Red Mage’s Quarterly: Ixalan

Simon Irving Red Mages Quarterly, Standard

To call Hour of Devastation Standard a success for the Red Deck would be quite the understatement. Over the past three months, loyal red mages got to see their deck vault into the top tier, culminating in Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s convincing win (amidst a Top 8 with six other red aggressive decks). The additions of Earthshaker Khenra, Abrade, and Ramunap Ruins took the older, hyper-aggressive red shells to another level, giving the deck real sustainability to go with raw power. Mono-Red now looks to Ixalan on the horizon, not as the perennial underdog, but as one of the established power players in the format.

Standard rotations always bring change, but the Red Deck itself is getting hit very lightly with the rotation stick this time around. You still have the core of hasty red creatures: Bomat Courier, Ahn-Crop Crasher, the aforementioned Earthshaker Khenra, and, of course, mighty Hazoret. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is back for another year, and the resilient package of Desert synergies aren’t going anywhere soon. So today, we will explore what the Red Deck is losing, and how Ixalan may add new tools to augment this powerful Standard archetype.

 

Creatures

Right off the bat, we need to talk about Falkenrath Gorger. I’m so proud of this little vampire – it spent almost its entire Standard lifetime being unplayable, before finally making a powerful resurgence right at the end of the format. Along with Village Messenger, the aggressive one-drop presents the most vexing problem for Ixalan Mono-Red to solve. Amonkhet‘s Soul-Scar Mage is an obvious addition, but lacks the punch of a true 2-power creature on the first turn.

Fortunately, Ixalan adds Rigging Runner to the conversation. For one red mana, you get a strong 2/2 with first strike… assuming you can attack before you play it, of course. This limitation is a tricky one, since it leaves us with a one-drop that you desperately don’t want to play on turn one. Mono-Red has historically found ways to accommodate these kinds of high risk/high reward cards, so I’d strongly recommend that red players test with this new goblin pirate to get a feel for how it fits into the aggro curve.

Captain Lannery Storm is also worth consideration. While she competes directly with the essential Ahn-Crop Crasher, don’t downplay the value of the Treasure tokens Lannery creates. Simply attacking once will give you the mana to Shock or Magma Spray a blocker, while transforming the good Captain into a hasty 3/2 attacker.

Need something with a bit more oomph? Perhaps I can interest you in Charging Monstrosaur, which gives you the business end of a Reality Smasher (and at uncommon!). Whether this dinosaur can unseat Glorybringer from the 5-mana red threat throne remains to be seen, but anyone who has played against Eldrazi has to respect the speed with which a 5/5 creature with trample and haste (or two or three) can end the game.

Lastly, Ixalan gives us something totally new in Rampaging Ferocidon, which is my pick for the best red sideboard card of the set. With more and more decks running life gain to combat the Red Menace, this catch-all aggressive answer should be poised to see plenty of play.

 

Burn Spells

Lightning Strike has returned! Shout it from the rooftops, my friends! Sing about it in the streets! No longer do we have to cast our spells at clunky sorcery speed.

Incendiary Flow provided a year of valiant service, but the return of the Strike represents a significant upgrade. Be aware, though, that cards like Lightning Strike are also very powerful against the red deck. Collective Defiance, with its ability to blast away 4-toughness roadblocks and threats, will be harder to replace, with Ixalan offering little at at an affordable rate. Cut//Ribbons will probably be the go-to choice moving forward, and hopefully Rivals for Ixalan will give us a new burn toy. Ixalan does feature Repeating Barrage, which may warrant consideration as a one-of or two-of in some Mono-Red lists, while Dual Shot could be a potent sideboard option against certain metagames.

 

Utility Spells

Vance’s Blasting Cannons is a fascinating addition to the red mage toolbox. Reminiscent of Outpost Siege, an older favorite from the Tarkir days, the Cannons give you a steady stream of card advantage before transforming into a land that throws Lightning Bolts everywhere. Mono-Red already gets a tremendous amount of value out of its mana line, and I predict Vance’s Blasting Cannons will augment the role Chandra already plays in the deck. Importantly, Cannons is an enchantment, making it much harder for black-centric control decks to remove.

Ixalan‘s red utility does drop off from there, though. Between the Dinosaur and Pirate sub-themes, there are lots of tribal strategies to serve, not all of which have resulted in cards that immediately look Standard-playable. Artifacts like Sentinel Totem are nice to have around, although the Red Deck will probably prefer Scavenger Grounds to fight off the inevitable plague of God-Pharoah’s Gift decks.

My final Red Deck verdict for Ixalan is a well-rounded B. It would have been nice to have a bit more variety in card effects from a large set, but the pieces we got are strong and will fit neatly into a deck shell that survived rotation almost fully intact. The biggest question for Mono-Red in our new Standard isn’t what it gained – instead, the deck’s place in the format with be defined by what happens with everyone else.