So we all know it’s going to be there. We all know it can win matches. But how will R/G really stand up to the new decks that are out there? How will it do at States?
If you read my last article, you’ll know that I started off working on a Red deck, and it became a R/G deck as I realised that Green creatures were better. I kept in a lot of burn spells, though, fourteen in total – and the deck could plain burn out anyone who was a little slow out of the blocks. And that’s the real key: R/G decks are quick and simple, they punish other deck’s bad draws and mana screws and they’ll almost always beat random, badly-constructed decks.
With a Bath Monthly Type II coming up, I felt it was the perfect testing ground for the deck – and with fifty or so players every month and seven rounds of Swiss, it’s the biggest tourney around here, so it should provide realistic results.
With that in mind, I sat down with Magic Suitcase and a pile of deck lists garnered from the net, and started working on a sideboard. Here’s the deck I took:
4x Wild Mongrel
4x Thornscape Familiar
3x Flametongue Kavu
3x Orcish Artillery
Other Spells (18):
3x Call of the Herd
1x Beast Attack
4x Urza’s Rage
4x Volcanic Hammer
3x Ghitu Fire
2x Barbarian Ring
2x Mossfire Valley
4x Karplusan Forest
1x Keldon Necropolis
2x Shivan Oasis
I’ve added the Shivan Oases to smooth my mana, and with only Firebolt as a one-drop they shouldn’t slow me down too much. With Karplusan Forest in the deck I found that three Barbarian Rings seemed to do me just a touch too much damage to win the mirror match and against mono-R decks. There were just too many times when I had two in my opening hand. The Mossfire Valleys are in to smooth mana, too – but again, only two, as the risk of an opening hand with two of them is too great to play three. Finally, the deck was a little land light, so I dropped a Firebolt for the twenty-fourth land. The deck also needs more Red mana than Green, and so I tweaked it to make sure I always got two Red mana as early as possible.
2x Goblin Digging Team
1x Shivan Dragon
1x Shivan Wurm
1x Flametongue Kavu
3x Elvish Lyrist
3x Spellbane Centaur
1x Barbarian Ring
1x Hull Breach
The only odd cards in the main deck are the Orcish Artillery. In retrospect, I wouldn’t play them again…. But I’ll go into that at the end of the article. I reasoned that Glacial Wall or Jungle Barrier would slow me down enough for a U/G or mono U deck to gain control, so I added the Digging Teams to help out there. Everyone knows Orbosition is out there in some form, and so the Lyrists came in as a one casting-cost way to help beat them, and the Spellbane Centaurs mean I can carry on beating them even with Opposition out.
The fourth Flametongue, Shivan Wurm, and Shivan Dragon are all for the mirror match. I seem to be playing more burn than most people, and the match is all about who can keep a creature on the table. I should be able to use my burn and Flametongues to kill their creatures until I draw into my Call of the Herds, Wurm, or Dragon for the kill.
Hull Breach is my catchall. The only thing I can’t kill is artifacts, and one Hull Breach gives me hope in the face of a deck I haven’t thought of – perhaps an Ensnaring Bridge, or a Millstone-based deck. It can also double as a fourth enchantment killer should I need it.
Two test decks I had built up were a U/W Orbosition deck and a U/W/b control deck. Both did quite badly against the above deck until I added Galina’s Knight. The Knight is an unburnable blocker, or Icy, depending on the deck. With only two maindeck Barbarian Rings, I didn’t see them often enough to kill it – and it slowed me down enough to cause problems. A third Ring in the sideboard gives me one more uncounterable way of killing them.
Finally, Obliterate. If a control deck gets control, they win. Obliterate is the perfect reset button, giving you another chance to beat them.
On to the tourney.
Round 1: Dan Norris
I’ve played Dan many times over the last few years, and he has constructed some surprising decks every now and again. Game one started quickly, as I played out a Wild Mongrel and started to attack. Dan started to set up his mana base by playing Birds and painlands, but stuck on a few lands. I continued to beat down and added a Skizzik to the attack and quickly killed him.
All I really knew was that he had Green and Black mana available… And with Birds of Paradise, he could be playing anything, really. I bought in the fourth Flametongue, a pair of Lyrists, and a Hull Breach, to give me a little utility against whatever he would sideboard. Out came the Beast Attack, a Firebolt, a Wild Mongrel and an Orcish Artillery. The Beast Attack was a replacement for a fourth Call of the Herd I couldn’t get on the day. My deck was geared up to produce two Red mana, not three Green, and I often found it in my hand throughout the day and unable to cast it.
