One of my favourite archetypes of all time is Sligh. Jay Schneider’s creation will always have a place in my heart, for its very definition of speed and utility if nothing else. Deadguy Red and Lackey Sligh followed some of the ideals, but sacrificed some utility for the ability to just burn out an opponent.
Recently we’ve seen a number of mono-red decks with small creatures and burn in, and we’ve seen some G/R decks too. They all seem to have some of the aspects of the old Sligh and Stupid Red Burn decks, but just don’t quite seem to fit my mindset. I want to see reusable creature kill, not just Flashback. I want to see surprise Haste creatures that can turn a game around.
So, with Odyssey a week or so away from being Type II legal, and a tourney to attend on the third of November, I put a mono-red deck together and started playing with it. Here’s the first version:
Team PhatBeats Mono-R.
We played a few games with this, and quickly realised a few things. The most obvious was something we wanted to confirm: Ember Beast has no place in this deck. You’re basically playing a creature on turn three that can neither attack that turn, nor the next if he’s on his own. It has the same feel that Mogg Flunkies used to have: Too often you have just one and it sits there on its own. The deck also seemed to be a little creature light.
Team PhatBeats Mono-R v2
This deck really started to work – and against the U/G Opposition decks from The Invitational and some of our own control decks, we found the deck to be very nasty, often dealing too much damage before a Wrath for the deck to survive the burn that would be shortly heading its way.
One deck it did lose to (a lot) was Jay Schneider’s G/R deck. Jay’s deck had some of the burn we had, giving it the ability to control our Goblins and Rangers, which meant we needed as many cards as possible – making the Minotaur a bad card. We also found that Wild Mongrel was difficult to kill, and the two elephants that each Call of the Herd generated made life very hairy indeed.
I spent a little time thinking about it all and came to the following conclusion: Green has better creatures. Call of the Herd makes two 3/3 guys; Minotaur Explorer takes two cards to make one. Goblin Raider is always red and a Firebolt kills him; Wild Mongrel can be any colour you like, and two or even three points of burn might not see him enter the graveyard. Jay’s deck always seems to beat the same decks that mine did too – winning against the Opposition decks and churning out enough creatures to kill control too.
So why not just swap out some of my creatures for the green ones that were causing me all the trouble?
I replaced the Minotaurs with Call of the Herd and the Firebrand Rangers with the Mongrels. Call of the Herd is a turn slower that the Minotaur, but can make another 3/3 guy the turn after with no loss of hand size. The Rangers can block, but only have one toughness – plus, you’re not really going to be using their ability in an aggressive deck. The Raiders, on the other hand, are 2/2 and so get kept in.
I played this a little with encouraging results, but then remembered one more card: Thornscape Familiar. Okay, the Familiar is only 2/1 but it allows you to cast red spells a turn earlier. Skizzik on turn three, Skizzik with Kicker on turn four! The benefits far outweighed his one toughness disadvantages, and Goblin Raider finally bit the dust. The last change was advice from a mailing list, and it involved Shock. Shock deals two damage, sure. Okay, it’s an instant too – but it doesn’t kill Shadowmage Infiltrators or Thieving Magpies. Volcanic Hammer does. The Hammer, for those of you who don’t know it, is a two casting-cost spell that deals three damage to target creature or player, much like Incinerate used to do, but not at instant speed. With a Familiar in play, it costs the same as Shock!
This gave me the final decklist:
The deck requires you to mulligan aggressively. If you’re not going to be casting an early pair of creatures, you really need to think hard about your hand. Opening hand burn is not so important, but a red and green mana source is very important unless your hand is full of green creatures and you have forests.
I dropped the number of Necropoli because you don’t want to be heading into the late game at all; it’s just a concession that it might happen, plus with the addition of a second colour you find you’re drawing them just a touch too often.
The Artillery are great at clearing the way, especially in conjunction with the eight, two-damage packets that Firebolt gives you, and the Calls of the Herd are excellent in this deck – which is why I guess they’re getting so expensive!
I still find the deck seems a little creature-light at times, and may drop a Firebolt and a Ghitu Fire or Hammer to fit in the 23rd and 24th creatures. Given a choice, those creatures would probably be two Kavu Titans, as they increase the chance of dropping a creature on turn two, but still give you a powerful creature to play with in the late game.
At the same time, the deck doesn’t drop a land every turn (especially the fourth and fifth ones), so without a Familiar you often find a Skizzik in hand you’d like to pay the kicker for and can’t. Needing more creatures and more land will stress the burn a lot – but with fifteen burn spells and three Orcish Artillery, you may find dropping a Ghitu Fire, a Firebolt, and a Volcanic Hammer doesn’t really change the feel of the deck too much, and that would give you twenty-four creatures, twenty-four land and twelve burn spells – a weird kind of symmetry.
Anyhow, if you can get the Skizziks and Call of the Herds, the deck is easy to build and reliable. It punishes your opponent for a slow start, a mana flood, some manascrew, or colour screw – and can even win after a Wrath thanks to the topdeck potential of Skizzik and the piles of burn that the deck has.
Team PhatBeats is testing against this, and no deck that loses to it consistently is getting into the rest of our gauntlet – think of it as our Cerberus in the Hell that is going to be Type II come November.
Cheers, Jim Grimmett