At the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Dallas, I played my signature Mono-Red Aggro deck with Titan's Strengths and loads of one- and two-drop creatures. The most notable difference was choosing to not play Dragon Mantle and Akroan Crusader in favor of Burning-Tree Emissary and Gore-House Chainwalker. My thought process coming to those changes can be found in my interview with Reuben Bresler:
For reference, this is what I ran in the Open to an 8-2 finish, losing to Mono-Blue Devotion twice on camera:
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 4 Gore-House Chainwalker
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 2 Rubblebelt Maaka
The deck has become a powerhouse on Magic Online. The strength combined with its cheap cost to buy in tickets has led to having to play against at least one opponent in every eight-man queue trying to Titan's Strength you out. Heck, I've even lost three times to the mirror this week! This is nothing new on Magic Online, however, as red decks have always been a higher percentage of the metagame than in real life. Rakdos Cackler decks were indeed present before the writing on 21, but the recent explosion is undeniable.
At the Open I didn't face as many copies of Electrickery or Golgari Charm as expected. In fact, I didn't play against any. And throughout all my play on Magic Online, I haven't faced any either, which leads me to believe that including more bodies with two toughness just isn't necessary to fight through the sideboard cards we expect to face. However, when the Electrickerys in my sideboard were good, they were great. In a deck that is constantly one-for-twoing itself to push through damage, getting a favorable two-for-one feels even better than usual.
The version that Jeremy Bertarioni recently won an SCG IQ with in Fayetteville is likely where the deck wants to be right now. He stuck true with the solid heroic theme while adapting the sideboard tech of Seismic Stomp that's so crucial in beating the G/R Devotion decks.
- 4 Akroan Crusader
- 3 Arena Athlete
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 17 Mountain
I tried Pithing Needle, but it never quite had the impact that I wanted. Sometimes you draw the Needle, and they don't draw their Jace, Architect of Thought, making it a dead card in your hand. Usually just another spell, even one that does three damage like a hypothetical Madcap Skills hit, is a safer plan for winning the game. Skullcrack is about the only reactive card you want, and those are just to upgrade Lightning Strikes for the most part. Electrickery may be reactive by definition, but it's hard to really call it that when you're so actively killing your opponent when it's cast. I'd replace the Pithing Needles from this list with Electrickerys and be good to go.
In the Legacy portion of SCG Open Series: Dallas, I chose to play a U/G Infect deck designed by Hall of Famer Olle Rade. For most of this year he's been silently 4-0ing and 3-1ing Legacy Daily Events online with quite the unassuming list. I had the pleasure of chatting with him for an hour or two about his Infect deck, and his words cemented my choice to play it in the Open. I played 58 of his maindeck 60 and made only a few sideboard changes for the expected metagame:
The boogeyman of the room was definitely Sneak and Show. I knew I wanted to play an aggro-control deck with a solid plan and good disruption against the unfair decks. So what convinced me that Infect was good against the unfair decks, including Sneak and Show? Well, the games play out where they can't quite go for whatever it is that they're trying to go for without running into countermagic and then dying while their shields are down.
Infect plays all three roles at once: aggro, control, and combo. It can go "aggro" with simple Glistener Elf + Noble Hierarch exalted or Pendelhaven activations to pressure the opponent into making a critical move. With the countermagic, the control element is there, with the dual purpose of protecting your explosive turn and keeping them off of their plan. Then of course there's the combo element of drawing a bunch of Invigorates or Berserk + pump spell to end the game in the early turns.
RUG Delver is aggro-control, and Sneak and Show is combo with the control elements same as in Infect. An aggro-combo deck rarely exists, but Elves and Goblins fit the description or close to it. Death and Taxes has the aggro + disruption thing going on along with some nice synergies but no combo that outright wins the game. Infect is the only deck with all three elements, which leads to a lot of switching of gears, a lot of play, and a lot of game versus a field as wide open as Legacy tends to be.
The only maindeck changes I made to OlleR's deck were adding two Might of Krosas in place of Berserk. Berserk has been legal in Legacy for a while now, and Infect is the natural fit for the card. It leads to some very broken draws that can kill as quickly as turn 2 while holding up Daze, Vines of Vastwood, or Spell Pierce backup. Glistener Elf + Invigorate + Berserk is one example of the kill, and with the redundancy in pump spells in the deck, it happens with decent regularity.
