Thinking Differently With Red By Davis Merced

Thinking Differently With Red by Davis Merced

When one thinks of the color red in Modern most tend to think of Lightning Bolt and the bevy of powerful decks associated with this staple. Burn, Grixis, Jund, Jeskai, Zoo and UR Delver to name a few. The reason I enjoy this format is that on any given day any deck can win. Modern is the Wild West and much like Legacy it’s a format that rewards familiarity and experience. Understanding that we can start building decks that are off the beaten path.  Decks that have a plan and can execute said plan effectively.

The point I would like to get across is that there are alternative ways to winning with red. Not every red deck is the “Burn” or “RDW” deck. There’s so many directions one can take with the color of chaos. I’ve gotten the most out of magic by playing these types of oddball red decks to success. I’ve won tournaments, Top 8’s, Deck Techs all doing so by my marching to my own beat with red. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Let’s get to the good stuff now and boy do I have some juicy ones. I do believe these decks are competitive and have personally sleeved up some version of them in the past as well as plan to for future tournaments.

DECK ONE:

Scumbag Red by Davis Merced (Click for MTG Goldfish Visual View)

4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Vexing Devil
4 Goblin Guide
4 Foundry Street Denizen
2 Zurgo Bellstriker
3 Kird Ape
1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider 
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
3 Reckless Bushwhacker

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Atarka’s Command
4 Mutagenic Growth

4 Copperline Gorge
4 Wooded Foothills
3 Bloodstained Mire 
3  Stomping Ground 
5 Mountain  

Sideboard
3 Searing Blood
1 Electrickery
1 Forked Bolt
2 Smash to Smithereens
4 Skullcrack
1 Grim Lavamancer
2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Shrine of Burning Rage

Pure, unchecked aggression. At first glance the deck looks laughable but believe me it’s anything but. Each of these cards have had their time to shine in Standard but what happens to these devils, goblins and apes after rotation? They’re cast off to be forgotten, but we’re bringing them back for a rude awakening. We’re using the best red 2 powered 1 drops Modern has available. We’re aiming to deploy threats in the first 2 turns to set up a big Bushwhacker or Atarka’s Command on turn 3. Pretty simple, right? There is some play to the deck to take note of though.

Mutagenic Growth has a few functions for the deck. It’ll be used as a counter spell to save our creature from a bolt,  help our creature survive in combat or trade off with difficult threats like Tarmogoyf or simply as a shock to push damage.

The general consensus on Vexing Devil is that it’s “bad”. It may not have been the card it was hyped up to be in its Standard life and surely didn’t make waves in Legacy but I feel it’s perfect in Modern. I understand that giving your opponent the decision is never a good thing when it comes to the Punisher mechanic. One still needs to count to 20 to kill an opponent and this card does that though. With this deck we’re happy with either mode and we have ways to mitigate its “drawback”.

A common scenario with the card is that our opponent lets us keep our Devil only to Lightning Bolt it but they’re often left in a world of pain due to our free counterspell in Mutagenic Growth. Or they let us have the Devil because they have an answer for it the following turn but fortunately for us the Devil often brings along a bushwhacking friend granting him haste to swing for a pile of damage.
Atarka’s Command also functions as a pseudo Bushwhacker for the deck while additionally giving the deck some much needed reach to close games out.

DECK TWO: 

We’re going on a history lesson for the next deck. Back at Worlds 2007, Patrick Chapin and Gabriel Nassif gave us one of the best matches in MTG coverage history. The Dragonstorm mirror.

Patrick vs Gabriel Video Coverage

Patrick Chapin’s Decklist

A few years later Secher_Bach 3-1’d a Modern Daily with a version of the Chapin build.

4 Burst Lightning
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Grapeshot
3 Rift Bolt
4 Pyretic Ritual
3 Pyromancer’s Swath  
4 Lotus Bloom
4 Dragonstorm

1 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Bogardan Hellkite
1 Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

4 Fungal Reaches
4 Molten Slagheap
4 Spinerock Knoll
12 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Empty the Warrens
1 Koth of the Hammer
4 Leyline of Sanctity
3 Blood Moon
3 Pyroclasm

I saw the deck and fell in love. Red based combo deck in Modern! Sign me up! I actually piloted this deck to an x-3 record at a Grand Prix but to be fair I took the losses early and was able to battle back with the deck and still had a blast playing it. Here’s the changes I’ve made to bring the deck up to speed.

