"I don't know if it was before, but it sure is now."
A wise young woman once instructed me that what any young woman wants... Is to be seen. Really seen. Maybe not understood. Validated? Ideally! But at a minimum: Seen. Or, at least that's what she said she wanted.
I didn't really process it 100% at the time. Surely, I had spent a lot of effort looking at her. But seeing her? I'm still not sure. That said, a recent conversation with my friend Lanny Huang crystallized the idea for me, many years after the initial "seen" conversation.
Lanny, who is probably the world's greatest deck-builder at present asked me:
"What is your favorite Taylor Swiftspear album... Red?"
I responded the only way one who was seen - truly seen, and on so many levels simultaneously by his friend - could: "I don't know if it was before, but it sure is now."
Part I: Hot Takes
I once told CovertGoBlue that I would rather watch one of his YouTube videos than almost anything on Netflix. He is a flabbergastingly creative deck-builder! He doesn't always have the optimal version of a deck, but he is better at moving the gears of idea and engaging what at least this viewer cares about than any other video creator. I personally credit him with helping me to fall back in love with playing Standard over the last year or two.
He recently put up a video with this teaser:
If you want me to click on your video there is probably no surer route to short-term success than saying that everybody else is wrong, but THIS is the way you do it right!
In fact, this line of thought actually goes back to my Red hot love of Taylor Swift.
In 2012 or so I assumed that Taylor was n in a line of n interchangeable blonde pop stars that the music industry cycles through every couple of years. Exploitable youth, catchy hit or three... In her specific case a very public fracas with future billionaire-but-also-lunatic Kanye West to maybe amp album sales. I didn't give her much thought at all.
So it was with great surprise that I encountered an interview with some Rolling Stone reviewer on a national news program. I'm paraphrasing here, but he said something like "Taylor Swift is the greatest songwriter of her generation... And if she looked like Adele, everyone would simply agree."
Way to throw Adele under the bus, am I right? That's probably more of a hot take than CGB simply saying everyone else makes their Red Decks wrong, but it was also the kind of thing that got my curiosity up. There is a wide gulf between "pretty but interchangeable" and "greatest songwriter of her generation" ... So, I clicked.
This was a day before the album Red - Swift's explicit 90-degree turn from country crossover into pop music - dropped, so I had no idea that, already dubbed the world's greatest songwriter, her best work was still in the future. Even if that future was just later the same week.
My first download was "Love Story" which even I had listened to at that point; but my second was what hooked me: "Back to December" from 2010 country album Speak Now. I wasn't sure that Swift was the greatest songwriter of anything at that early point: But I did know I had just listened to the best sad song I'd ever heard.
So anyway: CGB.
CovertGoBlue is all "Mechanized Warfare is doing it wrong." I had recently watched an Andrea Menguchi video where the Italian money leader didn't even know what Mechanized Warfare was. When an audience member told him, he dismissed it entirely. "When do you want to get your card back?"
I had both beaten and lost to Mechanized Warfare decks but if you've been reading or listening to this column for any length of time you probably know that I spent most of the last couple of seasons on a combination of Mono-White and Black-centered Invoke or reanimator decks. As with a pre-"Back to December" Taylor Swift, I had no strong opinion either way.
I figured I'd give my buddy CGB's list a whirl.
Part II: The End:
I made Constructed Mythic for the first time in over a year, mostly dominating the Red quasi-mirror with CGB's many Giant Growths.
The last part of my run was almost dizzyingly easy. I started yesterday about Platinum 2 and was Mythic 20 hours later, barely playing Ladder. By definition, I did play, but I mostly just tested against Roman Fusco. Ladder matches were all just waiting for Roman to show up to play-testing, or, believe it or not, get home from having lunch and dinner - separately - with a visiting CovertGoBlue. Small world, right?
I'd say that I just won all my matches with the Red Deck but that would be a lie. I lost a bunch with experimental Black decks. After all, I'm the lunatic who thinks Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton is the best card in Standard!
It's not that I don't play Standard. I play a lot of Standard; I just don't play much Ladder. Standard Events offer a superior return; and from some dimension, also a clearer path to the Pro Tour via Play-in Points.
In the past you almost had to play Limited in order to build your collection on Magic: The Gathering Arena, but Constructed Events offer a good number of packs as prize compensation for consistent performers. You can now build your collection without playing Limited at all if you don't want to.
