“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:
And of course I couldn’t leave Vegas without restocking my dice and tokens. . .
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.
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
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Mogis’s Warhound
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Lightning Strike
1 Temple Garden
4 Stomping Ground
4 Mana Confluence
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.
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.
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:
+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.
+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.
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.
Until next time, keep tapping those Mountains. . .
– Red Deck Winning