If you have been watching my stream or the MPL weekly play, you probably know that I’ve been very much enjoying playing the current Standard format. With 10 shocklands and Interplanar Beacon, the deck building possibilities are essentially endless. This month I played a little bit of everything: 4c Dreadhorde, Jeskai Planeswalkers, U/G Manipulation, and Ken Yukuhiro’s Bant Aggro are four different decks I used to climb the Arena ladder, getting to #2 with each of them. I couldn’t quite crack #1 though, until I went back to Mono-Red. I’m currently on a 19-match win streak with it and I am here to tell you why red is so well positioned in the metagame right now.

The MTG Arena victory screen.

In this last game, my opponent resolved Oath of Kaya, Kaya herself, and two Enter The God-Eternals. In addition to that, they connected three or four times with Thief of Sanity, stole my Rekindling Phoenix, and Time Wiped my full board of creatures during my turn with little Teferi in play.

That’s a lot of card advantage and life gain. But you know what can easily keep up with that?

Chandra, Fire Artisan and Experimental Frenzy.

Chandra, Fire ArtisanExperimental Frenzy

These two cards are almost unbeatable for some decks, and the reason why red is so good right now. Imagine you’re playing Grixis Control and your opponent resolves Experimental Frenzy. Good luck trying to keep up with them playing five cards a turn. This deck attacks from so many angles. It’s hard to have answers for all of them without making your deck bad against the rest of the format, which currently revolves mostly around planeswalkers, to the point where people play main deck Elderspell.

Furthermore, your own deck has answers to everything people are trying to throw at you. Wildgrowth Walker? No problem, we can kill that with Lightning Strike, Lava Coil, or Wizard’s Lightning.

Life gain? Enter Tibalt, Rakish Instigator. This card is extremely good especially against control, which has a really hard time getting it off the battlefield.

Sweepers? Let me just untap and play Experimental Frenzy.

It’s easy to see this deck as a stupid aggro deck, but it’s so much more than that. You are basically aggro only in game 1, and then you board into big red, essentially countering your opponent’s sideboard strategy most of the time.

The sideboard cards people tend to bring in against you are Moment of Craving, Cry of the Carnarium, Settle the Wreckage, Enter the God-Eternals, Hostage Taker, Lyra, etc. None of these cards interact with Experimental Frenzy or Chandra, Fire Artisan. This kind of strategy makes them survive longer, but they eventually lose anyway.

A lot of people think Mono-Red is easy to play. This is true on a basic level, but it’s really hard to play this deck 100% correctly—the level required to win a tournament. You have so many decisions every single turn, starting from turn 1 when you have to decide between Ghitu Lavarunner and Fanatical Firebrand. You need to know when it’s correct to hold Light Up the Stage. You need to know the Experimental Frenzy math, a.k.a. should I play my land before I play Frenzy or not? I suggest you go check Frank Karsten’s articles on this topic. I believe the correct play is to play your land from your hand before playing Frenzy if you have 6 or fewer lands in play. After that, play Frenzy first. This changes with how many lands you have in play or which card you specifically need to hit from the top.

But most importantly, you need to know how to sideboard in this format, which might actually be the most important skill in Standard.

Mono-Red

20 Mountain
4 Fanatical Firebrand
4 Goblin Chainwhirler
4 Runaway Steam-Kin
4 Ghitu Lavarunner
4 Viashino Pyromancer
4 Shock
4 Light Up the Stage
3 Wizard's Lightning
4 Lightning Strike
3 Experimental Frenzy
2 Chandra, Fire Artisan

Sideboard
4 Lava Coil
3 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
2 Rekindling Phoenix
2 Dire Fleet Daredevil
1 Experimental Frenzy
3 Legion Warboss

Card Choices

20 Lands: When I first started playing the deck, I had 21 lands and two more in the sideboard. I thought you needed more to help cast the 4-drops. But between Steam-Kin and Light Up the Stage, you can easily get by with 20 and I would not play more. You also don’t need to play your 4-drop on turn 4. You can easily operate on 2-3 lands and you can’t afford to get flooded. Don’t play any colorless lands, though. You need to be able to cast Goblin Chainwhirler when you have 3 lands.

