I don't know where you're reading this, but here in the South, it's hot.
July and August are always the worst times for heat here, and this year is no exception. We've been spared triple digits . . .
Ok, enough about the weather. You can talk about that with your local mailman or grocery concierge. My point was to bring up the heat in the form of my favorite card from M14.
Opinions about her are the definition of "mixed." Some people think she's a great role player, lauding Wizards for making a playable Chandra planeswalker. Others dismiss her as doing too little too late in the game, saying she should be cheaper and/or that her abilities should be a bit more potent. Even now, after a couple weeks deep in the new metagame, the Jura's still out on this 'walker.
Now, I'm a little gun shy on four-mana red planeswalkers thanks to Ral Zarek's non-effect on Standard a few months ago. More than any other planeswalker in the past year, I have tried to make him effective and have generally failed (though he's found a reasonable spot in my RUG Control deck on Magic Online). His first ability is cute, but it doesn't do a lot, especially the turn he comes into play. His best use is a double Lightning Bolt most of the time from what I've found.
Chandra, on the other hand, has a very relevant first ability. Ping the opponent then hit a creature. One damage doesn't seem like a lot, but Izzet Staticaster has seen play at the top tables thanks to repeatable pings that cost no mana. It can kill mana dorks, keep a planeswalker at bay by negating their own +1s, give your burn spells a little more oomph for no cost, and makes blocks difficult by either removing the best blocker or making it unfavorable to block; a Fiend Hunter can't block a Grizzly Bear any more without the fear of the ping post-combat. This +1 is miles above Chandra's previous incarnation.
Her second ability is the true star. Drawing an extra card (that's what this basically says for a red deck) in a very flavorful and balanced way makes her a very exciting addition to any red deck. Unlike other planeswalkers, you can "draw" a card at no cost to either mana or loyalty counters, so you can do it forever on just one Chandra. Drawing you into a land drop or that last burn spell might be just what you need. Her last ability, while impressive, is riskier, and unless you need to go for broke that turn, I might suggest using either of her other abilities instead.
With Chandra at the helm of a new mono-red deck, I notice a distinct shift from the red decks of the past. Most recently, Mono-Red Aggro was a big player in Return to Ravnica Block Constructed thanks to the likes of Ash Zealot, Boros Reckoner, and Gore-House Chainwalker. This and nearly all other mono-red decks have featured hyperfast, vulnerable creatures backed up by burn spells designed to reduce your opponent to cinders as quickly as possible.
I'm not sure that's the best plan. Creatures are getting better and better, and there's too many ways to sabotage traditional mono-red strategies: Sphinx's Revelation; Thragtusk; Boros Reckoner; Supreme Verdict; Jace, Architect of Thought; and the list goes on. Skullcracks and Dynacharges can't be the only niche options to deal with this, can they?
Mono-red in its traditional style is fairly anemic right now, but what if we go for something a little deeper? No Rakdos Cacklers, no Goblin Guides; what if we actually aim to control the board first?
Chandra's spoiling got me brewing down this slower, more determined path. In today's aggro-heavy world, we can't compete with their creature quality, but the burn available is pretty diverse. Let's take a look at a slower but more inevitable red deck and see where it takes us.
Young Pyromancer, the darling and most expensive uncommon from M14, is a natural inclusion in this deck. Every time you kill something with a burn spell, you'll get a 1/1 to surprise block or add more board pressure. It's a great value monster, and it just about needs to be answered. Like Talrand, Sky Summoner, it's even better if you cast it with untapped mana for a spell, say a Shock or Searing Spear. Boros Reckoner is good as always. A playset of Mutavault get in the way of playing a playset, as I found I couldn't cast him on turn 3 as often as I'd like.
