Ramunap Red flexed its might at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, and its dominance there assures that it's going to be the driving force behind the Standard metagame until Ixalan shakes things up at the end of next month. That said, the deck is far from unbeatable, and the Standard Pro Tour Qualifier on Magic Online last weekend featured not a single Ramunap Red deck in the Top 8. That proves there's still hope, and today I'll explore the decks in that tournament and how they have adapted to beating Red, along with other decks from online leagues that are clearly designed with beating Ramunap Red as their primary goal.
The Mono-Black Zombie deck struggled in the Aetherworks Marvel metagame, but it reappeared at the Pro Tour for its ability to put up a fight against Red. With adaptations like playing main deck Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet (which I identified last week) as one of the best cards against Red, the deck boasts a favorable matchup against Ramunap Red, so it's no surprise that it was able to put three copies into the Top 8 of the Red-filled PTQ and ultimately win the Pro Tour invitation.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet isn't a Zombie itself, but it's a good fit into a deck filled with removal to trigger its ability to create Zombies. In most decks, its ability to sacrifice Zombies and grow relies on the tokens it creates, but it has more options in a Zombie deck. It has great synergy in the deck for its ability to sacrifice and trigger Relentless Dead, and it can do great things with a recurring Dread Wanderer.
Zombies also has a new addition to the core strategy since we last saw it before Hour of Devastation, Ifnir Deadlands. In a mono-black deck, the land will rarely cost life, but later in the game it will convert into extra removal that can contain Red's creatures.
The Zombie strategy of filling the battlefield with creatures is strong against Red in general, especially with removal like Grasp of Darkness to destroy Hazoret the Fervent, along with Dark Salvation as an efficient piece of removal and source of value that can also deal with the God.
Zombies also has access to an assortment of strong sideboard cards for the Red matchup. The winning PTQ sideboard included a pair of Aethersphere Harvester, which even without the support of additional energy sources can swing the matchup by gaining six life over the course of the game. It's especially strong for its defensive ability because it can be crewed at instant speed during combat to avoid the cards in the Red deck that turn off blockers.
Liliana, the Last Hope destroys many of the creatures in the Red deck at a profit, and as the game drags on its ability to return creatures from the graveyard is useful for counteracting burn spells destroying creatures. Collective Brutality has been gaining popularity in the Zombie sideboard for its versatility and power in the Red matchup where all three of its modes are fantastic. Similar to how it excels in Modern against Burn decks, its ability to destroy a creature, discard a burn spell and gain life, potentially all simultaneously, make it an all-star against the red deck in Standard. Another option that is popping up in sideboards is Essence Extraction, which offers massive value in the matchup without the cost of discarding additional cards.
With its many strong tools against Red, and with its own consistency and power making it a strong contender against the rest of the field, Zombies is a top choice in the metagame going forward and a deck I recommend to anyone looking for an alternative to Red.
Sam Pardee reaching the finals of the Pro Tour with Black-Green Constrictor, and showcased that the deck has plenty of game against Red, and its third-place finish in the PTQ is further evidence that the deck has a place in the metagame. The deck has natural strength against the Red strategy by combining some robust creatures with removal, and it features some particularly great cards against Red, including main deck Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Liliana, the Last Hope. Walking Ballista is also a great way to contain a Red deck full of small threats.
Constrictor is also very customizable, and can include silver bullets suited for stopping Red, like Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Players have been getting creative with Red hosers in their sideboard, with cards like Arborback Stomper and even Filigree Familiar showing up in successful decklists this week.
Another option for putting the best black anti-Red decks to use is Mono-Black Eldrazi, which showed its potential with a Top 8 in the PTQ. The deck is essentially brand new to the metagame, but it has a lot going for it. It features a set of the lifelinking Gifted Aetherborn to go with its Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. There's also plenty of removal, with a full four Liliana, the Last Hope to supplement sets of both Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness. The deck backs these up with Ifnir Deadlands, which can do a lot of work in the Eldrazi deck because it has plenty of other Deserts to sacrifice. The Eldrazi are also strong against the Red strategy because they are so difficult for burn spells to profitably destroy, and they can quickly turn the corner to finish off Red before it can finish the job.
Mono-Black Eldrazi isn't a known quantity, but its success in the PTQ definitely earns it another look, and on paper it looks like a great foil to Red and has a strong foundation against the rest of the field.
