Devotion To Skred

skredwallpaper

Devotion To Skred

We’re in the thick of Modern season, a place that breeds creativity and rewards those who dare to explore the boundaries of an infant format.  With only a few of these seasons under its belt and a wide open card pool, I thought it was pertinent to explore some possibilities.  Those of you who have been PPTQ’ing like me, attended Grand Prix Charlotte, or simply like new things should be pretty happy with what we’ve seen in the last few weeks.  Very different top 8s, new decks breathing life into the format, and old standbys remaining contenders but not being overpowered.

But if you’re really like me, you want to be winning with Red.  And today, more specifically, SKRED.

skred

Fellow podcaster Davis Merced played Skred Red at Grand Prix Richmond last year to a Day 2 finish, taking advantage of a format that was vulnerable to Blood Moon and focused synergy.  The deck is extremely fun to look at, play games with, and was even dubbed the affectionate nickname of “Koths and Bolts”.  For those of you who haven’t seen it in my articles before, this was his list:

Skred Red by Davis Merced (Day 2, Grand Prix Richmond 2014)

2 Scrying Sheets
21 Snow-Covered Mountain

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

1 Batterskull
4 Blood Moon
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Mind Stone
2 Pyroclasm
3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Skred
2 Volcanic Fallout

4 Koth of the Hammer

Sideboard
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Blasphemous Act
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Combust
2 Molten Rain
1 Pyrite Spellbomb
1 Relic of Progenitus
3 Shatterstorm

I’ve been revisiting this deck since the results of the SCG Invitational clearly begged for the return of Blood Moon.  Amulet Bloom Combo and RG Tron were everywhere on Day 2, and while the results leveled out at Grand Prix Charlotte, many decks in the format can still be punished by elements of Skred Red.  Blood Moon lets you do many things due to the time it establishes while your opponent tries to find answers.

Davis’s build skews more towards a Control angle.  There are powerful finishers, along with the Boros Reckoner / Skred Combo, and this is backed up by sweepers.  I like that approach, but generally I tend to play more aggressive decks and I noticed there are games that you sometimes need more threat power.  Either you have a Blood Moon out and no threats for a long time, or you don’t have a Blood Moon and you’re hoping your sweepers buy you enough time.  These situations only come up in a fraction of games, as the deck is largely consistent, but the hamster wheel got turning when Davis was telling me about losing twice to Scapeshift in a PTQ where he went 6-2.  I thought, why limit ourselves to Control when we can pretty much do whatever we want, and just have Blood Moon run interference.

The first idea that came to mind was a combo from old Standard that was great at dismantling Aggro and Midrange decks, while at the same time putting your opponent on a clock:

cunningsparkmagebasiliskcollar

The ability to kill any creature, and two cards that are reasonable just by themselves.  There are a lot of useful X/1s in Modern, and Sparkmage puts the kibosh on those.  Noble Hierarch, Elves (seeing increased popularity), Affinity’s creatures, Viscera Seer, Infect’s creatures, etc.  I had tested Burn against a local friend and newly donned pro Fanchen Yang who has been playing Elves for quite some time, and Anger of the Gods / Volcanic Fallout was something that could be recovered from in many games.  Those cards still might be the best way to attack Aggro decks, but they’re not great against the Midrange part of the field and not nearly as fun as the combo above.

I talked about the new brew on Facebook and in my other podcast (Card Knock Life) this week and received some interesting ideas.  First was to replace or supplement Cunning Sparkmage with Vulshok Sorcerer, who was just a straight upgrade in the deck.  I had been looking through the gatherer quite a bit, but sometimes you just forget/miss some possibilities and it was early in the brewing stage.

This was my initial starting list (after subbing out Sparkmage):

Skred Aggro by John Galli (Early Test Build)

4 Spikeshot Elder
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Stigma Lasher
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Vulshok Sorcerer
4 Simian Spirit Guide
2 Spellskite

4 Skred
4 Blood Moon
3 Basilisk Collar
2 Sword of War and Peace

21 Snow-Covered Mountain

Sideboard
2 Shattering Spree
1 Shatterstorm
1 Electrickery
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Spellskite
1 Rending Volley
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Roast
1 Basilisk Collar
1 Dragon’s Claw
1 Pyrite Spellbomb

There’s so many choices available for a deck like this, that I’ll warn readers this is simply a rough draft.  I jammed a good number of games on Cockatrice and really liked what was going on though, so it’s something I’m still continuing to test.  Cards that were on my flex list from the get-go and running forward were Spikeshot Elder, Stigma Lasher, Spellskite, and Sword of War and Peace.  None of these are necessary for the deck’s theme, they’re just good cards that I wanted to get a feel for.

