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Deck Primer: 8pt Mono Red Aggro (Reckless Red)

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Welcome to Reckless Red, a mono red aggro deck for the Australian 7pt Highlander format.
To start, I keep the updated decklist here.

This is an 8 point deck since it’s awarded an extra point by forgoing any reserved list cards. This does make it “budget” compared to other decks in the format, however the $800usd price tag is still hefty. If you want a cheaper option, I maintain a budget version of the build that I try to keep under $200usd here.

Broadly there are two varieties of burn: Lightning Bolt target their face or Lightning Bolt target their dude. Examples of the first would be the modern and legacy builds. Primarily looking to kill the opponent with burn spells to the point of running Lava Spike, with creatures to add extra pressure. Examples of the second would be early 2024 standard burn, the original 1996 Sligh deck and the mono-red decks you often see in cube. These are much more creature focused, using their burn spells to clear the board and for extra reach at the end of the game. This deck is firmly in the second camp. The first type in this format looks something like this.

A unique twist that this build has compared to other burn decks is its namesake Reckless Impulse. The mana curve has been cut down to exclude 4 drops despite how powerful they are and despite running pointed mana acceleration in Mana Crypt and Ancient Tomb. The interaction in this format is monstrously efficient. Caves of Chaos Adventurer gets counterspelled just the same as Robber of the Rich, and your opponent will always have the counterspell. While the quality of interaction in this format is astounding, a large majority of it is 1-for-1. So rather than cast one big spell, cast two smaller spells and drain your opponent’s resources. To make that sustainable you need to have the extra resources yourself. Enter Reckless Impulse. In essence I’ve put this card in my 4 drop slot. Spending 4 mana to cast Wrenn’s Resolve and some random 2 drop you find into your opponent’s Swords to Plowshares is much better than casting Hazoret the Fervent into your opponent’s Swords to Plowshares. Additionally, while this deck can have early bursts of mana you don’t want to assume it will. You’re usually keeping hands with only 2 lands and the deck is capable of winning without drawing its third.

A secondary effect of this is that the deck takes a while to run out of gas. We’re not following the standard burn principle of “kill them before card advantage matters”. Instead we’ve got eight cards that draw into more stuff, three that make bodies after they’ve been used, and the atrocity against design that is Urza’s Saga. This deck is very prepared to fight an attrition war. Once you do finally run out of stuff, the opponent should be low enough where almost everything you can draw is a threat.


Playing the deck

Playing burn isn’t difficult, especially compared to some other decks in this format. You have a very clear goal and very unsubtle tools to reach it. But that doesn’t mean there’s no decisions at all. You’ll be presented with a lot of micro-choices on how to most efficiently punch your opponent in the mouth. Here’s some rules of thumb I follow.

  • Go with whatever pressures them the most – The primary tenet
  • If given the option, conserve cards – Usually you don’t get a choice. You cast your creature to keep up pressure, you cast your burn because something needed to die. But sometimes you get to choose between playing cards from hand or playing cards you’ve impulsed, or activating things like Urza’s Saga and Grim Lavamancer. If you can afford it, it’s better in the long run to take the route that keeps cards in hand for later.
  • Play around answers by casting more threats – If you think they have something that can blank your 3 drops, instead play out a 1 and 2 drop. If you have the choice that is, often you don’t.
  • You have more damage coming – Don’t be afraid to spend time attacking planeswalkers and don’t worry about one-off life gain. You have more damage coming. (Recurring life gain is quite scary though.)
  • Bolt their dudes – We’re not a Lava Spike deck. Unless you’re ending the game or setting up for it, burn spells are better held in hand waiting to impact the board.
  • Bolt the Bird – It’s a lasting saying for a reason. Kill the turn 1 mana dork. Even if it means you don’t play a 1 drop threat. We’re one of the best decks at doing it, and things can get out-of-hand fast if you don’t.
  • You can kill big creatures, but it’s ugly – Bolt it twice. Or attack, they block, use burn to finish it off. Also works if they attack and you block. Not pretty and blown out by interaction, but it’s the best we’ve got. Notably the threat of this can be enough to make someone not block, if you’re feeling saucy you can bluff to get more damage in.
  • Trust your top decks – Once you’re finally out of gas, the opponent should be drained of answers and low on life (if this isn’t the case you’ve probably lost). At this point almost anything you topdeck is capable of ending the game.

