Standard Deck Tech: Red Deck Wins
For a few weeks, a video was sitting around in my recommended tab on Youtube: a 22-minute love letter to Red by Rhystic Studies, RED DECK WINS. A line from that video was bumping around in my head while browsing decklists; “The theoretically ideal red deck of 40 bolts, and 20 mountains needs four turns to kill you dead.” Attributed to famous Magic writer Mike Flores, I did the math when I found the decklist that climbed the ladder to Mythic. A budget brew and Bo1 monster, I checked my math. It killed on turn six to turn seven, by my math. Current standard is obviously far from a grip of mountains and Lightning Bolts, sure, but maybe we could get to turn four with a few tweaks.
This is my modified version of the deck: it keeps to the budget theme of the original, and there’s something naturally budget about the kinda decks that Red likes to play. Lightning bolt was printed at Common, after all.
The first major change was cutting Bloodthirsty Adversary- it’s recursion is powerful even with the base removal package, but at 5 mana for 1 card and a 3/3 with haste, I can’t justify it over just a faster curve. In that slot, we put Rabbit Battery. Playing it out on the first turn or second lets us later reconfigure it onto a possible game-winning Patchwork Automaton. It also helps to keep our Mountains tapped; the +1/+1 can be just enough to snatch a win.
Next, I cut two of the Thundering Rebukes for two Cathartic Pyre- the instant speed and flexibility feels more relevant than the one extra damage, but not so much that it should fully replace the Rebukes. Especially considering that both Goldspan Dragon and Hinata, Dawn-Crowned die to the Rebuke. I’ve been a big supporter of Strangle in Standard, but having your bolts only play in the mode of “Kill Blockers on my turn” does feel a bit weak, especially without recurring Strangle through Bloodthirsty Adversary. Taking a note from Boros Aggro lists, Strangle hit the sideboard and in its place I brought in Play with Fire. Able to hit creatures and face, it’s worth it for the flexibility over Strangle in the mainboard. RED DECK WINS doesn’t have time for dead cards in hand. Boros Aggro will be one of the tougher matchups, but the playset of Play with Fire thankfully kills their scariest 1-drop in Hopeful Initiate, as well as Bloodthirsty Adversary and Luminarch Aspirant.
Starting hands are looking for two cards: Rabbit Battery or Reinforced Ronin. Both are 1-drop haste creatures, but Battery sticks around to haste up your heavier beaters while Ronin chips in for 2 each turn. You’re looking for either Falkenrath Pit Fighter with the Battery start, or Patchwork Automaton with the Ronin start. Pit Fighter can become hastey with reconfigure, and you can keep buffing your Automation since the bolt-on-legs you keep hitting your opponent’s face with is also an artifact. Two or three lands is more than enough, and you’re hoping one of those lands is Den of the Bugbears in the case that your aggro creatures are getting removed. Den is much slower than the turn four we’re going for, but it adds needed stability in a deck that teeters on being blown out by well-placed removal. Hands that are more than three lands will usually be too slow, since even a single land draw can kill your pace.
Dueling Rapier plays the part of a budget Embercleave, and in addition to bringing those memories back to your opponent, will be the primary way we get to our turn four kill.
Getting to the turn four kill mostly rides on a sticky creature to get your turn 1 Battery onto. There’s another route that opts for Kumano Faces Kakkazan. It’s surprisingly similar to the Rabbit Battery start: 1 damage to the face, +1/+1 for your next creature played. It lacks any way to give haste, but makes up for it with a 2/2 that comes out of the Saga with haste. KFK starts usually want that buffed creature to be a Reinforced Ronin, but buffing either an Automaton, Goldhound, or Pit Fighter also can be valuable enough. Goldhound actually serves as a fairly powerful recipient of our buffs: menace means at worst it’s taking down two creatures for your one, but it also serves as a way to bully down the control matchups who struggle to get bodies on board to block. Acting as a treasure is also powerful in the event you need to reconfigure onto a game-winning Devilish Valet.
There’s also the route of throwing as many Dueling Rapiers onto your creatures as you can draw. Flashing a Rapier onto an attacking Automaton acts as a 3 power swing for 1 red. Sounds pretty Lightning Bolt to me.
Despite the deck’s origins as a Bo1 ladder crusher, I went ahead and built a sideboard for FNM and Bo3 play. It’s hardly optimized, and likely should be tweaked for your tastes: you know the local meta best, after all. Strangle went to the sideboard, and I put a playset of Abrade in there for the Naya Runes and mirror matchups. Burning Hands is an underutilized pick against the rising popularity of the Mono Green aggro options, and Dragonspark Reactor is more of a pet card for the weird grindy matchups. Finally, a playset of Kami’s Flare finds its place in Hinata, Boros, and a handful of other popular sideboards for its speed and power. It’s extra spicy in this list, seeing as flashing in a Rapier turns on the flare as well.
This deck works best when everything is sideways and entering the red- there’s no room for slowing down or stopping, and that means that sometimes you’re going to get burned. That’s the nature of the red deck. It’s not as flashy as other things in the meta, but it’s budget and fast and risky. With that risk there’s a lot of reward, but only if you play into it. At 11 rares, and 24 uncommons, it makes for a good starting Arena deck. On Paper, the deck is currently hovering around $30 to $50 USD. That makes it… about the same price as 40 Bolts and 20 Mountains. I think that lives up to the title of RED DECK WINS.