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Runaway Red Deck and More Standard Standouts

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Runaway Red Deck

Recently, I was perusing some recent MTGO League deck lists, and I happened upon this:


"Uh," you might say to yourself. "That looks like... A Red Deck."

True story, beloved reader.

But!

It's actually got a couple of unique elements that I for one want to explore in Standard.

Now most of the Red Decks you see right now have exactly 20 lands and upwards of four 4 mana card advantage bombs... Generally they start with the Maximum Number of Experimental Frenzies and go from there. Chandra's Spitfire looks to have been a short term feature of the format, but other Chandra-themed cards may be present at the four spot, or sometimes even three.

Erik157751 diverges from the accepted twenty lands by dropping to eighteen.

This makes sense in part because Erik157751 cut all the Experimental Frenzies (so presumably needs fewer lands). But what did he replace them with?

Risk Factor
Risk Factor

This is kind of a head scratcher. I played a Risk Factor Red Deck for a while last season, but didn't drop to 18 lands. And there are only two! It's not that...

Runaway Steam-Kin
Runaway Steam-Kin
Runaway Steam-Kin
Runaway Steam-Kin

Oh that makes more sense!

Runaway Steam-Kin has been a Staple for most of the Red Aggro decks since... Basically since it's been legal in Standard. However it has not been popular (or particularly played) in Risk Factor versions. Without the constant stream of card advantage from an Experimental Frenzy, Runaway Steam-Kin has less fuel for its +1/+1 counters... And maybe more than that, has fewer things to pour its extra mana into. It's not a great last card; it's terrible in topdeck situations, and it's a liability in the mirror. Awful, right? Yeah, right.

The version is largely consistent with the Risk Factor deck from last season; other than the Steam-Kins that is. It doesn't cut Wizard's Lightning for Skewer the Critics like the Wizards-poor builds... It keeps Viashino Pyromancer after all! It just plays all of them.

So what's up with the Runaway Steam-Kins here? That card isn't just a mana engine that exploits playing lots of spells (and fuels the next crop of them). It's also, at least potentially, a large creature. If you actually get Steam-Kin to 4/4 it's great against other Red Decks; Green decks can't really deal with it, and it can actually get the damage ball rolling to set up all those burn cards. If Steam-Kin fell out of favor, it is largely because the card is absolutely atrocious in the mirror, on the draw. The last thing you want is to pour your energy into your [presumably] second or third best card... Only to lose it to Goblin Chainwhirler.

With Goblin Chainwhirler decks at an all-time popularity low in Standard, that downside risk just doesn't loom as scarily. Ergo, effective new recombination for Mono-Red.

I'm a little surprised at the absence of anything like Fry or Lightning Mare in Erik157751's sideboard, but presumably matchups were favorable to help land that 5-0.

Boros Angels Update

We've noted elsewhen about the surprising emergence of Boros Feather as one of the top archetypes in Standard. This deck, while still playing Feather, the Redeemed; is less a Feather deck and more a Boros Angels deck that features Feather (who happens to be an Angel).


While clearly related to the Tomik deck from the top of the format, indistructable's choices here it's also influenced by Brad Nelson from last year's Grand Prix New Jersey. The "Angels" deck reincorporates Rekindling Phoenix, to the tune of four copies after sideboarding.

As a sometimes-Green player... I think I'd like to see Tomik somewhere (it turns off Nissa, Who Shakes the World). But overall I love the direction this deck is going in. Bishop of Wings is an absurd setup card for any of the deck's Angels, but of course the one-card engine Feather above all others. Fry is a flexible new consideration (that wasn't even present in the Red Deck we just looked at), and Lyra Dawnbringer remains a heck of a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Nearly everything lives through Deafening Clarion.

I'd play it.

Dimir Control


There are lots of Blue decks in Standard; I'd argue that with all the Teferi variants flying hither and thither, there are lots of Control decks. This one, though, has a meaningfully different game plan.

There are a pair of Negates only; for main-deck permission. The focus of this deck, rather, is all about murdering every animal.

Legion's End is so awesome. Enter the God-Eternals is the height of flashiness. Cry of the Carnarium can sweep (as does that perfect Legion's End, of course). But the real flexibility comes from Vraska's Contempt and Noxious Grasp. Noxious Grasp doesn't just kill Green or White creatures, it kills most of the relevant Planeswalkers in the format. Nissa - Green. Teferi - White. Other Teferi... Also White. You get it.

While the deck is heavy-handed in its ability to fight conventional power and toughness, don't consider this a slouch against combo. While permission-poor, ElYallo's deck has plenty of answers to Scapeshift. Legion's End and Cry of the Carnarium can cut Field of the Dead off at the finish line. After sideboarding, Unmoored Ego and Ashiok, Dream Render can prevent the opponent from ever getting there. If it falls behind? Command the Dreadhorde is arguably the biggest "big spell" of the format; not to mention a fine follow up to all that creature (or Planeswalker) removal.

Central to the deck's strategy of great exchanges is God-Eternal Kefnet. This card is not only an uber-resilient blocker, but a card drawing engine that is perfectly suited to the high number of instants and sorceries. I like Dimir against Mono-Red because of the five-toughness Kefnet. In a generally permission-poor format, I like it against other Control players as well. Teferi bounces are annoying, obviously; but this deck is just great going long.

