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Pioneer Red, Big and Small


One of the things I absolutely love doing is finding an aggressive Red deck for a format. When I was working on Calamity Red for this Standard, I was rewarded with a little bit of success, winning a Team Unified Standard event with the deck. This, of course, was made all the easier by the very nature of Team Unified Standard, which diluted the Oko, Thief of Crowns into a maximum of 33% of my opponents, as well as an early moment in the format where the deck was less refined, but still, the joy in working on that deck was real all the same.

Of the many Red mages out there, Patrick Sullivan has got to be one of those people whose decks I will always take seriously. His general skill with a Red deck is just quite excellent, and one of the things that he came up with recently really just impressed me. He tweeted about it recently, which set off a flurry of excellent Red decks into the Pioneer queues, much to the chagrin of all of us whose decks were just a bit subpar (including some of my unfinished brews).

Here is that deck:

This is just an incredibly elegant deck. It is chock-full of incredibly efficient creatures, with essentially twelve 1-drops that can hit for more than one damage, some with haste, and twelve more creatures that do the important work of increasing the immediate reach of the deck with damage or drawing cards. The rest is all damage, plus four Light Up the Stage, which seem like they will inevitably cost one mana.

The only question I find myself having with this deck is not in its basic philosophy or form, but in whether or not there might be ever so slight improvements with card selection that can only be thought of as really going into the weeds. For example, would the deck benefit from one Zurgo Bellstriker over a Lightning Strike? Is one of the Mountains better as some esoteric land. It's all such minute details that it doesn't distract from the elegant beauty of the nearly entirely four-of design.

The sideboard covers all of the bases, and could certainly be shifted for a particular metagame as it evolves, but is all straightforward and thoughtful in selection. This is a hell of a deck that works on the low end up the curve, and while the sideboard lets it move up the curve a little to play a longer game, it isn't going to mess around with those cards in the first game.

I love a deck like this. But I also love a Red deck that marches up the curve even more and finishes with a wallop at five-mana. I had a slew of decks that started low on the curve, then marched up to Stormbreath Dragon or Thundermaw Hellkite. When you hit that hard on the top end, it's pretty rough for an opponent.

One of those decks is a deck I think about a lot, a Boros aggro deck that I took to victory in a TCGPlayer $5k and Top 8 of several other events including an SCG Open. Here is that list, for reference:

Some of the principles of this deck are set up for the deck to be able to have powerful, aggressive draws, and yet also fight a protracted battle in the face of resistance. With the amount of haste that the deck had, it was an excellent deck against the field in that moment, which included early versions of uw Control, among other decks.

The nature of this as a two-color deck made me think of another kind of two-color deck, and the 5-drop you could run successfully in that deck:

Reality Smasher

While it lacks flying - a significant fact - trample is similarly powerful, and the resistance to removal is impressive. It's still possible that the better card might just be Stormbreath Dragon, but I wanted to explore the concept. In so doing, I came to this deck:

One of the things that I like about this deck is how quickly it can mount a frightening presence, but also how resilient it is in the face of resistance. Between Bomat Courier and Smuggler's Copter, you can move deeper into your deck quite rapidly, where many cards can end the game in short order.

The Reality Smasher demands an appropriate amount of colorless mana, and after Ramunap Ruins, Mutavault is an easy second choice. From there, I was inspired by a complete beating I took the other day from a Hanweir Garrison, and included both the Garrison and Hanweir Battlements, with a Shivan Reef to finish things off. This leaves the deck with 18 Red sources and 13 Colorless, which is more than enough to get the deck whirring. 25 land might seem like a lot, but between Smuggler's Copter, Bomat Courier, and even Hazoret the Fervent, that mana all has somewhere to go.

Without White, you might not have Boros Charm, but Embercleave does some of the same work, and with Hanweir Garrison and Goblin Rabblemaster, it can come online quite quickly. The deck certainly does suffer a bit from slightly less direct damage as compared to the Boros deck I shared from yesteryear's Standard, but it makes up for it with much more stable mana.

The sideboard is actually one of the things that I absolutely love about the play of the deck. While Fry and Abrade can simply be answers to very specific problems, only Fry is merely that.

Thought-Knot Seer could come in against nearly anyone, but it serves as an excellent catchall for any otherwise difficult to manage opponent. In addition, if you simply wish to shift the deck to a far more controlling build, it is simple enough to shave into the more aggressive cards like the one-drops, or cut into Bomat Courier if it is simply unrealistic for it to get through, and have Thought-Knot Seer be a part of a transition into a bigger Big Red style deck.

Whether you head toward a Big Red sideboard, Mizzium Mortars in a deck that can threaten to wipe the entirety of the board with it is truly impressive. The more aggressive sideboarding can set things up so that Mortars is the best ever Falter effect, while a more controlling sideboard can have you with a deck filled to the brim with powerful removal. If the metagame shakes out so that this isn't necessary, it is easy enough to replace a Mortars or two with some other options, be they Fry or Abrade or some other versatile card. Whatever the case may be, the Mortars serve a powerful supplement to Wild Slash, which is a four-of in the sideboard because I felt like there needed to be enough fast answers when facing creature decks; if the format doesn't require such a fast response, a Wild Slash could easily turn into that fourth Mortars.

I've been playing as much Pioneer as I can, mostly on Magic Online, and I'm loving the format. It feels far more wide open than Standard or Modern, and currently is piquing my creativity, with a ton of Blue and Red decks flowing forth from my imagination, and probably more coming.

I don't think this Red deck is the only one that could play up a curve ending at Reality Smasher. I've already been toying with it in aggro decks of all colors, though Red was the one that seemed most natural thus far. After the format gets more explored perhaps I'll move back to something more realistic/conservative, but for now, I am really loving hitting that fifth mana and just smashing my opponent.

- Adrian Sullivan

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