Mulligans – The ideal is 2 or 3 lands and stuff you can do on the first two turns. Having no turn 1 play isn’t great but isn’t the end of the world. 1 land hands are very risky but I’ve rolled those dice plenty of times regardless. Something that can kill turn 1 mana dorks is important against decks with those. Since quantity is more important to us than quality we really don’t want to be going to 5, so if your 7 or 6 are playable you keep them.

Sideboarding

Lightning Strike, Searing Spear and Incinerate are the easiest to take out first, the rest is mostly feel. I try to keep my ratios of threats and answers in balance, taking out as many removal spells as I put in, but it’s not a hard rule by any means.

  • Magmatic Sinkhole, Dismember, Mine Collapse, Scorching Shot, Roast – For killing Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, Gurmag Angler, Troll of Khazad-dûm and other big scary creatures. This colour doesn’t have many good answers for anything bigger than 5 toughness like Generous Ent.
  • Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon – These used to be in the main but have since been moved. There’s a decent chunk of the meta that doesn’t care about these which makes drawing them in game 1 a hassle. But when they’re good they’re really good.
  • Pyroblast, Red Elemental Blast – I am a red deck, I run the red blasts. Busted cards. Active Volcano is an option if Murktide Regent is everywhere in your meta and you need even more blue hate, though keep in mind it’s not a great card against 3+ colour blue decks. Often they’ll only have two or three blue permanents.
  • Pyrite Spellbomb, Reality Hemorrhage – For killing Sanctifier en-Vec, Kor Firewalker and others. Protection from red is obviously very difficult for the mono-red deck to deal with, but thankfully all the ones people use only have 2 toughness.
  • Abrade, Raze the Effigy – Modal artifact removal for Umezawa’s Jitte, Shadowspear, etc. There are plenty of artifacts we don’t want to see. An issue with cards like Smash to Smithereens is that you bring them in against decks with scary equipment only for them to never play one and leave a card rotting in your hand.
  • Brotherhood’s End – More modal artifact removal and a trump card against dedicated artifact decks. A boardwipe is sometimes just what you need against white+ decks with plenty of t3 creatures.
  • Pyrokinesis – A very strong effect against creature based decks. Also good if you’re bringing in a lot of other sideboard cards. They can be a bit clunky sometimes, this and Fury help smooth things over


Matchups

Fair Midrange (Jund, Omnath, RG Monsters, etc) – Even. These games are often very tight and difficult for both players. Lots of room for mistakes on either side. Their cards are better than ours, but their removal trades down in quality while ours trades up. These get easier post-board when we bring in removal that lines up against their creatures better. If we can get a leg up on them in card advantage they can’t recover, but if they can shut down the board and take over the game before that happens then we can’t recover. Always Bolt the Bird.

Dedicated Combo (Underworld Breach, Flash Hulk, Reanimator, Doomsday, etc) – Heavily favours them. These decks win the game faster than us, on an axis we can’t do anything about. This isn’t a guaranteed loss, since the format is singleton they can sometimes take a while spinning their wheels. Our best bet is to cross our fingers that they stumble over themselves long enough, or get a lucky early Blood Moon.

Hybrid Combo (Omnath Walks, Grixis Oracle, etc) – Slightly favours us. Decks with a midrange plan A and combo plan B. But from our perspective they’re worse at both compared to the dedicated decks. We can’t do anything if they find the combo, but before that happens we can fight them the same way we fight fair midrange decks and they’re less equipped to handle it.

Blue/Black+ Delve (Bus Stop Grixis, Esper Tempo, etc) – Favours them. Delve creatures are very good at locking down the board, and impossible for us to remove if backed by counter magic. Once the opponent has landed one they get a lot of breathing room to dig for more answers, establish a bigger board and take over. If they don’t find their delve creatures or can’t protect them from our sideboard removal this moves to favouring us and they struggle to cope with the pressure we put them under.