Mogg Fanatic, Grim Lavamancer, and a variety of other cards that work with Basilisk Collar or Skred were on my radar.  I’ve subbed some of these in since the original list to see how the deck does with different orientations.  On the Card Knock Life Podcast, Corey suggested Fanatic of Mogis for a Devotion route since the deck already features a lot of Red mana symbols, along with Ash Zealot as some extra game against Snapcaster Mage and to give the deck added aggression.  I was a bit hesitant on the podcast in my response, but I did toss a few games in with it to see what it felt like.  It actually seems really strong, and opens another avenue you could take the deck towards.  Red Devotion was a very powerful deck in all its iterations for Standard, and when you combine this with Blood Moon along with the potential for faster deployment, you could end up with something great.

Speaking of faster deployment, a strong point of contention is this card:

simianspiritguide

I love this card.  It feels “broken” and while it is always a cause for card disadvantage, the flipside is that you get to cast absurdly powerful things absurdly early.  Its seen light play in both Modern and Legacy, and with good reason.  Just a few of the things I’ve done in the recent past with it:

– Played a turn 1 Stone Rain

– Played a turn 1 Blood Moon

– Played a turn 1 Eidolon of the Great Revel

– Paid for my opponent’s Daze while tapped out

– Played a turn 2 Koth of the Hammer

Consistency is the issue, as it takes a card away from your hand, it doesn’t permanently accelerate you, and there’s only a limited number of them in your deck.  It’s also not fantastic by itself, although it is nice that you can still get a 2/2 sometimes if that’s what the situation calls for.  I don’t know if a Devotion build has room for something like this, probably just as a 1-2 of if any at all, but the other builds of Skred really love to get their tech online fast.  And any deck with Eidolon or Blood Moon gets a serious leg up with his inclusion.

Burning-Tree Emissary is the more natural Devotion enabler, but one of the drawbacks he always had was that he couldn’t accelerate into the RR creatures and spells.  In Modern, the RR creatures are your basic bread and butter, so it’d be hard to cut some of them although there are a laundry list of 1R creatures to look through as other possible options.  Playing him also puts you pretty full tilt into Devotion, and I’m again not sure that the full-on Fanatic of Mogis plan is warranted.

Davis mentioned he has tried it in the past in Skred, and that he felt at the time there was too much removal in the format.  Personally I think there could be some room at the moment.  Aside from Jund, removal is fairly limited and pinpoint for most decks.  You’ll have your set of Lightning Bolt, your occasional Path to Exile or sweeper, but these are things that don’t generally nuke your whole deck and can be played cautiously into.  The advantage we have is that the opponent has a known archetype, and we very much do not.  You’re also going to play most of these cards anyway if you’re playing an Aggroish Skred, so a few Fanatics is just a solid curve topper that can accelerate your win by a turn or two.  It also gives you some long game and is difficult to deal with.

I’d like to share a decklist, but I also don’t like posting hot garbage when I can avoid it and the Devotion build is just not tailored enough yet for consumption.  That said, I have hope, and will continue to post on Twitter and Facebook as developments come along so stay tuned for that.

Another route you could go with Skred that carries the Aggro theme forward is Goblins.  I was playing Burn at a PPTQ a few weekends ago and felt very confident in my list.  I sat down against my round 1 opponent who had just graduated high school and he seemed like a fairly nice, casual guy.  Hopes were high, but then the next thing I know he cast Browbeat and I’m forced to let him draw three cards.  He follows it up the next turn by attacking me with a Goblin Guide, Goblin Grenade’ing it, and launches two Lightning Bolts at my face when I’m at 12 life and have lethal in hand.  Ouch.  Game 2 wasn’t any better, he curves Goblin Guide into Goblin Chieftain into Krenko, Mob Boss.

This got the wheels spinning again.  I started looking through results online, and ultimately found a few Goblin lists that placed in the top 8 of various States tournaments.  While I was at it I came across a great number of sweet decks.  I compiled a large list, and definitely recommend giving it a look if you’re a fan of originality:

Interesting Modern Brews

The Goblin lists in particular could fit the Skred shell because some of them already run Blood Moon to attack the meta and take advantage of their landbase.  I spoke with some players online who have been playing Goblins, and they were completely in on the Blood Moon plan already, saying they had been doing very well at their LGS’s tournaments.  While Goblins requires few non-creature spells and would like to have some number of Cavern of Souls, it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to have Skred and Snow-Covered Mountains here too.  The only serious drawback is that one of the main reasons to run that combination is so you can use Boros Reckoner for loads of damage, but there still might be a way to squeeze these elements into a workable shell.  It’s also possible that I’m stretching too much, but there are great minds out there and I think it’s worth a mention to see if someone can crack it before I do.  In the time being I’ll be focusing more on Devotion and Aggro, but who knows what the future holds. . .

