Deconstructing Constructed – Red Deck Wins, Maybe

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Tuesday, April 29th – With the release of Shadowmoor, the Red deck has once again come to the forefront of many designers’ and players’ minds. Today, I’d like to go over some of the more debatable inclusions and possible design choices the deck will likely face in the future, all of which spring from player preference and metagame consideration.

With the release of Shadowmoor, the Red deck has once again come to the forefront of many designers’ and players’ minds. Today, I’d like to go over some of the more debatable inclusions and possible design choices the deck will likely face in the future, all of which spring from player preference and metagame consideration.

Tattermunge Maniac has been a much scrutinized card since its reveal on the mothership. People are arguing that it’s the second coming of Jackal Pup, and that it gives an already good Red deck a great one-drop which punishes people for not being up to snuff with their dice rolling and starting on the draw. Other people have said the Maniac is quite overrated – terrible, in fact – simply because he loses a lot of value on the draw and is pretty much the nut low as a topdeck.

I happen to agree with both sides to a certain extent, but I think people are too quick to put an absolute spin on this card about its actual effectiveness. I think of it like this: will Maniac deal 4 damage before it dies, if I lay it on turn 1 with no other support? Will it at least deal 2 and then trade with a creature? This can help determine at least how useful he’ll be on his own, or the opposite: how dependent he is on burn clearing the way.

Against Faeries
On the play: I can’t see Faeries ever not taking 4 unless they run a turn 2 Spellstutter out there to trade, which is usually in your favor (you dealt 2 and killed a guy, consider that usually they counter a burn spell and trade / chump a guy). What other play are they going to make early that’ll matter?
On the draw: The only bad opening would be if they laid Bitterblossom on turn 2, in which case you trade with a token and basically got a Shock out of the deal.

Against Elves
Maniac sucks and will almost always die to a silly mana elf or Vanquisher without help. How bad. Even throwing the restriction out the window for a minute, you’ll still never get good results from him in this match.

Against G/R Big Mana
On the play: Only Wall of Roots and Skred are real issues, and often now Skred is saved to deal with larger creatures or unavailable on turn 1 due to a comes-into-pay-tapped land. In addition, blocking will Wall often won’t happen from the pure threat of killing their mana accelerant with burn as a result.
On the draw: Skred, Wall, Civic Wayfinder, Kitchen Finks, or an accelerated Murderous Redcap all end the party early for the Maniac, with only Wayfinder being a trade and a bad one at that. I expected Maniac to do more in this match.

Against Doran
On the play: You pretty much always hit for 4 since nobody is trading a mana creature, which means Inversion is the only card that’ll commonly crush your dreams of getting four damage for R.
On the draw: Things get a bit worse under the stipulation that he’s doing all the work on his own, as Doran, The Siege Tower and Ohran Viper all threaten to not even let him get a swing in, let alone two. And of course Bitterblossm, Chameleon Colossus, and Garruk Wildspeaker are all around to be powered out and stop any offense from getting a second swing. In the real world, you burn mana creatures to the ground so you always hit for at least two, but it isn’t pretty on the draw overall.

Against Merfolk
On the play: Most Merfolk decks don’t have a way to trade with Maniac since the better builds cut the one-drops to make space. Top this off with not wanting to trade any of the two-drops like Banneret or Lord of Atlantis, and that only leaves Silvergill Adept as an issue. Played on turn 1, you’ll almost always get four damage if they don’t have the Adept, and if they do, you basically get a Shock on a player and the Adept. Of course, if they have Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender… then this is all out the window and nice job trading your one-drop for nothing.
On the draw: Pretty much the same as on the play. Even with a Lord boost, half the Merfolk in the deck will still only have butts of two toughness, and realistically a Lord is getting Bolted anyway. On its own, Maniac is passable on the draw.

Against Red Deck Wins
Maniac is pretty much the suck, as at best it’s going to trade at equal value and at worst die to a Mogg Fanatic blocker.

So out of the (arguably) top six decks from City Champs and the online metagame; in how many matches does Tattermunge Maniac shine?

Against Faeries and Merfolk, Maniac acts as either a four damage burn spell with the potential to still trade when attacking on turn 4, or as a Shock to an opponent and whichever creature he chooses as a blocker. Not bad at all in these two. Versus G/R Big Mana and Doran things get sketchy, as it seems like a solid burn spell guy on the play and rather unwieldy on the draw. Sure, it can be a beating with the right draw backing it up, but on too many occasions Maniac just seems to get stopped by a random dork or removal spell. And of course, these are the two matches many of the detractors immediately jump to when discussing this card or Fulminator Mage… yes, shock of shocks, Maniac sucks in what’s sure to be a creature versus creature extravaganza!

You’ve got two matches where you really like Maniac anytime you can lay it turn 1,
two where anytime you’re on the play things are awesome, yet they’re “meh” for the rest of the time; and another two matches in which you just hate them and wish you had ‘good cards’ in their place.

So if we’re being charitable, that means the Maniac is reasonable in four matches. The problem then becomes combining this with the other major drawback, the topdecking / uselessness issue. This card doesn’t just lose value after turn 1, it plummets straight into a deep dark hole with no saving grace outside of some very specific circumstances later in the game.

Basically, Maniac in RDW reminds me more of Spark Elemental in the current metagame. Most of the time a decent three-point burn spell to the dome that doesn’t lose all of its value after turn 1. Meanwhile, Maniac will most likely deal four before dying a timely death and have minimal value after turn 1. So unless Elves and RDW are going to stop existing, not to mention the anti-Red cards, there’s a solid argument against running this card in the maindeck. It comes down to this: how many of the above decks are going to see play in your metagame with the release of Shadowmoor? If Faeries and Merfolk are going to be two of the most played decks, then why not run Maniac? At worst its two-pronged burn spell, and at best you’ll be getting three swings in and possibly still trading. If you expect the Red mirror everywhere, and decks with small dorks or walls running around, then wow, have you got the wrong card sleeved up.

Rather than claiming that the card is amazing or awful, we can see that the card is situationally good, which can be said for about half the cards in the Red deck. Right now I’d run it, but I could also see the argument for running Greater Gargadon or Martyr of Ashes over it instead to fill the turn one play quota. Both of those cards do more to help your bad aggro matches, whereas Maniac is good in matches in which you already have decent game.

Mudbrawler Cohort sticks out in the few lists I’ve seen using him, because he isn’t particularly impressive stat-wise, nor does he bring the pinging like some of the other creatures in here. That said, what makes him valuable is the fact that he fills out the two-slot with another guy, and the fact that he can swing immediately makes up for his smaller stature. Maniac and Cohort on turns 1 and 2 can be a very strong start on the play against any deck, since on turn 3 you’ll almost inevitably be able to burn any blocker and bash for another four. Getting eight damage from your one- and two-drops, while keeping both on the table, is quite effective.

If you plan on running more than 16 guys, you should keep an open mind toward Cohort. He pretty much is the perfect compliment to one-drops, but suffers the same value loss as Maniac. Once again, you have to wonder if something like Spark Elemental isn’t just better. If I could help it, I doubt I’d run Cohort unless my entire creature base was configured to curve out and deal haste damage. If you want to make him look good, then I’d suggest something like:

8-12 one-drops – Maniac, Fanatic and possibly Spark Elemental
8 two-drops – Cohort and Marauders
8 three-drops — Inner-Flame Acolyte, Boggart Ram-Gang

Throw in some Shard Volley, Rift Bolt, and Flame Javelin for pure damage, and suddenly you have a deck that looks closer to 38 burn and psuedo-burn spells than a traditional extreme angle deck. Unlike relying completely on burn spells, these guys will need to actually be dealt with at some point or they’ll just keep pinging along.

With Flame Javelin and Boggart Ram-Gang, there is far less debate going on. Rather, Flame Javelin simply goes in every Red deck without question, and Ram-Gang goes in any Red build willing to play a three-drop creature. A 3/3 haste creature is rather effective at bashing through in the matches where you deal with many small dorks and can effectively remove a large creature from relevancy if you force the issue. Sure, you lose the creature, but it means all your small minions can attack or block and trade, trample over for some damage, or just reduce the potential clock on you. I can’t really see playing Countryside Crusher without a very good reason when this guy exists and just has a much higher chance of swinging for damage before dying.

On the Mutavault / Keldon Megaliths debate, personally I can only see running the former if you have 24 land and if you’re willing to miss on the 3rd/4th turn Flame Javelin at times. Of course, that also means knocking out Boggart Ram-Gang as well, which pretty much says you have a low curve deck by default. Mutavault is very good, but I think a lot more testing and tweaking will be needed to see if it can justify the potential mana inconsistencies. I like to air on the side of caution and most likely won’t be running any Mutavault in the near future. Megaliths, on the other hand, just seems awful, as you don’t want any comes-into-play-tapped lands if any of your plans involve Maniac, Marauders, and burn spell as a curve out strategy. I didn’t like them before I had access to Flame Javelin, and I especially don’t like them now where they can screw up a potential 3rd turn play because I finally have to lay it as my land for the turn.

Think of it like this: these lands are almost always going to cause problems if you keep two-landers involving one of them. Two Mountain or a Mountain + Filter land? Not really an issue. With hands involving these lands, however, you may be looking at a gimped hand or a possible mulligan depending on multiples in your hand. Speaking of which, if you rock multiples of either specialty land and see more than one in the opener, then good luck racing anybody that isn’t G/R Big Mana.

After that, there seems to be three variations on the common ‘bash with Red guys and burn the opponent out’ plan. The first tends to be the super-fun-time burn heavy versions like in Flores’s article last week. They run the bare minimum of creatures, usually just Fanatic, Marauders, and then some combination of Blood Knight, Spark Elemental, and Tattermunge Maniac to fill out the remaining creature slots. Then 20-24 spaces are used on the usual burn suspects, with the possible stand-out being some Red decks use of Browbeat. Personally I hate using Browbeat, but some people just feel it’s more likely to cause damage than something like Threaten.

The mid-range route would likely look something along these lines:

The Green in the maindeck would be to give additional sideboard options such as Firespout, Raking Canopy (if you’re willing to devote more land slots to Green), and the old hats of Hurricane and Naturalize / Krosan Grip if you like. If you run enough Green you could also run a creature like Kitchen Finks for the mirror match, which follows the aggressive theme but obviously pushes many board positions into your favor. You’ll note the maindeck of Martyr of Ashes to help out against Elves and wreck other creature-heavy decks. Normally I’d simply board them, but as I stated above you can make a good case for them over Maniac because they help some of the crappy matches.

Finally we have creature heavy variants, which haven’t really been talked about since most people are working under the assumption that running more creatures is just worse than playing a tribal deck. Although I’m sure it’s difficult to imagine, you can do it, although I’m reasonably sure you just have to pair off with another color. For example, take the above listed deck, add two land, cut the Marauders, Shard Volley and Maniac, add then add two more Martyr main, a set of Bitterblossom and four of either the R/G or R/B Liege. You’ve effectively increased your combat / utility creatures, given yourself the mid-game power of Bitterblossom, and still kept the best burn spells in the deck. If you want a more controlling segment, then add Profane Command and Fulminator Mage over Fanatic and Rift Bolt.

In the current metagame I prefer the middle of the road approach until we see just how much life-gain, combo, and other crash hazards pop up in the Red deck’s race to the top. The problem with the pure burn approach is how prone it is to losing because it hits a land clump at a crucial moment, or because you just couldn’t get past a Dragon’s Claw or Kitchen Finks with pure burn. Meanwhile, a creature-heavy variant has promise, but is going to need a lot of tuning to look better than Faeries, Merfolk or Elves, as potential suitors.

Speaking of tribes, you could take Elementals, effectively mono-Red, and turn it into an aggro machine itself.

Obviously this a rough draft based on my experiences from the LBC version, but trying it out against Faeries showed that it can beat down at a very quick rate. There are 10 guys that pump your creatures and make them better, you have direct damage from Forger and Sunflare Shaman, and you have mana acceleration from the Banneret. The really special thing about this aggro deck is you get to cheat and run four Vampiric Tutor in Flamekin Harbinger which can fetch you removal, recursion, pump or land destruction. If you wanted you could even run a Mulldrifter for some card-drawing capabilities as well, although I prefer just abusing Reveillark.

The format with Shadowmoor is still young, but hopefully you have a better understanding about the debates regarding some of the new additions the set brings us. I think there’s a lot of unexplored potential in the Red deck shell… we just need to see past the opening day hype and get over the ideas behind good and bad cards.

But Mudbutton Clanger still sucks.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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5. Out of the Dark (Rob Mayth Remix) — Age P.