Historic Atarka Red Deck Guide
Geez, it has been a hot minute since I have talked about Historic, but with the release of Historic Anthology 5, I think now is a great time to discuss Arena’s “eternal” format starting with one of my favorite cards of all time, Atarka’s Command.
It was during Khans block that I came off a two-year break from Magic due to focusing on college and climbed back into the competitive world. Not long after my return, I was greeted by this powerhouse of a spell. I think this spell has won me more money and tournaments than any other card except for Lightning Bolt, which I hope will join historic soon.
Seeing this spell had me immediately brewing. Of course, most players jammed it into Gruul, but I want to take this card back to Khans block and maximize the aggressive nature of the spell. How can I take advantage of it? First I tried a deck that reflected the Atarka Red of Khans block with Dragon Fodder, Forbidden Friendship, and more “go wide” spells. It was effective, but I only found real success when I jammed it in a basic mono red aggro deck.
While not as exciting, this makes sense. Thinking of Atarka’s Command as a Skullcrack that has the added option of buffing our creatures makes the overall deck more flexible. Playing Dragon Fodder is great, but I often found that my 1/1’s were easily walled by other creature decks, and if the Token generating spell was a burn spell or removal spell, then it would do more damage or open up the board for my “real” creatures.
This is the list I ended up with after testing:
Nothing too fancy here. Just straight smash-mouth aggro. This deck plays all the best creatures we have access to and all the best instant speed burn. Splashing green is not hard or as bad as aggro players may think. We have ten green lands in the deck, so half our lands find green and all but 2 can enter untapped without help, and four Burning-Tree Emissary. This has been fine for me.
Any inconsistency added to the deck by the green splash is made up for by the raw power of Atarka’s Command. White might be a slightly more consistent splash, but Lurrus and Lightning Helix are nothing compared to the Gruul spell. Helix might save you some life, but Atarka’s Command ends games. Lurrus also might give you a slight bit of late game reach, but Atarka’s stops the game from reaching that point.
The only addition I added to help support Atarka’s Command is Kari Zev, Skyship Raider since it is functionally two bodies that can be buffed. This makes the hands where we just unload with a turn 3 Atarka’s as powerful as they can be.
Going turn 1 Lavarunner or Soul-Scar Mage, turn 2 Burning-Tree into Kari Zev, then attacking, cast Atarka’s Command with a burn spell to remove a blocker or just add more damage is HUGE. Unanswered, that is 11-14 damage on turn 3 depending on if you have another castable burn spell. I cannot think of many decks that can handle that.
One addition that might raise an eyebrow or two of the less experienced Pioneer red players is Wayward Guide-Beast. This has become popular tech in Pioneer which was made famous by Mr. Basic Mountain himself, Patrick Sullivan. You never want to lead on Guide-Beast, but any turn after turn 2, it becomes your best friend if you are light on lands. If you stall on two lands, you can cast your spell pre-combat, attack with the beast, bounce a land back, play it post combat and have a Shock or Wizard’s Lightning at the ready. It can also bounce Pathways that you played for green back to be replayed as red sources after you find your green dual land.
Cards Not in the Deck
Not playing Light up the Stage does feel strange, but I do not think it is better than anything we are already playing. If this was a more aggro-centred deck with fewer 2-drops then I can see the inclusion. Since we do have so many, we rarely get to play both spells in a timely fashion unless it goes later into the game, and we are trying to win before the game gets to that point.
Forbidden Friendship or Dragon Fodder would be great if we never played against creature decks. The tokens are easily walled and frail. I think we are better off being a burn deck and using Atarka’s Command to boost real creatures.
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is nice. But again, it is a case of I don’t think it is better than anything else we are playing. It could be a nice sideboard card if you wanted, but I dedicated that slot to big Chandra since she just does so much more and is a real threat.
Tips and Tricks
- Remember that Atarka’s Command also allows you to play an extra land, useful to cast another spell.
- As mentioned earlier, you can use Wayward Guide-Beast to return a land after casting a spell, then replaying the land to cast another 1-drop.
- I always lead with Soul-Scar Mage if I have one and a Ghitu Lavarunner since I can cast it with haste later.
- Remember that Soul-Scar Mage causes noncombat damage to be done as -1/-1 counters. This works great at shrinking a blocker or attacker and works great with Goblin Chainwhirler.
- Atarka’s Command can be used to save creatures from damage-based removal.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
|+2 Grafdigger’s Cage||-4 Bonecrusher Giant|
|+2 Lava Coil|
This matchup is fairly simple; if they have all the removal then we can be in trouble, but more often then not, they just durdle doing nothing but drawing and discarding cards trying to set up a Arclight Phoenix turn. While they do that, we are bashing to end the game before it happens.
