The Wrath of Khans

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The Wrath of Khans

Normally I’d wait until a set was fully spoiled before starting to discuss it, but Khans looks so interesting already that I think we need to get started early.  Theros was similar in my opinion, easily providing some of the most diverse testing I’ve seen along with a spring of new ideas that rejuvenated a lot of folks interest for Magic.  While the Standard format has become incredibly stale, having eight to ten competitive archetypes is fairly unheard of and that bodes well for the future of the game.  One important difference though between Theros and Khans is the direction of each set.  Theros was a mono-color based block centered around strategies that required you to play a limited card selection (devotion, etc), whereas Khans so far is a multi-color based block focused on individual card quality.  The latter breathes life into the ability to construct a wide variety of decks, which, while sharing some of the power cards, will each have a lot of nuances of their own.  If you’re stuck playing one color, there’s only so much you can choose from, and the beauty of having both Theros and Khans be legal is that you could go either route in Standard and likely be competitive.

Whenever any new big block set arrives, we have to look at what is rotating and then what the block that is staying centers around.  The biggest hits from RTR/M14 that are leaving are Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, two mana spot removal for Black, devotion enablers (Boros Reckoner, Nightveil Specter, Ash Zealot), Mutavault, and the Shocklands.  These were centerpieces for Standard that you had to build every deck either around or against.  Thoughtseize is also in this discussion, but it’s staying put, so we only have to keep it in mind for building purposes.

Theros block constructed fortunately had a Pro Tour to show us what life without the above was like, and these were the biggest notables from that weekend:

akroancrusaderstormbreathdragonelspethsunschampionbrimazbanishinglightcourserofkruphixpolukranossylvancaryatidthoughtseizesilencethebelieversherosdownfallbileblightprognosticsphinxreaperofthewildskiorathecrashingwave

These 15 cards give us a pretty clear indicator of what to work with and around when we get the new additions from Khans.  Before going into more detail, there is one other important card from M15 to include:

goblinrabblemaster

From the notables above, I believe we can draw a few conclusions about the new format that will be extremely important to focus on going forward:

  • Creatures with a high toughness are going to be popular.  X/4 , X/5s will be the staples of the format, so any aggressive Red deck will need to play cards that deal with those.  Whether that means a threaten effect, can’t block abilities, Stoke the Flames, Fated Conflagration, or Chained to the Rocks, you need to have access to it.
  • B/G has most of the best cards.  That’s also 2/3 of one of the wedges in Khans, so there will almost assuredly be many B/G/x decks.  That means spot removal and fatties, so plan accordingly.
  • Planeswalkers will be a centerpiece of the format, especially with few spells that answer them directly at an efficient mana cost.  Khans is bringing some more, but you’re going to need dedicated hate for them because the ones above take over the game and so do most of the incoming baddies.  Don’t forget, Planar Cleansing and Detention Sphere are also rotating, so this is really going to be free reign on just flooding the board with loyalty.  And those decks are likely to include some of these “high toughness” creatures to block any attempts at reducing that loyalty, which stresses the need for hate even more since you probably won’t be able to attack through them.
  • Red Heroic looks well positioned.  It was a powerful deck at the Pro Tour and Tom Ross has been repeatedly beating face with it at just about every tournament around.  Rabble Red has been a Tier 1 deck for the last few months, and it loses very little with rotation.  The strategy gets underneath some of these more expensive cards, especially with some key removal pieces leaving the format, and there’s a lot of cards that can eliminate blocking for the simple cost of R.  The biggest issues are of course mass removal like Anger of the Gods, Drown in Sorrow, Electrickery, and Supreme Verdict, but fortunately at least two of these are leaving.  Your opponent also has to draw those cards, be able to play them on-time, and have you not play around them.  That’s a lot to ask for, especially when you’re losing very little card selection and can play with those factors in mind.  And best of all, the “wrath”  card spoiled so far in Khans costs five mana.  We all know four mana is the bread and butter needed by control to save themselves from the onslaught (if even that does it), so this will help immensely.

Before diving into the new cards, lets look at what some of the existing Heroic shells have available to give us an idea of where we could start the future:

Tom Ross’s last Boss Sligh “Heroic” list before “Rabble Red” became the official version:

Boss Sligh
Tom Ross
Standard (7/17/14)

Maindeck
4 Akroan Crusader
4 Ash Zealot (rotating)
4 Firedrinker Satyr
3 Frenzied Goblin
4 Legion Loyalist (rotating)
4 Rakdos Cackler (rotating)
2 Rubblebelt Maaka (rotating)

18 Mountain

4 Dragon Mantle
3 Hammerhand
4 Madcap Skills (rotating)
2 Stoke the Flames
4 Titan’s Strength

Sideboard
2 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Forge Devil
2 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Skullcrack (rotating)
1 Harness by Force
1 Seismic Stomp (rotating)
1 Mutavault (rotating)

And what won this last weekend’s SCG Open:

Rabble Red
Thomas Graves
1st Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 9/6/2014
Standard

Maindeck
2 Ash Zealot (rotating)
4 Burning-Tree Emissary (rotating)
4 Firedrinker Satyr
2 Firefist Striker (rotating)
3 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Legion Loyalist (rotating)
4 Rakdos Cackler (rotating)
3 Rubblebelt Maaka (rotating)

19 Mountain
2 Mutavault (rotating)

3 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
1 Titan’s Strength
1 Hall of Triumph

Sideboard
2 Boros Reckoner (rotating)
3 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Dynacharge (rotating)
3 Magma Spray
2 Skullcrack (rotating)
1 Harness by Force
2 Mizzium Mortars (rotating)
1 Mutavault (rotating)

While there are a lot of actual cards that are rotating on both lists, most of them aren’t critical or ones that can’t find replacements.  There’s other one drops that were borderline playable, or could be substituted in, and there’s a lot of cards that did similar things (like Titan’s Strength and Rubblebelt Maaka).  Obviously the stuff being lost will be missed, and did serve important roles, but Khans should bring at least one or two playables yet (still so much to be spoiled), and there’s a few Red M15 cards that might see action now that weren’t being played simply because the stuff rotating was just a small cut above them.

The most important aspect to remember is this:  If your opponent’s game plan is to cast a Polkranos, Elspeth, or Thoughtseize, redundant Red cards that cost a fourth of that are going to have a field day.

Khans Is Coming (Spoiler!)

I’m not really one to warn people about spoiler content in my articles.  This is 2014, if you haven’t seen Khans cards on the internet already or been salivating over them daily, I would like a one way ticket to the cave you live in please.  Lets start looking over some of the awesomeness that we actually get to play with in two weeks:

SarkhantheDragonspeaker

I was pretty sure Sarkhan was going to be multi-colored and have marginal abilities, man does it feel good to be wrong sometimes.  This guy looks fantastic.

He passes a lot of “tests” for Planeswalkers which is the first area you have to start at with evaluations.  His plus ability brings him to five loyalty which makes it pretty difficult to kill him with attacks or burn.  His plus ability turns him into a pseudo Stormbreath Dragon, which is already a powerhouse playable card.  Sure, he loses protection from White, but there’s upside to counteract for that.  He is indestructible in his plus mode, while at the same time “turning off” during their turn effectively eliminating most sorcery speed removal outlets.  I believe Stormbreath Dragon is still going to be very good, but one of the things that seems to make Sarkhan even better is that he can kill creatures if that’s the mode that’s more important to you at the time.  One of the big tests for Planeswalkers is if they can protect themselves or not, and not only does he do this but he also kills creatures with the almighty “four” toughness in this new format.  His ultimate ability doesn’t kill them on the spot which is a shame, but it’s still powerful and likely would lead to a win shortly thereafter.  Besides, I could easily see alternating between his first two abilities for the majority of time he would see play since they are the bread and butter of what you want to do in almost every game.  And lastly, being a Planeswalker rather than a creature is another plus over Stormbreath Dragon since there is simply less removal in the format for that card type.

I haven’t been this excited about a Red card in a long time, and the feeling appears to be mutual from just about everyone I’ve talked to.  While he will need to be in a bigger Red shell, this guy is ready to start an inferno.

anafenzatheforemost

Yes I know, not a Red card.  But this set is just too sweet so I’m going to talk about other colors here too, especially since us Red mages will probably be dealing with these cards very soon.

Anafenza is just all around awesome.  She can be an EDH Commander, she’s got an excellent rate by being a 4/4 for three mana, her first ability is pure value, and her second ability is relevant in many situations.  I shudder just thinking about the games where someone plays this and then plays a Reaper of the Wilds the following turn.  It almost feels like a card from the old Mythic Bant lists that were a giant force in Standard for a long time.  She competes slightly with Courser of Kruphix at three mana, but there’s going to be a lot of decks that want both cards and she’s going to find more play in an aggressive shell anyway (rather than Ramp, although she’s still fine there).  Loxodon Smiter was a great card in Standard, so I can’t see why she won’t be either.

narsetenlightenedmaster2

Narset may not be as eye-popping on paper, but she seems possibly playable, and is a fun card even if she only ends up being relegated to the EDH tables.  The biggest knock on her is her lack of evasion and her base stats (3/2) which make her a hard sell at being a finisher for Control.  Being able to protect herself and cast free spells in a deck largely filled with non-creature spells is a good thing to have, and I could see the biggest impact in a mirror match.  Control mirrors often are dictated by who is able to play their lands on time and regularly along with having continual “gas”.  She provides that gas, along with a threat.

Midrange decks and Heroic Red aren’t bothered by her though, and this is where I think she falls short and thus may not catch on.  Maybe I’m just excited to build an EDH deck with her, who knows, but she looks sweet.

seetheunrwitten

Summoning Trap was a heavily played card in Standard for a while, and this card shares a lot of the same characteristics.  I can see Ferocious being active most of the times this is cast, and the thought of having two absolutely game ending gigantic dudes enter the battlefield for six mana is absolutely frightening.  Those “Souls” from M15 that weren’t being played before might just have met their red carpet.

abzanascendancy

Abzan Ascendancy looks amazing, I’m extremely surprised this is not a mythic rare.  I’ve already seen authors like Craig Wescoe discussing applications for it, but it should be obvious on paper why it’s so good.  It’s a psuedo “Crusade” at a mana cost that is already acceptable in Standard for one (see Hall of Triumph), and it effectively wrath-proofs your creatures.  Even outside of an aggro deck, this card is just extreme value at a minimal cost, and if my predictions on the format come true it’s in a color combination with some of the most powerful cards.  You could even go deeper and setup a deck with a plethora of wrath effects and then nickel and dime your opponent to death with tokens provided by both the Ascendancy and other generators of yours.  What it doesn’t do is provide a threat or defender at its mana cost, and that is always an issue, but the upside here looks far greater than any negative I can see at a surface glance.

marduascendancy

Goblin Rabblemaster anyone?  Stacking triggers with him or putting this in a Purphoros tokens deck looks like a blast, and if I’m reading this card correctly it could quite possibly be like a nerfed Spectral Procession on a stick which I can’t see being unplayable.  The second ability is a nice added protection clause against Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow, but the main upsell here is that this card (much like Rabblemaster) demands that you deal with it or the board state or die shortly thereafter.

temurascendency

Temur Ascendancy might not have enough oomph to make it in Standard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.  You have one half of Hammer of Purphoros, and an exceptionally powerful ability for the other half.  The color scheme is the only awkward part, but why all the wedges wouldn’t find homes in competitive decks is beyond me.  Casting, say, a Polukranos after this, drawing a card, and smacking your opponent for five on turn four, is straight nutterbutters.  And is anyone else noticing a trend?  This card is yet another fantatstic EDH card.