Red+ Stompy (Eclipse, Initiative, some builds of Moonshine, etc) – Even. Sometimes they have the nuts and there’s not much anyone can do. Usually they have some acceleration and the game comes down to if we can deal with their threats quickly. Again this gets easier post-board with better answers. We’re one of the best decks at taking monarch and initiative from people which gives us a unique advantage here.

White+ Stompy (Twilight, Armageddon, some other builds of Moonshine, etc) – Favours them. The deeper they’ve gone into white the harder things get for us. Mother of Runes and her ilk are kill-on-sight but we’re not always able to, anything that spits out tokens is going to be an uphill battle, and they get some real nasty sideboard cards.

Blue+ Control (Blue Moon, Jeskia, Sultai, etc) – If they’ve invested into white it’s even, otherwise it favours us. We don’t really care how they kill us, be it a combo or grinding us down with planeswalkers. We’re more concerned with how they’re stopping us from killing them. Control decks with a heavy enough white section have easier access to board wipes, often main deck them, and have some effective incidental life gain options. Without white we can just keep throwing stuff at them until they run out of 1-for-1s.

Bots / Affinity / MUD / Shops – Even. Largely comes down to how well each player draws. We’re both very proactive decks, they have bigger threats while we have removal. One of the easiest decks to tech a sideboard against by adding more Brotherhood’s End effects like Pulverize, Meltdown and more.

Aggro (Mono Red, UR+ Tempo, Red+ Aggro, etc) – Even. The mirror and matchups like it depend significantly on who gets to go first. The common play pattern is bolt / counter their creature, play / attack with your own. The winner is whoever gets to do that the most. Every answer you both have answers every threat you both have, so it’s a race to see who can get the most chip damage in the fastest. Pyrokinesis really shines here, as do threats like Feldon, Ronom Excavator and Bonecrusher Giant who can help you and hurt them in one card.

Other – There are several decks I’ve left out either because they’re not common enough or because I haven’t played against them enough to be confident talking about them.


Building the deck

The Haste Test – A metric that I use when looking at creatures to go in the deck. You cast a creature, pass the turn, your opponent untaps and kills it. Somewhere in that window, has your creature dealt damage to the opponent? The easiest way to pass this is by having haste, but that’s not the only way. Eidolon of the Great Revel and Bonecrusher Giant usually pass the test because they damage the opponent for killing them, while Viashino Pyromancer doesn’t even need to attack.

There are still plenty of ways for your opponent to stop your creature damaging them. Killing them at instant speed before they connect, or just countering them. The purpose of sticking to this test is to make that happen less often and raise the floor on how bad your creatures can be. There’s plenty of very strong creatures like Rampaging Ferocidon and Dreadhorde Arcanist that take over games if left unanswered. But because they fail the haste test your opponent has significantly more ways to stop them contributing. When the just-above-worst-case for all your creatures still does damage to the opponent, you have some very strong inevitability behind you.

Point Spread – I’m currently on Mana Crypt, Ancient Tomb, Urza’s Saga, Skullclamp

  • This is a very good Skullclamp deck. We have a decent number of X/1s that we’re happy to throw into the clamp for more fuel, or we can equip one of our many 2/2s into a 3/1 that the opponent really doesn’t want to block or remove for a build-your-own True-name Nemesis.
  • Urza’s Saga makes a strong board presence while letting you save cards in hand, then finds Mana Crypt to cast them all or Skullclamp / Bomat Courier to keep going.
  • Mana Crypt and Ancient Tomb are broken cards that can give us absurd openings (as can Chrome Mox), and are still relevant later in the game with the volume of cards we can churn through.

