Red is the New Grey: Burning the New Standard.





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Now that the bland, grey shadow of Affinity is no longer with us, it's time to spice up our Magic and add some colour. Nothing says spice more than red. The principles of red are very simple, and in this climate of change after the recent bannings, simplicity seems the safest bet. But as a combo player, simplicity doesn’t sit well with me. If less than three cards in my hand interact in some weird and contrived way I am not happy. I have therefore decided to apply a slightly more refined and considered approach to the simple principles of fire. I have, however, asked my friend Ross to give me a hand with this article.

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Dudes!

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Ross is a red mage and his insight and experience will be invaluable when analysing the various approaches to mono red. His earthy approach to magic will counterpoint my own refined and subtle opinion.

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Hey man. You got nachos?

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I’m English. I don‘t eat nachos, Ross. Here, have a muffin. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m a combo player. The first thing that combo players do is complicate things. I do, after all, have to write a 3000 word article. It helps if you discuss and muse a bit.

Ross's advice is always invaluable.
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You could just burn stuff.

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Ross, is there any chance you could sit quietly? Please? Thank you. The goal of the red mage is to get their opponent from 20 to 0 life in less time than their opponent can do whatever it is they are trying to do.

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You gotta burn 'em loads before dey burn you loads.

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The method of doing this varies, but the goal remains the same. Ross informs me that the main strategies are "Burn you quickly," "Burn your stuff and hit you," and finally, "Make a big guy quickly that has more burn than a Yule log covered in curry powder."

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You got curry?!

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Keep quiet Ross. In other words, you can attack your opponent’s life total directly, remove their defences and attack them or harass your opponent with burn early in the game and then lay down a big finisher like Arc-Slogger.

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Slogger… Cha Cha Cha…Slogger… Cha Cha Cha.


The best chump in the business.
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Okay, I think he’s lost it. Ross, why don’t you play on your PS2? These approaches, when put in to decks are called Direct Damage, Sligh/Red Deck Wins and Big Red. There is also Ponza (Land Destruction) but it isn’t quite the same thing so I’ll leave that for another time. All three of these strategies have their merits, but I’ve decided to concentrate on direct damage. It has good match ups vs. a lot of decks in the new metagame, more so than the other approaches. I think Sligh/RDW will also be viable, but Direct Damage will be better. It certainly has a better game against the titan that is Tooth and Nail. It doesn’t have to worry about removing Eternal Witness and the dreaded Sakura-Tribe Elder (or is that Sac-a-Tribe Elder). If playing a mono red creature deck, you have to use up your burn in order to continue your ground attack. Even if you do this these little blighters still do their job. Witness has got them a card and the Elder gets them a land.

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Yeah but they're dead!

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That’s not the point. I wish I hadn’t brought you now. They still do their job whilst using up the resources of a creature based Mono red deck. Direct damage avoids this altogether. Big Red thrived in a metagame without any control but I feel it will be less prevalent in this new slower standard. With all that in mind I present…

Burning BoncesMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures
4 Spark Elemental
4 Slith Firewalker
3 Zo-Zu The Punisher

Burn
4 Lava Spike
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Glacial Ray
4 Magma Jet
3 Volcanic Hammer
4 Flames of the Blood Hand

Other
3 Howling Mine
2 Damping Matrix
3 Chrome Mox

Land
1 Shinka, The Bloodsoaked Keep
14 Mountain
3 Blinkmoth Nexus



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I feel I should add that Ross came up with the name for the deck. He thinks it's funny because the deck is based on Burning Bridges. I see humour does not make it into the red section of the colour pie.

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Hmmmm! Pie!

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How come you are so obsessed with food and yet you are only 126lbs? Must be all that moshing and other things that begin with ‘M’. Moving on. This build of direct damage is pretty robust. It is difficult to deal with and has plenty of options. It has fewer problems with your opponent making blockers and is pretty fast. It still has to run creatures but can forsake removal in favour of more 'bonce burning'. My initial build ran more lands than this to help deal with Land Destruction but playtesting revealed this wasn’t necessary. It still runs 21 mana sources, however, because the deck needs the consistency and against some decks may need to aggressively mulligan.


