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[Primer] RDW

Post #1 by zemanjaski » Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:17 pm

RED DECK WINS ][ The Primer

ImageImage


"Spontaneous combustion is a myth. If you burst into flames, someone wanted you to" - Chandra Nalaar

"Sometimes you die a glorious death in battle. Sometimes you're just target practice" - Jaya Balard, Task Mage


Hi everyone, and welcome to the Competitive Aggro Red Deck Variants thread for Standard. This thread will enable discussion of any red aggro archetype, whether it be Sligh, Burn or Midrange.

Red
Decks trace their origin with to the best known red deck - Dave Price's "Deadguy Red" from 1997 (list can be seen here). The decks of that time were based around mana-efficient creatures, a low curve and resilience to disruption. Add to this the most efficient burn spells of the time and mana disruption and a real terror was born. Did you want to beat Jon Finkel? Well, if you opened with Jackal Pup into multiple wastelands then fireblast, you could!

While Sligh (alternatively known as "Red Deck Wins" or "RDW") has continued the tradition of focusing on efficient creatures, Burn decks focused on mana-efficient burn spells to further minimize interactivity. RDW gets there by getting in a lot of damage early with creatures and then finishing the game with burn spells once the opponent stabilizes the board. When Burn Decks are strong, they play out like a combo-
deck; needing to draw 7 'action' spells to win. With careful selection and tight play, playing Red can be both a fun and highly rewarding experience. These decks reward dedication to both the colour and to active learning and participation - red lacks the marquee power cards enjoyed by some of the other colors, yet if you look at the highest level there are players that always play red and always do well - once your really learn how to play red you can take on anything.

I. Introduction
Red decks are characterized by small, aggressive creatures supported by a number of efficient damage spells, such as Lightning Strike. While many think that red deck construction is simple "take 4 of each of the best red card", it is not that easy. What has made Red Decks so successful throughout magic's hisory is the emphasis on a few key themes:

Have a Fast Clock:
You want to kill your opponent as quickly as possible. You should be able to reliably goldfish a kill around turn 4 or 5. It is very important that your deck has these "nut draws" because what a red deck trades in objective power (through playing cheaper and thus weaker creatures and spells, not splashing into other colours for powerful cards) it needs to make up for in consistency and speed. If your opponent stumbles at all, you want them dead before they can draw out of it. If they're trying to assemble some fancy collection of cards, you want them dead before they can. Part of this is having a good creature curve. The other part is having a consistent mana base.

Inevitability: Unlike a combo or control deck, Red decks don't have any one key spell. Most of the creatures are very similar, as are the spells. Countering one or playing around one won't win the game for your opponent. By having multiple copies of redundant effects, you reduce the impact of countermagic
and increase the likelihood of your nut draw. Having enough burn to remove blockers early and then burn the opponent out once your creatures are no longer effective is an important part of deck design. The capacity for your deck to finish an opponent spells is called reach. Generally, more reach is better.

Virtual Card Advantage: This is a big, under appreciated one. Many Red Deck critics will eschew decks of the best colour because they have no avenue to card advantage. What they fail to understand is that red decks measure card advantage in a different way to other decks - we are much more concerned with Virtual Card Advantage. You achieve VCA through careful deck design, knowing what to play around and being able to punish your opponent's misplays (forced or unforced). I might be empty handed at the end of turn 6 and my opponent might have six cards in hand - but if he is dead, what is the value of those cards? He may as well
have mulliganed to one, because he certainly didn't use those cards. Is a card they never get to use really a card at all?

Risk Diversification: Linking into the above themes, a well built red deck will spread its threats, so that no one answer will beat the entire deck. For example, haste creatures make sorcery speed removal much worse. A well built deck will be capable of winning quickly, but will also have means of battling through other creature decks or decks with lifegain. You can't build and play a deck that just scoops to a common strategy.

Red Decks tend to be cheap to build and fairly easy for newer players to understand. They're a great choice if you are looking to get into competitive magic, build a new deck for fun, or to introduce a new player to the game. They are also highly addictive. It is also an extremely strong and storied archetype, with a proud and highly successful history. To increase your chance of success with a Red Deck you should be familiar with
the common themes of the archetype, what everyone else is playing in the format, have an understanding of how to evaluate red cards and some knowledge of the history of the game - learning from the mistakes of masters of the past means you don't have to make them yourself.

Would you like to know more? You can read the Essence of Burn by forum member urdjur. It is written to legacy burn decks, but the themes and knowledge in there is invaluable for any would-be red mage. Also, check out the old thread we had from the last standard season. There are a lot of gems in there. It can be seen here.

Please feel free to post your deck list or ask for advice. We strive to have a strong community of red mages, each helping the others to improve. We
only ask that any deck list be appropriately formatted and provide with comments / notes to enable discussion.

II. Building the Deck
It is not that difficult to build a playable Red Deck, but with a little more effort you will have a much more optimal list. There are some key principles you should keep in mind:

First Principle: Damage and Cost - How fast is your goldfish?
The main reason to play a red deck, in any format, is the speed and consistency with which you can attack and kill your opponent, through resistence. You won't have access to the best creatures at each point in the curve, or the most powerful spells or endgame - but while other decks durdle around trying to sculpt their hand, find their cards and stabalise, you just eat huge chunks out of their life then burn them out. The concept of 'gold fishing' involves simply taking your deck, drawing your opening hand and then playing a game against no
opponent - the faster your deck kills your opponent, the faster your goldfish. Ideally, your deck should be able to goldfish a turn 4 kill, with a variety of different draws. In 4 turns you will see 10 or 11 cards - it is essential that your average draw in 10 cards can at least put you in a position to win the game.

For example, you can see my current RDW list in the Mono Red lists at the bottom of the primer. If it curves Rakdos Cackler into GoreHouse Chainwalker into Ash Zealot into Hellrider, that is 0 + 1 + 7 +14 = 22 damage in 4 turns. Does that sound like a ridiculously good draw? Well, I could go Rakdos Cackler into Gorehouse Chainwalker into Gorehouse Chainwalker, which is a MUCH worse draw - only 0 + 2 + 5 + 8 = 15 damage, with one fewer cards played. With all the burn in the deck, even that much, much worse draw is very likely to be sufficient for a kill.

What these numbers show you are what your deck is capable of under normal circumstances. This process is important so that when you look
at your opening hand you can quickly determine if there is enough action to win - if your deck cannot even goldfish a kill, how will you beat a deck that can fight back? This process is typically sufficient to ensure that your deck is capable of aggressive enough draws to win. To lower your goldfish number, we need to consider card efficiency, which can be summarized as the damage a card is expected to do, compared to its mana cost. For example, Lightning Bolt is more efficient than Lightning Strike, so when lightning bolt is in the format, you would always play the full four before considering any Lightning Strike. The same consideration applies to creatures - Rakdos Cackler costs the same as [card]Mon's Goblin Raiders[/card] but you would expect it to do a lot more damage - so it is a better card.

Once you have your goldfish down, move onto the next principles, which will help to refine the
deck.

Second Principle: Land Count - How many Mountains?
So how many lands should you run? The exact number actually matters less than most people think, when it comes to mulligans and top decks at least, as can be seen from the table below:
-----0---1----2---3--4--5+
17:--8--27--34--22---8--1
18:--7--24--34--24---9--2
19:--6--22--33--25--11--3
20:--5--20--32--27--12--4
21:--4--18--31--28--14--5
22:--3--17--30--29--16--5


The table shows a statistical simulation of #lands in your opening seven (in percent), depending on how many lands you choose to play. As you can see, there's not a lot of difference as far as mulligan decisions are concerned. You want to always mulligan hands with 0 or 5+ lands. The sum of these columns is a constant 9% whether you play 17 or 21 lands. More 4-land hands than 1-land hands are keepable, but we're really looking to max out on 2-3 land hands. As you can see, 20-21 lands gives a total 59% chance for
such hands, while 17 lands give a 56% chance. Thus, it's generally accepted that 20-21 lands is the optimum break point. However, care should be taken to balance your land count to fit your build and curve - if you want to run more 4 cost creatures, run more land. The following was kindly denoted by thread member redthirst -

Probability of Hitting Your Curve (assuming you're on the play):

# of lands - % chance of having 1+ land/1st turn - 2+ land/2nd turn - etc

# - 1+/1 - 2+/2 - 3+/3 - 4+/4 - 5+/5 - 6+/6
18 - 93% - 76% - 54% - 34% - 19% - 9%
19 - 94% - 80% - 59% - 39% - 23% - 12%
20 - 95% - 82% - 64% - 44% - 27% - 15%
21 - 96% - 85% - 68% - 49% - 32% - 19%
22 - 97% - 87% - 72% - 54% - 37% - 23%[/
color]
23 - 97% - 89% - 76% - 59% - 42% - 27%
[color=red]24 - 98% - 91% - 79% - 63% - 47% - 32%

25 - 98% - 93% - 82% - 68% - 52% - 37%


Third Principle: Pressure - Can't Stop, Won't Stop
The key consideration for a competitive red deck is building a maindeck plan that will ensure that you do not run out of threats as the game drags on. This can be difficult, because red does not have access to sources of card advantage found in many of the other popular archetypes. Failure to build pressure into your deck will result in you being empty handed, hoping to topdeck multiple cards to win, while your opponent gets further and further ahead - we have all been there and it feels awful.

The first consideration is having a great mana curve. A mana curve is the distribution of mana costs in your deck - for an aggressive strategy to work, you want the vast
majority of your cards to cost only 1 or 2 mana. This increases the reliability of your deck and increases the explosiveness of your draws. The best possible draw in the Mono Red deck is Turn 1x1drop into Turn 2, 2x1drop - such a draw becomes much more likely the more 1 drop creatures you run. The mana curve is most relevant for your creatures, because you will not usually need to cast your spells "on curve". At the same time, you should still prefer cheaper spells over more expensive spells - a weaker spell that you can cast is worth a lot more than a more powerful spell that will always be stuck in your hand (I am looking at you, lava axe!). If you look at the example decklists at the end of the primer, then graph the mana costs of the cards therein, you will see this principle in practice.

Fourth Principle: Mana Sinks - Putting your land to use
Your deck should have some capacity to fight through mana flood (drawing too many lands).
Even with a very well designed deck, it will still happen, so you ned a way of making that mana work for you. The all time best example for red has always been Grim Lavamancer. The lavaman was so good, you wanted to flood out. While we are no longer blessed with his services, there are other examples avalable:
- creatures with activated abilities. For example, Hammer of Purphorous which turns each extra land into a hastey 3/3 golem - that is pretty good!
- spells with scaling costs. For example, Volcanic Geyser or Mizzium Mortars. These cards get stronger the more mana you have available.
- manlands (lands with the activated ability to attack like a creature). These are a great way to work through mana flood - they give you an extra way to spend your mana each turn, and they are also a land! What's not to like? Right now we have Mutavault, one of the
best manlands ever.

With those principles in mind, let us turn our minds to specific card choices.

Creatures and Spells
1 Drops
Firedrinker Satyr: Jackal Pup 2.0! Another 2 power 1 drop ensures that Mono Red aggro has life for another season. The pump ability can be very relevant, either allowing you to trade up for a more expensive creature or push through a little extra damage here and there over the course of the game - not at all irrelevant in a deck where you need to eke out every last piece of value.
Foundry Street Denizen: A card that has seen some amount of constructed play. Fits well into decks looking to make more out of Akoran Crusader and Young Pyromancer. Without enough support (which means deck building concessions) you're going to be better off just using the two power 1 drops instead.
Legion Loyalist: Now, this is a card with some
interesting possibilities! Immediately, it brings back memories of Goblin Bushwhacker and in a sufficiently creature heavy deck, does function similarly. This card is something of a build around, functioning particularly well in AIR decks with dynacharge. Also works well as a battalion enabler for Firefist Striker. Might have a sideboard application against the new Elspeth.
Rakdos Cackler: The latest addition to the Red Sligh family, and he is very welcome. Lets be honest - we're only ever playing him as a 2/2 that cannot block. In this role, he is a very good early beater. For the very aggressive decks, Cackler is basically a mandatory inclusion. Do be aware that the inability to block can be a liability against faster aggro decks - your sideboarding plans might need to involve a way to side him out.

