This weekend, I was fortunate enough to compete in the World Championships for Magic. Testing for the event, I worked with PV and Sam Pardee, as well as some friends who weren’t qualified. In the end, our results were nothing to write home about as PV and I finished the highest among us at exactly middle of the pack (7-7 records). That said, I managed to go 6-2 in Constructed with Mono-Red, felt like I had good matchups every single round (albeit I never faced PGO in Constructed), and I really like the deck going forward.
Mono-Red didn’t change much with the introduction of Ixalan, but honestly what did? Not a single white card was played in the World Championships, and decks like Temur Energy were only branching out to play Rootbound Crag. We got a slight upgrade to our Mono-Red list, but it’s definitely a “the more things change the more they stay the same” situation.
Lightning Strike is a major upgrade. The loss of Incendiary Flow’s exile clause is painful, but adding instant speed makes up for it. You don’t have many reasons to leave your mana open, but you still have to consider haste creatures, burning people out, and the activated abilities on Hazoret and Ramunap Ruins. 3 damage for 2 mana is solid, and it’s important to be able to kill their 2-drop when you don’t have one in a world with Kari Zev and Longtusk Cub.
We also maxed out on Shock, as is par for the course with Mono-Red. It’s just so cheap, it can kill some very important creatures in the mirror, it will occasionally take down a Cub while also dealing with Servant and Rogue Refiner, and it’s just 2 damage to the head. We have fewer 1-drops than previous iterations of the deck, so being able to play an instant during their end step is nice, and having the option to empty your hand cheaply is critical for Hazoret turns.
The value of Abrade has gone down both with access to Lightning Strike and there fewer good artifacts to worry about. God-Pharaoh’s Gift is not a huge portion of the metagame, and you still have 3 copies to kill things like Torrential Gearhulk and Aethersphere Harvester. Getting access to Lightning Strike puts less emphasis on Abrade and gives you more ability to go upstairs.
Bomat Courier is the best 1-drop by leaps and bounds, and being able to build up cards under your Bomat to refuel in the middle stages of the game is a huge part of why Mono-Red is so good. I didn’t think Soul-Scar Mage was good enough before Ixalan, but it’s the best of what we have available now. With 11 ways to trigger prowess, you can definitely get some damage in, and this is an important tool for the mirror to have outs to kill a Hazoret. It’s also the first card to be sideboarded out against a deck like Temur Energy as it’s really anemic, and it’s the single worst threat in the deck against U/B Control.
Earthshaker Khenra remains great, forces through damage, and is an awesome way to use mana in the late game. Upticks in Magma Spray and Vraska’s Contempt hurt, but who cares when you’re getting all of that out of your 2-drop? Kari Zev, Skyship Raider has also decreased in value as there are just fewer 1-toughness creatures to block and it’s still a legend, but threatening 3 damage per turn for just 2 mana is still a great rate.
One addition that we tested and I absolutely loved was Harsh Mentor. The list of cards against which Mentor is relevant is long, especially against Temur Energy. Longtusk Cub, Whirler Virtuoso, and Bristling Hydra all have very important activated abilities. This thing is amazing against Aethersphere Harvester, costing them 2 life to crew and another 2 to give lifelink, which would be one of the best cards against you. It also triggers when they activate Bomat Courier, any God including Hazoret or the Scarab God, Deserts like Ramunap Ruins, Walking Ballista, Pia Nalaar, and many other important creatures in the format. While Harsh Mentor will often die, they do often need to use removal on it. I strongly suggest playing multiple copies, as the floor of a 2/2 for 2 isn’t actually that low. I boarded it out in 0 matchups in the World Championships.
Ahn-Crop Crasher is still a great way to force through damage if they don’t have too many Shock effects to tempo you out. Hazoret the Fervent is your best card. Not playing 4 is just a mistake and it’s extremely important to draw it in nearly every matchup. Grasp of Darkness is gone, and the answers for Hazoret are limited. Being on the play makes it abnormally good, and it’s the reason you don’t mind mulliganing.
As for the sideboard and cards we didn’t play, Glorybringer really stinks right now. We have 2, and I wish we had fewer. It would be good against Sultai Energy, but that’s just an inferior version of Temur Energy. Against Temur, they have lots of Harnessed Lightnings, Chandra’s Defeats, and now apparently Essence Scatter. No bueno.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance also took a slide. A solid sideboard card against things like control and Sultai Energy, it’s just weak against opposing Glorybringers, Whirler Virtuoso, and Chandra’s Defeat.
Rampaging Ferocidon is really good. We wanted a couple against Temur Energy and U/B Control just because it can be challenging to deal with (and we have weaker cards). While white decks didn’t show up at Worlds, Ferocidon is game over against token-based strategies if they can’t kill it quickly.
Mono-Red is still one of the best decks in Standard, and I strongly recommend getting Harsh with your opponents!