Honestly, I wasn't expecting to enjoy the new Extended format or even play it very much. With the rotation of Jackal Pup, Cursed Scroll and all my other old friends, nothing remaining seemed very appealing to me. While I was happy that I would no longer vomit all over myself whenever I faced a turn 1 Aether Vial, the loss of my favorite deck ever, in any format, meant that I wasn't too excited about the rotations or the format as a whole. Beyond all of that, since I wasn't qualified for PT LA (my late forays into Champions Block Constructed lead to some fairly humiliating PTQs), I really didn't have the motivation to work on any Extended decks. In spite of all of these reasons not to, I decided to homebrew a Standard deck and hit the late night LCQ with no Extended deck for the next day and no expectations on winning the LCQ in the first place.
And yet, I still managed to grind into the PT. The deck I played was a mono-Red deck - it's posted in the coverage somewhere. It could probably (certainly) be improved, but whatever. It was a reasonable choice for the control-heavy nature of the tournament, and if you are considering an alternative to the extremely narrow nature of Type II right now, it's a fine alternative. [Standard isn't remotely narrow at the moment, but Patrick wrote this before Worlds, so I'll cut him some slack. - Knut] But that deck is an article for another day, or perhaps never at all.
With the LCQ ending at 4:30 in the morning, with no deck, I was in a bit of a jam. So I did the only thing that seemed reasonable: I sat down, wrote up a Red beatdown deck, and purchased some cards. The process for building this deck wasn't exactly ideal. First I decided to add White, since Ravnica offered a lot of powerful cards. Then, I thought of cards that I liked and added those. When I couldn't think of any more cards, I looked through some of my friends binders, and found a couple of other cards that looked neat. Not exactly the best process. The final deck I played looked a little like this:
The deck itself was pretty decent, if far from perfect. The Pithing Needles are out of place, but I expected a lot of Tog and Affinity and it seemed like the most powerful and versatile weapon against the two decks. Grim Lavamancer and Fledgling Dragon aren't exactly a combo, but I like them both a lot, so whatever. Also, Blistering Firecat is a little random, but he spices up the deck considerably. He turned out to be one of the better cards in the deck actually, but I think that had more to do with random circumstances where he appeared than the card actually being good. I ended up splitting the last round with good friend Gerard Fabiano to make a couple hundred dollars, and left feeling pretty good about the whole experience.
Now, looking at the decklist, it's easy to wonder how a deck like the one above could win a match at the PT. If nothing else, it's obviously inferior to the other R/W decks at the tournament. The thing is, the majority of decks that show up at PT's are pretty bad. Worse than this one, actually. For every awesome Mongrel/Tog/Life from the Loam cool and innovative and powerful deck, there are dozens of Ninja of the Deep Hours fiascos, tier two Standard decks from three years ago, and other such nonsense. Beyond that, my deck had a lot of random cards that just happened to be awesome against the random decks I played against. For example, having a first striking Fledgling Dragon (via Boros Guildmage) took down a game against the Rock, and a Blistering Firecat off the top beat my Wake (yes, the Standard Wake deck from three years ago) opponent who had the game completely locked up. Basically, if you have a reasonable deck, play it well and have a gameplan against the anticipated decks in the field, you can expect to win your fair share of matches, even at the PT.
But this article really isn't about the deck that I played at the Pro Tour. Not the one above at least. In my opinion, the deck played by Tsuyoshi Fujita was the best build of R/W by a considerable margin. Not to say it's the best version period, simply the best version at the Pro Tour. For starters, adding Lions and Isamaru is a logical step once you have easy access to White mana on the first turn. Having maindeck Kataki allows you to cheat one of the most prevalent matchups in the format, and Tsuyoshi's mana base was really good. Like I said above though, it wasn't the best version period. For starters, there is the issue of land destruction. While Pro Tour LA had a lot of random multi-color control decks against which the land destruction was likely awesome, it seems largely inappropriate for a metagame composed of the top decks. Against the aggressive decks of the format, LD seems less than ideal. While they can help you get some explosive draws against Tog, they're also a potential blank as the game progresses. Most importantly, with only 21 lands in the deck (10 of which thin other lands out of the deck), it seems like you can't hit three mana on turn 3 consistently enough to have the land destruction plan work. Unlike burn spells, for example, land destruction has a very finite window to be effective.
