Greetings, readers! Let’s talk Red Deck Wins, red-based aggro, and red-based control in Amonkhet Standard.
I now consider myself a huge fan of Red Deck Wins. Over the past few years of playing Magic: The Gathering, my playstyle has undergone many shifts and changes. Just after my daughter was born, I spent close to a year working part-time at a local game store to make ends meet. It was then that I got back into MTG, surrounded by excited players about to dive into Theros-Ravnica Standard. I felt a little like Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad, selling Magic cards on a daily basis, and I soon took the plunge back into the game I had first begun playing back in college.
Since then, I have piloted an alternating combination of brews and netdecks. As I continued to improve my game, my brews following a new set would eventually lead to a netdeck, which would in turn improve my brewing abilities. This process continued for several years. At this point, I realized that my ideal playstyle was probably midrange: removal with creature/planeswalker haymakers.
Just before Theros rotation, I began to dabble in a playstyle I hadn’t really looked at since college, and brewed up my own takes on Atarka Dragons and Rabble Red. Both ran amazingly, but unfortunately I needed to cash out of the game for a few months while I got situated at my new job teaching music at a university.
After piloting Bant Company for a few months following Shadows over Innistrad, and Mono-Green Ramp before that, something felt wrong. I wasn’t enjoying midrange anymore. The aggro decks were too fast and the control decks dismissed me too easily. It was around this time that I discovered an interesting BR Thermo-Alchemist Madness Burn deck that looked promising. I made a few tweaks to it and have since won several FNMs, Kaladesh Game Day, and Aether Revolt Game Day at my local store piloting a combination of burn and control that preys on the local metagame of aggro and superfriends.
That’s how I’ve arrived where I am today, piloting various budget brews ($30-40) ranging from Madness Bugwhacker, to UR Fevered Tower, to Red Deck Wins. Red may have looked weak a few months ago (while I was happily casting Incendiary Flow on my opponents), but it has definitely come into its own with the new Amonkhet spoilers.
Let’s take a look at the most promising red cards in Amonkhet and potential brews we can come up with to take full advantage of them.
Top 4 Hottest Red Cards for Brewing in Amonkhet Standard, Plus Budget-Friendly Decklists!
There’s a lot to be said about the value and potential of Bloodrage Brawler.
First off, the ability to discard a card is incredibly relevant in current Standard. Madness, Amonkhet discard synergy, creatures that return from the graveyard, and creatures that recast cards in your graveyard (I’m looking at you, Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Fatcaster Mage) all reward you for this so-called “drawback”.
All of the above uses for Bloodrage Brawler are simply arguments for why it could easily be slotted into preexisting decks, and we should expect to see it heavily played in those contexts. However, today we’re talking about ways to brew around these new cards in fun and unexpected ways.
Today, let’s abuse the fact that Bloodrage Brawler is a sweet 4/3 for 2 mana, and leave a little bit of room for the discard drawback to provide some value (also, you don’t have to discard a card if your hand is empty!). That’s right, it’s time for some Bugwhacker shenanigans.
Mono-Red Madness Bugwhacker, updated for Amonkhet (3.44 tix, $17.90 paper)
2 Geier Reach Sanitarium
3 Bomat Courier
4 Inventor’s Apprentice
4 Falkenrath Gorger
3 Insolent Neonate
4 Bloodrage Brawler
3 Furyblade Vampire
3 Lupine Prototype
4 Reckless Bushwhacker
3 Pia Nalaar
3 Skin Invasion
4 Fiery Temper
The focus with Bugwhacker has always been to get maximum value through synergy, a favorable power/toughness ratio to mana spent (especially through Lupine Prototype and Skin Invasion), and being extremely cheap to build. Its original build cost 4.5 tix, and it’s even cheaper now (coming in just under $20 on paper).
Bloodrage Brawler helps turn on Lupine Prototype that much faster, and gives an even steadier stream of efficient threats.
I’m not wild about Hazoret the Fervent, but there is potential to be explored here.
First off, it passes the vanilla test with flying colours. On top of that, it has indestructible and haste. As for its condition for attacking and blocking, it’s essentially Lupine Prototype (though Prototype is still a better fit for Bugwhacker simply because it costs two mana to Hazoret’s four).
Hazoret also provides a discard outlet that directly damages each opponent. Is this abuseable in Standard? Possibly, with combos such as Shadow of the Grave, though I’m uncertain simply because of the mana investment necessary and the sheer amount of threats Standard spits out these days that have to be answered.
As with Bloodrage Brawler, it looks like the discard outlet on Hazoret should be treated as secondary. To be completely honest, if I were looking for a 3 mana discard outlet, I’d take Geier Reach Sanitarium any day of the week. No, today let’s brew around Hazoret as a 5/4 with haste for 4 mana.
