Friday, 27 October 2017
Midrange Red .dec
I have built a number of midrange red decks in my time cubing and it has been one of the most consistently poor deck ideas that I have tried. When I say midrange red I don't mean big red which is more about using artifact ramp to empower rapid top end and game breaking spells like Wildfire. I mean a red deck that tires to win by curving out with powerful cards. There are some problems with a midrange red deck so I have never been surprised when it fails to work in cube. The colour has very little in the way of utility. It has no enchantment removal, no real hand or spell disruption, no lifegain and so forth. Red also is a little lacking in rounded playable card quality and advantage. Red historically is good at a few combo things here and there but mostly it is good at direct damage and tempo. By trying to win a game quickly with red you work towards the colours strengths. By aiming to win over a longer time frame you expose the colours weaknesses that much more. As soon as you hit the mid game red removal gets a whole lot weaker. Killing off things with more than 3 toughness gets pretty uncomfortable pretty fast. A quick red deck can just ignore a Ripjaw Raptor and go through it or round it, even conceding enrage triggers if it needs to. A midrange deck has to deal with the Raptor and it will be around four for one to do so! The aggro versions are generally pretty happy if you spend four mana and only put one blocker down without gaining life or removing anything. Midrange red has typically been toyed with by all the control decks like a helpless slow threat light deck with zero ability to interact usefully! It has been hugely outclassed by other midrange deck with their bigger dorks that make your removal bad and their much better value cards. Even the aggro decks still tend to get through the defenses. The red ones can just go face and get there due to lack of lifegain and the white ones can simply land a Glorious Anthem effect and make reds removal inefficient and ineffective again.
Despite knowing all this I really wanted to try out the deck again. In recent years red has gotten lots and lots of powerful top end. Cards like Glorybringer and the more recent incarnations of Chandra. While they are obviously very powerful cards I have never been able to get too excited about them as you don't often find that many decks in cube that really want midrange red cards even if they are nutty powerful ones. This list was initially inspired by that dude who took the "Wily Goblin" Ramunap Red list to the World Champs this year. The combination of great top end stuff, some utility support and some more versatile and rounded removal options made it seem like the midrange red deck might actually be able to hold its own now in cube. Well, I ran the list below exactly and there are certainly some cards I would change. I even did some really horrible plays and yet the deck crushed, it didn't drop a game even when I tried to punt! While only one cube event is far from sufficient evidence to say this deck is good it certainly felt like a good deck.
Captain Lanery Storm
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Vance's Blasting Cannons
Pia and Kiran Nalar
Goblin Dark Dwellers
Feild of Ruin
As you can see this list is basically family fun with the Nalaars. A huge flavour win, with er, three Chandra, two Pia and poor singleton Kiran getting half a card. I even looked at Heart of Kiran just for theme but it was clearly far too inconsistent to run in a list like this. The three Chandra cards are all very powerful cards indeed that give you control and options alongside value and threats. Redbeing such a linear colour gets a huge boost from the utility of good planeswalkers when it can sensibly house them. Pyromaster is weaker in this list than usual as you are not so fussed about killing small things or forcing through attacks. I wouldn't be averse to changing her for something else, perhaps a Koth, but equally I was perfectly happy with her too. Torch and Flamecaller are busted. You normally don't get to see them at their full potential as not many archetypes suit them all that well. In this list it was like having better than Mind Sculptor and better than Sun's Champion. Both cards did a lot of heavy lifting for this deck!
Treasure Map was a big win in the deck too. Due to reds cheap and powerful early game removal options you have far more time and safety in which to lay and use this card. So much so that it was drawing removal more often than I would have expected. Flipping it was basically good games, the extra cards mostly got it done but the extra mana and options really didn't hurt! The card had good synergy with the deck and give it both card quality and card draw in a very convenient package.
