divination on turn three even though there’s no wrath in the format to lead up to (aside from Planar Cleansing which is in the most unused color in the format, is a rare, and is hard to cast).  It’s also easy to keep mana up to save him using his pump ability.  He can only use it once a turn, but that includes your opponent’s turn, and that helps him dodge half the removal available or make them use a removal spell that could have hit one of your other more important creatures.

The Tournament

The tournament started off horribly.  In round 1 I was paired against a Chicago native who had come up with the Hotsauce Games team who I see constantly at all the big events in the Midwest.  As usual with every tournament, I tried to be friendly and greet him, ask him about his travel and day, etc, before we got going on our match.  He was pretty brief with his comments and looked like he wanted to get down to business so I ended it at that.  As the games progressed, he was playing at hyperspeed, and was flicking/flinging his cards around in a really annoying manner.  I’ve dealt with plenty of players like this, and I know you can just slow down your game and such, but it was excessive to a point where I actually said something during the match but he for the most part just disregarded it.  He wasn’t doing anything warranting calling a judge over, but it was pretty close.  Regardless, his behavior was enough that it put me on tilt a bit and that combined with some relatively poor hands of mine, and his 7/7 Scavenging Ooze both games curb stomped me within minutes.

So there I was, 0-1.  Another day, another year (19 to be exact), another tournament that looked like I just wasted $30.  It was only 11:30am, and I had no backup plans for Saturday.  I had come to make the Pro Tour, or at the very least top eight.  This wasn’t fair.  This has happened too many times.

I pushed the thoughts aside.  I told myself that I’ve played well recently and that I know my pool is good.  I probably just ran into an awful matchup.  At worst, play another round and see what happens.  See if the deck plays out a bit more like it should, and maybe some hate can be dodged.  I talked with friends, we all shared some sad luck stories, and then the next round was posted.

1-1

2-1

3-1.

Maybe, just maybe.

4-1

5-1.

I didn’t even know how many rounds were left, at this point I was just in the zone.  The aggro was hungry, and Flames of the Firebrand had come to eat.  Collosal Whale on turn 7 had been defeated.  Air Servant had been engulfed in flames.  Boards had gotten scary.

My matchup this round came down to game 3.  I opened my seven card hand; No land.  Crap.  Mulligan.  Opened my six card hand; No land.

Please no.  Not another tournament like this.  So much time, so much mental energy, battling an oncoming cold, please don’t let this tournament come down to this.  My opponent had been happy with his 7.

I grabbed my five cards.  These looked pretty good.  2 lands, three guys including Young Pyromancer.  My opponent’s deck was better, it was going to be tough but I had sided into a really quick package and all I could do now was hope.

He drew 4 lands, I drew two burn spells and two creatures.  VICTORY!  Sometimes the “Gods” are on your side.

6-1.

After what seemed like a ridiculously long wait, they post standings and then pairings.  My opponent Greg Ogreenc does the math and we’re both a lock to draw into top 8.  He had just top 8’d a Grand Prix with Modern Burn (infact I wrote about it on the site here), but it turns out had never top 8’d a PTQ.  We were both thrilled and ready for more.  After the dust cleared we had our top 8, which aside from the two of us included three pro players in Bob Allbright, Jerret Schultz, and Lucas Duchow.  The other guys seemed formidable too, and I feel bad but can’t remember their names.

Top 8 Draft

The reality of the situation here was that I had never drafted M14.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed, because I knew that if I ever did manage to do good this season at a PTQ I’d have to draft.  But I had already played so much Magic in the last few weeks and neglected real life important duties, that I just never could fit one in.  Thankfully I had drafted the previous core sets, so I wasn’t completely in the dark, and I talked with a few of the local pros Daniel Cecchetti and Jasper Johnson-Epstein just prior to the draft.  They stressed Blue.  I told them I could play it, but that I’m really terrible with Blue and am just a lot better with aggro which is what I’m comfortable with.  Still, they said I should really consider Blue and Black because both colors are strong.  I had read all the Channel Fireball limited articles the day before and they stressed the same thing, while also pointing out that the B/R sacrifice deck and the G/R Aggro deck were viable options if Blue wasn’t open.  I decided going in that I would trust my gut, that I have done well in draft most of my life and that my buddies have always reassured me of that.  I’d absorb what the pros mentioned and take it into the decision process.

The first pack had 13 unimpressive cards and 2 cards I would easily first pick.  One was Shock, the other was Sengir Vampire.  While I highly value removal, especially like that, Sengir is an absolute bomb and I didn’t mind picking him up.  So Black at this point was at least a consideration.  The next few picks solidified me on that, giving me something along the lines of multiple Gnawing Zombies, Quag Sickness, and Doom Blade.  I also picked up blue cards including a very late Air Servant and an Essence Scatter which is often referred to in this format as “the Blue Doom Blade”.  I didn’t see any crazy bombs along the way and the green / red was completely dry.

In pack two, I don’t know if it was the first pack I opened or one of the first few, but I had a Nightmare and some other choices that were all very strong.  Afterwards, Cecchetti and Jasper both said I should have picked the Nightmare, and this is probably the case (in fact almost assuredly) as he’s just nuts no matter how slow he comes out and it ended up giving someone else TWO of them.  I picked a Blightcaster over it, which is absolutely insane in this format but is still no Nightmare.  At the time I only had 1 or 2 enchantments including the Quag Sickness, but I knew many of them in the format were common so I figured I’d have stuff to combo with him by the end.  I picked up three Sensory Deprivations in the third pack (almost in a row which was hilarious), so it did OK to have him.

In the end, my deck shaped up fine, it wasn’t great and I was hoping it wasn’t a total mess, but it had some pieces to make it playable.  The main theme that I had been going for and what mostly played out was a U/B Tempo deck with an early set of creatures backed up by bounce and removal.  I was hoping to run into some of the slower decks and time walk them with EOT bounce effects.  Here was my deck and some sideboard cards used-

Draft Deck

Maindeck
8 Island
8 Swamp
2 Shimmering Grotto

1 Festering Newt
1 Corpse Hauler
2 Gnawing Zombie
1 Tidebinder Mage
1 Blood Bairn
1 Undead Minotaur
1 Accursed Spirit
1 Blightcaster
1 Nightwing Shade
1 Air Servant
1 Sengir Vampire
1 Armored Cancrix

3 Sensory Deprivation
1 Disperse
1 Essence Scatter
1 Doom Blade
1 Glimpse the Future
1 Quag Sickness
1 Mind Rot
1 Mark of the Vampire

Sideboard
1 Mind Rot
1 Frost Breath
1 Spell Blast

There’s nothing fancy going on here, and the creature count is pretty low, but there’s a fair amount of removal and just a few trump cards.  There’s also enough fliers to make it threatening if the opponent isn’t playing many.

I played against Lucas Duchow in the quarter finals.  He was playing G/R Aggro.

From the looks of it, Duchow’s list had some bigger bombs, in both games his early creatures were on turns three and four, with a smattering of later two drops.  In both games, I started off with Gnawing Zombies, other two drops, some evasion creatures, and enough bounce to keep his board mostly clear the whole way.

In game 2 of our set, I had a Nightwing Shade with 8 mana out and I knew at that point it was over.  He could draw some outs, but I had three other guys on the board to his two, and he HAD to draw the right card to get out of it.  He was at 12 when I hit him with the first attack.  A minute or two later, he was dead.

Semi Finals!

This round I was paired up against Bob Allbright.  Bob’s a good guy, I’ve known him since I was a little kid in Madison playing Magic.  He’s played in over twenty Pro Tours, he used to play regularly with Bob Maher and Adrian Sullivan, and he still puts up strong finishes regularly.  Bob had drafted the B/R sacrifice deck and had ALL the pieces you could ask for.  Bubbling Cauldron, Festering Newt, Bogbrew Witch (which I stupidly passed), Barrage of Expendables, Tenacious Dead, Young Pyromancer, Flames of the Firebrand, and Chandra’s Outrage.  It was pretty bonkers how much he actually was able to pickup.  In game 1 I had a similar assault to what I put down against Duchow, and ultimately it came down to Bob and I topdecking.  He put down an Awaken the Ancient, I put down a Tidebinder Mage.  He draws a Fleshpupler Giant.  And then we get to some state where I’m able to play a Gnawing Zombie (I could have recurred one with Corpse Hauler but missed it) and I’m able to sac enough guys to ping him to death.  In game 2 we have another intense battle, and I get him down to four life but then he stabilizes with all the combo pieces.  We parry for what seems like an eternity, mostly because I don’t scoop.  We weren’t timed, so I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t an out or combination of cards which could create an out.  In the end though he gained a zillion life and I eventually cough it up.  In game 3, he assembles Bubbling Cauldron with Tenacious Dead within the first few turns and it was all downhill from there.  I wish him good luck and then sit back to bask in the day and observe the finals.

