Post-Ban Mono Red Aggro Deck Guide – Believe in the Cleave!

Introduction

That’s right, people, Embercleave is here to slash through the Standard meta once again.

Even with the cleave taking a backseat to Obosh Red, debate raged constantly as to which build was truly better, but Obosh was the new hotness and so was accepted as the red deck of choice. Now, with the change to the companion mechanic (check out the recent banlist announcement for more info!), it seems clear that Obosh will just be too slow and unreliable, and no match for the raw power that Embercleave provides.

The Deck

The main deck hasn’t changed since Seth Manfield took it to Worlds. Why would it? It is pure perfection. Some may argue that Shock has a place in the main deck but I am here to tell you that is a mistake. Outside of the Mirror and turn 1 against Jeskai Cycling, it is just poor. Using a resource for a measly 2 damage versus non-aggressive decks, at the cost of a card, is a pretty poor rate. We have much better removal in our sideboard when we need it.

I do see some players opting to play 2 Torbran and 4 Embercleave. I think this is fine if that fits your playstyle. I think that the mindsets of players who opt for this configuration is that Embercleave is just better in most situations. This is true and has a lot of merit, but Torbran closes games out much faster than Embercleave when you are ahead on board, and reduces your chance of drawing two copies of the Legendary. It is up to you if you want to give it a try, but that is the only change to the main deck I can get behind.

My experience with the deck

I have taken Embercleave Red to mythic several times, since the card’s release in Throne of Eldraine, and never really stopped playing it. I dubbed the deck “Ol’ Faithful” and kept it as my “go-to” deck when I wanted to win. I stayed current on what Seth Manfield and Andrea Mengucci (two of the pros who popularized the deck at worlds) tweaked and wrote about the deck, but I also tweaked the sideboard myself to my specific playstyle and liking.

Most recently, I opted to play the deck in the first Arena Open to a 7-1 finish, qualifying me for day 2 of the event.

I was so confident in the deck that I registered it for day 2. I ended up finishing 4-2, but the deck felt great despite coming up short. Therefore, with the current ban announcement, I believe the cleave will emerge as one of, if not the top deck in the meta.

Why is this deck good again in the current meta?

The main players of the post-Fires/Companion meta have emerged as Jund Sacrifice, Temur Reclamation, Azorius Control, and Jeskai Cycling. Embercleave Red crushes Reclamation and Azorius Control, it beats every Jeskai Cycling hand other than when they have their very best draws against our mediocre hands, and in my experience it only really loses to Sacrifice game 1 if they can keep our board empty with Claim the Firstborn on our Anax, and using Mayhem Devil triggers. Other than that, the Witch’s Oven combo doesn’t do anything against a creature suited up with an Embercleave. Therefore, I think this deck is primed to take back itss spot as number 1.

Tips for playing the deck

  • Duplicate draws of Anax are not dead. You can cast a 2nd Anax, Hardened in the Forge and get 4 tokens if you already have one in play.  Anax has RR in his cost and triggers on his own death so each copy of Anax sees a 4-power creature dying and you will get 4 tokens! That is crazy value and can set up huge plays like casting Embercleave for 2 from a blank board.
  • If you can, don’t play a land before you play Light Up the Stage, so that you can play any lands exiled with it. Unfortunately, there are times when you hit double land after casting it, but that is not always bad because at least you didn’t draw those lands. On a smaller but very real point, it also keeps your hand count high; this can give your opponent the thought that you have more gas than you actually do.
  • It’s also important not to overextend when you’re about to play Light up the Stage. As tempting as it is to cast all those Boulder Rush effects before damage, ask yourself “Is this putting me in a situation to end the game now or next turn”; if not, don’t overload and instead hold up mana to cast whatever you hit off Light up the Stage. This can really turn the tide of a game in our favor.
  • If you have a Scorch Spitter and a Fervent Champion in your hand, it is almost always better to lead on Scorch Spitter because it will give you more damage in the long run. If you lead on Fervent Champion, then you connect for 1 damage the first turn and 1 the second turn for 2 damage. With leading on Scorch Spitter, you get in for 0 on turn 1 but 3 on turn 2, if they don’t have a blocker and factoring in the Spitter’s trigger. Every point of damage counts.

