Last week, I went through my Red Review for Amonkhet, and in the time since then, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what the color can do outside of the context of what can best be called "red decks." It seems inevitable, right now, that with the kinds of lands we have at our fingertips, we won't see much in the way of pure mono-red. Sure, there are some cards that might think we could have a red deck bossing people around, but it feels a little less realistic than other things that might happen.
In the time since that Red Review, I hit a few Amonkhet Prerelease events at Misty Mountain Games in Madison and had a chance to get in a bunch of games of Limited. I've long been fervently of the opinion that every format of Magic gives you an opportunity to learn a little bit about other formats of Magic as well (and, for that matter, you can have lessons about Magic from many other outside sources). There were a few games that I played that were particularly inspiring.
One of the Sealed Decks I had was abominable. A part of the problem was that four of the rare cards in my pool were lands and one was Pyramid of the Pantheon. Beyond that, I also had very low counts in my creature removal.
What I did have was Cruel Reality, though.
Every time I cast the card, I won the game.
It was so impressive, I started thinking about the card in Standard, and it just seemed like it was worth considering despite being wildly expensive. Not only was it a powerful control card, but it also was a one-hit kill. The effect was so powerful that many people misread it, thinking that they would have a choice between sacrifice or pain, and they were surprised to discover the actual effect.
Seven mana is wildly prohibitive for Constructed, but one thought that came to mind was my favorite ramp card to hit seven:
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is simply an incredible ramp spell. Going from four to seven is a big deal when you're casting something like Cruel Reality. Beyond that, though, Chandra, Torch of Defiance has just been so promising that it makes splashes in Modern; in Standard, about the only thing that kept it from seeing more play previously was just a metagame which largely relegated it to the sideboard in Mardu Vehicles and a regular but non-central role in Saheeli Combo decks. With the likelihood of an explosion in metagame options, we'll be seeing more of her. I've generally found the card incredible but just hadn't found a home for it in the previous metagame where it wasn't already employed, but that felt much more about format narrowness than any indictment of the worthiness of the card.
Normally, I would have gone to a card like Hedron Archive and just felt comfortable in any old color; however, I still haven't quite gotten into the mindset the post-Felidar Guardian mindset where I'm not expecting Manglehorn simply everywhere. Perhaps once I'm more acclimated to a world without Manglehorn (which I basically had in all of my Four-Color Saheeli maindecks), I'll have had a chance to figure out whether or not the Hedron Archives that I'm thinking about make sense, but for now, I'm just going to go with my conjecture for the sake of Cruel Reality.
Between these two cards, getting to the seven-mana mark isn't too terribly difficult. Of course, with that level of mana production capability, flooding out is a real threat. Thankfully, with cycling, that can be alleviated, and both Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Hedron Archive give us something to do besides make mana. While Chandra and Cruel Reality are more than enough to close out a game, if the game plan is going to be "kill all the things," another card advantage engine that can end the game seems like a natural fit as well.
The real issue with Ob Nixilis Reignited has generally been making sure that you can stay alive comfortably enough such that card draw doesn't end up killing you. Add a plethora of critter removal, including the new Sweltering Suns, and that healthy life total seems much more likely. Like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, cards like Ob Nixilis Reignited bring with them the real potential to just bury an opponent once you're ahead.
Once you put together the particular mix of removal, you have a deck that is actively hostile to creatures, kills without running creatures of its own, and doesn't have a single card that is solely a win condition.
That's a pretty exciting control deck, if you ask me.
Here's the current build:
There is more than enough creature removal in the main to be a real pain to anything planning on attacking. At the same time, this does mean that you'll likely have a lot of room in the sideboard to work against those control decks that I think will poke up their heads.
The six creatures that come in from the sideboard create a difficult question for an opponent. Each of the creatures is powerful enough to take over the game on their own, and so there is a demand to keep in powerful enough removal to handle them, but at the same time, there are still so few creatures that having useless creature removal will give the B/R Control deck time to establish a firmer grip on the game.
One experiment I'm trying out is Edifice of Authority, a card reminiscent of Icy Manipulator in its effect on a game. I expect that it will become clear very quickly if the card is effective or not, but I know that, in the past, this kind of effect has been sufficiently powerful that it was sufficient to beat Temur Tower decks on its own.
I expect to be hammering out the details of this deck going forward.
On the entire other end of the spectrum is my current take on a red deck which touches into black. This isn't going into Boss Sligh territory, but it is inspired by Sebastian Pozzo's 8-2 Standard deck from Pro Tour Aether Revolt.
There are really only two Amonkhet spells that I want in this deck: Hazoret the Fervent and Bloodrage Brawler. While I'm sure there is also an actual mono-red way to build this deck, the black ends up sneaking in because Scrapheap Scrounger is just so good.
Here is my update:
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Bloodrage Brawler
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 2 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Pia Nalaar
Hazoret the Fervent is pretty easy to make a God who fights. In addition to the natural card disadvantage of Bloodrage Brawler and Lightning Axe, Key to the City can give a temporary drop to your hand size in exchange for an unstoppable hit. Getting intense amounts of damage at your opponent is fairly trivial with this deck.
That being said, this deck is worse at using Unlicensed Disintegration than other R/B Aggro decks are. With only "thirteen" artifacts (thanks, Pia Nalaar!), this is a little fewer than other builds. In addition, the deck isn't running any maindeck Heart of Kiran or planeswalkers, so there is a way in which the deck is simply more straightforward and thus more clearly thwarted.
Hazoret the Fervent hits on cast a remarkable amount of the time. And, for the most part, you don't feel like you're giving up much effort to make that happen. Cast Out and Grasp of Darkness are some of the only likely cards you can expect that can knock the God out, so it easily becomes quite difficult to keep it from influencing a game. Gods aren't just great at beating down, either. The defensive characteristics of all of the Gods can be very relevant, especially in a world with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
While the deck only runs a small amount of madness in the form of Fiery Temper, it runs enough outlets for Fiery Temper that the card feels very nearly like Lightning Bolt. There are probably a great many more madness cards that one could run, maybe even going so far as Alms of the Vein, but for now, I'm keeping it pretty conservative.
The sideboard goes almost Mardu Ballista in its planeswalker and controlling focus. While it only runs one Oath of Liliana to go with this plan currently, I think more down this path could make sense, perhaps in place of Never//Return.
I somewhat find myself wanting to have those elements in the maindeck, or cards like Glorybringer, but bringing the hand size down for Hazoret is important to give a consistent beater the turn it comes into play. More likely, I might find myself adding in more discard elements and a third Hazoret the Fervent.
With the passing of the Saheeli combo after the last-minute banning of Felidar Guardian, there is a lot more space to play with in Standard. In addition to reopening up the world to potentially strong controlling decks, I also think that we're likely to be seeing a new wealth of aggressive decks now that the fear of dying out of nowhere is gone. I've even gone so far as to begin building – wait for it – midrange decks.
The Standard banning is going to be good for Magic. Even if I'm a huge kitty-cat fan, I'm looking forward to a world where the game isn't simply grasped away in one fell swoop and the battle can be more on the common terms we've grown used to. I know there are some other combos out there in Standard, but they feel like they take a lot of work. It will be nice to be able to tap out now and again once more.