Standard has changed a lot since the Pro Tour, as Ramunap Red has gone from the dominant deck to something of a second-tier deck behind a handful of different aggressive midrange strategies.
To my mind, the biggest change in Standard was the success of Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister with a "new" take on B/G Constrictor. This deck uses a wide assortment of cheap three-toughness creatures, including Catacomb Sifter, which provides an extra blocker, which in turn make attacking with small red creatures extremely difficult.
This deck, combined with Ramunap Red's success at having pushed the control decks that it preys on out of the format, has led to a format that's very hostile to Ramunap Red. Even when a red deck doesn't have to face a wall of cheap 2/3 creatures and Walking Ballistas, Zombies is another fairly difficult matchup, and Mardu is also close. I think I'd rather be on the Ramunap Red side against Temur Energy, but even there, Whirler Virtuoso can be very hard to beat.
As a red player, which is a strange perspective to be writing from, I'd focus on the fact that these decks aren't great at gaining life; they can deploy blockers well, but red is still good at getting in early damage, and from there, I'd want to focus on trying to burn my opponent out as they build their defenses. I'd stay away from the shift toward prioritizing Magma Spray and Abrade over Shock and Incendiary Flow, and instead, I'd play those and Collective Defiance, though Abrade might still be good enough to include some maindeck.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
- 4 Earthshaker Khenra
- 4 Falkenrath Gorger
- 2 Village Messenger
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
I don't think there's a lot of room for red to maneuver, but I do think that the most successful builds at the PT, like Paulo's, went a little more controlling to optimize against the mirror, and as the format has shifted more toward midrange, I think trying to play the control game just leads to a spot where their cards are a little too powerful, and it's best to focus on early damage and reach to close out the game against midrange decks.
Despite that, I've moved down to ten one-mana creatures from twelve because I'm not sure how much damage you can really expect to get in with Village Messenger against decks that are designed to be good at blocking, and I think you're better-served by having more burn to push other creatures through or close out a game that's slipping away.
Sweltering Suns is a card I've been happy with specifically against Zombies, as I think the way the games play out, you get early damage in and then they start taking over the battlefield, but if you sweep them at the right time, it's easy for you to close out a game with burn before they can actually turn things around to kill you.
I think it's important to have access to Glorybringer because it is the best additional late-game you can have if you're becoming more controlling, but I don't like planning to always shift into a Glorybringer deck, since everyone expects it and prioritizes removal appropriately, which is why I only have two in the sideboard.
Collective Defiance isn't as important as it was before B/G moved away from Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, but I think it's the right card to try to burn your opponent out while preventing them from turning the corner.
Given the way the metagame has shifted, I think there's a good chance that it's best to accept that Ramunap Red isn't the right deck for the moment. The metagame appears to be dominated by midrange decks that err on the small side, to be just larger than the red decks, so it seems like playing red might be something of an uphill battle.
Instead, I think now is a great time to try to go over midrange decks with something a little more powerful. Specifically, it makes sense to me that graveyard decks that take some time to set up but then go way over the top would do well. (Another consideration, incidentally, that fits that description may be Metalwork Colossus, but I'm much less familiar with that archetype.)
There are a lot of different possible graveyard decks: Reanimator, Gate to the Afterlife, Emerge. I think each of them could be reasonable.
The unifying factor in these decks is Champion of Wits, of course, which is a fantastic card, and it's probably the specific card that I'm looking for to beat midrange decks; they tend to give you enough time to do that sort of thing, and then a 4/4 creature that draws a bunch of cards is exactly the kind of thing they have trouble beating in a long game. The Scarab God plays well with some of these strategies and is another example of the kind of card a midrange deck will almost always struggle with.
Ross Merriam messed with this archetype as it was beginning to break out.
