Week 3: Mono-Red Hazoret
For this week’s trip in the Standard Competitive Leagues, I needed to get back to the roots of my aggro deck and rediscover its winning ways. I stripped the black splash back out and restructured the mono-red main deck. In a nod to the rise in copies of The Scarab God and Rekindling Phoenix, I added more main deck exile effects in the way of Magma Spray and Puncturing Blow. I also decided to cut the ever-underwhelming Firebrand Archers and get a little bit bigger by adding in a 2ndGlorybringer, a 2ndAethersphere Harvester, and a 3rdChandra, Torch of Defiance to the main.
And so, without further ado, I give you the edubious Standard League Streaming Adventure, Volume 3: now with more Chandra!
I kept a decent but questionably slow hand on game 1. Only one creature to cast but a few removal spells; I figured I’d at least be able to stall the game against an aggro opponent long enough to draw into some action. My opponent starts on Plains into Glacial Fortress and was able to counter my turn 2 and 3 plays keeping me from getting out to a blistering start. In retrospect, I should have played around the Censor by going with Earthshaker Khenra on turn 3 instead of Ahn-Crop Crasher. Instead I got greedy, wanting to get in some extra points of damage because I figured they were on Approach. A well timed Settle the Wreckage and some removal and counter magic from them, coupled with a little bit of top-deck flood for me, meant I had plenty of mana but ran out of gas. My opponent was able to take game 1 on the back of consecutive Approach of the Second Suns.
Sideboarding against Approach calls for getting rid of targeted creature removal and bringing in any and all creatures available in an effort to be more resilient and faster. In come the 3rdKari Zev, Skyship Raider and Glorybringer along with the 2 copies of Harsh Mentor; out go Magma Spray, Puncturing Blow and a copy of Shock.
Game 2 my opening hand of 3 lands and 2 Bomat Couriers had me excited. I have mentioned before that leading off with dual Bomats feels near unbeatable for this red aggro deck. Getting my opponent down to 7 life on turn 3 feels pretty darn good too. They were able flash in a Shielded Aether Thief on turn 4 to stop my Soul-Scar Mage from dealing too much damage, but that didn’t stop my remaining Bomat Courier from attacking in for 1 and “drawing” me an extra card every turn. I nearly made a costly play of tapping out for Hazoret the Fervent on turn 5, but realized the mistake and knew that the long term card advantage the Bomat Courier was gaining me far out-classed whatever short term gain I might have achieved from landing a Hazoret. It turns out when I went for it the next turn, my opponent had the Disallow to counter Hazoret, but I had drawn a land and was able to keep up a red to crack Bomat if necessary. A few turns later I had pinged them down to 4, then was able to finish them off with the cards I drew off the back of my earlier Bomat.
After seeing a Torrential Gearhulk in Game 2, I decided to bring in my 4thAbrade and cut the last Shock for game 3. On a mull to 5, I knew this would be an uphill battle if I wanted to win against a control deck with such a major lifegain component. In perhaps the biggest bone-head play of the match, I led with a tapped Desert of the Fervent on the draw, rather than deploy my only threat to get whatever early points of aggression in that I could. Not only did this delay my attacks by two full turns, but it also ended up costing me the ability to land a turn 4 Hazoret the Fervent with the ability to attack. I was able to stick Hazoret a few turns later and even got an attack and one discard activation in, but the 2nd attack was caught by a Settle the Wreckage. Thanks to not 1, not 2, but 3 copies of Authority of the Consuls the opponent was able to stave off my threats, gain life, and on the back of two Torrential Gearhulks, close out the game in resounding order.
Starting this game on the draw and a mull to 6, I wasn’t feeling great. However 3 mana and 3 hasty threats made it a little better. Scrying a land to the bottom, I was hoping to draw more action. Turn 1 draw gave me a 4th land. Good thing I was able to scry the first one to the bottom! My opponent led with Plains, pass, Unclaimed Territory naming Zombies…record scratch…wait, what? Well after my turn 2 play of an Earthshaker Khenra and the opponent’s draw on turn 3, I guess they had seen all they needed to and snap conceded. Or rather, I guess they didn’t want to give away any super secret tech.
Siding against an unknown gameplan is difficult, but at least I knew they were on Zombies. I brought in the copy of Silent Gravestone to shut off any graveyard recursion shenanigans. I also brought in the 2nd copy of Puncturing Blow to maximize on the exile effects. I also brought in both copies of Harsh Mentor and both copies of Dire Fleet Daredevil to give me more creatures because most Zombie decks rely on swarming. Out went the slow cards like both Aethersphere Harvesters and 2 of the Soul-Scar Mages as well as the smaller removal spells in 2 copies of Shock.
