This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series Strategy

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By Aaron AKA Uncle Landdrops

In case this happens to be the first Strategy installment you’ve read here on CommanderCast, all you need to know for today is two things. The first – it’s RED MONTH, where we are saluting all fans of Goblins, Shamans, Elementals, Viashino, Cyclops, and other monsters and spells that require Mountain mana, and two – I love Rogue Deckbuilding.

Today, we’re re-opening the old doors of Carlos’ Arcane Lab to get weird and science-y as we run down some cool tech and tricks for a neat spin on a traditional Magic archetype: Mono-Red Control.

It’ll kinda be like getting a Golden Ticket in a Chocolate Bar, except without the Chocolate Bar, or Carlos’ infinite Zubera Combo.

 

HOW DOES RED SAY, “NO!”?

Let’s get this out of the way quickly. Mono-Red doesn’t have a whole lot of counterspells that aren’t aimed at blue players. In fact, a quick Gatherer search yields three:

 

  

 

So if you weren’t already thinking it, you’re asking it now – If we only have three counterspells, and few removal spells, how do we play Control in Red?

The short answer is to use not only direct, less-optimal replacements, but also to find strong replacements that emulate the same qualities of classic Control. We all know that what a basic Control deck does – it invests heavily in preventive and disruptive style cards which prolong a game, but with the logic that stopping enough attacks will effectively buy enough turns to find the threats and/or combo pieces that will ultimately win us the game.

Being that Red has more than enough threatening cards, as well as one of the splashiest answers in Land Destruction, the biggest question a Red Control deck has to answer is how to generate card advantage. This is because the power-level of cards in its pool are extremely polarizing. Being able to create a consistency, or at the very least, the illusion of consistency, will go a long way to helping you to ensure you have answers to the questions players will be posing at the table.

Much like any good business takes on the shape and identity of its leader, so does our deck. So let’s take a look at the potential of designing a control deck around some Mono-Red Legends.

 

WHAT’S A MONO-RED CONTROL GENERAL LOOK LIKE?

Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs – I know Hayes has written about his experience with Kazuul, but mine has been pretty miniscule, and pretty terrible. By that, I mean that no one will let you have 3/3 Ogres, and he will more than likely be immediately disposed of some time before combat. Building around this guy seems more stable in a combat-wide, token-based meta, but I find Jaya Ballard, Task Mage as a much better answer to the token problem. Sometimes the best defense is just good defense.

 

Zo-Zu the Punisher – Playing Zo-Zu is probably the nastiest declaration of intention you can give to players before they see your Fightin’ 99. There is a pretty powerful Tiny Leaders deck built around creating Stax and racking up non-combat damage, and without looking at any lists on the Internet, I’m sure there’s enough stuff to add 20-25 cards and make this a Commander strategy.

 

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer – Daretti’s replacing a lot of Slobad decks these days, but I still believe Slobad is the Goblin Commander you want to be playing for the Control variant, while Daretti is more of a value/engine creator. Similar to Zo-Zu, you’re probably going to see some traditional Stax, leaning more on protecting powerful Artifacts like Ward of Bones to grind the game to a halt. I favor Slobad over Zo-Zu, personally. He can fly under the radar a little bit, not drawing as much pre-game aspersions, and use resources you’re already going to be playing because Red needs the support, helping to maintain a consistent protection over permanents you’ll want to keep around.

 

Starke of Rath – People play this? lolwut? Yes. In fact, Starke is a Commander I’ve been playing off and on over the last year and a half, and it’s great. It was brought to my attention in a CMDR Deck video that the printing of Illusionist’s Bracers gave this deck an additional copy/untap effect which can make this him really work. In conjunction with Thousand-Year Elixir, Homeward Path, and any Indestructible Artifact, we can respond to our first Starke activation with another activation of his ability. As long as you choose your own permanent for the first trigger, like Darksteel Citadel, your second trigger resolves first, destroying whatever creature or artifact you don’t like, you lose control of Starke, then the first ability resolves, “destroys” your Darksteel Citadel, and you get him back.

 

This is what I named my Starke deck. My Starke of Rath EDH

 

What’s great about this is that not only is he the best removal Red has in Legendary Creature form, but he can also set up several plays for card advantage. When Starke isn’t blasting our opponent’s best creatures or utility cards, Starke can set up as a pseudo-sac outlet, blowing up Ichor Wellspring and Mycosynth Wellspring, or simulating Brion Stoutarm with copies of Mark of Mutiny.

 

Squee, Goblin Nabob – Squee is a Commander you play for no reason other than card advantage. He’s a Commander I battle regularly, and he’s constantly being tossed around each and every zone. Not only does Squee have incredible chump-blocking power, which is great for buying turns, but he also shores up most of Red’s card drawing deficiency. His ability to power up sac outlets like Shivan Harvest gets him into the graveyard, which gets him into your hand on the next turn, which fuels cards like Wild Guess and my new favorite Tormenting Voice. Not to mention it’s great to have a Commander that avoids Commander tax!

 

Diaochan, Artful Beauty – Any of you who’ve been reading my stuff since I was writing on The General Zone know I’ve called Diaochan “overrated,” but she’s still a Legendary Creature, and if you want to play her, I can’t stop you, but I will do all I can to discourage you.

My main concern: I have serious reservations about building around her and activating her ability at the expense of my own cards with so little return on investment as a Commander. She compares favorably with Starke, who offers a little more setup but a lot more stability, with the consequence that one of your opponents gains control of Starke, which can sometimes be compelling and humorous, even if it is sad and bleak. Diaochan, on the other hand, is married to Shroud, can’t dodge Hexproof (You control the ability, so she can be targeted by your opponent!), and really isn’t great in situations with multiple creatures on the battlefield. While both will draw removal spells, the odds of Diaochan blowing herself up are higher than Starke’s, meaning that your opponents aren’t even going to have to waste cards while you continually re-cast her. I don’t like this plan, but it’s a plan.

 

Jaya Ballard, Task Mage – I love Spellshapers, and I love board sweepers. For Jaya, you’re going to need serious acceleration, but she is going to be one of the premier Red imitations you’re going to get, and I think that’s totally fine. Having a Commander that can hit Titans, players, and most things plays nicely into our Control strategy, as well as allows to get big beaters like Greater Gargadon through for damage. There is an additional case to be made for Jaya if you play in blue-heavy metas, where you’re going to be able to use maximize her abilities, but her first two are really fine, even when she blows herself up, which leads me to only reservation – Finding a way to effectively attach Win-More equipment like Swords and Magebane Armor in order to create multiple Wraths. Kudos if you take her for a test drive. Kudos if you can pull this off.

 

Kamahl, Pit Fighter – Kamahl is great Lieutenant in Starke. Although I recently retired Lifeline from my deck, which allowed me to smack people with Lightning Bolt damage every turn, having ways to get multiple untaps with Kamahl is a pretty big game. He’s a General that can come out without too much utility and do work on creatures and players alike. Adding cool tricks like Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep help to add some extra mileage when you turn him sideways in combat too. Sometimes having a versatile threat as your Commander for Control can be really beneficial. Even with a hefty mana cost, I think the investment is worth it.

 

Jeska, Warrior Adept – Jeska is similar to Kamahl, but requires a little bit more help in the Deathtouch department. However, if you can get this plan going, I’d imagine it’s a lot like having the premiere femme fatale rattlesnake (and my personal favorite), Glissa T’s with the additional caveat of being able to block, and respond by tapping her to ping another creature between First Strike and Regular Combat Damage. I think Jeska thrives in creature-heavy metas where there aren’t a lot of tokens, just big and/or powerful creatures.

 

Tahngarth, Talruum Hero – The hero of Talruum, the Minotaur they call Tahngarth. Most of the Red Commanders in our Control variant have a distinct theme – they’re at their best with Equipment to grab. The big two Equipment abilities I see for Tahngarth, outside of the Deathtouch theme which prevails across most of the Mono-Red Control strategy, are Vigilance and P/T boosts. Hero’s Blade and Accorder’s Shield(SECRET TECH!) immediately come to mind, as does Umbral Mantle, the latter of which being good with most of the creatures I’ve mentioned who have tap abilities. Adding extra power in combat  and potential activations will help you straddle a more Aggro-Control plan, but this feels like an okay plan if you want your opponents to Taste the Beast!

 

I’ll take Role Models references for $500, Alex. #underratedcomedy #TahngarthAltersPlz #TasteTheBeast

 

ChandlerLiquimetal Coating lovers, listen up! Chandler is your man for a flavor-y, savory Mono-Red Control deck. A quick Gatherer search yielded another piece of nonsense tech in Thran Forge, which can be used to turn something into a Chandler target. Not only is this a great place to make jokes about the long-running NBC sitcom, but also the MOST ACCEPTABLE place anyone has ever played Mycosynth Lattice. Just make sure when you blow stuff up, you say “Bing!” because, well… His last name is Bing. Kudos if you go all-in and make an actual “Friends” themed deck. That’s almost as good as making the commitment to playing Ben-Ben.

 

…any more obvious???

 

Ben-Ben, Akki Hermit – Perhaps the bravest badass is anyone who shows up to a game and whips out Kamigawa’s ultimate hermit. This guy has been hiding out in trade binders and the annals of card collections for years, and though that’s where he probably should be, anyone with an affinity for basic Mountains, Repercussion, and a Basilisk Collar could craft a pretty silly, underrated deck that just might be able to buy enough turns to find some real cards or any of the things that combo with Kiki-Jiki. The podcast has been known to do Entourage segments for much worse (here’s looking at you, Shimatsu the Bloodcloaked).

 

Future Iron Chef EDH Competition Secret Ingredient? Future Feature In An Entourage Segment? Share your lists! I want to see Team Ben-Ben!

 

I’d love to hear if/what you guys are doing with Mono-Red Control. Share lists, thoughts, etc. And if you’re looking for more help, always feel free to shoot me an email, ask in the comments below, or holla on Twitter!

 

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