Feature Article – Spotlight on States: Red Aggression in Standard

Are YOU ready for States?
The final countdown has begun! States is mere days away, and today’s Feature Article begins a series of pieces intended to inform your final deck choice for the big day. First up, we have Dan Paskins with… yup, you’ve guessed it… the Red spells. Dan brings us four competitive decks, two revolving around pairing Red with Green (And the obligatory Tarmogoyfs), and two focusing on the tribal synergies available with the Goblins. If you’re a fan of the flame, then maybe these are the decks for you…

Red Decks for the coming States competitions?


To make the Red Deck – the deck that won lots and lots over the summer – Standard legal, we can change the Scorched Rusalkas into Martyr of Ashes or Magus of the Scroll, Seal of Fire into Tarfire, and Char into Threaten. Replacing Stomping Ground is a nuisance, but we could play, say, two Grove of the Burnwillows and two Gemstone Mine. That gives us:

That took about a minute and a half to “design.”

Lots of people will be playing something like this (maybe with another burn spell instead of Threaten, or other subtle differences). So the next step is to work out how to beat it.

If you are going to play a Red beatdown deck at States, I think it will be absolutely essential that you have a plan for winning the mirror match. It’s not the only consideration – there are decks from Time Spiral Block like Teachings and Kavu Justice, and new decks with Kithkins, or Nameless Inversions and Haakons, or Purity to think about. But getting an advantage in the mirror match is likely to be a better strategy than “hoping I draw more Tarmogoyfs and Mogg War Marshals than my opponent.”

To get an edge when Red Decks fight each other, you either need lots of cheap creatures that can get in for damage early on, and then you proceed to burn your opponent out; or you need more expensive spells so that after you have blown up each others’ creatures, you are drawing and playing more powerful spells that dominate the board. Which strategy is better depends on the cards available to us. For example, the Goblin deck in Extended favors the player who can get the initiative and start attacking first, because there are lots of creatures with Haste and minimal creature removal.

The case for trying to get an edge with cheap spells is that you can play with fewer lands, and that both Threaten and Greater Gargadon are much better when you are ahead on life than when you are trying to stabilize. The only thing sadder than a Greater Gargadon required to stay back for blocking duty is when that same Greater Gargadon is Threatened.

The case for staving off the early rush of creatures and then winning with better card quality is that it is very easy to hold off an early creature rush with the toys available to the Red Deck. Mogg Fanatic, Mogg War Marshal, and Martyr of the Ashes can all take out multiple small creatures. It is possible to have eight spells that deal three damage for two mana (Incinerate and Lash Out), and Lash Out is better when you don’t mind as much if it deals damage to your opponent (the Clash helps smooth out your mana rather than just having to rely on what happens to be on top of your deck). You also have access to Siege-Gang Commander. If you cast Siege Gang Commander in a Red-on-Red match, then their only real hope is to burn you to death very quickly – their creatures won’t be getting through to deal any more damage. You can’t, however, play Siege-Gang Commander in a deck with just twenty land. The other thing is that without Char (sob sob), the quality of burn spells in the deck is much diminished. This makes it that much harder to get a quick start and then fling burn at your opponent’s face when they seem to have gained control.

Based on Tomoharu Saitou’s deck from Japanese Nationals, a Red Deck that is planning to beat other Red Decks would look something like this:

The trade-off is that this deck is stronger against small creature beatdown decks while being weaker against slower, more controlling decks. You’ll know better than I which strategy is most important for the opponents that you expect to face.

The other good thing about this year’s Red Deck is that the sideboard options are extremely strong. Against White Weenie decks, you have Sulfur Elemental and Blood Knight if you need. For graveyard-based decks, Tormod’s Crypt is a cure-all. Against control decks, Manabarbs has already proved its worth, and if it’s not in your maindeck, Threaten should certainly be in the sideboard for big creatures. Cryoclasm and Magus of the Moon provide mana disruption. I don’t think that artifact destruction is particularly needed at the moment, but if it should be then Ancient Grudge, Krosan Grip, and Naturalize are available.

It’s important to remember that this deck does not play like it did over the summer. Without Char, your creatures will have to do nearly all of the hard work, as the Red Deck is more about controlling the board and attacking then about doing a few early points of damage and then burning your opponent’s face. One positive is that there is a lot less lifegain about – no Lightning Helix and no Loxodon Hierarch, for example – so you will usually need to do them “just” twenty damage rather than 25-30 as has been the case recently.

So, that’s all fr-


Oh, stop it. There’s plenty of Goblins in the above lists.

“Not enough. You have ignored our Swamp-dwelling friends.”


Alright, then.

The important thing with a Goblin deck is not to end up with a deck that is like the R/g deck, but just packed out with inferior cards. Replacing Tarmogoyf, Keldon Marauders, and Incinerate, for example, with Mad Auntie, Wort, and Boggart Shenanigans is just weakening the deck for the sake of being able to tap Swamps to summon goblins. [And that’s bad? Dan, what’s the matter with you?! – Craig, amused.]

Again, there are two different, distinctive ways of taking the Goblin deck. The first is to play a more controlling Black/Red deck like the one suggested by Mark Young:

The only changes I’ve made to this deck are in the sideboard, and putting Disintegrate and Shriekmaw in the maindeck instead of Molten Disaster and Rift Bolt. Molten Disaster is great against some decks, but against most decks Disintegrate is more generally useful (kills creatures, burns out the opponent, and doesn’t kill you). I also added Pendelhaven because there are a lot of 1/1s in the deck (that’s the kind of Premium strategy I know my readers are looking for).

The other is to play a lot of Goblins, as suggested by Josh Silvestri and Stuart Wright.

I’d be happy to play any of the above four decks at States. I think the R/g decks have an edge against the Goblin decks, but even I am aware that not all decks at States will be Red decks, and also that not everyone has four Tarmogoyfs. As ever, I’m very happy to answer questions in the forums, and will post updates in the week ahead – it is rarely the case that anyone finalizes their deck a week before the tournament, and as last minute additions suggest themselves, I’ll let you know.

Take care,

Dan Paskins