Suit Up

destructiverevelrywallpaper

Suit Up

“Stoke a fire hot enough and you’ll never run out of things to burn.” – Xenagos, the Reveler

And Burn they did.

The last few weeks were quite a whirlwind for me, both with Magic and non-Magic events.  I continued to work on my Gruul Aggro deck that I premiered in my last article,  but knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to make any bigger tournaments, I played in two win-a-box events locally and went on my Honeymoon inbetween.  I got married last June, but like most young couples cash was tight so we had to wait until later for our official trip.  May 12th couldn’t have come sooner and we finally got to escape the craziness of our work schedules for a much needed R&R trip to Las Vegas.

This time we did it up right, with a Panoramic Suite at the Vdara hotel in MGM City Center.  Here were some of the sweet views from our room:

vdaraview1 vdaraview2 vdaraview3

And of course I couldn’t leave Vegas without restocking my dice and tokens. . .

vdaradice

Overall the trip was an absolute blast, we got to see a lot of shows, win and lose money (although I could have done without the latter!), and get some exercise out in the gorgeous weather.  It’s truly an awesome place, even with this being our fourth trip, and I highly recommend going if you haven’t been before.  If you use any of the travel package sites (Travelocity, Kayak, etc) you can get some fantastic deals, and once you’re there the spending and options are really completely up to you.  To put it in perspective, one of the times we went, we spent less than $300 per person for 4 nights in a hotel and plane flight. . . it really is cheap.

Evolving Gruul

Even with the crazy work schedule and Honeymoon I wasn’t ignoring Magic.  I put in a lot of hours on Cockatrice testing my build and moving it along with ideas when cards seemed questionable.  Overall, since I built the original list the deck has performed well and really made me happy, but I think it’s become much better in the last week.  At the first win-a-box I went 3-1 getting 5th place out of 28 people, playing a list that was fairly close to my original article with the exception of cutting some of the one-ofs for Rubblebelt Maaka (I decided to try him again after we talked Matt).  My only loss was to Esper Control, and in both games I drew about 10-11 lands straight (out of 20 mind you) to just flood completely out.  Even with that, I still put in threatening games, which is a reflection of how strong the deck can be.

Tonight I got a chance to play the deck with the changes I had been testing, and it all paid off with an undefeated run and a box victory.  Here was that list:

GR Aggro by John Galli (Reddeckwinning) 4-0 Win-A-Box 5/20/2014

Maindeck
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Skylasher
4 Mogis’s Warhound
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
(32 Creatures)

4 Lightning Strike
4 Shock
(8 Spells)

1 Temple Garden
4 Stomping Ground
4 Mana Confluence
11 Mountain
(20 Lands)

Sideboard
4 Skullcrack
4 Destructive Revelry
4 Mizzium Mortars
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Xenagos, the Reveler

The list obviously performed admirably, and despite some close games it has an incredible ability to win from behind if necessary.  Most of the time though it just features the hallmark of what you want in an aggro deck; consistency.  With 40 cards and 20 lands, lots of duplication, and a focused sideboard, this list has a true plan that punishes any stumbling.  While I loved a lot of the one-ofs that I was playing in the original list, I knew it was only a matter of time when I found the “best” cards for the deck, and that time is starting to get very close.  I still think you could play the original list and have a lot of success, as it’s rare that those cards that are now omitted are bad, but this one gives you a routine that is tough to stop for most opponents.

Lets talk about some of the key changes though, as they are very important.

mogisswarhound

First, Mogis’s Warhound was the most important discovery in my opinion.  It was a card that piqued my curiosity when I saw it in the spoiler, but I wasn’t sure if it was what an aggro deck wanted.  While it certainly might not always be the case, this deck and this format WANT this card.  For starters, many of the decks these days are trying to get in your way with X/4s.  Whether it be Courser of Kruphix, Brimaz, Gray Merchant, Blood Baron, or even X/3s like Sylvan Caryatid, the name of the game is to be able to bash through.  Mortars out of the board helps with a lot of these cards, but it’s not the greatest maindeck card since it can’t reach through for damage.  Mogis’s Warhound gives you that critical extra element in the maindeck that pushes you over the top in these standoffs, and it also provides a way to make some of your creatures out of control like bestowing on a Boros Reckoner.

Speaking of Control, he does a great job against that archetype by allowing you to apply pressure without overcommitting to the board.  If they do have spot removal or Supreme Verdict, you still have a creature left over plus whatever is left in your hand to carry on forward with the beats before they can stabilize.  The “attacks each turn if able” clause is largely irrelevant in most situations too, since this deck is almost always in attack mode.

Furthermore, he lets you “Suit Up” Skylasher.  This is an incremental point, but an important one, because against Mono Blue Devotion and Control this can often be the difference in close games.  Both decks have very few answers for Skylasher, and if you can enable him to race more effectively you give them fewer turns to find those answers.

destructiverevelry

Destructive Revelry was in the original list in high numbers, but it took me a little while to realize that it is simply the best sideboard card in this list hands down.  This format has become extremely enchantment heavy, with lots of creatures doubling as such and lots of very annoying weapons that you need to take care of immediately.  Also, when playing against Control with this deck, there’s nothing more satisfying and game changing then blowing up a Detention Sphere or Banishing Light and making them lose a critical two life.

It has some random interactions that are noteworthy too, like being able to respond to the trigger on a Brain Maggot to get your card back, or being able to kill both Courser of Kruphix and Nyx-Fleece Ram.  The latter two cards have become some of the most popular road blocks in the format and look to only grow on their reputation, so being able to have an additional trump card beyond Mortars in the matchups that call for it can be huge.

 Other Cards and Sideboarding

I’ve gone through a laundry list of cards, but the biggest area of waffling has been the last three sideboard slots.  The two Ratchet Bombs and the lone Xenagos are easily up for debate, but mainly what I’m looking for from those three slots are cards that are good against Blue Devotion, Black Devotion, Burn, and/or Control.  All of these matchups are fine and very winnable, with Blue being the obvious tough one, but I think there’s probably a mix out there I haven’t found yet which works the best.  Other cards I’ve tried here are Electrickery, Time to Feed, Setessan Tactics, Plummet, Harness by Force, Scavenging Ooze, Mistcutter Hydra, etc etc.  Ratchet Bomb seemed to be the best catch all so far, but it’s slow and unaggressive which is something this deck doesn’t usually want.  It performed well at the win-a-box, but that plus the testing I did was a relatively small sample size.  Regardless, I think you do need a hard answer for Master of Waves, so I’d play at least something that deals with his major effect.  Black Devotion is a pretty reasonable matchup, but if it’s heavy in your meta I’ve found Plummet to be very good against them.  For right now, Xenagos’s tokens help with Desecration Demon and double as being a good card against Control.

Sideboarding is incredibly subjective with this list, as it really depends on specific cards that your opponent is playing, but in general this is the rough idea of what I’ve been doing:

Vs.  Aggro:

+4 Mortars, -4 Firedrinker (potentially bring in Bombs if they are blitzy)

You’re essentially just trying to control the board a little better and in most of these matches Firedrinker is a liability in combination with your Confluences.

Vs.  Jund Monsters:

+4 Mortars, -4 Lightning Strike (potentially bring in Revelrys)

They have some troublesome cards against you, but you have Ghor-Clan to get past the vast majority of them, you’re faster, and you have Firefist Striker.  You’re basically just upgrading your burn package here to deal with their creatures as Lighting Strike misses a lot of targets whereas Mortars kills almost everything and can randomly overload for value at times.  Be sure to be very careful with your removal in this match and only kill the necessary big butt targets.  Tempo is the name of the game here.

Vs.  Mono Blue Devotion

+4 Mortars, +2 Bombs, -4 Firedrinker, -2 (your call)

Frostburn is the biggest annoyance early so having a playset of Mortars goes a long way.  Be aware of their ability to play Rapid Hybridization to get a Green token which can block Skylasher, and try to suit him up early and often.  You can out tempo them unless they have a really dirty draw, and your bombs can help with both Master tokens and swarms of early fliers.  Be VERY aggressive here, force them to make blocks and get them low enough in life total that their trumps require them to pause before they can use them.

Vs. Black Devotion (or BG / BW)

+4 Mortars, +1 Xenagos, – 4 Lightning Strike, -1 (your call, land on the draw is fine)

I’ve never been a big fan of the Skullcrack plan despite a lot of other Red players swearing by it, and this deck has the redundancy and aggression that it can fight through many uncomfortable spots that you may find yourself in during games.  You’re again on the upgrade removal plan, as late Gray Merchants are truly the only thing that put a thorn in your side besides Demon.  Demon can actually be killed often with this build using Ghor-Clan and Mortars in combination with your 2/2s, or you can feed it a stream of Xenagos tokens since their removal is generally stretched thin.  Golgari Charm and Drown in Sorrow are obviously bad news bears, but as long as you expect them you can try your best to play around them, and for the most part their plan is playing one-for-one removal which usually puts them out of gas while you’re still cranking out your last few threats.  Don’t forget that if they’re playing Nightveil Specter that your Skylasher can attack through it or block it all day, because while that doesn’t come up that often it is a thing.  Just know what cards they have, or could potentially have, and play smart.  If you do, this matchup is usually one of the better ones.

Vs. Control

+4 Skullcrack, +4 Revelry, +1 Xenagos (on the draw for a land), -4 Lightning Strike, -4 Shock

This plan is very solid, you provide a heavy creature list that they have tough times finding answers for, you blow up some of their answers with Revelry, and you cancel out their last salvo to stay in the game.  Unless you flood hard or they have some unusual trump cards, you’re in the drivers seat.

Vs. Other

A lot of decks are still in the works for specific plans, most notably Burn, although that match can be either very winnable or very loseable depending on their build and the pilot.

Some other cards I’m considering testing in the next few days/weeks:  Unravel the AEther (for Thassa), Scouring Sands.

victory

Until next time, keep tapping those Mountains. . .

– Red Deck Winning

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Fire To Destroy. Fire To Create.

propheticflamespeakerFNM

Fire To Destroy.  Fire To Create.

Journey into Nyx has arrived, it’s prerelease Friday, and new brews are upon us.  This set has almost as many interesting cards as Theros, and I’m going to outline some of them here as well as introduce you to the deck that I have been doing the blunt of my testing with online.

I think we need to begin by talking about the most hyped red card of the set, Prophetic Flamespeaker:

propheticflamespeaker

If this doesn’t get the juices flowing for a Red mage, I don’t know what does.  His power level remains to be seen, and I believe he’ll be very build dependent, but make no mistake, this card is for real.  Adrian Sullivan has already slotted a playset of him into his RW Devotion list that he posted on Starcitygames last week and I’ve been testing him as both a playset and singleton in  Mono Red and GR Aggro.

