I’ve known Korey McDuffie for quite a long time. And during that time, I can say three things with absolute certainty:
1.) He’s very good at Magic
2.) He always plays control decks with a lot of decisions
3.) He looks like a Dragon Ball Z character
What does the third have to do with the first two? Nothing. Just stating a fact. And while I’m busy stating facts, here’s another one – Korey McDuffie won #SCGATL with Atarka Red.
Why does this matter? Because Korey McDuffie doesn’t play red decks. For as long as I’ve known him, he has played Islands. Lots of them. So when I saw that he was 8-1 after Day 1 of #SCGATL, I knew that his take on Atarka Red was a good one. His winning the tournament only solidified that thought and now our new Standard format has a deck to beat at #SCGCOL.
Combo or No Combo?
As you likely know by now, McDuffie cut Temur Battle Rage from his build of Atarka Red. Up until last weekend, just about every Atarka Red deck had access to the Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense combo. With the removal of the combo, a lot of things change for Atarka Red, so let’s go over them one by one.
1.) Your deck lacks the ability to steal a win out of nowhere. By cutting Temur Battle Rage, you no longer have the one-two punch that took Brian DeMars to his title at #SCGINDY last year. The combo of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense is very powerful in certain situations, but more than anything, it always left you drawing live to killing your opponent out of nowhere. A lot of things could be going wrong during a game, but at least you always had a shot for the perfect peels to steal a victory.
2.) Your deck becomes more consistent. By removing the combo from Atarka Red, you lose some explosiveness, but you gain consistency. One of the downsides of playing Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense is that you don’t always draw them together. And while Become Immense is still fairly good on its own, Temur Battle Rage generally is not. Instead of having to worry about that, you get to draw real cards instead.
3.) Abbot of Keral Keep becomes a lot better. Abbot of Keral Keep is one of the best red cards in Standard, so any steps one can take to make it better are ideal. When you have multiple copies of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage in your deck, Abbot of Keral Keep is pretty poor. When you have fewer of those and more cards that are good on their own, Abbot looks a lot more like one of the best cards in your deck.
4.) Spot removal sucks against you. With this build of Atarka Red, cards like Grasp of Darkness and Murderous Cut are terrible against you. Previously, the goal of decks playing against Atarka Red was to assemble a solid battlefield with a removal spell at the ready for the combo. With that no longer being the case, players have to adjust by playing sweepers. And sweepers aren’t terribly difficult to beat when you can just rebuild quickly with Hordeling Outburst and Reckless Bushwhacker.
For the way that I like to play Magic, I’m happy with McDuffie’s removal of the combo from Atarka Red. While it did enable the deck to win some games from some pretty crazy spots and changed the way the opponent would play the game at times, I never liked how disjointed the draws would be at times. I much prefer my aggressive decks to have consistent draws and consistent expectations, and I believe the removal of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage accomplishes just that.
What’s This Sideboard?
Korey’s sideboard was a bit strange for most Atarka Red decks:
Everything about Korey’s sideboard promotes being comfortable with playing a longer game. Den Protector does have some aggressive elements, as it is a two mana 2/1 that has relevant text in combination with Titan’s Strength and Become Immense, but for the most part, Den Protector is here to recast cards like Hordeling Outburst and Abbot of Keral Keep.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a four-mana spell in a 22-land deck. Korey makes casting this possible by sideboarding in two copies of Smoldering Marsh. In the matchups where Pia and Kiran Nalaar is good, it’s great, and I have found it to be a lot better than the four-mana alternatives of Thunderbreak Regent and Outpost Siege. Consider it a mirror breaker.
Arc Lightning is an interesting inclusion. When I first saw Korey’s decklist at #SCGATL, I forgot the card was even legal. After seeing it in action, it feels good but not great. Mostly, it appears to be a trump for the mirror match, as it does a nice job of cleaning up Goblin tokens and additional threats at times. I question if it’s better than Boiling Earth, but playing some more games will sort that out.
Last, there’s the black splash. Painful Truths is an obscenely powerful spell, but I’m not sure how good it is here. Going long with certain decks feels like a fool’s errand, and I’m not convinced this is a better tool at doing so than Den Protector. Self-Inflicted Wound is a great trump against Abzan, but I’m not so sure that it’s better than Roast, especially with the printing of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Kalitas is a card I expect to see a lot of play moving forward and it is imperative to have a clean answer to it, which Self-Inflicted Wound certainly is not.
So what sideboard would I play?
This quite clearly chops the black splash. I think having more Den Protectors is a great place to be if you want to go long. Roast is just as good as Self-Inflicted Wound but has the added benefit of answering Kalitas. I’m not positive on the 24th land in the sideboard but I want to be sure I can play Den Protector and unmegamorph it on the same turn with regularity.
So About the Maindeck…
For the most part, I think Korey got the maindeck right. The addition of Reckless Bushwhacker brings a new avenue to the deck that it didn’t have before. It reminds me a lot of Ranger of Eos finding Goblin Bushwhacker many moons ago, a combination of cards I really enjoyed playing and one I had quite a bit of success with. Korey said in his winner’s interview that Reckless Bushwhacker was one of the best cards in his deck, so I’m interested in finding room for a fourth copy, but I do have some concerns about how good they are when drawn in multiples.
What really makes Atarka Red a good choice right now, however, are the following two cards:
Right now, there are a ton of two- and three-toughness creatures that need to be killed upon resolution:
For one mana, one of these two spells takes care of all these cards. Clearly there are more three-toughness creatures than two-toughness ones, but one mana taking care of two- and three-mana spells is what’s important. Efficiency is the name of the game for a low-to-the-ground deck like Atarka Red, and as long as Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse kill the majority of creatures that are being played early, the deck will remain viable. That said, I believe there should be more copies of Fiery Impulse than Wild Slash, given the high density of three toughness creatures in the format.
What to Play
So if I were going to #SCGCOL, which I am, this is the build of Atarka Red that I would play:
It’s probably pretty risky to play Atarka Red the week after it won a major tournament, but I’m up to the challenge. I expect sweepers like Kozilek’s Return and Flaying Tendrils to be prevalent this weekend at #SCGCOL, but honestly, I just don’t care. I think those cards can be beaten with proper play and good sideboarding, and I hope all these Den Protectors will allow me to overcome the inevitable influx of sweepers.
Either way, I’m gonna bring a lot of my Goblin tokens with me to #SCGCOL because I plan on attacking with a whole bunch of ’em all weekend long.