Setting Standards

How the %!@#$ Do I Beat Mono Red?


So standard seems like it’s in a good place. Despite any uncertainty over the recent bannings their impact seems to have done exactly what WOTC had hoped by leveling the playing field and opening up standard and making all kinds of decks and strategies viable. The results of GP Memphis have 6 different decks in the top 10 and even more further down the list. This is where I want Magic to be. This is the standard where I can play whatever I want and be competitive. Aggro, control, and midrange are all represented as well as tokens, tribal, mono colored decks and even graveyard synergies have a place in this standard and that is a standard I want to play.

But there is always a catch.

There is a deck out there waiting to smash your janky homebrew and remind you that you cant do just anything and expect to get away with it.

The fun police.

The boogie man.

The deck you need a plan against or you won’t make it past turn 4; mono red. To be considered viable in this wide open meta you need to have a plan for dealing with the mono red haste machine because it is still out there and it’s a vicious as it was before the bannings.


Hang in there

Beating mono red is often decided in the first 4 turns of a game as this deck can have a completely overwhelming start if they hit their curve. If mono red plays a haste creature on turn one like Bomat Courier or Fanatical Firebrand, follow it up with Earthshaker Khenra and then Ahn-Crop Crasher you can be looking at 10 damage before you even play your 3rd land. Playing against this deck can seem like a serious uphill battle especially if they manage to play Hazoret the Fervent before you can draw an answer. The trick to winning against mono red is often to not panic, you need to accept the fact that youre going to lose half your life and probably the first 3 creatures you play  and work from there. Playing against the red monster is a lot like playing a control deck in that you need to stay calm under pressure and think more about the mid and late game and just try and survive the early onslaught. As with most aggressive strategies one of the ways to beat mono red is to weather the storm until they are out of cards and then work your way back which is why it can be really important to kill Bomat Courier as soon as possible. One of the ways that red can refill their hand and finish you off is by cashing in the cards from the electric tomato as soon as it’s no longer a relevant attacker. Using your Fatal Push, Shock, Baffling End, or even an Unsummon on bomat can be the key to making sure the red deck doesn’t get to gas up on turn 5. Taking away card advantage can be the key to enduring the storm and turning the corner on red so don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on that little robot with all the cards under it.


Lose 2 Gain 2

With the departure of Rampaging Ferocidon from standard black and white decks can now lean on life link to help shore up their mono red matchups. Gifted Aetherborn is just fantastic against red as are most of the vampires in the format and for those without black or white, Aethersphere Harvester can be a real game changer both in terms of surviving the first few turns and having a blocker that can handle Hazoret.


Better Than One

Another key to beating red is being able to go wide and get enough blockers on the battlefield to negate the effectiveness of cards like Earthshaker and Ahn-Crop. Even when mono red doesn’t hit these perfect 2 and 3 drop creatures they often hit Abrade or Lightning Strike instead which means they just zap your defender and crash right in for damage so using cards that present more than one defender can be key. Servo Exhibition, Fanatical Firebrand, Pia Nalaar, Queen’s Commission, Raptor Hatchling,  and Martyr of Dusk are all good early game plays that can give you 2 options in one card and help you stem the bleeding from the early rush. Being able to present threats that require 2 answers from red can be the ticket to shutting the door on this super aggressive deck. Since you can’t beat them in the 1 for 1 battle in the opening game, the idea is to force them to use 2 cards to deal with every 1 card that you play and then take control once they run out of action.


The Fervent One

Just when you think red is out of cards and you’ve managed to stabilize is usually when they play Hazoret the Fervent. Few decks in the format are so perfectly in tune with their win condition as mono red is with the Goddess of Haste. The deck is designed to play hard and fast right out of the gate by dumping all its cards onto the battlefield as fast as possible and then play their win condition that requires them to be almost empty handed. The synergy is perfect. On top of that, Hazoret even has a built in back up plan of direct damage if she happens to come down in the face of a clogged up board. Red players can simply use their excess cards to throw damage directly at their opponents face when they get stalled out on the battlefield. Having an answer for Hazoret is an absolute must in the current meta, she’s everywhere and you will just lose to her most times unless you have a clean answer. If youre playing black or white, this can be easy as there are plenty of exile effects and enchantments the take care of the red God. Often overlooked is Hour of Glory as a budget friendly, and sometimes better, version of Vraska’s Contempt. The look on a red players face when you exile their win condition and then exile the backup they had in their hand makes it well worth it. White enchantments are often as good as a straight removal spell as mono red has no way of getting rid of them once the enchantment is out so copies of Cast Out, Gideon’s Intervention and especially Ixalan’s Binding get extra value against mono red while Settle the Wreckage is still an absolute all star in this match up. Other colors are not as lucky. Red can use Soul Scar Mage to drop -1/-1 counters while blue and green are stuck with chump blocking or using some random blue bounce spell or fringe enchantment like Water Knot to keep Hazoret at bay. Blue players have been making good use of Commit//Memory to shuffle Hazoret back into their opponents deck but the options remain fairly limited for these colors, especially in the early game.


Turning the corner

Weather the storm, play multiple threats, get rid of Hazoret and then it should be easy right? Of course not. Mono red didn’t make it to the top of the standard rankings without having a few tricks up its sleeve. Red is able to sideboard into a much different kind of deck after game one so don’t be surprised when turn 4 becomes Chandra, Torch of Defiance and turn 5 a Glorybringer as they attempt to go over the top and become much more of a midrange deck. And of course don’t forget to about that late game Earthshaker Khenra that can come back from the graveyard and smash in for 4 more points of haste damage.


The Benchmark

Mono red is a beast, there’s no getting around that, so if you want to know if you have a winning deck list on your hands take it out for a few rounds against the red god. If your deck can beat red, even some of the time, then you probably have a good match against a lot of the other decks out there, but if not, you may be in trouble.

Standard is basically a new format since the bannings and aggro always shines in a new format so you can expect red to be a contender for a while. It’s fast, it’s versatile and all of it’s threats demand immediate answers so make sure you can handle it before you break out your new brew.

Anything I missed? I’m always in the market for new tech to deal with red so let me know if I missed any key cards or interactions that can help me survive the first 4 against mono red!




Dan MacKinnon

Dan MacKinnon

A freelance artist and illustrator by trade, magic geek by choice. I've been playing on an off since the 90's and have recently gotten much more serious about magic and game design. Sometimes I think I like building decks more than I actually like playing them. Drop me a line or check out some of my work at

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