These days in Modern it's all "The Gaak this" and "The Gaak that." You can play The Gaak or you can get Gaaked, they'll tell you.
Some of us don't like Gaaking, though. Some of us like Lava Spikes. And I'm here to tell you that there's a place for us even in this, the most degenerate Modern format we've seen in some time.
I posted two 5-0s with this deck towards the end of July and only have some minor changes that I'll be implementing this weekend for Grand Prix Minneapolis. Before I get into my list for this weekend, let's first discuss what this deck is and, more importantly, what it is not.
Mono-Red Prowess is a deck with many similarities to Burn, though it is weirdly a deck with a goldfish that is oftentimes faster, given a higher volume of one-mana prowess creatures while also having greater ability to play long games with Bedlam Revelers and Faithless Lootings. The goal of this deck is to untap with as many prowess creatures as you can and then cast as many spells as you can, and with the way that prowess creatures scale when you have multiples, you can deal absurd amounts of damage. When your early prowess creatures die, you shift into your Plan B of overwhelming your opponent with Bedlam Revelers.
The advantage that traditional Burn has over Mono-Red Prowess is access to some free wins with Eidolon of the Great Revel, which has serious impact in a number of matchups. You have to work a little harder with Prowess, but I've found the faster matchup-agnostic goldfish as well as the ability to outgrind opponents in the late-game is well worth it.
Mono-Red Phoenix has put up a grip of results in Modern live events lately, so at a glance the first thing most people notice is that I've both eschewed the Phoenixes and maintained the Faithless Lootings from this archetype. I've found the Phoenix plan to be extremely inconsistent in Mono-Red, and I just can't abide it. The deck is definitely busted when it does its thing, but removing the Phoenixes just makes the deck much more consistent while leaning into the draws that are heavy on prowess creatures, which in truth are also busted.
Faithless Looting remains crucial in the deck because only using cheap prowess creatures would make the deck too vulnerable to Fatal Push and other spot removal. As such, Bedlam Reveler is necessary, and Looting helps you set up Revelers, discard excess Revelers, and clean up hands post-Reveler. Looting also has pretty important synergy with Lava Dart in matchups where your opponent isn't presenting one-toughness threats, in that you can discard Darts to Looting and then have a spell to flashback later on a critical prowess turn. Discarding Darts to Looting is just generally something to be aware of for generating prowess triggers as an instrumental element of some of your turn three wins.
Speaking of critical prowess turns, this card is the truth and y'all need to put some respect on its name. As a baseline, Crash Through is a cantrip that naturally plays well with prowess and increases your velocity towards both drawing and being able to cast a Bedlam Reveler. If that was all it did you might expect to see less than a playset of the card, and you sure don't see any Warlord's Fury here, but giving all of your creatures trample is actually huge.
Mono-Red Prowess is very capable of pumping its creatures to five or more power, and the best way out of a situation like that is chump blocking. Crash Through eliminates that option for the opponent. Auriok Champion and Thopter Foundry and chump-blocking engines that cause a lot of trouble for similar decks, but Crash Through gives you a serious fighting chance against those cards.
Another thing that stands out about my build is that I've played with either zero or one Horizon land. I've justified this by stating that the mirror and other aggressive matchups are among the more difficult and that the midrange decks are generally favorable matchups in my experience.
That said, after getting ranched by some midrange Leyline of the Void decks, I tried firing up a League with a build that was heavy on Horizon lands to give me more redraws in longer games and put up another 5-0 while I was working on this article…
The two most notable matches from this League were a quick 2-0 versus The Gaak and a 2-0 win over Burn. The win over Burn quelled my fears about being so heavy on Horizon lands some, though in fairness my opponent did not play particularly well. Given that Dragon's Claw just takes over the sideboard games and you kind of lean on it anyway, it's possible that I was just wrong to not include more Horizon lands from the get-go. At the very least, this felt like the most logical direction once I cooled off on Gut Shot.
I should note that once you play more than one Horizon land you should split between Fiery Islet and Sunbaked Canyon because of Pithing Needle effects, but Islets are like two tickets cheaper on Magic Online.
