Shortly after Darksteel was released, I received an e-mail from the editor of Star City, asking if I could write a few articles in the run up to Regionals to advise you all on what deck would be the best one to play if you wanted to qualify for your National Championships. That’s easy, I replied. The correct deck to play is the one which crushes Ravager Affinity and Goblin Bidding, and doesn’t have any really bad other matchups.
For some reason, this answer was felt to be a little inadequate. The readership of StarCityGames.com, I was told, wanted more advice than that. Apparently, you guys want decklists, advice on different matchups, and a demonstration that I could put into practice my own advice and back up my claims by playing in a Regionals and using my deck to qualify.
This sounded much more difficult. The last tournament that I had played in was Grand Prix: London, Onslaught Block Constructed, where after starting out 7-0, I had to play against a succession of players who actually play this game professionally, as opposed to”occasionally.” Between basic play errors, turning up late, and other mishaps, I managed to lose enough ranking points on the second day of Grand Prix: London to ensure that for the first time since 1999, I wasn’t actually qualified for Nationals.
Finding time to do playtesting was also difficult. I did manage to spend one afternoon testing against John Ormerod, but the rest of my preparation involved reading about different decks on the internet and playing a few games to confirm impressions that I had developed, such as Black-Green Cemetery being appalling. [Ditto, and I don’t have Dan’s unnatural love of all things Red. – Knut] In fact, I got into some trouble because I resolved one evening to stay up until the Black-Green deck managed to win one single game against Ravager Affinity. I got to bed so late, that I was exhausted all of the next day at work.
On the basis of all this preparation (if that’s not too strong a term for it), I attended a Regionals tournament in Bath last Saturday. I played…
…A Red deck
4 Skirk Prospector
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Goblin Piledriver
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Goblin Sharpshooter
4 Siege Gang Commander
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Chrome Mox
4 Great Furnace
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
2 Electrostatic Bolt
2 Furnace Dragon
4 Molten Rain
This decklist is very similar to that which [author name="Yann Hamon"]Yann Hamon[/author] wrote about in his Star City article ages ago. When John and I were testing, we found that this deck and Ravager Affinity were much better than all the other decks. At the time, our Red deck had four Slith Firewalkers instead of the Clickslithers and Sparksmith. I found that this deck beat the Ravager deck most of the time, except for the games where John made an Arcbound Ravager and sacrificed lots of artifacts to it so that it was really big and could trample over my Goblin chump blockers.
Yep, neither of us realized that Arcbound Ravager didn’t have trample. Once upon a time, the English were the best playtesters in the world. And now…
Still, at least we managed to come up with a deck which beat Ravager and Goblin Bidding, and didn’t have any properly bad matchups, as required. The Firewalkers were replaced by the Clickslithers and Sparksmith, once it became clear that such creature removal as everyone had was aimed at killing little creatures (such as Firewalkers). Electrostatic Bolt, Pyrite Spellbomb, and Echoing Decay are pretty pathetic against a Clickslither.
Hopefully, by writing about this deck, I can persuade people not to play Goblin Bidding decks. It is bad enough to find people polluting their nice mono-Red decks with Black cards when there is an actual reason to do so, but in Standard at the moment there is absolutely no reason to do so.
There are a lot of powerful cards in my Red deck which could not be fitted into a Bidding deck. Shrapnel Blast, Clickslither, and Chrome Mox in particular. The Clickslither is ridiculously powerful, back when I played lots of Onslaught Block Constructed, the Goblin mirror was nearly always decided by who drew more Clickslithers. Shrapnel Blast is really good and gives you the chance to burn control decks to death even if they stop the creature rush.
Chrome Mox is the most interesting of the cards which this deck plays. The reason why Ravager Affinity beats Goblin Bidding is because it is quicker, and can deploy its threats before the Goblin decks can get Sharpshooter online. My Red deck can reliably play a Goblin Sharpshooter on turn 2 (between Prospector and Mox), and therefore is better able to keep up with the Affinity decks. The other important thing to remember about Chrome Mox is that unlike pre-Darksteel, the loss of a card doesn’t matter, because of Skullclamp. For all its power, Skullclamp isn’t actually that good in Goblin Bidding, because Goblin Bidding needs to tap all its mana every turn to summon creatures. The lesson of Skullclamp is that as long as you play your spells quickly, it will go and get you more. This deck makes much better use of this than Bidding decks can do. Of course, eventually, Skullclamp is good in Bidding because in the late game you can Clamp all your Goblins and then bring them back with the Bidding. But any deck which gives you the time to do that is unlikely to be good enough to compete with the mono-Red deck.