hardenedscales

This card is a set too late (would have been sweet with Simic), but it’ll be a blast for EDH.  I also feel like the fact that it’s one mana will get people to experiment in Standard, depending on how many enablers it has and how many do-nothings you can afford in your deck.

sultaicharmmarducharmtemurcharmjeskaicharm

I can’t remember the last time a charm wasn’t used in Standard (or almost every format for that matter), and judging from the exceptional abilities of these ones I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  These all look great, and all seem like must plays in their wedges.  For reference, you can find the English translation for the one on the “Charme” one here – Temur Charm.  For those of you who played when Shards of Alara was in Standard, you probably remember how fantastic that format was for draft and sealed.  This set looks largely the same, with a bigger value upside, so I expect people to play this limited format for as long as it stays affordable.  If you can’t tell from this article yet, yes, I am excited.

abzanguide

I don’t know if this card is going to make it in Constructed.  I wasn’t playing Standard for the brief time period when Morph was legal, so while I’ve played it in Eternal formats it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me.  On paper, this card looks pretty good in my opinion, but I also think it will depend on how active people are at killing any Morph creature they see.  It doesn’t have evasion, it doesn’t have protection, and it’s a common, so likely this is just a very solid limited card, but it’ll make games interesting nonetheless.  I like that it’s a Human Warrior too, as that will enable it in archetypes that might need to stretch for playables.

mantisrider

Efficiently costed, powered, and every ability is relevant.  If this wedge has the potential for aggro, this card looks like it’s an auto shoe-in.  Yes kids, it dies to removal.  That’s never prevented anything from being playable so if you’re one of those who dismisses a card everytime you see something else in the format that kills it, please get over that evaluation issue or you’ll be the one screaming “I had all these!” when your opponent beats you down with this little guy.

savageknuckleblade

For me Savage Knuckleblade falls into the same category as Anafenza.  Another efficiently costed creature with great abilities that looks immediately playable.  If your opponent doesn’t kill this card the first turn it hits the battlefield, I don’t see many ways to deal with it.  It dodges removal, it gets big enough to one or two-shot people, and it can give itself haste.  This guy is super scary, and while he doesn’t have evasion the fact that late game you could just play him with haste and bounce him when they try to do anything looks pretty hard to stop.

flyingcranetechnique1

10/10 for the name alone, Flying Crane Technique looks grossly powerful.  The strange part will be trying to make a six drop work in an aggressive deck, but this might just be the top-end of a midrange deck that wants a way to push through board stalls.  Even if it’s just a 1 or 2 of in the sideboard, it looks absolutely devastating and should end the game on the spot.  And while I know I’ve repeated this ad nauseum (no pun intended), it looks like a wildly fun card for EDH.

On the flipside, watch this card become a huge staple.  I definitely see the potential for a big hit in the works. . .

murderouscut

Black has lost some critical removal pieces like Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, and Devour Flesh, so Murderous Cut might just “make the cut” (feel free to stop reading, I know, terrible).  Any deck that wants to play this is probably playing Thoughtseize and Bile Blight, so that’s two cards already that are likely to be in your graveyard by the time you cast Cut, and assuming you’re running fetchlands this has now become a two mana Murder.  It gets worse in multiples, but having this as a 2-of in combination with x4 Bile Blight and x4 Hero’s Downfall puts Black decks almost back to where they were before.  At least Pack Rat and Mutavault are gone. . .

jeeringinstigator

Initial thoughts are that Jeering Instigator is unplayable, BUT, I do say that with great hesitation.  A surprise Threaten that can be played during your opponent’s turn is a strong effect in a color that always wants it.  He’s also a Goblin which is probably being overlooked by most, but that’s important when Goblin Rabblemaster is one of the best Red cards in Standard.  I could see a turn where he unflips, steals a guy, and pumps your Rabblemaster leading to game, set, match.  Let’s hope that possibility is more reality than myth.

icyblast

Icy Blast reminds me of Sleep, except it’s an instant and it’s conditional.  I think this card’s playability is entirely dependent on what finishers your deck runs, or just an acceptable game-ender in midrange strategies.  It’s probably going to see play in this block in particular because of the fact that UWR Aggro has some strong options, but time will tell.  Bottom line, there’s room for this if your build supports it.

rakshasadeathdealer

We have a lot of comparisons available for Rakshasa.  Putrid Leech, Lotleth Troll, and Nantuko Shade were all Standard staples at some point in time, and while this might be the worst of the group it’s part of a strong design-type in a color combination that already looks strong.  I say “worst” because this card can’t protect itself unless you have four mana or you take a risk and play it early hoping you buy a turn.  That said, it can get really big, and aside from the first turn it’s tough to kill.  The real question will be whether the mana cost or the mana intensity will keep it from seeing regular play, but I imagine it won’t.  He looks like a good card, and he’s a Cat Demon which I’m fairly sure is the best creature type I’ve seen in Magic thus far.  Aside from Phelddagrif of course.

wingmateroc

Wingmate Roc looks crazy!  I hope there’s some hype getting built for this guy, because I personally believe he deserves it.  He’s five mana for six power, both sides have evasion, he gains a ton of life if he lives a turn, and if he dies he made your opponent discard a removal spell and left behind an evasive creature with a high toughness.  Sounds like a purely win-win scenario to me, and a great top-end to a midrange strategy.

heraldofanafenza

Herald looks to be the most playable of the Outlast cards so far, because a 1/2 for 1 is already OK, but generating tokens and +1/+1 counters is a great way to make him relevant later in the game (something most one-drops don’t have).  I like the design, and I just hope that he doesn’t see the bulk bin on account of the fact that he’s not a 2/1.

icefeatheraven

Icefeather Aven appears to be a great limited bomb, and I could see him being an interesting miser in Standard as well.  The fact that there will be so many Morph cards in Standard will allow you to pull some Tom Foolery, and that is the name of this man’s game.  He’s a tempo oriented card and he has the stats to do that no matter what mode you decide to play him in.

cracklingdoom

As some commenters on the spoilers pointed out, this is one more way to deal with Sarkhan (which is sad), but it’s also just a solid value card.  It reminds me a lot of Blightning, which saw immense Standard play, and in a format which I’ve discussed looks to be filled with giant creatures, it’s what the doctor ordered.  R/W/B is looking increasingly like the new “Jund”, so it will be an interesting journey to see what else comes out of the next set to support the color scheme.

rattleclawmysticpromo

Its fragility is going to be the main factor holding it back from being a reliable ramp choice, but otherwise Rattleclaw Mystic might be in some dangerous builds.  I can see a deck playing Sylvan Caryatid into this, followed by something gigantic the next turn.  At the very least, this is my number 1 pick for FNM fun out of this set, I expect to see some hilarity ensue.

siegerhino

Wow.  As a Red mage, let me tell you I don’t want to see this thing.  Incredible stats, an elusive five toughness, trample, and a six point life swing.  I can only imagine when people start to blink this in and out of play.  You’re essentially looking at “Thragtusk light” here.

adamantnegation2

A very effective counterspell for blue, especially in a slower format like Standard where you are frequently only casting one spell a turn.  There’s tremendous upside in decks that can support the Ferocious clause, and I’m expecting foil versions of this card will be in high demand.  Still, some of the time it’s just a bad Dispel, so I’m fine with it being in existence.

ivoryruskfortress

This pairs well with Monstrous cards, but outside of that there’s not much that will be in the format to make it exceptional.  It’s definitely a card I could see being very strong once we get a few more sets out though, as the body is huge.  Looks pretty fun for Doran EDH decks too.

sageoftheinwardeyepromo

Wizards is really pushing for a UWR Aggro deck, and this combined with Mantis Rider is a capable force.  It’s yet another four toughness creature with evasion, and I personally would love to live the dream and cast Flying Crane Technique with this in play.

ankleshankerpromo

Ankle Shanker is pretty expensive for an Aggro deck, and I think it’s going to be held back by its low stats.  It does however basically read “5 mana:  Get a 2/2 with haste and make your entire team unblockable,” so for that alone I expect it to see play, just more likely in a Midrange shell.  What I think is the most exciting part about this cycle of creatures is that each one of them is providing a way to get through a stall, and that is one of the most common problems with Midrange decks.  It’s going to be a wild west atmosphere when each of the wedges has something that says “I win” at their disposal.

suspensionfield

A limited Journey to Nowhere is still a Journey to Nowhere, and this in combination with Chained to the Rocks will give Aggro decks some effective cards to answer all the giant creatures in the format.  My biggest worry with this card is that the format is going to be “enchantment aware” since now we are going to be heavily relying on enchantment creatures.  This could create a greater use of enchantment removal or more people including misers of those cards as an attempt to create big blowouts.  This card’s condition is also easier to meet compared to Chained to the Rocks, so I’d imagine it will have application across more archetypes than Rocks has so far.

cleverimpersonator

Oh baby.  Everybody loves clone effects, and this one looks like the grandaddy of them all.  If this card doesn’t see play I will be amazed, and it’s one of the best card designs to come along in a while.  Any game where this gets played is immediately going to be more fun, not to mention the shenanigans I expect to see people come up with.  In Standard, this has to be one of the scariest cards if the format ends up being a compilation of various Midrange wedge decks.  Like any clone the biggest risk is that there may not be anything relevant to copy, but I’d expect that more often than not it will just be incredible.  Copying your opponent’s Garruk?  Sign me up.

sorinsolemnvisitor

I initially had a positive reaction to this card, but saw it get a lot of flack online when it was spoiled.  After looking over it for a while, I think the fact that his first ability doesn’t do anything on an empty board combined with the fact that you’ll have to go back and forth between his first two abilities rather than support his ultimate will limit his play.  He seems like a very solid 1-2 of in Tokens or Midrange, or as a curve-topper in some kind of BW Aggro deck, but he’s not like the Lord of Innistrad version which allowed you to apply continual pressure regardless of the matchup.  Lifelink is nothing to sneeze at though, and he’s aggressively costed with a high loyalty count so he should be involved in Standard if BW proves to be a strong combination.  His plus ability also combos nicely with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, which was easily the most powerful card in Theros Block Constructed.

mindswipe

Syncopate + Fireball for one mana more is an intense combination.  This card looks great because of how flexible it is, you don’t need a dedicated control deck to run it.  I don’t see why any deck with access to these colors would not want this card, as it’s a fantastic finisher and early game can stop cards on critical turns (aka the big 4/5/6 drops of this new format)  Rakdos Return saw play for similar reasons to why this one will, and I personally think Mindswipe will have a much bigger impact since an early counterspell is often more important than discard.  Additionally, if that UWR Aggro/Midrange deck materializes, this is a perfect answer to board wipes or other cards that could counteract your strategy.  I don’t see it as a 4-of, but definitely 1-2.

utterendpromo

I think the key for this card is not necessarily that it has the ability to kill just about anything (note Planeswalkers), but that it’s an instant.  For whatever reason, Dreadbore didn’t see a lot of play (especially compared to Hero’s Downfall), and I think the main gripe was that it was a sorcery.  Utter End is costly, but its flexibility on all fronts will make it a format staple.  This is another card that I’m absolutely sure will be a big one in Standard, and I know the cow jokes will be milked to the utter end of the format.

deflectingpalm1

These type of effects rarely see much play, but they are great misers and sideboard options.  This is a sweet hose in the mirror, and although you probably would just want to have a burn spell or creature instead, I could see someone just wanting to have a more flexible 75 and running this.  I’d almost never maindeck it, but I wouldn’t fault you if it was in the board.

sagumauler

The mana cost is pretty high and he can be countered, but otherwise Sagu Mauler looks like an ideal creature to ramp into, or morph into if you’re playing against a Control deck.  There’s not much that effectively gets in the way of a 6/6 trampler, and when you can’t target this with removal spells things start getting grim fast.  He seems to compliment a heavy creature strategy well too, as providing additional bodies to prevent him from dying to Grave Pact effects will make him everything but wrath proof.  I really want to see this card be played, it will just depend on the speed of the format.