His stats initially make you want to compare him to Two-Headed Cerberus, but this card is doing a lot more than that.  For starters, he connects more often than some would think (especially with the assistance of cards like Ghor-Clan Rampager), and he creates difficult blocking situations for your opponent.  Many board states will present scenarios where blocking him isn’t an option, or where your opponent is losing value just to deal with him.  If he ends up connecting, you’re usually getting to play multiple spells or a land which is huge in an aggro deck.  I’ve consistently seen his exile ability in testing prove to be valuable, and you’ll see that in one of the videos with this article as well.

The biggest knocks on him are that he does die to a fair amount of removal in the format and that he has heavy competition at the three-drop slot.  I don’t think either of those complaints are unwarranted, which is why he isn’t good in every deck, but you can get around those restrictions.  In most lists that have used him well so far, he’s basically Boros Reckoner #5, 6, 7, and 8.  Yes, you lose the speed of Phoenix, but you gain a card that is arguably just as valuable if not more-so against control, and he’s another threat that stretches their removal.  Playing him on an empty board against Esper, for instance, means that you don’t really need to commit much else most of the time.  If you’re worried about Verdict, you can just keep attacking with him and playing free lands and spells.  If they do pull the trigger on removal, you not only got that out of their hand but if he was able to get you cards from it you may be ready to dump the rest of your hand and counteract.  That’s usually the best way to fight control, so he serves that purpose well.

He’s not a great card when you’re behind, and he’s not great in a hyper blitzy shell that doesn’t have any pump spells for him.  Those are two decks I’d avoid when considering him, as he’s just a liability at that point.  Unlike Reckoner, he can’t hold down the fort if they have some giant monster on board, and in the blitz decks he’s maybe ok as a one-of but he’s pretty slow otherwise.  Yes, he gives you late game gas, but most blitz decks aren’t trying to play for a late game.

I believe that he works well in Adrian’s shell because of the explosiveness of Nykthos, which allows you to make up for his slower speed.  That, and the option of playing him with a Hammer of Purphoros out which could surprise a lot of unprepared opponents.

Next up we have a card that has a little familiarity to it:

Eidolon of the Great Revel

eidolonofthegreatrevelpyrostaticpillar

Pyrostatic Pillar saw a little play in the sideboard of Legacy Burn for a good period of time, and I think Eidolon might as well.  Outside of that, I don’t think this Standard format is going to use him.  We don’t have the abundance of free and one-mana useable spells in Standard that we do in Legacy and Modern, so this guy has backfired in most of the games that I’ve played with him or against him.  If anything, I could see him in a Red devotion deck since a lot of your spells are above three.  But even there he’s a big liability against Aggro and any deck you’d be siding him in against would probably just “eat a shock” to deal with him which isn’t a huge upside.

 Blinding Flare

blindingflare

Blinding Flare straddles the playability line because of the fact that it’s not direct damage or a permanent threat, but there’s still a good amount of value here.  So far in testing, all of the Strive cards that I’ve seen played have been a dagger when cast.  The ability to make your whole team unblockable for an amount of mana that isn’t too expensive even for an Aggro deck could mean that this format is in for some more turn 4-5 kills than usual.  You’ll need to watch the numbers that you play as you’d never want to have two in your hand, but I could easily see this as a 1 or 2-of in the 75.  These cards typically don’t see a lot of action, but maybe it’s time for that to change.

Magma Spray

magmaspray

When Magma Spray was previously in Standard, it was heavily used in Mono Red.  With how efficient Control decks are these days, I don’t know if you can afford to run a lot of the card in your maindeck, especially since Searing Blood is usually the better card in its place, but this is still a spell that probably makes a dent again.  I’ve seen an immense amount of Voice of Resurgences floating around online, and if that transfers over to paper, this will be a must.  It’s one of the tougher cards for my Aggro builds to deal with so far.  Magma Spray also answers Chandra’s Phoenix, which sees a good amount of play, and Xathrid Necromancer which looks to be popular in a BW shell.  Time will tell, but I think this card will have another day in the sun.

Harness by Force

Harnessbyforce

One of the first things I do when looking over a new set is to try and find out what “Threaten” card they printed for Red.  Almost every set prints one, and it’s one of the most important pieces to a good Red deck.  It’s that moment when your opponent thinks that he has dreamcrushed you into oblivion, only for you to rip away the hope on his face and deliver yours back with a beating.  While I wish that Harness by Force was Traitorous Blood, it’s still much better than Act of Treason since every once in a while you will hit the mana to steal multiple creatures.  And in a deck with Nykthos, this thing could potentially be Insurrection.  Also don’t forget, you can always gain control of your own creature and give it haste.  That play comes up a decent number of times in longer games, and could mean the difference.

 Mogis’s Warhound

mogisswarhound

Mogis’s Warhound might see heavy play coming up.  I unfortunately haven’t been able to test it that much, I had it in a few lists but didn’t see it in games often.  It looks great though, you get a grizzly bear which is already something Red is fine with, and you can’t get blown out when you cast it or when your creature dies.  I might try a few in my GR Aggro deck and see how they do, because the possibility of putting this guy on a Boros Reckoner or a Prophetic Flamespeaker feels like living the dream to me.  Red’s not exactly in the market for a three drop, which is essentially what he is, but he could very well replace “non-creature” spells in the deck and add to your creature count in the process.

Building Gruul Aggro

Most of my time this “preseason” has been spent working on a Gruul or GR Aggro deck.  GR Aggro was a very powerful force in Standard not too long ago, and I always wanted to play it back then but didn’t have the lands.  I felt that the extra reach it had over Mono Red with Ghor-Clan Rampager made it one of the most difficult decks to play against.  The rotation of Rootbound Crag and the entrance of Temples took away the consistency that it had though, and the deck fell off the map.

But then Wizards decided to print this card, which I think is the most influential card to Magic in this set:

Mana Confluence

manaconfluence

I realize this isn’t easy on the wallet, but if you want to play Red splash anything, or even Standard in general, buy a playset.  I could see it going down in value a little bit, but I think this card is being severely underrated by a large number of  players.  And for me, this was the key cog in getting GR Aggro working again.  I needed a foundation for a list, so I went back and read through one of my favorite Magic articles of all time, Gruul Get Win! by Steve Kaufman.

One of the reasons the article was so fun to read for me was that Steve was just a normal guy and actually took the time to make his tournament report entertaining.  He played a strong list, he won an SCG Open, but he was slandered by many “pro” players in the comments section because they felt that his writing wasn’t indepth enough or grammatically sound.  I’ll give them that the report has some casual elements to it, but I thought that Steve executed it perfectly.  The cave paintings are hilarious, the emotion of the tournament was felt when reading it, and at the end of the day he put up an exciting performance.  As I was reading through the comments section, and trying to not rage over the slander he was getting, I noticed that one of the players said he had passed away in a fatal car accident and left behind his fiancee and a one year old child.  I don’t typically get too emotional over stuff, but having lost loved ones myself and seeing all the bullcrap that was posted alongside of this made me want to do something, even if small.  That something was making the decision that rain or shine I was going to work hard on making Gruul smash again.

So I started with Steve’s list:

R/G Aggro
Steve Kaufmann
1st Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 5/12/2013
Standard

Creatures (33)

4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Hellrider
1 Pyrewild Shaman
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
Lands (20)

11 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
Spells (7)

4 Searing Spear
3 Pillar of Flame
Sideboard

3 Volcanic Strength
2 Electrickery
4 Skullcrack
3 Domri Rade
3 Mark of Mutiny

This list isn’t too far off the beaten path from what we have available now, and in many ways you could say it’s getting upgraded.  I did some initial testing, swapped around some numbers, and this is what my first base list looked like-

R/G Aggro (Early Version)
John Galli (Reddeckwinning)

Maindeck
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Skylasher
4 Boros Reckoner
1 Pyrewild Shaman
4 Fanatic of Xenagos
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager

4 Lightning Strike
3 Shock

11 Mountain
4 Stomping Ground
4 Mana Confluence
1 Temple Garden

Sideboard
3 Searing Blood
2 Electrickery (or 2 Mortars)
4 Skullcrack (or 2 Revelry)
3 Domri Rade
3 Harness by Force or Plummet

Early results were very good, but there were definitely numbers and cards I had to change.  I started doing a lot of experimentation, and I came to a few big revelations.  First, I needed more disenchants because this format is going to have a lot more enchantments and artifacts running around.  For an aggro deck, it doesn’t get much better than Destructive Revelry, and the card has been phenomenal so far.  It doesn’t kill Gods, but you still get to deal them damage and I think that part is significant enough that it’s worth playing it over alternatives like Unravel the AEther.

Fanatic of Xenagos is aggressive, but giving your opponent choices is usually not good, and he just felt like he wasn’t adding anything to the deck other than another creature.  I started off by trying four different cards in his slot; figuring that I would adjust the numbers as needed once I knew what I liked.  In the end, or at least right now, it turned out that I actually liked having a bunch of singletons because it gives this deck a lot more play and reach and keeps your opponent off guard.

I ended up doing the same thing for Lightning Strike and Shock, as both are good in the format, but not necessarily something you need four-of.  As of right now, this is where my list is at and the one that is featured in the following videos:

R/G Aggro (Final)
John Galli (Reddeckwinning)

Maindeck
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
3 Skylasher
1 Scavenging Ooze
4 Boros Reckoner
1 Pyrewild Shaman
1 Prophetic Flamespeaker
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager

1 Domri Rade
1 Chandra, Pyromaster

1 Armed // Dangerous
1 Searing Blood
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Lightning Strike
2 Shock
1 Destructive Revelry

11 Mountain
4 Stomping Ground
4 Mana Confluence
1 Temple Garden

Sideboard
3 Skullcrack
3 Searing Blood
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Harness by Force
2 Destructive Revelry
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Skylasher

But enough talking, I’ll let you enjoy the games.  My apologies for any quality issues, I promise they’ll be better next time!  (also if you let them run for a while the video quality usually improves)

Videos

Keep tapping those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Why You Should Play Red For GP Cincinnati

fatedconflagrationwallpaper

Why You Should Play Red For GP Cincinnati

While it might have a bullseye on its head after the SCG Seattle Open victory, now is a good time to play Red.  Several decks have been breaking through, including one that I’m going to introduce in this article, and if you’re a Red mage like me you should find something here to your liking.

