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