I’m obviously a fan of hyperbole. Have you read my work? So when Anthony Lowry told me that Mono-Red Aggro was the equivalent of the Blue Koopa shell in Mario Kart, something inside me knew that he just might be possibly maybe right sort of.
My Friday was spent traveling to Orlando, Florida to participate in StarCityGames Regionals because it’s one of my favorite tournaments of all time and I knew I’d have a great time if I went. One of my good pals Peaches (yes, that is his name) just bought a house up there and kindly offered us a place to stay. I was of course obliged to take him up on his gracious offer, which meant that I could traverse around downtown’s bars the night before and have a safe place to lay my head. My plan was executed to perfection as I found a location which specialized in breakfast cereal shots. I windmill slammed a pick-one pack-one Cinnamon Toast Crunch and found out that even as an adult I can still see why kids love it, and then I quickly partook in a few more rounds just to make sure that I could really see why. I then wheeled Froot Loops and that’s when the night started to get even better. Ever the lover of putting meat in my mouth, I was talked into eating at Fogo where I continued battling against Ketel One and was swept by parmesan-encrusted pork loin in two matches. If my Friday went any better, kiddies, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Throughout the day I had been in talks with Rudy Briksza who was kind enough to send me his updated Sultai Control list complete with matchup and sideboard guide. The deck looked super powerful and right up my alley, plus Rudy exclaimed that it had been testing beautifully and was sure to put up good results are Regionals. I believed him completely, and it was completely my intention to build it, but after an evening of beautiful debauchery I promptly fell asleep. When my alarm went off less than an hour and a half before the event was supposed to start, I panicked.
Rudy’s deck was amazing, but Anthony’s deck was faster to build. Also, I was still feeling the effects of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and with very little knowledge of what decks were performing well at the Pro Tour, I decided to trust Ant and just sleeve up 20 Mt. Fuji APAC Mountains and just say “to hell with it.”
Before we continue – here’s the list I ran!
- 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 1 Lightning Berserker
- 3 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 4 Goblin Glory Chaser
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 20 Mountain
Anthony did his best to reverse-engineer what he had seen from the Pro Tour to supply me with the best possible deck, so I didn’t change anything… mostly because I was too “sleepy” to do so.
Joel Larsson was able to dominate the field with his take on Mono-Red, which in hindsight may be a better build in very subtle ways.
You May Be Asking Yourself: Why Mono-Red?
This format decided that slow, grindy games based on resource exchanges and card advantage was the direction it wanted to head. G/R Devotion, Abzan Control, Sultai Control, and Thopter Control decks began vying for the crown of “Best Deck in the Format,” and the best Pro Tour teams out there took notice. The hyper-aggressive U/R Thopters (henceforth to be known as Running With Scissors) and Mono-Red Aggro were born out a simple idea: if they want to screw around setting up their board, kill them while they are doing it. A multitude of their cards are powerful, and their card quality is overall higher, but none of that matters if they are dead!
Players trying to figure out if Mono-Red is right for them need only understand their local metagame. This red deck is incredibly fast, efficient, and brutal. Unlike past iterations, this incarnation of Mono-Red Aggro has midrange capabilities and cards that allow it to win even in the later stages of the game. This takes it from a metagame deck to a lethal challenger for the crown of Best Deck. Often you’ll hear the saying “it was only good for the Pro Tour,” but I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing this deck for months to come at the top tables.
Where We Went Right
First and foremost, having eight spells that can just do four damage to the dome is a lot more damage than players are willing to give it credit for. Exquisite Firecraft turned plenty of heads when the spoiler was out. I wrote that it would give red mages closing power and reach, and after playing with it, it did that more than I could have ever expected. One of my unfortunate opponents went from twelve to zero with Negates rotting in his hand because Firecraft couldn’t be countered, and that is exactly what this deck has been craving for years.
The sideboard was very well built – Scab-Clan Berserker was an absolute delight to play with. On a turn where an opponent isn’t expecting a haste creature to come out, Berserker springs on the battlefield and, once Renowned, is a huge pain in the neck. Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh impressed me in numerous ways, and when I was able to untap with her she closed out the game within a few turns. Her power level is just off the charts, and I greatly underestimated how good she’d be.
Of course… there’s this card…
Abbot wasn’t setting off any alarms when he was spoiled, but we knew that this card was going to be something special.
You see, decks like Mono-Red Aggro shouldn’t have access to a card like Abbot of Keral Keep. In the early stages of the game, he provides pressure and, roughly around turn four, he’ll start to provide almost-certain hits when played, letting you cast just about any extra spell outside of Exquisite Firecraft itself. From lands to cheap spells to a late-game Hail Mary, Abbot does everything. I have pretty much never been this impressed with a new card. Remember what I said about hyperbole earlier? This isn’t that. Not only was Abbot the breakout card of the Pro Tour, everyone I talked to who played it said that, in testing, it was the best card in Mono-Red to the point where they were shoehorning it into other decks like Jeskai and G/R! But his rightful home is where he’s at his best, and without a doubt this is the card that makes this deck so potent and impressive. If you didn’t pick up Abbots when they were $1.99, I feel awful for you. They’re currently sold out at a whopping $10 a piece, and frightfully enough we may not have even hit the ceiling for this card.
The worst part is that it’s only Tuesday and you’re probably already sick of hearing the praise of this card.
What We Got Wrong
If I could light a Magic card on fire and then use its ashes to write “never again” on the walls of my house, it would be Goblin Glory Chaser.
Every time I played this card it was clown shoes.
Playing it on turn one when you’re on the play is fine… I guess. Playing it on turn one when you’re on the draw is like someone pouring hot coffee on your lap when you decided to wear silk boxers that morning. Your opponent playing a turn-two Sylvan Caryatid when you know damn well that Glory Chaser should be a Lightning Berserker is miserable, and I hope you never have to feel that suffering. I attacked with it and my opponent blocked it with an Arashin Cleric. I couldn’t even make myself care.
Future versions of this deck won’t be playing that card, because Larsson was almost entirely correct by playing the full boat of Lightning Berserker and Pat Cox and company nailed it by only playing a single copy – opting instead for a maindeck Titan’s Strength and Goblin Heelcutter. Bless their hearts for giving that Goblin even a single spot, because I won’t be doing that ever again.
My tournament went pretty well, and I can’t really complain about my 23rd-place finish. My tiebreakers were atrocious, so I knew a Top 32 was as best as I could hope for. I was able to beat Jeskai Tokens, Abzan Control, the mirror, Jeskai Aggro twice, and a nice guy named Joe who for the life of me I can’t remember what he was playing. I took my losses to U/R Thopters because of flooding out and to a player from my local area sporting a really awesome U/W Control deck that I’d love to share with you all. If you don’t want to lose to Mono-Red, this is the deck to play!
- 2 Last Breath
- 1 Disperse
- 3 Dissolve
- 3 Banishing Light
- 1 Aetherspouts
- 2 End Hostilities
- 4 Dig Through Time
- 3 Ojutai's Command
- 4 Clash of Wills
- 2 Hallowed Moonlight
- 2 Swift Reckoning
I was able to get Josh low in both games and failed to find the burn spells I needed to finish him off, but we should give credit where credit is due! This deck played very well, and I believe both he and his friend playing the exact same 75 finished in the Top 64. I’m sure there’s plenty of work to still be done with it, but I was very impressed.
The deck felt powerful, fluid, and – most of all – it felt somewhat difficult to pilot at certain points. The interactions Abbot adds are very interesting, and knowing when to hold him to maximize value or when to drop him on turn two added a nice dimension to things. Sideboarding was somewhat challenging, and there were plenty of differentiating views on how to build the deck with three similar yet different versions making the Top Eight of Pro Tour Magic Origins. Joel Larsson’s integration of Satyr Firedancer is fantastic, and something a lot of mages are going to adopt. Does Eidolon of the Great Revel belong in the sideboard due to the sheer volume of mirror matches making it a liability, or would he run it back maindeck if he understood how much of a detriment Firedrinker Satyr would be for him? These are all questions I’m anxious to discover the answers to.
Breaking the mirror is going to be huge, so I’m off to work to figure that out.
Just do me a favor…
Don’t play Goblin Glory Chase.
It’s clown shoes I tell you.