Other Red Decks In Modern

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what I’ve been playing in actual tournaments and another deck I think could be a stealth bomber.  First, the deck I’ve PPTQ’d with which you may have seen a version of on Anthony Lowry’s last StarCityGames article:

RBG Burn by John Galli

4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Bump in the Night
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
1 Shard Volley
4 Searing Blaze
4 Atarka’s Command

1 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Mountain
2 Stomping Ground
2 Blood Crypt
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Copperline Gorge

Sideboard
4 Destructive Revelry
1 Rakdos Charm
1 Electrickery
2 Rending Volley
4 Self-Inflicted Wound
2 Molten Rain
1 Skullcrack

I first saw this style of deck on MTGO a few weeks ago when I was birding decklists trying to find a Burn build with some new game theory.  It was being piloted by Johnny Hotsauce (aka Andrew Shrout of SCG Fame).  Tasigur and Self-Inflicted Wound were the big innovations, along with going back to a Black build in general to get that hyper-tempo play of Bump in the Night.

Is Tasigur better than Grim Lavamancer?  Is Bump in the Night + Wound better than Boros Charm + White Sideboard Cards?

Yes and No.

Tasigur adds an element to the Burn deck that is both unexpected as well as difficult/impossible for some decks to deal with.  Decks like Twin and Grixis often only have a few removal or bounce spells to deal with him, and those are many times used up earlier on your other creatures or not found in time.  He comes down just about as early as he does in the Blue decks, often on turn 3, and sometimes just later when you’ve exhausted other spells but haven’t finished them yet.  He doesn’t die to the sweepers your other creatures do, and later in the game his activation ability DOES happen, bringing back Lightning Bolts for days.  You’ll need to be mindful of what cards you delve and such, but it’s pretty easy to setup his ability for value, along with potentially reducing opposing Tarmogoyfs.

Self-Inflicted Wound is solid all around, giving you nice answers to Primeval Titan, Elves, Jund, Abzan, Collected Company, Boggles, and some fringe matchups.  For instance, I played against Soul Sisters the other day and it surprised my opponent on turn 2 after he had played his Auriok Champion, which then lead to a Tasigur, which then led to an actual game won against an auto-lose matchup.  The drawback is mostly just that it’s a sorcery, and that it’s not a great answer to Kor Firewalker in Burn mirrors (in fact I don’t usually bring it in but I don’t blame anyone who does)

Grim Lavamancer is powerful, and he does more of what Burn wants to be doing, so I can completely side with anyone who intends to remain Naya or straight RW.  You’re just looking to kill your opponent, and he both provides that option through face bolts or by getting rid of creatures that make your job harder like Delver of Secrets and Heritage Druid.  In the sideboard, cards like Path to Exile, Deflecting Palm, Stony Silence, Circle of Protection: Red,  Kor Firewalker, and Lightning Helix all provide strong answers to decks in the Metagame, but most of them are equally questionable due to their lack of damage or built-in drawbacks.  Path gives your opponent a land, which can sometimes be the kill shot, Palm can be played around once they know you have it, Stony Silence can come online too late, COP can be sandbagged until they release their entire hand in a turn sometimes or be destroyed, Kor Firewalker is hard to cast with the lands in the deck, and Lightning Helix is another two mana burn spell in a deck that’s overloaded with them.

If anything, there’s one man who’s been getting it mostly right for the last full season.  I mentioned Jasper’s deck in my last article so I won’t list it again, but I strongly recommend checking that one out if you haven’t already.  He won a PPTQ with it, a friend of ours won a Las Vegas all-inclusive tournament, and they both top 8’d recently again at another PPTQ.  His list doesn’t get cute, it’s all business and all specific.  It eskews some of the more common choices, and I’m still not 100% sure it’s what yours truly wants to be doing, but it’s my usual go-to recommendation for most.  The man has been “on fire” in Magic, making the Pro Tour in most of the last few seasons along with a tough loss for his win-and-in at Grand Prix Las Vegas.  Fortunately two others from our Madison area made it into top 8, with one of them a well respected Aaron Lewis taking the whole thing down.  This community is serious when it comes to the game, and the results will keep rolling as a result.

The other deck that I think could be a stealth bomber is the following beauty:

RG Shamans by Clinton Weller

3 Bosk Banneret
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
2 Burning-Tree Shaman
4 Elvish Visionary
1 Eternal Witness
3 Flamekin Harbinger
1 Fulminator Mage
2 Ire Shaman
1 Prophetic Flamespeaker
4 Rage Forger
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Simian Spirit Guide
3 Wolf-Skull Shaman

1 Shared Animosity

4 Lightning Bolt
2 Manamorphose

1 Thrun, the Last Troll

2 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Cavern of Souls
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
2 Mutavault
4 Stomping Ground
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wooded Foothills

Sideboard:
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Essence Warden
1 Reclamation Sage
2 Blood Moon
2 Choke
1 Leyline of Punishment
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
1 Destructive Revelry
1 Guttural Response
1 Lead the Stampede

