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Budget Magic: $88 (33 tix) AnaxCleave Red (Standard, Magic Arena)

Бзиа збаша, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Over the course of Budget Magic's history, one archetype has often shown up among the best budget options in various formats: Mono-Red Aggro. Since Throne of Eldraine, mono-red has been in a tough spot, but thanks to the printing of Anax, Hardened in the Forge in Theros: Beyond Death, the deck is back and maybe even better than ever. While today's deck isn't the spiciest deck we'll play in Theros: Beyond Death Standard, it is very likely one of the most competitive $100 decks in the format, making it important in its own right. Plus, it's sometimes fun to just kill people super quickly with massive creatures, aggressive threats, and Embercleave! Is mono-red competitive again? How good is Anax, Hardened in the Forge? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: AnaxCleave Red (Standard)

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The Deck

AnaxCleave Red is an aggro deck. It's looking to flood the board with cheap red creatures and kill the opponent, either by going wide with cheap threats or by going tall with one massive attack from a huge Anax, Hardened in the Forge wearing an Embercleave


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Anax, Hardened in the Forge is the best creature in our deck, and it's not even close. It typically hits the battlefield on turn three as a 4/3 or 5/3, which is already a solid deal. As the game goes along, it's fairly easy to grow Anax, Hardened in the Forge into an eight- or even 10-power creature as we cast our hand and add red mana symbols to the battlefield. This quickly turns Anax, Hardened in the Forge into a one-shot-kill attacker with the help of Embercleave, which not only gives Anax, Hardened in the Forge double strike and trample but also pumps it +3/+1 thanks to the combination of its ability and adding two red mana symbols in the battlefield. By far the most explosive thing our deck can do is to get an Embercleave on an Anax, Hardened in the Forge, which will allow us to kill our opponent incredibly fast—sometimes as early as Turn 4!

The other reason why Anax, Hardened in the Forge is so important to our deck is because it allows us to play a bunch of aggressive red creatures and still have a good Embercleave target. Putting Embercleave on a random 1/1 isn't really all that exciting, so in the past, many builds of Mono-Red simply couldn't play the equipment, even though it is one of the best aggressive red cards in the format. Anax, Hardened in the Forge, while being a great card in Mono-Red Aggro in general, also allows the deck to take advantage of Embercleave, which is a really huge deal for the archetype.

The other upside of Anax, Hardened in the Forge is its ability to make tokens as our creatures die. One of the traditional drawbacks of Mono-Red Aggro is that it can be difficult to rebuild if the opponent can find a wrath or a bunch of targeted removal since to win the game, we really want to quickly dump all or most of our hand. Anax, Hardened in the Forge solves this probably mostly by itself: if our opponent manages to sweep our board with Shatter the Sky or Time Wipe, we will end up with a bunch of Satyr tokens that can finish our opponent off with another attack or two. 

The Curve

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The rest of the creatures in our deck are designed to be as cheap and aggressive as possible, allowing us to chip in for damage early in the game and hopefully get our opponent's life total low enough that we can close out the game with the help of one big attack with Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Embercleave, and other pump spells. While all of our one-drops are technically just 1/1s, each comes with some extra upside.

  • Fervent Champion is great in multiples since two copies can pump each other, making each into 2/1 first-striking attackers, which can be difficult for some decks to block and forces a lot of damage through early in the game. It can also pick up an Embercleave for free if our opponent has removal for the first creature we equip.
  • Grim Initiate gives us some extra resilience by making a 1/1 token when it dies. If we happen to have an Anax, Hardened in the Forge on the battlefield, we actually get two 1/1s, making Grim Initiate a very solid deal for just a single red mana.
  • Scorch Spitter technically attacks for two, thanks to the one point of direct damage we get when it attacks.

While each of our one-drops works slightly differently, the end goal is the same: play a bunch of creatures, smash our opponent's face, and hopefully kill them as quickly as possible, before they find sweepers, removal, or lifegain to mess up our plans.

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Runaway Steam-Kin is sort of our backup Anax, Hardened in the Forge when it comes to having a big creature to equip with Embercleave, turning into a 5/5 double-striker, assuming we can get it up to the maximum number of counters by casting some red spells. Apart from being big, Runaway Steam-Kin's ability to produce extra mana is very helpful, allowing for some very explosive turns where we cast some random creatures and pump spells and then still have enough mana to Embercleave during combat. After sideboarding, we have access to Experimental Frenzy, which, with the help of Runaway Steam-Kin's mana production, can allow us to play through a huge chunk of our deck each turn.

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Phoenix of Ash is just a two-of, but it does a couple of important things for our deck. First, it allows us to attack in the air, which can be a nice way to force through the last few points of damage needed to kill our opponent after the ground has become gummed up with creatures. Second, having escape makes Phoenix of Ash another way to fight through removal and wraths since if our opponent manages to kill it, we can get it back from our graveyard as a 3/3 thanks to the +1/+1 counter. Third, Phoenix of Ash gives us a nice mana sink for once we have run out of cards. If we don't have anything better to do with our mana, we can always spend it to pump Phoenix of Ash and get in for some extra damage.

