I made my name in PDC with a Red deck. My first event I blazed through everyone with what became known as Top Deck Red because it seemingly won off the top. It was built on a curve and designed to deal twenty damage as quickly as possible. Not only was it a Red deck, but it was The Red Deck of the day.
But what exactly does being The Red Deck mean?
Many writers much better than myself have written about The Red Deck of any given format. It is a deck that can reduce your opponents from twenty life to zero in the shortest possible span of time. These decks come into existence when a critical mass of cheap efficient creatures, burn, and utility spells enter a format. The larger the format, theoretically, the faster the deck. This is sometimes due to older formats having more efficient cards (such as Savannah Lions in Extended over Blade of the Sixth Pride in Standard) and also a larger pool from which to draw resources and possible synergies. The Red Decks are best at doing one thing: being aggressive. They just keep on attacking until eventually there is nothing left to attack. Currently, the Red Deck du'jour of PDC is Burn Range. This list made the semifinals of a Euro event in mid-August:
The Gruul Turfs are in there for the fun sideboard tech of Nantuko Vigilante and Tin Street Hooligan. This deck plays another “over costed” 1/1 in Sparksmith. The Smith can only hit creatures, but in this deck it can take down most threats thanks to his Goblin pals. In this way, he clears the path for his friends to smash face. This is the key difference I see in the decks: Burn Range starts on creatures and finishes on burn where as Top Deck Red just tries to win on creatures and sometimes uses burn as a finisher. This is a subtle difference but is important because it can impact how a plan is formed. Burn Range has less of a late game, whereas TDR can grind out some games. However, this information comes from my old games with these Red Decks and also my personal bias. I believe Red Decks need, in this environment, a good long game plan. The creatures in TDR can stay around longer thanks to the tricks played by Goblin Sledder, telling me that it has a better long game. With good life gain cards such as Aven Riftwatcher, Faith's Fetters, and Armadillo Cloak running around, having a mid-game plan is important. Burn Range can often deal twenty four damage. In my experience, TDR can deal upwards of thirty, and with the life gain, this is important. These decks still, do not run the most efficient creatures in PDC, meaning that while they are good, they may not be the best Red Deck.
This deck is fast- everything is burn. In an unprepared field, this deck will simply plow through opponents, whittling down their life with creatures and ending it with a barrage of burn spells. To me, this is a pure Red Deck, purely obsessed with dealing damage to the enemy. In a sense, this is a pure Magic deck, designed to simply pummel the victim before defenses can be set up. It wins on time- playing against Burn Range puts you on a short clock that ticks from turn one.
This is not the Red Deck I would play. It has nothing to fall back on. Also, some of the creatures are rather inefficient. Vulshok Sorcerer, while a fine pinger, is a 1/1 haste for a whopping three mana. By the same token, Oxidda Golem is a 3/2 hasty monster that will also, often come down for three mana (or less!). My current Red Deck sacrifices some of the offensive pop for a more resilient maindeck. It plays a very similar game, but has a few key differences.
4 Flame Burst
1 Forgotten Cave
4 Goblin Cohort
3 Goblin Sledder
2 Gruul Turf
4 Oxidda Golem
4 Skirk Marauder
4 Emberwilde Augur
3 Gathan Raiders
Red Decks all want to play the most efficient creatures. In PDC, this more often than not means playing creatures with power greater than their total casting cost. The most common form of creature in PDC that fits this requirement is a 3/3 for two mana. That majority of these creatures are found in the Rakdos guild. A few months ago Tom and I built a hyper aggressive deck that took advantage of these beaters alongside strong burn and removal and put together a nice little deck known as 2Drop. Then Gobhobbler Rats stopped working (it no longer regenerated) so we shelved it. Well, this week they fixed the Rats, and now 2Drop can deal damage once again. With only four spells that do not deal damage- Terminate-the deck can just attack attack attack and then burn burn burn until the opponent is left at zero. Brute Force is quite a player here, as it will often save a creature or help deal the final points of damage. Every creature in this deck has the potential to attack for three damage for the slim cost of two mana. This enables the deck to run more cycling lands, giving it stronger draws than some other decks. The redundancy of the creatures also leads to a similar game plan each time it goes out: you will play a good beater on turn two. This one is fun to play, and combines good burn with good creatures-it is quite a Red Deck.
This deck plays a consistent game and can sometimes just bowl over opponents. Be careful with the Drooling Ogres, however, as sometimes a signet can sneak up on you and ruin your day. Or someone could be running Affinity...either or y'know.
The other guild that can lay claim to being purveyor of the Red Deck are those bad boys of Gruul. RG Aggro has been the touchstone of aggressive PDC decks since the days of powered Affinity. This deck features potent creatures that have strong abilities to back up their otherwise average sized bodies. It does not play as many 3/3 creatures as 2Drop, but the creatures it does play have a way of wrecking combat math. Here is a version I piloted to a top 4 finish at a recent Mini PDC:
This version is a departure from older versions do to the minor Madness theme. The addition of Gathan Raiders allows for Fiery Temper to be cast for R a large portion of the time. On top of that, the Skulk provides some additional evasion late and a beater early. And sometimes Fireblast just wins games. Oh, that Wild Mongrel is a savage beating as well.
All of the decks listed here are in fact Red Decks. The addition of a second color can often provide a strong late game that the pure Red decks lack, while taking away from some early game punch. More imporantly though, each of these decks is the Red Deck of a different metagame. Burn Range is solid for a blind choice or when the meta has become so slow as to start after turn four. However, in a meta with heavy lifegain and a reliance on White, RG or 2Drop might do better (my version of 2Drop always runs Flaring Pain in the board for this very matchup). Similarly, RG is good against a wide gamut of decks and 2Drop can often take advantage of a slow control draw. However, if the metashifts towards heavy board control, then TDR or Burn Range could be the Red Deck of the day.
In a format like PDC, there can be multiple Red Decks. The card pool is large enough that for each meta that is on the spectrum, a Red Deck will develop. While there needs to be the given critical mass of burn and of good creatures, these do not exist in a vaccum. Drooling Ogre is good at his job, unless the meta has numerous Signets running around. Similarly Fiery Temper is a great burn spell, but if the decks cannot support Madness, what is the point? Therefore, I do not feel that there is a Red Deck for a given format, but rather for a given metagame. Playing the given Red Deck will give you a good chance of getting to the elimination rounds, that is, if you know what you are doing. Let us never forget David Price: There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers. That is what the Red Deck can be: the ultimate threat to a given meta.
But does the Red Deck for a metagame always have to be Red? PDC has a large pool, and can often find analogs to cards that are exclusive to the Red part of the color pie. Most notably, Green has pump spells. Additionally, most colors in Classic have access to halfway decent good beaters. And some colors even have cards that actually do burn the opponent- Blind Hunter anyone? What this means is that for a given metagame, the Red Deck does not have actually have any Mountains in it! While this is a rare case, it can exist.
Take, for example, this list:
This deck is decidedly not Red. Instead, it approximates the burn it is lacking through Gempalm Polluter and Strength of Night. Xombies! Is in fact a strong aggro deck with a good card advantage element- Infernal Caretaker can “draw” you on average five cards (I once drew fifteen, good times). The creatures themselves are efficient, but there is one catch: this was not deisgned as a Red Deck. Instead, it can take the mantle in a given metagame. The recursive elements combined with the lifegain from Gutless Ghoul gives it a decent advantage over all but the fastest aggro decks, making it the Red Deck of choice in a metagame of that nature. It also has burn that can over come Circles of Protection, again in the form of Polluter. This deck can sometimes sneak into being the Red Deck for a given day, but usually leaves that title to decks with Mountains.
So how does one beat the Red Decks? Board control seems to do the trick. MBC's mass of removal combined with strong life gain can prove to be a tough time for decks of this style. When decks like these dominate, you see slower Red Decks, like Xombies! (with a strong late game plan) carry the banner until the meta will shift once more.
What about Standard? I have been told that I do not write about Standard enough, and it is the truth. Currently Standard is in fact domianted by an aggro-combo deck: Saps. The deck wins by pouring out 1/1 tokens and then pumping them with Pallid Mycoderm. Sprout Swarm and other token makers make it tough to fight through to do anything. This is PDC's Tinker deck-it can just win. In a format with Tinker, the Red Deck is hard pressed to make a dent. The critical mass of necessary cards does not exist in Standard for one to exist, at least at the level it needs to. The closest I have come is a serviceable Rakdos deck that runs Terror and Last Gasp alongside Incinerate and Shock with Martyr of Ashes in the board. And you know what? It still is too slow half the time.
Keep slingin' commons-