Crucible of Words – Can Red Deck Win in Standard? by Cyrus Bales

Crucible of Words – How do you solve a problem like a Mindsculptor? By Cyrus Bales


Red Deck Wins (RDW) is often the most common deck in a format, and as such, is the most miss-built and misplayed deck. Today I’ll be looking at the archetype in standard, in terms of building and fixing some common mistakes I see regularly which often lead to misplays.

So what is RDW? It’s the most in your face obvious deck there is, you may cheap effective creature and attack, then finish your opponent with burn spells. It’s all about being the clock and racing your opponent, over the years some builds have been slightly slower to incorporate things like Demigod of Revenge whilst the classic sligh deck was a 20/20/20 split of lands, cheap creatures and burn spells.

The current card pool has a lot of choices, which leaves a lot of room for deck-building errors. I’ll run through the must play cards and why.

Shrine of Burning Rage – This card is one of the primary reasons for running RDW, it allows you to cause massive amounts of damage for very little input, and get down a big finishing spell early on and let it scale to your needs. Any RDW list without four of these is making a big mistake.

Stormblood Beserker – In this deck, it’s very easy to make this guy into a 3/3 with relevant evasion on turn two. Being able to press for a decent amount of damage and dodge chump blocking, this is the powerhouse two drop creature of the deck, but often leads to miss-builds of people working too hard to trigger it and weakening their deck.

Stromkirk Noble – A simple card that grows as he attacks. It should be easy for you to keep this creature attacking and dealing damage, as you can remove blockers just fine. It will usually get in a decent amount of damage and we worth the investment of one card and one mana, especially if on turn one.

Hero of Oxid Ridge – Gets you damage for your investment straight away, pumps your team, and grants evasion from chump blocks. In a world of Timely Reinforcements, this card has become a must.

Koth of the Hammer – Attacking with 4/4 creatures is a fine thing to do, and the fact they dodge sorcery speed removal is important. Against a control deck, he can run away with the game and crack his ultimate which should win you the game, but it is less powerful versus other decks that make creatures in the early turns.

Arc Trail – This card is fantastic. It’s this format’s Searing Blaze. Whilst not as powerful, it’s more easily cast, and can provide card advantage by stripping two creatures from your opponent’s board. Very worthwhile indeed.

Brimstone Volley – Three mana buying you five damage is incredible. Whilst it will sometimes be only three, you will be able to get the full five out of it most of the time. This means a deck will struggle through any combat decision or removal spell decision if you have three mana untapped, and will win you games from nowhere.

Volt Charge – Looking at the cards above, I think it’s obvious why this card should be included. Pumping your Koth, Noble, Shrine or Berserker can be backbreaking, lifting a creature out of Slagstorm range in response whilst burning them, or just giving your Shrine an extra push. This card synergizes really well with the deck and can make Koth ultimate a lot quicker in a control match, giving them very little time to deal with it. I wouldn’t play RDW without these at the moment, since the other must play cards demand it.

These cards are the cornerstones of RDW in the current format, there are other key cards you should be running, but if you look at your list and fine you aren’t playing some of these, you need to rethink the list.

Now I’ll examine the two main traps that people fall into when building RDW at the moment.

Gut Shot – This is probably the most common error I see in RDW lists. The logic is that against an aggressive deck, you can take out their one drop so they can’t develop their board or make a bloodthirsted Stormblood Berserker, or give you bloodthirst for your own turn two Berserker if your one drop was killed. However there is a big problem here. If you are spending two life to kill a one drop in the mirror, you are also losing a card, effectively making your opponent’s one drop into a Shock that strips you of a card, hardly bad in an aggressive deck to be making turn one mini-Blightnings. And in terms of killing creatures in other decks, you don’t gain that much value for killing an opposing Snapcaster Mage or pinging them for one life. When talking of bloodthirst, Stormblood Berserker seems a much worse card if he’s costing you two cards for what is effectively a Keldon Marauders most of the time. That loss of a card for one damage puts too much strain on the rest of your deck.