Good luck to all of you who will be attending the pre-release.  My all-time favorite draft format was triple Shards of Alara, so I’m looking forward to basically a return of that with Khans of Tarkir.  This set is both competitive and Commander heaven, can’t wait to break open the goodness. . .

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

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Past, Present, and Future

kothofthehammerwallpaper

Past, Present, and Future

It is the end of a season.  It is almost time for Worlds.  It is the beginning of a new path for Magic.  For those of you who were online yesterday, you probably saw the news regarding the changing of Magic’s set design and rotation.  I’ll touch a bit upon that along with going over my tournament weekend and where I’m at with decks in all formats.  It’s been a while since I’ve had an article and you readers are overdue for some updates.  Without further adou. . .

Past

This past weekend I attended two pro tour qualifiers in my area, and both went pretty well with narrow misses at obtaining my longtime goal.  I’m sad that the Modern season is over, but the experiences I’ve had between last season and this one have truly made me love the format.  Wizards did a great job at creating a format where a wide open metagame can exist, and where new ideas are birthed at an almost constant rate.  Every Modern tournament I’ve been to I’ve played against at least five or six different archetypes, and the vast majority of them have been competitive.  If you’re reading my articles and haven’t played the format much, you should pick it up today.  The season might be over but it’s absolutely worth your time.

After my last article and tournament, I became quite determined to get over the hump in my game.  I knew the issue for me was practice time and comfort level, and as limited as my time and money is if I was going to do well in the upcoming weeks, I’d need to address the issue.  I doubled my efforts on Cockatrice, playing for several hours almost every day, waking up early, going to bed late at night, playing at lunch, basically whenever I could squeeze in time between other stuff I had going on.  I tried to engage some of my fellow burn players a bit more online and in person, bouncing off ideas and questions I had.  I proxied up the big archetypes I was having trouble with, gold-fished some and practiced live matches with others.

Needless to say, the efforts paid off.  I doubted whether it was worth the time or not, but this weekend proved to me that it makes the difference.  I ran the same 75 cards as last time, changing out 1 card on Sunday, and felt very comfortable piloting it other than some grave play mistakes on occasion or some nervous matches when I was in contention.

Saturday’s PTQ was in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin at a roller rink.  The host Bryant Cobarrubias was welcoming and friendly and overall made the tournament go smoother than many others.  It was a refreshing change from the last one I went to in Chicago, despite having disco balls above our heads, intimate mood lighting, and a chilly AC.  The scene was pretty funny, and as my wife later put it “you guys look like you’re doing male speed dating”.

FonDuLacMagic
(Photo Credit:  Bryant Cobarrubias)

The tournament started off well with a win against a Utopia Sprawl Primeval Titan deck.  It was a younger kid playing the deck which was part brew, part netdeck, and I lost game 2 due to repeat Primal Commands only because I didn’t realize he had them.  Fortunately his deck was just a turn or two slow, and I was able to take the match.  That largely is the story of why this particular build of Burn I believe is the best right now, because you’re simply a turn faster than almost everything in this format set aside Affinity, Infect, Storm, etc.  All the fair decks like Jund, Junk, and Pod are expending heavy resources like Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize to counteract threats that only cost you one mana and do more than that in damage.  Plus, with the reliance on shock lands being so heavy in this format, your opponent has often done a quarter of the job for you in the first few turns.  A lot of people who first see the deck balk at the presence of three colors in a Burn deck, knowing that you too will be taking lots of damage, but when the risk comes at the reward of having a reliable turn 4/5 kill, it tends to not matter in 80-90% of the matchups.

I lost round 2 playing against one of these fair decks, B/G Rock.  It was embarrassing.  I misplayed, knew correctly how the situation worked, but just duffed it after thinking about my play for a long time in the tank.  I was in game 3 and had a Shard Volley in my hand along with an active Grim Lavamancer and a Goblin Guide in play.  My opponent was essentially in lethal range within the next turn, but had a Tarmogoyf on the table.  For some reason the notion got into my head that I needed to kill this Goyf since it was both preventing me from attacking and also would kill me in a few turns if I left it go unchecked.  I don’t know how my logic circled around to this, but I ended up Shard Volley’ing it, forgetting that the instant would make it grow a toughness bigger, and a nearby judge pointed it out after both my opponent and I missed it.  The Tarmogoyf lived, I no longer could get her for lethal in another turn, and I was killed by the same Goyf.  It’s almost never correct to kill a creature in the first place, which I know very well, but sometimes the pressure just gets to you.  Sadly, this is pretty costly in a big tournament like this, but I pushed on.

The later rounds were almost entirely a cruise, relying on knowing how the matchups work and being thankful for the practice time which was largely spent against any deck with Steam Vents in it (which is pretty much the format).  I lost one other round midway through the tournament to a player from my town who was on Scapeshift, and it was really just a matter of not drawing enough gas.  That matchup is almost always easy, as the outs they bring in are largely ones that you can play around (Spellskite) or counteract (Obstinate Baloth/Skullcrack).  The combo is a threat if you have a slower hand, which was the case here, but you rarely lose a game on the play and they almost never have enough disruption early to prevent you from going off first.  I lost the third game with my opponent at 1 life, and beat Scapeshift at least once if not twice during the remaining portion of the day.  Overall, I finished in 19th place and viewed the day as a good practice session going into Sunday.  A fellow grinder Greg Ogreenc (who in combination with Jasper Johnson-Epstein designed this Burn deck) made top 8 in Fond Du Lac, but sadly got paired against the worst matchup (Affinity) and lost a nailbiter in 3 games.  Thankfully one of our other Madison natives Matt Severa, playing Faeries, took down the tournament so not all was lost on the day.

I got home that night at 8:30pm and was exhausted.  I talked with my wife for a while and then tried to muster some sleep after looking at Magic articles online.  Next thing I know I woke up at 2 a.m., couldn’t fall back asleep, and then left my house at 3:30 a.m. to meet with my ride.  The drive took less time than we thought, but it was still 4 hours on top of what we did the day prior.  We arrived at Fantasy Flight Games Center near Minneapolis, and the next PTQ began.

Round 1 I had no idea what was going on.

My opponent was playing Steam Vents.deck (ah so familiar), but the card choices in game 1 weren’t enough for me to get a pin on what he had going.  I saw Snapcaster, Remand, Bolts, and all UR lands, so to me it seemed like he could either be a UR Control deck, a Delver deck, or Twin.  I thought that maybe he was playing the Twin combo in the board and when I went to game 2 I brought in 1 or 2 cards for that matchup just incase.  I didn’t want to overload on it if I was wrong, but I also didn’t want to be dead to it.  He was playing well throughout our match, but I was able to get game 2.  It was during that game that he scry’d with Magma Jet and accidentally revealed a Blood Moon.  The lightbulb turned on at that point and I realized I was playing against Blue Moon, a deck that I didn’t know much about other than seeing a decklist at the time of the Modern Pro Tour.  I had a sideboard plan for it (see my last article), and followed that for game 3.  It was very close, I was able to get him down to 1 life but had to pass the turn knowing that I was probably in danger with him having a few cards in hand and being at 8 life.  Sure enough, he cast Snapcaster at the end of my turn to flashback a Lightning Bolt, untapped, then cast another Lightning Bolt and an Electrolyze.  Not a good way to start out, but I wasn’t too jaded since the games were played very well on both sides and there was nothing I could do.  My opponent Lito was a very nice guy and I wished him good luck on his way up the chain.

I wouldn’t lose after that until much later.  Round after round, I either pummeled or squeaked out of intense situations, as this deck does.  It’s much like a Boxer in a fight, you need to time your hits correctly and sequence your moves.  It’s very easy to misplay this Burn deck.  You need to be doing the math on every turn you take and thinking of what possible outs your opponent has as you usually win with exactly lethal in a lot of games or with burn spells off the top of the deck.  Playing a few two mana burn spells because you have a few in your hand when you could have played three one mana burn spells and then finished with a two mana burn spell often can be the deciding factor between you being at the smelly tables in the back or up front with the champions.  There’s a lot of critical applications to keep in the back of your head too.

For instance, in one round Greg was playing against a Jund player and when the Jund player went to cast Anger of the Gods against a field of Goblin Guide, Grim Lavamancer, and Vexing Devil, and all looked lost.  But Greg cast Boros Charm giving his creatures indestructible and took the match.  It’s plays like these which don’t always seem obvious (since you’re usually totaling damage counts), but are extremely relevant to the long-gain results.  Another example came for me at the end of the day in Fond Du Lac when I looked dead on board against Pod, with him at 9 life and me facing lethal when I passed the turn.  I had a Lightning Bolt and a Rakdos Charm in hand, and he had an Archangel of Thune, a mana dork, a Voice of Resurgence, and an Elemental token from the Voice.  I passed the turn, declared I had upkeep effects, and then during his upkeep cast Lightning Bolt to trigger the Voice of Resurgence ability, then cast Rakdos Charm to trigger it again, and then chose the mode to deal each player 1 damage for each creature they control.  It was exactly lethal, and had I not seen the play I would have been X-3 and not X-2.

Going into the 8th and final round of the Minneapolis PTQ, I was in 9th place.  I was the last person with a 6-1 record, and as such I wouldn’t be able to draw in unless a lot of others played it out which wasn’t going to happen.  I sat down and talked with my opponent, and it turns out he was 5-1-1 and had been paired up, so it was going to come down to the winner of this match to determine which of us would make top 8 and try to battle for a plane ticket to Hawaii.  One of my car mates Keenan watched on as I fidgeted in my chair trying to collect myself and focus on the fact that this deck was good, I knew it well, and it was performing like it should all day.  I had the play in game 1 and picked up my starting hand to see this:

aridmesablackcleavecliffsriftboltriftboltriftboltlightningboltlightningbolt

Or really I should say this:

matchesnapalm

After suspending a Rift Bolt I passed to my opponent who played this on his turn 1:

slipperyboggle

What a fitting piece of artwork for how that made me feel.  One more win to go in, willing to face just about any matchup, and then BOGGLES.  I just had to hope I could race, as I was looking at arguably one of the best possible hands I could have with Burn, and he was going to need everything he had to stay in this game.  Bad matchup or not.

I drew into running bolts of various kinds, he was able to play a Daybreak Coronet and gain life, but then cracked a fetch to play another creature and went down to six.  “Untap, Bump, Shard Volley, Kill You.”

Game 2 I mulled to five.  Burned him for a while and attacked with Guides/Devil, but he was eventually able to assemble a Gladecover Scout with a Spirit Link and Daybreak Coronet, gain 8 life, and put himself well out of reach.  I think I was a turn or two away, but without a Skullcrack I couldn’t do anything to keep myself in the game.

