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Everything I Know About Obosh Mono-Red Aggro In Ikoria Standard

Looking for a way to run over Yorion decks? Ari Lax helps you turn up the heat with his latest build of Obosh Mono-Red Aggro!

Light Up the Stage, illustrated by Dmitry Burmak

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If you’re also just done with looping Yorion, Sky Nomad over and over and hoping you draw the right cards from your pile of 80, have you considered a nice refreshing round of bashing people’s faces?

Why Mono-Red?

Obosh, the Preypiercer is clearly a great card. You know this because the first word of the text box is “Companion.”

But why play Mono-Red and not black cards?

The entire point of Obosh decks is to lead off on one-drops, follow up with more one-drops, and then slam some three-drops. Odd numbers just work that way.

Enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands are an utter embarrassment in this context. Every game you don’t cast a one-drop on Turn 1 is a non-starter, and missing anywhere else on your curve isn’t great either. I was already cutting Temple of Malice from my Rakdos Sacrifice decks before Ikoria released, and I’ve lost games to drawing two Castle Embereth with Obosh Mono-Red.

I’m going to do everything I can to cut Fabled Passage and Temples from my Obosh decks.

The only real loss from not being Rakdos is Mayhem Devil, but the more I play these decks the more I think that’s just some inbred mirror nonsense. Yorion just shreds battlefields once those decks hit their fifth mana to get everything online and you don’t get to assemble the contraptions you used to prior to companion that made Mayhem Devil lethal. You want your three-drops to get their damage in now, not later.

I would definitely consider Mono-Black Aggro for the same reasons I’m playing Mono-Red Aggro, but I have concerns about the impact of Rotting Regisaur or Hunted Nightmare any time after Turn 3. The window just closes so quickly against Yorion decks before they’re exiling every permanent you cast, and the second three-drop you cast in a game on the draw often needs haste to matter.

The other huge draw to Mono-Red is Castle Embereth. Heraldic Banner has become a mainstay of Obosh decks, and it only takes one game against the card to realize how much different doubling a 1/1 is compared to doubling a 2/1. It’s the difference between the immediate Obosh boost being Glorious Anthem versus it being Tempered Steel. It also makes nonsense like Grim Initiate or Satyr tokens into actual cards. Castle Embereth plus Obosh involves untapping with your companion, which sounds like win more to me, but making your one-drops into relevant threats comes up a fair amount. Compare to Castle Locthwain, where activating it has no immediate impact except costing you life and future mana.

Plus, Mono-Red Aggro just makes you feel alive, no matter the format.

The Minor Details

In the context of Mono-Red Aggro, Obosh is an extremely restrictive companion. Most of the old micro-decisions were around which two-drops and how many Torbran, Thane of Red Fell you wanted to play, and the answer with Obosh is zero.

Of course, the payoff is that you always draw exactly one Embercleave and never two, and it’s a free eighth card, and the two-drops and four-drops were always just liabilities against removal. Which is basically the best thing possible.

Here’s the list I would recommend.


These 28 cards are fairly stock among all Obosh Mono-Red Aggro lists. My only comments are that Grim Initiate isn’t great, but it’s probably the best thing there is since you need so many one-drops, and this is an actively good Light Up the Stage deck as a result of the huge number of one-drops where the previous Mono-Red Aggro decks were terrible Light Up the Stage decks.

Phoenix of Ash belongs in that previous group of locked cards. It’s the best way to assure your additive Obosh and Banner damage, and the best way to actually win the tough games. Play four.

Gingerbrute is the worst one-drop in the deck by a lot, but you want basically all the ones you can play. The ability to sneak through is great and you would play a huge number of Tin Street Dodger if you could, but Heraldic Banner really makes you dislike artifact creatures. The next thing on my list to try is a small number of Torch Courier. Obosh with haste is less of an upgrade than you think, since if you could connect with your best attacker while controlling Obosh your opponent is probably dead, but it’s more than zero upside. Or just play another Shock. It’s all pretty marginal.

Removal isn’t good against the Yorion decks unless you catch them using Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast on a Soldier token and not a Wall, but removal is very important against Lurrus decks including cycling and reasonably good in Obosh mirrors. In the end, the linear cards you would replace them with are pretty bad, so you may as well do a bit of interaction.

The specific reason you aren’t all Bonecrusher Giants before any Shocks is killing Flourishing Fox when you’re on the draw. You really want the second or even third kill spell against Lurrus decks, so you are better off loading up the extra Shocks in the sideboard and leaning on Bonecrusher Giant’s castability for Game 1.

