It’s been a while since I’ve made any posts, and I apologize for not keeping up with the blog. Despite not writing about it, I have been very busy playing Magic and making some strides in my level of play. Since the last post, I’ve played 4 Grand Prix’s (one limited for an 11-4 finish, three standard for 9-6, 11-4, 11-4) won 3 PPTQs, top 16’d two RPTQs, and have my third RPTQ coming up.
As you can see, there have been many missed opportunities to create tournament reports, and I regret that as well. In the spirit of turning over a new leaf, I will share notes from my most recent PPTQ victory of last weekend.
The format was Standard, and my weapon of choice was Ramunap Red. Although I didn’t feel great about the deck selection (and spent a disproportionate amount of time agonizing over the decision), I went with what I knew and it paid off. Ramunap Red has been kind to me in the past, and I have a lot of experience with the deck.
That said, I did not feel happy about the Temur Energy match-up, and Temur is the most-played deck in the format. In my experience, you have to hope the Temur energy player draws poorly, or you draw great, or that they make mistakes which you can capitalize on to emerge victorious. The match-up is very close, rewarding tight play and carefully crafted game-plans, while mercilessly punishing small errors and unfamiliarity with the match-up.
With that in mind, I tuned Ramunap Red to maximize speed and mana-efficiency while reducing variance, and added a bit of spice to catch my opponent off-guard if they ever found themselves on auto-pilot. Although I believe Red is disadvantaged in the matchup, it is extremely difficult for the Temur player to navigate through the match without making mistakes, and my gameplan was designed to lure them into making those mistakes and capitalize on them.
The strategy that I’ve found the most success with is attacking the Temur life total as quickly as possible without sacrificing much board presence turns 1-4, then finishing them off with some combination of a wide board and burn spells. It is important to get ahead quickly so you can leverage a life total advantage in the mid-game when they inevitably stabilize and attempt to turn the corner on you (which they can do very quickly). Most Temur decks do not run any life gain and have very few mana sinks, so you have inevitability with the reach of your burn spells, Hazoret, and deserts if the game goes long enough, but this is all contingent upon getting ahead early and surviving the treacherous mid-game.
Beyond Temur, I expected a fair amount of decks trying to go over the top of Temur, like the various flavors of control and combo decks. Ramunap Red tends to excel against these, although I remain apprehensive about the UW God-Pharoah’s Gift deck because it is difficult to break through infinite Sacred Cats. Although a friend of mine brought it to the tournament, I did not face the deck at all and was grateful for that.
Of course I also expected a fair amount of the mirror, which is nearly as intricate as the Temur matchup, but one I felt a lot more confident about. In the mirror I have had a lot of success by keeping my curve low to the ground and making sure to stay ahead in life total. Ramunap Red is capable of explosive ten-damage turns out of nowhere as well as steady, reliable damage over the course of many turns. Therefore trading cards to preserve your life total is sometimes correct from a vantage point of as high as 15 or 16 life early on. Pretty much the only time you want to give up life points is when it would result in more lost for your opponent.
Without further ado, here is the list I brought to battle:
- 4x Bomat Courier
- 4x Earthshaker Khenra
- 2x Harsh Mentor
- 4x Hazoret the Fervent
- 2x Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- 4x Rampaging Ferocidon
- 4x Soul-Scar Mage
- 2x Abrade
- 2x Aethersphere Harvester
- 3x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
- 1x Glorybringer
- 2x Harsh Mentor
- 2x Magma Spray
- 3x Pia Nalaar
Despite bigger red decks popping up more frequently while the line between Ramunap Red and Desert Red begins to blur, I elected to keep it low to the ground and fast. To me, the reason you play mono-red is because it is the fastest and most consistent deck in the format, and I would rather amplify that edge than dilute it with main-deck cards like Chandra, Glorybringer, Sand Strangler and Dunes of the Dead.
Built to Smash – This is the strangest inclusion in the deck, but it is good precisely because no one plays around it. When you attack with a Bomat into Servant of the Conduit or Longtusk Cub, most players snap off the block, and you get to kill their creature while trampling over for 2 extra damage for only one mana. Obviously Bomat is the best use of Built to Smash, but you will also almost always find a safe spot to cast it on an unblocked creature, in which case it is just Lava Spike. The extra damage helps ensure that you get ahead early to leverage that life advantage into the mid-game, buying more time to finish them off with burn later.
Again, since no one plays around it, you can often use Built to Smash to save a creature from a burn spell during combat while punishing the opponent for an extra three damage (usually only effective if they haven’t seen it yet). Beyond that, Smash makes Soul-Scar Mage more potent since it provides another cheap way to trigger prowess and helps you double-spell early on to set up a sideways Hazoret on turn 4. Overall I was very happy with this bit of spice, but if people expect it, it becomes much worse.
