The new kid and basic Mountain.
Name a more iconic duo.
I really do wonder how many players started out with someone handing them some burn spells and little creatures. I played my first FNM when I was five years old and if I remember correctly, it was some Onslaught-era red deck. It wasn’t Goblins, and it wasn’t good, but it’s what I was playing. Some people quickly jump off the attacking train and find their way to other strategies, but I never really did. Mono-Red Aggro to Elves to Mono-White Aggro to Naya Zoo to more and more different ways to attack my opponent in as many different ways as possible. I never had much of an attention span and that hasn’t changed, so these decks grabbed me.
Quick kills and lots of thought in a short time frame, just how I like it.
I grew up playing Magic two or three times a week at the local store. My developmental years were spent reading faces and understanding combat and here I am. Aggro and I are connected at this point through the public eye and I don’t think that will ever change. Now, I’ve changed as a player (and in tons of other ways) and have found my way into other archetypes, but my home and comfort will always be with the aggression and this can work well in my favor. My life has gotten busy recently in all the best ways, so my time to sit down and grind a deck has faded a bit, but fortunately for me, as much as my life may change, Mono-Red often stays the same.
- 4 Chandra's Spitfire
- 4 Ember Hauler
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 20 Mountain
You know, except for the parts that don’t, but I like to be the reason those happen anyway.
Chandra’s Spitfire Is Powerful
The card that got the most attention this weekend out of my deck was undoubtedly Chandra’s Spitfire. I don’t believe I had a single opponent not read the card when I cast it and for good reason. You certainly don’t want to mess up reading the card that’s probably going to kill you. The card sits in an interesting place in Core Set 2020 Standard, being a three-mana creature that’s both a pretty mediocre topdeck and doesn’t give you anything by entering the battlefield. This fails the quite important Teferi, Time Raveler test, but the card has such a raw power level that it makes up for both of those issues, because if you get to connect with a full-power Chandra’s Spitfire, you’re almost guaranteed to win that game.
Chadra’s Spitfire allows Mono-Red to attack from a slightly different angle by being a powerful flying threat, and in comparison to a threat such as Rekindling Phoenix, Chandra’s Spitfire does much more of what a red deck is interested in – being quick and devastating. It dies to nearly every removal spell and it can be nearly impossible to go in on it against decks that don’t tap out frequently, but against the ones that do, it’s a knockout blow. Reading your opponent well will pay off when knowing to go all-in at your opponent’s life total and trying to kill with a large Elemental. The awkwardness and fragility of it makes Spitfire an easy cut in a number of matchups where your normal, more streamlined Mono-Red plan is better. Fortunately, some of the changes made to support it work out well even without Chandra’s Spitfire being in the deck.
Ember Hauler Is Perfect
Ember Hauler works super-well with Chandra’s Spitfire and is a big upgrade to Viashino Pyromancer with the way Core Set 2020 Standard has shifted itself. Decks have a high amount of one-power creatures that can easily block and kill a 2/1 and a large amount of two-toughness creatures that need to be answered to stay ahead. This change does come with a fairly large cost, as now we are running far too few Wizards to support Wizard’s Lightning, but the Rakdos Guild is always here to please with a much worse three-damage burn spell of their own.
Skewer the Critics does a fine job of being the extra burn spells the deck needs to have in Game 1 to apply the right amount of pressure before the opponent can stabilize with a pre-sideboard deck that doesn’t always fight aggression well. It’s the worst card in the deck and is often sideboarded out, but that’s okay. Cards can be only good before sideboard, just like cards can be only good after sideboard, which leads to the most important decision I made on the weekend.
Experimental Frenzy Is Awkward
Experimental Frenzy is not a great Game 1 card in Mono-Red. Not only does the deck not really have enough lands to support the four-drop, but it just doesn’t go with the rest of the plan of being a consistent quick aggro deck with reach. It is undoubtedly the most powerful card in the whole deck, but the Mono-Red deck lines up so well against most people’s Game 1 plans that I just want to minimize awkward Game 1 hands with multiple Experimental Frenzies.
This plan worked out well, as I won thirteen of my sixteen Game 1s played. That said, this plan goes out the window once the opponent is prepared after sideboard to beat an aggressive plan. Once that occurs, Experimental Frenzy becomes one of the most important cards in your deck and the quick aggression goes down in the gameplan. This ends up with Skewer the Critics being replaced by Experimental Frenzy in a lot of sideboard games.
The basic plan with sideboarding is figuring out what is most likely to win you a game. Is it being very aggressive or slowing down and being more powerful? Most matches fall into one of those two plans and you lean into that one as much as possible while still keeping the main Mono-Red strengths intact.
VS Esper Hero and Esper Control
This matchup can change dramatically depending on how well the opponent is prepared for it. Elite Guardmage seemed to be more popular during SCG Worcester weekend than Basilica Bell-Haunt, which was very good for me. The burn spells are weak and the game isn’t won by burning your opponent out very often. Get your hits in and pressure the planeswalkers if you don’t see victory coming in the next turn cycle and try not to let more than two creatures get eaten by a Cry of the Carnarium.
The three-mana planeswalkers both change the way the opponent has to play the game and are huge parts of the plan. The bright side of not having as many four-drops as some of the other red builds is that the opponent can be left with very awkward Desparks in their hand while you have an aggressive hand that puts them on the backfoot.
I ended up going 5-0 in the matchup while in Worcester, better than I expected, with Chandra, Acolyte of Flame being a huge boon in the games I played.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
The mirror often comes down to the card Experimental Frenzy. All other spells largely trade equally and an unremovable source of card advantage is very hard to overcome. With my win last weekend, it’s possible red mirrors go up in popularity. If this is the case it might be time to move some more Experimental Frenzies to the maindeck to help get the edge there. Chandra’s Spitfire being a flyer is nice and removal spells that deal with three-toughness creatures can run low due to the threats available. It’s not unreasonable to win a red game on the back of a large Spitfire the turn they tap out for a card advantage engine.
When you’re on the draw, make sure to not cast a Runaway Steam-Kin into a possible Goblin Chainwhirler on Turn 3, as you almost lose the game on the spot from that interaction.
VS Orzhov Vampires/Mono-White Aggro
Chandra’s Spitfire gets sideboarded out here despite a lack of blockers or removal spells for it. Often in these games, I’m just interested in being more of the control deck and attempting to answer my opponent’s threats while trying to get in a few shots while I can. Experimental Frenzy is a trump here and if it’s unanswered, the game is nearly unlosable. I can believe it’s possible in these types of matchups to leave some number of Chandra’s Spitfire in on the play, as it’s not difficult to get a large hit with the flyer, but on the draw often you must fire off removal on your opponent’s creatures rather than save them for a large turn, thus leaving Chandra’s Spitfire a weak threat.
VS Mono-Blue Aggro
Mono-Blue Aggro was a good matchup for Mono-Red Aggro before Core Set 2020 and that will likely continue to be the case. Ember Hauler is a great upgrade to VIashino Pyromancer in this matchup and gives the deck even more ways to beat a quick Curious Obsession. Chandra’s Spitfire does a good job of both attacking and blocking in Game 1, but sideboard games of this matchup have changed dramatically, as both decks have gained access to powerful sideboard cards, but unfortunately for red, blue’s color hosers are much more impactful.
Fry gives the red deck additional answers to Tempest Djinn and is the only easy answer to an already adapted Pteramander. In return, blue gets Aether Gust and Cerulean Drake, which both do a great job of helping to stop Chandra’s Spitfire. As long as the opponent has mana up in sideboard games, you have to respect that your opponent might just remove your Chandra’s Spitfire from the battlefield, and that makes it hard to ever be able to commit to a big swing. Cerulean Drake plays all roles as a blocker, attacker, and counterspell, and one with a Curious Obsession is the most likely way for you to lose in the match with there not being a lot you can do about it.
VS Gruul Midrange
Against Gruul, Chandra’s Spitfire can feel absurd, as they are a tap-out deck without a lot of flyers. Ghitu Lavarunner gets outclassed quickly and it’s better to lean on your stronger threats. Just make sure to apply enough pressure for your opponent to have to be afraid and not be able to attack with their larger threats.
