Thinking Differently With Red By Davis Merced

Thinking Differently With Red by Davis Merced

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

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

DECK ONE:

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

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

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Atarka’s Command
4 Mutagenic Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

DECK TWO: 

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

Patrick vs Gabriel Video Coverage

Patrick Chapin’s Decklist

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

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

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

4 Fungal Reaches
4 Molten Slagheap
4 Spinerock Knoll
12 Mountain

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

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

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

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

1 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Bogardan Hellkite
1 Dragonlord Kolaghan

4 Fungal Reaches
4 Molten Slagheap
4 Spinerock Knoll
12 Mountain

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

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

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

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

On to the next one.

DECK THREE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning (Davis Merced)

Lighting Up Grand Prix Louisville

Lighting Up Grand Prix Louisville

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

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

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

Here was the list that I played:

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

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

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

3 Sulfuric Vortex

3 Arid Mesa
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
9 Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Mox Testing Tournament

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

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

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

The Grand Prix

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

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

Round 1 & 2:  Bye.  That was easy.

Round 3:  BUG Delver

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

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

3-0

Round 4:  Dredge

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

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

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

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

4-0

Round 5:  Sneak & Show

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

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

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

4-1

Round 6:   Shardless BUG

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

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

4-2

Round 7:  Reanimator

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

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

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

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

5-2

Round 8:  Bant Stoneblade / Deathblade

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

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

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

5-3

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

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

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

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

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

6-3

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

Day 2

Round 10:  Goblin Stompy

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

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

7-3

Round 11:  Painter’s Servant

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

8-3

Round 12:  Infect

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

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

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

9-3

Round 13:  Shardless BUG

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

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

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

10-3

Round 14:  UR Delver (Emma Handy)

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

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

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

11-3

Round 15:  Shardless Alluren (Pascal Maynard)

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

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

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

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

I draw my opening seven.

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

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

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

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains

– Red Deck Winning

Props:

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

Slops:

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

 

Being The Small Fish In A Big Legacy Pond

priceofprogresswallpaper

Being The Small Fish In A Big Legacy Pond

Legacy is a vast format with a small percentage of the same decks putting up consistent results.  Every once in a while, an established archetype from years ago will pop up in the Top 16, or have some resurgent success based on metagame changes and card releases.  But these are usually blips on the radar, so when brainstorming (no pun intended) for a tournament it’s very important to not get too cute with your choices.

Burn in Legacy occupies a space that, as usual for Red in most formats, is often misunderstood.  It’s easy to look at a typical Burn list and make some strong criticisms when surveying the rest of the format.  Some of the most common ones you’ll hear:

  • Why are you playing a budget deck and limiting yourself to one color when you have access to just about anything in Magic?
  • How do you expect to beat decks with cards or strategies that are considered superior by most of the community in Force of Will, Brainstorm, Delver of Secrets, Stoneforge Mystic, Combo, etc?
  • How are you able to address bad matchups with such a limited card selection available to you?

The first question won’t have an answer that is satisfactory for most, but it will be understandable to those who have attachments to things.  Some people just like setting fires, they like the passion, they like being the aggressor.  Burn occupies all of those things, and this is the most pure Burn deck you can basically play in a tournament.

But furthermore, I believe that Burn is a fully Tier 1 Legacy deck and not the Tier 1.5 that many mages might try to stray you on.  You won’t see as many high finishes because of how narrow it is and the questions above that it presents, but finishes are not the only thing that equate to performance.  Burn is an incredibly difficult deck to master, and most pilots are either inexperienced or not willing to put in the time to make tough choices second nature (or to understand its roles in the Metagame).  A few pilots have taken time to do this, and have won or Top 8’d events as a result.  With the increasing popularity of Modern Burn, I imagine a few more will crossover into Legacy as well in a matter of time.

I think the biggest difference in Legacy over any other format, especially in regards to Burn, is that mistakes are often punished with a game loss.  While playing tight is important no matter what kind of Magic you’re doing, it’s emphasized here because you are playing against an even quicker clock and a format where cards like Brainstorm and free spells will make sure that punishment is dealt every time.  Legacy is all about little moments; places in a game where the slightest variance in sequencing or the ever so incorrect board choice makes all the difference.

In response to the second question, I expect to beat the rest of this stacked field because our deck is (like Burn in other formats) attacking from a specific angle that most decks aren’t naturally prepared to beat.  You are not interested in their gameplan or the life of your creatures, you are simply interested in bringing them from 20 to 0 as fast as possible.  While your opponents gets cards that help them filter to their most important pieces or consistently “go off” on a given turn, you get cards that make your clock either on par to theirs or “break” the game by doing something completely outside of the normal means of combat.  For example, THESE cards:

sulfuricvortexpriceofprogressfireblast

Sulfuric Vortex is the biggest temptation for playing Legacy Burn.  While it hasn’t always made the 75 depending on what the metagame is doing, it’s usually a key piece and one that you both don’t get to play in other formats and can’t play in most other decks.  There’s nothing more satisfying then slamming this against a Miracles player and knowing the fear you are putting into them as they realize the clock just got a whole lot more consistent, quicker, and their hopes put on a card or two in their deck.  Besides having a repeatable burn source, you take away lifegain which the majority of decks are not prepared to deal with in Game 1.  The matchups where Stoneforge Mystic was going to fetch up a trusty Jitte or Batterskull now face the same difficulties as the Miracles player.  Council’s Judgment or bust, Sucka!

Price of Progress baffles some newer players to Legacy because while they know people play duals and other non-basics, they don’t realize the damage potential and they feel like it’s too much of a liability when the card is dead.  It’s important to get past this belief, as Price of Progress is rarely dead (outside of a Mirror), and in many matches the damage can often reach over half your opponent’s starting life total.  The bigger issue is that your opponent can play around it, but most decks can only do that to a certain extent, and often players will forget about it or have no choice but to extend into it.  It’s a crucial card, and one of the cogs that can keep you in the driver’s seat against a deck that is potentially much faster than you.

Fireblast is one of the most satisfying Red cards in all of Magic, because much like Force of Will your opponent can never feel safe.  Even when tapped out and exhausting your hand of Burn spells and their responses, you could always just “have it”.  And that’s ignoring the pure efficiency of 0 mana for 4 damage which you can’t touch with anything else.

To answer the third question, your sideboard must be educated and focused, and that is all dependent on your knowledge of the format, metagame, and the accuracy of your predictions.  Legacy does have some very lopsided matchups, so sometimes Burn can just be a big dog in the format, but usually there is enough variance that you can dodge the bad ones or accept a loss that you know you couldn’t get out of.  That said, if your list is tuned correctly, you shouldn’t have anything that is strictly unwinnable.  The worst decks are by far the “other” combo decks (Belcher, Storm, Reanimator, Dredge, Sneak & Show, etc) because like you they are playing only their game and are too fast for you to beat on an optimal draw straight-up.  So what becomes more challenging, is deciding if you want to abandon a matchup post-board or decrease your winning percentage against “the field”.

What helps this decision a bit is that Burn is often not a very popular archetype at big tournaments, and as such, the other pillars of the format have their say in what fringe archetypes can or cannot see the light of day.  Miracles, Delver, and D&T (Death & Taxes) can be oppressive enough that if they catch a wave of success at tournaments, some of the ones you’re worried about may disappear altogether.  Even some of the primary staples can be ushered out in this manner, as we’ve recently seen with D&T.  This very move itself has allowed me to shave on cards in my Legacy Burn list and focus more on other areas.  Many people consider D&T to be a bye for Burn, but I know from playing against some of the better pilots in the country that it is a very close match if they have experience with it.

So What Is Our Metagame?

There isn’t a 100% answer to this, and the problem is more difficult to assess in Legacy due to card prices / availability and regional preference.  In a large tournament though, you can at least count on the pillars to show up, with a bigger percentage being decks that have had success the last few weeks or benefited from new card releases.  I usually start by looking at the last two months of StarCityGames Opens and Premier IQs, Grand Prixes, and European results.

More often than not, Reanimator and Dredge are not worth bothering with.  Both decks basically require dedicated graveyard hate, and you rarely have the sideboard room to draw anything reliably that you would put there.  You usually have to get that sideboard card in hand or on the board within the first turn or two, and that’s asking a lot.  Cards like Surgical Extraction, Faerie Macabre, Leyline of the Void, Mogg Fanatic (for Dredge’s Bridge From Below), Grafdigger’s Cage, Tormod’s Crypt, or Relic of Progenitus are the go-tos, and they’re not applicable against 90% of the rest of the decks.  I’ve seen Burn players try and bring in things like Relic against Maverick (to counter Knight) or Snapcaster/Goyf decks, but you’re costing yourself a Burn spell / Creature and it only gets worse as time goes on.  Sure, if you draw it early and your opponent is reliant on those certain pieces to win, it can be effective, but most of the time you’re drawing it too late for it to matter when it could have been that last bolt to the head.  Cards like Leyline are mulligan or bust, and I’d rather just capitalize more on what makes Burn good (its consistency).