In the finals, Greg who had drafted Mono Blue takes two games fairly easily from Bob.  His deck was insane, x3 Scroll Thief, x4 Time Ebb, Elixers, Counterspells, Removal, Colossal Whale, Jace’s Mindseeker.  I mean just the absolute stone nuts blue deck.  Apparently in the Semis he cast Time Ebb EIGHT times in one game (using Elixers and I think Archaeomancer).  He deserved to qualify, and it was nice to see someone getting their first chance even if I wasn’t getting one myself.  It was easily one of the best days of my life, and a great experience.  All I can recommend to others out there is to stay confident, keep practicing.  If I can plow along for 19 years off and on in this game (obviously I enjoy it too or I wouldn’t play), it’s possible for anyone.

Big Red Evolution

Here’s where I’m at with Big Red at the moment (I should be playing in my win-a-box tonight)-

4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
2 Zealous Conscripts

4 Chandra, Pyromaster

4 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
4 Mizzium Mortars

Sideboard
4 Ratchet Bomb
4 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Burning Earth
2 Reverberate
2 Shock (or Electrickery or Rolling Temblor or Magmaquake)

I dropped the Flames of the Firebrand from the main because Mortars is more relevant at two mana and against a lot of nasty stuff in the field (like Blood Baron of Viskopa), although I’d tailor it to whatever your meta is.  In the side, one of my readers suggested Reverberate and after further testing I really like having it as a cheap counterspell or copy of any number of good Standard cards.  Possibility Storm is still the nuts, but being able to force through my other spells is also really good and usually the better route.  Shock was added to give the deck some added speed against the Aristocrats and R/W Humans, mostly because those games are won and lost based on your first few turns.  It also helps to kill Mutavault in other matchups.

The three matchups I’m having the most trouble with are Naya Midrange, R/G Kibler, and B/G Rock.  That’s been the case for a while.  I’ve tried Traitorous Blood, Volcanic Strength, Wrack with Madness, and a variety of other options but I just haven’t figured it out yet.  For now I’d recommend exploring some cards yourself and seeing what you like, and always make sure that you’re playing tight.  Misplaying is not an option in those games, and if you play well they are not auto losses by any means.  This deck still has a ton of firepower, and you can beat those decks with your good draws many times.  Make sure that you also put a clock on them, as otherwise you will almost assuredly fall behind.

I figured out some better ways to play the Aristocrat matches.  I’m typically siding out Zealot, Reckoner, and Conscripts for Bonfires, Bombs, and Shocks.  When playing the match, I’m making sure to only kill Xathrid Necromancer, Skirsdag, and Cartel (unless I have enough to kill the rest), because these are really the ones that create a board presence which causes you to lose the match.  Your fliers in Chandra’s Phoenix and Thundermaw are typically just faster at winning the game than their ground guys, and sweeping the board without first removing the critical creatures just makes things worse.  Hold your Ratchet Bombs at zero if you can afford to as you have enough spot removal to kill their other guys and then their tokens are useless.  These particular changes have increased my win record online infinitely over the last week or so.

Minneapolis coming up quickly, stay tuned. . .

– Red Deck Winning

Going Critical: Big Red Gets Bigger

Zealous Conscripts

Going Critical:  Big Red Gets Bigger

I’ve been on a bit of an article writing hiatus, mostly because I’ve had to take a lot of extra time to test out new ideas and adjust to a slightly changed metagame.  Jund is still very much a boogeyman in Standard, but Brian Kibler’s Big R/G deck, Jeff Hoogland’s B/G Rock, Craig Wescoe’s R/W Humans, and some two-color Control decks have become much more popular and all were tough to play against with the build I ran in Chicago.

In my last article I went over various builds I was trying, but like I mentioned they were basically just thoughts on scratch paper.  A lot of them had seen some limited testing but the ideas weren’t fully fleshed out.  I started the further testing process by attending the previous week’s Win-A-Box tournament at my local shop with 73 of the 75 cards that Drew Levin played in the invitational.  That list was-

Mono Red Blitz

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

1 Weapon Surge
4 Dynacharge
4 Krenko’s Command
4 Pillar of Flame

18 Mountain
2 Mutavault

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

The basic idea was that I wanted to capitalize on the slower midrange decks by just overrunning them and applying continual pressure, putting extra focus on the two most powerful two drops that red has access to; Young Pyromancer and Burning-Tree Emissary.  I knew going into it that I was going to be soft to Bonfire, Supreme Verdict, and sweepers in general, but some initial online playtesting had shown that a few of the nut draws with this deck can just be bonkers.  It’s really one of those decks that you should at least take for a spin, not because it’s necessarily good, but just because it’s a blast to fill the board with guys and do some of the biggest alpha strikes you’ll see in Standard.

I ended up going 3-1 that evening with the deck, losing to G/W Tokens.  I was completely housed in that match, as my opponent played Call of the Conclaves into Advent of the Wurms into Trostani’s into Thragtusks and there was just no way I was beating him.  I did take it to three games, but it didn’t feel close.  The other three wins were all incredibly close three game matches that I really felt I lucksacked my way to victory with.  But there is something to be said for that; this deck has a lot of “comes out of nowhere” blowouts, with Dynacharge powering some incredibly insane swings.  There were multiple games where I had upwards of a dozen creatures on the board and then dropped either the Charge or a Hellrider.  In fact, in the G/W tokens match, I won game one with an alpha swing that got through exactly 20 damage when my opponent obviously felt safe at a full boat of life.  This deck can do that, and it can get around a little spot removal with the sheer numbers that it can produce.

What’s really bad about it though is that there’s just no gas to it, it’s incredibly fragile to sweepers, and all of your creatures are underpowered.  I somehow managed to steal a match from Naya Blitz, but it was mostly because I out nut-drew him.  His creatures were all much bigger than mine, and he had better trump cards.  Sideboarding in all my rounds was also incredibly difficult, as this deck just doesn’t have room to bring in the cards from the board without diluting an important piece of the synergy.

Going forward, I don’t think I could recommend something like this version of Mono Red Aggro.  I do think some of the lists that have been repeatedly top eight’ing Modo in the last few days look interesting, and that’s where I’d probably start.  This list took 1st place in a premiere for example-

Mono Red Aggro by AndyBurden *1st* 08/18/2013

4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
2 Lightning Mauler
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Rubblebelt Maaka
4 Hellrider

2 Dynacharge
2 Madcap Skills

18 Mountain
4 Mutavault

Sideboard
3 Act of Treason
4 Burning Earth
1 Flames of the Firebrand
3 Skullcrack
4 Volcanic Strength

While Andy’s list suffers from some of the same weaknesses, it adds back in Boros Reckoner, the full suite of Hellriders, and adjusts the land count to reliably cast them.  I think this gives the deck the smidge more resiliency it needs, and I’ve felt especially recently that Boros Reckoner is a card you want in your deck.  He’s always been good, but he just simply owns the midrange matchups and he gives your deck an unblockable source of damage that decks playing against him have to draw the perfect answers to deal with.  Out of the board, Andy addresses the truly relevant matchups that can cause problems for Mono Red Aggro; Volcanic Strength for G/R Kibler and the Mirror, Act of Treason for B/G Rock, Burning Earth for Jund and Control, Skullcrack for Control and Hexproof, and Flames of the Firebrand for other aggro decks.  It’s again going to be hard to cut cards, but there’s easily some questionable choices in Legion Loyalist and Rubblebelt Maaka that I’m sure you can squeeze a few singletons here and there when you need to.  Those cards are fine, but they’ve never tested exceptionally well for me over the time they’ve been legal.