No Ahn-Crop Crasher – You cannot afford to have 3-drops get clumped up in your hand in case you stumble on mana or are trying to slam a quick Hazoret. With that in mind, remember that Crasher is not a reliable threat against Temur because Whirler Virtuoso and Bristling Hydra both negate its ability, and in general Temur gums up the board with so many dorks that a falter effect is often not enough anyway. Temur and Ramunap Red (the two most popular decks) both pack Magma Spray / Shock, both of which can result in a back-breaking tempo-swing when they destroy your 3-drop for 1 mana at instant speed. Harnessed Lightning also turns a profit on Crasher for energy, which is more important than it might seem–one thopter can easily mean the difference between victory and defeat. Although Ahn-Crop Crasher is a great card, I must be mindful of the meta and today is just not its day.
4 Rampaging Ferocidon in the main – I replaced all the Crashers with Ferocidons, which is better against everything right now. Many other writers have sung its praises for the Temur matchup, and I can only echo that sentiment. It is also a must-answer threat for all of the control decks, especially against the plethora of U/W versions, attacking them on the life-gain axis that strikes at the core of their gameplan against you in a way that Ahn-Crop Crasher can never hope to. It is also much more effective against the most common hate-card for Red, Authority of the Consuls.
Just be careful with your sequencing when Kari Zev is in play and your life total is under pressure. Obviously if you are curving Zev into Ferocidon, you want to attack with Zev and then play Ferocidon second main. Often times if the game turns into a race and you have both on board, it is correct to leave Zev back on defense rather than pinging yourself by attacking.
16 Mountains, no Scavenger Grounds – This choice was made in accordance with the philosophy I laid out above, maximizing speed and consistency to attack the current meta. It is important to ensure you can double-spell whenever available to get ahead on tempo and deploy Hazoret quickly. Built to Smash increases the pressure to have red mana early, and I don’t think the extra utility of Scavenger Grounds is enough to offset the slower draws it can contribute to.
R1 – UG Pummeler
Round one my opponent went t1 Botanical Sanctum into Attune with Aether so I assumed they were on Temur, but by searching for Island instead of Mountain and then dropping an early Hashep Oasis, I was tipped off the to fact that he was actually on UG Pummeler. I know UG Pummeler pretty well because I almost chose it for this tournament. This is a good matchup for Ramunap and I won in two, but both games were very close and I managed to beat him by only one turn each time.
This matchup is a close race and the best way to win is by crunching the numbers and playing around pump/evasion spells like Larger than Life, One with the Wind, Blossoming Defense and Hashep Oasis. They don’t have removal but their creatures are generally bigger than yours so the game can turn into a board stall where you are trying to burn them out before they can combo you out. In this situation, Hazoret is critical to stabilizing against Hydras and Cubs while threatening their life total with her discard ability.
I don’t remember exactly how I sideboarded, but I brought in the extra Harsh Mentors and they were critical to my victory. I left in the Ferocidons because these decks usually bring in a black splash out of the sideboard for Cartouche of Ambition.
R2 – Esper Control
Game 1 I got off to a fast start, didn’t let up the pressure, played around Settle the Wreckage, and cast two Lightning Strikes at my opponent’s face. Game was over quickly.
-2 Abrade, -2 Built to Smash, -4 Shock, -3 Soul Scar Mage
+3 Chandra, + 2 Aethersphere Harvester, + 3 Pia Nalaar, + 1 Glorybringer, +2 Harsh Mentor
Game 2 I applied enough early pressure that he was prompted to cast Gifted Aetherborn on turn 4 while leaving up 2 mana to represent Essence Scatter / Censor on my turn. After tanking for a moment, I decided to run a Chandra into Censor to make him have it. He didn’t, so I destroyed his Aetherborn and then grinded him out over the course of a long game for the victory.
Round 3 – Ramunap Red
This was the mirror against a friend of mine. I apologize for not remembering the details (next time I will write this while it is fresher in my mind), but I won in two. Although sideboarding must be an organic process and I do not adhere to strict guidelines, here is a baseline sideboard plan for the mirror:
-4 Rampaging Ferocidon, -2 Harsh Mentor, -2 Built to Smash, -1 Shock
+2 Magma Spray, +2 Abrade, +3 Pia, +2 Harvester
Round 4 – Ramunap Red
Intentional draw against another mirror, I dipped out to go get some hearty stew at a nearby Irish pub and watch the Badger game. My best play of the day, definitely got all the value.
