Red Deck Winning: An Anniversary, and a Top 8


Red Deck Winning:  An Anniversary, and a Top 8

It’s really hard to believe, but its now been a year since I first started this website.  I would like to thank all of you who have read, posted, emailed, joined my social networks, and overall contributed to making this site and the Red community such a great place.

When I started this site, it was little more than an afterthought.  I had played Magic for a long time and am always one of the worst procrastinators about doing anything, whether it be for work or for fun.  It’s very difficult for me to follow through on projects, but this was something that grabbed me.  I vividly remember the first day I put together all of the basics, because even by the next day I was considering just abandoning the idea.  Then I got an email from one of my readers, Shawn VanHuss, saying how much he liked my articles so far and how he’d love to see more.  I looked over the site stats and noticed that despite being very low at the time, there were some readers and that it was on me to try and push it more through the proper web channels to have it show up better in search results and other social networks.  A few months later and some effort/tweaking on my end, and things started to really move forward.

Today, the site is still a small one, and I’m still a needle in a haystack of the Magic community, but the site is getting 300-600 views a day, people are reaching out to me on Facebook, Twitter, Email, and the site itself.  It feels great, and its pushed me to want to provide better content and work harder; both at playing Magic and at writing.  Thank you again, I could not have done it without this experience.

Making Top 8 Again

This last Saturday I had planned to attend a Pro Tour Qualifier near Chicago with a few local acquaintances.  The format was Theros Block Sealed and I thought it would be a nice change of pace from the usual Standard play that I do.  I had been practicing a decent amount of both Sealed and Draft and felt like I was getting better at the format.

Unfortunately the Chicago PTQ was actually on Sunday, not Saturday.  The next nearest one was Cedar Rapids, IA which was about another 45 minutes away (on top of an already 2 hour drive).  This change of plans made one of our car mates drop out, and the other one decided to head down a day early.  Fortunately, on Thursday I had gone to a win-a-box tournament in town and one of the players there told me about an SCG IQ happening on Saturday in a city only 45 minutes from Madison.  If anything, I should be very thankful that the Midwest has this many tournaments, and I am.  I’m sure many of the international readers looking at this site are shaking their heads at how crazy all of this sounds since many countries don’t have tournaments for months or require 5+ hour drives all the time.

The IQ would of course be smaller, but the winner would receive $250, an Invitational invite, and the format would be Standard.  The rest of the top 8 would be paid out in prize packs.  For 45 minutes away and a chance to qualify for an Invitational, it didn’t seem like a bad deal so I got on Facebook and talked to a few friends about it.  One of my friends joined me along for the ride and another one met us there.  I discussed for a long time with one of my readers which deck to play and how testing had been going, and we ended up splitting the difference (him going to the SCG Open with my GR Aggro list and me playing BR Aggro).  Here is the list that I played:

B/R Aggro by John Galli (maindeck designed by Tomoharu Saito) SCG IQ Baraboo, WI 5/31/2014, 4th Place

4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Gnarled Scarhide
4 Ash Zealot
4 Spike Jester
4 Mogis’s Warhound
4 Prophetic Flamespeaker
4 Rubblebelt Maaka

4 Lightning Strike
4 Searing Blood

2 Swamp
10 Mountain
4 Mana Confluence
4 Blood Crypt

4 Skullcrack
4 Dreadbore
2 Doom Blade
2 Devour Flesh
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Toil // Trouble

Tournament Report

This deck was incredibly strong.  Going forward, it should be on your shortlist and I don’t think I’d change anything at the moment in the 75.  If anything, I’d maybe like 1 more Toil // Trouble in the sideboard, and the removal package can be adjusted based on expected Meta.  Over the course of the tournament, I used every sideboard card and they all pulled their weight to help me to victories.  I will preface this report by letting you all know that the tournament was indeed very small (only 19 people ended up showing), but it was still 5 rounds, cut to top 8 for three more rounds, and there was a lot of super hateful looking decks in the room.  Regardless of where you are or how big the challenge, Magic always never fails to be a tough game.

