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)

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

Lighting Up Grand Prix Louisville

Lighting Up Grand Prix Louisville

If there’s one thing that’s resonated the most with me throughout my 22 off and on years of playing Magic, it’s that you have to put yourself in position to win.  Writing this blog and doing a Magic Podcast has been great, but it can be disheartening sometimes when the results don’t come with the effort.  Talking with a lot of high level players, I often hear the common phrase of “well the pros test more than we do” but at least for me I know that’s barely true.  I usually put in several hours a night of play or research, play in events almost every weekend, and have a team that is similarly minded.  I want to make the Pro Tour, and I know part of that is playing even when you don’t want to.

That to me is the biggest step towards trying to make it work.  I’ve felt like giving up the game many times, as the cost and time continually build up, but unless you put yourself in the event and put the time in everything else involved is a waste.

Thankfully this weekend I was rewarded for that effort.  I took Legacy Burn to a 12-3 finish good for 34th place out of 1600 (tie breakers with about 15 other people).  I made some decisions with my list based on testing that paid off handily, and was able to navigate some extremely challenging games from interactions that came about through that practice.

Here was the list that I played:

Burn – by John Galli, 34th GP Louisville (Visual View)

4 Goblin Guide
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lava Spike
4 Price of Progress
4 Fireblast
2 Searing Blaze

3 Sulfuric Vortex

3 Arid Mesa
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
9 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Leyline of the Void
3 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Smash to Smithereens
2 Exquisite Firecraft
2 Searing Blaze
1 Pyrostatic Pillar

The most notable omission here is Monastery Swiftspear.  Current lists you’ll see online are about 50/50 on running him, and it was formerly in my list.  I still think the card is great, helping to race combo matchups and occasionally being quite large on turns where you’re able to “combo” off with burn spells.  But in testing in the current metagame, I often just wanted either less creatures or the ability to interact more with other creature decks.  Grim Lavamancer provides that ability as well as being a thorn in Miracles side when they can’t find a spot removal spell or a Terminus.  Starting a game with a turn 1 Lavamancer is often a nail in the coffin versus some decks like Elves, D&T, and occasionally Delver.  He also is a deterrent to the natural gameplan of those decks, forcing them to make time delay decisions that give you the critical window to burn them out.

Searing Blaze is another card that I ended up playing on the weekend for the same reasons.  It can be a liability against Miracles (sometimes), and non-creature combo, but matchups like Delver and Shardless are very close without it and you don’t have the digging power like they do to get out of difficult spots.

Sulfuric Vortex is a concession to Miracles, it’s the number one card they don’t want to see out of Burn and it’s one of the more difficult cards for them to both counter and remove since it has a three cmc.  Playing three means you can draw it fairly reliably and possibly multiples, but also not enough that you have two in your hand very often.  I boarded it out a lot on the weekend, but it’s still too powerful in my opinion to omit all-together as it’s repeatable damage and shuts down important cards like Jitte.  Usually against most creature decks without a Jitte you’ll just replace it post-board with better options.

The sideboard was where most of the work was put in.  My most common losses at local and bigger tournaments were to the unfair combo decks (Storm, Reanimator, Dredge, Belcher).  Sometimes as a Legacy Burn pilot you have to just ignore them, hoping you dodge and instead have an insanely good setup for the rest of the field.  But this isn’t good for a 15 round Grand Prix.  I knew I’d run into those matchups, and I knew that getting a good finish with Burn meant I couldn’t afford that loss when I might have another loss due to play mistakes or close games elsewhere.

I tested option after option here to find what worked best.  Mindbreak Trap is functional against Storm, Belcher, and to an extent Reanimator (unless they just Entomb > Reanimate), but it’s still conditional on your opponent’s play and not an answer for Dredge.  Furthermore, Storm players can Cabal Therapy it out of your hand and then go off, which is commonly what they’ll do if they expect or probe to see resistance.  Pyrostatic Pillar is good versus Storm and other important decks (Alluren, various creature decks or decks that are slower than you, etc), but Storm can Abrupt Decay it, Cabal Therapy it, it’s too slow for Belcher, and does nothing against the graveyard decks.  I included one in my board for its importance otherwise and because some of the pros were supposed to be on Alluren.

Faerie Macabre is fairly decent against all of these strategies except for Belcher, and is uncounterable (not to mention a surprise), but I really wanted something that could both solve the problem decks as well as slow them down if they have an answer.  With Macabre sometimes they can just rebuild depending on the deck, or you don’t get enough cards to stop them / finish them off with your burn.  Relic of Progenitus and Grafdigger’s Cage both have their applications as well as the former being a consideration against Tarmogoyf / Deathrite Shaman decks, but are usually too slow vs the actual broken combo turns.  When Reanimator puts an Iona or Griselbrand into play on turn 1, that Relic is looking real real bad.

This ultimately led to trying out Leyline of the Void.  The two big risks with it are that you could mulligan yourself out of a game in order to find one and that they could have an answer like Nature’s Claim or Reverent Silence to deal with it.  But it can be played immediately even when they’re on the play, it delays their gameplan, and it requires them to both have the specific answer card as well as the proper lands to play that answer.  And both of those particular answer cards net the Burn player life, which can be a problem for them when trying to close the door.

Ensnaring Bridge falls into this same axis of defense.  It’s a lynchpin to putting up a fight versus Show and Tell, Eldrazi, Merfolk, Tarmo-Delver decks, Reanimator, and anything else that wants to throw giant bodies at you.  It’s fairly easy for Burn to dump most of its hand by turn 3 or 4 if it wants to, and many decks post-board won’t have too much in the way of artifact destruction.  Sure there will be some Abrupt Decays and the like, but you often stretch that kind of removal thin.  And when the bridge lands they have to have the answer pretty quick before you draw into more lethal burn while their creatures do nothing.  I don’t bring it in versus decks with reach (UR Delver; Lightning Bolt), but otherwise it’s a powerful tool that many don’t even realize exists for Burn.

I felt like the current meta was a good time for Smash to Smithereens, and my teammates convinced me to play a third copy which was definitely the right call for Louisville.  Chalice of the Void is one of the toughest cards for Burn to deal with (although certainly not as game over as some think), so to have something capable of dealing with it and at a penalty to the opponent is big game.  It also doubles as another Searing Blaze effect in the D&T and Deathblade matchups where your opponent’s sole gameplan is trying to get a Jitte or Batterskull online versus you.  Shardless, MUD, Painter, and other archetypes also provide good targets, so the card ends up being quite useful depending on what’s popular.  Eldrazi was the biggest threat I was concerned with, where a chalice on 1 can let them end the game fast if you don’t have an answer the turn after they play it.