The cards that see the most fluctuation in my board are the following:

searingblazemindbreaktrapensnaringbridgegrimlavamancerpyroblast

Searing Blaze and Grim Lavamancer are both fantastic against the creature-heavy decks or anything that presents a decent amount of targets.  These are the spells that up your percentages from 50/50s and 55/45s against decks like D&T, Maverick, Elves, Delver, Shardless, etc.  It’s much better against the non-blue aggro decks because they tend to run more creatures (and it can’t be countered), so keep that in mind when deciding how many you want to include.  Many Burn players were maindecking Blaze in the recent metagame which just baffles me.  It’s a dead card against so many decks, decks where you preciously need that extra damage, and it’s not as amazing against stuff like Delver as some give credit for.  A two mana conditional spell is a lot in Legacy, especially when those blue-aggro matches often hinge on playing around Daze and Spell Pierce.  Grim Lavamancer fares a little bit better, but obviously being a 1/1 creature means that he’s quite easy to get off the board.

I think usually most 75s want some number of both so that you’re not giving away too much against commonly popular decks.  I’d lean more towards Lavamancer, and you could consider some number of both in the main if the meta shifts towards “fair dude decks”, but as it stands, that’s not the game we’re living in at the moment.  Miracles, Delver, Shardless Sultai, and Esper Stoneblade are the top 4 pillars, all of whom demand additional answers.

Mindbreak Trap is one of your better options against Storm and Belcher, but like most hate cards for those matchups they have solutions.  What’s useful here is that you can be tapped out and play it, and since you have a variety of answers at your disposal, it’s likely that they may keep the wrong card or guess incorrectly.  That is of course if you even see your board card/s.  Eidolon is helpful in these matchups, but sometimes they go off before you can get one out, and sometimes even with him out they have Echoing Truth or Abrupt Decay to remove him before they finish.

One way that you can combat some of the combo matchups or supplement fringe board cards is to run Pyroblast.  Pyroblast is never the ideal sideboard card, but it’s probably the most flexible one vs matchups that are difficult or close.  Against Storm, you can counter a Brainstorm, Preordain, or Ponder to interrupt them from going off.  It of course won’t get rid of their existing storm count, but it might prevent them from being able to dig far enough to get to Tendrils or get lethal damage.  Against Miracles, if you happen to have it before they land a Counterbalance you can attempt to counter it, or you can attempt to destroy it if they have to play it naked (no Top).

Similarly, Pyroblast can counter Show and Tell or cantrip spells, making a Sneak & Show player have to have a counterspell of their own or a Sneak Attack.  These again aren’t the greatest ways to answer your problems, but Pyroblast provides enough strength that I think it’s a good time to be playing it.  I also wouldn’t feel obligated to bring in 3 or 4 of them, even just 1 or 2 is a nice addition.  Diluting your deck of damage threats is a concern to always be aware of with Legacy Burn.  Lastly, keep in mind that you can still target permanents with Pyroblast even if they aren’t Blue, it simply won’t destroy the permanent.  This is useful when needing an extra Prowess trigger on Monastery Swiftspear (similar to how you’d play spells into Chalice of the Void or Counterbalance at times even though they’d be countered).

Ensnaring Bridge is the last card that sees some movement depending on the Meta, but in general it’s one I’d play more often than not.  It’s arguably your best answer to Sneak & Show, as cards like Ashen Rider can only be played against the one matchup and don’t help you if they resolve a Sneak Attack. Bridge on the other hand, doubles at being a solid addition versus Delver and less seen archetypes such as MUD or Goblins.  In the case of Delver, they are usually not actively boarding in artifact hate, so it can often steal a game after you exhaust your early burn spells.  Just remember that all Delver decks have access to some hate post-board, so in game 3 (if there is one) it’s probably wise to board it back out.

New Weapons

Some new cards have been popping up in Burn that have made a large impact on the deck.  One of them is my own personal innovation, and the others are ones that I’ve had to try out but have since been thoroughly convinced on their place in the list after success at recent tournaments.

The first (and my spin) is Molten Vortex:

moltenvortex

Vortex serves the role of Grim Lavamancer in the sense of repeatable damage, but being an enchantment makes it more difficult to remove for many decks.  Additionally, it turns every draw of yours into a live one and prevents flooding, which is precisely what you lose to playing Burn more than any other obstacle.  I was excited when I first saw the card spoiled in Origins, and was surprised when it didn’t get initially adopted.  Stephen Neal from my area who Top 8’d Pro Tour Origins played one in his sideboard, but that was Standard and this was a card I felt has a better application in a format filled with low toughness creatures and lockout decks.

Against Miracles, Molten Vortex joins your other pesky enchantments (Eidolon of the Great Revel and Sulfuric Vortex) to overload them on targets for Council’s Judgment.  This has been a key turning point for me in making Miracles feel like a good matchup.  They only have so many answers to enchantments, so if you can form a threshold of them it is often very difficult to mount a comeback.  Molten Vortex also sneaks in underneath their combo more often than your other two, so it’s one extra inch in a battle for them.  And unlike Pyrostatic Pillar which requires the opponent to play into your triggers, Vortex is instead actively killing them.

Molten Vortex is very useful against Lands, a deck that would otherwise Punishing Fire the card if it were a creature.  It’s OK against Delver and small creature decks that push you to keep drawing those last few points of damage, and overall it’s been a winner.  The one drawback is that you never want to draw two of them, and it’s better later in the game than earlier, so you’re likely only going to have 1-2 copies in the board.

exquisitefirecraft

Exquisite Firecraft was the card that people asked me about the most when it got spoiled.  There were a lot of folks who thought it would be good in Legacy and I initially was not in that camp.  It’s very difficult for anything with three mana tacked onto it to see play, and there’s also always the question of whether or not there’s just a better card out there for the job.

After early tournament results showed that people who placed were playing it, I thought it was only right to at least be objective and give it a try.  I sleeved it up for a win-a-box about a month ago and knew there would be some Delver and Miracles players lurking.

The card was insane.  I knew the scenario that it “should” be good in from speculation, which is that it would be your last burn spell that normally would be countered versus those decks.  But I undervalued the power granted by that situation in those matchups, and the fact that you could draw multiples and just put that game completely into your hands from a percentage standpoint.  And in the Delver matchup, you can kill a Delver himself, which sometimes is the very thing that loses you the race.

Whether you have to shave numbers on it or not to make room for other cards, it’s doubtful for me that I’d ever take this out of the sideboard after now having multiple win-a-boxes under my belt (both of which I won).

pithingneedle

Pithing Needle is the last recent addition to the deck and one that I know has occasionally made Burn sideboards before.  The reason it’s being discussed here is because I think it’s applicable against enough tougher matchups and unknowns that it needs to be in the 75 currently.  It doesn’t do damage itself which is a big hesitation point for a card, but like Pyroblast the level of flexibility is unmatched.  Against Lands, you can name Thespian Stage and prevent them from comboing out on you unless they are able to draw an answer, putting them on the Punishing Fire plan which buys  you important time.  Against Miracles it can name Sensei’s Divining Top and come down early before they assemble a prison.  Against MUD it can name Metalworker or Kuldotha Forgemaster to slow them down enough to sneak out wins.  The options are wide open, and so is this format, so it’s about as good a mise as I could ask for.

senseisdiviningtop

Sensei’s Divining Top popped up in an SCG Burn list a while back and I was immediately intrigued.  The card made good sense; it can filter to make sure you almost always have a Burn spell or what you need at the ready, and you have fetch lands to make sure your next few cards aren’t getting stale.  It triggers Prowess on Monastery Swiftspear, and it lets you draw an extra card in a critical turn.  There’s few detractors, outside of it not being damage itself (which can be remedied with its two modes) and the fact that it’s bad in multiples.  You can do some fun tricks with two of them and a Swiftspear, but aside from that it fits the role of Molten Vortex in being just that bit of extra sauce you need to get the win.

The Last Piece

smashtosmithereens

Smash to Smithereens is a staple Burn sideboard card that is one of the hardest to decide the number on.  You want it against decks with Batterskull and Jitte (Stoneblade, Maverick, D&T, Shardless) and against decks that are either artifact based or bringing Chalice of the Void / Ensnaring Bridge in against you (MUD, some Delver builds, Painter, Pox, U/B Tezzeret, etc).  The big problem is that the first tier of those decks also have a beatdown plan, so you can’t have too many situational cards that might or might not be correct depending on their hand and line of play.  But the artifacts that the first tier decks run are quite impactful, and the other decks mentioned are back-breaking at times, so you do want some number.

