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Sullivan Library: The Magic 2019 Red Review

A set review is a set review. This is not that. This is my Red review for the newest set, M19. Long ago, my dear friend, fellow commentator, and brother-from-another-mother, Patrick Sullivan, used to write what he called his Red Box review, where he examined the newest set from the perspective of a Red player. When things became too busy for him to regularly do so, he tapped another fellow Red mage, me, to take up the reins.

What makes this kind of review distinct is that what is being examined is the role the set has for Red Constructed decks. This isn't a reference to Constructed decks which also include Red cards, but rather, those Constructed decks that are fundamentally Red to their core, and perhaps slightly splash another color.

Yes, this means that the M19 card Tezzeret, Artifice Master won't be discussed in this review, nor will Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, as neither are likely to be seen in a base-Red deck.

Now, of course with all of that being said, it is worth thinking about the state of Red in Constructed right now. While, in Modern, we can see the base-Red deck of Burn as being pretty mainstream, there isn't much base-Red to be spoken of in the metagame as yet, Bushwhacker Red winning a PTQ and exceptions like Skred Red notwithstanding. On the other hand, Red in Standard is basically the default "Enemy" deck, with minor variations of the aggressive deck winning numerous events since taking down Pro Tour Dominaria.

The most recent major win came to us from this last Grand Prix.


Now, there are minor variations that are also in the mix. The br Aggro lists that barely play Black in their splash of the activation of Scrapheap Scrounger and casting of Unlicensed Disintegration is one example. The Wizard-based ur lists that barely play Blue would be another example of a base-Red deck, though the pure, full ur builds of that deck would not be. Other low-to-the-ground Red decks, primarily play The Flame of Keld are out there, but, for most Red decks right now, we're really talking variations, within a very few cards of the above list, all within six to seven cards of Wyatt Darby's winning Pro Tour deck.

With that context, and no further ado, here is the M19 Red Review.

The Card to Watch

This kind of card can have an absurd level of power, especially in a world where there is enough fuel to power it. Starting with Field of Ruin, there certainly are plenty of cards to be thinking about which make Crucible of Worlds a consequential card, even with Ramunap Ruins already banned.

However, this is not for an aggressive deck. It is much more for midrange or even controlling deck. These Red decks have existed in the past and could exist now, but they have a major problem.

While after board, the common Red Aggro decks basically look like a powerful Red Midrange Aggro deck, the real problem with these decks is Hazoret the Fervent, which is incredibly hard to answer for a Red deck, and also hard to utilize. Hazoret existing in the format basically precludes these decks from existing alongside her. This means that there probably won't be room for this card to take off, and your visions of endlessly activating Memorial to War are likely to be the stuff of dreams rather than reality. However, if you can solve the Hazoret Problem, this card could make a big impact for Red decks, so be sure to keep an eye on Crucible (or just wait until Amonkhet goes away).

The Excellent

In the beginning, there was fire, and it was good. "Sligh" was the name given to the first competitive Red deck, so-named because of its pilot Paul Sligh — gently leaving the deck-builder, future Duels of the Planeswalkers creator Jay Schneider, a figure for historians. One of the thing that original deck — the first to feature an actual mana curve — had was a single Fireball.

These days, while we love our Fight with Fire in Red sideboards, it isn't exactly a main deck card. Banefire could be, at least in small numbers. Turning any flooded game into a significant amount of damage, and having that amount definitely not be able to be stopped by a counterspell is big game.

Furthermore, after sideboarding, Red decks are usually boarding in Fight with Fire happily versus the large midrange creature decks, like decks with Llanowar Elves, but deeply unhappily versus uw Control decks that might board in Lyra Dawnbringer. You get all the lands you want off of a Settle the Wreckage, which can mean that Fight with Fire can be paid off, but it can still be countered when it is kicked, and it just feels dead otherwise, unless they lay a Lyra. Banefire doesn't fully replace Fight with Fire, but it can supplement it, and make the "Fight with Fire" flood completely unlikely.

The Good

At five mana, you need to be competing with Glorybringer. This means competing with a hasty 4/4 flier that might just be killing an important creature.

Demanding Dragon comes up slightly short of Glorybringer in many measures, but still is worthy of being in the same conversation. Coming into play and immediately dealing five is a real possibility for what Demanding Dragon can accomplish, and it also hits harder. Giving the opponent a choice instead of having it yourself is always a worse situation, but the extra trade-offs keep this in the mix as a real possibility.

The rate of Dismissive Pyromancer is pretty solid, and both of the abilities are completely reasonable, but what keeps this card as something that might actually make it into a deck is its card type: Wizard. As a Wizard, this immediately bumps it up a notch for the low-curve Red deck, making Wizard's Lightning all the more believably a replacement for Lightning Bolt. The smallest Red decks will also be happy to have ways to avoid flood and ways to kill a slightly bigger creature. This will be a card you'll be seeing in decks moving forward.

This card is large enough that it might actually make the main deck of the Red aggro decks. The anti-Blue clause is sufficient to make it worthwhile enough to mull over in Standard and in Modern. Importantly, though, this is a great pull in an early game and a late game, particularly in those frustrating games where an abundance of mana has blunted the damage dealt. This won't be ubiquitous, but it will be out there.

Three-mana Planeswalkers are always a thing to pay attention to — one of the reasons Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is so good is that it is secretly a three-mana Planeswalker! Sarkhan, Fireblood will essentially start out as a three-mana, four-Loyalty do little-to-nothing, which isn't great. If it survives that first turn, however, getting a jump on Dragons might actually be quite meaningful. This card is only barely in my "good" column, but still solidly there.

While it doesn't provide protection like the classic Swords of yesteryear, what this excellent piece of equipment does for a high-creature deck is provide a stream of potential card advantage while also increasing the clock. It is especially powerful when placed on a hard-to-handle card like Hazoret or on an exert creature like Ahn-Crop Crasher or Glorybringer.