Team Mox Testing Tournament

On the Thursday before the Grand Prix, my team (Mox Mania ; Madison, WI) had organized a big Legacy tournament.  We normally have $5 weekly events at our shop, but we put the word out for this one to try and make it more legitimate practice.  We ended up with 32 people, and covered most of the major archetypes outside of Lands (no one on hand had a tabernacle 😛 ).  Between that tournament and the week prior I didn’t do very well, going 2-6.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have experience with the matchups or that I felt they were awful, but I was trying various cards out and our shop is competitive so it was just how the cookie crumbled.

Truthfully, I was pretty happy after the tournament.  It had been a learning experience.  I figured out that I was taking some poor lines in certain situations and that some board cards that I had been really attached to in the past weren’t working out properly.  Legacy is such an easy format to have your “pet deck” that you believe in so much and don’t want to change very often that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes.  I noticed this the week prior in testing, and continually online leading up to Louisville.

I then used that information to improve.  This is easy to say and easy to read in an article, but I encourage anyone who plays competitively to keep reminding yourself of the importance of it.  It’s one of my biggest flaws as a Magic player at times.  We all think that we are good at this game and know what’s best, but listening to others, processing that information with your own views, and taking seen info and applying it to the future is critical to doing better.  It also didn’t hurt to play constantly leading up to the event as just having things be second nature in a complicated format is a tangible advantage.

The Grand Prix

Our crew left on Friday at 9am, two cars from Madison, one flying in from Seattle, and all total 10 people to arrive at a comfortable Air B&B townhouse in Louisville.  I had never used Air B&B before, and after this weekend I hope to use it everytime.  For $85 per person which covered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, we had a sweet two-story townhouse with full amenities and a 2 minute walk from the grocery store.  Nerding it up to the fullest was our game, board games and Magic till 2am was our shame.

7am the alarm goes off, my housemate and I start making some breakfast for the early risers.  I had two byes but I wake up early for work everyday so it was no sweat to chip in and start the morning with the usual rhythm.  Piles of eggs, sausage patties, granola, bananas, and coffee, everyone was going to have fuel for their best game at this tournament.

Round 1 & 2:  Bye.  That was easy.

Round 3:  BUG Delver

A forecast of the days to come vs Blue decks, where the play / draw is quite different.  On the play you get to lead with Grim Lavamancer or Goblin Guide blind versus everyone, while on the draw you’re usually hoping to have a Rift Bolt so you can play around Daze and deter them from dropping a Delver or Deathrite Shaman, letting you deploy your creatures on the 2nd turn.

Playing around counters is so important versus Delver.  It’s a constant stream of thought during every turn, making sure you keep in mind what each list usually has.  Daze, Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm, Force of Will.  Brainstorm / Ponder into these.  It’s just so easy for them, and so hard for you.  Oh, they got to Git Probe you and now know your lines?  Happy Day.  Too bad you’re still gonna suck down this Exquisite Firecraft at 4 life in game 3.

3-0

Round 4:  Dredge

I google my opponent as I walk to the table.  He has 5-6 quality finishes with Legacy Dredge, so I know it’s going to be an uphill battle.  Let’s hope this sideboard tech pays off.

Game 1 I keep a hand that would be loose versus just about anyone.  I don’t know what happened.  I just found out my opponent is on Dredge and yet my brain glosses over that thought and waits for the demolition crew to arrive.  Sure enough, they do, he goes off Turn 2 and I scoop it up while he counts his Bridge triggers.  Nice guy, but sorry papa don’t have time for that.

Game 2 I open with a great Burn hand.  But no Leyline or Bridge.  Mull.  Mull again.  ANNNND Mull again.  Maybe this plan wasn’t that hot.  But wait, this 4 card hand has Double Leyline, a Guide, and a Mountain.  Rolling Stones Start Me Up starts playing in my head, let’s do this thing.  My opponent has no answer and folds like a house of cards.

Game 3, similar but different.  I see my opponent furiously boarding in cards.  I’m concerned he has Nature’s Claim, but what can I do but stay to the plan.  I have to mull to 4 again but have Leyline, Bridge, Mountain, Bolt.  Sure.  Turn 1 he Claim’s my Leyline.  Uh Oh.  He starts to get his engine going but I’m able to rip a few lands and get the Bridge down.  Then the Burn starts flowing and the rest is history.  Last words “I never thought I’d lose to Burn at this tournament”.  Hasta La Vista Baby.

4-0

Round 5:  Sneak & Show

I’m paired against East-West Bowl Pro Mark Jacobson.  We have some small chit-chat and he starts going on about how he’s really a good guy despite some maniacal article from E-Fro.  Alright bud, I don’t even know the article but glhf.

Game 1 is uneventful, he lands a turn 3 Emrakul and I have barely scratched his life total.  This matchup stinks and while I know it’s a “big” deck in Legacy I didn’t expect it to be too popular as its numbers in the last few years have dipped.

Game 2 he plays a turn 2 Show and Tell off of Ancient Tomb and I put an Ensnaring Bridge in play versus his Griselbrand.  He pays some life to draw cards and I wish I had kept my Sulfuric Vortexes in to prevent him from continually reloading.  He gets a swing in, I’m able to get him back down to 5 life, but just don’t have enough left in the tank to finish the job.  Pyroblast can be helpful in this matchup (except against Sneak Attack), but I just didn’t have room this tournament.  It’s Legacy, you have to make your concessions sometimes.  Also Ashen Rider is way too narrow, so please don’t run that card unless your meta is just infested with this deck.

4-1

Round 6:   Shardless BUG

Game 1 I keep a one lander on the draw that looks like pure gasoline if I can draw out of it within a few turns (three playable 1 CMC cards).  I don’t draw another land for 9 turns and my opponent glacially nickel and dimes my life total away.

Game 2 we spar for what seems like an hour, trading card for card, turn after turn, until finally I have no choice but to “go for it” on a lethal Fireblast that he has the second copy of Force of Will for.

4-2

Round 7:  Reanimator

Another chance to see if the sideboard tech train keeps on choo-choo’ing.  Game 1 Griseldaddy says hello on Turn 1.  Hair grows longer on chest.