Claim the Firstborn shows up in a ton of sideboards, but you just aren’t playing against decks with Hydroid Krasis and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath any more. Act of Treason is more effective against the Umori Act side of the format and can even take Yorion to clear a path for Phoenix of Ash.

I don’t understand the large numbers of sideboard three-drop threats either. Going wide when the biggest issue for your deck is sweepers doesn’t change anything, and if these three-drops were good enough to play, why aren’t you playing them maindeck?

The main reason they exist in lists is to load up on extra threats when Shock isn’t good. They aren’t uniquely powerful. If you want to play a couple of copies for that reason, go ahead, but once you are spending sideboard slots on “this three-drop is slightly better than Bonecrusher Giant,” what are you really accomplishing?

If you’re looking for flex slots to fit random things, you can trim on Act of Treason, Irreverent Revelers, and Redcap Melee. They’re all fairly conditional cards that get used in moderation against the wider metagame but play key roles in more minor matchups.

Making Plays, Keeping Hands

One of the other good parts about Obosh Mono-Red is that it’s fairly simple to play. Using your mana efficiently gets you 90% of the way there.

  • Keep hands with one-drops.
  • Don’t keep hands without one-drops.
  • Don’t keep hands with five lands.
  • Don’t keep hands with one land.

I’m not saying this because I think you need to learn it. I’m saying it to set your expectations of the basic level you should be operating on.

I tend to keep hands that are four lands, a one-drop, and a Light Up the Stage, but I got burned hard by them last weekend. Sometimes you draw three lands after and die, but the problem is that the fourth and fifth land are really good in this deck too and are really important to hit on curve. I think you are signing up for some variance margins with this deck and just have to accept that some percent of the time you draw spells and curve out and some percent of the time you draw lands and don’t play enough spells.

The Turn 2 decision of getting in extra haste damage versus saving your land drop for after Light Up the Stage has been a mainstay of red aggro gameplay for over a year now. The typical best play is that maximizing what you flip is better than the damage, and this is not an exception. The reason here is less maximizing hitting two lands and more that if you flip Grim Initiate and some random three-drop, you just want to get both cards down since your floating Tin Street Dodger in hand has significant value later.

Math is certainly not for blockers in this deck. Really think through if “Attack All” is secretly lethal, or if things line up to force their blocks in a profitable way.

Obosh is a huge leverage tool and not something you get a second shot at casting. You should be casting Obosh when it wins you the game, when it basically wins you the game by forcing a creature deck to lose everything in combat, when you know it can’t die, or when you need to take action but have no other options. Any other time is a big risk.

If you’re deciding between three-drops to cast, just stick with the obvious reasons. Cast Heraldic Banner if you control creatures that want to be attacking or can use the mana on a follow-up play. Cast Anax if you care about sweepers or if a big creature throws a wrench in their attacks. Cast Phoenix of Ash if you’re looking at closing with damage, and avoid casting it into Elspeth Conquers Death if you have other options.

Matchup Guide

VS Jeskai Lukka Fires

Go fast, kill them.

It’s often better to just kill Teferi, Time Raveler unless there’s a clear math reason to go for their face. The +1 representing instant-speed Shatter the Sky often costs just as much haste damage the next turn.

Omen of the Sun or Shark Typhoon making blockers can mess up early combats when your one-drops don’t have first strike. Think about it before attacking, but often the right answer is sometimes they won’t have it.

Out:

In:

The most common plan from Jeskai Lukka Fires against aggro is to turn to Dream Trawler as their high end creature. Tibalt, Rakish Instigator gives you a window to beat a resolved Dream Trawler. That’s it.

Irreverent Revelers and Redcap Melee can also come in over Bonecrusher Giant if you’re facing down specific sideboard cards.

VS Yorion Bant Control

Out:

In:

Same deal, but an Act of Treason to smack them with Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is fine. The second copy of Act of Treason is borderline and might be better than a second Bonecrusher Giant or maybe even a land on the draw.

VS Boros Cycling

Being on the play is a huge swing in this matchup against Flourishing Fox. Just doing reasonable stuff on the play is often good enough, but on the draw I often mulligan average hands without a Shock. It’s worth noting that the first Shock only gets you so far since the eventual Lurrus of the Dream-Den is a long term problem you have to address as well. Phoenix of Ash is great as one of your ways to push through an active Valiant Rescuer and save your removal for their real threats.

