August 28, 2015

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A Different Look at Mono Red

Standard is evolving so fast these days. Since the pro tour the best deck has been: U/R Thopters, Mono Red, GW Aggro, GR Devotion and Hangerback Abzan. When one deck emerges another falls. With the rise of Mono red and Thopters, Dromoka’s command became a big player again because of how good it is vs those decks. The Dromoka’s Command decks then skyrocketed to the top. The main offenders being GW Aggro and the newest flavor of Abzan Aggro with Hangerback Walkers. The sweet part for Red players is that Dromoka’s Command is actually bad vs these decks. Slowly people will shy away from the card opening up Mono red for a great comeback! The “Best Deck” title never lasts in standard. How many times have we seen a new deck and thought it wasn’t beatable. Remember GW devotion? Esper Dragons?

This standard format is always developing and if we still want to play Mono Red we need to develop with it.
We need to take a different take on the deck. We need to evolve with the format. The deck needs a new angle of attack and a way to push through damage in a field of Arashin Clerics, Seismic Ruptures, and Hangarback Walkers.

I scoured through deck lists from daily events and Gp’s I came across this old gem.

I had played this list for quite some time on MTGO but kind of written off this strategy in favour of the newer version of Mono Red. The card that excited me most was Flamewake Phoenix. I remember this card helping me beat GW and Abzan decks after they have resolved multiple Arashin Clerics and Courser of Kruphix. If you are able to keep it alive it does so much damage over the course of a game. So many decks have so few real flying creatures. If we don’t count Hangarback Walker as a flier, GP London had 2 decks with 4 or more flyers in it. In the top 16 we only have 2 decks with 4 or more flyers and it cost 8 mana! It's time to bring back the Flamewake Phoenix and even a couple Thunderbreak Regents. With all the creature decks in the format, Eidolon of the Great Revel is not what it used to be. It doesn’t attack well into these new decks, is bad vs Dromoka’s Command and is a liability against these big creature decks threatening to run you over. Therefore, I decided to include only 2 main and put the other 2 in the sideboard. This is a card fluctuates in quality so much on the play vs the draw, but I definitely wanted 4 of in the 75 - so I hedged, and have definitely liked that decision so far. Here’s where we are now:

This deck gives you way more game against the green decks that are dominating the format, while not giving up much in the other matchups. For example: in the mirror Flamewake isn’t very good. Most non-Swiftspear creatures aren’t all that good in the mirror anyway, and gaining Thunderbreak Regent is a huge plus. An issue often brought up with having so many 4 drops in the main and side is being able to play them on time. Abbot of Keral Keep puts the team on his back on this one. If you are missing lands and he hits a non-land you're one step closer. If it hits a land that’s an extra land drop. It’s basically a win-win. I think this lets you cheat on lands a bit. Additionally, if the 4 drops are uncastable that means you have all spells - which is good anyways. Then if you do flood out a bit you have a great pay off with all the late-game cards. Let’s break down the matchup vs some popular standard decks.
I don’t believe in definitive sideboard plans. I couldn’t honestly write one because I alter the plan so often depending on what my perceived composition of my opponent’s deck is so I’ll explain generic side boarding and how the matches play out post board.

The Goal is simple kill them before they overwhelm you with their late-game. Keep in mind Seismic Rupture and don’t let their mana get out of hand. Whisperwood Elemental and Courser of Kruphix are the best weapons against you, so save a 4 damage burn spell for them. Eidolon is not good in this matchup as they have too many cards that cost 4 or more and will kill you very fast if you take too much damage form yourself. Don’t cut all your 2 damage spells post board (Wildslash, Searing Blood) but cut most of them.

Abzan Aggro (Hangarback):
This matchup plays similarly to Devotion except the game WILL go longer. It usually involves allot of burning their creatures when they play them taking a few hits and letting Flyers and what’s left of your burn spells finish them off. Keeping the board clear is super important because otherwise it lets them utilize the full power of Dromoka’s Command. Play around Dromoka’s Command! Play like they have it if you can afford to. The card is definitely beatable as long as you don’t set up situations where it completely cripples you.

