One Last PPTQ Season With Theros

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One Last PPTQ Season With Theros

It’s been a long time, I shouldna left you, without a dope Red deck to step to.

Alright, old turn of the century references over.  But that was a preview of this article, which is all about Red decks for the PPTQ season beginning at the end of August.  As many of you readers know, Standard has always been my favorite jam, and with plenty of good Red cards at the disposal there’s several directions one can go into.

SCG Chicago

When I last left off, I was just starting to prep for the SCG Open in Chicago which was the first major tournament following Origins release.  After writing, I tested more intensely than I ever have before for a Magic event.  Testing was helpful, and ultimately the night before Chicago in the hotel room I had the following sleeved up for Saturday:

Mono Red Sligh by John Galli 7-17-2015

3 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Abbot of Keral Keep
1 Goblin Heelcutter

4 Wild Slash
4 Searing Blood
4 Lightning Strike
4 Exquisite Firecraft
4 Stoke the Flames

20 Mountain
1 Foundry of the Consuls

Sideboard
3 Roast
4 Scab-Clan Berserker
3 Satyr Firedancer
2 Scouring Sands
2 Goblin Heelcutter
1 Fiery Conclusion

Look familiar?  A friend of mine Matt Wall who runs the website www.shufflingrandomly.com released an interview taken during the week leading up with a preview of my deck, prior to the final changes I made the Friday before the Open.  That Friday in testing I was struggling to beat Goblins, so I added Searing Blood to the main, and the final list above ended up being fairly identical to what would become popularized at Pro Tour Origins the following week.  In testing, Satyr Firedancer and Searing Blood had both been big swing cards to help with Goblins, Constellation, and Mono White Devotion, and I expected all 3 to be players going forward.

During testing on Friday, I was playing all the other Tier 1 decks against our group, trying to get a feel for how matchups were now that we had all our good players in one spot.  Months of Cockatrice is nice, but my group of guys and girls are all solid competitive people and this was the determiner to see what was real and what wasn’t.

Unfortunately, fear set in for me.  Two facts started to become apparent over the course of the night.

1.)  My deck was still “close” with Abzan and Goblins in matches.

2.)  Goblins was beating the entire room game 1 almost everytime.

Abzan is such a strong deck fundamentally from every angle that it was natural that it was going to be close.  Games 2 and 3 were nightmares for any Red decks I threw at it, as their further access to huge sideboard cards meant I had to both play around things as well as have perfect curve outs.  As we saw in the Pro Tour, that doesn’t mean Red isn’t still very good against it, but it’s not a cakewalk.  I was less concerned about this matchup though than Goblins which I felt would be popular due to Piledriver’s reprinting (boy was I wrong), because their ability to go wide was incredibly tough for my Mono Red deck to deal with.  Searing Blood helps a lot, and was swinging the percentages closer to 50/50, but Obelisk was still an important factor.

So 9:30pm rolls around and I’m getting tired.  We end up playtesting for another few hours, but after seeing the game 1 results and knowing I have a pile of Goblin cards waiting for me at the event hall the next day, I decide to make the switch.  Piledrivin’ it would be.  I was even less fond of games 2/3 against Abzan with the tribe, but in an unknown field I really wanted to have a deck capable of many free wins.  Here is what I sleeved up:

Goblins by John Galli – SCG Chicago Open

4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Goblin Glory Chaser
4 Frenzied Goblin
1 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Goblin Piledriver
2 Subterranean Scout
1 Goblin Heelcutter
4 Goblin Rabblemaster

4 Obelisk of Urd

4 Dragon Fodder
4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Stoke the Flames

20 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Outpost Siege
1 Avaricious Dragon
2 Goblin Heelcutter
2 Arc Lightning
2 Twin Bolt
3 Roast
1 Fiery Conclusion
1 Molten Vortex
1 Mountain

This list doesn’t have many issues, but it has one glaring oversight:

20 Mountain

With the presence of three drops that you reliably need to hit, playing Obelisk, playing two spells a turn, etc, I should absolutely have ran 21 lands.  Granted, I put in a lot of time during testing with Goblins and there were a number of ok games with 20 mountains, but I’ve also played a long history with that land count in similar decks that had even less on three than this one did, and even those had trouble at times.

The mistake showed early.  In my first two rounds, I lost in 2 games both times, drawing only 1 land hands that never saw a second for at least 3-4 turns, or the opposite (flooding out to 10 lands in one game).  Eh, Magic happens sometimes though.  I rattled off 4 match wins in a row after that in quick succession, as any game where I didn’t get land screwed usually involved Obelisk, a token army, or both taking over.  Especially game 1, so few decks have a maindeck answer for Obelisk, and even post-board they have to draw what they do have and hope I don’t have a 2nd Obelisk.  Sadly, the next few rounds didn’t go great, with opponents getting cards they needed right at the appropriate time when on the ropes and further land troubles.  My sideboard was also admittedly a mess, and I made some poor decisions inbetween games due to my unfamiliarity with how the board would play out.

