Reflecting Ruel – Mythic Conscription versus Mono Red: The Mono Red Perspective

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Tuesday, July 6th – With his brother Antoine bringing us this matchup from the Mythic Conscription perspective, it’s now Olivier’s turn to explain exactly how to send burn to the face! He explores the matchup from the Mono Red side of the table, and shares valuable tips for anyone looking to max out on Mountains.

Mono Red (Deck Wins) is a very special archetype. In most formats, when people build and play around its existence, it is between average and pretty bad. However, the moment people forget about it, the deck rises back to the top in no time. As Mono Red hasn’t been performing particularly well in major events lately, it is a good time to check how the deck would perform in a format in which it seems like it is not taken into consideration anymore. Indeed, extremely recent events have proven that this strategy is playable once more.

This week, we’re going to check out how the deck works against one of the very best decks in the present Standard format: Mythic Conscription.

Antoine found this decklist on the internet, which won a pretty big local tournament. As he has tested it lately on Magic Online, and done quite well with it, this is what I’ll be running. Apologies to the original builder of the deck… sound off in the forums if it’s your creation!

Antoine, on the other hand, will be running Grand Prix: Manila champion Naoki Nakada’s decklist:

Maindeck Games ( 23-1, 96% games won)

On the play: 12-0
On the draw: 11-1

I did expect the match up to be positive, but 23 to 1? I drew globally well. I’ve missed only three third land drops, and tool only one mulligan, which is clearly too good, but I didn’t even draw that well in the games. The fact is that, unless something goes very wrong, you just win. Antoine could have chosen his opening hand in most games, and it still wouldn’t have been enough. However, even though the matchup is almost perfect and Mono Red is not considered a very complex deck, the matchup is still difficult to play correctly. As the games are decided by turn 5 in 90% of the cases, every mistake has a high repercussion.

First, it is important to state what Mythic Conscription’s winning conditions are. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Elspeth, Knight-Errant are slow and almost ineffective, while Gideon Jura and Baneslayer Angel are solid but still very expensive. Not to mention Sovereigns of Lost Alara or Eldrazi Conscription, which just never made it to the board in 24 games. Knight of the Reliquary may be good, but it is still pretty easy to blast away. And when they open with a pair of fetchlands, the Knight still wouldn’t be big deal. Indeed, they don’t much like starting the game on 18 life, so they’ll be glad to trade their 4/4 for a Ball Lightning most of the time. Even if you can’t make them do this, gathering a pair of burn spells, or a burn spell and a kamikaze attack, shouldn’t be that hard.

Actually, they don’t stand a chance if they can’t cast Baneslayer Angel. That guy is their only remote chance to deal with Kargan Dragonlord, to stay out of burn range, and to deal the winning blow. Therefore, your main plan will be to keep the 5/5 from impacting the board. With 2 Staggershock, 4 Lightning Bolt, 3 Forked Bolt, 4 Burst Lightning, and 4 Searing Blaze, as well as the haste guys and Teetering Peaks (which will often force Knight of the Reliquary to block), it shouldn’t be too difficult.

The main decision in the matchup is knowing when to burn the little guys. At first I started killing the one-drops instead of casting Goblin Guide in order to prevent Knight of the Reliquary from entering the battlefield too quickly, also because I didn’t know if he was running Rhox War Monk or not. (Well, I did, but in testing I usually try and consider that I don’t know the exact decklist of my opponent.) However, this plan is really bad, as I overestimated the importance of the three-drops. As I said a little earlier, you should mostly be worried about Baneslayer Angel. Knight of the Reliquary is an accelerator just like Hierarch, Birds, or Cobra. And you don’t prevent them from touching the ground… you just prepare a solid welcome committee for them. As for Rhox War Monk, I felt like the card would be a problem, but most of my 23 wins were not games in which Antoine even stood a chance, and even though Rhox War Monk would have helped him a lot, I’m still confident I would have been able to handle it. Therefore, killing little guys may be necessary, but it is not the top priority. Getting a guy on the board, however, is vital. What matters is to make sure those little guys can’t accelerate into mana number five. Actually, depending on the situation, keeping the from reaching four mana may be necessary, as a turn 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor when they are on the play can be annoying. However, most of the time you can just ignore it and keep on attacking and burning their face. Planeswalkers are dramatically slow, and it would be a mere loss of tempo to try and deal with it.