3 Frenzy, 2 Chandra: A lot of people keep saying that Frenzy is better than Chandra and I don’t disagree with them, but I would much rather draw one of each than two Frenzy. Chandra is better against cards like Mortify, Knight of Autumn, and Vivien Reid. Frenzy is better against Vraska’s Contempt and in the mirror.

Having both Frenzy and Chandra gives you more options. A lot of the time you don’t even want to play Frenzy on 4 because you still have cards in hand, but Chandra is perfect. Also, having both of them in play works really well and prevents those situations where you hit two lands in a row and can’t do anything for an entire turn. I also frequently blow up my own Frenzy to be able to play the cards that I stockpiled in my hand. It’s much harder to do that when you have multiple copies in play. Frenzy is a little stronger than Chandra, but I’d much rather draw one of each and have more options.

Side note on Chandra, Fire Artisan—Chandra is great. She’s very good against aggressive decks because if they want to attack it, it essentially works like Sleep + Lava Axe, making it easier for you to attack them back and finish them off with burn. Her ultimate ability means removing 7 loyalty counters for 7 damage and giving you 7 cards to work with, which is usually game over. It’s a lot of fun, especially when you have a Steam-Kin in play. It does work poorly against Gruul Spellbreaker since it gives your opponent hexproof, so when they attack your Chandra, you have to target something, and the only legal target is usually your own Chandra, so you have to kill it yourself in this situation.

3 Wizard’s Lightning, 0 Skewer the Critics: For a long time, I played two and two, and the reason was that neither was much better than the other and I’d much rather draw one of each to give myself more options, rather than risk having two copies of a card I can’t use very well. Right now, I believe Wizard’s Lightning is much better and because you need to be able to kill Wildgrowth Walker at instant speed.

The main deck 60 works like a well-oiled machine and in game 1, you are trying to goldfish and kill your opponent as quickly as possible. Other versions play 3-4 copies of Frenzy/Chandra, but I think it’s better to have five right now because most of the decks in the format don’t have a good answer for them.

3 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator: As I already mentioned, this card is excellent against decks like Esper, both control and midrange. They tend to bring in cards like Enter the God-Eternals, Moment of Craving, and have cards like Absorb, Sorin, and Lyra. If Tibalt was an enchantment with the static ability it wouldn’t be playable, but the fact that he also helps you get on board with two Devil tokens makes it a perfectly reasonable threat. It’s also good against certain decks with Wildgrowth Walker, but not necessarily all of them. I tend to bring it in against decks like Sultai that also have Hydroid Krasis, but I’m not sure if it’s correct to bring it in against the 4-color Dreadhorde deck, for example, because the token usually gets eaten by Teferi, Time Raveler and they have answers like Vraska, Golgari Queen.

2 Dire Fleet Daredevil: This card is excellent against decks with Thought Erasure and creature decks with Lava Coil, Lightning Strike and Shock. I’d always bring it in against Esper Control, Esper Midrange, and Grixis Control, where your usual targets are Thought Erasure, Duress, Vraska’s Contempt, Mortify, and Enter The God-Eternals (the post-board games go long—it’s not unusual to do this at 7 mana). You also bring it in against decks like U/R Phoenix and the mirror, where it’s usually an attrition battle, and getting a 2-for-1 is a good way to get ahead. Against Phoenix, it’s also important that it gives you more ways to get rid of a 4-toughness Crackling Drake, as they very often have a Lava Coil in the graveyard. It’s also not irrelevant that you exile the card from their graveyard, making Finale of Promise or Search for Azcanta a little worse.

1 Experimental Frenzy: I want to have access to another grindy 4-drop after sideboard and I think Frenzy is currently a little better, but having a third Chandra instead also isn’t unreasonable. Frenzy is better in the mirror and against Jeskai, so I’m currently leaning toward four copies in your 75.

3 Legion Warboss: I used to not play Warboss, but recently put it back in my sideboard. Control decks were bringing in Cry of the Carnarium anyway, so it wasn’t as good against them as you would hope for. And it’s also only fine against U/G Nexus, which is another matchup where it looks like it would be much better than that. The reason for that is because they have four Root Snare. You already have a lot of creatures and it’s not hard to play a 1-, 2-, and 3-drop with what you already have in the main deck. After that, they are usually forced to Fog every turn, so adding another creature to the battlefield doesn’t really get you anywhere and I’d much rather start throwing burn spells at them at this point. I think this card should be good against the Esper and Jeskai planeswalker decks that are currently taking over Standard, despite them having a lot of answers for it. This is the card I’m least convinced about, but there aren’t really any other cards I would like to have in my sideboard at the moment instead.