The other issue that I had with the land destruction was what wasn't in the deck as a result of those eight slots being used. With Kataki likely being removed in every non-Affinity matchup, your number of two-drops in post board games drops down to a total of four. This presents two related problems. First, you short yourself on creatures while your opponent is likely sideboarding into removal in every matchup. Second, you reduce your ability to get the types of draws (lots of dudes) that makes land destruction an effective plan to being with. So I decided to play the above deck at a PTQ with the following changes.
Like I said above, the list felt a little land light, even without the LD, so I simply added one Mountain. I wanted another two-drop, so even while siding out Kataki I could have eight two-drops, hence Boros Guildmage got the nod. Last, Char seems like one of the most powerful cards available to a Red player, so 4 Chars went in. The sideboard that I played was
These cards aren't the most powerful cards you can bring into every matchup, per se, but they are all pretty versatile and cover a variety of matchups. For example, if you really wanted to win the R/W mirror, Crimson Acolyte is better than Fledgling Dragon in a raw sense. But Fledgling Dragon can be brought in against basically any non-Affinity creature deck, so he gets the slot. Purge kills (dur) Black and artifact creatures, so you can bring it in against Tog or Affinity, and so on. You can usually bring in two separate cards in almost every matchup, allowing you to remove your worse seven or eight cards in every matchup for cards with a lot of power, utility, or both.
I ended up losing in this PTQ to Southern Cali rising star Sam Stein and his 80 million Violent Eruptions, beating a variety of Rock and Affinity decks on the way. Could the deck have been improved? There are a couple of spots worth discussing, mostly revolving around the other two-drop in the deck and the sideboard.
In my opinion, there are four different alternate drops worth considering, each with their own set of advantages and drawbacks.
Advantages: While I got a lot of funny looks both at the PT and the PTQ when I played this girl, she is in an abstraction the best alternate two-drop available to the R/W player. Both of her abilities are very handy. Against other creature decks, first strike a really awesome ability, especially compounded with all the instant speed burn in the deck. It allows you to bash right through cards like Eternal Witness, Sakura-Tribe Elder and other such creatures you are normally loathe to trade with. Against control decks, the haste ability is a reasonable add-on, allowing you to use your mana to deal additional damage in a race as opposed to mana and burn spells. Squeaking out every point matters.
Disadvantages: Not a terribly focused card. There are certainly better alternatives if you know what the metagame is going to be like, which will be explained below. Boros Guildmage is basically a hedge bet when you don't know exactly what the metagame is going to be like.
Advantages: White Knight is spectacular in two matchups. Against Tog, it can keep attacking right through a tog and bounces off all the targeted removal, making it an invaluable weapon against one of your worst matchups. Against Aggro Rock, it can hold off Troll with Jitte on it, practically their only way to beat you, and can't be removed by their removal package either. It's very good against two of the most prevalent matchups in Extended, one of which isn't exactly the best matchup for you.
Disadvantages: Double White is really rough on this deck this early in the game. There will be times this card will be stranded in your hand or will cause you to take a lot of damage to cast. Basically a vanilla dude in any matchup outside of the ones listed above.
Advantages: The complete stones in the mirror match. Practically unbeatable unless disaster strikes somehow, and likely just the same after board. It also solves the Umezawa's Jitte problem nicely. Jitte isn't that great in this deck, which is why it isn't in the main. Most of your guys are too crappy and tiny to matter, and it's not like you need much help defeating decks revolving around guys you can kill with Jitte. Even in the mirror, Jitte can really only stick on Fledgling Dragon, and if they can't kill your dragon it's not like your opponent was winning anyway. Obviously there will be random times where it's awesome (like Fujita vs. Peebles-Mundy near the end of the swiss in LA, although a lot of that had to do with Peebles-Mundy stalling on land), but by and large it isn't really great. At the same time, Jitte is a great card against you, so having some in your board to fight over other Jittes seems reasonable. It's better than bringing in say, Disenchant against Jitte, because who knows, maybe you'll just Jitte your opponent out. With Silver Knight in your deck, Jitte becomes a perfectly valid card in the mirror, since you now have a cheap, invincible creature to put it on.
Disadvantages: Same issues as with White Knight, except this dude's only good in one matchup instead of two.