The Sideboard

  • Blazing Volley is a great one-sided sweeper in the mirror and against Jeskai Cycling. As I said, I think this deck will be strong moving forward so you’ll run into the mirror, and I expect Jeskai Cycling to be good too, so I think having at least 2 Volleys in the board is a smart move.
  • Redcap Melee has always been in the board as a mirror card to take care of larger threats like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell at instant speed at an efficient cost, or a large Steam-Kin. It also deals with Mayhem Devil and, if timed correctly, can remove Korvold, Fae-Cursed King in some situations versus Aristocrats. I think 3 is fine but if Red becomes the number 1 deck again, 4 is a no brainer.
  • Embereth Shieldbreaker is the go-to artifact removal that also gives you a respectable 2/1 body when needed. This historically comes in versus Temur Clover to remove the namesake of the deck Lucky Clover and against Aristocrats to remove Witch’s Oven and now that Lurrus is probably gone, it is back to serve again. I think having at least 2 is the right choice.
  • Lava Coil is basically the “catch all” removal spell; it serves the same purpose as Redcap Melee but also hits threats like Archon of Sun’s Grace without having to sacrifice a land, and exiles so they can’t come back with Elspeth Conquers Death. Exiling other threats like Woe Strider is also fantastic. I really like 4 copies in my decks, but for the sake of diversity I opted to run 2 as that is the minimum number I ever want to bring in and the maximum I want against Azorius Control and Bant, which run the Archon.
  • Unchained Berserker is a great threat versus white decks; having protection from white means that it cannot be bounced by Teferi and dodges Deafening Clarion. Berserker is also our ace in the hole against mono-red’s arch-nemesis: mono-white, usually in the form of auras or devotion; Berserker with an Embercleave is a good way to close the game out in our favor.
  • Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is a great way to rebuild after a sweeper and keep us in the game. One thing I will note is that it is VERY important to add a counter to her versus Temur Reclamation, because it takes her out of Storm’s Wrath range. Since Reclamation was unaffected by the bans, it didn’t lose any power and I think will only become stronger in the meta.
  • Tibalt, Rakish Instigator is a catch-all that stops life gain versus multiple decks, and makes powerful blockers against aggressive decks like the mirror; the tokens can ping another creature or the opponents when they die. This makes Tibalt hard to deal with for a lot of decks, since attacking can result in a 2 for 1 in our favor.

Showcase

Sideboard Guide

MatchupInOut
Jund/RB Sacrifice+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
+2 Lava Coil
+3 Redcap Melee
+2 Embereth Shieldbreaker
-4 Fervent Champion
-4 Scorch Spitter
Temur Reclamation+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
+3 Redcap Melee
+2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
-4 Bonecrusher Giant
-1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
-1 Embercleave
Azorius Control+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
+3 Unchained Berserker
+2 Lava Coil
+2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
-4 Bonecrusher Giant
-4 Runaway Steam-Kin
Jeskai Cycling+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
+3 Unchained Berserker
+2 Lava Coil
+2 Blazing Volley
-4 Fervent Champion
-4 Scorch Spitter
The Mirror+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
+2 Lava Coil
+3 Redcap Melee
+2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
+2 Blazing Volley
-4 Scorch Spitter
-4 Rimrock Knight
-1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
-1 Embercleave

Jund/RB Sacrifice

+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator +2 Lava Coil +3 Redcap Melee +2 Embereth Shieldbreaker

-4 Fervent Champion -4 Scorch Spitter

This matchup is not as bad as people say, in my opinion. Yeah, I think I have lost game 1 more than I have won it, but I think it is still fairly even because a well-timed Embercleave just closes the game out if they’re not well set-up. Post-board I think it gets better for us since we board out our 1 drop creatures that line up so poorly vs their 1/2 creatures and just get mowed down by Mayhem Devil triggers.

