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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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This Space For Rent

The Southwestern Paladin

Red Deck KEEPS Winning
Current Extended Format Boils Down to Simplicity Choices

by Jeff Zandi  - 2.21.05


The current Extended constructed Pro Tour Qualifier season for Pro Tour Philadelphia can seem very intimidating, but when you look at the season’s results, a very simple deck keeps winning match after match. Mono Red, or, more specifically, the deck called Red Deck Wins continues to rack up win after win and appear in top eight after top eight in a season that many players have called the most healthy constructed season in years.

A GIANT FIELD OF POSSIBLE DECK THEMES

The top reason for the interest in this year’s Extended PTQ season is the wide variety of viable deck designs. Of course, a lot of people are interested in qualifying for Pro Tour Philadelphia for the exciting new payout schedule that will be used there, but you can read about THAT in last week’s article. I cannot recall a constructed format with so many good decks. You can play one of the five or six most popular decks, a list that, depending upon the day of the week, might include Affinity, Madness Blue/Green, Goblins (either mono red or, more likely, black/red Goblin Bidding), The Rock black/green (a favorite in Extended for years) or the focus of this article, the mono red deck affectionately referred to as Red Deck Wins. The next tier of decks may be just as likely to do well, and
includes Psychatog (or the less-old school Gro-Atog deck), Scepter Chant in blue/white, Mind’s Desire, black/blue Reanimator, mono green or blue/green Tooth and Nail, mono green Elves or the controlly green Elf decks with Tooth and Nail, the annoying stall deck known simply as Life, or even more roguish decks like White Weenie (which I like a lot and include a design for at the bottom of this article) or blue/red Welder Control.

The point is, there are a lot of good decks in the current Extended format.

You or I could become very competent players with any one of these decks given practice, patience and access to the cards themselves. Last Fall, when I first heard the results from Pro Tour Columbus, I was happy to hear how “fun” the format was and how great it was that so many different decks were viable. It’s considered a good thing if there are more than two or three decks that are winning all the tournaments in a constructed format. I don’t disagree with that idea, but I DO find the challenge of learning the ins and outs of EVERY ONE of this multitude of decks very daunting. Well, I played in one of this season’s PTQs a few weeks ago. I played the only deck that I could find all the cards for and that I thought I could reasonably play correctly given that I had not put in much practice (at least I did some reading). I played Red Deck Wins. I did not do well in that PTQ, in fact, I got smashed in the first and second rounds. Wait! Don’t run away now that you know I’ve been a failure so far in this qualifying season. I learned something. You can, too.

HOW PREPARED CAN YOU REALLY BE?

The person I rode with to the PTQ a few weeks ago is a good player who has been practicing the current Extended format almost every day. He was clearly better prepared than me for the tournament. However, I doubt that the deck he played was as likely to win the tournament and qualify for Pro Tour Philadelphia than my deck was. You see, he played Psychatog, a great deck for sure, and he practiced a lot. I played mono red, and I didn’t practice a lot. If we could play that tournament out one hundred times, I think my record would be as good as his in those hundred tournaments, not because I’m a better player than him, but because I believe no deck in the current format is as consistent as Red Deck Wins.

Players are working hard to try and beat this format, but the greatest puzzle about the current Extended format has already been solved. Speed kills. When you add consistency to a deck that can win in a hurry, you have a winner. Every deck I mentioned earlier has finished in the top eight of multiple Pro Tour Qualifier tournaments and/or at last Fall’s Pro Tour Columbus. Week after week, Red Deck Wins continues to finish higher than a lot of clever, more intricate decks that other players have worked very hard to hone and perfect. I am NOT saying that Red Deck Wins is the best deck in the format. After taking some time to study what’s been happening in this PTQ season, however, I am ready to say that Red Deck Wins gives the player who knows how to play it as good a chance as ANY other deck.

WHY CONSISTENCY WINS

Red Deck Wins contains a lot of explosive damage that can go straight to the opponent’s face, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that RDW is just another burn deck. Far from it, RDW contains the basic tools that allow you to take advantage of your own deck’s consistency as well as to take advantage of many opportunities where your opponent experiences less than an optimal draw. To really get into this, it’s time to look at some Red Deck Wins designs and to consider the cards in the deck. At the bottom of this article are three designs that have done well in tournaments this season, as well as the version I will most likely play a week from now. A week from now, of course, Betrayers of Kamigawa will become legal for Extended and I am definitely not ready (or interested) in speculating on the difference Betrayers will make at this time.

Had a look at the decklists? Good. What’s so good about this deck? Well, you gotta like having four of everything. If you have four of every card in your deck, you are already well on the way to amazing draw consistency. But there’s a lot more to it than that… You may be playing twenty-four lands, but believe me, this deck plays like it has a lot less. This is because of the amazing ability of your Bloodstained Mires and Wooded Foothills to thin your deck. You only have eight Mountain cards in the whole deck, yet having these eight sacrifice lands in your deck will help ensure that you have two mountains on turn two a great majority of the time. Another thing about your deck that provides optimal efficiency is the ability to use your mana every turn for maximum benefit. On turn one, you will ALMOST ALWAYS have either a Mogg Fanatic, a Lavamancer or, best of all, a Jackal Pup to play. There is no better feeling than going first with this deck, playing a Bloodstained Mire or Wooded Foothill, sacrificing it for a Mountain and tapping the Mountain to play a turn one Jackal Pup while holding a cheap burn card in hand in case you need to kill the blocker that your opponent may or may not be able to cast on his next turn.

Blistering Firecat is a big wrecking ball of damage, but because it doesn’t even make it to the board until turn three, I’m starting to love Slith Firewalker more in the slot occupied in most versions of this deck by the Firecat. I never would have thought that the Firewalker would be constructed worthy until I saw it work so well in Onslaught Block Constructed. I know Extended is a LOT different, but the Firewalker is just extremely efficient.
Most of the time, the answer is still Firecat, and you can’t argue with the success that players are having with this 7/1 trampler.

Lava Dart and Firebolt compete for the same job in this deck, the job of dealing a little quick damage to a creature early in the game while providing a reusable minor source of damage. Firebolt brings more damage, but it’s slow both because it’s a sorcery and because it costs five mana to use its Flashback ability. Lava Dart is a better surprise card, kills just about everything you want to use Firebolt against and plays from the graveyard easier.

Cursed Scroll has always been an AMAZING card for decks like this one, giving mono red a way to deal colorless damage to either a player or a creature. There is nothing wrong with playing four of these in the deck, but I think it may not be optimal to do so. I think three could be the right answer, and two may be an even better answer. It’s not particularly optimal to have Cursed Scroll in your opening hand, frankly speaking, and it’s just plain BAD to have two Cursed Scrolls in your opening hand. You really don’t want to play one until you are ready to start using one, which is later in the game.

SIDEBOARDING

The sideboard is not the strength of this deck. The strength of this deck is in the sixty cards that you begin each match with. You will very often not use your sideboard. The reason your sideboard is not that great is because all you can put in it are red cards! The same thing that makes your main deck good is the same thing that makes your sideboard bad. Red is all about efficient cards that deal damage. There are not a lot of nuances to be found, not a lot of problems that can be solved with a red sideboard.

Against Life decks, about all you can hope for is to get a Sulfuric Vortex down so they don’t gain life. Of course, they already have enchantment removal in their main decks and bring more in from their sideboard, but it can buy you the time you need to win in games two and three. You can also bring in Flametongue Kavu to kill their Daru Spiritualist. Against Reanimator, about all you can hope for is Ensnaring Bridge and the hope that they don’t have Echoing Truth when they need it. (Good luck with all that, the Reanimator deck has Vampiric Tutor and the possibility of card drawing) Against Affinity decks, you can bring in some efficient artifact-hate.
Fledgling Dragon or similar cards can be good from the board in the mirror match or against other aggressive decks. Most of the time, when it comes to sideboarding, you would MUCH RATHER wish that neither player were allowed to sideboard.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF YOUR OPPONENT’S MISFORTUNE

This is something that Red Deck Wins does very well. Uh oh, your opponent didn’t get a very mana draw. That’s bad for him, you have Rishadan Port, holding him down on his second and third turn. After that, you are very likely to Wasteland one of his lands, or Pillage one of them, or, on turn four, you may very well do both! If Wasteland, Pillage and Port don’t slow your opponent down enough, then Tangle Wire will. Tangle Wire is not a standard piece of the most popular versions of this deck, but plenty of mono red deck veterans think it is a card that should definitely be considered in this deck, either with or instead of Pillage in the main deck.

DECKS THAT HURT YOU (TWO DECKS THAT GOT ME IN WACO)

In round one, I played against the Life deck, so named because it can provide its controller with infinite life (or, if you prefer, MILLIONS of points of life) by turn four. There isn’t much the red player can do to stop the Life player except to hope that he or she gets a bad draw.

Unsideboarded, I think the Life deck is about a 70% favorite, and the odds probably go up slightly for the Life deck after sideboarding. In both games that I played against the Life deck, my opponent was at one or two life points when they accomplished their combo and attained an ultra-high life point total. Of course, being at a high life total is not the same as winning the game, and some Life players don’t include Test of Endurance, the primary win condition for this deck. Without Test of Endurance, the Life player is basically hoping his opponent will simply give up and concede.

Even if my opponent had not produced Test of Endurance for the win, which he did in both games, my own use of Bloodstained Mire and Wooded Foothills put me in the position of running out of cards in my library before my opponent would have.

