When rotation happened, Thragtusk and friends delayed the normal Red Fall that we’ve come to expect from an untested metagame. As Gatecrash starts to see Standard play we are seeing the aggro decks come to the forefront that we didn’t see in October. Will our red review give those decks the tools they want? Let’s take a look!
RedFirefist Striker This is a fine little aggro card that I think people are overlooking because, for the same cost and P/T ratio, you can have Lightning Mauler to grant haste to your next drop. In some decks you also have Ash Zealot, which has haste itself as well as first strike and a sometimes-relevant ability. Firefist Striker though is an interesting choice for those decks, perhaps out of the sideboard. Combined with Pyreheart Wolf you can really mess up the blocking plans of your opponent. Heaven forbid you attack with two of these and a Pyreheart, which would essentially render your whole team unblockable. Even without the Pyreheart, Firefisting a Rhox Faithmender (which is illegal in 37 states and all of Canada) will allow you to avoid that infuriating lifelink. Shame this wasn’t around when Wurmcoil Engine was ruining red decks. Five-Alarm Fire When I first saw this, I thought it was terrible. Then I reread it and noticed that you don’t actually have to sacrifice the Fire in order to activate it. Hmm. If there’s one thing we know about red decks, it’s that they often have trouble getting those last few points of damage through. With red decks being very creature-heavy right now, getting five counters should be relatively easy. Even if your opponent manages to stabilise the board, Fire triggers no combat damage period, whether it be to blockers or the opponent. Throw in a Boros Charm and you get a second attack to charge up the counters and enable you to dome them again.
Like Firefist Striker, I don’t think Five-Alarm Fire will be too put out by being in the sideboard for a while. It’s better against the midrange decks that scrape to stay alive until they land a Thragtusk and blink it, or until Sorin has been able to put enough lifelinking Vampires in the way to ultimate and steal your threats. You’re generally fast enough to beat control without this, and even if you’re not it’s because the board got swept, which also hurts Fire. Definitely worth considering as a way to push through the last 5-10.Hellkite Tyrant When assessing cards for limited, we often look at the “French vanilla” stats of it before looking at any additional abilities. Selesnya Sentry, for example, was very playable in draft despite the fact that the regeneration ability cost 5G to activate. It often doesn’t carry over very well to Constructed, but with Hellkite Tyrant we might be looking at a card that is playable despite having an ability that might never come into it.
Unless, of course, you write a column about goofy and wacky FNM decks that try to do unconventional things and win/play in fun ways. I’d be surprised if I could find enough artifacts I want to play to make the win condition happen, but you can bet I’m going to try! I’m also not expecting to steal many artifacts, though I imagine dealing combat damage to a player with a 6-power flying trample creature won’t be too hard. You’ll snag the odd Keyrune, maybe a random Runechanter’s Pike or Chromatic Lantern. Every little helps, of course.
I do wonder if Tron can play this in Modern as a sideboard answer to Affinity. I’ve mentioned this to a couple of people and they looked thoughtful, then dismissed the idea. I’m not so sure. It would be hilarious, no question, but I also think it’s possibly a good answer. Playing the Hellkite on turn 3 is not out of the question, and attacking on turn 4 will often just be the game.Hellraiser Goblin This innocuous-looking uncommon has me more excited than a lot of rares from Gatecrash. If you’ve been following my FNM exploits, you know that I am a big fan of Primal Surge and other decks that dump a whole load of beef on the board and then swing for the win. Before Scars block rotated out, Urabrask the Hidden was an excellent piece to give all your newly-played beef haste. Right now we have to play either Akroma’s Memorial (acceptable) or Fervor (ugh). Hellraiser Goblin is a better alternative because it also attacks for two (or more with a Craterhoof) in addition to giving your team haste.
One aspect that really excites me about Hellraiser is the possibility of a combo deck which casts Immortal Servitude with X=3 and puts a bunch of powerful guys on the board, then goblin up the opponent with my newly-arrived hasty team. Silverblade Paladins, Champions of Lambholt, Boros Reckoners, maybe even Crusaders of Odric all beating down with our Hellraising buddy sounds like a scary sight to me!Legion Loyalist I loved playing turn 1 Raging Goblin. I’d put my Mountain down tapped, but the angry little guy into play tapped and start saying “RAGE RAGE RAGE” in a goblinesque voice. Yeah, I was that guy. I’m not ashamed of it either. Legion Loyalist is a Raging Goblin with upside. First strike AND trample is a powerful combination, and the ability to dismiss chump blockers from a Lingering Souls or a Searing Speared Thragtusk is a major bonus.
