Recently, someone asked me on my Facebook page if I'd completely given up on red. "We miss the Red Adrian," they said, employing the royal 'we.' And while it is true that I've been playing a lot of blue-based control this last year, I'm still always working on red decks. It's just in my nature, I guess.
More than almost any color, I feel like red gets misunderstood and misevaluated. I think this is, in part, because of the versatility of the color and the way that people often only think of red as one thing, when in fact it has a lot of faces. Red has been in my wheelhouse for a long, long time, and I've played red to success at more than one Pro Tour. Those decks ran the gamut from very controlling to very aggressive.
My review of Khans of Tarkir red, I think, was nearly spot on. Here are the cards I made note of as the important red cards:
I overestimated Arc Lightning and War-Name Aspirant, and I relegated Tormenting Voice to the status of "The Marginal" (when actually, I think it was a role-player). I tend to be pretty open-minded when it comes to what is possible, so I'm actually a little disappointed in myself in my read on Tormenting Voice, even if it only started getting some play at the very end of the current Standard.
Of course, for this block, since it is a gold block, there are special challenges in examining cards for red. Fate Reforged and Khans of Tarkir ask us to not "just" be red. What I consider a red card is not merely that a card has red in its mana cost, but whether they are in decks that primarily rely on red mana.
Let's get to the review!
Immediately, this card is liable to be compared to Chandra's Phoenix, and perhaps found lacking. It might be unable to be a part of any kind of defensive plan, but that element of Chandra's Phoenix, while nice, was often one that didn't work out well. Really, what makes Flamewake Phoenix so exciting is how well it plays with Ashcloud Phoenix, Stormbreath Dragon, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and others (and that is just staying in Mono-Red).
This is exactly the kind of card that can contribute to stolen games too. When Chandra's Phoenix was reprinted, a lot of people gave it some healthy disrespect because they thought that it was, perhaps, a little archaic. However, a hasty, evasive two-power creature is an impressive feat for red. I expect that Flamewake Phoenix is going to be a part of a new world where Fanatic of Mogis returns to our collective consciousness.
"Just" a Shock, people forget how incredible it can be to have such a cheap removal spell. It is absolutely true that we probably won't see very much use from the ferocious trigger, but I don't think that that matters. What matters is being able to kill things on the cheap again.
Even in a world of few targets, like we have in the current Standard, there are always some targets in the room. Wild Slash might actually be at its best as a sideboard card for more controlling red decks, but it shouldn't be ignored as a great weapon for a cheap red deck like Boss Sligh, which has been lacking a cheap burn spell (unless you count Stoke the Flames). The sheer versatility between these two positions are why I rate the card so highly.
I have to say, I really like the looks of this card. Most of the time I'm imagining that I'm going to be using this to hit for six or seven with dash. If it was just a kind of Ball Lightning with buyback, I'd already be on board with this card. However, I keep picturing the card managing to do even more than that with very little effort. Imagining it in a G/R Aggro deck, or R/W Aggro, having a copy of Ashcloud Phoenix or Stormbreath Dragon doesn't seem like it would be a huge problem.
Unlike a lot of ways in which you might add pressure to the table though, it doesn't actually require you to commit to the table. This is where I think the card is actually quite excellent. A controlling deck is going to have to work harder to deal with this card just because of the dash. While there will be times that the card might be cast outright, I expect we'll mostly see it dashing.
Much like a cheaper version of Flamerush Rider, I like this card because dash just feels like it can be really powerful. If you need the damage now, Mardu Scout is here to help. Even without mini-combos with Foundry Street Denizen, this card looks like it could help supply assistance in very fast kills. I imagine there will be many times you won't be dashing it (particularly on turn 2), but the versatility in the choice really matters. The biggest reason I think this card will see play is Drown in Sorrow, which this card can neatly dodge.
Expensive at eight mana, this card can actually neatly fit into a controlling Big Red style of deck, perhaps even at a very large number of copies (3-4). This is in part due to Tormenting Voice, but also, the excellent way that both abilities of Ugin neatly complement the strengths (additional burn spells and larger creatures) and weaknesses of red (difficulty with enchantments, planeswalkers, and big creatures). Ugin is just awesome.
Technically a white spell, it is easy to imagine this card being splashed into red decks, creating build-your-own-Lightning Helixes from Lightning Strikes and turning Stoke the Flames into the best Warleader's Helix ever. The activated ability might actually even come up!