In my last article I touched on how I’d been working with James Fazzolari over at Channel Fireball on RW Burn which he subsequently took to GP Melbourne and put up a very nice finish with.  Since that tournament, him and his crew have been continually improving the deck, finding different variations that were having more and more success on MODO.  He was slowly accumulating a ridiculous win percentage, and the list was catching fire (pun intended) across the internet.  It was only a matter of time before it caught on in the paper world, and we saw the accumulation of that with four top 16 finishes at SCG Seattle.  It’s important to note that each of those builds was fairly different, with minute changes that make a lot of difference when the deck is playing itself out.  Between all the Red mages I’ve been working with in the past few weeks, everyone has a different opinion on what they they think is best, so I encourage anyone who plays the archetype to try all of them before settling on one.  For reference, here is the latest list I saw from James, and if I were playing a tournament tomorrow with RW Burn, it’s the one I’d trust the most since I know how much time has gone into it and why a lot of certain cards have been ruled out-

RW Burn by Zemanjaski 3/19/2014

Creatures (8)
4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix

Enchantments (3)
3 Chained to the Rocks

Instants (26)
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
3 Searing Blood
3 Shock
4 Skullcrack
4 Warleader’s Helix

Lands (23)
2 Boros Guildgate
10 Mountain
3 Mutavault
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph

Sideboard (15)
1 Chained to the Rocks
2 Fated Conflagration
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Satyr Firedancer
1 Spark Trooper
3 Viashino Firstblade

The biggest things to note about this list:

Boros Reckonersatyrfiredancer

  • No Boros Reckoner – He’s usually just a target for removal before you can use him for value, he doesn’t apply damage to your opponent immediately, he slows down the list, and you want to be as aggressive as possible in game 1.  He’s debatable as a sideboard card, but ultimately choices like Chained to the Rocks, Spark Trooper, and Fated Conflagration go farther in this list because of some of the drawbacks to tapping down lands to play Reckoner in a Burn deck.  This is a deck that loves to just sit back and do as much as possible during your opponent’s turn.  It’s also a deck that requires critical thinking to get to the right amount of damage, and any stutterstep will make it feel like a very poor choice for a tournament.
  • Firedancer in the Sideboard – This is a hot ticket for debate, but he’s certainly not good enough maindeck.  If you play this deck enough, you’ll realize there’s plenty of matchups that you don’t want him in against.  That said, against decks like Mono Blue and GR  he can be an unstoppable force if left unchecked.

Things I don’t like:

  • This list punishes your mistakes very harshly, as you’re effectively playing a watered down version of Legacy Burn.  If you decide to kill more creatures than you need to, or miss a few points of damage here or there, it’s almost assuredly going to cost you.  I personally had trouble playing this archetype to its full value despite being able to play it mostly well, so ultimately I moved on when given the opportunity.  I think it’s probably one of the best Red decks in a long while, especially in this format, but you’ll want to practice heavily against all the Tier 1 archetypes before jamming it.  I would say the Mono Blue and Monsters matchups are the most skill intensive, so start there.
  • Blind Obedience and Chandra are very good cards for the mirror, so if you expect a lot of that in Cincinnati, I’d have them in your 75.  Being able to turn all of your Boros Charms into Lava Axes and having a personal howling mine is a really big deal.  I also found Blind Obedience to be helpful in the BW matchup at slowing them down and effectively nullifying Obzedat (aside from the life drain).

The TCG Chicago 5K and Other Flavors Of Red

Last week I was mulling over the possibility of going to the TCG 5K in Chicago, but I was not terribly confident in the Burn list I had been playing.  I knew it was good, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of Red deck I’m crazy about and I felt like some of the conclusions folks were coming to surrounding it were not necessarily true.  As the week dragged on, the itch to play Magic at a competitive level grew to it’s usual high pitched whine in my head and I figured out a ride situation to get down there.  Now I just had to find a deck.

A few months back, Magic professional and writer Adrian Sullivan played a RW “Aggro” list that he ultimately won a 5k with.  I always liked the deck, but felt that the original version was outdated and remembered that he lost to Mono Blue in the SCG Open that he top 4’d with it at.  Losing to Mono Blue has been the bane of my existence for the last several months, and unless there was an updated version with a significantly different plan, I couldn’t see myself rolling with his deck.

Luckily I’ve spent most of my life in Madison, WI, which also happens to be Adrian’s home (among other pros) and hit him up on Facebook to see if he had been working on things.  Turns out he had, and after a short discussion, some test matchups, and a few squeals of joy later, I settled on that deck for the 5k.  I present to you the brainchild of Adrian Sullivan,  Adam Jansen, and Ronny Serio:

RW Aggro (Adrian Sullivan,  Adam Jansen, and Ronny Serio) 3/19/2014

Creatures (23)
2 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Boros Reckoner
1 Tajic, Blade of the Legion
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Planeswalkers (2)
2 Chandra, Pyromaster

Instants (8)
4 Lightning Strike
4 Boros Charm

Sorceries (2)
2 Mizzium Mortars

Lands (25)
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Mutavault
13 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
4 Shock
4 Chained to the Rocks
2 Fated Conflagration
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Firedrinker Satyr
1 Wear // Tear

There’s a beauty to this list that just can’t be seen when you first look at it on paper.  Playing it reminds me of the first time I picked up Sligh when I was a kid and curved out into Ball Lightning followed by a fist full of burn to the face.  It has all the great elements of Red that you could want and it can play whatever game is demanded of it.  This flexibility is the secret sauce of this deck, and I’m going to do my best to explain to you how it works and why it’s better than your other choices.

  • You can be the aggressor.  This deck frequently has hands that curve out just like your typical Mono Red Aggro deck, and in today’s Standard of scry lands and tapping out, this is a good place to be.  A guy was watching one of my practice games at our local win-a-box last night and saw me go turn 1 Satyr, turn 2 Zealot, turn 3 Phoenix, turn 4 Chandra, turn 5 Strike + Charm = Death.  He asked me if that was a typical hand with a surprised look on his face.  Yes sir, yes it is.
  • If the game goes long, you don’t care.  Not only does this deck have some serious punch in the mid game that your opponent may not be aware of (aka Stormbreath Dragons and Reckoners), but you also have Boros Charm to protect your creatures from wraths and go to the dome out of nowhere.  You’ll often be in situations where you’ll have 7+ damage worth of burn in your hand just waiting for them to make a mistake or overcommit to dealing with your board presence.  I always thought the best Red decks were ones that you could not only sandbag creatures with in anticipation of a wrath, but ones that had significant followups to those wraths to unleash as well.  And because you have the protection of Boros Charm, you’re not forced to play cards like Stormbreath Dragon into uncomfortable situations as much.  You’re pretty sure your opponent has a Hero’s Downfall in hand and he’s pretty sure he can rely on it?  Aww. . . what a shame 🙂
  • You get to play Tajic and Chandra!  Yes, you read that correctly.  Tajic, Blade of the Legion.  While most of you probably thought Tajic was going to sit in your “crap” binder waiting for some little kid to pounce on it, he’s actually worth playing in this deck.  He’s not a card you want a lot of, certainly not more than one of him ever, but drawing into him randomly always feels like one of the best feelings out there.  It’s very easy to get his battalion activated with the playset of Mutavaults and plethora of haste creatures, and his indestructibility is invaluable against big creatures that are giving you problems or control decks that expect to take over on turn 4.  There’s only a certain set of cards that remove him and he applies a clock quickly, so when he’s something that tends to come down after your opponent has gone through a litany of their options they’re very often hard up at that point.  Chandra, Pyromaster shines better here than any other deck I’ve played her in.  Every single one of her abilities takes you straight to valuetown with the surrounding card suite.  Her +1 is great when you’re playing the deck in its “Controlling” role and gets back your Phoenixes, her 0 ability can draw you cards for days in certain matchups because you have creatures that protect her nicely, and her ultimate can kill opponents in many situations due to the presence of high impact burn.  She’s also extremely effective at taking out the one blocker that gets in your way when you’re on the heavy aggro plan.  Bottom line, she’s an all star in this deck and almost makes me feel like I’m playing with Koth again.
  • You can be the Control Deck and you can beat Mono Blue.  While the newer UW Devotion variant presents a few additional problems for you (mainly Ephara, Detention Sphere, and White sideboard removal), the sideboard plan against other aggro decks and specifically Mono Blue is fantastic.  It’s the first time I’ve played a Red deck since Theros came out where I don’t feel like a complete dog in that matchup.  Several other Red players have told me that “oh just bring in Ratchet Bomb or Anger of the Gods and you’re fine” but I’ve never seen that be true.  Time and time again, someone at my local shop has crushed me with it, or I’ve been running hot at that PTQ and then been stoned to death by a deck I prepped all week for. The difference with this build is that you take out all the cards that don’t work and instead bring in such a great threshold of answers that unless they topdeck incredibly well they get behind YOU quickly.  Every card of yours is very tough for them.  You board in 13 cards total.  THIRTEEN.  This is what it looks like–4 Cackler, -4 Zealot, -2 Satyr, -3 Charm
    +4 Shock, +4 Chained to the Rocks, +2 Mizzium Mortars, +2 Fated Conflagration, +1 Wear // Tear

It’s even easier to see when you look at the whole deck post-board:

  • 4 Chandra’s Phoenix
    4 Boros Reckoner
    1 Tajic, Blade of the Legion
    4 Stormbreath Dragon

    2 Chandra, Pyromaster

    4 Shock
    4 Lightning Strike
    4 Mizzium Mortars
    2 Fated Conflagration
    1 Boros Charm
    1 Wear // Tear

    4 Chained to the Rocks

    4 Temple of Triumph
    4 Sacred Foundry
    4 Mutavault
    13 Mountain

    You have answers at every stage of the game, followed by big threats they have a tough time answering.  It’s still possible to run out of cards or just draw poorly, but for the most part this plan is very strong.

  • You’re strong against the field.  The rest of the field is a pretty good matchup.  Mono Black is surprisingly beatable, despite not having Chained to the Rocks maindeck.  You put a lot of pressure on them early, and Demon often isn’t as crazy as he usually is against Aggro because you have enough ways to get around him, kill him, or just ignore him.  You have plenty of answers for Pack Rat, and many times you are killing all of their devotion enablers to the point where Gray Merchant isn’t potent enough to matter.  The BW matchup is very similar, if not worse for them.  Obzedat or Elspeth can be tough, but even there you have cards that enable a race situation.Monsters was initially the matchup that Adrian and I weren’t sure about, but after playing it a number of times now it’s not as bad as I thought.  You’re a bit of a dog in game 1, moreso to the straight GR version than the Jund one, but I’ve won quite a few of those games too so it’s not as bad as some builds of Red.  Games 2 and 3 give you a decent amount more firepower and a consistent enough amount that you can typically handle their 2-3 big threats and race around the rest.  I’ve been particularly fond of this card which I initially dismissed when Born of the Gods came out

fatedconflagration

It was in a sideboard slot that was up for debate between Chandra’s Outrage and Homing Lightning.  There’s applications for all three, but ultimately at the 5K almost every situation I was in revealed Fated Conflagration to be better.  In one game against GW Aggro, my opponent curved out into a turn 3 Ajani that immediately ticked up to 5, after which I played Conflagration on my turn to kill it and scry into much needed supplementary removal.  If you need land, you can scry during your upkeep like Magma Jet.  It kills Polukranos, which came up in my match against Jund Monsters and ended up swinging the tide of that game back in my favor.  Against Control, it allows you to board out your Mortars for a card that is far less dead and gives you more outs to Jace and Elspeth.  Overall, I couldn’t recommend it more, and the intensive mana cost was never an issue even though you might have a game somewhere over the point of time where it could be a problem.

