We’re proud to announce the introduction of yet another new writer, J.C. Wilbur. He is an avid EDH and Legacy player who will be sharing his knowledge with us, especially about Legacy, a format that we have not written about at all on Win Target Game so far. Also, be sure to check out his brand new blog: http://devastatingdreamer.wordpress.com
Today, J.C. takes a look at his Krenko, Mob Boss EDH deck and explains why Red is most certainly not the “worst color in EDH” as many believe. Enjoy!
“The Red Zone: Why the “Worst Color in EDH” is Anything But”
“Red’s just terrible in Commander, bro!”
I hear this kind of opinion all the time.
“It’s a splash color at best. But you can find better options in other colors.”
“Green destroys artifacts anyway, has better creatures and it ramps you. Why play Red?”
“Land destruction? Please stop being such a dick!”
Everyone seems to have these canned responses to Red in EDH. These are views that I honestly believe are fostered by an ignorance of the color’s flexibility and sheer power. I, as you may have guessed by the title, am here to persuade you otherwise; Red is actually a brutally strong color if you know how to play it right (and, yes, we will be talking about land destruction).
First, introductions. I have been playing Magic for around seven years now; I started in high school, probably the worst time to be playing it from a social standpoint but we won’t get into that. In college I began my Legacy career, starting with Affinity and then cutting very deep into the format. I have played many, many different kinds of decks and, while I appreciate all the colors and combinations thereof, mono colored decks have always held an allure. It’s a challenge, you see: it’s relatively easy to just say to yourself “I’m lacking X kind of card; better splash Y color that has X in it!” But it’s entirely different to sit down with a mono White deck and say to yourself, “Okay, he has True-Name Nemesis and a Stoneforge Mystic with a Jitte in hand. How are we going to stop that?” We’ll be avoiding that particular Legacy scenario today. Instead let’s ask ourselves another question: “I know my Rhys, the Redeemed opponent plays Elesh Norn; so, what can my mono Red deck do to answer that?”
The answer is pretty simple: beat them before they beat you, using any (some brutal) means necessary. Fortunately for Red, winning quick is one of its strong points. Take my current Krenko, Mob Boss list for example:
Perhaps on the surface this seems like just another aggressive beatdown deck—and you wouldn’t be incorrect. This deck is all about pummeling your opponent as fast as you can. However, this list has more in common with its Legacy cousin than your typical Red aggro that flames out after a few turns. Come, let us go deeper into the warrens.
The Green Men
Krenko, Mob Boss
He really is a boss. Krenko takes the big chair in this deck over Kiki-Jiki because his ability is, simply put, broken in this deck. Doubling your army with expendable tokens is more relevant than just spamming combat—though that is always your primary plan. The tokens give you everything you need: mana from Skirk Prospector/Phyrexian Altar, damage from Siege-Gang Commander/Purphoros, God of the Forge and added buff with a Coat of Arms in play. Krenko himself has a few very relevant elements: being a 3/3 means that he survives Elesh Norn, allowing you to rebuild quickly if she does land; having a CMC of four means that Austere Command, unless choosing all creatures, may not hit him since your opponents are likely more worried about the tokens; finally, since he actually is a Goblin, Krenko is easy to recover from an Oblation, Spin into Myth or Chaos Warp—or he can be ignored completely. That’s the brilliance of this particular build, I think: it’s completely autonomous without the commander but becomes exponentially more lethal when he’s around.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Krenko’s right hand goblin. Although Krenko is all-around more efficient, Kiki-Jiki is definitely the more powerful card and functions in complete symphony with the rest of the deck. He’s the card that Legacy Goblins has wet dreams about—a utility machine that just creates insane value. Beyond the obvious combo with Zealous Conscripts, Kiki-Jiki turns your already great Goblin Matron, Ringleader and Settler into repeating effects that will only infuriate your opponents. Or you can copy Piledriver to end a game sooner, Siege-Gang for more bodies or any of the lords to buff your team. There is very little to say about Kiki-Jiki other than that he is one of the reasons you should play Red.
On the surface, the Assassin looks bad—terrible, really—until you consider his interaction with Krenko. Suddenly, your tokens become edict effects, albeit random ones. However, if you’re spitting out eight tokens, more than likely you’ll keep a few and your opponents will lose some, if not all, of their creatures. Goblin Assassin is the kind of card I go heads-over-heels for—a hidden card advantage engine if you use it properly.
A Wheel of Fortune on legs. Except when you wheel with Gorger, you draw an extra card for turn, putting you at a temporary advantage—and, as a plus, you are guaranteed some kind of gas to go with him.
Zo-Zu, the Punisher
Rounding out the less obvious of the creatures is Zo-Zu, a card your opponents will learn to hate. Like Sensation Gorger above, Zo-Zu is a walking version of another card—Ankh of Mishra in this case. Zo-Zu is nice because he is a response to a common behavior among all EDH decks: ramp. From the best of the best in Exploration to something janky like Burnished Hart, Zo-Zu despises them all. Maybe your opponents will ignore him and take the damage, hoping to slam a lifesaver—and maybe the six-to-ten damage they have taken over the course of those few turns has softened them up for an alpha strike.
