This article was written many months ago in the R/x Forum on MTGS at the start of the “new” Standard season. This was during a time of explosive information gathering and unprecedented deck development that resulted in a congregation of like-minded Red Mages forming rare bonds of brotherhood. The aftermath of this “big bang” resulted in the formation of the Fires of Salvation Clan, and this very article was at the introduction of the first Clan thread. Since then, it’s been referenced numerous times by developing Red Mages and has more or less been a defining article in the mindset of a Red Mage. Though this article pales in comparison to the likes of zemanjaski’s Primer on Red Magic, I feel that there just may be some developing Red Mages within this great community that may benefit from this compilation.
I want to write about Burn. And what it means to be a Red player. Why do we play Red? Did we choose it, or did it choose us? I believe it’s a little bit of both.
But more importantly, what does playing Red say about us?
I’ve pondered these things today over a few pints today. Please bear with me as I lead on to equal parts drunken ramble and equal parts experience. I want to discuss many things that have been on my mind, as well as been talked about by forum member such as zemanjaski, redthirst, hamfactorial, and many, many others.
Now I want my turn. I want my voice heard. I am a Red Mage and I will not go unnoticed.
I will explore all of these questions in a few chapters. And I will be nothing but honest, for I believe what I may know could help somebody out there looking to delve deeper into the world of Red.
Chapter One: We are the Fire!
As Red players, when we play Red, we are making a statement. From the moment we slam our first
Mountain down and proudly tap it to land a Stromkirk Noble, we are saying “Here am I am! Deal with me or die!” We demand an answer and we don’t want to hear “NO!”
Red Mages are a free bunch. We are proud, passionate, independent, and stubborn. We are in the moment and we want things NOW. We will not be denied our demands.
The psychology of a Red Mage is both simple and complex. In its essence, Red is symbolic of feeling. We have, in our minds, a grasp of a feeling that is pure and burning. We are in the moment, alive and kicking, screaming in this one instant to dominate. It’s the Fires of Life itself we are channeling.
But we are just more than that. We are brave and cunning. We are insightful. We are guided by our passions to achieve our goal at all costs. Limits be damned!
Yet it’s because of our haste we are commonly stereotyped as a group of short-sighted, narrow-minded children that use fire as toys. And sometimes we are. But more often than not, we are smart and hard-working; which are
very adult qualities.
Since we are driven by our passions, we have a tendency to labor out of love. We utilize our brains painstakingly to craft our weapons (much like the Dwarven folk) and we use these brains to pilot our weapon to victory. A competitive and consistent Red Mage that hones his craft will surely take victory as long he stays focused with his sharpened weapon. To win requires that you be no dummy.
And we balance our fiery passion with a tempered mind. This is why Red is the thinking man’s color.
We understand that our tools are often not as strong as our opponent’s. Our cards are pretty weak by comparison, mostly. However, we still win. Why is that? Red Mages win by making do with what they have and utilizing the maximum potential of each and every resource. We are the underdog in almost every game, yet we are just able to take victory out of the hands of our enemy.
We win because, much like fire-starting, we find a way to make it happen.
Chaper Two: The Four
Fundamentals of Fire
The cornerstone of a successful Red Mage and his deck include these Four Basic Fundamentals:
Clearly we don’t win by chance the majority of the time. Indeed, we do have some wits about us to utilize these themes to maximum effectiveness.
Playing Red can be simple and complex. But, as Red Mages, this suits us just fine. We are drawn to this style of play. It was made for us…by us. Who the first Red Mage was is lost to us in history, but the important themes and fundamentals were passed down to us by the family of fire through oral tales and lessons from a swift defeat. I believe it is in us; we are born with the inherent design and passion to play Red from the very beginning. And we embody this design in our waking day-to-day lives as well as when we sit down to duel in Magic: The Gathering. We are taught to play Red effectively, but we also instinctively know how to play Red at a
very basic level from the beginning.
Deckbuilding can be very challenging and very, very rewarding. Oftentimes we are at a loss of where to start. However, one thing is a constant in Red and was so from the very beginning.
Red defined the curve in the early days of yore.
