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
4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Burning Earth
4 Searing Spear
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Cavern of Souls
3 Ratchet Bomb
2 Zealous Conscripts
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