Red: Remastered

Posted in Reconstructed on April 28, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Tempest. Stronghold. Exodus. These three sets in a row are some of the most important sets that tournament Magic has ever seen.

Let's set the stage a little bit. It's the late 1990s, and you're a Magic player.

The time period was ripe for major Constructed innovation. It used to be that a big tournament would happen and the decklist would be published not on the internet the next day, not on the next week, but—if you can believe it—in a magazine maybe a month later. Different areas of the United States had their own tech that you might hear rumors about, at best.

But that was all changing.

This little thing called "the internet" was really booming, and right around the 1996–1998 timeframe was when online communities and discussions really started coming into their own. Thanks to message boards, Usenet newsgroups, and websites, the world was getting a lot closer and accessible for everyone. Magic deck building and strategy was going to make a big leap forward.

As Tempest Remastered makes its way onto Magic Online, the key thing for Constructed players that comes to mind is just how much can be learned from this era of Magic.

Intuition | Art by April Lee

With a game like ours, that has over twenty years of history, it's easy to forget where some modern principles came from.

But today, rather than go wide and vaguer, I want to go tighter and take a look at a single example of this. I want to dive into one deck in particular that was revolutionized during this key historical point of Magic.

Ready? Well, let's continue on…

You're Dead, Guy

In the beginning, there was Sligh.

Now, in your head, Sligh is probably a deck full of aggressive red creatures and some burn spells. And you're right in that regard. Now picture what that looks like to you. Picture the Zurgo Bellstrikers and Stoke the Flames that you're used to in modern day Magic.

It's a far cry from this:

Paul Sligh's Sligh (1996)

Download Arena Decklist

Did you know the name "Sligh" comes from the name of the person who popularized the deck? Well, now you do.

Go read some of those cards. It was a very different kind of time. You had four Lightning Bolts, of course… But after that it was time to send your Ironclaw Orcs and Dwarven Traders (which, granted, were only there because you had to play with five cards from Homelands at the time—don't ask, it was a different era) into combat and get the job done the hard way.

That version of Sligh that Paul Sligh and Jay Schneider worked on is an iconic one to players who have been around for a while. But perhaps even more iconic and the fundamental basis for the modern day Red deck is what follows.

Standing on the shoulders of Paul Sligh, everything was about to change thanks to a man named David Price.

David Price would 6-0 United States Nationals in 1997 with a red deck that looked a little different than what Paul Sligh had done. And by the time Pro Tour Los Angeles in 1998 rolled around—the Tempest Block Constructed Pro Tour, you'll note—David was ready to display his new version of Red on the game's largest stage.

His result? Pro Tour Victory.

David Price's Deadguy Red — Winner, PT Los Angeles 1998

Download Arena Decklist

Whenever I think of mono-red, this is always the first deck I think of.

Jackal Pups and Mogg Fanatics, Cursed Scrolls and Kindles for burn—and look at all those wonderful 4-ofs, making the deck as consistent as possible.

How does this deck work? It plays cheap creatures, attacks, and clears the way for those creatures when necessary. Look at the deck-building structure it lays out.

Core among them is this: 16 One-Drop Creatures! These either all have an upside ability, or are over-statted (for the time) at their cost, like Mogg Conscripts and Jackal Pup.

And while you are limited on burn in a Block Constructed format, the deck has ten pieces of reach—in Kindle, Cursed Scroll, and Scalding Tongs—to ensure you can make your opponent flatline. Those Giant Strengths were a strange (but necessary) choice at the time, but perhaps imagine that in more traditional builds with a wider card pool those are burn spells too so it's sort of more like 14 pieces of reach.

Rathi Dragon serves as a bit of reach too, as a 2-of top-end finisher. While most of the deck is cheap to cast, if you draw one of these it can close the game out very efficiently. Your opponent had to have a piece of removal or they were likely to lose.

And note that tight 20-land mana base. It wants to draw tons of cheap creatures and not too many excess lands, which is why cards in the deck tend to be so cheap to cast.

Now, you might be wondering why this deck from closing in on twenty years ago is relevant today. Why is Grandpa Gavin telling you this story?

Okay…well, hold up. Have all of that in your mind?

Now, take a look at this:

Martin Dang's Red Aggro — PT Dragons of Tarkir

Download Arena Decklist

The decks are separated by a huge gap of time, no doubt, and the creatures are certainly a bit better in today's version. But let's take a comparative look:

13 One-drops (14 if you count Temple of Abandon)—Right about the same ballpark as Price's 16.

16 Burn Spells—Fudging the Giant Strengths as reach (which they, in an odd way, sort of were since they let you attack past cards that would shut you down otherwise) this is, once again, right in the same ballpark as Price's 14.

2 Goblin Rabblemasters as a top-end threat—A similar role to Rathi Dragon in Price's deck, forcing them to have a removal spell, only with less downside.

