Peebles Primers – Red Deck Wins in Extended

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Red Deck Wins has been a mainstay on the Extended scene for many a season. With Lorwyn, and now Morningtide, can the little Red (and sometimes Green) guys still kick ass and take names against the likes of Doran, Ravager, and Hierarch? Benjamin Peebles-Mundy thinks they can…

Any time I sit down to play a format seriously, I start with some variation on Red Deck Wins. I learned to play the game with Jackal Pup and Ball Lightning, first PTQ’d with Cursed Scroll and Mogg Fanatic, and played my first Pro Tour with Genju of the Spires and Fledgling Dragon. Now that I’m actually buckling down and trying to perform at a PTQ, I’m looking into playing Red/Green.

First, though, a tale about playing this format just for fun: as you may have read, I was given a chance to play a free PTQ if I agreed to run Ghost Dad in the tournament. At the Butler, PA qualifier this past weekend, I charged into battle with Kami of Ancient Law and Ghost Council of Orzhova for the first time since the Standard season following Pro Tour: Honolulu. While there isn’t much that I can tell you about why you should play Ghost Dad in your own PTQs (there really isn’t a reason to at all), the experience was a good one for me to have.

Prior to showing up to that PTQ, I wasn’t really excited about trying to win one of these things. I mean, sure, I wanted to win a PTQ because I wanted to play on the Pro Tour again, but I didn’t actually want to play in these specific qualifiers. I couldn’t find a deck that I actually wanted to play, and I just didn’t want it enough. However, the simple act of playing an essentially casual deck in a tournament has re-lit the fire, and suddenly I want to actually win this season. This desire to win tournaments is something that you actually need to have; simply playing for fun won’t get you to the PT. This, of course, brings me back to Red Deck Wins; it’s an actual deck for people that actually want to win matches.

The first thing to know about my take on RDW is that I built it starting with Countryside Crusher. The Crusher seems good to me on so many different levels, but the one that I like the most is the fact that he costs three mana. Tom LaPille latest Counterbalance decklist features three maindeck Threads of Disloyalty alongside the standard Vedalken Shackles, and having your only real threat (Tarmogoyf) fall victim to Threads in game 1 is one of the worst feelings you’ll experience in a PTQ. Threes are also easier to get through a Counterbalance/Top lock, meaning that the card is, in general, simply good against Next Level Blue. It’s still vulnerable to Smother and Lightning Helix (or Incinerate), but you can’t have everything go your way.

Thinking about the Crusher from this perspective led me to another one of my old favorites for Red Deck Wins: Fledgling Dragon. Its relatively high casting cost again seems to me to be a benefit; it dodges Threads, Counterbalance, and Smother. It’s also just an amazing threat, and usually ends any game only a turn or two after you achieve Threshold. Luckily for me, Countryside Crusher helps us there.

Of course, there is a problem here. The Crusher cuts off your ability to draw mana, and the Dragon costs more than the Crusher does. I don’t actually believe this to be a real problem, because having an extra land in-hand when you drop the Crusher will happen pretty often, and because a Crusher that sticks around for so many turns that you actually find yourself unable to draw lands is probably killing the opponent. However, I decided to hedge my bets and play Chrome Mox. The Mox gives me a way to draw mana off the top of my deck if I really truly need to, and also lets me speed my bigger costs out of the gates faster.

This brings me to the spells portion of the deck. I have always liked big spells in Red Deck Wins, by which I mean individual cards that have a big impact on the game. To this end, my take on the deck includes Violent Eruption, the card I most wanted to draw when I was playing the deck back in LA. My roommate thinks that the Eruption is a terrible idea, but in the thirty games we played tonight, I was happy to draw it every time. I think that having big costs is a good thing right now, assuming you can actually reliably play your cards, because avoiding Counterbalance is a huge deal. Not only does Violent Eruption sneak through Balance/Top for a huge chunk of your opponent’s life total, it clears out their entire side when you find yourself across the table from another aggro deck. It’s also perfectly acceptable against Doran decks, most often removing a Hierarch for just one card or sweeping aside the chump-block Birds and hitting for three at the same time. If you think along the same lines as Steve, I’d say that the card you’d want in its place is Lava Dart.