Usually for me that number is 1 or 2, sometimes 3 if the Meta has a crazy shift.  Most Burn players I see tend to run it as a 3-of, but I think that’s just too many when it doesn’t help much against the current 4 pillars of the format.  Regardless, when it’s good, it’s great, so always have it in your decision process.

The List And The Leftovers

Here is where my list would be at if I were taking it to a major Legacy event tomorrow:

Burn by John Galli (Legacy)

Maindeck
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Goblin Guide
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

3 Sulfuric Vortex
1 Sensei’s Divining Top

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Fireblast
4 Price of Progress
4 Chain Lightning

4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Arid Mesa
10 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Exquisite Firecraft
3 Pyroblast
2 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Searing Blaze
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Molten Vortex
1 Pithing Needle

There’s obviously a good many cards not talked about or seen here, and I’ll try to quickly address some of those:

  • Flame Rift:  Actually considering bringing this back in, Eidolon took its spot but it represents unparalleled damage at its cost and can help you race combo decks better
  • Vexing Shusher:  Often a go-to Miracles / Delver card, but I’ve never liked it in Burn.  It’s just another bear for them to kill and the activated ability requires too much mana and too much work in addition to the condition of it not dying.  I understand why people play it and like it, but IMO not worth it
  • Sulfur Elemental:  When D&T picks up in popularity I like this card more.  Definitely helpful against Flickerwisp which can often be one of the most annoying cards they have against you.  Killing Thalia and Mother of Runes is equally great
  • Dualcaster Mage:  I haven’t seen this guy played yet in Legacy Burn, but I have to imagine it’d be hilarious.  And who knows, it could actually be good.  I’d love to see the look on my opponent’s face when I copy a Fireblast for exactsies. . .
  • Blood Moon:  I’m not sure who this is reliably coming down against and affecting much.  Maybe Lands, 4-color Delver decks and Sneak & Show, but you’re not a deck that wants this slow effect which is better when you have 4 in your list and some way to accelerate it out
  •  Volcanic Fallout:  While this card seems good against Elves, Delver, Deathrite Shaman, and Young Pyromancer, it’s pretty much only good there.  Most of the other decks have too much variance in toughness or it’s killing the creatures that don’t truly matter to the matchup.  I’ve played it quite a bit in Legacy Burn, and it just never was quite what I was hoping for.  It’s another one like Shusher that I can understand why people might like it but just doesn’t make sense for me in the end.  If Delver at some point just starts dominating the format and D&T makes a return from the dead, then I’ll reconsider
  • Skullcrack:  Ah yes, Skullcrack.  This is a card I tried for a while thinking that it might actually be precisely the upgrade Burn would like to have.  In the end, it’s not efficient enough in comparison to the other Burn spells and Sulfuric Vortex occupies the same role while just being better most of the time.  If Vortex sours in the Meta, Skullcrack is a sure-fire replacement, but until that day occurs it’s not worth the room.  It also can be useful if Circle of Protection: Red becomes popular, so keep an eye on that as well
  • Searing Blood:  Completely acceptable as Searing Blaze #5 – 8, especially in creature-heavy Metas.  I’ve at times ran 4 of each, when D&T and Elves were everywhere.  Now is not that time, but your local meta may vary
  • Sideboard Cards Of Other Colors:  I know the temptation is very real, but to paraphrase Patrick Sullivan, those 1 out of 8 games you get Wastelanded will make you think otherwise.  I could potentially see a situation where you have a dual land in the board along with a few cards, but they’d have to be incredibly effective and inexpensive in cost

Conclusion:

Burn is Good.  Burn is Great.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains

– Red Deck Winning

P.S. – If you have any more questions regarding the deck or strategy, feel free to submit them to us on Twitter for a chance at having them answered on the Podcast in our Mailbag segment.  We are also still running our Giveaway contest of sweet Red cards and accessories, so follow us if you aren’t already!

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Red Aggro In Battle For Zendikar

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Red Aggro In Battle For Zendikar

Finally, the full spoiler has arrived.  Now begins the fun part – brewing up a competitive Aggro deck.  Most of you were probably a bit disappointed when everything was said and done because this set doesn’t offer up a huge amount of interesting Red cards, but the set itself looks deep for other strategies.  I think from many of the observations I’ve heard, people appear to be misevaluating power levels on a quite a few of the cards and their abilities.

Standouts In Battle For Zendikar and Predictions

Awaken looks like a fundamental tool for the majority of decks that will see Standard play.  The mechanic adds another layer to the things that your deck can be doing and also looks like it will increase the grindy nature of the format.  While I’m a bit concerned that Blue got a Counterspell and an Unsummon effect with Awaken, the ability is welcome overall.  Wizards miraculously pushes the power envelope with each set, and BFZ is no exception.  Almost every Awaken card has an ability on it that you’d want in your deck or sideboard anyway, so it makes for a virtually default choice if you were already going for that kind of effect.

There’s a lot of Eldrazi, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, there’s so much of it that it feels like there has to be at least one deck that actually builds around it completely, splashing Khans block cards to make up for effects that are missing.  Forerunner of Slaughter has caught the most buzz in my playgroup, and I can’t say I disagree.  The card is very comparable to Flinthoof Boar, who was a standout staple in GR Aggro from previous seasons.  His stats on paper are good enough that he doesn’t need to be part of a build around Eldrazi deck to be good, but he could be an inclusion even there.  His ability works with himself on turn 3 or later, and begs that you consider another Eldrazi card or two if it’s close to making the cut but just needs a little extra boost.

A Ramp deck has to exist, and could be the most powerful strategy in the format.  While Abzan was a dominant force in the past few Standard seasons, one of the decks that often trumped it was GR Devotion.  Cards like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are strict upgrades to anything you would be doing, other Eldrazi make dual purpose scion tokens so your early game isn’t as indefensible, and the format is smaller meaning there will be less answers to bigger threats.  If Ramp is your thing, than a refresher on Zvi Mowshowitz’s Hypermana is a worthwhile excursion.

Speaking of less answers, Magma Spray, Lightning Strike, Bile Blight, Stoke the Flames, Hero’s Downfall, Drown in Sorrow, and Anger of the Gods are rotating.  An Aggro deck has to have room here to succeed if that’s the case, and it also suggests that those X/3s that were sometimes too vulnerable to cast will now be quite playable.  Dust off those Brutal Hordechiefs, because it’s time to see if that card can actually tango or not.  And if Mantis Rider wasn’t an amazing creature before, it certainly is now.

The new dual lands might just be the best thing we’ve seen since the originals.  Patrick Chapin and Mike Flores have a regular Podcast (Top Level Podcast) and on one of their episodes they discussed the new Battle Lands.  I strongly encourage all of you to take a listen to that, because while I normally am not a fan of that particular Podcast and while Chapin and Flores can be wrong many times, this discussion makes a great deal of sense.  The Battle Lands are almost assuredly going to reshape the way we build a manabase, and it may allow for things to be far easier to cast than they were previously.  When I first polled friends of mine regarding what they thought of them, most didn’t think they were anything special.  But these to me look like potential replacements for Shock Lands (or a combination) in Modern, and getting them to be untapped by using more Fetch Lands seems like a bonus more than a boon.  Chapin brings up a strong point about how it might be easier to even do four color decks rather than three color because of how a fetch could get you splash colors attached to any base color you need.  Plus with the rotation of the Scry Lands in Standard, this is it.  Every new set of lands that has come out in the past has been used and abused, so I expect no difference with BFZ’s arrival.

Again on the point of lands, we finally have new Man Lands.  While some of them won’t be arriving until the next set after BFZ (can’t wait for the RW Dual), these kind of lands altered manabases the last time they were around.  I was a big Jund player at the time when Raging Ravine was released, and it pushed decks like Jund to go more towards 26/27 lands because of the value offered there.  It meant you could both hit your spells on time easier and have something to do following a wrath or a long grind session.  It also simply helps you get out of flooding situations or assist you with blocking in a pinch.  All of the Man Lands were used with the last go-around, and almost all of them still get used in Modern.  Preorder them now while they’re still dirt cheap. . .

Allies are the big hype of the new set, and while I’m not sure they’ll be competitive just due to the very nature of all-in creature decks, the abilities they need to be successful are present.  Additionally, while some are overcosted, lets not forget the last time they were printed where there actually was some Tier 1.5/2 decks that could be very difficult to play against.  Mardu and Naya Allies make the most sense to me, mostly because White and Red have the cheapest to play creatures, the Black allies have strong abilities, and because Collected Company.  All-in creature decks usually only play somewhere in the range of 4-12 non creature spells, so if we’re not able to do much with those they have to be polarizing in strength.  Crackling Doom and Collected Company accomplish that goal.  And if Chapin is right about the four color manabase, heck maybe we even jam those two cards together.

