Last weekend, I finished 17th at Pro Tour Magic Origins, going 6-3-1 in Standard with Mono-Red Aggro. (I ID’d in the last round after losing the first game.) My version was built by myself with some input from teammates, but it turned out to be quite similar to Joel Larsson’s winning list. In this article, I’ll go over my deck, explain the card choices, and guide you through the matchups.
In a way, this will be an update to my Mono-Red deck guide for Dragons of Tarkir Standard, but it’s a huge update since Magic Origins has added a lot to the archetype. In fact, you could say that it’s caused a complete rebuild of the deck, as we’ve moved away from the “go wide” approach with Goblin tokens that focused on midgame board presence to a version with Abbot of Keral Keep, Exquisite Firecraft, and a game plan that relies more heavily on burn spells.
Mono-Red’s game plan is to get on board with a creature on turns 1 and 2, burn any blockers to clear the way early on, and finally burn the opponent for the final points of damage. This game plan is relatively straightforward, and it’s the same in almost every matchup.
This is the list I played at the Pro Tour:
Due to the simple game plan, the deck is easy to pick up and play at a reasonable level. However, it’s tough to play optimally. There are a lot of non-trivial decision points involving mulligans, combat math, determining outs, sequencing, whether to burn their life total or their creatures, when to play around sweepers, how to use Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, and when to cast Abbot of Keral Keep. And every decision matters a lot. An experienced player who knows how to navigate these situations will have a substantially higher win percentage than a beginner.
What Is A Favorable Metagame For This Deck?
Mono-Red Aggro is well-positioned if:
- Slow decks like UB Control or Abzan Rally are popular.
- Decks with Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix see little play.
- Searing Blood is live against every deck in the metagame.
- People don’t respect it and don’t bring enough sideboard cards.
Before going into the specific card choices, I will present my axioms or starting points on the deck composition and compare them to the three Mono-Red decks in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour.
As a note, Pat Cox’s list was nearly identical to that of Rich Hoaen (who finished 9th with a 9-1 Standard record) and Joel Larsson’s list was identical to that of Simon Nielsen (who finished 30th with a 8-2 Standard record).
When constructing a new deck, I always find it useful to start with target numbers like these (which are mainly based on experience) and then fill in the actual cards afterwards. I refer to it as the axiomatic approach to deck building, and I may treat it in more detail in a later article.
For now, we can compare the numbers. There were some minor disagreements between the various deck lists—for instance on how many 1-drops to run, but overall you see a similar picture. Naturally, I prefer my numbers (that’s why I chose them), but since they are largely based on experience and feeling, it’s hard to provide a convincing argument for them. However, it’s interesting to note that the numbers in my list are close to the average of the three versions that made Top 8. If you build your own version, try not to deviate too far from them.
Sculpting the perfect creature/burn mix and the ideal mana curve is only one aspect of building a burn-style Mono-Red Aggro deck. The other important aspect is to minimize the number of cards that are bad topdecks in the late game. When you’re facing a Whisperwood Elemental, drawing a Monastery Swiftspear is not going to help you, but a Lightning Strike or Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh can provide the last points of damage necessary to win the game. The more good late-game topdecks, the better.
Now let’s move on to the specific card choices. What cards are near-mandatory inclusions in any Mono-Red Aggro deck and why?
Monastery Swiftspear – Excellent if you have 18+ spells to trigger prowess (where, for these purposes, you can count the enters-the-battlefield trigger on every Abbot of Keral Keep as 1/4th of a noncreature spell). Monastery Swiftspear typically attacks for 2 damage a turn, and it can go up to 3 toughness to survive Drown in Sorrow, Wild Slash, or a block by Courser of Kruphix. The consensus is to play 4 copies.
Zurgo Bellstriker – A 2/2 for one mana is an insane rate, and the dash bonus outweighs the no-blocking drawback in an aggro deck like this. 2 toughness also means that it will survive a Satyr Wayfinder block. You shouldn’t play 4 because you don’t want to draw multiples of the legend, but 3 copies has become the consensus.
