Red Decks Win!

Posted in Feature on February 23, 2005

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

By the time this week's Swimming with Sharks goes live, you will have beautifully formatted deck lists organized by PTQ location, but the lists that I work with before the column goes public are a bit rougher. By my count, this week's PTQ Top 8 results go kind of like this:

RDW 11111111111
Goblins 1111111
Mind's Desire 111111
Aluren 11111
The Rock 11111 (1 Red Rock)
UW Control 11111 (2 Dempsey, 2 West, 1 Classic)
Reanimator 1111
Affinity 111
Life 11
Psychatog 11
Academy Rector 1
Braids 1
Cephalid Brunch 1
Intruder Alarm 1
Seedborn Opp 1
White Weenie 1
BW Control 1
UG Madness 1

While that doesn't add up to a number divisible by eight, we can still see some useful trends. The most important one, which won't likely change even with a more complete and better organized set of deck lists, is that the Red Decks win, continuing to place players in the PTQ elimination rounds. If you want to make Top 8 of a PTQ, your best shot appears to be on the shoulders of basic Mountain.

Side in Those Sokenzan Bruisers


Tangle Wire
The Red Deck Wins decks don't have a lot of new "tech". Most of them are within two four-of slots of Shuhei Nakamura's Grand Prix Columbus finalist deck. Many of the decks just sub Pillage for Lava Dart, giving the deck less flexibility but a much better chance against other Red Decks. The main innovation -- and it really isn't anything new for Red Decks -- is Tangle Wire. Tangle Wire is a powerful tool in Red Deck Wins due to its large number of cheap creatures, most notably Jackal Pup. Especially with the help of Rishadan Port, Tangle Wire allows the deck to slow down faster combination opponents while cracking with its aggressive one drops or creating an opening for Blistering Firecat.

There is far more diversity among this week's Goblin decks. Rather than an Aether Vial consensus, the many successful Goblins pilots are making Top 8 with green splash, Burning Wish, and Seething Song variations. The green Goblin decks use Karplusan Forest, Wooded Foothills, and a single Forest to support Naturalize out of the sideboard. On top of its intended functionality, Wooded Foothills into Mountain + Mogg Fanatic on the first turn can be a powerful signal that can fool the opponent into putting the Goblins player on Red Deck Wins. Though Red Deck Wins and Goblins have many cards in common, they are very different opponents. Red Deck Wins is an interactive utility deck with fast beats; Goblins on the other hand is a powerful and aggressive board control deck that combines subtle deck manipulation and card advantage with specific tempo breakers like Goblin Warchief. One deck ekes out 20 points of damage by the skin of its teeth while the other sends relentless waves of tribal attackers down the opponent's throat. The subtle trickery afforded by the Wooded Foothills opening can alter the opponent's plan, put him down a path of inefficient choices and mistakes he might not realize for a turn or two, and potentially pull a win out of a difficult match-up.

Seething Song Goblins uses both the Song and City of Traitors to force through powerful, expensive threats. More explosive mana acceleration allows the deck to play a higher concentration of high mana cards like Siege-Gang Commander and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Out of the board, the deck gets one of the Goblin deck's old friends, Rorix Bladewing. A quick Rorix, even if it requires the help of an extra card or two, is a powerful tool, especially against other aggressive decks. Rorix, as a big flyer, doesn't get blocked by the typical weenie swarm. With a giant backside, he is also difficult to sanction for most opponents. Even burn-rich Red Deck Wins will have problems handling both Rorix and the Goblins he supplements.

Go Go Graveyard

This week saw four Reanimator decks in various Top 8s. While most of these decks stick to a similar formula, down to the mana base, the most interesting variation comes down to one copy of those lands themselves.


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Minamo, School at Water's Edge
The decks all seem to agree on two pure blue sources. Two decks run two Islands, and two, including Josh Smith's Memphis PTQ winner (actually from 2/12, as that batch of decks just came in), run one Island and one Minamo, School at Water's Edge. Swapping an Island for this Legendary Land has several important implications.

1. Minamo, School at Water's Edge is strictly better than Island. In Extended, it is unlikely that the opponent will also be playing Minamo, School at Water's Edge, so the Legend Rule isn't likely to come into play. In Reanimator, a deck that runs a ton of relevant Legendary creatures, Minamo, School at Water's Edge can bring Rorix back for defense or get around an active Whipcorder.

2. Minamo, School at Water's Edge is a non-basic land. No one beats Island with Wasteland. Reanimator is generally considered the favored deck against Red Deck Wins, but Minamo, School at Water's Edge gives the opponent a shot at Wasteland disruption in the early game.

3. Minamo, School at Water's Edge brings the basic land count down to seven. This isn't a big deal in Reanimator, a deck that runs four Polluted Deltas, and generally six Swamps and two Islands (sum eight), but substituting a (strictly superior) non-basic land for a relevant basic would have potentially greater negative impact in a deck like Red Deck Wins or GAT. Red Deck Wins plays exactly eight Mountains for its eight sac lands; GAT has a terrible mana base, made weaker because its sac lands greatly outnumber its basic lands. Drawing Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta midgame, after you've already played some Islands, can be disastrous under pressure.

Old Deck Roundup


By my count five Aluren decks made the break in the batch of decks we got this week. The deck has been successful since Oiso's win in Boston a few weeks ago, and has continued to make Top 8s since. But how does it work?

