Deck Deconstruction: Mono Red Aggro Edition

IslandGoSAMe goes over the past, present and future of Mono-Red Aggro, an archetype nearly as old as Magic itself.

Look At Me, I’m the Beatdown Now

Mono Red Aggro has been a staple of almost every format, starting with Sligh Red in 1994, and appearing intermittently throughout the years with varying power levels. It has even lead to a few bans, including Black Vise being restricted in Standard and Vintage in 1996, Kird Ape being restricted in 1997’s Extended format, Cursed Scroll’s banning in Tempest Block Constructed, and Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramunap Ruins being removed from standard as well nearly 20 years later!

Although red decks aren’t usually the decks that end up on the chopping block, they sometimes can get scarily close. Atarka Red was a dominant deck in Standard, using Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage to one-shot your opponent, especially combined with prowess creatures such as Monastery Swiftspear. This Standard deck of old was such a fan-favorite, that players continue to try to make this strategy work in multiple other formats, such as Naya Zoo Burn in Modern, and RG beatdown in Pioneer. Sadly, Pioneer cannot support a Gruul manabase due to a lack of fast-lands. Pioneer has the ones from Kaladesh, but, unfortunately, not the ones from Scars of Mirrodin. Due to this, we are forced to play more mono-colored aggro decks – leading to the dominance of one of my favorite strategies – Mono Red Aggro.

This is my list from last Saturday, when I took home 2nd place in the MTGO Challenge. I have been having a ton of success with this deck, as have many other players on MTGO as well. Mono Red has been a top contender in Pioneer for a while at this point, ever since the printing of Kumano Faces Kakkazan. This new card enables everything in this deck, making your small prowess creatures able to contend in combat with everything else, triggering spectacle for your 8 spells with that keyword, and becoming a 2/2 body with haste – all for the low, low price of one whole mana! This, combined with a very low curve, a few midrange threats like Bonecrusher Giant and Chandra, Dressed to Kill leads to one of the most potent aggro decks this format has ever seen! Even rivaling that of Mono Black Aggro when Smuggler’s Copter was legal!

The Times They Are A-Changin’

In the past few weeks, although there have been zero new additions from Streets of New Capenna, there has been a ton of innovation in this deck – so we’ll start off with the glaring difference between this 75 and most other decks: three Lightning Strikes. Most people will tell you “Don’t play Lightning Strike, it’s worse than Skewer the Critics in this deck!” Or “you want to be lower to the ground than that!” But to them I ask this: have you ever considered playing both? That’s what I decided to do after playing against Greasefang variants four times in the same league, and the “most current” version of Mono Red at the time had a very bad time in that matchup. The only way to answer Greasefang, Okiba Boss at instant-speed was by using a singular card – Redcap Melee – a card that would make you sacrifice a land when it killed the rat (unless you have a Soul-Scar Mage in play), and zero ways to interact with him in the main deck, by the way. This was obviously no good, so I fired up the next league with three Lightning Strikes, because not only is this card great at killing the various x/3’s in this format that should be killed immediately (like Greasefang, Ledger Shredder, Supreme Phantom, etc.), but is also just more direct damage! All we had to do was cut Kari Zev, Skyship Raider from the main deck, and we were all set. Although Kari is great with Kumano (because making the body with menace & first strike a bit bigger is always great), she can be a bit slow and vulnerable, so I am fine with cutting her down to add the necessary parts to make this newer version of the deck “tick”. The other cuts were two copies of Wild Slash, which are great for triggering prowess and enabling spectacle and such, but they do not fit the bill for dealing with the creatures that we are deeming important, so they could go as well. With that, the changes to the main deck are done, and now we can move to the sideboard.

Blue creatures have been rising in popularity over the past few weeks, mainly due to the dominance of Spirits in the hands of deck specialists such as MTGO users HEROTsukai and Fink64, and people finally realizing that yes, Ledger Shredder is as busted as it looks. Due to that, and also being great at fighting Winota, Joiner of Forces and Greasefang, we added two copies of Rending Volley to our sideboard. Following the logic train, if these decks are popular, then that means UW Control will struggle in this metagame, allowing us to cut a copy of Roiling Vortex, a card that is really only good versus white-based control decks, Niv to Light, and Lotus Field, none of which are very popular at the moment. With these alterations, everything else in this SB has been pretty stock for a while – three Rampaging Ferocidon, two value Planeswalkers, the one Burning Hands to be able to beat Cavalier of Thorns out of Mono Green Ramp, and then the two Redcap Melee and three Lava Coil to beat all of the other pesky threats that have toughness large enough to make us sweat during combat.

Something’s Wrong, I Can Feel It

One thing you will notice that I am missing, however, is any copies of Goblin Chainwhirler. While most people would say two or three copies of this card is stock, I would beg to disagree. People like this card mainly for its application against the mana dork decks, Winota and Mono Green, and any other deck that plays an abundance of X/1 creatures, like Spirits. Being able to play an “ok body” that can kill one or two small creatures on ETB is nice, but in all of my experience, this has been way too slow. Turn three is NOT the turn you can afford to be killing the dorks out of Winota, it needs to be the exact turn they come into play. Yes, Chainwhirler interacts very favorably with Soul-Scar Mage, putting counters on your opponent’s creatures that didn’t outright die due to the trigger, but I personally don’t find this to be enough of an impact. Instead, I have recently been playing End the Festivities, which is just a Chainwhirler ETB on a one-mana sorcery. You miss out on the body, but this effect will come in clutch against the elf matchups, allowing you to tag one or two elves while being even or ahead on mana, and allowing you to trigger spectacle to cast a Light up the Stage or Skewer precombat to get more precious prowess triggers in. In more Winota and Mono Green heavy metagames, this used to be my go-to spell, that is, until this week. A new innovation from MTGO user morticiansunion showed us the best effect of this type for the Winota matchup, Cinderclasm. Two mana to kill your dorks, or three mana to wipe the board of all Cat tokens, Wolf tokens, Brutal Cathars, Voice of Resurgences, AND the dorks? Sign me up. Since we don’t have a real Pyroclasm effect in Pioneer, this will have to do. The flexibility on this card is great regardless, as you don’t need to cast it for two damage when you know it would kill your Eidolon of the Great Revels and Kumanos. This card is the perfect mix between the two sweeper effects, landing at just the right mana cost to be playable. Going forward, you should expect to see me playing with one or two of this card in my sideboard, as it seems to be the perfect card to shore up one of our most difficult matchups.

The End.

While Pioneer has existed for almost three years now, it can still be considered to be in its infancy. There has been a little bit of support for it in the form of MTGO Challenges and PTQs, but nothing as impactful as announcing that the first Pro Tour post-COVID-19 will be Pioneer, and that future paper PTQs are also able to be this format. The format is changing once again now that there is a fresh set of eyes and hands molding new decks, strategies, and plans. You will need to keep up or you will be left in the dust!

Or – you know – you could just play Mono Red.

  • IslandGoSAMe

    Pioneer Competitive Guide

    Sam is an OG Pioneer player, brewing decks with his team since day one of this format, fleshing out the early metagame with the rest of the MTGO grinders. He knows the ins and outs of the format and spends way too much time playing it. He is known for creating Jeskai Lukka Fires, World Tree Combo, and Omnath Turns, and continues to create new and awesome decks while providing video content for all to consume.

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