The last time I can recall playing a non-white deck at the Pro Tour was Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in Australia where I played Black-Green Delirium. So when I play something other than a white deck, you know it's either because white is unplayable or because another deck is just that much better than everything else. At Pro Tour 25th Anniversary in Minneapolis this past weekend I played Red-Black and it was for the latter reason.

The main reason I heard from people as to why they did not play Red-Black Aggro is because they felt that there was no way to get an edge in the mirror. Our team ended up cutting Bomat Courier in favor of more removal spells, including main deck Magma Sprays. This hurt us against the control decks but improved our matchup against creature decks, including the mirror. We also added a third Chandra's Defeat to the sideboard for extra insurance in the mirror. Given that nearly half the field at the Pro Tour was Red-Black, I believe our version of the deck is especially well-suited for the current metagame. My individual record with the deck was 5-0 with two unfinished matches (one that I was losing and the other I was ahead). Today I'm going to share the list I ran, as well as my sideboard plans and strategies for each matchup.

We have an edge in the mirror against traditional lists because we run Magma Sprays over Bomat Courier. Bomat Courier is excellent against the more controlling decks, but against creature decks it is pretty abysmal. They will (or should) sideboard out Bomat Couriers in the matchup, which means we are on equal footing in post-board games, but game one we have the edge. We also have three Chandra's Defeat for the mirror, which makes it very difficult for the opponent to connect with a Glorybringer. It also makes their Chandra, Torch of Defiance into a liability if they leave those in. We also have a pair of Hour of Glory which can deal with opposing Hazorets even if we don't have Soul-Scar Mage on the battlefield. Our version is specifically designed to beat the mirror, which I expect to face about every other round in any Standard tournament I enter.

Sideboarding

Steel Leaf Stompy

+2 Hour of Glory
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+1 Abrade
+1 Glorybringer

-2 Hazoret the Fervent
-2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
-1 Pia Nalaar

This is another matchup that really benefits from running Magma Spray over Bomat Courier as the hasty artifact creature is pretty terrible in this matchup. The name of the game, for the most part, is to kill all their stuff so they never have an opportunity to cast Ghalta, at least until it is too late. So we load up on removal in post-board games – I'll usually Magma Spray a first-turn Llanowar Elves, but in general we want to use those on Scrapheap Scrounger and just use Goblin Chainwhirler to kill their Elves. Use removal spells on their creatures when they tap out so that they can't Blossoming Defense in response.

White-Blue Control

+1 Banefire
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+4 Duress
+2 Doomfall

-1 Cut // Ribbons
-2 Magma Spray
-2 Abrade
-3 Soul-Scar Mage

We have some bad cards in our deck in game one of this matchup and not having Bomat Courier really hurts us here, but it is a calculated risk as control is on the decline and the creature matchups comprise a much larger percentage of the field than the control decks do.

With that said, we have more high impact sideboard cards for controlling matchups than other Red-Black Aggro decks do. We bring in six hand disruption spells to keep them off their ability to cast a sweeper on the turn they want/need to. We also bring in an extra copy of Chandra, which is excellent in the matchup. And our secret weapon is Banefire. After they cast Settle the Wreckage, we can eventually untap and light them up for their remaining life total. Their only recourse really is Commit // Memory, but that means either we draw it again in two turns or they have to cast Memory and give us seven new cards. In either case, it will likely win us the game.

Grixis Midrange

+3 Duress
+2 Hour of Glory
+2 Doomfall
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

-3 Soul-Scar Mage
-2 Magma Spray
-1 Pia Nalaar
-2 Abrade
-1 Cut // Ribbons

There are a few different versions of this deck floating around and our sideboard plans are not always the same, depending on their build. If they are the Dragons version, for instance, we want to bring in some number of Chandra's Defeats as those hit Bolas or Glorybringer. If they are basically Blue-Black Control splashing Nicol Bolas, then maybe we leave in the Cut // Ribbons over one of the Unlicensed Disintegration. The builds that run Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Champion of Wits have a difficult time against us. Goblin Chainwhirler cleans up house and Magma Spray is excellent against both those threats. Given that we have the Goblin and so many other answers, I expect them to cut the Glint-Sleeves against us. Hence, we cut our Magma Sprays. But if they leave them in for game two, consider bringing the Magma Sprays back in for game three. Hour of Glory is good against any build because it answers Nicol Bolas, the Ravager or The Scarab God, and it answers any addition copies of the latter that might be hiding in their hand.

Blue-Black Midrange

+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+2 Hour of Glory
+4 Duress
+2 Doomfall

-3 Soul-Scar Mage
-2 Magma Spray
-2 Abrade
-1 Cut // Ribbons
-1 Unlicensed Disintegration

Much like with the White-Blue Control matchup, our Magma Sprays are pretty bad in this matchup. Some versions run Glint-Sleeve Siphoner or Champion of Wits main deck though, in which case we are actually well setup against them. Post-board, we get much better regardless as we bring in hand disruption and better answers to The Scarab God.

Turbo Fog

+2 Doomfall
+4 Duress
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+1 Banefire

-2 Magma Spray
-2 Abrade
-1 Cut // Ribbons
-3 Unlicensed Disintegration

I suspect this matchup will evolve somewhat, so keep that in mind as this sideboard plan is based on playing against the version of the deck that had success at the Pro Tour. The version at the Pro Tour basically sideboards no cards against us since their main deck is built to be good against us. Since they have so many anti-creature cards in the main, their entire sideboard is a transformational plan against non-creature decks. Really the only card that makes any sense at all to bring in against us is Carnage Tyrant, and our only card that interacts with that is Doomfall, which is a card we are definitely bringing in anyway so our plan really wouldn't change anyway. The one thing to watch out for is if they bring in a creature like Lyra Dawnbringer or Baral, Chief of Compliance or something else that can be targeted by removal. If so, you will likely want to leave in Unlicensed Disintegrations (or Abrades if you know for sure their only creature is Baral) over Glorybringers. Otherwise sideboard the way I have listed. Game one is tough unless we have a great draw, but games two and three improve drastically with all our discard spells.

