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Rule of Law – At the Drawing Board with RDW

What will Red Deck Wins (“RDW” for short, and I have no interest in arguing about the finer points of which mono-red deck is technically named what) look in the world after [card]Goblin Guide[/card], [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], and [card]Squadron Hawk[/card]? It’ll be a challenge to make the deck work, but young formats (under-innovated and under-tuned) are a good place for a proven strategy to shine. Unfortunately, [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] isn’t rotating. We’ll need to keep that card and a few other key cards ([card]Birthing Pod[/card], [card]Spellskite[/card], [card]Tempered Steel[/card]) in mind as we build. Why am I interested in trying RDW? Well, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Block constructed is a kind of starting point for the new format. In reality the starting point is some imaginary place between old standard and the prior block constructed format. We don’t have decklists or results from the theoretical starting point. We’ve lost a lot of powerful cards in red, so we’ll have lots of spots to fill, and Innistrad will need to provide a lot of the punch since mono red was bad in Scars block constructed.

So we better look at the RDW cards Innistrad offers us:

[draft]Bloodcrazed Neonate[/draft]

Even if you really like redheads, I’d stay away. If you think that sentence is sexist, you’re being heteronormative. Sorry, I’ve been reading too many letters to hypothetical children lately. Getting back to Bloodcrazed Neonazi, it’s just not big enough when it first hits play. Hitting 3 times deals 9 damage, which is the same as [card]Stormblood Berserker[/card]. You lose the drawback “Bloodthirst,” but you also lose the [card]Goblin War Drums[/card] ability and more than 1 toughness on average. The Neonate is abysmal against [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], since 1 token kills it on its first attack, and 2 tokens kills it on its second attack. I think [card]Stormblood Berserker[/card] is just a better card. If it hits three times they’re probably just dead anyway, and it’s more likely to hit.

[draft]Brimstone Volley[/draft]

2R for 5 damage is a big game. The Theory of Fire holds, roughly, that 2R for 4 damage is a “Divination” of sorts, and is a “fair” deal. 2.5 cards worth of burn is a significant improvement where the goal of the game is to get to 10 pseudo-cards (20 damage). If all that sounded like mere abstraction, complain to Mike Flores, but I think it can be kinda helpful. So how often is it 5 damage? Well, some of the time you’ll be killing a creature with toughness 3 or less, or an opponent at 3 life or less, so it won’t matter. The utility of the “backup plan” is important. Anyone who’s played [card]Searing Blaze[/card], which is easier to turn on than [card]Brimstone Volley[/card], knows that sometimes you just have to take your 1 and 1 instead of 3 and 3, but sometimes that’s good enough. Here, as long as our deck contains a bunch of creature cards, and 4 of those creature cards are [card]Furnace Scamp[/card], we can expect to deal 5 damage a reasonable amount of the time. If you have a dude of any kind out, the opponent is going to block it even if you show them your Volley. What’s the alternative; take the damage from the attack to save a life or two on the burn spell? Turn 1 [card]Furnace Scamp[/card], turn 3 sac it [card brimstone volley]Volley[/card] your dome, adds up to 10 damage. That’s if you do nothing on turn 2. Not bad for 2 cards that work without each other. Turn this thing on with a [card]Goblin Grenade[/card] and things get spicy real fast.

[draft]Bump in the Night[/draft]

This is a black card. That might be a problem. [card]Lava Spike[/card] was good only in the purest burn decks, it’s too inflexible elsewhere. That said, the flashback adds a lot of value to a “pure burn” spell like this. It doesn’t play well with [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] or [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card], which kind of sucks. I won’t be trying to work this into first drafts, but I’m going to keep it in mind if I want to splash black for other reasons or if “pure burn” feels like the place to be (unlikely).

[draft]Charmbreaker Devils[/draft]

“That’s a huge [card]Kiln Fiend[/card]!” –Duce Bigelow (paraphrase). I’d like to have this card in play, and I’d like to have a Ferrari in my garage. Too expensive (I can’t even afford a garage, and RDW can’t even afford a 5 drop).