4 Lava Coil: Important removal to get rid of high toughness creatures like Wildgrowth Walker, Crackling Drake, Growth-Chamber Guardian, Gruul Spellbreaker, and Rekindling Phoenix. It’s also super relevant that the creature gets exiled, making it much harder for your 4-color Dreadhorde opponent to get back a lot of Wildgrowth Walkers and explore creatures together.

2 Rekindling Phoenix: This card got much worse in a world of Teferi, Time Raveler, but I still like it against decks with either little removal for it or decks that don’t play Teferi or Lava Coil. I bring it in against Sultai, White Weenie, and Esper decks.

Cards I Am Not Playing

Risk Factor: This card is currently bad for multiple reasons. Narset’s static ability makes you unable to draw more than one card a turn. Interplanar Beacon is becoming a four-of in more and more decks. There is more life gain like Enter the God-Eternals and Wildgrowth Walker. You do have Tibalt to stop that, but the problem is that both cards compete for the 3-drop slot and you can only really afford to play one. I’d much rather have Tibalt and stop them from gaining life than try to keep up with it by throwing Risk Factors at them.

Banefire: Same reason as above. I used to like Banefire as a one- or two-of, but with so much life gain in the format and so many expensive cards in your deck already, there is just no room for it.

Some Tips and Tricks

  • When given the choice, I usually lead with Fanatical Firebrand over Ghitu Lavarunner. You get in for 1 immediately and Lavarunner ends up having haste later in the game, adding up to more damage overall. The only difference are 1-landers when I know I’m going to need to connect on turn 2 and play Light Up the Stage. In that case it’s better to play Lavarunner first because it has a higher chance of being able to attack for damage through potential Llanowar Elves or Firebrands from your opponent. Having to sacrifice Firebrand on your turn 2 to enable Light Up the Stage is not a play you want to make.
  • As I mentioned before, when you are about to play Experimental Frenzy, it’s usually better to first play your land from your hand, unless you already have 7 lands in play.
  • If you have both Frenzy and Chandra in play, always try to use your land drop from the top of your library. When you hit a second land, use Chandra’s +1 ability to get deeper into your deck.
  • If you have the option to ultimate Chandra or wait one more turn, unless they are at some super high life total, it’s better to do it right away.
  • Keep in mind that you can use Viashino Pyromancer’s ability to deal 2 damage to planeswalkers. It’s extremely relevant right now.
  • When presented the option in the early game to finish off a planeswalker like Teferi, Time Raveler, Vraska, Golgari Queen, or Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, you should usually do it unless you are setting up lethal for next turn. There are certainly spots where “face is the place,” but as a rule of thumb, if you aren’t killing them, it’s better to finish off the planeswalkers.
  • Always play out your lands and don’t keep them in your hand to bluff. It’s important that you do this because you have both Experimental Frenzy and Light Up the Stage in your deck, both of which enable casting multiple cards out of an empty hand next turn. Imagine a situation where you have five Mountains in play and one more in hand. You don’t play it and pass the turn, intending to bluff a burn spell. Next turn you draw Light Up the Stage and play it for 3 mana, leaving you with two open and revealing Chandra and a Mountain off the top. You can only play one of your lands and pass. If you played your land last turn and left yourself empty-handed, you would have been able to play the 7th land and cast Chandra right away. These kind of situations can very easily mean the difference between winning and losing.
  • Especially in post-board games where you make your curve higher, you should consider not playing Light Up the Stage on turn 2 unless you really need a land. You don’t want to reveal a Frenzy that you won’t be able to play. It’s usually better to wait for a later turn.
  • If you are trying to beat this deck, the best way to do it is with 5-toughness creatures that also pressure the opponent. Cards like God-Eternal Kefnet or Lyra are perfect examples. Don’t try to fight them with cheap removal. You need to make it harder for them to kill your creatures and have a plan for Frenzy or Chandra.
  • If you are playing Esper against Mono-Red and you are casting Enter the God-Eternals, you should always mill yourself. First of all, the midrange Esper variant is playing Sorin, so you want as many targets in your graveyard as possible and secondly, you can end up milling their Risk Factor.
  • It doesn’t happen very often, but there are spots where I would consider not playing a creature against a U/B/x opponent holding a lot of cards while low on life. It’s pretty likely they are just waiting for you to play a creature so that they can use Enter the God-Eternals and gain some life back. Also keep in mind that if you kill your own creature in response, they will not gain the life. They will get the 4/4 anyway, but sometimes it’s better to trade a shock on your guy in response for those 4 life that they would gain instead.

