Red Aggro hasn't gotten too much love lately. The field is clouded with midrange decks and splashy 4/5s and 3/4s. In fact, the only guy that gobbles the attention in red is Goblin Rabblemaster. Very little gets mentioned about the red 1/1s. But when you scan the top tables at Grand Prix Los Angeles, there are plenty of red beaters getting on the battlefield. I walked around the top tables to see what was going on.
There are three distinct red decks. There's the White-Red (or Mono-Red) Heroic-based strategy that looks to abuse synergies like Soldier creature types (thanks Obelisk of Urd), or Heroic triggers. There's the "Boss Sligh" Mono-Red Aggro deck, based on Tom Ross's build that goes for the "sligh" mentality of perfect creature/burn curve. Then there's Brad Nelson's White-Red Aggro "MAC" that can play as midrange, aggro, or control depending on the match-up and whether you're on the draw or the play [hence M.A.C.]. Each version has its champions.
Eric Pei is on the Boss Sligh–style beatdown. This deck is so aggressive, it doesn't even play Goblin Rabblemaster. Too slow. Too susceptible to removal. Dragon Mantle and Titan's Strength rule the day.
Why play this deck? "Well, I killed someone turn three," Pei said, matter-of-factly. "Yeah, Monastery Swiftspear and Akroan Crusader. Then turn three Dragon Mantle on the Crusader, then Titan's Strength, Titan's Strength."
The deck is unrelenting, and if the opponent stumbles, there's very little that can be done. Some malign the deck because it folds to cards like Anger of the Gods or Drown in Sorrow, but Pei takes it in stride. "There really aren't that many Anger of the Gods going around. And yeah, Drown in Sorrow can be game, but you can build your own X/3s with Hall of Triumph, and you can try your best to play around those spells."
Pei's done a great job of avoiding the nightmare scenarios. "Honestly, [my friends] kept trying to come up with a way to go over the top of mirange decks; it didn't seem right to me." So unlike Sylvester Stallone turning his had backwards in an arm-wrestling contest, Pei thought, why not go under them? He's still in contention for the Top 8 right now, as long as he runs as hot in the last couple rounds as he has been.
Mark Jacobson, from Santa Clara, and Andrew Batinich have been on the transformational sideboard option. "I literally just copied Brad Nelson's deck and strategy. I think I'm doing it justice," said Jacobson. The deck starts as an aggressive burn deck that can go into whatever is necessary to take out the opposing deck. Sometimes that means even going over the top of the midrange decks and playing big control cards like End Hostilities.
"Control is the least likely way to play, but if you're against Abzan on the draw, the Monastery Swiftspears come out." And though Jacobson likes the Abzan match-up, it's the Jeskai matches he dreams of. "I'm like 6-1 against Jeskai right now." He attributes a lot of the success to a seemingly innocuous Hordeling Outburst.
"When they hold up mana [expecting a Goblin Rabblemaster], then end up using Magma Jet on a 1/1 Goblin token, it feels real good." Jacobson said because of the varying roles that the Outburst and Rabblemaster play, it's easy for Jeskai pilots to misassess their timings and burn spells and just kill themselves. Batinich echoed this statement exactly.
Jacobson also talked about how good Magma Jet and the scry lands can be. When you're not playing blue, card advantage is in short supply. Using the scry lands to gain some card selection creates some virtual card advantage that can be the difference between getting in for all 20 damage, and utter defeat.
Jacobson is at 10-2 right now. Though he's teetering on the edge, he thinks the deck was a great deck choice. "There are plenty of people here who don't know what's going on," he said, and then they inevitably lose because of it.
The White-Red and Mono-Red Heroic players have all crashed and burned at this point. It's unclear whether it's just not as good in the metagame as the Mono-Red Aggro or the transformer, or if it Pei, Jacobson, and Batinich are all running hot.
Regardless of the reason, though midrange decks hog up the coverage, there's plenty of room at the top tables for little plinkers to get in the for the 20.