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

A Qualifier Journey: Experiences to Build On

Warleader's Helix

A Qualifier Journey:  Experiences to Build On

Every qualifier run is a difficult one, but like every one, it has its merits.  This journey that I’ve been on for the last four weekends in a row has had a great amount of highs and lows, and has been a very enjoyable quest to try to prove to myself that I can be a better Magic player.

Today marked the last day of the journey, a Pro Tour Qualifier in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  After three disappointing finishes for me the last three weekends, I finally turned things around and finished with a 6-2 record at 17th out of 158.  The goal was still to make the Pro Tour, but I was happy to at least get within striking distance again.  I practiced a lot, several hours a day and worked with my teammates to try and understand the format better and know the ins and outs of every deck and every play that could be made.  And while I didn’t make it today, I was happy to see a fellow Madison native and friend, Jasper Johnson-Epstein qualify.  Hopefully he can continue the beatings in Atlanta. . .

In Eau Claire and Green Bay I played the R/W Devotion list of my own creation (mostly similar to the stock version), and unfortunately just didn’t draw very well along with running into fringe matchups that weren’t good ones.  There were some great times involved though, from packing six people in my friend’s SUV including one “trunk dweller”, to getting lost for an hour in the middle of nowhere while running out of gas, to cracking up until we were in tears over beers and wings post-tournament.  We had to ban certain members from “sharing stories” that got too out of control, we watched some 0-2-drunk-infuriation occur, found awesome Pandora channels that continued to crank out hits over multiple car trips, and just had an absolute blast.  Even when the money is tight and the winning doesn’t always come, its experiences like these that make me love this game and ones that you can’t put a value on.  Magic is the great social equalizer, it brings people together from all walks of life and all different areas, and it does one simple thing that is the most important of all; it just makes you happy.

Last weekend I was back home for the PTQ in my city (Madison, WI), and watched as friends got very close but couldn’t take the crown.  I started out 3-1 playing a Mono Red Aggro list (splashing white for Chained to the Rocks and sideboard cards), but dropped the next two to be out of it.  The PTQ was HUGE.  We had 240 people, the largest ever for the shop, and the first few rounds even involved having a few players without chairs that had to play Magic on their knees at the tables.  It was pretty crazy.  My teammate Mike Torrisi who I mentioned in the last article started off 5-0 with his brand of R/W Devotion, but then lost three in a row (he was at table 1) to bust out of the tournament.  One of our other teammates Blaine who’s only 17 years old played UW Control to a win-and-in round for top 8 but got stuck on three lands in game 3 against Mono Blue and also had his run ended.  Our last hope, Madison native and starcitygames.com writer Adrian Sullivan made it to the finals, but then fell yet again to the Mono Blue menace.  It was a hell of a day, but it was good for all of us to iron out the kinks.  I knew at that point that Aggro was not where I wanted to be, as most of the creatures were just outclassed too easily in important matchups, but it still didn’t make me want to switch off of Red just yet.  I like playing decks that are my style, and obviously I created this website, so while I did have the traitorous deck (Mono Blue) in my deckbox ready to go, it wasn’t time for that to see the light.

Finally today came and I decided I was going to make it to the last PTQ (technically there’s one within striking distance tomorrow, but as I write this it’s 12:45am and I don’t have a car ride), so I grabbed some car mates and took my ride over yonder to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  I decided to play Michael Kenney’s R/W Midrange (Big Boros) list that he top 8’d SCG Indy with and won SCG Columbus with.  The deck has a lot of variety within it, giving a good player the opportunity to leverage their playskill to make plays.  The sideboard is also very flexible, giving you outs to a lot of the unknown should you come across it.  I had played it to a 2nd place finish at this previous week’s win-a-box tournament at my local store as well as feeling comfortable with it at FNM.  While I could have brewed up some changes, I felt that Kenney was mostly in the right place and that for a PTQ berth my best chance would be with something that was fresh and well tested.  For those that have forgotten or not seen it, here is the list-

Michael Kenney – 1st Place SCG Columbus (Big Boros)

Maindeck

Creature [16]
2 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge

Instant [10]
4 Magma Jet
2 Warleader’s Helix
4 Lightning Strike

Sorcery [2]
2 Mizzium Mortars
Enchantment [4]
2 Assemble the Legion
2 Chained to the Rocks

Land [25]
11 Mountain
3 Plains
4 Temple of Triumph
2 Mutavault
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Boros Guildgate

Planeswalker [3]
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

60 cards

Sideboard:

2 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Last Breath
2 Wear // Tear
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Glare of Heresy
1 Pithing Needle
2 Chained to the Rocks
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

15 cards

There’s a lot going on here, and that’s how every game feels too.  I had a lot of close games at the PTQ, but the deck finds ways to pull itself out of trouble.  Elspeth, for instance, was simply amazing.  I had at least three games where I ripped her right when I needed her to either wipe a board full of huge creatures or make tokens to save me until I could get Warleader’s Helix and Chandra’s Phoenix online.  This deck also captures the classic feel of a great red deck.  You have great burn spells, aggressive creatures, but best of all it has something red decks normally don’t have:  DRAW POWER.  Between the four Magma Jets, four Temple of Triumphs, and two Chandras, you can truly filter through and get the outs you need.  You can play Aggro, you can play Control.  You can board into fantastic cards against popular opposition.  And if that all doesn’t work, well, there’s Stormbreath Dragon.

What I didn’t like about the deck is that despite all of the above, it sometimes does just run out of gas.  But in a format ripe with Thoughtseize and great decks, that’s going to happen to the best of them.  I was happy to even finish 6-2, considering I mulligan’d to five cards in four different games and lost every die roll except one.  You need a little luck in these tournaments, and while I didn’t get it today, I’m hopeful for tomorrow.  I think after seeing Mono Blue win three consecutive tournaments that it’s probably just the deck you want to play, but if you are like me and have a hard time tapping Islands, Kenney’s list is a very good option.  I still think Ketter’s list from SCG Columbus is also fine, but you definitely get into situations with that deck where you are just dead.  With Kenney’s, a win is almost always a possibility despite how bleak the situations can look at times.

As for what I played against, I believe this was what I saw today-

Round 1 vs Esper Humans with Cartel Aristocrat and Soul’s Ransom

1-2 (Loss) (we both ran out of cards game 3, then he drew better off the top)

0-1

Round 2 vs Mono Green Devotion

2-1 (Win)

1-1

Round 3 vs UW Control

2-0 (Win)

2-1

Round 4 vs Mono Black Devotion

1-2 (Loss) (Same as my other loss, both of us ran out of cards and then he drew into chaining Gray Merchants)

2-2

Round 5 vs Junk Midrange

2-0 (Win)

3-2

Round 6 vs UW Control

2-0 (Win)

4-2

Round 7 vs Mono Black Devotion

2-1 (Win)

5-2

Round 8 vs B/G Midrange

2-1 (Win) (very close nailbiter but Chandra drew about four or five cards in game three to seal it for me)

6-2, 17th Place of 158

I used Kenney’s sideboard plan which I found at the last minute via his Twitter feed.  I’m not sure if I like taking out all the Reckoners versus Mono Black, but otherwise it was helpful and I think he made some good choices.  You can find it here-

http://atyourendstep.com/3/post/2014/01/the-big-boros-sideboard-guide.html

Videos!

Just an FYI for my readers, I have been working on some videos that should soon be on the site.  I’ve recorded a few via Cockatrice, and I’m working on setting up a table top session in real life to film.  This has been long in the works and the business of life has slowed it from materializing, but I’m pushing to try and get it done faster.  I’d expect that probably by the end of February I should have something up and running, so stay tuned.

As Always, thanks for reading and keep the fire alive!

– Red Deck Winning

How to Win in Standard, The Season Continues

assemblethelegionfull

How to Win in Standard, The Season Continues

I’m having a lot of fun.  Standard season is now in full swing and I don’t think I’ve ever put in as much time towards Magic as I am right now.  I’ve gone on some tournament runs before, but I told myself this time around that it was going to be different.  In the last article I mentioned some of the tournaments I was going to, and the first one, the Eau Claire, WI SCG IQ is now in the books.

Sadly, I didn’t perform well at the IQ, losing to Mono Black Devotion and GW Aggro in the Swiss, along with another loss which was just downright embarrassing, but two of my other teammates did well, both making top 8.  One of them was running RW like myself, the other was running Esper Humans.  We didn’t expect much from the IQ, we certainly practiced for it but it was essentially the starter tournament for us to get the feel of a big tournament back before we start hitting PTQs.  I think it did a good job at providing that experience, as there were 46 people present, six rounds, a lot of quality decks, and some good opponents / teams.  Ultimately I believe the finals were W/x aggro versus GW Aggro, but we had to leave so we couldn’t see it finish.

For the rest of this article, I’d like to cover the various decks in Standard right now that I think are relevant and what is good against them.  Previously I gave you readers a list and how to sideboard, but I think that’s the wrong approach at this moment.  For starters, I’ve been waffling a lot on my 75s, and secondly I believe it’s more important to know what is the keys to winning against each deck and let you decide on your list for yourself.  Having had more time to practice and play tournaments, its given me a more accurate grasp on this.  I’m also going to post a few lists that I’ve tested with recently that I feel are worth giving some attention.  Again, the content here is all my opinion, so you’re welcome to wildly disagree with it and I always appreciate constructive feedback.

The Metagame

Enemy #1:  Mono Black Devotion

desecrationdemonfull

The Best Cards Against It:  Chained to the Rocks, Assemble the Legion, Elspeth, Divine Verdict, Wear // Tear, Mizzium Mortars

The key here is obviously containing Desecration Demon.  He’s the biggest threat they produce aside from chaining Grey Merchants, and he’s the only creature you can’t burn out.  The problem is, you only have so many Chains, and they have Thoughtseize to strip your answers away.  Divine Verdict is a nice supplement, and it doubles at being a solid card against GR Monsters, Obzedat, and Advent of the Wurm.  Assemble the Legion is unanswerable outside of Thoughtseize, so I would absolutely run no less than three of these in your 75 if possible.  Wear // Tear is good against Underworld Connections and Whip, although a lot of lists are sans Whip and I personally don’t board it in because I prefer to be the aggressor.  Mono Black is slow, and you can take advantage of it.

Elspeth is basically the same as Assemble except that it gives you instant defense against attacks and it can be killed by Hero’s Downfall.  Hopefully you’ve played enough threats to force them to use their Downfall prior.  Mizzium Mortars is my pick for the best removal outside of what’s been mentioned because it literally kills every creature in their deck aside from Demon and Erebos, and you really need to answer Pack Rat immediately.  A lot of people don’t realize how strong Pack Rat is in Mono Black, but it is one of the keys to them winning against you.

Nightveil Specter isn’t that big of a deal, so if you’re light on removal in this matchup, save it for Pack Rat, Demon, and Merchant.  If you think they are going to chain a few Merchants together, than Nightveil is absolutely worth killing.

Enemy #2:  Mono Blue Devotion

masterofwavesfull

The Best Cards Against It:  Chained to the Rocks, Last Breath, Mizzium Mortars, Stormbreath Dragon, Anger of the Gods, Ratchet Bomb, Fanatic of Mogis

The key here is that you really just need to kill Thassa and Master of the Waves, as these cards are the two that break you in half.  Killing Master kills all the tokens, so that’s priority number one and that’s what Chained to the Rocks and Last Breath do best.  They do have Cyclonic Rift for Chains, but otherwise their outs are extremely limited.    If you’re taking a more aggressive role with your build of RW, you’ll want to max out on Mizzium Mortars between the maindeck and sideboard.  It’s very important to be able to kill Frostburn Weird so that he doesn’t slow down your tempo, and it also doubles at killing the rest of their stuff or overloading for value.

One situation that can come up often in this match is that you get incrementally overwhelmed by their fliers.  Between Judge’s Familiar, Cloudfin Raptor, Nightveil Specter, and Thassa’s ability to make them unblockable, the few points of damage you take in the early game can turn into lethal later in the game when you’re finally stabilizing.  This is one of the reasons I like having some spot removal in the deck along with Strombreath Dragon, because you really just need to buy time.  Stormbreath is difficult for them to answer because it’s very easy to stretch their removal and he flies over their whole team once you deal with the little guys.  Fanatic of Mogis is another inevitability factor that they can’t stop outside of counterspells.

Make sure to watch out for whenever they are keeping a singleton blue mana up when they pass the turn.  This often signals that they have Rapid Hybridization.  I usually see it used on Boros Reckoner, but it can sometimes rue your day if you were planning a big devotion swing.  Patience is really important in this matchup because even though they have insane threats and are trying to out-tempo you, you have much bigger haymakers than they do.

Enemy #3:  GW Aggro

fleecemanelionfull

Best Cards Against It:  Chained to the Rocks, Lightning Strike, Mizzium Mortars, Boros Reckoner, Stormbreath Dragon, Anger of the Gods, Glare of Heresy, Warleader’s Helix, Last Breath

This is an aggressive matchup that is very difficult and requires tight play.  GW plays one game, and that’s to simply unload their entire hand on you because they know that their creatures are bigger than yours.  If you ever see them holding back 3, 4, or 5 mana, absolutely play around Boon Satyr or Advent of the Wurm.  They have absolutely no reason to hold back this mana aside from this fact, and they will almost always have it with the amount of each they have in the deck.  My teammate was watching a game I was playing against GW yesterday where I simply passed even though I had three creatures on the board to his empty board, but it was because I knew he had Advent.  Sure enough, he did, and it saved me a 2-for-1.

Instant speed burn is very relevant, although you don’t want to overload too much on removal.  They have better threats, so it’s important to keep as many of the creatures in your maindeck in the 60 as possible.  You can’t play a control game against them, you have to play tempo.  Lightning Strike is especially potent because it deals with Fleecemane Lion, not giving him a chance to go Monstrous.  It also kills Boon Satyr and most of the other creatures.

Advent of the Wurm, Unflinching Courage, and Trostani are the toughest things you’ll usually see.  All these things of course get properly dealt with by Chained to the Rocks, although it’s worth being aware that many of them have Glare of Heresy in their sideboard.  It’s highly unlikely that they’ll board it, but a wise player just might.  Speaking of Glare of Heresy, it’s a great answer to most of the problem cards like Voice of Resurgence, Fleecemane Lion, and Unflinching Courage.  I don’t like going hog wild on it just because Boon Satyr and the Advent token aren’t white, but it’s a nice supplement regardleses.  Anger of the Gods is another card that exiles and hits most of their stuff if you decide to run it.

Loxodon Smiter appears in some versions, if you see they’re on that plan make sure to bring in Mortars which is generally a card I like having against them anyway despite not being instant speed.

Selesnya Charm kills Purphoros, and that play happened frequently to me, so it might even be worth sideboarding him out.  He is however one of the best creatures against them, so it’s a tough call, but I think it’s worth it to just make that aspect of their removal suite dead.

Lastly, Boon Satyr on an Advent of the Wurm is pretty much game over, so may you draw strong against it.

Enemy #4:  G/R Monsters

polukranosworldeaterfull

Best Cards Against It:  Chained to the Rocks, Mizzium Mortars, Lightning Strike, Shock, Anger of the Gods, Boros Reckoner, Divine Verdict

Arguably this is the toughest matchup for RW Devotion.  It’s a shame because it’s catching fire (no pun intended) due to Brian Braun-Duin’s videos and subsequent tournament performances.  The deck does a lot of things that make it hard for you to match up with it.  For starters, like the previous season’s G/R deck it has mana acceleration to ramp into huge threats on turn 3, most of the time being Polukranos.  Thus, cutting off their mana dorks if you can (obviously not Caryatid) can go a long way towards getting over on them.  A lot of their hands are either a flood of mana dorks and one big threat, or a pile of threats and not enough land.  That’s one of the few weaknesses they have so make sure to expose it.

The two biggest threats in the deck are Polukranos and Stormbreath, which is why Chained to the Rocks and Mizzium Mortars are yet again the go-to cards for this matchup.  The problems don’t quit there unfortunately, Boon Satyr, Scavenging Ooze, and sometimes Mistcutter Hydra and Arbor Colossus join the fray.  The main way I’ve beaten them is to let your creatures deal with everything but Polukranos and Stormbreath and save your specific removal for those cards.  They might exhaust your resources on that end, but hopefully if you control their mana sources and load the board faster than them you can squeak by.  That’s really the true strategy, because while they’re faster at ramping down big threats, they typically don’t load the board with anything relevant besides those threats.  If they have an army of Voyaging Satyrs and Elvish Mystics on the table, that’s very good times for you.

A few things worth watching out for; Flesh // Blood is insanely dumb, the first time you get hit by a Stormbreath only to have it hit you again because of that card makes you want to cry and quit magic (or switch decks).  Just be conscious of the life swing capability depending on what mana they are holding up and what they’ve played.  Out of the sideboard, Destructive Revelry can wreck havoc on your Chains, but there’s not really much you can do about it aside from maybe adding more Divine Verdicts to your board.  I don’t like playing too many Divine Verdicts though because it’s a high casting cost and requires situations to make it work.  It also doesn’t hit Stormbreath.  That said, it’s still an instant speed answer to the rest of the cards in their deck.

Hopefully you can dodge this matchup. . .

Enemy #5:  W/x Aggro

imposingsovereignfull

Best Cards Against It:  Anger of the Gods, Shock, Warleader’s Helix, Stormbreath Dragon, 2cc Removal, Ash Zealot, Boros Reckoner

These W/x aggro matchups are winnable, but you really need to make sure that your list respects them.  I see a lot of RW players just assuming their 2cc removal spells and big guys like Boros Reckoner will take care of the matchup and call it a day.  This really isn’t the case, as these decks are much faster than you and have brutal counter-punches in Imposing Sovereign, Banisher Priest, and Brave the Elements.  One of these decks was in the finals of the IQ I was just at, it won a GP in Asia a few weeks ago, and Ben Stark piloted it to a strong finish.  It’s also popped up in just about every top 16 in the last month.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to not just give away this match by thinking your spot removal is good enough.  You specifically need at least two of the cards above (removal-wise) to feel safer against W/x Aggro.  Personally, I’ve found Anger of the Gods and Warleader’s Helix to be the best combination followed by Shock and Warleader’s Helix.  Sometimes you can get really roughed up if they have a Brave the Elements when you play Anger, but often times you simply don’t have a choice not to play it even if they have a white mana up.

Warleader’s Helix is actually quite awesome as you’d imagine against them, and the 4cc casting cost isn’t a big deal.  When you have other removal it buys you enough time generally to make Helix that exact amount of life you need to stabilize, and as soon as you get a few creatures on the board after that it’s usually game over.  I played against my teammate a decent amount last night with the GP winner’s list against his Top 8 RW list from the IQ and rolled him four times in a row though.  He wasn’t running Helix or Anger, and it showed.  The thing that really changed the games was not so much that he couldn’t kill my guys and put down threats, but more-so that the W/x decks just continually draw threats.  It’s like how Naya Blitz was, only a turn or two slower with an added element of cards like Brave and Banisher Priest which make up for that turn.  Mutavault is probably the scariest card in their deck, so any kind of Shock, Magma Jet, etc, is massively appreciated in this matchup.  I like Magma Jet a lot here, because you absolutely need to hit your spells on time to survive and it smooths out your draws.

And as you did with Aristocrats, make sure to kill Xathrid Necromancer on first sight.

Enemy #6:  UW Control

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Best Cards Against It:  Pithing Needle, Glare of Heresy, Wear // Tear, Hammer of Purphoros, Purphoros, God of the Forge, Stormbreath Dragon, Skullcrack, Toil // Trouble

I’m covering U/W in this article and not Esper because the Esper matchup is a joke for most builds of R/W Devotion.  My teammates and I have crushed it so many times and the looks on our opponents faces are always priceless.  The U/W deck is a different animal though, and I think it stems from the fact that they are playing a more pure control build and not trying to just stick a Blood Baron or play spot removal on your guys.  Their planeswalkers are very difficult to deal with and often give them plenty of time to pick off your threats one by one.  That’s one of the reasons why I think Pithing Needle is the best card for the matchup, followed by things that remove Detetion Sphere.  Their deck is a lot more consistent than Esper; they have Divination for added draw power and they don’t have to worry about having so many lands that come into play tapped.  They’re also fairly Burning Earth-proof if you’re running that sort of thing.

Glare of Heresy gets the nod over Wear // Tear because it exiles and also deals with Elspeth.  Elspeth is generally the kill condition, or an ultimate’d Jace.  Like when playing against Esper, you still want to jam as many threats as possible and thankfully you have a lot of dead cards to cut from the main.  Hammer is the best “real” threat, because it’s just about impossible for them to keep up with a creature-a-turn with haste.  The tokens also don’t die to Last Breath which is usually a removal card they run.

Enemy #7:  YOU

peakeruptionfull

Best Cards Against It:  Mizzium Mortars, Boros Reckoner, Warleader’s Helix, Peak Eruption, Purphoros, God of the Forge, Hammer of Purphoros, Wear // Tear~, Glare of Heresy~

The mirror, like any Red mirror, is pretty dumb.  A lot of times, despite being a midrange deck, it comes down to who goes first.

There are some nuances to this one though worth talking about.  First, Purphoros and his Hammer are easily the strongest cards here.  Despite the fact that you’ll be busy burning each others guys down and keeping each other off devotion, Purphoros is really tough to answer and kills fast.  Same goes for Stormbreath.  Chained to the Rocks is great in game 1 but can be a liability in games 2 and 3 and I usually sideboard it out.  If you think your opponent is not smart enough to bring in removal for it, then by all means keep it in because it still remains a great card.  Mortars and Warleader’s Helix though are far more important, as you’ll want to kill any Dragons that show up with the former and swing close life totals with the latter.  Boros Reckoner is usually the decider of the match, so he’s the big incentive to keep Chains in even if your opponent has hate for it.  There’s an argument for Glare of Heresy because of this too, as it hits both Reckoner and Chains, along with Elspeth if they have it.

Peak Eruption is much better in an aggro shell where you’re taking advantage of the fact that you’re going underneath them, but it also can be potent here in keeping the opponent off their big drops before you get to yours, especially if you’re on the draw.  I don’t think I’m going to run it anytime soon, just because it is a very narrow card, but it has its merits.

RW Lists to Consider

These are some of the lists that I’ve been testing that I like the most right now, I would consider any of these if you’re going to be PTQing with RW-

Michael Kenney, 8th Place SCG Indy Open

Creature [16]
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Young Pyromancer
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge

Instant [10]
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Warleader’s Helix

Sorcery [2]
2 Mizzium Mortars

Enchantment [4]
2 Assemble the Legion
2 Chained to the Rocks

Land [25]
11 Mountain
3 Plains
1 Boros Guildgate
2 Mutavault
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph

Planeswalker [3]
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
60 cards

Sideboard:

2 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Last Breath
2 Wear // Tear
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Glare of Heresy
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Pithing Needle
2 Chained to the Rocks
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
15 cards

Quick Notes:  Very Controllish, Great Incremental Value against Mono Black.  Doesn’t have the punch factor against decks it needs to close the deal against though.

Longtoe, 1st Place MTGO Standard Premiere

Main Deck
60 cards

11 Mountain
4 Mutavault
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
23 lands

4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Stormbreath Dragon
3 Young Pyromancer
19 creatures

3 Chained to the Rocks
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Mizzium Mortars
3 Shock
18 other spells

Sideboard
3 Boros Reckoner
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Last Breath
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Mountain
3 Skullcrack
1 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Wear // Tear

Quick Notes:  I have yet to lose a game with this deck online, but the Mono Blue matchup worries me because your little red men don’t matchup well against their creatures.  It’s very aggressive though and definitely a place I’d prefer to be when playing aggro at the moment then straight-red.  It also took down just about everything in the field on its way to first place.

Mike Torrisi, Top 8 Eau Claire SCG IQ (My Teammate)

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

3 Hammer of Purphoros

4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Chained to the Rocks

12 Mountain
1 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
2 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
1 Boros Guildgate

Sideboard

3 Anger of the Gods
2 Chained to the Rocks
2 Pithing Needle
2 Last Breath
2 Skullcrack
2 Wear // Tear
2 Assemble the Legion

Quick Notes:  Mike’s made some small changes since this list, but he’s had a lot of success with it and he really likes the non-standard elements that he’s playing.  I’ve seen him be able to aggressively handle many situations, and that’s a positive direction worth exploring.  He’s not 100% sold on it just like I’m not with my lists, but he’s mostly cool with this one.  I think since he’s added another Assemble, but there weren’t many other major changes to my knowledge.

Evan Golden, FNM Hero (local friend)

4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Stormbreath Dragon

4 Chain to the Rocks
3 Magma Jet
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Lightning Strike
2 Warleader’s Helix

1 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Assemble the Legion
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

3 Mutavault
2 Nykthos
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
2 Boros Guildgate
7 Mountains
3 Plains

Sideboard
1 Assemble the Legion
3 Anger of the Gods
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Last Breath
2 Glare of Heresy
2 Boros Charm
2 Wear//Tear
2 Pithing Needle

Quick Notes:  Evan doesn’t play in many big tournaments, but he’s one of the smarter players I’ve ever met, and everytime he brings something to the local smaller tournaments he just demolishes people.  He often plays cool lists with tech that other people aren’t playing, and I really have great respect anytime I see what he’s rolling with.  He said he’s been doing very well with this list, and while it seems super top heavy I’ll at this point take his word for it until I have a chance to test it further.

Good luck to all my fellow PTQers out there and a shoutout to the Mox Mania crew and the rest of my Team (Still Got There).  Be sure to keep an eye on my twitter feed, I’ve been testing a lot (just at random times) and I’m still working on trying to schedule a time to do some videos to post here on the site.

Thanks for all the love and support from all my readers, keep that fire alive

– Red Deck Winning

Tournament Prep: The Season Begins

Stormbreath Dragon

Tournament Prep:  The Season Begins

Four Tournaments, Four Weeks

My Magic team has recently reorganized and we’ve begun priming our skills for some upcoming tournaments.  Over the course of the next four weeks, we’re looking at playing in the following:

StarCityGames Invitiational Qualfier Eau Claire – 1/4/14
Pro Tour Qualifier Journey Into Nyx Green Bay – 1/11/14
Pro Tour Qualifier Journey Into Nyx Madison – 1/18/14
Pro Tour Qualifier Journey Into Nyx Cedar Rapids – 1/25/14

I’m going to use this article to outline the list that I’ve arrived at after testing for the last few weeks, it should be within 4-5 cards of what I play this coming Saturday.  Two of my teammates are also most likely going to be on the same list, and another teammate is playing his own version which is very close to mine.

R/W Devotion by John Galli

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

2 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Chained to the Rocks

4 Magma Jet
3 Anger of the Gods

1 Boros Guildgate
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
12 Mountain

Sideboard
3 Mizzium Mortars
3 Toil // Trouble
2 Assemble the Legion
2 Shock
1 Last Breath
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Wear // Tear
1 Divine Verdict

Differences vs Stock

The biggest difference in my list from most out there is maindeck Anger of the Gods.  I came to this direction through playtesting, quickly making the realization that I was sideboarding in Anger against a lot of decks, not just aggro.  Ultimately it performed well in a lot of game one’s because against the variety of Devotion decks out there, most are terribly reliant on their early game to be able to turn on their finishers.  While we are focusing on the same goal with R/W Devotion, if you know you’re playing Anger it’s easy to play around it and setup for a killing blow once you’ve swept your opponent’s side.  No one really expects maindeck Anger, and its let me steal a lot of games, not to mention stay in a lot of games that I shouldn’t have been in.  Yes, Mizzium Mortars can accomplish the same thing and be used as basic spot removal, but it’s really hard to get to six mana at times for the overload cost and I was finding that most devotion decks have several creatures out within the first three to four turns.  Furthermore, it gives you an upgrade against Aggro in game 1 which is usually where most of those decks are tuned to beat you and ensure a game 3 on the play if there ends up being one.

Mono Blue and Mono Black Devotion both run Nightveil Specter, a key card in enabling their lethal devotion tactics, and between that and Pack Rat / one-drops, there’s a lot that needs to be answered.  Just about every game against them where I’ve cast Anger on turn three or four, I’ve been able to neutralize their route to victory.  It’s especially potent if you’re following it up with Hammer and Purphoros, or a slew of Ash Zealots, which should quickly exhaust any removal they have and leave you with your best finishers in hand.  Anger doesn’t kill Frostburn Weird, and it still makes you take damage off opposing Reckoners, but it handles a lot of other issues which usually swing the match.  The exile clause is also huge against decks like G/W and Esper Humans, both of which have incredibly pesky cards in Voice of Resurgence and Xathrid Necromancer.

The other notable change in my list from the stock ones is Magma Jet.  I touched on this in my last article a lot so I won’t rehash too much, but the main reason for running it was to give this deck more gas.  I’ve found too many games I had awkward land draws, and Jet goes a long way towards smoothing this out.  It also helps this deck fight some tough early threats, namely Pack Rat and Soldier of the Pantheon, both of which can make you throw a fit.  Frostburn Weird was underperforming, mostly because even though its a great anti-aggro card it fails the Pantheon test.  It also doesn’t kill any x/2’s without using mana, which this deck can’t afford the majority of the time.  This has been pretty much agreed with across the board for my team, so while I love the card and know that it can be incredibly good at times, I think in the current meta it needs to be put on the bench momentarily. This does of course reduce your creature and devotion count, but I’ve found many games that just sticking one or two creatures followed by Purphoros or Fanatic is enough.  If you play carefully and exhaust their resources, it usually doesn’t become an issue.

I was leaning away from Purphoros and Hammer when I wrote my last few articles, but my teammate convinced me to try them again and after doing a full week of testing I can easily say that they are amazing.  Getting Purphoros to reliably be a creature is not that hard, even in the face of removal, and he is incredibly good at punishing any random opponent out there.  There’s very few decks that can stop an indestructible 6/5, and the extra two damage his triggered ability delivers often ends up adding to lethal in a heartbeat.  It’s especially noticeable when you play Fanatic; I’ve often had to go back and figure out damage again only to realize it was enough to get there.  Add the additional element of Hammer, and both of those Devotion creatures become the equivalent of a Thundermaw Hellkite dropped on your opponent’s head.  Lastly, Purphoros and his Hammer give you much needed potency against Esper Control, to the point where I found it was quite honestly the difference between winning and losing those matches.

Sideboarding Gameplan

This isn’t set in stone by any means, so feel free to wildly fluctuate from what I have here.  As usual, it’s always easier to figure out what comes in than what comes out, and in most cases I recommend trusting your maindeck and trying to be marginal at boarding when possible.

vs. Mono Black Devotion

+2 Assemble the Legion, +1 Chained to the Rocks, +1 Divine Verdict, +1 Wear // Tear
-2 Stormbreath Dragon, -2 Burning-Tree Emissary, -1 Hammer of Purphoros

Assemble is a next-to-impossible card for MBD to handle, Chained to the Rocks is easily your best card against them since it takes care of Demon and any relevant devotion enabler, Divine Verdict is an additional Chained to the Rocks in most senses (and doubles at killing Obzedat and other huge things), and Wear // Tear is useful against Underworld Connections and Whip.

Stormbreath Dragon usually sees the axe because he gets blocked by Demon and killed by a lot of cards in their deck that cost half his CC, and then I usually mise the rest of my cuts based on what I’m seeing.  Burning-Tree is one possibility here because you don’t really need the nut draw and he doesn’t do anything to them otherwise.  I like keeping in Zealot if possible because MBD can have a lot of slow hands where the additional aggression punishes them well.  I know some authors have advocated for taking out all the Hammers and Purphoros’s, but MBD has very few ways to deal with those cards, specifically in tandem, so I’m not too wild about the idea of cutting them.

vs. Mono Blue Devotion

+1 Anger of the Gods, +1 Chained to the Rocks, +3 Mizzium Mortars, +1 Last Breath (may also want Shock)
-4 Ash Zealot, -2 Hammer of Purphoros

Anger is obviously the nuts against them, despite not killing Thassa, Master, and Frostburn, it takes care of everything else.  Chained takes care of the rest, Mizzium deals with Frostburn and does its best Anger impersonation at times, and Last Breath handles pretty much the whole lot outside of Thassa.

Zealot is incredibly ineffective in this matchup as he just gets stonewalled by most of their creatures, and while Hammer provides colorless critters to get around Master of the Waves, it’s slow and doesn’t do anything else.  Plus, if they’re casting Master, the colorless blocker / attacker usually doesn’t matter.  Burning-Tree stays in to enable early two-for-ones by playing him and burning a guy or by nut-dropping into an early win-con.  Stormbreath is your best friend as always in this matchup.

vs Aggro (B/W, Esper Humans, RDW)

+1 Anger of the Gods, +1 Last Breath, +2 Shock, + some number of Mortars/Chained/Verdict
– 3 Purphoros, God of the Forge, -2 Hammer of Purphoros

This is the one matchup where I’d say it’s perfectly reasonable to cut the big “Purphoros” hitters.  They’re actually ok against Aggro in many situations, but Aggro is a tough matchup so I’d rather just have a plethora of removal and then drop Fanatic or Stormbreath for the victory.  Stormbreath, despite being five mana, is an excellent finisher because many of the aggro decks have limited answers that are usually used on other creatures of yours and he flies over any ground and pound army.  Esper Humans has a few nasties like Obzedat, Blood Baron, and Demon, so you will want to bring the added support in against that if you discover that’s the plan they’re on.  Don’t worry about being too creature light here, it’s more important to be able to clear the board multiple times than it is to have a finisher on-time.

I will note, this is the matchup I’m focusing on the most at the current moment, so some of these reflections may need further review.

vs G/R Devotion

+1 Divine Verdict, +1 Anger of the Gods, +1 Chained to the Rocks, +2 Shock, +3 Mortars
-4 Ash Zealot, -2 Hammer of Purphoros, -1 Magma Jet, -1 Burning-Tree

The problem here is, no matter what you add, you’re going to have to cut some good cards.  Ash Zealot is again stonewalled by this archetype, they just have a million guys that they can block with and his first-strike isn’t very relevant when he only has two power and most of their guys have three power or more.  Mortars is important in combating Stormbreath Dragon, Verdict is good against Polukranos and any other big guys they might have (Mistcutter Hydra), Shock helps with the early game as you usually want to pick off an Elf or a Scavenging Ooze if you can, and Anger is great again at cutting off their devotion.

If anything, you could elect to not bring in the fourth Anger, or possibly only run 1-2 of them, and instead bring in more spot removal like Last Breath.  Their deck is more aggro-ish than it looks on paper, with the only exceptions being Polukranos, Stormbreath, and Planeswalkers.  If you cut off some of their early game, it’s very easy to stall them until the point where you have some Fanatic and Purphoros chains going and it’s too late for them to catch back up.

vs G/W Aggro

+1 Anger of the Gods, +3 Mizzium Mortars, +1 Chained to the Rocks, +1 Last Breath, +2 Shock
-3 Purphoros, God of the Forge, -2 Hammer of Purphoros, -3 Ash Zealot (feel free to cut differently)

The sideboard here is clearly up for debate, but this is a match worth giving attention to.  While you haven’t seen G/W in a top 8 recently, it’s still around, and it’s gaining popularity online.  I’ve seen it alot on MTGO and Cockatrice, so absolutely be aware of what it’s trying to do.  The deck is incredibly strong with Voice of Resurgence/Scavenging Ooze into Boon Satyr into Advent of the Wurm, into Mistcutter Hydra.  I’ve had multiple times this week where an opponent flashed in an Advent token (as expected) at end of turn, and then bestowed Boon Satyr onto it.  If this sounds like an unwinnable situation, it’s not, as I actually won several of those matches, but it’s a powerful play nonetheless and just one example of some of the explosive hits this deck is capable of delivering.  Games two and three your focus is extreme removal.  You cannot afford to have a guy suited up with Unflinching Courage, because at that point Chained to the Rocks is typically your only viable removal.  Additionally, Fleecemain Lion going monstrous is absolutely badsauce for you, so the game is basically kill everything they play at all costs.  They have just about no draw-power, so you will win the gas battle if you play the one-for-one game with them.

One thing to be aware of, as briefly mentioned above, is Boon Satyr.  That’s about the only card in this match that I think can shift the tide of the game if you’re not expecting it, so if they’re leaving three to five mana up for whatever reason, just presume that play is going to be made and act appropriately.

vs. Control

+2 Assemble the Legion, +3 Toil // Trouble, +1 Wear // Tear, (possibly +1 Divine Verdict if they have Obzedat)
-3 Chained to the Rocks, -3 Mizzium Mortars (unless Blood Baron present)

While it’d be nice to have a few more cards against Control (and feel free to add 1 or 2 to the sideboard), this package basically replaces the dead cards.  Assemble is not the best card you can bring in against them, but it doubles at being good against Mono Black so it’s an easier sideboard slot then something solely dedicated to Control.  For some of the PTQs I might add in an additional board card or two here, but at smaller events and at the IQ, I think Control is going to be less played than other archetypes.  You also have a great game 1 against them, as Hammer of Purphoros and Purphoros, God of the Forge are their worst nightmares.  Magma Jet gives you the extra gas you need to stay with them, so despite basically being a Shock in this matchup it’s critical to have the scry.

Toil // Trouble is better to me than Skullcrack because while you have to have Skullcrack and open mana at the time they Sphinx’s Revelation, Toil // Trouble can be played at any time for value, and it negates any life gained by Sphinx’s Revelation anyway since they take one additional for each card drawn.  To me, the three Toil // Trouble are basically Fanatic #5, 6, and 7.  Wear // Tear is useful against Detention Sphere and Assemble the Legion, but it’s not an actively aggressive threat, so I like it better as a miser in any matchup I bring it in against.  If this was an artifact / enchantment heavy metagame then I’d absolutely play more, but it’s not.

Good luck to the rest of you who will be trying to qualify this season, follow me on Twitter @RedDeckWinning to keep up on tournament updates and last minute changes.

– Reddeckwinning

Operation Pro Tour Standard

Chained to the Rocks

Operation Pro Tour Standard

Welcome back.  It’s been a little over a month since I wrote an article, and mostly because I was in a serious magic rut.  The problem was that I couldn’t find a red deck that I liked that was worth its salt; no matter how hard I tried I kept banging my head against the wall and losing match after match in testing.  I hate to bring an article to my readers trying to convince them to play a deck if I myself don’t believe in it.  When I play Red, like I hope is the case for many of you, I play with the belief and intent that I can beat any deck in the field, and most of the time I don’t want to think there’s a bad matchup out there.  But this simply wasn’t the case and I hung up the tourney scene for a while until something came out that caught my interest.

The Pro Tour Qualifier Season for Journey into Nyx has begun though, and if you want to play the game and see the world, you better start by actually playing.  Resolved to play Mono Red, I broke down and bought 4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, 4 Stormbreath Dragon, and 4 Temple of Triumph.  Despite having a little white in my lands, I was still going to play Mono-Colored and just use the temples to add filtering to my deck.  I realized that there were some excellent cards worth playing in White, but that required even further investment into Sacred Foundry and a few additional rares and I wanted to see if staying streamlined was still possible.

I tested online for a week fairly regularly and had mixed results, but using Burning-Tree into Nykthos certainly allowed for some explosive starts and maindeck Act of Treason threw off a lot of opponents.  I then brought it to my local shop’s Tuesday Standard Win-A-Box and gave it a more proper test run.

UW Control Round 1:  Loss.  I even Act of Treason’d an AEtherling that he tapped out for, but sadly couldn’t come back in that game or the next.  The deck didn’t feel like it had a lot of permanency despite being on a devotion plan.  It also had really awkward and clunky draws with 25 lands and the use of scry lands as the only filtering outside of Chandra, Pyromaster.  Round 2 was against Mono Blue Devotion, and while the games were closer, Thassa and Master of Waves wrecked me for the umpteenth time.  I won my last two rounds and a few packs, but at that point I could pretty much care less.

This week, I was going to let Standard slip away, and then I caved.  I started testing a little online and saw that the RW lists being played to success in recent Invitationals and Opens were actually pretty solid, and they solved a lot of the problems on a fairly consistent basis.  I decided to go to FNM tonight and buy the Foundrys I needed along with the other white cards I planned to splash.  I ultimately played the following list to 3-1, losing to UWR Control in the first round.  In game one I overextended on a blatant series of misreads, and game two I kept a horrible 6-card hand that didn’t get to cast any spells before I scooped it.  The rest felt strong though and I’d like to talk about it today along with different directions that could be taken-

R/W Devotion by Red Deck Winning

Creatures (24)
4 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Spells (11)
3 Magma Jet
4 Chained to the Rocks
4 Mizzium Mortars

Lands (25)
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Boros Guildgate
12 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Boros Charm
3 Skullcrack
3 Warleader’s Helix
1 Assemble the Legion

Chained to the Rocks Small

It’s amazing what that card does to this deck.  I didn’t want to betray my loyal Mono Red followers and roots, but at the end of the day this deck is still very much red aggro and this card single-handily turns the tide of critical tier 1 matchups.  It’s not that you can’t create a similar effect with Red cards (although it’s pretty tough) but its that it’s just so efficient and such a permanent answer to the most difficult things for the current red mage to deal with that it ends up being a huge difference in your winning percentage.  Sure, you could just play a Tom Ross style Red aggro deck (for those who haven’t been reading his recent articles on StarCity there is a link to his first one on the Pages section of my website) and swarm around big threats, but ultimately that strategy has a lot of potential pitfalls that are game-breaking in a large tournament.  For starters, that strategy has such a low land count that you have to mulligan very aggressively and accurately and even with that just know that you’re going to get some terrible draws at times, possibly when it matters the most.  Granted, Mono Red Aggro in general might suffer from that syndrome, but it’s an even more heightened situation with that few of lands.  His newest R/G version which I encountered tonight uses some scry lands which I found interesting, but time will tell how far it goes.  You also are a deck that is very conditional on whether or not your opponent has sweepers or threats that prevent you from getting through, both of which are very realistic scenarios in a Standard environment cluttered with Anger of the Gods, Golgari Charm, and Supreme Verdict.

I’d rather play a more controllish build.  We saw the impact Big Red had on the waning days of the previous Standard season, and that deck really never lost much.  Thundermaw Hellkite became Stormbreath Dragon, and the difficult G/R matchup is now much better with access to cards like the big white one mentioned above.  That’s not even addressing cards like Purphoros, God of the Forge, Fanatic of Mogis, and Hammer of Purphoros which all add another layer of difficulty for decks that want to play midrange with you.

The lists that have been doing well online (which mine was mostly based off of) have been placing in Top 8s but haven’t won many of them.  I think part of the problem is certainly that the two biggest boogiemen, Mono Black and Mono Blue, have a variety of weapons against you AND most of the R/W lists are too streamlined.  90% of the R/W lists I’ve seen have 6-8 removal spells if that and not nearly anywhere the amount of draw-power that the Mono Black list has nor the sweeping respect needed for Mono Blue.  Can it beat those decks?  Sure, you still have a lot of weapons, but you should be gearing the deck specifically to beat those two archetypes.  I really don’t mind shaving a few percentage points or a lot of them in this case because Standard is homogenized enough right now that you can afford to do it.  Sure, there’s 8-10 archetypes out there that are fairly competitive, but those archetypes are mostly not looking for a game with Mono Red.

Filtering Power

Magma JetChandra, PyromasterTemple of TriumphHammer of Purphoros SmallAssemble the Legion

These are the key players that you’ll see the most online, although the notable absence from the majority of the builds I see is Magma Jet.  Honestly, of the five you see above, I think it’s the best and the most important.  The stock lists online have so little interaction in the early game.  Are you going to be playing your devotion cards to build up to a big finale?  Yes, but sometimes you won’t be able to execute that game plan if you’re behind, sometimes you’ll get Thoughtseize’d, and other times you just need to dig for one of the key cards in the deck.  Magma Jet helps with all of this.  People frequently give it the knock because they say there’s not a lot of two-toughness creatures in the format, but if you think about it for a while, there are some very important ones.  For starters, there’s Pack Rat, Tidebinder Mage, Ash Zealot, and Scavenging Ooze, all of which are cards I’d hate to waste a Mizzium Mortars and Chained to the Rocks on.  And in all honesty, you don’t have the ability to waste the latter cards on these creatures because playing them on targets like Frostburn Weird, Desecration Demon, Thassa, Master of Waves, etc, is a must if you want to win those matches.  Furthermore, Magma Jet is another Burning-Tree Emissary target in a deck that is already at an all-time low for them.  Playing BTE into Jet simply just to fix your next few draws is often game-breaking in many situations, specifically so in a deck that’s packing x4 Fanatic of Mogis and x4 Stormbreath Dragon.  I often found before that getting to Stormbreath Dragon mana could be a chore at times, but having eight scry effects in the deck changes this a decent amount of the time.

So what’s usually in the place of Magma Jet?  Purphoros, God of the Forge, Hammer of Purphoros, and Chandra, Pyromaster are all the usual suspects.  None of these are bad, and the deck might want singletons or possibly more of each of them, but the problem is they are very matchup specific and none of them are a must-have card against any matchup in particular.  Purphoros is nice as a giant threat the opponent has to take care of, but he’s in a relatively light creature deck here and his ability to be a creature is conditional which anyone who’s used Vexing Devil knows is a big issue for a card to have.  When facing a deck like Mono Black, which often has x4 Devour Flesh, x4 Hero’s Downfall, and some number of other removal spells, I see them cutting the rug out from under me more times then I’d care to.  Against Control, he’s an excellent pressure point for them to deal with, but I’d argue that he’s not as good as something like Assemble the Legion or Hammer, which basically says kill this immediately or you die.

Hammer of Purphoros is good in most matchups.  There’s few decks that can deal with a continual stream of colorless 3/3s, giving haste to the creatures you do have like Reckoner and Fanatic is a big deal not to be overlooked, and the added devotion at three is very nice.  But sometimes in Midrange matchups you really don’t have a time when it’s appropriate to play a Hammer.  You need action in a lot of those situations, or you need a specific out.  Hammer just simply does its own thing.  I’ve had too many games of staring down an Elspeth with loads of tokens on the board only to have a Hammer that is sitting there wishing it was anything but itself.  I think because it is really good at putting pressure on *most* decks that it’s perfectly reasonable as a 1-2 of in your 75, but it’s a hard sell for me as a heavy maindeck card.

When I was running the Mono Red Nykthos list I played a full playset of Chandra.  That might sound excessive, but I figured that she was going to die most of the time she saw play or that if she didn’t I wouldn’t mind having one in hand since the one in play was probably winning me the game.  I thought that her “can’t block” clause was pretty significant in a format full of midrange creatures and decks that like to consistently trade blows rather than sit back on defense.  Usually as a Red deck, even a controllish one like this, you are the aggressor, so having the ability to make sure you get some big guys through is clutch.  This is not even mentioning that you’re the devotion deck playing Fanatic of Mogis which you can usually rely on to leap frog a life-total war.

Some of the problems with Chandra though lie in her casting cost and her +1 ability.  For starters, she’s another four drop in a deck that’s very top-heavy, and while that worked in the previous season and still works today, I find the deck has less ways to draw out of bad hands or land-limited hands than the Mono Black and Mono Blue decks do.  You don’t have x4 Underworld Connections, and you don’t have the curve that Mono Blue does.  It’s just simple math, they’re going to have a higher percentage to deal with the same bad draws that you get than you are.  This is one of the big reasons why I think some number of Magma Jet needs to be in the R/W list.  As for the +1 ability, it’s really nice but sometimes it runs into the same problem I mentioned above for Hammer of Purphoros; it just doesn’t accomplish what you need to do.  Sure, in those situations you could use her “0” ability, but you won’t always have the time or open mana to use that to full effect.

Assemble the Legion is great, we all know how powerful that card can be.  The only matchup I wouldn’t want it against is hyper-aggro, and even then it can be a total game-over card if you manage to stall them in the early game.  Enchantment hate is criminally underused in Standard and has been for a very long time, so any time you can put an effect this powerful in your deck and it’s on an enchantment I say give it a try.  The Mono Black and Mono Blue decks especially seem to have limited answers to it outside of Thoughtseize and Aggro Beats, so that again brings the point of the cards in the deck back to the original focus I mentioned.

Not Choking to Aggro and Control

The biggest threats for R/W Devotion seem to be a good Control player wielding a well thought out list and an Aggro player who gets one of their typical consistent openers.  The R/W deck makes a large amount of concessions to Control in game 1 because of the maindeck answers for Midrange decks such as Mizzium Mortars and Chained to the Rocks.  I almost never build a red deck with dead cards in it, but in this limited Standard format it feels like a necessary evil.  Playing without Chained to the Rocks is basically pure game 1 suicide against the biggest decks in the field, so unless you expect a swath of Esper and American at your next tournament, I’d keep the number high.  Mortars is more or less disposable but it again has important targets in the metagame.

So in order to combat the weakness to Control, I think you need to either have a heavily devoted sideboard against it or you need to include some of the fattier singletons I mentioned above like Hammer of Purphoros.  Boros Charm and Skullcrack both answer the biggest threats against you (Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation), and if you can find room Burning Earth is still as good as it ever was.  Assemble the Legion again is yet another threat in the long chain that you can pile on with.  You’ll have limited slots, but I’d say at least eight of them should be able to be substituted against Control, or at least an equal number to the number of dead cards in the main.  One thing to be wary of is that this deck isn’t applying pressure like a pure Red Deck Wins archetype, so having too many top-heavy threats or too much lack of permanency can get you easily behind against a deck that is prepared to counter you at specific points and then drop cards that you have limited answers to (cough*Elspeth*cough).

Against Aggro, or even the mirror, it’s easy to simply get overrun.  In game 1 you have no sweepers outside of a Nykthos into an overloaded Mortars (or just a hard cast one), and even though you have great blockers like Frostburn Weird and Boros Reckoner, cards like Madcap Skills can just give you headaches.  There’s also not enough maindeck burn to give you the critical threshold of spot removal to guarantee seeing it often enough, so overall this might be asking R/W to make changes.  For starters, the Magma Jet plan goes a long way, but I also supplemented this out of the board with Warleader’s Helix.  I’m not 100% sold on this plan though, as it is a costly card that you may not get to in time (as one of my teammates also brought up tonight in the build he’s testing) but it is great in the mirror and can swing the tide of any game that it sees action.  It can also deal with the pesky 4-toughness threats that seem to dominate Standard at times.  Sure, you have Mortars for those threats, but there’s often many times where you need multiples of this type of effect.  Lastly, going four to the dome and gaining some extra reach is something that any devotion deck is severely lacking, so anything you can do to strengthen that weakness cannot be overlooked.

Anger of the Gods to me is the best answer at the moment for the variety of Aggro out there.  At first I tried Ratchet Bomb and Electrickery, and I think they’re fine as supplements, but they’re just a bit more narrow then what you need in Standard.  Anger kills the majority of the cards that present problems to you, and it cuts off devotion counts immediately unlike waiting for a Ratchet Bomb.  Sure, Ratchet Bomb can kill Master of Waves tokens at zero, but if you’ve played heavily against Mono Blue Devotion you know their board states can often be a variety of casting costs.  I don’t like that Anger can be delayed by Judge’s Familiar, or that it misses Frostburn Weird and Thassa, but you have other answers for those cards and I’ve found that if you disable the other threats around them those cards tend to be very incapable of winning a game on their own.  Against more true Aggro like the W/R deck, you basically just have to play around Brave the Elements and if you’re able to one Anger is typically game over.  Playing Anger and then dropping a Boros Reckoner or a Stormbreath Dragon is a really difficult sequence for the majority of your opponents to deal with.

One notable omission in my sideboard tonight was Wear // Tear.  It was just a simple last minute mistake, I meant to run two of them, and I think the card is great.  My teammate was reminding me of some of the great uses of it, and just for those who haven’t been considering it I’ll recap some of them; it kills Underworld Connections, Whip of Erebos, Bestows, Bident, Detention Sphere, Assemble the Legion, and Chained to the Rocks.  That’s a really solid laundry list of some of the top threats in Standard and it’s not even anywhere near all of them.  The latter cards I mentioned also reminded me of how bad it is to have those killed on your own side, so make sure you’re conscious of matches where your opponent is going to side in enchantment hate.  In one match tonight I even next-level’d it and sided out a few Chained to the Rocks for some Warleader’s Helix’s just to avoid getting boned by a Destructive Revelry or the like.  I’ve seen that card a lot online out of G/R Devotion, and it’s typically the absolute worst.

One more thing about Aggro – this deck may or may not want some number of Shocks.  Just a random aside that I’m not sure on yet, but it could help defend against some of the crazy nut draws that are out there at the moment.

I think going forward my next test bench list is going to be something along the lines of this, and I’d appreciate any feedback my readers have because it’s been a while since I got some engaging discussion going:

R/W Devotion v.2 by Red Deck Winning

Creatures (24)
4 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Spells (10)
4 Magma Jet
4 Chained to the Rocks
2 Mizzium Mortars

Planeswalkers (1)
1 Chandra, Pyromaster

Lands (25)
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Boros Guildgate
12 Mountain

Sideboard (ROUGH)
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Boros Charm
2 Assemble the Legion
2 Wear // Tear
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Chandra, Pyromaster

Sorry for the long hiatus readers, I hope you enjoyed this installment.  Best of luck jamming those Mountains at your nearby PTQ, RDW4LIFE

– Red Deck Winning

Red, Red, Red, You’re Dead

Chandra, Pyromaster Cover

Red, Red, Red, You’re Dead

It’s been a while since I’ve written and I know many of my readers have been eager for updates and sideboarding advice.  I’ve recently been taking a break from Magic, as we all know this game can be demanding of our time and I wanted to focus on other parts of my life for a bit.  I love the game, and its been stronger for me in the last few months than ever before, but we all get a little burnt out and that was starting to set in so I knew it was time to refresh and recharge.

Just before my break, at the end of October I flew to Phoenix, Arizona to visit a good friend of mine.  We were celebrating my birthday, catching up, and playing in a Theros Sealed Pro Tour Qualifier.  Overall I had a great trip, we played a ton of magic, we ate out at delicious restaurants, went to an NFL game, hit the bars, and soaked up some sun poolside at his resort-like apartment complex.  I really couldn’t have asked for a better getaway from the weather where I’m at and the doldrum of Mon-Fri 8-5 work.  The PTQ sadly didn’t go well, we were both fiending for it and hoping for some solid play, but ultimately my buddy opened a relatively poor pool and I ran into a bunch of decks with very similar rares and power levels.  At that point, it was time for. . .

two beers

2-3-DRUNK

Lets just say a few hours later thoughts of crashing and burning in the PTQ were mostly erased.  When in doubt, buy a Stout.

Mono Red Today

Over the last week and a half, even though I haven’t been playing much (just a little cockatrice and Commander), I’ve kept an eye on the tournament scene.  Red is really making a comeback, and I think it’s being helped by the fact that there isn’t a best deck in the format and that the color has access to some great cards right now.  It’s a little surprising given the popularity of Mono Black Midrange and Mono Blue Devotion, but really if you’ve played Red much recently or read my articles you know that it has a solid game against the field most of the time.  I’d like to look at some of what’s out there (and hoo boy there’s a lot!) and then offer some general sideboarding advice since several of my readers have asked for it.

I’m going to start off with the most recent results and go down the line-

SCG Open Fort Worth, Texas 11/09/2013

R/W Devotion by Jared LaCombe – 2nd Place

Creature [28]
4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Instant [1]
1 Aurelia’s Fury

Sorcery [3]
3 Mizzium Mortars

Artifact [2]
2 Hammer of Purphoros

Enchantment [2]
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Chained to the Rocks

Land [24]
12 Mountain
1 Boros Guildgate
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
60 cards

Sideboard:
4 Boros Charm
2 Warleader’s Helix
2 Wear // Tear
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Burning Earth
3 Chained to the Rocks
1 Chandra, Pyromaster

I’ve found when playing devotion lists with Nykthos that having as many two drops as you can seems to be crucial, so it makes sense that Jared ran a full twelve of them.  Burning-Tree is awfully weak without some more stuff to cast off of him, but he does enable the hyper-aggressive openers with a Nykthos in play, so he’s basically a must-run.  I’m a little sad to see Chandra’s Phoenix not here, but with so few burn spells it makes sense.  You wonder if there’s some way he could have fit Rakdos Shred-Freak in to try and give the deck even more early devotion, but a lot of the cards here are a bit of a coin toss.  His 1-ofs are cards I’d be more than happy with in a miser’s role; Assemble the Legion is not something you want to draw early and is one of the best cards at shutting down a game late.  Chain to the Rocks doesn’t go well with your devotion and isn’t an inherently aggressive card, so having access to just one to get out of tricky situations where your attack has been stonewalled seems perfectly reasonable.  The only big issues I have are the two Hammers in the maindeck and the lack of a “threaten” effect in the board.  Hammer of Purphoros is a fine card, and at times I’ve advocated it, but it seems to me to be better suited in the sideboard or in the maindeck of an aggressive shell where you really need the gas.  In a midrange-ish build, I’d prefer to have either threats or ways to respond to threats for most of the spells in my deck.  I don’t like having Hammer in the main against decks like G/W Aggro, G/R devotion, Naya, and other archetypes where it costs you a turn of play and doesn’t do anything that turn (unless it’s late game).  Jared lost in the finals to Hal Brady playing G/R Devotion, and that deck demands that you’re being active every turn.

Mono Red Aggro by Rolaund Hinojosa – 11th Place

Creature [24]
4 Ash Zealot
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Rakdos Shred-Freak

Instant [13]
1 Dynacharge
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Shock
2 Skullcrack

Enchantment [3]
3 Madcap Skills

Land [20]
19 Mountain
1 Mutavault
60 cards

Sideboard:
2 Firefist Striker
2 Frostburn Weird
2 Skullcrack
2 Act of Treason
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Peak Eruption
2 Burning Earth

While I’m a fan of going the blitz route at the moment (I think decks are trying to be too slow and reliant on a few spot removal spells), Rolaund’s list has a few questionable choices.  Skullcrack is just a Lava Axe against some decks, and I don’t think randomly having two of them is going to increase any percentages for your matchups against Control or Warleader’s Helix.deck.  That could easily be two more creatures, as a 24-c0unt is on the severely low side for Mono Red Aggro.  That said, burn is never dead and he is sitting on a very low curve, so there’s things that could be worse.  The one-of Mutavault should just be a Mountain, same theory as Skullcrack except that here having one of them is just going to cause more variance hands, rather than being a helpful addition against Control.  With twenty lands, you’re going to be sitting on only one or two lands in a lot of games, so I’d prefer with all the double-red spells to have consistency in my mana base.  Mutavault is great, but its better as “extra land” not the critical land you need to cast things.  Faults aside, Rolaund has a pretty aggressive and mean looking shell here that shares similar traits to what I want to talk about at the end of the article, so it’s worth thinking about if you want to play this style.

Magic Online Results (Premieres and MOCS from 11/03/2013)

Mono Red Aggro by HipHopHeup25 – 1st Place, Standard Premier

Main Deck
60 cards

21 Mountain
21 lands

4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Firedrinker Satyr
1 Frostburn Weird
4 Rakdos Cackler
29 creatures

4 Lightning Strike
3 Magma Jet
3 Shock
10 other spells

Sideboard
2 Act of Treason
2 Burning Earth
2 Flames of the Firebrand
3 Frostburn Weird
2 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Shock
3 Skullcrack
15 sideboard cards

This list is pretty similar to Bertorelli’s SCG winning list from the beginning of the season.  The main differences are that Gore-House Chainwalker has become Frostburn Weird (no problems here), he’s swapped around a Shock and a Magma Jet, and Firedrinkers are in place of Firefist Strikers giving the deck some more speed but less evasion.  The sideboard also eschews Chandra and Mizzium Mortars in favor of burn that tailors better against Mono Blue Devotion’s large army of X/1’s, some Skullcracks against Control, and Act of Treason against the Desecration Demon decks.  Personally, I’ll still go to bat for this type of deck, because I think Bertorelli’s original list is still competitive.  Both Act of Treason and Skullcrack have been performing well for me in the recent weeks, so those changes are fine.  The one glaring flaw with this deck is that it looks like an absolute dog to G/W and Naya, so I’m guessing he was just banking on it being Magic Online where those decks tend to not show up as much.  If you were to play something like this in your local area or at a paper tournament, I’d want to find a way to get Firefist back in along with some number of Mortars or an anti-blocking plan.

Mono Red Aggro by -Holzi- (Founded by Patrick Sullivan) – (5-1), MOCS

Main Deck
60 cards

18 Mountain
4 Mutavault
22 lands

4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Firefist Striker
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Gore-House Chainwalker
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Rubblebelt Maaka
30 creatures

4 Lightning Strike
4 Shock
8 other spells

Sideboard
2 Act of Treason
1 Hammer of Purphoros
4 Mizzium Mortars
3 Peak Eruption
1 Rubblebelt Maaka
4 Skullcrack

This list has been on the interwebs for a little while now, it was spoiled right before SCG LA where Patrick Sullivan (the Grandmaster of Mono Red) tweeted out “If I were playing in SCG LA tomorrow, this is what I’d play. . .”.  Leave it to Patrick to produce one of the most powerful and streamlined looking Mono Red lists to date in this format and have it then follow up with great results.  It top 8’d that tournament in the hands of another player, it scored a series of top 8s and wins on MTGO Premiers, and it again has done well in the MOCS and current Premiers.  I think if you play Red, whether you just started playing it or have been for a long time, you should really pay heed to what he has here.  This deck has a beautiful Sligh balance, and it attacks the metagame with full awareness of what it might run into.  I smiled as soon as I saw it because I knew it had been crafted by the hands of experience, whereas most lists online I see have a few really questionable choices that don’t seem to make consistent sense.  If you are going to play in competitive magic tournaments with Mono Red in this season, this should be your first stop when testing.

What’s so great about this list?  First off, every card is live.  You don’t have a card that’s crazy wild in some matches but completely dead in others, you don’t have anything narrow, and you have the all-important “reach”.  He has just enough burn spells to ensure that you see them in most games, and he has the full playset of Shock to make sure that between that and your twelve one-drops you will almost always have a turn 1 play.  Like Owen Turtenwald’s SCG Worcester list, he’s got 22 lands including 4 Mutavaults, which give him excellent game against sweepers and power on Firefist Striker like it’s nobody’s business.  And because he has 30 creatures, it’s almost a guarantee that Foundry Street Denizen will power up heavily.  I’ve been playing with this type of deck the last few days, and I find that I often like playing the Denizen first, as even if I have other one-drops he tends to trigger every turn of the game for the most part and often times will let you get crazy on turns two and three.  He is a relatively weak one-drop in a vacuum, but this deck is highly aggressive, and so consistent that the only times he’ll disappoint is when you have an absolutely terrible draw.

The only thing I don’t like about his list is Peak Eruption.  I just haven’t been able to see solid results from this card in playtesting and it doesn’t seem to produce a consistent effect for what you want out of it.  The matches I feel I’d want to bring it in against are BWR (where Act of Treason is also good), RW (where you can cut them off their spells that trump yours), and G/R (where you want to prevent their albatross plays from happening even though you also want aggression, which is why this is a tough board card).  What makes it really difficult to get behind is that in the same matches I want Eruption, I usually want Act of Treason, and I usually don’t want to board out five to six cards as that dilutes the potency of this deck.  It’s possible you just don’t want Act of Treason against these Archetypes (at least RW and GR) because they have too many blockers, but still, a randomly drawn Lava Axe and Land Destruction spell late in the game doesn’t WOW me.  His deck doesn’t have a solid plan against Mono Blue Devotion outside of bringing in Mizzium Mortars for Frostburn Weird (if you’d even want to do that), so the Peak Eruptions could easily be Flames of the Firebrand or Electrickery and I think I’d feel more comfortable.

Grand Prix Santiago – 11/03/2013

Rakdos Aggro by Luis Navas – 1st Place

Creature [28]
4 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
4 Mogis’s Marauder
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
4 Spike Jester
1 Thrill-Kill Assassin
4 Tormented Hero
3 Xathrid Necromancer

Instant [6]
2 Doom Blade
4 Lightning Strike

Enchantment [4]
4 Madcap Skills

Land [22]
4 Blood Crypt
8 Mountain
10 Swamp
60 cards

Sideboard:
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Dreadbore
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Thoughtseize
2 Whip of Erebos
2 Burning Earth
1 Rakdos Guildgate
15 cards

Exava, Rakdos Blood WitchmogissmarauderThoughtseize

Hot damn this list makes me love playing aggro.  Luis apparently has only played Magic for a year (lucky stiff!) and he won a Grand Prix with this list the previous weekend!  For those of you balking because of the expenditure this list requires to build, I think it could easily be done without Thoughtseize.  Luis mentioned how he sideboarded it in for every match and many have thought it would be better suited in the maindeck, but it’s not like the deck “NEEDS” Thoughtseize.  There are a lot of typical Mono Red sideboard cards that could be in its place, and the Black in this deck is still giving you access to a gigantic suite of cards that beautifully compliment the Red lot.  That said, if you can afford the ‘Seizes, I’d spring for them.

Luis’s deck is an excellent example in my opinion of what you can get from successfully attacking the metagame.  Prior to the tournament, the big dogs of Standard were very much Mono Black Devotion and Mono Blue Devotion.  To attack this, Luis didn’t reinvent the wheel but simply included more cards into his curve that are difficult for these two decks to deal with and that cause them serious trouble.  For starters, all the black creatures, many of which are multicolored (Cackler, Shred-Freak, Spike Jester, Exava) blank Mono Black Devotion’s Doom Blades and Ultimate Prices.  If they’re relying on these cards to buy them the critical first few turns, and if their followups are either Underworld Connections or Nightveil Specters, they’re just straight dead when all of a sudden they can’t kill your one and two drops.  Mogis’s Marauder lets you Alpha Strike a handful of decks like GW, Naya, and most importantly Mono Blue Devotion.  Before, one of the easiest ways to lose to that deck was to get stalled out.  They’d get one too many Frostburn Weirds, an active Thassa, and everyone’s favorite nightmare, MASTER OF WAVES.  Well, that’s great that you have pro red; I have six creatures attacking you with intimidate, GG No Re.

Against Control, Xathrid Necromancer gives the majority of your guys a solid amount of resistance to wrath effects and removal, and even walls you up against opposing aggro.  Anyone who played Standard last season knows that Necromancer was a thorn in everyone’s side coming from the Junk Aristocrats and Borzhov Aristocrats decks.  He’s a great creature, and I’m happy to see he’s found a new home.  Luis only played three, but you don’t want to overload on three drops in an aggressive deck like this, and he’s only so synergistic given the amount of creatures you’re running that aren’t human.  At the top of the curve, Exava (also a Human) provides the Hellrider we’ve all been missing and honestly I’ve been trying to find a way to play her since she was first printed.  She looks awesome on paper, and while she doesn’t provide evasion or a way to reach through your opponent’s defenses, there’s still a million games where a 4/4 First Strike Haste just plain wins.  She dodges a lot of the removal opposing aggro decks will bring, and she kills just about anything on the battlefield outside of the guys who require an Act of Treason to deal with.  And if they do play those guys, you now have access to cards like Doom Blade and Dreadbore so you can just kill them and then swing in for lethal.  Madcap Skills follows along that same vein, giving this deck of troublesome creatures an added aggressive stance and letting you get past many of the archetypes that otherwise might outclass you.  I’m never a fan of having Madcap in the maindeck against stuff like UW, Esper, and BWR, but if you play it carefully and your expected metagame is filled with Devotion decks, it’s a breadwinner.  It also synergizes with Tormented Hero, and I can see where six point life swings on turn two can be devastating.