Going forward for the upcoming PPTQ season, I think that either Mono Red Sligh or Goblins are solid choices, but they’re much more of a known quantity now which makes me personally shy away.  I know this is a site called Red Deck Winning, but I also think my readers should try to make smart choices.  I’ve never been a fan of the “everyone’s doing it” train, so when Red gets really popular it’s usually time to look at other options.  Granted, the format shift has already occurred a good deal, with Brian Kibler’s GW Aggro being both a great deck as well as an annoyance for Mono Red.  Abzan has added more hate for small Aggro, UR Artifacts tend to have a bit more long-game and resiliency against Mono Red (not to mention Ensoul Artifact), and Constellation can be tough if you don’t have the right sideboard.  But for those wanting to solely turn little Red guys sideways, don’t fret, just make sure your metagame and timing are appropriate.  As soon as the decks move in to prey on these other archetypes, that’s almost always when Mono Red can shine, and sometimes you just win all the coin flips and spike.  That bag of pennies has serious game, and I wouldn’t be mad at sleeving it up again even in the face of extreme resistance.

If you are going to play either Mono Red or Goblins, a couple of key points to keep in mind:

  • Satyr Firedancer is very strong against non-interactive Aggro decks.  When decks like Kibler’s GW Aggro, Constellation, and GR Devotion are popular, he’s one of the best cards to have in the board.  I could easily see playing 4 of him if those 3 archetypes become dominant.  Early in my Cockatrice testing, my first builds of Mono Red were struggling against those 3 decks, but as soon as I added Firedancer, the tables turned.
  • While I initially dismissed the “Go-Big” sideboard plan as terrible against things like Abzan, I’m starting to reconsider.  I think from what I’ve seen recently, I actually would like to have a sideboard with an extra land or two and some Dragons / Ashcloud Phoenixes.  Goblin Heelcutter is still the best card against Abzan for either of the small Red archetypes, but the flying guys can put in work and you can play around Languish as needed.
  • Don’t forget how powerful Eidolon is.  He’s not great against stuff like Kibler’s GW Aggro, but he’s very strong against many other decks in the field, most noteably Abzan.  I’m not sure if you want his big brother Scab-Clan Berserker since the range is fairly narrow, but there might be a metagame that calls for it.
  • Goblins can be seasoned to taste.  Subterranean Scout is awful and should get cut, and if you just don’t have any love for Goblin Glory Chaser then Monastery Swiftspear is a fine substitute.  I personally haven’t been sold on the Atarka’s Command versions, as I think Obelisk is just your best card, but I don’t fault someone for playing that style.  Honestly, Obelisk is so good that running Hall of Triumph alongside it as a 1 or 2 of hasn’t been terrible most of the time.  What I’d really try to do is throw some small ideas at the wall, 2-4 card substitutions and see if anything innovative sticks.  Otherwise, keep it mostly your game 1 configuration and play carefully.  Also be aware of cards that can just stonewall you, such as Archangel of Tithes.  It’s the main reason I’d run cards like Fiery Conclusion or Harness by Force, but you may just want to abandon those cards due to how narrow they are.

Turning To Dragons For The PTQ Season

The decks I’m looking at here aren’t really “new” archetypes so to speak, but just some changes to existing systems.  I’ve been happy with positive results in the last week, and felt like my readers here might be able to get a healthy discourse going.

Mardu Dragons by John Galli

2 Hangarback Walker
1 Soulfire Grand Master
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Thunderbreak Regent
4 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury

2 Outpost Siege

2 Magma Spray
3 Thoughtseize
3 Lightning Strike
4 Draconic Roar
4 Crackling Doom
1 Kolaghan’s Command

4 Nomad Outpost
4 Bloodstained Mire
3 Temple of Triumph
2 Temple of Silence
3 Battlefield Forge
2 Caves of Koilos
4 Mountain
3 Swamp

Sideboard
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Revoke Existence
2 Crux of Fate
2 Foul Tongue Invocation
2 Read the Bones
1 Thoughtseize
1 Duress
1 Gilt-Leaf Winnower
1 Utter End
1 Self-Inflicted Wound

I played a similar build to this at my local win-a-box tournament last week and went 4-0 to take it down.  In that list, I had Tragic Arrogance over Crux and less black sources, but I think if you can reliably cast Crux you want that more since it’s heavily advantageous in this deck.  It’s a similar build to the BR Dragons decks that did well at Grand Prix San Diego, except they didn’t have access to Crackling Doom and for me that card is just very hard to pass up.  It kills everything you’d ever care about, and the splash really isn’t that hard.  This mana base is basically the same one I’ve used since Brad Nelson’s original Mardu Midrange deck (with a few more swamps), and it’s been fairly rock solid.

What this loses over the GP San Diego builds is Bile Blight and Hero’s Downfall, which are both extremely effective, but you gain more Burn that can similarly deal with planeswalkers or close out a game faster, and cards like Soulfire Grand Master and Utter End.  I like Hangarback Walker in the two-drop slot, but the mise Soulfire is nice to have the ability to buyback your spells if the game goes long.

