Sideboarding With Mono-Red And More!

Tom Ross won SCG Atlanta with a Built to Smash take on Mono-Red Aggro! Get his comprehensive sideboarding guide and two bonus Standard decklists!

I was in a very fortunate spot last weekend at the SCG Tour Team Constructed tournament in Atlanta. My teammates did very little losing and Mono-Red looked to be the deck to play for me in Standard.

Mono-Red has been rampant on Magic Online for weeks, but it takes a little while for that information to transition into real life. Last weekend was the breakout weekend for Mono-Red, finishing both first and second in the Team Open and winning the Standard Classic. It also won the PTQ in Toronto.

I don’t expect many people to play my Mono-Red list card-for-card, but I do expect my Built to Smash version as well as the other successful Mono-Red lists from last weekend to significantly impact Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, both in people playing Mono-Red and people set out to beat Mono-Red.

The thing is, Mono-Red isn’t a one trick pony. It’s very customizable and has room to self-correct itself when people attack it. Last week I talked about the various builds of Mono-Red. Sure enough, most of them had successful finishes last weekend.

Unsure of what mixture of cards I would eventually settle on, I decided to bring them all and figure it out on the car ride to Atlanta.

Some of the red cards I brought to, but didn’t play at #SCGATL.

What I did play:

I was very happy with the Built to Smash take on Mono-Red Aggro. It brought back the days of attacking with Legion Loyalist and pumping my creatures with Titan’s Strength or Rubblebelt Maaka. Every now and again I would sneak in a point of damage when I knew my opponent couldn’t afford to block because of the existence of Built to Smash in my deck. It was like riding a bike.

This is how I sideboarded during #SCGATL and while playtesting on Magic Online with Smash Red.

W/U Monument



Here is where you get the maximum value from your Blazing Volleys. They have a bunch of tokens and Selfless Spirit that it hits. Along with Soul-Scar Mage, you can shrink their team to set up bad blocks for them. This matchup is the biggest reason to play a bunch of maindeck Abrades. Hitting Oketra’s Monument is good and all, but playing at instant speed to remove Spell Queller is huge.

Temur Energy



Since they don’t have any artifacts and only a few three-toughness creatures, Abrade isn’t that good. Sometimes it can hit a 3/3 Longtusk Cub or Whirler Virtuoso, but I’d rather just keep plowing through them.

Harsh Mentor is good against Longtusk Cub, Tireless Tracker Clues, and Whirler Virtuoso. Chandra’s Defeat is mostly against Glorybringer, which is their best card against you. They’re bound to have either Radiant Flames or Sweltering Suns after sideboarding, so Aethersphere Harvester comes in to hedge against getting swept up.

U/R Control



You just want to pound them as hard and fast as possible. I wouldn’t worry about leaving in a couple of Abrades to remove a Torrential Gearhulk, since reacting to their late-game is a poor strategy and I would rather make my deck dense with threats. Some builds have Thing in the Ice and/or Glorybringer and I lean on Chandra, Torch of Defiance to remove them if needed. If you see a bunch of Glorybringer and/or various Chandra planeswalkers, then a Chandra’s Defeat is fine too. It hits Wandering Fumarole too, so it won’t be a dead card all too much.

G/R Ramp



The ramp decks play out similarly to U/R Control, expect your Threaten effects like Eldrazi Obligator and Kari Zev’s Expertise are really potent. Again, I wouldn’t worry too much about them sideboarding in creatures and you keeping in some amount of removal. They rarely have lifegain like Nissa’s Renewal, so pounding them with wave after wave of haste creatures into their sweepers should be enough for your Deserts to finish the job.

Mono-Red Aggro



After sideboarding, both sides are loaded on removal, making Built to Smash much less reliable. You take out some number of one-toughness creatures so as to not get hit too badly by opposing Blazing Volleys. Scrapheap Scrounger is poor on the draw or anytime you fall behind, and drawing multiples of them can be disastrous. Typically you’re well set up to win Game 1, since your deck is more aggressively slanted and you have maindeck Magma Spray to get Earthshaker Khenra inevitability. You can go quite as big as the Mono-Red builds that have Glorybringer, so you’re hoping to catch one of the two post-sideboard games.