Chandra's Phoenix, an old pal from M12, returns for another outing. I am a big fan of the Phoenix; I experienced local success with it in an R/B Tibalt build that used graveyard cards and Runechanter's Pike to stab away at the opponent's life total. I still had my three copies in my non-Standard binder, so they came in. Finally, Hellrider is a great haster that with even a few Elemental tokens can land a lethal blow even if you don't land the lethal blow during combat. It and the creatures behind it can eat a planeswalker on the attack or cripple a weakened foe. I will say that I considered Ogre Battledriver, another choice creature from M14, but I don't think it belongs in a deck like this.
Sixteen burn spells fill up nearly half my nonland slots. In aggro matchups, these spells will be aimed at creatures more often than the face. Dismantling their plan will let you assemble yours. Shock, Pillar of Flame, and Searing Spear have in their own time been the simple burn of choice across their lives in Standard. Most aggro decks build up from turn 1 for every creature they have/play (Champion of the Parish, Experiment Ooze, Stromkirk Noble), so shutting them down early is very important. That's why I play a full set each of Shocks and Pillars. Bonfire of the Damned is also exceptional at flattening a small army. I've stocked the deck full of lands, so there should be plenty of fuel for the fire even if it's hard cast. This card is still pretty good.
Chandra herself and three Burning Earths wrap up the spell list. Burning Earth, one of the most underrated sideboard cards in Standard, is a one-sided Manabarbs against a fair amount of the field. Midrange and control crumble to an unanswered Earth, and it will solidify your win on a slim board.
21 Mountains and a set of Mutavaults. If you don't know how good Mutavault is, you need to sit down for a spell and play with it. No Caverns, not even a Hellion Crucible; I still need a fair amount of red.
This whole deck, especially the sideboard, has shifted around a lot since I first drafted the list before M14 came out. Cards I thought were better than they were have left, and cards I underestimated are now front and center. For the most part, though, the sideboard contains answers to matchups that I otherwise get blown out of. Being a single-color deck without flexible answers to a variety of threats, I have to play niche answers to make sure I stay relevant.
Skullcrack, the first card, upgrades Pillar of Flame or Shock in matches where early removal is irrelevant. Most decks that don't have early drops will have a way to gain life, be it Thragtusk, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, or Huntmaster of the Fells. Thus, this comes right in over any irrelevant burn spell. Shocks and Pillar of Flames will probably end up going to the dome in this scenario anyway, so offering an upgrade can't hurt. I will note that this slot was Thunderbolt for a long time; with Restoration Angel floating around and Archangel of Thune ready to take to the skies, I considered including this as a specific, instant answer to those very problematic creatures. I landed on Skullcrack, but the metagame may dictate a switch.
Mindsparker is great against U/W/R Flash, one of the most stable and reliable archetypes over the last ten months. In an aggro matchup, it's a respectable choice, eating any X/3 with ease and trumping Rancor too. Pithing Needle stops a lot of problematic permanents that I can't stop as mono-red. Aetherling, Izzet Staticaster, and Cartel Aristocrat immediately come to mind. Cartel Aristocrat namely seems to be one of the most irritating problems for mono-red. It also stops Lotleth Troll, Deathrite Shaman (who can get annoying if you take out your Shocks or Pillar of Flames), and Olivia Voldaren (who can get herself out of burn range pretty quickly).
Glaring Spotlight offers this deck two things. First, it's obviously a good side in against the Hexproof decks. Shocks, Pillar of Flames, and Searing Spears get much better when they can hit Geist of Saint Traft and Invisible Stalker. Ratchet Bomb was a consideration for this slot for a long time, but I ruled it out as too slow and self-sabotaging. You can pop the Spotlight to force your Elemental tokens through an army of defenders too. In a non-sweeper match, this can be seen as a nearly uncounterable Deluge or a great protection spell for whatever creature you need to save.
Finally, Wild Ricochet, or Reverberate 2.0, fills in the last slot. As I was reviewing the top lists from the Open in Richmond two weeks ago, I realized that I am super dead to Bonfire of the Damned myself. Wild Ricochet was included on that merit alone. It completely upends an opposing Bonfire, doubling the damage and hitting them with it. It's also fine against Sphinx's Revelation or even just petty removal, such as Abrupt Decay or a Far // Away. I felt like this deck needed a way to interact with spells on the stack, and this is the answer I came up with. I don't mind it being more expensive than Reverberate. The payoff is greater, and you won't want to cast it until you can hit something juicy. This one may be too narrow, but I feel like it's a reasonable inclusion.
