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From the Ground Up: Red

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So, now we get into the meat of this discussion—the five colors. Red is the foundational structure of the Cube, due to its role as the primary aggressive color. I stated earlier that I wanted aggro to be primarily based in R/x, which means that I definitely need to support it here. Of course, that doesn’t mean that G/x or W/x aggro can’t work; I just don’t want them to be the main focus. That’s the main parameter to keep in mind here.

The first thing I did with each color was to select the “tribal” cards. Red’s tribe is Goblins, and this is what I ended up settling on: Frenzied Goblin, Goblin Artillery, Goblin Bushwhacker, Goblin Chieftain, Goblin Goon, Goblin Guide, Goblin King, Goblin Patrol, Goblin Piledriver, Goblin Ruinblaster, Goblin Sharpshooter, Goblin Shortcutter, Goblin Wardriver, Mogg Flunkies, Mogg War Marshal, Siege-Gang Commander, Skirk Marauder, Sparksmith, Spikeshot Elder, Squee, Goblin Nabob, Tin Street Hooligan.

We’ll start with the “lords.” There are a bunch of cards that affect all Goblins, but a lot of them give power and toughness bonuses. Among the ones that do something a little different are Goblin Lackey, Goblin Warchief, Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Recruiter, Goblin Matron, Goblin Piledriver, Sparksmith, Skirk Fire Marshal, and Siege-Gang Commander. I definitely wanted to get a good number of those in, so let’s talk about the ones I didn’t include and why.

Goblin Lackey, Goblin Warchief, Goblin Recruiter, Goblin Ringleader: These are three cards that I felt would be difficult to make work well with the way I was doing tribal. They are all very powerful cards, but Goblin Lackey, Goblin Warchief and Goblin Ringleader rely a lot on the density of Goblins to be effective. I was pretty sure that, for most drafts, the density just wasn’t going to be there. Goblin Recruiter is, I feel, far too weird for Limited play, ultimately making it an un-fun card for players, as they wouldn’t really understand how best to use it. Without any way to combo with it, I just figured I was better off not opening that can of worms. I’m sure it could be effective, but it wasn’t like I was short on other options.

Goblin Matron, Skirk Fire Marshal: I feel that neither of these cards satisfies my criteria for “lords,” which are, (1) be good by yourself, or (2) provide enough incentive to draft around you. Matron’s body is extremely weak, and Fire Marshal fails the “provide incentive” clause because I feel that it is too difficult to draft around. Needing five Goblins in play is quite a task, and being a 5-mana, pro-Red 2/2 isn’t going to make anyone jump for joy.

Goblin Piledriver, Sparksmith, and Siege-Gang Commander each made it either on the basis of being sufficiently powerful alone (Sparksmith, SGC), or by being sufficiently powerful with a small number of Goblins (Goblin Piledriver).

Most of the other Goblins were inserted to support aggressive strategies, as a large number of the good aggressive creatures happen to be Goblins as well. I filled out the “lords” with Goblin King and Goblin Chieftain, as I felt that pumping power and toughness was important for Goblin lords as well as the Haste provided by Chieftain. To support aggressive strategies, I tried to include as many 1-drops as I felt could legitimately fit into the tribe without compromising anything else. Goblin Cohort/Mogg Conscripts almost made it, but ultimately I felt that Spikeshot Elder was an overall more solid creature.

Goblin Goon is a card that many people might not have seen/heard of/considered before; it is, however, quite solid in Limited. The majority of Limited decks, particularly aggressive and midrange ones, are very creature-heavy, and the color it’s in (Red) tends to have quite a few ways of killing small creatures, which is the best way to turn the card “on,” so to speak.