Make no mistake: even if getting a guy onto the battlefield quickly is important, you can definitely win without one touching the ground in the first three or four turns. The moment you’re out of Goblin Guide and Kargan Dragonlords, you should start burning their little guys. I did mention most of their spells are useless. It is not because they are bad against Mono Red, but because every little guy you kill can save you a turn (if not more), and make every non-Baneslayer-Angel card totally out of tempo.

To put it simply, you’ll always play Goblin Guide on turn 1 when you can. Then, you’ll always play another goblin or Dragonlord on turn 2, until the moment when they will have five mana on the following turn (when they opened with either 0/1 on turn 1, followed by an 0/1, Lotus Cobra, or Knight of the Reliquary on turn 2).

Then if you know they are playing Conscription, and therefore have no removal maindeck, you can move all in with Dragonlord by turn 4. If you are facing Knight of the Reliquary and you have Ball Lightning (or Hellspark Elemental if the Knight is no bigger than 3/3), don’t bother, and just run into it, as they will usually have to block anyway. Then you can save burn spells for your opponent, Gideon Jura, or Baneslayer Angel.

By turn 4, you usually stop killing crap, as there is no guarantee you can keep them from casting big spells. The only exception occurs when you only have Searing Blaze in hand, in which case drawing another burn spell wouldn’t be enough to deal with any real threats. Then you can kill Hierarchs or Birds.

And from turn 5, there is no real strategy anymore. They are either dead, on the verge of death, or struggling, in which case you will often need to topdeck one card out of the 50% of cards which mean you win in one or two turns.

Sideboard Plan:

+ 1 Earthquake
-1 Hell’s Thunder

Earthquake only deals with the cards you have no trouble dealing with, but one or two can still be of help. On the other hand, the only card which I rarely regretted having in hand was Hell’s Thunder. Siege-Gang Commander does seem okay, but I reached a 23-1 record main deck by having a total control over the tempo, not by running cards which I may never be able to play.

Sideboarded Games (16-10, 61.6% games won)

On the play: 9 wins, 4 losses
On the draw: 7 wins, 6 losses

Without much surprise, Antoine reinforced his deck while mine was already close to optimal in the matchup from the start. Celestial Purge and Oblivion Ring now offer him an answer to Kargan Dragonlord, which changes things a lot. You can’t really afford to back off and keep it in hand, though, as he needs to understand you’re the one in control of the tempo. His deck may be cheaper and better, but you still must try to have him play according to what you will do, and to always be one step behind. Don’t level the dragon up immediately if you have anything else to do, but keep in mind that the card is still lethal if he doesn’t have the Purge.

Another annoying card is Emerge Unscathed. Antoine actually drew the card so often that I thought he had brought in two or three copies, only to realize at the very end that he only had one. However, I played with the assumption he was running several, in which case several recommendations are to be followed. Even though they have only one, or even none, these suggestions don’t cost much so they should be respected, as they also apply to Deprive and Negate:

– Play the burn spells you need to play any time they are tapped out.
– If you can’t get an opening, play the burn on their upkeep, so they have to choose between playing a defensive spell or casting a strong spell on their turn. Also, even if they don’t have any guy or planeswalker in hand, they may draw it, and they might make a move they’ll end up regretting.
– Don’t burn their guys before attacking. If they have Emerge Unscathed, they can counter you spell and block.

Globally, that 16-10 result seemed to reflect the reality of the matchup. His deck gets a lot better, while mine stays pretty much unchanged. The battle for tempo is still slightly in Mono Red’s favor, but removal and counters make the matchup not only more difficult to win, but also more difficult to play. The solution will often simply be to go straight for the throat. Even though you will often jump into their tricks, counters, and removal, it is still better than not putting them under pressure and letting them resolve planeswalkers. All they want you to do is give up on the tempo, and you must absolutely not do that. Therefore, even if you can’t ignore the tricks and removal they now have, you must not over-focus on them and forget to play your game.

Ideas to Improve the Matchup

Against Mythic Conscription as it is, it is simply better not to change a thing. However, if Mono Red starts growing in popularity and Mythic feels like running Rhox War Monk, I’d recommend giving Cunning Sparkmage a try. The card may be slow, and it means from turn 3 you’ll not want to waste real removal on small guys, but it makes sure Lightning Bolt can deal with Rhox War Monk, and kicked Burst Lightning with Baneslayer Angel.

Until next time!

Olivier Ruel