Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events.

Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.


 

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Get Aggressive With Big Red
by Jeff Zandi
August 16, 2004


Lots of people like combo decks, and lots of people like control decks, but in tournament Magic, aggressive is usually the best way to go. In the continuing effort to dominate the Mirrodin Block Constructed format for the Pro Tour Columbus qualifying season, aggressive means Big Red. So far, artifact affinity decks have performed very well. However, I feel that mono red has all the tools it needs to be the best deck in the format. Last Saturday, I played kind of an old school version of Big Red in a qualifier in Dallas. The deck performed well enough, but I never really felt great about the deck construction. There are a LOT of good mono red tools for beating all the other decks in this format while providing plenty of aggressive punch at the same time. The trick is finding the right mix of cards. In order to find the BEST mono red block deck, we need to look at all the options. Letís take this deck apart card by card, then you will be able to make your own decisions at the end for putting together the best possible version of Big Red. We will start with the best cards, the absolute slam dunks, then move to cards that may or may not be in the starting lineup.

THESE CARDS ARE ALWAYS IN YOUR DECK

Arc-Slogger
Four. You need four of these. This is very possibly the best card in the deck. Normally, you donít get to say that about a five casting cost creature, but Arc-Slogger is just THAT good in this deck. You usually get to use his ability four times in a game, donít be afraid to use those activations to gain card advantage over your Affinity opponent. Against more control oriented decks, it is less likely to be important to remove blockers from your path. In general, you need to get Arc-Sloggerís big four points of attacking damage up against your opponentís face as quickly as possible, so Big Red will run some kind of acceleration to get Slogger in play a turn early, as in turn four.

Electrostatic Bolt
You need four of these too. This is your deckís primary defense against really good opening draws from Affinity. This is also an important card in the mirror match for your opponentís turn two Slith Firewalker. I would like to think that this card would also be important against other aggressive decks, but Iím afraid there really arenít any other decks that you really need to be concerned with. Saturday, I played against the mono white equipment deck, and the Bolt was definitely good against that deck, but you wonít face mono white very often, and you will probably win those match ups easily anyway.

Pulse of the Forge
This card is your finishing damage very often. Once you get the hang of knowing when to take intentional mana burn in order to take advantage of Pulseís recurring ability, you will definitely want to include this card.
The real question is how many to play. You could make worse decisions that to simply play four, but I think this card is slightly narrow, itís not the best card to draw every turn of the game, so I think two or three is completely fine. After sideboarding, I would always want to be able to have three of these in my deck.

THESE CARDS ARE IN MOST OF THE MONO RED DECKS

Furnace Whelp
Fifth Dawn does not contribute all that much to the red deck, but Furnace Whelp is one of the two important cards that do contribute. Whelp gives control players, Tooth and Nail in particular, a really sick feeling in their stomachs when it comes into play. Evasion and the ability to pump up make Furnace Whelp a very dangerous card against Tooth and Nail, and gives you some defensive back up against Affinity in game one. Against Tooth and Nail and other control decks, it is better to maximize your damage than to play another creature and risk having it countered by blue playersí
Condescend cards. Basically, try to end the game as quickly as possible. If your opponent is not playing blue, and you already have Whelp in play, you can play another creature if you think it will help you win the game faster.
Personally, I have not found this card as helpful as other players have. I played three Whelps on Saturday, but could almost have done without them, favoring the speedy beats of Slith Firewalker.

Slith Firewalker
The more aggressive your intentions are with Big Red, the more likely you want to play with Slith Firewalker. When you play first with mono red, EVERY ONE of your opponents is afraid that you will play Firewalker on turn two.
It seems like a shame to disappoint them. The one mono red player in the Dallas PTQ last Saturday that made the top eight did not include Firewalker in his main deck, but had four of them in his sideboard. I think he was trying to have it both ways, and I donít think you can. In other words, I think Slith Firewalker is either in your main deck or else not in the deck at all. My pick would be to play Slith Firewalker. If you do play the Firewalker, the only number that makes sense is four. You have to give yourself the optimal chance to play this card on turn two, or else donít play them at all. Red players that donít like Firewalker in the main deck say that it is because Firewalker isnít very good against Affinity. I can see it both ways: in one way, Firewalker can be good against Affinity if you are playing first and your opening hand contains at least one Electrostatic Bolt, Magma Jet or artifact destruction so that you can remove a would-be Firewalker blocker on their side of the board; on the other hand, even when Firewalker is suboptimal against Affinity, the card is SO STRONG against other decks that it is worth playing main.

