RDW - Burning Up Extended

Feature Article from Noah Whinston
Noah Whinston
1/28/2011 10:43:00 AM
submit to reddit » Print «

A joke. A deck for kids, noobs, scrubs, budget players. A deck for the World of “Mountain, Bolt you, go.” All of these things have been said about Red Deck Wins. Perhaps vilified only slightly less than random mono-Green Elves decks, Mono-Red is still looked upon by much of the Magic community as the lowest point that a player can drop to. Consistently, when decklists are presented in articles about a given format, they are prefaced and qualified with the words “I would never play this deck in a tournament, but you might end up running into it in the early rounds.” Why is there such a universal condescending tone regarding Red decks? While it is true that RDW is often played in tournaments where the metagame isn't right for it because the pilot is unable to build another deck, this has led to a criminal level of disregard for a deck, that when the conditions are right, can utterly dominate.

The time has come.



The early days of a format are often marked by the presence of a majority of aggressive strategies. The reason for this is simple. In an undefined metagame, it's difficult to try and be the deck that has all the answers, when the threats that you are presented with are so diverse. Building a control deck that can simultaneously deal with Reveillark, Goblin Guide, Fauna Shaman, Bitterblossom, Primal Command and Valakut is not an easy feat, and trying to build one that addresses some of these threats while ignoring others is too much of a gamble to pay off. Rather, in a young format, it's a better idea to take the initiative, and force your opponents to have the answers. Need examples? Rubin Zoo at PT Austin. White Weenie and Doran at PT Amsterdam. Jund and Naya dominated at PT San Diego, despite Chapin's U/W Control being one of the most influential decks from that tournament. Elves combo annihilated PT Berlin. And PT San Juan's breakout performer, though it was Channel Fireball's RUG ramp, was certainly not on the far end of the control spectrum, that spot being snatched up by Zendikar Block U/W Control. So why have most assumptions about Extended been different. At first, the Pros regaled us with tales of 5 Color Control's power, then Faeries' synergy took the format in a new direction, with Wargate placing a distant but respectable second. But aggressive decks had been strangely absent. The Tempered Steel deck from Worlds had been universally mocked, and White Weenie's success from Amsterdam was not even close to being repeated. And so players rammed Bitterblossoms, Cryptic Commands and Jaces into each other. Manlands did battle in the streets. And all the while the Figures of Goblin Guides watched mournfully from the sidelines, waiting their turns to shine. Red has been waiting for its chance.

The time has come.

Sometimes one man can make a difference. Sometimes one man can Turn the Tides of insanity and create a new order. Sometimes one man must assume the duties of prophet and messiah to save the world. And sometimes one man simply views the latest PTQ results on Tcgplayer.com. 7 out of the top 32 slots on an MTGO PTQ, and 4 top 32 slots in another, including a 2nd and 6th in the top 8. 1st place at the Indianapolis PTQ. 1st and 6th at the San Diego PTQ. 4th in Columbus. 6th in Burlington. 3rd and 4th in Madison (TN). 2nd in Seattle. Clearly Red has put up the results, yet not one article has taken a serious look at the deck, dissected card choices, and made it a strategy more accessible than it already was. But never fear!

The time has come.

In this article, I'll take a look at the top finishing Red lists around the country and world, compare and contrast their individual card choices, as well as talk about the 3 different Red strategies that can exist at a given time. I'll provide you with my own deck and list a complete matchup guide. No stone shall be left unturned, no Lightning Bolt uncast.

When looking at a RDW decklist, the first thing I feel it's necessary to do is categorize it according to the three strategies present in Red Aggro decks:

The Blitz—the all-in, no looking back, win with no cards in hand strategy. Blitz Red is the fastest and most aggressive, usually packs the most burn, and doesn't care too much about the later stages of the game, instead focusing on winning before an opponent has a chance to develop. Ball Lightning type cards are a staple of this archetype, because they embody its ideal of “damage over card advantage” to the max.

Midrange—features slower yet more powerful cards than The Blitz, it will often dispense with Ball Lightning mimics and some of the burn in favor of cards like Kargan Dragonlord, Koth, or Demigod of Revenge. While Midrange features abstractly stronger cards, it suffers from being significantly slower than Blitz, and while it is able to leverage its card quality to have a better matchup versus control decks, it is often left unable to race combo and aggressive strategies.