Round 1 vs Seth with G/W Heroic

In both games I was able to drop a turn 1 creature, then Searing Blood or Lightning Strike his 1/2 drop which he both times had tried to put Ordeals on.  Certainly not a tier 1 deck by any means, but he had what appeared to be good draws for the deck, mine were just unfortunately better.  A steady stream of guys and burn and a few turns later and the hand shakes began.  There wasn’t much to this match or worthy notes to give, but Seth seemed like a nice guy and I appreciated having some time to go practice with my deck some more and play EDH.  I had already played the deck at the win-a-b0x on Thursday (going 3-1) and a handful of games on Cockatrice, but it never hurts to learn more.

1-0 (2-0 games)

Round 2 vs Kawika with Bant Control

In game 1 I began to mount an assault with Firedrinker into Spike Jester into Flamespeaker.  He had a Caryatid and ultimately an AEtherize which bought him some time, but by the end of the game a few turns later I had 7+ creatures on the board and it was just too much.  This game 1 knowledge was helpful as it seemed very clear that he did not have Supreme Verdict in his list.  The white if it was there for much looked like a very light splash, and it appeared a lot of his heavy hitters were late drops.

In game 2 I brought in a few Dreadbores expecting Kiora and Courser of Kruphix (both of which he had), and sure enough these showed up along with Cyclonic Rift and Prognosticator Sphinx.  Fortunately I was able to bestow a Mogis’s Warhound early on an Ash Zealot followed by Bestowing a Gnarled Scarhide on it and the combination of that with Dreadbore was too much for him to crawl back into the game.

2-0 (4-0 games)

Round 3 vs Ricky with R/W Burn

Ricky’s a buddy of mine from Madison, so this was an unfortunate pairing but I was happy to see him doing well.  Both him and my friend Andy who had driven with me were playing R/W Burn (pretty similar to the SCG winner’s list from a few weeks ago).  I was actually fairly eager to play this match as I had practiced against it online and it went well pretty much every time.  They certainly can have some hands that make you cringe and being on the play is important as we know with all fire mirrors, but in general the R/B list is faster and has the ability to pump out more damage in a turn thanks to Rubblebelt Maaka on a Prophetic Flamespeaker and the bestow creatures getting out of reach for most of the burn.  Searing Blood and Warleader’s Helix can be tough, but if you play tight you should be on the upside by a small percentage.

Game 1 Ricky had the play.  He was able to race with me, with the game seemingly moving to conclusion in minutes.  It came down to a critical turn where both of us tanked on our plays for a while.  I wish I could remember exactly what happened, but I think he was able to Warleader’s Helix me to buy himself just enough life to avoid lethal damage by 1 or 2 points (I had Rakdos Cackler, a Flamespeaker with Mogis’s Warhound bestowed, and a Rubblebelt Maaka in hand).  He was then able to Boros Charm + Lightning Strike + attack with Chandra’s Phoenix to kill me.

Game 2 I cut the Firedrinkers and a Maaka for Toil // Trouble, and Skullcracks.  I returned fire on him with an aggro rush, was able to Skullcrack a Warleader’s Helix, and then attack him + Lightning Strike the next turn.

Game 3 was similar despite being on the draw, this time without the Skullcrack but with enough Bestow to make it very tough to kill my creatures.  A Searing Blood on a Satyr Firedancer sealed the deal and I was on my way to round 4.

This is one of the big things I love about this list, having 12 one drops lets you side out the Firedrinkers with a minimal impact to this matchup, while at the same time making it harder for them to race.  Toil // Trouble isn’t always good, but you can often catch burn players with a lot of cards in hand and the Trouble side being a Lava Axe is almost always game over.  It’s also something they typically don’t expect, so it adds just a smidge more of a “race” advantage to your deck.  It’s one of the reasons I’d like to add a second copy if I can fit it so that I can have one more sideboard card that combos it’s use (Control + Burn + Mono Black)

3-0 (6-1 games)


With the tournament only being 5 rounds, it looked like I was a virtual lock to double-draw into Top 8.  Pretty awesome, as I was starving and there were some very frightening decks circling the tables.  I quickly headed over to a nearby Italian place, Mama Mia’s, and ordered their ridiculously greasy, cheesy, full-of-awesome, Calzone.

