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by Brian Sidlauskas (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Hello to everyone over in the United Arab Emirates! I'm a resident of the United States, and also happen to be an avid gamer and a Level 1 Judge for Magic: the Gathering. George (the WebMaster here) and I met on the judges' list, and he asked me to help with a series of strategy articles for the Player's Forum.
Now, I am not the world's greatest player, and have never been to the Pro Tour. I play mostly in local tournaments, small drafts, and the living rooms of good friends. My focus in these articles is not, therefore, going to be the latest deck technology or the killer netdeck du jour. If you are looking for that level of strategy, there's plenty of coverage elsewhere on the net (www.thedojo.com and www.starcityccg.com, for example). Instead, I'm going to present intermediate level decks for the Standard environment that can be constructed with a minimum of rare cards. These probably won't topple the cutting edge (the Replenish decks from the US Nationals, for example) but I hope that you will find them competitive and enjoyable. My understanding from George is that Magic is relatively expensive and hard to obtain in the UAE, and that the player base is still relatively unseasoned. So, to all of you newer players looking to improve your understanding and enjoyment of this wonderful game, I say welcome!
Because the standard environment supports very few common and uncommon cards that support a dual or multicolored deck (in the way that rares like City of Brass, Birds of Paradise or Adarkar Wastes do), I am going to start these articles with mono-colored decks. Such approaches will generally prove more consistent, and are more forgiving of erratic land draws.
I chose a mono-Red design for standard environment as a jumping off point. Combining quick aggression, flexible damage sources and excellent targeted removal for all permanents save enchantments, this deck archetype has been a consistent performer since the debut of Paul Sligh's famous deck in 1996, and has been a top choice of both entry level and professional players.
Some of my basic criteria in selecting cards for this deck and sideboard were as follows:
1) Choose exactly 75 cards. 60 for the main deck, and 15 for the sideboard.
2) Choose mostly cards with very low casting costs, to improve the deck's speed and aggressiveness.
3) Choose no more than six rare cards for the main deck, and two for the sideboard.
4) Choose zero top-valued rare cards (i.e, Masticore, Powder Keg, Morphling, Rishidan Port)
Red on a Budget
(Rares in Gold, Uncommons in Blue)
Main Deck (60 cards)
Suggested Sideboard (15 cards)
Main Deck Statistics
Card by Card
Shock and Seal of Fire
These are currently the most mana efficient sources of direct damage in the standard environment and are the most obvious inclusions in the main deck. They should never be sideboarded out.
This is the best one casting cost creature currently in Red's arsenal. The deck as outlined above has almost no use for more than four lands in play, and can function well on three. Therefore, the Kris Mage improves the flexibility of the deck by allowing you to channel lands beyond that total into your offensive potential. If this ability proves especially useful in your metagame, you may consider working the similar Arc Mages into the deck.
This is one of my more interesting choices for the main deck, but I feel that the selection is solid. The top decks in standard at the moment are very mana intensive (Bargain, Rebel White, Accelerated Blue and Replenish, for example). Early disruption of their mana base will often buy you an additional turn or two in which to apply pressure and hopefully win the game. Like the Kris Mage, Raze allows to you trade extra land for another commodity, in this case, time.
You can also use Raze to interrupt Echo payments (Albino Troll), or to counteract a Blue deck's Energy Field, otherwise a potential death knell for the Red player.
Goblin Cadets have excellent power and toughness for their casting cost, but are only good in an environment that is relatively creature-free. If Green or Rebel-White decks are popular in your region, these should be replaced with other creatures (probably either Goblin Patrol or more Goblin Masons). The card is a particularly fast and dangerous threat versus most Blue designs.
I debated for a while on whether Parch, Reckless Abandon or Flame Rift was the card for this slot. I chose Parch because of its flexibility as an instant and the small chance that you may be able to trick a mana-light opponent into losing a Morphling or Thieving Magpie to the card. Against green, the Abandon may be a better call. I dislike the narrowness of Flame Rift, though it can accelerate the deck.
This deck is generally so aggressive that you will very rarely need to block with your creatures. Hence, the Goblin Raider's drawback is negligible.
The Masons have reasonable power and toughness for their casting cost and offer a method to remove a troublesome wall, should anyone actually play one against you (Wall of Glare, perhaps?). Mostly, I'm including them to help round out the creatures in the deck.
This is perhaps the most flexible direct damage spell in Standard at the moment, and should almost always be useful, even if it only targets your opponent. Watch out for Misdirections if you don't split it. However, you've already got a lot of direct damage, so consider playing the Pillages from your sideboard in this slot if control or combo decks are prevalent in your environment.
Assuming that you don't have access to Masticores, this card may be your only way to deal with a creature with Protection from Red, such as Mother of Runes or Thermal Glider. It is also one of your beefiest creatures. The echo should be negligible, as the Gnomes should be one of the last cards played from your hand.
Though the runner is rare, it is not in heavy demand and is possibly the best purely aggressive three casting cost Red creature in the environment. Its haste can be a nasty surprise for your opponent, who may be quite reluctant to trade land and a targeted spell to remove it, especially in the first few game turns. If you can't find Runners, Ticking Gnomes or Arc Mages would make decent substitutes.
2x Lightning Dragon (or Balduvian Horde or Avalanche Riders)
This will be the hardest deck slot to fill. Basically, you are looking for a pair of highly aggressive four casting cost creatures. Lightning Dragon is the fastest and most damaging choice, but Balduvian Horde is also fine (you'll almost certainly lose an insignificant land to it). Avalanche Riders pair aggression with mana denial, and may be particularly attractive if you move some of the Pillages into the main deck from the sideboard (probably replacing Arc Lightning) to support a land-destruction subtheme. You could also try Thran War Machines.
Your mana base. Note that I chose not to include Ghitu Encampments because I'm afraid of slowing down the deck's raw aggression in the early game and because the land count, at 20, is fairly low to begin with.
The legendary land is rare, but is relatively easy to obtain. It provides an alternative route to victory if you find your creature-based assault stymied in a drawn out game. Rath's Edge would also be a fine choice, if you can find one.
Devastating versus Blue, at a low enough mana cost to potentially sneak past the counterspells. A natural sideboard inclusion.
Versatile land or artifact removal. Depending on your environment, you may want these in the main deck over the Arc Lightnings.
Distorting Lens or Thran Lens
Though rare, these cards are very important against White. Red cannot remove most enchantments, so Absolute Law or Rune of Protection: Red can halt its entire assault. The lenses can convert your cards to non-Red sources of damage and allow the beatings to continue.
This card may be your best hope versus the mana-intensive Rebel decks. It will still be a tough matchup.
This card is pure hate versus a Covetous Dragon/Wildfire based artifact deck, and will also remove a Masticore irrespective of its regeneration ability.
Two Other Rares to Consider
Due to the Hydra's potential for reusable direct damage, this may be the best two casting cost red creature currently available in the Standard environment. If you have some, include them over the Goblin Masons.
This artifact will stunt your opponent's mana development and buy your creatures a few extra attacks, especially against a combo or control deck with few non-land permanents (Accelerated Blue or Replenish, for example). It fits well into the main deck, but is currently difficult to obtain, so I did not include it in the deck list.
The limited playtesting that I've done indicates that this deck can dish out twenty damage against a dummy opponent (goldfish) in about five turns. That's reasonably swift, though not as fast as the top combination decks in the environment (Bargain and Replenish). You should have excellent matchups against Black and Blue decks, but the deck will flounder most against White designs. Drop me a line at email@example.com and let me know if this works for you, if you have any suggestions on making the deck better (without piling rares into it), or if you have any suggestions on how to make the column more interesting for players in your community. I may also be willing to critique a few of your decks.
All the Best,