I had high hopes for Mono-Red as a natural predator to the white aggro decks I talked about earlier this week. Unfortunately, the reality was that it felt like a bad white aggro variant, highly dependent on Hazoret or Goblin Chainwhirler to do the bulk of the work. It wasn’t really capable of going wide or taking advantage of that type of board, yet its cards weren’t strong enough to make a huge difference on their own.
This list is courtesy of _OVC_ who had the highest finish with Mono-Red in the Magic Online PTQ last weekend. This list is already somewhat trying to address the problems I ran into, slashing Hazoret and Shock, and focusing on bigger threats to battle through the midgame. Ahn-Crop Crasher is once again the go-to as a way to battle past Lyra Dawnbringer or huge 3-drops that can brick early attacks. Even with these changes, I’m just not sure it’ll be enough to make a huge difference.
I’ll give a common example in the Red versus U/W matchup—Red can’t pressure U/W Control enough to make them scared of playing turn-5 Teferi or Lyra, and it now has a minimum of eight main-deck ways (typically 10) to deal with Hazoret the Fervent. Taking away that crutch makes it even more difficult for the red deck to win games of Magic where it doesn’t snowball or crack a fat Bomat Courier. With a weak burn package, you can’t really beat a Torrential Gearhulk either—it’s Abrade or bust.
It would be one thing if this was only happening in post-board games, but even in game 1 where Lyra isn’t typically a factor, your cards do not line up well with the common builds of U/W Control. Seal Away was a huge boon for them, and the same goes for gaining an actual card advantage engine while your best planeswalker can no longer directly interact with theirs. Again, this wouldn’t be a big deal if your threats were… threatening, but they aren’t!
This carries over into aggro mirrors as well where your opponents are making a million tokens, maindecking Aethersphere Harvester, or jamming threats like Steel Leaf Champion. The angles where the red deck excel simply don’t exist in the current metagame. I chalk up a lot of the current success it’s enjoying to teeing off on Gift decks and still being one of the most consistent decks in Standard. I suspect that it’ll need to evolve in the next few weeks or it’ll fall by the wayside.
Let’s move onto another red aggro deck that I’ve run into a few times.
To my knowledge, Jim Davis was the first one to 5-0 a League with this deck and also bring it into any real spotlight, so I credit him with this. Here’s his recent write-up on it.
U/R Wizards Prowess, or whatever you want to call the deck, tilted me harder than any deck in Standard. It has been a long time since I’ve played a deck so incredibly “almost there” in the majority of its games. It was the worst record of any deck I’ve tried in Standard so far, and I doubt that’ll change anytime soon. The funny thing is that I don’t think the deck is bad. It may never be better than tier 2, but I think the deck has some potential.
My biggest issues came from a combination of bad luck, natural variance from the deck’s composition (Opt is no Ponder and Shock is no Lightning Bolt), and just being one good Wizard short. Fanatical Firebrand was basically worthless except on turn 1 or if your opponent was at 1 life, and in the first scenario it was still just a bad Shock. The secondary issue was simply running out of gas against removal-heavy opponents. Not having a sideboard didn’t help much, as you often wanted to only board in 3-4 cards max and your deck is extremely mana tight.
If I was going to bother running impact sideboard cards, Vance’s Blasting Cannons and Hazoret the Fervent would be my first options. Run a 21st land in the board if you want to bump your turn-4 percentages, but these cards are good on turn 6. Blasting Cannons in particular has a real chance of flipping, and can be the repeatable damage source you lack against slower decks.
Fight with Fire is the other no-brainer choice to beat Lyra unless you only want to rely on threaten effects. Negate felt mediocre and Spell Pierce countered the relevant spells nearly every single time it came up. Holding up U and attacking with a couple of prowess creatures into Settle the Wreckage is a great feeling. It is not uncommon to set up turns where you simply swing, Bolt, Shock, then counter their Settle the Wreckage for unforced lethal. I’d maximize Spell Pierce before playing any number of Negate.
16 red sources was simply not enough to consistently play Goblin Chainwhirler. Looking at the classic Karsten colored source article, you’re six sources shy of the recommended 22 and realistically you may be looking at turn 5/6 by the time you can cast it. I’d rather just run Blazing Volley to ensure I’m not hosed by pump effects. You can always cast it and it’s a prowess boost later in the game instead of a single ping.
The deck isn’t nearly as set in stone as players on Magic Online seem to think. The core of the deck I’d say is this:
At its heart, this is essentially a more complicated burn deck. You have to jump through hoops to maximize your damage and get that damage to connect with your opponent. While Opt and Riddleform are solid cards at doing that, they aren’t nearly as critical to the deck as actual burn spells or the prowess creatures.
The deck almost never wins when you don’t snowball early. Maybe you get stymied and everything after turn 3 is a slog, but you need to be able to force through critical damage or set up a turn-4 board where you turn everything sideways and cast a couple of spells. Opt isn’t necessarily any better than Warlord’s Fury at snowballing early and blue mana can be rough to come by early on. If you’re looking for a better midgame draw spell or flood mitigation spell, Chart a Course does the job.
Riddleform acts as a contrast to how the deck often wants to play the mid-/late-game, which is hoarding resources and trying to break through with a flurry of burn and prowess pumps on a key turn. It rewards sequencing your spells, but mitigates the burst potential of any of your creatures. On the flip side, a 3/3 flying attacker can easily net you 6-9 damage without risking the game against a removal spell. It also gives you better options in a race if you have to dole out a burn spell against a creature to shift the math in your favor.
Once you recognize that the point of the spells in the deck is to maximize damage, a whole lot of other options come to mind. While Invigorated Rampage is soft to removal, proactive decks can’t afford to take turns off to stop you. And if you can split the pump, then you’ve effectively gotten your money’s worth even if they kill one creature. If you accept that you’re soft to removal early and just want to maximize your 1-drops, Cartouche of Knowledge, Consuming Fervor and Arcane Flight all have different strengths.
I briefly tried a build with a mix of Consuming Fervor and Invigorated Rampage, and the number of turn-4 concessions was encouraging. Unfortunately, U/W quickly became the go-to and one thing these cards suck against is Seal Away. Still, having 2-3 of these type of damage spells to assist the burn wouldn’t be out of place because often you lose because you were 1-3 damage short.
Opt is likely just better than Chart a Course here, but playing both together doesn’t strike me as a bad idea, and I’m happy with the way you can churn through your deck. It certainly helps the land-heavy hands and acts as a bootleg Opt when you’re a mana short from the ideal three lands and want to sift. With that said, both are blue spells and that almost makes me want to max out Warlord’s Fury by default as a 1-mana activator I can jam early. Opt into Opt is actually pretty rough on the deck, whereas a mix or double Fury is easier cast.
Ultimately, the deck just wants another tool that isn’t available or at least hasn’t been found yet. At minimum, if the format slides back toward aggro with little interaction then life will be good, but if U/W and more removal is the norm moving forward, the deck has some serious challenges ahead. This is a deck to keep an eye on—it wouldn’t take much to become a scary meta choice.