In recent MTG standard tournament results, Mono-Red has been conspicuously absent from the high-place finishers. Few top 8 spots have been awarded to Mono-Red in recent weeks, and not a single deck list with all red devotion made it to Day 2 of the most recent SCG Dallas Open. As some of our previous articles discussed, one reason for this decline in red dominance for the current standard meta is due to the overwhelming power of other decks, such as Sultai Midrange, that make a far better argument for being classified as the best deck in MTG standard compared to Mono-Red. There is still hope, however, for those who long for soul-crushing red decks that dominate tournaments. Although the days of Hazoret, Chandra and Soul-Scar Mage are behind us, here are three ways Mono-Red could find its way back to top tier MTG standard deck status.
Go Big or Go Home
One way that Mono-Red could be returned to its former status as the best standard deck is to up the curve and play some of the powerhouse finishers the color has to offer. A handful of lists, both before and after the release of Ravnica Allegiance, were making use of an odd combination of aggro and control cards, finding success against a variety of archetypes. Dire Fleet Daredevil, for example, offers incredible card advantage in the late game by stealing a spell from your opponent, which is twice as effective if targeting cards with Jumpstart like Chemister’s Insight, but can also function as a defensive 2/1 first-strike for two mana if your opponent’s aggression is overwhelming. Likewise, Banefire is a card that can provide uncounterable reach in the late-game, but can also be used as somewhat costly removal in a pinch. When combined with card selection spells like Rix Maadi Reveler, mana acceleration from Treasure Map, and a host of red removal, a Big Red list could switch from aggro to control quickly with a transformative sideboard and main-deck staples like Rekindling Phoenix and Siege-Gang Commander, out-maneuvering the more rigid decks of the format.
A House Divided
Although it pushes the definition “Mono-Red”, a light splash of another color can give red access to desperately needed tech cards and help save the archetype from obscurity. Theater of Horrors, for example, supplements the raw damage-dealing capacity of red with card advantage, selection, and inevitability, all through the presence of one, three cost enchantment that is particularly difficult for most decks to deal with. Alternatively, a card like Judith, the Scourge Diva can help Mono-Red get more value out of its cheap, aggressive creatures, both while attacking and blocking. If balanced correctly, a “Mono-Red” deck could reasonably play these multi-colored spells by relying solely on Dragonskull Summit and Blood Crypt, maintaining a 100 percent red mana-base as to not harm its ability to resolve Goblin Chainwhirler. A greedier list, however, might even play one swamp, and try out black tech cards like Eldest Reborn and Duress. With the addition of a second color, even manifesting as only a few cards, Mono-Red can be equipped with the answers it needs to compete in such a high power level meta, especially in best-of-one matches, making this variant potentially one of the best Magic: The Gathering Arena standard decks.
Currently the best MTG deck in modern, Mono-Red Phoenix in standard may be viable for a number of reasons. First, many of the impactful cards in this deck are currently legal in standard, such as Archlight Phoenix, Risk Factor, and Tormenting Voice, which form the backbone of a deck that wants to aggressively draw cards and put multiple copies of Phoenix into the graveyard. Additionally, many of the cards that the deck utilizes not currently in standard can be replaced by weaker analogs, such replacing Bedlam Reveler with Rix Maadi Reveler. Admittedly, some ridiculously powerful cards, like Manamorphose, cannot be replicated using standard cards, however there are a number of alternate lines of play that can be created for those missing cards, especially when building an off-meta deck that is largely unpredictable. With creativity and a great deal of play testing, a Mono-Red Phoenix deck could possibly become one of the best decks in MTG standard, and perhaps is where diehard red players should be dedicating their energy.
Although the current meta has moved farther from Mono-Red than it has in years, the archetype is not completely dead. Surprisingly, in fact, we could be on the cusp of a red deck Renaissance, an era of innovation and variation that leads to a meta not defined by a singular red list but by a fractured body of lists that may be larger, multi-colored, or combo-oriented. With the best standard decks like Mono-Blue dominating the format with fragile, all-in win conditions, it seems like the perfect time for red to arise from the ashes of the Experimental Frenzy style burn decks and emerge as a metaphorical, or literal, phoenix of its past self.