The KanyeBest Center For Kids Who Can’t Red Good

Anax, Hardened in the Forge

Hello, I’m KanyeBest, occasional degenerate ladder grinder, lover of cards that go face, and guy who shows up every nine months like a cicada to tell you to play Mono-Red aggro decks.

It’s been a bit longer than nine months, but here I am! Bzz-Bzz.

I came back to MTGArena a few months ago, with far more demands on my time than I had in my previous degenerate grinding days – other video games, a 9-5 job, trying to reconnect with friends, general pandemic malaise, etc. In that context, I picked up Mono-Red aggro as a way to get through the grind to Mythic last month, which I had to do from Silver, as I’d played a few constructed games in the previous month.

The idea was that I’d play Mono-Red until Mythic, then branch out into other decks that likely had a better matchup against the field. Once I made Mythic, I figured I would go for a rank 69 screenshot, for value. I ran into a problem, however, when the deck just kept winning.

I finished 30th on the ladder last season, and at no point did I ever seriously question my deck choice. This season, I reached Rank 4 a few days ago, and am currently sitting in the mid-teens. The winrates needed to stay up here exceed 60%. The deck has not disappointed.

Why Am I Writing This?

I spent a lot of time on ladder playing this deck, and I won’t always have the opportunity to do this. While I’m happy with ranks, I’d be much happier knowing that my knowledge helped someone else – that the time I spent degening Mythic ladder was worth it for someone. 

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to talk about my list, the differences between it and other Mono-Red lists, what I do when sideboarding against popular matchups, and what you can take away from this when you are playing any version of Mono-Red, or against Mono-Red.

I’m also going to talk about card selection, and the choices that are good in specific matchups, or against specific matchups. By the time you’re done here, you should have a pretty good idea about not only my list, but the archetype as a whole, why the decisions made are being made in each matchup, and how to approach them.

It is my genuine hope that someone here uses this information to improve, however that may be. I know people think of Mono-Red as a braindead deck, and there are a couple responses I tend to have to that (it’s really not, and free wins are a good thing, not a bad thing), but the fundamental one is that even if you hate it, you’ll have to deal with it, and the first step in beating your enemy is knowing how they operate.

With that, let’s jump into some lists. I’m going to be starting by highlighting two lists today, the list I’ve been using, and Martin Juza’s list. Most of the cards in the archetype are absolute no-brainers, and Juza’s list deviates from the list I’ve been using (which was made by John Rolf) in that it actually runs cards from Strixhaven. Well, it runs one card from Strixhaven.

Decklists And Differences

My List

Deck

1 Phoenix of Ash (THB) 148

3 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell (ELD) 147

4 Robber of the Rich (ELD) 138

4 Rimrock Knight (ELD) 137

4 Fireblade Charger (ZNR) 139

4 Anax, Hardened in the Forge (THB) 125

4 Bonecrusher Giant (ELD) 115

4 Fervent Champion (ELD) 124

4 Embercleave (ELD) 120

4 Frost Bite (KHM) 138

2 Castle Embereth (ELD) 239

4 Faceless Haven (KHM) 255

18 Snow-Covered Mountain (KHM) 283

Sideboard

1 Shredded Sails (IKO) 136

1 Scorching Dragonfire (M21) 158

2 Redcap Melee (ELD) 135

3 Roiling Vortex (ZNR) 156

1 Phoenix of Ash (THB) 148

2 Ox of Agonas (THB) 147

2 Soul Sear (M21) 160

3 The Akroan War (THB) 124

Juza’s List

Deck

4 Anax, Hardened in the Forge (THB) 125

4 Bonecrusher Giant (ELD) 115

1 Castle Embereth (ELD) 239

4 Embercleave (ELD) 120

4 Faceless Haven (KHM) 255

4 Fervent Champion (ELD) 124

2 Fireblade Charger (ZNR) 139

3 Frost Bite (KHM) 138

4 Hall Monitor (STX) 105

1 Phoenix of Ash (THB) 148

4 Rimrock Knight (ELD) 137

4 Robber of the Rich (ELD) 138

19 Snow-Covered Mountain (KHM) 283

2 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell (ELD) 147

Sideboard

1 Frost Bite (KHM) 138

4 Ox of Agonas (THB) 147

1 Phoenix of Ash (THB) 148

1 Redcap Melee (ELD) 135

1 Redcap Melee (ELD) 135

2 Roiling Vortex (ZNR) 156

3 Scorching Dragonfire (M21) 158

2 The Akroan War (THB) 124

Important Differences:

  1. Cutting a Frost Bite, A Torbran and two Fireblade Chargers for four Hall Monitors.
  2. Four Ox in the sideboard as opposed to two.
  3. No removal for artifacts in Juza’s board, less Scorching Dragonfire’s in mine.

