The Industry Standard: Doing It Big In Baltimore *1st*

Joe Herrera tells you about the Big Red deck he played to victory at SCG Standard Open: Baltimore. Take a look before SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati!

What’s good homies?

My name’s Joe Herrera. I’m from Charlotte, North Carolina, and I just won the SCG Standard Open this past weekend in Baltimore. Some of you might already know me, as I also won the Standard Open in Atlanta the first week Gatecrash was legal. No big deal. I also recently made Top 4 of the Legacy Open in Nashville, Tennessee—and I’m just getting started.

A lot of people have been asking me about the list that I played in Baltimore. Mono-red is an archetype that has started to see interest again, and with good reason. It gets free wins against the most popular decks, it has great answers, and everyone loves to turn Dragons sideways. To fully understand the evolution of the deck, we have to travel to where our hero’s story begins: the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Atlanta, Georgia.

Coming fresh off my win there, I was starting to feel really good about my deck. I had just gone all the way with Naya Humans, and I thought the deck was a very good metagame call. I became attached to it. I knew it had a rough matchup versus Jund, but I decided to stick with what I knew and took my Silverblade Paladins to the Invitational in Somerset, New Jersey.

Boy, did I regret it.

I ended up playing against Jund three rounds in a row for an abysmal 0-3 record in the Standard portion. In no time, I had dropped and was looking for a deck to play in the Standard Open the next day.

I knew that I wanted to find the best deck to play against Jund that was also good against the rest of the field. Jund had punished me so hard! Luckily for me, teammate Matt Sitarski had opted out of the trip and was at home watching video coverage. He texted me and told me to look into the mono-red list played in the round 3 feature match, knowing it was right up my alley. It played four Burning Earths maindeck!

I approached my good friend Andrew Schneider and asked him if he knew who was playing the deck, and he told me it was Andrew Shrout. I asked Schneider if he could get the list for me, as I had never met Shrout before but had heard of him from his Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze Top 8. A hot minute and a short text later and I had the deck. It certainly seemed powerful. At the time, it was very late at night, and I decided to blindly trust Shrout on his choice, as I respect him and I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s doing.

The only changes that I made were cutting two Chandra, Pyromasters out of the sideboard (I hadn’t yet realized what a house she truly was) for an additional Ratchet Bomb and Rolling Temblor since I was very scared of the Hexproof matchup. The next day I piloted the deck to an eleventh place finish at the largest Standard Open ever. Here’s the list I played during those eleven grueling rounds:

Going into the tournament, I expected to play against Jund almost every step of the way. I was correct, as I played against it six out of eleven rounds. My only two losses on the day were to Jund, which was supposed to be one of my best matchups—or so I thought. It turns out that Jund was not guaranteed at all; something was missing. I approached Shrout, we discussed the matchups across the board, and he agreed with me since he also lost to Jund in day 2 of the Invitational.

When I got home from Dirty Jerz, I got to testing hard. I realized the main problem with the deck was that I was not able to put on enough early pressure to make my Burning Earths good enough. It’s not the same to slam down a Burning Earth when your opponent is at twenty as it is when they are at twelve. That was a problem, and I needed a solution. After spending long days and lonely nights contemplating, I finally found my answer:

The deck needed an early creature to apply pressure, and she is the perfect two-mana mistress. Not only is she a two-power hasty two-drop, but her first strike combined with my burn spells would allow me to take down larger-toughness creatures. To make room for her, I cut Bonfire of the Damned, as I could never ramp into it and it was always dead if it was in my hand. Ash Zealot was the perfect substitute for that card. The only problem with running her was that we needed to consistently hit double and triple red (for Boros Reckoner) on curve. This was proving to be a problem with the then-current mana base, as the list was running four Mutavaults. I decided to shave one and add an extra Mountain, and I was starting to feel a lot better.

With the changes that I made to the deck, it was beginning to shape into something truly special. I revisited Chandra, Pyromaster, and after a long heart-to-heart, we both decided it was her time to shine. Chandra allows you to keep getting through any blockers your opponents play, and she also provides you with extra cards when you need them. She’s just really busted against both midrange and control decks and was definitely going in. But what to cut? I decided on cutting one Hellrider and one Thundermaw Hellkite. This made the deck more consistent, as my hand wasn’t clogged with five-mana spells nearly as much. The Thundermaws are supposed to be on top of the deck, and that’s exactly where they ended up being.