Which came first,
the Spike or the Spark?
The Cards
Main Deck

Lava SpikeSpark Elemental
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I am constantly being told that "Lava Spike is an awful spell. Spark Elemental is an awful creature." Well, I never listen to gossip but in this case the gossips are right. No? Let’s compare them to Raging Goblin. Cast turn one the gobbo comes down and probably swings twice before the bigger boys stop his fun. It is unlikely to get burnt and waits there possibly chumping something bigger that wanders over to your side of the table or sneaking through the defences when some of your bigger boys need blocking. It may earn you 3 damage during the average game and certainly results in a bigger life differential (by chumping it saves your life). And yet both the Spike and the Spark are both highly played. Why? It all comes down to the deck’s quick tempo. With these cards, all the damage is dealt in one turn. You wouldn’t want to counter them or chump the Spark; they just aren’t important enough. They make the rest of your deck better. Think of it like this: the first Spike you play takes away 15% of the player’s life total. The next one you play takes away 17.6% and then 21.4%. In other words every burn spell you play makes the rest of your burn better. And when your deck goes to the head, these guys are good.

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Better burn… we like!!!

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Indeed Ross we do. When burning to the bonce these guys are really efficient but if you could only play 4 of them then that Raging Goblin starts to look much better. But like ham and eggs, they compliment each other. 4 Spike & 4 Spark are a fierce combination. They quickly get your opponent on the back foot, playing defensively. And that’s where you want them. They can’t over commit as you could lay a Spark any turn and that slows the game down enough for you to top deck enough burn to set fire to the sea.

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And it really ***censored*** them off when they have to chump Sparky. I love Sparky!

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And being able to splice Glacial Ray onto Lava Spike is just icing on the cake. Especially as one of the red deck's problems is that it can run out of steam. Speaking of which…

Glacial Ray
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In previous builds of this deck I hadn't played the Ray as it was too mana intensive to splice. Remember, it only makes the deck because you can splice it onto Lava Spike or another Ray. Otherwise, it is an expensive Shock. Be warned though that once Ensnaring Bridge is sideboarded in you may want to cast this without splicing it. Emptying your hand may become important. Like Volcanic Hammer, it may get metagamed out of the deck, but current testing indicates this one’s a keeper. We’ll have to see.

Shrapnel blast
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Interesting, this one. There certainly isn’t more bang per buck than Shrapnel Blast and it finishes games better than any other card. Opponent lays a Platinum Angel? No problem. This baby has it all. Do consider that extra cost though. How many times have I had to sacrifice a Pyrite Spellbomb which reduces it’s effectiveness from 5 life to 3? But the lack of Protection from Red now means Spellbomb is resigned to the sideboard in favour of other weapons.

Howling Mine
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Simply put, you have a lower mana curve than your opponent. You can cast more spells than they can. In the early game the extra cards do not help him. They win you the game. Although I wouldn’t recommend a turn one Mine via Chrome Mox (unless you’re playing against control in which case I do) I would recommend you lay it early.


Blue disguised as red.
Magma Jet
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Deck manipulation in a red spell? Am I reading this correctly? This is probably the best card you own. Every red deck should run four of these. Why? Ask yourself this. How many times have you been waiting to top deck a burn spell only to be land-locked? This guy burns and sorts at the same time. It’s amazing. You just have to watch how often this is countered by control players to know it’s good.

Volcanic Hammer
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The grand-daddy of the bunch. But like old people this baby isn’t whizzing around. It runs at sorcery speed and will not always make the cut. 3 damage for 2 mana isn’t bad but you have to be running the right deck for it. Even though this one can target creatures it seems more suited to the "To the Bonce" strategy as the deck needs as much damage as possible and will tap out to cast it. Depending on the evolving metagame this card may get cut in favour of something else

Slith Firewalker
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Quite simply one of red’s best creatures. Your ‘god draw’ probably includes a Slith, a mountain, a Chrome Mox, and any other red card. If you can get this baby to become a 3/3 then he will really cause your opponent problems. He’s in the deck because he’s good and because he stops your opponent from sideboarding out their creature removal. However don’t be afraid to side him out. This deck aims for the head and doesn’t want to use it burn to clear a path unless it has to.

