Mono Red Aggro Standard Deck Guide
Mono Red Aggro has always been a deck to respect. It’s a top tier deck in most formats, and often one of the fastest. Lately in Standard, the premiere aggressive deck has been Gruul Adventures, but for Mono Red, the upside of a consistent mana base, and the ability to run red cards with harder casting costs like Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell is a big upside. This means that Mono Red Aggro can be a powerful deck in its own right, and can find its own place in the metagame. This is not only a great deck, but also one of the best decks to use to rank up after the season reset.
This deck is fast, and aggressive. It looks to go under the opponent, and apply pressure faster than the opponent can deal with. Past simply pressuring the opponent’s life total, the idea of this deck is to be very mana efficient in the early turns, and use the tempo advantage from that to run over the opponent before they can stabilize. This iteration of the omni-present Mono Red Aggro deck is very creature based, meaning that combat is the primary way of getting your opponent to zero, helped by the all-mighty Embercleave.
My list for best-of-one is slightly faster and more streamlined, but a little less resilient to disruption. In BO1 decks tend to be a little more polarized, and going slightly more aggressive is worth it. Another version of this deck, made by Andrea Del Moro featuring Furor of the Bitten has been floating around but I like it a little less. Since the ban of Omnath, Locus of Creation, people have been running too much removal to get away with cards like Furor of the Bitten. Furthermore, considering that Extinction Event is the most-played wrath in Standard at the moment and it exiles and prevents death triggers, I would be surprised if playing Furor of the Bitten made this deck any better.
Fervent Champion: Fervent champion is a very swingy card. The first one is below rate, and is subpar compared to other 1-drops. The second one makes both Fervent Champions an incredibly good 1-drop, and double, or even triple Fervent Champion draws give the deck the capability of an insane nut draw. The first strike synergizes with Stomp from Bonecrusher Giant very well, letting you kill a 3-toughness creature without losing Fervent Champion, and the second ability on Fervent Champion lets you equip Embercleave for free.
Akoum Hellhound: Even without fetchlands, this new version Steppe Lynx still attacks for two on most turns of the game, and for a one-drop, especially the ones in recent memory, that is quite good. While missing lands with an Akoum Hellhound is pretty bad, because this deck gets to run a playset of Shatterskull Smashing as lands 21 through 25, missing is even less likely. The downside of Akoum Hellhound is that it is quite bad on defence as a 0/1, but luckily this deck doesn’t do much blocking.
Robber of the Rich: At face value, even a 2/2 haste for two is a decent body in an aggressive deck, which is Robber of the Rich’s floor, but the ceiling is very high. Robber of the Rich can act as a pseudo-Thief of Sanity, drawing multiple cards from the opponent’s deck, and overwhelming them with card advantage. Even a single card drawn makes Robber of the Rich above-rate, and the upside of a chance of a massive advantage on a decent two-drop makes Robber of the Rich a very good card.
Rimrock Knight: The secondary two-drop creature of the deck, Rimrock Knight is a little below rate, often just a 3/1 for two mana, but Boulder Rush, in conjunction with Embercleave’s double strike can provide some surprise lethals, and it is a knight that can get pumped by Fervent Champion. That being said, Rimrock Knight isn’t a great card, and is mostly in the deck to make the curve more consistent.
Anax, Hardened in the Forge: One of the best cards in the deck, Anax, Hardened in the Forge does it all. Often, Anax, Hardened in the Forge attacks for four or more damage, and combines with Embercleave really well, being a 5/4 trample double strikerer without any other devotion out, and usually ending the game in one hit with an equipped Embercleave. It also gives protection from board wipes, often threatening lethal immediately after one, makes all your trades profitable, and being legendary isn’t even a downside, because legend ruling him gets you four 1/1 satyrs. In combination with Castle Embereth it can be even better than a single beater. Anax, Hardened in the Forge even trades up against single-target removal, spitting out 1/1’s against everything but exile-based removal like Scorching Dragonfire.
