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33 Mountains: An All-Red Team Unified Standard


This weekend, I'm not playing in the Mythic Championship V in Long Beach. Instead, I'll be playing in a Team Unified Standard event for the Pastimes Master Series 2019 with two old friends, Brian Kowal and Rob Castro.

When I first met these two, it was 1997, and for the Madison Magic community, these two would both be considered "Milwaukee players" even though technically neither of them lived in Milwaukee at the time. In the Midwest, most of the competitive play west of Lake Michigan was centered around Chicago and Madison; when a crew of Milwaukee-area Magic veterans started showing up en masse, it really shook things up, and Brian and Rob could be counted on to be in the mix.

Brian and I would have a conversation about a then-largely-unknown Red deck called "Sligh" and the newly conceived concept of the mana curve at a PTQ in Chicago, and the next week I would run into him again in Minneapolis, and he offered me a spot in his car back toward Wisconsin, beginning one of my longest lasting friendships.

Rob would beat me - twice! - at the first Wisconsin State Championship, run by the inimitable Steve Port, and go on to be Wisconsin's first champion. While Milwaukee was the new kid on the block, Rob's win was the first of three straight State Championship wins by a Milwaukee player. In some ways Rob ended up being symbolic of Milwaukee to many players in the Madison area, and it started something I think was really healthy for our communities: not just a rivalry, but a friendly rivalry. It didn't take very long for a healthy collaboration to spring up between Madison and Milwaukee in large part due to the kindness of collegiality of Rob.

Fast forward twenty-something years, and we've all played on both the Pro Tour and at the Magic World Championships (in some form or name or another). Magic continues to be a big part of all of our lives, and so when Rob suggested the three of us come together to play in a Team Unified event, that sounded delightful. To the best of my recollection, while we've all worked together extensively over the years, we've never fully teamed together, all the three of us.

I couldn't wait.

The only question was what decks to play, since we couldn't overlap on our card choices.

Amusingly, each of us had as a first choice a deck that had a significant amount of Red cards. At first I laughed to myself because I was amused at the idea we all were interested in significantly similar decks. Then, as I examined the lists, I noticed that with very little work, we could all play a Red deck... if we wanted.

Hydroid Krasis

The elephant in the room, of course, is the real difficulty in avoiding playing Hydroid Krasis. Forty-seven of the sixty-four players at the Mythic Championship V are playing Hydroid Krasis, and for good reason: ug is really good right now, and whether you're playing Bant Golos or Simic Food or some other more obscure deck, it feels like a mistake to not have someone playing the default best super-category of decks. To not play that deck would mean that you'd really have to have 'broken it', which is not an easy feat to pull off. Hydroid Krasis had to get sleeved up.

So, we were not going to field three Red decks. But the thought of doing it warmed my heart, so I went back to those Mythic Championship lists to see how to do it. With very few modifications, Rakdos Aristocrats, Gruul Aggro, and Calamity Red can absolutely fit the bill.

What all of these decks have in common is they can hit very hard, have a resilient plan for the Hydroid Krasis decks, and have a significant number of Red sources.

Rakdos Aristocrats

The first time I played against this deck, I was pretty shocked at how effective it was. Here is a list from Miguel da Cruz Simões:

This is a deck that can get a lot of mileage out of a dead creature. Dreadhorde Butcher, Mayhem Devil, and Judith, the Scourge Diva can all be a part of a strategy that can start punching hard from the get-go, and it backs that up with the many interlocking advantages that the deck can put into play with various sacrifice outlets and payoffs. Some of those things can be surprising, like when Priest of Forgotten Gods eats two Elementals from Chandra, Acolyte of Flame or Angrath's Rampage causes a mess in conjunction with Mayhem Devils.

Against Hydroid Krasis decks, you can go low to start the game and win on that front, but you can also use Claim the Firstborn to turn that Hydroid Krasis into a huge evasive hit, which even if it doesn't immediately finish the game, can but it right back into play, even after heavy life gain.

Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is the only really incredibly likely place of overlap, and if the deck needed to give it up, it could. Thankfully, for this configuration, this is the only deck running Chandra. Claim the Firstborn is another place where it wouldn't be surprising to have overlap, but very clearly in that kind of situation, Rakdos Aristocrats would take precedence with that card.

Gruul Aggro

The other multicolored Red deck in the mix would be Gruul Aggro, an impressive aggressive deck that runs heavier on Green but has a ton of Red spells as well.

Because of Riot, there are a great many hasty creatures in this deck, and it can easily close out games with an army of creatures. An ideal play pattern might involve 10 power in play by turn three, or 9 power attacking, thanks to the scaling of Pelt Collector. The sheer amount of access to 4 toughness is really important, especially given Deafening Clarion as a potential fast sweeper.

This deck puts so much pressure on early that Hydroid Krasis often doesn't have the ability to fully get into the game. Even when it does, a pump from Colossus or Embercleave can end the game, if simply smashing the hydra out of the air with a Collision or Domri's Ambush isn't sufficient. Even beyond that, Questing Beast can be so hard to block, it sometimes will be required to block by Hydroid Krasis, insuring its death another way as well.

There are a few cards in this deck that overlap with the next deck, Calamity Red, but in pretty small ways. This deck uses a few Shock in the main (boarded by Red) and a single Castle Embereth, and boards some Bonecrusher Giant. In my judgment, it can give up the Castle Embereth and Bonecrusher Giant to the Red deck. The Castle can simply become a Mountain, whereas the Bonecrusher Giant feels quite extraneous to this deck's needs, and I'd replace it with a few cards that I noticed in Gaby Spartz's main deck: Domri, Anarch of Bolas and Sarkhan the Masterless, or simply more Shock to complement the two main.

No one is competing for Cosmotronic Wave, but if there is a Torbran, Thane of Red Fell deck in the mix, I'd make sure to give the Cosmotronic Wave to that deck and use, again like Gaby, Tectonic Rift over Cosmotronic Wave.

Calamity Red

I've been working on some version of Calamity Red for over two weeks, since I first started looking at Throne of Eldraine. It was exciting to see that Lee Shi Tian has also been working on the deck.

This deck takes the shell of cheap creatures and Cavalcade of Calamity and joins to it a few cards chosen for their simple power like Runaway Steam-Kin and the eight now Adventure cards for Red, Bonecrusher Giant and Rimrock Knight. While uncommon, the deck can get kills as quickly as turn four because of the sheer power of Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, especially in conjunction with Cavalcade of Calamity.

Against Hydroid Krasis, the plan is largely to race, but Lee Shi Tian also added a bit of insurance in the form of Tibalt, Rakish Instigator. The 1/1 Devils aren't fast, but they do add to the Cavalcade of Calamity plan and can be a real pain with Torbran, on top of the important work done by the Planeswalker itself.

This deck clearly gets precedence on Castle Embereth over other decks that might want to use the card, and I would argue the deck also should get Bonecrusher Giant, though I could see it giving the card up for cards like Slaying Fire. As far as Shock goes, if you don't think you need it in the main, I think you're far better off giving up the card to another player if they need it, and replacing sideboard Shock with some combination of Redcap Melee, Chandra's Pyrohelix, and Slaying Fire.

I'm excited to be playing with Brian and Rob in Chicago this weekend, even if we aren't likely to skip on Hydroid Krasis in our lineup. After putting in the time to look at an all-Red configuration that we've abandoned, I'm glad to still be able to share it with you. If you like it as we do, but can't bring yourself to not sleeve up Hydroid Krasis, you can always play two of the three!

Wish us luck!

- Adrian Sullivan

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