Reinforced Ronin Art by Kekai Kotaki

Standard Mono Red Aggro Guide: The Best Deck in a New Meta

Few things are certain in Magic, but one of them is the fact that aggro decks always show up as the gatekeeper of new brews for every incoming format. A popular saying here in Mexico goes: “A río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores”. If I’m not wrong, the translation used in English speaking countries goes as follows: “A river uprooted, gain of fishermen”.

The idea behind this is understanding that during confusing situations or times of change, the good things come to those who take advantage of such circumstances. Translating that to Magic is simple. In Standard, when a new set arrives there’s always people building new decks, brewing a lot of ideas and brainstorming with many new cards and interactions. Yes, a few of them could be amazing and can make incredible decks arise, but many others will fall trying.

How can we be the fisherman? Just like I said in my first line, aggro decks have the quality of being consistent and cohesive with their main game plan: 20 damage, as fast as possible. This makes any new deck (good or bad) stumble while trying to figure out all the new cards and what the optimal builds are.

During Innistrad, Mono White and Mono Green were the best aggro decks almost since day 1, and not only that; Both remain in the meta as heavy Tier 1 competitors. Thankfully, Kamigawa makes Mono Red possible again. And I’m not just talking about the fact that Mono Red is now playable. Thanks to all the new cards and not since the rotation of Throne of Eldraine, the fire burns brighter than ever.

Something that characterized Mono Red during the last rotation Standard was the quality of its one drops (something critical for an aggro archetype). Let’s use Fervent Champion as a example. Thalai (Thalai: The nickname of Javier Dominguez, 2018 World Champion. Fervent Champion represents him) was amazing during his standard time. A Raging Goblin is always appreciated, but the ones that do many things besides being a 1/1 with haste tend to be incredible!

Certainly we had a few options available before NEO. Akoum Hellhound was good for a time during Gruul Landfall’s rise and before Gruul Adventures, but when playing a deck with few lands like Mono Red intends, this little dog falls behind. Fireblade Charger was there too, and we had the option of playing it as the only card from the last Standard Mono Red, but the key to the success of this goblin was his best friend, Rimrock Knight, that isn’t here anymore.

We appreciate Falkenrath Pit Fighter, a Savannah Lions with an upside is also always appreciated, but its ability was circumstantial, and not a damage dealing one.

Now, with the printing of Rabbit Battery, Reinforced Ronin and Kumano Faces Kakkazan, we have a perfect lineup of 12 one drops, something that always helps aggro/stompy decks shine.

Rabbit Battery is just one of the best Raging Goblin ever, period. It not only pressures since the first turn; it also can be useful when entering the mid game (where others just fall behind), re-configuring itself giving +1/+1 and haste to other creature. An unblockable 4/2 (or 5/3) Kargan Intimidator or a hasty 5/5 Atsushi, the Blazing Sky are astonishing.

During my streams, I can’t stop saying how good Reinforced Ronin is every time the card is mentioned. The best argument to support what has been said is how similar it is to Zurgo Bellstriker, a central part in the success of many Mono Red decks in the past. It’s clear that Zurgo can be played as a 2/2 on turn 1 and keep swinging without spending more mana, and we have to invest 1 red mana each turn to accomplish the same with Ronin, but most of the time it was the dashing ability that made Zurgo great. In this case, imagine Ronin as a Zurgo with a 1 mana dash; that is awesome. That’s not all; Ronin can be cycled for 1R… something incredibly good in terms of spending our mana every turn in the best possible way + looking for answers when Ronin is not useful anymore. This card in combination with Ogre-Head Helm (that has a Ox of Agonas / Bedlam Reveler type of ability) lets us play more aggressively without the necessity of playing Chandra, Dressed to Kill in the main board.

Don’t get me wrong, Chandra is a very good card. Here we play two in our sideboard for attrition matchups, but besides those types of matchups, Reinforced Ronin + Ogre-Head Helm are enough to give us the gas we need for closing games.

The last new one drop is Kumano Faces Kakkazan. Oh dear… another amazing card that could even be considered a fusion of Voldaren Epicure + Tenacious Pup (yes, as good as it sounds). This little saga does a lot for just 1 mana, and when I say “a lot” I mean too much. 1 damage to our opponent and a ping to a planeswalker (that is mostly irrelevant on turn 1 but can be very good against certain decks during the mid game), then a +1/+1 counter to any of our creatures, something that can be translated to another 1 damage (at least) and finally a 2/2 hasty creature that has the incredible ability of exiling creatures that die after receiving damage from sources we control. This last ability might look irrelevant nowadays, but trust me… some graveyard decks are coming.

In the end, Kumano Faces Kakkazan tends to translate to an average of 3-5 damage each match. This in combination with all the cards we mentioned before makes the first turns of Mono Red something to be feared. Unprepared opponents will fall quickly, and even decks that try to stall the game are going to suffer a lot trying to contain the incredible amount of aggression that this deck is capable of presenting.

I’ve already gone on a lot before even introducing the list, but I’d like to briefly mention a couple of cards before moving on to that and our usual sideboarding guide.

Kargan Intimidator is a card that I played before many, many times. I even used a full set in the last Standard Mono Red and it never failed to impress me (carrying me to Mythic back then); that’s why I use 4 here. The card is certainly better than it might seem to many.

The red dragon of NEO, Atsushi, the Blazing Sky is the best of the five. With how strong it is, we have another reason for moving Chandra to our sideboard. “Atsushi dies? Perfect, let me cast two spells” is mostly what we are going to say. Our deck is pretty cheap so we probably are not going to face problems with this + we can also play lands with this ability. Finally, if we have the right cards but need mana, Atsushi can make 3 treasure tokens instead, I like to imagine this as the dragon giving us back 3 of the 4 mana we use to cast it… a 4/4 flying for one? Yes, please.

Standard Mono Red Aggro by Bohe
by Bohe
Standard
best of 3
9 mythic
16 rare
20 uncommon
15 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Instants (4)
4
Play with Fire
$9.96
Sorceries (6)
Enchantments (4)
Lands (21)
15
Mountain
$3.75
60 Cards
$121.18
15 Cards
$69.77

12 very good one drops, 10 very solid second drops, 4-4 versatile creature/damage spells for turn 3, and three 4 drops that hit hard and have evasion. This is truly the formula of a winning deck.

The deck is extremely well prepared for Bo1. If you prefer to play in that ladder, just remove the sideboard and you are set. Be ready to reach Mythic in the blink of an eye.

Potential Inclusions

Before closing this column, let me share with you some cards that can be considered for the archetype.

  • I have Roiling Vortex as one of the best options against control or life gaining archetypes. To me Shatterskull Charger seems better against control; it means more pressure in less time, but if Clerics (or any deck that pretends to gain life) arise, this enchantment is going to be needed).
  • If we want to raise the curve a little, a pair of Volatile Arsonist could be very good.
  • Spikefield Hazard is amazing, but we are not sure how many 1 thoughtless creatures are going to establish their presence in the new and evolving meta. Keep an eye on this card if many of them became part of tier 1 decks.

Sideboard Guide

Chandra, Dressed to Kill art by Viktor Titov
Chandra, Dressed to Kill art by Viktor Titov

It’s obvious that a clear metagame does not exist right now. Some old Tier 1 are still there, many new strategies are emerging, and all this after a long hiatus of the format. We are going to divide our plans and mention how we plan to attack games 2 and 3 against aggro, midrange and control decks (a combo that seems absent for now).

Aggro

InOut
+3 Abrade-2 Bloodthirsty Adversary
+3 Thundering Rebuke-2 Igneous Inspiration
-2 Reinforced Ronin

All our removal in while trying to keep the aggressive plan. A 2/2 haste creature on turn two like Bloodthirsty Adversary is not going to do much, especially if we are on the draw. We keep two for re-buying our removals during the mid game + we side-in 6 two mana cards, so lowering the numbers of our two mana creatures to keep a cohesive curve is required.

Igneous Inspiration tends to be slow against other fast decks, but it’s still useful. We side-out two making room for cheaper and more efficient removal.

Even if I think Reinforced Ronin is one of the best cards in NEO, against other aggro decks we need creatures that they can stay on the field. Leaving two Ronins helps us start aggressively if needed and aren’t a dead draw in later instances of the game.