I decided to keep an awkward hand of 2 Desert of the Fervent, 2 more lands but a Glorybringer andBomat Courier as threats and, most convincingly, my silver bullet sideboard tech of Silent Gravestone. My opponent starting things off with an Authority of the Consuls definitely made me groan. Thanks to a great draw of Lightning Strike, I was able to deal with the first threat to land on my opponents side, but then no thanks to a string of lands off the top I was quickly flooding out. Because of a Fatal Push coming from the opponent I had a great excuse to crack the Bomat Courier for the 4 mystery cards underneath. Two threats and a Chandra, Torch of Defiance were MUCH better than the 3 lands and Glorybringer that I was holding. I dropped the 2 creatures to get action on board for the following turn that I would deploy Chandra. After getting my Kari Zev, Skyship Raider Fatal Pushed and drawing a Dire Fleet Daredevil, I decided to change up the gameplan and swing with Bomat Courier to start “drawing” cards. I was going to dispatch the Dread Wanderer with my opponent’s own Fatal Push out of the yard. It actually took me until watching the replay to realize why the Dire Fleet Daredevil didn’t trigger. My OWN graveyard hate tech made it so I couldn’t target any Instants or Sorceries! Next, I missed my opportunity to exile the yard with both Dread Wanderers down, then again missed the line to use Chandra to deal 4 to one of the remaining threats. I cast a 2nd Chandra out of my hand to deal 4 to the other guy and wipe my opponent’s board, then conceded and went for game 3.
I decided to bring in my 3rd copy of Kari Zev, Skyship Raider for more creature aggression and cut an Abrade for game 3. Being on the play I just wanted to be able to deploy mass threats and out swarm the zombies. On a mull to 6, I kept a middling hand of 2 lands 3 damage spells and only a single threat. I scry’d a Bomat Courier to the top and was able to cast it on turn 2, only to have it immediately Fatal Pushed (pre-attacks? A possible misplay by the opponent here to not let the top card get exiled first). Wanting to save the Dire Fleet Daredevil for maximum efficiency, I slow rolled deploying threats to the board, opting to leave up mana for my suite of removal in hand. Taking out both of my opponents Wayward Servants with damage spells, then being able to Fatal Push their Dread Wanderer felt very right. A turn 3 Radiant Destiny from the opponent told me they were out of threats. Thanks to Chandra, Torch of Defiance I was able to out card-advantage the opponent and finish them off.
On the play and on a mull to 6, I kept a 2-land hand and led with a tapped Desert of the Fervent. I wanted to ensure that I could deploy Kari Zev, Skyship Raider on turn 2. That turned out to be a great play because I didn’t draw a 3rd land until turn 5, and Kari Zev was able to put in major work. My opponent being on UW lead me to believe they were playing Approach of the Second Sun and after getting my next two 2-mana plays countered by Censor thanks to being mana-screwed, the card advantage that Search for Azcanta was putting in on the other side of the board started to feel oppressive. Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever read Renewed Faith, but I think that card was designed to give a mono-red fits. 2 mana for “draw a card, gain 2 life”. What more could a control deck want? As I was sitting there worried about Approach, my opponent eventually plays an Abandoned Sarcophagus and I now realize that this is a different monster altogether. After landing a Chandra, Torch of Defiance and getting a couple activations in, I had them down to 3 life and just needed something. Drawing an Earthshaker Khenra made me realize that there was one of those sitting in my yard, so I Eternalized that bad boy and swung, only for it to be met by Settle the Wreckage. Another Renewed Faith to go back up to 9, and my small chip damage just cant pull it out. They land a Drake Haven and start amassing an army of 2/2 Flyers that I don’t get through.
Sideboarding for this deck left me feeling clueless. I didn’t have a plan. I knew I needed flyers so Glorybringer definitely came in. I also brought in both Dire Fleet Daredevils to try to use all of those instants and sorceries against my opponent. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and both Harsh Mentors came in to add aggression and incidental damage. I brought in Vance’s Blasting Cannon to give me some sort of late game and the Silent Gravestone to combat the Sarcophagus. Out came early game removal and creatures that would be outclassed on their own in both Magma Sprays, both Shocks, and all 4 copies of Soul-Scar Mage as well as the single main copy of Puncturing Blow.
Game 2 I decided that I had too much of an advantage, so I F6’d through my first turn, costing me not only early aggression but also major card disadvantage (no this wasn’t really on purpose, just an unfortunate side effect of not concentrating on the task at hand). No matter what I did it seemed like the opponent had an answer for it, and thanks to an early Drake Haven, they were able to delay the game long enough to string together a bevy of cycling cards and overwhelm my forces with too many flyers.
I saw that I was matched up against Gaby Spartz for this round and was pretty stoked to be playing against one of Magic’s most popular personalities. I gave her a pre-game message saying that I love her work and went about my business. I mulled to 6 and kept a 3 land single threat opener, and decided to put a Shock on the bottom, instead hoping for more threats. My deck did not disappoint, however with Gaby also mulling to 6 then being stuck on a single Field of Ruin for 3 turns, she quickly conceded and we went to game 2.
