This past weekend shook up the Standard format once again. Standard has been being dominated by control and midrange strategies, but that doesn't mean that there is no place for aggressive decks. Boros Burn has been the best performing red strategy for the past couple months, and I am talking about decks where red is the primary color, not an archetype like Monsters.
This past weekend illustrates that aggro decks are still a major part of the metagame, and red is the color that provides the cheapest, most aggressive spells. Sure Monoblack Aggro has been putting up results, but I think Monored can be much more explosive. Look at Tom Ross's Boss Sligh deck that only dropped a single game in the Top 8 of the StarCity Games Invitational. There is a place for aggro decks, but it seems that many were either scared to play them or didn't want to. Here is Tom's list:
This is about as aggressive as it is possible to go and I think it is correct to completely commit to an aggressive gameplan if you opt for this sort of strategy. Looking at the one-drop slot there are a whopping 20 creatures to play on the first turn on the game. This makes the likelihood of being able to play two one-drop creatures on the second turn of the game that much higher. In fact Tom Ross relies so heavily on the one-drops that there is only one other creature in the deck that isn't a one-drop besides the two copies of Rubblebelt Maaka.
Depending on what the gameplan is, it can vary which one-drop it is correct to cast first. Since the first couple turns are so critical for the deck, each choice is that much more important. If the plan is casting a targeting spell on the second turn, then it is generally correct to play Akroan Crusader first. However if that targeting spell is a Dragon Mantle this is not always the case. Playing another one-drop followed by Akroan Crusader and putting Dragon Mantle on it, will likely result in more damage.
The most obvious one-drop that gets worse as the game progresses is Foundry Street Denizen, so running him out is usually right when not on the Akroan Crusader plan. Rakdos Cackler and Firedrinker Satyr are one-mana two-power creatures which is nothing to complain about on the first turn. The worst of the options is Legion Loyalist as battalion certainly won't be online on the first turn. Haste threats are nice on the second or third turn of the game, and of course Ash Zealot is the two-drop Tom elected to go with rather than the somewhat slower option of Firefist Striker.
Perhaps part of the reason for running Ash Zealot over Firefist Striker is this deck isn't afraid of the opponent trying to play a blocker. There are the instant speed pump effects in Titan's Strength and Rubblebelt Maaka, Madcap Skills to stop a single blocker, and there is even a copy Blinding Flare. Besides these cards the removal spells in Shock and Lightning Strike help clear the way as well. This deck is fine with playing a removal spell like Shock because early creatures are the most troublesome as it is the hope that the lategame will never happen.
It is true that this sort of deck relies heavily on the opening hand. With only 17 lands and essentially 24 creatures, the land-to-spell ratio is very important. While it is nice that Titan's Strength scrys, there is not much in the way of deck manipulation here. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and don't let this fool you into thinking there is little play to the deck. The games don't last many turns but each point of damage is critical, and for people that like aggro decks I would recommend trying a deck like this.
I can see that a lot of work was put into the sideboard. Many might claim that monocolored decks have a lack of options in the board, but there are a variety of different one-ofs here. I have been very impressed with Eidolon of the Great Revel, but here it is in the board to provide an additional threat against control decks, as it does seem like it could be painful versus another aggro deck. One card that stands out here is the single Mutavault. I am curious whether this comes in as an eighteenth land, or simply in exchange for a Mountain. This is a deck that illustrates that just because you may be playing an aggro deck doesn't mean there isn't plenty of room for innovation.
Tom Ross's take on Monored Aggro isn't the only version that had success this past weekend. Not only did Monored take the Invitational title, it also won the Standard Open in Columbus. Let's take a look at Festus Resendez's list:
This is a version of Monored that attempts to go bigger with multiple three-drop creatures to go alongside Fanatic of Mogis. This deck does only have eight one-drop creatures, which makes sense, as they are the one-drops that don't need other cards to make them better. It may seem like there is less synergy in this list, except there is a devotion theme to support Fanatic of Mogis. Burning-Tree Emissary makes Firefist Striker significantly better, as it is a two-drop to play off the Burning-Tree Emissary trigger.
