Despite the banning of Ramunap Ruins, Mono-Red Aggro (looks like we’re never going to make Hazo-Red happen, sadly) and a mediocre performance in Memphis, Mono-Red is still one of the decks to beat. The format hasn’t been under much competitive pressure before now, so we’ll see how players at the upcoming GPs and the MOCS adapt. In the meantime, however, you better come equipped to beat the red menace at any Standard event.
Currently, Mono-Red is doubly as popular as any other Standard archetype. With a metagame share of just over 10%, you’re twice as likely to face off against Mono-Red as you are against Grixis Energy, Blue-Black Control, White-Black Tokens, or Red-Green Monsters. Given the fact that it’s your most likely matchup in a typical Standard field, it’s important to know how to beat it. Let’s break down the best ways to do this!
Don’t Rely on Blocking
Stabilizing the board against Mono-Red is a tall order indeed. Not only do they deploy their threats quickly with multiple 1-drops (welcome, Fanatical Firebrand), they now have more ways than ever to punch through blockers. Playing a large, defensive creature will rarely be enough to keep yourself safe in the face of how Mono-Red can attack!
Earthshaker Khenra hasn’t gone anywhere and still prevents early blocks, but after awhile on the bench pre-bannings, Ahn-Crop Crasher is back to punish anyone attempting to hide behind a big blocker. Falter effects are a known quantity in Mono-Red, and any Standard deck worth its salt won’t rely on blocking with a single creature to survive.
What about negating the various falter effects with multiple blockers? Well, there’s bad news on that front—some Mono-Red decks now pack Invigorated Rampage, which can completely invalidate those chump-blocks put up to buy time. While it hasn’t been fully adopted by decks across the format, keep it in mind when lining up blocks so you don’t get blown out and die to trample damage.
Finally, more and more Mono-Red decks are taking to the skies with a (second) powerful 4-drop mythic—Rekindling Phoenix has seen increased inclusion in Mono-Red, and will of course make any attempt to lock up the ground look very silly indeed. Keep your eyes on the skies and have a plan to deal with this resilient threat!
Even with fried chicken becoming more popular, Hazoret remains the most powerful threat in the entire deck, and she’s also by far the most difficult to answer. Having a way to deal with an opposing Hazoret (or two or three, if your opponent is the luckiest player alive) is critical, and all the better if you can do it before she’s had a chance to really impact the board.
There’s good news and bad news on this front. There are definitely unconditional and very impactful answers for Hazoret, but the bad news is they’re not cheap or efficient, and some will mean that you’ve got to survive a hasty indestructible 5/4 swinging in before getting a chance to answer it.
Vraska’s Contempt is just about the best answer you can have for a live Hazoret. Exiling her at instant speed—and gaining 2 life in the process—is more or less as good as it gets, and this is the reason we see black decks of all kinds playing the 4-drop instant. Apart from Contempt, there is Ixalan’s Binding. Despite being sorcery-speed, Binding is an excellent insurance policy against future Hazorets, and turns their best draw moving forward into a blank piece of cardboard. Both Contempt and Binding are great options.
If you’d rather harness the power of the God yourself, there are excellent ways to do this. Confiscation Coup neatly nicks a Hazoret no worries at all, with a proven track record in Standard. Hostage Taker, too, is a powerful if somewhat fragile answer to Hazoret, as if you ever get to untap then she’ll turn traitor and start to fight for you.
Whatever weapon you choose, be sure to prepare yourself to deal with Hazoret, the Fervent. Otherwise, she’ll deal with you in short order.
Don’t Skimp on Cheap Removal
Outside of Hazoret herself, the rest of the Mono-Red creature suite is similar to how things were when PV won PT Hour of Devastation—cheap, efficient beaters that hit hard, often, and early. As a result, your best way forward to deal with an onslaught of this nature is to play cheap ways to disrupt a creature-based game plan.
This means that you shouldn’t be cutting Fatal Push or Harnessed Lightning for bigger and less conditional removal spells. Ensure that you can interact with an early Mono-Red curveout by packing plenty of cheap removal. Red has the best of it, as in addition to Harnessed Lightning in energy decks there is also Lightning Strike, Abrade, and Magma Spray, but other colors have fantastic options too.
Two newer options that joined us in Rivals of Ixalan are very well set up to contest Mono-Red: Moment of Craving and Baffling End. Black decks—particularly Blue-Black Control—have started including Moment of Craving as the perfect anti-aggro card as it will deal with a creature and gain back some lost life. Baffling End, on the other hand, is straight-up unconditional removal against Mono-Red, and even has the upside of undermining Earthshaker Khenra’s eternalize ability.
Play White Sideboard Cards
White remains somewhat underplayed in the top tables of Standard, with only Mardu Vehicles and White-Black Tokens playing Plains. But there are many white cards that do a lot of heavy lifting against Mono-Red. If you can find a way to include them in your strategy, you’ll be much better off against the field.
The first and most obvious card to include in your 15 is, of course, Authority of the Consuls. This deck has two game-changing effects against Mono-Red, both negating their haste creatures and gaining you life whenever they deploy a creature (not to mention its weird upside against Kari Zev, Skyship Raider). I’ve also seen it brought in against other decks—namely White-Black Tokens—and can’t make up my mind as to whether this is madness or genius.
Regal Caracal is also a hard-hitting heavyweight against Mono-Red. Providing three blockers— two of them with lifelink—can do a lot to help stabilize a board (although remember to watch out for Invigorated Rampage!) Regal Caracal might be expensive, but it’s a resilient defensive answer that demands multiple cards from Mono-Red to effectively answer.
Settle the Wreckage is another effective way to answer an attacking Hazoret, although canny opponents will play around the instant-speed wrath effect, so don’t rely on it as an unconditional answer. Fumigate looks good on paper, but between costing 5 (far too much on the draw) and not answering Hazoret (thanks, indestructible), it won’t always cut the mustard.
Finally, more aggressive white strategies might look to include Baffling End in their sideboards even if it can’t make the cut for the main deck.
Don’t be Mono-Rekt by Mono-Red
In the wake of the upcoming premier-level events, it will be safe to expect things to shift around in Standard as the format finds its feet. Until then, it’s a safe bet that Mono-Red will continue to have a strong presence throughout the field, and so if you’re not playing Mono-Red, you better be Mono-Ready for it!