Anyone who has read this column for long or listened to many episodes of Commandercast knows that I'm a huge fan of mono-colored decks. I have a strange obsession with grindy mono-white decks that never really do much of anything, but my favorite color to build with is Red. That's because red is the color of action. While other colors mess around with ramp, removal, card drawing or other silly things, red decks just start killing everyone.
The recently spoiled Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded is an exciting addition to the red player’s arsenal in Commander. This seems like the Planeswalker made for Commander, in that it does exactly what a red deck wants. You can filter through your deck, Sudden Impact Blue players abusing Reliquary Tower and whatnot, and ultimate him for the win if people let him get out of control.
What I'm really excited about is that this gives me another way to take advantage of random discard in Red decks, which means building around Squee, Goblin Nabob. I've had a ton of fun playing Squee with cards like Survival of the Fittest and Zombie Infestation, but have never been driven to play him in red decks, which usually lack discard outlets.
Hopefully red continues to get new looting effects, which I can slot into the deck as they get released.
Let's start by taking a look at the available discard and sacrifice outlets.
For the Greater Good
- Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
- Faithless Looting
- Anvil of Bogardan
- Jalum Tome
- Burning Inquiry
- Control of the Court
- Goblin Lore
- Latulla, Keldon Overseer
- Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
- Ogre Shaman
- Knollspine Invocation
- Chandra Ablaze
We begin with approximately a million different ways to use Squee. The purpose of this deck is to dump Squee in your graveyard as quick as possible, and then value everyone to death. If you can put Squee to use every turn, you're essentially drawing two cards per turn. At some point, whether those cards are Shock or Insurrection, you're going to win.
So what can we do with the Goblin Nabob? The simplest thing is to turn him into other cards with effects like Faithless Looting and Gamble. This is obviously great for drawing a billion cards, but at some point you will have to win the game. Squee can help in that department as well.
You can steal creatures with Helm of Posession, destroy lands and other problematic permanents with Shivan Harvest or Capricious Efreet, and kill creatures with Mortarpod, Ogre Shaman and deathtouch equipment.
Before moving on, I want to explain the interaction between Capricious Efreet and sacrifice outlets. First you choose targets for the Efreet's effect. Then you can choose to sacrifice your permanent while the trigger is on the stack. Upon resolution, the effect can only choose between the remaining targets. This little trick turns your Efreet into a repeatable Vindicate. Voila!
Rising from the Ashes
The problem with running so many effects that take advantage of Squee is that there's only one Squee to go around. That's why the deck needs access to redundant effects to really get its engines going. The phoenixes generally cost more than Squee and are harder to rebuy, but they do come with an upside. They allow you to burn people out faster and kill larger creatures. It's also awesome to suit them up with deathtouch equipment to create a pseudo-Wrath.
Winning the Game
Now that we have an engine that can grind games out and kill people slowly, how can this deck go over the top and close out a game efficiently? If you're generating a ton of mana and can cast or sacrifice a few creatures, these seem like pretty good place to start:
- Rimescale Dragon
- Bogardan Hellkite
- Knollspine Dragon
- Fire Dragon
- Hellkite Charger
- Mana-Charged Dragon
- Moonveil Dragon
- Hoarding Dragon
This deck will have the most trouble beating blue decks with a ton of countermagic and draw spells. Because of that, I wanted to have a mechanism of winning the game that would give those decks trouble. Storm is a mechanic that counterspell decks traditionally have trouble against once you have enough mana sources in play, and Ignite Memories and Dragonstorm seem more than capable of killing a player. You generally can't storm for more than four or five, but that's usually enough to kill the player who threatens you the most.
Vicious Shadows is your other end game. You have a bunch of creatures that you can kill off easily to generate a lot of damage in short order. Usually when you untap with Vicious Shadows in play, it spells doom for at least one player, and often more.
Regarding the suite of dragons, I tried to pick ones that have unique effects. Moonveil Dragon, Mana-Charged Dragon and Hellkite Charger represent huge amounts of damage with little setup. Knollspine Dragon generates cards, Fire Dragon and Bogardan Helkite help control the board, and Rimescale Dragon answers just about everything else.
Besides Knollspine Invocation, I did want another mechanism for turning Squee and Phoenixes into removal, as well as another way to generate card advantage over a longer game. We've already committed to an attrition-based game by running Squee, so why not diversify the tools at our disposal?
I've already mentioned the purpose of Basilisk Collar and Gorgon Flail as mechanisms to turn Phoenixes and Mortarpod into unconditional removal. This is an interaction I've gotten a lot of grief for, both online and in actual games, but it certainly does its job. I've had more spot removal pointed at Mortarpod than at [card Sword of Feast and Famine]Sword of X and Y[/card] in my Kemba, Kha Regent deck, as shocking as that may be.
The Salvaging Station engine often makes the cut in my mono-colored decks, since artifacts can be used to approximate effects the color doesn't generally get access to. In the case of mono-red, ramp and graveyard hate. Especially with a deck that can kill creatures frequently, the value and utility offered by this package cannot be overstated.
Last but not least, we have a mana engine. Using Phoenixes as pseudo-Squees costs a ton of mana and this deck needs a way to generate enough lands for the task. Crucible of Worlds is perfect for enabling this, even when it's "just" buying back Terramorphic Expanse and Forgotten Cave.
Decks with few color commitments can also run Petrified Field and Buried Ruin to go with Crucible of Worlds. This gives you a glacially slow recursion engine, but one that is difficult to disrupt. Each of the pieces recur other pieces, and eventually will let you rebuy any powerful artifacts you need.
Stick a Fork in 'Em!
At some point your deck has to go over the top of whatever's happening and just kill people. One of the biggest problems that red has in Commander is that the only game-breaking card it has access to is Insurrection. The main exceptions to this are cards like Ruination and Obliterate, which are very much frowned upon in the Commander community.
Other colors have access to cards like Time Stretch and Tooth and Nail to win the game at ten-ish mana, while all red can muster is a litany of [card Fireball]Fireballs[/card] which cost upwards of 15 mana before they actually kill someone. So what are we supposed to do without our own degenerate spells?
Why not just copy other peoples' spells? A copied Tooth and Nail might be a little underwhelming, but most other high-end cards like Stroke of Genius are going to be awesome. Even better, the deck has a few ways to rebuy its [card Fork]forks[/card] to get more value out of them.
When every color has access to flexible, colorless lifegain, the red deck's late game gets even worse. It gets to a point where you're obligated to run a card like Sulfuric Vortex to make sure your burn spells are still reasonable ways to close the game. Secure in the knowledge that nobody can regain 18 life off with Martyr of Sands or Wurmcoil Engine, you will be free to cast a giant Devil's Play, copy it, and cackle wildly!
Controlling the Board
The last thing needed is a way to survive while setting up and answer problematic permanents that can run away with a game. The deck is built such that, if a game goes long enough, you can grind away everyone's resources and kill them with Squee. Your goal is to get to a point where you can leverage your long-term card advantage, and these spells allow you to do that:
- Oblivion Stone
- Nevinyrral's Disk
- Word of Seizing
- Blasphemous Act
- Shattering Pulse
The card that interacts best with this deck is Pyrohemia because you're pretty much guaranteed to keep it in play with all your recursive guys. It's a mana sink that gets life totals in range of your burn spells, and which can't be merely ignored by opponents.
Shattering Pulse is the most questionable card in this deck, because its utility depends not only on how may artifacts people are playing, but also how many of them you want to spend mana to kill. Five mana is a big investment, especially for a deck that could be recurring Phoenixes or some such, so there's a real opportunity cost to killing an artifact with this spell.
The last thing that this deck needs is a manabase that can support its absurdly expensive engine.
You could also try cutting the mana doublers and some lands for mana rocks, but I think this approach is much better. The mana doubling artifacts encourage you to build in mechanisms to guarantee hitting every land drop. If you keep hitting land drops, then your deck still functions, even if you don't hit a Gauntlet effect.
You can certainly make more space for basics if you wanted to, likely by cutting cycling lands, but I think the ability to draw cards in the late game is more important than a marginal increase in consistency.
- Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
- Terramorphic Expanse
- Evolving Wilds
- High Market
- Forgotten Cave
- Smoldering Crater
- Blasted Landscape
- Buried Ruin
- Petrified Field
- Winding Canyons
- Keldon Necropolis
- Kher Keep
- Vesuvan Doppelganger
- Mouth of Ronom
- Scrying Sheets
- 25 Snow-Covered Mountain
The tricks here include an uncounterable sacrifice outlet for Squee in Keldon Necropolis, Winding Canyons so that you can leave up mana for shenanigans on other players' turns, and Kher Keep as a pseudo-Squee effect.
As I mentioned before, you also have a slow but resilient recursion engine built on the interaction between Crucible of Worlds, Buried Ruin and Petrified Field. This is an engine that certainly does not belong in every deck, but in a grindy attrition deck that doesn't need access to many colored sources, it is exactly what you want to be doing.
Given that the game goes long enough, this is the kind of engine that ensures that you have the last threat on the table.
With that, let's take a look at the finished decklist:
Latulla, Keldon Overseer
Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
Word of Seizing
Control of the Court
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Chandra, the Firebrand
Anvil of Bogardan
Helm of Possession
Gauntlet of Power
Crucible of Worlds
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Mouth of Ronom
25 Snow-Covered Mountain
The one thing I don't like about this deck is the lack of Squee-themed cards. Unfortunately, the only one you can add to the deck is Squee's Toy. You could probably also justify General's Regalia, but Crumbling Sanctuary isn't very good. You could start delving into cards with Squee flavor text, but that might be a bit of a stretch.
Next week we should have the full Avacyn Restored spoiler, and I'm super excited to get a chance to play with some of these cards. I'm very interested in getting some of the new utility lands to give them a shot in a few of my decks. To welcome in the new set, I'm going to do a quick rundown of some of my favorites from the new set before I get to building a budget Balthor, the Defiled deck.
If you like brain-eating Zombie goodness (and who are you kidding, of course you do), be sure to check it out!
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