Low-to-the-ground creature strategies featuring efficient and powerful mana bases are the current top tier for Standard decks. Particularly, the popularity of Ramanup Red and Zombies have drawn much attention and caused a wide outspread of board sweepers such as Kozilek's Return, Hour of Devastation or Yaheeni's Expertise. Whether not this is truly effective is up for debate, but it still leaves players in a spot where they don't necessarily want to be playing into these cards. While innovating, it may be better to tiptoe around them than not.
Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead has always been a synergy to be abused in Standard. The combination remains tricky to deal with within the confines of the Standard format. They are quite sticky threats, especially when combined with Scrapheap Scrounger. Better yet, this strategy is effective against sweepers while not necessarily appearing so. Opponents are still going to have Kozilek's Returns against you – it's probably better than alternatives and it may work sometimes. By building a deck and keeping this in mind you can get a lot of equity in your matches by virtue of surprise and resiliency. Your opponent will often play suboptimally against you, which can help you in a multitude of ways.
Hour of Devastation has provided Haunted Dead decks a new toy in Hollow One. For Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, I was super excited to test with it being the Haunted Dead/Prized Amalgam lover I am. But due to the hype for God-Pharaoh's Gift right before the Pro Tour along with sprinklings of graveyard hate in sideboards, I shelved the idea of Black-Red Madness.
But now may be the time to bring it back. Hollow One is excellent with Haunted Dead, allowing you to play it for a single mana the turn you activate Haunted Dead. It is also great in conjunction with Insolent Neonate and Cathartic Reunion. The problem with these Reunion decks in the past was losing too much tempo the turn you Reunion as you generally add nothing to the battlefield. Hollow One lets you get that mana back in a meaningful way. In addition, Red versions of Zombies always were the most explosive because of the "nut" draw of Insolent Neonate into discarding Haunted Dead. This gave you a Haunted Dead in play with up to two Amalgams in play. Now these draws are even deadlier, as discarding Haunted Dead to Neonate then discarding two cards to Haunted Dead allows your Hollow Ones to cost zero mana.
Lightning Axe and Fiery Temper are both powerful removal spells in the fast and creature-heavy metagame, together enabling you to deal with all sorts of various threats while creating huge tempo advantage.
Crypbreaker and Earshaker Khenra fill out the deck, more as roleplayers here than the all-stars they are in Zombies or Ramanup Red. You get additional discard outlets and the potential to run away with games and important Scrounger fodder. Khenra allows for a bit more aggression and gives you more "free discards" that potentially have high impact in the late game. I have found both to be medium, so there is still room here for innovation.
The mana base is built in a somewhat bizarre fashion, eschewing a large number of awesome on-color dual lands and cycling lands. You would expect the mana to be good for a two-color deck, but too many Canyon Slough and Smoldering Marshes make the deck too slow as you need untapped mana during the first few turns of the game. This build allows much faster draws, which I think is necessary to compete in the current metagame. This build might need a few more red sources, and likely can achieve that by switching around the sideboard, but here's where it stands now.
I have been impressed with the deck in the current creature metagame with control decks trying to use sweepers to get ahead. This deck is fairly strong against these decks and excellent against mass removal.
Collected Brutality allows you to have enough discard outlets when you are forced to side out Lightning Axe. It is also reasonable against Red and can be excellent against Zombies to deal with the often problematic Dark Salvation. Chandra, Torch of Defiance lets you change your threats to become even harder to deal with and can be backbreaking against green midrange decks. She is the card that most makes me want to make the mana a bit better to cast her more consistently on turn four.
Cartouche of Ambition is quite helpful against Red, as your late-game blocking plan is pretty strong against them but early on your creatures are tapped or can't block so you are forced to race. Cartouche allows you a way of coming out ahead early, and can be game-winning on its own as they normally don't go big against you.
The rest of the sideboard is a work in progress. Sometimes the cards are superb, sometimes they are medium. That is where you want to be with the sideboard. The most important takeaway for Black-Red Madness is that you generally want to sideboard as little as possible. You are a combo deck with many necessary pieces and want to maintain that post-board, only siding in potentially high-impact cards. Fortunately, thanks to the way this deck works, if a card is bad in the situation you draw it (usually because you are behind or your mana base) it can just be discarded.
- Steve Rubin