The 2004 Championship Deck Challenge: FireblastFireblast

Red week continues for our deck challenge, with renowned Red Deck master Dan Paskins (along with playtest partner John Ormerod) chiming in with his take on a viable Red monstrosity for States. In addition to championing a deck of his favorite color, Dan also takes a look at an unexpected deck that he says just might have some potential in future Standard environments. Curious as to what the mystery deck is? The answer is only a click away.

Q: “What’s the only thing better than a Fireblast?”

A: “Two Fireblast”

Taken from the “Guide to Designing New Red Cards”, © Wizards of the Coast 2004

Dear readers,

For many years I rejoiced at the feebleness of the White cards. I laughed at Ben Bleiweiss and his lengthy whinings, I enjoyed handing out beatings to White mages who assumed that “well, at least I beat mono-Red”. But even victories over ancient enemies get boring when they refuse to put up much of a fight. Alongside the latest update of the Red Deck, therefore, I have decided to provide an outline for a White Weenie deck which it might be possible to develop into something worthwhile. Since I’ve got an awful lot of explaining of card choices to do today, I’ll pick up where I left off yesterday.

As well as the Tooth and Nail deck and Affinity deck which I wrote about yesterday, John and I built a copy of [author name="Mike Flores"]Mike Flores[/author]‘ Mono-Blue deck. It turned out to be rather good, and we modified it slightly and added it to the gauntlet of decks:

4 Hinder

2 Gifts Ungiven

4 Mana Leak

4 Relic Barrier

4 Vedalken Shackles

3 Condescend

1 Rewind

1 Last Word

2 Thirst for Knowledge

21 Island

1 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Stalking Stones

1 Dragon (Keiga, the Tide Star)

4 Echoing Truth

4 Annul

The deck obviously needed more Islands to power the Shackles, Thirst for Knowledge was not that good, and a couple more hard counterspells were felt to be helpful, particularly against Tooth and Nail. It’s a fun deck to play, though, which reminded me of the good old days beating Draw Go decks.

And so, on to the White deck. The first problem was to make the deck viable against Affinity. This is something which proved impossible during Mirrodin Block Constructed. Because of this, we knew that any strategy based on Equipment was worth dismissing at once, unless there were any new cards which solved all the problems equipped White Weenie had last year. A quick glance at the spoiler revealed that there were indeed no cards which met this onerous requirement. So the first question was this: What strategy could White Weenie employ which might possibly have a chance against Affinity?

Both White Weenie and Affinity have lots of creatures. It is conceivable that the White deck could create a situation where both players would have a whole bunch of creatures in play and neither could profitably attack. In such a situation, the Affinity player would be bound to win with the combination of Disciple of the Vault and Arcbound Ravager, or with a Blinkmoth Nexus as the White deck played out more 2/2 creatures. That’s a long-winded, non-technical way of saying that Affinity decks have inevitability in the matchup.

When White creature decks have been successful, they have either had some way of generating masses of card advantage (e.g. Rebels) or relied on unblockable creatures (be it protection from Black creatures against the Necro decks or Shadow creatures during Tempest block).

There are the beginnings of a plan here. If the White deck could combine fast evasive creatures with some way of defending against the primarily ground based Affinity assault, it might at least be worth considering.

A quick scan through White’s evasive creatures produces the following list: Suntail Hawk, Lantern Kami, Leonin Skyhunter, Skyhunter Skirmisher and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. Of these Eight-and-a-Half-Tails requires a ridiculous amount of mana to be able to attack unblocked, and we will probably be tapping out most turns. Also, it is a Legend.

We can also use Crusade to power up our guys. Or, rather, we could, except that apparently White is so powerful that Crusade had to be replaced by Glorious Anthem. I know people are still bitter about the result of that vote, what happened was that the Goblin technicians switched the voting numbers round when taking them down to Aaron Forsythe, because they thought that all numbers above three were basically the same so it didn’t matter. Oops.

Of course, while we are summoning 1/1 fliers, the Affinity deck will be trying to kill us. Happily, the new set has given us a great card in Ghostly Prison, which helps slow down any swarm of artefact creatures, particularly if we combine it with some tappers such as Auriok Transfixer and Relic Barrier. Samurai of the Pale Curtain can block and kill Frogmite and also helps to nullify Disciple of the Vault (and makes Eternal Witness less exciting). Leonin Elder is a good man to have in a race with an artefact deck, which gives us the following:

4 Suntail Hawk

4 Lantern Kami

4 Leonin Elder

4 Leonin Skyhunter

4 Skyhunter Skirmisher

4 Ghostly Prison

4 Glorious Anthem

4 Samurai of the Pale Curtain

4 Relic Barrier

4 Auriok Transfixer

2 Chrome Mox

18 Plains

16 one-drops, 12 two-drops, 12 three-drops. 16 evasion creatures, 16 defensive creatures. The plan against Tooth and Nail is decent as well, as their creatures can’t block the fliers, and the Transfixers and Barriers help to make Darksteel Colossus less exciting.

I have to confess that John thinks that this deck is horrible, but it is at least built on the right principles, and even if it can’t quite make the grade there might be something in the next set to push it over the top. Another two-mana flier, a cheap pump spell, something like that would really help. There are plenty of sideboarding options, from Imi Statue to Pacifism and Wrath of God and Savannah Lions to bring in against control decks.

Speaking of Savannah Lions, they and their new friend the Hound of Konda would prosper in a different sort of metagame, but aren’t worthy of inclusion as long as Affinity is a major influence on this format.

One last thing that I want to mention about the White Deck is that it has a much lower land count than most non-Affinity decks can get away with. Randy Buehler wrote about the importance of this way back in his report on Pro Tour: Los Angeles in 1997 (a.k.a. the best Pro Tour ever). Everyone at the time knew that mono-Red beatdown was the best deck, so he and his team designed a mono-Green deck which had bigger creatures, ways of destroying the opponent’s Cursed Scrolls and therefore what seemed like a definite advantage over the Red deck. It was only after the tournament that he realised that although he had better creatures and more chance of keeping his Cursed Scroll in play, the Green deck was at a disadvantage because in order to do all of these things it had to play with twenty-five lands as opposed to the Red Deck’s twenty. This meant that the Red Deck had five more threat cards where the Green Deck had Forests.

One of the features of the modern Affinity decks is quite how many spells they can fit in. The Affinity deck that we are testing with has forty spells, whereas the Tooth and Nail deck has thirty-five lands or spells which get land or produce mana. This is a subject which really needs Mike Flores or Zvi to do justice to, but it is certainly part of Affinity’s success that it requires far fewer lands than most of its competitors to function effectively. Here’s Randy’s report, which deals with this subject far more eloquently than I could.

Anyway, enough of that nonsense. It’s time to build a Red Deck.

I didn’t like the “Big Red” decks in Mirrodin Block. They looked awfully like Ponza decks, which is not intended as a compliment, and had things like four-mana 2/2s, which didn’t seem to really be good enough in the world of the Arcbound Ravager and the 11/11 indestructible trampler.

So, as I always do, I looked through the new spoiler for good Red cards. Hearth Kami leapt out as a really good little beater, and Kumano, while no Arc-Slogger, was full of Masticore-y goodness. I turned up at John’s house, and talked about these cards.

“What about the eight damage for six mana spell?” he asked.

I hadn’t realized there was such a thing. Six mana is a lot for a spell which only damages players, but eight damage is the equivalent of two Fireblasts, and it is a pretty feeble Red Deck which can’t rustle up twelve damage.

I wonder how many of you spotted the card which John was talking about.

Mindblaze– 5R


Name a non-land card and choose a number greater than 0.

Target player reveals his or her library. If that library contains exactly the chosen number of the named card, Mindblaze deals 8 damage to that player. Then that player shuffles his or her library.

If you’re scared that you might play this and miss, then you’ve obviously got “the Fear” and shouldn’t really be playing a Red Deck. There might be some very off-beat decks where you could conceivably miss with this, but you should beat those decks anyway. How hard can it be to get this right against Tooth and Nail or Affinity? And if you get the number right, it is a guaranteed eight damage for six mana. I like the sound of that, and have decided to rename Mindblaze Fireblastfireblast. After a bit of testing, we came up with:

4 Slith Firewalker

4 Hearth Kami

4 Arc-Slogger

2 Kumano

4 Electrostatic Bolt

3 Volcanic Hammer

2 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

3 Fireblastfireblast

4 Seething Song

3 Chrome Mox

4 Magma Jet

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

19 Mountain

This is not an easy deck to play – I had games where I made a mistake each turn, and those were just the mistakes that I spotted, but it played well against Affinity, mono-Blue and Tooth and Nail, and can burn opponents out when they aren’t expecting it. An early Magma Jet, an attack from a Kami, a Hammer, a couple of activations from Arc-Slogger, one point from the Nexus and it is Fireblast Fireblast time. Then there are the games when you play Kumano on turn 2. Overall, this deck is recognizably like the Big Red decks, dating back to the Block Constructed Pro Tour winning deck, but with improved quality in every area, with eight excellent two-drops, six big creatures and a wide selection of burn spells to dispose of creatures and/or players as required.

An alternative approach would be to ditch the Mindblazes and add more artefacts and Shrapnel Blasts. On a side note, there isn’t much to choose between this deck and the Red/Green deck, except that the mono-Red deck is more consistent and can’t get color screwed. I don’t think that the Red/Green version has anything which makes it vitally better than the mono-Red deck, and playing with Mountains allows for maximum use of Arc-Slogger. Besides, if you have a Red Deck, why would you voluntarily pollute it with Forests?

Finishing up, if it were not for Affinity, this would be a great format. Each of the decks I have described is a lot of fun to play and involves making lots of decisions and interacting with what the opponent is trying to do. I don’t think that any of the decks which I have written about is ready to knock Affinity off its perch yet. But remember what the Affinity deck looked like a year ago, and how much it has been tuned subsequently. I’m sure that with testing and with time, quite a lot of the ideas in these articles will be shown to be horrible, but I hope that you’ve enjoyed seeing how John and I put decks together when a new format begins, and that some of the ideas here are ones that you find useful in your testing for States.

Any comments to the forums, I’ll do my best to reply to any questions there.

Take care

Dan xxx