Hello my fellow planeswalkers! I am The MTG Hero and it has been such a long time since I have talked about my favorite archetype in Magic, and probably the deck I am best known for playing, good ol’ Mono Red Aggro in the new post-rotation Dominaria United Standard format. I am proud to say that I believe Mono Red is back and primed to become a force in Standard that we have not seen since Throne of Eldraine and Theros Beyond Death rotated out.
The New Cards
So, what happened to make Mono Red Aggro rise up to become a threat in the new Standard landscape? Well, we got some new cards and a few old favorites we will be discussing here!
First and foremost, this is a card, that in my opinion, should never have been removed from Standard and honestly should just be an “evergreen” spell like Negate! Sure, we had Roil Eruption, but it is seriously not the same. Instant speed makes or breaks the 2-mana Lightning Bolt effects.
Next up we have an old favorite of mine in Hammerhand.
Anyone who played back in Khans of Tarkir Standard can tell you how powerful this spell was. I love this card. Making a blocker useless for one-mana while buffing a creature and giving it haste is deceptively powerful. Prepare to “get got” or catch opponents off guard by casting this spell a few times while it is Standard!
Speaking of Khans standard – Goblin Rabblemaster was a defining card during its Standard stay. Later on, we got Legion Warboss, which didn’t have quite the same impact, but was passable. Now we have a similar effect in everyone’s immortal goblin Squee, Dubious Monarch. This spell is a bit better than Legion Warboss in that it can be replayed from the grave meaning we can always have a powerful threat.
We have another powerful creature in Radha's Firebrand.
This creature pairs well with Kumano Faces Kakkazan and Hammerhand as it can make blockers irrelevant just by attacking giving us some control over creature combat. It can also be buffed with its own effect, and even though it is a little expensive, it is a nice quality of life effect that really makes this creature powerful in a lot of scenarios.
Finally, we have Shivan Devastator.
This creature is a powerful late game mana sink that can win a game out of nowhere. The later the game goes, the better this creature becomes. While I don’t think we would run to slam four of the dragon into our low curve mono red deck, I think one or two copies are fantastic.
Putting it all together this is what I came up with:
Playing the Deck
Early game we have a few options if we have access to them. The spell you should always lead on if you have the option is Kumano Faces Kakkazan.
The reason for this is because it instantly deals one damage, but then allows whatever creature we play on turn two more powerful and effective making it a great combo with Radha's Firebrand.
If you can’t lead with the staple enchantment, we have the option of the perpetually overlooked Falkenrath Pit Fighter.
A 2/1 for one-mana is a fine rate for an aggro deck and often something that is on the checklist of necessary cards to make a viable aggro deck. Falkenrath Pit Fighter also has the added benefit of sacrificing itself in the late game and pitching an excess land to draw two new cards. While not mind blowing, it is a nice quality of life effect for a Mono Red deck as we often use our burn to finish off an opponent in range of our spells.
Finally, we have the pauper staple Voldaren Epicure.
Since it deals one on entry and can attack on turn two, it is a psudo-2/1 for one which is fine. While not particularly amazing in this particular deck without other synergies, it becomes a nice follow-up to Kumano Faces Kakkazan becoming a 2/2.
Also, as mentioned above, it can also trigger Falkenrath Pit Fighter, but the real gem here is the creation of the Blood Token. This gives us a free loot in the mid-late game, pitching a bad card or an extra land for a new card at no real cost. Don’t be ashamed to play this card. This vampire has more bite than to how it looks on the surface.
We also have a ton of options turn two. Radha's Firebrand is almost always the play as it is the best use of mana and a powerful threat. However, you can also slam down a hasty Bloodthirsty Adversary. Don’t be afraid to not use Adversary’s ability. It is mostly just a nice mid-late game effect that makes it better to top deck later, but a 2/2 haste threat is perfectly fine.
For our “midgame” we have the tried-and-true Reckless Stormseeker.
This card is no surprise and has been a staple of Standard aggro decks for a while, allowing any creature we play to have haste is a huge tempo advantage.
We also have Squee which will easily take over a board if left alone. It is basically a super Den of the Bugbear that we don’t have to pump mana into every turn. Squee is also recastable from the graveyard making it especially hard to deal with. Not playing it is a huge mistake in my opinion. However, we do get diminishing returns on additional copies we draw, but we can pitch any extra Squees to a Blood Token if we need to.
I think it goes without saying that the later the game goes, the weaker our strategy becomes. Generally, after turn four or five, we will look to finish our opponent off with some burn or a chance to break through with Hammerhand.
We do have a singleton Shivan Devastator for the “got ya” effect which is nice. I wouldn’t be afraid to slam this when I have no other plays earlier as well. A flying haste threat is just always going to be good even if it is just a 2/2 or 3/3.
When it comes to Hammerhand, I think it is important to know a few things so it gets its own section here. Don’t be afraid to play it on a threat early to get in damage, but be mindful that if you cast it at the wrong time, you are open to get two-for-one’d. This isn’t what we want as we need every card to be impactful before our opponent drags us into a war of attrition and we lose.
Hammerhand is a great way to breakthrough the last few points of damage to close out a game, especially when combined with Radha's Firebrand, so please don’t feel pressured to just slam it. Generally, I will say only do it if it is the only play and you are trying to maximize your mana.
Cards Not in the Deck
I don’t really care for this card at all. If it turns out to be good then so be it, but I am not impressed. If we are able to attack with three creatures and have double red mana up to get this card back, then we are probably already winning the game. In most instances when I am able to get in with three creatures, I am looking to spike a Lightning Strike to finish my opponent and a little 1/1 that SOMETIMES becomes a 2/2 isn’t going to make the cut for me.
