How to Play Magic: The Gathering: A Beginner’s Guide to Red Deck Wins

Written by Ryan the Goblin King on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

How to Play Magic: The Gathering: A Beginner’s Guide to Red Deck Wins

Ryan the Goblin King

Hailing from Goblinville, IN, Ryan AKA the Goblin King has been brewing Standard decks since Kaladesh block. Ryan has only one goal as a competitive Magic player and that’s to participate in a pro tour where every participant brings with them only the finest in jank.

When Magic: The Gathering, or “Magic” as it was colloquially known to its creators was released to the world in 1993, it brought with it a novel idea that, much like D & D before it, would forever change the way that we looked at games forever. This “a ha” moment, as Dr. Garfield describes it, was his realization that the long practiced concept of a perfectly symmetrical strategy game (think: Chess, Checkers, Monopoly) where everyone plays with the same game pieces on the same board was not necessary to create a game that every player can enjoy.

It’s easy to see why this moment was so exciting to Mr. Garfield, an individual who still designs games to this day: because it allowed it’s users to be the game designers themselves. Magic is a game where players can bring to battle with them any 60 card combination of the 10’s of thousands, or millions (depending on the format) different cards to choose from.

The idea took off- and 26 years- and many knock-offs later, Magic: The Gathering is a game that sports a player-base of over 20 million individuals and is translated in 11 different languages. As Magic has evolved throughout the years, so have we seen an evolution in the various ways that players have used to try and win the game. What started out as a game where the only legitimate strategies for winning were taking your opponent from 20 to zero, came a game where almost any strategy you can think of could be employed to dismantle your opponent and secure the win. Among the strategies that were created were options such as running your opponent out of all their cards, taking all the turns for yourself, finding infinite combos that exploit specific game interactions to create an infinite board presence, and lock strategies that prevent your opponent from playing the game entirely.

Despite this evolution in game design, the core way of winning Magic, by hitting your opponent in “their face” for 20 points of damage before they do the same to you, has always remained an option for one to choose in order to defeat their foe. Anyone that has played Magic: The Gathering knows that it would be all to simple to group all of these 20 to zero strategies together, however, because as it turns out, among those strategies are a sub-set of even more strategies- that being decks that try to beat you fast, slowly, and slowest of all.

“Mono-Red” or “Red Deck Wins” as it affectionately came to be known by those in the community is a strategy that nearly always is trying to win as fast, if not faster, then the other decks that exist in their respective formats. One of the reasons for the speed of red is due to it’s constant pressure. Unlike, say, a four-color deck, a mono-red deck, will, as it’s name implies, only carry with it lands that tap for one color, that color of course being red. Since lands can only tap for at most two colors, this leads to a situation where, with a starting hand of only seven cards, a four-color deck might not be able to cast it’s cards if it doesn’t have the right colors, whereas a red deck, where only one color is required, almost certainly will be able to no-land hand withstanding.

There’s another reason that red deck gets out of the gate blazing and this is because of the nature of red cards in general. The best way to illustrate this difference would be to contrast two different cards from two different colors. Let’s take Lightning Bolt from red, and Divination from blue. Lightning Bolt reads “deal 3 damage to any target”, Divination says “draw two cards”. Since Lightning Bolt’s damage can be directed at the person (and not just a creature or Planeswalker), red decks have the ability to literally burn their opponent’s life totals to zero just from the cards they cast. In contrast, blue decks spend their time compiling resources and drawing cards. This naturally leads to longer games where you win via inevitability. The games end when your opponent is out of cards, and you are flush with cards and every card you have can answer any card they draw and much like Monopoly when someone has a Hotel on Boardwalk, the player wins through no other mechanic then they’ve locked their opponent out of the game in it’s entirety.

But not RDW. Red Deck wins is the fastest show in the West. Hell Bent aggro that’s founded around fast, weak creatures, fast, cheap removal, and cards that you use once and then never see again. It’s with this knowledge of the archetype in mind that one can begin to formulate a strategy for winning with a deck who is known for winning faster then all of the other decks- to apply pressure throughout.

The creatures are there to force damage through, the removal, to clear the way to make sure that your creatures keep pushing damage through. Dumping your hand and flooding the board is usually correct, as is any line that will take them down to 1 because as red cards so often go to the face- getting them to one is usually the correct line to take.

But of course, this is the shadow boxing aspect of understanding a deck; as you’ll learn in Magic- the key is to knowing those times when it’s not just about going turn 2 Steam-Kin, turn 3 Steam-Kin, Turn 4 2 Steam-Kins #Iwin, aka a ‘ nut-draw’, it’s instead, imperative that you understand when exactly you need to be deviating from those patterns, and finding alternative routes to victory.

For some match-ups, these scenarios are simple. Against blue, it’s taking a turn off from flooding the board to kill whatever they play on turn one. Against green, it’s taking a turn off from playing creatures to kill whatever they play that says “Wildgrowth Walker”. Where some match-ups are pretty cut and dry, however, others can be a bit more dicey. Take Esper (Blue*White*Black), for example. Esper has cards called ‘sweepers’, cards whose entire goal is to blow up everything on the board all at once. They cost a lot, and they usually can’t be cast till turns 4 or 5, but once they are, everything you’ve played and everything you’ve loved is incinerated in a heap of fire right before your very eyes. In some cases, this can be a blow out, particularly when such a play allows your opponent to trade 4 of your cards for their one bomb. It’s for that reason that you have to be hesitant with your attacks. Stagger 2 creatures at a time, maybe 3 if they’re all 1 power. You can’t do nothing, but unlike against basically every other deck you’ll want to leave over at least one hero to carry you home and save the day after everything goes to hell. Don’t play loose but don’t play reckless either.

To really learn Magic though, you can’t, as Richard Garfield intended, go it alone. For as one day you may become the game designer, finding the loop holes and building the brews and becoming a world champion, today it’s about learning from the decks that are already up in the aether.

Below this you will find a list of 60 cards. Statistically speaking, this is one of the winning-est deck-lists in the world on the new Arena platform, having peaked at number 8 in the world twice, as well as having a winning record against the top 32 players in the world. As far as decklists go, this is the sort of deck that some would refer to as ‘gas’. If you’re new to Magic and you want to immediately start winning more games then you are losing, then I would suggest going with this bo1 tailored decklist.

The key behind this deck is fairly simple. Extra mana generation (so more then one per turn like everyone else) and freak late game card draw in the form of Experimental Frenzy. You play your Steam-Kins, grow those Steam-Kins (simply by casting red spells), and then ‘go off’ with Experimental Frenzy, using that 3, or 6, or 9 extra mana from your Runaway Elementals to have turns where you cast 6 or 7 spells and quite literally run your opponent over by taking them from 10 to zero in a matter of seconds.

As far as auto-play decks go, this is one of the best and the only deck that I would suggest to a beginner. Unlike counterspell or ‘stompy’ decks or little army ‘white-weenie’ decks, this deck should intuitively make sense to anyone that plays it. Go ham and try to break things, be faster then your opponent and run them out of the gym. Good luck on your quest and may ‘bolt u’ be forever in your vocabulary.

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