Feature Article from Raphael Levy

Evolving Dark Red Brew at GP Krakow

Raphael Levy

4/30/2015 10:32:00 AM

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Following PT Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels, and after Sunday's PTD (Post Tournament Depression), Monica (my wife) and I flew to Krakow to rest a little bit after the Pro Tour's frenzy. I had a couple of days to take it easy and decide on a deck to play at the GP. Of course, that didn't happen. About an hour after I finished writing my last article, I started working on the list again. I knew the list wasn't optimal; I just needed to know where to start. The week of rest quickly turned into an intensive week of modo'ing.

Just as a reminder, here's the list I played at the Pro Tour:

Monored Devotion by Raphael Levy
Finished 17th - 32nd Place at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Ashcloud Phoenix
4 Dragon Whisperer
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Lightning Berserker
4 Thunderbreak Regent
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
Creatures [30]
3 Roast
3 Wild Slash
Spells [6]
4 Bloodstained Mire
13 Mountain (259)
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Temple of Malice
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]


1 Harness by Force
3 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Seismic Rupture
3 Self-Inflicted Wound
1 Swamp (256)
3 Ultimate Price
2 Virulent Plague
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Following the results of the Pro Tour, I knew I needed to fix the deck as the field wasn't very friendly to it.

1- I needed to fix the removal suite

I wasn't happy with Roast at all. It would be a dead card in a lot of situations. I wanted something that would give you some game against all kinds of Dragons, the ones in GR, the ones in Esper and that could also kill Siege Rhino.

2- I wanted to find a way to improve the choice of creatures

While I liked Dragon Whisperers and Goblin Rabblemasters, there had to be better options out there.

In my other article, I talked about adding one Murderous Cut to the mix. I tried for a while, to mix Roast, Ultimate Price and Murderous Cut, but I never had the right one at the right time so that wasn't the right option. The card I wanted to have all the time was Murderous Cut. Back when the threats were Siege Rhinos, Dragonlord Silumgar and Thunderbreak Regent, that card did everything I wanted it to do.

To add Murderous Cut to the deck, the manabase had to change. I needed to find a way to fill the graveyard and get my black mana sooner, without it being too disruptive to the deck.

My old manabase:

4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Temple of Malice
13 Mountain
1 Swamp
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

My new manabase:
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Temple of Malice
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Wooded Foothills
12 Mountain
1 Swamp

While Nykthos was a cool card when it helped you get to 6 mana once in a while, it wasn't as efficient as it was in a Gw devotion deck, for example, where it provides nearly infinite mana. The Dragon Whisperers could also be swapped for something else (see below), and Nykthos would do much without the Whisperers. I added 4 fetch lands, including 2 Evolving Wilds to up the count of black sources to 11, and 2 Wooded Foothills to just fetch a Mountain and fill your graveyard for Delve purposes.

Having 4 Murderous Cut might sounds like a lot of Delve cards, but it's really not that bad. The first one is the hardest to cast, but thanks to the fetch lands, you usually manage to cast it in time. The second one is never really a problem.

You can't really play more than 6 come-into-play tapped lands. Evolving Wilds is necessary, but I wouldn't play more than 2 as that would really start to hurt the tempo of your deck. Also, in about 20% of the games, your opponent will have an Urborg in play, making your Foothills and Evolving Wilds Swamps in case you don't want to fetch or need a black mana right away.

I found the mana to work like that. Adding a 25th land helps as you'll be taking lands off your deck while fetching and it can be a little hard to reach your 5th or 6th land sometimes.

In all my playtest games, I really liked how the mana interacted with Murderous Cut. Catching my opponents with a one-mana removal in game one with one black mana open was a delight, and that worked even at the GP.

After that, I had to fix the creature base. I was suggested in the comment section and from other people to try Ire Shaman. I don't really know why we overlooked that card during testing, since it did what we wanted our creatures to do: have some kind of evasion and be cheap. As a two-drop, it's far from shabby, it's pretty much like a 2-power flyer (a fine deal for 2 mana). In the late game, it provides some card advantage and a three-power evasion creature. It fills both the spot for early creature and the spot for later in the game.

I took out both Dragon Whisperers and Goblin Rabblemasters. Dragon Whisperer was a little too mana hungry. What I liked about it was that it was an extra way to bring back Flamewake Phoenix. As for Rabblemaster, they've been both good and bad. Good because when your opponent has nothing, it wins on its own. But in a format where control decks play a lot of removals, you often end up spending your three mana for almost nothing. In the deck, I preferred to have earlier drops.

What I wanted to try was Jeering Instigator. Harness by Force was potentially a devastating card, but I didn't like the fact that you had to hold it until the right moment. The Instigator is a 2-mana 2/1, body that's far from irrelevant against Esper Dragon (it would trade for a removal or just start beating) and against MonoRed to give you a blocker for Rabblemaster, it can also block the Goblin Tokens if you play it as a morph. It's the 3rd morph in the deck, which would make it a total surprise for most of your opponents. They mostly expect an Ire Shaman, rarely an Ashcloud Phoenix as you want to play it for 4 mana.

The “threaten” effect is extremely efficient against strategies relying on big “targetable” creatures, such as GR Dragons and Abzan Aggro. Against the first versions of BU Dragons, it would free your creatures from the nasty grasps of Icefall Regent and Dragonlord Silumgar. Their text says : “as long as you control xxx”, meaning that if you Threaten either dragon, you can untap your creature on the next turn, or just get your creature back (and also attack with a big flyer).

I've been very happy with this card over the weekend. It's not worth having it in the sideboard, but I would definitely at least keep one in the main.

Here's the list I played in Krakow:

Dark Red Wins by Raphael Levy
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Ashcloud Phoenix
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Ire Shaman
2 Jeering Instigator
3 Lightning Berserker
4 Thunderbreak Regent
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
Creatures [28]
4 Murderous Cut
3 Wild Slash
Spells [7]
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Evolving Wilds
12 Mountain (259)
1 Swamp (256)
4 Temple of Malice
2 Wooded Foothills
Lands [25]
Deck Total [60]


3 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Roast
3 Seismic Rupture
3 Self-Inflicted Wound
2 Virulent Plague
1 Wild Slash
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


I went over the other cards in my last article, and if they're still around, it means I don't have much more to say about them.

In Krakow, I had a strong day 1 with 8-1 record (so 5-1 without the byes). I started day 2 well with 2-1 and lost three straight (7-5 overall) and ended up 71st. I was a little down after losing two in a row and I'm pretty sure I threw away the last one.

My matchups in the tournament were quite representative of the format: 5 Esper Dragon, 3 MonoRed, 3 Abzan Aggro and 1 Abzan Control.

My score against each archetype:

VS Esper Dragon: 2-3
VS Abzan Aggro: 3-0
VS MonoRed: 2-1
VS Abzan Control: 0-1 (the match I didn't play well)

Except for the last match, it also feels representative of the matchups of the deck.

VS Esper Dragon

How I sideboarded:
-3 Wild Slash
-1/2 Murderous Cut
+3 Hammer of Purphoros
+1/2 Self-Inflicted Wound

The matchup against Esper Dragon is very tough. It depends a lot on how they sideboard. I lost two of my matches because I sideboarded wrong. How can I possibly sideboard wrong? Very simple, they never keep the same creatures and you never know which removal is going to be better. Murderous Cut is necessary against Dragonlord Silumgar and Tasigur the Golden Fang (occasionally against Ojutai), but Self-Inflicted Wound take care of Dragonlord Ojutai every single time.

Hammer of Purphoros is great in that matchup, also a good reason now to have 25 lands in the deck. 3 was too many though. It does a lot of work but it sometimes isn't enough to win on its own and drawing a second one if the first one had resolved feels miserable.

VS Abzan Aggro

How I sideboarded:
-4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
-1 Wild Slash
-1Ashcloud Phoenix
+3 Roast
+3 Self-Inflicted Wound

While that matchup could have been tough without the Murderous Cuts, it became much easier. With 6 extra removal after board, it becomes very hard for them to keep a threat on the board for long.

VS Monored

How I sideboarded:
On the draw:
-4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
-2 Jeering Instigator
On the play
-2 Jeering Instigator
-1 Eidolon of the Great Revel
-1 Murderous Cut
-2 Ashcloud Phoenix
+3 Seismic Rupture
+1 Wild Slash
+2 Virulent Plague

Not much has changed since the previous version. Matchup is probably a little in your favor.