Game 2 I mull to 4 and Leyline him out of the game.

Game 3, mull to 5, Leyline, he plays 3 Faithless Lootings, shakes his head, dies.

Hot damn this sideboard is good.  Some Reanimator boards have hate, this guy had none.  Lesson Learned for the future.

5-2

Round 8:  Bant Stoneblade / Deathblade

I’m not really sure what my opponent is playing, but it’s not too hard to figure out the things that matter.  He has Deathrite Shaman, Stoneforge Mystic, True Name Nemesis, and Umezawa’s Jitte.  All of his cards are annoying and I try to put up a fight for a while but he’s able to get in an attack with Jitte at 4 life and it’s a wrap after that.

Game 2 is more of the same, except this time it’s another “go for it” Fireblast versus Force of Will.  I don’t try to play into Forces, but sometimes you have no choice.

Man, where is all this D&T and Miracles that I expected?

5-3

Round 9:  Belcher (Ryan Solave, Top 8 GP Indianapolis Competitor)

Normally I’m the bigger guy at the table but my opponent this round looks like a younger version of the Hulk.  He has a beanie cap on and a snide grin and doesn’t look like he’s messing around.  Turn 1 he git probes me, and I never see my turn.  Seriously, this is the end of Day 1?

I have nothing for Belcher and I’m fine with that.  It’s a fringe matchup and you have to pick a deck to just be stone cold to in Legacy, so this one is my poison.  Sure, Pyrostatic Pillar would be great if I could play it, but Game 2 is a repeat of Game 1, only this time Goblin Guide gets to grin while 14 of his kin get put into play on the other side of the table.  Play Mindbreak Trap if you really care about this matchup.  Fortunately for me before my opponent swings for lethal he asks me if I care about playing Day 2.  I tell him yes, and he can see I’m pretty bummed so he concedes to let me continue on.

Sweet!  He elaborates, telling me about how he crushed the Modern side events at the last GP and walked away with a couple of cases worth of booster packs and would rather try for that then grind Day 2 at X-3.  Definitely understandable, and a much appreciated gift.

Ryan Solave, I solute you.  I hope that karma comes back ten-fold after what happened with the rest of my tournament.

6-3

We did it! (sort of).  Only 1 of the other people in our 10 person group made day 2 (Zac Forshee ; Storm).  Yikes.  Thankfully everyone is still in good spirits and we go have a quality dinner in downtown Louisville.  This is followed by Super Smash Melee and Cube, mostly going strong into the wee hours of the night as I snooze in the downstairs den.

Day 2

Round 10:  Goblin Stompy

Mountain, Chrome Mox, Exile Simian Spirt Guide, Seething Song, Chandra, Torch of Defiance.  Wow.  That’s a nice Turn 1 sir, I’d shake your hand if I wasn’t about to unravel that opener like it’s my job.  Goblin Guide into Searing Blaze for his Turn 2 creature and redirect to Chandra makes him virtually hellbent against my full grip of photon torpedoes.  Bombs away, let’s play again.

Game 2 I Smash to Smithereens his Chalice and Blaze his Goblin Rabblemaster.  Part of me is really happy, part of me is really sad.  This guy is kind of my hero with these cards, and afterwards we have a good talk about our love for Red and the beauty of a life full of Mountains.

7-3

Round 11:  Painter’s Servant

Sweet, another cool Red deck.  Also another one that is quite vulnerable to Searing Blaze and Smash to Smithereens, albeit the combo is still scary.  Game 1 he gets it online early and activates Grindstone, but sadly for him it’s too late.  My Grim Lavamancer exiles the last two cards in my yard and his last two life points.  Game 2 he makes a nice play with Painter calling blue followed by Red Elemental Blast on my Lightning Bolt, but he is buried by extra sideboard Blazes and Smashes.  He admits this is a bad matchup, and it certainly seemed so most of the times I’ve played it.  Perfect example why Burn can be great in Legacy, people just aren’t prepared for it since it isn’t on the radar.

8-3

Round 12:  Infect

In Modern, Burn has a fairly good advantage vs Infect despite the matchup still being close because of how powerful some of their openers are.  In Legacy that advantage mostly disappears as Infect gains better counterspells and a more reliable clock, so you really have to assume the control role entirely as the Burn pilot.  This match was one where my 3 maindeck Grim Lavamancers and 2 Searing Blazes (over Swiftspears) paid off, as I was able to get a Turn 1 Lavamancer out both games.  Each games is hair-raising, I have to fireblast myself out of lands in the first just to stay alive and get his last Infect creature off the board, and game 2 I punt viciously three times in a row while Adrian Sullivan watches over my opponent’s shoulder.

It was especially bad when he swings in with an Inkmoth Nexus, and instead of waiting for him to use a pump spell so I can Blaze in response, I just fire off the Blaze.  I mutter swears under my breath (temper, temper) and try to pull myself together.  No John, you don’t want to be “THAT GUY“. I tap the rest of my lands and cast my second copy of Searing Blaze, knowing he has a Daze in hand but not having any other option other than lose.

He doesn’t Daze.  What? “I brainstormed and put it back on top of my library” says my opponent.  Hallelujah, praise be to the gods of fire.

9-3

Round 13:  Shardless BUG

My opponent is on the play for game 1, but I have a solid opener of Lavamancer, Bolts, Fireblast, etc.  I’m able to cast Price of Progress for 6 after waiting for him to tap out, and he’s not able to recover later from it.

Game 2 he has a 2/3 Goyf with Instant/Sorcery in the yard and he’s on the backfoot.  I play a fetchland for my third land, immediately crack it, and then realize I’m a dummy.  The Searing Blaze I meant to play is now no longer going to kill the Goyf, and instead I have to ram a Goblin Guide into said Goyf followed by Blazing it off the board.  I get him down to 1, and then he fades death three turns in a row before getting a Batterskull and battering my skull in with it.

Game 3 my play is again fairly loose, but I’m able to work out a spot where I can cast a bolt and then two Fireblasts, the second of which can’t be Forced because he’s at 1 life after the first Blast.  He looks at it and sees this, shakes his head and extends the hand.

10-3

Round 14:  UR Delver (Emma Handy)

By far my most interesting match of the entire tournament.  UR Delver was a tough matchup for me in testing despite one thinking that the deck that has burn spells in place of draw spells would be more efficient.  Game 1 I am put into a hole early and am forced to bolt a Swiftspear to keep things from getting out of control.  Emma has a good board against me farther into the game with Stormchaser Mage and a second Swiftspear, and a card in hand.  I have Sulfuric Vortex, Fireblast, Bolt.  Prior to that turn I had been thinking through when to land Vortex if at all since it’s such a liability in this matchup, and fortunately I’m able to do it at just the right moment so I can Fireblast on my turn, have her untap, and die on upkeep with me at 1 life.  Did I mention Fireblast was a broken card?

Game 2 I take the initiative, landing early Guides and Eidolons to quickly put her down to 13 life.  She’s able to crawl back into it a bit, but about midway through the game I look over the cards in my hand and realize that I have her dead in my sights.  I know she has a Daze that was revealed off Goblin Guide, so I extend a Grim Lavamancer into it to draw it out.  I can still pay the “one” for Daze, but she also knows it will cut me off a bolt that turn.  She does Daze, I pay for it, and then later am able to play around the rest of her counters so that I can finish her last 4 life points with an Exquisite Firecraft.

We talk for a while after as she mentions she used to play Burn a lot and overall both of us seemed to enjoy the back and forth of the match.  Definitely one of those that turns the treadmill up to 11.

11-3

Round 15:  Shardless Alluren (Pascal Maynard)

Here it was for all the marbles.  The combo deck I heard the pros would be on, versus a famous pro, my little tugboat of confidence pushing along.  I don’t get that nervous anymore, but my hands were definitely shaking during this match.  Game 1 Pascal is on the play and I of course don’t know he’s on Alluren yet.  I see some Shardless cards and think sweet this isn’t too bad.  Then he plays a Turn 4 Alluren.  Shit.

He tries to play a Shardless Agent.  In hindsight I should have been more patient and waited for Cavern Harpy, but alas, Bolt, Bolt, Fireblast, GG.

Game 2, I think I have a great hand as I’m able to resolve both a Turn 2 Eidolon and a Turn 3 Pyrostatic Pillar.  But then he starts to build an army of creatures, beating me down with Deathrite Shaman activations, a Parasitic Strix, and holding the fort with Glint-Nest Crane.  I’m forced to either Fireblast or Firecraft the Strix (can’t remember which) and then realize I’m still dead to a few more Shaman activations.

Game 3.  Please.  Don’t put my fire out just yet.

I draw my opening seven.

Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Fireblast, Fireblast, Mountain, Fetch.  YES.  My draw the next turn is a Grim Lavamancer.  Pascal is immediately on the backfoot, only being able to deal with my Eidolon to see the second one immediately replace it.  He is able to play Alluren.  He goes for the combo. . .

Activate Grim Lavamancer, Bolt you, Fireblast, Fireblast.  Take 13 Homie.

12-3, 34th Place.  Tie breakers for X-3’s went all the way from 12th – 36th place, so unfortunately my early losses bumped me just out of top 32, but this tournament was about way more than that.  It was about effort, concentration, working through every difficult situation to put Burn on the map where it needs to be again.  It was about being able to do something like this when no one around you thinks you can, when every odd maker is stacked up against you.  This one is for the underdog.  This one is for our Readers, our Podcast listeners.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains

– Red Deck Winning

Props:

  • Kendrick, for driving us 7 hours without complaint.  Your turbo button around turns was great, and you’re always an intelligent ear of wisdom to bounce thoughts off of
  • Colin, because shorts rule, winter drools.  Respectful, cheerful, and ready to Flickerwisp my Sulfuric Vortexes whenever I get too cocky
  • William, team draft homie and a perfect knack for dropping F bombs at the exact appropriate time to make all of us crack up
  • Kyle, team draft homie part deux, keeping our crew looking stylish and helping me break both EDH and Modern in one car ride
  • Hannah, my encyclopedia for Legacy questions, Super Smash button masher extraordinaire, and good at reverberating chairs when excited
  • Matt, the go-to guy when I need to know if my play is suspect.  Teaching me to play faster, better, and have a no bullshit acceptance for what’s good / not good.  Team is much better because of you
  • Pavle, a smart young mage on the rise.  I see a lot of my early years with Magic in you, and I mean that in a good way.  You’re putting yourself in a position to move towards better days, and winning at life too.  Cheers to your approaching graduation and quality Chicago employment.
  • Zac, if there’s a question about Storm, and what it can or can’t do, you will know the answer.  The playtesting was helpful, the Pike’s Place coffee was clutch, and I’m very jelly of your Seattle residency
  • Brendan, despite being able to derail any facebook post at the drop of a hat like the best of trolls, we always seem to get along well in person.  You always are fun, relaxed, and able to switch gears about things which I appreciate as that’s usually how I try to approach life.  That hoody doe
  • Donald, we lit fam.

Slops:

  • Kentucky Expo Center, your bathroom situation is ridiculous.  Please add extra troughs next time you decide to host a tournament and good god spray some febreeze or something.
  • Judges, when I ask where I can find standings, please don’t talk about me behind my back right in front of me and within ear shot, help your players.  I don’t care if you put up a sign that you think is obvious that no one can see.  To the other judges that didn’t do that, you’re cool
  • The guy next to me in round 14.  Bro, showers are not optional.
  • My round 6.  Has some good conversation with me, beats me, and then asks me if I could tell he was sick.  What?  Dude come on man.  Please don’t make GP Plague Great Again.

 

The Perennial Underdog

collectivedefiance

The Perennial Underdog

Choosing to play Mono Red is almost always never the “correct” choice in the eyes of Magic’s most elite.  It’s a sea of underpowered cards that require leveraging difficult aspects of gameplay.  Whether you’re bluffing your opponent into believing you have that combat trick, that last Lightning Bolt, or simply trying to put together enough synergy to overcome their bombs, the battle is uphill.

Today that case is especially true.  Look at a tournament result from the last few weekends, and the closest thing you can see is a dual-color vehicles deck with a pile of rares that isn’t even doing that well either.

But Red is perennially in this position.  The cards always look underpowered.  The opponents will always scoff at them and those wielding them.  And then a PPTQ is won.  And then an RPTQ.  and then a Grand Prix.  And then a Pro Tour.  You can’t get anywhere if you don’t try, if you don’t continue to put your own time into playtesting, throwing away ideas, brewing, and pushing.

What Do We Know?

