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Posted by on Nov 8, 2017

Mono-Red at PT Ixalan

Mono-Red at PT Ixalan

After finishing last season one heartbreaking point away from Silver, I swore that I wouldn’t let it happen again. A few weeks later, in my sixth virtual PTQ finals, I was able to qualify for PT Ixalan at the Toronto RPTQ with Temur Energy. It was the last event that fed into that PT, and it was a huge relief that my failure at PT Hour of Devastation didn’t keep me off the tour. Now, after an ultimately disappointing 10-6 finish at PT Ixalan, I’m in the same boat – except the RPTQ is only a week away!

Before I jump right into some truly degenerate Modern testing all week, I think it’s worthwhile to go over the lessons learned from PT Ixalan. With a 1-5 record in Draft and a 9-1 record in Standard, it’s clear where the hole in my preparation was. This week, I’m going to briefly touch on what that draft record meant before jumping into a primer on my 9-1 Red deck. Because I can’t seem to shy away from controversy these days, I’ll close it out with a ranking of the best and worst jerseys from this year’s Pro Tour Team Series.

Ixalan draft has been pretty universally reviled so far due to the massive power level disparity in cards and strategies. I’m firmly on that bandwagon after playing the format for a month. When I come out of an event with a 1-5 record in a format, I tend to be hyper-critical of myself and see where I went wrong. I’ve spent the last few days dwelling on this, and I’m actually just fairly certain that, for the most part, I drafted and played quite well. My first draft was an absolute train-wreck of a G/W Dinosaurs deck that had to splash black just to hit an acceptable number of spells. I actually don’t think that there was a playable deck in my seat. Black was open, but it didn’t seem so because I wasn’t being passed any playable black cards in the first two packs. It’s not because someone was taking them away. It’s because there just weren’t any in the packs that I saw early. That’s unfortunately so common in this format thanks to how shallow and narrow each colour is.

My deck was a disaster with no actual removal, and I promptly 0-3’d. My second draft, however, went nothing like the first. It was clear from the start that the B/W Vampires deck was open in my seat. I picked up a bunch of powerful cards including very late Anointed Deacons in pack 1, then opened Vona, Butcher of Magan in pack 2. I was then passed a second one. I 1-2’d that draft. My deck was full of premium spells and powerful bombs, but this format features so many non-games that sometimes it just doesn’t matter. I punted the first round against Jelger Wiegersma by assuming that his 5-cost black removal spell was Contract Killing instead of the Dark Nourishment it was. I had a pump spell in hand to beat it, but immediately said “ok” when he cast it. He buried me in card advantage. I lost the third round by mulliganing both games and being absolutely run over, never drawing the powerful 5-drops in my deck. I want to learn from these drafts and these games, but I just can’t figure out anything beyond “don’t punt”. It’s frustrating, but whatever. Hopefully I can just avoid playing any more of this format, and that Rivals of Ixalan will improve it significantly.

Standard, on the other hand, went much better, as usual. While the metagame was swamped with Energy variants, Kazuyuki Takimura and I both made it to 9-1 with Rampaging Ferocidon red decks. Let’s start with the list that I played, and discuss the reasons why I chose to not only play the deck, but also the differences between my list and the other successful ones.

Hazoret Red- Daniel Fournier

I discussed the midrange arms race briefly in last week’s column as part of a PT Ixalan preview, and after playing a few more days of increasingly absurd energy decks online, I decided to sidestep that whole mess by refining an aggressive deck. While I’m usually very happy to spend a week building and tuning midrange strategies, I was certain that I was not on the appropriate level of expertise to do that at the Pro Tour. Hazoret is without a doubt the only real payoff to aggro strategies in this Standard, so I decided it would be best to play the deck that best maximizes this frankly obscene card. I had already tried plenty of Mardu and B/R variants, and while they all had uniquely powerful traits, they simply couldn’t match the consistency of Mono-Red. All these other Hazoret decks — and all the Energy decks for that matter — could stumble on their mana or simply draw mismatched cards for certain matchups. When you mulligan with 4c Energy, you run the risk of not drawing a blue source for your Whirler Virtuso. When you mulligan with U/W Approach, you might miss your seventh land drop and strand your namesake card in hand. When you mulligan with Mono-Red, your Hazoret just gets to attack a turn earlier. That’s a pretty wild advantage. We had a running joke throughout testing about the “strategic mulligan” where the optimal strategy with Mono-Red was to lay out seven cards on the table, then announce a mulligan without looking. You keep your six cards blind, then scry to the top because you’re going to exile it to Bomat Courier anyways. Hazoret will then reward your devotion to the “noob lucker” life with a perfect hand and optimal draw steps.

