Seeing Red in Portland

Posted in ARCHIVES - ARTICLES on August 8, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

Pro Tour Magic 2015 concluded the 2013–2014 season of professional Magic, and in a very unexpected way. Watching Ivan Floch deal lethal damage with a pair of Nyx-Fleece Rams (backed up by the Archangel of Thune that made them giant) was awesome, and I bet it's exactly how he drew it up in testing. What we drew up in testing also involved attacking, but not with 0/5s as much as 2/1s and 3/3s, depending on the deck.

Since I ended up playing red myself, I figured that starting with the red decks makes sense when trying to digest the results of Pro Tour Magic 2015 , so that's what I'm going over today. Of course, the first deck is really a Mono-White deck splashing Ghor-Clan Rampager, but there are Mountains in it, so there.

That deck is actually the deck I was going to play up until 12 hours before the tournament: Brave Naya, which actually ended up carrying Pat Cox to Top 8:

Brave Naya

Download Arena Decklist

The only difference between this list and the deck EFro and I would have played had we been brave enough was to play 2 Boros Charm and 2 Ajani main deck, with an extra Mortars in the sideboard. We were considering cutting one of the Soldiers of the Pantheon for an Experiment One or Judge's Familiar, but hadn't reached a conclusion on that front. Soldier not being a legal target for the pump spells is a big drawback, but it does get Braved, and that probably trumps Experiment One. Judge's Familiar does both, but is slightly too small for this deck's purposes.

A lot of what this deck is built on is assembling the combo of Ghor-Clan Rampager + double strike, either via Ajani or via Boros Charm. In a pinch, Selesnya Charm can serve as the pump spell, but that does a lot less damage. This deck pays more life to its lands than GW, but it has comparable creatures at all spots on the curve and has way more reach, because it can all of a sudden attack for 14 points of flying trample damage. This deck also gets to play Boros Reckoner, which is a big game, and the sideboarded Setessan Tactics pair perfectly with Reckoner to create all sorts of value. I reckon that playing Tactics, fighting a 3/3, and having Reckoner shoot another 3/3 is enough to win most games, and it isn't a hard scenario to set up. It's also cute that you can have your Reckoners fight each other if you want to just burn your opponent out, and it actually comes up from time to time.

Brave the Elements is also a big part of what makes this deck good. The cost paid by the deck to play Brave is in its creature makeup, as it would likely play Experiment One over Soldier of the Pantheon at the very least were it not for Brave. The benefits, on the other hand, are many, as Brave is really a split card that does all of the following at one time or another in a tournament:

  1. All your creatures become unblockable (save for by Mutavault).
  2. Counter target removal spell.
  3. Prevent all combat damage dealt to your creatures.
  4. Some combination of the above three.

That's an insane amount of power and flexibility for only one white mana, and is definitely a worthy card to build a deck around. Brave Naya is a good choice for anyone looking for a good Standard deck that has a lot of complicated combat decisions, which can certainly be fun if you are into that sort of thing.

Of course, I ended up not playing the deck, despite testing more with it than the deck I did end up playing, Boros Aggro. The main reason for that is the Black Devotion matchup, which I liked a little more with Boros (and I did go 3–0 against Black Devotion in the tournament, so it worked out reasonably well).

Boros Aggro

Download Arena Decklist

Josh Utter-Leyton worked a ton on this list, and I really liked where it ended up. I would say it's not my style of deck, but looking at the decks I've actually ended up playing and doing well with over the last couple years, maybe it really is. I've aggressively pursued aggressive decks when given the option, and I even realized that I played the same Beta Mountains in three of the four Pro Tours this year.

This is one of the most aggressive decks in the format, make no mistake. Green-White and Naya are both beatdown, but compared to the all-one-drop Red deck, they are way closer to midrange. Playing creatures that cost two, three, and four mana kind of makes you midrange, even if they are very large. The Red deck has no pretense of such, and plays cards like Foundry Street Denizen. You can't look at Foundry Street Denizen and think this deck does anything but attack, and attack it does.