That being said, I decided to forgo Berserk and instead play more "normal" pump spells. While Berserk is certainly explosive, it doesn't "do" very much on its own. I often want to run out a single pump spell in a turn to get in an extra four poison when I can. If Berserk didn't cause your creature to die at the end of combat, it may be a different story. The games may last a bit longer on average, but you lose more games from drawing too many pump spells or the wrong ones at the wrong times than you do losing because you "went off" too slowly.
I discussed with Olle his thoughts on adding white to the Infect deck. I've played a lot of U/G Infect in Modern, and while other players have opted to play black as their third color for things like Plague Stinger and Thoughtseize, I've thought that the cost to the mana base is too high. So I was hesitant to add a third color to the Legacy deck, as sweet as freerolling the life gain from Swords to Plowshares sounded. The mana base is pretty tight, and Tropical Island really does need to be your first land in order to play a creature and leave up your Daze. I stuck to my guns and rocked the U/G version in Dallas but have since wondered what could have been.
Here's the list I've been working on:
Swords to Plowshares is so good that it's extremely hard to pass up. Without the life gain being an issue, the card's power level even further increases. One match I lost in the Open was to Death's Shadow, which is rightfully a good choice when there aren't many Swords to Plowshares running around, and I am confident that the match would've been in my favor if I'd had access to them.
Rest in Peace is another amazing sideboard card that few decks can afford to play without it affecting their game plan somewhat. Without cards like Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, or Knight of the Reliquary out of typical Bant decks, Infect can maximize its hatefulness without any ramifications.
I initially feared Wasteland attacking the fragile three-color mana base but later discovered that it's really tough for them to use Wasteland on your colored sources when they really need to hit your Inkmoth Nexus. Inkmoth Nexus strangely provides a buffer, protecting you so you can cast your spells in a decent fashion. Under similar logic, the basic Forest isn't as important as it would be for some Legacy decks.
Also, Crop Rotation provides Wasteland protection more than anything, effectively countering its effect. I don't particularly like cards that are inherent one-for-twos but Crop Rotation definitely exceeded my expectations. That said, it is pretty bad to have two of them, and although it's unlikely that you have both in your opening hand or over the course of the game, it is possible, so I have moved the second copy to the sideboard for when the Bojuka Bog or Karakas comes in.
Bojuka Bog is for decks that use their graveyard as an extension of their hand. This includes Reanimator, Tin Fins, and Dredge. The other Crop Rotation comes in to give you an instant-speed way to remove their graveyard. Karakas is mainly for Sneak and Show but also hits the Reanimator decks as well.
I've decided on two Nature's Claims and no copies of Krosan Grip because I believe that when you need Krosan Grip it's probably not going to be enough to get you back in the game. If your opponent plays a Chalice of the Void for one on the play turn 1 and you don't have the Force of Will, it's going to be hard to find your one or two copies of Krosan Grip without Brainstorm and getting up to three mana in time without Noble Hierarch. By the time you cast your out, it's likely you're too far behind for it to matter.
The Seal of Strength is for Lightning Bolt decks and decks where you need to setup a one-shot kill with as much protection up as possible, and Necropede is for decks with annoying ground creatures trying to attack you like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Flusterstorm is usually a hard counter against disruptive instants and sorceries, Oblivion Ring is there to put in when they cast a Show and Tell, and Mindbreak Trap is for Storm and Goblin Charbelcher. It's rather simple stuff but shouldn't be overlooked.
Humility is a card that I haven't tested yet but seems awesome in theory. It shuts down Sneak and Show almost completely, and you win the fights against any creatures because you have Pendelhaven. Umezawa's Jitte is a problem with this plan, but Nature's Claim can solve it. The best part about Humility is that you still kill them with Inkmoth Nexus. According to layer 6 (ask your local judge about this one), Inkmoth Nexus does indeed gain flying and infect through the Humility, busting the parity of the card wide open.
If the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas were tomorrow, these are 100% the two decks I'd play. I have my eyes on being immortalized as a 1/1 red Soldier token. I've only been losing with Boss Sligh to my own draws—not hitting the second land for four turns (three turns is ok!) or drawing five-plus lands. It's still putting up positive numbers across the field, so I don't plan on changing my Standard (or Legacy) deck anytime soon.