I love Electrostatic Infantry, but I think this card is much better in other formats. I don’t want to jam my deck full of cards that just let me storm off, only for my threat to get hit and I blow up all my resources. Look for this card in Pioneer and Explorer.
My dear Reckless Impulse, you try so hard to be Light Up the Stage, but you just aren’t. I’m sure you have your place in other decks, but not here. I can’t afford to take a turn off to MAYBE play one of the exiled cards the following turn. This spell is just clunky. If it was an instant, I would consider it.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
Black Midrange Decks
|+3 Rending Flame||-4 Hammerhand|
|+2 Reckoner Bankbuster||-4 Reckless Stormseeker|
|+2 Flame-Blessed Bolt||-4 Voldaren Epicure|
|+2 Chandra, Dressed to Kill||-3 Squee, Dubious Monarch|
|+2 Jaya, Fiery Negotiator|
|+2 Unlicensed Hearse|
Okay, I will be the first to admit that this looks crazy going 15 deep against all these decks, but the fact is that there are so many different builds of these architypes that involve specific answers to threats. Thankfully, the core of these decks is all the same, this means we can group these decks into a single category. Since all of these decks are playing efficient threats like Tenacious Underdog, Graveyard Trespasser, then backing it up with bigger threats like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, Sol'Kanar the Tainted, Serra Paragon, Henrika, Infernal Seer, Soul of Windgrace, Raffine, Scheming Seer and Junji, the Midnight Sky.
As a result, we know we want all the removal we can have to answer the early threats as efficiently as possible, then we want Rending Flame to remove as the larger threats we can’t normally remove. From there, we want to pick up Unlicensed Hearse as it is a threat that can nullify any life gain and damage from Graveyard Trespasser and shut down Underdog recursion if they chose to keep that in. Unlicensed Hearse also can become a large threat that requires instant speed removal to answer or they risk just losing. Finally, we can look to use our Reckoner Bankbuster and planeswalkers to stay up on card advantage as we grind with them a bit and try to pull out the win.
Okay now things are becoming a bit more standardized. Good ol’ Mono Green is predictable and powerful. Basically, just bring in all the removal we can and cut anything that isn’t an effective blocker or attacker. Cards like Hammerhand really show their power here as we get to manipulate creature combat which is useful since our main plan is to swarm the board and get at them before their bigger threats brick wall us.
|+2 Flame-Blessed Bolt||-4 Voldaren Epicure|
|+2 Abrade||-4 Hammerhand|
|+2 Chandra, Dressed to Kill|
|+2 Jaya, Fiery Negotiator|
The mirror is all about removal and trying to get over the opponent with card advantage and threats. As a result, our planeswalkers become our most powerful and important assets to win the mirror. I don’t bring in Rending Flame as our curve is spiking with the planeswalkers and we already are quite large in the three-drop slot. I don’t want the deck to become too clunky. I wouldn’t fault someone for wanting to cut Squee on the draw and bring Rending Flame, but an unanswered Squee is so powerful as a recurring threat. Try both as see how it works for you personally.
Think of it as becoming the control player. We want to remove threats and trade one-for-one as much as we can, then take over with planeswalkers. I will aggressively block and use my creatures as removal spells when I can. But when the board is even, for example, if I attack and their only option is to trade or take damage, I will still be the aggressor, and then if they don’t block, just use my removal spells at instant speed to remove the attacking threat on their turn. It is paramount to pressure their planeswalkers if you can so they get as little value from them as possible and protect yours at all costs.
White Aggro Decks
This matchup is a lot like the mirror, but we take on a much more controlling role. They don’t have much removal, but they do have a lot of troublesome threats with first strike and larger amounts of toughness.
Hammerhand and Radha's Firebrand are amazing here. Combine them with removal and you are on your way to winning. If you have a Firebrand, leave the weakest creature alive since not allowing it to block is the same as removing it and kill the excess creatures.
It might be tempting to bring in planeswalkers here, but walkers are very slow and Mono White really pressures the board and they are almost impossible to defend effectively.
A matchup as old as magic itself, Mono Red versus Control! This matchup is basically what most Mono Red players hope for every round. When Play with Fire is our worst card, you know you are in for a good time. I bring in the planeswalkers to give some mid-late game reach, but other than that, just pressure the board and be respectful of sweepers. Don’t overextend if you don’t have to. Apply pressure with as few creatures as possible. Any time they tap out for a sweeper or walker, punish them with haste threats.
I will generally save Lightning Strike to poke them on their turn to bait counter spells so I can resolve my threats safely.
Tips and Tricks
- Remember that Radha's Firebrand‘s ability costs five, not six since we have Mountains for Domain.
- Always hold a mountain after your fourth if you can to discard to a Falkenrath Pit Fighter or a Blood Token.
- When you exile cards to cast Squee, Dubious Monarch from the graveyard, it is generally smart to leave one instant if you can to use with Bloodthirsty Adversary in the mid-late game.
- Don’t play Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance unless you must. The two tokens can be useful getting in extra damage, blocking or in response to Liliana of the Veil‘s -2 ability.
- Don’t be afraid to pitch Squee, Dubious Monarch to a Blood token to recast him later. It is free value.
I love this deck and it is my current “main” I think long time followers of my content know that when Mono Red or a red aggro deck is viable, it is where I can be found. I am beyond happy with my results playing this deck. I really missed Mono Red in standard and happy to sleeve up my mountains again. Mono Red is a simple deck good for beginners, but a power like no other in the hands of someone who masters it. I hope it helps you elevate your game to the next level and brings you some prosperity in wins.
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