Reckless Waif – I see a lot of lists running this creature, sure, if you have a poor under-prepared opponent, they can flip and allow you to get in for a bit of damage, but if you have an opponent who isn’t doing anything in the first few turns, then you should be winning anyway. He is also vastly worse on the draw than on the play, making your deck inconsistent, and requires specific and unlikely circumstances to get you anything more than a 1/1 for your troubles. In terms of when you top deck him later, at least Stromkirk Noble as a one drop has a mild form of evasion and can get bigger with the removal of a blocker, the Reckless Waif on the other hand is a colossally bad top deck and thoroughly weakens your deck.

So, what do we do if we can’t use the above options?

Gesitflame – This spell is surprisingly amazing. It does the same job as a Gut Shot in terms of removing creatures, and gets you twice the value and won’t be costing you life. Being able to cast it twice gives you extra Shrine of Burning Rage fuel which is clearly worth it, and it can trigger Chandra’s Pheonix to rise from the ashes and beat face. But what about getting bloodthirst on turn two if you lose your one drop? The obvious issue here is of a player trying so hard to get that turn two Berserker, but it’s a much better play to make some other two drop or a couple of one drops in favour of dropping the Berserker next turn with a Gesitflame or damage from your creatures you made the turn before. You should need to jump through hoops to make the Berserker, if you play smart, an opportunity to make a two mana 3/3 with evasion will arise. The Berserker maintains value for much longer in the game so can wait to be cast.

Goblin Fireslinger – A staple of a draft archetype, this man has found his way into standard in a positive manner. As a one drop, he will give you bloodthirst every turn until he’s removed, he ignores blockers, making him a much better top deck, and can be used to chump to trigger Brimstone Volley, or keep opponent’s creatures at home in fear of the Volley. Providing a consistent (albeit slow) clock on by himself, he can help you chip away your opponent and give you what you need from a one drop without being a dead draw later on.

And what else should be finding its way into a RDW list? There are a number of cards you can use to round out the deck, Grim Lavamancer is a solid 2-of, since he develops a nice end game later on, whilst still being able to turn sideways to trigger bloodthirst if you draw him early. Chandra’s Phoenix is a great way to gain some card advantage in the control match up and wear down their removal and counterspells, although be wary of Dissapate. Spikeshot Elder is yet again another one drop who can get more value in a field of blockers and enjoys the company of Hero of Oxid Ridge in terms of pinging for more. Incinerate is of course a great burn spell that is no Lightning Bolt but is indeed close enough. Splashing green from Copperline Gorge and Rootbound Crag doesn’t hurt the manabase and allows you a couple of Kessig Wolf Run as a pseudo Blaze built on a land for the late game, and of course Ancient Grudge in the sideboard.

Example Decklist:

4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Golbin Fireslinger
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Stormblood Beserker
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
2 Koth of the Hammer
4 Brimstone Volley
4 Volt Charge
3 Arc Trail
2 Incinerate
2 Gesit Flame
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Rootbound Crag
13 Mountain
3 Ancient Grudge
1 Manic Vandal
1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Mountain
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Gesitflame
2 Tree of Redemption

This list is pretty simple, but effective. Dropping a guy on turn one, then following up with Shrine or Beserker, and clocking relatively fast. The sideboard is more interesting, you have the ability to play a longer game with Phoenix and Koth, to give control more problems, and green mana allows you to demolish the mirror by casting Tree of Redemption which is a blowout every time, much more so than Vulshok Refugee who seems to have gained a lot of favour. The Tree can block any guy except Beserker, and can stop them getting morbid in their turn for the Volley, not to mention its nuts ability for the mirror. The Vandal can take out opposing shrines whilst applying a bit of pressure, and the Grudges are obviously great for the Tempered Steel match up, which along with Geistflames is rather good.

There we have it, this is more or less the version I would play in standard at the moment, it has the option to play at different speeds, giving it more versatility than normal RDW lists as well as cutting a lot of the bad cards I see all too often.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing.



Please let us know what you think below...

Visit our Manaleak online store for the latest Magic: the Gathering singles, spoilers, exclusive reader offers, sales, freebies and more!

Magic The Gatherig Freebies Giveaways