Modern Monkey Goes B/R


Ragavan has changed Modern as we know it. One strategy in particular where it shines is a Rakdos build that's been posting almost shockingly strong results, for example claiming the number one and number two spot at a recent Modern Open. But it isn't just Ragavan; the deck has picked up a whole new creature suite.

channeler - ragavan

Not too long ago, black-red's Modern representatives almost uniformly focused on Death's Shadow and Scourge of the Skyclaves, with a side order of Monastery Swiftspear and Bomat Courier. But Modern Horizons 2 left no stone unturned. Except for our loyal companion, Lurrus of the Dream-Den, contemporary builds have completely exchanged their old creature base for a new one.

Embracing New Horizons

Dragon's Rage Channeler is without a doubt one of the best one-mana red creatures ever printed, seeing play in almost every red deck in Modern at the moment. It synergizes with Mishra's Bauble in multiple ways: you get advance knowledge of what you'll draw or surveil and can set up delirium surprisingly fast. Once active, Channeler becomes an evasive creature more threatening than Swifstspear, and that's why it has replaced the Human Monk in so many shells.

dragon's rage channeler ragavan, nimble pilferer

We can also try to draw comparisons between Bomat Courier and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, but let's be honest, the Monkey plays in a different league than the Construct. In fact, Wizards have designed the perfect aggressive one-drop that generates card advantage each turn and puts you virtually ahead on mana.

It's reached a point where Modern players are beginning to ask if Ragavan should be banned. It's obviously too soon for that, and a toughness 1 creature has to contend with plenty of answers. But it's pretty clear to me that alongside Urza's Saga, Ragavan is the most controversial card from MH2. Now, let's check out how a Lurrus Rakdos list looks like at present.

This is the winning list of the recent online event. In total, three copies of the deck made it to the Top 8 and two reached the finals, easily making this the most successful strategy of the tournament. A new team of black and red creatures has entered the scene. In addition to the one-drops we got:

Dauthi Voidwalker: My colleague Skura already wrote an excellent article on the black Rogue, but at that point the Rakdos shell hadn't emerged yet. Its passive ability comes in very handy in the mirror and against every other Lurrrus deck, not to mention Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar variants, which are some of the best decks in the format at the moment. Indeed, Voidwalker shuts off every graveyard interaction while in play, and you can also hit the jackpot in certain matchups if your discard exiles an expensive payoff such as Primeval Titan or a giant Eldrazi.

dauthi voidwalker tourach, dread cantor

Tourach, Dread Cantor: Although the winning list ran good, old Dark Confidant for extra card advantage instead, most are packing two copies of this new card. Normally, you don't want to cast Tourach on turn two, though there are exceptions. However, as a virtual four-drop it's a Hymn to Tourach with legs and immediately grows to 4/3. It doesn't stop here either as the deck includes all the usual discard spells plus Kroxa, while lots of opponents rely on discarding cards themselves: The Underworld Cookbook, Street Wraith, and every cycling creature from the Living End deck.

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger: At first, Kroxa was merely Uro's ugly little brother, and people were hesitant in picking it up. But now it has become an absolute must-have. Indeed, in the current build, Kroxa can be surveiled into the graveyard with Dragon's Rage Channeler, grow Tourach, and ultimately generate recurring discard alongside Lurrus.

Updating the Spells and Mana Base

The spot removal selection received a major upgrade in Unholy Heat, the second card with delirium. Heat is strictly better than Magmatic Sinkhole for a bunch of reasons: you can cast it as early as turn one, it doesn't require a filled graveyard to function, and once delirium is enabled, it hits toughness 6 creatures. Previously, problematic big creatures like Kroxa itself or Primeval Titan were unreachable. Finally it hits planeswalkers, so it will always be alive in most matchups.

unholy heat prismatic ending

The other new piece of spot removal you can include is Prismatic Ending, if you are willing to splash white, which also enables some nice sideboard options. Ending is another automatic Modern staple from MH2. It allows you to answer early threats, especially artifacts like Amulet of Vigor or the infamous Cookbook but can also hit enchantments, something very useful when facing the new Enchantress deck.