Basically, this deck takes the best deck from Onslaught Block and improves it significantly with powerful cards from Mirrodin Block. In contrast, both Goblin Bidding and Ravager Affinity are basically decks constructed from one block. In addition, if you read about the Bidding decks, you’ll see over and over again that even the people who play them admit that the Bidding itself is rarely that good in important matchups. I know it is cool to bring back lots of Goblins, but leave the ever so clever combos to decks which need to rely on such tricks to win. Red decks don’t need that nonsense to win.
One concern might be that by playing so many artifacts, the deck makes itself vulnerable to being hurt by all the artifact hate that people have in their deck to combat Affinity, the problem which Mike Flores calls”Splash Damage.” The artifacts, though, are not the core of the deck, they just speed it up and improve it. The core of the deck are the extraordinarily powerful Goblins and friends from Onslaught Block. To put it another way, the reason that I am unafraid of artifact hate is because if my opponent spends their time destroying my Moxes, Skullclamps and Furnaces, then the Piledrivers, Warchiefs, and Siege-Gang Commanders are going to kick their heads in.
The sideboard is very simple. Eleven cards against Affinity, of which the Sparksmiths and Bolts come in against any deck with lots of creatures. The Molten Rains replace the Sparksmith and three Sharpshooters against White control decks.
I got to the tournament venue in plenty of time to pick up most of the cards for my deck from the card dealer. The rest I borrowed from the organizer, Star City columnist [author name="Jim Grimmett"]Jim Grimmett[/author], apart from three Sparksmiths which I picked up from Chris Stocking (many thanks to both). There were fifty-one players, which meant that there would be seven rounds and that the top six players would qualify for Nationals.
Round 1 vs. Martin Dingler
I sat down with my super secret tech deck, which hadn’t been featured on the internet. My opponent sat down, shook my hand and asked,”So, which kind of Mono-Red deck are you playing, then?” Sigh. [Well Dan, when you are the world’s most umm, cultured Red advocate, what do you expect? – Knut]
Martin had a Blue-Black deck which featured many indestructible artifacts and March of the Machines. Game one seemed to be going fine, as I summoned some little Goblins and started the beatdown. On turn 4, he played a March of Machines, leaving him with a 2/2 and a 3/3 indestructible creature. Over the next few turns I managed to get him to eleven life, while he built up his indestructible army. He cast Infest, to which I responded with a lot of Sharpshooter activations and a Shrapnel Blast, leaving him on one life, with two indestructible 3/3s against my Clickslither. I then proceeded to draw a whole lot of nothing as he accumulated more and more artifacts and attacked me down to zero. Not a good start.
I brought in two Furnace Dragons for a couple of Shrapnel Blasts for the second game. I could have brought in Shatters, but didn’t feel that they were better than the other cards in my deck for this matchup, as I had only seen Culling Scales amongst non-indestructible artifacts. Game two started out much the same, with Goblins from me and a turn 4 March from him. He assembled an indestructible army, and attacked me to twelve. He then tapped out to add more artifacts to the board. On my turn, I tapped four lands, sacrificed four
Goblins to my Prospector, and cast Furnace Dragon. All of his artifacts and my Skullclamp went away, and I had a 5/5 flier, which seemed fair enough. And, no, he didn’t make a comeback from that one.
I brought in the Shatters for game three, having seen his Talismans. Unfortunately, Martin kept a two-land hand and didn’t draw another for a few turns. I believe a Clickslither and a Goblin Piledriver were involved in his demise.
Matches: 1-0, Games: 2-1
Round 2 vs. Paul Graham
Paul had an Affinity deck with all colors except for Red. He didn’t get a blazingly fast start in the first game, with no Ravagers or Enforcers. All the rest of the creatures in the Affinity deck are much worse than the creatures in the Goblin deck, so I didn’t have much trouble in winning. I believe that I used a Sharpshooter to kill all his creatures and then a Clickslither to kill him, but it may have been the other way round.
For game two I brought in 4 Shatter, 3 Sparksmith, 2 Bolt and 2 Dragon for 4 Piledriver, 1 Skullclamp, 2 Shrapnel Blast, 2 Siege-Gang and 2 Sledder. Later in the tournament, I realized that Dragon was actually not that good and kept the Siege Gangs in instead. My top tip for Regionals testing is to test this sort of thing before turning up to the tournament.