Phoenix of Ash: Phoenix of Ash at face value may not seem very powerful. A hasty Wind Drake, after all, is not cut from the same cloth as other cards in this deck. But Phoenix of Ash comes with so many small upsides, that it becomes a genuinely good card. First up, the slightly overcosted firebreathing ability is actually very relevant as a mana sink, especially with Embercleave. Escape is also very strong, as even against non-Rogues decks, you’ll still often end up with three or more other cards in the graveyard to escape it. And finally, Phoenix of Ash also adds two red mana for Anax, Hardened in the Forge, which makes Phoenix of Ash a great follow up to a turn three Anax, Hardened in the Forge.
Scorching Dragonfire: A hedge against the popularity of Gruul Adventures and Dimir Rogues, Scorching Dragonfire is somewhat worse than other Lightning Strike variants that we’ve seen in the past, seeing as it can’t target the opponent, but exiling is a big upside, with how many Anax, Hardened in the Forges, Lurrus of the Dream Dens, and escape creatures are currently seeing play.
Embercleave: Arguably the best card in the deck, Embercleave is the reason to be running creatures. Often just costing three to four mana, Embercleave puts a massive amount of trampling power, sometimes ten or more with Anax, Hardened in the Forge, swings boardstates, and wins you combat almost every time. It turns every single one of your creatures into a massive threat for your opponent, and with an equip cost of only three, it can be moved around without too much trouble. The only downside to Embercleave is that it can be clunky, especially if multiples are drawn, but it makes up for it with raw power.
The Akroan War: The mirror breaker against other aggressive decks, The Akroan War can wreak havoc against even a full board of creatures on the opponent’s side. Oftentimes The Akroan War will end the game before you have to return the stolen creature, or simply trade it off for another one of the opponents creatures. That being said, The Akroan War can be quite clunky, and is exceptionally bad against decks without creatures. Especially at four mana, which is somewhat of a tall ask for this deck, The Akroan War only earns one spot in the maindeck, with the second through fourth copies waiting in the board to be brought in when they are guaranteed to be good.
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell: Torbran, Thane of Red Fell is a fifth, worse copy of Embercleave, because it fills the role of a slightly more expensive, potentially explosive finisher. Torbran, while being intrinsically very powerful, is a little soft to removal at four mana, and this deck already has a decent amount of top and and mana sinks, making further copies of Torbran, Thane of Red Fell unnecessary.
Shatterskull Smashing: The spell side of Shatterskull Smashing is very inefficient, but without access to any better alternatives, and given the fact that three damage to be untapped isn’t nearly as big a downside in this deck as it is in others, means that it’s a relatively free four-of. In many cases, it is correct to hold Shatterskull Smashing for as long as possible simply because in the case of flooding, or a very problematic creature like Edgewall Inkeeper, Shatterskull Smashing can be good, and often the downside of losing three life is very small.
Castle Embereth: Another, practically free land to slot in, Castle Embereth can do a lot of work in certain scenarios, especially with a bunch of 1/1 tokens from Anax, Hardened in the Forge. Castle Embereth can also provide some value through threat of activation, where the possibility of you using Castle Embereth discourages your opponent from making more optimal blocks, and you get value from Castle Embereth without even having to activate it.
1 Redcap Melee, 1 Scorching Dragonfire, 2 Soul Sear: Cheap removal against other aggro decks, Redcap Melee in specific is a great answer to Terror of the Peaks.
2 Rimrock Knight: Probably the most controversial choice in the sideboard, the reason for Rimrock Knight is to board in against decks where The Akroan War and Scorching Dragonfire are dead, and desperately need to be replaced. This deck is partially pre-sideboarded against Gruul Adventures, and if it weren’t such a big presence in the metagame, these Rimrock Knights would be in the maindeck over the Scorching Dragonfires.
1 Mazemind Tome: While this may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, Mazemind Tome is not to bring for grindy matchups, but rather against other aggressive decks. Against something like Dimir Control, the goal is to kill them quickly, not outgrind them, and card advantage is not the axis this deck wants to fight on, where against Gruul Adventures this deck leans into its more controlling elements. The one-of Mazemind Tome is a game-winning threat once both players enter topdeck mode, and even early, the lifegain from Mazemind Tome shouldn’t be counted out, four life can often mean the difference between stabilizing and losing.
3 The Akroan War: The rest of the Akroan Wars are in the sideboard for decks that have a lot of creatures, like Gruul Adventures.
3 Ox of Agonas: The trump card against Dimir Rogues, Ox of Agonas’s hefty escape cost of eight cards becomes an upside, as it’s very effective at emptying out the graveyard so that cards like Soaring Thought-Thief and Into the Story are turned off. And as a cheap over-costed beater that refuels your hand, an escaped Ox of Agonas is very good. Casting Ox of Agonas from hand is somewhat worse, but can still be a very strong play, and Ox of Agonas can be decent even against slower decks that don’t mill you.
2 Soul-Guide Lantern: Flexible graveyard hate, this card is especially good because you can play it, immediately exile your opponents Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, or whatever other Escape creature they have, and still cycle it. While you shouldn’t bring in Soul-Guide Lantern as aggressively as in some other decks, mostly because it lacks power and toughness, it’s still an excellent card against Rakdos Kroxa, and whatever other graveyard decks you may run into.
Turn 1: When given the choice between Akoum Hellhound and Fervent Champion, Akoum Hellhound is the better turn one play, as it attacks for two next turn, unless you have three Fervent Champions. Only play Shattersull Smashing if you know that your life total is relevant in the matchup and you will most likely need to play it out, or if you kept a hand that needs lands, like a two lander or a hand with a high curve.
Turn 2: The only reason to be casting Bonecrusher Giant on turn two over a creature is if your opponent plays a creature that you can kill, and that you know you’re casting Bonecrusher Giant next turn, or if they play a very important creature that has to die. As for which creature to play on turn two, Rimrock Knight is better if you untap with it, and Robber of the Rich having haste means that it’ll be able to attack even if you play it on a later turn, but Robber of the Rich accruing card advantage is a big upside to playing it early, and Boulder Rush plus Rimrock Knight is a solid turn three play if you lack something better. There’s no hard and fast rule on which is better, you need to consider both what you’re playing next turn, and how useful the cards in your opponent deck are for you.
Turn 3: The big choice on turn three is usually Anax, Hardened in the Forge, or Bonecrusher Giant. If you haven’t cast Stomp yet, I’d advise on holding Bonecrusher Giant most of the time, but if Bonecrusher Giant has already gone on an adventure, it’s usually better to play whichever creature will attack for more the following turn. An already adventured Bonecrusher Giant is most often better than Phoenix of Ash as well, as haste means you’re only giving up two damage, for a potential four from the Bonecrusher Giant attack next turn.
Turn 4: Given the option to cast Embercleave or to continue developing your board, there are several things to consider. First, whether your opponent has instant speed removal. If you suspect that they can kill the creature with Embercleave equipped, it makes Embercleave a much weaker play. Secondly, do you suspect a board wipe next turn? Embercleave is much safer in the face of the wrath, as you get value as soon as it enters, and it doesn’t get hit by effects like Shatter the Sky and Extinction Event. Finally, what gives you the best chance of having lethal? It is usually correct just to go for lethal, as the longer the game goes the more chance your opponent has to recover, so if casting Embercleave means your opponent has to have something at instant speed to survive, you need to really have some good reasoning to not go for it.
Turn 5 and onward: Just get your opponent dead, by now there are so many millions of possibilities that it’s not realistic to say anything definitive. By now you should be holding Shatterskull Smashing, or at least considering it, as four lands is usually enough, and two damage is when Shatterskull Smashing becomes decent.
Lastly for this section are some general things to keep in mind when sequencing. First, it is very important to use as much mana each turn as possible. This deck gets its advantage from being very mana efficient in the early turns of the game, utilizing the tempo advantage it gets from that to win the game. Cheaper spells are easier to fit into a turn, so given the option between casting a three drop, or a two drop and a one drop, consider what you’ll be doing next turn. Often times you’ll end up in a situation where you’ll have one or two mana left open next turn, and if you double-spell now it’ll go to waste, whereas if you play your three drop, you’ll be able to squeeze in your one or two drop next turn, in addition to what you were going to do anyway.
