Red is the color generally looked down upon as the worst in Commander, across the board.
Red is a color which has difficulty recouping card advantage over a long game and has difficulty answering some of the most powerful permanents in the format. Traditionally, Red is a color which relies heavily on burn to do double duty as both removal and a way to close out games. As it happens, burn is one of the effects which takes the biggest hit when you go from a twenty life format dominated by efficient creatures to a forty life format dominated by gigantic monsters.
There have been a number of recent cards printed which have gone a long way to mitigate the weaknesses that Red has traditionally had. Scars of Mirrodin block has given us hits like Spine of Ish Sah, Karn Liberated, and Steel Hellkite, while Innistrad has given us sweet flashback cards that go a long way toward recouping card advantage when a game goes long.
Now one of the biggest problems that Red has in this format is dealing with countermagic. Blue decks can play some small threat or value engine and then just sit back on countermagic and make you deal with it, then cast instant-speed card draw if you don't play a spell.
What's more, Red does have the tools to fight decks like this in the form of Boil, Wake of Destruction and similar effects that must be answered right now. Because these kinds of effects are commonly frowned upon, it makes it even more difficult for Red to find a way to fight the control decks of the format.
There are a handful of ways to do that in non-Commander formats. The first is to fight their key spells with even more efficient countermagic, like Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast. And, in Commander, that's actually not as unreasonable as you might think. There are a lot of very powerful Blue cards and you'll never feel bad spending a REB on a Time Stretch or a Cryptic Command.
Your choices for Commanders is pretty scarce with Mono-Red, but the one who I think best fits these kinds of criteria is Kumano, Master Yamabushi.
It's reasonably cheap, especially if you run some mana rocks as ramp, and, once you play it, you never have to tap out again. Sure, it's not a fast clock, but you can certainly boost it with reasonably costed enablers and it doubles as removal and a way to generate card advantage. It even exiles creatures, which disrupts the sweet graveyard-based decks in the format.
The first thing a good Kumano deck is going to need is some mana acceleration, both so that you can cast Kumano earlier and so that you can pump more mana into his ability and make him a more imminent threat than he might otherwise be.
There're two kinds of acceleration here. The first are your Gauntlet of Might-style of effects, which aren't very good for powering out Kumano, but are great at letting you double up on Kumano activations. The second set of cards is the more traditional mana rocks, like Mind Stone, which don't scale up very well over the course of a game but do give you some explosiveness in the early game.
- Mind Stone
- Dreamstone Hedron
- Solemn Simulacrum
- Journeyer's Kite
- Everflowing Chalice
- Worn Powerstone
Of the Gauntlet effects, Chaos Moon and Braid of Fire are the only two which aren't pretty common in Mono-Red decks. Braid of Fire is pretty absurd specifically in a Kumano deck, though it is a pretty miserable topdeck later in the game since it doesn't have an immediate impact like the other Gauntlet effects.
I did decide to skip on Gauntlet of Might since that's a card that barely anyone is going to have access to. That said, it is absolutely insane in this deck, and would certainly make the cut over any of these other similar effects.
With the mana rocks there are a number of cards that are very obviously missing: Sol Ring and Mana Crypt would be great for this deck. The problem is that I just don't like the effect that those style of cards have on a game and on the deck that they're in. Rather, I'm running acceleration that's a little more fair and gives you a little more longevity if the game goes longer than you expected.
Journeyer's Kite in particular is a card that I really don't like in most decks. If you think about it, you have to spend five mana before you get one land out of the deal and eight before you've actually generated a card off of your investment.
For that I'd rather run basically any ramp or draw spell in the same slot unless you're desperate for color-fixing. However, in a Red deck that really wants to make every land drop, you don't have a ton of other choices so I think that Journeyer's Kite makes the cut.
Suit Him Up!
The second thing that a Kumano deck needs is a few ways to turn Kumano into a legitimate threat. You don't want to spend your entire turn pinging someone for five damage. While you will win eventually, someone's just going to go over the top of you. The two kinds of cards included here are ones that increase or bolster the damage output that Kumano is capable of and cards that give give him some kind of bonus, like Deathtouch.
- Quietus Spike
- Basilisk Collar
- Gorgon Flail
- Darksteel Plate
- Shield of Kaldra
- Champion's Helm
- Grafted Exoskeleton
There are a ton of sweet equipment for Kumano as well as two ways of tutoring them up. I'm not sure if both Shield of Kaldra and Darksteel Plate are necessary, but I figure starting with both of them is fine since you can always cut one later.
Beyond those, you've got the suite of Deathtouch equipment that let Kumano machine-gun down all of the other creatures. Grafted Exoskeleton is the scariest equipment to give Kumano, since it generally means that someone is going to die if you untap.
I'll warn you, though: there are a lot of people who don't like dying to poison, especially in a forty life format, so this might be something you want to cut if your group is particularly averse to the mechanic.
Enchantments and Such
- Gratuitous Violence
- Fractured Loyalty
- Quest for Pure Flame
- Claws of Valakut
- Akki Lavarunner // Tok-Tok, Volcano Born
These are the exciting cards! The ones that interact better with Kumano than you might expect and will catch people by surprise.
Beyond that, we've just got a bunch of ways to turn one damage into two damage, and two into three or four. If you manage to stick one or two of these and a Gauntlet of Power, suddenly you're dealing ten to twenty points of damage per turn. That's the kind of threat that people have to respect!
Just because you can't really play cards like Boil doesn't mean you have to play completely fair. These are all cards which punish people for being too greedy with their mana, with their tutors, or with their over-powered Blue spells.
It's worth noting that these cards should change depending on what kinds of decks you expect to play against.
If you plan on seeing a ton of [card Windswept Heath]Fetchland[/card]/[card Savannah]Dual Land[/card] manabases, then the non-basic hate is good. If you plan on seeing a ton of Blue decks, make space for Red Elemental Blast. If you see mostly [card Teneb, the Harvester]Teneb[/card]-colored graveyard decks, then run Tormod's Crypt.
These slots are just there to make other decks play fair, and should serve to supplement your utility removal in shoring up bad or anticipated match-ups.
Again, this is a subsection of cards that should be tweaked so that you're using cards that answer the things you're expecting to see the most of.
For instance, this is mostly set up to deal with Tokens, Zedruu the Greathearted, Rafiq of the Many and Glissa, the Traitor. That means I want to be able to kill any creature with 4 or less toughness on command, but also want cheap ways to sweep the board against Token decks.
As you can see, the first set of cards are your answers to creatures. The sweetest one is probably Ronin Cliffrider, which I'm blatantly stealing from Secret Tech on Commandercast. He's a guy who's fine against tokens and insane once you pick up a Basilisk Collar or some such. One of the "mountains matter" removal spells could easily become Volcanic Dragon or Karn Liberated or one of the colorless sweepers like Nevinyrral's Disk.
The second set of cards are your more generic answers to problematic permanents. I don't have to play against enchantments a ton, so my only two answers to them are Steel Hellkite and Chaos Warp. You could certainly run something like Karn Liberated or Spine of Ish Sah, but I really want to commit to Kumano, Master Yamabushi and see how strong that plan is. It's entirely possible that you don't need to deal with Enchantments, since you're just going to kill them anyway. Expedition Map is here to find either Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and help Kumano kill creatures, or Buried Ruin to buyback important artifacts like Steel Hellkite.
Beyond having answers, Red needs the ability to pressure people. You don't have many ways to mess around with value-engines that generate cards, so you want to be the one threatening to kill people if they don't do things. You've got to have ways to go over-the-top and make people have an answer right now or die.
Fortunately Red is one of the best colors for that kind of effect!
- Akroma, Angel of Fury
- Inferno Titan
- Conquering Manticore
- Dragonmaster Outcast
- Comet Storm
- Devil's Play
- Jaws of Stone
So there're a few things going on here.
Finally, you've got Akroma, Angel of Fury to further punish the Counterspell decks and Inferno Titan to threaten to one-shot people if you untap with him. And Conquering Manticore. He's a card that doesn't get a ton of play around me and I can't figure out why. Who doesn't love stealing Primeval Titans or [card Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre]Ulamog[/card]s and beating down?
The biggest benefit of these is that, just like Kumano, they love when you have a billion lands in play and make every land drop.
That's all well and good, but generally the only way Red can make sure it has a ton of lands is to just draw them naturally. That means you have to have a fairly high land count, which in turn means that you're more likely to flood out in the late game and will need some ways to draw extra cards to compensate.
Red is a color that is well known for being bad at recouping spent cards.
One thing I've learned from running Pauper Child of Alara is that Buyback spells are insane for recouping card advantage.
While red doesn't have anything as insane as Capsize or Disturbed Burial, you do get to copy their best spells every time they play them with Reiterate. Or you can Wild Ricochet their Time Stretch and get ahead that way. Those two cards are like Conquering Manticore in that they take advantage of other players being greedy and running good cards.
Chandra Ablaze, on the other hand, is a pretty rare combination of card advantage and disruption. You get to replace your hand while cutting the Blue players down to size and messing up their plans. That seems pretty insane to me! Chandra Ablaze is the kind of card that doesn't get nearly the amount of credit it deserves. If you get to do a mini-Wheel of Fortune twice, you should be pretty far ahead.
One of the most important questions you have to ask when you're building a deck is how the manabase is going to support the spells you want to play and the way you want to play the game. This deck wants to cast Kumano and spend most of its mana on other players' turns. Because of that, you want to make as many land drops as possible so that Kumano is a giant threat. To that end, we're playing 42 lands and a bunch of artifact mana.
- Mouth of Ronom
- Buried Ruin
- Thawing Glaciers
- Deserted Temple
- Terrain Generator
- Scrying Sheets
- Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
- Springjack Pasture
- 34 Snow-Covered Mountain
At least the lands have some utility, right? Thawing Glaciers, Scrying Sheets, and Terrain Generator all interact very well with Deserted Temple, especially in conjunction with one another. These will help you get ahead on lands and give you things to do with your mana if you don't have a reason to activate Kumano.
You've also got Mouth of Ronom and [card Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle]Valakut[/card] as removal to back-up Kumano or to let you invest less mana when you have to activate him.
Lastly, Springjack Pasture is a sort of storage land with additional utility. Blockers are good, lifegain is good, and the ability to turn your Goats into a Dark Ritual to kill someone is great. Besides, they're goats! What more could you want?!
[deckbox did="a142" size="small" width="560"]
Honestly, I'm pretty happy with how the deck has turned out. It's a shame Red doesn't have something like Azure Mage, but I think that Kumano, Master Yamabushi does a pretty good job of letting you play Draw-Go.
I think you've got a pretty good matchup against the field as long as you can resolve Kumano since he gives you such a huge advantage in positioning yourself throughout a game. You decide when to tap-out, when things have to die, and who the biggest threat is. Worst case is you wait until they deal with Kumano and use the opening to resolve an even bigger threat!
Anyway, that's all I've got for this week! Next week I'm going to be looking at one of my favorite mechanics and one that's had a sadly minimal impact on Commander as a format. This next one's pretty far out there and has been doing pretty well in my local metagame, so I'm excited to share it! Be sure to check it out!
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