Eidolon of the Great Revel – It fits the new burn-heavy direction of the deck well, and there are not many Dromoka’s Commands around to kill it. Once Eidolon of the Great Revel has dealt 6 or more damage to your opponent, it’s hard to lose. The card can steal games especially when you’re on the play, and every Mono-Red Aggro deck should run 4 copies in the 75. How many you choose to put in the main deck will depend on your desired mana curve and creature base composition, but I put all 4 in the main. So did Pat Cox and Stephen Neal, whereas Joel Larsson had all 4 in his sideboard.
Abbot of Keral Keep – One of the big new additions from Magic Origins. It’s a fine 2-drop that is good in the late game, and that is exactly what the red deck needs. As a 2-drop, it will typically attack as a 3-power creature on turn 3, which is fine. If you play Monsieur Abbot (which is what we liked to call him, or just “Le Monsieur” for short) on turn 3, then he’ll provide a land in roughly 1/3rd of the cases and a 1-cost card in slightly below 1/3rd of the cases. So in a majority of the cases, it’s like drawing an extra card when he enters the battlefield. And in the late game when you have plenty of lands on the table and your creatures are getting outmatched by your opponent’s, Abbot of Keral Keep yields a guaranteed free card that gets you closer to finding the lethal burn spell for the win. All of the top-performing Mono-Red Aggro players at the Pro Tour included 4 Abbot of Keral Keep in their decks, and so should you.
Wild Slash – It triggers prowess, kills almost every 1-2 mana creature in the format, and can burn out the opponent in a pinch. An easy 4-of.
Lightning Strike – With a few exceptions like Fleecemane Lion, Deathmist Raptor, and Chief of the Foundry, Lightning Strike generally kills the same creatures as a Wild Slash at a less efficient mana point. It’s still great for closing out games, but I only ran 3 in my version for mana curve reasons. (All Pro Tour Top 8 versions ran 4.)
Searing Blood – Dealing 5 damage for 2 mana is an incredible rate, so Searing Blood is great against decks with many small creatures. You could even argue that it’s the best card in the deck when you can rely on it, and fortunately the current metagame is filled with 2-toughness creatures. Even control decks have added Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Hangarback Walker! Searing Blood used to be sideboard material, but it is well-positioned for the main deck right now. I only ran 3 copies in my main deck (with the fourth in the sideboard) because I was still afraid of sitting with dead copies in hand against certain decks, but in hindsight I should’ve just played 4. I even found a niche use at the Pro Tour by burning my own Monastery Swiftspear for an additional point of damage against Jeskai Ascendancy combo, so it’s never completely dead.
Exquisite Firecraft – 3 damage for four mana is an excellent deal, and it’s perfect for Standard because you can burn Courser of Kruphix on turn three. The spell mastery bonus sometimes matters against UB Control, but overall it’s only a minor factor. I liked the card a lot, played 4 copies, and so did all the other top-performing lists.
Stoke the Flames – It’s like an Exquisite Firecraft that is better against Whisperwood Elemental and that doesn’t damage you under Eidolon of the Great Revel. However, the new version of Mono-Red doesn’t have Dragon Fodder or Hordeling Outburst, so convoking it out has gotten more difficult. If, for instance, you play Zurgo Bellstriker and Abbot of Keral Keep on the first two turns and your opponent has Courser of Kruphix, then you’d rather have Exquisite Firecraft instead of Stoke the Flames because you can attack for 2 more damage that way. To limit the number of 3+ mana cards in the deck, I only ran 3 Stoke the Flames. All Pro Tour Top 8 versions, however, had 4.
Mountain – The ideal number of lands in the main deck is either 20 or 21. With 21 lands, the probability of having a 7-card opening hand with 2 or 3 lands (which is ideal) is maximized, and that is why I chose that number. With 20 lands, on the other hand, the risk of flooding (which is one of the main ways to lose) is reduced, and if you have fewer than ten 3+ mana cards in the deck and no 4-drops in the sideboard, then that would be an acceptable number as well. Speaking of sideboards: I had the 22nd Mountain there, which I think is wise if you have three or more Chandra, Pyromaster or alternative 4-drops in the sideboard.
What cards are often included, but ultimately optional? First up, the 1-drop creature options besides Zurgo and Swiftspear.