Some possible changes you could consider:

  • More Anger of the Gods, Magma Spray, Soulfire Grand Master, and/or Foul Tongue Invocation.  The Red Aggro matchups can be close, and if you want more firepower against them all three of those cards are fantastic at the moment.
  • More Chandra, Pyromaster, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Utter Ends, Gilt-Leaf Winnower and/or Outpost Siege.  If your field is heavy on Abzan, these cards definitely help your long game more.  There’s a lot of Lightning Strike type cards in my deck, and these can be shaved as needed.
  • More aggressiveness and more enchantment removal.  If UR Mill, Control, and UR Artifacts are the metagame choices, I like having more options for them.  Revoke Existence is quite nice, as is more Duress, and against Control you could go into Mastery of the Unseen which is always a sore card for them.
  • There’s an alternate build I’m working on, with x4 Hangarback Walker, x4 Flamewake Phoenix, x4 Butcher of the Horde, and x4 Stormbreath Dragon.  I feel like Hangarback Walker could be the difference for bringing Butcher back to relevancy, as him in combination with Flamewake Phoenix is pretty dirty.  Additionally, Flamewake Phoenix has just been incredibly well positioned in my testing, so I think it’s time it got its day in the sun.

Mono Red Dragons

4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Thunderbreak Regent
1 Avaricious Dragon
4 Stormbreath Dragon

2 Outpost Siege

2 Magma Spray
2 Wild Slash
4 Lightning Strike
2 Draconic Roar
2 Roast

2 Foundry of the Consuls
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
3 Temple of Malice
4 Temple of Triumph
15 Mountain

Sideboard
1 Draconic Roar
1 Magma Spray
1 Roast
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Harness by Force
1 Exquisite Firecraft
3 Anger of the Gods
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
2 Hammer of Purphoros

The idea behind this deck has been similar to the Mardu Dragons deck, but your mana is a little cleaner with regards to taplands and your creatures and spells are largely more efficient.  This is a beatdown deck, a fliers deck, and has the ability post-board to strengthen whichever of those axis you need.

Some possible changes you could consider:

  • Moving more into a Devotion shell.  Cards like Dragon Whisperer, Scab-Clan Berserker out of the board, Rabblemaster + Purphoros, etc.  I personally don’t think those cards are greatly positioned though, which is why I wanted to have better removal elements in my deck to backup the fliers.
  • Adding more burn.  Cards like Exquisite Firecraft and Stoke the Flames could potentially be powerful here, I just don’t like how high up on the curve they sit alongside the big dragons.  There’s a great many decks that are vulnerable to fliers right now (Devotion, GW, even Abzan to an extent)
  • Removing some of the dead cards against Control and UR Mill.  Adding Dash creatures such as Mardu Scout or Lightning Berserker can go a long way here.
  • Adding more value cards like Outpost Siege or Chandra, Pyromaster.

Jeskai Fliers

3 Jace, Vyrn’s Prodigy
2 Soulfire Grand Master
1 Stratus Dancer
4 Mantis Rider
4 Flamewake Phoenix
3 Ashcloud Phoenix

2 Magma Spray
2 Wild Slash
4 Lightning Strike
2 Jeskai Charm
3 Valorous Stance
2 Stoke the Flames
2 Ojutai’s Command
2 Dig Through Time

4 Mystic Monastery
4 Flooded Strand
3 Shivan Reef
3 Battlefield Forge
4 Temple of Triumph
1 Temple of Epiphany
2 Island
2 Plains
1 Mountain

Sideboard
1 Valorous Stance
2 Magma Spray
3 Disdainful Stroke
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Temple of Epiphany
2 Anger of the Gods
3 Revoke Existence
2 Tragic Arrogance

Jeskai has always been in my wheelhouse, having made a Top 8 at both a big PTQ prior to the PPTQ format and a recent Gameday top 8.  The one thing that makes me cringe playing a deck like this is Big Abzan, but I believe the added resiliency of recurrable fliers alongside of more removal oriented at beating them can make a difference.  Decks like Kibler’s GW Aggro and GR Devotion are feasted upon by the good tempo shell here, and Anger of Gods out of the board can close the door.

Some possible changes you could consider:

  • Adding a 25th land in the main and moving up to Stormbreath Dragons instead of Ashcloud Phoenix.  Personally I like what Phoenix does in this list more, but Stormbreath is very well positioned against the non-Abzan decks
  • Adding in more Soulfire Grand Master, Arashin Cleric, and other cards that help the Red matchups, similar to Ben Weitz’s deck from Grand Prix San Diego.

Closing Thoughts

Regardless of which Red deck you pick to see Theros out with, there’s cards to keep in mind that are well positioned.  We saw the rise of Magma Spray maindeck in the BR Dragons lists, which keeps Hangarback Walker and Den Protector in check.  Valorous Stance is great against the bigger Abzan decks, while Self-Inflicted Wound puts a big hurt on a large percentage of the format.  Personally, I think there could be room for a Grixis deck, it’s one of the color schemes that hasn’t seen much action this season but you have room for powerful Delve cards, burn, and control elements to dictate tempo.

And in the end, maybe it just makes sense to sleeve up 21 Mountains and beat face.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

-Red Deck Winning