Summary: The best 1 drops are Rakdos Cackler and Firedrinker Satyr, by some margin. The aggro decks should really
start with playsets of these creatures, then consider where they want to go from there. If you still want more 1 drops in a traditional aggro build, look at Foundry Street Denizen. Legion Loyalist has some interesting synergies to consider with other cards.

2 Drops
Ash Zealot: Very likely the best red 2 drop ever. Would easily playable if just for the haste[ and first strike. The graveyard hate ability will often be irrelevant, but when it is turned on, it is very powerful. Do be aware that her RR casting cost means you need to be more conservative with your mana base. This means making changes to accommodate her, because this is a lady you cannot possibly live without.
Burning-Tree Emissary: Now this is an interesting card! The more you can make out of the free mana it provides, the more powerful it becomes. BTE really appreciates Firefist Striker (see below).
nDeathbellow Raider: An exciting new and aggressively costed card from Theros. The stats certainly are impressive, the draw back is not. If you think that you can build around its drawback, give it a shot.
Firefist Striker: Now a centre piece of competitive red decks, FFS has rightfully earned itself a place in ever low curve aggro deck. He generates virtual card advantage just by being in play and allows you to mitigate the size advantage of opposing creatures. Fantastic against any deck looking to play 1 large creature as a defensive impediment.
Frostburn Weird: While not the most aggressive stats, this Weird is very hard to remove, and should actively trade up. Probably not a maindeck card, but could see sideboard play out of some sort of transformational sideboard plan.
Goblin Shortcutter: Much like Firefist Striker, this falter with a boy attached has a
very relevant place in Modern RDW. Usually you will want the full four Firefist Striker before playing any Shortcutter; the repeatable effect is usually a little more powerful with Mutavault in the format.
Gore-House Chainwalker: One of the better red 2 drops from the new Return to Ravnica set. If you're considering it, it is because of its Unleash stats. They compete quite well with the other 2 drops, being a little larger than most, yet still reliable (to attack at least). Has proven itself to be deceptively powerful over time and is a almost certainly a must in a mono red deck.
Rakdos Shred-Freak: Look at what BTE or Ash Zealot do for your deck. You're only ever playing Shred-Freak after Ash Zealot because they share a casting cost (and Ash Zealot is substantially better), so the card is limited to red devotion themed decks only.
[card]Skinbrand Goblin[/card:
23bubfq3]: Another great limited card, the latest upgrade to Goblin Piker does not seem good enough for constructed.
Young Pyromancer: The fabled red power 2 drop has recently been revealed. This card is another build-around, that wants you to fill your deck with spells. An untouched Pyromancer can quickly take over the game in creature matchups.

Summary: The choices here are fairly difficult. You really have two options: Ash Zealot plus Young Pyromancer, which emphasizes individual card quality; or Burning Tree Emissary and Firefist Striker plus another 2-drop of your choice; this version emphasizes explosiveness. The election is both a meta-specific choice and one of personal preference. See the summary by DerWille at the end of this section for more notes.

3 Drops
Boros Reckoner: Probably the most powerful 3-drop in the format, the Minotaur Wizard asks only that you play only
Mountains. It turns out that is a big ask, denying you access to Mutavault. Nonetheless, for a slower red deck, Reckoner is a great choice, blanking a lot of removal and shutting out other aggro decks very easily. Particularly powerful in a red devotion deck with Fanatic of Mogis.
[card]Chandra's Phoenix[/card]: A returning favourite in M14, Phoenix isn't the most impressive beater, but it does have some great stuff going for it. Haste is very relevant, as is the recursion ability. Finally, evasion in the form of flying is very relevant in a format increasingly defined by creature combat. Particularly good at increasing the resilience of your deck against wraths.
Mindsparker: One of the hate creatures from M14, Mindsparker has good stats and relevant abilities. Its failing however, is that it is less powerful than Reckoner in straight creature combat, and less resilient than Phoenix against control. Its a middling card that is good, but not as
powerful as the alternatives in any specific matchup.

Summary: There isn't a wrong choice and largely, this is a matter of personal preference. Phoenix is hastey and evasive, and plays well with both more aggressive builds (where it turns on Firefist Striker and protects you against wrath) and spell heavy builds. Reckoner is great in the slower decks, where it hedges against early aggro draws and combines well with Nythos, Shrine to Nyx and Fanatic of Mogis.

4 Drops
Ember Swallower: The most relevant part of this card is the body; its a 4/5. Currently, this lines up extremely well with the current creature pool in Standard. It even hits pretty hard. However, the card is slow, making it mostly well placed in the slower red decks.
Chandra, Pyromaster: Finally, the great red planeswalker! Please see the attached article on Chandra, Pyromaster for full discussion.
[card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card:
23bubfq3]: A great card in a heavy devotion deck, Fanatic of Mogis is frequently a Lava Axe on legs, which is no laughing matter. The card does require heavy deck building concessions to power it up however.

Summary: All the choices draw the deck building in vastly different directions. Fanatic of Mogis asks for you to run lots of creatures, heavy on red devotion. Ember Swallower isn't very aggressive and suits a slower archetype. Finally, Chandra, Pyromaster is a card advantage engine with a few other key interactions; asking for you to build your deck with these synergies in mind.

5+ Drops
Stormbreath Dragon: The big bad red finisher in the format. With relevant protections and a powerful monstrous ability, it will be interesting to see how Stormbreath Dragon finds a place in the format.

1 Cost Burn
Electrickery: Brand new from RTR, this is quite a nice spell against decks with a
lot of mana dorks or tokens. More of a sideboard card because it cannot burn the opponent out and will be dead against a lot of decks.
Mugging: Our new 'shock' from GTC. Does not go upstairs. This is a problem.
Shock: There isn't much to say. Shock is an underpowered card that you don't play because it isn't good, unless it is, then it is great. What does that mean? Well, Shock is only a 2 damage spell, which is very slightly underpowered for Constructed play ~ so it does not warrant consideration unless there are a lot of relevant small creatures in the format. Shock starts to get much better when you include other synergistic cards in your deck, such as: Chandra, Pyromaster; Ash Zealot, Chandra's Phoenix or Young Pyromancer.
Spark Jolt: This is shock-lite, and faces an even greater test before being a valid consideration for play. There needs to be a substantial
number of x/1 creatures in the format and quite a bit of synergy in your deck before this card is remotely playable.

Summary: Red decks should avoid running low impact burn spells. The idea is always to play high impact spells so that we can kill them with as few cards as possible (reduces the time for them to go bigger than us, increases our consistency, minimises dead draws). However, it is OK to include a small amount of low impact burn where they generate synergy with your other cards, for example, a deck built around Young Pyromancer.

2 Cost Burn
Mizzium Mortars: While Mizzium Mortars is receiving a lot of rave reviews, do remember it is often a slow Flame Slash. Whether the card make the sideboard will depend entirely on what the critical number is in the format - are most creatures x/3 or smaller? If there are a lot of x/4s running around (such as Loxodon Smiter, [
card]Restoration Angel[/card]) then Mizzium Mortars will be worth some sideboard slots. Right now, with GW and UW being so popular, Mortars is very likely a solid maindeck choice.
Lightning Strike: While terrible in any other deck, this sort of effect is the bread and butter of a red aggressive deck. When you need to top deck a win, this is the card you always want to be drawing. Play the full four.
Magma Jet: New in M14, Magma Jet is probably the best shock variant ever (just kidding, that's Lightning Bolt). Basically, Scry 2 is very powerful, helping smooth your draws and find the cards you need to win. Bottoming two lands which would have been dead draws is absurdly powerful, as is ensuring that you draw a key removal spell a turn earlier, or finding your fourth land drop. A terrific spell that really rewards a prepared and thoughtful red mage.
Skull Crack: One of a handful of
anti-lifegain cards we were given in GTC. Becomes more attractive with more lifegain in the format.

Summary: Every red deck should start with a full set of Lightning Strike. Most will opt for the full set of Magma Jet as well. Beyond that, Mortars and Skull Crack are always worth considering for your sideboard.

3 Cost Burn
Annihilating Fire: A mix between Searing Spear and Pillar of Flame. The question for this card is, do you need an extra few copies of either of those cards? If not, look elsewhere. Annihilating Fire is just too efficient for consideration unless you really need (slightly worse) additional versions of either of those spells.
Flames of the Firebrand: This seasons Arc Lightning, Arc Trail, Forked Bolt. Probably worth a couple copies in the maindeck and maybe a few more in the board. What you expect
to face will largely inform how many copies you are after, and what the correct split is between main and board.

Summary: Red is pretty light at the three spot. The only real decision is how many copies of Flames of the Firebrand you want in your 75, and how to split them between your maindeck and sideboard.

Support Spells
Enchantments

Hammer of Purphorous: Easily the best red card in Theros, when the hammer hits the battlefield, it is most certainly hammertime. The haste ability powers up all of your subsequent plays (and has an especially powerful interaction with Mutavault), but the real power comes from the ability to turn excess lands into creatures ~ very powerful 3/3 haste creatures. This puts a red deck in a novel position; a position where any land, any creature or any spell are good draws. A very powerful card against any control deck.
[card:
23bubfq3]Madcap Skills[/card]: Recently given prominence by GTC limited, there are murmurs that this card is good enough for constructed, operating as a goblin wardrums + lightning bolt for each and every turn that it remains in play. If you're in the market for this sort of thing, consider it. If you think you can hit twice, it is worth it. I do think that with all the black removal in the format however, that the card is poorly positioned.

Lands
Mutavault: Arguably the second best manland ever printed (second only to [card]Mishra's Factory[/card]), Mutavault will substantially increase a red deck's threat density and resilience. A great enabler for battalion, also great at making your deck more able to play around sweepers. It does require some deck building concessions however (making it very difficult to play Boros Reckoner for example).
[card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card:
23bubfq3]: Worth considering in a red devotion theme deck, Nykthos can provide a substantial amount of acceleration in the right deck.

Red Deck Building Decisions - Ash Zealot or Burning-Tree Emissary by DerWille
When building a red deck in the current standard, one of the first questions you'll be faced with is whether you'll be playing Ash Zealot or Burning-Tree Emissary as a card in the 2 drop slot. Each is a powerful red card, but they do not work together and create vastly decks.

Ash Zealot
Ash Zealot is a 2/2 first strike, haste creature that deals damage to opponents who cast spells from the graveyard and is probably the best red 2 drop ever printed. She has good synergy with instant speed removal (stacking with her first strike) and battalion. Ash Zealot thus works well
in conjunction with Young Pyromancer (both like instants, both are good batallion enablers). Choosing Ash Zealot demonstrates a willingness to accept less explosive draws, in exchange for high card quality throughout the deck.

Many decks can find a home for Ash Zealot. She can be found in sligh lists, red midrange, and even in some burn lists. She is a powerful, flexible card that maintains relevance throughout the entire game.

Burning-Tree Emissary
Burning-Tree Emissary is 2/2 that generates [mana]G[/mana][mana]R[/mana] when she comes into play. This allows you to play two or more cards on your second turn (including the ridiculous multiple BTE draws). The idea of BTE decks is to build an overpowering board state on turn 2. BTE itself is just a 2/2 for 2 (not otherwise a constructed playable magic card) and thus lowers the
overall quality of your draws in a longer game.

Unlike Ash Zealot, Burning-Tree Emissary is not a flexible card. She lends herself to only one strategy, playing as many cards as possible on turn 2. She requires playing at least 8 other cards that can be cast for [mana]1[/mana][mana]R[/mana], preferably creatures such as Firefist Striker and Gore-House Chainwalker. In exchange warping your deck around the 2 drop slot, Burning-Tree Emissary can create nearly unwinnable games for you opponent. Her value comes from the other cards that can be played with her.