Game two started quickly again, but this time Dan had mana. I dropped a few early creatures and started beating, but Dan dropped a Spiritmonger. For a few turns we both dropped creatures, but then I started to see my Flametongues. For each creature I dropped I killed one of his, until I had a few more than him, and with a further Flametongue, a Skizzik, and Rage in hand, I attacked with everything and burned Dan out for the win.
Matches: 1-0, Games: 2-0
The match didn’t teach me much about the deck – other than Beast Attacks were too expensive, and the Artillery didn’t help as much as I thought (not the last time I thought this throughout the day). The games were both quite quick, but the Spiritmonger had already surfaced to sow seeds of doubt. 6/6 regenerators are difficult to kill, no matter how much burn you have.
Round 2: Tarik Browne
As soon as we were paired up, Tarik wandered over to Chris the TO and informed him that he’d conceded to me. We’ve been testing together a lot, and Tarik knows how I hate to play friends early on – plus this gave us the perfect opportunity to go and get a nice relaxing, long lunch down us.
Matches: 2-0, Games: 4-0
Round 3: Richard Edbury
So, whom should I run into straight after lunch again? My Nemesis, Richard. He always seems to beat me these days, but I’m not going down without a fight.
Or at least that’s what I thought. Game one, I had to mulligan and went with a good, two-land hand. A couple of Wild Mongrels and Hammers filled it out. It looked good, but wasn’t good enough. I saw no more land, while Rich saw Call of the Herds and Beast Attacks until I was dead.
Game two was a little fairer. I had to mulligan again (and going first, it’s a little more painful) and again drew six good cards. I started well, but stuck on three lands for too long. The deck really needs to get to four lands as quickly as possible, which was why I upped the land count to twenty-four. When I got my fourth land, Richard had a Spiritmonger on the table and quickly played a second.
We chatted about my deck, and he suggested the Familiars should be Llanowar Elves, and wasn’t the first person to suggest it that day. The Familiars only accelerate my Red spells, and if I’m planning to play two Red spells a turn and attack, it’s better than an Elf. If, on the other hand, I want to play one red spell a turn, the Elf is better, giving earlier acceleration and speeding up Green spells, too. Throughout the day I did find myself casting two, or even three, red spells in some turns and the Familiar really helped. Two Familiars is amazing in that situation. I guess I’ll have to think about it and tinker a little.
Matches: 2-1, Games: 4-2
Round 4: Madog Williams
On a good day, Madog is a very good player. He’s posted some good results and got the final in at least one PTQ that I know of. He was running a B/R/U deck with Finkels, Fire/Ice, Flametongues, Blazing Spectres, Rats and Rages.
Game one I started to play out threats, and Madog started to either kill them or play out spells of his own, slowly eating my hand away. We traded spells and removal for a short while and he ran into a land glut. I kept drawing good spells and managed to clear the way for a Skizzik (until it was killed) and finally a Flametongue. The 4/2 monster bought Madog down into burn range.
I side boarded in the two Obliterates, as Madog seemed to have lots of expensive spells, and the Barbarian Ring to up my land count a little. Out came two Artilleries and a Firebolt – they don’t kill Finkel unless you have six mana spare.
Game two was a real turnabout, as we started off trading again until I ran into a land glut, and Madog managed to keep Finkel alive and draw into more threats for the win.
The final game was much more of a real game. We both had threats and answers and entered a stalemate for a while, Finkel vs. a Wild Mongrel. He couldn’t kill my Mongrel without a Flametongue, and I was looking for a burn spell. Eventually I saw a Skizzik and sent over with the Mongrel. A few turns later, I’d killed Finkel and put Madog into burn range – Rage won the match again.
Matches: 3-1, Games: 6-3
This match really showed me the advantages of Volcanic Hammer over Shock or Fire/Ice. With eleven main deck spells than can deal at least three damage, I really don’t have to worry about Finkel unless he’s backed up by a ton of counters and Diverts. On top of that, I have four Mongrels and three maindeck Flametongues to help, too – none too shabby. Around this point, I started to wish I’d played the fourth Flametongue main. The environment is so creature-heavy that I really think it’s worth it.
