Fourth In Seattle With Mono Red

Charles Wong finished in the Top 4 of the SCG Standard Open in Seattle. His weapon of choice for the event? Red spells. Charles goes through his card choices and why they are important for the current Standard environment.

I remember the first time I picked up the deck. What the hell was a Furnace Scamp? As a Limited player, I had it ingrained in my head that generally, 1/1s for one were filler, cards destined to be lost in the pages of Gatherer. As I flipped through each card, all I could do was stare, dumbfounded. Flame Slash maindeck? No Koth of the Hammer? And why were there only 20 lands??? I chuckled at my friend, Majid the Genie, foreseeing his 0-2 drop in the ensuing PTQ.

My friend never got a chance to 0-2 drop. In fact, the Genie never got a chance to cast a card with the deck. Instead, he had opted to play Valakut in a side event, leaving me with a chance to pilot the red deck.

Sixty card decks and I always had an awkward relationship. Think of it like the girl that turned you down every time you asked her out, so you started dating her younger sister named forty cards.  My last Standard event consisted of a 17th place finish at the first SCG Open event in Seattle, while the constructed event before that saw me attain the dreaded 0-5 drop at Pro Tour San Diego. With that, I stuck to grinding drafts on Magic Online, winning games with Goblin War Paint rather than Goblin Guide.

Fast forward roughly one month later. Grim Lavamancer and Chandra’s Phoenix had entered the standard arena. Since I had not gotten much testing with my red deck, I decided to build a variation of it on MODO, using Patrick Sullivan Top 8 list from the last Star City Games Invitational:

Here’s a link to his description of the deck.

Needless to say, I got crushed every match. I probably lost 30 tickets playing 2 man queues that day. You know how hard that is? Every match I played, I felt as if I had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It was the Miracle on Ice over and over again, but I was the Soviet Union, my opponent the United States. I felt I should be favored but something was missing. If only they had not drawn this card, or if I didn’t draw this card. Discouraged, I was not sure if I really wanted to run the list at the Open. However, anybody that knows me knows that I’m super lazy. Yes, I was too lazy to find another deck. So I ran with it (with some minor tweaks).

Without further ado, I present:

Yeah, so the deck looks a little funky. Or maybe it looks exactly like Sullivan’s list from Indy (or maybe a little of both). I can assure you that I was happy playing every card. A description of my card selections:

The Usual Suspects:

Goblin Guide: He’s Ichiro, Ricky Henderson, and Pete Rose all in one. As he lead-off hitter, he sets the table for any red deck. I think everybody knows why this card is good.

Lightning Bolt: Can you really believe this card was part of a cycle when Magic first came out? Let’s just say that whitegot the shaft in that cycle. It’s efficient, but not better (or worse) than any of the other spells in the list.

The New Kids on the Block:

Grim Lavamancer: A new addition from M12, let’s just say I was overjoyed to replace Spikeshot Elder. The ability to turn Lightning Bolts into Lightning Axe against Spellskite and Overgrown Battlement is invaluable and Lavamancer is just so much better than Elder against creatures in general, as well as putting on pressure against opponents.

Chandra’s Phoenix: Some ask whether four is too many. Perhaps, since drawing three is usually miserable unless it’s very late in the game. However, having one is always good and having the second Phoenix is also fine. The main reason for the inclusion of Chandra’s Phoenix is that I always find myself wanting to drop a Shrine of Burning Rage on turn two, or perhaps wanting to kill a creature on turn two, or maybe I just have Teetering Peaks and another one drop or Flame Slash. However, I always find myself also wanting to play my two drop creature on that turn since that usually results in the maximum amount of damage. Running Chandra’s Phoenix allows the red decks second turn to be less cluttered, allowing the deck to do it’s business on turn two, then follow it up without missing a beat with a 2/2 flying haste guy. In addition, Phoenix is generally a better top deck than any other two drop creature. Cutting one may be fine, but I wouldn’t run any two drops over it in this list.

Burn, Baby, Burn:

Searing Blaze: Very efficient, two mana for six damage is always welcome, as a turn two Searing Blaze following a one drop will literally put you miles ahead of your opponent. Literally.*

Flame Slash: If you’ve ever played a red deck, let me ask you a question. Have you ever faced down two Spellskites? Basically impossible to win. But I have though, thanks to Flame Slash. The efficiency of Flame Slash when it comes to taking down otherwise hard to take down creatures is incredible. Overgrown Battlement got you down? Flame Slash it. Obstinate Baloth in your way? Flame Slash it. Spellskite being annoying? Well, you know what to do. I can’t fathom playing a red deck in the current metagame without this card and I would attribute the majority of the success of the deck to this card. Also, not having to waste Lightning Bolt on cards such as Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise turn one is nice. I can imagine people cutting this card for Dismember, but the life loss as well as the “does not trigger Shrine” part is usually more relevant than the upsides that Dismember brings over Flame Slash. The only matchup where Flame Slash is worse than Dismember is when your opponent is running Deceiver Exarch, and even then, red deck is generally favored. Cutting Flame Slash from both the main and the board for Dismember seems poor, since you want both against creature decks.

Arc Trail: This card is fantastic as long as your opponent is running creatures with converted mana cost three or less. At first I was going to run Incinerate. Then I realized that Arc Trail was much better than Incinerate. In the matchups where Incinerate is better than Arc Trail, it’s only a little better, whereas the matchups where you want Arc Trail over Incinerate, Arc Trail is THIS MUCH BETTER (a lot better). Wasting an Incinerate or Lightning Bolt on a Squadron Hawk, Memnite, or Nest Invader seems atrocious. However, Arc Trail allows red deck to dodge that guilt, letting red deck grind damage more efficiently. Also, being able to get around Spellskite as well as being insane in creature matchups does not hurt either. If your metagame is filled with Pyromancer Ascension or U/B control, I would swap this for Incinerate or Burst Lighting. However, as long as Tempered Steel exists in the environment, Arc Trail has a home in red deck.

Staggershock: One of the finishers. Whether it be having a Shrine of Burning Rage out or having two double Shocks in hand, this card usually ends games and at worse acts as a removal spell plus shock to the face. I would be hesitant to cut them from the list, but given that this card is at the higher end of the curve, cutting one would not be the worst decision.

Odds and Ends:

Furnace Scamp: Cutting this card, now, would be a mistake. While it is only a 1/1 for one, the card represents so much damage for one mana and I would almost go as far as to call it Goblin Guides 5-8. That being said, Furnace Scamp is very hard to play, since knowing when to sacrifice it is key.

My general rule of thumb is to sacrifice it:

  • When you having lethal damage/burn on the current turn or following turn
  • If you suspect your opponent has Pyroclasm or another board sweeper and you have another creature you can follow it up with
  • If your opponent is about to drop a 6/6 on you

Never sacrifice it otherwise. Grinding every point of damage is the most important thing, as the list does not have the burst damage that a lot of other lists have. Also, note that Furnace Scamp actually isn’t the worst top deck since the board should always be relatively clean given the amount of creature removal, although it is one of the worse cards in the list to draw late in the game.

Shrine of Burning Rage: If you read Sullivan’s link that I posted above, I would agree with everything he said about this card. I would add that this card is what allows red deck to function as a control deck: you can sit on Shrine while burning all your opponents creatures. I would not cut this card since you almost always want to have one on turn two.

The Board:

Manic Vandals come in against Tempered Steel and Puresteel decks while Dismembers come in against anything that may possibly run Kor Firewalker and against Valakut. Manabarbs only comes in against the slowest of decks, U/B, which also happens to be the deck’s second worst matchup. Finally, Act of Aggression fights Deceiver combo and Primeval Titan while Vulshok Refugee is the triumph card in the mirror.

The key to playing this list is knowing when you’re the control and when you’re the aggro, especially in creature-based matchups. Being able to switch between the two at a moments notice is incredibly important, as the list does not have as much burn to the face as many other lists do.

Before I give a quick rundown of my matches, I’d like to give a shout out to one Joe Bono, who ran foil Stoneforge Mystic in his deck during the standard portion of SCG Seattle. Apparently his opponent called a judge when he laid Stoneforge Mystic and the judge informed that Joe was able to run the Squire variant because he was playing a certain premade deck. In turn, Joe called the head judge on the judge because the judge gave his opponent information on his deck. I was definitely disappointed that Joe didn’t get a deck tech.

Since I don’t remember much of the matches, I’ll give you what I remember and how I would sideboard:

Round 1: Minh-Duc Ho – U/G Dudes

Honestly I didn’t get to see much of his deck, as I played a turn one Goblin Guide and he drew no lands off it. In addition to that, he kept a one land hand.

Sideboard: ??? (I was barely awake at this point of the tournament)

This time, my opponent came out with Vengevines. I was able to outrace them and victory was achieved!

Round 2: Nick Hasenoehrl – U/B Control

The matchup I feared and still fear. Their lack of creatures and the amount of creature removal in the list gives them more than enough time to setup. Luckily for me, his lack of lands in addition to the fact that I was able to pressure him games one and three turned out to be just enough.

Sideboard: +2 Manabarbs, + 2 Manic Vandal, – 4 Flame Slash

Flame Slash is horrendous as well as Searing Blaze and Arc Trail. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough in the sideboard to board out all the cards…

Round 3: Nathan Davis – Valakut

I just remember the games not being close. Goblin Guides were attacking, Overgrown Battlements were Flame Slashed(ing?), and Staggershocks were quite, well, shocking.

Sideboard: + 3 Dismember, + 3 Act of Aggression, – 4 Arc Trail, -1 Staggershock, – 1 Furnace Scamp

All I know is that Arc Trail must go. The other two cards (or three if you bring in the fourth Dismember) can be really what you feel is weakest in the matchup. I board out a Furnace Scamp since being 2 for 1’d off a Pyroclasm puts red deck so far behind and one way to avoid that is to have less creatures.

Round 4: James Dykes – Tempered Steel

His draws were subpar while I drew the nuts, especially in the second game where I ripped three consecutive Manic Vandals.

Sideboard: +4 Dismember, + 4 Manic Vandal, – 4 Furnace Scamp, – 4 Chandra’s Phoenix

Only two cards matter in the matchup: Kor Firewalker and Tempered Steel. Beating one Tempered Steel isn’t the hardest of challenges, and neither is the first Kor Firewalker. However, if the white deck sticks multiple Firewalkers or Steels, winning is rough. Red is generally the control in this matchup through and with this list, I feel red is most definitely favored in the matchup.

Round 5: Paul Lee – W/U/G Pod

Game one was a race against a Frost Titan which where I barely managed to win. After a quick deck check, Paul kept a sketchy three land hand with only Leyline of Sanctity while I looked at six and kept. He drew no lands and I’m was able to attain victory through multiple Chandra’s Phoenixes and a turn one Grim Lavamancer.

Sideboard: + some number of Dismember, + ????, – ????

If they’re playing green, they’re probably playing Obstinate Baloth. Dismember is a must while anything else is really a matter of what else is in their deck. If you see Birds and Cobras, leave in Arc Trails while perhaps taking out some combination of Shrines, Scamps and Shocks. If you see multiple Birthing Pods, bringing Manic Vandal may not be the worst.

Round 6: Sam Turner-Lynch – U/R Deceiver Exarch

The games are close and the game ends in a position where I have an active Lavamancer and he’s at three with an Exarch in play, three Islands and a Mountains. He Preordains to search for his second red source, hitting Scalding Tarn but is unable to keep it because he is effectively at one due to Lavamancer. He whiffs on his draw and I win a nail bitter.

Sideboard: + 4 Dismember, + 3 Act of Aggression, – 4 Arc Trail, – 3 Flame Slash

Hey, sometimes you mise with the singleton Flame Slash that is left in. On the day, I Flame Slashed Deceiver Exarchs a non-zero number of times. Remember not to get blown out by Pyroclasm out of the board, but always keep the pressure on.

Round 7: Elliot Woo – U/W Tempered Steel

The win and in round. Older brother of Travis Woo, Elliot and I duked it out for the top 8 spot. For the victor, glory, and for the loser, another shot to Top 8 in the few remaining rounds. Game one featured a misplay where Elliot mentally blanked and allowed a Lightning Bolt to hit him despite having Spellskite in play while being tapped out. The one extra damage turned out to be his undoing, as a Shrine of Burning Rage finished him off the turn before he could stabilize. Unfortunately, the only thing I remember of the second game was that I came out victorious.

Round 8 and 9: Intentional Draws

After IDing in round 9, I proceeded to scavenge around for food as I had not consumed anything all day. I managed to wander into an empty gourmet burger place. The prices were expensive, and it took a while for the cook to make my burger, but it was probably worth it since I was running on an empty stomach. I also got to watch highlights of the Mariners on ESPN as I waited. Man they suck. That’s what happens when you trade two all-stars for a baseball analyst and a country singer.

Quarterfinals: Greg Peloquin – R/U/G Twin

I didn’t know this coming in, but apparently red deck was/is twins worse matchup. Tells you how much I tested. For those of you who watched, I had a sweet start games 1 and 3, while in game 2 I kept a one lander and whiffed on every single draw. I’m so unlucky.

Sideboard: + 4 Dismember, + 2 Act of Aggression, – 4 Furnace Scamp, – 2 Arc Trail

Flame Slash is extremely good in this matchup, so please don’t board it out. Dismember just acts as Flame Slash 5-8, with the added (minor) bonus of being able to kill Deceiver Exarch. Scamps come out just to avoid being blown out by Pyroclasm. It’s still a strong card in this matchup, I just feel that all the other cards mainboard are stronger. As for the two Arc Trail, those could just as easily be Staggershock or a Shrine if they leave in Lotus Cobra.

Semifinals: Nick Spagnola — Caw-Blade

More details can be found here.

I scooped to him but we played out the match. Overall, Timely Reinforcements buys the U/W deck enough time to land Gideon Jura, which is one of the hardest cards to beat. The match is heavily dependent on the number of Timely Reinforcements drawn. Beating one isn’t hard, but the second one can be pretty annoying. Arc Trail and Grim Lavamancer are great because they help lessen the blow of facing down three 1/1’s or a squad of Squadron Hawks. In addition, Mental Misstep on a turn one play is quite devastating and just the amount of hate Cawblade packs can give a red player a sense of hopelessness. However, with tight play, this matchup is definitely winnable.

Sideboard: + 4 Dismember (if they have Kor Firewalker), + 3 Manic Vandal, – 1 Staggershock, – 1 Chandra’s Phoenix, – 1 Searing Blaze, – 4 Flame Slash (if you bring in Dismember)

Congrats to Nick for taking down the Standard portion of the SCG Open.

Shout outs to the Godfather of Legacy, Sean Ryan, for his 2nd place finish, Jesse “the self-proclaimed Jew King” Hampton for his top 8 finish in the legacy portion, and Greg “Horrible Posture” Peloquin for his top 8 finish in the Standard portion.

Also thank you to people who lent me cards and supported me.

Best of luck to all of you flinging red spells!

– Charles

*(Yes, you will be a distance that is equal to a few miles away from your opponent following that order of plays.)