Big Red—the tortoise to Blitz's metaphorical hare, Big Red takes Midrange's power cards to the maximum level. Instead of choosing between Koth, Dragonlord, and Demigod, why not play all three? Big Red is actually often forced to play slightly more burn than Midrange to keep itself alive, but because its creatures are better in a vacuum, it can often cut down on the number of them to make room. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of this strategy, but it's hard to deny the power level of the cards it brings to the table.

So let's take a look at some of the PTQ decks, and file them under these categories.

Blitz: 2 wins, one 6th place finish, one 16th place finish

Sample list:

Red Deck Wins by Greg Hatch
Finished 1st Place at 2011 PTQ Nagoya - San Diego
Main Deck
Sideboard
2 Ball Lightning
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Goblin Guide
4 Hell's Thunder
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Tattermunge Maniac
Creatures [22]
4 Burst Lightning
4 Flame Javelin
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Searing Blaze
1 Shard Volley
Spells [15]
4 Arid Mesa
11 Mountain (242)
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Teetering Peaks
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


2 Arc Trail
4 Fulminator Mage
1 Koth of the Hammer
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Searing Blaze
4 Volcanic Fallout
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


That is slightly ridiculous. 10 Ball Lightning effects, a full play set of Tattermunge Maniac for a total of 12 one drops, and forgoing the almost staple Boggart Ram-Gang because it's too slow. I'll be honest; you'll be hard pressed to find a better example of a Blitz strategy from a recent Extended tournament. This deck is all-in on its game plan, but if you don't have an answer in the first 4 turns, the game will have already ended.

Midrange: one 12th place finish

Hande, 12th place MTGO PTQ

Red Deck Wins by Hande
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Ball Lightning
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Goblin Guide
4 Kargan Dragonlord
Creatures [24]
4 Burst Lightning
4 Flame Javelin
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Shard Volley
Spells [13]
3 Arid Mesa
4 Copperline Gorge
7 Mountain (152)
4 Raging Ravine
4 Rootbound Crag
1 Scalding Tarn
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]







Click for full deck stats & notes!


And this is a pretty perfect example of a slower build of RDW. Here, we can see the slower staple Kargan Dragonlord, as well as splashing a color for Bloodbraid Elf. While a playset of Ball Lightning is slightly off message, the emphasis on the late game is highlighted again with the player choosing to run Raging Ravine over Fire-Lit Thicket. This if rather unconventional, but plays to the slower game plan. Also notice two fewer burn spells than the Blitz version and the presence of Ram-Gang over Hell's Thunder.

Big Red: no finishes

This isn't surprising. Big Red is usually the worst Red strategy because it attempts to turn the color into something it's not. Red taking the control role is about as effective as Blue trying to beat down.

So Blitz has obviously performed the best out of all of the RDW strategies to this date, and I would say that it is the best strategy for Red in this current PTQ season. Because early PTQs are defined by aggression, trying to turn Red into a midrange strategy is ineffective and actually counterproductive. Instead, a fast build will capitalize on stumbles, misbuilt decks, and misplays to a greater extent than either of the other choices. Here's the decklist I've been playing on MTGO

Red Deck Wins by Noah Whinston
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Ball Lightning
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Goblin Guide
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Tattermunge Maniac
Creatures [20]
4 Burst Lightning
4 Flame Javelin
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
1 Shard Volley
Spells [17]
4 Arid Mesa
11 Mountain (152)
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Teetering Peaks
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