The Sideboard Cards
Facing down huge creatures and having a hard time finding a solution? Arcbond might be just the thing to board. It seems especially good if you can occasionally power out your own massive power and toughness with a card like Goblin Rabblemaster. Probably at its best against green, this can be the kind of card that solves problems. A more controlling deck could also use it as a sort of Wrath of God, but this is likely very risky since you'll be losing life in the bargain.
I really like this card. I find it very easy to imagine sideboarding some number of Break Through the Line against decks that are good at holding the ground. Green decks, in particular, might find themselves cursing this card.
At ever so slightly cheaper, this would be a great card (probably too good). I can imagine this in a swarming deck's sideboard as an answer to those decks that try to put up defenses. Competing against Break Through the Line seems hard though...
Take that Hornet Queen!
The Role Players
With fair abilities before you get to the activated Orzhov-Orzhov ability, at that point, things begin to look very good. If you're playing a deck with all of the requirements for that ability met (the mana, the cheap creatures), Alesha looks quite good actually.
I could picture this being a solid card in a burn heavy deck or a combo deck, just looking for those last few cards. It also makes Searing Blood a little more reasonable to maindeck in a burn deck.
While it is possible that the Dragons side of this card will see some play, it is the Khans side of the card which has me impressed. Running Chandra, Pyromaster is already a part of many red deck plans. Now, Outpost Siege can give another copy to those decks who are really working on the controlling side of the equation, if you're in the market for that kind of thing.
Sometimes you're just in the market for three damage. This can be a way to thwart Bile Blight, but the cost is pretty intense.
If you're playing Mono-Red (or nearly so) and have enough room that you could fit in this land, it might be better than a Mountain, so long as you have enough Dragons. Maybe.
In a burn-heavy deck, this might be a Hail Mary card against an opponent that runs both expensive cards and creatures. I wouldn't want to have to hope for this kind of stolen win, but sometimes you do what you have to.
Are you in the market for a Lava Axe? Well, I've got the card for you!
This little guy is fairly fragile, with its two toughness feeling conspicuous at four mana. However, because of its haste, it is easy to imagine this card powering up a small army, particularly if tokens are involved in the mix. If it even had a third toughness, I'd rate it more highly, but as it is, it is marginal despite the huge upside of the activated ability.
Do you care about these cards? I definitely don't, though I'd be open to hearing what I'm missing out on. Obviously there are some uses for these cards (Shockmaw Dragon could take out Elspeth tokens!), but I don't see them as realistic (but, if it was taking out Elspeth tokens, what else was going right for you/wrong for them?) or the alternatives out there make me feel like something has been missed, like when you see someone cast Act of Treason instead of Harness by Force. I'm pretty sure that if you're playing these cards, you're doing something wrong, and I'm one of those people that tends to be very open-minded about how useful a card is.
The Gold Payoff
Unlike in Khans of Tarkir, there are barely any incentives to dive deep into a wedge. In fact, there actually is a single card that is asking for a red deck to support it, and it is actually a pretty amazing one.
A lot of people think of this card as just a de facto 5/5, but they are missing out on the fact that it pumps the entire team, and that other dragons do to. Attacking with a second dragon, like say, a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, is not out of the question; when you do, the double-pump is real.
In addition, the dash ability continues to be one that impresses me in its implications. Where Lightning Shrieker plays the role of the somewhat crappy Lava Axe, Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury seems to be much closer to the kind of incredibly powerful card that can inspire fear for one's life in a player. Dash, in so many ways, feels like buyback, and is especially important in that one doesn't have to dash. I find it very easy to picture this card making a splash.
I think that red actually received more from Fate Reforged than any other color. Overall, this appears to be a fairly weak set to me, but the red cards in it are able to support a wide range of strategies. In addition, cards like Break Through the Line actually solve real problems that red decks have.
Dash is going to be a huge mechanic going forward. People sometimes forget that this card:
... was a big deal in Magic for quite some time, even managing to have influence a few years after it was printed. Sometimes you just have a problem you need to dodge.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon will almost certainly find a home in any of the Big Red-style decks, whether they exist in the form of Mono-Red, or more likely in a multi-color shell like R/W. Big Red might not get enough from the set to return to a place in mainstream tournament Magic, but it got a bit of a shove.
On the other hand, swarming/fast red decks got a lot of tools. I expect to see an upswing in their competitiveness in the coming months.
In the coming weeks, I'll have my own chances to try out these cards. This weekend, I'll be at the Fate Reforged Prerelease at Misty Mountain Games in Madison, Wisconsin. The week after that, I'll be out in Seattle, battling it out at the Super Sunday Series Championship at Wizards of the Coast headquarters.
Don't be surprised if I break out the red cards.
Wish me luck! I only have two more weeks to prep!