There are other cards I’d love to ramble about but I’d like to move on to other cards in the deck and how to relate to Red’s power in the EDH format. Specifically…
Land Destruction (or How I Learned That Sometimes You Have to Be a “Dick”):
So, here’s the thing: land destruction isn’t that bad. Yes, I know. You can’t cast your Tooth and Nail. I get it. It “sets the game back.” I know. I hear you over there, across the table, bemoaning top decks with no mana sources. But you know what? LD gets too much hate. If you cast Tooth and Nail, for example, and slam down an Iona and an Elesh Norn against my deck, I lose. That’s really all there is to it—maybe, yes, I’ll find Karn for your Iona and Chaos Warp your Norn, but that’s really, really unlikely. Meanwhile, you get to sit in behind your fat hatemonsters, wondering why I am frustrated. And I’ll tell you why—I wish you would have casted an Obliterate instead. Hell, Worldfire if it wasn’t banned. At least then I could maybe play some Magic.
Perhaps you choose a different kind of deck and you flip an Erayo, Soratami Ascendant and cast an Arcane Laboratory. How is this much different from me destroying your lands? Your opponents can’t cast anything, short of an Abrupt Decay or something off a Boseiju/Cavern of Souls, without losing it—in fact, it’s even less fair since you get to play your game while we sit around. Frankly, I don’t see how dominating with something like the previous two scenarios or something a bit more tame like a Sun Titan & Pernicious Deed lock is any less fair than cycling a Decree of Annihilation.
Here’s what I’ve learned about land destruction in EDH: people rarely play it “just to be a dick.” Aside from the handful of people that think to themselves “man, I’d really love to play Hokori, the Dust Drinker” and massage themselves, most people running land destruction run it because they need an equalizer. Take something like Kaalia—right from turn zero, everyone at the table knows who they’re attacking first, who they’re playing their hates spell on first, who they’ll be “dealing with” first. It’s not unreasonable, Kaalia is a real bitch if she gets going—but it is dickish singling anyone out because they like a certain strategy. We’re all out to win, after all; even if we tell ourselves we’re “here to have fun,” Magic is a game in which there must be a victor—and sometimes that means you are destroying lands. In my mind, it’s completely fair to cast Armageddon with Kaalia in play since, without it, everyone else will simply crap on her for the entire game.
With Krenko, it’s much the same. As a committed aggro deck, I can’t afford to play the typical slow-game of EDH. I have very few “battlecruiser spells” (Insurrection is the goofiest I get) and most of my deck starts to grow stale past turn six. I need an equalizer, something that can give me an edge if the game goes long, and it shall if more than two people sit across from me. Land destruction naturally fits that need—by effectively taking us back to the early game, I can regain my footing and maybe scrape out a win.
Maybe you still dislike my rationale and that’s perfectly fine; if everyone preferred the exact same archetype and strategy Magic would become an entirely boring ordeal. All I ask is that you don’t castigate someone for liking or pursuing a particular strategy; instead, seek out your best way of counteracting it, be that through cards like Terra Eternal or simply sandbagging a land or two in your hand.
My current land destruction package is admittedly light; however, I dislike cards like Wildfire or Obliterate that wipe out my forces with them:
This one is obvious: Stone Rain on a Goblin is crazy, crazy good. Especially with Goblin Lackey or Kiki-Jiki as I mentioned above.
Both are, in my opinion, necessary in most EDH decks. It’s nice to have an out to manlands, Maze of Ith and out-of-control ramp cards like Gaea’s Cradle, Cabal Coffers and Serra’s Sanctum. Note that I don’t run Crucible of Worlds because, frankly, I haven’t become that heartless yet.
Price of Glory
Another reason why Red is awesome. Flavor text notwithstanding, Price of Glory forces your opponents to respond differently or suffer the consequences—while your game plan is completely unchanged.
Ah, yes, the bane of tri-color decks since nearly the dawn of the game itself. Blood Moon is another card that can blow some opponents right out of the water while leaving you basically unscathed, especially if they aren’t on Red.
I love it when flavor (especially something that syncs with your commander) and mechanics come together. This card only becomes better with more players, and can take the heat off one of some other Krosan Grip-destined card you or a friend control.
Decree of Annihilation
Yes, the one everyone hates. Uncounterable, instant speed and draws you a card. You’ll be cycling this card 90% of the time, but sometimes it’s nice to just equalize everything.
A nice answer to three-or-more color decks with very little downside for the mono Red player. It’s also nice that, even under a Blood Moon, Ruination destroys lands. Land Destruction isn’t the only reason to play Red. In fact, there are at least three other advantages Red has over any other color: Haste, Direct Damage, and Chaos. Let’s break each of these down.
Oh, haste. Hasty haste. Other cards may give your creatures haste like Lightning Greaves or Concordant Crossroads, but none compare to Red. In my list alone (not including Goblin Warchief, Goblin Chieftain and Hellraiser Goblin), I have Fervor, Mass Hysteria and Hammer of Purphoros; even these don’t scratch the surface of other haste cards like Ogre Battledriver or Anger.
So, why care about haste? It only lasts for a turn, after all. Here’s the thing: one turn can make or break a game. One additional combat step can tilt the game in your favor, leaving slower opponents scrambling to keep up. This is only further compounded by Krenko’s ability; once you start spamming the field with twenty or so goblins at a time, your opponents suddenly start to get worried, often too late.
I also find many people like to play board wipes. Once things start to get hairy, your White mages start clutching their Austere Commands with great eagerness; your Blue mages, now realizing they can’t counter everything you do, start tutoring for Cyclonic Rift or Evacuation. Once the dust settles, things are back to the same, stalled safezone that “everyone wants” while they return to assembling their pillowforts. Haste gives the Red deck the ability to recoup after a wipe and continue to disrupt your reactive opponents, keeping the damage stream going. On that note, let’s talk about…
And I’m not talking about Lightning Bolt. In my list, there are a few cards that do DD, but each are more devastating than your typical bolt; some are more goblin- or token-centric, so take this list with a grain of salt.
Again, flavor win. Most of the time this doubles your damage output, turning any goblin that deals damage to your opponent into a bomb. However, it also gives you good creature removal, generating card advantage via Krenko’s token ability and by making your Goblin Sharpshooter go berserk.
Functions much like Goblin Bombardment, except that he deals more damage and brings a bunch of cousins to load into the cannon.
Purphoros, God of the Forge
A blessing for Red, Purphoros demolishes pillowforts with his godly hammer. His pump ability, though expensive, is a nice touch. Sometimes you’ll be swinging with him, though this is just icing on the cake.
I was skeptical of it at first, but Chandra deals with most commanders, creatures, other planeswalkers, your opponents… honestly, she’s just great, even if you are discarding Red cards. Her other abilities, especially her little wheel, are bonuses as far as I am concerned.
Bonfire of the Damned
B-B-B-Burn everything in your path! A one-sided wipe is very much what this deck wants, especially when it can hurt planeswalkers or straight-up dome people.
A staple of Red EDH decks and in this deck for the same reason as Bonfire, though the fact it can never be turned on you and can be a decent Flame Slash.
Goblin Sharpshooter/Lightning Crafter
More synergy with the rest of the deck; Crafter has the bonus of saving a Goblin Matron or Goblin Ringleader from a boardwipe, Sharpshooter has the ability to go nuts with a bunch of tokens and a sacrifice outlet.
If you’re one of those Norin the Wary type,s you are already familiar with this card. Beyond costing much less than a Warstorm Surge, Pandemonium creates just that: complete chaos. Suddenly your opponents are hurting one another; players previous lacking in removal need only play a creature to remove the Nekusar or Azami that has been plaguing them. Sure sometimes they may hit you, but there’s a chance they won’t—and this brings us to Red’s last saving grace…
Ever since the printing of Wheel of Fortune, chaos as a theme has been Red’s major advantage and disadvantage. When you’re winning it does not seem advantageous… but if you’re losing? What’s the worst that could happen? Chaos further adds to Red’s political advantage that I think few players appreciate.
Take Warp World, for example (it’s not in my Krenko list, but it is definitely a good Red card): its effect screams “Hey guys! Let’s see what we can do next!” Warp World is the kind of card that gives players who are losing or being oppressed by other commanders a glint of hope — this is Red’s most underplayed advantage, I believe: not the ability to necessarily change the board, but to change the minds of your opponents. If you cast a huge, chaos-y spell that gives previously bloodied players a second wind, you’ll gain political currency with them that can translate into a direct advantage in-game (note: do not expect any favors from Spikes; they’ll thank you for releasing their shackles and proceed to kill you just as mercilessly as your opponents).
A few cards I run under the Chaos banner are:
Flavor text says it all. Sometimes this card nets you a Sol Ring on turn one, sometimes you discard a Kiki-Jiki and frown. But, either way, there’s a chance. Not that this card is a fun way to make friends by choosing someone to choose your card to discard.
Pretty much standard in all Red EDH decks. As a Red Oblation, this card trades something really scary (Elesh Norn, Propaganda) for potentially something else. Or you can use it to gain favor from someone who has had a commander or beloved fatty stolen. Your choice.
Wheel of Fortune
Another card that is basically a staple. Wheel effects are a nice way of restocking an empty hand with fuel and also a great way to equalizes anyone with a stocked hand and a Reliquary Tower out.
Well, I hope you’re still with me! This article definitely turned out to be more of a monster than I originally intended, but I hope you enjoyed reading it. Hopefully I’ve swayed your opinion on land destruction and Red’s power in EDH; maybe you’re sharpening your pitchforks in the comments section. Regardless, I have one thing to remind you of before I go…
Red deck wins!
– J.C. Wilbur