Dragonstorm by Davis Merced (Click for MTG Goldfish Visual View)

4 Forked Bolt  
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Grapeshot
4 Rift Bolt
4 Pyretic Ritual
2 Pyromancer’s Swath  
4 Lotus Bloom
4 Dragonstorm

1 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Bogardan Hellkite
1 Dragonlord Kolaghan

4 Fungal Reaches
4 Molten Slagheap
4 Spinerock Knoll
12 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Empty the Warrens
1 Koth of the Hammer
4 Leyline of Sanctity
3 Blood Moon
3 Anger of the Gods

The changes aren’t anything drastic, mainly some upgrades in certain slots. I want to get some reps with the deck before I make any big changes. Anger of the Gods wasn’t printed before but is a strict boost as a board wipe. Forked Bolt functions as a shock but gives the deck more game against Affinity and other decks with a lot of x/1’s. The swap of Dragonlord Kolaghan and Karrthus is a smidge easier on the mana if we ever enter plan C with the deck where casting dragons is the route to victory.  

For those unfamiliar with the deck, it has a few different ways to win the game.   Plan A is to cheat out Dragonstorm with Spinerock Knoll which can surprisingly happen on turn 3 or 4. Plan B is to play the traditional storm game and finishing our opponent off with Pyromancer’s Swath. Plan C is play board control with our removal and cast giant dragons.

So why even consider this deck in today’s game? With the recent Modern bannings the format has slowed down a bit. The problem I had with the deck before is that it was too slow for the format. It was typically a turn 4-6 deck which is a hard place to be when other decks are winning on turn 3. All-in-all I feel the deck has the legs to compete.

On to the next one.

DECK THREE:

Red Affinity by Davis Merced (Click for MTG Goldfish Visual View)

4 Bomat Courier
4 Ornithopter
2 Memnite
4 Vault Skirge
4 Signal Pest
4 Steel Overseer
4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Cranial Plating
4 Galvanic Blast
3 Shrapnel Blast
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Mox Opal

4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
2 Contested War Zone
5 Mountain

Sideboard
1 Whipflare
2 Dismember
2 Ghirapur Aether Grid
3 Grafdigger’s Cage
3 Blood Moon
2 Wear // Tear
2 Etched Champion

Surprise! How can I include a deck that doesn’t play Lightning Bolt?! Easy, we get to play with Galvanic Blast and Shrapnel Blast. I’ve always had a soft spot for Red Affinity. Heck, even at the first, most busted Modern Pro Tour ever, there was a Red Affinity deck featuring  Atog and Fling in the Top 8! Bomat Courier has haste and draws cards, what’s not to like? I think the addition of Courier and the burn package helps steer this deck to be even more aggressive.

The deck is still capable of getting those busted Affinity starts with cards like Ravager, Overseer and Plating. We now have reach to close the game out. The sideboard is loaded with cards I love to play. I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without mentioning my favorite card, Blood Moon. Blood Moon is fantastic in a deck that can accelerate it out early. Whipflare is a complete blowout against certain decks. Ghirapur Aether Grid is great against the decks that want to grind plus it’s a red enchantment that deals damage!

There are some other decks I didn’t get to today but there’s definitely some doozies in the wild that I may cover in the future. Thanks for reading and don’t be afraid to try new things.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning (Davis Merced)

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Sullivan Red at #SCGRICH by Andrew Frank

A guest feature article by follower Andrew Frank who recently went 6-3 to make Day 2 at the Starcitygames SCG Richmond Open and was featured in a deck tech.  Andrew and John brewed up the ideas for the deck and tested prior to the event, this is Andrew’s post-tournament report.

Sullivan Red at #SCGRICH by Andrew Frank

Here is a brief tournament report from my run at the Richmond Open, as well as some thoughts about the deck.

