Legion Of Purphoros

Valeriy continues to investigate various red decks, which he considers to be the best choice for Standard at #SCGDAL this weekend.

Standard continues to impress! Wizards did a great job this year of completely reloading the format. Could you imagine playing monocolored deck six months ago? I sure couldn’t, but these decks are very popular in a format with Return to Ravnica’s mana fixing right now. A lot of things have changed in Standard over the past six months, but one thing has remained the same—a continuous metagame shift. Yes, all the main archetypes are established, and it’s quite hard to build a completely new deck from scratch. But the balance between existing decks changes every week if not more often.

The last few weeks were ones of Mono-Black Devotion and people’s reactions to it. Look at the Top 8 lists from the SCG Classic Series in Charlotte. The Top 4 decks are blue control. Which deck was the best for this Top 8? Zach Mcmicheaux’s Mono-Red Aggro. I have no idea who beat him in the quarterfinals, but if someone had presented me these lists without saying who won, I’d say that Mono-Red Aggro had the best chance. I touched on some aggro decks last week, and this article will mostly be an extension of that work.

Zach’s list isn’t I exactly what want to bring into gunfight of six control decks. It has six four-mana creatures, neither of which is very effective against decks full of Detention Spheres and all other sorts of removal. Devotion is a great mechanic, but you’d rather rely on something else in a format full of Esper Control and Mono-Black Devotion. The same is true of Boros Reckoner, who normally dies without dealing any damage and effectively Time Walks you.

If you want to be successful in a field full of control decks, you should build a much faster aggro deck. A good example of this approach is the Top 8 of SCG Standard Open: Los Angeles. Classics are great tournaments, but Opens are a higher level of competition and are often a step ahead (or at least half a step), so three aggressive decks made the Top 8 in the City of Angels. Interesting enough, these three aggressive decks are very different. I consider Mono-Red to be the best one, but it seems like G/W and W/R are fine too. Nevertheless, let’s look at Mono-Red Aggro first.

Thomas Parnell has just about the exact list to be good in the current environment. Foundry Street Denizen waits until blue control rises to beat it with his bludgeon. Twelve one-mana creatures and twelve two-mana creatures is exactly what you need to make removal (either the Doom Blades of Mono-Black Devotion or the Detention Sphere of Esper Control) ineffective.

An important thing I dislike about Thomas’ list is the lack of Ash Zealot. I understand the maximization of Burning-Tree Emissary’s value, but I think there’s nothing bad about casting a one-mana creature off of its mana, while Ash Zealot has haste, which seems to be very important. Gore-House Chainwalker deals more damage than Ash Zealot only if the opponent lets it attack three times—which is a way more than creatures typically survive in this format.

It’s important to keep in mind that last week is last week. If you’re going to battle at the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Dallas, you better have this week’s deck instead of last week’s. That means that it’s time to change some things. First, the idea of being very fast should remain. Some midrange decks will probably emerge, but I still expect Standard to be defined by removal-heavy control decks (Esper Control, Naya Control, Mono-Black Devotion, etc.). However, with how powerful the control decks are, surely more players will be enticed to play aggressive decks, so you better be prepared for them as well

In the past I would’ve said that the best card for the Mono-Red Aggro mirror match is Boros Reckoner, but Firefist Striker really makes things difficult. Therefore, I recommend Flames of the Firebrand as your primary weapon of choice. Firefist Striker, Firedrinker Satyr, and Foundry Street Denizen are enough to allow you to occasionally kill three creatures, but a two-for-one is still acceptable. Boros Reckoner is still fine in addition to Flames of the Firebrand, but Frostburn Weird may be better since it costs two mana instead of three and allows you to safely play Mutavault.

This sideboard contains significant improvements against both the mirror and control, so I’m happy about its position in most matchups. Mono-Devotion and G/W Aggro are tough, which is expected, but you just can’t be good against everything in this format. Moreover, this build has a chance to beat any slow draw, which you should not neglect.

Flames of the Firebrand isn’t very effective against these decks, but they could be reasonable since you can get rid of some blockers with Firefist Striker and at least partially deal with others with the help of some copies of the quasi-sweeper. This choice leaves us vulnerable to creatures like Blood Baron of Vizkopa due to the lack of Mizzium Mortars, but since we’re not going to overload Mortars reliably, it’s better to rely on Firefist Striker to get the job done.

One card to address is Fanatic of Mogis. It is powerful, but I believe its time has passed. It’s great to deal six or seven damage, but if you’re not playing Boros Reckoner and your other creatures die on the spot, having a 4/2 for four mana is certainly a bad idea. I don’t think devotion became less powerful overnight, but you better have some noncreature sources of devotion to use it profitably. Unfortunately, red has nothing aside from Hammer of Purphoros, which isn’t that good in a hyperaggressive deck. I thought about Hammer for the Esper matchup, but it seems like Burning Earth is a little bit better in general. As for Fanatic of Mogis, I’d avoid it in fast aggro or maybe build a Devotion deck concentrated on Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx as a big-mana source.

