Red October

Four Mono-Red Aggro decks made the Top 16 of #SCGWOR. CVM goes over all of them so you can be prepared to face the red menace this weekend at #SCGCLE.

The StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Worcester was last weekend, and we finally have the beginnings of a metagame. I imagine when the whole thing was said and done, Patrick Sullivan coyly slipped Zac Hill a Mox Ruby wrapped in a smattering of two-dollar bills as he whispered, “Thanks, your work is finally finished.”

Mono-Red Aggro and U/W-based Control.

Wow, groundbreaking! Who could have ever seen that coming?!

I’m not very surprised that Mono-Red Aggro performed as well as it did, but I am stoked that there were multiple flavors of it!

I’d like to take a look at the different Mono-Red Aggro decks that performed well last weekend and see just how they attack their opponents differently and if there are any streamlined components.

Four Mono-Red Aggro decks made the Top 16 of #SCGWOR, and we might as well start with Philip Bertorelli since he won the whole thing.

With Philip’s deck, we see a large number of disparities from the other three. Although he was right in the middle with lands, Philip opted to play a nice round number of Basic Land – Mountain with 21. Philip did not play Mutavault, and I imagine the thought process behind it was due to him wanting to push his devotion to red to the max so that he could take advantage of his other glaring standout:

“Brain-Tongue” Kavu, as Matt “Googs” Gargiulo has so BBD-esquely named the Fanatic, is definitely one of the cards that have been on my radar during our testing, and I imagine it put in a lot of work for Philip during the long Sunday. At only four mana, we can expect to cast Fanatic of Mogis on curve a fair amount of the time, and it plays a role similar to Hellrider did in the old Mono-Red Aggro decks.

Philip’s deck is very lean and focused on getting the maximum amount of damage out of every card, and Fanatic of Mogis plays right into that plan, doing anywhere from two-to-six damage when it comes into play—and getting a 4/2 body to boot! I really see Fanatic of Mogis becoming a staple for this deck type as we move forward, but the other three decks performing well show that this strategy can be effective in more than one way.

Philip played the “industry standard” of Rakdos Cackler, Firefist Striker, Chandra’s Phoenix, Lightning Strike, and Shock, but he still had some spicy ones that set him apart from the rest.

Because he was looking to take advantage of Fanatic of Mogis, he also opted for the full set of Boros Reckoner in the main. Two of the other three decks had some number of Boros Reckoners in their sideboards, but they were also playing Mutavault, which is a bit of a nonbo with it. Boros Reckoner is a card that has already proven itself as a powerhouse against other aggressive decks, and it’s no wonder that Philip won the whole thing. When you’re the only guy packing four Boros Reckoners in your maindeck and there is a sea of aggro decks to battle through, I’d say you have a pretty good shot. As the new Standard format starts to develop and evolve, I think this is going to be one of the hot topics. Mutavault and/or Boros Reckoner? Which do you choose?!

Philip was also the only one of the four who decided to play the full four Magma Jets and only two Shocks. I’m honestly not sure which is even right, but I guess if you have Burning-Tree Emissary in your deck, then having another spell that you can utilize the worthless green mana that you gain from it can’t be all that bad. I think that with an extremely powerful four-drop in Fanatic of Mogis, scrying two is a good way to find not only the 4/2 Minotaur but the lands to help cast it.

Philip’s sideboard is different from the rest mainly due to one card: Frostburn Weird. While the other Mono-Red Aggro decks had Boros Reckoner in their sideboard for the aggro mirror, Philip was yet another step ahead with Boros Reckoner in the maindeck and Frostburn Weird in the sideboard. I feel like these two decisions alone paid off tremendously for Philip last weekend.

The rest of Philip’s sideboard is quite streamlined with the Mizzium Mortars and Burning Earths, but I really like the Hammer of Purphoros. This card plays very well with Fanatic of Mogis, and I am really looking forward to exploring deck options with Hammer of Purphoros in the main alongside the Fanatic. Having the maximum number of Mizzium Mortars and no Act of Treason just goes to show that Philip would rather kill that Loxodon Smiter than beat his opponents over the head with it.

My only real gripe here is that I really wish there were a 22nd land somewhere to help cast Burning Earth and Chandra, Pyromaster when you bring them in. A simple Mutavault in the sideboard would have been awesome for this.

Team StarCityGames’ own Owen Turtenwald was the other red mage in the Top 8, and he took his deck in a far different direction. Akin to the Mono-Red Aggro decks from Return to Ravnica Block Constructed, Owen’s deck is much faster and packed with aggressive one-drops. He still has the usual suspects for the archetype in Rakdos Cackler, Firefist Striker, and Chandra’s Phoenix, but he does have some new blood in Firedrinker Satyr and extra ways to take advantage of his Burning-Tree Emissarys with Gore-House Chainwalker and Goblin Shortcutter.

Philip was the only Mono-Red Aggro player who eschewed the new Jackal Pup variant, Firedrinker Satyr, which I think was another key to his success in the Mono-Red Aggro mirror last weekend. Being able to use burn to remove a blocker and deal damage to your opponent is pretty huge; however, against all of the non-Mono-Red Aggro decks, I imagine Firedrinker Satyr did a lot of damage on Sunday. Satyr is particularly good in Owen’s build since along with Firefist Striker to remove blockers, he even has Goblin Shortcutter.

The card that defines Owen’s deck from the rest is Foundry Street Denizen. This little hyperaggressive one-drop found success in Return to Ravnica Block Constructed in Dynacharge decks. With cards like Chandra’s Phoenix, Lightning Strike, and Shock / Magma Jet, we don’t need Dynacharge anymore, but Foundry Street Denizen still packs quite a punch. Foundry Street Denizen into Burning-Tree Emissary + Firefist Striker followed up with a Chandra’s Phoenix is pretty backbreaking and threatens to end games quickly.