MinneapolisMagic
(Photo Credit:  Dan Bock)

In game 3 I opened with Electrickery, a Goblin Guide, a burn spell, and some lands.  It wasn’t ideal, but Electrickery is one of the huge sideboard pieces against Boggles so I figured it was better than going down to 6 cards.  Electrickery ended up 2-for-1’ing him when he tried to Rancor up a Gladecover Scout, and Guide was getting in for some good damage along with some burn.  Things were looking good too as I had drawn a Volcanic Fallout.  My opponent was able to get out a Kor Spiritdancer, and when he attempted to suit it up I cast the Fallout to sweep our boards and do us each 2 damage.  The next turn he played another Spiritdancer, and it met with a Lightning Bolt when he tried to again suit it up.

Phew, deep breath.  I drew another burn spell or two.  I put him down to four life and passed the turn with no cards in hand.  On his turn he played a hexproof creature, put a Daybreak Coronet on it, and passed.  If I draw Boros Charm he is dead, and if I draw Skullcrack I can buy another turn and put him at 1 life.  I had not drawn one of either yet, and we had probably drawn about 20 cards or so by that point, so the odds were not great but more favorable then a lot of bad situations.  I drew. . .

aridmesa

My heart sank.  I wished him good luck in the top 8 and sat there stunned.  15 rounds of Magic over the course of two days, one win away from making top 8 against what would ultimately be a very favorable field for Burn.  It was a great experience though, I was able to play against the vast majority of the archetypes in existence and now have a pretty good grip on how the matchups go for the future.  I had a fun time with friends, especially my car mates who were cracking me up all weekend with jokes, and it meant a lot to me to improve as a player.  In Minneapolis I also beat Jasper heads up in the later rounds, so while I was sad to see a friend have to get knocked out of contention, I was glad to get past one of the better players in this game at least for one tournament.  After the Swiss we stayed until the end of the top 8 and watched as Greg took down the whole thing.  He even got revenge on the Boggles opponent in the Quarterfinals, and beat Jund for the crown.  Another pro who many of you might recognize from StarCityGames, Matthias Hunt, also played our list and finished in 10th.  The PTQ that we didn’t attend on Saturday in Iowa was won by Burn as well.  Overall, it was a strong weekend for the archetype and proof that Mountains really can win.

Present

Here are the decks that I would play at the current moment in each format.  They don’t win too many points on originality, but they give you a good chance to win:

Standard:

Rabble Red:

Maindeck
3 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firedrinker Satyr
2 Firefist Striker
4 Foundry-Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Legion Loyalist
4 Rakdos Cackler
3 Rubblebelt Maaka

3 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames

1 Hall of Triumph

18 Mountain
3 Mutavault

Sideboard
1 Hall of Triumph
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Magma Spray
1 Harness by Force
1 Searing Blood
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Electrickery
2 Skullcrack
1 Seismic Stomp

Modern:

RWB Burn:

Maindeck
4 Goblin Guide
4 Vexing Devil
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Bump in the Night
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
1 Shard Volley
4 Boros Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze

1 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Blood Crypt
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Snow-Covered Mountain

Sideboard
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze
2 Combust
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Volcanic Fallout
1 Spellskite
1 Shattering Spree
1 Sudden Shock
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Electrickery

Legacy:

Burn:

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

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

2 Sulfuric Vortex

4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Wooded Foothills
10 Mountain

Sideboard
3 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Flame Rift
2 Vexing Shusher
2 Smash to Smithereens
2 Mindbreak Trap
1 Searing Blaze
1 Searing Blood
1 Sulfuric Vortex

Pauper:

Goblins:

Maindeck
4 Goblin Arsonist
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Mogg Conscripts
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Cohort
4 Mogg Raider
4 Mogg War Marshall
3 Sparksmith
3 Goblin Matron

4 Lightning Bolt
2 Death Spark
2 Goblin Grenade

17 Mountain
1 Teetering Peaks

Sideboard
4 Pyroblast
2 Goblin Fireslinger
2 Electrickery
2 Flaring Pain
2 Gorilla Shaman
1 Sylvok Lifestaff
1 Sparksmith
1 Death Spark

I think everyone at this point who’s been playing Red decks can tell you that it’s all about the all-mighty Eidolon of the Great Revel.  That card has put in so much work in the past few months.  It can be a liability in aggro/burn mirrors when you’re on the draw, but otherwise it’s one of the most influential cards in every matchup.  It also gives you free “game” against combo decks that you otherwise would have had nothing against in game 1s.  You’ll notice I listed Rabble Red for my preferred Standard deck at the moment, and it’s not to slight RW Burn at all.  I think RW Burn is well positioned, but it requires even more intense piloting then the Modern and Legacy versions, and it can be durdly at times or hugely dependent on card choice.  It’s very much like a UW Control deck in the sense that you have to tailor it properly for the always evolving metagame, where as Rabble Red just has a straight forward game plan and presents a difficult clock for many of the decks in Standard.  The sideboard is versatile and covers most of the tougher matchups with some good singletons to reinforce the already good ones.  You can play around Drown in Sorrow and Supreme Verdict and if done properly it’s quite difficult for your opponent to have the right answers.

Future

Yesterday Wizards of the Coast announced that Magic will be moving to a two set system, with the usual process being a big set followed by a small, rotations after each block, no Core set, and ultimately three blocks in Standard.  The article is an interesting read, and if you haven’t seen it yet I recommend taking a look HERE.  There’s a lot of wild speculation that I’ve seen over what this will mean for card prices, and to tell you the truth I’m not sure what will be the outcome until we actually see it firsthand.  My guess is that card prices will simply be more volatile, but it could largely be about the same.  It’s a good move for the game otherwise, and will help to keep Standard fresh for years to come.  I’m surprised this is coming so quickly on the heels of the new PTQ structure announcement, but change for Wizards is long overdue, so maybe someone up there is finally starting to “get it”.

Khans of Tarkir doesn’t have much spoiled yet, but all the buzz and the few cards shown so far look exciting.  It seems to feature Red quite prominently, and the new Raid mechanic is just what the doctor ordered.  Being able to punish your opponent with the element of surprise damage is the push over the top that decks want in this color, we just need to see how many cards end up being playable.  For those that haven’t seen any of the cards yet (SPOILER), this is one of the ones released (note* not playable)

marduheartpiercer

I’m really hoping that Goblins gets a bump, since we already received the awesome Rabblemaster in M15 and Goblin Bombardment is about to be reprinted.  A legit two mana Goblin specifically would be nice, or a Lord or two.  As some of you know from my articles I was testing a Goblin build just before M15’s release, and while I never put the polishing touches on it I believe it was just a good card or two away from being viable.  Maybe we’ll even get Siege-Gang Commander. . .

While this isn’t future news, there’s another deck in Modern that popped up late in the season that looks like an absolute blast to play.  It did well at a Modern IQ in Dallas back in March, and then was taken to a top 8 berth by Judge Sewall in a recent Nebraska PTQ.  Behold the greatness:

RW Stax

Maindeck
2 Magus of the Moon
4 Simian Spirit Guide

2 Wrath of God
3 Anger of the Gods
3 Lightning Helix
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Damping Matrix
4 Blood Moon
2 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Ghostly Prison
1 Assemble the Legion
2 Ajani Vengeant
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Gideon Jura
1 Elspeth, Knight Errant

7 Plains
2 Mountains
2 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred foundry
4 Arid Mesa
4 Temple of Triumph

Sideboard
3 Defense Grid
2 Wear/Tear
2 Wurmcoil engine
2 Rest in Peace
2 Stony Silence
2 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Nevermore
1 Baneslayer Angel

The pilot of the deck lost to R/G Tron in the Quarters, but this is a matchup that could be shored up by a large number of card choices available.  Tron isn’t even very popular in recent months, and supposedly this deck absolutely crushes Pod which is a place I’d rather be.

Conclusion

I’m going to be on break from big tournaments for a while, probably until at least late October.  Thank you again for continuing to read my site and all the support, I will try to keep up the battling and hopefully bring you a “Pro Tour Report” sometime soon.  Until then,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Battling to Qualify: A Modern Experience

volcanicfalloutwallpaper

Battling to Qualify:  A Modern Experience

The struggle to reach the professional tour in this game is real.  It’s a tale that’s told by the look on a face, the projection of a tone, the desperate travel plans made at the 9th hour, and the perceived desire in ones words.  This Sunday I went to a Pro Tour Qualifier in Chicago, and this time it felt different.  They always stir up familiar emotions and passions, but this particular one covered a lifetime of experiences in one very long day.  The good, the bad, the ugly; they were all there.

A few weeks ago I was talking with local grinder Louis Kaplan, and we were comparing our endless string of “almost” getting there tournaments.  And by “there” I mean that coveted blue envelope that means more than the world to many competitive Magic players.  Making the Pro Tour has been one of my biggest dreams since I was young, and while time is against me, the fire burns as bright as ever right now to try and fulfill that dream.

Last Monday I was browsing Facebook, when I noticed a notification pop up.  I clicked on it to read “Alan Hochman with Pastimes Games is hosting a $5,000 Prize PTQ in Chicago”.  I haven’t seen PTQs mixed with cash payouts before, although other players were quickly informing me that these things have been around for a while.  Regardless, this was a very reasonable reward for your time and effort if for some reason you don’t get to make a dream come true.  I shared the post with my town’s MTG group, and discussion started on who all was going.  There were a few of the regular grinders who already had it planned, along with hitting either Minneapolis or St. Louis the day before for a double-PTQ special.  Sadly all the cars were full, and most of my usual crew were in complete boycott of Pastimes after their experiences at the recent Grand Prix.

I looked in my wallet.  Heck, not even a ball of lint.  Credit Cards stretched to the brim as usual, savings tapped, bills to pay.  Brakes on the car squealing.  Just finished the tail end of a two-week long move across apartments.  Work crazy as usual.  My playtesting of Nicholas Heal’s GP Minneapolis Red Deck Wins build had been going poorly.  I’m thirty years old, and probably starting a family in the next few years, and the last thing my wife needs is another weekend where I’m running away to play a game that I’ve played since I was ten.

Those are a few of the million reasons I had not to go.  But the dream. . .

I hopped on Cockatrice.  It’s not the greatest testing tool, but it lets you put yourself through the paces of a deck easy enough and you can scour for good opponents if you’re patient.  I eventually settled into playing a few games with a guy and we started having some conversation in chat.  He was from Finland, and he was looking to play in his country’s WMCQ soon.  He was worried he wasn’t going to have enough Planeswalker Points because there was only one other big tournament in his area and it was two weeks before the WMCQ.  It was 100 miles away and there literally weren’t any other major tournaments over the course of an entire year except for these two.  This made me pull up my DCI number online to compare some things, and I clicked over on the history tab to relive some nostalgia.  My first big tournament listed was a PTQ from January, 1999.  Fifteen years ago.  My god.  FIFTEEN YEARS!  It just seemed so unreal even though I remember the days.  But more importantly, it reminded me, this isn’t “just a game”, this is a dream.  I know I’m coming across super serious in this article, but this look back hammered it home for me.  There’s no point to let all this time, effort, and passion go to waste, you have to keep battling to get what you want.  And here I’ve been given the opportunity to play in multiple high level events every single weekend.  Of course like anyone with an actual social life outside of Magic I can’t do that, but it still gives me no excuse to let chances slip through my fingers if I can make something happen.