Andrew’s Deck Tech and Decklist

Day 1

R1 – GB Aggro – (win; 2-0)

This went the way most of the GB matchups did, I killed all the creatures they played and played my own menace creatures, chipped in a lot of damage and burned them out when they stabilized.  In game 2 they were unable to block enough menace creatures to avoid lethal.

1-0

R2 – GB Aggro – (win; 2-0)

A fast start out of the gates and once again killing their creatures as I could made for a relatively easy victory.

2-0

R3 – GB Aggro – (win; 2-1)

In game 1 I swung in with the team, losing almost all of them to put my opponent to 2.  I had just enough life to survive the crackback.  I knew that at that point I just needed to draw any one of a million outs; either a 2 power creature or a burn spell, and sure enough, Shock came to the party to save the day.  Game 2 he made massive creatures with Gearhulk and I couldn’t get them off the board.  Game 3 was a fast start that chipped in enough damage to get him in burn range.

3-0

R4 – 4-color Saheeli (loss; 0-2 vs Caleb Scherer)

Caleb Shearer dismantled me with ease, though the saddest part was melding a Writhing Township only to have it be tapped down by an Elder Deep-Fiend.  It didn’t help that I horribly mis-sideboarded.  After this round John and I discussed better ways to sideboard against the combo; staying aggressive while bringing in Devour in Flames to try and end the game as soon as possible and immediately kill any combo piece.

3-1

R5 – GB Aggro – (win; 2-0)

Ah yes, another GB deck.  I came out aggressively game 1 and eventually melded a Writhing Township to seal victory.  Game 2 I  was able to stick a Chandra and kill all his creatures.  Later Chandra went ultimate, which allowed me to cast both a hasty Skyship Stalker and a Release the Gremlins for 0 to deal 10 damage and finish the match.

4-1

R6 – Jeskai Saheeli – (win; 2-1)

My opponent killed me on turn 4 in game 1 with the combo and only saw Sin Prodder.  Game 2 I used the sideboard advice from John and was able to be aggressive and burn him out with a Flame Lash.  Game 3 I disrupted the combo with instant speed removal and was able to stay the aggressor yet again.

5-1

R7 – Temur Eldrazi – (loss; 0-2)

This deck took me by surprise and his combination of big creatures, removal and Drowner of Hope/Elder Deep-Fiend felt really hard to beat.  I pushed him to a single digit life total in the second game but couldn’t close it out.

5-2

R8 – GB Aggro – (loss; 1-2)

I swiftly took game 1, but lost game 2 as he was able to dump a pile of Gearhulks, Demons and Ballistas on the table.  Game 3 I attacked with a pumped Stalker for exactly lethal as I knew I was going to die the next turn and he had to have removal to win.  Last card in his hand was. . .

Grasp of Darkness.  Better luck next time.

5-3

R9 – UR Dynaovlt – (win; 2-1)

Pressure cooker time.  I knew I had to win this round to make Day 2.  I mulled to 5 in game 1 and my opponent countered everything I was doing and killed me with multiple Gearhulks.  Game 2 I managed to stay ahead of a Dynavolt Tower and killed him with creatures.  Game 3 I used Release the Gremlins to kill his early Tower and he was way behind from then on out.

6-3, Advance!

Day 2

While Day 2 was an unfortunate turnaround from Day 1, it was mostly on my end.  My game simply wasn’t as sharp and had I played better it was very likely we’d have a few more “Ws” on the finishing stat line.

R10 – 4 Color Saheeli (loss; 0-2)

I played poorly and my opponent navigated the round well to exhaust me of my removal before playing the combo in both games.

6-4

R11 – Jeskai Saheeli (loss; 0-2)

This felt similar to the previous round, opponent played well while I did not and was able to combo off on me.

6-5

R12 – GB Aggro (loss; 1-2)

I lost game 1, won game 2, but in game 3 with my opponent at 2 life my deck failed to deliver.

6-6

R13 – Jeskai Saheeli (loss; 0-2)

I kept slow hands with not enough interaction and was combo’d out.  This was a matchup I was hoping to have more time to test prior to the tournament and it showed, something to definitely work on for the future.

6-7

R14 – GB Aggro (win; 2-1)

I was able to use the combination of menace and burn to chip in damage and win despite him getting out Ishkanah with delirium every game.  Devour in Flames and Sin Prodder were especially important, helping me overcome insurmountable odds.