[draft]Curse of the Pierced Heart[/draft]

It’s a really hard to kill [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card] than costs 2 and doesn’t turn on Bloodthirst. If you get a lot of this type of effect it becomes hard to interact with your deck or win a long game against your deck. You’re tradeoff, however, is twofold: you become worse at interacting as well (this thing can’t target a creature), and you are slower than a deck with all “one-shot” burn spells, since this thing takes 3 turns to equal an [card]Incinerate[/card]. On balance, you just don’t have a fast enough clock when you’re hoping to ping them out.

[draft]Desperate Ravings[/draft]

It makes us splash blue, but Innistrad gives us 2 lands to do that, the U/R Dual, and [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card]. The reward is a better version of [card]Think Twice[/card]. It isn’t better than [card]Think Twice[/card] for every deck, across the board, but for a deck that wants to dig to burn spells and get rid of extra lands, it is better. So it’s good, but it’s also slow. Too slow to justify adding blue for it.

[draft]Devil’s Play[/draft]

A nice X Spell. It competes with [card]Red Sun’s Zenith[/card], and I think it wins the head-to-head comparison. We’re not too concerned with recursion stuff like the 1UU 5/6 flyer because our hope is to deprive the opponent of time to get those engines going. That makes the upside on Zenith rather limited. Shuffling in matters, but not nearly as much as a flashback source of X, letting every draw step bring you at least 1 damage in the mid to late game. I’m not sure we want an X spell, but this card is exciting enough to make me take a second look. X spells in general get better as you become more of a control deck and less of an aggro deck, and this one scales even more as you slow down your deck. Grinding someone out (having more “do something” effects than they do over a long game) with these is very possible.

[draft]Falkenrath Marauders[/draft]

I think this card is worse than Demigod by a fair margin, and I think you need a card to be about where Demigod was to be playable as a 5-drop in mono red. It’s an attractive play for the turn they tapout to [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], but it just costs too much to consistently play that role.

[draft]Furor of the Bitten[/draft] [card]Giant Strength[/card] was part of the early success of red decks, but that was a while ago. [card]Rancor[/card] was good, but that was both a while ago and was a much better card. Not good enough.

[draft]Geistflame[/draft]

This is partly a [card]Curse of the Pierced Heart[/card] problem, in that it churns out direct damage at a very slow rate. The problem it doesn’t have is with interaction. It’s quite good at killing opposing early drops. Stuff like [card]Vault Skirge[/card] and [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] need to be dealt with, and [card]Geistflame[/card] does the job. So is it better than a [card]Shock[/card]? Or an [card]Arc Trail[/card]? I think it isn’t. Getting the second damage on the back end is pricy. [card]Firebolt[/card] was much “meatier” in that you got a full card’s value out of it when you cast it for R, and then the flashback was a bonus. This card must be flashed back before you get less than what [card]Arc Trail[/card] already gives you.

[draft]Heretic’s Punishment[/draft]

An interesting finisher for a slow deck. Too expensive for our purposes (and requires other expensive stuff to churn out), but a cool card.

[draft]Kruin Outlaw[/draft]

Hmm. Well, we’ve gotta figure out how often these guys will be transformed. I honestly don’t know, and I won’t pretend I do without playing them in whatever format I’m discussing. My instinct is that a 3-drop doesn’t give the opponent much of a window to “stumble out of the gate” and transform the guy, like it does with a one-drop (I’ll discuss this more in the next card). On turn three the opponent better be ready to cast a spell, otherwise any 3-drop creature is going to kill them. When you skip a main phase of spell casting to flip it, to burn them end step, now you’ve invested a lot of time into your guy, missed an attack step, and they might be able to flip it back if they can’t kill it. It’s a little tricky and not at all clear how often it’ll be transformed, but for this particular card, I think the answer will be “not often enough.”

[draft]Reckless Waif[/draft]

A 3/2 for 1 is a great deal, and with this transform guy all the opponent has to do is play an enter the battlefield tapped land or hold up mana for [card]Mana Leak[/card] and we’re turned on like Owen Turtenwald at a lumberjack convention. Competition at the 1-drop spot isn’t the top contender [card]Grim Lavancer[/card], since we likely need more than four 1-drops. [card]Furnace Scamp[/card], [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card], [card]Signal Pest[/card], [card]Spikeshot Elder[/card], etc. are the competition. I think [card]Reckless Waif[/card] might be better than these. I don’t know yet for sure, so if I had to play a tournament tomorrow I’d run the Waif alongside the Lavamancer and perhaps others as well.

