Guilds of Ravnica: Red Decks in Standard


After a couple of weeks testing Standard, it's finally time to provide a snapshot of the metagame. This time around, Rodrigo is taking a look at Red and the strategies utilizing it to great effect.

Hello dear Standard lovers. I am here this week to talk about one of the most interesting and fun moments in any Standard: the immediate post-rotation metagame. All the strategies are brand-new, and players are testing out the new set cards in combination with the old classics that remain, so most of the list you find surfing the web are not settled yet.

Week One was all about Boros incarnations and some Teferi control builds. And right now, we're seeing a significant rise in the popularity of Golgari midrange despite its lack of a stock list.

But enough about results, today I'll review almost every Red shell in Standard right now, with a particular focus on the Mono-Red versions.

Forgotten Guilds

Besides B/R Aggro being the most popular deck of last Standard, at the moment this color combination is simply not powerful enough to be considered. There are some Grixis builds that use both colors in order to cast Nicol Bolas, the Ravager in conjunction with Dimir cards but if anyone was expecting B/R Pirates to emerge, I have bad news for you (at least so far).

Moving onto the Gruul Clan, well, there are some green based decks splashing Red to play some Ixalan dinosaurs and the all-powerful Experimental Frenzy, a card that will be discussed later in the article.

Long story short, we have to wait until the next set to see those decks start performing well, so, in the meantime it's more profitable to focus on the actual Red Guilds: Izzet and Boros.

Izzet Spells

Izzet Spells in an MTGO Competitive League

This archetype is all about spells as its name suggests. It's a pretty straight forward strategy that relies on cheap cantrips and removal to fill the graveyard, while filtering Archlight Phoenix into the graveyard with Discovery // Dispersal, Chart a Course, or discarding it to any Jump-Start spell.

Then, on the key turn, you proceed to cast 3 instant or sorceries to bring them back onto the battlefield as a recurring threat. Crackling Drake is the other finisher that can even kill in one attack if the game goes late enough.

Looking at the sideboard, this deck is able to transform into a more controlling deck post game one, adding board sweepers like Fiery Cannonade, more spot removal, and game ending threats like Ral, Izzet Viceroy and Niv-Mizzet, Parun, the greatest nightmare in the mirror match.

Arclight Phoenix Crackling Drake Niv-Mizzet, Parun

The Boros Legion

Boros Aggro in an MTGO Competitive League

Boros brings a lot of new toys to play with an incredible payoff ability like Mentor, which makes the smaller fellas stronger. The most successful list on week one was a white based Boros Angel shell playing fourteen flying creatures including Resplendent Angel, Shalai, Voice of Plenty, Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice, and Lyra Dawnbringer. However, I want to touch on this other version, based on ground creatures alongside some cheap removal.

The creature curve starts on two with Adanto Vanguard, Knight of Grace, or Boros Challenger followed by a Tajic, Legion's Edge, Militia Bugler, Legion Warboss, or, of course, History of Benalia.

I am not sure about this strategy moving forward since it's not as fast as the Mono Red deck and the big threats from turn four onwards seem to be undecided thus far. Some lists play Rekindling Phoenix and Demanding Dragon while others include Siege Gang-Commander.

Moreover, I've found a few lists running Huatli, Warrior Poet, a card that didn't see play in the previous Standard, but seems decent right now against more aggressive decks with the life gain option and against control decks with great tokens.

My gut tells me that Boros will be a pretty good contestant for the midrange strategies, but it hasn't found the right list yet and it has been overshadowed by the high value B/G Midrange provides.

Tajic, Legion's Edge Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice Huatli, Warrior Poet

Mono-Red Aggro

Suggested List by Rodrigo Martín

Finally, we get to the star of the show and ultimately the reason I wanted to write this article. I'll be honest with you, Mono Red is not fancy, guild themed or hard to assemble. Rather, it's very straight forward, cheap to build, and what's more important, it's great for grinding tournaments.

However, I wanted to bring it here since there are many MTG players that are still reluctant to try Standard and I find this deck quite good, alongside Mono Blue Tempo, as a starting option in the format.

Most of the cards are obvious, but it's worth explaining their role in the deck, so here's the card evaluation:

The Old Core

Fanatical Firebrand Ghitu Lavarunner Viashino Pyromancer

28 out of 60 cards were already in the Kaladesh-Ixalan-Dominaria Standard; if you consider the basic mana base of 22 mountains, only 10 cards are new additions, but they are important ones. Let's begin with our infamous creature suite.

Fanatical Firebrand: it's the one mana hasty threat that provides two or three damage, or even more depending on the matchup. It's worth trading for Llanowar Elves on the draw and always for a Steam Flame-Kin in the mirror if there's no mana open on the opponent's battlefield. It is also good in conjunction with Goblin Chainwhirler, allowing it to snipe opposing two toughness creatures, and it even survives a common sweeper option out of the sideboard: Firey Cannonade, as it's a Pirate.

Ghitu Lavarunner: a 1/2 for only one mana that makes our Wizard's Lightning cheaper and in the mid-late game comes in as a 2/2 with haste. I usually play it before Firebrand if I'm on the play and try to protect it as much as I can since it's our best cheap beater that survives opposing Chainwhirlers.

Viashino Pyromancer: the other Wizard we need to boost our Wizard's Lightning. I consider him a two-mana Shock that can potentially bring more damage to the table if the board is empty. I like to play it on turn three with Wizard's Lightning up in order to be more mana efficient.

Goblin Chainwhirler: The nightmare in chains! One of the most oppressive and format defining cards from the previous Standard is still alive, but sadly folks, it's not as good as it was even though it's still great against Selesnya Convoke decks, BG Midrange, and very decisive in the mirror due to all the 1 toughness creatures we run.

