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

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

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

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)


+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.


+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

3 thoughts on “Going Critical: Big Red Gets Bigger

  1. Great article man! Good luck in TCG Diamond. I love that you decided to put in Chandra, I loved her the moment she got spoiled.

    I pretty much agree with everything and can’t wait to take some of the advice with my own! But I’ve had really good results putting in 2 Reverberate / 2 Ratchet Bomb instead of the 4 Ratchet Bombs. It might be solely because no-one would think you had an answer to any spell they had and in a UW or UWR match-up they just full sphinx rev for tapped out. I got to Sphinx Rev for 5 last week and it felt amazeballs.

    Keep writing dude!

  2. Thanks Malakim! Glad you’re liking the material, this deck is a lot of fun.

    I too have been waiting to use Chandra, I was trying really hard to find the right shell for her and I think she finally has found a good home to shine in. She’s been an all star in playtesting for me, and is an “almost” Jace for red. Playing x3-4 of her can have a real impact on games if you have the right pieces surrounding.

    For the sideboard, Reverberate is perfectly fine against control, it is pretty fun to do plays like what you mentioned. My only issues with it are that I think the control matchups are the easiest of what you have to play against, so you typically don’t need a lot of extra help. If it’s a little more prevalent or you’re going to a bigger tournament and playing something similar to my list, I’d suggest cutting the x2 Flames of the Firebrand maindeck, moving the x2 Mizzium from the board to the maindeck, and then using those two sideboard slots for the Reverberate. You lose a little game 1 value against control, but Mortars typically isn’t a completely dead card, and then out of the sideboard you don’t have to cut Ratchet Bomb which is a key card in your Hexproof and Aggro matches. You could even cut the Possibility Storm and then just run x3 Reverberate in the board, which essentially acts as a counterspell for you when you want to force through a Burning Earth.

  3. Love the look you have in the new iteration. Hellrider i find is still so good, but understand your changes and that at times he is underwhelming.

    I really like the young pyro deck you were messing with on Twitch last week. A log of fun and effective, been playing with it a lot and haven’t lost a match.

    I actually haven’t had a lot of luck with Chandra. In your mix I have been play testing and find that ash, Phoenix and burn does so much of the work, I would rather have 2-4 more creatures or burn in that spot. Usually by the time in want to get her out, or can get her out I have 2 or 3 better plays. I’ll keep trying with her, great job and good luck at TCG.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s