Going into the new Standard format there are a couple decks with targets on their backs, but none moreso than Ramunap Red. Red is going to be able to punish a lot of the new brews that have yet to come up with a complete gameplan against it. In fact, even for players that do want to prepare and dedicate a lot of sideboard slots towards beating Ramunap Red, that still may not be good enough. Ramunap Red can be very punishing, as we have come to realize over the past few months.
Technically, Ramunap Red did lose multiple cards due to the rotation, in Falkenrath Gorger, Incendiary Flow, Collective Defiance and some sideboard options. However, there are easy replacements for those cards, and some would even consider the replacements to be upgrades. Soul-Scar Mage was already starting to see play over Falkenrath Gorger in some lists, for example.
This is a pretty recent list of John Rolf's, and after Grand Prix Denver it saw a lot of play. Soul-Scar Mage wants to be played in a deck that is a bit more spell-dense than some of the other versions, and you really don't need more than eight one-drops. In many matchups most of the one drops get boarded out, anyway. Soul-Scar Mage happens to be pretty well set up against any Winding Constrictor deck, as with a Soul-Scar Mage in play Shock can be used to deal with a three-toughness threat like Winding Constrictor.
One of the downsides to playing Soul-Scar Mage before is that it actually doesn't interact favorably with Incendiary Flow. When using Incendiary Flow on an opposing creature with Soul-Scar Mage in play you are unable to exile the creature being targeted. Many players never fully realized this interaction because it was bugged on Magic Online, but it came up for me multiple times at Grand Prix. Casting Incendiary Flow on Relentless Dead only to have it trigger certainly doesn't feel good.
The upside is that Zombies will no longer be a deck, and this means that being able to exile creatures isn't quite as important. There will still be some eternalize creatures running around, but Magma Sprays will be in the sideboard. Just like Falkenrath Gorger had an easy replacement, the easy replacement for Incendiary Flow is Lightning Strike. Lightning Strike and Incendiary Flow are easy to compare to each other, as their effect is almost identical, except Strike gains instant speed in exchange for not exiling creatures.
I believe Incendiary Flow is slightly better than Lightning Strike, but since exiling opposing creatures won't be quite as important, the difference is very small. There will be times where being able to kill an opposing haste creature like Ahn-Crop Crasher will make you really happy about having that Lightning Strike. We know having played with Lightning Strike in previous Standard formats that it isn't an overpowered card, but here all that it needs to be is a role player. The key is having enough cheap spells to be able to attack with Hazoret the Fervent as quickly as possible.
Here is the current Ramunap Red list that I'm running:
The creature base here is exactly the same as what John Rolf played in Denver. There aren't many creatures in Ixalan that are good enough to fit into this deck, though I believe Captain Lannery Storm has the potential to be played as a one or two-of. It is certainly good when it helps you accelerate into a turn-four Glorybringer after sideboard. While there are decks without a lot of creatures where it is clearly better than Ahn-Crop Crasher, when you need to stop the opponent from blocking having Anh-Crop Crasher is very important.
I would like to try out Captain Lannery Storm a bit more, but for now I'm going with a creature base that has already proven to be strong enough to succeed. The fact is that we have lost a huge chunk of the format, yet here we are with Ramunap Red looking mostly the same. The amount of Chandra, Torch of Defiance to play between the main deck and sideboard is definitely a question mark. This will be one of the biggest differences I expect to see between Ramunap Red lists in the weeks to come.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is an incredibly powerful card, and it is going to feel great in any game where it sticks in play for multiple turns. But will it be as good as it has always been? This question revolves around what the metagame ends up looking like. Zombies was a deck that Chandra, Torch of Defiance was great against, and now that deck is gone. Another deck that Chandra, Torch of Defiance was very good against was Black-Green Constrictor, but we don't know how much of that there will be going forward.
