This past weekend I played in the SCG Open in Worcester with Mono-Red and I started 7-0, eventually making Top 8, but then I lost in the quarterfinals. I was totally satisfied with the deck save a couple sideboard slots. I was in an interesting position because I knew I was going to attend the tournament no matter what because of the Team Sealed on day one, and it's roughly on the way for me since I was going to go to New York anyway. Given that I was going to go no matter what, I now had to do what I could to maximize my own chances of doing well in the tournament while also not giving away any information about my playtesting. The tournament was being streamed online so anyone who wanted to could just watch the coverage and figure out what was winning and try to find some cool new ideas for new Standard. I figured Mono-Red was a safe choice since it was a totally fine deck that had nothing new or unknown going on with it. This is the final list I used:
I played this list on very little testing but I felt quite strongly about the card choices I did make. I opted to play zero Young Pyromancers because I just feel that it's a weak Magic card. People look at it, and I admit it looks impressive but it just doesn't live up to the hype. People think of it like Tarmogoyf when it's weak to removal and not particularly strong against fast aggro or dedicated control decks with Supreme Verdict. It isn't even a card that kills your opponent quickly in a goldfish. I prefer Goblin Shortcutter which can provide a unique effect that this deck really wants, as evidenced by the 4 Firefist Striker. Loxodon Smiter and Voice of Resurgence are tough to beat. The rest of the list is fairly simple, I stayed away from cards that didn't just kill my opponent as fast as possible and I maximized my chances of winning while the opponent was mana-screwed—Burning-Tree Emissary and Mutavault do this better than anything else in Standard.
I had a really insane game come up deep in the tournament. The situation is as follows: My opponent has Frostburn Weird, 7 Mountains, no cards in hand, and 15 life. I have Burning-Tree Emissary, 5 life, 6 Mountains, and 1 card in hand, Act of Treason. Act of Treason isn't really a particularly good sideboard card in the mono-red mirror match, but I anticipated that my opponent would have 4 Boros Reckoner which is incredibly difficult to remove and I only had 1 Act of Treason anyway, so I figured I would try it.
I thought for a brief moment and decided to attack with my Burning-Tree Emissary in the hopes that he would block and that I can cast Act of Treason at the end of combat and pump Frostburn Weird the rest of the way, killing it. I get 2-for-1'd here, which stinks, but my life total is low and I don't have a good clean answer to the Weird anyway so I figured it would be better to kill it now while I can. My opponents thinks, and takes 2 damage down to 13 life.
Now when I told people this story, many questioned why he wouldn't just snap-block and pump once to kill my creature. It isn't exactly clear that this is a good play, because if he chooses to block and pump a single time he could lose the Weird to a Lightning Strike and the alternatives are block and pump zero times, which is even worse against Shock.
My opponent untaps, draws, and attacks me with Frostburn Weird deciding to pump a single time. I take 2 damage down to 3 life. To me this says that my opponent thinks that I have a Shock in my hand and that would explain why I attacked with my 2/2 into his ¼ and he also realizes that the Frostburn Weird is great here and losing it to a Shock would be devastating.
I draw for my turn: Rakdos Cackler. This is a horrible card to draw. I think for a while and consider my options, I can cast Rakdos Cackler as a 1/1 creature and chump block with it, or I can attack with Burning-Tree Emissary, or leave it back so I don't die to his topdecked Shock. Then I consider just casting Act of Treason on the Frostburn Weird before doing anything else in the hopes that my opponent believes my last card in hand is a Mountain and uses the Weird to kill itself. For some reason I didn't consider this line of play—it seems too risky though, if he just didn't consider that I could make that play or just didn't think I had a land in my hand.
I attack with my Burning-Tree Emissary, cast Rakdos Cackler unleashed, and pass the turn. I just intentionally left myself dead on board. I did this for many reasons. I felt that this was a game where I was hugely disadvantaged already and if I could gamble a bit to try and get into an even position then I was willing to do that, I couldn't really ever beat any good topdecks as it stood and if my opponent just drew more lands like he had been doing then I was in decent shape. I felt there was a large difference between a 1/1 and 2/2 Rakdos Cackler when I'm trying to kill my opponent as fast as possible from 12 life to reduce the number of draw steps he has at a Boros Reckoner or lethal burn. I also felt that playing a 1/1 Rakdos Cackler and chump blocking was an extremely weak play since not only does it make very poor use of my cards, it also telegraphs quite clearly to my opponent that I would die if he pumped the Weird all the way to 3 power. I also felt that it would make my opponent think I had Shock in my hand even more because who in their right mind chooses to attack with one creature, unleash another, and leave themselves dead?
My opponent draws and goes into the tank. He attacks with Frostburn Weird and pumps 1 time, I accept and go to 1 life. He passes, presumably he has drawn another land. I draw for my turn: Shock. This is a good draw, no doubt about that. I have one copy of Chandra's Phoenix in my graveyard so I can choose to return it with Shock should it come to that, but I'm still being pummeled by this Frostburn Weird. I figure now is as good of a time as any to cast Act of Treason on his Weird, it might look like I have a land in my hand and if he allows me to take it I would attack with my creatures, pump the Weird twice dealing 7 damage, and Shock the Weird passing the turn with my opponent at 4 life and me controlling two 2/2 creatures, a fine plan. I cast Act of Treason and my opponent thinks and decides to suicide the Weird.
This is the first play he made that I actually disagree with. Deciding not to block my 2/2 the first time I attacked with it is reasonable though conservative, a play I could see myself making if I thought I was going to win as long as I didn't screw something up. Even pumping only once is an all right play because getting your creature Shocked is avoidable and a really bad way to trade your cards off. This turn though if he has really strongly suspected that my card in hand was Shock then it would stand to reason that I actually topdecked the Act of Treason and that he can't get his Weird eaten by a 4th Mountain I may be slowrolling. It is possible that he thinks it's better to kill off the Weird than to take 3 damage from it and have it get Shocked, but at this point it's pretty simple to figure out.
In both scenarios he's going to be dead next turn and he's saving three life, but I'm going to cast Shock at his face so he effectively has a choice of paying 1 life to deprive me of a Chandra's Phoenix which seems like a smart move to me. On top of that, once I am left with Shock in hand he can no longer kill me with a topdecked haste creature or Fanatic of Mogis.
The rest of the story is pretty simple, I cast Act of Treason on his Frostburn Weird, he decided to pump it four times, I attacked for 4 putting him to 7 life. He drew for his turn and passes, luckily another Mountain, I cast Shock, opponent is at 5 life and I have four power in play and a Chandra's Phoenix in my hand.
Because I attacked, he thought I had Shock, because he thought I had Shock I was able to unleash, because I unleashed it was more convincing that I had a trick of some kind. As I mentioned, I wouldn't always do something like this, in fact I would basically never do it unless I felt like it was a really good spot to or if I didn't have much to lose, like this game. I was already losing by so much that if he decided to kill me on the final turn I would have conceded and just said to myself “good beats.”
I hope this was as interesting to read as it was for me, I thought it was a perfect example of how to bluff and how to work with the tools you've got to make something happen in an otherwise hopeless situation. Thanks for reading and tell me if this is the type of article you might like to see more of in the future.
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