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By: 3drinks, Chris
Dec 13 2013 12:51pm
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Hey, what’s up peeps? Long time no write. Miss me? *hears crickets* No? Aw.

Haha anyway, I’m here once again with another of my articles, but not about my Commander league – no, I want to talk about a little project of mine I’ve been working on for around the two years mark. As some of you may know, or many of you could guess, I’m fairly anti-blue and pro-red. But I play one-on-one almost exclusively compared to multiplayer. What does this mean for in a Commander sense? Well we all know how overbearing Blue as a colour can be in the format, what with Mana Drains, Time Spirals, Curse of the Swines, and commanders like Azami, lady of Scrolls or Teferi, Mage of Zhalfirs. But! In my continuing venture to force people to take notice of Red as a colour, I’ve been working with a friend of mine to show people that just because Red is all about burn and small quick dudes, doesn’t mean it isn’t very good for the format on it’s own.

“But 3drinks”, you’re probably thinking, “We’ve seen Krenko, Mob Boss and the new Red God as commanders. You’re not talking about anything that hasn’t ever been done!” And that’s fair, except that I’m not building a swarm deck like these two – I’m building “AiR” or All-in-Red for a forty life format. Sounds daunting? Sure. But I’m up to the task. 

Now, the first thing you have to realize, when making a deck such as this work, is to throw out any such notion about mana denial being “uncool”. Second thing is you need to understand the philosophies of the colour, where it shines the most and where it will begin to lose steam – for Red, this is the early game up through the mid game. So you need to keep the game here – don’t let an opponent try to ramp to nine mana to Tooth and Nail their way to victory. This goes back to my first point about mana denial – don’t be shy to slam down a Stone Rain on that Tropical Island – because you know that Primordial or Deadeye Navigator is going to wreck the crap out of you, your deck, and your gameplan. Aside from the denial suite of cards, how do we setup such a strategy in this format though? Simple. Make every mana you spend count – maximize your damage output per mana spent ratio, just like you would in a sixty-card constructed format such as Standard or Modern. My deck for example, curves out at four with just a single card at five mana Possibility Storm because of the way it thrashes any kind of permission deck. So what commander can possibly lead the way for such a daring archetype? Well let me tell you, I’ve tried the gauntlet of them. Let’s take a look at some of the potential candidates, shall we?


Heartless Hidetsugu


This guy seems the obvious choice, right? Five mana for a 4/3 body that can deal twenty damage in one activation! While these are good reasons, the fact remains that playing a five mana commander in a colour that doesn’t get ramp outside of mana rocks will lead to trouble in the grand scheme of things. While five mana for twenty damage is incredible, the path to get there is rather lackluster. While playing your Mind Stones and Thran Dynamos to build up to the chance to cast this guy, that’s mana spent that doesn’t directly kill our opponent - in this example that’s six mana spent that just gave us some extra mana until someone plays a Shatterstorm. Add to this that the Ogre himself isn’t going to get activated until turn six at the minimum, or turn five with a haste outlet, and suddenly it becomes all too apparent that this isn’t what the AiR archetype wants to see after all. Perhaps however, that this Ogre would be more at home if this deck was designed for multiplayer, but I can’t really comment on that as I A) don’t do multiplayer much, and B) multiplayer is not what this article is about. So moving along, let’s take a look into the next legendary red creature that claimed to be commander we wanted.


Urabrask the Hidden


Are we seeing another problem here? Five mana, much the same as the Ogre. But this one has a benefit – he gives all of our guys haste, and slows the opponent’s guys down at the same time! And we can even curve our commander into an Inferno Titan, that’s surely too strong of an interaction to pass up, right? While that’s true, we’re still not accounting for what our colour is the strongest at. We’re still trying to play this deck as a big mana deck, throwing five drops and six drops and seven drops (oh my!) at our opponent. The only problem is, that any other colour can just do this better than us. So as much as it pained me to admit, I retired this deck in this form. 

That is, until the printing of Chandra, Pyromaster in M14! She, alongside Koth of the Hammer, gave me everything I wanted for a Red deck – burn plus evasion, an extra “draw”, even if I did have to use it that turn and an ultimate that I really don’t care about, but could be cool if I hit it. So I went back to scour the list of commanders available to me, and then I saw him.


Zo-Zu the Punisher


This little Goblin. Three mana for a 2/2 with an Ankh of Mishra attached. Think about it, we don’t need to hit a ton of land drops to be good – we can get by with Stromkirk Nobles and (Chandra’s Phoenix)s, with “big” curve toppers such as Hellrider and Hound of Griselbrand. While these little guys may seem fairly innocuous, combine their raw damage output with the incidental damage our three mana commander can provide us, and then know that we’re in the colour that provides the damage the fastest be it from a Black Vise or Lightning Bolt, and all of a sudden, hey, we can prey on these decks that try to “go deep” and knock them out before they could even utter the phrase “I cast Time Stretch, targeting myself”. Thanks to Zo-Zu and us getting “Chandra the Playable”, this whole deck has begun to fit together like a glove – I feel like my two years of theorycrafting, building, testing, and rebuilding has finally come to an Apex – and I want to share such a list with everyone here that has ever been interested in making this style of Red deck work!