One of the things that many people have pointed out about Batallion is that it works very well with haste creatures. If your opponent sees red and white mana, they are going to be doing everything they can to keep 3 creatures off the board on your side. Keeping a haste dude in your hand to become the third creature and enable a surprise Batallion attack will often be the correct play, even if it means missing a turn or two of damage with your Loyalist early on.Madcap Skills This is another card that falls into the realm of “it’s so good in Limited, it must be playable in Constructed somewhere.” When I was reading through the spoiler before my prerelease I quickly dismissed Madcap Skills as just a decent enchantment that I would often be cutting as card number 24. Then I played against it, and immediately changed my opinion. Constructed board states will often have fewer creatures in play than Limited ones, making that blocking restriction even more applicable. A three-power boost for 2 mana is considerable, and dropping this on something like Thalia makes for an incredibly dangerous beater in a hurry. Massive Raid This doesn’t look like much outside of Limited, but it does something that combo/Johnny players everywhere love: damage equal to the number of creatures you control. AND it targets a player, AND it’s an instant. An inexpensive way to combo off and win the game after making an arbitrarily large number of dudes prevents decks like Humanimator or Deadeye/Lotus combo from losing to a sweeper on the opponent’s turn while waiting for their army to be able to attack. It can also be played in Pauper for decks like Presence of Gond. Any time a combo deck can win without needing to go through a combat step, you’re happy. I raid this pretty highly, but just remember to watch out for Rakdos Charm. That’s a massive blowout. Skullcrack I love a lot of things about Skullcrack (the flavour text chief among them), but I also think it’s being expected to do too much work. Skullcrack is not the one and only answer the format needs to Thragtusk, Centaur Healer, Sphinx’s Revelation, Trostani and even Rhox Faithmender. People who are planning to side this into their Jund or Naya midrange decks and play it in response to an end-of-turn Sphinx’s for 7 thinking they just cracked the format will be sorely mistaken. Unless you are applying lethal pressure to the board, THEY STILL DREW SEVEN CARDS.
Where Skullcrack will shine is in aggro decks that needed just that one more turn without lifegain to make the difference. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been down to 6 life and blinked my Thragtusk to buy me another turn and some more blockers against Zombies or mono-red. Skullcrack prevents these shenanigans while also shortening the clock you have on them. In those scenarios this card is a real headshot, but it’s NOT a multipass.Wrecking Ogre It would not surprise me if I never actually cast this card, but dear God I just want to Bloodrush it ogre and ogre again. The bonus you get for 5 mana is pretty obscene: +3/+3 and DOUBLE strike? Vampire Nighthawk, where you at baby? Pretty much anything you drop this on becomes an absolute wrecking ball for a cost that is far less proportionally than the power you get. Anything with trample is obviously a prime target, as is anything on to which you have encoded. It’s mostly uncounterable too! Double strike is a seldom-seen ability because of its power level, and now we have the ability to give it (and a Giant Growth) to anything that turns sideways. Hell, even things with vigilance! Oh, and if we have a way to return creature cards to our hand reliably? UNFAIR THINGS will happen. Wait…isn’t there a Raise Dead with cipher?
It’s a real shame that, in Modern, we can’t bloodrush this on to a Phyrexian Crusader for the instawin. Or perhaps it’s actually a great thing, because that deck is already pretty darn good. As it stands the ability is probably a little too expensive for most Modern decks, so it will likely be restricted to Standard for the time being.
Thoughts on Red
Some definite players here, though much of the strength seems to be out of the sideboard. Hellraiser Goblin has me raising my eyebrows, and I am going to have to try to do something with Hellkite Tyrant, perhaps in Modern. Otherwise I think Five-Alarm Fire has potential, and I will probably try to use Massive Raid in some sort of combo deck.