In preparation for the upcoming Regional Championship I switched to Ladder for two reasons.
- The competition is supposed to be stiffer, especially at high tier. I actually did not find this to be true for the most part. You do occasionally run into random collections of garbage in Events but no one is collecting Play-in Points beating piles seven times in a row.
- The more important one is that I wanted to test a lot of different ideas, cards, decks, and sideboard strategies. With most of that stuff unproven I would have likely hemorrhaged all my hard-earned Gold and Gems playing in Events. Ladder by comparison was actually the lower stakes method for testing on Arena.
So anyway, that was me. I only had one pip to go so I played a single Best-of-One match this morning with CGB Red (I had been playing mostly Best-of-Three in order to validate sideboard ideas up to that point).
I won the roll and ran out a first turn Kumano Faces Kakkazan // Etching of Kumano, followed by double Swiftspears on two. On turn three I cast Ancestral Anger on a now flipped Etching of Kumano, which demanded a Go for the Throat. While an annoying two-for-one that cost me at least three damage, this was ultimately only one of only two cards my opponent ever cast. I finished the turn with a zero value Bloodthirsty Adversary and swing for seven.
The opponent Compleated a Jace for three and gave the larger of my two Taylor Swiftspears -3/-0. My last two spells were both Prowess eligible so I put them below zero on turn four. Ho hum, Mythic 92%.
CGB himself is the kind who can be pretty hard on Red Deck players. I think that criticizing the sort of White Weenie / Soldiers crew can be reasonable. It is beyond me that Stone Rain at three is too powerful but Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a fun and encouraged Magic: The Gathering card.
Red Decks by comparison - especially his, with its many Giant Growth-like effects - are cerebral and decision-intensive. You kind of have to soul read the opponent and gamble against instant speed removal. You get to punish bad mana and bad keeps; but you also have to know when to push in all your resources because your window is narrowing.
If you think this is easy Magic when the best cards are Graveyard Trespasser and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse; when opponents are drawing three or more cards per turn and giving large flyers lifelink in the mid game; or siding in all manner of conditional Lightning Helixes JUST FOR YOU in both White and Black? You might want to consider investing in a better dictionary.
Hopefully the following will help you cash in your Mythic chip, or, who knows? Get to the Regional Championship yourself.
Part III: The Top 8 Tips and Tricks to Crushing Ladder with CGB's Red Deck
First, his deck:
CGB Red | ONE Standard | CovertGoBlue
- Creatures (16)
- 1 Feldon, Ronom Excavator
- 3 Squee, Dubious Monarch
- 4 Bloodthirsty Adversary
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Phoenix Chick
- Instants (12)
- 4 Blazing Crescendo
- 4 Lightning Strike
- 4 Play With Fire
- Sorceries (8)
- 4 Ancestral Anger
- 4 Reckless Impulse
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Kumano Faces Kakkazan // Etching of Kumano
- Lands (20)
- 19 Mountain
- 1 Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
- CGB's Red Deck does not actually play a lower mana mix than the average Red Deck; arguably, it's higher. But wait! Michael J! There are only 20 lands whereas most play 22-23 lands main deck! How can this be true? It is factually correct that CGB's deck has fewer physical land cards, but it doesn't play less mana. The presence of Ancestral Anger, Blazing Crescendo, and Reckless Impulse actually give this the distribution of a 26-land deck. Very "Turbo Xerox" if you appreciate the design skills of Hall of Famer Alan Comer. The trade-off is that unlike decks with more Considers or Impulses, you need to land your cantrips! Usually on the backs of some attacking animals. You can be punished by instant speed removal when you go for Anger or Crescendo, so being tactical or opportunistic are disproportionately rewarded here. By extension, you can also get unexpectedly manascrewed when the opponent "has it".
- That said, this deck's curve is lower than average. There are no Reckless Stormseeker // Storm-Charged Slashers at three or Thundering Raijus at four. There is only one copy of Feldon, Ronom Excavator. This is less because the deck is light on mana - as we said, it plays like it is nearly half mana - but because it is more apt to two-spell or even three-spell the average turn. This makes it a better Monastery Swiftspear deck specifically than most Standard Red Decks. The weird thing is, because there are so many cantrips and card drawing spells, despite the fact you're constantly unloading and triggering Prowess, you are apt to have more cards in hand and ready to go in the mid game than you might otherwise expect.
