Seeing Red

Everything keeps turning up Fournier.

I seem to have settled on some kind of sweet spot where tournaments can only go my way. No matter how many pet cards and draft commons I put in my decks — or perhaps thanks to them — I can’t stop winning. I’ve achieved Magic Nirvana, and the absolute mental clarity that accompanies it feels… Alright. It’s ok. Consider my bragging to always be coated in a thick veil of irony, anyways. I know damn well when I’m getting lucky, and while I’m confident that I’m playing some of the best Magic of my life, there’s no doubt that a heavy dose of positive variance is behind my recent results. That said, my self awareness has its upsides. I know that despite catching a few lucky breaks in my MCQ win last weekend, that the Mono-Red Prowess deck I played was downright bonkers. It’s incredibly powerful, and primed to exploit any time an opponent gives you an inch. Needless to say, I’m a fan of a deeply proletarian mono-red deck filled with cheap, accessible cards. It’s just good praxis.

So I’m hesitant to write this, because I don’t want to come across as ungrateful or jaded, but my desire to always be truthful to you, my beloved readers, trumps any amount of common sense. I’ve always been over the moon every time I’ve qualified for a PT or had another comparable tournament finish. It’s always felt like a validation of my hard work, a trophy that I deserved. It hasn’t been the same lately. I know I’m not putting in the same hours as I once did, and while I’m certain that I’m using my time more effectively and what not, it feels downright weird to be constantly rewarded for what feels like not trying. I didn’t feel any exuberance or even relief qualifying this time, just a grim sense that I’d have to go back to my old ways to prepare for a Standard PT. Oh well. I’m not that torn up about it. It was a nice break, while it lasted.

Anyways, I had a crisis of conscience about a week before this MCQ, my last chance to play the last ever Tabletop Mythic Championship — and good riddance to that horrible name. I’d been playing Stoneblade variants to solid results, but I was extremely concerned about the strategy going into the prospective metagame for this event. I love [Card]Celestial Colonnade[/Card] an above average amount, but it felt to me that despite its low metagame share, people were continuing to gun for [Card]Stoneforge Mystic[/Card] at all opportunities. This means a lot of [Card]Searing Blaze[/Card], a lot of [Card]Karn Liberated[/Card] and a lot of nonsense that won’t just fold over to a humble 1/2. Thus, I set my eyes on a set of much less humble 1/2s.

[Deck Title= First Place Toronto MCQ, Mono-Red Prowess – Daniel Fournier]
[Creatures]
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Soul-Scar Mage
3 Kiln Fiend
3 Bedlam Reveler
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Crash Through
4 Lava Spike
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lava Dart
2 Reckless Charge
2 Firebolt
4 Manamorphose
4 Light Up the Stage
[/Spells]
[Lands]
15 Mountain
3 Fiery Islet
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Shrine of Burning Rage
2 Kozilek’s Return
2 Smash to Smithereens
3 Abrade
3 Dragon’s Claw
2 Alpine Moon
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

I’d been seeing a lot of Tron and Valakut creep up in Toronto tournaments, and the results of GPs and SCGs was validating that rise. What better way is there to beat up on a bunch of slow linear decks than by killing them on turn three every game with little red creatures? I haven’t heard of one. I always had a passing interest in the Mono-Red Phoenix deck from the pre-banning Modern format, mostly in the idea that the Phoenix part of the deck was extremely bad and that it would have been better off focusing on doing powerful things, rather than clogging up the deck with nonsense. The banning of [Card]Faithless Looting[/Card] fortuitously forced us into building the deck better, by cutting the worst cards and stumbling into something far more coherent.

See, [Card]Crash Through[/Card] might look like an embarrassing inclusion, a card so ineffective that it couldn’t even see all that much play in Standard. I thought the same thing while delving into this strategy, and my initial lists featured only one or two copies. I couldn’t have been more wrong. [Card]Crash Through[/Card] is a horrible card, that just happens to be the best card in Prowess — especially if your brain is as bad as mine and you can’t help but put [Card]Kiln Fiend[/Card] in the deck. It’s more than just a cantrip: giving your huge creatures trample lets them push through for so much more damage than an opponent might be expecting. Even the widest of boards die immediately to a [Card]Crash Through[/Card] turn, which nullifies one of the fundamental weaknesses of this deck, namely being a Burn deck that has to connect on board in order to be efficient. You get all of this in an efficient, cantripping package that incidentally keeps your spell count on track post-Looting ban. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Never cut this card.