Enter The Aggro

Let’s get things started.  Keep in mind these are all untested hypothetical prototypes, so please take them as food for thought.  And what better place to begin:

Mono Red Aggro by John Galli

4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
3 Lightning Berserker
4 Abbot of Keral Keep
4 Dragon Whisperer
2 Goblin Heelcutter
2 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh

4 Wild Slash
3 Titan’s Strength
3 Roast
4 Exquisite Firecraft
1 Touch of the Void
1 Collateral Damage
1 Molten Vortex

20 Mountain
1 Looming Spires

Sideboard
1 Goblin Heelcutter
3 Scab-Clan Berserker
1 Fiery Impulse
1 Act of Treason
1 Roast
1 Outpost Siege
2 Rending Volley
2 Thunderbreak Regent
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Arc Lightning

One of the nice things about rotation is that while we are losing some big Burn spells, most of the creatures from the current Mono Red Aggro deck are still present.  Eidolon of the Great Revel will be sorely missed, but Dragon Whisperer is not useless.  I played it quite a bit in Raphael Levy’s Dark Red deck and it was just fine in the previous Standard format.  Being able to give it actual evasion (versus something like Ire Shaman which is still very much in the consideration list) is quite useful, and it gives you something to do if an Abbot reveals a land but you don’t have a one-drop to play.  Later in the game he’s a mana sink, as well as being able to combo with Thunderbreak out of the board to make dragons of his own (with his Firebreathing Ability).  Granted, those situations won’t come up often, but it’s a smidge of extra value to be aware of.

Mono Red takes advantage of immature formats, and while it took a while to catch on with Origins, I think that was more due to the card pool size.  Now that we’re back to a smaller card pool and a set that looks relatively complicated and unfinished on paper, this should easily be one of the strongest archetypes out of the gate.  Many non red players will see the set and think that Mono Red is finished, or just an inferior version of its past self, but the major players are still present.  Titan’s Strength wasn’t that bad in the deck before, and is a suitable replacement for Stoke the Flames, along with a splash of other cards that can be useful in situations but not ones you’d like to overload on.

What’s even more important is that Abzan has to change to continue on.  Abzan still looks like it could be a very strong archetype, with many of it’s base cards remaining intact, but it’s definitely losing pieces and the ever-important manabase is seeing an adjustment.  Mono Red should be able to capitalize on this adjustment period where people are trying out cards and there isn’t a definitive best list.  Furthermore, Roast in this list takes the spot of Searing Blood, being still mostly dead to Control but giving you an even further leg up on Abzan in game 1.

RB Eldrazi Aggro by John Galli

4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
2 Lightning Berserker
2 Abbot of Keral Keep
4 Endless One
4 Forerunner of Slaughter
1 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
4 Brutal Hordechief
2 Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury

4 Wild Slash
4 Exquisite Firecraft
1 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Murderous Cut

4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Smoldering Marsh
4 Wooded Foothills
1 Polluted Delta
1 Looming Spires
1 Mortuary Mire
1 Blighted Gorge
6 Mountain
1 Swamp

Sideboard
2 Roast
1 Self-Inflicted Wound
3 Duress
1 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Rending Volley
2 Scab-Clan Berserker
1 Act of Treason
1 Arc Lightning
1 Fiery Impulse
1 Virulent Plague

This list was inspired by a Mono Red deck that I used to play with Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite.  That list had great success, giving me my first Gameday win along with a few other local events, and it always seemed to be very consistent.  It’s a list that’s capable of taking on different roles depending on what the situation calls for.  It’s still very aggressive, but you can go big when you need to and it has extra reach in the form of both Burn spells and Brutal Hordechief.  Oh your opponent is playing a big Green deck and the board has become stalled?  Let’s just activate that Hordechief ability and have them block our lowly one drop while the rest of our creatures cruise to victory.  And while Hordechief was formerly a liability to removal, the current suite as mentioned before is very much reduced.

BR Dragons by John Galli

2 Hangarback Walker
4 Thunderbreak Regent
3 Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury

2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
1 Ob Nixils, Reignited
1 Outpost Siege

2 Wild Slash
2 Fiery Impulse
4 Duress
4 Draconic Roar
4 Kolaghan’s Command
1 Foul-Tongue Invocation
3 Ruinous Path
1 Murderous Cut
1 Crux of Fate

4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Smoldering Marsh
2 Bloodfell Caves
3 Polluted Delta
3 Wooded Foothills
2 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
4 Mountain
3 Swamp

Sideboard
4 Flamewake Phoenix
2 Seismic Rupture
1 Foul-Tongue Invocation
1 Virulent Plague
2 Outpost Siege
1 Crux of Fate
1 Rending Volley
1 Self-Inflicted Wound
1 Ruinous Path
1 Transgress the Mind

This BR Dragons list takes on similar characteristics to the one that won GP Prague, substituting in some of the new cards to add some extra dimension.  While Ruinous Path is a sorcery which makes it a pretty big downgrade to Hero’s Downfall, having an Awaken mode will be big in long games versus other midrange decks.

Mono Red Aggro (Take 2) by John Galli

4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
2 Lightning Berserker
4 Abbot of Keral Keep
4 Ire Shaman
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Shaman of the Great Hunt

4 Wild Slash
3 Roast
4 Exquisite Firecraft
1 Fiery Impulse
1 Titan’s Strength

20 Mountain
2 Looming Spires

Sideboard
1 Goblin Heelcutter
4 Scab-Clan Berserker
1 Fiery Impulse
1 Act of Treason
1 Roast
1 Outpost Siege
2 Rending Volley
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Arc Lightning
1 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh

This spin on Mono Red utilizes a forgotten card in Shaman of the Great Hunt.  Again with removal being lighter and maindecking Roast, I think he has room to breathe.  I like Ire Shaman here a bit better than Dragon Whisperer because you’ll be using your mana just about every turn to curve into Shaman of the Great Hunt.  Shaman of the Great Hunt also works great in conjunction with Flamewake Phoenix and Scab-Clan out of the board to make them into difficult threats in a hurry and does a good job at replacing Stoke the Flames.  One of the big selling points of the new format will be no Elvish Mystic, which is important because RG Aggro with Mystic was often better for this type of archetype.  Now with the format either slowing down or at least losing that tempo advantage, you can carry the strategy into Mono Red and not have to dilute your deck at all for a “sometimes available” advantage.  This build doesn’t utilize any of the new cards outside the two Looming Spires, but it’s very likely there are one or two that might be worthwhile.

4-Color Allies by John Galli

4 Expedition Envoy
4 Beastcaller Savant
4 Kor Bladewhirl
4 Kor Castigator
3 Firemantle Mage
3 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
1 Lantern Scout
1 Munda, Ambush Leader
1 Resolute Blademaster

4 Atarka’s Command
4 Crackling Doom
4 Collected Company

2 Bloodstained Mire
3 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
3 Flooded Monastery
1 Plains
1 Forest
1 Swamp
1 Mountain
1 Smoldering Marsh
1 Canopy Vista
1 Cinder Glade
1 Prairie Stream

Sideboard
?????????

This is of course going off the deep end, and I’m sure it could be a total pile, but I wanted to throw an idea out here to build off of.  I’ve seen similar numbers for collected company decks before, and I figure that in this case it leverages the three most powerful spells in that color pie.  Having a one drop with the number of White sources that I have is a bit ambitious, so I could see adding more two or three cost allies instead.  I could also just see Allies not having enough support until the next set, so we’ll have to wait and find out what people come up with.

RB Dragons (Take 2) by John Galli

3 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Lightning Berserker
4 Dragon Whisperer
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Thunderbreak Regent
3 Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury

3 Draconic Roar
1 Roast
1 Murderous Cut
1 Foul-Tongue Invocation
3 Wild Slash
1 Crater’s Claws
2 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Exquisite Firecraft

2 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Polluted Delta
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Smoldering Marsh
1 Bloodfell Caves
2 Swamp
6 Mountain

Sideboard
3 Scab-Clan Berserker
2 Roast
1 Rending Volley
2 Self-Inflicted Wound
1 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Duress
1 Seismic Rupture
1 Transgress the Mind
1 Foul-Tongue Invocation
1 Fiery Impulse

This list takes on a more aggressive posture than the previous one.  It borrows ideas from fellow Wisconsinite Gabe Groves’s Mono Red Dragons list from the SCG Open in Milwaukee this past weekend.  The list likely has too many singletons and wants Outpost Siege maindeck to help get to them, but I’d like to see how it does first before deciding on that.

