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Super Sneaky Two-Drop Red Deck Tech


With all the hubbub about War of the Spark I almost completely missed the chance to highlight some of the coolest Red Deck tech for the (at least for NOW) current Standard.

This tech comes out of the Top 8 of Grand Prix Kyoto, from Hideaki Maeba and Teruya Kakumae. Maeba played a straight Red Deck with very slight modifications while Kakumae made an absolutely maverick set of alterations to the accepted main... But the changes actually make a ton of sense! I love them! We'll get to those a little down the line.

Mono-Red: Straight Fire Lightning

As you can see, Maeba's main is pretty close to the accepted Standard sixty. Variance in the main (outside whether or not you splash for Green) is within about 1-3 cards. Maeba swapped the fourth Experimental Frenzy for a solo Rekindling Phoenix. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Surely it's frustrating (especially in Best-of-One) to lose "only" because you got stuck on redundant Frenzies. Phoenix addresses, if not cures, that. Moreover Rekindling Phoenix is like... The best.

Adrian Sullivan and Eli Kassis played it in Grand Prix-winning Control decks with like two more colors. It's an absurd card that demands specialized answers. Anyone reading for more than the past couple of months knows the Phoenix was the pillar that the pre-Spectacle Red Deck leaned on at the top of the curve. Maeba liked it enough to play two more in the sideboard!

The more deeply drawn line-in-the-sand is a fourth Goblin Chainwhirler rather than the last Fanatical Firebrand. I'm not even sure what the right numbers for Best-of-One are at this point (I'm guessing 20 Mountains and fingers crossed on every other four-of) but Chainwhirler dominates Firebrand heads up. Write that one down maybe? I think I play > 50% Red Deck mirrors on Arena right now.

Sorry. Back to paper. Okay!

Fanatical Firebrand is the weakest spell in the sixty by far, and - in addition to being the most Chainwhirler-vulnerable - used to just get sided out first pre-Spectacles. But we have to address Spectacles, right? Firebrand has a vital role in strapping a jetpack on Light Up the Stage without burning a burn spell mid-game, and is one of the best first turn plays if you need to dig out of a weak mana draw.

The cut here is a clear signal: Maeba cares less about the most explosive openers and is instead consolidating resources to win actual games of Magic, including against Green decks... But especially the mirror.

None of that is what makes his list special, though.

Check out that sideboard! See anything unusual?

Lightning Mare
Lightning Mare
Lightning Mare

This guy is a genius. Full stop.

I almost can't believe this didn't hit the mainstream sooner after Hayne and Autumn made their big runs. Maybe because Hayne's was on Arena? I'm honestly blown away.

Mono-Blue Tempo was a thing for a while, but its first big finish under the blaring neon lights was a second place, when Yellow Hat lost in the Finals of GP Lille to... Mono-Red obviously. But Blue players didn't throw in the towel. They innovated with Surge Mare offense-defense. They tried out more copies of Entrancing Melody. They just forced (or Opt-ed into) hands with multiple Tempest Djinns. I've played this matchup more times than I can recall on Arena. I'll tell you this: Whatever advantage felt like I used to have seems to have evaporated into an even matchup. Not for nothing - Majlaton lost this very same famous bad matchup against dreamboat Reid Duke at Mythic Championship I Cleveland.

The Mare-or Match

Back when it was Surge Mare v. nothing... Surge Mare clearly had the advantage. With it's 8* toughness, Surge Mare was an annoying brick wall that bought time to find those essential Tempest Djinns. In a pinch, it proved an uber-reliable recipient of Curious Obsession.

However with Lightning Mare coming in to break Mare-ity, the advantage clearly shifts back to the Red Deck. This isn't surprising. Surge Mare is ostensibly anti-Green, not anti-Red. On the other hand, Lightning Mare's enemy isn't just "Blue". It's almost explicitly the Mono-Blue Tempo deck! They can't stop it coming down. Once it resolves almost the only way to beat it is manascrew. It just races through... Everything. Everything except Merfolk Trickster maybe; but that's a really uneven fight against a deck with Shock & co.

Oath of Kaya

The new universe does not give us anything remotely close to a clear idea about what decks will look like. But I'm thinking conventional aggressive Red Decks are going to be quite bad. That said, Lightning Mare is an important piece of tech to keep in your back pocket, especially if you think Blue control decks using permission are going to be popular.

I was pleasantly surprised at how Lightning Mare lined up against Murmuring Mystic and its little buddies; if nothing else it has proven a great swap for Goblin Chainwhirler in matchups where the opponent didn't block much. Three (or more!) power for 2 mana being so much more efficient than three-for-three.

Another Spectacular 2-Drop

Maeba played a recognizable main deck, just adding an ingenious sideboard card. For his part Kakumae reimagined the archetype, despite relatively few obvious changes.

Let's start with the mana base. Instead of Majlaton's Green splash, Kakumae went with a Black splash. As we talked about recently the Green splash is kind of a waste of life points and speed for Best-of-One. In contrast, Kakumae's splash is wholly a main deck one; he didn't opt for any of Black's excellent sideboard options.

So what did he get?

Just this man:

Rix Maadi Reveler


It's really difficult to describe all the interlinking changes implied by this 2-drop. The entire refocus on mana is just to accommodate its Spectacle alt. There is no other reason, main or side!

I was shocked, initially, because Rix Maadi Reveler was occupying the hallowed Runaway Steam-Kin slot. Steam-Kin gives you the most busted draws! It's the second-best card in the deck!

Does it?

Is it?

Well, Steam-Kin is awfully awful on the opponent when you have Experimental Frenzy down. It's a great threat for sure, and utterly unstoppable once it gets going. Its fail state is pretty flaccid, though. 1/1 card advantage target for a Goblin Chainwhirler?

Kakumae's list actually anticipates my argument. Can't complain about fewer broken Frenzy board states... If you cut the Fenzies?

Look what he does on the other side of the deck list. Kakumae cut three Experimental Frenzies for three Risk Factors. His deck literally can't get the "stuck on multiple Frenzies" draw... But he can still dig into Frenzy, has lots of ways to do that.

It's more than that, though. Rix Maadi Reveler is good friends with Risk Factor. You can just pitch one early! You can always get it back! More than that, it's pretty great to get back. This not only increases the number of instants and sorceries in deck (and in graveyard, potentially) for Ghitu Lavarunner... But you've set your deck up in the main to absolutely shred Wilderness Reclamation decks.

You see, I was already jumping ahead to fit Cindervines. But why? This deck is literally what wakes Reclamation players up in cold sweats.

De-emphasis on Experimental Frenzy card advantage does a couple of other things. Kakumae is less prone to fair play (like just getting a key permanent Mortified or stung by Vivien Reid). At the same time, Rix Maadi Reveler on four presents a very Frenzy-like burst of card advantage.

It's interesting to note that Teruya came to the same three Firebrand conclusion that Maeba did; and is even heavier on bringing back Rekindling Phoenix. His deck certainly has the assets to play a 4-drop, fair-like.

I am basically playing Kakumae's main deck in Standard, with Lightning Mare in the sideboard over Fiery Cannonade. I've beaten Tokens. I've [mostly] lost to Tokens. Never have I felt like the presence of two Fiery Cannonades would turn that matchup around. I tried the Dire Fleet Daredevils but I am not sure they are better than Treasure Map. Most of the time I have a better instant or sorcery than they do!

My take is really not too far from Kakumae's:

Good for one more Friday night :)

But really, really, good.



*For the Red Deck's perspective on this creature's "8" toughness, try turning it 90 degrees.