Why You Should Play Red For GP Cincinnati

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Why You Should Play Red For GP Cincinnati

While it might have a bullseye on its head after the SCG Seattle Open victory, now is a good time to play Red.  Several decks have been breaking through, including one that I’m going to introduce in this article, and if you’re a Red mage like me you should find something here to your liking.

In my last article I touched on how I’d been working with James Fazzolari over at Channel Fireball on RW Burn which he subsequently took to GP Melbourne and put up a very nice finish with.  Since that tournament, him and his crew have been continually improving the deck, finding different variations that were having more and more success on MODO.  He was slowly accumulating a ridiculous win percentage, and the list was catching fire (pun intended) across the internet.  It was only a matter of time before it caught on in the paper world, and we saw the accumulation of that with four top 16 finishes at SCG Seattle.  It’s important to note that each of those builds was fairly different, with minute changes that make a lot of difference when the deck is playing itself out.  Between all the Red mages I’ve been working with in the past few weeks, everyone has a different opinion on what they they think is best, so I encourage anyone who plays the archetype to try all of them before settling on one.  For reference, here is the latest list I saw from James, and if I were playing a tournament tomorrow with RW Burn, it’s the one I’d trust the most since I know how much time has gone into it and why a lot of certain cards have been ruled out-

RW Burn by Zemanjaski 3/19/2014

Creatures (8)
4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix

Enchantments (3)
3 Chained to the Rocks

Instants (26)
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
3 Searing Blood
3 Shock
4 Skullcrack
4 Warleader’s Helix

Lands (23)
2 Boros Guildgate
10 Mountain
3 Mutavault
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph

Sideboard (15)
1 Chained to the Rocks
2 Fated Conflagration
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Satyr Firedancer
1 Spark Trooper
3 Viashino Firstblade

The biggest things to note about this list:

Boros Reckonersatyrfiredancer

  • No Boros Reckoner – He’s usually just a target for removal before you can use him for value, he doesn’t apply damage to your opponent immediately, he slows down the list, and you want to be as aggressive as possible in game 1.  He’s debatable as a sideboard card, but ultimately choices like Chained to the Rocks, Spark Trooper, and Fated Conflagration go farther in this list because of some of the drawbacks to tapping down lands to play Reckoner in a Burn deck.  This is a deck that loves to just sit back and do as much as possible during your opponent’s turn.  It’s also a deck that requires critical thinking to get to the right amount of damage, and any stutterstep will make it feel like a very poor choice for a tournament.
  • Firedancer in the Sideboard – This is a hot ticket for debate, but he’s certainly not good enough maindeck.  If you play this deck enough, you’ll realize there’s plenty of matchups that you don’t want him in against.  That said, against decks like Mono Blue and GR  he can be an unstoppable force if left unchecked.

Things I don’t like:

  • This list punishes your mistakes very harshly, as you’re effectively playing a watered down version of Legacy Burn.  If you decide to kill more creatures than you need to, or miss a few points of damage here or there, it’s almost assuredly going to cost you.  I personally had trouble playing this archetype to its full value despite being able to play it mostly well, so ultimately I moved on when given the opportunity.  I think it’s probably one of the best Red decks in a long while, especially in this format, but you’ll want to practice heavily against all the Tier 1 archetypes before jamming it.  I would say the Mono Blue and Monsters matchups are the most skill intensive, so start there.
  • Blind Obedience and Chandra are very good cards for the mirror, so if you expect a lot of that in Cincinnati, I’d have them in your 75.  Being able to turn all of your Boros Charms into Lava Axes and having a personal howling mine is a really big deal.  I also found Blind Obedience to be helpful in the BW matchup at slowing them down and effectively nullifying Obzedat (aside from the life drain).

The TCG Chicago 5K and Other Flavors Of Red

Last week I was mulling over the possibility of going to the TCG 5K in Chicago, but I was not terribly confident in the Burn list I had been playing.  I knew it was good, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of Red deck I’m crazy about and I felt like some of the conclusions folks were coming to surrounding it were not necessarily true.  As the week dragged on, the itch to play Magic at a competitive level grew to it’s usual high pitched whine in my head and I figured out a ride situation to get down there.  Now I just had to find a deck.