Here’s the final list I came up with:

I knew I was going to be making the trip up to Baltimore because I had to travel to Virginia for work during the week and the event was only a hop, skip, and a jump away. This is where our hero’s journey took a turn for the worse. On the drive from Virginia to Baltimore, it started to rain. I was also getting pretty tired, so I decided to do the responsible thing and pull off the road. I found a Burger King at the nearest exit, parked my car in the lot, and took a nap. I was asleep for about ten minutes when I was awoken by, well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words:


That’s right, this happened to me while I was sleeping in my car in a Burger King parking lot!

At this point, I just wanted to go home. I called the rental company to come bring me a car, but they were closed. I called two more—no luck. It was too late to get a vehicle. I called my friend Phil Fortner and told him the deal, and he had no problem coming to pick me up—but we were going to Baltimore. Props to him for being a true friend and scooping me up.

It seems like sacrificing your car before a tournament is the way to go. When I went to Grand Prix Miami earlier this summer with Matt Sitarski, the car that we drove down in got totaled. Sitarski ended that Grand Prix with a Top 32 finish. Is there a correlation? I don’t know, but one thing is for certain; when I qualify for the Pro Tour, I’m taking my new car to the demolition derby.

When we got there, I didn’t even really want to play Standard. G/R Aggro had been out in full force the weekend before, and I felt as though it was my worst matchup. I wasn’t feeling very good about my chances. I really just wanted to play in the Legacy Open so that I could test for the Invitational, but I was there and had my deck, so I decided to play.

I didn’t play against G/R Aggro once all day.

The decks I did play against during the Swiss were U/W Control (four times), Jund (three times), Junk Reanimator (once), and Naya (once). In the last round, I drew to secure my spot as the third seed in the Top 8. Pretty solid for a tournament I didn’t even want to play in! My only loss the whole tournament was to one of the iterations of U/W Control piloted by Jake Moldowsky. Jake is a very good player, and I felt like he just beat me in the games we played. However, in my defense, I did draw every Pillar of Flame in my deck game 1, which is a dead card in that matchup.

My Top 8 match was against B/G Midrange. In the semifinals, I played against a modified version of The Aristocrats, and in the finals I played against Junk Aristocrats with Desecration Demon. Most of these games were covered very well on camera by Cedric Phillips and Joey Pasco, so I won’t go into the details here.

Against U/W, the plan is to try to draw as few Pillar of Flames and Burning Earths as possible. Not a very solid plan, I know, but it’s what you gotta do. Half of their mana base is basics, which makes Burning Earth really weak. Games 2 and 3 the plan is to side out all of the aforementioned cards, along with one Brimstone Volley and one Searing Spear. Those cards get replaced with three Ratchet Bombs, two Mizzium Mortars, a Zealous Conscripts, and four Curse of the Pierced Hearts.

Curse is especially potent in this matchup, as it is a strict upgrade to Burning Earth and presents inevitability. The only card they have to deal with it once it hits play is Detention Sphere, and that’s exactly why the Ratchet Bombs come in. The red deck is an underdog game 1, but because of a strong sideboard plan that the U/W deck isn’t truly ready for, games 2 and 3 are in our favor.

Against Jund, the match is based around Burning Earth. Jund is the main reason why Ash Zealot was added to the deck—to present pressure while they are setting up their big spells. It’s also good against Huntmaster of the Fells if they play it on turn 3. The goal here is to curve out Ash Zealot –> Boros Reckoner / Chandra’s Phoenix –> Burning Earth –> Thundermaw Hellkite—that’s pretty much game. Chandra also fits into this curve quite nicely.

During sideboarding, I take out all the Hellriders since they are not very good against Olivia Voldaren or Thragtusk. I also take out two Pillar of Flames since that card isn’t very good either, but we still need to respect Scavenging Ooze (and to a lesser extent Huntmaster of the Fells) so we need to leave some number of them in. The cards we bring in are two Zealous Conscripts, two Mizzium Mortars, and one Ratchet Bomb, the latter being great for getting rid of tokens and Ravager of the Fells.

Something to be aware of: the deck has a real problem dealing with a resolved Desecration Demon. The best things the deck can do out of the main are attack with Boros Reckoner to get them low and peel Thundermaw Hellkite off the top to steal the win. Out of the sideboard, Zealous Conscripts is very good against it. If the Demon keeps becoming more and more popular, Conscripts in the main may be the way to go. Ratchet Bomb is also good to bring in because it can be ticked up all the way to four to kill it.

All in all, I had a great weekend despite losing my car (I owned it for only four months). Winning my second Open in less than a year is a great feeling and definitely makes up for it.


Joe Herrera

@joetruuu on Twitter