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Building Standard Mono-Red Sligh on a Budget

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I love playing Red decks more than anything else in Magic.  I appreciate cool combos, and the control decks where I get to hold all of the cards and make my opponent dance, but I much prefer mixing aggro and control.

Whenever I play Red decks, I always try to find as many answers for as many things as possible in the format so I can play something early that does continuous damage, like an aggressive creature or a card like Shrine of Burning Rage that allows for the game to end on my terms, and then I kill creatures, attempt to keep the game under my control until I can resolve something that pushes my board over the top and has a lot of staying power.

In previous formats red had good cards with staying power, like Koth of the Hammer that could produce board advantage and was fairly difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, right now, the closest thing to a powerful, consistent finisher is Thundermaw Hellkite, and while it’s not quite Koth, it’s still pretty good.

So, I have decided to attempt to build mono-red in this format, and while it won’t be winning any Pro Tours in the immediate future, it should be able to compete fairly well at any but the most competitive FNMs.

There are a few key things you need to be sure to consider when building any kind of Sligh deck.  First is the proper ratio between threats, like creatures and sources of continuous damage, and removal spells or burn spells.  You want to draw a good mix of the two so you can get ahead early with your creatures and stay ahead by removing your opponent’s creatures.  Too much of either leads to different issues.  An important part of Sligh’s sideboard is a pool used to alter that ratio.  For instance, against G/W aggro you want more removal and fewer creatures, but against America Control you want more threats and a very specific set of removal.

So I personally prefer to start with 1/3 removal, 2/3 threats in most balanced formats, although in this format, there is a much more aggro lean to the format so I’m more apt to want more removal and less creatures.  Another huge reason to choose more removal is the small card pool and lack of good aggressive creatures.  Unfortunately, there are also not as many good removal spells, so splashing would be best if you can, but I’m trying to concentrate on mono-red.

So the best red removal spells are pretty easy to distinguish in most formats.  Right now, Pillar of Flame has the crown as the best spell with Strangleroot Geists, Gravecrawlers and Geralf's Messengers going around.  Pillar is practically an automatic 4 of in the main deck.  Brimstone Volley and Flames of the Firebrand are both fairly close, although I believe right now the abundance of creatures puts Flames of the Firebrand over the top, although it’s definitely one of the first cards you’d sideboard out against a midrange or control deck.  Now, I definitely want to play both Volley and Flames, but they’re 3 mana, and 3 is a world beyond 2, but I also want to play some amount of Annihilating Fire, because exiling creatures is very important in Standard right now.  Most of my Annihilating Fires will be in my sideboard, so I think one of those in the main will be enough.  Searing Spear is nothing but fantastic, 2 mana for 3 damage is nothing to scoff at.  In order to balance the number of Volleys, Flames and Spears, I like to pick a reasonable number of each and test it a lot, so, having not played an awful lot of current Standard, let’s go with 3 Flames, 2 Volleys, and 3 Spears. So right now we have our initial main board suite of removal spells:

We have 15 removal spells in the main deck, I think that’s good enough for now.  I personally would like to play 22 lands in this type of deck, especially since I will be keeping a reasonably low curve, but I need to be sure to hit at least 3 mana to stand a chance with what I’m expecting to be an average hand. You might want to consider Mizzium Mortars if you have them, but it doesn’t hit players, which is important, but 4 toughness is also important.

Next we need to decide on our threats.

One of the main reasons I wanted to build this deck is to test Curse of the Pierced Heart.  It’s difficult to remove, although Golgari Charm is already good against this build of the red deck, so that’s unfortunate.  It provides a continuous source of damage and puts you in a great situation in which you have inevitability on your side.  It’s part of the reason that Shrine of Burning Rage was so good.  It’s not nearly as good as Shrine because it is much slower, but trust me, inevitability is very important. I’m going to play 4 of those; they might not be as good as I hope they are, but this is a first build.

Now, the best new red creature, in my personal opinion, is Ash Zealot, and first strike is a HUGE part of that.  It may occasionally do 3 damage if someone Snapcasters something they need, or if Zombies needs to recast Gravecrawler, but that’s not why you play the creature.  Ash Zealot is both good just for an early aggressive 2/2, and having first strike is huge, because 2 toughness is pretty prevalent in creatures in this format.  It attacks well, and blocks well, and has a possible upside that won’t always be relevant, but even if you don’t ever do damage with it, they may not be casting their Snapcaster or Gravecrawler until they kill Zealot, and maybe you force a slight tempo swing because they’re afraid of the effect. It is a rare, and as I write this article, it’s almost $3 a piece, so if you really need to replace it, there are other fairly aggressive two drops like Rakdos Shred-Freak, which isn’t anything you’re ecstatic to play, but it does its job fairly well.

The most obvious one drop to play is Stromkirk Noble, which is my favorite Sligh creature ever, although I’ve never actually played with Tarmogoyf or Putrid Leech, because they aren’t red, but they both seem great in this kind of deck.  Stromkirk Noble is great because it allows you to burn their creatures out of the way on turn 2, 3, and maybe 4, and if they don’t have a removal spell, which does occasionally happen, then you just have an extremely powerful creature that just attacked while you did what you were planning on doing anyway.  He’s about $3 also, right now, but I think you really need him for this deck, so I think you should splurge because he’s one of the best creatures in your deck.

