If you know who me, you certainly know I have an affinity for mountains. Basic, non-basic, you name it! Ever since I started pushing myself in Standard, I have pretty much only played red decks. Starting with Kaladesh/Aether Revolt Standard playing all flavors of Mardu, all the way to the end of its days with R/B aggro. Ever since rotation and the addition of Guilds of Ravnica, the decks that rose to the top look to be green midrange decks (mostly Golgari, along with some Selesnya) and blue midrange decks (Grixis, Izzet, Jeskai). It appears that people have forgotten about the existence of a few powerful red cards:
But also about a few cards that were recently printed…
Now, I don’t believe every red deck can afford to maximize the numbers on each of the above cards, but there are certainly combinations that can take full advantage of what you are trying to do while not giving up on consistency or power level. My first thought when I saw Runaway Steam-Kin was “wow, that’s broken”. We lived in a world where the go to 2 drop in red was either Scrapheap Scrounger, Earthshaker Kenra, or a combination of those two. Granted, Steam-Kin does not affect the board when it first enters the battlefield and does not block well the first time around. However, its name perfectly depicts how a game is going to play out if it gets to stick. I have played many iterations of red decks and I can confidently say that Steam-Kin pretty much wins the game on the spot if it adds for RRR. What makes the card so powerful is the fact that there isn’t much of a cost to it. You really aren’t giving up power level, especially in this Standard format. The two drops currently competing for a spot are Viashino Pyromancer (only good if you are trying to cast Wizard’s Lightning), Goblin Cratermaker (role player), and Dismissive Pyromancer (I see this a lot and I don’t get it, it’s AWFUL). Of course, there is one more two drop in contention for red, but I’ll get to that later. So given that the competition for two drops is pretty low, Steam Kin basically becomes a no-brainer in a deck that is casting mostly red spells. Being unable to block the first turn it comes down is not a big deal, as it usually can serve back for a lot more and can really swing the game around. In many scenarios, you can either double spell (more two drops and a Shock/Shivan Fire), or just set up a three mana play followed by a couple two mana plays. What’s so disgusting about the card is the fact that you can clear the way while also having a gigantic threat. Investing two mana to get a 4/4 and add three mana in your second main phase to cast more spells is difficult to come back from. I am not entirely sure how any deck can beat Steam Kin into a couple removal spells followed by a big attack followed by another big threat. If I haven’t convinced you that the card is busted, let me tell you how things go when you pair it with an Experimental Frenzy.
So, I didn’t play back when Future Sight was a Standard card, but it didn’t take me long to figure out how things can get out of hand if it sticks. I have won many games that started with a Runaway Steam-Kin in play against a full board of threats. If your plan is to “go off” then you obviously want to pair the two Guilds of Ravnica all stars with cheap spells. In that case, something along the lines of Max McVety’s first take on red is great as you can keep casting one and two mana spells and remove counters from Steam-Kin to keep the chain going. Another way to go about it is to just play a more midrangey shell, where you just play a value Experimental Frenzy instead of the “infinite” one. In that case, you just want to play a lot of standalone powerful threats, so that you can easily overcome 1 for 1 removal and more. The green based midrange decks tend to have multiple maindeck answers for enchantments; however, their answers are general/broad, meaning whatever they use to kill your Frenzy is one less answer for a Steam-Kin or a Rekindling Phoenix. When you are looking at a couple of Vraska, Relic Seeker, Assassin’s Trophy, and Vivien Reid, you can really start stretching their answers by overloading your deck with must answer, resilient threats. I currently like the idea of moving away from an all in/low curve aggressive red deck and move more towards a deck chock-full of difficult to answer cards.