Boros Reckoner hasn't been seeing a ton of play in aggro decks, but there are a full four copies here. This is a creature that is good on its own, and makes winning creature battles much easier. Boros Reckoner is also one of the best possible devotion enablers. There are eight three-drops in the list which may seem like a lot, but to go alongside Boros Reckoner, Chandra's Phoenix can also be very high impact. There are more burn spells which helps maximize the effectiveness of Chandra's Phoenix.
Since the curve is higher Resendez has 21 lands including two Mutavaults, compared to the 17 Mountains of Ross. This list may seem pretty straightforward, but it shows that there are multiple potential directions to go when building Monored Aggro.
Another base-red strategy that had been declining in popularity is Red Devotion. There are multiple splash options for Red Devotion, but the most popular version seems to be splashing white. Here is a bit of a different take on Red/White Devotion played by Michael Sanner at the TCGplayer 5K in Madison, Wisconsin to a Top 8 finish:
The creature package is similar to other Red Devotion decks, but the spells certainly aren't. I like the idea of Aurelia's Fury as a sweet one-of, as the card is very good against creature-based strategies, and of course this deck is capable of making a ton of mana. Running a playset of Magma Jets is also somewhat unusual, but scrying can be really important. Perhaps the expectation is that Blood Baron of Vizkopa is on the decline so Mizzium Mortars may not be as necessary, though I think I would play more Chained to the Rocks. Chandra, Pyromaster as a maindeck two-of is an innovation that I am a fan of here, as Chandra, Pyromaster can fill the role of Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler in the green version.
Michael also decided to spice his deck up a bit by adding three Legion Initiatives to the main. Whether this is actually a good idea or not, I like the thought behind the card. It works especially well with the Assemble the Legions and Elspeth, Sun's Champions in the board. I would actually consider moving Assemble the Legion or Elspeth, Sun's Champion to the main, to help justify the Legion's Initiatives. Legion's Initiative can save your creatures from removal spells, and one particularly nice interaction is blinking out Fanatic of Mogis.
Let's take a look at a new take on red devotion played by Kent Ketter to a ninth place finish at the Invitational. His version opts to splash black, rather than white or green:
Dreadbore has been rising in popularity, and for good reason. It is one of the best removal spells red has to offer and if I were to choose a removal spell to splash for, Dreadbore would be it. Eidolon of the Great Revel fits into Red Devotion quite nicely, as there are a good number of spells that cost more than three, and a lot of the time you win by burning out the opponent. Of course one of the most efficient ways to close the game out remains Fanatic of Mogis.
I'm also a big fan of Rakdos's Return coming out of the sideboard. In a deck that can generate a ton of mana, Rakdos's Return seems like a perfect fit here. The card is another burn spell that can also just Decimate the opponent's hand, and it is hard to anticipate. Mana Confluence allows for the splash to be that much easier. Hammer of Purphoros is a card that most Red Devotion lists play as a one or two-of if at all, but Kent is running three copies. Part of the reason may be to have access to more non-creature threats. It is nice to see Red Devotion still doing well, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more Red/Black Devotion in the future.
One deck that I already mentioned as being one of the top red strategies is Boros Burn. That being said there are different directions that the deck can go. Here is a list played by Emmanuel Quinones to a top four finish at the TCGplayer Open 5k in Orlando:
There are a number of different two-drops this deck has access to. A couple months ago it seemed that all of the lists had Ash Zealot, but that has changed. I personally like Eidolon of the Great Revel, especially when control is popular. That being said there are a lot of good arguments for running Young Pyromancer as well. This is the type of deck that can just abuse Young Pyromancer, as there are a whopping 25 instants in the deck, and some lists play more. The tokens provide an alternative win condition or buy time by chump blocking.
I have noticed that most Boros Burn lists are playing Toil // Trouble in the board, and I am a big fan of the card. As a control player it is one of the most annoying turn three plays a Burn deck has access to out of the board. Another three mana red spell that has been popping up is Harness by Force. This card is strictly better than Threaten, and Threaten effects have seen plenty of play in these types of decks, in the past. Personally I would like to see some amount of Banishing Lights in the 75, as a way of dealing with problem threats from Fiendslayer Paladin to planeswalkers.
Thanks for Reading,