Round 5 – Ramunap Red
We were both locked, but played it out for seed. Don’t remember game 1, but got there. Game two I overextended and he cast Sweltering Suns (tech from last season, but was it was effective because I wasn’t ready), then he followed it up with a Hazoret. I bricked for a couple turns, and he was able to finish me off with burn a turn before I would have stabilized behind Hazoret and Aethersphere Harvester.
Game 3 I kept basically the same configuration but adjusted my playstyle. I had a fast start but was careful only to commit as many creatures to the board as was necessary to stay slightly ahead, since he seemed to be holding back for a sweeper. I held Hazoret in hand all game because I had seen him playing Hour of Devastation earlier in the day, and although I wouldn’t necessarily have expected him to bring it in for the mirror, based on the Sweltering Suns of last game and his play pattern this game it seemed correct to play around it. I spent a couple turns holding up burn and then pointing it at his face eot until he was prompted to cast Hour of Devastation on only a thopter when he was at around 10 life, at which point I finally slammed Hazoret next turn on an empty board to seal the deal.
Now I have locked 1st seed, which is the best fortune a red mage can hope for… I’m playing first every match >:)
Quarterfinals – Temur Energy
Finally, this is what we trained for! Wish I could remember more details of this match, but game one I seized a narrow victory when he swung with one too many creatures and left himself open to a desperate alpha-strike by all of my creatures plus the Khenra I had sandbagged, which resulted in a one-sided bloodbath that purged my board, but left his life total low enough to finish off with a well-placed Lightning Strike.
SB plan vs Temur on draw:
-2 Kari Zev, -2 Soul Scar Mage
+2 Abrade, +2 Harsh Mentor
I don’t remember game two very well, but I know he overpowered me with Whirler Virtuoso and Bristling Hydra, then finished me off with Confiscation Coup on the Hazoret I was hoping to stabilize with.
For game three I tried something that I have long been considering in this matchup: trimming on Hazoret and adding Chandra because it is so hard to break through their board and they run Essence Scatter / Confiscation Coup to deal with the God. Chandra is also more efficient at burning out the opponent since you don’t have to sink extra mana and cards into doing so, which is more effective against a gummed-up board after you have hit the gas on the first few turns with all your one-drops and Built to Smash. I wouldn’t want to take this configuration to battle if I were on the draw because you need to be ahead for Chandra to be a threat. I re-added the Soul-Scars to be faster, plus they become slightly better by Chandra’s presence to trigger prowess.
Here was my configuration for game 3:
+2 Harsh Mentor, +2 Chandra
-2 Abrade, -1 Hazoret, -1 Kari Zev
Game 3 was a massacre. He had a great draw, everything he could ask for, but my hand was unstoppable and I had the play. 3 one-drops in the first 2 turns, curved into Ferocion, then Hazoret turn 4, then Chandra turn 5. Yeah, he had the confiscation Coup, but it didn’t matter. GG
Paired up against the UB Control player who just knocked my friend on Ramunap Red out in the quarters. Game one I mulliganed to a fast hand and came out the gate applying as much pressure as possible because I know UB does not play sweepers. Don’t recall much more, he may have stumbled on mana, but regardless he was dead pretty quickly.
I don’t remember all the details of game 3, but I applied pressure early and then stuck a Chandra, ran him out of cards, and finished with a Glorybringer. Here is how I boarded:
-4 Soul-Scar Mage, -2 Abrade, -2 Built to Smash, -2 Shock
+3 Chandra, +1 Glorybringer, +3 Pia Nalaar, +2 Harsh Mentor, +1 Aethersphere Harvester
Why Harsh Mentor over Soul-Scar Mage? Because Ironclaw Orcs is better than Dwarven Trader, and it makes for a better topdeck later in the game when it is a must-kill threat for them in order to activate Azcanta.
Postboard the game slows down and you have to be ready to grind them out by applying steady pressure while playing around counterspells when it matters and making them trade down on their removal. Ramunap Red has incredible staying power and is able to fight much longer than most mono-red decks historically. Bomat Courier, Earthshaker Khenra, Pia, Ferocidon, Hazoret, and Chandra are all incredibly potent threats that generate value and threaten to take over the game single-handedly. Deserts are also much more effective here than against the white decks because life gain is harder for them to come by.
I frequently jam a potent threat on turn 4 even if they have all of their mana up because resolving a Glimmer of Genius or Hieroglyphic Illumination is a critical piece of their gameplan, so even if they have the counter I am still denying them the opportunity to refuel while keeping up the pressure.
Finals – Ramunap Red Mirror
My opponent was a newer player who had never top 8’ed a pptq before (same guy I played in round 5). I offered him all of the packs in exchange for the RPTQ invite, and he accepted. Sweet!