Owen played the full eight Lightning Strikes and Shocks and didn’t play any Magma Jets, which I feel is right. With Foundry Street Denizen, you would rather be casting more creatures than paying two mana to Shock something.

While Philip played a singleton of Gore-House Chainwalker, Owen opted to play the full four. Being a three-power creature for only two mana, Gore-House Chainwalker plays very well with those Goblin Shortcutters, getting in lots of damage early so that we can nickel and dime them the rest of way when they try to stabilize. Mutavault also plays a pretty big role in this; one-drop into Mutavault + Firefist Striker aims to do a lot of damage on turn 3—even through a blocker. Being castable off Burning-Tree Emissary and a Mutavault, unlike Ash Zealot, also helps decide this slot.

With 22 lands and four Mutavaults, Owen put Boros Reckoner in the sideboard. While Philip had a bit of an edge in the Mono-Red Aggro mirror due to his Reckoners being in the main, Owen’s list does have some game against them with the Firefist Strikers being fueled by his Mutavaults and Goblin Shortcutters. Having four Mutavaults gives Owen’s deck that extra velocity needed without using the slot in the deck for a spell. Mutavault is also pretty darn good against all the control decks that placed all over the Top 32.

Owen’s sideboard has the standard Boros Reckoners and Mizzium Mortars, but he also decided to play some copies of Hammer of Purphoros. The Hammer is real sweet against control decks and works very well here since we have 22 lands to play with. Flames of the Firebrand makes an appearance here, and when you are expecting a lot of X/1s and aggressive X/2s, Arc Lightning has never looked so good. I can imagine games in the mirror where he and his opponent both led one-drop into two-drop and he gets to untap and Flames of the Firebrand his opponent into oblivion.

Owen rounded out his sideboard with three copies of Peak Eruption, which is a card that I really like. Grixis and U/W/R Control decks are going to have plenty of targets, and the Big Boros strategy that I’ve been a proponent of is always popular with the masses. Peak Eruption helps to keep the control decks playing Jace, Architect of Thought a turn later and can throw some damage at it if they happen to get it into play. I also like Peak Eruption against G/R Monsters since we can keep them off of their monsters for a turn while getting in some damage, which seems pretty important.

Mario Martinez and Mark Broers both played Mono-Red Aggro and placed tenth and eleventh respectively. Their direction is a bit different from the two Mono-Red Aggro decks that placed in the Top 8. They still have our regular partygoers with Rakdos Cackler, Firefist Striker, and Chandra’s Phoenix, but the guest of honor this time is M14 multi-format all-star Young Pyromancer.

Young Pyromancer is making itself a force to be reckoned with in Legacy with all of the free/cheap spells available, but here in Standard we have to work a little harder. The two Mono-Red Aggro decks that placed in the Top 8 played ten and eight spells respectively, but Mario and Mark go even higher with thirteen and fourteen. In fact, their lists are identical except for Mark opting to play a Flames of the Firebrand in the main over the third Mutavault.

I can imagine a lot of games where their Young Pyromancer lives for a couple turns and they get to kill a few creatures and generate some 1/1 Elemental tokens to take over the game. Since there were very few copies of Electrickery and Izzet Staticaster in the Top 32, I’m not surprised that Mario and Mark did so well, but we have to wonder just how good Young Pyromancer is in the mirror.

If we go down the Pyromancer route, we will have more removal than our opposing red mages, but how much of a difference is that going to make? I have a feeling that if Flames of the Firebrand were Arc Trail, it would be a much different story. Since we have more removal and Chandra, Pyromaster to keep us fueled in the mid-to-late game, any creature would do, and since Pyromaster keeps pumping out Elementals, its best suited for the job.

I wonder since Young Pyromancer is so good against the rest of the field and Boros Reckoner is awesome in the mirror if we can just combine the two and shy away from some Mutavaults. While we do have Firefist Striker, who loves to play with Mutavault, neither of them are running the full four in the main, and we could easily sideboard a few when we bring in cards like Hammer of Purphoros or other potent four-drops.

Speaking of sideboarding, Mario and Mark are the only ones who felt like Skullcrack was worth devoting significant space to, which makes sense with Young Pyromancer. This is the same reason Act of Treason is potent here since Young Pyromancer just wants you to cast as many awesome spells as you can.

Mario and Mark both only played two copies of Boros Reckoner in their sideboard, and I can imagine that all day they wished they had more. I definitely think moving forward that Boros Reckoner is going to be more prominent and turning on Firefist Striker is going to be priority number one. Another card that we can use to try to combat Boros Reckoner is Madcap Skills, but decks with Reckoner will also have something like Lightning Strike or Chained to the Rocks, which puts us at risk for a two-for-one.

All in all, I am very intrigued with the results from this past weekend and look forward to our continued testing for Pro Tour Theros and what gems come from the SCG Open Series in Cleveland this weekend.

I did get to battle a little bit last weekend even though I didn’t make the grueling trip to Worcester. I lost in the Top 4 of the KMC (Kaijudo PTQ) in Atlanta on Saturday and then got ran over by a bunch of Mono-Red Aggro decks at an Invitational Qualifier on Sunday.

Mono-Red Aggro is here to stay, as are U/W and Esper Control, so the next step is to find a way to beat them!

Master of Waves is pretty sweet against Mono-Red Aggro, and Jace, Memory Adept and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver are both potent win conditions against the control decks. Maybe we have something there!

Catch you guys next week. Stay classy, and may all your Burning-Tree Emissarys be on the bottom of your decks you lucky . . .

<3 CVM

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