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Proliferate Red

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Has this ever happened to you? You have a great idea for a deck—cool cards, great synergy, good mana, strong threats, and a tight sideboard plan. You go on Magic Online, trade for the cards you need, put the deck together in the editor, and get ready to rock the world! Then, you start entering Standard queues and nothing seems to work out the way you imagined it. Perhaps you just didn’t have the right sideboard for the matchup, maybe you were just unlucky, or maybe your opponent just got lucky. You tweak your sideboard and try again—another loss. You tweak the main deck—more defeat. You keep tweaking until finally the wins start coming. Only now you look at your list, and it’s lost most of the cards that made it so exciting and innovative. Here is my story:

A few weeks before Worlds in San Francisco, I wrote an article on Red Deck Wins. A little while afterward, I was talking with Casey Brefka, a local FNM judge I’m on friendly terms with. He explained to me that he liked my list and that he had added Tezzeret's Gambit to it and had been kicking butt. I’m not sure what he took out for the Gambits, but this was my list:

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

4 Bloodcrazed Neonate

4 Chandra's Phoenix

4 Reckless Waif

4 Stormblood Berserker

4 Stromkirk Noble

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

1 Brimstone Volley

4 Galvanic Blast

4 Shock

4 Volt Charge

4 Shrine of Burning Rage

[/Spells]

[Lands]

23 Mountain

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

4 Dismember

3 Manic Vandal

2 Traitorous Blood

3 Hero of Oxid Ridge

3 Arc Trail

[/Sideboard]

[/cardlist]

My testing for Worlds highlighted how awesome Shrine of Loyal Legions was, so I ended up playing a G/W tokens deck. After David Caplan went 6–0 at Worlds with a similar RDW deck, I ended up wishing I’d stuck to playing Red. This was David’s list:

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

1 Spikeshot Elder

3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Chandra's Phoenix

4 Goblin Fireslinger

4 Stormblood Berserker

4 Stromkirk Noble

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

2 Incinerate

4 Gut Shot

3 Galvanic Blast

4 Volt Charge

2 Arc Trail

4 Shrine of Burning Rage

[/Spells]

[Lands]

21 Mountain

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

4 Dismember

1 Manic Vandal

2 Traitorous Blood

4 Vulshok Refugee

2 Arc Trail

2 Koth of the Hammer

[/Sideboard]

[/Cardlist]

I thought the addition of Gambit was a cool idea, so I spent some time wondering if I could take the Proliferate theme even further—or in a different direction—in RDW. This is what I came up with:

I was really excited about this list. I felt that it still had most of the strengths of some of the earlier builds: Stromkirk Noble, Shrine of Burning Rage, Phoenix, burn, and of course, Volt Charge. Now I was pushing Proliferate further and making Galvanic Blast scarier.

Gut Shot This deck is a bit of a mana hog as far as Red decks go. The ability to kill a creature or return a Phoenix without having to tap mana could be really powerful. This is great for killing mana small creatures, Illusions, and 1-drops in the mirror match.

Chimeric Mass It’s a flexible threat that synergizes both with Proliferate and with Galvanic Blast. Thanks to Proliferate, it’s a reasonable play it on turn one, and it’s also a great draw when I’m mana-flooded.

Shrine of Loyal Legions Like Chimeric Mass, it combines well with Proliferate and helps you achieve Metalcraft, sometimes even all by itself. It has the potential to be a good late-game finisher, somewhat like Shrine of Burning Rage. Unfortunately, without any White spells and no way of making the tokens bigger—like Intangible Virtue—it didn’t end up being strong enough.

Tezzeret’s Gambit Obviously, the Proliferate is important, but the card-draw gives the deck a nice late-game dimension. Being able to reload is something I’ve always wanted for RDW.

Inkmoth Nexus Easily the most expensive addition on Magic Online. It’s totally worth it, though. It’s good for Metalcraft ,and good with Proliferate. Twenty Mountains provide the deck with plenty of Red mana. I poisoned multiple opponents, including one who attacked me with multiple Wurmcoil Engines and had a life total that was over 30 at the end of the game.

So, I was excited about the possibilities as entered my first Standard queue with this deck. Things got off to a rocky start—I immediately had to face off against a more traditional RDW deck. I had a lot of card advantage, but every time I was about take total control, my opponent managed to finish me off with his faster deck with more burn. Among other things Shrine of Burning Rage and Chandra's Phoenix were better in his deck than in mine, and his creatures were more likely to survive than mine were.

Things didn’t get much better in different matchups. I also found the deck to be just a little too slow against Illusions and against Blue control decks. So, I decided it was time for some tweaking. First, I decided I had too many Phyrexian mana costs in my deck, and I wanted to at least be able to make the deck faster after sideboarding.

Shock was better than Gut Shot against control because it was twice as much damage, and I didn’t want to pay 2 life against most aggressive decks, so why not deal 2 damage? By having Incinerates and Waifs in the sideboard, I was able to sideboard into a faster, more traditional version of RDW if the matchup required it. Not surprisingly, I found that my deck usually became much better after sideboarding, and I was still losing more matches than I was winning. So, it was back to the drawing board again.

This time, I finally got it right. It was now fast enough to beat control, but it had Gambits and Nexus for some extra late-game power. It was also now fast enough to run against other aggressive decks. While I probably wasn’t going to beat aggressive decks with poison, the copies of Inkmoth Nexus still served as extra blockers.

In the mirror match, I took out Gambits and Volt Charges for Incinerates and Vandals. Against Illusions, I brought in Gut Shots and Incinerates for Gambits and Shrines. Against Blue control, I brought in Incinerates for Shocks. The Traitorous Bloods are mainly for Wolf Run decks, and Arc Trail is good against any deck with a lot of small creatures.

I’m not completely certain whether Neonate or Berserker makes for a better 2-drop, but trying to trigger Bloodthirst seems to be a bigger deal than working around Neonate’s drawback of always having to attack. The Neonate was really good for me, and more than once, it was the beneficiary of Proliferate.

In the end, my deck wasn’t much different than my starting point. In the main deck, I’m running Gambits instead of Berserkers, and I’ve added Inkmoth Nexus. I’ve also added Incinerates and Gut Shots to the sideboard. I’m pretty sure the Nexus are a good idea in any RDW deck that uses Volt Charge and Galvanic Blast. Given that I’m using Gambit, it’s even better. The main issue is that twenty Mountains are enough to provide plenty of colored mana. In the case of Gambit versus Berserker, the deck generally has enough other things to do on turn two, and the Gambit is just generically more powerful after turn two—especially in the late game.

So, while not every deck idea turns out to be a good one, in the process of trying something radically different, you may at least find a few cards that nobody’s using, but perhaps should be. In the case of this deck, I’ve just found a couple cards to make an already good deck just a little bit better.

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