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The Other Side of the Red Deck


It is entirely possible that Modern is more fertile - specifically for Red players - a playground than almost ever before. A few weeks ago, we discussed a new take on Boros in Modern that incorporates Magecraft cards like Clever Lumimancer to win as quickly as turn two. It turns out... That not only has that mini-archetype itself evolved since, it might not be the dominant form of Strixhaven-enabled Monastery Swiftspear beatdown in the format!

But it goes even crazier from there. The "Lava Spike Deck" (whether or not, as is today, it actually plays the card Lava Spike) has always been closer to a Storm Combo deck than a Red Aggro deck proper... But Modern is now home to all manner of Red-enabled two-card combo decks.

Planeswalker combos! Other Planeswalker combos! One-card "I win" sideboard packages (okay, that might not expressly be new)... But there is Strixhaven all over this stuff; and basic Mountains, or Snow-Covered Mountains, or all manner of Plains-Mountains, Swamp-Mountains, and Island-Moiuntains blazing the ever shortening path from 20 to zero.


Let's start with the vaguely familiar:

Good old PHILL_HELLMUTH with an ace of a deck (as usual)!

PHILL_HELLMUTH took first place in this Modern Champs Qualifier with what looks to be the preferred "Red Aggro" deck in the current Modern. As you've already been warned, although this deck has fierce beatdown elements starting on turn one with my longtime girlfriend, Monastery Swiftspear, this deck probably more closely resembles a combo deck than a conventional attack one.

So, all the creatures have Prowess (except Sprite Dragon, who has a sort of permanent-Prowess). PHILL_HELLMUTH here is deploying creatures - half of which have haste - and then buffing them with all manner of efficient spells. Lots of them, like that ace of aces Lightning Bolt, cost only one mana; some de facto cost zero mana like Mutagenic Growth or Manamorphose. Lava Dart, of course, falls into both camps. Whether one or zero, you can kind of cast lots of them to deal a burst of damage between the spells themselves and the buffed attack.

Vapor Snag is an all-time favorite that might be at its best ever in this deck. Modern Red Decks, inheriting from Legacy sort of PSulli Red Decks have long had a tradition of the Philosophy of Fire-stye two-for-one. Basically deal two / deal three; deal three / deal three / blow up your artifact and deal three... You know the cards! Vapor Snag is like a one-mana Searing spell that can actually kind of get you out of your bad spots. Like, it can bounce a Primeval Titan instead of always getting flattened (and combo'd out) by one. Even when aimed at less fancy foes, Vapor Snag has the flavor of the older style of Red Decks... Here, taking a blocker out of the way, chipping a point off of the opponent's life total, and triggering Prowess (or whatever we call it on Sprite Dragon) all at the same time.

Wait a minute! Didn't we say that this was a Strixhaven-enabled archetype? Where are the Leonin Lightscribes or whatever?

Expressive Iteration

Izzet plays a different two-mana Strixhaven card than Boros... Expressive Iteration is really kind of the cement of and incentive to this deck all at the same time. While the deck as a whole has a glaring hole, Expressive Iteration helps resolve that. There are just a ton of cards that cost more than one here. Sprite Dragon costs two. Manamorphose replaces itself, but only if you can commit a down payment of two first. Stormwing Entity costs two if things are going really well for you already.

Expressive Iteration, of course, puts additional pressure on having to have that second, mana... But once you do it helps you find the third (or whatever else you might want) to keep your strategy flowing. Still, 18 lands is a bit of a gamble... But if top finishes various, across many tournaments, are any sign; a gamble that pays off more often than not.

The build of ur in Modern is not 100% solidified yet. Here we see Serum Visions as an additional sorcery next to Expressive Iteration. For what it's worth, I like the Opts in the previous deck a bit better, but like the choice by LILIANAOFTHEVESS to run a 19th land. The Bedlam Reveler main deck is cute, but might not be the most powerful innovation:

Threads of Disloyalty

How about leaning into Blue for that as your sideboard card? Threads of Disloyalty taking an opposing Red Deck's Kor Firewalker? Yes please! How quickly can I slam the THAT WAS EASY button?

Now speaking of the ur archetype not being set quite yet...

This isn't really a "Red Deck" any more, so much as a legitimate Red-Blue deck.

As a one-time Splinter Twin guy, there is no surprise that I like it.

Essentially SMANN2.0 can play a conventional "Control" game. Play your lands, get some card advantage. Kill their creatures. Hassle with a Snapcaster Mage.