The core of this deck is more or less stock and well-understood at this point. Only keep hands that have creatures in them, get very aggressive, and don’t be afraid to trade resources inelegantly in order to gain a better position in the first few turns. Sure, there are micro-level decisions that can be incredibly complicated with Prowess, but it remains an easily-comprehensible linear deck for the most part. With that in mind, I’d like to focus on my usual MO, the strange changes I made to the stock list (read: netdeck) in order to hopefully gain an edge in a tournament setting.

The biggest inclusion is, of course, the noble [Card]Kiln Fiend[/Card]. The power level of this card is well-known, in that a [Card]Kiln Fiend[/Card] connecting is pretty much always lethal, no matter what. With a deck full of [Card]Lava Dart[/Card]s and [Card]Crash Through[/Card]s, the chances of it connecting, bar a removal spell, become very high. We have very few choices for creatures that aren’t fully blanked by removal, so evaluating them on that axis is close to worthless. Instead, let’s compare [Card]Kiln Fiend[/Card] to the other options for the slot.

First, we have the inexplicably popular [Card]Runaway Steam-Kin[/Card]. Sure, it’s a mana engine that can let you power out a bunch of spells each turn, but there’s a slight problem with that. We have no spells to cast with this engine. It’s easy to just cast a bunch of one-drops without help, and it’s not like [Card]Bedlam Reveler[/Card] needs Steam-Kin to be powerful. That leaves us with a two-mana 4/4 with downside, and it’s not like [Card]Tarmogoyf[/Card] would be good in this deck anyways. Hard pass. That leaves us with [Card]Blistercoil Weird[/Card], a downgrade in quality from the other one-drops available to us. I’m confident that eight one-drops is enough to draw them consistently, and that the diminishing returns from going up to 11 one-drops do not provide a similar advantage to the explosive power of [Card]Kiln Fiend[/Card].

Unfortunately, this Elemental Beast is far from the most brave addition to the deck. [Card]Reckless Charge[/Card] was quietly added to the Modern format with Horizons, a powerful, underrated and risky card. The last few slots in this deck are desperate for some [Card]Chain Lightning[/Card]s, and since [Card]Skewer the Critics[/Card] and [Card]Shard Volley[/Card] aren’t quite good enough in the low land count Prowess strategy, I decided to give [Card]Reckless Charge[/Card] a whirl. I was frankly blown away by how powerful it could be. Even against removal-heavy decks, it was possible to sneak it in for damage on turns where they were tapped out or otherwise unprepared. In conjunction with [Card]Kiln Fiend[/Card] or [Card]Bedlam Reveler[/Card], it makes for huge swings of damage out of nowhere that can steal games no other card could have won. Speaking of [Card]Bedlam Reveler[/Card], there’s also some upside to adding more cards with Flashback to a deck that pitches its hand for marginal value more often than it would like to. This was also the reasoning behind changing [Card]Burst Lightning[/Card] for [Card]Firebolt[/Card]. Sure, the deck plays mostly at sorcery speed anyways, and kicking [Card]Burst Lightning[/Card] is a rarity, so I decided to give a slightly more resilient card a whirl. I’m not entirely convinced it’s actually substantially better, but it does come in an old border printing, so there’s that.

I didn’t use a sideboard guide for this event, as I honestly didn’t really know what I was doing in a lot of the admittedly strange matchups I stared down over the course of the ten rounds played. I didn’t walk in with a plan for Bogles, or for either of the Goblins decks I played. I can give some guidelines, however: [Card]Reckless Charge[/Card] has no home against removal-heavy decks, [Card]Light Up the Stage[/Card] can come out against linear strategies — especially on the draw — and [Card]Kozilek’s Return[/Card] is mostly there to kill [Card]Kor Firewalker[/Card]. 

I’m not entirely sure about any changes going forward, but I’d consider switching out the sideboard [Card]Alpine Moon[/Card]s for something that has an impact in troublesome matchups. This deck makes Tron and Valakut look downright embarrassing as is, so the sideboard slots are probably better off being used on something like [Card]Seasoned Pyromancer[/Card] that gives us a better post-board plan against Jund.

Best of luck to you if you choose to play this deck in the coming weeks, and please pray for me as I make my inevitable return to digital Magic to prepare for the Mythic Championship in Richmond.