One card that is old but keeps improving as new sets get released is Mishra's Bauble. Not only does it thin the deck and unlock Lurrus value turn after turn even when you have no mana to spare. Now it also adds a card type for delirium.

mishra's bauble kolaghan's command

Similarly, two or three copies of Kolaghan's Command have become the norm, both because Chalice of the Void remains a pain for our twenty-plus one-mana spells and also because discard is even more useful now between Tourach and Voidwalker. Rebuying our dead creatures, especially Lurrus if it dies in the line of duty, allows us to start up the value train once again.

Moving on to the mana base, we find no additions from the latest set, though it has been adjusted for the new mana requirements. Aside from the regular combination of fetch and shock lands, we find four copies of Blackcleave Cliffs that usually didn't show up in Shadow versions, and two copies of Graven Cairns to help cast our red one-drops followed by Voidwalker and later on Kroxa's escape cost smoothly.

Some newer versions even add a few utility lands, mainly a Castle Locthwain for extra draws in the late game plus some forgotten cards from Champions of Kamigawa: Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep and Shizo, Death's Storehouse. You're running up to ten legendary creatures (including Lurrus) and can give them either first strike or fear to improve combat. This latest addition alongside the deck's popularity just caused a spike in both lands' prices, so check your bulk collection for them, especially the red one.

shinka price development
Price development: Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep

Death Never Dies

It doesn't matter how much Modern evolves, there will always be a Shadow deck sneaking its way into the format. The power keeps creeping on as years pass. However, the black Avatar plus Temur Battle Rage never gets old.

As you can see, it's still possible to play Shadow within a Modern Horizons 2 warped world, although you don't get to play all the fancy cards from the set. This list goes straight to the point, only a couple of Ragavan and three Dauthi Voidwalker, no room for Tourach or even Kroxa, at least in the main deck. Scourge of the Skyclaves is our other life loss payoff next to Shadow, which kills opponents from out of nowhere when you target it with Battle Rage.

All Aboard

Last but not least, a quick look at the sideboard: new cards from MH2 we find are Void Mirror against Tron, artifact strategies, and—what's more important right now—it shuts off spells played via cascade effects.

void mirror damn

Meanwhile, the Shadow version is trying out Damn as a spot removal that can turn into a wrath if needed, for example when facing the Living End matchup or creature strategies such as Humans.

Both versions add some copies of Engineered Explosives, which might seem counterintuitive in a deck with so many one-drops. But those are mainly used to blow up zero-mana permanents like Crashing Footfalls Rhinos or Urza's Saga's Constructs as well as Food tokens from Cookbook shells. Other nice technologies white grants are Kaya's Guile as a flexible tool against graveyard strategies that can also win some life back when facing Burn and Wear // Tear for dedicated enchantment removal.

Closing things up, as a red-based deck, both versions pack artifact mass removal like Shatterstorm or Shattering Spree as well as land hate cards such as Alpine Moon and Cleansing Wildfire, which improves matchups like Tron, Amulet Titan, and anything with Urza's Saga in general.

Wrap Up. Best Monkey Deck?

After seeing the deck in action, this writer's humble opinion is that B/R Monkey is the best shell for Ragavan moving forward competing closely with the Izzet version featuring Murktide Regent. Indeed, you can also see the Nimble Pilferer in Jeskai Stoneblade alongside Stoneforge Mystic, in Monord, and in some other aggressive options like the Domain Zoo list I wrote about in my last article. However, having cheap discard plus the red 2/1 seems the path to victory, at least from my point of view.

Overall the deck is well suited to the current metagame, with Orzhov Stoneblade and Enchantress the most challenging matchups to beat, at least pre-sideboard. That's all for today. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. As usual, thanks for reading, until next time!

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

1 Comment

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MakutoPro(13.07.2021 02:48)

So they say… Dance Monkey: Dance for me, dance for me ooh I've never seen anybody do the things you do before
They say move for me, move for me, move for me, ay, ay, ay
And when you're done I'll make you do it all again