Lets look at Standard for a moment and see what we can glean.  I’m taking this journey with you throughout this article, exposing my raw thoughts to give you perspective on how I might approach building Mono Red.  There’s no right answer here, and there is some bias in that we are not only pigeonholing ourselves into an archetype, but we also have cards we might like a little more from a flavor standpoint or the direction they take the deck.  I hope that in doing this, the journey is not only entertaining, but also thought-provoking.

The big players in Standard are B/G Delirium, UW Spirits, and to a lesser extent R/x Vehicle decks, Aetherworks Marvel, RG Energy, and BR Zombies.  It’s unfortunate that these decks are all quite powerful, but it’s good that we know our targets.  The lists change minutely, but are otherwise established.  That’s the first building block I’m going to look at, because if you’re just throwing cards together and ignoring what’s across from you, you’re in store for a lot of terrible experiences.

BG Delirium by Brad Nelson; 1st Place SCG Open Knoxville

4 Blooming Marsh
1 Evolving Wilds
7 Forest
7 Swamp
4 Hissing Quagmire

1 Emrakul, the Promised End
4 Grim Flayer
3 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
3 Mindwrack Demon
1 Noxious Gearhulk
2 Pilgrim’s Eye
1 Tireless Tracker

4 Liliana, the Last Hope

1 Ruinous Path
2 Murder
3 Grapple with the Past
4 Grasp of Darkness
1 Transgress the Mind
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
3 Vessel of Nascency

Sideboard
2 Dead Weight
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 Natural State
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 Pick the Brain
1 Tireless Tracker
2 To the Slaughter
2 Transgress the Mind

The King of Standard won last weekend’s SCG Open with the most popular Tier 1 deck, so this seems as good a starting point as any.  If we can’t compete with this deck, it’s not worth playing Red in Standard.  The first part I would look at is his removal package:  x4 Grasp, x2 Murder, x1 Ruinous Path, x4 Liliana, the Last Hope.  Grasp is incredibly efficient, and there’s not much we can do about building around it other than beating it on casting cost (aka paying 1 mana or parity on our creatures).  Similarly Murder and Ruinous Path join that group, with us being able to beat them on cost a little more often.  When your opponent spends three mana to kill your one mana spell, you are winning a small important victory.  Liliana makes it so that X/1s are a greater liability, and considering most BG lists run 4, we probably need to avoid playing any X/1s or make the curve so aggressive that it doesn’t matter.  In this case I think the latter doesn’t make sense since Liliana is backed up by these other removal outlets.

Besides beating the removal spells on cost, we can also beat them by gaining immediate value with our cards.  Whether that be an enters the battlefield trigger, or through haste (to dodge Ruinous Path and Liliana).  There are options for these in Red and Colorless in Standard.

Looking at the creatures, we have Grim Flayer being a centerpiece, which eventually catapults into Pilgrim, Tracker, Demon, Ishkanah, Gearhulk, and Emrakul.  It’s important to have a plan for all of them since Traverse makes fetching any one a regular affair.  Just about any burn spell that we’d have access to can beat a Grim Flayer early on, or combo with a creature to kill it later.  The bigger concern here is Ishkanah, as the bodies and toughness make it difficult to find a solution in a single card.  Psuedo-answers that come to mind are Magmatic Chasm, Menace Creatures, Devour in Flames, Threaten Effects, Direct Damage (Reach), Impetuous Devils, Lightning Axe, Nahiri’s Wrath, Pia Nalaar, Key to the City, Skyship Stalker, Thermo-Alchemist, and Thought-Knot Seer / Reality Smasher.  While none of them are clean answers, the aggregate of their forces will be part of a successful plan.

For ETB creatures in Red, this is our current spread: (plus Fleetwheel Cruiser)

totalredetb

Many of these have the potential to be useful.  I’m curious to see where we’re at if we narrow it down to ETB creatures that share one of the abilities we mentioned above

ETBevasive

These obviously don’t encompass everything we’d like to do, nor do they completely fill out a curve or necessarily make sense.  But it gives me an idea of “a card” that I might want for a Red deck that wishes to fight BG.

The two ally cards are a tough sell since we have no real support in a single color for this synergistic strategy.  Other cards like Iron League Steed and Spontaneous Artist are overcosted.  This leaves us with a shorter list:

redetbfinal

Bushwhacker and Pia work together from a tokens theme, but Bushwhacker is certainly more suited for a small Go-Wide deck versus all the other cards on this list which largely function in a Big Red shell.  Liliana also reduces the value of both cards since it can deal with at least part of the equation.  We saw both of these cards featured together at the first SCG Open of the season in the BR Aggro deck that took 4th place, as well as Sam Black’s RW Tokens.  So they certainly have a spot in a possible build, just not necessarily a big one.

I like the idea of a Bigger Red shell, it’s something both myself and my Podcast partner Davis Merced revisit often.  One of our followers Logan Creen recently made it to the finals of a PPTQ with his version, and it sparked a little fire in me for wanting to take a look again.  Additionally, Thought-Knot Seer appears in the list above which is a card I thoroughly enjoyed dismantling opponents with back when I was playing Red Eldrazi.  I’m going to start there since I have familiarity and always felt it was quite strong

Mono Red Eldrazi Rough Draft

4 Borderland Marauder
3 Scourge Wolf
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Hanweir Garrison
1 Sin Prodder
1 Pia Nalaar
4 Thought-Knot Seer
4 Reality Smasher
1 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
1 Combustible Gearhulk

4 Harnessed Lightning
4 Fiery Temper
1 Magmatic Chasm

4 Hanweir Battlements
4 AEther Hub
2 Crumbling Vestige
1 Mirrorpool
2 Ruins of Oran-Rief
1 Westvale Abbey
10 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Galvanic Bombardment
1 Savage Alliance
1 Hijack
2 Magmatic Chasm
2 Nahiri’s Wrath
1 Key to the City
2 Lightning Axe
1 Fleetwheel Cruiser
1 Goldnight Castigator

We could potentially add Chandra, Torch of Defiance or more Sin Prodders, which would allow our deck to pile through a late game better.  I think here I just like a smidge of that effect though as I’d rather still focus on beating down BG before they can Emrakul.  They have a pretty reliable turn 6 Emrakul, which means they need to be close to dead or you have to represent something on the board which makes it awkward to attack.  Maybe we want Incendiary Flow here to present ways to exile their 3 CMC or less creatures and slow down Emrakul, but I don’t like the effect very much outside of BG since it is sorcery speed.

