So I decided to see if old Extended (and originally Legacy!) favorite All-In Red could be an effective strategy in Modern. I figured that, sure, no Rite of Flame might be a downer—meaning we would have to lean on the sort of eh Pyretic Ritual—but that there was probably enough meat on the bone to keep things interesting and incentives live.
… It turns out that you also can't game with a Chrome Mox! Poor All-In Red!
For those of you who—like more than one of my tournament queue opponents—aren't familiar with the All-In Red strategy, it is kind of like a cross between a Storm combo deck and a Reanimator deck; not Reanimator in the sense that you bring one big creature back from the graveyard, but rather that you expend multiple cards to get a big creature out faster than it is supposed to come out.
There is not a lot of conceptual difference between using Entomb or Careful Study and a Reanimation spell to get a fat man on board and just using two explosive mana cards, viz. Simian Spirit Guide + Seething Song, to do the same thing. In the case of Reanimator, you might be able to use your mana more flexibly (by casting the relevant spells over the course of multiple turns), but on the other hand, you are not exposed to hate cards like Grafdigger's Cage.
The one major incentive that the deck has over many other available strategies in Modern is that in addition to playing accelerators into storm or a fat man, you can play an eight-pack of Mind Twists... That is, Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon.
See why I called this article "The Mind Twist Factor?" While these cards are not exactly inviolate (especially Magus of the Moon, especially against multicolor decks with regular old Lightning Bolt), in a staggering number of matchups, if you blow your hand (or at least, say, two cards) on dropping one of these spells relatively early, it is like you completely neutralized your opponent's hand... Just like a Mind Twist!
If your opponent makes all their land drops but their lands can't actually cast anything useful, they get utility out of neither lands nor cards in hand!
When you combine both the Storm / Reanimator and Mind Twist potential lines, you actually end up with a relatively high incentive deck for Modern.
This is the deck I playtested over the past week or two:
Just as a note before we continue: I initially underestimated the contextual value of Spellskite in current Modern, and if I were going to play in a PTQ tomorrow, I would certainly play four in my sideboard over Martyr of Ashes and one Shattering Spree. I had Martyr of Ashes as a potential preempt for the Bogle deck, but Spellskite actually gets you out of jail for free and is much less draw reliant in terms of its efficacy. Incidentally, it can also protect a Magus of the Moon.
So obviously Thundermaw Hellkite is one of the major cards that has been printed since the last time anyone considered All-In Red for Extended. Though I was an even bigger fan of Deus of Calamity than Demigod of Revenge when the fatties of choice all came out of Shadowmoor, the major limitation of All-In Red is that the fatty that you draw is very likely the fatty that you have to try to win the game with. Not a whole lot of Ponder and Preordain in this deck if you grok. Each fat man is better than the others at least some of the time, but it is comforting to have a suite of fives—Demigod of Revenge, Thunderblust, and Thundermaw Hellkite—that all kind of do the same thing: strike, strike big, and strike with haste.
General game play with this deck is pretty draw dependent. That is, it is the kind of deck where, though it probably has a very similar average value as other viable decks in Modern, will disproportionately reward players who have to beat players who are better than they are and restrict players who gain value by making more and better decisions. This deck has no touches on library... I didn't even play Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn! Like I said before, the treat you draw is the threat you've got.
You may have a pre-game decision about whether or not to keep a one-land hand. I wouldn't say this for most decks, but I have kept the vast majority of one-land hands I have had with this deck and not been disappointed. It is not so much that there is magical math that will reward you with a land on top, but many one-land hands are sufficiently explosive that even if you end up having to discard once, you can still blow the opponent out of the water.
I mean, if you have the Simian Spirit Guide and a two-mana Ritual catalyst, your opponent is probably destroyed anyway... But you also have these draws where you had to discard, you discarded Demigod of Revenge, you drew a second land...and all of a sudden you are attacking for ten and have ten Goblins in play and your opponent can't even attack with their stupid Geist of Saint Traft they tapped out for.
The first decision you will usually have to make playing this deck is whether or not to blow a "Ritual" on the second turn (or even first turn!) Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon...especially if you have a third land and could play it the next turn anyway. Of course, it depends on what land your opponent just played and what (if anything) they just did with that land. Generally speaking, I would say to just blow the Ritual and gamble that you might Mind Twist them.
The only super common deck in Modern that is really invulnerable to Blood Moon is Splinter Twin; most other common decks will be absolutely destroyed by a Blood Moon if they haven't already gotten their games going, so I think it is generally worth the shot. You will have to think a bit more on Magus of the Moon (sucks to trade two or three cards for a Lightning Bolt), but there is good value there more often than not.
So how do you play generally?
The basic operating procedure is to get your threat online ASAP. If you can cover it by mana screwing your opponent first, great, but as I have said twice already, this deck doesn't give you a lot of options. This is not a deck that rewards patience; rather, like fortune, it favors the bold. It turns out that if you put your opponent on a three-turn clock, more often than not they die... So try!
Usually, it will take you more than one card to play out a big threat quickly—for example, Pyretic Ritual + Seething Song for a turn 2 Demigod of Revenge—so if you have fatties to choose from, try to sequence them in deference to resilience versus options. Thunderblust is the fastest of the three but essentially a redundancy in this deck. In the dark, I would not play Thunderblust before either of the others. If I felt like I had the liberty to play more than one fatty, I would sequence Thundermaw Hellkite last to preserve the anti-Lingering Souls 187 potential; also, if your opponent blows up Demigod of Revenge, you might just draw another one, so mise.