Flames of the Blood Hand
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4 damage for 3 mana…. Good. The ability to respond to a Pulse of the Fields…priceless. Less useful against Umezawa's Jitte, but still an option. Forcing them to sac counters for life and then responding is really difficult.

Zo-Zu, The Punisher
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This guy is pretty good against everybody (except maybe the mirror but even then I’m not sure). However, a lot of people lay this guy down too early. Wait until you opponent has lost a load of life then chuck him down. Force your opponent to make difficult decisions. Do I lay a land? Can I afford the damage? Obviously this guy is awesome against Tooth and Nail and if you can resolve one against control you’re looking good.

Damping Matrix
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This deck loses to Umezawa's Jitte. Lay a matrix, burn the creature the Jitte is attached to, and smile at your opponent.

Mana Sources
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I’ve been playtesting with 3 Chrome Mox instead of 4 as the loss of the imprinted card really hurts you. But Slith or Magma Jet turn 1 is too good of a play to drop it. I play Zo-Zu, so one Shinka doesn’t hurt and the Nexus become more Blast or chump fodder.

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Don’t you mean Nexuses?

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Philistine!

The Sideboard

Boseiju, Who Shelters All
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Against control, you can afford to lose life. They can’t. This little baby makes all the difference in that match up. If your metagame is more control orientated then maybe a third one of these makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t matter if you see two of them as the control match will last long enough for you to get enough lands into play.

Oblivion Stone
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I’ll let Ross explain this one.

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If you have stuff I don’t understand I want to kill it.

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And of course, as I’m sure Ross would explain if he had more brain cells, you will recover quicker from the stone than your opponent. This is really in against enchantments such as Worship, The Hondens and the dreaded Circle of Protection: Red.

Ensnaring Bridge
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Against a lot of creature based decks this will win you the game. It stalls them long enough for you to burn them into small pieces of ash. Why doesn’t this make the main deck? Because the deck is too quick for it. In my local metagame the only two creature beatdown decks are White Weenie and Sligh. WW has other board options devoted to it and you beat Sligh in a race. However, I expect to see other creature decks cropping up. I’ve seen some really good mono black creature decks and therefore the Bridge justifies its place. Also, the synergy with Howling Mine isn’t as bad as you would imagine. Your spells are cheap and moxes help to empty spare Zo-Zus, etc.

Damping Matrix
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The two main deck Matrices are there to give you a fighting chance against Umezawas Jitte. This one makes sure that White Weenie playing equipment has a bad day. The interaction it has with other artefacts like Isochron Scepter makes this a good choice

Pyrite Spellbomb
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In to deal with Auriok Champion and to finish off past a CoP: Red. Depending on your metagame, these may be replaced.

Howling Mine
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These are awesome vs. control and you really want to resolve one so a fourth gets sideboarded in to help out.

Match-Ups

Turbo Magpie (or Mono Blue Control)

Mmmm… Tastes like chicken.
- 4 Sliths, 2 Mountain
+ 1 Howling Mine, 2 Boseiju, 1 Damping Matrix, 2 Oblivion Stone

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The Sliths become a bit crappy here. Vedalken Shackles and Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch see to that. However, the thing about this game is that you have more burn than they have counters. The Mines make the Magpies less effective because you both draw loads so don’t side them out. Don’t be tempted to destroy their Magpies. Play your game and keep going to the head. When they tap out or even almost tap out to play Magpie or, even better, Shackles, sneak any damage through you can. They will not want to counter early so it’s easy pickings. Late game when their Magpies start to attack, play the waiting game. Your life total tells you how long you can wait. Let them draw cards. Remember most of them aren’t counters. Lava Spike is a dream here. Play some 2 damage burn, let it be countered. Play some more, see it countered. Then Lava Spike and you're 3 damage closer. If they play Rewind it’s best to start your spells with the Spike as it’s a sorcery. You can then respond to the Rewind with instant speed burn. This doesn’t give them a chance to untap their lands and reuse them for more counters. And it goes without saying that if you can finish with Shrapnel Blast you’re laughing.