Anyway, second game he got a much better start and I was on the back foot (and short on mana) throughout. At one point he summons a morph, which at the time was the least of my problems. Down to eight life, and with a Prospector and Sparksmith in play, I tap out to Bolt his Myr Enforcer. This leaves him with a Frogmite, an Arcbound Worker and an Arcbound Ravager, as well as his morph. He attacks with the three artifact creatures, and I block the Worker and Frogmite with my Goblins. He sacrifices most of his land and both of his creatures to make his Ravager an 8/8. I sacrifice my Sparksmith and Prospector to get two Red and Shatter his Ravager. I am still stuck on four land (including two Blinkmoth Nexus), but have a full hand whereas he had no cards in hand and only a morph creature. Sadly, before I get a fifth land to summon a Siege Gang, he finds a fourth land to unmorph the Exalted Angel. I spend a couple of turns chump blocking with the Nexuses and with the aid of Skullclamp try to find more land or a Shrapnel Blast, but to no avail.
Game three was short and sweet. When going first, against an Affinity deck with no targeted creature removal, while you have four Sparksmith, four Sharpshooter, four Shatter and two Bolt, it is extraordinarily difficult to lose. After I had killed off his creatures, I started to attack with my Sparksmiths and a few other Goblins I had lying about.
Matches: 2-0, Games: 4-2
Round 3 vs. Daniel Chan
Daniel had a Blue-White Affinity deck, featuring more counter magic and stuff like Chromescale Drake, Triskelion, and Broodstar. I took one hit from a large Broodstar in game one, before my Sharpshooter killed his little artifacts and then teamed up with its friend the Siege-Gang to finish off the Broodstar. There wasn’t really anything after that he could do to threaten me. Game two I played a turn 1 Sparksmith and a turn 2 Sharpshooter.
Matches: 3-0, Games: 6-2
On the table next to me that round, I saw one of the most unutterably savage beatings dealt out that I had ever witnessed. Against an Astral Slide deck which had just tapped out to cast Astral Slide, the player cast Tooth and Nail with entwine, and put an 11/11 indestructible creature and a 7/10, which meant that the Slide player had to put his Plains and Mountain in the graveyard.
Round 4 vs. Mark Glenister
Mark has an Astral Slide deck. Game one in this matchup, the Red deck is a heavy favorite, and when on turn 4, he didn’t have a Wrath of God, his fate was sealed, as I attacked him to five and then Shrapnel Blasted him to death. I brought in four Molten Rain for three Sharpshooter and one Sparksmith.
I lost game two by playing badly. It was a rather interesting situation, which I’m going to write more about next article. Game three I mulliganed into a one-land hand with Prospector, Warchief, and 3 Molten Rain. I figured that my odds of winning this game were about 20% (the odds of drawing two lands/Moxes) off the top, and that these odds were probably better than those of a random five-card hand. I didn’t draw any more land for a number of turns, and slumped to my first defeat.
Matches: 3-1, Games: 7-4
From now on, I couldn’t afford any more defeats if I wanted to qualify for Nationals.
Round 5 vs. Clinton Davey
Another Ravager Affinity deck. Game one, I drew my main deck Sparksmith, which swung the game heavily in my favor. I mulliganed in game two into an unexciting hand, and lost without much incident (code: I don’t remember this game).
Game three it was his turn to mulligan, and I drew an acceptable blend of land, creatures which kill other creatures, and Siege-Gang Commanders.
Matches: 4-1. Games: 9-5
After this round, I looked at the standings, and it became clear that everyone who managed to go 5-1-1 or better would qualify, along with one player who went 5-2. The next match, therefore, was a playoff for Nationals.
Round 6 vs. Greg Jackson
For a bit of variety, Greg was playing Ravager Affinity. Still, at least this meant that my claim that the Red deck beats Ravager was getting a thorough workout. Greg double-mulliganed in game one (which he lost), and then mulliganed in game two. His six-card hand, however, was pretty good, and he got me down to ten life. He had a Ravager, an Arcbound Worker, and a Frogmite, facing my Sharpshooter, Siege-Gang Commander and one remaining token (I was tapped out). I managed to make a whole catalog of errors to contrive to lose from this position.
