Hello! I just came back from Players Tour Brussels, where I finished 10th on tiebreakers. This event was quite special, because I switched my deck choice three days before the deadline, and I think it was a great move, even though I practiced 5-Color Niv to Light for almost two weeks. The new choice was Mono Red, and according to number of question on my Twitter, I figured out it might be worth to write a big article about it, rather than answering every single question individually.
Why Mono Red over 5C Niv to Light?
Around two, maybe three weeks before the PT, 5C Niv to Light was winning everything, and simply looked as the best deck in the format. It had a great match up versus almost every existing aggro deck (UR Ensoul was the only exception, as no one played Spirits at that time). It was my play style (I love midrange strategies with removal, card advantage, and powerful threats). Unfortunately for me, metagame in Pioneer shifted on a daily basis. Every single time deck X overperformed, people found deck Y that destroyed it. Niv wasn’t any different, and as soon as people realized it was a deck to beat, UR Ensoul, UW Spirits, Lotus Breach seen play more and more. The breaking point for me was invention of UB 《Inverter of Truth》 combo, another bad match up.
At this point I knew playing 5C Niv to Light wasn’t an option, and I wanted to find that might attack the right part of the metagame. UB “Splinter Twin” got a lot of people’s attention, and I expected it to be highly played at the PT, at least by the very best players, which is the most important part of the metagame, as you have to expect to play against them, if you want to do well at any high level tournament. This wasn’t a hidden infomation, so the “next level” of the metagame was about beating UB. Three the best decks to do that were (at least to my understanding, I didn’t spend much time on UB, so there’s a chance I’m misunderstanding match ups of this deck) Mono Black Aggro, UR Ensoul, and UW Spirits.
You know what those decks have in common? Yes, you’re right. Bad Mono Red match up. That’s why I decided to make a last minute switch, and since Monday I spent all my time to figure out the best Mono Red list I could. This is what I registered:
4 《Ramunap Ruins》
2 《Castle Embereth》
-Land (24)- 4 《Monastery Swiftspear》
4 《Soul-Scar Mage》
3 《Kari Zev, Skyship Raider》
4 《Bonecrusher Giant》
4 《Goblin Chainwhirler》
4 《Goblin Rabblemaster》
3 《Torbran, Thane of Red Fell》
1 《Hazoret the Fervent》
Key Cards in the List
To understand the big picture of a deck you have to realize what was the biggest issue with “Chonky Red“. Deck was simply too slow to compete with other combo and control archetypes. 《Glorybringer》 might be a nice card, when you try to fight for resources versus other aggro decks and/or small midranges, but it’s unplayable against combo and bigger decks like 5C Niv to Light or Ramp.
The biggest power of Mono Red, and the most unfair effect in red color is 《Torbran, Thane of Red Fell》. If other people try to do unfair things (play 2 cards combo like 《Inverter of Truth》 + 《Thassa’s Oracle》, or combos with 《Underworld Breach》) we also have to try to “cheat” on the power level of cards we play to stay in contention. Here’s detailed explanation on the most important card choices:
8 One Mana Prowees Creatures
Pioneer is a fast format, and you don’t want to play from behind. The best way to win versus other creature-based decks is to deal damage to them while killing their creatures, and 8 one drops help with that. Against combo and/or control you also want to start dealing damage since turn one!
Not a big invention here. The best 12 “deal damage to any target” cards in the maindeck, so we don’t end up with a dead card in hand against creature-less decks, and some more focus removal in the sideboard, so we can bring it if it is good.
《Kari Zev, Skyship Raider》 is the best two mana creature for this deck. Great synergy with 《Torbran, Thane of Red Fell》 (makes another guy, so Dwarf’s ability counts twice). Decent blocker vs Mono Black Aggro. I decided to not play 《Abbot of Keral Keep》 which people seem to like. On turn two is pretty much embarrassing, and later in the game is “worth” only if we hit a card that we can play. If we don’t, it gets even worse than on turn two. On top of that dies to opponent’s 《Goblin Chainwhirler》. People probably play it for mana curve reasons, but if you look at 《Bonecrusher Giant》 as a semi-two drop, curve doesn’t look that bad.
《Goblin Chainwhirler》 is a reason to play this deck, and PLEASE, don’t cut it! With Torbran it can swing unwinable otherwise games, and even on turn three it’s a nightmare for decks like Mono Black or Spirits, which are a big part of the metagame nowadays. The next great friend of Torbran is 《Goblin Rabblemaster》. I’m playing him over 《Abbot of Keral Keep》 comparing to stock lists, and I believe it’s a great move. Rabblemaster is the best turn 3 play against combo where you really need to race them, and control, where it’s a “kill it or die” for them. It also allows us to play a “control game”, with removal on everything that opponent plays, and the Goblin as a win condition.
《Torbran, Thane of Red Fell》 is the best, but is also a legend. I believe four is too many, and that’s why I added one 《Chandra, Torch of Defiance》 and one 《Hazoret the Fervent》. Both cards are either hit or miss depending on the match up, so I wanted to split them.
Match ups and Sideboard Guide
The most important skill for a Mono Red player is an ability to understand in which match up you want to be aggro, and when you want to play a control game. Sideboard/keeps/playpatterns depend highly on that, so I’ll try to explain it below using top 10 match ups from Pioneer.
Mono Black Aggro
Here you want to play as a tempo-control. You want to develop some early threats to deal damage to your opponent, while you’re killing their creatures. 《Goblin Rabblemaster》 is a decent card game one, as it’s not that easy to kill and provides a big value versus all the “can’t block” creatures, postboard though they have more two mana removal that deal well with Goblin. Usually focus on defense for the first few turns, and try to find a spot when you can fully commit to race. If you deal a few damage early with 《Monastery Swiftspear》 or 《Soul-Scar Mage》, you might find your opponent on 14 life with your 7 power on board. That probably means you can attack with everything and win the game soon.
5-Color Niv to Light
The worst match up for Mono Red and it’s hard to fix it. 《Harness by Force》 can steal games, but other than that we don’t have much to say. Fortunately 5C Niv to Light deck has mana problems from time to time, so we can count on that. The best way to win the game is to focus on early aggression. Just hope they’re not gonna be able to play spells on curve, and you kill them before they find their mana. Not the greatest plan, but works from time to time.
Side Note: if you know the exact list, don’t board in 《Fry》 vs the list Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa played in Brussels. Without 《Siege Rhino》 is not worth it, and you want to keep more 《Wild Slash》 to kill 《Gilded Goose》 and 《Voice of Resurgence》. I boarded 2 《Harness by Force》 for 2 《Lightning Strike》 against him.
In terms of gameplay, very similar match up to Mono Black. Try to don’t let them play 《Ensoul Artifact》 on a creature, if you don’t have 《Abrade》. If you’re on the draw, it’s usually better to not play your one drop turn one, even if you don’t have 《Wild Slash》, so you can bluff it. Remember that you can kill 5/5 《Darksteel Citadel》, if you have 《Soul-Scar Mage》 on the battlefield. It’s your only way to beat “the combo”. Without 5/5 Indestructible you have enough removal to stop everything on one-for-one basis. 《Goblin Chainwhirler》 is also great vs their “fair” start, so if you have one in hand, consider not killing their one drops with point removal, and save it for later. After casting Goblin, you want to be sure you can deal with 《Skilled Animator》 easily.
Good match up, take full control role. Your main goal is to kill every single creature, with main focus being on lords (《Supreme Phantom》 and 《Empyrean Eagle》). Chainwhirler is the best creature against them. If they don’t get a critical mass of creatures, they don’t do much, so the strategy of bringing every single removal spell from your sideboard works great. Be aware of 《Settle the Wreckage》. Some lists play it, some don’t, but if you don’t have full access to their list it’s better to be careful than throw unloseable otherwise game.