I messaged my good friend Travis to see if he had some fetches I could borrow.  He did.  I got ahold of a few judge friends in my area who were going to be involved in the event and was able to secure a ride for Sunday.  At this point there was no turning back.  Now I just had to find a list to work with.  If you remember from my last Modern article, there were choices and I wasn’t certain what direction to go (surprise).  Every time I have to figure out my list these days, this is what I feel like:

heartattack

I thought, if anything, I kind of like what the local pros who I really respect have played or listed recently, so probably best to crowdsource them and see what feels best to me.  I messaged Jasper Johnson-Epstein and Adrian Sullivan to see where their updated Burn lists were at.  Adrian messaged me back briefly but didn’t sound terribly confident about the deck.  Jasper messaged me back an updated build and sideboard plan, and things looked good so I began to assemble the cards.  I tested online a bunch over the course of a day or two, and then at 11pm after a long afternoon of drinking with friends I got a little Facebook ding from Adrian right as I was about to hit the hay.  The gist of it was, I should play his GR Burn list because it was better positioned, had Ghor Clan, and while he still thought Burn wasn’t a good choice at the moment, it was the better list.  I respect the hell out of both of these guys after watching them ascend to greatness many times, and because they’re both excellent Red mages.  My brain was racked, so I wasn’t sure what to do and went to sleep.

My alarm went off at 5 A.M., although since it was the night before a PTQ I was already up at 4 A.M. with the hamster wheel spinning thinking about what to play.  I met up at a parking lot to catch my ride down to Chicago, and when we got to the tournament site after our two hour drive, I started working to put together Adrian’s list.  I still liked Jasper’s, and had it sleeved, but Adrian was really trying hard to convince me otherwise the night before.  Something felt unpolished about it though, and ultimately Jasper found me, sat by my table, and detailed out all the reasons why playing more creatures and Ghor Clan in this “style” of a deck was not the place I wanted to be at the moment.  Modern is currently a removal heavy format, and you just want to play along that all familiar Burn axis that they can’t defend against.  I had more experience with Jasper’s list anyway, so I crossed out the differences on my registration sheet and re-sleeved his deck.  Yes, the schizophrenia was in full fever friends.  Thankfully, I think I made the right choice (at least for that day), and I was happy playing it throughout.  Here is the list that I played:

R/W/B Burn, 56th Place, John Galli, deck design by Jasper Johnson-Epstein

Maindeck

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

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Bump in the Night
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
1 Shard Volley
4 Boros Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze

1 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Blood Crypt
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze
2 Combust
2 Volcanic Fallout
1 Spellskite
1 Stony Silence
1 Sudden Shock
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Electrickery

Sideboard Guide from Jasper (rough, from his older list so ignore cards that aren’t in the current build but I adapted it as I played):

It’s fine to cut a Mountain on the draw much of the time, but not great when bringing in three-mana spells and/or Searing Blazes.

Zoo: +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Flamebreak, -4 Goblin Guide
Affinity: +1 Electrickery, +2 Rakdos Charm, +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Stony Silence, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil, -2 Boros Charm
UR Twin: +1 Spellskite, +2 Combust, +2 Rakdos Charm, +1 Skullcrack, -2 Lightning Helix, -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Rift Bolt, -1 Rift Bolt (play)/-1 Mountain (draw)
URg Twin : +1 Spellskite, +2 Combust, +2 Rakdos Charm, +1 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil
URw Twin: +1 Spellskite, +2 Combust, +2 Rakdos Charm, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Sudden Shock, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil
UWR: +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, [+1 Flamebreak if they show Geist], -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Vexing Devil, -1 Vexing Devil (play)/-1 Mountain (draw), [-1 Vexing Devil if they show Geist] Combust isn’t usually good here, but some builds have Baneslayers and Restos along with the Colonnades, so season to taste.
Storm: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +1 Rakdos Charm, +1 Rakdos Charm (draw), -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Mountain (draw) Skullcrack isn’t great, and Fallout has some real utility if they show Empty the Warrens.
Jund: +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, -4 Vexing Devil
Blue Moon: +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Rakdos Charm (draw), -2 Lightning Helix, -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Mountain (draw)
Infect: +1 Spellskite, +1 Electrickery, +2 Rakdos Charm, +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -2 Lightning Helix, -3 Skullcrack, -2 Boros Charm, -2 Rift Bolt
Melira Pod: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +2 Rakdos Charm, +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil, -1 Lightning Helix (Electrickery?)
Kiki Pod: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +1 Rakdos Charm, +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil
Bogles: +1 Spellskite, +1 Electrickery, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Flamebreak, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -2 Vexing Devil, -2 Lightning Helix, -2 Searing Blaze
Goryo’s Vengeance: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +2 Rakdos Charm, +1 Skullcrack, -1 Lightning Helix, -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Lightning Helix (play)/-1 Mountain (draw)
Scapeshift: (my own notes since Jasper didn’t have them in by accident) +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Skullcrack, -2 Searing Blaze, – 1 Mountain (draw)

The Tournament:

The tournament site was an old standby that I had been to several times, the Odeum in Villa Park, IL.  Let’s just say this thing was not built for a Magic tournament, yet because the greater Chicago area is apparently “limited” with regards to affordable venues, it’s used over and over again by Pastimes.  I went to a Regionals there in the early 2000s, and Magic players were playing Soccer on an indoor Soccer field.  Only, this was the same indoor Soccer field that the Regionals event was also being played on.  Yeah. . . . .

It was hot in the main event room at this current PTQ.  So much so that I was literally sweating through my shirt and having trouble concentrating for a while.  Granted, I’m on the heavier side, although certainly no Boggart Ram-Gang.  But the dream. . .

Round 1 vs B/G Rock

This matchup seems to favor the Burn side, but it’s a tough deck and can go either way depending on draws.  I was playing against Greg who is a reasonable player from the Chicago area, and the games were very close.  The main thing here is that you’re faster than them, and you want to dump your initial hand as fast as you possibly can so that you can avoid them getting any value out of their Liliana once it comes down.  Scavenging Ooze and Discard are your worst enemies, followed by Obstinate Baloth and Batterskull out of the sideboard.  Thus, Skullcrack is very live, as is Sudden Shock since it kills Ooze at times before it can get out of control.  Sometimes you run out of gas, but if you don’t, they usually can’t keep up.  Vexing Devil is pretty awful here other than providing tempo, so following the Jund sideboard plan worked well for me.  Fortunately I had been casually testing this matchup with some friends before the tournament started so this was the perfect deck to line up against in Round 1.

(Win) 1-0

Round 2 vs Affinity

The Affinity matchup is absolutely nuts.  Both decks are balls to the wall and are trying to out maneuver each other.  Burn in this format definitely can’t afford to kill many creatures, so the more Searing Blaze “effects” you have, the better.  Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Vault Skirge are all major thorns in your side.  In game 1 of this match, my opponent got two Signal Pests, a Memnite, and a Vault Skirge down within the first turn or two, and I was soon backpedaling trying to deal with the Skirge before the life imbalance cleaned my clock.  Sadly killing creatures runs you out of gas and his army just kept piling on until I was very dead.  Be willing to take a lot of damage in this matchup and stay dedicated to burning them.  You only care about a few creatures, and if they have Etched Champion you’re probably in trouble.

Game 2 you get to bring in almost your entire sideboard, so that helps slow them down quite a bit.  Stony Silence shuts off all the modular madness and Cranial Plating, your sweepers gain you critical value, and you have a lot of redundancy to try and make sure your removal sticks.  Beware though, they often bring in Welding Jar or Spellskite, so you may need to save removal for these if you have enough to go around.  In fact, game 2 of this match came down to just that, as I was piling on the burn to the point where my opponent was very low, only to watch him double galvanic blast me, play a Spellskite which I was forced to respond to with a Shard Volley, and then cry as I couldn’t draw a second land again to play my lethal Skullcrack in hand over the course of the next three turns.  Also, be sure to be extremely careful with how you play out the lands in your hand; both the damage from your Shocks/Fetches and the ability to cast Searing Blazes on time are incredibly relevant.

(Loss) 1-1

Round 3 vs Burn

The burn mirror isn’t pleasant with this build because there’s really not a good sideboard plan for it and you have a lot more ways to damage yourself then they do (assuming they’re more Mono Red or strictly RW).  You have to play your lands tapped as often as possible, trust your knowledge of the archetype, and put strength in the fact that you have higher impact / a greater redundancy of  burn spells than they do.  The Burn mirror could have its own detailed article all by itself, but in this round it really came down to who was on the play.

There were a few mistakes my opponent made too, but in game 1 I won with him having lethal in hand, game 2 he did the same back to me, and game 3 I switched it up again.  I experimented a lot more than I should have with my sideboard in this match, going so far as to bring in Spellskite to neuter all of his 3/4 damage burn.  I don’t like that it’s an unaggressive card here, but the tech worked out in the game that I played it since he otherwise would have been able to kill me were I not able to reduce a lot of damage.  Eidolon is something you have to be very careful with, but it’s an absolute monster when you’re on the play or if your opponent stumbles.  It can also be a liability when you’re behind, so I’d like to hear thoughts on how others play it to get a gauge for different strategies.  Personally I feel very comfortable playing him as I’ve been jamming it in Standard for a long time now, but I see many mages backing themself into a corner.

(Win) 2-1

Round 4 vs Tron

This matchup honestly feels like it is a bye to me.  They have scary scary cards that they can play, and turn 3 Tron is absolutely a thing, but if you have a half decent hand they don’t really have much of an answer.  Wurmcoil Engine is the end game, so get your Skullcracks ready.  I won this match very quickly with little trouble at all.  Just be aggressive and know what cards are important and when they’re going for them.

It isn’t always pretty though.  I went over to watch Jasper playing against Gifts/Tron the following round, and as I come over I see chaos unfold.  In game 2 Jasper’s opponent tries to cast a Sphinx’s Revelation which gets Skullcrack’d, he then tries to Unburial Rites an Elesh Norn into play but has his graveyard exiled by Rakdos Charm, and then his opponent follows up with a Wurmcoil Engine which then leads to Jasper top-decking a Lava Spike to kill him before the Engine has a chance to attack.  Game 3 is even crazier as I see a Karn sitting on 11 counters, followed by an Oblivion Stone blowing up the world, leaving Jasper with 1 land in play and nothing else.  Jasper then proceeds to Bump in the Night his opponent twice and that was all she wrote.

(Win) 3-1

Round 5 vs Faeries

Ah, the Fae.  Any Red mage playing during Lorwyn/Shadowmoor will remember this awful menace of a deck, and its only become stronger in Modern.  Now they have access to Pack Rat, along with better counter-magic and removal.  In fact, another fellow Madison native Matt Severa made top 8 with it, and a different pilot that I don’t know was in the finals as I was leaving.  It’s the ultimate tempo deck, but fortunately for you it plays Bitterblossom which is just the absolute worst against Burn, and you have a suite of sideboard cards that are uncounterable.  These games were the most intense ones of the tournament for me, but it was a lot of fun.

Both of you are largely playing at instant speed, and Grim Lavamancer + Eidolon of the Great Revel are beasts if left unchecked.  Your spells are cheaper and have a higher impact, but they have a lot of cheap counter magic that can potentially run you out of gas.  My biggest advice here would be to make sure you sandbag your uncounterables until the very last minute, and stretch each card as far as it will go.  Your creatures are excellent diversions here, as all of them are either must kill or act as removal spells vs many of their creatures.  Also worthy of note; do not bring in Combust unless you see some insanely specific reason for it.  You want all damage cards here if possible to keep up with the pace.  The only creature Combust kills that you even lightly care about is Mistbind Clique (or the Faerie it’s championing to be correct), and if that card is coming down most of your other burn spells can respond to it, or you simply don’t care at that point in the game.  Rakdos Charm can be important too if they have access to Swords, Batterskull, or just as a finisher.