Upon my return to the shop, my opponent for round 4 (the only other undefeated) wasn’t sure if he wanted to draw.  We went over the math, talked with some others, and the lock looked guaranteed.  He agreed to draw, and I was able to eat my lunch.  In return I offered to play some fun EDH with him and lent him one of my decks, and we had a good time laughing and watching some of the other absurd matches going on.  One guy in particular, who would later go on to win the tournament, had a deck with 24 temples, 2 Mana Confluences, and 4 colors.  Despite this, every other card in the deck was absolutely CRAY CRAY.  We’re talking Reaper of the Wilds, Stormbreath Dragon, Planeswalkers, Anger of the Gods, Desecration Demon, Polukranos, etc, etc you name it.  Might as well have been an EDH deck.  It for sure would lose to most aggro, but with a room full of midrange and devotion decks, he was having a field day.

In round 5 I was paired against this man.  Apparently he had made a deck registration error and was to have a game loss in our match if we played.  He informed me of this when we sat down, and win/loss/or draw I was going to get in.

I shook his hand and said, “welcome to top 8, Clay.”

Good karma comes around, and I wasn’t about to dreamcrush someone.  All of us gave high fives and got excited to live on a little longer.

We were directed outside by Corey, the owner of Labryinth Games (an awesome host btw) for our Top 8 picture-


Can you guess which one I am? (*HINT* COLOR)

Top 8

Going into the Top 8 I was seeded 2nd, which was good because it meant I would be on the play against everyone except for Joe.  We weren’t allowed to review decklists, but to the best of my knowledge this was the field-

Joe (Junk Midrange)
Clay (Chaos Confetti / Angry Midrange)
Kawika (Bant Control)
Max (Mono Black Devotion)
Me (B/R Aggro)
Bob (Mono Green Aggro)
Matt (B/G Monsters)
Ricky (R/W Burn)


In this round I was paired against Max with Mono Black Devotion.  Game 1 I got stuck on two lands despite having some early creatures in the form of Rakdos Cackler and Ash Zealot.  I played a few more guys but was stuck with Flamespeaker in hand and not much else.  He was able to play turn 4 and turn 5 Desecration Demons followed by Whip of Erebos and Gray Merchant.  He was feeling pretty good about it, and letting us all know.

Game 2 wasn’t exactly like that.

Rakdos Cackler and Ash Zealot became Rakdos Cackler with a Gnarled Scarhide on it and Ash Zealot with a Mogis’s Warhound on it, and the pain began as he fell to an early kill as all of his creatures were Searing Blooded and Lightning Struck by a blaze of fire.  There would be no sweep here sir.

Game 3 was intense.  I had a very good early opener with a slew of creatures which he had to respond to with removal spells, followed by burning some of his creatures.  I was able to get a Prophetic Flamespeaker going which led me into 4-5 lands/spells off the exile triggers that I was able to cast and allow me to sandbag cards in my hand.  I unfortunately played a second Flamespeaker and walked right into a Bile Blight, completely forgetting about that card for a moment.  Thankfully, I had a THIRD Flamespeaker.  This one was able to go unchecked for quite some time.  It then got to a scary point in the game where I had a Cackler and a Firedrinker Satyr to his freshly played Whip of Erebos.  I was at 6 life and he had a Desecration Demon in the bin.  Earlier he had Brain Maggot’d me, but I had a Dreadbore, a Mortars, and a Devour Flesh in hand.  Fast forwarding, I now had the Devour Flesh left.  So at the worst I would have to Devour his Demon and let him gain 6, but would still be alive to draw into more cards.  At best, he wouldn’t have a removal spell to kill my two guys and would die to lethal damage next turn.  He went for the Demon, I sac’d the Cackler, and that’s all she wrote.  I was moving onto the Semis.

