Primer: Mono Red in Pioneer

Pioneer Mono Red Primer

Mono Red Frenzy & Mono Red Burn

Author: Zen Takahashi

Hello everybody!

As you may know from my recent articles, I have been playing a lot of Pioneer over the past few weeks, as the majority of the Regional Championships Qualifiers in my area have been Pioneer. In addition to the Mono Blue Spirits deck that I wrote about last month, the other archetype I have been playing a lot of is Mono Red! 

I had previously written about how to build Mono Red decks in Pioneer, but in today’s article I will instead be going in depth into two versions of the archetype – Mono Red Frenzy and Mono Red Burn. Mono Red Frenzy was the deck I played at the very first RCQ of the season, which I managed to come out victorious, while Mono Red Burn was the deck I played in my most recent RCQ.

Mono Red Frenzy

Burning With Experience

Chandra, Dressed to Kill VOW

Starting off with the more exciting of the two versions, this Mono Red Frenzy deck is what I played to take down the first RCQ in Auckland a few weeks ago. This deck was put together by Anthony Lee, one of Australia’s top players and a co-host of the new podcast Competitive Magic with the Karnies, which he does alongside Andrea Mengucci and Javier Dominguez (check them out, it’s awesome!).

Around the time he put this together, we were both playing a lot of red decks on Magic Online. My biggest issue with the traditional Burn version of the deck (which at the time was playing a playset of Chandra, Dressed to Kill), was just how bad the Rakdos Midrange matchup was. I really wanted to fix the matchup, but I couldn’t figure out how without playing “bigger” cards that didn’t quite work with the deck’s low land count and the plan didn’t play well with cards like Skewer the Critics also being in your deck.

However, one key takeaway from my time playing the Devotion version was the strength of Experimental Frenzy against Rakdos Midrange.

At the time, we were trying a build without Eidolon of the Great Revel as it played poorly with Burning-Tree Emissary, which then let us play the four-mana enchantment. The card was great in the matchup, and it felt like if we were able to resolve the card, we were going to win more often than not. The second key discovery we made around this time was finding Mutavault as I did a Gatherer-search for all red and colorless cards in the format. We wanted to play a higher land count to support the Frenzy, and Mutavault did a fantastic job of bridging that gap between playing more lands while still having flood insurance. Since we were not going to be playing Eidolon of the Great Revel, we could support playing colorless lands.

After this, we tried a number of lists that maximized Experimental Frenzy and Mutavault to varying degrees of success.

The two cards definitely improved the Rakdos Midrange matchup to be about even, but it often did feel clunky, like the Devotion lists.

Still, I preferred it to the Devotion version because Experimental Frenzy was so great against ground-based creature decks like Mono White Humans and Rakdos Sacrifice, which were increasingly becoming popular.

Ultimately, we had a core idea of how we wanted to build the deck (no Eidolon of the Great Revels, three Experimental Frenzy and two Hazoret the Fervent in the 75, twenty-five lands with four Mutavault), but we couldn’t quite figure out the final slots.

This is where Anthony came in and sorted it out.

He pointed out that Mutavault was a Wizard, which meant we could support Wizard’s Lightning, which is the best burn-spell in the format, without having to play bad cards like Ghitu Lavarunner (though we did still have to play two copies of Viashino Pyromancer). He also revisited the old combo of Runaway Steam-Kin and Experimental Frenzy from back in Standard, which we liked a lot against decks without much removal spells.

Finally, at some point we noticed that the only double-red cards in the deck were two copies of Chandra, Dressed to Kill in the sideboard, which were somewhat underwhelming anyway, so we cut them for Jegantha, the Wellspring. The companion was fantastic for me, and it single-handedly won me two games at the RCQ. 

Mono Red Burn Deck

Mono Red Burn

Burn with a Twist

This is the current stock version of Mono Red, and it is what I played at my most recent RCQ, where I went 3-1 before conceding a friend into Top 8 as he was not qualified yet. I had played a lot of the Burn version of the deck around June/July as I really enjoyed playing the deck, but ultimately I felt the Rakdos Midrange matchup was too bad, and I went on to explore other Red builds, as discussed above. 