A few months back, Magic professional and writer Adrian Sullivan played a RW “Aggro” list that he ultimately won a 5k with.  I always liked the deck, but felt that the original version was outdated and remembered that he lost to Mono Blue in the SCG Open that he top 4’d with it at.  Losing to Mono Blue has been the bane of my existence for the last several months, and unless there was an updated version with a significantly different plan, I couldn’t see myself rolling with his deck.

Luckily I’ve spent most of my life in Madison, WI, which also happens to be Adrian’s home (among other pros) and hit him up on Facebook to see if he had been working on things.  Turns out he had, and after a short discussion, some test matchups, and a few squeals of joy later, I settled on that deck for the 5k.  I present to you the brainchild of Adrian Sullivan,  Adam Jansen, and Ronny Serio:

RW Aggro (Adrian Sullivan,  Adam Jansen, and Ronny Serio) 3/19/2014

Creatures (23)
2 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Boros Reckoner
1 Tajic, Blade of the Legion
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Planeswalkers (2)
2 Chandra, Pyromaster

Instants (8)
4 Lightning Strike
4 Boros Charm

Sorceries (2)
2 Mizzium Mortars

Lands (25)
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Mutavault
13 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
4 Shock
4 Chained to the Rocks
2 Fated Conflagration
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Firedrinker Satyr
1 Wear // Tear

There’s a beauty to this list that just can’t be seen when you first look at it on paper.  Playing it reminds me of the first time I picked up Sligh when I was a kid and curved out into Ball Lightning followed by a fist full of burn to the face.  It has all the great elements of Red that you could want and it can play whatever game is demanded of it.  This flexibility is the secret sauce of this deck, and I’m going to do my best to explain to you how it works and why it’s better than your other choices.

  • You can be the aggressor.  This deck frequently has hands that curve out just like your typical Mono Red Aggro deck, and in today’s Standard of scry lands and tapping out, this is a good place to be.  A guy was watching one of my practice games at our local win-a-box last night and saw me go turn 1 Satyr, turn 2 Zealot, turn 3 Phoenix, turn 4 Chandra, turn 5 Strike + Charm = Death.  He asked me if that was a typical hand with a surprised look on his face.  Yes sir, yes it is.
  • If the game goes long, you don’t care.  Not only does this deck have some serious punch in the mid game that your opponent may not be aware of (aka Stormbreath Dragons and Reckoners), but you also have Boros Charm to protect your creatures from wraths and go to the dome out of nowhere.  You’ll often be in situations where you’ll have 7+ damage worth of burn in your hand just waiting for them to make a mistake or overcommit to dealing with your board presence.  I always thought the best Red decks were ones that you could not only sandbag creatures with in anticipation of a wrath, but ones that had significant followups to those wraths to unleash as well.  And because you have the protection of Boros Charm, you’re not forced to play cards like Stormbreath Dragon into uncomfortable situations as much.  You’re pretty sure your opponent has a Hero’s Downfall in hand and he’s pretty sure he can rely on it?  Aww. . . what a shame 🙂
  • You get to play Tajic and Chandra!  Yes, you read that correctly.  Tajic, Blade of the Legion.  While most of you probably thought Tajic was going to sit in your “crap” binder waiting for some little kid to pounce on it, he’s actually worth playing in this deck.  He’s not a card you want a lot of, certainly not more than one of him ever, but drawing into him randomly always feels like one of the best feelings out there.  It’s very easy to get his battalion activated with the playset of Mutavaults and plethora of haste creatures, and his indestructibility is invaluable against big creatures that are giving you problems or control decks that expect to take over on turn 4.  There’s only a certain set of cards that remove him and he applies a clock quickly, so when he’s something that tends to come down after your opponent has gone through a litany of their options they’re very often hard up at that point.  Chandra, Pyromaster shines better here than any other deck I’ve played her in.  Every single one of her abilities takes you straight to valuetown with the surrounding card suite.  Her +1 is great when you’re playing the deck in its “Controlling” role and gets back your Phoenixes, her 0 ability can draw you cards for days in certain matchups because you have creatures that protect her nicely, and her ultimate can kill opponents in many situations due to the presence of high impact burn.  She’s also extremely effective at taking out the one blocker that gets in your way when you’re on the heavy aggro plan.  Bottom line, she’s an all star in this deck and almost makes me feel like I’m playing with Koth again.
  • You can be the Control Deck and you can beat Mono Blue.  While the newer UW Devotion variant presents a few additional problems for you (mainly Ephara, Detention Sphere, and White sideboard removal), the sideboard plan against other aggro decks and specifically Mono Blue is fantastic.  It’s the first time I’ve played a Red deck since Theros came out where I don’t feel like a complete dog in that matchup.  Several other Red players have told me that “oh just bring in Ratchet Bomb or Anger of the Gods and you’re fine” but I’ve never seen that be true.  Time and time again, someone at my local shop has crushed me with it, or I’ve been running hot at that PTQ and then been stoned to death by a deck I prepped all week for. The difference with this build is that you take out all the cards that don’t work and instead bring in such a great threshold of answers that unless they topdeck incredibly well they get behind YOU quickly.  Every card of yours is very tough for them.  You board in 13 cards total.  THIRTEEN.  This is what it looks like–4 Cackler, -4 Zealot, -2 Satyr, -3 Charm
    +4 Shock, +4 Chained to the Rocks, +2 Mizzium Mortars, +2 Fated Conflagration, +1 Wear // Tear