Yeah I know.  Most people see this list and think, “how cute, he’s playing a tribal deck”.  For those people, I implore you to play 10 games with it.  I played 10 matches, and despite them being on Cockatrice which has its share of casuals, I won all 10.  This deck has some premium unleaded gasoline in it, and the ability to get out of just about any situation your opponent decides to put you in.  I didn’t even realize some of my favorites in this list were Shamans (I’m looking at you Flamespeaker), but thankfully they are.  Flamekin helps you tutor up answers early, while Eternal Witness helps you get them back.  But really, there’s one key reason why this deck is bananas:

rageforger

I had seen him in the past, but never took the time to fully contemplate the text.  This man puts Hellrider to shame.  One mana less, permanent +1/+1 Counters, and damage on attack.  Along with Flamekin and just by himself, he consistently enables early kills, usually on turn 4.  He is the key piece of the deck, and a way to give you a default win in matches where you’re not working around certain cards.

There’s a lot of incremental value in the deck too, with cards like Scavenging Ooze that work with Rage Forger, Manamorphose, Visionary, and Burning-Tree that help you cycle/accelerate through your deck.  The sideboard almost feels like you’re playing a Gifts deck since you can tutor some of your bullets for immediate use.   Bottom line, this is a sweet sweet brew, and I’d be very happy to PPTQ with it anyday.

Next big tournament for me on the horizon is the StarCityGames Open in Chicago on July 18th/19th.  Hopefully I’ll see some of you readers and listeners there while we break in Origins for one last hurrah with a Core Set.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

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Reign of Fire

atarkascommand

Reign of Fire

This is the longest I’ve gone without writing an article, but the Magic has still very much been alive for my fellow compatriots and I.  This weekend in particular was more exciting than I expected, and some great results happened which I’ll share with you readership along with what I’d recommend for next week.  We’ll talk a little Standard, a little Modern, and above all else; Mountains.

Podcasting, Testing, and Decision-Making

So one of the big reasons for the delay was that I became involved with two Podcasts.  I’ve never been a big listener of them before but I think it’s a fantastic platform to spread news about things you’re “actually” interested in as opposed to the local radio.  And in this case its perfect for delivering expanded Magic content.  If you haven’t listened to them yet, here are the links to get you started:

Card Knock Life:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Red Deck Podcast:

Episode 1

Episode 2

(*Note – There are also iTunes and RSS links on those pages)

Card Knock Life is myself and four fellow Magic friends who all lived and/or played in Madison, WI at one time or another and all have that competitive fire.  I think we assembled a great team for this, all of us are very strong in certain areas of the game, so you’ll get your jack-of-all-trades content here and just about anyone should be able to extract some food for thought.

The Red Deck Podcast is of course about all things fire.  Myself, fellow Madisonian Andy Eichelkraut, and Chicago-Based Davis Merced work through the various Red triumphs of the format, brews we’re working on, and strategies for various Red archetypes.  We’ll be working on expanding both casts, with discussions on hands and play, special guests, new segments, and of course fun stories, so stay tuned.

Most of the month though has been spent testing.  I didn’t have many specific tournaments to attend, with a PPTQ last weekend and States this weekend being the more important ones.  I was trying just about everything on Cockatrice, from Mono Red Aggro (Braverman), Red Aggro Splash Green (Bumgardner), RG Aggro (Merriam), RG Dragons (Van Meter), Jeskai Tokens (Anderson), to my own brews of Mardu.  Plus there were a dozen other lists that seemed like a blast to play but just not quite competitive enough or that needed heaps of time I couldn’t allocate.  Big Red was one of the front runners, along with some White-based Aggro lists of Craig Wescoe’s that centered around Citadel Siege.  On that note, I even messed around with Prophetic Flamespeaker and Citadel Siege since I saw a local circuit player having a great deal of success with the combination and it was fun in my Become Immense brew.

At the end of the day, playing all of these decks, along with even playing Control, Combo and basically everything in the format, led to a scrambled eggs effect in my brain.  Usually doing a gauntlet gives you an idea of what deck is the best in the format, but I think the trouble was that I was just not willing to accept the answer.  To me, three decks stood out as the cream of the crop:

Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens, GW Devotion, and Abzan Aggro

All of these decks have key ways of attacking the format which I think put them head and shoulders above the rest *most* of the time.  I say most because unlike the older formats, Standard is a collection of fairly evenly matched archetypes.  Your “bad” matchup isn’t unwinnable, and your good matchups aren’t a lock.  Plus, since this is a newly refreshed format, people are trying all styles of builds and cards which means if you put in the practice hours you can gain some very relevant edges over an expected metagame.

