Duel With Ruel – Red Deck Wins versus Turboland: The Red Deck Wins Perspective

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Tuesday, August 3rd – With Blue/White Control variants being the strategy to beat, will Turboland rise to the top once more? With fans such as Cedric Phillips, the strategy is certainly potent. However, the dreaded specter of the perennial Red Deck Wins is a thorn in the speed-land strategy… Hall of Famer Antoine Ruel burns down the Fast Forests today.

A short while ago, people were waiting for the results from the Finnish National Championships in order to get a better idea of how the Standard format had developed with the introduction of M11. Along with everyone else, I was waiting for them to test this article, as I was informed there was a Turboland deck that came third there (which is the deck I have to test this week). I actually had to turn my article late… only to realize that the deck was almost entirely M10, splashing M11 for 4 Obstinate Baloths in the sideboard (and this is something I would have figured by myself). So no brand new special tech, no Mana Leak… just a classic (and a little disappointing) Turboland deck. I guess at least that the result shows the deck was powerful enough to test it the previous two weeks.

The matchup is quite interesting, as it shows the impact of Obstinate Baloth on Red Deck Wins. Even though the card is obviously good, how many copies of it will be necessary to survive the Ball Lightning assaults and eventually win, coming from a deck in which it will be the only disruptive card to show up before turns 5/6. Will it be winnable off one, two, or three 3 Obstinate Baloths? Will the overbearing sideboard (Pelakka Wurm and Fog) be enough that Turboland can beat Mono-Red, assuming that game 1 should be very tough? Let’s find out:

I will play the following version of Red Deck Wins:

Manu will play Kalle Sundberd’s Turboland:

Maindeck Games ( 22 wins, 2 losses, 91.6% games won)

On the play: 11 wins, 1 loss
On the draw: 11 wins, 1 loss

I was so close to reaching Oli’s record of wins in this column, also with Red Deck Wins (versus Mythic Conscription), but 23/1 should never happen between competitive decks. Owling Mine versus Zoo was an exception, and that was more like 0/24 no matter WHAT happened.

There is not much to say about a matchup in which Khalni Garden is your opponent’s only card that “stops” your beatdown. Even my mother would have won at least 20 games here, for the following reasons:

– Turboland only has two cards to slow us down: Khalni Garden and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Both are ineffective. Jace, the Mind Sculptor can only bounce one creature and earn tempo in the process: Kargan Dragonlord. We don’t even need to kill it, as with no gain life and no counterspells, Turboland cannot interfere with our race to 20. Khalni Garden basically gains one life, or two if it is lucky enough to battle with a Goblin Guide without getting Searing Blazed beforehand.

Ball Lightning is just too good when our opponent’s best answer to it is a 0/1 plant token. The same goes for Hellspark Elemental and (the unstoppable) Hell’s Thunder.

– Even the opponent’s 6 fetchlands help, as any extra damage is good, and Turboland can’t afford not to use them.

Goblin Guide on turn 1, even on the draw, is game over.

– Red Deck Wins kills by turns 4 or 5 against the goldfish.

– Taking an average draw into account, we can easily kill the Lotus Cobra and Oracle of Mul Daya of our opponent and make sure he’ll never cast Avenger of Zendikar before turn 5, leaving one more turn to blast or fly him to death. The best thing for Red Deck Wins is that it kills creatures without losing either direct damage or tempo, thanks to Searing Blaze, Staggershock, and Earthquake.

Avenger of Zendikar does not kill too quickly, and thus we can play Earthquake to get rid of the tokens and force our opponent to cast a second copy of the elemental to have a chance to win. We can also kill the 5/5 before the plants enter the battlefield.

– There is no way our opponent can ever cast Time Warp and Avenger of Zendikar on the same turn, so we will always have an extra turn to topdeck and/or win.

– Turboland cannot expect to win before turn 6/7

The matchup is an absolute goldfish for Red Deck Wins, which kills two turns faster than Turboland. Anyone pushing cards and being able to count from twenty to minus-five should be able to master the main deck games on the Red side.

Facing a sideboard that I expect to be brutal, it becomes a little too difficult for my mother to handle. Here is my sideboard plan:

-2 Staggershock
-1 Searing Blaze
+1 Earthquake
+2 Flame Slash

Kargan Dragonlord was the worst card I had main deck. It even almost made Jace, the Mind Sculptor useful a couple of times. Still, after sideboard, I expect Manu to fight and probably beat me. The games will be longer, and I will have more time to level up the Kargan Dragonlord and gain benefits from it. Ember Hauler definitely seems better main deck in general, but worse against all the lifegain strategies in various sideboards.

Sideboarded Games (14 wins, 12 losses, 53.8% games won)

On the play: 8 wins, 5 losses
On the draw: 6 wins, 7 losses

Wow… I ended up winning! Better still, I had the feeling that Manu got lucky overall.

It is interesting to see that Obstinate Baloth doesn’t beat Mono Red simply by itself. Actually, Manu needed to cast many of them to win a game.

– One Obstinate Baloth was definitely not enough. It was easy to kill, and it did not narrow the huge gap between the two decks.
– Two Obstinate Baloths were definitely not enough against a good draw from me, but it would win if I was screwed in any way.
– Three Obstinate Baloths were almost not enough against my best draws when on the play, but at this point they started getting really annoying.

Usually, I lost with good draws when Manu gained fifteen life in the game, from double Obstinate Baloth and one Pelakka Wurm.

For the record, I won a game in which Manu made turn 4 Baloth, turn 5 Baloth, turn 7 Pelakka Wurm, turn 8 Pelakka Wurm. The Wurm is the real deal, and Obstinate Baloth earns them the time they need in order to reach it. Turboland cannot board out six cards without losing some synergy. So if you kill the 4/4, you are no longer racing against creatures or combo (which is slow), but against the next gain life spell to show up. You keep this up until you cannot win anymore.

I had some choices to make during the games, and that was actually enjoyable. When the first Obstinate Baloth entered the battlefield, I often didn’t Earthquake it away, in order to hopefully bag another 4/4 on the following turn, keeping myself away from pure aggression for a short while.

As Turboland can gain life after sideboarding, you HAVE to kill Jace, the Mind Sculptor in order to reduce the quantity of sideboard cards your opponent will draw. More, the planeswalker can even bounce Pelakka Wurm or Obstinate Baloth later on, and you do not want this to happen. Another reason to kill the planeswalker would be to free Kargan Dragonlord’s way, as it is the only card that can prevent it from becoming a massive flying threat.

No joke: main deck Kargan Dragonlord was bad, but after sideboarding it morphed into an 8/8 flier many times. It provided an efficient second breath to the deck, and it could even race Pelakka Wurm and any of the Turboland beats. There are still spots in which Kargan Dragonlord is too slow, usually when you are already winning or losing anyway. Just make sure you keep some burn to kill a Jace, the Mind Sculptor that might show up at anytime (any flashback guy or burn should do it).

It was really difficult to play around Fog and Flashfreeze. With only 2 copies of each card in Manu’s sideboard, I could not really afford to play around them. Flashfreeze was a bit obvious, as Turboland is not supposed to pass the turn with open mana up, so you should be able to see it coming. Fog is a bit more annoying, as you can play around it a little, but if it shows up at the wrong time, it will be lethal, especially if you went “all in.” You have to keep as many options as you can, but you cannot really afford to be too slow and let a Pelakka Wurm enter the battlefield just because you were scared of a card you opponent might not have in hand. Maybe your opponent will play 4 Fog in his sideboards; either way, you will have to mix your aggressive nature with longer game plans, and evaluate your odds of winning the game if you opt for a slower and safer beatdown tactic The good thing about Real Life Magic compared to Magic Online would be that if you watch your opponent’s mannerisms, you have a good chance of deducing whether he has a Fog or not. It is a complicated card for him to play, as if he doesn’t use it at the right time, burn might kill him. Online, if your opponent thinks for a while during your attack step, he might just be getting a Coke out of his fridge.

The matchup against this version of Turboland was unexpectedly good, and it shows (again) how good Mono Red can be against a deck that is not built to beat it main deck, even when it sideboards in ten cards against it. In general, I would not dedicate many spots in my sideboard only to end up losing the matchup against which such cards are supposed to help.

Obstinate Baloth will be harder to face in decks that do something else other than playing lands around it.

There are two sideboard cards that people advised me to play

Mark of Mutiny: the card might be really good in some spots, and very interesting if you steal Primeval Titan with it and play Plated Geopede main as the two-drop creature. The card is very situational, but there might be a spot for it if the format evolves towards the popular mana ramp decks, which is very likely to happen.

Leyline of Punishment: what exactly will it be good against? A deck with Kor Firewalker, Obstinate Baloth, and Baneslayer Angel? If someone plays something like this, then he deserves to win against Red Deck Wins. The card might be good against UW Control, assuming that the version has Kor Firewalker and Baneslayer Angel. You will need to have it in your opening hand, and get to the point where it is useful with one less active card in your hand, and hope your opponent does not have Celestial Purge to exile it. You can also draw a second copy, or mulligan then have it in your opening hand, or topdeck it when any other card would have won you the game.

Besides the White decks (the ones with Celestial Purge), the card might be useful against Green decks with Obstinate Baloth, but merely targeting one card (or maybe two with Pelakka Wurm or four with Fog, and some people play Unsummon instead) is just not enough. Maybe Leyline of Punishment will be correct in matchups like Turboland, but what exactly would be the point in boarding in such cards for decks you already beat?

If you play against Green Aggro or Jund, your opponent will not just put some random Obstinate Baloth onto the battlefield to try to survive a couple more turns. The card will actually allow him to race. By the way, about Leyline of Punishment against Jund: it is never nice to start a game with six cards in hand against a Blightning deck. The card just seems bad when facing anything aggressive.

There’s no poll for the matchup to test in two weeks… I will pick up two good decks once the format has settled.

Good luck in your National Championships, holidays, and PTQs.


Antoine Ruel