It’s an exciting time in Standard, with Born of the Gods finally fully spoiled. Everyone is frantically trying to decide how the new cards will shake up the existing format and what that means for competitive events in the following months. This week in Playing with Fire we’re going to look at some of the spoiled red cards and how they might shape future iterations of red Sligh, then brainstorm what those decks may look like.
The Inspire Cards[draft]Felhide Spiritbinder
Our first new mechanic is inspire, which immediately appeals to me as a repetitive mana sink. Mana Sum Theory posits that the player that spends more mana throughout a game will typically win, so any cards that allow a red deck to make use of an otherwise wasted resource should be considered. Of course, inspire doesn’t freely let you activate these abilities, you need the creature to untap first, which generally will occur during your untap step (I will leave the more exotic avenues to the mad brewers among you). This means we need the creature to be attacking.[ccProd]Felhide Spiritbinder[/ccProd] provides an interesting conundrum, as it can only copy creatures other than itself, so on an empty board it is decidedly unimpressive, though it will substantially improve the quality of any subsequent top deck. With regard to opposing creatures, it will not be able to attack into many of the creatures that you would actually want to copy; so its real power is on display in board states where you are already ahead. Still, it could be strong against Mono-Black, where it may be able to provide a steady stream of fodder for [card]Desecration Demon[/card] and [card]Devour Flesh[/card], while itself surviving the new removal du jour, [card]Bile Blight[/card]. It’s certainly a card worth testing, and should be reevaluated as the metagame develops and new cards enter Standard. [ccProd]Satyr Nyx-Smith[/ccProd] is much more straightforward. The body is far too fragile to see maindeck play. It may have a home against UW Control decks, however, where it can quickly establish an overwhelming board presence by itself. Forcing your opponent to expend a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] in a 1-for-1 trade is always nice, and other answers may leave behind some number of tokens. It isn’t clear whether this Satyr is a better anti-control alternative than [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card] (it probably isn’t).
The Tribute Cards[draft]Flame-Wreathed Phoenix
Oracle of Bones
Fanatic of Xenagos[/draft]
Our second new mechanic, tribute, is a new take on the always controversial and hard to evaluate punisher mechanic. Cards such as these are misunderstood in two distinct ways:
• They give two good deals (too optimistic) or
• They give your opponent a choice which can never be a good thing (too pessimistic)
I don’t think either analysis is entirely accurate. The problem with the “two good deals” mindset is that often one of the two deals isn’t worth the mana and a card in the wrong situation, and your opponent gets to select that option (recall the great reign of [card]Vexing Devil[/card] in all formats). The key is to start by evaluating the card by the worst form. If that is not playable at all, then the card is not playable as your opponent will always select that option. However, even where both modes are good, your opponent will still select the option that’s best for them, so even when both modes are powerful, the card can still be unplayable (as was the fate of Vexing Devil).
Both halves of [ccProd]Flame-Wreathed Phoenix[/ccProd] are slightly undercosted at 2RR, so the first impression is that it’s a great deal. A 5/5 flyer for four is a huge body in red, especially with evasion—this is pretty much breaking new territory and a lot of decks will have big trouble dealing with such a flyer. The alternative, although smaller, can generate ongoing card advantage which is similarly problematic. This Phoenix would seem especially at home in a format where red and green decks are popular, as they will have tremendous difficulty removing it and it provides a quick clock. If the format remains relatively stable, either form would also be good against Mono-Blue.