Mardu Midrange

4 Soulfire Grand Master
1 Hangarback Walker
2 Pia and Kia Nalaar
4 Butcher of the Horde
1 Wingmate Roc

2 Outpost Siege

1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

4 Wild Slash
4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Crackling Doom
1 Mardu Charm
1 Murderous Cut
1 Valorous Stance
1 Utter End
1 Kolaghan’s Command

3 Smoldering Marsh
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Nomad Outpost
4 Shambling Vent
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Swamp
3 Mountain
3 Plains
2 Caves of Koilos
2 Battlefield Forge

Sideboard
3 Mastery of the Unseen (or Flamewake Phoenix)
1 Radiant Flames
1 Valorous Stance
1 Rending Volley
1 Tragic Arrogance
3 Duress
1 Kolaghan’s Command
1 Roast
1 Self-Inflicted Wound
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Utter End

Ruinous Path is another good option for this list, but the essential concept of the deck is that you’re playing a value-driven long-game and utilizing the new Man Lands to their full potential.  The basis for this list is Shouta Yasooka’s Grand Prix Jund list from a few years ago.  Every card here puts in a little bit of extra work, so as long as you can survive the early game you should be able to outlast most other decks.  Now that Stormbreath is gone, you don’t have to worry about several of your cards not hitting a protection from White creature, so it lends room to playing more Mardu Charms and Valorous Stances.

Soulfire and Butcher help you with the early game, along with Hordeling Outburst serving many masters.  It’s a good aggressive card that is not easily dealt with now that Bile Blight is gone, it provides blockers against Aggro, and it is food for the Butcher.  The lone Hangarback Walker can be sacked to both Butcher and Pia and Kia for value, as well as being a great late-game mana sink with your 27 lands.

What I’d look to do in the next few weeks is tighten this list up if needed.  You could go heavier on theme, adding more Hangarbacks, Wingmate Rocs, and/or Flamewake Phoenix.  You could add more anti-Aggro sideboard cards like Radiant Flames or Fiery Impulse.  Or you could max out on Mardu Charms and Kolaghan’s Command to just get an even greater “value” experience.

Jeskai Tempo

4 Soulfire Grand Master
1 Hangarback Walker
4 Jace, Vyrn’s Prodigy
4 Mantis Rider
2 Dragonlord Ojutai

1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

3 Dig Through Time
1 Jeskai Charm
4 Wild Slash
4 Ojutai’s Command
3 Valorous Stance
1 Hordeling Outburst
1 Planar Outburst
1 Roast
1 Clutch of Currents

4 Flooded Strand
4 Mystic Monastery
1 Evolving Wilds
4 Prairie Stream
3 Shivan Reef
2 Battlefield Forge
3 Plains
1 Mountain
3 Island

Sideboard
1 Mastery of the Unseen
2 Horribly Ary
2 Scatter the Winds
2 Disdainful Stroke
3 Radiant Flames
2 Arashin Cleric
1 Negate
1 Dig Through Time
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

Nothing flashy with Jeskai, it’s basically the same deck minus Lightning Strike.  Mantis Rider is probably more powerful though going forward to make up for it.  I could also see running Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh here if the mana allows since it essentially does most of what you wanted out of Goblin Rabblemaster and this list has enough spells to cast two a turn to flip her most of the time.

Temur Megamorph

4 Scythe Leopard
4 Rattleclaw Mystic
4 Heir of the Wilds
2 Den Protector
4 Deathmist Raptor
4 Savage Knuckleblade
3 Surrak, the Hunt Caller
1 Shaman of the Great Hunt

3 Roast
3 Wild Slash
2 Stubborn Denial
1 Temur Charm
1 Crater’s Claws

3 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Bloodstained Mire
1 Flooded Strand
1 Cinder Glade
1 Canopy Vista
1 Prairie Stream
3 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Island
2 Frontier Biovac
4 Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard
2 Jaddi Offshoot
1 Retreat to Kazandu
1 Roast
1 Stubborn Denial
2 Negate
1 Disdainful Stroke
3 Radiant Flames
2 Sarkhan Unbroken
2 Rending Volley

I believe this Standard format will see a return to competitiveness for Temur.  There were some reasonable builds before with a lot of power, but with the other Aggro decks potentially getting a little watered down and the Abzan decks losing some removal, Temur brushes aside two of its big weaknesses.  It also loses its exceptionally painful manabase, which was its biggest irk, and probably the one thing holding it back.  The manabase that I put together for some of these decks in general might be really rough, but in the long run it should be easy to build it much cleaner with the new duals.

Temur could take on a much bigger role too.  Cards like Whisperwood Elemental, Sarkhan Unbroken, Dragonlord Atarka, and Omnath, Locus of Rage all seem crazy good in this format.  A lot of the removal left is narrow or hits at sorcery speed, so these heavy hitters get to stick for a turn and close out games.  Heck, even Surrak Dragonclaw becomes scary.  His major weakness before was that he’d just get killed when you play him on their end step, but now that it won’t happen as often he could potentially take over what you want to be doing at your top end.

Atarka Red

4 Abbot of Keral Keep
2 Lightning Berserker
2 Goblin Glory Chaser
1 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
1 Goblin Heelcutter

4 Atarka’s Command
1 Become Immense
4 Wild Slash
1 Outnumber
1 Roast
3 Exquisite Firecraft
4 Dragon Fodder
4 Hordeling Outburst

1 Cinder Glade
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Windswept Heath
4 Bloodstained Mire
9 Mountain
1 Forest

Sideboard
2 Goblin Heelcutter
1 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
4 Scab-Clan Berserker
1 Molten Vortex
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Reclamation Sage
2 Arc Lightning
3 Roast

Atarka Red still looks very strong on paper, as the Burn package, while good, wasn’t what won so many games.  That honor lied with Atarka’s Command itself, and you still have enough creatures to make it explosive.  I actually like Goblin Glory Chaser here, as you have enough burn to clear the way and he’s great on an Atarka pump when renowned.

People keep sleeping on Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, and I can tell you first hand that anyone doubting it is quite wrong as to its power level.  The card, when it flips (which it does pretty much any time you untap with it) wins almost every game.  This list has plenty of gas to help it in that mission, and again with the lower amount of removal it’s possible she could be a x3/x4 of in many lists.

Mono Black Control

4 Bloodsoaked Champion
2 Mardu Shadowspear
4 Despoiler of Souls
3 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
4 Pitiless Horde
4 Erebos’s Titan
1 Archfiend of Depravity

3 Ob Nixilis Reignited

3 Duress
4 Ruinous Path
2 Ultimate Price
1 Murderous Cut

3 Mortuary Mire
21 Swamp

Sideboard
2 Gilt-Leaf Winnower
3 Self-Inflicted Wound
2 Hangarback Walker
1 Reave Soul
1 Virulent Plague
1 Minister of Pain
1 Duress
3 Transgress the Mind
1 Palace Siege

Not a red deck, but black has some very interesting cards nonetheless.  Drana and Ob Nixilis both feel like they should be in several different decks, and the above is one possible shell.  Hangarback isn’t too much of an Aggro card, but it plays nice with Drana and can be a good mana sink with the higher land count.

BR Eldrazi Aggro

4 Sludge Crawler
4 Culling Drone
1 Hangarback Walker
1 Endless One
4 Forerunner of Slaughter
4 Dominator Drone
4 Vile Aggregate
2 Dust Stalker
3 Blight Herder

4 Wild Slash
4 Processor Assault
1 Roast

4 Bloodstained Mire
3 Polluted Delta
1 Wooded Foothills
4 Smoldering Marsh
1 Looming Spires
1 Mortuary Mire
1 Foundry of the Consuls
5 Swamp
4 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Titan’s Presence
2 Self-Inflicted Wound
2 Rending Volley
1 Outpost Siege
3 Duress
1 Seismic Rupture
1 Kolaghan’s Command
3 Transgress the Mind

Blight Herder intrigues me as a build-around card.  The thing is Siege-Gang Commander on steroids, but the cost of playing it is real.  It’s possible you want to go bigger with it since it makes mana producing tokens, and it’s also possible that you might want to mess up the manabase to include more converge effects.

Mardu Midrange (Take 2)

4 Soulfire Grand Master
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Butcher of the Horde
4 Wingmate Roc

1 Ob Nixilis Reignited

4 Wild Slash
4 Crackling Doom
1 Mardu Charm
1 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Utter End

3 Smoldering Marsh
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Nomad Outpost
4 Shambling Vent
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Swamp
3 Mountain
3 Plains
2 Caves of Koilos
2 Battlefield Forge

Sideboard
2 Duress
3 Radiant Flames
2 Rending Volley
2 Self-Inflicted Wound
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
1 Tragic Arrogance
1 Kolaghan’s Command
1 Mastery of the Unseen
1 Outpost Siege

Here I basically wanted to see what a Mardu list would look like taking a bit more of an aggressive posture, and building in as much synergy as possible without including a lot of singletons.  With both Mardu lists, I’m all-in on Shambling Vent as I think that card is going to be one of the pillars going forward.  Wingmate Roc might be as well, and thus this build pushes further in that direction.

