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26 Decks in a Year, Episode 4: Mono-Red

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For this series, I set a budget of $75. That limits the card pool significantly, but aside from a few absurd cards, there are very few that are unreachable—they’ll just limit how much money is left to spend to complete the deck.

In that spirit, today’s deck will be the first that has an expensive, choice rare in its list. When I do this, I will attempt to make it a card you can use in future decks—and a card you’ll be glad you have as you explore the format on your own. This is exactly that kind of card. It’s a combo enabler, it’s a solid pump spell for any creature, and it’s something you’ll be glad to top-deck. It also plays nicely with today’s commander, who lets us warp the game in some unusual ways.

Godo, Bandit Warlord
Sword of Feast and Famine

Godo, Bandit Warlord is awesome, and he has two relevant abilities. For a $5 card, he will give us some needed card advantage and consistency in a color that normally suffers in those arenas—and he’s also a reasonable threat. Paying 6 mana is a bit tough, especially if we need to recast him, but we can get around that.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
We’re going to start with thirty-nine lands. My playgroup is picking on me for putting so many lands in my decks. I’m also the only one of the group who never gets mana-screwed. As long as we build in ways to make use of excess mana, we’ll never mind being flooded, and we’ll avoid screw so at least we’re always in the game. In this case, we’re going to lean on Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle a bit, so there are fewer non-Mountains in the deck. Alongside the thirty-three Mountains, we have the Valakut, a pair of cycling lands, Dormant Volcano because lands that tap for 2 mana are awesome, a miser’s Encroaching Wastes just in case someone is making us mad with a Mystifying Maze or some such nonsense, and Kher Keep, which is surprisingly amazing in just about every deck that can run it. The Keep gives us instant-speed blockers, rebuilds after a Wrath effect, and gives us stuff we can sacrifice when people make us sacrifice things. Those little Kobolds also carry a sword—or wear armor—just as well as any other creature around. There’s a suite of mana rocks in the hopes we can make it to Godo a bit faster, and if we play smart, equip him the same turn he comes into play. Mind Stone and friends Fire Diamond, Star Compass, and Guardian Idol are at 2 mana, while Foriysian Totem, Pristine Talisman, and Burnished Hart do good work at 3. Everflowing Chalice makes its regular appearance; if you have it in your opening hand, don’t be afraid to wait to cast it until turn four for the two counters. Finally, Druidic Satchel is its normal, quality self, giving us lands, life, and dudes, for the low, low cost of 2 per turn.

We also need to draw cards. As red tends to be all-in, it can be difficult to keep up with the constant stream of draw other players seem to have. Our commander will help a bit fetching Equipment, but having more cards is better than fewer. Ichor Wellspring regularly draws us two cards for 2 mana and plays well with Shattering Pulse, and with Trading Post, it can be sacrificed and returned to hand by making a Goat or Kobold—we’ve paid 4 or 5, and we’ve drawn three, ready to draw more. Diviner's Wand and Infiltration Lens are both searchable ways to accumulate cards, and Illuminated Folio is just good in mono-colored decks. Seer's Sundial lets us turn some of that extra mana into cards, which can help when you top-deck a land later in the game. A single casting of Knollspine Dragon gives us a fresh grip, which is often enough to close out the game—or at least keep us alive a while longer. Expedition Map isn’t exactly draw, but it can keep us closer to parity by fetching up Valakut or Encroaching Wastes.

Spawn of Thraxes
Our biggest threat is our commander. The idea of an extra combat step is enough to keep most opponents fearing what will happen. We play him, we suit him up, and we go for the kill. But red has a lot of other fun and often terrifying creatures we can play, and, unsurprisingly, a Dragon with a Sword is even scarier than a Dragon. Hellkite Charger, Hellkite Tyrant, Spawn of Thraxes, and Steel Hellkite are all huge and fly. Sometimes just casting one of these dudes, giving it haste, and swinging for the fences is going to be enough. But some lower-cost options are always good, which is where Siege-Gang Commander and its little buddies Beetleback Chief and Mogg War Marshal come into play. They all make extra dudes, which means if someone kills one, we have another to carry around our Equipment. Squee, Goblin Nabob is similar except he’s almost impossible to get rid of . . . ever. And Heirs of Stromkirk are there because I thought one of the best things we could do was have a guy with intimidate who grows bigger each time he hits. Ring of Valkas on that little Vampire will grow out of hand quickly.

