Paint The World Red

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Paint The World Red

Not one, not two, but THREE Red victories this weekend across the world at major tournaments.  This was easily one of the best moments for Red mages everywhere, and proof that the little engine can indeed compete.

In the paraphrased words of Patrick Sullivan “Your $1000 deck just got its head caved in by a sock full of pennies”.

For those of you who haven’t seen the glory, here are the winning lists, along with those of two personal friends of mine who finished top 8 and top 16 at the TCG 5K in my hometown of Madison, WI.  Whatever your flavor of Red is at the moment, the bases are covered:

Boss Sligh by Tom Ross – 1st Place, StarCityGames.com Invitational Columbus 6/13/14

Maindeck

Creatures (26)
4 Akroan Crusader
4 Ash Zealot
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Rubblebelt Maaka

Spells (17)
4 Dragon Mantle
4 Madcap Skills
2 Lightning Strike
2 Shock
4 Titan’s Strength
1 Blinding Flare

Lands (17)
17 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Lightning Strike
2 Magma Spray
1 Searing Blood
4 Skullcrack
1 Harness by Force
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Peak Eruption
1 Seismic Stomp
1 Mutavault

Tom’s list is a blitzy all-in strategy that he has been promoting for quite a while.  He wrote a great article about it HERE so check it out when you have time.  I think the list is impressive, not only for how inexpensive it is but for how powerful and quickly it can get a kill.  Running 17 lands also ensures that even the worst floods can usually be overcome as you’re bound to draw gas sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, the list is largely a metagame call.  I think Tom expected a lot of Jund Monsters, Black Devotion, and other decks that fall prey to a strategy like this.  You have to know how to play around their removal, not overcommit to the board, and when to go for the throat.  His pairings worked out, and his opponents had a lot of stumbling in the top 8 to help seal the deal.  I don’t think I’d play this list in the future unless I knew the metagame called for it again (which it still just might), but it’s certainly the best thing you can build competitively on a budget.  Yes, budget readers take note, if you don’t have the money for big time rares here is your ticket to some FNM wins.  Not counting the lone Mutavault in the sideboard, this deck can be bought on TCG Player for $30.

Mono Red Aggro by Festus Resendez – 1st Place, StarCityGames.com Open Columbus 6/14/14

Maindeck

Creatures (31)
4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Firedrinker Satyr
3 Firefist Striker
4 Rakdos Cackler

Spells (9)
4 Lightning Strike
2 Magma Jet
1 Searing Blood
2 Shock

Lands (21)
19 Mountain
2 Mutavault

Sideboard
3 Searing Blood
4 Skullcrack
2 Harness by Force
4 Mizzium Mortars
2 Toil // Trouble

I played a variant of this at the Madison, WI TCG Player 5K Diamond Open this last weekend, as well as winning my shop’s weekly Win-A-Box tournament this Tuesday.  The list is an update of one that made an entrance right after Theros’s release, winning an SCG Open at that time.  You can find winner Philip Bertorelli’s article HERE, which is also a great read.  As many of you know, I had been heavily testing both BR Aggro and GR Aggro, two decks which I still think are good choices, but ultimately I switched to Mono Red for a few important reasons.

First, the list plays all of the cards that truly punish other non-mono color decks, as well as decks that simply can’t afford to keep pace with an aggro deck that has Reach.  Specifically, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Searing Blood, Boros Reckoner, and Fanatic of Mogis.  The combination of these four cards do two things; it puts the opponent into situations where their normal ways of dealing with your cards cause them damage, and it gives you ways to get ahead in situations where you are behind.  For the former, your opponent was already going to make those plays to try and stop you (such as Abrupt Decay, Azorius Charm, Lightning Strike, etc), so these cards are simply a straight upgrade from what the Mono Red strategy had before.  The cost of your opponent making those plays now, in combination with your attacks and their shock lands, adds up to more situations where the opponent is at lethal.  With respect to situations where you are behind, these cards are capable of creating big swings, something which most aggro decks cannot do.  Many aggro strategies simply “shut down” when your opponent gets their trump cards or oppressive board states, this aggro deck can instead fire back.