Round 5 Antoine Hupin
Once more I’m matched up against a playtest partner, and we’d tested this matchup a lot. Antoine knew the results and was understandably depressed.
“I’m just going to lose this one.”
“Well, you can either concede to me or put up a fight – s’up to you, mate…”
Ant’s deck is a U/G tempo deck. He plays a few 2/2 guys, a little bounce, some counters, and four Might of Oaks. He won a tourney with it in Bristol last month, but it doesn’t like playing against burn-heavy decks.
Game one went as expected. Ant started out a little aggressively, and I decided that I was the control player. I set fire to everything he put down that I could until I got a few creatures on the board and could start attacking. He had to tap out a few times to cast big threats, but Flametongue and Firebolt helped to kill his Titans while my 2/2 guys did their job. By the end of the game, both of our hands were full but I let my 2/2 guys finish him off – knowing he had Mystic Snakes in hand.
I sideboarded in my fourth Flametongue and three Spellbane Centaurs to neuter his bounce. Out came the Beast Attack, and three Orcish Artillery.
Game two went Ant’s way. I didn’t see enough burn, and he managed to fly in with enough to get me down to under ten life. I had a few burn spells in hand, but decided to play out a few creatures so that I had a few blockers for his ground-based men, and I’d deal with fliers next turn. With only one card in hand, he needed to top deck for the win, and promptly did so – drawing the Might of Oaks he needed to make his Bird a 7/8 flying deathbringer.
Finally, Ant started to cheer up – as he realised he could win after all!
At the start of game three, my opening hand was amazing. I quickly played out a Familiar and started the beatdown, burning anything Ant played. It was quickly followed by a Call of the Herd, which was bounced and then another, which stuck around to deal Ant nine damage before I got gang blocked. With me on sixteen, I wasn’t too worried about a Might of Oaks and continued to play attackers while I kept Ant to only a few creatures with burn. Very quickly, his initial depression was validated as I won.
Matches: 4-1, Games: 8-4
Again, this match demonstrated how good the extra burn is. I did wish I’d had a little more instant-speed burn… But what would I take out and what would come in? I’d probably play Fire/Ice, given the choice, and the only thing that could really come out is either the Ghitu Fires or the Firebolts: Rages and Hammers are just too good.
Round 6: Mark Knight
I’ve been running into Mark near the end of tourneys recently. If I beat him, I make top 8; if I don’t, I often slip down to the 4-3 bracket – not something I want to happen today.
Game one started well as we both played out a few creatures, and then both of us started to kill them with Flametongue and Rages. Mark gained a few life back here and there with a Dega Sanctuary, and we eventually settled into a stalemate, neither of us drawing many creatures. I sat there with burn in my hand, not wanting to use it on Mark. Eventually, Mark’s land glut paid off, as Desolation Angel entered play with Kicker. Again I wished for more instant burn, as I sat with two Volcanic Hammers and a Rage in hand, and mana to cast them all. Three turns later, I went squish.
I bought in my extra Flametongue (for the sixth match in a row) and some enchantment kill. Out went the Artilleries and Beast Attack again.
Second game went all my way. I saw creatures and enough Flametongues and burn to keep everything Mark played off the table. Mark just drew land and I won. As I said, this deck punishes bad draws.
Third game started well, but Mark quickly dropped a Dega Sanctuary, followed by a Phyrexian Arena. Even with all my enchantment removal in the deck now, I couldn’t seem to draw any and Mark was gaining life – not something you want to happen on a regular basis. We traded blows for a few turns and I played out as many creatures as I could, slowly beating him down. Eventually, Mark cast a Diabolic Tutor – I had a fair guess at what it was but I was wrong: it was an Flametongue, which he played to kill one of mine, and dropped a second Dega Sanctuary, followed by a Gerrard’s Verdict, targeting himself to raise his life from three to nine.
A turn later a Desolation Angel blew up all my land, but with Mark on nine life, he couldn’t attack or I’d kill him. If I attacked, he’d kill one of my creatures and lose a little, but gain three a turn from the Sanctuary. I was on to a looser. A few turns of this later, I’d tried to burn him a bit to stall his attack, but his life climbed past the danger point and I couldn’t win the race.
Matches: 4-2, Games: 9-6
Wow! Desolation Angel is some bad for me. If I haven’t got them close to death, or don’t have lots of creatures on the table I’m in deep trouble. The real card that beat me was Dega Sanctuary, though. In the last game I dealt Mark twenty-nine damage, leaving him at nine life! I’m not sure whether the Sanctuary is a sideboard card or in his main deck, but it worked very well for him against me.
So – 4-2 and one round left. Yet again, I’m looking to win to make a good day of it. A loss would dump me back into mid-table obscurity.
Round 7: Steve Marshall
When I read Steve’s name, I thought he was someone else and wasn’t looking forward to this match. It was a nice surprise when he came and sat down opposite me and I realised who I was really playing – too many Steves!
Pretty quickly, I realised that I was playing a mirror match, but Steve was playing with Reckless Charge and Blazing Salvo main deck. The Charge is okay if I have no burn in hand, and the Salvo – well, if he can do me enough damage it’s okay, but if I can keep killing his creatures I’ll probably be outracing him, and five damage won’t hurt that much.
Game one, he hit me with a Charged-up Elephant token. I then cast a pile of tokens of my own – drawing into all three Call of the Herds – and set his stuff on fire for the win. I finished at fourteen life. The Calls are great in this situation, as each one is two creatures and I can happily draw lots of burn to keep my opponent’s creatures under control.
I boarded in the fourth Flametongue, the Wurm, and the Dragon, taking out a Beast Attack and two Artilleries.
Steve started off a little quicker, and I decided to play control: With my extra burn, I find that I can often kill a lot of their creatures until I can drop a Call of the Herd or a bigger sideboard creature for the win. He got me down to about fourteen before I started to hit back and put him on the back foot. He had to start burning all my creatures, and eventually he tapped out to kill a Call. This gave me the opportunity I needed, and I dropped a Familiar, followed by a Shivan Wurm.
Four attacks later, Steve was dead. Wurms are good in the mirror – really good.
Matches: 5-2, Games: 11-6
So – 5-2 and I came sixth out of 52 players that started. The deck was reliable and consistent more than anything else. It punished people who went with dodgy hands, and had enough burn to pretty much control anything but the biggest of creatures.
As you can see, throughout the day I kept taking out the Artillery and putting in the one extra Flametongue. I also found that a couple of times, I was left sitting with burn in hand, when I really needed a creature to beat down with. So if I were going to play the deck again, I’d certainly make some changes:
-3 Orcish Artillery
-1 Ghitu Fire
+3 Kavu Titan
The Titans give you a little flexibility and make the deck less vulnerable to big creatures. They’re also great after a Wrath or Rout to scare your opponent silly.
I’ve also thought about the Familiars. I like the fact that they have two power and reduce the red spells, but I also like the idea of casting Call of the Herd on turn two. I’m going to play with playing four Llanowar Elves instead and see how they go.
Finally, burn. Dropping a Ghitu Fire and adding an Flametongue keeps the removal constant, but you only have thirteen burns spells (as opposed to the sixteen I started testing with). I don’t think you can drop any more before the characteristics of the deck change too much.
The Rages are a must, as are the Hammers in my point of view, and the Ghitu Fires are a nice finisher and let you kill other Wurms and Dragons. The Firebolts are the only thing that worries me. I know that they’re good – but would Fire/Ice be better?
I found myself needing instant-speed removal a number of times throughout the day. I also would have been able to gain a little card advantage with Fire/Ice earlier than with Firebolt. I guess it’s down to how many enchantments and creature-pumping spells get played – for now I’ll stick with Firebolt, as it served me so well throughout the day.
So a final deck list for you:
Team PhatBeats R/G v2.
4x Wild Mongrel
4x Flametongue Kavu
3x Kavu Titan
4x Thornscape Familiar/Llanowar Elves
Other Spells (17):
4x Call of the Herd
4x Urza’s Rage
4x Volcanic Hammer
2x Ghitu Fire
4x Karplusan Forest
3x Shivan Oasis
2x Barbarian Ring
1x Keldon Necropolis
The Mossfire Valleys have come out, and I’ve added a Shivan Oasis. If you do end up playing the Llanowar Elves, you probably need to drop the Oases altogether. I’m keeping one Keldon Necropolis as it won me a game, and is another way of killing Protection from Red creatures.
The deck is simple, and it works. If the deck you’re planning to take to States can’t beat it nine times in a row, then I’d put money on you losing one match at States. You have to be able to beat this deck all the time…. Trust me.