Mono Red Aggro is not Mono Blue Control. However it, like Mono Blue Control, is in a fix: Boros Bushwhacker is taking all the glory from its sparky cousin. Worlds has shown us this, Friday Night Magic has shown us this, and the little kid down the street has shown us. The fact of the matter is not that Boros Bushwhacker is superior to Ol' Red, but that it has professional attention. Sure, Mono Red Aggro has its good times, but it is missing something vital: A Top Eight.
You see, Benjamin “Spike” Geroff won't play Jund Hackblade or Kazandu Blademaster because a pro is yet to Top Eight with either. Broodmate Dragon? That's another story. Heck, Spikey will even play Rampant Growth after my good friend Yuuya Watanabe chanced a main deck. But he won't play Mono Red Aggro. Nope, it's Jund or die for Spikey. But here we, Johnny, Timmy, and Vorthos, are: searching for that win-win deck to play. We'll play Jund Jackblade and Kazandu Blademaster, Master Transmuter and Elemental Appeal. If it works it wins. What works? Mono Red Aggro. Here comes the development.
I started with an idea, just like all great decks. It doesn't matter if it's Jund or Naya, an idea is an idea. I knew Mono Red existed, and I knew it had done well, but I wanted innovation. I, well, the Johnny inside of me, wanted to be original. I had to be. So, I started with the best-of-the-best and went from there:
There are some good and bad choices. More of the bad, but it worked. I got a nice 3-2 on Magic Work Station and felt confident; I knew Bushwhacker and Jund would be an enemy that I had to work against, and both of my losses were to it. The deck had a good Vampire matchup, and a decent Naya, Control, and Mono White Tokens matchup. All in all, I was happy. Was I satisfied? Not until 5-0 I wasn't.
I decided that Sparkmage Apprentice sucked. Yeah, it helps take down that Noble Heirarch, but the effect, field presence, and card itself just aren't Constructed goodies. Wall of Fire was mediocre, and Raging Goblin is self-explanatory. The rest was good: it either worked or helped, and that was enough for me at that point. I began to test my second attempt:
A little bit of tweaking and it worked. I went 4-1 on Magic Work Station and was almost satisfied. Almost. Not yet I wasn't. The deck just couldn't beat Bushwhacker, and it was, well, slow. I hated to admit it at the time, but it was. End of discussion. The point was a turn one Steppe Lynx, turn two Arid Mesa and a second Steppe Lynx, followed by a turn three killer attack, couldn't be matched with the deck. It had no defense, it had no protection, and it had no threat. Sure, a few Hell's Thunder and the opponent gets worried, but that starts turn three. By then, 'Whacker's got a board of meanies to say no. I didn't know what to do. For a moment I thought that an average post-sideboard match would be fine, that I could hope for a good hand and call it quits. This time I had to think. Yeah, I said it: think.
I knew I had to beat the god-hand of a turn one Lynx times two. But I couldn't. What could I do? Hellspark Elemental, my earliest creature, came out on turn two. By then, the second Steppe is already out and I can sneak two, maybe three damage in if I'm lucky. At the best, they shoot a Path to Exile and stall it out for another turn. At the worst, Sparky gets a Burst Lightning to the face and goes to the gravyard. I'd have him back next time, all good and fine, right? Wrong. I needed something to stick, something to stay on the board and offer field presence. I had two options: Goblin Guide and Plated Geopede.
Geopede is just a Steppe Lynx gone red. I thought this was perfect for about two and a half seconds. Then I asked myself: how many fetch lands am I running? None. Zip, zilch, zero. That means Mr. Peodede can only get +2/+2. It can't get +4/+4, or +6/+6 when you crack one late. First strike? Fair argument. On a 1/1? Case closed. That pretty much ended it for me. I looked at Goblin Guide and said: turn one beatstick with no drawback. For those who missed it, looking at the top card of your opponent's library is not a drawback.
After a few more edits, I came up with this:
This was my final list. If I didn't go well, I would ditch the deck. I had no reason to play a second-rate deck. Why would I? So I went to work and tested.
The first watch was against Vampires. I don't see these guys in my local metagame and I knew I could beat them, so I had no worry. I ended up with some, though. The deck wasn't a typical Vampire deck, it was some Orzhov Homebrew. Turn One he played, well, cast (thanks, M10), a Guul Draz Vampire. I responded with a Burst Lightning to prevent a threat, and he passed the turn. I cast a Hellspark Elemental for two and entered the attack step. With his lands tapped out, I hit him for three to the face with Hellspark Elemental. Turn three he showcased a first strike Vampire Hexmage and ended, tapped out for the second time. I, too, was tapped out, so I began my turn. I knew first strike was an issue in general, so I Bolted the child-of-night straight up, and followed for 4 with two Goblin Guides. He revealed and drew a Plains, which he played as soon as I ended my turn. He then tapped all of his lands, again, to cast a Vampire Nighthawk.