Beyond those four cards, everything else in the deck is relatively stock. I’m not positive that all the card choices are perfect or that all the numbers are correct, but I did like how the deck played out.

I have not included a sideboard because I have not settled on one at this point. My brainstorm list includes about twenty possibilities, but the big ones are Ancient Grudge, Lava Dart, and Blood Moon. Some that I’m excited about but haven’t actually tested yet include Loaming Shaman and Flames of the Blood Hand.


Steve and I played three ten-game sets against the decks I’m most concerned about beating in an upcoming PTQ. I was previously very worried about Dredge, but that concern is dying out after the abysmal performance that many of my friends posted at this latest PTQ.

Counterbalance (5-5)
The Counterbalance deck has two plans for beating you: lock you out with Top/Balance or lock you out with Shackles and Threads. Of course, this is all backed up by Engineered Explosives and Tarmogoyf, so it’s not like they’re sitting on only fifteen relevant cards. When you’re not simply running them over with a very strong draw, you’d much rather play against the Top/Balance combo than the Control Magics. Top/Balance is good, but early pressure like Kird Ape and Grim Lavamancer should mean that the opponent is very tied up on mana. If you can keep them busy flipping and spinning the Top, you should be able to get them into range of one of your Counterbalance-proof finishers. If they lock you up with seven lands in play, though, you’re probably done.

When they’re on the Control Magic plan, then you need to be drawing actual spells. Fledgling Dragon and Countryside Crusher dodge Threads, and if you have been harassing their lands with Molten Rain, might even be too big to be stolen by the Shackles. However, you really just want to draw the big burn spells and hit them for large chunks of life every turn. Eruption shines again, dealing the max (at the end of their turn) and slipping past all forms of Counterbalance.

It’s also worth mentioning that Molten Rain strikes me as very strong if you’ve got early guys to play before it. I’m not sure if the highest-caliber players will walk straight into the Rain, but if you can hit their Breeding Pool, then they’ll need to find their Tree of Tales to cast Tarmogoyfs, and any Kird Apes they steal will just be 1/1 speedbumps.

The two obvious cards you want after sideboarding are Ancient Grudge and Krosan Grip. Ancient Grudge strikes me as completely insane against them, hitting five mana sources, rawdogged Explosives, Needles on your Lavamancers or Barbarian Rings, and, of course, Vedalken Shackles. And then doing it again, as you’re well aware. Krosan Grip is similarly obvious in its applications, also clearing away Counterbalance and possibly even Sensei’s Divining Top. I’m not sure exactly how many slots you’d want to open up for them, but Firebolt is not particularly impressive against Top/Balance and their distinct lack of small men. I’m also not the biggest fan of Rift Bolt, but cutting all of this burn leaves the possibility that you’ll just run into Sower of Temptation and have no answer to it. Time may tell that all you really want is Ancient Grudge.

Doran (4-6)
This isn’t the final score that I wanted to see. Doran was the individual deck that I saw the most of this past Saturday, even though the top players were mostly playing Counterbalance decks. The only thing that I take solace in is the fact that I never once untapped with Fledgling Dragon in play. This doesn’t mean that I never drew the Dragon, but simply that each and every one of them that I did draw was matched by a Vindicate from Steve. If you can get a hit in with a Dragon, it’s going to win you the game.

The games that I lost had to do with big guys followed by spot removal. There are only so many times you can trade two-for-one with Doran before you can’t keep up with the latest Eternal Witness or Hierarch that’s hitting you this time. This is part of why I like the deck to have so many high-impact cards; you’re going to need them when you have to cash in a Kird Ape and an Incinerate to take out Doran. Of course Chrome Mox also eats your cards, but the mana boost that it provided was often enough to stay the one step ahead of Doran that I needed, especially when it was boosting out Molten Rain.