Red-Green Ramp didn't have a great performance at the Pro Tour, but two copies reaching the Top 8 of the PTQ shows that the deck has what it takes to compete in the metagame. With Red as a clear enemy, the deck can be tailored with cards specifically chosen for the matchup. For example, Druid of the Cowl is a mana producer that also happens to be a great blocker against Red. The biggest innovation in the deck online since the PT has been Jaddi Offshoot, which combines a robust blocker with a life gain engine that plays well with the ramp spells in the deck like Hour of Promise. A Red metagame means the card can be moved from the sideboard into a main deck staple that helps the ramp deck win its fair share of game ones. Some ramp decks at the Pro Tour included Gift of Paradise, which doesn't quite work with Jaddi Offshoot but is an interesting approach that could prove useful.
Red-Green Ramp is naturally strong against midrange decks, and it's even better against them after they have contorted themselves to beat Red. It's a particularly great foil to any anti-Red decks, which will lack the tools to deal with its huge threats. Ramp has plenty of sweepers to stop Zombies and threats to go over the top, and it will benefit from the decline of Mardu Vehicles and its more troublesome threats. The future looks bright for Red-Green Ramp as players hone in on the best way to build it, especially as the metagame beings to reign in Red.
Anointed Procession decks gained a new lease on life with the banning of Aetherworks Marvel,and its ninth-place finish in the PTQ shows that it could fill a niche in the metagame as an anti-Red deck. The deck's key tool against Red is Anointer Priest, which excels because of its life gain potential, blocking ability and resistance to removal with embalm. Previous versions of the deck included Sacred Cat as another tool against Red, but this list goes bigger with Sunscourge Champion as an effective main deck Red hoser that's supercharged when eternalized with Anointed Procession in play.
Fumigate stands out here as a sweeper that clears Red's many threats while providing a nice cushion of life that gives time for the deck's powerful endgame to take over. Vampiric Rites is an interesting addition that converts extra creatures into a life gain engine that will put the game out of reach. Shambling Vents rounds out the deck as an extra source of lifegain.
From the sideboard, Trespasser's Curse is a nice touch that helps the deck grind out Red by converting each of their creatures into a two-point life swing. I do wonder if Authority of the Consuls is a more effective solution because it will prevent damage from haste creatures, and the Token deck's endgame should be able to beat Red without the help of Trespasser's Curse.
Red decks took over MTGO leagues after the Pro Tour, but it has created opportunities for players to bring creative decks to the table that are designed for defeating it, like this Red-White Control deck full of answers to Red. It contains plenty of spot removal, including Magma Spray to exile Earthshaker Kenra, and both Stasis Snare and Cast Out as solutions to the indestructible Hazoret the Fervent that some decks are incapable of removing. Nahiri, the Harbinger gives the deck another answer to the God, a card filtering ability that is very useful in a control deck, and access to Linvala, the Preserver as a win-condition that helps to shut out Red decks with its life gain. Sweltering Suns does great work cleaning up the creatures of Red, and it's a very valuable sweeper against the Zombie decks that are on the rise.
The sideboard of the deck is full of Red hosers, including Chandra's Defeat and a full set of Sunscourge Champion. Blessed Alliance functions as removal or life gain, and for four mana it does both to create a large advantage.
The most startling example of an anti-Red deck is this Mono-White Lifelink deck that centers around Crested Sunmare, which synergizes perfectly with the strategy and provides a real threat against the other decks in the megame that aren't so susceptible to life gain. The deck also uses Lone Rider as another payoff for its assortment of lifelink creatures.
The deck goes beyond Glory-Bound Initiate, which it pairs with Always Watching, to include Aethersphere Harvester and even Aerial Responder. Gisela, the Broken Blade gives the deck the ability to curve lifelink creatures all the way up to Crested Sunmare, which can even gain lifelink itself from Odric, Lunarch Marshal. Stasis Snare and Cast Out give the deck removal for troublesome permanents like Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. The lifelink creatures make burning out the deck almost impossible, so the deck is very well set up for the Red matchup, though it will likely struggle against the rest of the field.
Another "approach" to the Red matchup is to play Approach of the Second Sun, which looks better than ever as a win condition given how strong lifegain has become in the metagame. This deck splashes into Bounty of the Luxa to help accelerate Approach of the Second Sun into play, and it gains value over the course of the game. Otherwise, this is a relatively normal looking White-Blue Control deck, but there are some specific choices that are strong against Red. Thraben Inspector serves as a blocker or eats a burn spell, and Blessed Alliance is additional life gain, while the rest of the deck is composed of the traditional mix of disruption and card advantage one would expect from a control strategy.
The sideboard stands out for its wealth of Red hosers, including Sacred Cat and Regal Caracal to give the deck a cat subtheme that can take over the matchup with its life gain. There's plenty of tuning to be done with this deck, but at the very least it reveals that it could be time for Approach of the Second Sun to shine.
Red is on top of the metagame, but players are working tirelessly to defeat it. Some very interesting decks have emerged, and there are certainly more to come. What cards and decks are you playing to beat Red?