Unfortunately for residents of Pittsburgh, the “City” Champs Final was held about three hundred miles away from home, and thus I do not have visions of U.S. Nationals dancing through my head right now. However, I am very much looking forward to StarCityGames.com mega weekend, even if I’ll probably wind up playing the same deck I’ve been playing for months now.
Usually, an event like this would draw all of the die-hard Magic players from CMU, but the weekend unfortunately falls directly in the middle of our final examination period, and so certain parties are making things difficult for the rest of us. Specifically, the person with whom I prepared for the last 5k claims that he won’t go unless we find a decent Red/x Aggro deck for him to play on the big weekend.
That seems like an easy enough problem to solve.
In fact, as far as I can tell, the part of the question that will be the hardest to answer is going to be which colors the deck runs. Obviously it’s going to have Red in it, but it could easily splash Green, Black, or both, or even run as a straight one-color deck. I kept my mind open when poring over the spoiler, but you’ll see that I started with Black and Green cards as possibilities before settling on a Mono-Red approach to the deck.
So, without further ado, I’d like to jump into my thoughts on the new cards in Shadowmoor, and what they have to offer Red Deck Wins in Standard.
Tattermunge Maniac — It is a given that whatever deck we wind up with, this guy will be included. Two power for one mana in Red is far more than I’ve come to expect, and I think that his drawback is just not worth worrying about. However, it does mean that you’re going to want to have plenty of burn spells to back him up. If you can do that, though, he’ll quickly turn into four, six, or more damage. I mention him first because of the path that this leads us down; we can build the deck with efficient creatures backed by burn spells intended mostly to allow them through our opponent’s defenses.
Ashenmoor Liege — This is essentially the Maniac’s big brother. He’s going to hit the opponent extremely hard, but his glass jaw means that you have to be sure that your burn is going to be up to task at clearing the way for him. It might be that in a world of Bitterblossoms and Imperious Perfects, this is simply too much to ask. It might also be that if you ever get two of these guys into play, you automatically win (less likely). While this fellow didn’t end up making the final cut, he was one of the first cards I looked at, and one that I’m sure I’ll be back to.
Tattermunge Duo — If you’re clearing the way for your little men by throwing Shocks around like they were nothing, then the Duo is built just for you. When you Tarfire your opponent’s Pestermite, not only are you going to get your Maniac through for another two points, you’re going to pump the Duo up to a fairly impressive 3/4. If the various (Black/)Green decks stay popular, you’ll also love the feeling you get when you play a pre-combat Boggart Ram-Gang and get to send in for an unblockable three points.
Boggart Ram-Gang — Speaking of this man, we’ve come to another one of my favorite spoiled cards. We already had a relatively powerful 3/3 for three in Countryside Crusher, but the Ram-Gang has Haste, which is huge. The damage you can deal with a simple opening like Tattermunge Maniac, Keldon Marauders, Boggart Ram-Gang is astounding, and if you happen to pull off an unmolested eight-point attack on the third turn, you’re almost certainly going to win. Even when things aren’t going quite so swimmingly, giving your three-drop Haste means quite a lot when he might otherwise meet an untimely demise at the hands of Shriekmaw or similar.
I want to take a second here to look at the mana costs of the cards I’m planning on playing with. While Tattermunge Maniac and Boggart Ram-Gang are forgiving about whether I’m casting spells with Mountains or Forests, they’re not so much fans of casting spells with Mutavaults. I’m also almost certainly going to wind up with Flame Javelin in my deck, so colorless lands become even less appealing.
The other side of this is that certain cards that might be quite good, such as the newer version of Sygg, just aren’t that easy to support without hurting our ability to cast our various RRR three-drops. Yes, Graven Cairns does exist, but it’s hard for me to justify a BB splash off just those four lands. This same problem comes up elsewhere, so I’m going to limit myself to “Red” cards at this point. I’ll come back to this later, but I think that the first pass should be made with our restrictive mana costs in mind.
Ashenmoor Gouger — The other Red card in the HHH-cost cycle, Ashenmoor Gouger is really quite large. His problem is not that he’s bad, as I quite like him, it’s that his competition is so good. For approximately the same cost, I could get a Countryside Crusher, so the built-in +1/+1 is going to have to prove itself better than the Giant’s ability to grow out of hand and to regulate your draws. I think that the Gouger has a lot of potential, and if I knew I’d be playing Ashenmoor Liege, he would be a slam dunk, but for now he’s just a “maybe” for me.
Demigod of Revenge — When I look at this card, the main thing I see is the converted mana cost of five. If I’m trying to make a deck with a 2/1 for R and burn spells work, I don’t think I’ll find a way to get the Demigod to work too. I envision either running a relatively low land count, in which case I’d expect him to be stranded in my hand quite a lot, or running Countryside Crusher, who might artificially create the same situation. It might be that this guy is just so good that I need to run him, but I think that he’ll stay on the sidelines for the first pass.
Fulminator Mage — I see two problems with the Mage. First, he’s a 2/2 for three, when I could easily be getting a 3/3 (or better) with great abilities for the same cost. Second, I think that manabases might wind up looking a lot less attractive for him, as people try to fit HHHHH-cost cards into their decks. Tom’s article yesterday featured a deck that included twenty-five basic lands, and I would not be surprised to see a lot of those pop up soon.