1 Arc Trail
3 Fulminator Mage
1 Koth of the Hammer
3 Magma Spray
3 Smash to Smithereens
4 Volcanic Fallout
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Here, there are minimal changes from Hatch's 1st place list from San Diego, but the changes are significant. I've cut the Hell's Thunders all together in acknowledgement of the Faeries matchup. There, unless you are lucky to play them on turn 3, on the play, while they don't have a Counterspell or a Spellstutter Sprite, they do almost nothing. Their lack of trample is very relevant when fighting Bitterblossom, and so in acknowledgement of this matchup, I've removed them entirely. 2 of the slots I put toward filling up on Ball Lightning. He's strong in the areas where Hell's Thunder is lacking, most importantly by trampling over 1/1 Black Fliers, and so gets the nod. I would recommend swapping the Ball Lightnings to Hell's Thunders if you're in a metagame with less Faeries, and more 5 Color Control and creature based decks. But because Faeries is so popular on modo, I've been sticking with Ball Lightning. The last 2 free slots I devoted to maxing out on Searing Blaze. I've always found this card to be amazing for me. It clears away mana dorks without killing your tempo, it acts as a simple Lava Spike some of the time. And let's be honest, if they don't have any creatures on the table, they probably aren't winning the game anyway. I also chose to go with the Tattermunge Maniac in appreciation of a need for another 4 one drops. I have to mulligan a lot of hands with Red looking for a source of repeatable damage. Keeping all Ball Lightning effects and burn can be too risky. But there's enough burn in the deck to keep that Maniac swinging for a while, and he is more mana efficient than Figure of Destiny, though with less of a top end mana sink.

I'll discuss the benefits of each of the sideboard cards when looking at the matchups in which they come in.

Faeries
Game 1 against Faeries, just like during its tenure in Standard, is heavily in Red's favor. You are far too aggressive for Fae to handle well, and Bitterblossom, which is critical to them winning, will give you a free Lightning Bolt or two over the course of the game. Be careful with the hands you keep, and make sure that they wont fold to a Thoughtseize, but other than that, game 1 should be relatively easy

+4 Volcanic Fallout +3 Smash to Smithereens
-4 Tattermunge Maniac -3 Searing Blaze

Postboard, the matchup actually gets quite a bit worse for Red. Faeries, unable to win as a traditional tribal strategy, is forced to morph into a bad U/B control deck, still keeping in Bitterblossom, but also adding some combination of Sylvok Lifestaff, Wall of Tanglecord, and Wurmcoil Engine to stall the game and buy the time necessary to win. This is where Smash to Smithereens comes into play. Smash will disrupt this strategy, and make it nigh impossible for Fae to stabilize the board. As we've seen hundreds of times before, Fallout is excellent in this matchup. It can always serve as an uncounterable Shock to the face as well. Tattermunge Maniac is poor because it trade with Blossom tokens, and Searing Blaze doesn't have any good targets in this matchup.

Overall, the matchup is in Red's favor. Even with better odds in games 2 and 3, Faeries still has to win two in a row after almost certainly losing game 1. Just play tight and don't run your important spells into obvious countermagic or removal.

5 Color Control
Again, we have a favored game 1 scenario, though not as favored as against Faeries. 5 Color Control is one of the few decks in the format that runs board sweepers, but against the Blitz build of RDW, this is often irrelevant. The big threats here are Wurmcoil Engine and Grave Titan. Cruel Ultimatum is not good at all, because you can sling out your burn spells in response to it, Unearth some Hellsparks, and kill the opponent through the 5 life bonus. Be wary of keeping hands that depend on Hellsparks, Goblin Guide, or Tattermunge Maniac though, because you have to respect Wall of Omens. Don't rely on your creatures in this matchup, just look to deal 5-10 damage with them, and let burn carry you the rest of the way.

+1 Koth +3 Fulminator Mage +3 Magma Spray
-4 Searing Blaze -3 Hellspark Elemental

5 CC decks usually bring in a suite of lifegain, most often Kitchen Finks, but some will have Obstinate Baloth instead. This makes the matchup significantly more difficult, but you're boarding strategy will often try to turn the Blitz strategy into a more Midrange one, because 5CC never puts you under any pressure. Koth and Fulminator Mage are obvious choices for this type of game plan. Koth is an all-star threat, though difficult to resolve. So wait until the tap low, and go for it. Fulminator Mage forces them to play as if they had one less land if they are trying to keep countermagic up, and can also delay them from getting to the critical 6 mana for Wurmcoil or Grave Titan. I would always bring in the 3 Magma Sprays for game 2, because they deal with Kitchen Finks well and can kill a Wurmcoil Engine without making the babies if you can find 4 other points of burn, but if they're on the Obstinate Baloth plan I would board 1 or 2 back out for some Hellsparks.

Wargate-Omen
Another favored matchup game one. This plays like a 5CC deck without any board sweepers, and so is less able to put up a fight. Some versions have started running a creature based game plan, with maindeck Knight of the Reliquary, Bloodbraid Elf, and Sun Titan, which is a slightly worse matchup, but this is not common yet. Essentially, you should be killing them before they reach 6 lands to make Omen+Valakut relevant.