Even if Ogre-Head Helm seems worse than Bloodthirsty Adversary on turn two, in combination with Rabbit Battery we can voltron -Voltron: Use enchantments, equipment, and all our resources making one creature a true threat one of our creatures and stop all the aggression while presenting a big threat. Use reconfiguration carefully to turn the tide in your favor.

Midrange

InOut
+3 Thundering Rebuke-1 Bloodthirsty Adversary
+2 Chandra, Dressed to Kill-4 Play with Fire

Normally we are not going to have good targets for Play with Fire against midrange. Keeping our 4 Igneous Inspiration + 3 Thundering Rebuke can be enough for dealing with problematic mid-size creatures.

Even if we have 4 Reinforced Ronin, 2 Ogre-Head Helm and 3 Atsushi, the Blazing Sky, the card advantage that Chandra, Dressed to Kill can give us in attrition matches is very much needed against this kind of deck.

Try to be attentive. We don’t have a Llanowar Elves kind of creature, but if you face some good one-two mana creatures, keeping the Play with Fire‘s can come handy. If that’s the case, we can remove 2 Igneous Inspiration and 2 Reinforced Ronin.

Control

InOut
+2 Chandra, Dressed to Kill-4 Igneous Inspiration
+2 Shatterskull Charger

We change the 3 damage and the learn ability of Igneous Inspiration for a better way of fueling our hand and a more aggressive card, a very dangerous threat in the form of Shatterskull Charger. Almost all of us know how good Chandra can be but let me tell you, Shatterskull Charger is another very, very good undervalued card.

Imagine Charger as a big version of Reinforced Ronin. Against control decks, dodging sorcery speed removal is something really valuable (because both come back to our hand at the end of the turn). Also, Charger can stay in the battlefield if needed, forcing our opponent to answer asap, expending resources by tapping out their available mana, letting us have free turns after that.

Tips and Tricks

Ogre-Head Helm Art by Viko Menezes
  • I made this error once and I’m not going to let you go through that: Ogre-Head Helm needs to be sacrificed (or the equipped creature) to trigger the ability. Don’t forget that and don’t hesitate in doing so; in the proper situation it’s a game changer.
  • It’s always useful to remember that Igneous Inspiration can make us discard a card to draw one instead of taking one lesson from our sideboard.
  • Speaking of lessons: I’m still testing if we need a 2nd Environmental Sciences or Expanded Anatomy instead of Introduction to Annihilation or Mascot Exhibition. These last two cards are very expensive but could save us from many long games.
  • You can reconfigure with Rabbit Battery and Ogre-Head Helm only as a sorcery.
  • We haven’t talked about Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance yet. Remember the trick: if needed you can add R with Sokenzan, and then play the second one to add another R if needed, even if the first is going to the graveyard. Also, if Atsushi, the Blazing Sky is on the battlefield, the Sokenzan ability costs 1 less mana.
  • Remember that Den of the Bugbear and its token can attack different targets.
  • Sometimes, the scry 2 from Play with Fire at the end of our opponents turn comes in very handy.
  • The night cycle is very useful with Reckless Stormseeker, letting us give trample to our creatures. Play accordingly when needed.
  • Always have in mind the 1 damage that Kumano Faces Kakkazan can deal to a planeswalker.
  • If any artifact becomes popular in the new meta, Abrade is there + 1 Start from Scratch.
  • Chandra can also deal 1 damage to a planeswalker.

Final Notes

In conclusion, my dear readers, Mono Red is here and stronger than ever!

In addition to being the archetype that will allow us to get ahead by achieving many victories during the first weeks of the metagame development, this new iteration ensures without a doubt, that it will remain valid as one the best options for aggro archetypes in the NEO Standard.

It has been extremely fun working with a Standard Mono Red deck again. Spending my time helping this archetype blossom set my heart ablaze! (Just like the good Rengoku said). 🔥

Please, let me know in the comments section what your thoughts are about this deck. Until then, I hope that you enjoy it and that it makes you achieve many good results if you decide to give it a try.

And remember, don’t forget to smile at least once a day. n _n

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Bohe

A full time MTG content creator. Started playing Magic in 99’ with the release of Urza’s Destiny, 3 times Grand Prix attendant (1 as a player ending #78 and 2 as a judge). Mexican, lover of coffee, Korean culture, languages and ex-LoL coach.
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