Today’s article is all about the red deck. I’ll go though the various different types of red decks and the differences between them. I wont go into too much detail in the history because there is no way I could do a better job than Mike Flores. I suggest you give that article a read first.
Probably the weirdest thing about the red decks is how people blindly label them all the same thing. The common labels that get thrown around incorrectly are Sligh, Red Deck Wins, and Ponza. Goblins is the other deck I’ll cover but it tends to be a bit more obvious and doesn’t get mislabeled like the others.
I’ll go over the oldest deck first. That deck is Jay Schneider’s Geeba deck piloted by Paul Sligh. This deck was eventually named after the person who was successful with it and is now known as Sligh.
Sligh - 1996 Type 2
That deck looks like a piece of crap doesn’t it? Goblins of the Flarg in the same deck as Dwarven Lieutenant and Dwarven Trader? One random Shatter and a Detonate? This is a weird deck for sure. One thing to keep in mind is that at the time you were forced to use 5 cards minimum from each legal set which explains some of the oddities (though not all of them).
Something even more important about this deck is that it is nothing like the decks people call Sligh now days. This isn’t an all-out aggro weenie rush strategy deck. This is much more of an aggro control deck. It is about board control. It uses burn and cards like Brothers of Fire and Orcish Artillery to control the board while it attacks with a few little men. So what deck do we normally think of when someone says Sligh? That would be the next aggressive red deck to pop up, Deadguy Red.
Deadguy Red - 1997 Type 2
This deck, played by David Price, is the aggressive weenie deck that most people think of when they talk about Sligh. It was amazing against the Necro decks that dominated at the time. Decks like this were at their best during Tempest/Mirrage type 2 where they looked something like this.
Deadguy Red - 1998 Type 2
This deck was called Sligh by practically everyone during this era but was not really a Sligh deck. It was much more of a Deadguy Red deck. It eventually got even more aggressive and dropped Hammer of Bogardan and started running Giant Strength to combat Bottle Gnomes.
Another red deck that popped up later is Ponza. This deck typically runs a bunch of dudes and some land destruction. The deck is pretty good in a very control heavy metagame but land destruction is historically weak against aggro. The past versions running Wildfire had much more game against the average aggro deck than many of the versions around today. In the current standard the deck is good against Tooth but is pretty crappy against everything else, making it a poor choice. I don’t want to cover this one too much so I’ll move on to some other red decks.
Next up is Red Deck Wins.
Red Deck Wins - Extended
Rather than using cards like Stone Rain to disrupt mana bases, Red Deck Wins uses things like Rishadan Port, Wasteland, and occasionally Tangle Wire. The strongest part of this deck is its ability to punish a deck with a less than stellar draw. It is slower than other red decks like Goblins but makes up for that with disruption. The fetchlands not only thin the deck of land but also power up Grim Lavamancer. The Lavamancer and Cursed Scroll give the deck the ability to win without ever attacking which comes up quite often.
The last red deck I’ll be looking at is Big Red.
Big Red - Standard
This deck is actually quite amazing and Flores claims it to likely be the best deck in Standard right now. It has game against practically every tier 1 Standard deck. Osyp ran this Flores design (well one card away from it) in the Standard portion of the Invitational to a 3-0 record (despite being in last place). I’ve tested it a bit as well and it is indeed quite solid.
I’ve heard a lot of people claiming red aggro decks like Deadguy Red or Sligh are brainless to both build and play and require no skill. I used to believe this to be true as well but given more exposure to the archetype have developed much more respect for it. First reading articles by people like Flores or Dan Paskins who love these types of decks and often talk about the deeper strategies involved in both building and playing the decks gave me the curiosity that they might not be as brainless as they seemed. The real proof though came in watching pro tour coverage, specifically Masashiro Kuroda playing red decks. The things I have seen him do with the red deck are nothing short of amazing. I’ve seen him overcome turn 1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath. I’ve seen opponents cast Chill on turn 2, 3, and a third on turn 4 against his mono red deck and watch him win anyway. In his hands the deck is a beautiful thing to watch and brings me a great respect for it I never had before. David Price may be known as the King of Beatdown but Kuroda turns it into an art form. I’m sure I’ve seen some more amazing things from him at some Extended tournament in which he played Red Deck Wins but I can’t remember what tournament that was so if you want to see Kuroda in action I’ll either point you to the Invitational coverage (in which he only did slightly above average) or the video coverage for Pro Tour Kobe at the tournament dominated by Affinity and the brand new 12-Post deck (Just known as Tooth in Standard since most of those versions run the Urzatron over Cloudpost).
I was going to finish by building a red deck for Standard but after playing around with it I determined that mine would really just be the same as Flores Big Red with only a few cards changed (I don’t like the random Two-Headed Dragon / Sowing Salt depending on the version you look at and in testing Shrapnel Blast was unkind to me).