+3 Fulminator Mage +1 Koth
-4 Ball Lightning

Again, like vs. 5CC, I like to got for a slower gameplan against Wargate. This time, I left the Sprays in the board for game 2 because Wargate is more likely to have Baloth>Finks, but the Sprays should come in for game 3 if that's not the case. Koth and Fulminator serve much the same roles against Wargate as against 5CC, just a few small differences. Wargate really doesn't have an answer to Koth other than Cryptic Command to bounce or ramping up and getting 2 Valakut triggers. Neither of these is likely, nor good for the opponent. Fulminator Mage is slightly stronger against Omen because without Omen itself, the deck's manabase is extremely shaky, so a well placed Stone Rain can bring it crashing down. Remember that Valakut's trigger checks for 5 mountains on resolution as well, so if they have Omen on the table and Wargate for Valakut as their 6th land, you can Fulminator the Valakut after it triggers and the trigger won't deal any damage.

Overall, another great matchup for the Red deck. If it doesn't mess up your game plan overly much, play around Firespout rather than Day of Judgment, which can give you a few more percentage points in the match if they had made that card choice decision.

Now, I'm not one of the people to claim that this deck only has good matchups. Creature decks can be rough for Blitz strategies because they are mean to capitalize on slower starts from the opponent. So here are some of the worst matchups for my build of RDW:

White Weenie
Another perennial “bad” deck, except unlike Red, it's actually bad right now! Unfortunately, it has an amazing matchup against Red decks. Spectral Procession, Honor of the Pure, Knight of the White Orchid, and Burrenton Forgetender and Kor Firewalker out of the sideboard make this fairly miserable, especially with Ranger of Eos to tutor up multiple Forgetenders. Game 1 is more ven than you would expect, unless they play all the protection from Red cards in the maindeck, as you really only have to deal with Knight of the White Orchid. But the difficulty with that is playing around Brave the Elements while still maintaining pressure, which is easier said than done. Game 1 might be slightly above 50% for Red, but it all goes South from there.

+1 Arc Trail +4 Volcanic Fallout +3 Magma Spray
-4 Ball Lightning -4 Tattermunge Maniac

There is no less enjoyable matchup to play than postboard against White Weenie. Forgetender with Rangers are a nightmare, Firewalker hoses our game plan, we have to bring in Volcanic Fallout even though it just does nothing most of the time, it's just terrible! You have to get very lucky, have your opponent miss multiple land drops, ultimate a Figure, or draw more than 20 points of burn, and hope they don't have an answer to any of the above scenarios.

Elf Aggro or Elf Combo
These two decks have largely the same game plan. While Elf combo has small creatures, they will often splash White for Ranger of Eos and maindeck Burrenton Forgetender. And Elf Aggro, though lacking in the Forgetenders, plays too many lords to work around. Both, looking at the whole match, are worse matchups than White Weenie, because game 1 is also so difficult for Red.

+1 Arc Trail +4 Volcanic Fallout +3 Magma Spray

The same boarding as for White Weenie, but no more effective. Elf Aggro will add life gain out of the sideboard, while elf Combo can go up to a full 4 Forgetenders in some builds.

My only advice in this matchup is to kill Fauna Shaman on sight, otherwise they'll pump out lords/Forgtenders too quickly to keep up. It's another terrible matchup.

Thankfully, both these and other creature decks are showing up with less frequency than the big 3 control decks I talked about above. Ooze combo, another popular choice, is also a good matchup for Red because the high amount of Burn can prevent too many shenanigans from going on.

Overall, Red is extremely well positioned because of the current emphasis on control over aggro strategies, even early in the format's development. Red will be able to exploit this by beating up on the control decks until the creature based aggressive strategies gain enough tools to carve out places for themselves within the metagame. Whether you read this as someone wanting to play Red or beat it, I hope this article has helped you develop your knowledge an important factor within the Extended metagame, and let me know in the comments if there's anything I missed that you'd like to know and I'll do my best to respond.

The time has come,

--Noah Whinston
Nwhinston on Twitter
Arcadefire on MTGO



submit to reddit » Print «