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Brewing Big Red


When you get to a point in a format where you really, really like a deck, it can be very easy to just hold to it, and tweak and tune the deck. I do ardently think that my build of Jeskai (which appears to have picked up the name "Jeskai Treasure") is likely the best deck in Standard, but that it needs to turn its attention to respond to any particular metagame. This is the usual way for very powerful decks: there is rarely a "finished form", these days, because you have to respond to the world which responds to you.

However, even when I love a deck, I just can't help it. I've got to brew.

It all started out with this little card:

Traxos, Scourge of Kroog

I had been pretty pumped about Treasure Map, period, in very nearly every color combination you could think of, but as I worked on the deck, a random Dominaria draft reminded me just how absurd that Traxos could be. After putting together a very rough shell, I was impressed by the card, but even more impressed, really with some of the support cards I'd put together with Traxos - namely Thaumatic Compass and Icy Manipulator.

While these two cards didn't really enjoy Dive Down or Carnage Tyrant, they were quite impressive at holding the fort. Traxos, Scourge of Kroog, on the other hand, just ended up feeling a bit underwhelming. The things that were promising were the other payoffs - massive card advantage, and finishing the game with resilient threats like Karn, Scion of Urza, Rekindling Phoenix, or a large Banefire or two.

Somewhere shortly after Grand Prix Milwaukee, I ended up at this list:

To be clear, while I very much enjoyed playing this deck, it did not feel like the deck to take down a tournament with. It felt reasonable. I imagine if I were to play it in all eight rounds of a Day One of a GP, this deck would miss for Day Two - though it does feel like it would be a deck that would likely have a winning record or close to one.

In thinking about what was wrong with the deck, it was generally that the deck was too reactive. Detection Tower is a good example of this: the card ends up making sense in the deck as a two-of because it can help create a kill through Dive Down, but it requires so much mana to make this happen, it is still functionally fairly mediocre. The existence of Carnage Tyrant helps to justify it, but the deck is still not doing anything to push proactively against an opponent.

Practically, this would mean that games would get under control, but then languish, while the opponent slowly overcame the mana suppression, and eventually turned the tide, especially after sideboarding.

Legion Warboss from the board was a help, but not enough, especially because the deck just doesn't have much in the way of support for an aggressive plan.

Of course, then, there was an explosion of excellent Big Red decks that just went a little less "Big", and I saw another way to go.

Both of these decks lost decisively (2-0) to bg Midrange in the finals and semifinals respectively. Still, it is hard to imagine that they didn't face that deck in the swiss of the tournament, and both of these players finished a phenomenal 8-0 in matches along the way.

I really love this deck, but I definitely do find myself with questions. Dire Fleet Daredevil has been quite underwhelming for me, and as I explored Big Red decks, I noticed quite a few that didn't even bother with the card. In the real world, I was finding it at its most effective as a card that could hold the fort because of First Strike rather than generally doing anything meaningful because of the enters-the-battlefield ability.

The bg Midrange matchup also seemed like a critical one to not lose. For pepeisra to lose with three Star of Extinction in the board seemed to indicate that they were getting pushed over because they were either forced to Star when they didn't want to, or Duress was taking things at an inopportune time.

Putting some of these pieces together with what I'd experienced with my own Big Red, I came to the following deck:

This list merges all three of the previous lists, leaning heavily on the two PTQ decks that had so much success, as well as taking into account PTQ semifinalist jessy_samek's updates to the list where Wily Goblin entered the mix and Dire Fleet Daredevil was shoved to the sideboard.

The changes I have between the later jessy_samek list are all quite simple. First, the Field of Ruin over a Mountain felt like an easy choice in a deck that felt like it was already comfortable with 24 Mountains. Then, I've found that I like Wily Goblin (and even had it in numerous iterations of my Big Red list), but that even with Treasure Cove it did feel like the diminishing returns on Wily Goblin were there. Much like Simian Spirit Guide in many decks I've build in the past, there are times where the deck wants the boost but other in which it’s just overkill. This led me to three copies of Wily Goblin.

After that, cutting a Karn came easily. I wasn't dropping it as fast as I might with four Wily Goblin, and sometimes I just felt like I was getting an extraneous copy stranded in my hand. Even in a deck that was often ticking Karn’s loyalty down to make huge artifact creatures, I was still looking for more action.

With the tiny bit of room, a single main deck Fight with Fire and Shock came into the mix. I wanted to lower the curve a bit more, and while I liked the two Shivan Fire to start, I didn't really want more than that. Many of the prior versions of this deck had run a two/two split on Shivan Fire and Shock, so I followed suit on that first two Shivan Fire and made that third copy the first Shock. Fight with Fire is just a card I've come to love in this Niv-Mizzet, Parun world.

For the board, I largely followed suit on what jessy_samek and pepeisra had done, but with a few notable exceptions.

First, I added in 2 The Immortal Sun. Despite the "nombo" with Karn, I wanted something that would be an utter haymaker against bg Midrange and their Planeswalkers. This deck is often able to neutralize a game, but a Planeswalker would always be capable of running away with the game again, not to mention forcing a Star of Extinction before you were ready to use it. The Immortal Sun was a useful way to fight that, in addition to being great against Teferi, Hero of Dominaria decks. Sorcerous Spyglass acted as a "third" The Immortal Sun.

Next, I added in Expansion // Explosion and Azor's Gateway. Expansion would be the most likely mode for the split card, often just serving as a Negate, copying their Negate, though, at times, you could use it with Treasure to cast Explosion. Azor's Gateway was there as a kind of ticking time bomb: if you flip it, the opponent is probably dead. Versus the controlling decks, having this kind of effect felt important.

Niv-Mizzet might still be my true love in Standard right now, but this Big Red deck isn't just a joy to play, but it's a treasure too!

I hope you enjoy the deck. In addition, I just broadcast my first Twitch stream the other day - once my mic and camera arrive, expect to see me quite regularly over on Twitch!

- Adrian Sullivan

Follow me on Twitter! @AdrianLSullivan

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