Red Deck Wins (Or Does It?) in 2008

I had my doubts about the venerable Red Deck Wins in this current Extended environment. It didn’t have a good showing in Valencia. Too much hate in the environment. From Counterbalance to Vedalken Shackles to Engineered Explosives to Doran to…

Well, you get the point.

I had my doubts about the venerable Red Deck Wins in this current Extended environment. It didn’t have a good showing in Valencia. Too much hate in the environment. From Counterbalance to Vedalken Shackles to Engineered Explosives to Doran to…

Well, you get the point.

That being said, based upon the most recent results available, it would appear that RDW (or should that be GDW…?) is doing just fine and remains a perfectly viable deck, thank you very much, and crow isn’t too bad if you cook it long enough and serve it with a nice cilantro-white wine reduction and a side of rice pilaf.

With an idea of what to expect these days, the question now becomes “what’s the optimal build?” Like a lot of established archetypes, there’s a solid “skeleton” of 40- or 50-odd cards; cards that define the deck, with a little bit of wiggle room for the last few additions.

Mana: The manabase is fairly simple to put together — cheap, no… but simple. Four copies each of Bloodstained Mire, Wooded Foothills, Stomping Ground, and Barbarian Ring, and then some combination of basic Mountains and one Blood Moon proof Forest, adding up to somewhere between 20 and 22 lands.

The combination between Onslaught fetchlands and Ravnica-block duals fuels this season’s Extended engines, and it’s doubly effective in a mana-light deck like RDW — in addition to being a mana fixer, the fetchlands are deck thinners, and RDW runs nine to eleven lands that don’t double as Shocks. Cracking three fetchlands early means that, out of the remaining forty-five plus cards, there’s only six or seven non-damage sources to be pulled from the deck. Simply put, every fetchland that gets cracked increases the quality of the draws — true of most any deck, but especially in a deck as chock-a-block full of threats as this one.

Barbarian Ring is too good and too important not to maximize in the deck. Yeah, it hurts, but when the object is to reduce your opponent to zero life as quickly as possible — as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. In testing, I’ve won more than a baker’s dozen worth of games by pulling a Ring off the top.

If I might make one tweak to the manabase, it would be to find room for a Pendelhaven — losing one Red source is not going to break things.

Creatures: Kird Ape, Mogg Fanatic, Grim Lavamancer, and Tarmogoyf are automatic four-ofs, and Blistering Firecat could probably be included in that list too.

Tarmogoyf, I’ve found, isn’t always a scary threat; it’s frequently a martyr — it has a nasty habit of getting killed before it can swing into the red zone, or getting chumped a lot. That’s perfectly acceptable. Tarmogoyf may get all the attention, but Kird Apes and Mogg Fanatics can do all the unglamorous grunt work quite nicely, thank you.

There is one other creature that I might consider adding to the maindeck: Gathan Raiders. Consider this: as a second morph creature, it offers the ability to “camouflage” Blistering Firecat and perhaps snooker an opponent into burning a Smother or burn spell on it, and getting to and staying at hellbent is pretty darn easy in a dedicated burn deck.

Oh yeah, it turns into a 5/5, too. That’s nothing to scoff at, either. What else in this environment has five toughness, I wonder…

Burn: Finally, some room for argument — at least numbers-wise. The two-for-one power of Firebolt merits four-of status. After that, things get perhaps a bit… fuzzy.

Tarfire and Seal of Fire, for example, have no real drawbacks other than making opponent’s Tarmogoyfs bigger.

Magma Jet’s scry 2 adds a minor element of library manipulation at instant speed, and being able to bury two lands at the bottom of the deck has been huge for me in games past. Rift Bolt and Incinerate, however, would argue that he number 3 is bigger than 2, and that’s the important number. Which is better? I personally prefer Magma Jet, but conventional wisdom seems to drifting towards spells that can kill a Kird Ape.

With the rise of Martyr of Sands-based decks — a turn 2 Martyr is the absolute last thing you want to see — Flames of the Blood Hand is showing up in some decklists. I was dubious at first, but Flames was a very effective card during the PT: Honolulu timeframe, and it’s better than the random Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] (I’ve tried Pulse, and I love that card, but I have yet to get a multiple use out of it after God-knows-how-many games).

Worst case scenario: it’s four points of burn for three mana, which isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, and provides a maindeck answer to Loxodon Hierarchs as well as Martyrs. As much as I like Sulfuric Vortex, it’s not a maindeck card.

Finally, while it’s not a burn spell, Molten Rain is one of my favorite spells in the deck, and not just because of my enduring infatuation with land destruction. Given the large number of three-and four-color manabases in the environment (not to mention the Urzatron, Academy Ruins and other key nonbasics), Molten Rain is all but guaranteed to hit something important and net an extra two points of damage. After Firebolt, it’s the one card I would consider an automatic four-of.

Sideboard Considerations for Expected Matchups: There is one card I consider a four-of coming out of the side; Ancient Grudge, which is essentially eight Shatters — crippling against Affinity, but offers a lot of splash damage potential against blue decks packing Trinket Mage, Pithing Needle and Vedalken Shackles. Or Jittes. Or… well, you catch my drift.