  • Your White cards don’t need to be played on time.  The beauty of the light splash color is that the cards you’re playing don’t need to be played immediately.  Boros Charm, Chained to the Rocks, Tajic, and Wear // Tear can be played just about whenever for value and usually can sit in your hand for a while if you’re color screwed.  There have been a few games where not having White cost me, but not enough that it became a deck issue.  It’s not like trying to jam a WR creature on turn 2, the spells aren’t detrimental to the curve.  Furthermore, the benefit from having all of your lands come into play untapped except for the 4 temples is a big thing.  Any of you who’ve played other RW builds know that having a Guildgate come into play tapped is usually the absolute worst in most situations.  You’re always using your mana with this deck, and frequently it’s to have some combination of creatures attacking with a Mutavault while holding up mana for burn.

Sideboarding

Mono Blue:

-4 Rakdos Cackler, -4 Ash Zealot, -2 Firedrinker Satyr, -3 Boros Charm
+4 Shock, +4 Chained to the Rocks, +2 Mizzium Mortars, +2 Fated Conflagration, +1 Wear // Tear

Control:

-3 Boros Reckoner, -2 Mizzium Mortars (or some combination of Reckoner + Lightning Strike)
+2 Firedrinker Satyr, +2 Fated Conflagration, +1 Wear // Tear

Mono Black Devotion:

-4 Boros Reckoner, -3 Lightning Strike
+2 Firedrinker Satyr, +4 Chained to the Rocks, +1 Mizzium Mortars (can bring in Fated against BW)

GR / Jund Monsters:

-2 Firedrinker Satyr, -4 Lightning Strike, -4 Rakdos Cackler
+2 Mizzium Mortars, +4 Chained to the Rocks, +2 Fated Conflagration, +2 Shock (or keep in 2 Cacklers)

One additional note, Adrian has mentioned that a 2/2 split of Shock and Searing Blood might be better in the board.  I was aware of it before the 5K but wanted to keep the additional tempo of a playset of Shocks against Mono Blue, and ultimately I’m still comfortable with that.  Blood is however incredibly strong against other decks, mainly other aggro variants or Burn decks, so it’s still worth it at times depending on what you think the field might consist of.  I might ultimately come around on his opinion too, I need to test it again more to get the full sense of what I think is right.

Mono Red Devotion in the Top 8

The last deck I want to touch base on is an interesting list from a top 8 competitor at the 5k.  Over the course of the tournament, I watched Kevin Heath barrage opponents to death with his own blend of Red.  For those of you who haven’t seen the list, here is what he was playing-

Mono Red Devotion by Kevin Heath 5th – 8th Place TCG Chicago 5k

Creatures (28)
4 Ash Zealot
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Fanatic of Mogis
1 Scourge of Valkas
3 Stormbreath Dragon

Planeswalkers (3)
3 Chandra, Pyromaster

Instants (8)
2 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Searing Blood

Land (21)
16 Mountain
1 Mutavault
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Sideboard
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Burning Earth
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Pithing Needle
2 Ratchet Bomb
4 Skullcrack

The first thing that made my eyes go wide (well, after watching him pummel folks to an 8-0 record to start out the swiss) was the 21 land count.  21 lands, 4 of which are Nykthos and 1 of which is Mutavault???  What the hell?

I spoke with him about this and his logic was fairly sound.  With four Magma Jet, you can often scry into the additional lands that you need beyond the two required to operate.  Burning-Tree and Nykthos fuel many of the other draws, so most of the time it’s fine, with some of the time requiring a little more aggressive mulliganing.  That plan is not foolproof, as I’ve seen in post-tournament testing, but it was good enough to allow him to cut through a field of talented players.  He was also playing in his first major tournament, and making a decent number of mistakes along the way (no worries Kevin we all do!), but he was still getting there.  I was rooting for him big time when he went up against Josh McClaine (top 25 in the world) in the first round of the top 8 and took down game 1 with an incredible series of draws that culminated in a late game fury of double burning-tree plus Phoenix into Fanatic for 7.

Maybe in the end he was simply running hot, as all good tournament runs require a little of.  But the deck makes you smile a bit and the added amount of cards + removal you get to play with only 21 lands gives it some kind of strange longevity that the old Red Devotion lists didn’t have.  Kevin if you read this, congratulations again on making Top 8 and I wish all the best for you in the future.  I know there were some controversial moments in a few matches that people took sides on, but hopefully it’s all water under the bridge at this point and I hope that you continue to improve on your list for future big tournaments.

Keep tapping those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

The Rules of Red Deck Wins

grimlavamancercover

The Rules of Red Deck Wins

Many people find Mono Red appealing when they first start playing Magic.  The cards are usually the least expensive to acquire for a deck that has a competitive edge to it, the strategy of attacking with a lot of creatures and casting direct damage is fun, and you can win quickly.  Eventually though, as many of those players mature, they begin to gravitate towards other strategies and often regard Mono Red as a deck for “newbies” or something that is too simple to be truly competitive.

The truth is, even in extremely hostile formats for the archetype, Mono Red has almost always broken through and succeeded.  Any longtime pilot of the archetype will tell you that if you truly play this deck as intended it requires a lot of skill, patience, and careful decision making.  Anyone can play the deck, but it takes effort and experience to master.  What I hope to bring to my readers today is a better understanding for some of the fundamentals of playing Mono Red Aggro (Sligh, Red Deck Wins).  I will also briefly discuss a new deck I’ve been working with at the end that I hope to take to some bigger tournaments.

Rule #1:  Know Who Is The Beatdown

An adage old concept in Magic is knowing who the beatdown is in a game or matchup.  Say both you and your opponent are playing aggressive decks.  One of the common mistakes of newer players is to always be attacking with their creatures and using their reach (burn) on their opponent rather than their opponent’s creatures.  It’s important to recognize early on what role you should be taking based on the cards in your hand, the cards in your deck, and your opponent’s plays / cards.  If your opponent leads off with a one-drop creature into a two drop and your first play isn’t until turn two, it should be evident that you need to play more defensively and try to remove his options before proceeding with your own.  Be aware of what you’re going to do post sideboard.  If you and your opponent are playing nearly identical decks, you have to be able to use your sideboarding to your advantage.  Bring in extra burn to deal with their creatures and play the “control role”.  Typically aggro decks do not have a lot of draw power or the ability to play a successful late game, so if you can exhaust your opponents creatures with removal and then play yours unmolested, it’s important to recognize that ability.  Or if you anticipate your opponent will be doing the same, sideboard in bigger creatures to make your deck become “Big Red”.  This doesn’t mean you can’t be “the beatdown” and be aggressive if your opponent has a slow start, so it’s also imperative to pay attention to who can effectively “race”.  Know your deck, know your outs, know your role.

Rule #2:  Don’t Overextend

One of the biggest mistakes for new players when playing against a Control or Midrange deck is that they overextend.  As fun as it is to cast all of the cards in your hand by turn three or four and swing in for lots of damage, it’s crucial that you are able to recognize what an archetype can do to slow you down and their ability to do that in a specific game.  Most control decks over time have had some kind of mass sweeper effect on turn four.  From cards like Wrath of God to Supreme Verdict, these are the lynchpins to their ability to take over a game.  In today’s age, we have to fight even tougher obstacles like Sphinx’s Revelation, Elspeth, and Aetherling.  Recognize which decks have critical cards like this and when your opponent is going to likely play these cards and sandbag (hold back) cards in your hand accordingly.  You still need to apply an appropriate amount of pressure to win the game, so make sure you do the math as often as possible, but know when to push and when to pump the brakes.  Most newer players would be surprised at how easy it is to still force your opponent into bad decisions with only one creature on the table and a manland.  Or having two creatures apply constant pressure forcing a Wrath while you hold two more in your hand to follow up.  Your opponent only has so much spot removal and so many Wraths, and their late game is much better than yours, so every life point counts.  There’s a famous saying I’ve often heard over time, “If you’re playing Red and your opponent wins the game at 1 life, you probably did something wrong”.

On this same note, it’s relevant to know what cards are in your opponent’s list if it looks similar to something from previous bigger tournaments.  Are they color screwed in the first three turns meaning they won’t get to play their Wrath on time?  If they are going to be able to play their Wrath on time but it will require them to take two damage from a land since it’s their only white source in the deck, does that matter to how you play out your hand?  Why did your Mono Blue Devotion opponent leave one mana up, does this mean he has a Rapid Hybridization to change your combat math?  Should you play your Fanatic of Mogis or Magma Jet during your mainphase because your opponent’s only out is an Azorious Charm or he’s tapped out meaning he can’t counter?  He didn’t cast Sphinx’s Revelation for the full amount, does he have a counter for your Skullcrack?  These are extremely critical mental processes that you should all be exercising if you’re playing Red Deck Wins.  Something as little as the Magma Jet example is a play I get asked about a lot, yet is truly meaningful to the outcome of the game.  Magma Jet’s scry is one of the few ways you have to gain some filtering card advantage in a match against a deck that often has much more advantage than you, so being able to have it resolve can often be the difference in a game.

Rule #3:  Don’t Sideboard Too Many Cards, And Have A Sideboard With A Purpose

Most Red Aggro lists are very streamlined with a lot of four-ofs and a consistent approach plan.  One of the biggest questions from less experienced players is how to sideboard and how many cards to bring in.  I often see players bringing in a ton of cards and saying that 8-10 creatures in the deck are “terrible” in a given matchup.  You must be able to understand what you’re doing to your maindeck when making a decision like that; once you dilute to a certain point, your deck no longer resembles the lean, mean machine that it once was.  Your advantage of being able to get consistent quick kills and overrun an opponent who stumbles vanishes.  That’s something that can’t be ignored, as it’s integral to how this archetype wins every game.  Usually, if your Red Aggro deck is competitive, it shouldn’t need a lot to fix a few matchups or give it some extra percentage points in your favor.  If there are extremely problematic cards, they probably have a weakness.

Take for example Blood Baron of Vizkopa.  This is a great card and something no red player likes facing against.  But the card isn’t invincible.  For starters, it costs five mana which is a lot and means it may not even see play in many games against you unless your opponent has a lot of early removal.  Secondly, its four-toughness can be exposed.  Cards like Mizzium Mortars which will often come out of your sideboard can kill it outright, but even something like the first-strike damage from a blocked Ash Zealot followed by a two-damage burn spell will take care of the problem without costing you any board presence.  And getting your opponent to block with it is not that unrealistic when they’re probably on the backfoot and struggling to stay alive by turn five.  Even if they are able to get in a combat step and swing with the Baron, you have a lot of direct damage in your deck and typically a big army to swing back.  Be aware of what you can do in the next few turns to get out of it and what possible sequence might enable you to execute that plan.

Sometimes an environment can seem overly oppressive and it just appears that certain cards are unbeatable.  This is rarely the case.  I want to take you back to the time of Scars-Standard, because two cards in particular made a Red player’s life hell; Kor Firewalker and Timely Reinforcements.  For a while red players weren’t able to figure out how to get around this mess, and even when they were it wasn’t perfect, but there was a plan available.  Famous Red mage Patrick Sullivan used cards like Shrine of Burning Rage and Dismember to get around these problems or ignore them, and other players gravitated towards Hero of Oxid Ridge to nullify the advantage and lifegain from Timely Reinforcements.  For a while I used Unstable Footing to stop Kor Firewalker’s protection ability from “preventing damage” so that he could be killed in combat or by another burn spell.  Skullcrack can do the same thing against cards like Master of Waves (although I don’t agree that’s a good strategy against him in that particular case).  If you’re unsure of how to beat an archetype or set of cards, look through the available pool and try things out.  Almost everytime, there’s an answer, it just needs to be discovered.

Your sideboard should have a purpose.  Even if it looks crazy with a bunch of cards that others wouldn’t play, as long as you know what they are for and how you’re going to board them in and execute your plan, that’s all that matters (and testing that plan ahead of time of course).  It’s also the same reason you shouldn’t just copy a sideboard of someone’s that you saw online because they won a tournament.  You need to know how it works, even if they provided a guide of what cards to sub in and out.  There’s no definite rule of how to board for a given matchup, paying attention to what your opponent is doing should always determine which cards to sub in and out.

You should make sure that your sideboard appreciates and respects the current metagame.  For any given week, there are a series of decks that are considered top tier and are expected to be played in heavy numbers at an event.  Paying attention to tournament results can help predict and prepare, along with testing, but you also need to make sure that your sideboard addresses both these and the unknown.  It’s key to balance the numbers with respect to that too.  Don’t include three sideboard slots against a deck you might only face once at a tournament.  Conversely, don’t have eight cards for an overly difficult matchup.  Cover your bases.  I remember one State Championship in particular where I was playing Jund and had thoroughly practiced against all the available archetypes except for Boros Aggro because I didn’t have time and ultimately just decided I was probably fine against it.  I was going to put Jund Charm in my board which I knew would hands down swing the match from some early going testing, but ultimately decided not to.  Turns out I went 5-0 to start that tournament and then lost two straight, first to the previous State Champion playing Boros Aggro, and then to another player on the same.  I won the last round to finish 6-2 and 15th place, but it most likely cost me a shot at top 8 for that event.  It was an oversight on my part, and it was an easy enough change to my board that I could have made.

Lastly, make sure that your sideboard cards are useable in multiple matchups or that you have a variety of cards that can function similarly.  Traitorous Blood was a great magic card because it provided Red with a way to answer any midrange deck trying to stick one big creature and win the game.  Even if they had an army it could allow you to trample over.  As such, it could be used against any deck that was of a similar standing, whether it be a Jund, Bant, or Naya opponent.  On the flip side, a similar card in the current format Act of Treason is a bit more narrow because of the loss of trample and as such isn’t as good against decks that can supplement their big creatures with a lot of little guys for chump blocking.  Decks like GR Monsters provide a perfect example of that, as they have Scavenging Ooze, Elvish Mystic, and Sylvan Caryatid to get in the way.  A card can also just be used in your sideboard as a “5th” or “6th” of a card in your maindeck if it functions similarly.  You might not put a Thunderbolt in your maindeck, but there are some matchups where the narrow ability of the card doesn’t matter and it acts as an extra Lightning Strike.

Rule #4:  Be Aware Of Your Deck’s Curve, and Use Your Lands To Your Advantage

The most common concept for Mono Red Aggro is to have a deck that executes a good curve.  I could talk about this subject until the cows come home, but better writers than me have already done most of the work.  For a detailed explanation, take a look at some of the articles in my Articles section on my site’s homepage.  The layman’s version is that your deck should have a certain amount of cards at each casting cost in order to carry out its gameplan on a consistent basis and to make sure you are able to play your cards fluidly.   You don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of expensive cards in hand or out of cards within a few turns.  You also don’t want to see your deck have vastly different draws everytime, you should know what to expect based on the frequency of a certain card type or casting cost.  Don’t start adding so many four drops to your Mono Red deck for example if the amount of lands your running can’t get you to four reliably or if it comes at the cost of early aggression.  Know how your deck is going to flow, and if that’s to your liking.

Your lands should do something other than add mana!  This concept is often missed, and a lot of people don’t even think about what lands they’re going to run when piloting a mono-colored deck.  If there are lands in your format that can activate and become creatures, cycle for extra card draw, or enable a bonus of some kind to your creatures, it’s usually the right call to have a few in your deck.  Being mono-colored means you’re already limiting your pool of available cards in comparison to other decks, so the advantages you get from having a card like Mutavault cannot be overlooked.  This leads me into my final rule. . .

Rule #5:  You Must Have Reach and You Can Afford To Take Pain

Reach is the ability of your deck to get past a ground stall or stuck situation.  When building a Red Aggro deck, you can’t just take every good creature in the format, pile them into a sixty card build, and call it a day.  Your deck needs cards that can break a ground stall or enable you to get past the barriers that are available in your metagame.  It’s one of the huge advantages to playing a Red Aggro deck versus other colors.  If your opponent plays a huge blocker or a card that prevents you from attacking well like Propaganda, you can still get through with Burn for the last few points of damage you need.  Knowing when to take your burn upstairs (to the face) or downstairs (to their creatures) is an important piece of knowledge that you need to obtain when playing this archetype.  Clearing the road with your burn or preventing your opponent from doing bigger and better things (killing a mana elf for instance) is a skill that takes time but is necessary to become successful with this style of deck.  Even a card like Nightbird’s Clutches can act as reach, so don’t rule out a card just because it can’t do damage to your opponent (even though most cards in your deck should).

You can take pain in your endevour to win the game.  Life isn’t as precious a resource to Mono Red Aggro, as you should be winning the race most of the time.  It’s one of the reasons why cards like Manabarbs were so strong back in the day in Sligh, because even though you’d take some damage from it, your opponent would usually be worse off than you since your deck was dishing out the damage at a much faster rate.  It could also prevent them from playing their critical cards that they need to get back in a game.  It’s not always correct to play a card like that, you need to “be well ahead” but it can be a useful tool to suicide yourself a bit in an effort to prevent your opponent from doing anything meaningful.

Standard:  RW Burn

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking on Facebook with famous MTGO Red Mage Zemanjaski (James Fazzolari).   He was preparing for GP Melbourne and we were going back and forth on some cards and what had been working for each of us individually along with team members he was working with.  Ultimately he took his list to the GP and started off 9-0 on the first day, ultimately finishing 23rd.  It was a truly great performance and practically matched by three of his teammates also playing the same list.  His article is well worth a read, so if you have time it is HERE.  In addition to the GP Runs, a few of his friends took a mostly similar list to a PTQ in Florida, and the three of them all finished top 16.  At this point it was safe to say that the archetype had come into its own, and its what I’ve been mostly playing since.  I’m planning to play it again tonight at one of my local tournaments, and possibly take it to the Chicago TCG 5k this weekend along with the SCG Milwaukee Open.  Here is where I’m currently at with it-

Boros Burn 3/11/2014

4x Ash Zealot
4x Chandra’s Phoenix
2x Chained to the Rocks
4x Boros Charm
4x Lightning Strike
4x Magma Jet
4x Searing Blood
3x Shock
4x Skullcrack
4x Warleader’s Helix

2x Boros Guildgate
9x Mountain
4x Mutavault
4x Sacred Foundry
4x Temple of Triumph

Sideboard
2x Chained to the Rocks
4x Firedrinker Satyr
2x Blind Obedience
3x Spark Trooper
3x Viashino Firstblade
1x Chandra, Pyromaster

Another card that I’ve had a lot of success with (against Control) out of the sideboard (James if you’re reading this it’s the one I was talking about) is Satyr Nyx-Smith.  I decided to try him out in place of Viashino Firstblade, and he’s been really impressive so far.  I think the deck might want some number of either Mizzium Mortars or Fated Conflagration, but otherwise it’s a strong deck and it rewards playskill more than most.  Blind Obedience has helped to slightly improve the GR and BW matchups, but overall those ones are tough in general.  Still, this deck has some great sequences and if you play carefully any matchup is easily winnable as the tournament results proved.

If this deck gets popular, I’d recommend putting 1-2 Chandra, Pyromaster in the board as she’s a great card in the mirror.  Card advantage is the name of the game there, and making sure to have Skullcrack available for their Warleader’s Helixes.

Another change I’ve been testing for quite some time is having Spark Trooper maindeck to improve some of the bad matchups and to play carefully around removal, but I haven’t decided yet if that’s the direction this deck should head.  There’s a lot of testing that needs to be done to iron out the last few cards, but this list is much better and much more potent than early builds that I played when the archetype first started surfacing.  Mutavault and Ash Zealot are key reasons for this, and I strongly suggest you don’t cut them if you’re experimenting with different cards.

As always, keep tapping those Mountains. . .

Red Deck Winning

Keeping The Fire Alive

templeoftriumphfull

Keeping The Fire Alive

Hoo boy, its been a tough time to be a Red mage.

I think this is the first time in several years that you can look at tournament results both on Magic Online and in person and not see Mono Red decks cracking the top 8.  The Standard format has become very homogenized by a handful of decks, and Born of the Gods did little to change that (in fact strengthened if anything).  I’d like to say that you can keep banging away at a format like this with ideas until something sticks, but the brightest minds in Magic haven’t been able to break the mold, and the true creative types out there haven’t performed with their brews.  Sometimes you just have to accept facts.

Last Saturday I decided to play in a PTQ in Lindenhurst, IL.  I wasn’t planning to originally but sometimes I can’t get away from the addiction of this game.  I had been practicing with various brews of R/W Burn, most of which were similar to the ones in Patrick Sullivan’s last article on it (see HERE).  I had also briefly playtested a modified Conley Woods RW Midrange build from an article he wrote a few months ago (see HERE).  Both deck styles appealed immensely to me, and results from both were fairly positive online, but something was amiss.  I tried subbing cards out here and there, yet it seemed like the issues were more matchup related rather than card selection.  The R/W Burn lists appeared to have poor games against Mono Black Devotion and UW Control unless they ran maindeck Skullcrack, but doing so put the deck in a poorer position against any kind of aggro or tempo deck.

elspethsunschampion

Elspeth was a feature card of Conley’s build, and I thought that might be a good direction to go given my success with Big Boros at the previous PTQ.  Ultimately though, the list would have a variety of draws, similar to Big Boros, and I was really sick of playing decks that were inconsistent.  One of the staple hallmark traits of Mono Red Aggro is that you know what you’re getting every game.  Granted, most decks play differently, but in a format where you have a few choice outs to the big contending decks, and each of those outs differs based on matchup, you really have to draw them reliably.  I wanted Chained to the Rocks against Mono Black, Mono Blue, and GR Monsters, but not against UW Control.  I wanted Mizzium Mortars in the same fashion.  There just didn’t seem to be a list that could you play a strong game against all the contenders.  You were either giving up a matchup game 1 or you were weak against everybody.  The Burn deck also felt rough because despite having an excellent land base (which I’ll expand upon later), it didn’t have any kind of permanency. This sometimes resulted in the deck running out of gas if your opponent played enough threats requiring your attention.