I tapped my Sharpshooter to shoot the Worker, to which he responded by sacking it to the Ravager. Through simple inattention, I agreed with him that this meant that the Sharpshooter wouldn’t untap, as its target had disappeared. I know that he wasn’t trying to cheat me, he just didn’t know what the rules were, and as a result of a mental blank, neither did I. He attacked with the Frogmite and Ravager, and after some thought, I double blocked the Frogmite. Which left him free to sacrifice enough artifacts to the Ravager to make it a 10/10 and kill me. Quite pathetic on my part.
So, game three, against an opponent who’d just beaten me after mulliganing, with a slot at Nationals on the line. And I mulligan. And he doesn’t. And his first couple of turns, are land, Arcbound Worker, then land, Welding Jar, Frogmite, Frogmite, Frogmite.
All of which meant it was about time I started playing properly. I summoned a Sparksmith on the second turn and a Sharpshooter on the third. I fell to ten life (included using up his Welding Jar to regenerate a Frogmite from the Sparksmith shooting it) and then wiped out his team, going to seven. I got another Sparksmith and a Goblin Warchief onto the table during the next few turns and started to attack. I was stuck on three land, though, which made things harder than they should have been.
Eventually, after he had laid a few land, he played Thoughtcast and then an Ornithopter, a Pyrite Spellbomb, and a Ravager, with two artifact lands and a Glimmervoid in play, all tapped. I had two Sparksmiths, a Sharpshooter, a Warchief, and three Mountains. I made sure that the judge was watching, and then started a massive stack of activations by tapping the Sparksmith to shoot the Ravager. When the smoke cleared, the Ornithopter, the Ravager, one of his lands, the Pyrite Spellbomb and my Sparksmith were all dead, and I took three damage. I drew a Mountain, summoned a Clickslither, shot him a couple of times with my Sharpshooter and then dealt the final nine points of damage with my 9/9 Clickslither.
Matches: 5-1, Games: 11-6
I checked the standings after round six, and the top five players were all clear on fifteen points, with only one player on thirteen points and everyone else on twelve or fewer points. I avoided getting paired down, and drew in round 7 with Alastair McClare.
When round seven finished, there were five different decks represented amongst the top six players. Guess how many were Ravager Affinity?
First – Tu Nguyen (Blue-White control)
Second – Steve Easton (Tooth and Nail)
Third – (forgotten his name) Red-Green land destruction
Fourth – Alastair McClare (Slide)
Fifth – me (Red deck)
Sixth – Nick West (Tooth and Nail)
Who says that this format is boring and that there is one best deck?
For reference, amongst the fourteen players who had gone at least 4-2 over six rounds, the breakdown was as follows:
3 Tooth and Nail
3 Red decks (1 with Bidding, one with Green)
1 Red-Green land destruction
1 Blue-White control
The Red-Green deck featured four Hystrodons alongside the Stone Rains, Molten Rains, Plow Unders, Ravenous Baloths and other staples of the archetype. The other decks seemed quite orthodox, for reference, here is the Tooth and Nail deck which Steve and Nick both played to a combined record of 10-2-2
4 Tooth and Nail
4 Reap and Sow
4 Viridian Shaman
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Talisman of Impulse
3 Oblivion Stone
1 Vine Trellis
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Platinum Angel
1 Leonin Abunas
1 Chalice of the Void
3 Wooded Foothills
1 Mirrodin’s Core
12 Urza’s Land
2 Chalice of the Void
1 Sundering Titan
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Symbiotic Wurm
As for the Red deck, I feel that it has definitely proved its worth. There is definitely a lot more tuning that could be done to improve it, particularly in the sideboard. If you want to play it, test the matchup against Tooth and Nail decks, and possibly cut a Mox and the main deck Sparksmith for two Mountains. Because White-based control decks seem more resilient than the internet had informed me, I’d try to following sideboard (with the main deck changes as suggested):
4 Molten Rain
3 Stone Rain
That, though, is up to you to test. The Red deck can be tweaked to give you an advantage against any of the other major decks (though not all of them at the same time), and the fact that Ravager Affinity exists makes it harder for other decks to bring the levels of hate against you that were flying about during Onslaught Block. All in all, this summer is a good time to be a Red Mage.
But that’s not surprising, because every time is a good time to be a Red Mage.
If you’ve got any comments on this article, please make them in the forums, which I’ll do my best to read and reply in.
I can’t guarantee to produce an article every week, but I hope to write from time to time over the next few weeks and months. Next article is provisionally called”Why I hate choosing and why I’m not scared of CoP: Red,” nag me if I haven’t written anything by the beginning of next week.
‘Til next time, may your Sharpshooters gun down many artifact creatures,