It’s even easier to see when you look at the whole deck post-board:

  • 4 Chandra’s Phoenix
    4 Boros Reckoner
    1 Tajic, Blade of the Legion
    4 Stormbreath Dragon

    2 Chandra, Pyromaster

    4 Shock
    4 Lightning Strike
    4 Mizzium Mortars
    2 Fated Conflagration
    1 Boros Charm
    1 Wear // Tear

    4 Chained to the Rocks

    4 Temple of Triumph
    4 Sacred Foundry
    4 Mutavault
    13 Mountain

    You have answers at every stage of the game, followed by big threats they have a tough time answering.  It’s still possible to run out of cards or just draw poorly, but for the most part this plan is very strong.

  • You’re strong against the field.  The rest of the field is a pretty good matchup.  Mono Black is surprisingly beatable, despite not having Chained to the Rocks maindeck.  You put a lot of pressure on them early, and Demon often isn’t as crazy as he usually is against Aggro because you have enough ways to get around him, kill him, or just ignore him.  You have plenty of answers for Pack Rat, and many times you are killing all of their devotion enablers to the point where Gray Merchant isn’t potent enough to matter.  The BW matchup is very similar, if not worse for them.  Obzedat or Elspeth can be tough, but even there you have cards that enable a race situation.Monsters was initially the matchup that Adrian and I weren’t sure about, but after playing it a number of times now it’s not as bad as I thought.  You’re a bit of a dog in game 1, moreso to the straight GR version than the Jund one, but I’ve won quite a few of those games too so it’s not as bad as some builds of Red.  Games 2 and 3 give you a decent amount more firepower and a consistent enough amount that you can typically handle their 2-3 big threats and race around the rest.  I’ve been particularly fond of this card which I initially dismissed when Born of the Gods came out

fatedconflagration

It was in a sideboard slot that was up for debate between Chandra’s Outrage and Homing Lightning.  There’s applications for all three, but ultimately at the 5K almost every situation I was in revealed Fated Conflagration to be better.  In one game against GW Aggro, my opponent curved out into a turn 3 Ajani that immediately ticked up to 5, after which I played Conflagration on my turn to kill it and scry into much needed supplementary removal.  If you need land, you can scry during your upkeep like Magma Jet.  It kills Polukranos, which came up in my match against Jund Monsters and ended up swinging the tide of that game back in my favor.  Against Control, it allows you to board out your Mortars for a card that is far less dead and gives you more outs to Jace and Elspeth.  Overall, I couldn’t recommend it more, and the intensive mana cost was never an issue even though you might have a game somewhere over the point of time where it could be a problem.

  • Your White cards don’t need to be played on time.  The beauty of the light splash color is that the cards you’re playing don’t need to be played immediately.  Boros Charm, Chained to the Rocks, Tajic, and Wear // Tear can be played just about whenever for value and usually can sit in your hand for a while if you’re color screwed.  There have been a few games where not having White cost me, but not enough that it became a deck issue.  It’s not like trying to jam a WR creature on turn 2, the spells aren’t detrimental to the curve.  Furthermore, the benefit from having all of your lands come into play untapped except for the 4 temples is a big thing.  Any of you who’ve played other RW builds know that having a Guildgate come into play tapped is usually the absolute worst in most situations.  You’re always using your mana with this deck, and frequently it’s to have some combination of creatures attacking with a Mutavault while holding up mana for burn.

Sideboarding

Mono Blue:

-4 Rakdos Cackler, -4 Ash Zealot, -2 Firedrinker Satyr, -3 Boros Charm
+4 Shock, +4 Chained to the Rocks, +2 Mizzium Mortars, +2 Fated Conflagration, +1 Wear // Tear

Control:

-3 Boros Reckoner, -2 Mizzium Mortars (or some combination of Reckoner + Lightning Strike)
+2 Firedrinker Satyr, +2 Fated Conflagration, +1 Wear // Tear

Mono Black Devotion:

-4 Boros Reckoner, -3 Lightning Strike
+2 Firedrinker Satyr, +4 Chained to the Rocks, +1 Mizzium Mortars (can bring in Fated against BW)

GR / Jund Monsters:

-2 Firedrinker Satyr, -4 Lightning Strike, -4 Rakdos Cackler
+2 Mizzium Mortars, +4 Chained to the Rocks, +2 Fated Conflagration, +2 Shock (or keep in 2 Cacklers)

One additional note, Adrian has mentioned that a 2/2 split of Shock and Searing Blood might be better in the board.  I was aware of it before the 5K but wanted to keep the additional tempo of a playset of Shocks against Mono Blue, and ultimately I’m still comfortable with that.  Blood is however incredibly strong against other decks, mainly other aggro variants or Burn decks, so it’s still worth it at times depending on what you think the field might consist of.  I might ultimately come around on his opinion too, I need to test it again more to get the full sense of what I think is right.

Mono Red Devotion in the Top 8

The last deck I want to touch base on is an interesting list from a top 8 competitor at the 5k.  Over the course of the tournament, I watched Kevin Heath barrage opponents to death with his own blend of Red.  For those of you who haven’t seen the list, here is what he was playing-

Mono Red Devotion by Kevin Heath 5th – 8th Place TCG Chicago 5k

Creatures (28)
4 Ash Zealot
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Fanatic of Mogis
1 Scourge of Valkas
3 Stormbreath Dragon

Planeswalkers (3)
3 Chandra, Pyromaster

Instants (8)
2 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Searing Blood

Land (21)
16 Mountain
1 Mutavault
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Sideboard
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Burning Earth
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Pithing Needle
2 Ratchet Bomb
4 Skullcrack

The first thing that made my eyes go wide (well, after watching him pummel folks to an 8-0 record to start out the swiss) was the 21 land count.  21 lands, 4 of which are Nykthos and 1 of which is Mutavault???  What the hell?

I spoke with him about this and his logic was fairly sound.  With four Magma Jet, you can often scry into the additional lands that you need beyond the two required to operate.  Burning-Tree and Nykthos fuel many of the other draws, so most of the time it’s fine, with some of the time requiring a little more aggressive mulliganing.  That plan is not foolproof, as I’ve seen in post-tournament testing, but it was good enough to allow him to cut through a field of talented players.  He was also playing in his first major tournament, and making a decent number of mistakes along the way (no worries Kevin we all do!), but he was still getting there.  I was rooting for him big time when he went up against Josh McClaine (top 25 in the world) in the first round of the top 8 and took down game 1 with an incredible series of draws that culminated in a late game fury of double burning-tree plus Phoenix into Fanatic for 7.

Maybe in the end he was simply running hot, as all good tournament runs require a little of.  But the deck makes you smile a bit and the added amount of cards + removal you get to play with only 21 lands gives it some kind of strange longevity that the old Red Devotion lists didn’t have.  Kevin if you read this, congratulations again on making Top 8 and I wish all the best for you in the future.  I know there were some controversial moments in a few matches that people took sides on, but hopefully it’s all water under the bridge at this point and I hope that you continue to improve on your list for future big tournaments.