Foundry Street Denizen – This used to be the best 1-drop due to its synergy with Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst, but as new cards from Magic Origins replaced those token producers, the power of Foundry Street Denizen dwindled. Right now, it will usually attack as a puny 1/1 on turn 3, which means that it’s not a great fit for the deck anymore. I didn’t play them, and neither did any of the Top 8 lists.
Goblin Glory Chaser – It’s great when renowned, but that still takes some work. The card is embarrassing against Ornithopter, Zurgo Bellstriker, and various other 2-toughness blockers. On the flip side, it’s the best of the alternatives when you’re on the play against a second-turn Satyr Wayfinder because it gains a second point of toughness in time. Overall, I view it as playable, but not great, and I didn’t include any copies. Among the Top 8 lists, only Pat Cox ran it, and as a singleton copy at that.
Firedrinker Satyr – Among the alternative 1-drop options, Firedrinker Satyr is the only one that naturally starts out with 2 points of power. It attacks well into a Sylvan Caryatid on turn two, and it’s the most efficient option around if you don’t care about your own life total. I liked it for those reasons and included 4 copies in my list at the Pro Tour. However, I didn’t expect Mono-Red to be as popular as it was. Moreover, I found myself on the receiving end of a painful Roast more than once over the course of the tournament. I still think Firedrinker Satyr has its place, and Joel Larsson had 3 copies in his winning deck list as well. However, looking at how the new Standard metagame is shaping up, I wouldn’t play 4 maindeck right now: I would replace, say, 2 or 3 of them with Lightning Berserker.
Lightning Berserker – It’s mana-intensive and not the most aggressive creature on turn one, which is why I didn’t include any copies in my main deck, but it can act as a Fireball with buyback in the late-game. I ran two in the sideboard, planning to swap them in for Searing Blood against UB Control. In that matchup, it’s a repetitive damage source that evades sorcery-speed sweepers, which is great. But it’s fine in general, and, as I mentioned, I would replace several Firedrinker Satyrs by Lightning Berserker going forward. Among the Top 8 lists, Larsson had 4 Berserkers maindeck, while Cox and Neal had 2 each.
Next up, two 1-cost spells.
Titan’s Strength – It can act as a Lightning Bolt when cast on an unblocked creature, it helps your creatures hit through Courser of Kruphix, the scry can be relevant, no one plays around it, and it’s a nice way to lower the curve. However, it’s terrible when your opponent has mana up for an instant-speed removal spell, and it’s typically a bad late-game topdeck. Patrick Cox ran one copy in his list, which I don’t hate, but I didn’t run any in my own.
Fiery Impulse – If you’re already maxed out on all the other burn spells, if you’re expecting a lot of 2-toughness creatures, and if you want to lower your mana curve, then Fiery Impulse is a mana-efficient removal spell that can clear the way for your attackers. The main downside is that it cannot go to the face, but it has its role, and Joel Larsson ran a singleton in his list. I didn’t run any because I wasn’t maxed out on the other burn spells.
Finally, the 3-drop creature options.
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh // Chandra, Roaring Flame – I was impressed with her during testing. If the opponent lacks a removal spell, then you can almost always flip her on your turn, either by attacking and playing a red card (possibly even a instant-speed burn spell on their only creature before blockers) or by playing two red cards. If that happens, Chandra has effectively dealt 5 damage for 3 mana while leaving you with a 5-loyalty planeswalker. That’s a great deal! You can even get an extra point of damage in by playing a red instant in response to the Chandra ping that would transform her. Chandra is at her best against decks that contain only a few removal spells (such as Green Devotion, Abzan Rally, or UR Ensoul) but she’s mediocre against decks with multiple copies of Wild Slash or Ultimate Price. Overall, I liked her, and ran 3 copies. (Not 4 due to the legendary rule.) In the Top 8, Stephen Neal also ran 2 Chandra, but Joel Larsson and Patrick Cox didn’t. I expect that they didn’t want to play any creatures that match up poorly against Wild Slash and Searing Blood, and I can respect that. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently happy with Chandra in other matchups.
Goblin Heelcutter – It’s a fine card especially against green decks with Courser of Kruphix, Siege Rhino, and Polukranos. However, in the new incarnation of Mono-Red, your plan for the midgame is mainly to point burn spells at your opponent instead of improving your board presence. So, Heelcutter is not as good as it used to be, and I preferred Chandra for the main deck. I did put 1 Heelcutter in my sideboard. In the Top 8, Joel Larsson had 0 Heelcutter in his 75, Stephen Neal had 1, and Patrick Cox had 3.
