Flores Friday – Two for Torrent

Read Mike Flores every Friday... at StarCityGames.com!
Friday, August 15th – Red, Red, Red… it seems the color is omnipresent across a number of formats. Standard is awash with flame, and Demigod of Revenge is making a charge on the Block Constructed metagame. Today, Mike looks at Red in both Block and Standard, and shares his thoughts on the winning deck from Italian Nationals…

This article is going to be in two parts, about two Red Decks. First I am going to review my recent PTQ experience. I decided to go with a Red Deck:

Two Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Why don’t you have any Figure of Destiny?

A: Why do you think?

Q: Why do you only have two Stigma Lashers?

A: Why do you think?

In all honesty, I didn’t really miss having Figure of Destiny. I don’t think I would have won one more game if I had had the little / big guy, and the conditions by which I lost games… He wouldn’t really have helped. I was very happy with Puncture Blast in the main deck for a couple of reasons. Puncture Blast is very good against Doran. Puncture Blast gives you another answer to an opposing Boggart Ram-Gang. Subtly, Puncture Blast really slows down Ashenmoor Gouger, and is actually one of the better answers to an opposing Demigod of Revenge; a 2/1 Demigod of Revenge is not hard to race, and because it doesn’t actually put the Demigod into the graveyard, a second Demigod won’t result in a blowout. A secondary reason we played Puncture Blast is that it is pretty good against Kitchen Finks, reducing that horrible anti-Red machine to a mere annoyance rather than a three-mana blowout (see Puncture Blast being good against Doran); in that sense, I think that it might actually be better than Stigma Lasher, which didn’t really do anything for me (the Vexing Shushers that I didn’t intend to play at all were much better in-context). The big reason I played Puncture Blast, though, was that it is absolutely outstanding against Thunderblust. Now most of the time you should play the most expensive card you can so as to mete out your mana over time; that is, you point Puncture Blast if you have three mana, in general, and hold Lash Out for a multi-spell turn, but against a deck that might have Thunderblust, Puncture Blast is your out. In many ways, Thunderblust is more fundamentally dangerous for a Red Deck than even Demigod of Revenge, which is strange because Demigod of Revenge is the most pertinent card in most mirror matches, but it’s true.

I played a very unusual sideboard strategy, which ties into my switch to this deck when I intended to probably play the Dominus deck with Crackleburr over Dominus. The problem was that Demigod / Gouger decks absolutely ruled Standard for U.S. Nationals and numerous big tournaments around the world. It is not a difficult leap to see that these cards are all in-Block, and I did not think that the Dominus deck could compete with the more fundamentally sound Red Decks card-for-card. Therefore I switched with the intention of having a better sideboard plan.

Upon reading the U.S. Nationals coverage, I realized I wanted to play Firespout in the sideboard, both against Kithkin and against the Rage Forger version of the Red Deck; I actually tested Fire-Lit Thickets online, and Manamorphose main (which was convenient to side out) because I didn’t have the Eventide cards yet. This allowed me to go north with Firespout if need be… But I decided to just go all Mountains when I got Fulminator Mage’d in one match (which I won anyway, actually). I was really only losing to Red Decks.

The sideboard strategy is to take out most of my creatures, that is, basically everything that is attractive to Lash Out, bringing in anti-creature spells to play a Dave Price style defensive mirror with Rekindled Flame as a potential Hammer that is also a convenient source of Gouger (and potentially Demigod) defense. The Red mirror is very draw dependent and even if this were a sound strategy, it didn’t ultimately work out.

Losses are more interesting than wins so I’ll just skip over the easy wins against Bitterblossom and Doran decks.

My first loss was second round against Merfolk. I was on the draw in Game 1 and he played a Banneret. I basically had the same thought you would have had, which was “Hooray.” I could either play Lash Out or run a 2/2, so I did the latter. I did not expect him to play a Chameleon Colossus. Quick inspection of my hand revealed… No, no Flame Javelin. I made a college try of it, but the game did not last long.

Second game he again had Banneret, but I killed it. He eventually had another Banneret and a Reejerey, though I dispatched I think two Colossuses. Meanwhile I had a Shusher and evaluated my hand. One open Vivid land? I wasn’t sure how he could win against my pair of Demigods. Apparently with a Banneret in play that is a recipe for Nameless Inversion, down and tap. Two counters is a race, even through double Firespout. Man!

I was two wins out of Top 8 when I dropped in the mirror. Game 1 I don’t think I could have done anything. He out-drew me on spells by three I think, going first, with one of the bonus spells a redundant Demigod; he had so much room he could Tarfire his 2/1 Demigod to make sure he got the 10 in on the last attack.

Game 2 was the pisser because on the cards there was actually no way I could lose. I had sufficient lands, a double Demigod draw, on the play, with multiple burn spells and a backup Unwilling Recruit. So I barfed it up of course. He played a third turn Ashenmoor Gouger. I’ve actually written articles about how you are supposed to kill things immediately, but for some reason – despite the fact that my next three turns were scripted – I waited until a hit and combat to… Wild Ricochet?!? I’ve been Sullivan’d.