So why do these archetypes succeed more often than not?  Well, for Jeskai Tokens, their gameplan of playing lots of tokens works well against the removal of the format.  Most decks are playing removal that costs more than one mana and is designed for specific creatures.  The tokens on the other hand are just value plays every time and make that removal look awkward, while at the same time putting pressure on your opponent.  Add some creatures to the mix, some burn spells, and draw cards to refuel, and you have a deck that is attacking from 2-3 different angles which puts any opponent in a tough spot.  Oh and lets not forget the centerpiece, Jeskai Ascendancy, which just goes bananas if your opponent doesn’t have an answer for it and you win almost every game in that scenario.  Sure your opponent can have sweepers post-board, but most of the sweepers like Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods aren’t very good once an Ascendancy is in play, or you just beat it with multiple token generators and Treasure Cruise.  Virulent Plague is the scariest answer, or heavy enchantment removal, but just about everyone includes only 1-2 of those in their board, and that’s only if they both decide to and have access to it.

GW Devotion is extremely underplayed, but is arguably still just as good as the weekend that it broke out onto the scene.  It has more powerful cards than even most Abzan lists, the ability to take the game to a level that is completely out of reach of other decks, and a great anti-control plan in the form of Mastery of the Unseen + Whisperwood Elemental.  The deck is most vulnerable to fliers and quick Red Aggro starts, although those matchups can also be great depending on build and draws.  The bottom line, like Jeskai Tokens, this deck gets a lot of free wins off the back of many opponents not being able to keep pace.  To shore up some of the weaknesses, I strongly suggest including a heavy amount of both of these cards in your build:

deathmistraptordragonlorddromoka

Deathmist Raptor keeps the deck fast, kills most of the relevant creatures in the format, and propels value in a deck that is all about it.  Dragonlord Dromoka is one of those cards that people just don’t realize is insane yet.  Ramping into a creature that dies to only a few key spot removal spells yet shuts down many archetypes is very important.  The lifegain and big butt is nigh unbeatable when playing vs Mono Red, and the other clauses force your Control opponent to let you resolve anything else you want if they don’t have a Hero’s Downfall or other similar removal outlet.

Abzan Aggro is “basically” the same as it was before which was already a deck featuring the best 2/3/4 drops in the format.  But the big changes here are Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Dromoka’s Command, both of which take the aggressive level up a full notch and make up for the slower hands that most builds used to have.  What was always chided for being a “Midrange deck misappropriately labeled” is now a full-on beat your face in archetype.  Dromoka’s Command especially adds a layer to this deck, letting you kill a Courser and potentially fight something else, so that your aggressive starts aren’t stymied by the bigger midrange brethren.

Control is a good choice too, but I think that it’s more pilot dependent.  I’ve seen a lot of people do bad, and a lot of people do good, vs how any of the above three decks can provide so many free wins that it’s hard to suggest otherwise.  Watch some of Adrian Sullivan’s coverage at the Pro Tour, and you’re likely to see some big differences between that and your local pilots.

But this isn’t a site about “decks in the format” and none of those decks speak to me.  Instead, I first turned to Mono Red.  Dragons of Tarkir brought some incredible tools.  Never before have I seen so many fantastic Red cards from a new set.  I mean, you have got to be kidding me:

dragonwhispererireshamanthunderbreakregentdraconicroarlightning-berserkerrendingvolleyroasttwinboltdragonfodder

I feel like Patrick Sullivan had bars of gold and 18-hour slow-cooked pork roasts delivered to all the R&D employees at Wizards.  SOMEONE over there thought Red needed a boost, and man did it get one.  These are obviously just a handful of the good Red cards of the set, and almost every single one I’ve used so far in some form or another.  This set is deep, and the exploring is far from over in my mind.

Mono Red put up great numbers on opening weekend, and has continued to do so since including winning the Pro Tour on Sunday.  I personally think the deck is very strong and like it a great deal, but it’s incredibly challenging to win against certain archetypes and I haven’t found a comfort spot with it yet.  My local metagame has a lot of Abzan and GW, and the people that play them are excellent pilots.  While those matchups can sometimes be very favorable for Red, piloting and card choices go a long way in determining the final victor.  Ultimately, I got turned off by the brick walls and heaps of life gain I kept seeing, and wanted to go a different route.  If someone handed me a 75 for Red and said “Go”, I wouldn’t be mad, but there are inherent weaknesses.

For starters, Braverman’s Eidolon of the Great Revel in the maindeck has a lot of liability.  It slows you down and it isn’t great against certain decks or in certain situations.  Eidolon is much more effective in older or slower formats, and this one while being somewhat slow isn’t that way all the time.  I like him better in the board, which gives you room for more one-drops and better removal.  Searing Blood and Roast are fairly critical cards that could be in the maindeck, and successful builds I’ve seen access Harness by Force out of the board instead of the Outpost Siege plan that Braverman put together.  Siege is fantastic, but in a world with Dromoka’s Command and in a deck that doesn’t want to wait for a four drop, let alone taking a turn off potentially, Siege isn’t worth playing in my opinion.  If you want to have a few in the board for Control that’s fine, but I’d rather use that slot for Eidolon and Harness.  Roast doesn’t hit the big dragons from RG, or Mantis Rider in Jeskai, so you want to have some flexibility.  Bathe in Dragonfire is equally fine as a one or two of for the same purposes.  No slight on Braverman though, he went 8-0 at a competitive Invitational, and his brother went 7-1.  The deck is no slouch.

