I am not a deckbuilding expert. I like to think I am pretty good at tweaking existing lists to perfect them for my expected metagame, but I am no deckbuilder. That said, I recently attempted to build a new brew that could attack the metagame from a new angle. I'm not going to claim this is going to win the next Pro Tour or anything like that, but I thought my process might be helpful.
I went to a tournament last Saturday, where I played UW CawBlade because I felt the benefit of having a stable manabase while still running four Tectonic Edges was a bigger gain than either the Red or Black splashes offered. I cruised into the top eight with a single match loss to Elves!, during which I was mana screwed. I lost in quarterfinals to the same Elves! player in a heartbreaker. He misplayed himself out of the game repeatedly, but I only had three land on turn eight after keeping a three-lander with Mana Leak, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and Day of Judgment, so it didn't matter.
In between rounds I did some good trading, picking up a foil Sword of Fire and Ice for only $25, as well as some other treasure. While flipping through some binder or other I came across a card I had never seen before: Cyclops Gladiator. I'm not sure how I had never seen one before, but after reading it I quickly traded the $3 or so I needed for a playset.
The Cyclops Gladiator caught my eye for several reasons. First, it is a Red creature that has a four mana casting cost. At the moment there are several good Red creatures, but only the Hero of Oxid Ridge costs four to cast, making the Gladiator a welcome addition on the curve to any deck looking to go a little larger on the scale.
Second, almost every creature being played at the moment has less than four power and toughness. That means that the Cyclops Gladiator can almost always kill a creature with his ability and live to tell about it, which could be game-breaking against many creature based decks. It is also the right size to take on anything in the current CawBlade lists short of a sideboarded Baneslayer Angel or Sun Titan, whether equipped with a Sword of Feast and Famine or no.
I had already been considering four Inferno Titan as a good way to start a decklist due to their awesomeness against basically everything, but most of my lists had moved in a RUG direction, featuring Lotus Cobra, Explore, and the other usual suspects. When I saw the Cyclops Gladiator I started imagining a deck featuring a full playset of both the Cyclops Gladiator and the Inferno Titan.
After a bit more trading and browsing through other binders I stumbled across another large Red creature that had escaped widespread attention: Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs. Kazuul has seen a small amount of play, mostly as a one or two of in RUG sideboards, but he hasn't become widely adopted. The Cliff Tyrant makes attacking a risky proposition for most aggressive decks. They are forced to choose between attacking and paying the mana to stop you from getting free blockers or playing spells for the turn. If they don't attack and instead play spells you have gotten a free untap step, buying you time to cast another fatty or otherwise deal with the pressure. If they attack you and pay the mana you are probably in a lot of trouble, but it will keep the situation from deteriorating any further. After coming across the Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs, I traded for a playset, valued at $5.
I couldn't think of any other good Red creatures I would want for a midrange-controlish deck like which didn't seem like much of a problem when I didn't want many more creatures anyway. At this point I was thinking I had about half of the deck built: four Inferno Titan, four Cyclops Gladiator, three Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs, and four Everflowing Chalice for some acceleration. I only wanted three Kazuuls because of the Legendary status. Twenty-four lands seemed about right for a first draft, which made thirty-nine cards together. Twenty-one cards to fill.
Some creature removal would be essential, preferably better than one-for-one so that this deck could have some additional sources of card advantage. In went four Arc Trail and four Slagstorm. Burst Lightning seemed worth of inclusion as it can take out a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas after a +1, activated Celestial Colonnade, or Stoneforge Mystic with a [card Sword of Feast and Famine]Sword[/card] on it. Burst Lightning also represents a significant chunk of life if you want to point it at their head.
At this point the list looked like this:
That leaves only nine card to fill in. Having filled in some of the broad strokes, I wanted to take another look at what all the pieces were and how they fit into the whole.
General Game Plan: Control the ground with removal long enough to land a fatty or two that can lock the game up. The fatties are all sources of card advantage, hopefully allowing this deck to have some play into the late game. It should play like a control deck.
Early Control: Arc Trail, Burst Lightning, and Slagstorm. Arc Trail and Slagstorm can take out multiple creatures, helping to generate card advantage, and the Burst Lightning is good at taking down larger threats and Planeswalkers.
Strengths: This list seems very good against decks attempting to win by attacking in the early game. Boros, Elves!, KRed, all seem like good matchups. CawBlade could easily pull ahead with an unchecked Jace or Gideon, but barring those I like my chances.
Possible Weaknesses: Decks that don't rely on the attack phase. Looking at the list so far I would guess that it goldfishes a kill around turn seven or eight which means it will almost assuredly lose to either Valakut or Pyromancer because it would be too slow to beat them before they went off, and it has no meaningful disruption. I would also expect this deck to be weak to any deck playing a significant number of counterspells. All the the threats require a large amount of mana to cast, enough that it would probably be the only meaningful thing you did with your turn. When you are spending a whole turn to cast a single threat at sorcery speed, you turn every Counterspell your opponent has into a pseudo Time Walk. For the same reason it would be weak to any deck playing significant spot removal.
Possible Fixes: More burn would give the deck a greater chance at racing combo decks like Valakut or Pyromancer, as would smaller, quicker creatures. The danger of going with creatures is they would make our Slagstorms less card-advantageous. Manlands are always helpful against counterspells, so perhaps I could add Raging Ravine or Lavaclaw Reaches with a splash, and/or Dread Statuary. Having lands that also can attack would be helpful in fighting against targeted removal as well.
With the expected weaknesses and possible fixes in mind, I take another look at the mana curve.
Even with some cards pulling double duty and being counted at multiple places due to their variable costs, I still see a mana curve that looks more like a line. At the moment there is basically one card at every point on the curve. This could be awesome if we curve out perfectly, but it opens the possibility of drawing the wrong cards at wrong time and not being able to use your mana to its fullest. That means I'd like to add a few cards to fill in the gaps, especially at the three- and four-drop spots.
Tumble Magnet: Tumble Magnet is one of the strongest ways to spend three mana in Standard. It can buy you a fog for three turns from a Sword of Feast and Famine, which is more than any spot removal can do. Doom Blade and its kind are great for taking down various Titans, but it is pretty weak when the opponent is attacking with [card Squadron Hawk]four 1/1s[/card] and a [card Sword of Feast and Famine]Sword[/card]. It is also strong against manlands, making the opponent pay their activation cost multiple times before finally getting to attack.
Koth: Koth of the Hammer is a strong four drop in any Red deck that wants to be aggressive. His mana producing ability is useful, but that's just a happy bonus and not what you're really paying for. The main event is the hasty 4/4s and the threat of a game-ending ultimate. While I may be wrong, my feeling is that Koth belongs in the sideboard, not the maindeck. The deck I have so far is more a control deck than an aggressive deck. It wants to control the ground with spot removal before generating card advantage with a large threat, not attack with Goblin Guide. While it may assume a more aggressive role against some decks, I don't think [card Koth of the Hammer]Koth[/card] fits with the game plan of the maindeck.
Sphere of the Suns: [card Sphere of the Suns]The Sphere[/card] would enable splashing a second color a more feasible option, if desired, and could also accelerate the fatties onto the field. Eight accelerators may be too many, but it is worth considering.
Iron Myr: Iron Myr is a decent accelerator if we want to rush into the mid/late game, and could block if need be. It has summoning sickness while the Everflowing Chalice does not, and it is also vulnerable to spot removal. If it seemed a second color was needed I would probably go with the Sphere of the Suns before the Myr, but if the deck stays mono Red, the ability to block when needed may be a greater benefit than the drawbacks of summoning sickness + vulnerability.
Gideon: Gideon Jura would be rather hilarious with Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs. He would fit well with this deck's current game plan of controlling the ground until fatties hit play, then attacking for a million. The only drawback is the double-White required to cast, which would make casting him the turn after a Cyclops Gladiator a little tricky. If the deck moves to add another color, however, Gideon Jura is high on the list for reasons to go White.
Preordain: Significantly easier to splash than [card Gideon Jura]Gideon[/card], Preordain could help smooth the draws of the deck considerably. An Everflowing Chalice is exactly what you're looking for on turn two, but it is a poor topdeck on turn eight. The same is inversely true of the fatties such as Inferno Titan. A small splash for Blue could allow for a significant boost in the average card quality of cards drawn in the later game while also ensuring the accelerators were cast in the early game, rather than clogging up the hand later on.
Jace Beleren: [card Jace Beleren]The lesser Jace[/card] would require a more committed mana base than just Preordain, but it would also yield greater rewards. At the moment the deck can gain card advantage through its creatures but it has no way to actually draw cards. Killing two or three creatures with each creature you cast is certainly card advantage, but it does not increase your options the way having more cards in hand does. [card Jace Beleren]Jace, Jr.[/card] fits well on the curve and would increase our ability to grind out a long game which could prove quite helpful.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor: If you're going to play a Jace, you might as well play the best one, right? The mana curve is probably fine.
Fauna Shaman and Vengevine: This is just clearly not going to work.
Consecrated Sphinx:[card Consecrated Sphinx]The Sphinx[/card] is one of the best ways to cement a small lead in Standard today. If this deck trades one-for-one all day until landing a fatty, the Sphinx could fit in well.
Primeval Titan: Another strong Titan, Primeval Titan could search up any manlands that ended in the deck, or perhaps something like Teetering Peaks or Smoldering Spires. If we're running a Red and Green deck with Primeval Titan, however, why aren't we just playing Valakut?
I don't think that I've stumbled across anything format breaking here. This most-of-a-deck is probably good enough to do well with at FNM with some tweaking, but my goal with this article was not to build the next Pro Tour winner, but rather to share my process of deckbuilding. When I come across a card or idea that hasn't been exploited yet I try to follow it as far as it will go. After sketching out the broad strokes, I try to examine its strengths and weaknesses. Then I look at the mana curve again and try to brainstorm any intersections of cards, trying to think of ways I can solve its current weaknesses while also plugging holes in the mana curve to ensure your mana is being used fully when possible. The most important thing, however, is to put it together and play a few games. Many decks that seem good on paper are unplayable when put together, just as many that seem amazing in theory fail entirely when put to the test.
Good luck brewing!