Sunday, 4 November 2018
Runaway Red .dec
I built this list up last night and was not disappointed. Normally when I build a new archetype for the first time I pull out all the cards I think should go into it, lay those out and then slowly add to it with suitable other cards so as to make it up to 40. For this deck I was over subscribed with contenders for slots rather than under and had to simply start cutting. I much much prefer building up a deck from nothing rather than carving a deck out of a larger pool. I don't think either way is wrong or right and is likely just a preference thing but it is a big part of my deck designing process and not having it set me a little on edge. It felt like I didn't know the deck at all. I was certainly not confidant of it going into the games. I guess if I were a sculptor I would use things like matchsticks to build up my works from nothing rather than a block of stone to chip away until my creation emerged! Anyway, this insight into my deck building process was mostly to show how much potential this list has in cube. There is absolutely a correlation between how many cards I know are going in a list from conception and how well it does. When I have a paltry collection of cards to start with my final results are weaker, when I have most of a deck in mind then it will perform more robustly on average. So despite me being on edge due to not having my usual building process I should have reconciled myself in statistical trends! The list absolutely lived up to that promise and didn't drop a game despite seeming down and out on more than one occasion.
Rite of Flame
Insult // Injury
Wheel of Fortune
Past in Flames
This is not the exact list I ran. I had Young Pyromancer, which was weak, and Ruby Medallion, which was outstanding. Those have been replaced by Gut Shot and Insult // Injury which I somehow overlooked in my initial card pullout and then due to my process being disrupted I didn't have a second chance to think of them (my excuse and I am sticking to it). I would love to find room to keep the Ruby Medallion as it performed so well. This list is so tight I cannot easily find space in it. Seething Song is perhaps a reasonable cut but taking out such a powerful and on-theme instant seems so wrong when the deck is based around red instants and sorceries so heavily.
The most reasonable cuts on that basis are probably the one drop beaters. The deck is not really about attacking. While Both Soul-Scar and Swiftspear are high powered and on-theme they are payoff receivers rather than contributors. While they might be able to get big fairly easily they are not quite so well supported by removal to create them a path clear of chumps. I would be reticent to cut them as the list doesn't have masses of damage output. If you don't get ahead in tempo and put people's life totals under pressure it feels like the deck simply isn't going to be dangerous or punchy enough to keep people on the defensive. Things like Risk Factor will not pose much of a choice. One of many things I will have to tinker with and test to find out.
So what was it about this list that made it perform so well? Hard to put a finger on it exactly, likely due to it being a composite of several factors. Unlike a lot of red lists aiming to attack peoples life totals fairly directly this list dose away with redundancy and makes up for it with card quality and draw effects. Classically a deck such as this will have few to no non-land cards that are not something that does face damage. This list however has loads of looting cards and loads of rituals all of which are pretty much blanks on their own. An older red deck would see 10-15 cards from the 40 and need to be able to win with those. This list frequently came close to decking itself. Excluding the Past in Flames, Experimental Frenzy and the Risk Factor this list contains the capacity to draw 20 cards spread across a bunch of spells. Basically this means you can be fairly sure of seeing most of the deck and so you can really lean on and push those synergy cards. It looks burn light and threat light but that is only if you are looking at this like a classic aggressive red deck. When you double or triple the number of cards you expect to see then you are fine for tools to end it with. Indeed, you are much more consistent and powerful because you can rely on single one off big effects like the Past in Flames or Insult that much more heavily. You can make a game plan that utilizes one of these effects before you find it and usually make it work.
It is not just the digging through the deck that is good, indeed that by itself would be bad. You don't want to waste much time, cards and mana on card quality and draw when you are trying to kill people in a linear way like this. It is because you can tie together so many synergies while doing these things that allows it to be a benefit rather than a cost. The rituals help you to recover some of the tempo loss and indeed can work to power out a good start which you then recover from with the card draw.
Runaway red is a really good name for the deck as it is exactly what it does. I had turns where I would start doing things and end up doing multiple times as many things as I initially anticipated. On more than one occasion I fully charged up a Steamkin, used the mana from it and then did it again in the same turn. Combined with the flashback effects and the draw effects the deck does not run out of gas quickly! Cards like Lava Dart really empower the deck as a whole. You are happy to loot away the Dart or happy to use it all for triggers. Having it in the bin as an instant and free way of charging up your Steamkin was always lovely. It was certainly the most helpful card in recurring Arclight Phoenix.
Arclight is actually only good in the deck because it is such a free inclusion. You are actively wanting to discard it and then usually able to get it back at little to no cost. It is a synergy receiver like the one drops however being a card and a mana less in cost most of the time it is a whole lot better! I did pull it off turn one which was pretty cool. That is far from the norm however, you should expect to be recurring it later in the game, turn three or four most commonly. That being said, you should also be able to recur it multiple times over the course of a longer game. Without the abundance of looting or the lots of spells theming of the deck you couldn't play Arclight. This really is the perfect fit for all the new red gems from Guilds of Ravnica!
