Evolution of Big Red by Thomas Clark
October 2010’s rotation totally changed my builds for Magic the Gathering competitive deck play. After successfully playing Vampires or red-black combinations for nearly a year I finally decided to use the Jace, the Mind Sculptors I had acquired. I built a white/blue control deck utilizing Sun Titans, Squadron hawks, Day of Judgment and Roc Eggs (yeah. I said Roc Eggs). The theory was get out some eggs, blow up an agro board and suddenly I have creatures and you don’t. I would equip my sword of Body and Mind to a Roc and whoop on you. If this was 1995 it might have worked. In modern parlance, however, it sounds like a bad Caw-Blade build. And it was. I am trapped in my old school thought on deck building. I had retired from active play in 1995 after winning the first and only non-DCI State Championship for New York, not returning to an FNM table until 2009. Deck construction, regrettably, had been an unfortunate casualty of this. I didn’t understand the meta-game to save my life. I was a shadow of my former self.
October also saw my return to competitive Magic with the TCG 5K at Wiz World Boston. I brought this “caw-blows” deck into the Friday night bye-qualifiers and promptly went 0-4. Frustrated, I sold the deck to a dealer and promptly bought a play set of Koth of the Hammer, a couple Kargan Dragonlords and decided to get back to basics. I had asked a friend what my problem was, he asked in return, “What was the first color you learned when you first started playing Magic?” I replied that it was red. He told me to build the best red deck you can. I said I don’t want to play red deck wins, it’s too weenie for my tastes. Then build Big Red he said. So I did.
I built it again utilizing old school build techniques. One problem mono red always had in the age of dinosaurs was its mid game slow down and land draws. I felt Valakut would solve that, allowing the land draws to damage my opponents. The Exploration Maps assisted in getting Valakut to the table as well as being another fetch. Reverberate was my ace in the hole, remembering how powerful Fork was, I played it to its best potential.
After going 4-0, I lost my next three matches (White-Blue control, red deck wins and Quest all beat me in succession) and dropped in the tournament. But the I knew the deck had potential.
The deck had a huge impact on the meta-game at my local store (Play the Game Read the Story in Syracuse, NY). Reverberate shut down Genesis Wave decks as I was copying the waves and killing people with Valakut land drops. It also helped me with counter-magic. I ran into trouble with blue/white control, black/blue control and Valakut Ramp decks. I found myself winning against the control decks about 50% of the time and Valakut destroyed me 75% of the time. The deck had to adapt.
BIG RED MARK 2:
Reverberate moved to the Sideboard. I decided it would only come in to face Genesis Wave and decks with counter-magic. The addition of the Goblin Guides assisted me in early attack advantage. The Ember Haulers added 4 more direct damage spells to fold. I added Red Sun’s Zenith for the deck’s Fireball. The changes brought me some limited success at FNM. The deck stayed consistent in its wins and losses, though.
Then Caw-Go started showing up at FNM. Once again the deck needed to adapt, and finally it found the answers to the control decks and in a better position against Valakut.
BIG RED MARK 3:
It began wrecking caw-blade decks. The main boarded Ruinblasters were key to the match up. The addition of the artifacts, especially Tumble Magnet, assured me extra turns against red protected creatures. The spheres allowed third turn Koth to hit the table. Maze helped me further deal with red protection. Valakut couldn’t handle Chandra’s wheel of fortune ability, an unexpected side effect of me wanting to have her in a red deck. Chandra Ablaze was a casual monster and deserved respect, as it wasn’t getting any competitive play.
I brought this build to the Star City Open in May. I went 4-3 then dropped after once again winning my first 4 matches, losing out to White Control, Caw-Blade and Valakut. I thought it was the end of Big Red. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing and expecting different results.
I began playing caw-blade and other variants at FNM. Red would appear on occasion, but for the most part I was fed up with it. Chandra’s new incarnation made her way into the deck. When played, I would frequently drop Koth & Chandra on the same turn. Many decks can’t handle two planeswalkers hitting the board on turn 4. But now I found myself losing to weenie decks.
The Star City Open in August gave me an opportunity to play my Caw-Blade variant (Growl-Blade aka Meow-Go, essentially Caw-Blade with main board Leonin Relic-Warders) and left Big Red in the dust after I made top eight at Game Day. I didn’t leave red home, though. It made the trip. The build I brought was this:
As you can see, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to have the new Chandra get play, bottom line. I asked my traveling buddies, Andre Seggara and Allen Terry to look at the deck and fix it. The only rule: Both Koth and Chandra had to stay in the build.
Andre started by taking out the Goblin Guides, the Geopedes and Kiln fiends. “This is BIG RED, why does it have weenies in it? Besides, do you want to keep giving decks with 25 or more lands cards in their hands?” He upped the planeswalkers to 4 each, returned the Sphere of the Suns and Everflowing Chalice to the deck, chastising me for taking them out. Allen noticed this increased our mana ratio on turn three and removed Chandra’s Phoenix from the build. “Our three drop is our 4 drop now,” he said with conviction. I then moved the Ruinblasters to the main board. We cut out a Lavamancer, added a second wurmcoil engine, then we removed the forked bolts, added Searing Blaze due to high amount of landfall in the deck. The main coup was Andre’s suggestion to add Tezzeret’s Gambit to the deck, which Allen thought was brilliant. Red lacks card draw. He and Andre ran test hands and constantly came up with consistent play in the deck.
After falling in love with the build, Andre played it at FNM at Harrison’s Comics in Salem, MA. He went 4-1, losing to a Grand Architect Deck after being mana flooded mid game.
I decided to play Meow-Go on Saturday, the deck did it’s thing at FNM (I went 3-2, however had a forced loss in round one because I took my wife to dinner. I did play a match against that opponent and won). This left the new and improved Big Red up for grabs. After hemming and hawing and almost playing a Valakut Ramp deck, Allen decided to play Big Red at the Star City Open. This is the build he brought, after making some adjustments:
BIG RED MARK 4:
The deck started the day 5-0. He ended it 7-3, one of his losses being a televised feature match against a Valakut deck. Chandra was $25 in the dealer case on Saturday. On Sunday she was $35 and we overheard people asking for Chandra all day in trading. One of our intentions was met – to finally make Chandra a viable card in standard competitive play.
We’ve since adapted the deck further. The Grim Lavamancers have left the build, replaced by Kuldotha Phoenixes. The sideboard has been adapted to better deal with Splinter Twin combo and Valakut. Other subtle changes to the mana count and number of burn spells have been made, as well. I understand a fan of the deck and friend of Allen and Andre will be playing this deck at the Grand Prix in Pittsburgh this weekend. This person has some experience playing Big Red and I wish them all the luck. We’ll keep the new build under wraps until then. Go Big Red!