What about red?

Following my near-thing loss to Merfolk in round two of our most recent PTQ, a couple of people talked to me about the deck. I appreciated the complements on the coolness of the design, as well as on “having the balls to play your own deck” (but really, how fun is it if you don’t?). After shocking them by explaining that the original build was G/W only, and the purpose of the black splash, one of them asked the very pertinent question. “Why not red?”
Click through to the extended entry for a little insight into what I tried with red, and why I eventually gave up on it for this design.


Clearly, red has a lot to offer for my professed goal of “not auto-losing to Kithkin.” You get the general metagame balancer that is Volcanic Fallout, as well as the potential for Firespout. On top of that, you can potentially add in either Bloodbraid Elf or Banefire to help the deck close.
In fact, the possibilities of red immediately pushed me into the “might as well” zone I talked about last time. If I’m adding red, why not add Fallout, Firespout, Woolly Thoctar, Banefire, Bloodbraid, and Ajania Vengeant? The first answer out of your mouth should probably be “Because some of those options really need to be mutually exclusive.” Following that, however, we’re left with the difficulty of deciding which, if any options make the deck better.
A quick aside – in writing an academic article, you’re not supposed to discuss your findings in the order you figured them out in. Instead, you should present them in the order that most directly delivers the point and significance of your work. Just because you burned a lot of time on things that were ancillary to your work doesn’t mean you need to walk your audience through the entire painfully misguided thought process.
So we’ll shortcut straight to the problem with red – the mana. One of the core success points of the original design is reliable mana that can deliver green on turn one and a three-drop on turn two, with suitable mana dork assistance. Deviating from this mana flow seriously harms the way the deck needs to play to win. Last time I addressed how the black splash screwed this up, but a red splash is even worse. One of the advantages of that black splash – an advantage that tempted me into actually playing it – was that it still sort of worked. Murmuring Bosk, by dint of being a Forest, meant I could swap in four multilands for Forests and still have powered-up Knights. It also meant a first-turn Bosk could lead to an untapped second-turn Grove.
In contrast, there was no W/R/G mana base that wasn’t deadly ugly. If you look at the Naya Aggro deck from Nationals (the list is here), it accepts that it can only power out half of its one-drop contingent on turn one with any consistency. Past that turn its odds are okay…I would probably have run some Terramorphics if I were already planning on handing away the first turn some of the time (to help pick up those Crags and Groves as well as easing the up-powering of my Nacatls). For my purposes, it seemed as if I might be able to get away with the red splash without too much tempo loss, but that wasn’t actually the case.
Here’s a prospective mana base I tried:
3 Terramorphic Expanse
3 Sunpetal Grove
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Wooded Bastion
1 Gargoyle Castle
1 Plains
1 Mountain
7 Forest
Seven Forests. Ugly. That’s not enough for first-turn mana dork shenanigans, nor is it enough to consistently bring those Groves and Crags in untapped. It also means I have even less fuel for those Knights – but honestly, that was rarely an issue, since the deck usually just stumbled so much on tempo due to the lands that I didn’t have time to worry about those mid- and late-game issues. I tried upping the Forest count, but that yielded other problems, like not supporting Elspeth appropriately.
Along the lines of failing to support Elspeth, my attempt to cleave to the path of having Forests and a smooth course of mana development meant that I really couldn’t realistically expect to hit Volcanic Fallout. With a tri-color deck that’s trying to maintaing a reasonably large number of basics in the mana base, it’s just not realistic to have color-color cards (e.g. Volcanic Fallout and Elspeth) in both your splashes. As the recent PTQ experience showed me, it’s even a touch unrealistic to have color-color cards in one splash when you accommodate another.
Note that I did briefly consider playing basically the core G/W Team Elspeth build with a single Mountain and some Firespouts in the sideboard as my anti-Kithkin (and Combo Elves) technology, but that seemed a little too chancy and dubious, since even the most Terramorphic-laden variant of this deck only runs three.
Although a three color deck is not agreeing to play a turn later than the rest of the world the way a Vivid deck is, it still pretty much has to agree to exchange the first turn for the opportunity to be in three colors, and that wasn’t the right path for this design.
I do still think there may be some opportunity for a Naya deck that slings some Primal Commands and potentially uses some Knights, but it may not be powerful enough for the current play environment. The concept of Cascading into a Knight off a Bloodbraid is still tempting, but so far nothing Naya has been able to consistently take down enough of the field to be worth it.

4 thoughts on “What about red?

  1. Another really good post 🙂 The “play your own deck” supporter I am, I really appreciate those from drawing board insights you share. I seem to be lacking in making a deck that’s a) mine, b) fun, c) (reasonably) powerful, usually achieving no more than 2 of the goals mentioned. Last time I did it was when I built my Blasting Station + Beacon Deck. It’s rare to find a source of MtG knowledge that focuses on “rogue” decks and the process behind their creation and tuning.
    I don’t know if you’ve done it already but I would love reading an article or few about creating a deck from scratch. Conley Woods wrote something similar some days ago but it was mostly on the lines of “search gatherer, cut some cards, cut some more, put the rest together ” (excuse the oversimplification). Also with Zendikar a month from here do you plan on writing about cards leaving Standard that will be Extended worthy and which M10/Alara cards do you think future deck (of yours) will feature?

  2. The “this deck would be better with more colors” syndrome is what spawned 5CC and 5C Blood, I think. As you saw, I don’t think it works out in your case, as you rely on consistency and Forests more than raw power and Vivids.

  3. Couldn’t you splash red though? Change the llanowars for bops, take out gargoyle for a mountin (to search for with knight of the reliquary and and/or terramorphic espanses). Add firespout, which can be still played without a red mana. You could even add manamorphose if needed.
    Atleast you could do the llanowar/bop trade and have a mountain and 4 spouts in the sb against kithkin. Is this really so farfetched?
    Seems like a deck with 3 terramorphics, 4 Knights of the reliquary and 4 bops shouldn’t have any trouble splashing a single card of another color.

  4. It’s possible that would still be workable; one issue is that I tend to be nervous about relying on mana dorks for critical fixing, but they might be fine in the context of concern. However, it’s that same context that sometimes mean Knight can’t be relied on in that role.
    Or, to break it down another way, Birds are fast but fragile, whereas Knights are sometimes too slow. The Birds’ fragility may not be an issue in the Kithkin/Elves matchups, since there are no Bolts across the fields, so maybe it would have worked…but in those cases, we really want to be able to hit a turn three Firespout, and Knights can only manage that on the back of a mana dork play (which is not necessarily reliable enough).
    One of the things that’s ugly about that solution, though, is that you end up running a deck where after sideboarding, eight cards in the deck clear out half your mana dorks. I’m not super-fond of that, even though the builds I put together try not to be utterly reliant on the mana dorks.
    This is not meant to be a long-winded way of saying “You’re wrong” though — it’s possible that I just should have been willing to go for the splash, running the BoPs, and that would have worked. Maybe I should run a version of it in one of our Exiled tournaments this weekend.

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