[draft]Stromkirk Noble[/draft]

Just when we thought we had an idea about the state of the 1-drops, another one appears. I like the look of this guy. [card]Slith Firewalker[/card] is the obvious comparison, and that red dervish was good in its day. -1 mana and no haste is a fair tradeoff. Can’t be blocked by humans is difficult to value, except to say it isn’t a lot of value, but sure to come up at some point (like when they play [card]Blade Splicer[/card]; if you kill the token the splicer can’t block, and your guy grows). Revising our very preliminary list, we have [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], [card]Reckless Waif[/card], [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card], [card]Furnace Scamp[/card], [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card]. Fireslinger does goes up in value if we play [card stormblood berserker]Stormfront Berserker[/card]. It could be hard to turn on Bloodthirst if all your creatures encourage the opponent to block and trade.

[draft]Traitorous Blood[/draft]

An improvement to [card]Act of Treason[/card], and since [card]Splinter Twin[/card] is gone, the upside of [card]Act of Aggression[/card] is somewhat diminished. Not exciting stuff, but will see play if Titans still rule the world.

[draft]Runechanter’s Pike[/draft]

Here’s a way to get some of that [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] action back. The problem is that a deck with a bunch of burn doesn’t have a bunch of bodies. It amounts to a poor man’s [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card].

[draft]Stensia Bloodhall[/draft]

2 per turn is a ton of land damage. [card]Rath’s Edge[/card] was playable at 1 damage. The reason that damage is so valuable compared to a spell is that you aren’t costing yourself a spell slot and it’s repeatable. I really want to try this card out. It’s a reason to play black, which lets us play [card]Bump in the Night[/card] as well. That’s a lot of reach. Oh, and [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] is no longer with us, R.I.P.

Now that we’ve seen what the new set offers, and it’s time to brew.

16 1-drops

[deck]4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Reckless Waif
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Goblin Fireslinger
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Hero of Oxid Ridge
4 Arc Trail
4 Incinerate
2 Dismember
2 Devil’s Play
20 Mountain
4 Contested War Zone[/deck] [card]Arc Trail[/card] is a card I think I’m going to want early and often in a field full of [card]Birthing Pod[/card] and [card]Tempered Steel[/card] and [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] and [card]Spellskite[/card].

RbDeckWins

[deck]4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Reckless Waif
4 Stromkirk Noble
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Devil’s Play
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
4 Galvanic Blast
4 Incinerate
4 Arc Trail
3 Stensia Bloodhall
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
3 Dragonskull Summit
15 Mountain[/deck]

Volleyball

[deck]4 Goblin Fireslinger
4 Spikeshot Elder
3 Goblin Arsonist
4 Goblin Wardriver
3 Goblin Chieftain
3 Hero of Oxid Ridge
4 Brimstone Volley
4 Goblin Grenade
4 Arc Trail
4 Shock
4 Contested War Zone
19 Mountain[/deck]

It’s too early in the metagame to really know where to go with a sideboard. The obvious candidates are [card]Manic Vandal[/card], extra copies of [card hero of oxid ridge]Hero[/card], [card]Dismember[/card]s, [card]Vulshok Refugee[/card], [card]Traitorous Blood[/card], [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card], etc. There will be plenty of room to be creative as the metagame fleshes out a bit. [card]Devil’s Play[/card] and [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card] present a late game package that could perhaps be sideboarded if it isn’t maindecked. [card]Silver-Inlaid Dagger[/card] could appear in a sideboard or an episode of Pawn Stars. [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] is Human, and otherwise it’s just a [card]Darksteel Axe[/card] which is good vs. [card]Day of Judgment[/card] types. That’s just an example of possible creative sideboarding.

I hope you give RDW a shot in some form, and let me know how it’s going on twitter @mtg_law_etc.

-Matt Sperling

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