Post-board, we gain Redcap Melee which is important in its ability to target and remove anything, sometimes at the cost of a land but usually not, because in this matchup, it’s usually going to hit Mayhem Devil and it can remove Korvold, Fae-Cursed King in some situations for only 1 mana. Lava Coil exiles Woe Strider and Cauldron Familiar if they don’t have an untapped Oven ready. You should also note that since Lava Coil “exiles” when the creature dies, the abilities of Serrated Scorpion and Dreadhorde Butcher don’t trigger when you remove them with Lava Coil. Tibalt negates the life gain from Familiar, Scorpion, and Food tokens. Embereth Shieldbreaker is just to remove Witch’s Oven and provides an attacker after being used.

Temur Reclamation

+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator +3 Redcap Melee +2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame

-4 Bonecrusher Giant -1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell -1 Embercleave

In my experience, losing in this matchup feels almost impossible when you’re on the play. On the draw, it is a bit harder as they do have effective ways of dealing with our board and single threats, but I think it is still in our favor. I board out Bonecrusher Giant as it is by far our worst card; yeah, it has a big body and dodges Flame Sweep but it is just mediocre. Torbran is slow and needs a board to be a real threat so I cut one. Embercleave is also hard to resolve and can be clunky, since I also bring in Redcap Melee which I will explain in a bit. Cutting down on clunkier cards to leave us with a fast but resilient game-plan is how you win this matchup.

In place of what we cut, we have Tibalt who shuts off lifegain, especially from Uro, and Chandra which is our best threat after a sweeper (but it is extremely important that you add loyalty to her when you first cast her so she does not die to Storm’s Wrath). Redcap Melee may seem weird and a lot of guides do not bring them in here, and I would not fault someone for not bringing them in. However, they bring in Nightpack Ambusher which really clogs up the board and can be an issue for us. I like having a way to remove it instantly when they tap out for it, especially when I am on the draw. You can also use it as a combat trick to trade with a Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath in a pinch if you need to since we have no other way of removing it. Lava Coil’s exile effect would be better, but the utility of removing Nightpack Ambusher at instant speed and the occasional Bonecrusher Giant is fantastic in my opinion, and it’s the safer inclusion.

Azorius Control

+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator +3 Unchained Berserker + 2 Lava Coil +2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame

-4 Bonecrusher Giant -4 Runaway Steam-Kin

This matchup is easy if they don’t get their best cards early. I board out Bonecrusher Giant because 2 damage for 2 mana is not efficient and the body is lackluster when they have so much removal. I suggest keeping it in if you see Cerulean Drake because it can cause problems for you – while you can’t target a Protection from Red creature with Stomp, you can Stomp something else while that creature is blocking, and the “damage can’t be prevented this turn” clause of Stomp will cause Protection from Red not to prevent damage, and so the creature will die. However, the Drake is often not included in the stock lists and is niche, so I think you are safe cutting Bonecrusher until you see it. Runaway Steam-Kin can get out of hand and swarm them if they don’t have a sweeper, but that’s also the issue – it entices you to overextend your board, only to get blown out.

You add Tibalt to shut off life-gain and have Chandra to rebuild after a sweeper. Unchained Berserker dodges most of their removal and is often unblockable, which makes it a great finisher with Embercleave. Lava Coil is to remove Archon of Sun’s Grace; exiling it means it can’t come back with Elspeth Conquers Death, which is huge for us. Other than that, the game plan is straightforward and simple. One neat trick is you can cast Boulder Rush (Rimrock Knight’s spell half) to boost a creature to 4 power at instant speed, to draw a card in response to Shatter the Sky.

Jeskai Cycling

-4 Fervent Champion -4 Scorch Spitter

+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator +3 Unchained Berserker +2 Lava Coil +2 Blazing Volley

This matchup is easy if they do not have their best draws. A well-timed Zenith Flare can end the game for us, so keep that in mind. You’re on a bit of a clock in that regard, but Tibalt helps if you see him early. Fervent Champion and Scorch Spitter line up poorly against their creatures and tokens, so they are an easy cut. I think we are the more consistent deck with a better game plan – get to the Embercleave and win.

Tibalt shuts off the life-gain as always, and creates useful blockers that are hard to trade effectively with. Unchaned Berserker is a great blocker and attacker as most of their creatures can’t touch it. Lava Coil removes threats, of course, and since a lot of players are still playing Lurrus of the Dream-Den, the exile effect is fantastic. Finally, Blazing Volley removes all the 1/1 tokens they create, clearing the board for our attackers.

The Mirror

+1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator +2 Lava Coil +3 Redcap Melee +2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame +2 Blazing Volley

-4 Scorch Spitter -4 Rimrock Knight -1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell -1 Embercleave

The mirror is obviously skill and luck dependent; it’s the most even matchup you will face. Don’t get discouraged if they run Shock and other cards to win the mirror – that just means they are down a resource, which is fine. I cut Scorch Spitter because it is a lackluster attacker and blocker in this matchup, and Rimrock Knight gets cut for the same reason. It is also worth noting that if you cast Boulder Rush and they remove the target, then you get 2-for-1ed, making it even worse. Torbran is expensive and the opponent will be bringing in their own copies of Lava Coil and Redcap Melee, which make the 4 drop look really bad. Embercleave isn’t effective when you are trading removal spells and gets clunky with the cards we are bringing in, so trimming 1 is fine.

Tibalt’s purpose is to make problematic blockers, making combat difficult for our opponent. Lava Coil is just a great removal spell that exiles, so your opponent won’t get tokens off Anax. Redcap Melee is a hyper-efficient instant-speed answer that can remove bigger threats like Torbran, or whatever we need. Chandra generates value by giving us a constant stream of attackers or allowing us to recast removal from the graveyard. Blazing Volley removes all the 1 toughness creatures and clears up tokens from Anax.

Conclusion

I truly think mono red is primed to take back itss throne at the top of the format. It felt good to play the deck again and I never felt like I was at a disadvantage versus any deck I played against. The deck just has that raw power to take on anything, thanks to the element of surprise from Embercleave, and sometimes that is just good enough to be tier 1 and win games. This is my favorite deck and I hope you learned something about the deck, whether you are piloting or going against it. Until next time, Hero out!

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MTGHero

The MTG Hero

My name is Austin AKA The MTG Hero. I have played Magic: The Gathering for over 15 years and competitively for 13 of those. I am a consistent Mythic ranked player, often high on the leaderboard, and have had moderate success on the SCG Open and Grand Prix circuits. I tend to favor aggressive strategies with the motto of “I would rather create the problem than be forced to find the solution,” but I play every archetype. Currently I mostly focus on streaming on Twitch and Facebook; I also do a lot of content creation for YouTube and now MTG Arena Zone!

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shawn_low
1 month ago

Good deck guide and insights. I know you said Shock is terrible, but would you consider removing some of the weaker cards like Rimrock Knight to put in some removal for BO1? If not shock, then perhaps Scorching Dragonfire or Lava Coil?

Chrysologus
1 month ago

My favorite deck. Thanks for the guide! The deck guides are the best features on MTGA Zone.

chrisfarley123456
1 month ago

I play a deck very close to this list im just missing a couple of cards but i was wondering im currently using clamity i like the card its closed out alot of unwinnable games with a top decked tobran i also have spitfire in atm. I’m going to go to this list but was wondering if theres ever any merit in fitting in the clamaity’s i really love the card or is it just too slow sometimes ?