The games that I won were your standard RDW affair: fast pressure followed up by mana disruption and burn. There isn’t too much to say here, since the plays that you want to make are all relatively obvious. The only strange one is that you might want to slam your guys into theirs a little more than seems healthy, since keeping your graveyard stocked can allow you to pull Barbarian Rings off the top of your deck to finish them off, instead of needing traditional burn spells. Countryside Crusher was amazing every time I untapped and hit lands with it, but its mana cost is a liability against the Smother deck. Fledgling Dragon was often ready to come out, Threshold up, and win the game, but I wasn’t ever able to actually make that attack. I can only assume that if I had been able to, I would have won.

I’ve already got plenty of pressure in the maindeck, so sideboarding for this matchup should increase the mana disruption or the burn density (or I guess both in an ideal world). The usual answer for more mana disruption is Blood Moon, and it should be just as good here as it always has been. Steve thinks that, because of the Moon, I should have a basic Forest in my deck to fetch up so that my Kird Apes can still get their bonus; if you want to do this, then it’s likely that you’ll want to cut a Bloodstained Mire (which will also bring you back to the point where you don’t have more fetchlands than targets). As for the burn front, there are two cards that I’d entertain boarding in: Flames of the Blood Hand and Lava Dart. The Flames seems stronger to me, because Loxodon Hierarch is such an amazing card for the Doran deck to stabilize behind, and the Flames’ effective eight damage for three mana should make short work of that plan. Lava Dart has plenty of uses here and against other Red decks, so it might be worth the sideboard space. However, we’re again running into the problem that there aren’t any truly poor cards to board out in this matchup; the worst two are probably Rift Bolt (too slow for its damage output) and Countryside Crusher (just runs into Tarmogoyf, Doran, and Hierarch). Still, those cards are plenty good, so it’s not like we need to make sure that the final sideboard has eight good cards to bring in here. I think that one of Blood Moon and Flames of the Blood Hand should be plenty.

Five-Color Zoo (6-4)
Notable here is that I took down every one of the last five games. This was also the first matchup we played, so there’s a good chance that I messed up a time or two (or twenty) more in the first half of this set than the second. Whether or not that was enough to change the outcome of any of the games, I’ll never know, but I think that a 5-0 run at the end is indicative of a better overall matchup than 6-4 might suggest.

Zoo is going to try to kill you as fast as they possibly can. You’d like to kill them quickly just so that they have less time to hurt you, but you have plenty of ways to take down longer games. Most notable on this front are Firebolt and Violent Eruption, which can easily win on stalemated boards. You also have Fledgling Dragons that they’re going to have to kill or die to; their manabase doesn’t afford them a whole lot of extra life to work with.

The biggest individual threat from them is Dark Confidant, though Tarmogoyf and Grim Lavamancer are cards you don’t want to see either. Still, the pure power of the extra cards that the Confidant will feed your opponent is often too much to overcome; make sure you kill him instantly. Their Goyfs are better than yours because they have Gaea’s Might to win a head-to-head fight, but in the absence of Gaea’s Might, you have things like Firebolt and Eruption to finish their Tarmogoyf off and keep yours trucking.

I’m not really sure about any one amazing sideboard card for this matchup. Flametongue Kavu is probably very good, for all the reasons it has always been good in creature matchups. I think that the best single card, though, is Lava Dart. Five-Color Zoo has a ton of good targets for the Dart, and you’re going to want to board out your Molten Rains. Now, the Rains are actually passable in game 1, since their mana is so stretched, but you don’t actively want to draw them. On the other hand, another utility burn spell is exactly the kind of card you want to draw since it will contain their x/1s and trade up on Kird Apes and Tarmogoyfs, and of course can go to the face.

Final Thoughts

I’m pretty excited about this deck. It has plenty of hits from my past that I want to play with again (though Violent Eruption isn’t quite as fun as Pillory of the Sleepless), but most of all, it shows great promise. The first draft of the deck posted numbers that I’m very happy with; no truly blowout matchups in either direction, but solid numbers that can be improved by working on specific aspects of the gameplan. At this point in time, I fully intend to play some version of this deck in the upcoming PTQ in Ohio.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM