The 2004 Championship Deck Challenge: Seeing Red (Lose)

Systems theory is great. The idea that something in a group affects everything is so elegant to me. For example, the butterfly effect on a weather group. Or the metagame. You know, like splash damage. Or in the case of Red decks, splash splash damage. You see, I predict there will be two effective decks at Champs this year: Affinity and Green decks. Affinity is the best, and Green is the obvious foil. Plus it seems everyone loves Sakura-Tribe Elder. So what does that mean for Red?

Systems theory is great. The idea that something in a group affects everything is so elegant to me. For example, the butterfly effect on a weather group. Or the metagame. You know, like splash damage. Or in the case of Red decks, splash splash damage.

You see, I predict there will be two effective decks at Champs this year: Affinity and Green decks. Affinity is the best, and Green is the obvious foil. Plus it seems everyone loves Sakura-Tribe Elder.

So what does that mean for Red? Nothing good I’m afraid. Red is very good at what it does, but what it doesn’t know what it’s supposed to do things start to falter. As an example, here’s an excellent card from Champions that many said would be an auto-inclusion in every Red deck for the next year:

Hearth Kami



X, Sacrifice: Destroy target artifact that costs X


Now is this card great against Affinity? Sure, you bet. Quickly kill an arti-land or Nexus, late game it kills anything. Easy 2:1 etc etc. Seems fine right? But what if, God forbid, they aren’t playing Affinity but play instead Sakura-Tribe Elder or Eternal Witness. Suddenly Hearth Kami is total crap, and you’re already backpedaling on turn 2, or whatever turn you decide to cast it. So what do you do? It’s not good enough to relegate to sideboard, so you’re stuck hoping you don’t play against any colored creature-based decks at Champs (good luck) or just have a build significantly weaker against Affinity (again, good luck).

This is not an uncommon situation with Red right now. After Magma Jet, you can go Electrostatic Bolt or Glacial Rays. One’s better against Affinity, one isn’t. Furnace Whelp is another gem I don’t think is getting full attention, but it’s really awful against those darn Brown decks.

So once again, in the context of Champs, where I believe Dead Elf guy will be tied with E Witness for the most popular non-Affinity card, Red’s little 1:1 plan seems wasted. Red might have action when the metagame shapes up, but until then, it’s a struggle.

However all is not lost. Luckily for us, Red can be paired with another color to offset some of these weaknesses. Not all of them, and I’ll get to my final verdict much later, but first we can examine some potential color combinations to see if we can find enough synergy to overcome the dual Green/brown problem. Oh, and Black is pretty good right now too.

Incidentally, I would not run mono-Red at this time. The tools are kind of there for a sligh-type deck, and in fact I was tinkering around with a build designed by Jay Schneider. It had some potential, but I did a lot of cringing every time my opponent dropped a Forest or Swamp. That’s too much potential neck pain for me.

As for Big Red, or Doublemint, or whatever it’s called these days, I would once again pass. G/B is going to be quite the popular and you are owned hard by Rend Fleshes and Death Clouds. Tooth isn’t a great matchup if you don’t run the LD suite, and that again is awful against Green or artifacts. Plus, you know you’re going to get hated out by random COP: Reds in the board. Good deck, bad time for it.

So that leaves us with pretty multi-color creations. Here are some ideas to work with:


If Green is the best color right now (if it’s not it’s Black), why not pair it with Red? You know, during Red week. This combination is quite strong and resilient to randomness. The Red part can be big or little, depending on how you want you want to take it. Arc-Sloggers are still amazing, and I really like Kodama of the North Tree. Add in some burn, the Shaman-8 package, and you’ve got a solid, if unexciting deck. Again, I wouldn’t run the LD since I think you lose consistency for little real gain, but it’s not the worst option either. Here’s a list which uses a touch more Champions cards than strictly necessary, but it’s not bad despite that:

4 Sakura Tribe Elder

4 Wear Away

4 Eternal Witness

4 Glacial Ray

4 Kodama’s Reach

4 Birds of Paradise

2 Kodama of the North Tree

2 Kodama of the South Tree

4 Arc-Slogger

3 Plow Under

2 Rude Awakening

14 Forest

10 Mountain


More arti kill, more creature kill, more guys, the usual. I’d also add a couple Swamps and 4 Cranial Extractions, for you-know-what. The Extractions-in-the-board plan has been very effective for me.