Aluren is a combination deck. It works like this: Play Aluren. Once Aluren is in play, your creatures are free. Raven Familiar is a "free Impulse" that is also a blue creature. Cavern Harpy comes down to gate the Raven Familiar, so that the Aluren player can Impulse again and again via the Harpy's ability. Given enough life, the deck uses Raven Familiar and Cavern Harpy to draw its deck, and then Soul Warden or Auriok Champion to supplement the requisite life loss. Even with nothing else to go on, Soul Warden/Auriok Champion + Cavern Harpy can generate infinite life. This works by playing the Soul Warden and then playing the Cavern Harpy. You can elect to gate the Harpy (rather than any other black or blue creature) time and again, netting one life each time.

The deck uses Living Wish to find Maggot Carrier. From a position of nigh infinite life, using Maggot Carrier and Cavern Harpy to deal a paltry 20 via gating and repeated re-casts is quite simple.

One of the main reasons you would want to play Aluren is that it is a truly infinite deck. Life, a deck we call infinite, has to pick a giant number, say forty million life, and gets that much life. Aluren can go on forever. It can out-infinite Life, meaning that even if the opponent successfully "goes off", Aluren can still end the game with its Maggot Carriers by gaining a larger arbitrary amount of life with Cavern Harpy + Soul Warden, and then dealing the necessary amount of life loss with Cavern Harpy + Maggot Carrier.

In the absence of Raven Familiar, some Aluren decks use Wirewood Savage to draw their decks (Cavern Harpy is a beast), while some versions, like Peter Bujnowski's, run Brain Freeze as an alternate kill. Drawing one's deck to find Brain Freeze is an easy win because the deck can play spell after spell for free. A Storm for ten or twenty is no challenge, can circumvent most defensive measures, and even proves a nasty surprise for certain opponents.

Peter Bujnowski

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Even though Aluren made only five Top 8 appearances this week, two of those were worth blue envelopes. Not a bad closing ratio that.

Who Knew Idaho was a Tech Center?

Jesse Pitz

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Jesse Pitz's Opposition deck successfully integrates many tricks from different blocks. With Seedborn Muse, the deck can go Tradewind/Awakening like old school Rath Cycle decks... except Seedborn Muse counts as a creature and the opponent doesn't get the benefit of a free untap. With just three creatures in play (with one being Seedborn Muse and one being Tradewind Rider, of course), Pitz's deck can lift two permanents per turn!

Seedborn Muse is also a great addition to the Opposition portion of the deck as well. This Spirit potentially doubles the number of active creatures the deck has access to for interactive tapping purposes, and allows it to play offensively on its own turn while still able to tap permanents on the opponent's upkeep.

While most of the Opposition decks we've looked at recently play Living Wish, Pitz runs Cunning Wish instead. His deck therefore has different singletons and access to spot answers like Counterspell or Rebuild, rather than extra lands or role players like we've seen in other versions.

The deck that you probably have never seen, though, is Rusty McAlexander's Intruder Alarm deck.

Rusty McAlexander

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This combination deck can generate infinite mana.

If Intruder Alarm is in place, the deck can use Animate Land on a Forbidden Orchard to turn it into a creature. Every tap of the Forbidden Orchard will put a Spirit into play... and untap the Forbidden Orchard (which is now a creature). Tap it again, produce another Spirit, untap it, tap it again, make another Spirit, forever and ever.

Winning at this point simply requires a Fireball, Stroke of Genius, or Ghitu Fire, two of which can win the game on the opponent's turn, during your own end step, or any similarly inconvenient time for the opponent, at instant speed. Think about it like this: blue mages will often tap out for cards like Cunning Wish, Fact or Fiction, or Stroke of Genius during their opponents' end steps; McAlexander's deck can punish such a tap out with a Stroke or Ghitu Fire kill with the opponent's spell on the stack. Similarly, the West NO Stick tries to lock the opponent down with Isochron Scepter and Orim's Chant on upkeep; provided it was able to drop Rusty's deck can respond to this play with a kill as well.

The deck uses many deck manipulation cards to set up its combination. Crop Rotation fetches the Forbidden Orchard and acts as a measure of insurance against disruption like Wasteland (there are a lot of juicy non-basic targets for Red Deck Wins). This flexible instant can also go for a City of Traitors to set up a faster Intruder Alarm or cash in a City of Traitors that is about to fall victim to itself anyway. Accumulated Knowledge and Flash of Insight dig through the deck to find any of the other various pieces.

What surprised me was the absence of Intuition. Intuition seems like it would be good for both setting up Accumulated Knowledge or just grabbing a combination piece (notably Intruder Alarm). I think that the deck can also support an Enlightened Tutor in the sideboard. With City of Brass, Birds of Paradise, and the key Forbidden Orchard all on the squad, making a single white mana doesn't seem like it would be a hurdle. As the deck is a Cunning Wish machine, moving one Crop Rotation to the sideboard also seems like a possibility.

As we've seen over and again, there are many viable decks in this Extended format. With this week's batch of reported decks, 19 or more of them (depending on how you count them) have made the break, and that doesn't even include recent winners like Teen Titans or Enchantress, or old rogues like StOmPy or Pattern. This is literally the most open field I can recall, with no deck truly wearing the bullseye. For all this week's decks, more swashbuckling Rocks, and probably some new Japanese tech by the time this goes up, here come the Weapons of Week Four!

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