The Sideboard Cards

Here, we're in Modern territory, but you can bet that even the base-Red decks are going to be excited about this as a possible sideboard card against hooligans like Tron. As an accent to Blood Moon, sometimes you just want as many of these cards as possible.

In Red mirrors, this will generally be a 2/2 flying, firebreathing Dragon for only 3 mana that also blocked something. While it can be killed by basically any removal, that is the case for any three-casting cost card in the mirror. What this has as an upside that makes it a potential alternative to Pia Nalaar is that it can much more powerfully swing the initiative in a game by jumping down to prevent damage, then turning the corner for the kill. Note, as an actual Dragon, there are some synergies that exist in other cards of the set that could be relevant.

At four mana, yes this card can be killed by a lot of cheap removal, but it is actually a very solid lord or king with a pay-off that costs no mana. As a "Seal of Shatter", this can be a great way to hold in check God-Pharaoh's Gift as well as a potential card in the perhaps-existing Goblins Deck arsenal.

Sarkhan's Unsealing is a strange card, but absolutely a card worth thinking about for base-Red decks. Glorybringer, Hazoret the Fervent, and Rekindling Phoenix all make this card a surprising source of damage against decks that can't counter a creature. If an opponent has a fair amount of large creatures (I'm looking at you, Stompy), this could be a decent way to chop those creatures up.

If we're in a world where this is needed, it’s a very good card.

The Role-Players

Big Red decks haven't been competitive lately for reasons I discussed earlier, but they are, on occasion, a reasonable consideration. Once you're at the point where you have a deck that might be able to plan to go for 10 mana, this is an excellent source of card advantage. Probably you'll be looking at a combination of mana accelerants to make that happen, but most likely it starts with Chandra, Torch of Defiance.

For the Wizards deck, so likely to have Prowess as a sub-theme, this card isn't an unreasonable choice, though it isn't exciting.

If you have a Red deck that is really struggling with countermagic or strange and powerful sorceries from less-mainstream decks, a Chaos Wand can be a reasonable solution for a high-mana deck.

While this is not a great Fork, this might enable a more spell-heavy Burn deck that is light on creatures.

Lathliss, Dragon Queen is the rare creature that could block a Hazoret the Fervent and is sufficiently powerful enough that it could be scary. If there is a Big Red deck, it will include this card and other Dragons like Glorybringer. Note that this card is somewhat immune to the Legends rule: if you play four copies, you can make plays like attacking with your original Lathliss and then cast a new one, "untapping" the Lathliss and getting a 5/5 Dragon as a bonus.

Not only is this a Wizard, but the immediate-damage ability makes it very worth considering, both given the nature of the low-to-the-ground Wizard deck as a very aggressive deck, and as a means to occasionally be of use finishing off a Planeswalker. This is definitely worth noting.

The Marginal

Catalyst Elemental takes you right up to six mana on turn four if you're in the market for the risk of just outright losing it. While this isn't great, there are historical precedents where this was marginally useful.

These cards are, to greater and lesser degrees, solid cards. However, the apex of them, Dark-Dweller Oracle, still is under the bar for what a card needs to be in today's Standard to make it into the mix in a mainstream Red deck. However, as Goblins, each of these cards starts looking very reasonable when we picture them hanging out with Goblin Warchief and other such friends.

A pseudo-burn spell, the rate of seven damage for four mana is still significant. If such a deck is reasonable, this might be in the mix.

This won't always be a "no blocks this turn" card, but for a creature-heavy deck, it might be so often enough that one might consider a pair of copies. This isn't a likely card to have in the mix, but it is potentially rational.

We're used to this as an instant, and it is far, far less good as a sorcery. But, on the other hand, at 1 mana, it is easier to have a game where you use this as a kind of last-ditch kill effort. Very aggressive decks might make use of this card in small numbers.

Going wide is most likely going to be a job for Goblins. In that kind of deck, this could be a cheap way to get an incredible amount of damage.

Dragon's Hoard helps build your mana up to casting Dragons and it gives you an additional reward for doing it. If Dragons works as a deck type, this could be a part of why. Multiples of this card are somewhat exciting, unusual for a mana accelerator.

These three cards are in the M19 Sarkhan Planeswalker deck, and all might have some marginal utility. Of them, though, amusingly Sarkhan's Whelp is the one that actually could see Constructed play. As a 3 mana Dragon with a potentially decent triggered ability, I wouldn't be surprised if this card was an actual critical part of Sarkhan, Fireblood decks making use of Dragon's Hoard.

The Unimportant

These cards are either already in print or simply outclassed by other cards to a degree that they don't actually matter.

The Conclusion

Amazingly, I actually think that there are a lot of cards that are going to make a difference for Red decks in this set. One of the first things that is going to happen is the likely diversification of the mainline Red Aggressive builds running four Hazoret. However, there are also tools for both smaller Red decks (primarily because of Wizards) and bigger Red decks (most likely in the form of Dragons).

Not shockingly, Red, with yet one more set is going to be even harder to reckon with than before. Banefire is a shockingly powerful card in the arsenal, and will mean that it will be even more difficult to justify White-based Blue decks with Settle the Wreckage.

Frankly, I'm most excited by what the increase in Red Wizards will mean in the Red-on-Red war. While Goblin Chainwhirler makes short work of anything with 1 toughness, the power of Wizard's Lightning just got a big boost.

With the next set after M19, we'll have a much more drastic change once we have a rotation in the mix, but for this set, the already-strong Red looks like it got just that tiny bit more of a boost. I don't know about you, but that's fine by me.

—Adrian Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter


Magic Core Set 2019 is available for Preorder!