Welcome back everyone!
While formats ebb and flow, and the “best deck” is constantly changing, there is one undisputed king when it comes to ranking up quickly in Magic Arena: Mono Red Aggro.
Throne of Eldraine completely killed Mono Red for a few months, but the banning of Oko, Thief of Crowns and new tools from Theros Beyond Death have brought the deck back to the forefront of Standard.
The main reason that Mono Red is the best deck to rank up with when it’s good is that matches are incredibly short. I actually hit rank 609 on Arena from Bronze in five days when I download it again this past September. Granted, I played around 10 hours a day and slept for 6, so I wouldn’t recommend that, but the amount of games you can get in with the deck in such a short time frame is nothing to scoff at.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the list my favorite player, Andrea Mengucci, is playing at Worlds this weekend:
Mono Red Aggro by Andrea Mengucci – Worlds XXVI
4 Scorch Spitter
4 Fervent Champion
4 Rimrock Knight
4 Runaway Steam-Kin
4 Robber of the Rich
4 Bonecrusher Giant
4 Anax, Hardened in the Forge
3 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
4 Light Up the Stage
4 Castle Embereth
1 Experimental Frenzy
4 Lava Coil
2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
4 Unchained Berserker
3 Redcap Melee
1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
I love Andrea’s mainboard here, although I do think that the original version with 20 lands and 4 Shocks in place of Robber of the Rich is better for ladder play, as you’re more likely to face other aggro decks, at least at lower ranks.
Overall, the changes I’d make to the mainboard are
-4 Robber of the Rich
+1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
The sideboard is very tuned to the meta, and I would heavily recommend switching it up for ladder play. My current sideboard for ladder is:
4 Unchained Berserker
4 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
2 Chandra’s Pyrohelix
2 Experimental Frenzy
3 Redcap Melee
I think that on ladder, it is crucial to have a strong plan in the mirror, and a split between Pyrohelix and Redcap Melee has been super strong for me.
Against Control, Tibalt, Unchained Berserker, and Experimental Frenzy are all super powerful, and swing the matchup from slightly unfavorable to slightly favored post-board.
Reclamation is a great matchup in my opinion, as long as you know how to play around Storm’s Wrath. In that matchup, Experimental Frenzy is a house, and Tibalt is serviceable as a resilient threat.
With our deck constructed, let’s get into some tips to help you gain an edge in your ladder games.
1. Do the Math Before you Cast Your Burn Spells
Right off the bat, I know this sounds like generic Magic advice, and something that is hard to implement. However, this is at its most important in aggressive red decks.
In Mono Red, you have access to burn spells in the form of Shock and Bonecrusher Giant. Many players will always kill creatures with these spells, but I think that there are a ton of situations in which that play pattern is wrong.
Before playing your Stomp or Shock, consider how much damage the card is doing. At its base level, both spells will hit your opponent for 2, but this damage can easily increase or decrease. For example, if you have a Scorch Spitter on the board and need to Shock a blocker to clear the way for your Scorch Spitter, that is almost always going to be the right play, because your lizard will be doing at least 2 damage. In addition to this, unless your opponent kills the Scorch Spitter, it will be able to get in for at least one more damage over the course of the game. Because of this, your Shock or Stomp has essentially done 3 damage as opposed to its usual 2.
In another situation however, such as one where you have a Fervent Champion that can’t attack instead of a Scorch Spitter, Stomping a blocker could be wrong. If you’re playing against a deck like ramp, for example, where you’re pretty confident that the other player will play another blocker the following turn, Stomping a blocker will allow you to get in for 1 damage, but if your Fervent Champion is just going to get blocked the following turn, your Stomp has only done one damage. In this situation, it’s a lot better to simply go to the dome as opposed to going after creatures.
These may seem like corner case scenarios, but it’s super important to try to figure out how much damage you can get out of each of your cards, and maximizing Shock and Stomp is crucial to winning close games.
2. Learn How to Maximize Anax
Anax, Hardened in the Forge is the most relevant pickup from Theros Beyond Death for Mono Red. Anax, outside of just being great, is a super interesting card that creates some unconventional play patterns.
One of the most important thing I see people not doing is playing Anax before combat. Yes, playing things second main is one of the first things you’re taught as you start getting better at Magic, but Anax makes people’s blocks horrible!
In so many situations, a precombat Anax will lead people to not block until they can exile him, allowing you to get free points of damage in. In other cases, people will have to trade with you, in which case you get a Satyr anyways! The lack of combat tricks in Mono Red also contributes to this, as players will generally just block your dudes instead of playing around Boulder Rush, a relatively weak turn 3 play.
A second thing I see nearly no one doing is playing their second Anax! If you already have one Anax on the board, your second Anax reads “create 4 1/1 Satyr creature tokens,” which for three mana on a stalled board is huge, especially in tandem with Torbran or Castle Embereth.
3. Find Unconventional Ways to Use Light Up the Stage
Oftentimes with Mono Red, I find myself on two lands, with a Shock and a Light Up the Stage in hand. In many of these scenarios, Shocking your opponent and then casting Light Up the Stage for its spectacle cost can turn a bad position into a great one, especially if the Light Up the Stage gives you the third land you needed to cast another 1-drop, or an Anax the following turn.
Another Light Up the Stage fundamental that I see people miss is casting it before playing your land for turn, in case it hits double land. This isn’t too common, but I’ve missed out on playing Castle instead of Mountain because of it, so it’s something to keep in mind.
A final Light Up the Stage trick is that attacking with Scorch Spitter turns it on even if the Scorch Spitter dies, which can be super relevant if you need to cash it in for more gas. I often compare this to suiciding your Bomat Courier in earlier formats to get two extra cards.
4. Cast Embercleave on Your Opponent’s Turn
While I will admit that this is one of the more fringe tips in this article, it has come up a few times in my games. Sometimes, against decks like UW Control or Temur Rec, you will reach the late game stage where both you and your opponent are struggling to find resources. In these situations, it can help to cast Embercleave for 6 on your opponent’s turn, as you can then equip it for just 3 on your turn, making it cheaper if you have less than three creatures, and allowing you to use your mana more efficiently on your next turn.
In the same vein as this, many players forget that they can move Embercleave around, which is incredibly important on certain board states. Anax is without a doubt the best wielder for the ‘Cleave, but moving it to a Bonecrusher Giant or a large Runaway Steam-Kin can be beneficial in many scenarios.
5. Mulligan Aggressively
This is arguably the second most important tip in this article. The London Mulligan, which Jonah Gaynor talks about in his article, has done wonders for aggro decks. Mono Red is different from decks like Modern Burn because it’s a deck that relies a bit less on a critical mass of cards, and more on powerful combinations of cards. Unlike in Burn, where all of your cards do around 3 damage, Mono-Red is more focused on either curving out or amassing a board that can kill with the help of either Embercleave or Torbran, which allows you to mulligan much more often.
The London Mulligan allows you to pretty safely go down to five cards, and I’ve definitely won over 50% of the game 1s where I went down to 5, something that was incredibly hard to do before the London Mulligan. My general recommendation would be to mulligan any 4-lander that doesn’t go 1-drop, 2-drop, 3-drop, as you really rely on not drawing any extra lands at all to win. On the other hand, I love keeping 2-landers unless they have multiple Embercleave/Torbran, in which case it’s definitely better to mulligan.
Overall, I do think that Mono Red is easily the best deck to climb the Arena Ladder with, and having a strong sideboard plan for the mirror is going to be essential to making it out of the lower ranks. I’d always recommend playing best-of-three, as it essentially gives you a free loss, and this version of Mono-Red actually improves many matchups post-board.
I don’t have a big paper tournament coming up for a while after being snowed-in this past weekend and having to skip SCG Philly, so I’ll be grinding the Arena ladder and hopefully beating my peak of rank #272! Good luck in whatever you have coming up in the next few weeks, and I hope you all do great!
See you next week,
Reasonspast’s favorite deck might be back on the menu, and Ad Nauseam master Andrew Eaddy is here to show you why going to negative life and discarding lands is the best thing you could be doing in Modern.