1st at SCG Edison Modern Premier IQ on Sep 28th 2014
1st at Grand Prix Kobe on Aug 24th 2014
Now here’s a deck that calls straight to my heart. As I’m an Aggro player in the blood Red has always been a color I most associated with. I’ve followed burn through Standard from year to year, Extended back in the day, Legacy while Mental Misstep was legal, and of course now in Modern. The two main draws of this deck is that there are few lifegain issues in the meta as Soul Sisters is not the most popular deck choice while you’re deck has a wealth of removal to deal with many of the life gaining creatures in Pod decks, and with a largely fetch/shock manabase common to the format most decks do between two and six damage themselves in the first two turns.
I’ve decided to start up a new mini-article series in which I will examine some of the best Magic cards that have ever been made; now I realize that best is a very speculative word, but I will try to stick to cards that most people would agree are some of the best cards in the game of Magic. That doesn’t mean I’ll always stick to this idea, but I’ll try to stay close to the belt on most of them. I decided to write my first article about an idea that I wrote about in my last article, which is to say the idea of the power of the number three. This card has been reprinted more heavily than almost any other card in all of history and its origins date all the way back to the dawn of Magic. I am of course talking about arguably the best of the red damage spells in all of existence, the Lightning Bolt. Not that you couldn’t read the title, but I read somewhere you’re supposed to have an introduction that is mysterious so as to draw readers in.
Now, I think I should begin by telling the history of this card; this card was printed in one of the first “cycles” of Magic that has ever been printed. It was the first cycle of spells, and was printed alongside cards such as the Black Lotus and Time Walk, and cycles such as the Mox cycle of Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited, and the Dual Land cycle. I believe that Richard Garfield (The creator of the game if you don’t know who that is) also recognized the power of the number 3 in the game of Magic and so created the cycle of 3, which contained one extremely powerful spell, one very powerful spell, one balanced spell, one okay spell, and one very weak spell. All of the cards in this cycle cost one mana of a single color and added or did 3 of something; additionally, all of the spells were instants. The broken spell is Ancestral Recall, a card that cost 1 blue mana and allowed you to draw 3 cards or force someone else to draw 3 cards; some even consider this card’s strictly worse versions, Brainstorm, Ponder, and Ancestral Vision too broken for play in some formats and these cards have broken or helped to break several decks leading to their banning in Modern. The very powerful spell is Dark Ritual, a card that received several reprints up until the move to new card design and is still considered a staple in Black Legacy and Vintage decks for its amazing ability to accelerate mana. The balanced spell is Lightning Bolt itself and we’ll get to it in just a minute. The okay spell is Giant Growth, a spell which increases the power and toughness of a target creature by 3; this spell wasn’t terrible, but as it only lasted until end of turn it was almost never as powerful as players wanted and didn’t see too much play not too long after it was printed. The last spell in the cycle was Healing Salve, and just like players of the past, players today figure out not long after they start that spells that only heal are for the most part, just not worth it; as such this card was too weak to see any real play in constructed formats. Now, as for lightning bolt, this is a card that has been reprinted in Beta, Unlimited, 4th Edition, M10, M11, the Beatdown Box set, Masters Edition, and the Premium Deck Series: Fire and Lightning, as well as various promos of the card being printed as well; with an original printing in Alpha. I call this one of the most balanced cards in Magic, because 3 is the golden number for Magic, and cards that are only marginally worse are not considered playable in more constructed formats, and Magic hasn’t dared to go any more powerful than Lightning Bolt since its printing for fear of making a card that was too powerful. It sits in that perfect range of being perfectly playable without reaching out and warping the game too much.
Since its creation this card has seen play in every format its legal in at least to some extent. Its 3 damage to a player sits at the perfect level to accelerate your game to a winning level, without being unbeatable and its 3 damage to a creature acts as a perfect level of removal for most of your early to mid-game creatures without being able to snipe the highest level of creature. Its level of power as well as versatility has earned it a place in famous decks throughout many formats including Splinter Twin, Tribal Goblins, Legacy Burn, Modern Burn, Delver decks in Modern, Legacy and Vintage, and Control in Vintage. Additionally, it earned itself a place in the 2009 World Championship deck. The evidence of this cards power is evidenced by how many strong decks it has been in and by the fact that it is still played to this day in decks in just about every format, but the question still remains, is it too strong? I believe the answer to this question is no; while a card any stronger than this would undoubtedly be far too powerful, the card sits at a power level that doesn’t make it quite as broken as the broken cards of the game.
There are many reasons that cards become banned or restricted in formats, the card is too expensive, it keeps the amount of variance in different decks that are played in a format from normal levels, or it’s too powerful or hard to get. The fact that this card has been reprinted so many times and it is a common in all of these printings is the major reason that the card has not been banned based on price or being hard to get; as this card is a common it shows that R&D and the creators of Magic agree with the notion that while this card is very powerful it is by no means broken. Additionally, it can retain its common status because it does neither of its effects better than all other cards in the game. In removing creature threats, it is easily outclassed by a wide variety of both white and black spells, such as Path to Exile or even Hand of death ; as far as damage spells are concerned, the card is outclassed by Lightning Axe, Lava Axe, Tyrant’s Choice and Goblin Grenade. None of these cards are considered broken or even run for the most part, because even though they are better cards, lightning bolt puts the cards together in a perfect combination for a powerful card. The question that follows makes perfect sense, if it’s the perfect combination why is it a common? The answer comes in this form, the card’s effects even though they are powerful and in the perfect combination are common effects; if they were any more powerful, they might be uncommon or rare effects, but they aren’t any more powerful meaning the cards common rating is well deserved for this powerful card.
So what does the future of Magic hold for pinnacles of the game, such as Lightning Bolt? Well Magic’s R&D department has moved in 2 separate directions to try to answer this question it seems. They seem to continually toy with the idea of making a more powerful form of the card, you can see this through their creation of cards such as Searing Blood, Goblin Grenade, or Searing Blaze. These cards strive to push the boundaries of what has limited Lightning Bolt from being maybe too good all these years; that is to say that they push the boundaries of how much damage a spell should be able to deal, but as is also seen from these newer cards it also shows a reluctance on the part of Wizards to commit wholeheartedly to the idea of a strictly better lightning bolt. This idea of reluctance is reinforced by the other shift that Magic has been pushing towards lately which seems to be the idea of weakening the power of burn spells, or making them more situationally weak. It shows this trend through its printing and re-printing of cards like Lightning Strike; which is the same as Lightning Bolt, only it costs 1 more mana to cast. So where does this leave Lightning Bolt? Well it leaves it somewhere in the middle honestly, the card is not likely to get banned any time soon based on Magic’s printing of situationally more powerful cards, but it feels as though Magic’s also not going to be reprinting Lightning Bolt anytime soon based on its reliance on Lightning Strike as of recently.
By the Will of the Floral Spuzzem Twitter @DC4VP
Very soon now Magic fans, we will exist in a world without Return to Ravnica and what a different world it’s going to be; the old script of decks and tournament play will be scrapped and we’ll return to the primordial ooze of deck construction. Return to Ravnica was a powerful format and it is responsible for staples spread out throughout standard right now; you’ve got power houses such as Sphinx’s Revelation, Desecration Demon, and Pack Rats (You can probably tell which decks I played and hated based on this list). Now, let me begin by prefacing that I really don’t like this format, and I don’t presume to call myself an expert on it, so I won’t begin to tell you about decks that are going to either become dominant or stay dominant until the end of the tournament season. I have, however been playing in tournaments (Not gigantic tournaments, but mostly local events, a few larger) long enough to notice certain trends. One example of these trends is control typically taking hold or seeing more play towards the end of the first or second set in a block. Another trend you typically notice is at the beginning of a new block is a shift to one of the most powerful decks in the most powerful color. The deck is of course Red Deck Wins (RDW) and it can be seen to some extent in almost every single block in one form or another; today I’m going to talk a little bit about the ideas behind this deck both from a flavor and an actual game play perspective, and then I’m going to examine some of the decks played by various players played throughout Standard, Modern, Legacy, and Vintage and try to apply some of the principles behind each of these cards.
This is the decidedly nerdy part of the column, so if you’re just looking for deck construction or points about RDW you can skip ahead to the next section. What is a red mage? A red mage is an individual usually of innate talent, who while not unintelligent, is often motivated and powered by their very tempestuous emotions. They do not act based on what may be considered pure or intellectual, but act based on their own personal code of ethics, personality, and mindset at that time. Red mages may be considered individuals who can be quick to anger, quick to appease, and overall very mercurial in their range of emotions; this isn’t to say that they aren’t loyal. Their loyalty belongs to individuals over organizations and they treasure the bonds to those that they are close to over the traditional organizational bonds that people typically give value to. As their power and their actions are based off of their emotions, these individuals are the most likely to “burn” themselves when it comes to their power, often times losing themselves in the throes of their power and succumbing to anger, fear or hatred. As a side note, it is not often that a red mage would tend to spend time in books studying or honing their skill, but tend to just fall back on their natural talent and strong emotion to win the day for them. All of these characteristics are reflected heavily in the game. The very concept of a red mage is fire and just like a fire, if you play red there’s a very good chance that you’re going to burn yourself out of tournament play. If you think about the various resources you have available to you in the game (I’ll explain all of these in greater detail in a later article), but red typically seems to draw its power from your current state of mind (your hand) and thinking about this from a flavor perspective, your emotional state begins by flaring up and giving you a large swathe of power, but you begin to tire quickly from expending too much mental energy from such emotions and your power begins to wane quickly. (burning out) Even the depth of cards in red lends itself to the flavor of the red mage in a very strong way; red mages typically have one or two strategies for solving problems, burn it or break it, and a red mage is not typically going to spend time examining the depths of their power meaning that the depth of things you can do in red is also pretty limited. Even all the way down to how well the decks place in tournaments is very conducive of the flavor or the red element; a very powerful contender, but not a winner over the hard work and diligence of another color except with a few very talented red mages.
I may be wrong and I may be biased, but I truly believe this to be the most powerful color in the entire game of Magic. I will say fair enough that decks of this color typically tend to fall flat on their face, but there’s a reason for that; the decks don’t have consistency. The printing of cards for this color is really only missing one thing and that’s the ability to draw or at least order your deck. There are exceptions, but for the most part those are either bad for one reason or another (Faithless Looting or Magma Jet), or they have a ridiculously high mana cost. (Past in flames) Even those these cards are either very expensive to play or have large downsides to them, I’m sure you’ve seen them run in plenty of decks and the reason for that is that they just make red so much better that you can’t not use them. Now let’s all address the 35-ton gorilla in the room, surely even with consistency problems why don’t the decks win more, I mean if they’re that good. Well, consistency is half of the equation, and probably a larger problem than you give it credit for (It’s what gives you games where all you do is draw mana, a death sentence in red), but the other half of the equation is that almost every deck has built in side board options just to deal with red. Red is the reason that Kitchen Finks is run for the most part; siding against RDW is even run in some RDW that runs white. If you don’t believe me then put together one of the decks that I’ve got listed below and run it against one of your own decks and see how you fair without your side board. I know there are special exceptions, decks that just run faster (Tron, Metalworker, Affinity, Monoblack Devotion, etc.) but by and large the basic shell of RDW is equipped to deal with most decks in a straight fight.
Let’s just make this point clear, yes RDW is extremely easy to run and yes it is used by people who are just getting into the game for reasons we’ll get into in just a second, but that doesn’t mean that it takes no skill to win with one; if you lose to it, it means there was some flaw or error in your play or deck that allowed you to be overrun by the red deck; they exist out there and if as opposed to coming up with a game plan and a side board, you just spend your time whining about how you lost to the deck, then you’ll never overcome your flaws when it comes to playing against red. Now that that’s said, choosing to play red is a very difficult choice, it is a color that will screw you eventually and refuse to play for you some games, just out of the blue. The other thing that you have to understand about red is that it is a mathematician’s deck; while white may have rule-makers, blue may have strategists, green may have conquerors and black may have tyrants, it is actually red that has the mathematicians. The red deck is designed to do more with less and work around a single number, the number 3. This is a deck that revolves around somewhere between 3 to 4 turn wins as consistently as possible by running cards that typically cost 1 to 3 mana, and deal about 3 damage. But why is this 3 so important? Well you might as well call it the Magic number in Magic; with most of the powerful stabilizing spells sitting at 4 to 5 mana, and decks typically taking the same amount of time to stabilize (begin to fight back against aggro strategies) this is the amount of time decks straight aggro decks have to pump in their hits consistently. Now, you’re probably asking yourself why 3 damage or 3 mana? In a typical hand over the course of 4 turns you will see 10 cards; that is the latest average time a straight aggro deck has to win a game, before stabilization can really begin. Taking into account that you want to play 1 mana until you have about 3 mana on field, that leaves you with 7 cards, or 6 if you played 1 mana every turn for 4 turns. In these 4 turns with 7 cards you have to deal 20 damage, meaning that you have to deal 3 damage with 6 cards, at least and 2 damage with your last card to take out the minimum amount of life. Alternatively, if you have 6 cards in hand, you have to deal 3 damage with 4 cards and 4 damage with 2 cards in order to take out the minimum amount of life. Did you know that this is one of the healthiest decks in the game of Magic? With most of your games lasting somewhere between 4 and 5 turns either way, decks like this allow you to do other things while competing in tournaments and can help you keep healthy by giving you time to go get something to eat or hang out with friends between rounds. Not to mention, your typical red burn runs with much cheaper cards than other decks in the same format, allowing newer players a chance to get more accustomed to the basic rules of the game before purchasing an expansive complicated deck that they may not understand.
There are a few archetypes of RDW that are run, and I will now attempt to explain each one:
First in our example of decks is a deck which took 4th in a Legacy open in Worchester on 06 July 2014.
The decklist is as follows:
As you can probably tell by looking, this is a deck that is designed to knock opponents off their feet and then keep them there, Goblin Guide, a powerhouse in almost every format in Red allows you to almost always get in 4 damage before he’s stopped. Grim Lavamancer acts as extra damage for all of the used up cards in your graveyard. Eidilon of the Great Revel works to punish players for playing cards with some of the most common mana costs in the whole format. One thing you’ll notice about the mana base of almost all red decks is the fact that they don’t run many lands compared to the whole of the deck, and they use fetch lands to try to thin the amount of lands that you will draw throughout the course of your game. Sulfuric Vortex not only deals damage to your opponent each turn, but it also stops your opponent from being able to gain life a powerful advantage over your opponent. Fireblast is a ridiculous spell that at the cost of 2 mountains deals 4 damage to something of your choice, which can mean the end of the game for your opponent in a lot of situations. Price of progress punishes players for playing the best and most commonly run type of lands in the format. Searing Blaze not only acts as outstanding creature removal, clearing a path for your creatures to swing and dealing 3 damage to your opponent at the same time. The rest of the cards main deck are typically used to just get in 3 damage the face to your opponent and push you one step closer to victory. As for the side board, you have Vexing Shusher (Stop your opponent from stopping you), Satyr Firedancer (Damage a creature each time you deal damage to a player), Mindbreak Trap (No more searching), Red Elemental Blast (Blue is a pain), and Smash to Smithereens (Metalworker ends games). Overall, this is a very powerful deck that places very well typically despite its consistency and hate issues, the one change I would issue would be to try to include 4 Vexing Devils in the deck, but I’m not sure where I would squeeze them in.
This is a goblin deck of my own creation, because Goblins have apparently fallen out of flavor with the game, I still love the deck and it still is competitive with the right side board. This deck like most of the decks of the same type tries to leverage the damage-dealing ability of its creatures to get in for enough damage to win the game before the opponent has the chance to get back on their feet. Ember Hauler is a powerful card, allowing you to swing in for 2 with the option to pop him and deal 2 extra damage to target creature or player. The Goblin Bushwacker appears with the ability to pump up all your red creatures, give them haste and pump up their power by 1. Goblin Chieftain allows you to get in there for as much damage as possible, by giving all your goblins haste and +1/+1. Goblin Guide, Searing Blaze and Lightning Bolt are strong for reasons previously mentioned. Spikeshot Elder is one of those rare hidden gems, being able to deal his power to target creature or player and being able to be used as many times as you want per turn, he has the ability to burn down opposing creatures and players, making him almost always a great play and also giving you a sink for all your extra mana. Legion loyalist further pumps all of your creatures and gives them first strike and trample, stopping your opponent from being able to just chump block and trade for all of your goblins. Then, you have Goblin Rabblemaster which will not only generate board presence for you, but will also swing in for a powerful hit when surrounded by other goblins. After that you have Goblin Grenade, at 5 damage for a goblin and 1 red mana, this card doesn’t really need any more explaining than that. You want to avoid drawing lands in this type of deck and that accounts for the lack of lands in the deck and the filterability of Arid Mesa mixed with the fact previously stated accounts for why there are so few lands in the deck. The last card in the deck, the Teetering Peaks allow you to burst your creatures quickly without having to lose a land spot and the 2 extra damage is a big help; can also boost Spikeshot Elder for a powerful ability enhancer. The sideboard of my deck deals with most of the difficulty that my deck typically ran into; affinity is a huge problem in Modern, so by running Shattering Spree, we attempt to slow them down long enough for us to take the win. Blood Moon or Sowing Salt is my way to deal with Tron and most other decks that are based around non-basic lands. Surgical Extraction is my way to deal with all of the combo decks that I don’t have another plan against yet, such as second sunrise back in the day; the card also helps against decks that base themselves around the graveyard and is a handy tool against Tarmogoyf. Dismember is really my only defense against creatures with protection from red as well as large creatures that goblins can’t really deal with. Finally, Pyrewild Shaman is my one card combo against Control, pumping what needs pumping and being uncounterable and instant speed, being a creature when I need another creature, returning to my hand to do things more than once every time I deal damage to an opponent, and being a goblin forever; working into the overall strategy of my deck. The only card that I left out which warrants inclusion in the main board of the deck is Arc Trail, just a value card with the ability to be heroic in the mirror match as well as a great solution to most of your infect decks.
By the Will of the Floral Spuzzem @DC4VP on Twitter
The Legacy format is filled with cheap and efficient cards as it has access to the best ever printed over the entire history of the game. This deck is one of those that takes full advantage of that fact to pull together a cast of the top choices creating a highly disruptive killing machine. It pulls together permission, removal and draw to quickly dispatch all enemies that stand in its way. It’s no surprise whenever a deck of this style takes down a tournament.
Quite possibly the best Blue one drop ever printed, and quite aggressively out of Blue flavor, we have Delver of Secrets supported by an almost 50/50 split on spells which will be able to blind flip it turn two so you’re able to commence with the beatdown plan. Follow that up with True-Name Nemesis which demands the opponent to find an answer to it or they will definitely die to that unchecked clock. Both of them are supported by Stoneforge Mystic who is able to either search up an Umezawa’s Jitte to equip one of your attackers or find you a Batterskull to commit further to your beatdown plan. Next we speed up the deck with an abundance of card draw starting with the perennial Brainstorm, coupled with Ponder and Phyrexian freebie Gitaxian Probe which also provides you a sneak peek at the opponents plans. The deck also packs a very robust permission package centering around another format staple and free spell Force of Will, backed up by also free Daze and cheap but disruptive Spell Pierce. Then we round out the deck with top quality removal with the main reason this deck dips into Red with Lightning Bolt and also the classic Swords to Plowshares which will convienently exile most any creatures which are presenting you with certain doom.
By rights this is the deck that should have won in Minneapolis last weekend and would have if that Scapeshift had not been peeled off the top. Jund has long been a bogeyman of the format, but the recent ban on Deathrite Shaman did a lot to suck the wind out of its sails. But it continues to compete as a tier 1 strategy because it has so many powerful pieces of disruption and removal, backed by a team of beatdown creatures.
The main strategy to victory revolves around two key monsters crashing the red zone with longtime all star Tarmogoyf widely accepted as the best two drop beater ever printed as it continues to scale up as the grave fills with different card types, and also manland Raging Ravine which continues to grow with each attack and as a land is able to dodge any sorcery speed removal. There is also Scavenging Ooze which has the ability to grow to epic proportions as well but is most useful as a way to control the opponents graveyard if they are operating with any recursion now that Deathrite is no more. There is also Dark Confidant which is the decks main source of grinding card advantage and newcomer Courser of Kruphix which is largely a brick wall with its four toughness but also acts as a form of ramp and those life points will often be very relevant in the end. The next key element of this deck is the disruption package and that is found with three trios of discard with Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize as amazing turn one pinpoint extraction also enabling you to see the opponents current plans, and also Liliana of the Veil which is a symmetrical discard but you are able to prepare properly in advance and often force early misplays from the enemy. Liliana also double as removal with her sacrifice ability and is able to rid the board of troublesome creatures especially Hexproof or Indestructible ones that you normally would not be able to destroy. The remainder of the deck is basically more removal of varied flavors including Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse able to hit many different problem permanents, Slaughter Pact and Terminate as pinpoint removal for creature threats, and Anger of the Gods which provides the deck a sweeper capable of exiling the many recursive creatures especially from Melira Pod decks. There is also the requisite set of Lightning Bolt, almost a given for any deck in the format running Red, which doubles both as removal but also as additional reach to close out games quickly. The final card is a one of Chandra, Pyromaster which with her ability to negate blockers will be a road to victory in many games that she hits the table and her second ability help provide additional draw to the deck which is one element that is not a strength.
Shaun McLaren has already proven his dominance of the UWR Control deck in Modern so it looks like he felt it needed a tweak to keep performing for him. And while it was not able to propel him to the top spot, it was good enough to push him into the top 4 of a very strong field. His deck still has the classic control elements of draw, permission and removal but adds an interesting creature twist to grind out all the value.
Let’s start from the top with the title card which adds the new spin with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker who is no stranger to Modern but has traditionally been found in either the Twin or Pod decks. Here we find him used to grind out some mega-value or even surprise combo for the kill. So looking first at that combo kill, when we pair Kiki up with Restoration Angel you create a possible infinite loop of tapping Kiki to copy Resto then blinking Kiki with the copies into play trigger to rinse and repeat. You can also flash in Resto as a blocker if Kiki is in play and create enough blockers to shut down an alpha strike from a Twin deck, very sneaky. The other key target for Kiki is Wall of Omens which works to shore up some ground defenses while providing a solid and steady stream of card advantage. There is also Snapcaster Mage which can continue to rebuy spent spells in the grave with Kiki. A singleton Vendilion Clique is extremely useful in the deck as a way to not only gain information about your opponents plan but also to help disrupt it as well. The manabase also affords us the inclusion of a set of Celestial Colonnade which are a key beatdown element and one of the main avenues to victory. As advertised this is a control deck and thus has a well rounded permission suite starting with a set of Mana Leak, a pair of Remand, and singletons of both Spell Snare and Cryptic Command. The removal is also very heafty including Lightning Bolt and Electrolyze to either burn creature or straight to the dome, and Path to Exile to decisively remove any creature threat in the way. The deck is also able to squeeze two Tectonic Edge into the manabase as an additional hedge against manlands or Scapeshift combo. The draw power of the deck lies primarily with the Wall, Electrolyze, Remand and Cryptic, but the are also singletons with a Sphinx’s Revelation and a Desolate Lighthouse to bolster the draw package.
We start off with the namesake of the deck or what I like to call The Flying Lightning Bolt in Delver of Secrets which is supported by 28 ways to flip, and should always be close to 50/50 on a blind flip if deployed on turn one to really lay down the beats. That is coupled with beatdown king Goblin Guide as a second option for a great first turn play to start laying down the beats. Given the plethora of instants and sorceries in the deck we also have Snapcaster Mage to rebuy a key spell that you’ve already used and then work on laying down the beats. As you can see this deck is truly a weapon of mass destruction. Support player Grim Lavamancer can either help clear the way for your army or throw additional fire in their face and will often find the graveyard stocked with any of the many spells or fetchlands. The deck has a stockade of burn with full sets both of Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning which at one Red mana for three damage are amazing, and easily reused by a Snapcaster. There is also a one of Forked Bolt which can clear two defenders or a dude and to the dome, and a pair of Price of Progress which in Legacy will mostly net either six or eight damage quite often sealing the deal. The counter suite is modest but necessary including format staple Force of Will to keep combo decks in check and Spell Pierce. We round it out with some draw power from Brainstorm, Ponder and Gitaxian Probe to ensure a steady stream of low cost threats continue flowing to your hand.