Here is where I make another bold attempt at trying something new.  Reckless Waif has always been disappointing in RDW because you never want to stop playing spells, and they tend to play spells to react to you and you end up just playing a 1/1 for 1 and it’s disappointing.  In the Sligh deck, though, Waif works completely differently.  You always want to play it as one of the last threats you’re playing before you start preparing to sit back and control the board with burn, and when you do, you can flip it on your turn without much difficulty, or if your opponent happens to be playing a slow deck and skips their turn one most of the time, he becomes incredibly powerful and difficult to flip back for your opponent.  He seems like a 4 of in my new Sligh deck because of how much I want to test him.  Maybe at some point I’ll move some number of them to the SB to bring in against the decks that don’t consistently play spells early.

Now in Sligh decks I’d very much like to play another 1 drop, and I think Rakdos Cackler is worth it just for the 2/2 for 1 mana.  It’s nothing special, but it lets you start doing damage early and consistently.  I’d play a 4 of, to get more aggressive one drops.

In a perfect world, you have the Ash Zealots and Stromkirks, so this is what we have so far for creatures.

Now that’s obviously not enough to fill out the creature base, so you want to play a couple more creatures.  The next 2 creatures I want to talk about are both two drops, and I’m not 100% sure about either of them.

The first is Gore-House Chainwalker.  He’s somewhat comparable to Stormblood Berserker which is one my favorite Sligh creatures.  It’s a 3 power 2 drop that can help bring the beats early to force them into playing your game.  He’s easier to block, and dies to most of what white weenie plays, so you’re more likely to have to burn creatures out of his way.  He seems good for the deck.

The next creature is comparable to another 1 drop we’re playing, Hinterland Hermit is a lot better than a lot of people give him credit for, and he’s like a 2 drop version of Reckless Waif, which, I maintain, is quite good in Sligh.  He’s much better un-flipped, and accomplishes what Waif would in most scenarios.  He seems better against the control decks early, and blocks much better on the top-deck against the more aggressive decks when you can trade with their 2 toughness creatures like Zombies and Geist.  So I’d like to round the aggressive creature base with Chainwalker and Hermit.

Here’s what we should have in the deck so far:

I guess right now I need to cut at least one card, and I prefer a creature, so I think I will cut the Hermit, because it’s good to board in against control when I board out my Flames of the Firebrand, so I’ll shove those in the sideboard and go with 3 Chainwalkers.

Now we have our spells, and if you happen to have Bonfire of the Damned, you might want to play it, but this is supposed to be a budget version so I decided to play some of the worse burn spells, and avoid the rest of the more expensive cards.

In a perfect world we would have some kind of Koth style 4 drop, or some really good value cards like Ember Hauler or Mogg Fanatic.  And you might want to cut 1 of the Chainwalkers for Thundermaw Hellkite, because it gives you a late game bomb that will be difficult to get rid of.

The mana base should be pretty easy, most of it being Mountains, and you can absolutely just play 22 Mountains, but I would like to try Hellion Crucible because it doesn’t really hurt your mana base much, although you have to be aware of casting Ash Zealot on turn 2, so I would only go with 2 Hellion Crucibles in the deck.

That looks like a good main deck to me. So the sideboard is next.  As I said earlier, you need to use the sideboard to change your ratio of burn spells to creatures, against control, let’s throw in 4 of those Hinterland Hermits I was talking about.  That’s a great way to change your creature count against the slower control decks.

Next are the burn spells you’d like to put in the board.  You really need more ways to kill Zombies so we should put the rest of the Annihilating Fires in the sideboard.

One of the main issues against the midrange decks, is Restoration Angel.  The best way I can find is Thunderbolt.  It kills Angel and can still dome them in the face.  I like at least 3 of them.  I’d prefer to have Combust, because Combust also kills Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, but unfortunately it just rotated, so we’ll have to stick to just killing Restoration Angel.

So we have:

Now we get to pick very specific cards to play against.  For instance when you’re playing against the very control decks, you want to take out most of your burn, so you can bring in another aggressive spell like Dynacharge.  It may not be great, but because in the control match you can attack with aggressive creatures for much, much more, and you use all your burn for their face.  You end up becoming the hyper-aggressive deck.  So 2-3 of those seem good to me.

Now the last thing we need to deal with is the aggressive Blue/White deck, and occasionally enough from the G/W deck.  Rolling Temblor is the best Pyroclasm in the format now, sadly, so let’s throw some of those in.

If artifacts become an issue in the format you can always play Smelt or Vandalblast and if graveyard shenanigans start to take over, Tormod's Crypt isn’t great, but it might do what you need it for.

So this is what I will be playtesting for the next while, hopefully changing some things if card X isn’t as good as I thought it was, or I find out I really have issues with some creature, I will find a spell to deal with it.

Sideboard

Hopefully I will get some good testing in and decide if my pet cards are as good as I think they are or if my burn suite is a little awkward and needs tweaking.  But until then, this is a budget red deck that should do pretty well at your local FNM.  The whole deck should cost you less than $20, hopefully, even if you have none of the cards in it.  Good luck to you all playing this, if any of you have any questions about the deck, I’m willing to answer any questions.  All sideboarding plans should be in the deck list thread when I post it later.

Alex

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