"...In 8th place, with an opponent match win percentage of .6488, Trevor May!"
Elated and still in disbelief, I gave my friend Ryan a huge fist pump and high five. I had just finished in the Top 8 of an SCG Open with my favorite Modern deck, Skred Red!
For the many of you out there whom I have never met, my name is Trevor May. I have been playing Magic since Dragons of Tarkir. I am a South Florida native who now resides in Atlanta, GA. I am a longtime board gamer (always up for playing Twilight Imperium, Race for the Galaxy, or El Grande!) who was encouraged to give Magic a try a few years ago. I am a software developer at Ultimate Software and enjoy being active whether it is swimming, disc golf or basketball. I am also a recent Georgia Tech (To Hell With Georgia!) grad who still enjoys tailgating and seeing the Yellow Jackets swarm on football Saturdays as they challenge the rest of the ACC.
But enough about me. I want to tell you all about the resurgence of Big Red decks in Modern and how you all can take the latest iteration of Skred Red to your local game store, SCG Tour® event, and Grand Prix and dominate the current meta.
Why Play Skred Red?
For those of you who are not familiar with the deck, Skred Red is a " Mono-Red control deck in Modern that takes advantage of the metagame by playing hate cards like Blood Moon, Relic of Progenitus, and Anger of the Gods." The deck is derived from the extremely efficient one-mana removal spell Skred. In our deck, it turns into "deal damage to target creature equal to the number of lands you control" for only one red mana!
Let's talk about the other winners in this archetype and how they work:
Blood Moon is well positioned in the current meta.
Let's just take a quick survey of the effects of Blood Moon on popular decks in Modern at the moment:
- Tron: Duh.
Skred Red challenges the opponent's ability to prioritize your threats.
In Modern, I believe it's advantageous to play decks where the relevant threats/answers in a matchup are not always obvious. So many matchups are decided in the first four turns in Modern, and knowing which of your opponent's threats to discard, counter, or remove is extremely important. Being more of a rogue deck, Skred Red has this advantage naturally. However, unlike other lesser-known decks, Skred has the benefit that each one of its threats can single-handedly win the game if it goes unchecked. There have been many games where I have landed a Turn 3 Blood Moon into Turn 4 Pia and Kiran Nalaar that subsequently went the distance as I ensured each of their creatures were removed...assuming they could cast them under the Blood Moon at all!
We have seen well-known, skilled players harness lesser-known decks at their respective times in the meta to great success.
Todd Stevens birthing the entire G/W Company archetype to great success.
Collins Mullen going undefeated with Humans back at SCG Cincinnati.
Jonathan Rosum placing in the Top 8 of three separate SCG Opens with Jeskai during the inception of that deck.
Modern is a format where you can do this.
Playing a deck that gets to switch between control and beatdown from match to match.
If you are like me, you enjoy the challenge of decks that get to play that hybrid role. Especially at long tournaments, I put an emphasis on decks that I enjoy playing and find interesting from matchup to matchup. Skred Red gets to play both roles, as occasionally, it is looking to slam as many Stormbreath Dragons as possible and attack away to a quick victory. Other times it would happily trade that Dragon for another Anger of the Gods to permanently deal with these pesky Prized Amalgams.
I have been playing Skred for about ten months now and have been evolving my list from the initial Kevin Mackie list that won GP Dallas-Fort Worth back in November of 2016. I will focus on the primary differences between our two lists.
I have been playing with one copy of Hazoret the Fervent in the main since GP Richmond last August and have not gone back. The life gain effect from Batterskull is not as relevant in the current meta as the indestructible nature of Hazoret. Once she resolves against Grixis Death Shadow, they literally do not have a way of removing her. Additionally, her power (literally, the "five") matches up very well against Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Death's Shadow, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher. Given the plethora of Kolaghan's Command running around in Death's Shadow decks, Batterskull is much more vulnerable. Hazoret also improves the mulligan ability of this deck. I remember many six-card opening hands that have had a few lands, removal spell, and Hazoret, and I immediately saw a path to victory. Hand emptied in no time.
Embracing Mouth of Ronom.
Affectionately called the "Mouth from the South" by Cedric Phillips and Patrick Sullivan on stream, this utility land was used multiple times over the weekend in cases where I flooded heavily on lands and needed an answer to my opponent's threats. Being colorless, it also is useful for killing Etched Champion, Kor Firewalker, Burrenton Forge-Tender, or the other popular "protection from red" creatures that are running around in my opponents' 75 cards. Some question the card since you could draw both it and Scrying Sheets in your opening hand (and be without a red mana producing land), but I value the opportunity to kill those pesky creatures I mentioned more.
I have been placing one Ratchet Bomb in my maindeck since SCG Richmond of last year, and it has helped me escape from so many awkward scenarios when the opponent has permanents that are otherwise very difficult to remove with red. Here is a simple guide to how many counters you should place on Ratchet Bomb for a few different decks you may face:
Eldrazi Tron - Zero.
Death's Shadow - One.