I don’t care what people say about the dredge matchup, I’ve found it to be horrible. Yes, Mogg Fanatic breaks the Bridge from Below engine. Yes, you can burn out the creature-based discard outlets. There isn’t a whole lot RDW can do, however, about cards like Breakthrough or Careful Study, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about Akroma, Angel of Red-Hating. Honestly, there’s only three things RDW can do against dredge: 1) run Tormod’s Crypt, 2) run Leyline of the Void and hope you either get one in the initial grip or be prepared to mulligan a lot or 3) just pray you never run into it.

Sadly, Door #3 may offer the best scenario, but I think I’d include Crypts to battle not just dredge but other graveyard-dependent decks, and, yes, Loam, I’m looking at you.

I’ve touched on Sulfuric Vortex previously, it’s a very effective clock against slower mid-range decks and negates the power of Loxodon Hierarch. Martyr of Sands, however, is active earlier and a lot more scary than Hierarch. In that case, Flames of the Blood Hand may be the superior card.

Perhaps one should consider running both…

Two sideboard cards I do not want to include are Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon. I’ve played with them in RDW and they have more drawbacks than bonuses. You end up hosing your own nonbasics. It forces you to hunt for your lone Forest with a fetchland or you end up negating your own Kird Ape or making it hard to get a ‘Goyf into play.

This also precludes the fact that almost every other deck runs its fair share of basic lands (or Chromatic Spheres and Stars) and can play around Blood Moon effects easily enough. You want to run Blood Moon, may I suggest the all-in 8BloodMoon.dec?

Other considerations: Remember when Flametongue Kavu was the Best Creature Ever? It’s still good at getting two-for-ones against the right matchup.

If TEPS, Mind’s Desire, or other combo-tastic decks start showing up in higher numbers, RDW has an effective answer in Pyrostatic Pillar.

Seal of Primodium provides a Disenchant effect that can just hang out until needed. Hull Breach does the same thing, but is vulnerable to discard.

Lest we forget, Umezawa’s Jitte is still a most excellent card for the mirror or other red-zone-dependent decks, and when slapped on a Tarmogoyf, well, you can do the math, but dare I say, it might be too slow.

RDW is a very, very good deck; solid, efficient, brutal. There’s a potential spanner in the works, however, which is named Morningtide, and it will be legal for GP: Vancouver.

This is a finely tuned orchestra of hurt; what, if anything, is worth including from Morningtide and what do you take out? Molten Rain? Burn spells? If this were a Goblin deck, I have little doubt that a tribal-based set would have something, but methinks tribal-based cards may not be used optimally here.

Boldwyr Heavyweights: This guy laughs at puny Tarmogoyfs — laughs, I say! He tramples over most anything save for Sundering Titan in the current environment — but I don’t care for the idea of giving my opponent a free ‘Goyf in any way, shape or form, especially when said ‘Goyf, or Hierarch, or other monstrous fatty is followed by a Vindicate.

Countryside Crusher: Boy howdy, did Red make out well with the undercosted beatsticks in Morningtide. A 3/3 for three mana is fine and dandy, plus he can get much bigger — in a deck with 12 lands that can be sacrificed, he could get big, big, really big in a hurry. That said, it’s most likely better in a Loam-based deck that can really abuse it properly.

Cream of the Crop: Perhaps the real sleeper card of the set — drop a creature, then Impulse for a bunch — but not in this particular deck. More than acceptable, say, in Doran-based decks, mayhaps?

Release the Ants: Funny name. Clash is good to smooth out mana issues. However, RDW needs more bang for the buck. Pity, though – shouting “Smithers… release the ants!” at the top of my lungs would have made for much hilarity.

Titan’s Revenge: Games with RDW generally don’t last long enough for me to get flashback mana on Firebolt. This one’s a non-starter.

Taurean Mauler: I had high hopes for this card, but it just didn’t pan out the way I dreamed. Theoretically, it can get bigger than Tarmogoyf, if dropped early enough. Tarmogoyf, however, is going to be big whenever you drop it, whereas this guy needs a little help. If this were a Goblin-based decks based around Piledrivers and Warchiefs, he’d be awesome. RDW, however, is a menagerie of Wizard, Ape, Goblin and Lhurgoyf; a veritable rainbow coalition of pain that cares little for tribal politics.

Mutavault: Changeling, schmangeling, outside of tribal decks this is just a Mishra’s Factory reprint. This card does show the most promise, but it can’t be hunted up with a fetchland and I don’t think it offers quite enough bang for the buck to squeeze in. If I’m wrong about any of these cards, however, it will most likely be this one.

If I was planning to attend GP: Vancouver (which I am), and I was going to run RDW (which I might), my decklist might look something like this:

4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Stomping Ground
4 Barbarian Ring
1 Forest
4 Mountain

4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Kird Ape
3 Blistering Firecat
2 Seal of Fire
2 Tarfire
4 Magma Jet
3 Flames of the Blood Hand
4 Firebolt
4 Molten Rain

4 Ancient Grudge
4 Sulfuric Vortex
2 Flametongue Kavu
3 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Gathan Raiders

Optimal build? Maybe. My love of Magma Jet will probably come back and bite me in the ass, but there’s seven cards now available to negate lifegain effects — eat that, Martyr.

Morningtide may not bring much to this deck but will no doubt enhance others (Aggro Loam, anyone?). But for those of us fond of turning creatures sideways and throwing burn at people’s faces, you can’t do much better than this.

Until next time,