T-Minus 18 Days until TCG Diamond Minneapolis

As I believe I mentioned in previous articles, the next big event that my team is preparing for is the TCG Diamond 5k in Minneapolis.  I plan on continuing with Big Red, after both the successful finish in Chicago and some modifications I’ve made to strengthen it going forward.  I’m sure the list will see some tweaking, but it’s at a very strong point right now for the current metagame.  I went to my local shop’s Win-A-Box again tonight, and this time I went 4-0 with it, splitting the 1st and 2nd prize on tiebreaks (24 packs per person).  This is the list I played-

Big Red by John Galli *1st* 08/20/2013

4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
2 Zealous Conscripts

4 Chandra, Pyromaster

2 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Searing Spear
4 Pillar of Flame

2 Cavern of Souls
4 Mutavault
20 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Burning Earth
4 Ratchet Bomb
4 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Possibility Storm

Other than my sideboard being tuned a little for my local meta, the deck is pretty much right where I think it needs to be.  A lot of variation has been showing up online with Big Red, as the stock list just doesn’t have the same oomph anymore.  People were noticing (as was I in testing) that Hellrider just isn’t that big a threat in this deck and that Chandra, Pyromaster can be pretty ridiculous.  Hellrider does still provide a hard to deal with haste threat and can be great after a board wipe, but a lot of times it’s a semi-unplayable 3/3 in your hand when you’re in a big boys game and you need to answer the hefty firepower they’re dishing out at you.  I tried a lot of very controllish builds, and was almost going to play one tonight, but I ran into a few issues.

First, decks like B/G Rock and Kibler’s R/G that put early pressure on you and follow it up with Haymakers really take advantage of the slower builds that don’t do anything for a few turns other than play removal.  With that in mind, Ash Zealot came back in and she was again strong for me.  Secondly, since those decks are premiere threats and you want to go big with them (along with answering their big threats), the Hellriders became 2 Zealous Conscripts, lands, and burn.  You’ll notice if you look closely I’m running 26 lands.  I read Brian Braun-Duin’s article on Starcity last week about his interest in moving up to this amount, and after heavily testing it the move has paid off in full.  This deck is so greedy for mana, and with 4 Mutavaults in the deck it truly isn’t hurt much by playing the additional lands.  You see a little more flooding, but your Bonfires out of the board also improve and it helps you get around “X” counters in the Control matches.  Furthermore, one thing in testing that I noticed was that having 11 or less burn spells is often very risky against both Jund and Kibler R/G.  They have a lot of things you want to kill, from Ooze, to Olivia, to Huntmaster, to Thragtusk, you name it, and even though you might bring in more burn out of the board the first game can be tough without a critical mass of removal.  You’re late game is on par if not better than theirs, especially now with Conscripts maindeck.  The aggro decks are no pushover either, Wescoe’s deck and various Mono White variants can come out of the gates with some serious hellfire, so Flames of the Firebrand combined with more two-drop removal in Mizzium Mortars gives you just enough percentage to see them so that you can win those matches more often than not.  I will note, it’s still very important which creatures you kill against them; make sure to save your removal (aside from turn 1 Champion) for Silverblade Paladin and Sublime Archangel.  Those cards will cut you in half if they aren’t answered.

The truly tough matchups for this build are Hexproof and Aristocrats.  These decks have fallen off a bit but still very much exist, so I’m not completely ignoring them.  Ratchet Bomb and Bonfire out of the board give you a high chance of dealing with their strong openers, and a lot of times your fliers can race them after some successful slowdown attempts.  That said, if you expect more of these kind of decks in your area, I’d strongly suggest packing either Electrickery, Blasphemous Act, Rolling Temblor, or Magmaquake in your sideboard.  I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with this, but those matches are won or lost based on the “X” number of singletons you run against them.

Control matchups are “pretty favorable” for you to begin with, but I’d adjust my board slightly in a bigger tournament.  UWR and UW both have a decent amount of game against you, and it really helps to have some extra cards to nail the coffin shut on them.  Caverns in the maindeck go a mile and a half towards this goal, but Possibility Storm and Skullcrack really shine in those matches (not to mention the obvious Burning Earth).  A resolved Possibility Storm is almost unbeatable, and if you or your opponents think that it’s a “janky pet card” you should really sit down, read it, and then play with it.  I’ve had endless amounts of rage-quits online when my opponent finally figured out how it works, and even tonight it was a true threat presence that forced counterspells and allowed my other scary threats to go rampaging unhindered.

You’ll notice that Burning Earth moved to the sideboard.  I mentioned in my previous article that people are now “aware” of this card, and while moving it to the sideboard takes away the advantage of having it in game 1 where it’s mostly unanswerable, it’s just a dead card against too many decks.  AND, it’s only good when you’re ahead which is just never a guarantee with this deck.  I lost a significant number of games (well not too many this deck’s awesome), to basically time-walking myself.  Chandra just fills the role nicer.  She has to be killed, she kills pesky critters, her “can’t block” ability is missed by so many opponents and absolutely wins games when you have your bigger guys or a board presence, and she draws you infinite cards in the slow matches.  Game 2 I still want BE.  Jund might bring in Duress and Golgari Charm, but Burning Earth is just one more super hateful threat that they have to answer from a deck that already presents them with many challenges.  And if you get one to stick for a few turns and your in good shape already, they are basically toast.  Good luck crawling back when everything you cast puts you in burn range against a deck packed with tons of heat.  And heck, that’s not even mentioning the countless midrange decks with very little interaction against both what you’re doing and against Burning Earth.  I played against BWR midrange tonight, and while my opponent gave me an incredible three game match, he had basically no outs to the card.  There were cards he “could” have had in his sideboard, but the point was that Burning Earth came down turn four and just took over.  His active Olivia suddenly wasn’t enough, and I was able to crawl back into a game that I had no business being in.

I’m going to close out this article with a sideboarding guide.  Not something I typically do, but recently I’ve been going back to my old roots and trying to have a bit more of a gameplan.  Like I always say, play it by ear, but this should help you have a general idea of how I’m boarding.  Feel free to comment or suggest.

Sideboard Guide (using existing sideboard above)

Jund

+4 Burning Earth, +2 Mizzium Mortars (potentially bring in some Bonfires)
-4 Ash Zealot, -2 Pillar of Flame

Ash Zealot usually just gets mowed down in this match and you don’t need the tempo.  These games are going to go long, you want to match haymaker for haymaker and kill the three to four relevant creatures in their deck.

Kibler Big R/G and Hoogland B/G Rock~ (feel free to make small adjustments for this)

+2 Mizzium Mortars
-2 Chandra’s Phoenix (or take them all out for a few Bonfires)

You’re basically pre-boarded against Kibler’s deck due to its popularity and it being a tough matchup, so just bring in more removal that hits all of their guys except Thundermaw.  Phoenix is usually just a slow creature in this matchup and oftentimes a blocker at best.

UWR

+4 Burning Earth, +1 Possibility Storm, +3 Bonfire of the Damned
-4 Pillar of Flame, -2 Mizzium Mortars, -2 Flames of the Firebrand

You really don’t need those particular burn spells in the match, as much as it is nice to kill a Restoration Angel after it’s flashed in.  I oftentimes find myself being able to kill it anyway using some combination of Chandra or creatures and burn, so it’s not really a big deal.  I’m not on the Thunderbolt train either, that card is just too narrow to fit in the sideboard unless your metagame is infested with Control.  You might question Bonfire, but it gets very large in the long games you’re bound to have, and it can often wipe the few creatures they do manage to stick after you fight it out with their counterspells and removal.

Hexproof and Aggro

+4 Bonfire of the Damned, +4 Ratchet Bomb, +2 Mizzium Mortars
-4 Ash Zealot, -4 Chandra’s Phoenix, -2 Zealous Conscripts

You might be initially alarmed by the low creature count here and the fact that I’m taking out a first strike blocker, but this matchup is about some simple basics as I covered in my Chicago article.  Kill all of their guys, don’t have cards that get burned down or get in the way of your Ratchet Bombs, and then follow it up with cards they just can’t deal with in Thundermaw and Boros Reckoner.  And don’t forget, you have x4 Mutavault to sneak damage in.

You may want to run Shock, Electrickery, or additional sweepers if you’re having trouble here.  I found I was running too many, as most of the time the absolutely ridiculous amount of removal you have takes care of the job and SHOULD take care of it.  Still, aggro decks these days get fantastic nut draws often, and sometimes the difference between Shock and Flames of the Firebrand is a big one.  I will say, with 26 lands, overloading Mizzium Mortars is a very reliable option and you should be thinking about this if it’s in your early draws and you’re balancing out your pace.  It’s soul-crushing to the majority of decks out there and this deck is capable of overloading more than most.  Plus after board, it’s usually okay to use it early because with x4 of them in the deck you’re liable to draw into another in time or a Bonfire.

I hope this helps many of you who love playing Red, if there was another tournament tomorrow I’d play this in a heartbeat.

