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Budget Magic: $50 Big Red (Standard)


ʔédlánet’é, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! A few days ago, I came across a Standard Gruul deck built around Chandra's Incinerator, which sparked my interest in seeing what the big red six-drop could do in Standard. In Modern, it's pretty easy to make Chandra's Incinerator into a one-mana 6/6 trample with upside, with the help of cheap burn spells. It's a bit tougher in Standard since we don't have cards like Lightning Bolt or Rift Bolt, which means that Chandra's Incinerator works better as a finisher than as a Turn 2 jank-'em-out play. So, how can we make Chandra's Incinerator work in a format that lacks cheap burn? The answer is to simply overload on cards that deal non-combat damage. In fact, every single non-Incinerator creature in our deck deals non-combat damage in one way or another (well, maybe minus one, depending on how much you're willing to stretch the definition of damage), as do all of our instants and sorceries and even some of our lands! The end result is a deck that can cast Chandra's Incinerator into play on the cheap in the mid-game and then maximize Chandra's Incinerator's ability to essentially double up our non-combat damage by hitting our opponent's creatures and planeswalkers as a bonus when we throw damage at our opponent's face. The end result? A deck I'm calling Big Red, although it could just as easily be called Mono-Red Incinerator, Mono-Red Giants, or even Mono-Red Taunter. How does the deck work? How good is it? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Big Red

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The Deck

Normally, when I think of Mono-Red Decks in Standard, I think of dedicated aggro decks overflowing with one- and two-mana plays. Our deck is the opposite. In fact, there's not a single one- or two-mana creature in our entire deck. As a result, Big Red is basically a mono-red midrange or even a mono-red control build. Rather than looking to jank our opponent out with early aggro kills, we're looking to stabilize the board in the early game by killing our opponent's creatures with burn until we can get Chandra's Incinerator and other midrange threats online, at which point we quickly take over the game with a flurry of non-combat damage that, assuming we have a Chandra's Incinerator, will also shoot down our opponent's board, clearing the way for a couple of big attacks to close out the game.

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Chandra's Incinerator is the centerpiece of our deck. As I mentioned in the intro, thanks to the Standard card poll, we can't slam it on Turn 2 or 3 like some Modern decks can, but we are pretty good at reducing the cost of Chandra's Incinerator in the mid-game. And in Standard, a one-mana 6/6 with trample and additional upsides is still quite powerful on Turn 4 or 5. While a one-mana 6/6 trample is a great threat on its own, Chandra's Incinerator is even better in our deck since we're overflowing with sneaky synergies and ways to deal non-combat damage, which will allow us to close out the game extremely quickly once it hits the battlefield, as we can hit our opponent for a bunch of non-combat damage and also wrath our opponent's board, which, in turn, clears the way for Chandra's Incinerator and our creatures to get in a couple of massive attacks to finish the game. So, what sources of non-combat damage do we have to reduce Chandra's Incinerator's cost and then sweep away our opponent's creatures and planeswalkers once we have the six-drop on the battlefield? Let's count the ways.

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First off, we have a bunch of burn spells, ranging from Spikefield Hazard (which technically takes up a land slot in our deck) to Slaying Fire. In the early game, these spells help to keep our opponent's board clear while we are setting up our midrange plays. Later, they help to reduce the cost on Chandra's Incinerator (a Shock plus Roil Eruption allows us to cast an Incinerator for one mana on Turn 4, while Slaying Fire can get it down to two mana all by itself). Later still, once Chandra's Incinerator is on the battlefield, all of these spells turn into weird approximations of Searing Blaze, allowing us to throw damage at our opponent's face and, thanks to Chandra's Incinerator, also kill whatever creatures and planeswalkers our opponent might have on the battlefield.

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Bonecrusher Giant offers the perfect transition from discussing our spells to talking about our creatures since it's technically both. Its Stomp side gives us an additional (slightly overcosted) Shock, while the creature half gives us an on-curve body that deals a bit of non-combat damage if it is targeted by a spell.

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While Bonecrusher Giant is sweet, Tectonic Giant and Brash Taunter are even sweeter, giving us creatures that can deal absurd amounts of non-combat damage. Tectonic Giant can Lava Spike our opponent when it attacks (or Searing Blaze, if we have Chandra's Incinerator), and if we don't need the damage, we can always use it to draw some extra cards. Meanwhile, Brash Taunter requires our opponent to have a creature (preferably a big one) to deal non-combat damage with its fighting ability, but on the right board state, it can easily hit our opponent for five or more damage, which is enough to make Chandra's Incinerator cost just a single mana. After we have Chandra's Incinerator on the battlefield, Brash Taunter becomes ever more powerful (and hilarious) since we can fight a creature, which deals damage to Brash Taunter's taunter, redirects to our opponent's face, and then triggers Chandra's Incinerator to deal damage to one our opponent's creatures or planeswalkers, creating this weird ping-pong of damage bouncing around the table. 

