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MTG Standard Mono-Red Deck Tech: Top-Tier on a Budget?

MTG Standard Mono-Red Aggro deck is back to being tier 1.
Card: Reckless Impulse | Art: Matthias Kollros

Is Mono-Red one of the best decks in Standard? I think so!

Here’s the list I took all the way to the finals of the Standard challenge last week:

In today's article, we're going to take a deep dive into the current iteration of Mono-Red in Standard. This deck is explosive and can get off to consistently fast starts. It also falls nicely into the "budget" category in paper (and isn't too painful on wildcards on Arena), which is a breath of fresh air in today's Standard.

Let's get into the deck!

Cheap But Effective

Red aggro is back, better, and more affordable than ever. When opponents are ramping into big spells and trying to balance three colors of mana, just beat them by staying quick and consistent!

This list right now is less than $100 on average, which is extremely low compared to other Standard decks. Plus, many of these cards also see play in Pioneer and Modern. Mono-Red is a great jumping-in point for anyone new to the game or returning to the format since the strategy is fairly straightforward. But that’s not to say there aren’t difficult decisions and critical choices that can win or lose the game.

The general idea of the deck is similar to most aggressive red decks in Standard formats of years past. Play cheap creatures before your opponent does, use removal spells to clear the way, and finish the game with a mass of attackers and burn spells. This iteration of Mono-Red has much more card advantage than you might expect, which allows you to easily keep the pressure on and find a way to win in the late game.

Reckless Impulse and Jaya, Fiery Negotiator allow you to build your board out of nowhere, and Feldon, Ronom Excavator and Atsushi, the Blazing Sky are rarely dead cards despite being legendary thanks to their abilities. Mishra’s Foundry is another bonus from playing only one color, which helps against board wipes and mitigates flooding.

Why Mono-Red Aggro in Standard?

This deck has a great matchup against the Grixis Midrange and UR Artifact decks that are becoming more popular since they take a few turns to get online and start casting permanent spells. Any control strategy will have a tough time beating hasty threats, creature lands, and planeswalkers while under the threat of burn spells every turn.

Thanks to the card advantage found in much of the deck, this iteration of Mono-Red can survive and win well into the late game. I’ve won games as late as turn 12 thanks to cards like Bloodthirsty Adversary and Reckless Impulse that would have been surefire losses without them. In fact, except for Monastery Swiftspear and the removal, every spell in the deck has some sort of extra ability that can allow you to “go up on cards” against the opponent and make it very hard for them to make one-for-one trades effectively.

The Magic Online metagame seems to be full of black-based midrange decks, which should be a good matchup for Mono-Red. I have seen lots of other aggressive decks on the ladder in Arena, but the card advantage present here helps after trading resources during the first few turns. Plus, you can easily tweak your list to have better removal or more sweepers if needed.

The Need for Speed

The best openings start with a turn one Kumano Faces Kakkazan, followed by a creature on turn two and removal for anything your opponent has played on turn three. The deck relies on fast openings, and it’s almost always correct to mulligan a hand that doesn’t have a one or two-mana creature. This is especially true against many other decks that are playing two or three colors and have to rely on lands that come into play tapped or deal damage.

With a turn-one Kumano, it’s possible to have three creatures attack for seven or more damage on turn three and still have mana to cast a removal spell. It doesn’t matter if your opponent casts Sheoldred, the Apocalypse on turn four if they’re already down to a single-digit life total and facing an army of attackers. Even when your opponent has removal for your early threats or forces you to spend your turn killing their creatures, Jaya and Reckless Impulse make up for lost cards and can help close out the game.

MTG Standard Mono-Red Card Choices

Monastery Swiftspear is one of the best red one-mana creatures ever printed and fits right at home in a deck full of ways to trigger prowess. Feldon, Ronom Excavator is usually the best turn-two play, since it can get early damage in and can trade for a better card if it gets outclassed on the battlefield.

Bloodthirsty Adversary is both a hasty 2/2 and another form of card advantage that scales up as the game progresses. It’s usually the best thing you can do with five mana: a 3/3 with haste and a Reckless Impulse or removal spell cast from the graveyard.

Finally, Atsushi, the Blazing Sky might look a little out of place without haste, but its ability makes up for it. It gets replaced against decks with removal that exiles, but shines against opposing fliers and on defense.

Jaya, Fiery Negotiator is an amazing planeswalker that can fill many roles. With a few attackers, her -2 ability acts as a powerful removal spell. The -1 will let you play the best of your top two cards, and the +1 creates a 1/1 with prowess. Ensuring she survives for more than a few turns is a good way to take over the game.

Reckless Impulse is secretly one of the best cards in the deck. Thanks to the low mana curve, it’s not uncommon to be able to play both cards after casting Impulse on turn two or three. Kumano Faces Kakkazan does so much for only one mana and is another way to trigger prowess.

Finally, the best red removal spells round out the deck. Four copies of both Lightning Strike and Play with Fire are a given since they can also target the opponent. The last few slots can be customized based on what you expect to face, but I like Abrade for its utility and Rending Flame for Sheoldred and bigger white decks.

Mono-Red Sideboard Staples

Mono-Red can struggle with UW Soldiers or Esper builds with better blockers, but the sideboard helps with sweepers and better removal, as well as cards that can help grind against controlling decks. Obliterating Bolt and Rending Flame are great for creatures with more than three toughness, and a timely Brotherhood’s End or The Elder Dragon War can be backbreaking for your opponent. Fable of the Mirror Breaker and Reckoner Bankbuster are both great forms of card advantage and help by diversifying your threats.

Feldon is much worse on the draw since it can’t block, as is Jaya without as many creatures in play. Atsushi is an easy swap against exile-based removal, and your removal spells can get trimmed or replaced against decks with fewer or bigger creatures.

Tips and Tricks

Always play a land every turn, unless you just cast Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and are planning on discarding. There are so many ways to get access to multiple cards in one turn, and it’s best to have as much mana as possible if that happens. Any extra mana can also be used to animate Mishra’s Foundry.

Speaking of Mishra’s Foundry, remember that it has a third ability. I’ve often overlooked being able to pump another Foundry for an extra point of damage, and I’m sure many of my opponents have too.

Reckless Impulse lets you cast the exiled cards until the end of your next turn. If you have the mana available, it’s usually correct to cast it even if you can’t play any cards revealed.

You should usually choose to exile cards with Atsushi’s ability, but keep in mind situations where three extra mana might be better. With a Bloodthirsty Adversary in hand, that represents an extra counter and extra card cast from the graveyard, which is probably better than two random cards from your deck. Also, note that Atsushi has trample! It’s very easy to miss with its other abilities.

On Bloodthirsty Adversary: Pay attention to what cards are in your graveyard and if you can even target any. Dennick, Pious Apprentice out of UW Soldiers and Esper prevents cards in graveyards from being targeted, so don’t spend extra mana only to realize you won’t get to cast any extra spells. Do remember that extra mana sunk into Adversary will still add more counters regardless.

Obliterating Bolt exiles the creature it deals four damage to if it would die, which is very relevant against an opposing Atsushi or creatures with disturb. Etching of Kumano also exiles anything dealt damage by a source you control as well.

Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance only costs three mana to activate if you control a Feldon or Atsushi, and only two mana if you control both.

Don’t forget the monks Jaya creates have prowess. Also, note that her -1 is the only “exile and play” ability in the deck that has to be used the same turn. If you can’t kill something the turn Jaya comes into play, it’s normally best to just create a monk token.

Mono-Red Modifications

Many other red cards can be considered in this archetype as well. You might see decks lower to the ground with Phoenix Chick and Rabbit Battery, or reliant on more expensive threats like Squee, Dubious Monarch or Thundering Raiju. I prefer the card advantage engine of Jaya and Bloodthirsty Adversary, but most red decks will have the same aggressive shell.

If the Artifact ramp deck continues to gain traction, more copies of Abrade will surely help. If the black decks load up on Sheoldred, Rending Flame can move to the main deck. More copies of Brotherhood’s End can swing the matchup against other aggressive creature decks, and more planeswalkers can easily beat control strategies. This is a huge strength of a Mono-Red in a constantly changing metagame. With only one color, it’s easy to swap cards in and out, adapting to other decks and testing new ideas.

As long as three-color mana bases and spells that cost more than four mana are being played in Standard, Mono-Red will continue to be a great choice and a deck that demands respect.


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