RW Aggro

4 Soulfire Grand Master
4 Seeker of the Way
4 Monastery Mentor
1 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh

4 Outpost Siege
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

4 Wild Slash
1 Fiery Impulse
2 Valorous Stance
2 Roast
1 Enshrouding Mists
1 Titan’s Strength
4 Hordeling Outburst
3 Exquisite Firecraft

4 Wind-Scarred Crag
1 Looming Spires
1 Foundry of the Consuls
4 Battlefield Forge
2 Evolving Wilds
7 Mountain
5 Plains

Sideboard
2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
2 Ashcloud Phoenix
2 Arashin Cleric
2 Arc Lightning
1 Mastery of the Unseen
1 Roast
1 Valorous Stance
1 Rending Volley
1 Fiery Impulse
1 Smash to Smithreens
1 Erase

Sometimes it’s hard to wait for the next set.  For all of us Boros fans out there, I know there’s many a time that I’ve just “jammed it”.  It’s one of my favorite archetypes, and the tools are still all here despite not having any new lands and losing some temples.

I played a somewhat similar list to this at an SCG 1K and GPT a short while back, and it still felt pretty reasonable even with Dromoka’s Command lurking.  This was based originally off of Ken Yukuhiro’s RW Midrange list from an old Sunday Super Series that a few in my area had good success with.  Ben Stark also piloted a similar version to 2nd place at GP Memphis.

There’s a few cards from BFZ that I’m still considering here, namely Tandem Tactics and more Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.  Both seem well suited to trigger Prowess and create blowouts, so those numbers will remain in flux during playtesting until it’s decided whether they’re performing or not.

Mardu Dragons

4 Soulfire Grand Master
2 Hangarback Walker
4 Thunderbreak Regent
3 Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury
1 Dragonlord Kolaghan

2 Outpost Siege

3 Wild Slash
3 Draconic Roar
1 Roast
4 Crackling Doom
2 Foul-Tongue Invocation
1 Kolaghan’s Command
1 Murderous Cut
2 Mardu Charm

3 Smoldering Marsh
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Nomad Outpost
4 Shambling Vent
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Swamp
3 Mountain
3 Plains
2 Caves of Koilos
2 Battlefield Forge

Sideboard
2 Utter End
2 Rending Volley
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Arashin Cleric
2 Radiant Flames
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
1 Outpost Siege
2 Self-Inflicted Wound
1 Tragic Arrogance
1 Fiery Impulse
1 Kolaghan’s Command

Last but not least is Mardu Dragons.  This deck has access to Draconic Roar which is one of the only spells of it’s type available.  As such, I think Mardu Dragons has a chance to be the best Tier 1 deck if the numbers can get ironed out correctly.  Thankfully you have access to just about any card you could want and Dragonlord Kolaghan is a nice top end now that Elspeth has exited the format.  You may want to go heavier on the three mana spells, as the speed of this format will once again likely be slower, but testing will have to give us that information.

Conclusion

Quite a few decklists to take in here.  I’m sure I’ve made plenty of mistakes, deckbuilding opportunities missed, and the whole nine yards.  Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on the future of either these decklists or Standard in general, I look forward to hearing it.  And I will try to get to Modern/Legacy soon.

Also don’t forget to tune into the next edition of the Red Deck Podcast.  We’re planning to go over BFZ cards and the production levels should be improved from last time.

Until next time,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

-Red Deck Winning

One Last PPTQ Season With Theros

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One Last PPTQ Season With Theros

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

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

SCG Chicago

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

Mono Red Sligh by John Galli 7-17-2015

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

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

20 Mountain
1 Foundry of the Consuls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goblins by John Galli – SCG Chicago Open

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

4 Obelisk of Urd

4 Dragon Fodder
4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Stoke the Flames

20 Mountain

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

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

20 Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

Turning To Dragons For The PTQ Season

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

Mardu Dragons by John Galli

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

2 Outpost Siege

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

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

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

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

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

Some possible changes you could consider:

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

Mono Red Dragons

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

2 Outpost Siege

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

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

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

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

Some possible changes you could consider:

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

Jeskai Fliers

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

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

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

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

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

Some possible changes you could consider:

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

Closing Thoughts

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

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

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

-Red Deck Winning

Preparing For Origins And SCG Chicago

goblinpiledriverwallpaper

Preparing For Origins And SCG Chicago

It’s a good time for celebration.  The full spoiler of Origins was released today and can be found here.  I’ve been doing some light testing on Cockatrice leading up to this moment, but the real nitty gritty will begin soon as my crew puts in the prep work required to do well in Chicago on July 18th.  These last few days have felt like the culmination of a many great things for Magic, as the core set looks great, I will be playing in an Open at release which is my favorite time do one, and I’ve signed up for two pre-release flights.  This set evokes thoughts of the great days of this game, giving each color some fantastic tools from classic times and new ones that should be solid build-arounds.

When preparing to design or modify a new Red deck, I always think it’s important to look at history.  I majored in history in college and it was always one of my favorite subjects, as I think there’s valuable and often overlooked lessons there.  There are some games that are very much affected by trends, and Magic is no different.  Take March Madness Basketball for instance, where a 12 seed almost always beats a 5 seed in the opening round.  Predictability can give you edges, so let’s look at some possibilities for the world of tomorrow:

– Red Aggro is usually a great choice for week 1.  People are trying new brews that are not tuned, it’s easy to form a competitive shell based on curve and past decks, and you can expect a portion of old archetypes to prey upon.  The one large weakness of this fact is that people prepare for this, and can sometimes include extra hate for Aggro as a result.

– The past tier 1 decks are still probably the best decks for day 1, and likely will win the tournament.  You’re almost always guaranteed to see a new brew in the top 8 or top 16, but unless the new set is radically different it’s hard to get it right in the first week.

– There are exceptions to the rule.  As Magic evolves and players research more, these trends can flip on their head, so it’s important to keep your sideboard as open as possible and your maindeck as streamlined as possible.  For instance, I attended the first SCG Open when Khans of Tarkir came out, and this set felt very different.  It was based around the wedges, and the card choices were very obvious for what to build-around.  As a result, the top 8 were almost exclusively new archetypes.  Additionally, Mono Red was largely hated out at the Open I attended and only put up marginal results at the other Open.  Cards like Siege Rhino are tough to deal with, and the Red decks didn’t take into account how powerful he was.

The Decks Of Yesterday

Lets take a look at what Red Aggro decks performed best in the last four Opens with a base set (yes, Origins is not a base set persay and nothing is rotating, but it looks to have a fairly big impact)

Khans of Tarkir Release Weekend

Mono Red Aggro
Ben Schoenbrun
9th Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 9/27/2014
Standard

Creatures (22)

4 Akroan Crusader
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Mogis’s Warhound

Lands (20)

20 Mountain

Spells (18)

4 Dragon Mantle
3 Hammerhand
2 Searing Blood
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Titan’s Strength
1 Hall of Triumph

Sideboard
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
2 Coordinated Assault
2 Magma Spray
2 Searing Blood
1 Hall of Triumph
2 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Arc Lightning

Theros Release Weekend

Mono-Red Aggro
Philip Bertorelli
1st Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 9/29/2013
Standard

Creatures (29)

4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Firefist Striker
1 Gore-House Chainwalker
4 Rakdos Cackler

Lands (21)

21 Mountain

Spells (10)

4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Shock

Sideboard
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Burning Earth
1 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Mizzium Mortars

Return to Ravnica Release Weekend

R/B Aggro
Steven Wu
12th Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 10/7/2012
Standard

Creatures (25)

4 Ash Zealot
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
4 Gore-House Chainwalker
4 Rakdos Cackler
3 Stonewright
4 Vexing Devil
2 Zealous Conscripts

Lands (23)

15 Mountain
2 Swamp
2 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit

Spells (12)

4 Searing Spear
4 Flames of the Firebrand
4 Pillar of Flame

Sideboard
3 Annihilating Fire
3 Electrickery
2 Rakdos Charm
3 Appetite for Brains
2 Mizzium Mortars
3 Traitorous Blood

Innistrad Release Weekend

Mono-Red Aggro
David Doberne
1st Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 10/2/2011
Standard

Creatures (20)

3 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Goblin Arsonist
3 Grim Lavamancer
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
2 Spikeshot Elder
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Stromkirk Noble

Planeswalkers (3)

3 Koth of the Hammer

Lands (23)

23 Mountain

Spells (14)

4 Shrine of Burning Rage
4 Brimstone Volley
3 Incinerate
3 Arc Trail

Sideboard
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Perilous Myr
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
3 Manic Vandal
4 Vulshok Refugee
1 Arc Trail
1 Traitorous Blood
1 Mountain

Each of these decks share some common traits as part of the winning formula of Red Aggro.  Looking at them in brief:

– They have a healthy ratio of creatures to spells.  By the numbers 22/18, 29/10, 25/12, 20/14.  You need to pave the way for your creatures to get through, and you need to have spells to finish them off at those low life totals when your creatures get stonewalled.