(Win) 4-1

Round 6 vs UR Twin

I found Twin to be a difficult matchup, although Jasper is confident that it is not.  As you can see from the sideboard notes, there are intricacies depending on the versions.  The hardest part about playing against any deck like this, is if you play cautiously in anticipation of the “combo”, they can just attrition you out through native means.  Game 1 I had no idea what was going on, I thought he was on UR Aggro which is seen a lot on MTGO (Delver, Pyromancer, Lavamancer), only to have him combo kill me six turns in.  Game 2 we sparred blows and I was holding Rakdos Charm for his combo, but an early Spellskite was preventing my creatures from getting through.  I held onto Charm too long (although he did have the combo in hand), and the game slipped away from me when it may have gone the other direction if I had immediately gone after Spellskite and then tried for the win the next turn.  This was also a match where I kept a sketch one lander in game 1, and it did not pan out well.  At least I didn’t feel too bad when my opponent went on to top 8, and we later had a discussion about how he too was a big grinder without a blue envelope.

(Loss) 4-2

Round 7 vs Scapeshift

They are a slower combo deck than you, and you have disruption for most of their stall tactics (Spellskite, Obstinate Baloth, Nature’s Claim, etc).  Skullcrack for their lifegain and Sudden Shock for Sakura Tribe-Elder are the keys, along with having any kind of half-decent hand.  Game 2 was pretty hilarious, I had quadruple Eidolon of the Great Revel and had to Lightning Bolt him in response to me casting the third one because I almost forgot that I would have been dead to my own Bolt otherwise.  Fortunately I caught it in time, and then he died to his unsuspending Search for Tomorrow during his upkeep before he could cast a second Obstinate Baloth.

(Win) 5-2

At this point it looked fairly clear that I would miss top 8, but top 16 was a reality.  Cash payout to 32nd.

Round 8 vs RUG Twin

A chance at revenge.  The RUG version seems a little more durdely, and for the most part I liked that he was focused on a beatdown plan moreso than the combo.  Games 1 and 2 were close, of which we split when the other person had the kill the next turn.  To be fair, in game 1 I was again stuck on another 1 land sketch keep, so that should play up the strength of Burn even more considering the battles these games were.  Game 3 I was cruising along just fine looking like things were going to be wrapped up shortly when all of a sudden a Huntmaster of the Fells hit the table.  I didn’t have ways to interact with it immediately, and as a result he unloaded a flipping fiesta of lifegain and wolves until I was buried to death by an army.  It was a new card addition that he had made between the PTQ he had attended the day before and this one.  Looks like the change paid off.

Make sure to note the sideboard differences on this one vs UR Twin.  You play more creature removal here, mostly to keep tempo, but also for corner cases like this.  I followed the board plan correctly, unfortunately I just couldn’t draw what was needed in time.

(Loss) 5-3

Round 9 vs Affinity

My opponent was really hyper this round and it was throwing me on tilt.  He had the energy of a five year old boy and was trying to make cheesy jokes from the minute we sat down.  He introduced himself as Dac Fayden and kept trying to get me to acknowledge it.  I on the other hand was incredibly drained from the day and just focusing on trying to make a little cash.  I like socializing before and during matches, but I just wasn’t prepared for his over the top excitement.  We went to three games, with a lot of similar interaction to the previous Affinity match, but ultimately he nickel and dimed me to death with Blinkmoth Nexus and tried to ask me to pick a color for his Mox Opal when I was dead on board.  Sigh.  I definitely could have had a better attitude for this match, but it just felt like the entire tournament was falling apart during it.  The grind is real. . .

(Loss) 5-4.  My opponent finished in 32nd.  I congratulated him on the cash and went to do what I do best; play Purphoros in EDH.

Switching back to a positive note, a reader and casual acquaintance from previous tournaments hung out with me over the course of the day and played a really sweet Mono Red deck to a strong finish.  The list should whet the appetite of even the least dedicated of Red mages, this thing is just pure beauty:

Koths and Bolts by Davis Merced, 11th Place at PTQ Chicago

Maindeck

4 Boros Reckoner
4 Simian Spirit Guide
1 Magus of the Moon
3 Thundermaw Hellkite

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Skred
1 Red Sun’s Zenith
2 Pyroclasm
2 Volcanic Fallout

4 Koth of the Hammer

3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Blood Moon
1 Batterskull

21 Snow Covered Mountains
2 Scrying Sheets

Sideboard
4 Combust
2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Dismember
2 Shatterstorm
1 Vandalblast
1 Pyrite Spellbomb
1 Chandra Pyromaster

He had an article feature at Grand Prix Richmond for a strong finish with the previous iteration of the deck, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in playing the archetype.  There are some weaknesses vs non-interactive decks, but otherwise this list is impressive.  Davis is a cool cat, a die hard Red Mage, and a fellow Bulls fan to boot, so I couldn’t recommend his stuff any more here.  Dropping a turn 1 Blood Moon on someone is for sure a place I’d like to be in Modern.  And if you don’t like Koth, I don’t think I can fix your problems.

The writeup can be found HERE

I know this article was a long one, but I’m sure a lot of it will resonate with my fellow grinders.  And for all of you aspiring to become better Magic players and better Red players, please keep up the fight.  Don’t give in to all the people telling you that you can’t win unless you play other decks.  Practice, practice, and practice some more.  That’s my biggest weakness despite how much time I do put into the game, but thankfully it’s always something that can be worked on.  And while you should play other decks to gain useful knowledge from the process, when it comes to tournament time I always believe you have a better chance, well as Davis put it in the writeup, when you “play what you know”.

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

M15 Red Set Review

goblinrabblemasterwallpaper

M15 Red Set Review

Ooooooh Boy, a new Magic set!  That favorite time of the year that gets everybody’s brewing senses tingling.  While a lot of people frown on core sets, Wizards has been doing a lot of work to try and make them feel more like an actual set, and M15 is the continuation of that effort.  I also now have a soft spot for the core sets after top 4’ing a PTQ during the M14 Sealed season, so I’m looking forward to what this one will provide.

Overall for Red I’m not wildly excited yet for much of the set, I think there’s a good amount of value overall throughout the pool of cards but Red doesn’t seemed to have gained much specifically for Standard.  It’s early though, and cards tend to emerge as contenders only after being put through a lot of hard testing.  I’m glad to see a lot of needed reprints, like Lightning Strike, Chandra, and Foundry Street Denizen, as these are all critical to their respective builds.

Enough build up though, lets dive into the cards.  I’ll be reviewing most of the ones I think are worth talking about or are not recent reprints, so enjoy!

M15 Red Cards

soulofshandalar

So, Wizards of the Coast made the Titan Cycle, which was wildly popular but also wildly overpowered.  The cards dominated Standard deckbuilding for a long time, generated bans in EDH, and even saw some light Eternal play.  Soul of Shandalar is part of the new “fixed” versions, and honestly I’m not really sure what to think.  Initial thought (and even mostly today) is that this card seems casual.  I’ve seen some scary ramp decks in online playtesting, and if anything that’s where it looks like it could potentially find a home.  I tested some builds based off of the old RG Valakut lists, and while the Avatars “worked” they weren’t mind blowing.  The biggest reason the Titans were so good was that they had an Enter-The-Battlefield trigger.  That doesn’t require the creature to live to get value out of it, and they still provided repeatability like these do.  Granted, you can use the exile ability on these cards if they do get removed right away, but at six mana to cast and five mana to use the ability, that’s a lot to ask!

There’s also the other issue of what deck wants this and what ramp cards are available.  In the days of Valakut Standard, we had Solemn Simulacrum (aptly nicknamed SpeedBump), Cultivate, Khalni Heart Expedition, Rampant Growth, Explore, Green Sun’s Zenith, and Summoning Trap.  That’s a ton of fantastic options, none of which we have today and no comparisons in sight.  Nykthos would be the easiest shell to work with, but that restricts you somewhat on which Avatars you can use and also is a six drop for a deck that wasn’t really asking for one nor played one before.  Why would I want this card when I could be casting Stormbreath Dragon and then monstrosing it.  Soul of Shandalar furthermore doesn’t have evasion, which is a required feature for a six drop in my book most of the time.

I would love to hear more discussion on this card, because like every other Red player I hold out an extended hand of hope that someone smarter than me makes this a thing.  It’s just going to be a really uphill battle. . .

altacbloodseeker

Altac Bloodseeker is a sleeper.  Think about what enables this card, and think about the deck it’s going to be in.  He is a perfect fit for a Mono Red Aggro deck, and typically in that style of deck you are going to be killing their creatures.  While he’s just a grizzly bear against Control, he’s an essential race tool against any other creature based deck.  His +2/+0 first strike ability will ensure that he goes unblocked or kills something else, and if they only had one creature in the way that could block to begin with he’s 4 damage for 2 mana.  While the haste ability seems irrelevant, it’s actually important here in my opinion.  There will be many situations where you play this guy alongside of a Shock or a Lightning Strike and then his power truly shines.  The only drawbacks for him (besides the Control issue mentioned) is that he isn’t great for devotion and he has a lot of competition.  But M15 will be around for a long time, so when rotation hits or potentially even before, this guy should be on your shortlist of playtest consideration.  Ash Zealot is also rotating soon, and this guy fits even easier into say a R/G shell with Ghor-Clan Rampager. . .

belligerentsliver

While I’d love Standard to have a competitive Slivers deck, I think it’s going to be an extreme longshot.  That said, M15 brought a lot to the table and there is small buzzing amongst Pros in the game.  I absolutely love the effect this particular Sliver has; it’s easily my favorite Red ability.  Pyreheart Wolf was by far one of my favorite Red cards of all time, and this guy knocks on that same door.  At the very least, the new Slivers should provide EDH decks with a boost and possibly Legacy.

crowdsfavor

A free card (essentially) is never something I’ll just pass on when considering options, but the playability here is highly questionable.  I can’t see a deck in mind that wants this, aside from being a cute combat trick in limited.  Even there, this card is a bit narrow.  I like that it will exist, but I can’t see myself putting it into anything, even a Tom Ross style Boss Sligh deck.

frenziedgoblin

This is a worthwhile reprint that will add some great flexibility to Red Aggro decks.  The “can’t block” clause is one of the most important there is in a world of large monsters, and paying R for it is completely reasonable.  It’s also one more effect of this kind in a format with multiple efficient ways of doing the same thing, so I like that it’s here again.  It sits appropriately on the curve, since all the other “can’t block” cards at 1CC are non-creatures and it’s a Goblin which gives one more thing to that archetype if it comes to life.  I don’t like that it’s only a 1/1 when there are so many great 2 power creatures for one mana in this format, but I strongly believe this will have a few homes.

hammerhand

Hammerhand actually seems pretty awesome for a Heroic deck, and while it has competition from Blinding Flare, I think it’s the better of the two most of the time.  Blinding Flare is often only needed without Strive, although there are occasions where that option becomes a blowout, but Hammerhand’s pump and haste enabler clause give it a lot more mileage.  I’m thinking this is one of those cards you want to play as a “miser” but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was jammed more heavily in the right deck.  I think this is one that benefits greatly from playtesting to see how powerful it is, with the main drawback being that like any enchantment it can lead to removal 2-for-1s.  Still, sweet card is sweet.

kurkeshonakkeancient

HOLY BUSTIDO BATMAN!  This card is ripe for some crazytown, that is for sure.  I think he might be very quiet in Standard, but boy howdy does this look saucy for EDH and Eternal.  Lets look at some possible combinations here:  Trading Post, AEther Vial, Mimic Vat, Brittle Eiffigy, Contagion Engine, Burnished Hart, Planar Portal, etc.  That’s not even that good yet nor scratching the surface, this guy is begging to be abused.  He’s also just a really cool build around General.  I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of infinite combos lurking, or even valuetown stuff like Basalt Monolith‘s untap ability.  This is certainly a card I can get behind.

actonimpulse

This card should see play, if even only as a 1 or 2-of.  Wizards has been pushing this effect, and as we’ve seen from Chandra and Prophetic Flamespeaker it’s a useable one across multiple formats.  I don’t think Act on Impulse is a huge contender for Standard, although Burn was playing Wild Guess for a while and this seems like a strict upgrade.  Needing to find a high-impact burn spell to finish someone off in combination with this card is perfectly reasonable.  Granted, Burn doesn’t get to five mana terribly often, but situations will come up, and this allows you to play a land to help out its cause.

