Heating Up

Posted in Perilous Research on March 5, 2015

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome to the first week of Dragons of Tarkir previews here on DailyMTG. Recent sets have helped Standard find itself in one of the most interesting and diverse environments ever. Dragons of Tarkir promises to enrich our experience by introducing fascinating new tools. Standard has oscillated to a place where midrange and control strategies seem to have a leg up on the competition. The most aggressive strategies need a bit more power before they can push their way into the upper tier of the metagame. Luckily, a bit more power is exactly what they're going to get. Today, we'll be taking a look at one of the most exciting aggressive red creatures in recent memory.

Art by Jason Rainville

I remember when I first started winning games of Magic. My older brother and his friends all had blue decks filled with countermagic and card draw. For well over a year, I smashed green and red monsters into their icy wall of permission and always came up short. I wanted to win, but I didn't want to simply play all the same cards as them.

They were all busy using their time to activate Thawing Glaciers. Their counterspells and removal all cost two or three mana. I decided that I wanted to go underneath them. I traded classmates at school for four copies of Cursed Scroll and filled my deck with Jackal Pups and Mogg Fanatics. Suddenly, I was beating my brother and his friends.

The victory lap was short-lived and my brother's friends started putting Chill in their decks when they played against me, but I knew that I had bested them. I went underneath a bunch of people that were playing lands that came into play tapped and successfully won the deck-building war.

The current Standard environment is, in many ways, an analog to my earliest days playing the game. Players are filling their decks with lands that enter the battlefield tapped, often playing eight or more. Inexpensive removal, like Bile Blight or Wild Slash, is being cut in favor of bigger spells that represent more versatility, like Hero's Downfall.

What is the red deck missing? The deck has access to great burn spells like Stoke the Flames, Lightning Strike, and Wild Slash. The deck even gets to play with some of the best red creatures ever printed in Eidolon of the Great Revel and Goblin Rabblemaster. The major deck building hurdle for Standard red decks is the lack of strong one-drops: Some red players have chosen to warp their deck to take advantage of Akroan Crusader shenanigans alongside Foundry Street Denizen. Some red players have chosen to play Firedrinker Satyr and no other one-mana creatures at all. Still others have chosen to completely eschew one-drops in favor of bigger game.

Today, that hurdle has been cleared and red mages will suddenly have access to one of the best one-drops currently legal in Standard.

Zurgo Bellstriker is a 2/2 for one mana whose dash mechanic can be used to force through necessary damage on a key turn to close the game. Zurgo Bellstriker means that we won't need to jump through unnecessary hoops to make our one-drops worthwhile anymore. We can simply play good cards and overcome our opponents with sheer aggression.

Still, there's the Siege Rhino problem. Many players think it would be crazy to play a red strategy when about a third of our opponents just happen to be playing a card that gains them a nice chunk of life. I'm reminded of Standard way back in 2006, when everyone seemed to have four copies of Loxodon Hierarch in their deck. Mark Herberholz was able to win Pro Tour Honolulu with a hyper-aggressive strategy despite a huge portion of the field having access to four copies of Siege Rhino's older cousin. How did Mark Herberholz overcome such hate? With an often-forgotten card called Frenzied Goblin, which just happened to be reprinted in Magic 2015.

Mono-Red Aggro Frenzied Bellstriker

Let's see what an aggressive red deck with Frenzied Goblin might look like in the new Standard!

JVL's Red Deck Wins

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This version of red seems better equipped to battle its way through the larger blockers of the current Standard format. Still, I'd like to add some more explosiveness to the way the deck operates. I'd also like to have a better answer to cards like Courser of Kruphix and Mastery of the Unseen.

Sligh Bellstriker

Adding green seems natural here. We'd like to have a way to force through bigger chunks of damage and Destructive Revelry is a welcome addition to the strategy. Let's put together a version of the deck with some green cards.

JVL's Immense Sligh

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With this version of the deck, we should have no problem clearing the way for a huge attack with Become Immense. A single copy of Temur Battle Rage combines with Titan's Strength and Become Immense to win games completely out of nowhere. After sideboarding, the deck will gain access to Back to Nature and/or Destructive Revelry. This seems like a great place for the aggressive red strategies to be in the coming weeks.

Zurgo Bellstriker in Jund

The combination of dash creatures, Become Immense, and Temur Battle Rage seems like an unexplored area in the Standard metagame that could become more relevant with the addition of a card like Zurgo Bellstriker. Let's take a look at what a Jund combo deck might look like.

JVL's Jund Double Strike Combo

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This deck has the ability to win with the element of surprise by using a haste creature in conjunction with Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage. Sure, it's a combo easily broken apart by timely removal spells, but that means that opponents can't tap out against us in a format that trains us to constantly tap out for our best threat. Meanwhile, we have creatures like Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Courser of Kruphix that threaten to take over the game by themselves and demand removal from our opponents. Even the meek little Satyr Wayfinder may find himself attacking for 26 damage in the midgame. After sideboarding, the deck can use Alesha, Who Smiles at Death to return Hornet Queen to the battlefield in a pinch.

Zurgo Bellstriker is the one-mana creature that red players needed to bring their strategy to the next level. We'll need to keep a close eye on Standard's red strategies in the coming weeks to truly understand what the decks should look like, but we can be sure that they'll be happy about a 2/2 for one mana with the ability to dash. Next week, we'll be taking a look at a tremendously exciting new rare from Dragons of Tarkir that's sure to make major waves in Standard.

Knowledge is power!

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