Mono-Red Is Busted, Stoneforge Mystic Sucks

It’s been an exciting weekend as we watched #PTOrigins and #SCGRegionals unfold, and Anthony Lowry reflects on the whole thing while looking forward to #SCGDC this weekend as well!

Dan Jessup never lets me have my fun!

I was torn between about four different decks for Regionals, and I felt that all of them were pretty freaking good. Some of the previous decks I talked about, like U/R Dragons and Five-Color Blue Dragons, wound up not making the cut. As much as I wanted to make them work, it just felt like they were relics of the previous format as the new additions didn’t give them enough of a push to make them worth working on in such a short amount of time.

I went into an IQ with G/R Dragons to see if it was still good, and it turns out that it was:

I was expecting a lot of Abzan and G/R Devotion that night, so I made some unconventional choices in the sideboard. Goblin Heelcutter isn’t a very impressive creature on its own, but on the pivotal turn four that is key in the Abzan matchup, it’s pretty outstanding against any hand that’s reliant on casting a single Siege Rhino into your plays. Casting it ahead of schedule is always great, and it’s very difficult to prepare for when mana accelerants are a part of the equation. Pushing through defenses with redundant effects like Chandra, Pyromaster and hard removal like Roast allows for a lot of flexibility in picking the game apart. You’ll only ever want one though, as having any more runs into massive diminishing-returns problems. Avaricious Dragon is still a powerhouse against Devotion decks, but I decided to bring a copy in against one of my Abzan opponents in the later rounds. I basically didn’t want any more than two copies of Sylvan Caryatid and the opportunity cost didn’t seem that high, so I went for it… and it worked out much better than I had hoped. Taxing your Abzan opponent’s removal is the key, and if you can successfully do that then Avaricious Dragon is a great way to bat cleanup. Since I’m only cutting a Caryatid, the “what if it were anything else?” question wouldn’t really matter here. Draw two Caryatids here and the second copy isn’t even a card. I guess if we swapped out the Dragon for another card that was actually good against Abzan, that would actually be some kind of conversation. I’m also not endorsing jamming all of your Avaricious Dragons against Abzan or anything crazy like that. I just think that sometimes it’s worth taking unanticipated calculated risks, especially when the downside isn’t as bad as it looks.

This deck was pretty good, but I lost a lot of close games because of a lot of moderate gameplay and deckbuilding mistakes on my part. The sideboarded Den Protector needs to go. I don’t know why I keep trying to make it work, but I’m completely off of that kind of card unless it’s in the maindeck.

Additionally, I overcompensated with Roast. Shaving one would have allowed me to have a bit more flexibility in my removal options. I would have loved a Rending Volley against Heroic (even though I didn’t play against it at all that night) or a Wild Slash against a ton of things.

It wasn’t a complete bust though. I was set on working on it more, and I learned a lot about where the format was heading.

This also gave me the rather semi-unrelated realization that Ash Durrbeck’s deck is actually ridiculously good. Think about it: If early Thunderbreak Regents and Stormbreath Dragons are still good, then going lower to the ground and backing it up with hard-hitting burn spells that are also efficient at removing creatures, specifically Exquisite Firecraft, should work too.

Adopting her creature suite wasn’t particularly difficult, but adding Atarka’s Command gives us some real push in our midgame.

I’m not the most adept with modal-type aggressive decks, but I think that these decks are unbelievably underplayed and that this would be the best way to get through the Abzan Rally hype of the weekend. Atarka’s Command is great but it isn’t as good here as it would be in other builds, mostly because we aren’t completely all-in on the token-producing cards. We also lose a bit of juice on the play due to relegating Eidolon of the Great Revel to the sideboard and having to move Searing Blood over with it in order to make room. What we lose in pure punishing capabilities we gain in power, and I think it’s worth the trade. At the worst, Ash’s list is probably close to the best list for making Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh great… and that automatically puts me on board.

Until my Facebook exploded.

“This Mono-Red deck is busted

Wait, what?