Given the results of GP Krakow and the increasing popularity of Esper Dragon, I had to change the list to make it more competitive against that deck, without losing too much against the other decks.

Don't get me wrong, the matchup against Esper Dragon is not great bu not unwinnable. It's also hard for them to sideboard correctly because our deck plays on both levels: the early game with Zurgo, Lightning Berserker and Eidolon of the Great Revel and the late game with Thunderbreak Regent and Ashcloud Phoenix. They never know when to bring in Drown in Sorrow or Disdainful Stroke. Sometimes they just over-sideboard and end up with the wrong cards in hand when you're the beatdown (too many countermagics) or all the Bile Blights and Drown in Sorrow when you're beating with Dragons.

The deck as it is isn't adapted to fight Esper Dragons efficiently. Seven cards in the main are pretty much blanked (4 Murderous Cut and 3 Wild Slash) and we don't have the right answers to their threats/blockers (as their Dragons block our creatures way too well). We also don't have enough sideboard cards to replace them.

So which angle do we want to use to fix the Esper Dragon matchup?

The options are:

More early beatdown. Early drops put a lot of pressure in the early game, if they don't have the right answer, they're likely to be dead before they can set their plan in motion. The problem with that plan is that it would take more sideboard slots, and if you get to game 3, they will be sideboarding in everything they have to fight aggressive strategies. You would turn your deck into a bad MonoRed aggro.

More impactful spell. Cards like Hammer of Purphoros or Outpost Siege, cards that punish your opponent for tapping out. What I don't like about that plan is that we already have a lot of 4+ drops. If they board in Disdainful Stroke or keep/have Thoughtseize, they won't have the effect we're looking for. I could see replacing adding an Outpost Siege though. In any case, we don't want to have too many of these cards.

Disruption. Thoughtseize, Despise, Duress, cards that would take care of a threat/removal/counterspell before they can be effective. What I don't like with this strategy is that you'd need about 3 or 4 of these in your sideboard and they would just be too situational. As soon as they hit a Dig Through Time, you won't be able to control their draw and they'll end up with the card they want.

Answers to their dragons. Add Edict effects such as Foul-Tongue Invocation and Merciless Executioner. Probably the best way to fight Esper. The way you lose that match is when they tap out to play a Silumgar, Drifting Death or Dragonlord Ojutaï, and you can't attack anymore. They can also be sideboarded in against other decks.

With all that in mind, here is my suggestion for an updated list:

Dark Red Wins Update by Raphael Levy
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Ashcloud Phoenix
1 Dragon Whisperer
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Ire Shaman
1 Jeering Instigator
3 Lightning Berserker
4 Thunderbreak Regent
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
Creatures [28]
1 Foul-Tongue Invocation
3 Murderous Cut
3 Wild Slash
Spells [7]
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Evolving Wilds
12 Mountain (259)
1 Swamp (256)
4 Temple of Malice
2 Wooded Foothills
Lands [25]
Deck Total [60]


3 Foul-Tongue Invocation
1 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Outpost Siege
3 Roast
3 Seismic Rupture
1 Self-Inflicted Wound
2 Virulent Plague
1 Wild Slash
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


This is still a work in progress and I'll be testing hardcore until GP Paris which will take place on May 9th-10th. It looks more like something adapted to the current format.

I want to try to cut one Murderous Cut for a Foul-Tongue Invocation in the main deck. It's a lot more efficient against Esper and might not be a bad replacement against creature decks since you have 4 dragons to get full value of the card (and get the 4 life that go with the Edict).

As for the sideboard, I wanted to have enough cards to board in against Esper. As for the high impact cards I kept only one Hammer and added an Outpost Siege. I changed the removal suite in the sideboard to have the full 4 Full-Tongue Invocation after board. Full-Tongue Invocation over Merciless Executioner as the Instant Speed is likely to be more useful than a 3/1 body that could interact with Flamewake Phoenix (or sacrifice a “frozen” creature).

I brought Dragon Whisperer back in as a one-of since I feel I have unfinished business with that chick. I just really wanted to try Instigator and that's why it was out in V2.

It feels that this is the list I should have played in Krakow. However, I was on my own to tune the deck and it was hard to figure out everything. Now that I have another tournament in, I think I can see a lot better why the deck can be good in the field right now.

I'll keep working on it and keep you posted!

Cheers!

Raph