– All four decks have a sideboard that is slanted towards winning Aggro mirrors (again expecting that opening weekend), as well as a smidge of anti-Midrange, and the rest for Control.

– All of them follow a tight, aggressive curve and play lots of four-ofs to stay consistent and redundant.  Their curves as follows:

Schoenbrun
1cc:  16 (creatures) ; 11 (spells) ; 27 (total)
2cc:  2 (creatures) ; 2 (spells) ; 4 (total)
3cc:  4 (creatures) ; 1 (spells) ; 5 (total)
4cc: 4 (spells) ; 4 (total)
Lands:  20

Bertorelli
1cc:  4 (creatures) ; 2 (spells) ; 6 (total)
2cc:  13 (creatures) ; 8 (spells) ; 21 (total)
3cc:  8 (creatures) ; 8 (total)
4cc: 4 (creatures) ; 4 (total)
Lands:  21

Wu
1cc:  11 (creatures) ; 4 (spells) ; 15 (total)
2cc:  8 (creatures) ; 4 (spells) ; 12 (total)
3cc:  4 (spells) ; 4 (total)
4cc: 4 (creatures) ; 4 (total)
5cc:  2 (creatures) ; 2 (total)
Lands:  23

Doberne
1cc:  11 (creatures) ; 11 (total)
2cc:  4 (creatures) ; 10 (spells) ; 14 (total)
3cc:  3 (creatures) ; 4 (spells) ;  7 (total)
4cc: 2 (creatures) ; 3 (spells) ;  5 (total)
Lands:  23

Ranges and Averages (rounded up)
1cc:  4-16 (creatures) ; 11 (avg), 0-11 (spells) ; 4 (avg)
2cc:  2-13 (creatures) ; 7 (avg), 2-10 (spells) ; 6 (avg)
3cc:  0-8 (creatures) ; 4 (avg), 0-4 (spells) ; 2 (avg)
4cc:  0-4 (creatures) ; 3 (avg), 0-4 (spells) ; 2 (avg)
5cc:  0-2 (creatures) ; 1 (avg), 0 (spells) ; 0 (avg)
lands:  20-23 ; 22 (avg)

This data is not something that can design you the perfect deck or the perfect numbers, but the trends and how much you have to pay attention to curve is relevant.  Different sub themes can push you slightly one way or the other, but they all share the same base formula.  Also just as a fun amalgamation, if you total the averages up you get 40 cards and 22 lands.  Pretty close to the norm, and you could probably just shave a land and a card to make the final amalgamation.

I’m hoping this data is useful from a brewers standpoint for the upcoming opening weekend (July 18th), as it should keep one from leaning too hard in one direction.

Red in Origins

Core sets tend to be deep in valuable Red cards, with the last one bringing us Goblin Rabblemaster, Stoke the Flames, Chandra, Pyromaster, Frenzied Goblin, and Hammerhand.  There’s no shortage of that in Origins, with almost every card getting at least a hesitation of consideration by me for some archetype or another.  Lets look at “some” of the potential standouts:

abbotofkeralkeep

Abbot of Keral Keep

Pros:  Acceptable stats, mechanic that Red can easily support, late game value
Cons:  His greatest ability is terrible on turn 2, which means he’s probably not a 4-of in most lists.  His Stats are OK but not impressive
Verdict:  Probably good in a middle to bigger shell at lower numbers, but has a lot of competition

acolyteoftheinferno

Acolyte of the Inferno

Pros:  Looks like a total bomb in Limited, extremely good aggressive abilities
Cons:  Too costly to make an impact in Standard most likely
Verdict:  Early play/pick in Limited

AvariciousDragon

Avaricious Dragon

Pros:  Great card advantage that can be utilized with burn and cheap creatures.  Good way to stay in the long game.  Helps Dragon themed decks.
Cons:  The downsides are pretty bad.  You don’t get to use him first turn, yet you do discard your hand.  Your opponent can kill him on your turn or theirs to negate all value aside from eating one of their removal spells.
Verdict:  I’ve seen him splashed as a 1-2 of in early lists, and typically he’s one of the last cards you’ll play when you’ve got them on the ropes or vice versa.  That’s probably the most I’d do with him, but I personally think this guy is a big bust.  Being that he has a Howling Mine for Red though does hold some weight.

Chandrafireofkaladesh

Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh // Chandra, Roaring Flame

Pros:  Turning her on just involves any pump spell and connecting for damage.  Her planeswalker mode both protects herself to an extent as well as puts your opponent on a very quick clock.  Her ultimate is scary and real.
Cons:  Her stats are low for her mana cost.  She’s congested in a low to the ground deck at 3 mana.  She has to deal damage in order to flip and requires a second card to do so.
Verdict:  I strongly believe there is a deck or two for her out there, but she does require work.  The earliest stuff that I’ve seen or toyed with have involved Atarka’s Command, Titan’s Strength, and Hammerhand, but finding where she makes sense is a challenge.

EmbermawHellion

Embermaw Hellion

Pros:  Sort of a Hellrider.  Trample and a big butt that dodges a share of removal.  Possible finisher.
Cons:  High mana cost which makes cards like Stormbreath Dragon just better for now in most situations.  Lack of haste and the fact that many Red decks don’t want a five drop hurt this card a lot.
Verdict:  I think it’ll be a bulk rare, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to brew with it.  If anything, I think this card will have potential post-rotation if a shell can be found.

exquisitefirecraft

Exquisite Firecraft

Pros:  Makes Control players cringe.  Potentially playable in all formats.  Good damage rate.  Easy to turn on Spell Mastery.  Straight upgrade in some sideboards over cards currently seeing play.
Cons:  Sorcery speed is a big knock, and 3 mana is a lot for some decks to add another spell of that cost.  It doesn’t hit the five toughness creatures that rule Standard at the moment.
Verdict:  This card is good, and it will see play.  Buy them now before it becomes the next Stoke the Flames at rare.

goblinglorychaser

Goblin Glory Chaser

Pros:  Menace has always been an incredibly strong ability in Red, even before it got its own word.  Rarely do you see this ability tacked onto a 1/1.  He potentially enables the Goblin archetype in Standard.  He’s just a one mana 2/2 in many games.  He’s been impressive in playtesting.
Cons:  He’s potentially just good in Goblins and nothing else, it’s not easy to turn him on in every matchup, his stats are unimpressive when he’s not Renowned.
Verdict:  He’s a staple in Standard Goblins, but probably nowhere else.  He should see play in other Red decks if options become limited.

goblinpiledriver

Goblin Piledriver

Pros:  His rate is insane.  He’s protection from every Red Mage’s most hated color (suck on that Master of Waves!).  He single-highhandedly enables the Goblin archetype in Standard and Modern.
Cons:  Goblins is a fragile archetype by nature.  It makes you play less removal in your deck and makes your deck more susceptible to sweepers.
Verdict:  I didn’t get to play with him in Standard the first time around, but have seen his power in Legacy.  In early playtesting, I’ve seen this power again.  He is glorious and I hope many an opposing mage gets Piledrive’d on opening weekend.  His impact on Modern could be enough to make Goblins into a Tier 1 archetype.

Mage-ringbully

Mage-Ring Bully

Pros:  Another Prowess card for Red is always welcome, and his stats are agreeable for that.  Playable two drops aren’t always plentiful, so even something worth outside consideration here is a pro.
Cons:  His drawback is only bad some of the time.  His stats and lack of other abilities are his big limiting factor, and that he lacks haste.
Verdict:  I think this guy will actually see play.  He’s super solid in limited for aggressive decks, but even in Standard there’s enough Prowess cards that something could be made here.  The question is will he make the cut since you may just want to play other Prowess creatures over him.

magmaticinsight

Magmatic Insight

Pros:  Essentially a cheaper Tormenting Voice which has already seen play.  This one has a minimal drawback and the mana cost difference is probably all the difference.  Potentially playable in all formats.  A card that Combo archetypes welcome.
Cons:  Sorcery speed, still has a built-in drawback.  Won’t fit in every shell, it requires the right build.
Verdict:  I’m exceptionally happy to see this printed, it’s a Red card I would play in many builds.  It does require a lot of critical thinking when it comes to where best to use the card, but I don’t think it will take long for this to get adopted.  Storm probably wants it, possibly Life from the Loam decks, and just Red decks seeking to have some card filtering.

MoltenVortex

Molten Vortex

Pros:  Possible sideboard card for Legacy Burn, or just a ton of Red decks in general.  Great rate, prevents flood, is an enchantment which makes it harder to deal with, sneaks under counterspells.
Cons:  Damage output and real cost of ability might limit where it gets played.
Verdict:  A+, this card is likely to see play by me on opening weekend, and even if not I’ll be wanting to pick up my set soon.  It’s really easy to get the train rolling and it’s just a superb value card.  Maybe that’s a new thing for Wizards; print the word Vortex on a Red card and let the good times roll.