I didn't want him to Lifelink his way to victory, so I held back my Hell's Thunder for when it, Vampire Nigthawk, was off of the battlefield. He ended up gaining 2 life from one of the Goblin Guides, but took 3 damage from an unearthed Hellspark Elemental and 2 damage from the remaining Goblin Guide. I ended my turn. He drew for turn and a Vampire Nocturnus entered the battlefield to reveal a Baneslayer Angel (what?). I guess if you're playing white, you're playing the one-and-only Walletslayer. Anyway, no Angels needed here. He hit me for 2 with the Nighthawk and ended at 18. I drew into my second Hell's Thunder. With four, I had two options: option one, cast Hell's Thunder and deal some ping; option two, cast Ball Lightning and deal some damage. I chose the latter and hit for six with my Goblin Guide as a backup.
And then Baneslayer Angel. Painslayer Angel. Brainslayer Angel. Craneslayer Angel. He hit me with Vampire Nighthawk and called it a turn. I lucked out and drew an Act of Treason. God draw. I cast it and my board was Baneslayer Angel, Goblin Guide, Goblin Guide. Not flashy enough, so I revived a Hellspark Elemental and attacked for twelve damage: five dealt, five gained. I lost Frameslayer Angel to my opponent and Sparky to exile. My opponent scooped after I revealed the second Act of Treason.
Hellspark Elemental, Hell's Thunder, and Ball Lightning were the stars of this match. Unearth is a need against Vampires, and the speed is hard to beat. Post board, Volcanic Fallout cleans up a Guul Draz Vampire, Gatekeeper of Malakir, and Vampire Hexmage, and Elemental Appeal comes in for Act of Treason.
My next match was against Red Deck Wins. The first game was back-and-forth until I won, so we'll skip to the post-sideboard game. I chose to drop the Act of Treason for Elemental Appeal, and Goblin Guide for Plated Geopede (in this case, the opponent getting land is a drawback, and first strike is too good of an anti-Hellspark Elemental to not play), and two Mountains for two Arid Mesa. One of each, apart from the Arid Mesa, was in my opening hand, in addition to two Hellspark Elemental, two Mountains, and one Quest for Pure Flame (there it is). I went second and drew a third Mountain. I played one of the Mountains (a Proce, I believe, if it matters), and Quest for Pure Flame. He threw a Lightning Bolt at my face at the end of turn. At the beginning of his own turn, he played a Mountain and cast a Hellspark Elemental for a nice 3 damage.
I debated whether or not to play the Plated Geopede (due to the lack of an Arid Mesa in my hand), but decided to just hope and go with it. A sucky play, but all-in-all it was fine. He (she?) tapped out for a Hell's Thunder and attacked with it for four. It died at the end of turn (like I said above, no field presence is no good). I drew the needed Arid Mesa and put it onto the battlefield for a pump, then cracked it for a second +2/+2. I still had four land left, because, well, I hadn't used it, so cast an Elemental Appeal and forced 12 damage; Elemental Appeal is quite sexy (but, if you're wondering why it isn't in the maindeck, refer to Baneslayer Angel). I ended my turn. He began with another Hell's Thunder and Teetering Peaks combo to the face. Six damage tied the life total. However, he had no field to stop my next attack. See the problem? Poor guy. That aside, I drew a second Elemental Appeal and hit for the game.
No need for Act of Treason in this case. Elemental Appeal is sided in to race the opponent, as well as the obvious Volcanic Fallout. Card advantage is really a luck-of-the-draw case against Mono Red Aggro, but it's all about how you play.
After that, I was 2-0 at the time, 4-0 if you count the post-sideboard games. I was happy with the results, so decided to take a shot at "Netdecked Jund".
Dun dun Jund. Ah, Jund. I almost expected to see no Putrid Leech, two or three Master of the Wild Hunt, and a full set of Rampant Growth. I saw the Putrid Leech, but no Master of the Wild Hunt or Rampant Growth. Bad netdeck is bad. Turn one I played a Mountain and Goblin Guide (full of these guys today), and hasted 2 damage. He revealed a Putrid Leech. I ended my turn, and he began his turn with the most hated two-drop Green and Black Leech of Standard: Putrid Leech (well, how many options do we really have?). My opponent ended and I drew into Teetering Peaks. I first cast Hellspark Elemental instead of Goblin Bushwhacker, because I wanted to save it for later (if there was a later). The Peaks pumped Sparky +2/+0. He blocked Hellspark to take 1 (plus he lost 2 life to pump his Putrid Leech), and 4 from the Goblin Guides. Next turn came the Sprouting Thrinax, then the end of turn.
I drew a Hell's Thunder, and played it after dropping the last Mountain in my hand. After casting the Thunder, I had one land open, which I used to cast Quest for Pure Flame. I attacked full-field with Hell's Thunder and two Goblin Guide, one of the latter died, the other two dealt direct for 6. I ended my turn. He started with a land, then the infamous Bloodbraid Elf, who also (no surprise) cascaded into Blightning. He then attacked for 6 with his Bloodbraid and the Thrinax. I was fine at 11 life and him at 4, because I had a Lightning Bolt in hand and one Goblin Guide on the battlefield. He ended and I drew a card: Quest for Pure Flame. Still no cards in hand, but I could unearth Hell's Thunder for game. I did so. As I went to call it a game, he killed the Thunder. Fair enough. I ended my turn. He began the turn with a Dragon Duo of Broodmate and Broodmate token. He hit me for another six and ended his turn. I drew a Burst Lightning for game (praise burn!).