And now it’s finally time for why you’re here: the sideboard guide!

Sideboard Guide

Esper Control

Out

Wizard's LightningWizard's LightningWizard's LightningGoblin ChainwhirlerGoblin ChainwhirlerShockShockShockShockLightning StrikeLightning Strike

In

Dire Fleet DaredevilDire Fleet DaredevilLegion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion WarbossTibalt, Rakish InstigatorTibalt, Rakish InstigatorTibalt, Rakish InstigatorExperimental FrenzyRekindling PhoenixRekindling Phoenix

I consider the Esper Control we knew from the previous format essentially dead now. Teferi, Time Raveler makes counterspells almost unplayable. Narset makes Chemister’s Insight look equally as bad. In general, playing a lot of answers in this format full of planeswalkers that generate immediate value is just not a good idea. Your goal is pretty simple. Play your creatures, attack with them, and burn your opponent out. Try to not play into their Absorb and make them waste mana when you can. You don’t need to overextend into Kaya’s Wrath. Having two creatures in play is usually enough. They have a really hard time beating a resolved Frenzy or Chandra. I like keeping in some Lightning Strikes to hedge for Hostage Taker. If you know they have them, it’s perfectly fine to have more. Your next weakest card is Fanatical Firebrand.

Esper Midrange

Out

Fanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandWizard's LightningWizard's LightningShock

In

Experimental FrenzyRekindling PhoenixRekindling PhoenixTibalt, Rakish InstigatorTibalt, Rakish InstigatorDire Fleet DaredevilDire Fleet Daredevil

Sideboarding here varies, depending on what exactly is your opponent playing. If you see Seraph of the Scales, then you want to bring in Lava Coils. People have been keeping Thief of Sanity against me, so I like to keep my Shocks in general, but if you know they take them out, then it’s completely reasonable to take out more Shocks to make room for something else, especially on the play, as they don’t really kill anything other than a Hero anyway. If you know they have a lot of Enter the God-Eternals, then bring in the third Tibalt. I used to side out Viashino Pyromancer because I was afraid of tokens from Hero of Precinct One, but all the removal and Goblin Chainwhirler means they rarely get any to block with. Pyromancer being able to finish off their planeswalkers is very relevant here too.

Mirror

Out

Fanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandViashino PyromancerViashino PyromancerViashino PyromancerViashino PyromancerWizard's LightningWizard's Lightning

In

Dire Fleet DaredevilDire Fleet DaredevilLava CoilLava CoilLava CoilLava CoilLegion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion WarbossExperimental Frenzy

Right now everyone is bringing in Lava Coil in the Mono-Red mirror, so you should probably leave Phoenix in the sideboard. Your own Lava Coils are also fodder for their Daredevils to kill your Phoenix. Wizard’s Lightning gets much worse when you cut four Wizards. I used to cut all Steam-Kin on the draw for Tibalt, but it’s probably wrong, as Steam-Kin has a much higher ceiling. The idea here is that you don’t want to have any 1-toughness guys against Goblin Chainwhirler and essentially can’t play Steam-Kin on turn 2 on the draw. They also have infinite removal, so it almost always dies anyway. Tibalt is bad against Goblin Chainwhirler too, but it’s good in the “fair” games. I’m still not sure what is better. Try to stay at a high life total, kill all their creatures, play Frenzy or Chandra, and ride it to victory.

U/G Nexus of Fate

Out

Chandra, Fire ArtisanChandra, Fire ArtisanGoblin Chainwhirler

In

Legion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion Warboss

This matchup is pretty simple. Play your creatures, attack, and finish them off with burn. They only have Root Snare to interact with you, so you don’t have to fear any kind of Wrath effect, unless they are playing white. If they do, keep in mind that they can bring in Lyra and sometimes have Deputy of Detention.