Goblin Rabblemaster – Rabblemaster is fragile, dies easily to Wild Slash, but will quickly overwhelm an opponent who stumbles. So far Rabblemaster is similar to Chandra. However, when you’re on the play, Chandra can transform before your opponent can cast Languish, and Chandra is much better than Rabblemaster when your opponent has a board full of blockers. Rabblemaster may be better than Chandra in a deck with Atarka’s Command or Foundry Street Denizen, but I favored the new 3-drop from Magic Origins and didn’t run any copies of the Goblin. None of the red decks in the Top 8 included Rabblemaster either.
Different Versions of Aggro Red
The burn-heavy strategy is not the only possible way to go with Mono-Red, although it was the one that I liked the most during testing and that had the best performance at the Pro Tour. The alternative options typically start with a token theme in Dragon Fodder, Hordeling Outburst, and/or Goblin Rabblemaster, which also means that you want to run Foundry Street Denizen in the 1-drop slot. From that starting point, you can either add Hall of Triumph and/or Atarka’s Command while retaining a fair amount of burn spells, or you can cut almost all burn spells to go all-in on Goblins, adding Frenzied Goblin, Goblin Glory Chaser, Subterranean Scout, Goblin Piledriver, and Obelisk of Urd.
Although Hordeling Outburst is admittedly pretty good in the mirror, I didn’t like those alternative versions for several reasons: First, Languish. The sweeper had found its way into the main deck of Blue/Black Control and Abzan Control, and I didn’t want to run a token strategy that was weak to the mass removal spell. Second, I felt the new toys from Magic Origins (Abbot of Keral Keep and Exquisite Firecraft) were too strong not to play, and it was too hard to cram those spells in the same deck as Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst. This only resulted in an unfocused deck or a bloated mana curve, and I felt I had to go with one or the other.
Possible Sideboard Cards
Besides certain cards that were mentioned above, here are the main sideboard options.
Roast – An excellent removal card against decks with 8+ combined copies of high-toughness ground blockers like Courser of Kruphix, Polukranos, and Siege Rhino. I ran 4, and so did Joel Larsson and Pat Cox in the Top 8. Stephen Neal had 2 in his sideboard.
Arc Lightning – Its main role is to clean up multiple tokens from Hordeling Outburst or Hangarback Walker. It can also generate sweet 2-for-1s against multiple early drops, so it’s fine (though unspectacular) in the pure mirror match. I ran 2, and so did Joel Larsson. Stephen Neal had 1, and Pat Cox had 0.
Scouring Sands – It’s a great answer to 1/1 tokens. But it’s unreliable in the pure mirror match, where most creatures have 2 toughness or prowess. For that reason, I didn’t include them, preferring Arc Lightning instead. Joel Larsson also had 0 Scouring Sands, but Pat Cox and Stephen Neal each had 2.
Twin Bolt – In the matchups where the Arc Lightning effect is good, I’d rather have the more impactful 3-mana option than the 2-mana option. Being able to kill an additional creature is valuable, after all. However, you have to watch the curve, so if for some reason you’d want a lot of this effect then you could run a mix between Twin Bolt and Arc Lightning. At the Pro Tour, none of the top-performing lists ran Twin Bolt in the sideboard.
Satyr Firedancer – This actually looks like a fine plan against creature-heavy decks with few instant-speed removal spells when you’re not also putting in Roast. I can see it as a plan, for instance, against Abzan Rally or Blue/Red Ensoul, especially when you’re on the draw and Eidolon of the Great Revel is not ideal. I lacked time to test them (as, due to work commitments, I only had a few days to prepare Standard, and when I arrived, the rest of team Cabin Crew was mostly locked on different decks that they had more experience with) so I didn’t end up including Satyr Firedancer. Neither did Pat Cox or Stephen Neal, but Joel Larsson had 3 copies in the sideboard, and I think it’s an angle worth exploring.