- The return on mana is fast here. Blazing Crescendo in particular creates turns where you will hit for 7+ early, and Ancestral Anger often makes blocking irrelevant or embarrassing.
Mike Flores is the player most likely to Intuition for three Ancestral Angers in an eternal format.— Brian David-Marshall (@Top8Games) March 27, 2023
- The best opener is usually Kumano Faces Kakkazan. You don't always play that card on turn one, but it tends to lead to the most rewarding second turns. For instance you might feel some tension between Monastery Swiftspear and Kumano Faces Kakkazan. I won't tell you that one is always better than the other but rather ask you to think about how you want to follow your Saga up. By default you will want to go for Phoenix Chick or Monastery Swiftspear on turn two, especially if you can two-spell. But against Black decks I'd ask you to think about a zero value Bloodthirsty Adversary or Feldon, Ronom Excavator instead. Especially if you are on the play, the opponent is likely to have only a single to answer you on turn two. Their best answer will be Cut Down. Even with a permanent +1/+1 your 1-drop follow ups are meat to Cut Down; and you might be exposing yourself to a two-for-one. Feldon and Adversary will both come down as 3/3, which is out of Cut Down range in the short term. The opponent will undoubtedly have a chance to Cut Down one of your creatures at some point before the game ends, but forcing them to strand a mana - and certainly lose the option for a two-for-one - can sometimes decide the outcome before they've even laid their second land.
- In general, play Reckless Impulse before making your land drop for the turn. Quite often one of the two cards Reckless Impulse flips over is a Mountain. This isn't terminal if you have already made your land drop. But in the case that it flips two Mountains, you will fail to maximize your card advantage if you've already dropped a land.
- Play Reckless Impulse on turn three or later if you can. Sometimes you don't have anything else to do so you will Reckless Impulse on turn two. This is acceptable especially if you already have a Monastery Swiftspear on the battlefield. But by definition you will not be able to make a land drop if you flip over a Mountain; as above, flipping over two is essentially going to cost you a card. There are not a lot of cards that cost three or more mana in this deck, but the surest way to fumble is to use your best card drawing spell to put yourself into a position where you can't even cast what it gives you. The later you play Reckless Impulse in a game, the less likely all of this is to bite you in the toughness.
- Strategically, I like to play in such a way that I get through as much damage as I can guarantee RIGHT NOW. Almost everyone else's cards are better, so if you miss your window it can sometimes be impossible to land a big attack if you're saving up. This is not to say you want to overcommit. It's also not to say you don't want to overcommit if you can bait the enemy successfully. In fact, one of the best ways to play is to get the opponent to obtain a lot of card advantage - often with some kind of sweeper, tapping them out - then follow up with a haste creature and multiple Giant Growths... The tactical extension to guaranteeing hella damage kinda sorta right now but actually a turn from now.
- If I play this version at the RC - and there is a double digit likelihood that I will right now - I think I will cut the one Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance. This is the hottest take, right? Every deck plays its Kamigawa Legendary Land, right? Invoke Despair decks run Otawara and Sokenzan of their own! Hear me out here for a second: CovertGoBlue is the One in Best-of-One. He doesn't even play Best-of-Three events that he successfully qualifies for! The Regional Championship is a paper Best-of-Three event. Almost by definition you play more games sideboarded than with main deck. The thing I am guarding against is success! Or what looks like success... I get four lands and can cast my Koth, Fire of Resistance on curve... Only one of my lands that got there was Sokenzan. How bad is that? It's bad enough that I now can't [+2] / [-3] to kill Sheoldred. If you don't think this is a big deal, think about the fact that the main reason you would consider sideboarding Koth is just to kill Sheoldred. In Game 1s only a single Sokenzan is free. But how often do you even Channel it? If I ended up playing a deck with hella Mishra's Foundries I wouldn't begrudge the Sokenzan BTW... Only this twenty-land version.
So, what's the hottest take?
- Taylor Swiftspear is the best songwriter?
- Lanny Huang is the reigning world's greatest deck-builder?
- I'd rather watch CovertGoBlue than most anything on a platform worth one hundred forty-six billion dollars?
- Or you should probably cut Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance from your 19-Mountain Mono-Red deck?