Knowing that Field of Ruin is typically run in more controlling decks, I put her on UB Control and sideboarded accordingly. I brought in late game stuff like Glorybringer, Vance’s Blasting Cannons, and Primal Amulet. I decided to also bring in the Silent Gravestone to cut off a potential The Scarab God. I took out the smaller removal suite in both copies of Shock as well as the slow threats of Aethersphere Harvester. I chose not to bring in my 2nd copy of Puncturing Blow as a hedge in case I was wrong about the deck she was on.
Starting game 2 with two lands, two threats (including a hasty Bomat Courier), and 2 removal spells, I figured I was in pretty good shape. Gaby led with an Island and a Drowned Catacomb and I was very pleased to see that my wild speculation was spot on! Getting in a couple times with my early threats, while drawing just the right mix of lands and threats kept me applying pressure even though she was able to start pressing a control deck’s advantage on me. I made what feels like a very crafty play in attacking with my Earthshaker Khenra without casting spells pre-combat to get her to commit her mana to removal and allow me to cast Kari Zev, Skyship Raider post combat without the threat of it being countered. Again, figuring there was counter magic waiting in the wings, on my next turn I chose to play my Desert of the Fervent tapped and leave 4 mana up on the attack with Kari Zev. When another Vraska’s Contempt came on my end step it made me very glad that I hung on to my Hazoret the Fervent. My suspicions were confirmed a few turns later when the 1 card she had in hand ended up being an Essence Scatter to prevent Hazoret from making an impact. However thanks to a top deck Glorybringer and an apparent flood out by Gaby, I was able to close out the game.
Starting on the play with a Bomat Courier is a great feeling. When your opponent starts things off with turn 1 tapped land, it feels even better. Getting my 3 attackers Settle the Wreckaged did not feel as great and I made what probably turned out to be a mistake in cracking my Bomat Courier in response, discarding a Glorybringer, a Hazoret the Fervent, a Lightning Strike, and an Aethersphere Harvester for 4 random cards. I ended up getting a couple small threats and a couple more lands (on top of the ones that I got to go search up off the Settle). I then made another misplay in cracking Field of Ruin to allow the opponent a 3rd untapped land to cast their 2ndDisallow of the turn to nullify BOTH of my best threats. Luckily for me, after my opponent’s 3rd (yes 3rd!) Settle the Wreckage, I had enough mana to cast the Hazoret that I found off the top with Chandra, Torch of Defiance, activate Hazoret once to get my hand size down, swing for 5, then activate Hazoret a 2nd time to deal the final 2 points of damage for the win.
Sideboarding followed the same lines as match 1. Get bigger, get faster, and take out the creature removal. Starting game 2 off with a Bomat Courier gave me a nice card advantage engine that red decks just aren’t supposed to have against control decks. Getting my next two plays Essence Scattered made the card advantage all that much more important. Being able to respond to a Baffling End by pitching a couple dead removal spells and a couple lands for more action feels like winning. Deploying an Earthshaker Khenra and a Glorybringer to get my opponent down to 8 on turn 5 was nice, then making an unintuitive play by not casting my Ahn-Crop Crasher to give me 9 points of damage on the board and representing the win. What I didn’t tell you is that my opponent had 6 open mana and I didnt want to risk it being either countered or getting Settle the Wreckaged and being left with potentially nothing the rest of the game. So I swung with just the forces I had out knocking them down to 2. A turn 7 Approach of the Second Sun had my opponent tapped out and up to 9 life now, with me representing 6 damage on board. I think holding back that Ahn-Crop Crasher is what gave them the confidence to tap out to make this play and go for the win the next turn on a likely 2nd copy of Approach in hand. I dropped the Ahn-Crop next turn and swung for lethal.
This mono-red deck still feels like an unstoppable force in this era of Standard. Granted there are bad matchups, and most of the other decks have really started loading up on the utility lifegain spells. There is an undeniably obvious skew against the red aggro decks with the amount of incidental lifegain. Not only does the cycling deck that beat me play it, but so do some of the green-based decks, the obvious Vampire decks, and the new flavor of the week, a UW Auras list that runs Sacred Cat and a bunch of Auras to give them evasion and pump up the lifegain. There are still plenty of Hazorets, Chandras, and Bomat Couriers in those lists; with a 4-1 record you can’t argue with this week’s results. Taking a look at the recent 5-0 Competitive League decklists: the format is wide open.
1x Puncturing Blow
2x Aethersphere Harvester
3x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1x Blazing Volley
2x Chandra’s Defeat
1x Silent Gravestone
2x Dire Fleet Daredevil
1x Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
2x Harsh Mentor
1x Pia Nalaar
1x Vance’s Blasting Cannons
1x Puncturing Blow
1x Primal Amulet
Eric has been an avid Magic fan and player since re-discovering the game in 2012. He is a Red mage at heart but likes to confuse himself with the varying decision trees presented by mid-range and control decks from time to time. Eric plays mostly casually with his 8-year-old daughter, but manages to get out for every prerelease and a few FNM’s and GP’s every year.