The problem is that if your opponent can deal with a 5/5 then they will just give you that; if your opponent cannot deal with a 5/5, then you’ll get a 3/3 with almost no ability, since they didn’t plan on killing it anyway. Unfortunately, this makes the Phoenix very weak against Mono-Black Control and UWx control variants, which is really where you need the card to shine right now. I can see the card seeing play, especially if the format becomes more favorable for it.[ccProd]Oracle of Bones[/ccProd] is much less exciting on the surface. We have already seen from [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] that mana acceleration is extremely powerful in aggro decks, and while this free mana comes at both a less important point on the curve and with restrictions, there is still a great deal of potential. The biggest problem is that a 3/1 haste for 2RR is nowhere near Constructed playable and the free spell’s added value is reliant on having a spell in hand (you won’t always) and a worthwhile target (again, far from a given). Casting a [card]Shock[/card] or [card]Lightning Strike[/card] for free is nice, but at that point in the game unlikely to be backbreaking, so we need to consider what “big spells” this can enable.
The natural home would seem to be in the Rwb Burn deck that saw increased play toward the end of last season; accelerating out a [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card], [card]Undercity Plague[/card], or even a fused [card]Toil // Trouble[/card] would generate the sort of momentum swing that could validate the card. Right now, a 5/3 haste isn’t awful in the format, but it isn’t particularly exciting either, with all of the top decks being relatively well set up to deal with that body. For now, this is more of a brewer’s card, so be on the look out for any game-winning instants or sorceries that are printed while Oracle of Bones is legal. Caleb Durward joked to me that the card’s true home is in Modern to accelerate out [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card], and while I don’t see that being a deck, a similarly powerful effect in Standard might enable an entire archetype.
Alternatively, the problem with the “giving your opponent a choice is always bad” mindset is that it may be possible to engineer board states such that your opponent has no good choice. This occurs when the modes are sufficiently close in function and both complement the deck’s strategy. An example of a card that failed for a lack of cohesive purpose was [card]Browbeat[/card]—while 5 damage or draw 3 cards for 2R are both excellent choices, there are frequently board states where one option is substantially worse than the other as the two modes are so different.[ccProd]Fanatic of Xenagos[/ccProd] avoids this tension. In a red beatdown deck, either a 3/3 haste or a 4/4 for three is a good deal. While there would be board states where you would prefer a haste creature (the obvious being your opponent is at 4 or less life) or the bigger body (you need a creature to outclass your opponent’s board) either mode is good enough for Constructed, and they are sufficiently similar in a gold fish that the card should be playable. Gruul decks should be able to easily make use of either form, and this card, along with the new Xenagos, should breath life into that archetype (it is criminal that [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] doesn’t see Constructed play after all).
Akroan Conscriptor[draft]Akroan Conscriptor[/draft]
So far, the heroic mechanic has not really made a splash outside of Block Constructed (although that may be indicative of future Standards). The potential power ceiling of this card, with enough enablers, is extremely high. It isn’t hard to imagine magical christmasland scenarios where you steal two or three creatures and lethal your opponent after an innocuous untap. There are a lot of cheap enablers in red, blue, and green after all, but there isn’t quite a deck for this right now. The big problem is that the other red heroic creatures aren’t very good, and their costs force you toward an all-in style deck, where Conscriptor would cost too much. The natural fit would be a more midrange shell, so perhaps something is possible in RUG colors (blending the best enablers with some better creatures).
Satyr Firedancer[draft]Satyr Firedancer[/draft]
After a bit of thinking, I like this card a lot, against the right decks. This Satyr shines against removal-light creature decks (like Mono-Blue and White Weenie), but with its poor stats it just really isn’t playable elsewhere. I would be interested in sideboarding Satyr Firedancer for those matchups, but it’s possible that the traditional plan of more removal is just better, as without enough spells, Satyr Firedancer is extremely underwhelming.