G/R Devotion does it very well, but I’m afraid of playing complicated creature-based combo in a format full of removal—especially when everybody understands what exactly to do to prevent G/R Devotion from going wild. Mono-Red Devotion is much more stable and resilient to mass removal, but why would you play Mono-Red Devotion instead of Mono -Aggro, and what’s the reason to play Mono-Red Devotion without Fanatic of Mogis?

Well, you can look at Kamiel Cornelissen’s Top 8 deck from Pro Tour Theros to see what Mono-Red Devotion without Fanatic of Mogis looks like. This deck is very good against both control decks and Mono-Red Aggro, so it’s definitely an attractive choice for the next week. However, I wouldn’t play Kamiel’s exact list for a few reasons, the biggest of which is Assemble the Legion, which is absurdly good against Mono-Black Devotion and is very good against Esper Control (even if they have Detention Sphere). I presented a Big Boros deck last week and like it even more after a week of testing. James Gates put R/W Devotion into the Top 8 of #SCGLA, proving the deck is good. However, I believe that James’ list could be significantly improved for next week, so let’s look at it and identify its weak points.

First of all, Fanatic of Mogis should go. It’s ineffective against removal-heavy decks and too slow against blazing fast aggro like Thomas Parnell’s Mono-Red Aggro, which I mentioned earlier, or Ben Lundquist masterpiece featuring Boros Elite, Daring Skyjek, and even Azorius Arrester as the white equivalent of Goblin Shortcutter. The same true for Boros Reckoner, which is generally fine against white decks but not against ones with four copies of Boros Charm, four copies of Brave the Elements, and four copies of Frontline Medic.

The lack of Boros Reckoner and Fanatic of Mogis allows us to reconsider the idea of Mono-Red Devotion (or R/W in this exact case) and concentrate on putting powerful threats into play early though Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. A small benefit of this decision is the ability to decrease the number of creatures post-board without ruining our entire game plan. My take on next week’s R/W Devotion is the following:

Not only are Fanatic of Mogis and Boros Reckoner replaced by Chandra’s Phoenix and Ember Swallower, but Frostburn Weird also goes to the sideboard in the favor of Rakdos Shred-Freak. Freak is a weak card by itself, but it’s nearly the only way to provide some pressure and devotion simultaneously. Frostburn Weird is better, but it consumes too much mana to be good in early aggression. So I decided to give Rakdos Shred-Freak a chance. This slot may also be occupied by Rakdos Cackler, but I like a 2/1 with haste more than a 2/2 without it. However, this slot is very metagame dependent, as Freak is just awful against any kind of white or green deck.

Some builds I’ve seen also contain four copies of Firedrinker Satyr in the sideboard, which is a good decision against control where you don’t care about your life total. I didn’t use this idea due to Rakdos Shred-Freak, but Firedrinker Satyr is a very solid option if you run Frostburn Weird.

My execution of devotion is not as powerful as Fanatic plus Reckoner, but Chandra’s Phoenix and Hammer of Purphoros are reasonable suppliers for both Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Another way of using devotion cards here is that Purphoros is actually not as bad without being animated; you cast Rakdos Shred-Freak, deal two damage to the opponent, attack immediately, and pump Freak with the God’s ability. Not that bad at all, and things become much more interesting if you have Assemble the Legion in play. The last interaction is probably too cute to rely on, but the rare occasions when it works are just devastating.

Magma Jet and Chandra, Pyromaster are vital sources of cards selection since the deck is still a midrange deck and tends go to the late game, where its topdecks aren’t as good as one hopes. Hammer of Purphoros partially solves this problem, but the sideboard still contains additional Chandra, Pyromasters (which could be maindeck) and Assemble the Legions (which is fine maindeck as two-of). I also experimented with Boros Keyrune and Boros Cluestone to be able to  put a five-mana threat into play on turn 4, but it seems like it’s better have Nykthos for a more optimized mana curve. A lone five-mana threat after a lack of early pressure is definitely not what we need.

I also tried some other maindeck and sideboard options like Burning Earth, which didn’t make the cut since I think that Chandra, Pyromaster and Assemble the Legion are more important against Esper and Naya Control. Sunhome Guildmage is another card I could imagine in my sideboard. It’s a weaker substitute for Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], but it is also good mana sink and even more important against control decks is a 2/2 for two mana that must be answered.

Cards like Skullcrack and Peak Eruption look interesting on paper but aren’t so good in reality even though they’re good with Chandra’s Phoenix. I could consider Peak Eruption if Naya Control became popular, but Skullcrack consistently underperformed in my testing, so the only sideboard card potentially triggering Phoenix is Shock. The card, like Rakdos Shred-Freak, is weak as is, but it’s a cheap removal spell against Mono-Red Aggro, helping to survive long enough, stabilize, and win. This slot could be occupied by Magma Jet or even by Mizzium Mortars, but I prefer Shock as long as I expect many Mono-Red Aggro decks around.

Red is back, and we’ll see just how much in Dallas this weekend!

Valeriy Shunkov