Piaandkirannalaar

Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Pros:  Very good rate, exceptional board presence, mini Siege-Gang Commander.  Ability can trigger with any artifact, making it a solid build-around card.  The tokens have evasion.
Cons:  High competition at the four drop spot, many people believe this card is relegated to a build-around theme, not quite the same as Siege-Gang Commander.  Legendary.
Verdict:  I said early on this was my favorite card of the set and I’m still of that mindset.  I know this requires the right shell and the right format for it to breathe, but this rate is strong and Siege-Gang is quite powerful.  I think over Magic’s history people don’t realize how good Siege-Gang is because he’s always been an inexpensively priced card that takes a lot of mana to get going.  Pia is both cheaper in mana cost as well as being great alongside either a heavy token theme or an artifact theme.  She’s a great blink target.  The evasion in my opinion is quite relevant.  I think she’ll get dogged by a lot of players which is precisely when a card’s potential rises in my mind.  Don’t sleep on this one.

ravagingblaze

Ravaging Blaze

Pros:  Another Searing Blaze/Blood effect.  Way to get out of jams and also end the game on the spot, especially at Instant speed.
Cons:  Bad enough rate to limit it to mostly a finisher.  Burn decks aren’t likely to want it, which would relegate it to Standard.
Verdict:  This card certainly intrigues me.  I could see a lot of spots where it’s a later game Burn spell that kills their best creature at their end step and then allows you to swing in for the win with your army.  I like the design, and I like that it forces you to think about possible routes to go with it.  I think this card will see play, but it will take some crafty Red mages to make it work properly.

scab-clanberserker

Scab-Clan Berserker

Pros:  A Control player’s nightmare.  Eidolon number 2, YES PLEASE.  Haste makes it much better, but probably would have been good even without it.  Potential include for Red Devotion in Standard.
Cons:  Getting renowned isn’t a given, and without it his rate is unexciting.  This will exclude him from some maindecks as well as some archetypes (Goblins), but probably not sideboard.
Verdict:  This is my second favorite card of the set and I think it’s a staple for a long time running.  Eidolon had a gigantic impact on all three formats and Scab-Clan is just as good but even better alongside of an Eidolon.  This is almost a snap-include against Control in most formats.  Having to connect with your opponent is a real downside, but the upsides are so high all around that I still think this card is going to be exceptional.  In my first few test games with him (in a Devotion shell), my Control opponent saw both an Eidolon and him come down and in private chat just put “WTF is that.   Reading.   Yeah game 3.”

seismicelemental

Seismic Elemental

Pros:  Ends the game with most Aggro decks that can support a five drop.  Absolute limited all-star.
Cons:  Stats are a little poor, might not see Standard play, doesn’t stop fliers from blocking.
Verdict:  This card has a great design, building a Magmatic Chasm into a Fire Elemental.  I’m looking forward to trying him in some shells, and could see him as a 1-of out of some boards.  Potentially more if the right shell allows.

SkyrakerGiant

Skyraker Giant

Pros:  An always good rate for Limited for a Red card.  Reach is a very unusual ability for Red to have, and helps a lot in limited as Skies is always a deck.
Cons:  Not playable in Constructed
Verdict:  Great limited card for Red, thought it was worth mentioning just because of the rareness and importance of Reach

subterraneanscout

Subterranean Scout

Pros:  Enables Goblin Piledriver and Goblin Rabblemaster to punch through Midrange and Aggro decks.  Stats are fine on curve.  Can combo with other creatures that pump.
Cons:  Bad by himself, not a terribly great rate, little value beyond his initial ETB trigger.  Congested at the two drop spot.
Verdict:  He’s an autoplay in Standard Goblins, possibly Modern, but he’s not a card I’d like to have 4-of in many decks.  Making your Goblin unblockable is also not always going to win you the game, but I do love that they printed him as he is an important enabler.

thopterengineer

Thopter Engineer

Pros:  Combos well with Pia and Kiran Nalaar and the latter clause on the card could be an archetype enabler.  Establishes good board presence.
Cons:  Not a particularly great rate for aggressive strategies.  You have to build around this one.
Verdict:  If there’s a Thopter deck, or even some kind of Artifacts deck in some format, this card probably has a home.  It looks fun for EDH too (ThoptAAAARRRS!)

Updating Standard

Since it’s early in the brewphase, I don’t have a decklist “ready” yet for the SCG.  Much testing has to happen, so keep an eye out on my social media for Streaming or updates.  That said, let’s look at two existing archetypes from last weekend and what possible updates could slot into them:

Goblins (Old)

Mono-Red Goblins
Bobby Birmingham
6th Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 6/27/2015
Standard

Creatures (16)

4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Frenzied Goblin
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Monastery Swiftspear

Lands (20)

20 Mountain

Spells (24)

4 Obelisk of Urd
4 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Titan’s Strength
4 Dragon Fodder
4 Hordeling Outburst

Sideboard
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Searing Blood
1 Hall of Triumph
4 Roast
2 Scouring Sands

The biggest notable additions to this deck from Origins are Goblin Glory Chaser, Goblin Piledriver, and Subterranean Scout.  Mardu Scout also becomes a consideration since it combos well with both Piledriver and Rabblemaster, although the two-drop spot is heavily congested.  If we do a some swaps, the new list looks like so:

Mono-Red Goblins (New)
John Galli

Creatures (16)

4 Foundry Street Denizen
3 Frenzied Goblin
4 Goblin Glory Chaser
4 Goblin Piledriver
1 Subterranean Scout
3 Goblin Rabblemaster

Lands (20)

20 Mountain

Spells (24)

4 Obelisk of Urd
4 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Titan’s Strength
1 Hammerhand
4 Dragon Fodder

Sideboard
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Searing Blood
1 Hall of Triumph
4 Roast
2 Scouring Sands

The challenge of course here is that Obelisk of Urd is much better when it’s a surprise.  Birmingham was able to catapult to the top 8 of the SCG Open in Baltimore last weekend due to this factor, but that’s not to say you don’t still gain insane value in many games.  I’ve played with and against Obelisk many times, and there’s a lot of times where you just can’t do anything about it aside from try to remove creatures and race.  Birmingham was also taking advantage though of a format that was light on Aggro, so you may have to plug in more Burn or Falter effects for opening week.

Red Devotion (Old)

Mono-Red Devotion
Dylan Hysen
7th Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 6/27/2015
Standard

Creatures (28)

1 Ashcloud Phoenix
4 Dragon Whisperer
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Flamewake Phoenix
3 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Thunderbreak Regent
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Lands (25)

21 Mountain
1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Spells (7)

4 Draconic Roar
3 Crater’s Claws

Sideboard
3 Stoke the Flames
4 Wild Slash
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Roast

I really like Dylan’s list, with the notable exception being that I think it’s a little soft to Abzan and that Crater’s Claws is only good in spots.  I think it wants some number of maindeck Roasts, or some creatures exchanged out, but Devotion is a tricky deck to get just right.  There’s also the possibility of splashing White or Black here for pretty big value.  His sideboard might look strange to some, but he’s covering the three levels of the format (Control, Aggro, Midrange) with the best cards to suit each of those matchups.  It’s tough to board in a lot of cards for a Devotion deck, so these are basic problem solvers to strengthen beyond Game 1.  Here’s some possible builds for the future:

Mono-Red Devotion (New)
John Galli

Creatures (28)

4 Dragon Whisperer
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Scab-Clan Berserker
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Thunderbreak Regent
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Lands (25)

21 Mountain
1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Spells (7)

4 Draconic Roar
3 Crater’s Claws

Sideboard
2 Molten Vortex
1 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Wild Slash
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Roast

RB Devotion (New)
John Galli

Creatures (28)

4 Dragon Whisperer
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Flamewake Phoenix
3 Scab-Clan Berserker
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Thunderbreak Regent
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Lands (25)

4 Temple of Malice
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Wooded Foothills
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Swamp
8 Mountain
1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Spells (7)

4 Draconic Roar
4 Murderous Cut

Sideboard
1 Roast
2 Molten Vortex
4 Wild Slash
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Self-Inflicted Wound

Big Red (New)
John Galli

3 Zurgo, Bellstriker
4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Lightning Berserker
1 Frenzied Goblin
2 Ire Shaman
1 Abbot of Keral Keep
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
1 Ashcloud Phoenix
1 Stormbreath Dragon

4 Wild Slash
2 Roast
4 Lightning Strike
1 Exquisite Firecraft
1 Chandra, Pyromaster

22 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Roast
1 Avaricious Dragon
1 Magma Spray
2 Searing Blood
2 Arc Lightning
1 Harness by Force
3 Scab-Clan Berserker
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Ashcloud Phoenix
1 Exquisite Firecraft

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning