I registered good ol’ faithful Monored for PT: Dominaria. That has been the deck I’ve been most comfortable with in the past few months, and a deck I believed to be strong against BR Midrange, the de facto best and most popular deck in the format. But I was surprisingly close to scorning my Hazorets in favor of some sweeter strategies. In this article we’ll explore some of the decks I worked on in the days leading up to PT Dominaria, what they do well, and why I ultimately decided not to play them.
The Flame of Keld
4 Bomat Courier 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Soul-Scar Mage 3 Hazoret the Fervent 3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider 4 Lightning Strike 4 Shock 2 Abrade 4 The Flame of Keld 21 Mountain 3 Fanatical Firebrand 4 Flameblade Adept
Sideboard: 3 Walking Ballista 2 Chandra's Defeat 3 Fight with Fire 1 Magma Spray 2 Abrade 1 Mountain 3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance Let’s start with the brew that’s closest to what I ended up playing. I tried a lot of different one-drop configurations. I tried playing Wizard’s Lightning and Ghitu Lavarunner, I tried playing more Fanatical Firebrands, I tried lots of Rigging Runners, but I finally ended up on playing lots of Flameblade Adepts. The adept is mostly there because it has menace, but there will be a game every once in a while where you really use its ability to grow from The Flame of Keld, Bomat Courier, or Hazoret to deal the final points of damage.
Why would we want to play this kind of deck over traditional Monored? Well, The Flame of Keld is an extremely powerful card, but it comes at a big cost. Even more so than Hazoret, The Flame of Keld wants you to dump your hand. As fast as possible. Otherwise, when you cast the flame, then you’re going to be discarding a nonzero amount of cards, which is pretty clearly bad for you. It pays you off by giving all your sources a huge damage boost in its final chapter. I’ve won quite a few games by casting everyone’s favorite chain-whirling goblin during the final chapter. I’ve killed opponents from 17 by just attacking, and I’ve also defeated them by pointing burn at their face, lethal even though they were at as high as 10 life! Unfortunately, I’ve also drawn two Mountains off The Flame of Keld and then had a very unimpressive final chapter turn. The randomness of the flame makes it hard to determine how good the card is, because sometimes it lets you win games you could never otherwise come close to winning, and sometimes it clogs your hand and feels more like Tormenting Voice. I think on average the powerful turns happen enough more frequently than the mediocre turns that the card is good.
The reason I ended up not playing with it at the PT is because on top of the inherent randomness of the card itself, it causes you to build your deck in a very particular way. Because you have to dump your hand so fast, you need to be playing with more one-drops and cheaper cards than the traditional Monored decks. Because you want to have good cards during the final chapter, you want to reduce your land count to have a higher threat density. This means that you have to play some bad cards because one-drops 9-12 are not very good in Red, but even more troublesome you do not have the ability to “go big” post board like traditional Monored. Glorybringer and Chandra are ridiculously good cards, and losing the ability to play lots of them in your sideboard is a big hit.
4 Baral, Chief of Compliance 3 Merfolk Trickster 4 Tempest Djinn 2 Naru Meha, Master Wizard 1 Essence Scatter 4 Wizard's Retort 2 Negate 3 Blink of an Eye 3 Unsummon 4 Chart a Course 3 Censor 22 Island 1 Glyph Keeper 1 Walking Ballista 3 Opt
Sideboard: 2 Cryptic Serpent 2 Negate 2 Kefnet's Last Word 3 Aether Meltdown 2 River's Rebuke 3 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 Glyph Keeper Tempest Djinn is another card that has really impressed me. It is non-trivially difficult to kill as it survives Abrade, Lightning Strike, and often even Fatal Push. It is a great blocker, as it has flying and the 4 toughness allows it to block basically any two-drop other than Heart of Kiran and most three-drops. It also kills the opponent very quickly. I’ve seen it before in shells based around small blue aggressive creatures with Favorable Winds, but those decks seemed too weak to Chainwhirler to me. In this deck, you can play much more of a protect-the-djinn subgame, where you stall your opponent with counterspells and bounce spells just long enough for the djinn to kill them.
One reason this deck really appealed to me is that the popular midrange decks in Standard have a ton of four and five mana sorceries in them. They are filled to the brim with Glorybringers, Phoenixes, Karns, Hazorets, Chandras, etc, and these cards are pretty weak to counterspells or Unsummons. If you can keep your opponents best haymakers off the table, it’s not too difficult to find just enough tempo to kill them. I also like this deck because it’s just very tricky and fun to play. I had some really sweet plays getting into counterspell wars with control decks and then casting Blink of An Eye on a Seal Away hiding my Naru Meha in order to win the war. I’ve also eaten a large number of Bomat Couriers and Soul-Scar Mages with the humble Merfolk Trickster.