Going bigger with Mono Red was another idea I had.  I couldn’t figure out a list that had a high enough winning percentage for me despite throwing many ideas against the wall.  I knew the format was largely vulnerable to fliers, so the basic shell of Flamewake Phoenix into 4/5 mana fliers was the base.  But beyond that, the decisions were very tough.  That is until the Pro Tour happened this weekend and a friend Evan alerted me to this fantastic list from Raphael Levy that looks like a super sweet 75 to sleeve up next weekend:

raphaellevyMonoRed

Sure, there’s a little black in the board, but this deck is all Red business.  Eschewing Stormbreath Dragon, Levy realizes he’s not as fast at times as the RG Dragons deck and just goes with pure efficient four drops.  At the same time, these are really the best “dragons” anyway, since both Ashcloud and Thunderbreak have a tough time coming off the board.  This furthermore allows you to not pigeonhole into the Draconic Roar plan, which isn’t always great against several of the popular archetypes.  Take for instance RG Dragons itself, which doesn’t have many targets for Roar.  You’d much prefer a Wild Slash to kill Elvish Mystic, and also handle other early threats that break your tempo.  Post-board the black removal shores up key weaknesses, with Self-Inflicted Wound giving you extra game against Abzan and GW, Virulent Plague shutting down an otherwise tough tokens/Mono Red matchup, and Ultimate Price allowing you to strike down other fliers in your way (along with just being well-positioned).  This list is a thing of beauty, and I can’t wait to put in games with it.

At the PPTQ last Saturday I was planning on playing Braverman’s exact 75 cards, but I audibled at the very last minute to Bumgardner’s Green splash version.  Like Martin Dang saw with his PT winning list, I thought Atarka’s Command was a powerful effect to trump the mirror and Siege Rhino.  Unfortunately when I say audibled at the “very last minute” I really do mean that, and it caused me to both leave some cards out I wanted as well as just misregistering my final decklist, losing round 1, receiving a game loss for round 2, and heading home within an hour.  It was sad and embarrassing, one of the worst moments in my Magic history that I can remember.  I lacked confidence that day, being worried about everything from what I saw in the room to how the deck would play out.  It wasn’t a good spot to be in, and my performance and behavior reflected as much.

This Saturday I didn’t want that to happen again.  I playtested a lot with Mardu, as I had been wanting to bring it back and a friend of mine, Khair, clued me into a version he was interested in trying.  It featured a full 12 token generators, in the form of Dragon Fodder, Hordeling Outburst, and Goblin Rabblemaster, but it ditched that plan post-board for a full-on Mardu Control package.  I criticized initially, not so much because I didn’t like the list, but because Mardu has the following fundamental problems that I personally had been having weeks of trouble addressing:

– Poor Control matchup due to many dead cards

– Poor tokens matchup

– Whip/Hornet Queen issues

– Poor Mono Red / Jeskai Burn matchup

That on paper looks like a lot of issues, but the payoff for playing Mardu is access to the best removal in the format, specifically Crackling Doom, and some extremely powerful cards in Butcher of the Horde, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, and Thoughtseize.  You also can tailor your build to just about any meta if you know ahead of time what you’re getting into.  Anyone who’s read my site knows I love the archetype, and had some success in the previous PTQ season with my own blend of it.  Khair’s list looked intriguing, and after testing games online I believed it shored up a lot of the weaknesses listed above.  The tokens helped put extra pressure on Control in a form that wasn’t easy to remove outside of sweepers, it allowed you to vary your pressure, and post-board Thoughtseize and or Mastery of the Unseen could seal the deal.  The tokens matchup was helped immensely by having tokens of your own as well as better removal post-board.  The Whip/Hornet Queen decks became less popular and could be answered with many of the same post-board options, and the tokens furthermore stymied Mono Red and Jeskai, especially when backed up by increased lifegain in the deck.

Here’s what I ultimately settled on:

Mardu Midrange by John Galli for SCG Wisconsin State Championship (5-2, 18th of 95)

4 Soulfire Grand Master
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Butcher of the Horde

4 Dragon Fodder
4 Hordeling Outburst
2 Outpost Siege
3 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Ultimate Price
4 Crackling Doom
4 Stoke the Flames

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

Sideboard
4 Thoughtseize
2 End Hostilities
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Utter End
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Outpost Siege
1 Archfiend of Depravity

On the day, I played against RG Dragons, UW Heroic, Abzan Aggro (four times), and Jeskai Tokens.  I lost to two of the Abzan Aggro players, one of which made top 4, the other top 32.  The Abzan Aggro matchup didn’t play out great, which is a shame because it’s one of the decks I always want to be able to beat.  The lack of Lightning Strike or Bile Blight was heavily felt, and even the one-of Chained to the Rocks (specifically because of the presence of Dromoka’s Command) was awkward many times.  This can be shored up easily though, as I think for the future I’ll be adding more black mana and Hero’s Downfall along with a couple copies of Lightning Strike.  Outpost Siege, while very strong, is another liability that might see a change.