Here’s what I consider to be the core of Red, outside of the Goblins:

Creatures: Arc-Slogger, Ashling the Pilgrim, Avalanche Riders, Blood Knight, Bloodhall Ooze, Cunning Sparkmage, Dragonmaster Outcast, Flametongue Kavu, Grim Lavamancer, Hearth Kami, Jackal Pup, Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, Keldon Marauders, Kird Ape, Magus of the Scroll, Rakavolver, Scorched Rusalka, Slith Firewalker, Stormblood Berserker

Spells: Act of Aggression, Boom // Bust, Brute Force, Chandra Nalaar, Char, Comet Storm, Demolish, Flame Slash, Goblin Warrens, Incinerate, Koth of the Hammer, Lightning Bolt, Magma Jet, Molten Rain, Pillage, Pyroclasm, Reckless Charge, Red Sun's Zenith, Ruination, Shatter, Shattering Spree, Starstorm, Stone Rain, Tarfire, Tribal Flames

Let’s take a look at the core components of Red. The core of Red has a very aggressive bent, mainly because I want this to be a very aggressive color. The 1-drop count might feel light for the main aggressive color, but I can get away with that because 1-drops tend to go a little later in Cube Draft. Cards like Jackal Pup will often wheel, so having a huge number of them is not imperative. Also, there is just an overall lack of quality, aggressive 1-drops to support a singleton format in Red. Pretty much every quality, aggressive 1-drop outside of Goblin Cadets is included in the Cube, and that isn’t in the Cube because I believe a lot of people will be afraid of it.

The rest of the core of Red is mostly more aggro support—2-drops, a smattering of land-destruction, burn, and some finishers. This is then supplemented by two artifact-destruction spells. The reason I chose the finishers I did is that they support aggressive strategies while being playable in more “big red” or midrange strategies as well. Just as an example, Arc-Slogger made it over Kumano, Master Yamabushi because it has a better body and a smaller activation cost. Kumano, while a good man, doesn’t support aggressive strategies very well, whereas Arc-Slogger is a fine finisher in aggressive Limited decks.

The lack of Chain Lightning is also probably something I should talk about. I already have Lightning Bolt, and I wanted my basic burn spells to all have some sort of unique property. Chain Lightning is at the top of Red’s “sideboard” of the Cube, though, and will likely make it in soon. Tribal Flames was initially the choice over Chain Lightning for the final burn slot, since Tribal Flames helps support four- and five-color decks, providing them with a very powerful burn spell. This is similar to the justification I used to include Rakavolver (and three of the other four Volvers as well). The Volvers comprise a cycle that supports three-color strategies very well, but are still flexible enough to be played in two-color ones. The only Volver that didn’t make it is Degavolver, because that card really just kinda sucks all sorts of suckitude.

The other card that I really want to talk about is Reckless Charge. This is, in my opinion, the second or third best spell ever printed for Deadguy Red decks (the first is Lightning Bolt, and Goblin Guide is about on par with this spell). Played correctly, Reckless Charge represents an absolutely disgusting amount of damage. Inherently, it is worth 3 damage on the initial cast, as you can simply play it as a Lava Spike on a dude that is going to get through. However, it is frequently worth 5, as Reckless Charging a 2-power dude is relatively simple to accomplish. Thus, we already have a spell that is worth 5 damage for 1 mana, and we haven’t even gotten to the Flashback yet. The Flashback is a little bit more expensive, so is therefore usually only worth 3, so that brings our damage total up to 8.

I think most Red players would have no problem playing the following card:

2rr

Reckless Charge

Common

Sorcery

Reckless Charge deals 8 damage to target player.

Given that people pay 1rrr for Blistering Firecat, I think that this card would see play. Reckless Charge is way better than that card, mainly because it is capable of dealing a lot of damage early, thus forcing your opponent into a tenuous defensive position and allowing you to better predict his counter-play and alter your own lines of attack accordingly. In reality, Reckless Charge plays more frequently like this:

r

Reckless Charge

Common

Sorcery

Kicker 2r

Reckless Charge deals 5 damage to target player. If Reckless Charge was kicked, it deals 8 damage to target player instead.

Often, all you need is 5 damage for 1 mana, but sometimes you’ll get 8 for 4. It’s an awesome deal.

Demolish is another card I should touch on. Since there really aren’t many other 3-mana LD cards beside those already in the Cube, I had to go to 4. Melt Terrain is technically an option, but it’s rather blah. Seismic Spike and Tectonic Rift are both acceptable to me as alternatives for this slot. I don’t really like Icefall because it is potentially recursive. I chose Demolish over the other options because I liked the flexibility of being able to blow up artifacts, which I think is actually a little stronger than the rr or the extra Falter. I could be wrong, but that’s just the way I see it.