However, since then the deck has changed as it cut the full playset of Skewer the Critics and Chandra, Dressed to Kill, and swapped them out for a full playset of Lightning Strike and Goblin Chainwhirler in their slots.

While this change seems minor as you’re swapping out one three-damage burn-spell for another, and one three-drop threat for another, I actually think both these simple changes made the deck a lot better. 

Goblin Chainwhirler DOM

It is obvious that Goblin Chainwhirler is better than Chandra, Dressed to Kill against decks like Mono Green Devotion and Mono White Humans.

However, what I initially underestimated was just how good the Goblin was against everything else.

Against Rakdos Midrange, it’s a threat that can attack through Graveyard Trespasser and Bonecrusher Giant, while against control it can come in and finish off The Wandering Emperor in the second main-phase. It also combines well with Soul-Scar Mage and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell.

Without Chandra, Skewer the Critics became too bad, and personally I think the card was likely worse than Lightning Strike anyway without the planeswalker. Being an instant matters too much, especially when you have eight prowess creatures.

Frenzy or Burn?

Overall, I think whether you play the Frenzy version or the Burn version is mostly a metagame decision. I think that the Frenzy version is better against black-based midrange decks and ground-based creature decks, so I would say it is better against Rakdos Midrange, Mono White Humans and Rakdos Sacrifice.

On the flip side, I think the Burn version is better against control decks, matchups where Eidolon of the Great Revel is good and matchups where having multiple four-drops is clunky. Therefore, I would say it is better against Blue-White Control, Abzan Greasefang, Boros Heroic, Izzet Phoenix, Mono Green Devotion and Mono Blue Spirits.

The key point to takeaway here though is that the Frenzy version makes your worst matchup better (the Rakdos decks) at the cost of making your good matchups worse.

Whether that trade-off is worth it is up to you – though I am confident that this Frenzy version is better at this trade-off than the Devotion version.

Eidolon of the Great Revel A25

Matchup Guide: Rakdos Midrange

Rakdos Midrange is a tough matchup, as they have a lot of removal spells backed by creatures such as Graveyard Trespasser and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, which both gain life and are difficult to kill. 

The plan in this matchup is to be aggressive, as they are favored in the long-game. However, they tend to be quite good at handling your early creatures unless you have a strong draw, which means that you usually require one of your four-drops (Hazoret the Fervent and/or Experimental Frenzy) to close out the game after your early start. 

This is the matchup where the Frenzy version shines the most. Experimental Frenzy is great in the matchup as they cannot kill it unless they play Invoke Despair, and it usually generates enough card advantage to overwhelm your opponent. However, even with the Frenzy version I feel like this matchup is only about even, while for the Burn version it’s definitely unflavored. For the Burn version, Hazoret the Fervent is definitely the best card in the matchup. 

Graveyard Trespasser MID

Matchup Guide: Mono Green Devotion

This matchup is always scary to play against, but I’ve only lost to it twice in eleven matches between the two versions. The games often feel close, and it feels like you need to topdeck to win, but generally you have a lot of outs in that spot.

The key is to definitely be as aggressive as possible.

The games you win tend to involve you dealing the first twelve to fourteen damage via being aggressive on the board, before they then gum up the board with big creatures, but you can cast two or three burn spells to finish them off. Due to this gameplan, Old-Growth Troll is the most problematic card from them, hence I prefer to play the full playset of Lava Coil instead of cards like Burning Hands. In pre-board games, the Troll can be an issue, so you want to try to kill it when you have an Etching of Kumano in play (this also applies against Arclight Phoenix). 

The Burn version is definitely more favored here simply because it is more aggressive and Goblin Chainwhirler is great against them. The Frenzy version is still favored, especially as it plays more burn spells, but the four-drops aren’t good in this matchup.

Old-Growth Troll KHM

Matchup Guide: Blue-White Control

Overall, Blue-White Control is one of your best matchups.

They cannot handle your early aggression very well as their cheap removal is limited and Censor is easy to play around. Once you get them to a low enough life total, it’s easy to close out the game with a combination of your burn spells, Den of the Bugbear and Ramunap Ruins.