Keep tapping those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

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12 thoughts on “Why You Should Play Red For GP Cincinnati

  1. Excellent article and extremely thoughtful. Adrian Sullivan’s list looks awesome!

    I would definitely agree with your assessment of my deck; it is extremely skill testing and I frequently go wrong with it myself; but it is VERY VERY fun to play!

    Wasn’t too long ago that we were lamenting there not been a good red deck in the format, and look at us now!

  2. ^ Since Theros I’ve been lamenting the downfall of red. Thank you to you two, and all the other red mages that fixed that!
    Great article, as always. I’m glad to see red branching out again. Keep the flame alive gents!

  3. For some reason I have beat up on Blue based devotion decks with a few different R/W builds. Maybe I have just been lucky. Searing Blood is obviously awesome, though. Also, check out Ben Lundgren’s list that won a PTQ in Utah.

  4. Great article glad to see I’m not the only person trying to make red a powerhouse again. I played the Boros aggro list this weekend without the two Chandra Pyromaster (couldn’t find any in time) I replaced them with 2 warleader helix and was really pleased with that decision. It made a huge difference in every game as an 8 point life swing is difficult for any deck to play. I played the deck in a GPT went undefeated through Swiss. In my top 8 I beat b/w control first round with a timely warleader off the top deck, in semis I steamrolled esper control. Unfortunately I lost to mono blue splash white in the finals (I still feel really unfavoured in this matchup). Overall though I really like the deck and love the versatility it has after game 1, it’s simply to powerful to quick for many of the major decks in the format. Thank you for posting this deck.

  5. Jay that’s great to hear, the deck really does feel good and I’m happy to know it’s putting up results outside of my own and Adrian’s.

    At the 5K I beat UW Devotion once, and barely lost to it twice. It can be really tough, but I think the board plan is still sound. The white version gains some nasty tools which swing the tide, mainly d-sphere, ephara, revoke, and glare. I think the key change will be needed to the sideboard, there needs to be a way to squeeze in Glare of Heresy or Revoke Existence, and possibly one or two other sweepers. I’m still figuring this one out myself and when I get a chance will probably be discussing it with Adrian as he noticed that the white splash helps them quite a bit versus the straight blue version. Stay tuned for updates and let me know if you discover anything in playtesting.

    Edit** Also in game 1, I forgot to mention that you can feel free to mulligan an opening 7 if it doesn’t have a lot of removal and instead has all your little dorks. Basically try to get a hand that plays out like games 2 and 3 if you can. Not always possible, but it is a consideration with your opening grip.

      • I edited my above post, but to followup your second comment, that’s certainly a possibility. Adrian already moved to x2 Blood x2 shock, anger might be nice instead too. The one issue is judge’s familiar which I think Shock does a lot of work against, along with cloudfin. Those two creatures can often be the incremental difference in the match, and Shock goes a long way to com batting that. Food for thought though

  6. Hey man I’m playing that R/w burn list and I was wondering how do I sideboard vs U/w devotion, Mono black, and esper control. Any tips would be greatly appreciated, not saying that these are hard match ups for me just saying that I would like to know how to side board properly.

  7. Been playing R/W for a few weeks now and I went the 11 creature route, running 3 Phoenix, 4 Zealots, and 4 Lobber Crews. What do y’all think of the Lobber Crew addition? He’s a bit slow, but a clock that serves as a blocker and combos off Boros Charm and Helix. So far I’m fond of him. It’s nice to have each Charm basically read “Deal 6” and each Helix “Deal 6 gain 4.”

    • I don’t like him just because he is slow. As a red player I don’t really want the games to go long. (the reason I took burning earth out of my sideboard) I don’t think he’s bad though at all also I think you should have 4 phoenix for sure. phoenix is so good and provides card advantage

      • Just went 3-2 with the deck at TNM. Lobber was a bit too slow all night. 4 Phoenix for sure, def needed. I like it as a two-of. Thanks for the input. =)

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