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Four Levels of Mono-Red: 100 Dollars


When I started with the idea of doing four-part mini-series, one of my goals was to spend some time highlighting unusual ways of looking at certain archetypes and genres and color combinations. I would consider doing that an interest of mine but not at all a special expertise, so not everything will work perfectly (or at all!) and I hope we can consider this a bit crowd-sourced. I want suggestions, ideas, thoughts, criticisms, and I'd love them in abundance. Let's work together to come up with some new ideas.

But I digress. As I was thinking about what to do for the second mini-series, I kept coming back to something I've thought a lot: mono-red is kind of maligned in Magic. I mean, there are certainly things to do. I've built two Godo, Bandit Warlord decks, one recently and one a very long time ago (note to self: I really need to update my picture. I look nothing like that!). There's probably a reasonable deck in Daretti, Scrap Servant, but it sure as heck wasn't the precon from a while ago. But aside from the occasional Dragon or perhaps a Goblin deck, the color, by itself, is generally considered weak.

And not without reason! Removal tends to be damage-based, which is much less effective in a format with creatures that have a toughness of 15 or indestructible in most games. Lightning Bolt, a card which has single-handedly defined entire formats, is almost completely useless when you've got three opponents, each with 40 life, and you're staring at infinite Elf tokens or whatever. Red can destroy artifacts but it's useless when getting rid of enchantments, and its card draw almost always comes at the cost of, well, discarding cards. Its slice of the color pie is not designed for multiplayer work.

I started thinking about this and couldn't stop. There must be some fun ways to play Mono-Red and have it actually have some game, preferably without a commander that searches up Equipment for us. Let's see if we can find out, and to prove it, we're going to start with a $100 budget, but we're going to jump from there to $250, then $500, then $1000. That may seem like a lot, but if we're going to try to build a truly competitive deck, let's do it with all the right pieces.

I headed to Scryfall and pulled up a list of every Red Legendary creature, organized by converted mana cost. It was a new guy that caught my eye: two mana, interesting ability, and partner. Okay, new search, same criteria adding Partner, and going to the end of the list. There it is.

Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar
Dargo, the Shipwrecker

(Another quick aside: I totally would have Kediss as a pet. Anything that loves head scratches is okay in my book!)

Kediss wants a big friend that can do a lot of damage, so that damage can be shared around. Unfortunately, the damage done to opponents other than the one being attacked isn't combat damage, so it doesn't count as Commander damage. That means if we do 21 damage to one opponent with Dargo, it doesn't just kill the table, though it gets them a lot closer. Still, I think we can work with this.

Dargo, on the other hand, can be broken right in half. Sure, we can sacrifice artifacts or creatures to make him 2 cheaper, but it's that second half that really grabbed me: if we have already sacrificed a creature or artifact, Dargo costs 2 less for each one. This means if we can sacrifice, say, a Sol Ring after tapping it for 2, we'll have 4 mana toward Dargo's cost. But I don't want to sacrifice my Sol Ring, so instead, what if we went with Treasure tokens and Eldrazi Spawns and Scions? Each one sacrifices itself - no need for sacrifice outlets - and puts a mana in our pool when we do. This means with two of those guys on the 'field, Dargo costs Red. We could be playing Dargo on turn three with two lands still untapped!

So, we know we're going to want Treasure and Eldrazi dudes. We also probably want some ways to give Dargo Haste so he can attack as soon as possible. While we're at it, let's buff up his power some so we can, if done correctly, kill an opponent in a single hit. Trample is nice but extra evasion is always good. And maybe Red has some tricks up its sleeve.