A couple things stand out about my list in contrast to others, namely the amount of targeted hate creatures. In addition to starting 2 Harsh Mentors and the full set of Ferocidons, the rest of the Mentors can be found in the sideboard. When Harsh Mentor was first spoiled, many heralded it as the second coming of Christ, wherein Christ is in fact Eidolon of the Great Revel. The card is, unfortunately, not very good on average, but plays a crucial role in this metagame. Harsh Mentor is outrageously good when staring down Longtusk Cub, Bristling Hydra, and Whirler Virtuoso in a deck with so much built-in reach. Confiscation Coup aside, stock Temur decks can only realistically “beat” Hazoret with these three cards: Cub and Hydra by pumping them to 6 toughness, Whirler Virtuoso by generating an endless stream of blockers. Harsh Mentor stops this, while being an on-curve bear at worst. All this makes it a must-kill target, overloading their removal and maximizing your chances at sticking a Rampaging Ferocidon – the real MVP in the matchup. Harsh Mentor also just happens to be an absolute beating in the Vehicles matchup. Aethersphere Harvester is downright embarrassing when they have to take 4 damage to crew it and give it lifelink.

I also chose to maximize the number of Rampaging Ferocidons in the deck for many of the same reasons. It’s one of the only creatures that can profitably attack through the popular Bristling Hydra, and just happens to be a hate card against not only Whirler Virtuoso, but both Gifts and Tokens decks. Having incidental maindeck hate cards is a major upside for including this card, which, at its worst, isn’t significantly weaker than the Ahn-Crop Crasher with which it’s competing for real estate in the curve.

The sideboard is fairly straightforward. A major decision point was whether to focus on Magma Sprays or Chandra’s Defeats in the one-mana removal slot. I expected there to be a significant amount of black and Mardu Hazoret decks, against which Chandra’s Defeat is embarrassing, coupled with a down-tick in Glorybringers, the card against which Chandra’s Defeat renders embarrassing. Both of these predictions turned out to be right, and so having access to Magma Spray was very solid in the two rounds where I was paired against Mardu Vehicles.

Let’s move on to the sideboarding guide, which will differ somewhat from what I actually had decided on before the tournament. Sometimes you learn on the spot, you know?

vs Temur/4c Energy
+2 Abrade
+2 Harsh Mentor
-1 Ahn-Crop Crasher
-2 Soul-Scar Mage
-1 Lightning Strike

This is where my plan differs the most from what a lot of others are doing. It’s common to see Chandra and Glorybringer boarded in for this matchup, at least on the draw. If you’re going to beat Temur, it’s not by out-valuing them with midrange cards. You’re trying to beat them at their own game. Playing directly into their Chandra’s Defeats is not where I want to be. I want to deploy my hand and do as much damage as possible to them before Hazoret comes down. We board out Ahn-Crop Crasher because it has a hard time actually getting anything done against Bristling Hydra and Whirler Virtuoso. Soul-Scar Mage gets trimmed because it’s by far the lowest-impact card in the matchup and can almost never attack without a Prowess trigger. Lightning Strike is inferior to the fourth Abrade because of the threat of Aethersphere Harvester. It’s a low-impact substitution because our burn is most often pointed at creatures to clear the way.

vs Sultai Energy
+2 Abrade
+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+2 Glorybringer
+2 Aethersphere Harvester
+2 Harsh Mentor
-1 Ahn-Crop Crasher
-2 Soul-Scar Mage
-3 Kari Zev, Skyship Mentor
-2 Shock
-2 Rampaging Ferocidon

This matchup plays out substantially differently from its Temur cousin, as the Sultai deck relies on the synergy of its early creatures to dominate the board and can knock you out very quickly as long as they have a Winding Constrictor in play. With that in mind, we want to maximize ways to disrupt that synergy while keeping in mind which of our threats are good against Fatal Push. Harsh Mentor is worse here than it is against Temur, but its ability is still excellent against Longtusk Cub and Walking Ballista. Feel free to adjust the number of Shocks in your deck relative to the number of Deathgorge Scavengers, Rogue Refiners, and Glint-Sleeve Siphoners you see.

vs Mirror/BR Hazoret
+2 Abrade
+2 Pia Nalaar
+3 Aethersphere Harvester
+2 Magma Spray
-2 Harsh Mentor
-1 Ahn-Crop Crasher
-4 Rampaging Ferocidon
-2 Lightning Strike

There are two cards that matter in these matchups post-board: Aethersphere Harvester and Hazoret the Fervent. Everything else is about not getting run over before these cards come online. All our three-drops are immeasurably upgraded by what’s coming in, so the maindeck ones get boarded out in order to keep our curve lean and Hazorets mean. Just like against Temur, Abrade is better than Lightning Strike because of the Harvester. Feel free to use non-Abrade removal extremely aggressively because, well, all we have to do is win the Harvester and Hazoret fight. There’s almost more removal than threats post-board, so weird, long games frequently happen in the mirror where Hazorets get shrunk by burn spells with Soul-Scar Mage in play.