What’s more interesting is the way to look at the card and also its Eternal applications.  Essentially, this card in a lot of situations is saying 2R:  Draw Three Cards.  Red doesn’t really have a comparison, and there’s a lot of interesting situations I could see being created as a result.  Lets look simply at Legacy Burn even though I don’t think it’s the best example.  Legacy Burn plays Sulfuric Vortex (admittedly one of the best cards and a reason to play a 3CC spell when you otherwise wouldn’t), but for the sake of example lets just say you were playing Act on Impulse alongside of it.  You cast Act on Impulse.  You play a land with it.  You Fireblast your opponent by sacking two mountains, and you cast a Lightning Bolt.  That’s pretty nuts, and actually looks like a competitive closer in “some” amount of games.  What’s one of the ways Burn tends to lose in Legacy outside of strict hosers?  It runs out of cards.  I want to try this as a 1 or 2 of, and I’m curious to hear others thoughts on it.  There’s something intangible about this card that asks us as a community to try and push it and see what happens.  With that concept in mind, I think there’s some combo deck applications here as well, as this card seems like it could go bananas in Storm or something similar.  And I can already imagine that the foil version is going to be insane, at least if they make the goggles part foil.

generatorservant

M15 appears to be the set for “abuse” and Generator Servant is no exception.  A lot of people will do the terrible, casual dismissal of “well, it dies to removal” or “yeah but it’s a one-time use spell” but this guy has some serious implications.  Imagine playing a Stormbreath Dragon on turn 3.  How about even the new Soul of Shandalar on turn 3 or 4 with haste (with Elvish Mystic in combination).  Or my Standard sleeper pick Scuttling Doom Engine which would just be unreal if they don’t have an exile spell to deal with it.  Get your foil playset now. . .

borderlandmarauder

I’m only including Borderland Marauder in this article because it’s somewhat comparable to Gore-House Chainwalker, and as a result I think it’s worth a mention.  While the current Standard format is not asking for this card, there may be a point where a cheap Red deck needs this sort of thing.  Post rotation, if we’re left with limited options in Aggro, she’s not the worst.  She’s also a Human Warrior, two sub-types that are relevant to a lot of cards.

broodkeeper1

Brood Keeper isn’t anything to write home about, but she looks really fun for EDH decks built around an enchantress theme and also appears to be a possible Limited bomb.  Free creatures that have flying and firebreathing is nothing to sneeze at in Limited, and this set includes many solid auras in Red alone.  Very cool mechanic, and not one traditionally put in Red.

stoketheflames

While I personally didn’t play much when “Convoke” was in Standard, this card looks powerful to me.  I’ve already seen some Pros writing about it positively, and this is a replacement for Mizzium Mortars in a lot of decks not to mention just being better than it a lot of the time.  The fact that it can go to the face is huge, and while you don’t want to be tapping your creatures for other purposes in an Aggro deck, this is a card that answers some of the bigger problems they have.  It’s also solid redundancy with Mizzium Mortars if you need more of this type of effect, and it potentially gives Standard Burn another weapon.  There’s the situations where you play it alongside of some creatures as well, and the the drawback doesn’t feel nearly as bad.  And lastly, it can at times be played completely for free, which just feels bonkers.  Can you imagine being stalled on board and tapping 4 mana for a Warleader’s Helix and also tapping 4 of your creatures to cast Stoke the Flames?  Sign me up.

kirdchieftain

I’m really mad at this guy right now.  It’s probably blinding me a little bit, but as many of my readers know I announced on Facebook that Kird Ape was returning, and then we got Chieftain instead.  I had read on what I thought was a reliable Twitter feed that a Kird Ape reprint had been confirmed, and had saw someone else mention that there was an official WOTC page talking about it.  Turns out all of this was bunk, and instead we get this 4-mana low-life.  Hoo Boy was I disappointed (along with the rest of my internet circle).

BUT, I don’t think he’s unplayable.  Red needs a little more from a 4-drop, but there’s a sense to me that there will be a build in which he can be the four drop, mainly because his ability is quite powerful.  He could even just be a 1-of and still make an impact, since he provides you with an out to stalls and situations where you’re outclassed.  I’m not ruling this guy out just yet.

aggressivemining

My thoughts regarding Aggressive Mining are almost exactly the same as Adrian Sullivan’s from his article HERE.  It’s a card that looks like a very fine addition to Red, but the drawback is one that potentially could make it hard to use in many situations.  I think this card will largely be an anti-Control sideboard card or a combo breaker of sorts in decks that don’t need lands after a certain point.  It actually reminds me a lot of Burning Earth because it’s functionally filling a similar role, has the same casting cost, and has drawbacks as well.  I think it’s worth picking this card up, as I can’t imagine that it will go untouched.  If it doesn’t see play in one format, it certainly will in another.

paragonoffiercedefiance

This cycle of cards is quite intriguing.  While I’m surprised it doesn’t cost three mana like many of the other “Lord” cards in Magic, it looks like there’s something useful here.  These days, many Aggro decks don’t need a Crusade-effect as they’re just looking for active-use cards, but whenever a Crusade-effect is on a stick (creature), it’s worth taking note.  This guy is about as lackluster (a little more-so) as Fanatic of Mogis is against Control, but he’s also capable of a similar level of blowouts (despite the lack of reach).  I wish I had a list for you readers playtested and ready to go with regards to him, but I don’t just quite yet.  The biggest thing I can say at the moment is to actually try this guy in your Aggro deck, because something tells me he deserves to see play immediately.  Could be quite the pair with Hall of Triumph too. . .

goblinrabblemasterpromo

Of all the cards in M15, this is the one I’ve been playtesting with the most, and he’s very strong.  I don’t know what home is the de-facto best one yet and my lists are very rough even at this point but I know he’s going to get play.  The easiest comparison card is one that is still a Legacy staple, Goblin Piledriver.  Anyone who’s played Legacy Goblins can tell you that Piledriver is an essential piece to the deck, and a large part if not the key part in its early turn wins.  Rabblemaster loses Protection from Blue, has less of a power bonus, and costs one more mana, which are all incredibly important in Legacy, but this doesn’t mean he isn’t playable there and those points are far less relevant in Standard/Modern.  He also has the ability to create a free creature a turn, and from playtesting I can tell you first hand that this ability is incredible.  Combining Goblin Assault with Goblin Piledriver for the essentially the same mana is the Bees Knees, and I’m eagerly waiting to pop this guy into my Purphoros EDH deck.  In Standard and Modern, IF there are enough Goblins and supporters to make it work, he could be the defining card that glues it all together.  So far in playtesting, if my opponent didn’t kill him with removal or counter him, they typically lost.  Easily the card I’m most excited for from M15.

burninganger1

To me this card is looking at EDH and Limited.  In both of those areas, we’re talking about a powerful effect that is heightened by the fact that it gives the ability to the creature meaning that you don’t have to wait a turn to use it.  Typically in EDH these kind of Red cards have been powerful (at least when my buddies and I play “fun” Multiplayer), and if you put this on a hexproof or indestructible guy. . . GEEZUUUUS.  Seems like it could be super busted with cards like Kiora’s Follower too, I can only imagine the impending Rage-Quits.  Oh, and don’t forget about Infect. . .

infernofist

The last card I’m going to talk about today is Inferno Fist.  It appeared to get the most buzz during the spoiler season, and ultimately came out a little different once the final version was unleashed on the internet.  There are shells where this card can see play, Heroic seeming to be the most likely.  Overall it may just be a great card in general since once you get to more than 2 mana you can gain more value than the card is worth most of the time.  The biggest problems are that since the final version doesn’t boost toughness this card doesn’t save any creatures or allow them to leapfrog your opponents creatures, and it’s an enchantment so it’s vulnerable to 2-for-1s just like any other.  Madcap Skills set the bar for what risky enchantments you’re willing to play with in your competitive deck, and its made playable enchantments a hard nut to crack as a result.  I believe Inferno Fist passes the test because the second ability gives it reach and removal, the two all-important holy grails of Red Aggro.  Like some of the cards mentioned before, get your foil playsets of this one :).

I’ll now leave you with some playtesting images to whet your appetite:

gobbos

dragons

I’ll be at Mox Mania in Madison, WI for the midnight release, looking forward to an exciting new Sealed format. Hope to see some of you there and good luck wherever you are!

Thank you again for reading, and as always, keep tapping those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Tapping Mountains In Modern

bloodmoon

Tapping Mountains In Modern

Welcome back.  Usually on my website I’m talking about Standard, but today I’d like to focus on Modern.  I originally wasn’t planning on playing in this PTQ season, or if so it would most likely have been with a non-Red archetype, but some developments caught my attention.  A few days ago I decided to take the plunge and purchased most of the remaining cards I needed for the decks I’ve looked at, and have begun testing.

My experience prior with Modern was during the last Pro Tour Qualifying season where it was a format.  At that time I was playing Jund, and I competed in three PTQs with it.  I used to be a big Jund player before and around when I played Red Deck Wins, and at the time I felt Red was just a tough color to be competitive with in the format.  Modern and Legacy both have quicker clocks that you need to apply to either kill your opponent or deal with whatever unfair things they are doing, and additionally some decks are doing things that you simply can’t overcome or deal with based on the available card pool.  That’s not to say you can’t win games, even against these tough matchups, but the ability to go through a long tournament unscathed and come out on top is pretty low.  And with respect to Red in Modern, the one successful deck I had seen was R/W/B Burn, a port of a Legacy deck that exemplified those troubles.  At least in its case, the addition of other colors was a sign that people were starting to understand that you need more firepower.  You didn’t have to change up the deck’s design dynamically, you simply needed access to a few more cards to raise the overall power level as well as some off-color sideboard options that let your red deck “cheat”.  Specifically, cards like these-

bumpinthenightdeathriteshamanlightninghelixrakdoscharmstonysilence

Bump in the Night lets you add another Lightning Bolt to the deck and as a result your clock improves (there’s also the occasional games where it flashes back).  Deathrite Shaman (now banned) adds another Grim Lavamancer to the deck who also has the ability to eat your opponents cards, tame Tarmogoyf, and if you’re running a small green splash; win races.  Lightning Helix is another great card in a race, along with giving the deck yet another efficient removal spell.  Rakdos Charm adds an otherwise inaccessible ability to fight Twin and Kiki-Pod (even though there are occasions to play around it), doubles as affinity hate, and wipes yards against the decks that the first ability is relevant against.  Lastly, Stony Silence gives you a great flexible card against the format, with Pod, Tron, and Affinity specifically in mind.