I think this deck will be solid, although a lot of folks who lean this way might tend towards G/B instead. It’s not necessarily better than G/R, but that Death Cloud card has some kind of siren’s call on people. Try them both out, see what wins more in your hands.


If you’re pairing Red with Blue, you ain’t making counter-phoenix. It’s combo fun, with the flavors of Kiki-Jiki/Intruder Alarm or March of the Machines/Obliterate.

Personally I haven’t found a Kiki deck that’s all that good, although it might be out there. Seems a touch too easily disrupted, although I like the chance of using Vulshok Sorcerers in a deck, as they seem good to me right now. In fact, I use them in a couple of decks down the road. But if you’re very inclined to break Mirrors all day, just be sure to test the hell out of it. We might see one version make a top 8 somewhere, but more than that and I’d be very surprised.

Now the March plan has a little more going for it. It has a better game against Affinity, better game against pure random decks; it seems strong. Whether you focus on the control or aggression matchups seems critical, yet kind of a crapshoot. I did build up a rough copy at one point and got some decent results, but they weren’t good enough for it to be truly viable. However I do have an interesting list a little bit later that combines some elements into what I believe to be a pretty fun deck, with possible contention capabilities.

The story on R/U is that the potential is there, but the builds are very tough and you have to get lucky. In theory a good build could beat anything, but everything Red just seems sooooo inconsistent. Again, it might look good on paper, but I would playtest the hell out of it. If you’re dead set on playing Red/Blue in a few weeks, the March plan is definitely the way to go.


Again, this combination comes in two flavors. In this case Red/White control or Red/White aggro. Let’s take care of the easy one first.

Red/White control sucks. Painfully slow and stupidly vulnerable to Death Cloud, a card we know we’ll see a lot of at Champs. Your disruption plans against Tooth start with “prayer” and end with “cheating”. Some spot removal, Wraths, and big finishers (Arc-Slogger/Pristine Angel) might look like a good list, but honestly, it’s a frustrating mess. It’s possible this deck is either awful or I just can’t build a good version, but more likely it’s both.

The speed side has a little more potential. You quick out some damage and finish with burn. It’s still somewhat inconsistent, but at least these versions could beat badly built/slow decks. You have choice of the Isochron Scepter/Shrapnel Blast version:

4 Leonin Skyhunter

4 Samurai of the Pale Curtain

4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda

4 Savannah Lions

4 Raise the Alarm

3 Skyshroud Skirmishers

3 Isochron Scepter

4 Shrapnel Blast

4 Magma Jet

3 Bonesplitter

11 Plains

1 Eiganjo Castle

4 Great Furnace

4 Ancient Den

1 Shinka, The Bloodsoaked Keep

2 City of Brass

Or the regular Guy + Burn plan:

4 Leonin Skyhunter

4 Samurai of the Pale Curtain

4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda

4 Savannah Lions

4 Magma Jet

4 Yamabushi’s Flame

2 Eight-and-a-Half Tails

4 Hearth Kami

3 Otherworldly Journey

2 Nagao, Bound by Honor

2 Sensei Golden Tail

3 City of Brass

1 Eigjano Castle

1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep

3 Mountain

15 Plains

P.S. Otherworldly Journey is much better than I thought it was at first.

Neither of these decks are perfect, but they’re not nearly as bad as they may look. Which one you prefer comes down to personal preference and/or metagame. Either way though, considering the options available, they’re both underpowered. Both are certainly better than straight White Weenie, but we know that’s not saying much. Unlike straight White or W/R control, with some tweaking either of these decks could win, but I still think somebody should do better.


And then we come to R/B. Black is good right now, like Green, and just like Green it might be enough to overcome Red’s weaknesses. These builds have some flexibility, but a lot of it is a constant. For example, if you’re going to go removal heavy, you need some card advantage. Do you go Solemns, or Phyrexian Arenas, or Night’s Whisper? Horobi? Kumano? Essentially, the deck is a bunch of efficient guys and enough removal/discard/whatever to take on anything with permanents. Here’s a list I’ve enjoyed using:

4 Electrostatic Bolt

4 Distress

4 Magma Jet

4 Night’s Whisper

3 Nezumi Shortfang

4 Vulshok Sorcerer

4 Hearth Kami

4 Horobi, Death’s Wail

4 Arc-Slogger

1 Kumano, Master Yamabushi

3 Urborg Volcano

1 Shinka, The Bloodsoaked Keep

1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

2 Mirrodin’s Core

9 Mountain

8 Swamp


4x Cranial Extraction, more removal, etc. And the special lands there are more for their legends than yours.

I figure if you’re going to run Hearth Kami, you may as well have the Sorcerers to clear the way. The fact that every viable deck runs one-toughness creatures and/or Horobi doesn’t hurt either.

I like this one quite a bit, but I think I have to give the edge to R/G for power and consistency, though there are situations where R/B would be better. Again for something like Champs, I think a solid deck that can beat anything anyone could play is better, but that’s me.

My final offering on the problem of Red was when I was trying to combine the above list with the March/Obliterate plan. Actually let me back that up. I was trying to abuse Horobi, and Vulshok Sorcerer came up. So did Honden of Infinite Rage, although it’s slower than molasses. But I figure if you’re going to use the Red Honden, you might as well add the Blue one. And if you’re going to run Blue enchantments, play the best one available right now. So here’s a semi-tuned deck that I’ve had tons of fun playing with:

4 Vulshok Sorcerer

4 Horobi, Death’s Wail

4 Darksteel Ingot

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

2 Honden of Infinite Rage

2 Honden of Seeing Winds

4 March of the Machines

2 Obliterate

4 Magma Jet

4 Night’s Whisper

2 Electrostatic Bolt

3 Urborg Volcano

2 Mirrodin’s Core

2 City of Brass

2 Island

8 Mountain

7 Swamp


Extractions etc.

Like I said, fun to play. The Baubles, Whispers, Hondens and Ingots make it fairly consistent. The decent game 1 against Affinity is nice too. It’s certainly improvable and frankly I doubt I’ll run it for States, but who knows. It’s something a little different. And attacking for 1 with the Bauble! What fun!

So if you’re dead set on using Red for Champs, you’ve got options. Once again the strengths of Red are:

*Good burn.

*Good Affinity game.

*Good late game creatures.

Unfortunately the weaknesses are:

*Burn’s tough against a lot of popular decks right now, plus who knows how many folk are going to be packing the 4 Nourish in the board

*Sometimes people don’t play affinity.

*Sometimes they do.

Ultimately I have to advise against relying seriously on Red this month. It’s best as half of a combo or a splash with more consistent colors, i.e. Green or Black. Like U/W, it’s tough to find a really consistent build that has game against the best decks in the field right now including Tooth, Affinity, and Green/x. If you have perfect clairvoyance of your metagame, or feel like trying to get lucky, there are worse ways to go. However for the rest of us, stick with something a little more resilient and powerful. Good luck at your Champs & States this year.

Noah Weil

Noastic on MODO

[email protected]

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Magic Online Etiquette

Here it is: The definitive guide on how to be polite on MTGO. If you’re interested in the rules on being courteous to your anonymous internet opponent, look no further. Hopefully this will put to rest any concerns on sportsmanship and professionalism on the online forum.

GG: The winner should never, ever initiate a “gg”, especially before they’ve won. The fact is, the winner always thinks it was a good game. Of course they did – they won! If the loser wants to be polite, or truly believes it, they can certainly say it. However they are under no obligation to do so, especially if they don’t believe it. If the loser does offer a “gg”, the winner must certainly respond with their own. But saying a game was good is a value judgment. It’s a big faux pas to assign your values to someone else’s experience.

Hi, gl: You are not required to say hi, gl at the beginning of a match. Hello is friendly and polite. Some people won’t say good luck because they believe it to be dishonest i.e. they do not wish their opponent to have good luck, or they believe tossing out two characters will alter fate and probabilities. If you truly believe this, go down to Vegas, wish your Roulette buddy “good luck” a million times and split the profits. gl.

Mulligans: Personally I apologize when my opponent mulligans to four or something, because why not? You’re going to win; maybe it will make them feel better. You’re not taking responsibility, you’re just emoting empathy for a situation we’ve all found ourselves in. This is etiquette we’re talking here, not honesty.

Trading: Sometimes you’ll post “Looking for Oblivion Stone for 3tix”, or somesuch. Gouger48 messages you, offering an Ostone for 7. You can give a polite “no thanks”, but keep in mind a: He’s trying to rob you, and b: He thinks/hopes you’re stupid enough to be robbed. I toss out a GFY, and whatever else strikes my fancy. In this matter, you’re no obligation to be polite whatsoever.

Hope that lays to rest any questions on courtesy in the online arena. Everyone’s trying to win, but that’s no reason not to be polite and mature on your way to the top. I think if we all adopt these guidelines, the MTGO experience will get better for everyone. God bless.