Smuggler’s Copter isn’t a necessity IMO here, despite it being powerful in just about any shell, but it does help us achieve delirium at times with Scourge Wolf.  That said, Wolf easily looks like one of the worst cards in the deck, it’s mostly filling curve here and trying to dodge Liliana.  I’d be happy to try other things in its spot, whether it be something extremely rogue like Bold Impaler, or more burn, or raising land counts.  It’s really the base here that is key IMO to the build – x4 Garrison, x4 Battlements, x4 Seer, x4 Smasher.  A beatdown package with legs, surrounded by extra help in going wide and burn to clear the way.

What if we took the non-Eldrazi route.  The direct damage we have access to is pretty lackluster, but it’s possible the utility creatures and planeswalkers put us over the edge

Mono Red Burn Rough Draft

4 Thermo-Alchemist
4 Sin Prodder
4 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
1 Bedlam Reveler

4 Galvanic Bombardment
4 Incendiary Flow
4 Fiery Temper
4 Collective Defiance
2 Lightning Axe
4 Tormenting Voice

2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
2 Hanweir Battlements
20 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Bomat Courier
4 Hanweir Garrison
1 Demolish
1 Lightning Axe
1 Magmatic Chasm
1 Bedlam Reveler
1 Mountain
1 Harnessed Lightning
1 Savage Alliance

More of the Burn route here, with a sideboard that can either try to play the long game or transform the deck into something a bit more aggressive.

Before we get too far with these lists though, lets visit UW Spirits for a minute to see what their deck might change in our configurations:

UW Flash by Emma Handy; 7th Place SCG Open Knoxville

6 Island
10 Plains
4 Port Town
4 Prairie Stream
1 Westvale Abbey

4 Thraben Inspector
4 Archangel Avacyn
4 Selfless Spirit
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Spell Queller
3 Reflector Mage

4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

1 Always Watching
1 Declaration in Stone
2 Revolutionary Rebuff
4 Stasis Snare

Sideboard
1 Always Watching
1 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Declaration in Stone
2 Fragmentize
2 Gisela, the Broken Blade
2 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
1 Linvala, the Preserver
1 Negate
1 Scatter to the Winds
2 Spell Shrivel

This deck looks great on paper and plays out that way too, as being able to execute mostly on your opponent’s turn while also having evasion and removal is tough for anyone to beat.  That said, we again see three mana removal (Reflector Mage, Stasis Snare, Spell Queller) and an overall high curve that doesn’t feature the ability to tutor.  Last season when I was brewing Mono Red and testing with some of our followers on MTGO, we had some good success against Bant (which functioned along similar lines).  Granted, we had some extra tools in Red there, with better one and two drops along with Exquisite Firecraft.

Harnessed Lightning is the first card that comes to mind as being hyper important.  It’s a cheap way to kill any creature in their deck aside from Avacyn and Gideon.  Lightning Axe could serve a role too from an efficiency standpoint, as well as a way to kill Avacyn with her trigger on the stack.  These might be value cards to either add or raise the number on to the previous lists.

Key to the City and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship could be big additions too.  Having a way to bypass an Avacyn turn or chip in the last few points of damage, and having a way to close out a game while also stopping crack-back damage.

From a strategy perspective, going underneath them or burning them out is likely ideal, which puts Eldrazi in a tough spot.  It’s possible you can just power through them and try not to walk into their spells, but the alignment versus what they’re doing isn’t stellar.

So revisiting our Burn list, lets see what some possible changes might look like to better combat UW while keeping honest with BG:

Mono Red Burn 2.0

4 Thermo-Alchemist
4 Sin Prodder
4 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
2 Bedlam Reveler

4 Galvanic Blast
4 Incendiary Flow
4 Fiery Temper
4 Collective Defiance
2 Lightning Axe
4 Tormenting Voice

2 Geier Reach Sanitarium
2 Hanweir Battlements
20 Mountain

Sideboard
3 Harnessed Lightning
2 Lightning Axe
4 Bomat Courier
4 Village Messenger
1 Savage Alliance
1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Certainly a lot of playtesting ahead to figure things out, but we have a starting point.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Quelling the Conversation – Mono Red with Eldritch Moon

hanweirgarrisonwallpaper

Quelling the Conversation – Mono Red with Eldritch Moon

No one said this was going to be easy.

After winning two pro tours, Mono Red was on top of the world despite still being dogged by many pros for being a simplistic deck.  Whether they liked it or not, Red Aggro was a competitive option that had to be respected as a Tier 1 archetype like it has been at many times in Magic’s history.

But that all changed with Shadows over Innistrad.  Shadows brought with it powerful Green and White cards that supplemented the already great suite from Dragons of Tarkir and BFZ block, and Mono Red’s run clearly came to an end.  Results dropped like flies, and on our Red Deck Podcast we scoured all over the web and with listeners to try and find a sign of hope.  I tested with my team, Mox Mania, at the beginning of the format with just about every conceivable variant I could think of against all of the new Tier 1 strategies, but there just wasn’t a build that could stand up to everything at a reasonable level.

Part of this was the renewed strength of Green, White, and Black, but the other part was what we lost.  Lightning Strike, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and Goblin Rabblemaster to name a few were so good at what they could do.  Instead, we received mediocre and unplayable replacements.  We received tease cards like Sin Prodder where it looked like an excellent option, only to have us reminded quickly that Reflector Mage and company still run the show.  And that’s not to even say that cards like Prodder are bad news, in fact to this day I still believe there are proper shells for him, but ultimately there are many drawbacks which can’t be overlooked.  In a way, it’s a blessing because it forces us as Red players to scrutinize the cards more carefully and make sure that our overall build makes sense.

So Whats Changed, And Why Are We Playing Red?

If you play with or take one look at a deck like Bant Company or GW Tokens, it’s easy to see why it’s appealing.  Every card in each of those decks is powerful on its own, late game engines that run into infinity.  I might love Red cards, but as a longtime Magic player that has wanted to be on the Pro Tour since he was a kid, I’m not ignorant of what else is available.  Cards like Reflector Mage and Collected Company are not only sweet, they’re truly impressive from a game standpoint.  For this reason, whenever I do testing I always make sure to run through each of the Tier 1 and 2 options as well, just to be sure I know what they’re doing and what they’re capable of.  This is obvious to most high level players, but maybe not so much to most Red players or most casual players on the cusp of their tournament career.