The second reason for switching to Mono Red is the decline of Mono Blue Devotion.  You’ve seen some bigger finishes for it very recently, but the overall numbers are quite low.  While I always hate playing against it, and while it might make a big return, I let the fear slip away that I usually have and realized that the matchup is not only dodgeable, but somewhat more beatable.  Despite Gino Bautista losing to it in the finals at SCG Providence, you have Eidolon and Searing Blood to make things much scarier for them.  This was even further cemented when I saw Sam Black, Jasper Johnson-Epstein, and Louis Kaplan (notable pros in my area) all struggle greatly at the TCG 5k with the deck.  I even played Louis in the 5K, winning quite handily thanks to good draws and our good buddy-

fanatique

I myself didn’t perform “great” either at the 5K though, and I think that was due to some of the issues with the landbase in Gino’s list along with some unluckiness.  Festus Resendez tried to correct some of that this weekend, but I made further corrections for the win-a-box which I felt were appropriate.  Here are the changes to his list above that I used to win the box-

-1 Mutavault, -2 Shock, -4 Zealot (your preference)
+1 Mountain, +1 Firefist, +4 Eidolon

Festus was running 61 cards, which is almost never a good thing outside of some fringe control strategies and the occasional toolbox deck, and I think you need a minimum of 20 mountains for this deck to flow smoothly.  Bertorelli ran a simple 21 Mountains, but you can flood at times with this deck and the 21st land being a Mutavault has tested well thus far.  On the flip side, only running 20 lands makes it difficult to cast Fanatic on curve, a factor of this list that is critical to keeping a good win percentage.  Given previous experience with decks that use a similar curve, 22 lands tends to flood too often.  So 21 is what I believe to be the sweet spot, just making sure that you include enough Mountains for your more stringent cards.  Magma Jet also goes into the mix here, which is why Bertorelli was able to cheat a bit on the lands (since he was running x4).

The curve has lowered as well since the Bertorelli version.  Instead of the added two mana burn spells, we’re now on the Firedrinker plan.  A lot of people made this switch soon after Bertorelli’s SCG victory, and I think it’s even more important in the current Meta.  People have a lot of cards that block X/2’s, or that you can’t combo burn spells with to easily kill, so having something that makes Sylvan Caryatid and Nyx-Fleece Ram look awkward is pretty important.

The burn package changing is largely with regards to the specific Meta too.  Lightning Strike is a given, it’s just too cost effective to change or ignore and it answers a large number of cards.  The rest however really end up being dictated based on what’s out there.  Typically in an aggro deck, I like having somewhere between 7 to 11 burn spells depending on what the rest of the field looks like.  Any less and you won’t see them consistently, and this issue is heightened by the presence of Pack Rat.  Searing Blood is the obvious choice against almost any deck that has targets, but more-so a requirement for the Burn and Mirror matches.  As a result of being weak or virtually dead against the rest, the next best in my opinion is Magma Jet since this deck can both flood and run out of gas and Jet solves both of those issues.  Shock is important against Elvish Mystic and Hyper Aggro, but since that consists of a small portion of the overall picture and since the spell provides no other upsides, I don’t think there’s justification for inclusion.  The space is just too tight and something has to go.  There’s also more X/3s and X/4s then X/2s, so you can only include so many “mini Lava Axes”.

In the sideboard, Festus had replaced Gino’s Burning Earths with Toil // Trouble, and this was something I was already considering so it was refreshing to see it done for me with proven results.  Toil // Trouble comes down faster, doubles as a spell you can use against Burn, and ultimately does more of what you want.  Burning Earth is a sweet card, especially against Esper Control, but it doesn’t do anything against UW and it’s often fairly useless late game.  Toil // Trouble allows them to resolve their Sphinx’s rev and think they are safe, only to flip the switch immediately the other way.  When playing against Burn, they will usually have several cards sandbagged in hand or will tap out at times during your turn to kill your creatures, and thus you gain a perfect opportunity to catch up in a damage race.  This spell was great for me in GR and BR, so I have no problem making the transition.

Harness by Force is a vanilla threaten that has more power in Nykthos builds, but having a threaten against Black Devotion appears to be a necessary evil.  Demon is still a difficult card for this deck, along with other creatures that they tend to play one at a time against you.  The matches have been close at times, although I believe favorable for Red, and Harness should help tip the scales more often than not.  Now if only we can get a Traitorous Blood reprint in M15. . .

R/W Burn by Igor Gorbunov – 1st Place, GP Moscow 6/15/14

Maindeck

Creatures (8)
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Young Pyromancer

Spells (29)
4 Boros Charm
3 Chained to the Rocks
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
3 Searing Blood
3 Shock
4 Skullcrack
4 Warleader’s Helix

Lands (23)
2 Mana Confluence
8 Mountain
3 Mutavault
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Temple of Malice
1 Temple of Silence
4 Temple of Triumph

Sideboard
2 Banishing Light
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Fated Conflagration
2 Glare of Heresy
3 Mizzium Mortars
3 Toil // Trouble

While I’m happy for Igor, I’m not too wild about his list.  I think about the only thing he has going right is the landbase, as the six scry lands seem to be where its at.  The biggest reason I see Burn lose is that it runs out of gas, and this element goes a long way in preventing that.  Otherwise, he has a lot of dead cards against Control in the main, his sideboard seems like a hedge against all strategies rather than playing against the ones that are tough for him, and Glare of Heresy makes no sense to me at this point with all the other options available.

