Take a look at Tom’s lightning-fast Mono-Red Aggro deck and consider giving it a try at the SCG Standard Open in Dallas this weekend!

A week or so ago I played in a PTQ in Houston for Pro Tour Valencia, finishing with a semifinals exit. The heroic deck I played inspired me to brew for a local StarCityGames.com Invitational Qualifier the next day. With the wheels turning, I got little sleep on the ride back to Louisiana, but it didn’t matter. I’d created something that would end rounds quickly win or lose, meaning I wouldn’t have to expend too much mental energy hopefully. After scavenging around the morning of for Theros and Gatecrash commons, I arrived at list I wanted to play:

Designed to beat Mono-Black Devotion and Esper Control, the matches worked out in my favor just as I drew them up, and I left with a blue envelope and high anticipation for playing in the Invitational in Las Vegas later this year. Let’s talk a bit about the card choices and how the deck functions before moving to the matchups.

Is this the return of Sligh? Perhaps. This deck goes under the strategies of Standard, being hyperaggressive and putting instant pressure on the opponent to answer you threats quickly. With more one-drops than lands, the newest additions are Akroan Crusader and Titan’s Strength, a pair of disregarded Theros Draft leftovers. It turns out that in a world where Devour Flesh is needed to kill Nightveil Specter an extra 1/1 Soldier token has pretty good value.

An obvious non-inclusion is Burning-Tree Emissary. Firefist Striker, Madcap Skills, and Lightning Strike are the only cards with colorless mana symbols for you to use the green mana on. Instead you’re happy to play two one-drops on turn 2 instead. In theory it’s good in multiples and with Foundry Street Denizen, but the 2/2 body wasn’t doing enough. It does avoid Ultimate Price, so you can more safely use it as a Madcap Skills target, but you really want to be putting that on your one-drop anyway.

You keep nearly every one-land hand that has two or more one-drop creatures in it. The deck can operate for several turns before hitting its second land. You lose way more games to drawing four-plus lands than you do stalling on one. I’ve won many games that I didn’t play my second land until turn 6 fairly easily.

Or maybe unfairly easily.

A bit of bad news is that sometimes they stabilize with a Supreme Verdict or a blocker that you can’t get around. The good news is you haven’t actually lost the game at this point. They have to play around all of your possible routes to victory, from Madcap Skills to haste creatures to direct burn, often slowing down their clock for several turns and giving you more draws to finish them off. It’s strange to say, but there always seems to exist a stream of outs to hit to overcome any situation.

Thoughtseize; Hero’s Downfall; and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion are regarded as some of the best cards in Standard right now, but this deck makes those cards as ineffective as possible. The two life from their Thoughtseize is worth almost a card in your favor, and your hand tends to consist of a bunch of redundant creatures. Hero’s Downfall is going to target something that costs less mana than it did. And Elspeth’s tokens say hi as Legion Loyalist and buddies stroll past them.

"Isn’t Legion Loyalist just a Raging Goblin?"

"It’s Akroma’s Memorial with a free Raging Goblin attached."

Think of all the tokens that exist:

G/W decks have Selesnya Charm Knights, Advent of the Wurm Wurms, Voice of Resurgence Elementals, and sometimes Call of the Conclave Centaurs.

Mono-Black Devotion has Pack Rat.

Esper Control has Elspeth Soldiers.

Green/Red decks have Xenagos Satyrs.

Mono-Blue Devotion has Master of Waves Elementals and their Rapid Hybridization Frog Lizard.

Red Devotion decks have Hammer of Purphoros Golems and Assemble the Legion Soldiers

The "tokens not blocking" aspect of Legion Loyalist is very real, and combined with Titan’s Strength the first strike and trample element feels downright unfair. Double blocking a creature with Madcap Skills becomes very tough, and your 2/1s are getting through Mutavault instead of trading with it. Combined with Madcap Skills a hasty Legion Loyalist can greatly screw up their blocking plans.

In addition to Legion Loyalist overperforming, I ended up siding in Dragon Mantle a lot throughout the day and throughout my continued testing. It helps smooth out one-land hands by giving you an extra draw before possibly missing your second land drop, and it’s often a cantrip Blaze to the opponent. With this knowledge I wanted to try a version with four Dragon Mantle and see how it worked out. This is what I’m playing currently:

It’s a close call between Arena Athlete and Firefist Striker. With the Dragon Mantles playing one on an Arena Athlete on turn 3 becomes a real play that mimics Goblin Shortcutter. Casting a Madcap Skills on one means it’s basically unblockable that turn. It’s good to have the unblockability effect without having to lean on battalion triggering since sometimes to enable the battalion you overcommit a bit more that you’d like to.

The Shocks have moved to the sideboard, waiting to be brought in against the creature decks like G/R, G/W, and other Mono-Red decks. The deck is a little better at combat now, so you do lose a little game 1 but gain big on the control matchups. It’s nice for removal and reach but doesn’t directly add to the combo/swarm engine of the deck. Lightning Strike however is still worth including.

Skullcrack is good against Esper Control and other U/W decks as a replacement for Lightning Strikes that has no non-player targets, and you sit there with it until they tap out for a Sphinx’s Revelation. It’s also good against decks that have Warleader’s Helix or Unflinching Courage. I don’t like to side them in against just Gray Merchant of Asphodel or the anticipation of a Blood Baron of Vizkopa connecting.

The Pithing Needle is mainly for Jace, Architect of Thought and Ratchet Bomb. It hits a wide range of planeswalkers as well but can be a dead draw if they don’t draw their particular Needle-able card, so side it in with caution. Cards like Pack Rat and Underworld Connections should be beaten by killing the player instead of the card. Smelt could be a thing too because it hits all the God weapons like Whip of Erebos, but I find that most of those are manageable without directly answering the card.

Peak Eruption is mainly for the Naya Control deck but does have potential against slower R/G decks. Getting your creature unlocked from a Chained to the Rocks is awesome as well, and getting to redirect to a Xenagos or a Jace is icing on the cake. But whatever you do, do not side them in against Mono-Red Aggro; it’s a waste of time. The Mono-Red Aggro matchup often comes down to who draws the fewest number of lands.

Coordinated Assault is for matchups where creatures get into combat a lot and serves as another targeting spell for your heroics if you need to side out some Madcap Skills. A common play is to attack with a 2/1 or 2/2 on turn 2 after playing an Akroan Crusader and getting a red soldier token along with removing their blocking creature. Very few players can resist blocking with a Nightveil Specter on a 2/1 Foundry Street Denizen for example.

Nivmagus Elemental is there for mainly G/R and various creature decks where you need something bigger than your usual 1/1s, 2/1s, and 2/2s. It also helps reduce the sting of opposing Anger of the Gods in a pinch. The dream is to cast Coordinated Assault on two heroic creatures, get their triggers, and get two +1/+1 counters all for one red mana. It also enables the play of casting Shock on your own Akroan Crusader, turning a sometimes mostly useless card into some on-board action.

The deck is cheap, currently around twenty tickets to buy on Magic Online, but it’s not built to be a budget deck. It’s just fortunate that all the cards are dirt cheap. If you like the list and would like to try it out, there honestly isn’t a very steep barrier preventing anybody from playing Daily Events or eight-man queues with it (it’s easy enough to play while writing an article!). But beware—you may need a thick skin since this looks far from a "pro" deck, so be prepared to endure a comment or two from salty opponents.

I haven’t named the deck yet, so what do you guys think? Crusader Red? Boss Sligh? Blackjack (21 . . . drops)? I like simply 21. Let me know what you think in the comments.

CitrusD on Magic Online
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