So unfortunately, I decided for this PTQ I would dance with the devil and ended up rolling with the following:

thoughtseize packratunderworldconnections

They’re just too good.

This combination of cards is ridiculous, and if you think just off the top your head you can beat these cards, you better be able to prove it.  Taking the opponent’s best card or best removal spell and then playing Pack Rat is game over in so many situations.  But I’m preaching to the choir, we all know how good this deck has been the last few months.  It intrigued me even back when Theros was still being spoiled, and it looks even better today.  Bile Blight was a huge upgrade, along with Drown in Sorrow.  They made the mirror match a lot more skill intensive, and the Mono Blue match very agreeable.  I still think Mono Blue Devotion is a very strong deck, and it can beat Black still, but if you have to lean the matchup one way or another it’s definitely in favor of Black.

On Saturday I played against five mirror matches, a GR Monsters deck, a Mono Blue Devotion deck, and a GW Aggro deck.  Clearly, the memo had been sent and a lot of us were on the same line of thinking.  My first two rounds went horribly, I hadn’t given the deck the amount of practice it really deserved and I made a series of giant misplays in several games that cost me each match.  I’m talking about the really bad kind of misplays, like knowing your opponent has an Arbor Colossus in hand, and then proceeding to pitch Hero’s Downfall to your Pack Rat with a Desecration Demon on the board.  Yeah.  Real real bad.

After the first two rounds I started to get more comfortable with the deck and rattled off three wins in a row.  I then lost an incredibly close game three to a fellow Mono Black player where we essentially played off the top of the deck and he ended up drawing an Underworld Connections about twenty turns in.  It’s crazy how important that card is to winning the mirror, it’s easily the best card in the matchup.  In the next round I had to play one of my carmates, which was unfortunate, and I ended up winning but he made a misplay which helped me out.  Finally in the last round I played against Mono Blue and despite drawing absolutely horrible hands including a mulligan to four, I stayed with her until being overwhelmed by an unanswered Master of Waves in game three.

But it wasn’t fun.  And it certainly wasn’t Red.

In the next few days after the tournament, I started messing around with RW Devotion again.  I really liked some of the powerful cards and sequences that deck could put together, but I was always disappointed with some of the terrible draws the deck could have.  Nykthos, while being great for the nut-draws, was incredibly underwhelming when your initial hand was light on land.  Furthermore, the deck always seemed to run out of steam if your initial wave of plays became exhausted.  I wanted to fix this problem.

After tooling around a bit, I found an interesting answer.  While it didn’t shore up some of the bad matches, it made every one a little better across the board.  It made the deck feel good, despite taking away just a smidge of explosiveness.

The change I made was fairly simple:

nonykthostempleofsilence

Before you yell, let me explain.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx can be nuts in the RW deck.  The curve out of Ash Zealot or Frostburn Weird into Burning-Tree with a Nykthos out is a strong opener that most decks can’t deal with.  Sometimes though, this hand does get dealt with, and this leaves the deck completely out of gas.  Other times, Nykthos prevents you from playing your Boros Reckoner for an umpteenth number of turns or keeps you off critical four and five mana sequences.

There’s also the issue with how many of each card to play, specifically Chained to the Rocks and Mizzium Mortars.  I mentioned earlier how you want these cards reliably, or you don’t want them at all.  Enter Temple of Silence.  Running eight total scry lands in this deck does so many things.  First, you cleanup the Nykthos issues.  Second, you give the deck a lot of digging power to get to the critical matchup cards and you allow yourself to scry away additional or unwanted copies in matchups that don’t want them.  Third, you give your deck a full twelve white sources so that any white cards you’re playing can actually be cast reliably, AND you can even play some double-white mana cost cards.  Lastly, it lets you cut a land so you can fit an additional card in the deck.  Ultimately, the landbase looks like this:

12 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Temple of Silence

The RW Devotion deck doesn’t start playing cards until turn two anyway, so while you will get a few draws that are clunky, it’s no moreso than with Nykthos, and the amount of gas it gives to this deck is unparalleled.  I saw it work in the RW Burn decks, and I knew that I wanted to try a port over to Devotion.  So far it has not failed to live up to expectations, and it’s really made me rethink the validity of this archetype.  Putting it all together, I came up with this list which I played at my Tuesday win-a-box this last week:

RW Devotion by RedDeckWinning

Maindeck

4 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Stormbreath Dragon

4 Chained to the Rocks
2 Hammer of Purphoros
4 Mizzium Mortars

12 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Temple of Silence

Sideboard

3 Anger of the Gods
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Last Breath
2 Revoke Existence
2 Glare of Heresy
2 Assemble the Legion
2 Celestial Flare

The results ultimately didn’t come last Tuesday, but the deck performed like an absolute champ and it gave me ideas for what to change.  For starters, the mana was a godsend and my draws were all extremely powerful.  The only real reason I didn’t end up doing well was because our Tuesday win-a-box is always full of great competition and my opponents drew equally well.  If I had to play this again, after some basic modifications, I absolutely would.  All of the little inconveniences that I used to have over this archetype disappeared.  It felt like a new deck had been born.  And when I say my opponents drew well, they drew VERY well.  One game, my opponent (playing Jund) opened up with triple Abrupt Decay into Putrefy into Doom Blade into Reaper of the Wilds.  Had he missed a single card of that sequence, he was pretty much dead.  That’s how good this list is at firing back, it can even almost get there against stuff like what I just mentioned.

So onto the problems.  The first thing you might raise an eyebrow at in the list is the presence of Burning-Tree Emissary.  With no Nykthos to fuel, he really is out of place in this list, but he does still give you the ability to either play a Mizzium Mortars on the same turn you play him or a higher curve spell.  This ability I think is important enough that I still like him over Rakdos Shred-Freak or some other alternative.  If you decide to try the list, feel free to play around with that spot and let me know if you discover something better.

Next up on the problem sheet is the UW Control and GR Monsters matchups.  The UW Control matchup is close, but it’s within a few cards of being better.  This was always a close matchup for RW Devotion, and the keys to it are Purphoros, his Hammer, removal of Detention Sphere, and combating Sphinx’s Revelation.  The sideboard brings in Glare of Heresy, Revoke Existence, and Chandra, Pyromaster.  All of these are great, but I think the deck wants another card or two to make a stronger case for beating it.  Whether that means cutting a Chain and Mortars in the main (which are fine as 4-ofs with all the scry) for another Purphoros and another Hammer, or putting Boros Charm in the board, it’s probably just a simple adjustment.  I’d also like to run three Glare of Heresy and one Revoke Existence because Glare can deal with Elspeth and Archangel of Thune, and it’s good against the W/x Aggro decks.  Assemble the Legion stays in the sideboard against UW, because they have Jace which nullifies the tokens and because it’s just too slow.  I’ve rarely had a game where its been able to take over before they’ve found an answer.

GR Monsters is the absolute worst matchup.  It was never good before, but its become worse because of Xenagos, God of Revels and Flesh // Blood.  Both of those cards make that deck even more powerful.  I think if you’re playing a Red based deck, it’s probably where you want to be, but it does have weaknesses which I think are easier to exploit than RW Devotion.  The problem is that Elvish Mystic gives them a little bit faster draws and their threats are usually bigger.  You’re not a slouch however, and if you get a good opener you can just as easily overrun them.  Boros Reckoner is also an all-star against GR, and it’s a tool that they don’t have at their disposal.  Out of the sideboard, I tried out Celestial Flare as a quick answer, and it was easily a homerun.  This format has countless number of decks that often just attack with one creature at a time, and between that fact and the fact that you have other removal, Flare almost always ends up just being straight Doom Blade.  For the future, I would for sure run a third, possibly even a fourth if there was a way to find room.  I want it against Mono Black as well, so there’s added value in that.

Speaking of Mono Black, game 1 is very much in your favor.  That’s one of the big strengths of this deck, and while game 2 can be nightmarish at times depending on their draws, you can combat it by bringing in removal for Lifebane Zombie and Nightveil Specter and relying on your scry lands to pull you out of heavy discard openers from their end.

I’m not sure on the Mono Blue matchup yet because I haven’t had time to do a lot of testing, but you have four Chains and four Mortars maindeck, so that’s a big bonus over previous builds.  Post-board you bring in Last Breaths, Angers, and some number of Revoke Existence and/or Chandra.

Against any other fair deck in the format, you just steamroll.  This deck can overrun almost everything I’ve come across, including hyper aggro most of the time.  Once you start dropping Boros Reckoners into Purphoroses into Fanatics, there’s just not a whole lot a deck can do against you to catchup from giant 10-15 damage life swings.  Post board you have Anger of the Gods, more spot removal, and Chandra, so you can usually shore up any inkling of an issue from game 1.

If I were going to play the list tomorrow or this weekend, this is what I’d now play:

RW Devotion by RedDeckWinning (Updated)

Maindeck

4 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Stormbreath Dragon

4 Chained to the Rocks
2 Hammer of Purphoros
4 Mizzium Mortars

12 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Temple of Silence

Sideboard
3 Celestial Flare
3 Glare of Heresy
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Boros Charm
1 Revoke Existence
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Last Breath

But What About Mono Red Aggro?

I know, I know.  These decks are all expensive, and for many Mono Red players, budget was a reason for the choice.  For me, I love playing Red because I like the playstyle, but budget is a real concern for everyone.  I’d give the cop-out answer of “well if you’re on a budget just play white aggro” but that wouldn’t be staying true to my fiery brethren.

If you’re going to play Mono Red Aggro (Red Deck Wins, Sligh, etc), I think you’re best option would be to pick between one of two routes.  You could play a streamlined aggressive list like what Owen Turtenwald and Tom Ross championed earlier this year (HERE and HERE), or you could splash white for Chained to the Rocks to shore up difficult matchups such as what Longtoe and James Kerr did (HERE).

A third option would be to go a little bigger and play more creatures with three, four, and five toughness.  Since you’ll be favorable against most decks aside from Mono Blue, the real trick is to be more resistant to Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods.  Possibly trying stuff out like Felhide Spiritbinder, Ember Swallower, etc, or just packing the three-drop threat density to an all-time high.  The aggressive route is probably the preferred one though at this time, and I would suggest having a transformational sideboard where you “go big”.  Something along the lines of adding two lands to bring your count up to 23-24 and having stuff like Stormbreath Dragon and Anger of the Gods of your own.  This will throw off your opponent’s game plan that they had for game 2 and 3 where they thought they would just be able to pick off your one drops only to find out that you’re not playing any anymore.