Pump Spells

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A bit ago, we talked about how mono-red aggro traditionally hasn't been a very good Embercleave deck since most of its creatures are small. While Anax, Hardened in the Forge goes a long way toward solving this issue, the other way we can make Embercleave scary in our deck is with the help of our pump spells: Rimrock Knight and Infuriate. With the help of these cards, any random 1/1 wearing an Embercleave has the potential to deal a huge chunk of damage, and even just throwing them on unblocked creatures without Embercleave is a good way to close out games. Rimrock Knight is great because after we use it to pump an attacker, we can play it as a 3/1 for two, which is a solid aggressive creature in its own right (although keep in mind it doesn't play defense at all since it can't block) while Infuriate is about as close to a red Giant Growth as we get in Standard, offering +3/+2 for just one mana. Probably the best way to think about these cards is as burn spells. Oddly, we don't play much true burn (just four copies of Shock), so Rimrock Knight and Infuriate fill the "reach" role in our deck, allowing us to force through the last few points of damage and close out the game. 

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We also get some pump for free in our mana base in Castle Embereth. In practice, we don't actually end up activating Castle Embereth all that often, but since we have 17 Mountains in our deck (meaning that Castle Embereth should basically always come into play untapped), it's more or less a freeroll, so even if we only activate it once every few games, it is more than worth its slight opportunity cost.

Other Stuff

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Last but not least, we get some card draw in Light up the Stage to help make sure we have enough action to close out the game. In reality, Light up the Stage doesn't have any specific synergy in our deck, but drawing two cards (even if we only get one turn cycle to use them) for one mana is just too efficient for our deck to pass up.

The Sideboard

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  • Claim the Firstborn and The Akroan War give us ways to temporarily get a blocker out of the way and force through some additional damage. The Akroan War can also help set up a lethal attack by forcing our opponent to swing in with all of their creatures, clearing the way for a big attack on the backswing.
  • Lava Coil and Slaying Fire give us some removal spells that can deal with the bigger creatures that Shock can't kill.
  • Embereth Shieldbreaker can take down Witch's Oven and other artifacts while eventually adding a body to the battlefield, thanks to escape.
  • Unchained Berserker comes in against white-based aggro decks, giving us an unblockable 3/1 that can also block forever if we happen to fall behind on board and are in danger of dying to a Gideon Blackblade or Venerated Loxodon
  • Experimental Frenzy gives us another source of card advantage against control decks and is insane with Runaway Steam-Kin on the battlefield to repeatedly make mana, often allowing to "draw" several extra cards each turn.


We ended up 4-1 in our video matches with AnaxCleave Red, but overall, I played quite a few matches with the deck off-camera (for some reason, whenever I start playing an aggro deck, I find it oddly enjoyable and keep going). And while I'm not sure about my total record, I know it was positive, and it felt the deck was a solid budget option for ranking up on Arena and likely for paper play as well. 

While the most explosive and exciting thing the deck can do is kill opponents super quickly with Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Embercleave, perhaps the most impressive part of the deck is its resilience. Unlike a lot of Mono-Red decks we've played in the past, thanks to Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Phoenix of Ash, and Light Up the Stage, the deck is surprisingly good at fighting through some amount of disruption and even wraths.

The deck is also surprisingly difficult to play well. Fairly or unfairly, Mono-Red Aggro has the reputation of being a brainless aggro deck, but AnaxCleave Red is actually pretty tricky to play. While there are some mindless games where we will just win with Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Embercleave, most games with the deck are super close, and every point of damage counts. This means seemingly small decisions like whether to spend a pump spell early in the game to save a creature from a removal spell or hold it to force through damage later in the game (or whether to use it to force through a bit of damage or wait even longer in the hopes of drawing Embercleave to double the damage) are often the difference between winning and losing a game or match. If you do decide to pick up the deck, practice it a lot. It's not nearly as easy to play well as its reputation suggests, and learning the optimal lines will lead to more success.

So, should you play AnaxCleave Red in Theros: Beyond Death Standard? If you're looking for a budget-friendly option that is legitimately competitive for something like a Grand Prix, it is likely one of the better options in the format. Plus, since Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Embercleave will remain in Standard for another year and a half, you should get a lot of play out of your investment. While Mono-Red Aggro isn't for everyone, if you enjoy the play style, AnaxCleave Red is likely the perfect budget Standard option for you!

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While the build of AnaxCleave Red we played for the videos is already fairly cheap on Magic Arena (with 20 total rares and mythics between the main deck and sideboard), it is possible to make the deck even cheaper in terms of wildcards. The above build only takes three mythics and seven rares, with three of the rares being sideboard copies of Experimental Frenzy that I simply couldn't bring myself to cut, even though you could in theory (although the control matchups gets much tougher).

The easiest rare to cut is Castle Embereth. While it is a nice mana sink, as we talked about before, we don't actually activate it all that often. Phoenix of Ash is a flex slot, so we can drop that for more copies of Scorch Spitter, although this is a downgrade in terms of power, especially against control decks. After that, things get tough. We end up dropping Fervent Champion for the next-best one-drop in Weaselback Redcap, but Weaselback Redcap is a lot worse than Fervent Champion, so I'd try to avoid this downgrade if possible, although it will probably be fine if you're playing in the lower ranks or casually. 

As for paper, no ultra-budget or non-budget lists this week. Our three copies of Embercleave alone cost $48, so there really isn't a way to play the deck on a $50 (if you want to play something similar, a Cavalcade of Calamity build of Mono-Red without Embercleave is probably the way to go, although Embercleave did feel like the main reason we won a lot of our games, alongside Anax, Hardened in the Forge). Meanwhile, in non-budget land, AnaxCleave Red is one of those decks that just happens to be cheap in non-budget form. There's probably an argument for adding a fourth Embercleave over a random one-drop like [[Scorch Spitter], but otherwise, the deck should be good to go for high-level play as-is.


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

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