40 lands, people. I'm going to keep hammering on this. We only need the one color and our first turn can have a tapped land, so we've got a fair number of non-Mountain lands. Because our color requirements aren't challenging, we can use our land slots as free spells a lot of the time. This is helpful with cards like Forge of Heroes or Cathedral of War, both of which give us a free boost to our Commander's power. Kher Keep and Cradle of the Accursed both make creature tokens, which can then be sacrificed to Dargo's greedy giant casting cost. Mystifying Maze and Labyrinth of Skophos serve as semi-removal. Rogue's Passage makes our big ol' Pirate unblockable, which seems like a good thing. We've also got a Sol Ring and a Mind Stone. Normally I don't like to run just a couple pieces of mana acceleration (you're either ramping or you're not), but in this case we don't really need to ramp, but if we hit a turn one Sol Ring it's going to be electrifying, so, we'll keep it.

We have almost no card draw, but unless we get terribly unlucky and flood, it shouldn't matter. Because the two most important pieces of our plan are available to us in the Command Zone, whatever we draw should work pretty well. We also do make a fair amount of tokens, which is a version of card advantage (multiple creatures for a single card), and those can be used to power other spells and keep us alive by chump blocking.

On the other hand, we have a bunch of ways to make Dargo a more effective opponent slayer. We'll have lots of ways to give him Haste, like Chariot of Victory, Goblin War Paint, and Footfall Crater. We've also got ways to make him harder to block, like Madcap Skills, Executioner's Hood, and Trailblazer's Boots. Most of these things also offer some kind of power/toughness boost, though not all. Fleetfeather Sandals makes up for it by granting Flying, though. The idea is to get him attacking fast and pushing as much of the damage through as possible.

What that means, though, is we're kind of behaving like an all-in Red deck. We're not really going to worry about what anyone else is doing. All we need is one opponent we can hit and we can probably kill the table, often times before they're even set up or rolling. This is good, because we're running very little by way of interaction; if someone is going to kill us, the only way we can stop them is by killing them first.

Then we have our ways of reducing Dargo's cost. From Wily Goblin up to Rapacious Dragon and Emrakul's Hatcher, we have a bunch of dudes that make Treasures and Scions and Spawns when they enter the battlefield or when they die. Pirate's Pillage, our one card draw spell, creates Treasure. Warping Wail will almost always make a Scion. Prying Blade can be attached to Dargo to make Treasures for when he dies and needs to be recast!

Finally, one of the things Red does really well is increase the amount of damage being done, so we're running a few ways to do that. Of course, we can use Fireshrieker and the like to give Dargo Double Strike, but something like Gratuitous Violence is more fun. Be careful with Furnace of Rath because it works for everyone; that one is best played when you know for sure you can use it to win the game. But the best ones here are Fiery Emancipation and Jeska, Thrice Reborn, because both triple the damage done by Dargo. (Note if you double a triple, it's six times, and if you triple a triple, it's nine times. So, if you double a tripled triple, it'll be 18 times the damage!) That means he'll kill an opponent in a single hit, and if his damage is doubled he'll do over 40, killing the entire table.

Kediss and Dargo | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

This deck should be pretty fast, and it absolutely should take a table by surprise. There will be times when the draws just won't be with us, but that's the risk with an all-in strategy like this. Mulligan aggressively; a five-card good hand is far better than a seven-card bad one. We want a way to reduce Dargo's cost, a few lands, and preferably some way to give him a boost. Hopefully we draw into a damage doubler or tripler and just absolutely wallop everyone. Another thing to consider is threat assessment; normally when you can choose which opponent to kill first you want to choose the one most likely to kill you soon. In this case, though, I'd recommend killing whomever you can as soon as possible; if there's one opponent with no blockers and one with a few, kill the one with no blockers. It's then that much less damage that needs to be done to the one with blockers to kill them, and you may draw into the piece you need to get the last bit of damage through.

This one came out at exactly $99.99! Fiery Emancipation is quite pricey but is worth every penny in this deck, although cutting it reduces the cost a fair amount.

How would you build around this pair? What should be added and what should be taken away? More Treasure producers? More ways to buff power? Let us know in the comments!

I'll see you in a couple weeks for a $250 look at Mono-Red; in the meantime, get out there and smash some faces!

Thanks for reading, and stay safe

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