Spoiler Alert: Red is Good

Atarka’s Command

Holy crap this card is good. Let’s break it down:

• Skullcrack that gets around Leyline of Sanctity

As card quality increases, Burn’s threats get better and Leyline becomes less of a hard hoser. When fighting Burn, that means we should be less willing to keep weak hands on the back of Leyline alone, though it’s still quite good.

As an answer to opposing life gain, Skullcrack is much easier to hold up than Flames of the Blood Hand, and now we can run 7-8 two-mana Skullcracks. Efficient two-mana spells like Rest for the Weary are still good because they’re easier to sneak in under the Burn player’s spells, but clunkier cards like Siege Rhino and Timely Reinforcements will become less, uh, timely.

• Lava Spike that buffs your team

In Standard, this is particularly good with cards like Rabblemaster, Hordeling Outburst, and now Dragon Fodder. It gives red decks a critical mass of burn spells that makes me particularly happy that Ojutai’s Command exists.

In Modern, this mode works fine with Burn’s hasty threats, but it especially fits the 1-drop-into-double-1-drop curve that Zoo wants. It also protects the team against Anger of the Gods if that’s a concern, though I haven’t seen much Anger lately. Due to this Command, people might turn to cards like Engineered Explosives if they want to hose Zoo.

• Lava Spike + Explore

In Modern, this mode interacts pretty well with landfall. Since Atarka’s Command is already a card you’d want in Zoo, Steppe Lynx comes to mind.

The extra land drop won’t be used very often, but it’s just icing on an already tasty cake. Increasing the burst doesn’t actually solve any of the issues with Steppe Lynx, which is that it runs out of juice in the mid-game.

It does remind me of the old landfall Scapeshift decks from Extended, and I wonder if something like this could be viable in Modern:

Zoo Scape

The way the deck works is by casting Scapeshift with a Steppe Lynx or a Knight of the Reliquary in play to generate a game-ending amount of damage. Even without the creatures, Scapeshift provides a back-up win condition with Valakut.

To be clear, I don’t think this is the most busted shell for Atarka’s Command, which benefits from a critical mass of burn and one-mana threats. However, it is the most interesting shell for an Explore/Lava Spike hybrid.

I especially like how Courser interacts with the rest of the deck, doing interesting things with the landfall creatures and especially with Scapeshift.

Going forward, I’d like to find room for answers to Blood Moon (Qasali Pridemage?) and I want to test out Valorous Stance as an answer to Siege Rhinos and a way to protect Knight of the Reliquary from Abrupt Decay.

Zurgo Bellstriker

A one-mana 2/2 that can’t block is already playable for red, and dash makes it an auto-include in RDW-style decks.

I like that they made it a legend, it creates an interesting tension between wanting a high number to draw your 1-drop early and wanting a low number to avoid drawing multiples. Dash does take away some of the pain of drawing it later, and with a number of other viable 1-drops most decks will want 2-3 of this guy.

Thunderbreak Regent

Thunderbreak has to compete with Ashcloud Phoenix, which is a tall order. While they both punish the opponent for targeting it with a regular old Hero’s Downfall, Thunderbreak won’t almost single-handedly kill a control deck like repeatedly flipping Phoenix will.

On the plus side, Thunderbreak is a much better blocker. You wouldn’t think defensive stats are what you look for in your evasive flier, but it matters when you’re on the draw against a deck with tokens or Mantis Rider, and in those spots Thunderbreak looks much stronger.

Roast

White already got Valorous Stance, and now red gets a two-mana answer to both Siege Rhino and Courser of Kruphix.

Personally, I’m excited to run this as a 2-of in RG BEES, which was vulnerable to Brimaz and wouldn’t mind more early plays. On top of that, it’s actual removal against UW Heroic, which the deck sorely lacks.

While it doesn’t directly answer problem fliers like Stormbreath Dragon, it does provide another great, efficient way to crack Hornet Nest. Five tokens for two-mana means that there’ll be a lot of turns where you crack Nest + Chord for a huge tempo swing.

RG BEES

Dragonlord Atarka

Another tool the BEES deck just picked up is Dragonlord Atarka, which PV called “by far the best of the new Dragonlords so far,” though he said this before Ojutai was previewed.

Dragonlord Atarka won’t fit into every RG deck because it has to compete with Hornet Queen, but it’s great at shoring up the weaknesses of this deck. Seven-mana for an 8/8 flying trampler is solid, but it’s the ability to sweep tokens, eat an opposing Dragon, or handle a troublesome ‘walker that makes Atarka so good. Hornet Queen, while also a great Chord target, dies to cards like Drown in Sorrow and has a less immediate impact on the board. Queen is an unimpressive card to manifest, while Atarka still gives you an 8/8.

Five is a particularly good number to dome planeswalkers for since Chandra, Elspeth, and Ashiok all tick up to 5 on their first turn. In the old list, your best answer was to Chord up Stormbreath, which would often hit a ‘walker down to 1.

Caleb Durward

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