Almost There: Big Red

Posted in How to Build on November 30, 2018

By Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Paulo has been playing Magic since he was eight years old. At fifteen, he ventured outside of Brazil for his first international tournament, and he's been globetrotting as a professional player ever since.

Last Standard season, we had a mono-red aggro deck, and a slower black-red version that came to dominate the format. With the rotation, black-red disappeared, but Mono-Red Aggro remained a strong contender. Now, a Big Red deck has emerged as the spiritual successor of black-red.

The Big Red deck originally came from Ben Weitz and Sam Pardee, who put it on the map with a 7-3 finish at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. Ben Weitz stuck with it for an 11-4 finish at Grand Prix Milwaukee and a 7-1 result in the latest MOCS tournament. Here is his newest list:

Ben Weitz's Big Red

Even though this is a mono-red deck, it plays out very differently than previous versions of red we've been accustomed to, since it's much slower and plays grindy cards like Treasure Map and Siege-Gang Commander. It's even slower than the slow versions of black-red were before. It's still, however, an aggressive deck; it's capable of applying a lot of pressure, and if the opponent doesn't respect that, they will lose to it.

The first question you might ask is "Why should I play Big Red over Mono-Red Aggro?" Two reasons. The first is that it has a better matchup against some of the decks you might encounter—particularly Drakes and the red mirror.

The second reason is that there is value in being a different deck, either because you enjoy playing something different or because other people don't know what you're up to. Even if the deck is relatively known now, people will still not know how to play or sideboard against you. Sometimes Game 1 is very long, you flip a Treasure Map and kill them with Banefire, so the gig is up, but sometimes you cast a Shock, a Goblin Chainwhirler, and a Rekindling Phoenix, and then the game ends, and people sideboard as if you're the aggressive red deck. They might board in, for example, cards like Moment of Craving or Ritual of Soot, and these cards aren't very good against you. This is a big edge that you gain from playing an "off the meta" deck that actually looks like a meta deck.

The most important thing in the deck is knowing what your plan should be in each particular game. The deck is capable of both aggressive and reactive draws, and you should play accordingly, always knowing that you are still a mono-red deck, so you have the ability to turn the corner and kill them very quickly if their life total drops too low.

We can see this with the two two-drops—Dire Fleet Daredevil and Treasure Map. Most of the time, you want to play Treasure Map first, because it starts charging and you can use the Daredevil's ability later on. However, if you're playing against Jeskai Control, it's often correct to play the Daredevil as soon as you can, just to get some points of damage in. Yeah, you might find an Opt or a Shock to cast with it, or even an Expansion // Explosion if the game goes long, but this is not what is the most important in this matchup; you have to be the aggressor, or you will lose. Your late game cannot compete with the likes of Niv-Mizzet, Parun or even Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, so your hope in Game 1 in these matchups is to sneak in enough damage that Banefire becomes your finisher.

Dire Fleet Daredevil looks a bit weird, perhaps because it's replacing a card that, on the surface, appears to be better—Runaway Steam-Kin. After all, this is a mono-red deck with aggressive components, and it has uses for the extra mana, so it looks like a deck that would want to play the Steam-Kin. The reason it doesn't is that you don't have that many cheap spells to charge it, and it's both a bad defensive creature and a bad topdeck. Its highs will be higher than Daredevil's for sure, but it takes two full turns to survive combat versus a White Weenie creature (which the Daredevil can do as soon as it enters play), and it also doesn't work as a source of card advantage in the mid-late game. I think that, for this deck, the Daredevil is better.

The Big Red deck has an incredible matchup versus any White Weenie strategy, where the combination of removal, Goblin Chainwhirler, and all the excellent blockers makes it very hard for its opponent to win. It's about even against all versions of Drakes and black-green, and it struggles a bit against Jeskai—you can steal some games with Banefire, especially if they don't see it coming, but it's overall an unfavorable matchup.

Post sideboard, you get a strong weapon against black-green in Star of Extinction, as well as some important threats against control (Karn, Scion of Urza) and a much-needed way to stop Teferi (Sorcerous Spyglass). Fight with Fire rounds it out as the preferred way of removing Lyra Dawnbringer and potentially Niv-Mizzet, Parun (though that's a bit ambitious), and Fiery Cannonade works to make your aggro matchup even better.

If you're looking for a different deck to play in Standard, then I strongly recommend this build. It's not only good but also a lot of fun to play, since every game is so different depending on which parts of the deck you draw, and you get to play some very powerful cards without ever running into mana issues.

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