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Chandra, Dressed to Kill art by Viktor Titov

Explorer Mono Red Aggro Deck Guide: Red Gets Them Dead

While the Explorer metagame has mostly grindy decks, Skura is looking to kneecap them with Mono Red! There's a wide variety of Red decks in Explorer, but which iteration is Skura the biggest fan of? Find out here!

It’s been known for a long time that in Magic it’s better to be proactive than reactive as there are wrong answers, but there are no wrong threats. This heuristic is especially relevant when you enter a metagame that is unknown to you; it’s nigh-impossible to properly react to the decks in the metagame when we don’t know what is played.

If you’re coming back to Magic: The Gathering or MTG Arena, or you haven’t kept up with what’s happening, entering the constructed queue with Mono Red is the best thing you can do.

Deck Tech

While the deck’s construction is relatively simple, there is still a lot going on and if you pick up the deck not having played Magic for some time, you’re going to miss some key elements of what it’s capable of.

Explorer Mono Red Aggro by Skura
by DoggertQBones
Buy on TCGplayer $152.83
best of 3
4 mythic
13 rare
20 uncommon
23 common
Planeswalkers (4)
Creatures (16)
Soul-Scar Mage
Instants (8)
Play with Fire
Sorceries (8)
Enchantments (4)
Lands (20)
Ramunap Ruins
60 Cards
Redcap Melee
Roiling Vortex
15 Cards

To start off with the threats.

Soul-Scar Mage has got a few key characteristics going on for it, first is Prowess. With each noncreature spell, it grows until the end of turn. We can wait to trigger it until the opponent has blocked to make the combat more beneficial for us or just sling some spells before the damage step make it a 4/5 instead of the 1/2.

In addition, its passive says that damage dealt to creatures by burn spells is essentially converted into -1/-1 counters. It affects game play significantly as it means that we can shrink opposing creatures permanently. A 3/5 creature which is a massive blocker, once hit with Wizard's Lightning shrinks to a 0/2 and now easily dies in combat and does not kill anything. Getting used to the ability to downsize opposing creatures takes a bit of time, but adds an immense layer of complexity in creature matchups.

It is also a Wizard so it discounts Wizard's Lightning.

Ghitu Lavarunner is a 1/2 which grows to a 2/2 and gains haste once we’ve got 2 spells in the yard. The usual sequence is turn one Lavarunner, two burn spells at creatures or the face, and get in for two. In the later stages of the game, it basically always has haste and the buff. Lastly, it’s a Wizard so it also discounts Wizard's Lightning.

Kumano Faces Kakkazan is a weird delayed threat, but one of the best threats Mono Red received recently, nonetheless. The first chapter pings, and while this one damage might not be a matter of win or lose, multiple will make it add up.

In addition, the ping will trigger Spectacle for both Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage. The second chapter puts a counter on a creature cast that turn so if you played it turn one, try to maximise it by deploying at least one creature turn two. Once it flips on the third chapter, it’s a 2/2 haste creature with a passive that might sometimes come in handy. It’s a Shaman so it does not discount Wizard's Lightning.

Viashino Pyromancer‘s duty game-to-game is turning on Spectacle on demand. Its body is not particularly impressive, but it does the job. If you’re noticing a theme, it’s also a Wizard so it discounts Wizard's Lightning.

Bonecrusher Giant is our virtual card advantage spell. It usually Stomps a creature for two mana and then comes back from its adventure as a beefy 4/3. It’s indeed pretty clunky in multiples, but its size and the trigger make it quite an annoying threat to deal with. It’s not a Wizard so it does not discount Wizard's Lightning.

Chandra, Dressed to Kill is a threat and card advantage bundled into one card. Her first plus gives us mana which enables more explosive turns and immediately turns on Spectacle. One damage might not sound like a lot, but paired with some previous Kumano Faces Kakkazan and maybe another Chandra, it really does add up.

Her second plus is card advantage which makes her such a must-answer sticky threat. Burn decks are usually known as quantity decks and are punished by mulliganing. She provides a steady stream of cards, much to the opponent’s dismay.

The ultimate is going to rarely come up, but when it does, you’ll usually play 1-3 cards off of it.

For the spells, they by and large do the same thing, but each with a twist.

Play with Fire is an upgraded Shock variant which rewards you for going face. Scry 1 is a more meaningful effect than it may seem at first glance. Bottoming that fifth land can be the difference between winning and losing.

Wizard's Lightning in this deck is basically Lightning Bolt which is very strong. Multiple Lightning draws are tough to contain. You kill anything at sight or deploy a huge burst of direct damage.

Skewer the Critics is another Lightning Bolt impersonation, yet sorcery speed and the condition is much more awkward to meet. It’s very easy to cast it post combat, but then you won’t have pumped Soul-Scar Mage and/or Ghitu Lavarunner.

Light Up the Stage is another card advantage spell, usually cast after combat. Remember that the exiled cards can be played on the turn you cast it and the following turn. If you can multiple Light Up the Stage over the course of a few turns, keep track of which cards were exiled with which one so that you know how many turns you’ve got left to play a particular card.

The mana base couldn’t have been smoother. Furthermore, the mono-colored nature of it allows us to play some utility lands. In this case, we play quadruple Den of the Bugbear and Ramunap Ruins. They both provide additional sources of damage and are a great mana sink should we get flooded.