Solemn Simulacrum
While not the most aggressive card ever, Solemn Simulacrum is a good card for you several ways, gaining card advantage for you while getting a needed land into play and providing you with a 2/2 body as well. This card is generally considered part of the more old school build of the red deck, but I think this card is well worth four slots in most versions of this deck.

Shrapnel Blast
Almost every version of this deck that has done well includes three or four Shrapnel Blast in the main deck. Lots of players believe Shrapnel Blast is the most important non-creature card in the deck. Shrapnel Blast performs two different jobs in this deck, providing the last punch in many games, removing an opponentís Arc-Slogger from play in the mirror matchup and in destroying a big creature in the Affinity deck or Leonin Abunas or some other target from the Tooth and Nail deck. So called old school versions of Big Red have more artifacts like Solemn Simulacrum and Talisman cards, making Shrapnel Blast better. As far as how many of these to play, four is probably better than three, and three is probably the smallest number you should consider.

Magma Jet
This card is Fifth Dawnís OTHER contribution to the main deck of Big Red.
Frankly, as good as this card is, it feels a little bit like a luxury. Magma
Jet never deals more damage than Electrostatic Bolt. A lot of the time,
Magma Jet is two damage to your opponentís face at the end of their turn in
order to use Scry to improve your next draw. This use of Magma Jet is
perfectly fine, but highlights the fact that as good as Magma Jet is, it is
simply a decent tool card, not crucial to either of Big Redís main missions
of defeating Affinity and defeating Tooth and Nail. The decision can NEVER
be to run Magma Jet instead of Electrostatic Bolt. This means that if you
run Magma Jet, youíre running A LOT of cards that basically do the same
thing. The best reason to run Magma Jet along with Electrostatic Bolt is
Affinity, since you can often have two of your eight quick removal spells in
your opening hand. Because this card is an add-on to the already mandatory
four Electrostatic Bolts, it is possible to play less than four Magma Jets.
If you do play less than four Jets, I doubt other copies will find a place
in your sideboard, you have much bigger things to worry about in what can be
a very crowded sideboard.

Seething Song
This card represents a real dividing line between the two most popular
varieties of mono red decks in this format. The question is mana
acceleration. You want to get Arc-Slogger in play as quickly as possible.
After sideboarding against Affinity opponents, you want to be able to play
Furnace Dragon before turn nine. Both of the most popular varieties of mono
red dedicate four slots (sometimes more) to acceleration. If you run
Seething Song, you have the opportunity to put Arc-Slogger into play on turn
three and Furnace Dragon by turn seven or even sooner with two Seething
Songs. The alternative to Seething Song is artifact mana in the form of four
or more Talisman cards. Seething Song provides acceleration only one time,
while Talisman cards stay in play providing acceleration turn after turn.
However, this format is FULL of artifact destruction, and so your turn two
Talisman may not be in play the next turn to actually help you accelerate.
Seething Song provides more certain acceleration and can deliver a turn
three Arc-Slogger, which the Talisman cards will not. Players that prefer
Seething Song also point out that the most important acceleration is the
FIRST acceleration. To the Seething Song player, it is much better to have
Arc-Slogger on turn three than to have the possibility of mana acceleration
for more turns later in the game.

Molten Rain
Most of the successful mono red decks in Mirrodin Block Constructed run four
Molten Rain in the main deck. These cards are fine against most decks,
giving you a chance to disrupt your opponentís mana development. Mostly,
Molten Rain is in the deck for Tooth and Nail. Against Tooth and Nail, it is
VERY important to destroy Cloudpost. If you are not using your turn three to
accelerate into a Furnace Whelp or Arc-Slogger with Seething Song, use this
turn to destroy your opponentís land with Molten Rain. Last Saturday, I did
not include Molten Rain in my main deck, and Iím pretty sure that was a
mistake. This is the single most important card you have against Tooth and
Nail. Running it main seems to be the best way to go.

Flamebreak
Flamebreak deals three damage to all non-flyers, but more importantly, it
does not target and does not allow creatures damaged by it to regenerate.
This card is in this deck primarily for the matchup against green decks
using Ascetic Troll. While the card is also decent against Affinity and
other red decks, I find this card easy to leave in the sideboard.

LAND

Darksteel Citadel
This indestructible land is an easy way to include artifacts to sacrifice to
your Shrapnel Blast. That may sound asinine, but this is basically why this
card is in most every build of Big Red. An old school mana set up using more
than four Talisman cards can probably leave out Darksteel Citadel if they
want to.

Great Furnace
You will want to run anywhere from two to four of these, depending upon how
many artifacts are in your deck. The idea is that you will need six to eight
artifacts in your deck to make Shrapnel Blast effective.

Blinkmoth Nexus
This card gives you a good way to do extra damage to your opponent. This
card also gives you another way to sacrifice an artifact to Shrapnel Blast.

Mountains
Try not to forget to include some of these. They make red mana, which you
need.

MANA BUILDS FOR SUCCESSFUL BIG RED DECKS

Michael Kuhman finished second at Grand Prix Orlando with this mana build:
Seething Song x4
Darksteel Citadel x4
Great Furnace x2
Mountain x18

Aaron Vanderbeek ran this mana set up at a Pittsburgh PTQ:
Seething Song x4
Mountain x24

Jason Adams ran this mana set up at a recent PTQ:
Talisman of Impulse x2
Talisman of Indulgence x2
Solemn Simulacrum x4
Blinkmoth Nexus x3
Darksteel Citadel x4
Great Furnace x4
Mountain x14

I ran this mana set up last Saturday in the Dallas PTQ:
Talisman of Impulse x2
Talisman of Indulgence x3
Solemn Simulacrum x4
Blinkmoth Nexus x4
Darksteel Citadel x4
Great Furnace x4
Mountain x11

Tommy Richardson was the sole red mage in the top eight at Dallas last week:
Solemn Simulacrum x4
Talisman of Indulgence x2
Talisman of Impulse x2
Seething Song x3
Darksteel Citadel x3
Great Furnace x3
Blinkmoth Nexus x3
Mountain x13

Raffaele Lo Moro ran this mana set as a top eight finisher at Pro Tour Kobe:
Solemn Simulacrum x4
Darksteel Citadel x4
Stalking Stones x3
Mountain x17

Alesandre Peset ran this mana set up as a top eight finisher at Pro Tour
Kobe:
Seething Song x4
Talisman of Indulgence x2
Talisman of Impulse x2
Mountain x15
Stalking Stones x2
Darksteel Citadel x2
Great Furnace x4

FINALLY, DONíT FORGET THE SIDEBOARD

Shatter
The winner and STILL champion, Shatter is simply the best card for handling
artifacts. Keep say, FOUR of these in your sideboard in case you run into, I
donít knowÖ, some deck constructed almost entirely out of artifacts!?!

Detonate
This card is becoming a little less popular with those ďin the knowĒ who
claim Detonate is more often than not simply land destruction against
Affinity. I donít see anything wrong with bringing up to four Detonate from
the sideboard against Affinity, but I can see where you may not have room in
your sideboard for this card.

Furnace Dragon
This card is only for sideboarding against Affinity, generally winning the
game or at least ruining the day for your Affinity-wielding opponent.

Grab the Reins
This is super-tech against Tooth and Nail. After trying it last Saturday, I
have to say this card is not quite good enough. The answer to Tooth and Nail
is to hit them very hard very fast. This card is a great trick against Tooth
and Nail, but this is very situational.

Granulate
This card basically destroys every artifact in the Affinity deck, but
Granulate does not work well in your red deck if you are playing Talisman
cards and Great Furnaces. If you are playing the Seething Song mana build, I
think four Granulate in the sideboard will help you beat Affinity much more
often.

Shunt
There was a time when it was correct to run four copies of a card in your
mono red sideboard to help counteract the control player, the card was
called Red Elemental Blast, and later, Pyroblast. Those days are gone, and
Shunt is not good enough to include, in my opinion. Shunt simply requires
you to keep too much mana untapped. Untapped Mountains equals NOT BEING
AGGRESSIVE. Leave out the Shunt cards, you have better things to do with
your sideboard.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

As you can see, you have a lot of great red cards in Mirrodin Block
Constructed. The problem is limiting yourself to sixty cards. Basically, I
think you want to focus on beating the most important decks in the format,
Affinity, other red decks and Tooth and Nail. Hereís what I plan to run next
week when I next try to qualify for Pro Tour Columbus:

Arc-Slogger x4
Furnace Whelp x3
Slith Firewalker x4
Solemn Simulacrum x4

Electrostatic Bolt x4
Magma Jet x3
Molten Rain x4
Seething Song x4
Shrapnel Blast x4
Pulse of the Forge x2

Darksteel Citadel x4
Great Furnace x4
Mountain x16

SIDEBOARD:
Shatter x4
Granulate x4
Flamebreak x3
Furnace Dragon x3
Pulse of the Forge x1

As always, Iíd love to know what YOU think.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
jeffzandi@thoughtcastle.com
Zanman on Magic Online
 

 

 

 

 

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