— Cedric Phillips (@CedricAPhillips) January 30, 2016
Yes, I think Titan’s Strength is really bad in Atarka Red. And it took me all of four matches to figure that out. More than anything, I’m surprised more people don’t feel this way. But since I got so much blowback on what I don’t feel to be a particularly controversial thought, I suppose an explanation is in order.
First, the decklist that I scrubbed out of #SCGCOL with.
And now a quick synopsis of what I changed from my article last week:
Why I Hate Titan’s Strength
In order to understand why I think Titan’s Strength is poor, first you must understand what the newer versions of Atarka Red are trying to do. As you most likely know, my list is based off of Korey McDuffie’s #SCGATL-winning list from two weeks ago. You also likely know that the Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense combo is no longer present in Atarka Red. But what’s the reason for that?
Simple. To ignore instant-speed spot removal.
While the combo of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense is very powerful, it turns on cards from your opponent’s deck that you don’t care about when your deck is built around going wide. Right now, my take on Atarka Red only cares about going wide and making cards like Murderous Cut and Crackling Doom virtual mulligans. When you play Titan’s Strength in your deck, you are indirectly turning those cards back on.
As a case in point, take a look at Gerry T’s decklist from #SCGATL along with his semifinal match against Korey:
One of the biggest reasons to play Jeskai Black is access to such powerful spot removal like Crackling Doom, Fiery Impulse, Murderous Cut, and Roast. That’s a huge reason why Jeskai Black is so good against Abzan Aggro. Abzan Aggro’s threats are extremely powerful but they also cost a healthy chunk of mana. When you’re able to spend two mana (Roast) to take care of a four-mana threat (Siege Rhino), you’re opening yourself up to being able to play multiple spells per turn (Soulfire Grand Master + Roast). When your removal costs more than the threats that you’re killing (Cracking Doom killing a Zurgo Bellstriker), you’re more likely to die with spells left in your hand that you couldn’t cast.
So how does all of this pertain to my hatred of Titan’s Strength?
With the current builds of Atarka Red, you generally laugh off spot removal. Murderous Cut killing an Abbot of Keral Keep is generally irrelevant because you’ve likely gotten a card off of it. Fiery Impulse picking off a Goblin token from Hordeling Outburst is killing a third of the card. But when your opponent is responding to Titan’s Strength with the aforementioned spells, you’re getting two-for-oned, losing a scry, and losing a creature. All that is a sharply negative tempo swing for a deck with an overall power level lower than just about every other deck in the format.
Game 2 of McDuffie vs. Thompson shows Korey’s ability to pick his spots and getting paid off for it as a result. Thompson had drawn plenty of great cards during the game – two Roasts; Radiant Flames; Negate; Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; Soulfire Grand Master – and while he had some minor mana issues, his inability to play multiple spells per turn surely cost him. But more importantly, Korey never opened himself up to getting two-for-oned by the removal Gerry was working with.
So Why Is Become Immense Okay?
Simply put? It deals a lot more damage. If I’m going to open myself up to a potential two-for-one, I want the payoff to be game-winning. And more often than not, Become Immense is exactly that. Over the course of #SCGCOL, I kept notes of what cards I wish I were drawing, what cards I wish I had more of in my deck, and what cards performed poorly. I do this to learn as much as I can when I play because my days of grinding Magic Online to improve are long gone. And over the course of the tournament, many situations occurred where all I could think was, “If I draw Become Immense, my opponent is d-e-a-d.”
The nice thing about Become Immense is that it’s so easy to cast. For a lot of decks, you have to work to put cards into your graveyard. For Atarka Red, it’s trivial. Your early creatures, Monastery Swiftspear and Zurgo Bellstriker, are inevitably going to die (if they don’t, you’re almost certainly winning). You have Dragon Fodder, Hordeling Outburst, Wild Slash, and Fiery Impulse as early plays that fill up the graveyard. Last, and most importantly, you have ten fetchlands to ensure that both your graveyard is full and that your mana functions accordingly.
If I could play #SCGCOL over again, I would add the second Become Immense back into the deck immediately.
How Was Reckless Bushwhacker?
Insane. Just insane.
Outside of Become Immense, this was the card I wanted to draw more than anything. The games naturally play out so that you are setting up one enormous turn and Reckless Bushwhacker is what makes it all work. I was briefly concerned that additionally copies would be poor, but a 2/1 with haste for three mana isn’t the worst deal in the world. But more than anything, I noticed that I was oftentimes just hoping to peel Bushwhacker to win a game that was becoming unwinnable rather quickly. Having that kind of out in your deck is invaluable and is something that I really liked about playing Atakra Red last weekend.
Why the 23rd Land?
Because I hate getting manascrewed and I think more decks should play more land.
Atarka Red can’t really afford to stumble out of the gates. The other decks in Standard are so obscenely powerful that getting stuck on two lands and not being able to play multiple spells in one turn is unacceptable. The games that I lost in Columbus were often because I kept a two-land hand, didn’t peel a third land on time, and was stuck playing one spell in a turn. That’s not me complaining, by the way. Keeping a two-land hand and not peeling the third land is part of Magic and is especially a part of playing Atarka Red. More than anything, that’s me retracing my footsteps and trying to identify if my losses were to deck construction, poor play, or not drawing a third land where it was imperative to do so. In a few instances, it was the latter.
For those who don’t understand why it’s important to play multiple spells per turn with this deck, consider the following:
Compare the red cards with the non-red ones. Their cards are insane. Ours are medium. So in order to overcome the fact we’re playing so many medium cards, we have to play as many as we can as quickly as possible. Because if Atarka Red tries to play the one spell per turn game, Abzan and Jeskai just do it better. And when Abzan and Jeskai work themselves into two spells per turn…
So What Would I Do Moving Forward?
One answer you’re not going to like. One you probably will.
1.) Learn to play Four-Color Rally.
2.) Start playing R/B Dragons.
Learning to play Four-Color Rally feels like giving up, but that deck is duuuuuuuuuuuuumb. I know Michael Majors didn’t have a good tournament with the deck, but in our grudge match while Tom Ross was playing in the Top 8, Majors humiliated me over and over again. I tried everything between our maindeck and sideboard games (about 25 total) and I think I won four of them. Going wide against Four-Color Rally is hopeless, but the Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense combo isn’t as good against them as you think after sideboard either. Look at the list Jacob Baugh won #SCGCOL with:
- 3 Nantuko Husk
- 2 Elvish Visionary
- 2 Grim Haruspex
- 3 Sidisi's Faithful
- 1 Liliana, Heretical Healer
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 2 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Zulaport Cutthroat
- 3 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 4 Reflector Mage
The problem, of course, is that you can’t combo them when they have open mana or you might run face-first into Murderous Cut or Collected Company into Reflector Mage or Sidisi’s Faithful. And that doesn’t even take into account that most Four-Color Rally decks have access to Dispel after sideboard. I just think the matchup is bad, and there’s really no fixing it at this stage. The trick, I suppose, is to not get paired against the deck.
Or you can switch to a different red-based strategy:
- 4 Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury
- 3 Flamewake Phoenix
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Thopter Engineer
Brad Nelson told me I should have played R/B Dragons at #SCGCOL, but I didn’t because I wanted to play with the Atarka Red deck that I wrote about the week prior. I actually thought R/B Dragons was a great choice for #SCGCOL and I believe it to be a good choice moving forward because flying is insane in this format.
I mentioned how I think about various cards when I play. The card I thought about the most during #SCGCOL?
I don’t know if this card has ever been as well-positioned as it is right now. Every deck has a problem dealing with it efficiently and it’s hell on earth for Four-Color Rally to see on the other side of the table. Flying in general is a very good right now, so cards like Flamewake Phoenix; Thopter Engineer; Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury; and even Mantis Rider should be working their way back into Standard any day now.
#SCGCOL was a great learning experience for me. I realized that I don’t like Titan’s Strength in Atarka Red, I really like how R/B Dragons is positioned, and I really look forward to finding a deck that works for me.
Now I just have to figure out Modern for #SCGLOU in a few weeks. Yikes…