Cultbrand Witch — Like the Ashenmoor Liege, this is a creature that I’d really like to play, but that I just can’t seem to figure out how to fit it in. Two power for two mana isn’t necessarily that exciting, but it’s fine, and the ability to just fire more damage out there whenever I have spare mana is very attractive. Unfortunately, as always, I think that the non-Red activation cost is going to be too hard to support, and so this one ends up on the sidelines.
Vexing Shusher — I saved the Shusher for last because of just how great I think he is. As spoiled, we’re looking at an uncounterable Grizzly Bear that can protect all of your burn spells. I don’t think that there is going to be a deck that relies solely on counterspells to defend itself, but it’s not at all unreasonable to think that you might find yourself up against a deck that can stabilize at a life total in the single digits, and that slowrolling a Shusher until you can unleash a lethal swath of burn could easily win you the game.
All in all, I think that the most promising new creatures are Tattermunge Maniac, Vexing Shusher, and Boggart Ram-Gang. They can easily team up with old favorites like Mogg Fanatic, Keldon Marauders, and Countryside Crusher to form an extremely formidable offense. As I mentioned earlier, many of the Black/Red (and sometimes Black/Blue) cards are extremely appealing to me, but I simply don’t think I can make the mana work for them. I’d love to be proven wrong.
Flame Javelin — One of my all-time favorite Magic Online decks to play was a Red/White Aggro deck that my clan built immediately following the release of Ravnica. The draw to that deck was the fact that your (only alright) creatures were backed up by two three-drop burn spells that could deal four damage. With Char and Flames of the Blood Hand no longer appearing in Standard, the best that we could do has been Incinerate, but now we can go back to the old days with Flame Javelin. Since things appear to be shaping up as Mono-Red, the RRR cost isn’t going to be a problem at all, and in return we get a wonderfully clean four-point burn spell.
Smash to Smithereens — Many of the pre-Shadowmoor Standard decks that were slow out of the gates, notably Reveillark, used artifact acceleration to dig themselves out of that hole. Smash to Smithereens does double duty against these opponents, Bolting them and getting rid of their accelerant. It’s also a good sideboard answer to the increasingly-popular Dragon’s Claw, as well as a way to clean up other random artifacts that you might run into. Like Cryoclasm before it, I expect this Smash to be quite the post-board beating against some decks.
Poison the Well — If we’re starting off with Smash to Smithereens and following up with Cryoclasm, why not make sure we can clean up the mess with Poison the Well? Off-hand, I think that this card just costs too much mana for the impact that it has, but I think that, if you’re dead-set on pursuing mana denial, you could do much worse than this card.
So, where does all of this get us?
Post-Shadowmoor Red Deck Wins
4 Tattermunge Maniac
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Vexing Shusher
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Countryside Crusher
4 Shard Volley
4 Rift Bolt
4 Flame Javelin
This is my second pass at the deck; the first run had Emberwilde Augur instead of Keldon Marauders. I’ve really liked the Augur in the abstract for a long time, and figured that I’d try him out, but he was not nearly as good as I had hoped he would be. The first take also featured Ashenmoor Gouger instead of Countryside Crusher, but his drawback was often relevant and his small increase in size didn’t seem to make up for the fact that I would draw lands in the turns after I played him.
It’s possible that certain card choices aren’t as optimal as they might become. Rift Bolt is my least favorite of the burn spells, since it’s the hardest one to resolve on any turn other than the second; perhaps it should be Lash Out. You’ll also notice that I have twelve cards that cost three mana in my deck, but only twenty lands. I didn’t find myself missing my third land drop more than once or twice, so this seems to be okay, but I could sympathize with someone who wanted to cut some of the expensive cards for an extra land or two. Lastly, the lands are thoroughly unexciting. I found myself wishing that I could fit some good non-basics in there, but with R, RR, and RRR costs, I don’t think I can afford to run any colorless lands. Similarly, I don’t think I can afford to run any lands that come into play tapped, and so both Mutavault and Ghitu Encampment are out. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, and maybe there’s a way to get these man-lands into the deck, but I haven’t gotten there yet.
Regardless, I took this deck into the fray against the old top-dog, Blue/Black Faeries, and a new Blue/Red Swans deck. Against Faeries, the deck won every game that started with a creature on turns 1 and 2, but was very much behind when it played only one creature in the first two turns. Perhaps I should be running another one-drop, or maybe something like Tarmogoyf instead of Boggart Ram-Gang. Either way, the deck felt extremely powerful, and the results were promising.
The results against the Swans deck are not necessarily as relevant, since the opposing deck was untested and just a quick brainstorm, but they did show one thing very nicely. Either the game would be over extremely quickly, as Tattermunge Maniac delivered a merciless beating, or it would go very long, as the Swans deck’s burn and countermagic held the fort against the assault. In these long games, it was not very difficult to accumulate burn spells in-hand, building up my manabase to the point where I could easily play Vexing Shusher and the follow him up with a Javelin, two Incinerates, and a Shard Volley. This is probably harder to pull off when you find yourself unable to convert Incinerate into Ancestral Recall, but the fact remains that a lategame burn plan is very strong when backed up by the Shusher.
I’m sure that the deck will continue to evolve beyond where it is right now. I’d still love to find a way to play all those Black/Red cards I’ve left behind, but the important thing is that it looks like I’ll have someone to share the ride to Virginia with. After all, it seems very likely that we’ve got the next big Red/x Aggro deck within our grasp.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM