"How do you ever beat Master of Waves?"
Mono-Red Aggro has been assumed to be hated out of the metagame by Mono-Blue Devotion and its continued success. I personally had a respectable win rate against Mono-Blue with Mono-Red but still considered it to be a poor matchup. Master of Waves (in particular protection from red) felt truly unfair, and I would lose on the spot unless I was able to get in early pressure and have a Legion Loyalist to battalion past the swarm of horse Elementals.
Going into the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas, I felt that the metagame would be about the same as the weekends before, with a touch more U/W Control following William Jensen's second-place finish at Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth. Here's what I played:
- 3 Akroan Crusader
- 1 Ash Zealot
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 1 Gladecover Scout
- 3 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Skylasher
This is mainly the shell of Boss Sligh splashing green for strong cards. I wanted a good two-drop to play off of Burning-Tree Emissary and felt like Gore-House Chainwalker was only so-so. I knew I wanted it to have two toughness to lessen the effects of cards like Electrickery, Shrivel, and Golgari Charm. I also wanted a creature that was effective against sweeper effects and would help in the Mono-Blue Devotion matchup, which this deck can sometimes have problems with.
In came Skylasher.
As expected, my win percentage against Mono-Blue Devotion shot up immediately. I could win with nearly any combination of my cards versus any combination of theirs as long as I had a Skylasher. I wanted a flash creature as well to not overcommit into board sweepers like Anger of the Gods and Supreme Verdict. If the mana could support Boon Satyr, that'd probably be in here too. Skylasher has been a maindeck-quality creature in my opinion for a while now, and it's starting to pick up popularity for good reason.
I decided to stick to the cutesy Akroan Crusader package for #SCGINVI. One-for-one removal is still prevalent, and the Akroan Crusader into Burning-Tree Emissary into Madcap Skills draw is as strong as ever. The Dragon Mantles are marginally weaker due to the Forests in the deck, but since the deck jumped from seventeen to nineteen lands, there's only one fewer red source than before so it's not a noticeable difference.
Ghor-Clan Rampager has been great and is likely the best it gets in this deck. All of your creatures want to attack every turn and come down early, so your bloodrush possibility is enabled as early as turn 2. +4/+4 and trample combos nicely with Armed // Dangerous as a turn 4 play that threatens fourteen very-hard-to-block trampling damage. Now that the deck has nineteen lands, simply casting Ghor-Clan Rampager is a fairly common play and is a prime target itself to play Armed // Dangerous on.
Armed // Dangerous is a card that hasn't seen any Standard (or otherwise Constructed) play since attempts at making Nivix Cyclops into an unblockable one-shot kill in conjunction with cards like Artful Dodge. R/G Blitz has the same combo element to it with Armed // Dangerous but leaves room for the card to be flexible when it's inopportune to "go for it." Simply casting Armed on Akroan Crusader is sometimes a play, and Dangerous fills much of the same role as Seismic Stomp did out of the sideboard of previous versions. Against Green Devotion decks, Armed // Dangerous fused becomes a real plan since their creatures are extremely tough to attack through.
Gladecover Scout is typically found in dedicated Hexproof/Aura decks with little to no non-hexproof creatures. I mean, what's the point in having just one when all the rest can be targeted? In this deck Gladecover Scout serves as a medium to "combo kill" an opponent when they have open mana for things like Hero's Downfall or Azorius Charm. Some decks simply can't beat a Madcap Skills on a Gladecover Scout on turn 2. The deck also wanted a green creature for one mana to play off of Burning-tree Emissary to use the mana most efficiently.
Ash Zealot got weakened with the addition of Forests much like Dragon Mantle did but not so much that it became a bad card. It's the only creature that naturally has first strike, making it the best Dragon Mantle target. It's also the creature that plays the best defensively, and although this is likely the fastest deck in the format, some games exist where the opponent is the beatdown, like white aggro variants on the draw.
Giant Growth serves much of the same purpose that Rubblebelt Maaka would while being able to cast it off of Burning-Tree Emissary and trigger Akroan Crusader. You still want four Titan's Strength first because of how beneficial the scry is. The deck has a bit of a combo feel to it and is prone to flooding out, so the eight scry effects are great.
Also, general diversification against Detention Sphere is nice to have.
This matchup is about pressuring them enough so they have to Supreme Verdict and then following up with a Skylasher with either a Madcap Skills or enough pump to finish them off. They are very soft to Domri Rade, and their Detention Spheres will typically be used early to deal with attackers. With 26 creatures and eight scry effects after sideboarding, Domri Rade should be hitting just over 50% for you. Sometimes you save Temple of Abandon until after you've played Domri Rade to get an extra look before using his +1. Play around Celestial Flare when possible, including attacking with 1/1 creatures into a Jace, Architect of Thought's +1. Titan's Strength and Giant Growth are nice ways to counter Last Breath too.
Mono-Black Devotion & B/W Control
Legion Loyalist is good against Pack Rat, so the three maindeck stay in. This matchup is about getting under their removal and then overloading the removal that they do have on turns 2 and 3. Desecration Demon is more of a problem than Blood Baron of Vizkopa since you can more easily attack into a Blood Baron and finish it off with a bloodrushed Ghor-Clan Rampager. Akroan Crusader shines here as a way to fight Desecration Demon and Devour Flesh.
Peak Eruption is especially effective if they're going up to four Chained to the Rocks post-sideboard and goes toward keeping them off of Mizzium Mortars overload and Stormbreath Dragon mana. The extra burn comes in to mainly deal with Ash Zealot and to keep their devotion low. Skylasher is still good here since it matches up well against their Frostburn Weirds. Not every version brings in Anger of the Gods; if they have Chandra's Phoenix, then it's unlikely that they do.
Skylasher is at its best here, and often just one is enough to put you in a commanding lead. The fourth Legion Loyalist is necessary to fight Master of Waves, as that's the main way for them to beat you. Keeping one-land hands is generally fine for R/G Blitz, but you shouldn't in this matchup unless it's a hand with Temple of Abandon and Skylasher. Electrickery isn't good enough since they generally sideboard out their Judge's Familiars.
Here we're taking out multicolored creatures because of Soldier of the Pantheon. You take on more of a control role, going one-for-one with them until a big Ghor-Clan Rampager or Armed // Dangerous gets the job done. Skullcrack is mainly to "counter" Brave the Elements (protection from a color is damage prevention and Skullcrack stops that) but also has marginal value turning off Solider of the Pantheon's protection and the life gain of Fiendslayer Paladin.
If the one-ofs bug you, there's a more streamlined version that Brad Nelson developed:
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 2 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 2 Rubblebelt Maaka
- 4 Skylasher
This version has the best Burning-Tree Emissary draws, often putting four creatures and eight power into play on turn 4. It's a bit more one-dimensional and "all in," but that's not necessarily a bad thing as long as it results in game wins.
Moving forward, there's not much I want to change about my list. I'd like to get a Gruul Charm and perhaps Act of Treason in the sideboard somewhere. The goofy one-ofs have been working out, following the theory that "if the first copy is always the best, just play one," but in all likelihood the deck will have fewer of them in the future after further development.
Andrew Shrout made Top 8 of the Invitational with a G/W Aggro deck featuring four Skylashers maindeck, and there's buzz about a PTQ-winning U/G Flash deck that also runs four. Be sure to get yours before they go up!