Return of Red Deck Wins

The week 1 Standard results were all over the place. 12 of the Top 16 decks were different archetypes. I couldn’t imagine a more positive week 1 outcome to indicate that we might finally achieve the dream of a Standard format people will actually enjoy and have fun with.

Creating a balanced format is a tight-rope walk because if any given card or deck is too good it immediately begins to push other options out of the metagame. It’s possible that once the format becomes more refined on MTGO that certain options will be proven to be less effective, and thus not viable, but for now, lots of pieces remain in play.

Today I’m going to discuss one of the most iconic archetypes that has recently resurfaced in Standard: Red Deck Wins. RDW, Sligh, or whatever you want to call it, has existed ever since the creation of Standard in the mid-1990s.

The formula is simple: Play cheap and efficient threats, and burn spells to end the game quickly. It’s not exactly rocket science, but the basic premise of Red Deck Wins is approximately the formula for rocket fuel when it works, because the deck ends many games before the opponent can set up to execute their game plan by going underneath the opponent’s defenses and punishing slow strategies.

Red Deck Wins

Gereffi, 3rd Place at MTGO PTQ

Red Deck Wins performed well in the online PTQ, but didn’t put a blip on the radar at the IRL events. I decided that I wanted to test the list out on MTGO to see what the fuss was all about, and there will be a Red Deck Wins video coming out here on CFB in the near future.

My impression was that some of the cards were extremely strong, but I didn’t love the list overall:

These cards were great. Having lots of copies of cards like this was insane. I would say that this is the centerpiece of the deck.

The Desert lands felt like kind of a free roll in the the deck and a good source of late damage. I had a couple of games where it came up that my opponent would minus a Chandra to kill one of my creatures and I was able to finish the planeswalker off with Sunscorched Desert. So be sure to hold those Deserts back!

I didn’t care for these cards in the deck and boarded them out nearly every game. I’m not sure if I just didn’t get the right matchup for them to shine, but I wasn’t a fan.

I brought in Glorybringer basically every single game and was extremely impressed with it. Here is my current build of RDW after having played a few Leagues with the MTGO PTQ list.

Red Deck Wins

Brian DeMars

One of the big things that has been working for me is the sideboard plan of bringing in more Deserts alongside Sand Strangler to play a midrange game with my opponents.

Most people have been overloading on shock effects, which makes my plan of a bunch of 1-drops pretty easy to overcome. A bunch of 1-drops is only good when the opponent cannot interact with them. You want to be a little different after sideboard.

People also tend to leave in their cheap creatures against you, which makes the Strangler almost guaranteed to be a 2-for-1.

I want the flexibility to transform into a midrange red deck that is full of more powerful cards and effects. The extra lands don’t hurt a ton because eternalizing Earthshaker Khenra is one of the most powerful things the deck wants to do and is difficult with the land-light pre-board versions I’ve been seeing.

I’ve once again utilized the “Kyle Boggemes approach to mana” (take a good mana base and add a land to it) with the pre-sideboard version of the deck. It helps you curve out better and facilitates a couple of Glorybringers in the main deck, which I believe are well worth their spots in the main deck.

I think the deck is set on red sources and so I wanted to have my lands coming in be Deserts in order to turn on Sand Strangler, as well as be additional fodder for Ramunap Ruins. I tried out Endless Sands and have actually liked it a lot. The ability to periodically exile creatures that were going to die anyway and bring them all back on one big turn is a real threat.

I also like that there are a lot of enters-the-battlefield creatures to rebuy, as well as haste creatures post-sideboard. I think it is probably the best Desert option I wasn’t already playing.

One of the reasons I believe the Standard format looks so open and fun is that decks like Red Deck Wins have found a place in the metagame. The biggest problem with Standard over the past year (aside from having a handful of unfun and overpowered cards that needed to be banned) was that midrange grind-fest decks sort of pushed everything else out of the format.

It is nice that a linear aggro deck appears to be viable in Standard right now. I’m always happy to see one of the “all-time favorite” archetypes of Magic make a return for an encore performance.


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