In today’s Control heavy environment, where players love to gather lands, have lots of permanents, and either throw out some fat 4/4’s or 5/5 Flying Legendary Dragon Spirits, it’s not unusual for other players to take a… different approach.
Some call this the wrong approach. They would, of course, be wrong themselves.
What I’m talking about is Red Deck Wins. This article is a direct response to Mike Flores‘ piece about the Red Guildpact cards.
To put it bluntly, Flores got Leyline of Lightning 100% wrong. Let’s discuss.
In this wild world of Magic, we love to debate… and I’m no stranger. So when I saw Flores had completely missed the boat with Leyline, I threw together a list in two minutes and figured it “could” work. What it became was a slight aberration of the existing Red Deck Wins list, and I was missing a very important element: The Gruul Guildmage.
After many rounds of playtesting, here’s the new list:
The secrets to this deck, and any Red Deck Wins beyond Goblins, are long-term damage and inevitability. This deck provides in multiple ways:
Leyline of Lightning – Obviously great, obviously a four-of inclusion.
Scorched Rusalka – Guaranteed damage. We’ll talk about her in a second.
Gruul Guildmage – The best Guildmage this deck could’ve possibly hoped for. Just forget about that Green ability.
Understanding The Leyline
Here’s why Leyline is good, bolded and singled-out for your strategic enjoyment:
Leyline hits players for every Red spell you play, even if they are countered.
When you play a spell – no matter what happens to that spell afterwards – if it makes it to the stack, then you’re going to pay one and they’re going to take one.
How is this deck any different than Red Deck Wins? Well, firstly, you really, really want Leyline of Lightning in your opening seven.
"But mana is tight!" You scream.
Who cares? You’re hopefully dropping Scorched Rusalka, the best Red creature to hit Standard in years, and next turn you’re hopefully dropping another with a Kicker. With a Kicker? Huh? Here’s what Leyline actually says:
All of your spells now have "Kicker 1: You may pay an additional 1 as you play this spell. If you paid the Kicker cost, deal 1 damage to target player."
That’s every spell you cast. If it’s not a land, it’s going to be a little more expensive and hit them in the dome. It doesn’t matter 100% of the time if you don’t pay the Kicker, just like it didn’t matter 100% of the time back in Invasion. Sometimes you didn’t need the Kicker, sometimes you didn’t have the mana, sometimes you needed the spell to just go off. In the early turns, you’re still playing good, efficient creatures at their cost. Just leave the Leyline alone, give your mana time to grow.
The benefits of Leyline only begin to be apparent around the third or fourth turn: the turns that many Red mages are busy trying to get across the most damage. Luckily, that’s exactly what Leyline of Lightning provides.
Let’s imagine a match against Control. My dream hand is something like this:
No matter what they are playing – and hopefully they’re playing Control, because you’ll roll right over them with hand like this – this hand is pretty much guarantees five damage by turn 3:
Now at this point, let’s see what we have:
They are at fifteen. You currently have four damage in hand (Volcanic Hammer plus Kicker). You have seven damage on the board.
How? Scorched Rusalka adds yet another amazing ability to each creature: "R, Sac me: Deal 1 damage to target player."
A young planeswalker finds enlightenment:
"So you’re telling me, that if I play a Frostling and I have two more mana, I can guarantee two damage to the other guy? If I pay the Kicker and if Rusalka is in play?"
"That’s exactly right Bob, now please, Mr Announcer, tell him what he’s won!"
Rusalka is a huge force, and one of the best uncommons in Guildpact. She guarantees damage. That’s the best compliment I can hope to give her, particularly in a deck like this. She guarantees that in the late game, when they sigh in relief after laying down that Kokusho, that you’ll happily put damage on the stack and sack whatever it is they block.
More damage to the dome, more turns they’re stressed to find an answer, more turns they have fewer chances of surviving.
This is important. You should never forget how amazing the Leyline is in the late game. Even playing a second Leyline for five is okay: You’re just going for the dome. Your job is taking them to zero. I don’t care if they’re playing Faith’s Fetters on worthless permanents, and Fetters of course can’t attach to any creature if you have mana open and a Rusalka in play. But Flores noted that. Good for him.
What he didn’t note is that virtually unstoppable damage (Leyline of Lightning) is what wins games. It makes the Red Deck Win More. And honestly I don’t see many more "And Wins" being stuck on the same old decklist.
An Insect By Any Other Name…
Oh, and did I mention Giant Solifuge? Because this spider needs an introduction (yes, he’s a spider and not an insect; thanks, Wizards). He’s big, ugly, and fast. He’ll bring down the hurt faster than a player can keep up with it. There is virtually no popular creature that is going to take him down without help.
The most important reason to play Solifuge is because with Guildpact the format is just packed full of removal. Here are a few amazing and well-regarded removal spells that cannot deal with Giant Solifuge:
Granted, it dies to a Pyroclasm. Matter of fact, all of your creatures do. But that’s okay. With Kickers and sac abilities, you don’t really care. It’s all about going to the dome. It’s Philosophy of Fire 101. This is going way back, to the time when playing four Ironclaw Orcs were seen as revolutionary.
Two-two-for-two? Surely not! Why play with such jank?
A free Kicker-addition to every spell you play? Surely not! Why play with such jank?
Some may not approve of Solifuge, but he gets the damage in. He trades with Hierarchs and Burning-Tree Shamans, leaving you to use Chars to the face. He still rolls over weenies of all sorts: Watchwolf, Kird Ape, Isamaru, the whole lot of them.
You know the #1 First Striker used in Standard today? Nekrataal. And that’s it. Everything else needs to be activated (Boros Guildmage) or provided (Shinka). And good ol’ Nekrataal has a very small toughness, doesn’t he? So I Shock him (you take 1 when I played the Kicker) and you take four. Why isn’t Solifuge dead? Oh yeah, he can’t be the target of spells or abilities.
Is that a first for Red? A huge, trampling monster than is almost unstoppable? At such an efficient cost? In a deck full of burn to remove blockers?
I’m guessing it is.
The only other creature I’ve found that can do serious detrimental damage to the deck is Paladin En-Vec. In a White/Red Wildfire deck (which is, granted, few and far between in the meta), I had serious problems getting around him. Which of course made it all the more sweet when I took out four Leylines for four Umezawa’s Stick of Ridiculousness and beat the crap out of him. Can you say colorless removal? I knew ya could.
To Burn Do Us Part
This is what the Red deck of tomorrow looks like. Enjoy the burn and the pressure and the fun that this provides. Turn after turn of burn, plinks, and damage will wear down an opponent faster than they will ever realize.
That’s what Philosophy of Fire was all about anyway, right?
Good luck, card slingers.
Evan “misterorange” Erwin
Dubya dubya dubya misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com