Experimental Frenzy does not feature in the modern version of this deck but is quick enough for cube. I didn't bother supporting it as well as I perhaps should have. Sac lands is the best way of doing this. They thin the lands and let you shuffle them off the top when you run out of drops on a given turn. Getting blocked by the second land is one of the few ways this deck doesn't "runaway" whenever Frenzy is in play. Cards like Pyrite Spellbomb and Magma Jet are also considerations for their ability to shift a card from the top of the deck. The issue with those is savagely low power for the Jet and lack of synergy support on the Spellbomb. It is all probably a bit keen anyway. This list doesn't lean on Frenzy and works fine without it. Sac lands are nice perks but are highly contested and harder to pick up. Beyond that I wouldn't bother trying to support it further.
Frenzy is not the only source of gas this deck packs by a long shot. Wheel of Fortune and Past in Flames are both huge injections of gas and the casual Ancestral that comes with Bedlam Reveler is no small thing! Risk Factor affords a lot of draw potential as well. I was surprised at how often it seemed like it was correct for my opponents to let me draw. I think that is a trait somewhat unique to a deck like this. Four or Eight damage is a lot for this deck while three or six cards is not such a big deal! Either way, Risk Factor was really impressive. It was lovely to have two cards in one. It was nice to be able to pull things out of the hand with the jump-start and it was no loss tossing it to a loot also due to the jump-start. All these heavy draw tools gave the deck huge recovery potential. The list really doesn't need much in play to do mentally potent things. You can feel safe because they have a small hand and just a few lands in play and they can untap, draw and cast their deck and deal you plenty more damage than your life total. I think that is what I liked most about the build, the fact that it is so dangerous yet so unassuming. It is really hard to spot when it is about to unload and kill.
Electrostatic Field is yet another new card that slots into this list. While not super powerful nor indeed better in most senses than the two cards it provides redundancy for the effect of it is still pretty huge in this kind of deck. When you are leaning on a certain type of tool having access to multiple copies of that tool is massive for synergy. This list is really good at dropping down a two drop that pings per spell. The rate at which this deck cast spells makes such cards very quickly have vast damage outputs. They are your main repeatable damage sources but they don't need you to clear a path for them. They bring the pain without having to attack and that lets you make your burn go a whole lot further. They stack up too which is even better for having redundancy! The other new cards are all more powerful, interesting and exciting but Field is likely the most relevant in contexts like this.
There is an argument for going blue. Mostly just for Treasure Cruise. In most ways it is superior to Bedlam Reveler. There is also of course Gitaxian Probe which I should likely have already found room to squeeze in despite not having any blue to cast it with. Sure, they don't charge up Steamkin but they do work for everything else and are low cost, high power, high synergy additions. Again, I am going to blame my clearly incorrect exclusion of Probe on having too many cards from the outset!
So what are all these cards I wanted to play but had to cut? I have mentioned some already. Others include some spicy mana and card producing top end that would have been very potent to ramp out with rituals and the like. These included both Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Koth of the Hammer who were easier to cut due to not being instants or sorceries! I also pulled out Vance's Blasting Cannons which sadly is an easy cut because of its low power. There are the red cantrip cards like Overmaster and Crash Through that just cheaply and easily provide triggers. These would have been excellent filler if such things were needed. I imagine trying to do this sort of build in a 60 card deck (yet staying singleton) would require you to include such things but with my tight list they were also easy cuts. All they do is provide support for the synergies, they don't do anything by themselves and that makes them less exciting than things like Tormenting Voice.
I looked at Firebolt but went with Chain Lightning for that extra punch mostly because of Past in Flames being in the list. Without that I think I might well go for Fire Bolt. I looked at Fiery Temper, the only card in the modern list I elected not to run. I didn't feel like I had sufficient discard outlets to make it consistent. Needing the mana up when you pitch it in order to play it has always made the card inflexible and slow in my experience. I should probably have tested it over Chain if for no other reason than to confirm my suspicious. If it is run in a modern list it is likely to be pretty impressive. Wild Guess was another card I had intended to play but was cut due to working less well with Medallion than the others in that bunch of cards.
So that is my cube take on Runaway Red. Not yet fully refined but absolutely tonnes of power and potential. It is a great way to play a direct aggressive burn strategy yet have loads of things going on for you. Lots of choices, lots of drawing cards and all the things that make MtG fun. Also a great way to fit loads of new cards into one deck! While I do that quite a lot with new cards so as to test them out quickly I rarely find that they gel together quite so well, especially not when it is a fairly new archetype. This deck is hard to beat. Controlling and containing it is super hard. Not only do you give it a dangerous amount of time but you really need to be able to disrupt spells, graveyard and things in play which is too tall of a task to be a reliable way of beating it. A massive win for the red cards from Guilds of Ravnica. A massive win for red mages who like a bit more going on in their games but still want a face paced tempo red experience rather than a more generic midrange one. Very much a new archetype that I will be returning to and tinkering with.