This is the cornerstone of EVERY Red Deck. It is nonnegotiable. You start here.
Red utilizes all of its fundamentals from the very curve that birthed it. But what is a curve? It’s the ability to use all of your resources every turn to generate advantage. This is accomplished by ensuring that you have a turn 1 play, followed by a turn 2 play, followed by a turn 3 play, etc. You must be doing something every turn for as long as you have the gas. When deckbuilding, you must start with a foundation of your curve and that base is cemented with 1-drops. Red must have a turn 1 play – whether you are on offense or defense, there must
be an action or a reaction against the opponent.
Red’s use of the curve is its greatest strength. And it is our strength as well. It allows us to walk the bridge to our fundamentals of Red Magic.
Aggressive speed is achieved through the exploitation of the curve. We must have a 1-drop, therefore we play many 1-drops. But what is the correct number? Since our curve dictates a turn 2 play as well, we will be content with either a 2-drop or two 1-drops. Therefore, we must play a lot, and more than our 2-drops. The path to victory is opened by the hard work or sacrifice of our 1-drop; it is our opening statement. Whether it is a Goblin Guide to the unprotected opponent or a Rift Bolt awaiting a target, our turn 1 play decides our game.
We live off of speed. It is our cool breeze into a roaring flame that stokes the fire hotter. Haste is our ally. We boldly charge into the heat of battle; we are the blitzkrieg. Our greatest defense is our insurmountable offense. We are
proactive. We desire our opponents to be reactive. “Come and answer me,” we say as we turn our Ash Zealot sideways. As we attack the opponent’s life total early, we take advantage of any opportunity from an early-game stumble.
To take down our opponent, we knock out his knees with haste. We do not let up until he’s beaten and broken.
To win many games, we strive for consistency. Since the curve tells us to play many 1-drops and 2-drops, our available deck space beyond that grows slim. At the same time, we are rewarded with consistent drops and open paths to victory. Therefore, we play fewer 3-drops and even fewer 4-drops. The top end of the curve is reserved for a finisher. For example, a Hellrider as a finisher is the knock-out uppercut that follows a flurry of jabs to the face. Our end game must be powerful, even show-stopping. It must be compared to an eruption. A volcano’s lazy lava flow is nothing when compared to the complete devastation wrought by a Vesuvan eruption. A
Red deck must do the same.
To achieve consistency, Red must punish early with its small drops. After taking control of the early game, it lands a 4th or 5th turn finisher to seal the deal. However, the finisher must be set-up. Therefore, you must respect the path of the curve by being proactive in the early game.
Of efficiency, let it be known that Red selects only the most efficient spells to achieve victory. Since strict adherence to the curve means certain spells from the selection pool must be excluded, you must pick the strongest cards from what is available. A cunning Red Mage will overlook an obvious weakness in a card if its role fulfills a crucial purpose in the construction of a winning curve. For example, the card Ironclaw Orcs is a rather non-impressive creature when compared to a Shivan Dragon, but in the context of the curve it is dramatically better. An Ironclaw Orc can consistently be played on turn
2 and has the potential to deal the much needed damage to bring the opponent into finisher range. An Ironclaw Orc that survives the early game will be an efficient source of damage production.
A card is also said to be efficient when it will always do what it is made to do. The Lightning Bolt is the perfect example of an efficient card. For 1 mana it fits into the curve, and, at instant speed, deals three damage to a creature or a player. Always. You can depend on the Lightning Bolt to do exactly what it needs to do at any given time at any point of the game. It is Red’s most efficient removal spell and source of damage; it’s a card that every Red card has been compared to since its creation. That’s why Lightning Bolt is at the very foundation of Red’s Legacy.
It’s not enough to just satisfy the curve, however. The cards must be synergistic with each other. Synergy is defined as two objects working together to achieve a result that that cannot otherwise achieved by each
object individually. And here is where it all comes together in perfection – the result of a perfect marriage, if you will.
I will use, as an example, my beloved Volt Charge Red Deck from the era of the Delver Oppression to further explain synergy.
[deck=Volt Charge Red]Creatures (20)
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Goblin Fireslinger
4 Stromblood Berserker
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
4 Arc Trail
4 Volt Charge
3 Rootbound Crag
2 Koth of the Hammer
2 Traitorous Blood
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
3 Ancient Grudge[/deck]
This deck synergized very well and obeyed the rules of the curve. A turn 1 Goblin Fireslinger did not seem like much at all, until the opponent realized it was guaranteed one point of damage and could trigger the Bloodthirst on the Stormblood Berserker. The turn 3 Volt Charge added a counter to the Berserker
and on the 4th turn, the Hellrider would seal the deal to victory. The best case scenario was a turn 1 Stromkirk. On turn 2, you attack for 1, trigger Bloodthirst on the Berserker, and gain a counter on the Noble. The opponent is at 19. On turn 3, you Volt Charge your opponent, bringing him to 16 and proliferating your counters on your creature. Stromkirk Noble is at 3/3 and the Berserker is at 4/4. Swing for 7 and now the opponent is at 9. Stromkirk Noble is now at 4/4. A turn 4 Hellrider amounts to 3 damage from his attacking trigger, thus bringing your opponent to 6. The ensuing combat damage brings you opponent to -5 life – essentially burnt to a crisp.
The Shrine of Burning Rage was a late game back-up plan that was fed by every Red spell you played. Even Gut Shot could be used to trigger Bloodthirst (for free!) and then added a counter to the Shrine.
This deck worked well because every card worked together to bring about one common purpose: to eliminate the opponent efficiently and consistently
in a hasty manner.
This cannot be achieved without synergy.
And when all four of these fundamentals come together, a Red Mage will now have the tools to engage in combat and defeat his enemy. But the real test of skill is in the battle with a fighting opponent. The Four Principals of Pyromancy will do much to carry a Red Mage, as you will learn.
Chapter 3: The Four Principles of Pyromancy
The Art of Pyromancy, or the skill of fighting with Fire, is comprised of Four Principles.
Who’s the Beatdown?
Intuitive Decision Making
Unleashing the Sledgehammer
We know our goal in a duel: to bring the opponent’s life total as quickly as we can to zero. But do we know our role? To summarize one of Magic’s most sacred articles, the one who is most favored to win the match is the one that identifies his role in a game and acts accordingly to those ideals. In other words, when we are the aggressor,
we attack. When we are the defensive player, we defend. To identify your role, you must assess whether or not (very quickly) your opponent can deal you lethal Damage before you can kill him. If the GW Aggro player is capable of dealing twenty points of damage on turn 4 while on the play, it will behoove you to recognize your role as the player on defense. Here you must conserve your burn resources as creature removal to set up a lethal attack many turns later. Despite your aggressive tendencies, control must be exerted to weather the storm of the GW opponent. When he is exhausted, you strike!
But, as always, a honed warrior must always be prepared. Preparation comes not from just playing powerful cards, but also knowing when to sideboard against your weaknesses. To build a proper sideboard, you must know your own aggressive plan from the inside out – you must know how to beat your own deck better than your opponent! Know this is true, for your opponent has studied your weaknesses and has planned for it
accordingly. When you know what it is you truly fear, only then can you conquer it. If tokens are your weakness, strengthen that weakness with Mizzium Mortars! If Zombies are the only thing that can drain you first, stifle them with Pillar of Flame! For as you sideboard to beat your opponent, your opponent is doing the same thing to you. You must know what to expect, and you must counter your opponent’s effort with vengeance. In order to beat your enemy, you must know yourself.
Once you know yourself, you must prepare for what you shall face. In conjunction with successful metagaming comes intuitive decision making. Where your maindeck is innocent and pure, your sideboarded deck shall become oppressive and seeking vengeance. Win or lose Game One, your Game Two shall be furious. When Reanimator is the Boss of the Tournament, your grave hate and threatens will take him down. When Splinter Twin reigns supreme, your Combust will eliminate his victory. At times, we delay our aggressive plan and metagame
accordingly to fight the majority of our resistance. At this core of this strategy, we will prove that we are one than one-dimensional stereotypes of rage-driven children. We will fight with our brains, but fueled by fire. To do so requires you set aside the driven one-way attack of the creatures and plan ahead.
We can play control just as well as the Blue Mages. If not better. We seek to be answered, yet we are fully capable of answering back ourselves. To ensure this, we survey our environment ahead of time, know ourselves, and never approach battle unprepared.
There are exceptions to every rule. With the exception of the law of the curve, we are never bound by any rules. We are Red Mages! We will NOT be contained. Therefore, one of our greatest strengths is found in our resiliency! And resilient we are, since we are not ever confined by restrictions, even when it comes to our weapons.
I will, to some, reveal the greatest transformation a Red Deck can ever partake in. In the equivalency of a
Saiyan going Super, a Red Deck when pushed too far will evolve to take the form of a mighty Sledgehammer.
At times, a Red Deck will break free of the low curve and follow a different set of ideals that are counter-intuitive to “fixed” Sligh thinking. This mode is known as Sledgehammer. Sledgehammer is a Mid-Range Red Deck that curves out at 5 and is defined as “being able to go over the top of your opponent in one fell swoop.” But how does this work? A Sledgehammer will eschew a large batch of 1-drops and 2-drops to focus on an increased burn package and is backed up by a large creature that will serve as a finisher (as long as it can go unanswered). A Sledgehammer is Red pushed to its extreme, in order to control a deck that is more aggressive than Red can be.
A prime example is zemanjaski’s Sledgehammer Red Deck. This deck focused on defensively playing aggressive creatures and controlling the opposition with burn until the opponent was exhausted. When a Thundermaw Hellkite landed, the opponent
was helpless to defend as zemanjaski rode to victory in a well-timed Devil’s Play on the back of a winged behemoth.
But to come full circle, a Sledgehammer is only as good as the warrior wielding it that can abide by the Four Principles of Pyromancy.
In short, a Red Mage that can identify his role in a metagame filled other aggressive decks can intuitively decide that a switch to a Sledgehammer will be the most profitable.
For example, my metagame is filled with aggro decks. Therefore, I will sideboard into a Sledgehammer variety that is capable of controlling my aggressive opponent. When my opponent sideboards to beat a Sligh deck, he will be walking into folly! The synergy of Stonewright and Hound of Griselbrand cannot be denied. I will outlast my enemy until he is exhausted and I will walk the path to victory on the wings of a thunderous Hellkite!
Behold, the weapon of a Red Mage!
[deck=Khaos Deck Wins]Beaters (28)
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Ash Zealot
3 Pyreheart Wolf
2 Hound of Grislebrand
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
2 Flames of the Firebrand
1 Hellion Crucible
3 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Mizzium Mortars
2 Traitorous Blood
2 Hellion Crucible
3 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Hound of Griselbrand[/deck]
Chapter Four: The Resolve
Nothing cements a Red Mages persona more than his reputation defending the arts of Red. A true Red Mage never forsakes his color during bad metagames and poor match-ups. The mark of a true Red Mage is his resolve. And this will be my closing point for today.
At his core, a Red Mage is personality taken to the extreme. We are fiery, we are loyal, and we are faithful. Even when we are wrong or losing. We passionately defend our beliefs to the bitter end. We will not be told otherwise. We are united in this trait. We are, in a sense, blood brothers in Red.
Together, we are unstoppable. Divided, we are
ridiculed. Yet we are never divided for too long. The few that remain resolved will bring the Red Mages together in time of need. When Caw-Blade ruled 80% of the Standard metagame, it was the “Red Mage” himself, Patrick Sullivan that allowed us to peer through the Fire and the Flames and glimpse ultimate victory. Even now in these dark times under the Thragtusk regime and the Sphinx’s Revelation, we are united under the few resolved Red Mages, such as zemanjaski, redthirst, and hamfactorial. In times where one can even be persecuted for defending the Red Arts, a resolved Red Mage can be a terrifying force.
We will not be told no. We will not be denied victory. We are Red Mages!
And we are resolved to be so until the end.
May the Fires of Salvation spark an Ember to an Inferno.
Thank you for reading.
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