Mono Red is Back

Welcome back. We have just come off a weekend of a new Standard format and for the first time in a while it’s not due to bannings. This brave new world looks to be full of brewing opportunities and fun gameplay that has been mostly missing for the past 6 months. The deck I want to focus on today though is the time-tested Mono Red.

Mono Red decks have looked very different over the years. When I first started to play Magic, Mono Red was a clear tier 1 choice featuring a high concentration of burn spells headed by Lightning Bolt itself. Burn would clear the way for Goblin Guide and Stormblood Berserker to hit turn after turn. The burn was so good that it could trade up in mana against most threats and quickly burn out the opponent in the late game.

After the rotation of Lightning Bolt and friends, Red Deck Wins mostly fell off the radar until Goblin Rabblemaster and Stoke the Flames came along. That led into Atarka Red combining the go-wide aspect of Hordeling Outburst and Atarka’s Command with the combo of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage. Instead of burning a blocker out of the way you just gave your creature +6/+6, trample and double strike. In only a few years we have majorly departed from the game plan of the first Red Deck Wins.

Now in current Standard we still lack the great burn spells of the past. We also are missing a marquee card like Goblin Rabblemaster or a go wide card like Hordeling Outburst. Despite all that, Mono Red is back in force.

Mono-Red Aggro by Jonathon Job

We still have a bunch of red creatures, a pile of mountains and some burn spells, but this deck operates very different from the red decks of the past. What we have now is a critical mass of effects that stop blocking, a mana base with reach, and choices of quality creatures at every point in the curve.

The deck starts off with its one drop: Soul-Scar Mage and Falkenrath Gorger. Paying R for a 2/1 is exactly what we want to be doing in this deck but Soul-Scar Mage is a lot less exciting. With only 8 non creature spells in the deck, its going to be hard to get the mage’s power above 1 when needed. I would much rather see Village Messenger in this slot. The front side will be similar to Soul-Scar Mage and it’ll have an upside of possibly flipping to the menacing back half.

There are a few different options at the 2-drop spot, but the most important is Earthshaker Khenra, one of the key cards that makes the deck possible. Without burn or pump to rely on, we need these “can’t block” effects like the one Khenra provides in order to keep attacking turn after turn. The Eternalize is no joke either and happens quite often in this deck. Meanwhile Kari Zev attacks for 3 while being a nightmare to block profitably.

At 3 mana, Ahn-Crop Crasher is crucial. As I keep touching on stopping, the opponent’s creatures from blocking is how this deck gets its reach and makes sure its creatures can still rumble as the game progresses. Drawing multiple Ahn-Crop Crashers is the easiest way to win a game.

Initially I thought the splash for Eldrazi wasn’t consistent enough to be worth it. Turns out that having mana for Reality Smasher isn’t that unrealistic on turn 5. I’m not a fan of the Thought Knot-Seers in the main deck, but it’s cool that we have access to them in the 75. Eldrazi Obligator is fine if you are kicking it but the front half is pretty bad and I would look to replace it.

Hazoret is awesome, but if your curve is too high it becomes a do-nothing. I understand that Jonathon has a curve bordering on a midrange deck and playing more than 1 Hazoret would be difficult. Still If you ever get to attack with Hazoret on turn 4 the game is over.

As I have said before, Chandra is as strong as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In this deck, she is mostly a removal spell on the turn she comes down, allowing your creatures to keep attacking. As always if you untap with her you just win with little effort.

Burn has gotten a lot worse since Lightning Bolt left Standard and now we are stuck with Magma Spray and Incendiary Flow. Both have some utility against Eternalize creatures and Incendiary Flow can go face if it really needs to. The sorcery speed on Incendiary Flow isn’t that much of a drawback in a deck where you are doing everything at sorcery speed anyway.

Hour of Devastation has no dual lands but it has enabled the manabase of this deck. Ramunap Ruins just outperforms here. You don’t care about dealing yourself damage much at all and the extra reach from itself or the other deserts is just awesome. With Ruins in your deck, its justifiable to play the full set of Sunscorched Deserts giving you extra source for Eldrazi mana and even more extra damage from your lands for ‘free’.

If I was to play in a Standard event this weekend, this is the version of Mono Red I would play:

This deck is a known quantity now, so I want the full 4 Magma Spray and not to mess around with Incendiary Flow at all. The Eldrazi and 5-drops are relegated to the sideboard in favor of a lower curve to support more Hazorets. Cartouche of Zeal adds more can’t block effects and lets your Hazoret attack on the turn its played more often.

In the sideboard, we have the larger and more diverse threats to move too along with extra lands to support them. Sweltering Suns can be great in the right match ups, especially if you are boarding into Thought-Knot Seers and Smashers. The manabase is almost the same but Hanweir Battlements has marginal value with the Hanweir Garrison now in the deck.

Whatever build you want to play its certain that mono red is back. It’s not weak to sweepers and lifegain as it once was and it looks to be a deck that can be adapted week to week as the metagame shifts. Its hard to attack the deck from a single angle and that’s really exciting.

Mono red is back!

Justin Robb
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Justin Robb

Justin Robb hails from Queensland, Australia, so you might see him travelling around the Asian GPs or RPTQs (especially in Japan) as he chases more Pro Tour qualifications. He won GP Brisbane in 2013 with Affinity in Modern, was on the Australian team for World Magic Cup in 2014 and has several other top finishes in constructed formats. Apart from Magic he has a keen interest in technology and how it can change our lives, especially in education.
Justin Robb
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Published:July 18, 2017


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