It’s not just these cards though, there were many variations of Burn out there that employed these basic principals.  I personally like a deck that has a little more “game” to it (in the sense of creatures and enchantments), but I will admit that multi-colored Burn looked far more appealing than straight-red which seemed basically unplayable.

Still, it wasn’t enough for me.  For those of you who like this kind of strategy, a local friend of mine did rather well with the deck at the Pro Tour.  After talking with him recently, he said he’d most likely add Eidolons as well as some other small changes (Anger of the Gods?), but here was his list from PT:

R/B/W Burn
A Modern Magic deck, by Jasper Johnson-Epstein
45th place at the Pro Tour in Valencia, Spain on 2014-02-23

Maindeck:

Creatures
4 Goblin Guide
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Vexing Devil

Instants
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Lightning Helix
2 Searing Blaze
1 Shard Volley
3 Skullcrack

Sorceries
4 Bump in the Night
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt

Basic Snow Lands
3 Snow-Covered Mountain

Lands
4 Arid Mesa
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
1 Marsh Flats
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn

Sideboard:
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Spellskite
1 Stony Silence
2 Combust
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Searing Blaze
1 Skullcrack
1 Sudden Shock
2 Volcanic Fallout
2 Flamebreak

Jasper went 7-2 in the constructed portion of the PT, so his list is a force to be reckoned with, that much is for sure.  He’s played variants of it before and consistently done well, so if this style is your flavor then by all means have at it.  For those of you with more beatdown roots in mind, I think you’ll find the next two lists a bit more interesting.

Red Deck Wins

Nicholas Heal was the first to fully break the mold in Modern for this archetype that we all love, and I think it’s best to start out by showing you his deck tech and list which he illustrates beautifully-

Red Deck Wins
A Modern Magic deck, by Nicholas Heal
98th place at a tournament in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States on 2014-05-10

Maindeck:

Artifacts
2 Shrine of Burning Rage

Creatures
4 Goblin Guide
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Vexing Devil

Enchantment Creatures
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Instants
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Searing Blaze

Sorceries
2 Forked Bolt
4 Molten Rain
4 Rift Bolt

Basic Lands
11 Mountain

Lands
4 Arid Mesa
1 Keldon Megaliths
4 Scalding Tarn

Sideboard:
2 Dragon’s Claw
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Blood Moon
2 Dismember
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Shattering Spree

In the short amount of time I’ve had playtesting his list, the results have been very promising.  As he discusses in his deck tech, every card was very well thought out.  This deck has all the elements of a great aggro deck, and it specifically punishes the current Modern format.  He went 8-1 on day 1 of the Grand Prix, and there’s not a lot here so far that I would change.  I’m not 100% sold on Mogg Fanatic or the sideboard, but as I get more of a chance to test I should be able to get another article up with the direction I think it should go.  For now, if there was a big Modern tournament tomorrow and I had all the cards for this, I would dive in without looking back.

But like I said, “If I had the cards for this”.

Let’s be real, Modern is very expensive.  While I used to own all of these cards in the past, I’ve had to sell my collection many times to pay for real life responsibilities.  I bought the core pieces, but then looking at TCG Player to assess how much of a hit the fetchlands would be, I was presented with a very real conundrum.  4 Arid Mesas and 4 Scalding Tarn are:

$411.92

Thankfully Madison has a large and friendly Magic community, so I can usually borrow if I need to, but for me part of my love for the game is owning the cards that I thrash my opponent with.  This reality is becoming less realistic as time goes on, but especially for a Red player, it’s a matter of pride that isn’t easily discarded.  I like it when I beat your $2,000 deck with my pile of commons.  There’s a real satisfaction there.  Especially when it’s done with “skill”, something which many non-Red players disregard.

So I liked his list, and I probably will somehow find a way to get the cards, but until then there is also another option.  Everyone’s current Red Mage Hero, Tom “The Boss” Ross posted an article on Starcitygames HERE.  This is the decklist he shared which he top 8’d a Modern tournament with-

Boss Sligh
Featured by Tom Ross on 0000-00-00 (Modern)

Maindeck:

Creatures
4 Ash Zealot
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Goblin Guide
1 Grim Lavamancer
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Vexing Devil

Enchantment Creatures
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Instants
4 Brute Force
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Titan’s Strength

Sorceries
1 Forked Bolt

Basic Lands
18 Mountain

Sideboard:
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Relic of Progenitus
1 Blood Moon
1 Dismember
1 Gut Shot
2 Skullcrack
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Forked Bolt
2 Shattering Spree

This has many of the elements that Nicholas’s list has, except there is a reduced land count to account for the lack of fetch-land filtering, and the sideboard isn’t quite as robust.  It’s still a very powerful list if you simply want to sit down at a Modern tournament and play and have an OK chance of success.  I also haven’t fully tested this, like Nicholas’s list, but in early testing one of the big things that stuck out to me was that Brute Force probably needs to be replaced.  It doesn’t protect your creatures from many of the removal spells in the format, and it’s creature dependent, so at this point it should probably just be Rift Bolt or something similar.  I’m also not sure I’m wild about the creature suite, but it has more of an aggro feel which is always nice.  The problem is that the format can deal with aggro easier than it can deal with Burn, so a mix towards the latter end is probably a necessity.  Blood Moon most likely needs an increase in the sideboard despite being an expensive card, as it’s just a beating to many decks, especially combo decks which are aggro’s main weakness in Modern.  Nicholas also runs Molten Rain which was a format all-star for me when I ran Jund and is one of the best ways to bring some pain to UWR which is an otherwise difficult matchup.  Being able to mess with their lands is something traditional Red Deck Wins was based on, and killing manlands like Celestial Collonade is important to keeping them from advancing their late game.  On a final note, many Burn spells are more efficient than creatures, so you need to keep that in mind when making adjustments because you still want to be able to race the fastest decks in the format.  Modern and Legacy are so much more a battle of “regularly competing for the average turn kill” than Standard, and I feel like this point is often lost when people begin the brewing process.  If you can’t kill them fast enough, you need to be able to disrupt, so both these elements are the hyper-critical areas of focus for RDW.

Where I’m At In Standard

I haven’t been ignoring Standard completely with my recent attention towards Modern.  In fact, I’ve been succeeding well on the local level.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous articles, there are win-a-box tournaments every week in my hometown and the competition tends to be very good.  Often times many of us joke that we’ll do exceptionally well at a big tournament only to return back to our shop and go 2-2.  Part of that is variance and metagame differences, but another large part of it is the level of play here in Madison.  A few months ago another shop in our town started doing their own win-a-boxes, so we now have two that occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Pay $10, bring your Standard deck, and battle for a chance at some sweet prize booty.

Well in the last two weeks, I’ve attended three of the win-a-boxes and split the box each time.  That hasn’t ever happened before for me (I’ve won the box maybe 4-5 times in the last year), and while some of it is good fortune or play mistakes here and there, there’s still something to be said for a solid list.  I also tend to see-saw with my 75, but for all three of these the list has remained the same.  Here is what I won with, and what I will most likely be playing again tonight:

Mono Red by John Galli (Red Deck Winning)
1st Place, Mox Mania and Misty Mountain Win-A-Boxes (11-0-1 in tournament play so far), 07-01-14

Maindeck

4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis

4 Lightning Strike
3 Magma Jet

1 Mutavault
20 Mountain

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

This list is pretty similar to what I posted in my last article, with the notable change being Magma Jet taking over the remaining Burn slots.  I think that in Game 1 you just want to have no dead cards and something that filters you a bit better, so Jet seemed to be working out best with respect to this.  Postboard, Blood is obviously a lot better against Aggro and Mono Blue, as well as occasionally filling partial roles against other archetypes.  Here is the sideboard plan I’ve roughly been adhering to:

Sideboarding

Vs Mono Black:

On the Play:  – 3 Magma Jet, -4 Boros Reckoner // +4 Searing Blood, +2 Harness by Force, +1 Mizzium Mortars (also feel free to split the Mortars and Blood more evenly, but you want to be aggressive on life totals.  Magma Jet can stay over a few Fanatics too if you prefer to have that kind of gas vs alpha swing, especially if they are heavy on removal of the right types)

On the Draw:  -1 Magma Jet, -4 Fanatic of Mogis, -4 Boros Reckoner, -1 Mountain // +4 Mizzium Mortars, +4 Searing Blood, +2 Harness by Force

Vs Monsters / Midrange:

-3 Magma Jet, -1 Chandra’s Phoenix, -4 Lightning Strike // +4 Searing Blood, +4 Mizzium Mortars

(Feel free to use Harness if you don’t expect a lot of small drops that could chump block.  These decks can sometimes bring in little creatures or just have some main depending on build, I prefer to capitalize on this with Searing Blood.  Mortars is so critical to getting in those first few turns, that really the main troublesome cards are sweepers and Polukranos that hopefully Firefist Striker is putting in some work on, or Blood in combination with another spell or creature) (against a deck like Junk with lots of top end 5cc lifegain creatures, bringing in Skullcrack for your higher end cards is fine with me too)

Vs Aggro Mirror

-3 Magma Jet, -4 Firedrinker Satyr // +4 Searing Blood, +3 Mizzium Mortars

Vs Mono Blue Devotion

– 4 Boros Reckoner, -1 Chandra’s Phoenix or Firefist Striker, -3 Magma Jet // +4 Mizzium Mortars, +4 Searing Blood

Vs UW Control

On the Play:  -4 Lightning Strike, -1 Boros Reckoner // +4 Skullcrack, +1 Toil / Trouble

On the Draw:  -4 Fanatic of Mogis, -1 Mountain // +4 Skullcrack, +1 Toil / Trouble

There are other choices for Red Aggro out there at the moment, but I feel this list balances the best against the format.  You have some longevity, and you have just enough speed to punish the decks that can’t keep up.  I’d easily recommend it going forward, and feel free to adjust a few numbers based on your Meta.

Thank you again for reading, and as always, keep tapping those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Paint The World Red

dragonmantlewallpaper

Paint The World Red

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

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

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

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

Maindeck

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

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

Lands (17)
17 Mountain

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

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

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

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

Maindeck

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

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

Lands (21)
19 Mountain
2 Mutavault

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

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

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

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

fanatique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maindeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maindeck

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

Planeswalkers (2)
2 Chandra, Pyromaster

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

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

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

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

Maindeck

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

Planeswalkers (1)
1 Chandra, Pyromaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Forward and Making the Right Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sideboarding and the Future

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

Jund Monsters

-4 Lightning Strike,  -2 Jet

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

RW Burn

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

+3 Blood, +4 Skullcrack, +2 Toil

Control

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

+4 Skullcrack, +2 Toil

Black Devotion

-2 Jet, -2 Strike

+2 Blood, +2 Mortars

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

Aggro Mirrors

-2 Jet, -X Firedrinker

+3 Blood, + X Mortars

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

Mono Blue Devotion

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

+4 Mortars, +3 Blood

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

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

goblinrabblemasterinfernofistparagonoffiercedefiance

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

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

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

– Red Deck Winning