The Red Decks Of Standard

Two-time Invitational Champion Tom Ross is a big fan of Mono-Red Aggro strategies, and today, he’s going to give you the rundown on all the ways to set your Standard tournaments ablaze!

I’d like to start by saying that I haven’t played any Mono-Red Aggro post-Dragons of Tarkir in any tournaments before this week.

Why? Because Mono-Red is too good right now.

I like to play the underdog decks. Not the best deck, but the deck that beats the best deck. The deck that people forget about until it’s too late. The
deck that people claim “my deck beats everything except that deck. I can’t believe I got paired against it again!”

Recently I joined the Standard Super League along with Brad Nelson, Josh
Utter-Leyton, Owen Turtenwald, Andrew Cuneo, Brian Kibler, Paul Cheon, and Gerry Thompson. I have some really great Magic minds for opponents, and it’s
been a challenge among the eight competitors to outmaneuver each other in such a small metagame.

While I’ve been working on Bant Heroic for the past couple months (since the release of Dragons of Tarkir), I knew that people would use
my preference for it against me and bring an above average number of good cards against it like Self-Inflicted Wound, Foul-Tongue Invocation, and Crackling
Doom. In seasons past I’ve been known to rock Mono-Red so I figured that deck would have a bullseye on it for anyone in my bracket. I decided on Jeskai
Tokens for week 1, a deck that would be good against people thinking I’m on small creatures (which I do typically prefer).

Going into week 2, I didn’t think Bant Heroic would be quite off everyone’s radar, especially since Brad Nelson played it during week 1, so I felt it’d be
best to keep it shelved again. My friend Alex Player had been playing Mono-Red on Magic Online ever since the first incarnation of Rabble Red and has
really been liking Impact Tremors. Originally I was skeptical, figuring it to be a slightly better Lightning Strike sometimes, and a completely dead card
at its worst. After a few matches of seeing Impact Tremors do double-digit damage over the course of games, I learned that its upside was way higher than
what it looked at first glance. I decided to play it week 2 of the Standard Super League.

The list is comparable to Martin Dang’s Atarka Red from Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. Our own Cedric Phillips put the mic down to battle at the Open Series
in Portland this past weekend, proving that the Pro Tour winning deck is still great.

Atarka’s Command is a very powerful card and works great in a token shell, just like Impact Tremors. To support it, however, you have to play a splash
color, which costs you percentage points as you won’t draw the sweet combo of “green card + green mana” every game. You also have to play a ton of Mana
Confluences. While the damage won’t matter in most games, there will be matches that you lose due to dealing yourself a lot of damage to yourself,
especially in the games where you draw multiples.

Impact Tremors gives you a very high-impact and synergistic card without the mana concerns. Mono-Red has always been extremely redundant in nature, and the
variance among its variants mostly comes in its spell-to-land ratio throughout the game. Compounding that with color and overdrawing painful non-basics
only compounds it.

I wanted to play Mono-Red with Impact Tremors because of how well it plays against decks that plan on beating creature decks by killing everything they
see. Esper Dragons can counter some things, but they’re much better at killing creatures with Bile Blight, Hero’s Downfall, and Ultimate Price. After
sideboard, there’s always the tension of whether to push the envelope into a Drown in Sorrow or to hold back, possibly giving the opponent enough breathing
room to catch up.

Edgar Magalhaes recently had the right idea on how to beat the Esper Dragons menace by bringing Mardu Dragons to Grand Prix Toronto, finishing in second.
What Mardu does best is killing creatures, and it has the most tools to do so. If that deck makes it big, then Bant Heroic is in big trouble. What’s good
against them, though, is a difficult to remove enchantment that gains use from your creatures without them needing to ever attack.

There are a few things going against Impact Tremors, however:

It’s a poor lategame topdeck.

It’s situationally powerful and not versatile at all.

It’s “worse than a creature” on turn 2.

The last one is a misconception. It’s nearly always right to play Impact Tremors before anything else, outside of a corner case like you holding a Dragon
Fodder against two opposing Foundry Street Denizens. Also, Impact Tremors is taking the place of a different non-creature spell, whether it be Atarka’s
Command or something more Mono-Red like Searing Blaze.

It seems clear that the differences are between power and consistency, and it’s unclear as to which leads to more actual game and match wins in the long
run. If its power that’s winning out with the token-based synergies, then perhaps it’s best to combine both Impact Tremors and Atarka’s Command in a shell
with a bunch of token-makers and dash creatures.

This version goes a tad high on Temple of Abandon, but I think that the deck is moving slightly toward more combo elements. Xenagos, the Reveler is the
next best token-maker after Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst, but it is slow. Still, I think it’s a better four-drop than other options could be (like
Outpost Siege or Chandra, Pyromaster). You can even play it on turn 3 after accelerating with Atarka’s Command! Okay, that’s doubtful to be correct, but
Xenagos still seems like something worth looking into.

I think it’s reasonable to go down on Wild Slashes and Lightning Strikes as people are showing up with some resilient creatures nowadays, whether they be
hexproof or have built-in value like Den Protector + Deathmist Raptor.

The token-makers seem to be the rage of Mono-Red builds at the moment, but Travis O’Dell recently unearthed a very powerful red take that we haven’t seen
in the spotlight for a few seasons now.

I really like this archetype and feel like it was originally explored incorrectly during the first
week after the release of Dragons of Tarkir. The older builds I saw had a higher curve, a bigger focus on making Draconic Roar work, and too many
non-creature spells.

This build has enough creatures to make Fanatic of Mogis hit really hard. Just two Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx feels like the right number. The extra mana is
great when going off with Dragon Whisperer, but it will mostly be there to jump into a Stormbreath Dragon monstrous. Having Mountain and Nykthos as your
lands while holding a handful of RR spells is the worst.

The early one-drops is really what makes this deck tick again. Dragons of Tarkir introduced so many great one-drops that it’s hard to believe that
Jackal Pup was such the groundbreaking aggressive creature once upon a time in early Mono-Red decks. With such a wealth of current solid red one-drops,
it’d be foolish to build a Mono-Red deck that doesn’t use a healthy number of them.

Zurgo Bellstriker fills the role that Rakdos Cackler once did, but Lightning Berserker is something to put on early pressure. Having creatures that pump in
addition to Dragon Whisperer forces a player with sweepers to blow it for much less value than they would get against most devotion strategies. Of course,
Lightning Berserker always loves extra mana, getting pumped bigger since Mono-Red Devotion plays more Mountains and during those big Nykthos turns.

Right now people are exploring various decks that utilize Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor, and decks that use the Dragonlords and the uncommon cycle
that includes Draconic Roar and Foul-Tongue Invocation. Week to week, a different color combination that features one or the other seems to pop up. People
shift here and there to outmaneuver each other. Mono-Red, however, remains a constant. No matter how many cards people would like to dedicate to guarding
themselves against a field of midrange or control, the speed and ruthlessness of Mono-Red must be respected. If not, they’re going to get run over.

It still amazes me how many people claim that their deck is “great against everything except Mono-Red.” I like being people’s worst matchup.