In round two, I played against a blue/black Reanimator deck. I managed to win game one because my opponent could not get both black and blue mana in play on turn two. Just this small hiccup in his development ended up making the difference in that game, allowing me to hit him with a Jackal Pup and keep
his land tapped with my Rishadan Port. In game two, his deck efficiently reanimated an Akroma and defeated me with it just before I was able to apply lethal damage to him. In game three, I played a first turn Mogg Fanatic, but he played back with a first turn Akroma made possible by playing a Swamp, then playing a Chrome Mox imprinted with some black card, then a Putrid Imp, then discarding Akroma to the Imp and using Reanimate to put her into play. WOW! The good news for me was that I was able to play a turn three Ensnaring Bridge to save my life. That worked for exactly one turn before he played Echoing Truth, which, by the way, would have bounced any number of Ensnaring Bridges that I might have hoped to have in play.

The point is, no deck can win all the time, and every deck has weaknesses that can be exploited by certain other decks. The Life player knows that my direct damage will never be able to kill his Daru Spiritualist, making it safe to play it early and simply wait for the En-cor creature and Starlit Sanctum that complete his combo. The Reanimator player knows that I have no way to get rid of a creature like Akroma that has protection from red.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Earlier, it may have sounded as though I was saying that a person can do well with this deck without putting in his share of practice with it. I don’t mean that at all. Preparation will always pay dividends in Magic, no matter what deck you are playing. Even if you do play Red Deck Wins, a good player will practice against every possible opposing deck. The point I was trying to make is that Red Deck Wins can give hope to players who don’t have as much time as they would like to prepare for this format. You can optimize your play sooner with this deck than you could with a more complicated design. A great Magic player once told me that to win a big tournament, you had to have three things, you had to have a good deck, you have to make a minimum of mistakes, and you have to get a little lucky. I have found that this has been very true.

As always, I’m interested in what YOU think!

RED DECK WINS - DECK DESIGNS

Hironobu Inoguchi
PTQ Chiba, Japan
Blistering Firecat x4
Grim Lavamancer x4

Jackal Pup x4
Mogg Fanatic x4
Cursed Scroll x4
Firebolt x4
Pillage x4
Seal of Fire x4
Volcanic Hammer x4
Bloodstained Mire x4
Wooded Foothills x4
Mountain x8
Rishadan Port x4
Wasteland x4
SIDEBOARD
Ensnaring Bridge x4
Overload x3
Pyrostatic Pillar x4
Sulfuric Vortex x4

Donald Paul (aka The Governor)
5th place finisher, PTQ Shreveport, Louisiana Don Paul’s main deck is the same as the above deck except that Don Paul went with four copies of Lava Dart instead of Firebolt.
SIDEBOARD
Ensnaring Bridge x4
Blood Oath x4
Flametongue Kavu x4
Fledgling Dragon x3

Chris Gregory
3rd place finisher, PTQ Shreveport, Louisiana Chris’ main deck is the same, except that Chris went with Slith Firewalker instead of Jackal Pup, Magma Jet instead of Volcanic Hammer and Tangle Wire instead of Pillage.
SIDEBOARD
Ensnaring Bridge x4
Fledgling Dragon x2
Pillage x2
Shatterstorm x2
Sulfuric Vortex x4

Jeff Zandi
New version, very similar to what I played a few weeks ago in a Waco, Texas PTQ Grim Lavamancer x4 Slith Firewaker x4 (I think might be superior to Blistering Firecat in some
ways)
Jackal Pup x4
Mogg Fanatic x4
Cursed Scroll x2
Pillage x4
Seal of Fire x2
Tangle Wire x4
Firebolt x4
Magma Jet x4
Bloodstained Mire x4
Wooded Foothills x4
Mountain x8
Rishadan Port x4
Wasteland x4
SIDEBOARD (this should always be a meta game decision) Ensnaring Bridge x4 Sulfuric Vortex x3 Fledgling Dragon x2 Flametongue Kavu x4 Cursed Scroll x2

ONE FUN WHITE WEENIE DECK, ONE THAT WILL BEAT THESE RED DECKS

Brett Landon McDonald
2nd place, PTQ Shreveport, Louisiana
Exalted Angel x3
Mother of Runes x4
Ramosian Sergeant x4

Whipcorder x4
Savannah Lions x4
Silver Knight x4
Soltari Priest x4
Absolute Law x1
Chrome Mox x2
Crusade x3
Divine Sacrement x1
Enlightened Tutor x3
Parallax Wave x1
Seal of Cleansing x1
Worship x1
Ancient Den x1
Plains x19
SIDEBOARD
Absolute Law x1
Armageddon x3
Damping Matrix x1
Defense Grid x1
Exalted Angel x1
Masticore x1
Parallax Wave x1
Rule of Law x1
Serenity x1
Worship x1
Wrath of God x3

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

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