Commander and Upcoming Content

While I haven’t mentioned it on this site much, I’m a huge fan of Commander and have been playing for a long time.  If you haven’t got into it yet, I couldn’t recommend it more.  It’s single highhandedly one of the best formats you can do with friends, assuming you have a playgroup who is relatively even keel about what is OK to play with.  A while back I was debating about building another deck when some friends from my local shop mentioned to me that they were surprised that I didn’t have a Mono Red deck built.  I told them that I had had ones in the past but that I never thought they were very good or very fun, specifically the former.  Well, then Wizards went along and made this guy-

purphorosgodoftheforge

Oh brother is this guy a fun General.  While I know that my list is not as “crazy” as it could be because of my budget and my local playgroup’s penchant to play “fair” (which I 100% agree with), this deck has evolved and become very explosive.  It brings the passion out of me of playing Red off and on for 20 years, and for those of you in my readership who love Red as much as I do, please give it a whirl.  The moment you cast Koth, minus him, cast Purphoros, and then just wreck havoc on your opponents the fire will be back in your soul.  This thing is just pure good times, so without further ado, here is my current list (with some changes coming soon):

Purphoros, God of the Forge (Commander; EDH)

Creatures (34)
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge (General)
1 Capricious Efreet
1 Glitterfang
1 Hellrider
1 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Ogre Battledriver
1 Fanatic of Mogis
1 Molten Primordial
1 Ingot Chewer
1 Kamahl, Pit Fighter
1 Spitebellows
1 Pyreheart Wolf
1 Goblin Wardriver
1 Rakka Mar
1 Magus of the Arena
1 Ball Lightning
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Obsidian Fireheart
1 Terra Ravager
1 Stalking Vengeance
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Ember Swallower
1 Archwing Dragon
1 Bloodthorn Taunter
1 Emrakul’s Hatcher
1 Krenko, Mob Boss
1 Crater Hellion
1 Inferno Titan
1 Moonveil Dragon
1 Norin the Wary
1 Myr Battlesphere
1 Stonewright
1 Chancellor of the Forge

Planeswalkers (2)
1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Chandra, Pyromaster

Artifacts (12)
1 Caged Sun
1 Skullclamp
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Spine of Ish Sah
1 Fire Diamond
1 Worn Powerstone
1 Staff of Nin
1 Sol Ring
1 Wayfarer’s Bauble
1 Mind Stone
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Hammer of Purphoros

Enchantments (8)
1 Goblin Assault
1 Awaken the Ancient
1 Possibility Storm
1 Barrage of Expendables
1 Goblin Bombardment
1 Goblin War Drums
1 Shiv’s Embrace
1 Dragon Mantle

Instants / Sorceries (3)
1 Tempt with Vengeance
1 Sudden Demise
1 Savage Beating

Lands (41)
1 Homeward Path
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Opal Palace
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Phyrexia’s Core
1 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
1 Rogue’s Passage
1 Smoldering Crater
1 Temple of the False God
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Ghost Quarter
30 Mountain

Like any Commander deck there’s a million different directions you can go with this.  This is just simply my “time capsule” where it stands at the moment and I like it.  There’s a handful of cards I’m wanting to add to it and I’d love to hear reader suggestions on it too.

The last thing I’d like to talk about is future content.  I’ve been promising videos for a while, but have run into roadblocks on my end with time and setup.  I’ve recorded some of my playtesting sessions on Cockatrice and occasionally have been streaming, but haven’t put them on the website.  For the particular WordPress setup that I have, you have to pay for an additional video plugin if you want the content directly on the site, otherwise I’d have to load them onto Youtube or a similar service.  I’m fine with doing the latter, it’s just time consuming and unfortunately I work a lot and have a million pressing obligations in my free time.  It’s not a lost hope though, I’m going to get it together at some point soon and get it up, so keep staying tuned.

As for my streaming, I’ve been having trouble getting Xsplit to recognize my default microphone (I use a Plantronics headset and it works for every other program).  Does anyone out there know of a better solution?  I just got a suggestion from a friend that I’m going to try, but I figure enough folks read this site by now that there might be an even better option.  Streaming otherwise has been fine, it’s just been sporadic, so I’m trying to work on setting up some specific time slots so you all can join in on the fun easier.

If you haven’t done so already, please feel free to add me on twitter and facebook (RedDeckWinning for both).

Thank you so much for the outpouring of support I’ve received in the last few months, I really really appreciate it.  If I haven’t returned an email or message I promise I’ll do my best to get back to you, its been great to hear from folks and it gives me the drive to want to keep working on this site and watch it grow.

Until next time, keep tapping those Mountains

– Red Deck Winning

Born of the Gods Has Cometh

Searing Blood

Born of the Gods Has Cometh

It’s one of the most exciting times for Magic players; a new set is arriving.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but regardless of what the spoiler looks like or the chatter people have about power levels, every new set makes me want to play this game more.  I’ve rarely missed a prerelease, and rarely missed a midnight launch, its easily been the most enjoyable tournament for me since I started playing the game.  You get to see old friends, both casual and competitive, everyone is in a great mood, shouts of joy and gasps of surprise are everywhere, and the anticipation for this great game is at an all time high.

I think one of the best ones I ever went to was the Zendikar prerelease.  I remember it vividly because as I was on my way over to the other side of town at 11pm, I got a text from a friend telling me that there were going to be hidden treasures in some of the booster packs.  It turns out they were putting old powerful cards like Gaea’s Cradle, Power Nine, and Duals in random packs for a few lucky players.  Granted, it was only for the very first print run, and it was on a very limited basis, but it made for a crazy atmosphere.  Everyone was already excited for that set because of the printing of off-color fetches and this just put the feeling through the roof.  The prerelease got so full that by the time local pro Sam Black showed up, they almost didn’t have enough space.  I think we hit around 120 people that night, and it felt more like States than a midnight launch.

Theros was easily one of the better ones I’ve been to as well.  The set looked awesome, (I mean who didn’t want to play with a god), and it really appeared to contain few duds.  People quickly found out how swingy the games could be and how absurd the power levels would get.  In the midnight launch, I played a Mono Black deck with two Gray Merchants, a Whip, an Abhorrent Overlord, and a Hythonia the Cruel.  In one of the games against a good friend, I got pretty much all of that stuff going, with him cluttering the board with a bunch of 3/3s.  I had an eighth mana in my hand waiting for him to pass the turn so I could ultimate Hythonia, but then I watched as he drew an Elspeth off the top, played it, minus’d it, and wiped my board leaving all of his creatures in play.  It was at that point where I got my first taste for how crazy Theros Sealed was.  I’d go on to never really understand the format, having trouble with PTQs and drafts, but man was it a good time regardless.  Anyone following my twitter can look back at the picture I took of my Sunday pool when I went Red, it’s a treat for sure.

Alright, enough nostalgia.  You all came here today because you want the nitty gritty on the new cards.  I haven’t done as much playtesting as I’d like (certainly not as much as I did for Theros), but I have been putting in some games.  I’ve probably done about twenty games with decks from the new set, and so far its given me some interesting observations for cards I didn’t think were that playable.  I’m going to start out by giving an overview of the Red cards, followed by talking about a few outside of that which have caught my eye.

Born of the Gods:  Red

Fated Conflagration

Fated Conflagration

People around here got pretty excited when they saw this card, but I think it’s overhyped.  Yes, it looks sweet on paper for Mono Red, dealing with tough cards like Polukranos, Jace, Elspeth, Reaper of the Wilds, etc.  But there are a few problems.  First, the mana requirement is tough.  It’s not just that the three red mana make it mostly limited to Mono Red, it’s the fact that it’s four mana.  At four mana, I’d hope the game is mostly over or that your casting something like a Fanatic of Mogis or a burn spell to put you in closer reach.  If you’re casting this, it means you have to have a target for it, it means that target has to be a huge cause for you not winning the game in the next few turns, and you need to cast it on your turn to get the scry benefit which means your not playing creatures that turn.  That’s a lot of “ifs” which is never something Mono Red usually likes.  You want consistency in Red and cards that can be aggressive across most matchups, and this card is very narrow.

Just look at the two top decks right now, Mono Blue and Mono Black.  I’d argue those are the worst archetypes to play this card against, as it really does nothing against either.  Mono Black doesn’t have a four or five toughness creature that you care about, so at best you’re killing a random guy that could be hit by one of your cheaper burn spells.  Against Blue, you’re fighting a tempo war, and this is a pricey card that still doesn’t kill either of their two biggest threats (Master and Thassa).

Where it might come in handy is in the sideboard if you have room.  This is definitely a solid choice against GR Monsters, GW Aggro, and UW Control.  All three of those decks have absolutely nasty cards against you that this would deal with.  Polukranos, Stormbreath Dragon, Advent of the Wurm, Unflinching Courage on a grizzly bear, Trostani, Jace, and Elspeth are the big ones.  Those are usually the cards keeping me from winning a game, so Conflagration is not a card that won’t see play, but it’s probably not a four-of and probably not in your 60.

As an aside, I could see this splashed in a R/x deck that also supports running Boros Reckoner as you can probably deal with the casting cost at that point.

Satyr Firedancer

Satyr Firedancer

When I first saw this card I got initially disappointed because some friends had misinformed me on what it really did.  A 1/1 for two mana and a conditional ability is not usually my cup of tea.  Today however when I was testing on Cockatrice, I played against a Red mage who was using this card along with Young Pyromancer, Boros Reckoner, and a giant burn suite.  The power level of Satyr became immediately apparent.  While he suffers from the same problem as Young Pyromancer (they can kill him pretty easily), he’s an immediate threat that can cause your opponent to lose the game fast if you don’t deal with him.

Ultimately in a Red deck, especially a burn-centric one, you want to burn them in the face as much as possible.  Typically the thing preventing you from doing this is when your opponent amasses an army that races faster than your burn can go.  Satyr solves this problem as long as he’s on the battlefield, and it didn’t quite register with me until I saw him in action.  Within a few turns, my entire board was wiped (I was trying out a white weenie deck), my life total was down to nothing, and I was being pummeled by the army mentioned above.  One last Lightning Strike put the nail in the coffin.

Borzhov (Dega) Burn was a deck that was right on the cusp just prior to this release.  I saw it top 16 a bunch of tournaments on my PTQ run as well as having success on MTGO.  This card could be something that might put it over the top, or at the very least he’s interesting enough that you should test him and see if he has a place in the Red deck you play at your next tournament.  Big Boros players might also want to think about this too.

Archetype of Aggression

Archetype of Aggression

I’m unsure on the playability of any of the Archetype cards (and don’t care for the name), but it’s possible there might be a home out there somewhere.  For now, I don’t think it’s any good.  It’s an interesting card to use as a miser (one-of) to trump situations where the battlefield has bogged down, but otherwise this one in particular is something unneeded at an already cluttered mana cost.

Nyxborn Rollicker

Nyxborn Rollicker

Terrible.  NEXT.

