I’m a big Corey Burkhart fan. It would be tough to cheer against him in the finals of a GP, but then he was paired against Skred Red. When it comes to Modern tournaments, we cheer for archetypes, not players.
I have some experience playing Skred Red and it is a delight. I also have quite a bit of experience playing R/G Land Destruction in Modern (and in formats before Modern existed). Many of the cards overlap, as does quite a bit of the overall game plan. Needless to say, I have some biases and love decks like that.
There’s also a number of things I dislike about the deck Kevin Mackie used to take down GP Dallas. It could use a tune-up. Let’s start by looking at some of the cards you might expect to see, but won’t find here.
Simian Spirit Guide has been the subject of plenty of banning discussions lately, and with good reason. While it’s far from broken, it’s also rarely a positive influence on the format. While it helps make decks like Ad Nauseam function, it’s much more likely to make something degenerate or unfun happen.
In the case of red prison-style decks, you will often see Simian Spirit Guide accelerate out a Blood Moon. If you’re on the play and an opponent puts a land into play tapped, such as a Celestial Colonnade, a turn-2 Blood Moon can end the game right there. In most of these instances, the opponent will never even attempt to cast a single spell.
This can be fun for some players, but frustrating for others. Either way, a turn-2 Blood Moon is a game-changer in Modern. The Guide also helps to accelerate one of the most powerful lock cards ever printed—another card that is absent from Mackie's list.
Chalice of the Void is oppressive enough to be restricted in Vintage. An early Chalice will often lock the opponent from ever casting a spell. When paired with fast mana, such as Mishra’s Workshop, Ancient Tomb, or Simian Spirit Guide in Modern, a turn-1 Chalice can lock out a huge percentage of decks.
Skred Red does use Blood Moon to good effect, but it’s not all-in on the strategy. I’m surprised to not see the 4th copy anywhere in the 75 given how devastating the Moon can be against some archetypes, but it’s not a card you want to get flooded on.
It’s hard to hide the fact that you’re a Blood Moon deck with Skred Red. The fact of the matter is that no other deck in the format is likely to ever lead on turn-1 Snow-Covered Mountain, and when you play a second Snow-Covered Mountain on turn 2, the jig is sure to be up. The fact that this deck isn’t even capable of playing a Blood Moon before turn 3 means that your opponents will have ample time to use their fetchlands to prepare for what’s to come. When you face a deck playing a turn-1 Birds of Paradise, even when you know the turn-2 Blood Moon is coming, you can’t always do something about it.
Here’s the list that Kevin Mackie used to take down GP Dallas:
Kevin Mackie, 1st place at GP Dallas
This version of Skred Red plays out like a planeswalker midrange deck. The planeswalker of choice here is one that asks that you be mono-red, but also that none of the burn decks or Goblin decks of the format are really interested in.
Koth of the Hammer is essentially a 4/4 haste creature for 4 mana. This used to be an incredible rate, but it really isn’t anything to write home about in this day and age. Where Koth shines is against the removal in format. Lightning Bolt, for example, won’t deal with the 4/4 Mountain or the Koth. Abrupt Decay also can’t hit either. Path to Exile targeting your Mountain will save 4 damage, but it just replaces the land—it’s a glorified Healing Salve, and your Koth ticked up.
Koth ticks up to 4 immediately, and at that point you’re just 2 turns away from the ultimate. Having such a low ultimate makes this an extremely fast clock that few cards interact with favorably. The ultimate will win the game in all of the midrange and control matchups as most decks will have zero outs in this scenario. Not only is an emblem immune to interaction, but even if they’re able to get some creatures into play, you can turn your Mountains on them and mow down the battlefield before finishing off your opponent.
The minus ability isn’t utilized much, but it has a number of uses. This deck won’t often want a burst of mana after turn 4, although this could allow you to play turn-4 Koth and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, so that Koth can survive to start taking over the game. You’ll be far away from ultimate, but your board will be impressive.
The later bursts of mana go toward making your Stormbreath Dragon monstrous. Stormbreath is in a similar position to Koth in that Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Abrupt Decay all do nothing against the Dragon (although Bolt can combine with another spell to take it down). Once it gets up to a 7/7, potentially with damage on top of that, the game ends. Interestingly, Stormbreath matches up worst against a deck like Grixis with Terminates and Murderous Cut, which Skred Red faced in the finals of the GP, but Skred still came out on top. Blood Moon remains a serious weapon against those types of decks, and Stormbreath gives them no time to draw out of it.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar is the midrange matchup highlight. You get a bunch of blockers to protect your life total or planeswalkers, as well as a number of threats. Adding 4 power to the board for 4 mana is already strong, but evasion is a huge bonus for pressuring opposing planeswalkers. The activated ability gives you reach and the ability to clean up any mess.
The only other creature in this list beside the Nalaars and Stormbreath is Eternal Scourge. This one is really interesting, although I’m not sure how good it actually is.
The combo with Eternal Scourge and Relic of Progenitus is nice. You can tap your own Relic to exile a Scourge that has died, either in combat or through discard/mill, and then you can cast it again for 3 mana. You can also get value by choosing not to cast Eternal Scourge off of a Chandra, get the damage trigger, and leave it in exile where you want it (and where you can still cast it that turn).
Scourge is also a resilient threat against all of these removal spells we’ve been discussing. Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay can target it, but it’ll just be back for more. Same goes for Terminate, Murderous Cut, Maelstrom Pulse, or Path to Exile. That makes for a potent threat against control strategies, although it’s still just a 3/3 creature in the end. It gets outclassed greatly by creatures like Tarmogoyf, although making their Tarmogoyf stay home to block while you set up for bigger threats isn’t a terrible place to be.
This is not a very powerful card, as a 3/3 for 3 just isn’t competitive in Modern, but the resiliency may make it worth it. This definitely demands more testing as it seems hard to fathom that this is your best option, but it’s definitely a passable one that warrants consideration.
The spells in the deck start easily enough. Lightning Bolt is an unquestionable 4-of. Skred is the namesake card of the deck. It also dictated the mana base of 20 Snow-Covered Mountains and 2 Scrying Sheets. The Sheets will activate off of the snow mana your Mountains can provide, and then will help make sure you’re less likely to draw lands later in the game. By getting to look at the top card of your library and draw it for free when it’s a land, you’re going to draw more spells late while also being up additional cards.
Skred is interesting because while it's an incredibly efficient removal spell, it’s not actually that easy to scale up. If you’re trying to kill a Tarmogoyf, which you likely will be many times throughout a Modern tournament, it’s not really an easy task. Skred itself will only cost you a single mana, but you still need to have lands in play equal to the creature’s toughness if you want to get it off the battlefield. That makes Skred an excellent tempo play in the middle turns when you’re casting additional spells, but won’t always kill what you need to in the early game. It will still do a great job of getting tempo against cards like Dark Confidant or Steel Overseer, and having all of these 1-mana answers to those fast threats does give you a much greater chance of reaching the middle stages of the game.
I talked about what Relic of Progenitus can do with Eternal Scourge, but clearly the card is here mainly to mess up your opponents. A deck that has absolutely no need for its own graveyard is quite a nice place to be in Modern, because you get to play cards like this that can completely shut people down. There are many cards and archetypes that rely on the graveyard, so playing a main-deck answer that doesn’t hurt you is a real boon. Rest in Peace is the better graveyard hoser, but it’s a completely dead card in matchups where they don’t care. Relic cycles, and does so for a cheap investment, so it’s never outright bad.
Dredge is popular right now and Living End saw some play before Dredge pushed it out of the format. Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, and delve spells like Become Immense are some of the best cards in the format. Having a main-deck way to make them significantly worse is a real benefit to playing Skred Red.
Anger of the Gods is simply the best cheap sweeper there is. It exiles creatures, which matters quite a bit against decks like Dredge. It also gets 3-toughness creatures like Prized Amalgam and Wild Nacatl, which is relevant over a card like Pyroclasm. Whether you need 3 of them main deck or can afford to play slightly fewer since you have so much spot removal is a tough call, although having sweepers in a deck that wins with planeswalkers or Dragons is nice. It’s cute that Anger of the Gods also plays well with Eternal Scourge while any other sweeper would put it into your graveyard.
Mind Stone is one of my favorite Magic cards of all time. It creates mana and cashes in for a card when you’re done with it. While being a half a Hedron Archive in every way, it’s likely more than twice as good. An early play is more relevant than a turn-4 play, ramping to 4 is huge in every format, and the cheap cost to cash it in won’t cost you much tempo.
It’s also a 2-mana spell that doesn’t immediately impact the board, and when drawn in the late game it’s just a 3-mana card that cycles. It's really not exciting, but a good way to get your 4s and 5s down on time.
The rest of the spells kind of feel like they were pulled out of a grab bag. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is making her way into Modern and could be a solid card in midrange decks like this and Jund. While she hasn’t been able to get the job done in Standard yet, the removal options and ways to protect her are there in this format. Flame Slash was a popular card in Modern before Roast saw play, so her minus can be quite useful. This is yet another threat that doesn’t get answered by Lightning Bolt, Decay, Path to Exile, Terminate, etc.
I don’t understand the 1-of Magma Jet. The card is fine, but was barely Standard playable. If you really want another burn spell that can take care of small creatures, it will do the job, but it seems so unlikely that you need it. The scry makes it a little more interesting, but not good enough for me.
If I’m not a fan of Magma Jet, you better believe that I really dislike the Pyrite Spellbomb. I can’t imagine this is good enough. You have no artifact synergy except for throwing it with Pia and Kiran, but that’s just a more expensive Spellbomb. I think Pyrite Spellbomb is just a bad Magic card and wouldn’t consider it in any deck that wasn’t planning to go off with Auriok Salvagers or something similar.
This is a really poor card against decks that go big, and really doesn’t do much against any combo deck, but it can shut the door on a few of the aggro strategies and can sometimes do work as a resilient threat against control. Being weak to Infect and unable to block much of anything against Affinity makes me skeptical.
I think there are a number of changes that can be made to the deck to make it a bit more streamlined. Whether cutting the medium cards for something like Simian Spirit Guides to add more speed, or whether you just want to add another main deck threat that can end the game in a hurry such as Goblin Rabblemaster, I don’t know for sure. There are definitely a number of slots that are subject to change. Here’s where I would start:
Skred Red, Updated
This deck is a bit slow, so while Coldsteel Heart is a really bad topdeck late, it’s also another way to accelerate into your 4-drops. When the majority of your deck comes from the power of an early Koth or Chandra, I think this might help. You also have a few Simian Spirit Guides that can help get your spells down on time, and can even stand in the way of a handful of creatures in Modern. When coupled with a Lightning Bolt or Skred, you should be able to take down even full-sized Tarmogoyfs.
The sideboard for this deck, as with any mono-red deck, is going to be a bit on the soft side. Luckily for us, if we use the sideboard Kevin Mackie utilized to take down the GP, we have some easy decisions about what to cut, what to bring in, and when to do so.
This deck is incredibly weak to blue decks. Remand is basically the worst nightmare of any mage looking to cast a bunch of 4-drops and hope to win the game. While Ricochet Trap helps against these strategies, and is completely busted against Ancestral Vision, it’s unlikely to be enough. If you’re planning on playing in a metagame filled with creatureless decks, countermagic, and combo, stay as far away from Skred Red as you can.
If you do find yourself in these matchups, you have plenty of cuts. The burn spells, and especially the Skreds, are going to be really weak.
Your best bet is to attack their mana base. This is where Molten Rain can really shine. If you can keep them from casting their spells, maybe they won’t be able to keep you from casting yours.
Goblin Rabblemaster is also nice as a way to get a quick clock. Board these in when your opponents won’t be doing much blocking.
You have the easy swap of bringing in 4 Molten Rain, 2 Trap, and 2 Rabblemaster for as many removal spells as you can get out of your deck in these matchups. From there, you just cross your fingers—a turn-2 Rabblemaster or Blood Moon can certainly do serious work.
Against other red decks, your Blood Moon plan is not going to be very good. There are a number of Blood Moon decks in Modern, but you can usually bring in Molten Rains as a replacement, if not Rabblemasters, to try to fight that battle.
Against the other red decks where your Molten Rains and Rabblemasters are bad, but you can’t play Blood Moon, Mackie opted for 4 copies of Dragon’s Claw. This will seriously warp how the games play out against red (and he even brought in the Claws against Pyromancer Ascension since there was too much removal to take out. I strongly recommend against doing this).
Against burn decks, however, this could easily gain more than 10 life. That’s a really powerful sideboard option and should buy you lots of time for Dragons to do work.
Skred Red is an awesome deck, and one that hasn’t been fully explored. With a format as open and with such an incredible card pool as Modern, there are sure to be a number of ways to approach this archetype and find success. For now, Skred Red is in the winner’s circle for a Modern Grand Prix, and that’s pretty cool!
So what approach would you take to building Skred? There are many different sideboard options, so which have been your favorites in a mono-red deck that isn’t aggro? Sound off in the comments!