Zombies

+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+1 Glorybringer
+1 Abrade

-2 Hazoret the Fervent
-1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider

Just like with the red decks and the green decks, replacing Bomat Courier with Magma Spray considerably improves this matchup. Our sideboard plan is pretty simple. Hazoret is our worst card in the matchup and we want to bring in our three removal spells. It is close between whether to board out Kari Zev or a Scrapheap Scrounger. Kari Zev can block unless they have a lord (which they usually do) while Scrapheap can crew Heart of Kiran.

I think crewing Heart is relevant more often, but there was not a consensus on this point between my teammates and me. Much like in the green matchup, it is all about killing all their stuff. The difference is that they are not threatening to cast a 12/12 trampler for two mana if we do not kill all their stuff immediately. Instead they just pile on lords, which are exactly the creatures we are targeting with all our removal spells anyway, and they do not have Blossoming Defense to throw a wrench in our plan. I'm not actually sure we have inevitability in this matchup though, so turning the corner is an important thing to keep in mind. Fortunately they don't have any way to block flying, so Heart of Kiran and Glorybringer can turn that corner quite effectively. Chandra can also eventually bury them. Just don't fall into burn range because they have Liliana, Untouched by Death to shock us each turn just like our Chandra, Torch of Defiance can do to them.

Constrictor

+2 Hour of Glory
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+1 Glorybringer
+1 Abrade

-2 Hazoret the Fervent
-2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
-1 Pia Nalaar

We don't really need to be the aggressor in this matchup, though we can be. Keep Blossoming Defense in mind at all times. Sometimes that means playing into it anyway, but just don't get needlessly blown out by it. In general, you want to kill their Winding Constrictor ASAP, but most of their other threats can stick around for a turn as we progress our board. A neat interaction is how Winding Constrictor can actually backfire against Soul-Scar Mage. It adds an additional -1/-1 counter to each of their creatures (and is mandatory) whenever we burn them or Goblin Chainwhirler them.

Mono-Blue Artifacts

+4 Duress
+2 Doomfall
+1 Abrade
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+1 Glorybringer

-2 Hazoret the Fervent
-3 Rekindling Phoenix
-2 Magma Spray
-1 Cut // Ribbons
-1 Unlicensed Disintegration

In testing, this matchup felt pretty good. We need to keep in some amount of removal spells to kill their Sai, Master Thopterist whenever it comes down, and I don't actually hate killing Ornithopter in this matchup either as it will eventually turn into an extra card and/or extra life points as the game progresses. Our discard spells really shine here, but unlike against the more controlling decks, we can't just take out all our removal spells. Given that their Game Plan often involves bouncing our creatures with Baral's Expertise, I recommend cutting Hazoret and Rekindling Phoenix. Glorybringer is the best of our top-end threats in the matchup as it can kill Sai, Master Thopterist whereas the others are just clunky creatures that only attack and block. And they will often have expendable Thopter Tokens to chump block with, so neither of those threats are particularly appealing in the matchup.

White-Blue Gift

+4 Duress
+2 Doomfall
+1 Abrade
+1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+1 Glorybringer

-2 Hazoret the Fervent
-1 Cut // Ribbons
-3 Soul-Scar Mage
-3 Rekindling Phoenix

This matchup is a bit strange as our cards will sometimes line up perfectly against theirs and other times they will lineup abysmally. For instance, Abrade is an excellent answer to God-Pharaoh's Gift, but it's pretty bad against most other cards in their deck. Similarly, Duress is our best card for stopping Refurbish, but it can sometimes completely whiff since they don't actually have that many non-creature spells in their deck. It can even Backfire if the only target in their hand is the Gift and then they draw into Refurbish and we actually did them a favor by putting it into the graveyard for them. Despite these awkward situations, this is how I would sideboard for the matchup. They don't have a lot of ways to deal with our creatures, so playing out a couple threats and sitting on a few removal spells is generally a winning strategy, especially if paired with a discard spell to disrupt them and to see what's coming.

Mono-Red Aggro

+3 Chandra's Defeat
+1 Abrade
+2 Hour of Glory

-2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
-1 Glorybringer
-1 Cut // Ribbons
-1 Unlicensed Disintegration
-1 Canyon Slough

If they are the spell-heavy version of the deck with lots of burn spells and The Flame of Keld, I could see bringing in some copies of Duress over some of the clunkier removal spells (Hour/Unlicensed). Otherwise this is how I sideboard. Having three copies of Chandra's Defeat is big game in this matchup.

Changes to Consider

As far as changes I would consider making to the deck, the only one I would consider is replacing the one Banefire with a third Doomfall. Banefire really only shines against White-Blue Control, specifically after they resolve Settle the Wreckage, but with seven discard spells they are less likely to resolve their Settle anyway. And the extra discard spell improves our matchups against Turbo Fog and Paradoxical Outcome, two decks I expect to pick up in popularity after the Pro Tour. It is also better against Grixis and each of the blue-black decks since it can remove a resolved The Scarab God. Unless White-Blue Control is popular in your expected metagame, I would recommend making this switch.

You know when I'm playing a red-black deck (the enemy colors of white), it must be too good not to play!

Craig Wescoe

@Brimaz4Life