Approaching SCG Regionals, people (including many Red mage comrades), largely believed Red was still very dead.  We saw the likes of Secret Burn by Max McVety (SCG Invitational Humans winner) in the first Open with Eldritch Moon to try and give us hope, but even he said the deck wasn’t great in an ongoing Reddit conversation.  I tested the deck a lot, along with friends, and while it still attacked from that all important axis that is hard to fight, it felt like something was missing as the games were still too close and didn’t seem to have any leverage points.  Also Dromoka’s Command and Ojutai’s Command were truly punishing.  It was clear though that McVety’s list wasn’t finished being tuned, so I tried a number of things along with other people who are still working on it.  I haven’t shelved the concept entirely, but it needs some tweaking.

And playing Bant is easy game.  Who wouldn’t want to play Sylvan Advocate into Reflector Mage into Collected Company into Spell Queller and sign a match slip.  Or as the PT showed us, emerge an Elder Deep-Fiend into an Emrakul and take someone else’s turn.  I love Magic, and I won’t deny that this stuff is cool, and is pretty amazing to behold.

But damn son, I want my lunch break.  And I want my opponent dead now.

Origins Red was where this needed to start.  Mono Red Aggro doesn’t just show up as an easy option.  The cards look like crap, and anyone who plays at a competitive level sees a Dragon Fodder and laughs at why someone who wants to win a tournament would use their two mana on that versus something like Duskwatch Recruiter.  The answer is synergy, free win potential (FWP), and playing without both a target on your head as well as capitalizing upon decks that do have one.  I was mostly planning to play Red for Regionals anyway, but there was a chance I would borrow something else.  Seeing the PT results breathed a bit of fresh life into things, as it looked like the format would get even slower.  New set with people trying new ideas combined with a slowdown in the format is always the perfect time for Red to strike.

Eldritch Moon also brought us some new weapons, and both their appearance and testing deemed them to me to be real.  That testing, our recent Podcast guest Austin Casey’s build, and Todd Anderson’s work, all made me a believer that there was room here.  We could get underneath Bant and GW, we could control the creatures on the board vs Boss Humans, and we could race the Emrakul decks.

The secret though was in playing style.  Austin mentioned some great points on the Podcast about baiting your opponent into removing or countering your early plays so that you could capitalize with a later play (such as Chandra, Garrison, or Thunderbreak).  Additionally, he talked about being observant of your opponents’ behaviors, their open mana as any good player would do, and just “taking a turn off” when you need to.  Force them to play their Queller early or on something irrelevant, or their Avacyn when you simply pass turn to coax them into believing their advanced board state is the route to victory.  These kind of situations came up a lot during the tournament, and I was able to punish my opponents as a result with the plethora of burn spells available to take down a Queller and get my original spell back or lead them into tapping out and then slamming an Impetuous Devils to make them reel back in their seat.  You also simply start the game before they do, leading with one drops into burn backup while they have a turn 1 tap land.  Classic Burn vs Midrange battle.

So here’s where I ended up for the tournament:

MTG Goldfish Visual View

Red Deck Wins by John Galli; 6-2 for 13th Place SCG Regionals (Milwaukee, WI)

3 Village Messenger
3 Lightning Berserker
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Falkenrath Gorger
4 Abbot of Keral Keep
4 Hanweir Garrison
4 Impetuous Devils
1 Goblin Dark-Dwellers

4 Galvanic Bombardment
4 Incendiary Flow
4 Exquisite Firecraft

2 Hanweir Battlements
20 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Thunderbreak Regent
4 Draconic Roar
1 Mountain
2 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
2 Act of Treason
2 Twin Bolt

I mentioned drawing on Origins earlier, and that was indeed where this began.  We already knew Abbot and one drops were good, especially when backed up by a similar suite of Burn spells.  Being able to clear the road or have finishing reach was of the utmost importance, and this was a big reason why I have the full 12 Burn spells.

Galvanic Bombardment might seem out of place in a field of x/3s, but there are still very relevant targets like Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Duskwatch Recruiter, any of the Mono White Humans creatures, Hedron Crawler, etc, etc.  And since we’re only playing 12 Burn spells, getting spell mastery for Fiery Impulse isn’t easy, nor does that have the option of occasionally killing an Avacyn or Ishkanah as the game gets late. Galvanic Bombardment is also great at leveraging the deck’s tempo advantage, allowing you to double spell often and combine with other Burn to get a truly significant threat off the table.  There will just be many situations where you have three mana and want to both play a 1 or 2 drop along with holding up Galvanic Bombardment to kill the creature they play on their turn.  These types of situations can’t be overlooked, as they’re how you beat decks looking to overpower you past the first few turns.

The other historical place I looked was one of my own decklists.  Back when I started this website, I was on a tear with a Mono Red Aggro build during the heyday of Junk Rites (another grindy midrange deck), Mono White Aggro, and Jund.  I put up a huge amount of tournament wins with that deck, featured in my original article.  While the cards today aren’t the same, the curve and land count could be relied upon, and a lot of the new technology mimic’d the old ones well.  In fact, while cloning is not usually wise, the new cards were finally close enough that in this instance I think it made good sense.  Impetuous Devils is absolutely no Hellrider, but he still hits harder than most Red cards can, and he often can be a removal spell for you too, which numbers wise brings you up to 16 in the deck if you’re counting him.  Chunking your opponent for a few points of damage and potentially clearing their Sylvan Advocate or Gideon + Token is a strong play.

Reckless Bushwhacker + Dragon Fodder is the most notable omission from my list, and this is where Impetuous Devils and Village Messenger came in.  Devils accomplishes much of what Reckless Bushwhacker + Dragon Fodder want to do, but it does it in one card.  Both sets of cards also have similar weaknesses, such as Thalia, Queller, and instant speed removal (albeit Devils is worse versus the latter).  But if we’re looking at these cards truthfully, we’re only playing them when we can capitalize on our opponents plays, and that’s often when they’re tapped out or exhausted on available resources.  Both Reckless Bushwhacker + Dragon Fodder and Devils are the kill strokes, so you need to make sure they’re going to do that job before you decide to play them at all.

Village Messenger is not as obvious.  The main reason I wanted to play him was due to the interest in staying hyper-aggressive game 1.  In my old list, I had Rakdos Shredfreak and Ash Zealot.  We don’t have any two drops like that anymore, so Village Messenger fills the role, and when flipped can be very irritating for your opponent.  In a format where many opponents are playing tap lands and a plethora of three drops but not as many twos, Village Messenger actually can flip a good amount.  And in the matchups where he’s bad, or where you’re on the draw, you can simply side him out (which is often the gameplan).  But most importantly, he brought the list up to 13 one drops, which is just 1 card shy of the probability threshold of getting a one drop in your opening hand the “majority” of the time.  He’s probably the most questionable card in the list, and I could see cutting him to go a little bigger, but he filled his role appropriately on the day.