Anyway, having looked at that, let’s move on to the rest of Red.

Creatures: Axegrinder Giant, Bogardan Hellkite, Desolation Giant, Dragon Tyrant, Flamekin Harbinger, Flamekin Spitfire, Furnace Whelp, Hearthcage Giant, Hellfire Mongrel, Hero of Oxid Ridge, Inner-Flame Acolyte, Lightning Dragon, Moltensteel Dragon, Rage Nimbus, Ronin Houndmaster, Scourge of Kher Ridges, Shivan Dragon, Spark Elemental, Taurean Mauler, Thoughtbound Primoc, Viashino Bladescout

Spells: Assault Strobe, Dead // Gone, Empty the Warrens, False Orders, Fatal Frenzy, Fire Whip, Grab the Reins, Obliterate, Onslaught, Panic Attack, Relentless Assault, Savage Beating, Smoke, Traitorous Instinct, Wildfire, Wrap in Flames

This is the section that likely looks the weirdest to people. I was going for a number of things here, but “solid and unassuming” was one of the big ones. In general, I wanted cards that fulfilled a number of roles while not being overly powerful. Why wouldn’t I want to push power level? The answer goes back to drafting experience. In my experience, some of the most interesting decisions in a draft arise when you have a critical hole to fill in your deck, but there is an obviously more powerful card in the pack or in your card pool. In order for this sort of decision to arise, there has to be a relatively wide variance in the power pool, because without this sort of variance, you won’t ever have to make the call.

Thus, what I was looking for here was not necessarily the “best of the best,” but solid cards that do their job. Many of these were designed to be more midrange, but I still definitely wanted to push aggressive strategies overall. Flamekin Harbinger is one of the cards I am not very happy with, but he was in a 1-drop non-Goblin slot, and the options there get pretty thin pretty quickly. He is almost certainly becoming the 1/1 Vampire from Innistrad that gets bigger when he hits players.

As far as “solid but unassuming” is concerned, I filled in some of the empty slots with Spark Elemental, Thoughtbound Primoc, Viashino Bladescout, Taurean Mauler, Inner-Flame Acolyte, Hellfire Mongrel, Hero of Oxid Ridge, Ronin Houndmaster, and Flamekin Spitfire. I selected some of these cards (Thoughtbound Primoc and Hellfire Mongrel), because they are unique. Hellfire Mongrel in particular is a unique card that supports aggressive and midrange strategies well. Ronin Houndmaster, Inner-Flame Acolyte, and Viashino Bladescout also fall into this category, but skew more toward supporting aggro, whereas Spark Elemental is just for aggro decks. What I like about these cards is that they all attack the game from a slightly different angle, thus giving the player options as to where he wants his deck to come from.

Flamekin Spitfire is a card that I thought would underwhelm me, but it ended up being fine. It’s a little mana-intensive, but it does provide a way of trading up and controlling the board. The benefit of costing only r, as opposed to the rr on Spikeshot Elder, helps this card in three- or four-color midrange decks. The interesting thing about pingers is that they get better in groups, and Flamekin Spitfire definitely showcases this principle. It’s relatively mediocre on its own, but when you start combining it with other pingers, it turns out to be quite good.

A lot of the “non-core” creatures section is just my “Dragons and big dudes” group. I feel that every color needs a little bit of fat, and for the most part, I wanted Red’s to come from Dragons. There are obviously a number of other options, but I happened to choose Bogardan Hellkite, Dragon Tyrant, Furnace Whelp, Lightning Dragon, Moltensteel Dragon, Shivan Dragon, and Scourge of Kher Ridges. These are some of my favorite Dragons (Two-Headed is missing, but Moltensteel is cooler), and I simply wanted to spread them out on the mana-curve a bit. The Dragon curve is a little top-heavy, but I like my three big Dragons, so I let them be. Firebreathing on Dragons is a big thing with me, so almost all of my Dragons firebreathe. Who woulda thunk it?

