There’s no argument that R/B is the top deck in Standard right now. It does the most powerful things and has the best matchups across the board. This doesn’t mean that you have to play the deck, but you know it’s going to show up in large numbers at any Standard event, from MTGO queues to Grand Prix. Knowing the best build for the best deck always matters.
The R/B deck has a number of options for removal spells. At the Pro Tour, we saw top teams opt for a split of Abrade, Unlicensed Disintegration, and Lightning Strike, often choosing two copies of each. This gave the deck a nice variety of cheap removal spells with the ability to also kill artifacts or bigger creatures while limiting clunky draws.
Logan Nettles has done a lot to change that by winning Grand Prix Los Angeles, and I believe that he made the correct choice in cutting all copies of Lightning Strike and replacing them with Cut // Ribbons.
The downsides to playing a spell like Cut over Lightning Strike should be pretty obvious just by reading the two cards. You’re losing the ability to cast a spell at instant speed and to target your opponents—or, perhaps more importantly, their planeswalkers.
As far as Cut is concerned, you deal 1 extra damage. The difference between 3 and 4 may not matter in a lot of metagames, but it’s worth a lot in this one. While you’re often going to be killing smaller creatures with your removal spells, there are some popular creatures that currently have 4 toughness in the format. Some of the biggest standouts are Glorybringer, Sai, Master Thopterist and Steel Leaf Champion.
An answer to these threats can be a game-changer. Having cards like Goblin Chainwhirler to match up against Llanowar Elves is nice, but an early Steel Leaf Champion is just the kind of card that can end the game before you’ve got your feet set. Although most versions of green have moved away from cards like Blossoming Defense, they still exist, and having an early Cut to kill a Steel Leaf instead of simply relying on Chandra and Glorybringer can be the difference between winning and losing.
I mentioned earlier that Lightning Strike offers you the reach that Cut doesn’t, but you’re also getting Ribbons by playing this card, and that can be a real game-changer. The matchup between R/B and Turbo Fog is heavily in the Bant’s deck favor in game 1, but a card that is capable of stealing games in your main deck is huge. This is the X-spell that really punishes opponents who might rely on Settle the Wreckage to wipe your board as you now have a use for all of that mana.
This is also important in many of the aggressive matchups. There will often be answers to the creatures or just incidental damage that goes back and forth. Ribbons is a game-ender in otherwise stalemated or grindy games.
Bomat Courier and Hazoret the Fervent give you additional ways to discard a Cut // Ribbons in matchups where Cut is lackluster, and Scrapheap Scrounger gives you additional utility. In a game where you’re already locked by Fogs from an opponent, it really won’t matter which of your own creatures you’re killing to set up the Ribbons, and an X-spell will often win those games.
Lightning Strike is nice, but R/B decks are making a real mistake if they are not playing Cut // Ribbons right now. It’s a game-changer.