It seems like there won't be as much of a need to go up to four copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance after sideboard. Still, having another threat that control decks need to answer and has the capability to take over the game is pretty nice. Between the two four-drops Ramunap Red wants to be playing I believe Hazoret the Fervent will be more important, but Chandra, Torch of Defiance will remain a key part of the deck. This leads me to want the full four Hazoret the Fervent main deck, and go up to three Chandra, Torch of Defiance after sideboard.
In place of the fourth Chandra, I'm trying out Vance's Blasting Cannons. The thought here is that it could be useful against control decks if they are reliant on cards like Vraska's Contempt. Enchantments are extremely difficult to answer right now, and this provides a steady stream of card advantage. There are also times when Chandra, Torch of Defiance is already in play and you have another source of card advantage you can play.
There is a good chance Vance's Blasting Cannons is a worse version of Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but I do have one copy to try out. The reason it may be worse, even against control, is when you reveal a land the opponent won't be taking two damage. However, if you are able to successfully flip into Spitfire Bastion against control it should be game over. There are enough cheap spells that being able to flip into Spitfire Bastion isn't unrealistic.
The rest of the non-creature spells in the main deck is your Standard burn package. Lightning Strike and Shock are both pretty easy includes right now, and I don't think you want less than four of either. Shock is going to be great against the new tribal creature decks that may pop up as a result of Ixalan, and one mana removal that can also go to the face is perfect. The only burn spell that I could see trimming on is Abrade. This is going to come down to the popularity of the Vehicles decks, and other fringe strategies like God-Pharaoh's Gift.
Having Abrade is necessary if you want a good matchup against the artifact strategies, but there will be spots where it is really bad. For instance, if White-Blue Approach becomes the most popular control deck, then there is already one matchup where it is essentially useless. Against the control decks that do play Torrential Gearhulk you can at least use the mode of destroying an artifact. Right now, I'm sticking with four Abrades but that number could change.
There aren't many choices to be made as far as the mana base. I like having access to 15 Mountains as you really want one in your opening hand, as using a Ramunap Ruins as your only red source can be quite painful. Previously I was also playing Sea Gate Wreckage, but with that no longer being an option, Scavenger Grounds is good too. Scavenger Grounds is going to be great against the graveyard strategies, so I like having the ability to have it as the 25th land after sideboard.
The rest of the sideboard is a bit of a mixed bag, featuring cards we have seen before. Glorybringer is likely the most important sideboard card, as having it against Temur Energy is quite important. Even so, I don't agree with playing four. There is such a thing as too many five-drops when you want to be turning on Hazoret the Fervent quickly. Glorybringer is another card that was very important against Zombies and Black-Green Constrictor, so we will have to see how it matches up in the new metagame.
I do expect the mirror to be one of the most important matchups, so there are a bunch of cards that can come in there. Chandra's Defeat is just for the mirror, so I wouldn't recommend more than two. The combination of Pia Nalaar and Aetherspere Harvester add some more threats that don't get easily answered by a single Shock or Lightning Strike. While games often do come down to Hazoret the Fervent, trying to gain a bit of card advantage here or there is nice. Also, you don't always get to that fourth land drop on time, so having a three-mana threat that needs to be answered is nice.
Sweltering Suns is one of the cards that was good in the sideboard previously, but the primary reason was its effectiveness versus Zombies. With that matchup taken away, Sweltering Suns seems like it is in a worse spot. However, there may be new tribal creature decks with lots of small dorks that Sweltering Suns is good against. Personally, I like Magma Spray more in the mirror, so I am playing two copies and only one Sweltering Suns.
Looking at Ramunap Red, I don't think the power level of the deck has changed very much from what it was before. This is scary as the best answer for Hazoret the Fervent was Grasp of Darkness, which has rotated out. Players will now be forced to try to rely on four-mana removal for Hazoret the Fervent. I expect Ramunap Red to be one of the top two decks in the first couple weeks of Standard, as there aren't clear paths to beating it.
Thanks for reading,