I chose not to play this deck at the PT because even though Merfolk Trickster gives you a chance to kill Bomat Courier and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, it is fairly unreliable and the deck is pretty soft to cards like that. Cheap creatures that get under counterspells and generate card advantage are really strong against this strategy. I thought that both would be very popular (only one was, but it was VERY popular), and I thought it was a little too much of a gamble to play this deck. The margins are all very thin and every win feels like you really have to work for it, and while I was doing really well in MTGO Leagues, I wasn’t sure that my opponents at the PT would fall for my trickery so easily.
Karn’s Temporal Sundering
3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade 3 Weatherlight 4 Karn's Temporal Sundering 4 Aether Hub 3 Merfolk Branchwalker 3 Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain 3 Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter 3 Pia Nalaar 3 Abrade 4 Botanical Sanctum 5 Forest 4 Rootbound Crag 3 Mox Amber 1 Island 2 Spirebluff Canal 2 Hinterland Harbor 3 Baral, Chief of Compliance 1 Mountain 1 Skittering Surveyor 1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship 4 Servant of the Conduit
Sideboard: 2 Jaya's Immolating Inferno 1 Abrade 4 Negate 2 Spell Pierce 2 Chandra's Defeat 2 Deathgorge Scavenger 2 Magma Spray When I first read Karn’s Temporal Sundering, I did not think it was a very good card. Six mana is a lot of mana, and you get a single extra turn and you get to bounce something? Unsummon only costs one mana, and Time Warp costs five. It didn’t seem like we were getting a discount from the Legendary part at all. Then I actually played against the card, and I became suitably impressed. As I said in the earlier deck, people are playing with tons of expensive permanents. Four and five mana planeswalkers and creatures are pretty common to see. If that’s the metagame you’re playing in, then Karn’s Temporal Sundering is a lot more like double time walk than single time walk.
I tried the legendary sorcery in a number of different decks, but the one I liked best was a Temur version with mana creatures to try to accelerate the Temporal Sundering. I even tried Song of Freyalise along with Saproling Migration in a previous version. Sundering combos nicely with Song, accelerating the final chapter which boosts your damage output considerably, but I ended up deciding that it was a little too unreliable and Saproling Migration was too soft to Goblin Chainwhirler. This deck also features Weatherlight, which is excellent at chaining together Karn’s Temporal Sunderings. The first one clears the way for Weatherlight to attack, and then you get to look at eleven extra cards in order to try to find another copy of Time Walk. Jhoira also helps you accumulate cards to use with Song or helps you find Sundering. Almost every card in the deck is historic, so you can draw a silly amount of cards if you untap with Jhoira in play. I tried Llanowar Elves, but it’s hard to make the mana work and I wanted to minimize the impact of Goblin Chainwhirler.
I didn’t play this deck because it didn’t feel like it could ever beat a control deck. Karn’s Temporal Sundering is quite bad against control, and the whole strategy is pretty soft to Fumigate. I thought that the blue sideboard cards like Negate and Spell Pierce would give you some game against those decks, but it turned out to just not be aggressive enough to take advantage of the holes that those counterspells bought you. Teferi is a ridiculously powerful magic card, and this deck cannot remove it other than attacking it, and the attackers are not particularly threatening. I also felt that Jhoira and Weatherlight were too unreliable as engines, as Weatherlight would get too easily bricked by a Phoenix or chumped by Pia and Jhoira was too vulnerable to the cheap removal spells everyone was playing.
I think the Flame of Keld has some chance of being a real contender in Standard, but I think it’s missing one or two pieces at the moment. One more good burn spell or good one-drop creature and I think it could make a resurgence. Its main advantage in the red mirrors is that the flame helps you find and attack with Hazoret more consistently, and since that’s the only card that matters in the mirror, I think it is advantaged. If you expect only red mirrors, I think the Flame of Keld could be promising.
I also think the Monoblue deck could be good in standard, and its especially appealing in the Team Unified RPTQs, since you can play it alongside red strategies very easily. There’s also a reduced probability of playing against Bomat Courier if you play Unified Standard. It could use a few more iterations, but I got it to a place I was pretty happy with. I’d recommend giving it a whirl, although be warned that it is pretty difficult to play, since you have to walk a tightrope between being disruptive and aggressive.