Five Things to Think About Playing All-In Red:
1. Jund is the king of Modern, and—if my experience is worth anything—this deck beats Jund. Badly. Jund has a devil of a time beating Blood Moon and is not well positioned to trade with your flying fat men (or lots of Goblins) in any case. I don't even sideboard against Jund. It can be a fight if your opponent has a fast Deathrite Shaman, but regardless, I would be very happy playing against mostly Jund decks.
2. From a win percentage standpoint, this version of All-In Red is even better against the Geist of Saint Traft Zoo deck and, oddly, Assault Loam. The first one is easy to understand. You play to make them unable to cast any spells, and they comply by not casting any spells. But the second? Even when you mana screw them, they can still—rather, can almost always—play Seismic Assault. However, it is usually pretty tough for them to cast Life from the Loam. Thundermaw Hellkite is especially your friend against Assault Loam. It takes them three lands to kill that 5/5 (which is also great against their Lingering Souls, which are great against your Goblins storm plan).
3. Pretty good deck...bad time? I have yet to beat the Brandon Large / Larry Swasey / Mitchell Manders U/R/W deck in a queue. Unfortunately, that is "the new fair deck in town" and is much more popular than it was, say, two weeks ago. Fatties that require one or two Dark Rituals for setup are fundamentally weak against decks with a lot of Remands, and this deck can both draw Island and Plains and starts four copies of Lightning Bolt! Jerks! Engineered Explosives is also quite effective against 1) your Goblins and 2) your three-mana lockdowns... I've lost to the Explosives as just a way to get Celestial Colonnade online.
4. Longtime players probably already know this, but there are all kinds of ways you can screw an opponent with Demigod of Revenge. I mean, you can just draw a second one (that is pretty awesome)...but against permission? It's like playing Standstill; the onus is on your opponent to play correctly or you can get a freebie. When you play Demigod of Revenge (assuming you put its ability on the stack), your opponent must allow that ability to resolve. Otherwise, they can Counterspell your Demigod of Revenge, which you will put into the graveyard, which will then jump hastily out of the graveyard thanks to the ability they did not let resolve.
5. Manamorphose is largely just an Empty the Warrens catalyst in this deck, though it also kind of proxies up lands 20 and 21, being a cantrip and all. This is the least essential card in the deck, and when I played All-In Red in Extended, I only played two copies. I don't know what I would replace it with, though... Perhaps Faithless Looting?
All in all, I found All-In Red to be a deck of positive expectation; I certainly won more than I lost and won substantially against the most common decks. Interestingly, I won the vast majority of my game 1s… It's not like we can present overwhelmingly powerful sideboard cards (unless the opponent is Affinity, I guess).
One thought I came away from playing All-In Red with near the end was what if I could play this strategy without having to commit so many resources? That is, is there a way to get the incentives of the deck without actually going "all-in?"
When I was scouring the available mana acceleration cards to make up for Chrome Mox and Rite of Flame, I came upon Smokebraider. If I had found another Elemental that seemed anywhere reasonable, I probably would have produced a 4x Thunderblust deck with Smokebraider as a two-drop catalyst.
So I was already keyed in on using mana acceleration creatures instead of "just" Rituals. Of course, the color that is really good at that is green. I came up with this:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Boggart Ram-Gang
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Magus of the Moon
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Thunderblust
- 4 Thundermaw Hellkite
A couple of things really surprised me about this.
First of all, it is kind of shockingly good. Both shocking in terms of degree (i.e., I keep winning) and shocking that it is good at all. I mean, it pretty much looks like a terrible Jund deck, right? Flinthoof Boar instead of Tarmogoyf? I guess Flinthoof Boar is a Watchwolf / Boggart Ram-Gang split card... But since when is Boggart Ram-Gang a viable Modern card? Don't worry, we play both.
It turns out that if you play an eight-pack of relevant one-drop accelerators (thank you, Brad Nelson!), you get to play a kind of different game than your opponent. Cards like Tarmogoyf only get you extra value if your opponent agrees to play long enough to let it grow and grow increasingly relevant... There are a lot of matchups in Modern where you actually just want to be faster than your opponent, and putting them on a haste clock forces the opponent to at least play on point.
As Patrick Chapin might say about a deck he doesn't find all that interesting, it kind of speaks for itself. Haste guys. Pretty efficient; a little surprising on the high end. Shockingly, as I said, better than it might look at first blush, though I don't think you want to get into a long and involved fight with an opponent based in individual card efficiency. That said, I've already won more Magic Online matches in a row than I did when I called Andre Coimbra and told him to book a ticket to Worlds.
2. It's possible that you want Blood Moon in this deck, either in lieu of the maindeck Magus of the Moon or more likely as an eight-pack out of the side. I am not sure where I would make room; Dismember and Ratchet Bomb are serious commitments, and I liked Ancient Grudge even more against Infect than I did for Affinity (though both are easy matchups). This might require some investigation, as Blood Moon wins were half the incentive to the first deck.
Really, I have been shocked.