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Modern Deck Guide – Mono-Red Prowess

The ban of Mox Opal killed Affinity, which meant that I had to look for a new deck in Modern. After reviewing the options for synergy-driven aggro decks, I was most impressed by Mono-Red Prowess. I tried the deck in four Magic Online leagues several weeks ago, went 16-4, and locked it in for Grand Prix Sao Paulo and Grand Prix Turin. Well, these events got canceled—the world has undergone massive changes in recent weeks—but today I will still gladly present the list that I was planning to play, along with my deck and sideboard guide.

A few months ago, in a format dominated by Oko, the deck was probably poorly positioned—Food tokens counter Lava Spikes and Kiln Fiend needs its abilities—but in the current Modern, I have enjoyed Mono-Red Prowess a lot.

Main Deck Card Choices

Monastery SwiftspearSoul-Scar Mage

These one-mana prowess creatures form the heart of the deck. They start out small, but they can easily attack for four or more damage per turn.

Lava DartLava SpikeLightning Bolt

These are the most efficient one-mana burn spells. They provide reach to close out the game and boost all our prowess creatures. Lava Dart in particular is a standout card because it triggers prowess twice.

Light Up the StageManamorphoseCrash Through

These spells not only trigger prowess but also draw more spells to trigger prowess once again. The trample ability on Crash Through should not be underestimated, as it’s easy to create high-power creatures with this deck.

In my mind, the one-mana prowess creatures, one-mana burn spells, and card draw spells are essential, non-negotiable four-ofs for this strategy. Indeed, almost all versions run four copies of these cards. The remaining spells in the deck are more debatable, however.

Bedlam Reveler

Bedlam Reveler adds staying power, grinds out matches, hits hard, and draws burn spells to close out a game. With the amount of instants and sorceries in the deck, it will usually cost only three or four mana by turn four. And in the late game, it’s basically a two-mana Ancestral Recall with a huge body attached.

The question is whether to run three or four copies. The argument for three copies is that you want to avoid drawing multiples because then have to discard one to another. Bedlam Reveler is also a little slow, so it lines up poorly against combo decks. Nevertheless, I found that it’s one of the most important cards in grindy matchups, where I really want to have access to four to increase the chances of chaining one Bedlam Reveler into another. I often board out one, but I think that having access to four copies in the 75 is worth it.

Kiln FiendRunaway Steam-Kin

Kiln Fiend and Runaway Steam-Kin are aggressive two-drops that synergize nicely with all the card draw spells in the deck. But there are two questions to answer: How many two-drops to play, and which ones.

In terms of how many, I settled on 4 two-drops. This is higher than most decks, but the number is based on a trade-off between having as many noncreature spells as possible (to trigger prowess) while ensuring at least an 80% probability of drawing a one-mana or two-mana creature in your opening seven. To ensure early pressure, I found myself mulliganning most seven-card hand without a one-drop or two-drop, and I wanted to support this mulligan strategy with enough early drops. Along similar lines, I have seen lists with fewer creatures and more Warlord’s Fury or Mishra’s Bauble, but I don’t like that because it makes mulligan decisions more difficult.

In terms of which ones, both have advantages and disadvantages. Kiln Fiend has sweet synergy with Crash Through and can set up turn-3 kills against combo decks, but it’s relatively weak against decks with good blockers. Runaway Steam-Kin is better against creature decks (because it grows to 4 toughness) and can set up some absurd Storm-like turns with a bunch of card draw spells, but it’s a slower threat against combo and weak to Wrenn and Six and Lava Dart. Ultimately, I settled on a 2-2 split to give me more flexibility while sideboarding. This way, I could keep the two-drop in the matchups it was best in and board them out when they were poor in that matchup, allowing me to fine-tune my post-sideboard configuration in every matchup.

Burst Lightning

There’s room for two more spells in the deck, and it makes sense to add additional one-mana burn spells. Burst Lightning’s kicker has come up for me, so I like it over Wild Slash.

Fiery IsletSunbaked Canyon

Horizon lands are awesome and provide additional cards in the late game, but you don’t want to overload on them. I believe that 4 Horizon lands is the right number. Not only because you don’t want to take too much damage against other creature decks but also because Lava Dart requires Mountains. Also, I believe that 18 lands is the right number because our curve is so low and we have so many card draw spells.

Sideboard Card Choices

AbradeAbradeAbrade

You need at least three answers to Chalice of the Void, and Abrade is the most flexible option. Sure, you could run Smash to Smithereens, but it may rot in your hand as a dead card against Eldrazi Tron, and it doesn’t help you turn into a control deck against other creature decks.

Grafdigger's CageGrafdigger's CageGrafdigger's Cage

I’ve seen a lot of lists with Leyline of the Void or Tormod’s Crypt, but I believe Grafdigger’s Cage is the best graveyard hate option right now. All of them stop Dredge, Storm, and Breach, but Cage does so in a more permanent way than Tormod’s Crypt, and it is a far better mid-game draw than Leyline of the Void. Moreover, Grafdigger’s Cage also answers cards like Neoform and Chord of Calling, so it’s more flexible for a larger number of matchups.

Magus of the MoonMagus of the MoonMagus of the Moon

Many Mono-Red Prowess lists had Blood Moon to stop the Primeval Titan decks. Yet I saw many sideboards with Reclamation Sage or Force of Vigor as answers. By contrast, there seemed to be fewer answers for a creature, so I opted for Magus of the Moon instead. The ability to attack for two is a nice bonus.

Now that Once Upon a Time got banned, Primeval Titan decks may get less popular, but I expect they’ll still stick around. They just got a little bit more inconsistent. We’ll have to see how the metagame develops in the end, but right now I’m keeping Magus of the Moon.

Shrine of Burning RageShrine of Burning Rage

It takes a while to build up, but control or midrange decks with lots of creature removal spells can struggle to deal with this artifact. It attacks from a different angle, which is something I like.

Dragon's ClawDragon's Claw

Dragon’s Claw is useful against other Lava Spike decks. I started with three copies, but I cut one after Dragon’s Claw disappointed in a mirror match. If I wanted to make more room in the sideboard, I would consider cutting even more Dragon’s Claws.

Kozilek's Return

Kozlek’s Return is the perfect answer to pro-red creatures like Kor Firewalker or Auriok Champion. And because your prowess creatures will survive, it can also act like a one-sided sweeper.

Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp

Against other creature decks, I generally want to transform into a control deck with a lot of removal spells and take over the late game with my card advantage spells. Bonecrusher Giant is perfect for that game plan.

If I had more sideboard slots, I would likely add another Bonecrusher Giant, maybe another Kozilek’s Return, and potentially some Dismember or Smash to Smithereens. All these cards seem useful, but we only have 15 slots.

Tips and Tricks

Sideboard Plans

When sideboarding, it’s usually safe to cut one Bedlam Reveler if it’s not a grindy matchup. More Bedlam Revelers can go if the matchup is all about speed. A few Light Up the Stage can also be cut if the matchup is all about speed or if I plan to take a control role and won’t have the luxury of pointing burn spells at my opponent’s face.

In addition, you can always shave a few burn spells. Burst Lightning is generally the worst one. One Lava Dart can also go if they don’t have relevant one-toughness creatures or if I board in Grafdigger’s Cage. Finally, Lava Spike can be cut completely if I plan to take a control role.

My sideboard plans are below. In addition, I made a one-page document with all the sideboard plans and with pictures of three key cards to keep in mind for every matchup, which I had planned to put in my deck box. These three cards could be ones that explain why I’m boarding in a certain way, common sideboard cards, or other spells I would want to remind myself to play around.

Modern Mono Red Sideboard Plans

Versus Eldrazi Tron

In: 3 Abrade, 1 Bonecrusher Giant

Out: 1 Light Up the Stage, 1 Lava Dart, 2 Lava Spike

Versus Bant Snowblade

In: 2 Shrine of Burning Rage

Out: 1 Bedlam Reveler, 1 Burst Lightning

Versus Mono-Red Prowess

In: 2 Dragon’s Claw, 3 Abrade, 2 Shrine, 1 Bonecrusher Giant

Out: 4 Lava Spike, 1 Lava Dart, 2 Runaway Steam-Kin, 1 Light Up the Stage

Versus Jund

In: 2 Shrine of Burning Rage, 1 Bonecrusher Giant

Out: 2 Runaway Steam-Kin, 1 Lava Dart

Versus Tron

In: 3 Magus of the Moon

Out: 2 Bedlam Reveler, 1 Burst Lightning

Versus Amulet Titan

In: 3 Magus of the Moon, 3 Abrade

Out: 4 Bedlam Reveler, 2 Light Up the Stage

Versus Dredge

In: 3 Grafdigger’s Cage

Out: 1 Bedlam Reveler, 1 Burst Lightning, 1 Lava Dart

Vs Uroza

In: 3 Grafdigger’s Cage

Out: 1 Light Up the Stage, 2  Bedlam Reveler

Versus Dimir Whirza

In: 2 Shrine of Burning Rage (+3 Abrade on the draw)

Out: 1 Light Up the Stage, 1 Bedlam Reveler (+2 Burst Lightning +1 Lava Dart on the draw)

Versus Burn

In: 1 Kozilek’s Return, 2 Dragon’s Claw, 2 Shrine of Burning Rage, 3 Abrade, 1 Bonecrusher Giant

Out: 2 Kiln Fiend, 2 Lava Dart, 4 Lava Spike, 1 Light Up the Stage

Vs Grinding Breach

In: 3 Grafdigger’s Cage, 3 Abrade

Out: 1 Light Up the Stage, 2 Bedlam Reveler, 2 Burst Lightning, 1 Lava Dart

Versus Humans

In: 1 Bonecrusher Giant, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 3 Abrade, 2 Magus of the Moon

Out: 4 Lava Spike, 2 Manamorphose, 1 Kiln Fiend

Vs Infect

In: 3 Abrade, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 1 Bonecrusher Giant

Out: 4 Lava Spike, 1 Light Up the Stage

Versus Storm

In: 3 Grafdigger’s Cage, 3 Abrade

Out: 2 Bedlam Reveler, 2 Light Up the Stage, 1 Lava Dart, 1 Burst Lightning

Versus Grixis/Traverse Shadow

In: 2 Shrine of Burning Rage

Out: 2 Burst Lightning

Versus Heliod Company

In: 1 Bonecrusher Giant, 1 Kozilek’s Return

Out: 2 Lava Spike

Versus Titan Field

In: 3 Magus of the Moon

Out: 2 Bedlam Reveler, 1 Light Up the Stage

Versus Azorius Control

In: 2 Shrine of Burning Rage

Out: 2 Burst Lightning

Versus Neobrand

In: 3 Grafdigger’s Cage, 3 Magus of the Moon

Out: 4 Bedlam Reveler, 1 Lava Dart, 1 Burst Lightning

Vs Ponza

No changes

Vs Ad Nauseam

In: 3 Magus of the Moon

Out: 2 Bedlam Reveler, 1 Light Up the Stage

Vs Yawgmoth Combo

In: 1 Bonecrusher Giant, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 3 Grafdigger’s Cage

Out: 2 Lava Spike, 2 Kiln Fiend, 1 Light Up the Stage

Conclusion

It’s not quite Affinity, but Mono-Red Prowess is aggressive, is synergy-driven, can pull off insane amounts of damage in a single turn, and can even grind out matches with Bedlam Reveler. I have enjoyed the way the deck plays, have been winning with it so far, and like the way it’s positioned in the current format.

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