The matchups for this deck are more lopsided in either direction than Naya, or really most decks in the format. It has a higher win percentage in its good matchups and a lower win percentage in its bad matchups, just because of how linear and focused it is. When your Mono-Black opponent doesn't have Drown in Sorrow, you are a big favorite, and when your opponent does you are a big underdog. That's how the cookie crumbles when you choose to add a bunch of 2-power one-drops to your deck, and we all knew that going in. My Mono-Black opponents did not have Drown, so I was able to emerge victorious. Likewise, this deck does struggle against Courser of Kruphix/Sylvan Caryatid decks, just because of how well those decks clog the board in the early to midgame.

Strategy with this deck is not absurdly complicated, or even normal complicated. You cast Foundry Street Denizens, try to play two or three things on turn two thanks to Burning-Tree Emissary, and attack with everything every turn. Bestowing Warhound helps push past blockers, as does casting Chained to the Rocks or Stoke the Flames (Stoke in particular is a very powerful card in this deck). The one Rubblebelt Maaka is there to put the fear into your opponent's heart when deciding whether to block, and I won my first match of Constructed partially because my opponent went to 4, instead of blocking a 2/2 with Nightveil Specter, and got burned out.

Speaking of burn, having 3 Boros Charm and 4 Stoke the Flames means the deck does have a good amount of reach. It's nice that it's all in 4-point chunks, which is a pretty big number, and Boros Charm plays additional defense against non-Drown sweepers and occasionally even removal spells.

I liked the deck and would recommend it to anyone who is facing a field heavy with black decks and UW Control decks (especially the Planar Cleansing version that won the Pro Tour). Against slow decks without a ton of creatures, Boros really just applies the beatdown, and Chandra's Phoenix plus the sideboard Chandras are very good at grinding out removal-based decks. The fact that the Cleansing deck doesn't have Detention Sphere is huge for this deck, even if Cleansing is better against the metagame in general.

The lands in the sideboard may look kind of odd, but they are for when you are siding in the Chandras. Mutavault is practically a spell anyway, and the Temple of Triumph helps improve draw quality, so having a few bonus mana sources can be nice. The sideboard also had some room, just because low-curve aggressive decks tend to not want a ton of cards to bring in for any given matchup.

Still speaking of Burn, Matt Sperling piloted Burn to a Top 8, even running me over in the process (I still think I would have won Game One if I drew a Mountain to Chain his Young Pyromancer to).


Download Arena Decklist

Matt fell to the eventual winner, Ivan Floch, in probably what was Matt's worst matchup in the Top 8. Playing against the deck with more than ten main-deck lifegain spells and a bunch of counters isn't exactly what Burn is looking to do, and the sideboard Nyx-Fleece Rams certainly don't help the cause.

What this deck is good at doing is dismantling decks that take too much damage from their lands and decks that are both slow and don't interact with its game plan much. Young Pyromancer in particular shines against aggro decks, and an unanswered turn-two Pyromancer is really hard to win against in any game that goes to a reasonable length.

When I say slow decks that don't interact much, I really mean Black Devotion, especially in Game One. Black Devotion doesn't kill particularly quickly, has a lot of semi-dead removal spells, and can't gain a ton of life save for Gray Merchant (which is easy to keep up a Skullcrack against). Post-board games do get way better for black, as switching removal for Duress is a thing, but overall Burn is happy to play against black, especially the version that's actually mono-black and doesn't have access to Sin Collector or Nyx-Fleece Ram.

What burn doesn't want to face is green decks, and that's exacerbated by the recent trend of Nylea's Disciples appearing in green sideboards. Decks like Monsters or Green Devotion can outrace Burn and out-lifegain it, so we continue with the trend of red decks not liking their matchups against Forests. That's a reasonable place to be, and there's no deck that beats everything; this isn't that kind of format. You can settle for lower margins and no real bad matchups by playing Black Devotion of some kind (even the bad red matchups can be adjusted for if you accurately predict what will show up), but your main choices in this format are to be close to even against everything or bad against some and good against some. That isn't unique in the world of Constructed, but is more prevalent in this format than others I've played.

Red isn't the only way to approach the format, and next week I'll take a look at some non-Mountain options (even if a few them may contain the odd Blood Crypt or Stomping Ground).