My attention was directly on the Mono-Red deck that was ripping players to shreds on Day One at Pro Tour Magic Origins on Friday. It featured a lot of what made Ash’s deck great and took it a step or three further, completely shattering the traditional boundaries of aggro and damn near putting it into serious tempo territory.

The problem? We couldn’t find a list!

There was one that was in a deck tech, but it wasn’t the one I wanted. It wasn’t the one that Sam Black was ultra-hyped about. It wasn’t the one that I knew was going to be superbly powerful.

So I sat at home, trying to reverse engineer the entire decklist. I knew the essentials, but I couldn’t just pull the smaller details out of thin air, including the sideboard. When it was mentioned that it was a classic 20 lands / 20 creatures / 20 spells deck things got way easier, and I was able to piece together most of the core.

With the information I had, I registered this for my Regionals in New Jersey:

It was comical how good this deck was. It was equally comical how much I mis-assigned my role during the early matches I played.

This deck isn’t just your run-of-the-mill Mono-Red deck. The play patterns are incredibly similar to the R/W Aggro deck of Fate Reforged Standard, where you’re much more tempo-oriented than anything else. I was spending more time putting out as much damage as I could as quickly as possible at the cost of building up my game presence as fast as possible in order to make my damage output more efficient. By the time I realized this, I was already in the x-3 bracket. From there, I tightened up and win out the rest of the tournament, salvaging a Top 64 finish along with a few Open Series points. More convincingly, I found the deck I’m going to jam with for as long as I possibly can this season. It often feels like I’m playing a Modern deck against these silly Siege Rhinos and Hangarback Walkers. If I can maximize my efficiency with this, I can have a solid shot at making a deep run over multiple events. I cannot wait for Sam Black to get more in-depth with every nuance of this deck, as it’s easily my favorite deck to come out of the Pro Tour.

I’m not one to change much with a deck as powerful as this, but I’m looking to try a whole lot of different ideas. That said, there is a Legacy Open this weekend in Washington DC, and I have a small range of decks I’m looking to play there.

Legacy has been pretty narrow in terms of what decks you can play nowadays. You have to pass the Miracles/Delver test if you’re trying to be fair, and the OmniTell/Storm test if you’re trying to be unfair. Basically, if you aren’t doing your thing better than they’re doing theirs or at least as well, then you probably shouldn’t be playing it. This remains true for most decks, but it’s even more pronounced in Legacy because of just how powerful the decks are in general.

My default is OmniTell, as Show and Tell decks are usually my weapon of choice when it comes to unfair decks for Legacy events. I’ve bounced around a lot when it comes to fair decks, however, and one of those decks is my frontrunner for Washington D.C., potentially over OmniTell.

After working on this deck a bit more, I’ve come to the conclusion that Stoneforge Mystic simply isn’t good enough in this Delver deck anymore. Abrupt Decay is all over the place, and having Stoneforge Mystic in your Delver deck lets the Sultai Delver decks eat you alive. Additionally, Stoneforge Mystic just isn’t fast enough on turn two, but that’s only on the front end. The back end of Stoneforge Mystic isn’t great either right now, mostly due to how prepared everyone is for Batterskulls, Swords, and Umezawa’s Jittes. The plan just isn’t as reliable as it was last year, and I know it’s hard to move away from conventional knowledge but I strongly feel that this was what was holding the deck back and someone’s gotta be the first do it!

With Young Pyromancer, Monastery Mentor, and True-Name Nemesis you greatly soften the impact of an opponent’s Abrupt Decay while also having an actual proactive game-plan revolving around individual cards as opposed to daisy chaining something together. They also give the deck the ability to go wide against where the attrition-based Legacy decks have steered us lately: one-for-one removal, value-for-value exchanges and slow, large threats. While we aren’t necessarily trying to be faster, we are trying to be less reliant on a single creature to carry the game for us – which makes it harder to interact with our threats directly on that cardboard-exchange axis. The big takeaway, if anything, is that we should be willing to move away from what we’re used to if we expect to see things progress the way we want them to.

This week has been nothing but excitement for me and many other players. Standard has been completely turned upside down and Legacy is on our horizon, and things are looking even more promising for all competitive players!