Wily Goblin and Captain Lannery Storm (a card that for some reason turns me all thespian!) also did very well in the deck. The Goblin is about as bad as you can make a playable card but having played with it a little I can appreciate why making it even a 1R 1/2 might have been too much. The card certainly isn't a good card, it is in fact shockingly low powered. There is a good argument for a Ruby Medallion or even a Fire Diamond in its place! Those cards certainly are better ramp options. The thing that made Goblin quite acceptable support in this deck was the general utility it offered. The 1/1 body you get makes that planeswalker play a lot safer. The treasure can be cashed in for a card with the Treasure Cove. I certainly looted and scryed it away a couple of times without hesitation but in those cases I imagine a land would have had the same response. I didn't regret playing the card and it did its job. It did a bit of useful ramp, gave me useful things to get on with early and saved a bunch of life and loyalty. I am not yet ready to call the card good but I will say it was suitable in the deck and performed well above expectation.
Captain Lannery Storm was the far bigger name for cheap treasure generation. She was all round very effective and useful and outdid expectation far more than Wily Goblin which considering she started out looking a lot better to begin with is a big win. I had not appreciated some nuances with this kind of deck that would play out to greatly help Ms Storm. While this deck is not super full of cheap removal it does have a good amount. Your ideal first couple of turns involve killing everything they might make that has toughness in a cheap efficient way. Unlike the aggressive red decks you are not also trying to play out beaters and get in free attack damage as well. This gives you much more opportunity to keep the board nice and clear. As such a turn three Captain has a pretty good shot of generating multiple treasure. She is pretty nuts when you do, the extra mana is so much tempo and options. The fact that you can stockpile it allows for some huge swing turns. The +1/+0 trigger is also far more relevant than I had appreciated. Mostly I wanted to case pre combat spells and so being able to set the Captain to the power I wanted made life unpleasant for my opponents.
I think based on wanting to clear for Lannery that I got the balance of burn a little wrong. For reactive reasons I would rather have as many instants in the 2 slot as possible with the one mana burn less rital to have at instant. I wanted to have a way to exile things if needed in the list so played Incendiary Flow but in retrospect a Pillar of Flame would have let me then run an Incinerate in that two slot. I would cut the Galvanic Blast to make the deck space, while it is cute with the artifact synergies that is not happening in the early game where I most want the cheap removal. Abrade and Mizzium Mortars are ideal for the less aggressive red decks. They are more rounded utility removal spells that give you those all important options and the cost of not being able to go face is a lot less in your game plan. Arc Trail and Lightning Bolt are just the best two burns spells and so they got in just to up that power level.
One of reds issues playing a slower game in the past has been how to include mass removal options. As soon as you start ramming in Pyroclasm and cards like that you wind up with a really clunky deck. It is great when you draw it against the right decks but it is inconsistent. Mostly you find yourself sitting with it in hand doing nothing wishing you had more card quality effects! It was a necessary evil and just added to the overall issues with trying to play a slower game as a red mage. Now there is a greater wealth of cheap split damage spells you can use to just take the edge of people going wide as well as multi purpose mass removal. The new cycling Sweltering Suns is perfect with its built in filtering. Chandra Flamecaller and Mortars add to your mass removal quota as well. I didn't even bother playing Fiery Confluence which is a potent spell and one that comes with a lot of arse covering.
Faithless Looting is just too good to turn down, you need to curve out but you don't want to flood and this is one of the best cards in the game to help with that. You have enough value and top end to support the card disadvantage and so I think it would be madness to miss out on the consistency boosts this offers. I very nearly played Collective Defiance instead for the greater value and utility but given that I wanted that slot for card quality and Defiance is a really bad card to pull you out of a screw I did the sensible thing! It is probably a case of Looting or both and not a case of one or the other.
My one drop dorks were a little bit odd. Lavamancer is a fine enough source of value for a nice cheap cost but he doesn't have a super quickly filling yard to work with nor do you necessarily want to exile your cards in this list. I could have just run a Firebolt instead but I was happy enough with the little wizard. Mostly he was there for being one of very few suitable one drop dorks available. Soul-Scar Mage is the more controversial card and it was very much a test run for the card in a different sort of home. Thus far he has been purely something you run in RDW or Izzet tempo as a cheap beater. In this list however he was more about giving your non-combat damage sources wither. Mage is absolutely one of your best tools against big things. A 5/6 Tarmogoyf is typically a massive ballache for a red deck but when you can repeatedly apply Dead Weight and Sicken to things with your ongoing damage sources it is all a lot more cool. Being able to do so at instant speed makes combat pretty scary for them and the shrinking down of attacker's power makes racing super easy. Soul-Scar also gives you a fairly robust way to get onto the board and discourage quick planeswalkers or fend off little nibble attacks.