That said, the dude did win a GP, and perhaps in a bigger field having some balance made sense.  Personally, if I were to play Burn today it would be closer to Shouta Yasooka’s list which can be found HERE.  Yasooka’s sideboard is so transformational that it can really gnaw at some opponents and take others by complete surprise.  It also has a lot of redundancy for his tougher matchups, which in my opinion is exactly what RW Burn should be trying to do.  The “non tough” matchups are easy, so you might as well focus on the ones that are closer to coin flips.

R/W Devotion by Michael Sanner – 5th Place, TCG Player Open 5K Madison 6/14/14

Maindeck

Creatures (22)
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Frostburn Weird
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge

Planeswalkers (2)
2 Chandra, Pyromaster

Spells (12)
1 Aurelia’s Fury
2 Chained to the Rocks
2 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Legion’s Initiative
4 Magma Jet

Lands (24)
1 Mana Confluence
11 Mountain
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph

SIDEBOARD
2 Assemble the Legion
1 Banishing Light
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Stormbreath Dragon
3 Warleader’s Helix
2 Wear // Tear

R/W Devotion by Mckinley Summ – 11th Place, TCG Player Open 5K Madison 6/14/14

Maindeck

Creatures (30)
4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Frostburn Weird
1 Iroas, God of Victory
3 Prophetic Flamespeaker
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Planeswalkers (1)
1 Chandra, Pyromaster

Spells (7)
3 Chained to the Rocks
2 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Magma Jet

Lands (22)
10 Mountain
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph

SIDEBOARD
2 Assemble the Legion
3 Boros Charm
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Deicide
1 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Spark Trooper
2 Warleader’s Helix
2 Wear // Tear

These two gentlemen are both friends of mine from one of our town’s local Magic shops, Mox Mania.  I was happy to see them both make top 16, and especially impressed with how they got there.  Michael Sanner went undefeated in the Swiss, having one draw which came in round 6 because he was paired up against another mutual friend of ours.  Even though they had two rounds left to go after their match, they decided to draw because neither one of them wanted to be responsible for a knock-out scenario (our other friend Mike Torrisi was already 4-1 so it was a pair down).  Michael plays fairly regularly at the local shop but doesn’t get to many big events, so this was truly a great thing to see and we all were cheering him on.

His list is fairly different from the stock RW Devotion build.  Personally, I’m not sure if it’s for better or for worse, but it let him steamroll a lot of people on Saturday, so there’s probably more to it than meets the eye.  I know one thing, living that dream of getting to flicker your Fanatic of Mogis with Legion’s Initiative seems like the absolute nut.  And having a crusade in a deck full of some very serious heavy hitters can’t be terrible either.   Unfortunately for Michael he was paired against GR Monsters in round 1 of the top 8 and from what I heard was rolled pretty hard (I had to leave early but he recapped for me).  Still, epic run, great finish, and some cash to go along with that hometown pride.

McKinley’s journey was a little different.  He started out 0-2, as did I.  At that point, both of us had been sitting next to each other as we picked up our second losses, and both of us I think were ready to light an actual fire to our deck in frustration over some of the mulligans and land draws we were seeing.  We went up to the rooftop of the convention center to get some fantastic – albeit slow – stomach filling food.  When we got back, there were negative 6 minutes left on the clock, but thankfully there was a durdly Control mirror that was still going in turns.  We both discussed how we were going to go draft Conspiracy if we lost the next round, but fortunately we didn’t have to see that scenario materialize.  I won my next three before losing one and then dropping (to go win an EDH Pod with Purphoros, yeah!) and McKinley went beast mode, winning his next 6 matches.

His list is closer to the stock devotion one than Sanner’s, but it runs a lower land count and still has 4 Magma Jet.  I was on that plan for a long time trying to make it work after seeing a newer player Top 8 with it at a TCG event in Chicago, but it always drew really awkward in testing and I eventually gave the deck up after it piledrived me into the ground at SCG Milwaukee.  Good to see though that these two guys were able to breathe some life back into the archetype, and I encourage you readers to try for yourself and see what you think.

