The aggressive decks had it rough in Oath of the Gatewatch Standard while the midrange, combo, and ramp strategies basked in the sun. But Shadows Over Innistrad is upon us — no longer will this be the case. It is time for war! Red/Black is the chosen color combination to lead vampires to victory! There is so much synergy in Red/Black now that the Jace, Vryn's Prodigy decks of the world should be trembling.
Big talk, right? It's time to back it up. There is one creature that fits into just about any Black/Red aggressive shell: Olivia, Mobilized for War. She is one of the primary reasons to commit to the Black/Red color combination. Good aggressive fliers have been hard to come by as of late, but with all the new flying vampires in Shadows Over Innistrad, winning in the air is a real possibility.
All of our creatures are vampires, which is synergistic with Falkenrath Gorger and Olivia's Bloodsworn, but we aren't playing them just because they are vampires. As it turns out, many of the best aggressive black and red creatures in Shadows Over Innistrad are vampires, and cards like Drana, Liberator of Malakir and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet are additional hidden vampire gems we can draw upon from previous sets. Early testing indicates that this type of creature base is the real deal. Every card drawn in this deck is going to be useful in every game. Even flooding out is fine with this many discard outlets.
The best way to start off a game in an aggro deck is playing a one-drop and the best one-drop we have access to is Falkenrath Gorger. While it is true that there are only twelve untapped red sources, when Falkenrath Gorder does come down on turn one it opens up a ton of options moving forward. Giving all of our creatures madness makes it so any type of discard effect has zero downside. When Falkenrath Gorger doesn't immediately come down on the first turn it still has plenty of utility later. On the other hand if we played another one-drop like Zurgo Bellstriker it just wouldn't synergize with the overall theme of the deck, and I'm not sure Indulgent Aristocrat is quite good enough. In the end there is only one-drop that this deck really wants to play, but it's great, and it's Falkenrath Gorger.
There are much more options at two mana. Wizards decided to print a bunch of Constructed-worthy vampires at two, so the question becomes which ones we want, and in what quantities. Heir of Falkenrath is the best two-drop in the deck— a two-mana three-power flyer in a red aggro deck! This card is especially well-positioned considering all of the Eldrazi that will likely see play, as the big expensive creatures have trouble with flying threats this cheap. The single discard needed to flip Heir of Falkenrath can be actively good for us. For example: discard Incorrigible Youths and attack for seven on turn three.
Asylum Visitor is strong here primarily because it has madness, though being able to draw cards later in the game is also very relevant. This deck can become hellbent easily so having a way to refuel and create some form of card advantage is especially nice. The life loss is annoying against other aggressive decks trying to race you, though I don't expect that many of those decks. Asylum Visitor fits the deck's theme perfectly, which is why there are four copies. A three-power two-drop with multiple synergies in the archetype should be enough to make this a clear inclusion.
The last two-drop is Olivia's Bloodsworn. While some of the creatures already come with or provide haste in the deck, this is yet another way to make sure creatures get to attack the turn they come into play. This allows the deck to fight through planeswalkers more easily. There are only so many two-drops this deck wants to play though, and ten is about the right total I think. I considered including Ravenous Bloodseeker but chose not to. It is one of the more hyped discard outlets in Shadows over Innistrad, but the other twos seem more important, and we won't have a continuous stream of cards to discard to Ravenous Bloodseeker since we will need to discard to other effects. .
There are a lot of good three-mana creatures to choose from, and most games will involve curving out with two- and three-mana creatures. There are four Olivia, Mobilized for War even though it's a legendary creature. It really is good enough to play four. Drana, Liberator of Malakir recently shot up in price because it is clear how well the card fits into this type of strategy. There are enough creatures to make Drana, Liberator of Malakir's trigger really good, and multiple cards in the deck give Drana, Liberator of Malakir haste.
Besides Asylum Visitor, there is also Incorrigible Youths as an additional madness creature. I consider Incorrigible Youths a three-drop since optimally it will come out for the madness cost as an under-costed beater. If we wanted one more way to madness him out on turn three then Ravenous Bloodseeker is still an option. However, while hardcasting Incorrigible Youths is suboptimal sometimes it will be enough to get the job done. The other top-end creature is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, which works nicely with the various removal spells, and has already been proven as a card that can single-handedly take over the game. This deck doesn't want too many expensive creatures so I like topping out with only two copies of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
As far as the removal suite goes, there are a variety of options in the black and red. Fiery Temper is the best of the bunch because it can be cast with madness, and is a card I expect to see in just about any deck with discard synergies. Lightning Axe works nicely with any of the 12 madness cards in the deck, and is a one-mana removal spell that kills almost everything in the format.
Rounding out the deck are the eight black and red dual lands. I was worried that the manabase for this deck wouldn't be good enough, but then Foreboding Ruins came along and changed everything. The deck needs red on turn one and double black by turn three, and this is the land that can make that happen. While Smoldering Marsh doesn't work that well alongside Foreboding Ruins I do think it is correct to play both alongside a bunch of basics. Evolving Wilds is another option, but I'm not sure this deck needs to play lands that automatically come into play tapped. I expect decks similar to this one to be major players in the early weeks of Shadows Over Innistrad Standard.
While the vampire theme is pretty straightforward in Black/Red I also expect various dragon decks to remain popular. Black/Red Dragons is currently quite good, so let's see how it will translate over to the new Standard format.
With Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury no longer around, we have to find a different dragon to look for in order to pick up the slack. Dragonlord Kolaghan is a reasonable option, but instead I wanted to go ahead and run something a bit cheaper to cast here. Enter Avaricious Dragon. Avaricious Dragon plays perfectly with madness and provides another way to draw additional cards. This deck has two Dark Confidant-style cards in Asylum Visitor and Avaricious Dragon. This deck is willing to play with no cards in hand; when that is the case you usually have the superior board position. This deck is playing a couple Ravenous Bloodseekers as you can pitch whatever is left in hand to Ravenous Bloodseeker before casting Avaricious Dragon.
Since this deck is playing dragons it does lose the vampire synergy, but there are a still a bunch of vampires you want to play. Olivia, Mobilized for War is still great, as hasty dragons are pretty overpowered. The madness element is still present here, though there is still a way to build the deck to minimize the madness theme, and make the deck look more like the current Standard version. For those looking for a more typical version this is what that looks like:
This is the more straightforward midrange-style B/R Dragons deck we have become accustomed to. Hangarback Walker indicates you are prepared to play a longer game, and illustrates why this is the least aggressive of the three Black/Red decks here. Hangarback Walker also synergizes with Thopter Engineer and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, which has already been proven effective. There is another two-drop here besides Hangarback Walker; after playing with Heir of Falkenrath I have found it is good enough to play even when you aren't discarding a madness card to flip it.
This version does have Dragonlord Kolaghan even though it costs significantly more than the other cards; you do need to have six dragons in order to justify Draconic Roar and Haven of the Spirit Dragon. Fiery Temper is the only madness card in the deck because it is fine on its own, plus we still have Heir of Falkenrath and Olivia, Mobilized for War to enable madness. I do like that this version has access to Kolaghan's Command, a card I had trouble justifying in the other lists. This deck can have a really strong lategame thanks to Kolaghan's Command, as there are a bunch of high-quality creatures in the deck to return to your hand later in the game.
There are plenty of new cards to work with in the Black/Red color combination and I am confident that these vampires, and to a lesser extent, the dragons, will be able to help take back Standard! I expect given the new mana restrictions of the format that certain two-color pairs will have a leg up moving forward, and the three- and four-color decks will have a much tougher time.
Thanks for reading,