I finally finished Red creatures off with two more big dudes—Axegrinder Giant and Hearthcage Giant; however, both of these are likely to get cut with Innistrad. I wanted to make sure that I had enough fat in the Cube, and it appears that I had too much. I wanted a big vanilla or French-vanilla fatty in the Axegrinder slot, and Hearthcage was originally there as a third “big drop.” He’s become unnecessary since I transformed a different, smaller Dragon into Bogardan Hellkite (the Knights vs. Dragons foil of this card is awesome, which put it over the edge). There are two dudes from Innistrad that I want to try out: the 1/1 for 1 that transforms into a 3/2, and the 5-mana 2/2 flying hasty creature that gets +2/+2 each time it hits your opponent. Those two cards will likely get tried out in these slots. If I don’t like the 1/1 for 1, I’ll cut it for something aggro-supporting, probably like Varchild's War-Riders or something. If I don’t like the 5-mana 2/2 flyer, I’ll cut it for something larger—probably Two-Headed Dragon.

Red’s curve is a little high for my liking, so I definitely want to cut it down some, hence taking out those two high drops for lower drops. In general, the Cube is still a bit light on aggressive cards. Multiple times, I have slightly upped the number of aggressive cards in other colors, and I suppose now it’s Red’s turn. Flamekin Harbinger may ultimately end up in the Cube again, if only for curve considerations. I dunno—it’s at least better than Dwarven Scorcher. Either that, or it’s possible that I’ll have to burn another Goblin slot on a 1-drop, as much as I would like to avoid it, since I like all the Goblins I have at the moment.

The spell selection to fill out my spell slots was also based upon uniqueness and the criterion of “not being a burn spell.” I mentioned earlier that it was easy to fall into the trap of having too much burn in Red, and that makes for an un-fun drafting experience. Red already has a decent amount of reach because of the creatures I employ, so keeping the burn count down in the spells was definitely a priority. I picked the ones I liked earlier, so burn is out here.

I knew I wanted Red to be able to blow lots of things up, so Obliterate seemed like a logical selection. I added Wildfire to the mix to round out the “let’s blow up the world” card selection. I knew I also wanted a couple more removal spells, and so I picked Dead // Gone and Fire WhipDead // Gone because it does something unique (bounce in Red), and Fire Whip because it turns guys into pingers. I guess Fire Whip technically goes to the face, but I don’t really consider it a burn spell.

The next group of cards consisted of Falter effects. I knew I wanted at least two, probably three, and I just went through and tried to pick simple ones that were playable. I settled on Panic Attack and Wrap in Flames, although there are a lot of good options here. I also knew I wanted at least one more Threaten effect. I could’ve gone with the basic Threaten/Act of Treason, but decided that I liked the +2/+0 that Traitorous Instinct provides, so I went with that.

Grab the Reins and Savage Beating are two of my favorite Kamigawa-block cards (by the way, I think this block doesn’t get a fair shake; it was actually pretty awesome). Grab the Reins, especially, is deceptively powerful, because you can throw the guy you take, at instant speed. Savage Beating is just cool, and absolutely devastating if you ever Entwine it.

Smoke, False Orders, and Onslaught were selected on the basis of their uniqueness, and also for being interesting cards. Onslaught is a very difficult card to play—dump out your dudes too fast and you don’t get the effectiveness of the card, but if played correctly, it is very powerful at controlling the tempo of the game. People don’t seem to like False Orders (though I’ve used it to good effect), so that likely will be cut soon, as much as I like the card.

Assault Strobe and Fatal Frenzy both made sense to me as representative of “other” Red effects, so they went in as well. Once again, I wanted to showcase the fact that Red did things other than light stuff on fire, and Double Strike and “Berserk” are both very Red things to do, so these two cards were natural inclusions.

I think that rounds out the Red, really. I think the most important thing to realize when designing Red for a Cube is how easy it is to end up burn-heavy. This results in play experiences where the player playing Red is simply able to aim 15 to 20 points straight at his opponent’s face, and that isn’t much fun, because the only real way to stop that is to play Blue and have a bunch of counterspells. Keeping the burn count low is very important for Red, and that definitely affords opportunities to show off other aspects of the color, which I think Wizards underplays regularly.

Chingsung Chang

Conelead most everywhere and on MTGO

Khan32k5 at gmail dot com

Once again, the master list for the Cube is on GoogleDocs here.

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