I played close to the list at the top of the article for the Cube qualifier events at Gen Con last week and the deck has run very well for me. I wasn't quite able to qualify for the Cube MCQ, but I did rack up a lot of prize wall tickets trying. I'm confident running some version of the deck this weekend at the Grand Prix with a few updates.
The most significant changes would be made to the sideboard, which you can see reflected in the four Islet version above. All of the three-mana spells have performed very poorly and I cut them all. You just can't reliably cast them on time. Mono-Red Prowess definitely can miss its third or even second land drop for a bit and still win, but that just isn't true if you're waiting to cast a Pillage.
The other flaw in the sideboard was that only playing three graveyard-hate spells was probably too optimistic. Hogaak is both the most robust deck in the format and the most played, so just go heavy on trying to beat them. You actually win more Game 1s against The Gaak than you might expect, but Mono-Red Prowess can afford to sideboard heavily for one matchup because the deck has access to fast wins and isn't terribly easy to disrupt, so you really don't end up with matchups that are that are lopsided, against you assuming that your opponent's deck is generally competitive in the Modern format at large.
The major question I currently have for the maindeck is how many Gut Shots I should be playing. The card often feels like it comes in clutch by costing zero, but other times it feels completely ineffective as a spell. Gut Shot was excellent in decks similar to this prior to the printing of Lava Dart into the format, though these days it feels like Lava Dart might have Gut Shot's job covered. Gut Shot was the card that I cut in the 4x Islet build, and I didn't miss it for that League, but I could still see registering one.
Going into the weekend, consider eighteen lands versus one Gut Shot and one to four Horizon lands to be the flex slots.
You can still expect to play against a diverse range of decks at Modern events, and while I'm not going to write out a guide for 30+ decks, here's a quick sideboard guide for the most popular decks right now.
Game 1 is kind of a coin flip, though in general I think you're favored on the play and favored after sideboard. The banning of Bridge from Below made keeping them off Hogaak with Lava Dart much easier, and just generally made winning the game by using Lava Dart to pick off blockers easier as well. You don't necessarily need hate in your opener to win, but I'd mulligan to it if your hand wasn't very fast. I've been happiest Surgicaling Vengevine, but Hogaak, Bloodghast, or Gravecrawler will do if they're going to be an issue.
I've had this matchup go 2-0 in both directions. There's pressure on them to make large Tarmogoyfs and pressure on you to navigate through Lightning Bolts and Liliana of the Veil. Try to be able to prowess your creatures out of Bolt range when you can, and don't kill a Liliana unless you're sure them plussing it is worse for you than them.
VS Azorius Control
Same 60. Not really sure why people play this deck.
VS Burn, Mono-Red Phoenix, and Mono-Red Prowess
There are cosmetic differences to how and why you do everything against these three decks, but the play is largely the same. I haven't been bothering with Surgical against Mono-Red Phoenix because they're just kind of bad at doing the Phoenix thing. Sideboard games in all of these matches are about killing creatures and sticking Dragon's Claws and Bedlam Revelers. I could see an argument for Surgicals over the last two Lava Darts against Phoenix, though I don't see that having a dramatic impact on the matchup.
VS Izzet Phoenix
You mostly play a controlling role here, though you do want to try to close quickly before your opponent can set up multiple Auriok Champions. Lava Spike is your worst card here, but both Manamorphose and Light Up the Stage are made significantly worse by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and other blockers, so you want to trim some of those, too.
VS Eldrazi Tron
This matchup basically hinges entirely on whether you get punked by Chalice of the Void, so even though Abrade is generally kind of weak here you just need to have it. I've generally felt favored in this matchup because their deck is so much less consistent and less powerful than yours, but Chalice of the Void is the great equalizer.
If you're looking for a budget-friendly Modern deck that can rattle off quick wins, grind through hard games, and offer some easy games but also reward mastery, then Mono-Red Prowess should be right up your alley. I think it's a great call even in the Hogaak metagame and would expect it to continue to exist if and when we see an update on the Banned List.
I'll catch y'all at GP Minneapolis this weekend, and if you're my opponent, you'd better have burn heal!