The Titan was as good as ever and is a lovely curve topper. You could turn it into a Wurmcoil Engine and it would be better against black and red and worse against white and blue. Much as Titan is nutty good I think Flamecaller is the better red six drop. Much as I would love to have had some fun with the Blasting Cannons I literally never saw it. It might be better than Pyromaster in the deck, this is certainly one of the most appropriate places for the card but I didn't get to put any of that to the test this time round. I still don't hold out huge hopes for it but am unwilling to rule it out until I see it not working out.
Glorybringer was probably the MVP, the card is just bats. I wasn't too high on it in the spoilers despite asserting it was probably more powerful than Thundermaw Hellkite which is a card I highly rate for most archetypes! I just didn't see where it was going to fit or take the slot of the more direct 5/5. I have found plenty of places to cram in the Glorybringer and it has been pretty good even when forced. In this list where he is a natural fit he was getting it done. Tempo, value, board control, options and threat. The card has it all. Although I never lost when I cast it that is a fairly limp point given that this list didn't do any losing. I will just say I cast a lot of Glorybringers!
You have some slots in this list for utility lands. Without Wily Goblin in the list you could probably push it to three colourless land out of the 17. There is also more room for EtB tapped lands, without Faithless Looting you would probably look to include the odd cycling or scrying land. Just because you can play more colourless and/or EtB tapped lands doesn't mean you should. I was very happy with 15 red sources and 16 lands coming in untapped and ready for use. Myriad Landscape felt too good to miss out on in a deck with multiple five and six drops and the capacity to generate some breathing room in the early to mid game. Field of Ruin is a low cost inclusion that gave me some extra disruption and coverage, the latter is not super huge however as you are already cold to enchantments. I was happy with the Field in my games but I am sure plenty of other utility or creature lands would have also been of use some use.
So, lastly the less potent cards. Dualcaster was poor. The 2/2 isn't good at all and so you need to get value from the trigger which is situational and expensive. I wanted to have a way to interacted with blue trickery and countermagic but in practice most other things would have performed better. A simple Chandra's Phoenix for example. Not only would it have gone in the theme of family Nalaar but it would offer value, tempo, synergy with the looting and better board presence. You can probably fill this slot with a lot of different things but Phoenix seems like the cleanest direct substitution. It is a pretty fair card but red isn't overdone with midrange options.
Goblin Dark Dwellers was my attempt to have a Snapcaster/Torrential Gearhulk style card in the deck. It wasn't bad but it wasn't all that exciting either. In practice I suspect I would have got more from a Sarkhan Dragonspeaker, a Siege Gang Commander, Thundermaw Hellkite and the like. Your spells all do fairly similar things so it affords less utility than the blue options. Probably still better than Flame Tongue Kavu which is a notable omission from this list being one of the few notably powerful midrange red cards I asserted there were few of! My experience with red midrange decks is that you lose when you have action in hand that isn't appropriate. The Kavu isn't something you can just play and have it be decent to good. Like Pyroclasm it can be one of those cards that clogs up your hand and causes you to lose the bad matchups. You don't really need it when you have such good four drops and things like Glorybringer and Titan doing similar sorts of things on the back of relevant bodies.
The combination of red having access to a bit more card advantage and quality combined with an increase in the number of playable utility spells all rounded off with a handful of extremely powerful four through six mana cards seems like it is finally enough to let red play a wider range of magic. Given that blue has been able to support an aggro deck since like original Zendikar block a midrange red deck doesn't feel like a big ask! At least with this list I finally now have some indication it is on the way if not actually here already.