Abzan Control:
I really like this matchup. They are stuck 1 for 1ing you with spells that cost more than yours. The keys are: don’t get blown out by Drown in Sorrow and play around Dromoka’s Command (PLEASE!) and remember Elspeth will stop you from attacking very fast, so don’t let wasted damage sit on the table. This involves some suicide attacks to get in a couple points if you suspect Elspeth is incoming. Arc Lightning comes in to kill the sideboard Fleecemane Lions and clear out one Elspeth activation. Players will feel safe and attack with a lot of creatures assuming we couldn’t possibly burn all 3 tokens to get in for damage. That’s when Arc Lightning can get ‘em. Worst case scenario it’s a bad Lightning Strike.

Control (UB/Esper dragons):
This matchup is great. They don’t kill you fast and the counterspells are so easy to play around. Lightning Berserker shines so much in matchups like these. With Firecraft, burning them out gets a whole lot easier too. Forcing them to tap out to land one of your 4 mana card advantage engines is pretty much game over after sideboard. Try and set up for powerful post Languish/Drown in Sorrow turns because if you have a great wrath follow up the pressure is usually too much for them to handle.

GW Aggro:
This matchup isn’t the best as they have great roadblocks in Raptor and Co. The plan is to get in a bit of damage early with your 1 drops and hopefully finish them with all the fliers you have. As always beware of Dromoka’s Command and keep Arashin Cleric in mind when going on the burn ‘em out plan. They do take a while to kill you surprisingly so there is allot of game to be played.

Mono Red:
This matchup is a lot of fun. It’s about positioning. Sometimes playing a creature into their open 2 mana is wrong. If you play a threat you want to also be able to answer a threat in the same turn. Use Abbot to hit your land drops and let all the powerful 4 drops take the game over. Board out Lightning Berserker and Flamewake Phoenix they just get killed and aren’t efficient enough.

Thopters basically sucks other than Ensoul and Shrapnel blast. Play the game to not lose to those 2 cards and you should walk all over them. Always keep in mind Seismic Rupture and Stubborn Denial. They will have draws where you can’t win - just accept that and move on. I don’t expect this deck to be very popular soon as it’s on the decline.

This matchup plays out super interesting. The games go very long and are a true grind. Keep in mind Ojutai’s Command and always kill Soulfire Grandmaster. Don’t get too scared when they play Dig Through Time as it is only a plus 1 in the card advantage department. If we land Outpost Siege it’s pretty hard to lose so set those spots up. Try and save 3+ damage burn spells for Mantis Rider. In this matchup the card is a good threat and blocker so it’s a priority kill other than Soulfire Grandmaster.

Some generic advice on side boarding: Any deck that has Satyr Wayfinder you can board out Lightning Berserker. Don’t keep them in when they have a lot of crappy creatures to trade with it. It’s acceptable against Abzan because it trades with reasonable cards. 4 Eidolon on the play vs basically everything except RG Devotion. Eidolon all out on the draw most of the time. Some easy exceptions are Abzan Control and every other controlling deck. Cut Searing Blood before Wildslash when you want to cut Wildslash. The Chandra comes in sometimes when the Sieges don’t. Basically in matchups where killing x/1’s matters and where you’d want Goblin Heelcutter but not Outpost Siege as Chandra does a great Heelcutter Impression. Satyr Firedancer against decks with little removal and a bunch of creatures. Molten Vortex isn’t good in the mirror - it’s a trap. You want to hit your lands. It’s only for control and Sphinx’s Tutelage decks.

This is where my journey with Mono Red has taken me currently. I have easily played 100+ matches with the deck and am constantly trying to adapt and try new configurations. These new additions make the deck a little less lean but a lot more mean. People are side boarding for the Mono Red that they know not Mono Red of next week. When you play Flamewake Phoenix against your next opponent they will quickly find themselves looking at their Arashin Clerics and Nyx-Fleece Rams and wonder where they have gone wrong. This deck is one step ahead of everyone and else and is what I would play at a GP tomorrow. Thanks for (Mono) Reding the article! If you have any questions or suggestions I’d love to hear it.

Andy Football-Peters