Sideboarding for this match was along the lines of bringing in Toil // Trouble, Dreadbores, Mortars, and Devour Flesh.  Devour Flesh isn’t really great against a deck that you’re trying to kill quickly, but if a Demon sticks it can be such a hard time to fight through it.  You have ways to do it otherwise, but they aren’t reliable.  In this matchup, your basically upgrading your removal too, taking out Searing Bloods and Rubblebelt Maakas.  While Blood can be fantastic at closing the door sooner, it misses a lot of the blockers that would get in the way, which is something you cannot afford when the games can be close.  Keep in mind too that Devour Flesh isn’t really for this matchup, it’s moreso for the random decks out there that provide some irritable situations, like Hexproof, BW Midrange, G/B Devotion, etc.


In the semis I was paired against Matt with G/B Monsters.  I wasn’t sure exactly what he was playing at first but got the run-down after.  I knew he had Reaper of the Wilds, I was pretty sure he had Demon, and potentially other staple Mono Black cards.  In game 1 he was able to play both Master of the Feast and Reaper of the Wilds, both of which I believe I dealt with, but I then fell to a second Master of the Feast.

Game 2 I brought in the lovely Dreadbore, and it paid its weight in gold by running both another Reaper and Master of Feast into the grave.  I was then able to Searing Blood a flashed in Boon Satyr to throw off his combat math and take him out before he could get online.  I kept Blood in this time because I had seem some early creatures that I knew would be targetable, and despite seeing my hand earlier with a Brain Maggot, he had forgotten it was there.  I don’t think he had any outs given the rest of my hand this game, but that play certainly swung the tide fully in my favor and was one we talked about afterwards.

Game 3 I opened my starting 7 and saw this grip:

rakdoscacklerspikejesterdreadboredreadboredreadborebloodcrypt    lightning-strike

Ugh.  While I should in hindsight have probably kept this, due to the casting costs, the perfect cards for the match, etc, I just wasn’t comfortable letting my tournament chances go to fate in a game 3 with a hand like this.  I was on the play, and if he had Caryatid and I got stuck on lands I wasn’t sure what kind of game we’d be having.  Three Dreadbores though. . .

I mulligan’d.

Then I mulligan’d again 😦

My five card grip was fine.  Firedrinker Satyr, Rubblebelt Maaka, Lightning Strike, Mountain, Swamp.  Very playable, just gotta hope for the best now.  The game began and he took some early beats from my pumped Firedrinker before ultimately being able to kill it.  Things seemed reasonable as I was able to get a Flamespeaker on the board.  He played a Master of the Feast, but I had drawn a Dreadbore.  But then he played Polukranos.  Unfortunately this time I had no answers and it quickly became a 7/7 eating one of my guys leaving me with a lone Rakdos Cackler on the board.  I played the few guys I had left in hand / drew, tried to buy time for another Dreadbore, but couldn’t find anything and ultimately the mighty Hydra ate up my tournament chances and led Matt to victory.  I was considering bringing in Devour Flesh or Doom Blade for this matchup, but I hadn’t seen much in the way of solo-Green creatures up to this point, and certainly not Polukranos.  I wished Matt good luck and soaked in the events of the day.

Fortunately, despite missing out on the $250 and the invite, I did still get some fun stuff and felt good about the deck and tournament run.  Behold, the prize booty and the deck that took me to it:


Magic, like life, is indeed a journey.  Many people just play for fun, others play competitively, and some burn out doing both.  I love the game, and I know that despite how hard it is to not walk away with that one goal I have wanted since I was 10 years old (a Pro Tour Qualification), that tomorrow is always another day.  I hope that despite how amateur my website and writing can be at times, that it has given each of you reading something of value.  I hope that it brings across the message that I care about this game and care about the others who play it.  I like seeing people succeed, and this is my way of channeling my passion as well as providing what I can to others in the best way I know how.