Going Forward and Making the Right Play

Sure, the metagame is going to now make an adjustment.  Unfortunately you don’t win three major events in one weekend with Red without the other mages raising an eyebrow.  They might still trash you for playing a Red deck, saying its for little kids, unskilled players, and budgeteers, but deep down they know it’s a contender at the moment.

So is playing one of these lists next weekend or coming up a good choice?  I’d say absolutely yes.  What you’re probably going to have to account for that will be difficult is the presence of more Mono Blue Devotion and a higher removal count from both Jund Monsters and Black Devotion.  A counter to this could be to play something similar to my GR or BR list, especially the latter with x3 or x4 Dreadbore maindeck.  Some of you may have seen Kent Ketter finish 9th at the tournament with his RB Devotion list, and this is his 2nd or 3rd top 16 finish with that deck in the last month.  I think Kent’s list is probably the most well positioned, but there’s still something to be said for raw aggression.  If anything needs to be changed from my old GR and BR lists, it would be to add Eidolon of the Great Revel (as he overperformed in my tournaments), and Harness by Force to the GR list.  I’d also extensively test the Mono Red and Burn matchups with those decks as I was seeing results that I wasn’t confident about when I was doing the final stages of testing with both.  It was probably more variance if anything, but just something to keep an eye on.

As for Mono Red, it’s hard to cut cards but you’ll probably need to find a way to fit a pair of Ratchet Bombs in the board.  It more than likely means cutting a Blood and a Mortars, or a Blood and a Toil, but I’d also be fine leaving the list as is.   You’re going to be a dog to Mono Blue regardless of what you do from my experience, so it’s better to just hope to dodge the matchup and when you do play it to make sure you play it tightly without mistakes.  As mentioned before, you have ways to win, and overall you are strengthened with the new cards, so use this to as best an advantage as you can.

The biggest thing that I can’t emphasize enough; don’t overextend.  Against Monsters it’s a fairly safe bet that you can unload on them, but remember post board that you’re probably going to be seeing Anger of the Gods.  Against Black Devotion, Golgari Charm, Drown in Sorrow, and Bile Blight are all very real.  If you’ve played Aggro for a long time you’re already aware of this, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen perfectly winnable matches slip away because of a one turn mistake.  As the saying goes, “If you’re playing Red and you left your opponent at 1 life, you probably did something wrong”.

Some quick things that I often consider when playing Mono Red to keep in mind:

  • Sandbag Fanatic to the point where he’s of more use, unless they are at 6 ish life or below.  You don’t have many ways of dealing burn damage the way that he can, so remember he’s a Reach tool more than a body.  He’s also more of a liability post-board against Control and Black because of all their removal, so it’s fine to side him out.
  • Searing Blood in combination with first-strike from a Boros Reckoner, or in combination with a Lightning Strike to kill a Polukranos is almost always the right play.  The job of your Burn spells is to clear a path, so in the words of Patrick Stewart, Make It So.
  • You want to be aggressive.  Force your opponent to block, and race until you are forced to “pump the brakes”, being willing to take on a lot of damage.  Do the math when the turns come down to the wire of course, but if you’re not aggressive most decks will just be better than you after turn 5.  Even in an Aggro mirror, you’re usually the Aggro deck capable of more damage.  Also, try and always make the play that does more damage immediately.  If you have creatures with haste, play them first.  If you have two 2 drops and a three drop with three lands, play the three drop so that you have the potential to draw into a land and then play both four drops.  Don’t make costly mistakes with situations like those, because curving out is how this deck wins.
  • Don’t forget to play Magma Jet on your upkeep if you need an additional land from the scry trigger.  It’s an important play and comes up often with this low of a land count.
  • Boros Reckoner is the best card in your deck.  The man is unblockable!  Remember that, and remember that he can stop most crazy board states in their tracks.  You’re playing Eidolon too, and having cards like these while sitting back on open mana with cards in your hand completely screws with your opponent’s head.  Bluffing is a very real part of Magic, and as a former big time Poker player I can easily say that I’ve won many a game with total BS that my opponent swallowed hook, line, and sinker.  Stare them down, make demonstrative hand motions, ask them questions, USE your mental and physical abilities to direct the flow of the game.  The game doesn’t just boil down to numbers and the cards on the table.  It comes down to how your opponent executes his game plan against you, and if he has the FEAR, the air will be ripe for mistakes.  And trust me, no deck out there punishes mistakes better than Red Deck Wins.  One of my biggest idols in Poker, Daniel Negreanu, is the king of this social misdirection strategy.  Watch that man play some Poker and you’ll see just how effective it is.