Not to get too bogged down in the details, but in brief, I actually prefer Fireblade Charger to the other one-drops because it presents more problems to decks like White Weenie or Naya on defense, four Ox seems completely reasonable if you want to just dumpster Rogues, although I struggle to think of another matchup I want four of them in, and the artifact removal has been surprisingly useful (Glass Casket, Henge, opposing Embercleaves).

The most important change to the deck is the one-drops, but I honestly just don’t want to play ten 1/1s for 1 in my deck. I can barely abide playing eight. Hall Monitor has legitimate upside against Sultai, where it makes their 6/6’s less relevant, but it only stops half of them – Gargaroth can still attack on their turn, Polukranos can still fight. Outside of that matchup, where it has not fully convinced me, I’m not sure I like it very much. Juza’s absolutely cracked, so I’m at the very least pretty sure the Pun Lizard is not actively bad, and Sandydog is also on Hall Monitor, I just haven’t drank the Kool-Aid yet.

I think either of these lists is completely reasonable, but I’ll be going through the sideboard plans for the list I’ve been using. I will be focusing on general gameplans as well as my specific board plans, and how other potential sideboard cards can fit into your deck if you’re using a different list. I’m looking to achieve two goals: 1) give you the sideboard guide that I’m using and 2) prepare you for playing Mono-Red generally, and not just with this specific list.

Matchup Guide

Magic: The Gathering is hard, and I’m far from the best player in the world. I have a lot of experience playing red aggro, and a lot of experience playing this deck at high levels on the ladder. That’s worth something, but I’m unclear how much. When I list a sideboard plan for the deck, please do not take it as gospel. A lot of these plans are in flux as I get more experience in the format, and with the matchups. These are just what I’m using right now, and if you think I’m doing something wrong, feel free to bring it up, because that’s an opportunity for me to learn.

Sultai Ultimatum

-4 Frost Bite

+3 Roiling Vortex

+1 Phoenix Of Ash

Frost Bite is dead in 95% of the matchups you have against Sultai, while Vortex is an excellent card, and Phoenix is fine-ish but not great. It’s going to be better than Frost Bite basically 100% of the time, however.

Something to keep in mind in this matchup is that if you cast Stomp on a Polukranos, it loses two counters and also takes two damage. This means that you can effectively answer a Poly K a bit more easily than you might think. This also means that if they cast a Wolfwillow Haven on two, and you’re holding up Stomp, you might want to consider saving it instead of sending it face if you have anything other than Bonecrusher to do on turn 3. 

You should seriously consider bringing in Akroan War in this matchup. It’s a legitimate answer to Gargaroth and Poly K, and is very good when it is good. The problem for me is that I don’t like bringing in a conditional card – I care a bit more about not having blanks than about having that specific answer. HOWEVER – there are a ton of really really good players who bring in Akroan War in the matchup. I’ve heard it from Sandydog, Juza and Ginky, among others. You should seriously consider doing it, even if I don’t. 

Naya Clarion

Naya is not a great matchup, and sideboarding against it is hard. I tend to default to the plan of just getting them with Embercleave, because we don’t really get to go late against a deck with this amount of 2 for 1s. 

-2 Javier

-2 Rimrock Knight

-1 Phoenix Of Ash

+3 Akroan War

+2 Soul Sear

Akroan War and Soul Sear are no brainers. The cuts here are kinda up to you. Javier is not great because it gets walled very easily, and is worse on defense than Fireblade Charger. Rimrock Knight is atrocious as a 3/1 against a deck that generates a bunch of 1/1 tokens, but you can use the adventure side of it to trade up occasionally, and you mostly want to go 1-2-3-4 in this matchup anyway, so that limits the amount of Rimrocks you can cut. 

There’s a ton of room for iteration on this plan – it’s very stripped down, which reflects the degree to which I want to stick to the main gameplan of the deck: play Anax, put Embercleave on it. 

Gruul

I think this is one of the worst matchups that we have, and I haven’t found an amazing sideboard plan against it. They have a lot of beef, a lot of good removal, and they sideboard in Masked Vandal, which is more or less the only card that cleanly answers Anax in the format.

-4 Javier

-2 Embercleave

-1 Phoenix Of Ash

-1 Frost Bite

-1 Fireblade Charger

+3 Akroan War

+2 Soul Sear

+2 Redcap Melee

+2 Ox Of Agonas

The upside of going against Gruul is you can at least attempt to 1-for-1 them, where Naya runs far too many cards that are inherently 2-for-1’s for me to want to attempt that. Your Redcap Melee’s are also better here than against Naya, since they can hit Goldspan Dragon and the Magda/Rimrock package if they run it. Esika’s Chariot can be a big problem for this gameplan, especially since we are cutting Cleaves. The last two cuts are definitely up for debate, and if you want to say I should cut Fireblades before cutting Javier’s, I’ve heard the same thing from some top players, so it’s definitely worth considering.

White Weenie

This is a tough matchup, but I don’t think it’s necessarily unfavored – just tough. Postboard, you transition from being an explosive aggro deck into a deck absolutely full of removal, and that’s an ok place to be as long as you are able to answer their threats. The one-drops that prevent removal from working and Hallowblade are big problems for this strategy. The problem is that I’m not sure there’s a better one. Going all in on the cleave plan doesn’t really seem plausible against Reidaine and Paulo. One thing to remember about this matchup: Stomp prevents the prevention of damage from the backside of Reidaine. 

-3 Rimrock Knight

-1 Phoenix Of Ash

+1 Shredded Sails

+1 Scorching Dragonfire

+2 Soul Sear

There’s a lot of flexibility in terms of how far you want to go with this sideboard plan. I’ve tried bringing in Akroan War, I’ve tried bringing in Redcap Melee, and it’s not necessarily awful. Redcap feels bad but you need a critical mass of removal in order to 1-for-1 them properly, so it’s worth considering, although I tend to not go that far. Rimrock comes out because it dies to everything and the front side rarely does anything, and Phoenix comes out because Maul makes it totally useless, and all their removal is exile effects.

Izzet Dragons

This matchup seems bad in theory, and if they have a good draw on the play you are going to be in big trouble. This is the only deck in the game that can answer your one drop on one and your two drop on two, courtesy of Frost Bite and whatever bad Abrade they decide to run in that slot. They have Bonecrusher, which is always bad, and Goldspan Dragon so they can run away with the game.

The deck doesn’t exactly transition well to the endgame against you, however. It needs Goldspan to live in order to start actually doing things on turns 6-7 for the most part, and that’s something to keep in mind. Normally, they beat you long before they end up casting Magma Opus, making answering their Goldspan Dragon very important, because it gives you more time to pressure them before they get to eight mana.

-4 Frost Bite

-1 Embercleave

+1 Shredded Sails

+2 Ox Of Agonas

+2 Redcap Melee

Your removal in this matchup is pretty specifically for Goldspan Dragon and Galazeth Prismari. They tend to cut counterspells against you in favor of more removal, which means that you can target winning on turn 6/7, after an early game that involved a lot of 1 for 1 trading on both sides. This is the reason for the Ox. Yes, 2 Ox and 3 Embercleave in the deck is a tough ask. I think it’s also necessary in order to make the matchup work. Sometimes it’s clunky, but it’s probably your best bet.

Rogues

Rogues is a very good matchup. Your escape creatures are obscene, and as long as the Rogues player is milling you, you’ll probably win the game. I suspect the optimal strategy from Rogues players is to stop milling you until they can lock up the game, but I don’t see a lot of them doing it, so YMMV. 

-2 Embercleave

-3 Torbran

+2 Ox Of Agonas

+1 Phoenix Of Ash

+1 Shredded Sails

+1 Scorching Dragonfire

The sideboard plan here is just taking out the cards that are clunky and get stranded when you cast an early Ox, and putting in the escape creatures that are very good. You could also probably try to cut some of the one-drops, which get a bit invalidated by their Soaring Thought-Thief. I’ve found them to be more or less fine, as getting cards onto the board before they can start countering them is important. Rimrock Knight is pretty good in this matchup – you can use it to trade with Thought-Thief, kill Crab, and generally just as a 3/1, which can attack into Crab as well.