Here you’re 100% aggro. Tobran is usually bad versus deck with high density of answers, so it’s better to replace it with other, higher impact four drops. Avoid keeping slow hands, if you don’t apply pressure from the very early turns, it’s gonna be hard to break through all the answers and 《Dig Through Time》 finding more. Especially nowadays, when everyone has multiple 《Dream Trawler》s in sideboard.
Play as a control in early turns, try to kill everything the play, and then (usually around turn 4-5) try to start playing aggressively. You want to keep the board as clean as possible, so they can’t play cards like 《Ghalta, Primal Hunger》, but also close the game relatively fast, so they can’t sneak in 《The Great Henge》 and win the game with it. Easy to say, hard to do, but that’s the best shot to win the match. Match up gets even worse, if they splash black for 《7/6 Dino》.
Mono White Heliod
Similar to above, except Hazoret is bad (they have a lot of “exile” removal like 《Stasis Snare》). Try to kill everything early, so they can’t take advantage from devotion, 《Heliod, Sun-Crowned》‘s lifelink ability etc, but also do your best to close the game as soon as you can, so they don’t have infinite time to set up the combo. Remember that 《Fry》 + 《Soul-Scar Mage》 kill active Heliod! People usually don’t play around that.
Not much to add, play as aggressively as possible, never keep slow hands. It’s a pure race without a lot of interaction. Don’t be afraid to play burn into the face even in early turns, if you don’t have any other play, and you can trigger Prowess. Every damage counts!
Exactly as above. Pure race, every damage counts. The best cards are 《Eidolon of the Great Revel》, 《Goblin Rabblemaster》, and 《Torbran, Thane of Red Fell》 if you have any of two other cards. Remember that 《Tormod’s Crypt》 triggers Prowess, so it might be worth one or two points of damage from time to time! Don’t play it turn one, if you have 《Soul-Scar Mage》 in hand!
As against any control deck, you have to play 100% aggro. Nice part here is 《Harness by Force》, especially if opponent doesn’t know we have it. They usually play a fast 6/6, as it’s a great blocker against Mono Red, and they die the turn after. At least that’s how my playtesting looked like.
I hope this guide helped you to understand this deck. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me on Twitter, in comments under link to this article. I’ll do my best to answer every one of them! If you would like to print the sideboard guide, you can use my own version of it, that I used at the PT.
As a note, I played 《Lava Coil》 over the 《Roast》, and 0 《Damping Sphere》 is here, because I considered that card until after I made this sheet. After realizing that I don’t need it that much versus the expected metagame, and 《Abrade》 fits well versus many match ups, I switched 1st Sphere for the 2nd 《Abrade》.
I really like the list, and wouldn’t change much if I had a chance to play the PT again, but I have to admit that 《Tormod’s Crypt》 isn’t necessary in the sideboard, and I played it only because how tournament rules were made. At the PT lists were open, and we exchanged the full main deck (with quantity of cards), and sideboard in the way that showed only names of cards we played, without quantity of them.
Informing any of my opponents playing graveyard based decks like Dredge or Soulflayer, that I don’t have any single piece of graveyard hate is very dangerous, as they don’t need to add any of “anti-hate-cards”. This way, as they didn’t know how many Crypts I played, they had to respect it, and sideboard as usual, making their deck slightly worse.
If you want to play an event without open decklists, or just leagues on Magic Online, I would recommend removing it for something else. After Sultai Delirium won in Brussels, it might be good to fit 《Rampaging Ferocidon》 in sideboard, so I would try -1 《Tormod’s Crypt》, -1 《Chandra’s Defeat》 (it’s only good in the mirror), +2 Ferocidon.
I believe that Mono Red is great, and it will be until the next big switch of Pioneer metagame (which might happen after PT Phoenix, who knows), and I’m really proud of my last minute deck change. I hope it will work well for you as well!
Thanks for reading,