Hanweir Garrison is a fascinating card.  Yes, he’s like Goblin Rabblemaster in design, but he’s also so much different.  He’s a 2/3 in a world of 2/3s, so he actually helps you block sometimes (or simply attack when you wouldn’t have been able to with a Rabblemaster), and his tokens despite attacking the turn they come in don’t have to later on, so you can conserve your resources if they manage to get Papa Garrison off the table early.

What’s most significant though is the Meld ability.  I found myself in a few situations in the tournament where I was essentially dead.  No way to win the game unless I lucksacked into 3-4 burn spells which wasn’t a likely scenario with my opponent having the advantage in the game.  But Melding Garrison with Battlements COULD win me the game in those spots, as a 7/4 trampler who makes huge creatures can overcome a lot of board states that the Tier 1 decks present.  And it happened, during a match with Bant Coco where he had 3-4 creatures on the board but I drew into the Battlements I was banking on and unleashed the monster.  Yes, all of his sides are still Reflector Mage-able, but that’s just a one turn delay and the argument of “dies to removal” doesn’t invalidate completely the power a card may have.

hanweirthewritingtownship

Sideboarding

The sideboard is mostly straight-forward.  The Thunderbreak + Draconic Roar + Land package was borrowed from Todd Anderson’s articles, and is essentially the go big plan post-board vs Bant CoCo and to a lesser extent GW Tokens (it’s still correct to stay a smidge faster vs Tokens).  You cut Village Messengers and Lightning Berserkers (as outlined by Austin on our Podcast), and then if you’re on the draw you can cut some or all of the Impetuous Devils.  On the play, I’d trim on some combination of Garrisons, Abbots, and Devils depending on how you feel or your opponent’s list. Devils and Garrison as mentioned before aren’t great versus Reflector Mage and Spell Queller, and since they’re towards the top of your curve they’re where you’re forced to make some concessions.

The go big package is really nice versus them, because while you still want to maintain your speed advantage (and don’t be afraid to mulligan for a more aggressive keep if you need to), Roar and Thunderbreak allow you to clear more blockers and present ones of your own.  If they are able to break serve with you, Thunderbreak generally puts a halt to this, and allows you to start swinging the pendulum back towards you being the aggressor.  Their fliers are smaller, so it then becomes a battle of you drawing burn spells versus them drawing CoCos and Mages, of which you have far more burn spells.  Selfless Spirit is probably the biggest concern in these spots, so make sure to prioritize killing him early when possible.

There’s many games with the go big plan where you just overrun them too.  One drop into two drop or burn spell, into Garrison, into Thunderbreak is pretty impossible for most of the decks in Standard to deal with.  Several of my Bant opponents saw this and were so far behind that even a good CoCo hit couldn’t get them out of the hot water.  A Dromoka’s Command is never too clean versus Thunderbreak, and the 3 damage usually matters when it’s coming after your early aggression.  I’m considering moving the package to the maindeck, but there’s still a big part of me that wants to stay as aggressive as possible game 1, as this is critical to beating the new Pro Tour decks and keeping pace with Boss Humans.

The sideboard is rounded out with pairs of other cards.  Act of Treason helps you against any deck that durdles for a while before landing one big roadblock, whether it be a delirium Emrakul deck or a Worldbreaker Ramp deck.  Certainly not great against Ishkanah, but there will always be decks in any meta where this type of effect is wanted.

Twin Bolt is for Aggro mirrors, most notably Humans where they might get ahead of you onboard but are a deck full of X/1s.  It’s also just nice to have another instant speed Burn spell and one that is inherently setup to create 2-for-1s as well as go to the face.  You may even want to bring it in versus GW Tokens, but that would be very build dependent and also dependent on how you prefer to play the matchup.

Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh is for decks that barely interact with you.  Non-Red ramping decks (or even some Red ones if you can bait out a Kozilek’s Return first), Humans, and GW Tokens.  It’s very easy to flip her the turn after you play her in this deck, so you put these archetypes in a position where they need to have their limited amount of removal or they’re facing a card that’s far more powerful than most of their options.  Chandra wins most games where she flips, and it’s easier to get them to fire off their removal spell before she lands when you’re running tons of low to the ground threats prior to her arrival.

You’re already a deck that Control decks don’t want to see, with the one caveat being their ability to Languish and Lifegain.  You play around these as best as you can, and post board you cut non-damage or low-output cards (Galvanic Bombardment, etc) for more threats.  Generally that means bringing in Thunderbreak Regent, as while it dies to Languish it’s still an annoying threat for them and one that lines up against a lot of their creatures such as Avacyn and Kalitas.  You’re playing the cat and mouse game here, hoping to not overextend, bait a Languish, and then punish them with Devils or Lightning Berserker.  You’ll want to be conscious of Exquisite Firecraft, as it’s often the linchpin card vs any flavor of Control deck (counters or not), and killing things like Kalitas, Gisela, or Thalia’s Lancers with it is very pertinent.

Act of Treason is another card that can be outside considered for the Control matchups too, as they are yet another deck that generally has one creature at a time on the battlefield and that creature is often both a roadblock and your end game.

Conclusion

On the day at SCG Regionals I played:
Rd1:  Bant CoCo (Win, 2-0)
Rd2:  GW Tokens (Loss, 1-2)
Rd3:  UG Crush (Win 2-0)
Rd4:  Bant CoCo (Loss, 1-2)
Rd5:  Bant CoCo (Win, 2-1)
Rd6:  Bant CoCo (Win, 2-0)
Rd 7:  Opponent No-Show (Sweet) (Win)
Rd 8:  BG Delirium (Win, 2-0)

Hopefully this article outlines the thought process well regarding my choices and possibilities for future direction with the deck.  I think if anything, I’d like to either add the Thunderbreak package and/or get lower to the ground with the build.  Everything was clicking at the tournament for it, and generally the games I lost were to mistakes I made or the usual things for Mono Red (land flood, being 1 removal spell short, etc).  Bottom line, the archetype is back and in a big way, don’t believe the naysayers.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning