Fire Isn’t Always Red

Matt Higgs breaks down his Magic Origins prerelease, including multiple different builds he tried over the course of his event, as well as takes a quick peek at the future of Standard with a Heroic Red deck for #SCGCHI!

After missing out on Dragons of Tarkir’s Prerelease, I was so pumped to get my fix this past weekend, and I’ve got some great stories to bring you. I asked you all to help me pick my color for the event, and you replied with one voice: red!

The idea of playing red in a Sealed event is by nature a big gamble. Sealed is more about card power than synergy, as you can’t rely on getting the right combination of cards as easily. Red’s always been about hitting cards in stride, keeping pressure on, and having that cheap, but somewhat conditional, removal and burn at just the right time. Last year, during the Magic 2015 prerelease, I was able to play Mono-Red with the help of a few artifacts. I ended up setting it aside for a B/W sealed deck for the rest of the day, so I was nervous I’d run into the same problem. However, red had some powerful commons, like Boggart Brute, Ghirapur Gearcrafter, and Fiery Impulse, and uncommons like Skyraker Giant and Seismic Elemental were large and relevant at most points in the game. You also got a chance at Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, who seemed like one of the best planeswalkers for Limited in the format. All seemed well, so when it came to game day I was prepared to fly the Nalaar banner.

I worried that lots of people were going to wander through the fire when I arrived at my prerelease event on Saturday, but there plenty to choose from when it was my turn to take my box.

Chandra Box

Along with perhaps seventy or eighty other eager Magic players, I sat down at an assigned table, my prerelease box unopened and idle in front of me. A few good-natured door prizes and house announcements later, we collectively grabbed our sharpest implements (my car keys, in this case) and slashed the tape that sealed our boxes. We all piled out our sealed pool as told, and here’s what I unwrapped.

Sealed Pool

That’s probably pretty hard to see, so here’s the breakdown.

White (20)

1 Tragic Arrogance

2 Sentinel of the Eternal Watch

2 Knightly Valor

1 Ampryn Tactician

4 Mighty Leap

2 Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road

1 Kytheon’s Tactics

2 Yoked Ox

1 Swift Reckoning

1 Archangel of Tithes

1 Anointed of Champions

1 Topan Freeblade

1 Healing Hands

Blue (10)

1 Displacement Wave

2 Deep-Sea Terror

1 Nivix Barrier

1 Dreadwaters

1 Aspiring Aeronaut

1 Ringwarden Owl

1 Bone to Ash

1 Screeching Skaab

1 Artificer’s Epiphany

Black (15)

2 Nantuko Husk

2 Macabre Waltz

3 Infernal Scarring

1 Reave Soul

2 Unholy Hunger

1 Catacomb Slug

1 Thornbow Archer

1 Eyeblight Massacre

1 Liliana, Heretical Healer

1 Touch of Moonglove

Red (17)

1 Ghirapur Gearcrafter

1 Titan’s Strength

1 Subterranean Scout

2 Boggart Brute

1 Goblin Glory Chaser

1 Seismic Elemental

1 Goblin Piledriver

3 Volcanic Rambler

1 Mage-Ring Bully

1 Fiery Impulse

1 Fiery Conclusion

1 Akroan Sergeant

1 Dragon Fodder

1 Act of Treason

Green (15)

2 Skysnare Spider

2 Leaf Gilder

1 Elvish Visionary

1 Undercity Troll

2 Conclave Naturalists

1 Pharika’s Disciple

1 Nissa’s Revelation

1 Orchard Spirit

1 Rhox Mauler

1 Hitchclaw Recluse

1 Titanic Growth

1 Caustic Caterpillar

Multicolor (3)

1 Blazing Hellhound

1 Zendikar Incarnate

1 Citadel Castellan

Artifact (7)

1 Guardians of Meletis

2 Alchemist’s Vial

1 Guardian Automaton

1 War Horn

1 Ramroller

1 Hangarback Walker

Land (4)

1 Rogue’s Passage

1 Caves of Koilos

1 Battlefield Forge

1 Evolving Wilds

Pretty nice stack, I think. My promo card, which could have been a number of worse rares, turned out to be Goblin Piledriver, a real ringer and potential Standard player – especially alongside such wreckers as Goblin Rabblemaster and every one-drop Goblin ever printed. I got nine rares and mythic rares total, given here for those who just want to skip to the good stuff.


Tragic Arrogance Archangel of Tithes Liliana, Heretical Healer Nissa's Revelation Battlefield Forge Caves of Koilos


Displacement Wave Goblin Piledriver Hangarback Walker

That is some kind of good stuff! My prerelease entry fee was quickly refunded through the quality and breadth of high-powered rares in my packs, and after determining that the red support was indeed pretty strong, I tried to determine my second-best color to bolster it. Blue had by far the weakest pool from which I could draw, with only ten cards and only one non-common, and even the foil rare was mediocre. White seemed acceptable, but Archangel of Tithes seemed very difficult to cast and was otherwise merely acceptable. Green seemed fine, too, with cards like Zendikar Incarnate and two Leaf Gilders to make me on a high top-end plan. Still, I think that the range of removal and on-curve creatures made black the best choice. I grabbed the Liliana, Heretical Healer and my Goblin Piledriver and set to work.

R/B Deck

I also grabbed my green and white cards and began sleeving a second deck when deckbuilding time ran out. It looked fine, but the B/R deck looked better. It utilized the classy combo of Nantuko Husk and Liliana, Heretical Healer to keep outclassed one- and two-drops relevant late in the game. I even got an Act of Treason to sacrifice their traitorous creature! Blazing Hellhound helped keep the sacrifice theme alive, and the War Horn gave all my creatures a much-needed boost in combat. Two overpriced Murders rounded out the Rakdos brew, and it was time to go to round one.

Round One – David (U/R)

David had a smile on his face and a hearty handshake. We sat down, I completed sleeving the G/W deck, then grabbed the pink-sleeved Rakdos brew for battle. We had the same start of Goblin Glory Chaser into Goblin Piledriver, with his also being a promo copy. After that, he started beating me down with Firefiend Elemental. When it hit the field, I had a Reave Soul in hand to kill it and blockers to block it, but I let it through, allowing it to grow out of the range of my removal spell. I traded off a good portion of my board, but I was down to six life when Molten Vortex hit the field. After making enough tokens, though, and with him not seeing any Islands, or other lands for that matter, he couldn’t close.

In game two, I curved out and transformed Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, who forced him to discard away anything that would have made his game relevant.


Good start; you never want a tournament to begin on the back foot, and a 2-0 match is where everyone wants to be.

Round Two – Brennan (U/W)

Brennan had the bye for round one, so his deck remained untested in mortal combat. In the first game I curved out hard on him, staying one step ahead of his Renown creatures. After assembling a reasonable board behind two Nantuko Husks, I cast Act of Treason, leaving him with a paltry sum of blockers and crashed in for lethal.

I thought that the deck got lucky and I thought that Brennan’s good blockers and long-game potential would win out in the end, so I switched to the G/W deck for the second game. The deck never really got online in game two, and between Renown creatures and timely Suppression Bonds, I was severely out-tempoed.

For game three, I went into the tank, considering whether the Rakdos deck would be better on the play, hoping for an explosive draw of cheap creatures and removal. But if he hit his stride, I had no chance. I decided to keep with the Selesnya deck for the final game.

That’s when he cast Whirler Rogue.

People were talking about how blue was lackluster, but she was enough to go blue in Sealed pretty much by herself. He stuck this around the midgame and, dumbfounded, I watched as his team became Renowned and finally a Skaab Goliath came down to seal my fate. A triple block was thwarted by Celestial Flare for the ol’ 3-for-1.


Losses happen in Prereleases. No big deal.

Well, OK, it is a big deal for me. I came to play and learn, but I also came to win. I decided to shake things up; the black in my deck, specifically the removal, was pretty decent, and the green in my other deck offered an awesome top end. The red and white were not as well aligned as I thought, but a good curve in those colors might spell doom for an unprepared deck. Time to trade ’em!

G/B Deck

And the other one is…

R/W Deck

I thought about starting the quad-Mighty Leap but got talked out of it by much more reasonable neighbors.

The timer reset, and third round pairings went up.

Round Three – Jeremy (U/W)

Jeremy was a new face for me, but he was on Brennan’s plan, too, swarming the board with Renown creatures and tempo plays to help them get through. Time to see if the Golgari plan would work. After getting an on-time Eyeblight Massacre, I cast Nissa’s Revelation hitting a Skysnare Spider and there was no looking back. I rode the Revelation twice in the match, with Macabre Waltz recovering an armada of threats at the cost of a random Forest in both games. In game two, he cast Talent of the Telepath, finding Reave Soul to knock out one of my creatures but putting two Conclave Naturalists in the graveyard for my in-hand Macabre Waltz. Before long, it was clear that both the Naturalists and Skysnare Spider were more powerful than some rares, being able to play offense and defense exceptionally well. With ways to undo removal and enchantments, the Spiders were unstoppable.


This deck seemed much better to me; in Sealed, you always need to be prepared for the long game, and hyper-aggressive strategies often lack that late-game presence.

Between rounds, I’d been dueling my pal Hagen with a proxied deck for the new Standard. Want to know more? Well, don’t worry, I’ll give you a peek!

As we heard the round four call, we packed up our decks and, well, sat down across from each other for the Prerelease.

Round Four – Hagen (Mono-Red)

Hagen was on the “no chill” plan, with small but scary attackers like Bellows Lizard and huge bruisers like Embermaw Hellion. I curved out in game one, sticking my Spiders while Hagen struggled to assemble defenders. In game two, though, his removal was on point, and his Hellion’s passive damage increase proved critical as he cast Lightning Javelin on my Rhox Maulers. Despite feeling OK at five life, he had the Chandra’s Fury for exactly lethal.

The final game was tense, not the least because I had to go down to four on the play, keeping two Forests and a Leaf Gilder. Though he had a slow start, his first attack dealt me nine damage and I struggled to find the second Swamp for Unholy Hunger. After ripping the second black source, I was able to stabilize with a Skysnare Spider while Hagen flooded on so many Mountains.


Hagen’s was a tough one, and I was nervous for 97% of the match.

Before round five, I decided to switch my Elvish Visionary, which didn’t really do much, for a Caustic Caterpillar, as there were a lot of artifacts and enchantments floating around.

Round Five – Adam (G/W)

Adam and I were in good positions; a loss would put us out of Top Eight, but we’d still finish with a positive record.

Adam and I dug in, and an on-time Hangarback Walker proved a problem. I was able to trade off the Walker for a renowned Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road. I set up a defense and smacked away with Thopters until his life total went negative. In game two, we were both moving pretty slow, trading off while we both dipped to twelve life. I assembled a board containing a huge Hangarback Walker and a Conclave Naturalists. After I thought I had the game sealed up, he cast Hixus, Prison Warden to exile both my creatures. We continued in topdeck mode for a while until I drew my second Conclave Naturalists. He attacked into it and, assuming he had drawn a trick, I forced it by blocking. They ended up trading, and as he saw me reach for my exile pile, he realized his mistake and scooped it up with a smile, a friendly concession, and a handshake.


One more victory and it was Top Eight time!

Round Six – Taylor (White)

Taylor was a consistent testing buddy and community contributor in our local Magic Facebook group. Although I’m having trouble remembering his deck exactly, I’m pretty sure it had white in it. I should remember, because I don’t think he played anything but lands in game one after mulling to six. I mulled to five, but the luck gods favored me more. He admitted his keep was a mistake, so I looked forward to a good match in game two. After Leaf Gilder set me up for on-curve removal and double Skysnare Spiders, things were looking good. He was forced into gang blocking, but after killing both Spiders with Celestial Flare and his blocking squad, I cast Macabre Waltz to buy them both back.


Admittedly there is a reason I had trouble remembering, because we played three more games afterwards. I used my R/W aggro deck and he used his deck from that morning’s Prerelease, an idealized U/R artifact brew with four Ghirapur Gearcrafter, Thopter Spy Network and roughly 14,000 counterspells. It was a far more entertaining match, to be honest, and the R/W couldn’t win if it tried. He told me afterward he went undefeated and I can see why.

Off to the Top Eight! With one non-splitter, we were set to play it out.

Quarterfinals – Tyler Winn (B/W)

Is that name familiar to you?

His trophy is nice.

Yeah, that’s him with the Standard Open trophy from last May’s SCG Open Series in Knoxville. Good Magic player. Still, I had a lot of confidence in my deck, so it would just be like any other match.

In game one, he cast a Blightcaster, giving me a signal of his plan. I dealt with it a turn later than I should have and he killed off my Leaf Gilder, keeping me down on mana. Still, I got back into it with Skysnare Spider paired with Rogue’s Passage. As the board got more and more clogged, the combination of Skysnare Spider and Rogue’s Passage felt more and more like a big Pulse of the Forge than a combat step. It slammed in one more turn for exact damage.

In game two, we were in a nailbiter. I got back into it with both Skysnare Spiders and he amassed an army of flyers. I was sitting at five life while he had a Vryn Wingmare, Charging Griffin, Gold-Forged Sentinel, and an Akroan Jailer staring me down. I had a Reave Soul, Unholy Hunger, and Conclave Naturalist in hand to deal with his stuff, but only nine mana to do it. A Hitchclaw Recluse was holding down the fort alone, and I had random ground pounders including Guardian Automaton and Caustic Caterpillar. He’d removed both Spiders. I debated the best line; it involved killing the Sentinel for sure, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. In the end, I paid three to kill his Jailer and cast a Naturalists to kill his Sentinel. Unfortunately, he ripped an Unholy Hunger off the top, killed my Recluse, and bashed for lethal. Instead, I should have just cast the Naturalists and kept the Caterpillar up to kill my own Automaton, meaning he couldn’t tip my Recluse aggressively to get in or he’d be too defenseless (he was at eight life.) Alternatively, I could have cast the Naturalists and cast Reave Soul on his Griffin, leaving him with the awkward “tap-my-recluse, attack-for-two” line. Either way, I made a mistake that cost me the game. Game three saw him curve out with solid creatures and removal, and I didn’t stand a chance.

Though my night ended a bit abruptly due to a play error, it was eleven o’clock and I walked away with a bit of cash in my pocket, so all in all, it worked out great!

This looks like it will be a really exciting Limited format, especially for Draft. More than any Core Set in the past, I am really excited to put this one through its paces from a Limited as well as a Constructed perspective. It should say something that Magic Origins has contributed eighteen upgrades to my Cube, when most sets are lucky to add five or six. Skysnare Sentinel and Rogue’s Passage feels really unfair, and I know lots of people will exploit this and other vigilant creatures in the coming Limited format.

Red, sadly, was not a great color for the Prerelease, but there is potential… and its Constructed impact is already being discussed. In between rounds, I was busy testing a particular iteration of the newest Standard that leverages three powerful new cards in a familiar archetype: Heroic Red.

Zurgo Bellstriker into Infectious Bloodlust seemed insane in preliminary testing, and the fact that it helps remove the two-for-one nature of Auras is outstanding in mono-red; we’ll take any card advantage we can get. This combined with Abbot of Keral Keep means the archetype gets a big boost, both by getting another Prowess body and by replacing itself. Casting two spells a turn is also great with the new Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh. Hammerhand and Infectious Bloodlust help you flip her the turn she comes in, spelling a quick death for most any deck. In practice, this deck was fast, consistent, and exciting. It gives an extra dimension and nuance to red that I felt it had been missing for a while, but if you like Red Heroic decks, slot this one up and see how you like it. I promise you’ll feel the fire too.

How did your prerelease go? Did any interactions you encounter inspire you to brew something you’d never considered for the new Standard?