Post board it gets a little tricky since they have access to everything they need. Anger of the Gods is a bit of an issue. I cut Bonecrusher because it is slow. I bring in Cage to stop Arclights and Finales until they find an Abrade. Lava Coil removes Crackling Drake and exiles, so it is a great way to get rid of Arclights for good. You might be tempted to bring in Chandra, but this is a trap, Chandra is easily taken care of by burn and haste threats like Spite Dragon and Arclight.
|+2 Abrade||-4 Ghitu Lavarunner|
|+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance||-4 Atarka’s Command|
|+2 Lava Coil|
|+2 Goblin Chainwhirler|
This matchup is tricky. They clog the board up easily and have a ton of removal. If the game goes past turn 4, then they just outclass us with more powerful spells. Being a more burn-focused deck and punishing greedy attacks is how I been defeating it by boarding this way.
I cut Lavarunner since it is easily brick walled by their creatures. Atarka’s Command just doesn’t do a lot when the board is clogged. So, in their place we bring in all the removal we can. Abrade takes care of small threats, but I always try to hold one to remove an Embercleave. Chandra gives us some grinding potential and a powerful removal spell with her -3. Lava Coil is a catch-all that removes basically anything in their deck.
|+2 Abrade||-4 Bonecrusher Giant|
|+2 Grafdigger’s Cage||-4 Viashino Pyromancer|
|+2 Lava Coil||-1 Wizard’s Lightning|
|+3 Rampaging Ferocidon|
Another tricky matchup, but we have the tools to get there. They will try to stall the game out with the Cat-Oven combo, but it is easily taken care of by Rampaging Ferocidon, Abrade, or Cage. This puts them in a situation where they must solve our board instead of the other way around.
I cut Bonecrusher because it is unreliable. Anything we target can be sacrificed and we lose our Giant, effectively making it a bad Lightning Strike since it cannot kill Mayhem Devil. Pyromancer is easily removed by Devil and any sacrifice outlet, so it is lackluster, and Wizard’s Lighting gets a trim since our Wizard number goes down again. I keep in Guide-Beast since it has trample and can’t be walled by the Cat-Oven combo.
Selesnya Company / Elves
|+2 Abrade||-4 Ghitnu Lavarunner|
|+2 Grafdigger’s Cage||-4 Atarka’s Command|
|+2 Lava Coil||-1 Wayward Guide-Beast|
|+3 Rampaging Ferocidon||-1 Wizard’s Lightning|
|+2 Goblin Chainwhirler||-3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider|
|+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance|
The only way I have ever lost this matchup is when they just clog the board up or gain too much life. Post-board we try to prevent this the best we can. We cut Lavarunner as it will rarely break through, same with Guide-Beast. Atarka’s Command is probably at its worst here. It is a 2-mana spell that at best, lets out creatures’ trade with theirs just for them to refuel with Company. Kari Zev is also lackluster since it is not hard for them to block even with menace, and since we cut wizards again, we trim Wizard’s Lightning.
Abrade and Lava Coil act as removal, Chainwhirler is a small board sweeper in some situations and a fine blocker and attacker since it has first strike. Rampaging Ferocidon stops life gain and punishes their swarm plan. Cage stops Collected Company, and Chandra lets us grind once we control the game and ensures we don’t run out of gas while also being a clutch removal spell.
|+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance||-4 Shock|
|+2 Roiling Vortex|
Easy matchup and where Atarka’s Command really shines. Swarm and win, just be careful of overextending on boards that will not instantly win so you do not get blown out by a sweeper. Chandra gives us some reach and grinding potential. Vortex stops life gain and gives us a clock. Shock is just a bad rate for damage, so it gets cut.
Mirror / Mono Red Aggro
|+2 Abrade||-4 Viashino Pyromancer|
|+2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance||-4 Atarka’s Command|
|+2 Lava Coil|
|+2 Goblin Chainwhirler|
This is basically a coinflip 90% of the time. Against the pure red deck, we might be at a disadvantage due to our Shocklands, but that is negligible since there is only four. This is how I board for the mirror because the best card they can have against us is Goblin Chainwhirler. Even if they don’t have it, I don’t want to get blown out by it so I cut the Pyromancer. Atarka’s also gets the axe because it is a 2-mana spell that does not kill a creature and I don’t think holding it up to save something from a burn spell is worth it.
If you are an aggro player looking for something to bash some face in with, I cannot recommend this deck more. It is a great way to get into Historic. The deck only stands to get better, as I am sure we will see the other Fastlands join the meta soon and Copperline Gorge will go a long way in this deck. Be sure to follow me on Twitch for more and check out my social media below! If you want to support my content directly, be sure to check out my Patreon and the benefits of becoming a patron! Until next time planeswalkers, Hero out!!!