7-7

R15 – 4-color Colossus (loss; 1-2)

Played against my friend Brandon (the other deck tech from Day 1).  I got him to 4 in game 1 by being as aggressive as possible but he was able to get a lethal Colossus out the turn before I could kill him.  Game 2 featured a blazing fast opener and I was able to win through two Fumigates.  Game 3 I kept too slow of a hand and he was able to answer everything before killing me yet again with Colossus.

7-8

OVERALL

Looking back, the deck felt great.  I think there are different directions to take the list and I plan on putting in heavy man hours to get it to where it needs to be.  I think the area that could use the most improvement is the sideboard.  More instant speed removal would help, as well as ways to deal with bigger creatures.  The one-drops can be trimmed down possibly as they are miserable late draws most of the time.

Splashing Black for Glint Sleeve Siphoner and Unlicensed Disintegration could give the deck a bit more gas as well as unconditional removal.  White could be used for Thalia and Authority of the Consuls to combat Saheeli.  Colorless for Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer would open up some aggressive angles.  My concern is the mana may become much worse, taking away from the deck’s advantage of a fluid engine.  Like I said, the cards are on MTGO now so I plan on testing all these configurations.

SIDEBOARDING

This is an overall snapshot of how I was sideboarding, but it will be subject to change as the list evolves.

GB Aggro:

I normally would cut Shocks and Falkenrath Gorgers for the Devour in Flames, Harnessed Lightning and Flame Lash.  Depending on their build I might also find ways in for Destructive Tampering (Ishkanah or Gearhulk), 1 Release the Gremlins (Gearhulk and Ballista) and/or Lightning Axe (lots of high toughness creatures like Mindwrack Demon and Ishkanah).  The plan is to slow down a little and focus more on killing everything they play while you develop your board.  They generally only play one creature at a time for the beginning and middle of the game so you should be able to keep their board clear or at parity so your menace creatures are unblockable.  I normally play creatures in increasing order of importance since if you assume they always have a removal spell for your guys, you want to save the best for last.  Generally this means I play Sin Prodders before Garrisons but that can be build specific.  Killing Winding Constrictor on first sight is of the utmost importance; he’s their number one card to run away with a game if left unchecked.  As the game progresses focus less on burning their creatures and more on burning them, or holding back burn for a final push.

Saheeli Combo:

This is where the deck could use the most help.  On paper it feels like this should be a good matchup, and it is very possible I played the matchup incorrectly, as I always struggled with the Twin matchup in Modern.  In general the plan is to hold back instant speed removal and use sorcery speed removal on your turn to dodge the combo.  You also want to go faster than them to put them on the defensive if possible.  There is the normal combo deck tension of wanting to hold up an answer but also develop your board.  My rule is generally if you are playing to not lose you will not win.

I cut the Harnessed Lightning and Goblin Dark-Dwellers for Devour in Flames, Lightning Axe, and Flame Lash.  Since some of the decks run Shock I often considered cutting some number of Sin Prodders for Collective Defiance and/or Release the Gremlins (for their Gearhulks).  One thought I’ve been toying with for this matchup is to create a madness package post-board with Fiery Temper and Lightning Axe (upping numbers on the latter).  This would give the deck a little bit more instant-speed interaction and reach, while also being able to deal with both halves of the combo and synergizing with Insolent Neonate.  Implement of Combustion could be another option since it is an early play, can be held up easily and is uncounterable damage to break up the combo (unless they have Disallow).  Still messing with this matchup and I feel if this can be improved then the deck will be strongly positioned in the meta.

Control:

Similar gameplan to Saheeli combo, you want to go faster and bring in all the burn.  You transform more into a burn deck and try to get under them before they can start countering your spells and removing your creatures.

Mardu Vehicles:

I haven’t played against vehicles yet, but on paper we have a lot of control elements to meddle with their tempo and can be transformational post-board.  I would probably cut the Gorgers, Neonates and maybe Dark-Dwellers for Destructive Tampering, Release the Gremlins, Flame Lash, Harnessed Lightning, Lightning Axe and possibly Collective Defiance.

Thanks for reading!

– Andrew Frank