Is a 5/4 for 4 mana worth it for Red Deck Wins? I’m actually of the opinion that it’s not quite good enough, simply because of cost. At higher mana costs, I’d rather be casting Collective Defiance and Goblin Dark-Dwellers (which will then re-cast Collective Defiance, if you’re into that sort of thing). How then will we abuse Hazoret?
Enter Rhonas the Indomitable. That’s right, this will be a GR aggro build, featuring as many Amonkhet cards as we can fit.
GR Aggro (non-budget)
This list was significantly more difficult to put together on the fly, but it has the markings of something playable. Kessig Prowler and Kari Zev provide some early beats, with Prowler potentially able to turn on Rhonas. The late drops are designed to keep the beats coming, with Fling and Insult /// Injury as potential closers.
#2. Combat Celebrant
Now we’re getting to the fun stuff.
While it’s important to keep in mind that Combat Celebrant dies to pretty much every piece of removal out there, there is some potential here. In the current metagame where more and more decks are jamming Walking Ballista, I don’t expect to see it in maindecks anytime soon. In fact, Combat Celebrant will always coexist with Ballista in Standard.
The possibility remains that Celebrant may eventually see its day, and there are a lot of aggressive cards that would love to see multiple combat steps. What cards, you ask?
Red Celebrant Wins ($48 paper)
This is a variation on a deck I already play regularly and I’m excited to see what Combat Celebrant (and Soul-Scar Mage, see below) have to offer to the list. Many of these creatures love having multiple combat steps in a row, especially Impetuous Devils, Hanweir Garrison, and Kari Zev.
If you’re able to meld into Writhing Township… Let’s just say it gets a little gross.
Many brewers are also looking at combining Samut, Voice of Dissent with Celebrant for an extra combat step each turn, and while I agree it looks like a powerful combination, I’m not keen on the mana investment necessary to achieve the combo. In EDH? Definitely.
#1. Soul-Scar Mage
It comes down to this, the card the pyromancer in me cannot wait to cast over, and over, and over again.
It’s by no means the “new” Monastery Swiftspear, but you have to give it to Wizards of the Coast. They’ve done a great job recently with printing powerful cards with useful (somewhat situational) abilities and great stat blocks. There are quite a few specific hate cards that cycle for 1-2 mana, making them playable in maindecks depending on how the metagame shapes up. We already looked at Bloodrage Brawler and Hazoret, both of which easily pass the vanilla test. In addition, the former has synergy potential while the latter, at the very least, packs a hefty indestructible and haste.
Soul-Scar Mage is not to be outdone. A 1/2 with prowess for 1 mana is already an improvement on every other option red has available for one-drops. Soul-Scar Mage also solves that pesky little problem red mages always seem to run into – huge creatures that just won’t die.
There is obviously a lot of potential synergy in Standard alone. For example, maybe you’re the type of Magic player who likes to use Walking Ballista to shoot your opponents’ creatures and put multiple -1/-1 counters on them with replacement effects from Soul-Scar Mage and Winding Constrictor. Hey, I’m not judging. I dig it. Sure, Constrictor also helps your opponent if you happen to be on the receiving end of a Soul-Scar barrage, but it might end up being a fair trade depending on which card ends up seeing more play.
The deck I am focusing on here, though, is an update of UR Fevered Tower. I’m still deliberating on whether Soul-Scar should be in the maindeck, but here is what the deck would look like if that’s the direction I end up going:
UR Fevered Tower, ft. Soul-Scar Mage ($119 paper)
4 Aether Hub
4 Spirebluff Canal
4 Wandering Fumarole
2 Blighted Cataract
2 Void Shatter
4 Harnessed Lightning
3 Glimmer of Genius
4 Soul-Scar Mage
4 Fevered Visions
4 Dynavolt Tower
Personally, I kind of like the idea of altering the text of Dynavolt Tower to say:
While the price tag on Fevered Tower seems steep, it drops down to $66 without the dual lands, and down to $48.50 if you replace Disallow with Scatter to the Winds. There’s definitely some leeway for the budget players out there.
As a suggestion, here is a combination worth considering for the control players in the room wanting to jam red:
4 Sweltering Suns
3 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
4 Soul-Scar Mage
The above cards would play out like this: on turn 3, if there are not enough creatures worth killing on the opponent’s board, cycle it at the end of your opponent’s turn. Regardless, before you drop Dark-Dwellers, play out Soul-Scar if necessary. Use Dark-Dwellers to replay Sweltering Suns and wipe your opponent’s board now that it’s developed. If they had a beefy battlefield of beaters, Soul-Scar can be used to great effect, shrinking everything down to size. If you’ve the mana, why not precede this with a handy Shock so Soul-Scar survives the encounter?
There you have it, four different brew ideas that take advantage of exciting new red cards from Amonkhet. What cards are you most excited to brew around? Are you going to update a preexisting deck, or build an entirely new archetype? Will you find some crazy new synergy that breaks a new card from Amonkhet? Is there a budget deck idea you’d like for me to feature after release?
Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading,