It's been a rough and busy last couple of months here for me. Who would have thought taking care of a little one would take so much time? Well, honestly, I probably did (definitely did), but didn't want to believe it. Monica and I have been looking for a nanny or somewhere for him to go during the day, but unfortunately, we couldn't find any. So, we basically alternated to keep Lavan under control. Fortunately, he's an easy kid, so at least we have that going for us. With her starting to work earlier last week, needless to say that the call we received from the kindergarten next door telling us they just had an opening was providential.

TLDR: I haven't been able to play much (if at all) lately until last week, and I'm happy to get back to work after a month-and-a-half hiatus! And it couldn't have been a better time. I'm always excited to play the fresh new Standard formats when no one knows what's going on yet, players trying out new strategies, new cards, and that's exactly what I've been doing.

Largely inspired by a list I found on Twitter, I put together Monored Snipe.

The deck relies on its 12 creatures to improve the quality of the spells you play. When left unchecked on turn two, it's not rare to attack for four on turn three and start to chain multiple spells on the same turn. Before you start chaining the spells though, you'll probably want to have one of the other two creatures on the battlefield:

Electrostatic Field is a great two drop that turns your Crash Through and Warlord's Fury into Zap for one mana. The 0/4 body is far from irrelevant. Sure, it won't be able to attack, but it will block pretty much all the ground threats of the format and will survive Lightning Strike and Deafening Clarion. Unlike most burn decks that aim at burning their opponents out as quickly as possible, this deck has the potential to survive to the later game while still damaging the opponent when a burn spell is cast to kill a creature, and that makes a huge difference.

Guttersnipe is the more powerful of the two, but it's also more vulnerable. It dies to Shock and Lightning Strike. You usually want to play it with a follow up (like Crash Through), to at least cash in two damage for free. Sometimes you don't have that luxury.

The other card that will have the most impact on the format is Risk Factor. One of the last times I played a red deck successfully, I was running three or four Browbeat in my Time Spiral Block deck. The problem with punisher spells (that's the name of the mechanics in case you wondered), is that your opponent will always take the mode that's good for them. Well, unfortunately for them, either mode of Risk Factor is powerful. Four damage for free to the dome (plus whatever damage you deal with your creatures) is not a good option. Drawing three cards… not so sexy either. Add its Jump-Start ability and you have what I think is the best card of the new set.

Is this deck the best configuration to play Risk Factor? Probably not, but there's so much that can be improved in this particular deck that I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

Now to the slots that could be changed.

Tormenting Voice is a fine addition to the deck as it fixes the problem of land floods and it helps you find the creatures you need. Is it better than Lava Coil or another creature like Fire Urchin? I believe so. I've also tried it with Arclight Phoenix (which you can discard off the Jump-Start ability of Risk Factor as well), and I've been quite happy with it. You would only board that in against big green-white decks that will clog the board, but this could be a thing in another shell (will have to look into it). The Phoenix dies to Lava Coil though, and that's why you won't board it in as often as you would want to…

Banefire is a win condition against most Teferi decks. The only card you'd want to play around are Intervention (the new Lightning Helix) or Justice Strike on their Lyra Dawnbringer (thanks to Lifelink) to gain life at instant speed. Except for that, the only thing you have to do is burn them here and there until you have enough mana to finish them off with the X spell. I first though I needed more in the main deck, but it turns out it's not so hot against the other matchups. So two main and two in the board seems right.

Then there are two open slots… I tried out Fanatical Firebrand. The deck doesn't have a turn-one play unless you want to cycle of your cantrips. The other option was Ghitu Lavarunner but the wizard is way too weak in the late game when your opponent has blockers. At least the Firebrand can shoot for one in any situation.

The sideboard is quite a mess at the moment and it's still unclear what you have to do in different matchups, especially against monored. Do you ever take out Runaway Steam-kit? I believe in a lot of matchups, you do. Against removal-heavy decks, it won't have any impact. You're never going to be able to attack or produce mana. It's not an instant or sorcery, so it won't trigger Electrostatic Field of Guttersnipe. The key to this deck being successful is to find the right substitution in every given matchup. And since the metagame isn't set yet, it's going to take a little time.

I've been trying out Experimental Frenzy, but I'm not sold on it yet. You want it in very grindy matchups where you actually have time to use it. Also, it's a kind of nom-bo with Risk Factor: you invest mana to draw cards that you can't play just yet as you'll need to destroy the enchantment first. The good thing is, Jump-Start allows you to cycle the Frenzy in case you can't play it. Sure, it's also true for any other card… But it's always better to have ways to use a high-impact situational card so it's not stuck in your hand forever.

My first idea to improve the deck is to try to add another color like blue or white. With almost no plays available on turn one, playing dual lands (Guildgates, shock lands or check lands) comes at very little cost. I'm looking at cards like Integrity // Intervention, Ral Zarek, Ionize, Sonic Assault, Wee Dragonauts, Enigma Drake, Adeliz, the Cinder Wind, Deafening Clarion, Firemind's Reasearch… and that's a lot to explore.

In any case, enjoy the next few weeks of standard, playing against a wide diversity of decks! Until the new best deck emerges…