There is only a single copy of Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance due to its Legendary clause. I try to play it as late as possible in case I draw too many lands later in the game and get to use its channel ability.

The deck does have some shortcomings though. Sometimes you’ll get very awkward hands including Spectacle spells, a Bonecrusher Giant and, say, a Wizard's Lightning. In theory, most of those spells would cost 1, but in practice they just do not.

Mulligan hands which don’t open the game aggressively right away. You cannot bank on you drawing the correct spells to enable other spells.

Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Rampaging Ferocidon (XLN) Art by Jonathan Kuo
Rampaging Ferocidon Art by Jonathan Kuo

Gruul Transmogrify

+3 Rampaging Ferocidon-3 Chandra, Dressed to Kill

In this matchup we desperately need to have all the removal for their tokens to respond to their Transmogrify, Indomitable Creativity, or Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast. If we can play a creature or two and then kill every token in sight, we will be good. We still, however, need to close it out before they can hardcast Titan of Industry as it both gains them life and completely roadblocks attacks.

Post-board Rampaging Ferocidon will provide some ping damage, but also turns off the life gain which is important.

Rakdos Midrange

+2 2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance-4 Play with Fire
+1 Hazoret the Fervent-2 Skewer the Critics
+3 Rampaging Ferocidon

This is going to get grindy. You have to expect your creatures to die so we have to squeeze as much of every card that we can. We’re going bigger post board and diversify our threats. If they overload on creature removal, Chandra as a walker and Hazoret as an indestructible threat are going to wreck them. 

The most annoying obstacle is certainly Graveyard Trespasser so try to hold on to your deal 3 damage spells until it comes down. Rampaging Ferocidon is an additional threat which turns off their incidental life gain and makes it a bit tougher for them to remove it with their Bloodchief's Thirst or Fatal Push.

Azorius Control

+3 Roiling Vortex-4 Play with Fire
+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance-2 Skewer the Critics
+1 Hazoret the Fervent

The matchup is similar to Rakdos Midrange, but Azorius has more versatile removal, mass removal, and life gain. To combat that, we add sticky threats and Roiling Vortex. The Vortex can turn off the life gain in a pinch and pings them every turn which adds up over multiple turns. However, your best bet is to put a lot of early pressure and when they tap out for a mass removal, untap and slam Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Hazoret the Fervent.

Mono Blue Spirits

+2 Fry-2 Chandra, Dressed to Kill

The plan is simple – kill everything in sight. We have got efficient hard removal and they have basically none. Once we’ve played 1-3 creatures, all the spells will be targeted at the creatures, whilst racing. A very good matchup. However, don’t get caught by a flashed in Rattlechains.

Mono Red Aggro

+2 2 Redcap Melee-4 Skewer the Critics
+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance-1 Chandra, Dressed to Kill
+1 Hazoret the Fervent

We want to exploit the usual dynamic of ‘doing the same thing, but going a bit bigger’. I cut the unreliable Skewer the Critics and add more top-end. When you’re on the draw, generally you should not race, but trade creatures in combat. On the play, however, you want to be the aggressor.


+2 Weathered Runestone-4 Viashino Pyromancer
+2 Fry

Turn three onward, make sure to have a deal 3 damage spell ready to kill the namesake. With Soul-Scar Mage any spell will do as you can just shrink Greasefang so it can no longer crew Parhelion II (barring they don’t have other creatures to help crew). I cut Viashino Pyromancer as it lines up terribly against Stitcher’s Supplier.

Tips and Tricks

Soul-Scar Mage Art by Steve Argyle
Soul-Scar Mage Art by Steve Argyle

Even though a Mono Red deck might seem to be easy, there is still some nuance that needs to be taken into account.

  • Whenever you see a creature with Indestructible that seems to be difficult to get rid of, be on the lookout for Soul-Scar Mage whose passive can help kill them through state base effects. When you put -1/-1 counters on a creature and its toughness drops to 0, the game state is checked and that creature will die, even if it does have Indestructible.
  • Kumano Faces Kakkazan creature side’s passive will exile a creature not only when it’s burnt with a spell, but also when it dies in combat.
  • If your draw is lackluster, cast Play with Fire targeting the opponent just to get the scry.
  • If you can Stomp and the target becomes invalid, Bonecrusher Giant won’t go on an adventure.
  • Cast Light Up the Stage before making the land drop for the turn if possible.
  • The plus on Chandra, Dressed to Kill does not allow you to play lands.
  • Always be mindful of the fact that if you’re planning on casting Wizard's Lightning, you have to have a Wizard. It’s especially key in combat – you have to cast it usually before damage if the Wizards you control are in danger of dying.
  • If you control both the flipped Kumano Faces Kakkazan and Soul-Scar Mage and cast a burn spell on Arclight Phoenix it will go to the graveyard. The replacement effect of Mage’s passive will put counters on the Phoenix which means it was never dealt damage – which in turn does not satisfy the Kakkazan’s condition. It will not be exiled!
  • If the opponent has a damage preventing effect or a creature with protection from Red, you can cast Stomp which will turn it off.

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Also known as Skura or IslandsInFront on Twitter and YouTube, Filip started his career upon the release of Gatecrash and has been passing the turn in all formats ever since. He coaches and creates written and video content, mainly centered around the control archetype. He is passionate about Magic game theory and countering spells. Outside of Magic, he is a fan of snooker/pool, chess and Project Management.

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