This is by no means the only point spread. Some other options are:

  • Sol Ring – not as good as Mana Crypt since you miss out on turn 1 three drops, but still very unfair when you start with it.
  • Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer – the game’s best 1 mana 2/X, which is great for our deck that loves 1 mana 2/Xs. Not in anymore to make room for Mana Crypt, but still just as strong as ever.
  • Lutri, the Spellchaser – a very strong spell once she’s in your hand, but I find I very rarely have the time to put her there.
  • The One Ring and other 4 drops – I’m not running them because I’ve gone for the Reckless Impulse plan instead, but these are absolutely game winning if they hit play.
  • Wasteland and Strip Mine – a little boring and doesn’t quite synergise, but a perfectly fine use of points.
  • Dreadhorde Arcanist – Fails the haste test so doesn’t quite fit what we want out of our 2 drops, and we sometimes go a whole game without casting a 1 mana spells for it to recast.
  • If you’re willing to bring in other colours that opens up a whole new world. Treasure Cruise, Forth Eorlingas!, White Plume Adventurer, Orcish Bowmasters, Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes and more. Splashing is easier if you bring in reserved list original duals, at which point you can start looking at Mox Ruby.

Deck Construction

I’ve reached these numbers off feel, not off anything exact. It could be correct to shift the curve around a bit, or run a different number of threats to answers. I change these around every now and then and encourage you to do the same.

One drops – Including Kumano Faces Kakkazan I’m running eight. I don’t worry about the haste test with these, but I do try to stick to creatures with 2 power. A creature played on turn 1 can get two or three attacks in, and the difference between 1 power and 2 really shows. The exceptions are Grim Lavamancer and Bomat Courier since their abilities are strong enough. You can even get Bomat Courier off Urza’s Saga.

Two drops – I’m running eight. I stick to the haste test here, which means some quite powerful cards like Inti, Seneschal of the Sun and Runaway Steam-Kin don’t make the cut, but that could change in the future.

Three drops – I’m running six in the main, Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon in the side. There’s a lot of competition for these slots so I look at two main qualities when deciding who stays in: If they pass the haste test, and how broken they are on turn 1 with Mana Crypt. Cards like Laelia and Broadside Bombardiers are amazing in this role. If a card fails these checks it needs to be powerful enough in its own right to justify the slot. Several strong cards like Maddening Hex and Anje’s Ravager don’t make the cut.

Creature Removal – Counting Fury I’m running eleven, then a few creatures that can do double-duty. I’ve found cards like Skewer the Critics and Rift Bolt to be too clunky and instead gone with cards like Shock that can kill a turn 1 Delighted Halfling or Searing Spear that doesn’t have any hoops to jump through. I prioritise effects that are instant speed and can deal damage to the opponent if needed, the handful of cards that don’t tick those boxes are strong enough in their own right to stay in. Post-sideboard Lightning Strike, Searing Spear and Incinerate are often the first cards to come out for interaction that fits better, but their flexibility is valuable in game one.

Card Draw – I’m running four. Light up the Stage, Wrenn’s Resolve, Reckless Impulse, and Skullclamp. I do feel like I want one or two more pieces like splashing for Questing Druid, in a Orcish Bowmasters world few of the others feel good. Crossing my fingers that WotC will print a couple more.

Mana – I’m running nineteen lands, Chrome Mox and Mana Crypt. A total of six non-basic non-fetch lands that I’ve felt to be worth inclusion. Then eight basics. I can’t cut down on them too much since it would make Icehide Golem harder to cast on turn 1. It frustrates me that fetchlands are correct to run in my monocolour deck, but Grim Lavamancer, Searing Blaze, Squee, Dubious Monarch and Magmatic Sinkhole are significantly stronger with them and they have practically no downside, so here they are. If you’re keeping to a budget, not including the fetches is an easy first step.

Face Burn – I’m only running the two best, Price of Progress and Fireblast. Pointing spells at their face isn’t the primary plan and opening hands with these two are often clunky, but they’re powerful enough to keep in.

Mitch Hester

Based in Canberra, Mitch has been playing magic since primary school starting with New Phyrexia (in hindsight not the best set to show to a child, but it did develop into a love for horror). He's played a wide variety of eternal formats and decks, properly getting into highlander at the start of 2023 with mono-red, a deck he liked in legacy and loved forcing in MTGO cube. He's a big supporter of the accessibility rule, enjoys building cubes, dandans, and sifting through bulk commons for cards that are technically playable.