Friday, 2 March 2012
Red Deck Wins
RDW is one of the most misunderstood decks in magic despite incarnations of it existing in basically every format. It is an aggressive deck but it is not a quick deck nor does it need to be, RDW claims victory through inevitability rather than a burst of speed. On average RDW will have to spend one mana per card which will do 2 damage (including lands that is, the spells alone have a slightly higher mana cost and average damage output but it is easier to work in whole numbers and so the inclusion of the lands makes it so near to 2 damage for 1 mana you can forget the fractions). This means you should be able to goldfish on turn four as you will have spent 10 mana by that point. This is not often how games play out as your burn doubles up as removal and disruption to prolong the game. RDW despite being an aggressive deck is much happier in the long game as it basically has no dead spells where as other decks will have plenty of spells that achieve very little against you. As time goes on you will have ground out a win as a result of the consistency, dedication to one purpose and redundancy of your deck.
The classic match up is any kind of draw go control deck against RDW in which the control deck is forced into being the aggressor and having to end the game as quickly as they reasonably can. If it does not it will generally run out of gas and either deck itself or just have no more threats or answers. Most of the time counterspell is less use than a Healing Salve would be.
Seal of Fire
Other good RDW cards:
Koth of the Hammer
Chandra, the Firebrand
Wheel of Fortune
Figure of Destiny
(from the B cube)
Magus of the Scroll
Shrine of Burning Rage
The core framework of the deck is built around the following few cards;
After these auto include RDW cards you want to build up the rest of the deck focusing in keeping the mana curve low. After this you want to consider what cards you most need to beat what you expect to be facing and what cards offer the best synergy with what you are adding. Certain cards get better as your creature count increases which are all fairly obvious. Beyond this the synergies are subtle and tend to only involve a few cards, for example Chandra's Phoenix improves Lava Dart, the few creature pump effects improve Spikeshot Elder, Mogg Fanatic and other creature sacrifice effects improve Brimstone Volley and the things that give haste work really well with Keldon Marauders. As RDW contains lots of similar spells and guys the more of these small synergies you can build into the deck the better.
This inclusion of synergy within your deck needs to be done alongside working in things you need to have the best chance against your match ups. Often you won't know exactly what you will be facing but in those situations this still serves as useful information for side boarding and the drafting of one. Sulphuric Vortex is amazing any way but against decks with life gain it is your best card. Life gain is the bane of RDW and what your opponents will be filling up on to face you with. Stigma Lasher offers some weak redundancy for Vortex when specifically using it for the anti life gain, Lasher is much better with effects that can give it haste if you are forced into playing it. Vortex is also very useful against decks with lots of creature removal as is Cursed Scroll as they are persistent threats that are much harder to decks to cope with. Occasionally you will be fearful of artifacts and play as many spells that deal with them that also offer redundancy to the deck as you can. Even less often you will fear an enchantment and resort to playing Chaos Warp however I hate doing this in RDW and tend to prefer risking the chance of facing that one card to retain high card quality in my deck.
mana base I will err on the side of caution and play at least 16 lands of which I never include more than one colourless land and one land that comes into play tapped. All your spells are so cheap that too many lands like Teetering Peaks and Wasteland will mean you are unable to play several spells you could have in the early turns. Most of the lands don't do anything beyond producing mana and so lower your average damage output significantly. This reason combined with lots of cheap spells may tempt people into being land light or filling up on utility land but in my experience this is not worth it. While you don't need to win fast it is a lot easier to do so. With all your spells so cheap it is quite easy to get very far ahead in the first few turns, this in turn puts so much pressure on your opponent that they are forced into playing very differently which will often still gift you the game later on. Losing the ability to easily force inefficient play through tempo alone is not worth a greedy mana base, in addition to this there are now many cards that act as good mana dumps for when you are getting flooded such as Spikeshot Elder and Kargan Dragon Lord. Teetering Peaks and Barbarian Ring as head and shoulders above any other lands after mountains you could play, Wastelands hurts you far more and tends to only be a meta choice.
As for sac lands I tend not to bother very often. This is not because it is wrong to play them but because I play so much cube I get fed up pissing around shuffling all day long, plus they make the deck look uglier along with Ram-Gang and Figure... What the sac lands offer you if you can be bothered with all the shuffling and changing of life totals is a reduced chance to draw further lands, an extra boost towards threshold and fuel for your Lavamancer (if you are playing Geopede you should obviously play every sac land you can get to the point of playing things like Badlands and Blood Crypt simply to use off colour sac lands but this seems a little over the top for one card). Reducing the chances of drawing lands are quite a mixed blessing in the cube which is not a format bereft of things that destroy lands or keep them tapped. While RDW copes better with the screw than most decks it is no reason to invite it.
I tend not to play planeswalkers or Wheel of Fortune in RDW as they cost too much mana, I also tend not to play Chaos Warp or Tangle Wire as they don't deal damage and can wind up as dead cards too often. I will only ever play a couple of cards that are not lands, cheap burn or cheap creatures. In the list I gave Reckless Charge is the only card that fits into none of those categories. It is a little like Searing Blaze in that it can very infrequently be dead but when it isn't it is one of your most powerful cards.
The simplicity of the decks aim combined with lots of different options due to lots of cheap spells enables you to improve your game. You are simply trying to maximise damage which is quite simple in itself which means when you get it wrong it is a lot more quantifiable and obvious thus allowing you to learn from that mistake more easily. The multitude of options, all of which are pretty comparable, allows you to think in great detail about them in all their subtleties. Which combination of burns spells to use on that monster? Which generic 2 power beater should I cast? RDW certainly can go into auto-pilot mode however most of the time it forces lots of very difficult choices. Difficult in their ability to be distinguishable rather than due to wildly different effects the will have on the state of the game.
The general game plan of RDW is to make a few quick threats without over extending and directing burn at their early guys to clear a path for your dorks to maximise their damage. There is generally a crunch point at which their board position is too far ahead of yours and you cannot attack sensibly into it or use burn to resolve. This is the final push stage where you will make a really inefficient alpha strike with all your guys simply to push through a few damage while directing all your burn to their head. Often this final push takes two turns for you to have enough mana to empty your hand into their face. That is the game against any other creature deck, against combo you are often simply goldfishing unless they are using utility guys as part of their combo in which case they are probably hopelessly dead. Against control decks you have a very small window in which to force through some significant damage that they cannot deal with. You may make 2 or even 3 early guys as this will be worthwhile damage even if they Wrath at first chance. After this you will be grinding out your win using cards as efficiently as you can, generally just having one or two things able to attack with the rest backed up in hand awaiting their time.
This article only looks at mono red versions of the deck but you can do any two colour option you like. Three colours is too inconsistent early on and requires too much red mana for all the burn to be viable unless the lightest of splashes. Black and white offer many more useful one drop monsters for creature heavier builds. If you use discard the deck is a very different deck but you can use the card advantage in black as well as the one drops to compliment the deck. Blue also offers card advantage and makes for an interesting deck but with few cards to offer at all blue is never more than a splash. Green has been used for a few things such as Tin-Street Hooligan, Rancor, Kessig, Wolf Run and a Punishing Fire engine but like blue tends also to remain as a splash.
Electrocuting and burning people and things is one of the great things about magic and so I am glad that RDW is viable and fun as RDW is burn at its best.