Before the Standard ban announcement, Aggro decks were largely held in check by Rakdos Midrange. The plan of casting Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Sheoldred, the Apocolypse and a bunch of removal was a lot for aggressive decks to overcome. With Fable gone from Standard, players were forced to look elsewhere in deckbuilding, opening up the door for Aggro decks to make their triumphant return. Perhaps no deck benefited more from this change than Mono-Red Aggro. This deck is cheap, low to the ground, and effective, and truly punishes greedy manabases and high curves. What more could you want?
Luckily for red players, Standard currently has some of the best one-drops available. An all star in Modern Burn, Monastery Swiftspear saw a reprint in The Brother’s War and now has yet another time to shine. Swiftspear pairs nicely with Kumano Faces Kakhazan as a Hasty Creature to receive both the buff of Kumano’s Second Chapter as well as the Prowess buff when casting Kumano after Swiftspear. A big chunk of the deck is burn spells, so Swiftspear is never short on Prowess triggers to push through damage.
From there, the deck plays Phoenix Chick generally as the last one drop of choice. While not super flashy, it is a recursive Creature that is difficult to block and quickly chips away at the opponent’s life total. Pairing this with burn spells and other Hasty Creatures and the damage adds up real fast.
A super underrated aspect of typical red decks is the versatility of their burn spells. Most decks that play lots of removal run the risk of having these removal spells be dead cards against decks without lots of Creatures. Burn spells don’t suffer this problem, as they can be pointed at the opponent for additional damage to close the game. This gives red decks both extra versatility and extra reach in Matchups where your Creatures all get killed. Play With Fire and Lightning Strike are efficient burn spells this deck gets to make use of to either remove early blockers or go straight to the opponent’s face.
Another card this deck makes perfect use of is Bloodthirsty Adversary. The card functions just fine as a two-mana two-power Creature with Haste to pair with Kumano, but it scales later in the game. With access to five mana and a burn spell in the graveyard, instead Adversary can become a three-power Haste Creature that can cast one of these burn spells for free. This really helps give the deck some extra reach and additional flood protection. Adversary also pairs quite nicely with Nahiri’s Warcrafting. While Nahiri’s Warcrafting isn’t technically a burn spell, it gives the deck a fighting chance of beating high-toughness Creatures like Sheoldred that would otherwise pose a problem, and being able to cast it again off Adversary if need be can be backbreaking for the opponent.
The most important card in the deck is definitely Furnace Punisher. This is the card that can swing the Esper Legends matchup in your favor. As a three-power Creature with Menace, it is quite difficult to block. The real strength, however, lies in the ability to deal two damage to the opponent if they don’t control two or more basic lands. Esper Legends is one of the most popular decks in Standard right now, and they play a lot of good Creatures against you. Sheoldred, Dennick, Pious Apprentice and Raffine, Scheming Seer can all make combat very difficult. Luckily, Furnace Punisher doesn’t care.
In order to be able to play all the powerful Creatures the Esper deck wants to, the deck plays a relatively greedy manabase. Notably, this includes usually playing only one basic land. This means that for as long as Furnace Punisher remains in play, your Esper opponent will take two damage every upkeep. While Furnace Punisher does harm both players with this ability, you play tons of basic lands as a mono-colored deck which negates this drawback. Punisher conveniently dodges Cut Down, making it somewhat difficult for Esper decks to remove. This consistent flow of damage every turn adds up and makes your burn spells a lot more reliable. Punisher is definitely the glue that holds this strategy together.
While Furnace Punisher is quite effective against Esper Legends, playing against any deck with Sheoldred can still be concerning. It’s easy to have Sheoldred undo all your early pressure and render your small burn spell useless. This is why running cards like Nahiri’s Warcrafting or Rending Flame is super important, even if these spells are a little clunky. This deck can also be a little weak to Temporary Lockdown, which has been on the rise since the bans. If more people start playing Temporary Lockdown decks, consider running more three and four mana Permanents like Thundering Raiju or Chandra, Dressed to Kill[tooltips] to weaken the card.
Standard on a Budget?
What makes this red aggressive deck unique is how cheap the deck is in comparison to other decks in the format, especially before the bans. With Rakdos squeezing out most mono-colored aggressive decks, budget options were hard to come by. Not only that, but decks with Fable were especially expensive given Fable’s prevelance in Pioneer and Modern in addition to Standard. Now, we have a viable budget option in Standard that is quite effective at punishing slow gameplans and greedy manabases. Decks like five-color ramp are susceptible to getting run over before even being able to set up their mana and cast their game-breaking spells.
The only card in the red Aggro decks that is over 10 dollars is [tooltips]Invasion of Tarkir, which is absolutely replaceable. By removing four copies of Invasion of Tarkir, the deck becomes nearly half the price. For reference, current Esper Legends decks cost nearly $500, while Mono-red without Invasion of Tarkir can cost less than $50! This price difference is certainly appealing, especially for anyone looking to play Standard in paper. After all, there is something very satisfying about using Furnace Punisher to beat up on more expensive manabases. Mono-red should be a cheap, effective Standard deck moving forward. Aggro players rejoice!