I like some of what streamer Thundermo_hellkite has going on with his list, but I think it really needs more lands. My intuition is that the deck wants to look something like this:
- 3 Noxious Gearhulk
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 1 Demon of Dark Schemes
- 2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 2 Razaketh, the Foulblooded
- 1 The Scarab God
The primary feature that I think he was missing is Hostile Desert, which is extremely important for pressuring planeswalkers in a deck that doesn't have an early battlefield presence and which is just an excellent card when you'll regularly have lands in the graveyard. Drownyard Temple also seems like a great thing to have access to, allowing you to occasionally cast Liliana or Ever After a turn early and making it considerably easier to return Champion of Wits. It's possible that more of either of these lands is correct. I consider the current mix extremely conservative.
I don't have enough experience to speak to this deck's specific matchups, but, as I mentioned, it seems like the right time for this kind of strategy.
Another way to accomplish a similar goal that I think might be even better is by using Gate to the Afterlife to find God-Pharaoh's Gift, which functions like Liliana in that it's a five-mana play that reanimates a creature while threatening to reanimate more creatures in the future. Among Gate to the Afterlife decks, I think fellow StarCityGames.com® writer and streamer Brennan DeCandio's U/R Gift approach is the most explosive, which I think makes it the best.
The fact that Insolent Neonate and Walking Ballista potentially allow you to activate Gate to the Afterlife on turn 4 after not having any creatures in the graveyard on turn 3 is just crazy, and the early value game just makes the deck extremely consistent and reliable.
Emerge covers a much broader range of decks. While Kalitas has fallen out of favor, I think I don't like trying to use Prized Amalgam at the moment because I think the midrange creatures actually match up too well against it, there aren't really any control decks to grind out with it, and anyone else who's trying to go big with something like God-Pharaoh's Gift will trump that end-game. On the other hand, I think Kozilek's Return is very well-positioned right now, just because there are so many creature decks.
Given my inclination to try to use The Scarab God, I think I'd be drawn to something in the Sultai space, and given how many creature decks there are, I think Primal Druid might actually be very good right now. I think I might want the deck to look something like this:
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 4 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 2 Grim Flayer
- 2 Primal Druid
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 2 The Scarab God
This deck is basically looking to keep pace or only slowly fall behind other midrange decks before turning the tables with Kozilek's Return and taking over with The Scarab God, a card which is fantastic against any midrange deck and any opposing graveyard deck, so I think building to take advantage of it could be a great way to plan for last week's metagame while hedging against next week's metagame if people shift in the way I'm recommending.
I think Abrade is very well-positioned, so well that I included it in the sideboard of this deck, where it's a card of the fourth color, which you're not necessarily planning to reliably cast. It's possible that the best way to Emerge is to play fewer colors and maindeck Abrade, which it can more reliably cast. If I start with the goal of building a conservative manabase, I might end up with something like this:
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 4 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Labyrinth Guardian
- 4 Minister of Inquiries
- 1 Vizier of Many Faces
- 4 Vizier of the Anointed
Labyrinth Guardian is probably not a card you were expecting to see in a Standard decklist, but I think it actually matches up fairly well in the format at the moment. As we've seen from B/G, two-mana 2/3s do well, as they're good at blocking early red creatures, and now they can also hold off opposing 2/3s. They also have the benefit of living through Kozilek's Return, and in this deck, they provide additional value with Vizier of the Anointed.
Minister of Inquiries is a little weak here, but digging for Kozilek's Return and embalm creatures is certainly significant, and a lot of the value comes from the fact that opponents will respect it because of how strong it is in other U/R decks, so it's likely to make people spend a turn answering it as soon as possible.
The sideboard follows a red plan and goes bigger with planeswalkers and Glorybringer, which sidesteps graveyard hate and plays well with the control aspect of the deck, and Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh trumps opponents with similar plans, particularly if you can cast it on turn 5 off Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
This deck is the most theoretical in that I haven't played anything like it, but I'm fairly optimistic about it.
Looking to Grand Prix Washington DC
It is possible to approach this metagame by going over the top in other ways, like Control or Ramp, but I worry that those go too far, that the aggressive decks are still a little too fast and the angles of attack are too varied for Control to succeed, but one perk of Ramp is that it's a very good Scavenger Grounds deck, which positions it well against any Champion of Wits strategy, but really, I don't know why you'd want to play something as boring as Ramp when the moment is likely right for Champion of Wits, one of the more fun and powerful cards printed recently.