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Winning a standard WPNQ with mono-red

Ross is off to Brussels! Ross Broxup from Team LilianaMarket won a standard WPNQ last weekend with mono-red. In this blogpost he discusses the deck, the WPNQ and how he feels mono-red is positioned going forward.

On Saturday 23rd I competed and won Brighton Dice Saloon’s WPNQ playing Mono Red, earning myself an invitation and travel expenses for the Player’s Tour in Brussels, Belgium in February 2020.

In the weeks building up to the event I had been practising and re-learning the Standard format with the help of my friend Alex O’Prey. It had been almost 2 years since I had last felt inspired and motivated enough to try and break into the competitive scene of MTG again. With the recent changes to the organized play structure I felt reinvigorated to at least try; and it paid off.

Deck Selection

With Oko, Thief of Crowns banned earlier in the week, along with Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer, the format benefited from a fresh breath of air, and the possibility of new strategies as well as re-visiting existing strategies previously punished by Oko. I expected the weekend would see lots of Fires of Invention, Oven-Cat and Rakdos Dino-Cleave. With this in mind I considered three different decks: G/B Adventures; Esper Stax; and Mono Red. 

I felt G/B Adventures hadn’t quite found its target yet. Oven-cat decks were able to go longer, able to control the board effectively with Mayhem Devil in the red black variants, and pack strong sideboard cards like Massacre Girl, Casualties of War and Garruk, the Cursed Huntsman; making them the stronger midrange deck. I also felt the Fires of Invention match up was tough; the sideboard package of 4 Duress and 3-4 Thrashing Brontodons isn’t enough to beat Fires unless you have an aggressive opening hand with Lovestruck Beasts and Questing Beasts. The matchup against Rakdos decks felt positive though.

Esper Stax seemed promising but I hadn’t played nearly enough matches to feel confident with it. I wasn’t certain about its oven-cat match as well. Whilst it has some tools to combat Fires of Invention, I couldn’t imagine a strong game on the draw against Rakdos aggro.

Mono red is ultimately what I decided on for the weekend. I took Aaron Barich’s list from Twitch Rivals and played some ladder on Arena. I quickly realised that not nearly enough decks were ready to compete with the burn-heavy Mono Red. At the speed of which online decks evolve, I knew that the paper tournament at the weekend would be totally unprepared. My only concerns were G/B adventures and Simic Ramp. G/B Adventures have the perfect tools to shut down Mono Red, especially the Questing Beast versions. Beating Simic Ramp is more manageable, with a strong start.

I briefly considered Aaron’s second list, they scored a 5-0 league win with on MTGO. This version had 4 Embereth Paladin, Legion Warboss and Embercleave by cutting down on the burn. I’m very interested in trying this in the future but with a lot of decks respecting Rakdos Knights with effective anti-creature strategies, I don’t think creature-heavy Mono Red is safe yet.

Here’s a link to the list I settled on.

Round by Round

Round 1 (Rakdos Sacrifice): Game 1 I utilized Shock and Bonecrusher Giant to clear the way for my creatures to pile in enough damage that I could end the game with a flurry of burn. Game 2 I couldn’t answer a Mayhem Devil and lost. Game 3 was very similar to game 1 with the exception of a missed lethal by me and a clear lesson I can take away! The opponent being empty handed had resolved a Cavalier of Night against my Scorchspitter and Fervent Champion. I have a Lava Coil in hand, Embereth Castle in play and an opponent at 2 life. My plan being to trade a creature and Lava Coil, and push the game through. I attack, my opponent blocks a Scorchspitter. This catches me off guard and I miss tapping my Embereth Castle for lethal with first strike damage. I had been too focused on my game plan to capitalise on a mistake could – and did – make. Luckily, I went on to win anyway.

Round 2 (Mardu Knights): Game 1, my opponent received a game loss for a deck registration error. In game 2 I lose, overwhelmed by stronger creatures and synergy. Game 3 I lived the dream, casting an Embercleave from an Experimental Frenzy; 3-for-1ing my opponent after blocks, and crash through for the win.

Round 3 (Rakdos Aggro): Game 1 I Mono Red it all the way and win! Game 2 I’ve facing down double Rotting Regisaur on turn 4. I untap after taking 7 and Bonecrusher Giant and Slaying Fire away one of them. The following turn I trade a Bonecrusher Giant and Rimrock Knight pump for his remaining Rotting Regisaur. We both brick a few turns until I draw Chandra, Acolyte of Flame into Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and run away with the game from 2 life.

Round 4: We ID.

Round 5: My opponent offered an ID. I had to think hard about the implications of playing or drawing. I knew he was playing Temur Reclamation. My strongest match up. Winning this round would put me first seed and on the play for the top 8. Nevertheless, I opt to ID for a tactical nap in the car.

Quarter-finals (Mono White): This was the only deck in the top 8 I hadn’t actually seen played out during the Swiss rounds (an advantage of mono-red being finishing fast and scoping out the competition). Game 1 I’m on the play and do Mono Red things backed up by Shock. Game 2 a crucial sideboard Fry takes out an opposing Gideon Blackblade. This was an interesting game. Being able to effectively use Fervent Champion + Rimrock Knight’s pump, Shock and Bonecrusher Shock means an attacking or blocking Fervent Champion is a very real threat. Game 2 ended with me on 3 life and my opponent on 1. It was a real-close exciting game, with lots of important decisions.

Semi-Finals (4 colour Oven-Cat): The semi finals was very tough. I was on the draw against 4c Oven-cat. The games ended 2-1 in my favour, I’m not sure of the details for individual games.  I do remember mulligans on both sides into game 3, with a turn 2 Rotting Regisaur from my opponent certainly setting off alarm bells. I fight through it with Slaying Fire + Shock again after taking 2 hits from it. I remember losing one of the games when my opponent had Ethereal Absolution on board against my Runaway Steam-Kin with 3 counters and Experimental Frenzy. I punted the lethal late in the game due to my tunnel vision on Ethereal Absolution by not activating Runaway Steam-Kin to make 3 mana for a lethal Bonecrusher Giant on adventure. Despite the tactical car nap, tiredness got to me. 

Finals: After I finish my semi finals game, I look up and see the Temur Reclamation player waiting for me. Yo, I’m hyped, this is my best match up! I’m unsure if it would have affected things but I’m real glad I ID’d earlier in the day now. I take the game out in a quick 2-0, the opponent using effective mulligans to 5 and 5 to find interaction, but it wasn’t enough.

Going Forward

I’m not certain playing Mono Red will be correct going forward. Since the weekend I’ve already noticed opponents on the Arena ladder being more prepared and I’m sure this will follow in paper given a week or 2. However, the deck is obviously effective against strategies that are focusing on reaching late into the game or decks that lack efficient removal. The burn spells are a nice nod towards decks relying too much on Murderous Rider and painful mana bases. The reach of cards like Fervent Champion, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, and the value of the adventure cards are also really effective in extending the resources that Mono Red has available.

To hear more about Ross and the rest of the team’s adventures, follow @TeamLiliMarket