The Red Sun Rising

Patrick Chapin, author of Next Level Magic and Next Level Deckbuilding, writes about three new cards spoiled from Journey into Nyx that are good news for red decks in Standard.

It was a good week for red decks.

Our Journey into Nyx is just one week in, and already it is pretty clear that this set is not short on impactful cards. With so many powerful cards previewed, I’m going to be back on Wednesday to cover more. Today however I want to focus on aggressive red strategies. Red aggro has enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past few months (because it is one of the few natural responses to Thoughtseize one can actually adopt).

With just 51 cards previewed thus far, already at least three aggressive red cards have been revealed. Interestingly, they seem to point to a variety of red aggro decks. This is awesome for tournament Magic because giving a macro strategy a lot of reasonable options to consider that pull you in different directions leads to more diversity, more depth, and a more dynamic metagame.

Let’s start with the red card that is (rightfully) getting the most hype of the bunch:

On the surface Eidolon of the Great Revel looks like a hate bear of sorts. After all, it is a 2/2 for two with a famous anti-combo card, Pyrostatic Pillar bolted on it. And yes, it will see play as an anti-combo card in some formats. For instance, this card has immediate and powerful Modern applications.

However, Eidolon of the Great Revel transcends mere hate cards, aiming for the likes of Gaddock Teeg and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. When you take an extremely powerful hate card and attach it to a 2/2 without charging, you end up with a card that goes in a lot of decks just to be annoying.

Part of what makes Eidolon of the Great Revel so annoying is how difficult it is to deal with without sacrificing some value. Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Mizzium Mortars, Devour Flesh, Lightning Strike, Dreadbore—basically whatever you do to get rid of it, you’re taking two.

What about Supreme Verdict? You might not be taking two, but you are spending four mana to stop a card that costs two. Obviously if you have a bunch of other creatures, then the Verdict player is getting the better of it, but that would be true with just about any two-drop.

Eidolon of the Great Revel offers great power, but it does have some risk associated with it. Red decks are often jam packed with cards that cost three or less or at least want to be. If you’re the attacker and your opponent can’t really punish you, no problem, but if your opponent follows up with a platinum hit like Polukranos, World Eater or Desecration Demon, this hit is about to get real.

One obvious home for Eidolon of the Great Revel is in R/W Burn. The extra damage goes a long way, and we’ve actually got a fair bit of spells that cost four or more to let us progress the game without taking damage over the next few turns. Warleader’s Helix even gives us a way to recoup some extra life if we end up needing it.

One of the things I like about Eidolon of the Great Revel in R/W Burn is how ineffective Supreme Verdict is against us. Haste creatures, recursive abilities, and only needing one creature at a time all add up to a pretty effective anti-Verdict plan.

I know nobody plays Reckless Reveler, but I guess I just respect Staff of the Death Magus or Tablet of the Guilds more than most. Yes, we already have Wear // Tear (which is great at hitting Underworld Connections or Detention Sphere at the same time), but I want even more. Plus you start getting diminishing returns if you play too many purely reactive cards.

Another feature of Eidolon of the Great Revel that we haven’t mentioned yet is its cost. That it costs double red is understandable given the card’s impact on the game. It will be a little bit of a cost in some three-color Modern decks some of the time. In Standard however the double red cost is often a feature due to the devotion mechanic.

Eidolon of the Great Revel is an easy addition here, as Burning-Tree Emissary was basically played just for the double red symbols (with almost nothing to cast off it). We can get a lot of extra damage out of Eidolon of the Great Revel, but we also dodge it pretty effectively with plenty of expensive cards to follow it up with. We can just keep activating Hammer of Purphoros instead of casting spells as well.

Remember, Eidolon of the Great Revels makes a great three-drop as well as a two-drop. If you’ve got Frostburn Weird or Ash Zealot and you’re concerned that the other player’s deck is actually more aggressive (Mono-Red Aggro or Mono-Black Aggro), you can actually play the other two-drop on turn 2 and Eidolon on turn 3 so that you can follow it up without having to take any damage at all. Against less aggressive decks you generally want to lead with Eidolon though. It is sort of four damage a turn in the early game.

Iroas, God of Victory is definitely experimental, but the first one adds a real nice dimension. While it is pretty rancid if you’re behind, it can take a small advantage and press it into a game-winning one.

  • Against someone playing fair it is an incredible attacking threat, making blocking next to impossible against you.
  • Against aggro it is often going to come down as a 7/5 indestructible creature.
  • Against control it isn’t good, but at least it is a durable threat.

How well Eidolon of the Great Revel matches up against the format remains to be seen. After all, if the ability is neutral between you and your opponent, the card is a 2/2 for RR. That isn’t terrible, but it is a point of power below rate. However, the world we actually live in (or have been living) is a world populated with tons of decks paying life for Thoughtseize and Underworld Connections, decks playing twelve Temples, and decks full of spells that cost three or less but only two copies of Rapid Hybridization for removal.

Seriously, isn’t this card just a total nightmare for Mono-Blue Devotion if you can keep the offensive?

Regardless of where the format will land, it will surely start quite vulnerable to it. We might even be able to get away with it in a deck where just about every card in our deck would get us Shocked.

Man, just one more one-drop (that we actually want) and we are seriously in business.

Eidolon of the Great Revel is obviously a little risky here, but it is pretty cool that bloodrushing Rubblebelt Maaka doesn’t trigger it. This is the epitome of the turn 3 Eidolon deck. Give yourself a chance to empty your hand first!

Of course Eidolon of the Great Revel isn’t the only new weapon at our disposal.

