Good morning Disciples of Bolas!
We certainly had an interesting weekend at GP Dallas-Fort Worth. There were some interesting cards that made it into the Top 8.
— MTGDeckTechs (@mtgdecktechs) November 7, 2016
Most players agree that the most surprising card to be seen was the 4 copies of Koth of the Hammer in the winner’s decklist. That brings us to our subject this week. Most players are familiar with burn or hyper aggressive creature based red decks however, it is the more ramp style Red deck that most players rarely see.
What is ‘Big Red’?
Big Red decks are designed as a ramp strategy that uses burn spells and board sweepers to control an opponent’s side of the board before dropping a large Red creature to close the game quickly. This is not a strategy that is seen very often, so let’s delve into some of the history of the strategy.
The earliest successful major event was at the 1999 World Championship in Tokyo, Japan:
This deck was built on the back of high powered artifact mana (Grim Monolith, Worn Powerstone, Thran Dynamo and Fire Diamond) to ramp into Mishra’s Helix and Wildfire. These spells control the flow of action by disabling your opponent’s lands. Wildfire goes an additional step and deals 4 damage to all creatures. Masticore and Cursed Scroll served as effective control methods allowing Kai to shoot down most anything.
The deck’s big finisher was Covetous Dragon. This rather effective beater hit hard at 6 damage and his drawback was very easy to keep from biting you back since your deck was full of artifacts.
The next major example comes 5 years later in the hands of Masahiro Kuroda.
Kuroda Red was a deck that was loaded to the extreme with burn. Some burn was for creatures (Electrostatic Bolt), some was just for his opponent’s face (Pulse of the Forge), some could do either (Shrapnel Blast, Fireball), and some could hit both (Barbed Lightning). Creatures had no chance of survival through that onslaught. And artifact creatures? Fuhgeddaboudit. The deck had Solemn Simulacrum (aka Sad Robot, aka Jens named after the Invitational winner who created the card) as a ramp spell, a form of card draw, and a threat. The deck’s big finisher was Arc Slogger, a 4/5 creature for 3RR lets you exile the top 10 cards off of your library to deal 2 damage to target creature or player. It certainly wasn’t a very menacing ability but it was the best way to finish a game quickly.
Skred Red was an offshoot of the Big Red strategy created by cards that were launched in Coldsnap.
Coldsnap was the third set of the Ice Age block from way back in 1995 that wasn’t printed until 2006. This set pushed snow permanents (like snow covered lands). Skred, while being a sorcery, was one of the best 1 mana removal spells in the format as it deal damage to target creature equal to the number of snow permanents you control.
So a Big Red Return was forecast, just like Lebron James, one Cedric Phillips delivered:
Cedric used this list to great effect that year. The deck continued on the same formula as previous Big Red decks (lots of versatile removal, ramp cards (Mind Stone, Molten Slagheap), some value creatures (Martyr of Sands, Stalking Yeti), and a way to finish the game quickly. In this particular deck, Cedric could Skred on his own Stuffy Doll to kill an opponent on the spot. A version came out much later, during the early days of Modern that used a similar technique with Boros Reckoner.
So how did this strategy work in Modern, a turn 4 format, in 2016?
Let’s take a look at Kevin Mackie’s list:
Let’s look at the Top 7 archetypes from GP Dallas-Fort Worth:
How in the world did he navigate through this field to make Top 8? Part of this was due to how he approached the expected field.
I can only assume that he was expecting Dredge decks with both 4 main deck Relic of Progenitus. You don’t put 4 copies of that in your main deck by accident. Not only does it hit Dredge, it also hits many of the other threats in the format like Tarmogoyf, Grim Flayer, Delve, and Flashback cards. The 3 main deck Anger of the Gods deal with most every threat in Dredge (since it exiles) but it also did collateral damage to Naya Zoo and Affinity sans Arcbound Ravager.
While Lightning Bolt is one of the best removal spells in the format, Skred usually out classes it when wanting to remove much larger threats (thanks to 21 Snow-Covered Mountains and 2 Scrying Sheets). When you can remove Platnium Emperion and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet after 2 zombie sacrifices for one Red mana, that’s quite good.
The threat package is very significant here. Eternal Scourge is a card I’ve been looking to breakout in Modern since removal spells just temporarily send it to exile to be recast. The only downside to the creature is if it goes to the graveyard, it usually doesn’t come back. The synergy with the Relics and the Anger of the Gods shine here since they will send the Eldrazi to the Exile zone for you. The expensive threats all cost 4 or more mana. Koth of the Hammer is significant in that it constantly pushes your opponent to have an answer quickly or die to the large stream of temporary 4/4 mountains. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is another power card for the deck and one that Kevin regrets not having another copy in his deck. Pia and Kiren Nalaar lets you go wide and helps with one of the more difficult matchups in Infect, both with the Thopter tokens and with the burn ability. The most expensive threat was a beast in standard…or rather a monstrous dragon, Stormbreath Dragon. Bring Protection from White in a format where Path to Exile is the other 1 mana removal spell that gets play is quite a big deal.
Mind Stone is his ramp spell that doubles a card draw later in the game and one of the most important cards according to Kevin due to all the 4 mana spells.
Kevin said that non-creature decks like control were bad matchups for him but he won the event by beating a Jeskai Control in the Semis and a Grixis Control deck in the finals.
What a strange world we live in.
The lesson to be learned here is that just about any successful strategy can win any individual event with proper playtesting and correctly guess the metagame.