Standard is starting to open up. The old players of R/U/G Energy, B/G Energy, U/W Monument, U/R Control, and Zombies have stuck around, but they’re being met with some new challengers, the best of which is Mono-Red Aggro.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a mono-red deck in Standard, essentially dating back to PT Vancouver when Eidolon of the Great Revel was legal—that’s nearly two years ago. But the addition of Hour of Devastation has given us a few new aggro tools, pushing mono-red into the forefront of the metagame.
The biggest of these nonland additions has been Earthshaker Khenra. Earthshaker Khenra is a fabulous aggressive card—it’s a Goblin Shortcutter in many situations—but also shocks your opponent’s face. If you can pair it with various other can’t-block effects or removal spells, the Khenra can push 4 to 6 damage through easily. The doubling effect when you flood out—a 6-mana 4/4 haste—makes most creatures unable to block, which is especially important for an aggro deck.
Ramunap Ruins is one of the best things that Wizards could have realistically printed for the archetype. Giving the deck some damage from its mana base, similar to how the enemy color pairs get creaturelands, helps the deck achieve a level of reach we haven’t seen in years. You’re now not safe at 6-8 life without some form of life gain because mono-red can deal a full 20 damage just from their mana base thanks to the combination of the Ruins and Sunscorched Desert. This pressures white and black decks to include some number of lifelink creatures in their deck, as well as green decks to include cards like Arborback Stomper or Life Goes On.
What has changed to let mono-red emerge as a powerful archetype? The answer to this is in the lack of spot removal in decks. Because most decks for the last few months have been these grindy midrange decks with Rogue Refiners, Bygone Bishops, and Bristling Hydras, removal isn’t prevalent. Each of these threats grants you some form of card advantage or resilience. Thus, people have been cutting removal like Magma Spray and Fatal Pushes from their deck in favor of more cards that can grind into the mid- and late-game.
With less removal running around, this makes more expensive creatures not only playable, but a highlight staple. Cards like Ahn-Crop Crasher were already really pushed Magic cards, but when there’s a low risk of being killed by a Magma Spray at the beginning of combat, it gains that much more power. In addition to that, I’ve liked Cartouche of Zeal, which functions as a reprint of Hammerhand for this style of deck, pairing well with your 2-mana creatures and giving them haste. These hasted creatures with can’t-block effects make combat a living nightmare for the opponent, and push through so much damage—most opponents aren’t prepared for that just yet.
Here’s my current list, and I’ll discuss some of the differences between this deck and some of the other decks right now:
I’ve liked the Eldrazi Obligators so far, but they’re the worst threat in the deck. The 3/1 haste for 3 is not the most efficient body, but the ability to Act of Treason a blocker when you begin to flood out has been nice. This is likely my first card from the main deck to go (probably for an extra land and 2 copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance).
Why are you playing 0 copies of:
Trial of Zeal
I tried out Trial of Zeal, and it didn’t accomplish what I was looking for often enough. 3 mana for 3 damage is acceptable, as it gave the deck more reach, but the deck really wants more ways to clear the way of opposing blockers. The Trial + Cartouche combo also didn’t come up for me very frequently, but I imagine it’s really threatening when you’re on the other side of it.
These decks are great at pushing damage. You don’t need to diversify the size of your threats, but diversify the types of threats you have. If I wanted to add a new threat type, I’d add Aethersphere Harvester or Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and not play bigger creatures. I don’t want to give the enemy more time to adapt to my strategy. I’m an aggro deck at the end of the day, not a deck trying to disrupt the opponent’s strategy.
This card likely should be in the deck. Defiance is a much more powerful option relative to Trial of Zeal. It “Cuts” an enemy creature, “Lightning Bolts” the enemy’s face, and in a pinch can cycle a player’s hand. It also scales with your mana, and gives the deck even more reasons to run the 22nd mana source I’ve been wanting to add.
I’ll be back later this week to run the deck through a League on MTGO. After that, I will be on a 2-week hiatus for the Pro Tour!