20 lands—The exact same number of lands, despite the 18-year gap.

The similarities are striking. Now perhaps the connection of why this is still relevant is a bit more evident.

But perhaps you want some additional data to draw on.

Well, check this out: when David took his deck outside of Tempest Block Constructed, it ended up looking just as similar, if not arguably even more like, our modern-day Red deck:

David Price's Standard Deadguy Red (1998)

Download Arena Decklist

11 one-drop creatures. 16 burn spells. (Plus 4 Cursed Scrolls.) 21 lands.

While the times have changed so there aren't cards like Fireslinger that have a strong equivalent any more, much of the deck is still directly comparable to Dang's.

So, how is this possible?

The Red-Hot Lesson

It's all well and good to learn some history, but I'm all about the actionables. Why am I telling you this now? What are the takeaways? What can be learned from this information?

A kind of well-trained ability that many deck builders have over years and years of playing is having deck templates in their mind. Off the top of my head, I can whip up a sample template for most aggressive, control, or midrange decks. While they'll be a few things off here or there, for the most part you can plug in cards and start playing with your deck. And while these change from year to year and card to card as the format evolves, you can compare them backwards and they'll often have many similarities—and Tempest is where a lot of them begin.

Why do I bring up this advanced idea of deck templates? Because Mono-Red is one of the simplest to keep in your head and replicate.

Here's a fun exercise: using David Price's deck above as a kind of model, pick any two blocks in the past ten years plus a core set…and try and plug cards in that fit that model. Remember, you want 12—16 burn spells, 11—16 one-drops, and about 20 lands, a couple cards for the top end, and then rounding it out with top or very synergistic cards of the era.

I'm fairly confident you can build this kind of deck in basically any of them.

A question I've received a few times recently on my Tumblr is, "Why is a cheap, aggressive red deck almost always viable in Standard and not some other low-curve aggressive deck?"

The answer? Well, first of all, there have been plenty of times when Red has been a weaker overall choice than other aggressive decks. But to get at the question: it's because red usually has the lethal combination of cheap creatures and burn spells to put the game out of reach. The combination of those two is persistent throughout Magic—even all the way back to the Dwarven Traders days. It's just what red does. It's a tool red has.

And now you know how to use that tool to build a bit better.

One of my goals of this column is to—and pardon the very-overused metaphor which tends to sound a bit condescending—teach you all how to fish rather than just provide fish (decks) every week. I want to help you all to become better deck builders. And if you want to start building decks in any format, learning basic templates is going to be very helpful—and Mono-Red is a great place to start.

So chant the mantra of creatures and burn to yourself. Look through combinations of sets and see if you can find the Red deck there. Practice building them. And soon enough, you'll be able to build Red decks in any format ever.

Have fun!

A Tempest on the Horizon

Tempest is a fundamentally crucial block in Magic's history—and Mono-Red is a memorable part of it. After all, without Mono-Red, there would be no Jackal Pups and Ball Lightnings for Mike Flores to write Who's the Beatdown about. Which, as an aside, if you've never read it, is an absolutely must-read article that will redefine how you look at a game of Magic. Seriously, go read it now if you haven't already—it's one of the #1 articles you can read, apply, and have your game immediately improve.

But I digress. Going back to deck building, it's time for another deck building challenge! Here's what I'm looking for this week:

Format: Standard

Restrictions: Your deck is on a budget. For a loose definition, consider budget to contain few rares and very few, if any, mythic rares.

Deadline: Monday, May 4th, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

Submit all decklists by emailing me at

Decklists should be submitted with YOURNAME's DECKNAME at the top. Underneath should be one card per line, with just a leading number. For example:

12 Mountain

4 Satyr Firedancer

3 Ash Zealot

4 Lightning Bolt

…and so on. Please don't use anything but a space to separate the card numbers and names—don't write "4x Lightning Bolt," for example. Well-formatted decklists have a much better chance of being read and making it into the column. Poorly formatted decklists are more likely to be ignored. (If I can't read your decklist, I certainly can't talk about it!)

Budget Standard? Oh yes! It's been a while since I've done a budget column, and I'm excited to bring it back! Send me your best concoctions. It should be a fun week!

I hope you enjoyed this different take on ReConstructed than usual! I'd love to know what you thought, if it was helpful, and if you'd like to see more like this in the future. You can let me know best either by sending me a tweet or asking me a question on my Tumblr.

And keep your eye out for Tempest Remastered! You'll be able to play with many of the cards I mentioned today—and you can even try drafting an aggressive red deck. Plus, hey, if you want to throw down in Tempest Block Constructed, I'm game for it.

I'll be back next week with some Modern Masters 2015 Edition Previews (yes, that's plural!) for you! Be sure to come back and check those out then.

Talk with you next week!




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