U/R Phoenix

Out

Fanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandGoblin ChainwhirlerGoblin ChainwhirlerWizard's LightningWizard's LightningShockShock

In

Experimental FrenzyLava CoilLava CoilLava CoilLava CoilDire Fleet DaredevilDire Fleet DaredevilLegion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion Warboss

I’m not 100% convinced about bringing in Warbosses, but I believe they are better than Chainwhirler. Shock is pretty bad here as it only kills Goblin Electromancer. You usually don’t want to kill their Phoenixes with anything other than Lava Coil because it’s very easy for them to bring them back. All they need to cast these days is one card (Finale of Promise) to do it. Bringing in a bunch of Lava Coils makes it tricky to figure out when to cast Light Up the Stage, so keep that in mind. You usually don’t want to reveal a Lava Coil you cannot play when they have no creatures in play.

White Weenie

Out

Fanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandViashino PyromancerViashino PyromancerViashino PyromancerViashino PyromancerLight Up the Stage

In

Rekindling PhoenixRekindling PhoenixExperimental FrenzyLava CoilLava CoilLava CoilLava Coil

I sometimes board out Light Up the Stage in matchups where I take out a lot of creatures for more burn, especially when it’s harder to connect for damage. White Weenie is exactly that kind of matchup. You aren’t looking to kill them fast. You are trying to play a longer grindy game, kill everything they have, get value out of Goblin Chainwhirler, and eventually beat them with card advantage from Frenzy or Chandra.

Jeskai Superfriends

Out

ShockShockShockShock

In

Legion WarbossLegion WarbossLegion WarbossExperimental Frenzy

I believe this is currently the worst matchup for Mono-Red. They have Shock and Lightning Strike for cheap interaction, Deafening Clarion to clear the board, and their cheap planeswalkers gain them a lot of time because you usually want to kill them. I’m not sure about sideboarding here as I haven’t played the matchup much yet. Tibalt should be good because of Interplanar Beacon, but they have little Teferi to bounce the token for free. It’s the same reason I don’t like bringing Rekindling Phoenix, but on the other hand it’s very good at pressuring their planeswalkers. Keeping in some burn is necessary because it helps you finish off planeswalkers and kill Lyra. I also don’t love Fanatical Firebrand here, but haste helps you finish off their planeswalkers, so it’s not too bad. I’ll need to play this matchup a bit more to figure out what to do exactly, but for now you can’t go too wrong sideboarding like this.

4-Color Dreadhorde

Out

Fanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandFanatical FirebrandShockShockShockShock

In

Lava CoilLava CoilLava CoilLava CoilTibalt, Rakish InstigatorTibalt, Rakish InstigatorTibalt, Rakish InstigatorExperimental Frenzy

This is another deck that’s been getting pretty popular lately, but I believe you have the upper hand. Wildgrowth Walker is the only real defense they have against you and Command the Dreadhorde gets really bad if your opponent pressures your life total. After sideboard, Lava Coil and Tibalt are great at preventing Command the Dreadhorde from gaining them a bunch of life with Wildgrowth Walkers and explore creatures. You can kill them fast, but usually it’s grindy. They don’t pressure you at all though, so kill their creatures and keep killing their planeswalkers for free. Keep in mind that they can play Sorin and gain a bunch of life by attacking.

Having an exact sideboard guide is almost impossible as things change with individual card choices. For example, I can’t really give you a universal guide to how to sideboard against Grixis Control because it largely depends on whether or not they are playing four Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, if they have more creatures, Disinformation Campaign, etc. Look at the cards in your deck and try to figure out what’s bad against them. Fanatical Firebrand gets boarded out a lot, as the card gets really weak if you can’t profitably trade it with a Llanowar Elves or other X/1 creatures. Shock and other burn are bad against pure control decks, but it’s fine to leave some in to not have to overextend with creatures into sweepers. Frenzy and Chandra are good in the post-board games when you expect a grindy match.

Good luck in your MCQs next week and let me know if you have any questions. You can also come check out my stream at twitch.tv/martinjuza and I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the chat!