PUT IT ON THE LINE
I tried my best to stay as far away from this format as I could. I didn’t want my pure Pioneer mind to be infected by the virus known as Explorer – I just didn’t want to pay any attention to it. I would love to say that I had a sudden change of heart, decided to expand my horizons, jump headfirst into something new and that I am excited for the possibilities ahead of me – but no, the only reason I played this format was because my 9-6 record at Pro Tour Streets of New Capenna qualified me for the Arena Qualifier Weekend BO3 Explorer event, and I needed to play this format because it was “free money.”
That being said, taking a week to learn about this format did allow me to try new things that were just not possible in Pioneer. I explored different archetypes that Pioneer pushes out of the format due to power level concerns – such as GBx Fight Rigging and Jund Food. I tried new versions of Humans and Spirits and both were super interesting. Sadly, however, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, and I decided to register Mono Red Aggro, a list that takes heavy inspiration from my Pioneer version of Red, and one that is extremely different from the stock version of Explorer Red. Let’s talk about this version of this archetype, why this is not the “stock” seventy-five, and why I have been crushing the ladder with this deck.
Explorer Red is missing two very key pieces that Pioneer has access to… those being Eidolon of the Great Revel and Monastery Swiftspear. These cards account for a lot of the power of the Pioneer version of Mono Red, and they allow you to be a lot more spell-based, relying on the Prowess ability of Swiftspear, and the reach that Eidolon gives you in the matchups where creature-combat matters a bit less. In Explorer, however, I need to work around that, and the best way to do that is to go a bit bigger. In this version, I chose to do that by playing Rampaging Ferocidon, which is not only a good card that “taxes” my opponents for playing creatures of their own, but it also completely shuts down strategies that are key to this format, such as Rakdos Anvil, Wx Angels, and Jund Food. All of these decks heavily rely on their life-gain elements to go long against the Red deck, and with three copies of Ferocidon main-deck (as well as the fourth copy in the sideboard), I am allowed to not be as scared of those matchups as I am in Pioneer. I am also playing Kari-Zev, Skyship Raider, but that is a pretty clear inclusion – and a nice one-for-one replacement for Eidolon. It fills out the curve very nicely and provides a large amount of aggression… something that Swiftspear helped a lot with. I also include three copies of Fanatical Firebrand, and while this card is objectively not that powerful, it is still a great one mana creature to fill out that missing spot in the curve, and it allows us a bit of reach in the late-game that Swiftspear would sometimes not allow us to have.
This new deck that I have plays extremely similar to the Pioneer version of the deck, and that was one-hundred percent the goal of my deck building process. I wanted to create a deck where I would be able to utilize its similarities to enter the format from a perspective that I have a lot of experience with, and it worked. Using just the fundamentals that I learned from the Pioneer version of this deck, I currently boast a 31-5 win-rate (eighty-six percent) with this deck in BO3 (and 4-0 in BO1). Now, is this version better than the “Chonky Red” decks that players such as Frank Karsten have been piloting? Let’s take a look.
This deck is – well – completely different. Instead of utilizing aggressive haste creatures and burn spells to kill your opponent, this deck just looks to go larger and wider than the rest of the format, both at the same time. As I remember from Standard, Anax, Hardened by the Forge and Embercleave is a game-ending combo. Additionally, Torbran, Thrane of Red Fall backed up by a large board of red creatures is very difficult to beat. Past this however, the deck can be extremely clunky. This style of deck will get demolished by a control deck, looking to remove the one threat you play every turn, unlike when playing against a traditional Mono Red Aggro deck, where they are stumbling to find a sweeper or some way to come back from a low life total super early on in the game. It’s hard to imagine that this red deck has a bad matchup against opposing creature decks, but against most control or combo decks, you’re going to have difficulty closing the game in a meaningful amount of time before the window to do so has been slammed shut.
This is a deck with much more polarizing matchups than the Red Aggro version. If you are expecting a lot of Rakdos Midrange and Mono Green Stompy, then Torbran Red is clearly the correct choice. However, if the metagame you think you’ll be facing is a lot more open-ended, or you’re just looking to jam some Best-of-One matches for fun, then my version of Mono Red is most likely going to get you higher up the ladder.
I know I have a long history with Mono Red, and therefore I may be a bit biased when I make this statement – but I really do think that this archetype is underexplored in Explorer. It seems like people have an innate aversion to this deck due to the missing pieces (mainly in the form of Eidolon of the Great Revel). Thankfully, it seems like this exclusion isn’t as drastic as people think. Without going into too much detail and spoiling the next Explorer article I will be writing, without cards like Treasure Cruise and Expressive Iteration being legal, it is now significantly less important for effects like Eidolon to be in this format, as there is no deck that is casting an abundance of spells like Phoenix, Izzet Prowess, or Lotus Combo. Without these archetypes cards like Eidolon, while still being innately powerful effects, don’t have the “if you don’t have the removal spell you lose right now” line of text. It’s going to be exciting to see what the next Explorer Anthology set will bring to this format, but while I wait for the day for Eidolon and Swiftspear to join me, I think it is still a great time to be slinging some burn spells