Humans - One or two.
Jeskai - Three.
Traditional Tron - Three. (Play smart with Blood Moon here.)
I love me some Anger of the Gods, but Dredge is not nearly as prominent right now as back when Kevin won the Grand Prix. In addition, we still have four mainboard Relic of Progenitus to help in that fight. Instead, as I mentioned in the opener, I saw how important Blood Moon was in every game I played. I truly did want to draw it in every game that I could. Drawing double copies is not ideal, but is good against discard-heavy decks. Additionally, you can always discard it to Hazoret! Notably, I believe this change makes us more vulnerable to two-color creature decks that are less vulnerable to Blood Moon, such as G/W Company, Counters Company, and Elves. I would consider adding a third Wrath to the main if these surge in popularity.
Simply put, Chandra has turned out to be an incredibly powerful planeswalker, and this deck leverages each and every one of her four abilities. Here are just a few ways we use the +1:
Power out Mind Stone.
Cast and crack a Relic of Progenitus.
Snow-Covered Mountains from Coldsnap are just better.
The Dragon in the art is really Stormbreath Dragon foreshadowing his incoming, epic entrance.
Mackie's list and mine are very similar except for a few, notable changes.
With the introduction of Grixis Death Shadow and Eldrazi Tron decks, there is a bigger emphasis on four and five toughness removal that needs to be ready sooner than we get to five lands for Skred. I especially like the play pattern of Turn 2 Mind Stone, Death's Shadow opponent casts a delve creature on their turn, and then we are able to use the one mana from Mind Stone plus four life's worth of Phyrexian mana to kill their creature on end of turn.
Kozilek's Return is colorless. This is great.
Instant speed, colorless removal. In short, that is all you need to know about this spell. It kills the pro-red creatures mentioned before that opponents will sideboard in against us. Plus, it is very useful against Affinity, Infect, Merfolk, and other decks that lean on creature-lands to achieve victory as we can cast this spell on their turn.
One Ricochet Trap.
I predicted I would be the control player more than the beatdown this weekend, thus de-emphasizing the need for this spell, and that turned out to be the case. I also have found that I prefer to have more threats for the blue mages to deal with over one of the "red counterspells." Often, Molten Rain plus Blood Moon is enough to have them stumble so you can force through your threats.
Dragon's Claw is fine.
I have found that the Burn matchup is quite favorable to us and therefore, lessened the need for this artifact. I tend to lose the Burn matchup only when I stumble on lands early and cannot kill their haste creatures or I make crucial mistakes that cost me the game (more on this below!).
So going forward, how does the future look for Skred Red?
Skred traditionally suffers against "out of the hand" combo decks such as U/R Through the Breach, Ad Nauseam, and Storm. I lost to the last of these in the quarterfinals of the Top 8 to the talented Caleb Scherer. While Storm is popular right now, I do believe it is the least-hard to win of those three matchups given enough practice. As long as these kind of decks stay low in representation compared to the creature-heavy, multi-color land decks, then I believe Skred is a viable choice in upcoming tournaments. With its fistful of Skred and Bolts, the "Red Jund' deck greatly prefers to see a Turn 1 Vault Skirge to a Sleight of Hand!
That being said, I still plan on playing Skred Red at upcoming local tournaments and SCG Indianapolis next month. With Affinity, Humans, and Burn still being the fun police on decks that need lots of setup time, I do not see the combo control decks becoming overbearing. We all remember the infamous Game 1 of Humans versus Storm at SCG Cincinnati:
If you see me at a future Magic event, please say hello. I enjoy meeting other players! For those of you want who to know more about happenings in the Skred community, I invite you to check out our subreddit. I plan on writing a tournament report there soon. Before I go, I now leave you with the official "Trevor May Skred Red Sideboard Guide"!
Skred Red Sideboard Guide
Grixis Death Shadow
I believe this matchup is one with quite high variance in terms of how it plays from game to game. I have personally experienced all of the following scenarios:
Blood Moon them Turn 3 and they never cast another spell.
They cast Turn 2 delve creature and we can never remove it in time past Stubborn Denial.
Stormbreath Dragon deals damage multiple times for the win.
All that being said, I see us as the control deck in this matchup, trying to stave off an early delve creature with Relic of Progenitus and then burst through enough damage to kill them in a one or two turn sequence. Unlike other matchups where you may continually tap the Relic of Progenitus each turn and wait for the Snapcaster Mage before you crack it to exile all graveyards, you cannot be greedy in this matchup. It is important to activate the Relic on Turn 2 or 3 as to avoid them getting the delve creature out before your Skred can deal five damage.
Esper Death's Shadow
This matchup differs because of Lingering Souls. They will attempt to play more of a grindy game that stresses our one-for-one removal suite. Thus, I like to leave in two sweepers but switch one to instant speed with Kozilek's Return.