Everflame Eidolon

Everflame Eidolon

This probably won’t see much play, but firebreathing effects have always been a nice thing to have somewhere in your Red deck.  Stonewright was one of my favorite Red cards, and a hugely underappreciated one at that.  Dragon’s Mantle has been really sweet in casual builds, and Tom Ross played it to some success in his Boss Sligh deck.  While I think Dragon’s Mantle is still better than this card, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it as a miser in someone’s list at an SCG.

Thunderous Might

Thunderous Might

While putting this on a vanilla attacker is probably not going to get you anywhere, this could be a steal of a card if you play it carefully.  For starters, there’s a lot of fliers available to Red at the moment like Chandra’s Phoenix, Flame-Wreathed Phoenix, and Stormbreath Dragon.  You put this on any of them in a Red Aggro shell, and you’re probably moving in for the kill blow if your opponent doesn’t have removal or is tapped out.  Even on an Ash Zealot or Boros Reckoner this thing is scary, as who’s going to be able to get in the way of a potential 5/6/7/8 power first-striker.  Red Aggro often gets stalled out if your opponent puts a fatty on the table, and this could be a solid answer.  Granted, Madcap Skills rivals it for playability, but there might even be a deck that wants both.

Satyr Nyx-Smith

Satyr Nyx-Smith

The best application for Satyr that I can see is against Control.  He’s really overcosted and slow against pretty much everything, and probably destined for limited formats, but against Control he might have a chance.  The ability to just keep cranking out hasty dudes against a deck that usually has an open board aside from some planeswalkers is pretty good.  Hammer required that you sacrificed your lands, this just requires that you untap and take your next turn.  While it is a creature which means it can get killed easier than Hammer, it lets you make the creature before attacking so you can avoid stuff like Azorius Charm or Celestial Flare.  Anytime you can save cards in your hand against a deck that is trying to exhaust your resources is something to take note of.

Forgestoker Dragon

Forgestoker Dragon

I really like the looks of this guy for Commander, I could see him letting your entire army swing through or killing off your opponents board if he’s able to stay afloat for a turn.  For constructed however, he’s too expensive and his four toughness is a big dealbreaker.

Thunder Brute

Thunder Brute

If there’s some kind of bigger build for Red, this “might” see consideration.  He fails a lot of the tests, by being extremely vulnerable to removal and costing a ton, but he has trample.  The trample here is huge, because if they pay tribute (which most tribute cards will demand), you have an 8/8 trample in a Red deck.  That seems insane to me, and if you’re at that point in the game, your opponent might be in serious trouble.  That said, the only shell I could see this guy in is a bigger Red deck, and he’s a little win-more by the time he comes down or not the effect you want.  For instance, in the Big Boros deck I was playing, Elspeth was often a savior at six mana, whereas this most likely wouldn’t keep you from dying when it enters the battlefield.

In limited however, like the card above it, SIGN ME UP.

Bolt of Keranos

Bolt of Keranos

I like getting more burn spells, and I like having scry attached to them, but this has too much competition to see regular play.  Flames of the Firebrand is going to be better in most situations, and even that doesn’t see much play.  There’s just too many efficient burn spells right now between Shock, Magma Jet, Lightning Strike, and Mizzium Mortars.  It might be ok in some shell, but I doubt it.  Keep your eye on it for post-rotation.

Cyclops of One-Eyed Pass

Cyclops of One-Eyed Pass

Cobblebrute wasn’t terrible in limited, he wasn’t great either.  This one is just a Cobblebrute that’s tougher to cast.  He’s also a Cyclops so he dies to Eye Gouge. Yeah. . .

Kragma Butcher

Our first Minotaur of the new set.  Sorry boys and girls, this one’s way to vanilla to be playable.

Lightning Volley

Lightning Volley

This card had me really excited when I saw it in the spoiler, but I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet.  It seems like it could be a sweet finisher, although it’s pretty much just a one or two of if you do run it.  I’m sure most of you haven’t given this card even a slight pause of consideration, but the ability to wipe the board in Red or play this during your opponent’s end step and completely hose their combat math is interesting.

Reckless Reveler

Reckless Reveler

Is this a sign from Wizards that artifacts might be becoming more plentiful in the near future?  Probably not, but it’s an ok miserly sideboard card to deal with stuff like Trading Post or Whip of Erebos.  Anytime you can attach this effect to a creature, it’s probably going to have a shot at making the 75 of a Red Aggro deck.

Rise to the Challenge

Rise to the Challenge

Aside from limited formats and a possible Heroic inclusion, this card is unplayable.

Scouring Sands

Scouring Sands

I’ve been testing this card in various sideboards to have against Mono Blue and W/x Aggro, but so far haven’t been hugely impressed.  It’s just not the answer you want as it’s fairly narrow and it’s a sorcery.  It does give Electrickery some competition because of the scry, and it could be OK in the board, but I’m not sold on it yet from what I’ve seen.

Stormcaller of Keranos

Stormcaller of Keranos

This guy seems awesome in limited, I love that you can just go on a scrying spree if you have a lot of mana available and are out of gas.  Otherwise, I can’t ever see him making the cut in constructed unless it’s in some kind of weird counter-burn deck.

Akroan Conscriptor

Akroan Conscriptor

Once you get to that mana cost, you need this effect to happen right away, not conditionally and not the following turn.  It’s fine for a limited deck, but otherwise he’s way too underpowered and overcosted.

Fall of the Hammer

Fall of the Hammer

I really wish this did the damage to a creature or player like Soul’s Fire, but alas it doesn’t.  It’s a nice little limited fight mechanic, except it’s in a color where we usually could just be playing a burn spell in its place.  If you can find a way for this to be five or more damage for its mana cost, then maybe you’re onto something, but otherwise I don’t see why you wouldn’t play a card over it that actually has the ability to hit the opponent’s face or not require you to have a creature in play upon resolution.

Fearsome Temper\

Fearsome Temper

Another solid limited card, but really slow otherwise.

Impetuous Sunchaser

Impetuous Sunchaser

Overcosted 1/1 Flier.  No thanks.

Pinnacle of Rage

Pinnacle of Rage

It’s a sorcery and it’s six mana.  Definitely a very solid removal spell in limited formats, but not good enough for constructed.

Whims of the Fates

Whims of the Fates

Wizards, please stop making my head hurt.  Norin the Weary Commander decks just got another toy.

Oracle of Bones

Oracle of Bones

If there is a Minotaur deck, or even maybe in Red Aggro, this guy has a very outside shot.  He has haste regardless of whether tribute is paid or not, and being able to “Burning-Tree” into another card is interesting.  That said, he’s super conditional and can sometimes just be terrible.  I’m guessing he’s going to be bulk-rare or casual fare, but put him on the bucket list of things to try.

Felhide Spiritbinder

Felhide Spiritbinder

This guy seems really cool, I love the effect.  Again, probably only going in a casual Minotaurs deck, but cloning any creature on the battlefield and giving it haste is powerful.  Two mana for a Desecration Demon?  Thank you sir, I’ll have another.

Searing Blood

Searing Blood

This is probably the favorite Red card for most of you fire mages out there; I’m not wild about it but there’s space for it to be played.  If devotion-based creature decks flood the format to the same level they’ve been or to a greater extent, than this might have some maindeck playability.  Otherwise, it’s a very good anti-aggro sideboard card for Red Aggro decks and potentially a one or two-of in midrange builds (although you’ll probably just want Anger of the Gods instead).  I did test it a little bit, and against another Aggro deck it went on a killing spree, but otherwise. . . meh

Flame-Wreathed Phoenix

Flame-Wreathed Phoenix

This is the guy I’m pegging the most attention on in the new set.  While he does live in a world with Desecration Demon and plentiful spot removal, he’s a powerful four drop in a slot that’s largely up for debate at the moment.  Sure, Fanatic and Purphoros are probably more powerful cards, but there are shells where I think the Phoenix could be good.  I’ve been trying him out in a list like this which has so far won a lot of games-

B/R Midrange

4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Flame-Wreathed Phoenix
1 Sire of Insanity
4 Stormbreath Dragon

3 Chandra, Pyromaster

4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
4 Thoughtseize
4 Dreadbore
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Rakdos’s Return

4 Blood Crypt
4 Temple of Malice
2 Temple of Triumph
2 Mutavault
1 Rakdos Guildgate
8 Mountain
4 Swamp

Sideboard
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Hero’s Downfall
3 Searing Blood
3 Anger of the Gods
2 Duress
2 Rakdos’s Return

Epiphany Storm

Epiphany Storm

Outside of fringe limited play, another card that will probably sit in a commons box.

Pharagax Giant

Pharagax Giant

Tribute is going to get paid virtually 100% of the time on this guy which leaves you with a 5/5 for five.  Not impressed outside of limited format applicability.

Speculation

Other cards outside of Mono Red that have impressed me are the following:

Fanatic of Xenagos
Xenagos, God of Revels
Mogis, God of Slaughter
Courser of Kruphix
Loyal Pegasus
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Pain Seer
Drown in Sorrow
Unravel the AEther
Bile Blight
Herald of Torment
Spirit of Labyrinth
Fated Retribution

There’s plenty not on this list that I’m interested in, I just haven’t seen them in testing yet.  The above I’ve all run across or played myself, and I’d say all of them will see some action based on what I encountered in my games.  Xenagos, God of Revels is easily the best card of the set in my opinion, his effect is insanely powerful in a G/R shell and it’s very threatening because of the fact that it happens the first turn you play him if you have a creature out.  The surprise factor there is huge, and in a G/R deck if often means a mighty large monster is attacking as a result.

Brimaz is also the real deal and worth every penny that he’s selling for right now.  Every game I’ve played with or against him he’s either been killed immediately or taken over the game.  While he’s not as awesome as Hero of Bladehold, he definitely does a good impression in this Standard format.  White has a plentiful amount of efficient creatures and they just gained a whole bunch of new ones.  Brimaz is basically the icing on the cake, and him being contested with other good cards at three mana shouldn’t prevent him from seeing heavy action.

The biggest surprise card for me of the bunch is Courser of Kruphix.  I immediately liked him for his appeal in Commander decks, but it turns out a four toughness creature for three mana that can gain you life and potentially let you play free cards is not terrible in constructed either.  It’s tough to kill him or even want to kill him since he’s not posing a big threat from an attacking standpoint, and as a result he often sits on the battlefield for a while putting in work.

Fanatic of Xenagos is hugely efficient and at the right mana cost to see play, I’d definitely put him in your testing suite if you’re thinking about going aggressive with a G/R shell.  He already has trample, so you can use that hot Ghor-Clan action elsewhere and really give your opponent hard times.

I’m not sold on Mogis yet, but his effect is a threatening one so I’m not ruling him out as “good”.  I was messing around with him in some Jund lists, and let me say there are some scary cards you can put together for Jund at the moment that might actually push that deck into playability.  He’s also a nice curve topper in a B/R Aggro shell, perhaps something similar to what won GP Santiago last year.  Keep him on your radar.

Good luck to any of you attending the prereleases, keep tapping those mountains

– Red Deck Winning