The worst part was that we actually tested Wild Ricochet and discarded it. Wild Ricochet was so bad for me. If you were losing, holding it basically guaranteed you were going to lose; it literally only works when… well… the opponent does what I did. So instead of taking out the Gouger and easily winning with my unbeatable draw, I took 12 – 16 really – that I didn’t have to, and he had the Javelin. He was super nice guy, but unfortunately took out Asher the next round to make Top 8.

Eugene Harvey was there and invited me and Josh to draft. For some reason I stayed in. There is just no reason to stay in with two losses when you can draft with the Eugenius. But I stayed in and got the beloved “I hope you regret this decision” from my friends. A pair of stalls on two in the Red mirror ensured that I would indeed regret my decision just quickly enough to reappear in the middle of the first pack.

Despite getting blown out by superior Demigod draws, I still think the Red mirror is highly skill intensive. You see, I could have put myself in a spot to win that Round 6 match if I just didn’t screw up on the Gouger, and I simply didn’t mulligan when I maybe should have in the stupid stay-in. Especially after losing to a stall on two, I should have maybe reconsidered a two-land hand on the play, despite it being very saucy in terms of sideboard cards.

So what is the future of Red in Block?

I thought Red was the unconditional best deck – I mean, it’s basically the best deck in Standard, and most of the cards translate – especially because Faeries is a complete and utter bye. You can keep the most mediocre hands, mulligan, and still bury Faeries at like 17 on turn 5 or 6. The problem is that if there are a lot of Runed Halos across the table, and I think there will be due to GerryT’s win and the general popularity of Chapin, I think Red is in trouble. Red actually wants these slow control decks who think they own the end game… but with a legitimate anti-Demigod of Revenge card like Runed Halothe metagame has changed again.

If I played Red again, I would run it like this:

I decided to just cut all the two-drops, which are the least impressive cards in the main deck. Of course I would play Figure of Destiny, given the option. The mana is a little less stable in this version, but probably still stable enough; Fire-Lit Thicket is there just to go north on Firespout sometimes; the Black cards replace Moonglove Extract (etc) for Forge-Tender defense and Spectral Procession suppression; Spectral Procession is actually the biggest problem for Red out of Kithkin. This strategy doesn’t disrupt my sideboard plan overmuch, though losing Unwilling Recruit is a bit of a pain.

Okay, another deck.

For those of you interested in Standard, I heartily recommend Torrent out of Italian Nationals.

At first I just wanted to try out William Cavaglieri deck… I mean, it did put three people into the Top 8. Clear break? This deck is just fantastic.

In case you haven’t seen Torrent, here is the Italian Champ’s version:

I have absolutely nothing to contribute in terms of deck modification. I wouldn’t have approached the numbers on some of the creatures the same way William did, but I can’t improve on those numbers based on the 20-odd matches I’ve played so far.

This deck is very odd.

It is not impressive at all.

The most impressive creature I have ever returned with a Torrent of Souls is a Marsh Flitter, which is much less impressive than it sounds. You can’t actually pump the Marsh Flitter, because it is already 3/1, and pumping it would just put it to 3/3; the Marsh Flitter tokens don’t actually get Haste or +2. However, I guess it was pretty cool to sacrifice a Marsh Flitter to Nantuko Husk before playing Torrent… the one time I did it.

That said, you play your Torrent and you win.

You might not win that turn. You might merely take a nice chunk of life — say, nine points – out of him. But you win. Eventually.

One thing I will point out, which is not obvious, is that if you have a Bitterblossom in play – or two copies of Bitterblossom as you sometimes will on turn 5 or 6 – then whatever tokens you produced with Bitterblossom that turn will gain Haste, and therefore represent an additional Lightning Bolt or two; this ends up mattering a lot in relatively close games.

The Torrent deck has a nice sideboard plan with all land destruction and creature elimination. I bring in all eight land destruction cards about 50% of the time, whenever the opponent has a deck that is not particularly hosed by my 1/1 things that can do 1 point of damage, or whenever my opponent is slower than I am, such as with most control decks or Reveillark. Then a fair amount of the time I will also bring in Grave Pact. The LD guys and Grave Pact are a nice combo; Grave Pact is the lock against most non-Red Decks. They can never get damage in. Sometimes the opponent is Reveillark and has Crovax in play and you run out Marsh Flitter. What a bloodbath that is. For everybody. Especially him.

I try to play Torrent as a combo deck; that is, I try to race with it, putting myself in winning positions if I successfully play Torrent of Souls, even if it seems unimpressive at the time. This deck can play a kind of strange Sadin board position plan with Mogg War Marshall and Marsh Flitter; it is quite good at utilizing these creatures to manage its own life total while finding a way to win.

If you have occasion to play Standard, for example an upcoming National Championship (Craig Stevenson), I think this deck is worth a look. You can’t argue with the rogue three-in-the-Top 8, I don’t think. Definitely worth a look. [Cheers for the advice , Mike! — Craig.]

No, I don’t understand why it doesn’t play Greater Gargadon, either.