Welcome to Red Week!
Assignment 2 – A Red Deck
Build a Red deck. It can be aggro, control, whatever. It must include some Red, but does not have to be predominantly Red or mono-Red, if that is not your preference. Test it, and turn in an article on this deck 1 Week From Today – Friday Oct 8th.
This week is going to be fantastic. As you can see from today’s star spangled front page, we picked up Dan Paskins and yet another National Champion in John Ormerod for this project. When I started work on the Championship Deck Challenge, I crossed my fingers and hoped that Dan would sign up for the inclusion of basic Mountain and here he is. Needless to say, I remain very excited about our progress.
As for the Red, I wanted to make sure that I did justice to Dave Price’s favorite color, and before embarking on the arduous task of testing the various Red Decks, wanted to consult the (other) aforementioned DP.
Dear Mr. Paskins,
I understand that Red Decks possess important metrics above and beyond the typical concerns of card advantage, tempo, and mana curve that we attribute to decks in general. As the upcoming week is Red week, I just wanted to make sure that I am on the right page with them, so as to gauge the submitted decks correctly:
1. All Elves Must Die
Now everyone knows that Killing Elves is as natural to a Red Deck as flight is to a bird or drinking tea is to an Englishman such as yourself. I further understand that Elves come in many shapes and sizes, sometimes masquerading as Birds, Walls of various sorts (but constant mana cost), and even Elders. The first series of questions pertain to the serpentine Elf known as Sakura-Tribe Elder. I believe that if I Shock a Sakura-Tribe Elder and its controller sacrifices it to search up some sort of basic land, I should still get credit for an Elf Kill. In addition, if I run my powerful Red creature into the Red Zone and the Sakura-Tribe Elder foolishly spends his life by blocking, then does his sacrificial searching thing, I think that should count as well, whether or not damage is ever put on the stack. But what about if the opponent simply sacrifices the Sakura-Tribe Elder at the end of my turn like any old Rampant Growth? Does this count as some sort of Elf kill cantrip? It seems needlessly arbitrary to say that I don’t get credit for Killing an Elf just because one of my Red cards was not the proximate cause for its death.
Secondly, how broadly do we characterize artifact Elves? Now obviously if I am paired with Nate Heiss at States and he is playing a version of Affinity that includes four Leaden Myr and four Silver Myr like he did last year, killing such Myr should definitely count towards my Elf kill count, correct? But what about artifact creatures in a broader sense? I am a little hazy on that one. For example, every single Arcbound Worker is sort of an Elf in its own way, but clearly we cannot count Somber Hoverguard as an Elf. What about random mana artifacts like Aether Vial and Talisman of Indulgence? Aren’t those simply Elves that never learned how to attack and block properly, something almost every Red creature learns his first day out of the pack (well, perhaps not blocking)? Please advise.
2. Overload Damage
Finally, I know that one of the main things that we want to keep in mind is how much overload burn is available at the end of any given game. Otherwise, how can we tell if we won 20 to 0 or 20 to -14? This formerly simple metric has been complicated by recent developments in the Red army. For instance, if I have an Arc-Slogger in play, do I count him as being two points of burn for every ten cards in my library? Is it proper to further limit this number by my count of available Red mana? What about if I have Kumano, Master Yamabushi in play? I’m not quite sure how to measure this, because I might by some count have infinite damage overload. Is it proper here to limit the amount of overload damage via Kumano, Master Yamabushi by my available Red mana? If so, by how many turns, and does this contradict any previous guidance concerning Arc-Slogger or the opportunity cost of playing any burn that I actually have left in hand?
My own opinion is that Kumano, Master Yamabushi should just count as a flat 8 overload damage because 8 is infinity if you rotate it 90 degrees.
3. Other Metrics
Are there any additional metrics I should be aware of when testing Red Decks for the purpose of this week’s project?
Michael J. Flores
Dear Mr Flores,
Thank you for your e-mail and for the questions that you raise. I have consulted with a range of advisers, John Ormerod, Tahngarth, Talruum Hero, Goblin Warchief, Tony Dobson and Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor, to ensure that I have the most accurate answers possible to your questions.
As regards the slaughter of Elves, it is important to remember that the aim of encouraging the slaughter of Elves is [BECAUSE IT IS FUN], um, I mean to encourage good play of the Red Deck so as to make victory more likely. Since the expulsion of the Goblins from R&D, the Elves have got more sneaky. This new Elf actually wants to die, unlike most of them which like to hang out and tap for mana.
There is precedent for this. Yavimaya Elder was a previous Elf which liked to die. However, back then, the death of the Elder just meant that the opponent died with a whole bunch more cards in their hand, which was nice for them but not particularly something that we cared about. I think there was also Wirewood Herald which liked getting killed, but I always had a Goblin Sharpshooter handy when that was
About, so it wasn’t that relevant.
This new Elf actually improves the position of the opponent when it dies, by directly providing more land to allow the opponent to cast more Elves. The question is whether this is something which ought to bother us.
I don’t think that this Elf is actually going to make us do anything different. We’re not going to sit around not attacking because we are scared of a 1/1 which wants to be put in the graveyard.
Aboshan and Tony suggested that we could utilize a more complex scoring system in which this sort of Elf only counted half because killing it is what the Elves want. The concept of fractional numbers, however, proved beyond the comprehension of the Goblin Warchief, and Tahngarth was concerned that people might start saving their Shocks up and waiting for other Elves, which would not be good. So, yes, Sakura-Tribe-Rampant-Growth Elder stills counts as a point towards the dead Elf total. In passing, I am encouraged that R&D have realized that making Elves good involves making them die. That pleases me.
You also ask about what you call “artifact Elves”. Now if you play against Nate Heiss and he has eight Myr in his Affinity deck, then you’ve already got more than enough help and I don’t really see why you should get extra reward for that. Certainly, once you start counting Aether Vial as Elves, you really have to start counting basic land as Elves, and that isn’t really the point. Do remember that the game is called All Elves Must Die, not All Mana Producers Must Die. If you start straying from the main objective, then you might end up playing Ponza or make some other similar horrible error.
Overload damage. Now, the classical way of adding up Overload damage is that when you have won, you add up the amount of direct damage in your hand. This is nice and simple and so remains the way of calculating overload damage, but in light of recent developments, we shall also be counting Goblin Overload Damage (G.O.D.), which measures the damage which the Goblins and their friends could have done if required. This is calculated as follows:
Activated damage which could be done in one turn (includes Goblin Sharpshooter, Arc-Slogger, and damage that my new friend Kumano could do in one turn if all the Mountains were untapped).
And Damage which could be done by attacking the opponent, but only if they have no blockers at time of death.
Tahngarth, Aboshan and I liked the idea of eight damage for Kumano because it is infinity sideways, but I had to try to explain what infinity means to John, Tony and the Goblin Warchief, so we couldn’t use that.
As for other metrics, I’m considering incentives for destroying artifacts (though that is a little bit, y’know, Green), but really I’m waiting to see which control decks might be good. Beating Affinity decks is all well and good, but when someone plays Islands and/or Plains and tries to defend themselves, that is really enjoyable.
Now the deck that I am submitting for Red Week is the G/R “generic” deck that I took to testing during U/W week. The reasons for this are many. First of all, as I pared away a color in Week One, I thought it only equitable to add a color (or two, as you will see below) for this week. Secondly, I am not violating the rules of the week as Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2 laid them out. Third, there is also a precedent for this from Mountain Mages and Fire Gods far more flaming than I. In, I believe his last premiere event Top 8 (Nationals 2001), David E. Price himself elected to run not the innovative Dave Price Red that would take Mike Turian to the Top 8 of Worlds a few weeks later, but a Red Deck including such cards as Thornscape Battlemage, Blastoderm, Saproling Burst, and zero-power Birds of Paradise.
Which is not to say that even the most crimson of conjurers can’t be tempted. Not only was there a pronounced movement among Goblin mages to include main deck Oxidize and/or Naturalize this past summer (clearly indicative of the Fear), but Fearless Dan Paskins himself once mused on “a new kind of Red deck” that mysteriously had the ability to play Violent Eruption at a discount. It was only after himself drawing a hated Elf that was Dan forced to reconsider this choice.
Enough preamble. Onto the deck:
4 Viridian Shaman
“>Kumano, Master Yamabushi
4 Magma Jet
As you can see, the deck itself is somewhat based upon the G/R “Freshmaker” decks from Mirrodin Block. The main differences are its emphasis on the new mana acceleration and the total lack of land destruction. As far as I can tell, Sakura-Tribe Elder is the best Constructed card in Champions of Kamigawa and Kodama’s Reach ain’t too shabby, either. The reason I went with dedicated artifact hate rather than land destruction is that land destruction seems even more atrocious than usual given the presence of the kinds of new cards that I am myself playing. Also, why in the world would I want to play four mana for a Creeping Mold when I can pay one mana for an Oxidize? Because the Creeping Mold is going to save me from Blue control decks? On what planet? I can’t imagine anyone actually thinks that. The only deck where land destruction seems like it would be relevant is Tooth and Nail (more on that later), and its embarrassing ineffectiveness against other Green decks and slow uselessness against the hated Affinity make the path clear (for me, anyway).
So the first test of the deck was to go up against the hated Ravager Affinity. My baseline sparring partner remained the same as with almost every other matchup: Kamiel’s deck from the Top 8 of Worlds.
This matchup came down about like I thought it would. 6-4 in favor of the G/R. Almost every win involved G/R stalling the board with its spot removal and one-for-ones and then finishing with a huge Rude Awakening. Not surprisingly, Affinity’s wins were based on sneaking in a Cranial Plating smash or dominating with the The Fix 2K4: Arcbound Ravager + Disciple of the Vault.
Against Paquette Affinity, the deck went 5-5, which is certainly not horrible. I have been playing out these games in my head a lot, trying to figure out what is so different between the two Affinity decks from the G/R perspective. On one hand, Vial Affinity has Atog, which is one of the most powerful threats against an artifact-hostile deck, but on the other hand, Paquette’s deck is essentially pre-sideboarded with no horrible Myr Enforcers and a full load of Shrapnel Blasts. I think that a lot of the extra 10% that Aeo’s deck picks up comes from the fact that the G/R will correctly tap for a Kodama’s Reach against a naked Ornithopter on turn 3… and then end up swallowing teeth when Affinity deploys Cranial Plating for 5+ immediate damage. The ability to take out Arc-Slogger with Shrapnel Blast is also a great bonus, especially on the back of G/R’s own destruction spell.
Again, 6-4 and 5-5 represent small n samples, which we will see complicated by additional data, below.
As I have said in many instances to this point, most decks do well against either Affinity or Tooth and Nail, but rarely both. So I challenged the “modified Ormerod” deck with G/R.
What a bloodbath.
G/R came out strong in game one, clearing a path and then finishing with a huge Rude Awakening. The matchup didn’t continue this way, unfortunately, and that first win remained G/R’s only one at the end of the first ten game set.
So I went into the Mirrodin Block history books and decided to re-think land destruction. Maybe I was wrong. If land destruction could beat Tooth and Nail, maybe it would be worthwhile to look at the other matchups with a modified list.
I added some Stone Rains and didn’t like the results. Tooth and Nail sort of shrugged them off and dominated game after game.
So I got dirty.
Here is the list I tested for the remainder:
“>Kumano, Master Yamabushi
4 Magma Jet
4 Urborg Volcano
This deck was able to perform at a 7-3 pace against Tooth and Nail, largely on the back of Cranial Extraction. You will notice that, in addition to changing the mana base, adding a land for one of my Legendary Champions of Kamigawa, and swapping Cranial Extraction for Oxidize, I also swapped Viridian Shaman for Molder Slug. This change was a very specific one.