Through the Breach
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

If you can assemble these two cards, your opponent will likely be devastated on board. Dollars to doughnuts you'll just kill them because... You know... Fifteen. Even if they survive the turn, their battlefield will be, *ahem* Annihilated.

Yes, yes... This deck is likely to get even better soon, when Counterspell makes its first appearance in Modern.

One thing that puzzled me initially about this deck is how it doesn't have Expressive Iteration. Expressive Iteration is great on turn three, especially if you need to hit your next land drop, and don't mind tapping out to do it. But it's really an "active" deck card. Decks planning to make plays are much more likely to want it than those that either want to build advantages or assemble a combo. Of course, SMANN2.0's deck here is both.

If you, for instance, put together Through the Breach and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn with Expressive Iteration, it might be very awkward (rather than lethal) depending on what turn it was.

But wait! There's more!

Madcap Experiment

After sideboarding Madcap Experiment can become a new combo deck of its own. If it can find Platinum Emperion, many decks will lose on the spot. Not great against Abrade, Rip Apart, or Pillage, maybe... But your only artifact main deck is Engineered Explosives, so they might not have it.

Any Strixhaven in this one?

Not even that seemingly ubiquitous Prismari Command!

... But let's look at a very different Madcap Experiment deck with loads of the new set.

If you didn't see it initially, even though this deck is all different colors, almost all of its mana-producing lands are some kind of Mountain. You have the Island-Mountain of Steam Vents, the Plains-Mountain of Sacred Foundry, and even a couple of in-color Triomes. What you want to have happen is for your fourth land - and fourth Mountain in all probability - to be a Dwarven Mine. Then you get a 1/1.

The dream... Maybe against a tapped out opponent... Is to Growth Spiral and then play Dwarven Mine on turn three. You get the 1/1 token and then immediately Indomitable Creativity for the big man:

Velomachus Lorehold

A more careful way might be to have Teferi, Time Raveler already on the battlefield; then break a Mountain-maker for Dwarven Mine; then Indomitable Creativity into your Elder Dragon Legend without fear of reprisal.

So, then what?

Velomachus Lorehold has haste. Velomacus in play is often Velomachus directly in The Red Zone. Now we get to the payoffs!

Savor the Moment
Time Warp

I'd say it won't be hard to cast these kinds of spells eight turns in a row... But Velomachus has 5 power, so it shouldn't last all that long.

You want lots of Planeswalkers? A combo-riffic finish? How about this?

If you had to pick one Modern player to be last week on MTGO... It has to be JUASPAS. Winning the Modern Super Qualifier with this unusual deck, JUASPAS put together some ancient tech for a big win.

Arbor Elf

Way baaaaack in the day it was probably Llanowar Elves into Ice Storm or Stone Rain, but the second turn land death works just as annoyingly in 2021. Arbor Elf is cute in part because it can untap Forest-Mountain Stomping Grounds to help produce the second red pip in Pillage.

This deck operates on several different axes. Its fast with Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl on turn one. It has a lot of mana disruption in Blood Moon and Pillage. It has flexible and fair card advantage in Bonecrusher Giant and Bloodbraid Elf.

... And then there is that mess of Planeswalkers.

Karn, the Great Creator can't get Mycosynth Lattice to lock down the opponent entirely any more, but it still plays a heck of a toolbox game. Grafdigger's Cage can shut down Dredge, Liquimetal Coating can dominate a key permanent when combined with Karn. Torpor Orb can empty the sails of certain creature effects.

... But that's not even the fancy version!

MOGGED didn't play Karn, the Great Creator, so got a lot of sideboard space back... Enough to fit an Obosh, the Preypiercer.

So, it's ones and threes. And a fifteen.

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast

Rather than the Karn toolbox, this version (which has most of the same "fair" incentives as JUASPAS's build) jumps three to fifteen as soon as Lukka hits the battlefield. What's insane about this isn't just the "free" Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but that so many three casting cost creatures from Wood Elves to Seasoned Pyromancer can help out on the card advantage front at the same time.

It's hard to pick a favorite this week.

I mean, honestly, I'm most comfortable rumbling in The Red Zone with Taylor Swiftspear on turn two, but if I had to pick one of the disparate options on the The Other Side of the Red Deck, I think it would be one of the Emrakul or Velomachus "cheat" mechanic ones. Probably the mono-Mountains + Velomachus build, just on pure inventiveness. But it might be a mistake to discount the fair games on some of these Gruul-centered ones.

Awfully nice problem to have, though; if you like casting Red spells in this format.



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