I haven’t really seen anyone talking about Mogis’s Warhound, but I assume that’s just because they haven’t seriously thought about it yet. This guy is an early sleeper, though I seriously doubt it lasts the full month under the radar.

To start with, we’ve got a 2/2 for 1R. That it doesn’t cost RR hurts its chances for devotion, but it is a lifesaver here since now it can be cast off Burning-Tree Emissary (Ghor-House Chainwalker is not the highest power to surpass). And while a Mad Dog isn’t the greatest two-drop in the world, the real reason we’re playing the card is for the bestow ability.

When you bestow a Warhound onto a one- or two-drop, it’s like you got a two-power haste creature for three but with some important upside. First of all, it lets you get your creature through. If you played an Eidolon on turn two, your opponent may have followed up with a Nightveil Specter. More importantly however it is a two-power haste creature that if killed gives you another two-power creature. This gives us some important resiliency against removal and most importantly Supreme Verdict.

The "drawback" bestow creatures are pretty exciting, partly because some of them have great rates but also because of the added versatility. In the right spots you can actually use Mogis’s Warhound to force an opponent’s only threat to attack you, clearing the way for a big attack. That is a lot of damage, but it can be a game-winning option to have.

An even better example is Gnarled Scarhide, the black "drawback" bestow creature.

This guy is crazy awesome!

First of all, let’s be serious—we would totally play with four more copies of Rakdos Cackler in a lot of black aggro decks. Having a third two-power one-drop is going to be super valuable for black aggro. On top of this, we can play Gnarled Scarhide as a haste creature on turn 4, with a backup threat if our opponent casts Supreme Verdict.

Where things get really exciting is using Gnarled Scarhide as a removal spell on turn 4 to get whatever creature was stopping us out of the way. Yes, it is going to swing back for an extra two, but if we are doing our job, our opponent should not want to race.

It’s kind of interesting that Gnarled Scarhide, Spiteful Returned, and Herald of Torment all add up to a lot of enchantments in this Suicide Black deck. As a matter of fact, Eidolon of the Great Revel and Mogis’s Warhound also mean red is going to have a lot more enchantments (even assuming they don’t splash for Chained to the Rocks). Just how much enchantment removal is it going to be right to play in the maindeck?

Revoke Existence was already gaining popularity as a maindeck one-of. What about:

On the other side of things, Odunos, River Trawler and a few other cards gain more utility the more good enchantment creatures get printed.

Who doesn’t play enchantments?

. . .

While Eidolon of the Great Revel might be a reasonable fit in the pure aggro build above, it is probably better in a slightly bigger red deck, one that goes a little higher up the curve to break the symmetry of Eidolon.

The extra damage from Eidolon of the Great Revel means that Fanatic of Mogis and Stormbreath Dragon are that much more likely to be life threatening (or seriously constrict our opponent’s options).

" . . . already at least three aggressive red cards have been revealed . . . "

So what’s the other card? I couldn’t help but notice that you just built four red decks and didn’t use it. How good of a card can it be?

Admittedly, the third red card we’re going to look at today is a niche role player that won’t get slammed into every deck full of Mountains. It is however exactly what the deck it belongs in has been waiting for.

Red has never been short on buffs with which to target its creatures. What it has been missing is actual heroic creatures worth targeting. Akroan Crusader is one, sure, assuming you are that fast. The thing is that without a second cheap heroic creature there just wasn’t enough reason to play all the enablers. We could have played two colors, but too many of the dual lands enter the battlefield tapped to play as turbo of a game as Akroan Crusader would have us play.

Hey, sometimes you gotta test the extremes!

Legion Loyalist is another reasonable option to consider. The main thing is that we need to find good ways to punch through bigger creatures. It’s very possible that we need more Titan’s Strength, though I wanted to try at least one Coordinated Assault for ever more turbo heroic action.

Mizzium Mortars is totally off theme, but if we end up needing a couple maindeck, so be it. Somewhat similarly Mutavault is off theme in that it doesn’t cast much, but if we end up needing to add another land or two, they should be Mutavault.

I don’t expect Mono-Red Heroes to be tier 1, but it is different enough from other red decks to have a confusing power level. Most people didn’t expect U/B Heroes to rise up either, and that deck is looking better and better. I don’t consider it to be tier 1 yet; however, it would not take much in Journey into Nyx to really push it. That is often the case when you have a deck that contains some really strong cards along with a bunch of mediocre filler cards due to there just not being enough cards of a theme to fully flesh a strategy out.

Looking at Journey into Nyx as a whole, I am excited at the direction the spoilers have gone thus far. The quality of cards is totally reasonable, and many good cards are not just reprints. There seems to be a lot worth actually exploring. The greatest risk?

Mono-Black Devotion is already overpowered, and there are a lot of powerful cards in Journey to Nyx that offer it new tools.

  • Silence the Believers – A little pricey, but killing Gods is a big game, not to mention the multi-kicker and anti-bestow features.
  • Extinguish All Hope – It may look like a slow sweeper on the surface, but it’s most exciting application is in some kind of a Herald of Torment deck with lots of enchantment creatures.
  • Squelching Leeches – It’s not that black really needs more fatties, but this one could be okay as a fifth, maybe sixth Desecration Demon if you aren’t playing any Temples.
  • Worst Fears – Obviously easy to make fun of because of the casting cost, but if your black devotion deck incorporates Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Worst Fears could be a potentially filthy sideboard option.

Anyway, I’ll be back on Wednesday with a look at one of the most exciting Journey into Nyx cards revealed yet. Join me here then to find out what it could be and why it’s Keranos, God of Storms . . .