Out (on the play):

Out (on the draw):

In:

I’m generally not a fan of leaning on Light Up the Stage in a matchup where hitting specific early actions is so important and where they’re stocked with ways to gum up the ground. The minor swap of one-drops is largely based on whether you get in good attacks prior to their two-drops hitting the ground or whether you want to be ready to fend off Valiant Rescuer tokens.

I used to trim on Anax, Hardened in the Forge in this matchup since it’s a lower impact three-drop, but the raw sizing of that card is one of the few ways you have to mitigate a runaway Flourishing Fox.

There’s not a ton the cycling decks ever relevantly sideboard. You aren’t really playing around spot removal or Deafening Clarion that often unless it’s really obvious, but if they hand seems log jammed and they’re leaving mana up give a thought to Fight as One.

VS Jeskai Winota

Their deck doesn’t always hit. Just play Game 1 as if they won’t, with a slight consideration to Raise the Alarm jumping in front of attackers or leaving up a Shock for Turn 3 Legion Warboss.

Out (on the play):

Out (on the draw):

In:

Redcap Melee kills Winota, Joiner of Forces. Scorch Spitter dies in combat to stupid tokens. You’re switching to an attrition plan and can trim a land, but don’t want to really overload on Shock since it just cleans up the early mess and not Winota.

VS Temur Reclamation

I don’t have a solid sideboard plan for this matchup since the strategies are super disparate. You can’t interact with Wilderness Reclamation or spells on the stack, your maindeck attackers aren’t bad, and they’re just moving to more interaction that you don’t have clean counters for. Shock and Bonecrusher Giant are even kinda nice as answers to early Shark Typhoons. I don’t even know if I want to have Redcap Melee for Nightpack Ambusher unless they have a full playset.

If you have Chandra, Acolyte of Flame it’s probably the only card you clearly want. Not because it’s great, but because it’s yet another thing that doesn’t get caught in Flame Sweep. With that in mind, remember to lead on your non-Phoenix of Ash three-drops that survive their small sweeper.

VS Obosh Rakdos Sacrifice

This is the worst matchup for Obosh Mono-Red. I labeled Mayhem Devil as inbred mirror nonsense, and this is the mirror. They also have Serrated Scorpion to break the one-drop parity, Witch’s Oven to stop Bonecrusher Giant or sideboard Act of Treason. This isn’t to say you can’t get lucky and just win games where you run them over, but you are inherently disadvantaged.

Out:

In:

This isn’t quite an attrition matchup since trading cards with them won’t end profitably. It’s more one where you need every single resource to be able to throw a spell or two away in pursuit of finding a window to win. You cut the one-drops that die in the heads-up against Whisper Squad and cut lands to let you draw more spells a game.

Redcap Melee is honestly bad in the matchup, except if they resolve Mayhem Devil where you have to kill their best card.

Shadowspear on the other hand is a decent game-breaker, letting you use a single good three-drop to overpower Cauldron Familiar or Whisper Squad defenses. Keep in mind Fervent Champion actually has a giant text box and the free equip does come up. Also be careful clicking the activated abilities on Arena, as it’s way too easy to remove hexproof instead of equipping.

VS Lurrus Rakdos Sacrifice

A slightly better matchup than Obosh Rakdos Sacrifice since you have a clear plan. Your three-drops outclass their deck. Don’t get overwhelmed early, force them to cast Lurrus and kill it, and just be enough ahead that you can overpower Kroxa if they spend all that time and mana on it.

Out:

In:

Redcap Melee is bad without Mayhem Devil to target, and you want to overload on removal to ensure you have one back to pop off Lurrus once they cast it. I’m also less of a fan of cutting lands here since you’re leaning on your high-cost cards to win a game, but Heraldic Banner costs a turn without an immediate battlefield impact.

VS Obosh Mono-Red Aggro

Since neither player really has a way to kill Obosh, this turns into a clean race with tactical blocks. Shock or the right sequence of three-drops can steal initiative, but don’t expect to mess around and win.

Out:

In:

Yet another “Scorch Spitter dying to other one-drops” matchup, with Gingerbrute being a joke against Fervent Champion. I might be trimming on Heraldic Banner a little too much here, but the extra power is notably worse with everything at first strike parity.

VS Arboreal Grazer

Arboreal Grazer is a giant jerk. If people start to play with Arboreal Grazer, don’t play this deck. Honestly there are probably another dozen cards like that in the format. The deck exists to exploit Yorion decks being unreliable at finding the best early interaction, and the best counters to Yorion decks being similarly dicey against aggressive swarms.

Get in the beats while you can.

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