The Red Mage's Guide for 2020


Red mages of the world, rejoice! 2020 is a great year for us. Our favorite color has a huge presence in Standard, in Pioneer, and in Modern. If you want to tune your red decks while adding brand new cards from Theros Beyond Death, this is the article you need to read.

With today's article, I want to focus on one of my favorite colors, red, and its position in each of the "Big Three" competitive formats. I will share my thoughts on new additions from Theros Beyond Death in Standard, discuss the red breakout tech of Pioneer, and analyze the current situation in Modern.

1. Standard: A Devoted Metagame

anax, hardened in the forge

With no big tournament results yet since the latest release, Standard is the best place to brew. You can either play consolidated strategies from the previous season — Jund Food, Jeskai Fires, Rakdos Knights — with some spicy additions or try to get ahead and build around Theros Beyond Death cards and mechanics.

Regarding red, there is no dedicated devotion shell as in original Theros — no Fanatic of Mogis reprint this time around. However, a couple of nice inclusions have found room in the Mono-Red Aggro shell.

Phoenix of Ash gives red decks longevity in two ways. Firstly, since Mono-Red has no graveyard interaction, it's really easy to pay for the escape in the mid- to late game. Secondly, the Phoenix can pump itself, becoming a mana sink in those scenarios where you are flooded and need some action to close up games. Overall, most lists include a couple of copies in the main deck and pack two additional for the sideboard.

Despite Phoenix being a great improvement on the 3-drop slot, truly, the most busted inclusion for the strategy comes from Anax, Hardened in the Forge. This card does almost everything for its cost. It's a way to play around things like Deafening Clarion or Shatter the Sky since you will be getting at least one Satyr token for each creature that dies, if not two in some cases. Its stats start at 2/3, but it can grow bigger depending on the board state. To be honest, I found myself winning most of my games by attaching a flashy Embercleave to Anax, netting two more devotion and hitting for 12 or 14 damage very consistently.

Aside from that, there are different lists running around. Some play Robber of the Rich, while others prefer Rimrock Knight on the 2-drop slot. But no matter what you do, always put four Embercleaves into your deck. You need to go all-in to close games as soon as possible, since the new set brings a ton of repeatable life-gain cards like Uro, Titan of Wrath's Nature, Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis, or even scarier Dream Trawler that almost make you concede on the spot. So, to fight through them, run faster, hit harder, and end games using all your resources. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many cards you got left, if your opponent's life gets to 0.

2. Pioneer: Prowess Scores Top 8

abbot of keral keep

This is late minute information, as during the weekend, the first Players Tour in Magic history took place both in Asia and Europe. There are tons of data to process, but let's focus on one thing only: a fellow Spaniard reached the Top 8 in Belgium piloting Monored Prowess.

Juan José Rodríguez is well known for playing red decks. He already played Monored Prowess to a Top 8 finish at Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona last year. I am glad to see him posting another great result against the best European professional players.

In Brussels, he again went for fast red deck. Previously, "Chonky Red" had been positioned well to fight against Monoblack Aggro. However, the rise of the newest archetype, Dimir Inverter, had warped the format for this Players Tour. In order to deal with slower archetypes like Niv to Light and the aforementioned Dimir Inverter, the way to go is lower: playing eight 1-drops with prowess, alongside Abbot of Keral Keep, a card that hadn't seen any Pioneer play until now.

The rest of the deck is pretty straightforward, similar in fact to Chonky Red, discounting Glorybringer. Rodríguez ran a full playset of Torbran, Thane of Red Fell as a tool to close up games, maximizing the amount of damage dealt by his creatures and burn spells.

Looking at the sideboard, Rodríguez was obviously aware of the rise in popularity of graveyard based decks such as Dredgeless Dredge, new cards like Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath or Underworld Breach. Hence he decided to pack four copies of Tormod's Crypt. In aggro matchups, he counts on a suite of exiling removal in Magma Spray and Lava Coil. Finally, Fry is the cheapest answer for problematic blue and/or white creatures and walkers.

In conclusion, although Pioneer has still plenty of room for innovation, red mages can be confident that either Chonky Red or the prowess versions are here to stay for the whole season.

3. Modern: Less Mox, More Mountain


Red mages gain a huge advantage now that artifact-based decks no longer have the speed Mox Opal granted. Affinity, Hardened Scales, and Urza, Lord High Artificer decks are a full turn slower, and crazy explosive starts depend on fringe cards like Mox Amber. As a result, Modern is actually rebooting while trying to put some Theros Beyond Death cards out to test.

The new set brings three candidates in particular: Again Uro, this time in Urza decks, as a way to mitigate the loss of Oko, Thief of Crowns, trading one 3-mana Simic mythic for another, while branding themselves as Uroza. Secondly, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove has greatly improved Amulet Titan and Scapeshift, as a mana ramper that allows you to combo off more easily and early. Finally Ox of Agonas is pushing Dredge back to the top tiers thanks to its escape that virtually works as a repeatable Cathartic Reunion.

In this world, both red main archetypes have their chance to shine again. I won't deal with Burn at this time since there is nothing new to mention. The deck remains a reasonable choice for the Modern metagame and will continue to be one until another broken strategy shows up. However, this prowess version is both more interesting and better positioned at this stage.

There aren't a ton of new additions, actually nothing from the last three sets. This deck relies a lot on Modern Horizons as it showcases a total of twelve cards from the set. Gut Shot has been replaced by Firebolt, which is not a free spell but counts as a two-for-one just like Lava Dart. It also synergizes pretty well both with the prowess threats and with Bedlam Reveler as you can discard it for value.

Red decks often run out of gas from turn four onward, but on this occasion the deck is well set-up for the mid- to late game thanks to five red cycle lands that turn into extra draws and seven flashback spells. Overall, you get a lot or redundancy and unless you are facing repeatable lifegain, it's pretty hard to get flooded, since you draw a ton of cards and can burn your opponent out if the game goes long.

Also, take a look at the robust sideboard that spends no time on silver bullets: Leyline of the Void is where you want to be to fight graveyard decks — although Tormod's Crypt synergizes well with your creatures too. Blood Moon works against all those Primeval Titan shenanigans. Abrade and Dismember are pretty handy against aggro matchups, while Dragon's Claw takes care of Burn.

Wrap Up

This concludes my Red Mage's Guide for 2020. As always, thank you so much for reading and I hope you like the content. I am confident red strategies will continue to succeed in every format I mentioned. This is always beneficial to the game as red decks often act as a safety valve for a metagame getting out of hand, not to mention as a way to introduce newer players.

I didn't mention Legacy because, sadly, no monored deck has been putting up good results lately in the land of blue decks. The closest thing you might try is Monored Prison. But since I haven't piloted the deck yet, I can only leave you with a recent list that caught my eye.

As usual, feel free to leave your comments or questions below!
Rodrigo Martin

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


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