– Red Deck Winning

All Flavors Red

Chain Lightning

All Flavors Red

In this article I’m going to cover a variety of angles on Red Deck Wins.  Recently I’ve been devoting a lot of my attention to Big Red in Standard, and mostly that’s because it’s my format of choice and I think that Big Red has the best chance of success at the moment.  That said, I’ve received emails and comments from various readers asking for more input on older formats, budget builds, and Mono Red Aggro, so I’d like to dive into that a bit with my current evaluations.  I will warn you readers, these lists are all still in testing and are by no means what I would take to a tournament tomorrow.  I didn’t have a chance to get in heavy playtesting last week, but I expect that to ramp up in the weeks leading to the Minneapolis 5K on September 7th that my team will be attending.  Even so, these lists should give you a gauge on some of the ideas I’m testing.

Standard:

Big Red by John Galli (Updated 8/11/2013):

4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Hellrider
4 Thundermaw Hellkite

3 Chandra, Pyromaster

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

19 Mountain
4 Mutvault
2 Cavern of Souls

Sideboard
4 Ratchet Bomb
2 Rolling Temblor
4 Mizzium Mortars
2 Traitorous Blood
3 Boros Reckoner

First, this is my updated Big Red list.  You’ll notice a distinct lack of Burning Earth.  I’m most likely going to include it in the final list that I play going forward, but for now I’m testing without it because of a few issues.  For starters, the cat is out of the bag, and people know that it’s coming.  Kibler’s R/G deck which has become immensely popular is not hurt by the card and often is ahead of you on board due to its elf mana acceleration.  Jund players are actively boarding against the card, and other decks that are susceptible to it are making adjustments.  That’s not to say that Burning Earth isn’t completely back breaking in many situations against three color midrange decks, but it’s a card that like many others have stated requires you to be mostly ahead on board position and / or life totals.  Chandra is very powerful in using her +1 ability to force Jund’s big men to not be able to block your hasty threats, she picks off smaller threats or upgrades your burn suite, and she returns your Phoenixes.  She’s also just a personal howling mine on an unchecked board.  For these reasons, I’m trying her back in the main to see if she’s just a more pro-active Burning Earth in all reality.

There’s also other cards I’m testing, but some of the lists (which you may have seen when I’m streaming) are pretty janky so they’re not quite worth showing yet.

Mono Red Aggro by John Galli (Updated 8/11/2013):

4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Legion Loyalist
3 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Lightning Mauler
3 Hellrider

4 Volcanic Strength
4 Searing Spear
4 Pillar of Flame

20 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Skullcrack
3 Burning Earth
3 Electrickery
3 Traitorous Blood
1 Archwing Dragon
1 Mutavault

This Mono Red list is fairly blitzy, and I’ve hedged a few bets in certain areas.  I’ve put in Legion Loyalist over Stonewright, mostly because tokens is still a real deck despite it falling off a bit, and because he makes it easier to turn on battalion.  Firefist Striker is very important to any of these 19, 20, 21 land builds at getting past a key blocker in the first few turns to threaten an early lethal situation.  This build also maindecks Volcanic Strength, as I think it is probably a good route to go with the given metagame.  Both Jund and UWR can get 2-for-1s with some of their removal spells, but both of those decks have cut down on the kind of removal that can kill a suited up creature since they are essentially metagaming for each other.  Often, a Volcanic Strength at various points in the game against Jund can simply take over, easily helping you usher in the last few points of damage needed.  The more important point though is that Volcanic Strength can be devastating against Kibler’s G/R, as most builds only pack x3 Mizzium Mortars for removal.  If they can’t draw that Mortars on time, or you can draw it out of their hand, or your creature gets too big for Mortars, they are in some serious trouble.  They have to basically pray for an early Thundermaw Hellkite to race you, and your deck should have the speed advantage most of the time.

This build, like every other Mono Red Aggro build at the moment, is very susceptible to Bonfire of the Damned.  There’s just no way to slice it that looks pretty, it’s a tough card to beat when every Jund deck is packing the full playset.  Volcanic Strength can help get at least one of your guys out of range, but you’re going to have to look to your sideboard here in order to help you get some bigger plays like Burning Earth and Archwing Dragon to push through damage.  You’ll have to avoid overboarding, but Traitorous Blood and Skullcrack are options should you want to dip into them.  Traitorous Blood is moreso to address the occasional G/B Rock and Junk Rites matches, both of which still exist.  Skullcrack is an easy swap for the Volcanic Strength’s against UWR should you want to have less 2-for-1 potential.  Lastly, Electrickery and Skullcrack both help the Bant Hexproof match, although you are quite fast against them and most of the time they are behind if they don’t nut draw you.

Like I said before, this is a rough list.  I’ve played some games with it, and I’m familiar with its style, but you could go a lot of directions.  I’ve been trying out Young Pyromancer a lot, and he’s pretty insane when playing a bevy of smaller burn spells and Hellrider, but he also slows the deck down a bit.  The three drop slot is currently empty, any mixture of Chandra’s Phoenix, Pyreheart Wolf, or Boros Reckoner is probably acceptable.  I didn’t include them in this build because I wanted to focus on raw aggression and tailor it to suit Burning-Tree Emissary a bit more.  Every ounce of speed you lose when playing Mono Red Aggro means that your opponent just got more time for Bonfire of the Damned, Supreme Verdict, and Unflinching Courage.  One other note; this list should be well under $100, so if you’re looking for something on the cheap to win packs locally, it should fit the bill.

Mono Red Pyromancer by John Galli (Updated 8/11/2013):

4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Legion Loyalist
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Young Pyromancer
3 Lightning Mauler
4 Firefist Striker
3 Hellrider

2 Shock
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
1 Mizzium Mortars

19 Mountain
2 Mutvault

Sideboard
3 Burning Earth
3 Electrickery
3 Skullcrack
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Traitorous Blood
1 Mutavault

This list centralizes around both Burning-Tree and Young Pyromancer, allowing for explosive draws regardless of which two-drop shows up.  It’s going to be a hair slower in some situations, but in others it has a more powerful nut-draw.  Just another look worth exploring for those who want to do some independent testing.

Modern:

Burn by Greg Ocreenc from Grand Prix Kansas City 8th – 7/08/2013):

3 Deathrite Shaman
4 Goblin Guide
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Vexing Devil

4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Searing Blaze
1 Shard Volley
3 Skullcrack

4 Bump in the Night
4 Lava Spike
1 Pillar of Flame
4 Rift Bolt

4 Arid Mesa
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt
1 Marsh Flats
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Stomping Ground

Sideboard
1 Spellskite
3 Rakdos Charm
2 Searing Blaze
1 Skullcrack
2 Volcanic Fallout
1 Wear // Tear
2 Hide / Seak
1 Flamebreak
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Torpor Orb

I’ve mentioned this list in my comments section, but I honestly think if you’re considering Burn for Modern that this list is a fantastic starting point.  Modern is a brutal format at the moment that is saturated with Combo decks that are all mostly faster than the fair decks.  This is unfortunate, as when I played in the previous Pro Tour Qualifying season, there seemed to be a bit more viability for variety, but this seems to be a thing of the past now.  I imagine once the season starts again that people will innovate and more fair decks will break through, but the bottom line for now is that you have to be consistent, you have to be fast, and you have to have an excellently tuned sideboard.  Ogreenc accomplishes that here by dipping ever so slightly into the other colors to gain some additional lightning bolt effects and cards that hose a lot of the popular strategies.

Having easy access to Lightning Bolt, Rift Bolt, Lava Spike, Bump in the Night, Shard Volley, AND Boros Charm is very strong.  Backing it up with the unpredictable Vexing Devil is not a bad move in my opinion here either; this change helped local pro Jasper Johnson-Epstein finish 14th at GP Toronto last season.  The deck just has so much pressure and the ability to dump lethal on your opponent in a heart beat, that you force them to combo on time or lose, and often put them in situations where they can’t combo because they are too low in life.  Unlike Legacy where you have decks loaded with counterspells and Force of Will, Modern decks typically try to do their own business and have little interaction to try and stop you from burning them to the ground.  It’s one of the reasons I would consider Burn here but often shy away from it in Legacy.  I simply don’t like playing out “my combo” only to have the last piece countered.  Granted, UWR Control is still a deck, and I don’t know exactly how that matchup is, but on paper Burn seems to still have a lot of threats they can’t deal with let alone a speed advantage.

Out of the board, the first few cards give you some play against a lot of decks with an extra special focus on Pod and Twin (I used both cards when playing Jund last season),  followed by some anti-aggro, anti-control, anti-affinity/boggle, anti-tron, and then a round-robin-catch-all of hate in the last few cards.  This board truly makes me smile, as it has something for everything but like many decks in Modern the cards can serve double-purpose at being your 5th and 6th of another card in a certain matchup.  And if I learned anything from playing Jund last season in Modern it was to respect your difficult matchups and respect Burn.  I started off undefeated in two PTQs, only to have multiple losses to RG Tron despite my 5-6 sideboard cards against them.  The good decks are good, and they play out fairly consistently.  If you don’t play just the right amount of requisite cards and also play incredibly tight, it will cost you a match.  The good news is, most players that I played with or talked to last season had nowhere near enough cards against a good Burn deck, so you immediately have an advantage out of the gates, especially if your opponent plays loose in game 1.

If I were to change anything in his list going forward, it would be to include a smidge more hate against Boggle (Auras), and I would try out a few of the new M14 cards, but most of them would probably miss the cut.  This list is tuned and ready to beat the field.

Mono Red Aggro (Budget) by John Galli (Updated 8/11/2013)

4 Figure of Destiny
4 Goblin Guide
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Keldon Mauraders
4 Vexing Devil

3 Molten Rain
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Lava Spike
1 Shard Volley
3 Skullcrack
1 Pillar of Flame

20 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Blood Moon
3 Combust
3 Lash Out
2 Volcanic Fallout
2 Spellskite
1 Shatterstorm

This list is really rough, and I don’t know if it’s competitive, but I basically wanted to provide something to readers of my site who don’t have access to fetchlands for Modern.  My main recommendation would be to try and work towards them because it probably is the difference between viability and just completely losing, but this deck can turn the pressure on people at smaller tournaments.  Once the season for Modern starts, or just prior, I’ll be able to give more tuned builds, but at the moment this is the best I’ve got.  There’s a lot of room for deckbuilding in Modern, so don’t feel afraid to go outside of Red if money is a big limitation.  Despite the fact that I love playing Red whenever I can, I know how it can be tough to acquire the cards (I often borrow mine for the Modern and Legacy seasons), so you have to do what you can if you want to play and feel like you have a shot to win.

I’d also recommend checking out this article when you get time if budget is a big concern-
Becoming a Modern Man – Modern on a Budget

Legacy:

Burn by John Galli (Updated 8/11/2013)

4 Goblin Guide
4 Grim Lavamancer

3 Sulfuric Vortex
4 Fireblast
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Price of Progress
4 Chain Lightning
4 Flame Rift
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
1 Shard Volley

8 Mountain
12 Red Fetch Lands

Sideboard
3 Ensnaring Bridge
4 Vexing Shusher
4 Mindbreak Trap
4 Searing Blaze

This is a streamlined list, very close to what Patrick Sullivan has played in the past.  It plays a competitive burn game, requiring tight play and heavy practice to do well with.  It has inherent weaknesses such as a poor game 1 against Combo and RUG Delver, but it balances that by being more consistent than just about every deck in the field.  The sideboard can be adjusted, I like Surgical Extraction and possibly a fourth Sulfuric Vortex.  It really depends on what meta you expect to see or what decks you hate losing to.  Young Pyromancer also *might* be a card this deck wants, but it would require a lot of testing to figure out.  I’ve personally played with this list in Legacy tournaments before, and I felt it was fine if you know what you’re doing and don’t get upset by just auto-losing some matchups.  But in reality, that’s Legacy in a nutshell for you; you just simply can’t prepare for everything.  At the last SCG Open I took this to, I was missing two of the Vexing Shushers in the sideboard (a key card against RUG Delver), and sure enough, I play RUG Delver in rounds 1 and 2.  It pretty much left my opponents hanging at 2 life in every game since they could just counter my last threat and then kill me a few turns later.  So bottom line, make sure you have all the cards, and make sure you practice ad nauseum (no pun intended).

The Figure of Destiny Builds aren’t terrible, they’re just a bit weaker against certain matchups.  But if you don’t have fetches, it’s still a realistic option that’s solid in Legacy and saves you some cash.  While this list probably wants Sulfuric Vortex, it’s an example of the shell you want to build around-

Burn by Austin Yost 1st Place at SCG Open 1/22/2012

3 Figure of Destiny
4 Goblin Guide
3 Hellspark Elemental
3 Keldon Marauders

4 Fireblast
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Price of Progress
4 Chain Lightning
4 Flame Rift
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt

17 Mountain
2 Barbarian Ring

Sideboard
4 Faerie Macabre
3 Pyrostatic Pillar
4 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast
3 Smash to Smithereens

A few quick things I would do besides Sulfuric Vortex would be to update the sideboard.  You really want Mindbreak Trap against combo, otherwise you’ll just get killed on turn 0 or turn 1 a lot of the time.  Faerie Macabre was likely in the list to combat Dredge, which just isn’t that popular as of right now.  And lastly Ensnaring Bridge is almost a must for Show and Tell which seems to pop up in heavy numbers at every big event these days.

I want to close this article by giving a shout out to a local Madison player who games at my shop, Kenny Dungar.  He defeated Ad Nauseum-Tendrils to take Goblins to a 1st place finish at the SCG Minneapolis Open last weekend despite a field full of hate.  Thanks for giving all of us Mono Red players hope Kenny.  Despite the color Blue existing, sometimes you still get there.

Goblins by Kenny Dungar 1st at SCG Open Minneapolis 8/4/2013

3 Gempalm Incinerator
2 Goblin Chieftain
4 Goblin Lackey
4 Goblin Matron
3 Goblin Piledriver
4 Goblin Ringleader
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
3 Goblin Warchief
3 Mogg War Marshall
1 Stingscourger
1 Krenko, Mob Boss
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

2 Tarfire

4 AEther Vial

4 Mountain
1 Arid Mesa
2 Bloodstained Mire
4 Cavern of Souls
2 Plateau
4 Rishadan Port
4 Wasteland
2 Wooded Foothills

Sideboard
2 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Mindbreak Trap
3 Pyrokinesis
3 Wear // Tear
2 Pithing Needle
4 Rest in Peace

– Red Deck Winning

Tournament Report *26th*: Chicago TCG Player Diamond 5K

Ash Zealot

Tournament Report *26th*:  Chicago TCG Player Diamond 5K

It’s 4:00pm Friday afternoon.

My car is full, 4 of us large gentlemen are eager to start our journey down south for a shot at Magic success.  We’ve got two 24 packs of bottled water, soda, family-size twizzler bags, cheese-its, snack bars, Canadian Club, Kettle One, Gordon’s Gin, Captain Morgan, every Standard deck under the sun, and two other cars full of teamates leaving a few hours after us.

After $12 worth of tolls, we finally arrive at a Days Inn that one of our teamates, Stefan, had setup for us.  As we’re driving up to it, things are looking pretty promising.  There’s a Lou Malnati’s Pizza Restaurant (ridiculously good Chi-Town deep dish), a Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Restaurant, a White Castle, a Strip Club, a Liquor store, and a McDonalds.  Wow, talk about hitting the jackpot.  We walk inside and go up to the concierge to check into our rooms.

Only this wasn’t our hotel.  Apparently this town has two Days Inn, and we’re setup at the other one.  I make a call.

John:  Hey Stefan, which hotel did you book.

Stefan:  The Days Inn in Shaumburg.

John:  Crap, we’re at the one near O’hare.  They have (all the things mentioned above).

Stefan:  Yeah we should have booked that one.

John:  Yep.  I picked this one out, guess I should have looked around first.

At the end it all worked out, our other Days Inn still had some good amenities nearby and was only a fifteen minute drive away.  Our GPS did try to continually have us make U-Turns over a two-block stretch, and I did almost get run over by a highway road paver, but we made it there.  Once we got settled in we left for dinner since we were the earliest car to get there, and proceeded to Engulfing Slagwurm two gigantic deep dish pizzas, garlic bread, and several pints of beer.  It was the kind of restaurant experience where people around you are probably giving some looks, and you’ve ate so much you can barely get up from the table.  This was Man’s Food.

Once we got back to the hotel our other friends had arrived, so we filled our cups and started some intense playtesting to try and figure out what was working.  I posted my list here on Friday before I left, but I still wasn’t sure I liked it.  Adrian was the designer behind a lot of the modifications, and I trust his opinion, but it seemed lackluster in some matchups.  No access to Bonfire of the Damned put you at a significant disadvantage to tokens, hexproof, and aggro, while Chandra maindeck was a nice card to give you some fuel but she wasn’t always something you wanted on turn 4 or later.  The deck played a very slow game, yet unlike a good control deck or a midrange deck packed with threats, you just durdled around a bit before getting a chance to kill them or have them kill you.