This most recent version I'm bringing you today comes from a lot of number crunching and crafting but remains untested in its current state. Slowing mono-red down might just give it the strength it needs to fight through the value engines of today's Standard.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a deck I was going to bring you soon. Ironically, this list took only a couple minutes to come up with, probably because it only has ten unique cards in it. Take a look!
Shadowborn Apostle was spoiled a few months ago in preparation for Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014. Although I immediately thought of my ol' buddy Sphinx of the Chimes, I decided to aim for the straight and narrow and bring you my version of a deck that uses the Apostle. 26 Apostles man the wall until you reach the critical mass of cultists, and then off you go to find a massive Demon with a nice enters-the-battlefield ability. Liliana of the Veil in her providence helps this deck . . . well, helps this deck not be so bad. Playing a million 1/1s hasn't been good for a long time, so Liliana slims their hand down for you. You don't mind discarding either. You're just trying to make a sacrifice.
The hallmark Demon sports a full playset; even though it's expensive, you will be searching for it and only it, so it needs to be in here all four times. Immortal Servitude is a realistic inclusion; although we'd all love to think that we can assemble six Apostles without losing any to damage or combat, that's just not the case. Immortal Servitude allows a full recovery of tempo while also making use of discarded Apostles too. We'd all love to live the dream of sacrificing a group to the ritual, reanimating them all, and doing it again. Hey, it could happen. Because the Demon itself is cheap, if it gets the axe, getting to eight mana and reanimating all the Demons is a pretty cool play too. Swamps and Vaults again.
The sideboard makes use of Pithing Needle for the same reasons the mono-red list does. Black has the potential to interact with spells in the form of Duress as well, so it hops in when your opponent has sided in the one answer to deal with your shenanigans. We don't want Slaughter Games to become two copies of a kicked Sadistic Sacrament, do we? See if they snap keep, then let 'er rip! Ratchet Bomb makes it in this time. If you'll notice, I only have three converted mana costs in the maindeck: one, three, and five. The rest is fair game for the Bomb, and that's helpful against the aggro decks that like their two-drops. It flattens Huntmaster of the Fells and four-cost planeswalkers, and it can be used to sweep tokens too.
Mutilate similarly has little disadvantage for you when you can reanimate the Apostles anyway. As I think I said last week, I think Mutilate is the most powerful sweeper in Standard, but it's at the steep cost of being mono-black. Thankfully.
Shadowborn Apostles are selling like Tickle Me Elmo here at SCG; do you folks know something I don't? Post your own brew for the cult in the comments below. Or you could do it for this week's challenge.
Speaking of which, here's last week's challenge winners! We were going light on creatures to emphasize different card types in Magic, so builders had to keep the creature count to eight and the creature-maker count to eight too. You all submitted lots of great decks all the way up to the midnight gong on Saturday. Here are my two favorites.
Nivix Tricks by Nick Ramirez
4 Steam Vents
4 Stomping Ground
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Hinterland Harbor
3 Breeding Pool
4 Sulfur Falls
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Nivix Cyclops
4 Nivmagus Elemental
2 Mizzium Skin
4 Turn // Burn
3 Think Twice
4 Searing Spear
3 Simic Charm
4 Pit Fight
2 Izzet Charm
2 Armed // Dangerous
4 Wild Defiance
Nick's idea was to make one super awesome, well defended Cyclops or Elemental to beat face. Although I think there are some pieces missing from this list (Artful Dodge and Mending Touch), I do love the inclusion of Wild Defiance for some hilarious plays. With Defiance, his Nivix Cyclops becomes a mighty 8/8 double striker when you cast Armed // Dangerous on it, and Pit Fight is actual hard removal in most instances, trading for even very impressive creatures. Wild Defiance was the key, and it's possible that including another few creatures or token producers might put this deck over the edge. I love both the Elemental and the Cyclops, and seeing them work in a clean three-color shell is intriguing.
The second featured entry presented me with a dilemma. Theo Moree's list landed in my inbox on Tuesday, but before I published this challenge, I'd already come up with my deck for the week. It turns out Theo and I were communicating telepathically long before then; our lists are very, very similar. Instead of giving two submitted decks and my own deck, I'll just give you Theo's Burn at the Stake list and mine beside it.
Earl Spamalot by Theo Moree
3 Burn at the Stake
4 Faithless Looting
4 Infernal Plunge
2 Past in Flames
3 Wild Guess
4 Battle Hymn
3 Desperate Ravings
3 Izzet Charm
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Krenko's Command
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
For comparison, here's my list.
Burn at the Stake Combo by Matt Higgs
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Goblin Electromancer
4 Krenko's Command
4 Molten Birth
4 Battle Hymn
4 Infernal Plunge
3 Reforge the Soul
3 Past in Flames
3 Chandra, Pyromaster
3 Burn at the Stake
2 Faithless Looting
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Cavern of Souls
3 Ogre Battledriver
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Pithing Needle
Both of us love Burn at the Stake, and Theo, like all of us, was hoping to rip through his deck ASAP in hopes of hitting the mother lode. Young Pyromancer is an absolutely essential piece for putting the Burn at the Stake puzzle together. Infernal Plunge replaces a devoured Elemental token with the Pyromancer out, and Molten Birth can go infinite technically. My version uses Goblin Electromancer, but if I use Guttersnipe like Theo does, the deck could be flat mono-red. I like Theo's inclusion of Guttersnipe as a very reasonable plan B. Ideally, both decks want to hit the opponent with a lethal BATS. However, Guttersnipe allows the deck to cast a suboptimal BATS and still have done enough damage to pass the test. Theo's deck is definitely more flexible, and I applaud each of this week's chosen submissions and their authors!
Now for this week's challenge!
I want to bend the rules of deckbuilding a little bit. One of the most basic and important rules of deckbuilding is restricting any spell and nonbasic land to four copies. It creates interesting variety from match to match, adds an exciting element of luck, and keeps the price down on otherwise bonkers cards (if we're being honest). If, right now in 2013, that limitation disappeared and your budget was limitless, what would you build?
- Format: Standard
- For this challenge, you are no longer limited by the "playset" rule; you may have any number of copies of any number of cards in your deck.
- You are encouraged to include a sideboard; because decks will be following a very specific path, there will be a lot of very solid answers that can utterly shut down an all-in deck (fifteen Rest in Peaces against a deck using 12 Unburial Rites for example.)
- Normal deck and sideboard sizes apply; minimum 60 cards and a fifteen-card sideboard.
- As with each weekly challenge, I will be looking for four things: originality, adherence to the theme, synergy, and playability. Remember these when you're building. A deck with 20 Temple Gardens and 40 Voice of Resurgences might be good (and hilariously expensive,) but it's not very original or synergetic. This is your chance to flesh out a fringe combo deck, emphasize a card's place in a viable strategy, or take a fresh new idea and flesh it out.
You all have been so kind in your submissions and email responses, and I'm sorry I haven't been able to answer all the emails individually. I'm often relegated to answering my email on my phone, which can be very time consuming, and I'm unable to commit as much time as I'd like to it.
Make sure to get submissions for Relentless Stacks in by Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 11:59 PM PDT so I have time to review them. You can send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you can submit a deck multiple times, but bear in mind I will only take the most recent submission as your submission for the week. So if you change your mind and submit another deck or tweak a previously submitted one, I'll only review the most recent email.
Thanks for reading, folks, and come back next week for the results. I'll be bringing two fun creature decks based on a pre-Ravnica cards, giving them a last hurrah before they disappear. Also, the two-week-long challenge I'm bringing next week will surely command your attention! Until then, don't forget to untap your Mountains and Swamps!
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online