Because red’s removal is primarily focused in damage, we’re limited in our removal because—let’s face it—Lightning Bolt, as awesome as it is, is terrible in Commander. But that doesn’t mean we’re sunk completely. Fissure and Aftershock will both kill a creature dead, as will Spine of Ish Sah (again working well with Shattering Pulse and Trading Post), while Flametongue Kavu is a classic that kills a lot of things. Spawn of Thraxes can also kill something when it enters play. Blasphemous Act, Chain Reaction, and Starstorm all serve as Wrath effects in a pinch. Plus, we can destroy artifacts with Manic Vandal and Shattering Pulse (always wait for buyback). Goblin Ruinblaster will help with the nasty utility lands others always want to play. Steel Hellkite can wreck someone’s world in addition to burninating his or her face. Wild Ricochet is as close as we’re going to get to a Counterspell in red, but when you use it on someone’s Path to Exile and exile two of that person’s things, it’s a great feeling. Wild Swing is unconditional removal in red. No, you aren’t able to choose what gets destroyed, but pick three good targets, and it’ll be worth the mana. Word of Seizing and Zealous Conscripts don’t exactly kill something, but with Trading Post out, either one can, and you can often set up a good play by running a stolen creature into a different player so he or she will block or by nabbing a Planeswalker and using a minus ability to kill it. Tormod's Crypt takes care of your reanimator player’s graveyard for no mana, and it can be brought back with Trading Post for another go if necessary.

Argentum Armor
I spent a lot of time thinking about the Equipment suite. One of the problems with decks like this is it can be easy to just go too all-in on the theme and play so much Equipment you can’t do anything else. Really what we want is for Godo to hit fast and push through, so haste enablers (Swiftfoot Boots, Ring of Valkas), unblockable enablers (Whispersilk Cloak, Trailblazer's Boots), and game-enders (Argentum Armor, Grafted Exoskeleton) went next to the card-draw Equipment we already have. Tenza, Godo's Maul isn’t just on theme—it can be a late-game fetch so Godo hits for 6 trample (twice), or it can come down first to put pressure on early. Ogre Battledriver, Lightning Mauler, Anger (once it’s dead), and Fervor are all additional ways to grant haste; these are excellent when you have them early—you can search for Whispersilk Cloak on your first Godo, meaning he’ll attack right away and make it through for sure. Magnetic Theft and Brass Squire let you move Equipment around easily; putting Argentum Armor on your commander for no mana can often be the difference between life and death. Reverberate is just fun. Fanatic of Mogis will sling a bunch of damage around, especially if the board hasn’t been cleared in a while. And Insurrection, timed just right, wins the game.

And that brings us to the pocket combos in the deck. We have a couple ways to just win the game, but as with all combos, make sure you read your table and know what you’re doing before you go for it. Grafted Exoskeleton is stupid-mean here. Equip it, and Godo kills in a single turn of two attack steps. I recommend never grabbing this first; only do it when the game is close to an end and you’re ready to end it. Second, we have our excellent Sword of Feast and Famine. Attach it to any creature that can push through with either Aggravated Assault or Hellkite Charger on the battlefield. You swing, hit, untap all your lands, and pay either 3rr or 5rr to take an additional combat step. Swing again, untap again, pay again, and repeat until everyone else is dead. Finally, we have the hilarious Hellkite Tyrant. With this many artifacts in our deck, swinging at the right person could actually bring us to 20, which would be really funny.

Taurean Mauler
The first thing worth noticing is there is no attempt at Samurai tribal to get more creatures in on the extra attack. None of them jumped out as good enough. Changelings were the same; Taurean Mauler maybe would be, but it wasn’t worth the cost to me. Also, if you don’t want to drop $20 on the Sword, or if you think your playgroup won’t like Grafted Exoskeleton, you can replace either with Sword of Vengeance.

If I were spending more money, I’d want a Mind's Eye first. Then, I’d look at even more busted Equipment—Sword of War and Peace and Sword of Fire and Ice would both be very good, as would Batterskull. Quietus Spike is an interesting and inexpensive addition as well; with a double-hit from Godo, a player goes from 40 to 7 life.

Is Grafted Exoskeleton too much here? Is it too obnoxious of a way to beat someone? Also, what other Equipment do you think could be good in the list? Sound off in the comments!

Part Voltron, part combo, all red zone, this deck is a great way to showcase how red can be amazing in Commander and can attack from multiple angles. Your opponents will never know what’s coming each time you pick this deck up—one-hit kills? Infinite attack steps? Valakut for the win? Have fun choosing!

Total cost: $73.19


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