Sideboarding and the Future

Here’s the rough sideboarding that I use for *most matches when playing Mono Red:

Jund Monsters

-4 Lightning Strike,  -2 Jet

+4 Mortars, +2 Blood (or +2 Harness depending on build)

RW Burn

-4 Firedrinker, -4 Fanatic, -1 Strike or Mountain (latter on the draw)

+3 Blood, +4 Skullcrack, +2 Toil

Control

-4 Fanatic, -1 Blood, -1 Mountain or Reckoner or any Burn Spell (depending on play or draw)

+4 Skullcrack, +2 Toil

Black Devotion

-2 Jet, -2 Strike

+2 Blood, +2 Mortars

(note* Fanatic can come out too in this match, but I’d keep him in on the play.  Mortars is nice for being able to kill everything they have except for Demon, but you need the reach damage of your burn spells.  There’s usually enough targets that Searing Blood almost always triggers 3 damage too.)

Aggro Mirrors

-2 Jet, -X Firedrinker

+3 Blood, + X Mortars

(note* Firedrinker still provides a repeatable source of quick damage and aggressive curve possibilities, so while he’s a liability, he’s sometimes a necessary evil.  I think it’s proper to cut some number of him, but I probably wouldn’t cut the whole suite here.  Depends on how controllish you want to play the mirror, and remember without Magma Jet your deck is going to have less gas.)

Mono Blue Devotion

-2 Jet, -4 Reckoner or Phoenix, -1 Strike

+4 Mortars, +3 Blood

(note* Feel free to adjust this as needed.  I personally like keeping a fast suite of cards against them supplemented by burn, some others like having Reckoner to stall them.  The problem is, most of their stuff flies or is unblockable, and if you don’t kill them they’ll just play Master of Waves or make Thassa active and kill you.  You need to play your guys first and keep parry with them, followed by using your removal to win the race.  Play Eidolon as quick as you can so that they soak up a lot of damage early.)

I’m looking forward to seeing what M15 has in store, the spoilers aren’t too inspiring yet, although there are three cards that have piqued my interest-

goblinrabblemasterinfernofistparagonoffiercedefiance

While stats and abilities might not be final, each one of these cards has the possibility of seeing Standard play.  Goblin Rabblemaster has some obvious synergies, not only with tribal but also with any kind of token based strategy (think Purphoros or Sac Outlets).  Inferno Fist seems like an auto-include in any deck that is willing to play an Aura, and Paragon could be a sweet 1 or 2 of in a list to have basically the equivalent of a Red “Spear of the Heliod” with a different upside.

Just want to give a shout out to Cole Demeny, good to see you this weekend and playing a variant of my BR list!  Sorry for the beats and the unfortunate game loss, but was definitely fun playing some games and talking shop.

And for Cole and the rest of my readers, Keep Tapping Those Mountains!

– Red Deck Winning

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11 thoughts on “Paint The World Red

    • Haven’t been working on it lately, thinking about testing this out-

      4 Firedrinker Satyr
      4 Rakdos Cackler
      4 Gnarled Scarhide
      4 Ash Zealot
      4 Spike Jester
      2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
      4 Hellhole Flailer

      4 Dreadbore
      4 Lightning Strike
      4 Thoughtseize

      2 Mutavault
      4 Blood Crypt
      4 Mana Confluence
      3 Swamp
      9 Mountain

      Sideboard
      4 Skullcrack
      3 Toil // Trouble
      2 Searing Blood
      2 Ultimate Price
      2 Doom Blade
      2 Mizzium Mortars

  1. What are your thoughts on the fact that Festus Resendez’s deck is sitting at 61 cards? I don’t really see much benefit to it in an aggro deck

      • I somehow missed that part. What is your opinion on a similar list, dropping burning tree to play both Eidilon and Ash Zealot? My experience it play a lot more consistent, without a build made fur burning tree, I found myself wiffing more than I’d like and just playing a bear.

  2. Hey Rougegenial, that’s actually what my article I just posted today is about, enjoy!

    @Gage – Completely understandable route. I Like Burning-Tree for the plays it enables into Firefist and Removal (against other aggro decks), but Ash Zealot + Eidolon is also a strong combination. There’s arguments for both sides.

  3. I have also myself had so many instances of my post Burning-Tree play options being Ash Zealot, Phoenix, Searing Blood, that it’s starting to make me feel like Burning-Tree could be just swapped for Eidolon.

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