So as said before, this deck does not like to go above four mana, and every mana spent needs to be in the most economical way possible to maximize potential damage output. This is why, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are no Swords in this deck! At three mana to cast and another two to equip, this is far too prohibitive, likely requiring two turns to setup. This is unacceptable as we don’t want to give our opponents that much time to react. So in this stead, we play one of the most cost-effective equipment in history: Bonesplitter. This simple, humble rusty axe gives any of our dudes an extra two power for just one mana, and it sticks around for later use – it’s like a continual casting of Staggershock. Mask of Memory is great on our vast wealth of manlands, or especially evasive critters like (Chandra’s Phoenix) as it allows us to cycle a card for a draw2. And at two mana to cast, and just one to equip, holy crap is this efficient! The next two equipments are Grafted Wargear and Ring of Valkas – the former is three to cast and zero to equip, and raw power boost (just don’t equip it to a manland unless it’s the final swing!) while the latter is two to cast and one to equip, but it gives the creature haste…and we like haste. Lastly we have (Umezawa’s Jitte), an equipment that needs no introduction – perhaps one of the greatest equipments of all time! It pumps, it’s removal, it even provides some life gain in a pinch.

“But 3drinks”, you’re asking, “What happens when you don’t get the nuts draw and Stone Rain your opponent’s turn 3 Forest and let them Cultivate their way to victory?” Ah yes, a fine question. Ramp decks exist. And to this end, we can take advantage of their huge spells, and make them really hurt with cards like Manabarbs and not to mention Zo-Zu’s ability to – Zo-Zu sees lands placed onto the board by these effects as well as lands they play per turn. So if they’re fine with eating fourteen damage from a Boundless Realms, then I’m fine with them playing this – it will likely kill them outright, or put them into a position where I can dispose of them quickly… *cough* Acidic Soil *cough*. In addition to these cards, we’re also playing both Fork and Reverberate, so sometimes we can piggyback off of their powerful spells as well. I like doing this with Ancestral Visions, personally.

If they’re a greedy three colour deck, that’s why we have our nonbasic disruption suite. Whether it be a Blood Moon or a Dwarven Miner (who makes a fantastic choice to pick up an axe later, by the way), we can take solace in knowing they will have a very rough time working through that disruption – perhaps it will slow them down long enough for us to win. And hey, we’re always just a single Price of Progress away from victory against these decks…

This deck takes a “pre-boarded approach”, meaning it takes advantage of knowing Blue is the most commonly played colour, and allows me to make use of the ubiquitous Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast – a tactic that seems to catch a lot of these players off guard, not expecting the Red guy to have a one mana counterspell available. Some will criticize this tactic, citing “dead cards” but honestly when Blue decks are the most commonly expected colour to play against in the format, I remain confident in this approach.

So there you have it. I want to thank you for taking the time to read this article about the colour Red in commander, and I hope you not only enjoyed this, but also took away some additional knowledge you could put to good use in your own deckbuilding in the future. Have fun, and remember, if you’re not tapping Mountains, you’re tapping the wrong colour!




I went to the deck list by Leviathan at Fri, 12/13/2013 - 14:08
Leviathan's picture

I went to the deck list first, and was a little confused. Then read the article and noticed it was for 1v1 which makes a lot more sense. Just a couple quick questions:

Why the snow lands? Am I missing something?
No Ruination? Seems like it would fit what you're talking about (costs 4 mana, resource denial, etc.)
Obisian Fireheart? It has an efficient body, and you can dump excess mana into it for consistent damage. I don't really play 1v1 but it seems like a possibility.

I do like seeing Wild Guess in a deck though, nice touch.

I use the split of snow and by 3drinks at Fri, 12/13/2013 - 14:36
3drinks's picture

I use the split of snow and non-snow so that I can piggyback off of others' Extraplanar Lens and dodge effects that care about certain named lands (Wake of Destruction comes to mind, among others). It's a non-zero amount of benefit for no extra risk on my part (Avalanche not withstanding lol).

For Ruination, it would be like the third Moon, but it has to fight for a slot over both Manabarbs and Boom/Bust. Barbs gives too much damage (and will often times force a concession by a lot of decks) while I often cast Boom way more than Bust (so good with fetchlands or downright nasty with Strip Mine).

Perhaps Ruination could replace Burning Earth? Both four mana and heavily disrupt nonbasics. But I think I like my own nonbasics sticking around, a la manlands and stuff. But it's certainly a consideration to keep in mind.

Fireheart is good, real good. At the top of the curve though, what four drop is he better than? Avalanche Riders? No way, haha. Hound of Griselbrand? But he has to be killed twice, while otherwise having the same weaknesses of Fireheart. And I shouldn't be able to get more than one activation off per turn.That said, maybe I might test it over a different slot entirely...replace Possibility Storm? Perhaps?

Wild Guess is great, as you know already I'm sure. Better than Faithless Looting (net +0 CA vs net -1 CA).

Thanks for the comments, it's great feedback!