U/W Control
- 3 Volcanic Hammer, 2 Damping Matrix, 2 Mountain, 2 Shrapnel Blast, 1 Glacial Ray
+ 1 Howling Mine, 2 Boseiju, 3 Pyrite Spellbomb, 4 Oblivion Stone

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Fear this match up. I can see Ross cowering in the corner at the mere mention of white being added to control. It has CoP: Red, it has Pristine Angel, it has Pulse of the Fields and it has… {gulp}… Worship. Prepare yourself for a bumpy ride. Hammer and Ray come out as they are the worst of your burn. You need to make room so they have to go. Hammer is a sorcery which really hurts in this match up. Losing 1 Ray is acceptable. Depending on their build, the Matrix doesn’t offer any help and it hurts your other options so out it comes. The Shrapnel Blast is a personal choice. They are expecting it which means they must keep a counter in hand when they are low on life. Playing a game where you try and force through a Shrapnel Blast is fairly futile. Just keep a card in hand as you play your spells to make them hold onto a counter. The game may go on long enough for you to draw into one of the two remaining ones. Trust me, you don’t want to see too many of these because without the artefact lands you don’t have the metal to fuel these puppies. The Spellbomb comes in to force past CoP: Red and also because once on the table the burn won’t be countered. This forces your opponent to start countering your crap burn earlier. The Oblivion Stone deals with everything. Good luck resolving one though.


It Slices, it dices, it circumcises.
It even walks the dog and
makes the tea!
White Weenie
- 3 Howling Mine, 3 Zo-Zu The Punisher, 4 Sliths
+ 1 Damping Matrix, 3 Pyrite Spellbomb, 4 Ensnaring Bridge, 2 Oblivion Stone

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Really tricky one, this. They have an answer main deck in the Jitte and Circle of Protection: Red waiting in the board. The Mines help both of you as you both have a quick tempo and neither deck is land heavy so Zo-Zu seems like a bad play and we don’t want to waste burn to remove blockers, so out come the Sliths. The Matrix will help against equipment, Spellbomb deals with Auriok Champion and CoP: Red whilst the Bridge and the Oblivion Stone slow the game enough for you to win.

Tooth and Nail
- 2 Damping Matrix
+ 2 Oblivion Stone

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Race them. You should win. This is a good match up for you. You do have some options depending on their build of Tooth and Nail. If their build is particularly quick (such as the mono green build with only forests) then you might bring in the Bridge and take out Volcanic Hammer but it shouldn’t be necessary.


Sligh/RDW
- 2 Damping Matrix, 3 Zo-Zu, 3 Howling Mine
+ 4 Ensnaring Bridge, 4 Oblivion Stone

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You basically convert your deck back to burning bridges and open up a can of whupass on their head. Don’t splice your Rays 'cos this one’s going to be quick, bloody and will leave a distinct smell of sulphur around your table.

The Mirror
- 3 Zo-Zu, 3 Howling Mine
+ 3 Ensnaring Bridge, 3 Pyrite Spellbomb

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Once again the heat is on. Mines are useless and Zo-Zu hurts both of you equally so he comes out. The Spellbomb is more burn and the bridge ensures that a rogue Slith will not win the game. If they are playing trickiness in the form of things like Seismic Assault or Isochron Scepter you might like to take out a few of Sliths and replace with Oblivion Stones.

Big Red
- 2 Zo-Zu, 3 Howling Mine
+ 4 Ensnaring Bridge, 1 Damping Matrix

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Not as quick as Sligh/RDW or the mirror but things are certainly going to smoulder. Again, don’t splice the Rays. If you do draw the one remaining Zo-Zu don’t be afraid to put it down as Big Red is more controlling than most burn and will play more land.

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As the metagame hasn’t settled yet it is difficult to know what will come out on top but hopefully I’ve provided enough analysis to cover the main decks. Ross can’t even spell "analysis" and has had trouble keeping up over the last few paragraphs. He’s passed out on the sofa. I’ll wave a Fireball under his nose and give him a can of Red Bull and he’ll be up and chanting “Burn, Burn, Burn!” in no time.

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