I played ten games against Jund, five pre-board and five post-board.  I went 3-2 pre-board and 1-4 post board.  The deck didn’t feel right.  The post-board losses weren’t even so much due to sideboard cards that were getting me like Golgari Charm, it was moreso that my teamate had somewhat figured out the matchup and that his cards were just better most of the time.  One thing we figured out was the two best cards against me from Jund; Rakdos Return and Olivia.  Anytime he was able to Rakdos Return me, the game was a very uphill battle.  This deck doesn’t have a lot of early plays, so they typically get most of your hand.  Stonewright and Cackler felt underwhelming, but I didn’t want to give up on having the deck be a bit faster than turn three.  Olivia usually killed me because she typically was the last threat he played, and the best one, so it was a must answer card.  Four Searing Spear just wasn’t enough to go around, as it usually would have to be turned towards a Scavenging Ooze that got bigger than Pillar of Flame could handle, or something else threatening.  I played a bunch of other matches against the rest of our team, we had two guys playing Aristocrats with Thatcher’s Revolt, one guy on Naya Blitz, one guy on Esper Control, one guy on Junk Tokens, another guy on my 75 cards, and a guy playing Craig Wescoe’s R/W Aggro deck from Worlds.  It was a good representation of the type of stuff we’d see at the tournament.  I talked with Zach, the guy playing my 75, and he mentioned a few things that echoed what I was seeing.  He said that he wanted the deck to stay fast, but he mentioned he was getting overrun by the aggro decks and that the sideboard seemed off.

We talked with our teamates about it, but eventually it was getting late.  Around midnight most of us went to bed, I stayed up till about 1:30 am looking at the deck and talking with the last few stragglers who wanted to get in a couple more games.  Finally I gave up, but I felt very unsatisfied with how the tournament was looking for the next day.

At about 4:45 am, I woke up.  Our room was really hot, the A/C had not been working well and all of us were sweating profusely.  I was on the floor on a sleeping bag, and comfort was just about the last thing that was going to happen.  I grabbed my smartphone, pulled up google docs, and started thinking about what could be done.

And then it hit me.

It wasn’t just one card, it was what was wrong with the deck.  We’ve got a bunch of cards that don’t seem to do much, they’re just there for a narrow purpose or to give the deck some kind of value in certain areas.  We have a sideboard that is trying to fill too many cards against one or two matchups, and we’re trying to make plays that happen too situationally.  For instance, Reverberate out of the board was mostly to function as a counterspell or Revelation copy against UWR and to copy an opponent’s Rakdos Return or Bonfire of the Damned from Jund.  The problem is, these situations only come up in a few games, and especially against Jund you’d just never know when Rakdos Return was coming.  They just keep putting threats on the board, and if you don’t play along with them and instead keep mana up for Reverberate, you’re going to lose to the rest of the deck before you even get hit by a Return.  If they draw a Return, you just have to deal with it is what I finally settled on.  This deck has a lot of good topdecks, just like they do.  And with regards to that, Zach and I had both noticed that Boros Reckoner was awful slow in this list, just like the stock version, Adrian’s list was trying to do so much at three when all you really wanted was to play a Phoenix or kill a guy.  Reckoner was nice at blocking a Thragtusk, but it also led to less aggression in that situation and giving them time to put down multiple hard to deal with cards.  I thought, “Why not just have every creature in the deck have haste, and only use the best ones.  Lets have the rest be burn spells and Burning Earth.  Red wins when it’s consistent, not when it’s playing a bunch of singletons or midrange cards like a control deck.”

You just don’t have the draw power to play like Control.  I knew this format was too suicidal for most aggro decks (Aside from maybe Blitz, our teammate did well with an all-60 creature build that consistently killed on turn 3), so I didn’t want to have this deck lose its top end.  You also need to be able to answer the aggro decks.  While they might not be in the top 8, you’re not going to make it there if you can’t beat them, especially in game 1 where they often try to “steal” a game.  We needed more removal.  I like Brimstone Volley as a card, but in the original stock list it was extremely clunky alongside of Reckoner and Phoenix.  Since both Zach and I hadn’t liked Reckoner (more on that later), I decided to just do a straight cut – Ash Zealot goes in, Reckoner comes out.  The Stonewrights, the Cacklers, and the Chandras who were underperforming got cut too, as most of the time you just want to pillar something on turn one or play a Mutavault.  I replaced these with the four Bonfire of the Damned and four Brimstone Volley.  I looked at the list on my smartphone staring back at me in the harsh light of our dark hotel room.  THIS WAS THE LIST.

Big Red by John Galli

4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Hellrider
4 Thundermaw Hellkite

3 Burning Earth

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

19 Mountain
4 Mutavault
2 Cavern of Souls

Sideboard
3 Mizzium Mortars
3 Electrickery
3 Ratchet Bomb
2 Rolling Temblor
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Zealous Conscripts

If I were to change anything and play tomorrow, I would cut 1 Electrickery, 2 Rolling Temblor, and 1 Chandra, Pyromaster.  In their place, I would put 3 Boros Reckoner and 1 Ratchet Bomb.  I really wanted something more resilient against Jund, and Reckoner just seems like he’s that card.  But maindeck I wanted to be fast, even against Jund, and I wanted to make sure the deck could turn on the jets against the rest of the field, especially aggro.  We had way too many board cards against aggro, so I think cutting the numbers where I’ve suggested would keep it good enough that you’ll be able to handle them most of the time.  You have so much burn, that it’s rare they get ahead of you unless they have the nut draw with Burning-Tree or Gather the Townsfolk.  Control didn’t seem like a very tough matchup between the Caverns, the hasty threats, the burn, and Chandra’s Phoenix, so having access to just a single Chandra out of the board is fine I think.  Zealous Conscripts comes in too, as it can steal planeswalkers or the one or two creatures they play and it’s another haste creature.

The Tournament

I won’t go into full detail about the matches, I’m just going to try and highlight important parts and situations.

Round 1 vs Jund Aggro (Win; 2-0)

This matchup, the plan is much like it is with other aggro decks.  Sit back, kill every creature they play with burn, and then play your big cards that they can’t race.  If they stumble and you can play Ash Zealot or get in a few cracks with Mutavault, do it.  The plan worked great, although the first game was pretty scary because we just both kept dropping threat or burn every single turn until I finally played double Hellrider and killed him.

One important sideboarding note is that you can cut the early threats (like Zealot) and the Burning Earths.  These cards are better replaced by the sweepers and spot removal in the sideboard, as then your deck truly plays like Big Red Control allowing your strategy to work to its fullest potential.

1-0

Round 2 vs Aristocrats with Thatcher’s Revolt (Win; 2-0)

Since my team had two guys playing this deck, I was very familiar with what they could do.  It turns out he was playing 57 of the same 60 cards that my teamates had, so the games went as I expected.  I knew which guys of his to kill, with Champion, Blood Artist, Cartel, and Falkenrath being the biggest problems.  Game 1 I had the play and raced him with Zealot into Phoenix into Hellrider into Thundermaw.  He had a strong opener with Champion, Thatcher’s Revolt, and Falkenrath, but all my cards were faster in this case and trumped his.  Thundermaw actually killed his Falkenrath, and the burn in my hand gave me the reach needed to win.  Electrickery is an all-star in this matchup as well.

2-0

Round 3 vs Junk Tokens (Win; 2-0)

My teammate playing Esper had played this guy in the first round and lost to him, so I was a bit worried.  Fortunately I knew he was playing Junk Tokens, so that helped give me some information.  The start of the game began with me controlling his board state with burn, followed up by some aggression in Hellrider and Ash Zealot.  What I didn’t know is that he had Thragtusk, and that came down to slow up the parade.  He was still at 13 life and eventually after I killed his Thragtusk he had the remaining Beast Token which was a 4/4 Vigilance due to Intangible Virtue.  I had a mountain in my hand, but I could tell that he was a bit worried about it.  He didn’t have much either, he had been sandbagging a card for a while but I just kept getting the vibe that he didn’t have anything relevant as he would have played it by now.  I swung in with both Hellrider and Ash Zealot.  Certainly creature suicide, and I don’t have anything in my hand to try and back it up, but he doesn’t know that.  It turned out to be an incredibly good play, as he didn’t block for fear of me playing a combat trick.  He takes 7, goes down to 6, and then next turn I draw a Searing Spear to be able to swing and burn him.