The Strikes go better with Soulfire Grand Master, who was a complete beating in this tournament.  I was initially playing Seeker, and had played playsets of both cards in my previous Jeskai lists to success, but Soulfire felt much better right now because of the obscene amount of life he usually gains.  Sure, they can kill him with much of the removal in the format and he can’t attack through a Caryatid, but he can still attack into a Caryatid for lifegain and his buyback ability is absurd.  There were many games where I was buying back Stoke the Flames after convoking it with all the tokens, and Crackling Doom.  Plus, being in the list, you can play a lot of miser cards if you want solely to buy them back if you feel like they’re good options for the meta.

One of the things I enjoy about this build is that it goes from small to big, and it gets free wins.  Playing an aggressive tokens package lets you overwhelm the unprepapred or stumbling opponent, and if that plan doesn’t work out you have plan B in Butcher and Sorin.  Plan C is in the board, where you many times can just bring in the full 15 cards and cut the cheap stuff or dead cards to be a full Control build with value answers at the top end.  Or you can just board in Thoughtseize and Utter Ends to strip them of answers for your early Rabblemasters and walk away with a game before they can do anything about it.  This happened to several of my Abzan opponents who thought they’d just be able to slice and dice through all my stuff because they had their own board plan, only to see it vanish as they have half their life total eaten in the matter of a few turns.

You can go a few different routes if you want to change things up.  I toyed around with dragon builds for a while, and I still think adding Draconic Roar, Thunderbreak Regent, and Stormbreath Dragon is a possibility.  Playing those in conjunction with Crackling Doom gives you a leg up on other Dragons decks, with the caveat being that you need to watch how many dead cards you include.  Builds like the ones Jim Davis outlined HERE look great against Midrange and Aggro, but you have a dogfight in game 1 against Control that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with.  Still, he evokes strong concepts that could be avenues to push further, especially given his recent string of successful tournaments.  Maybe incorporating the tokens plan, or just a little more aggro could open up a door to better games against the perceived bad portion of the field.  I’ve talked on this site before about playing a deck with “levels” in it to put pressure on your opponent with various lines, and this archetype has infinite ways in which to do that.

As a side note about Jim Davis, another friend Ray clued me into this feature match which I thought was incredible.  If you have time, I strongly suggest checking this out as it displays an excellent level of play from both sides (Jeskai Aggro vs Mono Red):

If I were to play Mardu next week, this is my updated list:Mardu Dragons by John Galli

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

4 Hordeling Outburst
2 Dragon Fodder
4 Draconic Roar
4 Crackling Doom
4 Stoke the Flames

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

Sideboard
1 Magma Spray
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Self-Inflicted Wound
2 End Hostilities (Crux if you add more Black mana)
2 Read the Bones
2 Utter End
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Kolaghan Monument

One of the other great storylines that came out of States this year was my friend McKinley Summ taking 2nd place with RG Dragons.  He played a very similar list to Chris Van Meter’s winning brew from last weekend’s SCG Open, substituting a few removal spells and planeswalkers for Surrak, the Hunt Caller to give the deck more explosive openers.  It worked in spades for him, as I watched opponent after opponent get leveled by Elvish Mystic into “insert facebeater” followed by gigantic Crater’s Claws.  Even in test games with my Mardu deck, sometimes the pressure of cards like Thunderbreak Regent and haste creatures were just too difficult to deal with.  That, combined with Dragonlord Atarka and lifegain off of Courser of Kruphix was enough to propel him through 95 people and almost obtain the gold medal.  Still, it was his first major top 8, he got some nice booty in a box of DTK, and it was a memorable run that I’m sure will inspire him for the next one.

RG Dragons by McKinley Summ for SCG Wisconsin State Championship (6-1-1, 2nd of 95)

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvian Caryatid
2 Heir of the Wild
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Ashcloud Phoenix
3 Surrak the Hunt Caller
4 Thunderbreak Regent
4 Stormbreath Dragon

1 Dragonlord Atarka
4 Draconic Roar
3 Crater’s Claws
1 Roast

5 Forest
5 Mountain
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Temple of Abandon
2 Mana Confluence
2 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
1 Rugged Highlands

Sideboard
2 Destructive Revelry
3 Wild Slash
3 Arc Lighning
2 Arbor Colossus
2 Sarhan, the Dragonspeaker
1 Nissa, Worldwaker
1 Mob Rule
1 Roast

 Modern

I haven’t talked much about Modern recently, but the format is interesting at the moment because the banning of Treasure Cruise and Birthing Pod opened up some opportunities.  Most people slotted somewhere into the usual spectrum with Twin, Affinity, Junk, Tron, Burn, Bloom, Jund, etc, but none of these archetypes are as oppressive as the previously dominant ones.  That lets brewers have room to try things, such as the Zoo list by Jeff Szablak which includes Collected Company.  I’ve been seeing that card get serious attention in both Standard and Modern, and it appears to be the next breakout hit going forward.  There are some combos with it in Modern, in addition to it just being an insanely good value card at instant speed.