Magmatic Chasm – A good way to break through against Green Devotion decks that fill the board with Whisperwood Elemental and whatnot. However, I don’t think the current deck has enough creatures to abuse it, and I would play more Goblin Heelcutter before adding Magmatic Chasm. I didn’t play any, and neither did any of the Top 8 versions.
Harness by Force – It acts as a hard removal spell for Whisperwood Elemental and it’s sweet to take over a Dragonlord Atarka, but it suffers from the same problems as Magmatic Chasm. I didn’t play any, but Stephen Neal had 2 in his sideboard.
Rending Volley – This might be a consideration when a deck like Blue/White Heroic becomes popular, but I don’t think it is needed for the current metagame. I didn’t play any, and neither did any of the Top 8 versions.
Magma Spray – It’s similar to Fiery Impulse in that it’s an efficient 1-mana removal spell against decks with small creatures. Such an effect might even be better than Arc Lightning against Mono-Red decks without Hordeling Outburst, so if everyone starts playing the style of Mono-Red that dominated the Pro Tour, then I may switch to Magma Spray. So why Magma Spray over Fiery Impulse? A key reason is Hangarback Walker: because Magma Spray exiles, they don’t get the Thopters when it dies. I didn’t run any Magma Spray at the Pro Tour, and neither did Joel Larsson, but Stephen Neal had 1 in his sideboard and Pat Cox had 2. I like the idea.
Smash to Smithereens – No one played this, but then again no one really expected Blue/Red Ensoul to break out. I love me an Ornithopter and even spent a few hours building and testing the deck, but I was unable to zoom in on a convincing version of UR artifacts in time. I guess my testing against Abzan Charm and Languish didn’t really help convince me that Ensoul Artifact or Thopter Engineer were well-positioned. As it turns out, Blue/Red Ensoul is a real deck, and a good way to beat it is to smash their Ghostfire Blade enchanted with Ensoul Artifact to smithereens, dealing 3 damage to them in the process.
For the final slots in the sideboard, you need a number of “overlap” cards that can be boarded against both Blue/Black Control and the mirror match. You want to board out a lot of cards in those matchups (Searing Blood and Wild Slash against Blue/Black Control; Firedrinker Satyr and inefficient 3+ mana cards in the mirror match) and the only way to make the sideboard numbers work is to include several cards that can be brought in for both matchups.
Scab-Clan Berserker – It’s a 3-drop that survives Drown in Sorrow and damages the opponent for playing Languish, which is huge against Blue/Black Control. And in the mirror match, if the opponent ever taps out without a blocker, it will turn into a huge, unexpected threat. The card seemed good to me in theory, but when I tested them I was never able to trigger renown in the mirror match, and I didn’t end up including them. Neither did Joel Larsson or Stephen Neal, but Pat Cox ran 2 copies.
Mogis’s Warhound – I probably was the only player in the entire tournament who showed up with a singleton suicide dog. I was looking for a card that could come down on turn two to provide early pressure against Blue/Black Control while being able to sidestep the sweepers, and I arrived at Mogis’s Warhound. When bestowed, it triggers prowess, which is important in a deck with 8 prowess creatures. In the mirror match, the card is ordinary but at least better than Firedrinker Satyr. Finally, against decks that transform into an Arashin Cleric/Seismic Rupture shell after board, Mogis’s Marauder can help more than a random burn spell.
Molten Vortex – If the game goes really long, then Molten Vortex can turn excess lands into Shocks, which is a good way to survive a mana flood. However, two mana and two cards for one Shock is a terrible deal, and three mana and three cards for two Shocks is not great either. Molten Vortex doesn’t become good until you’ve discarded three lands, and with Abbot of Keral Keep and Lightning Berserker in the deck, you typically want to have 5 Mountains in play, which means that you need to draw 8 lands before Molten Vortex becomes impressive. Games don’t always last that long. I tried the card for a few games, but it didn’t perform well, and I didn’t include any in my final deck list. In the Top 8, only Stephen Neal had one copy in his sideboard.
Chandra, Pyromaster – This was my “overlap” package of choice. In the mirror match, you typically tick it up immediately (hopefully shooting down an Abbot of Keral Keep in the process) to get it out of Stoke the Flames range, and on subsequent turns you can tick it up in the hope of going ultimate, or just use the zero ability for free cards. Against Blue/Black Control, Chandra plays out in a similar way, and it attacks them from a different angle. I played 3 in the board along with the 22nd Mountain, and I was happy with them during the tournament. Stephen Neal had 0, Pat Cox had 1, and Joel Larsson had 2. Just keep the planeswalker legendary rule in mind—don’t try to transform Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh when you have Chandra, Pyromaster in play.
Outpost Siege – It’s like a Chandra that cannot get hit by Hero’s Downfall or an all-in Lightning Berserker swing, but it takes a full turn before it does something, and it lacks the punch that Chandra packs against Hordeling Outburst tokens or blockers like Tasigur. I preferred the planeswalker, and so did Joel Larsson, but Pat Cox and Stephen Neal respectively ran 1 and 2 copies of Outpost Siege in their sideboard.
Thunderbreak Regent – It’s relatively poor against a deck with Languish or Exquisite Firecraft, and it doesn’t fight from a substantially different angle like the card advantage 4-drops do. I didn’t play any, and neither did Joel Larsson and Pat Cox. However, Stephen Neal had 3 copies of the Dragon in his sideboard.
An Updated List
Taking into consideration my experience and the metagame developments at the Pro Tour, here is how I would play the deck right now:
This updated list doesn’t have Satyr Firedancer in the sideboard because I didn’t have time to test it, but I do recommend testing it if you are preparing for upcoming Grand Prix. You could also consider going back to Hordeling Outburst if you expect the new incarnation of Mono-Red to become a very large part of the metagame, but I haven’t gone that route yet.
The Best Cards Against You
The deck is beatable for sure, but players have to dedicate enough sideboard slots to it. Playing a creatureless deck to make Searing Blood a dead card is another good strategy.
I liked the Vancouver mulligan rule, but it’s currently unknown whether they will introduce it for all events. For now, I can provide some general guidelines that should hold under both the old and the new mulligan rule:
• If you have five or more lands, mulligan. Your deck doesn’t need that many lands, and you will get flooded. Four-land hands on the draw are prime mulligan candidates as well, especially if they don’t offer a good mana curve.
• If you have one land, you can consider keeping if you have 2-3 Zurgo, Monastery Swiftspear, or Firedrinker Satyr and a good remaining curve in case you hit the second Mountain in time. These hands become better when you’re on the draw, although they’re still quite risky.
• If you only have Mountains and burn spells, with no creatures, then you should usually mulligan. Although the deck can burn out the opponent from a high life total, you still need to get at least some early damage in with creatures. So toss the hand back in search of a repetitive damage source.
Matchup and Sideboard Guide
I have added favorability ratings for all the matchups, but these are based on the versions that I tested against. Things can change a lot depending on their specific versions and sideboard slots, so your results may vary. In particular, I expect players at upcoming tournaments to bring more sideboard slots against Mono-Red, which may hurt our chances.
I also have sideboard plans that are meant for the updated version of the deck that I listed above, but please take them as guidelines only. I often board slightly differently on the play and draw: for instance, I regularly take out the 21st land and Eidolon of the Great Revel on the draw, whereas I always want to keep enough early drops on the play. Moreover, things always change based on the opponent’s specific card choices.
Mono-Red Aggro (Even)
The pure mirror match is grindy. Creatures and burn spells trade with each other in the early game, and often it’s a game of attrition where eventually one player floods out and loses. For that reason, it’s important to latch on to every opportunity for card advantage, especially with Abbot of Keral Keep. Don’t play it on turn two if you can help it—it’ll just get burned anyway. Instead, wait until you have 2-3 Mountains in play so that you can play the free card and get some value. And if your opponent is still at a high life total, then don’t play it on an empty board either—wait until your opponent has a creature on the battlefield so that a potential burn spell on top of your deck can influence the board to provide card advantage. Basically, try to think of Abbot of Keral Keep as Flametongue Kavu in the mirror match.
The 4-damage burn spells are not the most efficient answers to opposing creatures, so we board out a mix. You can consider taking out a few Eidolon of the Great Revel on the draw as well.
When you have a planeswalker Chandra in play as your only nonland permanent and your opponent is holding a few cards but not doing much, then you may consider not playing any creatures at all. Playing a creature in such a situation would give them a target for Searing Blood that can additionally damage your planeswalker. Alternatively, burn your own creature in response to counter Searing Blood.