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Last but not least, we have Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, which is our one creature that doesn't technically deal non-combat damage, although thanks to its ability to add two damage to any of our red sources (which is our entire deck), in reality, it does add a bunch of extra damage to the table by pumping both our spells and creatures. With a Torbran out, a single Roil Eruption hits our opponent for five—enough to get Chandra's Incinerator down to just a single mana—as does Tectonic Giant's attack trigger. Then, things get even crazier once we have Chandra's Incinerator on the battlefield. Let's say we throw a Shock at our opponent's face with both Torbran and Incinerator out. The Shock will hit our opponent for four damage, and then Chandra's Incinerator will hit a creature or planeswalker for six since Shock is the source of the initial damage and Chandra's Incinerator is the source of the extra damage, so they both get Torbran, Thane of Red Fell's damage buff. 

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The last non-land card in our main deck is Mazemind Tome, a card that you wouldn't see in a traditional mono-red deck in Standard since it offers slow, grindy card advantage rather than quick damage, but it's perfect for our Big Red deck since we're more of mono-red midrange or even mono-red control than mono-red aggro. The scry / card-draw ability helps to make sure we hit our land drops in the early game or, if we already have enough lands to cast our spells, makes sure that we don't flood out and instead draw threats. Getting a little incidental lifegain once we get four page counters on it is rarely bad and especially helpful against more aggressive decks, where it can buy us an extra turn to get cards like Brash Taunter and Chandra's Incinerator online.

Playing the Deck

The biggest thing to realize if you decide to pick up Big Red is that it's not a traditional Standard mono-red deck. Things will likely go poorly if you try to play it like mono-red aggro—forcing through fast damage and trying to kill the opponent quickly. Instead, play it like a midrange or control deck. Spend the early game using burn spells to deal with the opponent's creatures and generating some value with Mazemind Tome and then trust that cards like Brash Taunter and Chandra's Incinerator will take over the game later on.

Speaking of Brash Taunter, it's often either the best or worst card in our deck, and in matchups where it is bad (especially creature-light Elspeth Conquers Death decks), don't be afraid to sideboard it out for something like Robber of the Rich or our escape creatures. Brash Taunter can win games all by itself against decks like Gruul, Mono-Green, and Mono-Black Aggro, but it's really bad against decks with Massacre Wurm or Elspeth Conquers Death (or control decks without many creatures to block or fight). 

Finally, a pet peeve of mine: don't feel like you have to activate Mazemind Tome every turn just because it is on the battlefield. If you are digging for (or trying to avoid) a specific card type (most often lands), it's almost always right to scry, but if your hand is in good shape and you don't immediately need something specific, it's perfectly acceptable to choose not to activate the artifact for a turn, with the goal being to wait until there is extra mana to draw a card outright rather than wasting a page counter to scry for no good reason. Mazemind Tome is our main source of card advantage, and unlike Yorion, Sky Nomad decks, we don't have a way to reset the page counters, which makes each counter we add valuable. The more cards we can draw with Mazemind Tome, the better. Don't fall into the trap of absentmindedly activating the scry ability just because you have a Mazemind Tome on the battlefield.

Wrap-Up

We finished 4-1 in our video matches with Big Red and 4-2 overall after counting a rematch against Yorion, where we got stuck on two lands and didn't actually do much of anything. While the deck felt competitive, more importantly, it was super fun to play. I'm very much not a Mono-Red Aggro player, but Big Red is very much not Mono-Red Aggro. Instead, it's a deck that is overloaded with sweet synergies and plays more like control than aggro. 

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm actually pretty happy with where it landed. In fact, I'm not sure I'd change a card. That said, as we'll talk about in a minute, there are some ways to further reduce the cost of the deck on Magic Arena. While Big Red is super cheap in paper and on Magic Online, it's not that cheap on Magic Arena, with a total of 30 rares and mythics, which is less than most top-tier decks but not exceedingly budget-friendly.

All in all, I really liked Big Red. It was the most fun I've had playing a Mono-Red deck in Standard in a long time, and it felt pretty competitive too! If you're a fan of synergistic decks with sneaky synergies and some sweet plays, give it a shot! It felt good enough to rank up on Magic Arena and maybe 5-0 a league on Magic Online, and you'll have a blast along the way.

Non-Budget Big Red

In all honesty, I'm not sure I'd change a single card in Big Red, even if our budget were unlimited. There weren't any cards that I felt like I had to exclude based on their price, and while I'm sure there could be some slight improvements in the sideboard, in general, Big Red just happens to be ultra-budget in paper, even in optimal form! That said, the one change I would make is adding a playset of Shatterskull Smashing to the mana base since it's mostly a free roll, and having a bit more removal in the deck wouldn't hurt. Plus, if the game goes long and we can double up the damage, it offers a fun way to finish the game, in conjunction with Brash Taunter.

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Sadly, Big Red is exactly the type of Budget Magic deck that doesn't translate all that well to Magic Arena since it's built around jank rares, which are super cheap in paper and on Magic Online but cost the same as a chase rare on Magic Arena, thanks to its messed-up economy. Most of the rares in the deck simply can't be cut because cards like Chandra's Incinerator, Brash Taunter, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, and Tectonic Giant are the core of the deck (plus, we really need Mazemind Tome for card draw). We can drop the rares and mythics from the sideboard, and if we really stretch, we can switch Bonecrusher Giant to Omen of the Forge (which is a huge, huge downgrade) and get the deck down to zero mythics and 19 total rares. But trying to get the deck any cheaper is a losing battle. Sadly, the Arena economy simply isn't set up in a way that allows decks built around janky rares to be budget-friendly.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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