You might wonder, “what kind of difficult to answer cards are there in red?” and the answer is many! My initial list focused on playing a full set of Rekindling Phoenix and Siege-Gang Commander, while accompanying them with a Squee, the Immortal. Squee has been fantastic, by the way. It is a slow engine but works well with Runaway Steam-Kin and Siege-Gang Commander. Anyway, here is my latest iteration of my Steam-Kin deck, which I have had quite a bit of success with online:
This list has a few good things going for it, but ultimately there were a few too many issues. To begin with, having two experimental frenzies means you really want to be able to play every card off the top of your deck regardless of board states. Shivan Fire, Fight with Fire, and Lava Coil are cards that can become difficult to cast when you are trying to pull ahead with Frenzy and neither player has a board established. Gerry Thompson mentioned this to be a problem in one of his latest episodes of the GAM Podcast. I think the easiest fix for this problem is to just play Shock and Lightning Strike instead of Shivan Fire and Lava Coil. Some number of Fight with Fire should still be in the deck as you need answers to thick threats such as Lyra, Dawnbringer. Also, with all the excess mana this deck produces, you want to have some kind of flood/late game payoff/reset button.
Another issue with this deck is that you really want to maximize on powerful spells, and you want to use your mana in an impactful way. While Cratermaker and Oracle were cute, they just don’t measure up to the two drops every other deck is playing, and they don’t really impact the board when coming into play. I think those cards should be replaced with powerful spells and/or more mana production/explosiveness. This leads to the next card I wanted to discuss as I hinted to earlier. A two drop that I have had a lot of success with in the past and I think is well positioned right now: ole reliable Wily Goblin!
This card shines with Runaway Steam-Kin, Treasure Map, Siege-Gang Commander, Experimental Frenzy, and Fight with Fire. It’s basically a Swiss Army knife, and, being Swiss, you know Wily and I get along well! I have been talked out of playing this card for a long time, but enough is enough! My starting point was going to be something similar to the list I posted above, with Wily Goblin replacing the other 4 goblins and adjusting the removal spell numbers. However, before jotting down an initial draft, I did a quick Wily Goblin search on Google just to see if I was the only degenerate magician trying to play the long-forgotten superstar Goblin Pirate. Lo and behold, fellow wizard Ra_Po just scored a perfect 5-0 on Magic Online with the following list:
My first thought was “This is BEAUTIFUL”! However, I do see a few things I don’t particularly like: 4 Treasure Map is too many, and 23 lands is likely one too few. Wily Goblin doesn’t count as a true source of mana. Keeping a two lander on the play with Wily means you likely have to use your treasure to cast a 3 drop or hope to draw land 3 soon in order to cast a 4 drop (which the deck has ten of). My first instinct is to cut at least a Treasure Map and add a 23rd Mountain, because land number 3 is pretty much the most important one to hit (4 is too, but you do have Treasure Map and Wily Goblin to help with that). The other issue I see is that 4 Experimental Frenzy in a big mana deck is 1 or 2 too many in my opinion. This deck does not revolve around slamming a Frenzy and going off, as it really can’t do that as well as the Wizard’s Lightning/Ghitu Lavarunner decks.
One aspect that’s really impressed me, and kudos to Ra_Po for exploiting it, is the effectiveness of Karn, Scion of Urza. With 4 Wily Goblin and Treasure Maps, we are looking to just make an army of large constructs and end the game very quickly. Karn actually gets to protect itself while also being able to turn the corner quickly and provide card advantage when necessary. He works well with Frenzy, as he can simply +1 to get rid of the second land of your turn and dig deeper towards spells.
All in all, I am very impressed with this approach of red and am likely going to refine this list and try it out online. With everything I said in mind, here is where I would start if I were to play the deck right now:
Right Now Red
I like Dire Fleet Daredevil as it can double-up as a cheap creature to keep the chain going on Experimental Frenzy, while also being able to get rid of pesky Planeswalkers on the opposing side (usually with Vraska’s Contempt and Assassin’s Trophy or burn spells). Don’t be afraid to run this out on turn 2 if you have no other play and no pressure. Also, remember that you can target a counterspell in your opponent’s graveyard, meaning you can lead with Dare Devil into a Settle the Wreckage and protect your team! I am not going to touch the sideboard for now, and I will play a league first to see what is necessary and what isn’t.
Standard so far has been one of the most fun and diverse formats in a while. While Gbx decks seem to be running rampant and dominating, I think that is mostly an overreaction. I am sure there are going to be some interesting decks coming out of the Pro Tour, and perhaps a Wily Goblin deck will come out of nowhere and take it all down!
Until next time,
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