My podcast partner Davis Merced brewed up a Mono Red Aggro list for Modern that we talked about in our casts, and he recently took it “live” the last two weekends to great success.  First he went to TCG States with it, where he placed in the top 4, followed by winning a PPTQ with an updated version this Saturday.  Here is his brainchild for those of you with an itch to break into this format with something fresh:

TCG States (Illinois) 

Devastating “Scumbag Red” by Davis Merced (4th Place)

4 Goblin Guide
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Vexing Devil
3 Legion Loyalist

4 Lightning Bolt
3 Devastating Summons
4 Brute Force
4 Titan’s Strength

19 Mountains

Sideboard
4 Skullcrack
3 Searing Blood
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Electrickery
1 Forked Bolt
1 Spellskite
3 Rending Volley

 Atarka “Scumbag Red” *Updated* by Davis Merced (1st Place, PPTQ)

4 Goblin Guide
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Vexing Devil
3 Legion Loyalist

4 Lightning Bolt
3 Atarka’s Command
4 Brute Force
4 Titan’s Strength

7 Mountains
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Arid Mesa
2 Stomping Ground

Sideboard
4 Skullcrack
3 Searing Blood
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Shattering Spree
1 Electrickery
1 Forked Bolt
1 Destructive Revelry
3 Rending Volley

I’ve played the deck at a few local tournaments, online, and with friends, and there’s definitely something there.  It’s faster than Burn and other combo decks on average, it comes out of left field for almost all opponents since they’ll put you on being Burn, and it’s Red beatdown on the cheap so what more could you ask for?  We’ve both had a little trouble with more midrangey decks like Tarmo-Twin or Abzan that can clog up the ground, but even against these decks you can usually sacrifice a guy or two for the greater good when doing your final attacks to close the deal.  Cards like Brute Force let you both kill faster as well as save your creatures from removal like Lightning Bolt, and both Devastating Summons or Atarka’s Command provide an end-game that force your opponent to find their out or be dead the following turn.  It’s a sweet list, so tune into our next podcast for more discussion on it if it’s up your alley.

On my side of things, I’ve still been working on Burn.  I don’t have a final list put together just yet, but fellow Red mage Jasper Johnson-Epstein won a PPTQ a few weeks back with his updated version (I based my original off of his), and he lent it to a friend Ben Rasmussen this weekend who won a large Grand Prix Trial for Vegas which included flight and hotel for the entire trip.  Ben almost never plays Red decks, so it’s a telling sign that this list is for real.  If Burn is your jam, this is what you’ll want to be on:

Burn by Jasper Johnson-Epstein

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

4 Lava Spike
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Shard Volley
4 Atarka’s Command
4 Boros Charm
2 Searing Blaze
2 Skullcrack
4 Rift Bolt

2 Arid Mesa
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Copperline Gorge
4 Sacred Foundry
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Snow-Covered Mountain
2 Stomping Ground
2 Wooded Foothills

Sideboard
3 Kor Firewalker
1 Spellskite
1 Electrickery
2 Rending Volley
4 Destructive Revelry
2 Searing Blaze
2 Skullcrack

 Limited

I managed to get in a draft on Friday night, my first draft since Khans of Tarkir released.  It’s a bit strange for me as I used to draft all the time and really loved playing limited, but a few sets soured the experience for me and the financial aspect of continually having to buy packs made me take a hiatus.  Well I have to say, this format is extremely good.  I was pleasantly surprised that Red appears to be one of the stronger colors (confirmed by regular drafters in my area too) and I took a RB Aggro deck to 2-1.  Goblin Heelcutter is just as nuts as he is in Standard, and the removal in the format is both plentiful and effective.  It was a positive experience that I hope to repeat again soon (especially with my prize packs from the weekend), so if I manage to get a few more drafts in I’ll consider doing a feature on my thoughts for both limited and Red.  I don’t usually force colors, but if Red looks good and it is in this set, we should have some good discussion points.

Singing Off

Thank you all again for your support, and

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

*Edit – Just before going to print I noticed an article with data from the Pro Tour that outlined a large contrast with some of my talking points about Standard. These are my opinions of course with data from my own testing and experience, and the meta changes rapidly so take it as you will, but hopefully there’s good info to be obtained from both sources regardless of how the numbers shake out in one event. For anyone interested, that article is also pretty good, and here is the link-

http://www.mtggoldfish.com/articles/pro-tour-dragons-of-tarkir-by-the-numbers