Stormbreath Dragon is your most important creature here. Take notice of their lands and do all that you can to resolve the Dragon to avoid it getting countered. Once it is on the battlefield, the only single-card response they may have is a Supreme Verdict out of the sideboard, but not all lists even play that. Our targeted removal is not as important given the existence of Geist of Saint Traft and that is why we leave in the two Anger of the Gods. Also, if your opponent lands an early Geist and you do not have Anger of the Gods or creatures to block, do not be afraid to Skred the Angel to essentially "gain four life" as it can buy you the necessary time to find your answers.
The strategy is similar to the approach against Jeskai Geist, but you are trying to end the game even sooner. Ideally you can land Pia and Kiran Nalaar or Stormbreath Dragon and force out their Supreme Verdict. Once they have tapped out, you can keep the pressure on with Koth or Chandra! Always remember to check to see if they have triple blue to see if they can cast Cryptic Command.
Bringing in the Rabblemasters may seem a little unorthodox, but the Burn player does not block very well at all, and Rabblemaster ends the game quickly while you remove their creatures. Them choosing to use a burn spell to kill the Rabblemaster is a win anyway as it otherwise would go to us directly.
Do not sideboard out Blood Moon as it shuts them off of Helix, Boros Charm, and Destructive Revelry. Instead of the second Rabblemaster, you could also include the Ricochet Trap as a means of redirecting their own burn spells.
Do not be afraid to Skred your own creatures (especially Hazoret, as she will not die) if you have a Dragon's Claw out in response to their lethal burn spells. Often the one life gain is all you need to survive for a turn and win on your subsequent turn.
Shattering Spree is for the Aether Vial. This should be a match we win nearly every time but can be lost by not prioritizing their relevant threats as I did on my feature match. That is to say, keep removal up for Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage. They rely on these disruptive creatures to buy enough time to swarm attack you to death. Also, they often have no way of killing your Stormbreath Dragon except through combat with a giant Kitesail Freebooter. Once you have resolved Blood Moon, their only options to get more creatures to the battlefield are Aether Vial, mana from Noble Hierarch or the singular basic Plains. The long game really does favor you so do not attack until you know you have sufficiently stabilized. This matchup is one of the primary reasons I like the variety of Dismember, Roast, and Kozilek's Return in the sideboard; those alongside the mainboard creature removal make it very difficult for them to lock all of your options down with Meddling Mage.
This matchup is either 50/50 or slightly favored to Eldrazi Tron. Their lower curve means Blood Moon is not nearly as effective as classic Tron decks. Remember: you are the beatdown in this matchup and a long grind does not serve you well. Denying their mana and then sticking one of our threats can singlehandedly win the game if unchecked. Be wary of when they get to seven mana to cast All is Dust. If you already have control of the board, do not overcommit so that when they tap out for the big spell, you can once again keep the Skred Train rollin. After sideboard, do not be afraid to Shattering Spree a Mind Stone as that is one of the few ways they can produce colorless mana for their suite of Oath of the Gatewatch monsters.
Like Eldrazi Tron, you are the beatdown. If you are on the play and have a Blood Moon and Shattering Spree in your opening hand, look to save the Shattering Spree for the Oblivion Stone instead of early Expedition Maps. Often we can land the Moon but are unable to win the game before they land the Oblivion Stone on Turn 3 or 4 and crack it on Turn 5. That equates to the awkward spot of knowing that anything more that is committed to the battlefield will die. Skred Red cries when they cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger... we just can't beat that. It is for that reason that I look to destroy Sanctum of Ugin.
For either variety, this is a difficult but not impossible matchup. I believe this matchup can be very dependent on the skill level of the Storm player. I have beaten many Storm players who did not know when to attempt to go off and win, allowing me enough time to land a big threat. Conversely, Caleb Scherer timed it perfectly when he could see I was low on mana. It is very important to mulligan until you find a Relic of Progenitus plus instant-speed removal. You need to kill the cost-reducing creatures on sight and always keep a mana open in order to crack Relic of Progenitus in response to the Storm player casting Past in Flames. I prefer to use Skred instead of Bolts on cost-reducing creatures in case you need the Bbolts later to reduce the clock on killing them by a turn.
This is a matchup that I believe heavily favors Skred as the skill of the Skred player increases. That is, we have all the tools to deal with their strategy but a slight mistake in what answers we use for their threats will leave you staring at an Etched Champion wearing a large, powerful Cranial Plating. Blood Moon is not bad in this matchup as it allows us to focus our removal suite on their regular creatures without fear of the Inkmoth and Blinkmoth Nexus lands finishing us off when we are empty-handed. We lack mainboard removal to the Etched Champion other than the Mouth of Ronom and blocking from Eternal Scourge and the Thopters from Pia and Kiran Nalaar. By far though, their most difficult creature for us to remove is the Arcbound Ravager. I recommend saving multiple removal spells and focus them there. We would much prefer they stack all the counters on an Ornithopter rather than risk an instant speed blowout during the attack phase by moving them all to an unblocked creature with Cranial Plating.
That about covers it! Good luck, and I hope more of you will join me in the Skred Army!