It’s Time To Dust Off The Chainwhirler

Is the Standard metagame right for Mono-Red Aggro to make a comeback? Abraham Stein states the case and presents two lists for anyone who wants to be the beatdown!

All right, everyone, I think we need to sit down and have a talk. Not too long ago, Standard was at the mercy of a menace. A card so fearsome, so outrageously scary that we were saying things like:

“I probably can’t play Glint-Sleeve Siphoner in the maindeck.”

“I think I need to sideboard out my Llanowar Elves.”

“Maybe I’ll just hope they don’t draw one.”

Goblin Chainwhirler had the whole world of Standard under its thumb. Everyone built their decks with it in mind. It was The Chainwhirler’s world and we were all just living in it. So why do we need to talk about it? Because over the weekend at SCG Dallas, we saw the top tables full of primarily two things:

Anyone else seeing the problem here?

We forgot about Dre.

Week 1 of Ravnica Allegiance Standard, Mono-Red Aggro arose as the clear deck to beat, as Light Up the Stage and Skewer the Critics gave the archetype a big boost in its explosiveness and reach. The deck was everywhere on the Magic Arena Ranked ladder. It was clearly a huge contender, so what happened?

Much to Mono-Red’s dismay, Standard is a healthy format and Sultai Midrange swooped and gobbled all the honest, hardworking Goblin Chainwhirlers up. Simple as that. A Standard environment like the one we’re in is always shifting, with new winners and losers emerging each week. Mono-Red has definitely shown itself to be a loser.

So why am I surprised? Didn’t I just say that Sultai was to blame? Playing Mono-Red is asking to get your Wildgrowth walked upon, or for death by Krasis. Well, just like the Chupacabras were ravenous for our blood, I think it’s about time for Mono-Red to feed on its prey.

Coming out of SCG Dallas, the winners in my eyes were Nexus of Fate, Mono-Blue Aggro, and Azorius Aggro – all three of which have historically been really good matchups for Mono-Red.

The losers coming out of SCG Dallas were Esper Control and Sultai Midrange. Their extended beef with each other over who can play the fairest game of Magic with their curve that starts at two and ends at five has been deemed irrelevant by the players ending their curve at three or taking all of the turns. Go figure.

No, I draw the most cards!

When it comes to the upcoming week’s “Matchup Roulette,” I’m putting my money on Mono-Red all the way, and the Magic Online results from over the weekend are promising. Check out what deck just happened to be the sole undefeated after nine rounds of Swiss.

The critics out there might try to skewer me for the Stomping Grounds and Rootbound Crags, but for a card like Cindervines, who can blame them? A card that has yet to find a home but is potentially the single most effective hate card against Nexus of Fate decks in Standard, Cindervines has a great home here in the loving arms of Mono-Red.

Collision is surprisingly strong as an answer to Lyra Dawnbringer and blowout combat trick with the back end of Colossus. No more can a chump block from your opponent swing the race around from Mono-Blue, and it acts as another copy of Lava Coil to answer Tempest Djinn. While most of my stock has been in Integrity and Intervention as our Split Card Sleeper, it might turn out that this is the one we should have been looking at all along.

While there might be some contention about what the best splash color is or if a splash color is worthwhile, I think the maindeck of this list is perfection with full playsets of the good cards, six Lighting Bolts with cost reductions, and untapped lands to cast them. When you’re a deck that’s trying to punish other decks for stumbling, there’s no time to fuss around with getting stuck on two or three with an Experimental Frenzy in hand. If you’re more of a purist when it comes to Mountains and Mountain-related activities, I’d do something like this.

As much as I love Risk Factor and The Flame of Keld, Standard isn’t exactly in a spot where you can mess around with things like payment plans and long-term investments. If our cards aren’t dealing damage upfront, we don’t need them in our portfolio.

For anyone playing a RMCQ this weekend who settles on Mono-Red, I’d sideboard as follows.

VS Mono-Blue Aggro



Ari Lax wrote a beautiful breakdown of how this matchup plays out for any of the top decks in Standard that you should absolutely check out. It’s spot on.

VS Azorius Aggro



In this matchup, Goblin Chainwhirler really shines. Usually you try to save removal for the creatures that matter and to prevent Legion’s Landing from transforming and eventually Frenzy buries them. In the sideboard games, Fiery Cannonade and Lava Coil help you accomplish just that. It’s also important that you don’t get greedy in playing your Cannonades. Respect the Elephants that lurk in your opponents’ hands.

VS Nexus of Fate Decks



I’d probably pull out a few cards, shuffle them around with my sideboard, pull them back out, and put them into my deck. Make a lot of deep in thought faces, drink some water, and really think about something to sell them on how much my plan is changing going into the next game.

I call it the sideboard hokey-pokey. It’s optional. What isn’t optional is having a fast hand that kills quickly in this matchup. Fortunately, your deck is very good at that.

VS Esper Control



I’m not a huge believer in Rekindling Phoenix in this matchup because of Vraska’s Contempt and Absorb being such clean answers to the card and high-end spells getting caught by Basilica Bell-Haunt. Treasure Map is fantastic, though, and is very difficult for Esper to interact with. This matchup is tough, but I think Esper will be pushed in a different direction with its sideboard cards to beat Mono-Blue Aggro and Azorius Aggro.

Playing your creature into a lot of cards in their hand can be dangerous because of Moment of Craving and Vraska’s Contempt. Don’t give them life for free if you can avoid it.

VS Sultai Midrange



Wildgrowth Walker is a scary card in this matchup and I really want my opening hand to have an answer to one cast on Turn 2 in the sideboard games. A lot of the games you win come from Runaway Steam-Kin or a draw of your opponent’s that was heavily reliant on Wildgrowth Walker getting shut down, so keep that in mind. Rekindling Phoenix is aces in this matchup; if you have control of the battlefield early and cast a Phoenix on curve, your opponent’s Vraska’s Contempt can be extremely costly in tempo, and if they don’t have it, it’s almost always lights out.


If you don’t feel so confident in the decline of Sultai Midrange, Mono-Red might not be the best choice you make this weekend, but the results say to me that Goblin Chainwhirler is primed for a comeback. Let’s remind this metagame that when it comes to aggro, it’s Mountains or nothing.