The key to this matchup is to just be as annoying as possible and make sure their cards don’t line up well against yours. This includes trying to cast two spells on the turn they leave up Absorb, playing around Supreme Verdict by timing your Kumano Faces Kakkazan well, and not attacking with your Hazoret the Fervent into The Wandering Emperor

Both versions are favored against Blue-White Control, but the Burn version is definitely better. The more aggressive you are the better, and Eidolon of the Great Revel shines here while the four-drops can often feel clunky in the Frenzy version. That said, having access to Mutavault is fantastic for this matchup.

Matchup Guide: Abzan Greasefang

Although Abzan Greasefang has been popular online, I have only played against the deck twice, so my experience is fairly limited. My gut instinct is that the matchup is good, especially post-board when we get access to Rending Volleys. 

I think the plan in the matchup is to try to be as aggressive as possible in the first few turns, and then try to hold up a removal spell for Greasefang, Okiba Boss. Even if they don’t have Parhelion II in their graveyard, you should hold up a removal spell as they can easily Grisly Salvage at the end of your turn or Thoughtseize themselves on their turn and follow it up with the motorcycling creature. 

Both versions of the deck should have a good matchup here. While the Burn version has fewer ways to kill the namesake creature, Eidolon of the Great Revel is huge in the matchup. On the flip side, the Frenzy version is more clunky with multiple four-drops and Runaway Steam-Kin being a liability against Witherbloom Command, but it also has seven instant-speed answers to the legendary creature in the maindeck. 

Post-board, just be aware that they sideboard into multiple removal spells and Graveyard Trespasser

Matchup Guide: Boros Heroic

This matchup is always scary to play against, but I have found it to be favorable overall.

Similar to other creature decks, you play as a control deck here. Your main priority is to deal with their creatures, as if you don’t handle that, they can quickly assemble a kill – especially with Favored Hoplite. However, you also cannot just sit back and react to them – it is important that you apply pressure as it then forces them to act, as otherwise you just give them too much time to set up with multiple protection spells. 

Since their creatures can become big and out of burn-range quickly, you do need to kill their creatures fairly quickly, though just make sure you play around Gods Willing. Remember that Bonecrusher Giant can make damage not preventable, which allows you to kill Favored Hoplite, but this generally comes up with either multiple burn spells or killing another creature and hence removing Hoplite’s protection in the process e.g. double blocking a Favored Hoplite then casting Stomp on another one of their creatures, allowing you to kill the Hoplite in combat. 

Gods Willing STX

Matchup Guide: Izzet Phoenix

Alongside Rakdos Midrange, I believe that this is the second matchup where the two versions have a measurable difference in how they’re positioned.

Although the Frenzy version is better against Rakdos Midrange thanks to its ability to grind better with its expensive cards, these same cards actually pose a big liability against Izzet Phoenix. 

This may not seem intuitive as you would expect cards like Experimental Frenzy and Hazoret the Fervent to be good against Izzet Phoenix. And in a vacuum, they are. The problem is that with the Frenzy version of the deck, you simply have too many of these expensive cards, and they often just glut up in your hand. Now this is fine against Rakdos Midrange because they can’t generate a lot of card advantage quickly as their wins generally come from building up lots of incremental card advantage.

However, Izzet Phoenix is the opposite – the deck does everything it can to keep up for the first few turns and not fall too far behind, before just burying you with multiple Treasure Cruises and setting up Galvanic Iteration with Temporal Trespass.

Against this plan, the lack of aggression from the Frenzy version means that Izzet Phoenix can get to its late-game plan with ease, and their late-game generates more card advantage than Experimental Frenzy

In this matchup, the best plan is simply to be as aggressive as possible. Pressure them as hard as you can and try to kill them before they’re able to start chaining their delve spells. Eidolon of the Great Revel is the best card in the matchup, and not having it is a big reason why the Frenzy version is that much worse here.

Arclight Phoenix GRN

Matchup Guide: Mono White Humans

This matchup is similar to Boros Heroic where we play as the control deck, though they go wide with creatures as opposed to Boros Heroic, where they go tall by going all-in on one creature. Still, like Boros Heroic, you tend to want to kill their key creatures on-sight or else cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Thalia’s Lieutenant and Luminarch Aspirant will get out of hand. 

This matchup is great for both versions of the deck, but for different reasons. I think the Frenzy version is better overall – Experimental Frenzy is incredible in the matchup, as it lets you just overwhelm the board with creatures and lets you dig deep into all your removal spells. If you can cast Frenzy onto a board that’s at parity, you’re near-certain to win. Runaway Steam-Kin is also good in the matchup as it can quickly grow into a 4/4 which outsizes most of their creatures, while the mana ability lets you go off with Experimental Frenzy. With the Burn version, you do have some underwhelming cards like Eidolon of the Great Revel and Light Up the Stage, but then you also have four copies of Goblin Chainwhirler which places second behind Experimental Frenzy for being one of the best cards against them. Post-board, you also have access to four copies of Rending Volley

The matchup plays out fairly straight forward, especially as their deck has so much redundancy. The one card you need to always be mindful of is Brave the Elements, as it can act as both a protection spell and a way to set up a lethal attack.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben SLD

Matchup Guide: Mono Blue Spirits

Similar to the Boros Heroic and Mono White Humans matchup, we want to play the control role, though the execution is slightly different. As mentioned above, against both the white-based creature decks, you generally want to kill their creatures on-sight.

However, against Mono Blue Spirits, you instead want to sit back and wait for them to act first before you respond. 

Since most of their creatures are 1/1s or 2/2s, they’re not threatening unless they’re combined with Curious Obsession and/or Supreme Phantom. You do not want to kill their creatures on-sight as they’ll still then have these key cards in hand that they can deploy later.

On the other hand, they’ll try to play these cards in a spot where they have protection for it as well in the form of Rattlechains or a counterspell, so the key is to ignore their small, irrelevant creatures and then engage in a counter-war over their key cards as likely you will need two, or even three, removal spells to get through their protection. However, it is all worth it as if you can deal with these two cards, the rest of their deck is mostly air.

In this matchup, more so than against the two white decks, it is really important that you have pressure early on in the game, as otherwise they can just take it slow and play out their cards with multiple protection spells. I almost treat this matchup closer to Abzan Greasefang, where you want to be as aggressive as possible in the first two or three turns, then spend the rest of the game holding up removal spells. Since they do not have any removal spells, if you can start the game early with multiple one drops and/or an Eidolon of the Great Revel with removal up, it’s difficult for them to make their way into the game. 

Rattlechains SOI

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this article, as I covered in depth two versions of Mono Red in Pioneer – Mono Red Frenzy and Mono Red Burn! I believe that both versions of the deck are solid choices, and which list you play largely comes down to metagame considerations.

Personally, I think Mono Red Frenzy is the better choice right now with the popularity of Black-Red Midrange and Mono White Humans, but if decks like Izzet Phoenix and Mono Green Devotion pick up again, then I think Mono Red Burn would be the preferable choice. 

I am also really excited to see how Dominaria United will impact Pioneer! The reprinting of Liliana of the Veil is sure to have a significant impact, but personally I’m excited to try Jaya, Fiery Negotiator in the red decks. There are already many good options in the four-drop slot and there are only so many you can play, but Jaya seems to do everything you want, and I can see it potentially being a powerful addition to the deck! 

Till next time!

Zen Takahashi

@mtgzen on Twitter 

About the Author

Zen Takahashi is a seasoned writer and mainstay on the Three for One Trading writing team. He is an avid Eternal player from Auckland, New Zealand and enjoys competing in local Legacy events and playing Old School over webcam with friends.

Previously, he was a Silver Pro for multiple years and his results included five Grand Prix Top 8s, a 27th place at Pro Tour Amonkhet, three consecutive online Regional PTQ wins, and he co-created the Modern Dredge deck.

Nowadays though, he primarily plays Legacy, his favorite format, but he also branches out into Pioneer and Modern.

Zen Takahashi

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