Mardu Vehicles



Harsh Mentor really shines here, since Mardu Vehicles has Heart of Kiran and Thraben Inspector Clues are activated artifacts. If they have Walking Ballista too, then you’re really doing it. Aethersphere Harvester does work blocking Heart of Kiran and threatening Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or other planeswalkers. They’re likely to have a deck full of Fatal Push and Magma Spray after sideboarding, so I shave on the Built to Smash cards slightly to not flood on them.

B/G Constrictor



Their creatures are huge and you want to take them if you can. Harsh Mentor gets Longtusk Cub and Walking Ballista, two of their main plans. Soul-Scar Mage can shrink their bigger threat mid-combat. Black gives them access to a bunch of Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness and their maindeck Walking Ballistas really make it hard to cast Built to Smash on a Bomat Courier.

Mono-Black Zombies



This matchup is all about not letting them get out of control with Cryptbreaker and hoping they don’t draw a ton of Dark Salvations. Hanweir Garrison is pretty good at not dying to Fatal Push or Dark Salvation early and can typically get in at least one swing. Earthshaker Khenra and Scrapheap Scrounger are really important for keeping the pressure up once the dust settles.

What’s Good Against Mono-Red?

Lifegain isn’t bad, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Removal and high-toughness creatures are key. Even high-power creatures are good, since Earthshaker Khenra can’t stop them. Exile effects that stop Earthshaker Khenra or Scrapheap Scrounger from coming back are nice too.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is likely the best card in Standard against Mono-Red. The red deck has to play spells that do four damage, like Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Glorybringer; or Cut // Ribbons. The notion that the red player will have two smaller burn spells to spare by turn 4 is rare, since optimally the Kalitas player has presented various other blockers in the early turns.

1/2 creatures are actually difficult to get through efficiently for the red deck. Magma Spray and Shock work, but playing too many of them runs you the risk of not having enough threats. Earthshaker Khenra and Ahn-Crop Crasher are temporary solutions. Multiple 1/2s threaten a double block and the defender doesn’t really care about being “blown out” by a removal spell, since that likely takes up your turn.

Bomat Courier and Village Messenger can get shut down by a 1/2 that potentially halts multiples.

If U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift does well against Mono-Red Aggro at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, the real hero won’t be a 6/6 hasted Angel of Invention on turn 4. It’ll be the unsung 1/2s.

Mono-Red Will Win Pro Tour Hour of Devastation

It’s just too good.

The win rate for Mono-Red lately is outrageous, and just not in my hands. The builds of Mono-Red can vary so wildly that no singular strategy will consistently have a good Mono-Red matchup. Mono-Red easily has access to tools like Abrade, Scavenger Grounds, Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer.

The real fact is that Red is the best color in Standard. Mono-Red Aggro is consistent, proactive, and plays all the best cards. Sounds like the right formula to be Standard’s best deck and a favorite to win Pro Tour Hour of Devastation.

Bonus Lists

I haven’t had a chance to test this build of Mono-Red Aggro yet, but it’s what I’m looking to work on now that I’ve gotten a good feel for the archetype. Things I wanted were another black source for Scrapheap Scrounger and the ability to go a little bigger post-sideboard. Aether Hub does a fine job of being a black source that enters the battlefield untapped as well as a colorless source for Thought-Knot Seer. Glorybringer is so important in Mono-Red mirrors that I wanted to try them out myself, along with a 25th land in the sideboard.

I had this deck sleeved up and ready to go the night before #SCGATL. If it were an individual tournament, I might have pulled the trigger. It’s the kind of deck that can finish either dead last or first. However, that’s not the kind of deck that’s needed to win a Team Constructed tournament, so I opted for a safe 60-65% win rate Mono-Red deck. Turns out Mono-Red was good for slightly more than that.

W/B Tokens has all the best tools to fight Mono-Red Aggro, with Sacred Cat; Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; and a bunch of removal and incidental lifegain. The sideboard brings more options with Aethersphere Harvester, Grind // Dust, and another Kalitas and Cat. This is all theorycrafting, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a “red killer” is what’s needed to be successful at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation and beyond.