There And Back Again – The Correct RDW List

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Monday, April 21st – We’re kicking things off a little cheekily this week, but that shouldn’t be misconstrued as a bash on any of the other great articles on Red decks since Tattermunge Maniac was previewed (check out Ben Peebles Mundy, Patrick Chapin, et al). Rather it’s a tongue-in-cheek means of warning the audience: successful Red decks often run “bad” cards in order to succeed.

An Important Lesson

We’re kicking things off a little cheekily this week, but that shouldn’t be misconstrued as a bash on any of the other great articles on Red decks since Tattermunge Maniac was previewed (check out Ben Peebles Mundy, Patrick Chapin, et al). Rather it’s a tongue-in-cheek means of warning the audience: successful Red decks often run “bad” cards in order to succeed. Since you’re the audience (yes you, sitting in your boxers at the midnight), that means you’re the person who’s going to be copying this decklist and immediately cutting the “bad cards.” Don’t do that.

If you’re thinking it’s an ego thing, I can assure you it’s not. It actually comes from years of experience learning that lesson the hard way. I count myself lucky to have come of age at the same time as Magic, which means I got to read the Beth Moursund article straight from my brother’s copy of The Duelist (okay, so I was a cheapskate) in which she detailed a crazy new deck called “Sligh.” The deck introduced a Constructed mana curve that would change the game forever, and Red cards that even the newest, freshest Magic players could discern were terrible. Ironclaw Orcs, Dwarven Catapult, Orcish Artillery

I immediately cut them, and the deck lost in dramatic fashion. There was a reason those cards were in the deck, I learned, and even if the Sligh deck was dramatically different than the Red decks that would come to define the genre of “Red Decks,” the lesson was an important one. Just because a card looks bad, doesn’t mean that it is.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get to the list…

The Deck

Deck Name: RDW
By: Bill Stark

18 Mountain
4 Keldon Megaliths
0 Mutavault

4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Tattermunge Maniac
4 Mudbutton Clanger
4 Mubrawler Cohort
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Countryside Crusher

4 Incinerate
2 Shard Volley
4 Tarfire
4 Flame Javelin

While this list doesn’t stick to the board control spirit of the original Sligh deck, it does stand by the curve for the most part. A dozen one-drops are followed by eight two-drops, and at the top of the curve a playset of Countryside Crusher. I had tried Ashenmoor Gouger in that role, but the manner in which Crusher fixes draws (combo with Clanger!) can’t be undervalued. The fact that he gets big enough to make even a full-sized Tarmogoyf tremble and plays nice with Shard Volley are simply additional bonuses… and you might say I have a bit of a crush on the 3/3 (no pun intended for once).

Speaking of Mudbutton Clanger, that’s one of the cards I’m concerned players won’t give a fair shake. Beatdown is going through a bit of a renaissance right now, with more two-powered first turn plays than the halcyon days of Urza’s block and the Rath cycle. When Nom Nom was revealed to be a reality, I quickly fashioned a number of Red decks with Flamekin Bladewhirl and the Goblin Warrior as leadoff hitters, but after remembering Bladewhirl requires a player to reveal an Elemental instead of just a card that shares a creature type, I had to return to the drawing board.

Fortunately for me I get by with a little help from my friends, and I recalled an email from Ben Torgerson, one of my travel companions/hosts for Grand Prix: Vancouver, who had asked if the Clanger was an auto-include in Red decks. At the time I was convinced the potential for a 2/2 wasn’t strong enough, mostly because the Red cards to support it simply weren’t there. Now that we have Shadowmoor, of course, that’s all changed and I added a playset to see how things went. Suffice to say they went satisfactorily. Nearly half the deck triggers the Clanger (don’t forget Tarfire), and it is 2/2 often enough to make it superior to the other cards vying for its slot.

The other creature that may raise eyebrows is Mudbrawler Cohort. For those who haven’t seen it yet here are the stats:

Mudbrawler Cohort
Creature — Goblin Warrior
Mubrawler Cohort gets +1/+1 as long as you control another red creature.

A 2/2 for two meets the curve requirements, and because the deck is front loaded you will effectively always have one-drop into Cohort for 3-4 damage on turn 2. Combined with Keldon Marauders, also 3 damage on turn 2, you put on an impressive clock very aggressively. It doesn’t hurt that Cohort also triggers Clanger, though it’s worth mentioning the also-rans that nearly took its spot. Originally I tried Goblin Skycutter (of all things), because of the propensity of decks to be playing X/2 flyers and because it fit the mini-tribal theme. Emberwilde Augur was also a consideration, but as soon as I saw Cohort I knew I had my Goblin. As the metagame progresses towards Regionals that may change (a prevalence of Swans decks might necessitate the re-inclusion of Skycutter as the more useful two-drop) but for an initial build where the focus is simply on killing an opponent as quickly as possible and figuring out the details later, Cohort is definitely the best creature for the job.

Turning to the burn package, let’s take a look at Shard Volley. It’s true that the Volley does more damage than Tarfire and combos well with Countryside Crusher, but there are a number of reasons the number shouldn’t go higher than two for a deck like this one. First and foremost is that the deck is far more mana intensive than it initially appears, both for using all of its mana in the early turns playing threats and for later in the game keeping a hand empty while Megalithing an opponent. Sacrificing a land comes at a huge cost, a potentially game-ending cost, and it’s simply not worth the additional two points of damage spread throughout the deck. It is also considerably weaker than Tarfire in light of the fact the deck generally follows one of the keystone play principles behind decks like RDW by using the instants and sorceries to keep blockers off the board while cost efficient creatures get through on the ground. And it doesn’t trigger Clanger.

