The first week that Kaladesh was Standard legal, it was pretty apparent that one card had become the most impactful in the set:
For both gameplay and flavor reasons, it's easy to see why there are Smuggler's Copters cruising all over the place: they are easy to pilot and don't cost a lot. They are basically the bicycles of the Kaladesh plane. Only they fly. Wouldn't you want to own a flying bicycle? Regardless, Smuggler's Copter quickly defined what kind of removal would be "good enough" in the current Standard meta. Three toughness was enough to disqualify a lot of contenders right out of the gate. (Sorry, Chandra's Pyrohelix, it seems things are never going to go your way...) More troublesome was the ability for vehicles to almost completely dodge sorcery speed removal. When a big chunk of the targeted removal and sweepers in the format can't hit the most ubiquitous creature, it's problematic. For colors that "taking care of creatures" is part of their identity, some adjustments were in order.
For Black it meant that Grasp of Darkness became the default "best removal spell". It's tough to imagine that Grasp, a card that was hardly played its first time around in Standard, could push aside a card as flexible as Ruinous Path, but it's often the Standard meta that "makes the card" and not the other way around. Still, Black found an answer that was similar to how it usually plays, so hooray!
Red, on the other hand, encountered a snag. Reducing the effectiveness of sorceries rendered cards that previously saw use, such as Incendiary Flow and Collective Defiance, to the sidelines. In their place arose instant speed answers like Harnessed Lightning, Lightning Axe and Galvanic Bombardment. While Harnessed Lightning is extremely useful for its energy production, there is something it and the other Instants can't do: they can't damage players. Flow and Defiance can do that; heck, Red can usually do that. Burning players is one of the things that Red is most known for, but it has been severely lacking in that category. R/x aggressive decks are still a force in the meta, but they just haven't operated quite the same way this season.
Burn a Copter, but not a player: that is the choice of Red today.
Aether Revolt is going to offer you a new alternative: Why not both?
Introducing Hungry Flames
So what are we working with?
Mana Cost: Hungry Flames provides some nice value at a decent mana cost. At one Red and two generic mana, it's extremely easy for any deck playing Red, even as a splash, to fit this in. Three isn't dirt cheap, but it's fine as the curve topper in R/x aggro decks.
2 damage to target player: Skipping down the game text a little, the two damage doesn't look that impressive, but a Shock counts when it comes time to race an opponent to zero. Unlike previous cards in this lineage, Hungry Flames targets the player separately, so it doesn't have to be concerned with killing the opponent's creature, or if the creature it's targeting belongs to the target player at all.
3 damage to target creature: The three damage is probably the most important part of the text, so let's take a moment to see what kind of creatures it can remove in the two-three mana cost range:
Hungry Flames has various effectiveness against each of these commonly played creatures. Against the ones with enter the battlefield abilities, like Reflector Mage or the energy producers, the opponent is still going to get some value out of their creature, so the tempo you gain from Hungry Flames will be what "makes it or breaks it". Against the likes of Spell Queller and Thalia, Hungry Flames can easily off the threat and swing the game in your favor.
It's interesting to note how important three damage to a creature is in the current meta. Searing Blood might only cost two Red mana and deal more damage to the opponent, but could wind up being less effective in this meta that is headed up by a 3/3. The comparison between the two cards is going to come up a lot, but the Standard environment that each of them belongs to will probably be very different from each other, and that context is key.
Looking at the above, it appears that Hungry Flames will work best in aggressive decks. It will shine when the aggro deck is on the play, clearing a path for Turn 1-3 creatures to continue assaulting the opponent. The two damage isn't much, but removing a blocker and dealing some chip damage with one card can't be underestimated.
Where might Hungry Flames find a home? Let's start with a relatively budget friendly deck with some results to back it up:
This build of R/B aggro was one of the cheapest ones I could find. Even the upgraded versions only cost 20-30 more tickets, which isn't bad for a deck that can 5-0 Competitive leagues fairly often. After all my talk about Hungry Flames being good against Smuggler's Copter, there's nothing wrong with using it in a deck with Copter too. R/B Aggro has the advantage of running Unlicensed Disintegration, which in a lot of ways is a "better", although more conditional, version of Hungry Flames. If the R/B decks do find room for Hungry Flames, it'll probably be as Unlicensed Disintegration copies 5-6.
If you're looking for an even cheaper, but certainly more experimental, entry into Standard, then this deck might be to your liking:
This mono-Red deck can't harness the power of Unlicensed Disintegration, so Hungry Flames doesn't have to be an "extra copy" in here. While it might be hard to find room without breaking up the discard synergy needed to turn on the Prototype, this is exactly the kind of deck that could utilize Hungry Flames.
A Hint of Flavor
Before I wrap up, I did want to take a few moments to talk about the flavor text on Hungry Flames. As I'm writing this article, we haven't received a whole lot of story details concerning the Heart of Kiran, or what events are taking place as it soars onto the scene. Taken out of context, the flavor text on Hungry Flames offers a tasty tidbit of things to come, but it's also a very narrow view.
Take Dovin Baan's role in the story; nothing here indicates what his motivations might be. Is he being stubbornly U/W, or downright diabolical U/W? Is he in on the evil plot, or compounding the problem with the best of intentions? Will Chandra's lashing out actually be the end of Dovin? Has Dovin Baan become the first throwaway planeswalker? Seems unlikely, but Creative has demonstrated that they aren't completely against "coloring outside the lines" that we expect them to stay in. We'll just have to wait and see, but I do love that Hungry Flames can remove a Dovin that was minus one-d after it came into play.
It'll be interesting to see if Hungry Flames can be a player in the future Standard environment. While it probably won't be the only new answer they print to challenge the dominance of Smuggler's Copter, I believe Hungry Flames is going to show up somewhere in the 75.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of Aether Revolt spoiler season!