I chose to play Mono-Red in my Magic Pro League split this week. Not because I didn’t have time to test and so I just ran back a 3-month-old deck, but because I believe that if you don’t respect Mono-Red enough, it will just beat you. Experimental Frenzy is still one hell of a card.
Mono-Red Back in Standard
Lets take a look at what happened with Mono-Red in the last couple of months.
Aaron Barich, 1st SCG Open Worcester
20 Mountain 4 Runaway Steam-Kin 4 Chandra's Spitfire 4 Ember Hauler 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Fanatical Firebrand 4 Lightning Strike 4 Shock 1 Experimental Frenzy 4 Light Up the Stage 3 Skewer the Critics Sideboard 3 Experimental Frenzy 4 Lava Coil 3 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator 2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame 3 Fry
Ember Hauler and Skewer the Critics replaced Viashino Pyromancer and Wizard’s Lightning. Chandra’s Spitfire was good that weekend because people were mostly focusing on doing their own thing and didn’t interact with you much. Decks like Simic Ramp or Reclamation Nexus don’t have a lot of ways to stop it.
The other reason was good ol’ Goblin Chainwhirler. If you look at the rest of the Top 8, it’s a lot of Vampires, Mono-Blue and Elementals. What do Siren Stormtamer, Skymarcher Aspirant and Risen Reef have in common? They all have 1 toughness. Notably, this version only played 1 Experimental Frenzy in the maindeck.
In the next week or so, another version of red started showing up on MTG Arena. If I remember correctly, it was a popular Twitch streamer Bloody successfully taking it to high mythic ranks.
Mono-Red Cavalcade by Bloody
20 Mountain 4 Legion Warboss 2 Tin Street Dodger 4 Chandra's Spitfire 2 Scampering Scorcher 4 Scorch Spitter 4 Fanatical Firebrand 4 Lightning Strike 4 Shock 4 Cavalcade of Calamity 4 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame 4 Light Up the Stage Sideboard 2 Experimental Frenzy 4 Lava Coil 3 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator 4 Fry 2 Fight with Fire
This version also uses Chandra’s Spitfire, but is more about going wide with a lot of one-drops and Cavalcade of Calamity. Chandra, Acolyte of Flame works really well in this deck. There is no Experimental Frenzy at all–you are just trying to close the game on turn 4 or 5.
All-in aggro decks like these are usually successful in the early weeks of a new format because people are exploring new synergies and control decks are still trying to figure out what kind of answers they need to play.
The more a format settles down, the more people interact and have the right kind of answers. Right now, we are at a point where the most-played decks are Vampires and Scapeshift, with Esper making a resurgence. There are other decks like all kinds of Simic variants, Elementals and more decks with small creatures.
At the last Arena Mythic Championship, everyone played Esper with Basilica Bell-Haunts and Lyras in the sideboard. Mono-Red was on everyone’s radar and people wanted to beat it. Now people are focused on beating decks like Scapeshift and Vampires instead and I personally haven’t had Lyra played against me in quite a while.
After looking at the most recent metagame, I thought it was a good time to bring back Goblin Chainwhirler and Experimental Frenzy.
This is what I submitted for the MPL Emerald division this week.
Martin Juza, Magic Pro League
20 Mountain 4 Viashino Pyromancer 4 Runaway Steam-Kin 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Fanatical Firebrand 4 Lightning Strike 4 Shock 4 Experimental Frenzy 4 Light Up the Stage 3 Wizard's Lightning 1 Chandra, Fire Artisan Sideboard 4 Lava Coil 1 Chandra, Fire Artisan 3 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator 3 Blood Sun 4 Dire Fleet Daredevil
Yes, this is the same maindeck I played 3 months ago. I don’t think any of the new cards from M20 are good enough to replace them.
- Chandra’s Spitfireis too expensive and unreliable. I’m also not playing less than 4 Experimental Frenzy.
- Ember Hauler is decent, but I prefer Viashino Pyromancer dealing the 2 damage right away. You often deal that damage to planeswalkers and I don’t want to have to sacrifice my creature to finish off Teferi, Time Raveler.
- Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is good if you are triggering the Elemental synergies with her, but not really in this version of the deck. It’s good in exactly one matchup and that’s Esper Control, where it finishes off planeswalkers and provides you with a cheap threat that dodges most of their removal spells.
- I absolutely hated Fry every time I played with it. It’s not that I don’t like dealing 5 damage for 2 mana. It’s that it’s restrictive and the opposite of what this deck wants to do. I want all my cards to be proactive and to help me put as much pressure on my opponent as possible. Fry is a reactive card. I don’t want to sit there waiting for them to play Teferi, draw a card and then be able to finally use it. My plan is to pressure their planeswalkers with creatures. Fry would be good against an Esper deck with 4 Basilica Bell-Haunts and Lyras, but you will actively lower your chances of winning if you bring it in against Esper Control without creatures.
- Blood Sun is a good answer for Scapeshift. It is more expensive than Alpine Moon, but it replaces itself and also turns off Blast Zone and all the lifegain and scry lands.
- Cerulean Drake is a huge pain if it is backed up by proactive cards like Curious Obsession or planeswalkers. The only reasonable way to get rid of it seems to be Heart-Piercer Bow, where it’s the Bow dealing the 1 damage and not the red creature, so you can actually kill the Drake that way.
- Because there is now Blood Sun in the sideboard that comes in against Scapeshift, it replaced Legion Warboss.
- I absolutely love 4 Dire Fleet Daredevil right now. It’s your best card against Esper where it can flashback Thought Erasure, Duress, Despark, Mortify, Vraska’s Contempt or sometimes even Enter the God-Eternals. I also bring the full 4 copies against Vampires, where you use their own Legion’s End, Cast Down and Devout Decree against them.
