Red Deck Wins won Pro Tour Magic Origins in the hands of Joel Larsson, put three decks into the Top 8, and from a win percentage standpoint was the second-best performing archetype at the Pro Tour. This deck is great, it's a fan favorite, and it's going to be a huge part of Standard until rotation. In fact, Red Deck Wins is likely to exist in some form well into Battle for Zendikar Standard. It is important that players properly address the matchup with their sideboards, so today I am going to explore the finest cards in the format for addressing Red Deck Wins.
Blue/Red Ensoul Artifact finished in second place at the Pro Tour, piloted by Mike Sigrist, and the archetype had the highest overall win percentage of any in the room. This deck is very powerful, and it's strong against the established order of Standard. The deck is going to become popular until rotation, so it needs to be addressed. Like Red Deck Wins, UR Ensoul Artifact is uniquely exploitable. There are a number of effective sideboard cards that can be adopted to combat UR Ensoul Artifact and today I'll explore the options.
The immediate future of Standard includes plenty of other archetypes besides UR Ensoul Artifact and Red Deck Wins. Green/Red Devotion is still a pillar of the format, and it will beat decks that ignore it. Players will continue to cast Siege Rhino in Abzan decks, like the Abzan Megamorph deck played by Kentaro Yamamoto, or like the more traditional Abzan Control with Nissa, Vastwood Seer played by Matt Sperling. I also expect that Abzan Aggro will see a comeback. Heroic decks are also lurking, and they may be well-positioned now. UBx control decks are always looking for an opportunity to break back into the metagame, and with their targets now identified, they can begin to Rebuild. Jeskai still has a small legion of loyalists. It is important to keep all of these archetypes in mind when constructing a sideboard.
None of the sideboard options in Standard are as attractive as Dromoka's Command.
Dromoka's Command is backbreaking against Red Deck Wins where it can neutralize any burn spell, it can function as removal by fighting a creature, or it can do both simultaneously. Dromoka's Command can also make the opponent sacrifice Eidolon of the Great Revel or Outpost Siege while fighting another creature, making it a two-for-one removal spell. The ability to place a +1/+1 counter on a creature also finds plenty of targets, often when moving a creature out of the range of burn or lethal combat damage.
Dromoka's Command is also quite effective against the UR Ensoul Artifact deck. It's specifically great against the two marquee cards of the archetype: the enchantment Ensoul Artifact and the burn spell Shrapnel Blast. The fight ability is effective against Chief of the Foundry, Whirler Rogue, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and it easily picks off Thopter Tokens. These decks also sideboard a playset of Roast, which are vulnerable to Dromoka's Command, and the card can also catch any stray Thopter Spy Network.
Dromoka's Command is still great against Courser of Kruphix, and fight makes it a general creature removal spell, so the card is strong against Green Devotion. The card also has applications against Abzan, which plays Courser of Kruphix and other potential creatures to fight including Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Dromoka's Command is also quite interesting against Jeskai, which plays plenty of burn spells to counter, but also plenty of creatures to kill, most importantly Jace, Vryn's Prodigy.
Dromoka's Command is a must for any deck that can cast it, and I would like to explore playing it maindeck, where it will shine in metagame full of Red Deck Wins and UR Ensoul Artifact. Historically, Abzan Aggro and Bant Heroic have been successful with up to four Dromoka's Command in the maindeck, so these archetypes seem particularly well-positioned. Ken Yukihiro's GW Hardened Scales deck from the Pro Tour includes four maindeck copies, so it's worth looking into further.
During the Pro Tour coverage, pro players being interviewed heavily discussed how powerful Searing Blood was in the metagame, and that it was an essential maindeck component to red decks. Searing Blood is a removal spell and a burn spell in one, and it allows the red deck to simultaneously control the battlefield and pressure the opponent's life total.
Pharika's Cure is the black antagonist to Searing Blood. It controls the battlefield while padding one's life total, which is at direct odds with what the red deck is trying to accomplish. It gains two life rather than dealing three damage, so it's less powerful than Searing Blood overall, but it's a highly effective card, one that, during the Monoblack Devotion era, I referred to as "The Black Lightning Helix."
As a pinpoint removal spell, Pharika's Cure is highly effectively against the new breed of post-Pro Tour red decks that have shied away from token-generators like Hordeling Outburst and towards a more conventional creature suite with cards like Eidolon of the Great Revel and Abbot of Keral Keep. These red decks play fewer creatures and more burn spells than Atarka Red-style decks, so they are more susceptible to both removal spells on their creatures and life gain trading with their burn spells, making Pharika's Cure an all-star sideboard candidate in the matchup.
Top 8 competitor Matt Sperling saw the power of Pharika's Cure, and he played a single copy in his sideboard. More copies would have served him well in the red-laden field, and I recommend that Abzan players, and anyone else with access to two black mana, investigate the card going forward.
Another piece of anti-red sideboard tech taken from the sideboard of a Top 8 Abzan deck is Nyx-Fleece Ram, which Yamamoto used against red decks all weekend. Abzan typically fills their sideboard space dedicated to red decks with Drown in Sorrow, but Nyx-Fleece Ram is a stronger option against the newest version of Red Deck Wins that dominated the Pro Tour. Red decks have moved away from tokens and creatures in general, so the sweeper effect of Drown in Sorrow is less effective. Instead, they have moved towards slower ground creatures, like Abbot of Keral Keep - which are effectively blocked by Nyx-Fleece Ram - and towards a more burn-centric game plan with a higher density of burn spells, which is vulnerable to the steady Stream of Life gain from Nyx-Fleece Ram. Nyx-Fleece Ram is also very effective at standing in the way of the new Scab-Clan Berserker that is commonly found in the sideboards of red decks.
Nyx-Fleece Ram survives Stoke the Flames and the new Exquisite Firecraft, so it's not necessarily easy for the red deck to destroy, and if they do, it's effectively soaking up five or more damage, which is a worthwhile service comparable to Feed the Clan. Nyx-Fleece Ram also very conveniently survives one's own Languish.
Nyx-Fleece Ram also takes advantage of creature synergies, which makes it excellent for its ability to fight and kill an X/1 creature with Dromoka's Command, and for its ability to trigger raid for Wingmate Roc.
Nyx-Fleece Ram is great in the sideboard of Abzan, but it's something I would explore in the sideboard of any deck with white mana. Kyle Boggemes and Max McVety each played four maindeck copies in their Top 32 finishing GW Constellation decklists, and while that is not a reality for most archetypes, it's something worth noting. Nyx-Fleece Ram is something that red decks should Anticipate facing in the coming weeks.
Unravel the AEther / Revoke Existence
Unravel the AEther and Revoke the Existence are the most effective pieces of sideboard hate against the UR Ensoul Artifact deck. I group them together because their abilities have the same mana cost and same practical impact on the game, and the decision to include either of these cards in a sideboard comes down to color of mana available. Unravel the AEther is an instant, so it's a more effective card and the preferable option when available.
These cards are notable for their ability to cleanly answers artifacts and enchantments that are otherwise difficult to Remove. Hangarback Walker will die and create Thopter Tokens against normal removal spells, but Unravel and Aether and Revoke Existence eliminate this threat and leave nothing behind. These cards can always Remove Ensoul Artifact, but they can also Remove any artifact it enchants, including the Darksteel Citadel that normal Disenchants miss.
For two mana, these spells are efficient relative to what they have to Remove, and they allow one to maintain pace with the opponent by containing their aggression. There aren't more effective, cheaper, and flexible removal options available, and that leaves Unravel the AEther and Revoke Existence as the best hate cards against UR Ensoul Artifact.
During the Pro Tour coverage, Reclamation Sage was mentioned by Team ChannelFireball captain Luis Scott-Vargas as one of the finest sideboard cards against the UR Ensoul Artifact deck. Reclamation Sage destroys any of the key artifact or enchantments in the deck, and it leaves behind a valuable 2/1 creature. This creature can be effective on defense, but it can also pressure opponent.
Like Nyx-Fleece Ram against red, Reclamation Sage also turns on creature synergies, including Dromoka Command's fight and the raid of Wingmate Roc. Reclamation Sage also comes with the potential to be returned to hand by cards like Temur Sabertooth or Invasive Species, or searched for by Woodland Bellower, or even reanimated by Whip of Erebos.
Destructive Revelry comes to mind as a very effective card against UR Ensoul Artifact. The benefit here compared to a Disenchant like Unravel the AEther is that the removal spell comes with a burn spell attached, making Destructive Revelry something like the Searing Blood of Disenchant effects. Destructive Revelry would be the perfect sideboard card for an aggressive deck like Atarka Red or RG Midrange against UR Ensoul Artifact, so I expect to see more of it this summer.
Feed the Clan
Green Devotion decks typically turn to Nylea's Disciple as their answer to Red Deck Wins, but those without so many green permanents may look towards Feed the Clan as a massive life gain spell. Gaining five life is a fine proposition for some decks, like Sultai Control, and they may be able to trigger ferocious from Tasigur, the Golden Fang. The best use of Feed the Clan, however, is in a deck that will reliably trigger ferocious, like Temur Aggro or RG Midrange, and turn Feed the Clan into a massive ten-point life swing. Much of Red Deck Wins is burn spells, and once creatures are taken out of equation, it relies on direct damage to finish the job. Feed the Clan effectively trades for two or more burn spells, making it something like card advantage and a powerful asset in the matchup against Red Deck Wins.
Tomb of the Spirit Dragon
The finals of the Pro Tour featured Red Deck Wins against UR Ensoul Artifact. While Red Deck Wins...won, perhaps there would have been a different champion had the artifact deck included Tomb of the Spirit Dragon, which can be found in the sideboard of Stephen Berrios's Top 8 decklist. The matchup between Red Deck Wins and UR Ensoul Artifact boils down to a race between the two decks, and a reusable source of life gain like Tomb of the Spirit Dragon is the exact sort of card that will win a race in progress.
Standard has been reshaped by Magic Origins, and the coming weeks before the format rotates are going to be exciting. Under the new rotation schedule, the Standard card pool will never again be as large as it is now. It is this large card pool that allows synergistic decks like UR Ensoul Artifact to exist, but it also offers a wide array of tools for combatting any potential opponent, so the creative are digging deep and coming up with unique solutions to problems. What sideboard cards are you using to get an edge on the Standard competition?