Second, an often correct rule of thumb for this deck is that you should play the non-hasty creature with more power before the hasty creature with less power. For an example of why this is, imagine a scenario where you have no two-drop in hand, but an Akoum Hellhound and a Fervent Champion. If you play the Akoum Hellhound on turn one, then the Fervent Champion on turn two, you attack for three on turn two, whereas if you play Fervent Champion on turn one, and Akoum Hellhound on turn two, you’ve only got one damage from both turn one and turn two, which only gets you two damage. This is a very simple example, but you’ll be making a lot of more complicated decisions based on this line of thinking in a real game. Finally, hold Castle Embereth for as long as possible, if there is no downside, as it’s relevant information you don’t need to give to your opponent.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
|+1 Redcap Melee||-4 Akoum Hellhound|
|+1 Scorching Dragonfire||-1 Phoenix of Ash|
|+2 Soul Sear||-2 Rimrock Knight|
|+1 Mazemind Tome||-1 Embercleave|
|+3 The Akroan War|
In this matchup, post-board you become the control deck. Akoum Hellhound and Rimrock Knight come out because being hyper-agressive isn’t the plan in this matchup, and the full four Embercleaves lose some of their shine when the matchup isn’t all about attacking. Look for a blowout with The Akroan War, and to leverage Bonecrusher Giant, and be wary of letting your opponent untap with a big creature because ofThe Great Henge. If possible, play around Bonecrusher Giant to the best of your ability, and make casting it on curve as awkward as possible for the opponent, if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, a majority of the time you will have to just accept that Bonecrusher Giant is the best card in Standard against aggressive decks, but sometimes you’ll be able to stomp their two-drop instead of playing your own, and your opponents two mana will have gone to waste. This matchup ranges from slightly unfavorable to slightly favorable depending on the opponent’s specific configuration.
|+3 Ox of Agonas||-2 Rimrock Knight|
|+1 Scorching Dragonfire||-1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell|
In this matchup, prioritize keeping your graveyard slim with escape creatures, and try not to get blown out by counterspells or removal spells. Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and one Embercleave come out, as expensive spells are weak to counterspells, and Rimrock Knight lines up pretty badly against what they’ve got. This matchup is slightly favorable because of Ox of Agonas, but it’s by no means easy.
|+2 Soul-Guide Lantern||-2 Rimrock Knight|
|+3 The Akroan War||-1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell|
|-1 Akoum Hellhound|
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell loses some mileage against removal, which the Rakdos Midrange deck has a lot of, and again Rimrock Knight isn’t great. Casting Boulder Rush is scary in the face of removal, and it gets blocked by all the random 2/2’s and 1/3’s that the Rakdos Kroxa deck has. The Akroan War is a great way to deal with Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, and make sure to hold cards to discard if you have a high impact card like Embercleave that you’re waiting to cast. This matchup isn’t great, due to how much removal the Rakdos Kroxa deck has, and its ability to turn the corner quickly, but it’s by no means terrible.
|+1 Redcap Melee||-1 The Akroan War|
This matchup is all about aggression, as you need to kill your opponent before they get Genesis Ultimatum and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Redcap Melee comes in as an answer to Bonecrusher Giant and Terror of the Peaks, and The Akroan War is a little too slow, even if the opponent has some big creatures like Terror of the Peaks and Beanstalk Giant. If only The Akroan War gave haste, like other Act of Treason effects. This matchup is quite good, as the Temur Ramp deck often struggles in the early turns of the game, especially if their Lotus Cobras and Llanowar Visionaries don’t stick.
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope yowu enjoyed. Mono Red Aggro is one of the top decks in standard, especially in best-of-one, and it’s also one of the best decks to rank up with because of how fast the games are. You can find me on Twitter and YouTube, and occasionally Twitch. That’s it from me, enjoy the rest of your day, and don’t forget to believe in the cleave!