Flame Javelin represents a new deckbuilding challenge to Red mages, something Mike Flores rightfully pointed out in his preview of the card on Magicthegathering.com. Whereas Hiromasa Imagawa could afford to play sneaky lands like Mutavault and Horizon Canopy in 9-0 Red because there was no reason not to, new RDW style decks have to take the Javelin into account. Ghitu Encampments, Keldon Megaliths, and other such Red lands will be the true mainstays in the deck and Mutavaults, if seen, will probably be seen in smaller quantities. Presently I’m willing to cut them entirely because I am madly in love with Keldon Megaliths. Where has that card been, by the way? Have Red cards been so bad since Future Sight that it hasn’t seen play anywhere?

I absolutely adore the Megaliths because it feels so much like two other lands I’ve used to success in previous Red decks: Mikokoro and Scrying Sheets. In both cases the cards represented additional draws, uncounterable card advantage for a Red deck (Mikokoro counted as card advantage because your opponents’ cards were largely irrelevant, and it’s a long story and I’ll tell it sometime if you want me to, but for right now let’s stay on topic…). Megaliths cuts out the middle-man by giving you the “cards” you would have wanted in the form of actual burn. Maintaining hellbent with a Countryside Crusher on the board can sometimes be challenging, but the rewards far outweigh the risks and Megaliths definitely makes the cut for me over Mutavault on its own merits before considering that it plays nice with Flame Javelin (and your budget!).

The Matchups

I did a lot of preliminary testing with this list to see how it would stand up to the old guard and potential new guard. Because it stood its ground so well, you’re reading this article (if it hadn’t I wouldn’t be contending the deck deserves consideration). Its clock is quick, and in a relevant way. Burn and efficient creatures are still a solid way to get there.

There are some challenges. The 9-0 Red deck, even sans Shadowmoor cards, is an uphill struggle. Gargadon and Sulfurous Blast are potential problems and the red mirror is always a bit tricky. Elves decks that play the large Elves like Vanquisher and back them up with light disruption and Nameless Inversion for Countryside Crusher are also problematic. Their ability to stabilize early then almost immediately turn that stabilization into an aggressive board position, usually ending you with Profane Command, is troubling but it’s not a no-win situation so there’s hope.

The control decks also offered up some challenges. While Reveillark specifically isn’t troubling, two cards seeing heavy play in it are: Aven Riftwatcher and Dragon’s Claw from the sideboard. RDW’s overkill ability is generally not much more than six damage or so, and Reveillark more than any other deck is well positioned to abuse Riftwatcher over and over, buying enough time to do something large. When you add Dragon’s Claw to the mix, the matchup could become downright nightmarish.

The second “control” deck I’m concerned about is Swans of Bryn Argoll combo. It seems probable your opponent will have to slowroll the Swans or risk giving you Ancestral after Ancestral, but the fact the deck can aggressively combo the RDW out, and that RDW’s focused game plan leaves it relatively unable to disrupt that plan is cause for consideration in sideboarding. Speaking of which…


Smash to Smithereens is one of the most important cards for Red decks in Shadowmoor. Dragon’s Claw has seen play for the first time (ever?) thanks to the growing popularity of Mountains in Standard. Coldsteel Heart and Mind Stone are two other artifacts that are juicy targets for Smash to take down keeping a UW player off Wrath mana for a turn and without the cost of a burn spell! Instead of wasting space blowing up Dragon’s Claw for +1 to your opponent, you get to take the darn thing out for -2. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s better than Ancient Grudge in Extended, but I for one am not going to forget it exists.

I ran through a lot of considerations for the mirror match. Dragon’s Claw was one (lifegain has rarely been the correct play in Red mirrors historically), fatties has been the other. Boldwyr Heavyweights initially jumped out as an option, but if your opponent has the same idea it won’t do much for either of you. Furthermore it could be entirely possible that your opponent has something larger and/or better in the form of Greater Gargadon. Deep-Slumber Giant was a second consideration; Keldon Megaliths essentially gives the card an untap cost of 1RR, but adding four-drops makes Megaliths that much harder to manipulate and if your opponent has Heavyweights you’re actually playing cards that are less chubby, and who wants to do that? Eventually I settled on Greater Gargadon, and if I had to play tomorrow that’s what I’d have in the board. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em…

Pithing Needle is a consideration for Swans, though I think it’s a pretty universal idea and one that they’ll almost certainly be prepared for. It’s a good one to keep in mind, but a better plan might be some type of light LD package, something that has been used to good effect in Red decks before. Fulminator Mage and Avalanche Riders perhaps, or Cryoclasm if players won’t be honest with their manabases about the possibility of that card seeing play. It may remain to be seen whether the deck is an actual contender, but for right now it looks like the real deal and I think it merits being taken seriously.

Rounding up the ranks are Wraths like Pyroclasm and Sulfurous Blast or the new Firespout, but since we’re not playing Green it’s hard to take advantage of the ‘Spout, and flying creatures are the ones you’re more likely going to want to remove. Still, I haven’t found Faeries to be that challenging a matchup just yet, as they usually can’t play Bitterblossom and your creatures are more aggressive and cheaper than theirs. The onus, really, is probably on sideboarding to beat Faeries sideboard.

In Summation

So that’s the RDW list I’ve been testing, and the reasons why some of the goofy cards that are in it are in it. I would encourage you not to make the same mistakes I’ve made by cutting them without thinking the process through, but players do as players want I suppose.

This is my last article before I hop on a plane and travel back across the Atlantic Ocean to meet up with the gang in Belgium in preparation for Grand Prix: Brussels. I’m excited to get a crack at Shadowmoor and looking forward to the event. Naturally I’ll be taking everyone along for the ride, but you’ll have to wait to read those tales.

Bill Stark
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