VS Temur Elementals (without Hydroid Krasis)
VS Temur Elementals (with Hydroid Krasis)
The addition of both a large flyer and a game-ending spell forces your whole gameplan against Temur Elementals to shift. It can be hard to tell which version the opponent is playing, and if you’re unsure, I suggest sideboarding as though they don’t have Hydroid Krasis as it’s a more powerful gameplan. When they do have such a powerful top-end that also stops the Chandra’s Spitfire kill, we have to lean much harder on trying to stay ahead on the battlefield and killing them in a more normal fashion.
VS Simic Flash
Out (on the play):
In (on the play):
Out (on the draw):
In (on the draw):
I discussed sideboarding this matchup with multiple people at the event and I’m not certain this plan is right, but it makes the most sense to me. Their best card is Nightpack Ambusher, but that doesn’t mean Lava Coil is a good answer to it, as often they are casting it on your end step, untapping, and having plenty of mana available to protect it. The games in which you are killing it are games where you’re applying a lot of pressure and forcing the opponent to cast it in combat as a blocker. So if I’m on the draw and need to get lucky to resolve a spell on Turn 5, I’d rather it be an Experimental Frenzy than a Lava Coil, which makes me want the full suite of them.
On the play, being aggressive works much better and the clunky cards can stay in the sideboard while you take the aggressive route. Knowing what their decklist looks like is key and I recommend everyone be familiar with it even more so than in other matchups.
VS Simic Nexus
A great matchup for red and one of the main reasons I played the deck last weekend. Simic Nexus’s interaction is limited primarily to Root Snare, so Chandra’s Spitfire damage needs to be portioned out to be safe. Chandra, Acolyte of Flame both attacks quickly and helps double up on burn spells to get lethal through Root Snares. If the opponent casts a planeswalker and you have the option to kill it, you often should. Without some source of regular card advantage, it can be very difficult for Simic Nexus to gain anything off its extra turns. It’s all about speed, and fortunately you are well-equipped for that.
VS Boros Feather
I’m not entirely sure how many copies of Experimental Frenzy are correct in this matchup, but I imagine it’s more than one. Ghitu Lavarunner is your weakest threat here and the matchup isn’t all about being fast. Fry doesn’t hit everything but can kill a Feather, the Redeemed in response to a Gods Willing, which comes up a lot. As long as Feather is kept off the battlefield and you aren’t drained of resources, the rest shouldn’t be that difficult.
Beating and Building Red in the Future
So what’s the key to beating Mono-Red tomorrow at SCG Philadelphia? If you’re blue, pack those Cerulean Drakes. It’s not unbeatable but sure is a great stopgap and makes the best aggressive starts far weaker. Esper seems like a good choice with Basilica Bell-Haunt instead of Elite Guardmage or Hostage Taker and Enter the God-Eternals over prime Fry target Lyra Dawnbringer. Whatever deck you do decide to play, just make sure you’re a little better about not getting run over Game 1 and pack plenty of flyers or removal for a quick Chandra’s Spitfire, and it should be okay.
How does Mono-Red counteract all this potential hate? If people are preparing for Chandra’s Spitfire, it’s possible the card won’t be good this weekend and it’s reasonable for Viashino Pyromancer to go back in that slot, giving the deck more reach without combat, or maybe Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, which was incredibly impressive every single time I cast it to help combat the people more prepared to grind you out. If the Mono-Red mirror becomes popular, Experimental Frenzy is still the best card there and running extra copies in the maindeck would be a huge deal.
Worried about Mono-Blue Aggro and Cerulean Drakes? Well, say hello to my little friend Heart-Piercer Bow.
It might not be exciting, but drawing a single copy kills all the Cerulean Drakes your opponent drops in addition to whatever other little creatures they have on the battlefield. It’s possible a single copy is worth the sideboard slot if you can find the space. Plus, it just gives your opponent a new card to read which is always a delight!
I want to thank everyone who supported me these past few days in both congratulating me on my win and telling me to keep my chin up about all the flak I’ve received for my mistakes on camera. I was excited and tired in a game that both I and my opponent had long checked out of thinking and I regret allowing myself to get sloppy. Magic has given me everything in my life that matters to me, my friends, and my partners, and I would never put that at risk for something as stupid as money or fame.
I’m proud of my deck, of my win, and of myself and I’m going to carry that through the rest of the season in my hunt for the Players’ Championship. For those of you who support me, you mean so much and make me love the game. For those of you who don’t and are upset, go back and read my shirt from Sunday.
So much love.