3-0

Round 4 vs Grixis Control (Win; 2-0)

My opponent was a complete dick this round, and he seemed very overconfident in his deck.  Fortunately for me I had gotten in a lot of playtesting against my teammate who was on Esper, so I knew that the control matchup was very winnable.  Burn, Burning Earth, and Cavern of Souls make their life quite difficult.  And where Esper has access to Sphinx’s Revelation to gain life, Grixis doesn’t have any help.  He was playing Divination, which I think is a nice card, but it definitely time walked him.  Ash Zealot proved it’s worth again in this game, taking large chunks of damage out of his life total.  I curved out well and Brimstone’d him for five to finish the job.

The nice thing for the control matchups is that you basically can just take out the Pillars (depending on their build) and board in Chandra and Zealous Conscripts.  Then you’re playing all high-volume threats and eventually they are just going to run out of ways to stop you unless you blunder or they have infinite removal.

4-0

Round 5 vs Jund Midrange (Win; 2-1)

My first matchup against Jund.  My aggression game 1 gets me there, as he can’t setup any kind of blockade in time to deal with my assault.  Pillar was really important to kill Ooze and Huntmaster, and even though he lands a Thragtusk I’m able to run a guy into it to trigger morbid on Brimstone.  Like many other matches (and a huge advantage of this build), my opponent thought I was playing Red Aggro.  This happened all day, and likewise he boarded in anti-aggro cards.  This lets me bring even more big cards that blank his early removal, like Zealous Conscripts, and you can just go toe-to-toe with them.

Game 2 I unfortunately got stuck on four lands.  I did cast THREE Burning Earths, two of which were Golgari Charm’d, but I never got past four mana and he ended up getting a Liliana to her ultimate to finish me off.  It was a really sad way to lose a game, especially since I had multiple Conscripts and Thundermaw in hand the whole time.

Game 3 things played out much like the first.

5-0

Round 6 vs Kibler Big R/G, currently sitting at 1st Place in the standings.  (Loss; 0-2)

This was a matchup I was not looking forward to playing, as they are just a smidge faster than you with the elves they play and their deck has basically the same gameplan.  The hope here is to kill their early mana producers and Scavenging Ooze, and then try to kill them before they get Hellkite or Hydra (if they have it) online.

I mulled to five in the first game and had to keep a one lander.  In game 2 I got into a situation where I could deal him ten damage, but he had 12 life and lethal on the board for me.

5-1

Round 7 vs Jund Midrange (Win; 2-0)

Very similar to the way round five played out.  You are just so fast coming out of the game and have so much burn, that unless they draw multiple Thragtusks or some card you can’t answer, you will get there.  He played two Olivias in one of the games and I had removal ready both times for it.  Playtesting helps sometimes.

6-1

Round 8 vs Jund Midrange (Loss; 0-2)

Game 1 I curved out perfectly, but he had 3 removal spells, two Thragtusks, and three Bonfires.  I actually hung on for a very long time, as I had three Bonfires of my own and almost continual threats.  Eventually we ended the game with him at 2 life.  Both of us felt like we were having a heart attack that game, as every turn was critical.  There was one point where I thought I had it after miracling a Bonfire for three with an Ash Zealot in play, but he top-decked a Thragtusk to stop me from getting there.  Game 2 presented another situation like round 6 where I had a lot of damage I could deal but not enough for the kill.  I had Thundermaw Hellkite in hand with a Chandra’s Phoenix and Burning Earth in play to his Wolf token, Thragtusk, and Kessig Wolf Run.  He was at 7, AND it felt like he had a Putrefy in hand which would let him kill my Thundermaw and have just enough life to use Wolf Run to kill me.  Sure enough, as I play Thundermaw I see his hand quiver over his lands and I know he has it.  No choice though but to attack, so I play it and attack and he kills it and then kills me.  Sitting back to block would have not worked either as I was just too low in life (and it turns out he had a Liliana in hand too).

6-2

Round 9 vs Junk Reanimator (Loss; 1-2)

Game 1 I have an insane hand of Zealot, Phoenix, double Hellrider, and double Searing Spear.  I go full assault on him as he sets up a turn 5 unburial rites with double angel of serenity in the yard.  Not enough though, as I burn him down.

Game 2 he gets out an Obzedat off of Unburial Rites on turn four and I just can’t race him.

Game 3 I mull to a five card hand and can’t play anything.  On turn four he plays Rites again to get Obzedat and I scoop shortly after.  Turned out he was the 2nd place finisher at the last Diamond event in my hometown, so at least my last loss of the tournament was to someone good playing a good deck.

6-3; 26th Place, $50.  Six of my nine teammates finished in the top 64, with the most notable finish being the Esper Control player at 7-2; 19th place.

I think going forward this deck is still very good.  Looking around and talking with people, the top 16 had at least two players playing Big Red, two or three playing Kibler Big R/G, and a few Jund players.  This deck really gives Jund a hard time, and adding some additional board cards can help the matchup.  I lost more games to mana problems than anything else, and when this deck doesn’t have those problems it’s a well-oiled killing machine.  There are a few decks you don’t want to see, but if this tournament was evidence of anything it’s that those decks aren’t as popular in the metagame as they might have used to be or they’re too fringe to worry too much about.

– Red Deck Winning

There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise

Chandra, Pyromaster

There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise

Today’s the day.  The last day that is to finalize deck decisions and prepare to win your local big event or nearby PTQ before that season is nearly over and the summer comes to a close.  Technically you have one more weekend for the Standard PTQs, and there’s always big events going on at least in the Midwest area, but for me this weekend is one of the more important ones I’ve seen for Magic.  There’s both a Starcitygames.com Open and a TCG Player Diamond 5k in my area and I have a giant group of players caravaning to make their dreams come true.  It’s an exciting time.

The plan is sound.  Pack ten guys into two hotel rooms, bring copious amounts of good booze, have those PTQ summer jams on blast, and make sure every Standard deck is either represented or proxied for the last push of playtesting.  We all expect to top 8, but if things don’t work out I know it’s going to be fun regardless.  And personally, I intend to win.

If you’ve been reading my articles recently, you’ll know that my build has see-sawed back and forth, with me mostly favoring the bigger red builds of Mono Red.  Today I’ve finally confirmed that Big Red is where I want to be, but the final list has changed a bit and I want to discuss why.  Recently Adrian Sullivan of my hometown fame posted a premium article on Starcity with a new decklist and discussion.  We had been talking the night prior about the archetype, and his thoughts were right along the same lines as my early thoughts on the deck.  Why aren’t we putting a clock on the opponent?  This deck needs to start the game before turn 3.  There’s no draw power in this deck!  The sideboard looks atrocious.  Hellrider doesn’t seem correct.  He sent me the list that was in the article and I have tested about 40 games with it in the last few days.  While it gives up some percentage to an already tough matchup in Bant Hexproof, I think he figured it out.  There’s a few additional touches I plan on weaving in today depending on how results go with testing, but the changes he made (and ones I was along the same lines with) do a lot of work in addressing some of the on paper weaknesses of the original lists.

Big Red by Adrian Sullivan

Maindeck:

Creatures
4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Stonewright
4 Thundermaw Hellkite

Enchantments
3 Burning Earth

Instants
4 Searing Spear

Planeswalkers
2 Chandra, Pyromaster

Sorceries
4 Pillar of Flame

Basic Lands
19 Mountain

Lands
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Mutavault

Sideboard:
3 Ratchet Bomb
2 Zealous Conscripts
3 Electrickery
2 Reverberate
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Blasphemous Act
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Rolling Temblor

First, both of us saw that despite giving Jund and UWR some more targets to shoot down, this deck seems like it could benefit by having some 1 and 2 drop staples from Mono Red to put tempo on your opponent.  This has always been an important piece of Mono Red, because you can win a lot of games when your opponent stumbles and a lot of times just having a board presence early forces them to make decisions they don’t want to.  I originally ran a playset of Stromkirks, Cacklers, and Zealots, but Adrian wisely made the move to Stonewright.  He was in my previous iteration of Red Deck Wins, and he was pretty solid there at pumping an Ash Zealot or Boros Reckoner into a gigantic pain for the opponent.  In this deck, he can truly shine in some situations given the amount of mana you have.  Stromkirk was incredibly underwhelming in testing for me with Big Red, mostly because he didn’t have the army or curve to back him up and it just wasn’t a card I wanted to see very often against midrange.  Having two Stonewrights and four Cacklers gives you just enough to draw them a decent amount, but not so much that your topdecks suffer in the late game.  Zealot’s a good card to have with Reanimator still lurking, and he penalizes one half of Lingering Souls.  He’s also just another haste creature to push the opponent into reacting.  I’d much rather them Doom Blade my Zealot to pave the way for Chandra’s Phoenix, Boros Reckoner, or Thundermaw Hellkite.

Another change that has been fantastic in playtesting is Chandra.  I tried her out really early when the final M14 spoiler was finalized, but she just wasn’t doing enough.  Then I saw the Big Red lists that did well last weekend and wasn’t sure where to slot her in.  Since she was spoiled I’ve thought she looked very powerful, but the abilities make for a difficult build-around.  After playing with her in this list though, I now see that she’s found a home.  This deck has enough guys to provide blockers for her, while at the same time utilizing her +1 “can’t block” clause to good effect.  She provides the much needed draw engine for the deck, she helps you pick off some of the opposing aggro strategies, and most importantly she provides a board presence that demands an answer.

I’ve had about 50% of the people I’ve playtested against this week ignore her, and its always gone bad for them.  The ones who didn’t ignore her had to typically devote all the pressure they could in trying to kill her, which resulted in missed damage to my face allowing me to develop the bigger cards in this deck.  Usually you can follow her up with either another copy, or a Thundermaw, either of which is pretty tough for most opponents to deal with.  Simply put, if you have access to a few copies of her, I’d at the very least try her out.  She really helped the mono green matchup, which was abysmal before.  They often get online pretty quick with big creatures and even just a slight diversion of attention can help you buy the time you need to fly over the top or get more creatures on the board.  The other day I was testing and I had enough blockers between my ground guys and Mutavault to get to Chandra’s Ultimate status.  Let me tell you, exiling ten cards off the top of your library in a red deck feels good.  Three Searing Spears made my opponent very unhappy.

Cavern of Souls might make the mana a little more tough in some games, but the variance is paid for by giving you an extra solid plan against UWR.  This was already one of the stronger matchups, but as players become more aware of Big Red (like they are doing), they’re usually more prepared to counter the big threats of the deck like Burning Earth and Thundermaw Hellkite.  Cavern naming Dragon, Wizard, or Human gives you some very good game against them.  I highly recommend this switch, or at least adding a singleton Cavern for those games that go long.  Reverberate out of the board is also fantastic.  I was initially testing Wild Ricochet before I saw Adrian’s article, and when I was at the shop buying it I was flip-flopping back and forth between which of the two I wanted.  After playing against UWR with Reverberate, I can easily say this is the better card.  It acts as a counterspell against their counterspells, it copy’s Sphinx’s Revelation, and it lets you keep mana up for your other spells.  Even being able to copy one of your Searing Spears can be pretty awesome in many situations.

The sideboard is the one area where I’m still trying to figure out the last few slots, but most of it is where I want to be.  The five matchups that I consider the toughest for this deck are Bant Hexproof, Gruul Aggro, Aristocrats, Mono Green, and G/B Rock.  That sounds like a lot, but with Jund and UWR being the big dogs of the format and there being a handful of archetypes that are playable, it’s not that bad.  Four of the Five share a lot of characteristics, which allow you to use most of the same sideboard cards.  Here are my thoughts on the board:

  • Ratchet Bomb – I was really turned off by Ratchet Bomb initially.  I had used the card when it was legal in Scars, and I felt like it was fantastic then, but it just seemed too slow for this format.  The other day in testing though I started to come around.  For starters, it’s a really good thing to have against Bant Hexproof by setting it at 2 or 3 counters.  That might take too long in some matches, but even just being able to get it to two means you can blow up Invisible Stalker and Spectral Flight which are tough plays to beat otherwise.  On one, you can beat the handful of elves they run, along with popping Rancor back to their hand and getting Ethereal Armor.  You need other removal spells to go along with your Bombs, but it seems at this point to be a necessary card.  It also deals with the tokens decks and random stuff you may nave not planned for, and it keeps your opponent from playing out their hand at times.
  • Zealous Conscripts – This has been really good for me.  It’s one of the better cards against Jund, Mono Green, and B/G Rock.  In most of those matches you’re looking to go big anyway, and this lets you put game ending situations in place that your opponent didn’t expect.  You can punish a lot of players for their greed, and you can steal games out of nowhere.  It’s also almost always lethal in combination with one of your Thundermaw Hellkites.
  • Electrickery – I’m not 100% sure if I want all three, but this card has been good for me in the past.  It overloads for significant card advantage, kills Invisible Stalker, deals with Aristocrat decks, and helps against early mana producers.  That said, it’s narrow in application and you have access to better sweepers, so this might drop down to a one of or two of.  The biggest gain you get by playing it is that you can respond earlier if you’re on the draw, which is sometimes hypercritical in certain matchups.
  • Reverberate – I discussed this one already, but I’ll re-emphasize.  Against control, or even against a Rakdos Return out of Jund, this card is really powerful.  It should be in your sideboard.
  • Chandra, Pyromaster – while I love Chandra, I don’t think there’s a lot of matches outside of UWR that I’d want to bring her in against.  She can be nice against Jund and a few other fringe players, but I have one or two other cards I’m considering for this slot.
  • Blasphemous Act – If I were to play it in the board, it’d be a 1-of like it is here.  You’re not looking to Reckoner-Act combo your opponent a lot with this deck, as you typically can’t throw them down far enough in life like Red Deck Wins can.  It functions here as an additional sweeper effect and a card to get you out of troublesome board states.  Against decks like B/G Rock and Naya Midrange, sometimes you just need to get out from under a Desecration Demon or an army of fatties.
  • Mizzium Mortars – This is a card I think should probably see play as a 3-of or 4-of rather than a 2-of, or at least combined with Shock in the board.  Mortars is really good against Gruul Aggro, it kills Blood Baron of Viskopa, and it can basically be a Bonfire of the Damned if you get to a later point in the game.  It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t go to the face, but that’s not what you’re looking for in the matches you’re bringing it in against.
  • Rolling Temblor – Rolling Temblor has probably been the sideboard card that I’m most impressed with.  I advocated this card in people’s sideboard for a very long time, and no one seemed to play it.  I think there’s finally a deck now in Big Red that can use it to it’s true potential.  It’s a little slow at three mana and doesn’t hit Lingering Souls, but it’s very good against Hexproof, Tokens, and Aggro.  It’s more reliable than Bonfire, and multiples usually end games.  I’m considering playing this as a 2-of or 3-of.
  • Awaken the Ancient – this is my sleeper card that I’m going to try and test out today.  I wasn’t excited when I first saw it spoiled, but in a deck like Big Red having a 7/7 with haste can be pretty insane.  The biggest drawback is that it permanently makes one of your lands a creature, which allows your opponent to putrefy or dreadbore it for a lot of value.  They can also Acidic Slime it, which seems to be on the uptick if people base their decks at all off of the Worlds coverage.  That said, multiples or even just a singleton out of the board will hurt a lot of decks.  UWR has just about nothing to deal with this, except a few singleton board cards.  There’s also going to be times where you play it on turn 4 and follow it up with a turn 5 Hellkite.
  • Shock – while it’s not in the board currently, Shock was quite helpful in playtesting as a 5th and 6th Pillar of Flame.  It kills pesky cards like opposing Mutavaults, it deals with aggro decks well, and at it’s worst it’s still another burn spell to give the deck some additional reach.

I’m not going to post an actual sideboarding plan, as I think most of the cards are explained well enough above and I prefer to play it by ear when sideboarding based on what was seen.  The cards in the board are also pretty obvious in this deck.  Against Midrange you can remove most of the cheap creatures or burn and replace them with the bigger threats and reverberate, against aggro you can bring in the sweepers and take out a few of the expensive cards or some of the cheap creatures, and against control you can again take out some of the cheap burn.  This is a fairly broad assessment, but I don’t think having a static plan going into a big tournament is ever a good idea.  Notes are fine, but leave it at that.  If the deck was less straight-forward, then that’s where having some kind of dedication makes a bit more sense.

The last thing I want to mention is Bonfire of the Damned.  Adrian cut it from his list because he felt it worked better in decks with access to ramp, like Farseek in Jund, and because it’s unreliable.  I think it can be run fine in a deck like this, as it was mostly strong in testing, but the reliability can be a factor and it’s basically a dead card versus Jund as it never gets big enough to be important.  I miss having it when playing against, tokens, aggro, or hexproof, but the sideboard is going to accommodate for that and you’re not completely dead in game 1 against these archetypes.  You still have a lot of burn, you have a faster clock, and you still have access to the heavy hitting spells.

Good Luck this weekend if you’re playing,

– Red Deck Winning