Cycling

This is an interesting matchup, in that you have some cards that are notably bad (Rimrock Knight), but your main plan of just going 1-2-3-Cleave/Torbran is very strong against them. You can reasonably just not sideboard at all in this matchup. If they’re running Irencrag Pyromancer, you can cut Rimrocks for removal, either cutting two for Melee or four for Melee and Soul Sear. Your priority is killing their early drops, then pivoting into an aggressive stance before they can Zenith you out. Kill Fox on sight, kill Rescuer on sight, kill Pyromancer on sight. Almost nothing else they do matters, until you die to EOT Zenith Flare, Untap, Zenith Flare. The more pressure you can put on them, the more they’re forced to use Flare’s suboptimally, so you could reasonably only bring in the removal on the draw, and focus on curving out into Cleave on the play.

The Mirror

The Mono-Red mirror is a game of removal and two for ones. You end up bringing in a ton of removal postboard, which makes almost all of your two-drops terrible. I use this sideboard configuration both on the play and on the draw, but I think you could reasonably argue for cutting something other than Robber of the Rich when you’re on the play. I’ve seen tons of really good players keeping Robber in for the mirror, but I’ve found great success just sitting back and letting the action come to me.

-4 Robber Of The Rich

-4 Rimrock Knight

-1 Cleave

+3 Akroan War

+2 Ox Of Agonas

+2 Redcap Melee

+1 Phoenix Of Ash

+1 Scorching Dragonfire

One thing you’ll want to keep in mind is making sure that your removal hits the right targets. Frost Bite kills everything but Torbran, which means it’s usually not at its best when you play it on a one drop. You’d vastly prefer to use it on a two drop or a Bonecrusher. Redcap is similar – it’s your only 1 for 1 answer for Torbran, so if you think there’s a Torbran in your future, and you can avoid using Melee, you should consider it. You can also bring in Shredded Sails in this matchup, as it can be an absolute blowout against opposing Cleaves. Akroan War is worse on the draw than on the play, but it’s still yet another piece of removal, and I can’t really justify not bringing them all in. It’s not amazing in multiples, but it’s fine. 

Boros Winota

Winota is an interesting matchup, as their Plan A is similar to yours: play some dudes, play your busted turn four card, double strike people to death. I like bringing in removal in this matchup, and cutting the cards that tend to be walled off by their early plays.

-4 Javier

-3 Rimrock Knight

-1 Embercleave

+2 Redcap Melee

+2 Soul Sear

+1 Scorching Dragonfire

+3 Akroan War

Akroan War is not particularly amazing here, so if you see Glass Casket in Game 2, you can bring in Shredded Sails, although I haven’t seen it a lot. Generally, you just want to keep them off of the creatures that enable Winota, and try to position yourself so that their attacks open them up to a blowout on the crackback. I prefer Fireblade over Javier in this matchup because it can block and trade for something when doing so. Many of their creatures have 1 toughness, and that makes it a strong defensive tool. Note also that if their creatures have double strike, Fireblade will die to first strike before regular combat damage, meaning it can snipe a Paulo or a Professor before they can finish their attack. 

My Socials Because I’m A Dopamine Addict

https://twitter.com/KanyeBestMTG
https://www.twitch.tv/kanyebestmtg

I tweet decklists, videos of my best lifts at the gym (return TBD) and shitposts. I’ve been considering streaming again, so a follow there goes a long way. To keep up with any of my future writing or content, follow my twitter. 

Shoutouts: 

John Rolf, who made the list I’m using – which I have not changed a single card from – although the metagame has forced me to alter my sideboard plans from what he was using.

Sandydogmtg, who streams Mono-Red at the highest levels, and whose stream is really easy to watch at the gym because there’s no audio. 

Marcio Carvalho, whose minimalistic sideboard plan against Naya Clarion from like a month ago helped me improve the way I thought about the matchup significantly.

Aaron Gertler (Littlebeep), who invited me on his stream last week, which really got me thinking about content creation again. 

Gerry Thompson and Bryan Gottlieb, whose discord is a big reason I ended up getting medium at Magic in the first place.

Shoop, for giving this piece a once over before I posted it to make sure I didn’t sound like too much of a moron.

Conclusion

I hope that what I’ve produced here helps you to understand how to play Mono-Red well, and if you don’t like playing Mono-Red, then I hope it helps you know your enemy. I think that one of the most valuable things in Magic is simply putting the time into playing the game, so hopefully this knowledge that I’ve distilled from a few weeks degening the ladder can help you get up to par by the time the MCQW rolls around. 

Good luck!

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