Erebos, God of the Dead and Whip of Erebos out of the board are strong enough reasons for me to hop on the Black bandwagon if I could.  Erebos is fantastic against Gray Merchant decks, Obzedat decks, Warleader’s Helix decks, and Sphinx’s Revelation decks.  Being able to bring this in against them and shut off their lifegain (the only resource they have against you) is exactly what the doctor ordered.  And you’re usually bringing him at the cost of a threat (although not always because this deck has some blanks against certain archetypes), so the fact that he draws you cards is icing on the cake.  Whip of Erebos on the other hand gives you a known good card against aggro.  I think it’s a sweet card in these Mono Black Devotion decks, but its even sweeter when you’re playing aggro on aggro and all of a sudden you can create a major life swing with the amount of creatures you generally have when you’re about to either kill or be killed.  And the recursion ability again gives you gas, which is invaluable in a matchup where post-board you’re trying to kill everything that hits the battlefield.  Addtionally, unlike Hammer of Purphoros in the mirror where you have to do work to get it to create the effect you want, you can just drop a Whip in play out of nowhere and single handedly win the game.

My biggest worries with this deck; the mirror match is going to be hell to play, and I’ve heard from several pro players that the deck is inconsistent.  I have trouble seeing the latter from what I’m looking at on paper, and the fact that he won a Grand Prix which is a gigantic amount of rounds, but the manabase isn’t completely gravy train and there are some funky numbers.  Regardless, if you haven’t scooped this up to try it out or you simply want to buy a few cheap rares based on speculation this is worth it.  I’ve seen it already a lot online, and it’s really fun to play.

Sideboarding

I’ve been getting a lot of requests from readers about sideboarding.  Basic advice on what I typically take out and what I think is best to bring in for the various matchups.  The strongest advice I can give on that is that you have to test and see what you like, and you have to tailor it to your gameplan.  That said, I’m going to take the stock list of today and am going to show you for the “most part” how I would approach boarding.

So let’s say our base list is Patrick Sullivan’s, and I’ll try to go outside the box when I can.  For reference, that list-

Main Deck
60 cards

18 Mountain
4 Mutavault
22 lands

4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Firefist Striker
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Gore-House Chainwalker
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Rubblebelt Maaka
30 creatures

4 Lightning Strike
4 Shock
8 other spells

Sideboard
2 Act of Treason
1 Hammer of Purphoros
4 Mizzium Mortars
3 Peak Eruption
1 Rubblebelt Maaka
4 Skullcrack

Against Mono Black Devotion

My first inkling is that Shock is fairly weak here.  The only thing it kills in their deck is Pack Rat, and that’s assuming you have it on time.  Additionally, while it gives you a little bit of reach against a stalled board, two damage is nothing to write home about.  Beyond that, I’m not a huge fan of Rubblebelt Maaka here because of all the spot removal they have that they could two-for-one you with, and Gore-House Chainwalker because he doesn’t have haste.  Looking at Sullivan’s board, I’d bring in Act of Treason for their Desecration Demons and any other relevant creatures they play, and I might bring in the last Rubbelbelt.  Yes, I realize I said that I’m not in love with it here, but it’s probably better than Shock to just have another big guy and potentially go over the top of a Nightveil Specter or play around their removal.  Hammer of Purphoros can come in to give you more sacrifice targets for Desecration Demon as well as providing gas against their extra heavy removal out of the board.  Another line of play you could also take is to bring in 1 or 2 Skullcracks to counter Whip of Erebos or Gray Merchant.  You don’t want to draw a lot of them, and preferabbly not right away, but misering into one can be vaulable in a lot of games.  So that said

-4 Shock, +2 Act of Treason, +1 Rubblebelt Maaka, +1 Hammer of Purphoros

*Note, I’d love to have a third Act of Treason here

Against Mono Blue Devotion

This is a match where you have little on paper that’s absurdly “bad” but at the same time you don’t have great cards to bring in.  With Sullivan’s list, you could almost go without boarding, but I think you probably want the third Rubblebelt and a few Mortars so that you can better bash through their Frostburn Weirds.  Mortars would be nice to handle their creatures in general, and on the nut-offchance that you overload it against a devoted army.  As far as bringing stuff out, the first card I see that I don’t like here is Foundry Street Denizen, so especially if you’re on the draw in game 2 I’d consider taking a few of him out (not necessarily the whole playset).  There’s really not much beyond that I could see cutting as you want to maintain the status of the aggressor vs them.

– 2-4 Foundry Street Denizen, +1 Rubblebelt Maaka, +2-3 Mizzium Mortars

*Note, I’d love to have Electrickery and/or Flames of the Firebrand

Against Esper Control and UW

The beauty of his deck is that he’s attacking both Control archetypes the same way.  Would having Burning Earth be nice here?  Sure.  But Skullcrack and Hammer of Purphoros present problems that most control decks are going to have a fit with when faced against an aggro deck that is as aggressive as this one.  So on that note, that’s what you’re bringing in.  This is another matchup where I’d bring out Shock, as Skullcrack is a strict upgrade, and I’d take out one Gore-House Chainwalker as he’s just a vanilla two-drop here.

-4 Shock, -1 Gore-House Chainwalker, +4 Skullcrack, +1 Hammer of Purphoros

*Note, one other possibility is cutting a Mountain here.  You’re not bringing in Burning Earth, so you don’t need to have a high land count and flooding out is the worst against Control.  That said, I like to have a consistent start, so it’s just a suggestion and not one I necessarily follow all the time.

Against BWR

This matchup revolves around Desecration Demon and Anger of the Gods.  Anger of the Gods is obviously just the worst, but your board plan shouldn’t be “oh my guys are all gonna die so I’ll just board them out”.  You will have aggressive starts where they don’t have Anger, they don’t have it on time, or you get in enough damage that it doesn’t make enough of a difference.  I played a game at SCG Milwaukee against BWR where my opponent played three Anger of the Gods against me in one game and I almost won with him at two life.  THREE.  You can still put pressure on them regardless of their solution.

What I cut here is Rubblebelt Maaka (no need to pump or waste cards) and Shock (no little guys to kill).  I bring in Act of Treason, Peak Eruption, and the one-of Hammer of Purphoros.  The only creature besides Demon that you really want to kill as fast as possible is Boros Reckoner, so hopefully you can draw Lightning Strike, go around him (Firefist), or fly over him (Phoenix).

-2 Rubblebelt Maaka, -4 Shock, +2 Act of Treason, +3 Peak Eruption, +1 Hammer of Purphoros

*Note, you should bring in Mortars if they have Blood Baron.  Probably instead of Hammer and maybe some number of Eruptions, although you do want to see the latter.

Against GW Aggro

We all know why this matchup is annoying.  Soldier of the Pantheon, Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter, and Fleecemain Lion.  Firefist Striker, Mizzium Mortars, and Rubblebelt Maaka are the keys (and a prayer that they don’t bone you with an Unflinching Courage).  The cutting is the harder part here, I think the right call is either Gore-House Chainwalker and/or some number of the one-drops.  You again don’t want to dilute your aggressive draw, but you do want to clear a path.  You could also just do a bunch of one-of cuts of various things to miser those cards in.

-3 Gore-House Chainwalker, -2 Foundry-Street Denizen, +4 Mizzium Mortars, +1 Rubblebelt Maaka

*Note, I’m on the fence about Maaka here, and against Control.  So feel free to experiment

Against G/R Devotion

The sideboarding for this deck will be heavily card-choice dependent on their part.  If they’re running a more aggro version, you probably want some number of Mortars, if they’re running a more “nut-devotion-draw” version you probably want just Rubblebelt Maaka (and/or Act of Treason).  I’m not wild about Peak Eruption here because you should be establishing board presence, so pay close attention to game 2 and sideboard cautiously.  If they try to go with the “all big guys and Anger of the Gods” plan, both Act of Treason and Peak Eruption become a lot more inticing to bring in.  If they instead just load the board, it’s essentially the same game plan as against GW.

Against Boros Aggro and the Mirror

Ah, the Mirror.  We could debate how to play it for days, or we could flip a coin.  Nah, in reality, it rewards tight play and counting the numbers.  Personally, I’d pull the Firedrinkers and put in the Mortars, and I’d take out two Foundry Street Denizen and put in a Hammer of Purphoros and a Maaka.  Those calls should be fairly obvious I’d hope, but the main idea for me is that I like to control the game more post-board and I like bigger board presence over cheap aggression.  Firedrinker also just isn’t cut out for the Mirror.

-4 Firedrinker Satyr, -2 Foundry-Street Denizen, +4 Mizzium Mortars, +1 Rubblebelt Maaka

My Current List

I’d honestly advise rolling with Patrick Sullivan’s list above, but this is one I’ve been experimenting with.  It’s probably too soft to Mono Blue Devotion (note the lack of maindeck burn), but I like having more “clear the path” type cards-

Mono Red Aggro by John Galli 11/10/2013

Maindeck (60 Cards)

4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
2 Goblin Shortcutter
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Rubblebelt Maaka

4 Madcap Skills

18 Mountain
4 Mutavault

Sideboard
4 Skullcrack
3 Flames of the Firebrand
3 Act of Treason
2 Burning Earth
2 Mizzium Mortars

– Red Deck Winning