You Can Only Pick One
Unfortunately, it's not practical to run Ash Zealot and Burning-Tree Emissary together because Ash Zealot requires [
mana]R[/mana][mana]R[/mana] mana and cannot be "chained" into. You can only run so many [mana]R[/mana][mana]R[/mana] creatures with Mutavault as well. If you attempt to run both, it creates dissonance in the deck because hands where Ash Zealot and Burning-Tree Emissary appear. In this situation, Burning-Tree Emissary becomes a generic 2/2 and the mana she creates is wasted.

Ash Zealot is the better all around card, but she does not have opening hands that almost guarantee a win like Burning-Tree Emissary. These powerful opening hands will occur often enough in tournaments that it's like beginning a set of 3 games with a free win.

III. Building the Sideboard
Red Decks tend to have a great
game 1 record, but a poor record overall. I believe a large part of this is improper sideboarding (both in construction and is use). Red Decks have very real problems with three things:

They have life gain! All we want to do is 20 damage to the face. Lifegain makes that harder. While some token lifegain can be overcome, when the lifegain is significant or continuous, you will need a way to overcome it - especially if that source of lifegain becomes popular in the metagame.

They're faster! Red Decks are often the fastest gunslingers in town - but not always! It is important to understand what your role is in every matchup - which Red Decks are usually the aggressor, this is not always the case. Sometimes you're the control deck! If your opponent's deck is faster, you need to recognise this and change your plan accordingly. Please read Mike Flores' excellent article "Who's the Beatdown?" linked in the articles
section below for clarification. If there is a real need to sideboard into a control deck, your sideboarding plans should enable this.

They have "Hate Cards"! For some reason, Development keeps printing cards that unfairly target Red Decks :ugh: Recent examples include Timely Reinforcements or Kor Firewalker. When these cards exist in the format, it is important to have a way to beat them post sideboard.

You will want to consider specific matchups when making maindeck choices, that can then be supported by your sideboard plans. Have a good understanding of what cards are good against which decks to better appreciate how many slots to dedicate to each matchup.

Principle 1: Sideboard for the Matches you can Win, Sideboard for the Matches you Need to Win
A lot of players, even very experienced
players, get sideboarding wrong. You can play narrow cards. You can play a transformational sideboard. The question you need to ask yourself is, 'What do I need to do to increase my chances of winning?'. It maybe isnt obvious that all you're trying to do is increase your chance to win. You cannot ever make a matchup certain - though with clever sideboarding you can often greatly improve even your bad matchups.

What you need to know when building your deck and then your sideboard is what you're trying to win. Are you just trying to win casual pick-up games at your local? Trying to beat a specific friend? Trying to win a Daily Event on MODO? A PTQ? What you expect to face is very important. If you're facing just your friend and you know what he is playing, you can devote your entire sideboard to beating him. If he could play a couple of different decks, you can split your sideboard for those decks. If you're playing on MODO,
you can look up what decks are popular before playing.
Last edited by zemanjaski on Sat Oct 05, 2013 7:41 am, edited 12 times in total.
Reason: Edited a bunch of typos (And all of the u's out of the word color, you silly Aussie SOB.) and fixed all of the formatting.
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Post #2 by zemanjaski » Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:17 pm

Once you know what decks are out there, you need to know how your maindeck matches up against them. While word of mouth can help, there is no substitute for testing. I have had many friends tell me that their Blue decks Mono Red matchup is 60-70% or better, yet when we play it is the other way. Why? They either have players inexperienced with the archetype play the red deck, or they test against weaker opponents. Or maybe I just play differently. You need to try things for yourself. Once you know how the different matchups play, you will know which are favorable and which are not. Hopefully you know why and how a match worked out the way it did.

Then you have to make your choices. Usually, you don't need to sideboard much in the already favorable matchups. But maybe in your testing you realized they have a certain sideboarding strategy that was problematic? You can next level
them by sideboarding for their sideboarding plan. For the unfavorable matchups, you need to know what it was about those decks that caused you problems, and devote sideboard space accordingly. The idea is to take matchups from 40-45% to 50-55%. It is unusual that you can really do better than that. At the same time, if you're preparing for a larger event, you need to understand the relative popularity of a certain deck. If one deck is 70% of the metagame (its CawBlade), and the matchup is favorable, you should still try to make it better - you're going to be playing against it a lot. By the same logic, if you have a 30% matchup against a fringe deck, it probably isnt worth having any sideboard cards for that deck, unless in just a few cards you can turn the matchup around - chances are you will not face it and you would just be wasting space.

Principle 2: High Impact Cards - Have a Plan
So now you know what you're facing, and how likely you are to face
it. Hopefully, after playing some unsideboarded games you have a grasp of what was working and what wasn't. Now you need to figure out what you can do about it. Depending what the problem is, there might be a variety of solutions, there might not be any. By far the best way to sideboard is to only have cards that are high impact. There is no point dedicating sideboard space to cards that will improve your matchup from 50% to 52%. You want to focus on cards that will improve the matchup by 10% or more.

Don't fall into the trap of diluting your deck either. It is too easy to get overly clever, take out a lot of what makes your maindeck work and end up falling prey to awkward draws where you draw all of your sideboard cards, but none of your action. You're still playing an aggressive deck, and your sideboarding strategy needs to supplement that, not replace it.

For example, take the matchup against the midrange green decks. They
have access to bigger creatures on curve than we do, and have some lifegain. Trying to battle through that with 1 and 2 drops is often futile. A sideboard strategy might involve boarding out most of your weak creatures and boarding in fliers and heavier removal spells - the fliers because they sidestep the expected ground battle and deal damage in lage chunks to overpower life gain, the removal to deal with the bigger creatures. If you're lucky, they will be boarding in answers for the very cards you have boarded out.

Sideboard Choices
Burn Spells
Flames of the Firebrand: A terrific card against other little aggro decks. If aggro is popular where you play, you will want access to some number.
Mizzium Mortars: Another great card to have available, Mortars directly answers most of the serious threats out of the GW Aggro deck. For the big mana decks, the overload is a real (game-winning)
possibility.

Summary: It is common to have some number of both spells available in your 75, with numbers determined by what you're expecting to face.

Creatures
Frostburn Weird: Terrific against other little aggro decks. If you want to be able to sideboard into more of a controlling deck, this is card to strongly consider.
Legion Loyalist: Type 2 just is not defined by creature combat. However, there are some powerful token cards around, and if they are ever becoming popular, this is a great card to remember.
Rakdos Shred-Freak: Popularized by Whimsicalbox and dpaine88, the idea of sideboarding Shred-Freak is to put more pressure on UW Control and Tempo builds. By siding out low impact spells like Shock, you gain value by replacing them with a card that generates effectively the same effect ever turn.

Summary: There are really two realms of choice
here. If you're playing a little red deck, you can sideboard out low impact removal for more little creatures to speed up your deck. Otherwise, if you're playing a bigger red deck, you can bring in more top-end to overpower other midrange decks. If you're pursuing this strategy, it is common to have at least a single extra land in the sideboard to compliment your now higher curve.

Other
Act of Treason: As creatures have become more powerful, the value of threatens has increased. It is important to know that this card increases in power with the more creatures that your deck runs. you don't want it to be "3 mana, deal 4", you want "3 mana, deal 8".
Burning Earth: One of the ultimate hate cards for 3-colour midrange and control decks. if they're popular, you want at least a few copies in your deck. Very bad against 2-colour decks however.
[card]Peak Eruption[/card:
2toinoni]: The red self-hate card from that cycle in M14. Incredibly powerful against midrange and control decks relying on red mana. Particularly brutal against 3-colour midrange leaning on red removal, or any deck that has Chained to the Peaks.
Portent of Betrayal: An overpriced Act of Treason. Scry 1 is not worth 1 extra mana on this sort of effect.
Seismic Stomp: A falter for all non-fliers! Having trouble with midrange? This card is super powerful in that matchup.
Smelt
: Artifacts giving you problems? Here is an answer for only a single mana ~ talk about value!

IV. Strategy and Matchup Analysis

Basics - How and When to Mulligan
Mulligan decisions should be fairly straightforward once you understand your deck's goldfish - you can tell by looking at your hand whether it
can realistically deal 20 damage or not. Post sideboard, you know what you're against and be able to make an informed decision as to whether or not the hand can win. For me, the test really is "can this hand win?". I believe that this question is more fundamental than the test often proposed in other primers, which can be summarized as "can this hand do something?". There are subtle differences between the two, but I believe there is a lot to be gained through a deeper understanding of the former.

Two or three land hands are typically ideal, with more 4-land hands being playable than 1-land hands. Keepable 1-land hands are very rare in a tournament situation and typically include multiple one drops against a known opponent. In most situations though, it isn't worth the risk. Keeping a 4 land hand with three strong spells (for example: any burn spell, Ash Zealot and Chandra, Pyromaster) is much better than mulliganing to 6, since chances are rare you'll be better off. As for spells,
weak hands to mulligan include:

*No turn 1 or 2 plays
*3+ 3cc spells, unless one of them is extremely relevant
*Hands with 2+ irrelevant cards for the matchup
*Hands that you know are very unlikely to beat the known opposition deck (eg: the all burn hand vs a control deck)

Basics - Turn by Turn walk through
Turn 1
Pretty much just look at your hand and try to plan out the next few hands. Then play a land and your best 1 drop (Rakdos Cackler is better against an unknown opponent, Firedrinker Satyr is better if your opponent will have an x/3 blocker available).

Turn 2
Take a moment to assess your opponent's play. You should be starting to have an idea about what they're playing. If there is no pressing need to use removal, play another creature. Usually, play the non-haste guys first because they're slow; prioritize playing out your 1 drops if your have two more in hand. Be sure to use your mana efficiently.

[i:
2toinoni]Turn 3
By now you should be quite certain what your opponent is playing. Familiarize yourself with the popular decks in the format and know what certain color combinations represent. Knowing what removal you can play around is very important. You will also want to compare your clock to your opponent's - do you want to commit more creatures or use removal? Are you racing?

Turn 4+
You need to be able to know your role in the game by this point. Are you the aggressor, or are you the control? You will need to sculpt your lines of play accordingly.

As you can see, playing Red involves a lot more than just playing all your guys and turning them sideways. You need to be sensitive to how the actual character of the game is developing.[/QUOTE]
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Post #3 by zemanjaski » Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:18 pm

Articles
The Philosophy of Fire - by Mike Flores
The most important article on playing this sort of deck you will ever read. Read it. Read it again. This will help you make effective decisions in difficult positions.

Who's the Beatdown? - By Mike Flores
When are you the aggressor? When are you the control? Remember that "Missasignment of role = Game Loss"

Eight Core Principles of Who's the Beatdown - by Mike Flores
The follow up to the original classic, updated with modern examples.
n
The Art of Beatdown - by David Price
One of the Red Mage Founding Fathers gives detailed insight on how to beat face.

The Sullivan Library: Reach - by Adrian Sullivan
Explains the important of using your 'reach'.

Sullivan Library: Distinctions in Strategic Archetypes - By Adrian Sullivan
Ever wanted to know how good players understand when to change gears? Ever unsure what your role or path to victory is? Read this.

[url=http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/standard/16016_Sullivan_Library_How_To_Make_a_Good_Red_Deck_In_Standard.html:
sbqs52h2]Sullivan Library: How to Make a Good Red Deck in Standard - By Adrian Sullivan[/url]
How do you build a good Red Deck anyway?

Sullivan Library: Tailoring a Mono Red Deck - by Adrian Sullivan
The devil is in the details.

All Your Victories Begin Here - by Alex Shearer
A great article about building the best mana base possible. Even for the mono-coloured decks, this is required reading. The article even has a handy spreadsheet!

Building Your Deck Around a Lynchpin - by Michael Jacob
2008 US National Champion (
with Mono Red no less) Michael Jacob discusses the finer points of deck construction, focusing on building around a key card and its interactions.

Building Decks with Mana Sum Theory - by Travis Woo
Travis Woo explains how to best incorporate mana sinks into your game, both as part of deck design and as part of how you sequence your plays. A must read for any modern red mage.


Videos
SCG New Jersey 2011 Final - Patrick Sullivan vs Mike Eisenhauer

Watch the Red Mage in action. In particular, look how he uses his mana, conserves his spells and plays around countermagic.
SCG New Jersey 2011 SemiFinal - Patrick Sullivan vs AJ Sacher

Humble red
cards > oppressive UW brokenness

Member Produced Content and Resources
Reports

Variant Primers

Member Articles
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hypergeometric Distribution ~ Hamfactorial link

Hamfactorial breaks down and discusses the finer points of deck building, giving you the tools and knowledge to understand how the maths of tdeck building actually works. A must read resources.

Preparing For (and Playing) Competitive Events ~ Zemanjaski (see below)

Discusses how Zemanjaski gets himself ready for major events. Aimed primarily at players without GPT or PTQ experience, the article is a 'how-to-guide' on gauntlet building, playtesting, sideboard building and self reflection.

Member
Interaction Problem Solving

Mulligan Discussion
Aggro Deck Optimization

Twitch.tv Streams
Zemanjaski
Hamfactorial


V. Example Decklists
Mono Red



Credits
A huge part of this primer was based on and infludenced by various work by forum member urdjur, articles by Patrick Sullivan or Adrian Sullivan, or the incredible work of other forum members in the orginal Standard Burn Thread - without the work of these individuals, this thread would not be possible. Let us set some opponents on fire as a
way of saying thank you.
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Post #4 by zemanjaski » Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:20 pm

ARTICLE - ZEMANJASKI ON PLAYING IN AND PREPARING FOR COMPETITIVE EVENTS

Greetings Red Mages,

welcome to what has become quite the (delayed) labour of love ~ my treatise on preparing for, and playing in, competitive events. The purpose of this article is to address many of the concerns faced by so many players who are seeking to become more competitive. I will be attempting (poorly) to walk you through a journey, from your first FNM, to larger events, GPTs, GPs and PTQs. The lessons and experiences herein are drawn from my own competitive gaming life (details at the bottom), but are hopefully broadly applicable.

I want to start by talking about how to build a deck, because depending on the event you are attending, this can influence your choices. Then we'll talk about how to give yourself the best possible chance to do well at the event itself. Finally, I will answer some FAQs and rant a bit ~
look forward to that!

So relax, get yourself a cool drink (or a warm drink if it is snowing outside) and a pen and paper ~ good players take notes!

Part 1: Deck Building

Before you can run, you need to walk. Before you can walk, you need to crawl. Before you can have high level success, you need to know how to make a good deck. Even if you end up playing a stock list at a major event, understanding how decks are put together and what makes them function is going to greatly improve your gameplay.

Trust me, I don't end up doing well with the weird brews I play by chance. You have to know what you're doing ~ so let us start with the fundamentals.

A. Play a deck you like

I cannot stress this enough. I almost always play a beatdown deck of some variety. Why? I enjoy playing them. Getting ready for a competitive event, which can involve many, many hours of playtesting, time crunching numbers, time thinking about the
metagame, time thinking about boardstates, play sequencing and decision trees can all be exhausting. Magic, despite being a lot of fun most of the time, sometimes isn't ~ especially when it is a grind. Playing a deck you like is going to make the experience that much easier. I love turns guys sideways. I adore doing the end of turn 'burn you to nothing, untap, before draw, burn you out' plays. Things like that are why I am in this game. So unless there is a damn good reason, I am playing some sort of aggro deck (almost always Rx admittedly).

B. Play a deck you know

This follows closely from the above point. If you play archetypes you are familiar with, you're going to be able to save a lot of time and energy in preparation and testing. Maybe you have played with some of the cards you're considering ~ maybe you have played with similar cards. Experience matters a lot. The greater your familiarity with cards and archetypes,
the more easily you will be able to understand where a deck fits into the metagame and how you want to position yourself, relative to the metagame. The more familiar you are with a deck, the better positioned you are to evaluate new cards and ideas that fit into that deck ~ take Pyreheart Wolf for example. Early on, it was dismissed, but as the format developed and we understood it more, we realised that it was an incredible answer and force multiplier. This was not an obvious discovery ~ cards like this do not normally see play, but because the defensive resources of the format are mostly creatures and removal, Pyreheart Wolf is incredibly well positioned, answering both admirably. The only way we could figure this out was by knowing the deck before adding the card, realising what was missing, playing the deck enough to know what was causing problems in the format ~ only then could we understand why the card is so good.

Next time a format comes up with similar characteristics, were going to know to look for cards like this again.

Playing an archetype you're familiar with also means that you're going to be better equipped to make difficult in-game decisions; whether to play a removal spell or develop your board ~ whether to use a Mortars on a creature now, or try to save it to overload; these are not easy questions, and the better you know your deck and what it is capable of, the more frequently you will be correct. For those who have watched me on stream, one of the biggest compliments I have received was praise for how I am able to defend with a deck that is traditionally not good in defence ~ but the more you know your deck and the cards in it, the better able you are to exploit their hidden potential.

C. Building for the long term (grinding)

There are two types of scenarios you can prepare for: long-term grinding (day-to-day, week-to-week, MODO) and short term (two day GP).

When you're building for the long term, you're only concerned
with your effective win percentage, over that period. Going from 55% winrate up to 60% winrate represents a substantial increase in profit over that period. This sort of deck building lends itself well to decks that minimise luck and increase consistency. Small tweaks over time to subtly change the decks and tune it for the changing metagame are common. This is the sort of deck building I am most comfortable with (I am loosely a MODO grinder after-all) because you find a core that you're comfortable with and slowly work on it over time ~ a huge part of why I think I do well is my ability to outplay my opponent with better knowledge of the matchup, and by playing the 'same' (slightly different) deck over a long time, I feel that I increase that advantage. This is really a topic for another time (and largely what I write about all the time, so go read stuff that I write...)

D. Building for the short term (majors)

On the other hand, you can build a deck
for a single event. This change in approach can be necessitated because it is an all or nothing proposition, win or lose. The variance that you will experience in the long term will not present itself over a 10 round event ~ you need to put yourself in a position to get as lucky as possible if you want to cash. There are a lot of ways that we are going to discuss for doing this, but broadly speaking: you can go rogue, you can make an entirely different take on an existing archetype or you can play the anti-meta deck. We're going to discuss all three strategies in some depth, to see why and how they help your short term results (they sure as hell don't help you long term).

E. When to going rogue

This is the most extreme position you can take when approaching a major event ~ creating something specific for that weekend. While these decks are almost always a flash in the pan, because no one has seen them before, you're likely to have a pretty big edge
against the field if only because of your opponent's unfamiliarity. If they also don't have appropriate sideboard cards, even better.

To build one of these decks, you need to have a really good understanding of what the pillars of the format are (the cards that enable key archetypes and around which other decks are built to exploit or defeat) and how the format engages with them. Maybe the format is trending towards a lot of control decks, each trying to outdo the other ~ so you play the 20 land-sligh-special. Perhaps every man and his dog are playing creature decks, so you seek to exploit that.

While this isn't as straightforward as just doing the opposite of everyone else, what is paramount to being a good rogue builder is having the evaluation skills to understand what the good decks are and why. If you can do that, you're better equipped to position a deck to exploit those other decks. My recent fixation with maindeck Hound of Griselbrand was aimed at exploiting a
metagame built around certain key cards ~ sweepers, Restoration Angel, Thragtusk and little aggressive creatures ~ the Hound beats them all. Rogue deck building is an attempt to expand that approach to an entire deck.

F. Reinventing an archetype

This approach requires knowledge of what has worked in the past, and an understanding of the cycical nature of the metagame. The best recent example of this approach was Worlds 2011 and the CFB Tempered Steel deck. Tempered Steel had not really been a competitive archetype in a long time, but with the format trending towards slower Control Decks (expected to be the breakout performer at the event) and GW Midrange (built heavily around 3-4-5 drops that cannot deal with evasive beaters), Tempered Steel was very well positioned against the field. While the deck would ultimately fall short in the Top 8 (on account of a very poor Mono Red and Wolf Run Ramp matchup), the deck did put up the best numbers against the field over the weekend.

nThis approach requires an understanding of why a deck stopped working, which is not always immediately obvious. If that reason is no longer found in the metagame, it might be time for that deck to make a comeback. While you will still want to tune the deck to the current metagame, you are again trading on the advantage of your opponents not having an appropriate sideboard strategy.

G. Playing a metagame deck

When this strategy works, it is usually the sign of a very unhealthy format, for example, when we had Jund vs Anti-Jund or CawBlade vs Anti-CawBlade. When a deck becomes so popular as to be the overwhelmingly dominant and popular deck, you can play a deck designed to take out the king.

Even in a less extreme example, you can predict what the popular deck at an event will be and plan accordingly ~ perhaps altering your maindeck or sideboard by a few cards to really give you an edge in a matchup. If you expect all the top players to be playing
Reanimator, you should strongly playing a deck with a great Game 1 Reanimator matchup with hate cards in the sideboard ~ sure, your other matchups will suffer, but if you can win a few matches, you're going to face a lot fo Reanimator.

Astute readers will notice that I tend to make a lot of 'anti-deck X' choice when building my lists, frequently making small alterations week by week according to what is popular ~ this is an easy way to get a small edge, even if it does take quite a bit of time. For example, I went through a two week period of trying to figure out the correct number of sneaky Thunderbolts to maindeck...

H. Card Evaluations: Fixed vs Floating and Analysis in Context

What cards are playable, unplayable, broken and mistakes is regularly debated here on MTGS, with every man, woman and child (mostly children honestly) having an opinion. Card evaluation skills take a long time to develop and honestly, there is no substitute for playing with the cards as much as
possible to get a feel for them and what they actually do in your deck ~ all too often an idea that looks great on paper and works in theory will break down in practice. On the other hand, some cards that look very uninspiring can turn all to be allstars in the right deck facing the right opposition (eg: Pyreheart Wolf and Hellhole Flailer).

What I want to stress is that cards operate on different power levels. There are tiers of cards, which I would call:
  • Cards that are Always Good
  • Cards that are Sometimes Good
  • Cards that are Bad

A card like Lightning Bolt fits into the first category. It is one of the most powerful cards ever printed in magic, and a format staple and pillar in every format where it is legal. For a long time it was considered too strong to reprint in Standard, and while it
didn't break the format, it was the paramount consideration in deck design for the entire year in which it was legal. Some cards are that good. Other notable examples are Grim Lavamancer and Goblin Guide ~ if they're legal, you're going to play them and they are always good, great even.

Cards in this category have fixed evaluations. Only in the most extreme metagame will they be bad cards. While they can certainly have bad matchups (yes, even Lightning Bolt is sometimes bad in eternal formats against the fastest combo decks) they are always good against the field.

Some cards are also terrible. A card like Scrambleverse is just never going to see Constructed play ~ not only is it outrageously expensive, resolving it doesn't even guarantee a win! While this is an extreme example, what I want to make clear is that even only moderately experienced players can pick the cards that fit
into these categories.

Cards in this category also have a fixed evaluation ~ unplayable in constructed. That is probably all that I need to say about it honestly.

Where things get tricky is that middle category ~ cards that are sometimes good. How can Searing Spear be a strong card this season, but Incinerate be underwhelming last season? When is Goblin Arsonist playable, and when isn't it? Why was Ember Hauler so good when it was in Standard? Isn't Vexing Devil the real deal?

These cards are the hardest cards to evaluate, I would describe them as floating in value ~ depending on what else is going on in the format, they're going to be better or worse, and their playability will fluctuate accordingly. There are no hard or fast rules here and sometimes cards that were bad can overnight become
good (especially around rotation). Understanding what is going on in the metagame, what decks are increasing or decresing in popularity and what the key cards in the format are paramout for evaluating these cards (for example, see my blog for discussions on the shape of the metagame).

Ember Hauler was amazing because the format in which he saw play was defined by 1/x creatures like Squadron Hawk and Stoneforge Mystic, with decks like CawBlade and Boros trying to attach equipment to them. Ember Hauler could attack fearlessly, then be sacrificed to trade with a huge tempo gain. Hero of Oxid Ridge was amazing at the same time, allowing you to attack for lethal through all of these little blockers ~ but after rotation when everyone started to play larger creatures, he quickly became unplayable. Stromkirk Noble is weak in a format where Vapor Snag is everywhere, but incredible in a format where many decks don't
actively interact with you for the first few turns.

The more you play with the cards, the more testing you do and the better your understanding of how decks and formats work and evolve, the better you will be at understanding how and when these cards of floating evaulation are good. Even recently, we found that Pyreheart Wolfis incredible in the current format, which seems crazy given it is a 1/1 for 2R without haste ~ that is awful right? Turns out the format is defined by midrange and control decks trying to stabilize behind 1 or 2 creatures, the the Wolf stops that singlehandedly. It also makes all the other cards in your deck, notably Stormkirk Noble and Hellrider more powerful. This is a great example of a card that was unplayable prior to rotation (see Vapor Snag above) but is now an archetype staple ~ I wouldn't play a list with less than the full four! This evaluation might change as new sets are released ~ you always need to be
mindful of shifts in the metagame and injections into the card pool.

Developing these evaluation skills is how you know when to play Gore-House Chainwalker at this weeks FNM, or maybe it is time for Lightning Mauler? Alays be thinking, always be critical and always be trying to learn.

An example:


Part 2: Tournament Preparation

A. How to Test

I think this is where a lot of players let themselves down and don't give themselves the best opportunity for long term success (or repeated success I guess). You don't test for large events by playing as many games as possible. Sure, you should still play a lot of games, but you need to focus on a couple of things:
  • Playing against Strong Players
  • Getting Experience against the Expected Field
  • Taking Time to Analyse your Games
Not playing against Strong Players
is a mistake too many players make. Now, not everyone is fortunate enough to have friends with high level experience or to have the budget to play in MODO DEs and 2-man queues. But there is nothing stopping you from playing on Cockatrice and asking other players from MTGS to test with you ~ I have tested with DXI-Edge, Helios, Hamfactorial, Lauphiette Kincey and a few others ~ and its free! So no excuses.

The reason you need to ensure a minimum quality standard for your opponents is because the people you will play at a major event are simply going to be stronger than what you will see at FNM. They're going to make better mulligan and sideboarding decisions, find hidden resources in a bad board state and make sometimex unexpected lines of play ~ the more experience you have against players playing at a high level, the more you are forced to improve your own play. If nothing else, you'll know what to look out for. One of the key reasons that beating up on players at an FNM every week doesn't translate
to success in PTQs and GPs is that you're not forced to develop your game ~ if you're aready winning, you don't develop new skills.

The next thing is to make sure that you're getting experience against all the decks you can expect to face in the event. While rogue decks are always a thing, sitting down and not knowing what to do and how to play against a known archetype is straight folly. No amount of theoretical knowledge will substitute for experience ~ experience will tell you whether a hand is keepable, how much to sideboard, what are the real threats and win conditions in your opponents deck. Experience will teach you how to sequence your plays to work through counterspells. The more experience you have against the decks you will face in the event, the better equipped you will be to face them. This is another reason to play strong players ~ they exclusively play strong decks. See the section below on building a gauntlet for more information.

The other thing I want to stress is that you don't
just play games then shuffle up and play some more. It is sometimes good to note the boardstate when a difficult decisions arises, play one branch of the decision tree, then the other. Sometimes you should show each other your hands to talk through what is going on. This can help you understand what your opponent is doing when you're playing at the event. I mostly test on MODO, so after an event I like to work back through my games and think about what other options I had ~ sometimes I find much better lines, but they're not immediately obvious. It can be really helpful to work through difficult boarsdstates with more experienced players here ~ having notes makes that possible.

Aside ~ it is worth looking at Michael Jacob's videos at http://www.twitch.tv/darkest_mage. He regularly broadcasts his playtesting sessions and explains how and why he positions and develops a deck, a real must watch.

B. Building a Gauntlet

This is nowhere
as near as intimidating as it sounds. I like to identify the decks in the format (using http://www.mtgo-stats.com) and then take a recent example of a 4-0 deck from there. That is literally my gauntlet. Then I will find players who know what they're doing and get them to play those decks against me. Once you have a bit of familiarity with the decks, you can grab different decklists to test against so that you're not thinking too narrowly, or so you can be exposed to some different sideboard plans. I honestly believe that this is the easiest way to always have available good decks to test against.

C. Building a Sideboard (and sideboard plans)

Up until now, we have focussed on building a 60 card deck and figuring out how to play it. Hopefully, we're at the point where we feel comfortable playing it against all the other decks we are likely to face, we know what the plans are in each matchup and what the impprtant decisions and
considerations are.

There are broadly two approaches to building a sideboard, the choice between which is determined by the nature of the format. There are two types of format:

Type A: a format with one or two key decks, with the rest of the format being anti-decks. Recent examples include UW Cawblade and UW Delver.

Type B: a format where there are many viable options, the relative competitiveness of each at any one point in time being determined by recent innovation. The current standard (pre-Gatecrash) or the Legacy format more broadly are examples.

In a Type A format, you know what the best deck is. You know that you're going to play against it a lot. When this is the case, you can be comfortable knowing what decks you will face and can build your sideboard very specifically for those matchups. Something to note is that when you have this degree of certainty (in what the opposing decks will look like) you're sideboarding to hate on those decks. This allows for much
more narrow sideboard construction than you might have otherwise see, such in Patrick Sullivan's SCG NJ 2011 winning decklist:

[deck=Patrick Sullivan, 1st Place at SCG NJ 2011]
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Teetering Peaks
12 Mountain

4 Ember Hauler
4 Goblin Guide
4 Plated Geopede
4 Spikeshot Elder

4 Koth of the Hammer

4 Burst Lightning
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
4 Staggershock

Sideboard
4 Arc Trail
4 Manic Vandals
3 Mark of Mutiny
4 Ratchet Bomb[/deck]

This was a deck built for a time dominated by three decks ~ UW Cawblade, Boros (featuring Squadron Hawk and Stoneforge package) and RUG Control. It wasn't proven at the time, but GW Quest and Kuldotha Red were expected to be decks at the time. So how did Patrick Sullivan build his sideboard?
- Arc Trail for Boros, GW Quest and Kuldotha Red
- Manic Vandals for Cawblade and Boros
- Mark of Mutiny for RUG (they boarded Obstinate Baloth) and Cawblade boarding [card]Baneslayer Angel[
/card].
- Ratchet Bomb for GW Quest and Kuldotha Red

Very simple, very elegant, the plan was actually to play 'Koth Control' post board in all those matchups (save Cawblade) and the construction of the sideboard allowed for this transformation very easily.

Right now, we have a Type B format however, which means there are a great many viable deck options. When this is the case, sideboard construction needs to focus on broadly answering types of deck, instead of specific decks, as well as the specific cards that enable those decks. For example, most midrange and control decks, while they can look very different, usually have some mix of Thragtusk and Restoration Angel ~ so if you can beat those cards you can usually beat those decks.

When I approach this sort of metagame, I try and look at the major archetypes of Aggro, Control and Combo, as so much is possible, but every deck in those categories. By this point I have played a lot of games, so I will know roughly
how my 60 matches up against those archetypes ~ this will tell me how much space to allocate to each matchup. Because I am now boarding against archetypes instead of specific decks, I need cards that are less narrow and more broad, because while Mono Red and GW Aggro are both aggro decks, they play very differently, but if I step back from the specifics of those decks and fight them through their like weaknesses, then I can largely board the same way against them (both decks have problems when you 2-for-1 them repeatedly and your topdecks are higher quality than theirs, so my sideboarding strategy tries to emphasise this).

I will give a current example of this approach, using my current decklist, at the bottom of the next section, as it serves to illustrate this theme based approach as well.

D. Breaking Down Matchups: Role, 'themes', Strategy

Strictly speaking, this is not necessary, but this is how I like to approach deckbuilding and playing, so
I thought it might be useful to share.

I want to have played enough against each deck to get a feel for what really matters in the matchup ~ what cards in their deck, what cards in my deck and what temporal elements are important to understand. These are not always immediately obvious. For example, in the Mono Red mirror, it isn't rocket science that Stromkirk Noble and Hellrider are the key creatures, while Searing Spear (which can kill either) is something you want to draw as many as possible of. After playing the mirror however, I was realising when each player just wants to play out creatures to trade, then use removal on each others creatures, you would both frequently be empty handed and in a topdeck war ~ the player who drew a Hellion Crucible first would almost always win because it is a 2-for-1 to kill it most of the time and it is bigger than everything else in the matchup. I immediately knew I wanted 4 Hellion Crucible in my 75 postboard ~ this gave me the best chance to draw as many as
possible as often as possible. I also realised that because there are so many haste creatures in the matchup, and everything is so small, that trying to rely on blockers to limit lifeloss and stabilize didn't work well ~ we have all had those games where they play a guy, we play a guy to block, they burn it and hit us etc etc etc. Even when you had a couple of creatures, they would just Flames of the Firebrand you and wipe your board because everything was so small, or they would have Pyreheart Wolf to swing through. This told me that I didn't want to rely on little creatures, which led me to board cards like Flames of the Firebrand and Hound of Griselbrand, while boarding out my cards that didn't block well or would expose to to Flames. All of a sudden, a matchup that went from even (slightly favouring whoever might get to go first twice) to very one-sided ~ it is probably better than 80% now post-board. I was then able to apply the lessons learned from those games to the other 'similar' decks in the
format (BR Zombies and GW Aggro) and make that strategy work there as well.

I would say the themes of the aggro matchups I have discovered are:
- little creatures that are weak to Flames
- big creatures that typically require 2-for-1s
- mana sinks (help in the inevitable top deck wars)

If you look at my 75 and the sideboarding strategy, you can see how the deck answers all three themes, much more solidly than most aggro decks normally can. Understanding the themes then informs my understanding of my 'role' in the matchups ~ I know that if I can just keep trading down, I will eventually run them out of cards before they run me out of cards (I have more 2-for-1s and more resilient creatures) then make a Hellion Token and win. That is how almost all my games end up. This knowledge and confidence then educates my decision making during the games themselves. If you watch my stream, you can actually see this all playing out.

I have found that I benefit a lot from writing all this stuff down and
really trying to understand what cards are actually good and bad in each matchup and why, then thinking of ways to gain an edge through my sideboard. Where ideas from different matchups overlap, I try to build them into my sideboard plan. I will let my current deck and sideboard strategy illustrate what I mean:



I go through this process for all the opposing decks, but your experience gained from the Gauntlet, the results of which you should be working through with your testing group and players here, should make this quite quick.

Part 3: Playing the Event

This section isn't where I tell you how to become a PT Champion. Instead, I just want to give you some ideas to think about and reflect upon while you play and while you review your games. A lot of this comes from my background and experience in other games and I haven't seen a lot of it really addressed in other articles ~ deck building and technical skills are important, but there are lot of other 'intangibles'
that go into consistent high level success.

A. Taking Notes

I don't see enough players do this correctly. Don't just be noting down their life totals ~ I like to note down every card that I see them play! This can help you deduce what else is in their deck. The information can also help inform your decisions in-game ("he has already played two of those, so I am not going to play around a third") as well. Sometimes, knowing they run card A means you don't have to or shouldn't play around card B ~ or sometimes the opposite, is true, Card B is only playable in a deck with Card A.

The information is also extremely relevant and useful when it comes to sideboarding. In Game 2 and 3, it also lets you get a read on what sort of hands from their deck are keepable, which will only become more clear as they start to play cards ("he had no turn 1 or 2 play in his aggro deck, so he must be heavy on removal with some higher cost creatures. I
know this because I saw lots of cheap creatures Game 1").

B. Taking Your Time

Most magic players, but especially Aggro players, play too quickly. I tend to be guilty of this myself ~ all too often I get 'in the zone' where all the moves and decisions seem to be flowing naturally, I think I am playing well and I start to rush. This doesn't necessarily cost me games (although it has and will continue to do so), but it can make a game much harder than it needs to be, because you're going to miss a LOT of small opportunities or tactical plays when you're rushing.

A recent example while watching hamfactorial's stream involved his RakDW playing against the 4-colour Human Reanimator deck. Deep in Game 3, we thought we had reached a losing position, with all the obvious plays being very likely bad. Yet, with what was probably 10 minutes of consideration, we were able to find a line of play with the cards we had that not only survived, but gave us a chance to win against
some holdings our opponent might have had. It turned out he couldn't beat the line we selected immediately, and consequently made a few small missplays that let us back into the game, which we eventually won.

Decisions such as when to burn a creature or when to save the removal should not be made quickly ~ you're playing a limited resources archetype and need to be mindful of getting the most value from your cards that you possibly can. If you have a deep understanding of each matchup, this tends to be easier. For example, I know in the Mono R mirror, I am not realistically going to die to a Rakdos Cackler ~ the clock is not that fast and so many cards in my deck can deal with it, whether it be other removal (even if it is less mana efficient) or by blocking ~ so I am not going to use a Searing Spear on it early, when I might need that Spear to kill a Hellrider, a card that I will lose to. Sometimes this means using a Flames of the Firebrand as a bad Arc Trail, so that I can keep the Searing Spear (
because I need the instant). On the other hand, I know that the targets that a Pillar of Flame can kill are largely interachangible, so using it early is completely fine. Taking your time to assess these decisions is going to increase the number of correct ones you make over time.
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Post #5 by zemanjaski » Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:20 pm

Some matchups are incredibly tactical (say, UWr Flash) with neither deck having any real strategic advantage, and both having many ways to really punish the other (eg: running into a Restoration Angel, or them tapping out to wipe your board of little guys + Pyreheart Wolf, only to expose themselves to two turns of Wolf + Hellrider beats, killing them). This makes taking your time and figuring out what they can have, what cards matter and what you can play around even more important. I have had a lot of questions about how I am consistently able to run UW players out of resources in my videos, and unfortunately, the best answer I can give is that I am using my cards better than they are.

If you're prone to playing without thinking too much, sit on your hands and stare at the ceiling. If it is good enough for Russian Chess Grand Masters, it is good enough for us. I personally do that a lot in live play ("all the best moves
are written on the roof")

C. Understanding Boardstates

This is a corollary to B ~ take your time to really understand what is going on. Don't fall into the trap of thinking "either everyone attacks or no one does". Sometimes you need to realize that they're starting to take over, and it is time to br throwing creatures away to push through damage. Always be calculating this ~ if you can throw away a Cackler to get through another 5 damage, then you're paying R for Lava Axe which would seem pretty good to me.

Just be mindful of as much as possible ~ I have had opponents attack into my board with a Silverblade Paladin and friend, only to have one die to a Searing Spear, leading to the Paladin been thrown away for nothing ~ he was relying on the first strike damage for the card to survive. Many opponents have misunderstood Stonewright ~ trying to kill it or its friend before combat, to which you can respond with the pump. Now,
these things all seem silly, but everyone makes mistakes.

I have had Bant opponents who have dealt with all my threats sit and do nothing with their creatures because they want to protect themselves from Haste creatures, when every turn of inactivity is letting me draw into more spells to burn them to death. You need to constantly be re-assessing your role and what your options are. Think about what you can draw, because sometimes that will change your plays.

Sometimes, you need to realize that you can only win by drawing a specific card, or sequence of cards, and you need to play in a way that makes that possible, even if it is very unlikely. Even if your only line to win is ~15% to happen, that is a lot more than 0%, and it will add up in the long run.

Kibler vs Finkel at PT Dark Ascension (triple galvanic blast incident) is really all I need to say.

D. Sequencing Plays (achieving short vs long term goals)

You want to win your games. There is a difference between
trying to win them as quickly as possible (say, always a turn 4 kill) and trying to kill them as quickly as is feasible, that is, through resistance. I can build a deck that goldfishes a Turn 4 kill without resistance, but if my opponent interacts meaningfully, by win rate might only be 50%. Alternatively, I can design a deck that goldfishes a Turn 5 kill (which is much slower) but might have a 60% win rate against resistance.

The same concept applies to your decision making in game ~ you can try to optimize your damage in a single turn, or your can try to maximize your damage over several turns. Usually, you want to do the second one, but avoid falling into the pitfalls of assuming what will do more damage in the long term. There is a great [Q+A] thread you can search where we discuss what is the correct turn 2 play between Gore-House Chainwalker and Ash Zealot, and while it was agreed that generally you play Gore-House, we did find many fringe scenarios
when you would want to play Ash Zealot, even if it meant less damage over time.

The other pitfall I would try to avoid is playing with a turn by turn mindset ~ you want to understand each matchup through the objectives and themes we discussed earlier. Then play according to those obejctives. For example, in the Mono Red mirror post-board, my objectives are:
- trade 1-for-1 with their creatures early and quickly, to conserve life
- get ahead with 2-for-1s (Flames of the Fireband, Hound of Griselbrand, Pyreheart Wolf sometimes)
- exhaust their hand and get into a position where I can resolve a Hound of Griselbrand, a Hellrider or start making Hellion tokens

What I find is that I will achieve the first two objectives and be at about 6-8 life, while they are still at 20. However, they're now out of fuel and I can start landing hammer blows and killing them very quickly (if you can't answer a Hellrider, Hound or Hellion, you die very quickly). These objectives then inform my
decision making in game ("I want to get a 2-for-1 with my Flames of the Firebrand, but I need to conserve life ~ that is my primary objective"). This is how you break your opponent's deck down and force them to play your game.

Sometimes this means knowing you need to run your creatures into counterspells, because you need to resolve your Thundermaw Hellkite in a few turns ~ tactically this forces a choice for your opponent, "let me resolve this Hellrider now and be safe from a Thundermaw I might have, or counter the Hellrider and roll the dice". The more you can think several turns ahead, the better you will be able to move the game into a state where you have the advantage. Regular stream watches will know that my Hellriders very rarely get countered.

E. Game Theory and Psychology

There are two points I want to make. They're short, but fundamentally important.

1. Respect your opponent is a living, breathing, intelligent
person. If they're not, your going to win anyway, so you may as well give them credit. Way too mcu discussion I see in tournament reports or in questions seems to assume that your opponent "just got lucky" or "had the nuts" or that "its ok to make a sub-optimal play because my opponent isn't good enough to punish me". That's all ridiculous, and while players aren't actually saying those things, they're actions are.

Your opponent isn't going to keep a hand that can't win. He is playing against you, who are playing Mono Red ~ they know they need interaction. You may as well give them credit and play around the cards his deck can interact with because if he has a hand that cannot interact and was not good enough to mulligan, then you're going to win pretty easily anyway aren't you? So show some respect and try to think through the game from their side as well.

2. Manage your emotions. This means not playing MODO for money when you're exhausted or you just had a
fight with your GF. This means that when you're playing badly, being man enough to acknowledge it and step back. It means that when you make a really bad, game losing mistake, you can get your head on right, hit the reset switch and play the best game of your life in game 2. There are lots of different ways to approach this, but what I have found works best for me is just playing more games ~ after playing enough games, you stop worrying about getting unlucky or playing badly in a game here or there.

F. When and How to Play Around Cards

This is a debate that comes up fairly regularly, and both camps are correct. The first argument is "you need to make them have it". The second is "you play around cards that can beat you, until you can't play around them anymore".

I tend to agree with both positions. If I can afford to play around a card or set of cards because the outcomes I prefict are still advantageous for me, I will play around those cards. On the
other hand, sometimes my hand just isn't good enough to beat some cards ~ because I am constantly re-assessing the board state, what the objectives are and thinking about what my opponent is doing and what that might mean ~ sometimes you just know that if they have a certain card, you're dead. That's when I select lines of play that "make them have it". If they do have the card, I am dead anyway, but if they don't, I am giving myself the best possible opportunity to win.

There is a real personal decision to be made here, and a lot of it comes down to how much risk-adversity you have ~ are you the sort of person that plays around the third copy of a card, after you have already seen two? I can't tell you the answer.

G. When to Scoop

The more important a game, the longer you should wait to scoop. You're playing a red deck ~ when you win, the games don't take long. In real life events, I tend to force my opponent to kill me, especially if they're a slow
control deck because sometimes this means that they're just not going to have enough time to win two games in a match, but you will. Especially if I win Game 1 quickly, I am going to really take my time in the next two games and really think about every decision ~ if there is only 10 minutes left for Game 3, I can win, and they can't. I am one of the few red mages with slow play warnings :rolleyes:

Especially in long events, when you're opponents are likely to have played a lot more magic throughout the day than you (red decks tend to win quickly and if you're still hanging around in the later rounds, you have done a lot of winning), slowing the game down can prey upon an already exhausted opponent.

On the other hand, be aware that you need to give yourself enough time to win games. If you're going to lose Game 1, be aware that you need to win two
more games in the allotted time ~ so don't fight on after they resolve their second Sphinx's Revelation for a million, because you're just not going to win that game often enough to sacrifice having time for a third game.

The ability to balance these two competing considerations is something that you can only develop over time.

H. On Mulligans

I tend to be in the "mulligan-less" camp, but I certainly don't advocate the LSV "never mulligan*" position. This is because I try to build decks that are very interactive, and I am confidant in my ability to win games even when my draws are sub-optimal. Basically, I don't need a great hand or even a good hand to play ~ you should know your deck and the matchups well enough that you can look at a hand and say if it realistically can win the game. If the hand presents a realistic path to victory, or will enable me to achieve a board state where I am comfortable, I will keep.

Knowing what your objectives are
in a matchup will help improve your mulligan decisions. Returning to the Mono Red mirror example I gave before, I am more than happy to keep a hand that can do a lot of 1-for-1 trades early and keep my life total intact, even if it is short of win-conditions. Staying alive and healthy (objective #1) is more important than being able to kill them right away (objective #3) ~ if I can satisfy objective #1, I can make it to #3, but if my hand only lets me do #3 I am just never going to make it.

*he does mulligan no landers.

Part 4: Other Considerations

A. After the Event

The first and most important thing, win or lose, whether you achieved the goals you set for yourself or not, is to be happy you got involved and participated. The more you play in competitive events, the better prepared mentally you will be for the next one. You'll also be able to identify what parts of your preparation worked and didn't worked.

I am a very compulsive note taker,
so I like to review some of my games after an event, often asking some others at my LGS what they would have done. Under the pressure of a major event, we make mistakes much more frequently than we otherwise would ~ working back through these moments helps improve our thought processes when they occur again, because we have practiced working through them before. Don't be afraid to ask opponents or spectators what they thought of your play, and for advice. No one should be too proud to ask for help.

Beyond that, try to understand that each event, while it can feel super-important and stressful at the time, is just part of a larger journey within the game. When you start playing, every game is a big deal, but then after a while it isn't. Then the same thing happens for matches and eventually events ~ the better you can remember that one game, or one match or one event doesn't mean much, the better you will be able to control your emotions and keep focused at improving in the long run ~ being able to look
back 12 months and see how much better you are is both the most important thing and the most rewarding experience in magic in my opinion.

B. Health, Diet, Exercise

I am not going to lecture you here about getting into shape. You don't need to be rocking a 6-pack to play magic at a high level. What I can tell you from playing computer games competitively, which is extremely mentally taxing, is that a bit of attention to diet and exercise will help you grind out the final hours of those day long events in much better shape than your opponents. After 10 hours of play, I am frequently in much better mental and physical shape than the person on the other side of the table ~ and this translates to a very real edge when they make mistakes assessing the board or in sequencing their plays.

One thing I will stress is that you must get a good night's sleep the night before event, if not the night before that. This means getting your preparation done early so
that you can be rested ~ I have had a lot of round 2 opponents (I have a round 1 bye :) still be waking up when we play, and that isn't doing them any favors against the guy slinging Lightning Bolts. This will also impact upon your capacity to concentrate for long stretches and remain focused throughout the day.

Stay hydrated (drink water or a sports drink). Don't drink soft drink or eat really sugary food ~ the short term energy burst is nice, but you'll soon have an energy crash and be exhausted for the rest of the day.

Regarding regular exercise, I would suggest that if you're a little inactive start off by walking twice a week for half an hour and instead of increasing the time spent, increase the intensity (slowly build to a jog then a run). Increased cardiovascular fitness has been shown to directly improve clarity of thought under pressure, and you'll be less tired throughout the day. I go to the gym six days a
week for short workouts, so if you're looking for ideas, don't hesitate to PM me.

C. Motivation

Staying motivated can be tough. I tend to go through cycles of being hyper-motivated, then burning out, stepping back for a bit before returning fully charged again. I just don't have the capacity to maintain that level intensity each and every week. Usually, I will increase the amount I am playing when a new set comes out to get familiar with all the cards, then ease off until an event is coming up - then I go through this preparation process.

When I am taking it easy, I like to mix playing games with whatever competitive deck I am playing with and working on, with some 'fun' decks (this season it has been BR Curses and UR Izzet-Storm) or play other formats. Even if you don't want to work on a deck because it feels too much like work, just playing the game keeps your skills sharp and keeps you learning.

Also, humor helps, so be sure to drop by the [Flames of Salvation]
clan thread.

Part 5: FAQ

Who are you, and what is your background in Magic?

That question is a little direct, clearly hypothetical asker, but I will do my best to answer the question. My name is James, I am a 24 year old Intellectual Property Lawer (LLB, LLM). My time in magic is shorter than a lot of you (~5 years), but I come from a background of gaming stretching back 14 years. Still in primary school (grade school in the US) I started playing a tabletop wargame called Warhammer Fantasy, produced and sold by Games Workshop ~ I am sure many of you know it. Like many young games, at the start I just wanted to have fun and mash absolutely terrible homebrews against equally awful homebrews. Thankfully, I have a younger brother (two years younger) who also played, and we have always been quite competitive. As we got a little older, we became better at the game. Already, the internet was an amazing resource to learn about the
game and we both became avid students. In 2004 (age 16) I was the Junior National Champion. The year after, my brother won the title. Unfortunately, within two years, neither of us played the game anymore ~ Games Workshop had really ruined it with incessant price rises and power creep. A real shame, it was a damn fine game for a long time.

We both turned to competitive online gaming with Warcraft III. We had both played casually for a number of years, but with our previous source of competition now completely unexciting, we through ourselves into a new game. I was never the greatest player, but I did reach level 50, primarily playing Undead (and yes, because I am from Australia, I almost always played Crypt Fiends because of lag). For a while, I was a broadcaster and commentator at the old Wc3Replays.com website (now, sadly deceased) under the handle 'D3stroy3R' ~ maybe my old replay and commentary packs are still out there somewhere. It was a tremendous amount of fun and a really great community.

nAround 2007, now in first year University, I joined the university gaming club to play a bit more Warhammer for fun. At this point, I was a mostly casual gamer (because you know, girls), but I started playing a little bit of Magic because it was popular at the club. Thankfully, a lot of the themes from my gaming background have been directly transferable to Magic ~ Warhammer involves army building, which prepares you well for deck building; Warcraft III teaches you the nuances of small advantages and thematic strategy. Truth be told, from day 1 I have always been a red mage ~ I never wanted to play the game seriously, so burn decks were both fun and accessible. But, being competitive by nature, I wanted to win these casual games and started reading every article I could on deck design and theory. Nowadays, I am mostly an online grinder, with my work and social schedule greatly limiting the amount I can play. I usually play in States, Nationals and 1 GP a year only, for paper events.

Outside of magic, I
am a film/literature enthusiast and a jiu-jitsu purple belt.

Give me a decklist!

I get this request via PM quite a lot, and honestly, it is very annoying. I put a huge amount of time and energy into building my decklists, for me to play them. When I publish them, sure, they're in the public domain now and I am more than happy for everyone to use them. Something about private requests though, really frustrates me ~ I believe in us working together as a community to collectively improve. I also believe in educating yourself, asking critical questions and putting in the hard work ~ there is nothing special about what I do and anybody can develop their own skills.

Why don't you like Vexing Devil?

Stop asking me this question.

Another frequent source of PMs, I am dead-tired about talking about this card (Thunderous Wrath as well actually). My stance is that Vexing Devil is unplayable in any format*. Take it or leave it,
don't ask me about it. If you're not a strong enough player to understand why the card is bad in standard, go and educate yourself first, and if you still don't understand, then ask.

*Deathrite Shaman is now a big deal in modern. Vexing Devil lines up very poorly against this card.

What do you think of 'pro' players?

My views on pro players are quite controversial, but I assure you that they are based on both talking to and playing against them. I firmly believe there are two types of Pros ~ Good and Bad. Examples of Good Pros: Most Japanese players, LSV, Michael Jacob, Jon Finkel, Brian Kibler. Examples of Bad Pros: the entirety of SCG Blue and Mike Flores (especially Mike Flores). This isn't necessarily two polar extremes, most players fit somewhere on the spectrum between those two points. My issue with the Bad Pros is exactly, that, they're bad. Most of these players are just known players on the SCG circuit,
which if you have not played in it, is like a big FNM ~ the skill level is many levels lower than a GP or even MTGO. Success at an SCG event means very little in the scheme of things.

My greater concern is that it is very much the bad Pros that actively court cults of personality and force their opinions into the public, for less experienced and knowledgeable players to eat up and spout like gospel. Why do they do this? Because they don't win a lot of money playing and they desperately need to supplement their income. A lot of the very best players in the world, like Finkel, Martell and Vidugiris work 50 hour weeks and still frequently Top 32 on the PT. Compare that level of achievement to the SCG Blue team who play magic full time and do....basically nothing? LSV and MJ might be full time players as well, but that is only made possible by the huge amount of success they have had.

The other common misconception is that these Pros are unbeatably good at the game. Kibler went 0-
3 (after his byes) drop at the last modern GP, and 1-3 drop at the one before that ~ and he is a top level, dual PT winning player. They can be beaten, especially the lesser ones. I have won matches against most name players online (except MJ, I have never beaten MJ in a match), and have a crushing record against Todd Anderson, which is fine, because he publicly admitted to bullying his wife to let him become a pro player ~ oh, that's the other thing, the lifestyle is not all its cracked up to be either, unless you're one of the Good Pros.

It is fine and good to respect these people, who educate and entertain us. But when it verges on hero worship, it not only doesn't help your own game develop, but it sets you back greatly ~ how can you beat someone if even in your imagination, they always have the answers?

What resources are there for improvement?

I am a huge fan of articles. My favorite author is Adrian Sullivan. You can check out his archived writings over on the SCG
website. There is an extensive list of articles in the Rx Aggro Primer, you should read all of them before looking elsewhere, then read the archives of all the selected authors (except anything written by Flores in the last 5 years). Beyond that, the best advice I can give you is to be engaged in the community, ask meaningful questions, be critical of yourself and others, and really, really think about what others are saying. Analyze your games ~ only you know what you were thinking when you made a play, and you need to own your mistakes.

I also like watching videos. By a long way, the best video resource is Michael Jacb's steam, http://www.twitch.tv/darkest_mage/videos

If you like what he has to offer, you can check out my own vastly inferior product, http://www.twitch.tv/zemanjaski/videos

PSA: music in my videos and why I don't care if you like it

I will be blunt.
I don't really care what music you would rather I play. At the same time, I am always open to suggestions for music you think I may like. I acknowledge that the music I listen to is pretty eclectic, but it is entirely because it helps me focus. The songs are mostly representative of key points, times or events in my life ~ and being able to focus on those moments helps me manage my nerves when playing. I find the accompanying music relaxing, which in turn helps me concentrate.

Besides, if there is something wrong with liking No Doubt or the Duke Spirit, let alone the Beastie Boys, I don't want to be right.

In Conclusion

Thanks for reading this article. I hope that you had as much fun reading it and laughing at me as I did writing it. If you leave with not much else, just know that improvement in magic isn't about short term solutions ~ it is about continual self improvement. You need to be honest with yourself and own your mistakes. With that mindset, it isn't much
different to life itself ~ you're on a journey and all you can do is do your best to move towards the goals you have. Have fun. Be a good sport and a good person. Make friends and enjoy their company. Be competitive and play to win, but play fair. It is no surprise that the vast majority of top players are good guys ~ the game is really hard, but if you're nice, other people will want to help you, and you're going to have more fun playing (and consequently play more), which will only accelerate you along the path.

Being a Red Mage in particular can be a very trying experience, full of great moments of elation and frustration. We're generally looked down on in the community and WOtC doesn't usually do us too many favours with the card pool. Sometimes it really does feel like the odds are stacked against us. At the same time, you're playing an archetype with an incredibly old and proud history and the skills you develop will serve you throughout the entirety of time spent playing the game. You're
going to be able to break down every new deck that comes along, always sharpening your skills to go for the throat.

Look at Patrick Sullivan ~ that guy wrecks dudes and no one gives him any grief. Develop your skills and master your craft. The kids who can only play the deck of the week will never know what hit them.

Get involved with the community here and at your local. Pick-up others and strengthen their game ~ you want better opponent's don't you?

If you want to be the man, you need to beat the man.
Last edited by zemanjaski on Sun Sep 29, 2013 12:17 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: God damn it James, I hate you and your Aussie U's.
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redthirst » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:20 am wrote:1 - Drunk, surly zem
2 - Nice, modest zem
3 - Bragpost zem
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Post #6 by redthirst » Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:23 pm

I ported what still looked up-to-date and left the rest. If there's anything else specifically you want, lmk.

Also, pretty much everything needs a little reformatting...
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Originally posted by Dechs Kaison on MTGS
redthirst is redthirst, fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. He was the leader of the Fires of Salvation, the only clan I'm aware of to get modded off the forums so hard they made their own forums.

Degenerate? Sure. Loudmouth? You bet. Law abiding? No ****ing way.

Great guy to have around? Hell yes.



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Post #7 by Kaitscralt » Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:40 pm

If anything won't reformat correctly I can go in and probably fix it. Great thread by the way.
Lord_Mcdonalds » Yesterday, 3:13 pm wrote: Standard hobos who play budget garbage should be looked upon with suspicion.

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Post #8 by zemanjaski » Thu Mar 28, 2013 10:51 pm

Remember, my contribution and rivaltuna's were exactly the same value.
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redthirst » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:20 am wrote:1 - Drunk, surly zem
2 - Nice, modest zem
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Post #9 by Kaitscralt » Thu Mar 28, 2013 10:54 pm

Rivaltuna is the worst
Lord_Mcdonalds » Yesterday, 3:13 pm wrote: Standard hobos who play budget garbage should be looked upon with suspicion.

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Post #10 by lorddax » Sat Mar 30, 2013 1:22 am

This content is utter garbage and no one should read this stuff ever....



HORDE ALL THE KNOWLEDGE!!

Hopefully this will jumpstart a new round of red brewing. Hopefully round here we get more flames, less flaming.
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Post #11 by Kaitscralt » Sun Mar 31, 2013 12:47 pm

Can we rename this thread to RDW Primer?
Lord_Mcdonalds » Yesterday, 3:13 pm wrote: Standard hobos who play budget garbage should be looked upon with suspicion.

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Post #12 by redthirst » Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:39 am

I just copy/pasted it because zem couldn't - y'all feel free to do whatever with it. I assumed zem would want to repost/reformat the posts himself and then we could delete my posts.
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Originally posted by Dechs Kaison on MTGS
redthirst is redthirst, fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. He was the leader of the Fires of Salvation, the only clan I'm aware of to get modded off the forums so hard they made their own forums.

Degenerate? Sure. Loudmouth? You bet. Law abiding? No ****ing way.

Great guy to have around? Hell yes.



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Post #13 by admin » Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:46 am

We can change the post user if need be, its an easy trick

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Post #14 by Kaitscralt » Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:46 am

K, I renamed it for now, Zem can lead the way with what happens to the information next
Lord_Mcdonalds » Yesterday, 3:13 pm wrote: Standard hobos who play budget garbage should be looked upon with suspicion.

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Post #15 by redthirst » Mon Apr 01, 2013 2:54 pm

admin » Sun Mar 31, 2013 7:46 pm wrote:We can change the post user if need be, its an easy trick


Please do. zem put hours into this and he should get any credit. All I did was port it.
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Originally posted by Dechs Kaison on MTGS
redthirst is redthirst, fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. He was the leader of the Fires of Salvation, the only clan I'm aware of to get modded off the forums so hard they made their own forums.

Degenerate? Sure. Loudmouth? You bet. Law abiding? No ****ing way.

Great guy to have around? Hell yes.



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Post #16 by admin » Mon Apr 01, 2013 4:44 pm

gave back the posts to its rightful owner.

If you want this bookkeeping posts gone from the primer, let me or Kaitscralt know and we'll ship them away from the thread.

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Post #17 by warwizard87 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 12:49 pm

hey guys not sure if anyone noticed but the url links to the articles it referenced are broken, i do believe they need reformatted for this board. But this article is were i send anyone i know who wants to play red at a event, it covers all the basics and links to all the most important lore about being red. Zem is god, for this artical. some how he channeled a blue mages organizational skills to explain how a chaotic red mages mind works. bravo.
Kazekirimaru » Tue Sep 10, 2013 10:17 pm wrote:I swear to God, every thread we make falls victim to Godwin's law except instead of Hitler it's redthirst's piece.

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Post #18 by Bhikku » Mon Apr 08, 2013 11:37 pm

Rdw question: has reverberate been tested in rdw?
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Post #19 by zemanjaski » Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:05 am

Yes and it is terrible. I wrote a 2000 word essay on why back on MTGS that I don't want to have to dig up :P
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redthirst » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:20 am wrote:1 - Drunk, surly zem
2 - Nice, modest zem
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Post #20 by Bhikku » Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:09 am

Lol ill take your word for it.

Excellent write up btw!
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RDW

Post #21 by Bhikku » Tue Apr 09, 2013 3:21 pm

After returning to magic i figured RDW was the way to go, it seems to match my favorite playstyle and strategies. This thread is going to be a work in progress and i flesh out the deck, a build a decent sideboard, and adjust to different decks and the meta. and of course any constructive criticism is more than welcome. :D
here's what i have (ordered mostly) so far:

[deck=Babby's First RDW]
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
4 Brimstone Volley
1 Mizzium Mortars

4 Gore-House Chainwalker
4 Hellrider
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Ash Zealot
3 Stonewright
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Pyreheart Wolf

1 Hellion Crucible
19 Mountain

Sideboard
1 Stonewright
1 Hellion Crucible
[/deck]
Last edited by Bhikku on Tue Apr 16, 2013 1:01 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Post #22 by redthirst » Tue Apr 09, 2013 3:35 pm

24 land is a little heavy for your curve, I'd suggest 22 until you get Hellkites in the deck.

Besides that, 4 Brimstone is too much (I like anywhere from 0 to 3), 4 Stonewright is probably too much (they're great, but not in multiples - I like 2 to 3) and you're light on creatures.

If you drop 1 Volley, 1 Stonewright, and 2 lands you'd have room for a playset of Pyreheart Wolf/Boros Reckoner.
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Originally posted by Dechs Kaison on MTGS
redthirst is redthirst, fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. He was the leader of the Fires of Salvation, the only clan I'm aware of to get modded off the forums so hard they made their own forums.

Degenerate? Sure. Loudmouth? You bet. Law abiding? No ****ing way.

Great guy to have around? Hell yes.



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Post #23 by Bhikku » Tue Apr 09, 2013 3:53 pm

you bring up some good points, i'll hunt around for some pyrehearts wlves and boros reckoners, i imagine i'll sideboard one of the hellion crucibles and drop a mountain, the volley and stonewright
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Post #24 by Bhikku » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:29 pm

is two of pyreheart and two of boros reckoner a good mix?
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Post #25 by redthirst » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:39 pm

Personally, I'd just go with 4 of one or the other so your deck plays as consistently as possible.

They're both good.
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Originally posted by Dechs Kaison on MTGS
redthirst is redthirst, fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. He was the leader of the Fires of Salvation, the only clan I'm aware of to get modded off the forums so hard they made their own forums.

Degenerate? Sure. Loudmouth? You bet. Law abiding? No ****ing way.

Great guy to have around? Hell yes.



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Post #26 by Bhikku » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:43 pm

pyreheart sounds like it'd be able to bring the damage quicker, which fits in better with the deck, so i'll give 4 pyre's a try :>
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Post #27 by Khaospawn » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:52 pm

Pyreheart has performed like a champ for me. He allows you to maximize your damage output by going around blockers.
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Post #28 by Bhikku » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:57 pm

yeah strategically it makes a lot of sense!
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Post #29 by Bhikku » Wed Apr 10, 2013 1:53 pm

Ordered 4x Pyreheart wolf, and a mizzium mortars to test it out in play. made the appropriate changes to the deck.

Hopefully i have all the cards in time to give it a test soon, ten of them should be arriving today, so we'll see.
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Post #30 by redthirst » Wed Apr 10, 2013 2:01 pm

I don't think there's a MU that you want a 4th Stonewright for, and I'd play more Mortars over Flames since Flames is usually just a 1-for-1 now.
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Originally posted by Dechs Kaison on MTGS
redthirst is redthirst, fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. He was the leader of the Fires of Salvation, the only clan I'm aware of to get modded off the forums so hard they made their own forums.

Degenerate? Sure. Loudmouth? You bet. Law abiding? No ****ing way.

Great guy to have around? Hell yes.



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Post #31 by Bhikku » Wed Apr 10, 2013 2:19 pm

redthirst » Wed Apr 10, 2013 7:01 am wrote:I don't think there's a MU that you want a 4th Stonewright for, and I'd play more Mortars over Flames since Flames is usually just a 1-for-1 now.


oh duh, i'll see if i can scrape up some more mortars.


these ones should be in my mailbox when i get home :cool2: :

Magic - Return to Ravnica - Ash Zealot - Near Mint 4
Magic - Innistrad - Brimstone Volley - Near Mint 4
Magic - Magic 2013 (M13) - Hellion Crucible - Near Mint 2
Magic - Avacyn Restored - Stonewright - Near Mint 4
Magic - Innistrad - Stromkirk Noble - Near Mint 4
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Post #32 by Fax » Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:31 am

zemanjaski » Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:05 am wrote:Yes and it is terrible. I wrote a 2000 word essay on why back on MTGS that I don't want to have to dig up :P


Well I did, in case anyone's curious ;-) Why Reverberate isn't in Z's good graces
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Post #33 by zemanjaski » Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:06 pm

Thanks. Even I find myself convincing, and I argue with everyone.
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redthirst » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:20 am wrote:1 - Drunk, surly zem
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Post #34 by Bhikku » Tue Apr 16, 2013 1:04 pm

this is how the deck currently stands, looks like im going to get one more mizzium mortars to swap out for a brimstone volley, and 19 mountains 1 hellion crucible seems to test out fairly well.
i can goldfish in 4 turns fairly consistently.

hopefully this week i can get to a standard game and actually try it out lol
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Post #35 by lorddax » Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:00 pm

One thing I would have loved to see get added is how to find a team to help you be a better player even if you are the only player you know in your area. Which is kinda what we did with FoS :P
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Post #36 by Alex » Sun Apr 28, 2013 6:44 pm

I played Reverberate a little bit in the list. Copying Sphinx's Revelation always felt good, but other than that it was pretty mediocre. It was a red Dissipate a lot.

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Post #37 by Valdarith » Mon Apr 29, 2013 7:50 pm

I've been bouncing around between mono red and R/g and wanted to drop some of my observations here to get some comments from the crowd:

1) It seems like a lot more decks are integrating ways around Boros Reckoner in their maindeck, particularly nonred removal. He's been a big tempo loss for me in decks running black removal, Azorius Charm, etc. I'm actually taking him out of my mainboard completely and keeping him in the side to bring in against aggro and midrange decks.

2) I feel like splashing green gives three cards that make red aggro much more competitive - Rancor, Flinthoof Boar, and Ghor-Clan Rampager. Rancor makes all the difference in getting past that pesky Loxodon Smiter, and it's a source of reusable damage. Slam it on an Ash Zealot and you feel really good. The Boar is either a 3/3 for two or a 3/3 with haste for three. We really can't ask for more than that, and the three toughness is something all of
the red creatures lack with cmc < 4 save Reckoner. Ghor-Clan Rampager gives us MANY options in the early, mid, and late game and can force some pretty unfavorable decisions from our opponent. Of course, running green adds a small level of inconsistency in the deck, but after playing both decks for awhile I feel like the advantages these three green cards bring give me many more wins than the times that I'm occassionaly screwed out of green, all while actually increasing the favorability of my matchup against the mirror.

Now, since this is the RDW thread, I'll limit further discussion to mono-red lists. What's the most optimal list to play? I've tried all-in red and I just feel like it's missing the consistency of other aggro decks in the format. In all my games I felt like I was playing a strictly worse version of RDW or R/g Gruul sligh.

If I were to stick with red, my list would be as follows:

[deck]
Creatures (28)
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stonewright
4 Ash Zealot
4 Gore-
House Chainwalker
4 Pyreheart Wolf
4 Hellrider

Spells (10)
2 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
3 Brimstone Volley
1 Mizzium Mortars

Lands (22)
1 Hellion Crucible
21 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
3 Boros Reckoner
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Hound of Griselbrand
2 Pillar of Flame
2 Zealous Conscripts
1 Hellion Crucible[/deck]

Yes, you read that correctly. Four Stonewright in a deck with 21 red sources. I have not tested this yet, so I don't know if it is right or wrong (I've only run as many as three in the main before), but I've found myself beating my head against a brick wall of fat creatures and Azorius Charm and I feel running the playset is the best approach to combating this. He's pseudo-haste and an x drop and allows us to trade up with everything. Yes, having multiples in the starting hand can be suboptimal, but I really feel like we want more power AND speed and he seems like the best approach for filling this role. It also frees our sideboard for more flexibility.

Any thoughts on
the position of mono red currently? Does my approach seem plausible?
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Post #38 by zemanjaski » Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:56 am

Yeah, until the metagame changes, I am done with Boros Reckoner as well. It just doesn't match up well against so many decks now ~ the meta has warped to the point that everyone is maindecking multiple ways to engage effectively with it. You know what they're not well positioned against? Pyreheart Wolf :D
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redthirst » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:20 am wrote:1 - Drunk, surly zem
2 - Nice, modest zem
3 - Bragpost zem
4 - Confident and funny zem
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Post #39 by Khaospawn » Tue Apr 30, 2013 2:15 am

zemanjaski » Mon Apr 29, 2013 8:56 pm wrote:Yeah, until the metagame changes, I am done with Boros Reckoner as well. It just doesn't match up well against so many decks now ~ the meta has warped to the point that everyone is maindecking multiple ways to engage effectively with it. You know what they're not well positioned against? Pyreheart Wolf :D

I've been feeling this for about a month and half now.

Reckoner, Schmeckoner. The Wolf is where it's at.

It has personally become one of my favorite 3-Drops of all time. :smileup:
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hamfactorial » Tue Nov 25, 2014 1:41 pm wrote:In a pinch, Khaos' beard can help turn this around.

Col. Khaddafi » Thu Jul 04, 2013 6:02 pm wrote:I rarely skip a Khaospawn wall of text because I know there is always piss at the end of the rainbow.

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Post #40 by Valdarith » Tue Apr 30, 2013 2:15 am

zemanjaski » Mon Apr 29, 2013 6:56 pm wrote:Yeah, until the metagame changes, I am done with Boros Reckoner as well. It just doesn't match up well against so many decks now ~ the meta has warped to the point that everyone is maindecking multiple ways to engage effectively with it. You know what they're not well positioned against? Pyreheart Wolf :D


Exactly! Red has such a hard time removing him, but Pyreheart Wolf really doesn't give a damn and that is so nice. It's also nice running the full set of Wolves vs board wipes.
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