If you think about it, Viridian Shaman and Molder Slug are both good creatures against artifact decks. After an opening flurry of removal spells, Molder Slug is even arguably better against Affinity, able to hold off Myr Enforcer and lock the board. But that’s not why he is in the deck.
In most matches, you will nevertheless rather have Viridian Shaman than Molder Slug because Viridian Shaman comes down immediately on turn 3, ready to block or chump if need be, taking out the opponent’s best threat in a short space of time. Molder Slug, while powerful over many turns, can’t stop the opponent from smashing you with a Cranial Plating in the sky; it is also considerably slower. Molder Slug’s appearance, though arguably good against Affinity, is as a long game win condition against Tooth and Nail. There are few cards that are as effective against Tooth and Nail’s actual ability to win. Think about it: the opponent’s long game will typically revolve around multiple Darksteel Colossus hits, Sundering Titan, or Platinum Angel + Leonin Abunas. Molder Slug contains all their wins. Even if you get annihilated by Sundering Titan, Tooth and Nail Might Not Be Able To Win. Two Molder Slugs in play will beat double Darksteel Colossus a ridiculous amount of the time, even if the wins aren’t pretty. Leonin Abunas has nothing whatsoever to say about protecting his precious metal girlfriend in the face of Molder Slug.
One thing I learned is that as good as Cranial Extraction is, it is not a definite win against Tooth and Nail. At least one game, G/R still lost to Darksteel Colossus and Mindslaver, and another, Tooth and Nail played very carefully, milking the board with multiple Solemn Simulacrums and recursive Eternal Witness in order to out last two Molder Slugs for a win in the very long game. Just because you get off the key changes in a favorable matchup, be wary about the opponent’s skill and perseverance.
As I said, few decks perform well against both Tooth and Nail and Affinity, so going back to the Affinity matchups, I was both not surprised, and surprised, respectively.
Vial Affinity came back with an 8-2 smashing from its previous 4-6 disadvantage. The deck preyed upon a combination of Urborg Volcanoes coming into play tapped and the presence of Cranial Extraction. G/R drew Cranial Extraction like every game. At one point I took to trying to mulligan Cranial Extraction hands because it was so bad… and would just have a six-card Cranial Extraction hand that drew a second copy as the eighth card. I told Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2 that I managed to lose a game where I named “Arcbound Ravager”, which initially surprised him, but then I reminded Ted that I no longer had Viridian Shaman, which actually affects the board. The reasons that Vial Affinity battled back so strongly are that with less spot artifact removal, it could set up Cranial Plating turns more strategically, and because Atog was even more effective against a deck with Urborg Volcano and dead weight. Again, G/R/B’s wins came off the back of Rude Awakening.
Now I was surprised when Paquette Affinity went the exact same 5-5 that it did in pre-Black game one testing. On one hand, it makes sense that the Affinity version that can’t produce double Atog at the end of turn would do worse against G/R/B, but on the other hand, why didn’t that play out the same way against the initial G/R version, where Paquette Affinity actually performed better?
There are a couple of ways to take this. Perhaps the correct one is to say that Paquette Affinity, with its tremendous explosive potential, sets the pace of the game. In a good number of games – it looks like half from these twenty – Paquette will just run over the opponent, regardless of whether he is gripping Oxidize or Cranial Extraction. Moreover, this makes the deck more volatile and less steady, meaning that the deck can collapse and lose via the same paradigm. Ultimately these games are not as interesting as the sideboarded ones, anyway.
I thought that the G/R/B deck was still justifiable, despite its poor initial showing against Vial Affinity, and decided to test with sideboards. I knew that my sideboard would have all the cards that I originally had main deck, so I had no problem playing with -4 Cranial Extraction, -4 Kodama’s Reach for +4 Oxidize, +4 Viridian Shaman.
The Vial Affinity matchup came out 9-1 in favor of G/R/B. For Kamiel’s deck, I sided out the Myr Enforcers and brought in the Myr Retrievers and Somber Hoverguard. The Hoverguard bit a lot of Magma Jets… I don’t know if it is better or worse than Myr Enforcer, which is pretty dismal overall in this matchup (obviously I wasn’t going to play Pyroclasm, Electrostatic Bolt, or Relic Barrier).
It’s pretty obvious why these games played out the way they did. G/R/B could no longer start out with Cranial Extraction every hand, so it was like playing with one more card. That was all the advantage it needed to turn around the 2-8 game ones. Less important was the sheer weight of removal from G/R/B. Electrostatic Bolt + Oxidize + Magma Jet + Viridian Shaman into Molder Slug, especially when hiding behind Sakura-Tribe Elder in the early game and leaning on Eternal Witness in the late game is just hard to beat. The one thing that I learned really well was that Rude Awakening does not belong in the deck post board. The one game I lost was because I had Rude Awakening, where I would have won if I had kept in two Kodama’s Reaches instead. This was a rough lesson to learn, because Rude Awakening bought the majority of game one wins; perhaps the new configuration of the deck, with an additional class of 4/6 fatty and more men overall just doesn’t need the Big Turn Rude Awakening to win. Most of the games G/R took, it was in control of the board. In any case, I applied this knowledge to the post-board Paquette matchup.
G/R/B beat up Paquette’s deck 8-2. Aeo’s deck didn’t sideboard, for what should be obvious reasons. Perhaps Serum Visions is better than some main deck card, but I don’t see how lowering the potential threat or artifact count can be good against a deck with unending artifact removal. Maybe Chrome Mox? That can’t be right.
The disparate numbers between Affinity decks continued to puzzle me, but I guess they both came out wildly favorable in sideboarded games. I guess Welding Jar was pretty relevant against all that removal, actually. There have been a lot of games over the past three weeks, but I think I remember sacrificing a million artifacts with two Jars out and going for broke with a giant Ornithopter a couple times (worked). The G/R/B deck again had the tools to play comfortable Magic, but the Paquette deck had the reach with Shrapnel Blast and the capability to play much more explosive early games than the steady Vial deck.
As you probably know, the straight G/R deck lost to my own Mono-U deck when I was testing that deck last week 4-6; then someone mentioned I was testing wrong and I revisited the matchup. This time it was 2-8 in favor of the Mono-U. This, rather than a product of my inability to read Echoing Truth, is more due to the fact that I had played about 300 games of Blue control at that point with the new cards and now knew to just tap out for Keiga and kill people, because counters are terrible and sitting back on a hand full of counters is worse.
That said, any sort of Green or Red Deck should be able to mop up Mono-U in three, if it really wants to, whereas Blue has no avenue to claim the same. I have no problem recommending this deck, especially as it will probably fare better against Black than any of those we have looked at thus far in the Championship Deck Challenge.
I didn’t test the new G/R/B deck against the Mono-U because the original G/R was designed to be a “generic” deck and the G/R/B is very much a unique build at this point. I refer you to The Wakefield Error for more details. Typically I would use an archive.org address, but the Rodent and company have been sneaking my old Dojo and Building Broken Decks articles back into circulation on the downlow, so I don’t have to do that.
Vial Affinity 60%
Paquette Affinity 50%
Modified Ormerod Tooth and Nail 10%
Vial Affinity 20%
Paquette Affinity 50%
Modified Ormerod Tooth and Nail 70%
The Affinity matchups over three games are much better than they look from game one percentages obviously (80+% depending on build), so as I said, I have no problem recommending the final G/R/B build. That noted, this is Affinity we are talking about, so who knows if the percentages hold up under the high pressure tables and hot lights of your State Championship tournament. If you want to beat Blue or whatever, you have seven open sideboard slots, though I think you will also want to include some general creature hate that is useful against Black as well as other Green decks.
Up next, real Red Decks from the game’s best!