Bolt of Keranos/Fated Conflagration/Searing Blood[draft]Bolt of Keranos
New removal spells are always exciting for red mages, although this is a mixed bag. [ccProd]Bolt of Keranos[/ccProd] might have seen play as an instant (it would have at least competed with [card]Annihilating Fire[/card]), as more burn-oriented red decks might not have minded slightly overpaying to run additional [card]Lightning Strike[/card]s, but as a sorcery it is very unimpressive, especially with [card]Searing Blood[/card] being spoiled to complement the already impressive array of legal burn.[ccProd]Searing Blood[/ccProd] is just obviously good, even very good. The top decks all present plenty of targets (even if it’s just going to let you [card]Lava Spike[/card] them at worst) and dealing 3 to an opponent offers substantially more immediate upside than [card]Magma Jet[/card]. The issue will always be whether or not the metagame allows for it to be in your main deck. Right now, I would be jamming 4 copies into any Mono-Red list I make, although I would need to reconsider in any list that splashes for off-color spells. If you’re tight on space, this should replace Magma Jet, not Lightning Strike. [ccProd]Fated Conflagration[/ccProd] is hard to evaluate. On one hand, the card is a maindeckable solution to many problem cards (anything x/4 or bigger that Mono-Red otherwise had to answer and planeswalkers). That’s very appealing, and at a more reasonable cost I would be very excited about this card. The problem is that it costs 4 mana, which is all the mana in the world as a red aggro deck. For non-burn spells to be playable (read the card again, it cannot target players) it needs to answer the problem at a cost less than the problem itself, allowing you exploit the mana efficiency and get further ahead on board. Aggro decks only have so much time to get in damage before they get shut out by superior cards and Fated Conflagration is too expensive to function in this capacity. That means it is more fitting in the sideboard, but I cannot think of an existing matchup where I would want to sideboard this in. There are cheaper answers to the huge creatures in GW and I don’t think a 4-mana removal spell that cannot kill a player is where I want to be against control decks right now (that may change if their sideboard strategy changes to include more creatures post-board). Fated Conflagration is probably a natural fit if there is an Izzet Control deck however.
Mogis, God of Slaughter[draft]Mogis, God of Slaughter[/draft]
Mogis is very interesting. Not only is the passive ability effectively one-sided in a suicide Rakdos deck, but Mogis himself hits very hard. In a more devotion oriented deck, it shouldn’t be too hard to get him moving, although it may be that Purphoros is just better (Purphoros can kill them much faster and can turn excess mana into damage). The alternative is to play Mogis as a weak [card]Sulfuric Vortex[/card] variant, but I cannot see the appeal. Spending a card for that effect is terrible against other aggro decks (where the effect will not be one-sided) so that leaves him in the sideboard against control decks, where I think Erobos is just a better option (much more valuable if they answer it and he improves the quality of your other aggressive cards).
Xenagos, God of Revels[draft]Xenagos, God of Revels[/draft]
The other new lesser red god is much easier to evaluate. Xenagos is great. The colors naturally lend themselves to making devotion, and they are aggressive enough that the potentially very large power boost (with haste) can be taken advantage of. The issue isn’t whether or not Xenagos is playable, but whether there is a deck that wants him. For example, it isn’t clear whether a Gruul Aggro deck would prefer to run a playset of [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card] first, and there is only so much room at that point on the curve. The other natural home is in GR Monsters, but that deck has been cutting Nylea, so it might not want Xenagos either.
Looking Toward the Future
Taking in the spoilers as a whole, the best cards in this set are boring, black removal. [card]Bile Blight[/card] unfairly punishes creature decks, destroying the sort of opening you need to actually compete with Mono-Black. Otherwise, existing archetypes didn’t get much, though White Weenie should be more playable now. Traditional mono-red decks didn’t get anything to reinvigorate their presence in the format, so if anything have become comparatively more poorly positioned.
Hope is not lost however. The mana got better in Rakdos colors, opening up many new opportunities. A PyroRed deck splashing black for Terrors and [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is appealing—Terror effects give red a powerful response to otherwise problematic creatures and discard helps fight control. Rakdos devotion may be a thing, a Nykthos powered [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] sounds glorious. Gruul got some exciting new cards that may help push that deck to playability.
So what do the readers think? How do you think red aggro fares under Born of the Gods? What brews do you have? Please feel free to share them in the comments. Until next time.