Hello, fellow readers! My name's Adam Minniear, and I've been playing Magic for about six years, since Homelands (thanks in advance for the condolences). This is my first submission to Star City, and I hope you like it.
One thing first, though: Let me explain the he title,"The Guy on the Right." Zvi Mowshowitz inadvertently called me this in his U.S. Nationals report. I was, quite naturally, the guy on his right. In the first Rochester draft of Day 1, Zvi was B/R, while I was U/W, until I started taking black (mostly 2/2 flyers) after the second and third packs were opened, when he moved into my clearly-signaled Blue. I wasn't pissed or anything, but he saw fit to mention it in a negative light, so I just wanted to set the record somewhat straight.
Anyways, enough of that; on to the gist of the article.
Black/red had been an almost-unplayed mixture of colors in Type II before Invasion brought in a group of powerful cards and forcibly revived the archetype. Plenty of discussions were held on how to use the awesome Invasion gold cards and Urborg Volcanoes with other powerful red and black goodies. The black/red archetype was much talked about, and most Magic minds concluded that a controllish design was the way to go. Many designs featured an early game filled with discard and creature kill (Addle, Vendetta, Shock), a mid-game with Dark Rituals to accelerate into the deck's powerful but expensive spells (Void, Blazing Specter, Skizzik), and a late game with recursion (Hammer of Bogardan and/or Pyre Zombie) or uncounterable bombs (Urza's Rage, Obliterate). Eventually, a name was given to the deck: MachineHead, presumably from the mechanical beasts in the art for some of the deck's important cards, such as Void and Rage. Unfortunately, it failed miserably at States and PT: Chicago. The deck's traditional weakness against enchantments was unforgivable in an environment with powerful enchantments like Saproling Burst and Parallax Wave. Armageddon was an enormous hoser against the deck's expensive control cards. Combine that with a lack of good discard (beyond the costly Void and the only-decent-but-better-than-anything-else Addle), and it made the deck a much-talked about joke.
Enter Planeshift and Seventh Edition. Terminate, possibly the best removal spell since Swords to Plowshares, was one of the marquee cards of Planeshift before it was even released. Flametongue Kavu quickly entered every deck with red, and Phyrexian Scuta drew favorable comparisons to the ancient Juzam Djinn. With Flametongue and Specter, Crypt Angel became a possible sideboard or even maindeck card. Just as important, Seventh Edition brought back the incredible Duress and Persecute, and removed the troublesome Armageddon. Seventh also excluded the Hammer - but with the deck's new toys, Hammer didn't always make the cut anyway. Shifts in the metagame allowed Prophecy's Chimeric Idol and Invasion's Plague Spitter (plus the controversial Rishadan Port) to become new and often game-winning elements.
Yours truly played this archetype on Day 2 of U.S. Nationals, going 5-1 against a variety of top-level decks and finishing in 9th place for the day (30th overall). The deck still didn't get much respect ? at least it didn't until a large amount of players (mostly Europeans) used the deck at Worlds 2001, with the Netherlands' Tom Van de Logt winning the Championship with a variant stacked with fat creatures.
Which brings us to now: People think the deck was hamstrung without Dark Ritual, but I wanted to prove otherwise. Without the Ritual, the original concept of a control deck was indeed hurt, but with some tuning and scouring of card lists I was able to put together this new version:
4 Shivan Zombie
4 Nightscape Familiar
4 Vicious Kavu
2 Pyre Zombie
4 Blazing Specter
4 Flametongue Kavu
4 Urza's Rage
4 Urborg Volcano
4 Sulfurous Springs
1 Shadowblood Ridge
Without Ritual to accelerate the deck's costly spells, I instead sought to drop the deck's mana curve, hence the cheaper creatures. Shivan Zombie is simply an efficient creature, while the Familiar still allows potent third-turn Spectres, and at least can block forever. The Vicious Kavu (1BR, 2/2, +2/+0 when attacking) usually reeks of Sealed Deck, but it hits so hard that it has to be stopped or it will quickly end the game by itself. With Flametongues, Terminates, and Rages, the Vicious one can often go all the way despite your opponent casting blockers. Pyre Zombies and Rages give the deck game against control decks, while Duress and Skizziks are just solid all around. The sideboard has contained various quantities of Void, Pillage, Dodecapod, Scuta, Persecute, Addle, Engineered Plague, Mask of Intolerance, and (usually) the other Pyre Zombies.
With deck in hand, I went to my local gaming store ? The Wizard's Den in Middletown, Ohio, which holds weekly Type II tournaments. One caveat: I could only find two Skizziks, so I replaced one with another maindeck Pyre Zombie. The deck still performed excellently, going 4-0 in the Swiss rounds, sweeping a G/B, a mono-red, and a rogue R/W burn-control deck, and beating a Zombie Infestation/Upheaval deck 2-1. It lost to a creatureless Rice Snack Domain deck 2-1 in the quarterfinals, even with excellent draws on my part, but that matchup is probably unwinnable with this deck in its current incarnation anyway. Thoughtful sideboard choices can help this matchup.
In conclusion, R/B has evolved significantly from when Invasion was newly released. Many of the control portions have necessarily been removed with the explosiveness of Ritual gone. The weenie creatures are covered with power cards; hack-and-slash form may be the archetype's fate. MachineHead it isn't, but that moniker will probably stick at least until Invasion block rotates out. It's probably not a Tier 1 deck, but it's still powerful and fun to play.
I'm still tinkering with the design, so I intend to be showing off the deck's newest configuration soon, so beat me if you can! Thanks for reading, and good luck in all things.
USA Order of the Goblin (Second Class)