Game Day for Dark Ascension was February 25th, and I’d been itching to play in a Standard event for a while. When it turned out I needed to go by my folks’ house in Hillsborough that weekend to pick up a package that was accidentally shipped there, I decided I would go to the event at The Toy Factory, a shop I used to frequent in high school and during the summers in college. I’d been thinking about playing some sort of Red deck for weeks, owing to the good cards available and my general comfort with the buildable archetypes, but I didn’t start putting together a list until Friday afternoon, the day before the event. The initial build was an Aggro deck with a heavy Goblin component, also running Hellrider and Hero of Oxid Ridge. It looked good on paper, but it definitely didn’t turn out that way in practice. What I eventually ended up with was completely different.
I didn’t have everything I needed for the deck, but thankfully Chewie had the rest, and he was willing to let me borrow it. That night, I went to visit him to do some borrowing and last minute brainstorming, and to play a few friendly games with the deck just to see how it felt. It felt awful. Game after game, it was being mercilessly crushed by the casual decks Chewie was picking out of his boxes, without even trying to pick any that would be a tough fight. It was well after midnight when we tore my deck down and started over, and eventually we realized my existing sideboard was essentially a method of transforming the maindeck into an anti-token/anti-swarm Big Red deck. It was 2 in the morning before I was finally in the bed, but the extra effort was well worth it. My first game with the new and revamped deck against another person was Round 1 of Game Day, and I ended up 2nd place among the 14 players in the event.
Some notes on the sideboard: Manabarbs is there against Control decks, and I also thought it would be good against Wolf Run Ramp (spoiler alert: haha, no). Ancient Grudge is good for cracking swords, and becomes absolutely necessary if I’m up against Tempered Steel and my Whipflares go blank. Surgical Extraction is for fighting against Reanimator and Control strategies (responding to Snapcaster Mage would be the Magical Christmasland play). Vulshok Refugee is in case anyone gets the same or similar idea I had to start with.
The Main Event
Round 1: 2-0 vs. W/U Spirits. In Game 1, I get to pull off the awesome pro-style play of double Whipflare all the way across the sky to take out a pair of Drogskol Captains. Koth of the Hammer does a fine job of softening the opponent up as I keep killing his creatures, and a charged up Shrine of Burning Rage from very early in the game ends it. Koth continues to be awesome in Game 2, which ends with his mana boost helping to power a 12-point Devil’s Play.
Round 2: 0-2 vs. Wolf Run Ramp. It’s just difficult in general for a Big Red deck to handle an opponent whose main game plan is “blah blah Titan“. I’m never lucky enough to see a Ghost Quarter in Game 1, and for Game 2 my sideboarded Manabarbs don’t help as much as I thought they would. I need to stop thinking that card is better than it actually is. In other news, Huntmaster of the Fells is still crazy powerful, and once he flips he’s out of the range of anything but a Metalcrafted Galvanic Blast.
Round 3: 2-0 vs. Township Tokens. In Game 1, this is my Turn 4: Me – “How many cards do you have in your hand?” Opponent – “I played them all.” Me – “Slagstorm.” It only gets better from there, and Koth is still awesome. My Kessig Wolf Runs are also very helpful for pumping Mountain Elementals when I have a ton of mana available.
Round 4: 2-1 vs. W/B Tokens. Game 1 is a nice and simple process of going back and forth between waiting, wrathing, and Kothing before finally ending with a 10-point Devil’s Play. Game 2 sees his sideboarded Stony Silence blank my Sphere of the Suns and Shrine of Burning Rage, and I get flattened by Shrine of Loyal Legions. With the help of 2 Metalcrafted Galvanic Blasts and 2 copies of Shrine of Burning Rage (played on Turns 2 and 3), Game 3 ends when I take my opponent from 17 to 0 in a sudden flurry of burn.
Cut to Top 4
Semifinal: 2-0 (2-1?) vs. W/B/G Tokens. In Game 1 I mulligan to 5 and win. That’s how good these matchups are for Big Red. For some reason I can’t remember whether there were 2 or 3 games in this round. The balance of power in the games shifted so frequently and hit such extremes that I don’t know whether some of the boardstates I’m thinking of are right before I lost or right before I turned them around again. Regardless, in my 2nd win of the round, my sideboarded Ancient Grudges help take out a key Shrine of Loyal Legions, as well as a Mortarpod that would have become a massive pain in all my asses. That game ends with 12 damage from Shrine of Burning Rage.
Final: 0-2 vs. Wolf Run Ramp. This is the same guy from earlier. He only lost one game all day (to a U/B Control player who I was quite afraid of being paired against). Honestly, I’m not alarmed or disappointed by the result of this round, but it’s frustrating that I can’t seem to draw my Ghost Quarters or Ancient Grudges in the right order, or at anything resembling an opportune time.
This deck feels good, and I have a lot of fun playing it, so I plan on keeping it together for a while and continuing to take it to sanctioned events whenever I’m able. After doing some further thinking and considering some advice from others (most notably our recent guest, Bennie Smith), I edited the sideboard. A good Threaten effect would be really nice against Wolf Run Ramp, to give me a damage boost and head towards the end of the game, and I like Act of Aggression for having the versatility of an instant. Here’s what the sideboard looks like right now:
As I was finishing the first draft of this article, I was about to head out to an FNM at Top Deck Games in Kernersville. The post is long enough already, so I’ll save the massively non-spectacular results of that for a comment, below. Speaking of comments, let me know what you think! Was this a wise metagame choice? Will the wisdom of that choice come crashing down around my ears if the metagame changes, even slightly? What would you suggest for the deck or sideboard? I look forward to seeing what you have to say about it.
Have fun, guys.