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Mana la Mancha


Etali, Primal Storm
I think Mono-Red might be the weakest color in Commander, but for some reason I'm drawn to it. Maybe it's that Mono-Red is sort of weak, so I can build as cheaty as I want and still end up in 75% territory because, for all of its strengths, its weaknesses can still hold it back. Maybe it's because I like a challenge; and, if I am challenging myself to build 75%, why not tack on the additional hardship of building 75% with a color combination that can't seem to generate card advantage except through efficient removal and copying Instants and Sorceries? What if I want to generate some card advantage another way? What if I want to play their spells as much as possible, and maybe engage in some good, old-fashioned mana ramping while we're at it? Red doesn't have to be the worst color -- for there is no color so sad that it does not have something good in it. Am I tilting at windmills or could this deck get there?

We've tried to play our opponents spells as much as possible before, but not like this. Rivals of Ixalan has given us a rival to rival our rivals and even our rivals' rivals (one of whom is us, so this rival even rivals us) -- a giant monster that even John Hammond would be afraid to summon. Etali, Primal Storm is everything a 75% player wants -- it's a big, stupid creature which is inherently pretty balanced, it's powerful which is good because it's expensive, it's Legendary which means if we want to commit to Red we can always have access to it and it casts their spells right off the top of their deck, which is probably the most 75% thing I've ever written down (and one time I wrote all of our rules down). Etali is great. The spells on top of their deck are random and unknowable (usually), but who cares? They might be duds, but they also might be giants.

I picked a pretty good motif for my article this week, because what could be more quixotic than trying to build a big mana deck in Mono-Red? Ixalan block gave us access to treasure, but like real gold, it's fleeting, hard to amass and easy to spend, and it's favored by Doomsday preppers. I don't brook Doomsday in a 75% deck because it makes your deck too linear. Still, if we can get a few Etali triggers, I bet we can swipe some mana rocks. Also, maybe we just cheat our expensive spells into play using Etali's ability and cards like Scroll Rack. Also, Braid of Fire is a thing. Why does no one remember Braid of Fire is a thing? I guess some people remember, it's the third-most-expensive card in Coldsnap. It also seems really tough to reprint, so if you don't have your copy, buy it now (sorry, that's that other article series I write). Anyway, Braid of Fire is great; and, if it sticks around, you'll be hard-casting Etali after four or five deaths, no problemo.

Braid of Fire
I want to put my own 75% spin on it, so rather than just copy (or reiterate) some generic Etali deck, I want to emphasize using my mana to deprive them of as many resources as I can. I bring these points up a lot because I think they're the cornerstones of 75% theory. I keep coming back to a Sun Tzu quote I read in High School -- "One bushel of the enemy's provisions is worth twenty of our own, one picul of fodder is worth twenty of our own. Killing the enemy is a matter of arousing anger in men; taking the enemy's wealth is a matter of reward." When you Shatter a Sol Ring, you traded one of your resources for one of theirs and you're even. When you Acquire a Sol Ring, you tutored for a Sol Ring, left yours in the deck to come out later, deprived them of a mana rock and gained your own. Casting Acquire for their Sol Ring is so much better than casting (or tutoring for) your own that it isn't funny. If we're generating a ton of mana, there's no reason not to run Captivating Crew while we're at it, is there? Dire Fleet Daredevil is another new card that I haven't had a chance to play with much but which is so good it's likely to impact Standard and maybe Modern. Cards that are good enough for formats where only twelve cards are good are worth a look in a 75% deck I think. I love the cards that Ixalan block has given us to play with and hope the deck pans out, for hope is always born at the same time as love.

So we have a plan -- ramp to Etali, try and steal their gold pirate style and amass an army to beat them in the face. Our opponents are hulking giants, but we intend to do battle with them and slay them, using their own creatures and spells to do it, to boot. This is also as good a shell as any to test out a new cards I've been debating in a 75% context, Price of Glory. As much as I initially shied away from all things land destruction, the more we learn about 75% as an ethos (the theory continues to grow as we test it, which is gratifying) the more I think Kismet effects and punishment effects (Tectonic Instability being an example of both) can help the Red player keep up with faster colors with better ramp. Make Blue players be on their best behavior and make them let your spells resolve. I think Price of Glory is fine in this deck and lots of other Red ones. If you can't make them leave you alone, punish them for doing their antisocial Blue things; a bad year and a bad day to all backbiting Blue players.

What would such a pile look like?

Captivating Crew
This looks pretty fun to play, in fact. I jammed as many swipe effects as I thought I could manage into the deck, but I didn't want to load up on too many Threaten effects beyond Captivating Crew without sac outlets. Sac outlets aren't great with the rest of the deck, so I decided to keep them out, but if you wanted to threaten them a bit more, you could absolutely cut a few cards to jam Phyrexian and Ashnod's Altars and maybe Goblin Bombardment.

Our mana rocks are very precious to us and we want as many of them as possible, but don't be afraid to crack open a Dreamstone Hedron or Mind Stone to get some sweet, sweet cards. Luckily, playing and replaying our commander is going to give us enough card advantage that we shouldn't have to play a ton of spells, which should keep our hands fullish. Ramp as much as you can and then cast Etali. Manage the top of the library as much as you can to maximize the free spells you get (you can't do much about what is on top of their decks, but you can't complain about a free spell, really, even if you brick and hit land a lot). Don't be afraid to use your Scroll Rack aggressively. I left Sensei's Top in the list, but I'm not thrilled. I may end up cutting it just because I hate Top but it's probably too good not to play, especially in a deck like this. I use Crystal Ball in my Mayael deck and I'm not afraid to do that here, too.

I think Price of Glory will be fine, here. Land destruction can be a pretty antisocial thing to do, but, seeing as this just punishes them for being antisocial, this falls more under our rule about it being better to punish them for doing things than prevent them from doing things (by blowing up all of their land). What intelligent things we say sometimes. One would think we had studied!

What do we think? Is this too durdly? Is Etali too unpredictable a commander? Not enough treasure cards (I'm not jamming Trove of Temptation). Not 75% enough? Should we cut Top? Price of Glory? Let me know what you think in the comments section. Until next time!

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