I shouldn’t even have to say it by now, but as always

Keep tapping those Mountains,

Red Deck Winning

10 thoughts on “Red Deck Winning: An Anniversary, and a Top 8

  1. Thanks James, much appreciated for your help and conversation on things as well!

    Unrelated, figured I’d post this conversation from today on Facebook for any of you reading the article. Just a good question and some followup that I gave-

    “Cole Demeny: I’m currently running a mono-red list that’s remarkably similar to this one, but I’ve run into so many Coursers and Elspeths that I’d love to be able to Dreadbore, and I love Spike Jester being able to kill Caryatids without needing to be bloodrushed or bestowed upon. I’m a huge fan of Madcap Skills, though, and don’t anticipate I’ll be building a deck without them anytime soon. If you were to make room for them in this list, what would you advise cutting? I was thinking a 2/2 split with warhounds or taking out a Firedrinker, too, so I could have three. Thoughts?
    27 mins · Like

    John Galli: I really don’t like madcap skills right now, even though I like the card itself. There’s lists out there that use it, and if you’re going that direction I’d probably roll with their configuration (See –

    The problem with it is that while you can get a lot of damage in and its an extremely powerful card, it sets you up for 2-for-1s. It’s one more card you don’t want to have in against control (think azorius charm, last breath) or any deck with plentiful cheap removal (Black Devotion).

    The list I played has one goal in game 1: Beatdown. It’s as aggressive as possible in game 1, and sideboards into answers in game 2. Mogis’s Warhound and Gnarled Scarhide allow you to get bigger to go over the top of cards like Courser, or simply to bait out removal since you’ll still have a creature left over. Ash Zealot’s first strike in combination with your burn spells or Maaka pump also accomplish similar results. Maaka falls prey to the same problems as Madcap Skills, but is the better choice IMO because he adds to your total creature count. Having 32 creatures in the deck but also a pseudo 12 removal spells raises the percentage of you having consistently better hands and draws by quite a bit.

    Also, you mention Sylvan Caryatid and that’s a great issue. Spike Jester does indeed help with this, but so does Firedrinker. Leaving mana up on turn 2 can often give you a free attack, or force a dumb block by them to let you pump into it and kill their ramp (which is really one of their few ways to catch up to your speed).

    I’m considering moving 2 dreadbores maindeck over x1 strike and x1 blood, but not sure yet”

  2. What are your opinions over Prophetic Flamespeaker.
    I can’t barely use him man, everytime he hits the table, there’s a removal just for him.

    I don’t know if his ability is good or bad, if it helps or not, if it can be used in Block decks without the usual Bloodrush.

    You’ve used him with Rakdos and Gruul, which one his ability proved the better?

  3. I think you have to take the removal element somewhat out of the equation. Any creature can die to removal for the most part, and while he’s disadvantageous in comparison to Boros Reckoner (who makes burn removal harder) and Phoenix (who comes back), he provides a lot of value from his exile ability. Most of the cards in your deck cost between 1 and 3 mana, not to mention the ability to play lands themselves, so you do end up gaining a lot of value from him. In matches where he lives and they’ve used up removal on your earlier plays, he’s usually able to give you additional gas in an archetype and deck that typically would run out of gas fairly easily.

    All of the playable two and three drops in red and black are very good right now, so it’s hard to say which one is 100% right, but I know that for me Flamespeaker has been amazing and he proved himself more to me than anything in the IQ tournament. Reckoner is very nice to have against the beefier midrange decks and against Burn, but it’s balanced out for the most part by Flamespeaker’s ability to get extra cards AND the fact that once he’s bestowed he dishes out a lot more damage than any other creature in your deck is capable of.

    I would say between Rakdos and Gruul it’s about the same, because in Rakdos you get the advantage of more playable bestow creatures, but in Gruul you get Ghor-Clan Rampager. It really depends on what you value more in your meta. More gas against every deck, especially control, or more midrange / burn resilience. If the former, Prophetic is great, if the latter, Reckoner is probably the choice. Phoenix is also ok, but he doesn’t provide the wall against aggro that both Flamespeaker and Reckoner do. Both the latter cards also mess up combat math for your opponent when you have open mana, and to me this is a big big deal. Opponents went into the tank against me a lot, often making the wrong plays, and often making the correct plays but still getting blown out.

    • So you probably would reccomend him most of the times in aggro and sligh, not devotion or midrange.

  4. Nice job on the top 8 and making it to the semi’s! Another great article with sound advice that always helps me up my game!

  5. I have a question. What’s your opinion on 4 madcap skills instead of the 4 searing blood, in the B/r aggro list

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