Probably my favorite deck of the bunch week.

KUMAZEMI Squared

KUMAZEMI was busy last week!


In case you haven't seen it yet, this is an important new piece of technology for Standard.

It's Bant.

It finishes on Field of the Dead.

But it doesn't play Scapeshift!

Instead of a "Scapeshift deck with Golos" ... This is basically a Golos deck. To that end, it plays the full four copies of that Legendary Artifact Creature, and the mana to activate it.

Red can come from Izzet Guildgate; Black from Golgari Guildgate. In other words, Circuitous Route is an excellent setup spell here that 1) accelerates you to six or more, that 2) sets up surgically to make sure Golos can operate, while still getting you more of your core colors.

But that's not all.

It's also a Nexus of Fate combo deck! Really!

Unlike most Nexus decks, this one has no shortage of finishers. Once you have a Field of the Dead in play, almost everything helps generate 2/2 token triggers. Pro Tip: Don't allow the opponent to untap with Golos unmolested if you can help it. A Golos activation is scary in the abstract, but in this deck, you might never get another shot at it. Ever.

Time Wipe is a huge overperformer in Kumazemi's sideboard . Most strategies are at some level vulnerable to go-wide strategies (not to mention other Field of the Dead decks are almost automatically go-wide). So sweeping multiple creatures is something many decks just want in their toolboxes. We see this in even the most aggressive decks, like Erik157751's two Fiery Cannonades or indistructable's four Deafening Clarions out of their respective sideboards.

In this Golos deck, though? The ability to bounce back Golos or Hydroid Krasis is borderline unfair. Kill everything except I get my best guy back? Come on! This is of course even worse [for opponents, that is] when you figure in potentially instant speed Time Wipe thanks to Teferi, Time Raveler.

Cool deck.

Super flashy deck.

Yet...

Somehow not even the flashiest deck played to 5-0 by KUMAZEMI this week.

This mage also put up a 5-0 with this piece:


Diligent Excavator looks kind of odd, doesn't it?

"This deck is full of Legends, MichaelJ," you might say. "This deck wants to Mill the other player out with it."

Maybe. Maybe it does. I'd hazard that does in fact kill some opponents some of the time.

But what I think Diligent Excavator wants to do here is come down on turn two and play outstanding blocker. 1/3 for two is very serviceable. But what it will often want to do is Mill itself. This deck wants Legends in the graveyard for Kethis, the Hidden Hand.

This is the most pregnant-with-possibility strategy in all of Standard, I think. Kethis itself is a 3/4 creature that is also a kind of Goblin Electromancer. It's awesome even when it isn't drawing extra cards [yet].

Kethis and company are already main-deck sideboarded against Scapeshift (or Circuitous Route) with Ashiok, Dream Render. Tamiyo, Collector of Tales overlaps to enormous synergy with Kethis. Oath of Kaya is unbelievable here. That card is always overperforming; but here it can not only cost 2 mana instead of three; but going to the graveyard has new meaning for the Legendary Enchantment: It can be fuel for future card drawing.

"Oath of Kaya might be good," you note. "But what about creatures bigger than 3 toughness. Surely there will be opposition bigger than a..."

Urza's Ruinous Blast

Now THAT is an endgame spell.

But it's not the only endgame that is available to the Kethis strategy.

Depending on how many Mox Ambers you have, and your Diligent Excavator disposition, the deck is capable of large scale loops.

CovertGoBlue put it eloquently elsewhere today in New Standard Brews from the Arena MCQ:

"When you activate the ability of Kethis, the Hidden Hand to play legendary cards from your graveyard, you can play a Mox Amber for free. If you have one Mox Amber in your graveyard and one in your hand, you can tap the Mox Amber in play for mana and then cast the Mox Amber from your graveyard. Use the legend rule to send the tapped Mox Amber in play back to the graveyard, keeping the freshly cast untapped Mox Amber in play. Tap that Mox Amber for mana, then cast the Mox Amber from the graveyard. This creates infinite Black, White, or Green mana assuming you still have Kethis, the Hidden Hand in play. If you control a Diligent Excavator, the loop creates a lot of mill triggers to use on yourself or your opponent. Once you have two Fblthp, the Lost, you can draw your entire deck. Once you have two copies of Oath of Kaya, you can target the opponent's face until they die.

"A wrinkle in the plan is that you need to activate Kethis, the Hidden Hand to give the legendary cards in your graveyard the ability each time they come back to the graveyard. For example, if you activate Kethis, the Hidden Hand to give a Mox Amber in your graveyard the ability to be cast from the graveyard, it loses that ability after it is cast from the graveyard. When that Mox Amber returns to the graveyard as in the loops described above, you will need to exile two other legendary cards from your graveyard to make the Mox Amber castable from the graveyard again this turn."

It's kind of shocking how much Standard continues to morph, evolve, and develop, isn't it? Red Decks are blending previous and next levels; the same combo-cat can be skinned at least two or three different ways; card drawing is still great; big spells might be even better. Who, exactly, can take on all comers?

See you at the tables Friday night.

LOVE

MIKE