Because the matchup frequently comes down to drawing more nonland cards than your opponent, you may consider choosing to draw first. This is a strategy that harkens back to the ’90s, and it was implemented again at the Pro Tour. I like the idea, even if I’m still a bit hesitant because there are many situations where you’d prefer to be on the play. For instance, when you go 1-drop on turn 1 into double 1-drop on turn 2; when you have turn-2 Eidolon of the Great Revel; when your opponent has a turn-3 Scab-Clan Berserker; or when you have turn-4 Chandra, Pyromaster. A turn-4 Chandra on the play can often catch an Abbot of Keral Keep off-guard while being safe from a dashed Lightning Berserker attack, but these things generally don’t hold when you’re on the draw. So there are several scenarios where being on the play is better, but nevertheless the post-board games typically come down to attrition where opponents have more burn spells in their deck than you have creatures, so it’s probably correct to draw first. But it’s close.
Green/Red Devotion (Even)
Their creatures are big and come down relatively quickly, but they lack interaction, so you can beat them with a good curve followed by a flurry of burn spells. Although every game plays out differently, it’s often wise to burn their mana creatures and Courser of Kruphix early on, but give up once the 4-drops and 5-drops come out. Then, it’s usually time to switch gears and point your burn spells at their face rather than their creatures.
Blue/Red Ensoul (Slightly Unfavorable)
I lost to LSV in round 4 and that’s the extent of my experience with the matchup. Ensoul Artifact is very good against us, Hangarback Walker is a great blocker, and Stubborn Denial is a very efficient counter. Then again, Joel Larsson defeated Mike Sigrist in the finals, and a good mana curve with burn spells can still be hard for them to beat.
You are the aggressor in the matchup. You can’t realistically beat their tokens or fliers in the late game, so you have to try to win fast. After sideboard, I imagine that most of the time you’ll lose the race for sure if you hold back, so often you’ll have to overextend into Seismic Rupture and hope for the best.
Abzan Control (Even)
Hero’s Downfall trades at an inefficient mana point against red 1-drops, and Thoughtseize is embarrassing against us. Siege Rhino can still swing a game, though, and Courser of Kruphix is good as always.
After board, they typically gain Ultimate Price, Dromoka’s Command, and Arashin Cleric. And they tend to complement their maindeck Languish with extra Drown in Sorrow. With all those cards, they should have the edge after board, making the overall matchup close to even. If they skimp on sideboard slots, however, then the matchup gets favorable for us.
If you can play around their sweepers and still beat Courser and Rhino, then don’t overcommit. However, if by playing around a sweeper your board presence would be too weak to beat Courser or Rhino, then consider going all-in: dump all of your creatures on the board and hope they don’t have it.
Blue/Black Control (Favorable)
You’re much faster than them. Be quick, be hasty, and be merciless. If you have spell mastery and they try to counter Exquisite Firecraft with Dissolve, then that’s a legal play and the scry will happen, but they’ll still take 4.
Jeskai Tempo (Slightly Favorable)
They have too many taplands and their curve is often a bit too high, so you can get ’em with a good curve and burn your way to victory.
When they pass with 4 mana up, then take Ojutai’s Command into account. You may consider burning them at instant speed during their turn instead of playing a creature in such a situation.
Watch out for Arashin Cleric, Negate, and Anger of the Gods or Seismic Rupture after sideboard.
Abzan Rally (Favorable)
Game 1 is close to a bye. Their turn-5 combo is too slow, most versions lack enough early drops, and their mana base contains the painful Mana Confluence.
One thing to remember is that Searing Blood only has one target, so if your opponent sacrifices the targeted creature to Nantuko Husk in response, then they won’t take 3 damage. Try to get rid of Nantuko Husk with a different burn spell first.
Things improve for them after board, as they often add Arashin Cleric and Drown in Sorrow. However, with these additions only, they merely improve to around 50/50 post-board, so you’re still a heavy favorite to win the match.
That’s all I got for today. My flight back to the Netherlands is about to board, so it’s time to head home. I hope that you enjoyed this guide, and may Monsieur Abbot be forever on your side!