Most of the things in the last Mono-Red deck guide I wrote are still true, so I’ll try to focus more on sideboarding in the current metagame and give you some examples from the matches I already played.
As of writing this, I played the first 4 MPL matches. My current record is 0-1 vs Jeskai Planeswalkers with Cerulean Drakes in the sideboard–which honestly seems like an unwinnable matchup–and 3-0 vs three different Esper decks.
The first Esper deck I played against was Seth Manfield’s.
Looking at this list, I know I don’t have to worry about creatures but I need to keep in mind that Seth has 2 Kaya’s Wrath and 2 Cry of the Carnarium in his deck. 1 Kefnet main and 2 Heros in the sideboard means that Tibalt is gonna be at its best because it’s very hard to remove. 4 Legion’s End is why I trim all my little creatures to 3 copies. It means I have to keep more burn than usual, but it seems better than frequently getting 2-for-1’ed with the removal spell.
I ended up winning 2-1 on the back Experimental Frenzy. My second match was against Jessica Estephan.
This deck looks the same, but the matchup plays a bit differently because of all the creatures and lack of maindeck Wrath effects. 2 Noxious Grasp has become the norm in various Esper builds and another reason why I liked bringing red cards to battle this week. Jessica has only 1 Legion’s End, so I’m not going to worry about that in sideboarding. I expected Jessica to keep all her creatures, so I wanted to keep some more burn spells. You still don’t want Shock though, as you can just clean up Hero tokens with Goblin Chainwhirler even if it gets out of hand. Not being able to kill Deputy of Detention is too big of a liability. Hero of Precinct One and Elite Guardmage can easily take down Tibalt and paying 3 mana for a 1/1 doesn’t seem like a good strategy, so I don’t bring him in this matchup.
I ended up winning 2-0 after an interesting game 1 where I had my 2 Steam-Kins in play Legion’s Ended on turn 3, but I ended up making the best of what I had to work with by ignoring planeswalkers and going for a quick kill and topdecking a lethal Shock when Jessica looked to stabilize the board at 1 life.
My last match was against Shota Yasooka.
Shota’s deck has more cheap removal but also more top end. Bolas’s Citadel and Command the Dreadhorde aren’t usually cards you fear as a Mono-Red player, but 4 Basilica Bell-Haunts are definitely helpful in trying to survive long enough to cast them. The most important thing about Shota’s list is that there are no Wrath effects in the 75, so I don’t have to worry about overextending and I know I’m going to be doing all the damage with creatures rather than burn spells. With Bell-Haunt having 4 toughness as the only creature in Shota’s list, I actually want to bring in Lava Coils. The 3/4 is otherwise too good of a blocker against all your creatures and you want a way to remove it. This is where Fry would be good. Also, try to not play extra lands if you don’t have to, so you have something to discard to the Bell-Haunts trigger. Tibalt is also excellent here.
I won the match 2-0 by just overruning Shota with creatures and removing his Bell-Haunt. In game 1, he was able to defend himself with Disfigure into Oath into Bell-Haunt and eventually cast Command the Dreadhorde for 8 that left him at 7 life, but unfortunately for him, I had exactly 7 damage worth of burn in my hand and the mana to cast it all next turn.
I am definitely not going to tell you that Esper is a good matchup and you crush it, but you usually play very interactive, close games that are often decided by Experimental Frenzy. Them not currently having enough Desparks and other ways to remove it definitely helps.
The Rest of the Sideboard Guide
As I mentioned, the idea here is to not get 2-for-1’ed by Legion’s End and to use their own removal against them with Dire Fleet Daredevil. You can even get rid of their Sorin or Vona with Devout Decree. Their most annoying play against you is Adanto Vanguard into Sorin on the play that just keeps making it bigger and gives it lifelink. Lava Coil is excellent at killing Vona, Champion of Dusk and bigger Knight of the Ebon Legions. If you have Goblin Chainwhirler in hand, don’t waste your removal or Firebrand on their Skymarcher Aspirant, wait for turn 3 and use Firebrand to finish off Legion Lieutenant instead. Overall, I’d say Vampires is a good matchup for you. You don’t crush them, but you are favored.
At first I thought Scapeshift was going to be a good matchup because I’m just going to be faster and burn them out, but with the 3 lifegain lands, Scapeshift usually gets out of burn range and they kill you next turn. In my experience, whoever wins the die roll is usually favored, but overall I’d give a slight edge to Scapeshift, so I’m actually glad it’s been declining in popularity lately.
Board out creatures with 1 toughness so you don’t lose them to Goblin Chainwhirler for free. Don’t play Steam-Kin unless it’s turn 2 on the play, or until you can put a counter on him. Kill all their stuff and win with Frenzy or Chandra.
I’m not sure if it’s worth it to bring in Dire Fleet Daredevil if they don’t have Lava Coil, but you can usually at least get a Defiant Strike or exile something out of their graveyard so they can’t flash it back later with Dreadhorde Arcanist. The other 4 cards to take out depend on what version they are playing. I don’t like Shock much on the play because they usually only have Tenth District Legionnaire to kill with it, but if they also have Knight of Grace, you should probably keep it. You can definitely board out something like 1 Light Up the Stage on draw and Steam-Kin also isn’t at its best here because they always have tons of removal and you have to kill their creatures at first sight, so there isn’t really a good time to play Steam-Kin in the early turns.
I’m not sure if I would actually change my deck at all against them here. The scariest card they have is Cavalier of Thorns, and you can’t solve that with Lava Coil. They don’t have enough targets for Daredevil.
Mono-Red could be a good choice at this weekend’s MCQ on Magic Arena, but you need to play very tight and hope that other people still don’t respect this deck enough. One way or another, it’s still a fine deck to play on ladder before the next set comes out or in your local tournaments.