Shock Lightning Strike Wizard's Lightning

Shock: Moving on to our cheap interaction spells, it's all fire and direct damage. This card is pretty self-explanatory, two damage for one mana. Normally I use it to clean the battlefield of blockers, especially if they cost 2 or more mana so you gain tempo advantage with the trade. Knight of Grace, Goblin Electromancer, Legion Warboss and Jadelight Ranger are all great targets for it.

Lightning Strike: Three damage for two mana is still a good trade; normally I save them for opposing Chainwhirlers in the mirror match or using with my own ones to kill 4 toughness creatures. L. Strike + Whirler is the best way to get rid of Rekindling Phoenix once it for all. Obviously, if there's not a good target, just aim for the face.

Wizard's Lightning: Everything said above applies to this one too but be careful to play it with your Wizards so you don't have to pay its full cost.

Newest Additions

Runaway Steam-Kin Risk Factor

Guilds of Ravnica brings us three new Red spells to add into our fiery deck and oh boy are they good! Let's review them carefully:

Runaway Steam-Kin: This little fellow is Modern material and I didn't see him coming. Now that I've experienced his power in this deck, I can assure you without any doubt it's a staple you should be buying A-S-A-P. It might seem a bit clunky on turn two but trust me, your opponent will absolutely kill it on sight every time he possible can, as it's that scary.

If it manages to survive a couple of turns, it becomes your biggest threat as a 4/4 that can produce 3 Red mana at any time. It's great with Risk Factor but it's especially importantly with Experimental Frenzy since you can keep casting spells, growing the Steam-Kin, which casts more spells.

A small tip when playing it, try to protect him with mana open so your opponent has to play around it and also try not to expose him to Chainwhirlers.

Risk Factor: Arguably one of the best cards with Jump-start and is also Modern material, something I mentioned in my last article.

As I said earlier, this is no clunky Browbeat. The way I see it's six mana for eight damage or four damage plus three cards. In this deck, you run so fast that ultimately your opponent has to give you the cards or he/she dies but as a result the cards you draw end up killing them as well.

It also helps you to gain value from extra lands and can be replayed from the graveyard when you brick with Experimental Frenzy in play. I've tried two copies and three copies in my list and I find myself more comfortable running three.

The Flame of Keld vs. Experimental Frenzy

The Flame of Keld Experimental Frenzy

Experimental Frenzy: This card has garnered a lot of attention lately; Frank Karsten recently wrote an interesting article about how many cards you can consistently play with it on a turn. Andrea Mengucci even tried it out in Legacy Storm! So, you should start taking this enchantment serious if you're not playing it already.

Before explaining all his benefits, it's inevitable to compare it with The Flame of Keld. When I first assembled the deck after rotation I added 3 or 4 copies of the Dominaria Saga since it was pretty successful in the previous incarnation on the deck but most of the time I was playing a bad Tormenting Voice with an upside on the third turn that sometimes wouldn't affect the board in any way.

Don't even think about those hands with double Flame which is like a mulligan (although you can discard it with Risk Factor) so I what I did is try a 2-2 split with Frenzy which made me realize how bad the Flame was.

Obviously it is super clunky to run both cards in the same deck since if you play the Flame probably have to discard the Frenzy and if you cast Frenzy you cannot play Flame from your hand anymore. Long story short I am packing 3 Frenzies now and life is perfect.

When you have Frenzy in your initial hand you can play very aggressive in order to empty your hand then cast Frenzy and start the 'value train' as I call it, it doesn't matter if you fizzle for a turn, you will end up casting 4-5 spells at some point and win eventually if the game goes long and your opponent cannot deal with the Frenzy and even if they do you might have enough cards in hand to finish the job.

Although I might sound very optimistic about this Red enchantment, sometimes you will hit two lands in a row in several turns and you will hate this card but remember that variance is part of this game also; my only advice is: try it out or play against it to see its true power, I was reluctant at first but now I'm a frenzy lover.

Sideboard and Other Card Choices

Lava Coil Fight with Fire

Before finishing up, I want to make a small comment about the sideboard and the deck's configuration. The mana base is simple, 22 lands, period. There is an argument to play 21 if you feel lucky but with three Frenzy I want to hit my fourth land at least on turn five.

Versions don't vary that much, right now I am on 3 Risk Factor 3 Frenzy but others go with 2-2 adding a couple of Phoenix, and I have also seen Dismissive Pyromancer to have more Wizards and have some card filtering.

Being a mono colored deck reduces the amount of cards you have available but for now the only thing you need is some spot removal in the shape of Lava Coil and Fight with Fire to get rid of 4 and 5 toughness creatures; Fiery Cannonade against decks that go wide like Selesnya and BG Midrange and some grindy cards for control matchups like Banefire, and more copies of Risk Factor and Frenzy.

Finally, if you expect a lot of mirror matches, bring in some Diamond Mare to gain some life. I don't feel comfortable enough yet to make a sideboard guide, as the deck is still very much a work in progress.


If you reach till this point thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed this article. Am I overrating Experimental Frenzy? Have you tried any of those decks? Would you like to see any deck analysis in particular from the Standard metagame?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and as always I will be happy to answer all your questions.

Until next time,

Rodrigo Martin

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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MakutoPro(2018-10-30 23:16)

Comparing Flame with Frenzy is like comparing pears with malacatones. Frenzy is simply broken. Nice overview!

Pyrocrastinator(2018-10-28 02:05)

Thank you for writing this article, sir Martin!
I enjoyed reading it.