vs Mardu Vehicles
+2 Abrade
+2 Pia Nalaar
+3 Aethersphere Harvester
+2 Magma Spray
+2 Harsh Mentor
-1 Ahn-Crop Crasher
-4 Rampaging Ferocidon
-4 Lightning Strike
-2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider

This plays out pretty similarly to other Hazoret mirrors, except Abrade is even more important than before, and Harsh Mentor randomly does a billion damage to them.

vs God-Pharaoh’s Gift
+2 Abrade
+2 Magma Spray
+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+2 Glorybringer
-4 Lightning Strike
-1 Ahn-Crop Crasher
-2 Shock
-1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider

The way we board for different versions of this deck is more or less identical. The matchup is very skewed in our favour – they can’t interact particularly well with our early game, and as long as we can keep a God-Pharaoh’s Gift off the table with Abrade and Scavenger Ground, then we’re in a pretty good spot. Rampaging Ferocidon also absolutely shuts this deck down.

vs UB Control/UW Approach
+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+2 Glorybringer
-2 Abrade
-2 Shock

Speaking of matchups that are immeasurably skewed towards the red deck – control has a really hard time beating even your most medium of hands. Thanks to the reach of Ramunap Ruins, it’s very difficult for these decks to stabilize against you. Make sure to be prepared for the usual post-board threats like Gifted Aetherborn and Regal Caracal.

vs BWx Tokens
+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+2 Glorybringer
+3 Aethersphere Harvester
+2 Harsh Mentor
-4 Shock
-2 Abrade
-3 Lightning Strike

Here, we just have to accept that we’re going to struggle to push through on the ground, and want to bring in as many repeatable sources of evasive damage as possible. Unsurprisingly, Rampaging Ferocidon is the best card in the matchup, and it’s wise to either use it to bait a bad Fumigate or use it to lock up a game afterwards. Harsh Mentor is good here because of Renegade Map and Evolving Wilds – it’s significantly worse on the draw.

Well, that just about covers all the popular decks going around these days, so let’s have some fun. Here’s a power ranking of the best and worst jerseys from the 2017-2018 Pro Tour Team Series.

Top 3 Worst Team Series Jerseys

(Dis)honourable mention to Mana Traders for matching primary colours with seemingly random graphic design choices.

3 – Connected Company
These might not look so rough from the front, but if you take a close look at Andrea Mengucci, you can see that the Channel Fireball logo looks like a piece of paper glued onto the front of the shirt. The backs of all of their jerseys have the same thing, but with the Connected Company logo. These aren’t a particularly bad design, but the amateurish finish on these really hurts the aesthetic. I hope they can get them fixed for Raph Levy’s return at PT Bilbao.

2 – Hareruya Latin
Orange on red? Please, no. The orange “Hareruya Latin” logo in its kitschy, borderline-racist font is illegible with all the bright colours going around. This team’s got some big guys on it, and as a fellow fat man, we don’t look particularly good as a fire hydrant.

1 – Channel Fireball
These jerseys were inoffensive until I noticed that the orange on the shoulders is a camo pattern. Now I just assume they’re an airsoft squad.

Top 3 Best Team Series Jerseys

3 – Cardhoarder / Cardhoarder Brazil
They’ve done a great job of pushing this iconic design into everyone’s face. There are just so many Cardhoarder jerseys at major American events – and they look exactly annoying enough so that you remember them but don’t hate the way they look. The jerseys for their Brazilian team take the same design but use the bright colours of their flag to stand out even more. It’s good stuff.

2 – MetaGame Gurus Sun and Moon
I really like these shirts. It’s a simple collection of logos that aren’t necessarily aesthetically pleasing but are somehow made to blend into each other. The shirt colours are clean and striking as well.

1 – Massdrop East/West
Clean, good design. They benefit from the excellent Massdrop logo, and are one of the few teams with matching, colourful sweaters. You can see these guys from across the room, and you know exactly what team they’re on. No messy extra sponsor logos on the breast, just nice, clean red and blue. Good stuff.

  • kade_mtg

    Great article and it was great to meet you at the PT. I can confirm what we discussed while waiting at Subway… Our sideboarding plans were basically the same, barring some differences in the list (we had one MD Chandra over 1 Ferocidon that we had in the sidelines, also we did play the Defeats over Magma Sprays, although the sprays were on some variations of the list, so it was the last cut). Congrats on the performance, still great even though you got “Ixalaned” in draft.