Kami of Ancient Law
Advantages: You are drawing dead to the card Solitary Confinement game one without a way to remove it, and that card is become more pronounced in Extended. Being able to remove it changes that matchup considerably. Heartbeat is also a bad matchup and this guy shores it up to some extent by giving you a way to actually remove Heartbeat from play. Another issue with the Heartbeat matchup is that you don't actually want to bring in Disenchant, because it dilutes your draw considerably and only hits one card in their deck. At the same time, it's almost impossible to beat a resolved Heartbeat, so Kami gives you a reasonable card that can also kill a Heartbeat. This guy can also catch other random enchantments, like Seismic Assault and Pernicious Deed. Kami of Ancient Law is the best reasonable card against your worst matchups.
Disadvantages: Obviously very crappy if they don't have enchantments, the lack of first strike also makes this the worst available option against the dreaded Troll/Jitte package.
The sideboard poses many similar questions, once again revolving around the metagame. In a lot of these cases though, I just don't think the alternative cards are quite good enough.
This guy is a staple in a lot of sideboards I've seen online. In fact, this is probably the most standard deviation from my list to any other, the complete lack of this guy in any of my 75 cards. In my opinion, this guy is fine in a lot of matchups. The problem is, he's just fine and can't earn any superlatives beyond that. While he certainly doesn't lack power, what he does lack is giving you the tools to fight the matchups in the areas where you need help, or against the way other decks are going to try to attack you.
Take the Affinity matchup as an example. Flametongue is certainly fine. A lot of the time, he'll be really good. The problem is, the Affinity matchup is really hard to lose. The only ways to really lose are to an unchecked, early Ravager with a lot of support. Flametongue doesn't address this draw very well, and at four mana he's far too expensive anyway. Purge and Disenchant fight against this sort of draw the best. In the mirror, again, he'll be fine, but all the early guys trade with each other or removal, making FTK prone to either a) not mattering enough or b) being stuck in your hand while there aren't any targets in play. Fledgling Dragon is a difficult-to-remove threat that puts your opponent on a very fast clock, so again FTK is outclassed. Even against Aggro Rock, arguably the best matchup for FTK, he isn't good against Troll + Jitte, which is easily their best weapon against you. While certainly not a bad card, FTK is simply not good enough to warrant sideboard space.
A very strong, versatile card. Certainly worth consideration in the board, although it doesn't quite fit. Purge cross sections your needs against Tog and Affinity better than Needle does, and Disenchant covers the dangerous equipment. While Pithing Needle will be better against those cards in certain situations, the other removal spells are more proactive, flexible, and not liable to being destroyed.
I like this card as a possibility if you add either Knight (especially the Silver Knight) to the deck, but in my current configuration the guys are basically too bad for this card to do enough. Worth trying out if the Knight is the in deck though.
While this isn't a common card to see in R/W decks (or any deck at all), I suspect it will end up taking the place of Purge in my sideboard. While this hurts the Affinity matchup, it isn't too much worse and can actually help against Atog, one of the best weapons Affinity has against you after board. Against Psychatog, it's a little clunky but will basically amount to a sorcery speed Purge. Against a whole other list of threats, Pacifism simply does things outside of your Red removal reach. Fledgling Dragon and Silver Knight are now easily containable, as are Phantom Centaur, threats out of random reanimator decks, and the like. While a little bit janky, I think Pacifism can shore up a lot of the trickier situations for this deck, along with being versatile to board in against a variety of decks.
There are a whole slew of cards worth mentioning in regards to the sideboard, but I think the above are the most serious contenders. If I end up attending GP: Charlotte or any other PTQs this season, my deck would contain Kami of Ancient Law in the main replacing Boros Guildmage, and Pacifism in the board replacing Purge from my PTQ list. While the Boros deck is certainly underpowered compared to other decks available in Extended and has its share of bad matchups, it's one of the most consistent, reliable decks in the format. The Affinity matchup is about as good as any deck can have against another, the Aggro Rock matchup is in your favor, and all the other matchups are either improved after board or can be improved by re-configuring some of the slots in the maindeck or sideboard. I suggest to anyone looking for a straightforward, consistent, and fun deck to give this one a shot. It won't disappoint.
Any comments, hate mail, whatever, PSulli81@yahoo.com