Goblin Bushwhacker was a winner, to my surprise; get a Hellspark Elemental out and swing to stop a Putrid Leech or Broodmate Dragon. Act of Treason stays post-sideboard because of Broodmate Dragon and Broodmate Dragon token, and racing isn't that much of an issue. Plated Geopede is an option for field presence versus Bloodbraid Elf.
So I could beat Jund: the enemy. I knew that Jund was thirty-five percent of the metagame, and that if I could beat it, I could Top Sixteen at a local, if not State, tournament. But I was yet to play the Mono Red Aggro rival, Boros Bushwhacker. If I could beat Boros Bushwhacker, I could beat all of the metagame. And if I could do that, I could win the State Championships. If I could not, I would ditch the deck and find something better, probably Bushwhacker.
I won the dice roll and chose to go first. I drew an Act of Treason, Burst Lightning times two, Lightning Bolt, Hellspark Elemental, and two Mountains. A solid hand that I kept. I began the turn with a Mountain, then ended. He (again, the opponent may have been a she) played a Plains and Steppe Lynx. No Arid Mesa? Good stuff. I put a Mountain onto the battlefield and cast a Hellspark Elemental to sneak in 3 damage; it was also an attempt to one-for-one the Cat at the same time. I ended. The opponent had an Arid Mesa enter the battlefield, which I assumed they drew, then cracked it (Steppe Lynx gained +4/+4 because of it). He used the searched Mountain to play a Goblin Guide, and the Plains to play an Elite Vanguard. I took 4 damage because of the Lynx.
I drew a card, Goblin Guide, and thought for a moment. Mountain or Teetering Peaks? The best I could do with Peaks was hit with a 4/2 Goblin Guide and cast Burst Lightning or Lightning Bolt, and with a Mountain I could double Burst Lightning and single Lightning Bolt to clear his field. At least one creature would die with the Guide (if he didn't block, none would die), so I took a chance (that's what the game's all about, right?). My opponent did, in fact, block and lose a creature: Goblin Guide. Then, to clear most of the board, I cast Burst Lightning on the Steppe Lynx to send it to the graveyard. I ended my turn. I looked forward to the overhyped turn three kill that is Boros Bushwhacker as my opponent cast a Goblin Bushwhacker after a cracked Arid Mesa, even though it would result in a loss on my behalf.
The field was a 5/5 Steppe Lynx (cast earlier in the turn) and a 2/1 Goblin Bushwhacker. He attacked, I took 7, and he ended. Yeah, no turn three death. I got stuck with a Ball Lightning draw, but I couldn't complain: it was a good draw. Chances were it would kill a creature, deal some damage, and be done with. It wouldn't stay on the field and defend, but it would do its job. Sure, I had an Act of Treason and some burn that could help, but the Ball Lightning helped me not be 'Whacked to death. Old Faithful dealt a nice 5 damage, killing a Vanguard creature, and leaving my opponent at 8 life. I had one mana open when I ended my turn.
My opponent played one Steppe Lynx to replace the Vanguard, and left a Marsh Flats un-cracked. I drew Goblin Assault. Not a card I wanted at this point in the game, but a card is a card. See, we don't have a heart in our cards like in Yu-Gi-Oh. We get what we get. Luck or not, you get the point. I had to play the Goblin Assault. May as well, there was no other option. I would probably die the next turn or be flooded with a swarm of next-turn-kill creatures. My opponent played an Arid Mesa for one +2/+2 Landfall effect. Marsh Flats was then cracked for a second pump, and followed by two kicked Goblin Bushwhackers. At this point, the field was one 8/7 Steppe Lynx and two 2/1 Bushwhackers. An attack would leave me at one life; game next turn. I had some burn, but it would do as much this turn as it would next turn. Hopefully, I would draw into a win-condition and take the game.
I drew a Mountain. Yeah, that, you know, Red Basic Land we want early and when we have none on the field. I checked my graveyard and thanked the creator of unearth. I unearthed the single Hellspark Elemental that sat under Goblin Guide. I attacked with the Sparky (fiend?) and Goblin token to leave my opponent at 4 life. I revealed a Burst Lightning and Lightning Bolt and called it game.
Ok, Elemental Appeal wanted in post-side board. Act of Treason doesn't do much, and Quest for Pure Flame could go. It's nice to have that win-condition saved up in your back pocket, but not when you draw it turn six at 3 life...
I learned a few things from those matches: one, beware the explosiveness of Boros Bushwhacker; two, that pre-sideboard Vampires is a fifty-fifty game. Mono Red Aggro has no problem post-sideboard against either thanks to Volcanic Fallout and Elemental Appeal. It can beat Jund, as well.
What works? Mono Red Aggro.